Kristen checked the time as she spun around the corner, wheeling through south Jersey City. Not exactly the best place to be this time of the night, but a job was a job. Not the best paying job either, but without much of a rep yet, she couldn't really get the best jobs.

In any case, she was a just a couple of minutes early, so she killed the engine and coasted down the roadway toward the alley she'd been told to meet her contact at. No sense drawing more attention to herself than absolutely necessary, of course.

When she heard a gunshot from the alley ahead, however, she kicked the bike back into gear and swerved down into the alley. She found herself nearly running into a man who was running, well hobbling, to the open street. The source of his problems was obvious quickly enough when a bullet glanced off the front of the bike.

Kristen looked in the direction of the second gunshot just quick enough to see a face pull back into the car he was sitting in, and the car drive off. A quick mental command to the helmet and bike computer saved a quick recording of the face and the car to the internal memory. Not that it would mean much, since this was probably a hired gun, but...

"I've got a new birdcage," came a somewhat ragged voice from beside her. The fellow who had been shot was still leaning against the bike.

Kristen shook her head and popped the faring to look at him. This guy chose weird pass phrases. "Then you'll need some newspaper to line it with."

A grimace that was trying to be a smile crossed the guy's face. "Good to see you, Falcon."

Kristen looked down the man's body, and saw the blood leaking down his leg. "Oh, for crying out..." She pulled a flat box out from behind the seat, and popped open the first aid kit, grabbing a knife to slit his pant leg open.

"Umm, we really don't have time..."

"Oh, shush." She ripped the pants up a ways, then pulled out the disinfectant and started swabbing it over the wound, hanging on when his leg tried to kick from the pain.


"You know, you're lucky the bullet went all the way through. I don't have to try and pull it out."

The man pulled his leg, more actively this time. When that had little effect, he simply said, "You're stronger than you look."

Kristen started wrapping a strip of bandage cloth around the leg to cover both the entry and exit wounds. "Lots of training."

"Look, you've got to deliver this as soon as possible. The people who shot me have probably reported to their boss by now, and he'll know that you have the pack... rrk."

Kristen pulled the bandage a little tighter than strictly necessary, somewhat pleased when his voice cut off. "Don't want you bleeding to death before you pay me, after all."

"Hah, hah." The man shook his head, then pulled a large Tyvek envelope out from under his coat, and handed it to Falcon. "Here's the package to deliver." Pulling out a smaller packet, he continued, "Here's half the payment up front." A thick credit card-sized object. "This will get you past the guard." And then he gave her a folded sheet of paper. "And here's the address and person to deliver it to, along with a note from me authorizing him to pay you the rest of the money."

Kristen nodded, and slid back up onto the seat of the motorcycle. "You sure you're going to be okay?"

"I'll feel a lot better once that gets delivered. Now go!"

"Gotcha." She pulled the faring back down over her, and started off out of the alley, watching as the guy kept trying to hobble away. Shaking her head, she finally unfolded the paper which had the destination printed on it.

If the bike hadn't had a computer to help keep itself steady, she probably would have crashed into something in shock. "The Neo York Times building??"

Kristen had managed to get herself onto the interstate and into the Lincoln tunnel without any pursuit that she'd seen. She didn't _think_ anybody had followed her, but a helicopter high enough up was hard to see, as she'd found out the hard way previously. Worse, there were only really two good routes from where she was across the Hudson to Times Square, the Holland Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel. It would make it far too easy to catch her on the other side. "Wouldn't an amphibious bike be nice..."

Sure enough, the ambush jumped on her just as she came out from underneath 10th avenue, with people right in front of the tunnel and on the avenue above trying to set up a crossfire on her. Not a big ambush, thankfully; that, and the fact she was expecting it, probably saved her.

The bike shot out from the tunnel mouth at better than a hundred miles per hour, skimming past part of the ambush before the guys on the triggers could track her properly. She then hit the brakes and put the bike into a controlled skid so she could make the turn onto Dyer Avenue without slamming into the supports for the Interstate. Thankfully there wasn't all that much traffic in the tunnel this time of the night.

Several curses floated up behind her, along with the sounds of a few cars being put in gear, as she disappeared under the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Kristen took another fast turn, ignoring the blare of horns as she sped onto West 41st... going the wrong way. Even in the relatively light traffic, a car was going to have a hard time following her on this. The blare of horns quickly turned into multiple squeals of brakes and at least one impact, though it didn't sound too bad, thankfully.

Well, that would get them off her back for the moment, even if Times Square was only a few blocks away...

Kristen peered around the corner. Yes, there were several suspiciously casual vehicles making loops around the block the Neo York Times building was in. She shook her head. Paranoia was getting to be an all-too-useful survival trait.

She'd parked the bike in a small garage behind one of the many little theaters nearby, made sure she had everything from her client plus a couple of little surprises, and had walked towards the building. So far, things seemed to be going smoothly, but eventually someone was going to figure out that she might have gone on foot if she hadn't shown up yet.

The Neo York Times building was the same one the old 'Gray Lady' of the news had been in since the 20's... the 1920's, at that. The old 'wedding cake' stepped form of structure. It had survived the years better than most of the other buildings of its type, but still looked like a mess.

There was a short break in the pattern of the cars patrolling, caused by other traffic... and Kristen ran out across the street towards the doors. Unfortunately, the cars weren't the only ones watching the entrance.

"There she is!"

Kristen cursed under her breath. Two idiots, who had been lounging casually on either side of the main entrance, got up and moved inward to intercept her. One had pulled out his gun, the other was just going for a straight tackle.

She dodged toward the tackling one, the last thing he'd expected, grabbed his arm, and tripped him. While he was still trying to get his balance, she shoved him hard towards his partner, and the two of them went down in a pile. Kristen pushed through the front doors while the two were still trying to untangle themselves, and ran into the lobby.

"Hey! What are you doing?"

Kristen looked at the guard through her helmet, and tossed the pass her client had given her onto his desk. "Courier delivery for Thomas Ralston." She started moving towards the elevator again. "And in a hurry."

The guard looked back at her. He'd known something big was up, that someone was trying to hold them siege. Not that anybody had told _him_ what it was all about, of course. But this would make sense, if they were trying to stop someone from getting in... thinking quickly, he pressed a button under his desk, and a door near the elevator bank clicked loudly and swung open a bit. "Twelfth floor. Use the stairs, the elevator's shut down this time of the night."

With a jaunty wave, she ducked in through the door just in time to miss a pair of guns firing at her from the front doors. The two men from the front stairs had managed to get their act back together, and were running in through the lobby at high speed. A few more were on their way up from the outside as well.

Kristen yanked the door behind her, and leaped up the staircase, leaving behind a little 'present' for her pursuers. As one of the men grabbed the door before it could close and lock, the epoxy grenade went off, flooding the base of the stairwell with a thick solidifying foam. Not only was the door wedged in place, but the fellow holding the door found his arm engulfed.

The guard grinned, and pressed another button, which demonstrated one of the more recent additions to the building as a set of 'blast doors' slammed shut across the front, locking the two people inside and the rest outside. The two stuck inside looked at the guard in horror as he pulled on a gas mask and sprayed them with a thick yellow cloud.

Finally he sat down and picked up the phone, muffled through the mask. "Mister Ralston, courier coming up the stairs for you."

Kristen was winded by the time she made it to the twelfth floor, but was at least glad it wasn't higher. The office she was looking for was clearly labeled, thankfully. And the door opened just as she got there.

"And you would be Falcon. Pleased to finally meet you." Thomas Ralston was a slight, mousy figure of a man that looked nothing at all like the usual square-jawed types that usually typified the news on TV. He was also at least fifty if he was a day.

Kristen, naturally enough, stopped dead for a couple of seconds as she parsed this. "Finally?"

Ralston nodded as he motioned her towards a chair. "I've still got some clippings of you during the first trials of the bike from Fantoma vehicles. I was actually there to do an interview at one point, not that you would have seen me. I was disappointed to hear what happened to them. And before you ask, no, I have no idea who did it."

Kristen sat down, still slightly dazed, but then recovered enough presence of mind to pull out the Tyvek envelope and set it on the desk.

"Ah, good. If this is what I hope it is, we may just be able to bring some people to justice."

"From here?"

Ralston posed, looking hurt. "My dear, this is the Neo York Times, the Gray Lady of the news!" Then he shrugged, and sat down himself. "Not that it means much these days when a large chunk of the city is effectively illiterate, and the only people who even make an attempt to understand the politics are the ones trying to use it for their own ends. Most of the sources of 'news' are owned by one or other of the corporations anyway, and are pretty much just twenty-four-seven advertisements. Even when I publish this, ninety percent of the city may never know."

"Well, somebody certainly didn't want me getting here with it."

Ralston chuckled. "Well, your average man may not read the newspaper much anymore, but a lot of people whose opinions matter still do. We can make or break reputations, mostly because our own reputation is still pretty clean. We're probably the closest thing to an unbiassed major news source around here."

Kristen sighed. "Doesn't make me any happier."

"Well, you should be safe in here; nobody's actually attacked us directly yet. As long as we stay out of actively taking anybody's side, a lot of the big boys consider the paper as a whole too useful to be rid of. Unfortunately, individual reporters and couriers are still fair game.

"Anyhow, the guard already called the boys in blue, so the people outside will be gone pretty soon. Not that they're likely to get anything from the two stuck inside, since they're pretty much guaranteed to be hands-off rent-a-merc types."

With a nod, Kristen stood up.

"And," Ralston added, pulling out a thick packet. "Here's the rest of your pay. Don't worry about what you delivered, it will make the headlines soon enough.

Kristen chuckled at that. "All right. Good night, Mister Ralston."

"Good day, Falcon."

Kristen managed to get back to her bike without further incident; the guard at the front desk had even waved at her as she left. She took a somewhat circuitous route home anyway.

As she was driving, a quick beep brought her attention to the on-board computer; it had picked up another message. A message from Korey Winters, suggesting something she might be personally interested in. Curiouser and curiouser...

Author's notes: Mapquest is your friend. Especially the 'Aerial photo' section that let me figure out how the tangled multi-level knot of roads at the Lincoln tunnel exit actually connect to each other. I figured this wouldn't change much in the Kazei 5 universe.

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