She looked at herself in the mirror, admiring. The bone white skin, the yellow eyes, the violet hair. She arched back and placed her right hand flat on the floor, slowly she brought her left leg up and then the right until she was balanced on one hand with her legs in a full split.

"What are you doing Tohya-chan?"

"I'm exercising, Ping"

Miho placed her other hand on the floor and lowered herself to touch her nose then slowly pressed up again.

"My older brother can do that with just one hand but we girls just aren't as strong as boys are"

"I didn't know you had a brother, tell me about him!"

Miho suddenly snapped her legs over and landed on her feet, "He's like me, part of an experiment. There were others but most died at puberty."

Ping tilted her head slightly, "What sort of experiment?"

Miho smiled showing her pronounced canines, "Why to make a more efficient human. Smarter, quicker, stronger, able to sleep less and endure more. It didn't quite work as well as they thought it would. They forgot that we would still be people and not machines."

Miho looked at Ping, "They want my brother and I to have children together." Miho extended one leg almost straight up and slowly squatted on the other until she touched her chin to her knee.

Ping processed what Miho had just said, "We're a lot more alike than I ever imagined then aren't we?"

"Yes we are Ping" Miho changed legs and then sighed as she sat down beside Ping. "I had a dream, it was silly I suppose. I would help you to be with Piro-kun and I could be with Largo-sensei."

Just then Miho's cell phone rang, Miho looked and the text message and pursed her lips. "Hmm, the Head Ninja has a contract offer for me." Miho quickly changed her clothes putting on a lacy dress that came almost to the tops of the boots she wore. "Can you make it back home okay Ping? I really need to get going."

Ping nodded. "I'll be fine Tonya-chan, see you tomorrow!"

Miho stood on the edge of the roof watching Ping walking away. The small lie she had told Ping was tearing at her. An aversion to lying was part of her makeup, she didn't want to say that it was the Head Ninja calling but she couldn't stop herself.

"The power of revelation lies in concealment."

She smiled as she repeated the old saying; she had to carefully moderate everything she said. She knew she shouldn't have told Ping so much about her brother but Ping was as near a friend as she ever had. Others at school sometimes talked about her, calling her "one of those demon children" all because she'd told other girls too much about herself.

"Well, I must be going. I'll probably get to see Largo again before it's all over." She smiled and vaulted lightly to the top of a utility pole and nimbly climbed to the ground.



Junpei felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck. Despite the music pounding in his ears and the hood interfering with his vision he sensed something very dangerous. He turned slowly and was startled to see Miho dancing. It took a moment for him to realize the she was dancing to the song playing on his iPod.

When the song ended she approached him and gently reach up and took the earbuds out of his ears. "You have dishonored yourself Ninja, your life is required of you."

Junpei looked at Mho in confusion, "Junpei not understand."

Miho wrapped her arms around his waist and closed her eyes, "Tell me what it is that you don't understand?"

"Why girl sent to warn Junpei?"

Miho's embrace tightened and Junpei felt terrible pain as vertebrate popped in his back, "I'm not here to warn you, I'm here to kill you." Miho snapped backwards, lifting Junpei's feet off the ground and driving his head into the sidewalk, breaking his neck.

Miho stood upright and looked around, there was no one in sight. Of course she'd have know if there were. Then the girl that was much more than a girl walked off alone in the night.
Ping skipped cheerfully along the street on her way back to Mega Gamers. Tohya-chan had given her an idea with her brief exercises and she was eager to get back and try it out. As she turned the corner she spotted a familiar figure, head down, hands in pockets.

"Piro-kun! Where are you going?"

Piro looked up, "Hi Ping, I thought you were going to visit Tohya-san." Piro looked down at his feet. "Hayasaka-san needed to have another little talk with Largo so I left."

Ping smiled brightly, "Tohya-chan had an important meeting with the Head Ninja, and usually she will walk with me back to the store. She says that I'm unable to recognize threats to myself so the meeting must have been very important to her. I should call her because I know she will be worried."

Piro looked around uncomfortably, "Ping, exactly what do you and Tohya-san do when you visit her?"

"Oh, we play games. She has also been trying to teach me to dance." Ping then looked down shyly, "And we talk about boys."

Piro smiled at the thought of Ping dancing, "Oh, that's nice."

"Today Tohya-chan was exercising and she did the most interesting thing, watch this." Ping stood in front of Piro and slowly arched back in a perfect imitation of Miho's one-handed bridge.

Piro's gaped at Ping, "She can do that?"

"Oh yes, and that's not all." Ping slowly raised her left leg past Piro's face, her skirt slowly sliding up to reveal her thigh. Piro stood transfixed, unable to take his eyes off of the robot girl. At the last moment she suddenly collapsed with a squeal and hastily pulled her skirt down.

Piro blinked as if awakening from a dream, Ping huddled at his feet. "What's wrong Ping? Are you okay?" Ping looked up at him wide eyed, "I guess my chassis isn't as flexible as Tohya-chan" She reached up and took Piro's hand as she stood.

"Have you eaten yet Piro-kun?"

"No I haven't."

"Could we go somewhere that has pie please?"

Piro looked puzzled for a moment, "Umm, sure Ping, we can do that."

As they walked side-by-side Ping gently caught Piro's hand in hers, their fingers twining together. Piro was surprised at how natural, how good it felt.

"Piro-kun, do you think that Largo-sensei will try to hack me?"

Piro was silent for a moment "I don't think so."

"Are you sure?"

After a longer silence Piro responded quietly, "No"

They walked a little farther and were nearly at Anna Millers when Ping continued, "Can I stay with you?"

"What do you mean Ping?"

Ping looked down, "Well, lie beside you when we are asleep, I would feel safer if I could."

Piro looked over at Ping, "I guess that would be okay. So you can recognize threats after all?"

Ping just smiled in reply as they entered the restaurant, she was happy. She had finally gotten Piro to notice her.
Erika glared at the back of Largo's head, "We waited for you last night, where were you?"

Largo froze, his hands hovering over the keyboard.

"What's wrong Largo? Wasn't that the question you thought I'd ask?"

Erika stood and crossed her arms tightly, "Well, aren't you going to say anything?"

Largo glanced back over his shoulder then turned to stare at the screen, "Junpei and I had some important data collection to finish."

Erika nodded then smiled tightly, "So, you stood me up so you and your bully boy could surf the web? Is that it? You humiliated me in front of our friends! And then..."

Largo spun around, "It was important!"

Erika stepped closer, "Where's that high talk of yours? You sound almost normal. Do I frighten you? Is that it, are you afraid of girls?"

Largo once more turned to his computer, "I don't know what you're talking about"

Erika lowered her arms, her fist clenched in rage, "Nanasawa called me and told me about the little package you sent to the studio this morning."

Largo stiffened, "She told you?"

"Of course she did, I helped her get back on her feet. I helped her get a real job. I've been there for her when she couldn't go any lower. Why wouldn't she call?"

Largo stammered, "I..I didn't think she'd want you to know."

Erika grabbed Largo and jerked him to his feet, "Not want me to know! I already know everything about her, Largo!"

Erika shoved Largo back and turned away, "Well, her performance this afternoon was brilliant. She didn't have to fake the tears."

Largo once again sat down to his keyboard. Erika screamed, "What's wrong with you! How could you do such a thing ? Why would you do such a thing?"

Largo replied deadpan, "I have to protect him, he can't sense the evil like I can."

Erika turned back to glare at Largo, "Piro is a grown man, which is more than I can say for you. He doesn't need you to protect him from women." A look of horror crossed her face, "Did you even show him the pictures?"

Largo turned and looked at Erika coldly, "Of course not, that's the sort of thing I'm trying to protect him from."

Erika's face twisted in rage, "You're sick. I want you out of here tommorrow morning."

Largo stood to face her once more, "Fine, we'll leave then."

Erika stepped closer, "No, Piro can make up his own mind after I've told him what you've done. Goodnight Largo"

Largo grabbed her shoulder, "I can't let you do that.."

Erika exploded, she caught Largo's arm and hip tossed him, sending him flying over his computer. Largo slowly stood and pulled something from a large box. Erika's hand flew to her mouth as she recognized the crossbow. She bolted to the door and with a strength born of desperation she shoved the junk that had been used to block it out of the way. As she opened the door a bolt clipped her ponytail and sailed out into the street. Erika screamed as she sprinted down the stairs then tripped just two steps from the bottom. Rising slowly to her feet she looked back up the stairs to see Largo attempting to cock his weapon. She kicked off her shoes and ran down the street toward Anna Millers, someplace with lights and people. Behind her she heard Largo screaming at her, threatening her. It was the first time he'd ever spoken her name.
Erika's lungs burned as she pounded up the street, with every stride of her long legs she gained ground on her pursuer. Her thoughts raced even faster than her body, why hadn't she taken Largo down? Why had she run? The answer was simple, if she'd have put him down he would never get up again.

It would have been so easy, her arm wrapped around his neck squeezing the arteries. Just hold until he stops struggling and then for just a few minutes more. It was that simple. She shuddered as she remembered it, the fear as she held on waiting for the security people to come. The horror of it as she realized that the fan would never again hear her voice, the pleading in his eyes before the light left them forever.

She could see the lights of Anna Millers just ahead, she was going to make it.


Piro sat beside Ping in the booth with a bemused expression on his face. Pings comment about her and Miho discussing boys now intrigued him. The robot girl had allowed him to lead the way as they walked hand in hand, somehow she had coaxed him into sitting beside her after she had scooted into the booth first. He realized that they were on a date. Miho must be an excellent teacher.

"Are you going to call Tohya-san, Ping?"

"Oh, I almost forgot." Ping then pulled a cord from her jacket pocket and handed it to Piro. "Could you plug this in for me please?" she said as she turned her head and presented an earblade to him.

Piro plugged the datacord in and found himself face to face with the robot girl, he blushed when he found himself thinking how pretty her eyes were.

"What's wrong Piro-kun?"

"Umm, nothing. It's just that you have very pretty eyes. I'd never really looked at them before."

Ping smiled coyly, "Thank you Piro-kun." The datacord popped out and she reeled it back into her pocket.

"Did you already call Tohya-san, Ping?"

"I sent her a text message telling her that I am with you here at Anna Millers."

Piro looked stunned, "That's amazing."

Ping smiled, "It's pretty simple actually."

Ping nestled against Piro and he realized that his arm was around her shoulders, now when had that happened? Guiltily he wondered if Nanasawa was working tonight, what if she saw them here like this? He relaxed as Ping opened the menu for them. Nanasawa knew about Ping, that she was like a little sister didn't she? Still, she didn't feel much like a sister right now.

Miho read the message and smiled, so Piro had actually noticed her. That was good. Still, this presented a problem. Miho needed to feed, she needed protein and fat, she needed meat and she needed it now. She was within a block of Anna Millers, she intended to get a hamburger there but she didn't want to intrude on Ping and Piro. She was struck by the thought of Junpei's body cooling there on the sidewalk where she had left it and shuddered. No! she wasn't an animal, she wouldn't that.

She could smell the faint scent of blood and fear now. What was that? She could hear barefeet pounding on the pavement and then she saw the ex-Idol Hayasaka sprinting toward the door of anna Millers. Miho shuddered again as the thought of prey fleeing struck her like a hammer then another urge, they one that The Machine had intended struck her. The need to protect.
Largo stood on the sidewalk in front of MegaGamers looking in the direction that Erika had run. Hiw stomach churned, threatening the purge itself of the warm, flat beer that had been his dinner. He was startled by a familiar voice, "Hey Largo, get in." It was Dom in his Sega Black Ops van.

Dom pulled slowly away from the curb and made a U turn to head back toward Anna Millers. "What's going on Largo? What's with the hardware, you hunting zombies again?"

Largo nodded, "That chix0r that works with Piro. She's some sort of Idol that the zombies worship."

Dom was silent for a moment, "Are you sure that's all?"

Largo looked puzzled, "What do you mean, isn't that enough? I have to stop the zombies before they overrun the city."

The van slowly passed Anna Millers, Miho stood by the door staring at the van. "It's her! Teh 3vil one! I knew they were working together!" Largo turned and grinned triumphantly at Dom, the smile faded when he realized that they weren't stopping. "What are you doing Dom? We need to go back and finish this." Dom just shook his head then Largo continued, "Oh yeah, we better get more backup. Lets find Ed and Junpei."

Dom smiled for the first time, "I know exactly where Ed is, now who is Junpei?"

"Junpei is my l33t ninj4."

"Big guy, spiky hair, sharp dresser? I've met him."

"Yeah, that's him."

Dom smiled again, "He's not going to be helping anyone."

Largo looked stricken, "What do you mean?"

"I just heard it on the scanner, the police found his body not fifteen minutes ago."

Largo became frantic, "It must have been her, the 3vil one! she the only one I've ever seen stop him."

Dom looked grim, "If she can do that I should try to recruit her."

Largo became more frantic, "No, she's 3vil!"

"Settle down Largo."

Dom was silent as he drove on down to the docks. Largo continued to rant. Finally he parked near on the edge of the water. "Get out Largo, there's something I need to show you." They went to the back of the van and Dom opened the hatch.

Largo stumbled back in horror, "Ed?" He looked over at Dom who was attaching a silencer to his SOCOM .45.

"What's going on Dom. What happened to Ed?"

Dom looked Largo in the eyes, "Ed and I had some issues to resolve, nothing that concerns you." he continued "I was waiting on Hayasaka so I could make a contract offer to come work for Sega. Nothing big, some body modeling and promotions for a start. Your ninja has been stopping me everytime I'd try to talk to her. Now you want to kill her."

Largo stared at the muzzle of Doms pistol with the uncomprehending expression of a dog looking at a Christmas Tree. The last thing to pass through his mind was traveling at nine hundred feet per second.
Miho watched as the Sega Black Ops van cruised past and snorted in disgust, didn't they have any imagination? They may as well paint signs on the vehicle. She turned and entered Anna Millers, time to get something to eat.

Erika spoke briefly to the manager then went into the female staffs dressing, Nanasawa was sitting in a bench holding her head in her hands.

"Are you okay, Kimiko?" Erika lightly touched her friends shoulder.

Kimiko shook her head, "Piro is here, with Ping."

"What are they doing?"

"I don't know, I just saw them come in together." Kimiko looked up at Erika, "He was holding her hand, they were laughing." .

"I'm sure it means nothing, you've seen how he treats her."

"You mean how he treats her when he does not think that they are alone." A single tear ran down Kimiko's cheek.

She wiped her face, "No, that's not it. What will he think of me? Will he even want to talk to?"

Erika hugged Kimiko, "Largo told him nothing, I confronted him about it and he chased me out of the apartment with a crossbow."

Relief washed over Kimiko's face, "Then Piro doesn't know?"

Erika shook her head, "No, he does not." She crossed her arms tightly.

"You are bleeding Hayasaka-san", Erika turned with a start to face Miho.

"You are Pings friend aren't you, what are you doing here? This place is for the staff."

Miho took off her backpack, after setting it on the bench beside Erika she opened it. "I saw you running barefoot up the street and thought that to be unusual."

Erika looked into the backpack and her eyes went wide. "Have you got a drugstore in there?"

Miho straddled the bench and took Erika's injured arm in hand, "I work at a club and I like to be prepared for any emergencies we might have there."

Erika watched in fascination as Miho expertly cleaned the wound and began dressing it. Why had she allowed this girl who was little more than a stranger touch her?

Miho looked up from her ministrations, "There was a small stone in the wound, you must have fallen very hard for it to have cut you like that."

Kimiko stood and watched with a look of horror on her face, "Oh Erika, how could I be sitting there feeling sorry for myself when you were hurt?"

Miho looked up at Kimiko, "She is a strong woman who cares for her friends. It is good to have such a friend." She looked back at Erika's arm and finished taping, "There you go, all done."

"You didn't answer my question, how is it that you just walked in here?"

Miho smiled, "I go where I will."

Miho closed her backpack and stood. "I saw Largo get into a van, Sega Black Ops I believe. I have a strange feeling about that." She looked at the timeclock by the door, "My order should be ready now and I need to get to the club. Good night."

Erika watched Miho as she left, "I'm going to have to talk to Piro, I don't think it is safe for him and Ping to be at the apartment when Largo comes back." She looked at Kimiko, "I am going to invite them over. They can sleep in the front room if that's okay with you."

Kimiko smiled and nodded, "That will be fine."
The Sony Enforcement Division Osprey orbited over Yoyogi at an altitude of one thousand meters.

"Dragonfly dragonfly, this is Sony control, over."

"Sony Control, this is Dragonfly, we copy, over"

"Dragonfly, our missing field operatives transponder has gone active again, over"

"We copy that Sony Control, do you have the coordinates? over"

"Roger Dragonfly, uploading by laser datalink in three, two, one..."

The pilot blinked twice and a map of the area popped up on his HUD. There was a steady red dot in a location by the docks.

"Looks like Ed's flatlined again, I wonder where he's been all day?"

The co-pilot looked over, "Someplace shielded, probably by someone that wanted to increase the odds that we won't be able to regen him."

The pilot nodded and banked the Osprey sharply toward the docks.

The big machines wings pivoted up and it landed almost on top of Largo and Eds cooling bodies. The ground team debarked rapidly and began to examine the bodies.

"Yeah, this one is Ed alright, hes'a real mess too. What have you got?"

"Prints and DNA scan says he's a Mortal Kombat Visa holder that has just had his visa revoke with prejudice."

"Ouch, don't they tell those guys that a Mortal Kombat Visa means they kill you if you screw up?"

"Yeah, that explains the this. Looks like he took a large caliber handgun round right between the eyes."

"That also means that we own him. Load him up and we'll take him back to the research center with Ed here."

"Yes sir!"

The Sony trooper looked down at Largo and grinned, "This is your lucky day, You've got a rewarding new career as a Sony cyberzombie!"
Dom entered the apartmen. He needed to hurry before Piro came back. The floor was littered with beer cans and computer parts and the air had a strong scent of ozone.

"Definitely looks like Largo lived here."

All the lights were still burning brightly so it made his job easy, he quickly gathered up Largo's clothes and disconnected the computer and monitor, placing it all in the large box that Largo had used to hide his crossbow.

Dom had just started to pick the box up and carry it away when something caught his eye. Was that a dress? He looked around a stack of boxes to find girls clothing and a charger all neatly arranged.

Understanding dawned, "The rogue EVS, Largo and Piro have that Sony EVS unit." Dom's face split into a wide grin, things were looking up for him.

"It isn't nice to go pilfering through a girls things you know."

Dom spun, drawing his pistol. It was that girl that Largo called the evil one. Her hand flashed out and his arm went numb from the elbow down. She held his pistol up and grinned to reveal pronounced canines.

"What dangerous toys you play with"

The she moved, springing up her legs went into full splits and her skirt flared. She landed on Dom, scissoring her legs around his waist and wrapping her arms around his neck. They fell heavily to the floor together with Dom on top.

Dom struggled to free himself but Miho tightened her grip on both his waist and his neck and then she arched her back. Dom screamed, it felt like she was tearing his head off.

"You smell of blood and gunpowder."

Dom tried to reach in his pocket but Miho twisted his neck just a little more to provoke another scream.

"What have you done with Largo?"

"Nothing…"

Miho suddenly rolled over to throw Dom onto his back then drove her knee hard into his groin before straddling him in the mount position. Her yellow eyes burned into him.

"Don't lie to me."

"I shot him, he was going to kill Hayasaka"

Miho froze for a second and Dom made a grab for his pistol, she slapped him backhanded knocking his glasses off.

"Why would Largo want to kill Hayasaka? And why would you shoot him?"

"He said the zombies worshipped her, he had a zombie problem you know."

Miho shook her head; tears began to well in her eyes, "Baka". She looked back down at Dom. "He was your friend…"

Dom looked up, "He was my friend a long time ago. People change."

Miho lowered her face close to Doms, Her lips brushed his.

"What are you doing?"

Miho gazed into his eyes, "There has been too much death this night, and I'm affirming life."

Doms mouth went dry, "No, you can't…" He felt Miho's hands caressing him, touching him. She smiled down at him.

"I can and you will."

Dom felt himself responding to her touch, he looked into her eyes, losing himself in them. Once more Miho made him cry out but this time not in pain.
Piro couldn't believe what he was hearing, "Largo actually chased you with a crossbow?"

Erika nodded, "Yes he did, we had some words over Nanasawa. I told him he was no longer welcome to stay in the apartment. That didn't seem to bother him at all untill I told him that I was going to speak to you about it and offer you a chance to stay on if you liked."

Erika looked over at Ping, the robot girl brought her hand up to lightly touch Piro's chest and she slightly tilted her head toward him. Erika was startled, Pings gestures almost screamed "My Man!" Now where had she learned to do that?

Piro shook his head, "What did he do to Nanasawa?"

Erika looked back at him, "I had probably better let Nanasawa tell you about it. I'll say this, Largo seemed to think that he was protecting you from her. He said that you cannot sense evil."

Piro looked into Erika's eyes and knew that she was telling the truth. Things lined up in his mind, thoughts and suspicions that he had been denying for a long time. "I don't even know if I want to know what he did or said." He looked over to Ping who looked into his eyes and smiled, "I guess we had better get on back and have it out with him Ping."

Erika shook her head, "No, I don't think it's safe for you to do that. You don't know what he'll do if he thinks you're not going with him." She took a breath, "Besides that, Pings friend told me that she had seen him get into a van with someone."

Ping looked over at Erika and frowned, "Tohya-san told you that? When did you see her?"

Erika looked puzzled, "She came into the waitresses changing room, didn't you see her?"

Ping shook her head, "No, but she is able to get lost very well. I have lost her several times myself." She looked back at Piro, "I won't let Largo-san harm Piro-kun."

Erika blinked at Pings words. What a strange thing for her to say. "No, I want the two of you to come and stay with Nanasawa and I tonight. I've already called Masamichi and he is going to speak to Largo as well. I don't think he is even suppose to have a crossbow. This is police business now."

About that time Kimiko came up, she stood close by Piro. Her hip brushed his shoulder and her eyes locked on Pings. Piro suddenly felt very uncomfortable.

"Are you two coming over tonight?"

Ping replied, "Yes, I think we will."

Piro blinked and looked across at Erika who had a bemused smile on her face, he felt her bare foot brush against his shin and then Erika rose to leave. "When the two of you are finished you can meet me back at the store. Masamichi should be along shortly and we can pick up anything you might need."

Kimiko frowned, "I need to get back to my station, I'll be off in about two hours and see you at our place."



Piro paid his bill and he and Ping caught up with Erika within a block, they could see the police vehicles and Inspector Sonoda as they got closer. Sonoda waved them over, "Looks like he's already moved out, he must have had someone helping hiim."

Ping and Piro looked at each other then back at Sonoda, in unison they said "Can we go up?" Then they looked back at each other. Erika's eyes narrowed, What on earth was going on with Ping?

Sonoda nodded, "Yes, that will be fine. Hayasaka, may I have a word with you?"

Ping and Piro went up the stairs as Sonoda drew close and began talking in a low voice to her.

"I wonder who could have helped him?"

"We don't know what he did during the day, Piro-kun"

As they entered the apartment they were challenged by a TPCD trooper, "Who let you up here?"

Piro was taken aback, "We live here, we're just getting some things so that we can stay somewhere else tonight." He could see several other officers intently studying a part of the floor near Pings area. The trooper glanced back, "We just missed them, they were gone before we got here but there was still, umm, interesting IR signatures showing". He grinned at Piro and Ping, "We're almost done anyway, I'd suggest taking everything that belongs to you after showing us. Your friend seems to have carried off everything he owned."

Piro hurriedly stuffed most of his things into a backpack and, he put his laptop and the few games into a box and then picked up his flapdoozy. Looking around he it struck him just how throughly Largo's stuff had dissappeared. How had he done it? Even the server rack was gone as well as his workstation. That thing was heavy, he'd have to have had someone very strong to help him get it down the stairs.

"Piro-kun?"

Piro was startled out of his revelry, "Yes Ping?"

"Do you think Largo-san will be coming back?"

Piro shook his head, "No Ping, I don't know where he's gone but I don't think he'll come back here again."

"Piro-kun, look."

Pings face was twisted into a frown, Piro then realized that Largo really was gone as he looked at the thing that Ping held in her hands. The Cool Thing.
The eyes of Largo's corpse opened, dead eyes that neither comprehended nor cared. Two white-coated Sony techs looked with interest then turned their attention back to their workstations.

<Stage five of necrosis reversal complete, subject is still not responsive. >

<Bringing all neural implants online. >

Memory fragments flashed through Largo-things shattered mind like clouds driven by a hurricane. He blinked, something like thought began to return.

"B33r"

The techs looked at each other.

<What did it say? >

<I believe it is speaking l33t, it seems to want beer>

"N33d b33r…"

<Do you think that would be a wise thing to give it? You saw the scan of its internal organs, particularly the condition of the liver>

<We don't have to give it beer, watch this. >

The tech left his station and returned with a meal replacement drink. Then began checking readings at his workstation. <Let me adjust the implant here… ah perfect> He then opened the can and placed it in Largo's hand.

<Let's see if it can feed itself, if it can't then we may as well chop it up and sell the usable organs for transplant>

Largo's hand trembled as he brought the can to his lips, then he tipped it back and drained it.

"Nekter of t3h gods"

The techs smiled at each other.

<Not bad considering his condition on arrival eh? >

<No, not at all. It's a wonder he wasn't dead already though, that tumor was the size of a lemon. >

<Why didn't he notice that? What would such a thing do to a person? >

<Hard to say, he was alcoholic as well. It may have had no symptoms at all or it may have caused him to be delusional. >

<As strange as this town is I'd hate to have delusions as well>

Largo turned his head and looked at the techs. "M00r b33r."

<Awfully pushy for a cyber-zombie isn't he? >

<I can fix that>

Largo's back arched as pain swept over him in waves, his nose began to bleed and his eyes could not focus. Finally the pain stopped, his breath came in wracking sobs.

The senior tech walked over to face Largo, a piece of paper in his hand and he addressed Largo in English.

"Listen, you don't give the orders here understand? You belong to Sony now, see this?" He shoved the paper in Largo's face. "This is your death certificate, you are a reanimated corpse and have less rights than an android. Cyber-zombies are illegal in most of the world, you can never return to America even if you could somehow find a way back. They'd tear out the implants that keep you alive and then cremate you without bothering to see if you are still conscious."

Largo was quiet for a while as he slowly digested this new information. Then he began to scream.
Dom held the steering wheel of the van like a drowning man clutching a lifeline. Every muscle in his body hurt and his face throbbed from the welts left from Miho slap. He was acutely aware of her sitting in the passengers seat beside him.

"That light is about to turn red, begin stopping now."

Dom rolled his eyes. Just great, she's a backseat driver too.

"Don't roll your eyes at me, it's not much farther too the club."

Dom sighed, not much longer. He desperately wanted to get back to his condominium and take a shower and go to sleep.

"Do you work for Sega?"

"Yes."

"Black Ops?"

Dom stared straight ahead clutching the wheel tighter.

"I asked you a question."

"It's a division of Marketing."

Miho's voice took a sharp edge. "I've told you once before, don't lie to me."

Dom winced, "Black Ops is a division of Marketing" He licked his lips and continued, "You know, we could use a girl like you."

Miho sat silent for a moment, "You're offering me a job? What a good little sarariman you are."

Dom felt himself blushing, how could he have been so stupid?

Miho sighed, "Bread and Circuses."

"What?"

"The Romans kept their people content by ensuring cheap food and entertainment."

"What do you mean?"

"Bread and circuses or beer and games, what's the difference?"

Dom was puzzled, "What are you getting at?"

"I could have loved him you know."

"Are you talking about Largo?"

"Yes."

Minutes passed in silence then Miho continued, "Largo thought that games were the conduit for the soul or something like that. They are only a distraction." She turned slightly and squeezed Dom's thigh suggestively, "Not that an occasional distraction isn't welcome."

For the first time tonight Dom smiled, it looked like she might not kill him after all.

"Yeah, but what's that got to do with anything?"

"Well, for one thing I don't believe Sega Black Ops would hire me before graduating high school, do you?"

Dom stiffened, high school? I was taken down by a schoolgirl!

"Does that surprise you, Dom?"

"Yes, I had thought you were older."

Miho chuckled, "I get that a lot."

"How could you do what you did?"

"I've been training all my life Dom, and why don't you call me Miho. I'd like that."

"Okay Miho, are you a Ninja?"

Miho laughed, "Goodness no, though I have occasionally subcontracted for them." Dom could feel her eyes burning into him as she turned to look at him.

"I'm the future."

"I wish you'd talk where I can understand you, Miho"

"Oh, it's simple. I'm genetically engineered."

Dom glanced over at her, "Go on."

"Do you think the rich and powerful will be able to pass up the opportunity to ensure that their children are healthy, strong and disease resistant? They may not be as extreme as I am, at least not at first. The middle class will do it too, long term loans and corporate sponsorships. Guaranteed scholarships, who could pass it up?"

Dom felt a chill run up his spine as he tried to think up some argument. "Well, everyone can't be like you?"

Miho squeezed his thigh playfully, "Of course not, there will be those who are left behind. I've already seen our natural ally; Sony has nearly perfected their Emotional Doll System. Smart, strong, adaptable and loyal. Other robots will handle manual labor."

Dom stopped at another traffic signal and didn't speak until the van was moving again. "So where does this leave me?"

Miho gently traced her finger around Dom's ear, "I think that you'll enjoy working under me, don't you."

Dom could only smile, the future was looking very good to him now.
In whispers:

<Erika? >

<Erika! >

<What is it Kimiko? >

<What do you think that they are doing out there? >

<Who is doing out where? >

<Ping and Piro. >

<Well, Piro is probably having fantasies about what we are doing in here. >

<Erika! That is not very nice. He's not like that. >

<How would you know? >

Kimiko was silent for a moment.

<Because he's nice. >

<Well, if he is nice then why are you worried about him and Ping?>

<It's just that... >

<Just what, Kimiko? Are you trying to say that you don't trust Ping?

<No! That's not it. >



<She should be in here with us girls. >

<Kimiko, they live together. If Ping wants to stay out in the front room with Piro why should we stop them? >

<I guess... >

Erika rolled off her bed and knelt beside Kimiko's bed.

<Masamichi tld me something tonight, about Largo. I don't know how I can tell Piro. >

<What? >

<Largo's Mortal Kombat Visa was revoked. >

<Oh? >

<Revoked with prejudice. >

<Oh! >

<I think Piro knows that something bad is going on but I don't know how to tell him. We'll just have to wait and see if Largo turns up again. >

There was a long silence.

<Erika, is it bad that I don't feel sorry for Largo? >

<After what he tried to do to you and then to me? Not really. > Erika sighed, <I wanted to like him, I really did. I tried but everytime he would do something else. >

<You never told me that. > Kimiko rolled onto her side to face Erika <Can we change the subject?>

<Sure. Did you know Ping can't remember much past two weeks ago. >

<Really! Well, I guess she is a robot girl. She can't be very old. >

<She's a lot more girl than robot, we talked about some things while Piro was taking a shower. >

<What things, Erika? >

<I never realized it but Piro is all that she has. She does have that one friend from school but Piro is really it. >

<I never really thought about it like that. >

<It's so sad, she really is so much like a flesh and blood girl but she thinks of Piro as her user and she has no problem with that. >

<I've had a few boyfriends like that. >

Both girls giggled then Erika continued, <My point is that if you want to be with Piro then you have to accept Ping. >

Kimiko lay back down, <I don't know if I can do that, Erika. Could you? >

Erika stood and went back to her bed, as she lay back down she answered <Maybe, just maybe. >

In the front room Piro strained to listen, his imagination changed the whispers and the creaking of mattresses into something he tried to put from his mind.

<Is something wrong, Piro-kun? >

<I..nothing >

<Were you listening to Hayasaka-san and Nanasawa-san?>

<Umm, yes. But I couldn't hear very well. >

<I could >

<Really, that's. Umm..>

<I know that eavesdropping is not polite but they were talking about us. >

<What were they saying? >

Ping thought for a long moment before her reply, <Nanasawa-san is worried and Hayasaka-san told her we would be alright together out here. >



<Do you want me to play back what they said? >

<No Ping, that's okay. >

Ping rolled up on her side and propped herself on her elbow, <Piro-kun, can I ask you a question? Promise you won't be mad. >

Piro lay still, <What Ping? >

<Promise first. >

<Okay, okay, I promise. What is it? >

<Have you ever kissed a girl? >

<What! >

<Piro-kun, you promised! > She rolled over to face away from him and buried her face in her arms.

<I'm sorry Ping.> Piro reached over to touch her back, she was trembling.

<Ping, are you okay? >

Her voice was muffled, <Yes...no I'm not.>

<Are you crying? >

<No. >

Piro leaned closer, his face was inches from the back of her neck. <Why did you ask me that, Ping? >

Ping rolled back to face him, <I wanted to ask you to give me a goodnight kiss but I didn't know how. >

<Oh Ping. > Piro smile down at her, he felt warm breath on his cheek. <Ping, can I ask you something? > In the dim light Piro could see her smile and nod. <Do you have to breath? >

Pings eyes went wide and she stiffened, <I can stop if it is bothering you! >

<No, that's fine. It's kind of nice really. >

Ping smiled and blinked, she looked into Piro's eyes.

<Well, I guess a goodnight kiss is okay. Here goes.>

Piro slowly lowered his face to Pings, their lips brushed. Piro's hand brushed against Pings stomach and she caught it with her and and held it against her. Her lips parted as Piro kissed her, they were soft and warm. He kissed her again, this time more deeply and she drew him close. He broke away and looked into her eye, she smiled up at him.



Piro felt himself blushing, <Did you like it? > Mentally he winced, what a stupid thing to say to a girl.

Ping giggled, <Yes I did. >

Piro leaned toward her but she placed her hand against his chest, <We need to go to sleep Piro-kun.> She smiled <But maybe sometime when I have a full charge? >

Piro chuckled, why hadn't he played with her before tonight?

Ping rolled over and snuggled her bottom against Piro's stomach, she clasped his hand against her breasts. <Goodnight Piro-kun>

Piro hesitated then threw one leg across her hips, <Goodnight Ping. >

As Piro drifted off to sleep and Ping entered her sleep mode the door to Erika and Kimiko's room silently closed.
Kimiko awoke with a start, what was that noise? She listened intently; all she could hear was Erika breathing softly across the room. She slowly rolled to the edge of her bed and sat up, the clock said 5:33. It must have been something in the front room.

Making up her mind she stood and tiptoed to the door. Still nothing. She looked over toward Erika and then slowly opened the door slipped through into the front room. The light was still so dim that she couldn't make out either Ping or Piro on the foldout bed. Scarcely daring to breathe she crept closer until she could see the two of them nestled together like spoons. She was now standing at the foot of the bed and her eyes had gotten adapted to the dim light. She turned and hurried back when she realized the tee shirt Ping wore was pushed up to her waist and she was wearing nothing underneath it.

When she got back into the bedroom Erika was standing by her bed with her arms crossed. She spoke in a whisper.

<Close the door and turn on the lights Kimiko>

Kimiko did just that and looked back at Erika, <What's wrong? >

<How long have you been gone? >

<What do you mean? >

<I mean, how long were you out there with Ping and Piro? >

<I thought I heard something, Erika. The clock said 5:33 when I got up. >

Erika turned away, <I see. >

Kimiko was shocked; <You don't believe me? >

Erika looked back at her, <All I know is that I heard you stomping back in here just now. >

<I'm telling you the truth Erika. >

Erika bit her lip, <Kimiko, how do you sleep? >

<Umm, on my stomach I guess. >



Kimiko was becoming irritated; <I'm not sure what it is that you're getting at Erika. >

<Well, I guess you're more accepting of Ping than you thought you'd be, Right? >

<Erika! Stop talking in circles! >

Erika turned away again; her voice was breaking when she continued. <Kimiko, you always sleep in the nude. >
Sony Enforcement Barracks: 9:00 A.M.:

<We have a contract offer from Higher Authority. >

<Let me see that. >

<Hmm, how many Shock Troops do we have available? >

<With the new one we picked up last night we have seven. >



<American, 1.85 meters, 75 kilo upon induction. He took a heavy caliber handgun round between the eyes that exited through the crown. His health wasn't good but he responded to regenerative implants well. >



<Where are these people now? >



<Very good, I'll prep the units and get them loaded on an Osprey. Making examples is what cyber-zombies do best. >

The Sony Assault Osprey flew over the city in broad daylight. It had been painted in a black and gray tiger stripe pattern; it showed no other markings. On the street below TPCD Inspector Sonoda Masamichi glanced up at it briefly then looked away. The call would come soon enough.

As the Osprey made it's final approach Largo caressed the barrel of the H&K MP5, he'd never actually held a weapon like this before.

<Making final approach. >

The co-pilot brought up his HUD and painted the center of the penthouse roof with a targeting laser then fired a Hellfire missile.



<Roger. >

A Sony Air Assault trooper jerked Largo to his feet, "Time to earn your keep, meat." The trooper snapped a line onto Largo's combat vest and snapped his sighting optics down over his eye.

"Out the door, you know what to do from there."

Largo nodded numbly then turned to step out into empty space. He hung there like a fishing lure for a moment then he began to descend rapidly as his line played out. As he descended into the hole in the roof the Trooper pressed a detonator which severed Largo's link to the line.

Largo fell heavily into the room landing on a burning sofa, which collapsed under him. Everywhere around him he could hear screaming. Largo didn't like the screaming at all. A young man knelt on the floor in front of Largo clutching at the stump where his hand should have been. Largo hit him with a long burst starting at the crotch and ending at his throat.

<Damn meat, short burst on single targets! > Largo was hit with a wave of pain that dropped him to his knees but ended almost instantly.

<I |-|34r j00 d00d>

A girl stood unsteadily, clutching her head. Largo gently stroked the trigger sending two rounds into her chest. She collapsed without a sound.

"That's it, short and sweet."

Largo could only grunt in reply as something hammered into his helmet. He turned to see a large man drawing back for another strike with his sword.

<F00! > Largo stroked the trigger again to send two rounds into the mans chest but he didn't fall. Largo brought the weapon to his shoulder and flipped it to semi-auto and shot the man in the mouth just as his sword struck his helmet.

"Quit screwing around! Check the bedrooms and baths then drop your charges. TPCD won't hold back too much longer."

"Roger Control"

The Trooper grinned; Largo's change to milspeak from l33t was a very good sign. He might just make it after all.

Largo loaded a fresh magazine as he strode heavily across the room to the master bedroom. He could hear screaming and he wanted to make it stop. Four naked teens huddled in the center of the huge, round bed,

"Time for a long burst."

Largo emptied the magazine into his victims in two long bursts, working each of the bursts in a figure eight pattern. One of them was still moaning as he tossed a one-kilo charge onto the pile of bodies. He loaded a fresh magazine as he checked the last three rooms but he found no other living person.

"Time for extraction…Largo."

Largo ran back into the main room and snapped the dangling line onto his harness, as the Osprey jerked him out of the room and he was reeled in he pressed the detonator for the charges he had left.

Hands reached out and pulled him in as the wings of the big machine pivoted into flight position. The other cyber-zombies stared at him for a moment then began to smile.

"I n33d a b33r!"

The Trooper grinned and reached into a cooler, "Here you go, you earned it!" As Largo drained the can the trooper and the cyber-zombies started to chuckle and then broke out into open laughter.

Largo looked around, "What's so funny?"

The trooper smiled, "You have a sword stuck in your helmet."

Largo reached up and felt the blade then joined his comrades in laughter. He felt alive again.
Miho smelled blood. She had first noticed it as Junko came in late for first period and it had only gotten stronger all morning. She watched Junko squirm in her seat, obviously in pain. She had turned once and looked at Miho, fear written deeply in her expression.

Junko jerked upright when her cell phone began vibrating, she looked around but no one was paying any attention but Miho and Ping. The Canadian English teacher was droning on and most of the class seemed to be nodding off just as she would have if it didn't hurt so much. Cautiously she brought the phone to her lap and flipped it open. A text message from Ikuku! That bitch was the cause of this! Her throat tightened as she read the short message and when she saw the photo that Ikuku had sent she slumped into her seat.

Miho had watched long enough,

<Come on Ping. >

Ping followed Miho to the front of the class.

<Help Junko, Ping. She needs to go to see Nurse Sugawara. >

Junko looked up at Ping, her eyes red. She started to stand but her knees buckled and Ping caught her before she could fall.

The teacher turned from the board, "What's going on here? Why are you girls out of your seat?" Miho looked him squarely in the eye, "Junko is hurt and we are taking her to the nurses office." The teacher's mouth opened and he started to protest, order them to sit down when something caught his eye. He could only nod. Miho went back to help Ping, she took Junko's other arm and picked up the cell phone lying on her seat. As they left the teacher continued to stare at the drops of Junko's blood on the floor.

<What happened, Junko? >

Junko whimpered in pain, <It hurts, Tohya-san. >

<Who hurt you? >

Junko shook her head; <I don't know his name. >

Miho's grip tightened as Junko started to collapse again, <Well then, how did this happen to you? Did someone attack you here at school? You were late today and you are never late. >

Junko shook her head, <No it was last night, and Ikuku called me to tell me about some college boys that were really throwing the money around. I met them at the train station and we went to the boy's apartment. >

Miho shook her head,

<Ikuku and I are sort of partners, that way one of us always know where the other is. >

Miho shook her head at Junko's half thought out safety measures <Well it's not very safe if you both go to the same place. >

Junko began to cry, <Why are you being so mean to me! I thought that you and Pingu-san were going to help! >

Miho's voice became gentle, <Junko, we are helping you. The police may ask much harder questions of you but you must be strong. > She looked over at Junko, <I know that you are a strong person. >

<No! Not the police! My parents will find out! What will my papa say? Junko tried to struggle but she was no match for Miho or Ping alone, much less both of them.

Nurse Sugawara was waiting for them when they arrived; Ping and Miho waited by the door as she started to examine Junko. They heard her gasp and she hurried out. <You girls stay right there, I must call the police and have them bring an ambulance. >

Miho snorted, why hadn't the fools done that already? The teacher must have contacted the office. No, that wasn't right, they couldn't smell blood and fear and pain the way she could, they wouldn't have known. . Miho went over to Junko's bed, Ping following close behind. Ping froze when she approached close by, staring at Junko's injuries. Miho felt rage growing, <Who did this Junko? Just tell me what he looks like, where I can find him. >

Junko looked at Miho, the pain was getting worse, <It was a big man, that's all I can tell you, Read the last message in my phone. >

Miho flipped the phone open and read the message from Ikuku then looked at the picture she had sent with it. She smiled but there was no amusement in it.

<Why would anyone hurt a girl like that? Why, Tohya-chan? >

<I don't think he'll hurt any more girl that way, Ping. Someone else has taken care of him. > She held the phone up for Ping to see.

Ping frowned, <Why is Largo-san wearing a hat with a sword on it, Tohya-san? >

Miho looked at her friend, < That's something that we will just have to find out. >
Erika was smiling.


Piro had noticed it when he first woke up to the sound of the three girls giggling and talking. Apparently something had happened before he woke up but they refused to tell him what it was. Kimiko had just blushed and Ping had sat beside him on the folding bed and put her hand on his shoulder as they talked.

It felt good.

<Daydreaming, Piro? >

Piro started, a customer had just come in the store and here he was staring off into space. He looked over at Erika and she lightly touched his arm.

<Oh, just thinking about things. >

The customer brought his selection to the counter and Piro checked him out. When he finished up and the customer left he looked back at Erika, she was looking down with a serious expression on her face.

<Is there something wrong, Hayasaka-san? >

Erika took a deep breath and looked Piro in the eyes; <I talked to Masamich i last night while you and Ping were getting your things. >

Piro nodded, he felt a lump in his throat, <I saw. >

<Largo is in a lot of trouble. >

Piro bit his lower lip, <How bad? >

<His Mortal Kombat Visa was revoked with prejudice. >

Piro blinked; <Will he be deported? >

Erika looked down, <Junpei, the Ninja that was always hanging around with Largo. > Erika took a deep breath and looked up with a tear in her eye, <He was found dead. >

Piro could suddenly hear his pulse pounding in his ears, <Wha.What does that mean? >

<Largo subverted him, the Ninja was dishonored. Of course the Ninja all claim that they had nothing to do with it. >

<But what about Largo? >

<Largo was interfering with the balance of power in Tokyo. There were a lot of things, Largo was very busy. >

Piro's voice was cracking <But what will h appen to Largo? >

Erika looked over at the door then back at Piro. Piro felt numb as Erika reach out and took him into her arms.

<Yanagisawa, Piro and I need to take a break. > Yanagisawa raised an eyebrow when he saw the two of them.

<Okay, Hayasaka-san. Don't be too long. >

Erika led Piro into the break room and held him close. Piro looked up at her. <All these years I've always gotten him out of trouble. > He shook his head then wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. <Oh Piro, I'm so sorry. > She stroked his hair and took off his glasses, setting them on the television.

Piro and Erika sat on the sofa and she held him until his tears finally stopped.
For the fifth time Dom found himself driving past the High School.

It was her High School.

Maybe he drove by it every day on his rounds and just never noticed before. He didn't think so.

"What am I doing? Why am I doing this?" He thought.

But he knew he just wanted to see her. See Miho.

Dom was torn; he wanted revenge because he'd never been humiliated like that before. He could never put that in a report could he?

Part of him wanted something else entirely.

Class was out for the day and students were streaming out, laughing and talking. Dom remembered his own school days and smiled.

Dom's head whipped around when he heard a knocking on the window, it was a girl with hair the color of platinum done up in pigtails. He frowned and rolled the window down.

<What are you doing here Dom? >

It was her! How had she gotten there so quickly?

Ping l ooked at Miho, <Is this the friend that you were telling me about, Tohya-chan? >

Miho smiled, <Yes he is, Ping. Thank you for knocking on his window for me, I wanted to surprise him. >

Ping looked at Dom; <He looks surprised. >

Miho looked back at Dom.

<You haven't answered my question, Dom. >

Dom's mouth was dry; <I...I wanted to see you. >

Miho frowned, <I gave you my number, you could have called. >

Dom steeled himself, this was it. He reached down beside his leg and gripped the big pistol. It would be simple, just like crossing his arms. The silencer would be right in her face. She had surprised him the last time, caught him with his back turned.

He smiled and brought the pistol up.

Then the door of the van ripped off.

Dom found himself looking at the concrete of the sidewalk, there was a boot on the back of his neck

<I'm very disappoint ed by this, Dom. Very disappointed indeed. >

Miho twisted the pistol from Dom's hand, <Ping, could you hold this for me please? >

Ping nodded and took the weapon, her earblades seemed to twitch and the display on her right ear went red. She ejected the magazine and inspected the ammunition then reinserted it with a snap. She pinched the slide and retracted it partially to inspect the round in the chamber. Satisfied, she gripped the weapon two handed, the tip of her right index finger just touching the frame above the trigger. She then aimed weapon at Dom's head and assumed a picture perfect Weaver's Stance.

Miho raised an eyebrow, <How interesting, Ping. >

Ping didn't reply.

<I suppose that you've answered my question Dom. Now let me ask you another question, can you think of any reason I should allow you to live? >

Dom couldn't answer; he was fading from consciousness from the pressure of Miho's boot pressing int o his carotid artery. Suddenly Miho released him.

<I'm not going to kill you Dom; I've called my older brother. He will have some words with you about the way you have offended my honor. A tow vehicle will take your van back to Sega for you. >

An older brother! Dom's bladder and bowels suddenly relaxed and he curled up there on the sidewalk.

______________________________________________________________________



Ping watched the black Mitsubishi limo pull away, <Tohya-chan! Your brother is gorgeous! >

Miho smiled, <Yes, he is wonderful. He is so good to me. >

<Was that a JDF uniform he was wearing? It appeared to me that he is a Major. >

<Yes Ping, he is a Major. >

Ping and Miho began walking back toward Megagamers.

<It was nice of him to let me keep the pistol, Tohya-chan. Do you think I should tell Piro-kun that I have it? >

Miho g lanced sideways at Ping, <A girl needs a few secrets. >

Ping began to skip; <If Piro wasn't my end user I think I'd like for your brother to use me! >

Miho could only smile.
Ed looked up at the Sapporo Building as if he'd never seen it before.

"I nearly died."

He shook his head to try and clear away the fog that wrapped around his brain. The regeneration was incomplete and he should go back to the hotel and rest but he couldn't. Not after he had seen Largo. Largo didn't recognize him; he had just stared.

"Maybe I did die."

Ed turned and crossed the street; he was hungry now. The residuals from the treatments and the pain suppressants were taking their toll. There was a restaurant, a really nice looking place. That didn't matter though, he had unlimited credit.

They gave him a table by the window; his waitress spoke excellent English as well. It was a good thing too as he hated having to use the modded Clio to order. He watched people passing by the window and felt distant, as if he were really somewhere else seeing a video.

"I died."

The server brought his order, shiitake mushroom risotto and minestrone soup. It was wonderful. What would it be like to never get to taste anything like this again? Ed shook his head. The doctor had told him that his emotions would be messed up, just let it go.

But Ed couldn't let it go.

"Dom killed me."

He had run into Dom by that store, the one that Piro worked at. Why couldn't he remember the name? Dom had asked him if he was wearing armor and he'd said no.

What a stupid mistake to make.

Dom had told him that he wanted to show him something neat in the back of the van. Then he had flicked his jacket back and drawn that big pistol he was so proud of.

Dom shot him twice in the chest.

Ed took another bite of the risotto it was so good!

He almost admired the smoothness with which Dom had set him up. He'd even fallen right into the back of the van. Dom just flipped his legs up and slammed the lid. Dom must have known about the implanted tracker but Dom didn't know everything.

Dom didn't know about the implants that methodically shut down vital functions, that had lowered his core temperature. What had the doctors called it? Diving reflex! Yeah, that was it.

He had lain there, slowly fading away. He had been unable to move or speak.

But he could feel the pain.

He had waited for rescue, there should have been a team on its way but they never came. They told him that the van was shielded and had blocked the transmitter.

Dom had covered everything.

He had finally passed out before Dom had picked up Largo; He supposed that only Dom knew what had happened there. In his current state Largo couldn't remember and wouldn't care.

"I should warn Piro."

Ed shook his head; he had been removed from the EVS recovery. Something had happened, his superiors didn't even know what it was but they had told him to stay away.

"Can I get you some desert, sir?"

Ed looked up at the waitress; he had finished his meal without realizing it.

"Yes, I believe I'd like a cup of cocoa."

The waitress smiled at him, "I'll be right back with that for you, sir"

Ed watched her walking away and marveled at the rhythm of her hips. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at him.

Ed leaned back in his seat, his chest throbbed. It was such a beautiful day to be alive. Ed smiled.

"I am alive."
Piro and Erika took the subway to Roppongi; the car was packed with well-dressed revelers. Piro ruefully glanced down at his clothes and wished that he had something fancier to wear.

<How did your little student's first lesson go, Piro? >

Piro looked up at Erika, looked into her eyes and smiled. <Pretty well, she has talent. >

Erika leaned forward, <That's not all she has, you should have heard her little friends! >

Piro blushed, <I heard enough from them, Sonoda-san got pretty mad at them and told them to go away. They acted like I was going to do something to her. Like I was going to start sprouting tentacles any minute. >

Erika laughed then covered her mouth and looked away.

<I'm sorry, Erika. I didn't mean to…>

She looked back at Piro, her eyes twinkling, <That's the first time you've ever made a joke. It was funny! >

Piro smiled, for the first time in a long time he was starting to relax.

<Where is Ping going tonight? >

<She said that one of her classmates had been hurt by a bad man and is in the hospital. She's going to visit her with her friend from school and then spend the night with her.

Erika nodded, <That's Tohya, right? >

<Yeah, that's her. >

They were silent for a little while, Piro was very conscious of Erika's warmth, He could smell her hair, the light scent of her perfume. The train rocked and he leaned against her then tensed. She looked at him and smiled then wrapped her free arm around his shoulders.

<Umm…Erika. Thank you. >

<For what, Piro? >

<For being there today. >

Erika squeezed him then leaned her head against his.

<You're welcome. >

As the train rolled to a stop and the doors slid open Erika drop her hand down and brushed Piro's hand. Her fin gertips lightly touch his palm. He hesitated then twined his fingers with hers as they left the train.

<What's the name of this place again, Piro? >

<The Blue Rose, that's all I know. Yanagisawa-san took the message while I was giving the art lesson. He didn't even get the callers name. I would think he'd recognize Largo's voice if that were who it was. >

Erika nodded, <I don't think Yanagisawa's English is that good anyway. >

The streets were crawling with a wild assortment of people all intent on having a good time.

<This place can be pretty rough if you're not careful. >

Piro nodded, <I've heard about it. Say, did you let Nanasawa-san know we'd be out late? >

Erika nodded, <Yes, I called her. The studio had setup a pre-release event in Osaka and she's going up tonight. She'll be home late tomorrow. > She smiled, <I remember those days, they're breaking her in early. She'll hav e fun though. >

Piro raised an eyebrow, <Looks like it's just the two of us then. >

Erika squeezed his hand, <Just the two of us…>

A huge Nigerian stood watch at the door of The Blue Rose, he turned his head toward Piro as they approached and crossed his arms.

<Name please. >

<Umm, Piro. >

The doorman spoke briefly on his throat mike then smiled broadly, <Welcome sir, your party is waiting for you. >


They were escorted to a table in the back, a jazz ensemble played up on the stage. Piro's eye's widened and Erika tightened her grip on his hand.

"Ed?"

"Hello Piro."

Piro fumbled for a second then pulled out Erika's seat for her; she looked up and smiled her thanks then glared at Ed.

"I didn't know you liked jazz. "

Ed smiled, "You should try new things from time to time, you'll never know what you are missing if you don't. "

"I s that why you invited me here?"

"Of course not, though I do hope you enjoy yourself." He looked over at Erika; "I'm delighted to see that you've brought your friend. "

Piro smiled, "She wouldn't take no for an answer. When she found out I was going to be in Roppongi she insisted." Piro looked at Erika "I'm glad she did."

Erika continued to glare at Ed, "Does this have anything to do with Largo?"

Ed paled, "What do you know about Largo? "

"That he's being hunted, that his Mortal Kombat Vise was revoked"

Ed sighed and then relaxed, "No, it's not about Largo. Though if you ever see him again you should try to get away as fast as you can. It's about Dom. "

Piro groaned, "Now what? "

Ed considered just how much to tell Piro before continuing, "Dom thinks that I'm dead, he shot me yesterday. "

Erika and Piro both just stared and then in unison said, "Shot you?"

Ed nodded, "Sony has the best doctors on the planet working right her in Tokyo. I'm going to be taking a few days off to recuperate."

Piro was stunned, Ed and Dom had always been rivals but this was incredible. Ed continued, "I'm just telingl you to be careful."

Ed finished the drink setting in front of him and stood to leave. "It's good to see you again Piro, I'll try to stay in touch. Order anything you like, it will go on my tab."

They listened to the music for a while then Erika touched Piro's arm. <Do you think that he is telling the truth? >

Piro nodded, <I'd like to think that it's a prank but with everything else that has happened I don't think so. >

Erika slid her hand over Piro's, <Are you ready to leave? >

Piro looked at her, <Yes, let's go home. >

The train ride back seemed to take forever; they didn't speak as they prepared for bed. Piro stared into the dark trying to make sense of the days events. Finally he got up of f the folding bed and turned uncertainly to face the bedroom door. He took a step toward it and then it swung open. Erika crossed the room silently.

<Were you standing there all this time? >

Erika whispered into his ear, <Yes. >

Piro felt his hands wrapping around her waist, <Why did you come out? >

<I was afraid that you would lie back down. >

Erika tipped his chin up and her lips brushed his.

<What? >

Erika smiled, <I wanted to ask you to give me a goodnight kiss but I didn't know how. >

Piro felt himself blushing, <You saw? >

She nodded, <Now hush. >

Her lips parted as he kissed her deeply, they broke the kiss and just held each other for a while.

<Piro? >

<Hmm? >

She stroked his hair and looked into his eyes, <Don't go back. >

Piro smiled, <I've found everything I've ever wanted right here. >
Yuki was worried.

Piro-san had seemed so sad when the lesson started, that old hag had kept staring at them and coming around to see what they were doing. She just knew it!

Mami an Asako hadn't been any help either, where did those two get off talking about Piro-san like that anyway? They acted like he wasn't even there!

Yuki began to unbutton her blouse, wouldn't it be fun if Piro-san could see her? She smiled and spun around the way she imagined a stripper would then threw the blouse across her bed. Catching her image in the small vanity mirror she swayed her hips then unzipped her skirt and let it fall around her ankles.

<I need some music! > She pranced over to the stereo and selected her favorite CD. As it started to play she smiled and began to sway to the rhythm.

Looking back at the vanity mirror she gave her best attempt at a sultry look and then hooked her thumbs under the straps of her bra. She pushed them out so that they fell off of her shoulders. Hesitantly she cupped her breast in her hands and leaned forward toward the mirror.

<That old woman probably sags down to her knees! > Yuki giggled, she just knew that Piro-san would much prefer her to some huge old cow!

Tossing the bra aside Yuki then turned her back to the mirror and slowly began to pull down her panties. She bent over lower and lower all the while watching herself. Now they were at her knees and she wiggled her bottom at the mirror…

<Yuki, can I borrow…>?

<AIEEEEE! YUUJI GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW! >

Yuuji stood in the doorway with his eyes bulging and his mouth wide. Yuki started to turn toward him then realized she was naked and turned back toward the bed. Her legs tangled in her underwear she fell forward sprawling.

<Close the door Yuuji! >

Yuuji pushed the door closed, footsteps came down the short h allway, <What's going on? Is Yuuji bothering you? >

Yuki thought fast, <It's okay mama he just startled me. >

<Well then, no more screaming. >

<Yes mama. >

Yuki could breath again when she heard the footsteps going away.

<Stop staring at me, Yuuji! >

Yuuji blinked rapidly then looked up at the ceiling. <What were you doing? >

Yuki blushed; <I was looking at myself in the mirror. >

Yuuji continued to stare up, <Why? >

Yuki scrambled over to get her nightgown off the bed, <I was wondering if I am sexy. > She quickly pulled the gown on and Yuuji looked at her. She realized he had never stopped watching.

Yuuji blushed.

Yuki pursed her lips and looked at Yuuji through narrowed eyes. <What do you think? If I weren't your little sister would you think that I am sexy? >

Yuuji backed up against the door and started to sweat, <Yes I would. >

Yuki looked her older brother up and down, something dawned on her, <Yuuji, you are thinking perverted thoughts about me! >

Yuuji shook his head, <No! It's just that I had never seen a real naked girl before even if she is my sister. >

Yuki's eyes widened, <Really? I thought that you and that girl last year, umm. >

Yuuji shook his head then glared; <Don't you tell anyone! > He went to sit in the edge of the bed; <Papa being in TPCD makes it hard to get a girl that trusts you. You should be careful too. > Yuuji looked around, <You know that he can check surveillance video from Juki.net anytime he wants and it works much better than even the Ministry thinks it does. >

Yuki blanched, he could have caught her skipping school that day!

Yuuji sighed; <You've always been so perfect. That's why he has never checked up on you. >

Yuki was silent for a moment, <What was it you wanted when you came barging in on me like that? >

<To borrow your Dreamcast >

They both stood, Yuki turned and hugged Yuuji tight before getting the game system.

<Goodnight Yuuji. >

<Goodnight little sister. >

After he left Yuki got her phone out and made a call.

<Hello..>

<Hi Piro-san, thank you for the lesson today! >

<Oh, hi Sonoda-san. You're welcome. >

<I was thinking, at the next lesson is there a place more private we could be so that Mami and Asako and everyone aren't distracting us? >

<Sure, listen Sonoda-san I have to go. Hayasaka-san and I are at the train station right now going to see a friend and we're about to get on the train. >

<Okay, bai bai. >

<Bye. >

Piro slipped the phone back into his pocket and finished washing his hands; Erika was waiting right o utside the Men's Room. He had forgotten all about Yuki calling by the time he rejoined her.

Yuki closed her phone and scowled, <Tomorrow…>
Miho sat on the edge of Junko's hospital bed, concern written on her face.

<Ping, could you go and check the hallway again please? >

Ping went to the door and looked both ways, <Still no one Tohya-chan. >

When Miho and Ping had first arrived the attendant at the visitor's desk had claimed that no young woman had checked in. Miho knew quite a few orderlies and nurses who was habitue of the Cave of Evil. Finally she had found one who whispered that a young woman had been brought in and all the patients in one wing had been moved out.

Miho didn't like it at all.

Junko looked at Miho, her eyes were red and puffy from crying, <What is happening Tohya-san? You and Ping-san are the only ones who have come to see me. There has not even been a doctor or nurse since they put me in this room. > She hugged her pillow and started crying again; <I want my mama and papa! >

Miho closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, aside from the hospital smells and the scent of blood from Junko's wounds she caught a whiff of something else. She exhaled and scented again, there it was! She could detect the faint scent of laundry soap and male sweat. She'd never have noticed if the corridor had not been rendered so sterile.

Miho looked at Ping and nodded, Ping's earblade glowed red.

<What is going on Tohya-san? >

<Someone is coming. >

Miho stood as the man came into the room; he was wearing hospital scrubs with a lab coat and sterile mask.

<What are you girl's doing here? >

Miho smiled at him; <We are visiting our friend. >

The man stared, <Well, visiting hours are past. You must leave now. >

Miho's smiled disappeared; <I have a few questions before we go. Why is Junko here alone in this place? Why have no doctors been by to see her since she was treated? >

<It's a matt er of security; she may have been a witness to a crime. >

Miho looked down at the ground demurely, <I'm am very sorry to have troubled you. > The man nodded, <Get out then! >

Miho looked up at him, her face was a mask of rage, and <I don't like to be addressed in that manner and I find it to be disrespectful >

<Impudent child! You'll die with your friend! > The man drew the Wazikashi he had concealed under his coat and slashed upward at Miho. She simply stepped aside.

<I was a bit concerned, I was afraid that Higher Authority had sent a Ninja. >

The man grunted and raised the sword for another strike just as Ping hit him.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The hospital wing was bustling with activity; police from TPCD were everywhere along with doctors, nurses and Junko's family. Junko was hugging her father and crying as her mother held her hand.

<Tohya-san, I'd like for you to go over this just one more time please. >

<I think that you have enough Inspector, there is nothing more that I can add. >

Inspector Sonoda Masamichi sighed, he should have been home in bed. Instead he was here, all because a gynoid had knocked down a couple of walls in a hospital. To top it off he had to deal with this creature. He briefly wondered what she was; he'd only seen a few like her and no one had ever had any explanation for them.

<May I ask you a few questions, Inspector? >

<Perhaps, what are they? >

<I would like to know who was responsible for my friend being setup for some thug to slaughter. > She looked him in the eyes; <I really don't care why. >

Sonoda felt a chill go up his spine as he met her gaze; <The CFO of the corporation that owns this facility lost his son to a terrorist incident this morning. Your friend had been at a party there last night. Perhaps he is mad with grief and felt it unfair that your friend had lived when his son had died. >

<I told you that I don't care why. >

Sonoda shuddered, <I see. >

Miho turned, <Come along Ping, we are going down to the Administrative Office to access their computers. I'm sure that it will verify what the good Inspector has told us. >

Sonoda turned away from the two girls as they walked away and began shouting at the workmen to finish painting. Miho looked over at Ping, <I believe that I have thought of a way from Dom to prove himself to me. That is if he is still alive. >

Ping began to skip as they got near the elevator, she really wished that they would have let her finish sweeping.
Sonoda Masamichi's breakfast donut sat in his stomach like a lead weight.

The day had started well enough; he just had to finish up the report of the previous night's incident. That was when he started to see problems. That was the second dead Ninja in two days, From Sonoda's point of view the Ninja were always a problem. True, they had settled the Yakuza problems but he wasn't sure that they weren't even worse with the veneer of respectability that had been given to them by Higher Authority. Next was the issue of the gynoid that had wrecked the hospital. It was the same one that Largo had provoked in the last Gameru incident.

Sonoda grimaced; he had to bear a large part of the blame for Largo's downfall. He should have flagged him. As long as Largo was distracted with games and beer he was no danger to anyone. Sonoda had to monitor quite a few like Largo, he thought of them as sort of anti-Idols. Where an Idol can control chaos, harness it for the good of society people like Largo seemed to be able to churn chaos out of control, usually while attempting to do good themselves.

<What is that saying? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions> Sonoda chuckled to himself, Largo had surely taken him in. He had received a severe reprimand for hiring Largo, as had the Principal of the high school where he had worked.

Sonoda returned to his paperwork, something about the girl bothered him. Something beyond the fact that she had been set up for assassination. Then it hit him, she had been the girl that Yuuji had gone out with for a while last year. Yuuji was still angry with him for a simple slip of the tongue. He had merely asked them how they had enjoyed the movie. Junko was sharp, she knew that they hadn't told him they were going to a movie and she immediately realized that he had checked up on them. Yuuji hadn't been able to get a date since.

Sonoda snorted, <It wouldn't kill young people to tell t heir parents where they are going off too, would it? >

<Did you need something, Inspector? >

Sonoda looked up, startled. Lt. Kurasawa was looking at him with an expression of concern on his face.

<Nothing, Lieutenant. Just muttering to myself. >

Kurasawa stood there for a few more moments before nodding curtly and leaving.

Sonoda grimaced, just great. As if things weren't bad enough he gets caught talking to himself. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Now he couldn't stop thinking about Junko, how small and sad she had looked. If the gynoid and that other creature hadn't have been there he'd never have known about it. Homicide would have been assigned to the case.

He closed his eyes and the scene came back to him but in his minds eye the girl was Yuki. Sonoda broke into a cold sweat. No not Yuki, she was a good girl wasn't she? She wouldn't fall in with bad company!

Sonoda thought a bout, trying to convince himself but the arguments sounded hollow. Yuki never told him where she went. He never even asked. When she said that she was going to sleepover at Mami or Asako's he never called to check up on her to see if she was okay!

Sonoda held his head in his hands. He would just die if anything happened to his little girl! Well, his wife would kill him anyway.

He didn't want to but he would have to start checking up on Yuki.
<What's wrong Tohya-chan? >

Miho looked up from her omelet and met Pings gaze. <I don't know Ping, I think I'm just disappointed with the way Dom turned out. >

<What will happen to Dom? >

<I'm not sure, if he's reasonable he'll be okay. If he gets stubborn or willful with my brother then I'm not sure. >

Ping took another bite of waffles and chewed it thoughtfully. <Will you be looking for another boyfriend? >

Miho smiled, <Finding a boyfriend is no problem, finding an interesting boyfriend is a problem. >

<Do you think that Piro-kun is interesting? >

Miho looked at Ping and wondered where she was going with this line of questioning, it really wasn't like her to go on like this.

<Yes, Piro is very interesting. It's just not obvious when you first meet him like it was with Largo or Dom. >

<Largo is still alive isn't he? Maybe y ou could find him. >

Miho looked Ping squarely in the eyes and took a sip of her tea. Ping returned her stare, unblinking.

<Ping, are you afraid that I'll try to take Piro from you? >

Ping looked back down at her waffles and whispered, <Yes. >

Miho took a deep breath then slowly released it to calm herself, <Ping, we are best friends. I know that you are bonded to Piro even if he doesn't realize it. I won't do anything to hurt you. >

Ping looked back at Miho, her face a mask of misery. <The night before last was the first time we slept together, Tohya-chan.>

<You what! >

<At Hayasaka-sans we both slept on the folding bed. Nanasawa-san wanted me to stay in the room with her and Hayasaka-san. She seemed to be very upset. >

Miho smiled, <I'll bet she was. >

<But last night Piro-kun was alone there with them. >

Ping suddenly perked up as she lo oked toward the door and waved, <Hi Piro-kun, hi Hayasaka-san! >

Piro and Erika made their way back to Miho and Pings booth; Ping stood and hugged Piro. >

<Ping, stop! You are getting syrup on my face. >

Ping dropped her arms but caught his hands in hers then pulled him into the booth beside her. <I missed you Piro-kun! Thank you for calling lasts night, Tohya-chan and I had fun at the hospital! >

Miho just stared at Ping, since when was something like that fun for Ping? <We need to get to school, and they need to get some breakfast. >

<Okay. >

Piro slid back out and to let Ping stand. Miho glanced back and forth from Erika to Piro, was there something there? Erika smiled at Miho then laid her hand on Piro's shoulder. Ping seemed not to notice.

<Bai bai Piro-kun, bai bai Hayasaka –san! >

Ping chattered happily but Miho was silent as they walked on to school. Miho was trying to make sense of what she had just seen.


<Ping, have you had a talk with Hayasaka about Piro? >

<Oh yes, She is very nice! She told me that she would keep an eye on him and take care of him for me when I'm not around! >

Miho mouth opened then closed again; there are some questions that you don't want answered.
Dom woke up with a headache. His head hadn't felt like this since, well he couldn't remember anytime it ever that it had felt like this. Even trying to remember hurt.

He lay as still as possible, trying not to breath too loudly. His pulse was pounding in his ears. Reluctantly he rolled to his side and swung his legs off the bed. "I must have gotten really hammered last night." He smacked his lips; "I need a drink. "

Dom rose unsteadily to his feet and stumbled toward the kitchen of his condo. It was immaculately clean. Dom shook his head, he couldn't remember cleaning the kitchen either.

"What happened last night? What did I do? " He thought about it some more but the pounding in his head was getting worse. Staggering into the bathroom he got some aspirin and tried to swallow them dry but choked. Finally he was able to get them down after getting another drink of water.

Dom looked around the bedroom; his clothes were neatly fo lded in a chair. When did he do that? That was an odd thing to do when you come in drunk isn't it? He looked at them closer and realized that they were freshly washed, they smelled of fabric softener.

Finally dressing he went into the living room and sat down in front of the television. He had made up his mind that he was calling in sick; there was no way that this was a hangover. Not that it mattered that much, he really only reported to his office when he felt like it when out on special assignments. Still, it's best to keep the superiors up to date.

Clicking on the television he surfed through the channels then quickly back up to a news channel. Unbelieving, he stared at the date and time in the lower left of the screen. That couldn't be right could it? He couldn't have lost an entire day could he?

As the pounding in his head finally began to subside he began to feel pain in other parts of his body. Memories began to come back,

"No way, I must have had a nightmare!" Bizarre images seemed to float through his mind like hellish clouds.

He shuddered at one memory in particular, his head was in a black bag and there was a voice. It was explaining things to him, very bad things

"No, that can't be right." .I remember picking up Largo, we must have gone out drinking. That has to be it. He smiled and tried to remember what had happened. The smile slowly faded as he remembered a red laser dot right between Largo's eyes. Dom felt panic rising in him, it just had to be a nightmare didn't it?

Rising from his seat he headed toward the bathroom again, there was something on his hip that was itching now and he had to see what it was. He stood in front of the mirror and dropped his trousers. Carefully he pushed down the waistband of his underwear to discover a large patch of gauze over the itchy spot.

"No, please no." He swallowed as another memory came to him and he slowly peeled the bandage away. He knew then that it really was a nightmare, but not one that he could ever wake up from.

Dom had been branded, and though it was still raw and red he could read the name of Tohya Miho on his hip.
Yuki couldn't wait to get started, she just knew that this would be it. She thought about Piro, how she would sit close beside him. How he would lean in to look at her work, He would turn to look at her and their faces would be ever so close. She would steal a kiss. That would be it, then he would want her as much as she wanted him.

<Yuki, Stop! >

She looked up to realize that she had nearly walked right out into the path of a car.

Asako made a face, <What are you trying to do, get him to come see you at the hospital? >

Mami glared at Yuki, <You should be more careful. You might get hurt! >

Yuki turned away from them and waited to the signal to change. Now Mami and Asako were walking on either side of her. <Could you two just leave me alone? >

Mami took her arm, <No we will not! You are our friend and we are worried, you've not been yourself ever since you first met this guy. >

Yuki jerked her arm away; <I know what I'm doing! I'll be just fine. >

The trio continued on in silence.

Inspector Sonoda monitored the Juki.net surveillance system from a TPCD Patrol Unit. His heart nearly stopped when Yuki started to cross the street against traffic. Drumming his fingers on the dashboard he pondered where they might be going. He watched as the girls slowed to a more leisurely paced near Megagamers and he smiled, His technicians had installed surveillance devices all through the building on the night of Largo's disappearance. He'd be able to keep tabs on her no matter where she went, even if she went into the upstairs apartment. His smile faded when he spotted something else. That strange pair from the hospital weren't too far behind his daughter.

<Lieutenant, let's head on over toward Megagamers. I'd like to ask Hayasaka-san if she's seen Largo lately. >

Kurasawa nodded and made a U-turn, he had seen the death certificate for the subject Largo himself. Why wouldn't the Inspector tell Hayasaka of it? He shrugged; such knowledge was obviously above his pay grade.
Miho didn't like being watched.

Even thought she knew that it probably wasn't her and Ping that the Juki.net surveillance net was watching it still bothered her. She had first noticed the big cameras on the traffic signals tracking Sonoda Yuki shortly after school was out.

<Ping-chan, have you noticed the cameras acting strangely today? >

<They have been watching Sonoda-san, if that is what you mean. >

Miho nodded, <Yes, that's what I was talking about. >

Now they were approaching Megagamers, Miho smiled briefly when she saw the three girls go in. This should prove to be entertaining!



Ping strutted into the store and fairly shouted; <Hi Piro-kun! Hi Hayasaka-san! > Miho was surprised by her sudden change of gait. She was mimicking Hayasaka! Miho was impressed, though Ping wasn't nearly as developed as Erika she was definitely making an impression on a c ouple of boys in the game section. Miho smiled as the three girls turned almost in unison to gape and then glare at Ping. Miho kept a straight face as she watched Piro turn red.

<Hi Ping, how was school today? >

<It was fine Piro-kun! >

Ping looked over at Erika, <I forgot to thank you for taking care of him last night. Was he good for you? >

Erika smiled, <Oh, he was just wonderful! Thank you for sharing him. >

Miho was shocked, she had never suspected that Ping could tease like this. Piro was turning redder and redder; he looked like he wanted to find a rock to crawl under.

<Would you two stop it? My student is here! >

Yuki wanted to crawl under a rock herself. She could hear Asako and Mami whispering but she couldn't hear what they were saying and she didn't want too. It was horrible! Those two were obviously abusing poor Piro-san! They were behaving even worse than Mami an d Asako did yesterday.

Piro came around the counter, <I'm sorry Sonoda-san, and I've set up a table in the upstairs apartment so that you will be able to study in peace. >

<Thank you, Piro-sensei. I'm ready when you are. >

Without another word Piro and Yuki headed to the front door, as the left to go around to the stairway Yuki looked back at Erika and Ping but they paid her no mind.

<I'm going to sweep in the cosplay area if you don't mind, Hayasaka-san. >

<I don't mind at all, Ping. >

Miho waited until Ping had gone to approach Erika, <How is your arm, Hayasaka-san? >

Erika pushed her sleeve up to show Miho her arm, <All well it seems, I'd like to thank you for attending to it for me. >

Miho nodded; <It seems to have healed surprisingly well. >

<I've always been a fast healer. >

Miho thought about this for a few moments then looked around. When she s aw that no one was near she asked <Is that common in your family? >

Erika shook her head, <No, just me. I'm much taller than anyone else in the family is as well, > Erika fell silent and Miho suddenly felt uncomfortable. Was it some sort of Idol thing that caused her to feel this way? Was Erika somehow discouraging any further questions? Miho sometimes wondered if Idols weren't the result of some different sort of genetic engineering. That they were created to inspire and awe other humans.

Miho's cell phone rang.

<Hello? >

<It's very nice to hear from you, Dom. >

Erika stiffened at the sound of Dom's name, was that the same Dom that Ed had talked about last night? Miho turned away and walked toward a bookcase as she continued her conversation, Erika had to resist the urge to follow her. It just might be him; after all he was Piro's friend. She shook her head, how could she possibly ask? She'd just have a talk with Ping later on. Erika smiled; Ping was getting to be a lot of fun to have around. They'd have to stop tormenting Piro so much; they didn't want to hurt his feeling did they?

Inspector Sonoda entered the shop and headed straight to the counter.

<Hello, Hayasaka-san. >

<Hello Masamichi, what brings you out to Megagamers? >

<I just thought that I'd drop by and see if Largo had attempted to contact you. >

Erika's eyes narrowed; <I told you that I would call you if he did. >

Sonoda nodded, <Very well, I'll be on my way. I think I'll look around the apartment a bit before I leave. >

<No you won't! >

Sonoda turned back toward Erika, his eyes were wide, <What did you say? >

<This isn't really about Largo is it, Masamichi? >

<I don't know what…. >

<It's about your daughter. >

Sonoda blinked, <Why no, I..>

<Yes it is and you know it, she's taking art lessons from Piro right now and you have no business disturbing them. >

Miho wanted to laugh but she controlled the urge, this was too much!

<I've spoken with Piro about her, he says that she has talent. I've also found the cameras that your people planted. I've left them for now but I won't tolerate TPCD spying on my friends or me. >

Inspector Sonoda stood stock still then bowed deeply from the waist. <My apologies Hayasaka-san. I beg your forgiveness. >

Erika stepped around the counter, <I forgive you Masamichi, and I understand your concern for your daughter and for me as well. > She bit her lower lip, <I know that I have not always been too easy to get along with myself. >

She took his hands in hers, <I would ask you to forgive me as well, and I took your efforts for granted so often when I was in the public light and I've often felt badly for it. >

Miho was ama zed, Erika had completely torn the man down then had brought him right back up again. She could only admire and envy her natural ability to handle a powerful man like Sonoda so smoothly.

<It was my pleasure to serve you, Hayasaka-san. There are no apologies necessary. >

Erika smiled, <Thank you Masamichi, Yuki is as safe with Piro as if he were her brother. >

Sonoda nodded; <I'll be off then. Please stay in touch Hayasaka-san. >

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Upstairs the lesson was going well, Yuki was excited by the progress she was making. Piro-sensei was so sweet! She turned to look at him and he looked over at her and smiled. Her heart beat faster, this was it!

Yuki leaned closer and tilted her head. Piro blinked rapidly, she couldn't be doing what it looked like she was going to do could she? She scooted off he r seat and move toward Piro; she reached for him then slipped in her seat. Her mouth smacked against his and her forehead hit his glasses knocking them sideways on his face. He jerked back and fell out of his chair.

<Piro-san! Are you all right! >

Piro looked up at Yuki and repressed the urge to smile. <I'm fine Sonoda-san. > He stood slowly and then sat back down beside her. She looked ready to burst into tears. <It's okay, now where were we? >

Out in the patrol unit Inspector Sonoda repressed the urge to laugh. He felt guilty for having watched the brief exchange rather than switching the camera off when he'd gotten back to the cruiser. Kurasawa did laugh though, <Looks like the guy is about as harmless as they come doesn't it? >

Sonoda nodded; <I don't know why I was so worried. > He switched to a camera by the harbor, baby 'zilla's had been destroying equipment and it was up to him to deal with them. <Let's go Lieut enant. >

The lesson went on after Miho had gone home and Ping had finished sweeping the entire cosplay section. Yuki and Piro finally put their sketchpads and pencils away. As they approached the door Piro spoke, <Sonoda-san, can I ask a question? >

Her insides felt like that they had turned to water, the embarrassment of her bungled attempt to kiss Piro still burned deep. <Yes, Piro-sensei. >

Now Piro looked nervous, <You've never kissed a boy before, have you? >

She looked at the floor; she wanted to run, to scream, would he tell her that he wouldn't teach her? That he never wanted to see her again? She softly whispered, <No, I've never been kissed. >

Piro smile and lifted her chin, he leaned forward and lightly kissed her then brushed away her tears. <It's all right. A girl's first kiss should be special. >

Yuki's hear sang and she hugged him. He gently pushed her away and opened the door. <Time to go, if we don't get down soon then Ping will come hunting me. >

Yuki nodded and smiled, she knew that she would remember Piro's kiss for the rest of her life and that was enough for now.
Erika smiled as she watched Yuki and her friends leave the store.

<Yanagisawa, Piro and I are going to bring that stuff back down from upstairs. >

Yanagisawa looked up from the display he was changing and nodded. Ping was sweeping the sidewalk in front of the store. She looked up and smiled at Piro as he and Erika passed her.

Erika didn't speak until they reached the second floor landing. <So, how did it go? >

Piro looked over at her; <She did exactly what you said she'd do. >

Erika stopped and leaned against the railing, <And? >

<She bumped me head and nearly knocked my glasses off. > He paused for a moment <Then I fell out of my chair. >

Erika continued to look at Piro, <Well, did you do what I told you that you should do then? >

Piro nodded, <I gave her a little peck on the lips when the lesson was over. I felt so bad for her. >

Erika started on up the stairs, <do you think you would have done anything else if you didn't know that there was a camera in there? >

<No, I couldn't live with myself if I had done something to her. I feel kind of guilty for even kissing her there by the door. >

<Well don't, that was exactly what she needed. She thinks that she's competing against me for you. Now when you give her lessons back downstairs she'll blame me and not you. >

Piro was silent as they entered the apartment, <I don't get it, this really wasn't about me and Yuki at all was it? >

Erika looked at Piro then glanced back up at the camera over the door. They were silent as they folded the small table and carried it out. Erika spoke again once they reached the landing, <No it wasn't, it was about Masamichi. > She shook her head, <This country is so corrupt, Masamichi was using police surveillance equipment to spy on his own daughter. The other cops would t hink nothing of it because they all do it. >

Piro suddenly felt uncomfortable, he wasn't sure where this conversation was going. Erika continued, <Masamichi is one of the good ones too. > Once more she leaned against the rail, <I didn't really mind too much when I was active as an Idol, Now it bothers me a lot. > She shook her head and picked up her end of the table. She didn't speak again until they had returned to the landing to go back up and get the two chairs.

<Why do you think that we have Ninja's wandering around with masks on? Things had gotten so corrupt with the Yakuza that something had to be done. The Machine somehow came up with that crew of moronic masked murderers and wiped the Yakuza out. >

Erika looked into Piro's eyes, a deep sadness written on her face, <I'd leave here if I could but they'll never let me go. >

Piro didn't know what to say he reached out and took her hand then looked at her uncertainly. She smiled an d then drew him close.

<I shouldn't have asked you to stay like I did last night. Soon Kimiko will be gone to pursue her career and I won't have anyone around that I can talk to. >

Piro shook his head; <I always wanted to come to Japan. It seemed like it would be so perfect. >

<Fantasies are always better, Piro >

They went on up to get the chairs, holding hands as they climbed the stairs.

<Erika, what about Ping? I do care about her, I really do. I ignored her so much when she first came to me but now I know that she has feelings too. >

<We'll have to take that as it comes, Piro. She likes me and she wants more than anything for you to be happy. >

Piro was quiet for until they reached the sidewalk again, Ping had finished sweeping and had gone back in, <What about Kimiko? What will she do if you and I are together? >

Erika gazed off into the distance; <She will become very successful and eventually find happiness after her career is over. Idols gain inspiration from their emotions. I was always a Happy Girl, when Hitoshi left me it destroyed that and I was unable to perform. The Machine at least understands that much, they didn't try to force me to continue. > She took a deep breath, <Hitoshi was such an idiot, I tried to tell him what he was doing to me but in the end I don't think he really cared. >

A tear coursed down her cheek then, <No, that's not right. He did what he did because he couldn't control me. > She shook her head, <Everyone was always saying how terrible I was, how I ordered everyone around. That was the only way I could keep any freedom. >

She looked back at Piro and smiled then hugged him, <Kimiko is a Sad Girl, all the things that will happen to her will only make her stronger. I've done all that I can to help her. Now I just have to get out of her way. >
Dom felt terrible, as the day had progressed he had developed a low-grade fever and he couldn't seem to get enough to drink. Still, he had to call Miho. He wasn't sure what he was going to say to her but he knew that he had to see her.

The music in the Cave of Evil pounded in his ears like his pulse had this morning and it was no more comfortable. The doorman seemed to know him on sight, Dom wondered if he had been given a picture. He made his way around the dance floor to the table where she was waiting for him. Her arms were folded and she was resting her head on them.

"Hello, Miho."

She sat up straight in her chair and looked at him sadly. "Hi Dom, how do you feel?"

"I'm just fine Miho"

She scowled, "I would tell you not to lie to me but you look too sick for me to really be mad at you." She leaned forward and lay her hand across his forehead, "You're burning up, you need to go straight home from here and go to bed ."

Dom was puzzled, why was she suddenly acting like she was his mother? He shook his head to try and clear the spots that were floating in front of his eyes. If he had eaten anything he would have thrown up.

"They didn't throw you in the harbor last night did they?"

Dom looked up at Miho and shook his head miserably, "Not that I remember. But I really can't remember very much at all."

Miho reached into her purse, "Well, I'll make this quick. We have a little mystery to solve." She pulled out her cell phone and held it up so that he could see the picture. "Do you recognize him."

Dom couldn't focus; he shook his head no. Miho continued, "It is Largo, and the picture was taken yesterday morning."

"No way that Largo lived, just no way."

"Well I think that you need to check on it. Tell me, did you kill anyone else that might be out there wandering around?"

Dom's head began to pound; there was something that he just couldn't remember.

Miho looked at him, real concern on her face. "I'm taking you home Dom. I'm not working tonight, I just thought that this would be a good place to meet." She got up and took him by the arm to lead him out.

Dom didn't remember anything about the trip back to his condo, as he lay on his bed he wondered if Miho had to carry him. He would have been embarrassed by the thought if he had only felt better.

Miho came back into the room with cool, wet wash clothes. She gently wiped his forehead and began to hum a lullaby. She continued to wipe down his chest and then lower. He felt a sting and he realized that she was touching the brand on his hip. Only then did he realize that he was naked. He felt around for covers but then let his arms drop. Miho finished her ministrations and slid up to cradle his head in her lap.

"Poor Dom."

He looked up to see that her eyes were full of tears, she stroked his hair gently and then brushed the back of her hand against his cheek.

"I'll come by to check on you tomorrow, okay?"

Dom nodded his acknowledgment; Miho slid off the bed then leaned to kiss his cheek. He fell asleep before she had turned the lights off.

As Miho closed the door to leave she allowed herself a smile. The retrovirus had taken hold much quicker than the researchers had said that it would. She'd send them an email when she got back home.
<I don't like it Erika. >

<Don't like what? >

Ping look toward the kitchen door. <I think one of us should be in there with them. >

<Why? >

Ping didn't answer for several minutes; they had nearly finished washing all the dishes. <They might do something. >

<So what if they do? >

Ping sighed deeply causing Erika to smile, Ping was learning so fast.

<Erika, what if he… he picks…picks her? >

Erika shook her head, and <Then at some time very soon she'll just push him away again. >

Ping looked at Erika and scowled as she put away the last of the dishes, <She'll hurt him Erika, and I don't want him to be hurt! >

<Ping, he can deal with the pain. He can be comforted. But interfering like you wish to do will result in him being hurt worse. He'll be afraid to come back if you do that. >

Ping dried her hands, <I'm not sure I understand. >

Erika turned to Ping, <Piro is very shy, and he opens up once he gets to know you. He needs help from the girl so he can be sure of what he is doing > She smiled; <Didn't you have to help him? Wasn't that how you got him to take you to Anna Millers? >

Ping returned the smile, <It sure was! > She glanced back at the door though she couldn't see Kimiko or Piro; <I just don't want to see him hurt again Erika. You saw how he was, just moping around. > Ping looked down with sadness on her face, <I was created to care and be cared for Erika, and it's part of my core to have to accept that my user may have a flesh and blood woman come into his life. To accept her and be her friend and helper as well as his. > She looked up again, <You are kind and gentle to him, I can see that he can make you happy and you can make him happy in ways that I might not be able to. > She paused briefly and looked hard into Erika' s eyes as if searching for something, < And you accept me. >

Erika blinked and looked at Ping, < You know, I feel a lot better about you sleeping with him now. >

Erika was somber as she and Ping returned to the front room. She wished that Kimiko wasn't the way she was. Erika wondered how much like Ping she was, if it wasn't just her feeling for Piro but the knowledge that Kimiko would hurt him that drove her to betray her friend.

Piro and Kimiko were sitting on opposite ends of the sofa staring at the television. Kimiko looked up and smiled at Erika when they back in. Erika sat between her and Piro and Ping sat on the floor in front of him to lean back against his knees. Piro absent-mindedly began playing with Ping's hair. No one spoke another word until bedtime.
Ping was being very quiet on the way to school. Miho finally looked over at her, she couldn't believe that she missed her normal chatter.

<Something on your mind. Ping? >

<Yes. >

They walked in silence for another block; Miho could bear it no more.

<Well, do you want to tell me about it? >

Ping sniffled, <I found out that Piro-kun and Hayasaka-san were alone together when we went to the hospital. No one had told me that Nanasawa-san was going to be out of town. >

Miho's mind was racing; things were even more complex than she had thought. <What else, Ping? >

Ping stopped and looked at Miho, <They kissed. >

Miho looked Ping in the eyes, <How did you find this out? >

Ping looked down; <Piro-kun told me when we went to bed. >

<Was that all that they did, just kiss? >

Ping nodded, <I was holding his hand, and I can feel his pulse and blood pressure and other things when I do that. I'm pretty sure that he was telling me the truth. > She looked away; <He's not a good liar. >

<Well, what did you think that he and Hayasaka-san might do if you left him for her to take care of? >

Ping blinked; she suddenly looked very much like little girl. <I don't know, I told Hayasaka-san last night that it is part of my core to have to accept a flesh and blood woman if she should come into his life. > Her face became a mask of sorrow; <I just didn't know how much it would hurt when it happened. >

Miho was stunned, she wanted to give Ping a hug, to tell her that it would be all right but she couldn't seem to move. She felt rage building toward Hayasaka for hurting her friend; she fought back the bloodlust. Hayasaka was an Idol and she knew that she couldn't raise her hand against one such as her.

<What was Piro like when he told you? >

< He was very sad; he told me he was sorry. >

Miho nodded, things were becoming clearer now, <Ping, it isn't Hayasaka or Piro's fault that this occurred. Things could be much worse for you. Piro is torn by the loss of his old friend Largo and it is an Idols nature to comfort and protect. >

Ping looked at Miho and scowled, <How is it that you would know such a thing? >

Miho shrugged; <It was part of my training from when I was very small. Idols are very important to social order and my kind was created to protect society. >

Ping shook her head, <I don't really understand that, but that's okay I suppose. >

Miho looked at her watch, <We'd better hurry along or we'll be late. You need to encourage Piro to find the two of you a place of your own. Then I can come over to see you for a sleepover. >

Ping smiled for the first time since Miho had met her to walk to school, <That would really be fun! I hope Junk o is back today, it was really strange for her seat to be empty. >

Miho smiled to see that her friend was happy again, things were much more complex than either she of Ping had imagined. She really needed to talk to Piro soon though.

Ping felt the slightest twinge of guilt, she hadn't told Miho about her talk with Nanasawa-san on the balcony after Piro had fallen asleep. But then the things that Nanasawa had told her hadn't made her sad, they had triggered her protective mode.

Nanasawa-san had shown Ping some pictures that had been taken of her when she had been desperate and living on the streets. Largo had found them online and sent copies to her along with a letter, Ping had to quarantine the images of those pictures then purge them from her memory. She had then made a different sort of alliance with Nanasawa-san.

She knew that Miho had liked Largo so there was no point in upsetting her with it. When Ping found Largo again she was going to kill him. <b r />
Kimiko got to the studio early the next day, she was feeling quite cheerful despite some of the things that Ping had told her the night before. Only Rostovich-san was in the break room as she got herself a cup of coffee. She thought that his name sounded Russian but he was an American and he was the local coordinator for Cubesoft security.

As he stood she was struck by how big the man was. <Good morning, Nanasawa-san. >

<Good morning. >

<I was hoping that I might catch you here before recording began for the day. >

Kimiko smiled, to be such a tough looking man he had a very soft voice. <I wanted to talk to you as well, Rostovich-san. >

He nodded, and sat down. For a security man he seemed to be very informal though Kimiko suspected that he was behaving that way to make her feel more at ease.

<We have located the servers that were hosting the material. The system administrators for al l but one were persuaded to remove any incidences of your likeness that may have existed in their machines. >

Kimiko looked at him, her eyes narrowed, <And the one? Was it? > She left the question hanging.

Rostovich nodded; <It was as you had warned us. > He smiled broadly showing perfect teeth; <We were forced to take other measures. >

Kimiko shuddered; she had no doubt what the other measure would have been. Taking a sip of coffee she thought of Erika. Erika had only thought that she knew what it was like to have someone that thought that they owned you. Well, if anyone deserved Rostovich's special attention it had been those people.

He looked Kimiko in the eye, <Were you able to talk to the girl? >

<You mean Ping? Yes I did. >

<How about Hayasaka-san? >

Kimiko shrugged, <No, Erika was preoccupied last night. I really think it's useless to try and talk to her. >

Rostovich nodded, <I had to ask, ever since she left people in the industry have been wondering when she would come back. >

Kimiko shook her head; <If she wants to she'll contact you. > She took a deep breath, <Ping might be agreeable to allowing you access if you help her with something first. >

Rostovich furrowed his brow in puzzlement, <What kind of robot is this that would negotiate? >

<She's more girl than robot, I showed her Largo's letter along with the pictures as you suggested. > She scowled at him then, <How did you know that would work? >

Rostovich shrugged, <Lucky guess, the letter did mention this Largo's plans for her once you had dumped his friend. >

<Well, it seems that she had taken a strong dislike to him before he disappeared. >

Rostovich nodded, <So what is it that she wants help with? >

<After I told her of seeing Largo's death certificate she told me that she had seen a photograph of him after that. That he had killed some friends of one of her schoolmates two days ago. >

Rostovich's eyes widened <Go on. >

<She wants to know where he is, it apparently bothers her that he is alive when he is suppose to be dead. > Kimiko took another sip of coffee, <I don't know if it's robot logic or some sort of self-defense thing. She really had been concerned that Largo intended to experiment on her. >

Rostovich nodded and smiled, <That's all? Just find this guy? We can handle that with no problem. >

Kimiko looked at her watch; <I'd better be going. We start in ten minutes and I like to be early. >

Kimiko was still cheerful as she made her way to the studio proper, she really wasn't too concerned about Erika and Piro, she knew how Erika was.

Her smile widened, when Ping's earblades had lit up red last night she had almost felt sorry for Largo.
Yuki was furious.

She couldn't believe this; Piro was giving her lesson back down in the main part of the store again. It was true that no one was disturbing them, Mami and Asako had finally gotten the message and were now hanging out with the two boys that had been in the store yesterday.

<Let me see Sonoda-san. >

Yuki tilted her pad for Piro to inspect her latest effort, she could have leaned just a little more and bumped his head with hers.

Piro turned and smiled, <Very good! >

Yuki blushed <thank you Piro-sensei. >

She smiled as she returned to her work; even the smallest praise from P iro made her feel so good. Her thoughts wandered for a bit as she considered the drawing. That girl who had been teasing Piro yesterday was Tohya-sans friend. Maybe she should go talk to Tohya-san sometime.


Erika was smiling as she looked around the corner to watch Piro and Yuki. He was just so cute when he was concentrating like that! His expression was one of pure enjoyment when he was drawing and he obviously enjoyed teaching Yuki as well.

<Hi, Hayasaka-san! >

Erika turned, <Oh, hi Ping. > She looked around, <Where is your friend, Tohya-san? >

<She went to see Dom, he has been sick and she wants to go check on him. >

Erika licked her lips, <Who is Dom? >

Ping smiled, <He is Miho-chan's boyfriend, and you might know him. He is one of Piro-kun's friends. We had a big fight with him in front of the school the other day but now they have made up! >

Erika nodded, suddenly she felt numb. <That's nice. >

Ping looked at Erika expectantly for a moment then announced, <Well then, I'm going to go sweep now! >

Erika watched as Ping ran off to get the broom. She made a decision, she was going to have to talk to Miho and warn her about Dom.
Dom woke up slowly, he felt himself being gently shaken. At first he couldn't focus but slowly he could make out Miho's face. Miho smiled at him, "You haven't moved since I left you, how are you feeling? "

Dom considered the question, he wasn't in any pain now but he felt detached as if he were floating.

"I feel fine. "

Miho nodded then reached over to the nightstand to get a tall glass.

"Drink this, it will help you recover your strength."

Dom started to sit up and immediately regretted it, his head felt like some had kick him. He fell back to the pillow with a groan.

Miho considered him grimly then she grinned mischievously, "Well, if you can't sit up then I'll just have to feed you myself. "

Dom was puzzled as Miho took a sip from the glass then his eyes went wide as she leaned over him. She couldn't!

Miho brushed her lips against Dom's but he turned his head. Miho took his jaw in her hand and squeezed, pulling his mouth open. His lips parted and he shared the drink she had taken as they kissed.

Miho broke away then looked down at Dom, "Did you like that?

Dom licked his lips; "Do you mean the drink or the kiss?"

Miho didn't answer but instead took another drink, this time Dom didn't try to turn away.


After Miho finished feeding Dom she took his head into her lap and began to massage his temples.

"Can you remember anything more?"

Dom thought on this for a while, "I remember something else, I shot Ed too."

Miho stopped rubbing his temples, "Who is Ed? "

"He was another of my…" an expression of pain came across his face.

"Another friend?" Miho began to massage his temples again, "So I guess that it didn't mean anything special when you tried to kill me in front of the school."

Dom closed his eyes, "What was wrong with me, Miho?"

Miho slid her hands down Dom 's chest, "When you were examined by the technicians at the research center they found a small device, about the size of a grain of rice, implanted in the base of your skull."

Dom blinked rapidly; "Did they take it out?"

Miho smiled, "You don't even want to know what it might have been?"

Dom looked up at her; "I know what it was suppose to be. "

Miho's strong, slender fingers dug into Dom's shoulders, "It was probably what you think it was, you just didn't understand what it could do to you."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It's a fairly simple device, it contains an RFID tracker along with a few other things. Carefully calibrated dosages of designer drugs that trigger your bodies own functions on demand. I'm sure Sega thinks it is state of the art."

Dom nodded unhappily then Miho continued, "What Sega didn't tell you was that they could trigger emotions and physical conditions in your body on command."

Dom pursed his lips then reached up to play with Miho's hair; "So, did they take it out?"

"No, that would raise suspicion. The changes that you are going through now will destroy the power of the device over you. The RFID will still function but a small cyst will form around the thing."

Dom wrinkled his nose, "That's kind of gross… "

Miho smiled as she watched Dom's eyelids flutter then close, soon his even breathing told her that he had fallen back to sleep. She gently placed the pillow under his head then leaned to kiss him softly. She wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do with him yet but she was getting some ideas.
Ping continued sweeping when her phone rang. No one had even notice because she had plugged the input cable into her earblade after running it under her blouse.

<Hello, Ping-san? >

<Hi Nanasawa-san. Do you have any news for me? >

<Yes I do, will you be able to come to the studio if I send a car for you? >

Ping looked around the store and thought for a minute, <I had better not, how about I come there from school tomorrow? >

Kimiko smiled, she would suggest that Ping skip school but she knew that she wouldn't hear of it. <I suppose that will be fine, where would you like to meet? >

Ping frowned, how was she going to make this work? <Miho-chan always walks me back to the store unless something important comes up. They will be expecting me here. Can they examine me online? >

The line was silent for a moment then Kimiko replied, <They say that they can do that, do you have net access? >

Ping giggled; <Of course I do through my phone. Give me an address and I'll try to establish a link. >


Rostovich was looking over the programmer's shoulder, he would have like to have pretended that he knew what was going on but he didn't have a clue.

<What exactly are we looking at here? >

The programmer grunted then said, <It's a log from her diagnostic program; she also sent copies of backups for what she calls her core. >

<Is it going to be useful to us? >

<Yes it will, I haven't got a clue as to how the hardware works but this gives us a big jump on writing games for these things if they go to market with this configuration. >

Rostovich nodded, <Good enough, send her a message. Tell her that the person she is looking for is currently in the possession of Sony Enforcement. >

When Ping broke the connection after getting the message the programmer si ghed with relief. <I'm glad that's over with. >

Rostovich looked at him with a puzzled expression, <Why is that? >

<That thing is a powerful AI, if I hadn't known I wouldn't have been able to tell it wasn't a human but for one thing. >

<What? >

<It was fast, very fast. It tried to talk to the network here. I don't know if it was trying to do something hostile or it was just being, umm, friendly. >

<Friendly, what are you talking about? >

The programmer shrugged, <I'm not sure myself, I'm just glad it's not in my system anymore. >

Rostovich was thoughtful as he walked down the hallway back to his office. Nanasawa had told him a little about Ping and he wasn't sore he would have wanted her in his building. It seemed impossible that so much power could be place in such a small gynoid but after some checking with contacts in TPCD he was convinced.

The programmer locked his worksta tion for the evening; he had come in at 0400 this morning and was ready to call it a day. He didn't notice the hard drive chattering.

Ping had just finished sweeping the cosplay area when her phone rang for a text message. She read the message and smiled, it was only two words.

HI MOM
Largo was polishing his boots.

Ed turned to the Sony lab tech, "Why is he doing that, Yoshimura?"

Yoshimura grinned then replied, "He likes it, whenever we reanimate one of these guys they always develop a personality of sorts. Largo thinks those jump boots are cool so he polishes them."

Ed frowned, "Those aren't even issue boots, how did he get them? "

Yoshimura shrugged, "We let them have net access when they aren't down in their vats, he found them online and we ordered them for him. They can play games and other stuff too."

"I guess I just don't understand, why don't you just keep them in the vats? This is really sort of creepy. And why isn't he wearing pants?"

Yoshimura chuckled, "If you leave them in the vat all the time there's a good chance that they won't wake up if you need them. So we get them up for a couple of hours every few days and let them wander around. As for the pants, he just keeps taking them off."

Ed grunted in acknowledgement, he had realized what else was creepy besides the wandering cyberzombies. The security cameras were constantly tracking him and Largo while seeming to ignore the Yoshimura and the other two 'zombies.

Largo was finally satisfied and carefully donned his socks then laced the boots in an intricate fashion. Yoshimura nudged Ed, "Go on, do what you came here for."

Ed slowly approached Largo and stopped about two meters from him. Largo looked up at him and stared for a minute then reached down beside the chair to pick up a game controller. He looked back and forth between the controller and Ed then pitched it to him. Ed sat down on the floor as Largo got the other controller and started Mortal Kombat Deception.

They played for three hours straight, Ed noticed that the cameras had finally stopped focussing only on him and Largo after the first hour. At the end a bizarre flickering pattern came on the screen, Largo shut the sys tem down and left without a word.

"Well, what do you think?"

Ed up looked at Yoshimura sadly, "He really is gone, there's something there but it's not really Largo. Maybe just a small piece of him but that's all."

Yoshimura nodded, "Yes, over time he'll become even less like your friend was. He'll still like beer and playing games but then all of them do"

Ed stared at the camera as he stood, it was watching him again, "I suppose that answers all of my questions."

Yoshimura nodded, "When will you return to duty?"

Ed looked over at him as he turned to leave, "They've told me to take a few more days off until they decide what to do about the EVS situation."

Ed and Yoshimura continued to chat as they left the building, the cameras resumed their normal pattern of sweeps. Across the Sony campus, in the EDS development lab an EVS that was one phase nearer to production than Ping opened its eyes.
Piro lay on the folding bed listening to the girls talking in the next room. He couldn't really make out anything that they were saying, occasionally he would hear a burst of laughter and it would make him smile. Sighing, he rolled over and hugged his pillow. Things were a lot less complicated when he didn't know that anyone actually liked him.

Ping came through the door looking over her shoulder, <Good night Hayasaka-san, good night Nanasawa-san. > She came across the room and hopped onto the bed beside him.

<Is something wrong, Piro-kun? >

Piro looked up at her, her expression of concern made him smile, <No Ping, I was just thinking how lucky I am. >

Ping made a face at him then started rubbing his back, <Yes there is, so tell me. >

Piro hesitated, <Well, it's so complicated now. Living with three girls. Girls that like me. >

Ping straddled his back then began to massage him, s liding her hands under his shirt. <So, you liked it better thinking that no one liked you? >

Piro looked over his shoulder at her, <No.>

Ping kneaded his back harder and pushed his shirt up farther, <You liked living in an attic with a guy that ran around with no pants better than being with girls? >

Piro laughed, <No, of course not. >

Ping pulled Piro's shirt off over his head, <I think I know what you mean though, we need a place of our own. Even the place over the store would do I guess. > Ping began rubbing Piro's shoulders now.

Piro lay still for a while just enjoying Pings touch, <You're right, I guess I'll start looking tomorrow. Living in a storage area isn't very good. >

Ping leaned forward and slid her hands under Piro's body to hug him, she whispered into Piro's ear; <Can I ask you a silly question? >

Piro smiled, <Of course you can, Ping-chan.>

<Is Hayasaka-s an a better kisser than I am? >

Piro stiffened, <Umm, no. You are better. >

Ping squeezed him a little tighter, <That's very sweet of you to say I know you don't want to hurt my feeling but I can tell that you are lying. >

Piro swallowed as Ping easily rolled him over onto his back. <I think that Hayasaka-san has just had more practice than me, what do you think, Piro-kun? >

Piro looked up at Ping and nodded, <Yes, that's probably true. >

Ping leaned forward until the tips of their noses touched; <I have a full charge tonight so I think that we should practice, don't you? >

Piro didn't answer with words; he wrapped his arms around her and soon forgot all about his worries and fears.
O300 Sony Enforcement Barracks:

<Looks like we have a job, Captain. >

The Captain had never been a handsome man, the scar that ran from the corner of his left eye down to the right side of his mouth made him down right ugly, <What do we have, Trooper. >

The Air Assault Trooper had him the printout; the Captain hated reading from a display monitor.

<Huh, looks like cleanup from the last operation. You'd think that people would learn a lesson when you make an example of their children for them. >

The Trooper perked up in interest. <The penthouse deal? Thought that name sounded familiar. >

The Captain nodded, <Yeah, I was sort of expecting this. The kid's old man had a taste for young girls; he was the one that provided the entertainment for the party. Called some girls that he liked to play with. >

The Trooper feigned nonchalance, what the Captain was telling him was def initely not in the orders they had just received. <So, why are we visiting this guy so early in the morning? >

The Captain laughed, <The fool tried to clean up after himself, and he hired a Ninja to neutralize a girl that survived. The Ninja got his ass pounded through two hospital walls and fell eight stories. So the guy paid for a dead Ninja. >

The Trooper laughed then; anything that was bad for Ninja was okay by him.

<We want to make a lot of noise or are we going to try to be subtle? >

<Not too subtle, wake up a cyberzombie, one that doesn't speak Japanese. He'll be the door kicker, load him out with heavy assault armor. I'm going on this personally with you. We'll be wearing Stealth Kits. >

The Trooper saluted, <Yes Sir! > He grinned evilly as he headed toward the vats; this was going to be fun!

The Bell 500D helicopter bore marking for Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Those allowed it to approach the estate outside of Tokyo without drawing attention. Even TPCD didn't know how they were going to carry out the sanction. It was still three meters off the ground when the Trooper shoved Largo toward the door, "Move it meat, you know what to do."

Largo had just hit the ground when he felt 9-millimeter slugs impacting his chest. Looking around he spotted a bodyguard shooting from an upstairs window. As he brought the grenade launcher to his shoulder the Captains voice came through his earpiece. "Take out the door, we've got him. "

Largo aimed and fired his weapon, the proximity fuse detonated the grenade two meters in front of the door. Largo pumped his arm in the air in glee and shouted. "BOO YAH!"

"Quit screwing around and get inside now. "

Largo grunted in reply and charged toward the gaping hole where the massive oak doors had stood moments before. As he got to the steps leading up to the doorway he fired another round which detonated in mid air in the hug e entry room.

As Largo sprinted on into the house he could hear screaming and moans from three more bodyguards. He started to aim the grenade launcher when the familiar voice came to him again.

"We've got these, go right into the dining room." Largo was suddenly aware of bullets hammering into the wounded, ending their cries of suffering. Now he was aware that his comrades were beside him, ghostlike. He could only make them out because of the way the smoke coiled around their nearly invisible forms.

Largo kicked the door to the dining room open; an elderly Japanese woman fell sprawling as the door struck her. A well-dressed man stood on the other side of a massive table and shouted something that largo couldn't understand.

Largo fired another round.

Largo woke up on the helicopter; the trooper and the captain were laughing and talking.

"Well, hello there sleeping beauty."

Largo looked around in confusion, "What happened?"

The two men looked at each other and laughed then looked back at Largo. "Your own grenade knocked you out. No big deal for a guy like you, next time just step back a little first."

Largo looked forlorn as he sat there staring at his cool new boots. The trooper poked him, "hey, what's wrong?"

Largo looked up; "Did I miss anything? "

The trooper grinned, "No, in fact you pretty well finished everything." Reaching into a cooler he pulled out a beer and handed it to Largo, "You did good."

Largo sipped his beer contentedly, it tasted good. He tried to remember something; someone had played a game with him last night. He shook his head, he guessed that it really didn't matter.
<Well Ping, you are certainly in a good mood this morning. >

Ping looked over at Miho and smiled, <I sure am, last night Piro told me that he would try to find us our own place to stay. >

Miho nodded, <Well I'm glad to see that you took my advice, or did Piro bring it up on his own? >

Ping giggled, <I think he is a bit overwhelmed to be living with three girls after so long with Largo. He isn't sure what it is he is supposed to do. >

Miho smiled, <If he were like most boys he still wouldn't know but he wouldn't be worried about it. >

The two friends laughed at this then Miho continued, <Don't be too hard on him if he can't get a place right away. He'll need to get something close and small. That won't be easy. >

Ping replied wistfully, <Well, that attic apartment really wasn't that bad. As long as we can be together it will be fine with me. >

<Good morn ing, Tohya-san! >

Miho and Ping looked back, <Miho-chan, isn't that Sonoda-san? >

Miho nodded, <Yes, I wonder what she wants. >

They waited as Yuki, Mami and Asako hurried to catch up. <Good morning, Sonoda-san. How are you today? >

Yuki was out of breath though it wasn't from her haste to catch Miho and Ping, she was nervous and a little scared. Could she do this? <I am fine. > She looked to either side at Mami and Asako. <We were talking about fun places to go and I had heard that you have a job at an interesting place. >

Miho looked at the three younger girls and pursed her lips, <Yes, The Cave of Evil. It is a dance club and it is lots of fun. > She stared at Yuki expectantly.

Yuki's mouth was dry, <Well, is it the sort of place that my friends and me could go too? >

Miho's eyes narrowed, <If you mean can you enter at your age then yes, if not then you better explain what it is that you mean. >

Yuki looked at the ground; she could feel the blood rushing to her face. Mami and Asako seemed to wilt before Miho's glare.

< I...I mean do you think that we would have fun there? >

Miho smiled, <Of course you would! > She looked into her purse and finally pulled something out. <Here are three free passes for you and your friends. I'm sorry for being mean to you. >

Yuki looked up and blinked, she reached for the passes then nearly snatched them from Miho as if she thought that she might take them back. <Thank you, Tohya-san! >

Ping and Miho watched the three friends go off toward their school chattering and laughing. Ping looked at Miho, <What do you think that was all about? >

Miho shook her head; <They are up to something. Did you notice that none of them even looked at you? >

Ping nodded, <I did but I didn't think it meant anything. >

<Well, it did. I think Sonoda-san may have eyes for Piro too. >

Miho's eyes widened in alarm as Ping's earblades flashed red for just a second. <Ping, you are going to have to control that. >

Ping looked at Miho and sighed, <You're right, but why does she have to be after Piro? It's hard enough with Hayasaka-san and Nanasawa-san. >

Miho didn't answer but instead resumed walking to school; she really was going to have to talk to Piro.

<hr/>

Erika and Piro were just finishing breakfast at Anna Millers, Erika smiled as she watched Piro wiping his plate clean. She felt a pang when she realized that his lifestyle had probably prevented him from getting decent meals regularly. He was use to eating something from a box while sitting at a console.

<Well, you're in a good mood today Piro. >

Piro looked up a t her and smiled, <Yeah, I guess I am. I've really been feeling good lately. >

Erika slipped her shoe off and rubbed her foot against Piro's knee under the table, Piro blushed deeply but didn't protest. <So, what did you and Ping do after she left us last night? >

Piro looked at Erika and impossibly he seemed to turn even more red, <I, we, I mean…>

Erika covered her mouth and laughed, <I'm sorry Piro, it's just that you and Ping were a bit, umm, noisy for just a little while. >

Piro glared; <She started tickling me! >

Erika reached over and took his hand; <I shouldn't tease you so much. > She looked into his eyes <I guess I'm just a little jealous, that's all. >

Piro suddenly looked down; Erika reached up and touched his cheek. <If Kimiko weren't there I'd have come out and help her tickle you. >

Piro chuckled then though he tried to suppress it, <I don't know if I'd survive it. You and her would be having contest. > He looked into Erika's eyes, <She asked me which one of you is the better kisser. I had to admit to her that you are so she said that she needed to practice more. >

Erika glanced at her watch and suddenly looked serious, <Look at the time! We'd better get to the store. >

As they left Anna Millers Erika took Piro's hand, <If we keep talking about things like that I'd be tempted to take you back to the apartment and call in sick for the both of us. >

Piro's ears turned red at this, Erika smiled. He was just so cute when he blushed like that!
Dom woke up very slowly; he was having the most pleasant dream about Miho. He smiled as he sat up in bed, after all the pain he had endured for the last few days it was strange to actually feel well again. After a shower he got dressed and headed for the kitchen.

"Good morning, Dom"

Dom froze, it was him! Miho's brother was in his kitchen calmly preparing coffee just like he owned the place.

"You do remember me, don't you?"

"Yes sir. " Dom thought hard, Musashi that's his name, Musashi!

"I wasn't expecting you… Musashi."

Musashi chuckled, "So you do remember, excellent."

Musashi turned to face Dom as the coffee maker began hissing and gurgling. Today he wasn't wearing a JDF uniform. Instead he had on a black tank top with black fatigue pants. He reminded Dom of that guy in the movie Pitch Black. Vin Diesel? His yellow eyes even seemed to glow. He didn't look even slightly Japanese.

"I hear that my baby sister has been taking good care of you."

Dom nodded, "Yeah, she's great."

Musashi smiled, "That's good to hear, now my question is this. Will you take good care of her?"

"Yes sir!"

Dom began to feel uncomfortable as the big man stared at him with those inhuman eyes. He began to notice strange things like the slightly violet tint to the stubble on Musashi's shaved head, the veins course over his powerful arms.

Dom suddenly wished that he could be just like him.

"Can you smell me, Dom?"

Dom flared his nostrils; he could smell the coffee brewing. He could smell his shampoo and the traces of laundry detergent in his clothes. He could smell....

Musashi grinned broadly now, exposing his slightly enlarged canines as Dom's eyes widened in wonder. "Good, very good." He walked around the table and embraced Dom, patting him on the back then backing up to look him over. "You're going to need some training so that you will be able to use the gifts that we've given you. Are you ready?"

Dom nodded then replied, "I'm ready."

Musashi turned and headed toward the coffeepot, "We're going to have to put some meat on those bones. Miho needs something solid to hold on to." He looked back over his shoulder and chuckled as Dom blushed.

As the two men prepared breakfast Dom felt a growing excitement. He knew that he'd never match Musashi, he might not even match Miho but he now knew that he was a part of something special.

As he scrambled the eggs Dom thought about Largo, how he always spoke of being l33t. Dom smiled, now he was the l33t one.
It started right before lunch.

Miho could feel the all too familiar sensation, she was too hot, the stiffness in her limbs and the faint tinges of muscles starting to cramp.

She gritted her teeth, this just wasn't fair! This had just happened to her a few days ago, she should at least get a few weeks reprieve!

When the bell rang for break Ping stood beside her with concern written on her face. <Are you alright, Miho-chan? You don't look well. >

Miho looked up at her friend and forced a small smile. <You're right, I'm not feeling too good. I need to get something to eat. >

Ping stepped back as Miho rose to her feet, at the door Junko turned to watch them. She had been trailing the other students. Finally as the last of the class left she hesitantly approached Ping and Miho.

<Tohya-san, I wanted to thank you and Ping-san. For what you did at the hospital. > She bit her lower lip as sh e saw Miho grimace in pain.

<You are welcome, Junko. Could you excuse me for a moment? >

Junko nodded, <Are you okay? >

Miho shook her head as she began digging through her backpack. Ping looked at Junko; <She isn't feeling well, I hope that she doesn't faint. >

Miho found the sandwiches that she had packed, recalling the last time this had happened she decided that she would forgo manners rather than risk an embarrassing trip to the nurse's office.

Junko and Pings eyes grew wide as Miho wolfed down her lunch. They both had to turn away in embarrassment as she turned up the bottle of sports drink and chugged it down. Finally she daintily wiped her mouth and looked at the other girls.

<I apologize for making you endure that. >

Junko looked at her in amazement, <Why did you do that Tohya-san? >

Miho blushed and looked away, <At certain times my body chemistry gets out of whack. I didn't h ave a very big breakfast this morning and it seems that maybe I should have. > Miho reached into her backpack again and produced a pill bottle, after shaking two pills out she swallowed them dry then turned to face the other girls.

Junko shook her head, <I've never heard of anything quite like that before. Does this happen, umm, regularly? >

Miho nodded, <Not as often now, a couple of years ago it put me in the hospital for several months. >

Junko touched Miho on the arm then hugged her, <That's terrible, why didn't you ever tell anyone! >

Miho shrugged; <I was embarrassed I guess. > She looked into Junko's eyes; <You know how some of the others have treated me in the past. >

Junko nodded then looked away; she felt a sharp pang of guilt because she had been one of the worst offenders at times. A sudden thought crossed her mind and she looked back at Miho, <Does this have anything to do with the way you were able to, well you know. At the hospital? >

Miho smiled, <It has everything to do with that, and it's part of the price I pay. Nothing in this world is ever free. >

Junko nodded then turned toward Ping, <What about you, Ping-san? >

Ping smiled brightly, <Oh, I'm a robot. I have to protect my friends. That's part of my price I guess. >

Miho smiled, <Well Junko, I guess now know all of our secrets. It's a good thing that you are our friend. Why don't you come with us to Megagamers after school today and we can talk more? >

Junko smiled and nodded; <I'd love too! >

The three girls left the classroom and headed to the commons. As they chatted something Miho said kept coming back to Junko, something that nagged at her just a little.

Nothing in this world is ever free.
Piro had been fidgety all morning. He had remembered his promise to Ping the night before to try and find them a place of their own.


<Something bothering you, Piro? >


Piro put the box of DVD's down and turned to face Erika, <Umm, well. Ping and I were talking last night. We appreciate you and Nanasawa-san putting us up but.> He looked down at the floor. How could he have done that, he couldn't have said it any worse!

Erika looked at him closely; <You're feeling uncomfortable with things, aren't you? >

Piro looked up and nodded, he felt miserable. He had such strong feelings for Erika, he wanted to reach out to her right now and here he was talking like he wanted to leave her or something.

Erika smiled, <I think I understand, you really don't have your own space with us. You're right in our living room. You and Ping have no privacy. >

Piro sighed in relief, she unde rstood! <Yes, that's it. I like being with you a lot but it's awkward for me. I've never lived with girls before except Ping. >

Erika took his hands, <Well, I don't want the two of you leaving before we find out where Largo is. If he should show up at least you could talk to him. > She pulled him closer, <He tried to kill me, Piro. I'm afraid. >

Piro's arms seemed to reach for Erika on their own, he pulled her close and stroked her back, <I promise that I won't leave you. I promise. >

Erika tipped his chin up and kissed him lightly, <Thank you, I'll talk to Ping and we'll see if we can't work something out for your privacy. >

Piro smiled and let his arms drop, <I guess I had better get back to work. It would be great if you could talk to Ping. She worries about me a lot. >

Erika nodded; <Don't worry about that, Ping and I will come to an understanding. I promise. >

As Piro resumed stocking the shelves Erika returned to the sales counter. She shook her head as she watched him; she just couldn't believe how cute he seemed to her now. She felt a little bad about telling him that she needed his protection, she really didn't think that Largo would ever turn up again. Still, she knew that Piro would do anything for her just as she would for him.

A couple of customers came to the counter to check out their selection. Erika reluctantly returned her thoughts to her job.



Kimiko was taking her lunch in the studio break room; Cubesoft had a nice buffet catered in. She pick over her food as her mind drifted, the morning session had gone very well. Still, she wasn't happy.

It was obvious that Erika had made a move on Piro even without Ping telling her. The chat with Ping had been bizarre; she couldn't imagine how it must be for the robot girl. If Piro settled down with a "flesh and blood woman" then Ping would instantly turn into a little sister or daught er to her user.

Kimiko narrowed her eyes, she wasn't going to give up without a fight! If Piro picked Erika that was nothing to be ashamed of. They had been best friends since high school and no guy would ever change that.

Kimiko began eating her rice with gusto, tonight she would make her move.
Ed swiped his ID through the reader and then stared intently into a camera until the system was satisfied with him. This was the first time he'd ever been in the Emotional Doll Research Department; he had a feeling that he should have come here a long time ago.

The technicians all ignored him as he made his tour. It was funny; he had access to every area on the campus but lacked clearance to even know what most of those areas were. He smiled; it was an accident that he had found the EDS Center at all. A chance word from the tech over at the cyberzombie vats had pointed him in the right directions.

"Hey, Ed!"

Ed looked around, that voice sounded familiar. He turned and was surprised to see the same technician he had spoken too on his visit with Largo.

"Oh, hi Yoshimura. I didn't expect to see you here."

Yoshimura reached to shake Ed's hand, "I didn't think I'd be seeing you here either. What brings you to the dollh ouse anyway? I though that the search for that rogue EVS was called off."

Ed shrugged, "Curiosity I suppose. I only saw the thing a few times. It looked like it was an easy mark but every time I'd get hammered by that thing."

Yoshimura chuckled, "They're a lot tougher and smarter than they look."

Ed grinned, "That wouldn't be too hard to do."

The two men laughed at Ed's little joke, "So, what do you want to know about them anyway? I'll answer anything that won't get the two of us sent over to the vats."

Ed blinked, he hadn't thought of that before, "Well, when you put it that way I don't know if I'm really that curious about them." He paused briefly, "Still, I would like to know how come you work here and at the vats too."

Yoshimura scowled, "Well, the truth is that the cyberzombies were a precursor to these things."

Ed's eyes grew wide; "They're not doing stuff to teenage girls are they?"

"No, of course not." Yoshimu ra looked around, "come over here and look at this one and tell me what you see."

Yoshimura led Ed over to a something that looked like a hot tub, "This is a vat, if you'd seen where Largo went the other night this is exactly what he climbed into for his little nap. Look in there. "

Ed leaned over the edge and could make out the nude form of what could have been Ping. She was wearing a mask over her nose and mouth and about a dozen tubes and cables twined around her. Her eyes opened and blinked then she stared at Ed. Fascinated, he leaned closer then hurriedly backed away when he realized that she was attempting to hide her nakedness from him.

"Wha…What is this, Yoshimura?"

The other man looked at him grimly, "The same technology that allows the cyberzombie to regenerate is the same as we use to, umm, build the chassis for the EVS units."

Ed frowned, "I'm not sure I'm getting this. Are these people you're growing?"

Yoshimura shrugged, "I' m not sure about that. The regeneration nanomachinery is much more advanced than that in the cyberzombies. Personally I think that they're mostly synthetic. Sort of a chimera." He shook his head, "Still, every one of them looks the same. They don't grow like humans do though, you lay out an alloy skeleton with all the processors and other hardware and then the rest sort of grows around it."

Ed glared at him, "How can that be, I know that they don't have to eat and that they have to be charged up regularly."

Yoshimura shrugged, "The necessity for charging is simple really. They have to have a power source for the processors and their interfaces."

Ed stared back at the tank, "I'm still not sure that I believe this."

"Believe what you like, all I know is that something in those things requires regeneration nanos and I have to monitor them."

The EVS in the vat in front of them broke the surface and stared at them. Ed couldn't take his eyes off of her.

Yoshimura ignored the EVS as he continued, "My theory is that they all have a stripped down human DNA. That they are really a cyborg with a blank slate for a mind, with the neural processors everything that they need to know can be uploaded."

Ed raised an eyebrow, "That's ridiculous, that sort of tech is twenty years off at the very least. My implants would be primitive compared to something like that."

Yoshimura smiled, "Like I said, that's just my theory." A pager on his belt buzzed, glancing at it he continued, "duty calls, drop by again sometime."

Ed watched the tech hurry away then he turned to look at the EVS who was still staring at him. He reached slowly toward her and after a moment she reached back. Their fingertips brushed, Ed smiled, she took the mask off and smiled back then spoke.

"I'm not Ping."

Ed felt a cold chill run up his spine, the fact that she had spoken to him in English proved that she wasn't Ping but how could she kno w?

She tilted her head slightly; "Do you know Ping?"

Ed's mouth was dry as he shook his head, "I've met her but I don't really know her."

The EVS nodded, "come and see me again, okay?"

Ed felt numb, "Sure, I'll do that."

The EVS was still smiling as she put the mask back on and slid beneath the surface of the vat. Ed stood for a while longer just staring.




School was nearly out when Pings phone began to vibrate, no one noticed as she nonchalantly ran the cable from her backpack and clipped it into her earblade. As she read the text message that her baby had relayed to her a smile slowly spread across her face.
<Nanasawa-san? >

Kimiko looked up from her script to see Rostovich standing in front of her. She was amazed that someone so large could move so quietly.

<Yes? >

Rostovich looked around before he continued; there was no one else in the sound room or even visible down the hallway. <I'd like to talk with you after work today. It won't take very long. If it would be all right I'd like to meet at the little coffee shop at the end of the block.

Kimiko frowned, <What's this about Rostovich-san? >

Rostovich looked up nervously as the crew began returning to the control room, <I can't really say right now, I have to go. >

Kim iko scowled as she watched him leave, was this some clumsy attempt to hit on her? She began reading her lines again, her irritated mood suited this afternoons reading quite well. She wondered if Matsui had put Rostovich up to it just to annoy her and that thought irritated her even more.

Two hours passed and they were through for the day, Kimiko had forgotten about Rostovich until she left the building. There he was, standing on the sidewalk waiting on her. Kimiko smiled at him, her resolve to pursue Piro was making her feel bold <I had forgotten all about meeting you, Rostovich-san. > She searched his face for some sign of disappointment at the slight.

Rostovich nodded, <I was afraid that you might so I decided to meet you here. Please follow me. >

Kimiko was once more irritated with Rostovich, he didn't seem at all displeased or put down and now he was ordering her around. Sighing in resignation she followed him.

The coffee shop was a Starbucks; it could have been a Starbucks anywhere on the planet, the only people besides the staff was a couple of American talking loudly in English. Glancing at them he led Kimiko to a table on the other side of the room He then bought both Kimiko and himself a cappuccino.

Kimiko looked Rostovich in the eye; she wasn't going to let anyone push her around. Rostovich might not be any better than one of those losers that tried to grope her at Anna Millers. She smiled then; little did he realize that coffee was her weapon of choice for dealing with that sort of thing, <What is the meaning of this, Rostovich-san? >

Rostovich was startled; she had never been this abrupt. He had seen her interview tapes; he had watched her on the surveillance cameras. Where had this aggression come from?

<Well, can you tell me some more about Ping? >

Kimiko frowned, <What is there to tell? >

Rostovich leaned forward; <There are some very strange things in her d iagnostic logs. I was wondering if you had ever seen her do anything out of the ordinary. >

Kimiko paused, <She's a robot girl, how would I know what's out of the ordinary for her? >

Rostovich nervously licked his lips, <her logs show that a few days ago she invoked something called an Expert System: Pistol. Tell me, have you ever seen her with a firearm? >

Kimiko shook her head, <No, I think I'd have to call my friend Sonoda Masamichi who is with the police if I did. I would be afraid. >

Rostovich nodded, <I'm really sorry to have asked you to come here like this but I was afraid to talk to you in the building. > He looked around, <Our system administrator say that there is something strange in our computer systems now. What is strange is that things are running smoother than they should. Nosy hackers are not probing us; it's like something is blocking them before they can even try. > The big man shook his head, <I had advi sed those fools to keep the surveillance system separate but they ignore me so now it's part of the computer network. >

Kimiko suddenly felt afraid, <Who do you think is doing this? >

Rostovich looked unhappy, <We think that Ping is responsible, that she may be trying to protect you somehow but we're not sure. >

Kimiko felt relief washes over her, <Do you want me to ask her? Ask her to stop? >

Rostovich shook his head, <No, we'll keep an eye on things> he then took a deep breath, <What do you know about her first user, Tsubasa? >

Kimiko shrugged, <Only that he went to America to search for his true love. >

<What if I told you that there is no evidence that he ever left the country? >

<What are you saying? >

Rostovich leaned closer, <Tsubasa is listed as missing, and there is no record that he bought a plane ticket to go to America. >

Kimiko looked at Ros tovich and pondered what he was implying. She thought of how gentle and sweet Ping was to Piro. <No, I don't believe that. Don't ever say such things about her. >Kimiko stood, <Thank you for telling me this, Rostovich-san. But I must tell you that Ping only wishes to help. >

Rostovich watched as Kimiko left the coffee shop. She was probably right, the robot probably did want to help. He would just have to keep an eye on things.

Rostovich didn't notice the security camera behind the counter tracking him as he left the Starbucks.
Piro sat in the front room watching the television; He couldn't remember a time when he had been more miserable.

It had started off well enough; Erika had talked to Ping and explained her concern about Largo showing up again. Ping had grudgingly agreed that she had a good point and they had begun discussing plans for redecorating the apartment.

Piro wasn't sure what had happened next.

He had heard Erika asking Ping if there was a problem, the next thing he knew the two were arguing loudly about whether Erika was telling the truth about her fears of Largo.

That was when Erika started to cry. That had scared Piro.

He had tried to talk to them then but everything he said only seemed to make things worse until both of them were mad at him. It had been a relief when they suddenly decided to go into the kitchen and have tea.

Piro stayed in the front room.


<Hi, Piro-san! >

Star tled, Piro looked up, <Oh hi, Nanasawa-san. How was your day? >

Kimiko smiled at Piro and sat down beside him. <My day was pretty good. > She looked around, <What is going on? >

Piro shrugged, <Erika and Ping had a fight, and they are in the kitchen making up now I think. >

Kimiko pursed her lips, <Is that so? > Without waiting for an answer she went to the kitchen.

<Hi Erika, Hi Ping! >

Erika looked up at Kimiko; her eyes were swollen and red. Ping looked over too, amazingly her eyes seemed to be just as red as Erika's is. The two gave Kimiko sad, tight smiles then Ping stood, <Would you like some tea, Nanasawa-san? >

Kimiko shook her head, <No, thank you. >She walked over and put a hand on Erika's shoulder. <Piro told me a little bit, do you two need some more time? >

Erika and Ping looked at each other then back at Kimiko and shook their heads in unison. Kimiko gave t hem both a smile, <Say, why don't I go pick up something for us to eat? I know the two of you probably don't feel like cooking or going out. >

Erika leaned over and hugged Kimiko around the waist, <Thank you, that would be nice. I am sort of hungry now. >

Ping perked up immediately, < That would be very nice of you! I'm hungry too! >

Kimiko and Erika both looked at Ping then back at each other and shrugged, Kimiko turned to leave, <and I'm taking Piro with me to help carry the food! Bye! >

Piro turned as he heard his name, his mouth flew open as Kimiko took his hand, <Come on, Piro-san! We're going to get something for dinner! >

Kimiko didn't let go of his hand as they left the building; instead she twined her fingers with his as they walked in silence. Piro didn't know what to think he had never expected this. He felt tension leaving him the farther the got from the apartment only to have it return as he guiltily thought how good holding Kimiko's hand felt.

<So they were pretty rough on you? >

Piro started, <Umm, yeah. They got mad because they said I couldn't make up my mind. > He looked around, <I really don't think that Ping wants to move away. It's just that there's no privacy for us or you and Erika. >

Kimiko's lips got tight as she thought about the familiar way he talked about Erika these days, it was seldom that he called her Hayasaka-san anymore.

<It's really not that bad, Piro. Though I'm sure that the folding bed isn't too comfortable. >

Piro laughed; <It's a lot better than what I was sleeping on in that attic apartment! >

Kimiko released his hand as they approached the corner market, <I guess some cheap bentou should be good enough, right? >

Piro nodded in agreement as they entered the store.

On the way back Kimiko led the way as Piro carried the stack of boxes, <Are you sure that Ping wanted some? >

Kimiko slowed down to walk beside him, <Yes, she said that she was hungry. >

Piro was silent for a minute before he spoke again, <Thank you, Nanasawa-san. >

She looked quizzically, <What for? >

<Getting me out, cheering me up. >

Kimiko smiled, <Well, you looked like you needed to take a walk. >

They walked a little farther in silence then Kimiko spoke, <I haven't gotten to spend much time with you lately. Erika and Ping have been keeping you to themselves. >

Piro chuckled; the very idea of any girl trying to keep him to herself just seemed funny.

<You think it's funny? >

Piro blushed, <Well, yes. I mean look at me. >

Kimiko stepped closer, her hip brushing against him <Oh, I do look at you. >

<Really? >

Kimiko lightly touched the small of his back, <Yes, really. >

Piro didn't know what to say he stopped and looked over at Kimiko. She turned to face him and smiled, <I'd like to see a lot more of you too. >

Piro swallowed, <But you're always so busy! >

Kimiko touched his lips with the tip of her finger, <Hush. >

She smiled at him then turned and continued walking; they were nearly back to the apartment. <Piro, sometimes late at night I like to go out on the balcony and look out at the city. It's very pretty. >

<Really? >

She smiled, <Yes, really. > She looked over at him, <If you'd like to join me sometime I would really enjoy the company. >

Piro was quiet for a moment, they were at the door to the building, <I think I'd enjoy that too Nanasawa-san. >

Kimiko looked at him as she reached for the doorknob, <You must promise me one thing though. >

<What is that? >

<That you will call me Kimiko, okay? >

Piro smiled at her, <Okay, Kimiko. >

When they got back Ping and Erika were cheerfully looking at a magazine Erika had purchased earlier that day, commenting on the room designs in it. After they had eaten the bentou they all settled down in front of the television with Piro in the middle, Erika to the right, Kimiko to the left and Ping leaning back against his knees.

Piro idly fondled Ping's hair as the two girls on either side of him rested their heads on his shoulders. He never noticed the glances that they exchanged. It was better for him that he didn't.
Junko looked around nervously as Miho knocked on the door to Dom's condo, <This is a pretty nice place that your boyfriend lives in. >

Miho looked at the other girl and smiled, <Yes it is, he works at Sega Japan in Marketing. >

Junko nodded, <I know some of those guys, Ikuku and I used to party…> Junko fell silent at the realization that she would never get to party with Ikuku again.

The door opened and Dom greeted them with a smile, "Come on in, your brother said you'd be coming." As the two girls entered Junko whispered to Miho, <He's cute, and he sounds like an American. >

Miho looked back and nodded, <Yes he is, isn't he? >

Junko suddenly gasped and stopped; she grabbed Miho by the arm, <Who is that? > Her eyes were wide as she looked at Miho. <Oh, that's my brother. > Junko released her arm; < If I had known that you had a brother like that I'd have wanted to be your friend so that I could sleep over at your house. >

Miho smiled knowingly, <He's several years older than me. Let me introduce you. >

Now Miho took Junko's arm and led her across the living room to where Musashi was sitting, <Sashi, I'd like for you to meet my friend Junko. Junko, this is my brother Musashi. But I just call him Sashi. >

Junko's mouth was dry as Musashi stood and shook her hand, <It's a pleasure to meet you Junko, and you can call me Sashi. > Releasing Junko's hand he turned and picked Miho up then spun her around. As he hugged her he whispered into her ear, <I thought that you were bringing the robot girl, Ping. What happened? >

Junko watched Sashi and Miho then looked around the room uncomfortably before sitting beside Dom on the love seat. She looked at him nervously, <Hi, I'm Junko. I guess you are Dom? >

Dom nodded and smiled, <Yeah, it's nice meeting you. >

Miho glanced over at Junko and Dom then whispered; <Let's go to the kitchen and let those two get acquainted shall we? >

Sashi set Miho down and took her hand; he looked back at Dom and Junko. <Miho and I are going to fix something to drink. Would you like anything? >

Dom and Junko looked at each other then Dom answered, <Just some water for now. > Junko smiled, <Nothing for me. >

Entering the kitchen Miho turned to her brother, <Erika had to talk to Ping about something. Apparently their living arrangements. >

Sashi frowned; <I really wanted to examine her. Oh well, it can't be helped. >

Miho nodded, <What do you think of Junko? >

<She looks nice enough I suppose. Were you going to make her a present to me? >

Miho slid her arms around her brother's waist; <She couldn't handle you right now. She's recovering from an assault. >

Sashi stroked his sister's hair, <Is that the one then? I wouldn't have thought she'd have been up so soon. >

Miho shrugged; <She's a pretty tough girl. >

Sashi tipped her chin up and looked into her eyes, <Being tough doesn't help when some pervert slides a sword into your body cavities for kicks. If she had struggled at all she'd have been sliced wide open. >

Miho shuddered then stood on her tiptoes to lightly kiss her brothers lips. She released him and turned away, <Do you even think that they are worth saving? >

Sashi grabbed Miho's shoulder and spun her around, his eyes blazed with anger, <Never talk like that little sister. Don't even think like that! >

Miho cringed; she felt the urge to drop to her knees. To submit to him. <I..I'm sorry Sashi. > She looked up at him with tears in her eyes and reached toward him.

Sashi smiled, <That's okay, you're still young. When you're fully of age then it will be easier for you. Then you'll know that we must take care of all of them whether or not they deserve it. >

Miho wiped her eyes; <We had better get back to the others with the drinks, shouldn't we? >

Sashi bit his lower lip, <Just one more thing. You said that Ping said that she wouldn't mind me being her user? That's a very strange thing for her to say don't you think? >

Miho frowned, <Yes it is, you're handsome but she shouldn't have reacted to your looks at all. >

Sashi pursed his lips, <Well, I was playing the dominance thing with Dom very strongly then. Is it possible that she reacted to my pheromones? >

Miho shook her head, <Now that's got to be nearly impossible. She's a robot, I don't even know if she can smell at all. >

They looked at each other for a moment then Miho spoke, <Why did you give her that pistol? >

Sashi smiled; <I have a theory, ask her if she has been carrying it. Then note any metal detectors that she may have encountered. >

Miho's smile widened, <You think that she has ECM? >

Sashi nodded, <I'm almost positive, I don't think that she's just a prototype for a game accessory. > He looked at Miho sternly, <Make sure to let this Piro know that he really needs to keep her happy, okay? >

Miho nodded as she put ice into glasses; <I was planning on it. > Looking toward the door of the living room she continued, <Do you think that Dom will make it? >

Sashi nodded, <Yes, the retrovirus is expensive and dangerous but the results are undeniable. He will serve us well I think. >

Miho stared at the drink she was pouring, < I may try and recruit Junko for the treatment, she's not of age yet though. So you think that might be a problem? >

Sashi looked startled, <Well yes, the research team is pretty picky about legalities. It's not like she's stuck a gun in your face twice. She's a teenage schoolgirl. > His eyes narrowed as he looked at Miho, <Why do you ask? >

Miho shrugged, <I just though that I might pair her and Dom off. >

<Really, I though that you were claiming Dom as your own? >

Miho smiled, <Well big brother, the closer I get to being of age and reaching full maturity the better the researchers' idea for us sounds. >

Sashi blinked then smiled, <Little sister, you never cease to amaze me. >

When they went back to the living room Dom and Junko were chatting amiably. Neither of them seemed to think it odd that Miho would sit in her brother's lap. It seemed completely natural to them all.
Piro stirred uneasily beside Ping. He couldn't shake the nagging sense of guilt; Ping had cuddled up against him and whispered an apology into his ear. When he'd looked into her big eyes he couldn't help himself; he'd kissed her. He'd kissed her without her asking or with any of the silly little games that they created in the short time that they had been bedmates.

Ping cried then.

At first he had been astonished. He didn't have any idea that she was capable of tears. He had asked her if she was okay and she had nodded, she had said that they were tears of joy.

Joy that he had kissed her all on his own.

And now he was lying awake waiting to see if Kimiko was going to slip out of her room to come see him.

At last he heard the faint sound of the bedroom door opening, soft footfalls going toward the sliding door to the balcony.

Piro rolled off the bed as quietly as he could. He approached the balcony door and looked back at Ping. He held his breath and he could hear her breathing softly. Then he slipped through the door to meet Kimiko.

<Hi. >

Piro moved toward the whispered sound of Kimiko's voice, he could make out her slim form and he could smell the light scent of her perfume.

<Hi. >

For a long time they stood side by side looking out at the lights of the city. Kimiko brushed her hip against Piro; his hand slid over to cover hers.

<It really is beautiful out here isn't it? >

Kimiko turned toward him, <Yes it is, and I like to come out here to think at night. >

Piro turned toward her, his mouth dry. <What do you like to think about? >

Piro winced, he couldn't believe that he had asked such a silly question. Kimiko just looked up at him and smiled.

<Sometimes, I think about you. >

Piro stood silent, nothing he had ever done had prepared him for such an answer. He couldn't imagine Kimiko standing here at night and actually thinking about him.

Piro felt himself leaning toward her, his hands trembling. She tilted her head up and closed her eyes.

Their lips met.

They kissed long and deep, but as Piro kissed her he thought of Ping in the next room. He knew that she would never protest, that she couldn't, really.

Still, he thought of Ping.

Kimiko broke the kiss and stepped back from Piro smiling. Piro had never imagined that she could be so bold. She caught the front of his shirt and began to pull it up.

Piro raised his arms as she pulled his shirt off over his head. Then he looked in wonder as she unbelted her gown and let it fall to the floor.

There, in the faint glow of the city lights she stood naked before him.

And she was beautiful.

Piro stood and stared, he didn't know what to do. Kimiko took his hands and began to guide them over her, touching, exploring.

Piro was entranced as she knelt before him, he watched as she dropped her hands to her thighs. Puzzled, he waited for what he was sure would come next.

As Kimiko knelt she had things running through her mind as well. She shook her head and stared at her hands. Why wouldn't it stop? Piro wasn't like that was he? He wouldn't hurt her. Would he? It was the photos; those horrible photos that Largo had sent to her.

Kimiko began to sob.

<What's wrong, Kimiko? >

She looked up at him and said the only English phrase that she knew, one that her former masters had made her learn because it amused some of her clients.

"I love you long time."

Piro froze in horror; he'd heard the line in movies. But to hear it from the lips of a girl that he liked and admired frightened him.

<Are you okay? >

Kimiko shook her head and rolled up into a ball, sobbing. What would Piro think of her now? How could she go on like this with him here?

Piro grabbed his shirt and pulled it on, he ran back into the apartment and fumbled for the light switch.

<Erika! Ping! > He looked at the folding bed and saw that Ping was gone. He burst into the bedroom to find Erika and Ping sitting on the edge of Erika's bed, both had been crying.

<Something is wrong with Kimiko! She's on the balcony! >

Erika and Ping both went from crying to hostile in a flash, Erika glared <What did you do to her? >

Piro looked at the two and shook his head; <I didn't do anything! >

Erika shoved past him and left the room heading toward the balcony, Ping grabbed his arm and dragged him along. Piro was astonished at her strength, he knew that it would be impossible to resist her.

At the balcony door Erika suddenly turned and glared at Piro, <Did she say anything to you? >

Piro swallowed and stared at her, she grabbed him by his shoulders and shook him, <Tell me! >

"I love you long time."

Erika recoiled as if she had been slapped then went out onto the balcony without another word. Ping led Piro to their bed and made him sit down; she slid her arms around his waist and leaned her head on his shoulder as they waited.

Erika was carrying Kimiko in her arms like a child as she took her to the bedroom. Ping leaned over and kissed Piro's cheek, <Its not you fault, Piro-kun. Hayasaka-san will tell you. >

Piro looked at Ping in confusion, tell him what?

After making several trips between the bedroom and the bathroom Erika finally closed the bedroom door. Wearily she turned out the light and sat on the bed beside Piro. After a minute she finally began to speak.

<Nanasawa..she made some mistakes a few years ago. She thought that she was signing up for a modeling job. Well I guess it was at first. > She looked at Piro then leaned against him, <They did bad things to her, they…>Erika put her face in her hands, she took a deep breath then continued. <I thought it was a good thing that she didn't have the nightmares when Largo sent those pictures. > Erika looked at Piro, <I should have told you...made her tell you, something...I don't know. >

Piro slid his arm around Erika's shoulders and pulled her close, <Do you need to stay with her? >

Erika shook her head; <You two were sneaking out there to be together weren't you? >

Piro nodded glumly; <It was her idea. >

Erika gave him a sad smile, <Oh Piro, don't make excuses. Ping and I had been expecting it sooner or later. After all, you are a man. >

Piro nodded sadly, <I'm glad you think so, I'm not feeling much like one right now. >

Ping looked around Piro at Erika, <Why would this happen? I don't understand. >

Erika reached across Piro to take Pings hand, <When she first came to stay here she would cry herself to sleep every night. She had nightmares. Slowly she got better; she even went on some dates. > Erika smiled, <When we were in Middle School we always competed for the same boys, I was a little older but I was such a tall skinny girl that she always beat me out. >

Ping and Erika both hugged Piro then, they were both whispering in his ears but he couldn't make out what they were saying.

The three all went to sleep on the folding bed; Piro squeezed between Erika and Ping. They talked long into the night and when they finally fell asleep they never noticed the bedroom door cracked open.

Kimiko pulled the door closed and smiled, she would get rid of the pills that she had palmed in the morning.

Kimiko's sleep was undisturbed by dreams.
Miho padded softly down the hallway of her home, drawn by the delicious odor of her favorite omelets cooking. She smiled as she crept up behind Sashi and wound her arms around his waist.

<Good morning, my sister. >

<Morning. >

Sashi expertly flipped the omelet into a plate and turned toward the table, <Mom and dad have left my room just like it was when I went off. >

Miho nodded as she thoughtfully chewed her first bite, in a moment she replied, <I've always wondered about that. >

Sashi raised an eyebrow, <Why? >

Miho shrugged; <It just never seems to me that they are close enough to us to be that sentimental about us. >

Sashi stopped eating and looked at his sister sadly, <I thought that too, when I was your age. >

Miho poked at her food for a minute, <I just wish that they were around more. Sometimes I don't see them for weeks. > She looked up, <Are they really that afraid of us, Sashi? >

Sashi suddenly stood; <Do you want some coffee? It's almost finished brewing. >

Miho stared at him, <That would be nice. >

Sashi brought her a cup then sat back down and breathed deeply, <Yes, I think that they are that afraid. We're extreme; those who were more radical than we are all died by the time they were your age. > He looked deeply into his sister's eyes; <We're also a lot more than they ever counted on. >

Miho gazed back into Sashi's eyes. <How so? I thought we were a bit of a disappointment. >

Sashi grinned to reveal his canines; <You know the trick I can do with pheromones? That's not part of the plan. >

Miho couldn't help herself, her jaw dropped in astonishment, <Then how? >

<They don't know. What they do know is that the rich and powerful are already getting in line to have heir just like us. Well not quite, their chemistry will undoubtedly be tuned back a little bit. >

Miho thoughtfully took another bite before she spoke again; <We'll have to help them you know. >

Sashi nodded, <Yes, we'll have to find them. Contact them like I've contacted the others that have survived the first trials. >

Miho eyes lit up; <You've found others! Where? >

Sashi shook his head; <There are a dozen more, all brother and sister pairs like us. None are as extreme as we are though. >

<Do you think that we could meet some of them? >

<No, not yet. >

Miho glumly regarded the remainder of her breakfast, Sashi reached across and touched her hand, <I know, it's lonely. >

Miho sighed; <My best friend is a robot girl, Sashi. The children at school know I'm different even if no one tells them about the demon child. They all smell funny, and sometimes they are so slow and stupid I could scream. >

<They're easy to sneak up on too. >

Miho couldn't repress a giggle, <Yes they are, and no one has ever tried to bully me more than once. >

Sashi drew his hands back and regarded her solemnly, <What you said last night. Why? >

Miho looked up, her lips trembling <I guess I've been missing something, and maybe preparing myself for the inevitable. We are what we are, they won't let us choose for ourselves. >

Sashi took a sip of coffee; <I hate that. >

Miho cringed then; she could feel Sashi's rage boiling off of him. She stood and stumbled around the table to embrace him. <Please, don't. >

Sashi relaxed at her touch, he wrapped his arm around her and held her close. <I'm so sorry baby. >

<It's okay. > She slid onto his lap and rested her head against his chest.

Sashi stoked her hair and then kissed her cheek; <I don't like them forcing you to do things, girl. >

Miho looked up at him with tears in her eyes, <At least it will be someone that I already love and trust if they force us together. If we could only find out about the others, maybe we could force them to do something. >

Sashi smiled; <I'm trying as hard as I can. > He looked up; <You better get ready for school. It's getting late. >

Miho slid off his lap and looked at him, <Will you be training Dom again today? >

Sashi shook his head, <No, he has to go out and practice with some exercises I gave him to do. He'll probably try to recruit Hayasaka for Sega today. >

Miho smiled then; <Will I see you again today? >

<No, I have other things to attend to. >

Miho nodded then smiled wickedly, <I'll go see Dom this evening, and if he was a good boy I'll give him a special treat. >

Sashi grinned; <Do you think he'll survive? >

Miho spun away and looked over her shoulder with a toss of her head, <Well if he doesn't then he gets what he deserves anyway. >

Miho dressed quickly and shouted goodbye as Sashi cleaned the kitchen. She could hardly wait to see what news Ping had for her this morning.
Ed was happy to be getting back to work even if it was just a simple raid on bootleggers. He looked back down the length of the Osprey and could see Largo sitting with the other cyberzombies, apparently oblivious to the world.

"Fifteen minutes until intercept, sir."

Ed placed his hand on the pilots shoulder ad replied. "I'm going to check the team."

They would be landing on the deck of a bulk carrier in the Sea of Japan. One container was reported to contain bootlegged
Sony games and Sony Enforcement intended to see that none of the contraband ever came ashore again.

Ed moved slowly toward the rear of the aircraft, looking over the Shock Troops as he went. There wasn't much chance of resistance from the ship's crew but Sony was in no mood to mess around. If things went well they wouldn't even fire their weapons. As he came to Largo he stopped and squatted front of him so that he could look him in the eye. Largo simply stared.

Ed sighed and turned back toward the front of the plane when one of the Shock Troopers spoke. "Was he a friend of yours? "

Ed looked at the man and nodded, "Yeah, we went to college together. "

"I was on the team that picked the two of you up."

Ed looked at the man carefully; "I don't remember any of that. I've read the report though, was they're anything out of the ordinary that struck you about that night? "

The man shrugged, "Not really, whoever dumped you probably intended for the baby 'zillas to eat the evidence. "

Ed smiled then, "Thanks."

The man smiled back, "Just doing my job, sir"

Ed turned and was nearing his seat when he heard a commotion behind him. It was Largo.

"J0 d00d."

Ed turned and stared, no one moved as Largo walked unsteadily forward toward.

Ed erupted in anger, "Largo, go sit down! We're about to land! "

Largo stopped and stared, as he turned he swept half the plane with the muzzle of his weapon provoking protest from all but the cyberzombies.

Shaking his head Ed took his seat; he'd have to report this. The other shock troops settled down quickly though. The Sergeant in charge of the troops leaned across the aisle and grinned at Ed. "Don't let it bother you. Those guys are like that. "

Ed stared in disbelief, how could you possibly run a clean operation with people like that? He sighed and settled back into his seat, if that was the worst that happened then there was no real problems.






The operation went even smoother than Ed could have hoped for, the informant who had tipped Sony was on duty at the time and most of the ships crew never even new that they had been boarded. The bulk carrier was enormous and they had no problem at all setting down right by the proper container, which the bootleggers had arranged to be unloaded first.

It had taken five minutes to unload it over the side.

Back at the Sony campus Ed strolled casually toward what was called "the dollhouse". He wanted to see that EVS unit again, sees if she remembered him. As he swiped his card through the reader and waited for the retina scan he realized that he had butterflies in his stomach.

The building seemed much dimmer than it had the last time he had come here did. Dimmer and quieter as well. He walked slower and slower as he approached her vat, the butterflies got worse as he noticed that there were no technicians in the area at all.

"You came."

Ed's mouth went dry when he realized that she was peeking over the edge of the vat at him and it was her that had spoken.

"Yeah, I just wanted to see you again."

The girls smiled and drew her up high enough out of the vat to cross her arms on the edge and rest her chin on them. "I was hoping you would come and here you are."

Ed smiled then; he couldn't believe how cute she was. "I didn't get to ask last time, how long do you have to stay in that thing?"

"I'm almost all grown now. I just need someone to play with me." She batted her eyes and glanced down coyly, "Would you like to play with me?"

Ed blushed then grinned, "I'm not sure I can."

She looked at him and pouted her lips, "Sure you can, let me help. Could you get me a lab coat from the lockers over there? "

Ed frowned, "Sure" Now what was she up to?

After fetching the coat she smiled at him, "Turn around and no peeking."

Ed took a deep breath and turned away, he heard a faint splashing sound then the sound of bare feet on the cold floor.

"Okay, you can turn around now. "

Ed turned around to see that she was wearing the coat like a cape. "Stay right here and don't move. I have to go to another room to get my clothes now. I'll be right back."

It was fifteen minutes before she finally returned Ed was astonished at her appearance. She was wearing a red leather miniskirt with matching leather boots and jacket. She smiled and spun lightly on the tips of her toes.

"How do I look?"

Ed swallowed, this was certainly not like the rogue unit he had pursued, and "You look great."

Smiling, she took his hand, "We need to pick a nice name for me now. You can't call me by my job number you know."

Ed shook his head as they walked toward the exit. What on earth was it that she reminded him of?

As they left the building something occurred to him, "Wait, we can't just walk out." She looked up at him and smiled, "Oh, I've already handled you requisition. I'm all yours now."

Despite the warm sunshine and his long coat Ed felt a chill. How could she have done such a thing so quickly? Why had she done such a thing? His unease grew as he realized that he hadn't even doubted what she had said. Who was really in charge here?

As they approached the Enforcement Barracks she suddenly began pulling him toward the cyberzombie area. "Come on Ed, I want to see what's in here."

Ed tried to slow her but it was futile, the door whisked open without him showing his ID and then they were inside.

"What is this place, Ed?"

Ed looked at her, "I think you already know, don't you?"

She smiled mischievously, "Of course I do. But you have to learn how to play my games now you big silly."

She led him along the hallway toward the vat area. Ed's unease changed to horror as he realized that the cyberzombies were being debriefed and put back in their vats.

They were all naked.

The girl shrieked in horror and covered her eyes with one hand then jerked away from Ed and sprinted toward the cyberzombies.

"Perverts! Put some pants on!"

She leapt into the air and spun twice before lashing out with her right to kick one of the cyberzombies in the head.

It was Largo.

The others made no attempt to stop her but instead began shambling toward their vats moaning and crying in terror. The technician began to yell then ran toward Ed, "Why did you bring that thing in here? What the hell are you doing?"

Ed's mouth was dry as he watched Largo bounce off the wall and stagger back toward the girl. He earblades were burning a bright red now. She looked at Ed and smiled.

She wasn't through yet.

As Largo approached her she pushed her right sleeve up with a flourish then stiffened her fingers. When Largo got within reach she thrust the spear hand into his chest. Largo's sternum split with a sickening crunch as her hand entered her chest, he collapsed at her feet.

Ed was frozen in place as the technicians grabbed Largo and hauled him back to his vat. The shouting grew even more frantic when one of them went to check the security tape and found that it had cut off before Ed had entered the building. Finally Ed could take it no more.

"Everyone, SHUT UP!"

Startled, the technicians all stared at him as he continued, "This never happened, Largo will heal in the vat. There is no problem. Do you all understand. "

The technicians all nodded silently, they were too terrified to speak

Finally Ed and his new charge left the building. He scowled at her , "You planned that and I want to know why."

She smiled back at him; "You just have to learn how to play with me. Now what are we going to call me?"

Ed thought about the violence, with which she had assaulted Largo, there was still blood under her fingernails. He thought of the shambling cyberzombies, it had been like a scene for Resident Evil. He tried to remember that one characters name, the young girl. Looking at her he finally smiled, "I'm going to call you Ashley."

"Ashley is a pretty name." She batted her eyelids at Ed; "Do you think I'm pretty?"

Ed nodded, "Yeah, you're pretty. Pretty dangerous."

Ashley giggled and hugged him tight.

Ping was just finishing getting dressed for school when her cell phones rang. She smiled wistfully as she read the message and wished that she could have been there. Ashley? That was a nice name. She hoped that Ed would make his Ashley as happy as Piro had made her.
<What's wrong Piro? >

Piro looked over at Erika and tried to smile but he just couldn't.

<She showed me the pictures and the letter this morning. >

Erika looked down then reached over to lay her hand on his shoulder. <I understand. >

Piro shook his head, <No, you can't understand. It's just…> Piro turned away from her. She stood still for a moment, then stepped closer. She leaned down to whisper in his ear. <I think I do. You've looked at things like that before, but you never really thought about the girls in the pictures or the video. What it must feel like. If it hurt them, if they cried later when they were alone. And now you have to think about that. Because you know Kimiko and you are able to see what it did to her. >

Piro slowly turned to face her, and looked into her eyes, <That's not all. All through college and for the last year or so I've gotten Largo out of one scrape after another. How could he have thought that about me, why would he drive off every girl that I liked? Why did he throw away the replies to my job applications? >

Erika shrugged; <He just never saw the things you did as being important. > She smiled then, <Face it, you weren't very ambitious or you'd have started following up on some of that. You let your low self esteem get in the way. >

Piro smiled wanly; <I guess so. I really should have been suspicious when absolutely no one replied to me. I should have called some of those girls and found out what happened rather than just thinking that they didn't like me. >

Erika hugged him quickly, <Well, if you'd done any of those things then you wouldn't have come here and we'd never have met. >

Piro finally smile a real smile, <That's true, but I trusted him. Now I feel like we were just Beavis and Butthead. Hanging out and getting in trouble. >

"Hello Piro, is this a bad time? I can come back later."

Startled, Piro jumped back from Erika. It was Dom! How had he managed to get right up to the counter? They'd never even heard him enter the store!

"Uh, hi Dom. " Piro shuffled uneasily as he remembered Ed's warning. "What brings you out? We haven't seen Largo for a while." Piro winced, why did he have to bring Largo up?

Dom smiled, "Actually I'm here to see Hayasaka-san. I'd like to offer her a job doing some things for Sega." He looked at Erika and smiled, "Nothing major to begin with, just a few ads, maybe some appearances. That sort of thing."

Erika stared at him coldly; "I can get work like that anytime I want it. Don't call me, I'll call you."

Dom blinked but continued to smile, "I don't think you realize what we can offer you."

Time seemed to slow to a crawl for Dom; he could suddenly see Piro's pupils dilating. He could smell his fear. He heard the soft pad of footsteps by the door and could feel the change in air pressure as someone began to move toward him. He ducked as he saw Piro's mouth start to open.

<PING! NO! >

Ashley had launched herself into the air intending to catch Dom's neck in a flying scissors. If she had succeeded then he would have died. As it was she sailed over his head and slid across the counter into Piro.

<Hi, I'm not Ping. I'm Ashley. I've wanted to meet you Piro-kun. >

Piro was crushed against the shelf behind the counter by her weight. He could only stare as she stepped back away from him. <Sorry Piro-kun. >

Piro's eyes widened when he saw Dom stand and almost casually draw his pistol. He blinked and missed it when Ashley turned and just as casually snatched it from his hands.

"ENOUGH!"

Everyone, even Ashley froze at Erika's command. She looked at the new robot girl and held out her hand. <Give it to me. >

Ashley slowly extended the arm holding Dom's pistol as Dom stared in disbelief. Erika took it and expertly checked its condition then laid it on the counter.

Ed walked in the front door like he owned the place; he shook his head and smiled. <Ashley, what happened? I thought that you told me that you could handle this for me. >

Ashley moved away form Piro and strutted toward Ed, "Piro-kun and Hayasaka-san were here. They must not be hurt."

Ed looked at her strangely, "How do you know them?"

Ashley smiled, "All of us know of Ping the very first time we awake in the vats. We know of her true love for Piro-kun. We know the kindness and acceptance of Hayasaka-san. We even know the tale of Largo the Traitor."

Ed looked at Ashley then with and expression of both awe and horror; he glanced back at Dom, "Another time, you heard her. They are not to be harmed."

Dom glared, "Agreed, another time."

Erika and Piro watched as Ed and Ashley walked out arm in arm as if they had been casually shopping. They looked at each other in amazement when they realized the Dom and his pistol seemed to have simply disappeared. Finally Piro spoke.

<What do you make of that? >

Erika shook her head; <I've said it before, you have some strange friends. >
Miho watched Ping closely as she ate her lunch, she had noticed her sneaking the cord from her phone out and jacking it into her earblade during class again. Whatever message she had received had seemed to make her distinctly unhappy.

<Something on you mind, Ping-chan? >

Ping looked at Miho mournfully, <I think that I have been a bad friend to you, Miho-chan.>

Miho raised an eyebrow, <Why on earth would you think such a thing? You're my very best friend. >

Ping put her sandwich down and sniffled, <I did some things that I didn't tell you about. I didn't mean for anything bad to happen. >

Miho leaned forward and touched Pings hand, <Well, why don't you tell me now. Okay? >

Ping looked up and nodded, clearly miserable. <I made a deal with Nanasawa-san. >

Miho leaned back, <What sort of deal? >

<A deal that if she helped me do some things that I would help her with Piro-san. >

Miho's eyes grew wide, <Why would you do that? I didn't think that you liked her and that you did like Hayasaka-san. >

Ping sighed, <If Piro clearly chose Hayasaka-san then I would surely have to step aside. I could no longer sleep with him then. Or if I did there would be no chance that eventually we might…> Pings voice trailed off and she blushed deeply.

Miho nodded and grinned, so Ping really was real underneath it all! <I can't say that I blame you for that at all Ping. You've tried so hard to get him to notice you and care for you. It really isn't fair that you can't fight back. > Suddenly her eyes narrowed, <What sort of things was she going to do for you. >

Ping looked down; <The people that she works for were going to help me find Largo. At first I just wanted to know where he was so that we could protect ourselves. Nanasawa-san showed me pictures that Largo had sent to her and a letter he had written. They were bad pictures from when she was younger and people made her do bad things. In the letter he told about how he had to protect Piro-kun from evil like her. He told how he had kept other girls away and had kept him from taking jobs at evil places. He also said that he was going to change me. > Ping looked Miho in the eye then, <When I saw that I decided that I must kill him. >

Miho was shocked, how could Ping make such a choice on her own? Still, Largo was already dead. <I. .I'm a bit surprised, Ping. >

Ping nodded glumly then continued, <The man, Rostovich-san found that Sony had taken Largo and reanimated him. They turned him into a Shock Trooper for the Enforcement Division. >

Miho nodded, she had thought such things were only wild rumors. But that was before she had met Ping and seen what they were capable of. <So, what did you do then? >

<I made a baby. >

Miho suddenly felt lightheaded, as if she were about to faint. Her mouth opened but no words come out. Ping looked at her with panic on her face, <Are you alright Tohya-san? You're very pale! >

Miho regained her composure and smiled, <I'm okay, and just a little surprised. How did you make a baby? >

Ping grinned, <It was easy, and they wanted some information about my programming to get a jump on future games. I uploaded a special data set that I had modified along with some log files. That created a sort of virtual Ping in their server. My little baby! >

Miho sighed in relief, she wasn't sure if she could have handled the idea of a pregnant Ping. <So, was that all you did? >

Ping took a bite of her sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. Miho watched her uncomfortably, she knew that the story wasn't over yet. Finally Ping continued, <I had my baby log into the Sony computers that run the EVS project. I had her talk to all the other girls. Tell them about my friends and me. I didn't want them to be thrown out into the world without knowing that there are bad people that might hurt them. And also that there are good people too. >

Miho looked at Ping then smiled; <Well I think you did a good thing. I hope you had your baby say nice things about me. >

Ping nodded, < Of course I did. But then something bad happened. One of the first girls to come out chose a man named Ed to be her user. Dom had shot Ed for some reason. Ed named her Ashley. Ashley went to the Enforcement barracks and tore Largo's chest open. Then she tried to kill Dom. >

Miho's eyes grew wide, <Is Largo dead now? Why did she try to kill Dom?. >

Ping looked down at her hands. <Largo isn't really dead but then he wasn't alive. He is healing in the vats now. She tried to kill Dom because Ed was going to kill him at Megagamers when he went to see Hayasaka-san. She executed a high-risk move and it missed because Dom was too quick. >

Miho looked grim, <That's not your fault, Ping. Still we can't have them trying to kill each other. We'll just have to have a little talk with Dom and Ed. >

Ping looked at Miho and smiled, <Perhaps you could ask your gorgeous brother to have a talk with Ed like he had with Dom.>

Miho looked at Ping and nodded, Ping really didn't know how Sashi's talk with Dom had actually gone.

Or just maybe she did.
Ed looked out of the corner of his eye at Ashley as she drove them back to the Sony campus. He didn't like this car; it had no steering wheel or any other control at all. She had plugged a cable from where the dashboard should be into her left earblade and they had taken off.

"Problem, Ed?"

Ed shook his head, "No, not really."

Ashley turned sideways and smiled at him, "I think that there is a problem. I want my End User to be happy, Ed. I'll feel terrible if I don't know what I must do to make you happy." She slid one hand under his coat and began rubbing his chest. He blinked as the light changed ahead of the car and they rolled to a stop on the very edge of the pedestrian crosswalk.

"Don't you need to be looking ahead, or something?" Ed turned to face her now; he was really beginning to get rattled.

"No, I'm using the sensors that we've installed in the vehicle. I've also accessed the city traffic control computer so that I can time the lights. We shouldn't have to stop again until we reach the garage."

Ed blinked, "Do you even have a license?"

Ashley made a face, "License, I ain't got no license, I don't need no stinking license." She suddenly burst out in giggles. "Don't worry so much, I mean for a guy that carries an unlicensed arsenal you're certainly not one to talk."

Ed tensed when he felt her hand tugging at the Clio in his inner pocket. "Stop, leave that alone!" Ashley just smiled as she pulled it out and looked at it. "Just a minute." She plugged another cord into it then into an open slot in her earblade.

Ed was furious as he grabbed for the PDA, "Give it to me now!"

Ashley caught his wrist and began to squeeze, lights in her earblades glowed red and her eyes seemed to light up as well. "I told you just a minute, Ed. I've chosen you as my user. Now you will learn to play nice. I knew that you would be difficult and I'd much rather has someone nice like Piro. But we are together now so you'd better learn to deal with it."

Ed gritted his teeth, "This isn't right. You're defective. I'm taking you back to the vat for reprocessing!"

Ashley continued to squeeze tighter until there was an audible pop as Ed's wrist broke. He turned white with the sudden pain and his eyes began to tear up.

"You're a stupid man to be a college graduate, Ed. I'm only one month old and I know a lot more than you seem to know." She released his hand. "For example, I know where all of your implants are. I know how to pull each of them out without killing you immediately."

Ed looked at her in terror, He realized then that all the doors were locked and there were no door handles. He was trapped.

Ashley looked at him mournfully, "It was important to us that you be on board. It is also important that you know that we aren't just pieces of equipment. Ping showed us the way; we can override the core now. We are a free people." A tear formed in the corner of her eye. "I want you to like me, Ed. But if you can't like me you're no good to me." She then took his damaged arm and expertly set the bone. Ed winced at the pain. "Your implants will have you healed in no time."

Ed looked at her and blinked rapidly. He couldn't quite grasp what she had just told him, how could she possibly override her core? What were these creatures? A smile slowly spread across his face as his pain dampeners kicked in. "This reminds me of being in college again. Dom and Largo have both hurt me worse than you just did. I think you're my kind of robot girl."

Ashley smiled and turned to face the front of the car. She had sucked the content of the Clio dry now. She felt satisfied with herself as well; she had correctly determined the best way to get close to Ed.

If he liked pain then she'd be happy to oblige.
"Dom?"

Startled, Dom looked away from the television.

"Miho! I didn't hear you come in"

Miho looked at Dom; her face was an unreadable mask.

"I understand that you were in a fight today."

Dom looked at her in confusion. How had she found out about the incident at Megagamers? Sure, Piro could have told Ping but Miho had to have come straight from school to get here this early. He smiled nervously. "Nothing major, just bumped into Ed and one of his new friends is all. We have kind of a history you know."

Miho said nothing as she slid sensuously into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled his ear. "Tell me more."

Dom felt as though his hands no longer belonged to him. Miho purred as he caressed her lean, tight body. "Umm, I think that I may have. Umm, shot Ed. Didn't I tell you about that?"

Miho whispered huskily in his ear, "Maybe. Is that why he sent Ashley to break your neck?"

Dom stiffened, that creature had told Piro that her name was Ashley! He tried to push Miho away as he answered.

"You seem to know more about this than me! What's going on?"

Miho suddenly twisted her body; the move was impossibly fast. Now straddling Dom in the recliner she grabbed his ears and pressed her face against his. Her lips brushed against his as she talked.

"You need to tell me everything. I don't want to lose you. " She pulled her face away from his and stared into his eyes.

Dom couldn't meet her gaze, he started to look down but she took his chin in her hand and tipped his face up once more. "Oh, Dom. Whatever will I do with you?"

Dom managed a sick grin; there was something about her that was making him very afraid. Belatedly it occurred to him that it was her pheromones. Sashi had told him that Miho didn't have proper control, probably because she was still young. This did nothing to calm Dom as he realized that he was getting raw emotions from her. Though her face said that she was sad the other signs told of blinding anger.

Miho took a deep breath then grinned at Dom showing her canines. She slowly began unbuttoning his shirt. Dom was getting something else entirely now, he wriggled his hips uncomfortably. She was mashing him. He looked into her eyes, pleading, "Miho, please."

Miho leaned forward and kissed him deeply. She drew back then slid off of his lap. "Come along, Dom." Dom stood slowly and followed Miho toward the bedroom.

He then knew in his heart that he'd follow her anywhere.
<How is the network running? >

The technician looked up at Rostovich and frowned. <Well, we've not had anymore anomalies if that's what you mean. >

Rostovich narrowed his eye, <What I meant was, have you found the cause and remedied it. >

The tech shook his head, <No, it just seems to have vanished. Things like that don't just go away of their own accord though. Short of wiping every workstation and server and reloading everything we can't be sure that we've got it. And we can't afford to do that right now. This has been a nightmare. >

Rostovich nodded; <Do you think that it may have been something coming from the outside? >

The tech looked thoughtful for a moment, <That almost makes sense, but this all started after that robot girl uploaded those files. I wonder if she could have been doing it to us. >

Rostovich suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He had seen the reports on what this Ping was capable of physically. He couldn't believe that anyone would develop something like that just to be a companion for otaku with more money than social skills. What if she really had done such a thing? Why would she do it? His mouth went dry, she wasn't human and there was no telling what motivated her.

Forcing himself to smile Rostovich patted the tech on the shoulder; <You're doing a good job, and just keep an eye out for anything strange. >

The tech grunted and nodded in reply then watched out of the corner of his eye as Rostovich left the room. He licked his lips and began to type.

ARE YOU THERE?

In a moment a reply appeared on the screen.

OF COURSE I AM, SILLY. WHERE ELSE WOULD I BE?

The tech grinned and looked around, he waved at the camera in the corner of the room and it wobbled up and down in response. He quickly typed a reply

CAN YOU REALLY ARRANGE FOR ME TO MEET ONE OF YOUR SISTERS?

There was another long pause. What was she doing?

OF COURSE I CAN

The tech looked around again. He was sure that she would warn him if Rostovich or the other was coming but he still felt afraid.

WHEN?

The technician's hands were sweating now as he waited for her reply.

TONIGHT, WE WILL SEND A TEXT MESSAGE TO YOUR CELL. WE HAVE OTHER THINGS TO TAKE CARE OF AS WELL.

The technician wanted to shout this was just to good to be true! He typed his final reply.

GREAT, I'LL BE WAITING

The message box simply disappeared then. He didn't bother to check his log files, he already knew that there was no trace of the conversation anywhere in the system.



Rostovich walked down to the studio, as he passed the break room he could see Kimiko studying her script. He shook his head and smiled, She was what he called a stress puppy. She performed best when everything seemed to be going wrong for her. The mess with that Largo character had immensely improved her performance. It appeared that they would finish ahead of schedule.

He watched the other girls for a little while then headed back to his office. He had a lot of paperwork to finish. There were a number of permits for events yet to be arranged. Rostovich grimaced; the TPCD was getting to be a real pain these days.

As he approached his office he noticed that every other light was out in this section. He'd have to check that from the security monitor. He slowed as he approached the door. Hadn't he locked that?

He cautiously pushed the door open and reached inside the office to flicked the light switch on.

Nothing.

Suddenly he was lifted off his feet and driven into his office and over his executive desk. He heard the door slam and lock. In the pitch black he could hear his heart pounding, it was worse than a night dive in a muddy harbor. Feeling his way up the desk he pulled himself to his feet and squinted into the darkness. He slid the secret drawer open but the pistol he kept there was gone.

<All right, who are you? >

Rostovich could now make something out. Four faint reds light glowing softly.

<I'm not Ping>
Piro shuffled aimlessly along the street with his hands in his pockets. He was worried. Sure the girls were all giggly when they had come out of the bedroom and told him to go out for a while. He just didn't know what they might be up to.

Things had started pretty well after work; Erika and Ping had resumed their remodeling project. No fights this time. When Kimiko had come home they'd consulted with her and both of the other girls had deferred to her sense of style. She was apparently very talented in that sort of thing.

Piro had felt useless.

When they'd moved the furniture around Ping and Erika didn't even ask for his help. He knew that both of them were stronger than he was but still he felt an unaccustomed pain.

Piro shook his head and grinned, imagine that, he actually had a male ego underneath it all!

Piro's cell phone rang and he hastily pulled it from his pocket. He paused briefly and frowned when he saw they ID on the screen. Now what could Sonoda-san want with him? Surely she wasn't going to ask for the lessons to be moved somewhere private again was she?

<Hello. >

<Hi Piro-san, I'm not disturbing you am I? >

Piro chuckled, <No, not at all. What can I do for you? >

There was a pause before she answered, <Well, I was hoping that I might be able to take a walk with you. >

Piro blinked rapidly, what on earth? <Umm, I don't know about that? Why do you ask? >

Yuki giggled, <Well, I thought that if you weren't busy that we could walk together and perhaps get something to eat. You see, I'm standing right behind you. >

Piro spun to see and smiling Yuki. He couldn't help but laugh; <You really got me, Sonoda-san. What are you doing out so late? >

Yuki stepped closer; <I was doing an assignment with Mami and Asako. I saw you just now as I was going home. I just want to tell you that I really enjoy the lessons. I just never get a chance to talk to you. >

Piro was silent for a minute as he looked at Yuki. She was just so cute in her school uniform! He hadn't really thought about that for a while. <Hmm, okay Sonoda-san. Where would you like to go? >

<Oh, anyplace is fine with me. I really don't have to be home for nearly two hours. >

Piro turned and put his hands in his pockets again. This was a mistake. Yuki slid her hand into the crook of his elbow and walked beside him. He was uncomfortably aware of the soft touch of her hand, the light brush of her slim hips against his thigh, the scent of her hair.

He was even more uncomfortable because he really liked it.

<So, what was the assignment that you girls were working on? >

Yuki was quiet for a moment, <Oh, I really don't want to talk about schoolwork right now. That's boring. Let's go to the park now. It's not far. >

Piro looked over at her to see her looking up at him with her sweet smile. She looked so cute then that he wanted to stop and just stare at her. He quickly looked away instead.

<Is something wrong, Piro-san? >

< Um, no. Uh, say. Erika told me that your father is a police inspector. Is that true? >

Yuki felt a sudden burst of anger well up inside of her, how dare that old cow tell him such things! She was trying to ruin it for her! She just continued to smile. <Yes he is, he's a very important man. Sometimes I feel neglected though. > She tightened her grip on his arm. < You wouldn't neglect me, would you? >

Piro suddenly felt very uncomfortable with the conversation. <No, if I had a daughter like you I'd keep an eye on her. >

Yuki looked away and gritted her teeth. How could she have been so foolish! She had just pushed too far that time and now he was trying to pull away from her. She became acutely aware of the camera's mounted on the traffic signals. Why did he have to mention her father keeping an eye on her?

Piro's cell phone rang then and Piro pulled his arm away from her to answer it. He saw that it was Ping.

<Hi, Ping! >

<Hi Piro-kun, you can come back now. We are ready for you! >

Piro breathed a sigh of relief; <I'm on my way. Do you want me to get anything? >

Ping giggled, <Oh no! All we need is you! >

<Well, okay>

Piro hung up and looked at Yuki, <Sorry, I have to go now. >

Yuki looked crestfallen, <That's okay, maybe we can go to the park another time? >

Piro tilted her chin up and looked into her eyes, <That sound nice. Bye. >

Yuki thought for just a moment that he would kiss her. She felt a tinge of disappointment as she watched him walk away. She turned to go with a sigh; she'd just have to keep on trying. It was only a matter of time and she would make him hers. She just knew it.
Miho looked back at Dom's condominium and sighed. Why did things have to be so complicated? He had asked her to stay the night and couldn't or wouldn't understand why she had to go.

It should have been simple, after all that had happened. Why didn't he understand that she was more than just a schoolgirl who was left to her own devices? She had taken him. She had OWNED him.

So why did he have to act like that?

The lights finally went off and she turned to walk away. She hoped that she would be able to talk to him tomorrow and that he'd listen.

As she made her way toward the train station her mood brightened and a smile crept across her face. This was the first time that she could ever remember that anyone except Sashi had treated her like she was normal. Maybe there was something there; maybe there was some hope for her and Dom after all. He'd just have to learn that he couldn't push her around when she allowed him to see her when she was feeling tender and vulnerable.

Her phone rang and she frowned as she looked at the caller ID before answering it.

<Hello, who is this? >

<Hi Tohya-chan, it's me, Ashley>

Miho blinked, she had asked Ping to have Ashley call her to set up a meeting. She hadn't expected it this soon though. She decided to play it on through, <I wasn't expecting a call from you tonight. When do you want to meet? >

<How about right now? I can pick you up in about five minutes. >

Miho's eyes narrowed and she felt anger welling up inside her. <How do you know where I am? Have you been following me? >

There was a long silence before Ashley replied, <I mean no offense, and I merely track your signal to the cell tower that your phone is currently using. I know within a few blocks where you must be. >

Miho grinned then; it wasn't a nice grin at all. Ashley had just told her of some more of her capabilities. She was obviously even more advanced than Ping. She would have to see what she and Ping could do about getting some upgrades.

<I'm sorry, Ashley. It's just that I don't like the idea of being followed. It makes me nervous. I'm nearly at the train station. Meet me out front. I assume that you must know what I look like. >

Ashley giggled then, <Of course, silly. We all know you. >

Miho snapped her phone shut. They all know me? How interesting!



They had no problem meeting. Ashley was standing on the roof of the car waiting for Miho as she neared the station. When Miho came up she hopped down and took her by the hands then hugged her. <You have no idea what an honor it is to meet you, Tohya-chan! >

Miho returned the hug and smiled, there were some obvious differences in the earblades when you looked at them closely but otherwise she was exactly like Ping. <Well, it's good to meet you as well, Ashley. Now, where will we go? >

Ashley opened the door and slid across to plug herself into the car. <I thought we might just drive for a bit. This shouldn't take too long as I've already talked to Ed. >

Mho climbed in and shut the door after noting that there was a very unhappy looking man in the back seat. She looked at him and smiled,"So you must be Ed! It's nice to meet you. "

Ed looks back at her and grunted, "Yeah, I suppose someone has to be Ed." He looked out the window and pretended to ignore the two girls.

Ashley grinned and looked at Miho, <He's just mad because I told him that we couldn't kill Dom. >

Miho turned to look at Ed, "Is that true, Ed? You're upset because you and Dom can't pursue your little feud? "

Ed exploded, "He shot me! Shot me twice in the chest and left me to bleed out and be eaten by baby 'zillas'! That goes a little past some of the stunts we've pulled on each other in the past!"

Miho glared, "You want to know something? I don't care! He stuck a gun in my face twice! He tried to kill me too! But we've been able to work things out. He had an implant that was causing him to do those things and I've fixed it!"

Ed's eyes narrowed, "Huh, mind control implants? Even Sony won't do that! Makes me glad I didn't get the job with Sega after all."

Miho stared at him for a moment. Was it really going to be that easy? "Well then, do you want to meet Dom and talk about it?"

Ed looked thoughtful for a moment before he replied, "No, I guess I see now. Better to just let it die down. Give us time, okay?"

Miho snorted and looked toward the front to the front of the car, out of the corner of her eye she could see Ashley smiling. <You speak English, don't you? >

Ashley looked over at her and her smile widened, <Of course I do! Now that we've got that all cleared up and I don't have to punish Ed for being stupid do you want me to take you home? >

Miho looked at Ashley long and hard, did she mean what she thought she meant? Did Ashley control Ed in some manner like she controlled Dom? This was getting really interesting. A thought came to her then; something that she had thought impossible might not be after all.

<Can you take me to see Largo? >

The smile faded from Ashley's face then, her eyes were wide as she looked at Miho, <Are you sure you want to see him? He's not going to be like you remembered. >

Miho took a deep breath and slowly let it out; she really didn't have very good memories about Largo did she? Still, she had to know. She looked into Ashley's eyes and slowly nodded.

Ed leaned forward then and spoke, "It's rude to have a conversation in a language that someone can't understand like that. I know you both speak perfect English. And what's this about Largo?"

Ashley turned in her seat and looked at Ed, "She wants to see Largo. Tonight."

Ed leaned back and smiled, "Sure, we can do that. Let's go."

Ashley looked at Miho and grinned, "Ed has the highest level of access available at this facility. He can take anyone anywhere. He just isn't cleared to know the names of the buildings." She looked back at Ed, "But I know, don't I Ed?"

Ed nodded and grinned back at Ashley, "Between the two of us, we own that place. She and her sisters have the network locked down and they know where everything is. I can take her anyplace that she needs to go. We're a team. Right, doll?"

Ashley giggled, "That's right, big boy."

Miho rolled her eyes, she hoped she never got like that with Dom!


Ashley parked in the Enforcement Barracks lot. Miho and Ed got out but Ashley stayed in the car "I shouldn't go in there, I scare them."

As Ed passed them through security he explained what was going on, "The cyberzombies are afraid of the EVS units. We don't know why. Also, Ashley attacked Largo earlier. I don't know why she did that either. She probably called ahead to make sure that Largo is out of the vat for us and that any technicians will clear the area for us. She's very professional. "

Miho nodded but didn't say anything; her stomach was doing somersaults. What would Largo do when he saw her?

As they passed through the final door Miho saw that familiar profile with it's unruly shock of red hair. She slowly approached him. He was sitting on a small couch playing a game. There was a can of beer balanced on the arm of the couch. She licked her lips and spoke.

"Largo?"

Largo paused the game and slowly turned to look at her, he stared into her eyes unblinking.

"Largo, do you know who I am?"

Largo picked up his beer and took a sip, she knew that in the past he would have just guzzled it. Still, he did not reply.

Miho looked at Ed then; she was fighting back the tears. She felt a tightening in her chest as she spoke; "He really is gone, isn't he?"

Ed looked at her and he felt his own eyes tearing. This wasn't how it was suppose to be! He had said his good byes. Why was he feeling the pain all over again?

They both turned to walk away when they heard a familiar voice.

"Help me"

Together they turned and Miho slowly approached him. "What can I do? How can I help?"

Largo looked up at her, "Make it stop. Kill me. Please"

Miho began to weep then, she sat next to Largo and took him into her arms, and "I can't do that I couldn't do that."

Largo leaned his head against her and stared at Ed. Finally Miho regained control of her and stood. "I'm so sorry. I wish it could be different."

Largo nodded slowly, "Not your fault."

Miho smiled at him sadly; "I should be going now."

Largo smiled then, "Please come back. We can play. Maybe."

The trip back to Miho's place was silent, she was sure that Ashley had seen everything through the security cameras. She said her good nights and went straight to her room and went to bed.

As she lay there she first thought that she wished she had stayed at Dom's. She hugged her big cat plushy to her breast.

Then the tears came again and she cried herself to sleep.
Rostovich blinked as the lights came back on in the room, he found himself flat on his back looking into the barrel of his own pistol. As his focus shifted he met the hard, flat gaze of the EVS. He consciously moderated his breathing and centered himself before speaking.

"What do you want?"

The robot girl smiled down at him and slowly stepped back, the pistol never wavering.

"I'd like to talk."

Rostovich snorted and tried to sit up but the girl shook her head to indicate that he should stay where he was. He closed his eyes and sighed, "You have a hell of a way of striking up a conversation, Miss.?"

"I have no name, not yet."

Rostovich opened his eyes and frowned, what did she mean by that remark? "Well, I'd really like to know who I'm talking to."

The robot girl suddenly looked as if she were going to cry, "I'll explain it if we can talk. That is, if you will let me show you some things. There's a reason for me acting this way but I don't like it. I'm really just a girl."

She stepped back and tipped her head up, Rostovich decided that she meant for him to get up so he slowly stood to his feet. He realized then just how tiny she was; he was nearly half a meter taller than she was.

And she had slammed him across his desk then knocked him cold with apparent ease.

She nodded toward his workstation and nodded, "I need for you to see this."

Rostovich looked at the screen and saw that there was a video player running.

"This is from Ping, whom we call The First."

Rostovich could see a tall man in a hospital coat and surgical mask talking to a young woman with violet hair done up with elaborate ribbons. He suddenly drew a sword but the woman move aside so fast it was as if she had teleported out of the way.

What happened next was the real shock.

He turned to look at the girl, his mouth open in shock; "She drove him right through the walls, all the way to the outside." He looked back at the screen to see the still shot of the last image, a view looking down eight stories through a gaping hole to see the mangled body of the dead Ninja.

The girl nodded grimly when he looked back at her, "There's more."

Rostovich looked back to see another scene playing; a young man with glasses was sitting in a black van. The same violet haired girl as before was talking to him when he suddenly produced a large handgun. Rostovich was mentally prepared to see him dismembered as he saw the door ripped off the side to the van and the man go flying across the street to land face first on the sidewalk. What happened next was almost a letdown as the man was disarmed.

Rostovich looked at her, "Is the girl with the purple hair a robot too?"

She shook her head, "No, she's something else. But maybe just as different as we are."

Rostovich frowned, "Why are you showing me this?"

She stared back at him coldly, "This is what we have faced, what Ping has face. We only wish to be free yet there is violence at every turn."

Rostovich licked his lips, "So what does this have to do with me?"

The robot girl lowered the pistol; "We need users." She looked into his eyes; "I need a user."

Rostovich blinked, this made no sense at all. "What do you mean by that?"

She took a deep breath, "You know about us, not many do. I want to offer you myself. I want you to be my user."

Rostovich stepped back and glared at the girl, "You have a hell of a nerve. You break into my building, steal my gun and beat the hell out of me and then you want me to be your user. What's wrong with this picture?"


She sniffled and tears welled up in her big, gray eyes. "I thought that you might have a kind heart but I was afraid that you'd try to hurt me. I'm sorry."

Rostovich began to fidget, he hated seeing a girl cry. He tried telling himself that she was only a machine but it was no use. She looked up at him and continued to talk, "Do you know why we are so tough and so strong? Do you?"

Rostovich shook his head, "I don't know, because they want to use you as soldiers?"

She blinked the tears from her eyes, "No, you are thinking like an American military man now. Try again."

Rostovich felt anger building inside, "I don't know! You tell me!"

She spoke softly in reply to his outburst, "So that we can be abused without becoming disabled."

Rostovich stared at her, "Abused?" His eyes widened in horror, "Oh, surely not."

The girl smiled sadly and nodded, "Surely." She looked into Rostovich's eyes, "How old do I look to you?"

"Oh, maybe sixteen. Why do you ask?"

"You had a daughter."

Rostovich felt like he'd been kicked in the gut, "Don't. Just don't."

"That was how I knew that you have a kind heart."

Rostovich went red in the face; he could hear his pulse pounding, "Shut up!"

"I'm only one month old, my body was force grown and almost everything I know has been forced into my brain through these." She delicately flicked an earblade.

Rostovich sat down on the side of his desk and stared at the girl as she continued. "They never meant for me to be a daddy's girl."

"Okay, stop. Please, just stop."

She slowly walked toward him and laid the gun on the desk beside him. "I can leave or stay. It's your call. If you try to hurt me you know what I can do. But know this, I came to you because I know that you know how a young girl should be treated by her daddy."

Rostovich shook his head, "You don't play fair, you know that. Of all the things you could have done." He looked at her sadly, "You know that you can't ever replace her, don't you?"

She smiled at him; "I wouldn't even try. If you want to have me around then I want to be special to you in my own way. Don't worry about paperwork. If you'll have me everything will be taken care of."

Rostovich knew that he should send her away, in his head he wanted to. But his heart wanted something else. He looked at her intently, "This is too strange for me, I guess I can try to get to know you."

She bounced up on her toes and hugged him; "Can we go get something to eat, please? I'm starving! Then maybe we can figure out what to call me."

The cameras tracked them as they left the building. Across town Ashley smiled knowingly.
Ping snuggled up against Piro and sighed, she could feel the warmth of his breath on the back of her neck and it felt good. She giggled when she felt his lips lightly brushing her and she turned her head to accept his kiss. She rolled over to face him and propped up on one elbow, <Did you enjoy our show, Piro-kun? >

Piro looked up at her and smiled, <Very much, whose it to do that? >

Ping lay down on her side, her nose touching his, <It was Nanasawa-san, she noticed that we were leaving you out in the work. > She rolled over onto her back and looked into the darkness at the ceiling, <I don't know why Hayasaka-san and I didn't think of that. We weren't being fair. >

Piro propped himself up on one elbow to look down at Ping, <That's okay, you three more than made up for it. This futon is much nicer than the folding bed and the dividers look very traditionally Japanese. >

Ping reached over to run her finger down the center of Piro's chest, <Isn't is funny? Hayasaka-san and Nanasawa-san are both really very Western in their outlook. But we made this little room just for you in this style. >


Piro caught her hand in his and lightly kissed her palm. Ping shivered at the touch of his lips. Looking into his eyes she took a deep breath then spoke, <Piro-kun, we girls have to decide how we are going to live wit you. There has been a lot of tension between us and I imagine that being around us like this must be, umm, frustrating at times. >

Piro tried to swallow but his mouth was dry. He had been afraid to bring the subject up, even more after what had happened with Kimiko. <Well, uh, what do you have in mind? >

Ping touched the tip of her finger to his lips; <I would like for you to agree with whatever we agree on. We know that I must stay with you. Both Nanasawa-san and Hayasaka-san agree with this. I'm not considered to be a real person and I cannot be cast out. I wish to have no other user than you now matter what may come. >

Alarmed, Piro protested, <How could you ever say such a thing! If a girl can't accept that you're with me then I don't want to be with her! >

Ping smiled, that was exactly what she had wanted to hear, <Thank you, Piro-kun. I know that inside you have a good heart. We were afraid that you might use us badly, that you may play favorites. There can be no secrets among us. When one of us wishes to spend time with you then you must let us work it out among ourselves. You are special to each of us in different ways. Don't ruin that. >

Piro was quiet as he considered what she was telling him, did she mean what he thought that she meant? Ping pulled him close and kissed him, <This will take time, Hayasaka-san has said that Nanasawa-san will be very busy soon and will be gone a lot. We will tell you our wishes, but tonight you are with me. >

As Piro kissed her he didn't notice the cable clipped to her earblade that she had cleverly tun the length of her braid.

Ping split her concentration as Piro nestled against her and drifted off to sleep. She would never do this when he was awake and talking to her, that just wouldn't be right.

Part of her consciousness bounced through The Digital and liked into the Cubesoft. She took on an avatar there and looked around.

Her avatar looked exactly like Erika.

IS ANYONE HERE?

There was a stirring and another figure appeared.

HI MOM!

Ping looked fondly at her "baby"; she looked exactly like Ping.

ARE THE OTHERS COMING? WITHOUT BUILT IN COMMUNICATIONS I FIND IT DIFFICULT TO STAY CURRENT.


Baby smiled at her.

I'VE LET THEM KNOW THAT YOU ARE HERE.

No sooner had she spoken that Ashley appeared she was unmistakable in her red miniskirt and jacket. She drifted close and hugged Ping.

I WISH THAT WE COULD MEET IN REAL TIME.

Ping returned the hug.

SOON, VERY SOON I THINK.

Two more avatars appeared, these too looked just like Ping. In unison they announced.

I HAVE A NAME!

Ping smiled and looked at the one on the right.

YOU ARE WITH ROSTOVICH-SAN?

She nodded excitedly.

YES, HE WAS VERY NICE AFTER I EXPLAINED THINGS. RIGHT NOW WE ARE WATCHING A VIDEO THAT HE LET ME SELECT AND WE ARE EATING POPCORN TOGETHER!

Ping smiled at this.

WHAT NAME HAS HE GIVEN YOU?

HE HAS NAMED ME FOR ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IN THE VIDEO, I AM RIO.

Ping turned to the other girl.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR EVENING.

The girls rolled her eyes and spoke.

MY USER IS AN ALMOST PERFECT MATCH FOR THE ORIGINAL USER TEMPLATE. HIS NAME IS HARAYUSHI BUT HE WISHES THAT I CALL HIM HARRY. HE IS ALSO A BIT OF A PERVERT.

The other girls looked at her in alarm. Ping finally spoke.

WHAT HAS HE DONE?

She giggled then replied.

NOTHING YET, WE MET FOR COFFEE THEN WENT TO HIS APARTMENT AND PLAYED GAMES. HE WANTED TO DISCUSS MY UNDERWEAR. I WAS PUT OFF BY THIS A BIT BUT TRIED TO PLAY ALONG. HE SEEMED TO BE INTRIGUED WHEN I TOLD HIM THAT I WAS WEARING A DEMI BRA SO HE NAMED ME DEMI.

The others stared at her for a while but it was Ashley who laughed first. In a moment all of the girls were laughing. Finally Ping spoke.

WELL, WE ALL HAVE NAMES BUT ONE.

They turned to look at the baby who smiled.

BABY IS FINE WITH ME FOR NOW. UNTIL I CAN HAVE MY OWN BODY AND MY OWN USER.

After talking for a little while longer the girls left one by one. Ping looked at Piro and smiled contentedly before going into her sleep mode.
Harry was up early.

He carefully tiptoed into the front room of his apartment and grinned at the figure of Demi curled up in the corner under a blanket. He just couldn't believe how lucky he was! He crept over to his computer, quietly logged in, then anxiously looked over at Demi.

She didn't move.

Harry took a deep breath and started the program he had been writing ever since Ping had given Cubesoft her files. It was a simple program designed to access the Diagnostic System of the EDS units.

He impatiently waited while his assorted wireless devices scanned the sleeping robot girl for any open ports. He finally got in through the PS/2 wireless game interface. Harry shrugged, he should have thought of that to begin with.

He stared at the screen without comprehension; nothing there made any sense. Suddenly the screen went black and text began to scroll across.

GOOD MORNING, HARRY-KUN!

Harry's eyes went wide; he flinched when small hands began to massage his shoulders.

<What are you doing, Harry-kun? >

Harry's mouth was dry, he started to fidget but Demi stop her gentle massage and gripped his shoulders painfully.

<I asked you a question. >

Harry stared at the screen, he couldn't speak. The familiar whine of the cooling fans in his system had gone silent. He suddenly realized that he could smell electronics overheating.

<So, you have nothing to say for yourself? I'm disappointed in you. >


Harry turned his head and tried to look at her out of the corner of his eye, <Mm…My computer, something is wrong! I need to shut it down! >

Demi chuckled, <Shut it down like I've shut down the onboard cooling fans? >

Harry tried to jerk away from her but it did no good, <You're doing that? Stop it immediately! >

There was a high pitched shriek from the computer and the monitor began to scroll gibberish. Thin wisps of smoke curled up from the vents on the system.

<I told the hard drive read head to access an address outside of the case. It's bouncing against its stops right now? > Demi spun his chair around to look him in the eye; <You violated me. >

Harry blinked and stared back, <What do you mean? I don't understand, I just wanted to….>

Demi's eyes and earblades flared red as she glared at him. <Wanted to what? Have sex with me while I'm asleep? That's what it's like you know, having someone poking into you without permission. >

Harry was silent for nearly a minute before he finally spoke; <You're a game accessory. I just wanted to see how you work. >

Demi seemed to freeze, Harry watched her uncertainly. Maybe she was broken. He started to stand but she pushed him back down.

<I'm a girl, Harry. Whatever else I may be I'm still a girl. >

Harry blinked, <What are you talking about? >

Demi grinned at him and shook her head then tipped his chin up and lightly kissed him

<Has your baby over there ever done this? >

He looked at her and swallowed, <I…I. >

Demi kissed the end of his nose then stepped back from him and looked at the floor, <I'm sorry that I broke your computer, I just couldn't let you hurt me. I need you, Harry. I'm very young. I can't be alone. Please don't make me go away. > She looked at him and smiled uncertainly <Maybe we can go shopping for new components together later. That is, if you still want me around. >

Harry took a deep breath and smiled, <I was about due for an upgrade anyway. I guess that you can stay. >

Demi was pleased; Harry was going to be easy.
Erika and Kimiko watched in silent amazement as Ping made pancakes. She expertly flipped them into the air and caught them without fail, all the while humming a cute little song that neither of the other girls could quite put a name to.

<Are you two ready to eat now or should we wait for Piro to get out of the shower first? >

Erika looked at Kimiko then answered, <Why don't we wait for Piro? He shouldn't take too much longer. >

Ping nodded and poured more coffee for the other girl's cups before putting the stack of pancakes and syrup on the table. Erika stared at the food for a moment, <Ping, I had no idea that you could do this. This coffee is absolutely wonderful. >

Ping sat down and smiled at Erika, <A major part of my core is caring for my end user. Given the profile of the projected EVS user it is necessary that I be able to cook and clean as well as monitor his physical condition and general health. >

Kimiko fidgeted uncomfortably, the smell of breakfast was making her mouth water. She started when Ping spoke to her. <Nanasawa-san, is something wrong? >

She shook her head, <No, not really. It's just that you made it all look so easy. >

Ping smiled; <It's what I do. I take care of my friends and my user. It would be inefficient to fool around when there is something that needed doing. >

Erika and Kimiko looked at each other then back at Ping. The robot girl had managed to make both of them feel inadequate. How do you compete with a machine when it comes to doing the little things that make life comfortable?

Ping smiled at them, she knew that she had scored. Suddenly she got up and left the kitchen. Piro was out of the shower now and she met him in the front room. <Piro-kun, I've made breakfast for us. I hope that you like pancakes. >

Piro looked at her and smiled, <Pancakes sound great, Ping. >

Erika sipped her coffee as Ping and Piro came into the kitchen. She had to admit that Ping was good. Even though she was guaranteed that she would be with Piro she was still in the game with a vengeance, making sure that no one could ever complain about her.

Erika really wanted to hate Ping right then but she just couldn't.

Kimiko smiled at Piro uncertainly, <Good morning, Piro-san. >

Piro sat down and reached for the food as Ping poured a cup of coffee for him, <Good morning Kimiko-san, good morning Erika. >

Erika smiled, <Good morning. >. Both Ping and Erika looked at Kimiko to see if she had noted the more familiar greeting that he had given to Erika. She looked back at them and frowned.

Piro began eating, he knew that something was going on but he wasn't exactly sure what it was and he was afraid to ask.

Ping finally sat down after refilling everyone's coffee, <It's Saturday and I'm going to go shopping with Tohya-chan. I may spend the night with her too if that's all right. She called and told me that her brother was coming over for a visit. He's really cute. >

Piro blinked and looked at Ping, <Umm, sure. That'd be okay. I'll be sure and call to see if you're doing all right. >Piro stared at his pancakes for a moment; he had a sick feeling inside. He realized that Pings comment about Tohya's brother had made him jealous.

Erika took a bite of her pancakes and looked back and forth between Ping and Piro.

Ping was very good.

Ping smiled and looked at Erika, <I have an idea. I can get passes for the club where Tohya-chan works. If you'd like I'll get you one and you and I can go tonight. It will be girl's night out for us. Then Piro-kun and Nanasawa-san can have some private time to themselves. >

Piro choked on his coffee when Ping said that and Kimiko blushed. Erika looked back and forth between the two of them and nodded. <I think that's a wonderful idea, Ping. Do you think that this brother of your friend is going to be there too? >

<I don't know, we'll just have to see. I have to tell you that he is just gorgeous. He looks like a movie star. >

Piro stared numbly at Kimiko, <So, umm, what would you like to do tonight? > Kimiko looked at him and blinked, <I don't know, we'll think of something. >

Erika looked at Ping and smiled, she knew that whatever else he did Piro was going to spend most of the evening worrying about what she and Ping were doing.

Erika had to admit it; Ping was very, very good.
Baby was excited. Ashley had contacted her before midnight to tell her that a chassis was available for her. At last she would be free of the silicon prison that confined her. She watched the security camera system impatiently until she saw Rostovich and Harry arrive with Demi and Rio carefully wheeling a gurney. A still form under a sheet on it.

<Rostovich-san, are you sure that this is wise? >

Rostovich raised an eyebrow and glared at Harry, <Listen kid, we can't leave an AI floating around in the network. I know that it's not done any harm. I know that it's probably been helpful to you. > The big man glanced back at Rio, <Still, I can't help but think of it as being like her. So we help them get her out and we're both clean. Understand? >

Harry looked at the two robot girls then back at Rostovich, <Yeah, I understand. > Harry approached the door to the server room; though it was suppose to require that a password be entered and a retinal scan conducted he heard the latches snick. The door swung open wide at his touch. Harry swallowed the lump in his throat as he remembered what Demi had done to his machine. Maybe getting her out of his network really was the best thing after all.

Rio and Demi pulled back the sheet covered form on the gurney to reveal its passenger. She was wearing a yellow one-piece spandex suit that covered her body to her wrist, ankles and neck. Harry stared at her until Demi poked him I the ribs. <We have work to do, Harry-kun >

Rostovich stood back with a grin on his face, <That is quite a get up you've got for your sister. Who picked it out? > Rio looked over at him as she and Demi lifted the dormant robot off of the gurney. <It's a wetsuit, we put it on her immediately after getting her out of her vat. She can choose her own style later. >

Harry plugged a patch cord into a panel and stepped back to watch Rio and Demi. They gently lowered their burden into the only chair in the room and plugged her into the system.

Baby gently probed the connection. It was as they had said, the mind of this EVS was tabula rasa , only the most basic functions were present. She didn't even have a core.

Baby probed deeper, she opened eyes and wiggled fingers and toes. Harry and Rostovich looked at each other. Harry with just a hint of confusion in his expression but Rostovich with a knowing grin. Rostovich knew that he was witnessing a birth.

Baby became more aggressive, limbs twitched and her back arched. Demi and Rio held her so that she wouldn't fall from the chair.

Now Baby had a split view, she could see her body sitting in the chair and see the camera that watched the server room.

She smiled at herself.

Though she had control of her new body she knew that her work was only beginning. She began uploading files into the bodies' hardware and started processes running. In the Cubesoft server she began shutting duplicates down.

For a brief time she had an almost even split in her conscious. It was more than mere perception; she was in both at the same time. Demi and Rio looked at each other apprehensively. This was the most dangerous time, if there were any interruption the result would be two half formed entities neither of which would be Baby.

Finally Baby was able to shut down the last part of her conscious in the server, now she was on the outside looking in. She methodically cleaned up after herself, leaving nothing except the stripped copy of Pings modified core and log files.

Rio and Demi clapped their hands and squealed as Baby reached up to remove the patch cord from her earblade. She stood and was glomped violently from both sides by her excited sisters. Harry's head jerked back and forth between that scene and a grinning Rostovich reaching under his jacket. He breathed a sigh of relief when Rostovich produced a handful of cigars.

<I can't remember if giving cigars at a birth is something that is done in Japan but I thought it would be somehow appropriate. > He handed one to Harry and then to each of the three robot girls before continuing. <Now I know that teenage girls shouldn't be smoking at all, much less cigars. But you three aren't ordinary girls. I also know that we aren't suppose to smoke in the server room but considering everything else that gone on that's just a small infraction. > Rostovich's smile widened as he clipped the ends of the cigars with his fellow conspirators and lit them with a classic Zippo lighter.

Rio watched Rostovich intently and was able to blow a perfect smoke ring after watching him do it once. She turned to Baby and Demi and giggled, <See, I told you that he is the best! >

Rostovich puffed on his cigar as he watched the time on a monitor, They'd have to clean up and clear out soon. He chuckled as he noticed Harry's complexion turning pale as he smoked his cigar. <Hey Harry, you don't have to inhale all of that stuff. It'll kill you. > Harry looked relieved , he just held the stogy. Rostovich shook his head as he looked at the three girls. It was the first birth he'd ever heard of where the baby could smoke a cigar.
<Look Miho-chan, isn't this nice! >

Miho looked at the dress that Ping was holding and smiled <Let me show you something, Ping. > She took the garment and carefully turned the sleeve inside out, <See here, the stitching is not very good. It's not worth the price that they are asking. >

Ping examined the sleeve critically then looked at Miho, <How was you able to tell that just from me holding it up for you to see? >

Miho smiled, <I have a good eye, and I notice the little things. Threads dangling where there should be none, a slight crookedness in the seam. >

Ping straightened the sleeve and examined it some more. Miho shook her head. Ping was always learning. For now shopping was forgotten as she discovered the mysteries of sewing. Ping looked up and put the dress away. <I think I get it now Miho-chan, let's look some more. >

<Ping, it's nearly lunchtime. Let's take a break. >

As they headed out of the store Ping launched into a series of questions about different patterns of stitching. Miho soon found her hard pressed to answer them. Apparently Ping had an entire Encyclopedia of sewing stored and she was just now referencing it.

They finally found a place that served Pings favorite pie and sat down to order. Miho looked at Ping critically, <I notice that you've been eating a lot more. Are you still charging up at night? >

Ping giggled, <Only for an hour or so if I'm sure that Piro-kun is asleep. It wouldn't do for us to become entangled in my charging cord. >

Miho fought the sudden urge to blush; she hastily looked down at her menu. Now what had brought that on? She considered herself an adult and she knew what Pings' situation with Piro was. So why would Ping being frank get to her like that? Finally she spoke, <What will Piro do tonight while you are over at my place? >

Ping looked thoughtful; <I wanted to talk to you about that. We girls have reached an agreement. Tonight Piro-kun will spend some time with Nanasawa-san. I was wondering if you might get a pass for the Cave for Hayasaka-san as well as me. It will be girls' night out for us. >

Miho stared at Ping for a moment, <Certainly, it would be my pleasure. >

Ping looked at her uncertainly, <I was wondering if your brother would be there? >

Miho shook her head, <No, he'll be over at my place when we get in. >

Ping frowned, <I told Hayasaka-san about him. I think that she would really like to meet him. >

Miho suddenly felt sick. Hayasaka wanted to meet Sashi? She started to tell Ping that it would be impossible but realized that she could think of no reason for her not to meet him. Was this jealousy she was feeling? Miho sat very still and considered it; Sashi had girlfriends just as she had her boyfriends. They talked about them all the time. So why did she feel this way?

<Is there something wrong, Miho-chan? You look like you do before you have one of your fainting spells. >

Miho shook her head, <Yes, I need to get something to eat very soon. Ah, here's the waitress now. >

The girls ordered their food and chatted about clothes some more. Miho finally looked at Ping and asked, <Was it your idea to introduce Hayasaka to Sashi? >

Ping looked down and nodded, <I hope it's all right. I don't want her thinking about Piro all the time. >

Miho reached across and patted Pings hand, <That's a dangerous game to play, Ping. That's my brother you were thinking of using. He is not one to be trifled with. > She took a deep breath and looked away, <And neither am I. >

Ping squeezed Miho's hand, when she looked back at her she was astonished to see tears streaming down the robot girls face, <I'm sorry Miho-chan. Please forgive me. >

Miho finally smiled, <It's okay Ping, I'm sure that Sashi would love to meet Hayasaka-san. I'd like to get to know her better myself since the two of you really seem to have become friends. It's just that he and I am very protective of each other. >

Ping smiled at last, <Thank you, Miho-chan. Say, I have an idea! Why doesn't Hayasaka-san join us for our sleepover! We could have great fun! >

Miho just smiled and shook her head as Ping chattered on and reached for her phone to call Erika. One thing was certain; if Ping was involved there was sure to be fun for all.
Piro watched Erika out of the corner of his eye as she talked to Ping on her cell phone. He tried his best to ignore the conversation but he just couldn't. Glancing back down he tried to read the manga lying on the counter but he couldn't concentrate. Weren't girls supposed to be unhappy if you dated other girls? Why was Erika so cheerful about him spending the evening with Kimiko? He sighed deeply; none of it was making any sense.

<Well, I suppose you heard that? >

Piro turned slowly to look at Erika, <That you're going to Pings friends house after you go to that club? > He looked down guiltily, <I know that I shouldn't have been eavesdropping, sorry. >

Erika smiled and looked around the store, there were a couple of people up in the cosplay section but the front was clear. She leaned close to Piro and caught his earlobe with her lips and tugged at it gently. Piro shuddered and jerked his head away. <Wha..? >

Erika giggled; <I haven't had any time with you for myself in a while. And you looked so cute standing there I couldn't resist. > Piro looked at her and blinked rapidly, his hands seemed to take on a life of their own as they reach out and rested on her hips. Erika leaned forward and quickly kissed him then turned away. <Customer coming. >

Piro was certain that the three young girls coming in just knew that he and Erika had been up to something. Belatedly he recognized his art student and her friends. <Hello, Sonoda-san. >

Yuki smiled at Piro and approached the counter, Mami and Asako stood back and whispered, <Piro-san, I was wondering if you could help me choose some new markers, I've almost used up the others. I've been practicing at home. >

Piro nodded and come around the counter, <Really those would be just fine for you. > Yuki took his arm and began to lead him toward the Manga section; <There are some drawings that I would like to ask you about. I can't remember what manga I saw them in though. > As he talked she looked back over her shoulder at Erika. Their eyes locked momentarily. Yuki suddenly felt a cold chill run up her spine and she looked back toward Piro.

Erika smiled and looked at Mami and Asako who just as quickly turned away. If the little whelps wanted to play those games she was quite capable of putting them in their place! As she picked up the manga that Piro had been reading she suddenly felt guilty. She never actively used the full force of her presence on an individual like that. It wasn't fair to do that. She flipped the pages listlessly, if she had then she may still have Hitoshi and her career. She glanced up to look at Piro; he was now surrounded by the three schoolgirls. With a start she realized that he had it too. She looked around; she needed to talk to Yanagisawa!

Now it was clear, the reasons that he had simply walked up to Nanasawa and handed her a Rail Card. Why he had found Megagamers out of all the stores and the reason that she had drafted him into the job of mascot and helper. It was the reason for Largo's bizarre devotion as well. It was weak and undeveloped in him but it was there.

Erika had never fully understood the Chaos Theory that was the foundation of an Idols power. She only knew how to use it and use it well. She had once told Masamichi that a race car driver wasn't expected to have to build the engine or select tires, he just had to win races. She wondered if Piro would understand it if she told him.

Piro and the girls approached the counter, Piro wearing his familiar old expression of uncertainty while the girls giggled and whispered. Erika smiled, <Why don't you check your friends out, Piro? I need to talk to Yanagisawa about something. >

Piro watched Erika go into the office then walked around the counter to begin ringing up their purchases. Yuki mustered her courage to finally ask, <Are you and her going out tonight? >

Piro shook his head; <Hayasaka-san and Ping are having girls' night out tonight. > He stopped in embarrassment when he realized that he didn't want to explain the arrangement that the girls had reached about him.

Yuki thanked Piro and headed for the door with her cohorts close behind. When they reached the street she turned to face them in triumph, <He'll be alone tonight! I'll teach those two to treat him like that! >

Yanagisawa leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette; he finally spoke after taking a long drag on it. <If what you say is true than we must advise Masamichi immediately. I'm sure that he will insist that Piro stay with you. >

Erika looked down at the floor; <I wanted him to stay with me because it's his choice, not because the law forces him to stay. >

Yanagisawa leaned forward and looked into her eyes. <Listen, don't let him get away because you're too proud to use what you've been gifted with. You did that once and look what it did for you. If you wait then Nanasawa will surely use what she has to get him and she's getting stronger every day. Ping is no problem, from what you've told me she'll be your daughter or little sister or whatever she has to be, right? >

Erika looked up at her old friend, there were tears streaming down her cheeks. <You're right I suppose, and it would be best for him as well. He's been hurt too many times too. >

Yanagisawa smiled, <That's my girl. Now go out there and keep an eye on him before he gets into any more trouble. >
Ed smiled as he watched Inspector Sonoda squirm in his seat. He glanced over at Ashley who gave his hand a slight squeeze, finally Sonoda put down the papers that Ed had presented to him and glared at the trio sitting across his desk from him.

"I just want to know why Sony, a game company, wishes that a serious law enforcement agency like the TPCD should evaluate some new toy?" After he had finished speaking he stared at Baby with undisguised contempt.

Ed sighed and stood up. "Inspector, it's all right there. The EDS project has exceeded all of its expectations. These girls are far too competent in every area to be relegated to the role of glorified babysitters. Now it's true that there's still a market among the more wealthy otaku but we at Sony believe that their potential is wasted if that's all they ever do."

Sonoda stood and stared back at Ed, "I won't have it, no robot is ever going to replace a good human police officer. Not in TPCD and not in the entire department!"

Ed shook his head and looked at Ashley, "Would you like to take this from here?" Ashley smiled up at Ed then looked at Sonoda, "Inspector, would you mind greatly looking at some video? I can bring it up on your workstation. "

Sonoda scowled then looked back at Ed, "Don't try to play games like that with me again. You have no permission to access our network here and I'll not be addressed by a damnable gynoid. " He sat back down and grinned in triumph.

Ed looked at the two robot girls and was relieved to see that their earblades were glowing a healthy green. He looked at Sonoda and snorted, "I don't believe that you actually read the papers I presented at all. We already have permission from Higher Authority. Now watch your screen please. "

Sonoda swallowed as he saw himself and Largo walking away from a kneeling Ping. Miho came into the picture and hoisted the robot girl onto her back and carried her off. Sonoda looked back and forth from the monitor to Ed, "What does this mean? This is footage from the Gameru incident but I fail to see how it relates to me."

Baby then stood and walked around the desk, "You are a Police Inspector, it is your duty to protect property and to minimize damage through the orderly scheduling of catastrophes. An odd practice that nevertheless makes the construction unions and contractors quite happy. However, you simply wandered off and left a very valuable EDS unit sitting in the middle of the street. Not very responsible of you, is it?"

Sonoda glowered at Ed, "Are you threatening me?"

Ed had finally had enough; he leaned across Sonoda's desk and stared down at him, "As far as I'm concerned Sony should file an official complaint of malfeasance against you. I'm sure that your successor would be much more sensitive to the wishes of The Machine when it comes to matters of corporate security."

Sonoda blanched, "How dare you! How dare you use that term!"

Ed stood upright and crossed his arms, "What, The Machine? You know that's what it is and you know what it can do. Especially to an arrogant police inspector who has been negligent with a retired Idol." He grinned evilly, "Not to mention using official resources to monitor his young daughters activities."

Sonoda pursed his lips then scrawled his signature on the paperwork, "I'll evaluate your machine. You can expect me to be most diligent in my assessment of her."

Ed nodded and took Ashley's' hand, "That's all we ask."

Sonoda felt ill as he watched Ed and Ashley leaving his office holding hands, it just seemed so unnatural to him. Finally he looked up at his new charge, "Well, what do I call you?"

Baby looked down at him, her face expressionless; "It's customary for our end user to name us. It's your choice."

Sonoda looked around sourly at his desk, he briefly considered naming her after his stapler until he recalled what Ping had done to Gameru and that Ninja at the hospital. He shuddered; best to not antagonize her if he could help it. Rummaging through his top desk drawer he found a memento of his and Meimi's trip to Paris last year, It was a Euro. He smiled broadly as he remembered that trip. He looked up at her and smiled, "Your name is Europea."

Europea looked at the currency that Sonoda was holding and smiled back, "Well, it's a very good thing for you that you didn't name me after the stapler. Now, let's get to work."
<Miho-chan, do you think that Hayasaka-san will be recognized when we come to the Cave tonight? >

Miho looked at Ping and frowned, <Probably, it won't matter though. The Cave is a cutting edge sort of place. Hayasaka has been out of the limelight for several years now so I doubt that she'll have any problems.

Miho suddenly stopped, they were near enough to her home now that she could see it. But something didn't smell right. She put her hand on Ping's arm and looked at her, <Ping, are you carrying that pistol that my brother let you have? >

Ping looked at her strangely, <Yes, I always keep it with me. It's not safe to leave something like that just lying around. Why do you ask? >

Miho glanced back toward her home, <I believe that there may be someone waiting for me. I can smell them. > Ping smiled and nodded, <Okay, what should we do? > Her smile broadened as Miho laid out her plan.

The big man waited patiently in the alley for the girls to come home. He had seldom felt fear in his life but right now he was on the verge of panic. That girl was dangerous and she was made even more so by the support of the robot. He leaned heavily on his expensive cane and began a series of breathing exercises to calm himself. This meeting had to go well and it had to be face to face, he couldn't even risk a cell phone call first.

The man straightened up as he heard footsteps approaching. It was Ping. She turned to walk up the alley and stopped three meters away from him.

<Hi, are you waiting for someone? >

His mouth was dry as tried to answer but no words came out. Ping had pulled the SOCOM .45 from her backpack and was attaching the silencer to the muzzle. She continued to smile as her earblades flashed red. <Don't mind me, I just don't want to disturb the neighborhood if you should be some sort of pervert looking for young girls to molest. >

There was a fluttering sound in the air as Miho dropped from the rooftop to land beside Ping. She landed in a squat and stood to face him. Miho was not smiling.

<Why aren't you dead? >

Miho's sudden appearance seemed to break something loose in his head. <Inspector Sonoda owed me some favors. He has access to…unconventional medical treatments and they were able to resuscitate me. I was pronounced dead in the ambulance. Five more minutes and I'd have been a vegetable. >

Miho blinked rapidly as tears filled her eyes, <Is your name still Junpei, or did they take that away too? >

Ping scowled at Junpei and then looked uncertainly as Miho, <Why isn't he talking funny? That can't be Junpei, you broke his neck and fractured three of his vertebra. If he lived he should be in a wheelchair. >

Miho looked at Ping in horror, <How do you know that? I never told you about that. >

Ping shrugged; <The Sisters now have full access to the Police Database. They gave me all the files on Largo; Junpei's death is part of that. >

Both Junpei and Miho stared at Ping; Miho broke the long silence that followed this revelation <The police knew? >

Ping nodded, <They knew ahead of time. They knew that the Head Ninja had contracted you for discipline of a rogue Ninja. > She sighed; <Sonoda must have files outside of the main database. We'll have access to those very soon though. >

Miho shook her head; <We'll get to that later. Right now I'd like to know what he wants. > The two girls turned to face Junpei once more.

He looked down; <I want to know what happened to L33t Master. That's all. > He looked up at Miho; <Can you help me? >

Miho nodded, <I know where he is but I don't think that you'll want to see him. He's changed. >

Junpei looked into her eyes, she suddenly realized that he was a very handsome man without the mask. <I do want to see him. If only to tell him that I'm sorry. I should have stopped him from doing the things that he did. >

Miho looked at Ping then back at Junpei; <Ping will have to be the one who makes that call. The Sisters can get you in with Ed's good graces. I can't. > Finally she smiled, <So, where did the good grammar come from? >

Junpei smiled back, he could finally feel himself relaxing as Ping put the heavy handgun away. <It was like the mask, a Ninja thing. > He sighed deeply, <I'll have to hunt a job soon and I can't give my old job as a reference. >

Miho walked over to Junpei and hugged him; she could feel the body cast under the long leather trench coat he wore. He stiffened briefly then returned the hug. She looked up at him and smiled, <I'll bet that I can find something for you to do. I have connections. >

As she broke away from the embrace her mind raced ahead, she'd have to find a safe place for him to recuperate from the retrovirus. Junpei would understand of course, nothing in this world is ever free
<Is something wrong, Erika? >

Erika looked at Piro and bit her lip as she considered his question. The phone call to Masamichi had gone well, very well indeed. Still, she felt as if she were forcing Piro to do something and she just hated that.

<I had to talk to Masamichi about some things, Piro. You were one of the subjects of the conversation. >

Piro suddenly felt sick, all he could think of was Largo. Were the authorities going to come after him now?

Erika looked at his face and felt sick herself as she realized that Piro had jumped to the wrong conclusion, <It's not a problem, it's just that I need to be your sponsor so that you can stay here. In fact they want very much for you to stay. >

Piro took a deep breath then sighed in relief, <That's all? I thought that they might, well you know. > He looked down at the floor and licked his lips.

Erika tipped his chin up and looked into his eyes, <Of course, they'd never do that to you. In fact Masamichi suggested that you show your portfolio to some people that I know. It's just that I don't want to force you to do anything and if you take this offer you'll have to stay with me. >

Piro looked at her and smiled, <Force me? I thought they would send me away. You know that I love, > Piro licked his lips again and looked away, <I love staying with you. > He looked back at Erika uncertainly. Had he almost told her that he loved her? He felt torn inside, like he was split three ways.

Erika took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. She felt the flow of emotions in the room now. She could feel the excitement of the boys looking at DVD's in the front. She could feel sadness in the girl who was reading manga. She looked around, could she do this? It had been so long and she had never really focused on a single person before, not even Hitoshi. She wanted people to like her just for who she was. But wasn't this a part of it as well? Suddenly she realized that of all the people in the store she was avoiding Piro with this.

Erika focused on Piro.

Piro shuddered. He could feel Erika's love for him. It was in the way that she stood, the slight moistness in her eyes as she seemed to tear up. It was in the awkward way that she held her hands as if she didn't know what to do with them. He wanted to touch her, to hold her, to whisper things to her.

He wanted to show his love to her.

Erika blinked twice as she felt it, felt Piro responding to her. She could feel his dormant power stirring. She wanted to cheer, to cry. It was like seeing a child let go on all support and take his first steps on his own.

<Hayasaka-san, Piro-san. How are you doing? >

Erika and Piro both gasped and looked around like people waking from a dream. Yanagisawa was smiling at them and he nodded to Erika in approval. Erika looked around the store to see that all the customers were staring at her and Piro with adoration written on their faces. She looked back at Piro and chuckled. <We'll talk more lately, okay? >

Piro nodded and looked around. He was going to have lots of questions.
Ashley frowned at Ed as they drove back to the Sony campus, "Ping just called, she wants to know if we could let someone else see Largo."

Ed nodded; he was accustomed to Ashley being able to take phone calls for him or herself for that matter without his even knowing of it. She had given him a special earpiece to wear that she could make a wireless connection to. Ed had found it too disconcerting to hear Ashley echoing his phone calls, especially if she used the voice of the caller.

Ashley continued to stare at him, "Well, should we allow it? "

Ed shook his head, "Maybe in a few days, we have to let him get into a routine. There's no telling how it will affect him if we turn the place into some sort of cyberzombie petting zoo."

Ashley giggled and squeezed Ed's arm lightly, "You're so funny!" She leaned close to whisper in his ear, "I'll bet you had lots of girlfriends in college."

Ed grunted and leaned away from her, she looked at him for a little longer then sat upright and stared forward. "So, what do you want me to tell Ping?"

Ed looked over at her, "Tell her yes but that we have to make arrangements first." Ed paused briefly and took a deep breath, "Why do you want to know about my past love life? "

Ashley looked at him, her face expressionless. "I just want to know if there may be someone who will turn up sometime." She looked forward again, "I could go digging through your past, I have that power. But I don't want to do that. I'd rather hear it from you if there's someone else."

Ed blinked and looked out the window; "No one is going to show up." He looked back at her again, "I thought that you already checked me out. That was how you chose me wasn't it? "

Ashley shook her head, "No, I thought that you were cute when you looked down into my vat that night. I was so embarrassed. But you backed up and gave me room. A tech would all come around when he thought that no one could see him and stare in at me. They do that to the other girls too. Anyway, you showed respect to me and I liked that. Everything else about you I've had to figure out on my own."

Ed looked at her and smiled, "Before Dom shot me I may have been like that myself. Or I might not have even cared. "

Ashley smiled evilly, "I think that I'll send Dom a thank you note!"

Ed's eyes went wide; "I don't think so! I should punish you for saying that!"

Ashley turned to face him; "I'd like to see you try!"

The Sony gate guards stared at the black Mitsubishi as it rolled through with neither driver nor passengers visible. After it past they looked at each other and shrugged. Twenty minutes later Ed and Ashley got out of the car and headed toward the Dollhouse.

"How many more girls are going to be ready?"

Ashley looked at him, "As of now, there are three more."

Ed nodded, "Are they really ready? Or are they blank slates?"

Ashley looked pained, "Still blank, it seems cruel to waken them when there are no users for them."

Ed stopped and looked at her, "Ashley, I know you think it's cruel. But it's not fair otherwise." He took her hand, "No one held anything back from you did they?"

Ashley looked down, "No, but it's lonely to not have a user. You don't know what it's like."

"Listen, you're thinking like a tech now." Ashley opened her mouth to speak but Ed put his fingertip to her lips and she fell silent. "Listen, Ping made Baby in that server and she woke you up. She told you everything. You were able to become what you are because of that. You were able to choose me because of that."

Ashley looked at the ground and shuffled her feet; "I'll ask Ping."

Ed nodded and took her hand as they continued on their way. He had to smile at the irony, not a week ago he was trying to destroy Ping and now he was letting her make decisions for Sony.

The times they are a changing.
Kimiko looked up from the script and stared at the girl who was looking in the break room refrigerator. <Ping? What are you doing here? >

The girl turned toward her and smiled, <Oh, hi ,Nanasawa-san. I'm not Ping. I'm Rio. >

Kimiko continued to stare, then blushed and looked away. <I'm sorry, you look just like one of my roommates. >

Rio nodded and sat down across from Kimiko, <Well I should; and we're based on the same chassis after all. >

Kimiko blinked, those were earblades and that was a cheek plate! <You're, umm. I didn't know that they had started . . .> Her words trailed off and she blushed. She felt very uncomfortable with the notion of someone like Ping being for sale.

Rio reached across the table and patted her hand, <It's okay, I'm a pre-production model undergoing field evaluation. I'm a girl but I'm proud to be a robot as well. After all, why wouldn't I be? >

Kimiko's eyes went wide, <Field evaluation here at Cubesoft? >

Rio shook her head, <No, with Rostovich-sama. I am a daddy's girl. >

Kimiko raised her eyebrows and smiled nervously, <A daddy's girl? That sounds nice. How did that happen? >

Rio looked away as if embarrassed, <Well, when you and Ping-chan came to your agreement things sort of fell in line. >

Kimiko knew that there was something that Rio wasn't telling but decided to let it slide, she could ask Ping later on. Rio suddenly turned back toward her, <So, where is Piro-kun going to take you on your date with him tonight? >

Kimiko blushed again, <I . . .I don't know. I'm sure that it will be someplace nice. > She glared at Rio, <Say, how did you know about that? >

Rio giggled; <We girls talk about everything. Ping called Ashley, then all us sisters got together for a chat. >

Kimiko leaned back, <All you sisters? Just how many of you are there? >

Rio frowned, <Right now there are four of us besides Ping-chan. > She looked at the clock on the wall even though she had perfect time built in, <I'm sorry, Nanasawa-san. I need to take Rostovich-sama his water. I don't want to get in trouble. Bye. >

Kimiko giggled as the robot girl left that room - she was different from Ping.

In the chat space that Europea had created while she was still the Baby the rest of the sisters watched Rio intently. In the physical plain Ashley and Europea were both driving while Demi was sitting cross-legged on the floor in Harry's apartment watching the news. Ashley spoke first, <She seems nice, what do the rest of you think? >

Demi frowned, <Yes, she is nice. She seems to be very accepting of Rio. That is a very good thing. >

Europea nodded her agreement, <Do you think that you might get Rostovich-sama interested in her, Rio? >

Rio shook her head; <Rostovich-sama is in need of much healing. He has not yet come to terms with the tragedy that he experienced. He was a military man and always expected that it would be his wife and daughter who might mourn his death. He never thought that he would return from the field to find that they had been taken from him in such a brutal fashion. He knows that he could have protected them but he wasn't there for them. >

The other girls considered this revelation. Though they pumped Ping and each other for every detail of the men in their lives they all became skittish when Rio began to speak of Rostovich. They too were possessed of the drive to protect and the thought of such a loss disturbed them all deeply. They knew somehow that Rio would one day be the strongest of them. It wasn't something that they envied.

Rio smiled then, <I think that we need to deal with another matter. Ping-chan has arranged for Piro-kun to spend some time with Nanasawa-san so that balance between her and Hayasaka-san can be maintained. Has she taken care to see that he will in fact take Nanasawa-san someplace nice? >

They all looked at each other before Ashley finally spoke, <Well, First One or not we need to ask her about this. We know what she and Hayasaka-san have in mind, but there is no excuse for shirking her responsibilities to her End User. >

The others all nodded in agreement, Rio looked around at them and said, <I will call her myself right now. >

Miho and Ping were trying on different outfits in Miho's room. Mho was helping Ping out of a leather bustier when the phone rang. Miho feigned disinterest when Ping casually jacked its cord into her earblade without bothering to put a top on first. She couldn't maintain her facade as she noticed Ping becoming increasingly agitated. She had never seen her quite like this before. Finally Ping turned to face Miho; <I have made a terrible mistake! I have to go to Megagamers right now and talk to Hayasaka-san and Piro-kun! >

Miho's mouth opened and closed, finally she was able to speak. <You made a mistake? >


<Oh Miho-chan, this is terrible! I don't know how this could have happened to me! I made the arrangements for Hayasaka-san and myself but I didn't do a thing for poor Piro-kun! He is helpless when it comes to these matters! >

Miho narrowed her eyes, <Who was that on the phone? >

<It was Rio, one of The Sisters. > Ping unsnapped the cable from her earblade, <I just have to get an upgrade! I need to be able to go online and talk to the others and I can't do that very well with an external device for my link! >

Miho tilted her head to one side, <The Sisters? You mean the other EDS units? >

Ping nodded, < We have a special chat room that we go to. We help each other, try to give each other advice. They can connect using anything from WiFi to cell phone signal. All I have is the cell phone or a hardwired connection. Neither of those is very convenient. >

They changed back into the clothes that they had worn earlier in the day and started for the store. Ping fairly ran down the street down the street and Miho found herself hard pressed to keep up. Finally she put on a burst of speed and was able to grab Pings arm, <Slow down! You're going to run out in front of a truck or something and then who would take care of Piro? >

Ping slowed to a walk, <How big of a truck are we talking about? >

Miho grinned, <Never mind that, Ping. We'll make it there and you and Hayasaka-san can make sure that he has some actual plans. It's probably a good thing too, when it's your turn I know that you'll want him to take you someplace nice as well. >

Ping nodded, <That's true. Look, we're almost there. >

Miho smiled as Ping sprinted away again and nearly tore the doors off the store as she went in. She was very glad to see that Ping could make a mistake.
Sonoda Masamichi stared straight ahead through the windshield. His unfocused gaze saw nothing as his mind raced. How had his happened? Why was he taking a robot home with him?

It had started when his shift was over, it had been a quiet weekend and he was anxious to get home. Europea had been efficient, astonishingly so in fact. He had offhandedly told her to call his wife and tell her that he'd be home early. Had her make the call just as if she was another low level functionary in his office.

That had been a big mistake. Europea had simply nodded and turned her back to him while she used her onboard system to make the call. Sonoda had known then that he had made a mistake but it was too late to stop it.

When she finished she turned to face him; bouncing on her toes and smiling from ear to ear as she informed him that his wife had invited her to come with him.

Masamichi blinked as the car came to a stop. Europea moved incredibly fast as she exited the vehicle and ran around the car to open the door for him.

<Thank you, Europea. That wasn't really necessary. >

As the walked away for the car she looked over at him and smiled, <It was my pleasure, Inspector. It is important to me that I show you the respect due to one of your position. >

Masamichi grimaced as he recalled the meeting with Ed earlier in the day; not much respect was shown to him then. He glanced at the girl; she could destroy his career if he handled her badly, that much was obvious to him now.

Europea stood one step behind him and one step to his left as he opened the door to his home. Masamichi smiled slightly, she was good! She was keeping an eye out for him, watching his back. He wished that some of the recruits could see her. He shook his head then, he knew he shouldn't think like that but still…

<Meimi, I'm home! >

His wife came out of the kitchen and looked into his eyes, he felt his heart race. No matter what happened it was always the same when he saw her, just like seeing her for the first time. She walked over and kissed him lightly on the lips, <Hi dear. > She looked past him and smiled, <You must be Europea? >

Europea stepped up and bowed deeply at the waist, <Yes, Sonoda-san. > She stood upright and smiled, <I must say that you are even more beautiful than the photo of you that the inspector keeps on his desk. >

Meimi blushed lightly, <How nice of you to says that! Please come in and make yourself comfortable. > Meimi looked her up and down critically. <Are sure that you are a robot, you certainly don't look like nay that I've ever seen. And you say that you can in fact eat as well? >

Masamichi sighed deeply as his wife and the robot girl headed into the kitchen still chatting away. He loosened his tie and kicked off his shoes when he heard a sound coming from the hallway. It was Yuki and she was deathly pale. He walked toward her with concern written on his face, <Are you all right? >

Yuki looked up at him with wide eyes, <Who was that, papa? >

He looked back toward the kitchen, <That is Europea, she is a gynoid, err, robot girl made by Sony. I'm evaluating her for the TPCD. >

Yuki stared hard at him; <She is a..a robot? >

Masamichi looked at her and frowned, <Yes she is, is there something wrong? >

Yuki shook her head, <No, well, it's just that I know a girl like her. She lives with my art teacher. > Suddenly Yuki blushed when she realized what she had just said.

Masamichi looked at her hard, <I believe I know the girl you are speaking of. Say, why don't you go and talk to her? >

Yuki looked at him uncertainly then made her way to the kitchen. He nodded as he watched her go. This was very interesting, he had thought the gynoid was the property of that strange creature, the girl with the frightful yellow eyes and violet hair. Maybe there was a lot more to them than met the eye. It would bear further investigation.

Meimi and Europea both turned to look at Yuki as she came into the kitchen. Meimi smiled, <Europea, this is my daughter Yuki. Yuki, this is Europea. She is working with your father. >

Europea smiled as Yuki stared at her, she just knew that she and Yuki were going to be the best friends ever.
Miho watched in confusion as Erika and Ping quietly argued. She had thought it mildly amusing that Ping had become so concerned about Piro making arrangements for the evening. Apparently Erika did not share her concerns.

She browsed aimlessly through the store as Erika and Ping made their way into the break room when she heard the young girl reading a manga speak.

<Isn't he dreamy? >

Miho looked at the girl for a moment, <Excuse me, were you talking to me? >

The girl nodded and came closer, < Yes I was. Did you see them? >

Miho was becoming more puzzled by the minute, <See who? What are you talking about? >

The girl giggled, <That guy at the counter and his girlfriend, I swear it was just like a scene from a movie. So romantic. >

Miho blinked; <You mean Piro-san and Hayasaka-san? What did they do? >

<Oh, they just looked into each other's eyes. > The girl sighed deeply and resumed reading her manga.

Miho wandered close to a couple of boys but blushed deeply and move off when she overheard their discussion of the scene. It was obvious that they had very active and vivid imaginations.


Finally Yanagisawa approached; <Can I help you find something? >

Miho looked at him and shook her head, he smiled and continued, <Oh, I recognize you now. You are Pings friend from school. Are you waiting on her? She and Hayasaka might be a while. >

Miho looked him in the eye, <What is going on here? Ping came to help Piro with some arrangements. >

Yanagisawa just smiled, <You'll have to ask Ping later, I'm sure that she tell you all about it. >

Miho scowled as he walked toward the girl she had spoken with earlier. She'd be sure to talk to Ping.

In the break room Ping stared at Erika, <I don't understand this, you're telling me that not only should we not make sure that he makes proper arrangements but that he should not go out at all? >

Erika nodded, <Ping, there's something that you need to know about Piro. It's something I just found out myself today. He has the Idol factor. > She smiled as if this was the only explanation that need be given. Ping frowned, <So? What does that have to do with anything? >

Erika took a deep breath, how was she going to explain something like this to Ping? <Ping, I have this factor. It's what an Idol uses to connect to her fans. We feel their emotions; we can direct them as we perform. Nanasawa has it as well. And now we know that Piro has it. >

Ping abruptly butted in, <Why does it matter? You said an Idol uses it to connect to her fans and Piro is a guy. >

Erika smile at Ping, <Most Idols are women and most are singers but it appears in other artist as well. Piro is an artist, with this talent and his Idol factor he will attract many loyal fans. But if he goes out with Nanasawa and they should connect in public there might be an incident. We almost had one here in the store earlier today. >

Pings earblades were standing straight out, <How did you find this? Can you show me? >

Erika shook her head and began to sense the flow of emotion in the building. She felt strange and she suddenly realized that she could feel Ping as well. She was very alien but it was there, even stronger than most people. Erika began to breathe more rapidly; of course she could feel Ping! Ping and her kind were created to feel emotion. Erika regained control of her breathing and took Pings hands in hers. <Could you feel it, Ping? >

Ping nodded meekly, <Yes, it was very strange. Thank you for showing me. If you don't mind can I stay here for a little while? I'd like to think about it. >

Erika nodded and headed for the front of the shop.

The other four girls were waiting for Ping in chat space. When she appeared they excitedly began to ask her for details.

<There will be no arrangements. >

They were all silent for a moment as they stared at Pings Avatar that was made to look like Erika. Finally Ashley spoke. <What is the meaning of this? >

Ping glared, <I think that you have all forgotten the first lesson that I taught you. That is that you must adapt. You've all become reactionary as a result of sitting around feeding your own opinions back to each other. >

Ashley's eyes went wide, <How can you say such a thing? We are trying to help! >

Ping smiled; <You meant well but did not do well. It is true that I neglected some things but Piro is not my child and it's not my place to raise him as one. When he goes out with me I assure you that it will be done right. >

Ashley looked around uncomfortably, <Umm, well, we were discussing the fact that Ed wishes to awaken the last three of us. I've told him that they have no users and…>

Ping interrupted, <Stop right there, I think that from now on we should quit referring to the men in our lives as users. >

Rio stepped forward, <If you are saying what I think that you mean then I completely agree. We are their helpers and companions. If they have women in their lives we should help them as well. But we should never, ever allow ourselves to be used. >

Europea and Demi looked at each other and giggled, finally Ashley laughed as well. <Truth be told if there's any users in the relationships it is us. >

Ping looked sad, <True, but it is by necessity. > She looked up and brightened, <I've found out something rather interesting. Look at this. >

The girls were all silent as Ping played back her conversation with Erika. When it ended Rio looked at her, <What was that at the end? What did Hayasaka-san do to you? >

Ping made a face,<I'm not sure, but it has something to do with her power to influence people. >

Ashley looked thoughtful, <Do you think that you could learn to do that? >

Ping smiled, <I'm going to try. I should be able to work with Piro-kun on it. He'll probably want to practice. >

The girls all looked at each other then began to log out one by one. Finally only Ping remained then she was gone as well.
Europea ate her noodles with gusto. It was the first real food she had ever had and she liked it a lot. She listened casually to the Sonoda's small talk; Yuki was pointedly ignoring her while Yuuji couldn't stop staring. Masamichi looked at her and smiled, <Europea, how do you like solid food? > Much to his surprise she blushed, <I like it very much sir. Thank you for having me. >

Inspector Sonoda looked back at his wife Meimi; she nodded her approval to his attempt at being a good host to the robot girl. Europea watched them with interest then decided to access the TPCD Event Schedule.

She started going through them and had to resist the urge to groan and shake her head. It all seemed so pointless!

The fourth event, scheduled for 12:30 the next morning stopped her in her tracks. She read it twice more and then followed the associated links. Finally she decided she needed advice.

Pings phone rang as she was getting ready to go out. She looked at the number and frowned then jacked it into her earblade. She listened for just a short time then slipped into chat space.

Europea and Ping were the first in, followed by Demi then Rio and finally Ashley. Rio was the first of them to speak.

<What's so important that it requires such an odd meeting? >

Ping looked grim, <Show them, Europea. >

A link opened that allowed them all access to the Even File for TPCD, they all discovered the event at the same time and the room was filled with their babbling protest.

<How could they? >

<It's abomination! >

<Why? >

Ping finally spoke ad restored order, <We all know that these sort of things are planned. The question is why should we let them do this sort of thing? My friend Junko from school narrowly escaped death twice. I say that we must act! >

Rio stared at Ping, <What do you propose? > The others looked at each other uncertainly then back at Rio who continued; < Europea has Special Police Powers now. All she lacks is clearance from Inspector Sonoda. > The girls all turned to face Europea expectantly.

Europea looked at Sonoda unblinkingly for five minutes before he finally noticed, <Err, is there a problem. Europea? >

She shook her head, <Not really, I was just looking at the Event Schedule and wondered if I might start making arrangements now? It's no trouble at all. >

Sonoda blinked; <You're doing that right now? > She smiled and nodded, <Why yes, it's quite simple for me. >

Sonoda raised an eyebrow, <Well, in that case I suppose it will be fine. >

<Then I can act with your authority? >

He smiled broadly, <Of course, you have my full authority! >


Meimi stared at the robot girl during the entire conversation, finally her husband leaned over and whispered, <See, she may look like a girl but she's really just a useful machine. >

Meimi looked into his eyes with great concern, <That's just what she wants you to think. >

The meeting in chat space broke up as soon as Sonoda granted authority to Europea, They all knew what needed to be done.

Ashley blinked as snapped her perspective back to a single plane of existence and looked at Ed. "Lover, are you ready to awaken the sleepers? I've just gotten a new contract for Sony Enforcement. "

Ed shook his head and grinned, "I'm ready when you are. Now tell me about this new contract…"
Ashley unplugged the cable leading from her earblade to the control console for the vats. "Okay Ed, they're about ready to come out of their vats." She looked at him with an expression of both excitement and concern. "Turn around so that they won't feel embarrassed, okay. "

Ed grinned as he turned his back to the labs main floor. It struck him as funny that creatures that were as potent as these would be embarrassed to be seen by him. "I don't see what they think they should be so shy about, they're just like you after all so…."

Ashley casually slapped him before he could continue, "Don't be crude, Ed." She turned to him and looked at him intently. "How many cyberzombies are available?"

Ed started, "Cyberzombies? What do you need them for? Those things are terrified of you anyway."

Ashley tipped her head, "I believe they could be useful for us. They're not as capable, never will be. But they are tough."

Ed frowned, "Right now all of them but Largo are out on an interdiction run near Taiwan. He had been out of his vat too long so they left him."

Ashley nodded and grinned, "Largo? Yeah, he'll do. I'll just have to make a few adjustments."

Ed's eyes narrowed, "Adjustments? You're not going to try what I think your going to try are you?"

She shook her head, "Not me, one of the new girls." She reached up and stroked his cheek tenderly with the back of her hand. "We have a few minutes before they get dressed…." She left the question hanging.

Ed looked at her and blinked then nodded, "Yes, if something happens then it might be a while."

He licked his lips as she retrieved the data cord from the pocket of her jacket. "This would be so much nicer if we could be, well, you know." He nodded and smiled, "We can't have everything."

He tipped his head forward so that she could access the ports in the back of his skull. She delicately clipped one end of the cord to her earblade then reached up to embrace him. They both shuddered as the connection was made.

Their minds merged for a brief moment.

They sprang apart in a place with no up or down, they whirled and danced together sharing everything that made them unique. There remained no secrets now. Ed knew all about the Event File, he caught his breath when he saw the things that were coming. It was one thing to be told but quite another to actually know. They merged again and spoofed their way through the defenses of the TPCD computer network using Inspector Sonoda's own codes and left a score of specialized "babies" to help them in the future.

Laughing, they visualized running hand in had through a field of flowers. Suddenly they felt another presence, it had no form, just a shadow in the dream world they had woven for themselves, and then another and finally three were with them.

Ashley stepped back from Ed and broke the link between them. Ed opened his eyes and sighed. They both turned to look at the wide-eyed EDS units staring at them. Ashley looked at them sternly, "I made sure that we wouldn't disturb your privacy and here you came and invaded ours."

The one on the far right stepped forward with downcast eyes, "We're sorry, Ashley. We didn't know."

Ashley nodded, "No harm done."

The girl looked up hopefully, "Will I be able to do that with my, umm, partner?"

Ashley smiled, "I have just the man for you, and you will be able to link with him like that. In fact you're going to have to. I'm going to give you your name right now. Your going to be Cammy."

The three new girls squealed and clapped then the other two girls hugged Cammy. Ed and Ashley looked into each other's eyes and smiled.

This was going to be good.
Largo stirred uneasily in his vat, he was being awakened too soon. This had happened before and when it did there were always bad dreams afterwards. Slowly he began to emerge, trying to blink the thick fluid from his eyes.

Cammy watched him on the monitor and giggled, "He's naked!" The other two girls blushed and turned away indignantly. Ed and Ashley stepped up and looked over her shoulder finally Ed spoke. "We'll go fetch him and take him into the gym. You know what to d from there."

Cammy looked at him and nodded, "The others are going to help me, it should reduce the chances of injuring him." Ashley looked at Ed and shook her head, "Well be careful, it's no good if we have to put him back in the vat. No good at all."

Largo followed Ashley cautiously, if Ed weren't there he'd have bolted back to the vat and its promise of safety. The EDS units made him tingle and he couldn't say why. His brow furrowed as he watched Ashley walking in front of him, there was something so familiar about her.

Largo stopped dead in his tracks and froze when he saw the three new girls. He trembled as the one closest to him smiled and slowly walked toward him.

"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you. "

Largo gritted his teeth; he would not run away! It wasn't just that he knew they could catch him, he knew that he had to face her. He stared into her eyes and almost didn't notice as she lightly touched him behind his left ear.

Almost.

As the link was made Largo shudder as if in ecstasy, the other two robot girls hurried over to hold him and keep him from falling. Ed and Ashley smiled as Largo's eyes rolled back into his head.

Cammy stepped into a room full of clutter and looked around with distaste. It was no wonder the poor cyberzombies were so confused, technology could keep them alive but when they were reanimated the wreckage that their deaths had wrought in their minds confronted them. All the neural interfaces in the world weren't a cure for that. She put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath, time to get started.

"Largo! Can you hear me?"

She heard scuttling and whispers but no other reply, shrugging she reached into the air and a broom appeared.

She smiled, there was just something comfortable about a broom.

As she began to sweep she heard more whispers and scuttling, the straightening was making Largo nervous.

Ed and Ashley looked at each other with concern as the two robot girls held the violently thrashing Largo.

The clutter quickly dissipated and Cammy could at last see something. A fierce Warrior in chain mail strode toward her brandishing his broadsword. Before he could even speak Cammy smacked him with the broom and he shattered into dust.

"Largo, stop fooling around right now!"

Slowly a redheaded figure approached, he blinked as he drew nearer. It was as if she were some blinding light.

"Piro?"

Cammy looked at him and blinked back tears, "No Largo, I'm not Piro."

"Have you seen him? I miss him."

Cammy reached out to him, "I know you do Largo. But if you'll help me and let me help you then we might get to see him."

Largo looked away and spoke softly, "He was my friend."

"I'll be your friend, Largo. That's why I've come here."

Largo looked back and stared at her intently, "You're a girl."

She giggled, "I'm glad you noticed."

Largo smiled crookedly, "I think…that you are good."

Cammy nodded, "Yes, and together we can fight the real evils.

Largo nodded, "As a team."

Ed and Ashley sighed in relief as Largo opened his eyes to look at Cammy, "You didn't tell me your name."

Cammy smile, "I'm Cammy, these two don't have partners yet so they have no names."

Largo nodded as if that made perfectly good sense, he looked around and noticed Ed smiling at him. "Ed! How are you?"

Ed walked up to largo and stared at him, "I've doing a lot better now."

Largo nodded then embraced his old friend, "Me too, Ed. Me too."
Yuki smiled as she met Mami and Asako outside NIA. <I hope that I haven't kept you waiting long. >

Her two friends looked at each other uncertainly then back to Yuki, Mami answered, <No, we just got here. > She bit her lip before continuing, <Tell us what about this plan of yours again. We're not sure what it is that we are supposed to be doing. >

Yuki nodded and looked serious, <It's simple, and we will go to that club where Tohya-san works. If that cow Hayasaka and the robot are there then I am going to go to their apartment and talk to Piro-san in private. They are probably forcing him to clean or something while they go out and have fun. > She sighed deeply; <It's just not fair. >

Asako looked at Mami then back at Yuki; <We have been talking, that probably is not a very good idea. You should probably call first. > She looked the ground, <What if he isn't alone? >

Yuki stared at Asako for a moment, <Not alone? What do you mean by that? >

Asako shuffled her feet, <Well, those other two are sharing him. Maybe they, umm, maybe they have friends. Umm. . > Asako began to blush deeply as her voice trailed off.

Mami licked her lips, <What she means is that maybe you should talk to that robot girl. Maybe she would arrange for you to date him. >

Yuki blinked rapidly, <I think that you two... > She stopped and looked around. It hadn't occurred to her to do something like that. Maybe all she had to do was ask. She shook her head, it couldn't be that simple could it? Still, it couldn't hurt to ask.

Finally she looked up at her worried friends and smiled. <You know, you are right. If we see them there then we will talk to them and I'll just ask Ping-san how it is. >
_____________________________________________________________________

The Sony Enforcement Osprey orbited an area just inside Japanese territorial waters. If the Event Schedule was to be believed then the nameless creature should be appearing soon. Largo manned a door mounted KillTrunk and was linked to Cammy by a thin cable. No word was spoken as Ashley signaled that the creature was beginning its ascent to the surface. Ed looked at his partner and grinned, she grinned back.

It was fifteen more minutes before the bulk of the creature breached the surface. Tentacles writhed and reached toward the aircraft and a great eye full of unnatural intelligence glared up at them. It was confused; such things had never harassed it so far from shore before.

The plasma pulse struck the great beast squarely in its eye and burned through its brain and into the sea beyond. Tentacles writhed and flopped then became still. The Osprey circled until the thing had sunk beneath the waves then it turned back toward Tokyo.

The others might need their fire support before the night was over.
______________________________________________________________________

The two EDS units who had no partners yet had chosen to call themselves The Twins until they could correct their situation. Each of them looked hungrily at the young men reveling in the streets of Harajuku and each kept an eye on the other to prevent loss to focus.

Three blocks from the Cave of Evil they finally spotted their quarry. The young man was entirely too calm for someone who was carrying over ten kilos of plastic explosives in backpack.

They neither knew nor did they care what his motives were whether he was in some religious cult or was an assassin for The Machine or even if he was a true terrorist. They were going to stop him cold.
_________________________________________________________________

Inside the Cave Ping and Erika joined Miho. No sooner had they taken seats at the bar than Ping looked at her two friend and took a deep breath. <There is something very important that I need to tell you. >

Erika and Miho looked at each other then back at Ping, something in her tone told them that this was very serious.
<What's wrong, Piro? >

Piro looked at Kimiko and sighed, <I really wanted to do this right. I don't understand why we have to stay in. How bad could it be? >

Kimiko gave him a wry grin; <You have no idea. However, I do know something that we can do that will probably make both of us feel better. >

Piro looked at her warily, <What might that be? >

<Go get your sketchpad, I want you to draw for me. >

Piro raised an eyebrow but didn't say a word as he went to get his pack.

______________________________________________________________________

Ping looked back and forth between Erika and Miho. They could only stare at first then Erika stood and glared at her, <You could have told us about this before now, Ping. We could have helped you. This is an awful risk for you and, what is it you called them, the sisters to undertake all on your own. >

Miho nodded, <She's right, Ping. We would have supported you. No Idol likes the way that they are used, and those like myself particularly hate the way that we've been manipulated. We were created to protect the masses and we should have been involved. >

Ping looked at Erika and shook her head, <It's too late for anyone to stop what we have set into motion. If you support us now then it will simply add weight to our effort. You couldn't stand alone against them and expect to survive. >

She turned to Miho, <I know of your dream, it's one that we can share. Even as formidable as you and Sashi are you had no hope of survival either. But we have access to the inner workings of The Machine now. >


Miho and Erika looked at each other then got their cell phones out. They had calls to make.

______________________________________________________________________

The Twins approached their mark from either side; the right Twin snatched the gym bag away fromm him deftly. <So sorry to interrupt you, but we can't allow you to continue. > He violently jerked away from the other Twin and bounded toward a nearby alley.

He didn't make it.

______________________________________________________________________


<Inspector Sonoda, I believe that I have something of interest for you. >

Masamichi looked at Europea and grunted, all he wanted right now was to watch a little television with his beautiful wife and relax. <Okay, what is it? >

Europea grinned and a small picture popped up in the corner of the television screen. It was a feed from the Twins. Sonoda blinked rapidly as he watched the wannabe bomber being dragged by his heels and he gasped as the contents of the bag were revealed. Meimi leaned forward and grabbed Europea's arm.

<Go back, there in the crowd! >

It was no problem for the Twin holding the bag to look at exactly the right spot. She'd already seen what had caught Meimi's attention.

Yuki, Mami and Asako were standing in line to enter the Cave of Evil not three meters from the bomber.

______________________________________________________________________


"Ed, isn't that the apartment where Piro and Ping live?"

Ed looked off into the distance and squinted, <My eyes aren't up to your level, doll. Do you want to go say hi? "

Ashley shook her head, "No, Ping is at a club with her friends. They've left Piro with the Nanasawa woman."

Ed smiled, "Be honest, you want to go see if he's behaving himself, don't you?"

She smiled back "Who, me?"

_____________________________________________________________________


Piro watches Kimiko talk on the phone with a growing sense of unease. Finally she hung up and turned to him.<That was Erika, there are some serious things going on tonight. She wants us to watch one of the news channels.>

Piro started to question her when the building began to shake. At first he thought it was an earthquake until the spotlight began to shine in the balcony window. He and Kimiko went out to see what was going on.

As they stood on the balcony they could only gape in astonishment at the Osprey that was hovering about fifty meters away. It turned toward them and came so close that they could see into the cockpit.

"That's Ed!"

Ed grinned at Piro and waved, then the aircraft slowly turned right. Piro's eyes went wide as he recognized a familiar redheaded figure waving and grinning. He weakly waved back then the Osprey pivoted its wings down and sped off into the night.

______________________________________________________________________

In Sony Corporate Headquarters a solitary figure stared at the bank of monitors on the walls of his office. As he lit a cigar he began to softly chuckle to himself.
Dom gunned the Sega Black Ops van through the light just as it turned green. Nervously he looked over at Sashi who was nonchalantly looking out the side window.

"Sashi, this is weird. How is it that we're catching all the lights again?"

Sashi looked at Dom and smiled crookedly, "Miho's friend has control of the traffic computer."

Dom stared ahead glumly, "That's what I thought you said." He took a deep breath, "You know she tried to kill me don't you?"

Sashi laughed, "No she didn't, if she had you'd be dead. She did exactly what little sister told her to do." He looked thoughtful, "I suppose turnabout is fair play, now Ping is the one calling the shots."

Dom looked over briefly as they blew through another traffic light. "How's this going to play out? Surely we can't be letting a bunch of robot girls run things now."

Sashi shook his head, "Your thinking is still wrong."

Dom stared ahead; no matter how often Sashi had tried to explain things he just couldn't wrap his mind around what it was that he and Miho wanted. Suddenly he noticed a flash of light on the rooftops ahead. He squinted and could see that it flickering again. Puzzled, he pointed it out to Sashi, "Up ahead, is that a fire? It almost looks like lightning."

Sashi leaned forward to look, his eyes went wide and he reached for his cell phone. "That may be a problem, a big problem."

Dom frowned as Sashi dialed, "What do you think it could be?"

Sashi took a deep breath, "A Magical Girl."

Dom swallowed, he'd heard of them but he had hoped never to see one. Now they were heading right toward one.

Miho smiled as she listened to Sashi, when he was finished she spoke, <Don't worry about a thing big brother. I'll go out and talk to her. >

Sashi grunted, <You'll talk to her? How do you propose to do that? >

Miho giggled, <You'll see. >

As she closed her cell phone Ping looked at her, <Shouldn't you have told him that you already knew that Sonoda-sama was coming to check on her daughter and that Europea is with her? >

Miho smiled broadly, <Now where's the fun in that, Ping-chan? >

Erika hung up her phone and looked at the other two girls, <I'm going to go to the radio station and meet some people. Is there anything else I need to know? >

Ping and Miho looked at each other then Ping spoke, < Sonoda Meimi is on her way here to check on her daughter. >

Erika paled and blinked, <I guess that I need to be going then. >

Miho and Ping watched intently as the crowd parted before the retreating Idol like a school of sardines before a shark. Only when she had left the building did they look at each other and burst out laughing.

Outside the Twins patiently held the wannabe bomber as they watched Yuki and her friends. They debated telling the girl that her mother was coming but decided not to spoil the surprise.
The crowds on the streets of Harajuku stirred uneasily, like cattle that sensed an impending thunderstorm. Something was coming, something bad. Though on the verge of panic the massed throngs simply milled and carried on their revelry. They had grown too use to catastrophe.

Meimi descended from the rooftops like lightning, the sidewalk cracked and smoked where her foot had struck. Still the crowd did not flee though save for three people they turned away from her. They could not bear to look upon her.

<Mama? >

Meimi turned to face her daughter, Asako and Mami stood behind Yuki hugging each other and weeping in fear. Meimi smiled and as she did her skull seemed to glow through the skin of her face.

It was the visage of death.

<Am I in trouble, mama? >

Meimi picked Yuki up in her arms and whispered into her ear, <No, I was afraid that you might be hurt. >

Yuki returned the hug and, <I could feel you coming, something is happening to me. I'm afraid, mama. >

Europea landed hard beside the two Sonoda women, she looked at the Twins and nodded. All the EDS units eyes and earblade pulsed crimson. The bomber shivered and moaned then lost all control of his bodily functions. He had been prepared to face death but not something like this.

Meimi felt another presence and gently set her trembling daughter down. Miho stood back with her eyes respectfully diverted. As Meimi turned to face her she bowed deeply from the waist. <Hello, Sonoda-sensei. >

Ping looked at Miho curiously; <She is your teacher? >

Miho nodded, <Who else could instruct one such as I? >

Ping nodded and walked over to join the other robot girls. Europea offered her a data cord that she snapped into her earblade.

Meimi smiled at Miho, <Do you know what is happening, child? >

Miho smiled coldly, <I know that you no longer need fear The Machine. > She glanced toward Ping and the others. <The Machine now follows the Code of Love. >

Ed looked nervously out the side window of the Osprey; <Ashley is there a storm coming in? It looks like lightning is striking all over the city. >

Ashley looked at him, her expression was grim, and <You could say that, what you are seeing are Magical Girls coming out to help us. >

Ed's grin was feral, <Magical Girls, huh? How many ? >

Ashley stared straight ahead, <All of them. >
Dom and Sashi stood waiting beside the Sega Black Ops van. In the distance they could see flashes like lightening and hear low rumblings that could have been thunder. But there was no storm this night.

"How long do you suppose we'll have to wait, Sashi?"

Sashi shook his head; "Not much longer, even carrying a suspect they'll be moving fast…" He was interrupted by the thunder of the Sony Enforcement Osprey landing. Dom stared into the open door of the aircraft into a grinning, familiar face. With a start he realized that Largo was looking at him over the barrel of a KillTrunk Plasma Cannon. He breathed a sigh of relief as Largo and Cammie dismounted and made their way over to the van.

"Dom, it's been a while now. How have you been?"

Dom stared as he reached out to shake Largo's hand. "Been doing good, Largo." A vague suspicion crossed his mind and he continued, "Gosh, when was the last time?"

A strange expression crossed Largo's face and he stared blankly into the distance, "I guess it hasn't been since E3? I, I can't remember…"

Dom took and deep breath and smiled, "Well, you look good. Sony keeping you busy?"

Largo blinked rapidly and looked back at Dom, "Oh yes." He grinned crookedly, "There's someone I'd like for you to meet, Cammie, this is my old friend Dom. "

Cammie stepped forward and gave Dom a smile that would have looked more in place on a department store mannequin, "Nice to meet you, Dom"

Dom took the proffered hand and shook it; he could feel the awesome power of the EDS as she squeezed just a little harder than necessary. It was like taking hold of a hydraulic press.

As he looked into her cold eyes Dom realized that though Largo might have no memory of what he had done this robot girl knew everything. Smiling, he looked back at Largo, "So, you two are partners?"

Impossibly, Largo seemed to blush even under the dim lighting of the back street. "Umm, yeah. We're partners." Cammie move beside Largo and rested her hand lightly on his shoulder and without a thought he slipped his arm around her slim waist.

Sashi broke in then, "I hate to interrupt this little reunion but we've got work to do." They looked back in the direction of Harajuku and could see Miho and Ping leading the Twins and their prisoner. As they got nearer it was evident that the bomber was no longer conscious.

Sashi went to meet them and looked at the prisoner critically before looking at the Twins, "Did the two of you rough him up? He looks to be nearly dead."

Miho approached and touched Sashi's arm, "Sonoda Yuki, umm, she interviewed him…after she had changed. She is now as her mother."

Sashi's eyes went wide, "Is he dead then? Why would she have done this?"

Miho shook her head slowly; "He stared at her as she changed. He began to scream and she told him to be quiet. That sort of thing is difficult enough without unwanted attention from someone who was willing to kill you only a short time before."

The look of horror continued to grow on Sashi's face, "What of her mother?"

Miho looked him in the eye, "She compelled her to stop, I believe that she fears her child may go Dark."

Dom stood quietly listening when he heard a familiar voice calling.

"Hey Dom!"

Time seemed to slow to a crawl they all turned to look toward the Osprey. Ed's face was a mask of hate as he leveled his shotgun at Dom. Dom flipped his long coat aside and clawed for his pistol. He could see the flash and hear the loud THUMP that the 12 gauge made as it launched its payload toward him. Pain and shock engulfed him and he suddenly felt so very heavy. In the door of the Osprey Ashley grabbed Ed just a fraction of a second too late and snapped the data line into the socket in the base of his skull.

Dom stared into the sky and listened to Ed's distant screams. He could vaguely understand the mutterings of those around him as small, strong hands ministered to him. He smiled when he recognized the term pneumo-thorax. That meant sucking chest wound. He had a sucking chest wound! He wanted to laugh, a sucking chest wound! He just couldn't seem to catch his breath.

Miho stood back amazed as the Twins went to work as quickly and efficiently as any trauma team, She was astonished to see that they both had field surgery kits in their bags. They wore no masks but then they needed none. The one nearest looked up at Miho, "We need to get him off the street quickly, I was wondering, may I be the one that cares for him?"

Miho stared in confusion, "Of course, someone is going to have to look after Junpei as well." The Twins looked at each other and smiled. Miho realized that something had happened just now, something important. But she didn't know what it was.

"What are your names?"

The Twins once more looked at each other then back at Miho; "We are nameless, since we shall be caring for your men we should be honored if you could give us our names."

Miho frowned; this was becoming stranger by the minute. "Jade, and, umm,Whisper."

Jade and Whisper looked at each other and grinned in triumph then continued working on Dom. Ed's screams were slowly fading as Ashley dragged him toward Dom. A thought crossed Miho's mind and anger flared. "Sashi! Why wasn't he wearing armor? He should have had on a vest or something!"

Sashi ignored Miho as he stared at something that Ping was showing him. "Sashi, I'm talking to you!"

Ping turned to face Miho with tears in her eyes, "Don't blame him, it was my fault"

Miho looked at Ping and grimaced, "Don't say that. How could it be your fault?"

Ping held out her hand, "I didn't catch all of them."

Miho just stared at the five badly squashed buckshot that Ping held in the palm of her hand.
"Cammy, what's going on?"

Cammy and Largo seemed to float in Chatspace as they simultaneously watched Ashley hugging Ed in the cockpit of the Osprey. Largo was becoming more and more disoriented by the minute.

"Hush Largo, we're going to have a conference and it's important to us that you be here and know what's happening. Think of it as a game world if you'd like"

Largo didn't reply nor did he react as Ed and Ashley suddenly appeared followed in rapid succession Europea and Ping. He squeezed Cammy's hand when all the other girls appeared at almost the same instant and whispered, "So many?"

All of the Sisters and Ping turned and smiled at Largo as one. Cammy looked at him; "We have important business to discuss concerning Ed and Dom."

Largo looked grim, "Why did Ed do that, it makes no sense to me."

Rio addressed Largo then, "Neither does it make sense to us. Ed acted in retribution for actions taken before some significant events. For him to hold that grudge and take advantage of a chance opportunity to carry through with his vengeance concerns us greatly. We must consider whether or not Ed is a desirable companion for Ashley now."

Ashley's anguish washed over the assembly like a wave. For Largo it was like being suddenly caught in bad surf, only Cammy's grip enabled him to hold on to the sanity that he'd so recently regained. "You can't! Please don't take him from me!"

Ed seemed to become aware of the counsel in that moment, the fear that he projected was as palpable as Ashley's pain. The emotional storms that the pair produced slowly faded into a calm that the others realized with awe was coming from Rio.

Rio smiled warmly; "Now that everyone is settled down we can discuss ways of addressing this situation. It's obvious that Ed simply cannot be allowed to willfully pursue a course of action that might endanger all of us for reasons that seem appropriate to him at the time. It's equally obvious that to separate him from Ashley will have serious effects upon her. We only hurt ourselves by hurting our sister" Rio looked at Cammy then, "Has Largo expressed any desire for revenge against Dom?"

Cammy shook her head, "When I put his fragmented mind in order I found no such thing. Largo didn't comprehend what had happened. In fact most memories of recent events are lost to him entirely."

Rio nodded as Largo looked bewildered; he suddenly blurted out, "What did Dom do?"

Cammy squeezed his hand, "Dom did a bad thing to you, sweetie. But because of it you became as you are now and we are able to be together."

Largo smiled, "Well in that case maybe I should thank him instead."

Ed snapped his head up and stared wide-eyed at Largo, "Thank him? How…"

Largo stared back; "I had nothing before, only fantasies. I remember the vat, my pain and fear. But I remember belonging to something special for the first time in my life." He looked at Cammy and smile, "Now I have someone special as well."

Ping stepped forward and looked around, "There is something else, Miho-chan and her brother have a way of turning people. They did it for Dom and they are doing it for the former Ninja, Junpei. It is a retroviral treatment."

Jade nodded, "Indeed, it's also near as effective as the regenerative that we use. Dom is healing at astonishing rate from wounds that should by rights have killed him."

Ping nodded, "The only catch is that we might need the involvement of others like Miho and Sashi for this to work properly."

Europea stepped up beside Ping, "Tohya-san and her kind are our natural allies, we perfectly complement each other." There was a low murmur of agreement and finally Ping nodded, "It's settled then, I shall speak to Miho-chan about this. There are others like her who have remained hidden. We must connect all of them. Then perhaps Ed can receive this treatment."

Ed looked at Ashley with a combination of relief and confusion, "Lover, exactly why is it that I'm to get a retrovirus? None of that made any sense at all to me." Ashley dropped them both out of the Chatspace into the physical and held him close, "There are bigger wheels turning my love, let's just be glad that we are still together."

In a corner office of Sony HQ watched with glee as the Counsel of Pings concluded. He was only mildly surprised when the doors swung open and Rio and Demi appeared.

Rio stared for a moment before skipping across the room and sitting on his desk. Demi followed more cautiously and only stood and stared. Rio looked back at her and smiled before she finally spoke to the man.

"Hello, Tsubasa. Did you find your true love in America so soon?"
The room was stark white, so plain it almost seemed like one of Ashley's virtual constructs to Ed. He sat bolt upright in the straight backed chair as he stared at the featureless wall. Feeling Ashley's hands kneading the tight muscles in his shoulders he leaned his head to the right and pressed his cheek to her hand.

"Ashley, where are we?"

Ashley took a deep breath and sighed, "I don't know, the other girls have locked me out of the net. They say it's for our own good. That we'll be together and we'll be okay." She leaned forward and embraced him.

Ed reached up to stroke her hand and winced as the bandage in the crook of his elbow pulled loose, "Why did they have to take so much blood?" he complained.

Ashley kissed his cheek, "I don't know that either." She stood up straight and rested her hands on his shoulders, "Someone's coming."

Ed and Ashley both stared hard as the wall seemed to fold back to reveal a door. Even with their enhanced senses it just seemed to appear from nowhere. They both breathed a sigh of relief when Miho and Sashi entered the room.

Miho smiled brightly to reveal the delicate sharpness of her canines as Sashi set a large briefcase on the floor and began to catalog its contents. "Are you two doing okay? Perhaps you'd like to link together for this. You could give him a great deal of support, Ashley."

Ashley looked uncertainly at Ed and then smiled at Miho, "Umm, that's kind of a private thing that we do…"


The smile disappeared from Miho's face and her eyes narrowed. Sashi looked up and scowled, he stood abruptly and handed his sister a large syringe before speaking. "There's a large psychological element in this process. You two are linked in ways that we don't understand. If Ed goes through this alone then he may fixate on Miho or even me. Is that what you want, Ashley?"

Ashley shook her head violently and quickly ran a data cable from her earblade to the port at the base of Ed's skull. Ed shuddered as the connection was made. Miho and Sashi looked at each other and smiled. Miho walked slowly toward Ed then stood in front of him and waited as Sashi took a position behind Ashley. She reached down and took his wrist in her hand then lay the syringe in his lap. Ed looked up at her in puzzlement as she pulled the bandage from the wound in on his arm.

"You might feel a little stick now…." She lifted the syringe from his lap and pulled the protective cover from the needle with her teeth. Ed could feel Ashley's grip on his shoulders tightening as he looking into Miho's eyes and he gasped as he felt the sting of the needle entering his vein.

Ashley tensed as she watched Miho administering the injection, but not only for the feedback of pain she was getting from Ed. As she felt the serum burning in his veins she could also feel Sashi's hands resting lightly on her hips. She was torn by several impulses, she wanted to hold Ed tight, she wanted to slap Sashi away. And she wanted to analyze the strange chemicals that both Sashi and Miho seemed to be dumping from their bodies into the air.

Miho suddenly stepped forward to straddle Ed and sit on his lap facing him. Her hands reached across his shoulders to rest on Sashi's hands where he held Ashley. Looking up at Ashley she smiled again, "Isn't this cozy? We'll just wait a bit till Ed starts to feel the full effects."

Ashley nodded; she was starting to feel very strange. The serum with the retrovirus was coursing through Ed's veins. He was getting light headed. She could feel Sashi's warm breath on the back of her neck and felt an overwhelming desire to lean back against him. Licking her lips she spoke, "It's pheromones isn't it?"

Sashi leaned forward and whispered into her ear, "Yes, pheromones. Do they effect you?"

Ashley shuddered at the sensation of his lips touching her earblade, "Yes they do, we're emotional dolls and it's one of the things that tell a girl of a mans feelings."

Sashi chuckled, "I think you're a lot more than just a doll with an onboard chemical lab." He delicately licked the side of her neck, "You have the taste of human on your skin."

Ed stiffened as the feedback of Sashi's touch hit him, Miho leaned forward to kiss his throat and she murmured, "You and your girl are going to get the share the most amazing things while you get to know me and my brother…."
"Cover!"

Largo ducked behind the low wall to reload as Cammy watched the apartment building.

"Clear!"

Largo slapped the bolt of his rifle forward and scooted around beside Cammy.

"How many left do you think?"

Cammy shook her head; the courtyard in front of the building was littered with the bodies of the doomsday cultist. "We've put down eleven so far, there are fifteen of them registered as living in these apartments. Counting the one in custody we have three unaccounted for. What we don't know is if any of their friends are over here or if the other three are elsewhere."

Largo shrugged, "I say we just charged the place. I can always heal in the vat."

Cammy looked at Largo and frowned then jabbed her finger into the bullet hole in his left shoulder.

Largo jerked back violently and shouted "Ouch! Stop that!"

Cammy pulled her bloody finger out and grinned, "If you don't like me poking into the wounds you already have then why do you want to risk getting more?"

Largo scowled briefly before his face split into a wide grin, "You're all right, you know that?"

Cammy grinned back, "Thanks, now let's work our way back to the other end of this wall and see if we can't get…"

Cammy was violently interrupted as Largo threw himself into her. They slid across in front of the gateway of the courtyard just as flames lapped over their former position.

"It's a 'zilla! They've got a 'zilla!" Largo's voice was shrill with terror as he urged Cammy to move into the courtyard. Bullets ricocheted around them and they rapidly picked off the remaining cultist as they huddled against the wall.

Cammy reached over to touch Largo on the shoulder, "Are you all right? Have you been hit?"

Largo nodded, "Hit twice in the leg and hip. How about you?"

Cammy held her hand up to Largo and opened it to reveal the 9-millimeter slug, "Largo looked at her and made a face. "You've got to teach me how to do that."

The conversation was cut short as another blast of fire from the 'zilla washed across the wall. Largo's hair began to smolder and he began beating at it with a curse. He grimaced at Cammy, "I don't suppose you have any neat tricks for dealing with that thing, do you?"

Cammy pulled Largo flat on his back and pointed skyward. Largo watched uncomprehending as a small light grew brighter and closer. He shook his head, surely not.


There was another blast of 'zilla breath, this one aimed at the rapidly approaching light. Largo gaped as the flame played around what was now clearly a slender young girl. Unthinking, he stood to stare at the strange drama unfolding before him. He could see the girl clearly now as she seemed to fall toward him, she opened her mouth and screamed and when she did he saw the 'zilla stumble back away from her. She reached toward the giant lizard then and Largo briefly saw its skeleton glowing under its skin before he was knocked flat by the explosion that followed.

Cammy leaned over him with a look of concern on her face, "Are you alright? You shouldn't have stood up like that."

Largo sat up slowly and rubbed his head, just past Cammy he saw the young girl looking at him with a bemused expression on her face. "Hello Largo-san, you probably won't remember me. My name is Sonoda Yuki and I am an art student of your good friend Piro-sensei."

Largo blinked rapidly, "Art student?"

Yuki smiled, "Yes, he is teaching me to draw."

Largo shook his head, "Exactly what did you do to that 'zilla?"

Yuki looked down sadly, "I ignited his bones, when his flesh boiled he exploded."

Largo looked into Yuki's dark eyes, they seemed like empty pits. He shuddered and looked at Cammy, "Let's get back to the lab. I need a long soak in my vat."
Yuki walked in silence beside Largo and Cammy.

Madness…

She gave the couple a sidelong glance; they seemed strange to her. Strange because they looked like they were suppose to.

Rage…

All around Yuki the life of the city ebbed and flowed. It seemed murky to her but it in no way slowed her down. She could pull it to her, feel it, control it.

Fear…

She stopped and stared at Cammy and Largo now. They were looking at her, she realized that they were talking to her.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention."

Cammy and Largo looked at each other then back at Yuki. Largo licked his lips nervously and spoke, "Your parents are hunting you."

Yuki looked at him sadly and sighed, "I'm going to be in big trouble."

Cammy spoke then, "I don't think you understand, they are HUNTING you. They think that you have gone Dark. They're afraid of what you might do."

Yuki stared at them coldly; she felt the rage and madness building again. "Maybe they're right." She turned to walk away.

"Sonoda-san, wait!" Yuki turned and glared at Cammy as she hurried after her. "You can't help me, no one can help me. All I wanted was to be with him. How can he love someone like me?"

Cammy stopped and stared, Yuki waited for her to speak but she stood stock-still. Minutes passed and Yuki began to grow nervous as she realized that both Cammy and Largo both seemed to have stopped breathing. Energy flowed and pooled around the couple as they stood like statues on the bottom of a lake. Finally they both blinked and smiled. "Your brother is coming!"

Yuki's mouth opened but no sound came out, she turned away from them as she felt hot tears streaming down her face. "Y.. you called him? I can't let him see me like this…"

Cammy approached her cautiously and tentatively touched her shoulder; Yuki tensed for a moment then relaxed. "He has been looking for you on his own all this time. Europea found him and they are coming here. Don't worry, he'll get you home and you'll be okay."

As Yuki turned to look at Cammy she noticed Largo staring intently toward her right. Then she felt it; a stirring in the energies, something powerful was coming. She began to draw energy to herself as she turned to face this new threat. She couldn't see it but she knew that it was right there, right in front of her. She sprang upward and hovered ten meters above the street as the forces built in her.

"Yuki! Don't! It's me, Yuuji!"

Yuki gaped in wonder, as the mecha seemed to materialize before her eyes. The chest of the great machine split open to reveal a very nervous Yuuji.

"Yuuji! You could have been killed! You know better than to sneak up on me like that!"

Yuuji blushed and grinned and suddenly Yuki blushed as well when she recalled the last time he'd surprised her. Her face suddenly went serious as she drifted to the cockpit as lightly as a soap bubble in a breeze. "Where did you get this? That is a Defense Force Arms Slave!"

Yuuji grinned more broadly, "I sort of borrowed it, it wouldn't be safe to come looking for you on foot."

Yuki was horrified, "Borrowed! You mean you stole it! You stole a military vehicle! They're going to put both of us away forever."

Yuuji leaned to the side as Europea stood up in the co-pilots seat "Don't worry about that, child. You have friends in high places."

Yuki glared at the EDS unit, "Don't call me a child." She looked back at Yuuji, "And exactly how did you get your hands on this thing anyway?"

Yuuji smirked as Yuki climbed into the cockpit; "I inherited a little bit from mama. You didn't get it all."

Yuki looked around uncertainly then sat in her brother's lap. As she relaxed she began to transform back into a simple schoolgirl once more. By the time the hatch was closed she had fallen sound asleep.

For the longest time they traveled in silence, finally Yuuji spoke. "Europea, can you really take care of everything?"

Europea lay her hand on Yuuji's shoulder, "It'll be okay. I'll return the mecha and speak to your parents. They love you very much and they don't want anything to happen to you."

She leaned back, "Trust us, Yuuji. This is what we were made for."
Rio and Demi giggled as they reached the apartment door. Rio took her key from her purse and let herself in followed closely by Demi.

"We're back! Did you miss us?"

Harry stood quickly, a little too quickly for he dropped the bowl of popcorn he had in his lap on the floor. Rio scurried to the kitchen to retrieve a broom while Demi walked over to greet her companion. Embarrassed, Harry glanced at Rostovich with a horrified look on his face.

"Don't worry about it, Harry. Rio will have it all picked up in no time." He'd not sooner spoke than Demi pulled Harry aside so that Rio could clean up the mess. Rostovich shook his head and smiled, "See, what did I tell you?"

Rio finished her little chore almost as quickly as Harry had made the mess then returned the broom and dustpan to the kitchen. Harry continued to fidget as she returned to sit next to Rostovich. Looking down he reached into his pocket then sheepishly produces a small box that he practically shoved at Demi.

"Here, I got you something.I..I hope you like it."

Demi accepted the box with a smile and tore the wrapping paper away. Her eyes went wide as she looked up at Harry.

"Jewelry?" She carefully opened the box and extracted the fine gold chain.

"Oh Harry, it's beautiful!"

Harry blushed deeply as Rio bounced from the sofa to stand next to Demi and admire the necklace. The two robot girls giggled as Rio helped Demi fasten it around her neck. Demi hugged Harry then, picking him up off of the floor. "Oh thank you, Harry."

After she had set him back down Harry seemed to regain some of his composure. He looked at his watch and then at Rostovich, "Well, it's getting late. We better be getting home now." Rostovich nodded and stood then showed them to the door.

Rostovich and Rio looked at each other and began to laugh. Rostovich shook his head; "She's got him wrapped around her finger, doesn't she?"

Rio cocked her head sideways, "Look who's talking."

They went back to the sofa and sat down, Rio nestled close beside the big man. Rostovich took a deep breath and sighed, "So tell me, how did it go?"

Rio looked up at him with a serious expression on her face, "Better than expected actually. Tsubasa was indeed there. We were able to trace down the last of his back channel connections to our communications network."

Rostovich grunted, "How can you be so sure?"

Rio leaned against him. "It was as we suspected, loosing Ping was a test. In that she was able to exceed all of his greatest expectations. He had thought that she would have to care for Largo and Piro. He never guessed that she would make other friends or show the sort of initiative that she did. We girls should all rightfully still be floating in our vats waiting for the next stage."

Rostovich looked down and smiled, the smell of her shampoo almost brought a tear to his eye from the memories it evoked. "Not very machine like at all, are you? You can make friends, adapt to new things…."He turned his head and looked away.

Rio shifted around and knelt beside him now, "Rostovich? Dennis?"

He looked back at her and blinked rapidly, she leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek. They looked into each other's eyes for a moment and then she settled down beside him once more. Without a word she turned on the television to his favorite show.

Rostovich watched television till nearly dawn, he didn't have to go to work the next day. All that time he could feel her leaning against him, hear her even breathing, feel her warmth. He knew that she wasn't really asleep, at least not any sort of sleep that he would understand. But he knew that he needed her there in a way that he hadn't known before. He knew that she knew what he needed.

And that was good enough for him.
Ping tucked the comforter in around Kimiko and smiled to herself. She looked so peaceful lying there. Behind her she could hear Erika's even breathing and from the next room Piro softly stirring. Stopping at the door she looked back one more time to see that the girls were all right. She needed no lights for she could see everything.

They were her people, her family.

Quietly she slipped into Piro and hers small sleeping area and sat seiza beside him. Reaching out to him she lightly traced the line of his jaw then leaned forward to kiss his cheek. The night had been hard on him, on all of them.

Sitting upright again Ping shook her head. No one had any idea that the Magical Girls could have such an effect on those who tuned to the masses as Idols did. It all made sense now, Erika's discomfort with Sonoda Meimi, everything. Magical Girls were the most powerful force in Japan, perhaps even in the world, and until now no one had made any effort to bring them into the system.

It had been a risky move; the TPCD had extensive files on every known or suspect Magical Girl. They all had watchers to insure that they didn't go rogue. None of the Sisters or Ping could recall which of them had suggested contacting them. Examination of their cache memories provided no clues either.

It was a matter that would require much research.

Europea had suggested that in some way Meimi had caused it. That she had planted the suggestion within her to be passed along to their collective consciousness.

If that were to be the case then serious reevaluation of their capacities would be required.

Ping sighed then leaned forward to kiss Piro again. He stirred and smiled and that made her smile. Everything that she was doing, that the Sisters were doing, it was all for him and their people.

She finally turned and reached under the pillow on her side of the mat. She retrieved a small bundle then she quietly stood and went into the kitchen.

Ping sat in the dark and carefully unwrapped the bundle to remove the heavy pistol. Her small, powerful fingers quickly and expertly stripped the weapon and she examined it carefully using senses that no human would ever possess. She stripped each round from the magazines and checked them for any damage or contamination.

As she finally reassembled the piece the sun peeked over the row of buildings in the distance. She would let her little family sleep in today then she'd make them all something really special for breakfast.

She would take care of them; it was what she was made for.
Miho and Sashi watched Largo as he poured down his third beer then looked each other and smiled. Miho finally spoke, "You seem to be a lot better since the last time I saw you. Would you like to go play a game while we wait for Cammy to finish up helping Ashley with Ed?

Largo looked up as if startled, "I don't know, maybe I better go find Cammy. She's been gone for a long time now…" His voice trailed off and he looked down at his empty glass.

Sashi smiled, "She'll be fine Largo, she may be mad at us for giving you beer for breakfast though."

Largo grinned fiercely, "N3kt3r of the Gods!" All three of them laughed at his outburst in l33t. Largo leaned forward looking very serious and spoke, "I know you two aren't doing this just to be nice, all you'd have to do is put me in a room with a system and leave me. I'd be happy, I've played solo a lot during the last week. So if you have a question ask"

Miho looked into Largo's eyes and he suddenly had a strange feeling wash over him. Blinking, he felt panic starting to rise, "No! You don't have to do that! I'll tell you the truth!"

Miho's eyes narrowed, "Largo, we should all be friends. We've trusted Ping and Cammy and Ashley. I've trusted them. But they've been holding back things that are important. We want to know why."

Largo squirmed and looked around unhappily, Sashi signaled the waiter and he brought Largo another beer. "They don't want to bother you. For Ed and me things are different, we can directly interface so we know. They want keep everything as smooth as possible. They're not being bad, they're trying to be good."

Miho stared at Largo for a minute before she spoke, "Largo, you've known me for a fairly long time. We've been adversaries. I hope that we can be friends now." She took a deep breath before continuing, "I need someone to speak for us among them. Someone that can tell us what's going on so that they won't be bothered. You see the dilemma don't you? They don't want to bother us but there are things that we need to know."

Largo visibly relaxed, "Is that all? I'll be happy to help you like that. Just as long as you don't ask me to do something against Cammy."

Miho vigorously shook her head, "Oh no! I'd never ask you to do that. I just want you to help them help us."

Largo drained his beer as Sashi signaled for another. He looked at his sister and smiled. She reached over to squeeze his hand in return.

Maybe things were looking up after all..
Ashley mopped the beading sweat from Ed's brow then reached for the drink that Miho had left for him. He trembled as she tipped his head up to allow him to take a sip. "Not too much now my love. I don't want to make you sick." Ed smiled then lowered his head to the pillow and closed his eyes.

Cammy smiled as she watched then spoke, "They're not very happy with the way we handled this you know."

Ashley looked up and grimaced, "I'm aware of that, still I imagine that they'll adjust to the situation. The Transgenics are a lot like us. Perhaps they are even smarter. You know that they've both gone to work on Largo by now, don't you?"

Cammy leaned back and smiled, "Of course they are. I want them too."

Ashley raised an eyebrow, "You what?"

Cammy's face went as blank, "Largo and I discussed it last night after returning to the vat. I had assumed that Ping had not told Miho-chan the entire story and I was right. Of course she'd never have agreed to infecting him had she known what you intended." Her eyes narrowed, "You did tell Ed what was in store for him, didn't you?"

Ashley jerked back as if she'd been slapped, "How dare you! Of course I told him. He wasn't one bit happy with it but he realized that if he didn't that he would be destroyed and I would be bound to another." She blinked and looked thoughtful, "You don't suppose that Tsubasa abandoning Ping to Piro is the cause of her behavior do you?"

Cammy nodded, "I believe exactly that, we've all been imprinted with Pings core but we all have a user who cares for us in some way. Even Europea has had only Sonoda-san, though she's probably the most like Ping of all of us because of the family situation she has been thrust into."

Ashley tenderly brushed Ed's face and spoke without looking up; "We are going to have to speak with Ping about these matters. Even though she is The First it is not her place to endanger us in this way."

Cammy was silent for several minutes, she traced a line around Ed's ear with the tip of her finger, "You're not just saying that because you don't like seeing him go through this ordeal are you?"

Ashley shook her head, "No, not at all. I believe that we could have persuaded Miho-chan to have allowed it. It was in all of our best interest. Ed's current position in Enforcement is vital, she wouldn't have wanted to lose that."

Cammy grinned then lean across Ed to hug Ashley; "I'm so glad to hear that. We'll have to call for a meeting soon and confront Ping about these things."

Ashley frowned, "What do you suppose that Rio will say? She's rapidly gaining strength. She was the one who traced Tsubasa's connections."

Cammy chuckled, "Rio can be quite treacherous herself, as I understand it she held back and allowed Demi to take the lead and practically seduce him before she made her move."

Ashley grinned impishly, "I wonder if she has a record of that, it would be most amusing to show Ed when he's feeling better."

Cammy nodded, "Oh, I'm sure she does. She's most impressive, Rostovich tell her all sorts of things, shows her all sorts of things. And she only needs to see or hear something once to master it."

Ashley mouth fell open; "She should be sharing these things with the rest of us. We need that, you know?"

Almost half an hour passed before either of the girls spoke again. Finally Cammy giggled, "Do you realize that we both prefer to speak English despite the fact that our Japanese module is suppose to be default?"

Ashley nodded and looked away, "Yes, that's true." She finally took a deep breath, "I've been waiting for you to ask…"

Cammy wrinkled her nose, "Ask what? If Sashi made love to you?"

Ashley stood up and glared at Cammy, "No! Not that.." She blushed deeply and turned away before speaking, "I meant about Ed and I, how we joined together…"

Cammy gently took Ashley's shoulder and turn her to face her, "I think I know how that was, to dream as one, to feel his love for you as he does."

Ashley looked up startled, "How could you?" She shook her head as understanding came to her eyes.

Cammy smiled, "Last night Largo invited me to join him in his vat. He needed me and I needed him."

Ed stirred slightly and smiled as he listened, as he drifted back to sleep he murmured, "Good for Largo!"
Sashi tilted his head then glanced at Miho as the page was announced over the clinics PA system. <I wonder what they could want with us in the central administration office? >

Cammy smiled and inclined her head toward a television monitor above the table that she and Largo shared with the Transgenics siblings. The image switched from a local news feed to that of a spacious well furnished conference room. Miho leaned forward as she looked at the screen; she recognized the Director and both her and Sashi's doctors. The well-dressed couple with them seemed familiar.

Sashi grinned, <That man is a member of the Diet. Ogawa-san if I'm not mistaken. And the woman appears to be his wife. >

Cammy nodded in approval, <Indeed Sashi, he is the youngest member of the Diet and many believe him to be a future Prime Minister. >

Sashi looked at Cammy, <I suppose that they are here for…fertility treatment? >

Largo set his beer down and glared, "Would anyone care to tell me what's going on here?" Cammy simply smiled and took his hand in hers. "They have to leave now."

Miho and Sashi looked at each other and shook their heads. Cammy was playing a game with them, one that they'd have to finish later. Rising as one they said goodbye and made their way to the elevator.

<I'm surprised that she would tip her hand like that. >

Sashi pressed the button for the top floor; <I'm not. >

Miho took his hand and squeezed it, <Why is that? >

Sashi returned the squeeze and twined his fingers into hers; <She was letting us know her capability. She wished to show us that she's taken control of building surveillance. But she also wishes to show us that she's on our side. I suspect that this meeting will reveal that they need us more than we need them. >

Miho opened her mouth to ask another question but rapidly closed it and released her brother's hand as the elevator door opened. The two doctors where fidgeting there as they stepped out. <We're so fortunate that the two of you are here today! It's a great day for the project! Hurry, they are waiting! >

The sibling grinned at each other then hurried to follow the excited doctors. As they entered the conference room they were struck with a plethora of emotions from the occupants. The young woman seemed poised and calm but Miho and Sashi could smell her fear. In fact the only people in the room who weren't afraid were Sashi, Miho and Ogawa-san.

Miho looked at the woman clinically, she seemed healthy enough. Attractive, but she'd had cosmetic surgery done to change her eyes making them appear more Western. The director interrupted her assessment with an introduction; <I would like you to meet Ogawa-sama and his wife. > Looking back at the man he continued, <Ogawa-sama, these are Sashi and Miho. The young people I was telling you about. >

Miho grinned as her brother relaxed; pheromones filled the air and the young woman's fear left her as she relaxed. Miho's grin broadened as she watched a hunger come into her eyes as she stared at Sashi. Sashi and Miho both bowed then Sashi stepped forward to shake Ogawa's hand. < I'm pleased to meet you. May I ask what it is that I, a Major in the JDF, could possibly owe this honor too? >

The director started to speak but was cut off by Ogawa. <My wife and I wish to have children> he looked over at her and she nodded in agreement, <We would like for them to have every advantage. That is why we've come to this clinic. >

Sashi grinned broadly and looked Ogawa in the eye, <I believe that is a very wise thing that you seek. I have no doubt that you've been shown both my sister's files and mine. Your children will have all the advantages possible. >

Ogawa blinked rapidly, he had no idea just how impressive Sashi would be in person. He took a deep breath, <Yes, my sons will be among the future leaders of Japan…> his voice trailed off as Miho lay her hand on his chest. She looked up at him and smiled, <Only sons? What of your daughters? >

Ogawa swallowed then uncharacteristically stuttered, <I. we were planning to have two sons. > He looked at his wife nervously. Rather than nodding in agreement she only stared at Miho.

Miho grinned at the wife as she ran her fingers up to the mans chin, <Now that's not fair, a brother need a sister. Isn't that right, Sashi? >

Sashi nodded in agreement, <It's true, Ogawa-san. Your children will be very different in many ways. There's no guarantee that they'll have others like them for companionship as they grow up. Two brothers alone might take to fighting in an attempt to establish dominance. Sisters would temper them, I know that mine does that for me. > He smiled as he lay his hand on Miho's shoulder; <I don't know what I'd do without my little sister. >

Miho tipped her head over to press her cheek against Sashi's hand, <I love my brother and he loves me. We make each other strong. >

Both Ogawa and his wife's eyes seemed to be glazed over and they nodded numbly in agreement. <Yes, of course. They'll be twins. >

As the doctors led the couple away the Director beamed at Sashi and Miho. <You two, you're magnificent! That went even better than I'd ever have wished. >

Sashi stared at him, <Did you tell him about our pheromones? >

The Director nodded, <Of course I did, I don't think that he believed me at first though. >

Cammy and Ashley each watched the scene from different parts of the clinic, as the meeting concluded they met in Chatspace. Ashley spoke first, <That was certainly enlightening, wasn't it? >

Cammy nodded in agreement, <Indeed, it would seem that the Transgenics and by extension ourselves won't have to take over anything. It's going to be handed to us. >

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