Karin Nys picked up the sheet of paper that the man laid out on the table for her. She kept it close to her and read it silently in the dim light of the bar.
"This information accurate?" she asked as she finished scanning the paper.
"As accurate as anything these days," her contact said. He was a short man only an inch or two taller then Karin herself, and was dressed casually in jeans and a sweator. His long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail and he reached up to stroke his well groomed goatee. "Considering that I've barely worked in this town before, I think I've done fairly well."
"Yeah... you did get me that hit at the Expo," Karin muttered before taking a long swig of her beer. "Course I'm gonna hit you if this info is wrong."
"It isn't wrong... my information maybe outdated, but it's never wrong." He smirked and then pulled out a second piece of paper and handed it to Karin. "Here, a little something for you, free of charge."
The assasin took the note and began reading it. she got about halfway through when she stopped and crumpled it into a ball.
"I take it you didn't like what he had to say?" the man said.
"Christopher, I never liked anything he had to say... and I don't like the idea of him threatening me," Karin muttered, draining the rest of her beer. "I left him and I'm not going back. He's just too stubborn to realize that."
"It runs in the family," Christopher said. At a look from Karin he added, "Stubborness, that is."
"Yeah well he'll see just how damned stubborn I can be if he ever gets the bounty hunters after me." Karin sighed and folded the paper with the information on it and placed it in the pocket of her leather jacket. "Is there anything else about the hit?"
"Well, apparently Mr. Lorenz is an arms dealer who's trading firepower for protection with a gang in the Zero Zone, called the Devils. He gives them the guns to protect their territory and he gets a nice hole to hide from his former employees."
"Hmmm... how many people are in this gang?" Karin asked.
"About two dozen, according to my contacts. And they had a teek with them for awhile, but then she disapeared. Went by the name of Raven."
"Well so long as the PK isn't with them, I shouldn't expect so much trouble," Karin mused softly, resting her head on her hands. She yawned loudly and stretched.
"How have you been doing, Karin?" The question was filled with obvious concern that was both real and geniune.
"About as well as can be expected. Still homeless and I got just enough money for food and supplies." Karin gave him a look. "But you can tell that joke of a father I ain't going back," she suickly added.
Christopher chuckled. "Don't worry... I'm just a messenger. If Mr. Nys ever does sic the dogs on you, trust me when I say I won't be one of them." He smiled gently at her.
"Trust is something I don't give out anymore. You should know that," Karin said bitterly.
"Which makes what little trust you have in me all the more precious," Christopher commented. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have much work to attend to. I shall deliver the message to your father, via the usual means. Good luck and good hunting, Miss Nys."
Karin nodded and watched him go. It was only when he had exited the bar that she realized he had left her with the bill.
"Son of a- fragging cheap bastard," she cursed, then turned around to see a thick stack of bills with a small note in front of her. Cursious, she took out the note and read it. When the waiter came by the table some time later, the assasin had left, leaving a nice tip of thirty thousand nuyen.
"Hello, Raven," said Lydia, turning around to face her adoptive daughter. She'd somehow perceived her again, despite her quiet entry; there really was no susprising Auntie.
"Hi, Auntie!" Raven greeted her cheerily as she sat in the couch. She leaned forward and smiled at her adoptive mother. "I won't be long. Adam's getting his shots, or something, so I kinda slipped away."
Lydia smiled. "How was the Expo, dear?"
"Busy! There was great stuff being shown and I met a lot of people, and... Oh, Lydia, there's a corp who's made a PK replicant." The doctor showed no visible surprise to that statement, so Raven went on. "And someone tried to make a hit at the Expo. That made a huge ruckus—security was all over the place and..." She shook her head. "It was messy."
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Well, I guess I did, except during all the fighting."
Lydia turned around suddenly, and Raven looked the way she was looking just in time to see the Boss come into the clinic with another man—tall and dressed in a trenchcoat, he had a scruffy beard and stingy brown hair. The Boss spoke as he entered. "Lydia, have you seen... Oh, hello Raven."
"Hi. How's tricks?"
"Not bad, thanks to Mr. Lorenz here. He's offered to give us some firepower in exchange for a favor or two. It's time to pick up the goods."
Karin finished setting the adjustments to her rifle and took a crouching stance rather then laying down on the ground. Her hit was with company, two women and a man, and even though she didn't doubt her aim, she knew those people would be with her the moment she shot the guy. Speed was going to be critical once she killed the arms dealer.
Sliding a round into the chamber, Karin cocked the gun and took aim, centering in on Mr. Lorenz's head.
"Say good night, mister arms dealer," Karin whispered as she pulled the trigger...
... and missed as Mr. Lorenz sat down, the bullet nearly hitting the older of the two women.
"Ah sheeit..." Karin cursed, and quickly chambered another round, watching the frantic movements of the people inside. She had to get the target before he moved out of-
The front window shattered outward, spraying glass across the street, and the younger of the women, a long legged dark haired beauty, was standing in the street, bits of debris floating into the air about her as she glared up at Karin.
Without even guessing Karin knew this woman was a psychokenetic.
"Ah hell... I am so going to kick Christopher's ass when I see him," she thought.
"What kind of firepower?" Raven asked Lorenz.
"Well," said Lorenz, pulling a chair and started to sit. "I have a number of weapons stashed away. Mostly Uzis and rifles, altough I do have..."
There was a sharp sound as a hole was punched in the front window, drawing a star of cracks in the glass, and a bullet whistled in the air, narrowly missing Lydia's head before impacting with the wall behind.
"Get down!" the Boss shouted, suiting action to words and drawing his revolver. Lorenz did likewise, producing a large-caliber pistol from somewhere under his trenchcoat. Lydia promptly crouched and calmly moved away from the line of fire.
Raven didn't get down. She glared at the bullet hole, rising anger evident in her eyes. Dust started swirling in rising, circular patterns around her. She growled.
"Raven? What the fuck..."
The Boss's and Lydia's words went unheeded. Raven gestured and the front window exploded outwards, sending glass flying up to the other side of the street. Raven clenched her fists and floated out the window. "If I catch the son of a bitch..."
She glared upwards, and spotted the shooter, a pretty young woman with a long rifle. "Well, if I catch the daughter of a bitch..." She raised her hand and hurled a force bolt at the assassin.
As soon as her hand was raised, the assassin was moving, hurtling herself away from the edge of the building even as it was blown away in a spray of concrete and brick. Karin coughed on the dust thrown up by the blast and got back to her feet. Now not only had she screwed up, but now she had a pretty powerful and pissed off psychokenetic after her.
"YOU! I'm going to get you for this!" screamed a voice. Raven had flown up the building and was now hovering above Karin. She followed with a second force bolt.
Hearing the voice, Karin dodged to the side, dropping her rifle and taking out her Kuan-Ti, snapping off several shots at Raven. They all bounced uselessly off the force field she brought up, and only served to make the psychokenetic even more mad.
"You've gotta do better than THAT!" Raven shouted, feeling the anger pulse in her hands, as though it was urging her to release it upon its cause.
"Yeah, how about this?" Karin shouted as she threw a small grenade shaped object at Raven.
Thinking it to be a grenade, Raven was taken completely by surprise when the object exploded in a flash of bright light, rather then a shower of shrapnel as she was expecting. Blinded, Raven lashed out wildly with a wide kinetic bolt, but Karin was long gone.
"There's the bastard!" Karin thought as she spotted Lorenz bolting out the front door of the building. Running hard, she reached the fire escape she had used earlier and was practically leaping down the stairs as she went. When she reached street level, she gave chase only to feel a piercing pain in her side. Tumbling to the ground, cursing, Karin saw the other man that the target had been with firing at her and yelling at Larenz to run for cover. He contiunued firing at her, the bullets chewing up the cracked pavement, forcing the assasin to roll away and fire back at an awkward position.
Wiping at her eyes, Raven forced herself to relax and wait for the large blobs of color to fade from view. As soon as they were gone, she jumped off the roof, force shields still up, and watched as the boss went down from a gunshot to the head.
Again her anger flared up and she directed it at Karin, unleashing a powerful force bolt. Karin had barely the time to register that Raven was back in action when the force bolt hit the ground a few feet in front of her, throwing her into the air before she came to a painful landing some distance down the road.
Landing inbetween the assassin and Lorenz, who had stopped to watch Raven deal with his hunter, and she started stalking Karin. "Now I don't know *who* you are but you're going to pay for trying to kill Auntie!" she growled. "And for him too!" She waved at the fallen Boss.
Karin blinked, pain adding to the sudden confusion in her mind. "Auntie? Auntie who?" she muttered, shakily getting to her feet. She knew she couldn't pull the flash grenade trick on Raven again, especially since she was out of flash grenades, bullets would just bounced off her shields, and taking her on physically would only result in her feeling more hurt then she already was. If something didn't happen, and soon, she was dead meat.
Raven, so intent on Karin, forgot about her legs and tripped on her feet.
Time slowed to a crawl as Raven fell, revealing Lorenz aiming his gun at her. Karin's hand snapped up, seeming to move three times slower then it should be moving, the laser under the barrel appearing on Lorenz's head. His gun fired, the empty shell dropping towards the ground even as Karin fired her own gun, the .45 round punching into the arms dealer's head. He dropped to the ground even as the assassin felt a second stinging sensation in her right side. Moments later, she dropped to the ground, feeling both elated and full of pain.
Time's passage reverted to normal, and the street became still and quiet.
Raven looked from Karin to Lorenz, surprised at how fast the gunfight had lasted, and got to her feet.
"It wasn't your auntie I was after," Karin muttered, holding her gunhand to her side, the white shirt growing red in that area. "It was him I was after." Her gaze, although pain filled, was glaring a hole into the psychokenetic. She laid back on the ground, gasping for breath. "That's it... I'm asking for a big fat bonus... wasn't supposed to be no PK's here..." she muttered.
Raven grabbed Karin by the throat and lifted her effortlessly off the ground with her gloved left hand. "You ain't getting any bonuses, you dipshit killer. Gimme one good reason why I shouldn't pull your head out right now..."
Lydia approached the scene quietly. "Raven, calm down a little," she told the esper soothingly.
Karin took out a paper from her pocket and shoved it in Raven's face. "Cause this bastard would have brought a full corporate strikeforce down on your ass, that's why!"
Raven grabbed the paper out of Karin's hand and threw it aside. "I don't give a fuck. You just killed Lorenz and the Boss..."
"Jebediah is all right, Raven," Lydia pointed out, again in her soft, soothing tone. Raven glanced sideways at the Boss, who was slowly standing up, massaging the temple where Karin's bullet had nicked him.
"What'd you expect me to do? He was shooting at me... And if you don't believe me about the hit then here, look at this..." She pointed at the paper on the ground.
"Let's not get started on who started the shooting, shall we?" He picked up the paper from the ground.
"Notice that it says how Lorenz frags whoever he's found with whenever his former employers find him?" asked Karin.
"And it also said that he left all his weaponry behind last time he fled." He crumpled the paper and lit a cigarette. "I did have my doubts."
"Yeah... well all bastards make mistakes, guy."
"Set her down, Raven."
"She's hurt, Raven," Lydia put in.
"Hah! It's just a scratch. I'm fine," boasted Karin.
Raven's jaw was set tight, but as she glared at Karin's face it softened until finally she gently laid her down. Karin stood her feet and winced, dropping to her knee, the redness in her shirt spreading further.
"Shit, you are badly hurt," Raven exclaimed, kneeling next to the other woman.
"I'm fine... just get me a bandaid, okay?"
Lydia was hurrying back to the clinic. "Take her in, Raven."
"I'm fine..." claimed Karin, struggling to her feet. "I've taken worst..."
"Lydia, she's..." Raven began.
"Please, dear," Lydia interrupted. "For me."
Karin just looked at Lydia. "Fine... okay the-" Her eyes closed and she sagged to the ground. Raven caught her telekinetically before she hit the ground, and glanced at the Boss.
"She may have done us a favor," he said. "My contacts will tell me."
Raven nodded and walked away, gently levitating the wounded woman in front of her.
Karin slowly returned to consciousness, blinking her eyes as she took in her surrondings. She was in some sort of small room, sparsely furnished; it only contained the bed she was sitting on, a rickety dresser, and a single chair. Raven was sitting on the chair, watching Karin.
"Back to the land of the living I see"
Karin sat up quickly at the sound of Raven's voice and promptly regretted it, wincing and holding her side, grunting in pain.
"Lay down... You're not going anywhere for a few days. And take it easy. You don't want to strain the stitches."
Karin coughed. "Like hell... I've got other jobs to get." She started to sit up again, albeit more slowly.
"More assassin jobs?" Raven said, frowning.
"No... not yet..." Karin finally sat up, holding her side, face paling with pain. "Where's my stuff?"
"In that closet," Raven answered, pointing. "But you won't get it until you've healed up a bit."
"I'm tougher then I look... didn't need your help yah know..."
"Yeah, right. That wound would have killed you before you woke up."
Karin glared at Raven, then winced at another stab of pain from her side and laid back down. "I'll just rest... a few more minutes..."
"Try a few more days." Raven looked out at the window, then back at Karin. "I guess I owe you an apology. Lorenz, it turns out, was planning on double-crossing the Devils."
Karin looked up at Raven. "Oh really?" She said sarcastically.
"Though not much of one."
"Oh no... it's fine... I just LOVE being blasted by force bolts all the live long day..." Karin muttered.
"Maybe if you didn't kill people for a living it wouldn't happen."
"Hey... if I hadn't taken him out, you and your gang would have been blown away by a corporate strike team... or did you forget that the first time I said it?"
"Yeah. Seeing as you worked for them, that doesn't count for much... Just saved them the trouble."
"More like saved your lives..." Karin sat up with some effort, holding her side. "Look, I didn't mean to kill your Auntie... I kinda pride myself on not killing anyone BUT the target while I'm doing a contract."
Raven nodded. "That was awful close, you know..." Her eyes glistened with tears.
"I was... Ah hell... you're not going to cry, are yah?"
"No..." Raven sniffled. "She's okay..."
"You nearly kill her and still she saved your life." Karin blinked, surprised by what Raven said, but hid it well. "So what's your name?" Raven asked abruptly, changing the subject.
"Karin... Karin Nys. And yours?"
"Raven." The psychokenetic paused a moment. "Nys? Does that mean that you're related to Shi-" "No..." Karin cut her off, annoyed that she had been asked that question. But nonetheless, she stretched a hand out, which Raven took in her own, and shook it. A memory surfaced as she took in Karin's features more carefully, and she realized that this woman who was with the Empress at the Expo. But she kept her mouth shut, not wanting to say anything. "I'll thank your auntie later... so you're Raven, huh? I thought you left the Devils."
"Well I have... doesn't mean I can't visit my Auntie and my old friends."
"Ehh..." Karin let go of Raven's hand then laid back down. Raven settled back in her chair. "Cripes... how many bullets your auntie take out of me anyhow?"
"Two? Ah hell... I'm getting old.. and I've barely even started."
"Nasty line of work you're in."
"Yeah well... it was either that or... never mind."
Raven sighed in response.
"Look..." Karin seemed a bit uncomfortable as she tried to say something.
"Thanks... for not scragging me."
"Heh. You're welcome, I guess."
Karin turned her head to look at Raven. "So what's your story? Figures I'm gonna be here for awhile, and I don't want to spend it in silence." Mentally she added,"And besides, I don't want to get the PK pissed off at me, not when I'm in this condition."
"What do you mean?" Rave gave her a questioning look.
"Well look at yah.. girl with your looks, and your PK power, strange you'd be here for so long before leaving."
"Yeah, well. I didn't always look like that," Raven replied.
Karin arched an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah. I used to be a lot less pretty."
"Bad bed hair?" Karin asked sarcastically.
"Nah. Oh hell. Can't hurt." Raven pulled a locket from between her breasts and tossed it to Karin. "Here. Have a look."
The assassin caught it one handed, winced at the pull on her stitches, and then opened it up. Her eyes take on a surprised look and she looked from the locket to to Raven and back. She looked incredulously at the picture within, an amateur shot of Lydia hugging a badly-deformed girl with long black hair. "How the hell... that's you?"
"Cripes... you get some major plastic surgery done or what?"
"Phenotype correction actually. Plastic surgery won't fix a crooked spine and all the other stuff," Raven explained.
Karin looked at the picture and then back at Raven. "This kinda thing ain't cheap. You get some kinda deal?"
"Yeah." Raven frowned as if daring Karin to make an issue of it. She almost expected the assasin to make something of it...
"One sweet deal you got..."
Raven chuckled. "I guess it is. 'Course, the corp got as sweet or better."
Karin looked Raven over as best she could from her position. "Yeah.... I can do without corps myself... their money, on the other hand, that's something I still need."
Raven nodded. "Even freelancers end up working for corps."
"So in exchange for fixing you up, they asked for you to become their PK, right?"
"Basically. And they keep throwing stuff at me to keep me happy."
"Corps do that... keeps their weapons in line." Karin's face seemed almost sad, like her voice, as though she were thinkinf of unpleasent times.
"Sounds like you weren't always a freelance assassin," Raven observed.
"It's... something I don't like to think about."
Raven nodded. "Still, it's a nasty job you're in. Why did you choose to go in that? You don't sound mean or unfeeling"
Karin gritted her teeth and sat up, not looking directly at Raven. "Thanks... umm... it's a real long story."
"Up to you if you wanna tell it, but you're gonna be there a few days." Raven, wouldn't, of course, but she felt that there was no need to bring that up.
"Well, from one weapon to another," Karin smirked at that, "lets just say I was being turned into something I didn't like, so I decided to become something I could at least stand."
"And you can stand being a hired killer?" Raven asked.
"At least then I got a choice!" Karin shot back at her.
Raven shook her head. "It's... wrong."
"Hey, it was the best I could do with what I had! Either become a killer of my own choice or be shaped into one I didn't want to be..."
The telekinetic sighed. "You don't have to be a killer."
"Bah... I already am."
"I can't! Once a killer, always a killer."
"You don't have to kill again."
Karin shook her head. "You're not listening ARE you? I can't do anything else *but* kill! It's what I was trained for dammit..." She shut her mouth and gritted her teeth, the image of a gun in her hands going off even as there is a gun pressed against her head.
Raven sighed. Then she looked concernedly at Karin. The assassin was gasping for breath, and not just because of the pain in her side. Her eyes were closed shut. "Are you all right?" the telekinetic asked.
"I'm fine... I'm fine...," said Karin, strainingly. A tear ran down her cheek... "Just old memories...," she added, shakily.
Raven hesitated, then reached over and hugged Karin "You don't have to talk about them if you don't want to."
Karin blinked, surprised. "Wha- why are you doing this?"
"You looked like you could use a hug."
Karin's voice dropped to a whisper. "Don't have to do that... I was shooting at you earlier..."
"I know but..." She hesitated. "I don't know... I should hate you, but I just can't."
"You're too damn kind..."
*Enough to hug someone who tried to kill me...* "I guess I am."
Karin shut her eyes and buried her face in Raven's hair. "Don't even know when I last had a hug from someone..."
Raven gently tapped Karin's back. "It's okay."
Karin almost whispered. "Just stop... I'm gonna fragging break apart at this rate." Paying no heed, Raven hugged her tighter and rubed her back. The assassin winced slightly and then let out a sigh, but it came out as a sob instead. "Why? Why are you doing this?"
Raven was wondering the same thing. "I don't know... I think I may be starting to like you. Nasty work and all. You're just... not what I expected."
Karin sobbed at that, and then choked it back. "Hell... you don't have to. I'm just a killer..."
"Somehow, I don't think so."
"You have a hell of allot more faith in me then I do..." Karin sobbed, wanting to pull away from Raven... but unable to, enjoying the feel of a warm, caring, person hugging her.
"You're not giving yourself enough credit."
"I don't think I have any credit left... daddy dearest stripped me of it..."
Raven thought on these words, and hasarded, "But you left him, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I left... left and became... this..." Karin indicated herself.
"What's wrong with what you are? Except for your line of work, I mean?"
"I don't mind who I am... it's just... it's just what I was forced to become."
"If you like it, what's the problem? Would you rather be someone else?" Raven chuckled at that "I sound like my Auntie."
Karin laughed lightly and pulled away, tears streaming down her face. Raven flicked hair out from her face with a jerk of her head and smiled at Karin. "Good. That's a lot less gloomy."
Karin couldn't help but smile, even though it was a small one.. "Thanks... hell... don't know why, but I feel better."
"You want something to drink? Juice, water?"
"Yeah, some juice would be nice."
Raven looked sideways at the fridge. It opened seemingly by itself, and two cans of juice levitated out. One came to rest in Raven's hand, the other floated in front of Karin's face. Karin took the can out of midair and opens it up. "Thanks." She gulped it back mightily.
"No problem," Raven replied, telekinetically closing the fridge.
Karin wiped her face dry of tears while Raven was looking away. "Sorry about losing it there. I'm not usually like that."
"Hey, it's all right. Letting go is good for you."
"Not when you don't have anyone to let go to... otherwise it's a waste of time."
"Well, I'm here, ain't I?"
"True enough... but Jesus, Raven, I barely know you! It... it feels... uncomfortable letting go."
Raven giggled "And not so long ago you were trying to kill me, too. This is weird."
"Weird is an understatement." Karin winced slightly. "Stupid bullets... which reminds me, your friends aren't going to kill me, are they? After all, I just took out their major arms supplier."
"A supplier without arms. Nah... Like I said, you did them a favor."
Karin nodded and sighs, the grits her teeth against the pain.
"Maybe you should sleep," Raven suggested. "And I have to go back to the arc. Adam's gonna be worried and the corpies are going to be pissed at me."
"Yeah... I'm still pretty tired."
Raven rose awkwardly. "See ya, Karin. Talk to you later." Karin laid back down, but Raven looked at her hesitatingly. "Hey, if you ever need to talk... Here's my phone number." She scribbled it on a piece of paper and handed it to Karin.
The assassin looked at the paper for a moment and then placed it in her pocket. "Yeah... okay... 'night Raven."
"Night Karin." And with that, Raven walked out of the room, leaving Karin alone. After she was gone, the assassin took the piece of paper out and looked at the number written on it for a few moments. And for a second, she entertained the idea of simply throwing it out and not bothering with the dark haired psychokenetic anymore. But something made her stop that and put the paper back in her pocket. She didn't know what it was, but throwing away the only chance she'd ever have to talk with Raven again felt like a mistake.
"Bah..." she muttered into the silence. "I must be losing my edge..." But she didn't throw the paper away, and shortly after, she fell asleep.
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