By Jamie Jeans & Max Fauth

This Takes Place During Search for Family Parts 1 & 2

To say the least, Korey was very impressed.

The numbers for the proposed amount of money for this particular mission would certainly keep her and Ray from worrying about money for a good long time. But the risks... oh, the risks were a bit larger this time.

Gunkoku Heavy Industries was one of the largest, if not THE largest, weapons manufacturing corporations, with its arcology based in Neo York and various plants and branches stretching throughout the world. However, with the war for the Neo York Zero Zone stretching out longer then anyone had anticipated, it was rumoured that Gunkoku was one of the corporations supplying weapons for the zone's residents in exchange for data on how it performed in the field. After all, it was no doubt a way to get both the field data for the expense of a few weapons while taking a few pot shots at the arrogance of Jinsei at the same time.

The employer for this particular job wasn't anyone Korey knew, although she had her guesses; it could be a rival corp, maybe even Jinsei itself, or simply someone looking for information to broker at a larger price.

At any rate, Korey had her next job, and she was going to need some help for it. She also happened to know just whom to call for this particular job of infiltration and data extraction.

Picking up the phone, she hit the pre-set auto-dialer. After a few rings, someone answered.

"Hello, Aoi? This is Korey Winters. Would you happen to be free for a job this weekend?"

Reclining on the outrageously soft couches of Shion's penthouse apartment, looking out over a spectacular view of Neo York, sipping a hideously expensive imported beer, Aoi couldn't help but feel uneasy. It wasn't her, she had decided; while it was certainly nice, living in such an expensive abode, even if as a guest and assistant, she felt ill at ease, as if she hadn't earned the luxury.

That, she decided, was one of the main reasons she had kept herself so busy since moving in with the Empress. The other... She leaned back into the couch, staring vaguely up at the ceiling. Shion was away from home, and she'd already gone through half of her host's video collection. The books on the shelf were unappealing; either to stuffy and 'educated' for her, or on topics which held no interest whatsoever. And so she sat, bored half to tears, and could barely stop her mind wandering.

And thinking about Evelyn.

She shook her head, trying to clear out the thoughts. She needed a new distraction; a new job even to stop thinking about the happy relationship that she had tried to tear down.

As if on cue, her phone rang. She eagerly snatched it up, not recognizing the number, and responded.


Downstairs in the bar of Korey's house, Korey passed Aoi a can of beer before taking one herself and sitting down on the barstool beside her, a folder of information spread out before them. "As you can see, infiltrating Gunkoku's Neo York HQ will not be an easy task."

Aoi nodded solemnly, cracking open the can before responding. "No kidding," she muttered and took a brief swig. "But you being you, there's already a plan." A wry smile formed on Aoi's lips as she regarded Korey. "Right?"

Korey could not help but return a smile of her own. "Of course I have a plan. There is always a plan." She sipped on her beer before walking over to the couch where an immaculate women's business suit lay, looking every bit as expensive as it could be. "First, you will be my new assistant for when we walk into the Arc, thus, you must look and act the part. I had taken the liberty of getting this suit for you in your size."

Aoi scratched the back of her head, feeling more than a touch embarrassed. "Wow. You've really pulled out all the stops."

"Considering that we will be entering in through the front door and taking the data out from beneath their noses, I had thought it best to do anything but," Korey explained. "Whereas you will be my assistant, I will be assuming the role of one of the higher ranking members of Gunkoku. Of course, this will include kidnapping and detaining such a member until our task is complete..."

"And you've mapped her schedule, and know just when to nab her, right?" Aoi asked as much as stated, her smile spreading.

"In as much as possible, yes. However, there is a catch."

Aoi's grin vanished in a flash, and she leaned forwards, paying careful attention to Korey's every word.

Korey gave her a look. "Oh please, it is not as bad as one might think. It is simply that we will not have Ray to act as backup for us this time, thus the relative little to no margin for error. We get in, download the data directly from her office, and then get out at the end of the day."

Aoi breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought it was something serious there for a sec," she said. She turned briefly to look at the suit.

Catching the look, Korey could not help but smile a little. "An improvement over the last disguise you had to wear while working with me, yes?"

Aoi nodded slightly, then turned back to Korey. "Just... How do you do it?" She asked with a bemused look.

"The preparations or the plans?"

"Both," Aoi said. "I admit, I tend to rush into things, but this..." She gestured helplessly at the suit. "You're amazing."

A shadow of, well, something passed along Korey's face before it was replaced with a small smile. "I was trained extensively in the field of espionage as well as corporate life, thus I know what it takes to look and act corporate, as well as how to analyze a situation so as to have more then one solution."

Aoi nodded, clearly impressed. "And I just grew up in a trash heap," she said, adding another wry smile. "Anyways, back to the plan."

"Right, yes, back to the plan," said Korey, resuming her seat at the bar. "My information is not yet complete on the person I've selected to imitate, but if we are to nab her, it would be best to do so when she leaves the arc. She does not live in it, but rather resides in a large condo only a few minutes away by bus." Illustrating this, Korey picked up a sheet of paper containing the stats on the executive and showed it to Aoi.

"Public transport?" Aoi asked. "Funny... easy to nab her, though. So we head in the next day?"

Korey nodded. "Yes, at this point between the bus and her apartment," she said, pointing a finger at the executive's address. "We can nab her in the elevator, which she takes every other day, and hold her hostage in her condo until we extract as much information as needed, such as personal passwords, key phrases used for security, that sort of thing."

Aoi nodded, clearly impressed. "Thus why you chose her, right?"

"That and we are the exact same height, build, and we are both Caucasian. Any other difference is only cosmetic, and can be easily reproduced with the use of contact lenses, wigs, and whatnot," sad Korey.

"Naturally," Aoi replied. "And the next day, we just waltz on in, right?"

At that, Korey nodded. "Yes. We download the information directly from her office, spend the day if need be, and then return home."

"Simple," Aoi said. "Nothing blows up this time, right?" she added with another smile.

"No, nothing blows up, and no buildings collapse about us as we run screaming for our lives either," Korey added with a wink.

"Great!" Aoi replied, chuckling. "So when do we pick her up?"

"Tomorrow, after work. We will need all the time we can get to get the correct information from her, else she may give us incorrect information and allow security to take care of us."

Aoi nodded. "And until then?"

"Brush up on the information," said Korey, waving to the papers on the bar-top. "You are, of course, welcome to stay here for the night if you like."

Aoi nodded. "Thanks, but she'll probably need me tonight."

"And whom might that be? Another employer?" asked Korey, taking a sip of her beer.

"Didn't I tell you?" Aoi said. "I'm staying with the Empress for a while."

Korey paled visibly at the name of the Empress, as memories of having a gun trained on her chest and the pain of three broken ribs flashed through her mind. She would have dropped the beer entirely if she had not suddenly tightened her grip on it. And all the while, a little voice was suddenly speaking up, a little voice named Karin Nys...

Aoi chuckled, watching Korey's reaction. "Yeah, I know. It's pretty hard to believe, huh?"

Korey gave a little nod, quickly getting control over herself the moment she realized how opened she had left herself. "Ah, yes... quite a surprise that. I had no idea the Empress could even be so nice as to allow another to stay with her."

Aoi rolled her eyes, and seemed to take interest in the far corners of the room. "Long story, trust me. But she's mostly alright, y'know?" Aoi turned back to Korey. "Just kinda... Stuffy."

Korey would have hiccupped had she laughed, so strong was her nervousness. "That sounds expected, considering her own title."

"So I live with her and work *for* her, since..." Aoi suddenly cut off, biting her lip.

"Since?" Korey repeated, egging her on a little.

"Eve and I have sort of split," Aoi said quietly.

"Ahhh, I see," said Korey. She laid a hand comfortingly on Aoi's shoulder, almost thankful to have the subject changed so quickly. "Would you care to discuss it with me? Ray is gone, and we're the only two here."

"The... That business trip... I was right after all," she said, rolling her eyes.

In a moment it came back to her, the discussion she and Aoi had had before a foray into the Zero Zone about Eve and her trips afar, and Korey sighed softly. "I am sorry to hear about it," she said.

"So, we had a fight and..." Aoi threw up her arms in frustration. "That was it."

"I am sorry to say, but I really do not know what to say," said Korey. "But perhaps if you both had a break from one another, as you are doing now, and then maybe meet and reconcile?"

Aoi sighed, and only muttered, "Who knows?"

"Well, you certainly will not if you do not try," replied Korey, making her tone light. "Maybe after this mission, you two could try to talk things out."

"I'll see," Aoi muttered.

"Right," said Korey. "In the meantime, concentrate on the mission and study this information I have had compiled. If all goes well, neither of us will have to worry about money for a good long time to come."

It had been another long, exhausting day that lead Veronica Shaw to jam the button for her 30th floor condo and start the long ride up to her condo. As of late, her department had been getting more and more assignments, pushing everyone to work their limit and them some on seemingly every level. Sometimes she swore the janitors were being over worked.

It was no surprise, of course. Jinsei's invasion of the Zero Zone had set up a rather brilliant and perhaps once in a lifetime chance to test out new weaponry against current Jinsei troops without becoming embroiled in a direct conflict. Sure, there were rumours, but without anything concrete, Jinsei couldn't do much more than grumble and strive on in the Zone while her company continued to analyze the wealth of information coming in every day. The field data on some of their newer armour piercing ammunition was worth the endeavor in and of itself.

She rubbed tiredly at her eyes and when the elevator stopped and the doors opened, she almost got out, but saw that it was the wrong floor. Instead, she stepped back as two women entered, a tall blonde in a tight red top and a ridiculously short miniskirt, and a shorter Asian in a white jacket and a more practical skirt and dark shirt.

"Going up?" asked the blonde.

Veronica gave a tired nod. "Yes, but I'm afraid that it's my private condo, so you'll have to wait for the next one."

The blonde smiled as the Asian slipped in beside her, and through the weariness Veronica felt internal alarms going off.

"That is quite alright, seeing as how it is your condo we wish to visit," said the blonde before motioning to her companion.

Before she could react, Veronica felt a small prick on the side of her neck, and felt the tiredness that had been nagging at her suddenly take over completely. She sagged forward into the blonde's arms as the world went dark around her.

Setting the executive down to the floor gently, Korey sighed again, and glanced up at Aoi. "Exactly why must the skirt on this be so short and the top so tight? And where did you get the idea for such costumes?"

"Excuse me," Aoi muttered to herself as she shut the lift doors. "They're about the least threatening get-up I could find." She glanced back to Korey and chuckled. "And c'mon, it suits you."

Korey plucked at the skintight top. "This has to be in revenge for the Japanese schoolgirl uniform, I am quite certain." Once the elevator arrived at the executive's floor, she picked her up by the shoulders, directing Aoi to take her by the legs so they could carry her inside.

"Oh, don't be like that," Aoi replied, taking up her end. She carefully made her way backwards to the apartment door. "Got her keys?"

Korey reached into the woman's jacket and pulled out said keys, and opened the door before they carried her inside and laid her down on the couch. "That drug will keep her out for a few minutes more," she explained as she took off her backpack and began to take out a few items. "That should give us more than enough time to prepare." A bottle of dark amber coloured liquid and a needle went onto the coffee table, followed by her gun.

Glancing around, Aoi quickly took stock of Veronica's apartment. A spacious living room greeted them on entry, with exits to both sides hinting at a broad, comfortable home. The living room itself centered around a soft couch where Veronica was laid out, and two more easy chairs around the coffee table. To one side was a writing desk; next to that was an old and well-stocked bookshelf. The far side of the room opened out onto a shaded balcony that promised a spectacular view of the coming sunset.

Aoi stepped back, leaning against a wall as a faint smile crossed her face. It felt nice, this place. Warm, cozy and well loved. She glanced down to Veronica, wondering what the home said of the person. Shion's place always felt cold; not in temperature, but in attitude towards the visitor, much like the woman herself. An impression formed of their target as a friendly, welcoming sort.

Aoi shook her head. Best not follow this line of thinking. Concentrate on the job. "Are we ready?" she asked Korey.

With a nod, Korey snapped the handcuffs into place on their captive, leaving her hands bound in front of her, and with an extra pair on her feet. "She should be awakening any moment now..."

As though on cue, Veronica's eyes fluttered opened and she tried to brush a strand of hair from her eyes, but when she found her hands cuffed, she shook off the last dregs of drowsiness and glared at her captors.

"What do you want?" she almost hissed at them.

"To save both of our time, I will get straight to the point," said Korey as she stood up. "Your company has been receiving a small wealth in field data on various new weapons you have been giving the Zero Zone residents in their fight against Jinsei, and since you have a rather prominent position within the company, I would like your access codes and anything else of relevance to retrieve said information."

Veronica slowly shook her head, keeping her gaze locked on Korey. "No," she said softly. "No way."

"And there is nothing, I assume, that would come about were I to threaten you with violence and bodily harm?" Korey mused aloud.

She shied away as much as she could, shaking her head again. Her eyes remained locked on Korey as she cringed away from her.

"Oh, do not worry... that was merely a formality I had to deal with first," said Korey, reaching behind her to pull up the bottle of amber liquid and the needle. "I simply detest such barbaric methods myself when there exist more useful ones." She jabbed the needle into the bottle and filled the needle about half way. "Gem? Be a dear and hold the nice lady still."

Aoi gently laid her hands on Veronica's shoulders, curling her fingers into an iron-like grip. "Sorry about this," Aoi muttered, looking up at the needle in Korey's hands. "But business is business."

After finding a vein, Korey gently pressed the needle into Veronica's arm and injected the liquid into her. Taking the needle out, she dabbed the spot with a cotton swab for a few second before placing a band-aid on it. All the time, the exec had not made a noise of discomfort from the jabbing of the needle into her arm.

"That was a truth serum," Korey started to explain. "And it will take effect in a few moments time, rendering you unable to say nothing more than the absolute truth to whatever question we ask you."

A wave of dizziness seemed to come over Veronica, and her head slumped forwards, rolling onto her chest. She sat perfectly still, letting out a slow, quiet moan.

Glancing up at Korey, Aoi whispered, "Is this really necessary?"

She nodded. "This way is quicker, more efficient, and comes with no more physical harm to her than a small mark on her arm," Korey whispered back. "Plus, by the time the side effects wear off, we shall be done and on our way with the field data."

"I guess," Aoi said with a frown. She turned her attention back to Veronica, who remained perfectly still.

Korey gave her a reassuring smile before turning back to Veronica. "Gem, take out a pen and paper please. Now, Miss Shaw, let us begin, shall we?"

The Gunkoku Arcology was a massive building stretching up and out, like a modern day Inca pyramid, and it completely blocked out the sun as Veronica Shaw and her new assistant, a young Asian woman in a sharp looking dress, cloaking them in the shade as they approached it. They entered in through the ground floor, Veronica presenting her ID card to the receptionist and security guards. As they glanced at the accompanying woman, she waved casually and presented a second ID card.

"My assistant for the day, Miss Yukiko Umeki," she explained. "She will be helping me with various projects..." She paused a moment, a hint of a frown on her face. "You did receive my memo the previous day, yes?"

"I don't believe so, ma'am," said the receptionist.

"Oh, a simple mistake than," said Veronica. "Very well than, please process her as quickly as possible. I have plenty of work to do today an little time to do it in."

After a few moments of inspection, Veronica's assistant was approved and the two continued on their way. At the elevator, she pressed the button and waited a few moments for its arrival, walking in as soon as it arrived and glancing with not a little impatience at her watch.

When the doors finally closed, she glanced at her assistant, offering her the briefest of smiles. "Remind you of old times, does it not?"

"A bit too closely," her assistant replied. "I still can't help but think of that Shiroko-Tsuhi job you put me onto."

'Veronica' smirked and eyed Aoi's pants. "It was about the fuku, was it not?" she said softly.

"More of the girl, actually," she replied. A slight flush came to her face as she gazed up at the ceiling. "'Daddy' wanted to have a little talk with me."

Beneath the disguise she wore, Korey arched an eyebrow. "Oh? And what sort of talk would that be?"

Aoi carefully laced her fingers and looked over to Korey. "About her, and her 'friend' accompanying her."

Korey nodded, listening closely...

"Oh... I see," said Korey simply as the elevator doors opened, revealing the wide expanse of Veronica's office.

It was large, with a table and chairs to one side to accommodate meetings, and a large desk in the middle in front of the elevator near the window as well as other modern day office furnishings. She immediately went for Veronica's desk and sat down on the chair, starting up the computer built into the desk.

Aoi gave the place a once over, seemingly impressed while carefully scanning for security cameras or the like. "Pretty nice office," she said absent-mindedly. A subtle thumbs-up showed all was clear, and she turned to Korey. "What do I do?"

"Continue to keep an eye out," Korey instructed as her fingers flew over the keyboard, typing in the various passwords derived from Veronica the night before. "It will take awhile to first find the information and than copy and download it."

Aoi nodded quietly. She carefully stepped away from the door and took up position by a corner of the room, keeping watch on the door and Korey.

With the last of the security passwords typed in, with, thankfully, not a single password that required Veronica's voice amongst them, and began the search for the data. It was simple, considering that Veronica's computer was preset to open into the department she worked in, but the difficulty came in searching for it when there was simply so much information to sift through.

Korey opened up another window, and turned on the file for the history of past information checks, hoping to get further along with her search, and thus was not paying attention to the door.

Soon enough, the door opened quietly, showing a handsome young man with short blond hair outside. He casually stepped into the office, snapping off a mock salute to Korey. "Mornin'" he said, smirking slightly.

Immediately, Korey's hands flew over the keyboard, minimizing the windows and bringing up another, displaying some routine information on some of the arms deals Gunkoku was currently undertaking. In a flash, Korey Winters was gone, and Veronica Shaw was sitting at the desk, throwing the newcomer a warm smile.

"Good morning," 'Veronica' said. "What brings you here today?"

He shrugged expansively, his smile broadening. "What else?"

Veronica offered a soft laugh, but inwardly Korey was wondering just who in the world this man was and what he wanted. Suddenly, the mission was taking a turn for the worst, and there hadn't been a shot fired. She didn't dare look at Aoi for help, not from where he could see her, at least.

"And what would that be?" she asked, giving him a warm, playful smile.

He raised an eyebrow and chuckled slightly. Rather than reply, he slowly shut the door behind him.

The warm smile on Veronica's face belied the small anxiety that Korey was feeling beneath it, and she urgently wished that she had questioned Veronica more on the personal of Gunkoku. Then again, with a company of that size, how was it possible for even high-ranking executives to know everyone? Was this a competitor within the company? A secret lover? Or maybe a partner?

He leaned back slightly, looking a touch puzzled. "Is something up?" he asked. He looked beyond her, out the window, until he caught sight of Aoi in the corner of his eye. "Ah..." He said quietly, his smile returning.

"Oh, you certainly wish, don't you?" Veronica replied, as a glimmer of who this man really was began to take root in her mind.

"This is?" He asked, indicating towards Aoi.

Veronica stood up from the desk and walking up to him, waving a hand casually towards Aoi. "Yukiko Umeki, my assistant for the day," she explained before draping her arms about his shoulders in a warm hug. Over his shoulder, Korey made a face at Aoi, as though to ask whom this man was.

Aoi shrugged quickly, shaking her head.

He pulled slightly away from Korey to glance at Aoi. "White, one sugar. Two of 'em," he said with a nod towards the door.

"To the right, and down the hall a little," Veronica added, and Korey was quick to add in an arched eyebrow and a short nod of the head towards the man when he wasn't looking to Aoi. "New, so she's a tad unfamiliar with where everything is," she added in explanation when he turned back to face her.

"Right. I'll uh..." Aoi trailed off uncomfortably, then simply made her way out of the room.

"Now that she's out of the way," he said simply and cupped her chin in his hand.

And with that, the inkling in her mind took on a full-blown realization, as this man was obviously an office affair. As she cupped the back of his head and pulled him into a deep, deep kiss, all but pushing him back towards the desk, she realized she was going to be in big trouble if this continued to the point where clothes were stripped... that and she had NO idea what his name was.

"I knew you were a bit distracted," he murmured between kisses. With a slow certainly, his hands made their way down towards her skirt.

"And you like to rush into things," Veronica teased back, pushing him down onto the desk and kissing him on the cheek. "You do realize she'll return in a few minutes."

"I'm sure there's something else she can do," he said. He sat back on her desk, looking up at her with admiration, and beckoning with one finger.

Veronica smiled and backed off a little. "Now now, what's the secret word?"

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Korey wondered what would happen if it actually did get to the point where they got naked and he noticed the small yet noticeable differences between herself and Veronica? She could no doubt take him down before he did anything to notify security, but that would mean his being missing from wherever he worked, and raise suspicions and the risk of being discovered.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we work to deceive," ran the old proverb through Korey's mind.

He stood again from the desk, making his way towards her. He gazed into her eyes, a look bordering on hunger on his face...

Just as Korey's mobile rang.

Veronica shook her head and smiled as she picked up the phone and answered it. "Yes?"

Aoi's voice came through in perfect Japanese. "Make an excuse, shut off your computer and get out of there. We can think of something later."

"Right, of course," said Veronica with a nod before turning off the mobile. She turned to the man with a sigh. "Business calls. I'm afraid that we'll have to get together some other time. Perhaps dinner... at my place... just the two of us?"

"Tonight's... not good," he said, backing away slightly. "Lunchtime?"

Veronica strolled over behind the desk and, with a few deft taps on the keyboard, had the computer turned off. "We shall see."

"We'll see, then," he said. He finished with a shrug.

A few minutes later found Korey outside the office, having kissed Veronica's office lover good-bye, and silently chatting away with Aoi in one of the many lunchrooms scattered throughout the floor.

Sipping her tea, Korey took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Thank you," she whispered to Aoi.

"I would have been sooner, but I had to find a quiet spot to make the call."

Korey was silent for a few moments as she glanced back at Veronica's office. "I did not even get his name," she said. And with a grin to Aoi, she added," I forgot to inquire about this kind of situation. My apologies."

"Hey, not your fault. Who would think to?"

"True." Korey sipped her tea, and set it down on the countertop. "Best choice I believe we have now is to wait a little bit before going back in and conducting the data search anew."

"And hope he doesn't return for round two," Aoi added with a smirk.

"If it comes to that, we could always pretend to be the ones having a lucid office affair," Korey suggested jokingly.

"Do *not* go there," Aoi replied coolly. "Do we scram once we've got it, or stick around for the day?"

"We leave," Korey said simply. "We are pushing our luck the longer we stay here... whom knows how many other people are on such friendly terms with Veronica? Not to mention the chance of being called up to a meeting at any time."

"Won't that be suspect in itself?" Aoi asked.

"If we... I mean, if I were to avoid it, yes." She drained the rest of her tea and straightened out her clothing. "But not if we finish first. It should be safe in the office now... let us go."

Aoi nodded and stood to follow her.

"And..." Korey paused as the graph on the main computer screen filled up, reaching 100 percent with a soft chime of bells. "Completed." She logged out and disconnected the small personal computer, gray in colour and no bigger than a medium sized purse, and jammed it into her briefcase.

Aoi let out a tiny sigh and smiled. "'bout time. I was afraid waldo would be coming back."

"Yes." Korey stood up, straightened her clothes a little and general put on her appearance of Veronica Shaw once more, in attitude and personality. "But we must not push our luck any further. Let us go." Taking up her briefcase, she walked up to Aoi in front of the main doors and was about to open them when they suddenly burst open on them.

A trio of armed security strode purposefully into the room. The man at their head faced Korey, standing crisply at attention. "Miss Shaw?" he asked quickly.

The smile on Veronica's face was warm, yet tinged with concern. "Yes, what appears to be the matter?"

"I'm sorry, miss Shaw, but a situation has arisen that calls for your protection."

She nodded. "Of course, but what might that situation be?"

"Our agents have reported that there is a bounty on particular projects underway within the arcology." He glanced aside briefly to Aoi, and then turned his attention directly back to Korey. "From our understanding of such operations, you would be at risk for capture, interrogation or replacement."

At the glance at Aoi, Veronica spoke up. "My assistant for the day. How recent is this information? And what precautions are to be undertaken?"

"It came in this morning. We believe you would be at risk were you to leave the arcology." He nodded; swallowing at what he knew would be hard news. "Therefore, to protect you, I'm afraid we'll have to take you and your assistant into custody for now."

A soft sigh and a shake of her head was his reply. "Regrettable, but understandable. At the most, it is good to see the competency and efficiency of the security force. Very well, lead the way," she said with a soft smile.

"Thank you for understanding, miss." He snapped a salute and stepped aside, indicating out the door. "Other precautions have been taken as well, to shorten your stay."

"Such as?" Veronica inquired as they walked out the door, flanked by the security guards.

"We've sent someone to check your apartment. We believe that would be a prime ambush opportunity for those wishing you harm."

At that, Korey exchanged a quick sidelong glance to Aoi. "Smart thinking. Although one would think that Jinsei Executives would be more prone to being kidnapped considering their recent activities," she said with another sad sigh.

Aoi nodded slightly, a flash of concern on her face imperceptible to all but Korey.

"These are dangerous times, I'm afraid," The guard replied as he led the way through the twisting halls of the buildings. "Jinsei are copping most of the flack from their actions, but there has been a spillover effect."

Korey nodded in agreement and remained silent the remainder of the trip as the guards led them to one of the many security stations placed throughout the Gunoku arcology. Things had certainly taken a turn for the worst, with the only silver living being that her and Aoi's disguises had not been seen through... yet. And that would only be a matter of time. Once the real Veronica was found bound up in her apartment, their cover would be blown, to say the least of their problems.

She spared another glance to Aoi as they entered the security station, which contained another few guards, and were seated. The place contained all the features that any such place would have; armaments, banks of surveillance cameras, and computers galore to oversea every majour function related to security.

An inkling of an idea began to enter Korey's mind, but first...

The guard ushered them into the spartan room, where a couple of spare chairs and a table had been set up in a free corner. "Sorry for the accommodations, please make yourself comfortable."

Korey nodded, and once the door was closed, turned to Aoi and arched an eyebrow. "Well now, the frisky gentleman from earlier certainly seems like less a danger now, does he not?" she said softly.

"I think that's the only good news." Aoi waited until the guard's back was turned, and indicated slightly to him with a nod of her head.

Korey did a quick head count, six guards; their three escorts and three currently sitting at the bank of computers and video monitors. She motioned to the latter with a nod of her head and pointed at Aoi, than pointed to their escorts and herself.

Aoi nodded slightly, then casually stepped aside. She strolled up behind two of the guards, craning her neck over them to see their consoles and workstations.

Korey stood up, took a deep breath and then hefted up her briefcase as one of the guards politely asked Aoi to return to her seat. With a swing, Korey brought it down on the head of the first guard, eliciting a short, sharp shout of pain from him before he collapsed to the floor, unconscious. She didn't wait to see him fall, and instead rushed the second guard with a palm strike to his nose, entrusting Aoi to take care of the remaining guards.

Responding with blinding speed, Aoi lashed out, striking both guards in front of her across the face. A sidekick followed, knocking the third seated guard from his chair.

As the third and last guard drew his gun, Korey was leaping over the body of the second, ducking in low with a punch to the gut that left him bent over, wheezing for air. She plucked the gun from his limp hand and simply knocked him out with a strike to the back of the head.

With the two guards in front still reeling, Aoi took her chance. She caught both around their necks and flipped backwards, driving their head into the floor.

The third of Aoi's combats, nursing sore ribs, rose to his feet, only to immediately collapse from a well timed shot to the back of his head from Korey's confiscated gun.

"That went well," she said before dropping down to begin securing the guards with their own handcuffs.

"Now how do we get out of here?" Aoi asked as she secured the remaining guards.

"Obviously not the way we came in," replied Korey as she took a seat at one of the consoles and began typing rapidly. "Ah, how good. Veronica's passwords work here as well." She threw a grin at Aoi.

"What are you doing?" Aoi deadpanned back.

To that, Korey actually began to sing, softly," Raise a little hell, raise a little hell... raise a little hell..." And as she sang, she typed, and as she typed, alarms all over the building began to ring. On the monitors, people started to run about as steel doors, built to withstand the assault of a small army, slammed down into place.

Aoi shook her head in amazement. "Always got a plan," she muttered, and let a smile play across her face.

On one screen, the image of panicked, mad, and confused corporate employees was replaced with a digital map of the arcology, along with a line stretching from the security station they were to what appeared to be a small port and a series of tunnels leading under the arcology.

"This," said Korey as the map on the screen was printed out on a sheet of paper," is our escape route."

"Sewage works, of course." Aoi smiled ruefully. "I spend far too much time in the sewers these days."

"At the least, you get to spend this time in the sewers in a five thousand dollar suit," Korey said, typing rapidly on the console. After a few more clicks, she pushed back from the console, stood up, and with a single motion, swung the office chair in an overhead arc to smash it down on the console, shattering the keyboard.

"Let's get moving. These guys won't be out for long." Aoi scooped up a pistol from one of the guards and tucked it away in her suit. "We'll need to be inconspicuous for the first leg, but after that we're in the clear."

"Not a problem," said Korey, pointing to the monitors. "I managed to secure our way to the sewage works, but we will have to move quickly before they undo the damage from another security station."

Aoi nodded and carefully slid open the door. She checked briefly outside, and then gave Korey a thumbs-up.

Taking up a pistol for herself, as well as the briefcase, Korey followed Aoi outside, holding the map in her free hand. Fortunately, only a very few people had been trapped inside the path that Korey had created, and any questions directed towards her were coolly brushed aside with the air of her professionalism. Once they had reached the sewage works, it was child's play to open up one of the vents and slide down into the pipe of muck below.

A short drop landed them up to their knees in unidentified sludge.

"Wonderful," Aoi muttered. "So much for the suit." A quick glance took in their situation. They were standing in a wide passage that led to a central shaft ahead. The layout Korey had secured indicated the shaft would take them all the way down the building, but was occasionally patrolled by security.

Taking out her gun, Korey started forward, moving as fast as she could through the knee high sludge. "Speed is of the essence now, rather than stealth. Two corporate suits in the sewers are mighty suspicious."

"Nothing but to climb," Aoi muttered as they approached the central shaft. The walls were a mess of pipes, valves and vents, with a number of maintenance ladders leading down the building.

Without a word she turned and began her descent down the shaft.

Korey holstered her gun long enough to follow her down, and took it out when they reached the bottom. She glanced at the map to orient herself, when she spotted several lights flashing off the wall ahead.

"A patrol," she whispered to Aoi, pointing ahead.

A glance from Aoi confirmed her fears. Two lights shone from higher up, accompanied by the approaching whir of lift fans. "Heck, air patrol!" Aoi whispered. She knew the sorts of machines used; one-man hover platforms with chin-mounted cannons. And they were heading their way.

Running would only draw their attention, and there was no way they could outdistance the aircraft. The walls were blank, affording no opportunity to hide. The only way out was...

Aoi lunged forwards, grabbed Korey, and dove face-first into the muck beneath them.

Korey had barely the time to grab a deep breath before they sank beneath the surface, settling on the bottom. Seconds stretched by as the air patrol came down the shaft and flew over their position, down the pipe, and than back up again, actually staying right above them for several seconds more before they retreated back up the shaft and continued on their way.

Shortly after that, Korey popped back up into a kneeling position, gasping for air and wiping the thick, gooey sludge from her face and hair, trying desperately not to breathe in through her nose.

Aoi joined her quickly afterwards, shaking her head. She quickly stripped off the sodden jacket and used the relatively clean lining to wipe her face off.

"We should be clear," she said between gasping breaths. "I hope."

Korey coughed, and did the same as Aoi, using the coat of her own suit to wipe away the sludge from her face. "Yes... although I certainly wished I had packed along a breathing mask, or at least a five minute air tank." She glanced down at her suit, and than at Aoi's, and smiled. "Well, if you thought the suits were ruined before..."

Aoi smiled, ruefully checking her stolen pistol before tossing it casually over her shoulder. "I sure hope this job's worth it."

Noticing the condition of her own gun, Korey did the same, sparing it a glance to watch it sink under the surface before leaning in close and playfully whispering the amount of money they were to receive upon successful completion of the mission.

Aoi smiled broadly, nodding along with Korey. "I feel a lot better. Let's just get going; I need a good hour in the shower."

Dressed in a fluffy clean blue bathrobe, showered, and finally smelling much less of sewage, Korey sat at the bar downstairs, sparing a glance up towards the second floor of the house were Aoi was currently taking her fourth shower in as many hours. It wasn't any surprise, considering the number of patrols they came across and how much they had hid themselves in the sewage. It had taken them almost another hour to slowly work their way to freedom, and almost as long to get to send off the data and receive their payment.

The payment had made it all worthwhile, though, and would certainly keep them both well funded for the time being. In the meantime, Korey had a concern to address...

She had spotted the name Ishiyama, very briefly, before downloading the data, and on a whim, had also downloaded any and all files she could grab associated with the name. As she reviewed the data on her laptop more carefully, she found something troubling.

There were files, observation reports and the like, on Ray, along with a few smaller files containing some details on Ishiyama's failed synthetic esper program, a program whose intimate details she had stolen that had sparked a series of events that lead to the destruction of Ishiyama's Neo York HQ, effectively destabilizing the entire company. With the higher ups scrambling to recover the great monetary loss and the loss of the senior project members as well as the data, Ishiyama had abandoned the project entirely, and any and all information on the last two successfully created synthetic PKs had been lost...

So just how the heck had they gotten information on Ray? Were they thinking of starting up from where Ishiyama had stopped?

A loudly cleared throat brought her to attention to find Aoi standing in the doorway watching her. She was clad for now in a simple white bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her head, yet an expression of concern marred her face.

"What's the matter?" She asked.

Taking a deep breath, Korey glanced down at the laptop, and then back up to Aoi. "Someone has a bounty on Ray."

"Ray..." Aoi frowned. "Why? What's he done?"

And now Korey seemed more troubled than before as she debated mentally whet ever or not to tell Aoi the whole truth... about Ray, that is. The decision was cinched when she saw the concern in the other woman's eyes, and she motioned to the laptop.

"Because, someone has found out he's the only remaining synthetic esper created by Ishiyama, and they want him."

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