Part 2

By Michael Surbrook
Early February, 2034


"Hold still."

"I am holding still."

"Then let me apply the bandage."

With a hiss of pain, Ling Ling bit her lip and watched as Lei Fang finished wrapping the knuckles of her left hand with gauze. It wasn't the bandage that was the bother, it was the antiseptic she'd applied beforehand. Sure it would keep out infection, but that didn't stop it from stinging. Of course if she hadn't tried to deck Juntao Tang, then she would have skinned her knuckles in the first place, but that, as they say, was all water under the bridge.

Sighing, Ling Ling examined her freshly-taped hand. To say the meeting with Juntao Tang hadn't gone well was a gross understatement if there ever was one. She'd tried to throttle the man herself, while Lei Fang had fought off his two minders. Of course, Juntao wasn't the sort to submit to being choked to death quietly, and had fought back with a mixture of upgrade muscle and corporate martial arts training. Which had suited Ling Ling just fine. She was as strong, if not stronger than her fiance-to-be, and trained regularly with one of the best in the business—her bodyguard and lover, Marta.

Several broken chairs, one overturned table, and multiple smashed dishes later, all five of them had been tossed out of the restaurant. After spending a few more minutes glaring at each other, the quintet then limped off in different directions, Juntao to presumably report back to her father (she'd love to hear how he as going to explain the black eye), while Ling Ling and Lei Fang ended up at Jam's.

Jam's was a restaurant owned and operated by a Chinese woman with the utterly unlikely name of Jam Cloudberry. She was short, even shorter than Marta, with an incredibly athletic frame and a mania for cooking. She had a well-deserved reputation for doing amazing things with algae, soy, tofu, and yeast products, as well as aquaculture and chicken. Most of the time it tasted like you were eating the real thing, provided you knew what the real thing tasted like in the first place.

So now they sat in a booth in the back, bruised and a bit battered, Ling Ling nursing an injured left hand, while Lei Fang had a cut on one cheek. The only thing keeping the day from being a total disaster was the spread before them. True to her word, Ling Ling had sprung for a large lunch for the two—a lunch that largely looked to be going to waste as they only picked at the dishes before them.

"So..." Lei Fang eyed a shrimp before popping it in her mouth. "Now what?"

"Good question." Jam wouldn't let her smoke in the restaurant, so Ling Ling was making do with tea. A lot of tea. "I think I need to start with Andy."


"Andy Lau. You might know him as Chih-Wan Lau. He's a freelance solo." Ling Ling sipped at her tea and selected a steamed bun from a plate. "He was supposed to be part of the same job Marta was on." She took a bite of the bun and chewed thoughtfully. "I want to see what he knows."

"Ling Ling's father?" Marta said in a strangled tone of voice.

"Yes." Li Lianjie sat back with a satisfied look on his face. "And you are Marta Nys. The woman who has been..." He paused, looking as if he was about to say something distasteful, " with my daughter for these past few years."

"And for that you had me kidnapped?"

He seemed to ignore her question, and merely continued. "I wanted to make this opportunity to convince you of the error of your ways," he said in a casual tone.

Marta glanced down at her bonds and then back up at Lianjie. Fighting down a desire to start screaming, or at least to shout insults, she counted to ten silently. Then counted again. Then took a deep breath. "What error? What did I do?"

He smiled patiently, as if stating the obvious. "Your ah... relationship with my daughter," he said, wrinkling his nose as if his words were unclean. "It is over now."

Oh really? "Says who? You? Doesn't Ling Ling have any say in this?"

"My daughter and I have yet to discuss the matter, but she will soon agree as to what is best for her."

Gritting her teeth, Marta strained at the ropes wrapped tight around her body. Unfortunately, she wasn't strong enough to simply break them, and her razors didn't have the range or the leverage to cut them. She was, for the moment, stuck. Li Lianjie, for his part, watched her with something close to amused contempt. "Don't bet on it," she hissed.

He shook his head slightly. "My daughter is an intelligent, sensible woman. She will see things my way."

Marta's retort died as a loud banging and voices announced the arrival of visitors in an outer room. Then a tall, handsome Asian man barged into the room, trailed by two other men in simple black suits. All three looked just a touch battered, disheveled even, with the first man sporting a growing black eye. Marta cocked an eyebrow and kept her mouth shut.

<Tang Juntao?> Li Lianjie gaped nonplussed at the man. <What happened?>

Standing up straight and attempting to adjust his clothing, Juntao took at moment to scan the room, his gaze resting on Marta's nearly naked body for far too long to suit her. Turning back to Li Lianjie, he briefly touched his swelling eye and winced. <Li Ling Ling doesn't seem to care for the idea of marriage.>

Ling Ling glanced up at the building before her. Mandarin Towers. Sixty stories of apartments set atop a short stack of stores. A typical arraignment these days. Even her own building was laid out the same way. The idea was you didn't need to leave your building to get most of your daily essentials. Which was fairly true, provided your needs were basic.

Inside was a ring of stores, five floors worth actually, with an open shaft down the middle. Nice and light and airy. A quick glance showed a grocery store, two clothing stores (one for business dress, the other for the mass market youth), a scattering of restaurants, and the required electronics store, where you could buy music, videos, and the equipment to play it on. The directory showed the upper floors were offices and meeting rooms. Which was where Andy Lau has asked to meet her.

Meet them, actually. For now Ling Ling had both of the Lei sisters in tow. Lei Fang and Lei Xiang. Lei had called her partner before they'd left Jam's and asked her to help out. Gratis. Seemed the specter of their favorite fixer getting married off to an unwanted husband (and thus being lost as a contact forever) outstripped the desire for money.

So now the three of them crossed the open lobby, ignoring pedestrians, shoppers, gawkers, and residents alike. There was a block of elevators in the back, with a desk and the required receptionist. He was young, handsome, well-dressed, and all smiles. But then, who wouldn't, when approached by three extremely attractive women?

"Can I help you?" At least he didn't stand and try and look down her top. Not that it would have done any good. Ling Ling almost never wore anything that showed her cleavage. Well, outside anyway.

"We are here to see the manager." That was Andy Lau's instructions. Ask for the manager, be shown to a conference room.

One short phone call later and; "Miss Ferrari be right down."

Ferrari? Now there was an interesting name. Italian. For some reason Ling Ling had an image of a short, dark-haired, plump woman who'd berate her for not eating enough.

"May I help you?"

The words were in English, with an Australian accent so much like her own. Ling Ling turned around and her response died before she even had a chance to start it. Well... Miss Ferrari was dark-haired, she'd gotten that much right.

Ling Ling prided herself in keeping her cool. It was part of her own inscrutable persona. She wanted to appear unruffled by the unexpected, it made her look in control, in charge, and able to handle anything a client threw at her. But today had thrown her for a bit of a loop and she was, in her own estimation, a bit off her game. And Miss Ferrari, to be honest, was enough to side track anyone for a second.

It wasn't that she was overly short, or overly tall—in fact, she was just about Ling Ling's height, with a trim frame and shoulder-length hair—it was that she was, well, blue. Her skin was a pale blue shade, her lips and eyes darker, and her hair a rich blue-black. Ling Ling's initial thought was "cyborg". After all, a cyborg can have a frame that looks pretty much just like anything, and virtually anyone opting for a human-shell wanted it to look perfect. But somehow a blue-skinned cyborg running an apartment tower made no sense. A full-body dye-job was another possibility, but the color was too smooth, to uniform, with too many of the right touches to be dye... or even a tattoo. So Miss Ferrari had to be, must be, a synthetic human.

Which was different. But, neither here nor there in light of the day's events. She could worry about Miss Ferrari's origins later.

"I'm here to meet with Andy Lau."

"Of course. Follow me." Miss Ferrari turned on one heel and motioned them towards an elevator. Ling Ling, glancing back to the impassive Lei sisters, who were doing a far better job of being inscrutable than she was, nodded her head.

Following the manager, Ling Ling gave her a quick once-over. Low black shoes, black stockings, knee-length skirt in dark gray, white high-collared and long-sleeved blouse. She was dressed in standard professional chic. And didn't seem to have a weapon hidden anywhere. Good.

Miss Ferrari took them to the fifth floor and then to door with small nameplate next to it. The plate read "Ming Room" with the same thing under it in Chinese. Apparently the conference rooms were all named after different dynasties. Ling Ling absorbed this fact with nary a change of expression, simply inclining her head to the Ferrari woman and went in.

The room was fairly small, as conference rooms went, and virtually empty. Collapsable tables and chairs were lined up on racks against the far wall. Andy Lau stood on the far side of the room, near another door, marked "EXIT." It almost certainly led to the service corridor and then to the kitchen (if the building had one).

Ling Ling had worked with Lau Chih-Wan, better known as "Andy," before. He was, in some ways, a solo's solo. A master of the gun. He wasn't much for hand-to-hand—he admitted so himself, but when it came to shooting people, he had few equals. Marta was one of them. But whereas Ling Ling's lover and wife-to-be got by on extensive cyberware and smartgun links, Andy was a genetic upgrade, which made him fast to start with and added wire only made him faster. He was fast, strong, smart, and, to be honest, handsome, with long hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. Ling Ling certainly fancied him, as did Marta, although she wouldn't exactly admit to it.

"You wished to see me." No more accented English, now it was time for Cantonese.

"Yes." Ling Ling stopped and folded her arms behind her back, not seeing, but knowing she was flanked by the Lei sisters. "I just wish to ask one simple question."

"And that is?" He wasn't nervous, just... cautious. Yes, cautious.

"What were you told at the job today?"

Andy cocked an eyebrow at that and looked quizzical. "They'd canceled at the last minute. The client wasn't coming." He paused and glanced at the Lei Sisters. "And they gave me retainer for my time."

Of course. Get the one they didn't want out of the way. If Marta'd shown up at around the same time, her father would have used some story about security measures to split them up... to get Marta alone. Andy they could feed any story they'd like to, and give him a wad of cash for his troubles.

"So you never saw Marta Nys then?"

"No. Should I have?" Another pause. "Did something happen?"

Hmm.... Ling Ling thought quickly. Andy wasn't one of her inner cadre of friends, not like the Lei Sisters, or Athena and her lover/partner Seung. But he also had a reputation to preserve, and his own sense of honor as well. Being played for a fool wasn't something he'd take lightly.

"It was a ruse." Ling Ling explained, her features softening as his role in what happened become clear. "They wanted to get Marta away from me. You were just a minor distraction to be sent on your was as fast as possible."

"Who did?"

Time to call "mah-jhongg" and lay all the tiles on the table. "My father. He has plans for my marriage you see."

Juntao Tang wasn't a very happy man. It wasn't that he was upset with the world, or life in general, it was just that he was more than a bit miffed at the day's events. And everything had started out so perfectly, too. He'd met with Li Lianjie, made a lunch date with Li Ling Ling, had informed her of their upcoming wedding, and... she'd decked him for his troubles... Didn't she have the slightest idea of who he was?

By an interesting quirk of fate, Juntao Tang belonged to one of Hong Kong's innumerable trading corporations. They brokered deals all over the Pacific Rim, bringing in finished goods from around the world, and reselling them to companies who didn't have the resources to go looking for such items on their own. In many ways, his job was much like Ling Ling's, except whereas Ling Ling might look for the best deal on military grade combat cyberdecks or esper-activation and augmentation drugs, Juntao would be brokering contracts for tractors, water treatment valves, or stacks of high-grade steel pipe. He had plenty of responsibility, got to travel, was well thought of by the upper management, and was on a steadily rising star of success. When you added in the fact he was a genetic upgrade, and thus, strong, healthy, handsome, and intelligent, you had quite a catch for any woman looking for a husband. No wonder Li Lianjie had selected him as Ling Ling's prospective husband.

Juntao had to pause and think about that. He'd seen pictures of Li Ling Ling before. They showed a young woman with a beautiful face and a full-breasted figure. Even her cosmetically-altered ears only added to her allure. And then he'd met her in person. She was just as beautiful as her pictures showed, with a bust line even bigger then he'd imagined. From the moment he'd seen her, he knew he had to have her.

But his wife-to-be was already taken it seemed. She claimed to be in love with a Westerner who probably didn't speak a word of Cantonese. And a female Westerner on top of that. Juntao slid a glance over at the figure of Marta Nys, who sat securely and tightly bound on a nearby couch. Li Lianjie had made sure to strip the woman of her weapons, jumpsuit, and armor, leaving her only briefs and sports bra. Her current lack of clothing exposed a great deal of her well-muscled body and Juntao eyed the flat plane of her stomach with interest. He tried to imagine how Ling Ling might look in the same situation, her large breasts filling the stretched bra, then imagined Marta and Ling Ling together. Nude. Their hands on one another's bodies, lips pressed together in passionate kisses...

A shudder ran through his body.

Glancing around, Juntao hoped no one had seen what had happened. As luck would have it, Li Lianjie was in another room, apparently planning his next move. The guards had reached a state of semi-boredom, and were content to look at Marta. Female flesh was female flesh after all.

Well, that settled it. He wasn't going to sit her and lick his wounds. He was going to find Miss Li Ling Ling and settle this matter once and for all. There was no way he was going to run the risk of losing out on the chance for a wife like Li Lianjie's daughter. And... he glanced back at Marta for a moment. Perhaps he could figure out a way to talk Li Lianjie into letting him hire Miss Nys on... as a maid, bodyservant, whatever. Then he'd get the best of both worlds.

Stepping past the two guards (who barely glanced at him as he went by), Juntao went into the outer room. There, several of his own people waited. Men he's brought over from the company. Men who often accompanied executives like him on business trips. Men who knew how to use weapons and who knew how to deal with danger. Like uppity fiancés who threw powerful right crosses.

"Get up," he ordered. "We're going back out, we're going to find Li Ling Ling, and were going to bring her back her so her father can talk some sense into her." He was going to save face on this mess come hell or high water.

The men stood, nodding at his words. "Shall I inform Li Lianjie that you are leaving?" one asked.

"No." Juntao shook his head. "I want to show him that I came capable of resolving my own messes and can handle myself in a crisis. So let's move out."

"Where to, sir?"

Juntao stopped dead for a moment as it hit him. Where would he find Miss Li Ling Ling? He didn't know where she lived (Li Lianjie knew, that was certain, but he hadn't passed the information on...), all he knew was... was... her cellphone number. Juntao allowed himself a small smile. "Our cars, gentlemen."

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Ling Ling gave her cellphone a curious glance. Who, exactly, was calling now? She flipped the lid up and glanced at the screen. And allowed herself a slight smile.

"Tang Juntao," she stated to the Lei Sisters and then press the "talk" button.


The voice on the other end spoke in measured tones. "Miss Li? This is Tang Juntao." He waited for a response and hearing none, forged ahead. "I'd like to resolve this matter, the sooner the better. Your obstinate attitude is not doing any of us any good, especially your father."

Oh really? Ling Ling carefully didn't say what was on her mind, settling for a far less volatile "What is it you want?'

"To meet with you again. To settle matters to your father's satisfaction."

Translation: to settle things so Juntao didn't look like as big as fool as the previous meeting made him look. To get back in her father's good graces as quickly as possible. Yes, well, she'd see about that. Nice of him to have played right into her hands.

"All right, Mr. Tang, we can meet. Allow me to suggest somewhere neutral. Say..." she paused and glanced around her turning her idea over in her mind. "Do you know the Mandarin Towers?"

Juntao got out of his car and glanced around. His men were with him and in a protective circle around his person. He had a full half-dozen bodyguards now, more than enough to deal with Miss Li's admittedly skilled (and dangerous) bodyguard of her own. Together they crossed the underground garage and made their way to the elevator, the combination of stern faces and stark suits more than enough to discourage anyone from getting in their way or asking questions.

A moment later and Juntao was standing in the lobby of Mandarin Towers. The view was typical for a building like this, and pretty much what Juntao expected. His own arcology was scarcely different. But no matter, he was here on more important business. He glanced around the crowded commerce center and cooly evaluated the people hurrying past. None were the woman he was seeking. No matter, he could be patient. She was here, he was sure of it.

Then one of his men tapped his arm and nodded his head over to one side. Juntao turned his head and then widened his eyes. He'd been expecting Miss Li's bodyguard and had been hoping for Ling Ling herself. He certainly hadn't planned on a blue-skinned synthetic to stride confidently toward him, looking as if she owned the very building she was walking through.

She stopped in front of Juntao and looked him up and down. Juntao had an uncomfortable feeling he was being judged but decided to not respond until the synth had had her say. To be honest, he didn't much like synthetics, he felt they were lacking in something... something human. What is was he wasn't sure, only that most synths didn't have it. On the other hand, this one, dressed in well-cut business attire seemed to be a bit more alive than most, her unique coloration notwithstanding.

"Mr. Tang Juntao?" she asked, although she looked like she already knew the answer. "If you would follow me."

Nodding to his men, he did as requested, noting that the woman had already turned around and was walking towards the bank of elevators at the back of the building. Juntao kept calm and concentrated on the image of his triumphant return to Li Lianjie with one errant and headstrong daughter in tow. Once that happened, everything would go his way.

After a short trip up, they exited several floors higher, following the synth to a closed conference door. The synth stopped and then put her hand on the door handle. "Miss Li awaits you inside gentlemen." She then opened the door and stepped back.

Ling Ling stood in the center of the conference room, her hands clasped behind her back. The Lei Sisters stood behind her, one at each shoulder, while Andy Lau—her ace-in-the-hole—was out in the service corridor. Juntao's men entered the room first, looking this way and that as they scanned the room for any possible threats—aside from herself and the Sisters, of course. Sarah Ferrari wisely remained out in the hallway, and closed the door as soon as Ling Ling's would-be fiancé entered.

"Tang Juntao," she stated in a flat voice, looking at him with an expression of thinly veiled contempt. "You wished to speak to me?"

Juntao decided to go on the offensive and get the upper hand early on, especially considering how his first meeting with his future wife had gone. "I think you should use a better tone of voice when talking to your future husband."

"What?" Ling Ling said, taken back a bit.

"I am to be your husband," Juntao said slowly. "I expect you will show me the proper respect."

"Respect?" Now Ling Ling's tone was incredulous. "You want respect?"

That did it. "Dammit woman! You will give me face!"

"Face!?! I'll give you face when you deserve it! And I'll never be your wife!"

The exchange had grown more heated with each reply, and the two had also stepped closer as they hurled their words at each other. Now scant inches separated the two, with their respective retinues swapping dark glares and concerned looks at their charges equally.

"You'll do what your father has decided!"

"Try and make me!"

Juntao took Ling Ling at her word, his right arm shooting forward in an open handed punch meant more to stagger his bride-to-be than out-and-out hurt her. Ling Ling, however, regularly sparred with one of the best in the business and had seen his shoulder dip before the blow had started. She leaned back and deflected the shot with her left forearm, and then dropped into a virtually picture-perfect spinning back kick that sent Juntao flying into the arms of his flunkies.

And the fight was on.

It was obvious from the outset that Juntao's minions were wired. Lei Fang had said as much after their first fight in the restaurant. But there was a big difference between the sort of systems Juntao's men had and that of the Lei Sisters. Not only did the Lei Sister have high-grade wire, they also had a lot more of it, meaning they were that much faster and stronger. Not to mention they had far more experience with this sort of thing.

Juntao lunged forward as his followers streamed past him, everyone yelling for all they were worth. Ling Ling dropped down and spun her extended leg, taking Juntao's feet out from under him and sending him crashing to the floor. To his credit, Juntao quickly rolled to one side and flipped up to his feet. What followed was a series of quick punches, mostly blocked, as the two circled around each other. Juntao, Ling Ling noted, had the strength and speed common to genetic upgrades, he even had the training, but he lacked experience. She was faster and better than him, and it was time for her to prove it.

Three quick rights, followed by an aborted fourth, set Juntao up into a blocking pattern he couldn't change fast enough, and so her final left came across his jaw, sending him staggering. A quick side kick to his chest then sent him sprawling, Ling Ling allowing Juntao the luxury of getting back to his feet before kicking him again, a which point Juntao went head over heels across the floor.

Her anger at the day's events taking control from her good sense, Ling Ling advanced, her hands knotted into fists, when someone tackled her from behind. An elbow clipped the side of her head, leaving her blinking at stars, and then she pushed upwards, her enhanced strength enough to throw her attacker off her back. Getting to her feet, she managed to duck a kick from one of Juntao's henchmen, and then brought up her arms to block the followup punch. This man, she had to admit, was far better than her boss in a fight.

"Get her!" Juntao commanded from his position on the floor. "Get her!!"

A low kick met her opponent's midway and then he went into another one-two combination, with the first blow landing on her hip and the second blocked with a ready forearm. Ling Ling's return punch landed square in his shoulder, doing little damage, but managing to force him back a bit.

Then a hand grabbed her ankle and Ling Ling almost went headlong into the floor. A quick glance showed a grinning Juntao sprawled across the floor, looking rather undignified. And here came his suit again. Trying to shake her leg free, Ling Ling realized she wasn't exactly in the best position to deal with two attackers. This could get ugly.

Then a loud report sounded and the advancing suit suddenly pitched forward onto his face, the bright red shape of a grenade-launched pancake round following him. Both Ling Ling and Juntao stared at this rather unexpected event with some surprise, at which point Ling Ling, realizing the tables had turned, kicked backwards with her free foot. The wet sound of Juntao's nose breaking was followed by his rapid release of her foot and a muffled howl of pain.

Standing upright and tugging her cheong-sang into place, Ling Ling took a deep breath and glanced around the room. As expected, the Lei Sisters had more then held their own, despite being outnumbered two-to-one. Two more of Juntao's flunkies lay sprawled on the floor, while the other two looked more than a bit battered. And there, across the room, stood Andy Lau, a 40mm grenade launcher in his hands. It always helped to have a hidden reserve. Sun Tzu would have approved.

Sparing a glance for Juntao, who was managing to get blood all over Sarah's conference room floor (she'd have to help pay for the clean up—or better yet, get Juntao to do it), Ling Ling nodded. "Now we finish this."

Li Lianjie was not happy. His initial selection as a husband for his daughter was proving to be a less-than-desirable future son-in-law. His initial foray to meet Ling Ling had ended in a fight (and the indignity of being tossed out of a resturant), and now he'd vanished, along with his flock of henchmen. Li Lianjie wasn't sure if Juntao had run off, or if he was trying to make amends by locating and talking some sense into Ling Ling again.

He debated these events quietly, mulling over them in his mind as he paced back and forth across the length of the hotel room, his own retinue of men wisely keeping their mouths shut. The only person actively watching him was his daughter's lover, who was securely bound (Her reputation was a wuxia was well known, and Li Lianjie wasn't taking any chances.) and sitting by herself in a chair. He spared her a quick glance before resuming his pacing. He never, ever, would have considered the idea of his own daughter taking up with another woman. It was unthinkable! He blamed her extended stay in Hong Kong. The city was known to be a den of vice and iniquity, and it had obviously corrupted her over the years.

Still, he had to admit, this woman Marta had, in her own way, shown more courage and sense then Tang Juntao. She hadn't ranted or railed against her situation, in fact, Li Lianjie was sure she was carefully watching everyone and everything for the slightest hint of exploitable weakness. Pity she wasn't Chinese, then he might have been willing to leave well enough alone. Might.

"What if he doesn't come back?"

Li Lianjie stopped turned, looking at Marta. She'd just voiced the exact thing he was debating, much to his momentary surprise. "Then I will find someone else. Someone who has strength and courage."

"Why?" Marta shook her head, her long tresses swaying. "Why not let things go as they are. We're happy enough... and I doubt Ling Ling will tolerate any of your choices for a husband."

Li Lianjie looked down at her, pausing a while to carefully consider his words. "It is not so much a matter of the man as it is of the position. My daughter's future could be very bright indeed, but as it is her current... Relationship is held in poor regard." Anticipating Marta's rebuttal, he shook his head slightly. "No, not just by myself and my people." Li Lianjie sighed deeply and sat down opposite Marta, watching her closely. "The fact is that much of world she and I move in are very traditionally minded."

Marta cocked an eyebrow at that. "Oh really? Do you have the slightest idea of what world she moves in?"

He nodded slightly. "And she is successful enough. But still..." He sighed once more. This woman was so much more than he had expected. Brave, intelligent, highly resourceful by all accounts... All the traits he was looking for in a husband, ironically enough. "Ling Ling's future could hold so much more."

"As what? Some corporate paper-pusher's trophy wife?"

Li Lianjie shook his head, seemingly unsure of himself. "These people won't change their attitudes. Not for me, not for her, and most certainly not for you."

Marta shook her head as well, almost mimicking Li Lianjie's motion. "I hate to tell you this, but I've yet to meet many of "these people." Most everyone we deal with is more interested in what we can sell, than who we are."

Li Lianjie sat back, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Maybe so... Maybe I'm just getting old," he murmured.

Li Lianjie's men were a mixed lot, but they all had two things in common: they were skilled in combat both armed and unarmed, and they were all ethnically Chinese. It wasn't that Li Lianjie was a racist per se, but more that he preferred to work with his own people and within his own culture when at all possible. He would deal with deal with foreigners to be sure—he'd lived in Australia for the last 30 years or so surrounded by them, but that didn't mean he had to give them any special considerations. So he employed men (and women) who were of his nation, attempting to preserve some of his culture and history by doing so, a tough proposition when China itself was wracked by constant civil strife and epic episodes of bloodletting. In turn, his men gave him their loyalty and respect, because he gave them a sense of purpose and a sense of self worth. They would follow him anywhere, and carry out his orders without question—even if that meant taking arms against Li Lianjie's own daughter.

When the door to Li Lianjie's rooms burst open the men inside were taken by suprise. They'd seen Juntao leave, and partially had been expecting his return, but hadn't expected such a violent arrival. They also hadn't expected him to be bodily hurled into the outer room, his bloody-faced body to tumble along the floor as he fetched up against a chair with a loud groan of pain. But that'd didn't stop them from springing to their feet, an assortment of weapons at the ready.

The next body through the doorway was neither bloody or tumbling, but strode in with a sense of purpose, a long coat swirling about his legs. A hollow thump announced his arrival, as a pancake round took a surprised suit in the chest, pitching back over his chair. Unhurriedly, Andy Lau reloaded his grenade launcher, not even looking at the others in the room. A moment later his second shot clipped a man's shoulder, spinning him to one side.

Then the Lei Sisters entered, both dressed in identical form-fitting armored jumpsuits, and doing just as much damage with their hands and feet as Andy was with his pancake rounds. As per Ling Ling's orders, no one aimed to kill, but rather to subdue, since, after all, Li Lianjie was her father.

When Ling Ling did enter it was to find the outer room pretty much "pacified." Her father's men lay sprawled about amid overturned and broken furniture, with only Andy and the Sisters still standing (albeit a bit worse the wear... father's men were far more skilled than Juntao's). Nodding to them as she passed, Ling Ling then unleashed a strong kick that sent the inner door crashing open...

Only to duck the resulting kick from one of the men inside. They'd heard the commotion and were ready for her. She could see at least two from her vantage point, while beyond them was her true quarry—Marta, who looked to be, of all things, naked.

The sight of her lover (and desired fiancé-to-be) stripped nude (and in her father's presence no less!) incised Ling Ling to an extent that all of Juntao's advances hadn't. Rising from her crouch she took another kick on a cocked left forearm, and then unleashed a powerful right cross. This was blocked, but quick knee thrust buried itself in her opponent's thigh, sending him staggering backwards.

A blow to her back send her staggering as well, hissing with pain and anger. Adrenaline flooded her system, making her feel full of energy and strength as she virtually slapped aside the follow-up punch and then launched three quick punches of her own. Her foe twisted and buckled, dropping to the floor just in time for her to unleash a powerful kick into the midsection of her initial adversary. He went down with a satisfying whoosh of expelled air.

She turned to see the last of her father's henchmen standing there, looking rather surprised. Then he collapsed to the ground with Marta on top of him. She was, Ling Ling noted, not totally nude, but wearing only briefs and a sports bra... and also rather tightly bound. Still, she'd been able to bodily hurl herself into this one last attacker, obviously counting on her steel-laced bones to bear him down. It seemed to have worked, too.

"I think I've fallen in love all over again," Marta stated from where she knelt. "Marry me?"

Ling Ling had to grin at that. "Later. I promise." She then pulled her sable-haired lover to her feet, forgetting about her surroundings as she pulled her close, the two sharing a passionate kiss that nether really wanted to end.

The moment was interrupted by a loudly-cleared throat. A shiver ran up Ling Ling's spine as she recognised her father's voice. "If... ahem, you're finished," he said. Marta could tell from his tone that his confidence had vanished, yet he was doing his best to hide his nerves.

Pulling apart, the two turned to regard Ling Ling's father. Li Lianjie stood there, hands behind his back, regarding them with a gaze both stern and resigned. Marta wisely decided to say nothing, and settled for merely leaning against Ling Ling (not that her bound legs would let her do much more anyway). Ling Ling put a supportive arm around Marta's waist and unflinchingly returned her father's gaze. "Father, this is Marta Nys. My bodyguard..." she paused for a moment and then forged ahead, "And the woman I plan to spend my life with."

He nodded his head to the couple, keeping his eyes on his daughter all the while. "I can well see why. Miss Nys impresses me at every turn."

For a moment Marta almost said "Why? Because I look good tied up?" but wisely bit her lip and kept her mouth shut. Instead, she waited for Ling Ling to reply.

"I'm glad you approve, father." Ling Ling nodded towards the door. "By the way, I brought Mr. Tang back."

He paused for a second, choosing his words carefully. "Mr. Tang does not concern me right now." He paused, looking his daughter in the eye. His expression softened, the rigid pride of ages giving way to a softer, confused look. "I merely want to ask... Why?"

That stopped Ling Ling. How was she going to explain something she had only really settled for herself? Then it came to her, "She is the yang to my yin." There, that summed it up perfectly.

"You love her?" He asked in all sincerity.

"Yes. With all my heart."

He slowly nodded to the couple. "Then you have my approval."

Ling Ling started slightly, almost unable to believe her ears. Then she relaxed. "Thank you, father," was all she was able to say before Marta was kissing her again. When they finally broke apart, the shorter woman leaned forward to whisper into one tapering ear: "Now will you untie me?" If her father thought anything of the resulting outburst of laughter, he kept it to himself.

Epilogue (A Week Later)

Lying there amid a tangle of sheets and blankets, Ling Ling reached out to pluck an envelope off the end table, and then rolled over to drop it on Marta's bare breasts. "This came in the mail today."

"Oh?" Marta brushed long strands of hair out of her face before pulling the folder sheet of paper out of the envelope. "What is it?"

"Take a look."

Marta scanned the letter for a few moments before tossing it at the other woman in disgust. "You know I can't read Chinese!"

Picking the letter up off of the bed, Ling Ling carefully placed it back in the envelope and then slid closer to Marta. "It's from my father," she said in a light tone. "He's going to host a full-scale Chinese wedding banquet for us. In honor of our wedding."

"R-really?" Marta's mouth went dry at the sudden realization of what Ling Ling had just said.

"Really." Ling Ling rested her head on her arm. "So, who do we invite?"

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories