written by David Kuijt & Michael Surbrook


She was floating in the darkness, alone.

It was quiet... now. Here was no pain, no confusion, no terror, no cold. All was quiet and dark. Here she felt safe. At least, she hoped she was safe. At least she wasn't weeping anymore. Earlier, she had been wracked by constant pain and her tears had fallen like rain. Now she had a wall between her and the world. It was her wall, built from her desire to shut herself off from the periodic bouts of agony and cold that wracked her body. She had had such a wall before, but stabbing pains and creeping fears had cracked and even broken the wall. She had rebuilt it, and nothing bothered her now. Perhaps the now, the pain was gone for good. She had thought that before, but it had always come back, smashing at her wall, assailing her with sharp agonies. With bitter cold, burning heat and brief fragments of images she didn't understand. She had suffered from bouts of confusion, terror and nightmares of helplessness. Her head full of cobwebs, fighting against formlessness, unable to think, or act, or do anything except scream.


Floating. She was floating in the darkness. She knew this world wasn't real, but she had to hold onto her wall. It was all she could do against the pain, when it came again. If she let the wall down, the pain would get in.


Here in the darkness she could try and convince herself she was safe. Far from the cold and pain that was gone for now, but might come back. There was no other world but here. Faint echoes of memories arose at that assertion. Genom and Sonnet, overtones of fury, of terror. Takeda. Marta. Uncertainty, here within her wall. But the wall, the wall was the world. The wall was all she could make against the dark storms of cold, bright flashes of light, great wracking aches, screaming in the dark.


Something pulled at her from beyond. Beyond the wall. Something was there. Her mind was clearer, now. What could be beyond the wall? Only pain, cold, and fear. She tried to shut it out. She wanted none of it. The wall, that was all that was important. Just the wall.


A voice. Distant, very far, calling a name. Whose name? Hers? With a start that she realized she couldn't remember her name. Who was she? A moment of panic set in. Where was she? She tried to move, in her dream world, but the darkness was like mud, thick, surrounding her, enclosing her, under her wall.


Louder this time, demanding. Who was that? Where they looking for her? She twisted and turned, trying to find voice in the thick darkness around her. The voice was beyond her wall.


The gentle quiet darkness was gone. Her mind was confused, terrified. The darkness was a trap, drowning her in black, oily syrup that resisted her every movement. The voice was louder, still calling a name. Maybe her name—she had to find out. She tried to move towards the voice, fighting through the enveloping thick darkness.

"Ahh!" Marta cried as one of her sister's wildly swinging arms caught her across the shoulder. She hit the floor with a crash, wincing at the pain in her upper arm. Normally, Marta would have simply shrugged off such a blow, but she'd taken a lucky shot from a Genom security Lynx in almost exactly the same place. With her luck, Shion's errant swing had reopened the wound. It was easy to forget that Shion was strong - very strong - and to make matters worse, at the moment she was quite unaware of what she was doing.

Quickly regaining her feet, Marta leaned back over the bed, trying to restrain her sister's limbs before she hurt herself, or more likely, Marta herself. Catching Shion's wrists, Marta strained to keep them together, meanwhile continuing an almost non-stop series of soothing words.

"Shee... please... wake up, it's all right, you're safe. Shee? Can you hear me? It's your sister, Marta? Shion? Please wake up. Please?"

Shion writhed and thrashed, her mouth opening and closing is if she wanted to speak, her body slick with sweat. Leaning all her weight onto her sister's arms, Marta tried vainly to push them back down.

It was three days since the devastating firefight at the Genom genetics research lab. The place had been, in Marta's opinion, the stuff of nightmares. Rooms full of clones, both of her sister and others, her sister suspended in an iso-tank like some sort of freakish exhibit, genetic manipulation and extraction machines, banks of computers conducting who-knows-what sorts of experiments on her sister... It was enough to make one wake up screaming... which is exactly what had happened the first night after rescuing Shion. Fortunately, no one had heard her, or, they had pretended not to.

Pushing such thoughts aside, Marta tried to concentrate on returning her sister to the land of the living. The sensory deprivation of the iso-tank she'd been held in had left her in a catatonic state. But that looked to be ending now. Shion was now beginning to gasp, uttering half-heard words as she bucked and writhed. Tears were flowing freely from her eyes, and to Marta it sounded as if she was calling someone's name... Hers?

The end, when it came, was almost anti-climactic. One moment Shion was soundlessly twisting back and forth, the second she was sitting up in the bed, eyes open, breasts heaving with each gasping breath, staring soundlessly at the far wall.

"Shee...?" Marta whispered, her throat tight.

For a long moment her sister did nothing but pant deeply and study the far wall. Finally, without turning her head, she spoke.

"marty?" Her voice was raspy and faint and Shion coughed slightly as she spoke.

"Here, here, don't try to talk," Marta turned from the bed and fumbled with the pitcher of water standing on the end table. "Drink this, it will make you feel better."

"thank..." Shion began, before Marta silenced her with a finger pressed to her lips.

"Listen to me for once," Marta's voice cracked midway through, and she could feel the tears blurring her vision, "Don't talk, just drink."

Nodding silently, Shion drained the cup. Marta refilled it and Shion drank the second one as well.

Wiping futilely at the tears in her eyes, Marta returned the cup to the end table. "Oh, Shee..." she whispered, "I was so worried about you. I thought you might be dead."

"I... I..." Shion managed before giving up. Feeling emotions too strong for words, she settled for wrapping her arms around her sister, drawing her close and holding her tight. A moment later, Marta began weeping, her pent-up emotions released in a sobbing burst of tears that ran freely down her face and dripped into her sister's long, silken tresses.

"Stop it," Shion whispered faintly, stroking her sister's hair gently, "Stop crying, Mar... Marta, you know I hate it when you cry."

"S-s-sorry," Marta managed, "but I thought you were d-d-dead. I... I..."

"Hush," Shion coughed, her throat still raw from the iso-tank breathing tube. Resting her head on Marta's shoulder she slowly began to rock back and forth trying to comfort both her sister and herself. "I'm not dead."

Sitting up in bed, sipping at a bowl of hot soup, Shion took a moment to examine her surroundings. She was in a small room, sparsely furnished, the stark white walls contrasting sharply with the golden-brown of the wood floor. The window showed a view of the ocean, with a broad strip of white beach and scattered palms. It was warm and comfortable, the the breeze through the open window was tinged with the smell of the sea.

Absently stirring her soup bowl, Shion glanced up at the sound of her bedroom door opening. Her sister stood there, dressed in old shirt and shorts, face wan and tired looking, her right arm in a sling. "Shee?" she asked hesitantly, as if unsure her sister was real.

Setting the bowl aside, Shion managed a small smile. "Come on in," she whispered, "and thanks for the soup."

Padding silently into the room on bare feet, Marta settled herself down on the edge of the bed, reaching out with her free hand to brush the tangled strands of her sister's snowy-white hair out of her face. "How are you feeling? "

"Better," Shion shrugged slightly, "I still feel tired, but at least I can sit up, neh?"

"Good, good," Marta said soothingly. "You eat all that, do you hear me? You need your strength."

"Yes, mother."

"Shee..." Marta actually laughed for a moment before sobering quickly, a faint image of their long dead mother passing through her mind. "Don't joke like that, it's not funny."

"Sorry..." Shion reached for the bowl, attempting to ward off any further discussion by the act of finishing her meal.

Sitting back on the bed, Marta quietly studied her sister. Shion was carefully sipping at each spoonful of soup, ensuring that not one drop was spilled onto the bed. It that had been her, she probably would have drunk straight from the bowl... Marta sighed silently, even here the Empress had to hold her court.

Putting the bowl down with a satisfied sigh, Shion remained quiet, staring at her hands. Finally, she looked up, her expression one of slight confusion, her voice hesitant.

"Marta..." she asked slowly, "can I ask you a question?"

"Uh... sure."

"Where am I?"

Marta blinked and felt a sudden urge to laugh, which, considering all that had happened recently, would probably sound like the ravings of a madwoman. Swallowing the desire to giggle insanely, she gently took one of Shion's hands in her own.

"New Zealand, sis. You're safe now."

"How... how did I get here?"

Well..." Marta paused and pulled her legs up onto the bed, turning so she faced her sister. "It's a long story... how much do you remember?"

Shion shook her head. "Very little. I... I remember fighting with Sonnet, and... and 93 Underground... I remember seeing you and Chiffon..." Her voice slowly trailed off as she tried to reconstruct exactly what *had* happened. "Marta, you live in San Francisco... how did I get there?"

"I don't know, Shee," Marta shook her head, "I think you teleported there from New York."


"Do you remember anything after that?"

"Uh..." Shion looked confused and a little scared as she fought to place all of the odd images fluttering at the edges of her memory in proper order. "Very little... I know I was laying in your bed, and then there was a a lot light and smoke, after that... nothing."

"You were captured by Genom," Marta said in a flat tone. "They destroyed my apartment, gassed you and put Chiffon in the hospital. They ended up hauling you off to Japan to some genetic lab where they had some scientist studying you, trying to figure out what makes you tick." She decided that telling her sister about the rooms full of clones was not a good idea right now, especially with Sonnet so fresh in Shion's memory.

"But, how did I get here?"

Marta took a deep breath. Here it comes, she thought. "After you were taken I started searching. I figured it was Genom and went after a few likely sources. After a while I started working the Rim, looking for clues and taking jobs in order to get enough cash to buy some equipment I was going to need. I then went to Neo York to find Takeda Johnson, since this whole mess was his fault anyway."

"Takeda?" Shion looked up suddenly, her voice sharp, "Takeda helped you get me out? Is he here?"

"No," Marta snapped, "he's gone back to Neo York!"

"Marta," Shion replied sternly, "don't talk to me like that."

"Look, Shion, it's because you went off with him in the first place that you're in the state you're in now!" Marta's voice rose rapidly in volume, as she pointed an accusing finger at her sister, "You should see yourself, circles under your eyes, no muscle tone, you're probably twenty pounds lighter and you're so weak you can barely sit up!"

Batting ineffectually at Marta's hand, Shion glared at her sibling. "I knew the risks when I went up against Genom, so don't you start telling me how to live my life now!" She paused and took a breath, "And you still haven't answered my question."

"Alright..." Marta scowled, "After I hooked up with Takeda we tracked you to a Genom research facility in the Furabashi district. He'd brought his whole team along and we ended up working with some ESWAT bitch named Kobayashi..."

"Noriko Kobayashi," Shion muttered quietly.

"Yeah, her," Marta continued without skipping a beat. "So, we get inside, thanks to some Lynx Takeda's got hacking into Genom's files, and after the nastiest goddamned firefight I've ever seen, I find you floating in this big glass tank. There was some Doc there running tests and shit and after he got you free, Takeda hauled the lot of us out of there."

"How long?"

"What? Since we freed you? A few days."

"No," Shion's voice shook slightly, "How long was I in there?"

"Oh..." Marta swallowed and looked at the floor. "Two... three months."

"w-wh-WHAT?" Shion sat back, one hand brushing her hair from her face , "What day is it?"

"December 20th."

"Oh God..."

The taxi stopped at a two-story ranch-styled house set near the beach. A young, dark-haired man got out and paid, pulling his single bag from the back seat. He waited until the taxi was gone, then turned towards the house.

It was very pretty. A big deck was partly visible from this angle on the beach side. Trees, shade, no close neighbors, a huge beach. Very nice indeed.

Finding it had been easy enough. Nabiki Tendo, Takeda's fixer in Mega-Tokyo, did good work. And it was pretty simple, since Nabiki had helped Takeda to arrange the transportation for Shion and Marta to New Zealand in the first place. By the time Takeda's scramjet had landed, Nabiki had found where Marta had holed up.

Takeda kept his concentration on keeping his powers damped. All psychokinetics were 'loud' to a greater or lesser extent. Some, like Takeda, had to concentrate not to be radiating at a low level all the time. Others, like Shion or Ran, fairly glowed in spite of anything they could do. Takeda knew he wasn't expected, and he didn't want to surprise Shion. Without his powers suppressed she'd probably sense him before she saw him. And he knew his teke signature was very similar to his brother's.

Keeping his powers quiet, Takeda opened his mind and 'listened'. In a few moments he felt Shion's power. She was there, alright.

Adjusting her straw sunhat and pushing her sunglasses back up her nose, Shion tried once again make herself comfortable. Her attempt was hampered by the fact that the wheelchair she was sitting in was designed to provide stable back support, and would only recline if she bent the frame. She would have preferred to lounge on one of the long, low, deck couches, except that she was still having trouble standing, much less walking, and she certainly wasn't going to ask Marta to carry her.

"Shee? Are you all right?" Marta looked over from where she was sunning herself, "Do you want me to get you another cushion?"

"No," Shion grumbled crossly, pulling at one of the seat cushions, "I can manage."

"Okay." Shion swore she could hear laughter in her sister's voice, but didn't look up to make sure. "Just trying to help."

"I hope I'm not intruding?"

Takeda's voice surprised both the Nys sisters. He was standing on the walkway near the side of the house, having walked around from the front.

Marta recovered first, her left hand vanishing inside the sling that supported her right arm, to return brandishing a pistol. "How the fuck did you find us?" she snapped. Sunbathing as she was in a string monokini, Takeda couldn't help but notice Marta's well-toned and well-defined figure. But her eyes, full of ice and fury easily counteracted the reactions given by her body.

Takeda's eyes held Marta's, his hands open and spread, frowning slightly.

"Takeda," Shion breathed, shaking her head slightly. Reaching out with one hand, she gently tapped her sister's elbow. "Put that away Marta, nothing is going to happen."

"Bullshit! Every time he shows up you end up hurt!" Face flushed with anger, Marta turned from Takeda to face Shion. "You tell him to get out of here! I didn't go through hell just to see you end up getting killed, Shee!"

"Marta!" Shion's voice was strong and stern, "I'm not going to go anywhere! Now sit down or go inside!"

"I..." Marta stopped and gritted her teeth, "Sheee... don't treat me like a little kid. Dammit, I don't deserve this."

For a long moment the two women stared silently at each other. Finally, Shion relented, her shoulders dropping slightly. "Marta," she said softly, "I'm in no shape to go anywhere, you know that. All I want to do is talk. I promise I won't do anything else."

Looking over her shoulder to glare at Takeda, Marta nodded. "All right." Returning the pistol to it's hiding place inside her sling she gestured at the house, "I've got to start making arrangements for my trip to Hong Kong anyway." Pausing only to scoop up her robe with her free arm, Marta stalked off towards the house.

"Well... Mr. Johnson," Shion said quietly, "I presume you want to see me?"

Takeda pulled his frown from where Marta's shapely form walked away.

"Ms. Nys," he bowed, then smiled. "I just happened to be coming by, and I wanted to see how you were doing." He picked up his overnight bag and approached the deck, stopping at the low stairs. "May I come up?"

"'Just happened to be coming by'?" Shion gave a throaty chuckle, "My, Mr. Johnson, I thought such obvious lies were beneath you." Gesturing at a deck chair, she nodded, her movements slow, "Yes, have a seat. Perhaps you'll be able to tell me what my sister won't."

Takeda smiled and stepped up, looking Shion over carefully before sitting down. "I am very pleased to see you awake. You're looking better, much better."

"That may be, but I certainly don't feel better." Shion shook her head ruefully, "According to Marta it's been close to three months since Sonnet died. Takeda... what happened?"

Takeda frowned, looking away. "Where to start?" He looked back at her. "How much do you remember?"

"Only bits and pieces. I am beginning to think I'm better off that way."

Takeda nodded. "I'll give you the quick version first, and then you can ask questions, if you like."

Shion nodded silently, removing her sunglasses and dropping them into a pocket of her robe.

"We killed Sonnet. You were furious. Ran showed up; he teleported me to ruins in MT; after we talked he decided not to kill me. By the time I got back to Neo York you had trashed '93 Underground and disappeared."

"Yes... I remember most of that," Shion said quietly.

Takeda paused, looking off into space. "About a month later I started having dreams."

"Dreams? What do you mean by 'dreams'?"

Takeda shrugged, clearly uncomfortable with the question. "The dreams were about you, and a number of other things. A building I'd never seen. You floating, asleep. Fear. The dreams were unlike anything I've had before; I started to investigate."

Shion started slightly at the news and blinked in surprise, "You're precognitive? You can do that?"

Takeda looked away. "I don't know." After a moment he looked back. "This is the first time it's ever happened to me. But the dreams were very accurate. I saw you, I saw Marta, I saw the building, I saw Captain Kobayashi. I had never seen Captain Kobayashi before, and I had never seen the building before. I also foresaw the hijack attempt on our scramjet going into Hong Kong, although it wasn't much use—I didn't know the events were those I had seen until it was already happening."

Shion glanced up, looking as if she meant to speak, and then looked away. "Go on."

"I found out that you had been attacked and captured in Marta's apartment in San Francisco, not long after you left Neo York. You were gone. Marta had also disappeared, searching for you. I left her datamail, trying to get in touch, but otherwise I couldn't find any signs of you or her."

"A couple of weeks back Marta showed up at Neo York with information—a building picture. It was the one in my dreams. I convinced my boss to bring my whole team in on the mission. We flew to MT by way of Hong Kong, infiltrated and assaulted the building you were in, found you floating comatose as part of some experiment, and busted you out. Then I sent you and Marta here to NZ to recover and went back with my team to Neo York to debrief. When that was finished I came here to see how you were doing."

"I see..." Shion said slowly. "And once you've seen me?"

Takeda's eyebrows rose. "I'm not here to create trouble between you and Marta, Shion. If you want me to leave, I will. When I left you, you still were in a coma. I wanted to see if you would recover, if I could help. That is all."

"I... you don't have to leave right away, Takeda. I thank you for your concern, since I doubt anyone else on your team really cares as to my fate one way or the other." Shion sounded slightly sad as she spoke, as if her normally icy Empress facade had been allowed to crack for the moment. "Please, why don't we sit here, enjoy the sun and talk, I'm sure my sister will grant us that."

Takeda smiled slightly, then quirked an eyebrow at the house. "Marta doesn't do well when she's surprised." His face turned more serious. "I had hoped that she'd gotten over blaming all your troubles on me. Maybe I just caught her at a bad time."

"Hmph," Shion sniffed, "I think anytime you're around it will be the wrong time. Marta doesn't like you, and I doubt anything you do will change that."

"You're probably right. But whether or not she likes me, she owes me."

"Oh..." Shion said in a slightly cold tone of voice, "And how are you intending to collect?"

Takeda raised his eyebrows again. "Not having her point a gun at my face every time she sees me would be a nice start."

"I'll see what I can do." The ice had left her voice as quickly as it had arrived, and Takeda caught the hint of a smile as Shion spoke. "But I recommend you don't try and push matters, my sister can be quite... stubborn at times."

Takeda nodded.

It was a little while before he spoke again, gradually relaxing in the sun. "It appears the facility where you were held was a major part of Genom's psychokinetic cloning experiments. As a part of the mission we destroyed some very expensive equipment and at least eighty unfinished clones. Twenty were clones of you," he said, looking at Shion. Then he looked away, remembering blood and fluids mixing on a floor. "Twenty were clones of me. Or more precisely, were clones of the person I am cloned from."

Shion remained silent, although Takeda detected a slight facial twitch at the news about the clones. Finally, she looked up, her eyes empty of emotion. "Ran..."

Takeda shook his head in negation. "That's what I expected, too. But the name on the containers was Akira. I've never heard the name before."

"Ran isn't really a name, Takeda. It means 'chaos', and I doubt anyone would deliberately give their child such a name." Shion paused and thought for a moment, "I'm willing to bet that Akira is Ran's real name, back when he had one."

"Maybe so." Then Takeda smiled ironically, "The next time I talk to him, I'll ask."

"Ahem," Shion coughed and looked out over the ocean, "I do hope that was your idea of a joke."

Takeda was quiet for a moment. "Yes and no. I live in Neo York, Shion. Every time I use my powers in the Zone, there is a chance he'll feel it. And my signature is very like his.

"I don't want to meet him again. But I've thought about it. I'd be a fool to delude myself that it isn't going to happen, some time."

"And there is a reason he was nicknamed 'Ran', Takeda. He is volatile and unpredictable, and certainly more than powerful enough to destroy you, me or any other esper on the planet. Don't forget I've fought with him, and barely escaped. I doubt you'll do any better." Shion paused, visibly wincing at the memory and unconciously rubbing the arm Ran had broken at the time. "If the two of you clashed, I would fear for all the Neo York, not just the Zone."

Takeda nodded. "I wasn't being cocky. It was more ... fatalistic, I suppose." He shook his head. "Let's talk about something else."

"Let's. Why don't you continue telling me about what I've missed."

"Well, that's pretty much it, in brief. I've glossed over some details here and there—the Hong Kong incident, for example. If you like, I can get you a copy of my field report on the mission, although my boss may insist on some details being removed for security. But those would mostly be personal things that could be traced back to us. I think I can insist that you be given the full report on Genom and what happened. After all, it happened to you. And it's not like the information is very secure, given that Marta was there for the whole mission."

"I... I think I would like that, Takeda." Shion watched the waves crash against the beach for a few moments, "Even if I never actually read it, I would feel better knowing the information was available."

Takeda nodded. "Whether you read it, or do anything, is your decision. But you deserve as much information as possible."

"Thank you."

Takeda smiled briefly in response.

The two psychokinetics sat in the sun for some minutes before Shion spoke again.

"Takeda, perhaps you can answer this question, or perhaps not..." Shion looked over at the house and then turned to face Takeda. "What happened to my sister in Hong Kong?"

Takeda glanced back at the house. "Marta has a fixer named Ling Ling Li in Hong Kong. A fixer, and a friend, it seems. When we got to Hong Kong Ling Ling was in the hands of a Triad lord that she and Marta had offended somehow. My group ... destroyed the Triad lord and killed about thirty of his men, and got Ling Ling out. Alive, but badly beaten."

"More than I 'friend' I think." Shion managed a thin smile as she glanced over at the house again. "Ever since I've been capable of sitting up unaided, my sister has been frantic about going to Hong Kong to meet with someone. But she wouldn't tell me who or what, all I heard was 'don't worry about it, you just get your rest'."

Shion turned back to Takeda, "Now I know why the spare bedroom looks the way it does." She took a deep breath and then continued, "I've heard of Miss Li, she's rather well known along the Rim for her procurement abilities. I find it strange that someone, even a Triad Dai Lo, would assault her like that. Marta must have done something quite... spectacular."

Takeda shrugged his ignorance. "It involved killing a bunch of the Dai Lo's men, I believe. But it seemed to be part of some conflict between Triads. The one we killed was a brutal thug. Ling Ling was badly whipped and tortured. I don't like to kill, but I didn't feel bad about him ending up dead." Takeda shook his head, "Anyway, that's why Marta owes me."

"Meaning what Takeda? I was important enough to worry about and this other person wasn't?"

"No, no, not at all. But I was already searching for you, and I would have come after you in spite of Marta, not because of her."

At that point they heard the door open behind them.

"Shion? I brought you something to drink, I thought you might be thirsty."

Takeda and Shion both turned, to see Marta standing behind them. She had changed clothes, and was now dressed in faded jeans and a thin white blouse. Holding two large glasses of iced tea, she sett one down near her sister, and sipped from the other, pointedly ignoring Takeda.

"I'm going to be leaving for Hong Kong tomorrow..." Marta glanced quickly at Takeda and leaned down to whisper in her sister's ear. "Will you be okay by yourself for a few days?"

Shion nodded and motioned at Takeda, "So, Mr. Johnson, would you mind staying here for a day or two while my sister is away?"

Takeda almost laughed, but controlled it into a smile. "I would love to."

Marta's brows furrowed at the exchange, but she remained silent, scowling at the horizon.

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