Lora sighed contentedly and stretched, catlike, before rolling over on her stomach to let the sun warm the backs of her legs. She adjusted her blanket underneath her slightly and laid her head on her arms. The white noise of waves on the beach nearby lulled her back into the light doze she had been enjoying.

Ah, now this is the life, she thought to herself. A beach with just a few people around, but no real crowds, perfect temperature, warm water, and a parasol shading her eyes from the sun was just about as perfect as it could ever get.

"Nice day, huh?"

The pleasant voice dragged Lora up into full awareness. She turned her head slightly to take in the sight of an attractive girl setting up her own blanket and beach chair nearby. Her shoulder length black hair was cropped in a loose pageboy style. Lora noted that the other girl's white bikini was a little more daring than her own red one-piece.

"Of course, it always is around here," Lora responded with an amused tone.

"Of course." The other girl smiled, putting on a pair of mirror shades and leaning back to bask in the sun. "Done any swimming?"

"A little." Lora said sleepily. "The water's nice and warm."


There was a pause and Lora thought the short conversation was over when the black haired girl spoke again.

"Did you know we have a mutual friend?" She said.

Lora shifted slightly to view her new companion, who was just lying back on her blanket in the sand, not even looking at her, mirrorshades reflecting blue sky and puffy clouds.

Lora said, "Really? I think you have me at a disadvantage."

The other girl's mouth quirked in a slight grin, as if indulging in a secret joke. "That's okay, we've never actually met before. I've worked with Dr. Paulo Zanabria recently. Dr. Snakeye, remember? He sends his regards."

Lora sat up. "Oh? How is he doing?"

"Better than I would have expected. You heard from Raven Clark that he's free of his indenture, haven't you?"

"Yes?" Lora's tone indicated that she should continue.

"He's still got a lot of debt to work off. But he's free to do it on his terms, which is more important to him, it would seem. He's currently working with Sea Goddess Enterprises developing more new cyborg designs. He didn't get a chance to see you before he left Neo York, and asked after you. He's got quite a tab with me right now. But I'm confident that he's good for it, so I decided to drop in and check, as a small favor."

Lora said slowly, "You're not a Shiroko Tsuhi employee, I take it?"

"Not even close." The smile replied.

Lora sighed, "As a security operative, I feel obliged to mention that you are, in effect, trespassing on Shiroko Tsuhi property here, you know?"

"That's part of the fun, you know? Besides, are you really going to report me after I've done you a favor? I'd be really disappointed if you did that. I'm not doing any harm here, after all. Just soaking in a few rays, like you are. Besides, it wouldn't do any good anyway. I'd be gone before anyone could follow me. If I'm good enough to get in here, I'm good enough to evade any security measures you could call in after me. And aren't you off duty anyway?"

"I have to admit, you have a point." And, if she could make it in this far without tripping any alarms, she can probably kick my butt to the curb... play it cool...

"Sure I do. Anyway, anything you want me to relay to Dr. Zanabria?"

Lora thought for a moment. "Sure. Tell him I'm really happy for him and hope that he does really well with whatever he's doing. Actually, I'm pretty confident of that anyway."

"You should be. He may be the best in his field."

"I don't suppose he's got an address I can reach him at now, does he?"

"Check your email inbox when you get back to your room and you'll find it waiting for you."

Lora nodded, "Thanks. Don't take this the wrong way, but I think I'll take care of my own messages from here on out if you don't mind. No offense."

"None taken."

A soft but persistent beeping from her wristwatch caught Lora's attention. She sat up and stretched her muscles, then looked over at the black haired girl. The mirrored shades were turned in her direction.

"Back to the grind, eh?"

"Guess so. By the way, I didn't catch your name."

"True, because I didn't mention it." The girl smiled at her.

Lora smiled and shrugged, "Just curious. Not that it would make much difference. Like you said, who could stop you if you really wanted to get in here again?"

"Nice of you to play to my ego," she said in an amused tone, "my name is 'Asagiri'."

Lora's eyes widened as her knowledge of Nipponese automatically translated the meaning of the word—Mountain Mist—An appropriate name for a master hacker...

And then her surroundings dissolved into digitized bits and disappeared...

...and she opened her real eyes. The lights above seemed far away and dimmed by the amber tinted fluid of the regenerative bath. Lora's oxygen needs were being supplied through a hook up in her upper back, so she wasn't breathing through her nose or mouth, but the solution had gotten into her mouth somehow while she had been disassociated from her body. It tasted strange, like seawater somehow, but with a coppery tang.

She moved her left arm up before her eyes and noted with satisfaction that the cybernetic structure was once again covered seamlessly with synthetic flesh and skin. The nano machines suspended in the solution of the bath had done their job well. The facade of humanity she wore was restored.

Lora felt the bio-link in her upper back disconnect and the port seamlessly reseal itself. Her personal oxygen reserve kicked in automatically. She got to her feet and stood solidly on the floor of the tank—she was too heavy to float—as the pumps began to drain it of solution. As the surface of the liquid retreated past her head and shoulders, her hair plastered itself to her. She drew a hand across her face to get it out of her eyes. Bending over slightly, she expelled excess fluid from her mouth and opened her throat so that she could breathe normally again. Coughing slightly, she got as much of it cleared as possible. Recessed showerheads opened up in the walls and sprayed her down with water to help remove any traces of solution from her body and hair. Half a minute later, blowers opened up to dry her.

I'm still going to want to take a shower later, Lora thought to herself, this is too much like being in a carwash without the car.

The floor of the tank began to rise, carrying her up to the level of the rest of the medical lab. Lora took a moment to muse to herself. She was glad that Snakeye—no, Paulo Zanabria, she reminded herself—was doing well. But she would have preferred Asagiri to make contact with her in some less ostentatious manner. What was up with that, anyway? She couldn't have just emailed her anonymously or something? Did she have to hack her way into the company SimNet through the medical computer database just to say hello, and by the way, your friend is doing well? No... from what little she had heard of Asagiri, that wasn't her style at all. Asagiri didn't have a reputation of being that flashy. True, rumor said that she did meet with people in virtual environments exclusively rather than in person, but holding a conversation inside a corporate database in real-time was an enormous risk for such a frivolous task.

Unless that wasn't really what she was here for at all.

It was both a red herring and an ego signature, all in one, Lora decided. Asagiri was here doing something else entirely—raiding the databases for something, most likely—and decided to drop in and say hello on the way... Just because she could. And if there was any trace of her passage in the system, it might just be passed off as her getting in to talk to me, rather than as a net dive to get into another part of our database. That was clever, playing up her own reputation for meeting exclusively in virtual environments like that. But no, chika, that's not how it's going to be. I'm not that na•ve.

Good lord, I think I'm actually starting to think corporate...

Lora rose up into view in the medical bay, where the med-techs waited. Lora didn't feel particularly body-conscious in this setting despite her nudity. These were cyber-physicians who had seen it all before many times with other patients as well as herself. Still, one of them absently handed her a patient's smock before turning back to his instruments. After a moment, the Physician on Duty, Dr. Tranh, walked over.

"How are you feeling, Lora?" He asked. "Do you have full sensation everywhere?" This was not an abstract or rhetorical question, despite the fact that he knew from taking telemetry from Lora's systems during the regeneration process that the sensors embedded in the new synthflesh had hooked in correctly with her nervous system. Sometimes, a patient simply developed a psychosomatic response at odds with what their cybersystems were telling them.

Lora nodded, "I feel perfect, Doctor. Thanks. Listen to me, though. I won't have time for anymore systems tests until later. Right now I have to report a breach in security."

"Oh? Why didn't you mention it before you went into the tank?"

Lora walked over to where a change of clothes had been dropped off for her by Raven Clark. She began to get dressed. "Because it happened while I was in the SimNet—while I was in the tank—and I need to see if the Sysops have caught on yet."

The good doctor looked blankly at her. "Oh. I see. I think. Well then, you'll come back later to finish the paperwork? No, wait, I'll just send it to your quarters, yes? Will that do?"

"Oh yeah, sure. I'll get it to you later." Lora finished dressing by shrugging on a light red jacket over the black mid-thigh length dress that Raven had grabbed for her. "Gotta go, right now, though."

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