The team, minus Astrid, who was recovering at the safehouse, arrived at the location their employer had chosen for the meet: the parking lot of a shopping center. De Madera and X3 carried the limp form of her brother to her car and set him into the passenger seat.

"What happened to him?"

Gemini moved closer to Ms. Johnson and spoke in an even tone, looking for passersby who might overhear something. "This was the simplest means to keep him safe. He'll wake up soon. He had fallen into a religious order and was being manipulated by magic and drugs. He may have a mild addiction to Red Mescaline, so you may have a long road ahead. But if you hadn't been so worried about him, he would be far worse off than he is now."

She looked at her brother with a sympathetic eye and nodded. "Thank you so much. I know I can pull him out of this. Here's what I promised you."

She handed Gemini a certified credstick with a balance of 20,000¥ on it and for a brief moment, Gemini considered rejecting it. Knowing how well that would be received by her teammates, she took the offered payment and nodded. "Thank you, Ms. Johnson. It was a pleasure working with you."

"Where am I?"

Robert was awake and he frantically searched his surroundings for something familiar. Their employer quickly moved to his side. "Hey Robbie. How are you doing?"

"Amy? What are you...?" he looked around, saw the backs of the runners as they walked away and turned back to his sister. "There was this priest at a local soup kitchen and he suggested that I..."

Amy Monroe shushed him and smiled weakly. "Hey, don't you worry about any of that right now, all right? How about you come by my place, I'll cook up some dinner and we can talk there, OK?"

Robert nodded and sat numbly in his seat. The faintest hint of a tremor was visible in his hands, as the cravings were starting to creep in, but he clenched his fist and tried to push it from his mind. He wanted so badly to go back to the church, but he knew that he'd do just fine with his sister's help.

"Wait, what? What am I looking at here?"

Fiona Glenarm stood in a board room at Renraku, handing out her proposal on the Daikida acquisition. "It's my proposal. Is there a problem?"

"Since when were we planning on retaining this company? I thought this was a harvest operation."

"Initially it was. But then I started investigating the company. Did everyone fail to realize that this company has turned a profit every year since its inception? This company may be small by our standards, but they are a solid local company with a lot of potential."

"What's your point, Ms. Glenarm?" the Japanese man seated at the end of the table said, leaning forward to study her response.

"My point is this: Renraku doesn't have a very good reputation in this city. The unfortunate events at the Arcology over a decade ago are still the first thing the people in this city think of when our company is mentioned. Daikida, while small, has been providing reliable software to this city and is a trusted source. Why not leverage that company's popularity? If we take it over and tear it apart, it will do nothing for our local image. We acquire it, take the personnel we need and assign them some of our young minds. Our up-and-coming developers can get some field experience, Daikida can make us some money and it can help us establish a more even foothold in this city. I don't see a loss here."

There was a murmur of discussion that passed through the room as her points were weighed. "It still seems we're taking on some dead weight for the purposes of PR..." the executive at the end of the table stated.

"Sometimes we need to take chances to get ahead, Okuda-san. This company is profitable, so even if we change nothing within the company, our overhead should be negligible. At the same time, we can take our software that isn't selling well locally, rebrand it and use the Daikida name to sell copies. If anything, our profit margins should rise."

Chatter in Japanese rippled through the board room and after a moment, Okuda motioned for silence. "I will take your proposal to the senior executives. I don't see them rejecting your idea, Ms. Glenarm. Go ahead and draw up the paperwork for the proposal."

Fiona smiled and nodded. It was a token gesture to keep Amy Monroe from losing her job, but she was in a position of influence and could make positive changes. Sometimes that was worth far more than money.