1:00 AM

Dawn nudged open the door to her dressing room with the toe of her boot and stepped inside. Actually, the term "dressing room" was a bit generous, since the room was basically a glorified closet with delusions of grandeur. However, it was fully enclosed, had a door, and was all hers whenever she played the Underground. Life was what you made of it, after all.

Standing inside her miniscule room, Dawn reached up to her temple and pulled the data cable free. The other end she disconnected from the body of her guitar, and then lifted the instrument from off her shoulder and carefully set it down in its padded case. Lowering the lid, she flipped the latches closed, securing her most precious possession.

The first order of business accomplished, Dawn then undid the top of a bottle of water and took a long swallow, washing down a handful of aspirin. Sighing softly, Dawn settled on the cot that sat next to the wall opposite the table that current supported her guitar case. Stretching her arms over her head, she arched her back, her eyes closed as she tried to wind down from the adrenaline rush that was the stage.

Her black synth-leather jacket was then removed, to end up hanging off the back of the lone chair. Green leather boots were next. Each one unbuckled and pulled free with a groan, to be dropped on the floor. Running her hands through the tangled tresses of her blonde hair, Dawn lay down on the cot, a low murmur of pleasure marking the moment her head hit the pillow. Sleep soon followed.

About a half hour later, Gordon quietly opened to door to the tiny room and carefully pulled the blankets over Dawn's slumbering form.

2:00 AM

Sandra walked into her apartment, slamming the door behind her with her foot. She dumped the bag of groceries she was carrying by her foot, then pulled off her new trenchcoat. Her new, black leather and completely bullet hole free black trenchcoat. She'd picked it up one day while out shopping with Sarah. Her last few coats had been shredded while she was going about what passed for her day job. This one had managed to last one "job" without a single scratch. Maybe this was the lucky coat. She hung it on a hook by the door, rather than casually throwing it at something like she usually did with her coats.

She picked up the groceries, and carried them over to the bench. Nothing got her in the mood after a night of carnage, violence and gunplay like shopping for a few basic consumables. Plonking the bag down, she found the TV remote. Odd. She didn't think it'd be there. She must have left it there while cooking something and having the TV on in the background.

Sandra picked up the remote. One of the many, many good things about this apartment was the access it had to Cable TV and about fifty-gazillion channels. With her luck, there might be something on one of them. Yeah, right. She flicked over to a news channel, and listened to it while packing her stuff away. It was a cavalcade of the usual stuff, really.

Making herself a sandwich, she walked over to her big couch and flopped down onto it. "So what's making the news?" she asked herself.

And there it was. Squeezed in between wars, famines, disasters and the like. The CEO of HariChem, missing since a terrorist attack claimed the rest of her family had turned up alive and well in a Toronto restaurant. In fact, the young, blonde, beautiful woman in question had been seen eating dinner with Jason Stone, the multibillionaire bachelor (the reporter stressed this fact) CEO of SynTech.


"So, he's found someone else." She muttered. "Some young, blonde, nubile young thing worth a about as much as he is" She sniggered. "Not some dumb, no nothing street sam with a face only her mother could love." She flopped back on her couch. "She's rich, she's gorgeous, she has a huge company and her entire family's dead. They were made for each other."

Then she laughed, loud and hard, the irony of it all completely taking her.

Because everything's funny at 2 am.

Midori lay in bed, unable to fall asleep. The bed seemed so... empty and lonely. As she turned over on her side, she gathered up the extra sheets and pillow to her chest and hugged them tightly. I wish I had given in and asked him if we could share a bed. No funny business, just a comforting and warm body next to me so I could sleep...

Jason lay in bed, unable to fall asleep. The bed seemed so... empty and lonely. As he turned over on his side, he gathered up the extra sheets and pillow to his chest and hugged them tightly. I wish I had given in and asked her if we could share a bed. No funny business, just a comforting and warm body next to me so I could sleep...

Midori sighed and slipped out of bed. Maybe some warm milk might help me sleep. She grabbed the deep green nightgown she'd bought when they arrived at the hotel. It really wasn't much more than a satin shift with spaghetti straps, the hem brushing her knees, but she had wanted something to wear if she had to leave her room at night. She pulled the garment over her head and went in search of a drink.

Jason sat up, finally giving up on trying to sleep. Throwing on a robe, he padded barefoot across the spacious suite they had rented in the Waldorf Astoria. Finding the refrigerator in the kitchenette, he pulled out a half-gallon of milk and moved toward the cupboard.

He heard a light tap of bare skin on the tiled floor behind him. "Are you have trouble sleeping, pumpkin?" he asked without looking. "Maybe a little milk will settle your nerves a bit, Moira." He poured a small glass half-full with milk and turned around.

"Oh! I thought it was..."

"It's okay," Midori replied with a smile, "but I will take that milk if you're offering it." Her eyes were drawn to the gap in his robe, baring his chest, and she pulled them away and back to his face with some effort. "I see I wasn't the only one having problems sleeping. I thought a glass of warm milk might help."

Jason placed the glass of milk in the microwave for a few seconds. A moment later he presented her with the glass.

"Thanks," Midori replied, taking the glass from him, her fingers lingered for an extra moment as they brushed his. "Were you thinking of making one for yourself?"

"I wasn't sure before, but I think I know what I need." He moved the glass away and caught Midori's outstretched hand. With a solid, yet gentle grip, he pulled her close, searching her face and eyes, breathing the perfume of her hair. He put the glass down on the counter behind him and enveloped the lovely woman in a tight embrace.

Midori stiffened in surprise for a moment, then her entire body softened as she leaned into Jason's strong and sturdy form. She rested her head on his shoulder and slid her arms around his broad back and held him close. Midori's eyes drifted closed and a gentle smile curved her lips, and she sent Jason a wordless message of contentment and thanks.

They stood there, silently enjoying each other, until Midori felt she was starting to drift off standing up. With reluctance shouting out of every pore, she drew back from Jason.

"Come on," Jason said, handed her the milk. "We have a big day tomorrow. We need to get some sleep." He led her back toward the bed he was using.

Midori hesitated when she realized what Jason's destination was. "Jason, I..."

Jason stopped and turned to Midori. "I was just thinking how well we slept the other day when you had some bad dreams. We've both had a very long day and... Well, I'm very attracted to you, but I'm not going to let anything happen unless you want it to happen." Jason looked into her eyes. "Is that okay?"

Midori paused, a million different emotions and thoughts whirling through her mind, desire and indecision warring in her eyes, but Jason could see the instant she made her choice.

"I'll be right back," she promised, and she almost ran to her own bedroom.

Jason smiled happily and slid into bed. He left his robe on, aware that the temptation to go further than Midori was prepared to go might be too much otherwise.

Midori returned a minute later still clad in her nightgown, and slid into the bed next to Jason. She started to make herself comfortable, but that was forgotten when Jason extended a inviting hand to her. Midori allowed herself to be drawn into the circle of his arms, and as she nestled herself against him, she felt again that belonged there while she quickly drifted off to sleep.

For a while, Jason just quietly watched her sleep. Her warmth and presence made him feel as excited as a boy half his age, yet he was also able to relax and slowly drift off to sleep

3:00 AM

Gem stretched out, yawning audibly as she stepped into the apartment. As she opened her eyes, she took in the sight before her. It was a single tiny room, with a bed and wardrobe that would barely suit the huge man who owned it. Behind her, Ed placed his hands gently on her shoulders. She reached back and caressed his cheek with the back of her hand.

The pair of them stepped into the tiny apartment, Ed closing the door behind them. Gem turned in place to face him. She looked up at the looming figure before her, and beckoned down with one finger. Ed obligingly leaned down, bringing their faces level.

"You had a good night?" Ed asked in his gruff, surprisingly tender voice. Gem's response was to lean forward and kiss him lightly on his unshaven cheek. He reached behind her, and scooped her up into his arms, lifting her off her feet. Gem let out a squeal of delight, which only brought out a frown on Ed's face.

"You're not enjoying yourself," he plainly stated.

"Don't be ridiculous," she replied, and kissed him full on the lips.

His doubts banished, Ed carried her over to the bed and laid her down on it. She gazed up into his eyes, her face strangely blank. Ed shrugged and leaned forward, kissing her on the cheek and moving down to her neck. Gem wrapped her arms around his torso, and gently held him.

She lay back as Ed worked, and found herself staring at the cracked ceiling above her. She felt... cold. Strangely uncomfortable with what she was doing, and with Ed on top of her. It was almost a minute before she realized that Ed had stopped. She glanced down, into his big, honest eyes.

"Wh... what's the matter?" she asked.

"You're thinking of someone else," Ed simply stated.

Gem looked shocked. Was she? "Don't be ridiculous!" she replied. Ed sighed and sat up at the end of his bed. Gem leaned forwards, and placed a hand gently on his shoulder. "Ed..."

He shrugged again. "It's alright. I should have spotted it before." Gem sat in silence, her mouth agape. "I mean, you never really seemed 'into' tonight. It's like you had someone on your mind."

Gem slowly nodded. "I'm sorry, Ed," she said.

Ed turned to face her. "And that's why you came back with me, right? To forget him."

"Him? Yeah..." Gem said, all too quickly for her own comfort. She looked down at the bed guiltily. "Can you forgive me?"

He grinned broadly in response. "Hey, I'm flattered that you chose me," he replied. His voice suddenly turned serious. "But you really shouldn't lie to yourself like that."

Gem nodded. "I'll... I'd better go," she quietly said, standing and straightening out her jacket.

"But you know..." Ed said behind her, making her stop in her tracks. "If you ever need someone to talk to, you know where I am."

"Thanks," Gem said, and was gone.

5:00 AM

The girls had just gotten through closing at the 92U and were walking back to the apartment. Keiko looked over at Kami and April. She wasn't sure how long she had been dancing at the 92U and staying with the girls. April was always so nice to her. When Inoue-sama let her go and she wasn't sure what to do or where to go only that she didn't want to be a prostitute. April managed to convince Silver to get her the job dancing at the 92U. Sure she was still in the sex business, but here she didn't have to put up with any abuse of degradation that she didn't want to. April even gave her a place to stay. She was shocked to find out that April's roommate, and lover was none other than Kami-sama and that Kami-sama was also Silver from the 92U.

Now looking over at Kami, there was no mistaking the two of them, she wondered why she why she was so cold to her. It wasn't like they didn't both didn't like girls. It was quite the opposite, Silver spent plenty of time making out with other girls, sometimes customers would even ask her to make out with their girlfriends instead of the usual lap dance. Was it because she was an ex-yakuza? She never asked to join; she was given to them by her parents.

Still she had done everything she could to earn Kami acceptance. But to no avail. Kami only allowed her to remain because of April. That scared her; she felt that if she made one wrong move she would be nothing but parts.

Still she finally gathered up the courage to confront Kami. She finally blurted out "Why are you always so cold to me?"

Kami shook her head in surprise at the outburst. "Wha...?" She replied.

April flinched at petite Japanese girl's outburst. She wished she knew what to do about it.

"You heard me." Keiko replied. She realized that this was potentially as dangerous as defying Tomoyasu-sama, and that her only real protection from the young street sam was April.

Kami sighed, "If I'm so a cold why is it that I gave you a job and a place to live?"

Keiko had to think for a moment, she was right. It seemed like she was always right. She had to think for a few minutes.

"Okay bitches, hand over the cash." Darren had been waiting all night for the strippers to leave the 92U, and this was his lucky night, getting to them when they were away from the club. He pointed his pistol at them, it was an old Glock, not much by today's standards, but it got the job done.

Kami saw the mook before he stepped out, gauging the distance, and his slothlike she had the threat quickly analyzed. Without breaking stride, she walked right into him almost as he finished his line. Grabbing his head with both her hands she gave a quick flick of her arms twisting his head around past his back and almost facing the wrong shoulder.

April and Keiko just stopped and looked at the fallen body.

"Will you two stop gawking?" Kami said over her shoulder. "You've both seen me kill before."

Keiko and April scurried past the corpse.

"Keiko," Kami snapped. "You still haven't explained how I'm being cold to you?"

Keiko shook herself out of it. "You never talk to me unless you have to, much less anything more intimate. I know how you are with all the other girls, why am I so different?" the incident a moment ago was forgotten.

"You're an ex-yakuza geisha, Inoue-samba's former girlfriend, have skill's and talents still useful to them, and haven't given my any reason to trust you beyond the fact that you're afraid of me."

Keiko realized Kami was right. Things had to change, but she wasn't sure how. "Is there anything I can do to change things?"

"Patience and don't do anything stupid." Kami responded.

Keiko sighed, she knew she was better off, but why didn't she feel any better.

The rest of the walk home was silent and uneventful.

6:00 AM

*beep* *beep* *beep*

I open one eye and stare at the clock. The clock stares back, blinking '6:00 AM' over and over. I hate the clock. No, I despise the clock. The clock ruins my life every morning by making me get up. I'd throttle my clock if I could, but unlike my typical tenant, the clock doesn't have a throat. Pity that, it sure would make me feel better.

I throw the covers back and slide my blue-skinned body out of bed. Another day, and headache. At times I almost wish I'd never taken the job to manage the Mandarin Towers Apartments, but then I remember I'm a synthetic human with her own bank account and a firearms license and decide not to push my luck. Besides, lets be honest, I manage an apartment building in downtown Hong Kong inhabited mostly by societies' rejects and oddballs. My job is never boring.

But still, its 6:00 AM and I have to get up. I stretch, I groan, I look over my shoulder to make sure the bed is empty (you never can tell about these things, I've had tenants who figured that the as a synth I came with the rent), and scratch in places I'm sure a regular human female would never admit to.

Bah. I want to go back to bed.

I look at the clock again. It's now 6:01 AM on June 25th, 2033. Yay.

I yawn with excitement. And start thinking about standing up.

I look at the clock again. 6:02. June 25th.

I think about that for a moment. June 25th is... is... is...

A Saturday.

Today is Saturday. I don't have to get up today. I can sleep in! I Can Sleep In!

I reach over and turn the alarm off. I feel like an idiot for not having done that last night, but as I live alone, no one will ever know. That done, I slide my blue-skinned body back into bed. Sarah K. Ferrari is going back to bed and no one is going to stop me.

7:00 AM

Alan checked his watch. It was seven AM, giving him only an hour to go before the current living hell that he was stuck in came to an end. One hour. He was on the prestigious "midnight till morning" shift, watching the entrance to the Zero Zone. In case a group of crazies tried to charge across the bridge and make it into the city proper. Right now, Alan would almost prefer them.

What had made this shift more unbearable than any others were the officers with him. Karen McMillian had in the last week become even more unbearable than usual. Ever since she'd found out that Alan knew where Sandra was and hadn't told her, she'd been treating him like some sort of criminal. To make his life more miserable, he'd found out that she had a younger sister who had gotten all the slim, curvy and good-looking genes in the family. This only made Karen seem shorter and more rotund by comparison. Of course, next to the other guy with him, Karen was nothing.

Officer Crayse was even worse. Crayse had a British accent, a non-regulation beard and ponytail and was probably insane. He liked to shoot first and ask questions later. Literally. "Blam! Blam! Freeze!" was a typical quote of his. When he did start talking, he often managed to produce streams of nearly incoherent messes. "You have the right to remain an attorney. You have the right to a silent phone call... I messed that up, didn't I?" was another one. He also had a dog. It was a small, white fluffy dog that liked to pee on Alan's shoes. Crayse carried on conversations with it. Crayse outranked Alan and his parents were rich. He was untouchable.

Alan hated his guts.

Fifty nine minutes.

"Good morning!" Crayse said as he walked on over to Alan. He was wearing full riot armor, as per normal for the cops on the bridge. He was also carrying a mug full of hot coffee. "How are you this wonderful, fine day?" he cheerily beamed.

"No different to how I was when you last asked me three minutes ago," Alan replied sourly.

"Excellent. Keep up the good work," he replied, a silly grin on his face.

"Yes sir. Whatever you say, sir" Alan replied, the anger rising.

"Are you mocking me, Davis?" Crayse asked, an angry look on his face.

"No sir," he replied, nervously.

"Good. Because if you were, I'd have to make your life very difficult. And you can't imagine how difficult I could make your life if I wanted to make your life difficult for you." he grinned.

"Yes sir," Alan replied.

"Jolly good." He gave another one of his inane grins, and went back to his coffee.

Fifty-five minutes.

Alan sighed. He shot a sideways look at Karen, and grinned. She glared angrily at him. "What'd I do?"

"You know," she replied angrily.

He winced back. Angered, Karen could be a meter and a half of pudgy fury. She'd been known to ruthlessly nag suspects and force them into confessing anything to get her to shut up.

"Sorry," he muttered.

Karen "Humphed" and glared out over the bridge. Anyone who came across in the next... fifty-four minutes, twenty-one seconds were in for a nasty shock. Inside, Alan was hoping someone would. It'd make for a pleasant break.

8:00 AM

Matthew Shirow opened his eyes slowly from a sound sleep, for a just a moment confused about where he was. There was no real hurry, as he was very comfortable at the moment. So he leisurely took in his surroundings and let it come to him. It didn't take him long, looking around, to figure it out. The nightstand next to the bed with the small collection of novels on it. The poster for an animated fantasy movie on the wall. The computer station across from the bed and the doorways leading to the bathroom, closet and the rest of the apartment. But most impressively, the wide picture window that took up most of the outside wall with it's view of the Neo York skyline from about 50 stories up the Shiroko-Tsuhi arcology told him where he was.

Oh yeah... Lora's place. He thought contentedly. Wow, last night was... really, really fun, he grinned to himself.

Reaching over he found the rest of the bed was empty. The door to the bathroom was open and he didn't hear any water running. She must be in the front room.

Yawning hugely, he levered himself up to a sitting position and stretched, popping vertebrae, then shook his head a little and pushed his dark blond hair out of his eyes. Matthew decided he could use a shower first thing and got out of the bed to accomplish his morning ablutions. While waiting for the shower water to warm up, he took the time to note that Lora seemed to have the usual assortment of arcane feminine bath products scattered about. Mildly amused, he thought to himself, Heh. All we guys need is a bar of soap, some shampoo, a couple of towels, a razor and a comb and we're generally set. I don't think I know what half the stuff in here actually is.

After he cleaned up, dried off and shaved, Matthew put on his pants and a T-shirt and wandered out of the bedroom. As he cleared the door, he was assaulted by giggles and the intonation of a deep voice coming from the vicinity of the entertainment center saying, "I am WEASEL!!"

Matthew looked bemused at the scene before him. Lora had appropriated one of his shirts and was wearing it like a pajama top. (She looked somewhere between indescribably cute and sexy that way, he thought.) She had seated herself cross-legged on the floor between the couch and the coffee table with her back against the couch and a bowl of cereal on the coffee table in front of her. The big screen at the far corner of the room was playing what looked like a very bizarre animated cartoon starring... well he supposed it was supposed to be a weasel... with an improbably deep voice and a baboon sidekick.

"Morning, Lora."

"Morning Matthew! I thought I'd just let you sleep in. You do know you look absolutely adorable sleeping?"

Matthew rolled his eyes, "I'm sure... what the heck is this?" He indicated the TV.

"Oh they're running some of the classic old stuff on the Animated Network..." She trailed off and giggled again at something on screen that Matthew missed.

Matthew sat down next to her and stretched an arm out behind her on the couch. She leaned in toward him and gave him a brief kiss before turning to watch the TV again. After about a half hour, Matthew decided that whoever had produced these programs had been doing some serious pharmaceuticals. Lora occasionally giggled out of control at the antics on screen. So did he, actually, although Lora seemed more into it than he was.

"Do you do this every Saturday morning?" Matthew asked?

Lora shrugged and said, "Whenever I have time. I guess I'm just weird."

Matthew grinned at her, "Well, I guess I must like weird then."

Lora snuggled closer into him as they watched the antics of a demented 8 year-old mad scientist and his ditzy sister.

9:00 AM

"Mmmmm." With a sigh of contentment, Shoko slid a little deeper into the tub. Not being used to having to go days between showers, she was very much enjoying her first soak at Ken and Bell's garage. The bath came courtesy of some unseasonable rain the day before that had added substantially to the stores of water on hand. Earlier in the morning, they'd hauled in one of the 55-gallon drums that served as a rain barrel fed from the roof's downspout, and had filled the bathtub that had been placed behind the trailer that served as the actual residence.

It was truly a monster of a tub, a porcelain-coated cast-iron job big enough that even her six-and-a-half foot tall frame could slide into it in reasonable comfort. It's claw-foot design had allowed a small firepit to be dug underneath, so the bathwater was even heated, and a clothes line hung with some old blankets and linens stretched from the trailer to the garage providing a measure of privacy to the bather.

Of course, the bath wasn't quite perfect. For one thing, it wasn't a shower, which was Shoko's preference. Also, to be perfect, the water would have had to be fresh and clean. Unfortunately, as resident guest, Shoko was the last to get a turn at the tub, and it's nirvana of hot water. Still, even as the fifth person to use it, she had to admit she felt cleaner than she had since she'd arrived in the Zone. Under the circumstances, she wasn't inclined to complain.

Reaching over the tub to grab the small bottle of shampoo again, she squirted a very small dollop onto her palm, and indulged in the joy of 'repeat'. At least soap and shampoo weren't in short supply. With Bell's Motors being the best equipped garage in the Zone, they were in a position to barter for certain luxuries that many others around here lacked.

She relaxed for a while in the soothing water, but soon her conscience started to nag at her. She was a guest her at Bell's Motors, and lounging in a hot tub of water, no matter how delightful, seemed poor repayment for their hospitality. If she couldn't find a job that would let her stop mooching off their generosity, then the least she could do was find some way to help out around the place. Besides, the water had cooled to the warm side of tepid as the small fire under the tub died down. Yep, it was time to go do some work.

She was just starting to step out of the tub when she noticed one last, lonely piece of firewood left over from the small pile that had formerly been stacked by the tub. She hesitated only a moment before grabbing it and tossing onto the fading embers beneath the tub. She slid back down in satisfaction as the fire flared up, and the bathwater soon began warming again.

A few minutes later, when her conscience prodded at her once more, she casually dismissed it with a simple thought. "Soak now, work later. Mmmmm."

10:00 AM

Elbow-deep in grease that had been in the hallowed sinews of the engine of an ABVC Lucifer, Jonathan Carstairs, better known in some parts as Johnny the Wrench, grinned happily as he found one part that was slightly out of alignment. He carefully nudged it back into its proper place, tightened the screws, and stepped back. Time to try the dynamometer. He just knew that the makers of the ultra-new, novahot Lucifer had lowballed when they'd published the horsepower numbers for the car. All he had to do was to get everything in place, and he'd prove it.

Life, he decided as he slid out from under the Lucifer, was good these days. It had been good for a few years now, after the low pass it'd gone through while he was scraping together a living working on kitbashed bikes in the Zero Zone. Now, he had a great job working as a mechanic for Shiroko-Tsuhi, where he found himself working on a top-of-the-line model almost weekly. Gunkoku Tenshi, Ford GTi, Acura Majestic—even once the Empress's own Mercedes-Benz 2028S. And the best part was that they were paying him for it! And pretty damned well, too, enough that he could afford a nice two-room apartment with a lot of amenities, and even parts for his pet project. He looked lovingly at the vehicle in the next bay: a vintage '90 Corvette that was starting to look less and less like a rusted-out hunk of scrap metal. He had good hopes of putting the car on the road in a couple more years.

And to top it all off, Raven, beautiful Raven who liked to come down to talk to him and tease the rest of the mechanic crew with her outfits, had been given—given—a Lucifer by the company. Oh, it wasn't as posh as the 2028S, but Johnny thought the Lucifer was more of a purist's car, with not an ounce of flab on its built-for-speed body. He'd made a trade with Raven, driving lessons for the chance to work on the car; he hadn't told her, but that was a win-win for him, since he got to drive the car and play with it too. She probably realized, anyway. Little Raven was a sharp one. Come to think of it, she got to learn to drive, and someone to keep her car in top-shape. Win-win too. Raven was really a sharp one.

Too bad she'd made him promise not to add anything to the engine. There wasn't a lot of souping-up that could be done, really, but he could see a thing or two that he might have done to squeeze a little more oomph out of it. He put the car on the dynamometer and got it going, the high-tech device carefully measuring the car's power and torque. He looked at the numbers and grinned. He'd gotten a few more ponies out of it, just by tightening a few things!

Johnny slid back under the car. V-8 twin-turbo engine mounted at midships; great engineering, sure, but it was a pain and a half to get to it to do any work. Still, he loved every second. They'd put the engine so hard to reach because it made for a faster, nimbler car. A purist's car, he thought again. Well, what could he try next? Well, there wasn't much he could do... Hmm, maybe he could fiddle with the engine computer and increase the compression in the turbos. That wasn't adding anything on the engine, and with his watchful eye over it, surely it wouldn't cause any harm, now, would it? Grinning happily, Johnny the Wrench went to work.

Yes, life was good.


Nothing to do again. Raven looked at the part of her apartment which she'd christened her 'workshop', thinking to put some more time on her latest piece, but she shook her head. She'd been cooped up in there for the last nine days, almost without interruption. Sanato pointedly hadn't given her anything to do, exactly as if he was keeping her in reserve in prevision for something big. There was a sort of a tense silence in the arcology, really, as if everyone knew that something was afoot, and Raven even had a pretty good idea about what might soon be happening.

But that didn't give her anything to do.

She threw herself on her bed. "Bored, bored, BORED!" she complained to the ceiling. She flipped in bed, picked up a fashion magazine, and began thumbing the pages. Bleah, she'd been through this one last week. Twice. Besides every outfit in there was for a blonde and there was nothing to match her hair. She tossed it back on the dresser and buried her face in the pillow.

At least if she wasn't so damn lonely. Tara was on a trip to Mega-Tokyo with her parents. Lora was on assignment somewhere—probably doing some mindless bodyguard work, but at least it beat moping alone in an apartment. Johnny the Wrench was spending more time with her car than with any human being right now. He'd never been very sociable, really, it was just worse than usual. Clark street was out too; last time she'd been, two weeks ago, Auntie Lydia had been too busy to talk to her much. Some sort of gang war nearby had filled the little clinic to capacity; all she'd done was be in the way.

Adam... They'd taken him into "extended maintenance" several months ago and it had been a long time since she'd last called asking for news about him, only to be told he wasn't ready yet. Maybe she'd given him the slip once too often. Or maybe it was more of that politicking that had been going on lately. Anyway, now she lived alone in her apartment.

Call up Shion? The thought made her laugh aloud. "Hi Shion, it's Raven. I'm kinda bored, right now, I thought we could go out to see a movie or something? Other plans? Oh, you're blowing up the Jinsei arcology today. Okay then. I'm sorry. Bye." She burst into fits of giggling.

Gosh, she was so bored. She looked at the clock. Ten AM. Damn. If she didn't find something to do soon she was going to go completely insane... "There's got to be something to do somewhere in the world..." She paused at that, grinned, and looked at the elaborate world-map that decorated one wall of her room. She went rummaging into her wardrobe—and a few moments later, she was gone.

Instead she was in a dilapidated ruin, in a ghetto just outside of Las Vegas. A couple bums in the streets barely had time to gape at the sudden appearance of a young woman in a sundress, whose arrival threw gravel in all directions, before she vanished again. She reappeared in a deserted alley near the Strip. Quietly she left the side-street and walked down the alley of Casinos. So early in the morning, and yet the neons were on, though their light was barely visible in the morning sun. Few people were about; none of the hardcore gamblers were really about at this hour, but there were sightseers with cameras and casino employees going to work, as well as a few Family boys in cheap suits, making sure everything stayed orderly. Arriving in front of the Golden Palace, she decided to take a break from her walk and went in.

It didn't take long for her to trade in a hundred-dollar bill for some tokens and find her way to a craps table. One of the security guards came forth, politely reminding her that the house had a psycho-sensitive on duty and that the use of telekinesis and telepathy on the premises was strictly forbidden. Raven smiled innocently and said she understood; the guard nodded sternly and stepped sideways to let her in. Out of curiosity Raven tried to extend her perception to find the house PK, but she couldn't peg him; he was probably just a minor talent, too weak to "blip on her radar", but with the precious PK sense that'd let him notice a cheating telekinetic.

The casino was open 24/7, but at this hour it was relatively uncrowded, and she found a nice, unoccupied low-stakes table with a cute, bored-looking dealer. She placed a few tokens on Pass and the dealer obligingly passed her the clear red dice, smiling at her. She gave a polite smile back, shook the dice for a moment in her hand and rolled. Snake-eyes. Damn. Since there was no one else at the table she had no need to pass the dice around, so she placed a new bet, blew on the dice in her hands, and rolled again. A six—a pretty good roll, easy to make...

She gambled idly for a few minutes, winning on about half her rolls, before someone came to join her at the table and she passed on the dice to them. The man was a handsome, well-dressed corper, but his smile to her was a little to play-boyish, so she picked up her tokens, smiled apologetically at him, and left the table. She lost a few tokens in a slot machine before her stomach growled, reminding her that she'd skipped breakfast. Time for a snack...

From previous experience she knew that casino restaurants served food designed to get you out of the restaurant and back to gambling as quickly as possible. She'd better find something else. Well, since she was world-hopping already, she knew this great place in Sydney that served the most amazing beer... She barely waited until she was outside the casino before she moved across the globe to Australia.

Landing in the scrapyard where she'd fought Shion seemingly so long ago, Raven instantly realized her mistake when the backdraft of her arrival sent ice-cold air snaking under her light dress. She wrapped her hands around herself and shivered. She should have known that it'd be winter in the Land Down Under! And to top it all off, it was the dead of the night. The restaurant would be closed. Well scratch that idea. She really needed to get her hemispheres and time zones straight if she was going to do this again. Time to leave this place before she caught a cold. She bent her Power to the task of teleportation again, this time picking a blasted-out spot in a slum outside of London.

She returned to light and glorious summer warmth, and paused to catch her breath. The surroundings were less than pretty, but she usually did a double-jump when she over teleported long distances; that way she'd avoid throwing debris around in heavily populated areas. Her PDAphone beeped in protest as it tried to figure out where it was again, relative to the worldwide cell grid. Poor thing, thought Raven. It had never been designed for this mode of travel. Exerting her will again, she teleported again, this time on a much shorter distance.

A few steps brought her out of the deserted alley where she'd made her landing and inside the posh little pub where she'd met a contact on an assignment a few months ago. The place was open, but nearly deserted at three-thirty in the afternoon. Raven sat at the bar, called the bartender over, and ordered the sausage that was the pub's specialty along with a small mug of Irish brew. When his back was turned, Raven teeked the Times to herself and began idly flipping through the pages while waiting for her food.

Slowly sipping her beer, Raven ate quietly while reading the op-ed pages of the newspaper. The government was looking to restrict some corporate activities and of course the editors (who were, after all, paid by the mediacorps) were up in arms over the adverse effects that this would have on the economy. The business pages were profiling Shiroko-Tsuhi's merger with the Daikotju Financial Group, and highlighting the areas of contention between the two companies. Analysts were making dire predictions about the viability of the merged company if these issues were not dealt with. Shaking her head, Raven flipped over to the cartoons.

Before long her meal was done and Raven wondered what to do next. Being London, the weather outside was becoming overcast, threatening rain; Raven thought it best to go back to someplace sunnier... someplace like California. She'd even packed a swimsuit; maybe some time at the beach would be fruitful. Since she didn't want to freak out anyone today, she went outside and back into the alley before she teleported to the Zero Zone outside San Francisco. The area she landed in was completely deserted; she didn't tarry and popped back into a small street between two luxury hotels.

She went inside the Hilton on her left and arranged for her to use the hotel's private stretch of beach, which required showing her corporate ID card and a tidy sum of money. After a stop to the ladies' washroom to change into her blue bikini, she found herself on the Hilton's beach, her feet digging into warm sand, turning the heads of the few beachgoers when she walked down towards the see to set up her towel and drop her things.

The last thing she dropped was her watch, which was now showing 10:53 AM, Neo York time. All in an hour's work. Her cell she kept in a nifty wrist-holster she'd picked up last month in Hong Kong; it was waterproof, and she was technically still on duty, so Sanato might want to call her if he found something for her to do. She didn't think it would happen, though, so she jogged down the beach to take a swim in the Pacific's warm waters. If Sanato did call her, after all, it'd take only a moment to go back home...

2:00 PM

Korey stepped briskly back to the exit of the Neo York Zero Zone, a dower mood her only gain. The forage into the Zone had been one of necessity, for information, but had not turned out as well as she had hoped. Rumors were circulating, disturbing rumors that needed to be confirmed.

Originally, Korey had entered the zone that day to track down a few vague leads she had acquired during her investigation of John Harris' links outside DF Productions Inc., in the hope of tracking down the slavers, but had instead ran across some disturbing rumors

Some time ago, the quickly growing gang known to the denizens of the zero zone as the Brown Arm Band gang had been ruthlessly and violently shattered by what some were saying was an extermination team headed by the infamous Shion Nys herself. The gang had reformed somewhat, but had cut down on their recruitment drives almost entirely until a week after the devastating loss of their leader.

Apparently, the Brown Arm Band Gang had a new leader... a esper.

Korey frowned as she remembered the frantic look of her contact, as though someone was hunting for him, had been hunting him for a long time now. Johnny was a low born nobody who got by on selling what scraps of information he had on anything to anybody. This meant, naturally, that if there had been any sort of dealings in the zone in the slave trade, he would know something about it.

"I... I can't stay! I have to go now!" His brown eyes had been blood shot, and the clothes on his scrawny frame had looked even more dirtier then before. Korey had meant to ask him why when he had shoved her aside and ran away, taking off wildly down an alley. A short chase had ensured, but ended once Korey found out that Johnny knew the zone allot better then she did, and had practically disappeared into thin air.

"I truly wish he had been able to tell me more before fleeing," Korey thought as she rounded the last corner onto the street that lead to the bridge connecting Neo York and the Zero Zone. "Although whoever is leading the Brown Arm Band gang must be the same man after Johnny... hmmm..."

Preoccupied with her thoughts, Korey did not notice the alleyway she was passing by, nor the few scraps of paper blowing in an miniature tornado at the mouth of said alley. A scrap of paper came to a rest against her foot and she paused to dislodge it when a low moan sounded.

In a flash of movement, Korey's Kuan-Ti appeared in her hand, the laser tracking a path over a mound of trash cans and other garbage. Another moan was emitted, and Korey heard the sound of hunger and pain contained within it. She sighed, and was about to put her gun away when a loud scream came ripping forth with all the force of a hurricane.

Dirt was flung up into the air and the ground and air about her seemed to shake as the scream continued, followed by an invisible wave of physical force that threw her back and into the side of a rusted out car. The old metal gave way beneath her and the frame collapsed atop her, pinning her arms to her side. She squirmed in her trap frantically, not sure if this was the rumored esper leader of the Brown Arm Band gang, but not wanting to be around to find out.

Suddenly, all became quiet.

Korey remained still, listening to the sounds of spare hunks of dirt and concrete dropping to the ground, not daring to make any sounds of her own until she was certain that no one was around. When she was certain, Korey squirmed out of the wreckage of the car and, gun up, turned around to scan the street.

A robed figure lay on the cracked pavement, the gentle and slow rise of its chest the only indication that it was alive at all. As she approached it, Korey noted the miniature tornadoes of dirt swirling about it, and tightened the grip on her gun.

Kneeling down beside the figure, she placed a careful hand on his shoulder and turned him over, her eyes widening at the face that stared back at her.


4:00 PM

Bonnie had been on early shift for the past two days. The precinct had been even more active than usual, which she attributed to the Goddamn heat. She was only just finishing up her paperwork as the shift ended. She knew that good records were important, but no cop in his right mind ever thought of paperwork as anything but shit. Besides, she had things to do before quitting time.

With a glance to make sure no one was looking her way, Bonnie slipped three memory wafers into her pocket. Then she walked to the entrance. As she passed the desk sergeant, he smiled knowingly and said, "Going out for the usual, Lieutenant?"

She favored him with a look of annoyance that was more real than he imagined. "No, shit-for-brains, I'm going fucking sunbathing on the Goddamn roof. Can't you see I'm fucking dressed for it?" When he cringed, she followed up with, "There's fuck-all else I'd go out for in this Goddamn weather." And she stalked out before he could gather such wits as he had to reply.

That was fine by her, because "the usual" in this case meant a shakedown. She had a good record for her police work, but the other officers in the precinct also thought that she was on the take, like the rest of them. For the time being, she was happy to let them go on thinking so.

It had started a couple of months ago, when Captain Blaisdell at Downtown SWAT had contacted her off duty. Now she was gathering evidence on corrupt cops, and leaving it at a mail drop. Just to be on the safe side, though, she was also leaving backups in other spots, one with a local restaurant owner whom she went to see in the guise of shaking him down--the "usual" that the desk sergeant had been talking about. They had an understanding: if she didn't show up at a certain time each week, he would disseminate the information on the chip, in deadman's handle fashion. The other chip was also set to go as well, from a place that she didn't tell anyone about.

Back in her office, Bonnie prepared to sign out. She looked around casually. If anyone suspected, they were hiding it well. Well, just you wait, assholes, she thought as she headed for the parking lot. There's going to be some serious fuckin' housecleaning, sooner than you think.

5:00 PM

Falcon groaned. She'd been hoping to avoid this, but the person she'd been picking up her cargo from hadn't been the most organized of people, and it took him close to half an hour just to find what she was supposed to deliver.

Even with the flying cars, and the increase in number of arcologies which led to people living at work, Neo York still had traffic jams. And this one was shaping up to be a doozy. Apparently there had been an accident that turned into about a twenty-car pileup after some truck had jackknifed through the middle of one of the busier intersections in town. As everybody piled up behind those, it blocked off some of the nearby intersections as well. Between all the one-way streets downtown and all the people piling onto the side streets trying to avoid the accident, half the downtown core was completely gridlocked.

And she was running on a deadline, too. Just her luck.

Well, at least there was one trick that riding a bike rather than a car would give her. And with most of the police either stuck behind the mess or in the middle dealing with the accident... Falcon quickly pulled into the 'fifth lane' and started accelerating down the yellow line between the lanes of traffic.

The people honking at her she could handle; most of them were just jealous. Now, as long as nobody was willing to damage their own car by throwing open their door in front of her, she should make it across town just on time...

10:00 PM

"Jo..." Nicole heard, coming from outside. She ignored the noise and the incessant knocking, continuing instead with her deliberate strokes. "Jo, it's me..." the voice said again. Once again Nicole ignored it. She continued her routine; sweat beading on her brow as she swept the bamboo cane in her hands in imitation of a sword. "We need to talk..." Reno said from outside. When he received no answer, he carefully entered.

Nicole, the leader of the black ops team he was a member of, stood in the middle of the room. She was dressed in only white shorts and a singlet, both dripping with sweat. As he watched, she swung the cane with eye-wrenching speed, each stroke punctuated with a loud shout.

"Nicole!" he called out, finally breaking her rhythm. She stopped in place, then swung around, pouncing towards him. Reno stepped back in panic and stumbled over, shielding his face and shutting his eyes tight. When nasty snaggletoothed death failed to rain down upon him, he gingerly opened his eyes. Nicole stood above him, cane held above his head. Her chest rose and fell in rhythm with her deep breath. She eventually let out a deep sigh, then stepped back, clearly exhausted.

"What..." Reno trailed off as she watched Nicole slump against the wall. She rolled her eyes back, and stared up at the ceiling. "Joo alright?" He asked.

"Talk," Nicole said.

Reno swallowed hard. "I'm worried boot joo." When Nicole failed to respond, Reno continued, dropping his dialect. "Since... well, you know, since then, you've been so distant." Again, Nicole seemingly ignored her. "I mean, you and Rache, you used to be all friendly with the rest of the team. But since you got the top job, you barely talk to us."

Nicole finally responded with a simple nod. Reno continued. "Last week, when we did that assassination. You knew our brief was to go in together, get it done as a team."

"And I ran in and did it all myself," Nicole finally replied.

"Yep," Reno replied. "And you see, that's the kind of thing-"

"The kind of thing Rachel did before she died," Nicole continued.

Reno nodded. "So you see, I wanted to let you know that, well, I'm worried 'bout you."

Nicole nodded. "Noted," was all she said.

"Noted?" Reno gasped. "Noted?" he repeated, in a mixture of anger and confusion. "Is dat all joo can say?" When she didn't respond, he leaned in to check her. Nicole was already fast asleep.

"Heh..." Reno said. "Joo one complex bay-bee." He pulled his jacket off and laid it over her, then quietly left the training room.

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