The private place to talk that Zenshou mentioned turned out to be an old hotel a couple of blocks away from 93U. A pretty young woman in the lobby waved hello to Zenshou when they entered. Zenshou returned the wave and led Gem up several slights of stairs. The room they ended up in was sparsely but tastefully decorated.

"Well, welcome to my home away from home," Zenshou said with an almost brittle laugh. "I know the owner of the hotel, and this place is as safe as it can be without any high tech security and counterespionage equipment." She sighed, then almost flopped down on a pile of cushions on the floor, and indicated to Gem that she should sit down as well.

"Now," Zenshou continued."I bet you're wondering exactly who I am and why I need a bodyguard."

"I was thinking about that on the way here," Gem responded while surveying the apartment. "You said someone killed your family, so I figure they may be after you. I'm guessing you're ex-corp - you've got that kind of bearing about you. So we're looking at a possible corporate rival, potentially with corp resources behind him. Am I close?"

"Mostly right," Zenshou replied, and Gem could see the misery emerge from behind her employer's mask of bravery. "I'm not ex-corp." She paused for a moment, watching Gem's face very carefully. "My real name is Midori Harihatu."

If Gem knew the name, she didn't let on. "So if you're not a corp, who's after you. And what kind of opposition can I expect to face?"

"That's just the problem. I don't know." Zenshou sighed. "It has to be someone with the resources to break into a well defended corporate compound and slaughter every living thing in my family's home. They didn't get me because I was late coming home for dinner, and as my father's heir and the next CEO of Harichem, they're bound to want me dead too." She ran her fingers through her hair then straightened up in her chair.

"That's why I needed to hire you. I have no experience in this kind of thing - it was always up to our security people. I need someone to help me find out who murdered my family, provide protection while we do it, and hopefully help when the time comes to make them pay for what they did."

"You need a guide, and you need some extra muscle. No problem." Gem shrugged. "This haven't changed much since I last lived here, so I know my way around pretty well. And I still know people. As the for the break in and murder, well that doesn't mean a thing. Could have been a small rogue team or even a single good agent." Gem's face was neutral, as she carefully watched Zenshou, gauging her reaction.

"I don't know," Zenshou replied. "From what I saw it really looked to me like there was more than one intruder, and they were in some kind of powered armor. The armor is just a guess, mainly because they used high energy weapons to..." Her voice choked, and she lowered her head into her hands and began to sob.

Gem at least had the decency to look embarassed. "Ah, hell..." she muttered. She got up, and patted Zenshou on the shoulder. "I didn't mean to bring it up. I just..." She shook her head. "Ah, forget it."

"No," Zenshou said through the sobs as she visibly tried to regain control of her emotions. "It's okay. You're just doing your job. It's just... I've been running numb, on automatic pilot since it happened. I never let myself really stop and think about it. My family... and the business, we were all family. HariChem is relatively small, so it was pretty easy to know just about everyone else. It was like one big family, with the employees being kind of like cousins." She pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped her face.

Gem sat down in front of her. She sighed, and let her eyes wander the room. It wasn't hard to come up with a list of suspects; quite a few groups used power armour, but not many had energy weapons. Unfortunately, that qualifier pointed directly to the worst case scenario. "Here comes the bad news," she said.

"What is it," Zenshou asked.

Gem looked her straight in the eyes and spoke with a flat tone. "The killers are almost certainly mercs, and the evidence points to the Black Company, the meanest bitches around. Make no mistake, they are the best team, and they're not going to let a small mistake, like the company's heir, go uncorrected."

Zenshou was silent for a moment. "I guess we're going to have to be meaner," she replied softly. "They're going to pay for what they did, and so are the people who hired or helped them." A steely glint flashed in the esper's eyes.

Gem grinned and patted her on the shoulder. "That's the spirit." She was more than a little surprised; most people would be scared to fight the Black Company. Maybe she's tougher than I gave her credit for, Gem thought. Or maybe she's just that naive.

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