by Michael Surbrook and David Kuijt

Takeda gave his suit a last look in the mirror. It had been well tailored and fit him nicely, a dark gray jacket and trousers, dark blue shirt and black tie. Takeda found himself wondering whether Shion found him attractive, and shook his head. One night could mean anything, or more likely nothing.

Picking up his comm unit, he hit a key. "Ian, you ready?"

** Warmed up and checked out, Takeda. **

"We'll be right down." He hit another key to call the security desk. "This is Takeda. Kiyoko and I are going to The Edge, in Neo York, for the meeting with Shion. I don't know when we'll be back, but it won't be too late." He waited for the acknowledgement, then closed the comm and slipped it in his suit pocket.

He stepped to Kiyoko's room and knocked on the door. "Hey, Kiyoko, you ready?"

Almost immediately the door opened and Kiyoko stepped out. Dressed in a white blouse, black string tie, and a matching dark brown jacket, vest and skirt, Kiyoko looked like a miniature corporate executive. Pausing in the doorway, Kiyoko nodded, "I am ready, Takeda." It was quite obvious she was nervous.

Takeda gently touched her cheek. "Hey, it'll be all right. Don't worry. She's probably nervous about meeting you again, too."

The flight was uneventful, and Ian dropped them at the landing pad on the roof of SPD Building. With a number of fashionable and high-performance vectored turbofan sport vehicles and some limousines already parked, the armored military dropship looked very out of place.

"Thanks, Ian. We'll find our own transportation home."

** Gotcha. **

Located on the bottom floor of the SPD Building, The Edge was one of Manhattan's premier restaurants. Serving only the finest in real, not soy, foods, it was popular among Neo York's corporate elite. Shion clearly liked it also, since it was here that she had met with Doc and Jagger to discuss the status of her contract against Takeda.

As was typical for an establishment like this, reservations were a must. Fortunately, Shion had arranged everything. Simply telling the maitre-d that the two of them were with the Nys party was sufficient to gain entry. Inside, The Edge was thickly furnished with numerous plants and terrariums. Some of the wall sections were almost invisible armorglass with larger habitats inside, giving the area a glen-like effect. That, combined with the wood decor, was in stark contrast to the usual ultramodern chrome and glass of most places.

Ushering them to a private booth, the waiter indicated their seats. "I'm afraid Ms. Nys has not yet arrived. Can I get you anything while you wait?"

Takeda ordered a ginger ale, and Kiyoko asked for iced tea. If Kiyoko had had ears like Temple's, they would have been perked forward as her eyes tried to drink in the rich and unfamiliar surroundings.

After a few minutes, Shion arrived. Her hair had been tied back from her face and secured at the back of her head, falling loosely down her back. She was dressed in a dark, blue-grey suit jacket, fastened at the waist with a thin gold chain. Under that, she wore a simple white shirt and a dark purple tie. Knee length skirt, black stockings and short, ankle length boots completed her outfit.

Takeda stood self-consciously for a moment, unsure whether to shake her hand, kiss her, or just stand aloof.

Shion looked at Takeda for a moment. He noticed that she looked tired and even her fine clothing could not hide the weariness in her eyes.

"Sit down, Takeda."

Taking her seat, Shion turned to Kiyoko. She studied the younger girl for what seemed an eternity, before finally relaxing. Holding out her hand, she introduced herself. "Hello, Kiyoko, I am Shion."

Taking Shion's hand, Kiyoko smiled shyly. "Hello, Miss Shion. I am very pleased to meet you."

Takeda's uncertainty had disappeared while Shion was staring at Kiyoko, and his intent look relaxed slightly as they shook hands.

"You look tired, Shion."

"Is it that obvious? Things... have... been rough lately." Shion shook her head, "I feel that my past is finally catching up with me."

Takeda thought about that a moment, unsure of how to respond, and then spoke. "If I can help in any way, at any time, Shion..." He left it hanging there.

Shion smiled weakly, "Only if you can talk sense to my sister."

Takeda shook his head, "probably not. I only met her the once, and that wouldn't lead to a sense of trust. But about anything else..."

Shion held up a hand. "Enough," she announced, "let us have dinner first, then we shall talk business." Dinner was exceptional. Takeda was scarcely more familiar with the menu options than Kiyoko, so he enlisted Shion's advice for both of them. Kiyoko tried hard to be demure, but her enthusiasm with the bright colors, fancy arrangements, and new and unusual tastes, regularly broke through her attempt to be a polite dinner guest. Shion showed a remarkable amount of patience as far as Kiyoko concerned, tolerating the preteen's excitement without remark.

After dinner, while Kiyoko worked her way through a thick slice of cheesecake and Takeda ate some fantastic concoction of fruit, pastry, and cream, Shion finally approached the business at hand. Taking a sip of her wine, she gestured to Takeda, "Tell me more about your encounter with this... Sonnet."

Takeda described the whole meeting with Sonnet in as much detail as he could remember, leaving Chance out of it. Kiyoko had heard the story in brief, but listened intently as more details came out.

"... and then she turned and walked off. She didn't teleport or fly, and if she was staying at Genom Arc she couldn't have walked all the way there. I think she was consciously hiding something to preserve tactical advantage."

"I would presume so, Takeda." Shion looked thoughtful. "It is possible that any implanted cyberware she may have has disrupted her body's bio-field preventing her from teleporting..."

Takeda shrugged thoughtfully. "I haven't found much research on the affect of cyber implants on telekinetic powers. Seems reasonable. I wonder if any other powers are affected similarly?"

Shion shrugged, "I doubt it, in my opinion most other abilities are a result of pushing external energy around, levitation and teleportation are manipulations of the body directly." She drank from her glass before continuing, "By the way, Takeda, tests have shown that I am perfectly capable of accepting bio and cyber implants. I have simply chosen not to, for a number of reasons, the least of which would be adverse affect on my own psychokinetic abilities."

Takeda looked calculatingly at Shion and then nodded. After a moment he transferred his gaze to Kiyoko for a long moment before looking back to Shion.

"Interesting. That isn't true of me, according to my test results."

Leaning back in her seat, Shion regarded Takeda directly, "What I must know is this, Takeda. What do you intend to do about her?" "She isn't taking us back. I'll stop her from doing that, any way I can."

"Takeda," Shion's voice had turned cold. "_I_ intend to kill her." Her tone indicated that debate was not an option.

Kiyoko, wide eyed, seemed to try and press back into her seat, as if trying to distance herself from this frightening older version of herself.

Takeda sat back slightly also, but he did not seem surprised. "Well, that is fair enough. From what she said, she intends to kill you, too."

He took a sip from his drink, then met Shion's eyes directly. "I tried to talk to her, tried to find a chink of soul or humanity. Anything. But she has only one priority--obey Quincy's orders. Which means to kill you, enslave Kiyoko, and bring me back for execution or brainwash. And I don't intend to let any of those three things happen."

"Heh," Shion chuckled slightly, "They've trained her well." Pausing, she returned Takeda's gaze, "You seem very concerned for my welfare, all of a sudden. Is there something I should know?"

Takeda smiled openly. "What, you are uncomfortable with my wanting you to live? I've saved your life once already--why should I let Sonnet put my good work to waste?" His mouth twisted ironically, although his gaze was open and direct.

Shion smiled wryly, "Always the gentleman, aren't you? Don't worry, Takeda, I haven't forgotten what happened in Mega-Tokyo."

Takeda took a sip of his ginger ale.

Shion turned and regarded Kiyoko silently, "Are you frightened of me?"

Kiyoko looked from Shion to Takeda and back again before responding. "Yes," she answered in a quiet voice.

Shion sighed slightly, "Why?"

"Because you're big and scary and you talk about killing people."

Sighing a second time, Shion turned back to Takeda, "What happens to her if you lose?"

Takeda looked away without responding for a long moment.

When he turned back, he saw the uncertainty in Kiyoko's eyes and put his hand over hers to reassure her.

"I don't intend to lose." His eyes challenged Shion's for a moment, then he sighed and looked back at Kiyoko. "But I would be a fool if I didn't consider the possibility."

Takeda looked at the large terrarium beside them, where a gecko was hunting a brightly-colored insect. His eyes tracked the movements of the hunter, and the hunted, while he spoke. "If I fall, who could protect Kiyoko from Genom? Anyone without psychokinesis will be helpless against my brothers or Sonnet. Blade is ... afraid," he said regretfully, "... of powerful wizzers. Any one of the three could take her just by using her fear against her."

Takeda glanced at Kiyoko, then back to the terrarium, where a flick of a sticky tongue caught the brilliant insect and slowly drew it back into the lizard's maw, to disappear with a satisfied gulp. "So I need someone powerful enough and determined enough, capable enough, to keep Kiyoko safe from Genom. Ideally, someone who could teach Kiyoko to survive in this world on her own terms. And hopefully, someone who could be kind and gentle to her."

Takeda squeezed Kiyoko's hand again, and deliberately did not look at Shion. "But this is just talk. I do not intend to let Sonnet, or any other creature of Quincy's, capture or kill me just yet. So, Kiyoko, you will just have to suffer with me as your guardian for a while."

"Meaning what Takeda?" Shion's voice developed a slight edge, "That you have someone else in mind to look after her? Me perhaps? I suggest you reconsider, I have no intention of playing nursemaid to anyone."

Takeda shifted his gaze from Kiyoko to Shion. "No, I agree, I can't see you looking after anyone." His gaze was flinty. "You aren't the type." He looked back to the terrarium, where the gecko was hunting another meal. "As I said, I don't intend to die just yet."

Shion looked away, taking a deep drink from her glass. A few minutes of uncomfortable silence passed, in which Shion drank heavily of her wine, before she turned back to Takeda.

"Now, how do you intend to confront Sonnet?"

Takeda looked at Shion for a long moment before speaking. "You said you were going to kill her. If you are solo about this, you aren't part of my plans--I won't risk the other members of the team that way. If you want in, fine, I'll see what I can do."

Takeda held up his hand to forestall her response, "I'm not talking about anything but Sonnet. But get this straight--I'll risk myself for you if necessary, but I'm not going to risk the rest of the team for you. So if you want to play with the team, I'll see if it can be arranged. But if you're going solo, what you do could endanger the team."

"Hmm... Dr. Muldowny wanted to know the same thing. It seems everyone is afraid of who I'll let die just to get at Sonnet." Shion's voice was bitter as she continued, "I intend to be there when you confront her, Takeda, and I intend to be the one that finishes her."

Shion paused and took a quick drink of wine, "Feh... I need something stronger." She signaled for the waiter.

"What I want to know is how you plan on confronting her. Will it be openly? Is the rest of your unit going to ambush her? I presume you aren't going to try and hit Genom Neo York, but instead fight her in the Zone."

Takeda sipped his ginger ale. "Plans aren't final. I will be the bait; I'm almost the only bait she will accept." His eyes flashed at Kiyoko for a second. "Quincy probably has Genom Neo York ready for any action on my part, and I don't know the building, so attacking it would be both dangerous and futile. It'll have to be in the Zone, in an isolated section, to reduce the danger to bystanders. I have enough innocents on my conscience."

"Regardless of how you do it, I want to be there." Shion turned to the waiter and ordered something called an 'Aftershock'.

Takeda looked at her for a moment, then reached into a vest pocket and took out a small comm unit. He looked at it for a long moment, then slid it across the table to Shion.

"Here. I'm not guaranteeing anything until I talk to the other team members--it is their lives on the line, and they get a say. But this comm is set up to dial mine directly on a three digit code--just hit the number of the suite we had in MT. Keep it on you, if you want. If Sonnet hits me before we've got the ambush set up, I'll try to call you on this unit. If she hits you, I'd like you to call me if you can."

Shion picked up the device and looked it over. "Alright," she replied before dropping it into a pocket.

"I can't guarantee that the team will want you involved. You scare the heck out of Blade, and the rest of them see you as an autocratic ... loose cannon, I suppose."

"Is that so," Shion's drink, a dark red mixture that looked highly intoxicating had arrived, she drained it and ordered another before continuing. "What about her?" Shion gestured at Kiyoko, "How does your team view her in light of all this?"

Takeda laughed shortly. "If you're wondering why you are so bad-mouthed by the others, you might consider your own behavior. You attacked Blade and I, trying to capture me for Ares. That, plus your reputation, is all they have to go on. With your reputation, how could you expect that they'd see you as anything other than dangerous and unpredictable? Some of them aren't all that certain of _me_; they see me as a ticking time-bomb, waiting to blow them all up."

"They do?" Kiyoko asked wide-eyed.

Takeda smiled ruefully and turned to Kiyoko. "Jagger does, anyway. And Blade too, I think, although she tries not to." Shion said nothing, returning her attention to the fresh glass placed in front of her.

Takeda turned back to Shion. "I suspect they see Kiyoko much as I do; very young, a lot of potential, enthusiastic, and not fully trained." He smiled at Kiyoko and shrugged half-apologetically.

"And they wonder if she'll turn out to be just like me, right?" Shion's voice was bitter.

"They wonder if she will become as powerful as you are. I don't think they wonder about her motivation as they do about yours."

"My motivation in this is simple, Takeda. I wish to get rid of Sonnet." Shion finished her drink with a gulp and a gasp, "Ahh... those are strong." Taking a deep breath, she looked directly at Takeda, "You still haven't answered my question, when and how do you intend to hit Sonnet?"

"Well, perhaps not your motivation, then. _Priorities_ might be a better word." Takeda took a moment to phrase his response before continuing. "I've been honest with you, and I've told you as much as I can. I'll try to help you if you ask for it; I'll ask for your help if I need it. But I won't let you horn in on a carefully planned attack without checking it with the others. Their lives are on the line; they don't have the defenses you and I do."

Takeda leaned back and crossed his arms. "If you want more than that, tough. You haven't earned it. Power isn't enough without trust."

Shion leaned over the table, "I trust you Takeda, Mega-Tokyo proved that to me. But what about the others? How do I know one of your 'friends' won't put a bullet in my brain, to solve the 'Empress' problem once and for all?"

Takeda's eyes widened, briefly, but he didn't respond and Shion continued.

"If you want to set up the attack with your team, fine, I won't interfere. Just understand, I want to be the one who finishes her."

Shion signaled for the waiter again, "Hmmph, this time I think I'll ask them to leave the bottle."

Watching Shion carefully, Kiyoko leaned over to Takeda, "Takeda? Can we go home now? I don't like her." She kept her voice barely above the level of a whisper.

Takeda nodded and signaled the waiter, but continued to speak to Shion. "They trust you as much as you trust them. I understand your feelings, Shion, but I can't guarantee anything about Sonnet. I'm sorry."

Turning to the waiter who had just arrived, "Would you call a VTOL taxi, please?" As the waiter smoothly retreated, Takeda turned back to Shion. "Kiyoko isn't used to late hours, and I should get her back home."

Shion nodded, "Goodbye Takeda ... and, good luck."

Takeda nodded back, his eyes watching something only he saw in Shion's eyes.

Watching as the pair left the restaurant, Shion filled her glass full of the deep red liquor and raised it in a solitaire toast. "To the Empress," she announced, her words slurring slightly, "long may she reign."

Return to Kazei 5