[This takes place right after Roses Are Red]
Standing in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria, Marta felt herself give an involuntary shudder. She was on an emotional rollercoaster, and her fight or flight mechanisms weren't allowed to do anything useful with all the adrenaline she'd built up. Punching the car window had helped, although now her hand hurt as well. She'd rather have taken her aggression out on Jason Stone, who seemed oblivious to her pain, but belting the CEO of multinational was never a good idea.
Of course it was too be expected that Stone didn't care about her needs. It wasn't exactly like she cared about his. It was as she'd told Zenshou, Stone had hired to her to assist him in a rescue mission, which had translated to killing a bunch of people who were probably better of dead. Everything had been going just fine too, right up until a building had fallen on her and an esper that apparently no one had known about had made her his puppet.
That more than anything was what galled her. She'd been controlled. Controlled! She'd been taken and made the plaything of some fucking esper! She'd lost all sense of self, of independence, of awareness of who she was and what she could do. All that money on fancy cybernetics for naught. She couldn't protect herself, much less Jason Stone or Sandra Blackmore.
And Jason Stone acted like it was no big deal. To him, perhaps, it wasn't. She was just a hireling, a disposable hireling at that, brought on to do a one-shot job. That she'd been controlled by an esper? Apparently that came with the territory, she should accept it and move on. Hell, Jason seemed to be moving on quite well himself. It wasn't more than a week since that mess in the Zone and already Jason had hooked himself up with some curvaceous blonde trophy. Apparently Jason changed girlfriends the way most people changed their socks.
"I'll leave you two to your business. Take care of yourselves."
Marta blinked and looked up. Jason had just spoken, talking to both her and her sister, who leaned on the front counter with her typical aristocratic air, as if deigning to wait in the lobby should be counted as a favor to the people round her. Normally Marta despised the act, but inwardly she had to grin. Arrogant Mr. Jason Stone was about to meet his match in her sister. Hell, her sister made CEOs like Stone quake in their Gucci loafers! This should be entertaining.
"You're welcome, Mr. Stone," Shion replied in her incredibly sexy voice (and Marta had to admit, her sister did sound like a simsense sex star when she talked) to Stone's retreating back.
Jason Stone's response was to stop short and look around with surprise. Zenshou whispered something in his ear, which made Marta wonder what was up with her. As far as Marta knew, the two had been together for only a few days, but Zenshou seemed to think she "knew" Stone. Marta also wondered if Sandra "knew" Stone.
"I am glad Ms. Nys." Jason said with a nod." I am glad for your intervention, which changed what would have been a very unfortunate outcome." Marta had to blink at that. Apparently Stone's sister had died during the op, which seemed pretty damn unfortunate right there. Of course, he was also correct, she and Drake killing each other would have been bad to say the least. Then the elevator opened and took Jason Stone and his girl Zenshou away.
Marta watched the doors close before speaking. "Care to explain what that was about?"
Shion stepped away from the front desk to stand next to her sister. "In saving you from that esper, I also saved Stone," she explained. "You would think he'd thank me for it."
"Jason Stone strikes me as the sort that doesn't thank anyone for anything." Marta replied. "He's... arrogant. And so fucking sure of himself that I want to punch him a few times, just to see if I can wipe that self-satisfied smirk off his face."
"Jason Stone is the CEO of a up-and-coming multinational," Shion replied. "Self-satisfied smirks are to be expected."
"Very funny." Marta glanced over at Shion, and then broke into a smile. "Thanks for coming."
Shion paused for a moment and then smiled in return. "You're my sister. Besides, the last thing I need is Ling Ling calling me in the middle of the night trying to find you."
"Ling Ling." Marta gave a slight gasp. "She's gonna kill me. What am I gonna tell her? What am I going to do?"
"Wha..." Marta was taken aback by the unexpected statement.
"Marta," Shion said in a soothing tone, "You're exhausted. You look like hell, and you need some rest. So get in the car and let me take you back to my place. I'll put you up in a spare room and after you've had a good night's sleep, we'll decide what to do next."
Opening her eyes, Marta took a deep breath and then sat up, wiping long strands of hair out of her face. She was in one of her sister's spare bedrooms, the one that she and Ling Ling had shared earlier in the year when they'd gone out to a Zone nightclub together. Marta relished that memory, mainly due to the fact that once they'd come back to Shion's apartment, she and Ling Ling had ended up making love in Shion's pool, before retiring to the bed for another bout of pleasure.
Wrapping her arms across her chest, Marta gave a pleased sigh and smiled at the recollection. That had been quite an enjoyable experience, not to mention getting a chance to try out her sister's absolutely opulent shower and expansive waterbed. She needed to do stuff like that more often. Perhaps she'd make it up to Ling Ling by taking her somewhere... maybe back home to Sydney, or someplace they'd never been before, like Vancouver. Actually, some place like Vancouver wasn't a bad idea. Thick forests, tall mountains, snow, and hot tubs. Large hot tubs.
The mental image of a nude Ling Ling in a large steaming hot tub was more than enough to make Marta's nipples harden, at which point her fingers began to caress the round firmness of her breasts and wandered down to explore the space between her legs. Pausing only to give a loud gasp of pleasure, she decided to go find her sister in a bit.
Feeling sated, Marta lay sprawled on the bed amid a tangle of sheets and blankets, her chest rising and falling with each deep breath as she idly stroked one nipple with the tip of her finger. The thought of doing the same to Ling Ling's much larger, thicker nipples was almost enough to make her forget finding her sister and simply opt for another workout. Instead, she gave a deep sigh and sat up. She needed to talk to her sister, not lay in bed and masturbate.
Her clothing was laying over a chair, but Marta decided to go for the kimono her sister had left for her. The feel of the smooth silk against her skin was as delightful as the decedent idea of lounging around Shion's absurdly luxurious apartment in nothing more than a thin robe. Not like she didn't do the same at home, but it was the principle of the thing.
The one thing that amazed Marta the most about her sister's penthouse apartment had to be the faint scent of chlorine that was detectable all through it. It wasn't the smell that amazed Marta—there was nothing special about that—it was the fact that the smell came from the swimming pool that took up a significant portion of the lower floor. Having your own indoor heated swimming pool had to be the ultimate in luxury in Marta's opinion. That had to be the best part of her sister's penthouse... although the shower was a close second... followed by that king-sized waterbed. One day she had to borrow the penthouse keys and make love to Ling Ling in said waterbed.
Musing on the subject of the erotic possibilities inherent in her sister's bedroom furnishings, Marta made her way down the spiral stairs to the lower floor. She wasn't sure where her sister was exactly, but figured that the pool was a good a place to start as any. Of course, it was just her luck to hear sound coming from the entertainment center as she stepped off the stairs, ending her search (and chances for a swim) right then and there.
Turning the corner, Marta glanced into the Shion's TV room. Her sister was lounging on a couch set in the center of the room, her attention directed to the flatscreen television that dominated the far wall. Two men, one armed with a sword, the other with a pistol, were on the screen, engaged in life-or-death duel in front of a circular stained-glass widow. Marta found herself watching the scene for a moment, before finally clearing her throat.
There was a momentary sense of elation at seeing her sister start, even if it was ever so slightly. Marta took her victories where she could get them.
Pausing to finish of the contents of a glass held loosely in one hand, Shion stood, pulling the belt of her robe tight. She looked perfectly rested and at ease, which made Marta wonder exactly how long she had been out. She'd met with Jason Stone at around dusk, but now the view through the living room windows was that of Neo York late at night.
"You feeling better?" Shion asked. Behind her on the video screen the church exploded, giving Marta a sudden sense of deja vu, and sending the gunman flying through the shattered stained glass window.
"Yes," Marta answered slowly. "How long was I out?"
Shion shrugged. "About six hours, maybe more. You needed the rest."
"Thanks." Marta's stomach abruptly growled, effectively ruining the moment. "Uhm... can I get something to eat?"
Considering that her sister was absolutely loaded, Marta had to marvel at how empty Shion's kitchen was. Apparently anything that involved more work than putting it in the microwave to prepare was not for the Empress. On the other hand, Marta did have to admit her sister did have an amazing store of frozen meals and instant noodle bowls. She opted for the latter, and ended up sitting on a stool in the breakfast par, slurping down udon and broth as her sister munched on crackers and slices of cheese.
"I have to ask," Marta said around a mouthful of noodles. "Is he dead?"
Taking a delicate bite from a square of cheese, Shion glanced at her sister. "Is who dead?"
"You know who I mean. That esper, the one that attacked me."
"Oh..." Shion finished off the cheese and the cracker it was resting on. "Trust me, he's dead."
With a sigh of frustration, Marta tilted the bowl to her lips and swallowed some broth. "I bet you killed him too quick... What'd you do to him?"
Staring at the cracker she was about to eat, Shion placed it back on the plate before dabbing at her mouth with a napkin. "Why do you want to know? Is it that important?"
Picking up another cracker, Shion intently cut a slice of cheese, placing it on the cracker with undo care. "Soon after I arrived, someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade at me, which detonated and collapsed the building I was standing in. I managed to teleport out right before it dropped, and ended up near a powerful esper signature. This same signature tried to hit me with... with some form of talent, at which point I flattened him into the ground." She ate the cracker, taking a drink of wine before continuing. "I didn't kill him, but I did make sure he couldn't move. Instead, I took him with me to the remotest place I know."
Staring at her sister over the brim of the bowl, Marta chewed slowly on a mouthful of noodles. "And left him there?"
"Of course not," Shion replied with an almost disdainful look. "It was there I killed him." Glancing at her sister's expression she continued, "I took my hand, formed it into a fist, and used it to shatter his chest." Holding her clenched fist in the air, Shion stared at her sister's face. "Happy now?"
"Happy?" Marta looked surprised. "No, I'm not happy. I think I agree with Stone. He died too fast. But I can live with it."
Snapping a cracker in two between her fingers, Shion ate one half. "Sorry to disappoint you so... but I was in a bit of a rush."
"I..." Marta swallowed, taking her comment with her. "Never mind. It doesn't matter. He's dead and I'm not. And besides..." she managed a wry smile," I bet you scared the shit out him."
"You could say that."
Marta returned to her bowl of noodles as Shion chewed thoughtfully on another slice of cheese.
"Next?" Marta thought for a moment. "I... I'm not sure. I think I want to see where it happened again. Where we ran into all those guys with brown armbands. See if anything is happening there, or if anything is left."
"You sure you want to do this?" Shion said over another sip of wine.
"No, but I'm going anyway."
Shion set the glass down. "How soon we forget. I'm going with you. I said I was going to."
Marta pushed her hair back from her face, staring down into the now-empty bowl of noodles. "Why?"
"Why? Isn't my being your sister reason enough?" Shion stood and started to return the cheese and crackers to their respective storage containers. "Or that fact that if I lost you I think I'd go insane? Don't you think I get tired of being along all the time?"
"I..." Marta stopped, uncertain of what to say. The last time they'd had this discussion, it had ended in a virtual screaming match. "Uhm... what about Raven?"
"What about her?" Shion looked across the counter at Marta. "Yes, she's my friend, and I think my only friend, just like you're my only sister."
"oh..." Marta replied in a small voice. This aspect of Shion was something new, something she'd never seen exactly. It scared her, after a fashion, even if it was exactly what she'd been trying to get her sister to do for years. To open up, to be less of the ice bitch and more like a real human being. Granted, that was easier said than done, but she'd kept trying.
So," Marta asked, trying to keep an even tone. "When do we leave?"
Neo York in June. It was warm, but comfortably so, and not yet the devastating heat of July. There were even fresh breezes, and the occasional rain shower to cool things off. Come July and August, it was positively hot, and the showers turned into brutal thunderstorms that hammered the city for a short period before moving on and leaving a steamy humid mess behind.
Come June, Alan Davies liked to be inside, where it was cool. Preferably working the nightshift, where heat-shortened tempers made people do stupid things, and people doing stupid things was often a ripe opportunity for making money.
The one thing he didn't like to be doing was standing outside, especially standing outside pulling guard duty on the Willamsburg Bridge. There was little shade and less wind, while the river below, fed with plenty of bright sun and corporate runoff, become a mass of sluggish algae that stank to high heaven and beyond.
Standing on the bridge, looking out through the thick mesh of the gate, Alan stared at the desolate expanse of the Zone. It was amazing. At night it was a black mass, broken by only the occasional bright spot of light. During the day it was a sea of gray and brown, shot through with masses of green. More green than Alan had ever seen in once space before, unless you discounted gardens under the biodomes that covered Central Park. In between the green masses was the silver glitter of solar collectors, which seemed to decorate any open rooftop.
Alan shook his head and looked back down the bridge. The Zone was home to crazies and lowlifes. Better if it was all firebombed flat. Better still if his sometime coworker Karen McMillian was sent over first.
"Hey, wake up."
The voice belonged to his current partner and fellow bridge guard, Officer Leona Ozaki. Like Karen, she was short, but there the similarities ended. Leona had short reddish-brown hair and a temper to match, and unlike Karen was in excellent physical shape and more than happy to introduce people to the business end of her issue submachine gun. She was firmly on Alan's "cannot be pushed around" list and was rapidly edging towards the "do not fuck with" list.
"I was awake" He replied, trying not to sound too angry. He wasn't about to start pushing her. People who pushed Leona got hurt. "So what's so important?"
Leona nodded towards the far end of the bridge. "We've got company."
"Uh-huh." He turned around, looking back to the Neo York end of the bridge, still mentally counting down the minutes until the end of his shift. Please let it be somebody who wants to just go away quietly, he thought. I don't need trouble with Little Miss Hell here.
Two women were walking up the bridge, coming right down the middle of the road as if they owned it. One was short—Alan figured her to be about Leona's size—with a long black hair and an even longer black coat. The breeze caught both and artistically made them flutter out behind her. The other was...
The other was tall, with a flowing mass of white hair that rippled in the wind along with her ankle-length coat. Alan could see a black jumpsuit under the coat and plates of white body armor. The was no mistaking that face and figure. It was...
"It's the Empress." Leona breathed, her hand tightening on the butt of her slung submachine gun.
Alan swallowed. The closest he'd ever come to dealing with her had been over the phone, when he'd managed to not track down and recover her stolen car. Ozaki had been part of that, and apparently had come out some several thousand dollars richer. Money Alan knew had come out of Shion's car. Talking to Shion over the phone was the closest he ever wanted to get to her. He'd seen the film where she'd stopped a tank round and knew exactly how much use his issue sidearms would be. He'd have better luck if he spit on her.
He swallowed again and stood up, ramrod straight. I'll play this by the book, he thought. I'll be professional and calm. I won't draw attention to myself. Hopefully, she won't remember me.
"Good morning." The voice was a soft purr, the sort Alan associated with sexroids and not all-powerful esper weapons. Standing this close Alan realized that the so-called "Empress" looked like a sexroid as well. She was his height, with long legs and a figure that even her breast-and-back armor couldn't disguise. Flowing white hair, cool gray eyes, and a narrow featured face, she was the epitome of the male adolescent wetdream. Actually, Alan had to mentally admit, he'd seen the pics of her circulated on the net. She was pretty much his perfect wetdream too.
"Yes ma'am," Alan answered, cutting off Leona before she could even open her mouth. "How can Neo York's finest help you?"
"We need to enter the Zero Law Enforcement Zone." The black-haired woman gave her companion a strange look, at which point Alan did his best not to start. There was no mistaking that face and figure either. She'd been with Sandra when she'd driven into the Zone about a week back. That same night there'd been some big dust up out there, and... and the Empress had come blasting over the bridge and out into the Zone. He really hoped his shift would be over before anything like that happened today.
"C-Certainly" he nervously replied, trying not to meet the woman's gaze. He headed over to the checkpoint gate, looking firmly at it and not Shion, the other woman, or Leona, who was probably glaring death at him right now. Stuff moneymaking, he thought. And stuff what Leona thinks. If she finds out who I am, I'm dead. Very, very dead.
Opening the pedestrian gate with one hand, Alan pushed the door in with the other. On the other side was a short tunnel formed from wire mesh. The other side ended in another gate, which opened to the Zone proper. "Here you go ma'am. And may I recommend you keep your ID card safe and secure for your return." Trying not to sweat, Alan stepped back.
"Thank you." She even sounded like she meant it. Her much shorter companion give Shion another strange look and shook her head, but kept her hands jammed deep in her coat pockets. She also walked through first, pacing off the twenty-plus yards without a backwards glance.
It was with an internal sigh of relief that Alan watched Shion step past him. Safe!
"Oh, by the way," The Empress turned to look back at Alan. "Have we met?"
Alan froze in his tracks. When he was dealing with her car, she'd only spoken to her, but never seen her face to face. "Uh, no. We haven't." Alan replied, nervously. "I'd definitely remember If I'd ever met you before in person." He added, then stopped. I probably didn't mean to say that, he thought. Crap. Crap. Crap.
"Your voice sounds familiar." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "What did you say your name was?"
Crap crap crap. Improvise. "Um, Lt. Adrian Fredricks" Yeah. She'll buy that.
"Shion!" called the black-haired woman. "C'mon! We've got work to do!"
Shion gave Alan a curious look and then shrugged. "Never mind." Much to Alan's relief she turned and walked down the tunnel.
He sighed and closed the checkpoint, staring out at the two figures as they vanished into the distance. That was too close. He'd rather be doing SWAT duty than that again.
Leona looked Alan up and down. "What's your problem? You're shaking like a leaf."
"Uh..." He thought about it. He didn't really want to tell Leona what he'd been up to. "It's nerves. I've never met someone as famous, rich, beautiful or god-awfully powerful as her before," he lied, badly
Leona simply stared at him. "You've gotta be fuckin' kidding me," was her reply. Much to Alan's relief she adjusted the strap on her submachinegun and then turned away. "You're lucky Alan. If she realized you're the one who lost her car you'd be a grease spot now. Remember that."
Alan stared at Leona's retreating back. Bitch he thought. But he caught her drift. She was going to the very top of his "do not fuck with " list and staying there for all eternity.
Marta stared at her surroundings. The Zone, which hadn't looked like all that much at night, looked even worse in broad daylight. Here, at the foot of the check point, was a maze of concrete barriers, wrecked vehicles, craters, and bits and pieces of junk. Thick masses of weeds grew where the asphalt had been broken and shattered, and most of the nearby buildings had been razed. It looked like a war zone.
Her sister seemed to be taking it all in stride, however, and was walking off to the east without a second glance. Grumbling under her breath, Marta quickened her own pace and set out after her.
Marta had heard of the Zone, but had never seen it, at least until recently. She had half-expected something that looked like the more run-down sections of old Hong Kong, but nothing like this. It was far empty than she expected, and was apparently an endless collection of ruined buildings. There were occasional bright bits that stood out, such as the building labeled the "Edge of Night" which sat across from the checkpoint, surrounded by protective walls of razorwire. It was the exact same nightclub that Marta had visited a while back with her sister and Ling Ling, except now all the neon was turned off and the building's weathered state was readily apparent.
Ducking around a tree, and staring for a moment at the wreckage of a car that had been smashed into a collapsed store front, Marta called after her sister. "Hey?! Why are we walking in? Why can't we... I dunno, fly or teleport or something?"
Up ahead, Shion shrugged, "I'd rather not attract attention to ourselves at this moment. Besides, last time, I came in at night and followed the smoke to where you were fighting. I'm not sure where that is, exactly, so teleporting is out. I'll fly us up in a bit, once we're away from the checkpoint."
Glancing back over her shoulder, Marta noted that the checkpoint did have a lot of guns pointed out in their general direction. Their normal job was to get rid of overeager gangers, but they could easily be used to gun down a single street-samurai. Of course, Marta also figured that even a bunch as corrupt as the NYPD wouldn't fire on her with her sister so close. Who would be dumb enough to try and shoot the Empress in the back? What if you missed?
"Good point." Marta kicked a bit of rubble out of her way and resumed walking. The further she got from the freaks of the NYPD, the better.
If there was a plus side to the whole situation, it was that the air was fairly clean, the sky was bright, and the sheer amount of green was staggering. That also reminded her of Hong Kong, which still had a lot of wooded bits, especially on the sides of the taller mountains. Apparently, natural growth made for good feng shui, and even in the 21st century, old traditions died hard.
The general look of the landscape also reminded Marta of something else. Something that her sister might be interested in.
"Hey, Shee. Didya know that someone blew up Jason Stone's house? Totally shot the shit out of it."
"Really?" Shion glanced back over her shoulder. "Any idea who did it?"
"Nope. But knowing Jason's attitude, it could be anyone."
"I wonder what this will do to his stock." Shion mused out loud. "Perhaps I should buy some more if the price drops."
"What?!" Marta exclaimed coming to a stop and staring at her sister's back. "You own stock in Stone's company.?!"
"Of course. About one hundred shares. I also own stock in the Daitokuji Financial Group, Mitsumi, Jinsei, and others. Quite a bit actually. It's often included in my pay."
Now it was Shion's turn to stop. Turning around, she placed her hands on her hips and returned her sister a critical look. "Why do you think?"
"Ah..." Marta replied intelligently. Why would her sister have stock in other companies? Aside from the obvious monetary benefits of course. "Err..."
"Ask Ling Ling some time, she'll tell you."
"Ling Ling has stocks?"
"Of course she does, and mostly for the same reasons I do."
Marta had to think about that. Business, at least this aspect of business, wasn't her strong suit. Oh, she knew who were the major corporate players, and who made what, and where to go for the best in a particular item, but she never really thought much about the business side of big business, except how it could make her money. Ling Ling was the one who handled that. She was always on the phone, or deep in the matrix, researching this or looking that up. It was a part of her work, which was getting stuff for those who didn't want to go through the trouble of trying to find and buy it themselves. Hell, Ling Ling had a place down near the harbor that was there solely to hold all the crap people asked her to get. It was also where she met clients who were picking their gear up, unless it was small enough to hand over somewhere nicer. Like a good restaurant. Ling Ling liked to project an inscrutable air at all times.
"Okay, I give."
Continuing her walk, Shion held up one hand and started to count off. "One, stocks make it easier for clients to pay me at times. Sure, they normally budget a lot of money for freelance operatives like myself, but I don't come cheap, and stocks are easier to issue then straight cash. Second, stocks are fairly reliable, especially those from the clients I usually work for. And if I watch the market, I can increase my worth by buying and selling at the right times. And finally, owning stock makes me a stockholder, and stockholders are allowed to vote on certain aspects of corporate policy."
"Oh..." All of a sudden, Marta wanted to be back in Hong Kong, talking to Ling Ling about the exact same subject. Maybe curled up naked in bed with cups of plum wine.
"Are you listening to me?" Shion's question was phrased in a tone of voice that made it obvious she'd just missed something.
"Uhm... what was that?"
Shion sighed and then started over. "Finally, the most important reason is that as a stockholder the corporations send me yearly reports on how the company did the year before. Which means I get a financial report anywhere from every quarter to annually, so I get an inside look at how the company is doing."
"But, you can get that off the net anytime!"
"Can you?" Shion waved at the skyline of Neo York behind her. "The corporate reports come straight from the company, and are usually very accurate, as they are read by anyone with stock, and that includes the CEOs. They also tell me what they've been up to, and where they are planning to go. No speculation, no theories. And it's free. Sent out at company expense."
Marta had to admit her sister had a point. Now she really wanted to talk to Ling Ling. "But Jason Stone's? That seems..."
"Wrong?" Shion shrugged, "I bought that before this ever happened. In fact, I picked up my stock when he took over a few years ago and the company was in a bit of a flux. The stock was cheap and one hundred shares was easy to get. Now, the value has about doubled and I see no reason to sell. Actually," she smiled at the thought. "Perhaps I should attend to next shareholder's meeting in person. That should shake a few people up."
With a sigh Marta jammed her hands into her coat. On of these days she was going to be right and her sister was going to be wrong.
Their discussion had taken them into an area of more population. The empty lots looked more like gardens and less like masses of weeds. The buildings weren't quite so run down. There were actual cars and bikes on the sides of the street. And there were people.
Coming from Hong Kong, Marta was used to diversity in a street crowd. But, she wasn't prepared for how... worn everyone looked. Cyberware didn't glitter brightly, but was more dull gunmetal. Clothing was faded, patched, and stained. Weapons, and there were a lot of weapons, all looked like they'd seen a lot of use, and also looked to be carefully maintained. What Marta found to be most interesting, however, was the reaction people had to their passage. No one really paid attention to her, but her sister attracted stares and people actually crossed the street to stay out of her way. Crazy.
After a while Marta reached and tapped her sister's arm. "Hey, what is this?"
"The Zone." Marta couldn't tell if her sister was being a smart ass or not, but she severely suspected it.
"No!" Marta swung her arm in a wide arc. "Where are we in this Zone? What is this area?"
Shion paused for a moment and glanced around. "This is the Entertainment District. This is where are the bars, nightclubs, strip joints, and brothels are located."
Marta glanced around as well. The street was fairly clean, and there wasn't as much trash and debris as there had been a while back. The buildings were decorated with all manner of signs and some neon, and roof-mounted solar panels and windmills were clustered thickly. It looked almost normal, if one discounted the long cracks that ran across the street and the empty and burned out structures that were interspersed with the rest. "It's a dump," she opinioned.
Shion shrugged. "True." She looked ready to say more, but then stopped. "I sense..." she muttered.
"Sense?" Marta asked. "Sense what? What?"
"Get behind me," Shion commanded, turning and facing down a side street. Marta, who knew better than to argue with that tone of voice, complied.
Korey Winters looked back at her new partner and recent house guest. "Is something the matter, Ray?"
"I sense a presence," he said, and closed his eyes.
"Whose presence? Ran's?" With a wary eye about her, Korey took out her Kuan-Ti and flipped off the safety. She glanced up and down the ruined street and eyed the rotting and nearly destroyed buildings for any sign of a pursuer. Of course, from what she had heard, Ran's presence was usually accompanied by several buildings being tossed into the air and raining debris falling everywhere.
"No... her's! Quick! I must see her!" He grabbed her arm before she could say anything and started off down the street.
"What?! Ray, let go! We are not here to meet anyone, we're here to follow up on those leads we discovered, remember?" Korey stomped one foot down and grounded herself, but Ray continued on as though she were putting up no resistance at all.
"But I have to see her. We can talk, she and I," he said, a determined look on his slightly pale face.
Ray reached an intersection and walked out into the middle of it before turning to the left and pointed to none other then Shion and Marta Nys.
"Her," he said, smiling a little.
With her arm still in his grasp, Ray walked in the direction of the two, and Korey had no choice but to keep pace or else be dragged there. She did, however, manage to convince him to let go of her arm so she could put away her gun.
Coming to a stop in front of them, Ray smiled at Shion. "It is good to see you again."
For a moment all was silent. Marta glanced from her sister to the tall, lanky dark haired young man and back again. She knew she'd never seen the man before, or the slim, white and blue haired woman with him. However, she didn't let that stop her from going for her guns—just in case.
Shion gave the newcomer a puzzled glance. "Do I know..." she started, and then a look of recognition flashed across her face. She remembered the fight outside of Ishiyama. The slender esper who dodged her attacks with ease and called himself... "Ray..." the name came out as a harsh whisper accompanied by a surge of power.
Marta gave an involuntary yelp as a pressure wave washed out from around Shion's feet, kicking up dust, debris, and billowing her coat and hair out in all directions. Her sister stood with hands clenched at her sides, her own coat flapping in what looked like a high wind, staring at the two strangers. A fine cloud of debris started to rise into the air, following an arcing line that formed a wide circle, with Shion and Marta in the center. Feeling uncertain as to what she was supposed to do in the situation like this, Marta settled for drawing her pistols. Better to be safe than sorry.
"And why..." Shion rasped, "is it good to see me again?"
Shielding her eyes from the rising dust, Korey drew her own weapon, a fruitless act if ever there was one. Her arm and ribs, the ones that Shion had cracked when she had been Karin—seemingly a life time ago, ached with remembered pain. "Ray... let us not take up any of Miss Nys' time."
Ray turned to Korey, a shy smile on his face. "Please, Miss Winters... it has been a long time since I was able to talk with anyone who could understand what I am. I only wish to talk... please." He stared at her, his eyes filled with a silent plead.
Korey couldn't, wouldn't meet them, and merely sighed. "Fine..."
Ray turned back to Shion, unaffected by her show of power and raising a little of his own to shield both himself and Korey from the flying debris. "I wish to speak with you..."
Shion narrowed her eyes, "And if I don't wish to speak to you?"
Standing her behind her sister, Marta watched the other woman draw her gun. She didn't look at that fast, and Marta doubted she had major wire installed. Hell, Marta was willing to bet she didn't have anything installed. She allowed herself a slight smile as her own systems came on-line. This would be too easy... provided the raging espers didn't simply kill everyone around them first. Marta remembered this was why she tried to avoid fights her sister was involved in and suppressed a shudder.
Ray blinked, as though the idea hadn't occurred to him. "Why would you not want to speak with me?"
"Ray, shut up and let's go," Korey thought. Her grip on her Kuan-Ti tightened even as the tension in the air mounted. She knew that something was about to happen, and when it did, it was going to happen fast. A glance from Shion to Marta showed them both ready for a fight, something which she knew they were not ready for. Ray was still weeks from his being found in the zone and was not yet back to full strength. And as for herself, Korey knew that as a normal human, albeit with special training, she was no match for Marta's years of experience and incredibly cybered reflexes.
"Why?" Shion sounded almost incredulous. She looked to be at a loss for words , an event Marta normally would have thought impossible. "What would we speak about? What would you have to say that I would care to hear? You're a construct, Ray. An experiment that is better off forgotten. You are not, and never will be, my peer."
Korey saw the dejected look in Ray's face, the confusion, and the bitter loneliness that he had been working to deal with in the face of the loss of his life, purpose, and the only sister he ever had, and a flare of anger welled up within her. "He is still a far better human being then you could possibly be, Empress," Korey spat, dragging the name out and making it an insult onto itself. "Come along, Ray, let us leave Miss Shion Nys to her all so important duties..."
Shion's response was to narrow her eyes and glare silently at Korey. Marta, however, wasn't about to let such an insult slide. "Fuck you, bitch! You don't know shit about my sister! Just crawl back into your fuckin' hole with the rest of shit in this hellhole!!"
Without a reply, Korey turned her back to Marta, took Ray's arm in hers, and began to walk away.
"Bitch..." The word hissed through gritted teeth as Marta brought one gun up. In her eye, a cross hair flashed to life, blinking across the white-haired woman's leg, back, and then setting on her skull.
The sharp crack of asphalt and concrete echoed loudly in her ears, making Marta start. A split-second later the ground dipped and then bucked. She pulled the trigger as her body whipped back and forth, finally pushing off with a strong thrust of her legs. Tucking into a ball, Marta rolled upright on a smoother section of street.
Her sister stood amid a cloud of debris, the street a network of fissures and cracks that zigzagged crazily out from her feet. Portions had pushed up in sharp chunks, while others had sunken, turning the street into a wasteland in miniature. Marta couldn't see her sister's face but it was obvious she the white-haired bitch had managed to make her mad.
Speaking of which... she was down, clutching at her leg, cursing loudly. The tall dark haired esper looked once at Shion, bent down and...
...they were gone.
Shion remained still for a moment staring at the now empty street. A second sharp crack marked a portion of the street splitting apart, the layer of asphalt tilting skyward with a groan. A shudder passed though her sister's frame at which point all the debris dropped out of the air.
Marta shook her head. It was times like this that she remembered how much she didn't like working with and around espers.
With a sickening lurch in her stomach, Korey felt the world blot out for a split second, twist, flop, and then rearrange itself back into normal reality. Shortly after, the pain of her wounded leg came back into stark relief and she sunk down, clutching her hands about it. Ray knelt down beside her, one arm wrapped about her, steadying her. His face was pale, and small beads of sweat were circling down it, curling about his concern filled eyes.
"Are you alright?" he asked before collapsing unceremoniously onto his rear. Korey went with him, falling onto his chest and emitting a hiss of pain.
"I am okay... fortunately... most fortunately, Marta only winged me." Korey looked down at the bloody mess of her lower leg and sighed. "And to think, I was actually hopeful that these pants would last some time before being punctured by gunfire." She looked back up to Ray. "And you?"
"I am... fatigued. The teleport took up most of my energy, sadly enough. I am not yet back to full strength." With a groan, he muscled his way back up into a sitting position, still holding Korey in her arms.
"Can you manage another teleport?" she asked.
"I believe so, yes."
"Good... then let's go home. The day is a bust and we both need time to recuperate."
Ray nodded and, with help from each other, the two stood. "Korey?"
"Why were you not surprised at Shion's labeling of me as a synthetic? I am truly a rare specimen." There was no arrogance to his words, merely an honest stating of fact.
Korey smiled. "I'll explain later, Ray. Come, let us go homeward."
"Who was that?"
Shion turned to look at her sister. "His name is Ray. A few years ago Ishiyama decided to try and grow their own esper weapons. He's one of the survivors."
"Grow?" Marta thought about that for a moment. "Like a synth?"
"Yes." Shion's voice sounded tired. "Like a synth."
"Who's the woman then? Another one?"
Shion gave slight shrug of her shoulders. "I have no idea. I've never seen her before."
Marta glanced back at the expanse of shattered concrete, noticing that the formerly busy street had emptied. "She seemed to know you."
"Everyone seems to know me. I'm used to it." Shion motioned to her sister. "Let's get going."
"Sure. I--whhhoop!" Marta exclaimed as her sister lifted in her arms. "Shion! Put me down! What are you doing?"
Adjusting her arms, Shion settled Marta so that she was supporting her sister at the shoulders and knees. "Put your arms around me and hold on, I'm going to get moving."
"Oh." Marta did as instructed, wrapping her arms around her sister's shoulders and holding on. If her sister was going to move, she was going to move.
Bending slightly at the knees, Shion kicked off, dust swirling in her wake. Marta glanced down, and felt her stomach sink along with the ground. Okay, so espers were normally a massive pain in the ass, but she had to admit, this was a hell of a way to travel.
There was a slight jolt as they touched down, but Shion kicked off instantly, cracking the concrete below. Their arcing flight brought them over a series of rowhouses to land amid a thicket of trees.
"Why don't you just fly?"
Her hair whipping about her head, Shion glanced a the ruined landscape below before answering. "I don't want to be a target for every idiot with a gun. This way we drop out of sight and can change direction if needed."
Marta shuddered with the shock of impact. "Good idea." She paused and then looked at the ground herself. It swayed below her—that was not a good idea. "Any idea of where we're going?"
"I think so." Shion to to the air again, pausing only for a moment to land on the side of a apartment building and then jump again, heading for a faint wisp of smoke.
"Do you see it?"
Marta craned her neck. To the east was a wide swath of destruction, centered around the ruined remains of several buildings. It could be where they'd fought the brown-armbands, but it was impossible to tell exactly. It had been night, and besides, she'd only seen it all from ground level.
With a final thump, Shion landed on a nearby rooftop amid a spray of grit and gravel. "Yes... this is the place." She pointed at the slumped mass of masonry and sheet metal. That's where they tried to drop a building on me.
"Really? Well, they did a pretty good job on me, as I recall."
Shion made a noncommittal noise and easily dropped the three stories to the ground. Releasing her sister she surveyed the scene. There wasn't much to see. The street was empty, with only a wide dark stain to mark that anything unusual had happened. The collapsed building was a ruin of brick from which smoke drifted. The smell of burning wood hung faintly in the air, along with the sharp tang of copper.
Bikes are gone. Figures. Marta stared at the deserted scene. They'd parked their bikes down there, and she'd gunned down a bunch of gangers over there, next to the trash barrel. And... wait. "Where are all the bodies?"
"Pardon?" Shion asked distractedly.
"The bodies. I know Stone, Sandra, and I killed a lot of gangers. Where are they?"
"Gone." Shion shrugged. "The dead don't last long in the Zone."
Marta stared at her sister and shuddered. "What do you mean 'don't last long'?"
"The organleggers get then mostly. If you move quick you can salvage bodies for parts. If not, then you can strip out any cyberware. And if they have nether... well, I understand pigs will eat anything. Not to mention..." Shion pointed the toe of her boot at the space left by a missing sewer grate. "There are stories about what lives down there."
Marta glanced at the gaping hole and wrinkled her nose. "Ewwww..."
Gem slouched her way along the tattered and ruined streets of the Zone, trying to sort her head out. Her night was a total disaster already, thanks to Raven Clark. Well... It wasn't entirely her fault. As much as she wanted to deny it, Gem had pushed and provoked the ESPer into turning on her. And worse yet, Raven had been reasonable. Her words made sense, and had left Gem to think.
And where was she?
Gem finally took in her surroundings. The Pit was far from the nicest place in the Zone, but it was also far from the worst. This looked like the worst. She was in amongst blocks of ruined buildings. Fresh destruction too, from the looks of things.
Great, she thought. She was lost in a blasted section of the Zone with no idea how to get home. How could it get worse?
At that precise moment, a wave of air signaled the unceremonious landing of two figures. One she recognized immediately as the gun-happy woman Raven was with at the Edge of Night some time ago. While she had never seen the second in person, her reputation proceeded her. The Empress.
It had gotten worse.
"Where was the esper?"
Shion pointed to the roof of a nearby building. "There. He was watching the building burn as I recall."
Marta nodded. "And I was?"
"There. You were trying to kill Stone."
Marta sighed. "Did you have to remind me? Anyway... where'd you take the esper?"
"Dammit!" Marta turned to look at Shion. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
Shion's response was a shrug. "It's not important. I killed him, isn't that enough?"
Turning back to the wrecked buildings, Marta shook her head. "This is all there is, isn't it?
Yes... That's all there is. Marta, you're not going to find much in way of closure here. I'm sorry."
Gem slowly approached the duo from behind, hands held open by her side. She loudly cleared her throat, waiting to catch their attention.
The two women spun with a speed that Gem found to be uncomfortably fast. Marta had a gun in each hand, while Shion had settled for simply pointing her fist. Gem wasn't sure which was a worse threat. She stood her ground though, facing them both down with the barest hint of fear.
There was a moment's pause and then: "It's her!" Marta exclaimed.
"Who?" Shion asked.
"The one who tried to kill Raven that time! Remember?"
Shion's eyes narrowed as she turned her gaze back to Gem. "Yes... I do."
"I'm not here to fight you," Gem replied calmly. "I just want to talk." Inwardly her heart was racing, but she kept herself steady.
"Talk?" Marta laughed. "Last time you were ready to fight all four of us. Why should we talk to you?"
"Because last time I was wrong."
That stopped Marta. She gave Gem a quizzical look and then glanced at her sister.
Shion lowered her arm and shrugged. "So talk," she commanded.
She let out a short sigh and continued. "I wanted to apologize for what I did. I've since discovered that Raven wasn't involved at all." She took a deep breath, and continued. "I also want to know why you kept pushing her to finish me off, when it was her matter to deal with."
Shion arched an eyebrow at Gem's question and then turned to look at the ruined and still-smoking building on the far side of the street. "I was in a bad mood. And Raven is too softhearted. She needs to kill a few people... earn some respect and fear for what she is and what she can do."
"Besides," Marta continued, "You let someone who tries to kill you live, he might go get some friends and try again."
"That's for her to sort out," Gem replied. "I promised her I wouldn't go after her again, and I kept that promise."
"Well, whoopie-fuckin'-do," Marta replied.
Shion sighed slightly. "What do you want?" she asked.
"I want to make amends. I want to talk." She sighed, and put her hands in her pocket. "I want to know I'm not insane for what I do."
"Make amends?" Marta looked puzzled. "Amends for what?"
"For the way I behaved. For attacking your friend." Gem shook her head. "Heck, I've just talked to Raven, and she's set me straight on a few things."
"If you've talked to Raven, then that's Raven's business." Shion's tone was a touch dismissive. "I fail to see how this concerns me."
Gem shrugged, and turned to Marta, raising one eyebrow quizzically.
"What?" Marta looked from Gem to Shion and back again. "What do you want me to do?"
"I don't know..." Gem sighed. She found a piece of rubble and sat rather uncomfortably on it. "Just talk, really."
Marta looked at her sister and raised her hands into the air. "She wants to talk."
For the next few moments there was only an uncomfortable silence as Shion seemed lost in thought and Marta paced around. Finally, Marta found her own bit of debris to sit on as Shion walked over to stand in front of Gem. Looking down at the smaller woman, her expression unreadable, she seemed to be judging Gem. "About what?" she asked finally.
"Anything." Gem shrugged again. "What are you doing out here, for starters?"
"Us?" Marta called. "What about you?"
"Yes," Shion replied. "You want to talk, you tell us first."
Gem nodded. "Like I said, I talked to Raven." She gave a soft sigh, and continued. "It didn't go well. She set me straight on a few things, and I just wandered. Somehow I wound up out here."
"Wonderful," was Marta's response.
Shion glanced at her sister for a moment before speaking. "We're here on our own business. Which I think is now concluded. Is that correct, Marta? Is there anything else you wanted to see?"
"I..." Marta paused. "I don't know."
There was another moment of silence. "Marta," Shion asked gently, "What is it you're looking for?"
Another long silence. Gem fidgeted for a moment, feeling slightly uncomfortable. Finally, Marta spoke. "That's the trick, isn't it? I want answers to questions I don't even know how to ask. I could say "Why me?" but that isn't a question, is it? Fuck... I should ask "Why's the sky blue?" for all the good it will do."
"Why did all this happen?" Gem interjected. Indicated the rubble and debris strewn around them with an expansive gesture. "How about that, for starters?"
"This?" Marta glanced at the street around her. "I guess I'd have to ask Jason Stone. He's the one these guys were after. And most of this was done by the guys firing off rockets anyway."
"Stone?" Gem looked curiously at Marta. "He was involved in all this?"
"Yeah," Marta looked over at Gem. "He hired me to watch his back while he and another woman tried to kill everyone in sight. We ere doing pretty okay to, right up until the fuckin' esper showed up."
"The esper... that's the question, isn't it?" Shion walked away from Gem and knelt by her sister. "Why did he have to take you over, why did it have to happen to you? That's what you want to know, isn't it?"
"Because you were there, most likely," Gem interjected. She shrugged and added "I know it's a pretty pathetic answer, but it's probably the best there is."
Shion glanced back at Gem before continuing. "She's right you know. It wasn't anything you did. It could have been anyone. It could have been Stone."
"I should be so lucky," Marta sighed.
"Save me a lot of trouble," Gem added, rolling her eyes.
Marta raised and eyebrow, "What? He dump you too?"
Gem snorted. "Not quite. He works with my boss. And, in his own way, against me."
"CHRIST!" Marta jumped up and yelled at the sky. "WHAT IS IT WITH HIM!"
"He doesn't think," Gem calmly replied.
"Your boss?" Shion gave Gem an inquisitive look. "Blonde woman, good figure, about Marta's height?"
"Yes. You've met her?" Gem asked casually.
Shion spared a moment to glance back at her scowling sister. "Yes... late yesterday. Just for a moment."
"You're damn straight he doesn't think! I... AGH!" Marta sputtered and fumed in the background.
Gem nodded. "With Jason, I presume? What trouble had he dragged her into today?"
Shion shrugged. "A hotel."
"Are they finally playing it safe?" Gem pondered out loud, then shook her head.
Shion blinked at the question but remained silent.
"Hey," Marta interjected. "Stone ever mention a woman named 'Sandra'?"
Gem shook her head. "Can't say I know the name. Why do you ask?"
"Not important. Just curious."
Gem leant her chin on her hand, and looked at Marta thoughtfully.
"What next, Marta?" Shion asked.
Gem suddenly stood up. "Screw this," she said. "This place is too depressing. I need another drink."
"Yeah..." Marta nodded in agreement. "That's a great idea!"
Gem looked around, and nodded to her left. "I know a good—well, okay, it's downright terrible—club thataways."
"Ahhh..." Marta stopped and then glanced at Shion. "Say..."
"What are you thinking of?" Gem asked her.
"Well... I need to get back to Hong Kong..."
"No." Shion stated flatly.
"Marta... I am not your taxi service."
"Pleeeeease?" Gem wasn't sure what to think of the sight of Marta practically pleading with the tall white-haired woman. It certainly wasn't what she was expecting.
"I'll be your best friend."
"Too late for that."
"Okay, look," Marta dropped her wheedling tone. "I'd like to get back to HK now and get back to Ling Ling. So don't do it for me, do it for her."
Gem raised a finger. "Sorry to interrupt, but just how are you planning to get to Hong Kong 'right now?'"
Marta grinned and threw an arm across her sister's shoulders. "Triple-A class esper weapon. Big sister can go to the moon if she wants."
Gem gaped, openmouthed. "The moon?" She said, disbelievingly. She shook her head, and added "Screw that. Big sister?"
With a sigh and a shrug of her shoulders, Shion stepped away from her sister. "Yes, Marta is my younger sister."
Gem glanced between the tall, broad-shouldered, buxom Shion and the short, slender, and shapely Marta. It was all she could do to keep her mouth shut.
Marta's brows narrowed. "What ever you're going to say, don't."
"Nothing, nothing at all. So about that drink?" Gem asked, hoping to change the subject.
Now it was Shion's turn to look at Gem. "In Hong Kong?"
"Why not?" she replied.
Closing her eyes, Shion sighed. Gem had the impression she did that a lot around her sister. "I want you to know that I'm doing this as a favor to Ling Ling, understand?"
"Yeah, yeah. Now c'mon! Let's go!"
Gem stepped up close to the pair, waiting, not sure quite what to expect.
Shion reached about and caught her wrist in what proved to be an almost crushing grip.
The sensation was indescribable. Gem felt a sensation of motion, of being pulled in a direction she never knew existed. Her whole body lurched, while remaining perfectly still, and she had an awful feeling of her skin tingling. Visually, it was rather disappointing. The rubble of the Zone was instantly replaced by the bright lights of the towering buildings of Hong Kong.
Her arm released, Gem staggered back, tried counting her feet, and fell unceremoniously on her backside.
Marta glanced around at the deserted dock and the shattered remains of a pile of wooden pallets. "Nice landing," she quipped.
Shion shrugged. "I'm not going to drop us into the middle of your apartment. I've no desire to destroy your living room."
Gem quickly got to her feet and steadied herself. She looked at Marta and Shion, her face carefully neutral. "I suppose you get used to it after a while," she said.
"Yeah, yeah," Marta said distractedly. "C'mon Shion, gimme your cellphone."
With a shake of her head, Shion reached into her coat and produced her phone. "Next time remember to bring yours," she said as she handed it over.
Gem watched the pair in amazement. It was hard to get over the world's most powerful PK being bugged by her younger sister. Then again, given that she'd just jumped half way across the world, and it was now night time when it was the morning a few seconds ago, she figured she could get used to anything at this point.
Marta stared at the phone for a moment. "What's my number?" she asked rhetorically, before pressing a long series of buttons. A few moments later she had the phone to her ear. "Ling Ling? It's me. I'm back."
"No... the harbor. Shion brought me."
"No, not yet. Actually, I was wondering if you'd like to join us for... well, lunch I guess. I'm pretty sure I know where we are, and there's a club near here where we can hit."
"The Naked Agent."
Shion quirked an eyebrow at that and glanced at Gem.
"You know this place?" Gem asked her quietly.
Shion answer was a shrug.
"What? Look, its close and open, what's wrong with the place?"
Gem exchanged a worried glance with Shion.
Marta sighed. "We're just going to get some drinks. Me, Shion and... and..." She looked over at Gem. "Who are you?"
"My name's Aoi. I'm... A friend of Raven's," Gem said after a moment's hesitation.
"Is that so?" Shion gave Gem a nod. "So am I."
"You are?" she asked Shion, clearly surprised. "You'd know her better than I do."
"Aoi." Marta said into the phone. "She's a friend of Raven's."
"Okay... I'll call when we're ready to go."
Handing the phone back to her sister, Marta waved in the general direction of the city lights. "Ling Ling says she'll pick me up after we're done. So, do we walk, fly, or get a taxi?"
"Walk," Gem said immediately. She shrugged, and added "It's kinda relaxing, and I'm not sure I'm up to flying yet."
"Yes!" Marta seemed far more relaxed now than she had back in Neo York. "This way!"
For a newcomer, Hong Kong truly amazed Gem. It was as if Neo York and the Zero Zone had been rolled into the one city and stuck in an oven to bake. Between the press of bodies and the climate, the city felt like one huge sauna. Gem had long since removed her jacket, and walked with it slung over her shoulder.
She had never seen such a diversity of sights in her life. True, growing up in the Zone had starved her for choice, but this was an entirely different environment. It seemed that the streets themselves were alive, flowing with throngs of people, that even at this hour the trio made their way through.
Gem had pretty quickly fallen in step right behind Shion. The crowd always seemed to part before her, and converge behind her, leaving a droplet of empty street in her wake. Gem found herself jostling with Marta for the coveted position, and eventually asked rather quietly "Is it always like this with her?"
"What?" Marta gestured at the people passing to either side. "That? Yeah... basically. I mean, you want to get in her way?"
Gem let out a quiet snigger. "Good point. So what's this place like?"
"It's a club. Drinks, food, dancing, music, the usual."
Gem nodded her silent approval.
The Naked Agent proclaimed it's identity in bright blue neon letters. The suggestively shaped silhouette one on side seemed to only reinforce any preconceived notions the name created. Marta led the trio across the street, ignoring the traffic, and made a beeline for the front entrance.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Gem muttered to Shion as they followed her inside.
Although the bouncers at the door were the same basic muscle that Gem had seen all through the Zone, it was the gun-check girl that made her realize her bad feeling was right on target. The woman was dressed in a tight-fitting sleeveless cheongsam with a high collar and a circular cutout that exposed a wealth of dˇcolletage. The garment was cut up over the hip on each side, and was so short that it barely covered her rear as she walked. The rest of the wait staff was dressed in the exact same way. The only difference was in the color of the cheongsam itself: black, blue, gold, and white. Gem shook her head. "Kami would love this place," she muttered as they headed for a table, raised a questioning eyebrow to Shion.
Shion remained silent until they were settled in their booth. "Marta, what were you thinking when you brought us here?" she asked.
Marta glanced around, her look of confusion plain on her face. "What do you mean? The place is open, serves drinks, and was close. What else did you want?"
Gem carefully bit her tongue and let Shion respond.
"Somehow I doubt you and Ling Ling come here." Shion gestured at the scantily clad waitresses. "This is not her style."
Marta glanced at the swaying buttocks of a passing waitress. "Well... no. Actually... we've brought clients here. One's that Ling Ling thinks she can gouge for some extra cash. They get distracted and agree to anything. But usually I come here alone... to unwind."
"Unwind, huh?" Gem asked, watching the waitress depart. "Sounds a lot like someone I know. She'd love this place."
"Yeah... it's..." Marta paused and then seemed to realize what she was saying. "Nice," she finished lamely.
"Somehow I doubt they serve food here," Shion remarked, ignoring the exchange. "But I could use a beer or two."
"Definitely," Gem replied. "But it is... Nice," she commented, checking Marta's face for a reaction.
"See?" Marta pushed on Shion's shoulder with her hand. "Aoi doesn't mind, so lighten up."
Shion's response was to raise an eyebrow.
She just shrugged. "It's certainly different to any place I've been before." She flagged down a passing waitress.
The day... The night had dragged on for a while. Gem had been thoroughly enjoying herself with her newfound friends, and Marta at least was having fun. Shion seemed to be almost annoyed by their behavior. Gem didn't care; she'd had a lot to drink, and she wasn't feeling it at all.
Shion glanced at the two women and gave a mental sigh. Marta had reached the "happy drunk" stage, while Aoi was simply plastered. She fully expected Marta to be on the receiving end of Ling Ling's wrath come the morning.
Picking at the plate of ribs (The Naked Agent sold a variety of appetizers—mostly of Chinese cuisine) Shion glanced around the club. The patrons were the typical assortment of trendy corporate execs and workers who frequented such placed in a desperate desire to be "hip." There were office girls in slinky dresses and salarimen in crisp coats and open-necked shirts. There were also a lot of young men in expensive clothing, dark sunglasses, and bulges that showed they'd ignored the guncheck girl. Obviously, the Naked Agent was a Triad club.
The dance floor was crowed with people, all writhing to the music played by a DJ who sat safe and secure in his elevated booth. Lights flashed, lasers jittered through the smoke, and the fog machine sprayed clouds of mist over the crowd. Shion stifled a yawn.
"But no," Gem muttered, seemingly out of nowhere. "This has been a real big night for me."
"Whaddya mean?" Marta asked.
"All sorts a things." Gem raised a hand in front of her, and fumbled to count off her fingers. "Lessee... First there was the talk with Raven, 'course. Then my two new friends. An' now I'm here in Hong Kong!"
Shion ignored the "friends" comment, and glanced at Gem. "What did you talk to Raven about?"
"'bout that night, and all." Gem paused for a moment, a swished around the dregs left in her glass. "'bout why I attacked her. I feel really bad 'bout it now."
Marta slapped Gem on the back, causing her to lurch forward and nearly send her glass flying. "Coulda been worse. I coulda killed ya."
"That's not much comfort," Gem replied sullenly, picking herself out of the chicken wings.
"Yes, that would have put a damper on the relationship" Shion commented dryly. Her sister giggled and drained her glass.
Gem couldn't help but join Marta's giggling. She swilled down the remainder of her beer, then hollered loudly for the waitress.
"Tell me, Marta," Shion asked as she sipped at her glass of Tsing-tao, "What next?"
"Next?" Marta stared thoughtfully at the flecks of foam in the bottom of her glass. "I'm not sure. Whaddya think Aoi?"
"You just move on," she replied. "I mean, that's what Raven taught me. Turns out I wasn't after her after all."
"Who were you after?" Shion probed, her interest aroused.
"It was the corp, really. Corp policies killed my friend." She sighed, and gazed unhappily into the distance. "'course I could never take 'em on alone. Just... I dunno, I never really admitted it."
Shion shrugged, "That's what the corps do. I told Marta the same thing. They don't care about anyone or anything but themselves and their money."
"'zactly. I thought it was some kinda dream job too. But she just tol' me 'Forget about it, an' get on with your life.'" Gem refocused on Shion. "So that's what I'm gonna do."
"I see," Shion nodded. "How about you, Marta? Are you going to get on with your life?"
"Yup!' Marta replied with a grin. "Gonna go home and fuck Ling Ling senseless."
"Yes, well, that's also an option." Shion took another sip from her glass.
"Sounds fun," Gem muttered.
"How about you, big sister?" Marta pointed at Shion. "When you gonna get laid? It'll do you a world of good."
Gem glanced between the two of them, and suddenly burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?" Shion snapped.
"Nothing, nothing," Gem replied waving her hand. "I just like your sister's plan."
Shion waved a hand at a passing waitress. "Well, you have plenty to choose from."
"Oh, please," Gem replied. "Naw, I've got someone waiting for me." A frown suddenly crossed her face. "At least, I hope they're waiting."
Marta blinked at that and then sat upright. "Wait... why am I here with you two, when I could be with Ling Ling?"
"I take it this is a rhetorical question?" Shion asked the table.
"You said you'd call her, din't you?" Gem replied.
"Gimme the phone, Shee!"
Knowing better than to say anything, Shion settled for handing her phone over. She finished her beer and watched as Marta dialed home.
Gem nodded. "Pretty much time to call it a night... or day." She glanced at her watch, and shook it for a second. "I've gone blind," she muttered.
"Ling Ling says she'll be here in about fifteen... twenty minutes." Marta handed the phone back. "See you later, then?"
Gem nodded. "Let's... I dunno, keep in touch or something. Okay?"
"Sure!" Marta nodded in return.
"I think it best for me to wait until Ling Ling gets here." Shion laid a hand on her sister's arm. "To make sure you get home safe."
Marta shrugged. "Sure, I don't mind. But ya can't come home with us, we're gonna be busy."
Gem grinned at Marta. "How'd I guess that? No sleep tonight, huh?"
The cool night air helped to sober up both Marta and Gem as they waited outside for Ling Ling's arrival. Shion stood behind them, a motionless figure in white armor and a black coat that seemed to prevent passersby from bothering the two intoxicated women by sheer force of will.
"Um... I hate to be a pest..." Gem quietly interrupted, glancing hopefully at Shion.
"I'm gonna have to get home somehow..." Gem trailed off.
Shion stared down at Gem with an almost disdainful expression. "And if I told you I wasn't returning to Neo York?"
Gem's face fell. "Oh dear..."
"Aww... c'mon, Shee. Be nice, take Aoi home." Marta grinned at her sister.
"Um... Can you tell me how to get to the airport?" She looked up at Shion, almost grimacing at the thought of the trek that lay ahead of her.
"Never mind," Shion said at last. "I'll take you home."
Gem let out a huge sigh of relief. "I really owe you," she said to Shion. "And thank you too," she added, turning to Marta.
"No problem," the black-haired woman replied. "Hey! My ride's here!"
Gem glanced over as a low-slung sports car came to a halt next to the curb. It looked like the typical "power car" common to corporate executives, and certainly wasn't anything special. Then the door opened and the driver stepped out.
She was tall, well, not if compared to Shion, but certainly when compared to herself and Marta. Long glossy black hair that fell to her slim waist. Traditional trousers and jacket in black, belted with a white sash. Long, tapering ears that helped support wire-framed glasses. A fine-featured face and a figure that did an impressive job of filling out the jacket. It took all of Gem's willpower not to gape at her. She wondered why Marta would even bother coming to a place like the Naked Agent, with someone like her to return to. All of a sudden, she felt awfully lonely.
"That's Ling Ling?" she muttered to Shion.
"That's Ling Ling," she answered.
Marta's reaction was to throw herself into the woman's arms, sending Ling ling staggering back to fetch up against the side of the car. Her cry of surprise was quickly cut off as Marta kissed her passionately. For a moment Ling Ling seemed to be in a slight state of shock, and then her arms wrapped around Marta's body, pulling her even closer.
"They sure know how to make you feel lonely," Gem muttered to Shion as the pair embraced. Much to her surprise, the tall woman glanced down at her and then looked away, a troubled expression on her face.
Ling Ling finally managed to pull herself away from Marta and nodded her head to Shion. "Thank you for bringing her back."
Glancing back at Ling Ling, Shion gave a slight smile, the first Gem had seen all night. "You're welcome Ling Ling."
"You take care," Gem said to Marta, nodding slightly.
With one arm around Ling Ling's waist, Marta gestured at Gem with the other. "Ling Ling, this is Aoi. She's drunk. And I think she likes girls."
Gem blushed furiously at the comment. "I never said that!" she suddenly squawked out.
"You didn't have to," Shion replied.
Ignoring both of the Nys sisters, Ling Ling extended a hand. "Please to meet you."
"Likewise," Gem muttered, shaking Ling Ling's hand.
"C'mon Ling Ling, lets get going, I want to get to bed."
"I see," the Asian woman stepped to one side and guided Marta into the car. "Shion, we'll see you again sometime. Aoi, it was nice meeting you."
"Goodbye Ling Ling," Shion said with a nod. "I apologize for any trouble my sister's caused."
"Keep in touch, okay?" Gem said to Marta.
"Sure!" came a voice from inside the car. A moment later, Ling Ling closed the door and they were gone.
Shion watched them leave, her expression neutral. "I presume you'd like to return home, now," she asked in a distracted tone.
"If you do," Gem replied. She looked up at the taller woman, head cocked to one side in thought. Even through her alcoholic haze, she could tell something was bothering her.
"Then let's go," Shion said brusquely as she held out her hand. With her sister gone, her mood seemed to be slipping into what Gem would have expected initially; arrogant and condescending.
The yanking sensation returned and Gem found herself in bright daylight. She instantly fell forwards, onto her hands and knees, and was rather messily sick. "I see..." she heard Shion state behind her.
"Sorry, I'm still not used to it." Gem got to her feet, cleaning herself up and looked at Shion. "Thank you," she said warmly.
"For what?" Shion seemed surprised by the gratitude.
"Well, taking me there and back, for starters." Gem scratched her head, searching for words. "For putting up with the pair of us. For looking after us, too." She shrugged, and a small smile crossed her face. "And for not finishing me off back at the Edge of Night."
Shion raised an eyebrow. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't kill everyone I meet."
"It's just how you were acting back there, egging Raven on," Gem replied. "Can... we put that behind us?"
There was a long moment of silence. "For now."
"I guess that's as good as I'll get," she replied.
"That's all anyone gets." Shion turned and started walking away down what Gem realized was main street for the Entertainment District. "Sayanora."
Gem nodded. "Until next time," she said, and made her way deeper into the district.
Lying naked on her back amid the tangle of damp sheets, Marta gave a low sigh of pleasure as her hands stroked down Ling Ling's 's sweat dampened back to cup and knead the petite rear. The Asian woman lay full-length on top of her so that their breasts pressed delightfully together. Exchanging long, passionate kisses amid murmured comments, the exhausted pair were content to remain as they were for the moment.
"I never should of left," Marta whispered.
"You did what you needed to do," her lover replied. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
"Yes... no..." Marta sighed and brushed her lips down Ling Ling's neck, eliciting a shudder. "That's the problem, I didn't know what I was looking for."
Resting her chin on the palm of one hand, Ling Ling looked down at Marta. "An answer?"
Combing out Ling Ling's tangled locks with her fingers, Marta thought for a moment. "I didn't know the questions either. Aoi was right, I need to put it behind me and move on."
"Good." The kiss that followed went on for some time.
"Ling Ling?" Marta asked when they finally pulled apart.
"Do me a favor. If I ever get the idea to go off on an independent op like that again, look me dead in the eye and just say "Remember Jason Stone?""
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