By Bernardo Sanguinetti, Max Fauth, Rob Rutherford, and Michael Surbrook
(Early 2034)

At 10 AM precisely, Jeremy was awakened by the soft female voice of his alarm clock. "Wake up sir, you have an interview at 11 AM," it repeated. He knew it as the voice of his virtual servant he'd programmed a long time ago. It was a reliable system that coordinated the housekeepers and other staff, as well as keeping him aware of his timetable.

He easily slipped into his morning routine. First up was ten minutes of stretches, followed by a sharp, cold shower to wake him properly. He then picked out a nice suit for the day, before heading downstairs for breakfast, prepared as always by one of the maids that had raised him.

By the time he was finished, it was already 11 AM. He knew he would be late for the morning's interview, but didn't particularly care; after all, the applicant for his personal bodyguard could wait for him. He strolled to the garage and picked out one of his favourite cars, the Jinsei Kage. Within a minute he sped out of the mansion grounds, and could already see Harrison's car following him. As always, he made an effort to lose his guardian, but was outdone by the man's driving skills.

Twenty minutes later, he arrived at the Biotrack building. He made straight for his own office, greeting those he saw on his way. He pulled up at his secretary's desk and she stood, smiling pleasantly.

"Good morning sir," she said. "Kami already awaits you."

She watched as Jeremy stepped up to his office door, then turned back to her. "Janeth, tell me one thing. Were the invitations sent on time?" he asked.

"Yes sir," she replied. "All were delivered a week ago, and everything is confirmed for tomorrow. We don't expect any problems."

"Excellent." Jeremy smiled and opened the door. "Now to the interview."

Inside waited a very attractive young woman. She fitted his profile perfectly; a young, cute and skilled bodyguard to keep him safe where Harrison wouldn't be able to. According to her resume, she was a street sam well seasoned in business within the Zone. Jeremy wondered how she would handle herself in the big city.

Kami stood as he entered the room. "Mr Luckhestein, it's a pleasure to meet you," she said in a soft yet confident voice. She reached out a gloved hand to him.

Jeremy shook her hand and offered her a seat. "Would you like anything to drink?" he asked as he placed some papers on the desk.

Kami had a seat and crossed her legs. "I'm fine thank you."

He made his way to his drinks cabinet while looking over the young woman. He took in her grey designer silk skirt and matching boots and gloves. "So tell me," he began, while preparing a drink, "Why do you want this job?"

"I've just moved out of the Zone, and with the recent hand over to Jinsei, it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to find work there. Also I believe that there will be significant opportunities available working for a company like yours that I might not be able to find elsewhere." She paused, waiting for his response.

He came to his desk and sat, then glanced through over her file. "You are very well qualified for this job," he said. "Where did you learn all this?"

"I learned my trade as an assistant to another street sam." She paused, and added "And in case you're wondering I'm not a runaway from a corporate black ops team."

He nodded. "That's good to know. I'd hate to have a group running for you." He paused, then asked "Do you know how to operate computers?"

She nodded. "If you mean log on, write spreadsheets and reports, then yes. If you want an administrator or a systems hacker, then no."

"Hmm, okay... And what about sneaking inside a laboratory and stealing info?"

The question took Kami by surprise. She knew Gem and Korey had run similar operations, and that she was at least as capable as Gem in that field. "That would entirely depend on the lab. In addition to my combat experience, have extensive people and social skills. In short, in the Zone there are few computerized alarm and surveillance systems."

"Interesting. When time comes I will make sure you will do fine, but before I forget, tomorrow is the inauguration party for my company and I want you there, at my mansion"

"How do you want me to attend?"

"It is a very formal party for high society so I expect you to come properly dressed"

"Of course, we can discuss the details later." Kami quickly got the idea. "When will I be meeting the others involved?"

"Tomorrow at the party you will meet your co-workers." He smiled. "Don't worry, relax. You got the job."

"Very good. Now about my fees."

"It is all inside this envelope; the contract and details. Please read it carefully." He smiled as he handed her a plain envelope

"Thank you very much." Kami smiled graciously.

As she went over the papers, he turned his attention to the computer. He checked over a few notes, then asked "What do you think of the salary?"

"Looks about right, but there a few issues." Kami looked Jeremy in the eye. "You don't look like the kind of person that this will be an issue with, but if you start picking fights my price goes up really fast. I'm here to work as your bodyguard, not a rent-a-thug, if you get my meaning." Kami's eyes had an icy calm about them.

"Yeah, you are right." He smiled and took his glasses off. "You won't have much work to do, just protect me"

"That the idea. I always make the terms of my employment clear up front."

"At least you are honest. I will enjoy having you in my company,"

"Thank you. If I weren't honest I wouldn't be much of a professional now, would I?"

"Yes. Well, here is the invitation for the party. You are not supposed to start tomorrow, okay?"

"Sounds good to me." Kami smirked to herself thinking that if something did happen tomorrow at the party there might not be a job later. "Should I bring a date?"

"Yes, you can if you want. I just don't want that your date start a fight, okay?"

"I wouldn't worry about that, unless you can think of a reason why my date would want to start a fight?" Kami leaned forward a bit.

"Who is your date by the way?"

"Mr. Luckhestein, you weren't perhaps looking for an unattached beautiful bodyguard were you?"

"I don't think so, I just want to know if your date is anyone famous."

Kami chuckled to herself. "No need to worry about that. Do you think an upwardly mobile member of the Yakuza would be a problem?"

"Ahh, relax you can bring him."

Kami laughed. "Don't worry I never actually went out with any of the Yakuza. And if you're wondering I was never actually interested in working for them. But being known as the Yakuza assassin of assassins does wonders for your rep."

"I see you have a very interesting life and even better connections. Don't you?"

"Yes I have, but I also know better than to make deals with devils and mobsters."

"I see, well you are probably going to see people that you already worked for." He paused, then asked "Know anything about Shion?"

"Other than what everybody else knows? Not really. Why do you ask?"

"Because I am quite new in the city and I am a curious guy. That is what moves scientists, don't you think so?"

"Certainly. The Empress is not somebody to be dealt with lightly. Just remember she is the Empress and she can blast you into a pile of goo any time she wants."

"She won't do that," he said, smiling gently

"Whether she does or doesn't is entirely up to her. If you remember that when dealing with her, you're probably going to do alright."

He laughed a bit. "Dealing with people is my specialty, so you just relax and be there tomorrow. Okay?"

"I'll be there. Will the Empress be there as well?"

"Well, I've sent her the invitation."

"Okay." Kami seemed very amused at the idea .

"Why that face?"

"Its just I've seen her more times than I can remember in the Zone. I'm wondering if I will even look familiar to her."

"And if that happens?"

"I will certainly be shocked."

"So you'd better not stay near her," he said with a smile.

"Whether or not I look familiar to her is not a serious issue. It's only a matter of my personal amusement."

"Why would you be amused?"

"Simple. Because in the Zone I was wasn't a player in the corporate world. I was beneath her notice. But here I am." Kami's ambition was beginning to show through.

"That is interesting. You have future, just don't ruin yourself."

"Thank you for your concern."

"Just be a loyal bodyguard, okay?"

"That's no problem."

"Good, so I have a new bodyguard then." He smiled happily

"An I have a job outside the Zone," Kami mused.

"Congratulations." He extended his hand for her

Kami reached out a gloved hand and shook his hand.

"Darling, I'm home!" Kami called out as she walked in the door. Then pausing under her breath, she added "That was so awful."

She looked out over the apartment Aoi had found. It centered around a very spacious main room, with a glass doors out to the balcony on two sides. To her right by the door was a small kitchen; to her left were Keiko and April's bedrooms, as well as their study and bathroom. Just by the kitchen was a set of stairs leading up to the loft that overlooked the main room, along with her and Aoi's private rooms.

Aoi looked up from the kitchen, smiling ruefully at Kami. "I never thought I'd hear that," she muttered to herself, shaking her head.

Kami sniggered to herself, glad that she'd gotten a reaction out of her. "Well, I got the job. It doesn't pay much, but its okay." She walked over to Aoi and gave her a big hug.

Aoi returned the hug, almost giggling to herself. "Of course, now we're both working and the kids have the house to herself."

"The kids?" Kami muttered, remembering Aoi's term for April and Keiko. She wasn't sure but she thought that Keiko was actually older than herself. "Anyway I have good news."

Aoi broke away from her and turned back to the kitchen. "Go ahead. I'll be with you in a second—I'm busy ruining some cheap muffin mix."

Looking around her, Kami could see the truth in her words. An empty milk bottle was tipped over on the bench, with a small spill mixing with some unidentifiable powders. The sink was cluttered with a number of unwashed trays and utensils. She quickly became aware of a burning smell from the oven.

"Have you been taking cooking lessons from Korey?" She seemed to have forgotten what she came in to tell Aoi.

"Naw..." Aoi said as she opened the oven and produced a tray of crispy black lumps. "I figured the packet's instructions couldn't be that hard." She set the tray down on the bench and gestured around her. "So much for that."

Kami turned on the vent above the oven, "Want me to make something?"

Aoi shook her head. "It was more about practice than the muffins, fortunately."

"Well, I'm really good at making one thing." Kami kissed Aoi on the back of her neck.

She turned around and gently pushed Kami away. "Now, you had some good news?"

"Well, not only did I get the job, but I was invited to a company party tomorrow." Kami flashed her invitation.

Aoi gave a low whistle and looked over the invite. "And guest," she read off quietly.

"Exactly." Kami gave Aoi a wicked smile.

"I get it," she replied with a nod. "Well, I hope dinner's included," she added.

Kami looked over her invitation, "It's a formal party with snacks.".

"Formal... Damn. I suppose my loose suit wouldn't cut it?"

"Well, you can either borrow one of my evening gowns or we can go shopping tomorrow." Kami smiled wickedly.

"Nothing you have would fit me, sorry."

Kami snickered, "Some of them would, they're stretch fit." She smiled, remembering some of the gowns Silver had for dancing at the Underground.

Aoi laughed to herself. "Anyway, I think it's high time I had more than one dress."

Kami giggled, "You mean you don't want to borrow the dress I was wearing when we first met?"

"Let's say that I doubt it's suitable for the occasion."

"Quite true, but I'm not sure that my boss would object to it." Kami eyed Aoi

"Maybe you should wear it then," she said coldly. Without looking, she upended the tray and dumped the muffins in the trash bin.

"I might but don't want him to get the wrong idea about me. Besides, shopping for a dresses would be fun."

"I'll go with what you recommend," she replied and instantly regretted it.

"Mmmmm," Kami purred.

"Oh, dear..." she muttered.

"Of course it will be supremely tasteful." Kami announced.

She spared Kami a blank look, then made her way out of the kitchen. "Guess we can make a night of it," she said, heading the stairs to their bedroom.

"Just a sec." Kami grabbed the whip cream, chocolate syrup, and strawberries out of the fridge.

"I was going for my wallet," Aoi said in a low tone.

"Oh." Kami actually blushed as she began slowly putting the food away. "There better be some left when we get back."

Aoi sighed and rolled her eyes. "Kids! We're going out for dinner!" she called out.

Feeling relaxed and unhurried for once, Shion Nys lounged on the couch in her spacious living room, slowing reading over a letter that had arrived in the day's mail. It was a physical letter, printed on paper, and this was sufficiently unusual to attract her attention, even if for just a moment. It was even handwritten, on costly gilded paper and carried the faint scent of what Shion knew full well to be a fairly expensive French perfume.

Contrary to appearances, it wasn't a love letter—it wasn't even poetry. It was an invitation to attend the "welcome to Neo York" party of the Biotrack Corporation. Shion figured most of the major movers-and-shakers in the area had received just such a letter. As such, it would probably be a good idea to attend, if only to see and be seen. The invitation even allowed her to bring an unspecified companion of her choosing, which certainly was food for thought.

Folding the letter and placing it back in the envelope, Shion stood and made for the phone. Aoi had made an excellent assistant when they'd worked together before, and in an environment like that of the party, a second set of eyes and ears would be invaluable.

"Alright, alright," Aoi muttered to herself as her phone rang for the third time. She dumped the new dresser on the stairs, paused only to give it a slight push to keep it in place, then quickly made her way down to the living room. She cursed under her breath as she fumbled through her discarded jacket and finally pulled out her ringing phone. She made a quick mental note to make sure she had a line installed upstairs before receiving the call.


"Good afternoon, Aoi." The voice had the unmistakable and slightly husky tone of Shion, her one time employer. "Are you free for a short-term contract?"

She looked back up at the precariously balanced dresser. With her cybernetically enhanced strength, it was easy enough to lift it on her own. That still didn't make her task easy, since she had to maneuver it around the corners and up the stairs of her new home. Anything's better than this, she thought to herself. "Certainly," she eventually replied. "What's the job?"

"Short term escort duty. I'll be attending the opening of the Biotrack Corporation and require an assistant."

Aoi blinked in surprise. "What... Like a party?" she asked.

There was a pause. "Yes," Shion replied. "I presume you could call it that. There will be quite a few people there, most of them high-ranking corporate executives. I'd like you there as a bodyguard, valet, and personal assistant. Interested?"

"Definitely!" She couldn't help but smile. First a party with Eve, now with Shion. And she'd be paid for it. "When abouts is it?" She gave a thought to her minimalist wardrobe and hastily added "And what should I wear?"

There was another pause. Aoi bet Shion was mentally reviewing what she knew of Aoi's clothing. "We'll get you something."

Figures, she thought. Shion would never regard her wardrobe as being up to scratch. The fact that she would be right was beside the point. "So when do you need me for this?" she asked.


"Ah." She looked up at the dresser once more. It would take a bit of explaining, but she was pretty confident about leaving it there. If nothing else, it would stop the kids from going through her room. "I'll be over right away," she said and hung up. She snatched up her wallet and keys and made for the door.

Kami did her best to stay still as the tailor scurried around her. For the millionth time, she looked at the empty seat by her bag, wishing Aoi had joined her. But for now she was alone, being fitted out for dress for tonight's party. Her thoughts were interrupted by her phone's distinctive ring. She quickly excused herself from the tailor.

Taking up the phone, she checked the caller ID. Aoi. Perfect. "Hiya," she said eagerly.

"Uh, hey...." she answered in an apprehensive voice.

"You sound nervous. Are you wussing out?"

"Not wussing," she replied. "It's work I'm afraid."

Kami sighed. "I could guess as much. Is your boss jealous?"

She heard a slight giggle on the other end. "Hardly. She needs me along for some big event. Mostly to show off, I'll bet."

"No offense, but I thought you weren't her type."

"That's not what I mean," she replied. "It's... Oh, never mind."

Kami sighed, "Sorry, I was just kinda hoping to go with you."

"Trust me, I'm not happy about it either," she replied.

"I hope this doesn't become a regular occasion." Aoi's only response was a sigh. "I know. Would you have a problem with me finding another date for the party?"

There was a brief pause, before she replied "Sure. I understand."

Kami paused for a moment, "Don't worry, I'm not going to take Miki."

She sniggered to herself. "Don't worry about it."

But who am I going to take, she thought. "Hrmm" she muttered.

"Sorry to drop this on you at the last minute," Aoi said.

"Thanks." Kami seemed a bit down.

"I'll make it up to you. I promise."

"I'm sure you will." Kami remembered the night in the hotel room.

"So..." Aoi began, dreading the answer. "Um, who are you going to ask out?"

"I'm thinking about it." Kami murmured, "Korey perhaps?"

Kami heard Aoi chuckle to herself. "That'll go well," she said. "Anyway, I'd better get moving... Boss says none of my outfits are good enough."

"How about I help you pick something out?"

"I wish," she replied. "I've got a lot still to do besides."

"We could meet at Neimans?"

There was a long pause on the other end, before Aoi finally replied "I've got to go."

"All right." Kami muttered, "I'll see you after the party."

"Yeah... See you," Aoi replied slowly, then hung up.

Kami was planning on getting a dress with Aoi, now things changed. Kami then had an evil thought, she knew just the person to call, and she knew that she had an outfit for it.

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