by Michael Surbrook, David Kuijt and Jeff Mueller

head like a hole.
black as your soul.
i'd rather die than give you control.
head like a hole.
black as your soul.
i'd rather die than give you control.
bow down before the one you serve.
you're going to get what you deserve.
bow down before the one you serve.
you're going to get what you deserve.
"Head Like a Hole"
Nine Inch Nails

Chance finished toweling off his hair. Looking up at the clock he realized it was already 8:25pm. "Damn!" Running a brush through his hair a couple of times he looked around the room wondering what to throw on. Spotting a pair of leather motorcycle pants he hadn't worn in a while he ran over and pulled them on quickly. Grabbing a plain green T-shirt out off the closet he pulled it over his head. He snagged his Duster and scarf off of the hanger next to the door and sprinted down the hallway towards the lounge.

Takeda looked up as Chance ran into the lounge. He had been looking at one of the trophies on the wall, a broken Red Commando helmet. He wore black jeans and a black T-shirt with a skull and rat design that read 'Black Plague European Tour' on the front, and had a list of locations with dates from the 14th Century on the back.

"Hey, Chance. Are you ready?"

Trying to catch his breath, Chance grinned. "I was born ready..."

Takeda glanced down, noticing that Chance had no shoes or socks on. He quirked an eyebrow at Chance. "Is your footware a ... fashion choice?"

Looking down at his feet, Chance slapped his forehead. "Sorry, I was in a hurry....be right back." He turned on his heels and sprinted off down the hall back the way he came.

About two minutes later Chance raced back around the lobby corner, skidding to a halt in front of Takeda. "Better?" he asked gesturing down at his now clad feet.

Takeda smiled. "Perfect." He opened his pager/comm and poked a number, speaking into the receiver. "This is Takeda; I'm going to 93 Underground with Chance. Probably won't be back until late."

"I'll make sure I get you back before you turn into a pumpkin..." Chance quipped, trying to suppress a grin.

Takeda shrugged ruefully as he put the comm away. "Doc wanted me to check out pretty rigorously until this Sonnet thing is resolved. I don't much like it, but I'm not going to make any noise about it while I'm in the dog house over throwing Jagger through the wall."

"Let's not mention the 'J'-man tonight. We're supposed to be out having 'fun', remember? Don't spoil it..." Chance shrugged, "Besides, it might not be a bad idea anyway."

"Oh, I agree with him, in theory. In practice, it gets my back up a little, I guess. Feels like something Genom would do. Not that they let me go on many unsupervised excursions, though.

Takeda glanced at Chance. "... so, have you ever 'ported before?"

"Um... sure I have. Every day..."

Takeda laughed. "Then this'll be very familiar to you, ne?" He stepped over in front of Chance. "Grab my forearms fairly tightly." He suited his actions to his speech, locking arms with Chance.

"Gee Takeda, I don't want to move too fast. I'm an old-fashioned kinda ... AACK!" The two men faded out of the lounge with a faint 'whoosh' of moving air, and the lounge was empty.

Miles away, they appeared briefly on the roof of an abandoned apartment building. It took Takeda only a second or two to check to ensure that the street in front of 93 Underground was clear enough for his purposes, and before Chance could catch his breath they disappeared again.

Four blocks away they popped into the street with a deep "Whooomph!". The short queue in front of the Underground gaped as the overpressure of the teleport swept dust and debris around them. Duke slipped his short-barrelled riot stunner back into its holster as he saw it wasn't an attack.

Takeda had turned away from Chance the instant they arrived, and a swirl of dust around him marked the edges of his defensive field as he looked around warily. Whatever he was worried about didn't show itself, though, and after a few seconds he dropped his field.

"Quite a rush..." Chance mumbled while trying to shake the feeling that he was still moving. Taking a deep breath, Chance nudged Takeda with his elbow and gestured towards Duke. "Quit making a spectacle of yourself and give the man the tickets, huh?"

Some distance away, atop an abandoned office tower that overlooked the entertainment district, Sonnet woke abruptly. She had dozed off in the warmth of the autumn sunlight and had only been awoken by the sudden surge of PK energy that had passed by her a moment ago. Standing, she glanced over at the entrance to 93 Underground, cycling her eyes to low-light levels and focusing the telephoto lenses to bring the area into sharp relief.

Standing near the entrance was a man she was positive was Takashi Shima, her target in this desolate waste. He was accompanied by another man, who she could not identify, but whose existence was of no consequence. Pulling her duster closer about her, Sonnet headed for the stairs. It was time for her to get to work.

Back at 93 Underground, the two men walked up to Duke. Takeda handed him the tickets for tonight's performance.

"What's up, Duke?"

"Nothin' much, Takeda." Duke nodded at Chance, "Hoi, Chance."

Chance just nodded briefly, and scanned the crowd. Although not really worried about it, he didn't want to run into Gally Alita without warning.

Pushing his way inside the front door, Chance reached inside his duster and retrieved his ever-present Ares Slivergun. Smiling charmingly he handed it to the 'gun-check' girl.

Takeda paused beside him and scanned the room cautiously. Chance grinned broadly, "Loosen up guy... we're here to have fun remember?" Takeda smiled in response, but his eyes finished the scan.

The crowd hadn't built to size yet, and the roadies were working on the stage, putting up the equipment for the lead-in band, "Kick the Puppy." Takeda nodded to Gordon at the bar and moved towards an empty booth.

Sylvie smiled as she swept past with a tray of empties. "Hello Takeda, want your usual? Chance? What'll you have?" Her smile flashed megawatts of sex appeal at them both, but seemed to be aimed more at Chance.

Pausing for a second, dwelling on an answer that would be left unsaid, Chance decided on a Long Island iced tea. "Thanks Sylvie..." he smiled as Takeda found an empty booth.

Across the room, a worried look crossed Gordon's face briefly as he watched the two men sit down in the booth. Oh, God, not tonight , he thought.

Only a few minutes later Sylvie came back with their drinks, plopping a tall glass of potent iced tea in front of Chance and a glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale in front of Takeda.

"The man knows how to party I see..." Chance chuckled as he winked up at Sylvie.

Takeda shrugged. "You wouldn't want to see me drunk. Chemical uppers and downers have a strange effect upon me. Sylvie, can we get some munchies? A hoagie for me and some nachos to share?" Takeda glanced at Chance interrogatively.

"Just bring me some onion rings..."

Sylvie smiled and turned away. Both men watched her walk back to the bar. Her lissome form drew lots of eyes, men and women.

"So, Chance, what did you do before you joined the group?"

Taking a long draw on his iced tea, Chance stared at Takeda for a few seconds before answering. Takeda returned his gaze openly, but without challenge.

Setting the glass down on the table, Chance rubbed his face before speaking. "I did a lot of things. I worked as a bouncer over at the Pink Nipple for a few years... and you?"

Takeda shrugged, but did not evade Chance's gaze. "I'm a replicant, and a young one. My inception date was only six or seven years ago. I haven't got much of a history. For most of my short life I've been force-grown and force-fed canned experiences by a lab, until Genom sold me to Ares. I broke out, and had ... an accident," his face went grim, "and the group found me while I was amnesiac. Everything since then is on file. My life is an open book, if a short one."

Takeda looked away, to where the roadies were putting the final touches on the speakers and stage setup. "Blade gets on my case, saying that nobody asks about the past in the Zone. I find that very hard to avoid--first I had no memory of my past, and now I have it, it isn't much of a past at all. I guess I'm curious about what a real ... I mean, what other people's pasts are like." Takeda smiled ruefully at Chance, "no offense meant."

Chance tilted his head and regarded the man before him in a new light. "None taken. I can see where the curiosity comes from... and I don't blame you."

"Is the Pink Nipple a bar? I don't think I've seen it."

"Hmmmm... well not quite a bar. More like a house of ill-repute." Chance grinned. Looking up over Takeda's shoulder he smiled broadly at Sylvie who was returning with a tray of food. "Speedy service. God, I love this place..."

The opening act started up, and the bar began gradually packing with patrons. Conversation between the two men was squelched by the food and the base rhythm of the band for a while.

Pushing away the remnants of his hoagie, Takeda leaned back in the booth and looked around at the crowd. Unlike his initial wary survey when entering the bar, now he seemed at ease. His eyes locked briefly with Ryder, sitting at the bar, and they nodded at each other.

Pouring the bucket of scraps and slops into the trough, Lenny stepped back and let the pigs get to their food. Preoccupied with the business at hand, he was more than startled when something blasted past him and down the narrow alley. What ever it was remained a mystery, since the object's speed was so great that his bucket was torn from his grasp and Lenny was almost thrown to the ground.

Sylvie came up to the booth with refills, and Takeda's eyes followed her as she wound her way sinuously away through the crowd. "You ever have a girlfriend, Chance? Someone special, I mean?"

"I've had a few special people, none I would call a 'girlfriend' though. Why? Need some advice?" Chance followed Takeda's gaze to Sylvie's form drifting through the crowd. "Personally, I think you two would make a great couple. That is until she left you a dried up husk on the Underground's floor." He punctuated his statement by finishing off his drink in a large gulp.

"Hah! No, no, that wasn't what I meant," Takeda waved in Sylvie's direction, laughing. "Sylvie's an erotic dream, but ... no, not my style. And I don't think she's hunting, right now, anyway."

Chuckling, "No, doesn't look like it..."

"No, I guess I was just being nosey. Like Temple, I guess, I sometimes feel ..., well, not lonely, but ... alone. Vids sort of imply that things are better, if you have a soulmate."

"Ah, the age old question of bachelorhood or not. Do you know how many men ask themselves that question everyday?" Chance shook his head and smiled, "In this world... hell, in any world I would have to agree with those who would find someone and keep them close." Chance drifted off into silence for a moment. His eyes seemed to glaze for a second until Takeda's voice brought him back to the conversation at hand.

"I'm probably trying to ... wanting to run before I walk, if you know what I mean. I mean, I've only really had friends for the first time this year, with the team. Blade, and Doc in his way." Takeda looked far off, for a moment. "That's why I got so angry at Jagger. I thought he was my friend too." He shook his head in dismissal, and deliberately lightened his tone, " ... anyway, I guess finding a soulmate takes more than a month or two, ne?"

"Who told you that? If you're lucky it takes maybe a minute... tops. You'll know when you find one, you'll know from the moment you look in her eyes." Chance gestured to Sylvie before continuing... "Or at least that's what I've been told."

"Huhn." Takeda looked skeptical. "Well, I guess I'm not lucky, then." He looked around the bar, which was full and getting more so. "Maybe I just haven't met the right woman yet."

The inrush of people trying to get into the Underground had slowed to a few last-minute stragglers and Duke decided that he could now relax. It was when the crowds were the thickest that he worried. At times like that,anyone could slip a weapon through. Nodding to Sean, who ran the weapons room, he stepped outside for some air.

Outside, night had fallen and the air was rapidly cooling. The street was mostly empty, the colder months saw a noticeable drop in street dwellers, as everyone who could would hole up in what ever abandoned shelter they could find.

"Excuse me."

Duke, startled, turned to the voice. He could have sworn the street in front of the Underground had been empty a moment ago. Standing in front of him was the woman known a Sonnet, the one Gordon had said was a copy of Shion. She was dressed in a manner similar to the last time Duke had seen her, blue form-fitting body suit, white gloves and boots and a long duster.

Sonnet held a photo up to Duke and indicated it. "I believe this man recently entered this building, is that so?"

Duke glanced a the picture, which showed Takeda, dressed in what looked like some sort of combat harness. He thought for a moment before responding, Gordon had made it clear that trying to jerk this woman around could be a very bad idea. "Yeah, he went in while ago. You want I should get him for you?"

Sonnet smiled, "No thank you, I'll see to that myself."

Stepping past the Underground's doorman, Sonnet went inside.

<Gordon!> Duke activated his implanted comlink, <Gordon! We have trouble!>

The band was rocking, and Takeda felt, at least temporarily, relaxed and at peace. There was the usual mix of hardscrabble zoners and cit tourists out for a night on the wild side. Chance looked utterly at ease, watching the world go by, not a care in the world.

Chance was enjoying the band, wondering what exactly Takeda had meant about Temple. Now that would be interesting, he thought, when a most unsettling feeling came over him. It started as a small queasy feeling, then his stomach turned over in place. "Trouble." The one word resounded in his mind.

Taking a sip from his drink, Takeda became aware of a powerful psi presence, faint at first, but rapidly increasing in intensity. The surge was not coming from Ryder, who still sat at the bar, in fact it felt familiar, in fact it reminded him of...

Snapping his head around Chance gazed over Takeda's shoulder at the approaching form. He opened his mouth to say something when a terrible throbbing pain erupted in his forehead. Taking a quick breath Chance realized this was going to be a bad night.

"Takeda," Chance's voice sounded distant, "Didn't you say something about a woman with white hair looking for you?"

Takeda twisted in his seat, looking at the door. Across the crowded sea of tables, he and Sonnet locked gazes. In the instant he recognized her the smokey air swirled around him, the silverware on the table started to rattle slightly and shift away, and one fork rose, bouncing, several inches off the table.

Seemingly unconcerned by this display, Sonnet casually approached the table, her hair fluttering gently behind her. Stopping a few paces away, she regarded him with a most critical gaze. "Takahashi Shima?" she asked in an eerily familiar tone of voice, "I am here to take you back. Chairman Quincy desires your presence."

Takeda stood up. "Is that so." He flicked his gaze over at the bar, where Gordon's face was grim, his jaw working--probably talking to the bouncers. Ryder was staring, almost slack-jawed in amazement. A second later, Takeda felt a surge of intense power from him, as Ryder erected a defensive field. The dancefloor was full of people, the bass sound of Kick the Puppy throbbing through the speakers.

The pain in Chance 's head doubled in intensity, the feeling now spreading into his temples and sinus cavities. Sliding his hand under his duster he cursed mentally as his hand reached his empty holster. He had forgotten where he was ... oh yes this was going to be very bad.

"Why don't we discuss this outside, where it is quieter?" Takeda gestured towards the door, but both eyes stayed locked on Sonnet. Beside him left-over onion rings and nachos were bouncing as if on rubber bands, six inches above the table.

Chance stood slowly, shifting out slightly from behond the table not wanting to have his movement restricted if necessary. Looking between the two standing before him he saw Gordon at the bar, looking about as tense as Chance had ever seen him. Outside was sounding like a really good idea.

Sonnet simply stared at Takeda for a moment. She had tapped into her own psychokinetic powers, Takeda could feel the low surge of power from her. He suspected she had surrounded herself with a simple protective field. The fact that her hair was swirling gently about her body and her duster was rustling in an unseen wind seemed to confirm that.

Unlike his brothers, who each looked a little different, Takeda found that Sonnet seemed to be an almost exact carbon copy of Shion. She had the same long, snowy-white hair, worn to well past her waist. Her figure was trim and well defined. She was, as Jagger would say, a major babe. An impression that was enchanced by the fact Sonnet was dressed in a very form fitting bodysuit in dark blue, white knee-length boots and matching gloves to her elbow. Worn over this was a simple leather duster that came past her knees. Rather stylish, although Takeda had to smile inwardly at the image. Shion would never wear something like that.

Sonnet inclined her head and indicated the door with a wave of her hand, "As you wish."

Takeda turned his head slightly to speak to Chance, although his eyes did not leave Sonnet's. "I'll be out front, Chance."

"Yeah, you do that... " Takeda's form suddenly faded and disappeared. Nacho chips pattered down onto the table. One onion ring landed, bounced, and rolled into Chance's foot.

Swallowing hard, Chance looked at Sonnet. "You know there really isn't a need for this, is there?" he asked with a charming smile.

Sonnet ignored the question, staring at the spot where Takeda had stood. Turning her head, she looked out towards the far wall, although to Chance, it seemed like she was looking through the wall. Without a word, she started for the entrance.

Chance looked around, hoping that a platoon of hardsuit-clad mercs were waiting to be hired, but finding none he settled on the next best option. A gun.

Sprinting into the front lobby he watched Sonnet throw open the double doors that separated the establishment from the Zone. Looking over the counter at the gun-check girl Chance smiled briefly, "Excuse me." Vaulting through the small opening Chance waved at the suprised woman. Looking around he saw his Ares, but somehow that just didn't seem right. Then he saw it, a pistol-grip assault shotgun. Grabbing it, he smiled once more at the flabbergasted woman before rolling over the edge of the counter back onto his feet in the lobby and heading for the doors.

Duke was still listening to Gordon over the commlink, trying to decide whether to leave the front door to Sean and Holger or stay here, when a deep concussion from the street drew his eyes. Takeda stood in a swirl of dust and debris. He looked over at Duke.

"She's coming out, Duke. We're going to ... talk, out here. You might want to stay under cover."

Duke looked at the car imbedded in the wall across the lot before responding, "Yeah. Cover."

A moment later, Sonnet appeared, walking purposefully to where Takeda stood in the middle of the street. At some point, she had increased the intensity of her shields, Takeda could feel the increased surge of power. Stopping a short distance away, she studied him for a moment. "You are going to make this difficult, aren't you?"

Takeda looked her over. "You really do look exactly like Shion," he said wonderingly.

Sonnet started in surprise, obviously she had not expected that statement. Recovering her composure, she sighed, "So I have been told. What of it?"

Takeda smiled slightly and moved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Nothing, really. But I'm surprised, I guess—my brothers and I don't look that much like each other. We look like brothers, I suppose. But you, you could be her twin."

"So?" Sonnet sounded slightly irritated.

His brow furrowed for a moment. "Why is it that we never met, while we were growing up?"

"I have no idea, and I fail to see why that should be important."

"Clearly it isn't, to you. I find it odd, and interesting. Are you so accepting, that you never ask questions?"

"I am an agent of Genom. I do what I have been instructed to do. No more, no less."

"I see." Over Sonnet's shoulder, Takeda saw the doors open and out strolled Chance, his duster flapping slightly in the breeze. Chance stood there, hands in pockets, looking inquisitively at the two powerful telekinetics before him.

Takeda's eyes shifted briefly to Chance, then back to Sonnet. "Chairmain Quincy wants to see me again, you say. Why?"

Sonnet smiled coldly, "After what you did to the Tower, you have to ask?"

Takeda smiled coldly back. "After what we did to the Tower, I'm a bit surprised he wants me to return. So I am led to wonder, am I to go back for punishment, or for execution, or for re-education, or am I going to be welcomed back like the prodigal son?"

Sonnet shrugged, "I do not know. Personally, I forsee your execution as an example to others."

Takeda laughed shortly. "Well, now, that is certainly something to look forward to." He looked at Sonnet again, up and down, and crossed his arms. "Why did Quincy send you, rather than my brothers? I had been expecting them."

"Chairman Quincy desired results."

Takeda laughed again. "My poor brothers, so maligned! With Masaru dead, I guess nobody was sufficiently a lickspittle to become a favorite with the administration."

The smile slid off his face like a mask and he uncrossed his arms. Winds whipped around him, debris swirled as he increased his defensive field. Takeda's voice was low, intense, as he held his hands in fists at his sides. "Well, enough games. I've found out what I want to know. You are a robot, a mindless toady, doing what Quincy orders without any sliver of conscience. You would bring me back, without care for the reason behind it, without enough care for what might become of me to even be interested in my fate."

His hand slashed in an abrupt gesture. "ENOUGH! You have this one chance to live. Take a message back to Quincy for me. Tell him that he will never have me, dead or alive. I have had enough of him, and of Genom. Tell him for me, that if he does not leave me alone, I will make him suffer for it. I will find a way to hurt him the only way he understands, in the pocketbook. I will cause him a million nuyen damage, then ten million, then a billion. If I must crack his arcology like an egg, I will, if he does not leave me alone. Go now, and tell him."

Sonnet initially swayed in the face of the wind, but braced herself and resumed her rigid stance. Crossing her arms in front of her chest, she stared back at Takeda. Road dust and debris bounced, to be whipped away in the turbulence, as she increased her own shields to their maximum. Takeda noticed that she was now sillouetted by one of the Underground's parking lot lights, it's illumination made her white hair glow, while keeping the rest of her face in shadow. Her expression was unreadable, although he could plainly see two glowing green dots where her eyes should be.

"I will tell him so, Takahashi Shima, and I can only hope he will instruct me to eliminate you for making such threats. Harm Chairman Quincy and I will find you."

The ground, already fractured from Takeda and Blade's encounter with Shion many months ago, began to fragment, flat pieces of asphalt ripping free to be flung away into the sky.

Duke turned to Chance, "You sure he knows what he's doing?"

Chance, his usual carefree attitude gone by this point, spoke without taking his eyes off of the two before them. "Nope. I think he's insane."

Behind Duke and Chance some of the patrons of the Underground began to spill out of the doors to see what was going on. Takeda caught a glimpse of Ryder, face ashen, his mental signature a beacon, even considering the power he and Sonnet were producing.

Takeda and Sonnet stood like the focal points of two whirlwinds, debris spinning around them both. Webs of fracture lines spread out from the two teeks, and the air was filled with the sound of masonry cracking and falling. Hundred-pound slabs of pavement ripped up and flew into the air like paper.

Takeda spoke, his quiet voice cutting through the noise. "I won't harm Quincy unless he persists in his attempt to harm me. Tell him that. It is his decision, and on his head be the consequences. Tell him to leave me alone, or the destruction in Genom Arcology will be only the beginning."

Sonnet shook her head slowly, hair falling into her eyes, "You cannot do anything if you are dead. I will, if needed, kill you, Shion and anyone else required to defend the Chairman."

Takeda's lips twitched, though his eyes were ashen. "Your loyalty is commendable, but you are talking of things you know nothing about. Shion's the one who tried to kill Quincy. I'm threatening his pocketbook, not his life. Take him the message, pretty slave."

Sonnet stood up straight, regarding Takeda silently. In the dim shadow of her face, Takeda could see she was smiling. "Oh, Shion will have her turn, don't worry about that. And Takeda, I am no one's slave."

With a swirl of hair and duster, Sonnet turned her back on Takeda, striding forcefully towards the distant lights of Neo York. Takeda watched her go, and gradually the flying cloud of debris began to come clattering down. One flat slab of pavement fell and shattered above Takeda's head, sliding down to the sides without ever touching him, as if it hit some invisible barrier. As she stalked farther and disappeared in the night, Takeda's stony face smoothed, until he wore a slightly sad look. The last pebbles fell and rolled to rest.

Takeda turned and looked at Chance and Duke, then back down the road to where Sonnet had disappeared. "She is very beautiful." His voice was almost regretful.

"You certainly have a way with women... " Chance said, actually breathing for what felt like an eternity. "Let's go get a beer." He said as he casually revealed the shotgun hidden beneath his coat. Seeing Duke raise an eyebrow, Chance just grinned innocently.

Takeda noticed the shotgun too. "Thanks for the backup, Chance." He looked at the weapon again, in a double-take. "I thought you came in with a slivergun?"

"Musta grabbed the wrong gun, I didn't even notice... " Chance let the sentence trail off as Duke looked at him with a glance similar to a parent's scolding look.

Takeda nodded to Ryder, whose white face was only beginning to regain some color. Ryder nodded back, "Jeezus Takeda, you sure now how to pick 'em".

Takeda looked back at Chance's shotgun. "What kind of loads does it have?" Chance shrugged in response, and Takeda smiled lightly. "Just for future reference, a shotgun loaded with shot is about as useful as a wifflebat against a teek's defensive field."

Chance thought about that statement for a moment and ejected a shell. Looking at it he kept a straight face and tossed it to Takeda. Snatching it out of the air Takeda took a look at the AP shell in his hand.

Takeda shook his head. "Just grabbed the wrong gun at random, ne? Yeah, right." He smiled ruefully.

As the two made their way back into the club, Chance laid the shotgun on the counter of the gun-check without even giving Sean a second glance.

"Slaggin' drekheaded jerk," was Sean's muttered response as Chance made his way back inside.

Takeda exchanged glances with Gordon at the bar, and they made their way back to their booth. Luckily, nobody had taken it.

"I don't think she's going to take no for an answer next time, Chance. What do you think?"

"I think I need a vacation." Chance quipped.

Takeda swept some chips off the seat and sat down. "I wonder what Shion's going to think of this," he said musingly.

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