Sandra lay on her bed, starring up at the ceiling. She was angry, and trying to figure out what to do about it. She was angry at the man called Drake, for not having told her who he was before the two of them had spent the night together. She was angry at whoever it was who had shot him up and left him to die just as she was getting to know him. She was angry at the enigmatic Dr Ogura for not providing anything resembling an explanation as to who he was or what he was doing in the zone with half his brain hanging out. And she was angry at herself for having trusted him long enough for him to get into her shorts, then wind up a bloody mess on the pavement.
Trusting people didn't come easy to Sandra. A series of bad experiences in life had lead her to the conclusion that she might as well expect the worst our of people because it was usually the truth. But no, she had to meet this one guy who seemed to be genuinely nice to her and seemed to be trying to do some good for some reason other than cash and seemed to genuinely like her for being a person and not just being a razorgirl with a nice rack... And then it turns out that he's a stinky rich corporate bastard who has neglected to tell her all of this before she and him did the deed.
It always seemed to come back to that one point. If he'd told her before they'd done it, then she probably would have... shouted him down and punted him out onto the street, and never spoken to him again. Okay, bad point.
So instead she ended up doing the dirty with this mystery man... Heck... there was a thought. She knew that Jason Stone was the CEO of SynTech. But what did that make him? I mean, was he rich? Very rich? Stinky rich? And, more importantly, why the hell was he wandering around the Zero Zone. And, more to the point, why had he purchased a property in Hong Kong in her name?
That one had her mystified. She'd assumed that it was some kind of a tax dodge, so he could write the property off as belonging to someone else, while also avoiding having some of his income reported. Either that, or it was a haven for his pet bimbo in Hong Kong registered in her name so his wife wouldn't hear about it and...
Wife. Tool. What if there was a Mrs Stone. What if she'd been just the latest piece in a long collection of pieces picked up by Jason Stone behind the ever-loving Mrs Stone's back. That would make her feel even better.
Damn. Now she had a train of thought going. Which meant that she wouldn't be able to rest until she found out who exactly Jason Stone was, why he was so important, shy he was so rich and, most importantly, if he had been messing around behind his wife's back.
She sat up, grabbed her coat and guns, and set out to find out the truth. On the way out the door, a familiar hideous screech rang out behind her.
"Sandra! Where's my rent?" called the hideous visage of Evil Mrs Smegma.
"Oh stuff off, you fat, ugly, mattress munching tool fairy" Sandra replied. "I'm rich and you aren't." She stormed off, leaving Mrs Smegma at a loss for words.
"Morning Sandra" Ralf began. "How can I help you?"
To many people, Ralf Jones was the kindly old man who ran a small store on a corner. He acquired food from various sources then sold it on. His prices may have been a little on the steep side, but in the Zone it was hard to get a good meal. So Ralf's little company did relatively well. Sandra was one of the people who knew that Ralf Jones had also been a corporate trader once. That is, until he'd been found lining his pockets with other people's funds. Ralf had decided (wisely) to get out of town, and ended up here. Despite his exile, Ralf was still rather on the ball when it came to the corporate world.
"Uh, just some soyburger patties." She still owed Muriel from down the hall. "And a little info."
"Info?" He asked. "What about? Thinking of expanding your share portfolio?"
"Yeah, like that." She sniggered. It was one of their little jokes. "I need to know about a guy called Jason Stone. He works for SynTech. Heard of him?"
"Hmm..." Ralf rubbed his chin. "Yep, I have. SynTech's a big firm, big on weapons and cybernetics. The Stone family run the company. Young Jason came into being the CEO a few years back when his father passed away."
So, her mystery man was none other than the big cheese himself. "Go on."
"The Stones made their fortune during the civil war by selling weapons to both sides" Ralf continued. "Nasty business, but it made them a fortune. Young Jason himself would have to be worth a billion by now."
Sandra whistled. "Neat."
"Course, he may not be the big guy for too much longer," Ralf went on. "Apparently, he got himself hurt real bad in a skiing accident a few weeks back."
"A skiing accident, huh?" So that's the story he's putting out. Obviously he doesn't want anyone to know he was here in the zone. "Bad?"
"Well, I don't know the details, but he apparently messed himself up real bad. I heard he was confined to a wheelchair, but I can't confirm that myself."
"Okay... So why might he loose the company?"
"Apparently the board of directors are none to fond of the boy" He shot her a conspiratorial glance. "I heard that when he got to the job, heads rolled and he ticked off a number of the big players in the company."
"Ah... And with him out of action, the board might try to run rampant."
"Something like that," Ralf finished. "Course, it could be all hearsay."
Sandra fished out some cash for the patties, then a lot more. "Hear anything odd about, say, his financial dealings?"
"Hmm... it's hard to say. He keeps his personal comings and goings under very tight wraps" Ralf paused. "However, I heard that he made a couple of big purchases of late."
"First up, he sinks a cool million or so into some property deal in Hong Kong. Note that this is his own funds, not company stuff. So I figure he's up to something behind the board's back." He rubbed his chin again. "From what I heard, he paid for a years worth of utilities in advance to boot."
Sandra thought about what she'd been told about the property. That lined up. So what was going on?
"Unfortunately, my sources aren't too clear. Mr Stone is very secretive with his affairs, and trusts very few people with them."
I'll bet, she thought. "And the other one?"
"This is odd. He bought a soft-shell cyborg conversion not too long after the skiing accident. Apparently, it's an in-house model."
"Don't know." He shrugged. "Although I suspect the board of directors would go wild over having a borg as CEO."
"True." She had almost everything she needed to know. "One last thing, he's not married is he?"
"Jason Stone? No," Ralf replied. "Why do you ask. Are you in the market for a husband right now?"
Sandra thought about the events leading up to this conversation. "Not at the moment."
Sandra sat on her bed, if anything more confused by what she'd found out than she was before she began. It was clear to her that nobody knew about what Jason had been up to, and nobody was meant to know. This meant that she was never going to get any straight answers from anyone other than Jason himself. And even then, there was always the chance that he'd lay down a load of carpet on her about what he was up to. In fact, being a rich corp exec, in Sandra's eye it was probably going to be all she was going to get out of him.
Still, it couldn't hurt to try.
She picked up her mobile and thumbed in the number he'd given her, not expecting a result. Much to her surprise, she got an answer.
"Yes?" A voice. Male. Jason?
"Jason Stone?" Sandra asked.
"Speaking. Can I help you?" the voice replied.
"This is Sandra" she replied, trying not to sound angry.
"Hello!" He began. "Uh, I mean, It's good to hear from you, Sandra."
"Yeah, sure it is," Sandra replied, her voice dripping obvious sarcasm.
There was a pause, then the sound of something rustling in the background. "No, seriously. They told me you found me out there on the street. I owe you my life."
"Yeah, well, I did what I had to" Sandra replied, a touch of anger seeping into her voice.
"You're a good person, Sandra. So..." he paused. "You know?"
"Yeah, I had to go through your wallet to find a contact number."
"I want," he began, and then stopped. "Would like to see you in person"
"Yeah, well, me too." Sandra answered, trying to sound casual. "We need to talk"
"Since you know... We might as well meet somewhere nice. Can I pick you up somewhere?"
"Well, yeah... anywhere in the Zone works for me." Sandra replied. She hadn't expected him to want to meet her. Talk over the phone, yes, but meeting her in person was another thing. He must have some ploy here. On the other hand, she'd never know otherwise. "My place?" she offered.
"Sure. I'll bring the car this time." Car? "You like Chinese cuisine?"
Now she was off guard. This wasn't going how she'd planned it. "Uh, yeah." She replied.
"Good. How about I see you in two hours?" He asked.
"Yeah, two hours." She glanced at her watch. That's make it about half past six. Dinner time, if she had anything to eat. "That'd be, uh, great."
"See you then," he answered, then hung up.
"Whatever." She said to the phone. "What have I gotten myself into?"
Two hours later, Sandra was ready to go to, well, wherever. She'd thrown on some of her least worst stuff (A black t-shirt, a pair of old military cammo pants and her overcoat), with her pistol concealed inside the coat. It was far from anyone's idea of formal wear. She didn't care. Besides, she had nothing better. She wasn't sure why she'd added the pistol. Maybe it was for insurance against anything silly Jason Stone tried. Maybe it was just because she didn't feel fully dressed without it.
Her attention was drawn to the sound of a car pulling up outside. Peering out of the window, she saw a Black limo halt outside the building. From the way it was riding, and the fact that whoever was inside had taken it into the Zone, she guessed it was armoured. There was an older man with grey hair that she didn't recognise behind the wheel
"Tool." She muttered to herself. "Now that's a way to get around"
One of the doors opened, and Drake climbed out. There had been some changes. For starters, he was clad in an expensive suit and sunglasses, not streetware. He was also leaning on a pair of canes, and had a bandage wrapped around his head. This wasn't the Drake she remembered. This was Jason Stone, rich guy. Rich guy with injuries, she corrected herself. Whatever he'd gone through had left him a mess.
Sandra left her apartment, sure to slam the door behind her and make as much noise as possible. She stalked angrily downstairs and out the door, halting when she saw him. "I'm here," she said casually.
Jason hobbled a little, but held the door open for Sandra. She muttered something about thanks, then climbed in. The limo was spacious and well appointed, but contained an unexpected third party.
Inside she found a brown-eyed, brown-haired girl seated in the back already. She appeared a little lost in the plush leather interior. The child looked like she may have been perhaps eleven years, and her dollish visage resembled Jason in small ways. The shape of the nose, the lips and the hair color especially reminded Sandra of Jason.
Jason climbed in next to her. "Sandra, I'd like you to meet Moira." He paused for a second. "My adopted daughter."
Sandra was at a loss. An adopted daughter? This was something she definitely hadn't expected. What other surprises were lurking, she asked herself. "Uh, Hi Moira" she finally stammered out as the limo began moving.
The girl remained silent. "Moira, please say hello to Miss Blackmore" Jason requested.
"Hi," Moira said, then went back to staring silently.
There was a long, uncomfortable pause as Sandra tried to adjust to the situation, while the limo cruised through the Zone. After a while, Jason spoke again. "Sandra, did you have any trouble with the people who... I was dealing with?" he asked, clearly not wanting to say some things in front of the child.
"Uh, no" She replied. She might as well give him the full story. "By the time I got there, there was nobody around but you in the phone box"
"They... just left me there?" Jason asked, seemingly surprised by this turn of events.
"Yeah, well, like I said, there was just you in the telephone box. There were a couple of scared looking people hiding behind things, but nobody who looked like they'd just ventilated you"
Moira, still eerily staring at Sandra, reached for Jason's hand, almost reflexively. He took it, holding it firmly. Jason seemed to continue staring out the window. Sandra did likewise, wondering about what would happen next.
The car pulled onto the Williamsburg bridge, the driver skillfully weaving it through the debris that littered the roadway, a testament to many who tried to leave the Zone. It pulled up just outside the checkpoint and, after a brief pause, passed on through. Sandra was surprised to say the least. She had pulled checkpoint duty back when she worked for the force. Nothing was supposed to leave the Zone. Either Jason had laid out some major cash (or influence) with NYPD Inc, or there was something very weird going on.
"Moira was attacked by them too," he suddenly said, breaking the silence.
"Oh, ah, sorry to hear," she replied, at a brief loss for words. So that was the other skyrunner, she thought.
Moira turned her rarely-blinking gaze back to Jason. The car continued to weave its way through Neo-York, heading into Chinatown. After a while, Jason leaned forward in his seat to talk to the driver. Sandra didn't catch what he said, but a few minutes later, they pulled up in front of a very expensive-looking resturant.
Sandra was impressed. Even when she was with the force, and even with the odd "cash bonus," she'd have never been able to afford to eat at a place like this. "Yeah, he's trying to impress me," Sandra muttered to herself. "I can tell."
"Thanks Hobbs," Jason said to the driver. "I appreciate you taking the time out to drive. I know that's not what I pay you to do." The grey-haired man simply nodded and pulled out a pipe.
Hobbs... Sandra thought to herself, running the name through her head. The guy who called me about Drake and what happened... It was getting deeper. She filed this away, then climbed out of the car. "Nice place."
Jason climbed out of the car. It wasn't like he looked weak, more like his limbs didn't want to go where he wanted them to. Moira quietly helped to steady him. "I hope so" He replied. "I haven't been here in a long time." He smiled, possibly at a memory.
Damn, he's good at this, Sandra thought to herself. "I've never been to a place like this before. I was always just a bit too poor."
"Sometimes our handicaps are financial, some times, they aren't" he replied. Just as chivalric as Drake was, Jason went for the door, to hold it open for Sandra. She shot him an irritated glance, and backed off.
"Yeah, well let's just get inside." She replied angrily, marching in through the door, Jason and Moira following her. Jason paused briefly to talk to the head waiter, who proceeded to lead the three of them into the restaurant.
It was an expensive and classy affair, decorated with expensive wall hangings and thick gold-patterned carpets. Moira paused, momentarily struck by all the strange images and colours, before Jason coaxed her along. To Sandra's eye, it was obvious that she had never been here or anywhere like it. Sandra realised how out of place they must have looked, Jason with his canes and bandages and her in her shabby streetwear.
"How come Jason calls you Sandra, Miss Blackmore," Moira suddenly asked, momentarily throwing Sandra.
"Uh, we're kind of friends," she replied, eyeing Jason angrily as she sat.
"I'm sorry" Jason replied as he sat. "I mean I'm really sorry for not telling you who I was." He paused. "Who I am."
"Well, yeah. I was a little irked about that." She replied. "When were you planning on telling me?"
"I had planned... Well all my plans went down the tubes that day." He began. "I wanted to wait, to be sure..."
"Yeah, well next time you pick up a girl, maybe you should tell her the full story before you and her..." she trailed off, looking at Moira, "...spend... the night with... each other."
"Look, I'm not going to give you any 'its hard at the top' garbage" He replied, looking her in the eye. "I know full well it's not the same. But it isn't simple either." He turned to look at Moira, then continued, his voice calm. "Moira can't be separated from me right now. It's not good for her, not good for our arrangement." He paused again, then leaned over towards Moira, suggesting something from the menu.
"Yeah, well I do appreciate a little honesty in a relationship," Sandra continued, the anger colouring her words. "I kind of bared my soul to you, and you kind of neglected to tell me a few key things."
"You're right. And it's a lesson I should have learned before I hit age thirty," he answered. "One that only Moira can learn from now. By not telling you who I was, in a sense I lied."
Sandra was momentarily taken back by the understatement of his reply. "Oh, lied." She finally replied. "Yeah, you kind of lied to me a bit. I suppose you could put it that way."
"But I did have reasons," he continued. "Maybe they weren't good enough. But I could at least show you enough respect to tell you the reasons why. If you want to hear them, that is."
"Go ahead, I'm listening," Sandra replied, trying not to sound too angry.
"I thought that if I'd shown up at U93 in body armour, suit and credentials, I would have been a huge target for my rivals. They'd see what I was up to and, frankly, even my own company wants my b-" he paused, then looked at Moira. "Family jewels for that stunt". He continued, looking Sandra straight in the eye.
"But I'd tried it the usual way. Looking for Athena, that is. I had to go down there and try it myself. But if I went as Jason Stone, I'd have hit a brick wall. No one would have talked to me. They'd either want to get as far away from me as possible, or take me down.
"So when I met you in the bar, I gave you the name of Drake. I didn't expect someone like you. I expected someone who would try to take advantage of me or my situation."
There was a long pause as Sandra took all this in. "Yeah, well, look, I can understand that," she finally admitted. "But maybe, just maybe, you should have told me" she continued, the anger in her voice rising a little. "I mean, perhaps not in public, but somewhere else before we, uh..." She trailed off, looking at Moira.
"I really didn't mean to mess things up so badly." Jason admitted. "Then, things starting rolling so fast... I decided I wanted to tell you in style, you know? Make it a pleasant surprise, instead of a rude awakening."
Suddenly Moira spoke excitedly. "I want this!" Jason looked over to her, where she was pointing at the entry for 'Princess Chicken, Spicy' on the menu for the benefit of a waiter. Jason was surprised to see him standing there.
"Yeah, well I'd have liked to know sooner rather than later." Sandra continued, seemingly oblivious and intent on venting. "Maybe you should have sat me down and told me a few things at my place after we'd worked out our arrangements rather than just lying me down and-" She paused looking at the waiter. "Heh." Then, under her breath she added a quiet "Tool".
"Could you make that a half portion for the girl, please?" Jason asked the waiter.
"My name's Moira," she crossly interjected.
"Uh, Moira," Jason finished. "And I'll have the Curry Beef." He then threw on an expensive-sounding red wine.
Sandra picked up the menu. She'd completely neglected it. She scanned it, then noted something. "I'll have the Hong Kong Duck." she said, emphasizing the 'Hong Kong'.
Jason blinked at her. Odd, she thought. Maybe he didn't know that the old man spilled the beans. She kept her eyes firmly on the menu, determined to keep the upper hand.
"Say, Moira, have you ever been to a Chinese Restaurant before?" she asked, changing the subject to see how Jason would react.
"What's a Chinese?" Moira replied.
"...Apparently not" Sandra muttered. Moira gazed at her while the waiter quietly departed.
"My time with you was important, Sandra," Jason continued as soon as he was confident the waiter was out of earshot. "I want to prove it to you."
"Uh-huh" Sandra dryly replied.
"Ask me something. If you want to yell at me, we can go 'round the back. If you want to slap me, it's a good place too. If you want answers, then I'll give you answers." He stared at her, intensity in his eyes.
"Look, Jason, all I want is a few answers." She paused. "And maybe some shouting."
"Okay then, I'll give you the answers over dinner. Shouting is always better on a full stomach." Sandra couldn't tell if he was being serious. She wouldn't admit it herself, but she was looking forward to a good meal. Anything beat her diet of artificial pseudo-foods that were the main source of meals in the Zone.
The waiter returned with the wine, opened it and handed it to Jason. He attempted to pour it, but his hands shook like an old man's. Moira cautiously took the bottle from him, handing it to Sandra, who poured it, noting Jason as he held the wine glass in both hands to avoid spilling anything. After sitting, she took a sip from her own glass.
"Okay, so maybe the doctors lied to me," Jason admitted. "Maybe Moria's here to help me more than I am to help her right now." He gave Moira an appreciative half-smile. "So, first question?"
What happened to him? Sandra thought to herself. She knew he was badly wounded by whatever had hit him, but this was more than she'd expected. Collecting her thoughts, she turned to look at Jason. "Ah, okay. How long were you planning to leave me out of the loop on your true name and the like?"
"I had planned, this week actually, to tell you and then hire you for another job if you were willing," he replied, not sounding like he was covering for anything.
"Yes," she firmly replied. "What's with the place you got in my name in Hong Kong? Is that some kind of a tax dodge or something?"
"A tax dodge?" Jason blinked. "Oh! That? That was meant to be part of your payment for the job. Since I did it in advance, it's still yours. If you liked Hong Kong, then you could use it as a getaway from the Zone. If you didn't, you could sell it and do what you liked with the money." He paused for a second. "I can send you the papers."
"Ah..." Sandra replied, at a loss for words. All of a sudden, she was sitting on top of a cool million that she couldn't do a thing with. Still, it was better than nothing.
"Maybe I was jumping the gun, but whether you took the job or not, eventually I was going to give you the apartment." He looked at her, care and honesty in his eyes as he explained.
"Ah... thanks... um," Sandra was at a loss for words, a rarity for her. "I mean, it's a nice thought and all... but being in the Zone, I probably could have never gotten to it to use it... but I mean, the cash value alone..."
"Yeah. Well, the money isn't what it was about. It was supposed to be a gift."
"And I appreciate it, Drake, I really do," Sandra replied, not noting her slip. Maybe some part of her equated the good bits of him with being Drake, good guy out to find his sister, and the bad bits with Jason Stone, mega-rich corporate big guy.
"Who's Drake?" Moira suddenly asked the pair of them.
"Who told you, by the way?" Jason inquired, ignoring Moira for the second.
Sandra decided to go for full honesty here. "I heard about it from an associate of yours, called Hobbs. He called me a few days after I... saved you. He asked me if I knew about it." She tried to recall exactly how she felt when she heard the news. "It was kind of unexpected, that's all."
"Serves me right" Jason commented. "I didn't tell him about that, and he's supposed to be the one man that I trust." He stressed the word 'man' to narrow down the gender.
Sandra noted the inflection before continuing. "Well, he knew about it and saw fit to tell me. I think he was trying to figure out who I was."
"Want to know what the job was?"
Her curiosity was piqued. "Do tell me about the job. I'm listening"
"Hobbs never thought that it was a good idea for me to go into the Zone," he began, but Sandra cut him off.
"And Jason, if I were him, I wouldn't let you go in there."
He continued, unabated. "Anyway, the job would have been security work, for me. Uh, personally."
"Like a bodyguard, right?" She asked, trying to figure out what was going on here.
"Yeah, that's pretty much it, but maybe a little more. You may have noticed that I don't keep bodyguards, it's not my style. But the Hong Kong visit is special."
"Care to explain?" Sandra was intrigued here. Obviously what he wanted to do couldn't be done with CorpSec staff, which meant that an outsider like her suddenly became more important.
"I have to meet someone I've heard about for a job I'm not sure you and I are up to finishing on our own. Especially not me, not right now."
"Yeah, look, I'd say you're not up to much right now," Sandra stated, being blunt and honest. "And I mean that because you'd get yourself killed in your current state. And why no bodyguards anyway?"
"I wired myself tight. Way tight. To handle assassins myself." He explained. "So far, so good. Until the brown-bands, that is."
"Yeah, well if I was you, I still would have taken someone with me."
"I don't trust anyone watching my back for me, in case they want to stick a knife in it themselves. Almost anyone, that is." The 'almost' was clearly aimed at her.
"Well, some times you have to take a gamble on such things. You could have hired a Street Sam to look after you." Sandra continued as the waiter arrived with their food. Jason picked up his chopsticks, but his trembling hands made using them impossible, so he gave up and switched to a fork and spoon. Sandra went straight for her knife and fork, having never even begun to master the art of using Chopsticks.
"Yeah, you." Jason replied between mouthfuls.
"Uh, well yeah," Sandra replied as she finished off a mouthful. "You could have hired me to watch your back in the zone too."
Not wanting to admit anything, Drake changed the topic. "Getting back to the Hong Kong thing, my contact's name is Ling Ling Li, I believe. She'd in turn, hopefully contact someone else. Marta Nys. Heard of her?"
Heard of her? Only Sandra and the entire civilized world. Sandra may have had a slightly over-inflated opinion of her own capabilities, but she knew where she was next to Marta. "Yeah, I have. She's a good sam, and definitely reliable."
"Yeah, and stays bought. For the length of the mission, anyway."
"And that's why you were going to HK." Sandra finished. It made sense.
"But I'd have no idea how she'd react to me." He continued. "I mean, my enemies could have figured out I was in Hong Kong and hired her to nab me. Or blow me away."
"A problem to say the least" Sandra noted. "So I was there as the backup plan."
"Exactly. I'm still going," he stated defiantly, as if to say that his current state wasn't going to hold him down.
"I hope you've considered taking some time off before you do." She commented. Bodyguard or not, in his current state, Jason wouldn't last five minutes in Hong Kong.
Moira looked back and fourth at the two of them. "Me too?" Jason looked back at her, momentarily out of words. "You said we were gonna go on vacation."
"We'll talk about that later" Jason replied. Moira looked down at her barely-touched plate. Jason sighed. "Moira, why don't you go and look at the painted fans? I saw you eyeing them earlier" The girl pushed away from the table, and ran-skipped over to a group of the fans. "Look, don't touch," Jason called after her.
After a minute, Sandra spoke up. "Right, she's gone. You can say what you wanted to."
"Yes, she probably will be."
"Going with me."
"Say... what?" All of a sudden, this made no sense. He needed a bodyguard and a babysitter now? "Are you sure that's such a good idea?"
"Uh... Moira's special" he said, quietly.
"Hmmm?" Sandra muttered. Something was going on here.
"When they gunned her down... She should have died, I guess." He somberly stated, looking down at the table.
"Oh..." It clicked in her head. "So she's..."
"I uh... I had a to make a decision! I couldn't just let her die, could I?" He continued, clearly looking upset. "I mean it was my fault!"
"What did you do?" Sandra quietly asked. She wanted to know what was going on.
"I tried to stop them, but she ran into me. Or rather, I ran into her. I blocked her escape, and because of it, they cornered her and gunned her down. Just because I was there!" He put his hand on his forehead, wiping at nothing, clearly upset. Sandra was at a loss for what to say. "The medics... I was too late. She'd lost too much blood, dying."
"You tried to save her, right?" Sandra asked, unable to think of what he'd gone through. The worst thing to ever happen to her in her life, she'd been unconscious for.
"She was in a coma, many of her major organs destroyed, living on a machine... I tried. And I tried again. She would have died."
Then it clicked. The soft-shell conversion that Jason had ordered... it wasn't for him after all. "And... what. You got her a cyborg body, right?"
"I had to put her in a full soft-shell conversion. Yes, I did."
"I see... just to save her..."
"They said that If I didn't, I could be implicated... the company implicated in her death..."
This struck a chord within Sandra. She'd seen things like this happen before, when she was on the job. Jason could have passed along the blame to someone else, or else used his money and power to make the problem "go away" as such. But he'd stuck it out for the sake of someone's life. This, more than anything else, showed some strength of character that had been lacking in all of Sandra's previous dealings with corporate types. "Look, you did a good thing. Really." It didn't seem like much, but she wanted to make him see that.
"Maybe I shouldn't have. She's never going to grow up, never change! Her mind's a blank! Total amnesia, and it's permanent." He continued, the guilt in his voice very evident. "I don't know if what I did was right. I really don't. But I adopted her, too." He paused again. "If I didn't, if I didn't pay the medical bill, she'd have owed the company..."
Indentured to the company, for life. Slavery by any other name. "I think what you did was right. Look, you saved her life. That's what counts."
Jason paused, as if the conclusion was obvious. "You think so? You really think so?"
"Yeah, that's what I think"
"Did I save her, whomever she was? Or did my order create something new? Something that's not a child, but is?"
"I don't know. I'm not the type who can judge these things..." She paused. This was hard. "She'll grow mentally, if not physically. She'll become her own person, one day."
"Yeah, her own person, not someone else's person." He looked down at his dinner. "This isn't permanent," he continued as he held up a shaking hand.
"You're still going to Hong Kong, right?" Sandra asked, knowing what the answer would be.
"It's just that I got shot several times, stabbed and shot in the head. The bullet lodged in my secure com link instead of my brain. Scrambled my nervous system. Doc Ogura says that since most of my natural nervous system had been replaced and upgraded by SynTech systems, they had to recalibrate the whole mess." He explained, still holding up the shaking hand. "But yeah, I have to go to Hong Kong."
"So you're all awry at the moment, right?" Sandra asked.
"They said maybe a month total to get things ironed out. I told the company I left on vacation two days ago." He smiled mischievously. "To recover, that is."
"Well, don't go getting into too many gunfights till then, y'hear?" Jason glared at her. "Sorry." Damn. Now she felt like a right idiot.
"No, that's okay. I was just hoping..." He trailed off for a second.
"Hmm...?" Sandra wasn't sure where this one was going.
"Would you consider doing it? Going to Hong Kong with me, that is."
Sandra paused in thought as Moira wandered back to the table, returning to her seat. After a minute, she reached a decision. "I'd have to see what I was doing in a month, but I'd say yes at this point." This was largely postponing the inevitable; Sandra had no plans for the next month. She rarely had plans for tomorrow.
Jason seemed to be genuinely happy after hearing her response. "I'm glad you'll think about it, Sandra. Frankly, I wouldn't ask anyone else to do something like this."
"It's great to feel wanted," she replied. Jason chuckled.
"So what have you been busy with for these past few weeks?"
Sandra thought over the time she'd spent since she saved him. Most of it was a blur of general anger at the universe. "Not much, really. Getting chased, hassled, shot at and nearly blown up for the most part. And I almost got to return a luxury car."
"Chased?" Jason asked, surprised at what she'd said. "Not the good kind, I'm guessing. Is someone after you?"
"No, no one in particular." Sandra sounded almost hopeful there. "I just seem to end up in a lot of jobs that involve a lot of running around."
"So what about the car? Success I hope."
"Nope." Sandra replied, sounding strangely dismissive. "It blew up."
"Oh, dang. Sorry." Jason replied, careful with his language around Moira.
"Yeah, well it happens to me a lot," Sandra replied dismissively. Jason watched her face to see if she was joking. Evidently, she wasn't.
"Eventually, I'm going to have to go back to the Zone," he said, sighing.
"I figured as much. This time you might want to be a little more prepared."
"Hrmn." He muttered. "What do you suggest?"
"Either bring someone with you, or at the very least have an emergency backup plan."
"No can do," he continued, a hint of frustration creeping into his voice. "The company will be doing everything it can to keep me out of there as it is. Of course, this time it's a lot more complicated." He looked over at Moira who, clearly bored, was fidgeting.
"Well you'll have to think your way around them," Sandra suggested. "Claim it as holiday time. You're the boss, after all."
"Yeah, the trouble is that when I'm not there, my control over the company is pretty sketchy." He leaned closer, his voice dropping a bit. "I'm not sure what they're up to when I'm not running the show. I can't do a lot remotely, except monitor inter-office communications." He looked thoughtful, as if this was troubling him.
"So, you need to go back, but you can't, right?" Sandra summarised.
"But when I return from Hong Kong, I'm betting on bringing the big guns." He continued.
"Right. That way you can do what you want, when you want."
Jason nodded. "Yeah, well if she'll do the first job and likes the way it's done, then maybe I can hire her for one more."
"Uh-huh." Sandra got the feeling that she wasn't going to like this. "I think this is a 'best not to ask' case, right?"
"You can ask and I'll even tell you straight". He grinned.
"...Probably not," Sandra concluded.
Jason pushed away his dinner, mostly finished. Sandra looked a little guiltily at her plate. She'd pretty much wolfed down her meal. "Are you still mad at me?" Jason asked.
"I am a bit mad at you. Okay, I am a lot mad at you," She replied, going for the brutal honesty approach. "But I'm also a bit mad at myself, being honest"
Jason stared at her for a minute. "Maybe I should give you some space, huh?"
Suddenly Moira piped up. "Can we go to the beach?" The pair of them looked at her, Sandra at a momentary loss for words.
"Moira, it's dark outside" Jason replied.
"I've never been to the beach" she continued.
Jason sighed. "Maybe we can on the weekend, if we have the time," He turned back to Sandra.
"It's not that, Jason." Sandra explained. "It's just that I appreciate honesty, that's all."
"I know," he replied.
"So that's why I was mad at you, for not telling me. I know there were circumstances. It's just that, well, when you and I, er..." She trailed off, looking at Moira, unsure of how to put it.
"For me, it was the best date ever," Jason replied, sounding strangely genuine. "I want you to know that. It was the closest thing to an honest date I ever had."
"Um, thanks," Sandra answered, not sure what to make of this. "I just would have liked to know, that's all. But putting that aside, I am willing to trust you now." She'd been mulling this over the whole night. It was a hard thing for her to say, but it needed saying. "I think that you've shown me that you're an honest person and you did have good reasons not to tell me who you were."
"I appreciate that." He chuckled. "Actually, I'm pretty trusting of you right now. Besides, after you got me to my hospital, you could have screwed me over real good." He paused. "Oops, cover your ears, Moira."
Moira covered her ears without seeming to know why. It was strangely comical. Sandra chuckled.
"I could have. I was angry enough to let rip in you," she explained.
"In fact, you could have been one rich lady right now if you did. It says a lot about your character."
"Yeah, my character," She sighed. The easy option had been there. She'd just never given it any thought. Now she knew that she couldn't.
"Hey, I'm not much for dancing right now, but give me a little time and I'll be operating these lead feet again."
"Good. You danced pretty well." Sandra shot him a rare smile. "Better than me."
"Aw, I'm no great dancer. I'm sure it was the 'ware." This was oddly amusing. "In the meantime, maybe I can take you somewhere."
Sandra was at a genuine loss. Her plans for the evening hadn't included going out. Then again, they hadn't included expensive dinner or meeting his adopted daughter. All they had involved was shouting, and she hadn't done much of that. "Uh, yeah, if you like. I really didn't have anything on tonight."
Moira removed her hands from her ears and scrunched her nose, looking cross, like she'd been had somehow. Jason's eyes brightened at the sight, while Sandra allowed herself a little laugh.
"You still in the mood for something?" Jason asked, turning back to her.
"Uh sure. Whatever comes to your mind. I never get out to do stuff these days." An understatement, to say the least. Sandra occasionally had a night out of getting drunk (and depressed) or seeing one of the few live acts that played at the kind zone of club that she could afford to get into.
"What would you like, a movie, or perhaps the theatre?" Jason asked. I could show you my, I mean, Moira and my home? We could even go for a midnight tour of SynTech headquarters, if you'd like to be bored or just like to look at cyber-stuff."
Sandra laughed at the last one. "I might skip on the tour but if there's a movie going, I wouldn't mind that."
"Well I'm sure we can find something we like." He signaled to the waiter for the cheque.
The night had gone rather well from there. They had swung by Jason's house (actually a guest cottage) and dropped Moria off with Hobbs, giving him explicit instructions that she was to get to bed soon. After that, he'd taken the wheel of the limo, Sandra riding up front next to him. Despite his shaky legs, he had been a bundle of cheer.
They found a late session of the first thing that had come to their mind, and settled in with snacks and great seats. The film was a rather forgettable piece dealing with a post apocalyptic society rising from the ashes and struggling to rebuild, only to face invaders from far off. Neither of them had thought much of it, save for Drake's comments that the leader of "good guys" had looked like Sandra, complete with scars. Sandra found that strangely amusing.
Sometime about one in the morning, they found themselves in a small cafe that was soaking up the last of the movie going crowd. Sandra had bought them each a coffee, determined to actually pay for something tonight herself. She walked over to the table, giving Jason his cup before sitting herself and taking a sip.
"Jason, ah, look..." She began. This was going to be hard. "I am happy to work for you. It's a great opportunity and something every Street Sam would want to do... I mean with the money and all. I know it sounds shallow, but you must remember that this is the way I make a living."
Jason blinked in surprise. He'd never thought about it that way. "Well, I, uh... I really need someone I can trust. Someone with your skills."
"That being said, there is a sort of loyalty thing going." She continued. "As a street sam, I'm expected to be trustworthy. I've been taken into the employer's confidence to do something they can't rely on their own people to do." Jason nodded, signaling for her to go on.
"I want you to know that you can trust me. I am not going to turn on you unless you do something to me that will cause me to do that. But this means that I will need you to be honest with me. When you ask me to do something for you, there can't be any gaps or omissions."
"Agreed," Jason replied. He paused a second and then asked, "Is there something on your mind?"
"I just want you to understand that I do trust you. After all you've said tonight and all I've said to you, I feel that you've earned that trust from me." She smiled, hoping that she'd made sense and said what she'd wanted.
"Sandra, I'm glad you said that. I feel the same way. I mean, that very happy night, our first night, there was just something I sensed about you that..." He trailed off. "Maybe it was the freedom you could express, just dancing there by yourself on the dance floor, to hell with the rest of the world. It spoke volumes, Sandra. It said, 'Here I am, I'm having a good time no matter what!'. That's inspiring to me.
Sandra realized what it meant. In Jason's world, people would show him what they thought he wanted to see, not their true selves. And in her world, people were free to be themselves, even if they had nothing to prove it too. "Yeah... look, I never really thanked you for, er, for that night. It was a great night we had together, the best night I've had in years... or ever." An understatement, actually.
"And thanks for letting me open up on you and let you know how I felt." She paused to consider all that she'd said. "Both good and bad."
"Thank you, too. Thank you for the first night, and thank you for wanting to work with me, forgive me, and for this night too. You're a good person, Sandra." Jason gave a mischievous smile. "I like honesty too."
"It's a rare and valuable commodity in this world," Sandra concluded. Jason turned for a second, accidentally knocking one of his canes noisily to the floor. Sandra leant down to pick it up, but he shook his head and leaned towards her.
"Huh?" Sandra asked for a second, before Jason stole a kiss from her, then picked up the cane himself. Sandra sat up, blushing slightly.
"Well, um..." she tried to compose herself without sounding silly. "I guess we should be going. I think they're trying to shoo away the last of the customers." She looked away from him for a second, thoughts racing through her head, trying to decide what to say next. "It's, ah, going to be a bit hard to get me home at this time of night. The Zone border guards are usually extra vigilant and incorruptible at this time of night, seeing as it's when all the whackos come out." Geez, I hope that came out right.
"Oh, okay. I have lots of rooms if you'd like to borrow one for the night." He sighed. "It's a pretty empty house since the family moved on."
"Sure. Thanks," she smiled and stood. Jason stood, collecting his canes, and left the cafe with her.
Sandra slowly awoke, her senses blurring in to coherence. She was lying on soft, comfortable pillows in a large, comfortable room in a very large, well appointed room. The curtains were closed, but it was plainly obvious that it was well into the day. She took a look to the other side of her, noting Jason still slumbering next to her.
She rolled back onto her side, lost in thought. The house has seemed strangely lonely, empty and even morose. It was large enough, but had only the three occupants. It was plain that Jason's family had once lived here, but now he was the only one of them left. Maybe that was the connection between them. She'd lost her old life; he'd lost his family.
Sandra took a look at her outstretched right arm, noting the complex mess of scars along the sides. She made sure that, whatever she wore, her right side wasn't visible. She didn't like people seeing the mess that was her arm and back. Her eye was inevitable, so she did nothing about it. But now her scars seemed different, like they were more a part of her. Everything seemed different now.
She sighed to herself. "Life is going to be a lot more interesting from here on in."
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