Part 1

By Jamie Jeans and Jeff Skagen

Late January, 2039
Note: This story takes place after 'Along for the Ride'

Five years... it had been five years now that Korey had last been to Hong Kong, working with Sandra Blackmore out of her apartment to kidnap a Jinsei executive out of his own tower. The plan had gone off without a hitch, more or less, until they had gotten to the executive in person and he had summoned up his own crazily dressed security squad to defend himself.

Insults had been hurled, with bullets following close behind, and then the one grenade.

On hindsight, Korey saw that throwing a grenade at a security detail that were practically covered IN grenades had been a very bad idea indeed. Sandra had said as much, but the damage had been done, and part of the tower had become a smoking ruin.

Ray had been there as well, fighting off Jinsei Security Copters to ensure a safe retrieval, and that had reduced the parking lot to one big fire covered slab of pavement and concrete. They had all gotten out, thankfully, but Sandra had gotten something of a lecture from her landlord over demolishing mass amounts of mega-corporation territory.

And Ray....

Shortly after their last mission together, one that had included Aoi, Sandra Blackmore, and Shoko, Ray had left with Shoko to go back into the Neo York Zero Zone to help her find her family. His reasoning why was pragmatic, as though he couldn't answer it himself.

"All I know... is that I wish to help her, and I feel that she will need my help more than you do mine," he had said the night of their departure.

By then, the fighting in the Zero Zone had become insane, if that were possible, with Jinsei bringing in three of their Nightsky Dragons to try and quell the rebels. But the rebels were fighting on home turf, and were secretly receiving newer and deadlier weapons from other mega-corps eager to take a bite out of Jinsei. The end result, after a titanic battle between one Nightsky Dragon and the Empress herself, with help from a number of other prominent Espers, Ran included, had been one smashed Nightsky Dragon dropped onto the Zero Zone, and Jinsei pulling out in shame.

There was plenty of fallout from the failed invasion of the Zero Zone, but Korey couldn't think about it anymore. Thinking about it merely reminded her of Shoko and Ray, two synthetics that, even if they had survived against all odds, would be nearing the end of their preprogrammed life and would be shutting down any month now, if not any day.

Besides, she had a job to do, and Korey Winters was nothing if not professional.

Rinn-Fa was a blue haired, well-endowed modern lady dragon of Hong Kong, and was one of the most successful and independent owners of a line of gambling casinos within the large city-state. Her main casino, which acted as home and her main base of operations, was the best that could be afforded, and came equipped with everything that people would expect of a casino.

However, in a business where territory was tight and everyone was clamoring for the almighty dollar, there was the occasional fracas.

Oh, outright war just was not tolerated, because such things were simply not good for business. People stayed inside when they thought that there was a greater than normal chance of being shot full of holes while dealing with one of a number of one-armed bandits.

No, this particular incident had been the outright theft of a substantial amount of cash that had been wired electronically from Rinn-Fa's business into one of the many banks she dealt with. And to make matters worse, it had been done from within one of Rinn-Fa's own casinos.

It had been a simple, subtle jab with a message that said "We did it once, right under your nose, and we can do it again, whenever we please."

But an angry Lady Dragon was also a vengeful Lady Dragon, with the time, money, and resources to hire whomever she wanted to remove the dishonor reaped upon her.

Thus, Korey Winters had been hired and brought to Hong Kong, where she now sat in a chair in the main office of Rinn-Fa's main casino, the Lu Ch'ian, listening to her client's tale.

"I assume that you wish for more than your money to be returned to you," said Korey, a reasonable assumption that was confirmed with a nod from Rinn-Fa.

Her client nodded, and lifted one long, slender cigarette attached to a wood filter, lighting it up, and took a long drag on it. "Money is not the only objective here. I wish for my rival to be dealt a nasty blow. It need not be measured in dollars, but in how loud and flashy it can be, and I've heard that when the need calls for it, you can be both loud and flashy."

Again Korey's mind flashed back to her last two jobs five years ago, but she said nothing of it. "And the fee?"

Rinn-Fa withdrew from her large oak desk a palmtop and punched in a few numbers before showing the miniature screen to Korey. "Half now in your Swiss Bank account, and half upon completion. There will also be a bonus should I deem your actions to have humiliated my rival enough."

Korey nodded, and Rinn-Fa replaced the palmtop in her desk. "He is an odious man, independent of the Yakuza and the government ran casinos, much like myself, but he wishes for more, and so tried, at first, a friendly takeover, followed by a not so friendly take over later on."

From the desk the Lady Dragon took out a folder of papers and disks, and handed it to Korey, whom immediately started to look it over.

"His name is Richard Yang, Chinese born, British raised, and extremely arrogant, not to mention a tad old fashioned. He deems it unseemly that a lady such as myself should hold so much power, and even told me as much when we first met." Rinn-Fa took another long drag on her cigarette. "He's smart, no doubt, and left hardly a clue in the robbery, aside from the fact that he only took my money. The various Yakuza attend my casinos as much as anyone else, and thus would not do such a stupid thing. He would."

Korey nodded as she quickly glanced over the man's portfolio, and then closed the folder. "I will need a day, perhaps less, to review the information and come up with a plan sufficient to meet your days. Will that be satisfactory?"

Rinn-Fa nodded. "And since you have no accommodations, I invite you to spend your time here at the Lu Ch'ian. No work is worth its time without the potential for pleasure, and a little company."

At the look Korey gave her, the Lady Dragon pressed a button on her intercom and three pleasure synths came in. One was male, and looked every bit the pinnacle of male sexuality that anyone would want, as were the two women. All were also designed to look like Pumas, with the inherent cat-ears and tail. The male was dressed in shorts and shoes, which server to showcase his well-toned body, while the two females were dressed in dark, slinky cheongsams. They all had long dark hair, but one Puma had gold eyes and the other red, and each one had skin tanned to a different degree than the other.

She felt a stirring deep within her, but Korey resisted the urge to let it get any stronger. Sure, it had been five years since...

Well, not five... six? Seven? Eight years?

Yeah, definitely eight years since she'd been intimate with anyone.

"Oh ho, the male has caught your eye, hmm? Perhaps he would make for a nice bedmate after your long trip," Rinn-Fa suggested aloud. "You could think of it as extra incentive, as I happen to treat all in my employ well."

"He would indeed," said Korey. "But perhaps later. I wish to begin the job as soon as possible."

"Business before pleasure, how professional. Well, should you do as well as I hope, and more, consider the male yours for a night." Rinn-Fa grinned. "How's that for motivation?"

Vivian was just tossing the marinated chicken chunks into her new wok when the phone clipped to her waist began chirping for attention. Damn. This was her first attempt ever at a stir-fry, and she didn't need the distraction right now.

"Dinner in ten minutes!" she shouted down the hall as she popped the phone off her belt and glanced at the screen. A blocked number. Not Auntie Lydia then. Could it be Ling Ling with a job offer?

Nervously, she flipped the phone open and put it to her ear. <Hello, this is Vivian Lau speaking> she answered in her best Cantonese.

<Vivian Lau? This is Korey Winters speaking> came the voice on the other end. <You were referred to me by Ling Ling Li. Would you be interested in assisting me on a job?>

It was one of many restaurants in Hong Kong and, also like many, it had private booths that could allow two people such as Korey Winters and Vivian Lau to sit and talk.

In-between nibbles of rice and deep fried sweet and sour pork, Korey spoke, with a clear, concise, and slightly cultured tone. "It has actually been some time since I was last in Hong Kong, but the food is as good as I remember it, depending on the restaurant. How about you?"

Vivian considered her reply a moment. "I've only recently arrived here, so I haven't much experience with Hong Kong cuisine yet." She gestured to her plate. "This is pretty good, though. Even though my father originally hailed from Hong Kong, I've never eaten much Chinese food before. My mother did most of the cooking when I was younger, and we didn't really have access to the right foods anyway to do proper Chinese."

Korey nodded. "Well, I assumed that a good meal such as this would make for a good time to discuss business."

"Indeed it does," said Vivian, nodding. "And since you've brought up business, perhaps it isn't too soon to ask just what it is you're interested in hiring me for?"

"Not at all, it is actually one of my preferences." Korey sat her chopsticks down. "I have been hired by Rinn-Fa to extract money that had been stolen from her, and to inflict as much damage as possible in the process. The money, however, comes first, and to get it, I need to enter one of her rival's floating casinos and perform a one-on-one hack job. Thus, I need someone that can come with me to provide protection without the aid of guns."

"Forgive me, but as I said I'm new to Hong Kong. I'm afraid I don't know who Rinn-fa is."

"Ah yes, sorry." Korey took a sip of her drink. "Rinn-Fa is a modern Lady Dragon and head of Lu Ch'ian casino here in Hong Kong. People don't bother her, and she does not bother people, because doing otherwise would be bad for business. However, a rival has decided to bother her, and now she wishes retribution."

Vivian set down her own chopsticks gratefully—trying to use the unfamiliar implements was starting to make her fingers cramp—and took a sip of her drink. "Right. I think I understand a little better now. So you intent to enter a rival's casino, hack his system to steal back the money he stole from her, and you want an esper like me along because someone armed with guns would never get past the security there, whereas my weapons are built into my brain, so to speak. Is that the situation in a nutshell?"

"Exactly. As for payment, because I know that is going to be your next question, Rinn-Fa has agreed to pay us both substantially for our time, should we succeed of course. And then, there are the perks, such as a night with any of the pleasure synthetics she has on hand." Korey picked up her chopsticks and ate easily from the bowl of pork.

Vivian quickly looked down at her plate. "Um...yeah, sure. That sounds...nice." She fumbled for her chopsticks, and quickly stuffed a bite of pork in her mouth, hoping she wasn't blushing half as much as it felt like she was.

By the time she'd made a show of chewing and swallowing it, she'd recovered enough of her composure to continue the conversation. "We will, of course, have to discuss precisely how much the payment will be. Also, while I understand Rinn-fa's desire to give us an incentive to succeed, I would certainly insist on at least partial payment—say, thirty percent or so—in advance, for making the effort."

Korey hid a smile at the younger woman's reaction. "Certainly. I can give you half of what she promised me, and after we have completed the mission, I'll split the other half with you, straight down the line. The total for the job is 30,000 dollars, and since I have already received half, I will give you half of what I already have, and do the same when the remainder of the money comes in. How does that sound?"

Vivian paused, trying to look like she was considering the offer. Fifteen thousand dollars! And Hong Kong dollars to boot—those are worth even more than the Aussie dollars I'm used to thinking in, aren't they? If Raven gets even one job a month like this, no wonder she can afford to buy us a penthouse suite! She nodded as casually as she could to Korey. "Yes, that sounds acceptable. There are still details to be ironed out, of course, but I think we have a deal here. Is there any particular way you prefer to pay me?"

"In cash, and we can discuss the details over the meal," said Korey, smiling a little at the barely hidden glee in the young psychokinetic's voice. "For example, do you have a nice dress? As we will be infiltrating a fancy floating casino, we shall have to dress very well indeed."

Vivian hesitated with a clump of rice halfway to her lips, then set it back onto her plate. "Actually, no, I don't have a nice dress. I usually dress more casually than that. But I suppose I could go out and buy one."

"I will help you shop for one. We have to come up with a look for you that will work to give the impression that you could not harm a fly, rather than being able to use a house as a fly swatter," said Korey, smiling a little.

Vivian nodded. "Right, you want me looking rich, pampered, and helpless. No problem. And any excuse to go shopping is fine by me."

Korey nodded in return. "Are there any other questions you wish to ask?"

"Well," answered Vivian after a moment's thought, "There is the obvious question of where and when does the job happen?"

Taking a datapad from out of her jacket pocket, Korey consulted it for a moment or two. "Tomorrow night, at around seven PM, at Stanley port. It picks up passengers there before making an overnight cruise towards Aberdeen, and it will be docked there for an hour, so we have that large a window to make our move."

Vivian cocked her head. "I gather the idea is we don't make our move until it's already docked at Aberdeen, so that we have somewhere to escape to, right?"

"Yes. Plus, when we do make our move, we can use the confusion of the departing customers to blend in and make good our escape. There is also the added effect of not being out at sea, should the damage we inflict be great enough to sink the boat. I am none too fond of drowning innocent people." Korey replaced her datapad and resumed eating.

Vivian chewed on a bite of her pork, looking thoughtful. "That's right. I was starting to think of my job as mostly to defend you and help us escape after you did the hack. But you said earlier we're also supposed to do damage. You also mentioned that the money comes first. So, what if we manage to do the hack in perfect secrecy and find ourselves with the opportunity to escape unnoticed? Would we do so, or would we smash up the place on our way out anyway?"

"Simple, we smash up the place on the way out. We sound the fire alarm, give the place ten minutes for everyone to clear out, and then smash up everything in sight. It is a classic, but the classics are always very effective." And here she offered a slight smile to Vivian. "Besides, there is nothing wrong with cutting lose every once in a while. It is therapeutic, in fact."

Vivian shrugged. "I wasn't objecting, just clarifying our priorities. As long as I'm reasonably sure we won't be seriously hurting innocent people, I'm okay with trashing the boat."

"Excellent. Well, let us enjoy the meal, and then hit the mall to get you your dress. I think something in black and white, with a choker for the neck, would do wonders for you."

Korey waited patiently some distance away from the ramp and checked her watched. She was dressed nicely as most of the guests entering the fairly large casino boat. It had been a smaller cruise liner, of the kind build to cross the large oceans of the planet, but had been bought and converted into a floating casino some years ago. It certainly stood out amongst the more traditionally designed floating casinos that made their way about the nighttime waters of Hong Kong.

Korey was dressed in a shimmering gold and emerald green cheongsam, with bright red shoes and a simple purse that hung from one shoulder. Of what she wore, the purse was the most important, as it contained a miniature computer designed for the express purpose of hacking. Korey herself had had it built while she had been working in Europe, and the constant updates she had invested in it had helped to keep her in the game. It also was easy to disguise as a purse, as it could be broken down and slid into hidden pockets within the purse itself.

Prepared as she was ever going to be, all she had to do was wait for her partner to show up before starting the mission.

After only a few minutes she spotted Vivian stepping out of one of Hong Kong's ubiquitous red taxicabs nearby. Watching as the young esper paid the fare, she was pleased to see how good she looked in the dress they had selected together.

Learning that she literally didn't own a single dress, Korey had chosen to build Vivian's outfit up from the classic "little black dress" that any woman should own at least one of. Her build was too slender for a plunging neckline, so instead Korey had put her in a backless halter that flattered the young girl's figure and a short skirt that emphasized her legs. She'd kept the accessories simple, with a slender white sash tied around her waist, a small white purse, and a faux-pearl choker necklace.

She would have preferred to have put Vivian in four-inch stilettos to give her a little more height and further enhance the length of her legs, but given the girl's complete inexperience with high-heels, they'd instead decided on a pair of shorter black pumps that were fairly easy to move in and which could be quickly kicked off if in a pinch.

Pleased with the end result, Korey waved her arm to catch the young espers attention as she finished up with the cab driver, and waited as she walked over to join her.

"Hey there, Korey," Vivian said as she arrived. She glanced nervously at the ship, fidgeting a bit. "So... I guess we're ready to do this, huh?"

Korey nodded. "Indeed we are. How are you feeling?"

Vivian took a deep breath. "Nervous," she admitted. "This is my first solo mission, after all."

"Understandable. I was too, my first time out. However, if we stick to the plan, stay relaxed yet alert, we'll come out of this just fine, you more than me. After all, you're the one with the psychokinetic shielding," Korey said, the last being said close up so as to keep anyone from overhearing her.

Vivian nodded. "True. I'm not as vulnerable as you are, but you're more experienced at this sort of thing than I am. I guess it's kind of a trade off, isn't it?"

"So let us get you some experience tonight, and then we can both benefit from some quality time with some good looking synths," said Korey with a wink as she took Vivian's hand and lead her to the casino boat.

"Uh...right," said Vivian, following. She hoped she didn't sound as apprehensive as she felt.

The inside of the casino boat was nothing if no extravagant, with the usual array of one arm bandits, poker, blackjack, and craps tables. The middle of the boat was set up as one huge, open room, stretching two of the ships three floors, with a number of the various kinds of games tables and multiple lines of one-arm bandits. Private booths that looked out over the main floor were set up for poker games, and there was a huge bar set to the right of the room and a small dance floor and musical band playing on a stage set up on the left.

Korey took all of it in at a glance, as well as the numerous security guards that were stationed amongst the tables, as well as the bank where line of people were already waiting to exchange cash for chips.

"What do you think so far?" Korey asked her mission partner quietly as they made their way down the steps from the main exit. The ceiling was glass, allowing one a view of the clear night sky, but Korey could also make out several hidden areas where cameras were likely mounted.

"Pretty impressive," answered Vivian. Her gaze moved to the dance floor and band. "I'm glad to see there's something for me to do here to kill the time until we get to Aberdeen, seeing as I can't gamble."

"Nor can you drink... and I hope you don't mind my saying but I do not want you drinking. I had read some articles on the effects of alcohol on a psychokinetic's control, and the results were rather... disturbing," said Korey.

Vivian shook her head. "I wouldn't have considered it. It would be unprofessional to drink while on the job. Besides, I don't mass a whole lot, and that makes me a bit of a lightweight where alcohol is concerned. Not that I have a lot of experience in that area or anything."

"Good." Korey swept her gaze about, and saw an exit located next to the exchange window. "There is our entrance... it is one of three, but since it is covered so well, we shall have to find another way in. There is another entrance near the bridge, and the third is a stairwell located near the back of the ship."

Vivian considered. "Well...if we move just after the ship has docked at Aberdeen, as planned, then I think we'd be better off trying for the stern stairway. It seems to me the bridge is likely to be a busy place during and just after a docking operation. What do you think?"

"Good idea." Korey offered the young woman an encouraging smile. "You are pretty good at this for a first timer."

Vivian smiled and shrugged, pleased by the compliment. "Just applying some common sense, really."

"Keep it. Most missions depend largely upon a god dose of common sense," said Korey. "Now, how about I buy you a nice non-alcoholic drink and we listen to some good music?"

"Sounds great," said Vivian, smiling and finally looking somewhat at ease. "And later, maybe we can dance. Or you can gamble a bit if you want, and I'll watch. We do have a few hours to kill, after all."

The night sky, even though it was clear and had a good quarter-moon providing light, was still adequate cover for the young lady and her teenage cohort as they escaped the hustle and bustle of the busy casino inside and made their way outside. The exit actually came out near the rear of the ship, to a stairwell that led down into the innards of the ship itself, towards the engine room and the main security room where most of the transactions from the ship took place.

The guard covering his door laughed at the drunken antics of the older woman, laughing herself and clutching to her younger friend's shoulder. It wasn't the first time people had come out this way, mistaking the exit for a bathroom or simply to relieve themselves over the side of the rail. His chuckles came to a stop when she suddenly lashed out with a punch, catching him in the space just above his tie and temporarily stunning him. His body suddenly froze too, and he couldn't move to save himself as Korey spun, and drove an elbow into his face, breaking his nose and knocking him out cold.

"Good work, Vivian," said Korey, as she quickly tied the man to the railing with his own belt. The result of being propped up in such a way was that he appeared to be having a nap, his face turned towards the sea that the ship left choppy in its wake.

Vivian blinked in surprise. "Me? I hardly did anything! You're the one who deserves the kudos. I doubt I could've taken that guy down so quickly and silently."

"All a matter of distraction and the minimum amount of force applied in the right area." Korey quickly relieved the guard of his arms, taking on his holster and the sidearm that came with it. "No suppressor, so I will be counting on you to hold still anyone until I knock them out, okay?" After checking the stairwell, Korey led the way down it towards the door that led into the ships lower interior.

"Here's where things get interesting," muttered Vivian under her breath, as she followed Korey down the stairs.

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