Raven buzzed at the door to William Case's office, and waited for an answer. She knew a little about Case; he was an executive with Shiroko-Tsuhi, described as demanding, ambitious, and authoritarian. In short, he was one of any number of up-and-coming corporate young wolves. A dangerous man to cross, depending on how much influence he held and how many friends he had in high places. Raven didn't know for sure, though she'd gathered some gossip and gained a fairly good impression of Case's influence. He had several friends and was well-regarded by his superiors, less so by his underlings.

She usually paid little attention to the ever-shifting morass of executive politics. Part of it was because she was thoroughly unschooled in that sort of thing. But in truth, while there might be some benefit to her charting all the dotted lines of influence on Shiroko-Tsuhi's organizational charts, she held no ambitions to manage her own private empire in the corporation. Nor would she, in all likelihood, ever be allowed to hold those ambitions; after all, her talents as an esper weapon were too valuable to waste on some petty management position or other.

She knew that, but Raven wondered if Case did, if he was as unprepared for this discussion as she was. She was a bit nervous as she entered Case's office, but not because she feared the man. Rather, it was because she knew he would ask why she'd helped Shion-Hime, the plaything he'd abandoned in the Zone. She knew the answer, of course—she couldn't have let her die when she was able to help her. But she wondered whether Case would understand that, or whether he'd view this sort of sentiment as wasteful.

"Enter, Ms Clark." The door clicked loudly as the lock disengaged.

Inside the office was barely furnished, almost austere in presentation. Scattered shelves contained a selection of objects—mostly corporate awards and a few books. The far wall was made entirely of glass, with all of Neo York laid out before the viewer. But between the door and the windows was Mr. Case's desk.

It was a smooth black monolith, glossy in finish, with just a hint of chrome. What little there was on the desktop was neatly arranged, just like the rest of the office. Mr. Case himself sat in a high-backed leather chair, his hands palm down in front of him. Raven found him to be as big and broad as rumor made him out to be, with a neatly trimmed back beard, and handsome features. His dark eyes, however, were cold, and never left her as she made her way to the only chair. She felt that Case was examining her, not in a sexual sense, but more like he was looking for flaws and defects, anything to allow him to pronounce her unfit and useless.

Raven simply stood at apparent ease, dressed in a beige corporate-casual skirt suit that she thought brought out her legs. Shion might prefer the imperial, stately approach, but Raven's experiences in the Zone had taught her that casualness was often as good or better at expressing confidence, and her limited experience in corporate circles hadn't faulted this perception yet. She'd picked her clothes with a second thought to that as well; they made her look pretty without giving the sense that she felt she needed to be looked at. She wondered if Case expected her to be intimidated by his size, or by his spartan surroundings, but decided it didn't matter. She knew Case was canny enough to exploit the instinctive respect some might give a person of his girth or his abnegation, and savvy enough to deal with those who didn't.

"Sit down, Ms Clark. I presume you know why I called you in?"

"Of course, Mr. Case," Raven said, sitting down slowly and smoothing her skirt over her crossed legs. She waited for him to take the initiative.

"Then let me get right to the point." As per his reputation, Case didn't waste any time. "Where did you find the synthetic?"

"A clinic in the Zone, where I have contacts," Raven answered tersely.

"And how did the synthetic get there? Did you bring it?"

"No, I didn't. I presume someone in the Zone did." Raven absently twirled the white lock in her hair as she spoke, an habit she hadn't consciously realized she'd developed until she caught herself doing it. Now she did so consciously, however, trying to enhance the impression of casual ease.

"Strange..." Case looked sternly at Raven. "You know the Zone. Is that normal?"

"Unusual, but not unheard of," said Raven, shrugging. "The Zone is home to all sorts of eccentric characters, and one of them might have saved her out of some sense of altruism or for some twisted reason." She paused, then shrugged again. "Perhaps," she mused, "it has to do with who she was modeled on."

"Oh? Do you have a problem with that?" Raven wasn't sure if Case was being defensive, or trying to provoke her.

Whatever the reason, Raven elected not to take the bait. Instead she folded her arms over her breasts. "You are using the likeness of one of my friends as a plaything; I admit I am not exactly pleased with that concept. But I suppose this is the sort of thing that's fairly common with famous people."

Case smiled, reminding Raven more of the expression of a predatory animal than anything else. "Somehow I have a hard time picturing that woman having friends. Tell me, Ms Clark, have informed her of this?"

Raven couldn't suppress a smirk, too happy to be able to respond in kind to the man's prodding. "You're alive, aren't you?" she said simply, matter-of-factly.

Raven had to hand it to Case, he only seemed off-balance for a second. "Let's get to the meat of the matter, Ms. Clark. What is it that you want?"

"What I want?" Raven asked. "Good question. A good start would be to know what you intend to do with the replicant."

Case grinned again, giving Raven the impression she had played into his hands. "What should I do with it?"

Raven narrowed her eyes suspiciously, then she chuckled. Thinks he can get something out of me here, doesn't he? Too bad I have a few cards up my sleeve. "I see two options, really—you can either keep her or leave her, in which case I'll be willing to take her off your hands."

Case raised an eyebrow, "Oh, and what use would you have for it?"

"I'm sure I'll think of something," Raven said sibilantly; though she really had no idea, she figured she'd be able to find something that would be preferable to recycling for the Puma. It wasn't very rational, of course, but Raven couldn't bring herself to let go of someone after she'd taken them under her wing... so to speak.

"Well, Ms Clark, I am a generous man." Raven doubted that, but didn't say a word. "I will sign the synthetic over to your care. What do you say?'

Raven inclined her head to one side curiously. "At no cost?" she queried.

Ms Clark, I fully expect that at some point in the future, you will be able to properly repay my generosity."

There it was, of course—future considerations. As if she wasn't already doing him a favor by preserving his worthless hide from Shion's wrath by her silence. Raven affected a pause to consider his terms, then dealt one of her cards. "Of course. After all, I am on social terms with our friend Ms. Nys. I see no need to embarrass you and her both by mentioning the Puma to her; she's a sensitive sort, all this might be little too distressing to her. No, let this be our little secret, hmm?"

"Our little secret?" Case paused, and examined the ceiling. "If you wish, Ms Clark, after all, we all have our little secrets to keep." He then looked into her eyes, his teeth white against his black beard. "I shall have ownership signed over within the hour."

Raven sighed. Mr. Case was a bit dense, or perhaps a bit overconfident. "This discretion is not for my benefit," she said meaningfully. "I thought to keep it as a favor to you."

Case leaned on his desk, his face an expressionless mask. "I do not care to be in anyone's debt Ms Clark, debts tends to come due at the most inconvenient of times."

"I understand. I don't either." Raven smiled. "So perhaps we can call it even."

"Perhaps." Case glanced at his sleeve, where Raven suspected a watch had been imprinted. "I have other appointments to keep and must be going."

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