By Alex Fauth with ideas by Mike Surbrook
Some parts inspired by a real story

Sandra blinked awake. It was morning on what looked to be a beautiful, clear, sunny day. Perfect. She smiled to herself. For once she felt great. Nothing was going to spoil her mood.

She rolled over in bed to where David was lying, himself only just awake. "Morning." She began as she shuffled closer to him in the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Great." He replied, punctuating his statement with a kiss. "And yourself?"

"Probably the best I've been in years." She replied, and kissed him back, moving closer in the bed.

"Hang on a second," he replied. "We're never going to get out of bed at this rate."

"Awww..." She replied. "But it's so comfortable here..."

"Well, we could stay here." He replied. "But we've got plans, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah." She jokingly replied. She knew what he meant, and felt like joking around with him. But he was right. They'd been planning this day for ages and she wasn't going to mess it up now.

After giving David a quick kiss, she managed to convince her body to get up out of her nice, warm, comfortable bed with the buff programmer guy. She showered and changed into more casual wear then her usual black combat suit and synth-leather coat, instead picking out a charcoal-gray skivvy and slacks.

"Still wearing black?" David asked as he entered the bedroom, dressed only in his bathrobe. "I thought this was meant to be a casual day."

"Very funny." She replied, giving him another kiss as he eyes casually wandered across his bathrobe. No, Sandra, she thought. We want to get going today. "Well, you know me. Simple, practical tastes."

Managing to drag herself form the bedroom (and away from David), Sandra entered the kitchen. Time to start packing, she thought.

It had occurred to her that she and David actually did surprisingly little together. She worked at night, he worked during the day. They saw each hours for a little bit in between, which usually consisted of casual hellos, a quick meal or, if things were going well, a bout of passionate but fast lovemaking.

She'd come across a nice little park with a great view of the city and the harbor, and it had occurred to her that it'd make a great spot to have a picnic. And she couldn't think of anything better then simply spending the day out with the man she loved in what had quickly become her favorite city. They'd been doing better then normal of late; they'd moved form 'barely getting by' to 'passable'. Which to Sandra meant that it was the time to splurge and do something.

David had liked the idea too, so they had set a date for it. So between bouts of frantic employment, they had managed to get things almost perfectly arranged for a wonderful day out. Almost.

There was one problem with their plan. They were out of bread.

"Tool." Sandra muttered to herself. "Why does something like this always happen?"

"Fate?" David replied. "Karma, maybe."

Sandra shot a glare at him. "Right. We make a side-trip to the store and then we go." She had been looking forward to this day for ages. No way was she going to let a little thing like bread get in her way.

The shopping center underneath Mandarin towers was mainly about trendy boutiques, expensive footwear and overpriced cafes. Fortunately, there was an old-fashioned corner grocery store across the road. Sandra did a lot of her shopping there. She liked the place for some reason that she couldn't fathom.

She stepped inside while David waited outside with their lunch. This shouldn't take too long.

It was when she got to the register that she was feeling apprehensive. She didn't like the look of the guy in front of her at the register. A local youth, probably no more then seventeen with a try-hard tough guy look; jacket, spiked hair, pierced eyebrow... He reached into his jacket.

Oh no. You have to be tooling me, she thought.

He shouted something at the shopkeeper in Chinese. The shopkeeper shouted something back. Then he whipped his gun out form his jacket. And dropped it.

The gun fell from his hand, hit the edge of the counter, bounced off and clattered to the floor. He reached for it. Sandra was faster. Coming up, she found herself staring straight at him, his gun now pointed at his face.

"Right." She began. "You may not be aware of this, but this is a very, very special day for me. I'm not going to have it ruined by a two-bit tool who thinks he's tough because he's got a lump of metal; stick through his face and a plastic pistol he bought behind the boy's dunny at school."

She assumed he could understand English. If not, she hoped her actions would speak for her.

"Now I'm giving you a chance because I'm in a good mood. You get the frell out of here and never, ever come back, and I don't rip you a new date. You understand?"

He nodded.

"Good. Now go!"

Given the choice, the youth chose to run out of the store. Good, she hoped he would be sensible. She didn't want any bloodshed. Not today.

"Sorry about that" She began as she stepped up to the counter. "Just the bread, please." She slid the gun across the counter. "Oh, that tool dropped this. I dunno, maybe you can get something for it."

Having paid, she left to rejoin David. "You took a while." He began.

"It was busier then I thought."

"That guy before you left in a hurry." He continued. "What happened?"

"He didn't get what he was after."

After that brief moment of excitement, things went surprisingly well. Rather then traveling by Sandra's over-stressed bike, the pair of them had instead decided to travel by public transport; neither were really in a hurry and it gave them the chance to relax without one of them having to negotiate the crowded streets. Besides, Sandra was rather fond of the old double-decker busses for some reason.

The park itself was on the outer edge of the city, halfway up a hillside that commanded a great view of the harbor. Sandra had found this place a while ago while helping someone out for no immediate rewards; something that she still was amazed that she'd done. She'd pointed out the run-down Royal Arboretum to David on the way up here, which had provided the site for one of her more crazed gunfights.

They'd set themselves up with one of the better views over the harbor, Sandra taking great delight in unpacking their picnic lunch. She'd chosen a menu of what she called "picnic essentials", chicken, cold meat, salad and anything else that could be crammed between two slices of bread.

"Nice place." David began as he looked around. "Did Sarah show you it?"

"Actually, I came here on a job." She admitted. "But I thought that it would make for a better site for a picnic then a pitched battle."

David laughed. "You got that right." He replied. "I'm surprised that such a space still exists here."

She shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe it just fell off the map, or nobody's thought of buying it. Certainly the government isn't looking after most of the Botanic gardens anymore."

"Its nice though." David replied as he pulled out the containers that Sandra had managed to stuff all their food (especially the bread) into. "Different for this city."

Sandra grabbed one of the boxes and opened it up, stuffing a mixture of meat and salad into a rather generously proportioned sandwich. "Besides, it'd be boring if everything around here was the same."

"Still, I'm glad it's not quite as, uh 'different' as the Zone." David added as he made his own, somewhat smaller sandwich. "I'll say now that I dot miss that place at all."

"Me neither." Sandra replied as she added a drumstick to her already overloaded plate. "And I'm completely over that place now. I mean, it was the pits before, but now... Jinsei moves in and there goes the frelling neighborhood."

"I'm just glad we got out of there when we did."

Sandra nodded. She'd seen the news with the pictures of the huge black triangular gunships that were hovering over the zone, and imagined what kind of equipment those things would be bringing into the Zone. "There's something that has been bothering me for a while." Sandra spoke up between bites of her rather overstuffed sandwich. "If you don't mind me prying."

David looked up. 'What is it?" He asked.

"Okay, I'll admit that I all but dragged you to Hong Kong." She began. "I said, 'hey, I'm outta here, you coming or what? By the way, I do have a place to go to but I'm not gonna let you in on the details' and then went and spent what little we had an a pair of economy class one-way tickets." She paused for a second. "I mean, in retrospect, it does sound a little rude."

David considered this for a moment. "Your point being?"

"Well, I never really stopped to ask you how you felt about all this." Sandra continued. "I just assumed that you were all okay with it. Heck, it wasn't too far off the Zone when I was dragging you around by your ear and trying to keep you alive." She waved around a part-eaten drumstick for effect.

"But at the same time, you didn't exactly hear me complain." He replied.

"Well, no..." Sandra admitted.

"When I thought about it, I had very little left for me in Neo York once I got out of the Zone." He explained. "My job was gone, my company bought out, all my possessions had been seized... I could have gotten another job, yes, but it would be a bit hard explaining the six-month gap in my CV. So, in a way, when you asked me if I wanted to fly halfway around the world to some city I've never been to and live with out in some sight-unseen house, it was actually a better option."

"Really?" Sandra replied. "I guess I never thought of that."

"Besides, I've grown rather fond of Hong Kong. I don't know what it is, but... ah well."

"I'll admit I'm like that too." Sandra replied. "Although to me It could simply be because this place isn't Neo York or the Zone."

"You're very realistic." David replied, chuckling. "And I'll admit now, I did... well, lets just say that wanted to be with you, even if I couldn't say it immediately."

Sandra nodded. She would have been the first to admit that she'd been attracted to David while they were living together in the Zone. He had a rather refreshing honesty about him, and the fact that he was rather handsome hadn't hurt either. Which, in a way was like... no, let's not think of that. Change the subject. "Of course, it could be because I've got a genuine friend here, something I've actually found lacking back in the US."

"Sarah, right?"

Sandra nodded. "Yeah. My best friend is a blue-skinned synthetic landlady. I'm trying to think what that means."

"You meet strange people." He replied. "That girl, Vic, for example."

"I'd hardly call her a friend." Sandra replied. 'We worked together and had a few laughs. Mostly it was my being nice to her in case she snapped and did something horrible." She sniggered, and then sighed. "I do hope she's all right, though."

"You miss her?" He asked.

"In a way." She said. "I mean, we did leave her in the Zone..." She looked around. 'There are a few others, I'll admit. My sister, Elizabeth, mainly. I mean, we haven't seen each other face to face for years, but I guess we just haven't spoken in a while. And there were a few other people I knew both in the Zone and in NY proper."

"Like Karen?" David asked.

Sandra remembered her friend and one time colleague all but drooling over David when she met him. "Yeah, Karen. She was unique."

David nodded.

"How about you?" She asked. "There anyone back in NY?"

"There's Michael," David admitted. "But... well... that's about it."

Now it was Sandra's turn to nod.

"Can I ask you something, Sandra?" David spoke up.

She finished off the drumstick. "Sure.

"If you don't mind me prying..." He began. "Uh, I was just wondering about something. Uh, were did you get your apartment from?" He seemed a little embarrassed to be asking. "If you don't mind me saying, but it looks like it's a little out of your price range. And I've noticed that you own it outright, you're not paying it off or anything."

Sandra took a sip from her drink. "It's a long story." She began.

"I'm sorry..." He replied, as if he knew that it was going to be painful.

"Don't apologize." She replied. "I figured that I was gonna tell you anyway." She leaned back on the bench. "It was a gift for me form my last boyfriend. He bought it in my name so that we'd have a place to stay while we were in Hong Kong on business. Then he gave it to me as a gift."

"A... gift?" David asked, a somewhat surprised expression on his face.

"Yeah, my reaction was pretty much the same as yours." She continued. "And yes, before you ask, he was into major money and could easily afford it."

"Ah." David stammered out. "That's... surprisingly generous."

Sandra nodded. "Yeah... it was a shock, to say the least."

"Can I ask..." He began. "Uh, what happened, I mean, with him and you?"

"Sure." She replied. "If you don't mind me being uncharacteristically teary-eyed." She added.

David nodded. "Yeah."

"Well... to cut a long story short, he hired me for... various reasons. However, well, we got along a lot better then expected and next thing you know, well..." She shrugged. "Anyways, the job we were doing in the Zone went wrong. I mean horribly wrong. He did some things that he shouldn't have done, and made a lot of mistakes. My other partner... well, anyway..." She paused. It was hard for her to say this, but at the same time, she wanted to. It was something she had been carrying around for a long time, and had never said to anyone.

She breathed deeply before continuing. "In the end I had to do something really awful, something I've regretted since then. I did what I had to do, but at the same time I wish there had been something else I could have done. Anything else."

"I'm sorry." David replied. "I didn't mean to bring it up."

"Its okay." She added, dismissively. "You've got a right to know about where the place came form." She looked around the park for a moment. "Besides which, in many ways, that relationship, no matter how screwed up it was, it was good for me?"

"How so?"

"You're not going to believe this, but I used to be a lot more bitter, cynical and loathing of the world."

David smirked. "You're right. I can't believe that."

Sandra smiled. "Its true, however. I used to be a complete tool. I loathed and despised everything, myself included. I thought I was little more then a scarred wreck."

"But he didn't see that, right?"

She nodded. "Yeah. He actually made me realize that my life wasn't all that bad. And then he got me a house in HK, which made me feel even better. And if he hadn't done that, then I would have never met Sarah, so..." She gestured wildly in the air. "Yeah."

"And if you hadn't broken up?"

"Hmm..." She considered this for a moment. "Then I wouldn't have run off into the Zone in search of some sort of emotional conclusion, and I wouldn't have met you."

"So you could say it al worked out."

Sandra laughed at the thought. All the strife she'd been through with Jason had been painful, but at the same time, she'd come out of it a lot better off. For some reason, that conclusion didn't surprise her.

After lunch, they'd spent the slowly walking around the hills and the overgrown, but still navigable Botanical gardens. Despite the overgrown chaos of it all, or maybe because of it, they'd both quite enjoyed the walk. Sandra had seen plenty of overgrown areas in the Zone, but nothing to this degree, where something so neat and ordered had gone so wild, but yet put on such a display of color and life.

Realizing that it was rather late in the afternoon, the pair of them had decided to travel back by ferry. David had suggested it as a nice change of pace for once. Sandra had agreed, thinking of the various ferry tours that she'd been on with Sarah during this and her other times in the city.

They sat outside, watching the city go past and enjoying the sunset, then seeing the way the city lit up after dark. Sandra had rarely seen it like this; usually she was seeing the neon of Hong Kong at night from street level, and often while running.

"This is quite nice." David began. "We'll have to do this some day; touring around by ferry."

"Sure." She replied. "Sarah's shown me a lot of places we could go next time we get the chance. I'm sure I could get a few days out of it."

"Can't wait."

"Of course, that's all dependent on our hectic modern lives." Sandra continued. "Speaking of which, how is the job going? I feel like a complete tool for not asking."

"Rather well, actually." He replied. "It's good stuff, actually. The same sort of simulation modeling I was doing back with SimTech, but with a bigger budget. Turns out that I was just what they were looking for."

"So do they treat you well? You keeping busy?"

"Well, my coworkers are pretty good. Even though I'm new there, I've found that I've fit in nicely. One or two of them had seen some of my earlier work and that got everything rolling." He waved around his had to emphasize his point.

"Well that's good. I know what it's like to work with a bunch of total tools."

"Are you talking about the police or people you knew in the Zone?" David asked.

"Both, actually." Sandra replied, and sniggered.

"Of course, the team leaders and project managers are all tools who don't know what we're doing and give us incomprehensible or implausible tasks... but that's pretty much standard for bosses everywhere." David continued, and laughed.

"You said 'tool'" Sandra replied.

"Damn it, I did." He coughed out between laughs. "Of course, it's the way of bosses everywhere. I should be used to it by now."

"I'm so glad I never got an office job then." Sandra continued. "I mean, senior officers are enough trouble. But one who decides where your finances are going would be unbearable."

"More like terrible." David continued. "They're menaces."

"Right. Remind me never to find a nine-to-five job." Sandra finished. "Poor Liz. She's going to end up being traumatized by Team Leaders." She ran her hand through her hair. "That's about the one thing I'm not going to envy her for."

"Yeah, you're so much better off being chased and shot at." David replied, sarcastically.

"But I get to be my own boss." Sandra replied. "And that doesn't completely blow goats."

David humped for a second. "By the way," he continued. "I like the new haircut."

"Oh." Sandra muttered. It had been her one concession to vanity she'd made since... well, she figured since she was maimed all those years ago. She'd gone out and gotten the straw-like mess that was her hair trimmed and cut back with the intention of regrowing it. In the end, she'd wound up with something she'd briefly seen in a fashion magazine, trimmed short with long locks around the ears. "I didn't think about it until then."

"It suits you." He replied.

"Thanks." She turned back to him. "But don't you go doing a hatchet job on what you've got there. I'm jealous enough of it as it is."


"Oh yeah." She glanced at his long, straight hair. "I used to have long, beautiful hair like yours. 'course, then I ended up getting half of it blown off, and living in a world with no running water or conditioner."

"Geez, don't you have anything positive to say about the Zone?"

"Yeah. I'm glad I'm not there."

It was some hours later before they got home. David was amazed that Sandra had managed to remain so cheerful and enjoy the day. Sandra had replied that he wasn't the only one, with a tone that suggested that it was only half-joking.

They were passing by the corner grocery store and found that, to Sandra's surprise, it was still open this late. What was more surprising was that someone came charging out of the store, a gun in hand, a bag in the other. As he ran out the door, Sandra literally barged into his path. The pair of them collided, the man falling face-first on the footpath, both the gun and bag flying out of his hands.

He stumbled, trying to get to his feet, only to be cut off by Sandra stomping on his hand as he reached for the gun. He rolled over, trying to grab at her leg, only to receive a boot in the side from Sandra. It was at that point that she recognized him as he youth form this morning's holdup.

"Hello." She began. He said something back in Chinese that she didn't catch, but could easily guess the meaning off. "If I recall, I told you never to come back here this morning, didn't I?"

There was a pause and then he nodded.

"Right." Sandra continued. "Now, I've just had a very good day which, despite you best efforts, I enjoyed to the fullest. This is why I'm giving you a chance." She paused for effect. "I'm going to release my foot and let you go. You are not going to try and grab the gun or the money, but instead are going to leave here. And then you are not going to come back. If you fail to do this, I will be very, very upset that you have ruined my day. Do you understand?

He nodded again.

"Very good." Sandra slowly raised her hand. The youth leaped up and ran off, not even giving the money or the gun a second glance.

"That was surprisingly nice of you, Sandra." David began.

"I know." She replied. "I'm in a great mood, so I figured that I might as well be nice to someone for a change." She picked up the gun and the money and turned to David. "I'd better give these back." She ducked into the store and then returned a minute later.

"All done?" David asked.

"Yep." Sandra replied. "Thanks for today, David." She continued. "I can honestly say that this is the best time I've had in years."

"Well thank you." He replied. "It was your idea to begin with."

"Okay then." She finished. "Let's go home. I've got a great idea on how we can round off the day."

"You're hopeless." David replied as he walked next to her.

"I know," she finished. "And you wouldn't have it any other way."

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