by Michael Surbrook, David Kuijt and Nestor Rodriguez

Takeda put down his portable computer and stretched his neck. Hospital-room chairs weren't particularly comfortable, and he was getting tired of the decor already. It reminded him a bit too much of Genom's testing facilities.

He glanced over beside him, where Kitten lay inert, plugged into the life support monitors. Although the bedsheet covered Kitten's body, it failed to fully hide the fact that she was obviously missing several limbs. Her left leg ended at the knee, while her right arm lacked a hand. Perhaps the worst thing about Kitten's condition was that the doctors had stripped her of her synthskin coating, leaving the underlying armor plate exposed. A number of tubes were attached to points on her right arm, where the plating had been removed to reveal attachment valves. More tubes ran from her nose and mouth, Kitten's face having been covered by a respirator.

Kitten looked remarkably peaceful as she lay there quietly. But, the image was very misleading. The damage to her body had been so severe that the doctors were uncertain that she would survive the week, much less regain consciousness. At the moment, her continued survival depended solely on mechanical assistance, as the machines connected to her kept her breathing, and thus, alive.

Takeda's computer beeped, and he glanced at some displays, then looked at the door. It opened without warning and Jagger walked in. Although he did not look at all rumpled, he gave the air of someone who has not slept for the last four days. Takeda watched him enter without comment.

Jagger looked around and saw Takeda sitting without concern in the corner.

"It would have been a damn shame if I had been some hired gun here to waste Kitten. You should sharpen up your guarding skills, kid."

"I've got a couple of early-warning vid sensors in the hall," Takeda said quietly. "I saw it was you."

Jagger raised an eyebrow. "Really? I didn't notice. Nice work."

He moved to stand by the bed, looking down at Kitten's ravaged form. "Any improvement?"

Takeda shrugged, his face expressionless.

Jagger remained motionless a moment or two more, then moved to the reinforced chair he had requested from the hospital. Moving it closer to the bed, he settled down, his eyes looking at some point far beyond the room's walls. He did not seem in any mood for conversation.

His hands acting as if executing a preprogrammed set of motions, he took out a pack from his jacket pocket and removed a cigarette, placing it on his lips.

"No cigs in Critical Care, Jagger. She's close enough to respiratory arrest as it is." Takeda's voice was still quiet and non-confrontational.

Jagger looked down as if noticing his actions for the first time. "Shit." He took the cigarette and ground it to pieces with his fingers, then went back to his vigil.

Some time later, the door opened slowly, and a young woman entered. She was of oriental descent, with a slim, attractive build and long, waist length black hair. She held a tiny, potted bonsai tree in her hands.

"Kitty-kun?" she whispered.

Jagger was at the door in a heartbeat, his bulk preventing the woman form entering further and blocking her line of sight to the room. Although he showed no visible sign of threat, he gave the image of a wound spring ready to snap.

"Can I help you?" His tone was as casual as a loaded gun.

The woman stepped back, assuming an almost defensive posture, and regarded Jagger with a wary gaze. "I am Katsumi Liqueur," she answered coldly, "with the Mega-Tokyo Police, I am a friend of Kit -Katherine." She produced a badge from inside her jacket.

Without taking his eyes from her, Jagger took the badge from Katsumi's hand and passed it to Takeda. "Check this out." He made no indication of relaxing from his position guarding the door.

Takeda took the badge and connected to FF Base for a security check. Katsumi's public record was easy enough to acquire. Officer with the Mega-Tokyo Police Department. Six year veteran with an outstanding service record. 27 years old, mixed Japanese-French parents. Born in Hawaii. The picture with the file matched the woman before him, and the badge checked out.

Takeda stepped back to the door and returned the woman's badge. "It checks out, Jagger."

The cyborg nodded, and his body relaxed just enough to be noticeable. He nodded again to Katsumi in a curt greeting, then moved back to his chair without a word.

Takeda glanced at Jagger a moment then turned to the woman. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Liqueur. My name is Takeda, Takeda Johnson."

Katsumi bowed slightly, "I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Johnson." She glanced at where Jagger sat before continuing, "Are... are you a friend of Katherine's?"

Takeda returned her bow. "We've met professionally, I guess you would say. Kitten helped me out when I was in a tough spot in Mega-Tokyo some months ago, and she worked with my group on an earlier trip, as well."

Katsumi examined Takeda a moment before responding, "Oh... you're that Takeda." She smiled slightly, "Kitten mentioned you."

Takeda blinked. "Oh?" He seemed uncertain how to react.

Katsumi shook her head, "Don't worry Mr. Johnson, she only said you work with a Mr. Jagger." Katsumi stepped away from the door.

Takeda gestured towards Jagger. "Katsumi Liqueur, meet Carlos Jagger."

Katsumi looked over at Jagger's still form, her expression a mixture of surprise and distaste. "Ah... good evening, Mr. Jagger." She gave a short bow, still and formal.

The seated man looked over at the woman, his eyes as expressive as twin gun sights. "Pleased to meet you."

Takeda waited for a moment, and then decided to move the conversation to more positive ground. He gestured at Katsumi's small decorative tree. "That is very nice."

"This?" Katsumi hefted the tree, "Kitten grows bonsai, I thought I'd brighten her room by bringing her one."

Takeda nodded. "You've come a long way to visit her, Ms. Liqueur. Are you staying in the city?"

She nodded, "Yes, I have a hotel room near here."

"In a day or two the doctors say Kitten'll be stable enough to be moved, and we're going to take her to our private medical facility. If you like, perhaps we can offer you hospitality there? We have a guest suite you could use."

Jagger's voice was heard even though his body remained motionless. "You might want to first check with Doc before you invite people over, kid. We're not a dorm."

Takeda glanced at Jagger, then smiled briefly at Katsumi. "Subject to possible veto, of course."

Katsumi paused for a moment, apparently uncertain at how to respond to Jagger's comment, then smiled at Takeda, "Thank you, Mr. Johnson, that is very generous of you."

"Please, call me Takeda."

"All right... Takeda."

Katsumi set the bonsai on the table next to Kitten's bed. Stepping back she studied Kitten's still form for several long moments. Turning back to Takeda, her expression was serious. "Takeda, does anyone have any leads as to who did this?"

"Jagger's handling the investigative end," Takeda glanced at Jagger. He waited for Jagger to speak without success, then clasped his hands behind his back and continued. "Not really, not yet. But we're working on it. It was very professionally done, but it was personal—a real professional job would have looked very different. If it had been a corpie hit it would have either been much more subtle and clinical, or much more public, depending upon whether the corp wanted it to be a lesson to others.

Takeda glanced at Jagger again, but he still seemed totally disinterested in the conversation.

"We think it was someone from her past. We're checking on old enemies, but she's got quite a few. I haven't got any skills in those areas--Jagger's doing the legwork. He used to be a cop. I'm just staying with her until it is safe to move her somewhere safer. Just in case they try again."

Katsumi sighed, "Yes, Kitten seems to have accumulated a number of enemies. An occupational hazard I guess." She turned back to Takeda, "Sometimes I think she likes the danger too much, if you know what I mean."

Takeda nodded noncommittally, then quirked his eyebrows, "What, like a rush? Or do you mean seeking forgetfulness?"

"I... I don't know." Katsumi gestured aimlessly at Kitten's still form, "I think it's for the excitement and danger, but sometimes..." Katsumi's gaze fell to the floor, "She doesn't seem very happy most of the time, which is why I was glad to hear she had found a boyfriend."

There was an awkward moment of silence. Jagger seemed a statue made of steel. Finally, Takeda nodded.

Katsumi gave a short sigh and looked up from the floor. Glancing about the room, she finally settled upon Takeda. "Takeda, can I ask you a question?"


"You," she glanced over at Jagger, "you don't seem to be armed, how are you planning on protecting Kitten if her attackers try again?"

Takeda glanced at Katsumi as if unsure how much to tell her. "I'm... not as helpless as I look."

"Heh," Katsumi gave a slight smile, "I remember now, Kitten had told me about your last visit to Mega-Tokyo."

"Ah. Right."

Ignoring Jagger's presence, Katsumi pulled a chair next to the bed and settled herself into it. Holding Kitten's left hand between her own, she simply sat there, quiet and motionless.

Takeda moved back into his corner, giving Katsumi some privacy. While she sat with Kitten, he connected to FF Base and ran some files.

Jagger spoke again. "You're a close friend of Kitten's, then? Funny, I don't remember her mentioning you."

"Perhaps you never asked, Mr. Jagger." Katsumi didn't bother to look up. "Kitten is, at times, a very private person, I'm not surprised she never mentioned me."

"I guess as a police officer you may have had contact with some of the people she... dealt with. Do you have any ideas of someone likely to pull this?"

Katsumi turned to look at Jagger, "I don't really know. I'd expect something like this to be the result of a Yak war, not from the kind of small-time operators a bounty hunter usually pulls in."

Jagger continued, his causal tone belied by his tense countenance. "Did Kitten have any dealings with Yakuza?"

"Dealings? You mean did she take bounties on known Yakuza?" Katsumi nodded, "I believe so. Kitten would take just about any contract, regardless of the risk."

Jagger nodded thoughtfully, then went back to his contemplative pose.

Meanwhile, Takeda was following up on his offer, prepping a guest suite at the base for Katsumi's use and initiating her clearance with base security for an indefinite guest pass to the facilities. He copied Doc on these notes, but deliberately did not ask him for approval of his actions. Finally, Takeda sent email to active agents and security personnel, briefing them on their new guest.

Takeda's terminal gave a little beep, and he quickly checked the incoming note and smiled. He glanced over at Katsumi, trying to decide whether he'd be interrupting, before speaking.

"Ms. Liqueur, I've made the arrangements. You may transfer your belongings to our guest suite whenever it is convenient to you. I've cleared things with our security, too."

"Hunh?" Katsumi wiped at her eyes before looking over at Takeda. "Oh, that's very nice of you. I will get my things together tonight, if that's okay with you."

"That'd be great. We'll send someone to pick you up, any time you like. I've sent you email giving you contact information."

"Takeda, is there a phone I can use? I need to make a call."

"Sure, you can use my personal terminal." He disconnected from the base with a few keystrokes, and then, without thinking, he simply passed it over to her telekinetically. The commpad sailed over to the bed without apparent support.

Katsumi started slightly and then gave Takeda a weak smile. "I see," she responded, "You're just like Captain Kobayashi."


"Oh, uh... she's a member of the Mega-Tokyo ESWAT division. She's what they call an esper."

"Ah. I'm not sure we would be that much alike, then. Esper's have mind-to-mind powers that I don't have. I think."

Katsumi shrugged, "Well, I've seen her move a truck the same way you moved that phone."

Takeda shrugged in response. "I didn't say anything about her telekinesis, just that I haven't exhibited any esper powers."

Katsumi sighed, "Never mind Takeda, I'm sorry I brought it up."

"No, not at all, it is my fault—I'm just always interested in hearing about ... that sort of thing. I shouldn't have gotten technical on you. Please, go ahead," he gestured at the comm unit.

A few moments later, after dialing a rather long series of numbers, Katsumi began speaking into the receiver, <Hello? Ms. Tendo? This is Officer Liqueur. Yes, I'm at the hospital. Kitten? Kitten is... doing as well as can be expected. The doctors told me that she's in critical condition and on life support, but they expect that she will survive the week. Hmmm? Yes, there is a Takeda Johnson here, as well as a..., > Katsumi looked over at Jagger, <a Mr. Jagger watching her. You do? Okay.> Katsumi turned to Jagger, holding the phone out. "Ms. Nabiki Tendo would like to speak to you, Mr. Jagger."

Jagger raised his eyebrow, then reached over the bed for the comm pad. Settling back on his chair, he flicked a stud on the device. "Jagger here."

"Mr. Jagger," Nabiki's voice was tense, but polite, "What is Katherine's condition?"

"You'd get a more complete report if you asked Doc. All I can tell you is that the sawbones here give her a 50-50 chance. As soon as they give us a green light, we'll be moving her to a better equipped, more secure location."

"I see," Nabiki paused for a moment, "Do you have any idea who did this?"

Jagger glanced at Katsumi then said, "We're hunting down a number of leads. I'm hoping Kitten will be able to finger them i-... when she wakes up."

"I hope you do find them, Mr. Jagger, and if there is anything you need to do so, just give me a call."

Jagger glanced again at the young female cop and added in a slightly thoughtful tone, "Yeah, there might be at that. Send us a list of Kitten's bounties as far back as you can, specifically those with organized crime and/or Yakuza contacts."

"I will see what I can do, Mr. Jagger."

"Oh, and Mr. Jagger?"


"Thank you."

"Por nada," he muttered as he closed the connection.

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