Normally Raven didn't mind long dinners; good food was a luxury she'd grown to appreciate, and Ling Ling had taken them to a nice Chinese restaurant (nothing like that old food-wagon manned by the old Chinese gentleman that used to make the rounds on Clark Street every few weeks). The fixer had ordered for the four of them—herself, Marta, Raven and Paula—and so far Raven hadn't had to complain about the selection.
But as the servers brought in another plate—this time the meat from a fantastically versatile duck that had already provided bones for a soup and skin for an entree—Raven was starting to get less hungry, and was growing anxious to get down to business. When Ling Ling and Marta had picked up the two S-T teeks from the airport, the fixer had been professionally courteous, inviting the pair for dinner. Raven had accepted, especially since she was supposed to be paying.
That was the price Marta had requested for putting Raven in contact with a fixer. One of them, anyway; Raven had declined Marta's suggestion of "a night in the sack" with a blush, trying not to think too hard if she'd been serious or not.
Then Marta had gone and introduced her to Hong Kong's best fixer: her own girlfriend, Ling Ling, whom Raven already knew. So that was what the 'mysterious and inscrutable' business was. The fixer had been as inscrutable as a fixer should be while Raven requested a meeting, indicating when they would land in Hong Kong and giving a rough outline of what she needed. Ling Ling suggested a restaurant she knew in Hong Kong to deal in.
Ling Ling's restaurant had a Chinese name that Raven had given up on trying to remember a few minutes after they were inside. It was a good restaurant, but had no pretensions, with a style sitting on the fence between Oriental and Occidental. The food, however, was wholly Chinese. The four were seated around a circular table with a rotating plate in the center, so that they could reach the dishes by spinning them to themselves.
Ling Ling's had three visible bodyguards standing across the room, the two men in suits right behind her and the third, wearing more casual shirt and slacks, off on the side, leaning against the wall. That one had drawn Raven's attention as soon as she'd entered the room; he gave off the characteristic vibes of a esper at rest.
Raven looked at Paula, sitting across from her; she had to have picked up on the PK as well, but she hadn't acknowledged him in any way. Paula sat dressed in her eternal men's suit and cowboy boots, eating her Chinese food with a fork—Raven wasn't too surprised to see her colleague unable or unwilling to use chopsticks. It was a good reflection on her attitude regarding the second leg of the journey; she'd curtly indicated that she knew nobody in Hong Kong, and promptly disinterested herself from her partner's efforts, as if the unexpected turn of events was somehow Raven's fault.
"You look pensive, Miss Clark. Is something wrong?"
Ling Ling's query drew Raven's attention off Paula and back to her host. The fixer was dressed in a snug shirt and trousers, styled traditionally. She was a gracious host, engaging Raven in pleasantries and idle chatter throughout dinner, though the barely-polite Paula kept her own counsel.
"No, not at all," assured Raven. She took some rice from her bowl with the chopsticks feeling rather proud of her dexterity with the instruments—even though she'd had a working left hand all her life. "Just wondering if this duck has any more surprises in stock for us."
"I'm afraid this is the last duck dish," said Ling Ling. "It's one of Marta's favorites."
Raven glanced at Shion's sister, who was looking every inch the professional: trousers, shirt, and light jacket, all in black. Raven had slightly dreaded meeting her again, but much to Raven's relief, her attitude was equally professional, with none of the leers and innuendo of their first meeting. The street samurai was obviously acting as Ling Ling's foremost bodyguard. She was seated on Raven's left, across from Ling Ling. Raven thought the searing arrangements unusual, separating the fixer and her bodyguard as well as the two customers, and knew this could not have been done at random.
"How are your martial arts studies going?" Ling Ling asked pleasantly.
"Okay, I guess. I'm still having basic balance problems. Nothing to do about that except practice."
"Yes, it makes perfect. Excuse me." One of the suited bodyguards bent to her for a quick whispered conversation.
Meanwhile Raven looked at the PK again. His signature wasn't much, weaker than Paula's, and she wondered what good Ling Ling expected him to be if Paula got drunk and became violent, or something of the sort. He looked rather cocky, maybe he wasn't there for defense, maybe just to drive home the point that there were more powerful teeks out there. Of course, power wasn't everything in a PK battle...
Looking between the two shoddily-nailed boards that covered her window, Raven watched the Clark Street Devils make preparations for battle. Pistols, rifles, submachine guns were amply in evidence, but each of the Devils also carried a knife or chain or some sort of club; ammo was scarce, so the gangers were likely to need the hand-to-hand weapons before the day was out. They were ready for a tough fight, but then again most were veterans of at least one gang war. Fifteen-year-old Raven was facing the prospect of a tough fight, a fight she could very well lose, for the first time in several years.
Behind her the door opened, but she didn't turn, kept looking at the preparing gangers. "Hello, Raven," called the Boss' voice. "Are you ready?"
His simulation of confidence was perfect, and if Raven didn't know that he was worried to death, she might have been fooled. Her own guts were twisted in knots and she knew the Boss' had to feel the same. She didn't answer, just kept looking out to the street.
"The Roadsters'll be there in an hours," the Boss said matter-of-factly. "They'll expect to take us by surprise, but Rodney's done his work well, and we'll be ready. We'll ambush them, you'll whip Cartigan's ass, we mop up the rest, and we all go home."
"Say it often enough and even you might believe it," Raven replied, though she knew that the Boss repeated this only to invigorate his own troops. They needed it, considering the danger they faced. Black Cartigan was a mercenary PK, one who liked to sell his services so he could fight other the low-level PKs that sometimes joined street gangs. Word on the street was that if he was no Ran, he had more than enough mojo to deal with anything the street ever threw at him, and the stories were rather impressive. Or disheartening, if you happened to be on the receiving end.
The Roadsters themselves, a ruthless, well-organized go-gang, had gotten some sort of big score, and had money to spare, so they'd decided to go after a long-standing thorn in their side, the Clark Street Devils. The Devils were too deeply entrenched for anyone to consider rooting them out, but with Black Cartigan the Roadsters had a good chance even with the Devils ready for them. The whole defense for the turf, then, hinged on Raven's ability to beat another, powerful PK in battle, something that she'd never done and didn't feel too confident about.
The Boss finally gave up on trying to bolster's Raven's morale and took the handles to her rickety wheelchair. "Let's go," he said simply, turning the chair about. Raven sighed and let him push her outside.
Downstairs, Lydia was preparing bandages and other medical supplies. She waved casually at the Boss and Raven as they went down. "Good luck!" she wished them, as if they were going to play a friendly game of street soccer rather then going to war. Then she returned to her preparations. Unlike the Boss's, Auntie Lydia's casual confidence was genuine; she acted as if the outcome made no doubt in her mind. Perhaps it didn't, but as Lydia herself had said once, even she didn't know everything... no matter how much it seemed she might.
Still, seeing her Auntie so certain did bolster Raven's spirits, and when she reached the street, the cool, early evening air, she had some measure of determination. Her opponent might be more experienced, but she wouldn't go down without a dear fight.
Like they usually did, the Devils glanced at her then studiously went back to their tasks, politely ignoring her. This time, however, they seemed nervous about it—they didn't like to be reminded that Raven was a large part of why they still clung to their turf, and now it was being rubbed into their nose, with their very survival at stake. Chester, the rail-thin guy with the affected British accent, came running to the Boss.
"Rammer's in place," he announced. "He's had trouble setting up. Many of the upper floors aren't very stable."
"Hope the big twerp found a spot he and his toy won't fall through," Raven muttered. "Fragging waste of ammo."
"The intimidation factor will count for a lot," the Boss answered matter-of-factly. "They'll be there soon," said the Boss. "They're being a bit overconfident, running through our turf in broad daylight, even if they don't expect us to be waiting."
"They aren't overconfident," Raven said. "They're just thinking Cartigan will flatten us."
"Well he won't," the Boss replied, loading the simple sentence with the quality of an oath. When he pushed Raven's chair to bring her to their decided meeting spot with the Roadsters it was with the same rough strength he led his gang with. Hardly endearing, but it had helped the Devils survive as much as Raven's PK or the collaboration of the turf's inhabitants.
Finally the Boss wheeled Raven to the wide street, bordered by two rows of almost-intact, three-story apartment buildings, that they'd picked as their field of battle with the Roadsters. A few Devils with guns took positions at their flanks, taking cover behind strategically placed heaps of discarded concrete.
And they waited.
The Boss's snitch, Rodney, had proven accurate; the Roadsters came roaring down the road on their bikes, waving guns. Raven didn't immediately see Cartigan; but he wouldn't be in the first wave, the one that was about to be chewed to pieces.
From either side of Raven and the Boss, the Devils started opening fire on the oncoming bikers. The gunfire smothered the loud curses of the Roadsters, but not their return shots. The Devils' accuracy against the zig-zagging bikes was pretty low, but the Roadsters, trying to shoot at entrenched defenders behind cover, had it much worse.
Raven gathered the Power within her, then flung it against the enemy gang, wide and broad. Clouds of dust rose from the ground, partially obscuring the bikers before the esper wave hit them. Raven had gone for breadth over power, and the dispersed wave wasn't any stronger than a moderate hit from a baseball bat. Not enough to give them more than a bruise, but more than one startled rider was knocked off balance, and ditched. His mobility advantage lost, he was easy prey for the massed fire of the defending Devils.
Raven lifted a kinetic shield, wrapping herself with the Power. That kind of large-scale attack was bound to bring attention to herself, and not only from suddenly finding herself the preferred target of the swearing bikers. Word on the street was that Cartigan could use his mojo to teleport, and Raven had every reason to believe them.
As it turned out, Cartigan didn't teleport in. The second wave of Roadsters came in, and Cartigan was among them. To Raven his power shone like a beacon; others took more notice of his sleek, expensive jet-black roadbike, so different from the kitbashed hogs he was riding with, and his stylish, ebony-colored armorjack. He lifted a hand, pointing it at one of the heaps the Devils were using for cover. Asphalt ripped in a line from him to the pile with a dreadful tearing sound, and the heap flew into the air, and with it the body of the unfortunate Devil hiding behind.
Gunfire subsided in the wake of the PK's intimidating attack. The second batch of Roadsters joined the first, engines running. The Boss lifted an arm to keep his charges from shooting. The Roasters likewise held their fire, while Cartigan weaved around them to the front. He stopped and looked at Raven. "Hello, girly."
"Cartigan." Her shield whirled around her furiously.
She allowed herself a thin smile at the contrast between the tall, stylishly dressed mercenary PK riding an expensive motorcycle, and the short, twisted girl sitting awkwardly in a rickety wheelchair. Alike yet so different. Around them, the gangers looked on cautiously, intent on the battle that was about to be joined. For all their posturing every one of them knew that the battle would most likely be decided between those two.
"I heard things about you, little girl. You sling mojo, I'm told. Think you can take me?"
"If I have to." Raven surpassed herself with her calm response to the challenge. She was feeling anything but calm.
"Well, let's see then..." And with that, he lifted his arm and another gaping wound was slashed in the pavement, this time towards Raven. The young PK clawed at the armrests on her chair as her face twisted in concentration. Her kinetic shield took the force of the blow, and dispersed it, lifting dust and small chunks of street.
"Not bad," Cartigan admitted before throwing another bolt. Again this one was stopped, and a third. Raven's shield withstood them all, and Raven cringed with each. They were all about as powerful as Raven's, maybe a little less so. It'd be a difficult battle, for sure.
"Okay, girl, you're good with shields," Cartigan said. He enfolded himself in a shield of his own. "Let's see how hard you can hit."
Raven was about to take him on his offer when she noticed something, something that wasn't there before. Her eyes narrowed in speculation. Wasn't it a little risky for Cartigan to not have his shield up while he was hitting her? Unless... unless he couldn't. Raven had had to practice a lot before she could do two things at once with her power; Lydia, who had a few medical books about PKs, had said that it wasn't unusual for a teke to never develop that ability. Was Cartigan one of them?
Or maybe he was trying to draw her into a trap. Raven stoked her esper force. Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead. She let out a strained cry as she loosed a bolt of her own. Cracking the pavement down to the gravel beneath, the bolt went straight for Cartigan, smashing into him with a loud crash. The mercenary stood firm under the attack, but his expression showed the beginnings of worry, and more so when he realized Raven had kept her shield up while throwing the bolt.
Raven had been overextending herself, but Cartigan's sudden doubts were well worth the strain. An idea struck her and she quickly reshaped the Power with her mind. Her next attack did not wreck the street; it was barely visible, in fact, a shimmering in the air as if the street was extremely hot.
The whirlwind that surrounded Cartigan suddenly fell silent. The mercenary blanched and his eyes flew wide as he suddenly realized what Raven had done: she'd disrupted his control over his own PK, suppressing his shield down. "WASTE HER!" he shouted, then, to Raven's surprise, he somehow managed to yank his Power from her esper grasp. The reason became apparent when he vanished, leaving his bike behind. She'd only been suppressing his shield; teleportation was another pattern entirely. She'd have to remember that next time she tried this trick.
There was a moment of stunned silence when Black Cartigan left the field, but it was short-lived. The Roadsters quickly brought their weapons to bear on Raven and the Devils that flanked her. Raven brought up a wide sheet of esper force between the two sides. Side-effects lifted the remnants of the tortured pavement up then letting them fall, only to toss them back up again like some mad juggler. The Roadsters' ammunition became part of the ballet, getting deflected by the kinetic wall before getting caught by the motion.
With the barest hint of a smug smirk on his face, the Boss walked past Raven, facing the Roadsters from behind the protection of Raven's wall. Watching the bikers slowly give up on the gunfire, he slowly lit a cigarette. He took a long draft, then took it out of his mouth and lifted his hand in the air.
A blaring staccato of gunfire came as a response from the buildings lining the street, as the hidden Devils there, with the bulk of the enemy gang now present, finally opened up. Loudest among them was Rammer's toy—a turn-of-the-century Minami machinegun that he'd obtained God-knew-where. To feed the thing he'd had to conduct a razzia on the gang's ammo stores, picking up every .223 round he could find. Fragging waste of ammo, Raven thought. But the weapon was undeniably effective, tearing through confused Roadsters with a continuous hodge-podge of scrounged AP, hollow-point, and plain ball rounds.
The Boss jogged back to Raven, screaming to be heard above the din. "I'll get everyone back in cover! You go get him, girl!"
Raven nodded dully, wiping sweat from her brow with her left hand, her twisted right one holding her chair in an involuntary death-grip. Cartigan wouldn't leave just yet—taken by surprise, yes, but he wouldn't abandon his bike and his fat paycheck so fast. The Roadsters had started taking cover and trying to return fire, so they might hold out for a little while, and Cartigan could still tip the odds heavily. Raven grabbed ahold of both armrests, and concentrated hard, *moving* herself up to a roof where she would have a better chance to see the action. The pavement cracked under her arrival, and she wheeled herself closer to the edge, gaining a good vantage on the small battle.
A loud crack and a surge of esper power, hammering at her brain, was all the warning she got. She flung up her shield just in time to take a hit in the back, but the force of the blow tipped her over the edge of the building.
The wheelchair fell slowly to the ground. With what was left of her power, Raven quickly yanked herself back towards the roof, landing safely in a painful tumble. She cursed her idiocy—Cartigan had surely felt her teleporting up to the roof. She propped herself on her one good arm and looked up at the mercenary teek's grinning face.
"Fallen and can't get up, little girl?" he taunted, then fired again.
With no way to dodge, Raven braced for the hit as best she could, her power clamping on the ground to keep her in place. The bolt struck and knocked her back about a foot, each inch lancing pain in her head as she telekinetically clung for dear life. She saw Cartigan's grin widen, felt him surge for yet another strike.
This time, however, she lifted her hand in its path, and a hazy shield, shaped like an ellipsoidal dome, flared in existence before it. Cartigan's bolt struck it and coiled, as if absorbed... then shot straight back at its originator.
He had no practical defense; Raven had been right, Black Cartigan couldn't do more than one thing at a time with his Power. He took the blast in the chest and was hurled back ten feet before he landed on his rump, his eyes vacant. He shook his head to clear it, knowing that he was giving Raven the time to recuperate...
Too late. Raven reshaped her power and telekinetically picked herself off the roof, flying a few inches over the surface. Her twisted back hurt, and so did her head; she was dangerously straining her limited ability to change her powers quickly. Her own weakness, she figured. Her left hand, the good one, pointed at Cartigan and she fired a kinetic bolt at him. His kinetic barrier flared to intercept. Undeterred, Raven fired again, and a third time, in rapid staccato, each attack a weak but rapid bolt that forced the pressure on, forcing him to keep his shield up and keeping him from grasping the offensive. She could see the sweat glisten on Cartigan's face from the exertion.
Suddenly Cartigan leaped sideways, and Raven put three bolts in the roof before she could stop herself. They tore a trio of broad holes in the crumbling roof, and then the cracks widened under the mercenary teek, the weakened structure unable to keep holding up his weight. It crumbled under him, and Cartigan fell down the building, disappearing from sight. Raven's smug expression withered on her face when she felt the surge of PK power that accompanied a teleportation. She cursed herself and her inexperience again; she'd let Cartigan get away.
Still more than she'd have expected, Raven realized, floating slowly to the edge of the roof and watching the last few Roadsters madly dashing to get away. Two were shot in the back—this was the Zone, honor was a different beast here and chivalry got you killed. The rest did manage to escape, but they wouldn't be returning anytime soon. With the Roadsters out of the picture Cartigan had no real reason to return. There still was the bike, but if he risked himself alone for the sake of a bike, he deserved what he got. Everyone in the Zone learned knew when to cut their losses. Or they died.
She saw the Boss approach Cartigan's bike and put a hand on it, claiming it as his own, surrounded by cheering Devils. There would be no cheers for her, Raven thought, and she could not possibly ride a bike, but she'd gotten something even more valuable: experience and confidence. She knew she could beat the likes of Black Cartigan, and she knew better how to fight his ilk. That knowledge might keep her alive someday. In her mind, it was worth all the bikes and turfs of the world.
Expectations can deceive. It was a valuable lesson, one that Raven had learned from her Auntie and saw firsthand in her first PK battle and strengthened. Maybe there was a trick here...
The chopsticks slipped from Raven's grasp. She tsked and sent a tiny tendril of the Power to catch them in mid-air. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the PK tense and glance meaningfully at Marta. The samurai was too skilled to register any kind of reaction, but Raven had the answer she was looking for.
Marta was fast enough to deal with the PKs, as long as she knew they were going to try something. But she had no way to find out how; on the other hand, even a weak PK would be sensitive to the Power. So he was there as an advance warning system. And maybe for the humility lesson as well.
"So, Ms. Clark," Ling Ling began in her even tone of voice, "what can I do for you?"
Raven looked around a bit before answering. "I need information on the whereabouts of this gentleman." She put a datachip on the rotating panel and swung it to Ling Ling. "This chip has all the information we have on him." Everything S-T wants us to give other people, anyway. "He was recently transferred to Hong Kong from Mega-Tokyo."
"Very well. Anything else?"
"I don't know yet. We may require additional assistance once we know where he is being held."
Marta reached one hand out and rotated the centerpiece until the chip was in front of her. A moment later the chip had vanished, and the black-clad woman had one hand resting in a jacket pocket. Ling Ling, who made no indication of having ever seen the chip go by, inclined her head slightly. "Understood. Do you know what sort of assistance you might require?"
Raven shrugged. "Equipment, transportation. Possibly assistance for a friendly extraction."
Glancing up from her food, Paula muttered something under her breath, before draining most of her glass of Chinese beer in a single swallow. Apparently sated, she then propped her head up on the table with one hand and looked out across the restaurant with a carefully calculated air of indifference. Ignoring Paula's display, as well as Marta's less than subtle look of disdain, Ling Ling nodded yet again, before carefully sweeping several handing strands of hair over one shoulder. "All that can be arraigned, provided, of course, that you have the funds needed."
"We have means of financing equal to the operation," Raven said carefully. "But time is of the essence. We're sure that those who are holding our target are aware that we are after him. They'll take appropriate precautions."
"Then I will look into this matter immediately." Ling Ling touched Marta's arm, who nodded and rose from the table. "Do you wish to cut our dinner short?"
Raven turned to Paula. "Are you still hungry?"
Raven resisted the urge to sigh in exasperation, instead replying, "Then I suppose that, with our apologies, we'll retire to an hotel. Maybe you could recommend one?"
Raven wasn't sure, but she thought Marta twitched for a second, as if she was going to speak, but then thought better of it. Ling Ling simply looked at the ceiling for a moment, and gave her a slight smile. "The Imperial Hilton would be my choice."
Raven figured she could imagine what Marta had been about to say, and was glad that professionalism won out over the desire for a lewd crack. "Thanks. We will be there should you want to reach us."
"Then I will call you early tomorrow morning, once I have any intel you might find useful." Ling Ling gave Raven a final nod, and then allowed Marta to usher her out of the dining room.
Raven stood as the bodyguards left behind Ling Ling, and looked at Paula. "Well, that went well."
Paula shrugged, "Can we get some real food now?"
"That was real food, Paula, and if you'd eaten it you'd have seen it was quite filling. And good, too."
The boat rocked slowly in the swells, the lapping of waves against the hull the only sound. The sky over head was clear, but the moon wasn't out, so there was only the faint glow of the stars to see by. Far to the east were the glow of Hong Kong's innumerable skyscrapers, while to the west was the dim shape of an island. The island where Ling Ling said their target was being held.
"That," Marta said in a low voice, "is Dr. Han's island."
While Paula looked puzzled, Raven simply sat quietly. Marta was here on Ling Ling's behalf, to act as her intelligence agent in the field, and to provide limited backup. She was dressed entirely in black, her jumpsuit fitting as snugly as a second skin, except where the ridges of the underlying armorcloth showed through. A wide headband kept the street sam's hair out of her eyes, while the handle of a katana poked over one shoulder. Two pistols were slung low on her hips, and Marta cradled a matt-black Seburu C-25 in her hands. The Japanese submachine gun was very organic looking, which only gave it that much more of a lethal feel.
"Dr. Han?" Paula asked.
Marta shook her head. "Forget it, old joke."
Reaching into the bottom of the boat, which was low, narrow, and looked like it could reach orbit if you stood it on its tail, Marta hauled up a cube of wrinkled plastic. Touching a control on its side, she tossed the now-hissing and writhing mass over the side, making sure to hold tight to a length of line.
"Now," the dark-haired woman continued, "your target is being held somewhere on that island. It is a private resort, and caters to a very select clientele. The security is made up of Lynxes and female escort synths, all picked to looked as attractive as possible, while still being perfectly deadly."
"Typical," Raven muttered. Dressed in an armored bodysuit much like Marta's but covered with a tightly belted black coat, with her long hair bound several times along its length in a tight ponytail. Her gyrojet was holstered under her coat; she had a small, easily maneuverable HK submachinegun strapped over her shoulder, but she wasn't sure whether she would use it. "Looks like beautiful-but-deadly's a style that just never dies."
Marta shrugged, "It works for me. Now, my mission is to watch your backs and provide cover fire, since even the best PKs can't see everywhere at once." Marta paused, then grinned at Raven, "Well most can't."
Raven quirked an inquisitive eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Tugging on the line, Marta looked over the side. "Raft's ready."
A few moments later, three sat in the bottom of the low rubber raft. It bobbed with each swell, while Marta carefully attached a silent electric motor onto what passed for the stern of the boat. Paddles lay in the bottom, and Marta nudged one with a booted foot. "Here, make yourself useful and take one."
Paula glanced at Raven, with an expression that seemed to indicate such work was beneath them.
Raven shrugged and took one of the paddles dubiously. She tried a rowing motion, without putting the paddle in the water, testing her coordination. Not too awful, but she wouldn't be winning any canoe races. She shrugged again and rested the paddle against the raft.
Pressing a button on the engine's tiller, Marta let the raft bump slowly against the side of the boat. "Give us a push, Paula," she said lightly. With a sullen glare, Paula leaned over and prodded the blade of her paddle against the sloping hull of the other boat, a moment later the nose of the raft turned to one side and the tiny vehicle started forward.
As their original transport boat quietly moved off into the darkness, Marta nodded at the dark lump that lay before them. "I'm going to drop you two off on the beach, where we can then make our way into the center parts of the island. I recommend that you keep an eye out for hidden cameras, motion sensors, trip wires, and remote-operated weapons. Oh, and human guards as well."
"Sure. We'll be careful. And Paula," Raven turned to her partner, "I know this wasn't your first choice for a plan, but don't make any noise until there's an alarm."
After what seemed like forever, but was probably only fifteen minutes, the raft finally crunched up against the narrow strip of gravely beach. The crashing surf downed out the nearly silent engine, and Marta quickly slipped over the side, crouching down low as she pushed the boat further up onto shore. "C'mon," she hissed, "get moving."
Raven silently swung her legs out of the boat, crouching like Marta did, one hand on the grip of her SMG. She cautiously took a few steps, standing as a lookout while Paula left the raft.
Paula rolled over the side with a grunt of disgust, glowering as the surf washed over her legs. "Now what?"
Raven caught the barest hint of motion from Marta. "Don't ask me, it's your mission. I'm just here to shoot things."
"Our pigeon is probably in one of the residences somewhere, and under guard. The decker couldn't get a better fix on him, so there's nothing to do but look." She waved towards inland.
Pulling the raft up over the high-tide line, Marta paused to snap the bolt to the Seburu home, her teeth white in the faint starlight. "Lead on."
Raven silently crept ahead forward, taking cover behind brush, leading the three towards the island's outbuildings, her eye out for any booby-traps.
Creeping through the thick growth, Raven felt like she'd fallen into some old flat-screen movie about the Vietnam War. Any moment now, she expected Marta to ghost up out of the darkness and tell her she'd spotted Charlie... whoever he was.
A moment later Marta did ghost up out of the darkness. Raven found it slightly eerie, the black-clad street sam made virtually no noise as she walked, which was frankly amazing considering the ground-level litter. By contrast, Raven felt that Paula and herself probably sounded like a pair of bumbling elephants.
"Ffftt..." Marta made a slashing motion with her hand.
A moment later, she'd pointed out the receiver of a laser web array, and the path to take to get around it.
Raven shook her head. The last hour-and-a-half or so had been like that. Sneak though the brush, and then have Marta uncover, point out, or disable a tripwire, or the optical sensor of a remote gunpod. Then work their way around it. Wait fifteen minutes and repeat.
Finally they reached the building closest to the forest's fringe. Paula crouched near one corner, a huge revolver held in one hand. It gleamed slightly in the starlight. Marta had tried to blacken it for her, but the Texan wouldn't hear of it. Raven was just glad she hadn't opted for one in chrome.
Marta suddenly threw her arm to the side to stop the two PKs from advancing further. A Lynx replicant, dressed in a stylish blouse and slacks, walked by. Despite the clothing, she looked left and right, pausing often, the unmistakable gait of a guard on patrol. A hand on her sword, Marta crept behind the guard, using a rosebush for concealment.
It was over very quickly, Marta suddenly rising like an avenging ghost behind the guard and seizing her by the head, her blackened blade visible only by the stars it blocked as it sliced the Lynx's throat. Marta quickly dragged the body back into concealment. "We've got to hurry," she said in a low voice. "They'll notice this one's missing soon enough."
Raven pointed to one of the buildings. It seemed to be some sort of living quarters or motel, with doors to each suite leading outside. Two of the suites had pairs of guards standing in front, well-endowed Lynxes in trendy outfits. Marta frowned and pointed to one of the guards, then to Raven. The black-haired PK nodded. Marta then pointed to Paula, then at the ground. The Texan seemed rather nonplussed by the request to stay put.
Each to their side, Raven and Marta slunk forward, Marta walking quietly, Raven actually levitating an inch off the ground so as to cause no footsteps, and concentrating hard to prevent any revealing side effects.
Marta swooped in from the left, sword bared. The weapon sliced into the leftmost Lynx, collapsing a lung. Her shout of alarm became a quiet wheezed and she fell to her knees. The other Lynx spun in place, her hand reaching inside her jacket as her mouth opened to scream. Raven tackled her from behind, driving them both to the ground, a muffled "oof" being the loudest sound the pair made. The Lynx managed to twist so that she faced Raven, her pistol in hand—but Raven's telekinetically-enhanced fist slammed into her jaw, and the young PK felt something give. The replicant's eyes rolled back and she went limp.
The tip of Marta's katana hovered over the unconscious synthetic's eye for a moment, and then was whipped away. Raven blinked, and then looked at the other woman. Marta was now crouched down near the ground, nearly invisible in the shadows next to the base of the building. If Raven hadn't known where to look, she doubted she would have ever noticed her presence. She shivered slightly, the silent and deadly killer next to her was a far cry from the laughing and smiling sister-of-the-Empress that had done her best to feel Raven's breasts during a short stint of martial arts training.
A hand waved in front of Raven's face. A finger pointed at her, then at back at Marta. Marta then motioned over to the two other guards, who stood near the steps to the verandah. A series of very simple gestures followed, telling Raven to do the same thing here as she'd done with the other Lynx. Marta would follow, while Paula played rear guard.
Later, when asked, Raven did her best to figure out what had gone wrong. Apparently, some sort of escort synthetic had walked right up behind Paula, never seeing the blonde PK hidden in the shadows. That wasn't the problem, the fact that the woman was going to trip over two Lynxes in the grass was. So, Paula stood up and unleashed a powerful spin kick that should have flattened the escort synth.
Except that the escort was wired for combat, and had dodged out of the way as Paula's foot spun through the space her stomach had been a moment before. Coming around full circle, Paula had used her own other option, which was to point the pistol held in her hand at the synth and spray the woman's brains over the grass.
The gunshot was incredibly loud in the stillness of the night. Raven paused for a moment, unsure of what had happened. Marta, on the other hand, moved.
Raven had seen cybernetics in action before. Even in the Zone there were those who had quality gear, and weren't afraid to use it. So cyber-enhanced speed and strength were nothing new to the young PK, but the blur that was Marta was something else entirely. One moment she was there in the shadows, creeping along near the ground, the next she was standing, frozen, between two Lynxes that were slowly toppling to the ground, dark blood hissing in a fine spray from their bodies.
"Move it!" Marta's whisper wasn't quite a yell.
Raven hesitated for a microsecond before she ran shoulder-first through the motel door, reducing it to splinters under her telekinetic assault. Their stealth blown, it wasn't time for silence anymore—speed was a virtue now. She ended up in a well-appointed bedroom, two forms sitting on the bed as if awakened by a bad dream—or a gunshot, and another standing to one side. That's all she had time to see before she slipped in the thick, plush carpet and fell flat on her nose. At least the carpeting also softened her fall.
She rolled away just in time to avoid a hasty kick—the person off the side, another female Lynx, charging in. Raven came to a crouching stop, shields flattening the carpet around her and whipping curtains and bedsheets alike with unseen force. The telekinetic charged the replicant, grasping her clothes at the neck and belly. The Lynx's revolver boomed in the close confines, the .357 magnum round hanging in mid-air between them for a second before falling noiselessly to the carpet. Raven lifted the Lynx over head. She caught a glimpse of electric-blue hair, a pretty face contorted in fear... The memory of Temple assailed her, and she hesitated.
The Lynx's revolver boomed again, the bullet punching through this time, slapping Raven's body armor. The bruising shock jolted the telekinetic; she closed her eyes, managed to shove the thought away and flung the Lynx against the wall. This wasn't a cheap motel, though, but a well-built corporate installation, and it had none of the thin sheet rock wall so common in these places. The reinforced wall, soundproofed and bulletproofed, held against the body's impact, and the Lynx crumpled inertly to the floor.
Raven winced and turned to the bed. She swore loudly—the man in the bed was Asian, pot-bellied, and decidedly NOT the one she was looking for. He scrambled backwards in the bed to get away from her, as if he could go through a wall that had sustained a Lynx coming in at high speed. Raven glared at him a moment longer and turned around.
Just in time to take a punch to the jaw. Her shield was still up, so the attack and the follow-up kick merely startled her and knocked her back a few step, her legs coming against the bed and forcing her to sit on it or lose her balance. The man in the bed didn't seem too happy about sharing his bed with Raven, and he jumped off to run to an adjoining room. Raven ignored him, and looked up to see her adversary—a woman, naked and shapely and very beautiful. The escort synthetic who was entertaining when she came in.
Raven swore and reached behind her as the synth charged again. Her hand came up with the H&K submachine-gun that was still strapped to her back. The silenced weapon's muffled bark was barely audible, not that it did much good now, but the subsonic rounds tore into the escort's too-perfect flesh, stopping her cold in her tracks. Bleeding profusely, she fell sideways like a princess from one of those tragedy vids. Raven, never being one for tragedy, ran outside, swearing again. "He's not in here," she announced, pointing to the other guarded door they had spotted.
"Right." Paula stated as she looked around. Marta had vanished into the night, leaving the two PKs alone for the moment.
Crouching low, Paula lept forward, crashing though the bungalow door in a spray of splinters.
"Peachy," Raven said dryly, jogging after her partner, hoping that their target was about and that they could make off with him before every single guard on the island was alerted. She wasn't too worried about Marta—she doubted the street sam would be seen by anyone who wouldn't be dead in the next instant. If that.
Inside, the bungalow was a mess, with broken furniture tossed about like jackstraws. Paula had already laid one Lynx out, and was busily trading blows with a second one. The bedroom door was shut, and Raven could hear the faint sound of someone yelling, possibly into a phone.
A few second laters, wooden shards that used to be a door were settling on the ground and Raven was standing in the room, along with a man angrily yelling in an intercom, and an escort synth in a skimpy dress and silk stockings sitting on the bed watching the door. The man blanched and yelled, "Who the hell are you?!?"
Raven ignored him, dealing with the more immediate problem of the escort replicant. She was reaching to the nightstand to her side. Before she reached it Raven lifted a hand, and the synthetic shot backwards, slamming hard against the wall where bonds of Power, visible only by the stirred wooden shards, held her. Raven charged in, her fist surrounded by an aura of telekinetic Power.
The anguished cry from the man stopped Raven in her tracks. She turned to look at him—sure enough, he was Lester Gordon their extraction target—and explained, "I'm here to take you away, Mr. Gordon."
"I'm not going."
Raven did a double-take. "WHAT?"
"I'm not going. I like it here."
Raven took a deep breath, mentally counted to ten, and then to twenty. "Mr. Gordon, I don't think you realize the situation, here. My employers have engaged considerable sums in this operation. As my presence would indicate." How she managed to make her tone so calm, she couldn't understand.
"Look, I know all that, but I don't want to go anymore."
"Oh, God, why the Hell not?!?!!!?" So much for the calm tone.
"I don't want to leave Annette."
"Annette?" Raven looked over her shoulder to the escort synth. "Is that her?" The man made an hesitant, affirmative noise. Annette, for her part, almost snarled at Raven.
She doesn't realize how lucky she really is, thought Raven. Paula or Marta would surely kill her there on the spot, removing the problem. But Raven couldn't, wouldn't, kill in cold blood, and all the talk about them not being human made no difference. And how would she feel if Adam was killed? Could she inflict that on someone else?
That didn't mean Gordon had to know that though. She stepped forward and took Annette by the throat, painting a fierce expression on her face.
"NO!" wailed Gordon again.
Raven sighed in exasperation. "Does that mean you'll come?"
"But I don't want to leave Ann..."
"FINE!" Raven pulled Annette off the wall and shoved her in Lester Gordon's arms. The defector reflexively grabbed the replicant. "We'll bring her with us." She wondered if they'd let Gordon keep the synth—certainly not after some serious reprogramming—but it'd become someone else's problem. Right now she needed all her concentration.
Gordon saw her close her eyes, clench her right fist even as her left hand lay on Annette's shoulder. "What are you..."
Will you just shut up? Raven thought, straining to force her Power into the demanding, precise form she needed it—Gordon's whining was not helping at all, but she managed to visualize what she wanted and she moved.....
A deafening bang and the roar of displaced air heralded their abrupt arrival in a deserted street in the Neo York Zone. Gordon looked around, mouth agape, in the face of a very surprised scavenger who had been thrown back by the shockwave of the teleporting telekinetic and her passengers. He barely had time to yelp "What..." before the three vanished again.
This time they popped back into existence in a plain room deep in the Shiroko-Tsuhi arcology, where armed security guards, warned earlier by Raven, awaited. Because Raven had 'ported in from a couple miles rather than a couple thousand, the shockwave was not nearly as strong, and the unruffled guards quickly trained their weapons on the trio. Raven tossed Annette to the ground and stuck a thumb at Gordon. "He'll explain who she is," Raven said, breathing heavily. "You figure out what to do. I have to extract my team." The security guard barely had time to nod before Raven teleported again.
Her arrival back in Gordon's room near Hong Kong broke the bed, and tossed door shards all around. Raven allowed herself to crouch to catch her breath—damn, I should have taken a few seconds' break in Neo York—then, realizing that her arrival had no doubt been heard, she wiped sweaty hair from her brow and ran outside. How am I ever going to find Paula and Marta in this mess? She heard the staccato of gunfire, felt the vaguely painful twinge of PK power being used at high-octane. Scratch that... How am I ever going to find Marta?
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