By Michael Surbrook and Alex Fauth

Early January 2039

"Bleeding hell. Rains more here then it bloody well does at home."

Popping open her lightube umbrella, Kaelyn Harrison stepped out onto the rain-soaked Hong Kong street. Joining the crowd, she headed off down the busy footpath, mingling with dozens of other people heading to or from one place or another. Many had umbrellas, many didn't. A number covered their heads with improvised shelters like books or bags, while others chose not to shelter themselves at all. The soft blue glow of the tube illuminated her face and body, but given the amount of neon lights and advertisements around her, it almost seemed unnecessary. Still, it was kind of neat.

She paused for a moment at a crossing, glancing at her reflection on a store window while she waited for the light to change. With her free hand, she played with the end of her hair, currently a deep red. Neon blue? she thought as she held it next to one of her pointed ears. Wonder if that would work for a change... maybe as a streak or something. She shook her head, setting off as the lights changed, traveling with the rest of the crowd down the packed street.

It was a miserable night here in Hong Kong, but that didn't seem to affect the population. It was annoyingly hot and the rain was belting down, but most people seemed to be going on her daily business as if nothing was happening. Certainly Kaelyn had a good reason to be out tonight. She'd gotten a call from a guy who knew a guy who knew... well, they knew people. At any rate, it meant that an order of hers had come in and that she could pop down to collect it at some point.

Which meant that she had dropped everything and all but raced out the door. She'd been waiting some six months for this, and wasn't about to wait a night longer. To her the fact that it was pouring outside didn't matter. This was something she wanted now, and wasn't about to let a little monsoonal downpour (She was pretty sure it was monsoon season, or was that somewhere else?) stop her. This was something she'd been after for a multitude of reasons. Sure, it was going to be very useful to her in her chosen line of work—what gunfighter didn't like a new toy. But mainly she wanted it because it was cool and shiny, and something that few other people in Hong Kong could claim to have.

Reaching a clear area, Kaelyn made a sudden turn to her left and dashed across the road, cutting around a gaggle of electric scooters before vanishing down a side street and into a series of progressively narrower and mostly twisted alleys. She was looking for Hong's Exchange, a hole-in-the-wall where one could probably find anything. From Kaelyn's limited experience, it certainly seemed to be the truth. From the outside the place looked like a dump, what with its flickering neon and dusty display windows crammed with a bewildering assortment of Asian odds and ends. Inside it wasn't much better, with floor to ceiling shelves and tall stacks of packing cases, all covered in a fine layer of dust and detritus.

The sheer variety of goods was downright staggering. Wooden crates stuffed with spiraled shavings and dross, packed around the shiny blue-black of gunbarrels, Styrofoam cradles holding rows of circuit boards, and small cardboard boxes lined with bubblewrap and porcelain tea sets. Every time she came in here things seemed to have moved and changed, as if there was some strange, slow-motion migration going on when no one was looking.

Stepping over a broken box of manga, the pages brittle and yellow, the covers literally coming unglued, she paused to give Lenny the Electric Civet Cat a scratch between the ears, who purred in response. Lenny wasn't electric of course (despite being quite incredibly cute), but a replicated life form, just like Hong's shop assistant, Toy (who looked exactly like a replicated human named "Toy" would). Actually, Toy wasn't that bad, in fact she was downright helpful, since she could lift a couple of hundred pounds without breaking a sweat and seemed to have committed the contents of the shop to memory. As an added bonus, Hong didn't dress Toy in skintight cheong-sams (unlike the apparent de riguer amongst Hong Kong replicants), instead she wore highly practical outfits combining cargo pants and denim shirts. The electric green hair was a dead giveaway as to her origins though.

(Kaelyn had been mistaken for a replicant once; apparently the pointed ears had caused some confusion. The guy would never make that mistake again... but then he wasn't likely to make any mistakes. Ever.)

Reaching the counter (and trying to ignore Lenny, who as usual, was trying to convince anyone who would listen he was malnourished), Kaelyn spotted Hong's salt-and-pepper mop through a morass of open boxes, plastic wrap, and packing foam.

"Well?" she asked with a mixture of impatience and excitement. She'd only been waiting six months for it after all, but at the same time it seemed worth it for what was in store.

"Kaelyn!" Hong gave her a short bow and smiled, gold-caps twinkling in the light of the overhead fluorescents. "Good to see you!" He began as if she was an old friend of his. In truth, she'd only met him in person a few times, but they had a good working relationship already. He supplied her with cool toys and she supplied him with money, so they got along great. And besides, he'd come highly recommended. "Hey, you want some new chips for computer? Have new graphics accelerator card, fresh from vendor and not on market yet."

She considered matters for a moment, rubbing her chin. "Naw... I'm not using my 'puter for much at the moment. What I'm really here for is that little order of mine."

Hong smiled and nodded, "Of course, of course. You don't want chips, you want gun." On cue Toy appeared behind him, setting a shiny black case of armored plastic on the counter, turning it so the latch faced Kaelyn.

With a small smile, she reached for the case, wiping her thumb across the words "Pflager-Katsumata," engraved in silver along the top. "Pflager-Katsumata Series D revolver," she breathed, feeling a touch of excitement. "Just what I've always wanted." She touched the latch and the top obligingly flipped up, revealing the bulky outline of a rather large handgun.

Reaching over, Hong used a long wooden chopstick to point out various features. "Six-shot, 40 caliber revolver. Single-shot 12 millimeter derringer. Twin triggers, front for revolver, back for derringer. Battery pack and laser sight. Oh, and genuine synthetic amber grips.

You like?"

Picking the pistol up, freeing it from a bed of black foam, Kaelyn touched a small stud on the underside of the barrel shroud. Two LEDs went red, indicating the laser sight battery was fully-charged and active. Another touch and the cylinder swung out, while a quick twist to the upper bolt exposed the empty receiver for the 12mm barrel. "I like." She added with a grin. "I like it a lot."

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