My writing muse has gone away almost entirely at the moment – have new job, have university, will have brain leak out ears – but I'm trying to get it back. In the meantime, thought it high time I repackage another chapter.


Chapter Nine


"There!"

The female tech leaned forward, sounding triumphant. "That time, for sure. Kill regis—"

She yelped and hunched into her chair, hand clawing for the headset and throwing it across the console. Aoshi winced as the shrill sound of feedback grated against his hearing. Ken glanced up as the tech's partner did the same and met his gaze with a baffled look. "Is that meant to happen?"

The lights flickered and died.

Aoshi made for the door, hand digging his mobile from one pocket as the darkened room dissolved into general confusion. The lights were out in the corridors as well – total blackout. They were only down for a matter of seconds before the backup generators took up the slack; by the time the lights came back on he was through to the main security desk.

"We've had a power failure, directly after the execution of a netrunner," he said. "Run a full systems check. There may be a virus in the system."

"Yes sir."

Aoshi flipped the mobile back into his pocket and glanced up at the camera curiously; the green light was off. The lights hadn't been the only thing to die, then. He frowned. Even if the runner had keyed a virus as a dead man's switch, it was doubtful it could affect three systems at once; not so quickly.

"Shinomori!"

He'd been expecting the arrival of Jinei. The scientist was stalking down the corridor with a look of mingled surprise and fury. Aoshi cut off the inevitable question. "Lights, cameras, at least part of the network has crashed. Anything else?"

Jinei stared at him flatly for a moment before answering. "The electronics in the labs are down. What has happened?"

I'm not sure.

"Shinomor – ah, Jinei-sama!" The hasty correction came from Ken, who had all but tumbled out the door behind him. The system administrator sketched a hasty bow, his forehead beaded with sweat. "We have a problem."

"Another?"

Ken averted his gaze from Jinei's sudden and unpleasant smile. "We can't access the system – it's like the whole thing has offlined."

"That can't be the case," Aoshi said. "No runner has the ability to shut down the entire network. Run a virus flush and see if—"

"We did that," Ken interrupted. "We can't access the A-V software, either."

They stared at him.

"That's not possible," Aoshi said finally.

"I know the software's on a protected server but it's still part of the network," Ken replied. "Whatever that runner did before he died, it's flatlining a huge chunk of the system. Some serious, grade A black-ops software."

Aoshi's phone rang. He snatched it out of his pocket. "Shinomori."

"It's localized damage," was the crackling reply. "Some of the network corridors are down, but we can reroute signals. The only two places that have been seriously affected are your department and the reception hub in the administration centre."

"Administration?"

"Yes, sir. The terminal in reception has taken a larger hit than your floor. Everything connected to your network of hubs has crashed, but the reception and Q&A centre may need major reconstruction."

Aoshi was quiet a moment before answering. "How long before we're online again?"

"Can't say for sure. An hour or two, maybe. If you could see the visuals you'd see why. It's like something ripped through the data networks."

"You can access the visuals?"

"Yes, sir. It's quite impressive – like a river of fire through the system."

A river. A constant stream. A path...

"… Sir? … Sir? Are you there?"

Aoshi considered his options. After a moment, he gave a faint sigh. "Yes. I'm still here. This 'river' starts in the Administration sector, correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you," he said quietly. "Make restoration of this area your top priority."

"Yes, sir."

The phone snapped shut. Aoshi turned to Ken. "What sort of program will corrupt everything in a runner's wake?"

The administrator blinked. "You're saying the runner spiked the system?"

'I'm asking if it's possible," he corrected.

"Yes." Ken looked thoughtful. "That's a rare commodity though; like a designer program. They have different names, but they all do the same thing. Ball of String, Cookie Crumbs …" He blinked. "If that's the case, things are both better and worse."

"How so?"

"Means the system will come up on its own again in a few minutes, but it will take a while before we find every trace of corrupted data," Ken explained. "That program is black-ops; once the runner activates it, CC will seed a tiny data-shard at pre-arranged intervals wherever the runner goes. They're completely dormant and give off no noise at all, unless the runner detonates it by remote."

Jinei looked fascinated. "It's a trail of explosives?"

"…sort of. It's not like it blows up the network – I guess you could say it functions more like an electro-magnetic pulse. Works in a chain if I remember correctly – the first one sends out a static burst which has an area effect and scrambles the immediate vicinity, which touches off the next shard, and so on … all in less than a split second."

"Wherever the runner goes, he sows chaos in his wake." Aoshi murmured. "It's powerful."

"Powerful, but dangerous," Ken said. "It scrambles every bit of data in its path. That includes Battousai, and it includes the runner's signal. Not to mention it leaves a pretty obvious indication of where the runner came into the system, which is bad for avoiding traces. It's often used more as a last ditch dead man's switch – if the runner is going down anyway, may as well set it off to cause chaos in his wake. That's the general philosophy."

"What happens to a runner in that situation?" Jinei asked suddenly.

Ken glanced at him. "Usually the network they're in goes into emergency repair mode, which means it automatically ejects any data that's not meant to be there. If the runner was still alive, they'd be out."

"In one piece?"

"Not really, Jinei-sama. An exit like that is very traumatic. And in this case, you have nothing to worry about. The system registered a second and lethal head-strike from Battousai just before the network went down."

"But Battousai was also corrupted by this effect." Jinei's voice was very soft.

"Yes, but …"

The administrator's voice died. Aoshi watched the look on Ken's face as he realised what Jinei was driving at.

If the runner had activated the program before the second strike, the AI's signal would have shattered before the damage could be done.

Which meant that, against all odds, the runner had faced Battousai and survived.

"Contact the main security office and have them run a trace," Jinei instructed. "Find that runner. ED one can track him down and bring him in. I want to find who he's working for. Bring that runner to me."

Ken nodded hurriedly, face pale. "Yes, sir."

Aoshi turned on his heel and walked away.

"Shinomori …" The grin in Jinei's voice could be heard. "For the second time, you're walking away. Where are you going?"

"Home," he replied coldly.

"Now?"

Aoshi glanced over his shoulder, fixing Jinei with a narrow look. "I've been awake for twenty four hours. As you have already seen, my judgment is starting to slip. I need sleep."

He didn't bother waiting for an answer, instead walking to the lift bank and pressing the down button as he had almost two hours beforehand.

Jinei made no move to stop him. The statement was, after all, entirely true. Yet returning home to sleep was the last thing on his mind.

There was someone he had to see.


She awoke to screeching in her ears and a sick, sharp pain that pierced through her head, and the sound of her own choking as she struggled to breathe through the pressure in her chest. It took her a moment to separate sound from sight and touch; another one to realise she'd fallen from the chair. The carpet burned under her cheek and she'd somehow managed to twist the visor half from her head.

Kaoru opened one eye to the blur of her living room floor and one outstretched, twitching hand, still gripping a snapped metal tube. She swallowed and tasted blood, and knew from the warmth on her ears that she was in trouble. Still gasping painfully to pull air in through lungs that seemed paralysed, she reached up a hand and slid the visor the rest of the way from her face, flinching as the earpieces dragged free.

Immediately one of the screaming sounds from her board stopped as her connection to it was severed. It was a sound, she decided fuzzily, that she'd always found funny; a warning that she was about to flatline, which when she thought about it came too damn late to change anything anyway.

There were still needling sounds coming from the board; other alerts that she probably needed to pay attention to. For now, Kaoru tried to get up. She failed; her foot was still tangled in the chair. Her second attempt and she folded over the chair, clinging to its padded back like a child and trying to focus. There was a spitting, sparking sound from her board and a thin curl of smoke rising from it. One of the alerts. Her board was toast.

The other was blinking steadily counting down numbers at her. She couldn't make them out, but she knew from the flicker what it was doing.

Counting the seconds since compromise.

She had no time. She had to let go of the chair and move. Kaoru staggered, lurched sideways and collided with the wall with a faint sob of pain, then moved again as she finally heard another sound cutting in over the screaming of her board. The heavy beat of rotor blades.

Kaoru turned her gaze toward the door and saw him; a blurred image of bloody hair and golden eyes bearing down on her with a sword. She screamed and slid down the wall, trying to back through it. And between one blink and the next, he was gone.

Oh shit. That's bad.

She swiped sweat away from her face and tried not to notice her nose was trickling blood; staggered to her feet and dragged herself along the wall toward the bathroom with her eyes mostly squeezed shut against the light. Tiny bathroom. Used to be a linen closet in what used to be a hotel.

Had a boarded up laundry chute down to what was now the carpark. She'd long since pried the nails loose and left it hanging open. Hackers needed another exit, even one as reckless as this.

There was a banging sound at the door. Kaoru's fingers gripped the edge of the chute and yanked it down, resting across its edge for the slightest of seconds, trying to pull a decent breath and brace herself for what had to happen next. Blink. Golden eyes in the darkness. She squeezed her eyes shut with a faint whimper. You're not there.

She clawed into the chute and let herself slide in as the door was kicked, and then the first gunshots went off as someone tried to dislodge the wedged chair. There was enough of her mind left to smirk at that. And then she was falling again for the second time that night; only this time, there were no constellations, no glory of the city. Just the long, dark tunnel and the thin square of light at the corner of the basement carpark, packed with as many sheets and old musty blankets and soft-filled garbage bags as she'd been able to get away with.

The landing still squeezed the breath from her body and sent her tumbling roughly across the bags and sliding to a stop on concrete, skinning her elbow. She coughed, spat on the ground - don't look - and tried to drag herself to her feet. The world was hazy and tilted, and there was a dark figure running toward her, short and fast. Kaoru snarled and clenched her eyes shut, trembling hands balling into fists.

Then she fell onto the concrete and curled up with a soft gasp as her body finally refused to cooperate. Her eyes cracked open to find the blur bending over her and she shut them again. "Damn it," she breathed, words slurred. "You're not real."

The blur had a voice. It said, "Kaoru-san?"


The ground team arrived a bare minute after the air team, both halves of ED One combining in their effort to block off all exits and systematically quarter the area, starting with the origin point. Hackers always ran; rarely did they escape. ED One was a squad of sixteen members at full rank; today they were one short. It wouldn't matter. Fifteen fully outfitted corporate soldiers swarmed into the Kumisazaki complex, intent on finding and capturing the individual known as Kamiya Kaoru.

The squad of four that were assigned to the basement car park were prepared for several possibilities; for a car screaming toward the exit attempting to run the blockade in the process of being set up outside; for the runner to panic and open fire at them. They were even prepared to find and dispose of a body if the runner was defiant enough to kill themselves first. Some did, especially if their employers were rival zaibatsu.

What they weren't prepared for was to come face to face with a slight girl in her teens, humming and swinging a full picnic basket at her hip as she made for the basement stairs. It caused them to hesitate for a split second. And then grimly, the squad leader drew his rifle up.

"You! Stop there!"

The girl turned toward them and saw the gun. She was pretty, though she didn't even look old enough to be out of school. The loose, spaghetti-strapped violet summer dress did nothing to help that impression; nor did the long trail of dark hair twisted into a braid and the petite handbag slung over one shoulder. The picnic basket went flying as she shrieked and flung bangled wrists over her head.

"Aaah! I didn't do anything!"

The men blinked. The squad leader casually avoided the tumbling basket and stepped forward, eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"

One green eye peeked between careful fingers. "Who are you?"

"I'm asking the questions here," he snapped. "Why are you in this building."

"Oh that's okay. I'm taking breakfast to my boyfr—my picnic basket!" she sprang upright again, lunging for the fallen basket.

The squad leader stopped her by catching her arm, pulling her back to stand straight as he stared down at the basket. The contents had spilled across the concrete. Shaved ham, cheese, fresh bread, tomatoes. Nothing sinister about it.

"Who's your boyfriend?"

She smiled sweetly and yanked her hand out of his grasp with ease. "Who's yours?"

His eyes narrowed; further still as he heard the muffled laughter from one of the men behind him. "Not funny, little girl."

"I'm not a little girl," she corrected with a sharp grin. "I haven't done anything wrong, so unless you're charging me with something can I go?"

"We're not the police," he began in exasperation and was cut off by her gasp.

"You're not? Oh. Well … hmm. Aha! You're corporate pirates!"

"Enforcement Division," he corrected between his teeth. "And police or not, our jurisdiction holds. Who are you here to—"

"Same difference. Oh, wait, this is too rich …"

And without any warning she turned and scurried back toward a car. The squad leader flung his arm forward with a tight smile, ordering his squad forward. Innocent of hacking or not, this girl was obviously trying to ditch them in a hurry – which meant she was guilty of something. His hesitation was gone; authority hardened his voice. "You will halt, girl."

She halted in her tracks as they flanked her, eyeing the guns nervously. "But I'm not a terrorist or anything."

"Then why are you running?"

"I am not!" she protested. "Oh, for – look! Here, watch closely. I'll move slowly, I know how hare-trigger you goon types can be. I'll get you some ID."

She turned to face him fully, putting her left arm up in the air. Her right hand delved carefully into her handbag, pulling out a small, red and gold badge. He recognised the style and groaned inwardly at the sudden complication.

"Makimachi Misao, reporter for Juice!" she said cheerfully, flashing the press ID at them. "And you guys are a story that will be my entry into the big time. If you'll just wait I'll get my camera from the car…" She turned and, blithely ignoring the guns, laid a hand on the car door.

"Stop right there!" He jerked the rifle up.

"Why?" Misao blinked. "You guys get nothing but bad press from us. Doesn't that hurt? Here I am, offering to show you guys in action! Whether you're here to find a terrorist or a gas leak, I'll cover it! You'll look so good! And honestly, can't you allow a girl a little ambit—"

She broke off, paling, as he shoved the muzzle of the rifle into her face. "That's enough." He turned to his second. "This chick's a waste of our time. Cover the area. Runner's probably not down here or he'd have used this chick blathering to make a run for it."

"So you're looking for a hacker guy, huh?" Misao said softly, leaning back from the gun. He gave her a sharp look, and she smiled whimsically. He was pleased to see that she was sweating, at least. "… Is he cute?"

"Get into your car," he snarled. "Get out. You're blocking our operation."

"But the media are allowed to—"

"Out."

"My picnic bas—"

He swung the rifle away and planted a shot through the back window. Misao gave a short scream, and then backed away as he swung back to her. "Last chance."

"Sir, yes sir!" she squeaked, jerking the door open behind her and all but leaping in behind the wheel. She locked her door, peering out at him nervously as he pulled his radio out.

"There's a journalist coming out in a dark green Honda Remix," he said wearily. "She's clean. She hasn't recorded anything. Let her out."

He leveled a glare at the girl in the car. Misao gave him a small salute, face pale as she drove through the exit to the parking lot. He gave a small smile. Even stubborn reporters would shut up if you threatened them enough…

"Sir!"

He turned, and blinked at the look of urgency on his second's face before he straightened. "What have you found?"

They directed him to the dimly let areas at the back of the car park, and he stared down at the rumpled blankets and garbage bags piled at the side. In itself, something that bore investigation but could be explained as being a dumping ground for the residents. And then he caught sight of the fresh crimson smear; a small, bloodied half-handprint and a thin stain that had slid along the blankets. Someone had fallen here.

Someone who was clearly now not in evidence—

He spun around with a horrified look, snatching the radio up again to hail the blockade. "Cancel last! Cancel! She's got the hacker on board!"

There was the yell of voices and the spatter of gunfire before he heard the sudden screeching of tires. Misao was already through, driving fast. He tracked back through the conversation, remembering her pale face …

Jinei was going to kill him.


"I can't believe you!"

"Misao…"

"Seriously! You go and hack into some stupid zaibatsu super secret place—"

"Misao—"

"And you don't even tell me?" Misao shot a furious glare up into the rearview mirror. It was a wasted effort, as all she could see of Kaoru was one arm sticking out from under the blanket and clinging to the back of the seat. "Aren't we friends?"

"Yes, but--"

"Let me guess. Oh no! I can't get my friends in trouble! Is that the line you fed the rooster? You're just lucky I was there!"

Finally Kaoru managed to get her head free, staring into the mirror to meet her gaze with a look of total bewilderment. It'd be funny, if her face wasn't so pale and there wasn't blood drying under her nose. There was blood on her neck and caked on one ear lobe as well. Misao gritted her teeth against a sudden flare of panic, fixing her eyes on the dim, near-empty roads. Sunrise in Lesser Tokyo. A time she was usually either in bed or returning home to sleep. Or maybe putting together a picnic basket … but definitely, definitely not going thirty over the speed limit in an effort to shake pursuit from one of the corporate gods of the city.

She glanced into the back again. "Did that bullet hit you?"

Kaoru shook her head, then flinched and squeezed her eyes shut.

"Then what's wrong?" Misao said desperately, twisting around in her seat, one hand on the wheel. "What did you do? You're totally messed up!"

"Need a doctor," Kaoru muttered absently. "I'm seeing things."

"Yeah, like that's the worst thing going on with you. Kaoru, you're bleeding!"

"Misao—"

"From the nose! And the ears! What did you do, stick your head in a microwave?"

"Misao—"

"You stuck your head into something big and dangerous, didn't you? What were you thinking? You said yourself that--"

"Misao, the road!"

She jerked her eyes back to the street just as a dark sedan shot out in front of her, and yelped, spinning the wheel. The Remix fishtailed, crunching its back corner into the sedan's door. Her fingers white-knuckled on the wheel, Misao swore in ways she knew Jiya really wouldn't approve of and glanced toward the sedan. Instinct made her yelp and duck down low, slamming her foot down on the accelerator.

There was the scrape of metal as the Remix shot forward. A split second later, her side window shattered inward. Misao turned her face away, cringing as pieces of glass rained down across her hair and bounced off her lap. But she didn't take her foot off the accelerator. A moment later, the early morning sunlight vanished as her car shot into an alleyway between two apartment blocks. It wasn't really wide enough for a car. She didn't care. A bit of scraped paintwork and some dents and an alley full of destroyed garbage cans were worth staying alive. She just hoped she didn't hit a cat.

In the mirror, she saw Kaoru's hand lift shakily to pull the seatbelt on, and she grinned. "Sorry. Uh, but it's necessary."

"Did they shoot at us?"

"Yup." With silencers, if she wasn't mistaken. Which was kind of pointless, when she considered just how much noise they'd just made crashing into each other like that. The problem was there wouldn't be just one car after them; whoever Kaoru had pissed off would have called in reinforcements by now. And there was a chopper in the air. She wasn't going to be able to avoid that for long.

She gave a sigh. "This seriously sucks."

"Misao?"

"You okay?"

"Yes."

"Liar."

"…why were you there?"

"What?" Misao clipped a dumpster at the end of the alley and flinched as she lost the front light. Well, at least it was morning. The street was clear. She turned left. "You mean in your basement? It was Friday."

"Friday?"

"You never got back to me about Friday.'

Kaoru put a hand over her eyes. "So you turned up at sunrise?"

"Yes, I turned up at sunrise!" Misao yelled. "You're making all these stupid enigmatic comments that make me think something's wrong and when I ask outright you don't answer! I figured sure, you might have got some huge job or something. And maybe you didn't answer because you'd been hooked into the Net for three days straight. Which, I might add, you've done before."

There was no response. Misao glanced back to see Kaoru curled on the seat under the blanket, hands holding her head. She bit her lip, and added more quietly, "I even brought you breakfast. You know. Because you probably hadn't eaten in ages. Because you're stupid like that."

"Thanks so much," Kaoru whispered.

There was another car on the road behind her. Misao glanced at it, then turned back to the road with a wry smile. "Well, I wish I'd known what our plans were for the day. I'd have worn something a little more practical for high speed chases. Hang on."

She floored the accelerator, hurtling down the street. The car behind them was joined by another. Standard procedure, she figured; try and make her panic and send a car round front to cut her off. She refused to play. There was another small laneway on the left. Misao jerked the car around at the last moment, barely missing a corner bakery. She sighed wistfully. "That was really nice bread I got, too. You know how expensive that stuff is these days?"

"Not as expensive as destroying your career."

"Hah!" She grinned. "You worried about that? The corporations have to be nice to the press. They'll probably just try and buy me off."

"Misao, they just shot at you!"

"Uh. Well, they did. But they missed!"

"Not on purpose!"

Not only that, but when it came to protecting their secrets and covering up the death of one journalist who was only liked by the teenage set, it was very clear which path the zaibatsu would take. She'd known that. She had. And she'd promised Jiya she'd be careful, and she had. Well, to a point. But when it came to a choice between keeping her cover and her job, and helping a friend she quite liked after said friend almost literally fell from the sky bleeding and half-conscious…

"Well, okay. I was getting bored with journalism anyway," she said cheerfully. "So I can't go back to work, big deal. They probably think I hired you to dig for corporate secrets. Oh heck, they probably think you're my boyfriend."

"Your what?"

"They think you're a guy. Of course," she added as she cleared the lane, "that's likely to be cleared up the second they ransack your house and find your underwear drawer."

The car shot back out into the street. The same one they'd been on originally; the third car just ahead of them. They'd cut behind it. Misao didn't bother turning, but instead grinned fiercely and jerked the car slightly to the right, dog-legging down another lane. There was the screeching of brakes behind them as the third driver finally realised what they'd done.

"Besides, this way might work more to my advantage!" she continued. "Just think! If we get onto the news, all sorts of interesting people are bound to pay attention!"

"You mean Aoshi?"

"Even if he's ignored me every other time," muttered Misao. "Let's see him try and ignore this. You buckled in?"

"Yes."

"Okay. We're going downtown."

"Misao, you can't … drive downtown."

"I know."

She managed to take them another three streets before the helicopter finally closed on them. Misao started swearing again, half expecting it to open fire on them. But there were other cars on the road now as they approached the more rowdy area of downtown; they couldn't afford to cause such a scene. That didn't mean they wouldn't be weighing up that option anyway. And if nothing else, the chopper would tail them, pinpointing their location for their ground team.

"I can't ditch that," she said fretfully. "Kaoru, can you run?"

Silence in the back seat. Misao glanced into the mirror to see her slumped sideways, face pressed to the window. In the brightening dawn, she was chalk white.

"Kaoru!" She clenched the steering wheel with both hands. "Dammit—" And she couldn't afford to stop now; best to just keep going and hope like hell Kaoru had just passed out. She fought down a fresh wave of panic as two cars spun onto the street behind her. They hadn't shot at her past the first time; no clear shot on the driver, she guessed. And Kaoru, they'd want alive for now. Which gave her a little bit of time to play with.

Ahead she could see small, flickering points of orange. Gaudy lanterns, strung out between the street lights, their light dimmed by the sun. Chinatown. The vendors were already out, setting up stalls along a street that had been closed to traffic long ago.

Well, this time they're going to make an exception—

The third car shot out onto the road directly in front of her with barely any warning, neatly cutting her off. Misao gave a shriek and yanked the wheel around desperately. The front corner of the Remix slammed into the sedan and she was thrown forward, smacking her head on the steering wheel. Her vision blurred; tears sprung to her eyes as the car jarred to a stop. She heard the sound of a car door opening, and let herself slump down further, hands dangling limply to the floor.

The driver's side door was yanked at several times before it opened, and she felt a gloved hand close around her arm, pulling her roughly from the car. Vision blurred or not, it didn't matter. He'd just made himself a very easy target.

"I'm really sorry," she slurred.

The man holding her arm just gave her a shake and snorted. "Shut up."

Then he yelled as she lifted her hands and drove a kunai into each thigh.

Misao shot to her feet as he staggered and slammed a palm up into his chin, before latching onto his shirt and letting his weight drag them both to the ground out of the path of fire. Bullets whined over her head as she fell, followed by angry swearing. She gripped the rest of her knives in both hands and dove around the front of the car, yelling at the top of her lungs.

"Kansatsu tobikunai!"

She flung both braces of knives as hard as she could at the only other man she could see, and hoped like hell that corporate goons only traveled in pairs. She felt a burn across one shoulder as a bullet ricocheted too close, and then the knives found their mark. She was already moving again as the man started to fall, screaming at the blades in his legs.

"Give me that." She kicked him in the jaw and snatched away the gun, turning to aim desperately down the street. The gun kicked in her hands. She missed completely with her first two shots; the third cracked into the windscreen of the first oncoming car. It barely slowed. It was only with her fifth shot, hitting the front tire purely by luck, that the car swerved to the right; the front of the sedan dipped to smack into the concrete gutter. They'd been going too fast, and the momentum had barely begun to lift the car when the second ploughed into them with a teeth-jarring crunch.

.

Fifteen feet in front of Chinatown, and they were drawing one hell of a crowd.

Misao yanked open the back door of the Remix as fast as she could and gave a short yelp as Kaoru thrust out a hand to her. "Oh God! I thought you were asleep."

"I can't sleep." Kaoru blinked at her as Misao slung the other woman's arm over one shoulder, dragging her away. Awake or not, she could barely walk straight, let alone run.

And this wasn't the movies; she'd bought mere seconds with which to vanish into safety, before someone could struggle out of one of those cars and start firing at them. It was probably a trick she wasn't going to be able to pull off.

Luckily, she didn't have to. Some rivalries ran deep, after all.

An angry cry rang out from nearby, but it was quickly taken up by many. Misao turned, blinking in surprise, as a lean man sprinted past her with a drawn sword. His head was clean shaven except for a long, greasy topknot; he was dressed in a pair of jeans and not much else. Tattoos could be seen, cleanly etched down his back.

He wasn't alone. Misao stared as a pack of men and two women descended on the cars yelling wildly, seeming unfazed by the chopper that was even now banking upward. It took her another moment before she understood what was happening, and then she gave a snort.

"Misao..?"

"Street samurai," she said by way of quick explanation, hauling Kaoru further down the street. "You could say they've just found an easy kill, and they all think they owe the corporations payback for the riots."

Still, it was good for them. Even if she did wince at the inevitable bloodbath going on behind them. The suits would probably win. She wasn't going to stay around to find out.

"I didn't mean that," Kaoru said faintly. "I didn't know you could use a gun."

Oh… that. "I can't. Didn't you see my sucky aim?"

"And you just happened to have a whole bunch of throwing knives littering your car."

"Okay, those I can use."

"I thought you were a journalist."

"I am," Misao said cheerfully as she hauled her friend into the nearest dark alley she could find. "But everyone needs a hobby."


Hope you enjoyed!