By Alex Fauth and Mathieu Roy

Sandra trudged through the streets of the Zone, headed towards one of its many bars. As she went, she mulled over the last few weeks in her life, and how things had gone from good, to bad, to good, to strange. If she'd told herself that she'd be going out with a billionaire last month, she would have laughed at herself. (Then she would have asked herself "Hey, how did me from a month in the future get here?")

Going out with Drake was fun. She was getting to go out, eat nice food, see movies, plays and the like and generally do the kinds of things that she either hadn't done in years or had never done at all. The sex was great too. But the problem with hanging with Drake was that it didn't earn her any money. While he paid for most everything, she still needed to get by in her day to day life. Thus Sandra was seeking someone who would need a Street Sam to do some horribly dirty job for them.

Sandra entered the bar, quickly surveying the patrons as she left her guns at the gun check. After picking out several suits, she made a beeline for the bar itself and sat herself down. She looked at the bartender; a middle-aged man with a somewhat old-looking cybernetic arm and a shotgun stashed behind the counter. She'd never asked where he got the arm from. He'd never offered to tell either.

"Hi there Sandra" he began, mostly indifferent. "Haven't seen you around here for a while"

"Been out with my new boyfriend" she replied. "How's things here?'

"The usual. What can I get you?"

"I noticed a couple of suits inhabiting the place. Any good ones?"

"Well," he began. "There's a guy over in the corner. That could be a good pick"

"Thanks" she replied and got up, leaving a few random coins on the counter. Sandra walked over to the boot at which the man was sitting, and sat herself down. She quickly sized up the suit; a pretty anonymous looking man in a well-presented suit, a briefcase by his foot, dark glasses on his face. Sandra had occasionally wondered if the corps picked out the kind of men that they send on these jobs simply for their anonymity. They often seemed to look alike to her. That may have been the idea.

"I hear you're looking for someone to do some work for you," she began.


"So... what is it?" Sandra asked, getting straight to the point.

The man reached into his case and pulled out a photo. It was of a slightly overweight man in his early thirties, wearing a suit. "This is Nestor Forbes, a high-placed member of S-T's research and development division. We think that he may have been involved in a number of their most important and sensitive projects of late"

Ah, She thought. Pro-active recruitment. "Go on."

"Three days ago, Forbes walked out the front door carrying a brief case full of information on some of S-T's biggest projects. An hour later, a police report had him entering the Zone. We suspect that Forbes wants to sell the information he has to one of S-T's rivals."

"And you want to be that rival," Sandra said.

"We'd prefer to eliminate the competition. Also, Forbes is giving away only the in formation contained within his briefcase. We feel that we might be better off if we could acquire both the information and the man dealing it. The information that Forbes himself would have on S-T's inner workings and current projects would be very valuable."

"So you want me to retrieve both the man and the case he's carrying, right?"

"Exactly." He paused, "However, if, for various reasons, you cannot retrieve both, we will be satisfied with retrieving either."

"But there's a bonus for both, right."


"I see," Sandra finished. "In that case, you have a deal."

Raven sat quietly on Johnny the Wrench's counter, her chin in her hands, terminally bored. Adam had proclaimed it was time for a full cleaning of Raven's apartment—and, of course, he'd refused any help from her. She was on call, so she couldn't leave the arcology, so she'd decided to visit Johnny the Wrench. However, the mechanic was busy working on a truly difficult problem, and it seemed that it required most of his attention. He'd only replied to any of her comments with noncommittal grunts, even when she'd tested his attention by offering to help by crushing the car into a small ball. The only thing she was accomplishing here was distracting Johnny's supervisor again.

She had started debating going shopping for something, anything, when her cell phone rang. The call display window flashed Sanato's name. Almost relieved, Raven flipped the cellphone open. "Hello, Mr. Sanato," she told the executive's image in the flip-up screen.

"Hello, Ms. Clark. Could you report to my office, please? I may have a small task for you."

"I'll be right there,"she answered. She flipped the cell closed. "Good bye, Johnny. Nice talking to you."

Johnny, too deep in his repairs, made yet another meaningless grunt. Raven shrugged and left the vehicle bay.

"Ah, Ms. Clark. Come in, please."

Raven carefully closed the door behind her and approached Sanato's office. He and one of his replicants were the only people in the room. He stood with his back to the door, looking through one of the windows, hands clasped behind his back. Raven approached the desk, and said, "You have something for me to do, Mr. Sanato?" Being Sanato's direct subordinate, she wasn't required to use the circuitous, allusive, and to her opinion fairly silly language of corporate negotiation, unless there was a negotiation involved. Maybe if she wanted a raise.

"Yes, Ms. Clark." He gestured, and the 'window' he was looking at blacked out, the scenery almost immediately replaced by the face of a thirtyish, heavyset man. "This is Nestor Forbes, a laboratory technician with one of our R&D outfits. Recently, he chose to defect and fled in the Zero Zone, no doubt hoping to sell his knowledge of our research procedures." Sanato turned around to face Raven. "He does not have any significant amount of actual research knowledge, only procedures, therefore we would normally not normally spend such efforts to recover him. However, he used his privileged position to download some crucial schematics from a computer that had carelessly been left logged on."

Raven smiled faintly. "That's where I come in. I'm to retrieve Mr. Forbes."

Sanato's face was unreadable. "Priority is to be given to the schematics. Quite frankly, Mr. Forbes is small fry, and hardly worth the effort, but we would like him back for violation of nondisclosure agreements and employment contracts. The schematics, on the other hand, would be quite valuable to our competitors—therefore we must recover them."

He gestured again, and the screen changed once more, this time to a map of the Zero Zone. Raven was a tad puzzled by these theatrics; having the synthetic change the panels as he gestured to her rather than doing it himself was unlike the understated Sanato.

"We have sent a few investigators after Forbes, and one of them tracked him down to this area." The map slowly zoomed in to a streetcorner in Darkside. "He has apparently paid a low-profile gang, the Red Knives, for protection. Small arms, minimal cybernetics. There are too many for our investigator to intervene, but they should not prove much of a challenge to you."

The screen returned to Forbes. "Your objective is the data discs that Forbes has made. They are copies of the data, so it is perfectly acceptable to destroy them rather than recover them. The schematics are also quite voluminous, covering several discs, and we do not believe he has had an occasion to gain access to more media; therefore there is likely to be no more than a single copy in his possession. We would like Forbes to be recovered as well, both to make sure that there are no other copies, and to have a little discussion regarding theft and breach of contract."

Raven nodded wordlessly.

"We do not believe that he has made contact with any potential buyer yet, but you must act quickly, before he gains any support from a competitor. Any questions?"

Raven rubbed her chin. "Mr. Forbes himself is a noncombatant?"

Sanato nodded. "Psychological profile actually indicates a certain degree of cowardice. There was a lot of surprise that he was so bold to attempt such a move."

"Very well then. I shall get ready and get on it immediately." With a nod from Sanato, Raven turned and went to her room, to retrieve her combat gear and prepare.

Sandra stood on a roof, watching the next building along. She was squatting behind a hopelessly misshapen ventilation duct, keenly eyeing the place. The info she'd gotten off the Johnson put Forbes in the building. The place itself was an old apartment block, essentially a smaller version of the one she lived in. Unfortunately, it also included a small corner-stop gang. This shifted the numbers away from Sandra's favor.

The good news was that with her cybernetics, her training and her capabilities, she could probably walk all over a couple of them in a fair fight. Not that she intended to fight fair. What she planned to do was enter the building via the roof, locate Forbes as quietly as possible then drag him out of the building at gunpoint. She knew that he probably knew that he was ultimately expendable in favor of the contents of the briefcase, so it was in his best interests to play nice if forced.

She calmly surveyed the place. Cursing the lack of light, she switched the cyber-eye that had replaced her lost right eye to low-light vision. Despite the boarded-up windows, she was getting a few good glimpses inside the building. Switching over to IR vision gave her a better idea still. These guys were none too bright, or horribly overconfident, possibly both. They were hanging around the boarded up windows of the place, almost begging for trouble.

"Their problem, not mine." She stood up and checked that her guns were both firmly secured. She backed off from the edge of the roof. After a few seconds of psyching herself up, she sprinted to the edge of the roof, then leapt. She mercifully covered the distance between the two buildings with just a bit to spare, landing in a relatively soundless crouch.


She stood, and quietly stalked to the rooftop door. As she suspected, it wasn't secured. These guys had either planned to use it in a rush, or hadn't thought that anyone would come in through here. She quietly opened the door, pulling out her pistol, checking that the silencer was secure for the umpteenth time before heading down the stairs.

As luck would have it, someone stepped out of the first door she came across. A thug stepped out of the room to her right, blundering straight into her. The two stood back, both quickly regaining their composure. Unfortunately for the thug, Sandra was quicker. She slid out her cyber-razors and slashed him across the throat, silencing him before he could act.

She silently cursed, hoping that nobody heard. Grabbing the body, she glanced at the room that he'd come from. A toilet. Figures. She quietly dumped the body in the room before securing the door. "Well, if anyone needs it, it's occupied now."

Before this became a part of the Zone, this building would have held a good number of residents. Now, it was sparsely populated, containing only the few gang members (minus one) and anyone else they might have around, like girlfriends, boyfriends, prostitutes, victims and paying guests. This meant that there was likely no more than one or two people to a room; the sort of odds that Sandra could handle. Unfortunately, it also meant that Forbes would be harder to find, since they wouldn't need to stick him in just any old available space.

She silently approached the first room, its door slightly ajar. Flattening herself against the wall, she hazarded a glance inside. Lucky. Forbes was in there, sitting on a tattered chair wearing a slightly weather beaten blue jumpsuit, reading a girlie magazine by the light of a portable lamp. This was going to be easier than she thought. She readied her pistol, then stepped in through the door, silently closing it behind her.

Forbes looked up from his magazine, clearly surprised to see her. "Who are-" he began, but Sandra cut him off.

"Quiet" she hissed. "Or else I rip you a new date. Understand?" He nodded. "Good. Where's the suitcase?" Forbes quietly ducked behind the chair, then stood up again with the suitcase. "Great. Now you and it are coming with me, got it?" Forbes nodded. "Good."

She signaled for him to go to the door. However, before he could reach it, the door swung open, a man stepping through. "No," he said.

Sandra took a look at the new arrival, then the color drained from her face. He was a big, muscular man with short blond hair and a single, piercing blue eye. His right eye was shut, laid over with a scar somewhat like her own. In spite of the changes, she recognized him.

Matthew Callahan. A esper she had fought once before. Of course, fought was a relative term. Sandra had attacked him, he'd simply bounced everything she'd thrown at him. In return, he'd basically tossed her around like a rag doll. The only reason that she was still alive was that he simply didn't think she was worth the effort of finishing off.


The closest Raven had been to the Red Knives' turf was a street ten blocks away. She teleported in, disturbing another gang's impromptu party, tossing bottles of Zone-brewed hooch all around. She didn't have time to apologize for her intrusion; the three partying gangers, unnerved by her mode of arrival, ran off without saying a word. Raven shrugged and walked off.

Dressed in her armored jumpsuit and coat, she cut a figure no one in this wretched section of the Zone would challenge. The Assault Pistol on her hip made extra sure of that. Raven reached the Red Knives' turf without any of the few derelicts lying in the street giving her more than a frightened glance.

There were two gangers in front of the door. Raven considered the matter for a moment; she was not agile enough to hope to sneak around undetected. She decided to act swiftly, hopefully picking off the gangmembers in ones and twos before they had a chance to regroup. She made a straight line for the guards.

Their reaction at her rapid approach was mixed. One of them grinned and wolf-whistled. The other, the one to her left, who was in a position to see the pistol, gave a start and went for his weapon. In any case, the result was the same; Raven lifted her arms, pointing one at each, and hurled a kinetic bolt at each of them, blasting them back into the building's wall, where they slid to the ground, unconscious.

The door was barred, but Raven opened it anyway, ripping away the hooks holding the wooden bar in place. A startled Red Knife leapt to his feet at her approach, only to be knocked right back into his chair by Raven's quickly-thrown TK blast. With a quick glance to make sure this ganger was no longer a threat, Raven pressed forward, her hair snaking in the aftereffects of her shield.

"Why does this sort of thing always happen to me?" Sandra asked her self as she leapt behind a decrepit chair. She'd decided that using Forbes as a shield probably wouldn't work. Something inside her said that Matt was the kind to blast first and ask questions later.

The chair exploded in a shower of splinters, sending Sandra flying across the room into a corner. Looking up, she saw Matt just standing there, a contemptuous look on his face, clearly confident in the outcome of this fight. Sandra leapt out of the corner, trying to make a break for a doorway. The wall where she was exploded, kicking up a cloud of plaster dust and debris.

Sandra threw herself through the doorway, landing in another, abandoned room. "Change of plan," she muttered. Hunkering down behind a battered desk, she tried to think about what she knew about PKs. "Aren't you supposed to be able to tell if they're using their powers by the damage they're doing to their surroundings?" She thought to herself. "So if he's got a shield up, he'd be destroying the floor underneath him." She hazarded a peek around the doorframe at Matt, then ducked back as a fresh hole appeared in the wall.

The floor was intact. No shield. He was throwing everything he had into offense then, and relying on superior firepower to keep her from trying an all out assault. Which meant that she could beat him if she did something that he really, really wasn't expecting. So...

She pulled out her Hokashu autopistol. The clip was still full. Perfect. Lurking around the corner, she mentally counted to three, then leapt out, shouting. "Yaaaaaaa!" Sandra fired three rounds, straight at him, noting as she went that the floor was still undamaged.

Unfortunately, the bullets simply flattened in midair and collapsed to the ground.

"Oh," she said. "Ah." Clearly Matty-boy possessed a much finer degree of control over his powers than other PKs. He was running at least enough field to stop her rounds dead, yet was having no effect on the scenery.

Then Sandra realized her situation. "Tool."

A wave of force hit her full on, sending her crashing back into the other room, smashing against the far wall. Sandra collapsed to the floor, felling like someone had just hit her with a bus. "Ouch," was all she could think to add.

Matt walked into the room. "I have been looking forward to this," he began. "A chance for some exercise. It has been too long..." He trailed off. "A pity you're not providing much of a challenge."

Sandra, now both hurt and annoyed, struggled to her feet. "Not much of a challenge?" she sneered. "Why you..." She ran at him, claws outstretched. Maybe he wasn't expecting this. Maybe he wasn't ready. Maybe he could only defend against high-velocity attacks, and relatively slow moving physical attacks could do something. Or not. Her arm stopped dead in the air. She struggled, but it felt like it was immobile.

Matt sneered as he telekinetically lifted her off the ground. "You're..." He began, then trailed off, as if something else had suddenly grabbed his attention. "Hmmm... Could it be..." He trailed off again. "I'll deal with you some other time." He telekinetically threw Sandra away.

Fortunately, it didn't take her into the wall. Unfortunately, it took her into, and through, a boarded-up window. Through all the pain, Sandra felt the exact moment where he let go, and when she began falling. She desperately grabbed at anything, snagging a windowsill a floor down. Even with her cybernetically enhanced strength, the jolt of suddenly stopping still hurt.

"How do I get myself into these messes," she thought to herself as she tried to figure out what to do from here.

Raven walked towards a ganger, ignoring the length of chain the man sent whistling towards her head. The after effects of her shield blew the swinging metal aside with a dull clinking sound, and then Raven swung her fist into the man's face, knocking him to the ground. He made as if to stand up, holding his heavily bleeding nose, but then thought the better of it and stayed sitting with his back to the wall.

Raven glared at him for a moment then a familiar twinge made her look up. Her eyes narrowed. "So much for just a small gang," she muttered. Broken floortiles around her started ripping off the ground and flying into the air, falling only to be blown back up like some mad juggler, as she strengthened her shield in response to a sudden burst of esper power above her head...

The other esper appeared behind her to her left. Raven swung quickly and braced herself, just in time to receive the incoming blast full on. Pure kinetic energy strained against her own will, and slowly diffused around her, throwing the debris away from her. Across the cleared space she looked at her attacker, eyes flashing—and saw Matthew.

He was not looking so good as he once was. His right eye had been shut by a scar that ran across from forehead to jaw—right where, Raven realized, she'd hit him last time they had met. She felt a jolt of grim, guilty satisfaction at her disfigurement of Lilith's killer.

Recognition was mutual. "YOU!" Matt yelled, at the top of his lungs. Leaving her no time to formulate a response, he blasted her again, this time keeping a steady stream of kinetic energy, strengthened by pure rage, her way, trying to overcome her shield by sustained overpressure. Raven held fast against the assault, bolstering her shield, her own anger lending her strength, as she formed a riposte to Matthew's attack, using her advantages of greater versatility and subtlety.

"Let's dance, bastard,"she hissed through gritted teeth, the roar of the esper maelstrom between them drowning her words. Forgotten, the bloody-nosed ganger scrambled away on all fours...

The building shook, plaster dust and bits of ceiling raining down. Three members of the Red Knives stood in a room, looking nervously up at the ceiling, each one noting the sounds of violence coming from up there. "What the hell is going on?" One of them, the tallest, asked.

"Fight?" another shorter man asked. He was nervous, and had been ever since Matt had joined the gang. Everyone else thought that Matt was a godsend, a esper megaweapon that would turn them from a small time bunch of kerb-crawlers to a force to be reckoned with. He figured that Matt was a dangerous looney, who would soon turn on them and start telekinetically exploding their heads.

"Could be," the third of them answered.

"Shouldn't we, ah, do something about it?" The first one asked. There was a nervous silence.

"I think Matt's taking care of it." The third answered again. There was an uncomfortable silence, that was only interrupted when a fourth ganger ran into the room.

"Guys," he panted. "Matt's fighting another PK upstairs. We gotta do something!"

There was another silence. "Like what?"

"I dunno... help him?"

"Why?" The first asked. "I'm sure he can take care of it."

"Yeah, but if he does loose, do you want to explain to him why we didn't help?" The short ganger finally spoke.

The thought of what might happen if they didn't help ran through their heads. "Point," the tallest finished. The four of them collected assorted guns, knives and blunt implements and headed upstairs.

Sandra had lowered herself to the ground and wasted no time in scampering away from the building, trying to loose any pursuers. She was now sitting next to a building's wall, thinking what to do next. Forbes was way too well guarded to try again. She could handle the gangers fine, but Matt was way too much to take on. Simply put, she didn't stand a chance against him. A full frontal assault was out of the question. The gang would also be tipped off, and that would ruin the chance of another infiltration.

She could, of course, just call the Johnson and tell him that it was impossible. That had some unfortunate implications, however. She was admitting failure, and a corp was unlikely to hire someone who had failed them in past.

She looked back at the building. There were muffled sounds of violence, and the odd explosion. Another boarded-up window blew out, sending dust and splinters flying. Matt had obviously found somebody new to play with. Oh well, their problem.

And then a woman suddenly appeared in front of her, as if out of thin air.

Today was taking a very interesting turn.

Raven appeared right in front of a tall woman with a unkempt, shaggy air about her and her clothes. Her face was badly scarred, though not nearly as much as Matthew, and she was holding a pistol. The gun wasn't exactly pointed at Raven, but it was in her general direction, and before Raven could think about her action, she had the stranger by the throat, hoisted a foot above the ground.

That's when she realized that this woman was *not* a ganger. "Sorry,"she said lamely, setting the other down.

Sandra grasped at her throat, wheezing. "Sorry... Sorry..." She puffed. "What is it with you PKs anyway? Second time today one of you has done that to me!" She wheezed a little more.

Raven cocked an eyebrow. "The second?"

"Yeah." Sandra puffed. "Some big blond boofhead just telekinetically kicked the living crap out of me. I get away and then you decide to hit me. What did I do?"

"A big blond esper?" Raven asked. "Was his name Matthew Callahan by any chance?"

"Uh, yeah" Sandra said, picking up her gun. "Do you know him?"

"I was just fighting him." Raven replied.

Sandra thought about what she'd seen going on from the outside of the building. So that's who Matt was opening up on. "I take it you lost, judging from the fireworks." Raven didn't reply. "I thought so."

"Look, I'm sorry about attacking you." Raven said. "I thought you were one of those gangers that were with Matt."

"Yeah, it happens to me all the time," Sandra replied.

"Raven Clark," Raven said, offering her hand.

Sandra looked at her. "Sandra Blackmore" She replied, not giving Raven a shake. "So, what'd Matt do to you?"

"What, this time or in general?" Raven asked back.

"So you know him?" Sandra asked.

"Yes, we've met before," Raven answered.

"Same," Sandra added. "'Course, he kicked my date across the landscape back then as well. You?"

"Uh..." Raven replied, not entirely sure what Sandra was saying. "I have beaten him before."

"Oh." Sandra seemed a little downcast. "So what happened this time?"

Raven looked a might embarrassed. "The rest of his gang intervened. I couldn't handle them and him at once."

"Good old 'throw the mooks into the fire.' Trick, huh?" Sandra asked. Raven nodded. "Figures."

Concentrating hard to keep her esper signature from tipping Matthew off to her return, Raven stared at the building, trying to get a feel for Matthew's location. The range made it difficult, but if he could only... yes... Raven's eyes narrowed. Matthew was using his power, within, and now she knew where. She grinned wickedly, took two running steps, and leaped towards the building, shields flaring to life about her and pulling at her coat and hair, her esper strength carrying her easily across the street and high enough to impact the third story wall.

Raven slammed her fist in the wall as she reached it, punching a hole through it that she widened an instant later with her body. The floor made a frightening cracking sound when she struck it full force, amidst a startled assemblage of gangers, Matthew, and Forbes. Without missing a beat Raven leaped again, this time straight towards Matthew. Once more her fist led the way, striking a barrier Matthew had raised in extremis to keep his ribs from getting powdered. The force of Raven's momentum carried the two PKs through another wall, and a third, and they came to rest in the middle of a much-holed floor, Matthew on his back with Raven on top.

Raven straddled Matthew, seized his collar, and wound up to punch his face—but the replicant had recovered from his surprise, and he blasted Raven at pointblank range. The black-haired teke went flying, hitting against the ceiling and leaving a fair-sized dent before falling to the ground a few feet from him. She had a strong shield up and was more shaken than hurt, but that was liable to change if Matthew managed to get more licks in.

The replicant rose to a crouch and pointed both his fists at her. Before he could fire, Raven rolled away from him, right into a large hole in the floor, where she disappeared from view. Matthew growled and stood, fists clenched, waiting. Soon Raven levitated out of the hole, hair snaking around her, like a vengeful angel. Matthew blasted her with all his might—and Raven crossed her arms in front of her, catching the bolt in her reflection field.

The force of Matthew's returned bolt sent him skittering across the floor to a painful halt against the wall. Head thrumming from the abrupt change in her esper dynamics, Raven swooped down towards him at full speed, punching him hard in the chest. Her momentum wasn't stopped by the measly floor, however, and the two broke through to the lower floor, both stopping themselves in midair, face to face.

Yelling, Raven swung for Matthew's face. The replicant expertly blocked the overpowered wild swing, then countered with a precise jab in Raven's ribs. The esper force behind the hit was released in Raven's shield, sending the girl spinning away to strike the wall. Raven closed her eyes to steady herself, reopened them—and saw Matthew's fist streaking towards her face. She flew madly to the side, leaving the replicant to embed his fist into the wall. Matthew pulled his fist, and a hefty chunk of sheetrock, out of the wall, and turned to face Raven, who likewise spun to face him.

The sudden sound of gunfire made both espers look up. Raven grinned evilly, glad that Sandra was doing her part. Then she turned to Matthew. "You killed Lilith," she screamed, pointing an accusing finger at him. That only made him grin. Rage welled within Raven; she clenched her hand in front of him and added, "I'll make you pay!" She sent a blast Matthew's way in lieu of an exclamation point.

Matthew took the brunt of the hit but concentrated furiously on his flight, and stayed stubbornly in place. A second blast from Raven however convinced him of the benefits of rolling with blows, and he did, letting most of the force expend itself into hurling him away. He stabilized his flight ten feet away and started hurling small darts of concentrated force at Raven, in rapid succession.

The first few darts struck Raven's shield as she mounted a defense, one even penetrating to open a gash on her left shoulder, then Raven began swatting the darts away with her hands, as fast as Matthew sent them. The astray projectiles turned the room's walls into so much swiss cheese. After a few moments of this treatment Raven had her offense built up. She clenched her teeth, closed her eyes, and forced her power to seize Matthew and press him, ever so slowly, towards the ground. Feeling Matthew fight back, she suddenly released the pressure—and the replicant, carried by his own momentum, smacked straight into the ceiling.

Raven was there in an instant, pounding at Matthew to keep him up there, her blows gradually increasing in strength as she slowly shifted her power from her reflection and telekinesis to her fists, trying to avoid brainburn. The last hit, the sort that would grind stone, left Matthew dazed, and Raven swooped aside to let him fall to the ground. Raven soared down to drive him into the floor—but her fist met no resistance before burying itself deep into the ground, and the overpressure in Raven's head informed her that her opponent had teleported away—far away.

"The bastard!" Raven screamed in frustration heedless of the fact the insult could hardly apply to Matthew, who had no parents. Still muttering in anger, pulled her hand out from the ground and looked up—and that's when she noticed that the gunfire had stopped.

Sandra lurked outside the back door of building, waiting for the fun to start. Looking up, she watched as Raven hurled herself through the wall on the third floor. Okay, so I don't like 'em, she thought to herself, but PKs sure can make an entrance. She waited a few seconds for the sounds of violence to begin, before she kicked the door down.

She charged into the hallway, her cybereye instantly compensating for the reduced indoor light. A single ganger ran down the stars ahead, a gun in his hand. Abandoning subtlety, Sandra pulled her Uzi II from her trenchcoat, and fired a three-round burst into the ganger. He dropped to the floor, his body hitting the stairs.

Damn, Sandra thought after the fact. She'd been hoping to figure out Forbes' location from a ganger. Now she had to resort to guesswork. Figuring that he, and the rest of the gang, were upstairs, she advanced, gingerly stepping over the body before breaking into a run. She knew that going upstairs had its big risk; it was where Matt and Raven were fighting. The last thing she wanted to do was get caught in the middle of it. In the other hand, it meant that Forbes was likely unguarded, or the ganger's attention was focused elsewhere.

And what's life without a little risk?

A scuffling sound from a doorway ahead tipped her off that a second ganger was ahead. Abruptly, she pressed herself to the wall. A second later, a burst of automatic gunfire riddled the wall where she had been. Pulling up the Uzi, she focussed on the doorway. There. A gun barrel was sticking out from around the door. Sandra did some quick figuring... It's gotta be a SMG, about yay long and... She fired a burst at the wall near the gun, sending plaster chips and splinters flying. The gun retracted, giving Sandra her opportunity. She sprinted up the stairs, turning as she ran, enhanced reflexes giving her the speed and balance she needed. Pressed against the wall was another armed ganger. She saw him, he saw her. She was faster, leveling her gun at him and firing, knocking him down before he could even take aim. Without hesitating, she turned around, continuing up the stairs.

Up ahead, there was a large hole in the wall where Raven had made her spectacular entrance. Going to IR, Sandra could make out four figures inside the room. Three of them were pressed to a wall, waiting to leap out at whoever came past. Another was cowering in a corner. I think I've spotted my man. Back to the wall, she mentally counted down. From further in, she could hear explosions and collapsing walls, punctuated by shouting. It sounded like Raven was holding up her end of the deal. Let's do it.

She leapt around the corner, opening fire, spreading her shots across the three thugs. The smartgun-equipped SMG functioned perfectly, dropping the three without wasting a shot. Perfect. Before she could do anything else, however, several shots rang out form the next doorway. She leapt back into the hall, pausing to decide her next move. Another mook with an auto-pistol in the next room. Gently tapping a piece of plaster wall with her foot, she kicked it, sending it skittering across the floor. The gun fired, the shooter unwittingly following the debris. Sandra leapt out, focussing on the doorway, her gun spitting rounds into the wall and doorway. She landed awkwardly, but amused at the sound of another body hitting the floor.

Sandra dropped the empty clip and slipped a new one into the gun. She cautiously advanced towards the hole Raven had punched in the wall through to the next room. Cowering amongst the debris, was a hunched figure, his blue jumpsuit covered in plaster dust and debris.

"Come on, Forbes." She said, pointing the gun at him. "Let's go." He picked himself up and looked at her, then quickly decided that going with the angry woman with the gun was a good idea.

Sandra smirked to herself as they headed off down the stairs. Her plan all along was to set Raven on Matt, and hope that the two would be too busy with each other to worry about her. The fact that Raven seemed to have something personal against him was an added bonus. Now all she had to do was take fat-boy here and run.

Raven flew out of a hole in the wall and into the room where she'd briefly spotted Forbes earlier. Unfortunately, all she found was a pile of spent shells from the ganger's old, brass-cased guns, and the sprawled bodies of said gangers, full of holes caused by bullets that were neither old nor brass-cased. None of them showed any signs of life. She went across two more rooms, but only bullet holes and ganger corpses marked her erstwhile ally's passing. Of Forbes, there was no sign.

Raven growled in frustration. It seemed the attackers' plan had proved a success... except that Sandra had planned one further and decided to double-cross the telekinetic. Dangerous business, that—she had to hand it to Ms. Blackmore, she was a very brave woman. And it seemed her bravery had paid off, thought Raven as she reached the street without seeing her.

A flicker of motion caught her eye—and Raven darted behind a dumpster, then emerged flying up, with a frazzled, injured ganger held securely by the collar. Raven brought the man to eye level. "Where did she go?"

"Aaaagh, it hurts!" yelled the ganger. "Who d'ya want?"

"There's a woman who ran away with Forbes, the guy who hired you to cover his butt. The woman who shot you. She double-crossed me." Now for the carrot, thought Raven. "I want to hurt her. Tell me which way she went."

The ganger hesitated, then pointed down the street. "That way."

"You're sure? Else I'll be back and I'll be hopping mad."

The ganger nodded frantically and Raven let him fall, a short drop inside the dumpster where his fall was broken by trash that was too smelly and too old to be salable. She ignored the man's muffled protests and glanced in the direction she pointed. She picked a tall building, which would command a good bird's eye view of the streets around, then *moved* over there.

Flying off the ledge, she looked for a rapidly-moving pair.... Here! Not quite so rapidly moving with Sandra yanking Forbes around, but it was almost certainly them. Raven's angry eyes set themselves down the street from them, where they would have to pass.

A second later she was there, and glaring at Sandra across the length of the street.

"Tool," Sandra swore, half looking at Raven, half glaring at the footpath. "Tool tool tool tool tool." Forbes looked at her nervously. "Bloody tooly PKs. I can't go a single damned place without one of you tool fairies turning up and ruining my damned day."

Raven managed to remain impassive throughout this display. She was clearly angry, which made Sandra's position even harder.

"I suppose I couldn't threaten to gloop this fat tool?" Sandra said, glancing at Forbes. "No, I figure you don't have a vested interest in keeping him alive. Glooping him isn't going to get me anywhere."

Raven merely smile thinly in grim amusement and slowly shook her head.

Sandra had realized that she was going to loose, no matter what. Raven was way more powerful than her, end of story. True she was a Street Sam, albeit a not terribly good one, but Raven was a PK and a pretty powerful one at that. Raven didn't need guns to do anything to Sandra. She had her brain for that. Sandra desperately tried to think of a plan to deal with her. What she needed was a distraction and a big one. Problem was that the PK wasn't going to fall for anything she could manufacture on the spur of the moment.

Then the street exploded, which was completely unexpected. Sandra was knocked back, landing on Forbes. "Well, I was hoping something spontaneous yet not entirely unexpected like this would happen." She muttered as she picked herself up and got on Forbes, casually pointing a gun at him before he could think about scurrying away.

Another blast ripped through the pavement between her and Raven. Sandra, still keeping her gun on Forbes, hastily turned to locate where it had come from. It was Matt. The scarred esper literally flew straight past her, directly towards Raven.

"Tool." Sandra "Doesn't he ever give up?" She heard something behind her. Turning around, she realized that it was Forbes trying to get away. "Don't even try it!" She shouted. Turning back, something caught her attention. Matt and Raven were fighting each other, both seemingly oblivious to her and Forbes, more intent on trying to stop the other.

"Hmm..." This could go to her advantage. "Matt, you're a lifesaver." She turned back to Forbes, who looked ready to brown his trousers. "Okay, fatso. Let's move."

Matt's last punch sent Raven flying away, and she came to a painful, skidding stop thirty feet away. Gritting her teeth she flew off the ground and pointed her clenched fists at Matthew. From them a visible ripple streaked, ripping a wide crack in the street before it struck Matthew, tossing the replicant up in the air. Before he could land, Raven turned towards the end of the street where Sandra was just about to vanish from view. Concentrating hard, she *moved* right next to the retreating samurai.

She hovered there a foot above the ground, wiping the blood that trickled from her nose with the back of her hand, her face a mask of rage and frustration. "Where do you think y---" *you're going,* she'd meant to say, but she didn't get the chance. Overpressure from a teleport, very close by, turned the hammer pounding inside her head for a jackhammer for one short moment, then Matthew seized her from behind and spun her away from Sandra, throwing her to the ground under his weight and his telekinetic power.

"You BASTARD!," Raven screamed, though she wasn't sure whether she meant Matthew, who was attempting to grind her into the pavement, or Sandra, who swiftly took this opportunity to flee again. She bent her will, pitting her Power against Matthew's. She closed her eyes and spots still appeared in her vision. The two were closely matched in strength but Matthew had gained an initial advantage and was slowing squeezing the life out of her... In the haze of pain Raven realized, she had to do something and do it *now*!

Abruptly she shifted the direction of her pressure. A desperate gamble, but it paid off, throwing Matthew to the side hard. Freed from her opposition, his power manhandled her for a split-second before he was hurled away, and she cried out in pain. She struggled to pick herself from the ground and looked up towards the end of the street. Sandra was escaping again. She hurled a bolt that way, but her vision was hazy and all she was able to do was rip up pavement close to the street samurai. Just close enough, in fact, to make her double the speed of her flight. Painfully Raven picked herself up from the ground. Out from the corner of her eye she caught Matthew striding towards her, a wicked grin on his lips and esper ripples around his fist.

Snarling, he swung wildly at her. Raven crossed her wrists in front of her, and her shield lifted in response to take the brunt of the blow, but she still staggered back a few steps. Matthew pressed his advantage with another roundhouse. Raven's shield nearly buckled from the impact, but she let it carry her off the ground and away from Matthew, remaining suspended forty feet ahead of him and ten feet high. She shook her head to clear the spots from her vision.

With a roar Matthew leaped at her, fist leading. Raven dodged by flying sideways but the replicant stopped in mid-jump and swung his fist around, clipping her shield. Raven winced and fired a telekinetic bolt in Matthew's chest at pointblank range. The replicant was thrown further down the street, giving the girl some breathing room.

*Think, Raven—can you catch that double-crossing bitch—doubt it, she'll be long gone.* Frustrated, she hurled another bolt towards Matthew, all force and no finesse, and unsurprisingly it went wide—but it caused a sharp lance of pain in her head. *Ugh, I can't keep this up much longer.* Matthew replied by telekinetically seizing a pile of debris caused in their battle, and throwing them at her. She fired a broad bolt at the blocks of concrete, knocking them harmlessly wide and pulverizing the smaller ones. Only gravel reached her shield.

*Shion's exercises are paying off, but God this is painful...* She lifted a hand to attack Matthew again. *This is pointless,*she realized glumly. *I'm not going to kill him today.* She looked down the street where Sandra had disappeared. Sane Zoners had taken cover—there'd be no one to helpfully point out where the samurai had gone. She had well and truly lost her quarry. *Looks like you win this time, Sandra,* Raven thought as she flew off and slowly prepared to teleport away.

A few moments later she popped out of existence, leaving Matthew behind to howl in fury at her escape.

After an eternity of running, and a few phone calls, Sandra had arranged to meet her employer. Despite several earlier attempts, Forbes had decided to give up trying to escape from her. He'd figured that the crazy woman with the guns wasn't in a mood to be nice to him and let him off with a stern talking to. He also had figured that she was only after him for the contents of his case, and that his own well-being was of secondary concern to her.

Now the pair of them were standing in an old warehouse. Its roof was partially gone, letting sunlight come in and illuminate the otherwise dark building. Sandra had called somebody, presumably whoever it was who had hired her to come after him in the first place. They'd been standing there, silently, for over twenty minutes.

Forbes'd vaguely known Raven from when he worked at S-T. She seemed like a nice enough person to him. She'd also been almost at the top of his "women he'd do in an instant" list as well. Of course, that'd been before he'd seen her fighting that blond PK. Now he wasn't so sure about her. He'd never seen her in action before today. Of course, now his odds of ever seeing her in a friendly way again were pretty much non- existent.

He turned to the scarred woman next to him. "Say, um..." he began.

She turned to him, an angry look on her face. "Yes?"

He swallowed. She was probably a bit more calm now than she had been before. He felt he might as well say what was on his mind. "Don't you feel a little bad about what you did to Raven back there? I mean, you did leave her all alone to deal with that big blond guy."

She looked away for a moment before replying. "No. I had to get past that boofhead some way, and I figured that hitting him with another PK, especially one who seemed to have issues with him, was the best way."

"But you don't feel bad about leaving her back there?"

"I got out alive and I got what I came for," she replied, unconsciously rubbing the scar under her right eye. "And if two PKs want to let fly at each other, that's fine with me. Just so long as I'm not in the middle of it."

Some time later, Raven was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She hadn't even taken her coat off after being chewed out, in Sanato oh-so-polite manner. Of course, her boss had acknowledged the mitigating circumstances—namely the presence of a powerful esper and a larger number of gangers than expected—but he'd given a few choice words about her being outwitted and outmaneuvered by a nobody street-sam. He'd mentioned something about having to assemble a team to recover Forbes from the hands of their competitor, and summarily dismissed her.

Raven flipped in her bed and leaned her chin on her hands to look at the city outside her window. She tried to figure out what she could have done differently. Well first, she shouldn't have trusted Sandra, knowing they were working at cross purposes. That was a mistake she was prone to, trusting people too much; she'd better make sure it didn't happen again. Still, the one who'd really defeated her was Matthew, and only because he went ballistic against her rather than stick to what he'd been paid to do. Sandra had cleverly used that to her advantage... but she wouldn't have him around all the time. The next time they met things would be very different.

Raven shook her head and stood up. No point in lying around moping; you couldn't win them all no matter how powerful you were. She ought to do a bit of sculpting to clear her mind until something else came up; and then, she swore to herself, she'd do much better.

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