By Thomas Michael Edwards and Michael Surbrook
(Late 2033)

/** Unless otherwise noted, all dialogs are in Japanese **/

[Japan :: Somewhere near Kobe]

Today was the day they would leave Kagura behind to start their new lives. Rei called Mariko and Kenichi and told them that she had some last minute business to take care of and that she would meet them at the airport. After talking to Mariko, Rei gathered her gear and left on what was to be her first operation as a free agent, the elimination of the stain on her life that was Senmitsuya Gendou. Rei had learned early on during the formation of her plan that Gendou played golf every Sunday at the Dai Pan Country Club, which was why she had convinced Mariko and Kenichi to leave on Sunday. That way she could kill Gendou and then leave the country in case she was noticed, which considering how she planned to kill him was a possibility, however remote.

Rei drove to the country club in the van that she had rented, along with the bike that was stored in the back, with a fake ID and in cash. She stopped along the way to put on her disguise, not that she should need it, dressed from head to toe in the biker leathers that she had bought just for this occasion as she was. Rei parked the van as close as she could to Gendou's reserved parking space and proceeded to wait for him to show. She didn't have a long wait.

[Japan :: Dai Pan Country Club]

Less than five minutes after Rei had parked the van and started to wait Gendou's car pulled into his parking space. To her surprise, however, it wasn't Gendou that got out of the car first, but what looked like a Lynx class security synthetic. This new development put a serious kink in her plan. He had never had a bodyguard before, let alone a security synth. This situation did not make her happy, as while she had never really considered most synths to be the equals of natural born humans as people, she had never considered them to be just tools to be used and abused either. It certainly didn't help matters that from an early age she had known that she was a genie, or genner depending on who's slang you were speaking. On top of that, considering what she had learned from the reports and what Mariko could tell her from what little she remembered their father talking about, she figured that in truth she probably had about as much in common with synths as she did with normal humans. Rei also knew that the Lynx wasn't about to just let her waltz up and kill Gendou. She was going to have to neutralize the Lynx first, and she abhorred killing when she didn't have to, especially when the victim was only doing their job and didn't have a real connection to the target. Most infuriating of all, was the fact that she had been so damn fixated on killing Gendou and how she was going to do it that she hadn't even thought about the possibility that he might change his pattern and hadn't brought a firearm, just in case. Because of that blunder, she was going to have to go hand-to-hand with the Lynx, and that could be a problem. Rei knew that she had to get the drop on the Lynx, because she didn't want to get into a "fair" fight with her. While she knew she could take the Lynx in hand-to-hand, there was still the possibility, however remote, that she could get hurt, and she couldn't afford that. She had a plane to catch after all.

The Lynx walked around to the back of the car and opened the rear door, after a few moments Gendou stepped out. The Lynx closed the door and proceeded around to the trunk of the car.

Rei crept as stealthily as she could towards Gendou's car. Thankfully, while the Lynx was rummaging in the trunk, Gendou was yelling at her.

"Damn, stupid synth! Of all the... look at my clubs. Look at them! Do you know how much those things cost? Get them back into the bag now, and be more careful next time!"

"Yessir! Sorry sir. Right away sir."

(Go ahead Gendou. Keep yelling at her, keep her distracted for me,) thought Rei as she crept forward, alongside one of the cars adjacent to them. With Gendou yelling, Rei managed to get to the rear of the car closest to Gendou's before the Lynx noticed her.

As soon as Rei saw the Lynx notice her and start to come up from being stooped in the trunk, she put on every bit of speed that she could and caught the Lynx mid-rise and slammed her backwards, her head and back striking the side of the trunk opening hard enough to shake the car. Rei's forward momentum carried her to the next car before she could stop. As soon as she did, she pivoted back around and sprinted towards the Lynx who was starting to get up from where she had fallen. She was moving slow, too slow even for a Lynx, and was probably dazed. As Rei closed the short distance between them, the Lynx was still trying to regain her feet, but it was too late, Rei lashed out with a vicious spin kick to the Lynx's head that picked her up and threw her onto and then over the trunk of the car that Rei had walked around in the first place. Rei rushed over to where the Lynx had fallen ready to renew her attack, but found, to her relief, that the Lynx was out cold, which left her free to deal with Gendou.

"Now, Gendou. You and I have som..." started Rei, as she began looking around for Gendou before trailing off as she noticed that he wasn't around. Quickly looking around the area for him, she didn't see him and was starting to wonder where he had gotten to, as the fight with the Lynx had actually only taken a few seconds. Finally, she spotted him run in front of the car she was standing next to heading for the clubhouse. (Oh no you don't!) thought Rei, as she squatted for a second and then not so much jumped as uncoiled and launched herself completely over the SUV parked next to the car that Gendou had just run in front of, landing in front of him.

Gendou, who had not been expecting this development and was no combatant, tried to bring himself to a stop too fast and tripped. His forward momentum carried him towards Rei as she had started to walk back toward him, bringing him to a stop at her feet.

Reaching down and grabbing him by his collar, Rei dragging him to his feet and before he could say a word snapped his head back with a jab to his jaw, knocking him unconscious. She struck him again just to make sure he was out cold. Carrying Gendou back to her van, she threw him in the back and drove off towards what she planned as Gendou's final destination.

[Japan :: An abandoned factory complex outside Osaka]

Pain. The first thing Senmitsuya Gendou noticed when he woke up is pain, his jaw was raw and seething with it and after a few moments of probing with his tongue he figured it was because he was missing a couple of teeth. He tried moving, but soon found out that his arms and legs were bound tightly, he had been tied down to a chair or something similar.

"Finally awake, I see," came a female sounding voice from in front of him.

Gendou's eyes snapped open, immediately squinting as the rush of light brought forth a new wave of pain. After a few moments, the new pain began to subside to manageable levels and a woman shaped blur sitting in front of him began to make itself clear. Her image jogged his memory, and he began to panic as the events that had lead up to this point came rushing back to him. "Help! Help!" cried Gendou.

"Go ahead, scream all you like. Out here, no one can hear you scream," said Rei with a smirk.

This small bit of knowledge made itself known to Gendou's fear addled brain faster than Rei would have ever guessed, he stopped yelling for help within a few seconds. "What... what do you want with me?" asked Gendou, in a not quite quavering voice.

"Simple, I want you to die," Rei said matter-of-factly.

This bit of information did nothing for Gendou's composure and, as he visibly paled, his bladder made itself known.

"What the hell? What is that sme... Oh. Oh!" said Rei, bursting into laughter.

Rei's amusement at his lack of control snapped Gendou back to reality and enraged him. "Shut up! Shut up, damn you! You bitch! Do you have any idea who I am? Do you?! When Kagura finds out that you've kidnapped me, you're screwed! Do you hear me?! Screwed!" yelled Gendou, spittle spewing forth from his mouth in rage. "And don't even think about hurting me, or you'll wish you were never made," continued Gendou, after visibly calming himself.

"Made?" asked Rei, confused by the non sequitur. (Does he know who I am, and, if so, what does he mean by 'made' anyway?) puzzled Rei.

"Yes, idiot. Made. I remember what you did back there, you're either a cyborg or a synth," said Gendou quite reasonably, proud that his mental faculties were begging to run like clockwork again, as he was used to. He might just get out of this yet, he'd have to convince her that harming him would be the biggest mistake of her life, but that shouldn't be too hard. In his experience, the more brawn they had the less brains they could muster.

"Ah, I see," said Rei. "Yeah, you probably wouldn't recognize me would you?" she asked herself somewhat rhetorically. "My name is Rei," she said looking for a reaction from Gendou, but all she got was a blank stare.

"I don't know anyone by that name, and certainly no one who looks like you."

"True, you wouldn't remember me I'm sure, even though you probably had a great deal to do with what I am today. Well, at least physically... but... you should remember my father, Ayukawa Aoshi," finished Rei with a hard glint in her eyes.

Gendou looked at her blankly for a few moments trying to remember where he knew that name from, he knew that he knew it, he just couldn't recall from where. "Ayukawa Aoshi, I don't recall anyone by that... that..." finished Gendou in a stammer as the memory of the name and it's owner came back to him. Gendou's mind then put all the pieces together. (If this is Aoshi's 'daughter', then that explains her abilities... and if she's here, and wants me dead, then she probably knows about... oh fuck me,) thought Gendou as his recently found courage swiftly departed him again as he had the distinct feeling of someone walking over his grave.

"There you are! Now you remember!" replied Rei cheerfully. (Careful girl, remember you don't like killing... ah, screw it. In this case I deserve to enjoy it, the bastard deserves it for all he's done to my family,) Rei thought vengefully. Before Gendou could say anything else, Rei reached over and fitted him with the gag that she had put on him earlier when she was tying him up. "There, that should keep you quiet."

Rei got up from where she was sitting and stepped out of the van, coming back after a few minutes. "Ok, here's how this is going to work. I'm going to get on that bike out there and ride off, and you're going to sit here until that," Rei said, as she pointed to something under Gendou's seat, "rather large and powerful explosive charge goes off, turning your sorry ass into a fine red mist."

Gendou could only whimper through the gag.

"Well, I wish that I could say that it's been fun meeting you and all, but that would be a lie, and you wouldn't believe me anyway, so I won't bother," said Rei in a gradually flattening tone of voice. "Roast in hell you bastard. Roast... in... hell," finished Rei in a flat, dead voice as her face contorted in a rictus of fury.

Gendou only whimpered in reply, rational though lost to him.

Rei got out of the van and closed the door; she then jumped on the bike and started the engine. After a minute or two of revving the engine, she reached into her leathers and pulled out a small remote control of some kind. After pushing a button on the control until it made an audible beep, she crushed it in her hand and dropped the remains on the ground. Popping a wheelie, she took off full throttle away from the van, which she had parked in a lot at an abandoned factory. Rei got a few miles away before the sounds of the most beautiful explosion that she'd ever heard came from behind her at the factory.

[Japan :: Kansai International Airport]

"Where have you been? You almost made us miss our flight!" hissed Mariko.

"Sorry, sorry. I just had to take care of that bit of business that I told you about," Rei apologized.

"Ok, fine. You're forgiven, for now. You'll have to tell me what was so important later though, we don't have the time now. Let's go," said Mariko more naturally as she put her arm around Rei's and pulled her sister through the terminal.

"Sure thing sis, sure thing," said Rei, smiling as she let herself be lead away towards the gate where Kenichi was waiting for them.

[Hong Kong :: Royal Plaza Hotel]

Mariko was sitting at a desk in the hotel room, jotting down some notes in the PDA she'd bought to replace her previous one, as they had gotten rid of all of their possessions from Kagura, just in case, when she heard a massive yawn come from the adjoined room. Shortly there after, a bleary eyed and disheveled Rei came walking in.

"Good morning, sleepy head." chimed Mariko.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," said Rei, lowering her voice before continuing in a mutter, "Damn morning people."

"Bright eyed, bushy tailed, and as polite as ever in the morning I see," replied Mariko with more than a hint of humor in her voice.

"Peedah!" vocalized Rei, as she stuck her tongue at her sister. Looking around and noticing that Kenichi wasn't present Rei asked, "Where's Ken-chan?"

"He's out right now using the couple of personal contacts he has in the area to try and find us a fixer who can help us get our new SINs and other identification. Hopefully, they will even be able to help get us discreet passage to Neo York, as I'd rather not have to use any of our new identification before we have to."

"So, how long do you think it will be after Kagura receives our resignations before they check the first hotel on the itinerary that you left them?" asked Rei.

"Oh, pretty soon I'd guess. Probably less than a few hours, I'm sure. Whether or not they decide to do more than that, especially once they realize we're not there, depends on how much they value us," said Mariko after pondering for a moment. "They probably won't bother for Kenichi and I, we really weren't that indispensable to the corporation, but... you on the other hand, they probably won't be too happy about loosing a top trouble consultant. Not happy at all."

"Un. Yeah, you're probably right, I hadn't thought of that," Rei said slowly. "Maybe we should... maybe we should split up after we get our new IDs and meet up in Neo York?"

"No," Mariko said in a firm tone, "we are not splitting up."

"But, if you're right and they decide to come snooping around for me, it would be safer for you and Kenichi to take a different route."

"Maybe. Then again, if they do come 'snooping around' for you and they run into us without you, do you think Kenichi and I stand a chance of getting away from them without you?"

"Un. I hadn't thought of that."

"Exactly. That is why Kenichi and I are in charge of this little endeavor. I mean with all those muscles it must be terribly hard for you to think at all, poor little gorilla girl," finished Mariko with a huge grin.

"You know, I hate it when you call me that," Rei replied testily.

"Yes, yes, and you know that I was just teasing you. You're not stupid at all, but you do tend to run off without thinking ahead first," Mariko replied, quirking her right eyebrow as if daring her sister to contradict what she had just said.

"Yeah, you're right. I do sometimes," said Rei in a soft voice, somewhat lost in thought. "I really need to work on that."

"What's wrong?" asked Mariko, concerned about the abrupt change in her sister's attitude.

"Un. I, I need to tell you about that 'business' that I had to take care of before we left," said Rei meekly.

"Oh hell, I can tell this isn't going to be good. You're never like this unless you've been caught with your hand in the cookie jar. You did something destructive didn't you? Something that's going to make Kagura want to come after us."

"Un. I, uh... well, probably not. They shouldn't know it was me, so they shouldn't have any more reason than they do already."

"Spill it, what did you do," said Mariko beginning to get annoyed.

"Un. I paid a visit to Senmitsuya Gendou."

"You... paid a visit... to Gendou," said Mariko slowly. "YOU. DID. WHAT?!" she yelled after a moment.

"I finished it. The bastard's dead. Father is avenged," said Rei in a quiet voice.

"You killed him... killed him... You couldn't just leave well enough alone could you; you just had to get revenge. Didn't you?!" wailed Mariko in fury.

"I took precautions! I'm not an idiot you know, there's no way that they could know it was me."

"Of all the stupid, idiotic, moronic ideas you have ever..." Mariko bit out in a frosty tone. Holding up one hand to forestall her sister from replying, Mariko put her face in her other hand and slowly counted backwards to herself, to regain her composure. "Ok," she continued after a minute, in a more reasonable tone, "you took precautions so that they couldn't trace his death back to you, I'll buy that. You know what you do better than I do. However, did you stop to think that they might find the fact that we took off on our 'vacation' the same day that he was killed a bit conspicuous? Especially since," she ticked off the points on her fingers, "A, they have our resignations by now and we've disappeared from the itinerary we left, so they know we were planning to leave Kagura from the start. And B, the board of directors knows who we are and how we're connected to Gendou. They knew he had father killed, they knew he'd been playing fast and loose with the project's budget and all they did was retire him to a corner office, in case they ever needed him again. They considered him too valuable to get rid of, even after what he'd done. All you've done by killing him is to make sure that Kagura will come looking for us," Mariko finished in a tired voice.

Her sister was right and Rei knew it. She hadn't thought about anything else but her need for revenge against Gendou, and in doing so had likely put them in exactly the position that Mariko had just laid out for her. The realization that she had endangered not only herself, which didn't really bother her at all as she was used to danger, but also Mariko and Kenichi shattered her emotional control, a control built by a little girl long ago to protect herself from the cruel world that had stolen her father away. "I... I..." Rei started, but couldn't continue, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.

Mariko was torn. On the one hand, she was angry at her sister for making their escape from Kagura that much more difficult, but on the other she was secretly pleased at what Rei had done. Although she'd probably never admit it, part of her was very much enjoying the thought that Gendou was rotting in hell for his crimes. Seeing the effect that her assessment was having on her sister, however, broke her anger. When their father died, Rei had cried for nearly a week afterward, almost seeming to use up all of her tears as since that time Mariko had never seen Rei shed a single tear over anything. To see her now choking back tears was more than Mariko could take. Besides, she never could stay angry with her sister for long anyway, after their father had died they were all that each other had, and as such were extremely close.

Gathering Rei into a hug, Mariko began speaking to her softly, "Shh, shh. You're the tough sister remember, you don't cry, I do."

After a minute or so, Rei began to regain control of her emotions and was able to continue. "I'm sorry," she hiccupped, "I didn't... think. I, I just couldn't let him go, not after what he did to father, to us. I, I... I couldn't."

"I know, I know," soothed Mariko, stroking Rei's back.

"I really... I really fucked up this time didn't I?" Rei asked, between sniffles.

"Yeah, yeah you did, but... maybe it won't be so bad. Kagura may decide that Gendou's death isn't worth worrying about at this point, and even if they do, they still have to find us."

"So... What do we do now?"

"I don't see as we've got many options. We're better off just sticking to what we've already got planned. We made the plans from the beginning figuring for the worst possible scenario, that Kagura would actually be coming after us, so..." Mariko trailed off.


"Say, I've got an idea. Why don't we go get something to eat, I'm starving," said Mariko, placing a hand on her stomach.

"Ok. I'll go get dressed," replied Rei as she headed towards her room.

[Hong Kong :: Royal Plaza Hotel (a few hours later)]

Mariko and Rei, coming back from lunch, entered Mariko and Kenichi's hotel room. Spotting Kenichi sitting at the desk and in a much better mood after lunch with her sister than she had been in when they left, Rei hailed him cheerily, "Hey, Ken-chan!" and began to walk over towards him trailed by Mariko.

"That's far enough ladies," came a voice from the doorway to Rei's adjoined room. "Please, no sudden movements, especially from you Ms. Ayukawa as I have been made aware of your abilities."

Rei stopped dead in her tracks, cold shivering up her spine as she turned to look at the owner of the voice. He was tall, but sort of thin, with neatly combed black hair. He was wearing a nice brown two-piece suit, and in his right hand he had a pistol, which he was holding on them. (He doesn't look like he's from Kagura, so he must be a local agent for hire,) thought Rei.

"Now, if you would both please step slowly over to Mr. Shimazu," he motioned with his pistol.

As they both did as they were commanded, Rei was wracking her brain trying to come up with a plan to get them out of the situation.

"Now, everyone face me please, and Ms. Ayukawa get on your knees and bend forward with you arms behind your back."

(Uh, oh. I wonder what he's up to, he's not just going to shoot me, he's already had the chance to do that, so what... Ah! If he wants me to bend over and put my arms behind my back he's probably planning on cuffing me, and when he tries it that will give me the chance I need to take him down,) thought Rei, so after facing him she got down on her knees and bent over with her arms behind her back.

"Now, Mrs. Shimazu," the agent said as he tossed her a pair of cyborg restraint manacles, "please put these on her."

(Fuck! Ok, so he's not as stupid as I was hoping,) Rei swore to herself. (Dammit, if Mariko puts those on me we are screwed. Wait! Maybe, just maybe...) Rei thought, as she tried getting her feet curled underneath her legs so she had some purchase to try and spring forward without letting the agent know what she was doing. She felt Mariko come up behind her and start to cuff her, first her right arm and then the left, but as soon as Mariko began cuffing her left arm, and before the manacle was locked down, she made her move. Rei uncoiled as best she could from her position and leapt across the room slamming into the agent sending them both sprawling to the floor, the agent's pistol bouncing off the wall and flying though the door into Rei's room.

"RUN!" Rei shouted at Mariko and Kenichi. "Get the hell out of here!"

Rei started to get up and was turning to face the agent, only to be slammed back down by him. (Oof!) thought Rei as she hit the floor hard, (Oh shit... he's a cyborg or synth, and pretty strong too. This could get ugly.)

The agent proceeded to regain his feet only to be taken down by a leg sweep from Rei who was still on the floor.

As soon as she swept the agent, Rei rolled back away from him and to her feet. She saw the agent getting up again and rushed forward throwing a spin kick at his head. Unfortunately, he saw it coming and managed to lean back and catch her foot just before she would have connected with his head. Undeterred, Rei pushed off with her free leg and shifted her weight over to the leg that the agent now held thereby continuing her rotation and connecting to his jaw with her free foot, causing him to loose his hold on her as he staggered back and hit the wall.

"HA! Amateur! They send amateurs after me!" crowed Rei, as she regained her balance after her last move. She decided to try and bluff the agent into submission, so she tried to smooth her face and force her body posture into that of someone confidant, yet bored. "Ok, look. You know that I'm not about to let you go looking for your pistol, so that leaves us with hand-to-hand, right? And, if they briefed you on me as you said they did, then you have to know that without your pistol you don't stand a chance. So, I'm going to make you a deal. I know you're just doing your job, so if you give up now with no real harm done I'll let you go. What do you say to that?" asked Rei, hoping that her bluff was working. "C'mon. If you make me have to put you down, I'm going to put you all the way down, if you catch my meaning."

The agent, slightly hunched over with his back against the wall, was rubbing his jaw where her back kick had connected. After looking at her for a few moments, his answer was to straighten up and assume a combat stance.

"Dammit, why can't things ever be easy," Rei muttered to herself, dropping into her own combat stance.

After a moment of tension, both combatants launched themselves towards each other. Move by move, countermove by countermove, they danced the dance of the Art. After about a minute, however, two things became readily apparent to both combatants, Rei was much better and quite a bit faster. This made itself known in spectacular fashion a few moments later when, after a rapid series of blows, the agent crumpled to the floor in a heap.

Rei knelt next to the agent and proceeded to search him for the keys to the manacles. After finding the keys, she took the manacles off her right arm and then used them to cuff him.

"You, ok?" came Mariko's voice from near the door into the hall.

Rei's head snapped in the direction of her sister's voice. "I told you to run," Rei hissed. "What the hell are you doing back here?"

"Um, well, we never really left," said Mariko a little sheepishly, "we just ran outside."

Slapping her forehead in exasperation, Rei growled out, "And you call me stupid! What if he hadn't lost his pistol and had shot me with it? What the hell were you planning on doing then?"

As Mariko walked into the room, Kenichi following behind her, she said, "Um, get caught I guess. Look, remember what I told you earlier? We aren't splitting up. Period. So you just remember that and don't plan on loosing any fights or playing the martyr."

Rei could only sputter in indignation. "You, you, you..." she growled in frustration before throwing her hands into the air and stalking into her room.

"I think you pissed her off," commented Kenichi.

"Probably, but I meant what I said. We're not splitting up and I'll be damned if she plays martyr and gets killed or drug back to Kagura while we run off," Mariko replied testily.

"Hey, hey," Kenichi said as he raised his hands in gesture of surrender, "don't shoot the messenger. I agree with you, but you have to see her side too you know. You're the only family she has left and you know how protective of you she is, hell you're the same way with her."

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. It's just, it's one thing to have her go out on an operation and not be there. I don't like it, but it's what she does so I deal, but when she's fighting for her life, our lives, just a few meters away it's hard. Dammit, if anything ever happened to her..." Mariko trailed off as she turned away from Kenichi towards the room's windows.

Kenichi walked up and hugged her from behind. "I know, I know," he soothed.

"Get a room," called Rei from the doorway to her room carrying her suitcase and with the agent's pistol stuffed in her pants.

"We have one," Mariko remarked dryly.

"Not anymore. We leave. Now." replied Rei in a tone that accepted no argument.

"Yeah, I guess we'd better. Speaking of that how did he find out where we were staying?" wondered Mariko.

"He didn't," explained Kenichi. "He picked me up as I left from meeting with the second contact on my list. It seems like Kagura knew more of my network here than we thought."

"Well, shit. There's that plan shot to hell, and to top it off we still need to find a fixer and set up our new identities. So, now what?"

"First, we move to a new location just in case happy boy here," said Rei, as she nudged the agent with her foot, "compromised this one."

"And then?" asked Mariko.

"I don't know, you two are the brains of this outfit, remember."

"Ah, yeah. Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you angry, but I meant what I said before, we're not splitting up. You and Kenichi are all I have, hell I don't even have my career anymore, you two are all I have. And you getting yourself killed, so I can run away is not something I plan on doing, ever. Ok?"

"You're a pain in the ass sometimes, you know?"

"Yeah, well so are you. Must be a family trait," Mariko finished with a grin.

"Idiot," grumbled Rei, before she broke into a wan smile and wrapped Mariko and Kenichi in a hug.

After holding the hug for a while, "Ok, enough mushy bonding time," said Rei, breaking the hug. Rei gestured to Mariko and Kenichi's belongings, "Hurry up and pack so we can get out of here. There's no telling if the lump over there called in backup, or has a tracer on him, or what. So we need to be gone, and soon."

"Good idea. Also, before I was picked up, I did find out how to contact a fixer who should be able to get us new SINs and everything else we need," added Kenichi.

"Great! Once you two are packed, we'll head someplace where you can make arrangements for us to see them. Now, hurry up and pack while I store sleeping beauty here."

"Your wish is our command," replied Kenichi with a chuckle as he began helping Mariko with packing.

"Yeah, yeah," protested Rei, chuckling to herself.

While Mariko and Kenichi were throwing their belongings into their travel bags, Rei picked the agent up and, after searching him for anything useful, stowed him in the closet in her room. Less than five minutes later the rooms were empty, save for one unconscious occupant.

[Hong Kong :: A restaurant somewhere in Kowloon (the next day)]

/** Dialogs change to English, with a bit of Nihongo flavoring **/

For the meeting with the fixer, they had decided to use the names that they were planning to assume for their new identities, rather than their real names. After all, if the fixer didn't know their real names they'd all be safer that way. Kenichi and Mariko had decided to go with Tongou Yuuzo and Rika. Rei had decided upon Hayashibara Kei.

As they neared the place where Kenichi had arranged the meeting with the fixer, Kei checked her appearance one last time to make sure that everything was in order. She was dressed in one of the two formal outfits that she had brought with her, a fancy white shirt with long sleeves that ended in flared, ruffled cuffs, a dusty grey sleeveless bodysuit cut to just under her breasts in the front, dusty grey gloves, and short dusty grey boots. In contrast, Yuuzo and Rika were wearing somewhat standard his and hers corporate business suits.

Yuuzo lead them to the fixer's "office", which was actually just a semi-private booth in a reasonably nice restaurant.

Kei wasn't sure what she should have expected to see, but she guessed that had she known it wouldn't have matched the scene before her. As they approached the booth, she saw a beautiful oriental woman, who was seated, and an equally attractive western-looking woman, who was standing near the booth. The oriental was dressed in a white long-sleeved jacket, white loose fitting trousers, and a sea-foam green cheongsan with silver trim and sash. The westerner was dressed in a simple black bodysuit and an ankle-length black coat. As the trio approached, the oriental produced a cigarette and lit it with the polished motion of long practice.

Ignoring the westerner, Yuuzo addressed the oriental seated in the booth. "Ms. Li Ling Ling?" he began, sketching her a small bow. "These are my companions, my wife Rika and my sister-in-law Kei."

"Good evening, Mr. Shimazu." Ling Ling nodded to Yuuzo, Rika, and Kei, before indicating the westerner standing next to her. "This is my associate, Ms. Marta Nys."

Although, Yuuzo and Rika seemed oblivious to the name, Kei's eyes flicked towards Marta in recognition. While not nearly as well known, in general, as her infamous telekinetic sister, Marta Nys was still a name that you likely knew, if you happened to travel in the "right" circles. (Hmm, I would have thought that she'd be more imposing. Then again, who am I to talk, I think I'm shorter than she is,) mulled Kei. (Hmm. I wonder how fast she really is... Be interesting to spar with her I'd bet. No, best not to think of things like that, I mean how do ask a complete stranger that you've just met and is the bodyguard of the fixer you need help from something like that,) she pondered. (I can just see it now, in my best sing-song voice, "Hi, my name's Kei! When these three are done talking business, you want to go someplace and spar? You know, kick the shit out of each other for fun. Wouldn't that be cool!" Oh yeah, that would go over real well. Kei no baka,) she thought, chuckling softly to herself. She stopped chuckling almost immediately, however, as she realized two things. Firstly, Marta had turned her head towards her and was now staring at her with a hard glint in her eyes. Secondly, the other three were now also looking at her with expressions that ranged from puzzlement to annoyance.

"Sorry, I was, um... What I mean to say is, that I, uh..." fumbled Kei, looking extremely abashed. At a loss for words, she dropped into a deep bow. Focusing her thoughts, Kei banished her embarrassment to the back of mind and continued. "Gomen! Gomennasai!" she said, quietly yet forcefully. "I meant no offense nor insult. I was merely struck by a passing thought and did not think to contain my amusement. It was directed wholly at myself Nys-san, not you. Please accept my humble apologies for my thoughtlessness and the misunderstanding," Kei finished, holding her shame induced bow.

Everyone else had turned their attention to Marta, interested in what she would do.

For her part, Marta slowly relaxed and then motioned to the booth with one hand. "Perhaps it would be best if you were seated. Ms. Li cannot afford to have her time wasted."

"Yes. Perhaps it would be best if you were to be seated..." Rika said sweetly.

Having heard the implied, "and be quiet", in her sister's voice, Kei rose from her bow and gestured for Rika and Yuuzo to be seated while she took up a position next to them. "That's alright, I'll stand."

Kei turned towards Ling Ling. "My apologies, Ms. Li, for wasting some of your obviously valuable time. There will not be another incident," she said with all sincerity, sketching a bow.

Ling Ling nodded her head at Kei in acknowledgement. Turning to Rika and Yuuzo, "Now, let's get down to business, shall we. What can I do for you?"

"As you may recall from our conversation, we need new identities. Specifically, we have left the employ of a corporation that is more than likely not happy that we have done so. They will, undoubtedly, be looking for us and we need to avoid them," said Yuuzo. "In short, we need to die and be reborn, so to speak."

"What you require is certainly possible. It is not, however, inexpensive," Ling Ling replied, taking a draw on her cigarette.

"Yes. About that. Given what you know so far, how much capital do you estimate would be required for such services?"

Ling Ling typed for a few moments on a PDA before passing it over to Yuuzo.

"I... see. I feared as much," said Yuuzo, reviewing the numbers on the PDA.

Rika's eyes went wide and Kei barely suppressed a whistle as they looked over at the contents of the PDA's screen.

"Would it be possible to, in lieu of the full monetary amount, provide services of equal value in payment?" queried Yuuzo, handing the PDA back to Ling Ling.

"Something could be worked out. What kind of 'services' did you have in mind?"

"We could provide information of a 'sensitive' nature on the corporation that I mentioned before. Such information could, undoubtedly, be brokered to any number of interested parties."

"That is a possibility. The worth of such information is, usually, highly speculative, however. Factors such as accuracy, depth, and relevancy to the buyer can vary the going rate tremendously."

"Ah, yes. That is something that we will have to deal with at that juncture, I suppose."

"Anything else?"

Yuuzo could only think of one other thing they had that was worth anything, at the moment. He wasn't about to make that decision without consulting Rika and Kei, however. He glanced over at Rika, posing a silent question that he hoped she'd understand.

Rika, who knew what he was asking, shook her head slightly in the negative.

"Unfortunately, it seems..." began Yuuzo, before being interrupted by Kei.

Kei cleared her throat. "There is one other thing, that we have to offer." Feeling Rika's eyes upon her she glanced over at her sister.

Rika shook her head slowly, silently pleading with Kei not to say what Rika knew she was planning to.

"Sorry, sis," Kei mouthed quietly.

Taking in the scene unfolding before her, Ling Ling merely sat quietly and smoked her cigarette.

Kei turned back to Ling Ling. "As I was saying, there is one other thing we have to offer that could make you a profit," she finished, waiting for the inevitable question.

Realizing she was being baited, Ling Ling decided to bite. "Really now. That would be what?"

"My services."

Realizing that Kei was intentionally stringing this out, Ling Ling didn't know whether to be amused or annoyed. She finally settled on amused and decided to play Kei's game, for a little longer anyway. "Your services... What might those be?"

"I used to work for the corporation as an operative. A corporate sam, if you will."

"I see."

"I'm sure you could easily broker my services. Proceeds would go to covering our needs."

Ling Ling sat motionless, thoughtfully smoking her cigarette, a haze of smoke surrounding her head. "I will see what I can do," she finally responded. "Do you have any form of references?"

Kei thought for a moment. "Not really. I haven't been a freelancer long enough to have a reputation that you could check on, and I don't know anyone who could vouch for me. Well, no one that you'd be safe contacting, or that I'd want you to anyway," she finished with a grin. "However, I'm sure we can think of something else. What about a demonstration? I could do a freebie for you or something."

"That might be possible. Should it prove to be, it would only answer the question of capability, however. There is still the question of reliability."

"True, but there's nothing I can do for you about that. Like I said, I don't have a reputation yet, for trustworthiness or otherwise, and it's not like you're just going to trust my pretty face. Besides, once we have my capability nailed down, I'm sure you could find something for someone in my position. And it's not like I'd be stupid enough to cross you, even if I was inclined to, which I'm not, as we need your help. I've never claimed to be a genius, but everyone knows you don't hurt the goose that lays the golden eggs."

Ling Ling gave a slight shrug. "In my line of business have found that one should never assume people to act logically and not do the 'stupid thing'." She paused and exhaled a could of smoke. "However, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I will see what I can do."

"Fair enough. I can't ask for more than that, I guess."

"That aside, is there anything else that you need from me?"

"Um. Yes, actually. We're going to need someplace to live here, while I'm doing the sam-for-hire bit to pay you. Hotels are too expensive to live in long term, so we need an apartment or something similar. We don't have our new SINs yet, so we either need someplace that we can rent without needing ID, or someplace that can be persuaded to overlook that fact. Do you know of anyplace like that? Suitable for a couple of married corporate suits and their watchdog sister, of course."

Ling Ling pondered for a minute. "You might wish to try the Mandarin Towers, in Victoria. It should suit your needs for anonymity."

"Great, thanks. Um, I guess that's everything," Kei said, glancing at her companions, "unless either of you can think of something I didn't?"

Rika, who seemed to be brooding, simply shook her head.

"I think that should cover it." replied Yuuzo. "Concerning the information we spoke of before, we should be able to have a document ready for you within a few days. Would that be acceptable?"


"Good. We will contact you then to arrange for delivery. We will also let you know how to get in contact with us should you need to."

"Very well. If there is nothing else?"

"No. I believe that we have covered everything."

"Then I will take my leave," with that Ling Ling slid from the booth and joined Marta.

Sketching a small bow, which was mirrored by Rika and Kei, Yuuzo replied, "Thank you for your time Ms. Li."

Inclining her head to acknowledge the gesture, Ling Ling turned and left the restaurant, escorted by Marta.

/** Dialogs change to Japanese **/

"Well, that wasn't too bad," said Kei, continuing in a mutter, "even after I put my foot in it." Putting a hand to her stomach, "So, who's hungry? I'm starved, and since we're here and all."

"You, are always hungry," remarked Yuuzo dryly.

"I can't help it if my superior physique requires more calories than you effete types," Kei said with a smirk. "Besides, don't you know you're not supposed to talk about a woman's eating habits. Tell him Ma... uh, Rika."

"Why? Why did you have to offer yourself up like that?" Rika asked. "You didn't have to. We could have found another way," she finished in a quiet voice.

Having expected this from her sister at some point, Kei was unphased by the non sequitur. "Could we have? What other options do we have?" she asked in an exasperated tone. "Look, we've gone over this before. You don't like the dangerous things I do, and I'd die from boredom if I didn't do them."

"But you don't have to go looking for trouble!" interjected Rika.

Kei dropped her head and released a long sigh. Looking back up, she continued, "Ok, sure True enough, I'd be safer if I didn't, but I could get killed by getting caught in some gang war leaving this place. The world is a dangerous place now a days Rika, and I suggest that you get used to it."

"There's a difference between getting killed accidentally and going looking for it," Rika replied testily.

"Dead, is still dead. Last I checked anyway," Kei replied flippantly. "I don't go looking for trouble, alright. Trust me. I'm not suicidal. It's just, I'm not like you, you know? I need something more than what you and... uh, Yuuzo are happy with. You know that. Why do we have to keep going over the same ground again and again?"

"Because I don't want to loose you."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"But..." began Rika.

"No buts," interrupted Kei. "I know you worry, but I'm not out to get myself hurt. I do take precautions when I do dangerous stuff. So, please trust me... please. I have to live my life as I see fit. Ok?"

Seeing that she wasn't going to win this argument, again, Rika retreated for the time being. "Alright, fine. I don't have to like it though."

"Never said you did, and look at it this way, at least one of us is sane," Kei replied with a grin.

Rika chucked, despite herself. "Twit."

Stilling grinning, Kei replied, "You know you wouldn't love me so much if I was boring like you."

"I am not boring. Am I, Yuuzo?"

Yuuzo, who had long since picked up a menu, was pretending to be very interested in it. "I think the duck course sounds good. What do you two think?"

"Coward," noted Rika, as she punched him playfully in the arm.

"When caught between the two of you, my dear? Always," Yuuzo added matter-of-factly.

Laughing at the scene before her, Kei slipped into the booth and grabbed a menu. "I don't care what we eat. Let's just get on with it, before I waste away," she said, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

[Hong Kong :: Mandarin Towers (the next day)]

{Mandarins, and Towers, and blue-butts... Oh my!}

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