by Michael Surbrook and David Kuijt

Takeda sat in his small hotel room, looking out the window at the crowded forest of Hong Kong skyscrapers. Without the land area of Mega Tokyo or Neo York, Hong Kong had been forced to build up, and close together, resulting in the highest population densities in the world. Many city streets were in perpetual shadow, buried at the bottom of deep valleys formed by the surrounding buildings. Of course, that was in daytime. At night, like now, Hong Kong shined with neon and light. Takeda turned away from the window and glanced at the clock. 11:45 pm. Tomorrow morning the team would leave for M-T to begin the real mission. Marta had left with Alec Quan's soldiers over six hours ago. Odds were she wouldn't be back until morning; there was not much reason to wait up for her, but Takeda didn't have anything better to do, and the rest of the team was asleep.

*beep beep beep be--*

The call was on his cell-phone. Takeda picked it up. Who would call him here? As far as he knew, all the other team members were in bed.


*Takeda Johnson?*


*Yes, it's Avatar. I'm not interrupting anything, am I?*

"No, sir."

*Good. Takeda, I have some very important news for you regarding your current op.*

Takeda's eyebrows rose. "Yes?"

*I have been in touch with elements of the Japanese government, and due to the nature of this op, we have decided to assign the team a liaison. This liaison will act as a go-between, interfacing your team and Japanese officials.*

"Ah..." Takeda's voice was uncertain.

*The liaison is a high-ranking member of Mega Tokyo ESWAT, whose name you should be familiar with. She is Captain Noriko Kobayashi.*

"Yes, I've spoken with Captain Kobayashi before, Avatar."

*Good, that will make this easier I think. By the way, I presume you are aware that Captain Kobayashi possesses significant psychokinetic powers?*

"Yes, sir." Takeda hesitated for a moment before speaking further. "Avatar, I'm a little concerned about this sudden change of plan. I'm also a little surprised that the Japanese government would approve of our operation. What level of support can we expect? And I'm very concerned about information security—who have you told about this op? I would feel far safer if nobody in Japan knew; Genom has ears everywhere in Japan, especially in their government. If Genom hears anything about this operation in advance we're dead."

*Takeda, you must trust me on this. My dealings have been with Japan's Section 9, who's responsibilities are very similar to your units. And I can assure you,Section 9 has not been infiltrated by Genom. As for Captain Kobayashi, she has been told the barest minimum about the nature of this Op. All she knows at present is that you are investigating an alleged kidnapping case.*

"I see," Takeda said, although he was clearly still unsure.

*Section 9 has been informed of the nature of this mission - that Genom has kidnapped one of the most power espers in the world with the intent of reproducing her via cloning. This is a violation of both Japanese and UCA laws, and Section 9 has been more than happy to assist us in this manner. Of course, we will be the ones taking all the risks, and Section 9 cannot supply us with much more than basic intelligence. But, at least, we will not have to fight both Genom security and Japanese anti-terrorist units.*

Takeda nodded reluctantly. "That makes sense, sir. Although you are not telling them the truth, it is close enough. I doubt that Genom has kidnapped Shion for cloning—her dead tissue is enough for that, and Genom certainly has enough tissue samples without her live body, as they've already proven with Kiyoko and Sonnet."

*True enough, but it is - as they say - good enough for government work. Besides, Section 9 is highly aware of the fact that a free and independent Shion is much more useful than one held against her will.*

"Yes sir. Then my concern is focused upon Captain Kobayashi, sir. You say that she hasn't been told anything beyond that we are investigating a kidnapping. How much can we tell her?"

*Captain Kobayashi was selected for her skill and adherence to orders. Tell her all that you deem necessary, since I have been assured that she will not speak of this to others.*

Takeda nodded, although he still seemed uncertain. "Our intent is to break into a super-secret Genom facility and extract Shion; is she going to object to that?"

*You are extracting a kidnapping victim... considering the types of mission ESWAT usually performs, I fail to see why she would object.*

Takeda's eyebrows rose. "Very well, sir. What orders will she have regarding us? Does she work for ESWAT, or for Section 9?"

*Captain Kobayashi works for ESWAT. Her orders are to aid your team to the best of her ability to accomplish this op with a minimum of noise and difficulty.*

"That should do fine. Do you have an evaluation of her psi abilities on file, sir?"

*Hmmm... telekinesis, telekinetic shields and walls... some esper talents, including certain forms of telepathy... hmmm... Takeda, when you get to MT I'll have a file waiting for you.*

"Thank you, sir. Will Captain Kobayashi be accompanying us on the mission, or is she merely an advisor?"

*She will be accompanying you, Takeda. Now, I must be leaving.*

"Goodbye, sir."

After Avatar hung up, Takeda put down the phone and went back to look out the window. In the orange sky of city glow reflecting off low-hanging cloud and smog, he saw the rhythmic lights of a scramjet on approach to HK airport.

Yes, Takeda had spoken to Noriko Kobayashi once before. But he had seen her several times, once a week or more. In his dreams. Dreams of violence, foreboding. Dreams that included Shion sleeping, cold; Marta, angry as usual. The Genom facility that Marta had brought pictures of, which they would see with their own eyes soon.

Everything in the dream seemed to be falling into place. Even the scramjet, filled with fear and danger—they had narrowly averted a hijacking on the flight into Hong Kong. They had Marta; they were going to Shion, and now Noriko Kobayashi would meet them at the airport.

Only one thing remained unexplained. A shadowy figure with red eyes, projecting menace and terror. And Takeda knew in his heart that this, too, would come to pass.

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