Ride

Written by Darkstorm5000

Disclaimer: X-Men Evolution, the X-Men, and other related characters in their various incarnations are the property of Marvel Entertainment Group and Film Roman Productions, are used without permission and not for profit.

xxx

Chapter 5- Come out and play

Location: Tokyo, Japan- Shinjuku District

One fairly short, and totally silent elevator ride later, Laura and Mariko found themselves back downstairs and out in front of Mariko's apartment building.

"So, I was thinking about us hitting the Subnade first, and then heading over to the Promenade--" Mariko was just about to say with regard to their loose itinerary for this afternoon, as they stood by the curb of this bustling city street. But before she could finish her sentence, Laura had turned and started off in the direction where this district's largest shopping malls lay.

"Ohh-kay." Mariko remarked, as she turned and went to try to catch up with her out-of-town guest, who apparently seemed to know where she was going.

Once she had rejoined her, Mariko and Laura continued on and made their way through a veritable sea of other pedestrians surrounding them on this light and dark-gray tiled walkway. A crowding environment, which was only to be expected in a place as population dense as this urban epicenter.

Upon finally reaching the Subnade a short time later, Mariko and Laura paused just inside of one of the main entrances to this sprawling underground labyrinth of shops and department stores. Having learned her lesson from her near 40 meter sprint from just a few minutes ago, Mariko eschewed asking Laura about what their first retail destination should be. Instead, after making their way down several flights of stairs into Tokyo's sub-street levels, Mariko led them towards where they would find the most important of necessities within one of Tokyo's largest and trendiest department stores.

Starting at its cosmetics counter.

Partially so that Mariko could see what the latest products out were, but also to give Laura an opportunity to find replacements for her own makeup accessories. Most of which she had been forced to ditch, along with the majority of her other personal belongings, during her and Logan's great escape from Madripoor.

As she stood there and browsed through the plethora of facial care items and other beauty accentuators available for her to choose from, Mariko debated to herself as to which combination of these varying products and shades she would use to help create the next brand-new look for herself? Meanwhile, Laura's selections turned out to be far more expeditious in their simplicity and speed.

"Found what you need already?" Mariko asked, once again somewhat astonished at the quickness with which Laura had accomplished the task at hand.

"Yes." Laura plainly replied, as she brought the items that she had picked out over with her to where Mariko was standing.

Taking a look at the sparse assortment that was currently in Laura's possession, Mariko couldn't help but comment on their overall ensemblic effect.

"So, you're really into that whole 'death becomes me' look, huh?" Mariko smilingly quipped in reference to the light-ivory foundation, black eye-shadow, black nail-polish, and black lip gloss that Laura was holding.

"It's worked for me so far." Laura unapologetically replied, before going over to pay for these dark-hued accoutrements that she had picked out.

While Laura went and stood in line behind another customer who was already at the register, Mariko quickly browsed for the particular beauty accessories that she had come in search of for herself. Which also consisted of a combination of eye-liner, lipstick, and rouge, but all of decidedly blushier shades than her companion's choices.

Immediately after having made their cosmetic purchases, Laura headed over to the clothing department with Mariko once again in tow closely behind her. Making their way through a still ever-present crowd of other shoppers, where at times they had to almost push their way past, this unfazed pair were soon browsing the wide assortment of fashion styles available in here. But this time Laura managed to finally slow down a bit, so that she could take a more thorough look at what the store had to offer.

Although, it would seem that one thing caught Laura's eye rather quickly, as evidenced by a slight grin that suddenly came to her face. Quickly snatching something off of a sales rack in front of her and then hurrying around to grab a few more items from other nearby clothing racks and shelves, Laura then zipped past Mariko with all of these things held closely in hand.

"Gonna go try this on." Laura rapidly said as she rushed on into the department store's dressing room area.

In the meanwhile Mariko passed the time debating between an apricot blouse that she had spotted, which had sleeves on it that were rolled back up to a button enclosure to keep them in place and that came with an accessorizing mesh-metal belt, and a cute little rose floral-print chiffon blouse that came to a v-taper down at its hem. She was trying hard to decide which of these two she would be taking home with her, or whether they both might end up being the lucky one?

But after several minutes of careful deliberation, which was followed by several more of her sifting through other nearby clothing racks while she tried to come to a final decision about the two blouses draped over her right arm, Mariko noticed that Laura still hadn't returned from the dressing room. So, she walked back over there with both blouses in hand to find out what was going on?

"Everything alright in there, 'Speedy'?" Mariko curiously asked, with her new nickname for Laura being a frank reference to the speed at which this young lady seemed to accomplish most tasks, regardless of how mundane. At least, up until now.

"I'm fine." Laura replied from within one of the changing booths, as she now wondered to herself why Mariko had just called her by the same appellation that Logan also on occasion used for her?

Although it was by sheer coincidence, since Logan's reason for referring to her by this nickname really had more to do with Laura's habit of occasionally hotwiring his bikes back home, and how she proceeded to then handle said motorcycles.

A short while later, just as Mariko had wandered into the shoe department where a cute little pair of white pumps with glossy black patent closed-toes had caught her eye, she heard Laura speaking out to her from back over in front of the dressing rooms.

"I'm going to buy this." Laura now said, as she stood there wearing her new ensemble. Which, she was fully expecting to hear Mariko make some sarcastic remark about, just like many of the people whom she knew probably would have, but couldn't have been further from the truth.

"Not bad." Mariko replied, thinking to herself that she could just as easily start calling Laura 'Surprise', since that was what the younger girl seemed to also excel at continually doing to her.

Coming over to get a closer look at the outfit that Laura had just spent a significant amount of time putting on, it turned out to definitely be one of the last things that Mariko was expecting to see her wearing. One, which consisted of a black corset adorned with thin gold-cording attached across its front, a red 1/4 length short-waist jacket worn over it that clasped up around the collar that only served to further show-off Laura's already exposed abdominal area, and a matching black miniskirt with similar gold tasseling hanging off around its bottom hemline. And while she had also thrown in a pair of fishnet stockings to go with her new look, true to form, Laura still had her original black combat boots on.

"I'm almost tempted to take you down to the Harajuku, just so I can show you off!" Mariko now added, as she walked around Laura and inspected her new attire, noticing that Laura had applied some of the umbral-hued makeup that she had selected a short time ago during her extensive stay in the dressing room, and that she had just added a small black top-hat to finish off this distinctive look.

Given that she completely respected and could relate to the occasional need to just cut loose and have a little fun, to totally reinvent and express oneself by taking uninhibited fashion risks and making a liberating statement about yourself through them, Mariko's last assertion was meant very much as a compliment. And, it was a point that she further backed up when a short time later Mariko graciously went and paid for Laura's new outfit, along with a few other 'dress up' items that she and her guest wound up picking out for themselves.

Leaving out of this store with a couple of bags for the each of them, and with Laura still wearing the first outfit that she had picked out, Mariko looked over and made yet another observation about her companion as they walked on together past several other smaller shops out in this underground mall. That, Laura currently looked to be the genuinely happiest that she had seen since her arrival earlier that afternoon.

Then, all of a sudden, Laura came to a complete stop in front of one of these shops.

Looking up at the sign above it, Mariko saw that it was a specialty-electronics store.

"I'm going in here to see if they can repair pod-players?" Laura informed Mariko as she pulled a pod-player, or what was left of it, from the pocket of the clothes that she had borrowed from Mariko earlier, which were now sitting down in one of her shopping bags.

"As much as they're going to charge you to fix it, you could probably just buy a new and better one for less." Mariko advisingly told Laura while looking down at the shattered device in her hand.

"I don't want a new one!" Laura semi-shouted in a protestive response, as her demeanor quickly changed from joyful to much less so.

"Fine! No need to go and get all growly with me about it." Mariko replied in kind, now showing signs of starting to get a little tired of Laura's wild mood swings.

But at the same time Mariko also had to remind herself that there were reasons for Laura's sometimes erratic behavior, and that these sudden angry outbursts were a result of the raw abuse that Laura had suffered and was still trying to cope with. Which, Logan had gone into heartbreaking detail to tell her about during his visit prior to this one.

Walking into the small store, Laura went past the various shelves stocked with an assortment of hi-tech gadgetry and right up to the main counter towards the back. Where the shop's sales clerk, a man who appeared to be in his mid to late forties, was seated on a bar-type stool behind it.

"(Can I help you?)" The clerk asked in his native language, as Laura continued her approach towards him.

"(Do you repair pod-players?)" Laura responded, speaking to the clerk in flawless Japanese. It was one of several languages that she was highly fluent in, and was a reason that the faculty of Bayville High's foreign languages department loved her.

Taking the damaged device and handing it to him up across this counter between them, the clerk held it up in his palm and closely examined its broken components, turning it over and over several times. Then, he looked back up at Laura, whose face and line of sight just barely cleared this counter's top.

"(What happened to it?)" He curiously asked her, while continuing to slowly turn the shattered device over in his hand.

Right at that moment, Laura had to think up a quick explanation for how her pod-player came to be in its current state. Particularly since she wasn't able to reveal the truth, that it had been crushed during the several fights that she and Logan were involved in after defeating and ousting Viper from her position as principal distributor of illegal cargo into and out of Madripoor. An action, which had wound up earning the pair a hefty bounty that was placed on both of their heads by those whose own operations on the island had been severely hampered as a result.

But just as she wasn't able to explain the full details of what had happened to her pod-player, nor could she find a way to properly verbalize, to truly express why she hadn't just ditched it with the rest of her gear back on the island?

One of the reasons probably had to do with the fact that this device was one of the first things that Laura had received after coming to live at the Institute. Having initially seen her roommate with one, Laura's curiosity about the device quickly got the better of her and her roommate allowed her to borrow it so that she could see for herself what the big deal about it was?

Enthralled by the level of private freedom, the pure enjoyment, and this healthier form of release that she received in just those few brief moments was more than enough to convince Laura. So much so, that her roommate saw the immediate effect that it had on her and decided to let her keep it.

On top of that, the high sentimental value that she in the time since had wound up attaching to this particular pod-player was also something of a significant development for Laura. Mainly, because she had grown up without any concept of having personal possessions and had been taught that everything was ultimately expendable, herself included. Which made this new emotional capability, this newfound need to place a sense of worth on both inanimate and animate objects (herself included), a self-awareness that she was still trying to wrap her head around.

"(It was accidentally broken...during a party.)" Laura tersely replied to the inquiry into how her pod-player had been damaged, which drew a noticeable 'hmph!' from the clerk.

"(Let me take a closer look at it. Come back in about an hour.) He told her, as he now began to examine the damaged pod-player in earnest and started to fully disassemble it.

Exiting from the electronics shop, Laura came over to a bench where Mariko had taken a seat and was waiting for her.

"He said it'll be ready in about an hour." Laura told her.

"Well, since it looks like we've got some time to kill, let's go grab something to eat." Mariko said, as she stood back up with bags all in hand.

In response, Laura didn't say anything. But she did give an affirmative nod that indicated she was agreeable to Mariko's suggestion.

Heading further into the mall past several more shops and stores, Laura followed Mariko until they wound up at a pizza restaurant located within the Subnade, the Pizza Sandro. Once inside, they were both shown to a table in this modestly-dim eatery, where they could sit and watch as their pizza was being prepared.

Which would be fairly soon, since Mariko didn't waste any time in ordering for them. She told their waitress without need of a menu that they would be having the #7 topping-combination as soon as they were seated. But, while Mariko had chosen to order a fairly calorie-conserving beverage in the form of a melon and yogurt blended-soda, to try to at least offset some of this ample meal selection, such concerns obviously didn't even seem to occur to Laura. As evidenced when their waitress returned with their refreshments.

"(Here you go.)" The waitress said, as she carefully placed Mariko's drink from her carrying tray carefully down onto to the table in front of her. Then she placed the tray itself down onto the table and used both hands to slowly slide Laura's selections over to her.

Which were two oversized glasses, each filled almost to the brim with a generous mixture of chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup and a small amount of milk.

As they sat in this cozy environment and watched when their pizza went into the restaurant's central brick oven, which their waitress had just pointed out to them and said would be ready shortly, Mariko watched in even greater amazement at the sight across from her. Laura, who while they had been waiting had gone to an outside vending machine and bought a couple of candy bars, now took them and proceeded to crush them up into smaller pieces over both of the glasses in front of her, stirring the broken-up chunks of chocolate candy in with the rest of what had become two ultra-chocolate milkshakes.

"My hips are getting nervous from me just looking at all of that." Mariko smilingly remarked, as Laura took her spoon and began digging in.

But without replying and remaining undaunted, Laura continued with this ravenous consumption of what was her third favorite vice, with her love of chocolate falling in closely behind her love of clothes and music as her new major life pre-occupations.

A few minutes later, just as Laura was down to the 1/3 mark of her second chocolate dessert, their pizza at last arrived. And while the topping choice of calamari, corn, and mayo jaga (a mayonnaise, bacon, potato mixture) would be a taste that someone unfamiliar with it might need some time to grow acquired to, Mariko noted how Laura didn't even question her as to what this particular combination actually consisted of?

"So, you enjoying everything?" Mariko curiously asked a few minutes later, having wanted to give Laura an opportunity to sample this example of her favorite local cuisine, but now was waiting for her to quickly ask for something else entirely on her pizza that was more along the lines of what she was probably used to eating back home in Bayville. Mariko was even fully prepared to have Laura 'freak-out' on her, much like what she had encountered with some of her old classmates back when they first visited her homeland with her several years ago.

"It's good." Was Laura's only and very brief response, as she had already devoured her first slice and quickly moved onto her second, both of which were still piping hot and would have left severe burns in the mouths of most other people.

What Mariko hadn't considered was that for someone who had grown up eating meals that consisted of strict rations of flavorless protein, carbohydrate, and fiber fortified-portions, whose sole purpose was to provide basic nourishment and nothing more, that all forms of real-world cuisine were something strange and new to her. But like everything else previously unfamiliar to her, Laura had learned to adapt to and had even come to look forward to some of these new experiences.

"You know, you really do have a pretty wicked fashion-sense." Mariko casually commented to Laura, just as she went to take a bite from her own now slightly-cooled slice of pizza.

"Really?" Laura looked up with a raised eyebrow and a mouthful of food and managed to mumble in response. And once again, a bit of defensiveness crept up in Laura's tone and through her demeanor as she waited for yet another sarcastic wisecrack to come at her from across the table.

"Yeah, of course. Not too many people I know could pull off that whole 'goth-circus' look, but it definitely works on you." Mariko further elaborated. To which, Laura didn't immediately respond.

Not because she had yet another mouthful of pizza, but because she was unsure of how to react to what Mariko had just said. Which was probably due to the fact that when comments were usually made about Laura's fashion sensibilities, most of the time they were coming from other individuals' who were the same age as her, who didn't live at the Xavier Institute, and who generally had something...less than nice to say about her unique clothing preferences.

"...thank you." Laura finally managed to get out, letting a rare small smile creep out and even began to blush a little at this unexpected compliment. Which she sensed was genuine, and for a change felt it was nice to be commended on a talent of hers that had nothing to do with her proficiency in the Danger Room or similar combat situations.

"You know, you're not quite the mini-Logan that I was expecting you to be." Mariko now added as she took another sip from her soda, with this remark also intended as an additional positive observation of Laura on her part. But Laura's reaction to this last bit of commentary was nowhere near as receptive as she had been just mere moments ago.

"That's what most people say." Laura replied, as she suddenly became far less cheerful, her entire self instantly pulling back into the guarded emotional-shell that Mariko had spent most of this afternoon slowly coaxing her out of.

A wall, which Laura had erected this time in response to her own feelings regarding the belief that she would never be able to overcome everyone elses' apparent disappointment when they realized that his clone really wasn't 'just like Logan'. That, even though there were some obvious similarities between them with regard to physical abilities, personality-wise Laura didn't see herself as ever feeling as socially adept or comfortable as Logan was around other people.

And especially, not to the point that those same people would ever see her as actually measuring up to the charismatic measuring stick that he had firmly established. That for her, it was sometimes just hard enough to manage to carry on anything resembling the most basic of conversations, and even that was something she had really had to practice at.

Which was also a paradoxical dilemma for Laura, who had grown up believing that her sole purpose in life had been to surpass her genetic original in every way conceivable, only to later find that there were still a few areas in which she lagged behind him considerably.

xxx

Several hours later as the day had ended and was now well into the evening, Mariko and Laura finally returned from their extended shopping trip. But not before having stopped in at a 100-yen shop in the mall first, so that they could pick up a couple of new toothbrushes and a few other basic essentials. Which, was then followed by another stop at a men's clothing store to grab a few other things specifically for Logan.

Who, being a fairly simple person to shop for, consisted of them selecting a couple pairs of jeans, some t-shirts, and a stylish new leather jacket that both Mariko and Laura agreed would look great on him.

"So what've you been up to, Big Poppa-san?" Mariko now humorously asked, as she and Laura entered her apartment with all hands completely full with bags that contained the spoils from their marathon-shopping excursion.

"Just makin' myself at home, M'iko." Logan replied, still seated in virtually the same spot in front of the television that he had been when they left, albeit with a huge smirk present on his face.

By 'making himself at home', Logan was referring to the half-full short glass in his hand and the empty bottle of sake now down at his side, along with another one next to it that was halfway there.

"Hope you don't mind." Logan now grinningly added as he sat up a little from his relaxed position.

"Of course not! You should know that by now." Mariko said, as she sat some of her heavier bags down on the floor just inside of her front door, "To be honest, I was expecting to come in and find you curled-up with that bottle underneath my dining table."

"Hell, night's still young, ain't it darlin'?" Logan laughingly replied, and then took another drink from the glass in his hand.

And as he did, he simultaneously caught a full-glimpse of Laura dressed in her newly bought clothing attire. Which, made him all the more glad that he had adopted his policy of usually refraining from making opinionated comments about fashion in general. But, it was also a feeling that was more than offset by the fact that he could clearly see that the younger girl was at least now in a much better mood.

"Then, I guess you'll have to find out for the both of us." Mariko told Logan, responding to his comment just a moment ago about how this night would ultimately turn out, as she removed her strap-buckle boots and then turned towards the general direction where her bedroom lay, "I've got to get an early start in the morning."

Motioning for Laura to come with her, Mariko wanted to show her guest to the spare bedroom where she would be turning in for the night. But first, they stopped together at a closet located in the adjoining hallway. Delving into this surprisingly deep and spacious storage area, Mariko went in to retrieve one of the extra futon bedding sets from within.

But while standing there with her, Laura's gaze had unexpectedly turned upward and became quickly fixed up above on a couple of items located on the wall behind them. The first was a framed and autographed promo poster from the Japanese release of world-famous singer Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor album. The second however was another, but much smaller, framed local newspaper cutout from a few years ago. Which was far more conspicuous in its presence thanks to its bolded headline and the subhead that followed below:

(Who is Lady Torch?)

(-Representative for F4 deny any official

connection to mysterious new superheroine...)

"Logan should remember where everything is from the last time he was here. He can grab this other futon when, and if, he decides to go to sleep tonight." Mariko now told Laura, pulling her attention back from these wall-mounted articles as she handed her a pillow and top-comforter, while carrying the rollout futon-mattress herself, "Let's go get you settled in."

Sliding open the paper-lined fusuma door at the guest room's entrance, Mariko went in with Laura to get everything set up on its tatami-mat flooring. Not that Laura was going to be doing that much sleeping herself either.

Thanks to what HYDRA and their torturous experimentation had done to her, Laura for the most part didn't sleep very much. Which was mainly due to the particularly vivid and nightmarish scenarios that she would often relive when her eyes closed. But, Laura also knew it had to do with something else, something that she happened to come across in a personnel file about herself that she uncovered during a break-in at one of HYDRA's operational facilities.

That as the result of a procedure that their top research scientists had performed on her, which in their evaluation log they had referred to as 'post-synaptic manipulation', her mind worked in intense unison with her body's mutant healing factor to efficiently speed-up its nightly recovery time and cut down the amount of sleep that she needed, to about 1/3 of what was usually required by most others.

After laying out this conventional bedding set, which looked like a thin but cushioned floor-mattress and was very similar to the one that Mariko herself regularly slept on in her own room, she prepared to go and get her own aforementioned futon also ready for tonight.

"Well, I'm just down the hall if you need anything. I'll see you in the morning." Mariko said to Laura with a spontaneous, yet coincidentally well-timed yawn, as she gave the room one more quick visual inspection to make sure that she hadn't forgotten anything else that Laura might require tonight. Then, just as she was turning to make her exit, Mariko once again came to a sudden stop when she heard Laura say yet another surprising thing to her.

"I'm sorry."

Turning back around, Mariko saw Laura still standing there in the center of this small room, having by now removed the red coat that she had on over her black and gold-trimmed corset and now had her arms folded over in front of her with her general focus directed off to one side.

"Sorry about what?" Mariko curiously asked in response, as she took a few steps back over towards Laura.

"About...yelling at you earlier." Laura clarified, as she continued standing there and started to somewhat nervously fidget in place.

Apologizing, like so many things in her life, was something that didn't come naturally to Laura. But, it was another social-skill that she had learned nonetheless, along with the understanding of when it was necessary to apply such decorum.

Particularly, since she and Professor Xavier had had a lengthy discussion on the subject after an angry outburst of hers had reduced another student to tears shortly following her arrival at his school. That, while Professor Xavier was understanding of the fact that she was trying to deal with some rather complex emotional and personal issues as best as she could, he let it be known that he would also like to see her put forth an earnest effort to be more respectful and sociable towards others. Which, included her remembering to apologize for unfortunate lapses in verbal self-control.

Realizing that with the way that things had gone down during her confrontation with Viper in Madripoor, and the resulting anger at herself for letting her arch-nemesis escape, that she was starting to fall back into her old and aggressively anti-social mindset. Laura knew that she definitely did not want to slip any further into that emotionally unhealthy comfort zone, and was one reason why she was now reaching out to Mariko, all in an effort to uphold her end of the agreements that she had made with the Professor during their months of intense psychotherapy together.

"It's alright, kiddo." Mariko replied in acceptance of Laura's attempt to make amends, as she looked down at her and put a reassuring hand up on her shoulder. And in that same moment Mariko realized that she had just made her own slip of the tongue, albeit an instant too late, with her 'kiddo' reference.

The reason why Laura usually became so perturbed at being referred to as a child in any sense of the word, was that she saw it as some kind of sick joke. Especially, since she felt that she'd never be able to look at the world through a child's eyes after everything she'd been through. It served as a harsh and painful reminder of what she had been cheated out of and had become something of an emotional sore-spot for her. But rather than blow up right now in an explosive fit of rage, Laura instead responded with another of her recently acquired coping mechanisms.

With a small, humorous grin on her face upon recognizing Mariko's sudden realization of her own verbal misstep.

But, in that same instant Laura froze in her tracks and her demeanor once again changed like a switch being flipped. Although, this time it was in reaction to something that she now sensed externally, rather than from any internalized stress.

"We've got incoming!"

It was a sentiment loudly uttered almost simultaneously by both Laura and Logan as their enhanced-hearing picked up on several objects outside that were all coming at them at a rapid aerial velocity. And no sooner were those words spoken, than a number of thunderous crashes boomed from within Mariko's living room.

Rushing back in there, Mariko and Laura were met by a sight of tremendous principal damage to most of the room's exterior-side wall. But even more out of place than the huge gaping hole that had demolished this part of her home almost entirely, were the individuals who had burst into this private residence through it and who were now standing in there with them.

"(Your day of reckoning is upon you, woman!)"

Delivering a threat that was as unveiled as it was grave in its tone, it was immediately clear that these five men now standing before Mariko, Logan, and Laura all meant precisely what their preeminent had just said. But beyond mere words, their intentions were made all the more apparent from their distinctive appearance, with each man looking as though they had undergone some sort of radical physical augmentation that had left them endowed with cybernetic prosthetics replacing their extremities, and with various electronic attachments on other parts of their limbs and bodies.

A procedure that in turn had also granted them near superhuman abilities, as evidenced by what they had just done to Mariko's apartment with hardly an effort. And while their oyabun had dubbed them his new personal cyborg samurai, his Cyburai, Logan and Mariko quickly recognized who they really were underneath these new mechanical enhancements.

It was from a violent confrontation that had taken place also during Logan's last visit here several months ago, which had seen Mariko take on these men, Hiro, Fuse, Katsutaro, Koichi, and Toshi in a local bar all by herself. And it was a conflict whose origins stemmed from an ongoing feud between Mariko and their Lord Tatsuo that went back even further, which had to do with Tatsuo's involvement in the region's illegal sex-slave trade. Particularly with regard to its underage importation and exportation, and Mariko's promise of what she would do to his flourishing criminal empire if he didn't cease his illicit activities.

It wound up costing him the monetary equivalent of over half of his total holdings and other assets in the form of illegal local businesses and storage warehouses, when he decided to call Miss Yashida's bluff and they all mysteriously went up in flames soon afterwards.

This was the reason why when Mariko, whom hadn't been seen in public for some time now was spotted out and about today shopping with a young girl, in which a picture snapped of them by a loyal informant later conclusively identified the latter as the formerly known Weapon Hydra, that Tatsuo altered his original timetable for obtaining total retribution against her for his financial losses and for reclaiming his subordinates' loss of honor to her, decreeing that now would be the time for them to exact his revenge against Mariko. And, to also collect on the considerable bounty out on her friends, along with the associative prestige that would come with such an accomplishment from the other Yakuza families within the Japanese underworld syndicate.

Without any further words being exchanged, not that they were needed at this point, each of these super-powered enforcers would let their actions now speak as they all struck at their targets with reckless abandon with two zeroing in on Mariko, two going after Logan, and the fifth taking on Laura.

Although, they may have bitten off far more than they could handle against this trio, even with taking their technologically-advanced upgrades into consideration. Which was confirmed in rather short order when Toshi, who was physically the largest of his Cyburai brethren, assumed that his raw muscular bulk and greatly enhanced strength would be more than enough to allow him to easily overwhelm and quickly pommel this diminutive girl now before him.

But the tables were immediately turned on Toshi when, before he knew what had hit him, he was struck by a rabid whirlwind in human guise that pounced on him and unleashed herself with claws flailing at and around him from seemingly every direction, slashing at the cybernetic enhancements that had been so painstakingly bestowed upon him. It was a miscalculation borne of not knowing that X-23 wouldn't be intimidated by him, what with her having spent much of her life training against opponents who were also mechanical and MUCH larger than him, and one that he now paid for as she cleaved through the bronze armor-plating that made up much of the uniform covering most his body. With this opponent now incapacitated and seemingly disposed of in short order, X-23 went to turn her attention to her friends' and their current ordeals. Although, it would turn out to be an underestimation now made on her part.

Since with her back now turned to Toshi, she wasn't able to see as his internal automated repair system began to rapidly undo the superficial damage that she had just caused to him.

Meanwhile, Mariko found herself double-teamed and outnumbered, as she struggled to narrowly avoid the combined energy discharges being brashly fired at her from Katsutaro and Fuse. But rather than continue with this defensive strategy, Mariko would instead go on the offensive against them.

As Sunfire. Former X-Man, and current scourge to the criminal underworld.

Directing a monstrous heat-blast of her own back at Katsutaro and Fuse, the two men just narrowly dodged being totally engulfed in the flames of this show of force, leaving them modestly singed and putting them now on the defensive.

To which X-23 was at first shocked to see, with this being another decided turn of the tables in relation to her and Mariko's interactions going back to earlier this afternoon. But upon closer inspection, she suddenly remembered seeing a face that did look a lot like Mariko's, albeit much younger. It was in a file listed only under a codename, but did describe a mutant-power analysis similar to what she'd just seen, located in the Institute's roster database under a folder marked 'Inactive'.

"You have powers just like my roommate." X-23 said with an impressed tone, as she came over to Sunfire while her two opponents' were taking a moment to try to regroup.

And with a smile Sunfire, whom by now was glowing incandescently from the pure thermal-plasma power coursing through and around her own body, made a reply to X-23's comparison.

"Well, can your roommate do this?"

In that same moment, X-23 watched as Sunfire used her explosive power to launch herself from a stand-still position, accelerating like a spinning rocket at a frightening velocity right towards one of the Cyburai.

"I'll have to ask her when I get back." X-23 replied with a raised eyebrow to Sunfire's inquiry, as the flame-wielding hero's propulsive force knocked one of these intruders clear across her living room and she took another along with her through the giant hole in her wall, continuing on with him towards a specified trajectory outside.

Where Sunfire would use the heat-aura now enveloping them both to completely short-out the circuitry that composed and controlled Fuse's internal weapons system, before quickly stopping in mid-air to release him. The tremendous momentum that she had built up would carry him over a few more blocks, to a hard and painful landing that awaited him in a nearby vacant expanse of pavement down below.

Meanwhile, Wolverine had been keeping himself busy tangling with the remaining two members of this hi-tech hit squad, as Hiro and Koichi let loose a non-stop barrage of deadly energy blasts from their hands at him. And as they gave him this up close and personal demonstration of their new cyber-enhancements full capabilities, Logan also recognized the familiar, one-of-a-kind design schematics used in their construction. It made his blood boil all the more from the unmistakable knowledge that there was only one person who could be responsible for helping to enable this chaos now being unleashed.

As Wolverine continued on in this physical back and forth with them, employing a counterbalance of offensive and defensive strikes that tipped more to the offensive side of that scale, Sunfire suddenly returned through the opening in her wall that she had exited from just moments ago. Landing in her living room, or what now remained of it, she came to stand right beside a poised and crouching X-23. Who had been watching Wolverine this entire time, and seeing that he had things well under control with these two opponents, felt that it would be disrespectful of her to intercede. But in the heat of battle, things can and often do change in the blink of an eye.

"This kinda reminds you of the old days, don't it?" Wolverine now quipped with Mariko, as he traded shots with Hiro and Koichi, both of whom had learned from the folly of their first fallen teammate and were far more careful in their current attack stratagem.

"Guys popping up from out of nowhere and trying to kill us? Yeah, exactly like I remember!" Sunfire humorously replied, as she took a brief moment to pause and observe as Logan's claws made incidental contact with these two fast moving targets, while Hiro and Koichi were able to also inflict a number of partially-searing volleys upon him.

Although in all of their cases, their healing/repair capabilities were restoring these relatively minor injuries almost as fast as they were being received.

"(The gaijin Pierce swore that these enhancements would allow us to soundly defeat all of our enemies!)" Koichi now remarked, his frustration with this apparent stalemate after having been forced to resort to such desperate measures as to become a machine-like monster in order for them to redeem themselves in their lord's eyes, now seeping out through his own emotional armor.

"(We have all the power that is necessary. We need simply turn it loose fully against our enemies.)" Hiro more calmly replied, as he agilely dodged one of Wolverine's claw strikes.

"(Then, let us not waste any further time!)" A third and nearly forgotten voice said, as he from seemingly out of nowhere came up and completely leveled Wolverine with a thunderous double axe-hammer blow from behind.

But after such an action, all who remained in here wouldn't make the mistake again of forgetting the mountainous Toshi. Most especially, the person whom felt fully responsible for what had just happened after having thought that she'd done enough to take him out of this fight, but now saw that he was obviously still very much in it.

"Nobody does that to my...Logan!" X-23 shouted, as she popped her claws with a growl and had every intention of going over to do far more to Toshi than merely just incapacitate him this time.

But as X-23 and Sunfire were both about to go and throw themselves back into this fray, along with a once again conscious Katsutaro from over on the other side of this room, they all stopped in their tracks when yet another explosive element introduced itself into this conflict, albeit this time from long-range.

With another blinding flash of light and a deafening wave of sound, which this time wasn't caused by Sunfire, this entire apartment was rocked when an explosive-laden arrow hit and detonated upon impact as it struck Toshi from behind, knocking all in here who were standing completely off of their feet. It was a sneak attack that could be seen as ironic, given Toshi's own use of similar furtive tactics just a moment ago. But it was a maneuver far more fatal in its results, in that this man Toshi had been reduced to several scattered and smoldering remnants.

A second of these custom-made arrows with large, conical-shaped heads then came in and once again reached their mark, killing Katsutaro in much the same manner as his Cyburai brother had been destroyed just seconds before. In that moment it became plainly apparent that these predators had now fallen prey to someone who, even with such a low-tech response contrasting their own state of the art components, had proven to be just as ruthless as these men made of flesh and machine had believed themselves to be.

"Great. Now I'm going to have to pay to get cyborg-bits scraped off of the walls." Sunfire said, as she dropped the protective heat-barrier that she had erected around herself and X-23 to filter out the flying shrapnel coming at them from these explosions, "What walls I have left, that is."

As the smoke cleared in this devastated dwelling, Logan's healing factor worked hard to help him recover from the injuries that he had received at the hands of the Cyburai, as well as the collateral debris inflicted upon him from the explosions going off around him. Meanwhile, Mariko and Laura noticed that the remaining two perpetrators of this over-the-top home invasion were nowhere to be seen. It was if they had mysteriously disappeared into thin air, a phenomenon that for Logan and Laura was becoming an all too common occurrence as of late.

"Well, you might wanna take up that part of the clean-up bill with her, M'iko." Logan coughed and remarked to Mariko and her comment, as he was finally able to get up to one knee, but just barely.

From this kneeling stance, Logan then pointed out through the original hole that had been made in Mariko's walls, his finger leading their gaze over towards a lone figure that was standing atop a nearby rooftop still holding a shortbow in her right hand and had a quiver full of arrows slung around from her left shoulder.

A lone figure, whom even under these lights of night and its opposing shadows, they could see was clad in a most unique outfit entirely in red, as well as the glint in this sparse lighting from a pair of dagger-shaped weapons hanging from her sides just above her hips.

A woman, whom men have come to know, and know to fear, at just the mention of her singularly ominous name.

A woman, named Elektra...

xxx

Next Chapter- Bad Company...