Tap, tap, tap...
"Every six hours, the garbage for this section of the S-T arcology is dumped, thus allowing someone to get in... if they could swim through several tons of solid garbage and other debris..."
Korey was stumped.
Tap, tap, tap...
"Disguised as a new recruit, I could infiltrate and then take out said information... except that I would need air tight documentation and a good hacker to adjust the database not to mention... oh, scrap that plan as well."
Korey was very stumped.
Tap, tap, tap...
"I could ask nicely for it... oh! A five year old child would have better success in coming up with a plan then I!"
Toss, smack, clatter...
Korey growled at the pen as it bounced off the wall and rolled back towards her before floating up into the air and landing on her desk in a series of jerky motions. "You really should not be pushing yourself so hard so soon," the espionage agent said as she swiveled in her office chair to look at her new and, more then likely, permanent house guest.
Ray pushed his long, black hair back and gave a nod of his head. "Of course... but I grow..."
"Jittery?" Korey offered.
"Yes, jittery in not moving about and using my powers. He leaned against one side of the staircase and sat down on the stairs slowly, the undersized blue housecoat seemingly hanging on his too thin frame.
"Then how about we prepare some supper, yes? You could do with another meal." Inwardly, Korey was amazed that the synthetic esper was still alive. It had been over two months since the destruction of Ishiyama's headquarters in Neo York and somehow, on his own, Ray had survived in the Zero Zone.
"Supper sounds very nice," Ray whispered as he stood up and immediately slumped forward.
Before he could hit the floor, Korey rushed to his side and, after draping one of his arms over her shoulders, helped him into the kitchen and onto one of the bar stools lining the counter top extension. He whispered a thanks and she immediately set about cooking him a hearty meal.
"He's doing better," she thought. "At least the bursts of his power have subsided."
For the first week after Korey had brought Ray in, the synthetic had often experienced brief, yet very violent, bursts of his power that had, once or twice, nearly brought the house crashing around his and Korey's ears. From what little that Korey knew, this was due not only to the fever he had come down with, but a severe lack of nutrition. Korey fingered the still fresh scar on the side of her neck, a remainder of the time he had flung out blindly during a fever crazed nightmare, barely grazing her and punching a hole in the wall. It had been luck and her own reflexes that had saved her from serious injury, and she wasn't about to test either again in such a way.
"Yes, Ray?" A number of chopped up frozen vegetables were tossed into a steamer, along with water, and turned on.
"What will I do now?"
Inwardly, Karin Nys winced, a pang of guilt flashing through her for taking away Ray's home and purpose, but outwardly, Korey Winters remained calm and thoughtful.
"To tell the truth, for now, you will stay with me until you are back in tiptop shape. After that, you may do as you like. You can leave, maybe even return to what remains of Ishiyama..." She ticked off a few more options as she got out the bread and proceeded to spread a thick layer on a slice.
"I... do not wish to return to Ishiyama. Lilith... would not have liked it."
Another wince of guilt struck Karin, and Korey grew quiet for a moment. "Lilith?" She turned to him and laid the sandwich on a plate before him before turning back to dish out some steamed vegetables.
"Yes, Lilith... my... my older sister. She... taught me some important lessons before she passed away."
"I'm sorry," Karin thought, but Korey only nodded. "She must have been important to you," came her reply.
"Very. Although I did not know it until she passed away." Ray took a tentative bite out of his sandwich; he had been very careful in not overindulging himself. "Is... is that how it always is for us? For humans? To not know what is most important to us until it is gone?"
Karin almost sobbed, whereas Korey merely nodded stoically. "Most of the time, unfortunately." She squeezed her hands into fists and eyed the floor. "It's part of being human... to learn... and sometimes, we learn too late..."
She focused her stare on the floor, finding Ray's own eyes hard to match.
"Are you alright, Miss Winters?" Ray stood up and laid a soft hand on Korey's shoulders.
"Yes... I'm fine... the... the stress of this latest assignment is getting to me." She smiled warmly at him and wiped at a tear as it coursed down her cheek. "Now go back and finish that sandwich. You need your strength back."
The synthetic nodded and went back to the table, giving Korey the chance she needed to retreat. It had been happening more and more since she had taken him in, ghosts of the past, Karin Nys' past, had been resurfacing and haunting her. First, during the night when she dreamed, and then during the day as well. She was losing sleep, and the combined effort she was putting into the assignment she had gotten from Angel as well as a rival of S-T was beginning to wear her down.
Slumping back into her office chair, Korey determined gaze at the information on the computer screen before her soon gave way to fatigue and wandering thoughts. Idly, she punched at the keyboard before her, bringing up page after page of information...
"I wonder..." she mused as Gem's picture suddenly appeared on the screen. "Hmm... so Gem's father works at S-T... how nice..." Thoughts converged, smacked into one another, and soon a heated argument was underway that resulted in the next thought: "This isn't Gem."
With a look of puzzlement on her face, Korey sat up in her chair and focused her thoughts. The picture on the screen before her could have been passed off as one of Gem, were Gem cleaned up and her hair grown out a bit longer. But instead, it was the picture of Ryoko Kimazaki, the daughter of a scientist working at the S-T arcology.
She blinked, then blinked again, the beginnings of an idea so wild and daring forming in her mind that it pushed aside all previous feelings.
"By George, I think I've got it..."
Gem blinked her eyes, and looked around her. The cab she was in was slowly trundling its way down a pleasant lane, lined with trees and comfortable looking houses. She watched the scenery go past almost in a daze. She felt... odd. Something had changed in her, something brought about by her brief yet intense stay with Angel.
She winced in recollection of her behavior. What had seemed so natural a short day ago was now embarrassingly unlike her. She recalled the clothes she had tried on and bought, that she would never be seen dead in. She remembered parading around in ways that she would never do. It was so unlike her, it seemed like a dream.
She corrected herself. It was so unlike her now. She had felt a lot of her old feelings resurfacing when she was with Angel. It worried her to think about it, yet in a way, her time with Angel was calm and relaxed, as if she didn't have a care in the world.
Gem blushed when she realized the other time she had felt like that recently - waking up that fateful morning in Kami's apartment. It was fair to say that she hadn't been quite the same person since.
The cab came to a halt, and brought Gem out of her reverie. She thanked the driver, paid him, and stepped out onto the footpath. Before her stood Korey's house, a beautiful two story affair painted a soft beige in color.
She walked up the path, marveling at how peaceful it looked. She could almost imagine children running on the front lawn, or Korey as a concerned mother watching over them. This last thought brought a smile to her face that quickly faded. Not for the first time, she wished she'd had such a peaceful, simple and uncomplicated childhood.
Gem brushed off her jacket and stepped up to Korey's door. She gave it two sharp raps and stood impatiently, waiting for her to answer. After a minute or so, ti did, and a tall, lanky dark haired man appeared in the doorway.
"Yes?" he said.
Surprised, Gem took a step back, her hand reflexively reaching into her jacket. "Who are you?"
"I am Ray, Korey's house guest. Please, come in," Ray replied softly as he stepped back.
Gem pulled her hand from her jacket slowly. She stepped in the door, eyeing him cautiously.
"She's here, Miss Winters," Ray said.
"Ah good, and please, call me Korey," said the espionage agent from behind her desk.
"Yes, Korey..." After giving Gem a small smile, he retreated downstairs.
Gem wandered up to Korey's desk, watching Ray as he descended. "He is..." she began, leaving the answer open.
"Oh, Ray? A esper I found in the zone about a week ago. It's good to see you are doing well, Gem, and for answering my call so quickly." Korey stood and extended a hand.
Gem shook Korey's hand. "Likewise." She glanced over to where Ray had descended and remarked "He seems nice enough."
"I know. Strange, isn't it? Usually, PK's are known to have a somewhat arrogant attitude, whereas Ray... Does not. He is almost naive of how things are in the world..." Korey trailed off. "But I digress! I have an assignment I wish you to help me with. Relatively simple, and risk free, should nothing go wrong."
"Sounds great," Gem said. "I could do with a bit of cash." She glanced around the room, searching for a chair.
Korey coughed politely and nodded to a simple stool placed in front of the desk. "Excuse the sparse accommodations... now, here is what you will be wearing for the assignment." Picking up a small cardboard box off the floor, Korey set it atop her neat desk and slid it forward.
Gem took her seat. She turned the box to face her, then opened it and glanced inside. A long silence ensued, after which she raised her head to look at Korey. Her expression was a mixture of disbelief and shock. "This..." she finally said, but trailed off.
"Yes, it is rather vital for this mission that you wear it," Korey said.
Gem glanced inside again, then gently shut the box. "Now is the point where you explain why I have to wear..." She gestured extravagantly at the box "that."
"Of course, Gem... after all, I AM a professional." Giving the keyboard before her a few taps, a picture of a young Japanese girl was printed out and handed to Gem. "This is Ryoko Kimazaki, the daughter of Ken Kimazaki, a scientist currently working at one of the science wings in the S-T arcology here in Neo York City."
Gem glanced at the photo, then suspiciously back at Korey. She glanced down again, and this time the girl's face drew her attention and held it. "It's remarkable," Gem finally said, almost breathless.
"I know... she could very well pass off as you, in looks that is. Now, Dr. Kimazaki has, after some years working for S-T, achieved some success in a new metal alloy that is undetectable by the latest in metal detectors." Korey brought up the picture of the scientist and swung the monitor around for Gem to see. "I have been hired to steal all information regarding this new alloy, and a sample, if possible. It is here that you come in."
"So I impersonate her and...?" Gem subtly pushed the box away from her.
"And we steal the information on Prototype Alloy 3BZ. As simple as that." Korey smiled. "You see, little Ryoko is scheduled for a trip to see her father soon... as in next week, so all we have to do is intercept her, keep her occupied elsewhere, and you take her place."
"And just walk straight into the lab to see 'daddy,'" Gem concluded. "Alright, I've got it. But still, why does it have to be THIS outfit?"
Korey arched an eyebrow, as though the answer was so plain as day. "Well, it's what he's expecting of you, after all."
Gem sighed. "But I really wouldn't know how to act the part."
"That's okay... I'll have plenty of time to whip you into shape! Before the week is gone, you WILL be Ryoko Kimazaki." Korey flashed Gem a brilliant, winning smile.
Gem swallowed hard. How had she gotten into this?
Korey stood in her bedroom, waiting impatiently. She had gotten Gem to agree to the costume, and sent the girl into her expansive wardrobe to get changed... five minutes ago. She realized Gem was apprehensive about her role in the mission, but still... she was acting so unprofessionally.
"I'm not coming out," Gem's muted voice floated out of the wardrobe.
Korey's reply was stern, yet still calm. "Come out of there now, Miss Gem, or I will be forced to drag you out."
"Don't call me 'Miss Gem!'" she replied. "It sounds stupid."
Korey let out a deep sigh, and shook her head. "Ray?" she called over her shoulder. Ray stepped forward, and opened the door to the wardrobe. With a simple effort, he telekinetically lifted Gem out into the main room.
Gem looked up at Korey, her cheeks red with embarrassment. "I feel so silly in this thing!" she yelled.
"I had thought you looked like a fourteen year old Japanese Schoolgirl," Ray replied in a perfect deadpan.
Korey had to agree; the change was remarkable. Gem's dark and rough clothes were gone. She now wore a traditional blue and white 'sailor suit' uniform from a Japanese school, with a pleated blue skirt. She wore dainty black shoes and long white socks, and her hair was pulled back into a small tuft of a ponytail.
"That's why I feel so silly," Gem moaned.
"Actually, you look perfect for the part," Korey replied. She nodded to Ray. "Ray will be our extraction team in case anything should go awry... Now here is a personnel file on Miss Ryoko Kimazaki, the girl you will be impersonating. Study it; memorize it... And for goodness sake, PUT the gun down!" Gem froze in place, caught pulling her pistol from her jacket in the wardrobe. "Japanese Schoolgirls do NOT carry such hardware!"
Gem guiltily dropped her pistol on her piled-up clothes. "Not even in my school bag?" she asked, hopefully.
"ESPECIALLY not in your school bag!" Korey replied, almost yelling. "Here, take this instead." Korey stepped forwards and handed her a small, pen-shaped object. "It is a signal marker, indicating your precise location on a fixed frequency."
"No knife?" Gem asked.
"This isn't a James Bond film, you know. You will have to spend the entire time with your father, so as to keep from arousing suspicion."
Gem sighed deeply. "You're right, you're right. I just feel so... So helpless without some kind of weapon on me."
Ray suddenly spoke up. "Why?" he asked. "Are you not a Street Samurai, and therefore knowledgeable of hand to hand combat?"
Gem reluctantly nodded. "Yes I am. It's... Oh, forget it." Ray blinked, his open expression clearly curious. Gem couldn't help but continue. "It's a personal attitude... It's- well, it's not a fear or anything, I'm just uncomfortable." She suddenly stopped, and furrowed her brow. "Heck, why am I explaining myself to you?"
"Because I asked?" Ray replied, quite innocently.
Gem found herself at a loss for words. "Uhm... It's not just that... Um..." She scratched her head, and glanced at Korey, looking for help.
"He's quite curious..." Korey trailed off. "Poor thing, I found him a few weeks back, nearly starved to death. Imagine my surprise when I brought him home and discovered he was a PK!"
"I can imagine." She turned to Ray, blushing in apology. "Sorry, I'm just not used to explaining myself, that's all."
Ray nodded. "It is alright, Miss Gem. I have lately discovered just how complex such social interactions can be."
"Please don't call me 'miss Gem,'" she replied.
"Very well, Lady Gem."
"Grrr... Alright, fine." Gem sighed. "I normally don't use it, but I also sometimes, sometimes use the name 'Aoi Hari.' You can use that instead."
"Very well, Aoi Hari," Ray replied. Gem rolled her eyes.
Korey couldn't help but chuckle. She nudged Gem and said, "Cute one, isn't he?"
"It's an improvement, at least. That goes for you to, Korey. 'Miss Gem' just sounds ridiculous."
Korey nodded. "Now... let us work on your acting." She took Gem's hand, and led her out into the main room. "Remember, soft, feminine, warm..."
"All the things I'm not," Gem replied.
"Okay... lets start with your body language. It's all wrong for the girl you're playing..." Gem blinked, unsure what Korey meant. "Just... try to walk without looking like you're about to dislodge someone's head from their body."
Gem rolled her eyes. "Alright..." Gem held her head down, and slowly stepped towards Korey.
Korey shook her head. "You look as though you're walking on eggshells. Be more fluid... soft..." She watched, almost in despair as Gem continued her careful step. "GLIDE!" she suddenly yelled. Gem started back, suddenly breaking her step. Korey rolled her eyes as Ray headed into the kitchen. "Glide... like this."
Korey assumed a polite, gentle manner and walked smoothly across the living room. Gem grimaced then did her best to copy Korey's posture. Half way across the room, she tripped and stumbled.
Korey sighed, shaking her head. "This is going to take a while... A long while... You are completely... Something else, Gem."
Gem seemed to sink under Korey's Gaze. "I'm sorry about this. I just... I dunno, I've never needed to be 'nice' before."
Korey's gaze softened a little and she walked over to Gem. "It's okay... and I can understand your point. The Zone is hardly a place where one can be nice. Now, come here for a moment and stand right by me."
Gem nodded, and let out a little "'kay." She stood next to Korey, and did her best to imitate the other woman's posture. She placed her arms around Gem's shoulders and hugged her closer.
"Now... put your foot right beside mine and keep in step with mine. We'll work on that and then move on up."
"Uh, okay..." Gem replied. She did her best to copy Korey, eventually getting the hang of the other woman's motions.
"Good, good! Soft, short, gliding steps, that's right." Korey guided Gem's movements with her own hands and legs. "Remember, you're simply walking here, not tromping about... And your hips, swing them a tad, not too much, like how I'm doing it..."
"Alright..." Gem tried the hip-swinging walk, but immediately overdid it.
"No, no... Slow it down, first. Not so fast." Korey took a firmer hold of Gem, and slowed her movements down. "Like that, good..." She guided Gem again, holding the younger woman's hips. "Now, just a tad, like mine. No, that's too much again. Just..." Korey released Gem, and pressed herself up behind the girl. "Well, move your rear along with mine..."
Gem stepped in sync with Korey for a few seconds. Seemingly satisfied, Korey released Gem to walk on her own. "At the very least," Gem began, as she checked her movements, "I'll know what not to do."
"And that's one important half of impersonation... good, very good!" Korey exclaimed as she watched Gem walking away from her. The bodyguard nodded, and turned to face her again. "Now, lets work on your upper body. Hold your hands in front of you together, cupped slightly..." Korey demonstrated. "Now just walk back and forth a few times."
"Like this?" Gem asked. As Gem paced the living room, Korey could tell she was getting the hang of it.
Korey nodded her approval. "Yes... except, relax a bit more. You're far too tense." She stepped in behind Gem, and took a firm hold of her shoulders. Gem immediately squirmed under her grip. "God, you're so tense! Relax, let out that breath you're holding..."
Korey firmly rubbed Gem's shoulders, massaging the flesh under her hands. Gem let out a huge sigh, and seemed to melt back into Korey's arms. "You're right..." Gem muttered. The change was immediate. Korey could feel Gem's body was far looser and more relaxed.
"There we go, much better now, isn't it? Now, try it again."
"Sure," Gem said in a far calmer voice. She held her hands in front of her and stepped slowly and gently forwards.
"Ah..." Korey noticed another small error. "Okay, adjust your stride a little, keep it continuous, not halting..."
Gem nodded and followed Korey's instruction. "I think I've got it," she said.
"Yes, I believe you do." Korey smiled in satisfaction. "Now, let's work on your voice and mannerisms."
Gem groaned and rolled her eyes. "Oh, boy..." she muttered.
"No no, it's 'Oh dear'..." Korey said immediately. "Now, say it with me. 'Oh, dear...'" Korey said in a soft, warm tone. Gem rolled her eyes again, and repeated her in a flat monotone. She groaned audibly. "No, not like that. Like this;" Korey took a deep breath, then repeated in the same soft tone, "'Oh dear...'"
"Oh dear," Gem repeated in a gentler, yet unnatural tone.
"Better... Also, don't slouch." Caught out, Gem shot straight up. "Keep your shoulders up and square, yet relaxed." Gem rolled her eyes, sighing loudly. "Don't roll your eyes, or sigh," Korey continued, "Because proper young girls don't do such things." Gem could only cringe in embarrassment. "Now, try giggling."
"Giggling," Gem repeated, in a clearly disbelieving tone.
"Yes, giggling... Say, at a joke your father would say, or over a slight embarrassment."
"Oh, I'm good at embarrassment," Gem said. She took a deep breath then let out an ever so slight giggle.
Korey blinked in disbelief at her. "What was that?"
"Uhm..." Gem giggled in embarrassment. "Not sure."
Korey sighed. "Be honest about it... About the giggling. You think it's funny, yet it's simply not right to laugh out loud. Now, try it again." Gem placed a hand over her lips, and managed a giggle.
"Good enough, I suppose... Now... How about blushing?"
Gem smiled. "I do it naturally," she said.
"No, on demand," Korey said.
Gem looked at her in disbelief. "Now I know you're kidding."
Korey shook her head. "Truly great actors and actresses were able to blush when needed... You can do the same as well. Simply think of your most embarrassing moments. Like..." Korey pondered for a second, then winked at Gem. "Waking up with Eve in your bed draped over you."
In an instant, Gem turned a bright crimson. "That was a bit much!" She yelled.
Korey smiled. "Perfect! Now you're got your memory!"
"PLEASE tell me I never have to do that again," Gem said, looking more embarrassed than ever.
"Not for the time being... but for later, perhaps."
Gem put her hand over her eyes, hoping to hide her still-red face. "Are we done yet," she asked, "Or do you need to embarrass me further?
"Yes, we're done for now, dear." Korey walked over and laid a friendly hand on her shoulder. "You did very well."
"Thanks..." Gem said. "Do you think I'll manage?"
"To be honest, you'll manage as well as anyone who has taken a crash course in acting."
"Who just happens to be cute and adorable enough for the role," Gem added, smirking.
"Once I have gotten you to work off most of your more blunt mannerisms, yes." Korey smiled back, almost smirking herself.
"I like you too," Gem replied.
Gem sat perfectly still, watching her own reflection. Before her, Korey had laid out a selection of cosmetics, intended to make her look less like a bodyguard and more like a schoolgirl. Gem had admitted with a great degree of embarrassment that she had no idea how to handle the makeup. Thus, Korey agreed to apply it for her.
Gem blinked as Korey came up behind her. She couldn't believe how different she already looked. It wasn't just the uniform; she was wearing a pair of tinted contacts that had turned her intense green eyes brown. Even as she sat in the chair, her posture felt different; more relaxed, thanks both to Korey's lessons and a firm massage.
Korey picked up her eye shadow, and stood behind her subject. "So... How have you and Eve been doing these days?"
"What?" Gem asked, thrown by the sudden question.
"I asked how the two of you were doing these past few days," Korey explained.
Gem immediately blushed. "Um... We haven't actually seen each other-" then cut herself off. "No, wait, I did get a chance to talk to her briefly."
"Hmmm?" Korey arched an eyebrow as she slowly began to apply the make up to Gem's eyelids.
Gem swallowed hard. "We just chatted," she said, fidgeting nervously. "About the date, and how I really couldn't remember much of it."
"I apologize for that..." Korey replied as she carefully worked on Gem. "No doubt the alcohol and my dart helped in that matter..." Finishing with one eyelid, she moved onto the other.
"But she said I didn't embarrass myself too much," Gem continued, almost absent-mindedly.
"Oh, getting a bit fresh with her, hmmm? How naughty, you should really wait until later before doing anything..." Eyes finished, she straightened up and winked at Gem.
"It wasn't that bad!" Gem replied, close to panic. A thought struck her and she sat rock still. "You were there, weren't you Korey?"
"I know, dear, merely teasing you... but it is nice, isn't it?" Putting aside the eye shadow, Korey took up the blush.
"Korey," Gem said sternly. "Tell me. Were you watching us all night?"
"Yes... all night." Korey paused in thought. "I didn't hear all that was said, but again, it must have been nice for you to have someone there for you, was it not?"
Gem thought for a second, then nodded. "Did I make an idiot of myself?" she asked.
"No more then the rest of us would in such a situation, dear..." Korey smiled warmly at her. "I even believe I am a tad envious of you, Gem."
"Me?" Gem almost squawked in surprise. "I don't really see much to be jealous of."
"Oh come now... you are friends with a beautiful woman who actually cares about who you are despite what you do." Putting down the blush, Korey surveyed the table. "Not all of us have someone we can confide in so much..." She spotted her mascara.
Gem shook her head slightly. "It's not that easy. She wants so much more from the relationship."
"Of course not... she's the affectionate kind."
"And it's more than I think I want to give," Gem continued, almost to herself.
"Why? Does it scare you? Or is it merely that it could intrude upon business?"
"A bit of both, really," Gem replied.
Korey nodded as she finished applying the makeup. "You know... we are a lonely race, me and you."
"Awfully," Gem said morosely. "I... I want to be closer to her, but I'm..."
Korey put a finger to Gem's lips. "Shhh... I know. But you're afraid of all that could happen if you did, the dangers you might bring... And although I know I must be preaching to the choir on this one, but... We should take those opportunities that we can. Else we might never find any on our own."
"It's just that there's so much I want to tell her, that I can't."
Korey simply asked "Why?"
"It's... It's..." Gem paused for a second, as if to speak. She then let out a sigh, and slowly shook her head. "I can't say."
Korey nodded in understanding. "Ah... a secret. So am I correct in saying that it is this secret which keeps you so from Eve?" Gem only nodded. "I see... have you told her this?"
"I think so. I intended to tell her when we were at the Edge of Night. Of course, I can't remember if I did."
Korey nodded and sat down on a chair across from Gem. "Well, why do you not tell her this time?"
"Because..." Gem hesitated. "I'm afraid if I tell her, I will lose her."
Korey frowned a little. "What is it that would be so terrible?" Gem merely shook her head. "Again, you can't tell me... yes..." Korey rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
"I'm sorry Korey," Gem said quietly. "I want you to trust me... But if I told you, you never could."
Korey smiled warmly at Gem and took her hand up in hers. "I'm glad you consider me a friend... and believe me, we all have secrets we do not want in the light of day."
Gem looked deeply into Korey's eyes. "So you understand?"
Korey nodded. "Oh yes... although sometimes... I have to wonder if the price I pay now to keep my secret a secret is worth the cost."
"It is, it has to be," Gem suddenly said.
"You believe so?" Korey laid a comforting hand on one shoulder.
"It has to be," Gem continued, as if she didn't see or hear Korey. "There's no way I'm giving this all up for nothing."
Korey looked at her for a few moments in silence, before pulling her into a warm hug. The girl gave a quiet sniff, yet remained motionless. "You going to be okay tonight? Or would you like to do this some other time?" Korey asked.
Gem shook her head. "Tonight's fine," she said. "I'm not going through this again." She wiped a tear from her face.
Korey looked at her with a concerned look on her face before handing the young woman a face cloth. "If you wish, you could tell me your big secret. I deal in industrial espionage on a daily basis, so keeping said secret would be no trouble to me."
"No, no." Gem shook her head frantically. "I can't tell anyone."
"Okay, okay dear... you don't have to say anything."
Gem glanced in the mirror and looked horrified. "Oh, I ruined my makeup!"
Korey glanced in the mirror. Under the running makeup, Gem had gone deathly pale. Korey turned Gem back to face her and began to clean her off using a damp face cloth. "It's okay, we do not really need you prepared this early."
"Shh, it's okay..." Korey smiled warmly at her as she finished cleaning off her face.
Gem checked herself one last time. She barely recognized her reflection in Korey's full-length mirror. She stood still, hands clasped before her, shoulders relaxed, looking the perfect image of a demure schoolgirl. Her makeup had been redone, and her hair was pulled into a pair of short pigtails.
She turned around and stood by the door, waiting. Korey had yet to give her the final details of the plan, such as how she was meant to let Korey into the lab. But for some reason, her friend had retired to her wardrobe before filling Gem in.
Korey suddenly emerged from the wardrobe, and Gem was shocked by her outfit. She was wearing a 'sailor suit' similar to Gem's. She had a long blonde wig on, and her eyes were now bright blue. Gem couldn't help but notice how good she looked in the uniform. "Like, wow!" Korey suddenly burst out in a vacuous voice. "We're actually going to go into an arcology!" She whispered the last word in a soft, breathy manner. "Totally awesome! Gem-chan, you are the best! Ever!" She struck a pose and giggled.
Gem stood rock still, staring at her in disbelief. Korey darted over and hugged her friend with a short hop, sending the skirt fluttering up. "Hey now, I'm acting, silly!" She smiled and tapped the tip of Gem's nose with her finger. "Ohhh, you are SUCH a good friend! I knew this one friend of mine, a REAL snob, and she like, wouldn't even let me in to see the Puma's her dad commands at that place, yah know? What a rip!"
Gem let out a little laugh, halfway between disbelief and embarrassment. "I get it now," she said, smiling. "I'm meant to show my 'friend' around the place, right?"
"Got it in one, sister! Wooo! Hey, introduce me to that hunk over there, hmmm?" Korey squealed, pointing straight at a suddenly confused Ray through the bedroom door. "Maybe I can get some extra curricular activity, ne?" Korey winked at her, and uttered another girlish giggle.
Gem giggled in return. "Oh, behave yourself. You're going to embarrass me in front of daddy."
Korey laughed her normal laugh and pulled away. "Yes... hmm... now, I had best use the strap on to carry my comp unit with me if I am going to carry it inside... or under the shirt. A backpack would be a tad too obvious."
"School bag," Gem said, pointing to the one Korey already carried. "You don't really think they'll search it?"
"I'd rather not take that chance. Corporations are a paranoid lot, and with good reason." Walking over to the closet, Korey withdrew a computer unit. It was battered, dirty, and scratched, but turned on with a flip of a switch.
"I guess you're right," Gem said. She retrieved her school bag from one corner, fished around in it for a few seconds and guiltily removed her pistol.
Korey shook her head. "Normally, I would not ask anyone assisting me on a mission to go unarmed, but you are supposed to be a simple school girl and we will be in the heart of S-T."
"Sorry," Gem said. "I just never thought they'd notice."
"It is no problem... merely keep in mind that you are a sixteen year old Japanese school girl, and act accordingly."
"You've taught me that well enough," Gem replied. "So what's your name going to be?"
"Why, it's Miss Amanda Surbrooke, of course!" She smiled and posed. "Forward... to boys!"
Gem shook her head. A smile suddenly played over her face. "Amanda... Why is it always boys with you?"
"Oh come on, why ISN'T it always with boys, ne?" *She smiled and winked at Gem.
Gem took up her school bag and motioned to the front door with her head. "It's all you ever go on about," she said over her shoulder.
"Hmmm... Well, I suppose I could get YOU into it as well." 'Amanda' sidled up alongside Gem. "That is, unless, you're still interested in her..."
"Leave it out, already," Gem replied as she lead her friend out the front door. "I told you I'm not interested in her."
"Oh... surrreee you're not... why, you're so not interested in her that you totally don't look at her everyday!" Smiling, Amanda skipped ahead teasingly.
"Amanda! You cut that out!" Gem said with a laugh as she ran after her friend.
The came to a gentle stop against the extended hallway as it pulled up to the main airport building.
"There it is," Korey said. "Ray, get into position."
Nodding, Ray, dressed in a limousine driver's uniform, picked up a sign with Ryoko's name in Japanese written on it and walked over to the exiting gate just as another limo driver entered the airport at a quick jog.
"Okay, Gem, ready?" Korey gave her partner a reassuring look as she stood and picked up her large black suitcase.
Gem nodded, shaking away the last of her nerves. Standing up, she gracefully stepped forward, mingling with the passengers departing from the plane. Korey held her back a moment as Ryoko came passing in front of them. The young Japanese student looked around for a few seconds before spotting Ray and going over to him. After they'd made a stop for her luggage, the two left.
Ryoko's original limo driver came to a stop, panting slightly as he held up his name sign. The two parted from the crowd of departing passengers and approached him.
"Miss Ryoko Kimazaki?" he asked. "Your father sent me here to pick you up... umm, who might this be?"
Oh, this is my friend Amanda Surbrooke," Gem replied faintly smiling. "She is fascinated by my father's work, and very much wanted to see his lab." She blushed slightly in embarrassment, before continuing. "I'm sorry I didn't mention it before now; it was a last-minute decision."
"Yeah! Wow, really blew my mind when she invited me along! Could you believe it?! A real Arcology! I mean, I never even got to see the one in Mega-Tokyo!" Korey beamed at the driver.
"I'm sure your father won't mind," the driver said. "Shall we go?"
Gem bowed slightly, thanking the driver. She nodded to Korey, and they followed him to the limousine.
<Little Ryoko!> Dr. Kimazaki said as he gave Gem a warm hug. <Oh, how good it is to see you again! And I see you have bought a friend with you.>
Korey subtlety checked out the surroundings with a cautious eye as father and 'daughter' hugged. For every day in the past week, Korey and Gem had spent hours upon hours studying the layout of the S-T arcology in general and the laboratory in particular. From their studies they had memorized the two level layout of this Research and Development branch. The section that Dr. Kimazaki had meet them in was the reception area, manned by a secretary. From here, Korey could see the open staircase that lead up to the second level where the main meeting room and numerous computer labs were held. The first level was peppered with hallways and large testing labs along with three main offices, as well as a large bathroom.
So far, everything had gone according to plan. They had made it into the arcology with a minimum of fuss while Ray had taken Ryoko on a lengthy tour of Neo York. Korey checked her watch idly. In a few minutes, the limousine would 'break down' in one of the nicer parts of Neo York, leaving Ryoko and Ray stranded.
<Daddy...> Gem said, and pulled away, blushing slightly. <This is my friend, Amanda. She wanted to see what the Arcology was like, so she came with me.> She paused in thought for a moment, then added <I'm sorry I didn't let you know in advance.>
Dr. Kimazaki gave Korey a glance. <Well... I'm sure it won't hurt to have your friend around.>
<Hey, thanks for showing me around, Dr. Kimazaki! Wow... this place is totally impressive!> Korey practically bounced up and down on the toes of her feet as she looked around the reception area.
<Amanda, please...> Gem looked clearly embarrassed with her friend's exuberance.
<Sorry, sorry... I forgot how shy you are.> Korey giggled a little and patted Gem's shoulder.
<It's okay, Little Kyoko,> replied Dr. Kimazaki. <Come now, we'll start with where I work.>
<Thank you, daddy,> Gem said.
Walking down the main hallway, Korey took in the sighs about her, offering comments along the way. The main hallway was wide enough for several people to walk through, and labs were kept behind thick sheets of industrial strength plastic framed between just as thick steel that allowed anyone a view inside without compromising safety should anything go wrong. As they reached the first fork in the hallway and started to turn right, to where Dr. Kimazaki's office lay, Korey looked to the left and spotted her destination.
<Oi, excuse me, Dr. Kimazaki... but where is the bathroom? I REALLY need to go...> Korey hopped up and down on one foot, her skirt blowing up a little and catching the eye of a few lab technicians.
<Oh, simply head down this way and take a right, go down two doors, and then turn left,> supplied the scientist.
<Thanks!> Turning, she gave Gem a wink and rushed down the hallway.
Gem turned to Dr. Kimazaki. <Shall we continue?> she asked. <I'm sure someone will point Amanda in our direction.>
<Of course, Little Ryoko. Now over here is where we synthesize new chemicals in a contained environment...>
Korey ran down the hallway, her skirt fluttering up as she ran, turned right and skirted down past the bathroom before coming to a stop. With a careful eye and a confused expression on her face, she turned around in a circle, and saw the security camera's located where the wall meet the ceiling at both ends of the hall. Beside her was an empty work station, the digital readout on the electronic lock reading a continuous "LOCKED" in neon green. Still continuing her confused act, Korey paced up the hallway and then back down, her eyes darting to her wrist watch.
"3... 2... 1..." she mouthed silently, her gaze going up to meet the now dead eyes of the camera. The door to the workstation popped open, the electronic display now reading "OPEN" and Korey ducked inside and closed the door. "I'll have to pay Knives another couple thousand for his good work," she whispered.
Shutting the door quietly, Korey looked up at the camera that monitored the work station and saw that it was as dead as the rest. She reached up behind her, in under her shirt, and pulled out the data unit, and then pulled a connector from her shoe and sat down at the computer console. With a flick, the data unit came on and she quickly plugged it into the already operating computer console. A glance at her watch showed that the ten minute window was already down to nine, and a beep from the data unit brought her attention back to it.
"Password? Doesn't anyone believe in trust anymore?" she mumbled as she quickly punched up a program and shattered the password. Within seconds, she was surfing the internal net of the R&D wing.
"Always amazes me how much information these people keep stored... almost a shame to take it." She glanced at her watch: eight and a half minutes left.
"Come on, come on... where are you?" she whispered fiercely as she drifted from one batch of information to another. "Damn... where can it be?"
The minutes ticked by ever so slowly, and Korey tensed a few times as the sound of footsteps moved up and down past the doorway. Another glance at the watch: five minutes.
"Ah-hah! There it is..." With minutes to spare, Korey began to download the folder, gigabytes of movie files, pictures, and formulas streaming onto the data unit with breakneck speed. "Too bad I don't have time for anything else. Allot of these other 'projects' could probably fetch a good price on the black market." With a beep, the computer announced the completion of it's task and Korey quickly logged off and shut down the data unit. With a minute to spare, she stuffed it back in under her shirt, strapped it in place, and, after checking to make sure the coast was clear, exited the work station and started to make her way back.
She paused at one of the labs, where a number of people in white lab coats were working on what looked like a complex set of electrical equipment.
Gem followed Dr. Kimazaki into his office, and he shut the door behind her. She made her way around the cluttered desk to find a spare chair on the other side. She looked up to her 'father,' and asked <Do you mind if I sit?>
<Go ahead,> he replied. They both sat, and Dr Kimazaki cleared a few papers off the desk in between them.
<Thank you so much for showing me around,> Gem said, bobbing her head slightly.
Dr Kimazaki leaned forwards, looking earnestly at Gem. <So. About Amanda.>
<Is something wrong?> Gem asked.
<Is she your new girlfriend?> He asked straight out.
Gem reeled back in shock. Her face turned bright crimson. <Wha... what?> she stammered, unable to believe what she had just heard. What had she gotten herself into? How could Korey's info have missed that fact? Unless...
He nodded in response, smiling slightly. <I know you and Junko were trying to keep it a secret, but a father can tell these things.> Gem sat in silence, barely able to believe her ears. <It's nothing to be ashamed of,> he continued warmly.
<Daddy > Gem began, uncertain as to what she was going to say.
<Amanda's not my girlfriend She's my friend, only we're not like that You understand?> Gem felt confused and unsure of what to say. This was beginning to sound all too familiar to her.
<I understand, dear,> he replied, holding his daughter's hand. <I haven't told your mother yet,> he said, <But I don't want to keep it a secret forever.>
<I just need to sort out what > Gem trailed off. Was this the girl she was playing? Or was she speaking her own truth. She shook her head to clear away her confusion. <I just need to understand what it is that I really want.>
Ken nodded understandingly. <If you ever need to talk about it, I'm always here.>
<Thanks, daddy,> Gem replied.
Gem glanced up at the ceiling as the alarm blared out loud. <Oh my,> she said, standing uneasily from her chair. She turned to her 'father' and asked <Daddy, what's happening?>
The door to Dr. Kimazaki's office opened up, a light wave of smoke moving in. Standing in the doorway was Korey, coughing, her hair and clothing soaked in water.
<Um, I think we're gonna have to bail out early, Dr. Kimazaki,> she said, coughing. <Something went screwy with a hunk of equipment and burst into flames!>
<What?> Gem yelled in panic as she stood.
<Keep calm, Girls,> The doctor said. HE stood and laid a hand on Gem's shoulder, then turned to Korey. <I'll show you to the fire escapes. Come on, we have to hurry.>
Dr. Kimazaki lead the two girls away from the building, his arms over their shoulders, coughing slightly. He realized that they had all overreacted; while the alarm was real, the risk was minimal, other than the threat of smoke inhalation.
<I'm sorry about this, girls,> he said, turning to look back at the building. <I really have no idea how it happened.>
Korey smiled and wiped a few bangs of hair out of her face. <It's alright, Dr. Kimazaki! Heck, I didn't think I'd see that happen in one of these places.>
<I'm sorry it had to happen on your visit,> he replied.
Gem held his hand, and shook her head. <Don't worry Daddy, it's not your fault.>
<Yeah, it's okay! Not like it was your fault or anything.> Korey shivered a little, and hugged herself. <I'm gonna have to grab a change of clothes before I catch a cold.>
Gem nodded her agreement. <We'd better head home, Daddy.>
<Alright,> Dr. Kimazaki replied. She turned to Korey, with an apologetic look on his face. <I'm afraid we have to cut your journey short here.>
Korey bowed to him. <It's okay. Heck, I got to see an Arcology first hand. Not many can say that without working there.>
He nodded in response. <Excuse me for a second,> he said, and left to girls to talk to a group of his coworkers.
Gem leaned in and hugged Korey. She quietly whispered "Did you get it?"
Korey nodded and whispered back. "Of course. Although it was a shame about that equipment. It was a rather expensive piece of computer hardware. But at least the commotion got us out sooner."
Gem leaned back, nodding, and placed her hand on Korey's shoulder. <You'll be alright, won't you?> She asked, slipping back into character.
Korey nodded. <Yes! I've got a spare change of clothes in my luggage. But thank you SO much for this!> She wrapped her arms about Gem and gave her a big hug. <I'll catch you on the plane tomorrow, Gem-chan!>
"Watch the name," Gem hissed quietly at Korey. Dr. Kimazaki glanced back at the girls, a concerned look on his face.
Korey smiled, not missing a beat, and waved to the scientist before leaving. <Don't forget, Gem- chan! The plane leaves at eight!>
<Gem?> Dr Kimazaki asked as he walked back to her.
Gem turned back to him. <Uh... It's her nickname for me,> she replied, uncertainly.
Not too long later, Gem found herself waiting in the hall of an apartment block inside the Shiroko-Tsuhi arcology. Her 'father' Ken Kimazaki had led her here from the lab, insisting that she had to stay the night with the family. As nervous as she was, Gem couldn't refuse; otherwise, her cover would be instantly blown.
Ken turned the handle and swung the door wide open. <I'm home!> he called out as he entered. Gem followed quietly behind him into the apartment. She stopped on the threshold, almost gaping at the sight before her.
The apartment as she could see was light and spacious. The main room was dominated by a curving floor-to-ceiling window that opened out onto the spacious balcony beyond. The walls were decorated with a few hangings, all traditional Japanese paintings. To her right, she could see a kitchenette and a separate dining room. Several doors led off from the dining room to the family's bedrooms and the like.
An attractive Japanese woman stepped out of the kitchenette to greet them, but was immediately overcome. Gem recognized her from the brief as her 'mother,' Setsuko Kimazaki. Gem stepped forward and bowed to her, saying <I'm pleased to see you again.> Setsuko bowed in return, then rushed forwards and wrapped her up in a huge hug. Gem was overcome, uncertain what to do. <Mother...> she said.
<You don't have to be so formal with me, dear,> Setsuko said. She let Gem go and stepped back, looking her up and down as Ken headed into the main room. <You really are looking after yourself well.>
Gem nodded her agreement. Setsuko stood there, apparently waiting for something. Gem smiled weakly, and found herself overcome with genuine emotion. She stepped forwards and wrapped the woman up in a hug of her own <I've missed you, mum,> she said, holding back her tears.
<Alright, alright,> Setsuko said, somewhat confused. She glanced at Ken, who had already set himself up on the couch, reading a newspaper. He merely shrugged in response. Gem finally let Setsuko go. The older woman knelt down slightly, looking at Gem's tear-streaked face. <There's no need to get like that.> She tousled Gem's hair then pulled a tissue from her pocket and proceeded to clean her 'daughter's' face.
<Sorry, mother,> was all Gem could say.
<You know you can visit us any time you like,> she replied. She straightened up, and turned towards the dining room. <Kiki!> she called out. <Your sister's here!>
A few seconds later, one of the doors swung open and a girl stepped out. She looked remarkably like Gem, with longer hair, a touch shorter in height, and younger. <Hi sis,> she said back.
<Kiki!> Setsuko said, clearly angry with her daughter. <Come and greet your sister properly.>
<Mum, it's alright,> Gem said, holding her 'mother's' hand.
Kiki approached the two of them. She bowed to Gem, saying <It's good to see you again.> Gem awkwardly returned the bow.
Setsuko shook her head at her younger daughter. <Alright, I'll leave you two to catch up. Ryoko?> Gem looked up at her. <Get changed for dinner, it'll be ready soon.>
Setsuko returned to the kitchen, while Kiki immediately headed back to her room, leaving Gem standing on the spot. <Well?> Kiki said, turning to Gem. <Come on!>
Gem nodded, and followed her 'sister.'
<I don't believe it...> Gem moaned. She dropped her hand controller, watching the TV screen in her cluttered bedroom as Kiki's fighter, a young man who looked suspiciously like a current Japanese pop idol, did a victory pose.
<C'mon, sis, you were always better at this game than me.> Kiki responded. <Are you out of practice, or something?>
The two of them lay face down in their pajamas on their beds, facing the TV set on the floor. Gem was surprised that the two sisters still shared a room, even though there was barely anything of Ryoko's in sight.
She figured that she had stood up well to her 'parents' interrogation over dinner. School was fine. No, she didn't have a boyfriend. Yes, she was doing well in classes. Yes, she was eating well and yes, she was cleaning up her own apartment. She felt oddly touched by the scene; it was so unfamiliar to her, yet it felt right; as if she belonged in a home like this.
Then of course she and Kiki were left to their own devices. Kiki, she'd discovered was obsessed with video games and young musicians, and hadn't stopped talking about either since dinner. Gem had challenged her to a game, partly out of curiosity but mostly to divert the subject away from topics she had no knowledge of.
Kiki grinned in excitement. <Well, seems like I'm now the undisputed champion around here!> she called out, then immediately clamped a hand over her mouth.
Soon enough, Setsuko opened the door and looked in on her daughters. She sighed, hands on her hips. <You two are supposed to be asleep. You've got school tomorrow, Kiki, and Ryoko's got a plane to catch.>
<Sorry, mother. It's my fault,> Gem said instantly.
<You take the blame for everything, Ryoko,> Setsuko responded. <Alright, quiet the pair of you.>
<Yes, mum,> they chorused. Setsuko switched off the television, and shut their door.
<Guess we'd better, huh?> Kiki said. Gem nodded and the pair of them lay back. They switched off their bed lamps and lay in silence for a while.
<Sis?> Kiki's voice interrupted Gem's thoughts.
<What?> Gem replied.
<What's it like living alone?> Kiki asked.
Gem mulled it over for a few seconds. She had a pretty good idea of Ryoko's situation back in Japan, but how did that relate to her? Then she realized just how she felt. She had been living alone for a while now, until she'd found comfort in her newfound friends Zenshou, Kami and Korey.
<It's nothing next to this,> she finally replied.
<But you get to do whatever you want,> Kiki replied. <And you don't have mum badgering you all the time.>
<Believe me, I'd rather put up with her.>
<How come?> Kiki asked, genuinely surprised.
Gem looked up at the ceiling. <Take night times,> she said. <When I go to bed, I just lie down, and wait. It's so dull, not having anyone else there.>
Kiki seemed shocked. <So what, you actually miss me chattering away?>
Gem thought for a long time. That was what she missed. She hadn't felt so close to someone in a long time, someone she could so readily chat with aimlessly. <Yeah...> she said. <That's precisely it.>
<Huh,> Kiki replied. <You've gotten weird.> Gem shrugged in her bed. <Good night, Ryoko,> Kiki said.
<Goodnight, sis,> Gem replied with all her heart.
"Here you go, Eve. I hope you enjoy plain old tea. It is about the only thing I can afford these days," said Korey as she handed Kami a steaming cup of tea before sitting down at her desk. The morning sun shined in through the partially blinded windows, reflecting off the dark brown finish of the desk.
"That's Kami." She replied picking up the glass of tea. She closed her eyes and inhaled the steam, "I haven't had a glass of tea since moving to the zone, its just not something people other than yakuza bring in. And they only bring ocha."
"Japanese green tea is supposedly better for you then plain old black tea. It has something to do with natural herbs, I believe." Korey sipped her tea lightly. "Eve... I wish to apologize for abducting you the last time we meet."
"Um, thanks." She replied still inhaling the tea, but opening one eye to give her a dirty look. "I know its supposed to be better, but the companionship leaves a lot to be desired. I prefer companions like you."
"Ah... why thank you. But, to get back to my apology, I was working under the influence that you and Gem were runaways, and had assumed you had stolen some valuable piece of corporate property." Korey sipped at her tea slowly.
"Sounds like the bastard." Kami replied, thinking for a moment. "So how long did you research Gem and I?"
Korey set her cup down before replying. "About a week... I wanted a chance to see how you two acted both alone and together. However, I should have watched longer. Your combat skills were nothing like I'd imagine they would be."
"Thanks." Kami snickered to herself. "If you were following me earlier, you would have gotten to see me take out a high-level yakuza assassin."
Korey arched an eyebrow. "I see... And again, I do apologize. I do not wish there to be any bad blood between us, Eve. We have much to work on to root out any and all links that Mr. Harris had with the slave traders."
She looked up at Korey, guessing where the conversation was going. She then sipped her tea. "Ouch!"
"Are you all right?"
"Just hotter than I'm used to, that's all." She licked her lips.
"I should have allowed the tea some time to cool off. So tell me, Eve, is there any bad blood between us? Because if so, then we should either work it out or not work together at all." Korey stared at her as she awaited an answer.
Kami hesitated before answering, recalling the incidents of the night. "You seemed to prove yourself in the aircraft. I don't see any reason to hold a grudge."
Korey looked relieved at that and went to reply when the door opened.
Gem's familiar voice called out from the hallway. "Korey, I'm back." She headed down the hall to the main room, shrugging her backpack off her shoulders. "It was kinda fun there, but let me tell you, your info on Ryoko had a huge-" Gem stopped as she looked up at Korey, and saw Kami sitting with her, gaping at Gem.
Kami couldn't help but stare. Her friend looked adorable in a classic Japanese 'sailor suit' uniform, complete with pleated blue skirt, dainty black shoes, long white socks and blue bow. Most notably, heir hair was pulled into a pair of short pigtails.
"Gem?" Kami jumped up from her chair, only to run over and hug Gem. "Kawai!"
Gem stood still, seemingly paralyzed in fear as Kami hugged her tightly.
Korey blinked for a moment before realization hit her. "Oh! I had completely forgotten, Gem! I had asked Kami over so that we might discuss the investigation of those slavers."
Gem stared straight ahead, voice gripped with fear. "I think I found a new blush moment," she said. Kami slunk around behind Gem, wrapping one arm over shoulders and looked at Korey from behind her.
"She's so cute when she blushes," Kami giggled.
"I... uh, this isn't what it looks like, Kami," Gem said nervously.
"Well... I had best finish up this report for Angel... oh, and I'll be able to pay you this afternoon, Gem." Korey arched a sly eyebrow. "That should give you two ample time to enjoy one another's company."
"That's okay. Think of it as improvising," Kami giggled.
"Ackkk!" Gem screamed in panic.
Korey waved at them idly with a hand, her mind already on the work before her. "Take care you two."
"We will!" Kami waved good bye with her free hand.
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