Marta stared at Ling Ling—who for the last several years had been her employer, closest friend, and lover—in disbelief. The Asian woman stood across the living room, her back to the wide bay window, and looked at Marta with an equal mix of concern and sadness. She wore a white jacket and black trousers, and held her arms protectively crossed over her breasts, and a cigarette clenched between her fingers.
"Retire?" Marta asked, attempting to confirm what she had just heard.
"Yes," Ling Ling paused, took a deep breath and continued. "Retire. Hang up your guns. You don't need to do freelance work anymore. Quit while you're still alive."
Taking a deep breath of her own, Marta unconsciously clenched her hands into fists, ignoring the feel of her fingernails digging into the palms. She glanced about the apartment before replying, "What about you? I thought you needed me to guard you."
"I do." The end of Ling Ling's cigarette glowed as she inhaled a calming lungful of tobacco smoke. "But you don't need to go out on these missions anymore."
"Why not?" Marta snapped. "You don't seem to mind the money they bring in."
"Marta..." Ling Ling's normally clam and inscrutable composure cracked along with her voice. "It's not about the money. It's about your life! You went out with Raven and came back all shot up. You went out on that Drake mission and nearly killed him, Sandra, and yourself! Next time you might not come back at all!"
Running her hands through the long stands of her inky-black hair, Marta shook her head. "And I won't die acting as your bodyguard? Ling Ling this is Hong Kong, I could get killed going out to get you a pack of smokes!"
"But you don't have to force the issue!" Ling Ling glanced at her cigarette and ground it out in a nearby ashtray.
"I'm not forcing anything!" Marta's reply was loud, as if to confirm to herself the truth of her statement.
"Really?" Ling Ling took a step forward, her arms at her sides. "Then why to you keep tempting fate? Why do you want to die?"
"Of course not!"
An eyebrow arched up as Ling Ling looked Marta over. She was wearing what was for her casual clothing: boots, tight black jeans, and a white long-sleeved pullover. To Ling Ling's veteran eye, Marta was tense, angry, and most importantly, lying to herself. Marta might not be actively seeking death, but she certainly didn't shy away from danger. Ling Ling knew from past experiences this was a turn-on for Marta, the rush of adrenaline and excitement drove her to test herself in hazardous situations again and again. That didn't mean Ling Ling had to accept it.
"Don't you realize what you mean to me?" Ling Ling walked towards Marta, her hands held out in front of her. It was as if she was pleading with Marta to understand her point of view. "I love you. Deeply. And I don't want to see die."
"I... I'm not going to die."
"We all die, Marta. But I don't want you to die young."
There was a pause that slowly dragged out into an uncomfortable silence.
"You don't trust me," Marta said suddenly.
"What?" Ling Ling was taken back by the accusation, and retreated a step. "I never said that."
"Not out loud."
"Marta..." Ling Ling paused. It was difficult to talk to the black-haired street samurai. She had, at times, a volatile tempter, and a tendency to jump from subject to subject at great speed, often abandoning a topic before anyone had realized she'd mentioned it. "Marta, I most certainly do trust you. You're my bodyguard, how could I not?"
Marta took a deep breath and looked at her lover. "You don't trust me to know that I can and can't do. I know my limitations and what I'm capable of."
Ling Ling shook her head. "Do you?"
The silence was broken by faint popping of Marta's knuckles as she flexed her fingers, forming a fist, then opening her hand, before repeating the process. Ling Ling had a sudden flash of fear that Marta was about to take out her frustrations physically, and Ling Ling, skilled as she was, had no change against Marta's heavily augmented prowess.
A crash marked the blur of Marta's hand as she punched it through an end table. Splinters of wood feel to the floor, followed by a porcelain vase. Ling Ling didn't even twitch.
For a moment Marta looked as if she meant to speak, and then she turned and stormed off. The sound of the front door slamming marked her departure.
Shaking, Ling Ling slowly collapsed onto the floor, leaning on the edge of the couch for support. She had wanted to take Marta into her arms, to calm her lover's fears and frustrations, to pass the night with a bout of tender lovemaking. And now it had all gone wrong. Silently, she whispered a pray for Marta to return safe, and cursed the esper that had ruined her lover's sense of self.
To Sandra, Hong Kong's streets were seemingly perpetually busy and crowded. Compared to the Neo York Zero Zone that she had lived in before, there were far more people out on foot. The denser population, combined with the far safer (at least, by comparison) life meant that the sidewalks were perpetually crowded. The addition of street markets and stalls made for far more packed and narrow side streets. She had become almost used to weaving her way through the crowds, avoiding bumping into other people. Still, every now and then she did hit someone.
A woman slammed into her hard, sending her tumbling back. She had been moving fast, and was surprisingly solid. Sandra ended up gracelessly sprawled on her backside. She picked herself up, not even pausing to dust herself off before giving her assailant a piece of her mind. "Stupid tool! Why don't you watch where you're..." She trailed off as she got a look at the woman she'd collided with.
She was shorter than Sandra, with a mass of long, raven-black hair, wearing a long black coat over a white turtleneck and black pants. Sandra recognized her instantly. Marta Nys, the infamous street samurai. Sandra and her had worked together a few weeks ago. Now it seemed like it had been months.
"What are you doing here?" Marta snapped at Sandra.
"I live here." Sandra replied, angrily. "I came here by plane, rather than just taking off with my all-powerful earth-shattering sister."
Marta paused, taken aback by this seeming non-sequitor. "What?" she finally managed.
"Oh, I guess you don't remember." Sandra replied. "Your sister pops out of nowhere, grabs you and then vanishes, leaving me and..." She paused for a second. "Drake to face the rest of the damned gang on our own."
"No... I remember... but what was I meant to do?" Marta retorted. "It's not like I had any choice! That fuckin' esper was making me do what ever he wanted!" Taking a deep breath, Marta looked Sandra in the eye. "So don't go blaming me for what happened."
"Why not?" Sandra asked back. "If you were half as good as you claimed to be you wouldn't have gotten yourself into that mess in the first place."
"Me?" Mara replied. "Do I look like my sister? Do I look like I can fight an esper? Besides, it's not my fault. What happened was because of your damned boyfriend." Marta paused, took a breath and then started back into her tirade. "I was only captured because of his stupid fucking plan. If he hadn't charged in like that, I wouldn't have been caught and none of this would have happened."
"Leave him out of this!" Sandra shouted back.
"Why not? It's his damned fault. Him and that esper."
"His sister was killed because of you!" Sandra shouted back. Marta stopped, about to say something, but waited to let Sandra continue. "If you'd been there, or someone else had been there, then I... then..." She paused, suddenly drained, glancing away from the other woman. "Then she might still be alive." She looked up at Marta. "She was the whole reason Drake hired me in the first place and part of the reason why he hired you. I hope you understand that."
"You could at least act like you care." Sandra angrily replied. She barged forwards, brushing Marta aside. Her progress was halted, however, by a strong grip on one of her arms. "What now?" She asked, not turning back to Marta.
"Where and when did this happen?"
"A few minutes after your sister took you, where we were last in the Zone." Sandra replied and then pulled her arm away from Marta. Not getting any reply, she barged off into the crowd, leaving the street sam behind.
Sandra tried hard not to think about it, but the tears were inevitable. She didn't need this, not today. She had gone out for some air and to clear her head. It had been the first time she'd heard about Drake since that day. He'd been seen in a fancy restaurant in Toronto, dining with a missing corporate heiress said to be worth billions. A beautiful, young corporate heiress, who was clearly enjoying herself. And it had been all over the news.
It's over, Sandra. Admit it.
Marta stood there, motionless, letting the crowd washing around her, watching Sandra stalk off. Her memories of the gunfight in the Zone were mixed. She remembered an explosion and sudden pain, then a lot of smoke and dust. A green-eyed man with a pleasent voice had spoken to her, and after that everything was a blur. She had a vague memory of facing Drake in single combat another explosion... and then waking up in bed with Ling Ling at her side.
It wasn't until later that she'd found out her sister had been the one to pull her out of the Zone, and that an esper had managed to control her mind and body to send her after Drake and Sandra.
But she needed to know more. She wanted to understand what had happened out there in Zone. What had happened to her and to Drake.
It was time to return to Neo York.
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