From this there's no returning
No escape your heart is burning
Love becomes a lethal weapon
No one is too smart
In affairs of the heart
"Affairs of the Heart"
Emerson, Lake and Palmer
The room was still, and comfortably warm, dimly lit by the imperceptible glow of the lights of Hong Kong that barely managed to filter through the far window, casting a subtle silver sheen over the furnishings. The view from the window was spectacular, for it showed a brilliant sea of twinkling lights that marked Hong Kong's almost uncountable office towers as they marched down in a thick mass to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, which rippled faintly in the moonlight. Farther out, ocean and sky seemed to meet, forming an impenetrable black mass that marked the visual end of the world. The rain of the past few days hand finally stopped, and the sky was wonderfully clear, and even with the glare from downtown Hong Kong, several stars still managed to make themselves visible.
Shifting slightly on Ling Ling's immense black leather couch, Marta smiled to herself and sighed with contentment. The night's torrid liaison with Ling Ling had finally ended when the two of them had collapsed with exhaustion several hours ago. Now, she was awake again, lying nude and still a bit worn out in Ling Ling's living room. Ling Ling herself was still asleep, curled up on the couch behind her, one arm draped loosely over Marta's shoulder. It was a pleasant moment, one that Marta didn't feel the need to see the end of. The harsh realities of the outside world, the fight in the restaurant, her sister's capture, the destruction of her apartment; they all seemed like distant memories, hazy and indistinct, like a bad dream that she had only just awoke from. Marta sighed ever so slightly, in an hour it would be dawn, and she would have to leave Ling Ling's delightful company, to return to the UNA, to continue her mission to free her sister from Genom's certainly unkind clutches.
Ling Ling's whispered question startled Marta. She hadn't realized the other woman was awake, lost as she had been in thought. Pausing to consider her answer, Marta shook her head slightly, not bothering to turn and look at Ling Ling. "No... just thinking."
"About what?" Ling Ling's asked sleepily, pressing herself closer to Marta.
"I..." Marta paused again, "my sister."
Silence followed, in which Marta wondered if Ling Ling had fallen back asleep. A slight movement dispelled that idea, as Ling Ling pushed up from the couch, to sit up at the far end, legs curled under her. Brushing her long hair out of her face, Ling Ling regarded Marta for a moment. "Tell me about your sister."
Rolling onto her back, Marta sat up slightly, giving Ling Ling a narrow gaze, "What do you mean?"
Ling Ling ignored Marta's look and turned to stare out the bay window, examining the distant city lights as if she could find the answer to Marta's question within them.
"How does she do it," she finally responded, "How does she manage to take on the largest corporations in the world and emerge unscathed? Why hasn't someone ever decided to get rid of her with a bullet in the head?"
The silence that followed stretched out for a seeming eternity. Marta stared at Ling Ling, looking for any trace of scorn or mockery in her face. Her question had been phrased openly and honestly, with no evidence of sarcasm. Ling Ling herself returned Marta's gaze unflinchingly, her expression one of simple inquiry. Rolling back upon her side, Marta drew knees up to her chest, ignoring Ling Ling for the moment as she returned her attention to the light line that now marked the distant horizon.
Without turning her attention from the coming dawn, Marta spoke, her voice devoid of emotion. "Ling Ling, how would you go about shooting The Empress?" Marta turned to look back at Ling Ling directly, her face expressionless. "What if you miss?" she asked in a flat tone of voice.
Ling Ling stared at Marta for a moment, and then sighed, causing her full breasts to rise and fall in a manner that Marta found slightly distracting, "I wouldn't because I'm not stupid." Reaching over the side of the couch, she produced a package of cigarettes and a packet of matches. She lit one with a flare of light that seemed painfully bright when compared to the surrounding darkness. Drawing deeply upon her cigarette, Ling Ling slowly exhaled a grayish cloud of smoke, "But how about someone else? What would stop them?"
Now it was Marta's turn to get up and move to the opposite end of the couch, to sit silently and consider Ling Ling's last question. She wasn't certain if she could answer it... how did her sister manage to survive in the cutthroat environment of the corporate world?
For a time, neither woman spoke, Ling Ling was content to simply sit and enjoy her cigarette, while Marta turned her gaze to the bay window, and the slowly encroaching dawn. Finally, after Ling Ling finished her first cigarette and had started on a second one, Marta spoke.
"I can think of several reasons... The first is very simple; my sister is very beautiful, and when she walks into a corporate office I'm willing to bet that all the men and half the woman wouldn't mind sharing her bed. Now, this fact won't stop the more ruthless bastards that usually warm a corporate seat, but it helps."
Ling Ling simply raised an eyebrow, blowing a cloud of smoke in response.
Now it was Marta's turn to shrug, "She's called "The Empress" for a reason Ling Ling. Shion goes out of her way to present herself in an immaculate manner as possible. She told me once that her reputation is everything, that "The Empress" is the one you call when you want the job done, when you need something accomplished that no one else can do..." Marta's voice drifted off into silence as she thought back to that conversation, and how it ended.
Ling Ling took a slow draw upon her cigarette, its tip glowing a bright orange in the gradually brightening environs of the room, "Understandable, I've always heard the Empress never gave up, never failed, and was never stopped."
Marta smiled, "Yeah, well my sister's got the world's best PR department." Shaking her head, Marta paused to push her hair back from her face, "But she's not stupid either, when working for a corp she almost always stays within that corp's arcology, surrounded by corporate guards and defenses. Anyone who want's to get at her will have to go through all that first."
"Good point." Ling Ling nodded her head slightly, "But what if someone within the corp wanted to do something to her?"
Marta smiled, "They better not miss." Pausing for a moment, Marta sighed slightly and looked over at the far end of the couch, "I think it comes down to this; my sister is more useful to the corps alive then dead."
"Really?" Ling Ling sounded slightly questionable concerning this assessment.
"Heh... really." Marta smiled again, and then sobered immediately. "Shion likes to think she's using the corps, jerking them around to serve her own ends. When taking an contract she asks for, and receives, huge sums of money, high class living quarters, luxury surroundings, and furnishings fit for... an Empress. But, in reality, it's the corps that are using her. To them she's just a tool. A high priced, arrogant, self centered tool, but a tool none the less. A living weapon that can crush tanks, shatter cyberdroids, and take out whole buildings. And Shion's too stuck up and wrapped up in her own little world to notice."
If Ling Ling had noticed Marta's slowly growing bitterness she gave no sign, instead, she finished her cigarette and rose to her feet, "I'll make us some tea."
With an almost noiseless padding of bare feet, Ling Ling left the couch and passed through a far door and into the small kitchen. Marta stayed where she was, considering the words she had just spoken, and Ling Ling's possible reasons for the questions she had asked. Ling Ling was a fixer, and had an impeccable reputation for confidentiality, honesty and efficiency. Useful praise, considering her line of work. To ask after Shion seemed strange... why would she want to know? Was there a deeper meaning to all this that supposed "idle" chatter? Marta thought about the events of just a few hours previous, in which such subjects as Shion, Genom, Marta's business requests, and the shoot out at the restaurant had been totally ignored in the face of almost animalistic lust and passion. Marta had never quite had a night like that before, and it was an experience she was more than willing to repeat. So why the questions? Was Ling Ling simply curious, or did she see this as a chance to find some little bit of information that she could turn around and use in her business dealings? Marta found herself hoping it was the former, for her attraction to Ling Ling had grown considerably over the past few hours.
The sudden dropping of a robe over her shoulder startled Marta out of her ruminations. Looking up she found Ling Ling standing there, dressed in a short, knee-length kimono, belted tightly at the waist and loosely open at the top. "You might want to put that on." Ling Ling smiled and held up a steaming pot, "Tea's ready."
Donning the thin, silken garment, Marta helped herself to a cup of steaming green tea. It had a slightly bitter taste, but warmed her insides wonderfully.
After another period of silence, in which neither woman felt the need to speak, Marta put her cup down and regarded Ling Ling directly. "Why the questions about my sister? Do you know something I don't?"
"No... I... " Ling Ling hesitated and then shrugged, "Call it professional curiosity. It's my business to know things, and well... you're the best person to ask."
There was a moment of dead silence as Marta sat frozen, a progressivly darker series of emotions working their way across her face. The eruption was a sudden boiling of anger that caught Ling Ling totally by suprise. "Excuse me?" Marta stood with a suddenness that sent her tea cup flying, "What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Was all last night just an act, a stunt to get me here and ask me questions?"
Ling Ling stared at Marta in stunned silence, not knowing exactly how to respond. It was only now that she remembered something she'd heard about the woman... Marta had a notably short fuse. Remembering the casual ease with which Marta has slaughtered the Triad soldiers the other night, Ling Ling rose slowly, her arms held out from her sides, "No... last night was definitely not an act..." Pausing, Ling Ling bowed her head, "I'm sorry Marta." Realizing that trying to say anything more would only make it worse, Ling Ling wisely fell silent, waiting for Marta's reaction.
There was a long moment where Marta seemed to ready to explode again, her body almost trembling with pent up emotion. Then, abruptly, she relaxed, and collapsed backwards onto the sofa. "Do you know what it's like to be the Empress' sister?" she asked in a cheerless tone.
Slowly sitting down, Ling Ling shook her head, "No."
Marta continued on, as if she hadn't heard Ling Ling's response, "I am so sick of how everyone treats her as if she really was royalty! With people bowing and scraping in front of her, of anyone with a trace of PK power acting as if she was some sort of goddess, with people even afraid to say her name as if she'd hear them and drop out of the sky to strike them dead." Rising from the couch Marta started to pace in front of the broad bay window, her body silhouetted by the recently risen sun.
"God, I remember when she first got that costume of hers. I told she looked stupid, like some sort of goddamned comic book character!" Turning on Ling Ling, Marta gave her a harsh stare, "What do you think?"
Ling Ling swallowed apprehensively. In the last few minutes it seemed that Marta had completely flipped, changing moods in an eyeblink.
"Shion's choice of clothing."
Ling Ling gave a cautious shrug, "It's different."
There was a moment of silence as Marta stayed where she was, staring at Ling Ling as if she didn't quite comprehend the answer. Then, to Ling Ling's surprise, Marta started to laugh. "Hey, well, you could say that." Shaking her head, Marta returned to her end of the couch. "That's my sister for you, always trying to stand out in a crowd." Bending down, she retrieved her tea cup, filling it from the pot that sat in front of them.
Inwardly, Ling Ling sighed in relief. Foolishly she had allowed her curiosity to get the better of her, breaking on of the most important rules a fixer should adhere to: one should never inquire into a client's background. A night of passion was one thing, but she should have known better then to ask any sort of personal questions.
The next few moments were what Ling Ling called "uncomfortable silences", where nether party spoke. Usually, she found it best to keep silent, and let the client initiate the conversation. In this case, waiting for Marta to begin speaking seemed the wisest choice.
The sun had completely cleared the horizon before Marta turned and looked at Ling Ling. "Now I get to ask you a question, right?"
There was a moments silence as Ling Ling regarded Marta with a look of surprise. Swallowing her mouthful of tea, she replied with a hesitant "I guess so."
Marta smiled in response, "So... what's your story?"
"Where are you from? Do you have any sisters? Why the ears?"
"Ahh..." Ling Ling said slowly, trying to decide on how to answer. Reaching up with one hand she brushed a handful of hair aside revealing a long, tapering ear. "Call it the result of a misspent youth..." Ling Ling smiled, "My boyfriend at the time thought it made me look sexy as hell and..." she shrugged.
Marta grinned, "I'll say. Where did you have it done?"
"Uh..." Ling Ling realized she didn't quite know how to handle Marta's directness, she hadn't had to deal with someone asking such personal questions before, "Australia."
"Australia?" Marta glanced out the window, "I've always wanted to go there. Shion went once, said it was beautiful..." Her voice trailed off.
"Well, it was a while ago. I haven't left Hong Kong in years."
"Hunh..." Marta turned back to Ling Ling, "Is that why your English has such a funny accent?"
Now it was Ling Ling's turn to grin, "Yeah, I grew up in Sydney."
"Sydney? I thought your were born here in Hong Kong?"
Well..." Ling Ling shrugged again, "I was, but my father relocated when the Communists took possesion in '97."
"You're 33?" Marta exclaimed, very surprised.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Marta smiled sheepishly, "I thought you were more about my age, about 24 or so."
Ling Ling grinned and shook her head, "I'll take that as a compliment then. Actually, I'd like to think my appearance is attributable to clean living, (Don't you laugh!) and my genetic upgrade."
"Really?" Marta leaned forward slightly, licking her lips slightly, "When did you get it?"
"Years ago, when I was 18. My parents had decided that a genetic program would be the perfect thing for surviving Hong Kong's corporate world."
Marta shifted forward on the couch, "So, what's it like?"
Ling Ling shrugged, "After the incubation period I was stronger and quicker, and didn't get tired as easily. I don't get sick anymore, my endurance is phenomenal, and only the seriously cybered are faster then me. I'd say I like it just fine."
Marta's expression turned sly, "Yeah, I'll say your endurance is phenomenal."
Ignoring Ling Ling's reaction of mock shock and surprise, Marta rose from the couch, "It's getting late Ling Ling, I think I have to be going now."
Setting her teacup aside, Ling Ling stood, regarding Marta for a moment. Temper or not, her experiences of the previous night had affected her. Tugging the belt free on her kimono, she let the robe fall to the floor. "So soon?"
Marta's expression remained neutral as she gazed upon Ling Ling's nude body, removing her own robe, she casually tossed it across the room. "No, it can wait," she smiled.
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