by Dustin Evermore, Alex Fauth, Max Fauth, Lisa Hartjes and Michael Surbrook
[July 1st, 2033, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Neo York.]

Midori opened her eyes sleepily, sighed, and stretched languidly in bed. Her body felt used, abused, and thoroughly loved. She turned over carefully to look at the man lying next to her and had to smile. Even in sleep, Jason's face showed contentment, satisfaction, and a hint of smugness.

When they had arrived back at the hotel from the restaurant, Midori had wanted to speak briefly with Hobbs but Jason swept her past the elderly gentleman with a brief comment about wanting to get to bed early because he had to work in the morning.

Their lovemaking had started in the bathtub then moved to the bed, where they eventually fell asleep in a tangle of limbs and sheets. At some point during the night, Jason had awoken and made love to her again, bringing her to wakefulness with slow seductive caresses and intimate kisses. Midori felt her hunger for him rise again and she looked at the small clock on the nightstand. The softly glowing numbers told her that there was only 15 minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

Well, the least I could do is make his wake up call a bit more pleasant, she thought. With the barest exertion of her power, she turned the alarm off, then pressed a feather-light kiss on Jason's lips.

Jason stretched comfortably and put his arms around her, deepening the kiss. "Mmm. Morning, beautiful," he said. He cracked one eye open. "Is it morning already?" Her blue eyes caught him and the way she looked at him made his heart beat faster. His eyes widened with wakefulness as he gazed into hers.

"Mmhmm," Midori said, idly tracing a pattern on his chest. "Time for you to get up and go to work." She gave a husky chuckle, amused at the double entendre of her words. "The alarm was going to go off soon, so I thought you might prefer to be woken by a kiss." Midori kissed him again, then slipped out of his embrace and her trailing hand caressed him as she got out of bed. "I'm going to go take a shower."

Jason sighed happily and rolled over to watch her as she made her way to the bathroom.

Midori's hips swayed slightly as she walked towards the bathroom. She stopped in the doorway when she saw one of the bottles of bubble bath had been knocked on the floor the previous night. With a mischievous and lusty smile Jason could not see, she deliberately kept her back to him, parted her legs slightly and bent at the waist to pick up the bottle. Midori opened their link but kept it passive, skimming the surface of Jason's mind to sense the result of the show she was putting on.

Lusty hunger immediately arose within him, with an obvious physical manifestation. An almost animal need fought against his will, but he was clearly loosing that battle. He slipped out of bed and stealthily padded toward Midori.

Midori's smile turned catlike and she quickly straightened up and continued into the bathroom. She carelessly placed the bottle on the ledge around the tub then walked over to the shower and turned on the water on. The spray was hot enough to fog the mirrors in a matter of seconds. She could sense Jason coming up behind her.

When Midori turned she found Jason standing there, naked and flushed. "May I wash your back?" he asked suggestively.

"Only if you promise to be good," Midori purred in response as she handed him the bottle of body wash, then stepped into the shower.

"I promise," he told her, trying to reign himself in amidst a wash of emotions and desire.

Midori tilted her head back, closed her eyes and sighed as the water sprayed down onto her and down her body, easing the aches and pains of the previous night's exertions that she wasn't used to. She lifted her hands and ran them over her face and through her hair, then pulled her hair over her left shoulder and bowed her head so the water cascaded down her back. Midori stood there quietly, listening for the sound of Jason's movements while her heart raced.

Jason, excited as he was, savored the opportunity and quietly washed her back, scrubbing gently with a small cloth and his own hands. He took his time, enjoying the feel of her smooth, wet skin under his fingers and tracing the subtle curves of her flesh.

Midori smiled as she savored the slick feel of his hands on her, but it did nothing but make the fire in her burn hotter. She turned to face him, her eyes heavy and hooded. "Your turn..." She deftly switched places with Jason.

As he stood under the spray, Midori squeezed a generous amount of the shower gel into her hands. She put the bottle on the ceramic shelf, lathered the gel up in her hands and began to rub Jason's back.

Midori started at the base of his skull and began to work her way down, caressing and stroking, tracing each scar with a gentle fingertip and placing a kiss on each one. When she reached his hips, her method changed, and her hands became firmer and kneaded, working out any knots or sore muscles.

Jason felt Midori's hands still. "Just getting some more soap," she whispered. A moment later her body was pressed up against his, spooning him, and her arms reached around and began to rub his chest, covering with the spicy scented bubbles of the shower gel. Inexorably, her hands worked their way downwards until he was slick with soap and throbbing in her grasp.

"That's what I meant," Midori growled softly in his ear, "when I said you had to be good." She found the sensitive spot on Jason's neck and nipped it as she gave him a gentle stroke.

Jason was flushed with surprise at her skill and the sensations she created for him. He was speechless, frankly. The way she made him feel was out of the bounds of his experience. He saw the water in the shower seemed to be moving, bending in a way that gravity would not dictate. He began to wonder what else she might use her power for.

She had not stopped. Jason's muscles rippled and flexed on their own and suddenly his entire body tensed. He stood panting for a moment, but the fire had not yet passed from his eyes.

He turned around to face her, face still flushed and eyes sparkling in the dancing water still raining down upon him. He reached out and test the strength of the stainless steel hand rail. His eyes intent and focused upon Midori's beautiful blues, he lifted her up and placed her upon the rail. He dipped down and stood up again, with her legs resting atop his shoulders.

"May I have a second chance to be good?" he asked. He began kissing her upon the lips, ears and neck, while his hand busied themselves caressing the flesh of her breasts and lightly brushing the tips of her nipples. Soon, there was not enough soap to make the motions smooth and gentle, so he followed her example and squeezed out some more shower gel. He continued messaging her abdomen and thighs. He moved around to her buttocks, working them and touching every part. He finally worked his way around to her most sensitive place, he rinsed the soap from his fingers and then continued the massage.

Midori's eyes fell closed as she gave in to the sensations Jason was creating as he played her body like a fine instrument. Her breathing became unsteady, and inarticulate sounds occasionally escaped from her throat.

The water streaming from the shower head now flew around the lovers like an airborne whirlpool, surging up beneath Midori's hips as her power lifted her from the rail and moved her body so it was touching his once more. She cupped either side of his face with her hands and began to kiss him deeply as she wrapped her legs around his chest. Slowly she slid down, her body slick with soap and water, her power still bearing the majority of her weight, until the core of her rested against him.

I'm ready, Jason, she sent, still kissing him.

Jason braced his legs against the edges of the shower and gently lowered her onto himself. Soft and warm in the heat of the shower, he began he lift her and lower her down gently and slowly, making each motion cause long, lingering shudders of please ripple through them both. Breathing heavily from the pleasure rather than the exertion, Jason moved more and more quickly watching Midori's silent moans of pleasure.

He felt her gasp and grow tighter upon him feeling her reach a climax. Her eyes searched his, asking a question she need not verbalize. "Yes, let yourself go," he whispered. He paused as he felt her spasm, waiting for her to subside.

Then he began again.

Midori felt the heat begin to rise in her, pulsing with every movement Jason made inside her. Nothing she was told, nothing she had ever "eavesdropped" on, could have prepared her for what it felt like when it was happening to her. Slowly, she began to reduce the strength of the telekinetic force that was supporting her. The extra weight began to increase the friction and Midori felt Jason going deeper with each thrust.

Her breathing started to get unsteady again, and urgent moans issued from her throat as she began to take a more active role this time. Midori could feel the pressure building, hurtling her towards the edge and when she opened up their link wide, she felt Jason being swept along with her.

When she started to shudder, she buried her fingers in Jason's hair and kissed him like a drowning woman trying to gasp for air. When she climaxed, she muffled her screams in Jason's mouth as her body bucked against his. She road the wave of pleasure, writhing, every movement eliciting more sensations until she thought she was going to die, then it gradually began to fade until all that was left was a deep sense of satisfaction and sated passion.

The two lovers eventually finished in the shower and joined Hobbs and a curious Moira for breakfast. Jason would be a little late this morning, it was clear, but he didn't seem to care. He was in love, he knew, and everything felt right. Today was Friday, however, and they needed to leave for Hong Kong the next day. Jason was intending to get as much done as possible to free more time.

Midori looked at the clock as she took another sip of tea. "You'd better get going or you'll be really late, rather than just a bit late," she said with a smile. She was happy—very happy—and she knew that in all likelihood Hobbs would have known even if he hadn't seen the ring on her finger. She looked over at Moira.

"You look like if you don't ask the question you want to ask," Midori said with a chuckle, "you'll burst. What do you want to know?"

"Oh, nothing," she said, lying.

Midori raised an eyebrow at Moira and hid a grin. It's going to be one of those questions, I see....

Jason looked from Moira to Midori and as a wicked grin spread across his face. Well, she'll have to get used to these kinds of questions sometime, won't she? he thought to himself. He decided to let Midori handle it when he left.

"We'll meet you at the airport. Don't forget the flight's at four o'clock," Midori said with a smile, giving Jason a quick kiss. "Now scoot! Go to work! Earn your daily bread." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "The sooner you get to work, the sooner you can come home again."

Jason smiled and gave Moira a kiss on the cheek goodbye and was soon walking out the door. "Try not to get into too much trouble, you two," he said.

After he had left Moira fiddled with her breakfast cereal idly. She hadn't touched it at all this morning. Now she seemed more interested in mashing it into new and wonderful designs instead. She sighed heavily and looked around at Midori.

"I'm not hungry," she stated. In an attempt to distract Midori from enforcing eating rules, she continued, "That's a pretty ring. Where did you get it?"

"I'll tell you if you eat something," Midori said. "If you don't want the cereal, have some fruit, a couple spoonfuls of the scrambled eggs, or one of these pastries instead." She took a bit of toast. 'How about some toast with peanut butter?"

Moira stared at Midori. "You won't even answer my question?" Silence was her reply. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, staring at the variety of foods around her. She shoved the cereal away from her and reached for the eggs, carefully placing exactly two spoonfuls on her plate. She looked at it for a minute, while they got cold and then separated a tiny bit, scooped it into a spoon and put it in her mouth.

She watched Midori some more and sighed heavily again. She picked up and sprinkled it on top of the eggs. She tasted another tiny bit again. From her expression, she still wasn't impressed. She looked up at Midori, who had finished by now and was watching her.

Moira picked up the salt shaker and unscrewed the top. She immediately dumped it all over her two little piles of egg, much to Midori's astonishment. Midori was about to say something when Moira then picked up her spoon and looked doubtfully at the slightly eggy pile of salt. She ate a spoonful, and the salt crunched like sand in her mouth.

Surprisingly, her expression was on one of a food critic testing a gourmet dish. It seemed to satisfy her and she swallowed it with some difficulty, and then washed it down with a mouthful of milk.

Midori tried not to look puzzled. "Did that taste good," she asked calmly.

"Good? Not really. At least it had some kind of taste to it, though," the girl replied.

Midori could hardly believe what she heard. "Are you telling me that you haven't been able to taste anything all this time? No wonder you dislike eating so much. When we get back from Hong Kong, we'll get the doctors to fix the problem."

Moira said, "Okay."

Midori put her utensils down neatly and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. She took one final sip of tea, looked at the ring on her left hand and then over at the girl.

"Your father gave me the ring during dinner last night," Midori told Moira. "He also told me the story about it, about how your grandfather gave it to your grandmother when he asked her to marry him."

"Grandfather? You mean that old guy in the pictures around the house? I didn't know that." Her mind skipped to a more important subject. "Does that mean he asked you to marry him? What does that mean?"

"Yes, your grandfather is likely in one of the pictures in the house. I'll make sure to ask your father to point him out to you. But you may have seen a picture of your grandfather when he was a young man. It might have been a picture of a man and a woman, and the woman was wearing the same jewelry as I was last night—the necklace and the earrings that your father gave me." Midori paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to answer Moira's other question.

"When a man and a woman get married, they promise to love and respect each other, to care for each other when they're sick and unhappy, to share happiness and joy when things are going well, and to be a family." Midori thought for a moment. "It's kind of like what your father did when he adopted you, but marriage happens between two adults. Maybe you'll fall in love like your father and I did and get married."

Midori nodded. "Your father loves me and wants to spend the rest of his life with me, so he asked me to marry him. I said yes, and that's why I'm wearing the ring." She paused. "Are you okay with that? With my marrying your father, I mean?"

Well, that's okay, I guess," Moira responded. "But why would you want to give up your own life just to hang out with us? Or do we have to move in with you now? And what should I call you?"

Midori shook her head. "I'm not giving up my own life to be with you and your father. I'm making a special place for the two of you in mine. I still have to go to work, like your father does. As for who's living where, your father and I haven't talked about it, and when we do, we'll want to know what you think too."

"What should you call me? I don't know. What do you want to call me? You can continue to call me Midori, if you like. When your father and I actually get married, I'll be your stepmother—that's the term given to the woman who's married to your father but not the woman who gave birth to you. Some children think of that woman as their mother, but you only have to call me that if you want to, Midori replied honestly. "I certainly love you like a daughter."

Moira looked surprised. "You do? Like you do Dad?" She wasn't sure what that would mean, yet.

"It's a different kind of love, but yeah," Midori answered with a wry smile. "I love you as much as I love your father, and I love you the same way your father loves you." She paused for a moment, suddenly struck by a thought. Did Jason and the doctors have the foresight to give Moira a body that was fully functional?/ Midori filed the question away to ask later, then continued speaking. "I'll probably even nag you like your father does about eating, brushing your teeth and going to bed. It comes with the territory." She grinned.

"Was Daddy hurting you in there?" she pointed in the direction of Midori and Jason's room and adjoining private bath. "I'll tell him to stop it, if he was."

"Hurting me?" Midori was confused, until she suddenly realized what Moira was talking about. "Oh no, don't worry Moira, he wasn't. I was screaming because your father was doing something that was making me feel so good that the only way I could tell him was to scream." Midori was hoping Moira would leave it at that, but had the sinking suspicion that more questions were to follow.

Moira sat, mouth agape. "WHAT?!" she exclaimed loudly. "Nuh-uh, Midori! People laugh when they feel good. Everybody knows that! If he's doing something bad, you have to stand up for yourself." Assertiveness lessons from someone that looks as if she's 11 years old?

Moira jumped off her chair and stood in front of Moira with one hand on her hip. "Now what really happened?"

Midori looked at Moira and realized she couldn't dodge this bullet. She opened up her mind and sought out her lover.

Jason felt a light "knock" at the edge of his mind and recognized Midori's mental touch.

Jason, Midori sent, I'm about to explain what happened in the shower this morning. How explicit do you want me to get? Moira thinks you were hurting me.

Oh boy. That's really hard. Here's my advice: Try to imagine you are about 12 years old and can remember no childhood at all. You've barely interacted even with other kids your age and now the central people in your life are behaving in a way you don't understand. How much would you want to know?

Me? I'd want to know everything. She's standing in front of me, demanding to know what happened, and I swear if I told her that you did hurt me she'd try to hurt you in return.

Huh. Well, so much for 'daddy's girl'. I guess you better tell her.

Jason got the mental image of Midori nodding with a rueful smile. I will. She paused for a moment. I'm sorry.

Sorry? For what? For getting me out of having to explain it a few months or years down the road? She felt light laughter from him. No, I thank you. He continued more seriously. And I'm really sorry you got stuck with that job.

I don't feel like I'm stuck with it, love. Moira's going to be my stepdaughter, and I'm the only female role model in her life right now. It's just that this is a... milestone in her development. I know it certainly was for me.

Thank you for being there, Midori.

Oh, don't think you're going to get out of this that easily, sweetie. Jason could almost see the look on Midori's face. I'm sure I'll find some more concrete way for you to express your appreciation.

Midori felt warmth and feelings of love leaked over the link. I shall expect no less, then.

For a moment, Jason thought he felt Midori's lips lightly brush his, and then the link went silent.

Midori looked at Moira's stern face and wondered what was going through the girl's mind. She sighed, pulled the chair Moira had been sitting in closer and patted the seat, indicating Moira should sit down again.

"I wasn't lying, Moira," Midori said softly. "Your father wasn't hurting me, nor was he doing anything to me that I didn't want him to do. We were making love in the shower, and your father made me feel so much pleasure that all I could do was scream."

At Moira's continued look of disbelief, Midori began to explain as simply as she could about sex—what it was and how it made a person feel, and Midori's beliefs about it, finishing with the statement that if Moira was still not sure, that she should talk to her father about it.

"Huh. Well that sounds pretty weird, if you ask me."

Midori nodded and gave a short laugh. "I have to agree with you. I've often wondered if it was some kind of joke being played on all of us." She paused for a moment, realizing she hadn't seen or heard Hobbs yet that morning.

Moira responded, "Oh, he went into the other room to work on his business stuff or whatever. He's pretty quiet when he wants to be."

Midori nodded. "That reminds me. I've got some work I have to do. Do you think your dad would mind if I used his new laptop?"

* * *

With a sigh, Gem stepped out of the elevator and strolled down the hall of the richly decorated hotel. She'd been putting off this reunion for a while, for her own reasons. "I need some time to sort things out," she'd said to One-Eyed Jack. Well, she'd had some time, and she certainly hadn't sorted them out.

She counted down the numbers until she reached the right door. She raised a hand, ready to knock, but stopped. What was she going to tell her boss? That she'd gone mad, staying with Angel? That she was thrown around by Raven Clark? And of her time with Kami?

Gem shook her head to clear it. Whatever happens, happens, she thought, and rapped sharply on the door.

There was a pause, then the sound of locks being thrown open. The door opened and an older man with graying hair and aristocratic features appeared. "May I help you miss?"

Gem was slightly taken aback at the sight of a stranger, but pressed on. "I'm here to see Midori," she said. "Her friend Jack told me she was here."

"I see. Who, may I ask, is calling?" Hobbs apparently didn't know 'Jack' either and was being a touch paranoid about letting just anyone in, given the attacks of the past few days.

"Her bodyguard, Gem," she replied.

From inside the suite, a young girl's voice said, "Who's at the door, Uncle Hobbs?"

Gem glanced past Hobbs, trying to see who had spoken.

"Very good, Miss Gem. Please come in." Hobbs turned and announced Gem's arrival for Midori. Seeing past the older man, Gem caught sight of a girl, a little on the small side, and apparently of perhaps preteen age.

Gem nodded to Hobbs as she entered. She spared the girl a curious glance, then turned back to Hobbs. "Oh, please don't call me 'Miss Gem.' It sounds kind of stupid."

Hobbs nodded and quietly excused himself, making a comment to the effect that he still had some work to finish online. Gem was left in the company of the curious girl and Midori.

And the girl was apparently not too shy. She stood at Midori's side, looking at Gem. "That's a pretty name. Your parents must have really liked you," she said.

Midori finished taking off the VR gear and looked at her friend and bodyguard with a concerned look on her face. She tentatively reached out with her mind and touched Gem's.

Gem gently nodded her approval.

"Are you okay," Midori asked Gem aloud, her eyes searching the bodyguard, looking for signs of her injuries. She had been so worried about Gem, and had gotten some measure of relief when Jack contacted her a couple of days after the rather one-sided fight with the Black Company and told her that Gem had talked to him, that she was all right but needed some time to sort things out. If it weren't for Moira's presence, Midori would have immediately started in on Gem, asking her questions and demanding to know what had happened.

Gem gave a weak smile. "I'm fine," she said, inwardly relieved at such a simple greeting. "I'm sorry I didn't contact you earlier," Gem began, but trailed off, unsure of what to say.

Moira, annoyed at being ignored looked from Gem to Midori and then stamped her foot and went off to find Hobbs.

"What's wrong, Moira," Midori asked in surprise.

"I don't like her 'cause she's rude."

Midori shook her head. "I'm sorry, Moira. Gem's had a really rough time lately. She got hurt really badly when those people attacked the house, and then some other stuff happened." She looked at the girl. "We're... sisters, and we were really worried about each other."

Gem looked down at Moira, and rubbed her head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry about that. You're..." She shrugged. "Well, I wasn't expecting to see a little girl here, so I didn't know what to say." She glanced nervously at Midori, then back to Moira. "So can you forgive me?"

Moira stopped and turned to look at Gem and back to Midori. "Sisters?" She took a couple steps back toward Gem. "Well, okay, since you're going to be my aunt and all."

Midori remained silent, and watched Gem's face to see how she would react to Moira's offhanded comment.

"Aunt?" Gem said in surprise. "What do you mean by 'aunt?'"

Moira giggled, pleased she knew something that an adult didn't. "Yeah!" she said excitedly. "Isn't it great? I thought it was just going to be daddy and me forever, and you prolly thought it was just going to be you and your sister forever, huh?" Moira was so excited she seemed to have missed the fact that Gem still didn't know what she was talking about.

Midori couldn't help but be amused at Moira's reaction, but hid the smile that was threatening to curve her lips. "Jason proposed last night," Midori said softly as she looked back at Gem.

Gem looked up at her, her face frozen in an expression of shock. "You... What?"

Midori looked at Gem, unsure of how to take the expression on her bodyguard's face. "It was Jason's birthday yesterday, and the two of us went out for dinner. He proposed at the restaurant." She sighed. "I know it's fast, but it's hard to explain. So much has happened while you were gone. And where were you," Midori demanded, suddenly changing the subject. "Why didn't you contact me sooner? Do you have any idea how worried I was about you?"

Gem swallowed hard, and nodded slowly. "You're right, I'm sorry. I was..." Gem trailed off. How could she explain herself? How could she tell Midori all that had happened to her? She could barely believe it herself. "I was still recovering," she finished, rather unconvincingly.

Moira looked curiously at Gem. "You have pretty eyes," she commented. "What's it like to have a sister?"

Midori stood silently, crossed her arms and watched Gem like a hawk, as if daring Gem to say anything negative and promising that the bodyguard may have earned a temporary reprieve but that Midori was going to get the answers to her questions.

Gem scratched her head. "It's really good, Moira." She glanced up at Midori. "You've always got someone to talk to, and you've got someone to look after, too."

"Then I want a sister, too." She looked slyly at Midori. "Do you know where daddy could get one?"

"I don't know, Moira," Midori replied with a straight face, though her eyes were twinkling with humor. "Perhaps he could order one from an online catalog. Is that what Babies R Us is for?"

Her expression softened. "It's something that your father and I have to talk about. In fact, there's a lot of things we need to talk about. We'll likely do some of it while we're flying to Hong Kong. That reminds me," Midori exclaimed. "I need to check with Hobbs about your passport, and see if he knows how to cut through the red tape to get one for Gem. That's providing you've come back to work." Midori looked at Gem with a neutral expression.

"No, I have," Gem replied. "If you'll take me back, that is." Over the mind links, she added I'm sorry I cant' tell you... I've been... Unwell.

"Of course I'll take you back," Midori exclaimed, then paused. "Unless something's happened that shouldn't have, and I ought to know about it."

Through their link, Midori sent Where are the pills.

"No, it's all behind me now," Gem said. She patted her jacket pocket, adding over the link The pills are safe.

Moira looked from one to the other and shuffled her feet. "Anybody wanna play a game?"

Would you mind playing with Moira for a little while, Midori asked through the link. Not that I expect you to play baby-sitter, but I still have some work to finish before we leave. Oh, and can I have the pills? I want to split them into two bottle, so in case we get split up again, I'll be covered.

Gem nodded. She pulled a small pill bottle from her jacket and handed it to Midori. She then turned to Moira, and took her hand. "So what did you want to play?"

With a delighted skip in her step, Moira led Gem to the new machine Midori'd purchased and sat her down.

"Okay, this is really cool! You just put goggles on and those gloves there... Yeah, like that. Okay, I'm going to sit right across from you and in just a sec, I'll fire it up." A moment later, saw Gem a distant shape in the goggle rapidly close and appear before her.

"That's me," said Moira. It was of a young woman that looked much like Moira, only more a little older. Looking down, Gem saw she had a 3d persona as well. This one didn't look very much like her, but it was definitely cool. Her clothes were black leather and she was armed with some kind of laser pistol.

"I can help you customize your character later, if you want," Moira said. "Anyway, this is a team game. It's you and me against the world! The story is that there is this evil world conglomerate that's poisoning the atmosphere, only nobody knows it yet. We have to get the evidence, fight off the evil corporate thugs, and then bring them to justice. Dead or alive! Are you ready?"

"Sounds a bit too familiar," Gem muttered.

And the game began...

* * *

Gem, Midori and Moira stepped out of the taxi at the departures terminal of the Neo York airport. Gem looked up at the enormous building and let out a low whistle. She turned back to Moira who was also staring agape at the terminal. Gem smiled; she must have looked just like her only now. "Come on," she said, and lead Moira into the terminal after Midori.

Midori told the two of them to wait for her, and headed into the mass of bodies waiting for their tickets. They found themselves a functional yet uncomfortable lounge by the door.

Moira tightly grasped Gem's hand with both of her hands as she anxiously looked around at all the strange people. She wasn't used to such open, public places, especially when it was full of so many people.

Jason was standing near the line, suitcase in hand watching for Midori. He spotted her as she moved to get in line and approached her. "Hello love," he said. "I've already picked up our tickets. We should be ready to go." Midori turned at the sound of his voice and looked up at him.

Midori smiled at him and her heart skipped a beat. "How many tickets did they give you at the window," she asked.

Jason blinked at her. "Just yours and mine."

"There are two more to pick up," Midori responded, taking a step ahead as the line moved.

"Midori? What's going on?"

"Gem showed up at the hotel shortly after you left for work this morning," Midori explained. "I talked to Hobbs and he got a passport for her. Moira was rather... distressed that you were leaving her behind again, and Gem offered to keep an eye on her, act as her bodyguard, so you could concentrate on me."

Jason looked surprised. "Gem really said that? That's awful nice of her." He looked around. "I take they are here somewhere?"

"They're over there, by the doors, with the luggage," Midori said, turning and pointing them out. She took a step backwards, moving along with the line as it worked its way towards the counter.

Jason leaned in and gave her a kiss. "Be right back." He walked quickly over to the indicated duo and approached them with a wave.

"Hey kiddo. Hi Gem." He tousled his daughter's hair.

"Daddy!" Moira complained.

"Gem, I'm glad to see you did make it out of that trap. What you did back there was pretty damn brave of you. And Midori told me about your offer to help keep an eye on Moira. Thanks, Gem, I really appreciate that."

"I'll kill you for it later," Gem replied, perfectly deadpan. "Moira's a good kid," she added, glancing down at the girl. "We're getting on quite well."

Jason stared at Gem, smile fading. He was unsure if she was joking, threatening, or putting a real threat as if it was a joke.

A small, playful smile crossed Gem's face. She nudged Moira and nodded towards Jason. "I sure scared him," she said to the little girl.

"Huh. Yeah, easy to do these days," mumbled Jason. He looked back to see where Midori was in the line. There were three people in the line ahead of her, but the person at the counter was starting to yell and make a nuisance of himself.

Gem shrugged. "I didn't mean a thing. I'm glad you two made it out alive, actually."

Midori stood in line, watching the man at the front of the line, wondering what the problem was. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw airport security approaching.

Jason nodded and looked a little distracted. "I wonder what's going on?" Following his line of sight, Moira and Gem could see security approaching the man making trouble in the line. "Maybe it's nothing, but it seems fishy." He took Moira by the hand. "Let's go join Midori, kiddo, and make sure they let her through to get the tickets."

He glanced at Gem and was reassured she appeared to be preparing to come with as he made his way toward the line.

The security forces approached the man making a scene, and the leader of the squad stepped forward and spoke quietly with the man. The man started to protest even louder, yelling something about "don't you know who I am". The squad leader replied with something Midori couldn't hear, and they escorted the man away. In short order, the line was moving again, and by the time Jason, Moira and Gem reached Midori's side, she had the tickets for Moira and Gem.

"So what in blazes was that all about?" Gem quietly asked.

Jason reinforced the question. "Yes. What happened?"

"I think he wanted to get tickets on a flight that was booked solid," Midori responded. "And he took exception to the fact that they wouldn't bump someone off the flight for him."

"So we're all clear then?" Gem glanced around cautiously, suddenly concerned for their safety.

"If all it was just another irate customer, there shouldn't be a problem," Jason remarked. "Why don't we head to our gate? The plane should be boarding soon, anyway."

As if in answer to Jason's words, there was an announcement saying that the first class passengers for their flight were to start boarding in five minutes.

"That's us," Midori said with a smile, then looked over at Moira. "Excited?"

Moira cheerfully replied, "Yeah! I like to fly. Last time, Daddy said I could use the laptop, too, once we're in the air."

Gem raised an eyebrow. "First class? Wow."

"Well, if you can, why not?" Jason smiled.

Moira, still clutching Gem's hand, asked, "Have you been in an airplane before? It's really neat, 'cause your tummy goes, like whoosh! when the plane leans waaaay back like that. And then, in Hong Kong, it goes down really really steep. Daddy says it's 'cause of all the tall buildings, but don't worry, planes hardly ever crash!"

Gem rattled out answers, desperately trying to keep up with Moira. "No. Yikes. It does? Uh, that's..." She glanced at Midori for help, but Moira just kept going.

She suddenly seemed to want to chatter and nothing short of an act of god would stop the little cyborg now. "And maybe, if you want, we can play a game or something on the plane. Have you ever been to Hong Kong, Gem? I like Hong Kong. They have really neat clothes there. It's, like, dresses, but they're not. And this one lady, that Daddy and Sandra met, had this really pretty one and it was red and silk. I think it was silk. You should get one, too, Gem! I bet Midori will take you shopping. She's a real good shopper, don't you think?"

"Sure," Gem began again, looking somewhat scared. "No, I haven't. You do? Huh? What's that mean? Oh, those. Sandra? Who's- Well, I've actually- I think she- Yeah, she is."

Midori chuckled. "So, Moira, are you trying to tell me that you'd like to go shopping while we're in Hong Kong," she asked as the approached the gate.

"Yes, please!"

"Here we are," Jason said. The ticket lady stood at the ready as the announcer told the prospective passengers that first class was ready for boarding. They walked by and handed her the tickets as they made their way onto the plane.

On board the plane they found their seats, all together. Since the airliner was a new experience to Gem, Jason made sure she got a window seat. Moira and Midori took their seats, and Jason followed suit. By the time everyone was settled and buckled in while Moira continued her happy chatter, the plane was moving down the runway.

Midori leaned back in her seat and tried to relax. She had kept expecting someone to say or do something to stop them from going to Hong Kong, but nothing like that had happened.

Moira had busied herself with looking through the in-flight magazines, flipping through the music and video channels. Gem was next to Moira and gazing out the window.

Jason, she sent, her mental voice soft. We need to talk about some things. About us. Moira. Our future. She opened her eyes to look down at the ring on her finger, and Jason could feel the love and happiness surge in her.

Yes, we do, he agreed. I was hoping we might settle upon a date, too. I've always liked the fall...

And I love the spring, Midori said with a smile, with the cherry blossoms on the trees. But, I think I could suffer through a fall wedding. Jason could detect a teasing note in her words. Perhaps the end of September? That's only three months away. Do you think we can pull it off?

As for Moira, it is my hope that she will come to see you as her mother. I think you have already proven you are very good at it. Jason turned in his seat and gave her an apparently random kiss on the cheek. You are everything I ever hoped for, he added.

Gee, you make me sound like a piece of software or some other toy. She paused for a moment, amusement at the different levels of meaning in her words evident in her eyes as she smiled. Moira and I have already talked about that. I told her I was going to be her stepmother, and that it was her decision as to what she would call me.

Midori reached out and took Jason's hand. There was something else that I talked to Moira about. I think I know why she hates eating.

Oh? Why is it?

She can't taste anything. She emptied the entire shaker of salt onto two spoonfuls of eggs, and when I asked her if that tasted good, she shrugged and said that at least it had some kind of taste. Do you think there could have been a screw up when they were hooking up the sensor when they put her in that shell?

I really never knew that before. That poor girl! She probably thought that was how everything was supposed to taste. Yes, there must be something wrong with the sensors. When we get back, I promised Moira I would let her get some upgrades to her body. I'll put that on the list.

The other thing that Moira asked was where the two of you were going to live. That is something that we definitely need to decide. I... I can't see us living in the hotel until your house is repaired. Mine is sitting empty...

Are you sure you'd be okay with that? I'd hate to see you have to go there if it will only be painful, he replied with feelings of care emanating across the link.

I've got to go back there, Jason. I've been back once, with Gem, before they... cleaned up. I'm afraid that the longer I wait, the harder it's going to be.

I understand. If you're sure, then we'll do it. Hobbs' guest house wasn't damaged very much in the attack, so I think he'll be fine where ever we choose.

I'm sure. I'll be okay if I go there with friends and loved ones, my love. It was meant to be a loving home, with a family living there. Midori paused and looked at Jason. My mother was always asking me when she'd hear the sounds of grandchildren running around. I know she'd love Moira, but it just not the same... Her mental voice trailed off with the barest hint of longing.

Jason paused to think carefully. He didn't want to just agree instantly, because it would sound like he was just trying to please her, and he wanted her to have an honest reaction. After a moment, he replied, I think you would be a wonderful mother, and I would like to have a child, too. I'm learning a lot with Moira, too. My only reservation is that I would want to be absolutely certain that any other child of ours would grow up in a safe environment. If it means that we have to track down and deal with all our enemies, leave our jobs or what have you, then we must do that first. It might be a while, love. Does this make sense?

Midori smiled and reached out to gently stroke the side of his face with her free hand, making the gesture look like a response to his kiss. I understand. Maybe we should set a date for next year, in the spring or summer. It's not that I wouldn't marry you tomorrow, but do you really think the lawyers would have everything ready to go in three months? It takes them a week to decide if they need a new pen. A sober look crossed her face.

That's a depressing thought, responded Jason.

"It's going to take some work to get Nakata to come around to the idea about us," Midori said aloud. "He is not going to be pleased."

"Why?" he asked.

"He's a wonderful man, and has been a great friend to my family," Midori explained, "but... He's prejudiced. He'll think you're good enough to be a business partner and friend." She struggled to find the right words to be tactful about what she was trying to say, but decided to be blunt. "You're not Japanese. Obviously I don't care, but he's very old school. I heard he wasn't too thrilled when my parents got married, but my mother won him over eventually." Midori shook her head. "He won't be outright rude or anything like that, especially when I'm around, but he'll not go out of his way to make you feel welcome.

"Not to mention the fact he still thinks of me as a little girl, so he's still got to get used to me being the boss. It's just going to be difficult for him, that's all."

Jason smiled, "Well, if there weren't a few problems with in-laws, it just would be a real American marriage, would it?" Jason chuckled lightly. "But thanks for the warning. I'll try to be on my best behavior around him, at least until he comes to accept me."

"And if he doesn't accept you," Midori said with a smile, "tough luck." She shifted in her seat to get closer to Jason. "So, about that wedding date..."

"Mmmm," said Jason as he leaned over and gave her a heartfelt but not R-rated kiss. "As far as I'm concerned, the sooner we are married, the better. But, I know that may not be too wise. Let's just give things four months to wait for things to settle down a little. Then, settled or not, I think we should go for it. We don't have to have a large, public ceremony. I don't have any other family that could attend anyway, and I certainly don't have any other friends that I could trust any farther than Moira could throw them."

"I heard that," stated Moira. But she barely looked up from something she was reading on her laptop computer.

Midori chuckled and shook her head at Moira's comment, then turned her attention back to Jason. "All this impatience. Are you afraid you're going to lose me," she asked half jokingly, "or are you just eager to put your brand on me." Midori grinned.

"And don't forget, there are other people to consider," she added. "We need to think about what Hobbs and Nakata want. They're not family by blood, but they are close enough that it doesn't matter. Yes, the final decision is ours, but we really ought to at least listen to what they have to say."

"I think Hobbs is behind this. Actually, I know he is. He's been pushing me to 'settle down' for years." He twisted around in his seat so he could look at Midori directly. "And yes I am afraid I could lose you. We're playing some very dangerous games, love. If something should happen to either one of us, I just want to at least have tried my best to live the best life I can with the woman I love."

Moira looked up from her laptop.

"Women I love," Jason corrected himself.

Moira looked back down at her laptop.

"But if it makes you feel better to move a little more slowly towards a wedding date, I can wait," he added.

"Thank you," Midori said, and she leaned forward and placed a slow, gentle kiss on his lips. "Things have been moving so fast, I feel like I'm losing control. Not that that's a bad thing in some circumstances," she added, the memory of their shower together burning in her eyes, "but you know what I mean."

A smile curved Midori's lips. "How about January 14th? Enough time to recover from New Years Eve, and early enough to help cure the midwinter blahs."

For our honeymoon, we could go somewhere hot and clothes are optional... Midori's mental voice fairly purred.

Jason looked into her eyes. "It's a date."

Moira sighed, "Uck. No wonder you guys spend so much time in your own room. Do you realize how goofy you are behaving?"

Midori chuckled. "I'm sorry, Moira. We'll try to behave a bit better in the future." She looked over at the girl. "What are you working on?"

"Oh, um, no big deal, really." Moira quickly closed what she was looking at and resumed a 3d pinball game. However, Midori was able to see that whatever the documents where that she was reading it had a PROJECT: FORGE watermark in red and a notation that read: SECURITY DETAIL in large letters at the top.

"Okay," Midori replied pleasantly, then leaned back in her seat.

Jason, she sent. Look directly at me, and promise your attention won't waver.

I promise.

What is Project: Forge?

Jason looked at Midori and replied, It's a joint project currently being developed between SynTech and Mitsumi Corporation. It's an initiative to develop perfect cyborg replicants to serve for environments and circumstances in which normal humans, cyborgs, and replicants prove inadequate. It was my attempt to ensure SynTech's longevity and financial security. There was even supposed to be a demo of the preliminary results yesterday, but I was too busy to attend. It was delayed until I get back from Hong Kong. Why do you ask?

I'll tell you in a minute. Midori closed the link with Jason (but not cutting him off), and reached out tentatively to Moira with her mind, unsure of whether or not she could make the connection.

Moira, this is Midori. Don't be scared. Just think of this as me whispering into your brain. If you want to talk back to me, just think the words, like you're working out how to say them, and I'll hear them. May I speak with you like this about something?

When she first heard the voice in her head, her first instinct was to squeak, "eep!" and cover her head with her arms. As Midori continued to reassure her, Moira relaxed a little.

How do you do that? Moira asked.

To be honest, I'm not sure. I think my powers allow me to tap into the parts of other people's where they "talk" to themselves. You know, like when they're trying to work out a problem or they rehearse what they want to say to someone. I can only receive what people want me to hear. If you don't want me to "hear" it, then I won't, and you can shut down this link any time you want to.

In fact, I have a link like this going with your father and with Gem.

May I ask you a question now?

Um... Moira sent.

I wanted to ask you about that file you were reading before I said anything to your father about it. I'm not trying to get you into trouble, but I want to understand if this was the "game" you said you had created for yourself because you were bored. Have you read a lot of the Project: Forge files?

Well, kinda... What's 'a lot'? Moira was actually squirming in her seat.

For the purposes of this conversation, two or more, Midori responded. Believe me, Moira, you're not in trouble with me, and I'm not angry with you in any way.

Oh... She didn't sound quite convinced this wasn't a trick.

Your father has told me a bit about the Project, but I suspect that he might not know many of the details, considering how busy he's been lately. He told me it's a project to develop perfect cyborg replicants to be used under conditions that are too dangerous or hazardous for normal humans, cyborgs, and replicants prove inadequate. Is that what it says in the files?

Is there anything that you think he should know before he goes to the prototype demonstration when we get back from Hong Kong?

Moira laughed out loud and then put her hand over her mouth, suddenly afraid she'd wake Gem. She saw Jason staring at her and she ducked back down to look at her laptop's screen again.

Well I don't know. It's just stuff that his ID has access to. It's just buried really deep and some of the files were tagged invisible. I don't think daddy knows about invisible files. It's really simple and not secure at all, but I think some people do that so they can hide stuff under their bosses' noses. That way if something goes wrong, they can blame their boss, 'Look it was right here in the files I gave you.' Get it? Anyway, finding the secret files is like looking for Easter eggs, you know? You never know where one's going to come up and you don't know what it is until you find it.

Moira continued. Anyway, I don't really get a lot of it. They use a lot of words I haven't heard before, but I look them up as I go. So it's slow reading and it's just boring. I even got the specs on the prototype and stuff, but I don't know what the numbers mean.

Maybe we could figure it out together. I know about cybernetics. And do you think you could do me a favor? Could you send copies of all the invisible files you find to your father via e-mail... Actually, it might be best if we sent them encrypted to Hobbs with a note that the files are for your father, and then give Hobbs the key. And from now on, whenever you find an invisible file, send a copy of it to your dad. And make sure you send your father a copy of the prototype specs. I'll make sure he contacts Hobbs and gets the files.

But--, Moira tried to interject.

Like you said, the only reason someone would want to keep the information a secret is because they're doing something they're not supposed to. There are people who want to hurt your father, and causing problems with Project: Forge would do the job just fine.

You laughed when I told you what your father said the project was about. I take it that's not what the files you've been finding have said?

I thought you were joking, Moira sent. Like a really big understatement, you know? You're serious?

I'm very serious, Moira. Your father came up with the concept of Project: Forge as a way to ensure SynTech's future success, and to have something for you to inherit when you're older. If something were to go wrong with the project, there could be some very bad consequences, especially for your father.

Oh, Moira accepted. Well Project Forge has like, four or five prototypes. But they don't really look like they are designed for work in extreme enviro- whatever you said. Oh, maybe they'd work in space, though. I thought Project Forge was like, building weapons for when they go to war and stuff. You know, like what Jason's daddy did? Only a lot more high tech. I saw 'prospective government contract' listed a lot with letters like UK, UNA, CSA, CIA, and stuff like that. I figured those are different countries, but I haven't figured them all out yet. Most of that's in a memo that Jacobson keeps under Jason's user ID. I wonder if daddy knows about that? Anyway, I checked the author field and I think it's Jacobson's, because it says 'rjacob'.

Midori frowned. No, it's very likely your father knows nothing about what the actual prototypes are for, or about those potential government contracts. Those letters are short forms for government names. For example, UNA is United North America. Moira, you have to tell your father about this. What you've learned is very important. And don't worry if he gets angry, because I'll deal with him. Midori sent a feeling of support, reassurance, and the sentiment that Midori would indeed deal with any anger that Jason may experience.

Please tell him right now, Moira, Midori continued. He's less likely to lose his temper in public, and I will be right here to help you. Time is also of the essence. The demonstration is schedule for when we get back, and what they're doing is NOT what your father had intended.

"Um. Daddy," Moira said very quietly. Jason didn't hear, so she pulled on his sleeve.


"There's something I should tell you," she looked very uncomfortable. "I found some things about Project Forge that you should know."

Jason looked around uncomfortable. He wasn't sure he wanted this stuff aired on a public airliner.

"Daddy, I copied a bunch of your files and I have them here on my computer. I got them because I know your password."

Jason looked unhappy.

"I'm sorry daddy, please don't be mad!" Her face pulled itself in a desperate, even fearful sadness. "Please?"

Jason sighed, "Okay, Moira, I'm not going to be mad. But you shouldn't nose around things that aren't yours."

"But you said I could play with your laptop!"

"And I showed you what you could and could not do with it, too." Jason spoke gently, knowing the girl felt bad about it. But it wasn't enough.

Moira began to sob.

Midori undid her seatbelt, shifted in her seat and held her arms out to Moira to comfort her. Moira, she sent. Don't worry. Everything's going to be okay. You'll see. Just leave everything to me.

"Jason," Midori said, turning her attention to him. "Moira's telling you about this because I asked her to. If you're going to blame anyone for this, blame me. She made the copies of the files at my request, and they're files that were deliberately being hidden from you. Despite the fact she might have gone outside the boundaries you set for her, I suggest you look at those files before you say anything else. Your daughter may just have saved your hide, and SynTech's future as you envision it."

She looked pointedly at Moira's laptop with an expression that Jason was quickly learning was Midori's 'you better do it if you know what's good for you' look.

Jason sighed. "I'm not angry, I just wish I understood why you do things like that sometimes, Moira." He leaned over and picked up Moira's laptop.

She's just being a child, my love, Midori sent, looking over the top of Moira's head with a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. Besides, I know people who could say the exact same things about both you and I.

"It's in this folder, daddy." Moira showed him where the files where.

Jason began to read them and his expression slowly changed from confusion, to surprise and finally a smoldering pondering. It took perhaps twenty minutes to scan through all he wanted to see.

"Thank you Moira, for showing me that." His voice was cold, and although Moira wasn't the target of his anger, it was still evident. "Someone's head is going to roll for this. They've completely destroyed my vision for this project."

"What do you intend to do," Midori asked softly. "You can't just scrap everything. Too much money and time has been sunk into the project. To abandon it completely could mean ruin for SynTech.... And this reaction may be exactly what your enemies are looking for. Do anything too drastic, turn the board against you, and you're out on your ear, putting their puppet in control."

"Sometimes doing good requires a little sacrifice. SynTech depends on me; I don't depend on SynTech. I simply won't allow these things to be released. These monsters have independent thought and freewill backed up with an arsenal of weaponry. These are not your standard automaton cyborg hunter-killers. These specifications indicate that they are begin genetically engineered to derive pleasure from their work. They have feelings, Midori. Emotions and intelligence is an extremely dangerous thing to have together. Although it can provide you with a very creative being, it can also provide you with something that can be manipulated and abused. Yes, they'll be more effective than the nearly mindless brain-slaves they use today, but the have a far greater potential to go rogue. Prospective clients will weigh their pluses and minuses. I think they will buy these because it will give them a significant edge over competitor combat cyberdroids. And damn the collateral damage that could be incurred on the populace."

"Then get different brains, find some way to put limiters on them," Midori suggested, "and or destruction devices to take them out when they do go rogue—something that the brain can't access because it's not hooked up to their system." She shook her head. "We've got to think of something else. You can't go into that meeting with the board with only one option to present to them."

Jason shook his head, "I'll worry about it later. But this is blatantly underhanded and I won't let the perpetrator go unpunished."

Midori nodded, then looked down at Moira. "You okay, sweetie," she asked the girl as she lifted a hand to smooth an errant lock of hair on Moira's head. "I'd pick you up and give you a hug, but you're a bit too big for me to do that," Midori gave a mischievous smile.

* * *

Amazingly, the luggage came through unmolested. Well, that is to say, it wasn't lost or molested more than the usual. At any rate, Midori, Moira, Gem, and Jason were able to leave the airport in style. Since there were four of them, Jason insisted on renting a limo instead of trying to squeeze into a cab or take a bus. He footed the bill, of course.

The sights of the city slid by through tinted windows for a few minutes. Then Jason looked at Midori and asked, "Where was it you asked the driver to take us, love?"

"The Four Seasons," Midori replied, settling back into her seat. "I booked a suite for us there, and we need to check in. Where we go after that, I'm not too sure. There should be a message waiting for me there with the location of the man I'm looking for."

Jason nodded. "Swimming pool?" he asked with a grin.

Gem rolled her eyes, knowing precisely where this was going with these two.

Midori looked at Jason with a raised eyebrow. "Yes, but it's closed right now for resurfacing. They're redoing the mosaic tiles."

"Darn," Jason replied with disappointment.

"Jason, if you wanted to go swimming, there's a pool at the Waldorf," Midori said, shaking her head and smiling.

Moira looked over at Jason. "Daddy?"


"There's a SynTech branch hospital here isn't there?"

Jason looked up at Midori with some surprise on his face. "Yes, but how'd you know that?"

Moira gave an indignant huff. "Geez, it's on your corporate web site, silly. Anyway, I was wondering if I could get those changes done here instead of at home?"

Jason looked at his daughter and patted her knee. "Why would you want to do that? You know Doctor Ogura, and she knows you very well. Wouldn't you rather see someone you know and trust?"

The girl sighed. "I need a whole new body. This one's too small."

"Too small?" questioned her father. "It should be within a quarter inch of the size you were just six months ago."

Moira looked up at her father. "Daddy? It's been a year and half. Where have you been?"

Jason blinked and looked back at her. "A year and a half?"

"Yeah," Moira informed him. "You were in a coma for, like five months, and I was in rehab after the..." Moira trailed off.

Jason looked away for a moment. Moira was right. He had lost a lot of time in that hospital, and then dealing with those rabid gangers. Jason nodded in silent agreement.

"I'm supposed to be bigger. I can feel it," Moira insisted.

Jason shook his head. "We made an agreement Moira. Small steps at first, nothing traumatic."

"I'm supposed to grow the most right now, Daddy. I read about it in a magazine." Moira suddenly turned to Gem, who had tried to be quiet and unnoticed. "Gem, when you were growing up, you grew fast when you were my age, didn't you?" Gem was not a tall person, but to Moira, she was still a lot bigger than she was.

"That's how it goes," Gem replied. She shrugged to Jason. "Sorry Jason, it's a bad age."

Jason sighed.

Moira was encouraged by Gem's support. "Daddy, let's make a new deal. What would it take to convince you to get a new body?"

That was a strategy Jason would negotiate with. He looked thoughtful as he considered, then, "A new body... That's not cheap and it's not simple. For one, I will want you to take at least a full year's worth of self defense courses in addition to your normal school work in the fall."

"I can do that!"

"I'll teach her, if you like," Gem volunteered. She glanced over to Moira and asked "How'd you like that?"

"That would be so cool, Gem!" Moira exclaimed excitedly.

Jason looked at Gem with surprise. "You'd do that?" He seemed genuinely surprised and impressed. "That sounds like a great idea, to me. Maybe we can work out a schedule for her when we get back?" he asked Gem, who simply nodded her agreement.

Jason continued to negotiate with his daughter. "About your studies; no more skating by on average scores. You will do your homework, all of it."

"Dad, that's bor-"

"I know you can do it. You get average grades without doing a thing. If you actually applied yourself a little, you could do anything you wanted."

Moira considered. "Okay, I'll do it. And I want breasts."

Midori kept a straight face. She had known that issue would eventually come up, and she found it somewhat amusing to see a look verging on panic cross Jason's face.

Gem gaped at Moira's comment. Memories flashed back of herself at that age. "Oh, god..." she quietly muttered.

Oh, that didn't sound so good to Jason. He frowned as he looked at Moira. /How old was she? God, she's thirteen now, isn't she? And a half./ With breasts came sexuality. Most of the hormones which drove puberty were closely associated with the brain. That meant that Moira's would be intact. /So that's what this is about,/ he thought. Jason wasn't ready to deal with that issue with Moira. But then, he figured he never really would be.

Jason looked up at Midori. "She's thirteen years old and she wants breasts."

"Cute little ones," Moira stated boldly.

Jason blushed red. "Cute little ones." He continued to look helplessly at Midori for help.

Midori shook her head and smiled. "Jason, every girl Moira's age wants breasts. Big, small, cute or ugly, it doesn't matter. It's a very obvious sign that a girl is becoming a young woman, so can you blame her?" She turned slightly and looked between Moira and Jason.

"If I might make a suggestion," Midori offered. "Let me go with Moira when she goes for the upgrade, and help her make a good choice, with input from the doctors."

"We can all go," Jason replied. His gaze included everyone in the limo, except the driver.

"Goody! Can we do it in Hong Kong then? 'Cause Midori promised to take us shopping and we can't do that unless I'm fitted with a new body, right?" Moira bubbled with excitement.

"Moira, getting a new cyborg body built and fitted is not like trying on a new pair of shoes," explained Jason. "The engineers will need time to get the look right, built to your specifications, and tested properly. Then there will be a definite adjustment period while you relearn your new body. Since you haven't been gradually growing, it's going to be an adjustment."

"Awww... Can't we at least talk to SynTech here?"

Jason looked at his daughter. It was hard for him to deny her anything, but the fact was that this wasn't going to happen overnight. "If we have time, Moira, then we can talk to them, maybe look at some material. Just don't get your hopes up for a quick change."

Gem quietly sniggered to herself.

* * *

The group's arrival and check in at the Four Seasons went smoothly. The suite Midori had booked was on one of the top floors, and had three rooms opening onto a spacious living room area.

The instant they entered the room, there was a chiming noise from the secure computer terminal. Midori walked over to it and checked the message, typed in a few things, then smiled. She turned to look at the others. "I know where we need to go," she said to Jason.

"So we're leaving already?" Gem looked around at the spacious and comfortable room. "I dunno, seems a shame."

"The sooner we are done with this, the more time we'll have for leisure," responded Jason. "Midori, do you expect trouble from this guy? I know Gem already said she'd watch Moira for me, but I'm sure Moira would like to see a little more of Hong Kong."

Moira looked hopefully up at Midori.

"No, I don't think it's going to be dangerous," Midori replied. "We don't have to confront him at all. He'll never even know we were there."

"Besides," Gem added, "It would probably be best if we went out together." She looked around and the others. "As a family," she added with a smile.

Jason looked at Gem, surprised at first, but then a smile spread across his face. "I'll tell the limo driver to pull around."

"Yay!" exclaimed Moira. "And then, maybe later? Can we go swimming, Gem? And then we can talk to the doctors, and then we can go shopping, and then..." Moira's voice faded as she happily skipped down the hall toward the elevator.

Jason shook his head as he watched her, still smiling. "I have never seen her so excited and happy as I have in the past few days," he commented.

"Can you blame her," Midori replied with a smile of her own. "She's getting herself a whole new family and friends in one fell swoop."

"Sorry to interrupt," Gem said, looking rather uncomfortable. "Can we at least stop long enough to get changed? I've been standing up in these things for ages."

"Of course," Midori replied. "I'll go catch up with Moira, and try to convince her to wait a couple of minutes."

Jason went for a quick change of shirt, but returned from the bedroom shortly to wait for the others.

Gem emerged a few minutes later, wearing a loose-fitting black pantsuit with an open-necked white blouse. She'd cleaned up her face, tied her hair into a short tuft of a ponytail, and even put on a touch of make-up. To Jason, she looked like an entirely new woman.

Midori returned from the elevators with Moira in tow, the girl with a slightly mutinous look on her face. "I'll just be a couple of minutes," she said, and disappeared into the bedroom to quickly change her own clothes. When Midori reappeared, she was wearing a tight pair of designer jeans, a red silk shirt, and her hair was now hanging loose around her shoulders.

"Let's get this done," she said.

* * *

It was a good day. Sandra had been out, just walking around. She found it strangely relaxing; whether it was the walk itself or just being able to walk around in a place where you weren't going to be perforated with sharp things, set upon by a feral Puma or shot by a passing gang war and stripped down for spare organs.

She casually strolled into the lobby, waving at the decidedly inattentive security guard. Then something caught her eye. For once, there was a lift there, with its doors just closing...

For once, she wasn't going to wait for another one. They took forever anyway. "Hold the lift!" She shouted as she sprinted across the lobby. She stuck her arm between the doors, causing them to spring open long enough to let her in.

"Thanks for that" she said, then looked straight at the person standing right in front of her.

It was Drake.


Jason looked at Sandra. Sandra looked at Jason. It was Moira who said, "Hi Sandra! Are you getting on the elevator too?"

Jason turned away from her to stare at the panel of numbers. Why is it that when I have any luck at all, it's bad luck? he wondered to himself.

Moira looked from one adult to the other. She remembered her father telling her that Sandra left because she shot her aunt, but that was someone she'd never met. It was hard to feel for complete strangers, except that it obviously affected her father and she did care about that.

To Moira, Sandra didn't look like someone who'd go around shooting nice people. Moira stared unblinkingly at Sandra, wondering what she would do next.

Midori recognized the expression on Jason's face, and she could feel the tension beginning to rise in the elevator. She sent a quick burst of comfort to Jason through their link, and looked at Moira to see what the girl was going to do, and hoped that she, in her innocence, wouldn't do or say anything to turn the situation explosive.

Jason looked over at Sandra. "Floor?"

She glared back at him. "You should know."

Jason pressed the top one, then turned to glare back a Sandra.

Moira looked at Sandra, trying to size up the situation. Jason and Sandra were looking more like they were about to kill each other than talk to each other and frankly that idea upset her. She backed away and unconsciously reached for Midori's hand. She looked scared and she kept silent.

Midori looked down and the girl, gave her a reassuring smile and squeeze of the hand. A small glint came from her hand, as the light of the elevator caught in the small diamonds of her engagement ring.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Blackmore," Midori said with a friendly smile, extending her right hand. "I'm Midori Harihatu."

"Didn't I see you two on the news?" she asked. She recognized one of the two women in the lift as being the missing Harichem heiress; the one Jason had been seen dining with a few days back. The other one was a mystery. Possibly some girl coming home from school who'd been unlucky enough to be stuck in the lift with them. "So how are you, Jason?"

"I'm well Sandra," he said evenly. "Better than I was. And yes, we were on the news several times." Midori had already introduced herself, and Sandra had already probably guessed the relationship there. Jason reached over and took Midori's hand. The engagement ring sparkled brightly in the cool fluorescents in the elevator.

Moira was encouraged. Talking was much better than hostile silence. She thought she'd go ahead and help her father out. "Midori said that eventually, if I want to, I can call her Mom." Moira gave Sandra a bright, happy smile as if this news was just the coolest thing since she discovered peanut butter and jelly.

Jason didn't think the girl was helping. "You okay, Sandra?" Jason asked.

"Your... mum." Sandra took the news in. "That's... nice." There had never been any talk like that with her. Ever. "No... Jason. I'm not okay." She looked straight at him, trying to remain calm, trying to ignore the ring on Midori's finger. The loft came to a halt at the top floor. Her floor.

"Jason," Midori said softly. "Gem, Moira and I can go run that errand while you talk with Ms. Blackmore. We'll meet you later." She gently extricated her hand from Jason's grasp. You need to resolve things between the two of you, she continued mentally. She needs closure. I'll let you know where we are when you've finished your conversation.

Jason recognized the tone of Midori's mental voice and knew there was going to be no changing of her mind on the subject.

"Come on, Moira," Midori said aloud to the girl with a smile. "We're going to be here for five minutes, and then what do you say we go for lunch and then a bit of shopping?"

Midori looked over at Sandra. "It was very nice to meet you," she said with a smile. "I hope to see you again some time." Midori led Moira and Gem out of the elevator and down the hallway in the opposite direction of Sandra's apartment.

"Who was that anyway?" Gem asked as they departed.

"That was Sandra Blackmore," Midori replied with a touch of sadness in her voice. "Jason was in a serious relationship with her before there was an... incident in the Zone. She killed Jason's sister, who was being mind controlled into trying to murder Jason." She sighed. "It's a long story, and really not mine to tell."

Jason sighed and stuck he foot in the elevator door to keep it from closing. He didn't feel like riding the elevator all day, but he waiting for Sandra to exit the lift first.

Jason spoke. "As I recall, I did most of the talking last time we saw each other. I guess that means it's your turn."

Sandra angrily stepped out of the lift. "Fine." She turned to face him. "Hello, Drake. How are you. How's things been. How long have you been together and when were you planning on telling me?" Her voice had been rising as she continued, the anger evident.

Drake looked hard at Sandra. She still believed she could be a part of my life. He shook his head, pain visible on his face. Or at least that she should be.

"She accepted me, Sandra." He looked her in the eye. "Everything. She knows everything about me and loves me anyway. And I think I loved her from the first evening I met her. She makes me want to be a good person." He paused for a moment, while an internal debate raged. His eyes feel to the floor, trying to hide the shame. Then, "And she gave me a reason to live after what happened."

He looked back up at Sandra. "Have you been doing okay?"

She sighed. "Physically, great. Financially, I'm the happiest I've ever been. Emotionally? I'm a train wreck." She glared at him. "Do you know how long I'd been wanting to hear something or anything from you?" There wasn't o hiding the anger now. "I wanted to hear you say something or anything... and instead you turn up here with your new wife to be."

"I'm in this apartment complex on business," Jason sighed. "You ever have a sister, Sandra? Brother?"

"A younger sister" she replied. "We... we don't talk. Our parents don't want her talking to me."

"Then you have to understand. It doesn't matter what they do. Sometimes you hate them, sometimes they do stuff you wished they didn't, but they're still family and you still love them. She was the last blood relation I have left. After that... I just couldn't. I couldn't be with you or anyone else." His eyes were a deep, wounded blue, home to a pain that would never completely go away. "I didn't want to live anymore. I gave up. I'm sorry, Sandra. I know you were trying to protect me. I can forgive what happened, eventually. But I, I just can't forget."

Sandra sighed. "Look, I know what I did. I know it's pretty unforgivable. But if I hadn't done what I did, you'd be dead and she'd still be working for Wretch." She looked at him. "The thing is, Jason..." She looked at him, straight in the eyes. "The way you approached the whole situation is what got her killed." Before he could reply, she continued. "You charged in there, guns blazing, determined to wipe every last one of them out! You didn't even think about what might happen to the pair of us, instead you wanted your damned crusade for great justice. We could have gone in there quietly, and tried to take out their leaders but no... you had to turn it into a bloody war."

Jason recoiled like she had struck him. "It already was a war, Sandra. They shot Moira. Twice. They tried to kill Hobbs, and the damn near killed me several times. They weren't going to stop, and when I found Athena, I knew why. And don't you think I blamed myself? Don't you realize that was why I had lost my will to live? What would you have had me do? Run? Hide? That's not living. I didn't know they were just being mind controlled. How could I have known that? I didn't know until we got there, so as far as I knew, it was them or me."

"Well, if you'd bothered to look into it... or even think through it. You didn't try to find out anything about them, did you? You just charged straight on in like everything would be like some felling movie." She was at the shouting stage now. "The three of us go in on a heroic mission to right wrongs and save the whole world."

Jason remembered Marta and her pain. "If you have to blame someone else, then blame me. But you don't have the right to blame anyone else. That includes Marta."

"Okay, fine. You're bloody well responsible for everything. Happy?" She stopped, then sighed. "So after all that, this wonderful woman comes along, makes everything better and gives you a reason to live. That's great. Wonderful for you. Did you even think of telling the other woman in your life? The woman that...." she stopped, and sniffed, trying to hold herself back. "...loved you."

Jason's eyes deepened with sorrow. "I just proposed two days ago. You are the first one aside from Hobbs and Moira to know."

He sagged against a wall. "You're not a bad person, Sandra. I did love you, too. And I was happy when we were together. But you've got to understand. That ended when the bullet entered Athena's brain. Not her shoulder, not her leg, it was straight through her head. Straight through my heart."

"I... I had to. She wasn't going to stop any other way." She looked up at him. "I... I'm glad you're happy... I... I just wanted to hear that it was over, to know that... that there was nothing more."

Jason stepped forward and reached toward her without thinking about. His first instinct was to comfort her and say it was all okay. Maybe it was okay, but he didn't want to awaken those old feelings. He knew that what might follow after that, he'd never feel right about.

He dropped his arms to his sides. "I'm sorry, Sandra. You deserve happiness, too, and I hope you find it."

But not with me, Sandra thought. It's over. He said it, admit it. She sighed, brushing away the small tears that were forming in the corners of her eyes. "Thank you." It was all she could think to say. Anything else would have her blubbering.

"Ms. Blackmore," Midori said softly, her voice intruding upon the moment between Jason and Sandra. "Could I ask you to contact the landlord or the superintendent of this building? The residents of apartment 2310 are engaged in activities which almost certainly are in violation of the law, let alone the bylaws of most building." She stood about ten feet from the two of them, and neither had any idea how long Midori had been standing there.

Her voice jolted Jason back to the reason why they came to the apartment complex. "Is there trouble? What happened?"

Midori shook her head. "They don't know we're here, and I don't think they're expecting trouble, but they're rather... twitchy. They're running some kind of drug operation out of that apartment, and they're armed to the teeth. Several of them appear to be users, and are, well, a bit unstable right now. Hard to tell how they'd react to someone knocking on their door."

* * *

"You have to be kidding," Sarah replied in a dry tone. "You are kidding, right?"

Sandra looked at Midori. "Nope. Sorry. Looks like we're going to have a bit of a mess here."

There was a sigh from receiver before Sarah spoke again. "Look... I'll call the police, and send some cyberdroids up there to keep watch. Can you... can you go take a look yourself? I can reimburse you."

"No probs." Sandra replied. "I don't want those sorts of tools in this place any more than you."

"Thanks." Sarah paused, "I'm coming up as well. This is my building after all."

* * *

"Do you want some help?" Jason asked. He'd only caught half the conversation but from what Midori reported, it could be dangerous. If the news and movies were accurate at all, people who dealt in drugs were generally well armed.

Sandra thought about it. Drake could be of some use, if only to provide them with a second target. Heck, with how her day was going, they probably had a small nuclear arsenal to defend themselves with. Frell it. "Thanks. That'd be... great".

"Jason," Midori said softly, "we're not prepared for this."

"I can meet you, Gem and Moira downstairs. Don't worry about it," he said with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

Moira spoke up. "Daddy? Are we going to beat up some bad guys?"

Jason eyed her sternly. "No, we are not. You are going downstairs with Midori and Gem." She gave him a defiant look, but melted before her father's stare. She looked to Midori for reinforcements.

"Gem," Midori said, turning to look at her bodyguard. "Would you mind taking Moira downstairs? We'll be along in a couple of minutes." She looked over at Moira. "And then we'll go shopping, just like I promised."

Gem nodded her consent. She glanced briefly between Jason and Sandra, wondering exactly what had happened between these two. Then she simply shrugged and turned to Moira. "C'mon, lets get going," she said, and led the girl away without sparing them a second glance.

Sandra examined the rest of Jason's group. She knew Moira from before. She also recognized Midori as the missing Harichem CEO that Jason had been seen with. So they're together... she thought. I can understand why. She didn't know Gem; she'd have to find out some day. She glanced back to her phone. Tool. She'd left Sarah hanging. "Sarah, sorry to leave you there. I'll be there with..." She glanced at Drake. "Someone. Be there soon."

Midori frowned slightly, then glanced at Jason. "I'll be right back," she said and disappeared around the corner back towards the apartment in question.

Sandra closed up the phone and turned back to Jason. There was something nagging her about this, but she couldn't put her finger on it. She'd figure it out eventually. "Okay, you ready to do this?" she asked him.

Jason shrugged off his jacket and tossed it over a plant. His guns were freely accessible now, but he didn't draw them. "Ready anytime. Do we need to wait for anyone from management?"

He opened a link to Midori. Love, are you sure you want to be in this? There's no reason to put yourself in danger of exposing the fact you are an esper yet. Sandra is trustworthy when she's your friend, but there's no telling what she'll do if she isn't.

"We're just waiting on Sarah, the manager of the complex" Sandra replied, checking one of her guns. "As soon as she's here, it looks legal and all"

The sound of heavy footsteps announced the arrival of four cyberdroids. The humanoid-shaped and sized machines were smooth, sexless, and utterly devoid of anything resembling warmth of humanity. They surrounded a slightly taller woman who stood amid her metal companions with an air of irritation equally mixed with one of unease.

Jason, despite his present circumstances, had to stare. The woman was about Sandra's height, dressed in a black knee-length skirt, a white dress shirt, blue tie, and black suspenders. Her clothing fit her attractive figure closely, and under other circumstances he'd have been torn between being polite and giving her a more through visual examination.

Actually, all things considered, he was going to give her a pretty thorough once-over anyway. The woman was blue. Hair, skin, lips, eyes. She was various shades of blue. She also had a small automatic handgun in a shoulder holster, which certainly made him less inclined to say anything about her appearance.

The cyberdroids whirred and clicked to a halt. Both Jason and Sandra glanced at their armament, an assortment of mops and brooms, and raised an eyebrow. "Hey," the blue woman snapped upon seeing their expression, "It's not like they're combat models. You're almost as bad as the two back at the elevators."

Jason looked at the maintenance 'droids. "Good idea. They can clean up the mess. Come on, Sandra, let's get them evicted for breaking the law." He had a hungry gleam in his eye.

Sandra and Jason proceeded down the hall and approached the door to the apartment in question. "That it?" he asked Sandra.

"Looks like it." Sandra replied. "Or we could kick in every door in the place till we find the right one. Of course, then Sarah would get all tooly at me."

"You better believe it," came Sarah's voice from behind them.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to break the manager's stuff. I have an idea," Jason said. He knocked on the door and from within came a muffled, "Mmmfh?"

Jason adopted a bad Chinese accent and stepped to the side of the door. Sandra did likewise, avoiding the peephole. "Ah, pizza. You paid for three large everything—on pizza?"

Sarah's response was to stare disbelievingly at Jason.

"Mm. Mmmf?" There was a rattling at the door as the bolt was thrown back and chain unhooked. Jason whirled and kicked the door open, sending the man behind it skidding backwards to fall on his butt. The door, predictably, slammed into the wall and there was a crunch as the handle made a neat hole in the wallboard.

"Oops," Jason stated just before he somersaulted through. He came up with weapons cocked and ready, with Sandra at his back. Then he took in the scene.

"What in the hell?" Jason stared around in surprise. There were a half dozen men, in various states of dress and consciousness sprawled all over the living room. Drug paraphernalia and drug-making apparatus lay scattered about, some of it on a couple card tables, the rest on the floor. Brown powder lay in little piles everywhere. Jason recognized the stuff. It was common enough in the circles he moved in. It had to be heroin.

Two of the men were dead. They had to be. One of them literally had been trying to eat a spoonful of the stuff, raw and un-melted. Jason supposed he had wanted a high and just couldn't wait to put it in liquid form first. The other guy had blue lips, and bulging eyes. He'd strangled, but there wasn't a mark on him. He'd swallowed his tongue. Another symptom of overdose.

Three others were unconscious and maybe dying. The last one was unconscious, too, but that was because Jason had hit him with the door.

Jason stood up slowly. There were also guns, some of them machine pistols.

These guys didn't look like your average junkie. Or rather, they had overdosed, but it felt to Jason like they should have known better.

"Alright. What the hell is going on in your building, Sandra?"

Sandra surveyed the scene. This looked like some of the things she'd walked into when she was a cop. Of course, they'd all have been executives, and a lot of cash would have been passed around resulting in no convictions and a few other cops walking out looking smug.

"I have no idea, Jason." she replied. "I swear, this is a nice place to live." She paused. "Apart from the odd person being eaten by monitor lizards, that is."

Jason shook his head. "Hong Kong."

"Sarah, you better call an ambulance, and the police. And get the cleaners in here."

The blue-skinned woman walked into the apartment and looked around. "I already called the police." she replied. "And the droids are here for clean up." Glancing at the wall, she turned to Jason, "And you owe me for repairs to that wall."

Any reply Jason was going to make was cut off by a scream coming from one of the bedrooms. It was animalistic, a combination of absolute terror and overwhelming agony.

"That's not good." Sandra muttered. Jason hurried to the master bedroom and pushed the door open. She followed him, cautiously, gun ready. If he wanted to rush in and get himself killed... well... they'd gotten past that now.

Lying in the middle of the huge bed lay a man who looked more like a pretzel than a human being. His body was grotesquely contorting from whatever was causing the pain, and it looked like he was trying to claw his way out of his skin. As the screams continued, they were punctuated by the man begging for forgiveness.

Scattered on the floor around him was used and broken drug paraphernalia and old take out food containers. On the bed next to him, about to fall to the floor, were several used syringes.

"Ugh," grunted a disgusted Jason. "These guys don't need the police. They need hospitalization and a long stay in rehab." He shook his head. "Pathetic."

He returned to the same room Sandra and Sarah were in. "Well, I'm going to take off. I made a promise to my daughter about a certain appointment and I plan to keep it. Take care of yourself, Sandra." He paused a moment looking at her, and then turned to Sarah. He pulled out a c-note from his wallet and handed it to her. "Sorry about the hole in the wall." He turned and was walked away, heading for the elevator.

"One thing, Jason." Sandra asked. "How did Midori know they were in here with the drugs?"

* * *

Midori was standing by the doors, waiting for him. As she saw him approach, she pressed the button to summon the elevator. "Where to now?"

"That's up to you and Moira. If you have any other errands here in Hong Kong, we could take care of them, and then take Moira to the SynTech facility here." Jason paused and looked at Midori. The elevator was rapidly approaching their floor, but something was preying upon his mind. He sent a mental note to her. Did you have something to do with the condition of those men?

Those I could not send directly to sleep I made think the heroin was wearing off so they needed another hit and fast. I did not tell them to kill themselves. As for the man in the bedroom, that was intentional. The drug paraphernalia was not his, nor did he take any. He was the man who hired the Black Company to murder my family, and now I know who hired him. The pain will stop in a couple of minutes, and when it's gone, he's going to confess every single one of his crimes to the authorities.

I see. It was just like what was done to my sister, then. Jason fell silent and stepped through the opening elevator door.

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