by Ex Machina
Prologue: Between Summer and WinterEdit
The cityscape of Hong Kong lay before her, an urban testament to the success of the Chinese city.
And on the forty-fifth floor of one of the grandest hotels ever to grace the earth, Ukyou Kuonji found herself highly disappointed by the view.
"Forgive me Father, for I have sinned," she spoke, ever so silently.
If there was an answer, she never received it. Or maybe the blood all around her was far too thick to have made any difference. The blood of wealthy businessmen, high priced prostitutes and crime bosses. All evil blood. Blood that nothing holy could ever penetrate.
And then there was Ukyou herself.
She stepped on onto the ledge of the outer balcony. The wind blowing through her ancient, grey hair. The sun reflecting off of her dry, wrinkled skin. Her torn and blood-spattered clothing flapped with the breeze.
If she jumped now, it would make things easier. Far easier for her mentally, but too many questions would have risen afterwards.
No. It would be better to wait for it.
Counting down mentally, she ignored the mass of corpses behind her. After this, it would be over. The bomb would explode, erasing all evidence of her ever being there, and the short flight she would experience could be vastly exhilarating.
Ten seconds. Hopefully it wouldn't harm any innocents in the floors below.
Eight seconds. She hoped the city could be prepared. She came here to escape from Japan. From the source that started it all. The source that called her a friend, and then made her life take a drastic turn.
Five seconds. Ukyou closed her eyes. Fifty years... a long time. A long period of self-loathing. A period of time she found herself hating more and more.
Three seconds. Perhaps in the next life things would be different. She could spend it being a real human being, instead of the tormented soul she was now.
Two seconds. She heard the audible click from behind her. She opened her eyes in shock as she realized she was two seconds off.
Oh well. Not to worry. Same outcome.
The bomb exploded with a such a force as Ukyou had never seen. It pushed her from behind, sending her flying over the cityscape. Easily one of the tallest building in the area, Ukyou found herself counting the buildings pass underneath her.
One block. Two.
The burns she received from the bomb explosion didn't bother her as she continued to count the building.
She never made it past the fourth block. Instead, she hit the side of the grey stucco building with great force. Had she still been alive to see it, she would have noticed the impact crater she had left on the side as she hurtled towards the ground, nearly thirty stories below.
With a crash, Ukyou landed on the roof of a Volkswagen, crushing both the car, and the single occupant inside. The occupant survived it with minimal damage. A broken back, but due to the incredible medical technology in the year 2046, it hardly mattered.
And so Ukyou Kuonji was dead, and she dreamt.
She would not remain dead for long.
Chapter One: White on FleshEdit
"In a moment we lost our minds here,
And dreamt the world was round,
A million mile fall from grace,
Thank God we missed the ground."
~ Run to the Water - Live
"Hey, Keung," John, one of the dieners at The Royal Britannia Memorial Hospital greeted casually. Half-heartedly, he flipped through the pages of the small plastic clipboard and made a brief gesture to the figure lying wrapped in a plastic sheet on the gourney. "From the bombing?" he inquired.
John was a young, bulky man, having worked in the basement for the better part of a year. The RBMH morgue was well known for hiring students right out of school. After all, it was good work experience.
Keung himself attended the University of Hong Kong on a scholarship supplied to him by Miskatonic Industries, an American company that his father worked quite vigorously for. In return, the company had offered him the scholarship.
Keung was on the fast track to becoming a forensic pathologist, in every sense except one.
He didn't WANT to be a forensic pathologist. He despised being around bodies of the dead. The stench was often controlled by the environmental controls around the morgue, but it could leak through at times. However, not even the newest and most amazing technology in 2046 could do a thing about the gore. The blood, the broken bones and severed limbs.
He had seen more in his two months at the morgue than he ever had before he started school. During his younger years, the most gruesome thing he'd seen were visuals of the war of 2012, and the odd gory movie.
The bodies he saw in the morgue often reminded him of the most disturbing thing he'd seen in his youth, though amplified a hundred fold.
A small kitten had been attacked by a large dog. He'd witnessed it, and had done all he could to stop it, but by the time he scared the dog off, the kitten had quite literally been scattered. Blood meshed with soft, downy fur, bones cut through vital organs and worse.
But it was usually nothing compared to what he saw here. The old woman he pushed in front of him wasn't the worst, but she was still disturbing.
Keung gave John a curt nod. "Yeah," he said, motioning toward the plastic. "Sure don't look it, though. She was an old woman. I'd venture she was the oldest one there."
John took his pen and used it to lift up a part of the sheet to get a good look at the occupant inside. "You get an ID on her?" he asked.
Keung shrugged. "I ran DNA through about six times," he said in defeat. "Optical revealed nothing, and even when I ran fingerprints, nothing happened."
"A Jane Doe, eh?" John raised a cynical eyebrow. "Haven't had one of those in years. Chang won't be happy."
Keung nodded knowingly. Ever since the advent of high tech DNA analyzers, it had been harder and harder to remain unknown-- to the right people.
"Well, I'm stumped on the DNA, but I'm not surprised about the retinal or fingerprints," John mentioned off-handedly. "I mean, most of the physical records were lost in the war, and retinal recognitions were optional."
With a shrug, Keung replied, "I'm gonna go stuff her on a slab. I'll see you in the lounge in about twenty, 'kay?"
"Yeah, sure thing," he said, looking at his watch. "I'll help you with the ID after break."
With a brief nod, Keung continued his duty. He pushed the gourney down a long hallway and pulled into a room with swinging doors. As soon as he had physically entered the room, the fluorescent lights lit up like a portable sun.
The young diener noted the lights with less-than-mild interest. In fact, he had gone so far as to take them for granted, much like his father had done with electronics. He had taken the computer games and television as if it was something that would always be there for him.
But he was right. Those lights would be there for him, even if a light blew out, one of the maintenance men could easily put in a new bar. But the sensors were what made it all easy. They were specifically designed to turn on only if there was a warm body in the room. Of course, warm body usually meant anything from a human being, to a rat. Insects and arachnids were usually located by the camera, which were equally sensitive to movement as the lights were to heat, except on a much grander scale.
The surveillance system was old. The newer ones could literally pick up the movement of air. If the air vents were being invaded, they could detect it. If the air pressure in the building had changed in any way, the cameras would know.
In this paranoid and high tech present, nobody was trusted.
And to doctor the digital video discs that over thirty days of information could be copied on to would take a team of highly trained digital artists and animators... Even then, a high school student would be able to tell the difference.
Keung wheeled the gourney up to the wall and jotted his employee number on the access sheet. He lifted his arm to get a view of the exact time, but was interrupted by the room-to-room intercom.
"Keung, could I see you in the lounge, please?" the gruff, deep voice asked. Keung could easily recognize the voice and it's owner, Doctor Lo Fan Chang.
Keung let his arms droop for a moment as he rolled his eyes back. This was JUST what he needed. More trouble. As much as he hated his job, he had to admit it paid well, and if he were to be fired, his father would be extremely disappointed.
He glanced over at the shape covered by the plastic sheet and sighed. "Yes sir," Keung said. "I'm on my way."
Doctor Lo Fan Chang drank his evening coffee with little vigor. It was a bad day, and even worse evening. First the rush that afternoon after the explosion, and now Keung was goofing around with the identification. All of the other bodies had been identified easily. Crime bosses, wealthy, yet unscrupulous business men... A few dead hookers. If anything, it was an advantage to the city.
And then, to ease the pressure on the rest of them, he gave one simple task to an underworked diener, and he had the gall to ignore it.
The door to the lounge opened with a click. Doctor Chang took a sip of his coffee and looked over to the man who had invaded his break. As he suspected, it was the man he was waiting for.
"Keung," he began. "Why is there a Jane Doe in our morgue?"
"Sir, I ran every identification test we have on her. DNA, retinal... even fingerprint analysis. Nothing."
"Keung, do you expect me to believe that? Every citizen in Hong Kong has submitted their DNA. Their entire essence in on file. And not just Hong Kong, either!"
"Well, she is old, sir. She could have come from inner China."
It was a possibility, he thought. The rest of China was still quite communist, and even she could have migrated into the city somehow. Not all of the true Chinese citizens had been tested yet. It was quite possible.
"Doubtful. She was wearing quite elegant clothing. And she WAS with some of the highest powers of the crime world," he replied. No need to give him a break, Lo Fan thought. After all, he was right.
Keung shrugged. So much for that idea.
"Do another test, Keung. If it doesn't work, I'll do it," he said.
Keung sighed and nodded. "I'd better get to her, then."
"You do that," Chang said, and then went back to drinking his coffee.
Keung entered the slab room swiftly. His train of thought had been fixed on how much he would have liked to stick a bucket of sharp autopsy tools up Doctor Chang's rectal region, so he was rather oblivious to his surroundings.
He walked over to the gourney and paused. Had the lights already been on when he entered the room?
"Hello?" he called, experimentally. Although he didn't expect an answer, he thought it was worth a try. The light systems had failed before, on occasion, but he had to be sure there was nobody else in the room.
There was really nowhere to hide. Even if someone was stupid enough to hide in one of the slabs, they'd either freeze to death, or the lights wouldn't pick it up and remain off.
But then, he could have just been imagining it. After all, he was distracted. The lights could easily have turned on without his noticing. It was just one of those things he took for granted. Like the television remote.
He sighed and grabbed the handle of the gourney, pulling it away from the wall. He'd worry about the access sheet afterwards. Right now he had a point to make.
As he left the room, he resumed his previous train of thought, and remained oblivious to the fact that behind him, upon exiting, the lights had turned off...
She stepped off of the airliner platform as calmly as she could muster. The New Hong Kong International Airport was one of the most automated places in the world. It was almost impossible to stop and smell the roses.
The truth was, however, was that she was excited. Over the past several years, there had been many leads and subtle clues, but very little hard evidence. This, she hoped after seeing that vivid image on the news, was the last stop. She'd be here. Most likely in the morgue. She hoped to God they hadn't cremated or buried her yet.
But this was Hong Kong. They had a much bigger bigger body count than Tokyo, her home city.
The slender young woman brushed her dark hair from her face and stepped lavishly up to the customs desk.
The girl at the desk smiled at her. "Do you have any baggage?" she asked.
The woman nodded. "Check Three-Five-Alpha," she said.
The clerk typed the code into the computer. "Ms. Kiyomi Maeshima?" she asked, smiling.
Kiyomi nodded and pulled out her ID card. After a quick scan by the clerk, she nodded and passed it back.
"I'll be right back, Ms. Maeshima," the clerk smiled. She went off to fetch the luggage.
Kiyomi leaned back against the counter and took in her surroundings. She had been to the New Hong Kong International Airport a few times before, mainly on business trips. She never saw the place as a vacation spot.
The airport terminal itself bustled with activity. People going on vacation, people going on business trips.
She smirked at a young couple dressed in loud Hawaiian t-shirts, and drew their attention with ease. Winking at the young man and watching his reaction, she turned around. She'd seen it far too many times already. She flirts with the man, he reacts, and pain usually ends up being inflicted on him.
It was too priceless... Yet, it had been getting old. Much to old for Kiyomi's taste.
"Ms. Maeshima?" the clerk smiled, coming back holding a single leather cylindric container, about a foot taller than either of them. "I'm afraid there might be a mistake. Is this yours? The X-ray says it's of wooden composition."
Kiyomi nodded. "Yeah, it's mine."
And it was true. Besides her computer, it was by far her most important possession.
The clerk shrugged and passed it over the counter. "There you go, Ms. Maeshima. Enjoy your stay in Hong Kong!" she exclaimed with a bubbly smile.
Kiyomi took the container and smiled. "Thank you. I'm sure I will."
Keung parked the gourney in the identification room. It was where they kept all the ID gadgets and gizmos. More importantly, it was where the Analyzer was. One of the strongest models of DNA scanners in the world. With complete Internet Matrix Datalink, with encoded transfers to the WWDNAD in Texas, USA.
The World Wide DNA Database was the one place in the world where every DNA sample was sent and stored. While every country had a main database of their own, the WWDNAD was the one place you could find out who a foreigner was.
It also meant that Keung had to take out the big guns on identifying the old woman.
He took a cotton swab from a glass jar on the counter and walked over to the woman, ignoring everything but the task. He propped her mouth open and ran the swab along the inside of her mouth, picking up the epithelial cells. Within a few seconds, he had a viable sample, and dropped
He massaged the woman's arm to try and get some of the blood flowing again. He usually spent a couple minutes doing it, but for some reason, it only took a few seconds to get a viable sample. He dropped it into the scanner and waited for the results.
"DNA Sample accepted," the computer mentioned. "Scanning CDNAD, backlog zero Seconds."
Keung breathed in. He knew it would most likely not be found.
"No match found. Contact WWDNAD?"
"Yes," Keung yawned.
"Scanning WWDNAD, backlog twenty-five seconds."
Keung yawned again, he turned to zip the body bag while he was waiting.
And then he paused. There was something odd about the woman. She was gray, wrinkled and scorched only minutes before, when he had scanned in with the local analyzer.
But now... Her skin was smooth. EXTREMELY smooth. There were no visible burns and... It was far from gray. In fact, it looked almost alive.
Keung lifted the flap up further, exposing the rest of the body.
He rubbed his forehead in annoyance. How the hell could he have made such a goof? He took the wrong damn body! This girl couldn't have been older than twenty!
And her body was still warm!
Keung paused. Still warm? Impossible. Unless she had been dead for better than a day, she would still have some residual warmth. But even this... This was full warmth.
Keung took off his glasses and rubbed them. There was no way that she could have been that warm, unless--
That's it. The guys were playing a trick on him. They got the girl drunk or something and put her on a gourney, knowing what would happen.
Or worse-- they had hired a prostitute.
"Hello?" he asked, waving his hand over the girls face. "Are you awake, miss?"
There was no reply.
"WWDNAD scan complete. No match found," the computer said.
Keung looked over to it. Not found? That was... impossible. EVERYONE was scanned nowadays. This girl, due to her age, would have had a sample submitted just after her birth. It was impossible.
But then... the old woman didn't have a match either...
He placed his hands down on the desk in annoyance. There had to be a plausible explanation. It was mandatory in every continent, no matter where she was born, to have a DNA entry. Even if she was born in one of the less technologically advanced countries, when she came to Hong Kong, or wherever she went, she would have been scanned.
It wasn't possible.
The noise had been subtle in the beginning, a silent rustling caused by the slight movement of a plastic sheet. The noise had been so subtle at first, that Keung hadn't even noticed. But the moan, on the other hand, was harder to ignore.
He spun around to see the girl stir a bit, and open her eyes.
Keung looked down on her. "Are you-- ghrk!"
The girl apparently wasn't in the mood to chat much. She moved her hand so fast that Keung hadn't seen it, and wrapped it around his neck.
Keeping her grip, she managed to kick off the body bag and stand up, in full naked glory.
If Keung wasn't having such a hard time breathing, he would have been busy basking in her nakedness. After all, she WAS quite a looker.
"Clothes," she said. "Now." She spoke Chinese well enough, but there was a hint of an accent. Has Keung been trying to pay attention, he may have pegged it. But as it was, he didn't.
Keung pointed a shaky finger at a nearby locker. The girl released her grip on his throat, but pulled him along with nearly inhuman strength.
On the way, she reached up and pulled the surveillance camera out of the ceiling and dropped it to the floor. Keung blinked in surprise. She did it without so much as stretching. She had to have still been in a languid state, but--
Well, the grip she had on his arm spoke for him on that point.
As she reached the locker, she ripped it open and sighed. A lab coat and white, sterilized slippers.
She pulled them out. It would have to do. Dropping Keung to the floor, she slipped the slippers on and wrapped the lab coat around herself.
"Exit. Where is it?" she looked down at Keung.
"It's kinda hard to explain," he said, trying to stall.
"You've got five seconds," she threatened.
"Gooutintothehalltakeyourfirstleftthensecondrightupthestairwell," he said as fast as he could, then sucked in another laboured breath. "takeyoursecondrightandstraightahead."
The girl looked down at him and smirked. "Thanks," she walked past him.
"But there are guards! You need an ID to get out!"
The girl turned around. "I'll get out fine," she said, and then left the room.
Keung sighed in relief as she left. He took a quick look around the room and frowned. The surveillance camera. The storage locker.
He felt his throat and winced. It would be bruised.
He stood up and waited and waited until he was sure the girl was gone, then stepped out into the hallway.
He wasted no time in alerting security.
"Bravo-Nine, Charlie-Two," Cho's radio rang out.
"Go ahead, Charlie-Two," he replied, picking it up.
"Apparent Intruder. Section B-1, north wing. Believed to be heading straight for you."
Cho stood up and smiled. About time he see some action. Life as a static guard was INCREDIBLY boring.
"Seems to be an Alfa-Foxtrot. Approximately Two-Zero years of age. She's wearing a lab coat and slippers."
Having been in the security business for years, Cho knew exactly what he was talking about. Alfa-Foxtrot meant Asian Female, part of the phonetic code that security guards use over the radio insisted that they not explain things outright. It tended to attract unwanted onlookers. Still, the code itself wasn't THAT hard to break.
Cho blinked. "That's it?"
"That is Affirmative, Bravo-Nine."
Cho smirked. He was in for more action than he thought if THAT was his target.
"Ten-Four, Charlie-Two. Will RV with subject."
"Also, be warned, Bravo-Nine. Victim of subject says she's incredibly dangerous."
Cho chuckled. Like a woman wearing a lab coat could be dangerous. She probably hurt one of the diener's feelings or something.
He stalked down the hallway and turned the corner. After a few more seconds of walking, the doors at the end of the hall burst open. Cho paused.
The woman who stepped out matched the description.
"Excuse me, Miss?" he called down the hallway.
The woman never replied.
"MISS?" he called, a little louder.
The woman kept walking, and levelled her gaze at Cho.
Well fine, then, Cho thought. If she was going to play like that, maybe she needs a little more convincing.
Cho pulled out his truncheon and readied it.
"Miss, if you don't stop, I'll be forced to use this."
The woman kept coming.
When she got close enough, Cho let his truncheon fly, expecting to strike the woman in the stomach. However, his surprise was no mystery when the truncheon struck nothing but air.
He didn't have enough time to react to the woman's sidestep, and could only helplessly yelp as she pushed him up by the jaw and shoved him head first into the ceiling.
The last thing Cho felt before losing consciousness was the snap of his jaw as the bone broke, and the big headache he had from being shoved into the ceiling.
"Holy crap!" Kevin exclaimed as he stared at the monitor. "Did you see that?"
"See?" Keung asked. "I told you she was dangerous!"
Kevin tilted his head horizontally as he watched the screen. There was Cho, dangling by his head from the ceiling.
"Think we should send someone to get him down?" Keung asked.
Kevin popped back into reality. "We've got to take care of her somehow."
Kevin nodded, and then reached over to pick up the phone.
The directions had been just as the little man had said. She soon found her way to the exit.
Strangely enough, her only obstacle had been that cocky security guard. Not a big problem, but she still regretted having to break his jaw. She needed to get out of there without having people still chasing her when she left.
The doors opened to a fair-sized parking lot. The sun was still making it's daily journey. In fact, it wouldn't set for at least another hour or two.
She stepped out into the light. She obviously looked strange wearing nothing but a lab coat and slippers.
She'd look even stranger once she got on to the public transit, but that didn't matter. She needed clothes. Quickly. The only place she could think of was her apartment.
Moving quickly, she bounded down the sidewalk and got a bearing on her location. Her apartment wasn't far. She could make it there in minutes.
"Pardon me, Miss?" the cabbie asked.
"Here," Kiyomi said. "Let me off here."
"I don't know if that's wise, Miss. This IS a bad area. Illegal gambling houses, drug dealers. Some of the folks around here wouldn't think twice about killing you if you've got something they want."
"Trust me. I can take care of myself."
The cabbie shrugged and pushed a button on the dash. "All right Miss. That's $247.68. Cash or card?"
A fair chunk of change, Kiyomi thought. Thirty years earlier, when the whole 'Global Village' thing was at it's peak, people found they could no longer rely on international currency, and the United Nations had ultimately decided to use one world-wide form of currency. Of course, American dollars had been at the top of the food chain in the currency market, so it was only logic that American currency be used. They ethnicized it, made it globally acceptable. After all, many countries were going to object to having American Presidents on the face of their money.
The solution was easy enough. Gandhi. Lincoln. Various world leaders and general humanitarians. The only thing holding back the worldwide acceptance of the currency form were the odd Third World countries, in which the local currency was subject to change every few weeks because of the recent revolution or coup d'etat. But even then, most of those countries had been using American currency since before that time.
But soon, the bills and coins became electronic. In fact, today, hard currency was rarely used, in favour of the electronic kind.
Pulling it out of her pocket, she slipped a small plastic card through a card reader and tapped a button. "Thanks," she said, and stepped out of the taxi.
As the cab drove off, she faintly faintly make out the closing words of the cabbie. "Cheap bitch. No tip?"
Choosing to ignore it, she took a breath of the air. Indeed, it was the bad part of town. The people sitting on the curb and smoking cigarettes was only testament to that fact.
Kiyomi sniffed the air. It reeked of cigarette smoke. Various drugs an alcohol... The strongest smell had to be the body odour, and... ugh... human musk.
She looked around. She had been led here through her most trusted source. Which meant that was where she had to be.
If she wasn't busy trying to dig her way out of a grave.
But now... which apartment was hers?
"Whoa," Officer Huang muttered. "Now if that ain't the damnedest..."
Keung nodded. "How do you think I felt?"
Officer Huang shook his head and shut off the monitor. "Let me have the discs. I'll have the forensic guys analyze it and try to get something from it. You still have an available DNA sample?"
Keung shook his head. "Not a sample, but we have the profile in the memory of the analyzer."
"Good, we'll grab that, too. We'll find out who this girl is."
"I should hope so," Kevin remarked. "Cho's jaw is being mended right now, but he's not gonna be happy with what happened."
"She's gone now. I don't think she'll be coming back, though. Call it a hunch."
She rounded the corner and slowed to a jog. There was no fear in this area. They already knew not to mess with her.
But then, she also had the appearance of a Sixty-five year old woman just yesterday. They didn't have the slightest clue who the young woman was.
Ukyou Kuonji? No. Ukyou Kuonji was a mean old woman who could whip anyone on the block with ease.
THIS Ukyou Kuonji could do much the same, only faster, and with more efficiency.
But nobody really knew her. Which meant whoever messed with her was in for a world of pain.
She paused as she reached the front steps of the apartment. It was quite subtle at first, but it become stronger as she moved forward.
The scent. It was familiar. Extremely familiar. Was it him? No. His scent was... different. More feral, and there was a hint of perfume mixed with this scent. It was most definitely female.
And so familiar.
The scent filled her heart with a longing. It was almost a relief to be smelling it, but-- WHO WAS IT?
Only one way to find out.
She bounded up the stairs and into the elevator.
Kiyomi reclined on the old, worn out chair. The scent was strongest here, which meant that it was most definitely Ukyou's apartment.
Not just that, but someone had just stepped out of the elevator on this floor.
Kiyomi stood and and pulled out the long wooden staff from the container. Readying it as quickly as she could, she prepared for the fight.
The scent led into her apartment. Ukyou crept up to the door. Without any further resistance, she turned the knob and pushed it open. Whoever was in there decided to leave the door unlocked.
The last thing she expected to see was HER. The scent was familiar, but for her to be in there. It blew her mind.
She leapt into the attack without wasting her time.
Kiyomi had enough time to bat Ukyou away with her staff as she jumped at her. Growling, she forced it toward her, hoping to hit a vulnerable spot.
"How the hell did you find me?!" Ukyou growled, dodging the attack. She made a claw out of her hand and moved in for another attack, striking Kiyomi at the leg, but receiving a butt in the face from the staff.
"You think it was easy?" Kiyomi shot back.
Ukyou rubbed her face. "Why don't you just go back where you came from?"
"Why don't YOU, Ukyou? You were so high and mighty before. What about now?"
Ukyou sneered at Kiyomi. "You take that back!"
"Ooh, poor, brave soul Ukyou. The one who said she could take the pains of aging. Ooh, what's that? Ukyou's found the fountain of youth?"
Ukyou furrowed her brow. "Shut up."
"How was it Ukyou? The blood of criminals? How did it taste?"
"Was it good? Did it have a metallic taste to it? Or perhaps it was bland from all those years of drug use? Rancid from the purity of their soul? How was it Ukyou? Tell me!"
Ukyou knelt down and punched the floor. "Just leave," she said.
Kiyomi sighed and put her staff against the wall. "Why did you leave, Ukyou?"
Ukyou didn't look up. "I... I had to..."
"Why? Just couldn't take it? I had to live with his death too, Ukyou."
"But... He..." Ukyou stammered, starting to tear up.
"He's gone, Ukyou. I know why you left." Kiyomi sighed. "I wanted to run away, too. I didn't want to deal with it."
"You were the only one who fed."
"Yes, but it still took me fifteen years. I didn't want this any more than you did, Ukyou. But it was given to us. The three of us. Whether we asked for it or not."
"I was looking for an answer..." she sighed. "Why he had to die."
"So you went to Jusenkyo."
Ukyou looked up. "What... how?"
Kiyomi gestured towards a small bottle on a shelf. "My guess is you were going to give it to Ranma when-- and if you returned. It surprised me at first. I thought he was here, but I can't tell his scent. Just the magic of the water."
Ukyou nodded. "I... I was going to bring it when--"
"When you came to grips with reality?"
Ukyou looked up at Kiyomi. "I got the water... But I didn't want to give it to him. At least, not yet..."
Kiyomi shook her head. "It doesn't matter anymore, Ukyou."
Ukyou looked up. Her heart skipped a beat. "What?"
"I guess you didn't see Mousse while you were near Jusenkyo, eh?"
Ukyou looked towards the floor again and shook her head. "I... I didn't want to be reminded."
"He sent Ranma some Nannichuan water about half a year after you left," Kiyomi said, chuckling. "And you know what the doofus did?"
"He threw it out."
Ukyou blinked. "WHAT?"
"I guess he had become so used to the curse that... well, he told Akane it would be like killing a part of himself."
Ukyou's jaw dropped. "Are you serious?"
Kiyomi laughed. "Oh, you should have seen Akane and Ranko. They were on the warpath for WEEKS!"
"The idiot gave up his cure?"
Kiyomi shook her head. "That's not why, though. Guess _WHERE_ he threw it?"
Ukyou was almost afraid to ask.
She asked anyway.
"All over Senko."
Ukyou choked on her own words. "He cursed his GRAND-DAUGHTER?!" she asked, shocked to even hear it.
Kiyomi continued to laugh. "The idiot thought it would be good for her training," she said. "Then he sent a message back asking for some NYANNICHUAN for Senji."
Ukyou couldn't take it any more. "He's turning out just like his father!" She broke out laughing.
"Yeah," Kiyomi said, chuckling. A few moments later, the two of them started to calm down.
"They miss you, you know," Kiyomi said, looking absently out the window.
Ukyou stood up and looked back toward her door. "I... I can't go back. Not now."
"Oh relax," Kiyomi said, as she turned back, narrowing her eyes. "They forgave me back in '15, they'll do much the same for you."
"No, that's not it... I just..."
"Ukyou," Kiyomi reached over and put her hand on her friends shoulder. "Please."
Ukyou sighed. "Not right now," she said. "There's too much--"
"When, Ukyou? Ranma and Akane aren't like us. They can't just go for a two hour stroll and become teenagers again. They're OLD, Ukyou. Older than when you left."
"Nabiki, please... I just can't. Not yet."
"I go by Kiyomi now, Uky--"
"But you're *STILL* Nabiki," she shot back.
"This was a mistake," Nabiki said, reaching for her staff back and loading it back into its case. "I shouldn't even have come here."
"Forget it, Ukyou. I figured I'd come here and convince you to come back with me. But I guess not," she said. "I guess I'm a lot more naive than I thought.
"Nabiki, please. I want to come back, but if I go there... I'm afraid..."
Nabiki paused. "Of what?"
"I made a mistake, Nabiki," Ukyou said. "A big mistake."
Nabiki inhaled. "What kind of mistake?"
Ukyou looked up to the ceiling. "One I can't take care of in Japan. If... If he finds them, he might--"
"If who finds them, Ukyou?"
Ukyou shook her head. "Go back, Nabiki. It's something I've got to take care of."
Nabiki dropped her staff. "You've got a problem?"
Ukyou nodded. "But it's MY problem."
"Remember the agreement we made with Ryouga, Ukyou?"
Ukyou seemed to shudder a bit. "He's dead, Nabiki. Don't bring him into this."
"But the agreement still stands. We help each other, we help those who need helping."
Ukyou remained silent. She looked up into Nabiki's eyes.
After a few moments passed, she sighed. "Fine," she said.
"Great!" Nabiki smiled. "Now get changed. We're moving you out of this hell hole."
"Hey!" Ukyou shot back. "This is my HOME!"
"Wrong, Ukyou. This home belongs to the old woman named Ukyou Kuonji. The young, debonair millionairess Ukyou Kuonji is staying in a lovely High Rise apartment on Kowloon."
Ukyou raised an eyebrow. "You're joking, right?"
Nabiki raised a finger and curled her lips into a knowing smile. "You'd be surprised, fair Ucchan. My business venture back in '32 turned out to be VERY successful..."
"Successful enough that if I remained in the limelight long enough, they'll begin to wonder. Anyway, I've resigned as CEO there. Guess who took over?"
"Wait," Ukyou smirked. "Ijuin *KUNO*?"
"Yeah, who'd have thought he'd have turned out to be the business type?"
"Well, the new Kuno-baby is doing quite well, last I checked. He's bringing it to new markets now. Ideas even I've never thought of. But needless to say, I'm looking forward to being just Nabiki Tendo again..."
"But, what about--"
Nabiki pressed her finger to Ukyou's lips. "Don't worry about it," she said, once again curling her lips into a knowing smile. "Just pack your important things. Leave the... ugh... furniture behind."
"What's wrong with the furniture?"
"God, it's older than I am!" Nabiki said, walking through the small maze of ancient tables and chairs.
Ukyou just smiled and moved into the bedroom. She quickly changed her clothes into something far more suitable and sighed. It was time to leave this place. Grabbing a small bag from the floor of her closet, and a book from on top of a shelf, she moved out to see Nabiki.
Nabiki turned to her. "Traveling light, are we?"
Ukyou shrugged. "You don't seem to be carrying much, either."
With a smile, Nabiki replied. "My staff and my computer. It's all I need."
"Not even a change of clothes?"
"Ooh, honey. You don't KNOW clothes until you've been shopping. Have you even been keeping up with the latest fashions?"
Ukyou shook her head. There was no need to keep up with the latest fashions while she was, quite literally, an old woman. The fashions from the late twentieth century were all the old folks wore, anyway. Although slightly more modest.
Nabiki grabbed her staff case, which, for all intents and purposes, looked like an extra-long poster case. Slinging one end over her shoulder, she walked out the door with Ukyou. Neither looked back.
"Why did you attack me, anyway?" Nabiki asked.
Ukyou chuckled. "Like you weren't expecting me to?"
"I had to be prepared, right?" she replied.
"Call it nostalgia." Ukyou smiled and looked up at the setting sun.
"Boy," Nabiki muttered. "If only the fools who write the books knew how wrong they were."
Ukyou laughed. "Remember when we first turned over? It took us three weeks to figure out that we could walk out into the sun."
Nabiki's smile grew. She stifled a laugh as she spoke, "If it wasn't for Ryouga accidentally wandering out during the day, we might still be sitting in the Dojo!"
Ukyou let her laugh flow away like a river.
"It's not the same without him," she said.
"Seven years is a long time," Nabiki replied.
"And it gets worse..."
"Hmm?" Nabiki asked, waving her arm in order to flag down a cab.
"He's not as dead as you think..."
Nabiki paused. "What?"
"It was a mistake, Nabiki. A big mistake."
"Hold on," Nabiki asked. "What did you do?"
Ukyou looked up towards the setting sun. "Let's not worry about it right now. There's no way he can find us," she said. "No way."