Even at 2:00 AM, Hong Kong seemed as awake now as it had been 8 hours ago. The only noticeable difference was a major drop in bicycle and pedestrian traffic, and that the buses had stopped running at midnight. But this clearing of the streets was more than made up for by a dramatic increase in taxis.
Marta Nys walked steadily through the light misting rain, ignoring the scattered neon signage that almost screamed for attention. Even here, away from the more commercial sections of town, business promoted their products with brightly light masses of glowing tubes that advertised everything from soft drinks to sexual partners. The signs created garish swirls of color in the pools of runoff that were spread erratically across the sidewalk.
Marta sighed slightly, her breath coming forth in a thin white cloud. Her quest to free her sister, Shion, from Genom's clutches had carried her first to Sydney, and now here, to Hong Kong. This was the city where business was everything, and everything was business. It was said that one could buy anything in Hong Kong; the newest software releases, guns, ancient Chinese works of art, simsense chips, counterfeit copies of famous name clothing, vehicles, drugs, and if the rumors were true... human slaves. Like most people, though, Marta was here to buy that most precious commodity of all: information.
Pausing at the mouth of a brightly lit alley, Marta checked the sign overhead against the directions she'd been given. Although the Chinese characters meant nothing to her, the green glowing outline of a dragon was unmistakable. This must be the Pool of the Black Dragon, which meant that Fei Shang's Tea Shop was just within the alley's mouth. Walking forward, she found a set of covered stairs that led up the side of the building to a small landing near the roof. A simple wooden door marked the entrance.
Inside, the tea shop presented a more opulent appearance. Painted silk screens, potted plants and innumerable hanging birdcages divided the main dining room into several smaller sections. As late as it was, there was a surprising crowd, drinking tea and partaking of the wide assortment of dim sum that was circulated on seemingly ever full carts.
Stepping around the large aquarium set near the door, Marta noted with some amusement that one of the tank's inhabitants was contentedly swimming upside down. System maintenance on water going synthetics was always a touchy thing.
According to the instructions, she would be meeting her contact in one of the back rooms. Picking her was carefully past the tables, and trying to avoiding coughing on the thick clouds of cigarette smoke, Marta made her way to where the private booths were located. She was aware of numerous eyes upon her as she passed, for it seemed that she was the only occidental in the place. Marta sighed inwardly, lawless as Hong Kong came across, one couldn't wear guns openly. Normally, Marta armed herself heavily when working, unfortunately, she wasn't able to do that here. Gone was the katana and smartlinked Sig-Saur, instead, she was wearing a short sleeved, knee length jacket over her armored black bodysuit, with the Genom Hoshoku Zeta magnum in a shoulder rig. Although not quite as vain and arrogant as her older sister, Marta knew that she'd attract attention regardless of what she was wearing, but it didn't hurt to try to be subtle. Ignoring the whispered comments in a language she didn't even begin to understand, she strode purposely to the far side of the room, stopping in front of a curtained alcove.
"Come in." The voice bore only a faint accent.
Sliding the curtain aside, Marta stepped into the small room. A circular dining table was set just inside. On it was an assortment of tea pots, bowls, trays and other dishes. The smell was most enticing. Across the table stood a rather tall Chinese woman, dressed in a traditionally styled, tight-fitting black jacket and trousers. Her luxuriant fall of hair came almost to her waist, only partially obscuring the tapering points of her cosmetically altered ears.
"Miss Nys?" the woman adjusted her glasses slightly, "I am Ling Ling Li."
"I am pleased to meet you Miss Li, I am Marta Nys."
Ling Ling gave a polite smile and indicated the table before her, "It is rather late, shall we have some dinner before we talk business?"
Marta eyed the spread before her appreciatively. "I would be delighted."
As the two women seated themselves, Marta noticed that there was a third person inhabiting the small chamber. A short oriental woman, shorter even that Marta herself, dressed in casual Western clothing. She stood with her arms crossed in a far corner of the room, staring steadily at Marta. Although she looked non-threatening, Marta found that the unknown woman made her slightly uncomfortable. Tilting her head slightly, Marta indicated the woman to Ling Ling.
Ling Ling raised a tea cup and smiled, "Miss Nys, may I introduce my bodyguard, Pai. Pai, this is Miss Marta Nys." She paused and turned to face her bodyguard directly, "Sister to the Empress."
Pai's eye's widened. "I am pleased to meet you," she breathed in halting English.
Marta smiled and nodded her head, returning her attention to the meal in front of her. Inwardly she winced, her sister's almost mythical reputation as the world's most powerful psychokinetic almost sickened her at times. And, considering Ling Ling's comment and Pai's reaction, she was willing to bet that Pai possessed telekinetic powers as well. She gave an inaudible sigh, at times it was hard to believe that the tall, elegant, aristocratic Shion had once been a skinny, gangly-limbed girl that had teased her younger sister to tears by constantly referring to her as 'Marty'.
Pushing such thoughts from her mind, Marta helped herself to the food spread out before her. Living in San Francisco, she had acquired a taste for Chinese cooking, and the dishes here looked as good as anything she'd seen in California. For a time, no words were spoken, as both Marta and Ling Ling were content to simply enjoy their meal.
Her hunger sated, Marta filled her tea cup and took a deep swallow, surreptitiously examining Ling Ling's well proportioned figure with a critical gaze. Idly, she wondered what the Fixer would be like in bed, and if she had any chance of finding out. She'd never had an oriental partner before, and Ling Ling's tall, slim waisted, full breasted form appealed to her tastes.
Placing her chopsticks upon the table and pushing the plate aside, Ling Ling produced a cigarette and a lighter. Lighting up in a cloud of aromatic smoke, Ling Ling gestured almost casually, "Now, what can I do for you?"
Following Ling Ling's lead, Marta pushed aside her own utensils, leaning forward slightly on the table, "I am looking for data on certain Genom installations Miss Li. Installations that may be involved with research centering on replicant design, clone production and psychokinetic testing."
Ling Ling remained still, a sudden exhalation of smoke her only reaction to Marta's request. She had expected something like this; there were stories circulating that Genom had finally retaliated for Shion's assault on on their Mega-Tokyo tower several months ago. "That information may be somewhat difficult to obtain, Miss Nys. Genom is not noted for being very open about exactly what form of research is being carried at any of their installations and manufacturing centers. How soon would you need this data?"
"How soon does anyone need any information?" Marta kept her voice calm, but the irritation was obvious. "I would like it as soon as you can possibly get it. Time is of the essence."
Ling Ling inclined her head, "I apologize, I did not intend to be rude." She paused and took a long drag on her cigarette, staring almost thoughtfully at the far wall, "I have certain contacts in Mega-Tokyo that that may be able to help. I should be able to produce something in about 24 hours. Is that good enough?"
"Thank you, Miss Nys. Now, is there anything else you need?"
Marta took a deep breath, she'd been told that Ling Ling was one of the best fixers around, second only to the legendary Nabiki Tendo in her ability to acquire equipment and data. "A hardsuit Miss Li." She laid a disk upon the table, "You will find the desired models and design specification on this."
Ling Ling nodded to Pai, who stepped forward and scooped up the floppy in a single fluid motion. Silently, she returned to her place against the wall.
"I can have prices and availability in six hours, is that sufficient?"
Marta reached inside a coat pocket, producing the thin black tube of a certified credstick. "I believe this should cover any initial expenses."
Apparently ignoring the money, Ling Ling blew a stream of smoke at the ceiling, "You do know that all of Genom's research centers are in Japan? All of their other corporate towers are primarily concerned with manufacturing."
"Yes, I had heard that." Marta wondered how much the other woman knew, and what she was getting at.
"Should I make arraignments for you to be traveling to Mega-Tokyo then?"
Ling Ling gave Marta a slight smile, "Good, I..."
^Ling Ling! Trouble!^ Pai stepped away from the wall with surprising speed, snatching up the credstick as she came between the fixer and the alcove's entrance.
Marta stood up immediately, turning towards the tea house's central dining room. A fairly large group of men had entered, and were heading to where she and Ling Ling were sitting. Several had produced pistols from under their jackets, and the rest were following suit. One of the men stood out in front, gesturing to either side of the booth, having the others cut off possible avenues of escape.
Marta stepped back, pushing her chair to one side, trying to keep everyone in view. With a thought she triggered her wired reflexes, a sudden tingling signaling their activation. Beside her she could see Pai, standing quietly, eyes narrow.
One of the men stepped forward, a Genom Hoshoku Zeta gripped tightly in one hand. Carefully, he looked Marta over. Satisfied with what he saw, he turned to one of his companions, ^That her?^
Another man stepped forward, nodding quickly, ^Yeah... yeah, that's her Tsu-Shen. She's the one that iced Walter, Vu and Chang.^
Keeping her expression calm, Ling Ling swore silently. The men standing before her belonged to one of Hong Kong's many Triads, a gang headed by a man named Tony Wang. Even among the incredibly violent Triads, Tony had a reputation for ruthlessness. It was just her luck that she'd sent Yakumo off on business to the other side of the island.
Ling Ling glanced at the collection of gun-toting Triad soldiers with a haughty gaze. Slowly, she breathed forth a thick cloud of smoke, narrowing her eyes as she fixed the group's apparent leader with a dark look. "Gentlemen," her voice was even, but cold,"you are interrupting my business. If you have an argument with Miss Nys, so be it, but it can wait until we have finished our affairs." Calmly, she took a long pull on her cigarette, apparently giving no notice to the gun muzzles that had begun to point her way.
The man referred to as Tsu-Shen stepped past Marta to lean heavily on the table, his pistol now pointing directly at Ling Ling's chest. ^Oh, aren't we special,^ he sneered. ^I know who you are Li Ling Ling, and I don't care. Mouth off once more, and you'll end up just like your 'client' here.^ Ling Ling's only response was a fine cloud of smoke that jetted from her nostrils. Slowly, and with great care, Ling Ling ground out her cigarette in the bottom of a tea cup.
The sudden elevation of the table's contents was all the warning anyone had. A moment later, the floor exploded into a cloud of dust and splinters that hung motionless between Marta and the rest of the Triad members. Turning in a blur of motion, Marta slapped Tsu-Shen's gun aside, smashing his head down into the table with her other hand. There was a booming crash as the Zeta went off, digging a deep furrow in the wall. Popping the razors in her fingers, Marta raked her free hand across the man's neck, blinking slightly at the sudden jet of blood that sprayed across table top.
As soon as the floor had been ripped apart, Pai leapt in front of the alcove entrance. Concentrating her telekinetic power, she formed a wall in front of her, deflecting the sudden fulsaide of bullets effortlessly. Rounds spanged away from her invisible shield, to ricochet back into the main room. Behind the Triad soldiers, the tea house fairly erupted into total chaos as screaming patrons dove for cover or ran for the entrance, overturning tables and chairs in their haste to escape the sudden gun fire. The Triad soldiers scattered as well, taking cover behind tables, plants and floor screens.
Taking advantage of the momentary lull in the shooting, Pai unleashed with a force bolt, shredding the floor in a broad swath from her to where several of the Triad had clustered. The table they were crouched behind disintegrated into a flying swarm of fragments as the three soldiers were tossed about, to land in groaning heaps on the floor beyond.
Rising from Tsu-Shen's body, Marta turned to the confusion out in the tea house's main room. The remaining Triad members had gathered themselves for a rush at the private room, hoping to overwhelm Pai through sheer force of numbers. Grinning slightly, her extended razor's dripping, Marta went to meet them.
Ling Ling sat motionless behind her table, seemingly oblivious to the violence around her. In the 18 hours since Marta had first contacted her, Ling Ling had gone to great lengths to learn as much as possible about her future client. It seemed that Marta had engaged in some interesting wetwork a few days ago; airing out three of Tony's boys in a very messy, and very public fashion. Sources said that Alec Quan, Tony's biggest competitor had been responsible. His hiring of Marta, unusual for a Triad, was an obvious attempt to avoid the expected retaliation. Marta, meanwhile, had been more than happy to take the job; word was that she was desperate for money and was taking all sorts of odd contracts. Ling Ling sighed, business was never a simple matter in Hong Kong, especially if it involved one of the innumerable Triads.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Ling Ling curled her fingers around the black rubber grips of a Desert Eagle .50 resting in a holster mounted under the table. The chrome-plated pistol was a massive weapon, and Ling Ling liked it for it's sheer intimidation value.
The sudden, oily, click of a weapon being cocked drew her attention to the present. Standing on the far side of the dining table was one of Tony's lieutenants, a tall, thin-faced man by the name of Philip Lang. With an evil grin he raised his Berreta submachine gun, the under barrel laser sight forming a thin red line in the smoke and haze.
^Time to die, bitch,^ he growled.
The table literally exploded as a continuous stream of 9mm rounds ripped their way up the center. Ling Ling threw herself to one side, firing her sidearm as she fell, the strength of her genetically upgraded body allowing her to absorb the gun's recoil easily. The pistol's .50 caliber slugs ripped gaping holes in the table, the ceiling and the back wall. Philip ducked and spun away from her line of fire, keeping the submachine gun's trigger depressed as he did so. Rounds went wild, shattering lamps, a mirror and tearing the wall hangings into shreds.
Rising to one knee, Ling Ling sighted carefully along the barrel. She could just see Philip behind the dark mass of a potted plant. Steadying the pistol with both hands, she fired one round, reducing Philip's shoulder to a shattered mass of flesh, bone and blood. He pitched forward with a scream, trying to bring his own gun to bear. Ling Ling calmly put the next round right through his forehead, sending the back of his head spraying across the floor in a flood of brains and gore.
Leaping past Pai, who looked to preparing a second force blast, Marta slashed at an unlucky Triad, opening the side of his face as the blades cut his cheek to thin hanging strips. Screaming incoherently, he stumbled backwards, firing his pistol blindly in the direction of his attacker. Spinning from his line of fire, Marta grabbed a second gunman's outstretched arm, twisting him around in front of her just as third opened up with his PN90. The unfortunate gunman's sudden scream collapsed into a bubbling, bloody gasp as the barrage tore through his lightly armored jacket. Tossing her now dead shield aside, Marta struck the machine pistol to the floor with a blinding snap kick. Leaping forward, the man launched his own kick, a high circling strike, that to Marta seemed painfully slow. She dodged the crescent kick by throwing herself straight back, to fall flat on the floor, her attacker's foot passing harmlessly overhead. Twisting around, Marta swung her leg in a tight arc, catching the man's leg just behind the knee. There was a satisfying crash as he fell through a nearby table.
Jumping to her feet, Marta ducked a second attacker's wild swing and just managed to catch a third's incoming knife thrust with a circular forearm block. Producing her Hoshoku Zeta in her other hand, Marta jammed the gun tight against the man's body. She fired three rounds in rapid succession, reducing the chest to a red ruin. He fell backwards in a spray of blood, his knife spiraling away to land amid the debris of the floor. There was a faint ringing as the spent shell casings bounced across the floor.
Turning to her other opponent, Marta snapped her left leg forward, delivering a series of kicks that traveled up the man's torso. His weak attempt at a block was futile, as her first blow landed on his knee, fracturing the kneecap. Following kicks impacted on his thigh, his hip, stomach and chest, her steel-laced skeleton allowing her to deliver blows with far more force than her slight frame seemed to make possible. Her final strike staggered the man, and she paused a moment before delivering a high spinning kick that snapped the man's head around with a grinding pop, sending him flying across the room to fetch up against a far wall. Marta's savage grin was her only comment. Her implanted cybernetics were some of the best made, and when running at maximum output made everyone around look painfully slow. They made dealing with common street sams such as these mere child's play.
Spinning back to her original target, Marta found him crawling along the floor, desperately trying to staunch the flow of blood with one hand. Ignoring him, she then turned to the man she'd kicked through a table. He had regained his feet, and was glaring at her. "That's it, bitch," he rasped "You'll never escape now."
Slowly and carefully, Marta raised her pistol, her face expressionless, "Then I'll see you in hell." The gun roared twice, sending the man stumbling backwards to fall heavily to the floor.
With a sigh, Marta returned her gun to it's holster. Stepping over the tangled bodies and debris strewn across the floor, she approached the room where she had met with Ling Ling. Once again, Pai stood beside the entrance, staring silently at her.
Rising from the floor, Ling Ling glanced around the ruined remains of the tea house. The air was thick with the smell of gunpowder and raw meat. Blood was splattered about in thick, red pools, dripping from walls and forming twisting patterns across the floor. The moans of the wounded combined eerily with the squawks of startled songbirds and the cries of terrified patrons. Ejecting the Desert Eagle's spent clip, Ling Ling casually tipped the shattered dining table aside, sending it's contents sliding to the floor with a crash. Looking over at Marta, she gave the other woman a thoughtful look. "You realize," Ling Ling said with a slight smile, "this is going to cost you extra."
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