.


Sixth Night, AM


Taking the subway with spoofed IDs was probably second nature to these Runners, but to Kate it was a stressful and tense experience, and she spent the entire ride nervously looking around, hoping not to see anyone in a uniform walking down the car to check people's tickets. Fire Ant assured her it'd be fine, but Kate hated things like these: sitting and waiting and hoping nothing went wrong.

The ride was uneventful, however, and the MTR's Airport Express line dropped them off at Hong Kong international airport. Attached to the public travel facilities were several private airstrips owned by corps, to let their private jets take off and land without having to bother with procuring a slot or sharing aprons with public passenger liners.

Kate had to grin to herself when she realized she'd sent the Cleaners to this exact spot a few days ago, and now she was actually here.

As they walked, Duncan spontaneously played tourist guide, explaining to Kate how the airport had been built on land that had been reclaimed from the sea, an artificial island as it were, and how it was the world's most prolific cargo hub, as well as one of the busiest passenger traffic centres, with its terminal having been the largest passenger terminal in the world for a long time, until New Moskva airport built a bigger one. Always the damn Russians.

He went on about Kai Tak airport, which was long closed, but which had held the dubious honour of having one of the most dangerous runways in the world, the infamous runway 13, with pilots reportedly sweating bullets whenever they had to land at Kai Tak, since the runway wasn't all that long and ended straight into the sea, and was surrounded by high-rise buildings to boot. It literally needed a marker painted on a mountain face to provide a visual cue for the pilot to make a specific turn and begin his approach. Once the plane passed the marker, it was the point of no return and the pilot had to pray he'd started his approach right, as well as fight the strong and unpredictable, constantly changing winds to set his craft down. There had been more than a few incidents with planes crashing or nose-striking, many of which had involved loss of life. Several had simply slipped off the runway and gone into the bay.

Kate wondered how bad the qi in that place would be, and just when she pondered it, Duncan answered the unasked question for her by saying that it had been turned into a massive housing block, which had to be abandoned when the Awakening happened, because it had quickly become infested with loads of vengeful and grief-maddened spirits and phantoms. No surprise there. It was an abandoned ghost district now, the high-rises inhabited only by wailing spectres.

Fire Ant kept quiet during Duncan's explanation, only smiling at his enthusiasm. The man clearly loved Hong Kong very much. They exited the station, looking not-at-all-suspicious with their sports bags. "So," Fire Ant said, "if anyone needs to go potty, now's the time."

Kate had to chuckle humourlessly at that. "I'm fine. I don't need to go to the bathroom anymore, remember?"

"Oh, I see. Can't let anything out if nothing goes in, right?"

"Right."

"We ready?"

Duncan nodded, and so did Kate, even though she wasn't ready at all. But it had to be now, or the chance would be lost forever.

Fire Ant looked around to make sure they were alone in the stairway. "Alright. Threats are fences, possibly electrified, cameras and guards. Let's hope there's no dogs."

"I'll be able to tell you that as soon as I can identify one of the guards," Kate said. "Only one squad has canine support, so once I know which squad is posted, we know if there's dogs."

"Alright. No magical aptitude in your company's security division?"

"None that I know of," Kate explained. She added cynically, "if they did, they wouldn't be lowly security guards anymore, I s'pose. There were two, but they were in Dragon squad. Which means they were killed. By you."

"I already told you it was regrettable but necessary," Fire Ant said curtly, her eyes hard. "We can't waste time or effort on reproach."

Kate knew she was right, but could only manage a sigh in reply.

"Now. Iz will probably be able to disable the cameras once we hook her into the network remotely, which shouldn't be too hard. We'll just need to get close enough. Have you ever guarded this place before?"

"Me?" Kate snorted. "No, I was Hound squad, the underperforming loser division. Only places I got to guard were empty hangars and overheated basements."

With a grin, Duncan said, "You're not inspiring much confidence in us here."

"Don't worry," she replied, "We underperformed because we didn't work as a unit, not because the members were incapable."

"Fair enough," Fire Ant said. "But it means we'll have to be careful approaching the cameras. Once that's done, we'll just have to climb the fence, disabling the electrical current if necessary, and avoid the guards. When we get to the plane, we'll see how we approach it. Objectives are one, to stop the plane from taking off, and two, to give Katie-kins some alone-time with Josie."

"We'll get it done," Gun Show merely said. "We always have."

"Damn straight."

They walked towards HKIA's terminal building, but took a left towards the private jet services buildings, walking past the opulent and disgustingly luxurious lounges until they reached the one with a yellow pagoda logo above the door. Obviously going in through the front door was a bad idea, but they knew where the plane would be, just about. Now all they had to do was make it airside. There was a strip of barbed-wire fence between the Tsang lounge and the Wuxing one (that must be some fine conversations between those two), but a camera was mounted right above it, in such a way that approaching it, no matter how, would get them spotted.

"Wouldn't it be funny to go in right through Wuxing's lounge?" Duncan remarked. "The irony of pulling the wool over Wuxing's eyes to hammer the final nail in their rival's coffin would be exquisite."

Fire Ant contemplated the idea, and finally nodded. "Wouldn't be the first time we infiltrated Wuxing's buildings. They'll probably be dealing with terrible qi in their main building for a few more weeks."

"Let's hope there's no elemental spirits this time, though," Duncan remarked, recalling whatever it was they'd been doing on some previous run.

"We can't just walk in, though," Kate pointed out.

With a smirk, Fire Ant said, "Sure we can. You haven't seen me at work yet."

Duncan grunted, "She could sell ice to an eskimo."

"Inuit," Kate said absently.

"Trust me," Richelle said with a confidence-inspiring smile. "I'll sweet talk my way in there. All we have to do is get past the reception desk and be left unattended."

Like she owned the place, Fire Ant brazenly walked in through the double doors, surveying her dominion as the glass doors slid open. The Wuxing private jet lounge was as luxuriously decorated as any other, with potted plants, soft music and even softer couch cushions. A modest drinks cabinet stood against the far wall, and a coffee machine was proudly placed next to it. Real coffee, none of that soykaf swill regular people drank.

And against the left wall was a marble reception desk, with an immaculately groomed clerk behind it. "May I… help you?"

"Yes, you can actually," Fire Ant said, sounding utterly confident as she walked up to him. "We're with the Hong Kong tribune, to interview your CFO? He's arriving half an hour from now, isn't he?" It wasn't hard to tell how Fire Ant knew about the chief financial officer's arrival – it was neatly indicated in a timetable hung against the wall behind the receptionist.

"Indeed, he is, but… I wasn't aware of any journalists being invited?" His nose wrinkled when he said, "And you don't really… look the part either."

"What are you talking about," Richelle laughed, leaning on the counter. "We're journalists, we're supposed to look urban and messy."

"Still," the receptionist said back, not convinced. "I wasn't notified. I'll have to clear it with Wuxing Security. Please, take a seat while I make the call." He reached for the receiver of his phone.

"Come on," Fire Ant insisted. "Just take us to the conference room, we'll wait there and not bother anybody, that alright? Not like we can do any harm in there, is it?"

He harrumphed but withdrew his hand. "Do you have your press IDs with you, at least?"

Richelle made a show of patting her jacket. It looked ridiculous. "Drek, buddy, I forgot them."

Duncan played along, grunting, "Ugh, Jane! You forgot our IDs again? I swear, this is the last time you're in charge of logistics on these assignments."

"It's not my fault, alright? If you'd taken them out of my other coat like I asked you to – "

"Oh, great! So now it's my fault, is it?" Duncan raised his voice, and the receptionist's nerves at the same time. "This is so you, Jane! Always blaming other people for your errors."

"My errors? I specifically told you to take the IDs out of my other coat! Specifically told you!"

"It doesn't matter," Duncan shouted. "It was your responsibility!"

"Oh please! I ask you to do one simple thing and it's too much, like always!"

They were full-on yelling now, and this kind of act was nice in the trids, but Kate seriously doubted that it actually worked in any reliable fashion in real life.

"Okay. I need you two to shut up or I'm calling security to get you kicked out," the receptionist said, calm and final.

Both Richelle and Duncan fell silent, their surprise not feigned this time. They clearly hadn't expected such a clear-headed response, hoping instead for the receptionist to be so embarrassed that he just let them pass to avoid a further scene. Kate didn't mind believing that this trick worked on cheap hotel workers, but not these people. They were trained not to let themselves get manipulated into letting people in for no reason.

"I ask you again," the receptionist said calmly, "Your press IDs please." His hand was on the receiver of his phone, the thing already half-lifted. "If not, I suggest you leave."

It happened faster than Kate realized, but in one blindingly quick motion, Gun Show's arm swept over the reception desk, grabbing the Wuxing employee by the throat, and in the next moment, the man was half-pulled over his own counter, in a headlock. Duncan's biceps bulged as his arm constricted the man's windpipe, his other hand set against the back of the unfortunate receptionist's head.

"Don't kill him!" Kate snapped at him.

"Don't worry," Duncan grunted, inhaling so his chest expanded, cutting off the blood flow to the desk clerk's head as the victim's feet drummed on the polished wooden surface of the counter. It only took three seconds for the guy to go slack. "It's a blood strangulation, he'll be alright in a bit." He let the man slump to the ground and produced two pairs of cable ties from his jacket pocket, tightening the strips around the receptionist's wrists and ankles. Unceremoniously, he dragged the unconscious man to the back room, behind the desk, and dumped him in there, fastening him to a steel water pipe and then gagging him with his own tie. He was already moaning and trying to open his eyes, so Kate was confident he wouldn't croak.

"Let's go," Fire Ant said matter-of-factly as she wrote 'BACK IN FIVE MINUTES' on a sheet of paper and folded so it could stand up. "Seems he wasn't in the market for ice. Should have said we were here to view the tapestries."

They weaved through the hallways, avoiding one half-dozing security officer and sneaking around the back of another, until they found a door leading to an empty janitor closet, with the glass doors to airside in view. There, they donned their body armour and readied their weapons.

"We're out of casing mode now," Richelle whispered to the others.

Kate said, "Guys. The thermal drill. Go get it," faster than she realized. Both Shadowrunners looked at her, not understanding. "Nevermind."

"So. We try to make it to airside, then just sneak across this apron towards Tsang's. We still have time, departure isn't scheduled for two hours yet. We should be able to avoid the cameras on this apron, and approach the ones on Tsang's aircraft stands from a blind angle."

"Yeah," Duncan grunted. "Wuxing would never tolerate Tsang's cameras pointed anywhere near their piece of tarmac."

"So, we sneak out, hug the wall and get over to the next apron. Let's go."

After a quick glance up and down the corridor, the three crossed over to airside, the glass doors sliding helpfully open. It was calm on Wuxing's apron, the stand and taxiways empty, no workers crossing over the tarmac. "Camera, there and there," Fire Ant whispered, pointing out the surveillance devices set against the wall of the building they'd just left, looking over the apron. "We're under its arc for now. If we just hug the wall, we'll be fine."

"Dome," Kate whispered. "There." She hadn't been a rent-a-cop for so long to miss one of those, even as inconspicuous as they were. Those cameras were far more problematic, since not only could they rotate and zoom in, but they were also hidden in a glass casing, so you couldn't see where the camera was actually pointing.

"Let's hope the operator's not too dutiful," Duncan grunted. It was very possible that the dome camera would spot them at one point if its operator was currently actively using it, but they had to risk it. They crept past it, and no alarm sounded, even though Kate expected it every moment.

They reached the grassy skirting of the apron and crossed it to get to the wire fence separating Tsang's piece of tarmac from Wuxing's. "Not electrified," Duncan pointed out. He was right. Electrified fencing was required by law to have a warning sign prominently displayed, and even the corps obeyed that law, since the insurance claims were high as skyscrapers when employees or civilians fried themselves on an electrified wire that wasn't properly indicated.

Quickly, the Orc produced a pair of wire cutters, and click-click-clicked a hole in the fence. "Through we go."

This apron, too, was empty, the plane probably still in the hangar for refuelling or outfitting. Kate had no idea if Josephine Tsang was already present, and she suspected the two Runners accompanying her didn't either. "Camera," she whispered to the others, pointing out the device overlooking the hangar's airside doors, which were ajar, but not far enough for them to see inside from the angle they were at. "Electrical box there."

"Splendid," Fire Ant said quietly. "Hold on." She sneaked towards the fuse box, opened it, and attached a small device to its inside. Then she crept back and said, "One moment."

She produced her PDA and after a short minute, the dark-skinned Dwarven girl reappeared, the holographic head informing them, "Cameras are in the process of being looped. Just a sec."

They waited in silence until the holo said, "Done. Should be clear to pass through."

Looping the cams was definitely a better idea than disabling them outright, since it'd take a while for the camera operator to realize he was looking at looped footage, as opposed to immediately noticing the screens going dark.

"Thanks Iz," Fire Ant said, and put the PDA away. "Alright, we're hidden for a while. Let's not waste time."

They crept closer to the hangar, skirting the doors until they could peek inside. Kate stuck her head through the gap and saw two of her colleagues standing guard by a Learjet, their backs to them.

"You know them?" Fire Ant whispered.

Judging from the body shape of one of them, she was pretty convinced she did. "Yeah. That's Jie and Keung. Goat squad." She ducked back behind the hangar doors. It made sense, Keung and Jie often put in a few extra hours on close protection for Tsang bigwigs. The good news was that when they did, they often worked in a very small group, not the entire squad.

"How do you recognize them with their helmets on?" Duncan asked, puzzled.

Kate had to chuckle when she explained, "The woman's Jie. We called her the Boobmonster in the force. Trust me, we all recognized that bust size anywhere."

"Heh," Duncan remarked. "Boobmonster."

"Yep," Kate said casually. "The ones you guys shot had funny nicknames too." She immediately regretted saying it, but not entirely.

The others ignored the remark and Fire Ant said, "Well, that means no dogs, right?"

"No dogs," Kate confirmed. "But if Keung and Jie are standing guard, that means Sayuri's not far off. She can shoot the legs off a fly from the other side of the tarmac. I'd admire her if she wasn't such an ice cold bitch."

"Sniper huh?" Duncan said. "Means she won't be deployed inside that hangar, probably. If at all."

He had a point. The hangar itself wasn't big enough for a sniper to be of any real merit, and Sayuri was known for lazing around until she was called upon anyway. She was smug enough to feel too good for this kind of thing. If they could eliminate Keung and Jie without them raising the alarm, there was a good chance Sayuri would be dozing behind the steering wheel of the APC and the two or three additional team members would sit merrily drinking soykaf inside the vehicle without even knowing what was going on. "If we can incapacitate those two quietly and quickly," Kate said, "we should be alright. Keung and Jie always work as a pair on these close protection jobs with Sayuri and two or three guys as backup. The Tsang fatheads don't like too much security hovering around them."

"Alright, then we sneak closer and take them out."

"Take them out, as in subdue them, not kill them," Kate was quick to demand. "Keung and Jie are good people. Jie especially."

"We'll do our best," Fire Ant said, and made to begin sneaking towards the two, but Kate grabbed her by the shoulder.

"Not good enough. Please. Not these two, under no circumstance."

The redhead's eyes briefly flashed, but then she said, "Fine. We'll do our utmost, I promise."

"They're just people doing their jobs. As long as we don't get seen before we reach them," Duncan said, his tone calm and businesslike, "there should be no problem."

He had a point, but of course, theory and practice were two different things.

"Don't worry Katie," Richelle said. "We got this. But I don't appreciate you putting our lives at risk with demands like this."

"I understand, but this is important. Like I said, they're good people."

She felt Duncan's strong hand on her shoulder. "It'll be alright, we'll take care of it. Come on."

"I… better hang back," she said.

"Why's that?" Fire Ant asked, suspicious.

"Hand to hand combat? With all this HMHVV in my blood? No."

"Mm," the Runner said, thinking. "S'pose that makes sense."

"I'll follow behind in case you need backup." In a way, she was glad to. It meant she didn't have to confront Keung and Jie, and if things went wrong, she could blame the snooty redhead instead of having to bear the guilt of her own mistake. She looked on as the two slowly sneaked closer. Keung and Jie had their attention focused on the landside entrance of the hangar, Keung smoking a cigarette (on airside, naughty) and Jie talking to him like she always did. Kate could tell from the slight movements of her head and her hand busily gesturing. She really, really hoped these two Runners would be able to neutralize them without bloodshed.

She, too, began creeping closer, into the hangar, taking care to put as many obstacles between her and the two guards. There was plenty of clutter in the hangar, and both she and the two Runners gratefully made use of it. Kate's hands gripped the FN HAR nervously. She could only hope to shoot them in the leg if things went south. And even then, it was risky.

She lifted the HAR and lined up the post sight with the peep sight, making sure she had Jie's leg clearly targeted. She moved closer, carefully, but noticed that the Runners were already near striking distance. Duncan had a baton out and Fire Ant lowered her Ares Alpha, apparently planning to take them on bare-handed. So much the better.

They were only two arm's lengths away when Keung finished his cigarette and took it out of his mouth, giving it a quick look before turning to flick it away. Kate's breath stopped when she heard Keung shout, "Hey what the – ", but before he could cry out, Fire Ant whipped her arm over her head, and with a metallic snapping sound, a long, thin length of gossamer flew through the air in a flourish. At the same moment, Duncan leapt forward and thrust his baton into Jie's belly as she turned and attempted to raise her weapon. Kate saw blood explode from Keung's hand, and his weapon fell to the ground, while Jie began convulsing and shaking, making an awful sound, like a pig squealing. She'd seen shock batons in action before, even used them a few times, and the sound was always the same, but it was so much different when it came from someone you knew.

Jie fell over, her legs kicking and arms spasming, while Keung tried to draw his side-arm with his left hand, his right spraying blood. "Don't," Fire Ant merely said, her weapon aimed at his forehead. "I don't care if I have to shoot you, but it'd make my friend upset. So don't. Don't cry 'alarm' or 'contact' either."

"She's right, Keung," Kate called out, coming out of her hiding spot. "Please, just… surrender. I don't want anything to happen to either of you."

Keung seemed undecided for a moment, but he finally took his left hand away from his sidearm and instead used it to cradle his bleeding right. As soon as he did, Duncan stepped forward, removed the pistol from its holster, and pulled his helmet off his head. Then he did the same to Jie, who was still dazed and twitching on the ground.

"My… my hand, you…" Keung started to grunt, but Kate stopped him. "I know, I'm sorry, but the alternative was killing you both. Is it… is it bad?"

He held up his hand with a furious but silent glare, showing Kate the missing ring and little finger, and the bisected metacarpals. Blood ran liberally down his forearm.

"Oh, geez, I'm sorry. But at least – "

"I'm alive? Yeah. Thanks, Kate, for the perspective. Really."

"I'm… sorry. Jie, are you alright?"

She wasn't really in a capacity to speak coherently, but she tried nonetheless. "Gh… I'm… feel like… gonna barf."

"It happens," Duncan said, like it was the most normal thing in the world. "Go ahead and let it go if you need to. It's not our hangar after all."

"I'll b… be fine."

Kate stepped forward and helped her up. She was still twitchy, but improving rapidly. "C… can I…?" She motioned to Keung.

"No," Fire Ant said curtly. "Duncan, cable tie them."

"Wait, what?" Kate interrupted. "He's seriously hurt. Ri… Fire Ant, if she doesn't take care of him, he might bleed to death."

"Can't take the risk," Richelle said flatly. "They might have weapons or comlinks they can access while she treats him."

"N-no, look," Jie pleaded. "I'm just – ngh! – just going to treat him. I pr- promise." Her round face looked at Kate. A twitch briefly closed her right eye. "Please, Katie, when y- you were…"

"I know," Kate said. "Guys, I take responsibility."

"Oh, you take responsibility?" the redhead barked, still keeping her weapon trained on the two guards. "Well, then that's alright isn't it? If this run turns into a gunfight and we all get killed, everything's fine, because Kate takes responsibility."

"Look," Kate snapped back, "They did the exact same thing for me when I was in trouble. They took me at my word and rushed over to help, even when I could have been dangerous. I know these people. If they say they won't try anything, they won't." Keung was still bleeding with no signs of stopping, and he would be in trouble without medical help. "So either you treat him, or Jie does. I promise, they're good for it. They won't try to attack or escape or alert anyone." She looked back at the two. "That includes calling for Sayuri, alright?"

"Promise."

Silence fell in the aircraft hangar, the only sound the low drone of the ventilation.

"She's right," Duncan finally said. "If they do sound an alarm, they'll be the first to be gunned down anyway, so unless they're dumb, or exceptionally willing to die for a corp that doesn't care about them, they won't risk it. But I leave the decision to you, sis."

Fire Ant stood there, her weapon still trained on the two guards, and licked her lips. "Fine. Fucking… fine. But one wrong move, and – "

"No wrong moves," Jie quickly assured her. "I promise. Now, I'm going to reach for my medpack, it's on my lower back. I'm going to slowly take it off and open it, and then I'm going to take care of Keung, is that alright?"

"Slowly."

Jie nodded. "Slowly."

The seconds were intense. Kate was certain they wouldn't try anything, but she was still dreading that Jie would make a sudden movement and Richelle would have a hasty reaction. She felt sweat sting into her eyes.

Nothing happened. Jie slowly opened the medpack to show it only contained medical supplies, and after a nod from Richelle, she went to work, both kneeling down and Keung letting her apply a compress and bandage to his hand. He tried not to show it, but he was clearly in great pain. Kate felt for him, but she was mostly glad nobody had died. The compress and bandages were soaked through with red almost immediately. "It's not as bad as it looks," Jie told him quietly. "I've applied a coagulant, it'll stop bleeding soon." She also injected a clear fluid straight into the raw flesh before sealing the bandage. Kate had to wince at the sight, but she also realized the pain from a small needle would be almost imperceptible compared to the ruin of his hand.

"Good," Fire Ant said quietly. "Now we'll stash you somewhere safe and wait for Josie to show up."

Her brother moved closer, and passed behind Jie's back. He pulled her arms behind her and there was the typical sound of cable ties being fastened.

"Wow," Fire Ant remarked at Jie's pushed-out chest, a bit more relaxed with her tied up, "No wonder the guys at work call you the Boobmonster."

Kate felt like a volcano had erupted in her chest, she tried to make a face at Fire Ant to stop her, but of course, it was way too late for that.

Jie's mouth fell open. "They call me the B- you call me the Boobmonster?"

Keung's face showed nothing but pure embarrassment, and he looked the same way Kate felt. And probably looked. It was absolute taboo to tell people about their own nicknames in the force. Even people who were really close – like Keung and Jie – upheld that tradition, usually because the nicknames tended to range between 'disrespectful' and 'downright insulting'. Even the more popular members, like Jie, had a suitably irreverent nickname. It was all in good fun of course, but the 'owner' of the epithet never thought so when they heard it.

'Boobmonster' was a great example. It was a fun nickname to use, but on the other hand, Jie was very likely to consider it hurtful since not only did it reduce her to nothing more than a bust, the 'monster' part would definitely make her do a double-take.

"Uh, well, umm…" Kate only managed to mutter. "We… I mean, it's not like I thought of it."

"Or uh, me," Keung said quietly.

"I mean, I know I'm uh… generously proportioned, but what's with the 'monster' part?"

Kate and Keung exchanged an insecure glance, the gravity of the situation and Keung's injury all but forgotten, the focus solely on the nickname malarkey. "Well, uh…" Kate stammered while Fire Ant looked on, visibly amused, "It's just, um… it just sounded funny."

"Yeah," Keung said. "It's just fun, nothing bad."

Jie's eyes flashed. "Does it sound funny to know that they call you the Fridge?"

After a brief moment of silence, during which Keung let the nickname sink in, he simply said, "I dunno. Could be worse I guess. I can take a joke, you know? It's kind of a compliment, in fact."

Jie harrumphed. "I suppose. Be nice if people didn't just consider me a pair of boobs, though."

"Aw, Jie, they don't," Kate said, meaning it. "Everyone thinks you're great, really. The Boobmonster thing is just, you know, people being immature, like all nicknames."

"Hmph."

"Can we uh, get on with it?" Duncan asked, clearly not understanding why this entire conversation was taking place. "I mean, it's cute that you all want to discuss nicknames, but uh, we've got a job to do here."

"Aww," Fire Ant said with a grin, "and I was just having fun."

"Come on," Duncan said with a roll of his eyes. "Follow me, I'll secure you somewhere safe and not too uncomfortable."

"Oh, wait, wait!" Fire Ant stopped them, almost giddy. "Before they go, before they go!"

Her brother stopped, holding both guards by an elbow each. "R… Fire Ant, this isn't the time."

"Oh shush," she giggled. "I wanna know, what was Kate's nickname?"

Yeah, that was right, she'd never known her own nickname. She'd never really stopped to realize. It'd be a nice occasion to know, but on the other hand, oh man, it was something to dread, seeing as how Keung and especially Jie were the more popular and respected members of Tsang Sec and she was, well… not so favourably viewed.

Jie and Keung looked at each other, unsure. "Um," Jie said, "I don't know if…"

"Come on," Fire Ant prodded. "it's all in good fun, right? Like 'Boobmonster'? Huh? Good fun, right Katie? Right?"

This woman was clearly hoping to humiliate her, probably to get her back for semi-demanding to expose themselves and not kill Keung and Jie, but on the other hand, Kate was pretty curious, even though the cat knew what the consequences of curiosity were. She sighed and said, "Fine, let's hear it." It'd probably be something unimaginative like Polak or Eurotrash or Roundeye or Longnose.

"Um," Jie said, "I really don't think – "

Keung interrupted her by stating flatly, "It's Earcrust."

Kate thought she'd misheard at first, and her would-be source of vexation also blinked, nonplussed. Jie just looked at her partner in reproachful disappointment.

"Uh…" Kate asked, "Earcrust?" What the Hell did that mean?

Jie said, hesitating, "You uh… really need to clean your ears more often, Katie."

Oh God. Another volcano erupted in her chest. Earcrust, oh geez, that was disgusting! If she could have, she would have sunk right through the floor. Her head felt red hot in embarrassment. They'd been calling her that all this time. She'd hoped for something barbed-but-fun, but this? Ergh. Why hadn't anyone ever told her?

With a grin, Fire Ant remarked, "That's hilariously gross."

Duncan had to add, "And I thought Gun Show was bad."

There was only one thing to do: try to make everyone forget this as soon as possible. 'Earcrust'. Fuck. "Guys, can we get a move on? We're still trespassing with two hostages. And I'm still K.O.S. by the owner of this god damn hangar."

"You're right," Fire Ant said, but the mischief in her eyes suggested she wasn't going to let this go any time soon. "We'll stash these friendly neighbourhood mall cops, and then wait for Josie. Katie, what about that Sayuri chick? The one you were giving us an earful about?"

"Oh har har," Kate grumbled. "Yeah, she's probably lazing in the APC." Jie helpfully gave a slight nod. "But when the CEO arrives, she'll definitely activate. Probably going to pick a perch to sweep the area for anyone with portable anti-aircraft weapons." Kate hadn't been on these kinds of jobs yet (they were reserved for the actually capable agents), but she knew the procedure. They were living in an age of man-portable SAMs, and it wouldn't be the first plane containing a VIP to get a missile up the exhaust pipe. "Anyone else here apart from Sayuri?" she asked Jie and Keung. "Please tell us the truth, for their safety too."

"Just Flopper."

See, Flopper. Now there was a good nickname. The guy was badgering people to play some card game every chance he got, 'Tragic: The Garnering' or something like that. That had gotten him the nickname Captain Cardflopper, which had then been reduced (in several stages) to Flopper. Specific, descriptive and slightly disrespectful without being insulting. Not like 'Earcrust'. Oh god. It felt as though her ears had been full of gunk from the moment she'd heard the nickname, and she had to resist the urge to scoop her fingernail into her ear constantly.

"Alright. We should make sure they're incapacitated too. No killing, remember?"

"I remember," Fire Ant replied with a frown.

"No need."

All heads whipped around to see where the voice came from. What Kate saw made her heart sink. At the landside entrance to the hangar stood a man Kate recognized all too well.

"What the…"

"Who's this guy?" Duncan asked, raising his weapon.

"I don't know," Fire Ant said back, but her Ares Alpha went up just the same.

It took Kate a moment before she could stammer, "… Phillip?"

"You know this guy?" Duncan asked, his fingers flicking over the grip of his assault rifle.

"Yeah he's… a friend. Or… was a friend?" Had he sold her out? Had his whole declaration of love been a scheme to get her to trust him? But then why? All kinds of theories raced in her head, one more outlandish than the other. Maybe they'd been intending for her to free herself, so she could lead them to these Shadowrunners? It was possible, and it would make this moment the Plot Twist where she realized she'd been played for a fool all along.

"This is a trap, this is a fucking trap," Fire Ant growled through clenched teeth. "Kate, if you set us up, then so help me – "

"No, no," Kate shouted quickly, "I swear. Phillip, what are you…?"

But then she saw his face, bruised, bloody and broken. He slowly raised his hands and was shoved forward. Behind him, pointing a pistol at his back, was a woman. Fat, dwarven, and wearing a shiny chrome mask, the hairs around it black with white wings at the temples. The mask was shaped into a featureless face, making it look exceptionally creepy. Kate realized why she wore it.

"I'm sorry, Katie," Phillip said quietly. "When they hurt you enough, you tell them everything they want to know."

"Oh, Phillip," Katie moaned. "Don't be sorry, I should be the one who's sorry, look at what they did to you."

His face was swollen, black and blue, and his nose was clearly broken, his eyebrow and lips split. The Orca shoved him forward and they approached, Phillip limping and clearly in serious pain. Kate's heart broke to see him like this.

"Who's the fattie?" Fire Ant snapped.

"That's – "

"I'll introduce myself, thank you," the Orca shouted. "I am Madam Ya, the deputy chief of security at Tsang Corporation. The erstwhile boss of that… thing over there."

"Cute mask," Fire Ant remarked, her weapon still aimed at the two new arrivals. "Going for the T-1000 look?"

"Shinier than the plastic one we chased a while ago," Duncan added.

The Orca ignored the comment and said, "Well, it seems the jig is up, Breziki. Lower your weapons or you're getting you loverboy's brains all over your face and chest."

"Madam Ya," Jie began to protest. "What are – "

"Shh, dear. You let yourself get captured like a moron, you don't get to talk."

Jie shut up.

"Think about what you're doing here, Madam… Ya, is it?" Duncan said calmly. "This guy, whoever he is, is your only bargaining chip. You shoot him and we're emptying our mags at your shiny mask."

"That would make sense," the Orca admitted, her voice dulled by the mask, "if there wasn't a sniper rifle aimed at your tusker head right now. I'm sure this Polish cunt can enlighten you concerning the skills of Sayuri Yokoyama."

"So hold on," Fire Ant said, "What the fuck is going on here? Who's this guy?"

"That's Phillip," Kate explained, her heart aching. "He's a detective at Tsang corp. He was supposed to interrogate me and then hand me over for termination, but he…" she looked at Phillip, who nodded to confirm he'd already confessed, "… helped me escape instead. I don't… I don't understand, you said there were no cameras in the elevators?"

"There were," the Orca answered in his stead. "Two of them, even. So you broke his face for nothing. Don't worry, he had no way of knowing. But it was pretty clear that your entire 'beat him over the head' scheme was a ruse when we had to suffer the sight of you two slopping your lips together in the elevator."

Kate ignored the looks of surprise that were doubtless being thrown at her from all sides. "But… Phillip couldn't have told you anything. He didn't know we'd be here."

"No," the Orca said, cruelty in her voice. "So that made inflicting pain on him useful for nothing more than a cathartic distraction."

Kate felt the anger rising in her chest, "I should tear your head off your shoulders."

"Oh trust me, you walking cadaver, you've already exacted vindication on me even before the fact."

The disfiguring scars she probably now wore on her face, and the agony she must have endured when they'd been inflicted did little to satisfy Kate's hatred. Every time she looked at Phillip's broken face, it only became more intense.

"So how did you know we'd even be here?" Kate asked, trying to shift her attention away from her own anger.

"Oh please. Do you think we didn't know such a tempting target, the CEO of Tsang corporation, would be too good for these Runners, or you, or both to pass up? We knew perfectly well that someone would try something to stop Josephine Tsang from relocating." She pressed the pistol muzzle against the back of Phillip's head. "Now, drop them, or he dies, and you soon after."

"Then you die as well," Fire Ant said, but Kate could hear the doubt in her voice.

"For me, death would merely mean being unable to fulfil my duty. Drop them. I will not warn you again."

"She means it," Kate said. "Believe me, I know her."

"Katie…" Phillip grunted. "If you surrender, we all die. She won't leave any of us alive."

"I'll leave you alive," the Orca said. "For starters. Maybe even those Runners. Maybe even the corpse you want to fuck. But if you don't drop your weapons right now, you're certain to die. Yokoyama will fenestrate all your skulls before you even know where she is."

They were out in the open, no cover anywhere close, they wouldn't have a prayer against Sayuri. And she would kill them, she'd already tried hard enough when Kate escaped from Tsang. She wouldn't miss this time. Maybe some of them could still survive this night if they complied. Kate sighed, closed her eyes and let her weapon fall to the ground. "Spare my friends, that's all I ask."

The Orca made no promises, and simply said, "You two as well. Now."

"What do we do, sis?" Duncan asked Richelle.

His sister gnawed her lip and finally said, "It doesn't matter, we're dead anyway. But either we die now, or we buy ourselves some time and maybe get a shot at turning this thing around. We comply for now." She dropped her weapon and said to the Orca, "You win, at least for the time being. Fatty."

Duncan stooped and gently placed his assault rifle at his feet, then kicked it away.

"Good. Now, tusker, untie my two security agents, if you please."

Duncan's face was a mask of anger, but he passed behind the two guards nonetheless and cut their ties. Keung and Jie promptly picked up their previous captors' weapons and then their own, training them on the two Runners.

"Yokoyama, you can join us here. Bring Becker as well."

Nothing happened for a while, and then Sayuri and Flopper emerged from between a cluster of aircraft stairs, Sayuri's rifle casually resting against her shoulder, Flopper nervously holding his shotgun.

"Now then," the Orca said, "we've got a few minutes to kill before the CEO arrives. There is something very urgent I should take care of first. Becker, tie these two criminals."

Flopper did as he was told, the handcuffs making their signature clicking sound as he tightened them, first around Duncan's wrists, then Richelle's. He gave them a short kick in the back of the legs to make them get on their knees, but looked none too comfortable with it.

"Keep your guns on them," the Orca told Keung and Jie. "If you're capable enough for that, at least."

Silently, bearing the indignity, the two did as they were told.

"Now then," the dwarven woman said with a short sigh. "Miss Breziki, the CEO wants a personal word with you, and she'll be the one deciding what to do with you when this is done, but before that, there's no reason why I shouldn't get some preliminary work done." She shoved Phillip so hard he crashed to the ground next to Fire Ant and Gun Show, and then holstered her pistol. "To… facilitate future efforts, so to speak." She reached into her pocket and held up a knife handle, letting the blade spring forth. Behind the unmoving chrome mask with its expressionless smooth face, her eyes were filled with malice, and Kate felt her mouth go dry. Something terrible was about to happen.

"Yokoyama, Becker… hold her down."

Flopper blinked. "Ma'am?"

Sayuri, on the other hand, moved effortlessly, but so quickly, Kate didn't even realize what happened before her arm was twisted so hard her back reflexively arched back, and her feet were blocked from stepping back, so she lost balance and went to the ground, landing hard on her back. Flopper followed Sayuri, grabbing her other arm and putting his knee down on it. Kate kicked furiously, but Sayuri's hold was unbreakable, and Flopper's sheer weight held her down on the other side.

"S… Sayuri," she tried to plead, "Please, you can't…", but her eyes only met the woman's ice cold, unfeeling face. The next moment, she felt the weight of the Orca on her abdomen, the dwarven woman in the creepy mask sitting down straddled on top of her.

Calmly, the chrome mask said, "Immobilize her head."

Sayuri's other hand immediately clamped down on Kate's forehead, the thumb and middle finger digging into her temples so hard all the muscles in her neck ceased to obey.

"Madam Ya," she heard Phillip's desperate voice, "I implore you to – " the sound of a rifle stock silenced him.

"Now then," the Orca said, bringing her mask closer. "There is something we need of you. We could take it post-mortem, but this way will be more… appropriate."

"Pl… please," Kate heard herself stammer. "Wh… what are you…"

"Don't worry," the Orca said, her voice low, "this won't hurt any more than a load of acid to the face."

The next moment, the knife plunged down towards her, and buried itself right above Kate's cheekbone. Kate felt nothing but pure pain and the horrid feeling of a foreign object sliding into her body. She heard herself scream, but even with all the pain, she was unable to free herself from Sayuri and Flopper's grip.

The knife began wrenching now, stabbing and sawing into her face, burying itself into her eye socket, and she felt her heels drumming on the concrete.

"Katie!" she heard Phillip's voice. "Stop! Stop this! Oh God stop!"

She also heard Fire Ant shout, "Be strong, Katie! Be strong!"

The voices were drowned out by her own screaming when she felt the knife reach the inner side of her eye socket, digging into her tear duct. All she heard was her own shrieking, a hysterical "AAAHHHHRRRRAAAAAAH!" that went on and on, out of her control, as she felt the sharp metal cut into her eye, the edge tearing through her ocular muscles and grinding against the bone of her eye socket.

Despite keeping her eyes closed, she saw red light come into the eye the Orca was cutting, and the next moment, she felt a snapping sensation as her lower eyelid, still hanging on by a strip of skin, was pulled off.

The knife came again, embedding itself in the upper side of her tear duct and sawing upwards, following the edge of her eye socket, cutting through the ocular muscles on the upper side. She screamed and kicked, but her head would not move, only her legs could lash out, kicking nothing but air. Even with the horrible pain, she clearly felt droplets of blood running down the side of her face, tickling the skin.

The knife had gone full circle now, and her eye was completely uncovered, the upper eyelid also roughly snapped off. With the ocular muscles completely severed, she could no longer move it or turn it away, and she could only watch through an orange haze of blood as the knife came back one final time, inserting between the bone and her eyeball, more screams deafening her own eyes as the blade began pushing, being used as a lever to lift her eyeball up.

There was a popping sensation, and the next moment, she was looking down at her own body, even though her head had not moved. Oh God oh God her eye had popped out. She saw the Orca's hand closing around her eye, and after a sharp sting of pain, the eye went blind.

Through the gruesome pain, she felt the Orca's weight come off her.

She was out of breath and unable to scream, and now she heard the silence around her as Sayuri and Flopper also let go of her.

Phillip was the first to break it. "Oh God Katie! Katie!"

She could only pant in pain, her mouth making a repeating, "haah… haah… haah…" sound.

"Stop that," she heard the Orca's annoyed voice. "You sound like you just had an orgasm."

Kate managed to open her remaining eye and saw, through a red haze of pain, the Orca holding up her other eyeball by the optic nerve. It dangled between her fingers. It was her eye, her eye, something which had been a part of her, and this woman had cut it out. Even through the pain, she felt heartbreaking grief to see the poor little eyeball, all alone and separated from the rest of her.

"N… no…" she managed to croak, her hand weakly clawing the air. "M… my eye… it's… it's mine… g… give it back."

"Oh, your eye?" the Orca scoffed, letting the little orb and its severed nerve drop into a sealable plastic bag. "Shows how much you know."

"Katie! Katie," Phillip began again, but the Orca gave him a hard, back-handed slap to the face. "Be quiet!"

With her remaining eye, she saw the two Runners on their knees, their faces pale and frozen in abhorrence. "Geez, Katie…" Fire Ant whispered. Their two guards weren't looking much better, horrified by what they were seeing. When she blinked, only one pair of eyelids moved, and it was a terrifying sensation. She brought her fingers up and felt nothing but a ragged, torn hole where her eye had been. Pain pounded through the entire side of her head.

"Madam Ya," Jie asked with a shaking voice, "Please, let me give her some medical care."

The Orca let the plastic bag slide into a satchel and said, "Absolutely not."

"B… but," Jie protested. "The exposed tissues… the air…"

"I said absolutely not."

Jie's mouth moved, but she made no more sound, unable to understand what was going on.

"Now," the Orca said. "You will take these two murdering criminals outside, and execute them. I believe the trees were cut recently, and the woodchipper is still in place. When they are dead, simply let the woodchipper do what it does best, and the bodies will no longer be our concern."

"Wh… what? But…" Jie objected, but the Orca immediately silenced her again. "Do as I say. These two murdered several of our people, they deserve a bullet to the head." She nudged her mask at Kate, still lying on the ground. "This one had nothing to do with that, and she's not your concern, she is mine. I'm telling you to exact justice and give these two a bullet in the brain for what they've done to your colleagues."

"Come on," Keung said to Jie. "Let's… do our duty and get this over with."

"B… but – "

"Be quiet, Jie," Keung snapped. "We knew this was the job, we knew there would be times when we'd need to do unpleasant things." He put his helmet back on and gave Jie hers.

The Orca's mask nodded. "Good man."

Kate wanted to care about the two so much, but all she could do was lie there with her back on the concrete, her body powerless and feeling nothing but pain.

"Come on," Keung told the two Runners. "Get up. Move."

Fire Ant slowly got to her feet, gave Kate a sad smile and said, "Don't worry, Katie. It's not your fault."

Duncan followed, his hands still raised. "Maybe they'll let you live after all, huh? Try to convince them, to get out of here alive."

Kate couldn't even reply, but it wasn't the pain that made it impossible.

She heard Fire Ant say, "We'll be dead in a minute, but that won't make you any less of a big round ball of fat, fattie."

"Yokoyama, Becker, stay here. We'll wait for the CEO," the Orca commanded. As the two Runners and their captors walked away to fulfil their grisly destinies, her mask turned back to Kate. "But let me make this clear, if the CEO decides you need to be terminated, and she probably will, you're going into the woodchipper too. Except feet first. And alive. You'll get to see your own body being spat out as bloody chunks before you die."

Kate's breath stalled. She'd always known the Orca was an insufferable bitch, but she'd never thought she'd be so cruel and evil as this. Except… she remembered the words of Lăoshī, about metahumans and the Human Meta-Human Vampiric Virus. And it made sense now. The Orca wasn't just disfigured, she was going insane because she was infected. She was turning into a vampire, and metahumans who suffered infection invariably went violently insane, becoming mindless monsters. This was what was happening to the Orca. This was why she was so unimaginably cruel. The process was already underway and would only get worse.

And of course, the insanity would be the worst when aimed at Kate, who'd disfigured and infected her with the acid.

She tried to look at Sayuri or even Flopper for support, but Sayuri's face was as cold as ever, looking down at her with unfeeling contempt, and Flopper seemed to be coming more unglued with each passing moment. Neither of them would be any help.

"Take him away," the Orca told Flopper, pointing at Phillip. "Secure him in the APC, then await the arrival of our CEO."

Flopper grabbed Phillip by the shoulder, relieved to be able to get away from this insanity, and hauled him off. "I'll see you when this is over, Katie," Phillip called to her. "In this life or the next."

She managed to get to her hands and knees and croak, "I'll find you."

Tears welled up in her eyes when she heard the distant rumble of the wood chipping machine, the engine occasionally making a choppy chugging sound. Her two friends were dead and in the process of being ground into bits.

"There go your murdering friends," the Orca remarked. Then she clicked her tongue. "I should have gone along. Would have loved to see that tough guy Orc's limp body get ground to chunks. And see that redhead's pale skin get torn into strips too."

It was clear, she was going mad, becoming completely psychopathic. The old Orca had been a petty and malicious bint, but she never would have said the things this person now said. The Orca walked towards the exit, off to check for approaching vehicles. Sayuri still stood by Kate, holding her rifle, no expression on her face. How could she remain so cold after all this?

"Sayuri," Kate tried one last time. "I know you feel it's your duty to obey, but – "

"Don't, Ekatarina," Sayuri cut her off. "Please… don't." She tried to hide it, but Kate saw it nonetheless with her remaining eye: Sayuri's lip had trembled slightly. Even ice cold Sayuri was struggling. Perhaps if she kept it up, her resolve would break.

"Sayuri, this isn't right, you know this. This woman… she's not the Madam Ya we knew. She's mad. She's mad because of the virus. It turns humans into vampires, but they still retain their sanity, like me, but metahumans – "

"Ekatarina, don't," Sayuri repeated. "I can't help you. I just… can't."

She had to keep trying. "Why? Why can't you? Look at my eye, Sayuri. Look at it. Look at the… the fucking hole in my face. They won't even tell me what I've done! They won't even tell me why. Are these the people you want to work for? This could have just as easily been you. You could have – "

"Kate. Listen," Sayuri hissed, her voice trembling. "I can't help you. I just can't. I can't tell you why, but I just can't help you."

She was clearly struggling, but despite the wobbliness of her voice and the trembling of her lips, she still looked as icy and aloof as ever. What had they done to this girl? Was it a mind control chip? Or something more mundane, like blackmail material? Or some kind of sorcery? It was clear that this wasn't just a sense of duty stopping her.

"Don't bother," the Orca ended her hopes of getting Sayuri to have a change of heart, and her last hope of surviving this night. "She's loyal to a fault. We made sure of that. Now, to business at hand. Our CEO is arriving now. She'll decide how your little fugitive adventure ends. But don't worry, she'll surely allow me to carry out the… practical side of it."

"Sayuri – "

"Stop speaking to her," the dwarven woman snapped. "I'm talking to you. Stand up, you wretch." She motioned toward Flopper, who hauled her to her feet and cable tied her hands together in front of her. Her face hurt indescribably, the air on the exposed flesh intensifying the already blinding agony only further. She had a hole in her face, a fucking hole where her eye had been. And why? Why had removing her eye been so important? It made no sense. She struggled to stay on her feet, swaying from side to side, as the landside hangar door opened and Josephine Tsang strode in, flanked by two guards.

Kate had only seen Josephine once or twice in real life, but she recognized her instantly. The mousy face with the squinty eyes, the white hair tied back into a bun, the opulent white dresses she always wore… it was definitely her. Kate's last and only hope was to beg for her mercy. She wasn't as insane as the Orca, but she was practical and cold, and wouldn't think twice about having her shot just to spare herself any inconvenience, but she wasn't evil for its own sake, if Kate could somehow convince her it was advantageous to spare her, then maybe she had a chance.

"Madam Tsang," the Orca saluted, bowing for her CEO. "We have captured the last of the fugitive witnesses of the Walled City incident. I have taken the liberty of removing the evidence."

"So I see," Tsang remarked, her face scrunched up. "And made quite a mess of it, as well." The look she gave Kate was of unabashed contempt. "She's a bit of a miserable thing, isn't she? Can barely stand."

"She only eluded us for so long due to sheer luck, Madam."

"Hmm." She turned to Kate. "I don't believe we need to go over the reason why you and your fellow agents are seen as traitors, do we?"

"I… believe you do, actually," Kate croaked, struggling to remain standing. "Because I… I honestly don't know why you want me dead. I've always been a good employee. Always did my job."

"Oh please – " Tsang began, but Kate insisted, "Madam Tsang, I swear I don't know what this is about. I had an accident, I don't remember much from that night, only fragments."

"Really?" Tsang laughed, but she stopped when she saw Kate's face. "… Really." She sniffed. "This is most strange. I actually believe you." With a shrug, she said, "Very well, even if you are lying, it'll only be a small waste of my time to indulge you. Please. Step into the plane with me, if you're going to die, might as well spend your last moments in some comfort."

Behind her, Kate saw Keung and Jie returning from their grisly duty.

"Madam Tsang, are you certain it's wise to – "

Josephine flapped her hand at her deputy head of security. "Of course, I'll have my two bodyguards, and it's not like I'll have anything to fear. Look at this thing, I'd be surprised if she doesn't keel over and die on her own."

"She is indeed worthless, but – "

Tsang silenced her with a held-up hand. "Enough. I said it'll be fine."

The contained fury even visible behind her mask, the Orca turned to Keung and Jie. "Are the two Runners taken care of?"

Keung's helmet only nodded, while Jie looked away. Kate had hoped they'd found their hearts, but she knew Richelle and Duncan were responsible for several deaths of her co-workers and that this would make it a lot easier for these two to follow orders.

The Orca turned back to Josephine Tsang and announced, "The two who led the Shadowrunner party which caused so much trouble during the Prosperity incident have been executed and turned into bloody pulp, ma'am."

"Good news," Tsang said with a smirk. "You've done well, Madam Ya. Though you needn't have been quite so graphic."

"I only fulfilled my duty. However, if I may request that in the event of this wretch's execution, I may be allowed to perform the deed personally, at my own discretion?"

With a doubtful face, Tsang told her, "No need, I have people for that. You needn't bother yourself with – "

"It would be a privilege, madam," the dwarven woman with the chrome mask insisted. "I humbly request your permission."

"Madam Ya," Tsang said patiently. "I know that this… creature is the reason you wear that mask, but surely – "

"It may be my last deed in your employ, or indeed in this life, madam," the Orca kept pushing. "I do believe I have earned this small right after my many years of loyal service?"

Tsang was pensive for a moment, and Kate took advantage of the moment to plead, "Please don't hand me over to that woman, madam Tsang. She plans to – " Pain exploded from the side of her face as the Orca hooked three of her fingers in her butchered eye socket and pulled. Kate screamed and staggered back, and when the fingers let go, she could do no more than stand doubled over, her hands over the ruin of her face.

"Madam Ya, surely," Tsang fulminated. "I will tolerate none of this barbarism in my presence. You… conspirator, step into the aircraft, but do take care not to bleed all over the interior."

Jie fumbled around and opened her medpack, taking out some gauze and holding it out to Kate. Josephine took it and pressed it into Kate's hand. "Hold that over the wound. There's no reason we can't be civil."

Kate gently held the gauze against the hole in her face, wincing. She wasn't bleeding as much as she should have been, but she knew why: the virus was exceptionally capable at protecting its host, and especially its host's blood supply.

"Now, follow me. Will you make it up the stairs?" The words were kind, the tone was sheer contempt.

Kate plodded up the aircraft's stairs, refusing to let anyone help her.

"Sit down," Tsang said, sweeping her hand over the aircraft interior. It was all leather and wood, and none of that imitation stuff either. Beige leather seats that looked more comfortable than anything Kate had ever sat in, varnished wooden furniture and of course a refrigerator full of spirits – real alcohol, no synthetic junk. "If this is your last day, you might as well enjoy the feeling of genuine leather under your backside."

How magnanimous of her. Still, she sat down in what was probably the aircraft's small conference corner, two double seats opposite each other, with a small table in between.

"Drink?" Tsang asked, trying to sound as welcoming as she dared. She made a show of remembering what a pointless question it was. "No, of course not. Nevermind. I'll have one if you don't mind."

Kate didn't give a shit what she did. "I just want to know why. Before I die." Because she was certain that this was how it would end. She had nothing to reproach herself for. She'd done everything she could to evade capture and to make sure no innocent people got hurt. The outcome sucked, but dammit, she'd given it a more than respectable try.

"Very well," Tsang said with a smirk, sitting down with the bodyguards flanking her, their faces obscured behind black visors. "What do you remember of the night of the Walled City catastrophe?"

"Only what they told me," Kate said, fighting against the pounding pain in the side of her face. "Some kind of Prosperity machine, bad qi, a demon queen which might as well have been the boogeyman, and a shitload of rioting, killing and looting."

"I see. Does the name Krait mean anything to you?"

"No. Unless I also forgot I'm a hot intergalactic bounty hunter," Kate said sourly.

Tsang wrinkled her nose at the reply. "So much the better. Let us just say that we had an arrangement with this person, and that due to this arrangement, a lot of people ended up dead in the Walled City riots. Hundreds of civilians."

"So? The public already know that mistakes were made."

Tsang leaned in closer. "They ended up dead because we needed them to end up dead."

Wait, did she mean… "So, what, all these deaths were part of the plan?"

"Most of them, yes. Tsang Security couldn't be seen making its hands dirty, so those incidents were the result of panicked officers and bad decisions, but…"

"… You got the HKPF to do your dirty work for you." Oh God it all made sense now. Tsang needed the people of the Walled City thinned out because of all the bad qi, because the blame for that would end up right at their doorstep with the secret of the Prosperity Machine being blown. So many people in a place with such bad qi would mean more disasters, more blame for Tsang. "Because you needed to wipe out as many Walled City civilians as you could to limit the effects of the overpopulation and the resulting toxic qi."

Fucking Hell. Her employer wasn't just some greedy, unscrupulous megacorp, they had actually ordered the mass murder of hundreds, even thousands of people to sweep their dirty practices under the rug. She felt nauseous at the thought of merely having worked for them.

"It had to be done," Josephine explained, as if she was talking about the weather. "They were pointless people anyway, not important in any possible way. The riots would give the HKPF an excellent excuse to open fire on the crowds, because well, they are the police, after all."

"You make me sick," Kate could only say. "Pointless people. How can you even say that?"

"It's the truth. None of them mattered a single bit to the world or its events. They were born poor, lived poor, and would have died poor, all their life force spent merely on surviving. The world is was none the richer for them."

"I would choke you to death if there weren't two bodyguards protecting you."

"I'm sure you would," Tsang said, swirling her drink in her glass. "But see, that is why you, too, are unimportant. You speak of what you would do, but the reality is that there is nothing you can do."

"God I wish I could make you eat those words," Kate growled, the fingers of her free hand digging into the leather of the seat's arm rest. "But humour me, what does all your dirty murdering have to do with us and why you wanted us dead?"

"Ah yes," Tsang went on. "You see, this deal was supposed to have remained secret. But one of you janitors with guns seemed to consider it appropriate to threaten to expose this entire arrangement after witnessing it."

"What, are you going to go all 'Plot Twist!' and tell me I was that person?"

She laughed, completely dismissive. "No, it wasn't you. Don't flatter yourself."

"So? Why did you just shoot that person and call it a day? Don't try to tell me you didn't have the heart to."

"Oh, no. The traitor was dealt with, and most painfully, I assure you. I believe pieces of him are still being fished out of the bay. However, he also claimed to have an entire group of conspirators at his back, willing to do the same if something happened to him."

"Well I wasn't part of that conspiracy. I'd remember… I think." Outside, the Orca still stood waiting, with Keung, Jie, Sayuri and Flopper, probably counting down the seconds until she could do terrible things to Kate.

Josephine shrugged. "It doesn't matter if you were. What matters is that we didn't know who was. So we simply played it safe."

"… by killing everyone who was stationed at the Walled City that night." Kate felt even queasier. She knew Tsang was cold and pragmatic, and didn't care about a murder or two, but that she'd have a slew of her own people killed 'just to make sure' was yet another form of disgusting. "But why? Why have them killed? It was all just words. Some Tsang security joe blabbing about conspiracies? It'd be a short topic in the news for like, a day. If that."

Tsang held up her finger. "Indeed. Indeed it would be. But there's one thing you clearly don't know. One thing our traitor somehow found out. And it has to do with…" she pointed at the ruined side of Kate's face.

"Wh… what?"

"You see," Josephine explained, sitting back in her chair, "When Madam Ya was performing impromptu surgery on you, she wasn't taking out your eye." She leaned forward again. "She was reclaiming Tsang property."

A rush of heat slowly went up Kate's chest. "Re… reclaiming Tsang property?"

"You believe she took out your eye. But your eye, miss Brzezicki, was removed long ago. When you just started to work for us, in fact, during your sleep on your first night. What you thought was your eye is actually a true-to-life cybernetic replacement. One that works just like a regular eye, even going so far as to send pain signals, but which does one thing extra."

Kate realized it now. "That's why they knew, about Phillip and me. The cameras in the elevator. We thought there weren't any, but… we had them with us all the time."

Tsang only gave a self-satisfied smile.

"You rotten bastards." Apart from the pain in her face, Kate felt completely numb. "But… what about the data? Transmitting it would mean there had to be signals. Someone would have detected them."

She nodded. "That's why we opted for local storage. The cyber-eyes have a small storage drive, enough to store around a week of data."

"Don't tell me you plugged us into the database in our sleep too."

"Oh no, no, no. The data on your retinal cams were burst-transmitted to the mainframe several times per day."

God damn it, of course. The dirty motherfuckers. She sighed, realizing. "The retinal scanners next to every fucking door."

Tsang clicked her tongue. "Now, you see how the witnessing of the above arrangement would be problematic? The traitor found out about the eyecams. All he had to do was upload the data to the Shadowland BBS and the resulting damage would have been catastrophic." A low rumble sounded under them as the pilot tested the plane's systems. "He, and everyone who might have witnessed our little exchange with HKPF had to be stopped."

"Don't say 'stopped'," Kate snapped. "The people who worked for you, dangerous to you or not, had to be murdered. Tell it like it is."

"Murdered, then, if you wish," she said with a shrug. "It was never anything personal." She said it like it was the most normal thing in the world.

"And I'm the last one."

"Indeed."

"But… you have my eye. I'm sure it has logs that tell you when it last transmitted. You… have no reason to want to kill me."

Tsang took the last sip of her drink. "I have no more reason to want to kill you, although that too is debatable. My deputy head of security, however, well…"

"Yes, but – "

"And you shot your way out of Tsang Sec HQ. Taking one of our people hostage, even."

"I didn't shoot my way out, technically," Kate pointed out. "I never shot anyone. And seriously? You murdered a bunch of your own people and you don't see the irony in having me killed because I took a hostage?"

"It's irrelevant if it's just or not," Tsang said. "It simply needs to be done. I believe Madam Ya has a personal bone to pick with you – "

"No, please, not her, I beg you – "

She held up her hand. "But… I am not unsympathetic to your situation and the fate that awaits you. She gets to be present, but my people will carry out the execution. It should be swift and painless."

It was over for her, then. She'd never thought it would end like this. She'd thought there would always be a way, that she would somehow resolve this and go on, not that she'd die here, so close to freedom. But if this was the way it had to be, she'd go quietly and with dignity. "Fine. But I swear, Josephine," she said, rising as the bodyguards pulled her to her feet, "This will come back on you. It always does. And when you're in prison, putting your head through the loop of your own belt, you'll be thinking of me and all the other good people who died because of you."

"Prison?" Tsang laughed. "I'm not going to prison. I'm no fool, I know that my days of running this company are over. Wuxing is encroaching on us, and pretty soon all these people will be wearing their uniforms. As soon as this plane is ready for departure, I'm off with a sizeable stipend to a sunny beach with no extradition treaty."

"I hope you crash into the ocean."

"Yes," she said with a weary sigh. "As your kind is wont to do. Guards, take vampirella here outside and shoot her. Make sure the body is intact when the police recover it, to ensure that any remaining conspirators know what fate awaits them. Try to make the", she made a circle around her eye with her finger, "eye removal less conspicuous, to arouse less suspicion. Simply put your barrel into the eyehole." She chuckled. "That sounded dirty, my apologies."

"This is bullshit," Kate said as she was hauled off the plane. "I never did anything. All I did was put in my hours and go home, every day. I don't deserve this."

"I believe you," Tsang said as parting words. "But it doesn't matter what I believe, what matters is that we are certain. So you will simply be collateral damage." Then she told her guards, "Try not to get any of her bodily fluids on our people, I've been told the infection can take hold extremely quickly in some cases."

The guards said nothing and took Kate down the stairs, to her death. At least she'd be rid of the terrible pain in her face.

"Good, good," the Orca immediately said, the anticipation oozing off her voice. "You can hand her to me, I'll take care of it."

"Negative, ma'am," one of the guards said, his voice so distorted by the helmet it was almost robotic. "Execution is to be carried out by us."

The Orca let out an unimpressed chortle. "I'm the deputy head of security, and I order – "

The guard immediately interrupted as soon as he heard the word 'order'. "Negative, ma'am. Personal Protection is not a part of the Security service. We do not comply with your orders."

The Orca fumed, but she knew the two spooks were right. Kate's terror at dying became just a little bit less.

"You are invited to be present during the proceedings," the female guard said, also in an eerie sterile voice, "but that is all."

"Fine," the Dwarf grunted. "I suppose I'll have to settle for seeing her brain tissue splat against the wall."

Flopper and Sayuri exchanged a glance, both of them knowing full well that this was something the old Orca never would have said. And still they did nothing.

Silently the guards hauled her off, one hand around one of her upper arms each, in an iron grip, which was unbreakable and yet not crushing. These people had probably done this so many times they knew exactly how much pressure to apply. Kate trudged along, her feet almost unable to walk. She was going to die here, it was going to be over for her. She'd face it with dignity, but God dammit, she was terrified inside.

As they moved, Keung and Jie followed silently, while Sayuri and Flopper remained to guard the aircraft, which would soon take Josephine Tsang away forever. It wasn't right. The dirty evil fatheads would get to escape the consequences of their crimes yet again while the little guy had to pay the bill. Fire Ant and Gun Show had already been shot, and now she'd be next, and nobody would know why, or what she'd done wrong. Nobody would know what trials and ordeals she'd had to endure to hope for a chance to survive. Perhaps that was the greatest injustice of all. That all of it would have been for nothing.

The guards took her outside and placed her with her back against the steel hangar wall. At least she got to see the stars one last time before she died, feel the grass beneath her feet. "Please remain stationary while the execution proceeds."

Had they really asked her to stay still while they shot her? Keung and Jie exchanged a helmeted glance as well, probably wondering the same thing as they came to stand behind the guards, who shouldered their rifles. Kate looked into the barrels, determined not to cry, but her eyes burned regardless. She wanted to straighten her back, but could only stand half-hunched over, swaying on her legs. The Orca looked on, her arms gleefully crossed.

"Ekatarina Brzezicki," the female guard intoned, her voice completely free of emotion. "For treason against Tsang Corporation, you are to suffer death by shooting. This execution will be performed by Personal Protection Agents TS-P-04 and TS-P-05 in accordance with Corporate Policy. This policy grants you the right to make a final statement before the execution is carried out. Do you wish to exert this right?"

Kate looked at Keung and Jie one last time, silently begging them for help, but they too were silent, holding their assault rifles and standing motionless.

Then Kate saw Keung's fingers, bare and sticking out of the torn remains of his glove.

"Yes, I do," she said, her back now straightening on its own. "I wish to make a final statement: drop your weapons."

"This is an illegitimate order and can not be responded to," the male guard said calmly, as if she hadn't just asked something completely illogical, while the Orca looked around, agitated. "The sentence will now be carried out."

The guards lifted their rifles' sights to their visors, and the next moment, two short, sharp cracks of gunfire sounded, blowing both their visors outwards. They fell without a sound.

"Hey what the…" the Orca reached for her pistol, but Jie sprang forward and rammed the stock of her rifle right into the fat Dwarf's lower belly, knocking the wind from her. As she staggered back, Jie pulled the woman's pistol out of its holster and aimed her rifle at her head. "Don't."

The voice wasn't Jie's, but Kate hadn't expected it to be.

"All threats neutralized," Keung said, clearly using Gun Show's voice.

"Fuck you for making me think I was gonna die, Fire Ant," Kate laughed as tears ran down her face, but they were tears of relief, and she had never enjoyed a feeling more than those tears running down her cheeks. She was alive, she was going to survive this! The two spooks lay dead and the Orca was weaponless and under guard. "I'd kill you if I wasn't so god damn happy to see you."

"Aww," Richelle laughed, taking off her helmet and shaking her red hair free. "I'd feel flattered if you hadn't just said you wanted to kill me."

Duncan cut Kate's ties. "Need me to take a look at your eye?"

"It's fine," Kate said. "Blood's already coagulating, most of the pain is this pounding internal throbbing, so bandaging it's pretty pointless now. Although, there might still be analgesics in Jie's… medical bag." She suddenly realized that the uniforms were probably taken off their dead former owners. "Hey guys, Keung and Jie, what did you… I mean…"

"Oh, them?" Fire Ant pointed at the woodchipper. "This fattie here gave us a good idea."

Oh no. Kate's relief made place for a sinking feeling. "Oh geez, Richelle… I understand you did what you had to do, but… they didn't deserve this."

"She's winding you up, Katie," Duncan said grumpily. "They're only dead as far as Tsang is concerned."

"You… talked them out of killing you?"

Fire Ant flicked her eyebrows. "I told you I could sell ice to an Eskimo."

"Inuit," Duncan corrected her. "So what about her?"

Fire Ant's face hardened. "You want to shoot her, Katie? Go ahead, she's all yours."

"No thanks," Kate said. Although she hated the fat bitch like none other, she also realized the virus was responsible, not the person carrying it. Sure, the Orca was an insufferable individual, infection or no, but people didn't deserve to die just for being a massive dick. "I'm not stooping to her level. Let's just capture her for now. See what we do with her later."

"Your call, Katie," Fire Ant merely said. Her face showed she'd preferred a different response.

The Orca straightened up and announced, "I don't want to be captured. I would like my pistol back, please." She held out her hand. "For… personal reasons."

Fire Ant threw Kate the pistol without taking her aim off the Orca and said again, "Your call, Katie."

All three of them knew why the Orca wanted her pistol back. Kate looked down at the gun in her hand with her remaining eye and asked, "Is this really what you want, Ya?"

The eyes behind the chrome mask were empty and defeated. "Yes. I know what's happening to me and there's no stopping it." She still had her hand extended. "Give me my pistol. That way your conscience is clear."

Kate knew she was right. Metahumans went mad when infected with the HMHVV, and it was already clear that the Orca was losing her mind as well. She seemed to be having a lucid moment now, and Kate had to respect her decision. "… Alright."

She slid the magazine out of the pistol and flicked all the rounds out with her thumb, except one. Then she inserted the magazine again, clacking the breech to load the single round into the chamber. When she made to put the weapon in the Orca's hand, Gun Show said, "Am I the only one who thinks handing a loaded firearm to a mentally unstable prisoner is a bad idea?"

"I understand your concerns, Duncan," Kate said. It didn't matter that they used real names anymore, not here, not in front of this person. "But it's the right thing to do."

"If you say so."

Hoping she was right, Kate slapped the pistol into the Orca's hand. "Here you go."

"Thanks, Breziki." The eyes behind the chrome mask briefly closed as the woman breathed in slowly. "It's not my fault, you know that, right?"

Even though Kate did not agree – after all, she was the one who would have killed her if she hadn't 'shot her way out' of Tsang Sec HQ, and that was before any infection – she still said, "I know."

"Good."

The Orca slowly raised the pistol to her temple, closing her eyes again. Her finger curled around the trigger.

"Die!"

The woman thrust the pistol towards Kate, but an instant later, a gunshot sounded and the weapon fell from her powerless fingers. Between the eyes of the chrome mask was a small, pea-sized hole. A big red drop fell out of it, then another. Drip… drip… drip, drip, drip, dripdripdripdripdrip. The Orca's eyes rolled back and she fell over backward without a sound, spread-eagled into the grass stained with her own brain matter.

"Like I said," Duncan remarked, lowering his assault rifle. "Bad idea."

"Thanks," Kate breathed, trying to overcome the surprise.

"It's cool."

"Now," Richelle said, bringing them back to business at hand. "We need to stop this plane from taking off. Might mean shooting enough holes in it before it gets to the runway."

Duncan pointed out, "And your two colleagues will still be there."

"Former colleagues. And yes, I know," Kate said. "Richelle, can't you, I don't know, convince them or something?"

"Maybe. But if not, it will be a shoot-out." She grinned when she told Kate, "And a serious one. Better clean out your ears."

"Try not to be too hilarious, Richelle," Kate grunted. "I've only got one pair of these pants."

Meanwhile, Duncan gave one of the spooks' bodies a kick with his boot. "Weird. These guys don't bleed or anything." He stooped and turned them over. Behind the busted visor was a mess of chips and wires.

"Huh," Kate could only say. "Well, that's good news. I mean, two less dead people, right."

Duncan nodded. "Indeed. Two more obstacles. We either go in hard and fast, or proceed cautiously."

"Hard and fast," Fire Ant immediately said. "Too much risk otherwise. One warning and then we drop them."

She couldn't be serious. "Richelle, come on, we've come this far already without – "

"I know, Katie," Fire Ant said, "And I understand your feelings, but your way almost got us all killed and woodchippered apart. We do it my way now. They drop their weapons right away, or we take them out."

"She's right, Katie," Duncan backed his sister up. "We can't risk talking, especially not with that Japanese girl. The other guy seems doable, but her? I really don't think so."

They were right, and Kate knew it. "Please, just… try not to kill them unless you have to."

"That's up to them," Fire Ant merely said, before raising her weapon and advancing to the hangar doors. Duncan followed, and so did Kate, holding one of the weapons the robotic guards had dropped.

"Drop your weapons now!" Fire Ant commanded as Flopper and Sayuri's heads whipped around in surprise. "Drop 'em! Fucking drop 'em!"

"Do it!" Duncan joined in. "Don't make us do this."

Flopper's weapon clattered to the ground, his hands slowly going up in the air.

"You too, Sayuri," Kate shouted, her hands trembling. "Please, it's not worth it."

Sayuri stood there, her sniper rifle half-raised.

"Now! Do it now!" Fire Ant shouted. "What the fuck's the matter with you!"

"I can't," Sayuri hollered back. "I can't drop my weapon!" Her body was tense and it was clear she would raise her rifle any moment.

"Sayuri, god dammit!" Kate yelled. "Drop it, for God's sake! Don't – "

Sayuri's weapon went up and both Richelle and Duncan fired, two rounds impacting her chest, making her body do a quick jerk before her knees gave out and her rifle fell.

Kate had a short moment of paralysis, then she sprinted over to Sayuri, skidding to her knees beside her. "Sayuri. Sayuri, god dammit, why didn't you listen?" She heard Duncan tie Flopper's hands behind his back, but didn't care.

A thin line of blood ran from the girl's mouth down the side of her face. She only said, "S… sorry," before death took her.

"They know something's up," Fire Ant snapped. "Pilot's getting ready to taxi, stairs will go up any second. He'll have a hard time getting the plane onto the runway with a hole in his face."

It had to be now. "Wait," Katie said, "I've got a better idea. Go get Phillip!"

She leapt to her feet and started sprinting.

"Katie, stop!" Duncan called after her. "The stairs are already being retracted, you'll never make it in time!"

She didn't listen to him. They didn't know what the Human Meta-Human Virus was capable of. Her legs propelled her forwards as fast as they could and she ran, faster than she could when she was still human, the small difference hopefully enough to still catch the plane before the door closed. The plane began lazily rolling down the apron, setting course for the tarmac, but Kate pushed her body to the limit, snarling from the exertion, and just before the stairs were retracted, she launched herself forward and her fingers hooked around the edge of the doorway, pulling her inside right before the door closed.

Josephine Tsang held up her hands, her expression terrified. "Wait, stop, don't – "

Kate simply smacked the stock of the assault rifle into the side of her head, knocking her lights out and sending her sagging back into her seat. "Open the cockpit!"

Nothing happened, and Kate simply fired three shots at the door's lock, busting it. The pilot's face was as fearful as Tsang's, and he began pleading, "please don't kill me please I have a family I have children I – "

"Shut up!"

" – have two children a girl and a boy they just turned thirteen and nine please – "

"Shut up!"

" – find your heart find your heart I'm only doing my job I'm – "

"Quieeeet!"Kate shrieked at him, and this time she got through, the balding pilot finally done making noise.

"Damn, you're loud. Stop the engines. Do it."

"Ah- ah- ah- alright, just… just don't shoot." He looked back at her and only now noticed the hole in Kate's face. "Oh my God holy shit, your eye! Oh fuck oh God! Crazy! You… you people are crazy!"

She raised the rifle. "You're not doing a very good job of trying not to get shot," she pointed out. "Now stop the god damn engines."

"Alright alright, I'm sorry, please, oh God!" He slowly let the throttle lever come back towards him and the plane rolled to a halt.

"Now extend the stairs."

"Alright, please, just don't shoot! Please I have a family."

"I swear," Kate said sourly, "You are the most annoying person to have ever been taken hostage, ever."

She heard the bonk of the stairs hitting the ground. A few moments later, Fire Ant stuck her head through the cockpit door, a wide grin on her freckled face. "Katie, you're like a world champion sprinter. Only with less money and less melanin."

"Cool huh?" she said. "This vampire stuff is actually pretty awesome at times. 'Tragic curse', my ass. Did you bring Phillip?"

She nodded. "Being hauled onto the plane as we speak. He looks a bit worse for wear, but he'll live."

"We get the plane, you get Josie. That sound like a deal to you?"

"I dunno," she said, still grinning. "Bit of a bum deal, if you take into account that you're getting a free plane. That, plus we haven't been paid for our help."

"Right. Yeah, you're right."

Fire Ant singsonged, "Sure as the sun's gonna rise tonight…"

"… I owe you money. I know."

"Don't worry. We'll compensate by taking a big fat chunk of old Josie's retirement fund."

Kate laughed. Of course, she hadn't thought of that yet. "Shit, yeah, I forgot. Take any amount you like, you've earned it."

"We sure have. Don't worry, it's a crapload of money, we'll make sure you still have enough to last a while when you arrive, in uh… where are you going actually?"

Yes, that was a good question. "Hey, pilot dude. What was the original destination of the Josie Yellow-Belly Coward Runaway Tail-Between-Legs Express? And please answer without begging for your life."

"N… New Zealand," he said, mercifully calm. "Maori region. The uh… national parks."

Kate exchanged an excited glance with Fire Ant. "Ooh. Nice! Let's keep that destination!"

"Make a stop at the first cyberclinic you see though," the redhead said. "You don't want to be known as 'Holeface' the second you arrive. Although it's arguably better than, heh, that other nickname."

"Fuck you, firecrotch," Kate replied with a grin of her own. She said to the pilot, "Stay," and then went back to the cabin of the plane for the last arrangements. Duncan was lowering Phillip into a seat and buckling his belt. When he noticed Kate, he said, "Your loverboy's a bit battered, but I've given him a sedative injection. He'll be fine with some love."

"He'll get plenty," she assured him.

"Katie," he breathed through the pain, "I… can't describe how happy I am to see you again."

Silently, Duncan let go of him and took hold of the still-dazed Josephine Tsang, much less gently this time. "You've got a date with the Hong Kong justice system, Madam Tsang."

"Unhand… unhand me," she tried to command. "I will… will not submit to any… justice system."

"Well," he said nonchalantly, "It's either that, or we take you to Kindly Cheng."

"W… wait," she protested, still powerless. "You can't… you can't do this. Do you… do you realize who I am? If you… if you don't release me now it'll… it'll be your last mistake."

Fire Ant said nothing and socked her straight in the face, making her go limp again. She said to Kate, "You have no idea how good that felt."

"I can imagine, though."

"Well, Katie," Duncan said, "this is it. It was close for a second, but it turned out alright, didn't it?"

She clapped him on the shoulder. "Absolutely. Thanks, you two. For all this. I mean, I know I've been difficult, but… well you know. Thanks, really. You helped me even though you didn't owe me anything."

"Thanks… from me too," Phillip said laboriously, struggling to keep awake. The drug was clearly kicking in.

"Well, we got paid and we got ourselves a Tsang CEO out of it," Duncan said, "So we're not complaining."

"And it was fun," Fire Ant added. She leaned forward and gave Kate a light kiss of friendship on the mouth. "You were a handful, but I'm glad we decided to help."

"Careful," Kate said with a smile. "Infection hazard."

"Pretty sure I'm resistant. Got a few drops of Ku Feng's spittle on me when she barfed all over a looter in the Walled City."

The Walled City. It all seemed so long ago now, even yesterday felt like it was years in the past. Waking up in the ambo, the tragedy of Kaffir's Shadowrunners, busting out of Tsang Sec HQ, the self-help group, getting her ass (and the other side) kicked by the incomprehensibly nicknamed Kindly Cheng, the gated community and the perplexingly capricious vampire who had infected her, all this craziness. She'd thought it would all be resolved quickly, but looking back on it, it had become such an unbelievable chain of events, even leading to her strange partnership with these two. She knew they were important, that they'd accomplished huge things here in Hong Kong, and she also knew why: they had their quirks, but they really were the best at what they did. And they'd deigned to help out some unimportant security guard with an outstanding death warrant and a not insignificant viral infection.

"So long, Katie-kins," Richelle said, her hand raised, before they both exited the plane.

"Bye guys. And thanks again." When they were gone, she sat down next to Phillip. "Josephine wanted to go to a sunny beach, but… well, it'll have to be a starry one instead. That alright with you?"

He smiled, his eyes falling closed. "It's perfect."

She watched him fall asleep, then proceeded to the front of the plane. "Alright pilot dude, my name's Kate, but you can call me Katie. And I want you to fly us the fuck out of Hong Kong."