written by David Kuijt & Michael Surbrook

He was the richest and most powerful man in the world. He was the master of all he surveyed. His will was opposed by no one. His company formed the economic backbone of an entire nation... no... the entire world. Not even at his height could the infamous William Gates have claimed the wealth and influence that he did.

His name?

Chairman Quincy of the Genom Corporation.

At the moment, the Chairman was seated in his office high up in the Genom Tower, overlooking the close-packed sprawl of Mega Tokyo below. He was contemplative, thoughtful and very angry.

Several weeks ago a group of agents had infiltrated one of Genom's most secure locations with the intent of rescuing Shion Nys... They succeeded, and in the process destroyed hundreds of millions of nuyen of equipment, replicants, cyberdroids, data, genetic material and clone bodies. One of their own pet espers - Masaru Shima - had done little than serve as a target, barely escaping with his life.

Once again, Takahashi Shima... better known these days as Takeda Johnson, had bloodied Genom's nose and emerged unscathed. Reports indicated that not one of his fellow agents had been even hurt in the engagement, much less captured of killed.

Pressing a button on his desk, Quincy activated a series of screens.

"Report," he commanded.

"Evidence indicates that there were at least seven people involved in the attack, not counting any covert operatives that may have infiltrated the facility before hand." The voice was cool, almost mechanical in tone. "We have identified all but one."

Quincy looked up. "They are?"

A series of pictures flashed up on the screens.

"Takahashi Shima, now know as Takeda Johnson. Carlos Jagger, former NYPD officer. Mojo, former corporate soldier. Ryan Summer McKee, former member of Mega Tokyo ESWAT." The voice paused. "These four individuals are believed to be members of a secretive UNA black ops organization called 'Kazei 5'."

Quincy nodded. Kazei 5 was supposed to be the UNA answer to Japan's Section 9, and like Section 9, any nuggets of valid data concerning Kazei 5 was buried amid a mountain of rumors, falsehoods and speculation.

The voice spoke. "Captain Noriko Kobayashi, Mega Tokyo ESWAT. She is believed to have been the official liaison for Kazei 5 team members."

"Marta Nys, San Francisco free-lance operative and sister of Shion Nys."

Quincy sighed slightly. He thought they'd gotten rid of her more than three months ago when Genom had captured Shion in the first place.

"Finally, there is this individual." The screen showed a single hardsuited figure, firing a heavy autocannon. "We are almost positive that this individual is associated with Kazei 5. There is some speculation that this particular hardsuit is also the one sought by Azumi Industries."

Standing slowly, Quincy strode over to the wall of video screens, examining each figure carefully. "How can we strike at them?"

"Johnson, Mojo and the hardsuit have no obvious weaknesses. They are loners, or we know too little about them, or they are far too powerful for us to tackle easily. Carlos Jagger is known to have many female acquaintances, but recently has been seen in the company of one Katherine Ramis, a Mega Tokyo bounty hunter. Ryan McKee has family in Mega Tokyo as well."

"Good, good."

"Noriko Kobayashi has family, but rarely ever seems to meet with them. Reports indicate that she is not on good terms with her father and is virtually a non-entity to him."

"Well... that is not a problem, ESWAT is a very dangerous line of work, neh?"

"Marta Nys has a lover, one Chiffon Carrera, who is currently in San Francisco."

"And what about... 'The Empress'?" Quincy's voice was cold, and his voice dripped with disdain.

"Shion Nys is know to be involved with an extended romantic relationship with one Robert deVille, a Poseidon Station shuttle pilot."

"Excellent. You have done well. Now, I think it is time we return some of what Takahashi has inflicted upon us."

Standing on a low promontory, over looking the Pacific, Ling Ling contemplated the crashing waves below. It had been the better part of a week since she'd arrived her in New Zealand, brought here by Marta Nys to rest and recover from her hellish imprisonment at the hands of Tony Wang and his men. During that time, she had managed to regain a bit of her former strength and now felt strong enough to walk about unaided.

She had spent a good three weeks in the hospital, a majority of it on her stomach, since for most of that time her back and thighs had been covered by countless red weeping whip cuts. Skin-culture grafts and full-body immersions into a nutrient bath had taken care of the worst of Ling Ling 's wounds, while time and rest had healed lesser injuries.

Ling Ling had only dim memories of her time spent in Tony Wang's torture chamber. Her mind had mercifully blanked most of it out, and the rest has a hazy recollection of confusing imagery. Still, most of her time in the hospital had been spent in restless sleep, awaking at the slightest sound, expecting another session with the knife, taser or whip. Ling Ling shivered slightly and reached inside the canvas purse she had slung over one shoulder for a cigarette.

Lighting up, Ling Ling took several calming puffs on her cigarette before sitting down in the smooth green carpet of grass that ran from the house behind her directly to the cliff edge. Sliding the bag off her shoulder and laying it on the ground, she slowly removed a thin strip of wood, painted with series of Chinese characters. It was a grave marker, inscribed with the names of her two bodyguards, Pai and Yakumo. They had been killed defending her from Wang's Triad soldiers, and their bodies had never been found. Behind her glasses, Ling Ling's eyes watered slightly. She had liked the pair, finding them to be highly competent in discharging their duties. Now, they were gone, and it was highly likely that their final fate would never be known.

Pushing one end of the maker into the ground, Ling Ling made sure it was secure before returning to her carrying bag. She removed three sticks of incense next, placing them in front of the marker. A moment later she lit them with her cigarette, the sharp smell of the joss sticks conflicting with the more pungent aroma of tobacco.

A bowl came next, set in front of the faintly smoking sticks. Ling Ling dropped a a loose wad of money into the bowl; a single bill was touched to the glowing end of her cigarette and then added to the pile. The brightly colored paper burned quickly, the dancing flames producing a thin plume of white smoke.

The currency was hell money, traditionally burned to allow the dead to purchase nice things in the afterlife. It could also be used to bribe demons and the like, in order to make one's stay in the realm of the deceased that much easier. Ling Ling certainly didn't believe in such things as demons, and she left the question of heaven and hell to priests and scholars, but she did beleive in payment for services rendered. Pai and Yakumo had paid the ultimate price in her service, and Ling Ling felt that it was her duty to to make some effort to repay them, even if it meant burning fake paper money to non-existant spirits. So, she sat there, watching the rolling surf, smoking her cigarettes and feeding bills into the money bowl, lost in thought.

"Read my fortune then," he said harshly.

The first card was turned.

"The Hanged Man," the man in black said. The darkness had given him back his hood. "Yet here, in conjunction with nothing else, it signifies strength and not death. You, gunslinger, are the Hanged Man, plodding ever onward toward your goal over all the pits of Hades. You have already dropped one co-traveler..."

Shion blinked as her book was abruptly pushed down and her sister looked into her eyes.

"Shee?" she asked.


"It's New Year's Eve tommorrow."


"We need to do sushi."

"Excuse me?" Shion blinked and frowned, "What are you talking about?"

Sighing with feinged annoyance, Marta sat down on the edge of Shion's chair. "New Year's Eve. You, me, Ling Ling, sushi."


"In town," Marta grinned, "I found a great place that has an all-you-can-eat special. And they serve really good sushi."

"Sushi, eh?" Shion thought a moment, "I can eat a _lot_ of sushi."

"Great! I'll make reservations then."

Takeda sat in his favorite perch, the telecommunication tower of K5 base. It was very late at night and everyone else was asleep. He was watching the reflection of the lights of Neo York on the water. It failed to soothe him as it normally did; in the week since the recent mission he had been disturbed by something, and had little that would take his mind off it.

Takeda's communicator beeped.


*Mr. Johnson? You have a phone call."

Takeda frowned. It had to be four in the morning. Who could be calling? "Please patch it through."

*Takeda?* Shion asked, *Are you busy New Year's Eve?*

"Uh... no, I've got nothing planned."

*Would you like to go to dinner with me then?*

Takeda smiled. "Sure, I'd love to. Where and when?"

*Here, in New Zeland. You need to be here by 6:00 PM local time tomorrow.*

Takeda frowned as he tried to figure out the time differential. "I should be able to do that. Formal, or casual dress?"

*Casual Oh... do you like sushi and sashimi?*

"Yes, I do."

"*Good, you're going to be eating a lot of it.*

Takeda paid the cabdriver and watched as the man drove off. Then he turned to the beach house. He was wearing his idea of casual clothing—a Priss and the Replicants T-shirt and jeans. In the warmth of late December in the Southern Hemisphere, he was already considering turning his jeans into cutoffs. He had a small duffle over one shoulder but no other luggage.

Takeda went up to the door and rang the bell. A moment later, Shion opened it. She was dressed all in white - slacks, blouse and knee-length jacket - and her hair had been gathered at the base of her neck to form an almost floor-length ponytail. Catching sight of how Takeda was dressed, she raised one eyebrow. "Not that casual," she commented.

Takeda smiled. "I brought other stuff also."

"Come in, Takeda." Shion stepped back and let the door swing open. She leaned on her cane to do so, but Takeda was pleased to notice that she no longer seemed to need her wheelchair.

"Thanks. You're looking stronger," he said with a hint of question in the statement.

Shion shrugged, gesturing slightly with her cane, "Marta is having Ling Ling and I make regular trips to the weight room. She says that in a few weeks, she is going to have us sparring to try and get all the kinks out.

"Anyway," she continued, "You're a little early, but that's okay, since Marta and Ling Ling are still getting dressed."

"If it wouldn't be imposing, I'd like to clean up a bit after my flight. And also change out of my travelling clothes."

Shion pointed to the stairs. "We have one guestroom left. It's down the hall on the right. We'll be leaving in about an hour."


Takeda was feeling invisible. They had arrived at the restaurant around 8:00 PM to be shown to their table by a smiling waiter who had bobbed and nodded and done a good job of not directly staring at any of the women. Takeda he had simply ignored, recognizing him only as the fourth chair at the table. Takeda should have know something like this would have happened. Even in MegaTokyo, where one could see most anything walking the streets, Shion had turned heads, leaving Takeda tailing after her like an afterthought.

Of course, the way his dinner companions were dressed did have a lot to do with it. Shion still had on her solid white outfit that she'd been wearing when he'd met her at the beach house. The smooth white of her clothing and hair made Shion's sun-tanned skin seem even darker by comparison. Ling Ling had on a black tunic and trousers, with a tight-fighting cheong san over that. It was light blue with gold trim and was held in place with a broad gold sash. The cheong san did little to disguise her measurements and their waiter was suffering an obvious battle of will to look Ling Ling in the eye every time he stopped at their table. Marta, naturally, had to go all out. Her skirt was of a medium blue shade and stopped at the knee. She wore a matching jacket, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and fingerless gloves on her hands. Under the coat she wore a black bustier, that left her well-muscled stomach exposed and displayed a delightful amount of cleavage. Takeda believed that he could have walked in naked and no one would have noticed.

Still, invisible or not, there were men who would kill to be in his position.

The restaurant served a wide assortment of sushi and sashimi on large oval plates. You selected as much as you wanted and then returned to your table to eat. Ling Ling, it turned out, wouldn't touch the stuff. She had opted for the Mongolian barbecue, loading up a bowl with vegetables and meat and sauce to be cooked in a huge wok.

Marta and Shion had descended upon the sushi buffet like vultures, filling their plates with tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab and anything else they thought looked appetizing, including such questionable items as octopus.

Along with all the food, Shion and her sister had been drinking virtually non-stop. Takeda, of course, had stuck with water and tea. In his experience anything stronger would have strange and unpleasant effects on his system. Ling Ling had quietly drunk a beer or two when they had first arrived, but for the last two hours she had been drinking green tea by the pot. Shion and Marta, meanwhile, had emptied tall silver cans of Sapporo, broad drums of Fosters, and bottles of Kirin and Asahi. The table was crowded with empties and the two didn't look like they were planning on stopping anytime soon. Takeda was half-way between worry and laughter. They had been here for over three hours and the Nys sisters were now blind, stinking drunk.

"Sooo...." Shion slurred, gesturing at Takeda with a can of Sapporo, "why won' youuu share a drink with meee?"

"'Cause he's a wimp," giggled Marta, who promptly started mumbling 'wimp, wimp, wimp' over and over while downing another swallow of beer.

Takeda smiled wickedly. "Alcohol inhibits male performance," he joked.

"Oooohhh... like yer gonna get a-any..." Marta said in a mocking tone.

"Heh..." Shion shot her sister a dark look, and then refocused on Takeda.

"Takeda-chan..." her voice sing-songed, "N'ris-moi d'sushi, ch'chou...ooooooh, j'vous'en prie..."

"Hey!" Marta snapped, whapping the back of her sister's head, "Stick to English!"

Takeda had to choke back his laughter.

Ignoring her sister, Shion leaned towards Takeda, her bleary-eyed gaze solidly locked onto Takeda's. "Ah, m'n petit, m'n doux...! He, m'n beau... d'vines-tu qu'sh'veux c'soir, hein?" she purred, her voice low and husky.

Takeda clearly had no idea what she was saying, but the tone of her voice made him squirm in the chair.

"Disgustin'." Marta turned to Ling Ling. "Don' you agreeee...?"

"Ahem..." Ling Ling blinked, and hid her smile by sipping from her teacup. "I am not one to comment upon the actions of the Empress."

"Empress, smempress... she's just my sis-ter."

"Je brule pour toi, vraiment..." Shion reached out and stroked one finger along the edge of Takeda's jaw.

Takeda flushed red, his back rigid, unwilling to object, unsure of how to react.

"Urrr..." Marta growled, watching the display. Glancing back at Ling Ling, she gave the other woman a seductive smile. "Ling Ling," she said sweetly.

"Yes?" Ling Ling as hesitantly, unsure of Marta's intent.

"I think I'm drunk."

Visibly relaxing, Ling Ling patted one outstretched arm gently. "That you are."

Grinning at Takeda's obvious discomfort, Shion leaned closer, whispering into his ear. "T'es si mignon, part'culie rement quand tu t'e nerves c'm'ci..."

"Yer such a sweetie, Miz Li," Marta slurred. Grasping Ling Ling's hand, she raised it slowly to her lips, softly pressing them to the skin. Ling Ling's eyes went wide behind her glasses as Marta sensuously kissed each fingertip, sucking slightly on each one. A moment later Ling Ling's breathing begain to come in short gasps and her face flushed red. Trying to ignore Marta's advances, Ling Ling leaned over to Takeda. "I think we need to take them home," she murmured frantically.

Takeda glanced at the two unstable sisters. "Errr... yes. I agree completely," he said, still flushing. "I was thinking it might be easier if we just waited until they were unconscious and carried them out, but now I'm not so sure."

Pulling her hand free of Marta's grasp, Ling Ling nodded, "The sooner we're safe at home, the better I'll feel."

Takeda nodded and his face cleared. He stood up, looking around. "Right. Let's get out of here."

A sudden thump marked Shion's impact with Takeda's chair. "Kuso..." she muttered darkly as she levered herself upright.

Following behind Takeda and the mindlessly giggling Nys sisters, Ling Ling tried to present an impassive face as possible. Her face was still flushed from Marta's oral assault on her fingers, and she didn't know whether to be angry or embarrassed that such a display had occurred right under Takeda's nose. Worse yet was the fact that she had felt aroused by Marta's actions, a response she wasn't sure how to deal with.

She was relieved to see that Takeda was floating Marta and Shion out out of the resturant. It wasn't a very obvious ploy, both women's feet were just barely brushing the ground, but it did mean that they would be leaving with a minimum of trouble.

Outside, Takeda and Ling Ling piled the two women into the back of the Ford mini-van Marta had rented for duration of the stay on New Zealand. They went easily enough, although Ling Ling doubted that Marta was going to still be conscious by the time she arrived back at the beach house. Tapping Takeda on the shoulder, Ling Ling held out her hand. "The keys, Mr. Johnson."

Takeda didn't have the keys. He raised his eyebrows, then frowned speculatively at Shion.

Ling Ling nodded at the van, "It's an Australian make, driver sits on the right and drives on the left. I doubt you're used to that."

Shion started twitching and giggling, then suddenly a pair of keys popped out of her pocket and flew gently over to Ling Ling's hand."Hee hee..." Shion giggled drunkenly, "Takeda, that tickled..." She turned to him with a smile, "Couches-tu avec moi ce soir..."

The trip back to the beach house was fairly uneventful. Marta passed out almost as soon as Ling Ling got the mini-van rolling. Shion wandered in and out of consciousness, mumbling unintelligibly in French. When they arrived at the bungalow Ling Ling carried Marta's limp form inside, leaving Shion for Takeda.

"Takeda-kun..." Shion murmured, trying to focus on Takeda's face as he carried her to her room. "Takeda... mon petit, mon doux..."

Telekinesis made the task of taking Shion's outer garments off much easier than it would otherwise have been. Shion alternated between ticklish giggles and bleary-eyed French. Finally Takeda got Shion into the bed and tucked her in.

"Takeda," she whispered as he arranged the sheets, "Je t'aime." And with that she pulled him to her, kissing Takeda deeply and passionately for what seemed like forever, before finally letting him go and collapsing back onto the bed. "Oyasumi nasai, Takeda-kun..." she muttered into her pillow before slipping off to sleep.

Takeda stood looking at her for a long moment. "Oyasumi nasai, Shion-chan," he whispered.

Takeda didn't sleep much at the best of times; when he was disturbed there was no chance he could sleep. Back at the Kazei 5 base he often sat high up in the comm tower late at night, watching the lights of Neo York. Here the roof of the bungalow would have to do.

The roof wasn't flat, so Takeda hovered a few inches above it in lotus position. He watched the waves pulsing in the moonlight. His meditative appearance was only illusion, though; inside he was trying to resolve the roil of feelings Shion had awakened. So far, he was failing.

With a creak and a flash of light, the door to the back deck opened. Ling Ling appeared a moment later, making her way to the far end of the deck. She had changed into a white, high-collared jacket that fell to mid-thigh, a thin black belt and dark red trousers. A moment later she sat down in one of the chairs by the railing, and lit a cigarette in a bright orange flare of match flame.

Takeda floated gently down towards her, still in the lotus position. He cleared his throat as he came to avoid startling her.

"Wah!" Ling Ling bolted upright, her cigarette flying off into the night. Truning around, she caught sight of Takeda.

"Takeda, you scared the hell out of me!" Ling Ling snapped, "What do you..." Her voice trailed off as she realized he was floating several feet of the ground.

"I didn't mean to startle you," Takeda apologized. As he floated down to the deck level he unwrapped his legs and lowered them to touch the floor so he was standing.

"Ahem." Composing herself, Ling Ling sat back down, pushing her glasses back her nose and sweeping her hair out of her face. Shaking her head, she quickly lit another cigarette. Breathing out a cloud of smoke, she looked over. "That's better. Did you need anything, Mr. Johnson?"

Takeda smiled. "Lots of things. But I was just sitting on the roof when you came out, and it seemed more sociable to come down. Unless I'm disturbing you?"

"No... you're not disturbing me. Have a... seat."

Takeda took one of the lounge chairs and the two sat in the moonlight watching the waves. It was some time before anyone spoke.

"Do you speak French?" Takeda asked.

Ling Ling chuckled quietly. "No, no French."

Takeda smiled and shook his head. "Me neither," he said ruefully. "If only I'd had an audio recorder... Now I'll probably never know what she was saying."

"Well... I do know that 'petit' means 'little', if that helps."

"That much I got. I think she was calling me her little lamb there, at one point." Takeda seemed unsure how to react; humour and embarassment were both evident in his voice.

"Somehow I have a hard time picturing the Empress calling anyone her 'little lamb'."

Takeda smiled. "Me too, and I think I'm the one it happened to."

Ling Ling shook her head, "I wonder if she'll remember any of that in the morning?"

"With any luck, she won't."

"Well, at least she wasn't trying to eat your fingers, eh?

Takeda laughed out loud.

"So..." Ling Ling said slowly, "Where do you know the Empress from?"

Takeda glanced over at Ling Ling for a long moment before speaking.

"We have a... checkered past," he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"She was hired to recapture me for Ares; I stopped her. Later we allied to attack Genom Tower; I freed a younger clone-sister of Shion but the Quincy Shion killed was a clone. Then Shion got very upset when my friends and I killed another Shion-clone Quincy sent after me as an assassin; she had wanted to kill Sonnet herself. Finally I led my group with Marta to free Shion from Genom's experiment."

Ling Ling gaped openly for a moment. "Oh... I see," she managed.

Takeda smiled ironically. "Hey, you asked."

"Hmmm..." Ling Ling thought a moment, taking a deep drag on her cigarette. "Who's Sonnet?"

Takeda frowned again in the moonlight. "Genom took genetic material from Shion at some point. Quincy had Shion cloned; Sonnet was the result. She was totally loyal, very powerful, beautiful and deadly. He sent Sonnet after me when my brothers failed."

"Your brothers, Mr. Johnson?"

Takeda looked out at the moonlight. "Clone-brothers. When I escaped Genom, Quincy sent the oldest of my creche to recapture me. That was before Shion; long before Sonnet."

Ling Ling paused to take another puff on her cigarette before continuing. "You keep mentioning 'clones'... I did't think such things were possible, especially when dealing with espers."

"Genom's found a way," Takeda said bitterly. "Most of us aren't stable, and we have a very high... failure rate. That's why Genom wants me back so much. At least originally."

"And now?"

"Now I suspect Quincy sees it as a matter of power and revenge. I've done him several hundred million nuyen in damage."

"So I've heard."

The rhythmic thrum of the surf was the only sound for some time, until Takeda spoke again.

Takeda turned his head to Ling Ling. "Ms. Li, I've been wondering—why did Tony Wang capture and torture you? It isn't exactly normal behavior towards a fixer. What did you do to piss him off?"

Staring at Takeda for a long moment, Ling Ling remained silent, although Takeda did detect a slight twitching of her shoulders. "I... I did nothing Mr. Johnson." She paused for a moment, and thoughtfully smoked her cigarette.

"When Marta first arrived in Hong Kong it was pretty well established that she would do anything for money. Among the jobs she took was a hit for Alec Quan. She gunned down three of Tony Wang's soldiers... in response, Tony sent his men to try and kill Marta." She paused again, staring at Takeda through a cloud of smoke.

"It so happened that Tony's soldiers found Marta while she was in the middle of discussing business with me. The results were... predictable. Marta killed something like nine men in just a few seconds. Pai did her best to defend me, of course, and I accounted for one of Tony's lieutenants myself."

Ling Ling took a deep draw on her cigarette, the bright orange tip bobbing in the night. "Tony was the sort who didn't take insults lightly. Since Marta was back in the UNA, he struck out at the next best thing... me. His soldiers stormed my house, killing Pai and Yakumo in the process. I ended up as bait, to lure Marta back so that Wang could have his revenge."

Takeda nodded. "I see."

Ling Ling glanced over at Takeda, as if she meant to speak, but she remained silent.

It was some time before Takeda spoke again. "What will you do now?"

Ling Ling shrugged, gazing out over the ocean. "What can I do? I will not leave Hong Kong, it is my home. I plan on returning as soon as I feel able, and will try to start over as best I can."

Takeda nodded. "Tony Wang is dead, and a lot of his men and lieutenants with him. Hopefully that will end the matter."

"Hopefully. But I intend on investing in a new bodyguard, just in case."

They sat in companionable silence for some time.

Ling Ling's jaw cracked in another yawn and she stubbed out her final cigarette. "Well, I'm for bed."

"Good night, Ms. Li."

"Are you planning on going to bed anytime soon, Mr. Johnson?"

Takeda shook his head, although he stood when Ling Ling did. "No, I'll stay up. I rarely sleep. I've also got a lot on my mind."

"Hmmm... well, don't even try to get any of us up tomorrow, I usually sleep to well past noon and I'm willing to bet Marta and Shion will be useless for at least a day."

"I expect you're right."

Takeda stood watching for a moment after Ling Ling as she left the deck, then turned. He walked down the deck steps and across the sand towards the sea.

Standing in her bedroom, Ling Ling quietly eased out of her clothing and got ready for bed. She had looked in on Marta, the woman was as unconcious now as she had been drunk before. Fortunately, Marta didn't look to be suffering from any sort of ill effects from her drinking bout, Ling Ling could only hope she'd sleep most of it off.

Turning off the lights, Ling Ling happened to glance out the window and clearly saw Takeda's distant form, walking straight out into the surf. His head was bowed, hands clasped behind his back as he walked on the surface of the ocean as if it was a continuation of the beach. Waves crashed against his feet as he walked farther and farther out, into the night.

It had started innocently enough. Marta had declared that she was bored silly - nothing new there - and wanted to go out and 'party'. Which for Marta, meant large quantities of alcohol, loud music and the weird physical gyrations she called 'dancing'. Her plans had fallen through when Shion had flatly refused to go anywhere with her, and Ling Ling had stated she didn't know how to dance.

Never to be one to be deterred by minor obstacles, Marta had promptly declared she'd teach Ling Ling 'how to dance', the end result of which was better left to one's imagination. Marta, naturally, hadn't taken any of her sister's comments on her form of 'dance' very well and had snapped 'if you're so smart you do it' in a moment of frustration. Shion, never one to refuse a challenge, especially where her sister was concerned, had responded with an arrogant affirmative.

"First of all," Shion lectured, sorting through the stack of CDs by the stereo, "you're playing the wrong music. The racket you listen to is only good for giving migraines and not any sort of proper dancing."

"Oh, I see," Marta said snidely, from where she perched on the back of the couch, "You're going to teach Ling Ling the waltz then?"

Sitting in a large, comfortable chair tucked in a far corner of the living room, Ling Ling watched the exchange like a spectator at a tennis match. It was almost funny, the way the normally calm and collected 'Empress' bantered with her rather hyper-kinetic sister. Growing up an only child, she'd never experienced anything like this, which, in her opinion, might have been a good thing.

"Aha!" Shion exclaimed triumphantly, "Found it!"

"Found what?"

Shion turned to look at her sister, "Music to slow dance by."

"Slow dance?" Marta sounded slightly incredulous. "What the hell is that?"

"It's a type of dance anyone can can learn. Even you, dear sister."

"Ha, ha."

"Alright, Ling Ling?" Shion placed the CD within the tray and tapped the 'play' button.


"If you would come here we can get started."

A few moments later music began to drift through the speakers. It had an old sound to it, and certainly neither Marta nor Ling Ling had ever heard it before, but then, that CD was one of Shion's anyway.

"Now, this is how you do it. Ling Ling, stand here and place you hands on my..." Shion's voice trailed off as she thought for a moment. Looking over at her sister, she gave her a questioning look, "I don't suppose you'd want to help?"

"Oh, no..." Marta smirked, "you're doing fine."

"Shion, you really don't need to do this."

"No," Shion said firmly, turning back to the other woman, "I do."

Taking a deep breath, Shion decided to start over. "It's very simple, you place your hands on my shoulders, and I place my hands on your hips."

"Like this?"


"And then what?"

"You sway."

"What?" Marta laughed, "You 'sway'?"

"And slowly step from side to side, moving in a circle." Shion spared a moment to glare at her sister and then proceeded to demonstrate. Ling Ling, trying hard to avoid cracking a smile, obligingly followed the taller woman's movements.

Closing her eyes, Shion tried to ignore the fact she had her arms around another woman - not to mention her sister's would be lover - and think back to the times she and Robert deVille had done the exact same thing on Poseidon Station. Robert hadn't been much for dancing either, but had been more than willing to stand and sway gently to the music as long as it meant holding Shion in his arms. And of course, later, after they had retired to his cabin, he would do more than just hold her in his arms...

Slow dancing, Ling Ling found, really wasn't all that difficult, although she really doubted you could call it 'dancing'. Shion certainly seemed to have the technique down, although at the moment she looked to be preoccupied by some inner contemplation. Feeling a touch nervous about the whole affair Ling Ling stopped moving. "Shion?" she said quietly.

"Ehh?" Shion started suddenly and looked around for a moment, before glancing down to her partner. "Yes?"

"I think I've got it now."

"Oh... good. I told you it wasn't difficult." Shion sounded distracted. "I... I think... I think I'm going to go to my room." That announcement made, she pulled away from Ling Ling and quickly left.

Ling Ling watched Shion's tall form leave with an uncertain air. "Marta, is something wrong?"

"No..." Marta replied uncertainly. "But, I think my sister is feeling a touch lonely."

Ling Ling remained quiet, feeling slightly uncomfortable with the situation and unsure how to respond.

"Ling Ling?" Marta asked, turning back from watching her sister leave. "Can we try doing that?"

Ling Ling swallowed and forced herself to relax. "If you want."

Hopping down off the couch, Marta touched the CD controls. "Let's use that same song again, I actually liked it."

"Alright." Ling Ling placed her hands on Marta's shoulders, trying to ignore the slight stirring of emotion as Marta rested her hands on her sides. She did have to agree, the music, old as it was, was rather nice.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see


"Oh, I'm sorry Ling Ling."

"Just watch where you put your feet."

"I'll try."

"Perhaps this would work better if you let me lead?"

"Okay, I'm not sure what I'm doing anyway."

No, I won't be afraid
No, I won't be afraid

"Marta, slow down. We are 'slow' dancing, remember?"

"I'm a little nervous."

"Just relax."

Just as long
as you stand
stand by me

Taking a hint from her sister, Marta tried closing her eyes. It seemed to help, allowing her to relax and concentrate on not stepping on her partner's feet. Ling Ling, meanwhile found herself thinking back to the night of passion she and Marta had shared in her penthouse. A memory Ling Ling was beginning to think she would not mind reliving.

So darling, darling
Stand, by me,
Oh, stand by me
Oh stand
stand by me
stand by me

Leaning forward slightly, Marta rested her head on Ling Ling's shoulder, sighing contentedly as she felt her breasts press up against Ling Ling's. Ling Ling responded by gently stroking the back of her head, and murmuring something in Chinese before returning her hand to Marta's shoulder.

If the sky that we look upon
should tumble and fall
or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
no I won't shed a tear

"Marta?" Ling Ling's voice was a whisper.


"Will you work as my bodyguard?"


just as long
as you stand
stand by me

"Ling Ling?" Marta's voice was a whisper.


"Will you sleep with me tonight?"


So darling, darling,
stand by me
oh, stand by me
oh stand
stand by me
stand by me

Brushing her long, blonde hair away from her face, Chiffon Carrera stepped out into the dimly lit recesses of the parking garage. It was close to four months since Marta had vanished, and with the exception of a few brief messages that had arrived while she was in the hospital, she knew virtually nothing about the fate of her former lover.

Chiffon sighed, and glanced about the garage. The condo she and Marta had shared had been a total loss. Insurance had covered some of the expense, and Marta's considerable savings had helped, but it still meant she'd had to find a small, inexpensive apartment when she'd finally been released from the hospital. About the only positive note was that her precious Genom Kage had survived unscathed. Which was a good thing, since as a rigger, the Kage represented her lifeblood, without out it she was almost helpless.

Producing her passcard, Chiffon tapped a control, hearing the familiar beep as the Kage's locks disengaged. Opening one gullwing door, Chiffon settled herself behind the wheel, snapping the DNI cable into a port behind one ear. Turning the ignition, she tapped the accelerator, smiling at the Kage's familiar twelve-cylinder rumble.

With a deafening roar, magnified by the narrow confines of the garage, the Kage detonated, shredding nearby cars and sending a wall of flame racing through the air.

Dozing on the couch in her aparetment's living room, Kitten felt pleasantly peaceful. Her odd and unscheduled Caribbean vacation had been... 'interesting', especially considering that she hadn't had to pay for much of it. The only drawback had been spending far too much time with someone who was only a pale imitation of her Cowboy. The man may have resembled Jagger physically, but he sure had been dull to talk to.

Now, she lay stretched out on her sofa, boots off, listening to some soft music on the stereo. Despite the cold and winter wet outside, her apartment was cozy and warm, and she didn't feel in the mood for getting up, much less straightening the place up. Kitten yawned, and rolled over on her side. She'd clean later.

The loud and insistent buzzing of her doorbell roused Kitten out of her state of bliss. Muttering darkly, Kitten ran a hand through the tangles in her hair and stood up. She wondered who could be bothering her at this hour, before deciding that Katsumi most have gotten off of a late patrol and wanted to eat out. Not a bad plan, considering.

"Alright, alright," she called, "I'm coming."

Reaching for the door, Kitten heard the distinctive oily click of a weapon being cocked. She froze for just the briefest of moments, before twisting around to one side so that she faced away from the door. Throwing her arms over her head, Kitten tried to shield herself as best as possible. The door literally exploded as a steady stream of submachine gun rounds tore through it. Scrabbling away from the door, Kitten felt several rounds strike her back, deflecting from the underlying armorplate. Reflexively, she reached for her pistol before she remembered it was across the room, lying on her desk. Rising to her feet, she dove behind the couch.

There was a brief moment of silence, and then the door was kicked in. Two men rolled through the doorway, the dull-black shape of Bushmasters cradled in their arms. Coming up into a crouch, the pair proceeded to empty their weapons into Kitten's living room, blasting furniture and furnishings with equal abandon.

Crouched behind her sofa, Kitten took a moment to glance around her. Her once nice apartment was rapidly being reduced to a bullet-scarred wasteland. Hissing with rage, she worked one hand under the couch and then tossed it towards the front door.

The sofa bounced once before slamming into the two gunmen. The pair went sprawling, although Kitten doubted it would stop them for long. Getting to her feet, she rushed the closest would-be hit man, snatching him up by his arm and tossing him into the wall. He hit hard enough to fracture the composite wall, blood spraying from an obviously broken nose. Flipping the sofa aside, she smashed her fist into the other man's jaw, smiling grimly at the sound of breaking teeth and bone.

The sudden booming report of a shotgun took Kitten totally by surprise. She felt something slash across one leg, shredding clothing and synthskin equally. Turning her head, she caught a quick glimpse of a third man, brandishing a heavy combat shotgun, standing in the door way. The sight chilled her to the bone, bringing forth unwanted memories of a dark Neo York alley where she'd faced a similar situation. She froze, unable to think or react, sure that Kirin had returned from the dead to finish her off.

A series of three rapid pops broke Kitten free of her indecision. She staggered back, her damaged leg collapsing under her, as the shotgun wielding man slowly slid to the floor. Blinking with surprise, Kitten could only watch dumbfounded as a Katsumi stepped into the doorway, her service pistol held out before her.

"Kitty-kun?" she asked. "Are you all right?"

"Y-yeah," Kitten managed a weak grin. "But my place sure got fucked up."

The pouring rain kept visibility to a minimum, which, considering the sight across the road, was just fine with Officer Yuzo Takada. A twisted chunk of metal, plastic and glass lay over there, a twisted hunk that had once been a car. An IH-50 cargo hauler, massing in excess of 12 tons, had hit the vehicle broadside, crushing it into an unrecognizable mass and killing the car's two occupants instantly. According to the IH-50's driver, the brakes had failed, and in the driving rain he'd never even seen the vehicle blocking his path.

Adjusting his rain hood, Yuzo walked over to his squad car. His partner was talking on the radio to dispatch and nodded as he approached.

"Well?" Yuzo asked, "We have an ID on that car yet?"

"Yeah... dispatch says it belongs to a McKee... Scott and Miyuki McKee."

"Unhunh..." Yuzo glanced over at the dim shape of the wreck. "Any next of kin?"

"Hmm... I show a Ryan Summer McKee, ex-ESWAT. Their son."

"Well, someone's going to have tell tell him his parents are dead."

**Object heading west on Junin-Machi is believed to be either an armored trooper or light mobile armored combat machine!**

Noriko tapped the button on her radio. "Understood, I'm on my way."

Pushing the throttle forward, Noriko sent her Jinsei Kami into a shallow dive, tall Mega Tokyo skyscrapers flashing by on either side. Flipping a switch, she activated the police cruiser's lights and siren, a loud Doppler-compressed wail signaling her presence.

'Armored trooper', eh? Noriko shook her head as her eyes tracked the information scrolling by on her HUD. Armored trooper was a fancy was of saying 'hardsuit'. The problem was most likely an armored merc causing trouble; Noriko was willing to bet it was some sort of corporate strike. She was inclined to discount the presence of an armored combat machine, Landmates and cyberdroids didn't run amuck all that often, despite countless tri-vid shows to the contrary.

Guiding the vehicle though a maze of buildings, Noriko continued to lose altitude, gaining speed as she dropped. Skimming just above the road, she shot out of a side street onto Junin-Machi looking left and right for any sign of her quarry.

Nothing. No armored troopers, no combat machines... the street was empty.

Reaching over, Noriko punched the car's radio. "This is Captain Kobayashi, over. This is Captain Kobayashi, do you read? Central?"

The radio hissed and popped static. Noriko's brow furrowed, she was being jammed. Pulling back on the stick and slamming the throttle to full, Noriko sent the Kami screaming skyward. It was a trap. She had no idea why she was being targeted, but she was certain she had just driven into a trap. Her sudden burst of acceleration pushed her back into the cockpit couch.

As if in answer to her fears, a spectacular barrage of tracer fire erupted from the street below. The Kami shuddered and rocked as cannon shells tore through the lightly armored hull. The lightbar exploded in a spray of sparks and several readouts flashed red as the cruiser vomited smoke and flame from the engine compartment. The driver's side window went white as a round skipped away from the armored glass, leaving behind a fine mesh of cracks. Noriko blinked at the impact and pulled the stick to the left, sending the Kami dropping down between two massive office buildings. More shells flashed by, bright yellow streaks against the dark sky.

The cruiser bucked as Noriko fought to keep the wildly careening vehicle under control. She was loosing fuel, altitude and speed equally and Noriko doubted that she'd be able to stay airborne for more than a few minutes.

With a sickening crunch and the squeal of tortured metal, the Kami smacked against the ground and slid across the street, bouncing off of a parked car and sending a scattering of trash cans flying. Noriko instinctively erected a telekinetic shield, trying to deflect the worst of the impact. The Kami chopped though a lightpost and skewed around onto its side, leaving a wide trail of debris in its wake.

There was a final bone-jarring thud, and the Kami stopped dead, having fetched up against the front of a now shattered store. Noriko sat motionless for a long moment, trying to get her breath back. Her protective shield had kept her unharmed, but the effort had been exhausting. Pushing at the shattered expanse of canopy, Noriko managed to struggle free from her Kami's mangled cockpit. Wiping at the blood that was slowly seeping down the side of her face, Noriko glared upwards at a particular cone-shaped arcology.

"Genom," she hissed.

AP (Poseidon Station) - Officials report that on January 17, 2031 at 11:36 AM Shuttle Flight 401 exploded. Preliminary reports indicate a possible failure of a fuel pump may have flooded an ignition chamber, causing a chain-reaction that destroyed the entire shuttle. There were no survivors from the 24 passengers and 5 crew. No names have been released as of yet pending notification of next-of-kin.

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