by Dustin Evermore & Lisa Hartjes

Zenshou had just been trying to get to sleep when the nausea set in. She rose from bed and staggered to the bathroom in a vane attempt to find something to settle her stomach. She reached for the medicine cabinet in a habit born of years of familiarity with convenience only to scrape her fingers on the unfinished edge of the cracked mirror. The fact she was in the Zero Zone with no access to ready medicines sunk in with depressing certainty. Leaning heavily on the sink for balance, she fought a wave of dizziness and stared into the mirror. There was a rising pounding in her head and her reflection twisted and bent in the mirror as she stared.

Suddenly, her vision cleared, but instead of looking at herself, she was looking at a well-built, dark haired man sitting at a large oak desk. A personalized memo pad included "SynTech MedSystems: Making a Better You" in the header, followed by "From the Office of Jason Stone, CEO". Partially obscured by a quarter full, short glass and an empty bottle of imported brandy, a still-visible keyboard and computer screen lay embedded under the glassy surface of the desk. A clock sitting at a corner of the desk indicated 3:00 and the huge glass windows behind him revealed the night sky.

The man seated at the desk was clearly very upset. Jason Stone, for that must be who it was, held his forehead in one hand as he stared down at the glassy surface of the embedded monitor. It was obvious he was not focused on whatever was on the computer, however. Upon this surface lay a picture of a young woman whose strong chin, full lips, and eyebrows could not have indicated a relationship with the man more clearly. A dirtied and well-used pistol lay directly beneath his other hand.

"Athena." Pain etched itself in the man's voice as he softly spoke her name. Even this quiet sound seemed to echo in the spacious office, making Jason seem utterly alone. "You didn't deserve this. You didn't deserve to die." Two mutinous tears escaped his eyes and spattered upon the picture. He couldn't know that those tears were betraying his emotions to an unknown onlooker.

"I failed you, my sister. I couldn't help you when you needed it, and now the cold world has made a mockery of your life and cruelly ended it." Jason took a deep breath and sat back. His shining blue eyes seemed to pass through Zenshou,

He raised a large fist and slammed it back on the desk. The glass covering the oak cracked in complaint. Jason kissed two fingers and touched them to the picture of Athena. He stood, then, and reached for the pistol.

With a dizzying lurch, Zenshou was looking at her pale reflection in the mirror. She could taste the brandy in her mouth, and the man's despair and sense of failure clung to her like a wet rag. Zenshou could feel her knees beginning to give way and she slowly lowered herself to the floor and waited for the world to stop spinning.

"Jason Stone," she murmured. "Was that really you? But when..." She closed her eyes and ran through the scene in her mind again, trying to see if there was a clue as to when the scene she saw might happen.

"There," she exclaimed in triumph. There was a time and date imprint on the computer screen. The triumph quickly changed to concern. It was tonight, at 3 am. She stood up unsteadily and walked into the living room and looked at the clock. It's pale red glow showed it was 2:30.

"Half an hour... I've got to do something... But was what I saw true?" She went to the computer and frantically started to search the nets and webs for information about Jason and Athena Stone.

2:50 am, and Zenshou finally finds an obituary for Athena Stone. It was very recent, and it gave no details as to what happened or where. "What and I going to do..." She suddenly had an idea, and began to search the net again...

2:57 am, Zenshou gives a sigh of relief, and then panics again. Three minutes... She quickly types up the message and sends it, praying that it gets to him in time, and that he decides to read it...

Jason raised a large fist and slammed it back on the desk. The glass covering the oak cracked in complaint. Jason kissed two fingers and touched them to the picture of Athena. He stood, then, and reached for the pistol.

As his fingers touched the weapon, the computer gave a gentle chime, indicating there was an incoming message.

What am I thinking, wondered Drake. It's just another email. He picked up the gun.

The computer chimed again, insisting on his attention. Jason rubbed his face. I must be drunk. Why do I care about email now? But the interruption made him think, in spite of the alcohol-induced fog. There are still people out there who depend on me. Hobbs took Moira some place safe, but what kind of life would she have if she looses yet another parent? She'll never know what it means to have a family. Can I really leave her to such a lonely fate?

The computer beeped again, dutifully informing the message was still waiting. "Damn it," he stated. He sat back down and touched the control board.

<<on line (02:59:22/15-06-32)>>



Mr. Stone,

The people trying to take away your company may be my enemy as well. Perhaps if we join forces we can defeat them. If you are interested, be at the Edge of Night Thursday at 11:30 pm. I'll find you there and we can talk.



Jason had been fighting elements of the old management of SynTech for years. Recent events had distracted him, though, and he had to admit that his control of the company had been slipping.

After re-reading the letter, Jason pondered the implications further. What could he tell about the email's author? They used the handle, "fate," and a remailer located here in Neo York. There'd be no easy way to track down the author, and sending it to the boys in Information Security would be a mistake if he wanted to keep the letter and potential ally from the eyes of his enemies within SynTech.

The letter was certainly well-crafted. If he wanted to know what this was about, he must go to the meeting. But was it a trap? On the other hand, in view of what he almost did tonight, did he even care if it was?

So the author would remain anonymous unless he met with them. It was also clear that whoever it was, the author knew how to identify Jason. Jason's face was fairly well-known to segments of the business world, however, so that didn't serve to narrow things down.

"Fate." The name of the author's chosen handle sent an involuntary shiver through him. Whoever they were, they must have known Jason couldn't let this pass.

Jason was, as usual, precisely on time, even waiting outside for a minute before proceeding through the door of the Edge of Night at 11:30. He was wearing his stained, torn, and generally shot-up long coat with the built-in sheaths for his swords, but he slid it off, weapons and all, and handed it to the man at the weapons check. Before proceeding, he also unbuckled his shoulder holsters and handed the set, with twin .44s, to her as well. He wasn't concerned about being unarmed in a potentially dangerous situation. He knew how to quickly re-acquire weapons if need be.

Earlier that day, Jason had visited with Dr. Ogura, who patched up his recent wounds in the fight against Master Ting with her usual efficiency. He had spent rest of the day dealing with business as usual.

SynTech Security was curious as to why Jason no longer required them to be in a state of alert. They had no idea how or why the threat to their CEO was ended, and Jason hadn't felt like enlightening them. There was no need to further worry the already flighty board of directors. By the end of a long day of work, Jason had been able to instill a general feeling of normality back into the offices of the company. Soon enough, the night had descended and Jason had made the preparations. He chose to go alone on his BMW motorcycle to further reduce the chance someone might know what he was up to.

Jason turned to face the churning night crowd. He was a little surprised at what he found. The clientele appeared to be little more than corp suits without the stomach for a real Zone bar and a bunch of corp wannabes who'd probably spent their whole lives living in the Zone while wishing they weren't. Still, looks can be deceiving, and sometimes that's what people want or need.

A waitress saw him pause to look around and took the opportunity to take an order. Although his armored long coat had been looking pretty rough, now that Jason was free of it, his finely tailored charcoal grey suit subtly shimmered in the scintillating lights of the club. It made an immediate impression of wealth and power, which this waitress had so quickly noticed.

"May I bring you a drink?" she asked. She stepped a bit closer than Jason liked.

Jason nodded. "A Long Island, if you can managed it," he quickly answered. He sensed the girl wanted to flirt and hoped to cut her overtures short. While she moved off to get his drink, Jason removed his night driving shades and stuffed them inside his suit coat.

Zenshou had arrived at The Edge of Night early, wanting to make sure she had a good vantage point of the door. She had made a quick run to Bartertown with Alice earlier that day to buy some more clothes for her Zone wardrobe, and had got an knockoff of the black leather bodysuit she had worn when she first arrived in the Zone. The suit was open just enough to give a man a teasing glimpse of the swell of her breasts and the faintest hint of red. She was wearing the red lingerie she had purchased the day she had met with Simon Heller, and over it was her favorite armor-cloth trenchoat. She'd also died her hair chestnut brown, leaving her natural white blonde hair color to be the streaks.

She was confident that she looked like a corper wannabe with taste, or at least a corper in the lower echelons of power. Zenshou knew she looked good because she had had to fend off at least a dozen pick-up attempts, telling them convenient lies, giving them fake phone numbers and email addresses. As she leaned back in her chair, she hoped that Stone would show. There was nothing in the news about his death, so either she had been able to catch him in time, or SynTech was covering it up.

Zenshou looked down at her watch. 23:29. I'll give him until 1:30 to show then I'll head home. She was just about to order another drink when she saw him walk through the door.

He looks worn, she thought immediately. He's hiding it well. Her eyes narrowed as her mind drifted over and touched his, the sensation imperceptible to non-espers. He's hurt too, and thinks this might be a trap. I don't blame him. Still, he's here, and he's making sure he's standing out in the crowd. You don't see that kind of suit here every day.

Zenshou stood up and worked her way through the crowd, and intercepted the waitress carrying Stone's drink. She quickly put an end to the woman's protests, paying for the drink and giving her a tip of five times its cost. Zenshou watched the waitress walk away, then turned and went to Stone's side.

"Your drink, Mr. Stone," Zenshou said, not bothering to try and hide the cultured tones of her voice. She stood before him casually, holding the drink out to him, the movement of her body hinting at what was probably poise and deportment lessons accentuated by natural gracefulness.

Jason was about to take his drink and simply dismiss her, but her eyes caught his attention. They were piercing blue, and bore the signs of strength born out of pain and tragedy. That she knew something, some secret about him. Most surprisingly of all, he saw relief and satisfaction in her eyes. For a moment he experienced a flash of recognition, that somehow he knew this woman, but it was gone as quickly as it came.

Jason looked back at Zenshou with his own grey eyes. "Thank you, Ms.--" He paused as if to allow her to fill the blank, but then continued. "Fate?" He wanted to be certain she was the one who sent the message. A brief thought flitted through his mind, If she's the one, I owe her my life. Even if this is some kind of elaborate setup, I'll still owe her that.

A slow smile curved her lips, revealing a perfect smile. "Correct, Mr. Stone. That, of course, not my real name. In the Zone, we all wear masks and disguises." She paused. "Don't worry, this isn't a set up or a trap, so unless you were followed here by some enemies, you are safe. Or as safe as one can be. Why don't we go sit down so you can finish your drink." Zenshou glanced back over towards the table she was sitting at, but it had been taken. Her eyes narrowed for a moment, and the people sitting at the table got up and left.

"There's a table. Shall we?" Zenshou held out her arm. As they made their way towards the table, she caught the attention of a waitress and ordered another drink. Zenshou looked back at Jason and a puzzled look crossed her face for a moment. "I could have sworn your eyes were blue when..." She shook her head. "My mistake."

Jason observed her statement but made no comment. He wondered if she was thinking of an old publicity photograph. It was clear to him that she had done some homework.

When they reached the table, she slid into one of the empty chairs. "I'm very glad my message got to you in time... so you could fit this meeting into your schedule," Zenshou added. "Once we finish our drinks, we can go somewhere where y.. we'd be more comfortable. These chairs aren't that easy to sit on when you're hurt."

Jason had been in the process of sitting down in the opposite chair when she made her last comment. Her comment about her message reaching him in time gave him pause, but he was distracted from pursuing the thought by unhealed wounds that pulled painfully as he made to seat himself. The newly stitched and bandaged puncture wounds Master Ting had left him with hurt like hell but he had thought he had covered it well. And as far as he knew, the injuries had been kept between himself and his doctor. Jason was suddenly very interested where this information was coming from.

Jason finished sitting down and calmly met the steady gaze of his mysterious new acquaintance. "It's nothing I can't handle, but I appreciate your concern."

He took a long sip of his strong Long Island iced tea and took the moment to think a moment. This 'Ms. Fate', or whoever she was, had a quality about her that seemed familiar, and her poise and preparedness indicated a better background and grooming than her outward appearance let on.

Propriety required that serious business be prefaced with apparently idle social dialogue as the two parties measured each other up. Yet Jason was feeling oddly left behind on this score. He was now certain his Ms. Fate had already made her decision about him. He was tempted to break tradition and take more aggressive control of the meeting.

Jason hadn't seen a bodyguard. That didn't mean there wasn't one, but it did mean that Ms. Fate wasn't trying to impress him with power. Combined with the weathered strength he saw in her eyes and her hesitance to give him her name, he could only conclude she was a victim of a recent fall from power.

"Still, if you'd rather retire to more private surroundings I think we should. I would like to discuss your message and the details of your current situation."

Zenshou nodded. "This kind of place can have extra ears. But there's no rush. We've got the entire evening, that is if you don't have any other plans." She leaned back in her chair and shifted her position, crossing her long, shapely left leg over her right.

At that moment the waitress arrived with Zenshou's drink. Zenshou negligently tossed the woman a large bill. "Keep the change." She reached for her glass and watched the waitress walk away and Jason could see a frown cover her face.

"So, this is the 'friend' you were waiting for? Some stuffed shirt?" The arrogant voice belonged to a young man, some executive's son wearing what someone who'd never been in the Zone thought was Zone chic. "What are you, some kind of whore," he ranted, his speech beginning to slur from alcohol. "My money not good enough for you?" His friends took one look at Jason and started to pull on the guy's arm, telling him he was acting stupid and to let it go.

Jason frowned and placed his hands on the table. His eyes deepened in color as he stared menacingly at the intruder.

What did I do to deserve this, Zenshou thought. They never act like this when Gem's around. Maybe she's got some way to scare them off before they get close. How do I get rid of this idiot? She was about to turn away when she picked up one of his thoughts.

"I suggest that you go back to the bar and finish getting drunk," Zenshou said to him. "Because if you don't, Jimmy, your father is going to receive a nice little anonymous letter detailing what really happened to the car, that young woman, and your last month's allowance." With that, Zenshou deliberately turned her back on him. "So, Mr. Stone. Lovely weather we've been having lately, isn't it?"

"What the.. How did you... You BITCH!" Jimmy started to lunge at her, but his friends caught him and dragged him away.

Jason stopped himself mid-rise, as he prepared to meet the youth's attack, but settled down when he saw the kid's friends haul him away. He took another sip of his drink and asked, "What was that all about?"

Zenshou sighed. "I'm sorry about that. He's been making a pest of himself the entire time I was here, waiting for you, and he wouldn't take no for an answer. Interruptions like that is another reason I'd like to leave. This place is nice enough, if you're from an arc and seeking a bit of a fake thrill."

"I chose this place because it was in the Zone and close to the checkpoint," Zenshou explained. "I didn't know if you'd be willing to come deeper in, but now that I've met you again, I know you would have been willing, and capable, of looking after yourself."

Zenshou frowned. He is definitely hurt, and feeling it. I think we ought to get out of here. "Are you alright," she asked, concern evident on her face. She reached out and gently touched his hand. There, that ought to make the pain go away for a little while.

Jason had been about to ask her what she meant by 'met you again,' when she distracted him with her sudden contact. She had a cool touch, even after the previous scene. He would have expected some amount of nervousness. He would almost suspect she had a cybernetic hand, except that it was too soft, too human to be artificial. On top of that, the aching in his chest was mysteriously beginning to subside. 'What is going on here?' he wondered silently

"If you don't mind, I think we might want to take our leave now," she said. "I'm beginning to find this place stifling."

"Wait," he caught her hand in his. In business there was only two reasons for any kind of physical contact between negotiators; when greeting or parting and when sealing a deal. When she touched his hand, it was neither of these things. She had even let slip evidence of concern. Twice. Thus protocol had been broken. "Please."

"What's going on here?," Jason continued. "When did you meet me before?" It was clear this time he needed answers before he would continue.

She looked at her long, delicate hand being held is his for a moment. They were strong hands, and completely at odds with his suave corporate appearance. She could feel the calluses, the kind that one would have earned through the use of weapons. Weapons... Yes, that would fit. A dangerous man in and out of the corporate circles. Just as Stone was ruthless in the board room, Drake was ruthless on the streets when confronting his enemies. It was that strength of character that Zenshou needed, if she could convince him to help her.

Zenshou looked around and opened her mind. Good. No one is paying any attention to us other than the typical jealousy you'd expect of seeing the two of us together. I suppose I'll have to risk it... She looked back at Jason, and a look of surprise crossed her face.

"Your eyes," she said. "They're blue again." Comprehension dawned. "Oh, I understand now." Zenshou continued, but this time in flawless Japanese. "We have met only once, officially. It was two years ago, at a party. We were supposed to share a dance, but I was called away on business." She reached up and curled one of the locks of white blonde hair around her finger, almost absently.

Jason suddenly had a flash of memory. A beautiful young woman with waist length curly white blonde hair in a black designer evening gown. She had been standing off to one side of the room, talking to several important CEO's when he heard her soft throaty laugh. He had wanted to speak with one of the men she was with, but when those piercing blue eyes met his, he found himself asking her to dance. He always did have a soft spot for women in black.

"The second time I saw you," Zenshou continued, "was the night I sent you the message. If you want to know more, it will not be in this club."

Jason suddenly wanted to get out of this club, yesterday. When she sent the message was the night of the battle and he was betting it wasn't in the Zero Zone's Wastes. He had though he was alone late that night, and was certain he'd turned off the security cameras. If she had seen him then, somehow, well... it wasn't exactly his proudest moment. That meant the timing of her message unlikely to have been mere coincidence.

"Here, in the Zone," Zenshou continued, placing a subtle emphasis on the words she had just spoken, "I am known as Zenshou Shinju. You'll understand if I don't tell you my family's name, though I am the last of my line." She watched at his eyes closely. "They all died rather suddenly, and recently."

Then it clicked. He was finally able to match a name to that pretty face. She was Midori Harihatu, whose family was recently murdered. It was all over the business dailies. The fact that one Midori turned up missing was a detail that had been an object of a lot of editorial gossip, especially since it had been long rumored she was being groomed to take over the company one day. Yes, she has enemies, no doubt about that. Now she believes they might be linked with my own opponents within SynTech, thought Jason.

He shook his head sadly. "I do remember hearing that now. I am so sorry for your loss, Miss Shinju."

"Of course." He knew that if there was a link between the Harihatu murders and his company, he wanted to get to the bottom of it. More importantly, this was clearly an opportunity to help the woman who almost certainly saved him from taking his own life.

Jason looked into her eyes. Somehow, he felt relaxed and more sure of himself than he had since that awful night. "I am ready to go whenever you wish." For the first time since Zenshou saw Jason walk in, she saw the flicker of a smile appear on him.

Zenshou answered his smile with one of her own, and her eyes reflected the confidence he felt. She tossed another couple of bills on the table and stood. "Your drink has already been paid for," Mr. Stone. Her lips curved with a touch of amusement. "I figured that since I invited you, the least I could do was pay for it."

Jason smiled, "Thank you, Miss Shinju." He was often chivalrous, but not too proud to accept a gift.

She waited for Jason to stand, then walked to stand beside him. With her two inch heels, Zenshou stood only an inch shorter than he did, so when she leaned in close to him they were practically at eye level. He could smell a very faint spicy scent coming from her skin, like she had applied a very expensive perfume a while ago and the scent has almost completely faded. "I'll explain everything to you when we're alone," she whispered.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jason could see one of the women at a nearby table pantomime to Zenshou that Zenshou had snagged herself a hot property, and gave her the thumbs up. Zenshou chuckled and returned the gesture. "Let's get out of here."

It was a simple gesture, as if him being there meant the success of a kind of happy conspiracy. A genuine smile paid a short visit on Jason's face.

At the door, Zenshou waited patiently for Jason to reclaim his weapons.

Jason carefully buckled on first his holsters and checked his guns, then swung the heavy, customized long coat with swords around his shoulders. He looked at Zenshou with concern, but couldn't think of a polite way to ask where her weapons or bodyguards were.

He settled for offering her his arm as he lead her away from the club.

Zenshou smiled and curled her hand around his forearm. Always the gentleman, she thought.

"I'm afraid I only rode in on my bike. Will that be a problem?" Jason removed a cell phone from a coat pocket to illustrate other means were within reach.

Zenshou shook her head. "No, no problem, other than the fact I don't have a helmet."

The two moved down the paper-strewn sidewalk and spotted Jason's motorcycle. It was classy, and newish, but not straight off the lot. It looked like it had been comfortably broken in and cared for. The chrome, stylized BMW bolted to the gas tank spoke of quality and power. In fact, the bike was no crotch rocket the kids liked to ride. It was built to cruise, not speed.

"What a beautiful piece of machinery," Zenshou said, her eyes drinking in the sight. "You can tell a lot about a man by the vehicle he drives." She looked him in the eyes. "Strength, determination, and patience, tempered with caring. I am honored to be offered a ride."

He tilted his head differentially. "It is you who honor me," he said and then chuckled. "What would you say if I told you I bought it used?" This time his smile stayed and his humor lit his eyes.

"Then I'd say that the man standing before me has an appreciation for quality, and doesn't feel that the newest is always the best," Zenshou replied. "And that the qualities I mentioned are still there. Someone who didn't acknowledge the importance of the past, of history, would have taken that bike and modernized it with the latest in gadgets, completely destroying its character."

Jason smiled, pleased with her rather generous complement. "We're well outside the club now. Miss Shinju, is there... someone else we need to be waiting for?"

Zenshou shook her head. "I came alone."

Jason furrowed his brow. "We need to get off the streets, and soon. Miss Shinju, The streets have eyes, and they are not always just human ones, especially this close to the city." Jason lowered his voice to a whisper. "Someone went to a lot of trouble and expense to not only hurt you and your family, they took the trouble to humiliate and desecrate your home. I doubt they simply need you dead. They will need to punish you for simply escaping them the first time. Trust me, there are things out there worse than death."

" Yes there are," Zenshou agreed. "And whoever it was who betrayed my family is going to wish that a slow, painful death was the only thing I had planned for them."

"Zenshou," Jason said, daring to use the familiarity of her first name. His voice was soft and even, although his words carried some reprimand. "You risk far too much. The first order of business is to see to your safety. Now, if you have some place you feel comfortable, we can go there. I'd be happy to furnish one as well."

"I had planned to bring you to the place I am staying at, but that was before I saw your motorcycle. We can't leave that here," she said, gesturing at the neighborhood. "I don't think I could bring it with us. And it would draw too much attention when we drove up. No," Zenshou corrected herself. "Just you would draw too much attention."

Zenshou's eyes caught Jason's once more, and he felt as if he was falling into them. "I know you won't betray me, so we'll go where you suggest. If I don't like it, I can always leave."

Jason had to know more, especially how Zenshou seemed to be able to get around so ably. "Don't worry about the bike. That's not important. At this point, I would give much more just to hear all you have to say." Jason was guessing that the more comfortable Zenshou was feeling, the easier it would be for her to give answers.

She looked back at the bike. "I would be lying if I said there wasn't a least a small amount of selfishness involved." A smile flickered on her lips. "I've never ridden on a motorcycle before."

Jason told himself he had to stop looking at those addictive, amused blue eyes of hers. They made him want to ask questions unrelated to the business at hand. "I know you must have considered personal protection at some point. But if you need something..."

A bemused smile curved Zenshou's lips. "Why, are you offering?" She shook her head. "That was third thing that I did when I arrived in the Zone. First I find a safe house. Then I hired a very expensive, very talented decker to create Zenshou Shinju out of whole cloth, give her a history and bank accounts, and to transfer and launder money from my personal accounts to Zenshou's accounts. And last but not least, I hired a bodyguard."

"It's her night off, and I wanted this meeting to happen then. She can be a bit abrasive at times, and I needed this to be handled delicately." She waved a negligent hand. "Don't worry. I was very careful coming here. I... took a shortcut, and I was perfectly safe. If you hadn't come to the meeting, I'd have taken the same shortcut back."

"Shall we take that 'shortcut' now? Perhaps on the way you could tell me where you saw me last night? Was it at Sullivan's?" Jason had not been anywhere but to the Zero Zone and then his office. He had never made it home last night, much less to the corporate dinner, but he had to know if she was as forthcoming as she seemed. After all, he going... wherever it was they were going with her and trusting that it would not be to a deposit-only organ bank.

Zenshou's eyes were half-closed, and she was unaware of the distracted look on her face as she checked for the presence of other espers. She sensed something, so she decided not to risk it. To teleport herself, Jason and his bike to the apartment would cause serious disturbance, and she didn't want to leave his bike behind. Besides, she didn't think that teleporting him halfway across the Zone would be the best way to inform him that she was an esper.

She looked back at him and shook her head. "I..." Zenshou paused, and realized that she wanted to tell him the truth, but how to tell him in such an insecure place. Jason could see she was fighting some kind of internal battle, but finally came to a decision.

"To be perfectly honest, I had thought you would have come, well, not dressed as well as you are, or with such a distinctive bike. There... There is a lot I have to tell you, and I feel taking my shortcut would be unfair to you, without any kind of preparation." Zenshou struggled for the words she needed. "It would take an incredible amount of trust on your part, and I don't feel I've earned it yet."

"As for where I saw you, it wasn't at Sullivan's." She looked around, getting more and more nervous, being out in the open like this. "Please, don't force me to tell you here. This... secret is too important to my survival. You choose the place, where we can talk. I don't care where it is, just... Can we leave now?" Zenshou was starting to feel pressure at the edges of her shields, like something was trying to get inside, and it was beginning to frighten her.

"There's something out there. I think... I think it's looking for me. No, not me, for something like me. I can't explain now, but I will tell you, I swear I will. Let's just get away from here." Zenshou clamped down hard on her powers, shutting them down as solidly as she could.

Jason could see the stirrings of fear in her eyes, and watched it get wiped away by intense concentration. He felt guilty for having pressed her, so he honored her request with action. He looked into those magnetic eyes of hers for a moment. Then his helmet suddenly appeared before her.

"You're right. We're gone." He straddled the big bike, kicked down the passenger's foot peg and turned to help Zenshou aboard. "Don't worry, riding a motorcycle isn't much different than riding a bicycle. Just lean naturally and hang on tight."

Jason fired up the motorcycle with a flick of the switch and it roared to life. He looked back at the helmeted woman behind him. "Works better if you hold on here." He caught her hands and placed them on either side of his waist.

Zenshou was surprised at the intimate contact, but quickly decided that there was no ulterior motive behind it. After all, he knew the best way to ride a motorcycle. She shifted her hands slightly so she had a better grip, then took a deep breath to help her relax.

In moments, they were cruising toward the check point and a short time later Jason had bribed and talked their way past. It was amazing the power of executive privilege; aside from a couple curious glances, Jason was able to keep their attention focused mainly on himself, while the identity of his helmeted female passenger was remained inviolate.

Jason could feel Zenshou stiffen slightly, and her hands gripped his waist just a tiny bit harder.

Soon enough, Jason guided them away from the Zone and the hidden threats it contained. The smooth running motorcycle seemed more a sailboat on a moonlit river than a crude machine and Jason nimbly, expertly guiding them on the quickest and shortest route through the city. The small size and maneuverability of their vehicle enabled them to slide quickly out of the city proper.

Zenshou was relieved to have passed through the checkpoint so easily. She felt somewhat foolish, thinking there might have been a problem, but she was beginning to realize exactly how much power, privilege, and money, controlled life in the Zone. As they pulled away from the checkpoint, Zenshou began to relax and started to enjoy the ride.

As their journey through the streets passed, her hands slowly inched their way around his waist, until she was resting against his back, hands splayed on his abdomen.

At last, the long ride neared its end. The entry gate smoothly swept open in response to a command from Jason's cell phone . The fixed plaque bolted to the gate's bars proclaimed "Stone Estate" at the two as they rode by.

Jason drove up the long, u-shaped drive and parked near the front doors. The large, brick mansion stood before them more as a brooding memorial than a living family monument. Cold and empty, it stood with not a light in any of its over-sized windows. Yet the place seemed sad instead of threatening, as if the darkened, empty windows looked in on a maimed heart instead of a home.

This house doesn't belong like this, she thought. It deserves to be alive, and happy. It needs life in it. Maybe I can help change that. When Jason turned off the engine, Zenshou suddenly realized how she was sitting, her arms wrapped around him. She quickly pulled her arms back, embarrassed, glad that the helmet hid her blushing face.

What has gotten into me, Zenshou thought, horrified at herself. That was a complete breech of protocol. He probably thinks I'm some kind of... hussy. To take her mind off what had happened, and to put a bit of distance between then, she slid off the bike and took a few steps back, then turned to look at the building again.

"I, uh... I gave the staff the week off," said Jason, seeing Zenshou pause and look up at the place. Zenshou looked back at Jason, who looked away for a moment. She knew why he had sent them away. "It's okay. No one will disturb us here."

Zenshou nodded, appreciative of his gesture. She put her hands to the helmet, then decided to wait to remove it until they were inside.

Jason walked to the door and placed his hand on a security finger printer and peered into the retina scanner. With a snap, the door unlocked and swung open. Jason paused, "After you." Zenshou stepped inside and waited for Jason to hit the lights.

"May I take your coat?" he asked. He hung it up with his own on a nearby stand. He removed his holsters and pistols as well. He locked them with a hex key and tossed them on a shelf above the stand.

She removed the helmet and set it carefully on the side table, then ran her fingers quickly through her hair, teasing out the tangles and matted sections caused by the headgear. The curls returned with a vigor, creating a shoulder length halo of chestnut streaked with white.

"If you'd like, um... The study is this way." Jason wasn't used to guiding people through his own house. He decided he'd been too reliant on the Hobbs and the staff. As he led Zenshou through his house, she was able to catch a glimpse of Stone family history. Pictures of his family lined the walls of the hall leading to the study, and glancing down the opposite direction, Zenshou could see a neatly ordered living room, complete with a piano. They were shortly walking into Jason's study.

What a beautiful place to live in. So much history, like my home. Her breath caught in her throat when, just for a moment, she remembered the last time she was at her own home. Zenshou resolutely pushed it away and followed Jason into the room.

It was surrounded by memorabilia of two lifetimes. There was a bar, of course, and well stocked. It was placed near built-in bookcases filled with leather bound volumes of subjects ranging from business management to shinto and Buddhist philosophy. Across the surface of a cabinet containing a heavy safe were a number of collegiate football and soccer trophies bearing the name of Gerald Stone. Next to it rested a glass case containing an ornate pair of Japanese swords. Ivory handles bore the Japanese characters for the word, stone. The desk was made of a dark, stained wood, possibly cherry. It bore no computer or other high-tech devices. Instead, it bore two quality pens, a single pad of paper, a phone and a small hand-painted globe. The desk was dust free, but still managed to look as if it hadn't been used in years. Two comfortable chairs sat in front of the desk facing a large black leather chair behind the desk.

Jason approached the bar. "Before we begin, may I get you something to drink, Miss Shinju?"

"Just some water, thank you," Zenshou replied. "And please, call me Zenshou." She paused and looked at him. "Or Midori." She knew the implications of what she had just done, and waited to see how he would react.

Jason paused and looked at her thoughtfully. "Zenshou then. I would hate to become too comfortable with your real name before you are ready to use it publicly." Jason returned with a glass of water for her and a scotch on ice for himself

Would hate to become comfortable... Does that mean he plans on seeing me again? Zenshou took a sip of water from her glass, then cupped the glass gently in her lap.

Jason gestured to one of the chairs, "Please, make yourself at home." He took the other chair so that he would sit in front of the desk with Zenshou. It was a gesture signifying equality.

Zenshou looked at Jason silently for a moment, trying to decide the best way to continue. I have to tell him, she thought. If he finds out some other way, it might ruin any chance for trust between us, and I can't afford to lose him. She felt a peculiar sense of loss and anxiety when she thought she might lose his support.

"I want to thank you," Zenshou said, "for bringing me here. I hope that you won't feel what trust you have in me so far is misplaced." She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. Zenshou hadn't been this nervous for years.

"Gem, my bodyguard," she explained, "would have my hide if she knew I was doing this, and what I am about to do." Zenshou watched Jason's face very carefully. "I.. I must apologize, Mr. Stone. I know so much about you, so much more than I ought to, and you deserve an explanation." She paused, for a moment.

Jason waited silently and with intense interest for her to continue. He brought his glass close for a drink.

"You asked where I saw you that night, the night that I sent you the message. I saw you in your office. You were... drunk," she said, deciding that bluntness was the best route to take. "You were apologizing to your sister, Athena, about not being able to protect her. I... saw you reach for your gun with the intention of killing yourself. I... I couldn't let that happen. When I came out of the trance, I realized that you were going to kill yourself at 3 am, and that I had half an hour to find some way to stop you."

Emotions flickered back and forth across his face before he brought them under control. Jason put down his scotch and cast his eyes down. "The foolish part of me truly wishes you hadn't seen that. Another part of me is just as honestly grateful. For Moira's sake especially, I thank you. But... but how did you do it?"

At the look of confusion on Jason's face, Zenshou's voice dropped, becoming softer. "Mr. Stone, the identity of the esper in the ranks of HariChem has been a closely guarded secret for years. Until this moment, only Nakata Miro and two other people outside of the Harihatu family know who that esper is. You are number three." She paused, and her tongue darted out to moisten her lower lip. "Uncontrolled precognition is only one of my... abilities."

"You have my word of honor," she swore, "that I have never used any of my abilities to control you or your behaviour in any way."

Jason's eyes widened in both surprise and relief. Oddly, whether to believe her or not was a question that never occurred to him. He needed to believe.

"I had hoped it might be something like that, but I didn't really believe it." He shook his head. "You truly a very special woman Zenshou, in many ways." Jason made a small assumption and continued, "If it is justice you seek, I will help you find those who wronged. I know I've had some problems recently, but I want you know they won't prevent me from doing what needs to be done. Hobbs took Moira away to give me space and time, I think. I can devote time to this."

Moira... Do I tell him that I know about her? And tell him how I know? Why do I feel this need to try and scare him off, make him change his mind about offering to help? Zenshou's gaze dropped to her lap and she studied the way the light reflected off the cubes of ice in her drink.

"What happened that night... What I saw... What you were going to do... That means nothing. No, that's not what I mean. What I'm trying to say is that the only thing that matters is that I stopped you, and what has been happening is very similar to what happened to me." Zenshou paused. "With what is going on, perhaps it is best if... the rest of your family weren't around. If my enemies learned that you were helping me, they might decide to go after Moira."

Zenshou lifted her eyes and looked at Jason again. "I don't mean for you to devote your all your free time to helping me. You've got a company to run, and a recovery to lead after all the attacks. I... I need someone on the outside. The attempts on your life, and the attacks on your company, they follow a pattern very similar to what happened to..." Her voice trailed off.

In his mind he knew Zenshou wouldn't be here if she didn't think he could be relied upon. Yet, in his heart he wanted so badly for Zenshou to believe in him. The feeling confused him; this was still supposed to be a business meeting discussing an alliance between two people with mutual enemies. But because of what had been said, he couldn't help but feel very personally involved.

He tried to focus on what needed to be done. "If there is someone in my company who has anything to do with what befell your family, I swear I will root them out and make them wish they never heard of the Harihatus." Why am I getting so caught up in this? he wondered to himself. She's obviously a very strong person. So why do I feel like giving her a hug and telling her it will be all right? He told himself he was being stupid and held himself in check.

"Do you have any details you can share?" he asked.

Zenshou worried her lower lip between her teeth as she thought. "There had been several unsuccessful attempts by some unknown party to buy out the Harihatu interest in HariChem. Of course, my father turned them down. HariChem has been run by a Harihatu for over seven generations. I would have been the first female CEO. My siblings... would have been too young to take over by the time my father retired, and none of them showed any interest, while I showed a natural aptitude for business."

"The last communication we received from the representative from the people trying to buy HariChem was that it would be a very bad decision if we didn't play along. My father sent the courier back with the message that the Harihatus would not be bullied." Zenshou shifted in her seat, unconsciously tightening her grip on her glass, turning her knuckles white.

"I couldn't understand why anyone would be so... desperate to get their hands on HariChem. We're not the power that ST, or SynTech are. HariChem is mainly agriculture, biotech and pharmaceuticals." She frowned. "The night... it happened, it was going to be a wonderful family dinner. I had just been out at one of the experimental farms where we're trying out some prototype grains that will grow and produce viable crops in desert-like conditions. There was a delay in one of the connecting flights, so I was late getting home." The grief was obvious on her face, but she controlled it, and continued to speak.

"That's the only reason I'm alive. Their bodies were still warm. They killed everyone. Even the maid's young daughter. The only body I didn't find was Jack's. James "One Eyed Jack" Anderson. He was the head of security for our family. His room was torn apart, and there was a lot of blood, but no sign of him. Jack told me that if I ever found myself in trouble to head to the Zero Zone and to seek out an old friend of his, so that's what I did. I grabbed a few of my belongings, and took off. Teleported to just inside the Zone, and then made my way on foot from there."

Jason's eyebrow rose at the teleport comment and he made a mental note. Precognition and teleportation; I wonder what the real extent of her abilities are...

"Like I said before, I couldn't understand why someone would want HariChem so badly, at least not then. After I had Zenshou created, and hired Gem, I hired Simon Heller, a private detective, to start digging. He believes that Nakata Miro, HariChem's CFO is the man who hired him, and that Zenshou Shinju is acting as a middleman, so to speak. I'm pretty sure he suspects there's a lot more to it, but I'm not doing anything to confirm his suspicions."

"There are two things that I have been able to find out, though. From the evidence at... the scene," Zenshou said, trying to stay focused, "that it was in all likelihood the 'Black Company' who did the hit. Second, I knew there were projects that I was being kept in the dark about, and I found out what they were. HariChem was, unknownst to me, involved in a lot of classified work for the military. What I can tell you about those projects is that some of them involved better versions of the 'Wargland'..." She paused. I've got to trust him. "As well as splicing in the ability to regenerate lost limbs into soldiers."

Jason nodded and indicated she should continue. There was little the military did that surprised him. As an arms manufacturer during the war, his father was involved in the production and testing of new weapons, although they had never made people into weapons before.

"But," she said, her voice dropping down to a near whisper, "perhaps even more importantly, they were doing esper research and were on the verge of a major breakthrough. In fact, they were starting testing."

"Can you imagine what a position that would put HariChem in the marketplace, or anyone who owned those secrets? For whoever it is to take control of HariChem and those processes, there cannot be a single Harihatu alive. You are looking at the one thing that is keeping them from 'legitimately' owning that research."

"There is a traitor somewhere in HariChem, and I have to find out who. Security for these projects was so tight that less than a handful of people know about it. Worst of all, whoever is behind all this might already have the samples of the esper drugs, and everything else that was being worked on."

Zenshou drained her glass, wishing she had asked for something stronger. "I feel like I'm in a leaky lifeboat with a hurricane on the horizon. I only really feel safe with Gem, and with you. I have to keep a tight reign on my powers 24/7 so that other espers don't notice me. I try to keep my distance from Jack's friend to protect him. The strongest part of the apartment I'm in is the steel door, and even that is a bit rickety. I can't do much to reinforce them for fear of bringing too much attention to the place, and I can't talk to Gem about it because she already worries so much about me I don't want to add to her burden." Zenshou shook her head and gave Jason a weak, self-depreciating smile. "The only thing I do find myself doing is whining to you. I'm sorry."

"Wait a minute," Jason smiled. "You only just met me. You really trust me that much?" Jason looked amazed at confident this woman was in her ability to judge character.

For a moment, an expression of guilt and embarrassment flashed across her face, but it was gone was quickly as it appeared. "To be honest, I'm not sure how much you can do to help. My only thought at the time I sent that message was that you were hurting, just like I was, and that the pattern of what was happening to your company was similar to what was happening to mine. I thought that maybe, if I could get your attention, get you to answer your email, I could stop you. I could stop the hurt in both of us. I don't want you to end up in ruin too. If you want to back out, I understand. You're under no obligation to me whatsoever."

This did not at all sound like the "ice queen" comments among the male corporate seemed to want to paint her. She was placing Jason's best interests above her own and that of her company's. He remembered the dance they almost shared when he first met her at that party. What was it? One, two years ago? He managed to get some jealous stares from some of the other guys and had later gathered Zenshou—Midori, then—rarely accepted an offer to dance. She had been interrupted, called away to business and the dance was never completed.

Jason looked back at Zenshou thoughtfully for a moment, and it was tempting to see just what was going on behind those eyes of his. "I want to help you. I don't think you could keep me from trying to help you," he smiled.

What is he thinking, Zenshou wondered. I know that he is driven to help others, but I'm not exactly helpless, and he knows it. And why do I want him to? He has power. He has connections. She thought back to the party. Zenshou knew that he had wanted to talk to at least one of the men she was conversing with, and remembered the surprise she had felt when he asked her to dance. There was a look in his eyes, kind of like a child who was suddenly sidetracked by something new and exciting. His eyes flashed blue then too, she thought. Something about that look, about him, made her decide to do something that she normally never did - accept a dance.

Oh, how I wish I could know what he was thinking, but it wouldn't be right. But wait... I know that his eyes change from gray to blue when he's excited or under stress. Why would he be excited about me? Did he consider me a conquest of some kind? Zenshou was surprised to discover that she really didn't like that possibility. Get a grip, Midori. Since you started to 'blossom', no man has shown any interest in you that hasn't had some ulterior motive, and who wouldn't abandon you at the drop of a hat if someone more powerful came along. She started to feel confused. But Jason isn't like that. If he was, there would have been a string of cast aside lovers. Oh, what am I doing. I don't have time to be thinking about this. Nothing is going to happen, so why waste the time and energy worrying about it. Zenshou resolutely pushed the thoughts aside. I'll worry about it when this whole mess is done.

"And I know I can help. I think we should continue that investigation, but I have another option. It's a backup plan, but I don't see how it could possibly fail." Jason stood and paced over to the bar. He hadn't touched his scotch since he put it down, but he didn't like to see an empty glass in front of his guest. Absently, he filled it with a conservative whiskey and 7-up. "Whiskey and seven okay?"

Zenshou nodded. She didn't drink very much, mainly wine, but maybe the whiskey would give her the courage to confess. The secret she was holding was gnawing at her, and she realized that she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she didn't tell him.

He returned with the drink, replaced her water glass and then sat down beside her again. "This is going to sound pretty bold, but I want to you seriously consider this before you say no. If this investigation fails to flush out those responsible, we can force their hand. They don't know about our alliance and I think that I can scare them into making a move. Only this time, we'll be waiting for them.

"I can begin feigning interest in purchasing a controlling interest in another corporation. I can leave clues around that HariChem is at the top of the list. It makes sense: HariChem also does pharmaceuticals and its stock values have been on a downward swing since the attack on the Harihatu family. That in itself, won't necessarily force them to strike, but actually going through with it will." Jason held up his hand to intercept her refusal.

"I understand that it would require your okay for HariChem to authorize the sale of that much stock to me, and that would mean I would take over the company. BUT, I'm prepared to make a secondary contract with you done in secret stating that I will relinquish all control of the company after a designated time period or when you are able to publicly take control of the company again, whichever comes first. I can have Hobbs witness and sign off on it. He's got the license to do so. You can bring someone you trust to also witness the deal. Other than these four people, it must be done in absolute secrecy for this to work.

"At this point, our enemies will be forced to move, this time against me. This time, however, WE will have the upper hand. When they attack, we'll crush them between the two of us, and squeeze the information we need to get to their masters." Jason let her digest that for a moment.

"Midori, this is going to take a lot of trust on both our parts. You'll have to trust that I won't take advantage of this situation, although we can and should put some assurances in order. And I'll have to trust that you'll be there when they make their move."

Zenshou's breath caught in her throat. He called me Midori. What does that mean? There was something about the way he said it that both thrilled and terrified her, and in an instant she made up her mind.

Jason looked steadily at Midori, and she didn't have to be a mind-reader to see he was serious about putting himself and his wealth on the line for her.

Zenshou took a large swallow from her new drink, and held back the coughing when it hit her throat, and she was unaware that the guilt and distress she was feeling was apparent on her face again.

"Before I give you my answer, there's something else you need to know." She tried to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat. "You know that I'm an esper, and I've told you that I have precognition and can teleport. You deserve to know the extent of my abilities. There's only one problem. I don't know what they are. The only limit I have found for my abilities is in sheer power. Without pushing, I can manage a esper blast just over a third as strong as Ran, but there hasn't been anything that I haven't been able to do. I can teleport. I can fly. I can alter people's memories." She bit her lower lip and forced herself to look Jason right in the eyes. "I can read people's minds."

She continued to speak, not allowing him to interrupt. "When I saw you in the bar, I read your mind. It was just to find out if you were okay, and if I had succeeded in getting you to stop thinking about killing yourself. But.. " The distress in her voice became palpable. "Something happened and I went too deep. I... That's why I trust you so much. I know you. And I swear that nothing of what I learned will ever will leave my confidence without your permission."

Jason opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. "Too deep?" he wondered quietly. He mouthed it almost silently and Zenshou continued without seeming to notice. And she still trusts me? She probably knows me better than I know myself, and she still wants me to help? A confused emotion fixed upon his face and he wondered if she was reading his mind now.

"I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am that that happened. It gives me such an unfair advantage over you, and that was never my intention. You have every right to know as much about me, especially if you are going to trust me. Ask me as many questions as you like, as personal as you'd like. I'll try to answer them to the best of my ability, and as truthfully as I can. Then, if you've decided that I am worthy of your trust, we'll proceed with your plan. It's a very good one. Gem won't think so, because she doesn't trust anyone when it comes to me, especially someone who shows any kind of interest in me."

Jason decided the mind reading was a good thing, at least this time. As he thought about it, he realized he really didn't have anything he wanted to keep from Zenshou. But her comment about Gem not liking when people take interest in Zenshou made him feel strangely torn between curiosity and another feeling he didn't understand. Am I interested in Zenshou? She's bright, attractive, well mannered, kind and I already know I like her being here. But it's just too soon to think about things like that. Jason had to be honest with himself. Besides, right now I'm so grateful someone came along when they did, that I can't just trust my feelings, even if I knew what they were.

"Any question I like?" Jason had a mischievous smile and a glint in his eyes. "Well, maybe you already know what I'm going to ask," he teased. He gave her a playful wink. "No, really don't feel so bad. I can see you weren't trying to be anything but honest with me. Now that my past is out in the open, and you are still here, it would seem I really didn't need to be hiding anything anyway."

Zenshou shook her head. "I'm not reading your mind," she replied. "I've been dampening my powers since before we drove here on your motorcycle. It takes concentration to do that, and it is very difficult to do anything more than pick up a pen or roll some dice when I'm dampening."

"Do you do telepathy, too? I heard a few espers could do that."

Zenshou nodded. "There are two types of telepathy actually. One where the other person is willing, and one where the other person is unwilling. I can do both. The latter kind can also be used to read someone's thoughts," she added softly.

"Okay. Well, if you need to get a hold of me and don't have a phone handy—no, on second thought don't even use a phone. That can be traced. Just call me with your.. uh, whatever it is you can use to call me." Jason smiled at his own ignorance of psychic power.

Zenshou nodded, then spoke hesitatingly. "Something that I have done with Gem is set up what I call a "tag," that is, I set up a connection with her and keep it available. That way we can both contact each other whenever we need to. The link on Gem's end will work only if she wants it to. I can do the same with you, if you like. That way I don't have to worry about trying to find your mind amongst all the ones in Neo York and the Zone, and you can contact me instantly if you need me."

"That makes sense to me. I think we should do it."

"Are you sure," Zenshou said. She had never done this with a man outside of her family, and suddenly it seemed so... intimate. Zenshou found herself both excited and dreading the idea.

"I want to," he replied. He was suddenly excited to have a friend who'd know what he meant and what he wanted without having to say it. The fact that she already knew practically everything about him gave him a sense of freedom and having a link like this just seemed natural.

"You're going to feel a touch on your thoughts," Zenshou explained, "kind of like I'm knocking on a door in your mind. What you need to do is 'answer' it. Think of it like I'm at your front door; you open it and invite me in. Remember, I can't set up the link unless you allow it, so you're in complete control."

A moment later, Jason felt something he'd never felt before. It didn't feel like someone was 'knocking' in his head. It was more like a warm, gentle touch, a caress mother would give a child, or a woman would give her lover.

Jason's jaw dropped and his eyes grew wide. That's a knock? he wondered. He mentally welcomed the sensation, hoping that this was the expected answer.

~Can you hear me?~ Zenshou's voice was a soft, warm whisper in his mind, gentle and unobtrusive. ~There's no need to verbalize what you want to say. Just think the words at me, or think what you would say to me. And remember, I can only 'hear' what you want me to hear.~

~Yes, just like you were talking quietly in my ear. This is... amazing!~ Oddly, he really liked the strange power. It was certainly something he didn't understand and he couldn't control. ~It will take a little getting used to, though.~

Zenshou could sense the pleasure and wonder in his mental voice. ~I'm glad you're okay with it. I wanted to be sure I was gentle. It's so long since I initiated this kind of link. When I did it with Gem, I scared her. I had forgotten how... startling it can be to someone who's not used to it.~ She began to relax, happy that things had worked out well.

He was still more comfortable speaking out loud so long as they were face to face so he continued that way. Jason decided to ask a question that he knew he'd be kicking himself for not asking later. "If I'm going to be working with you, then I guess I'd like to know what the boundaries are. Professionally speaking. For instance, does Gem have an interest in you beyond you being her employer, and is this feeling reciprocated? It will make a difference in how I talk to her, or even if I should."

Zenshou leaned back in the chair. "As in is there a sexual attraction? No," she said, shaking her head. "I am neither lesbian nor bisexual. Gem's interest in me does go beyond that of an employer, but it is friendship. Actually, in the short time she has been working for me, we have become very close. In her words, we have become sisters."

"I didn't mean to get that personal; I really just wanted to know if there was a real bond there. That way, when she steps over the line between employee and employer, I'll know why and won't say anything stupid."

"Jason," Zenshou said softly. "I told you that you had my permission to ask as personal a question as you want, and I meant it. I know your likes and dislikes," she said, trying to explain. "I know what makes you angry, what excites you..." Zenshou realized the implications of what she just said and couldn't control the blush that crept over her face. Way to go, Midori. Make a fool out of yourself and make Jason feel even more uncomfortable...

"You do?" Jason's face turned deep red. "Oh, ah, yes I suppose you would."

Zenshou's face turned an even brighter red. "I... I didn't mean it that way," she managed to choke out, and in an attempt to cover her embarrassment took another swallow of her drink.

Jason cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. He wanted to melt into the scenery more than anything, but bravely, he continued. "This Simon Heller. Are you sure we can trust him not to investigate you instead, and then sell the information? I'll run some checks on him as well. Do you have the name of his firm? I don't think I will deal with him or his firm directly. The less I have any obvious contact with HariChem or its people, other than as a prospective buy, the safer our plan will be. I would prefer this plan of ours not go beyond Hobbs, Gem, you and myself."

Zenshou shook her head. "I don't know. He's certainly being paid enough, but he does have very good reputation for confidentiality, and an impressive success rate. He's an independent operator, working for himself. I have his card back at the apartment." A slight smile curved her lips. "Gem thought he was pushy, rude, and a few other choice words. He flirts very well, and respects the rules of the 'game'." Zenshou suddenly found herself needing to explain. "I decided that I had earned a night off and was looking for a bit of harmless fun. I know he wanted more, but we would have parted ways at the door of the bar. Gem was keeping a watchful eye over me the entire time. She takes the security of my person very seriously."

"Speaking of security, will you do me a favor? Please pop in here whenever you like. What did you call it? Teleport. I would feel better if I knew you had some place to go when the chips are down other than the Zero Zone. If you'd like to stay, my home is open. I have a guest house you can use, too, if you just need to chill out a while. Arthur, that is, Hobbs, my assistant lives there, but he'll be out of the country with Moira for a while. Oh, and I never have visitors. Not anymore."

No visitors, Zenshou thought, that is so sad. This house was meant to be a home. It fairly screams 'live here, be happy here, love here'. Maybe when my problems have been dealt with, I can find some way to bring light back to this place. She shook her head almost imperceptibly. Why am I so concerned about making him happy? Is it because of all the heartache he's felt? That anger within him, what he thinks of as his 'beast', can be tamed. All he needs is to learn to forgive himself and learn to love and be happy again. And why do I feel the need to be that person? It must be because we've both lost family in sudden and tragic ways, she finished silently, trying to convince herself that was all there was behind it.

"Thank you," Zenshou replied softly. "You are being very generous." She smiled. "Pop in, that's an interesting way to describe it. It's actually more a sensation of sucked in and spit out again, but pop sounds much better. If you want, I could... show you what it's like some time."

"I'd like that. I think it would be... fun." He smiled again.

A slight smile returned to Zenshou's lips. "Fun isn't exactly what Gem described it as. It can be rather disorientating when you're not used to it."

Jason got creative. "Is there anyone else we may need to be aware that might be looking for you? A fiancˇ or boyfriend or other close friends who might start snooping on his-- their own?"

Zenshou shook her head. "There's no one," she replied simply. "Never has been. Nakata Miro believes that I am in Hong Kong, was told not to look for me, and that I would contact him again." She looked at Jason, wondering what other questions he would ask. "I never had time for any relationships, and I always felt that I ought to marry in such a way to benefit the family."

He asked that because he wanted to know if there might be anyone to complicate our plans, she thought. That has to be it.

Jason nodded. He was familiar with this ethic and didn't doubt her in the least.

"I know the hour is very late. You are welcome to stay, if you'd like. I can take you back to the Zero Zone tonight or in the morning." He chuckled. "Shoot, I have two whole houses here. It's not like you could possibly be any kind of imposition."

Zenshou stifled a yawn. "Thank you, Mr. Stone. You're being far more generous than you need to be, given the circumstances." She stopped herself from rubbing her eyes. "I'll need to be back at my apartment first thing in the morning though. I don't want Gem arriving and finding that I'm not there and going on a one woman rampage through the Zone trying to find me. She's good at her job, and takes looking after me very seriously." Zenshou shook her head. "I am in for such a lecture when she finds out what I've been doing tonight."

"I prefer just Jason, Zenshou. Well, to be honest, you really probably deserve that. Luckily it's just me, but you did take a pretty big risk for a gain you couldn't be sure about." Jason truly hoped she'd think more about her own safety before arranging a meeting with someone. Or at least, ask him to be there...

"As for the morning, no problem. I'll be sure to ring your room so we can get moving early."

Zenshou drank the last of her drink and set it down carefully on a coaster. "I was careful. That's why I... did what I did. To make sure that you were okay, and to scan the crowd for any signs that there was danger aimed towards you or myself. You had no idea who contacted you, let alone what that person looked like. I bounced the message through several remailers for added security. It would have taken some time for track it down, and even then your security people would have had to break through the system to see how owned the anonymous account the message originated from." She gave a slight smile. "That was one of the other things the decker did for me."

"If there had been any threat to me, I would have been gone in a flash. There's very little that can prevent me from teleporting away."

Jason saw that Zenshou was looking a bit pale after that whiskey and seven. He decided to offer her something to cushion the alcohol a little. "I have a bad habit of eating very late suppers before I go to bed. I'm sure I can find something for two, if you'd like."

Zenshou opened her mouth but her stomach spoke for her, letting out a rather loud growl. "I think I had better take you up on that offer," she said with an embarrassed smile. "Gem and I normally grab food from food stands when we're together. The fridge in my apartment is so empty that not even an ant could find a crumb, and I've been so busy today that I simply forgot to eat. To top it all off, what passes for food at the Edge, like the drinks, is overpriced," she finished simply, her distaste for whatever it was that they served obvious on her face.

"You need to do some shopping?" Jason asked suddenly. "We could go after I find us something to eat, if you're feeling up to it." Zenshou was surprised at the offer. "If you're sure," she replied. "It is kind of late."

Zenshou was surprised at the offer. "If you're sure," she replied. "It is kind of late."

Jason remembered her yawn earlier. "Only if you're not too tired. I'm a night owl, but it won't do to take you back tomorrow and have Gem think I kept you up all night."

"To be honest, I have no idea what she'll think. In fact, I think she believes I sit at home in the apartment when she's not around, thinking up new ways to tear her hair out in frustration," Zenshou said with a soft laugh which turned into a yawn.

"Maybe we ought to get up a bit earlier than we had originally planned and do the shopping before we go to my apartment." A wistful look crossed her face. "I would kill for a single fresh, unbruised apple. Or something as simple as a head of lettuce that wasn't turning brown."

Jason led Zenshou through the house to the large kitchen, and soon both were able to find something to settle stomachs and nerves. When they were finished, Jason guided Zenshou through his house to a spacious bedroom that was once used by his sister Helen when she was growing up, but later changed to a guest room for close friends or family members. It still looked to have been arranged by a feminine touch and had its own bathroom adjoining.

He turned to go, but stopped in the doorway, still looking the other way. ~Midori?~ he sent.

~Yes, Jason,~ Zenshou replied softly.

~Thank you. Thank you for trusting me, believing in me and most of all, thank you for saving my life.~ Jason disappeared into the darkened hallway.

Zenshou stood in silence, watching the door. She sent only a feeling of friendship and comfort, feeling that no words were needed and because she simply didn't know what to say. She knew that it took a lot for a man as proud as Jason Stone to say what he just did. For the first time Zenshou began to realize the importance of what she had done.

She had saved people's lives before, helping out in emergencies, paying for the medical bills for HariChem employees, and making sure their families were provided for. This was the first time, however, that it had ever been so personal. Zenshou hugged herself tightly, then shut the bedroom door quietly.

She walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge, then looked around the room. To her eye, it had obviously been decorated by a woman, or at very least had a woman's touch. It was very comfortable and welcoming.

Zenshou found she couldn't hold back her yawns anymore and her eyes were starting to droop closed. The stress of the day was finally starting to catch up with her and she needed to get some sleep; the effects of the alcohol and a full stomach were calling to her.

She removed her boots then undid the zipper of her catsuit and shimmied her way out of it. Zenshou carefully laid it over the back of the chair and clad only in her panties and bustier padded over to the bathroom to wash her face. After cleaning up the small mess she had made, she went back into the bedroom.

Zenshou removed the bustier, folded it up and tucked it under the catsuit, straightened up her boots and placed them under the chair, then slid between the sheets wearing nothing but her panties. She fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Jason wandered through his house and retired to his own rooms lost in thought about the evening's events. Zenshou had arrived at his life at just the right moment. Now it seemed so natural that she should be here. He wondered if it was because she knew his thoughts so well, had read him so deeply, that it became easy to get along.

He lay back on his bed, still dressed and on top of the covers, and thought of Sandra. She still was there, in the back of his mind. It even hurt to remember her name. Why did it have to end that way? Why did she have to kill Athena? Was there no other way? Jason couldn't believe, in his heart, that there wasn't hope for his sister. He just knew that somehow he could have gotten through. Athena was blood, how could she be so truly lost? Sandra killed that hope. In my heart I will never forgive her, even if my mind tells me she was trying her best. It wasn't good enough.

Yet, when he was spending time with Zenshou this pain and others seemed less sharp. It was a simple fact that was hard for him to understand. He remembered when she touched him at the Edge of Night. That touch chased away his pains and they never returned.

Jason got out of bed and went to the mirror. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it in a hamper and stared at what he saw. The wounds inflicted by Ting were gone. Bruises and cracked ribs from Marta were healed. He leaned heavily on the dresser before the mirror. He didn't understand how this could be; how these feelings could be

Jason paced the room, unable to sleep for hours. Then he felt a pressure in his mind, different from before yet still similar. ~Zenshou?~

Zenshou felt trapped and terrified. She was at her family home, hiding in a corner as she watched the intruders storm through the room, killing and destroying everything and everyone she held precious. She saw the men, nothing more than indistinct yet menacing shadows desecrate the family shrine.

~Zenshou? Are you there?~ Jason tried to answer the ethereal 'knocking'.

~No, stay away! Hide! Don't let them kill you too...~

"Zenshou!" Jason said aloud. He threw open his door open and ran through the house until he found the door to Zenshou's room. He burst through, certain something horrible was happening but saw only Zenshou alone in her bed, seeming to fight her covers. He went to the edge of her bed without another thought and gently took her shoulders in his hands.

"It's okay, it's only a dream. You are safe now." He gathered the covers about her put a reassuring arm about her, the way he did those nights when Moira woke up scared and confused from bad dreams.

Zenshou, still trapped in her dream, whimpered and cried out. She saw one of the figures approaching her, raising its blast rifle.

"No!" Zenshou screamed, trying to fight it off but it kept coming.

When he touched Zenshou, a scene flared to life before Jason's eyes of a home being invaded; attacked by men whose intent was murder and humiliation. He saw the dream unfold as if he was there, but as a third party not involved.

~Zenshou,~ he sent. He shook her gently trying to get her attention. ~This is a dream. You are safe. Come back to us...~ He continued, softly saying, "Zenshou" aloud.

Zenshou suddenly felt the scene shift and a door opened behind her, bathing her in light. She could feel the warmth, the comfort coming though the door. Zenshou stood on the threshold, almost too terrified to move, but then she heard her name being called. It was a man, and the sound of his voice tugged at her heart and pulled her through into the light.

Her struggles calmed and she instinctively turned towards the warmth. ~Jason...~ Zenshou's eyes fluttered open briefly, full of sleep and pupils dilated until her irises had disappeared, and she nestled her head against his shoulder. That movement made the sheet slip, causing her soft skin to press against his, and revealing the bright red scrap of lace on her hips. With a brief shiver from a chill, Zenshou snuggled up against Jason, her right arm reaching across his chest to hug him.

As Zenshou's breathing slowed, Jason felt deep contentment and a sense of peace from knowing one is safe come through the mental bond they shared. He couldn't help feel a quiet thrill at the touch of her skin, but it was more important to him that Zenshou sleep well, and he chose to remain there in quiet support. Jason lay awake for some time before sleep finally cast it's warm shadow across his eyes.

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