By Alex Fauth and Michael Surbrook

Shina Arakawa, Nabiki decided, was the least-likely looking street samurai she'd ever seen. Take her current outfit for example. Knee-high high-heeled boots, knee-length skirt, long-sleeved blouse, vest, ankle-length coat... She looked more like a corporate executive than a lethal killer. Actually, Nabiki noted, eyeing the carefully undone buttons on the blouse and the exposed curves of her breasts, make that "erotic simsense star." The long thin pipe she was smoking only added to the over all effect—which was pretty surreal when you got right down to it. But make no mistake, Shina was one of the most effective swordsmen Nabiki had ever hired, and she'd seen a lot of loud-talking braggarts in her time. There definitely was some serious muscle in her arms and torso, even if she had the sort of body one usually associated with horny teen-aged anime fantasies.

Of course, Shina on a mission was a different factor. Then she opted for far more practical gear—formfitting body armor, armored plates on her boots and forearms, and a .50 Smith and Wesson to back up her blade. Shina may have been a master of kenjutsu as well as a skilled judoka, but she knew better than to bring just a knife to a gunfight. Now, if only she'd stop tying up her reddish-black hair into a ponytail with lengths of brightly-colored silk. The size of the bow she usually wore was bad enough, but somehow Nabiki had a hard time associated the color pink with "stone-cold killer." At least today's bow was a more sedate dark purple.

Nabiki laid a large envelope on the table and then slid it over to Shina. A small silver case followed. Shina followed the motion with her eyes and then silently exhaled a thin cloud of smoke.

"I need you to make a delivery." Nabiki tapped the silver case.


"Hong Kong."

Shina raised an eyebrow.

"Consider it a vacation."

It hadn't taken Sandra long to discover that the back alleys of Hong Kong were the only way to get around. It was Sarah who'd originally tipped her off to this fact. She'd shown Sandra how to get the the local open-air market, which was nowhere near a major road, and was only accessible by various side streets and the like.

The back streets of Hong Kong were a whole other world. And a much more interesting one to boot. It reminded Sandra of the Zone, almost. Well... minus the burned out buildings, endless numbers of wrecked vehicles, and occasional bomb craters. Other than that, it was just like the Zone.

See, once you got off of the main drag, the meandering tourists and fast-walking business men thinned out quickly, leaving the streets to the more normal citizens of Hong Kong. This is where synths with free time on their hands hung out, or Triad bullyboys, out-of-work sams, less-than-human-looking 'borgs, and fixers trying to score their next deal. And, of course, there were the small one-man shops and stores tucked here and there. They sold everything from computer chips to noodles, and were a great place to shop, as long as you didn't question where it all came from. Simply put, Sandra liked the back end of Hong Kong because you never knew what you might found around the next corner. Case in point, the scene before her right now...

Thinking more about what David and her were going to do for dinner that night instead of where she was going meant she'd walked right into a fight. Well, more like the prelude to a fight. Or maybe the required time out before the blood-drenched climax.

On one side of the street was a gang of men in slick sunglasses and ridiculously overpriced designer casual wear. The sure mark of a cheap hood. On the other was a tall woman in an ankle-length coat, tall boots, trousers, and what looked like a shirt and tie. The cheap hoods were arraigned across their end of the alley, while the woman stood alone on her end. Between them lay a scattering of bodies, some still, others curled up and groaning in pain. The hoods all had an assortment of sharp and pointy weapons, while the woman was armed with some sort of sword. Or club. Or something. Whatever it was, it sure wasn't steel.

Sandra did a quick back-and-forth glance. The woman was outnumbered at least six-to-one... and seemed to be winning. She stood in one of those nice cinematic sword stances you only saw in bad tri-vids. Legs spread wide, one arm out in front of her, the other holding her sword high up in the air. She was the perfect image of death-on-wheels, until the slight breeze caught the bright yellow ribbon tying up her ponytail. Somehow it ruined the whole image.

As for the hoods, Sandra had to wonder why they didn't bother to simply blast the woman with gunfire. It wasn't like every Triad mook and their kid brother didn't carry a firearm. It seemed to be part of the required dress code, like expensive sunglasses and tailored jackets. Of course, with Triad mooks you never could tell. Maybe they thought they were tough enough to take her at her own game (right....), maybe they didn't want to damage their quarry (possible), or maybe their were just stupid (highly likely).

Then one of the Triad gangbangers looked her way. "Another one! Get them both!" And with a screaming battle cry they charged.

There went dinner.

Shaking her head in dismay, she grabbed the first one by his weapon arm, wrenching it behind him in a move that would have made her instructors back in training proud. Following through, she slammed the guy, face first, into the wall. There was a satisfying crunch as his nose met the brick.

Good start she thought. She didn't want to go to guns in this situation. If she did, they would probably use it as a good excuse to do it as well. And then it could get very ugly. Up close and against superior numbers, she preferred hand to hand. Besides, she was out of practice. She had to wonder why after superior numbers had failed against one woman, they figured that less people would work against two of them. Ah well. Chalk it up to natural stupidity.

She turned around to find the next thug, only to see him neatly fold in half over the samurai girl's sword. "Ouch" was all she could think to say. It wasn't cutting him like she'd expect a sword to do, but seemed to still be good at inflicting a world of hurt and, she suspected, broken bones.

Turning back to the thugs, she shoved her elbow into the face of another thug, loudly breaking his nose. A follow up blow to the midsection doubled him over and caused him to drop his weapon. As he crashed to the floor, Sandra grabbed it. An extendable baton, as preferred by English police. Perfect.

Wasting no time, she bought it down on the weapon arm of another goon. The man screamed in pain, dropping his club. It was standard police procedure in a situation like this. Beating them down harshly, as she proceeded to do, wasn't.

A sickening crunching sound caught her attention. She span around, club at the ready, to see the other woman putting her sword (or whatever it was) away. The last goon was lying on the ground, his right arm bent in a very, very distressing way. "Nice work." Sandra began. "You pick fights with Triad mooks often?"

"Not if I can help it," the woman replied in accented English. She glanced at the groaning bodies at Sandra's feet, ignoring the moans of pain. "It would seem you've had to deal with them before as well. Am I right?" She looked up, a wry grin on her face.

"Yeah," Sandra aimed a good swift kick at one groaning goon. "Guys like this? We go way back."

"So is that why they attacked you? I thought they were just after me."

Sandra shrugged, "Who knows with these guys. Maybe it was 'kill all the tall women we find' day back at the clubhouse."

There was a moment of silence while (tall) woman stared at her, confusion plainly evident on her face. Then she shook her head and held out her hand. "Shina Arakawa."

"Sandra Blackmore" she replied, shaking the woman's hand.

"So," Shina started as she walked over to a pile of luggage sitting on the far side of the alley. "Can you tell me how to find the Marriott Seven East? I fear I made a wrong turn and have lost my way."

Sandra blinked for a second. What would this rather dangerous woman with the ability to neatly crush Triad thugs be doing in a blind alley looking for one of Hong Kong's swankier hotels? "It's..." she began, then stopped. Damn, where the hell was it? "Tell you what, I'll show you the way. You're almost on the other side of town."

Stuff it. Dinner could wait. This was going to be interesting.

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