Meguro, Sylvie's and Anri's apartment, 1:20 PM . . .

"So there are some boomers Priss-san does like."

"Only one so far."

Hearing that from her guest, Anri nodded. She had once again been surprised to find Hirosaki Chikage in hers and Sylvie's apartment. Of course, once the block on her memories of the previous evening's visit by the magi were lifted, surprise had turned into delight. And while she WAS tempted to ask again for Chikage's help in healing her, Anri had held her tongue. She remembered how passionate Chikage had sounded yesterday when she had warned her about the restrictions the magi currently faced in this situation. Clearly, Chikage wasn't the type of person who liked having her time wasted by such useless questions. "Who is that person?" Anri then asked.

"Cynthia Schwartz," Chikage reported, using the young girl's pre-crossing over name to ensure security was maintained. "A BuSP-77S in female format."

Hearing that code, Anri's eyes went wide, and then she shuddered. "She was built to look like a very young girl, wasn't she?"

The magi's eyebrow arched. "You know of them."

"Hai. They were built somewhere in space by SDPC for USSD. I don't know where, though. They came through Genaros back in late 2031. Seventy-five of them as I recall." She shuddered as she hugged herself. "They were all so beautiful."

"What's wrong?"

Anri blinked, and then she stared at the magi before she closed her eyes. "I overheard Yuka - she was a close friend of Sylvie's - telling Sylvie about she seeing one of those girls being raped by one of their escorts the night before they were finally taken off the station," she flatly said.

Chikage's mouth formed into an "O" as she took in that information, and then she found herself smiling. "Indeed? Anri, wait right here."

Standing, she waved her cape and vanished. Anri watched her, blinking in surprise on seeing her new friend leave without taking the necessary precautions. Before she could think of anything more, the magi reappeared, and then headed to the desk, carrying a circular device the size of a bowling ball, covered with a cloth. Placing the device down - it landed with a hard thud! - Chikage then unveiled it to reveal something shaped like an earthen bowl, covered in curious runes. Seeing that, Anri then gaped as she stood up to approach it. "Is that a pensieve?" she gasped.

"That it is," Chikage stated. "Made it my third summer at Hogwarts."

Anri blinked as her mind tried to absorb all that, and then she turned to stare in disbelief at the magi. "You went to Hogwarts?" she eeped.

"Anri, I told you yesterday where I got my wand."

The 33-S blinked, and then she giggled. "Sorry!"

"No problem. Anyhow, I'll need you to think back to the day you saw those girls, Anri. I'll extract the memories and place them in my pensieve."

"Why do you need them?"

A mirthless smile crossed the magi's face. "A precaution."

Anri blinked, and then she nodded.

Mitaka, the Millers' apartment, 2:10 PM . . .

"Just a minute!" The door opened to reveal Hannah Miller. On seeing who had come to visit her, she blinked. "Ayumu! What are you doing here?"

"Hey, Hannah-chan!" Ayumu called out with a polite wave; she was holding a bundle of lilies and a bottle of ramune. "Is Cynthia-chan here?"


Ayumu gasped as Cynthia embraced her, nearly knocking her down. "Whoa!" the former resident of Ōsaka gasped as she felt the strength of the younger girl's arms. "You sure are getting strong, Cynthia-chan! Soon, you'll be as strong as your mom!"

"What are you doing here?" a now-blushing Cynthia wondered as they headed to the living room so they could relax. Ever since they had crossed over, the Millers had taken quite well to the crowd that worked at the Spiral. Hannah, who had taught herself how to play the synthesizer as a hobby, often worked on her weekday (usually on Wednesdays) off as part of the unofficial orchestra that played songs whenever a ki cleansing ceremony was performed by Chikage to flush out the negative ki that had been gathered by the great tower from its surroundings. In that, she was joined by another veteran of the Aqua City incident, Jackson DeForest Bogart (known before crossing over simply as "Bogey"), who played a semi-acoustic guitar. And Cynthia, who had been taken under the wing of the youngest of the "Lillian Group" of Child Companions when she began attending the Lillian Girls' Elementary School in nearby Musashino in September, later had come to adopt all of them as her unofficial "elder sisters."

Ayumu shrugged before she held out the bottle of ramune for Cynthia. "Well, I came to give Cynthia-chan a couple presents from Priss-chan."

Cynthia stared up at the older woman. "Onē-san gave that to me?" she wondered as she took the bottle. Hannah knew her daughter always used "onē-san" without a name to refer to Asagiri Priss; all of the Child Companions were automatically named (and, of course, the Lillian girls were always addressed by the more formal "onē-sama").

"Yeah. She was praying for you with her new friend Sylvie-chan over by Aqua City and she left the bottle for you," Ayumu said before she held out the flowers, and then she handed them to the younger girl. "Oh, and them, too!"

Cynthia blinked before her eyes started to tear. "Onē-san was praying for me?" she wondered before she started to cry, holding the ramune close.

"Yeah, she was . . .!" Ayumu then jolted on hearing the sobs escape the younger-looking girl. "AH! Don't cry, Cynthia-chan! It's okay!"

Watching this, Hannah sighed. "Guess we ARE becoming more human."

Imaichi (eighty kilometres north of Megatōkyō), 3:05 PM . . .

"Cynthia . . . is alive?"

"Ja, Fregattenkapitän, she's alive."

Hearing those words, Hermann Ulrich Schwarz blinked as he absorbed that unbelievable bombshell of information, and then he slowly nodded, his eyes misting with tears as he remembered the wonderful times he had spent with the beautiful girl-boomer before her kidnapping the previous summer. "How's that possible?" the former commander of USSD's Japan Sector asked. Both were conversing in German. "When we sent divers down to the wreckage of Aqua City, they couldn't locate the body."

"The cadaver was recovered Sunday morning, just after the incident, by three 33-C boomers working for Geoffrey Frederick's master, Brian Mason," Chikage answered before sipping her tea. It had been child's play for the magi to slip into the "retirement home" undetected by outside monitors. While USSD's internal security apparatus was proficient when it came to detecting intruders - and yes, there were people in USSD who were aware of the various hidden magical communities existing today - they never anticipated someone like Chikage. "Of course, by then, the Janus circuit in Cynthia's AI chip had activated and transmitted her soul to the receiver station in Nerima. She woke up on the morning of Monday, the twenty-eighth of June."


"A normal six year-old girl, fitted as a courtesy with the Kawaii-kōka power to better defend herself against threats from rogue cyberdroids."

Hermann nodded; Chikage had just spent an hour explaining the Janus process to him, using her own experience as an example as to what could now be offered to those who benefitted from it. "And because the leaders in Toratotaka don't want those who were involved in that insanity in '19 to learn of Janus, Cynthia had to be made to disappear, right?" he then asked as he gazed on her.

"In plain sight," Chikage answered as she drew out her PADD, turning it around to show him a picture. "She just finished her first grade of elementary school at Lillian in Musashino," she added as she handed the device over.

The commander took a look at the picture, and then he tapped controls to view the other pictures the magi had of his "late daughter." "Do people know what she is?" he then asked as he stared at his guest.

"The headmistress and teachers at Lillian know," Chikage answered. "As far as her friends know, she's an orphaned girl from Berlin adopted by a security officer from San Francisco who lives in Mitaka. Cynthia is aware of the consequences - ALL of them! - of her letting loose the truth to those who can't accept them."

He nodded, and then a sigh escaped him. "Is she happy?"


Another nod. "Good." He then looked stern as he handed the PADD back. "So what did Genom do with the black box that was in Cynthia's head, Fräulein Hirosaki? I know there was an explosion at a research plant in Kawasaki a few days after that business in Aqua City. There WAS a self-destruct device in the black box."

"Scientists under Mason managed to scan the device's schematics and download its programming before they fitted it into a prototype 99-C hyperboomer. Of course, when they did that, they were killed in that explosion you heard of. Unfortunately, they were able to build replicas of that device. One went into a second prototype 99-C which was destroyed in Kawasaki in early July. You know the fallout of that particular incident." After watching her host nod, the magi sighed. "And there is a second one, now fitted into a prototype Bu-0X omniboomer called Maximillian Largo."

"'Oh-Ex?'" the commander repeated the model code. "What's that?"

"Physically, an upgraded version of the 99-C fitted with stolen Samguk-designed gravity-warp technology. Program-wise, he's the closest anyone in Genom has come to replicating the elegance Professor Stingray showed in the programming architecture he used for the Aijin prototypes at Whiz Laboratories," Chikage answered. "He's also programmed with Mason's memories. Memory-copying was another of Professor Stingray's all-too-many innovations; that's how Yoshio-papa was able to learn of Janus. Atop that, Maximillian has also been touched, so to speak, by the spirit of Armstrong."

Hermann went white. "Gott im Himmel! Does Quincy know . . .?"

"He does."

Seeing the neutral look on his guest's face, the retired space defence officer shuddered. "He's just going to let this thing run loose?" he hissed.

"Unfortunately, yes."


"Because there are others who are aware - and who will become aware - of what Maximillian is and where he came from," Chikage answered. "Doctor Rosenkreutz's experiences in the Bio-War are also playing into this, Fregattenkapitän. In his eyes, it is to Genom's ultimate benefit - and the benefit of all of humanity - that his subordinates come to understand what unchecked ambition would lead to. Maximillian will provide the perfect lesson in that end. But it doesn't mean that we don't have to let it run TOO loose." Her eyes then narrowed. "Where are the other 77-S's?"

Hermann blinked, and then he shook his head. "I don't know."

"Do you remember how many were constructed?"

Another blink, another shake of the head. "I don't remember."

Hearing that, Chikage's eyebrow arched as she considered what was happening, and then she rose, walking over to stand close to him. "Let me see something here," she whispered before placing her fingertips on his face. "Legilimens!"

After a minute, the magi then whispered another phrase, one her host didn't catch. After a quick ten second exposure to that, she pulled her hand away. Hermann blinked as his mind seemed to shut down for a second, and then his eyes widened as images as fresh as fallen snow began to flash through his mind. Images he never knew until now had always been in his mind, blocked from conscious access by . . .!

"Mein Gott . . .!" he breathed out.

"They suppressed your memories," Chikage said with a smirk as she reached into her cape and pulled out her pensieve. "Effective technique, but they didn't anticipate a magical probe of your mind finding those memories." Her eyebrow arched. "Interesting that USSD is engaged in its own meta-bioroid research. As far as I'm personally aware, no government on Earth allows it."

"It was necessary, especially after the Avalonians left," Hermann answered, his voice ashes as a pit of horror began to appear in his heart. His well-trained mind was beginning to analyse the information he had, drawing up conclusions too dark to contemplate. "To believe their xenophobia would lead them to allow that . . .!"

"Probably, it is more than just xenophobia," Chikage noted as she held up a cautioning finger. "I'm aware of something else concerning USSD's operations in the early part of its existence you don't know, Fregattenkapitän." Sensing him looking at her, she smirked. "They were allied with the Infinity Corporation."

Once again, he turned stark-white. "I-Corp . . .?"

"Ja. It was they who destroyed the EDF fleet, not the Lannarkites."

Hermann shook his head. "Mein Gott . . .!"

"But that can be dealt with another day," the magi stated as she sat in her chair. "Right now, I want to know EVERYTHING about the Killer Doll project. Who was involved in their creation, how many of them were created and what their possible locations are. If you don't know it all, don't worry; I'll be sending questions out everywhere to get answers. If we're lucky, we'll be able to prevent Maximillian's madness from going totally out of control . . . " Her eyes then narrowed. "Much less prevent your former superiors from taking improper advantage of it."

Hearing that, the former commander of USSD Japan nodded in grim understanding. His oath, which he had sworn as an upper officer naval cadet back in 2020, made him vow that he would protect Earth and her citizens from all possible external and internal threats that could not be dealt with by national defence forces.

In his eyes, that oath was still in effect.

Reflecting on that admission, he smirked. A "disgraced" officer like him claiming that with more honesty than his "honourable" superiors!


Shinagawa, the Cliffside Inn, 5:10 PM . . .

"So this is the normal 'roid drinking hole, huh? Nice place!"

"Yeah, it's cool! We aughta hang out here, Boss!"

"Hey, Retort! Would the master of this place mind?"

Philip Paracelsus Hohenheim - to this day, he personally cursed the idiots who programmed the random name generator system the Guardians used to give crossed over boomers new identities for sticking him with something like THAT! - blinked before reaching up to pull the wraparound shades away from his dark brown eyes before he leaned over to gently devour his companion's lips. Feeling that wonderful kiss, Justina Mariko Liebig crooned. Seeing that, the other members of the Death Chix biker gang whooped in delight. After that kiss, both gazed into each other's eyes before the handsome young businessman with the slicked over dark brown hair winked. "Well, just as long as you girls know how to behave yourselves when you're here."

"Remember, we do have brothers and sisters who act as bouncers here," Philip's brother 55-C, Jackson Bogart, warned with a wink before his current companions leaned in to hug him, their hands drifting to his crotch. "Hey! Geez! Lay off, girls!"

"Well, tell us this one, Bogey-kun," the girl to Jackson's right, Raina Miji Blaine, cooed playfully before she leaned up to lick the muscular man's right ear. "Are they as well-programmed as you?" she sweetly asked.

"And did they get ALL the right programming augmentations when they got the chance to cross over and become human at last?" Raina's twin sister, Clara Mihwa Blaine - you could tell them apart by their different facial tattoos - wondered from Jackson's left as she leaned up to playfully lick his other ear.

Jackson winced. "Girls . . .!"

"Hey, Bogey! You ever regret crossing over?" the third of the four men seated at the table on the first floor with their companions, wondered.

Jackson smirked as he kissed Raina passionately, then did the same with Clara. "Nah, Grease! I could never regret that! Do you?"

"Hell, no!" Warren John Kleiser - he had been known as "Greaser" before crossing over - exclaimed before he drew his girlfriend, Kimber Xiāoxìng Jacobs, closer to him. "Especially not after Kimmie-chan introduced me to all the wonderful functions we got after we did the high dive," he added.

"Hey, Kim, you and Grease ready to do the big one?" Raina asked.

Kimber red-eyed her. "Give me time, Rainy! Sheesh! Lay off, huh!"

"What big one?" Philip asked.

Kimber blushed before she winked. "Well, as you guys so wonderfully put it even now, my boyfriend and I'll one day walk under a certain tree over in Katsushika, do the linkpoint dance, then head to the flat and engage our reproductive functions."

Jaws dropped. "Hey, Grease! You SURE you're ready for that?" the fourth man - who, thanks to Janus, wasn't overweight anymore - wondered as he passed a comb through his girlfriend's hair. "Just because Han was willing to adopt Thia . . . "

"Beanbag, we all can do it, so why not?" Warren retorted.

The other man - his post-crossing over name was Robert Roger Casey; "Beanbag" was his pre-crossing over name - blinked, and then he shrugged. "What happens when you've got a child to worry about, Kim?" Jackson asked.

Kimber shrugged. "It's not that I don't want to stop having fun, Bogey. Still, we're gonna start getting seriously too old for this shit!" She leaned back to lean her head on Warren's shoulder. "I feel like it's time to settle down finally."

"And do office work?" Justina asked, a disgusted look crossing her face, and then she shook her head. "Not for me, Kimber! Not for me!"

"Nah, I was thinking of doing something really crazy!"

"What's that?" Raina and Clara asked in sync.

"Cross over and become a Cyber-Nurse."

Jaws hit the floor. "Are you SERIOUS?" Robert's girlfriend, Harriet Suzumi Maglie, demanded. "I mean . . .! Holy SHIT, girl . . .!"

"And not just any Cyber-Nurse, girl!" Kimber vowed.

Everyone gaped. "No way . . .!" Raina moaned.

"You're not serious . . .!" Clara demanded.

"You wanna become . . .?" Harriet breathed out.

Kimber smirked. "Mexican bandita! All the way!"

Everyone save Warren moaned. "Hey, Grease!" Philip stared at Warren. "I really hate to say this, but your girlfriend's malfunctioning!"

"And what's the matter with wishing that?"

Eyes turned as Franklin Geoffrey Frederick came up to join them, a glass of bourbon in his hand. Accompanying him was the last of the Death Chix, co-founder Nichele Ŭngyŏng Douglass. "Uh, excuse me, oh great Boss of ours, don't you have that knowledge stored away in your memory chips?" Robert said with a finger raised as he gazed on his former team leader. "Once Kimber becomes an MX . . . "

"Guaranteed life employment," Nichele mused as she hugged Geoffrey's arm, her other hand raising her shot glass up to down the rest of her soju.

"Not to mention getting trained to kick ass and take names no matter where you go," Raina said. "And you get to see the world, LITERALLY!"

"And if Kimmy and Grease get hitched, he goes with her!" Clara added.

The twins - as their names implied, they were a mix of American English and Korean-Japanese - exchanged looks before staring at Jackson. Sensing that look, the dirty-blonde bodybuilder with the dark blue eyes winced. "You girls aren't . . .?"

"Ain't fair for Kimmy to do it and we aren't with her," Clara noted.

"Damn straight about that!" Raina affirmed with a nod.

"Are you SERIOUS?" Justina demanded.

"Damn serious, Justy!" Kimber affirmed.

"Excuse me."

Everyone perked, and then they turned who had just called out to them. "Hey, Magic Girl!" Justina called out as Chikage walked up to join them. "You wanna wave your wand over Kimmy and see if she's been cursed?"

The magi's eyebrow arched. "What would be her problem, Justina?"

"She's thinking of turning herself into a damned cyber-doc!"

"An MX on top of that, Chikage-san," Geoffrey added.

Chikage blinked as she stared at him. "And that is a problem?"

"I wouldn't think so," he replied.

"Hey, Magic Girl! You listening?" Justina whined.

"Justina, we can discuss this later," Chikage stated as she stared at the Death Chix. "But right now, I've a favour to ask of you ladies."

The six women tensed. All were orphans of Second Kantō, winding up in various children's homes as they waited for relatives to pick them up, other concerned people to adopt them or their reaching age of majority so they could go live on their own. Neither of the first two options turned out to be viable for them. Relatives were scarce and most normal Japanese would never want to adopt children with part-American ancestry (especially since Justina's and Nichele's fathers were black and it reflected in their looks). And, like a certain singer and Knight Sabre had done, they all one day decided enough was more than enough and went into the streets, eventually becoming girlfriends to members of the Outriders. Over time, they formed their own sub-group in the gang, earning the reputation of being the toughest enforcers of the Outriders when they had to deal with people who crossed them. After J.B. Gibson decimated the Outriders' ranks in February, the Death Chix decided to strike out on their own. That had, naturally, been opposed by their old comrades, which wound up in a cross-city chase that ended in a pedestrian tunnel in Kôtô Ward that led into the Spiral grounds.

Put simply, they all owed Hirosaki Chikage their lives.

"What is it?" Raina asked.

"It concerns one of Cynthia's sisters," Chikage answered.

The males present blinked as they stared in confusion at the magi. "Um, Chikage-san, weren't they all scrapped?" Robert asked.

"They weren't, Robert," Chikage answered with a tired sigh. "I just confirmed this with a conversation with Schwarz-chūsa at his 'retirement home' up in Imaichi. All the seventy-four other girls are in hidden places around the planet, ready to be used when needed. It'll take a considerable amount of effort to track the remainder of them down. I've already started passing on the news to friends worldwide so we can track them all down. Fortunately for us, one of Cynthia's sisters is here in Tōkyō."

"Where?" Geoffrey asked.

"In Akiruno," Chikage stated as she drew out two pictures and an MMSD to give to Justina. "Currently under the civilian alias 'Anna Fennel.' Lives now with a man named Simon Fennel, a USSD research scientist currently assigned to Fussa. He was one of the junior programmers in the 77-S project."

"Fennel?" Geoffrey snarled before reaching over to take the pictures and scan them. One was that of a beautiful girl of the same physical age as Cynthia Miller, with curly red hair to mid-neck and deep brown eyes, looking like she was from Greece. The other picture was that of a man in his early thirties, with neatly combed black hair and blue eyes that looked a little inhuman on first glance. "Oh, it's him," the fusion boomer special operative-turned-bioroid corporate executive - Geoffrey was an up-and-comer in the Green Corporation - hissed out. "You little bastard . . .!"

"You know this clown, Boss?" Jackson asked.

"Hai, Bogey, I do. He's got a thing for little girls!"

Everyone tensed, especially the Chix. All six knew what it was like to lose their innocence so young. "Wanna repeat that?" Justina snarled.

Geoffrey handed the pictures over to her. "He was personally in charge of encoding the 77-S's personality programming, Justina. Took code left, right and centre from what was done on the 33-S's, especially all the intimate stuff. You ever wonder why Cynthia didn't mind running around naked in Hannah's apartment until Tōko-san, Kanako-san and Noriko-san straightened her around?"

Jaws dropped. "Holy SHIT . . .!" Raina breathed out.

Justina shuddered as she stared at Anna's picture. The picture of innocence, just like Cynthia was, even now. A glance to Fennel's. Seeing those eyes, she shuddered. While it was not always smart to judge things that way, there was no denying it; he just looked evil. Her imagination went into overdrive as she imagined what it would be like for Anna to face such a man, much less live with him full-time. Closing her eyes as she fought down a surge of nausea coming up her throat, she then breathed out. "Consider him dusted, Magic Girl," she said as she stood, the other Death Chix rising with her. "How do you want the girl delivered and who to?"

Chikage drew what looked like a wad of bubble gum and handed it over. "Crossed over. Be careful when you deal with Simon; he IS watched by USSD because of Anna. If the chance is there you might get into a fight, break it off and keep your skins intact. Go to Nerima if you have to. But if you can, save her head and deliver it to Kurimoto Yukina down in Neo-Acropolis. She'll know what to do with it."

"Right on," Justina breathed out. She knew what the "bubble gum" really was and what it would do to someone like Anna. "C'mon, Chix!" she called out to her friends as she waved to the main doors. "We're ridin'!"

Meguro, close to Sylvie's and Anri's apartment, 5:40 PM . . .

"So when'll you be by?"

"Probably after eight," Sylvie promised as she handed a can of cola to Priss. Both stood in front of a convenience store several blocks from where the sexaroid was residing. "It's the type of thing that needs monitoring when it flares. Sometimes, her attacks last an hour or so. Sometimes, they go ever much longer." A sigh. "I just have to keep close to her until she's alright."

Hearing that, Priss nodded. "Something like epilepsy, right?"


The singer breathed out. "Fuck! I wouldn't want to live like that!"

"She's hopeful."

Priss perked. "How so?"

"She's recovering," Sylvie stated. "But it needs time."

A nod. "Yeah, I hear you. So . . . "

Before Priss could say anything more, the rumble of motorcycles echoed in the streets. Both women turned as a phalanx of six riders on very nice machines raced up from a road that ran parallel to the north edge of the Fault, zipping past the convenience store as they headed towards one of the cross-town expressways. Priss was quick to spot the leader of the group: Justina Liebig, a half-black American, half-Japanese girl around her age who had spent time in the same orphanage Priss stayed in after Second Kantō. Seeing the determined look on the black-haired, brown-eyed woman's face, the singer felt a shudder run through her. She always kept her ear out for interesting news from the city streets, especially with her now being part of the Knight Sabres. These days, Justina was the leader of her own gang, the Death Chix. They were a break-off group of the Outriders who had, after Gibson had torn the main group apart with his Griffon in February, gained a very powerful social patron along the way and told the rest of the gang to go screw themselves. The word got out real fast on the streets: NO ONE fucked with the Death Chix if they valued their lives.

"Do you know those girls, Priss?"

Priss nodded. "Yeah, Sylvie, I do. Those were the Death Chix. Biker gang that hangs out around here. Their boss was someone I knew in the orphanage." She gave the raven-haired woman a warning look. "Take my advice, Sylvie: don't EVER get on their bad sides. They're all mean ones and they got high friends somewhere."

Sylvie tensed. "Someone from Genom?"

Priss shook her head. "No, not Genom. Don't know exactly who they're with now." Her eyes narrowed. "But I will find out . . . " she whispered.

Minato Ward, near Roppongi Crossing, 6:20 PM . . .


"Arigatō," Priss called back as she walked into Club Roma. It was one of several private hostess clubs in a ten-floor building on the Gaien Higashi-dōri southeast of the Crossing. The place was mostly empty at this time of day; the real action between workers and guests wouldn't really start up until much later in the evening. Of course, Priss wasn't interested in that.

"I'll be . . .!" a man's voice called out from the bar, making Priss turn and grin as a face from years ago appeared. "Asagiri Priss! What are YOU doing here?"

"Hey, Ken! You're looking pretty posh!" Priss called back as she accepted a hug and kisses on the cheeks from Ken Gralla, another orphan from the 2025 quake who had spent time in her gang before going "legit." Or as legit as one could be running a hostess bar, even in a country like Japan after Second Kantō.

"I hope so," he mused as he waved her to a nearby booth.

Someone - an S-77 model companion boomer, Priss noted - came over to get an order. Priss got a rye-and-Coke, and then she took a sip. "So what've you been up to since I last saw you?" she asked. "You left the gang when I started singing . . . "

"Got tired of the streets," Ken admitted. Like many orphans of Second Kantō Priss knew of, he was only part-Japanese; his late father had been a member of the Italian diplomatic staff who had married local before they died in 2025. "Got some start-up money and got this place going. Tried to do it as a straight bar, but the money was there in hostess work, especially with the amount of foreigners moving into the country with the reconstruction. Been at it ever since. Make a profit, too."

"Yakuza?" Priss then asked, a concerned look crossing her face.

He rolled his eyes. "The Tōa-kai came around early last year offering me better 'support' to keep my business running. I was tempted to give into them since the Inagawa-kai were ready to make a fight for all the businesses on this side of the Crossing. But then someone came along, told the Tōa-kai and the Inagawa-kai to cool it and it quieted down." A shrug. "Along the way, I formed an alliance with some of the others in this part of town - all street gang folk - to make sure everything's alright with all of us. We've been doing good ever since. Remember Yuki?"

She grinned. Machii Yuki had been another member of their gang, a very effeminate boy who could get away - and often DID! - with dressing up as a girl. "Yuki?" Priss exclaimed. "Haven't seen him for years! He still cross-dressing?"

A laugh. "He is. He runs Joline's; it's in a building closer to Azabu-Jūban. All cross-dressers." A warning look crossed his face. "Word of warning, Priss. You want to get info out of Yuki, it's gonna cost you." Ken grinned as he sat back in his chair. "He always likes to play the mysterious game, even when talking to friends."

A nod. "I hear you. What about you? Finally settling down?"

A shake of the head. "Not yet, but I'm dating someone," he admitted, a wistful smile on his face. "Doctor named Kusakabe Jun. Doing her internship at Minato General these days in shock-trauma; got her MD from Ishinomaki Women's University up by Sendai last March. Ever heard of the Nightingale Rides?"

She shook her head. "Nope, never heard of them."

"International volunteer airborne paramedic rescue service co-sponsored by the Kurusugawa sisters here in Japan and Samguk over in Korea, not to mention a whole slew of other companies worldwide. Even Genom pitches into it, but mostly under-the-table stuff. Just started up last year in Korea, Canada and the States. They're thinking of opening a shop here in Tōkyō sometime next year."

"How do they move around?" Priss asked.

"They're using landmates. The Hyundai Ladybird model."

The singer's eyes widened. "I've heard of them! You could fly one of those things right out from a car garage and it doesn't leave any dented doors or jet-wash."

"The same. Atop that, if you've got a good pilot on the controls, it could throw around a D-class battle boomer like a child's toy!"

Priss laughed. "Genom won't like that!"

"Yeah, most of the suits over in Shinjuku wouldn't," Ken affirmed with a nod. "But - so rumour says - the top tier in the Tower are all for it."

The singer perked. "Really?"

"No shit."

"That's weird."

Ken shrugged. "Rumour has it both Serika-san and Ayaka-san are both friends with old man Quincy himself, so it actually might happen." He smirked as he gave her a look. "So what're you doing here anyway, Priss?" he asked.

"Curious about something," Priss stated with a nonchalant shrug. "Couple hours ago, I saw Justy Liebig and her pals race out of Meguro heading somewhere. Justy looked pretty pissed. Hear anything about them recently?"

A shake of the head. "Not much about what they're doing now."

Her head tilted over. "What about whoever's backing them up?"

"What do you mean?"

"Heard what happened back in February with the Outriders?"

A snort. "Who hasn't?"

"Justy and her friends broke off from those guys and started their own group," she reminded him, sensing her old gang-friend did know some things. "Rest of the Outriders didn't like them tripping out like that, then chased them all over the city. Next thing I hear, the Outriders called it off and people on the street start talking about the Death Chix as the nastiest things to come down since combat boomers. Atop that, they're coated in Teflon now. Every time someone tries to start a fight with them, the idiots that start it all wind up in jail and Justy and her friends walk away scot free." Priss' eyebrow arched. "So what's going down, Ken? I know Genom wouldn't be interested in them, but someone big's backing them up."

Ken sighed deeply before sitting back in his chair. "I haven't heard it out in the open, Priss," he then admitted, " . . . but the Death Chix are now good friends with some of the leaders of the Second Kantō Victims Memorial Association."

She blinked as her mind rolled over that revelation. "The Victims Memorial Association?" she blurted out. "You mean that charity group that sponsors all the homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the city? Why would Justy want to partner up with them? Hell, why would the Association want to deal with the Chix?"

"They're more than just that, Priss."

The singer stopped. "What do you mean?"

A sigh. "Ever hear of a woman named Hirosaki Chikage?"

Priss blinked. "Name's familiar . . . "

"She was one of over a hundred girls who were in comas for five years after the big one came down in '25. Crack medical team from the Ijūin Group got them on their feet three years ago. Did it WITHOUT cybernetics, no matter WHAT idiots who wanted to go after them said." Ken sighed. "You might have heard of some of the others from that bunch. Tenhiro Haruka from Chiba. The Murasame twins and Rindō Ayaka from Neo-Acropolis. Yukihiro Ayaka from Mahora. Hanazono Shizuma over in Musashi-murayama. And the biggest babe of them all: Ogasawara Sachiko from Musashino!"

Her jaw dropped. THOSE names, she was quite familiar with; Sylia Stingray always kept track of those people who ran investment companies that directed funds from citizens into Genom's large coffers. "Ogasawara?" she blurted out, and then she declared, "She's said to be old man Quincy's mistress!"

A laugh. "Hard to be that when the girl pings a hundred percent on the dyke-meter, Priss!" Ken advised her before shaking his head. "She's actually engaged to an old school chum of hers from Lillian Girls' High School! They're going over this summer to tie the knot in Canada, believe it or not!"

Priss whistled. "No shit!"

"Hey, it's true!" Ken affirmed with a nod before he leaned over. "Anyhow, Hirosaki was one of the girls who were woken up along with Ogasawara, Hanazono, Tenhiro, Yukihiro, Rindō, the Murasame twins and all of their friends. In fact, I heard a rumour once that Hirosaki and Tenhiro share the same dad, along with ten more of those girls who all got woken up from their comas back in '30."

A laugh. "You're kidding me!"

"All true. What's crazier about it is that those girls have an older brother! THEIR dad was none other than Minakami Atsuo!" Ken nodded in the general direction of Shinjuku. "He was said to be a pal of the old man in the Tower! One rich dude, too!"

Another whistle. "Fuck!"


"So what is it about this Hirosaki girl?"

"Remember that fight when the Chix broke off from the Outriders?"


"It was Hirosaki who put a stop to it."

Priss blinked. "How?"

"No one knows."


"I'm not bullshitting you, Priss!" Ken assured her, holding up his hands in a peaceful gesture to ward off the singer. "All that I've heard about what went down was that the Chix all got into this place over in Kōtō managed by Hirosaki and the Association. When the Outriders went in after them, Hirosaki and some other girl named Kasuga showed up right then and there and cleaned house!"

Priss whistled. "Whoa . . . "

"Yeah. And ADP and TPD were right there to haul them off. Next thing I heard about that, the Outriders who didn't get jailed that day got a warning from Hirosaki: Behave or they'd be joining their pals in the slammer." A shrug. "You can guess what happened then. Liebig and her friends swore themselves to the woman right there."

"How'd she do it?"

A shrug. "I don't know, Priss. What's worse, when I asked around some of the people who help around with the Association folks, they all tell me one simple thing."


"'Don't ask if you don't want to lose all sense of Reality.'"

The singer perked. "What the fuck does THAT mean?"

"Don't know, to be honest," he answered. "But the other street and bike gangs over the last couple of years have pretty much had similar encounters with that lady. Especially the gangs who like to pick on drifters in the Fault, the Loop and other places around town. According to what I've heard about her when she got involved in that stuff, she came down on them like the fuckin' Wrath of God Himself!" Ken breathed out. "Priss, whenever folks on the street talk about her, they all say the same thing: 'Don't fuck with Hirosaki. And that goes double for all her friends.'"

Priss nodded. "I hear you." She swallowed the rest of her drink.

"Want another?"

A shake of her head. "Nah!" Priss affirmed as she moved to pay. "Got a friend coming over to my place later today, so I better get back there to clean it up."

Ken laughed. "Oh! Getting ready for a date?"

Priss tried not to blush. "You wish!" she smoothly lied.

Minutes later, the singer had departed Club Roma. As soon as she was gone, Ken took a deep breath before he moved to stand up.

"Master?" a voice then called out in Italian.

He perked. "What is it, Marietta?"

The S-77 who had served Priss came up. "Why did you not tell the full truth about Mistress Chikage to your friend, Master?" she asked.

Ken sighed. He had been a "friend of the Spiral" for over a year, ever since a certain purple-haired magi came down to Roppongi one night in early 2032, brought together the local leaders of both the Inagawa-kai and the Tōa-kai, then brokered a deal between them that would respect their own needs AND allow independent operators like Kenshirō Michelangelo Gralla to conduct business without any sort of harassment. He had, shortly after viewing the great tower in Kōtō for the first time, learned of another incredible secret when he met - and fell hopelessly in love with - a beautiful, leggy, tomboyish blonde with blue eyes who had, back in mid-2027, been literally GROWN in a laboratory to be the perfect nurse (and later doctor). "Priss isn't ready for the truths behind Signorina Hirosaki, Marietta."

Marietta blinked. "How can you be sure?"

"I am," Ken affirmed with a nod. "Maybe someday in the future, Priss might come to understand what things like the Spiral, not to mention this . . . " - he made the "J" sign with his pinky - " . . . ultimately mean. But not now. She's still too angry at a lot of things. You can hear it in her music. If she learned the truth about what Signorina Hirosaki can do, that would scare her. She'd want to know why it was all kept a secret. And if she didn't like the answer . . . " A shake of the head. "She's mellowing out a bit, I think." He waved her down. "Don't worry about it, Marietta. Priss will be okay in the long run. She's a born survivor, that girl."

The boomer took that in, and then she nodded. "That's good."

"Let's get the bar ready."

Marietta grinned. "Sì!"

To be continued . . .