Midori found herself staring up at the twilight sky. It was overcast, and the setting sun shone on the clouds, turning them an intense reddish gold color. Her field of view swung down as her temporary 'host' looked around. Before them was an old stone church; clearly wanting for repairs, yet in remarkably good condition. Several of the stained glass windows were broken open, but the roof was still intact.
She looked over to a man standing next to her. He was tall, at least taller than she was now. He was handsome, though unshaven, and wore his blond hair long and tied into a somewhat unkempt ponytail. He carried a sleek sniper rifle over his back and wore a plethora of pouches and other equipment on his body; from the weight on hers, Midori guessed she had the same equipment. He gave her the brief thumbs up, and they ran towards the church.
Approaching from one side, it was an easy matter to scale the crumbling stonework for such obviously practiced hands. She paused, barely affected by being half-way up the side of an old building, to watch the man who must be her partner scoot around the other side. Seeing him away, she completed her climb and found a convenient ledge by one of the broken windows.
She tapped a small earpiece and whispered "I'm up."
"Good," came a nasal, British voice in her ear. Midori instantly recognized him from Rachel's memories; Richard Alman, the man in charge of their black ops team, who'd given Nicole her fateful orders to kill her own sister.
"Let me see just what-" and here he paused for the briefest of moments. Midori held her breath, as if counting off until he would resume. On cue, he continued, saying "-exactly it is they're doing in there."
She glanced around the edge of the broken window. Inside the church was in disarray. The pews were long since broken up, their decaying remains scattered across the floor. They still made a neat pathway up the middle, where the three figures inside could be found. The first she immediately spotted as Nicole. She was wearing a long white coat and slacks, and carried something at her side. Her vision 'zoomed in' through her host's cybereyes, focusing on the object, which turned out to be a finely crafted katana, still in its sheath.
Her vision panned up the aisle and rested on the second figure. He was crouched at its end, resting on the steps with a dark coat draped over his shoulder. Clearly a black man, he had short-cropped hair that was dyed bright purple. He seemed worryingly still. Midori heard herself mutter the word "Reno," then move on.
The last figure was a shock to see. Identical at first glance to Nicole, Rachel stood on the steps leading up to the podium, right behind the man's form. She wore a tattered jacket which Midori immediately recognized as Gem's over a torn grey t-shirt. Her grey jeans were obscured by black leather stirrups and high boots. She held Gem's pistol in her hand, toying with it, keeping it pointed vaguely at Nicole.
"Have you got reception?" Midori asked in a low whisper.
"Very clear," the voice on the other end replied. "I'd wondered just-" Again, he paused, "-where Reno had gotten to."
"What are my orders?" she asked. Inside, the two were talking in low, calm tones. She glanced up and could make out her longhaired partner readying his rifle.
"I think that-" Pause. "-Nicole is getting a bit-" Pause again. "-out-" He paused once again, longer than before. "-of control. Wouldn't-" She cursed under her breath as his speech cut out again. "-you agree?"
"Definitely." Midori raised and readied her sniper rifle, training the scope on Rachel. "Should I-"
"No," he suddenly said, interrupting her. "Let them sort out their" He stopped, this time for a painfully long time. "-issues first."
"Gotcha," she said, all too enthusiastically. "Of course, you'll be looking for a new team leader..."
"And as you are already-" Pause again. She winced in annoyance. "-second in the team, I think-" Pause. "-that-" Pause. "-we-" Pause. "-can..."
"Basically call me the leader from here, right?" she blurted out, the annoyance clear in her voice.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence before he replied "Basically."
Midori nodded. She tapped her earpiece once more, then said "Richard, you caught that?"
"Loud and clear," said her partner. His voice was eager and all too enthusiastic for this kind of job.
She sighed. "Keep Nicole in your sights, but this time, don't do it until I tell you." With that she trained the rifle down, examining Rachel in closer detail. She zoomed in on a small object at her back, clipped to her belt. "Incendiary grenade," she mused. "Cute."
There was a sudden flurry of motion. Rachel lashed out with her foot, striking the figure in front of her in the back. He was sent sprawling on the floor, the coat falling off his back. Nicole looked shocked, then clasped her hand around the hilt of her sword. She sprang forwards, poised to draw, just as Rachel leveled her aim...
Then the world went black again, and she found herself in familiar surroundings.
Midori looked down at her hands, as if reassuring herself she was back in her own body, then she sat down shakily in the chair. "Why do they always come when I'm standing up about to do something," she muttered to herself.
She reached over for the laptop she had bought for Jason and quickly turned it on. Midori was once again glad for the increased security precautions she had installed, and that she had been able to get Hobbs to upgrade them beyond what could be purchased on the regular market.
With a few keystrokes, she logged into the 'net and entered an anonymous phone service. She had used it before, to send voice messages to people she'd needed to contact. The service did random modifications and modulations to the voice, disguising the sender's voice, and the message was designed to "self-destruct" after being listened to once. As an additional precaution, she doubled up the scrambling, using a speech synthesizer to create the message, then sending the file.
"The Master's garden. 5 pm today. Urgent. Info to give you. Will use PDA like last time."
Midori sat back and listened to the message one last time, then sent it off to Nicole, hoping that she'd understand.
When the message finally reached her, Nicole closed her eyes and leaned back. All that had happened today... and now this. She wasn't sure which would be worse; if her new information was related to today's trouble, or if it was separate. All she could do was wait and find out.
The time ticked by for Midori, waiting on the roof of Gen's school. Nicole was almost twenty minutes late already. For the millionth time she asked herself the same questions. Had she gotten the message? Was she in trouble? Had it been somehow intercepted?
Her qualms were put to rest when Nicole emerged from the trapdoor. She was in her standard whites, this time a rugged jacket and work pants. It was hard to read her expression, but the her sagging eyes and slow gait spoke of worry or tiredness. "Sorry for the wait," she said softly. "We've had... a problem."
Midori nodded. "I understand. I just hope what I have to tell you won't make things too much worse... Have you been contacted by Rachel yet," Midori asked carefully.
"Regrettably not," she replied, easing herself to the ground.
Midori gave a slight sigh of relief. "Then I'm going to be in time" She paused for a moment. "Rachel is going to contact you, and set up a meeting in an old stone church. It's going to be a trap. Rachel is obviously going to try to kill you but... Your team is going to be there too. Richard Alman has decided that you're getting out of control, and he's ordered you to be taken out. Your second in command, a woman with cyber eyes, is eager to take your position as team leader. Alman, I think, is going to be there too. And Reno, though I don't know if he's in on the hit on you, or if Rachel is just using him." Midori paused. "And Rachel is going to have an incendiary grenade, which she's likely going to use as her means of revenge on you."
She closed her eyes, thinking." This is an awful lot to digest. In a way, you've helped me already." She opened them again, fixing Midori with a sad look. "Reno, our computer specialist, disappeared this morning. He left the building, but didn't take any of his things with him." She rubbed her forehead, considering what else she had said. "May I ask how you know all this?"
"There are only two people, possibly three, alive who know what I'm going to tell you: Jack Anderson, head of HariChem security, Jason Stone, and possibly Rachel. One of my abilities is to have visions. I cannot control them. Sometimes I see the past, sometimes what's happening right now, sometimes the future. I can't always tell. I 'saw' and 'heard' the scene I just described to you just before I sent that message to you, and I saw it through the eyes of your second in command. I heard what she heard, saw what she saw. I can show it to you, if you want."
"That..." Nicole blinked, at a loss for words. "That is amazing. I..." She shook her head. "I just can't describe..." She trailed off, lost in thought. "It has to be the future then. The question is, do your visions always come true?"
"The ones I have been able to track down so far, yes," Midori said with a nod. "But my visions rarely show everything. This one stopped when you and Rachel were drawing you weapons on each other - you with a katana, Rachel with a gun. I don't know what happens after that. Maybe because it hasn't been 'written' yet."
"We fight. I win." She shrugged. "She could never beat me in a match, and she knows that. Why is she setting this up, then?"
"Rachel must think she's got some kind of edge on you know. And I don't think she knows about them being there. She probably grabbed Reno as a way to force you to meet with her. You said yourself that you think your phone is tapped. Alman probably will think that if Rachel doesn't take you out, you'll be that much easier to kill, and they can 'blame' it on your sister, plus they can take out Rachel for good, and possibly Reno too."
Midori paused and looked Nicole right in the eyes. "Do you want my help? If you come out of this alive, I know two companies who'd be more than willing to hire you, and they're not going to treat you like S-T.
Nicole nodded slowly. "Knowing that they're about to turn on me, definitely. I'd appreciate whatever comes along." She leaned back again, sighing. "But when? When is this going to happen? I don't dare run from S-T, or they may hunt me down." She shook her head. "But then again, that may be why they're at the church. It's so confusing."
"I don't know when this is going to happen, but if Reno's missing, it's likely to happen soon. And I don't think you were on the run from S-T when this happens. From the way they were talking, you were still team leader, and Alman wasn't happy because you were showing a mind of your own - which is usually what they mean by an agent getting out of control. Like I said, I think that Alman is using this as an excuse to get rid of you..." Midori paused. "How many other people are on your team? There were only two there in my vision - your second in command, and Reno. The only other person there was Alman. Alman and her were the only two talking, and I got the impression there weren't any others."
"The boss wouldn't be there in person. He's all businessman, not an operative. You may have him confused with our sniper, Richard." She sighed. "The team went through a shake-up when we lost two members in a recent 'training accident'," - she emphasized the last two words to show her disbelief, - "and my new second is Michelle Pechaux from our beta team. That leaves us with twelve members, myself and Reno included." Nicole drummed her fingers on the ground in front of her. "Michelle's far too keen, and too eager to get in good with Alman. I have to be a politician more than a leader these days."
"Well, that's probably who it is," Midori replied. "Someone who was, according to her, 'supposed' to be her partner in this. And she was having radio difficulty - the transmission from Alman kept cutting in and out. And I'm beginning to suspect this was to be another 'training accident'."
"That's not the radio," she said. "He has a bit of a nervous tick. I can't tell you how annoying it is." She sighed. "You'd better show me, like before."
Midori nodded and took out her PDA. With a few keystrokes, she called up a list of her favorite restaurants, then handed it to Nicole, maneuvering herself so she could touch the woman without it being obvious. She nodded silently, and Midori began. She sat rock-steady and her face was perfectly calm as she watched the vision of her own future. The rooftop was deathly silent for what seemed like hours as the two women sat still. Finally, she drew away from Midori, shaking her head.
"It's horrible... How do you live with things like this?"
"The same way you live with green eyes," Midori replied seriously. "I've been having these visions for as long as I can remember. Not all of them are bad. I've also never had a vision that has involved my own future, at least not directly. When I see them, I try to act of them, if I can, as they usually all hold some kind of importance. I've been able to save a lot of lives because of them, so the good does balance out the bad."
"And I'm thankful for that. The only question now is how to find them." She thought for a second before continuing. "She wouldn't come back here, since she knows I visit occasionally. I doubt she'd want to see me before springing her trap. Where else..."
"There's a couple of places I know she would hang around at in the Zone, and a couple of people she got close to, but I'm not sure if she'd go to them...." Midori paused. "I could try to find her, or we could locate that church."
"The church is easy." Nicole gestured out to her left. Across the rubble, clearly visible was an old stone church, identical to the one from her vision. "We used to play there as kids. I'm not surprised she chose it, really." She shook her head. "I'm afraid to say I'll have to leave you to find her; it's about time I checked in and rejoined my team - for now."
Midori nodded. "Be careful. I'll let you know as soon as I find her... I have a secure way of doing that, but I'm not sure if you'd be willing..."
"If it helps us out, then I would. I doubt it could be worse than anything you've already shown me - no offence intended."
"It depends on what you consider worse," Midori said softly. "I can set up a mental link between the two of us, so we can contact each other without needing radios or phones. As far as I can tell, there's no way this communication can be tapped or bugged."
"Then I'd say it's a definite improvement," Nicole replied. Almost immediately, her mobile rang. She tapped a button on it, and returned her attention to Midori. "Please hurry, I have to get back or they will suspect me."
"You'll feel a knocking in your mind, like someone asking you to open a door. Imagine yourself opening that door, and then we're done. When we communicate, you don't need to speak out loud. Just think what you want to say to me and send it through the door."
"Right." She blinked and shook her head. As Midori described, there was a 'knocking' feeling in her head. She closed her eyes and imagined a door opening. "Is it done?" She quietly asked, without opening her eyes.
Midori nodded. ~It's done,~ she sent. ~You'll only send when you want to send, and you have the choice of whether or not to open the link. If you need to contact me, just open the "door" and say my name. I'll hear you.~
Once again, it had been a slow night in the underground. Silver was doing her rounds, trying to drum up customer interest, but it was hard to maintain her enthusiasm with such a small turn-out. She sighed loudly for what must have been the millionth time, wishing once again that Gem was still here. If nothing else, she'd have someone to talk to during the slow patches and something to look forward to when the night was done.
Silver caught herself glancing longingly at Gem's spot in the corner, but turned back to her customers. She suddenly looked twice, however, when she saw someone taking Gem's traditional seat. She was a buxom blonde, a touch on the short side, but very leggy nonetheless. She was dressed all in black and grey - shredded black jeans, dangerously tight grey t-shirt and she had a shredded leather jacket slung over her shoulders. Her hair was long, messy, and tied into a high ponytail.
Silver watched as one man after the other approached her and was loudly rebuffed. The woman's eyes wandered over the dancers and briefly strayed over Silver's form before moving on. She quickly made up her mind and wandered over to the woman's table.
"Hi, I'm Silver," she said in a friendly tone.
"And you're... Eve, right?" she said in a confident tone. Her face widened with a lopsided grin as she looked Silver up and down.
"Who!?" Silver blurted out, rather shocked and confused.
She chuckled, still grinning. "Sorry, guess I wasn't supposed to let that slip."
Silver grabbed a chair next to her and sat down. "What are you talking about?" she asked.
"Friend of mine told me all about you," the woman replied.
Silver shook her head in confusion. While she was still visibly confused she at least took comfort that this girl wasn't calling her Kami. "I'm confused," she muttered.
"A... Mutual friend I believe?"
"Sandra?" Silver replied as the only person she could think of right off hand who still called her Eve.
She wagged a finger at Silver. "Not her, I'm afraid. Who else around here knows that name?"
"Gem?" She looked a bit surprised.
She nodded grinning broadly. "As I said, she told me *all* about you."
"Okay..." Silver's voice trailed off as she tried to figure out what was going on here.
"I'm her friend. I'm afraid what she told you about me wasn't precisely correct."
"Gem hasn't told me anything concrete," Silver replied.
"Sounds like her," she said nodding. "I got into some trouble a while back, and she's been helping me out until I could get back on my feet."
"Perhaps you could elaborate on the cover story Gem's been giving," Silver mused.
She leaned back, resting her head on her hands and letting her shirt stretch out over her ample chest. "I found myself in a lot of trouble a while ago. Badly hurt and wanted by my former employers. I turned to my best friend for help, and she ran a few errands and helped me out here and there. She was to tell everyone I was dead to keep me safe until I recovered, you see."
"Details at last." Silver smiled.
She shook her head. "You deserve that from what I hear. That at least."
"Thanks." Silver thought back, remembering the strange conversation she had in the shower with Gem.
The woman absent-mindedly tapped her finger on her chin for a second, then suddenly said "I remember you."
"What?" Silver replied, looking confused.
"Back when you first came to the zone, I believe. Young and fresh-faced." Silver could only scratch her head in puzzlement.
"At Gen's Dojo. Or maybe when I worked here," she said, eyeing the stage.
Kami thought for a few moments, silently running though meeting the other girls at the Dojo, and dancers at the 93U. Fortunately she made it a point to remember people's names. "Rachel?" she finally asked.
Rachel gently nodded. "In the flesh."
"Nice to see you again." Silver was genuinely happy to see the girl still alive. "So did you actually recognize me from the Dojo?" Silver asked, more than a bit surprised.
"It's been a while, but you're a very distinctive..." she eyed the girl up and down again before finally saying "Woman."
Silver blushed a little. "Thanks. You look pretty good too." She simply stretched, grinning her lopsided grin.
"So you're Gem's best friend?" Kami mused to Rachel.
She nodded. "I'm not sure quite what she's told you about me, but..." she trailed off, her eyes once again wandering over Kami's body. "From what I've heard, we're quite similar."
"I can imagine," Silver muttered. "Got a question?"
"Go for it."
"Gem every once in awhile goes on a rant about 'her'. Its a very sensitive subject, and very confusing. Would you happen to know what she's talking about?"
"Her?" She shrugged. "Poor girl had a rough life before I met her. Not sure what she means."
"Okay." Silver wasn't satisfied. The answer made some sense, but still seemed rather incomplete; rather like Gem's.
"So I thought I'd spend some time enjoying myself before I got down to business."
"This is the place for it!" Silver beamed.
"I can tell," she replied in a low, sultry voice.
Silver thought for a moment, remembering her encounter with Zenshou and Gem. She thought about waiting for Gem but she also remembered hearing April and Keiko last night. She also had another idea. "Sounds interesting," She said, "But I'm kinda working right now."
Rachel quietly 'humphed,' then added, "I'll let you get back to it."
"I can tell you don't like to be teased." She then leaned over and whispered in Rachel's ear, "But just imagine what you're going to get while that those poor bastards are forking out money to be teased by."
"I can distract myself," she said, carefully eyeing some of the other patrons.
"I'm sure you can," Silver smiled. She made her excuses and rose from the table. She quickly headed for the back room, and found Gordon.
"What's the matter, Silver?" he asked. It was odd to see her backstage when she should be doing her rounds.
"I need to ask about someone who used to work here, a blonde girl named Rachel," Silver replied.
"Her?" Gordon scoffed. "Trouble and nothing but. She worked here for a few months, about when you started. Seemed to me she enjoyed it all too much."
"Like me, then?" Silver asked with a broad smile.
"Like you, but not nearly as responsible," Gordon replied. Silver couldn't help but wince.
"So, what was she like to work with?"
"A real pest," Gordon replied. "Really bossy. Kept trying to tell the other girls what to do. She always had to get all the attention."
They both heard a faint announcement over the speakers outside. Silver winked at Gordon, saying "That's my cue. Thanks!" Silver quickly slipped out of the office. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Rachel leaving with one of the men at the bar.
It was a good half-hour later that Rachel returned, although alone. She immediately got herself a drink and returned to Gem's seat. Silver quickly finished up with her current customer, and walked over to join her.
"How'd it go?" Rachel asked.
"It was kinda slow this evening," Silver sighed, taking a seat.
"Too bad," she said lazily.
"That's okay gives me a good excuse to get out early." Silver smiled.
"All the better then," she said, stretching.
"So I'm gonna get changed, meet me out front?" She grinned.
"Will do," Rachel replied.
Five minutes later, Kami was dressed and ready to go. She could see Rachel waiting outside, lazily leaning on a wall. She couldn't help but notice Duke sparing her the occasional filthy look. He stopped her as she left, and quietly said "This girl is nothing but trouble." Kami shot him a mean look, and proceeded up the stairs.
"Don't mind him," Rachel said, straightening up. "He's never liked me."
"He's just being protective that's all." Kami smiled
"So where are we off to?" she asked, grinning slightly.
"Your choice," Kami replied.
"What, didn't you have anything in mind?" She pouted and turned away from Kami. "I'm disappointed."
"I thought I'd find out a little more about what you're interested in," Kami said innocently.
"If that's what you're after..." she mused. She then suddenly grabbed Kami's hand and dragged her off towards the wastes. "This way."
Kami seemed a bit confused but allowed Rachel to lead on.
It was a good, long walk to the edge of the wastes. Rachel lead Kami by the hand all the way, keeping silent until they finally reached a fairly intact old warehouse. Even from outside, Kami could hear the roar of crowds and the screeching of loud music. Flashes of laser light came from within, illuminating a huge crowd.
"The Pit," Rachel stated. "My kind of place."
"I should have known." Kami sighed.
"We can go elsewhere if you're scared," she replied.
"Its not a matter of being scared," Kami replied.
"So what are you waiting for?" she said, patting Kami on the backside and pushing her towards the door.
Kami walked into the Pit. Her one comforting thought was that the music wasn't that bad. Rachel followed her in and once again seized her hand, dragging her towards the stage. Kami simply fastened her jacket, slightly suspicious of Rachel's eagerness.
"Up here," she said, nodding to the stage. A burly man with a bloodied nose was pacing, growling at the crowd. "They hold fights for the audience. You win, it's free drinks for the night. You up for it?"
"You want me to fight him?" Kami quizzed.
"If you like."
"Or are you interested in fighting yourself?"
"Only if you back out," she purred. Kami glanced up at the man on stage sizing him up, while she really considered if she wanted to separated from her weaponry. "Afraid?" Rachel quietly asked.
"Not of him," She muttered.
"Then what's the problem?" Rachel asked.
"No offence, but when I go places like this I prefer to go with somebody I know." Kami looked at Rachel.
Rachel sighed. "Fine then, if you don't feel up to it."
"Whatever." Kami was obviously not amused with Rachel's goading. Something didn't smell right.
Rachel just shrugged. "I'd heard you were more fun than this."
"You're gonna have to find something that interests me," Kami replied. "I'm not violent because I enjoy it."
"I'd heard differently," she muttered to herself.
"Perhaps what you heard was a misperception." Kami looked at Rachel who simply shrugged again. "Funny you've heard so much about me and Gem really hasn't said much about you," Kami mused.
"Ahh..." Rachel nodded. "Now I get it. Let's move away from the noise." Kami nodded as she lead Rachel away from the noise. The pair eventually made their way outside the Pit. Rachel lounged against one of the doors, looking up at the night sky, before turning to Kami. "So what do you want to know?" She asked, smiling.
"Why doesn't Gem talk much about you?"
"Who knows?" Rachel replied. "I'd love to ask her, but..." Kami simply sighed. Rachel raised an eyebrow at her. "Oh? What is it now?"
"Just noting that I'm missing a big piece of information, that's all."
"Go ahead and ask," she said. "I've got nothing to hide."
"Why is it that things aren't adding up." Kami's voice was more of a statement than a question.
Rachel pushed away from the wall. "Because she's a complicated person," she said as she started to wander back and forth. "Because I expected her to tell you more than she has," she added. Finally, she came to a stop in front of Kami, looking her in the eye. "And because I think she was afraid of scaring you."
"Her afraid of scaring me?" This just seemed like the wrong answer to Kami. She remembered the times Gem broke down crying when her past come up. She thought for a moment, there was one person who might be able to shed some light on the subject. Kami smiled.
Rachel swung her arms back and forth as if building herself up to something. She finally blurted out "She's in trouble."
"What's going on?" Kami's smile turned serious.
Rachel wandered off for a second, then turned and sat on a discarded crate, looking up at Kami. "This, well, it's all my fault really."
Kami wondered why she didn't mention this little bit earlier. "What's up?
"The woman who hurt me way back when - Nicole, my sister - she somehow tracked down Gem. Now she wants me to meet her in a couple of days." Rachel sighed loudly. "Problem is, I know better to trust her. It's got to be a trap."
"So why did you take this long to tell me about it?"
"I was trying..." She shook her head. "Hell, I admit it. I was trying to get you to trust me first. You know. This sort of thing is easier among friends."
"By trying to get me to completely expose my back while goading me into a fight and calling me a coward?" Kami's irritation was becoming visible now.
"Look, I'd heard wrong about you, okay?" Rachel shot back.
"And if I listened to everything I heard about you we wouldn't be having this conversation." Kami's voice was seething.
"Do you want to help her or not?" Rachel replied.
"In order to help I have to know what is going on."
"Well, I've just told you," Rachel said, getting to her feet. "You can believe what you like. It doesn't change the fact that *she's* in trouble and *you're* the only person I can rely on."
"You've said a few things about her being in trouble. But there's not meat to it." Kami stepped back, "This mess is personal, directly concerns me, and I still don't have any details."
"That's what I know." She shrugged, her back to Kami. "Nicole's got her hostage, demanding I meet her."
"What happened between you and Nicole?"
"Nicole..." She stopped in place. "Nicole turned on me when we were working for S-T together." Her voice fell as she recounted the story. "My team was raiding a rival corp's office... We were meant to make it look like a terrorist attack." Kami could see her shaking slightly as her voice dropped to a whisper. "I was carrying the team's explosives, but she had a remote detonator... I barely made it out alive..."
Kami nodded. these kinds of tactics weren't unusual from companies like S-T, but she needed little more explanation of what happened. "And based on our previous discussions Gem helped you afterwards. Am I correct?"
Rachel nodded solemnly. "Gem was the only person I could turn to. She owed me a lot."
Kami looked at Rachel. "Any more details?"
"Personal ones," Rachel replied coldly.
She bit back her concern for Gem, remembering Angel's lessons about acting too irrationally in times of distress. This was one of those times.
"So that's where we are," Rachel continued. "And I need your help."
"Alright." She looked at Rachel, "Where do we go from here?"
"From here, I wait." She resumed her pacing, occasionally glancing back at Kami. "She's going to set up a meeting, which will no doubt be a trap. That's where you come in. I want you there, but out of sight; guarding the door or what have you, just to make sure that she does come alone."
"What about Gem?"
Rachel paused in her pacing for a second, then resumed it. "I doubt she'll bring Gem to a first meeting. I've just got... Well, I've got to deal with her first."
"What kind of deal do you think you're gonna cut?"
"I don't know," she said, kicking at the ground. "I don't know what's going to happen. Just that I've got to finish this off."
Kami mused a little more, "Where is the proof that Gem is still alive?"
Rachel hesitated for a second, before saying "I've spoken to her."
Kami nodded, "You're certain it was her?"
"How certain can I be?" Rachel sat down again, fidgeting with her jacket. "It sounded like her, and she was pretty scared."
Kami sat quietly observing Rachel. "Alright Rachel, I'll go along with you for the moment." Kami paused to exhale. Rachel could almost see the anger fade from Kami's face as her eyes almost glazed over. "But you had better be on the level." Her voice was as calm as death.
"This is your friend," Rachel replied. "My friend too. I wouldn't mess around with you, since I know how much you mean to her."
"And I've never heard her mention you."
Rachel groaned and leaned back, staring up at the starry sky. "I don't have an answer for that, I'm afraid. You'd have to ask her why. I fact, I want to ask her too."
"I intend to." Kami had a hunch Gem's odd breakdowns were somehow related to this girl, but she was still trying to add things up.
"But until she calls, all we can do is wait."
Kami nodded, "I know what I want to do in the mean time".
"Oh?" Rachel asked. She propped herself up on her shoulders and watched Kami.
"I want to go and talk with somebody."
"Can you do it later?" Rachel asked. A slight, lopsided grin spread across her face. "I've got time to kill."
"You can follow if you want."
"Aw..." Rachel's grin faded. "Who is this anyway?"
"You'll figure it out soon enough." Kami headed down the road.
Rachel shrugged. She quickly got up and trailed behind Kami.
Kami walked assertively down the street. Soon after leaving the wastes Rachel realised they were headed for the church district. That could only mean one thing; they were headed to the Dojo.
"Back here, eh? Wonder why?" Rachel mused. "I said my goodbyes to the old man ages ago."
"There's a few things I've been wondering about and I wanted to ask him about them." Rachel merely shrugged. It wasn't long before they saw the old building ahead. The ground floor was dark and apparently empty, but they could see a light on in the rooftop garden.
Kami had an interesting smile on her face, "There were some thing's Gem mentioned I wanted to check on."
"Sure." Rachel leant against the wall of the dojo, and nodded towards the ladder. "I'm sure he won't mind."
Kami nodded, "Be back in a couple of minutes." With that Kami headed up the ladder. On the roof, a small lantern shone by the trapdoor. It illuminated the serene garden and the figure of Old Gen, silently moving in a series of slow and intricate motions that Kami recognized as Tai Chi.
Kami watched Master Gen intently. She wondered if the myths surrounding Tai Chi were really true, and if her own aura or whatever would actually disturb Master Gen's practice. He soon came to a stop, then turned to face Kami. His face brightened in recognition. "Ah, good to see you again," he said.
Kami nodded, "Nice to see you too". She really wasn't comfortable around Master Gen. She knew of his disapproval of Angel's training.
"I hope you don't mind the uncomfortable setting," he said as he eased himself to the floor.
"No problem" She nodded, and sat down on the floor facing him.
"My apologies. I'm not as young as I used to be," he said, with an unmistakable delight in his eyes.
"No apology is necessary, I apologize for disturbing your exercise, Master Gen." Kami bowed to him.
"Oh, no need to be so formal," he replied. "But what brings you here at such an odd hour?"
"Thank you." She smiled "I've encountered a very confusing situation. One with some missing pieces and I believe you might be able to help."
"This is about my students, Rachel and Nicole, is it not?" he asked.
"That's part of it." Kami replied. She thought for a moment, then asked "How did you know?"
"Another young lady was here, talking to Nicole just a few days ago. They had an argument with one of her friends." He rubbed his chin in thought. "I'm not sure quite what to make of it."
Kami nodded, "So how does Gem fit into this?"
He looked at her quizzically, then slowly said "I don't know the name."
"Oh really? Gem mentioned that she was one of your students and Rachel basically collaborated that this evening."
He thought for a second, and slowly shook his head. "No. I remember all my students, but I don't know that name." He thought for a second, then asked "Is she a Japanese girl with short hair, by chance?"
Kami nodded, "Yes she did. She said she was here when I was training, bit I didn't remember her either. But I didn't think that was strange because I didn't really associate with the other students."
"Well, she sounds like the girl they were arguing with just recently."
"Strange, was she being coerced in any way?"
"She was here to meet her friend Midori, but the argument started when she saw Nicole here."
"Wait a second, why would Gem and Rachel both say that Gem was here when she really wasn't?"
"That, I'm afraid I cannot answer." Gen slowly shook his head. "I always encouraged those two to be truthful," he mused.
"Midori? was that the name of the girl they were with?" Gen nodded slowly, and rubbed his chin in thought. "I've never heard Gem go bye the name Midori."
"Not the Japanese girl; her friend. She is a new student of mine."
"Ahh okay, I was just a bit confused with Midori being a Japanese name. Do you think I can talk with her?"
"I'm not sure." Gen sighed. "She has not come since, and I have no use for contact numbers or the like. But if you are both involved, she may seek you out."
Kami obviously wasn't completely satisfied with the answer. "I understand," she said. "I need to get solid answers though".
"I regret that I cannot supply them," he said.
>From down below, Rachel's voice cried up. "Are you done yet?"
"Just another minute of so" Kami called back. Then bringing her attention back to Master Gen, she asked "Not even the issue of Gem's not being here?"
Gen shook his head slowly. "I can assure you that I do not know her, despite what she may claim."
"At least I remember correctly. I need to dig a bit deeper for the answer, but where?" Kami muttered.
After a moment's thought, Gen finally said "I suspect that only she could tell you."
"Look, I gotta run, 'kay?" Rachel called up from below.
"Right. I've gotta run, Rachel's my only link right now." Kami quickly headed down the ladder. "Just a sec!" she called out to Rachel.
"Tell Angel I said 'Hi,'" Gen called out with a smile as she left.
Kami flinched at Master Gen's comment. "Okay!" She called back. She quickly made her way outside to where Rachel was pacing impatiently.
"What took ya so long," Rachel muttered as Kami stepped outside.
"I'm still confused" Kami replied.
"Well, whatever. Look, I've gotta get running."
"Okay, when are you gonna meet me again?"
"Gem gave me your number, so I'll call you when I need you."
Kami gave Rachel a sly look. "Okay."
Rachel suddenly leaned back, her face lighting up with a lopsided grin. "What's that for," she asked.
"Just surprised she gave out my number that's all."
Rachel shrugged. "I didn't call you in the first place because I wanted to meet you face to face." She sniggered, and added "And see why..."
"Do you approve?"
"Very much so," she replied in a husky whisper.
"Glad to hear it." Kami could easily see what was going on, but still wasn't sure about this girl.
"I guess I don't have to run... If you really didn't want me to..."
Kami smiled and put her hand gently on Rachel's face, "You were never interested in girls before, why the sudden interest?" She was being unusually blunt, but she could feel Rachel begging to sleep with her.
Rachel held Kami's hand, looking her straight in the eye. "Our friend opened my eyes," she said.
"I see," Kami said softly, remembering the guy she left the club with earlier.
"So?" she asked.
"So I right now I'm still a bit confused." She brought her other hand up to Rachel's breast.
"Don't think about it," Rachel said. "Works best."
Kami squeezed gently, "Rachel, dear, you don't seem to get it." She looked Rachel, her eyes told a completely different story from the tone in her voice and soft caress of her hand. "That's not what I'm confused about."
Rachel put a finger to her lips, and glanced at the rooftop garden behind her. "Not here," she said softly.
"I think you're missing the point Rachel."
Rachel sighed. "Obviously, I am. Does it matter right now?"
Kami nodded slowly.
"Can we at least go someplace else first? I don't much like hanging by this old dump at this time of night."
"I think you're probably safest here." Kami replied.
"Fine then," she said, rolling her eyes. "What is it?"
"Okay, I have the feeling I'm being scammed by you. And when somebody scams me I make sure they never do it again."
"If you don't want to do it, fine, just say so," Rachel shot back. "But you aren't going to help Gem like that."
"That's my point, your dangling Gem in front of me like a carrot."
"Well that's the situation I'm in. I don't have a lot of options here."
Kami pulled her hands back from Rachel. "Fine, I'll help you. But you're not gonna get any from me until I see you're not running a scam, and you know what that means."
Rachel put her hands on her hips and glared at Kami. "No, illuminate me," she said testily.
"I see Gem is safe, and reality coincides with what you've told me. Then I will consider it."
Rachel sniggered, then let out a bitter laugh. "Well there's the catch, isn't it? This whole thing is about getting her back safe."
"Call it motivation."
"Y'see, it's simple." Rachel wandered off, swinging her arms, and glancing back at Kami. "I can't Gem back without your help, and you won't help me until I get Gem back." She stopped, looking up at the sky. "One of them's impossible, and the other is just you being stubborn."
"No, I'll help you get Gem back, but I'm not going to consider sex or anything of that nature until I do get her back."
"That's fair." Rachel yawned and stretched out. "I'll just find someone else for tonight."
Kami snickered to herself. "Sounds like a good idea to me. Just let me know when you need my help getting Gem back."
"I'll call, 'kay?"
"Anyway... Where's the good meat these days, hmm?"
"I think they'll let me back in the Half-tanked."
"Then that's where I'll go." Rachel glanced over her shoulder, smiled, and set off towards the entertainment district.
Kami sat down against the wall to think.
Rachel blinked once, twice, then slowly brought her eyes open. She could feel the soft bed at her back, and the warm skin of another woman curled up next to her. The chill told her that her body was completely bare - no big surprise, after what they'd been through last night. Still, it was good to see that she wasn't the helpless one. The figure next to her was still cuffed to the bedpost, still fast asleep. She stretched out and felt her arm rest across someone else. She let herself feel the muscular torso beneath her hand and listened to his steady breathing. She let herself lie there for a second, entertaining the thought of waking them for another round. But she had business to attend to first.
Rummaging through her discarded clothes - somebody's clothes, anyway - quickly produced what she was looking for. She pulled out a small, plain box of seemingly ordinary pills and quickly gulped down a few. On the street, they were known as Jumpstarts, a drug used mostly to keep people going when they were tired. She however preferred it's interesting side effect, which along with giving her a slight 'happy' buzz, completely wiped out her hangover. She didn't bother sorting out whose clothes were whose, and simply grabbed the ones she liked best. After all, it's not as if her companions would be needing them.
Rachel wandered into the bathroom and dumped her pile of clothes on the floor. There was a makeshift shower at the other end of the room with no screen. It had certainly worked well enough for them last night... Oh, the memories. She grabbed her mobile from the cracked sink where she'd left it, and tapped in a specific number as she wandered towards the shower. By the time it was answered, the water was running and she could barely hear the answer at the other end.
"Richard..." she purred down the phone in a tone her former team-mate new well. "I'm going to give you the opportunity of a lifetime.
A few minutes later, Rachel stepped out of the bathroom in her newly pilfered pants, yanking the boots on. She ran the towel over her hair one more time, then discarded it. She paused, half-dressed to look over last night's companions. The girl wasn't nearly in her league, but cute enough. She suspected that she wouldn't be old enough over in the city, but it didn't much matter here in the zone. The man was wonderfully buff, and had allowed his hormones to take control when approached by a pair of girls bearing their cleavage. His face was pretty mundane, but she didn't much care about that. After all, meat was meat.
Right now she was stirring, rolling uncomfortably in place. She must be sore as hell, Rachel thought to herself with a wicked grin. She quickly pulled her top into place and gathered up a few of her things - her trusted pistol, mobile, and a nice pair of newly purchased black cylinders. They'd cost a pretty penny, but she only needed one. What, she thought, to do with the other?
"Hey..." The girl said groggily from the bed. She tried to stretch, but found her arms still bound. "What's going on?"
Rachel leaned forwards, stretching out over her on the bed, planting her hands on the girl's shoulders. "Don't you remember?" she purred.
"Yeah, but you said you'd unlock me when you were done," she replied in a faint voice.
Rachel leaned closer, and whispered "I'm not done yet," in her ear.
"Well I am," she replied, yanking on the cuffs. Rachel leaned back, grinning at her and running one hand down her body. "Alright," she eventually said.
"Good girl," Rachel replied. "Now close your eyes," she added as she pulled back.
The girl sighed and obligingly shut her eyes. "This had better be good," she muttered as she felt Rachel pull away. Long seconds passed and she could hear the rustling of what sounded like a leather jacket. Then she heard something lightly land on the bed next to her.
"What the?" she exclaimed and snapped her eyes open. Right by her head was a small black cylinder. She'd been around long enough to know it was some kind of grenade. Yet there was no sign of the pin - nor of Rachel.
She didn't even have a chance to scream.
Rachel stepped down the street, not even wincing as she hear the burst of the incendiary grenade detonating behind her. She didn't stop to look at the devastation, not to consider what the fire, burning out of control, would do to the neighborhood. No-one living here was worth considering anyway.
She turned down another street, idly whistling to herself. Now where did I stash Reno, she wondered.
Zenshou nodded to Duke as she walked past him and into 93U. It was a bit busier than she had expected. Looks like the wannabes snuck out early, she thought to herself as her eyes scanned the room, noticing but not acknowledging the looks she was getting. She knew the effect her outfit was going to have, and she was counting on it.
The purple synthetic leather catsuit was a startling shade of lilac, and clashed magnificently with the neon green streaks in her curly, white blonde hair. The zipper on the front of the outfit was undone to about the bottom third of her bustline, showing the ample, rich, creamy flesh beneath, caressed by the black lace of some hidden undergarment. The broad, two inch heels on her knee-high black boots helped her hips sway invitingly as she walked.
Zenshou saw Silver over at the bar, and made her way over to her. She was wearing a silver halter-top that revealed nearly all her cleavage and matching hotpants.
"Hello, Silver. Mind if I join you?"
"Go right ahead." Silver looked up at her. He face seemed to brighten slightly as she put down the fork she was using to pick at her food.
Zenshou slid onto the stool next Silver and sat facing her. "Why so down in the dumps?"
Silver looked at Zenshou and smiled. "Gem was supposed to be with you. Perhaps you can explain what's going on." She was pushing it to keep her voice light and friendly. She gave her long platinum blonde hair a flick.
"Have you seen her, recently," Zenshou asked, avoiding the question for a moment. "I was hoping she would contact you." She paused. "Or has a woman by the name of Rachel talked to you?"
"Oh yes." Silver's voice dripped with sweet sarcasm.
"Did she talk to you about Gem, and what was going on?"
"I had an ear full from Rachel about her, Gem, and Nicole. I'm still not sure what to believe." Silver's voice was visibly rattled. "But if Kami finds out she's running a scam she's gonna kill her." Silver attempted to look Zenshou in the eyes, but gaze drifted down to Zenshou's cleavage and back up again. "You tell me what's going on."
"What did Rachel tell you," Zenshou asked. "That Nicole has something to do with Gem's disappearance, and she's trying to recruit help to get payback?"
"Not exactly but close enough." Zenshou now had Silver's undivided attention.
"Well, it's the truth, in a way, but also a bald-faced lie. Gem as we knew her doesn't exist." Zenshou paused for a moment, watching Silver's face closely. "Rachel and Gem and the same person, and Nicole is her sister, whom she wants to kill." Silver's expression went from confused to sad. She swallowed without saying a word.
Zenshou sighed. "They, Rachel and Nicole, were on a corp team and the mission went sour. Rachel ended up getting *very* badly burned, and blamed Nicole. She became obsessed with revenge. She went so far as to have full reconstructive surgery to give herself a new id until she was back on her feet and had everything in place to exact her revenge." Zenshou took out Rachel's locket, opened it, and showed the picture inside to Silver. "I screwed up her plans by figuring out what was going on before she was ready. She took off during the night to get her own face back, and then go after Nicole. She's already kidnapped a guy by the name of Reno, likely to use as bait to get Nicole to meet with her. I was hoping that you'd be able to help me talk some sense into her before she goes and gets herself killed."
"Talk some sense into her?" Silver's voice was pained. "I just want Gem back..."
"So do I," Zenshou replied softly. "I love her. She's like a sister to me. That's why I came to you, because I know you care about her too. And that's why I'm trying to stop her, before she goes too far. If we can get her to drop this obsession and get her to see reason, we might be able to get Rachel to stay dead and get Gem back."
Silver simply nodded, "She said she'd call when she was ready to meet again."
"If you could let me know, I'd really appreciate it." Zenshou reached up and pulled a small card out from inside the neckline of her catsuit. She handed it to Silver. "Here's my email address and cell phone number. Please call me as soon as you hear from her, so we can plan what to do." She paused. "Do you know if she's contacted anyone else? The more people I can get a hold of and tell them what's really going on, the easier it'll be to help get Gem back."
"I don't know if she's talked with anybody else." She eyed the card, then Zen's cleavage. Then the card again. "But I will be in touch with you again." She looked into Zenshou's eyes and smiled.
"Thanks," Zenshou replied and returned the smile with one of her own, filled with encouragement. She slid off the bar stool so that she was standing almost up against Silver. "For everything," she finished, her voice soft and husky. Zen stepped away from Silver, turned, and headed towards the door, her hips swaying with each step.
Mitch the bartender leaned over to Silver. "New girlfriend? Maybe you should try and get her to work here." Silver simply gave a half hearted laugh.
Barely half an hour later, as she was finishing up her meal, she received a call. She quickly seized her mobile. "Hello?"
"It's me," Rachel's voice came from the other end of the line.
"Hiya, what's the news?"
"Time and place have been set," Rachel said in a flat tone. "I need you at the church near Gen's dojo as soon as possible."
Silver nodded. "I'll be right over."
"Good. Nicole will be arriving soon. Just wait outside the church and make sure she's alone."
There was a short pause, before Rachel finally said "Thanks again," and hung up.
"Right," Silver muttered to herself. She tossed her fork down and looked up at Mitch the bartender. "Why is it I thought I was immune to drama like this?" She punched Zenshou's number into her cell phone.
Midori and Kami met at the Dojo a short time later. They had quickly conferred and decided on a course of action - they would head for the church and try to put a stop to this confrontation. It wasn't long before they had arrived at the front door.
The church was abandoned, and in a fair state of disrepair. The roof was intact, but several of the stained glass windows were broken, letting the red light of dusk stream inside. Plenty of debris and rubbish was scattered across the floor, but there was a clear path straight up the middle. Rachel stood on the steps up the back of the church, with Reno, a black man with a violently green hairdo crouched in front of her. Nicole stood by the door, back to them, facing Rachel down. Rachel had her pistol drawn, lazily aiming it at Nicole as the two of them talked.
The instant Midori saw Rachel, she reached out with her mind to see what Rachel's plans for Nicole were. Rachel's mind was a roiling mass of anger and the desire for revenge. The only though in her mind was to shoot and burn Nicole.
"Kami," Midori whispered. "Rachel may have hired snipers to take Nicole out if she failed. Could you check the roof and other places they might be positioned?"
"Right." Kami headed around the side in order to outflank a potential sniper.
Midori then sent a quick message to Nicole. ~I'm here, with someone to help. I've got your back covered.~
Nicole didn't move, but replied ~Take care of the snipers. I've got to finish this somehow.~
~Understood. I've sent my companion to go check, but I will do a sweep. Did you get in contact with the members of your team who took off? And be careful, Rachel's got some kind of incendiary device on her, as she plans on burning you the way she got burned.~
~I couldn't contact them at all~ Nicole replied.
Midori nodded quietly. She reached out her mind feeling around and trying to locate people in and around the church. She could feel Nicole and Rachel inside, Kami sneaking around the right and the two snipers, up by the windows where her vision said they would be. She glanced up and noticed the glint of steel up on Nicole's right that would be Richard's rifle. What worried her is that she couldn't detect Reno, even though she could see him plainly in front of her.
~They're up by the windows in the middle of the church. I can see Richard's rifle.~
Nicole subtly glanced up to the right, then turned her attention back to her sister. ~I see him,~ she replied, and went silent again.
Kami glanced around the side of the church, then ducked back around the corner. She could plainly see the sniper, a man with long blond hair dressed in a black uniform. He was hanging from a rope, half-way up the side of the church with a powerful rifle just poking through a broken stained-glass window.
He's not paying attention out here, Kami thought. This is too easy. She drew her katana and snuck through the rubble and debris alongside the church. A slight slip sent some stone scattering, and she had to duck behind a broken section of wall when he looked out to find her.
He glanced around, then returned his attention to the inside of the church. Kami rose from her hiding place and stalked towards him, slowly picking up speed. She raised the katana above her head, breaking into a run. Finally she leapt, launching from a large block of concrete and driving the Katana forwards. It plunged noiselessly into his back. Without a word, without making a sound he plunged from his spot, his body slumping lifelessly to the ground. Kami landed carefully in front of him.
She wiped off her Katana an inspected his body. Apart from the rifle's scope, he didn't have any optics on him, nor a radio; she suspected he had cybernetic implants of both. The rifle was a prize find however; solid, high-powered and with an advanced low-light scope. She slung it over her shoulder and set out around the church to find the other sniper.
~I'm going to cause something of a distraction,~ Midori sent to Nicole as the two of them faced off. ~Do you think you would be able to take Rachel down without hurting her too much?~
~If she doesn't do anything drastic,~ Nicole replied.
Seeing Nicole's odd silence, Rachel scowled. She raised her foot and placed it against Reno's back.
Everything happened at once. On the right, the glint of Richard's sniper rifle vanished from sight. On the left, one of the window fittings exploded in a cloud of dust and shattered stone. In the middle, Rachel kicked Reno forwards, sending him sprawling to the floor. His jacket fell to the ground, revealing a bullet wound in his back.
Rachel recoiled in surprise, staring up at the impacted wall. Nicole took her chance and rushed forwards, drawing the blade at her side, charging at her sister. Midori turned her attention to Rachel and Nicole, prepared to use her powers to protect Nicole if need be.
Rachel turned just in time to bring her pistol up, barely blocking a lethal slash. The two of them clashed repeatedly, neither gaining the upper hand.
As soon as Kami rounded the back of the church, she barely had time to spot the other sniper before a huge explosion burst out half-way up the wall, engulfing the sniper. Fragments of stone and shards of stained glass went flying as dust billowed out from the wall, obscuring the source of the explosion from view.
"Crap!" Kami muttered, "I better get over to there and see what's going down." Kami dropped the rifle and ran towards the rubble. She could see someone half-buried in the fresh rubble but still moving. She made sure to tread on the figure before taking off and vaulting over the collapsed section of wall.
The longer this goes on, the more likely it is for things to get out of hand, Midori thought to herself. Enough, I am ending this now.
The two surged apart as the blast tore between them, and instantly clashed again. In an instant, they were both disarmed, and each dived for their weapons. They landed and turned, each crouching, holding... each other's weapon.
"Rachel," Midori called out, stepping into the doorway so she could be seen. "Put the weapon down. This is over."
"Listen to her," Nicole said, rising slowly.
Midori looked at Rachel. "This doesn't have to go any further, Rachel. We can end it right now, without anyone else getting hurt."
"You're right," Rachel said, carefully lowering the sword. "I'm sorry you got involved."
"Drop it, Rachel, along with whatever you were using to burn Nicole with."
Rachel's eye twitched slightly. In a flash she had flung the sword at her sister and spun around, grabbing the grenade from her back and pulling the pin.
Midori instantly threw up a bubble of force around Rachel. There was a brief scream and a huge burst of fire, all contained within the dome. Nicole stared in disbelief as her sister was engulfed in flames. Midori ran forward, quickly reshaping the bubble around Rachel until it covered her skin completely, removing any remaining oxygen and putting out the flames.
With the fire gone, Rachel curled up on the ground. She was strangely silent apart from muted sobs as she clutched her face. As Midori approached her, Kami landed in the church. She screamed out "NO!" and ran to Rachel's side.
Midori looked down at Rachel, her face a mask of calm, then glanced at Reno before turning her attention to Kami and Nicole. "Kami, this is Nicole, Rachel's sister. Nicole, this is Kami, a friend of a friend of Gem - the alternate identity that Rachel developed. Kami, could you help Nicole with Reno, while I help Rachel?"
Kami appeared to be frustrated. "Is she gonna be okay?" She apparently had little interest in helping with Reno.
"Depends on whether or not she'll let me help her," Midori replied simply. "If she says yes, her physical problems will be dealt with in short order. As for her mental and emotional condition, I can't say until I've talked to her."
Kami sighed, "alright, I just hope she doesn't do anything else insane first". She was doing her best to swallow her emotions.
"I think we all feel that way," Midori replied softly as she squatted down next to Rachel who lay on the floor, curled up into a ball and crying.
"This didn't have to happen, Rachel," Midori said softly. "You could have just put the grenade down and talked all of this out with Nicole." She paused, but Rachel didn't reply. "Remember the promise I made to you, about helping make the people who hurt Rachel pay for what they had done. I'm going to keep it."
Rachel remained silent.
"What now," Midori asked. "I know what Rachel wants, but what does Gem want?"
There was a long pause, and finally Rachel stopped sobbing. "She.. She doesn't want to feel like this anymore," the girl said.
"I can help her, if that's what she wants."
"Then what about what I want," Rachel said, this time in a harsher tone.
"If I were to kill everyone responsible for what happened, Rachel, I'd have to kill you too."
"I'm the victim!" Rachel reached out one hand towards Nicole, almost clawing at her. "She's to blame. She's always to blame!"
"She set me up. She turned on me. She tried to kill me! She hates me!"
"She always has..." Her voice wavered as she pulled her hand back to cover her face.
"If she hated you, why did she always stick by you? Why did she agree to join up with S-T when she didn't want to? You heard her the conversation she had with your boss. You know what she said. Were those the words of someone who hates you?" Rachel didn't respond. "They're not, Rachel, and you know it. You're hurting so badly, and you needed someone to blame. We always blame the ones we're closest to." Rachel still didn't speak.
"Would you like me to heal your burns?" The girl only curled up tighter, and resumed her sobbing. "Rachel, do you want the pain to stop too?"
"I... I want it all to stop," she said.
"Will you let us help you?" Rachel slowly nodded. "First," Midori said, "we can start by healing your body. Can you sit up?"
"I'll try." Rachel slowly pulled herself up, still covering her face. Midori reached out carefully to help her, then looked up at Nicole.
"Could I ask you to watch over me while I do this? I may not be able to fend for myself immediately afterwards, and we don't know if there are any reinforcements for those snipers on the way."
Nicole shook here head. "I doubt they would have. If it was more than a two man operation, we'd know by now. But I will look out for you."
"Thank you," Midori replied softly, then turned to look back at Rachel. She reached out again and touched Rachel's hands. "I need you to look at me while I'm doing this," she said gently.
Rachel quickly shook her head, muttering "I can't."
"Please," Midori said, her voice revealing exactly how deeply she cared about the girl. Rachel slowly pulled her hands away from her face, revealing her burnt, blistered skin. The woman beneath was unrecognizable.
Midori's face was calm, and sadness showed in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I don't know if this will hurt, but I'll do my best...."
"But... But what will I look like?"
"Who do you want to look like? Rachel, or Gem?"
"I..." Rachel trailed off and hung her head, tears trailing from her eyes once more.
"I can put you back to the way you looked before you were burned just now, and then you can decide later. Okay?" Rachel slowly nodded her consent.
Midori took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and reached into herself to tap the power she had only used once before, when she had healed Jason. Rachel felt a stream of cool, yet comforting energy flow through her body, stating at her hands, working outwards.
Briefly, Rachel and Kami saw a flinch twist Midori's face, and saw Midori's jaw clench. As Rachel watched, blisters and blackened skin began to form on Midori's body as the sensations spread through Rachel's body. As Rachel's injuries disappeared, they reappeared on Midori.
Then it was over. Midori released Rachel's hands and slumped backwards as she slid unconsciously to the floor, a small trail of blood coming from her nose.
"NO!" Rachel screamed and surged forwards. She grabbed Midori by her shoulders, shaking her and trying to wake her up. "Why did you do that? Why?"
Midori's eyes flickered open for a moment. "Because I love you. I'll be okay. Promise, me, don't tell Jason..." The girl collapsed, sobbing on Midori's shoulder, holding her close.
"Nicole," Midori said, as she began to fade back into unconsciousness. "It's up to you. Help your sister make peace with the past." She turned her head painfully and looked at Kami. 'You wanted to get Gem back. Help Nicole."
Kami gawked for a few moments. She wanted an explanation of what just happened. She looked over at Nicole, "Nicole?"
Nicole gaped, open-mouthed for a few seconds before finally regaining her composure. "I'm... I'm not sure. I didn't know just how broad her powers were until now."
"I didn't even know she had powers!" She looked over at Midori.
"I thought she would have told you. She's an Espers, and quite unlike any I've seen before."
"I've only talked with her a couple of times before." Kami shook her head.
Nicole sat on a broken pew, watching her sister as she sobbed over Midori, apparently lost in thought.
"Are you okay?" Kami asked, not sure exactly what Zenshou meant when she said help Nicole.
"I really don't know," Nicole replied. She shook her head, and turned to face Kami. "Tell me, just how did you get involved in all this?"
"I'm very close to Gem, Rachel's alter ego." She looked at Nicole, "Rachel got me involved to rescue Gem from you."
"Rescue her," Nicole repeated with a rather amused tone. "I apologize on her behalf. She... She's rather proficient at using people."
"I know." Kami sighed, "I figured I was being scammed, and since I didn't know how I just played along until things came together." She sat down on her heels, "Now I really don't know what to do."
"I don't mean to pry," Nicole cautiously begun, "But just how 'close' were you two?"
"Sorry I mentioned it, then."
"Its okay." Kami answered, "Even though you know Rachel, I'm pretty certain you have no idea what Gem is like".
"I don't quite follow you, sorry."
"You should be aware that Gem and Rachel are very different people."
"You'll excuse me if I find that very hard to believe."
Kami looked over at Rachel, "They are. Can you imagine Rachel crying in your or anybody's arms?"
Nicole loudly tapped her fingers, eventually saying "I guess you're right."
"I've seen two distinctive personalities in Gem. Believe it or not I have a similar problem, just not as severe."
"She didn't have that 'problem' as you put it, before."
"You know better than I do what kind of trauma she's been through." Kami's voice was becoming more steady now.
"Not really. I lost touch with her after the mission. Since then... I don't know."
"How does having somebody you trust detonate the explosives you're carrying sound for a start?"
"I see." Nicole stood up, and carefully stepped away from Kami.
Kami remained calm, "Sorry if I stepped on a sore subject, but I had to get to what I understand the cause of this to be." She kept a careful eye on Nicole.
"I was given a simple choice," Nicole said, perfectly calm. "Either I detonate the explosives and take her position as team leader, or I let our commander remote-detonate them, and face punishment for disobeying his orders."
"I'm not interested in the reasoning, why." Kami scanned the area. "I'm not going to help Gem or Rachel with any revenge plots. I just want Gem back."
"I don't even know if that's possible..."
Kami swallowed, "it better be."
Nicole nodded in Rachel's direction, adding "It's up to her, really. She has a lot to be ashamed of, but she's never cared about that before. I don't see why she won't just go back to her old ways."
"As Gem I hope she has something she cares about going back to."
"That may be..." She trailed off. "Yes. It might be enough."
"I hope so." Kami flexed her gloved hand, leaving off the implied, or else. "I the mean time I think we need to help both of them."
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