Nondescript, that would be the only word to describe the man who stepped out of a cab and paid the driver before approaching the border guards. A heavy contingent was on tonight, and the man heard whispers of a gang who had recruited the help of a esper from the guards as he past by them and entered the Zero Zone. Pausing at the foot of the decrepit bridge to adjust his coat and check his gun, the dark haired man continued on.
Unbeknownst to him, a shadow from amongst a pile of garbage that had become the Edge of Night's usual dumping ground detached itself and silently followed him from a safe distance.
The shadow put a slim, calloused finger to one ear and spoke. "K to K and G... target sited and am currently in pursuit. Status."
Far away at the edge of the wastes, another man in a cheap suit cautiously watched a young couple necking as he went past. He glanced at them cautiously, briefly catching the girl's eye, who then returned her attention to her partner. The man straightened his suit an picked up his pace, paying them no further heed.
The girl surreptitiously slipped her partner a note, and broke away from their embrace. "G here," she whispered as her companion slowly departed. "Target in sight. Am following." She zipped up her jacket, then slipped into the shadow of the ruined building and quietly followed her.
Kami waited patiently in the strip bar for the status of her target to change. Hot Legs was completely opposite the 92U; here the girls were allowed to get as friendly as they wanted. But as far as Kami was concerned, it was more of a whore house than a strip joint. Disgusted as she was by it, she claimed a chair with a good view of the door and stage.
Looking over the floor show, she saw that there were two girls starting their show, one of them that she recognized by the name of Suzanne. Suzanne used to work at the 92U, but, unfortunately, she had been seduced by a few extra bucks and was fired for turning tricks. Working here, Kami could tell that she looked much the worst for wear.
Funny how that worked, outside the 92U Kami was free to kill anybody she wanted, but Silver wasn't allowed to turn tricks because the 92U didn't hire prostitutes. She knew exactly why, Gordon didn't want to be a pimp, or the girls using his bar as a whore house. Silver's side occupation as Kami didn't actually reflect poorly on the 92U since Street Sams such as her only increased the 92U's mystique.
"Enough reflection Kami, no Sharon," she thought
Sharon was an alter ego put together just for this job. Sharon was much older than Kami, and had long black hair pulled back into a severe ponytail. Sharon's little sister was killed a few weeks ago by her target, or that's what she had told the bartender, and one of the dancers when she bribed them to get him smashed.
Bartenders at places visited this frequently liked to get the customers just drunk enough so they would spend more money. They would start with full strength drinks, then start diluting them, which saves them on alcohol, and keeps the customer coming back for more. Sharon had bribed the bartender to actually start making his drinks stronger.
Sharon saw that her plan was working. Her target, a oversized slob in a cheap suit with a wad of bills in his pocket, got up to use the bathroom. The suit didn't even hang right on his large frame, and his hefty gut certainly didn't help matters. Sharon was really happy Kami dealt with the Yakuza rather than these guys: any Yak caught wearing a suit like that would probably be executed on general principle.
Sharon watched as the thug left the club, the stairs proving to be a great challenge. She had plenty of time to drop the 'tender and poor girl' who was keeping him occupied a hefty tip.
As she exited the bar, she put her finger to her ear, "K to G and K, the target is moving, finally."
"G here," Gem breathed into her communicator, breaking her silence. "Target's acting suspiciously. He's talking to someone on his mobile. Should I continue pursuit?"
"Keep going, just report any other activity," Korey responded.
Gem thrust her hands in her jacket pocket, and glanced back up to the man she was trailing. She slowed her pace, holding back, and watched him carefully. They were wandering through the wastes, amongst shattered and burnt-out buildings, picking their way through the debris. There were few people out here, but enough that Gem, if questioned, would have a decent excuse for her presence.
He picked up his place, and ducked into a the broken doorway of a three-story shopping mall. Gem cautiously made her way in, taking in her surroundings. Beams of moonlight filtering in through the broken glass roof lit the mall. Shop fronts were boarded up all around her, and she could see an overgrown park taking up most of the ground floor. The upper floors were simply landings, each one open out to the center. As she picked her way between upturned chairs and tables she noted that the place was surprisingly dust free. Must be a regular meeting point, she thought to herself.
She shielded her eyes as a bright light suddenly flashed on. Ahead, she could make out her mark standing behind a trio of men, one shining a flashlight at her. "That's him! That's him!" the man yelled in panic. His three companions, all armed with pistols, began firing away. Gem sprung to the side, rolling in place and drawing her own handgun. She fired a short burst in their direction, causing them to scatter.
"I don't like these odds," Gem hissed to herself. Keeping low, she dashed behind a barrier, barely avoiding their fire. Once in place, she activated the directional locator Korey had issued them. "I'm pinned down in a shopping mall. I need help!" she called over her communicator. She popped her gun over the barricade and fired a quick burst to keep them away, then took flight again, heading for a staff door.
The dark suited man rounded a corner in the street, pausing a moment to take out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He stuck one crumbled cigarette and stuck it in his mouth, unaware of the moving shadow that stopped and ducked down into an alley.
"G, hold your position. Turn on your beacon. K, stay on your target... I'll take care of this." With one last look at her target, Korey turned and began running back the way she had come. Digging into her coat pocket, she pulled out a G.P.S. and turned it on. Sure enough, there Gem's signal was coming in strong and clear, the G.P.S. marking her in the area known as the wastelands, a good five mile jog from where she currently was.
"Wonderful," she thought as she picked up the pace. "Kami had better not lose her target, or this outing can be officially declared as FUBAR."
"Roger, take care." She really wanted to say more, but bit her tongue. K was running the operation, and she had to stay focused on her target. She sighed as he stopped to relieve himself, completely unaware of his tail.
Gem paused for breath, back pushed against the rough concrete wall of the staff corridors. She could hear footsteps echoing through the still and silent halls, slowly coming closer. She suddenly popped around the corner, sighting her target in the darkness and firing a quick burst in his direction. A shout from behind her left her cursing her stupidity. A shot whizzed past her as she ducked back around the corner, and ran out the exit into the mall proper.
"I didn't think there were that many of them," she thought to herself as she took cover behind a bench. Glancing around, she made out another man patrolling the grounds with a torch, fortunately some distance from her. She waited a few seconds, listening carefully for pursuit, but couldn't hear the other two thugs. "That's odd..." she muttered quietly. She raised herself in placing getting ready to move out.
A shot rang out through the mall. Gem leapt to her right, rolling away from the bench as a sharp pain shot through her shoulder. She got to her feet and took off in a run, looking for her assailant. High above her she noticed a brief flash of moonlight, reflecting off steel. "Sniper," she thought, and reflexively raised her pistol to fire. The rifle above her fired before she could, its shot glancing along her raised hand. With a shout of pain she dropped her handgun and clutched her wounded hand. Stumbling slightly, she ran across the floor to take cover in a staff exit, a third shot from the rifle clipping the wall by her head.
"Korey," she gasped into the communicator. "They've got a sniper in here!" Gem kicked open the door and headed down the corridor, hoping to get out of sight before the sniper could draw a new bead on her. "He's on the top floor, and has probably got the whole place covered." She cursed silently as she checked her wound. The bullet had torn along the back of her hand, leaving a bloody trail. Experience told her it looked far worse than it was. "Still hurts like hell," she thought to herself, and made her way through the corridors.
Korey rounded a corner and consulted her GPS, the dot of Gem's signal showing up close to the dot that represented the GPS unit. She tapped her ear piece as she spotted the large, three story mall. "Roger, G. Stay frosty, ETA five minutes."
As she entered the deserted parking lot, she ducked behind a decrepit wreck of a truck and from within her jacket, pulled out a pair of infrared goggles. With a flick of a switch, they turned on with an almost audible hum and she aimed them at the roof. Sure enough, amidst the cool colours of the building stood out two red shapes, one standing and the other laying down, aiming what was no doubt a sniper rifle down into the depths of the mall. She swept the goggles down and scanned rest of the mall, spotting the smaller infrared readout of Gem's body and those of her attackers, of whom were steadily making their way towards her position.
She tapped the ear piece. "G, this is K. Get moving, they're closing in on you. Sniper will be KIA in 15 minutes, tops."
"Gotcha," Gem responded. She made a quick dash from her newfound hiding place amongst the plants to a nearby row of shop fronts. Most were empty and broken open, but she found one that was boarded up, save for a gap at the side. She squeezed inside, gasping in pain as she pressed her injured shoulder against the wall, hoping no-one saw her. Glancing around, she realized she'd stumbled into an old fashion store. All around her, old and decaying shirts and jeans lay scattered on the floor. "Just what I need," she muttered, and pulled off her jacket.
Standing, Korey put the infrared goggles away and sprinted towards the mall, searching for and finding an emergency fire exit The hinges had long since started to rust, and the screech they gave off as they opened grated horribly on Korey's ears.
"Hope no one heard that," she thought as she glanced inside. In front of her was a storage area for what must have been cleaning equipment, as well as the decrepit remains of a floor wax machine. To her left stretched a hallway with even more doors spaced out evenly and to her right, a stairwell, clearly marked with a sign that read "Roof Access."
Stepping inside and closing the door behind her, Korey pulled her Kuan-Ti out and began to sprint up the steps, pausing at every landing to check ahead. Within minutes, she had reached the top was slowly pushing open the door. It screeched loudly in protest as the old hinges grinded against one another, and the man guarding the sniper turned his attention to the roof entrance.
"Keep that girl pinned down, I'm going to go check this out," he said. The sniper merely nodded and fired a quick three shot of bullets before reaching inside his jacket and pulling out a fresh clip.
Skirting to the left of the entrance, the man hooked his foot in the door and kicked it open, squatting down low and aiming his pistol at...
Perplexed, yet cautious, he tip toed inside and looked out over the edge of the stairs. Again he saw nothing, and brushed aside a bit of plaster that landed on his shoulder. The realization hit too late and he stood, his gun arm turning upwards when Korey landed on his shoulders and wrapped her legs about his neck. His cries muffled, he tried to bring the gun up to bear on her, but she knocked it out of his hands with a blow from the butt of her own gun and squeezed her legs even harder.
The pressure on his neck increased and his struggles to pry her off as she dangled from an overhead mounted light. Finally, his eyes closed and his body went limp, and she let him drop to the floor. Dropping down, she checked his pulse and, after making sure he was still alive, advanced on the sniper.
"Find anything, Carl?" he asked the approaching sound of footsteps.
"Yeah, you," Korey replied.
Startled, the sniper rolled away and brought his gun up only to have it knocked away with a well placed kick. Korey advanced with another kick, this one aimed at his head, intent on stopping this quickly, when he grabbed her foot and shoved hard. Overbalancing, Korey fell back and off the roof, disappearing from sight.
Gasping, the sniper got up and peered out over the edge. "Hey... where's the crash... and the body...? Ahhh!"
From out of the darkness swung Korey's legs, coming up to catch him by the neck and squeeze hard. He stumbled forward, unable to maintain his balance, and Korey, with a barely suppressed grunt, pulled him over the edge and released him. His cry of terror was cut off shortly as he crashed into the dry remains of the central fountain. Korey paid him no heed and tightened her grip on the fire extinguisher pipe. Swinging her legs back, she swung them forward and pulled up hard, bringing herself back over the lip of the roof.
Coughing from behind gave her little warning and she rolled as badly placed shots impacted on the roof tiles beside her. Her Kuan-Ti was back out in a flash, barking once, twice, three times in rapid succession. 'Carl' already wozzy, looked down stupidly at the wounds on his chest before falling back and crashing down the stairs, landing in a bloody heap on the stairwell.
"So much for getting information," she thought as the holstered her gun and retrieved the sniper rifle. Korey tapped the ear piece. "G, this is K, sniper is neutralized and I am in position. Status."
Gem sat on the floor of the clothes store, her jacket and t-shirt lying discarded on the floor with the stores former wares. "I think I'm safe here," Gem replied, tightening the makeshift bandage around her hand. She slipped off the shoulder strap of her bra to check her shoulder injury. Once again, the bullet had barely grazed her, and it looked worse than it really was. She tore more strips from an old t-shirt, and started dabbing the wound to soak away some of the blood.
She was interrupted by the sound of splintering wood from the back of the store. The staff door bulged inwards then broke down. One of her pursuers stood in the doorway. "What the..." he said, gaping at the half-naked woman in front of him. Gem glanced up, scowling at him, grabbing her jacket. "Hey, you're a girl!" he called out, raising his pistol.
Gem sprang to her feet spinning around, and throwing her heavy armored jacket at him. It caught him in the face, blocking his sight. She vaulted over the counter, planting her foot in his chest and sending him sprawling. A second thug emerged from the doorway, lunging at her with a nightstick in hand. She barely ducked his swing, then rolled to the side as he thrust it down at her. She lashed out with her foot, tripping him up and sprawling him on the floor behind the counter. Gem kicked her legs up, flipping herself to her feet. The first thug got up, throwing away the jacket and took aim on her. She rolled over the counter and ducked behind it, barely avoiding his fire.
"Come out, little girl!" He yelled out. He used one hand to steady himself as he vaulted over the counter. Gem sprang up, catching him in mid-leap with a kick that sent him crashing into a clothes rack. The second thug sprang up and swept his nightstick over the counter, forcing Gem to flatten herself back against the floor. He leaned over and swung down, barely missing her as she rolled out of the way. As Gem stood, he cautiously walked around the counter, eyeing his friend as he got to his feet. "Put the damned gun away," he growled. "We want her alive."
The two cautiously walked around the counter, circling her. Gem turned in place, facing the thug with the nightstick. They stood in silence for a few seconds, then with a shout, the thug behind her lunged forwards. Gem's hand shot up, backhanding him over her shoulder. The other swept forwards with his nightstick, forcing Gem to jump back slightly and press against the other thug. Gem darted to the side, rolling behind the stunned thug and twisting his arm behind his back. She seized his other arm as his partner swung the nightstick in again, and used the pistol in his hand to block the blow. She followed through, striking him with his partner's pistol. As he staggered back, she rolled over her victim's back, driving her foot into the other thug's face. He staggered back, clutching his face and leaning against the counter.
Gem was suddenly grabbed from behind. She struggled in his grip as his partner regained his footing. Not even bothering to retrieve his nightstick, he stepped forwards and punched Gem hard in the abdomen. He grinned as she doubled up in pain, and lifted her head by the chin. He drew back his hand and thrust forwards. At the last instant, Gem shot her head down, causing him to punch his own partner in the face. Gem thrust her knee up into his abdomen, staggering him back, bent double. She grabbed him around the neck and swung around, kicking off from the counter. He overbalanced, pitching backwards as Gem swung around in mid air, falling towards the other thug. She landed both feet on his chest, sending him flying out through the storefront and simultaneously crashing the other thug's head to the floor.
Cursing, he pulled his pistol back out and took aim at the prone Gem. A sharp crack rang out and he toppled to the floor, a new sizeable hole in the side of his head.
Gem looked out over the hole in the wall, watching the thug pitch over. "Got that sniper, huh?" she asked over the communicator.
"You could say that," came Korey's reply. "Unfortunately, I was unable to keep any of my new friends alive. How about you?"
"I've got one, a bit banged up and unconscious."
"Good. Restrain him and I will meet you in a few minutes. We might be able to get some information from him. And if not us, then perhaps Angel and her crew can."
"I wouldn't wish that on anyone. G, out." Gem wandered over to her captive. She double- checked his condition, then shook her head and returned to her bandages.
Kami, or Sharon as she had been going by, listened silently to the exchange between Gem and Korey, and stifled her anger. Her patience and perseverance in keeping an eye on her target had been fruitful so far, albeit far too simple. Finally, he stumbled across the street and entered a hotel where a few men, who appeared armed to the trained eye, stood alongside the entrance as well as a couple of parked limousines. She stopped herself from following, and remained hidden in the alleyway.
These weren't just thugs with pistols, they were more like a corporate security force, with body armor and assault rifles were the dress of the day. Scattered amongst them were more men in cheap suits. "Looks like this is mob HQ," Kami thought. Undoubtedly these weren't the only outside guards either. Most of the dregs in the alleys probably worked for these guys as well.
Noting that it was time for a little payback for what they did to Gem, Kami closed her eyes and calmed herself, feeling the level of excitement that had been building in her drop until it disappeared entirely. Her pounding heart slowed, her pulse steadied, and she felt herself slip into a deadly calm mood. It was at times like this that Kami was the most dangerous, where things were strictly business and the business now was payback.
No, wait, business was observation, and the whole issue of payback an emotional idea that was trying to get in the way of what her rational mind wanted to do. Clueless as to what the dregs lucking in the shadows of the alley had seen and reported, Kami decided that it was time to back off and make her report.
"K1, this is K. Report," came the request over the radio.
"K, this is K1, the target looks like he's gone home."
"Do you have the coordinates?"
"Good. Meet me and G at the meeting place. We'll contact A for transport. We picked up a guest to drop off."
"Returning to base."
"Uploading coordinates now, Angel,"Korey said as her fingers flew across the keyboard, typing in the coordinates of the hotel and current storage area for the slavers. A few seconds later, the e- mail had been sent and Korey watched, through the live satellite feed into her computer, as Angel printed it out and looked it over.
Angel leaned back in her chair. "Any details on who they are exactly and where the slaves are being held?"
At that, Korey smiled and nodded. "Oh yes... the gentleman we managed to apprehend had some choice information to give us once Kami got her hands on him and before your transport had arrived."
Kami put on her most professional sounding voice. "Yes, they're Russian mobsters. White slavery is the least of their crimes. They frequently do custom plastic surgery on their victims and sell them off for an increased profit. I also have more information on where the girls are kept. I'll give the details when you get here."
"And while all this is good, I feel we've only touched the tip of their operations here. There is also the fact that Gem was discovered and led into a trap, which means that they know someone is on to them," Korey pointed out. Standing behind her, Gem couldn't help but cringe in embarrassment, although she kept silent.
"That shouldn't be surprising, neither the Italians nor the Yakuza like these people. Their informants are numerous, and usually unknown," Kami added.
"Right." Angel's acknowledgment was affirmative, but her expression was a definite negative. "Why don't you take some time off? I have some work to do before we do anything else."
Korey nodded. "Much appreciated, Angel. Korey Winters, out." With a press of a button on the keyboard, the live feed was disconnected.
Seated in her office, Angel reflected silently,"Time to run another security audit, starting with myself." With that, Angel pulled out her own bug detector and went to work.
Korey turned to Kami and Gem, spinning in her elaborate office chair. "It appears we have some time off now, and the night is relatively young. How do you two feel to staying and having a drink with me?"
"Sounds good to me." And with that, Kami took off her black beret and let down her hair, the silky silver strands falling almost to her waist.
"I need it," Gem replied. She shook her injured hand and asked,"Do you have any proper bandages around here?"
Korey nodded and stood, motioning upstairs. "In the room you two shared there is a bathroom with all that you need. When you're done, come downstairs for a drink."
"Need some help?" Kami offered.
"Thanks." Gem rubbed her shoulder as she headed upstairs, followed closely by Kami. "Got a bit shot up, but it's nothing serious."
"That's good." Kami looked relieved. "Just no getting depressed."
Gem rolled her eyes. "I know, I know. Hey, we did a good job today."
As soon as they were out of sight, Korey stood up and almost sat right back down, grasping her right leg with a grimace of pain contorting her face. Her hand came away wet, and she saw the small drop of blood that had soaked through the pants leg and the bandage beneath it. Shuffling as best she could, Korey slowly made her way downstairs where a very concerned looking Ray waited.
"You tore the stitches again," he said. It was a statement, not a question.
Korey nodded and almost tripped on the last step, only to have her fall halted by a gentle invisible hand grasping her body. "Thank you," she whispered, relaxing into the hands of the synthetic as he floated her over to the couch and laid her upon it.
The basement, refurbished by it's previous owners, contained lovely colored burgundy carpet, a bar at the end opposite the stairs, and three adjacent rooms. One served as a spare bedroom, Ray's in fact, the next one the laundry and armory room, and the last a large hot tub filled with bubbling hot water. Ray walked into his room and retrieved the medical kit. When he came back, Korey already had her pants off and was dabbing at the partially opened wound on her leg with the remains of the bandages.
With practiced ease, Ray set about cleaning the wound, replacing some of the torn stitches and placing a new bandage about it. "You should not have stressed yourself so," Ray said. "The wound has had little time to heal."
"I'm afraid it couldn't be helped," Korey replied, grimacing a little as she dug into the medic kit for the pain relievers. "Gem had been pinned down and I was the only one who could act as backup."
"Then you should have called me in," Ray said. "I am gaining back more and more of my strength as the days go by, and I was more then capable of teleporting to Gem's location."
Korey shook her head and leaned back in the couch as Ray collected the soiled bandages and pants, placing the latter in the laundry room and the former in the garbage. "I did not want you coming out to the zone so soon. The last time you accompanied me, it was disastrous and you nearly got yourself killed."
Ray opened his mouth to say something more, but kept quiet at the look in Korey's face. "Very well. However, it is not restlessness that urges me out, but I am worried."
"The rumours we have heard about this new esper. I have... reservations about it, but if they are indeed true, then it could very well be my... brother, Matthew."
Silence came between them as Korey contemplated this silently. Inwardly, Karin was kicking herself for having forgotten about the wayward synthetic she had fought before facing off against Shion Nys, but Korey Winters remained curiously innocent of Ray's word. "You have a brother?"
Ray nodded. "Yes. He came after me, and we were evenly matched in terms of power and skills. And if I was able to escape, then it's a very likely possibility that he was able to as well."
Korey nodded slowly. "True, true... but we will discuss this another time. Right now, we have guests, and it would be best that they not see me in this state. Ray, if you would please..."
Giving a brief nod, Ray floated out a pair of clean pants out of the laundry room and quickly helped Korey into them. A few seconds later, Gem and Kami descended the stairs.
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