By Jamie Jeans and Max Fauth

(January 17th, 2034)

"About what time will they be arriving?" asked Ray.

Korey lounged back in her office chair, hands interlaced behind her back. "In a few more minutes, the both of them. Spycorp is nothing if not prompt."

"And Aoi?"

"Reliable, she will show up."

Ray stood up from where he had been sitting on the couch, strolled over to the large desk at which Korey sat, and picked up the printed out e-mail. It had come in the previous night, and read simply:

Korey Winters,

There is an item of interest to us and to Jinsei, which has been lost in the Zero Zone and is currently being sought out by them. It is not known what is in the container, but seeing as it was in a Jinsei Aerodyne when it went down, there is no doubt that it is of great importance to them. It must be sought out and retrieved at once. A colleague of yours, one Miss Aoi, formerly known as Gem, has accepted the job offer. If you wish to as well, please reply and we shall meet tomorrow at your residence to discuss further details.


He put the e-mail down and sat back down on the couch. "What do you think of all this?"

Korey leaned forward, picking up the e-mail and glancing over it. "I believe that this job will be a very dangerous one, even with your help, and that time and the territory involved will work against us."

"Then why accept the job?"

"The money never hurts, that is for certain. And then there is the challenge of it all, and..." She trailed off into silence, caught up in thought.


"And perhaps to take another shot at Jinsei, as a protest of their actions."

"And the jobs we took before, they were not protests of Jinsei's actions?" asked Ray thoughtfully.

This brought Korey to a pause in her thoughts, and she looked at him. "That was... a tad unexpected."

Ray lifted up one of many books spread about the coffee table. "Philosophy. It entangles the mind like I did not think it would."

Korey smiled warmly, and stood up as a knock came to the door. "That must be our guests now."

As soon as she opened the door, Aoi stepped in and wrapped her up in a hug. "Korey! So good to see you again!" She said as she pulled back.

"And a pleasure to see you doing well yourself," said Korey. "You remember Ray, yes?" She motioned to the esper, whom nodded in greeting. "Good to see you once more," he said.

She nodded to Ray. "It sure has been a while."

"Please, take a seat while we wait for the last member of this job to arrive," said Korey, sitting down at her office chair.

"Would you prefer something to drink or eat?" asked Ray.

"Sure! I..." She glanced over at Korey, looking slightly ashamed. "I mean, I'm fine. Thank you."

"Tea?" asked Ray.

"Tell me, how is... life with Kami?" asked Korey. "We have not talked since the party."

"Thanks," she said to Ray. She then turned to Korey. "It's good... It took a lot of getting used to, especially with April and Keiko there."

"I can only imagine," said Korey, smiling warmly. She was about to say more, when a knock came to the door. "Ah, that must be him now. Ray?"

Coming out of the kitchen, Ray passed a cup of tea to both Korey and Aoi telekinetically, and opened the door with a wave of his hand. Standing in the doorway, his hand still rose as to give another knock, the man was dressed in a nice black suit, shoes, and wore a pair of glasses.

"Ah, Ray, the esper," he said, stepping inside. "And Aoi, and Korey Winters, a pleasure to meet you all."

"And you must be from Spycorp," said Korey. "Please, have a seat. Would you like something to drink?"

He shook his head. "No thank you."

"I'll never get used to that," Aoi muttered under her breath.

"Very well, then. To Business..."

Ray floated in a cup of tea from the kitchen to his hands, and sipped slowly while the man in black began to talk. "Some time ago, during the first few days of the invasion of the Zero, a Jinsei Aerodyne carrying a very important case was shot down over the wastelands. Spycorp is still not sure exactly what was in that case, but it was important enough to warrant a special group headed up by some of the most experienced members of Jinsei's Wolf Brigade to be sent in after it."

Aoi gave a low whistle, but otherwise waited.

"Which would mean time is of the essence," said Korey, to which the man in black nodded.

"Indeed. They already have a few days ahead of you, but have been, according to our latest reports, been bogged down due to the continued fighting between Jinsei forces and the Zero Zone residents. This job is risky, as you all no doubt know, but well worth the time and effort."

"Do we have a precise location?"

The man in black nodded in Aoi's direction. "Yes, the transceiver on the aerodyne is still operational, and we know its' frequency. However, there is no guarantee that the case is still there. Being from the Zone yourself, Aoi, you know how proficient the scavengers can be."

"Do I ever" She replied, nodding.

"Then this may turn out to be a needle in a haystack style of search," observed Ray.

"Indeed. Else they would not be offering to pay us so handsomely." Korey put her cup of tea down. "We have worked together before, you know my policy."

The man in black nodded, and produced from his pockets a neat packet of dollar bills, placing it on her desk. "One hundred thousand. Half now, half on delivery."

"Sounds good to me," Aoi added.

"Indeed. We will accept this job," said Korey, standing up, and walking over to offer the man her hand to shake. "You will hear from us once the we have completed this business in the zone."

He nodded and, with a friendly nod to them all, turned and left.

The beat up old car, a cruise wagon from the early nineties, pulled up to a stop on the shore side park, one of the very few remaining in all of Neo York. As a park, it wasn't much, consisting of a couple of wooden benches, a stretch of grass with a four foot tall brick and concrete barrier between it and the sudden drop off, and two garbage cans. But as a place to disembark, it served the three people's purposes.

Exiting the driver's side, Korey went around to the back, opening the trunk and pulling out a number of weapons. She was dressed for combat in a simple black body suit; steel toed combat boots, and a dual shoulder holster. She slapped in two handguns, a Duen with a laser sight attached under the barrel and a Kuan-Ti, and pulled on an assault rifle, the classic AK-47, on a strap. Into the shoulder holsters were places for magazines and one or two grenades, all of which she filled.

Ray followed suit, pulling on a backpack with a radio in it, as well as two large grenade launchers, with special grenades made for punching through the armour of anything that Jinsei could be carrying.

Aoi slid out of the back, checking over her equipment. Her pistol was secured in its hip holster and she felt the spare clips on the leg of her combat suit. A large combat knife sat at her backside. From the trunk she pulled a large assault rifle with under slung grenade launcher and a sophisticated scope.

"Ready to go?" asked Korey as she and Ray began the final checks on their equipment and weapons.

"I guess so," she replied.

"A penny for your thoughts," said Korey.

"Huh?" Aoi glanced around her. "Oh, sorry. Just thinking about Kami."

"Ahh." Korey slammed home a fresh clip into her Kuan-Ti before holstering it. "Would you care to talk about it?"

"I'm just worried, that's all." She shook her head. "She's on this business trip and all, well..."

"And you are concerned over her lack of inhibitions, yes?"

Aoi nodded as she checked over the grenade launcher. "Putting it bluntly, yeah."

Loading up the Duen next, Korey was silent for a few moments. "And have you talked with Kami about your concerns?"

"Uh... We didn't really get the chance before she left," Aoi replied, blushing slightly.

Ray watched the two silently out of the corner of his eye, interested but not wanting to butt in. "Ah, I see," said Korey. "Then perhaps you should tell her when she returns home. If she knows, then perhaps you would have less to worry about?" She smiled warmly at the younger woman. "After all, maybe all Kami needs to know are your concerns."

She nodded. "I mean, we've discussed it before, but not when she left."

Korey nodded, and holstered the Duen. "After we have returned from this mission, I will let you use my phone, so you can get in touch with her. You could even tell her your concerns if you so wish."

"Thanks, but... Well, she's meant to be undercover, and I don't want to blow it."

"Then it shall have to wait until she returns before you two may talk once more." Korey walked over to her, followed by Ray. "Ready?"

Aoi sighed. "Yep. Let's do it."

Ray wrapped his arms about the two women as much as he could, pulling them all into a rather right, intimate hug. "I am sorry to say, but this will be disorienting."

"I'm used to it by now," Aoi muttered.

Korey arched an eyebrow, and was about to ask when Ray concentrated, and they disappeared from sight.

From the moment they appeared, Korey knew they were in serious trouble. Atop the ten-story apartment building, she could see tendrils of smoke drifting up from the street even as the sound of gunfire battered them on all sides. She stepped back from Ray far enough to pull her gun, when a bullet took him in the shoulder. He cried out in pain, and the three scattered, as further shots tore up the tarmac of the roof about them. Despite the pain, Ray threw up a shield around himself, its mere presence throwing cracks along the rooftop.

Aoi was quick to follow Korey as they ducked into an open stairwell, the doorway of which had been torn away by some unknown means long ago. Bullets struck the roof around it, driving the two women down further into the building.

Seeing that they were all right, Ray stumbled back towards the edge of the roof. His telekinetic shield was more then up to the task of protecting him, but the constant ding of bullets he felt against it and the throbbing of his bleeding, broken shoulder was a distraction that he could not afford. He had to get away, take care of his wounds, and regroup with Korey and Aoi as soon as he could. The mere thought of his having to desert the woman who had saved him, and nursed him back from the brink of death left a bitter taste in his mouth.

But, as reason taught to him by Korey herself spoke in his mind, if he did not get away now and take care of himself, his concentration would falter, and, with the lack of any real cover, he would be an easy target for the invisible sniper.

"Korey, Aoi... I am sorry." He bowed his head, gathered his concentration, and teleported away, sending another web of cracks through the rooftop.

Korey tried to get a look out of the stairwell, but another rain of bullets drove her back down. Repressing the urge to curse, she shook the broken bits of rooftop out of her hair and turned to her partner. "Any injuries?"

Aoi paused a second to check over her equipment, then looked up at Korey. "Doesn't look like it. What happened out there?"

"We appeared in the middle of a gunfight, and may have been mistaken for Jinsei Special Forces," Korey mused aloud as a flurry of gunfire sent her scurrying down the stairs to rest alongside Aoi. "And with Ray injured, this mission has suddenly become ten times more difficult."

"At least we're in the right place," Aoi muttered. She kept her head low, as they started moving again. "I guess all we can do is keep going, and try to get the target anyway."

Taking the lead, Korey and Aoi made their way through the deserted hallways, past rooms that hadn't been occupied since the declaration of the Neo York Zero Zone, and others fresh with blood stains and other signs of violence, speaking silently of the fate of their latest tenants. Korey shook her head silently, and peered around the edge at a fork in the hallways before stepping forward. A low rumble from outside ran through the building, freeing dust and plaster from the ceiling in a shower upon both of the women's heads.

"I don't like this," Aoi muttered to herself. The rumble continued through the building, as Aoi could swear she felt the floor shift under her feet. "The fighting must be heavier than I thought. You don't think this building might-" She cut off, as if voicing her fear would make it come true.

Korey never wasted the breath in a yell to run, and instead bolted down the hallway, where a lone window, its glass shot out long ago, beckoned. She heard Aoi behind her, her words lost as the building started its slow fall towards the earth as a new pile of rubble. Korey's heart pounded as the collapsing floor started to catch up to the two of them, the window now only meters away, meters that seemed miles in the context of concrete, wood, and brick that was crashing down behind them.

One more step, a leap onto the ledge of the window frame, the frame itself bursting apart at her adrenaline infused strength, and then one final leap out into the air. She cried out, the roar of the collapsing building behind her drowning out any sound she could have heard from Aoi, hanging for an impossibly long time in midair, held up by nothing but her own momentum.

It was one of the few moments she would remember for the rest of her life, forever engraved in her mind...

And then it was over, and she was crashing violently through another open window, crying out in pain as her whole body protested with pain at the abrupt landing. A huge plume of dust followed in shortly after Aoi crashed in alongside her, and engulfed the two. Korey coughed and spat out dust, covering her eyes and simply waiting out the aftermath.

And to top off the pain, the excitement, the danger and the downright absurdity of the situation, Aoi beside her was curled up on the floor laughing an insane little chuckle. The younger woman looked up ashamedly at Korey, trying to calm herself down.

It took more then a moment for Korey to compose herself after that, but once she did, she got to her feet, being careful to stay away from the window, and helped Aoi to her feet. "Are you all right? Any injuries?"

Aoi shook her head, still smirking.

Putting aside the possibility that her friend and partner was an adrenaline junkie, Korey knelt down and took off her backpack. From it she pulled out a Global Positioning System and turned it on. "Here is where we are," she said, pointing to a glowing blue dot on the screen. "And here is where the Aerodyne went down," she added, pointing to a glowing red dot. "It is about three blocks from our current position, and the... collapse of the building appears to have calmed the firefight outside."

Aoi nodded, calming herself down. "Best chance to get it. Where are we meant to meet up with Ray now?"

"It depends," said Korey as she strapped the GPS to her belt and hauled on her backpack. She pulled out her Kuan-Ti and checked to ensure that the barrel had not become filled with dust. "Knowing Ray as I do, he will first take care of his wound and then rendezvous with us at the site of the downed Aerodyne."

"Then let's hope you're right," Aoi said to herself. She glanced briefly out the window, taking in the mess they'd left behind. "Now's our chance to get out of here."

"Yes, let us go." Korey started off for the stairs, with Aoi close behind her.

With a 'whump!' of displaced air and a shattering of concrete, Ray landed on the ground, several blocks North of where he had originally been, and immediately set to work on his shoulder. The pain hadn't dulled with time, but had instead increased with the sudden use of a teleport. He could almost see a haze of pain about the corners of his eyes, and it took all of his concentration to keep from blacking out. Doing so in this war torn battlefield would be akin to death.

He shrugged off his backpack and clothes, and plucked out the medical kit with one hand, keeping the other on his wound. First would be the painkillers, enough to dull the ache in his head, and then the bandages. He grunted at the throbbing of his shoulder, but gritted his teeth and continued on.

Korey hadn't let him down, and he would not let her down. It was as simple as that.

Following their escape from the collapsed building, Korey and Aoi had decided that traveling underground was the best idea, especially considering that the firefight was still underway. It was easy enough to slip out of the building and make their way into the sewers. Aoi had leaded the way from there.

And now they'd reached another sewer hatch, identical to all the others. Aoi had assured Korey however that they were close to the crash site. She had popped up top to check the area, before signaling the all clear to Korey.

Korey climbed the rungs quickly, taking her gun out as soon as she exited the sewers. Putting the lid back in place, she double-checked her GPS. "Good news, we are only a half block away from the Aerodyne."

"Figured as much," Aoi replied. She looked around, gazing briefly up at the clear sky. "It's pretty quiet out here," she muttered. "Most of the fighting's back by the bridge."

"True, but I am still thinking about the sniper who shot Ray. There may be more about, so we had best be careful." The sewer opening they had exited through had lead them between two buildings, in an alleyway with one end blocked off by a mostly intact brick wall and the other opening up onto a ragged street. Korey lead the way towards the street, and glanced carefully about the corner.

There, sitting amidst a heap of rubble, laid the broken remains of the Aerodyne. To Korey's relief, it was very much intact, and nestled up against the side of a building, the nose crunched up and dug partially into the broken pavement of the street. A ragged line, cut diagonally through the buildings to where the transport rested, told her of how the Aerodyne had landed, and what had happened to the other wing, laying in a heap on the street.

However, as she motioned for Aoi to join her, a trio of automatic gunfire drove her back down, striking up brick from the corner of the building that stung her face.

Aoi surged forwards and pressed herself against the wall next to Korey. "Can you see them?" She hissed as she slung off her assault rifle.

Wiping her face, Korey shook her head. "No, they drove me back down before I could." A second trio of shots kept her from looking, and she uttered a soft curse. "This is probably the team that was sent in by Jinsei."

Aoi cursed under her breath, adding, "Why doesn't anything go right?" She glanced out at the rubble in the street. "There's some cover out there. When they let up, I'll make a break for it, then cover you so you can move."

With a nod, Korey holstered her handgun and pulled out the AK-47, waiting for a lull in the gunfire. When it came, she turned around the corner low, and pulled the trigger, sending a barrage of bullets in a sweeping arc where she thought the shots had come from. Troops in Jinsei Wolf Brigade uniforms, minus the heavy armour, ducked down behind cover behind the Aerodyne and a couple of old abandoned cars.

Aoi took her chance and dashed into the street. She belted across the cracked pavement, hearing shots fired around her. One whizzed past her head and she dived forwards, rolling in behind a chunk of stonework, which had once been a shop wall. She immediately stuck her rifle around the corner and fired a burst in the soldiers' direction, not even bothering to aim.

With Aoi distracting them, Korey took out her Kuan-Ti, flicked on the laser sight, and took careful aim. The laser dot alighted on the forehead of a trooper through the long gone glass window of the car near the Aerodyne, and she pulled the trigger. He disappeared in a spray of red, and it was soon accompanied by a careful shot from the Jinsei forces, one that took Korey in the shoulder. She cried out and slipped back, holding her left shoulder where the bullet had hit her. Her hand came away wet with blood, and she pulled up her AK-47 once more.

"Aoi!" she yelled, attempting to get her attention.

Aoi glanced over to Korey, her mouth opening in shock to see her partner wounded. "I'm pinned down!" She yelled at the top of her lungs.

Biting back another curse, Korey pointed the AK-47 around the corner and pulled the trigger, emptying the clip before pulling it back and punching in a fresh one. Her mind raced as she sought to figure out a solution to the problem, and she took a few deep breaths to try and calm down. The pain in her shoulder had ebbed, but it was throbbing and the bleeding had only just begun to slow.

"What do we do?" Aoi yelled back. She looked around, just in time to see a soldier aiming at her from the side. She sprang out of the way as he fired, and rolled under a dangerously tilted slab of concrete.

Korey grit her teeth, biting back the urge to yell out that she didn't know what to do. The troops had gotten here first, had superior firepower as well as a better position from which to defend from, while they were pinned down, with Ray wounded and missing, and no radios to properly relay any plans. The shot of bullets directly across from her shocked her out of her frustration, and she emptied the clip into the solider.

Aoi took the chance to peek her head up and look around. The lack of fire piqued her curiosity, and she swore when she saw the reason. She took the chance and scurried back across the street, making her way to Korey's hiding place.

"They're at the Aerodyne," she hissed to Korey, sliding herself against the wall. "I'm sorry. I couldn't make it there."

Taking this chance, Korey yanked out a bandage from her first aid kid and shrugged off her jacket before taping it tight about the wound. "Not your fault... it was simply a matter of timing, and theirs was better then ours." She awkwardly tied the bandage into a knot and synched it tight against her arm.

"If we both push at once, we might be able to make it," Aoi said, glancing out again. Two troopers stood by the Aerodyne, and she could make out a third inside.

"True... but we need a moment of preparation first," Korey pointed out. From her backpack she pulled out her two grenades, both explosive, and glanced at Aoi. "You, grenades?"

She hoisted her rifle, gripping the under-barrel launcher. "We don't want to damage the target though. Smoke?"

"One Smoke, one explosive." Korey packed the other grenade away and handed the explosive to Aoi, thinking. "Okay... first the explosive, to drive them down, and then the smoke, to confuse them. As soon as it spreads out, we rush them, guns firing in short bursts to keep them down. Agreed?"

"Gotcha." Aoi smiled to herself. For once, things seemed to be going well.

Korey waited until the grenades had been loaded before shuffling over to the edge of the alleyway, slapping in another fresh clip for the AK-47. "And... now." The soft whisper stood out in sharp contrast as she ducked around the corner, firing short bursts to conserve on bullets and keep the three remaining Jinsei troops down, giving Aoi the opportunity she needed.

Aoi lowered her rifle and fired the grenade launcher, sending a shell careening across the impromptu battlefield. It smacked into the side of the aerodyne and burst, letting out a gout of flame and showering the area with shrapnel. Almost immediately she pumped the launcher and fired again, this time dropping the grenade just short of the Aerodyne. With a loud hiss, the grenade sent thick white smoke streaming out of one end, quickly obscuring the site.

Korey stood and ran out from the cover of the alley, firing quick, short bursts from her assault rifle with Aoi close behind, doing the same. With the cloud hiding their approach and making the Jinsei troops all but blind in firing their weapons, Korey and Aoi were quick to shorten the distance between themselves and their goal. They were almost ten meters away; with Aoi scoring a lucky hit on the third of the last troopers, when a burst of gunfire came from behind the two, striking up the pavement about them.

"DOWN!" Aoi yelled, all but pouncing on Korey and rolling her to the side of the aerodyne. Even hidden in the smoke, the incoming shots were close to them.

"What's going on?" She yelled.

Landing on the pavement jarred her arm, and it took almost everything Korey had to keep from screaming out in pain. The gas can was starting to run low, and the smoke was beginning to lighten up. Through it, Korey could just barely make out the ominous silhouette of an armoured personal carrier, flanked on either side by fresh, fully armoured Wolf Brigade troops. "Reinforcements," she growled to Aoi, and started to scuttle towards the cover of one of the cars that had served as the Jinsei troops cover not too long ago.

"Crap," Aoi said, following Korey. The Aerodyne was tantalizingly close, almost within her reach. But she knew they could never fight their way through this many troops. "Korey?" she said in a hoarse whisper.

"Do not try it," whispered Korey, clutching her shoulder, which had begun to bleed again. She looked pale, frustrated, and in pain, and the fire coming from the Jinsei APC was actually punching through the car, coming dangerously close to where they sat. "Aoi..."

Aoi glanced around her. There was a shop front nearby, long since broken open, which lead back into an old office tower. She was fairly sure they could reach it while still being hidden, but there would be no chance at the aerodyne if they did.

"You want to ditch it, right?" She muttered, glancing over at the Aerodyne once more.

Another burst of gunfire cut through the car between them, and Korey winced before giving Aoi a simple nod in reply. "We cannot take the risk to regain that package."

Aoi swore under her breath. "Fine. Hand me another grenade." Korey handed it to her, and she took the grenade and quickly loaded it into her rifle. She nodded towards the beckoning shop front and muttered, "When I fire, run."

Korey nodded.

Aoi closed her eyes and quietly counted down from three. At last she pointed the rifle over her shoulder and fired the grenade launcher. The grenade careened out wildly at the Jinsei troops before exploding in a bust of fire.

The moment she heard the explosion, Korey was up and running, the extra exertion sending blood running out of her wound, as she raced for the store front and dove inside. She rolled upon landing, and was just able to keep from crying out in pain as she came up and returned fire, giving Aoi the time she needed to dive in after her.

The younger woman bent low and sprinted forwards, desperately running to Korey's position, shutting out the sound of fire tearing over her head. She glanced behind her as she reached the storefront, seeing the Jinsei troopers already regrouping and readying their weapons. She burst into the emptied shop and simply yelled, "RUN!"

Korey got to her feet, shoving Aoi ahead of her as the troops aligned in front of the store, Wolf Brigade members in full armour pointing with weapons fully loaded. Korey turned, following Aoi, and knew that any moment the guns would open up and cut them down where they stood. But still she ran, knowing that it was better to go out fighting, then not to fight at all.

The troops lined up, weapons at the ready, and opened fired. Korey bit back a scream as a small explosion nearly tossed her and Aoi off their feet. She glanced back, and let out a joyous yell as Ray, his wounded arm bound up and strapped to his side, stood in the path of the bullets, his invisible shield protecting them all from harm.

"I apologize for being so late, Korey," he said, and from the grimace on his face, she knew he was in about as much pain as she. "But we have to leave, now."

"Now, now!" Aoi replied. She clung to Ray's side, her breath shuddering as she watched the soldiers' fire stop mere inches from her.

His brow furrowing in concentrate, Ray shrunk the shield closer to their bodies, the movement shattering concrete and wood up into the air. He thrust his hand forward, and a force bolt ripped through the air, tearing a path along the ground towards the collection of men whom, despite their preparations for dealing with espers, were slow to react and thrown aside like dolls. Temporarily taken care of, Ray wrapped his arm about Korey, closed his eyes, and *moved.*

The air rippled and suddenly the trio appeared from nowhere. Aoi immediately released her grip and fell to the ground, clutching her churning stomach. She felt the soft grass underneath her and rolled over onto her back gazing up at the night sky. She could hear the gunfire from across the river, but for now they were safe.

Both Korey and Ray collapsed to the ground, disoriented by the loss of blood from their wounds as well as the sudden teleport out. But Korey managed to get to her hands and knees and crawl over to where Aoi lay.

"Please tell me you've got a punching bag," Aoi said, looking up at Korey.

"Afraid not," she replied.

Aoi screwed up her eyes and laughed again.

"Yes sir... of course." Korey winced as Ray threaded the last of the stitches through Korey's shoulder wound and pulled it closed before tying it in a knot. "I am disappointed as well, and wished that we could have retrieved the case in time. I will, of course, refund you the initial half payment- Do not bother? Yes, we were quite outgunned. Yes. Yes. Thank you. I hope to do further business with you as well. Good day."

Placing the phone back down, Korey went to sink back into her plush leather office chair, but a steady hand from Ray kept her still. "Remain still a moment longer," he said, spraying the wound with an antibacterial spray before applying a thick bandage to it. His own wound was superficial in comparison to hers, leaving him able to use both arms to tend to hers.

"I am sorry that you will not be receiving your full payment, Aoi," Korey called out to her partner. "As it was, we're both fortunate that the extenuating circumstances were rather extreme, else both of our reputations would be tarnished, and neither of us would be receiving a job at all from Spycorp for the remainder of our lives."

"'salright," Aoi muttered. She paced the floor of Korey's living room, her face screwed up in annoyance and frustration. "I just wish we could have done more," she said, for what had to be the third time since the pair had returned.

"We did what we could," pointed out Ray. "However, we were not a combat oriented team, had little knowledge of the area or of what we would be facing, not to mention how out gunned and outnumbered we were, even with my powers." He smiled then, in an attempt to offer her comfort.

Aoi sighed and dropped dejectedly into an armchair. "I just..." she began, but sighed and gave up, choosing instead to watch the ceiling.

"You hate the sour taste in your mouth that failure leaves," Korey said. "I do as well."

Aoi nodded. "You know, I never had a failure like this before," she said, looking to Korey.

"A first time for everything," said Korey, and rubbed her wounded arm. "Hopefully, the next mission we participate in, if there is one, we will not fail."

Aoi could only nod glumly.

"Perhaps a nice drink and a movie would do us all some good?" Ray finally suggested after a few moments of unhappy silence.

Aoi broke into a gentle chuckle. "He's right. Why dwell on it?"

"Excellent suggestion." Korey stood. "What movie would you suggest, Ray?"

"I was thinking about... The Italian Job."

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