written by
Brian Taylor

II: Meiying
Osaka late 2032

The Attacked Mystification Police
Officer Angela Ellis looked up form her standing position near her desk and gazed at the two officers striding up to her. Shiko Tomoe, who had by some bizarre twist of fate managed to be her constant companion for the last two years, was escorting someone who Ellis at first mistook for Officer Linda Maverick of the MegaTokyo office. But as the two got closer, the body language and the voice made it clear that this was one of the two newest members of the team.

Shiko spoke first. "Here's the second one. Officer Zhoma Cheng, SV-010-221-8832."

"Very well." Ellis snapped open her cigarette case. "I didn't recognize you without all the slime and trashed NP uniform." She offered the new officer a spare as she plucked one from the open case. "Smoke?"

The officer slowly shook her head as Shiko made herself scarce in the vicinity of Chief Mana's office toward the back.

Ellis shrugged and replaced the case within her disheveled uniform. "You don't mind if I do?" Even as she said it, the cigarette was lit and smoke was already filling the space of her own small office, the ceiling fan managing to be completely ineffectual. Ellis sat down, opening a smoke-stained dossier that had been on her desk.

"Let's see...electrical engineer, recent total combat cybergraft, assigned to the Osaka AMP because of your..." Ellis briefly glanced at the standing officer and motioned for her to sit down. Which she did--reluctantly. "...unique knowledge concerning the case we've been on the last couple of years. You're filling the visionaire slot?"

"You've got one already?"

Ellis looked at Officer Chen from underneath a dark Korean brow. She could see bad attitude coming a mile away, so she simply shook her head--once.

"Then I guess I am."


Mana Isozaki looked up as her office door swung aside to reveal a confidently striding figure. She pushed aside the information that had been sitting on her desk since she was assisting the MegaTokyo office two years ago--information that the Osaka AMP would not be getting a new spinner, but would be getting two more personnel, one of whom just entered her office. Spinners were expensive, and that meant that they would either have to make do without one, or fix the one they had. Only one individual Mana knew could perform a refit of that magnitude, and Mana had spent the last two years getting her pulled from the Osaka Normal Police.

Enter Ran Isozaki.

"You need to learn to start addressing me as Chief, like everyone else here, Officer Isozaki," Mana's voice was coldly authoritative.

Ran waved it off with a dismissive gesture as she sat down in in the spacious office's most luxuriant furniture--sprawling out on a plush couch with an air of exhaustion. "You've got a lot of heavy weapons in your motor pool. Smart missiles, variable warheads, all kinds of stuff. How come its just gathering dust? The computers on the spinner can't handle the payload delivery, but I figure that the remote link to the AMP mainframe could handle the processing load. You got a local computer expert on hand yet?"

Mana looked at her younger sister askance. Ran was almost a carbon copy of herself--medium-sized, dark hair--though Ran had apparently dyed it some wild shade of auburn today--a slightly less impressive bustline than Mana's but with a stronger build, and eyes that became slits when she laughed. Which was way too often for Mana's taste. "Your lack of discipline will serve you here about as well as it did at the Osaka PD Motorcycle Division..."

"That bike was a criminal killing machine!" Ran sat bolt upright and protested. "It got rid of the Yin-Yang Gang, didn't it?"

"It was also a machine that generated expensive amounts of property damage," Mana was forcing herself to be calm. "Which is why those weapons you found don't get used."

Ran shifted restlessly. "That's smells like something you left in the shitter, Mana. Everybody on this force has some kind of supernatural deus ex machina except me. I've seen what you people fight. If it gets rough out there, what the hell am I supposed to defend myself with? Guns that break your forearms when you use them?"

Mana kept her tone level. "Officer Ellis has no paranormal powers. She's just good at what she does...being a police officer. Perhaps you should try it."

The office door opened to admit Shiko Tomoe just as Ran replied. "Well, I see my request to arm your little pile of trash is going to be pretty much futile." Picking herself up off the couch, she strode back to the door, speaking over her shoulder on the way out. "If you need me, I'll be mentally preparing myself for having to fix your aerodyne after every encounter you get into. Maybe when you consider what I've said, you might get the funding to actually get two of the things once its proven that weapons will increase the spinner's survivability." With a neutral look at Shiko, Ran exited the office and slammed the door.

Shiko looked at Mana peculiarly, as if to ask, is this a bad time? "Kacho?"

Mana closed Ran's file and leaned back, indicating with a barely perceptible toss of her short, glossy, parted dark hair for Shiko to continue. "The visionaire has arrived. Do you have any special instructions for her?"

Mana's eyes narrowed. She carefully took the file on Ran and slowly tossed it in the trash. "No. Let her spend the day with each officer asking questions. I'll have her begin the Logic Space search for the rogue program later."

Shiko looked at her boss's wastebasket. "Why did you throw her file away?"

Mana was already staring out the windows in the door of her office, into the operational area of the AMP facility. "Because I never received it."

Ran stormed out of the office , fuming over her sister's ignorance with matters that were so idiotically simple. She was already sorting through various ways to circumvent both AMP policy on the matter and her own sister's ultimatum--all of which her mind rejected out of turn--when her ears provided a possibility.

The station house was largely empty--Fei Chan was at his home, and Jamadagni Renuka was at hers--probably practicing her chants or rattling the bones or whatever sorcerers did these days. The only occupants currently were Ellis and the new Officer recruit, and both seemed to be arguing in a tightly controlled manner. Carmencita Ibanez entered briefly, but as soon as she set eyes on the new officer, she quickly turned tail and dashed quietly out of the area. Ran turned her attention to Ellis and the rookie; she was saying something about the less-than-pristine state of Ellis' uniform, with Ellis firing back about a "weak mind and maverick computer stunts that put the whole city at risk" when Ran's ears perked up at Ellis' last statement. Just as the interaction was reaching a fever pitch, she walked up to the two and cleared her throat loudly.

Both officers looked at her, significantly annoyed.

"Hey, Sub-Chief, clearly no good can come of this. I"ll take over the rookie's orientation, if that's okay, ma'am?" Placing her hand on the small of the attractively blonde officer's back--who spoke with a strange Chinese accent--she said, "If you need us, Officer...uh, Chen and I will be around the facility." With a Korean with an American name and an American with a Chinese name, you'd think they'd be able to get along....

Before Ellis could protest, Ran hustled Officer Chen to the elevator.

"Rocky first day?" Ran said as she appraised the exotic new officer. God, she really is dazzling. That hair, those eyes...

The rookie shrugged. "Nobody here trusts me; I was their first mission in MegaTokyo. I expected that to make things difficult--just not right off the bat." She sighed. "I don't care if this is for the good of the city--this might not be such a good idea. I fought everybody in this department two years ago; there's still some bad blood."

Ran grabbed the woman about the shoulders and shook them good-naturedly. "Well, if its any consolation, I don't even know you! But I do know what your going through." Ran placed her face close enough to the new officer's to see deep into the gray eyes beyond the wispy blonde locks. "Wanna blow off our mutual stress together?"

The new officer's face looked surprised, but intrigued. "What did you have in mind?"

"Spinner dock," Ran said to the elevator. Turning back to the officer, she said, "You're a computer specialist, right?"

The sunset looked to Meiying like the aftermath a nuclear detonation.

It was how she had viewed everything since her accident; as conflagrations, explosions-- as bright lights. No doubt that was why Magnus had picked the industrial center of Osaka as both his lair and Meiying's new home on the verge of nightfall; perhaps the bright lights of the big city would distract her horrific recollections long enough for her to be effective as a member of his fledgling team.

The neon-lit magazine stand where she found herself presently was colorfully festooned with media of all kinds, from factual and fictitious, to soft-core porn and the religious. Meiying got the proprietor's attention by adjusting the flat black tie that was tucked into the projectile-resistant kevlar mesh vest she wore tight around the white collared shirt which strained against her busty torso. He eyed in particular the hand that she did it with; the right one, with the velvet black glove that concealed the combat rated partial cybergraft that included her entire right side, including the leg, which was wrapped tight in a similar protective material underneath skin-tight flat black pants. Meiying quickly moved the hand out of sight after he made the proper ID; two years had not quite erased the self-consciousness she had about her inhuman parts.

The stand owner didn't seem to notice, instead reaching behind his counter to produce four comic books--three American and one Japanese--and indicated with a nod of his head that she should take one. Meiying reached out with her left hand--the real one--took an issue at random, and thumbed through its ancient pages. The comic itself was an American adaptation: Spiderman by manga artist Ryoichi Ikegami. After a brief perusal she nodded to the owner and shelled out the surprising five thousand yen for it, holding the owner's gaze as she did so.

"Spider," she said. The owner nodded and subvocalized something to himself, then tossed her a remote key and motioned toward a very familiar sight indeed.

The two seater Mach-Go-Go Racer aerodyne was a Dassault-Breguet original, an almost exact replica of her own ill-fated vehicle, which had changed her life forever when it exploded upon landing at the ITS MegaTokyo aerodyne lot two years ago. Ikegami comic in hand, Meiying keyed the remote access and slid surprisingly easily into the expensive vectored-thrust vehicle's interior. Thankfully, the nightmarish visions of what had happened to her the last time she was in the cockpit of one of these did not plague her, as she thought they would.

The door closed on its own, and the cockpit instrumentation likewise activated of its own volition. Moments later the Italian craft lifted up and away from Nishinomaru Park and banked west over the Hanshin Expressway, the industrial lights of Osaka receding rapidly beneath the canopy view. Finally the cellular vidphone lit up and a white-haired man with wingtipped eyebrows and angular features appeared; his filtered voice through the pickup was oddly pleasant. His familiar smile put her immediately at ease.

"Hello, Spider."

Meiying smiled in spite of herself. She was listening to a recording, likely recently updated with her new codename, so of course to respond would be futile; no one would hear her. And it was precisely for that reason that Meiying spoke anyway.

"Hello, Magnus."

Twilight Vengeance
'Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows' flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay gangs' they throng; they glitter in marches.'

The wind gently caressing her face with her auburn hair's own delicate touch, Emiko Lochart looked up briefly from her book of poems and gazed east, toward the sprawling megalopolis of MegaTokyo, the city-state that was the pride of modern Japan. The staggered cumulus above Osaka this mild, twilight evening were in stark contrast to the sky above that tortured city, which was an ashen, boiling hell, visible even at this extreme distance, drowning the super-municipality below in an acidic deluge of it's own, poisonous spite. A single aerodyne's headlights stabbed through the light fog produced by the Yoda-Shin river as it made its way west.

They had agreed to meet on the rooftop display level of the Osaka Museum of Oriental Ceramics, adjacent to the Subway Metro's now inoperative and abandoned Ikeda Line. Doctor Rachel Genovate had suggested it since the roar and booms of the near-supersonic train on it's obsolete above-ground monorail no longer made normal conversation impossible. She wore the corporate leather attire she'd bought in New York, a red and black skirted ensemble which complemented her leatherbound copy of Gerald Hopkins poems perfectly. It was only a superficial layer of what Emiko wore, however; the face, the hair, the entire ersatz aggregate of steel, synthesized proto-organic gels and myomar that was her tall, short-haired, lithe body was in fact little more than a temporary housing for less than an eighth of Emiko's original brain, courtesy of the Annaple Japan cybercorp. She pondered Genovate's shaved head as the doctor approached, decked out as she was in an antiquated jockey's outfit, complete with high polished boots, flared-hip trousers, and black coattails; an odd visage for a businesswoman, even in this age, but it was all real flesh and blood, at least--a stark contrast--and much more inferior to--her current condition. Emiko's own "meat" body was safely tucked away at Genovate's ITS Osaka facility, where Emiko had assisted her in getting a Net security job through her Consulate contacts in return for a very special favor.

The body Emiko Lochart was born with was waiting at a secure place in Dr. Genovate's new place of work at the ITS Osaka labs. There it would remain until an insidious antipersonnel program that had downloaded itself into her chemical synapses during a fact-finding trip into Logic Space for the enigmatic Gothamite Convention could run its course--something which had to be done before Emiko could return her actual consciousness to its organic shell. Until then her body was off limits to her actual intellect and lay mindless, waiting for computer-caused fever to break and its soul to return.

Man, how fast his firedint, ' his mark on mind, is gone!

It was not yet nightfall; the sun splashed deep crimson in broad brushstrokes across the horizon still, and yet Dr. Genovate had come early, the only color in her black and beige dressed pale features being impossibly red lipstick of full lips.

"I didn't think you would make it," she said, eyeing Emiko as if she'd never seen her before. In a sense, she hadn't; the being which stood before Rachel Genovate now was, with the exception of a palm-sized piece of gray matter--which both scientists and priests had determined to be the "seat of consciousness"-- a totally cybernetic individual built by her ITS labs. "I figured you to be still in the clinic, keeping vigil over your... self."

"I came early--to test the machine, as it were," Emiko replied, Hopkins haunting her synthetic mind. "Just to see if the five senses work on this thing. I know its not completely a machine, but..."

"The organic components of your cybergraft are revolutionary. You are not rated at combat levels, but you will be able to actually heal as if you were still...your old self." Genovate looked over Emiko's shoulder briefly, then moved close and began to whisper. "But this is still prototype technology. Until the research is published mainstream, you should be as...underground as possible." Her eyes shadowed mysteriously. "Considering the nature of the work you do at the Consulate, you should understand the need for avoiding unnecessary risk."

Emiko's back straightened. Certainly she did; her job as a member of the American Consulate in Osaka was simply a front for her actual job of researching the Lucifer Folk in Japan for the United States as a member of the Gothamite Convention. It was her hunt for such data in Logic Space, in fact, that led to an unfortunate encounter with a Lucifer Hawk program--of all things--and had precipitated her real body's current predicament. "No problem, Doctor," she said. "Just be sure to let me out before I get a case of acute cabin fever."

"I owe you too much to let that happen." Dr. Genovate inclined her head towards Emiko's book. "Consider this time to catch up on your poems, perhaps?"

Emiko smiled, reveling in the fine control she had over the smallest nuances of her new cybernetic body. She had dodged the bullet of supernatural assault, and couldn't be challenged by any threat to the body, it seemed. A feeling of indestructibility pervaded her man-made being as Emiko made her way to the crowded industrial streets below. Perhaps Hopkins had her in mind when he'd penned his poem.

' Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ' world's wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Zinaidia Umarov watched Emiko's form recede even as the figure which she'd spied moments before over the Gothamite agent's shoulder walked unobtrusively up next to her; his dark suit, heavy coat and mirrorshades made him seem like a black hole among the ceramics displays. When he spoke, it was like a whisper of barely restrained thunder. "What's next, Dr. Genovate?" His rumbled whisper had a touch of bemusement as he said the name.

"Make certain that the police see enough of her to start asking questions. When those questions draw in the last surviving Chen, do what you're getting paid for." Umarov never let her eyes waver from Emiko's back. "And get rid of the original test subject. It seems we have the perfect replacement."

"Is that all?"

Umarov met his eyes for the briefest of moments. "Be creative."

The Spinner never looked better--to Ran Isozaki, at least.

The long, sleek planes of the once graceful aerodyne had been long since broken by the mighty wreck it had endured in the AMP's battle with Zhoma Chen two years ago. Now, however, those lines of damage were replaced by new equipment, added weapons, and additional computer remote link upgrades--courtesy of a newfound talent.

Ran, after being given the "thumbs up" sign from Carmencita Ibanez, tested a piece of newly-installed equipment from a remote terminal. At the press of a button, Zhoma Chen confirmed the AMP mainframe link just as a rack of six small guided FLEX rockets popped open from the spinner's incomplete portside midsection. An uncontrollable grin gripped Ran's face. "What's it doing, Chen?"

"The mainframe's locking the FLEX pod onto the door as its target," Zhoma yelled back from her post above the reconstruction area at a mainframe interface terminal. "The link appears to be holding up."

"Good--I'm shutting down now," Ran replied, but her irrepressible grin faded quickly when the weapons pod failed to re-conceal itself within the spinner's structure. Even before Ibanez said an ominous "Something's wrong," she knew they had a serious problem. Mana never checked on her progress in the Spinner Dock, but if she ever decided on a surprise inspection, the illegal arming of the spinner would probably cost Ran her job. That pod had to go back into flush position with the rest of the hull.

Ran stepped quickly around her diagnostic terminal and made her way to Ibanez's position at the portside. The blind officer used no computer tool to determine the new structural configurations of the spinner; instead, she had the ship's schematic memorized--a technique she had mastered when she began making modifications to her Interceptor motorcycle--and was telekinetically coordinating the structural configurations as they were with what they had designed on paper. Obviously, something didn't match up.

"What the hell is it?" Ran asked. "The actuator to big somewhere? Carmencita?" Ran looked at the blind officer, but the bandage surrounding her eyes offered no clues as to why she was suddenly so silent. "Why won't it close?"

Ibanez turned her head and appeared to regard Ran for a moment, then stood up. "It's nothing you won't be able to fix; its actually an electrical problem." She gathered up her AMP jacket and blaster, which caused Ran's eyes to go wide. "I'm leaving. I don't know when I'll be back."

"Uhh..." Ran lifted an eyebrow as she watched Ibanez check the load status of her blaster. "Somebody in trouble somewhere?"

Ibanez shoved the pistol into its holster, climbed the stairs out of the construction pit, and without a word to the surprised Zhoma Chen, left the Spinner Dock. Ran chased her up to the upper level, but declined to pursue out of the Dock; an AMP regulations violation was sitting exposed in the pit, just waiting to pinch her in the career.

Zhoma looked at her with wordless puzzlement. Ran shrugged. "All I can say is, I'm glad you're an electrical engineer too. We'll ask her what's up when she gets back." Turning back to the pit, she said, "Let's fix this thing before somebody finds us breaking the law."

Mika, impressive, unstoppable Mika, had done it again.

She sat, rather imperiously, in what passed for a reception lobby in the boiler room/basement of the ITS Osaka building, waiting for her turn for scheduled maintenance of her two year old myoelectric prosthetic arm--maintenance that would have cost her a small fortune, even with Department insurance, in the high-cost sprawl of MegaTokyo. But, once again, thanks to her peerless ingenuity for "unauthorized data research", she'd found this low cost alternative in her hometown's industrial sister of Osaka. The arm was a gift from a crazed Zhoma Chen following her last patrol job with the inhuman rookie officer. She'd lost her real arm when, after encountering some sot of antipersonnel programing Logic Space, Chen had ripped the door off the Normal Police spinner and grabbed her with enough force to mangle the flesh and shatter the bones of Mika's forearm before ripping the limb off completely in the act of throwing her body clear of the aerodyne. Mika's heart went cold with hate at the memory. They'd reassigned Zhoma after that, claiming her to be a victim of some sort of "possession" originating in Logic Space. She patted the inconspicuous bulge of the heavy Sternmeyer .402 underneath the all weather cloak she'd brought from MegaTokyo. As a detective now, she could carry concealed weapons in plainclothes. And if she ever came across Zhoma Chen again, she'd do the public a favor, indeed.

There had been only two others scheduled for today, and one was on her way out now; Mika was next. She held her MegaTokyo Normal Police ID card ready as she approached the receptionist, who appeared to be new at the job, and began answering the standard questions for which she had provided an alias; the badge was just in case they gave her inconvenient grief--she had no intention of turning this bargain-basement clinic in to the authorities. It might not be legal, but it was cheap.

The receptionist twisted her lips in annoyance as she found herself interrupted by shouting from the actual maintenance cubicles behind her. As Mika looked through a hole in the wall divider, she saw a tall, pale, leather-clad woman with short, red hair yelling at her technician in what sounded like Japanese with a Scottish accent, apparently to have access to her real body, which he wasn't granting for some reason.

Did she say her real body?

Mika walked away from the preoccupied receptionist, who was now vacuously smiling up at her, and surreptitiously followed the fuming client out of the ITS basement. As she stormed past her, Mika noted the overly-blushed face, the pale skin...the stone-gray eyes, eyes no human had given birth to. A few differences, but far too many similarities.

We meet again, Zhoma Chen.

The Subway Metro
The Racer made a sweeping arc between the massive shimmering steelscapes of the Umeda Sky and Westin Osaka buildings as it descended toward the Hanshin Expressway's Ikeda line. Meiying almost fretted at the idea that she would be parting with the magnificent aerodyne, but Magnus' pre-recorded voice continued to be full of pleasant surprises.

"It's all yours, Spider. Its bought and paid for, so don't worry about making payments. You'll more than pay me back as our newest member; I'll explain all that when you get here. Until then, just sit back, relax, and let the remote pilot bring you to base."

"Base" seemed to be in a rather heavily industrial residential area; the Racer set down on a secure lot some twenty stories above ground level--only police and military aerodynes were allowed at street level. Magnus' voice droned out the last instructions on how to find him, then his voice and image both ceased to exist as the Racer powered down.

The Toshiba-Orion Mirai Shonen "Future Boy" logic modem was heavy and unwieldy at the end of its heavy duty strap. Magnus' video recording had led her to the device's location in the trunk-sized cargo compartment behind the Mach GoGo Racer's twin seats, where the expensive interface device rested along with various other Magnus-provided gear; a flashlight, a shoulder holster, 10mm ammunition, and a Sternmeyer pistol. Meiying had only the logic modem and flashlight as she stepped away from the aerodyne and made her way to the nearest Subway Metro entrance on the street. She had never liked guns--didn't believe in their ability to solve problems or their purpose, which was to take lives; in fact, she couldn't bring herself to touch one. Today was no different.

Osaka's west side was busy indeed tonight; automobile traffic was barely moving and the human traffic was practically shoulder to shoulder. It was the perfect environment in which to get stabbed by an anonymous attacker--doubtless that was why Magnus footed her the funds for the kevlar vest. But within moments she had made her way through the shifting mob to the sealed off underground entrance to the out of order Ikeda line.

Originally conceived as an overwater link across the Yoda-Shin river, the Metro's Ikeda line quickly fell victim to various crime related engineering and passenger accidents in enough quantity for the city to declare the line unsafe and shut down its operation altogether. Now the underground portion of the line was home to rats, squatters, and--in this age of unexplained weirdness--other "things." Meiying ducked and wove her way through the obstacle course of yellow and black warning tape and descended the concrete steps with their flickering neon flourescent handrails below. Somewhere within the depths of this forgotten underworld, Magnus now made his home.

Her directions were to proceed down the curving defunct track itself one hundred meters and wait at the section of the wall spray painted "The Gernsback Continuum" for a few minutes. At five minutes, the silence and darkness prompted enough minor panic attacks for her to get out the Ikegami comic book she bought to occupy her mind. Thirty seconds after that, the wall shifted from behind her rapidly enough to send Meiying sprawling backwards--not onto hard stone, but glossy polished marble. It all hurt just the same.

A heartbeat later, a shadow fell over her--and within moments she was looking up into the outstretched hand of the man known to the world at large only by his handle.


"Of course, Spider." He spoke in his peculiar lilting baritone. "Now, get up off the floor like that. Its undignified."

As he helped her upright, she noticed the two other figures in the room she found herself in. One was manipulating a jury-rigged device on the wall which was apparently causing the wall to slide back to its original closed position; the other stood admiring her, particularly her backside. They were dressed as she was, in dark pants with black ties. The one at the wall had a dark longcoat; the lecher behind her was distinguished only by the suspenders he wore in the dark light. Magnus himself sported a vest and red tie, the only dash of color in the entire room, which was expansive in size but recently cluttered with hastily erected electronic gear.

The man at the door control spoke first. "I didn't know that high heels were part of the wardrobe." His features weren't Japanese. Meiying guessed he was from somewhere in Italy by his accent; he spoke in English.

"They seem to work well with the rest of the outfit," the other man, who was definitely American, said from behind her. He stroked his neatly trimmed goatee as he continued his unabashed stare at her derierre. Meiying had the feeling he wasn't talking about her shoes.

Magnus appeared not to notice the innuendo filling the room. Gesturing toward the individual with the door, he said, "Our street operative, the Hobgoblin. The bearded gentleman goes by Automatic Jack; he's a technical genius." Magnus leaned close. "Try not to antagonize him, eh? He's really very good at what he does."

Meiying gave Jack a darkly suggestive stare while stepping more toward the door. "Is this really the safest place for you to conduct your business?"

"Hobgoblin maintains constant cybernetic contact with multiple informants in the city. We know every move it makes before it does. You noticed you weren't antagonized by any of the local vagrants; that's because they're all Hobby's personal minions."

"Cybernetic contact?" Meiying asked.

Hobby tapped his temple. "Cellular telecom splice. I literally have eyes in the back of my head."

Meiying nodded once with a silent ah-ha expression on her face. Glaring briefly at Automatic Jack, she handed Magnus the logic modem while she spoke. "You're not a comic book character." But you seem to act like one.

"That's because I don't do comic books. Makes sense, doesn't it?" He ceased talking and promptly went back to appraising her physique.

"So where does that name come from?"

"A story written by a 20th century futurist. You wouldn't know him--but you should."

Meiying pointed at Jack with a single finger. "Gernsback Continuum?"

"Burning Chrome, actually." He smiled. "But yeah, that was me. I thought it was a nice touch. Much like that gluteal reconstruction on your left side."

Meiying stepped up to Jack's face and whispered in what she hoped was a pleasant tone. "That's a little inappropriate, sir. Even if I did know you."

Magnus' voice echoed from the shadows. "Automatic Jack is, in addition to being our technical expert, also a cybernetic physiologist and surgeon. He's ...the man responsible for putting you back together before you were sent back to the city hospital to recover."

Jack wagged his eyebrows. "Couldn't let a natural resource go to waste--and you are very natural."

It was inevitable, but it happened sooner than anyone thought--Meiying slapped Automatic Jack..

"I'm glad you did that with your left hand." Jack spoke directly to Magnus. "Oh, I like her much better conscious."

Magnus sighed.

The Host
Mana looked up in time to see her office door burst open. Obviously, someone was having a sense of urgency. Perhaps I should get a lock on that door...

Angela Ellis stood before the AMP section chief with a red classified folder in her hand, the kind only she and Ellis could examine when all other members of the AMP had departed the building after "normal" business hours, and even then it had to be destroyed within an hour after being pulled from the computer. It was tagged with Zhoma Chen's name.

For a long moment, Ellis simply stood there, taking a long, silent drag from her cigarette.

Mana looked up from her executive seat. "I see."

Ellis exhaled slowly without taking her eyes off of her boss. After some time, she spoke in measured even tones. "Don't you think you should have let the rest of the force know? At least myself? This is significant, to say the least, if you want this woman to keep hacking into Logic Space."

Mana's gaze remained hooded. "The first attempt to dump the cybertissuegraft was unsuccessful; the LF tissuegraft appears to have permanently associated itself with her nervous system. Research continues so search for a method that will disassociate them without terminating the host--"

"This woman went through the entire AMP and wrecked the spinner two years ago without breaking a sweat," Ellis said without raising her voice. She took another drag off the cigarette before continuing. "It would be irresponsible to allow Department labs to keep tabs on this thing. Perhaps the ITS corporation, or Annaple--"

"If we can't handle it, do you really think they could?" Mana's voice was neutral. "She could be the key to finishing this war, at least on the Osaka front. Besides, the program found her once--it may come looking for her again. Only this time, you'll be ready, won't you, Chief Ellis?"

Her terminal link to AMP dispatch flashed suddenly, insistently. Trouble, of the supernatural kind--at Fei's house.

Ellis stubbed her cigarette out on the red folder. "Sure as hell hope so, boss."

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