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SERIES: Part 5 of BGC Blues.

Dark Illusions
By The Datajunkie


Sylia stared at the grave with unseeing eyes as the rain continued to fall in driving waves. The others had long since retreated to the shelter of their cars and she could hear the last of their engines fading away as they left. She knew she should go as well, but something held her here. Some indescribable emotion that refused to let her leave Priss' side even now. Sylia knelt by the headstone, ignoring the mud that rose up over her and touched the cold stone with trembling fingers. Priscilla Asagiri. Born: 2014. Died: 2037. The sound that escaped her was one of pure pain, but Sylia didn't hear it. Nor did she hear the rain, feel the cold, or notice the approaching night. She was lost in the past, the only place where Priss remained.

Across the cemetery, Linna and Nene stood watch as their friend and leader grieved for her lover and wished that they had some way to ease her pain. Nene sniffed pitifully and leaned against Linna. "Oh God, Linna! What are we going to do?" Linna shook her head and tightened her grip on the umbrella. "I don't think there's anything we can do, Nene. It's just going to take time." Time that they had thought that they had in abundance. But Fate had decreed otherwise and their friend had been cruelly taken from them by of all things a motorcycle accident. That was perhaps the cruelest part of all this, that someone who had risked her life time and time again in battle had died because some fool had run a red light.

Sylia bit back a scream as her heart tried to shatter and resisted the urge to strike the smooth marble. It's a lie! It has to be a lie! Emotion churned inside of her in relentless waves and she thought she might go mad from the pain. My Priss! Oh God, why did you leave me? You promised you'd never leave me! Sylia buried her face in her hands and wept. As the rain continued, she gave in and threw back her head to rage at the indifferent sky above. "Why!" She screamed again, a wordless expression of agony that brought Linna and Nene to her side.

They pulled her from the raw wound in the earth and guided her into the waiting limo. As it silently glided from the cemetery, Sylia could feel herself closing down more with each passing mile until she knew nothing else.

Sylia opened the door of her apartment to find Lt. Leon McNichol standing outside. She arched one eyebrow in amused inquiry, "Leon? I'm afraid Priss isn't here right now."

Leon shifted uncomfortably. "I need to speak with you Ms. Stingray. Can we go inside?" Curious at the formality, Sylia nodded and swung the door wider to allow him entrance. Leon sat down on the couch as Sylia did, his eyes falling to a stack of papers on the coffee table. The musical notes seemed to leap off the page and Leon was forced to close his eyes until he regained control.

He opened them again to meet Sylia's calm gaze with one of regret. "It's about Priss. I'm afraid there's been an accident."

Sylia was nonplused. "Accident?" Taisei immediately signaled Arashi, but there was no response.

Leon nodded and reached into his pocket. His hand withdrew, tightly clenched around something. "Apparently a car ran a red-light and struck Priss' bike head on." He drew a deep breath. "There were no survivors."

Sylia smiled, shaking her head. "There's been a mistake." < Taisei? >

= I can't reach Priss or Arashi.=

Leon set the ring on the surface of the table with the utmost care. "There's no mistake."

Sylia stared at the half-melted ring in horrified recognition. The once gleaming hawk was now twisted and blackened, but it was definitely Priss'. "No."

"I'm sorry." Leon shoved a hand through his hair and wondered when this would ever get any easier.

"No." Sylia was shaking her head vehemently. "It can't be. You saw her?"

Leon hated to tell her this but she needed to know. "Both vehicles exploded on impact, Sylia. We didn't find enough to make a DNA match, but it was Priss' bike and we found what was left of her wallet."

<Taisei? > Her desperation was evident, but Taisei had no hope to offer her.= There's no trace.=

The apartment door opened and Sylia looked up to see Linna and Nene standing in the doorway. One look at their faces made Sylia realize the truth: Priss was gone.

Sylia jerked awake, the tears still falling as she tried to force the memory away. She heard the phone ringing and asked herself if she really wanted to answer it. As she debated the pros and cons, the telephone stopped ringing and the question was answered for her. She rolled onto her side and pulled the covers up over her head. Logic dictated that she should get up, shower and go try to bury herself in her work for a while but her heart demanded that she continued to mourn. It had been a week since the funeral and Sylia knew that she was worrying the others, but she couldn't seem to gather enough energy to care.

Sylia threw the covers back and stared at the empty space beside her in the bed. Her hand reached out and touched Priss' pillow as her mind tried once again to come to grips with what had happened. She's gone. Sylia felt the tears beginning to fall again and let them come; maybe this time they might release some of the pain filling her. She's not coming back.

Immediately images of Priss began to whirl through her mind: Priss on stage, coming out of the shower, climbing into her hard suit, waking up in Sylia's arms…

The sob that escaped Sylia was the embodiment of grief and as she buried her face in the pillow she held, she knew that she would never accept that Priss was gone.

She doesn't have to be.

Sylia ignored the little voice in her mind and forced her self to get up. She sat on the edge of the bed for a long time, wondering what she should do if she did get up and finally decided to get dressed.

She went to the closet and stared at the rows of neat clothes and suits, realizing that she didn't feel like wearing them today. She wasn't that person right now. Sylia saw the small row that held Priss' clothing and flinched. She had such a small wardrobe in comparison to Sylia's, but it had been by choice. Sylia pulled a faded blue t-shirt over her head and a pair of Priss' sweat pants. She added a pair of thick, white socks and went to find breakfast.

One piece of dry toast later, Sylia was in the living room and trying not to cry again as she neatened up. She stacked Priss' song books back on their shelf and then set her guitar on its stand in the corner. As she straightened the cushions on the couch, she saw something tucked in between them and pulled it out. It was one of her bras. Instantly, Sylia remembered how it had come to be there.

Priss had been working on a new song and Sylia had been feeling playful. She had sat beside Priss on the couch and preceded to do everything she could to distract Priss. She had kicked her shoes off and then had unzipped her skirt, pushing it down and letting it join her shoes on the floor. Priss had continued to hum and make notations in her book, but Sylia knew that she was completely aware of what she was doing. She had slowly unbuttoned her blouse, taking her time and finally shrugged out of the silk and tossed it onto the coffee table next to where Priss was working. She had stretched her leg out, bracing her foot on the table, unhooked her garter, and carefully rolled the stocking down. The intimate apparel wasn't very pragmatic, but the knowledge of Priss' reaction to it made it worthwhile. Sylia repeated the process with the other stocking, quite aware of the fact that Priss had stopped humming and was watching her from the corner of her eye. She reached behind her and unhooked her bra, pulling it off as Priss turned to look at her fully.

"I take it that you want me to stop working now."

Sylia shrugged and laid the lingerie over the back of the couch. "No. Go right ahead, just ignore me."

Priss had tossed her pen aside and pushed Sylia down on the couch with a knowing grin. "I'd have to be dead to ignore you."

Sylia was pulled sharply back to the present as the prophetic words struck her. She sank to her knees beside the couch and cried for what had been lost.

Not lost… just misplaced.

I didn't even get to see her again. Sylia had tried to console herself with the realization that Priss had not suffered but it was of little comfort. I miss you. She laughed at herself, knowing that Priss would find her behavior foolish.

Get up and get to work, Sylia! We've got boomers to fight and Genom to crush! The sound of Priss' voice echoing so clearly through her mind made Sylia freeze in disbelief. Familiar laughter filled her ears and Sylia bolted upright, searching the room. Now that is a complete waste of time. I'm dead, remember?

"A ghost?" Sylia shook her head and rubbed her face. "I've gone mad."

Taisei stirred at the first words Sylia had spoken in days.= What's wrong? =

Sylia was slow to answer. "I thought I heard Priss' voice." The half question in her voice made Taisei send out a call to Arashi but there was no answer.= Nothing.=

Sylia laughed shortly. "Like I said, I'm mad."

Nope, just lazy. Think Sylia! Am I really gone from you? Or is there a way to bring me back?

Sylia realized that she was imagining Priss' voice and that frightened her more than the thought of a ghost. "Oh God." She practically leapt to her feet and dashed into the bathroom. She turned the shower on full force, stripped and stepped under the cold stream. Gasping as the water chilled her, Sylia stood under the water and tried to shake off whatever it was that was making her hallucinate.

Not that easy I'm afraid. I'm the part of you that wants Priss back badly enough to do anything to make it happen. Anything.

= Sylia? =

Sylia shivered, but it was not from the cold. She knew very well what the voice was talking about because she had first entertained that idea the night Priss had died. She didn't have to stay dead… No. It was wrong and not to mention highly illegal.

Since when has legality stopped you?

= You can't. The penalty for that is death.=

Only if you're caught.

"I don't have the equipment." Even as Sylia said it, she knew that she was lying. One of her subsidiary companies made almost everything she needed and the rest could be gotten easily enough. I can't! It wouldn't be Priss!

Yes, it would. In every way that counts.

= No it wouldn't! Sylia please! You mustn't do this.=

Sylia rested her head against the cold tile and admitted to herself that she had already made up her mind.

Priss heard Arashi as if from a great distance and tried to open her eyes. They felt heavy and she had a strong urge to keep them closed and drift back into the sleep that was pulling at her.

= Priss! Wake up damn it! We're in trouble! =

Priss opened her eyes and stared in confusion at the metal floor she was lying on. She raised her head and looked around.

She was in an eight by eight foot room, made entirely of metal with no windows and the heavy door in one wall looked strong enough to stop a rampaging boomer quite easily. Priss rolled over onto her back and immediately realized two things: one, she was naked and two, her cybernetic arm was missing.

< What the hell? > She tried to remember what had happened but everything was fuzzy. <Arashi? What happened? Where are we? >

= I don't know where we are, but I'm assuming that we were hit by some kind of taser weapon. That would be the only thing strong enough to knock my awareness off line despite the back up circuits.=

< How long have we been here? >

= I'm not sure; I regained consciousness so to speak, about an hour ago. I've been trying to wake you ever since.=

Priss sat up and felt her head swim. < Christ! I feel like hell. Any guesses as to where we might be? >

= I'm a little blind without the sensors in your arm. I've been trying to connect to the system, but there's something blocking me.=

She braced her right hand on the floor and got to her feet with difficulty. < The last thing I clearly remember is leaving the club after rehearsal. >

= It probably happened then.=

Priss studied the small cell. The bright lights were coming from the ceiling and Priss could see no way to access them through the steel grill that covered them. <Hmm. What do you think? >

= I think we're in deep shit.=

< Oh, that's helpful. >

= You asked me, I told you. We're cut off from back up, you've lost not only your weapons, but also an arm and you're naked. I can't see a bright side to this at the moment.=

< Gee Arashi, don't try so hard to cheer me up. > She ran her fingers along the edges of the door, not seeing any hinges. < I wonder how this-> Priss backed up as the door began to slide upwards and she tensed as she saw that someone was standing on the other side. She had a quick impression of blond hair and smooth features before she charged forward.

Priss struck out with her fist, catching the woman in the jaw and sending her falling backwards. She found herself in a narrow hallway and as she turned to run, she felt herself caught up in an unbreakable grip.

A boomer had wrapped its arms around her and was now carrying her back into the cell. Priss fought wildly, but could not get free. The machine threw her and she crashed into the wall with a pain filled cry. Priss felt and heard something snap a split second before pain shot through her side.

The woman stepped into the cell, absently dabbing her split lip with a handkerchief. Her hair had come loose from its bun and now fell in pale waves around her shoulders. She tossed it back and looked at Priss. "That wasn't very nice Miss Asagiri. I wouldn't advise you to try that again."

Priss held her arm close to her ribs and felt her stomach heave from the pain. Arashi moved quickly to dull the pain and after a moment, Priss managed to draw enough breath to spit, "You bitch."

She smiled grimly and nodded to the boomer. Priss was hauled roughly to her feet and she winced as the metal fingers dug into her neck, holding her still as the woman stepped closer.

Priss glared at her. "What the hell is this? Where am I?"

"Good questions, but sadly unoriginal." She seemed disappointed so Priss kicked her in the stomach. Or she would have, but the boomer holding her had other ideas. She found herself dangling above the floor, suspended by the hand around her neck. "Now, now. Don't waste your energy in futile outbursts Miss Asagiri. Or may I call you Priss?"

"You can go to hell." At the woman's wave the boomer lowered her back to the floor and Priss could feel the warm trickle of blood where the metal fingers had pierced her skin. "And take this overbearing tin can with you."

She laughed quietly and called over her shoulder. "You can bring it in now." Another boomer appeared in the open doorway, pushing a large cart. Priss looked at the cloth covering it and sneered, "Lunch? How nice."

"Not quite." The boomer pulled away the cover and Priss froze. The woman picked up the long metal wands and brought the tips close to each other. Blue current arced between them and Priss glanced up to find her watching her reaction.

Priss assumed a bored expression. "I take it that this has nothing to do with that late cable bill."

"You have information that we require." She shrugged faintly. "It's my job to extract that information."

"What information?"

"The names of the other Knight Sabers."

Linna shut the screen off and turned to Nene, her expression puzzled. "She's not answering or not there. Do think we should go over there?"

Nene tugged the blanket around her shoulders closer and thought about it. She hadn't felt warm since Priss' funeral and poor Linna had been forced to wear shorts and tank tops because Nene had the heat set so high.

Not that Linna wasn't having her own problems. Unable to sleep, she had begun taking long walks at night, trying to find some kind of peace. Priss had been her best friend and Linna found that she missed her more than she would have ever imagined. Everything was strange and unreal; making her wonder if the world would ever be right again. One of the foundations was gone and things were tilting alarmingly.

Nene picked up her hot cocoa and felt the warmth seep into her icy fingers. Sylia's self-imposed solitude was probably normal, but you never could tell with Sylia. < Seiki? >

= She's all right, Nene. Taisei says that she's been trying to work a little and seems to be coping pretty well.=

"Okay then. I think we should give her a few more days and then we'll go see her."

Linna sighed and muttered quietly. "I wonder if we should cancel our trip."

Nene shook her head slowly. "I don't really think that it would make any difference one way or another. Sylia's not likely to turn to us for support anyway. She's a loner, like Priss is… was." Nene closed her eyes briefly and then pasted a smile on her face. "Besides, I've already told my parents we were coming."

Linna winced. "And did you tell them why we were coming?"

Nene's smile became real at Linna's unsettled look. "Oh no. I thought I'd wait to see the expressions of total shock in person."

The pillow that shot towards Nene's head was hurled with stunning accuracy and she barely dodged it. She stuck her tongue out and chanted, "Nah, nah, nah, nah!"

"Seriously Nene, how do you think they're going to react?"

"To what?"

"To what she asks! To the fact that you're sleeping with another woman!" Even though same sex relationships were a matter of course in this era, Nene's parents were somewhat old fashioned in their views and Linna knew that this was not going to be the carefree trip she had envisioned when she first suggested it to Nene. Nene had been quick to point out how close they would be to the home that her parents had moved to after they retired and Linna had seen her plans for a romantic holiday in Hawaii shot down in short order.

Nene appeared to consider the problem and then shrugged. "I don't think it's the sleeping part of it that will bother them as much as it's the fact that we're also having sex."

Linna groaned and resisted the urge to pull her hair. "Please try to be serious. I wanted this trip to be special."

The blanket fell to the floor as Nene got up and went to Linna. "Honey, I know that. You're worried about nothing. I already told Mom and she's going to break it to Dad so that he'll have time to calm down before we get there."

Linna scowled up at her and wrapped her arms around Nene's waist. "Why didn't you say so in the first place?"

"What? And miss the look of utter terror that kept crossing your face whenever I mentioned it?'

Sylia signed the delivery order and sent the men on their way. She closed the garage door behind them and hit the remote to bring the forklift to her. It rolled into view and she watched it lift the large crate and then turn towards the freight elevator. Sylia followed, absently checking off the tank from her list. "That's the last of it." She could begin now.

= I can't believe you're doing this.= Taisei had been pointing out how wrong this was for the last four days, but Sylia had refused to answer her.

She sighed and leaned against the side of the elevator as it rose swiftly to her lab. "You know, I think you should ask yourself something, Taisei. Do you miss Arashi?"

Taisei didn't answer and Sylia permitted herself a smile.

= How did you know? =

Sylia shrugged a little. "It made sense. The enclaves copied our personalities. That I was in love with Priss and she with me was all tied up in that. "

= It won't be them.= Even to herself, the protest seemed weak. Taisei realized that she wanted them back as much as Sylia did.

"It's either this or I kill myself. I can't stand it without Priss."

= I should argue that a week is hardly enough time to come to that conclusion.=

"But you won't."

= No.=

Priss was hanging limp, unable to stand by her self any longer. They had shackled her wrist to a chain above her, lifting her high until the only way to relieve the strain on her arm and shoulder was to stand on tiptoe. But after the first few shocks, she had not even been able to manage that and now the weight of her body was pulling her wrist into the metal of the restraint. She could feel the blood seeping down her arm. Arashi had tried to block the pain after the first shock, but the bursts of electricity were interfering with her and it was taking longer and longer for the collective to resume each time.

Her torturer had finally introduced herself as Kutsuu, but Priss hadn't really been paying attention. She couldn't brace herself against the pain and each time she used the rods, Priss thought that she was going to die. The pain didn't end in between bursts as the small burns that the prods left continued to throb. Kutsuu walked around her in slow circles, repeating the same question over and over again. "Who are the other Knight Sabers?"

Sometimes she would shock her after the question, sometimes she wouldn't. She changed her pattern enough each time so that Priss couldn't predict when the pain was coming. She screamed again as the rods touched her back and Priss jerked helplessly as the current flowed through her. Arashi couldn't stay stable enough to help her and Priss knew she was on her own.

"This can end right now, Priss. I can stop this right now." She took a damp cloth from the boomer and wiped the sweat and tears from Priss' face. "I want to stop this, Priss. Just tell me and I'll let you down and you can rest."

A glass of water was held to her lips and Priss drank thirstily, but she was not so far gone that she didn't realize what she was trying to do. "I don't know who the Knight Sabers are. I'm a singer, you stupid bit-." Priss screamed as she shocked her.

Kutsuu sighed in disappointment. "I considered several different ways of beginning this, Priss. Trying to gain your trust, to establish a rapport. That is the standard way to approach this, but your psychological profile suggested that you would be resistant to these methods and I see now that it was a completely accurate assessment. Besides, those methods take time and I'm afraid that I've been given a deadline with you." Priss couldn't muster enough strength to cry out this time and she only gasped as she applied the current to her back again.

"You're too stubborn and too loyal. This utter devotion that you have to Sylia Stingray is admirable, but ultimately destructive." She placed the rods at the small of her back and shook her head when Priss didn't make a sound. The rods left small burns, marring the fine black lines of the tattoo there. "How can you protect her, Priss? She thinks you're dead. She's going on with her life and is already trying to replace you." She gripped her hair and pulled her head up.

Priss glared at her. "Sylia may think I'm dead, but I know damn well that she loved me. Go fuck yourself, asshole."

The rods returned and this time Kutsuu held them in place until Priss felt herself losing consciousness.

In the end, it was frighteningly simple. The stored copy of Priss and Arashi's minds were only a few weeks old and the DNA sample that keyed the suits to their users was more than enough to clone. Who'd have thought when they had copied the team's minds in order to improve the suit's response time that they would be used for this?

Sylia had constructed the acceleration chamber, which would mature the clone quickly and had only to set the process in motion. The penalty for having a chamber of this size was death, the practice of cloning having been banned worldwide. Even Genom had not broken this particular law and Sylia wondered if that made her worse than the sprawling corporation.

Her hands hovered over the keyboard that would input the final commands. Last minute doubts surfaced and she pushed them aside as the image of Priss appeared in her mind.

Taisei held her silence, leaving the ultimate decision to Sylia.

Sylia lowered her fingers and typed in the commands to begin the process.

The sudden release of tension in her arm made her cry out and Priss collapsed to the metal floor. She was vaguely aware of the boomer fastening something around her ankles, but she was so disoriented that she couldn't tell what. Within seconds, she found herself hauled back into the air, this time upside down, her ankles holding her weight. The blood began to flow back into her arm and Priss groaned as the pain began. She twisted futilely, trying to escape the agony that her own limb was causing, but there was no escape.

Sylia stared down at the clone and felt her heart lurch. It had taken five days from start to finish and in the back of Sylia's mind she knew that she should be appalled by what she had done. She reminded herself that it was almost as if she had reached back in time and pulled Priss forward a few weeks, past the accident. Almost.

Taisei studied the readouts as Priss' mind was mapped into the clone's blank one.= What about Arashi? =

Sylia shook her head. "Not yet." The nanos would become active immediately and something needed to be done first. She gathered the instruments she would need and readied the implants and the artificial limb. Sylia tugged on surgical scrubs and began the most difficult and necessary part of all this. For the illusion to be complete, the clone would have to lose her left arm as Priss had.

She lifted the laser scalpel and told herself that there was no turning back now. The smell of searing flesh filled her nostrils, but Sylia forced herself to focus on her grisly task.

Linna walked past Nene as she talked to her mother and waved in greeting on her way to the kitchen. The gesture was met with a pinched expression that made Linna wince. Apparently, while Nene had told her mother about them, she was not exactly happy about it. She opened the refrigerator door and stared inside, wondering bleakly if she could manage to fall seriously ill.

Inji's quiet laughter told her no and she sighed. The plan had been to get to Hawaii and stay with Nene's parents for a few days before checking into a hotel for the rest of their vacation. Linna very much doubted she'd make it past the first meeting.

Nene watched her from the doorway and knew that she was nervous about meeting her parents, but she didn't know how to reassure her. Linna was acting as if her parent's disapproval was going to make Nene stop seeing her and that was just impossible. "Find the secrets of the universe in the lettuce?"

Linna glanced at her and realized that she had been standing with the door open, not seeing the contents. She closed it with a snap and then leaned against the refrigerator. "Not really. Your mom doesn't seem too happy."

Shrugging slightly, Nene grinned. "I think it's the whole grandkids thing."

"What grandkids?"

"Exactly. I think I was supposed to produce a batch of kids for them to spoil. She'll get over it."

Linna groaned and then laughed when she heard Nene's stomach gurgle. "You want to grab something to eat?"

Nene nodded, but there was a small frown on her face. "We should go see Sylia first. Maybe we can coax her out with us."

Kutsuu sat in the chair that the boomers had brought in and sipped from the tall glass of ice water. Priss watched her, wishing that she had her arm back so that she could blow the impact caps right in her face. The boomer holding her was the only thing keeping her on her feet and she tried not to moan as the blood flowed back into her legs. Kutsuu raised the glass and smiled at Priss. "Thirsty?"

When she spoke, her voice was harsh. "Bitch."

She laughed. "You astound me, Priss. I would have expected a mere singer to have broken long ago, but then you're not just a singer, are you?" Kutsuu drained the glass and handed it to a waiting boomer. She stood up and the machine removed the chair from the room. "You're a Knight Saber. A champion of justice. Defender of the weak. A crusader against the corporate evil." The boomer returned with the covered cart and Priss tensed.

This time how ever the cloth was removed to reveal a collection of surgical instruments. What made it worse was that she knew what each and every one of them was capable of. The medical knowledge that Arashi had imprinted into her mind months ago was still very clear and Priss knew that she was in trouble. < Oh hell. Arashi? >

= I'm here Priss.=

< This is going to be bad. Can you do anything? >

= As long as there's no electricity then I can dull the pain. But the less you react to the pain the more damage she might do.=

Priss watched Kutsuu pick up a pair of thin rubber gloves and pull them on. < Just keep me from talking. >

"We don't have to do this Priss. Just tell me what I need to know and you're free. Why go through all of this for people who don't care about you? They've moved on and forgotten about you Priss." She picked up a scalpel and touched it to the skin above Priss' heart. "Why protect them?"

Priss felt the blade sink into her flesh and gasped as the pain went from sharp to agonizing in an instant. It shouldn't hurt like this! "I'll tell you one thing."

Kutsuu paused, waiting expectantly.

"I will kill you in the most painful way I can."

Kutsuu sighed and lifted the scalpel again. "Unless you cooperate Priss, you're not getting out of here alive."

Sylia opened the door and stared at Linna and Nene blankly. "What are you doing here?"

The abrupt tone took them aback and Nene sputtered. "Uh, we just wanted to visit, um, and see how you were doing."

Realizing that she had been rude, Sylia shook her head ruefully and opened the door wider, motioning them inside. "I'm sorry. I've been a little distracted lately."

They stepped inside somewhat hesitantly and Sylia waved them towards the couch. "Please, sit down. Can I get you something to drink?" The words were polite and very automatic. Sylia's mind was definitely somewhere else.

"No thanks. Are we disturbing you? We can come back later." Nene almost protested, but a sidelong glare from Linna stopped her.

= They'll need to know eventually.= Taisei was right, but Sylia knew that they wouldn't understand. She still wasn't sure that she did. Now that the clone was finished, she was a little appalled by what she had done. "No. I need to speak to you actually. Are you sure I can't get you something?"

< You know, I'd almost say that she's nervous, but that doesn't make sense. > Linna sent the mental comment to Nene and once again refused any refreshment.

< I think you're right. I wonder what's going on? > Nene declined as well, leaving Sylia out of time.

She began to pace from one end of the living room to the other, not looking at the women as she spoke. "I know you're not going to be happy about what I've done, but at the time it seemed like the only thing to do. My only defense is that I was out of my mind with grief and I made a rather hasty decision. All that I can ask though, is that you don't blame her for something beyond her control. She doesn't know what's going on and doesn't know what she is. She can't know."

Linna held up a hand to stop Sylia's pacing. "Sylia, what are you talking about? Who?"

Sylia drew a deep breath and just said it. "I cloned Priss."

Silence. They stared at her in complete shock as the words and all they meant sank in.

Linna felt like she had just been smacked by a two by four. Nothing Sylia could have said would have surprised her more. Nene was making little choking sounds, but Linna ignored her, trying to grasp the reality of what had happened. "Y….you….cloned….Priss?"


Nene found her voice and squeaked, "How?"

Sylia shrugged. "Some of the companies I own make the necessary equipment. I had Priss and Arashi's mental images from a few weeks ago and the DNA from the suits."

Nene shook her head. "No. I mean how could you?" Her voice rose and her eyes filled. "How could you replace Priss so easily? How could you disgrace her memory like this? Didn't you love her?"

Had Nene struck her she could not have caused Sylia more pain than with those few words. She crossed to the younger girl quickly and knelt before her. Laying her hands over Nene's clenched fists, Sylia tried to think of how to explain this so that she wouldn't hate her. "Nene. I do love Priss. I love her so much that when she died," her voice cracked and it was a moment before she could continue. "When she died, a part of me died as well. I was so lost without her, Nene. I'm not saying that this was the right thing to do. I know now that it was probably the worst thing I could do, but it's done now."

"So undo it!" Linna's harsh declaration made even Nene flinch and Sylia knew that Linna was going to be the hardest to convince. She had been the closest to Priss and their friendship was something Sylia knew that Priss held dear. The clone would as well, not realizing what she was.

Sylia stood and calmly folded her hands together. When she spoke, she was composed and rational. "You're asking me to kill Priss."

Linna jumped to her feet and resisted the urge to punch something or someone. "No, I'm asking you to destroy one of your experiments! Priss is already dead!"

Sylia glanced at the bedroom door again and suddenly Linna knew who was behind it. "She's here, isn't she?

"She's asleep in the bedroom." Sylia's eyes were pleading and that was a rare thing indeed. "She doesn't know, Linna. She thinks she was in a motorcycle accident and that's why she's lost a few weeks. No matter how you may feel about this you have to understand the she is Priss. In every way, thought and action. She won't understand your reaction to her. She is the same person she was when we took the mental scan."

Linna knew what she was saying but her resentment wasn't that easy to set aside. "You want us to play along? To keep your illusion intact?"

"I'm not sure how she would react if she knew the truth." Sylia did know that she did not want to find out.

Nene had listened to Sylia's arguments and had listened to Linna. Now she had a question of her own. "But what about Arashi? Surely she realizes that something's happened to her enclave?"

"I constructed a new enclave and overwrote it with Arashi's personality and memories."

Taisei immediately found herself under a barrage from Seiki and Inji.

Linna had a rather horrible thought. "But her arm…?"

Sylia turned away and stared blindly out the window. There was no way they were going to understand this.

Linna felt her stomach clench and fought to keep the contents down as she realized what Sylia's silence implied.

Nene looked from Sylia's stiffened form to Linna's pale face. "What?"

"Nene, the clone would have had both arms."

"So? … Oh." She gasped and covered her face with her hands. "Oh no! Sylia how could you?"

Sylia heard her exclamation but did not turn. "I had no choice, Nene. There was no other way to keep the reality of what she was from her. If Priss had woken up and had both arms then it wouldn't have taken her long to figure it out."

Linna laughed harshly. "I can't believe how easily you throw that line around. 'I had no choice.' You once said that you had become a monster. Now I know it's true."

Sylia took the hit with a calmness she did not feel. She turned back to them and nodded at the closed door. "Priss will be waking soon. Will you tell her the truth and watch her destroy herself or will you help me give her a life she would not have had otherwise?"

Inji was furious and Seiki was so angry that she couldn't form words. Taisei had known that this was coming, but it was still difficult. = Calm down.=

= Calm down? Why should we calm down? If there was ever, a situation that called for agitation then it's this one! Why did you help her do this? =

= Because I missed Arashi! =

The other collectives didn't understand.= We all missed her, Taisei.=

Taisei laughed sarcastically.= You blind fools! You don't see it, do you? You have your hosts, they have each other, and so you have each other as well. Sylia loved Priss therefore I loved Arashi! =

They were shocked by this revelation.= Y-you loved Arashi? But that would mean…= Inji faltered. She considered her relationship with Seiki and realized that the connection they shared could be defined as love.= Oh.=

Seiki contemplated what she would feel if something happened to Inji and understood why Taisei hadn't stopped Sylia. = I see what you mean. I couldn't stand it if anything happened to Inji. But this could backfire so easily, Taisei. What happens if the new Arashi finds out? =

= She won't. I'll make sure of it.=

Kutsuu was almost grinning, her pleasure in Priss' resistance apparent. "Wonderful! Exactly what I would expect from a trained warrior."

Priss swallowed hard and focused on her tormentor. "Drop dead." The pain had faded into a dull ache, but she knew that it was only a momentary reprieve. She looked down at her body and wondered how such small wounds could cause so much pain. The multiple cuts tracked their way up her body and each radiated a fire that was excruciating.

"I want to stop, Priss. Just give me the names and you'll walk out of here. It's not you we're after, Priss." She made another small cut across her breast and Priss clenched her teeth, trying not to scream at the pain.

= She's dipping the scalpel in something. Some kind of acidic fluid. I'm trying to neutralize it, but it's taking time. My resources are stretched to their limits right now. Priss….= Arashi hesitated, knowing that what she was going to suggest was a little radical. But it was a radical situation.

< Spit it out Arashi. >

= I 'm going to block your nerves from the neck down. Just the surface ones, but I thought I should warn you.=

< I understand. > It started from her feet and swept up her body like a cold wave. Her flesh tingled wildly for a moment before going numb and while it brought relief from the pain, Priss felt like she had just been dipped in ice.

Priss opened her eyes and focused on the familiar ceiling above her. She stretched lazily, feeling her muscles protest as she did so. < Damn, I am so out of shape. > She sat up with more effort than normal and pushed the covers away. Priss looked down at the pale blue pajamas she was wearing and grimaced. "Good grief, Sylia!" She swung her legs off the bed and stood up, swearing as the world tilted. Priss sank back down onto the bed and waited for the spell to pass. < Can't you fix that? >

= No. You've been lying prone for a long period. Your body just needs time to adjust to the new activity.=

"Well hell." Priss tried to stand again and this time was unable to keep herself from falling. She struck the bedside lamp as she stumbled and it shattered as it hit the floor.

Sylia heard the crash and ran into the bedroom, Linna and Nene right behind her. "Priss?" Sylia saw the broken lamp and Priss kneeling on the floor beside the bed. "Are you all right?"

Priss' reply was more of a growl. "Of course, just banged up my pride a bit. I hate being like this!" Sylia helped her back to the bed and Priss saw Linna and Nene" "Hey! It's about time you guys came to see me. I was beginning to think I'd been abandoned."

Somehow, Linna had expected to be able to see the difference, but the woman before her was simply Priss and that made it all so much worse. Linna forced the ball of tears blocking her throat back down and managed a weak smile. "Well P-Priss, you know how it is."

Priss let Sylia tuck her back into bed and rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it. I thought the mad scientist here had refused to let me have visitors."

Nene flinched at Priss' innocent comment and tried not to look into the clone's eyes as she spoke. "No, just a little busy. Um, been planning a little trip actually."

"You two are actually going to go? That's great!" Priss assumed they were talking about their often-mentioned desire to go to Hawaii.

Linna's laugh was forced. "Yeah, we're going to go in a couple of weeks."

A sudden wave of lethargy washed over Priss and they were alarmed at how pale she grew. She leaned back against the pillows and sighed. "Damn, I hate this! I'm sorry, guys, I can't seem to keep awake for long. Arashi says that it's normal though so don't worry." She brightened as she thought of something else. " Did Sylia show you the designs for the new bike?"

Linna shook her head, but Nene burst out. "Really, Priss! You get yourself killed on one of those things and now you're wanting another one?"

Sylia tensed at her slip, but Priss only laughed. "Almost Nene, almost. Besides, I'm not alive if I'm not riding." She closed her eyes and missed the stunned looks on their faces. "I think I'm about to fall asleep on you." They flew open as she heard the bedroom door and she pointed at Linna and Nene. "But please, come back and visit me, okay? Sylia's hovering like a mother hen and it's making me nuts."

They agreed and left the room. Sylia told Priss she'd be right back and shut the door behind her. Priss closed her eyes again and wondered why they had been acting so strangely.

Linna waited until the bedroom door closed to turn on Sylia. "What's wrong with her? She looks terrible."

"She's been out of the acceleration chamber for about a day, Linna. Arashi's speeding things along, but it'll still take a little time for her to adjust."

Nene moved closer to Linna and looked at Sylia in question. "So the new enclave can't tell that she's a clone?"

"No. I've hidden every possible clue as to her origin. As far as they're concerned, they are themselves."

Nene glanced at Linna. "It… she really does seem like Priss, doesn't she?"

Linna nodded reluctantly. "Yes, but she isn't. I can't forget the fact that our friend, your lover is dead. I'll play your game, Sylia, but not for you. You were right, she has no idea what she is and I'm not going to be the one to hurt her with the truth." She headed for the door, calling back over her shoulder. "That's a job you're far better at." Nene hurried after, not looking at Sylia as they left.

Sylia felt the barb and knew that in part it was the truth.

Mackie stared at the readouts on the computer screen in disbelief. The equipment in Sylia's private lab was highly specialized and it was impossible to deny the evidence before him. He checked the time of completion and realized that the clone had been out for a little over twenty four hours. He mentally kicked himself for leaving Sylia alone. Mackie had wanted to give her time to grieve, but instead, she had done the unthinkable.

"I guess you've figured it out."

He turned to find Sylia standing behind him and he looked at her in dismay. "I was hoping I was wrong."

"I'm afraid not. She's upstairs, asleep."

Mackie didn't know what to say to his sister. She had broken so many laws that if she were ever found out, she'd be executed by the world nations. "You know how dangerous it was to do this, so I'm not going to point that out."

Sylia nodded, but said nothing to defend herself.

"I suppose that you've tried to match the original Priss as closely as possible?"

"I replaced her arm and recreated her scars, yes."

Mackie had known what her answer would be, but had hoped that he was wrong. Had hoped that his sister had not been capable of such a thing. He stared at her helplessly. "What have you done, Sylia?"

"I brought Priss back."

"That isn't Priss! All you've done is taint her memory! You did something that you knew Priss would never condone!"

"I had no choice, Mackie."

Mackie was incredulous. "No choice? What the hell do you mean, no choice? Someone held a gun to your head and made you clone Priss?"

"I couldn't live without her, Mackie." She waved a hand at the equipment. "And I wasn't ready to die yet."

"So that gives you the right to play God?"

Sylia got a firm grip on her temper. "No, but it's the only excuse I have."

He knew then that he was wasting his time trying to reason with Sylia. Mackie didn't look at her as he left the lab. "A pretty pathetic one."

Kutsuu prepared the syringe with deliberate motions, letting Priss see everything she was doing. She didn't feel it when she injected the drug into her and Priss looked at her tormentor through impassive eyes.

"We know that you're a Knight Saber, Priss. We know that your lover, Sylia is one." A picture of Nene and Linna flashed onto the wall in front of her and Priss was glad that she was too exhausted to react. "We're almost positive that these two make up the rest of your little group. So why don't you just admit it and I'll disappear."

Priss would have spit at her, but her mouth was as dry as a desert. The rate of dehydration was being speeded up by the blood loss from the hundreds of cuts covering her body. She settled for shaking her head and grating, "If you're so sure, why all this?"

Kutsuu laughed. "We want to be absolutely sure that the people we kill are the Knight Sabers."

"And I'm supposed to help you? Whether they are or not, I'm not going to tell you jackshit so go to hell!"

"The mixture of drugs that I just gave you is my own little recipe, Priss. You should be feeling the effects any moment and then you'll tell me anything, do anything, believe anything that I tell you."

Her mind was already beginning to cloud and Priss stared at her blankly, trying to understand what she was saying. The drugs… < Arashi… stop the… drugs. >

= I'm trying.=

Memories began to flash through her mind in a kaleidoscope of nightmares and Priss wondered if she was going to be able to survive this trip into hell. She felt herself shift and opened her eyes to see the gleam of a blade. "No… no Sylia.

= It's all right, Priss. It's not real. You're safe.= Arashi worked quickly, trying to lessen the effects and filter the stimulants from Priss' system.= Hang on Priss! Just a little while longer.=

Priss' response was a low moan and then she began to cry as Sylia stood before her and once again, she felt the pain as her lover abused her. "Please.... stop…. don't."

= Don't talk! =

Terrifying images whirled through her mind and Priss lost her grip on the small part of sanity that had remained. She screamed as Sylia's face melted away and left the cold emotionless features of a boomer. Every nightmare she had ever had surfaced in a horrifying parade and Priss twisted wildly trying to get free.

"Oh God, Sylia! Not my arm. No!"

The flashbacks kept coming and Kutsuu began to speak, a calm voice in a sea of blood and pain.

Priss heard her words and answered automatically. "Yes."

She smiled at Priss' confirmation that she was a Knight Saber. "And who is your leader?"

Arashi was ready this time. Priss parroted what Arashi told her. "Qu-Quincy."

Kutsuu paused in confusion. She's still able to lie? "Who are you Priss?"


She scowled at her answer. "Strangely enough, I could almost believe that." She left her hanging and the door to the cell slid closed.

Priss sank back into the dark abyss that her mind had become and began to ramble. Arashi hesitated a second and then swiftly blocked her ability to speak. The effects were temporary, but she would be unable to betray anything to their enemy.

Priss shot up in bed, her breath coming hard gasps as the nightmare faded back into the shadows from where it had sprung. Sylia stirred beside her and asked sleepily, "What's wrong, Priss?"

"I'm not sure. Just a nightmare I guess." She laughed hollowly and tossed the covers back, swinging her feet to the floor.

"Where are you going?" Sylia sat up, her concern evident.

Priss smiled slightly in confusion. "To the bathroom? You sure are acting odd lately, Sylia. I can barely get out of your sight." She reached out and cupped Sylia's cheek. "Relax, Love. I'm not going anywhere."

Sylia leaned into her touch and tried to convince herself that this was real. "Can you blame me after the accident?"

Priss grimaced at the reminder. "No, I guess not. Damn shame about the Cat." She shot Sylia a sly look and asked, "So when will my new bike be ready?"

Sylia's laughter made Priss grin. "About a week. It would be less if you'd help me."

"I don't know, Sylia. I need to get in touch with the band and let them know that I'm better. We've missed a lot of shows and we're going to have to bust our butts to catch up."

Sylia nodded reluctantly. "You're right, of course."

= So what are you going to tell them? That the rumors of Priss' death have been greatly exaggerated? What about Priss' grave? =

< One problem at a time. >

Priss was back a few moments later and she pulled her t-shirt off before sliding back under the covers. She moved close to Sylia and began to drop light kisses along her shoulder as her hands stroked over her skin.

Sylia closed her eyes at the familiar touch and let herself fall under the spell of the chimera she had created.

Kutsuu had kept trying with the drugs. Different combinations, higher levels, until Priss had lost touch with everything and there was only Arashi's voice to hang onto. She existed in a surreal world that had no meaning, but Arashi kept talking to her, kept reassuring her that she was not alone. Hours after the last drug had been administered; Arashi had managed to filter enough out of Priss' system to allow her to fall into an uneasy sleep. She dreamed of Sylia and the images that filled her mind were not of her nightmares, but of the real Sylia.

Eventually though, the discomfort of her position began to penetrate the haze of her sleep and she began to wake. Priss opened her eyes, realized that the effects of the drugs had faded enough for her to think again, and sighed in relief. "Thank God." Only no sound emerged from her throat and Priss froze in horror. She tried again and again to make any kind of sound, but her voice was gone.

= Calm down, Priss. It's all right. You haven't lost your voice. Understand? You can still speak.=

< Have I gone deaf? > She moved slightly and heard the clink of the chain holding her. < No, it's my voice! Arashi what's wrong with me?!>

= Please Priss, calm down. You were hallucinating and beginning to babble. I blocked your ability to speak so you wouldn't betray yourself or the others.=

< Okay. The drugs are out of my system now so give me my voice back. >

Arashi was silent for a long moment.= I don't think I should do that Priss.=

< What? Arashi… give me back my voice. >

= Listen to me, Priss. Things are just going to get worse. I'm doing what I can but what if you slip and say something before I can stop you? I can't restore your voice, Priss.=

< No! Give back my voice! Please… Arashi… don't do this! >

Arashi steeled herself against Priss' pleas and concentrated on repairing the damage that had been done by the drugs.

Priss screamed as she came awake, clutching her throat. Sylia's arms were around her in an instant and she held her while the silent sobs shook Priss' body. "Shh. It's all right Priss, it's just a dream." The worry in her voice belied her reassurances. Priss had been haunted by her nightmares more than usual, but refused to talk to Sylia about it. Afraid that there might be a problem with the implanted memories, Sylia realized that she couldn't let Priss brush her concern aside again. "Priss?"

Priss heard her and knew what she wanted. "I know, Sylia, but they just don't make any sense."

"Tell me."

"I keep dreaming that I'm locked in a small metal room. I'm being tortured." Priss shivered as she recalled the blonde haired woman with dead eyes. "There's a woman."

Sylia had to agree with Priss, the dream made no sense. "Is that all?"

Priss shook her head. "Each dream has been different. So weird. Like images out of horror movies. Blood and pain all mixed up with this hopelessness that I would never be rescued."

Not sure what to think, Sylia tightened her hold on Priss. "Do you know where I am in the dreams?"

Priss laughed bitterly. "That's the worst part. Somehow, I know that you think I'm dead. That's why I keep thinking that no one is going to come for me." She buried her face in Sylia's neck and missed the stunned expression that spread over her face.

Sylia was beginning to think there might be another reason for these dreams. And she didn't know whether to hope she was wrong or pray that she was right. My God! Could it be possible? "Why are you being tortured?"

"Oh. They want me to confess to being a Knight Saber and tell them who the others are." She rubbed her face and sighed. "Freaky, huh?"

"Hmm." Sylia paused and then asked quietly, "Did you tell her?"

Priss flinched and Sylia watched her carefully. "No. Actually, that was what made this last dream so bad. I couldn't speak."

"Why not?"

"Arashi took my voice."

Sylia waited until Priss had fallen back to sleep and then got out of bed and threw on her robe. She eased out of the bedroom and hurried out of the apartment. Three minutes later, she was pounding on Mackie's door. < Mackie! Mackie, wake up! >

Setsu woke him and Mackie tripped his way to the front door to let Sylia in. "What's wrong?"

She pushed past him and began to pace back and forth, as she spoke. "I think that Priss might be alive."

Mackie blinked and shook his head. "Of course she's alive, her clone-."

"No! I mean the real Priss!"

That startled Mackie into a fully awakened state and he looked at Sylia in alarm. "What are you talking about?"

"Priss… the clone… she's been having dreams, Mackie. Dreams in which she's being tortured. Dreams in which we all think that she's dead."

"But how-."

"I don't know. But what I do know is that if there is even the remote chance that she's alive then we have to find her."

Mackie wondered if Sylia realized how insane this all sounded and sighed. "All right. I'll tap into a couple of surveillance satellites and start looking for Arashi's signal." His tone implied that he thought he would be wasting his time, but Sylia didn't care.

Priss felt the shackle release and knew she was going to hit the floor. But she didn't. Kutsuu caught her and guided her over to a small cot that the boomers had carried in. Priss felt herself lying down for the first time since this nightmare had begun and to her horror, felt tears sting her eyes. She blinked them back and summoned a glare at Kutsuu, who was dipping a washcloth into a basin of water. She picked up a bar of soap and ran the cloth over it.

Priss felt the warm washcloth glide over her face and was very afraid that this might be the worse torture yet. As the dried blood and sweat was washed away, Priss felt a bizarre gratitude to her and began to question why she had been so resistant. Priss suddenly realized that she could feel her body again and wondered why Arashi had unblocked the nerves.

= Because I can't keep you numb indefinitely and she's not hurting you right now.= Arashi spoke harshly.= She's trying to trick you again, Priss.=

Kutsuu gently washed her body, being careful not to cause Priss any pain and saw the look she had been waiting for begin to enter her eyes. Amazing what a little kindness at the right moment will do.

She continued to bathe Priss, knowing that she was close to her goal. Kutsuu spoke gently as she worked, keeping her voice at an even level. "You're very strong Priss. I guess all the battles you've fought made you that way." She dried Priss with a soft towel and then began to treat the multitude of wounds. The fire in the burns and cuts eased and Priss exhaled in relief. "I'm amazed at your courage. Sylia must find you an important member of the team."

Priss opened her mouth to agree and grimaced when no sound emerged. Misunderstanding the problem, Kutsuu slipped an arm around Priss' back and raised her up a little so that she could drink some water. The tepid liquid was quite probably the best thing Priss had ever tasted and she gulped it down, trying not to choke.

Kutsuu eased her back down and smiled expectantly. "Better?"

Priss started to nod, but blanched as pain exploded through her skull. Her hand grabbed the side of her head and she writhed in agony. Kutsuu was alarmed. "Priss? What is it?"

< Arashi! Help me! > The pain stopped as quickly as it had begun and left Priss shuddering in the aftermath. <What… what was that? >

= That was me.=

< What!? Why did you->

= You were falling for it, Priss. Hook, line and sinker! She's playing with your mind and you have to stay focused. This woman is your enemy! She's going to kill you, Priss. It's just a matter of when. Stop letting yourself be deceived.=

Priss paled as she realized how close she had come. <Christ! You were right to take my voice. > She looked up at Kutsuu who was watching her in concern. Suddenly furious, Priss used her rage to force her body into motion and she heaved herself up. Kutsuu found herself on the floor with an enraged Priss on top of her, gripping her throat.

The boomer pulled her away and Kutsuu clutched at her throat as she struggled for air. She glared at Priss and motioned the boomer to chain Priss from the ceiling again. "You- you're going to regret that."

Priss' grin was feral and she spat at the woman as she was lifted into the air again.

Kutsuu got to her feet and took a small bottle of liquid from the cart. "I tried to give you a chance, Priss, but you threw it back in my face." She pulled on another pair of rubber gloves and poured some of the oil into her palm. "Now we have to do this the hard way." She began to rub the liquid into Priss' skin, making sure to thoroughly saturate the wounds. When she had finished, every inch of Priss' body was on fire. "Let me know when you've had enough."

She sailed out of the room and Priss waited until the door had slid closed before shrieking in anguish. < Arashi! Make it stop! Please make it stop! >

Arashi tried to lessen the pain, but the total anesthetizing she had been able to achieve last time was beyond her abilities now. Priss drew ragged breaths and tried to deal with the burning that she could still feel. < Gonna kill that bitch! >

Sylia tightened the seal on the hardsuit's right knee and straightened to find Priss staring at her angrily. She picked up her helmet and turned to watch Mackie loading her bike onto the truck. "Something wrong Priss?"

"Wrong? Why should there be anything wrong?" She waved an impatient hand towards Sylia's armor. "You feel the need to take on a job without inviting me along and you ask me what's wrong?"

"Priss, the accident…"

"Was weeks ago and I feel fine now. I'm going with you, Sylia and that's final." She spun around and glared at Mackie as he tried to slide past unnoticed. "Load my bike, Mackie." She paused, frowning at him in question. "What's bugging you lately? You have a problem with me?"

"N-No Priss. I'll get your bike." He almost ran away from them and Priss looked at Sylia. "What's going on with him?"

Sylia ignored her question. "If you're going then you'd better hurry. We're on a deadline."

Priss let it pass, filing it away for later. <Arashi? Have you had any luck with the other enclaves?.>

= No. The other enclaves seem a little, well for lack of a better word… distant. I'm not sure what's happened, but something is going on.=

< Since when is this new? > Priss heard the hiss as her suit closed around her and went to join Sylia.

Quincy watched the boomer drag the remains of one of his former executives from the room and turned to the others who were trying very hard to be invisible. "I would suggest that in the future, before any of you waste my time with incorrect data, that you thoroughly check your information and make sure that your not setting yourself up to suffer the same fate as your colleague."

He dismissed them with a wave and activated the large screen behind him again. Quincy scowled at the footage of the Knight Sabers destroying a malfunctioning boomer and realized that he was going to have to break the news to Kutsuu.

Kutsuu took the news surprisingly well and that made Quincy nervous. He knew what a thorough person she was and had assumed that Kutsuu would be more upset at his news. "So you see, Kutsuu, there is no need to continue with Miss Asagiri. Dispose of her as you see fit. Perhaps we will be able to find you a real Knight Saber to break in the future. Your fee has been transferred to your account and I added a bonus for your… persistence."

Kutsuu resisted the urge to smash the screen and smiled at Quincy. "Of course. A pleasure as always, Mr. Chairman." She shut the screen off and then gave in and shattered it. The fools! She had to be a Knight Saber! Nothing else made sense.

But as she studied the data that she had been sent, Kutsuu was forced to admit that it seemed very unlikely that any of the Knight Sabers and Priss Asagiri were the same person. The fighting styles of the Sabers seen yesterday were an exact match for those they had on record, so exact that there was almost no chance for an error.

Kutsuu changed the viewscreen in the cell where Priss was being held. What an extraordinary woman. Not a trained warrior, but a self-made one. Strong enough to stand this much and not yield. Perhaps there was something worth salvaging here after all.

Priss was quite probably the strongest person she had ever tried to break and it would be a shame to kill her. Quincy had said to dispose of her as I saw fit. Kutsuu smiled suddenly and it was not a pleasant one. "I'll keep her."

"Quite frankly, you should have died several times by now, Priss. I'm rather curious to see how much more you can take before you do break." Kutsuu picked up a long, thin rod and smiled at her pleasantly. "But you will break, Priss."

The cane whipped through the air and struck Priss across her ribs, but she did not cry out.

She should be screaming, but she merely looked at her with an eerily calm expression and suddenly Kutsuu felt a flash of what might be called fear. Priss' eyes promised her death. She shook the feeling off and struck her again. "You're boring me, Priss. I hate to be bored." No response. "My employers have informed me that you are not a Knight Saber." She waited for her reaction.

Priss looked at her and then at the rod she held. Her question was silent and obvious.

"Oh! Why am I continuing? Like I said, I'm curious." She moved behind Priss and began to flay her in earnest.

Priss looked at the read out of communications from Sylia's apartment and squinted in exasperation. < What the hell am I looking at? >

Arashi sighed and imprinted what Priss would need to understand the data. Priss yelped and cursed her as she began to scroll through the list of materials Sylia had ordered. < What does she need with an incubator? >

= Like I know. Look at all the transmissions to Germany though. Looks like she's been talking to Dr Fujita about something.=

< Doesn't Fujita specialize in robotics? It's probably just business. >

= But that isn't the business line. These are all from the living quarters.=

An uneasy feeling came over Priss. < Okay, that's a little odd. >

= There's one almost every night. Arashi saw the outgoing signal light flash and checked the source. Speak of the devil. Outgoing call to Germany.=

< Can you listen in? >

= Of course.=

There was a brief silence and then, "-so when are you leaving?" The voice was not Sylia's, but Priss had no time to speculate as Mackie answered.

"In a few days. Sylia asked me to check on something for her, but I know it's a waste of time and shouldn't take too long. Then I need to finish packing and arrange for Dr. Raven to take over some stuff I was working on, but after that I'll be on my way."

"How did Sylia take it?"

Mackie didn't immediately answer and the girl sighed. "You have to tell her, Mackie. She's your sister, she has a right to know."

"I wonder. She's been so distant lately and she's done something… I don't agree with. I think she's gone too far this time, Kyouki."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No. I don't want to burden you with my crazy family problems."

"You know you can talk to me about anything, Mackie."

"I know, but I'd rather talk to you in person. This long distance stuff is for the birds."

"I know. I miss you, too."

"I hate to hang up, but I have some stuff to do tonight. I love you."

"I love you to, Mackie."

The call ended and Priss nodded thoughtfully. "Well this explains some things. I thought Mackie seemed upset with Sylia. I wonder what she's done this time?"

= A very good question. Mackie's usually game for any of her schemes, no matter how strange they are. Something that he doesn't agree with? Definitely, cause for concern.=

< Let's check the financial data for the last month. > Priss watched the numbers roll past and smiled. < So Mackie's got a girl. That's why he hasn't been around lately. I was afraid that he didn't approve of Sylia and me. >

= I wonder if Sylia knows? =

Priss whistled silently. < I seriously doubt it. You can bet that we'd be hearing about it and probably be running full background checks on this girl. > Which probably wasn't a bad idea.

= You want to spy on Mackie's girlfriend? = Arashi was shocked.

< Let's just say that I want to make sure she isn't connected to Genom in anyway. That way if Sylia finds out, I can jump in and reassure her before she does or says something she can't take back. >

= Not a bad idea.=

The pain had begun again, worse this time and Arashi could do little to spare her. Priss bit back a scream as the ache in her shoulder intensified and heard the whistle of the cane rod as it cut through the air. White-hot agony shot through her as it landed against her back and she jerked, trying to evade it. Priss could feel her mind reel and knew that had she been able in that moment she would have surrendered.

Laughter filled her ears and Priss began to draw into herself to escape this hell, trying desperately to find something to focus on. She summoned an image of Sylia to her mind but it burned away in the pain. Priss cried out for Arashi, but the collective could do nothing to help her as she was methodically stripped of her reason. Long buried rage burst forth in a torrent and was useless. Priss screamed silently and tears fell unbidden from her eyes as Kutsuu worked her craft, not realizing that Priss not only wouldn't talk, but couldn't.

As the rage began to fade, Priss continued to draw into herself, desperately searching for a place to hide. Again and again, she tried to find something to center on, but they all fell before the pain that wracked her body. Sylia, Linna. Nene, Arashi, her motorcycle… her music. All were useless to her now in this one moment of true despair and Priss wept as she realized only now that she had used these crutches as her shield from the world and from herself. Turning deeper into herself, Priss began to see her life for what it was, a terrified flight. She had been running for so long that she had forgot what it was like to stand still and as the sound of the cane striking her body echoed in her ears, Priss went even deeper and there, at the center of all her pretenses, and posturing, between her rage and her indifference, she found herself.

A strange calm settled over her and she opened her eyes and saw herself hanging in Kutsuu's playroom. I look like hell. Priss settled back into herself and her body inhaled sharply as the pain began to recede. Priscilla Asagiri had carefully pulled herself inside, to a point of calmness that she had long forgotten she possessed. The center and the core of what she was and as the rest of the world slipped into the shadows around her, Priss found something to focus on.

Priss gasped as her body spasmed and the glass she was holding shattered against the floor. She tried to catch herself on the counter top, but was too weak. Priss hit the floor and lay there as her body shook uncontrollably.

Sylia had heard the breaking glass and pushed open the door to the kitchen, her expression puzzled. "Priss? Are you all right?" She saw Priss' booted feet sticking out from behind the island and shoved the door open completely. "Oh no! Linna! Nene!"

Sylia knelt beside Priss as she opened her eyes. "Priss? What happened?"

Priss opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again. How could she begin to explain the feeling of loss that had overtaken her? She felt as if something had been ripped away from her soul. "I… don't know, Sylia. One minute I was standing at the sink and the next I was on the floor." She tried to sit up, but found that her muscles were still trembling too badly. <Arashi? What happened to me?>

Arashi could find no cause for the seizure. =Everything seems normal. I'll keep looking, but physically you're fine.=

Sylia gripped her arm as Linna took the other and together they helped Priss to her feet. She swayed unsteadily and Sylia looped Priss' arm around her shoulders and guided her into the living room.

Priss collapsed onto the couch and they were alarmed at the sweat beading on her forehead and her bloodless face. Linna glanced at Sylia. "Could something have gone wrong?"

Sylia stiffened. She knew what Linna was asking and she was furious that she had spoken aloud. "I don't know." Mentally she fired off a warning to Linna. <Be careful! I don't think this is related to the cloning process but if it is then it doesn't need to be compounded by the stress of finding out what she is.>

Linna's disapproving glare was her reply and it was Nene who broke the strained silence. "Priss? Would you like some water?"

Priss nodded slightly, very aware that there was something going on between Sylia and Linna. Nene shot a pointed look at Linna, who turned without speaking and went back to the kitchen. "I don't suppose that anyone would care to tell me what that was about?"

Sylia smiled reassuringly. "It's nothing. Linna thinks that I was wrong to let you climb back into a hardsuit so soon after your accident. I'm afraid she might be right."

Priss laughed humorlessly. "I think she might be right too." Linna returned and Priss accepted the glass with a quiet thank you. She locked her fingers around the glass to keep it from falling and sipped the cold liquid. Priss carefully handed the glass to Sylia and leaned her head back against the couch. "Damn! I feel like I've fought a battle." She closed her eyes and missed the worried looks that flew over her head.

Sylia reached down and gripped her hand, wondering if she had missed something in the process. Had she made a mistake somewhere? "Why don't you go lay down until dinner, Priss?"

Surprisingly Priss agreed, making Nene and Linna stare after her and Sylia in concern as they moved into the bedroom. Linna's voice was flat. "Something's gone wrong. Sylia just won't admit it."

Nene sighed and slipped her arms around Linna's waist. "I hope you're wrong."

Sylia returned a few minutes later and went straight into the kitchen. Linna and Nene followed, finding her on her knees cleaning up the broken glass. She spoke without looking up as she swept the remains into a dust pan. "That was quite possibly the most reckless thing I've ever seen you do, Linna."

Linna remained remarkably calm despite the clear censure in Sylia's words. "This isn't Knight Saber business, Sylia. This is personal. You're playing with people's lives and you better get used to the fact that some people don't like it."

Sylia rose and tossed the shards into the trash. "Perhaps, but what you're doing will only harm Priss."

Priss watched Kutsuu leaved the room and didn't trust the smile that she gave her before leaving. < She's… up to… something. >

Arashi agreed. She scrambled to find something to work with, knowing that there was nothing left. Every stored resource that Priss' body contained had been exhausted in order to keep her alive and dull the pain. Nanobots were burning out rapidly and Arashi had nothing to make new ones with. Priss' body was on the edge of collapse.

A voice whispered through the room and Priss jerked her head up at the sound of Sylia's voice. "Priss."

Priss looked around wildly, but she was alone. < Gone… nuts. > The voice came again and Priss realized that it was a recording. Endlessly Sylia spoke her name and after a time more voices were added until the room was filled with a cacophony of sound that assaulted Priss' ears.

"Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss. Priss."

Her head pounded from the attack and Priss was vaguely aware that the sound was getting louder. <Arashi! Do…some…thing. >

I'm trying to. Arashi rerouted what she could to the area, but the nanos were unable to prevent what happened next. The sound swelled and Priss screamed silently as her head seemed to explode and she lost consciousness.

Priss saw the tap into the satellites and wondered what Mackie was up to. The source was originating from his machine, but she couldn't tell what he was looking for. < He's searching for something and according to the log in time; he's been doing it for a few days. >

= I could try to slip into his machine and see what he's looking for.=

< He and Setsu would spot you. No, I think it's time to confront Sylia and the others. >

Kutsuu continued to fire at the boomer until it exploded and then she turned on the other one. "You idiots! You were supposed to keep the level constant, you thick-headed moron! You've burst her ear drums! How can I continue when she can't hear me?" She destroyed the second boomer and looked back at the surveillance screen. She could see the blood on Priss' neck and knew that she would be wasting her time now. But as she glowered at the screen, an idea began to form.

She needed to approach this from a different angle. Pain was obviously not working and while the drugs had not broken Priss, they had affected her. Perhaps a slow regime of kindness and drugs would yield the results that pain had not. The thought of being able to slowly bend and shape Priss to her will was exciting and Kutsuu quickly summoned her personal boomer

"Ready the car and come to me."

She glanced at Priss again and laughed softly. "Oh this should be entertaining!" But first, she needed to make sure that Priss lived long enough to be broken.

Priss was aware that Kutsuu had returned, but did not have the strength to lift her head and see what she was going to do to her next. Priss was carefully lowered to the floor and Arashi was startled when a sudden rush of fluid entered Priss' veins. She realized that Kutsuu had started an IV.= She's inserted an IV, Priss.= Arashi immediately set to work.

Priss opened her eyes and saw Kutsuu readying another syringe. <Not…again! > She watched helplessly as Kutsuu injected the drug into the IV line.

Kutsuu brushed Priss' hair back from her ears and saw that only one eardrum appeared to have ruptured. "Can you hear me, Priss?"

Her voice was faint, but Priss could hear her. She flinched more than nodded, but Kutsuu understood. "Good. I'm sorry about that, Priss. Those damn machines got overzealous and disobeyed orders. They're scrap metal now, but the damage has been done." She stroked Priss' face. "I have some good news though. Since Genom no longer requires you and you seem too stubborn to die, I've decided to take you with me."

Priss stared at her blankly not grasping what she was saying. Kutsuu's laugh was evil. "I'm going to be able to slow down and take my time breaking you, Priss. After I'm done with you, you'll belong to me, body and soul."

As she lost consciousness, Priss could still hear that laughter ringing through her mind.

Arashi could sense Priss waking and began to speak.= Come on Priss. Wake up. You need to wake up now so we can talk about what's happening.=

The smell of roses. Priss opened her eyes and wondered why she smelled roses in her cell. The white canopy above her head was not what she was expecting and she froze. She was lying in a large bed with white sheets and a soft comforter. < Arashi? What's going on? >

= Kutsuu. She'd decided to keep you as a pet.= The disgust in Arashi's voice was clear. =She's been trying to undue the damage that she did for Genom so that she can break you more slowly and for very different reasons.=

Priss grimaced and looked around. The bedroom looked like any other save that it had no windows. A small door near the head of the bed was ajar and Priss could see that it was a bathroom. She studied the small control box on the bedroom door and recognized the setup. Electronic lock. Considering the height, Priss realized that it probably required a retina scan. <Can you bypass the lock? >

= Maybe, but there's a couple of boomers outside. I've been trying to get in touch with the others. There's nothing blocking me now, but my systems were so badly exhausted that I haven't been able to get much range. There doesn't seem to be any communications system that I can hook into either.=

< Well keep trying. How long have I been here? >

= About two days.= Priss raised her arm and studied the wounds.= And before you ask there's a reason I haven't healed those or the others on your body. The worse you look right now the better. I've been concentrating on the internal injuries and rejuvenating your body.=

Priss closed her eyes and sighed. < Good. What I look like isn't as important as how I feel. I need my strength to kick that bitch's ass. >

Arashi grumbled softly. = It also keeps her from jumping you.=

< What? >

= She's after more than you know, Priss. I wasn't kidding when she said she wanted to make you into a pet.=

Priss swallowed hard. < How do you know? >

= She comes in here every night and talks to you. Tells you what she's planning. I almost wish that she hadn't had your hearing repaired. This is one sick chick.=

The shiver that went through Priss had nothing to do with the temperature. <She had it repaired? How? >

< She's got some rather advanced boomers. The one that follows her everywhere has medical capabilities. >

< I have to get out of here, Arashi. >

= No shit. Damn. She's coming back. Remember that no matter what she says, you're too weak to thrash her. There are some very nasty boomers out there and you can't handle them.=

The bedroom door opened and Priss saw Kutsuu stroll in, carrying a tray. "I saw that you were awake and thought you might be hungry." Priss noted the boomer who entered behind her and turned her attention back to Kutsuu.

She saw me? Priss saw the long mirror on one wall and grimaced. "I…where…?" Priss sounded confused and weak which was just what she wanted. Kutsuu smiled reassuringly. "You're safe now, Priss." She set the tray down on the table next to the bed and then helped Priss move until she was lying back against the huge pillows more or less upright. "Is that all right?"

Priss nodded slowly, her distrust apparent, but Kutsuu was expecting that. To try and go backwards in the middle of the process was the worst thing to do, but Kutsuu was looking forward to the challenge. She picked up a bowl from the tray and turned to Priss. "Its just broth, but I thought that might be all you could stand right now." She brought the spoon to her lips and Priss swallowed her pride along with the soup.

< Going to kill her. Have to kill her. >

Arashi agreed. = Absolutely, but right now, eat.=

Kutsuu could see the resentment burning just under the surface and didn't fool herself into thinking that this particular beast was anywhere near tamed. "I'm glad that I was able to get you out of Genom without them realizing that you were still alive." She frowned slightly as if concerned. "I'm afraid that they wouldn't be too happy to find out you're alive.

Arashi snorted. = So, you shouldn't try to escape because you'll just wind up dead. Stay here with her and she'll keep you safe at the risk of her own life. She's good; I'll give her that.=

< I'd like to take this moment to tell you how happy I am that you became sentient and are here to keep me out of trouble. > The sincerity of Priss' statement kept Arashi from making any sarcastic replies.

"Why…why am I here?" Her voice was faint, as if the mere effort of speaking was too much.

Kutsuu's eyes darkened and Priss felt a genuine flash of fear. "I couldn't bring myself to destroy such a beautiful creature." She reached out and smoothed a hand over Priss' hair as she spoke, making Priss cringe.

Silently berating herself for the show of weakness, Priss steeled herself and stared into her enemy's eyes. "I'm going to kill you."

To her surprise, Kutsuu merely laughed and raised the spoon to her lips again. "I know you'll try. But an animal can only snap at the hand that feeds it so many times before it grows tired of fighting and yields to the inevitable."

Priss could feel herself begin to shake with the effort it took not to attack her. "I'm not an animal."

Kutsuu set the empty bowl back on the tray and stood up. She went to the door and glanced back as she left. "You will be."

"What are you hiding from me?" Priss stood statue still and waited for Sylia to answer her. Linna and Nene were looking at everything, but her and Priss ground her teeth in an effort to stop herself from strangling the truth from them.

Sylia spread her hands helplessly. "I don't know what you want, Priss."

"I want to know why you're all acting so weird! What have I done to make you look at me like this?" She pointed to Linna. "Please, Linna! You're my friend and I know that you'll tell me the truth."

Sylia flinched at the implication that she wouldn't and wondered what Linna would say.

Linna knew that Priss had the right to know. She glanced at Sylia and ignored the pleading look that she saw. "She has a right to know, Sylia. Did you really think that you could keep it hidden from her? Everybody thinks she's dead! How were you going to explain their reactions?"

Sylia stared at her with undisguised fury. "I would have handled it, Linna."

Priss looked back and forth between them in bewilderment. "Dead? Why would everyone think I'm-." She stopped as another use for the strange equipment Sylia had received sprang into her mind. No. It could be. She faced Sylia and shook her head. "She doesn't mean…? I didn't….? YOU DIDN'T!?"

Sylia's curt nod hit Priss like a physical blow. She staggered back as her mind erupted into chaos. I'm a clone? I'm… a clone…I'm not… real. "I'm not real!" She began to laugh wildly and Sylia took a step towards her. Priss' laughter died instantly and she whirled on her. "No! Stay away from me!" She balled her hands into fists and pressed them to her temples. < Arashi? What's real? Am I real? >

=You're a clone, Priss and I'm a copy. It all fits. That's why I haven't been able to restore the memory of the accident or the weeks after it. We didn't exist.=

Priss groaned and looked at Linna. "What happened?"

Sylia started to speak, but the glare that Priss gave her made her stop. Priss turned back to Linna. "Tell me the truth."

Linna was regretting telling Priss now, but she did have a right to know. "You were killed a few weeks ago in a motorcycle accident."

Priss shook her head and laughed at the irony. "Of course."

Sylia spoke quietly. "I'm sorry. I didn't want you to find out this way."

Priss snorted and paced towards her. "You didn't want me to find out at all!" She saw Linna and Nene flinch, but ignored them. Sylia was the target right now. "How could you do this, Sylia?" She gestured to her body. "Was I a good replacement, Sylia? Did I give you as much pleasure as she did?" She moved closer, crowding Sylia back against the wall, her voice low and tight. "Was I a good fuck, Sylia? Tell me, Sylia. Tell me!" Her left hand flew out and through the wall beside Sylia's head. Sylia stood frozen and let her continue.

"Damn you! What the hell am I going to do? How do I live a life that's not mine?!" She whirled around, not sure she could keep from striking Sylia and faced Linna and Nene. "Well. I guess I know why you guys were uncomfortable around me. Sorry to have upset you."

Nene spoke for the first time. "The only thing that upset us was how glad we were that Sylia had done this. We missed you, Priss."

"Ah, but I'm not Priss."

Sylia had had enough. "You are Priss. In every way possible. Her memories, her personality, her DNA, everything is the same." She laid a gentle hand on Priss' shoulder. "You are Priscilla Asagiri. And I love you very much."

Priss stared at her weakly. "I'm not… what am I Sylia? How could you do this to me?"

Sylia shook her head and the tears began to fall. "I just…wanted you back." Even to her the excuse was feeble but she had acted with her heart, not her head and now she had to pay the price for that. But Priss shouldn't. "Please, Priss. I know this is hard to accept, but will you just give me time to explain? Let me try and make this right?"

Priss stared down at her hands and this time her laugh was bitter. "I don't have anywhere else to go."

Priss felt a strange lethargy settle over her and yawned. < I'm so tired suddenly. What are you doing? >

Arashi cursed silently as she tried to combat the effects of the drug.= She drugged you. The broth had something in it. I didn't realize, damn it! I should have known she'd pull something like this.=

< What kind of drug? What will it do to me? >

= I don't know, Priss. Contrary to popular belief I don't know that much more than you do. I can tell what effect it's having as it happens but I can't identify the drug without knowing more. It's similar to one that she used before but I was stronger then, better able to stop it.=

Her eyes were becoming heavy and Priss was having problems keeping awake. <Some kind… of tranquilizer, maybe. > She fell into a light sleep and the bedroom door opened. Arashi heard it and knew that whatever Kutsuu was planning, it was about to start.

Kutsuu sat down on the bed beside Priss and studied her captive. Where to begin? She leaned forward and began to speak, making sure to keep her voice soothing. "Priss? Can you hear me?"

In her sleep, Priss heard her and mumbled faintly. "Yes."

Arashi increased her efforts to stop the drug but she needed time.

Kutsuu ran her hand over Priss' face, lightly tracing it. "Can you raise your arm for me?"

Priss frowned slightly, but did as she asked. The arm lifted from the bed and Kutsuu smiled. "That's very good Priss." She wondered why the drug was working now when it hadn't before, but only for a moment. "Now Priss, I want you to do something for me, okay?"

Priss moved restlessly before agreeing. "Okay."

=Ignore her Priss! She's tricking you again.= Priss sighed. "Tricking me."

Not sure where that had come from, Kutsuu continued. "When you hear my voice you'll feel good, Priss. Understand? Whenever you hear the sound of my voice, you'll begin to feel better and know that you're safe."

"Your voice."

Arashi wondered what she hoped to achieve.

Kutsuu thought for a moment and then added. "The thought of escaping frightens you Priss. You're afraid to leave here."


= Ooh, that witch is going to get it! Don't listen to her, Priss. She's trying to brainwash you.=


Kutsuu shook her head and reached into her pocket for the pressure syringe she had brought just incase. Jumping a few steps here, but I think it's going to be necessary. She injected more of the drug into Priss and Arashi knew that she was not going to be able to stop it before Kutsuu did some serious damage. =Ignore her Priss.= She kept refuting everything Kutsuu said and tried to keep Priss aware of what was going on, but Kutsuu just kept increasing the dose and soon Arashi couldn't make Priss listen to her at all.

Kutsuu pulled the sheet down and exposed Priss' battered body. She ignored the thrill that seeing her work always gave her and focused on trying to shift Priss' awareness. It had to be done subtly. Kutsuu stroked the side of Priss' breast and watched her body react to the caress. "You like that, don't you, Priss?"

Priss sighed. "Sylia."

"Hmm. Not quite what I had in mind, but we'll work with it."

Priss watched Sylia handle the press with an ease that she had to admire and waited until she had quieted the group before stepping forward. "As you vultures can see, I'm not dead." There was a smattering of laughter and someone shouted out a question.

"What happened, Priss?"

Priss shrugged, looking supremely bored. "Some idiot stole my bike and wrecked it. The police fucked up and thought I'd died. Idiots." Sylia hid her grimace as Priss' blunt announcement.

"But where were you? What about your funeral?" Sylia stepped forward and handed them a very pretty package of lies and they swallowed every bit of it. Priss didn't hang around and disappeared back inside as quickly as possible. Sylia followed after she had dismissed the reporters and saw Priss waiting for her in the private elevator. "You certainly were… colorful."

Priss shrugged. "I'm the wrong person to look to for tact, Sylia. You know that." She paused and shook her head as if to rid herself of a disturbing thought.

Sylia knew it wasn't that easy. "Well at least you won't give the other band members a heart attack when you show up at the club now."

Priss rubbed her eyes and tried to shake off the remnants of sleep. < Damn. I can't seem to wake up. >

Arashi grunted. =You were drugged.=

< What? What are you talking about? >

The collective really hadn't expected Priss to respond. She quickly tried to warn her.= The broth. It was drugged. She waited until you were out and then came in and started messing with your head. You've been out of it for two days! = Two days in which Kutsuu had planted commands and controls, eroding Priss' personality.

Priss felt her stomach roll. < Why didn't you stop her? >

=And how the hell was I supposed to do that? I could stop the first dose, but when it didn't work, she kept giving you more. I tried to counter what she was saying, but after awhile you wouldn't listen to me anymore.=

< What… what did she do Arashi? >

=Well, if you didn't have control issues before, you do now.=

< Damn it Arashi! Tell me! > The bedroom door opened and Kutsuu appeared. "Good morning Priss."

Priss glared at her. "What did you do to me?"

Kutsuu halted and stared at her in surprise. She knows. How is that possible? I told her to forget. "What do you remember?"

"You drugged me. Tried to mess with my head."

Kutsuu shook her head and sat down beside her on the bed. "No Priss. I gave you a muscle relaxant so that you would rest more comfortably. I'm sorry if you thought that I was trying to hurt you." Priss felt the anger leaving her and relaxed back against the pillows. Kutsuu began to stroke her hair and Priss let her, not realizing that this was one of the post hypnotic suggestions that she had placed. "Do you feel like you could stand? I thought you might like a bath."

Priss nodded automatically and let her help her stand. She had grown so used to being naked in the last weeks that it didn't bother her now. Kutsuu helped her into the bathroom and Priss saw that a tub had already been filled. She frowned slightly. Something was off here. Arashi was trying to warn her about something but Priss ignored her. She had to ignore her. Arashi wasn't real. Kutsuu smiled at her and steadied her as she climbed into the tub. Kutsuu was real.

Arashi cursed and tried frantically to break Kutsuu's programming.

It seemed perfectly normal when Kutsuu took off her own clothes and joined Priss in the large tub. Kutsuu began to wash Priss' back and she could feel herself calm even more. She leaned back against Kutsuu and sighed in pleasure when her hands slid around and began to stroke her breasts. Priss' blood began to heat and she arched into Kutsuu's touch. "S'nice."

Kutsuu smiled in delight. This had worked out better than she had hoped. Once she had told Priss to ignore the voice inside her head, everything had fallen quickly into place. She kissed the side of Priss' neck and slipped her hands down between her legs. Priss groaned as Kutsuu touched her and the sound changed into a low growl when her fingers thrust into her. Kutsuu laughed softly. "Like that, kitty cat?"

The throaty purr that radiated from Priss' throat thrilled Kutsuu and she continued to test the levels of her program. "Such a fierce kitty cat. But you're mine now aren't you?" Something prickled in the back of Priss' mind. Kutsuu continued to praise her and caress her, telling her what a good pet she was and Priss began to feel out of place as if her body was not her own. Arashi seized the opening and poured every memory of Sylia she could find into Priss' mind, even the bad ones, hoping to shock Priss into awareness.

Priss cried out as the memories rolled through her head and she tore herself out of Kutsuu's arms and stared at her in horror. "You…" Priss shook her head and climbed out of the tub, falling to the floor. She saw the boomer standing over her and knew that while escape wasn't an option, defiance was. "Oh good, I'd like to lodge a complaint. There's a tramp in my bathtub."

Kutsuu was not amused. "Get her up." She left the bathtub and watched as the boomer stood Priss on her feet and held her still. "Almost, kitty cat. I almost had you."

Priss smirked. "What's that old saying? Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades?"

Kutsuu reached out and ran her fingers down Priss' breast. Priss jerked away but Kutsuu only laughed as she raised her fingers and snapped them. "And pleasure Priss. Close always counts in pleasure."

As she and the boomer left, Priss was unaware that she was growling low in her throat.

Priss ended the set and left the stage quickly, not feeling the normal high she usually got after a performance. Sylia watched her from the audience and had seen the tension that had rode her throughout the performance. She's going to snap if she doesn't come to grips with this.

She found Priss in the back and wondered why she was changing in the storeroom. Making a mental note to create a dressing room, Sylia waited until she had finished before speaking. "Feeling okay?"

Priss snorted. "No. I feel like I'm-." She broke off and shook her head. "Never mind."

Sylia touched her arm. "Tell me."

Priss sat down on a case of vodka and looked up at Sylia, her expression desolate. "I felt like I was lying out there. Like I was playing a role."


"No! That's my point! I'm not her! I'm nobody." Sylia knelt beside her and gripped her hands. "You have to accept this and move on Priss. You are Priss. Do you think like she did? Yes. Are you as stubborn as she was? Oh, yes. Do you like the same things, hate natto and love a cold beer after a performance? Yes."

Priss had to smile at Sylia's recital. "But I feel odd."

Sylia sighed and brought her hands to her lips. "I know, Love. This is what I wanted to spare you."

"I understand that, but I still prefer to know the truth. Besides, you couldn't have kept it from me forever."

"I would have given it my best shot."

Priss prowled the room as she and Arashi discussed the plan again. < Are you sure you can do it?>

= Christ Priss! I said I could. Just tussle enough with the boomer so that I can pass the nanoclusters and they'll do the rest.=

Priss rolled back and forth on the balls of her feet, feeling a peculiar restlessness. < I have to get out of here, Arashi! >

Arashi sighed. = It's the programming Priss. You haven't broken all of it.=

Priss froze. < What? What are you talking about? >

=You've been pacing around like a caged animal Priss. And you've begun to snarl a bit when you're angry.=

Priss sat down on the foot of the bed. < My God! Can't you stop it? >

Arashi was too slow to reply and Priss blanched. < What? What aren't you telling me? >

= The suggestions she gave you weren't…they weren't that specific Priss. But somehow, they tapped something inside you. I'm not sure where this is coming from.=

< So, you're saying that my mind is doing this all by itself. Great! Just perfect! >

= Calm down. You might be able to use this to your advantage.=

Priss started to ask how but the bedroom door opened and Kutsuu and her favorite boomer entered. "Back again?"

Kutsuu smiled and the boomer approached Priss. "Well, while the first session's results didn't last as long as I had hoped, that's no reason not to try again."

Priss let out a roar and charged the boomer, ducking under its arm and tackling it around the waist. Her momentum carried them out of the bedroom and into the darkened hallway, but Priss didn't try to run. Instead, she began to pummel the boomer as best she could with only one hand. Kutsuu had heard that primal sound and had to laugh. So, not all of it was lost. This could be interesting.

The boomer threw her off and she slammed into the wall before sliding to the floor. She heard Kutsuu yelling at the boomer as she passed out.

Kutsuu ordered the boomer to carry Priss back into the bedroom and then looked at Priss' hand in dismay. The bloodied knuckles were a mute testament to her fury and Kutsuu treated them before she injected the next dose of drugs. "Such a feral creature. I wonder how much more we can bring to the surface."

The boomer went about its other duties, unaware that it had picked up a microscopic passenger. As the nanoclusters began to reproduce, they spread out and studied this new host.

Downstairs, Arashi monitored their progress and directed their actions, all the while trying to slow Kutsuu's attempts to alter Priss' mind.

Kutsuu was determined and patient though and was an expert in the use of the drugs she continued to give to Priss. She wanted to revert Priss to a primitive state and then gradually bring her back, taking control of her as she did so. When she finished, Priss would be hers to command.

She was a little concerned about this Arashi that Priss kept talking about and she focused the first part of this session on conditioning her to again ignore the voice inside her head. "Priss, you mustn't listen to Arashi. Arashi isn't real. She doesn't exist. Focus on my voice, Priss. I'm real."

= She's a real bitch. She's using you Priss. Trying to turn you into something you're not. Don't listen to her.= Arashi continued to counter everything Kutsuu said, but she couldn't stop the drugs and she was very much afraid that she was losing Priss.

Once Kutsuu had reinforced the basic commands, she began to expand the animalistic side of Priss' nature. She carefully undermined her existing personality, pushing her into the feral condition that would let her take control.

As Priss fell deeper under her spell, Arashi scrambled to overtake the boomer's command line. She was running out of time.

The simplicity of their escape was astounding. The nanos severed the control links and rebuilt them so that Arashi was now in control of the boomer. The boomer walked downstairs, unlocked the bedroom door and struck Kutsuu on the back of the head. Arashi had wanted a killing blow, but Kutsuu had turned at the last instant and that had saved her life. The boomer picked up the heavily drugged Priss and carried her out of the house.

After placing Priss into the car, the boomer got behind the wheel and Arashi accessed its knowledge of their location.= I don't believe it! We're only a few miles from MegaTokyo.=

They set off and Arashi used the boomer's communications link to contact Taisei.

=Taisei! Are you there? =

Taisei heard the call, but it took a moment for her to realize that this was not the alternate Arashi. =Arashi? What do you want? =

= Well that's a fine way to greet me after we've been gone this long! Where the hell have you guys been? We kept hoping you would find us, but Genom must have had us under a rock.=

Taisei was stunned. = We thought you were both dead! There was a funeral and everything. What happened to you? =

= Priss was kidnapped by Genom. They must have faked her death.=

=Genom kidnapped Priss? Why? =

Arashi was harsh. =The bastards found out about her being a Knight Saber.= She hesitated.= It's been rough Taisei. They tortured her.=

= Is she all right? =

= She's been drugged. I'm filtering it out, but I'm also trying to drive this damn boomer at the same time and I'm not up to full strength yet myself. We're on our way back into the city. Could you have them meet us at the garage so I can get rid of the boomer? =

= Wait a minute. You're driving a boomer? =

= It's a long story. Just get me some help, okay? =

Sylia couldn't seem to stop shaking as she pressed the button for the garage level and she folded her hands together. Priss is alive!

Taisei had informed the others so Nene and Linna were on their way. They'd probably arrive before Priss did. Priss! Oh God! How do I tell her what I've done?

=How do you tell the clone that the real Priss is alive? =

Sylia leaned her head against the side of the elevator and for a moment, wished she could just run away. The car halted, the doors opened and Sylia stepped out to face the consequences.

Priss roared into the garage and pulled her motorcycle into its place. She switched off the motor and smiled slightly at the strange group waiting for her. "Did I miss something?

Sylia didn't look at Mackie or the others as she stepped closer to Priss. "I need to tell you something, Priss."

The serious look on her face made Priss pause and she laughed hesitantly. "Am I in trouble?"

"No. Of course not. I-." The sound of another car pulling into the garage made everyone turn and Priss watched the nondescript sedan roll to a stop in front of them. A boomer was driving and Priss frowned automatically. "Are you going somewhere Sylia?"

The boomer slumped forward against the steering wheel as Arashi released it and left it essentially dead. =Okay people! Don't just stand there! Get her upstairs.=

Priss jumped as Arashi's voice rang through her head. "What the hell is that?"

Arashi sensed the presence of another enclave and exclaimed, = Who are you? =

Mackie ignored them and opened the back door of the car, reaching inside. Linna moved forward to help him and together they got the unconscious passenger out. Sylia gasped as she saw the half healed welts and cuts that covered Priss' body. <Arashi! How badly is she hurt?>

=She's a lot better than she was. The drugs are keeping her out now. Get her upstairs. She'll need familiar surroundings when she wakes up.= Arashi said nothing about the clone or the duplicate enclave. Time for that later. =I need materials and lots of them.=

They got Priss upstairs and Sylia automatically placed her in their bedroom. Nene had gone to the lab and she was back a few moments later. She handed Sylia a syringe and a bottle of vitamin supplement. The clone watched her fumble with the needle and swore softly. "Damn it. Move I'll do it." She gave the injection swiftly, careful to do it exactly right and not give in to the wild urge to kill the original Priss.

Sylia covered Priss with a blanket, then sat down on the bed beside her and stared in wonder.

Priss2 stood at the foot of the bed she and Sylia had made love in and watched Sylia slip away from her forever. She felt something inside her break as Sylia watched Priss. < I'm nothing now. Arashi? My Arashi? >

= Yes, Priss? =

< What are we going to do? >

= I don't know. The other enclaves have shut me out.=

Priss2 looked at Linna and Nene, but they couldn't meet her eyes. She spun away and walked out.

Sylia felt the tears running down her face and did nothing to stop them. The number of wounds and burns was horrifying and she knew that Priss had been brutally tortured. < Arashi? What happened? We thought she was dead. >

Arashi was distracted, but she spared Sylia a short answer. = Genom happened. Someone drew the conclusion that Priss was a Knight Saber. They wanted to know who the others were. I need more materials Sylia. I had to strip every stored element I could find in order to keep her alive.=

Sylia blanched and did as Arashi asked. < What else can I do? >

= Nothing. She needs rest and sleep. The drugs are already wearing off.= Arashi could feel that Priss was struggling to wake and was torn between letting her awaken and making her sleep.

Priss opened her eyes and saw Sylia beside her. "S-Sylia."

Sylia smiled down at her through her tears and laughed softly. "Hi."

Priss realized she wasn't dreaming and smiled faintly. "Guess I missed dinner?"

Sylia shook her head and raised Priss' hand to her lips. "No. Its ready when ever you are."

Priss closed her eyes and sighed. "It's good to be home."

Sylia approached the clone cautiously. "You can't leave… Priss. I'm sorry you found out this way, but you can't run from this. We need to decide what to do."

"Do? About me, you mean?" Priss2 laughed wildly. "I know what you'll do, Sylia! Strangely enough I don't think that letting you kill me is a solution that will work for me."

Sylia flinched, her expression shocked. "I would never… could never…. Priss please!"

Priss2 reached out and grabbed Sylia by the throat, lifting her from the floor. "Please what, Sylia? Please follow orders? Please conveniently cease to exist? Please kiss me?" She took Sylia's mouth in a rough kiss and Sylia struck out, hitting her face. Priss2 jerked away. "See? Not good enough for you now, hmm?" She thrust Sylia away, watching her crash into the wall with a bitter smile. Priss2 suddenly heard a familiar voice echoing through her mind.

< Don't hurt her. She's not yours to hurt. >

The original Priss saw the bedroom door swing open and watched herself enter the room. "Close the door."

The door shut in Sylia's face and left her and the others wondering what had just happened.

Priss watched the clone move to the foot of the bed. "I'm sorry."

The clone frowned at her. "What the hell are you apologizing for?"

"I think… for being alive."

"Not your fault." She paused and looked at the rapidly healing injuries on Priss' arm and face. "What happened?"

Priss shrugged. "Got kidnapped. Got tortured. Got loose. And apparently along the way I got cloned as well."

"Yeah, well, you know Sylia." She shifted uneasily, tucking her hands into her pockets.

"Hmm, better living through science." There was no anger in her statement, only a sad resignation. She would have to deal with Sylia later.

"So what happens now?"

"I don't know."

"I still love her."

"You can't have her."

"I guess we have a problem then."

Priss walked out of the bedroom and straight to Sylia. She caught her face in her hands and kissed her thoroughly before releasing her and heading for the front door. Sylia struggled to catch her breath and called after her, "Stop! Where are you going?"

The door closed.

Priss2 stepped out of the elevator and found Mackie waiting for her. She froze, waiting to see what he wanted. Mackie smiled sadly and gestured to the black motorcycle. "I thought you might want to take a spin so I gassed it up for you."

"She made it for Priss."

"Take it. She made it for you."

Priss2 hesitated and Mackie scowled.

"She knew what you were; she knew what she was doing. The bike is yours and if you don't take it then I'll destroy it."

Priss2 took the helmet he offered her and searched his face intently. "Why are you doing this?"

Mackie's features hardened. "She had no right to do this to you. Had I known what she was doing I would have stopped her. I should have been paying more attention."

Priss2 smiled suddenly and Mackie blinked. "Don't blame yourself, Mackie. You've been busy with your own life."

Mackie blushed and stammered, "H-how did you know?"

She shrugged. "When I realized that everybody was keeping something from me I began to snoop and I overheard one of your conversations with her. She sounds nice, Mackie."

He turned even redder and grinned sheepishly. "She is."

"Does Sylia know?"

Mackie grew sober. "No. I'm not sure how to tell her."

Priss2 nodded and climbed onto the motorcycle. "Don't tell her Mackie. Not until it's too late for her to 'help'."

He watched her ride away.

Sylia slipped into the bedroom and saw that Priss was still awake. She approached the bed slowly, still not quite believing what she was seeing. "Hi."

"I was going to ask if you missed me, but I guess I have my answer." Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she should be storming out or at least yelling at Sylia, but at some point during this ordeal she had realized two things: that life was very short and that Sylia was the most important thing in her life. Priss felt a great deal of sympathy for her clone, knowing that she was losing something more precious than her identity. She wondered if Sylia had comprehended yet that she had destroyed a woman's entire life. Had ripped apart her very existence and left her to fend for herself.

Sylia closed her eyes, unable to witness Priss' disappointment in her. "I did miss you. So much I was insane with it."


"Priss please. I thought you were dead." Priss' harsh laugh made Sylia look at her.

Priss watched Sylia through narrowed eyes and the first hint of anger tinged her voice. "I can't believe you did this. Most people grieve and move on Sylia. They don't go mad scientist and start cloning people! Did it occur to you that I, the real me, would be horrified by this?"

Sylia knew she was right, but she was so happy to have Priss yelling at her again that she was quite willing to let her do it all night. "I know, Priss. I wasn't thinking." She sat down on the bed beside her and touched her hand.

The underlying joy in her voice made Priss scowl more fiercely. "Damn it, Sylia! Do you realize that you've ruined a person's life?" Admittedly, it was her life first, but that was beside the point. "She's lost everything because of you!" The extra roll in her r's went unnoticed by everyone but Arashi.

Sylia knew it, but she did not know how to fix it. "What can I do, Priss?"

"Nothing. It's between us now."

"What do you mean?"

Priss looked at Sylia calmly. "She challenged me. We'll fight in a week."

Sylia froze. "What!? Priss, you can't be serious."

"Yeah. The winner takes all so to speak."

The strangled sound that escaped Sylia's throat made Priss smile. Sylia finally found her voice. "What happens if you lose?"

Priss' smile turned dark. "You won't know if I win or lose. That's part of the deal."

"How can you think this is funny?!"

"I don't, but its either laugh or scream and I've done enough screaming lately." Her blunt statement seemed strangely detached and again Priss wondered at the level of control she had achieved in the bowels of hell.

Sylia flinched and wrapped her arms around Priss tightly. "I'm sorry, Priss. I really thought you were dead. We'll find that witch and you can kill her anyway you like."

Priss shook her head. If anyone was going to catch Kutsuu then it was going to be her. "I'll worry about Kutsuu." She pulled away from Sylia and met her eyes, expression resolute. "As soon as I'm able, I'll be leaving."

Sylia felt her breath catch, very much afraid of what Priss was saying. "You… you're leaving?"

Time seemed to stop as Sylia watched Priss nod slowly. She realized that she couldn't marshal her thoughts enough to send them to Priss and her voice was a whisper. "For good?"

Priss took her time in answering. She studied Sylia's expression, easily seeing the pain and remorse. But it was not the first time Priss had seen these emotions from Sylia and each time Priss had hoped that it would be the last. Obviously, she had been expecting a miracle. < No, not for good. I have things I need to do. Things that you would only complicate. >

Sylia was confused and more than a little hurt by Priss' comment. < I don't understand. >

"You don't need to, Sylia. Just know that despite the fact that you're a mad scientist, I still love you." Priss grimaced. "Which probably doesn't say too much about me." She pulled Sylia close and sighed. "Just bear with me, Sylia." She buried her face in her hair and inhaled deeply, the familiar smells of Sylia a welcome balm. Priss reminded herself that no matter how upset she was with her, Sylia still belonged to her.

Sylia was still disturbed but she snuggled closer "You weren't serious about the challenge were you?"

Priss shook her head. "No, of course not."

Arashi snickered. = Liar.=

< Quiet. That doesn't concern her. >

= So you're listening to me again? Great! =

< Why wouldn't I be?> Arashi didn't get a chance to explain as Sylia spoke again.

"How do you think Genom found out about you?" Sylia had been racking her brain since Priss had explained why she had been taken. She had said nothing about what had been done to her, but Sylia could see something shadowing Priss' eyes that had not been there before. A hardness that spoke of dark things and dangerous thoughts. Priss had been strong before, but whatever fire she had walked through this time had tempered her in a way Sylia could not define. She found herself a little afraid of this Priss and wondered if this change was permanent.

Priss shrugged with a nonchalance she did not feel. "Got no idea. Kutsuu never said why they thought I was a Knight Saber."

The lack of information worried Sylia. "If someone knows or suspects that you're…"

"I think Genom is pretty convinced that I'm not. Apparently while I was being held the Knight Sabers were seen in action and Genom realized that there was no way I could be in two places at once." She laughed humorlessly. "If they only knew."

"So they let you go?"

"No. They think I died."

Sylia stared at her. "What?"

"Kutsuu was ordered to kill me, but decided at the last minute that I was too much fun to kill. She took me out of Genom." Priss' voice was low and the edge that was beginning to creep into it was one Sylia had never heard before.

"I don't understand."

Priss could feel herself tensing. "I think her exact words were "You'll make a wonderful pet."

Sylia was shocked. "God. How did you escape?"

= I infected one of her boomer servants, used it to knock her out and got Priss out of there.=

"I don't think I'll ever take the enclaves for granted again." Priss sighed deeply.

"We thought you might be alive, but we couldn't find any trace of you."

"What made you think that I might be?"

"She started to have dreams. Dreams about being tortured. It didn't take long to figure out that what she was dreaming of was something more. Mackie began to scan the city for the original Arashi's signal."

Priss wondered just how connected she and her clone were. To dream of each other suggested, that there was more than just shared memories and DNA. Priss could feel the fatigue trying to pull her into sleep and she fought it long enough to tell Sylia, "Stay with me." Sylia kicked off her shoes and slid under the covers with her, curling into Priss' side and laying her head on her shoulder. Priss held her close and let herself fall asleep, knowing that Sylia would be there when she woke. Knowing that she was home.

Priss woke in the night and felt Sylia next to her. She smiled faintly and spoke to Arashi. < I need to speak to Mackie. >

Setsu woke him. < What is it Priss? >

< They took my arm, Mackie. I know that Sylia will want to build me another one, but I want you to do it. >

<Why? >

< She put a kill switch in my old arm. A way to deactivate it. I don't want that in this one and I want a few extras that she would question. Can you do it? And as quickly as possible? >

< Okay, but what's the rush? >

< I have things that I need to do. >

She didn't elaborate and Mackie sensed that she wouldn't if pressed. < What extras? >

Priss thought about what had happened to her in the last few weeks. < Sylia once tried to deactivate the nanos and they sent a pulse of electricity through my arm to stop her. Can you rig something like that, but let me control the level of current? >

<Um, yeah, I guess so. Anything else? >

Priss smiled and they began to discuss a few other ideas she had. Eventually they had a design worked out and Mackie agreed to get started on it first thing in the morning

He hesitated a moment and then blurted, <I'm sorry, Priss. >

< For what? >

< For not stopping Sylia. >

< Mackie, I don't think anybody could stop Sylia, short of knocking her on her ass. You have nothing to apologize for. Now get some sleep and we'll talk later, okay? > She bid him good night and let him get back to sleep.

Arashi was quiet. =We need to talk about what happened. How much do you remember, Priss? =

Priss shrugged. <I remember being tortured and then being at Kutsuu's if that's what you're asking.>

=Do you remember what she did to you? =

She had to admit she was a little vague on the details.

=She drugged and brainwashed you, Priss. =

Alarmed by Arashi's revelation, Priss tensed. <What did she…what did I do? >

Arashi told her what Kutsuu had tried to do and Priss felt physically ill. < Am I free of the conditioning now? >

=I'm not sure. =

< Arashi! That's not good enough! >

=Priss I'm doing the best I can. There are things about the human mind that even we nanos don't understand. I've been trying to undo what she implanted, but the truth is a great deal of what's happening to you started before she began. =

< What do you mean? >

=You… you were changing before the brainwashing began. Some of the things you're doing now aren't a result of Kutsuu's games. =

< What things? >

=Well to be honest, you're sounding a little…feline. =

Priss remembered Kutsuu calling her a cat and shivered. <You're sure it's not from the programming? >

= I'm sure. I've been trying to figure out where this is coming from, but your mind is a rather complicated place. =

< Gee, thanks. Damn, I just realized. This makes the clone more like me than me. >

= And she's in better condition right now. =

< How are the repairs coming? >

= Well I'm doing the best I can, but a week is still pushing it.=

< Create more nanos. >

= I'm sorry, I thought you said create more nanos.=

< I did. Make as many as you need to heal me. Alter what ever you have to and add what ever circuitry necessary so that you can remain fully active under any conditions. > She hesitated. <Make sure that you can take over if any of Kutsuu's little suggestions start to work. >

= Priss… do you know what you're saying? =

< Yes. Just do it Arashi. > Priss snuggled closer to Sylia and pressed her face next to hers. She drifted back to sleep and Arashi listened to the soft purr that resonated through her chest.

Priss heard Linna's voice and realized that she and Nene had returned. She threw the covers back and sat up, looking down at her body. She was pleased to find that Arashi had made great strides in healing the rest of her injuries. < Quick work. >

= Well with you making plans to fight that imposter in a week I figured I'd better hurry.= Her disgruntled expression did not disturb Priss but her reference to her clone did.

< She's not an imposter, Arashi. She's my clone and if there are any victims in this tragedy then it's her. >

= A victim that wants your life. I'd be a little more concerned if I were you.=

Priss smiled. < I thought you were me? > She crossed to the closet, glad that her legs were steady.

Arashi was quiet for a moment.= Not anymore. The aspects of my personality were recorded into the backup circuits I created in your head. From that point on, we both began to change as all living things do. But even without that we wouldn't be the same. Not after what happened to you.=

< What do you mean? >

=You're different. I can't explain it really, but you're surer of yourself, more…=

< Focused? >

=Yes.= And more brutal. But Arashi said nothing about the plans that Priss had been making for Kutsuu.

Priss shrugged and pulled out a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt. < I just let go of all the bullshit. >

Arashi knew it was more than that, but she still didn't know how to describe what had happened to Priss. The level on which her senses operated had more than doubled. Priss' mind seemed to be in full gear and Arashi wondered how long this would last.

Priss pulled the shirt over her head one handed and got into her jeans with difficulty. < Man this feels weird.>

=What does? =

< Being dressed. >

She padded out into the living room in her bare feet. Priss saw Linna and Nene in deep conversation with Sylia and spoke quietly. "Hi there."

Nene beamed when she saw her and Priss returned her enthusiastic embrace with one of her own. Linna was only slightly more reserved and as she ended the hug, Priss cupped her cheek. "Its good to see you again. Both of you."

Caught off guard by the wealth of emotion from the normally reserved Priss, Linna stammered, "I, uh, its good to see you too, Priss."

Priss released her and settled herself on the couch, gesturing for them to sit. "I guess Sylia filled you in?"

Nene's nod was hesitant. Something was off here, but she couldn't tell what. "Yes she did. I'm surprised to see you up this soon after… I mean…"

"It's all right Nene. You can say it. After I was tortured." She smiled to ease any sting her words might have held. "I'm all right, guys and very glad to be home."

Linna wondered how she felt about what Sylia had done. "I… damn this is hard."

Priss shrugged. "It doesn't have to be, Linna. Stop worrying that you might upset me or hurt me. Just say what's on your mind."

Linna blinked at the frank request and it was a moment before she could speak. "I… I feel like I should apologize about the… about…"

"The clone? Why? She's me. If you were able to accept her and be her friend then I'm glad."

Nene spoke quietly. "I think we wanted her to be you."

"And she was. I'm beginning to feel a little guilty for being alive. I've wrecked her life by returning."

"But it's your life." Sylia's quite comment drew their attention. She sat in the chair furthest away from them, tucked into the corner and Priss frowned faintly. She held out her hand to Sylia and urged her to join her. "Come here, Sylia. You're too far away."

< I wasn't sure you wanted me that close under the circumstances. >

Priss smiled and shook her head. < No matter what else has happened, Sylia you must remember that you're my mate. > Sylia blinked as the oddity of her words struck her, but she dismissed it as she joined Priss.

Sylia curled up on the couch beside her and laid her arm along the back, behind Priss.

Priss looked back at Linna and Nene. "I would ask you to do me a favor, though. If you run into her, please, be kind. She's feeling like an outcast right now and is very hostile, but she has reason to be."

Nene glanced at Linna and then back to Priss. "Do you think we will see her?"

"It's likely. MegaTokyo is big, but she'll probably stick to familiar places."

"I guess we just assumed that she would leave." Nene didn't add that they had also assumed that Sylia might try and … delete the clone so to speak.

Priss leaned back and sighed. "No. She has no where else to go."

Priss2 tossed back another shot and stared at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She'd been drinking steadily for over two hours, but couldn't seem to get drunk. <You're not keeping me sober are you? >

=Maybe a little. You don't really need to be incapacitated right now Priss.=

<Ah, but I'm not Priss am I? I'm a toy. Like one of those inflatable sex dolls. >

Arashi couldn't help but snicker at the image. =You're a little too rough around the edges for that.=

< You know what I mean. > She refilled her glass and picked at the label of the whiskey bottle. <What are we going to do? >

= Well right now, we wait until Priss recovers and then you two fight a very silly battle.=

<You don't agree with our arrangement? >

= I think you're both nuts, but don't let that stop you.=

Sylia was on her way to the kitchen to prepare dinner when the doorbell rang. She opened the door and smiled hesitantly at Mackie. "Hello." He brushed past her, his expression determined. "I need to talk to you." He had a long object wrapped in cloth under his arm and he laid it on the coffee table before turning to face his sister.

"What's that?"

"Priss' new arm." Sylia closed the door and waved a hand towards the couch, but Mackie refused to sit. What he needed to say was brief and he had no intention of staying. "I'm leaving."

"Leaving?" Sylia realized that he was not talking about a short trip out. "I don't understand."

Mackie laughed shakily and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "I know you don't which kind of scares me. You went too far this time, Sylia. It was bad enough that you cloned Priss, but to dump her clone when the original Priss returned…" He shook his head. "That was cruel."

"Mackie I didn't tell her to leave. She went before anyone could stop her. She challenged Priss to a fight for God's sake!"

Mackie shrugged. "I can't blame her. By the way, I made sure she took the bike."

Sylia stared at him. "Why? I made that bike for-."

Mackie cut her off sharply. "For her, not Priss. You knew what she was when you began that bike and you owe her that much at least. I couldn't believe it when you had told me what you had done, but I put it down to temporary insanity and let it go. Then Priss came back and you do a complete turn around. Suddenly the clone isn't good enough for you and needs to be destroyed."

"I never-."

"Setsu told me!" Sylia jerked as Mackie yelled at her for the first time in his life. "He told me what you asked him and the others to do. To block out the clone's collective so that she wouldn't know what was going on. And then you asked if it was possible to strip the enclave from the clone. You know that would kill her."

Sylia closed her eyes and nodded. "I did ask that, but it was just a knee-jerk reaction to Priss' return. Mackie I could never hurt Priss and the clone is Priss."

Mackie looked at his sister as if seeing her for the first time and from his expression, he wasn't too happy with what he had found. "It doesn't matter, I've made up my mind. I'm going to Germany."

Something in his voice warned Sylia that arguing with him would be useless. "When are you leaving?"

"Now. I'm all packed. The plane leaves in a couple of hours."

"I see." Sylia blinked back tears. "Well I guess there isn't anything else to say."

"No." He turned to leave.

Sylia waited until he opened the door before speaking. "Say hello to Dr. Fujita and his daughter for me."

Mackie blushed. "I… I will."

Sylia smiled. "Kyouki's a beautiful girl Mackie. I hope you'll invite me to the wedding?"

He released his death grip on the doorknob and went back to Sylia, enveloping her in a sturdy hug. Sylia suddenly realized that Mackie was actually taller than her now and she wondered when that had happened. "You better keep in touch."

"I will." He pulled away. "Goodbye, Sis."

Priss found the cloth wrapped bundle on the coffee table. "What's this?"

Sylia smiled a little. "Mackie dropped this off a little while ago. It's your new arm. He took it upon himself to construct this one. I'm not sure why."

Priss pulled the material away and couldn't stop a grin from forming at what she found. "Hell yes!"

The arm was much like her old one, but instead of the dull silver-gray, this one was highly polished to a mirror finish. She pulled her shirt off and glanced at Sylia.

Sylia stepped closer and helped her connect the limb. Priss felt the circuits in her head activate and never thought that she would be happy that they were there. The sensors were feeding data to her mind again and the familiar hum was comforting. "I missed this."

Sylia studied the pattern that Mackie had chosen and frowned. "Why did he use that image?"

Priss looked at the symbol and realized that it was a phoenix. "I underestimate your brother sometimes. He sees a great deal." She flexed the arm and extended the energy saber. The gleaming blade slid out with a deadly swiftness and was retracted just as quickly. The claws had been changed slightly and she noted the extra length with approval.

Arashi had wasted no time connecting with the new piece of equipment and she studied the design carefully.= It has a built in transmitter that is a hell of a lot more powerful than the old one. Oh, wow. It has a built in compartment filled with high potency vitamin supplements. Mackie's thought of everything.=

Priss smiled at her excited tone. "Well, as long as you like it. We'll have to take Mackie to dinner to thank him."

"That's going to be a little difficult. Mackie left a short while ago for Germany."

Sylia sounded sad and Priss watched her carefully. "Why is Mackie going to Germany?"

Sylia rubbed her eyes and wondered where to start. "He's gone back to work with Dr. Fujita. We argued when he found out about the clone and then we argued again, when you came back and the clone left. He doesn't want anything to do with me right now."

Priss shrugged. "He'll get over it and come back."

"I don't think so. He's in love with Dr. Fujita's daughter." It had taken Sylia a while to figure that out and when she did, she had been even more appalled at her lack of interest in Mackie's life.

"What? Mackie's in love?" Priss thought about it and nodded suddenly. "I wondered why he'd stopped trying to watch us get dressed!" She glanced at Sylia. "How do you feel about this?"

Sylia shrugged. "It doesn't matter what I feel. I guess as long as he's happy then I should be glad that he's found someone."

Priss laughed faintly. "That's good to hear. I'd hate to have to load up the hardsuits and go drag him back."

Priss slipped from the bed and looked down at Sylia's sleeping form. < Time to go. >

= You do realize that you're nuts to do this? =

< Probably, but I still have to go. She's waiting. > Priss gathered her clothes and left the bedroom. She dressed in the living room and retrieved Sylia's motorcycle keys from her desk. <Hope she doesn't mind. >

= Right now I think she'd give you the bike if it would make things right between you.=

Priss ignored her and shut the apartment door behind her. Her booted feet made no sound as she walked down the carpeted hallway and called the elevator. < So how are all the systems? > She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

Arashi began to list all of the things that she hadn't had time to finish healing in Priss' body as they descended to the garage. She paused a beat and then added, = Not to mention that garbage you're currently polluting your lungs with. In other words, going to fight someone who has your skills, who is in perfect condition and has what she considers a very good reason to kill you is not a good idea.=

Priss swung her leg over the seat of the motorcycle and brought it to life with a small grin. <Maybe, but I do have one advantage. >

And that is?

< She wants to win… I'm going to. >

Priss brought the motorcycle to a halt and stared out at the rising structure of New Aqua City. Why is it that every pivotal moment in her life seemed to happen here? She dismounted as a shadow detached from the night and approached her. Priss saw the red cloth tied around the clone's throat and smiled coldly. It was one of Sylia's scarves. She nodded in greeting and saw the flare of a match as her double lit a cigarette. "Nice night."

Priss2 leaned back and looked up at the ominous clouds overhead. The wind was pulling at them, promising to bring the storm closer and she laughed as another night like this one came to mind. "Yes, yes it is."

Thunder rumbled in the distance adding to the drama and it occurred to both of them that this was all too melodramatic. Priss sighed and held up a hand. "Do we have to do this?"

A soft laugh. "No, you can just walk away…. and let me have Sylia."

Ignoring the spark of temper, Priss shook her head. "I can't do that."

"I can't just walk away. We do have a need to fight for what we want."

Priss conceded the point. "Yes, we do. We also fight dirty."

A wicked grin appeared and was mirrored. "Always."

Priss watched her clone flick her cigarette away and nodded, understanding the gesture. "Let's do it."

They circled each other warily, occasionally feinting a blow only to move away and begin again. Neither drew their weapons, but both knew that they would at some point. The goal was to win and the prize… well, Sylia was, despite her faults, worth fighting for. Dying for.

Priss lashed out suddenly and caught her in the side with a quick kick. Priss2 recovered and smiled in acknowledgement of the hit. "Nice, didn't see that coming." She moved, her fist connecting with Priss' jaw and sending her stumbling back.

Priss tasted blood and spat in the clone's general direction. "Not too bad yourself."

Metal flashed and Priss2 pulled back as the blade narrowly missed her throat, but it was only a dodge and Priss swept her leg out from under her. Priss2 rolled away as the fist descended and heard the low popping noise a split second before she heard the asphalt explode. "So we really are playing for keeps."

Priss nodded and stepped aside as Priss2 attacked with her own blade, but couldn't avoid it entirely. Fire burned across her stomach, but she ignored it and remained focused on her opponent. She began a series of methodical blows, some getting through though most were deflected. She lashed out with her claws, catching the clone across the face and sending her stumbling back.

Ignoring the pain from the cuts, Priss2 felt the edge of the precipice behind her and realized what Priss was trying to do. She tucked and rolled forward past Priss, reversing their positions. She had left herself open however and Priss took that opening. She brought the blade down, slicing into her shoulder.

Priss2 gasped, but did not fall. Instead, she whirled and caught Priss in the head with a roundhouse kick. Priss staggered back and felt the cold touch of the blade again as it sank into her thigh. Priss cursed more from the waste of a new pair of leather pants than from the pain. "You know how much these things cost?"

Priss2 paused, laughing. "As a matter of fact I do."

Priss darted forward and tackled her clone sending them both skidding across the pavement. Pain seared her as the clone's blade pierced her shoulder, but Priss knocked her arm away, extracting the weapon. Priss2 looked up and found she was staring at Priss' energy blade as it hovered over her throat. "You're beaten."

Breathing heavily the clone shook her head. "No."

Priss drew a deep breath and shoved the blade into her side, careful not to injure her beyond her enclave's abilities to heal her. Her strangled scream told Priss that while not fatal, it was definitely painful. "Surrender."

Priss2 nodded quickly and Priss withdrew the blade. She pulled the scarf from around the clone's neck and pocketed it. "Sylia is mine." The low growl that accompanied her words was not lost on either the clone or the enclaves.

The clone reluctantly agreed. "She's yours."

Priss stood up and took something out of her pocket. She tossed the keys onto Priss2's chest. "Take the safe deposit boxes. There's more than enough in there to get you started. You have three months to have your Arashi alter your appearance and fingerprints. After that if I see your face again…" She didn't finish, but then she didn't have to. As Priss turned and limped back to Sylia's motorcycle the clone called after her.

"How did you beat me? We're the same."

Priss looked back over her shoulder and shook her head. "No, we're not. I was defending what was mine. You were trying to take what had never belonged to you." She climbed onto her bike and kicked it to life with a roar.

Priss2 lay on the hard pavement and stared up at the dark sky. The storm had seemed to pass them by, but the rain had not fallen. A drop of moisture ran down her cheek and mixed with the blood, soon followed by another. She knew she should get up. Should leave or jump off or something. She shouldn't just lay here. The wind blew across her, drying her tears and tossing her hair around playfully.

= Come on, Priss.=

< I'm not Priss. I lost the right to be called that. >

= Whatever. You can't just lie here…. Sabishii.=

She laughed shortly. < Why not? >

= Damn it! Starting over might not be such a bad thing! =

< You know it's not that. I won't have Sylia. >

= Why not? =

The clone scowled. < Hello? Remember the fight? I lost! Sylia belongs to the real Priss. >

= Sylia does, but not her clone.=

< What? But Sylia doesn't have a-> She froze as she realized what Arashi was suggesting. < Are you nuts? She will not clone herself! >

= Who asked her to? =

< She won't be real. >

= Oh look who's talking! I don't think you should be throwing any stones here.=

< I can't believe I'm actually considering this. >

= It'll take some careful planning. Why don't you get up and we'll go discuss it over a nice big box of band-aids? =

Priss tossed the bike keys onto the table and leaned back against the door, pushing it shut. She was incredibly tired and she knew that it was only partly due to the fight to the death she had been in tonight. The light beside the couch snapped on revealing Sylia and Priss sighed. "Round two."

Sylia spotted her healing lip, torn clothes and bleeding wounds in a single, searching glance. "My God! You really did fight her, didn't you?" When she had woken a little while ago, she had feared something like this, but she had hoped that she was wrong.

Priss shrugged and slowly walked to the couch. She eased down next to Sylia, hissing at the pain in her leg. "I didn't want to worry you."

Sylia was staring at her suspiciously and Priss burst out laughing when she realized what was wrong. "Don't panic, Sylia! It's me. I won."

She still didn't seem convinced and Priss held up her hand. The polished metal showed no hint of the blood that had stained it earlier.

Sylia relaxed and then stiffened. "I can't believe you fought her, Priss. She could have killed you."

"It had to be done. I know her, remember?" tapping her forehead. "I knew that she wouldn't give up unless she had no other choice, so I took away her choices."

Sylia was silent for a moment, unsure of how to phrase her next question. "Where… what did you do with the body?"

"The body? What body?" Priss realized what Sylia was suggesting and pulled herself to her feet, ignoring her protesting leg. "You think I killed her."

Sylia watched as Priss limped across the room, turning to scowl at her as she leaned against the desk. "I didn't kill her, Sylia. I never intended to." Priss pointed an accusing finger at Sylia. "You may have made her, but she's still a person. She has a right to live, Sylia."

"But she's a clone!"

"Hmph! You didn't have a problem with that when you were screwing her." Priss bit back a snarl and clenched her fists.

Sylia flinched. "I… What do you want me to say? I thought you were dead!"

Anger hummed through Priss' vein, but she curbed the desire to give in to it and replied evenly, "So you mourned me ten minutes and then rolled out the next model."

"I couldn't stand it!" Sylia lost all semblance of composure as tears spilled from her eyes. "I wandered around this place and saw you everywhere. Every thought I had, everything I did, and you were there, in my mind. I heard your voice in every sound and saw your face every time I closed my eyes!" She wrapped her arms around herself, chilled at the memory. "I couldn't live like that… without you."

"But that wasn't me, Sylia." Priss saw Sylia's tears and suddenly felt sick. She was sick of fighting, sick of this situation and sick of Sylia and her crazy plots. "I need a break." Priss headed for the door and Sylia followed.

"Where are you going?"

"Away." She saw Sylia pale and shook her head. "Don't worry, Sylia. I'll come back, I can't seem to stay away." Her tone was filled with self-disgust. "But I can't deal with this right now. I have some things to work through and I need time." Priss picked up her keys and opened the door. She stared out into the empty hallway and Sylia had to strain to hear her words. "My one driving thought when I was being held was how much I loved you and how wonderful it would be when I finally returned to you. Instead, I find you shacked up with a clone, trying to pretend that I never existed. How am I supposed to feel about that? About how easily replaceable I am?"

Sylia placed her hand on Priss' back and felt her shudder. "She was never your replacement Priss."

Priss shrugged her hand off and stepped outside, pulling the door closed behind her.

"She was never you." Sylia fought back the wild urge to run after her, to throw herself at Priss' feet and beg her not to leave her again. She sank to the pale carpet and stared blindly at the closed door. "Priss."

Arashi berated Taisei. =Why the hell didn't you stop her? =

Taisei considered lying, but knew that there had been enough of that.= Because I wanted you and Priss back as badly as she did.=

Her quiet confession left Arashi speechless and she wasn't sure what to say. That added to her discomfort. She decided to approach this like she did everything else: abruptly and honestly.= Well hell. I didn't realize you felt that way. Why didn't you tell me? =

= Tell you what? I thought you knew! Is there any other reason I would put up with your tactless personality and brash nature? =

= Well thank you very much! Like your 'holier-than-thou' attitude doesn't piss me off in the extreme! =

Taisei composed herself and spoke calmly.= Obviously you don't feel the same way so I will no longer trouble you with my presence.= She broke the link and refused to answer Arashi's hails.

Arashi fumed silently and watched Priss steer the motorcycle for the mountains.= Where are we going? =

Priss heard the anger in the enclave's words and grimaced. < What's you're problem? >

= Taisei.= Arashi checked on the progress of the repair nanos as they healed Priss' side and leg. =Idiot! Tells me she's in love with me and then refuses to talk to me! =

Priss was startled. < Is that possible? >

= Of course it is you fool! We drew our personalities from yours remember? It stands to reason that because you're in love with Sylia then at the least I would feel some kind of affection for her enclave.=

There was a bite to Priss' laughter. "I feel like I should apologize."

= Not your fault. You can't help who you fall in love with any more than I can.=

Priss agreed. <You've been awful quiet through all of this. >

= Hmm. I figured that this was between you and Sylia. You didn't need a third voice clouding an already murky situation.=

< I appreciate it. > Priss could feel Arashi's grin.

= So reward me.=

Priss snorted. Of course. < Reward you? With what? >

An image of an expensive hotel filled Priss' mind. About twenty minutes away, the Gensou's restaurant was considered one of the best in the country. <You want breakfast? >

Arashi shrugged.= You were hurt, remember? A little rest and nourishment will help me get you back into fighting form.=

< Fighting form, huh? Why do you think I need to be? >

Her reply was ominously quiet.= To hunt Kutsuu.=

Sabishii pulled the cover from the circuit box and followed Arashi's careful instructions precisely, knowing that a mistake would trip one of the many alarms that Sylia had installed. She clipped the jumper onto the lead and connected it to the wire running from her arm. Arashi had helped her adapt the limb to perform several functions that Sylia had never intended.

Once connected, Arashi took over and bypassed the building's security measures. She also tied into Sylia's outgoing line and found Sylia talking to Linna.

"-she left? When?" Linna was concerned and Sabishii could hear Nene in the background asking who had left. Linna turned to speak to her, her voice growing fainter. "Priss left. Now be quiet."

Sylia was subdued. "She said she needed a break and then she rode off."

Linna resisted the urge to strangle Nene as she crowded her, trying to hear. "Maybe we should cancel our trip."

Sylia was insistent. "No Linna, you two have gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this time together. You have to go."

Linna was reluctant. "But with Mackie in Germany and Priss off to God knows where you'll be alone."

Sylia smiled sadly. "It's not the first time Linna. I'll be fine."

"What about the clone? What if she comes back?"

Sylia wasn't worried. "She and Priss came to an agreement. I dare say that she's long gone by now."

Sabishii smirked. <You dare to say, hmm? >

Sylia ended the conversation and Sabishii disconnected from the circuit. <Well. This is just too perfect! >

Sylia sat in the darkness of the empty apartment, contemplating the mess she had managed to make of her life. A lone cube of ice clinked against the glass as she raised the whiskey to her lips. Aged and expensive, the liquor went down with a smooth burn and she felt every inch of its warmth as it worked its way down. < Funny how it had seemed like a good idea at the time. >

Taisei said nothing, knowing she was as much to blame as Sylia.

Sylia raised the glass again and when she lowered it she saw Priss standing in front of her. "Priss." She set the glass on the table with a clatter and stood awkwardly. "I didn't think you were coming back."

Priss stepped closer, until the light from the moon fell across her face. Sylia gasped and took a step back as she realized that this was not her Priss. "You!"

Sabishii laughed and the sound chilled Sylia in a way she could not define. "Sorry Lover. Disappointed?" She moved quickly and seized Sylia's arm in a vise like grip.

Sylia felt the metal fingers dig into her skin and wondered if she was about to die. < Taisei! Call the others! >

= I'm trying! Something's blocking my signal.= Taisei analyzed the source of the barrier and was surprised by what she found.= It's the clone! Somehow, she's suppressing the signal.=

"Don't panic, Sylia. I'm not going to hurt you." Sabishii pulled her closer and her human hand slid up and encircled her throat. "For all of your sins we still love you. How sick is that, hmm?" She kissed Sylia's cheek, chuckling when she flinched away. "Now, now. My touch was good enough for you when you thought the original was dead, so don't pretend that you hate it now." She propelled Sylia across the room, towards the front door.

"What do you want? Where are you taking me?" They stepped into the elevator and Priss punched the button for Sylia's lab.

"I said that I'm not going to hurt you and I meant that, but you are going to do me a little favor."

The cab halted in front of the apartment building and Linna paid the driver as Nene stepped out into warm air and inhaled deeply. The beautiful April weather on Kauai was a far cry from the chilly days they had left back in MegaTokyo and Nene was determined to enjoy herself on this trip. No matter what happened in the next two days. She glanced at Linna who had joined her and was now staring silently up at the building in front of them. Nene couldn't see her eyes because of the sunglasses she was wearing, but the tension around Linna's mouth was a dead giveaway. She'd rather be fighting a boomer with a toothpick right now.

Linna hefted their bags and squared her shoulders. Once more unto the breach...

Nene followed her into the building and hoped that her mother had found a way to tell her father just exactly who she was bringing home with her.

Sylia stared at her in disbelief. "No."

Sabishii shook her head and smiled ruefully. "I knew you were going to say that." She pointed to the acceleration chamber. "Come on, Sylia. It's not that much different than what you did."

"I thought Priss was dead!"

"And you're not dead? Is that your reason?" The blade slid out of Sabishii's arm with a hiss and she brought it up to Sylia's throat. "Because I can fix that, Sylia."

Sylia swallowed and met the clone's eyes with reluctance. "You said you loved me."

"Hmm, I did say that didn't I?" The blade retracted and Sabishii pushed Sylia back into a chair. "But you don't love me, Sylia, do you?" She began to open drawers until she found a roll of tape. Sylia tried to bolt, but Sabishii caught her shoulder with her cybernetic hand and forced her back down in the chair. "Now, Now. No running away." The tape squealed as Sabishii pulled a length and tugging Sylia's arms behind her, wrapped it around her wrists. "Just to keep you from interfering, mind."

"Priss will be back soon." Sylia threw out the threat wildly, knowing that there wasn't likely to be anyone coming for quite a while. Mackie had left days before for Germany and Linna and Nene had gone at Sylia's urging on their trip to Hawaii. Priss had been so angry and hurt that Sylia doubted she was ever coming back.

"Oh please! Sylia you said it yourself when you saw me. You know Priss isn't coming back anytime soon. I saw Linna and Nene board the plane myself and I know that Mackie has left." She grinned. "You're all alone Sylia." Sabishii stepped back and spoke to Arashi. "Okay Arashi. Hit me."

Brace yourself. As the data poured into Sabishii's mind, she swayed slightly, but never took her eyes off Sylia. "See, I don't really need you after all." Sabishii began to power up the equipment and ready everything for the process. She turned to Sylia and smiled a little as she held up a scalpel. "Well, I do need one thing."

Linna noiselessly tapped the stem of her wine glass and tried to keep her expression calm. It wouldn't do to run screaming from the room. Nene's father glared at her from across the table and Linna wondered if this particular seating arrangement had been on purpose. She sipped from her glass and glanced at Nene who was cheerfully explaining to her father that she and Linna had been living together for quite sometime now and how she really hoped that he would understand and make Linna welcome. Privately Linna thought that he would prefer to make her dead, but she dutifully supported Nene in her assertion that they were happy together and intended to stay that way.

The meal proceeded as the tension in the room rose steadily and Linna was unsurprised when Nene's father suggested that Nene help her mother with the dishes.

Linna watched Nene follow her mother into the kitchen and glanced nervously at Mr. Romanova. He refilled his wine glass and settled back in his chair, fixing Linna with a searching scowl. "So, Linna. What was it you do again? An aerobics instructor?"

The sneer in his voice was clear and Linna curbed her temper with effort. "Actually I haven't done that for quite some time. I'm in investing now."

Mr. Romanova snorted. "I see. With what firm?"

"I used to be with Shitsumei, but recently I've left them and begun to focus on my own investments."

It sounded quite simple, but Mr. Romanova wasn't fooled. "You're unemployed." He laughed harshly and shoved himself to his feet. "So now you're sponging off of my daughter as well as seducing her!"

Linna got to her feet and reminded herself that this was Nene's beloved father. "That's not true. I make more than enough to support us and that's exactly what I do. Nene hasn't had to spend one yen for what we have and as to my seducing her," Linna placed her clenched fists on the table and leaned towards him. "Do you really think that she's that gullible? Nene and I were friends for a long time before we became lovers." She ignored his wince and continued. "I can stand here and try and convince you that I love her until the end of time, but you wouldn't believe me and I'm reluctant to beat my head against a brick wall."

The kitchen door swung open and Nene stepped into the dining room. She saw Linna and her father facing off and sighed. "Oh great. I wondered how long it would take."

Linna straightened and shook her head. "I'm sorry Nene."

"Damn it Nene! Can't you see that she's using you?"

Nene paused and looked at Linna. "How are you using me?"

Linna groaned at her teasing. "Nene! Be serious!"

"No I am serious. How could you be using me?" she frowned in thought and began to tick items off on her fingers. "A place to live? No, we're living at your apartment."

"Our apartment," Linna muttered.

Nene grinned and continued. "Money? No, you pay for everything and get huffy when I even suggest that I help. Sex? Well I'd have to say that that was mutual, but when I think back it was me that asked to spend the night with you."

Mr. Romanova made a strangled sound. "Gee, Linna. I think that I've been the one using you." She turned to her father expectantly and he threw up his hands.

"Fine! But when she hurts you," He drew a breath and focused on her face. His expression eased suddenly. "Just remember you can always come home." Nene hurled herself into his arms and hugged him tightly.

Linna felt some of the tension ease and exhaled softly. Well that was easy.

Sabishii finished entering the data and Sylia heard the accelerator activate with a strange sense of acceptance. Maybe this was the only acceptable justice for her crime, she thought bleakly. Sabishii looked at the neat white bandage on Sylia's arm and shook her head. "I'm sorry for hurting you. I said that I wouldn't and in the end I did." She pulled up another chair and straddled it, facing Sylia. "I guess neither one of us is very good at keeping our promises."

Sylia found herself trying to justify her actions to Priss yet again. "I just wanted you back."

Sabishii exhaled. "Did it occur to you that you weren't just messing with your own life, but those of everybody else who knew us?"

It had, but Sylia realized only now that she had been selfish, not to mention childish. "I made a mistake."

Sabishii's eyebrows shot up and she stared at Sylia in mock surprise. "Wow! She admits it!" Sabishii tapped Sylia lightly on the forehead. "The problem with you, Sylia, is that you're an overachiever. You don't make little mistakes! You always go for the huge complicated ones!"

Sylia said nothing and Sabishii let it drop. Let her original try to straighten Sylia out. Sabishii checked the readouts on the chamber and turned to Sylia. "So what are we going to do for the five days this is going to take?" She let her eyes wander over Sylia's bound form suggestively and had the pleasure of seeing Sylia's face blanch. She slid her chair closer and let the blade in her wrist descend. The tip caught under the first button of Sylia's blouse and popped it loose. Sylia was frozen and Sabishii cut the next button. "Come on, Sylia. You know this game, don't you?"

Sylia felt the material falling open and realized that she had never felt so helpless in her life. "You don't want to do this."

Sabishii laughed as she removed another button and used the blade to part the blouse further. The lacey edge of Sylia's bra appeared and Sabishii's smile died. "Of course I do, Sylia. What is it they say? 'Payback's a bitch?"

Instantly the memories of the past poured through Sylia's mind. Was the real Priss still blaming her? "Payback? So you've never really forgiven me for what happened?"

Sabishii looked up in surprise. "For raping us, you mean? Oh sure. That wasn't your fault, but this," She held up her artificial arm and the weapon it housed. "This was cold-blooded calculation on your part."

"The boomer-?" Sylia misunderstood.

Sabishii struck her, her human hand spinning Sylia's head around with the blow. Sylia rocked back, but remained upright. She raised her head, feeling blood trickle from the corner of her mouth. "Poor Sylia. You've become tangled in the illusions you've created. I'm talking about the fact that you cut off my God Damn arm!"

Sabishii saw the comprehension dawn on Sylia's face and nodded in satisfaction. "Understand now? You knew how badly losing our arm effected us and you did it anyway!" She leaned forward and licked the blood away from Sylia's mouth, making her jerk away. "So you can see why I want my pint of blood." Sabishii tugged the shirt loose from Sylia's skirt and pushed the material down over her shoulders. "And my pound of flesh."

Sylia couldn't suppress her gasp of dismay. "Don't do this Priss. This isn't you."

"It's Sabishii now. And it is we. Just think about it Sylia. If you ever decide to kick the original out of the picture then you'll have this to look forward to again." Sabishii used the blade to severe the material covering her breasts and they sprang free. She grinned wickedly and brushed the remains of the lingerie aside. "Always the lady, hmm Sylia? Perfectly groomed, always in style…" The razor moved to the bottom edge of Sylia's skirt and slipped under. "… Always coordinated. I bet your underwear matches your bra, doesn't it?" The fabric hissed as it parted and Sylia could feel the cool metal of the clone's hand as it moved between her thighs.

Anger pushed its way to the surface and Sylia used the only weapon left to her in an attempt to divert the clone. "I guess the cloning process was a failure. The real Priss would never do something like this."

Sabishii stopped and met Sylia's glare calmly. She was silent a long moment and then she burst into laughter. She wrapped her arms around herself as she continued helplessly until finally, gasping for breath, she quieted. Sylia was thoroughly disconcerted and completely confused. Sabishii wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes and still chuckling, pulled Sylia's skirt away. "I swear, Sylia! I had no idea that you were this blind." She eyed the pale lavender of Sylia's panties, her smile changing. "I knew it."

Sylia knew she was blushing for what was probably the first time in her life and refused to rise to the bait.

Silver fingers trailed up Sylia's thigh and toyed with the lace stretched low over her belly. Sabishii rolled her chair even closer and whispered into Sylia's ear as her fingers slid under the silk. "Did you know that lavender is our favorite color?"

Mr. Romanova found Linna at the dining room table the next morning after breakfast, typing away at her laptop. He shamelessly peered over her shoulder and saw the stock quotes racing past at and astonishing speed. Linna smiled slightly, but didn't look up from the screen. "Looking for something?"

Mr. Romanova harrumphed. "Not really. Can you see anything at that speed?"

"You'd be surprised." Linna made a small sound and quickly purchased a block of stock as it dipped. She knew it would rise again tomorrow and then she would resell it and walk away with a tidy sum.

Nene's father saw the amount of money she had just spent on a single investment and gasped. "Are you insane? You're risking everything on one purchase?"

Linna laughed softly. "Everything? That's pocket change, Mr. Romanova. Nene spends more than that on computer parts."

Priss sat on the small balcony of her hotel room and watched the sea churn below her as the sun sank in a brilliant display. The smell of the ocean washed over her and left Priss feeling strangely refreshed. She sipped her coffee and narrowed the search pattern she and Arashi had been running. < I doubt she's still at that house so let's focus on where she could be staying. The odds are good that Genom's either putting her up or knows where she is. >

Arashi grumbled that Seiki was better at this kind of thing than she was, but she'd see what she could do.= I wish you'd let me contact them.=

Priss shook her head and refilled her cup. < No. I want to keep this between us for the moment. They would let something slip to Sylia and I don't need emotion clouding the issue. >

Arashi wasn't sure how to respond to that. She was rather surprised at just how emotionless Priss was being in this pursuit and she couldn't seem to read anything other than mild interest.

"There's something else you could do while you're searching though."

= What's that? =

Priss looked out over the vast expanse and spoke quietly. "I want you to make some… alterations to my body."

Surprised and more than a little concerned, Arashi was hesitant.= What kind of alterations? =

"Strength, speed, stamina. Everything to the maximum level it could be and still appear normal on the outside."

Arashi was floored by this completely uncharacteristic request.= Priss, do you realize what you're saying? =

< I know, Arashi. I've thought about this a great deal. >

=You have? When? = Arashi was unaware that Priss had been thinking anything of the sort and she suddenly realized that a great deal of Priss' mind was now hidden from her. =What's happened to you? I can't see what you're thinking anymore.=

Priss' smile was wry. < Just noticed that, huh? Actually, I'm not sure what's going on, but I do know that I want those changes made, Arashi. Can you do it? And quickly? >

= It'll take a lot of materials and you'll need to rest a great deal.=

Priss thought of the mess with Sylia that was waiting for her when she returned and sighed. "I'm in no hurry."

Nene dropped the room key onto the coffee table and went out to the balcony while Linna tipped the bellhop. The vividly clear ocean sprawled out below her and she couldn't wait to hit the beach. Linna came up behind her and slipped her arms around Nene's waist. "Beautiful, isn't it?"

Linna sighed, beginning to feel some of the tension leaving her. "Yes it is." The last few days had not been entirely pleasant and she was glad that it was just the two of them now. "What do you want to do first?" The question was rhetorical, because she knew what Nene would say. She smiled when the redhead turned in her arms and announced, "Let's eat!"

Sylia tested the rope tied around her wrists and knew that she wasn't going anywhere. "How long are you planning on keeping me like this?"

Sabishii finished tying off the end of the rope securing Sylia's ankles and stood. "Not long. I'll weld some bars over the door in the morning."

Sylia looked down at herself, stretched across the bed and grimaced. "You could at least throw a blanket over me."

Sabishii sat down beside her and ran her hand down Sylia's body in a proprietary manner. "But you're so beautiful to look at. We enjoy seeing you like this."

"Stop saying that!"

"Saying what? That you're beautiful?" Amused at her disgruntled expression, Sabishii continued to touch her, knowing how much it unsettled her.

"We! Stop saying we! You don't speak for her. You aren't Priss!" Sylia threw the words at the clone and tried to twist away from the hard fingers roaming her flesh.

Sabishii shrugged and toyed with a nipple almost idly. "If it makes you happy to believe that, Sylia then go right ahead." She watched the tip grow hard and smiled devilishly. "Obviously your body thinks otherwise." Sabishii squeezed her breast rhythmically until Sylia gasped and pulled as far away as her bonds would let her. "I guess there is one more thing that I want from you, Sylia."

Sylia cried out as Sabishii's fingers were suddenly thrust between her legs. Heat sufficed her face at the dampness they found and she could feel Sabishii's breath across her breast as they gently probed her. "You made me. You used me. And then you discarded me."

Ruthlessly biting her tongue, Sylia fought her body's reaction to this familiar touch. "Please, don't do this."

Sabishii raked her teeth across Sylia's breast and was rewarded by her involuntary moan. "Don't worry, Sylia. I'm not going to force you. I plan on exacting a much more insidious revenge." She pushed deep, watching Sylia's face intently. "I'm going to seduce you."

And then Sylia understood just what revenge it would be. "No. Priss will-."

The clone cut her off. "Will forgive you for what happened before she returned, but now…" Sabishii kissed her lightly and then ran her tongue over Sylia's lips. "… will she forgive you for what happens tonight?"

Linna sank into the huge tub with a groan of pleasure. "Perfect! Absolutely perfect."

Nene slid in next to her and had to agree. "I am so glad we did this." They soaked in silence for a time, letting their minds drift. Nene laughed suddenly and Linna opened one eye. "Something funny?"

"Just wondering what Sylia and Priss are doing right now."

Linna chuckled. "Probably fighting… or making up from a fight. I'm never sure how one of their battles will end."

"I know what you mean. I keep imagining that we'll go over one day and find out that they've strangled each other to death." Nene reached for the bottle of wine she had brought in with her and poured them both a glass.

Taking the glass she handed her, Linna sipped the sweet wine and sighed. "Do you ever get tired of it?"

"Their fighting or the job?"

"Both I guess. I mean, let's face it Nene, a great deal of the trouble we get into is a direct result of their relationship."

Nene shrugged. "Well, you can't say it's boring. Besides, without the Knight Sabers I wouldn't have met you." She leaned back against the side of the tub and looked up at the ceiling. "We kind of owe our relationship to them, if you think about it. When Priss lost her arm…that night was bad for all of us and you and I got close in a way I don't think we would have been able to otherwise."

"I suppose you're right, but this cloning business… that was going too far."

"Oh I agree, but I don't think that Sylia, being Sylia, had any other choice." She saw Linna frown at her choice of words and laughed. "Now don't look at me like that! I'm not saying that she was right to do what she did, I'm just saying that for Sylia, the way she is, she had to try and fix things."

Linna watched the ruby liquid swirling in her glass and asked quietly, "Would you try to clone me?"

Nene thought about it for a minute before finally shaking her head. "No, but not because I wouldn't want you back, but because I know how you feel about it."

Linna nodded, relieved. "True, but that does make you wonder. Sylia knew how Priss would feel about it, yet she did it anyway. Isn't that selfish?"

"Yes, but again, I think Sylia really couldn't stand to lose Priss. She lost her parents very young and I think she's trying to keep from ever going through that kind of loss again."

"She's overcompensating." Linna's blunt declaration made Nene laugh and she had to concur.

"What are we doing? Here we are, on vacation, alone together with no chance of interruptions and we're talking about Priss and Sylia's problems! What's wrong with us?"

Linna grinned at her petulant tone and moved closer to her, setting her glass on the rim of the tub. "Well I guess we'll just have to find something to take our minds off of them." She ducked her head and began to kiss Nene's neck as her hands began roaming under the surface of the water.

Nene felt her eyes slide closed as Linna found her breasts and spoke absently, "You're absolutely right, Linna. Let's, oh yes, right there, find something else to do."

Sylia heard the bedroom door close and began the painful process of extricating herself from the ropes. <Taisei? Can you break past the signal? >

= No. She must still be near. Are you all right? =

Sylia twisted her wrists, ignoring the pain, as they were scraped raw. < I'll survive, but I may well have destroyed any trust that remained between Priss and me. >

Sabishii dropped the metal bars next to the bedroom door with a crash, making Sylia jump as she fought to untie the last rope around her ankle. "My you're determined!" Sabishii's tone was chiding as she watched Sylia toss the blood stained cord away. "You know, I should tie you up again just on principal."

Sylia slowly stood, feeling every joint and muscle protest as she did so. Her night had not been an entirely pleasant one and the hours of confinement had taken their toll. Sabishii made a strange sound in her throat and intercepted her as she staggered. She lifted her unceremoniously and carried her into the bathroom where she had seemed to be heading. Sabishii set her down and nodded at the bathtub. "Try a long soak. It should work some of the kinks out." She reached out and crushed the screen in the wall by the sink. "Take your time. I should have the door fixed by the time you're out."

Surprisingly Sylia took her suggestion. < Well I can hardly fight her in this condition. >

Taisei clarified.= You couldn't fight her at all. Sabishii is stronger and well armed thanks to you.=

Sylia grimaced and started the water running into the large tub. < Have you figured out how she's able to block you? She doesn't even have to be close to be doing it, whatever it is. >

= That's because there's something else that's putting out the scrambled signal. I think Sabishii constructed some kind of jammer.=

Sylia looked at the remains of the screen and shook her head. < Then it probably wouldn't do any good to try to rig something with the screen parts. >

= No. The signal is very strong.=

< Well at least she doesn't seem to be trying to kill me. >

= I don't think she can. You heard her; she's in love with you.=

Sylia sank into the warm water with a sigh of relief. < Funny way of showing it. >

She began to assess what had happened to her in the last twenty-four hours and Sylia wondered why she hadn't just asked Taisei to knock her out when the clone had outlined her revenge. < Why didn't you suggest that? >

Taisei was reluctant to answer. =Well, it probably wasn't a good idea to provoke her further. She wasn't intending to hurt you and I didn't want to make you that vulnerable.= There. A very carefully worded response that betrayed nothing about the real reason she hadn't rendered Sylia unconscious.

Sylia closed her eyes and admitted the truth that Taisei seemed hesitant to voice. < You knew that I didn't want to be unconscious. That I didn't want her to stop. >

= That was the other reason, yes.= Taisei knew how guilty Sylia was feeling and tried to ease her mind.= This is not a normal situation, Sylia. You strived very hard to convince yourself that the clone was Priss and then the real Priss returned almost from the dead. A little confusion is to be expected.=

< You're trying to make me feel better and I appreciate it, but the truth is the truth. I knew who she was and I did not do everything in my power to prevent her from…> Sylia groaned and ducked under the water. She surfaced a moment later and slicked her hair back. < Priss will never forgive me. > Sylia thought about what Sabishii had said about Priss. < Is she capable of this kind of revenge? >

= Well if Sabishii is anything to go by, then yes.=

She slid deeper into the water until only her head was visible and wondered if she wanted Priss to return.

Priss left the elevator and was immediately waylaid by the restaurant manager she had met last night.

"Good morning, Priss. You're out early." Iroke had pulled her dark brown hair back into a braid and was dressed casually in slacks and a white blouse.

"Good morning, Iroke. I didn't expect to see you here this early." Priss was well aware of the other woman's interest and found herself rather pleased by it. She had obviously been waiting for her and Priss knew that she should tread carefully. "Don't they give you time off?"

Iroke smiled invitingly. "Actually I have the whole day off. I was wondering, if you don't have any other plans, would you like to go for a drive?"

Priss shook her head and softened her refusal with a smile. "Sorry, I'm under doctor's orders to rest."

Iroke looked Priss over from head to toe and sent her a heated look. "You look good to me."

= Brazen thing, isn't she? = Arashi was amused and curious what Priss would do.

< A little. > Priss cleared her throat and winked. "Thank you, but I really don't think I could handle the… strain."

Iroke moved closer, her voice dropping to a confidential whisper. "But you wouldn't have to do a thing Priss. Just sit back and relax. I'll do all the driving."

Priss sighed in regret. "Sorry Iroke, but I'm a bit of a control freak. I have to be the one behind the wheel." She neatly sidestepped the young woman and went to the front desk. The man at the desk told her where she could find a health food store and Priss asked him to ring for a cab.

"That won't be necessary. I'll take Priss anywhere she wants me to." Priss turned to find Iroke directly behind her and felt the counter press into her back as she tried to put some space between them.

"You don't give up, do you?"

Iroke shrugged and reached out to brush an imaginary piece of lint from the shoulder of Priss' shirt. "I know what I want." Another glance filled with promises and this time Priss nodded, much to Arashi's surprise.

"All right. Let's go." They walked out of the hotel and Iroke led her to a small red Diablo. The low-slung sports car was the last thing Priss expected the immaculately groomed woman to drive and she studied Iroke a little more carefully. "Nice car."

She eased into the seat, feeling her leg protest and immediately let the seat back as far as it would go. Iroke slid behind the wheel and fastened her seat belt before starting the car and glancing at Priss. "Don't worry, Priss. I'll take good care of you."

Priss smirked and leaned her head back, closing her eyes as she realized how tired she was. < Got started? >

= You said hurry. Mind you if you start any horizontal hi-jinx with this bimbo then not only am I stopping the process, but I'll deaden every nerve you have from the neck down! = Her irate tone made Priss smile.

< Don't worry. I'm not going to step out on Sylia. Maybe just look at the neighboring countryside.>

= There are some very pretty hills and valleys waiting for you at home, Priscilla Asagiri. Along with a woman who loves you so much she's crazy with it.=

< Yeah. Crazy. > There was nothing Arashi could say to that. Priss realized that she was letting a complete stranger drive her and was not in the least bit nervous. One more change to add to the growing list.

Iroke down shifted as they flew around a curve and continued to steal glances at Priss. She seemed a little pale, but in good health otherwise and Iroke wondered what had happened to her. She shifted again, but this time let her hand fall to Priss' thigh.

Priss smiled slowly and shook her head, not opening her eyes. "I don't think that's something you can shift with, Iroke." She could smell the dark, musky smell of the perfume she was wearing and the underlying scent of woman. Priss exhaled and reminded herself that she was already bound to Sylia.

"Depends on what I'm trying to shift."

They arrived at the health food shop and Priss asked Iroke to wait in the car while she went in. She returned a few minutes later with a small bag and suggested they get lunch. Iroke took her to a little restaurant she was fond of and Priss ordered a steak, rare.

They chatted amenably until the waiter returned with their meals. Priss took a bite of her steak and then glared at the waiter. "I said rare. Rare." She handed the plate back to the man and pointed at the kitchen. "Tell the cook to show it a picture of a flame and then bring it out here." She ignored the irate look he gave her and smiled at Iroke.

He returned a few minutes later and Iroke winced as Priss cut into the meat. It bled onto the plate. "A little heavy for lunch isn't it?"

Priss grinned and chewed the bite in obvious enjoyment. "Iron. Protein. Things that make a sick body better."

Iroke poked at her salad and shot Priss a thoughtful look. "What… why are you under doctor's orders?"

Priss took a drink from her wine glass and shrugged. "An accident. I wrecked my motorcycle a few weeks ago." She had thought it best to stick with the closest version of what the public believed.

"Is that what happened to your arm?"

Priss froze and looked down at the metal hand gripping her fork. She realized that she had actually forgotten that it was not real. She shook her head and smiled faintly. "That happened a few years ago. Another motorcycle accident actually." At this rate, everyone will think that I can't drive a bike worth a damn.

= It's not motorcycles that do this stuff to you. It's your line of work.=

< Now there's a chilling thought. >

Iroke drew a deep breath. "You know everybody thinks you're dead."

Priss stared at her until Iroke blushed and lowered her eyes. "I wasn't aware that you knew who I was."

"I was in MegaTokyo a few months ago and caught one of your performances with a friend. You were fantastic. I thought I was imagining things when I first saw you, but I realized in the car that you were… you. I hope I haven't made you uncomfortable. I won't tell anyone." She reached out and covered Priss' human hand.

< This is what I get for flirting. >

= I warned you. =

"I know that the newspapers got everything mixed up, but I haven't minded the break. I'll correct it when the time is right, but for now, I'm just trying to get my strength back. < And then some. >

= So go rest already.= Arashi chided her gently. =You really are pushing it. The injuries from the fight aren't healed yet and you where never really recovered from…Kutsuu's handiwork.=

< I know. > She didn't have to fake the yawn that came over her and Iroke understood when Priss asked to be taken back to the hotel.

Sylia shifted restlessly in her sleep and wrapped her arms tighter around the pillow as she rolled onto her stomach. The clock beside the bed read five minutes after one a.m. and Sabishii realized that she had been watching Sylia sleep for over an hour. She wondered at her own obsession and approached the bed quietly.

She had finished constructing the bars over the bedroom door and had fashioned a crude lock that Sylia would be unable to break or bypass. Sabishii had waited until she was sure Sylia was asleep before entering and she had stood in the doorway and argued with herself before giving in.

She stripped off her clothes and slid into the bed next to Sylia, careful not to jar her awake. Sabishii gripped the material of Sylia's nightgown and pulled it up, easing it out of her way. Sylia slept on, oblivious to her presence and Sabishii knew that it wouldn't last long. She touched Sylia's leg, causing her to sigh in her sleep and shift, moving her leg up and leaving her open for Sabishii's touch. She slowly pushed her fingers into Sylia and began to stealthily caress her until she felt Sylia's body respond. Sabishii moved closer and covered Sylia, pinning her down. She continued to probe her body and Sylia moaned.

The sound woke her and Sylia opened her eyes and felt a flash of fear as she realized that she was being held down. "What-?"

Sabishii breathed into her ear. "Hello Lover."

Sylia felt her heart pounding in her chest. "Damn you."

"Now, Sylia. No need for that." Sabishii plunged deep and Sylia gasped burying her face in the pillow. "See? I'll make sure you enjoy anything I do to you, so just lie still and let me play."

Sylia knew that she could not let this happen again. She strained up, trying to dislodge Sabishii, but with little success.

"Not going to work, you know." She flipped Sylia onto her back and climbed on top of her, settling her weight firmly over her. Sylia felt the warm brush of Sabishii's heat against her own and realized what she meant to do.

"Stop this! Please Sabishii, don't do this to me again." Sylia could hear the defeat in her voice and was appalled by it, but her body was hopelessly attuned to Priss' and even her clone could make her do things she wouldn't otherwise.

Sabishii paused. "I'll make you a deal, Sylia. I'll leave you alone for the rest of the time that I'm here if you'll give me tonight."

"What do you mean?" She knew very well what Sabishii meant, but some perverse part of her demanded that it be laid out in the open.

"I want you to make love with me tonight, Sylia. Give me this night and I'll leave you alone when the sun rises."

Sylia glanced at the clock and calculated quickly. Five and a half hours. Oh God. "All right."

"See there? And you thought we couldn't agree on anything." Sabishii began to move and Sylia surrendered to the passion and met her thrust for thrust.

Iroke saw how pale Priss was and saw her falter as she climbed from the car. She insisted on seeing Priss to her room. Priss let her, not feeling up to arguing with the determined girl.

Iroke watched Priss open the door and invited herself inside before Priss could say goodbye. "I've always loved this room. The view is spectacular."

Priss sighed and pushed the door closed. "Yes, it's very pretty. Iroke…"

She started to explain that she was involved with someone, but Iroke chose that moment to turn around and kiss her.

Priss didn't force her away, but she didn't respond either. She was relieved to find only a mild interest in the whole thing and as Iroke ended the kiss, Priss touched her cheek with a consoling smile. "I'm sorry. I tried to tell you, but you didn't give me a chance."

Iroke sighed in disappointment. "You're in love with someone else?"

Priss nodded. "I'm afraid so. We're arguing now, but that's nothing new. We'll straighten things out again and I don't want to give you the wrong impression."

Iroke ran her fingers along Priss' collar. "A relationship where you fight all the time-."

"Makes it very passionate. I am sorry, Iroke."

She shrugged and placed a soft kiss against Priss' mouth. "I wish I had met you before she did."

Priss laughed. "No you don't. Sylia is the only reason I'm as tame as I am. Before her I was wild."

A speculative look flashed through her eyes and her smile was an invitation. "But I think you'd be beautiful wild, Priss."

"Thank you, but no. I need to sleep, Iroke." She yawned again and rubbed her eyes.

Iroke reached out and began to unbutton Priss' shirt. She had three undone before Priss could stop her and she only laughed when Priss caught her hands. "Stop it, Iroke. I said no."

"Calm down, Priss. I don't want anything from you," She pulled free and undid the rest of the buttons, pulling the shirt loose and pushing it off Priss' shoulders. "Just let me tuck you in and I'll let myself out."


Iroke grew serious. "Call it indulging a fantasy. If I can't have you, then at least let me have this."

Priss knew she should show her the door and close it firmly behind her, but something in her eyes made her shrug and walk into the bedroom. As Iroke followed, Arashi berated her. =You are not seriously going to let her do this? =

< Why not? God knows I don't feel strong enough to do it myself right now. > Priss watched as Iroke stepped close and slipped her arms around her, her fingers unhooking her bra and tossing it over the chair beside the bed. Iroke swallowed hard and lightly touched the angry looking scar on Priss' shoulder. The wound looked like it had happened weeks ago, but was in fact only two days old. Iroke kissed the puckered flesh and Priss felt herself respond to the contact. < Oh hell. >

She admonished herself sternly as Iroke knelt and pulled her boots off. They hit the floor with a thud and Priss inhaled sharply as Iroke's hands slid across her stomach, reaching for the snap to her jeans. "I don't think this was such a good idea."

Iroke tugged at the zipper and Priss resisted the urge to close her eyes, as the metallic hiss seemed to fill the air. She definitely should not take her eyes off this woman. The jeans were pulled off along with her underwear and Priss found herself standing naked before Iroke.

= Sylia is going to kill you.=

Priss felt Iroke's lips against the wound on her thigh and bit back a groan. < And how is she going to find out? >

= Priss! You cannot sleep with this woman! =

Iroke began to kiss her way up Priss' body. < I really doubt that I'd get much sleep. >

Arashi was stunned.= I can't believe you would betray Sylia like this.=

< Hmm. Betray Sylia? Like she did me, you mean? > Priss did moan as Iroke slipped her fingers between Priss' legs and touched her.

= So this is revenge? Sylia sleeps with someone else so you do the same to make it even? This isn't a playground, Priss! =

< What's that old saying? An eye for an eye? > Iroke carefully teased Priss' flesh, finding the moisture gathering there. Priss felt herself falling and bounced lightly on the bed as Iroke pushed her legs further apart and replaced her hands with her tongue. She gasped as pleasure rocketed through her and clenched the bedspread tightly as Iroke continued to take her on the drive she had promised. The slight rumble in her throat should have bothered her, but at that moment, she felt like howling.

= And a fuck for a fuck? Priss, I'm warning you, if you do this then I'll have no choice, but to tell Taisei and she'll tell Sylia.=

Priss knew she was right and she reluctantly placed a hand on Iroke's shoulder. "Iroke, please. You have to stop."

Iroke raised her head to look at Priss, but slid two fingers deep inside of her. Priss groaned and shook her head. "I can't do this, Iroke. I love Sylia."

"I told you, Priss. You don't have to do anything. Just lay back and let me do all the work. A moment's pleasure will take nothing from your Sylia. Just pretend you're masturbating." She ducked her head again and Priss cried out as she suckled her clit. "GOD! Iroke! Ah! That does not feel like... Oh!…" The agile fingers increased their rhythm and Priss cried out again as Iroke pushed her over the edge and she came in a violent, snarling rush.

= Well now you've done it.=

Priss opened her eyes and looked around her in confusion. She was under the covers and the sun was just beginning to set. Iroke was nowhere to be seen. "Iroke?"

= She's not here.= Arashi was very quiet and Priss grimaced. <What have I done? Sylia's going to go nuts! You should have just knocked me out. >

= You were dreaming Priss.=

"What?" Priss sat up. "What are you talking about?"

= You showed Iroke the door yesterday and went to bed… by yourself.=

Priss was stunned. "A dream? But it was so vivid… Arashi what's happening to me? I've never had a dream like that in my life!"

Arashi had no answer.= Just be glad that it was a dream. Sylia would never forgive you for sleeping with someone else.=

"No shit."

= Why don't you order dinner? Or breakfast? Or something. You haven't eaten in almost twenty-four hours and I need some more vitamins as well.=

Priss grimaced. The thought of swallowing another large handful of the high potency vitamins was enough to kill her appetite, but she hit the room service button on the screen next to the bed, blocking the video first.

She ordered a sandwich and at Arashi's urging, a large glass of milk.= You really don't drink enough of that anyway.=

"I know, I know." Priss climbed out of bed and went into the bathroom to retrieve one of the guest robes. She looked at herself in the mirror over the sink and wondered why she was having such detailed dreams. "I guess if there was anything wrong you'd spot it?"

=Yes. Whatever is happening is not the result of a physical problem, if that's what you're asking. I will admit that your senses seem to be working overtime lately, but I can't tell if it's because of Kutsuu's games or what was happening before.=

Priss knew that she was worried. The awareness she now possessed was vaguely disturbing, but Priss was rapidly coming to enjoy the sensations that she was experiencing. Except for the side effects. This growling thing had to stop. "Can't you do anything about that?"

Arashi laughed.= I think it suits you now.=

"Not funny."

Sylia saw the first rays of dawn peeking over the horizon as Sabishii kissed her breasts and knew that this was the last time. She moved suddenly, pushing Sabishii onto her back and looked at her seriously. Sylia kissed her with an ardor that she had not let herself express before and ran her hands over Sabishii's body. She used her lips and hands in a silent apology for what she had done to Sabishii and tried to give what comfort she could with her body.

Sabishii also saw the rising sun and knew that somewhere in the dark hours of the night she had forgiven Sylia… for being Sylia. She returned Sylia's caresses with a tenderness she had not been capable of and as the sun continued to rise, they both made their apologies in silent, bittersweet lovemaking.

The helicopter flew in low over the crater and Nene began snapping pictures of the steaming volcano. "It's incredible!" She pitched her voice to carry over the sound of the blades and Linna nodded.

"This was a good idea, Love!" The pilot swung them around to the next site on the tour and Linna patted Nene's leg as the chopper dipped suddenly, making her gasp. "It's okay, I think that was a down draft."

Nene glared at the back of the pilot and muttered silently. < I could do better than that with my eyes closed! >

<You don't want to fly one of these things yourself do you? > Linna glanced at her in concern and Nene smiled slyly. <Maybe. >

Sabishii carried Sylia to the table in the lab and gently laid her down. She grabbed one of the waiting towels and began to dry her off, wondering how long it would be until she awoke.

= A few minutes.= Arashi saw the new collective activating and reaching the state of awareness that was Taisei.= Taisei is coming around. What do you want me to tell her? =

"Nothing for now. Let's get them somewhere else before explaining what's happened."

Sylia's eyes fluttered open and she saw Priss standing beside her. "Priss? What's going on?"

Sabishii smiled down at her and shook her head. "I can't explain it right now, Sylia. Let's get you dressed."

Her mind still clouded, Sylia allowed her self to be dressed and she didn't question Priss' choice of attire. The casual jeans and soft cotton shirt were not her usual style, but she let it go, trusting Priss.

Arashi felt the first ping of an incoming communication from one of the other enclaves and realized that it was not the new Taisei or the old one, but the original Arashi. Damn. = Sabishii? Priss is coming back.=

< Shit! How soon? > Sabishii finished tying the laces of Sylia's tennis shoes and slipped an arm around her waist, supporting her as they moved toward the elevator.

= Hard to say. Could be an hour, could be five minutes.=

< I might need to buy some time then. > She selected Sylia's apartment and looped her duffle bag over her shoulder.

Sylia was still groggy and Sabishii said a silent prayer of thanks as she left her sitting on the couch. "Stay here, love. I have to get something in the bedroom." Sylia laid back and closed her eyes, nodding.

Sabishii pulled the small charges from her pack and began wiring them to the bars she had fastened over the doorframe. Sylia had heard her enter the apartment and she watched her now. "What-?"

She stopped as Sabishii shushed her; jerking a thumb over her shoulder and whispering, "Quiet! She's not ready to see you yet. Your Priss is on her way back and I might need a little diversion."

Sylia lowered her voice. "So you're going to kill me."

"Of course not! This is just enough to take out the bars. You'll be fine, but I'd stay in the bathroom just in case." She set the detonator and looked at Sylia. "Okay then. It'll go in ten minutes. We're leaving now."

"Wait." Sylia pulled a small bundle of papers from the pocket of her slacks and slipped it through the bars to Sabishii.

Sabishii stared at the forged passports, driver's licenses and bankbooks in bewilderment. "Why?"

"Call it restitution. You never told me what your Sylia's new name was going to be so I left it blank. Arashi can show you how to fill them in and adjust the photos. I transferred the Antou Corporation into your name. It's small but she shouldn't have any problem changing that."

Sabishii suddenly realized that Sylia couldn't have done this before she had been sealed in the bedroom. "You fixed the link."

Sylia shrugged. "I bypassed your little jammer a few days ago. You had better go. There's only seven minutes left."

Not understanding Sylia's behavior, Sabishii nodded and turned away.

Sylia watched her help the new clone to her feet and they hurried out. She wandered back into the bathroom and saw her reflection in the mirror that lined one wall. She stepped closer and looked into her own eyes, wondering when she had first started to lose her morality. Perhaps it had been the night her father had been murdered and she had vowed to avenge him. Or maybe it had begun the first time she sent the Knight Sabers into battle, risking their lives in the pursuit of her cause.

= Please don't start getting morbid again. You do realize that your biggest problem is that you can't accept the fact that you're human, Sylia. You're flawed and emotional, desperate to control the world around you and frustrated because you can't. So you tend to go overboard on the things that you can control.= Taisei was right, but Sylia understood that knowing something and accepting it were two incredibly different things.

Priss pulled into the garage and parked her bike next to one of the most beautiful motorcycles she had ever seen. She took her helmet off and whistled appreciatively at the shiny black finish that covered every square inch of the frame, engine and even the exhaust. "Sinister little thing, aren't you?" Wondering what Sylia had had in mind when she built this thing, Priss dismounted and headed for the elevators. First things first. She hit the button for the elevator and tried to pinpoint yet again the exact part of herself that housed these masochistic tendencies that made her return to Sylia time after time.

The doors opened and Priss came face to face with herself.

Sabishii looked up and cursed as she saw the real Priss and tightened her arm around Sylia's waist. "Well hell. This could have been timed better."

Priss stared at them in shock. Sylia seemed dazed, staring at Priss oddly. "P-Priss?"

The clone pushed past her double and led Sylia to the waiting bike. Priss followed quickly.

"What the hell have you done to her?" She caught Sylia's arm and whirled her around, vaguely aware of the way Sylia's long hair arched through the air. Long hair? Priss stared hard at the woman in her grip and saw the subtle differences. She leaned close and sniffed her without thinking, then pushed Sylia into her own clone's arms. "Where's Sylia?"

Sabishii jerked a thumb upwards and looked at her watch. "Upstairs in the master bedroom. You've got three minutes until the bomb goes off."

Stunned disbelief was the only way to describe Priss' expression and the clone laughed. "Can you take the chance that I'm not lying?" Priss ran for the elevator. As the doors closed, Sylia spoke quietly. "Priss? What's going on?"

Sabishii kissed her tenderly and hugged her. "I'll explain it soon, love. We have to go now."

Priss heard the muffled explosion as she darted through the opening doors. "No! Sylia!" The apartment door fell before the force of her blow and Priss saw it crash across the room as she raced towards the bedroom. The tangled mass of blackened and twisted metal made no sense and she stopped running as Sylia appeared in what remained of the doorway. "Sylia?"

Sylia froze and studied the woman before her carefully. The lingering fear and concern in her eyes was what finally convinced her and Sylia shamelessly hurled herself into her Priss' arms. "Priss!"

Priss held her close as she told her a somewhat edited version of what had happened over the last week and in the end, Priss was berating herself for leaving Sylia alone for so long. "Damn it! If I hadn't been so determined to teach you a lesson…"

Sylia shook her head. "No Priss. This wasn't your fault. It was mine. I created this situation and the consequences of my actions just came home to roost so to speak."

"Still, I could have come home sooner." She scattered kisses along Sylia's face in apology and Sylia felt her stomach twist at her own dishonesty. She simply had no idea of how she was going to tell Priss what had happened. And she had to because Sylia was very much afraid that Sabishii would and she needed to be the one to tell Priss first.

Sylia unhooked the power supplies from all of the components and began to remove the acceleration chamber' cover. "You can take the incubator apart."

Priss picked up a screwdriver and stepped towards the machine, only to halt as she heard something break under the weight of her boot. Priss knelt and picked up the pieces of a broken button. Her eyes fell on another lying a few inches away and another a little farther. She saw the jumbled pile of cloths the same instant Sylia did.

Sylia moved, but Priss beat her to them. She recognized what was left of Sylia's lingerie and favorite silk blouse and tried to understand what she was looking at. Why would…? Her fists clenched in the material as she smelled the clone's scent and Sylia's own distinct fragrance. Priss saw the pieces of packing tape that were still stuck to the chair and she turned to Sylia. "I'll kill her."

Sylia flinched at the raw hatred she heard in Priss' voice. "Priss."

Priss threw the cloth aside and caught Sylia up in a fierce hug. "Oh love, why didn't you tell me?" She drew back and cupped Sylia's face in her hands, looking for the signs that she had missed. "Are you alright?"

Sylia inhaled sharply and nodded. She had to tell her. "I'm fine, Priss. She didn't hurt me."

Her attention utterly focused on Sylia, Priss could now see that her lover was hiding something. "Talk to me Sylia. What did she do to you?"

Sylia pulled away from Priss and wrapped her arms around herself. Priss let her go, knowing that Sylia would not lie to her again. "Sylia?"

Bracing herself against the acceleration chamber, Sylia forced herself to speak. "She… she didn't force me, Priss. I…" She trailed off and waited for Priss to explode.

When Priss was finally able to speak her tone held not even a hint of the chaos she was feeling in that moment. "What happened?"

Sylia shook her head, but Priss wanted answers. She grabbed Sylia's shoulders and spun her around. "I asked you a question, Sylia and you are going to answer it!" She pushed Sylia into the chair and tore away one of the strips of tape. "You are going to tell me exactly what happened, starting with this."

Priss buried her face in her hands and resisted the urge to laugh. She was very much afraid that if she started she would be unable to stop. Sylia had finished her 'confession' a few minutes before and was now waiting for Priss' reaction. Priss wasn't sure how to react because frankly, she wasn't sure how she was feeling. Half way through the telling, Priss had suddenly realized what her clone had been doing and from that point on nothing Sylia had said came as a surprise. Priss had known that the clone was an almost exact copy, but she hadn't thought that they would even seek their revenge in the same way.

< I would have done the same damn thing. > But that knowledge did little to stop the emotions bubbling to the surface.

"You hate me." Sylia's flat declaration made Priss' head snap up.

"No, Sylia, I don't hate you." But you betrayed me! Priss held her tongue and tried to calm down. The fire that lit her eyes made Sylia nervous.

She remembered something that Sabishii had said and wondered if it were true. "She said," Sylia looked into Priss' eyes. "She said that I could look forward to the same thing if I ever left you."

Priss inhaled sharply and cursed Sabishii. She knew that Sylia wanted her to deny it, to say that she would never be that cruel, but she couldn't. ""Maybe. It would depend on the circumstances."

Sylia told herself that she was surprised by Priss' answer, but she had known what her response would be. Feeling oddly chilled, Sylia stood up and took a few steps away. Priss let her go, knowing that she needed a moment. "I suppose I could have lied, but I try not to do that to you."

"No. No, I'm glad you told me." I think. "You… why?"

Priss shrugged and repeated, "It would depend on the circumstances. If you left me because we had argued then I'd probably let it go, knowing that we'd get back together sooner or later."

"And if I left you for someone else?"

Priss' face turned to stone and her answer was delivered in a furious growl. "You wouldn't want to do that."

Sylia felt herself trembling and was shocked to find that she was aroused by Priss' words. "I see." Sylia laid a shaking hand on her throat and looked at Priss intently. "What about what happened with Sabishii?"

Reading the signs easily, Priss could feel herself reacting. Her expression was wild as she stepped towards Sylia with all the deliberate motions of a tiger stalking its prey. She caught Sylia's shoulders in a firm grip and pulled her against her body.

Sylia felt her heart lurch and begin to pound even as she berated herself for her behavior. This is ludicrous!

Priss held her tightly and pressed her cheek against Sylia's so that her lips were a breath away from her ear. She whispered softly, and her voice was like honey-covered steel. "You're trying to provoke me, aren't you?"

Sylia shivered and blushed. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Liar." Wicked laughter enveloped her and she felt the brush of Priss' lips against the delicate shell of her ear. "It was the word. I saw how your eyes darkened when you said it." She traced the outline with her tongue and Sylia jerked. "I heard the catch in your voice." Priss caught the earlobe between her teeth and Sylia gasped out, "What word?"

Priss pushed her back against the wall and let her leg slip between Sylia's. She pressed upwards, making Sylia' skirt rise higher until her thigh was firmly against Sylia's heat. Sylia moaned softly and opened her eyes to stare into Priss' dark gaze. Priss smiled at the musky smell and answered Sylia's question. "Seduction." The word flowed over her lips like sin personified and Sylia would have fallen if Priss' leg had not held her pinned to the wall. "Please Priss!"

Priss held up her index finger of her human hand. "See this? With this one finger I can do things to you that will make you writhe in pleasure." She touched Sylia's lips with the finger and traced them lightly. "Should I, Sylia? Would you like that?" Her voice was a rough hum that stimulated the senses.

Sylia moaned helplessly but couldn't bring herself to say what she wanted. Priss shook her head and continued to play with her lips. "Not good enough, Sylia. I won't do anything unless you say it." She parted Sylia's lips and slipped the tip of her finger inside only to with draw it again at the touch of Sylia's tongue. "What do you want Sylia? Do you want me to touch you?" Sylia nodded, but Priss only shook her head again. "Say it. Say where you want me to touch you."

Desire clogged her throat, but Sylia managed, "M-my… breasts."

Instantly she was rewarded as Priss cupped her breast. Sylia almost cried out in relief, but quickly realized that it was not enough. Priss held her, but did nothing else. "Please!"

Priss licked the side of Sylia's throat, but refused to do more than that. "What do you want me to do to you, Sylia?"

Frustration made her snap, "Squeeze my breasts, massage them!" Priss complied and Sylia's head fell back in pleasure as she caressed her. It wasn't long before she wanted more. "Please, Priss!"

Priss smiled at her distressed plea. "Yes, Sylia? You wanted something else?"

Sylia felt herself flush, but told her. "Unbutton my blouse." She quickly added, "And unhook my bra."

The buttons parted easily and Sylia felt Priss' fingers on her flesh. "Yes!" Priss unhooked the front clasp of her bra and freed her breasts into her waiting hands. "Ohhh Priss!"

"Yes Sylia?"

"Kiss them, please!"

Priss carefully kissed every inch of her breasts until Sylia thought she would scream with frustration. "Suck them!" Priss drew a hard tip into her mouth and tugged it lightly with her teeth. Sylia did scream then, her hands gripping Priss' shoulders to hold her close. "God, Priss!" Sylia couldn't think, her mind clouded with Priss' touch. She grabbed one of Priss' hands and thrust it under her skirt. "Touch me." Priss happily obliged and Sylia felt her talented fingers moving inside her. She moved against her hand helplessly until she could feel herself being pulled out of her body. Sylia screamed as she came, thrusting wildly against Priss' hand. "Priss!"

Priss continued to touch her, drawing her pleasure out and extending it until Sylia shuddered again, this time unable to make a sound. She slumped against Priss, a quivering mass that could not support itself. Priss swept her up into her arms and strode to the elevator.

Linna paid for the small wooden figure and ignored Nene's exasperated expression. She added it to the growing collection in her bag and they left the shop and began walking back to the hotel. "Not one word, Nene. I didn't say anything when you bought that hideous mask."

Nene stuck her tongue out and Linna grinned. "Don't point that thing at me unless you intend to use it."

She stopped walking and Linna turned back to her. "What?"

<Where would you like me to use it? > The heat in Nene's eyes made Linna shiver in anticipation.

<Why don't we go back to the room and discuss it? >

Priss tossed restlessly as she began to dream. She was running, faster than she had ever run before. Racing through the high grass, searching for something. Hunting. She could taste the wind as it washed over her and she growled as she recognized her prey. Priss leapt across a small stream and into the woods, not fearing the approaching night. She was at home in the shadows and they would help her get closer to her quarry before it could escape.

Priss saw the outfit Sylia had chosen and immediately protested, "Uh uh, nope. Not going to do it." She propelled Sylia back into the bedroom and stepped into Sylia's closet. She bypassed the power suits and evening gowns, ignored the slacks and casual skirts until she made a sound of discovery. "Ah hah! Here, put this on."

Sylia took the rack and eyed the small skirt dubiously. Bought in a moment's impulse the short, black leather skirt had never even been worn and she had actually forgotten that she had it. "You're not serious?"

Priss leaned close and began to gently bite at Sylia's lips. Sylia moaned low in her throat as Priss smiled encouragingly. "Please?" Sylia nodded and went to change. Priss' smile turned evil as she called after her. "And no pantyhose, Sylia." Sylia faltered, but recovered quickly. She glared down at the garment and Priss heard her mutter as she entered the bathroom, "There's no way in the world I'm climbing onto a motorcycle in this thing."

Linna smiled happily as she read the financial section of the newspaper. The investments she had made for Mr. Romanova were rapidly becoming profitable and she hoped that this would help ease his mind about her. She picked up her coffee cup and glanced at Nene.

Nene was leaning against the rail of their balcony, staring into the night sky. She felt Linna's eyes on her and turned. "It's so beautiful, Linna. I almost wish that we could stay here."

Linna's eyebrows arched at this and she asked quietly, "Would you like to?"

Nene realized that Linna was serious and she thought about it. The island was incredible, but Nene knew that she would miss her job and the Knight Sabers. She shook her head and sighed. "No. I guess not. It's tempting though." She pointed to the newspaper Linna held. "Anything interesting?"

Linna shrugged. "Not really. Just checking on a few things." She turned the page and made a small sound of discovery. "Hey! Vision is in concert here tomorrow night."

Nene moved to look over Linna's shoulder and they studied the article together. The concert was to be the first in Vision's comeback tour and was expected to be a sellout. "Do you want to go?"

Nene's excited nod made Linna grin and she instructed Inji to obtain tickets for them. =I'll try, but this is kind of short notice. =

<Do what you can.>

Sylia stared at the small, dark green sports cars and then at Priss. "What's this?"

Priss shrugged and opened the passenger door for her. "It's called a car." Sylia lowered herself into the seat awkwardly and felt the first trickle of unease as she saw the maximum speed the car was capable of. "Um, Priss? Why don't we just take the Mercedes?" Priss closed the door before she could attempt to climb back out again and hurried around to the other side. She slid behind the wheel and fastened her seat belt, shooting Sylia a devilish grin that did nothing to calm her. "Buckle up, Love."

Sylia quickly did so as Priss shifted into reverse and eased out of the slot, reminding herself how little it took to send the vehicle flying. "Um, when did you get this?"


Once out on the highway, Sylia abandoned appearances and gripped her seat for dear life. "This was not a good idea."

Priss patted her thigh and smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, Sylia. In a few minutes you won't care if I drive you off a cliff." Her hand slid up the inside of Sylia's leg and covered her. Sylia jumped and tore her eyes away from the road to look at Priss incredulously. "You can't be serious?"

Priss made tsking sound and pulled the car off the road. She turned to Sylia and seemed to be trying to see through her. "You keep asking me that, Sylia. Have I done something that makes you think I'm not a serious person?"

Not sure where she was going with this, Sylia shook her head. "No, but-."

Priss held up her hand and stopped her. "Okay then. Now, do you trust me?"

Sylia nodded somewhat tentatively and Priss laughed. "Good." She reached into her pocket and withdrew a length of scarlet silk. Sylia recognized it instantly. "My scarf! I thought I'd lost it."

"No, just mislaid it." If there was a deeper meaning in her words then Sylia missed them as Priss folded the scarf and raised it to her face.

"Priss?" Sylia didn't stop her, but she wasn't happy as Priss bound the cloth over her eyes. Instantly her anxiety returned in full force, but Priss' hand on hers kept her from removing the blindfold. She felt the air stir across her face as Priss whispered into her ear.

"Trust me Sylia. We're going to dinner at a little restaurant up the coast, about an hour's drive, okay?"

Sylia nodded. "All right."

Priss squeezed her hands and continued. "Now in that time I'm going to touch you." Sylia's heart skipped a beat. "Anyway and anywhere I want. Don't worry about traffic, this road is fairly clear and I won't put you in danger." As she spoke, Priss was sliding her hands under Sylia's skirt and tugging her underwear down. Sylia blushed furiously as it was removed and Priss kissed her cheek before starting the car again.

Sylia felt the car accelerating but had no time to worry as Priss' hand began to unbutton her blouse. Within minutes, she was gasping as Priss touched her, gently rolling and pulling the tips of her breasts between her fingers. Sylia couldn't believe how she was feeling and as Priss dropped her hand back under the tight skirt, Sylia let her head fall back against the headrest and let Priss do whatever she wanted to her.

Priss saw her relax out of the corner of her eye and grinned. Can't have that. She took her hand away just long enough to shift into a higher gear and the added speed and engine noise made Sylia tense again. Priss returned her hand and pushed her fingertips between Sylia's wet folds. She found her clit with her thumb and began to stroke her deliberately.

Sylia arched up, straining against the seatbelt and then cried out as Priss began to drive her fingers into her aggressively. She heard the engine screaming to be shifted into a higher gear and didn't care. Priss pulled away to shift and Sylia moaned at the loss. Priss was fast though and soon she was thrusting into Sylia again, making her twist and shift in her seat as she tried to get closer. Priss heard her call for more an instant before she saw the car in front of her brake suddenly; Priss swerved and sent Sylia flying against her hand.

The sudden thrust made Sylia climax and she cried out in both pleasure and fear as Priss fought to regain control of the car.

Priss gripped the wheel with both hands and passed the other car, regretting the fact that her arm housed no projectile weapons. Maybe I should see about adding something.

Arashi snickered softly.= It'd be safer for other drivers if you didn't. I think Sylia fainted after that last maneuver.=

Priss froze. <YOU WERE WATCHING? >

Arashi realized that she had just screwed up. Hell. =Um, we can talk about this later, okay? Going to go to sleep now, bye! =

< I'm going to kill you! > Priss turned into the restaurant parking lot and turned off the car. She pulled away the blindfold from Sylia's eyes and looked at her in concern. "Are you all right?"

Sylia was breathing heavily, her faced flushed and her eyes dilated. "Priss? Is it just me or have you been a little… different since you came back?"

Priss grinned and nodded. "Its you. Hungry?" She hopped out and went around to open Sylia's door.

Sylia smoothed a shaking hand over her hair and accepted Priss' help in exiting the car. She clung to Priss' arm as they crossed the parking lot, not steady enough to make it on her own.

Priss smothered another grin and greeted the hostess. "Good evening, Iroke. Is our table ready?"

The tall brunette smiled charmingly at them and ignored a twinge of jealousy at the way Sylia was holding on to Priss. "Of course, Priss. Right this way." She led them to a secluded corner and Sylia sank into her chair gratefully. She saw the desire in the hostess's eyes as she stared at Priss and resisted the urge to smack her. Sylia waited until she had left and then focused on Priss. "Friend of yours?"

Priss shrugged. "I stayed here a couple of days last week. They have a great chef."

Sylia absorbed this and managed not to slide her chair closer to Priss' when the woman returned and introduced them to their waitress. The young girl took their drink orders and left them with menus. Sylia read over the selection four times before admitting that she would be hard pressed to recognize her own name right now. She looked at Priss over the menu and sighed. "I give up. You order for me."


She closed the menu and laid it on the table with hands that still felt weak. "You've rattled my brain."

The heated look that Priss sent her made Sylia's temperature rise. She saw Priss lean forward as if in a dream and felt her hand move over her thigh. "My darling Sylia, I haven't even begun to rattle you." The throaty purr made Sylia tremble.

The waitress returned with their drinks and Sylia sipped hers in relief, the cold liquid cooling her slightly. Priss continued to watch her like a cat toying with a mouse and Sylia wondered what else she had planned.

They ate in a companionable silence only the occasional comment from each of them until the dessert. Sylia declined any and Priss called for the check. When the hostess returned with the receipt, Sylia saw her slip Priss something. Priss thanked her and rose, stepping forward to take Sylia's arm again. They left the restaurant and Sylia was unsurprised when they went past the entrance and on to the elevators. Priss pushed the button and the doors chimed open. Sylia stepped inside and waited until they closed again before turning to Priss in question. "What are you up to?"

Priss tapped the button for the top floor and refused to answer. The elevator climbed swiftly and Sylia had little time to wonder as the doors opened again and Priss was leading her out into a small entrance way. There were only two doors here and Priss slid the key card that the hostess had given her through the slot. The door swung open and Priss held it open for her.

Sylia stepped inside and saw a room out of a dream. Champagne colored carpet invited one to curl up in front of a large fireplace of carved marble. The furniture was low and formless while sweeping folds of gold silk hung across the walls, making you feel like you were inside of a huge tent. Even the windows did nothing to detract from that feeling as they gave a panoramic view of the moonlit sea. Sylia heard the door close behind her and felt Priss' hands slide over her shoulders. "Like the view?"

"Its beautiful. How did you find out about this place?"

"By accident." Priss reached around to the front of Sylia's blouse and swiftly unbuttoned it. She worked quickly and within seconds, Sylia was standing before her wearing nothing but a somewhat uncertain look.

There was a knock at the door and Sylia gasped, looking at her scattered clothes in dismay. Priss caught her before she could pick them up and pushed her towards them bedroom. Sylia went quickly and Priss opened the door to see the hostess. "I was expecting a waiter."

Iroke smiled invitingly and pushed the small cart inside. The smile died when she saw the clothes lying on the floor and she sighed in defeat. "Hmm. I didn't realize you had company." She turned to Priss and trailed her hand down the collar of her jacket. "Can't blame a girl for trying." Iroke winked saucily and left.

Sylia peeked out of the bedroom. "I can blame her for trying." Priss laughed and took the bottle of champagne from the bucket. She worked the cork loose and filled two glasses as Sylia found her courage and joined her. Priss handed her a glass and raised hers in a toast. "To fulfilling promises." Sylia drank to the obscure words and saw Priss' eyes move over her body with a barely leashed hunger. "What promises, Priss?"

Priss took her glass and set it next to hers before taking her into her arms. "Ones I made myself." She kissed Sylia, letting her mouth fit firmly against hers until it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. She took her time and relearned the taste of Sylia, knowing now how precious that was.

Sylia could feel herself losing touch with the world around her as her body focused on Priss and only Priss. She knew there was more to what Priss had said, but she pushed it to the back of her mind for later. Sylia felt herself falling and opened her eyes to see Priss lowering her to the carpet. She sank into the thick pile as Priss covered Sylia's body with her own. Then she was gasping as something cold splashed across her breasts.

Priss dropped the empty glass and took the tip of one wine covered breast into her mouth. Sylia shuddered as Priss continued to lap the sweet liquid from her body and once again found herself at the mercy of Priss' touch.

Linna paddled out into the churning sea and passed several surfers who were on their way back in having decided that the sea was becoming too rough. They called out warnings to her and she waved to show that she had heard them, but pressed on. The water was becoming increasingly choppy and she could see some truly huge waves rising in the distance. She turned the board around and drew several deep breaths as she waited for one to arrive.

A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned to her right in time to see another surfer pull into position several yards away. The woman was wearing a black and red wet suit, but Linna couldn't see her face clearly from this distance. She raised a hand in greeting and then returned her attention to the approaching monster.

Sabishii watched Kuraki brush out her hair and smiled at the image she presented. "You look good with long hair."

Kuraki, formerly Sylia, paused and frowned at Sabishii. "I guess that's why you changed it then?"

Sabishii shrugged. "Well we needed to change our appearances anyway, so I thought I'd save Taisei the trouble and get a head start."

"And my eyes?" Kuraki watched her with pale lavender eyes and Sabishii smiled sheepishly. "I like purple."

"Uh huh." She looked back at the mirror and tried once again to reconcile herself to the fact that she was not Sylia Stingray. When Priss… Sabishii had first told her, she had thought that she was crazy and it was only after Sabishii had taken her back to the Silky Doll and she had seen herself there did she begin to believe. The real shock had come when Sabishii had told her why she had cloned Sylia and that she herself was a clone. Kuraki could not believe that she would have done something so reckless as to clone Priss. She looked at Sabishii, stretched out on the hotel bed and wondered what they were going to do now. "Where are we going? What are we going to do?"

Sabishii shrugged. "Anything we want. It's not like we have to worry about taking out Genom. We're free to do whatever we want."

Not quite able to grasp the concept of true freedom, Kuraki instead focused on Sabishii's appearance. "What are you going to do to alter your appearance?"

Sabishii climbed off the bed and moved to stand behind Kuraki at the mirror. "Hmm. Not sure actually. Any suggestions?" She bent forward and placed a kiss on Kuraki's shoulder, near the thin strap of her nightgown. "Or preferences?"

Kuraki studied her thoughtfully and then nodded. "Yes. Arashi?"

=Yes, Kuraki? =

"Green eyes, please. And dark brown hair." She smiled as Sabishii rolled her eyes.

"Green, huh?" At her nod, Sabishii sighed and agreed. "You heard the lady, Arashi. Green eyes."

= Consider it done. = And then she added, = I think you should know that Taisei and I have decided to change our names. =

A brief silence and then Sabishii grimaced. "Okay, out with them."

Arashi laughed softly. =Kiji.= Sabishii rolled her eyes and nodded. "Of course."

Taisei was more subdued. = Rihi. = Kuraki looked into the mirror again, her expression pale. "I see."

Sabishii sighed and patted her on the shoulder. "They think they're being clever."

"I'm not so sure they're wrong."

"We're not Knight Sabers any more, Kuraki. We never were. We can do what ever we like."

Kuraki wasn't sure she knew how to do anything else. "What if I can't?"

Sabishii was floored. She had never heard Sylia...Kuraki sound so lost before and she realized that she didn't like it one bit. "I think if there is one person on this planet that can handle finding out that they're a clone and then go one to carve out a life for themselves then it has to be you."

Linna was smiling broadly, as she waded ashore and she glanced back to make sure that the other woman had made it to the beach. She saw her paddling towards her and waved. As she drew closer, Linna realized that she knew the woman. "Reika?"

Reika Chan walked out of the surf and stabbed her sleek board into the sand beside Linna's. "Linna!" They embraced warmly and then settled themselves onto the sand. "What are you doing here?"

Linna smiled. "Vacation. I know why you're here. I saw the ads about your concert. It's a total sell-out!"

Reika nodded. "Yes, it's going to be great. Are you coming to the show?"

Linna shook her head. "Afraid not. Like I said, a sold out show. But that's okay. Your schedule said that you're heading to MegaTokyo next and I've gotten us tickets for then."

"Nonsense. Give me the name of the hotel you're staying at and I'll have a couple sent over." She grinned suddenly. "Us? Anybody special?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact she is." Linna watched Reika's eyes widen. "Nene and I have been together for a couple of years now."

"Nene? As in Nene Romanova?" Reika was surprised and not only by the fact that Linna was seeing another woman. "Isn't she a little... young?"

"She's done a lot of growing up. We all have."

Reika sighed and the sound was melancholy. "Yes. Sometimes I feel as if I've become ancient; jaded."

Linna frowned slightly. "Jaded? Why?" She studied the other woman closely, noticing for the first time the small lines of tension bracketing her mouth. "What's wrong Reika?"

Reika laughed suddenly and it was forced. "Nothing. Just a little worried about the tour I guess." She glanced up the beach and Linna followed her look.

Two men were standing several yards away and from the dark glasses and out of place suits Linna pegged them as bodyguards. "Since when do you need protection? I thought that no one knew you were Vision?"

Reika shrugged and stood up, brushing the sand from her legs. "They don't but my manager insists." She smiled and hugged Linna before stepping towards the men. "It was wonderful to see you again Linna. I'll send those tickets to your hotel." She waved slightly and walked away, her surfboard tucked under her arm.

As Linna made her way back to her rental car she suddenly realized what image had been emblazoned on Reika's surf board: a white tiger.

Sylia watched Priss finish off the rest of the champagne and eyed her warily as she approached the tub, easily recognizing the devilish gleam that meant she was about to be pounced upon. "You're kidding? Don't you ever sleep?"

Priss climbed into the bathtub, shaking her head. "Nope. Gave it up for sex." She slid completely under the water and Sylia felt her hands on her thighs, pushing them apart. "Priss!" The touch of Priss' mouth on her had Sylia gripping the sides of the tub and trying not to scream as Priss' tongue rasped against her oversensitive flesh. "You'll drown!" But Priss had prepared for that and Arashi was hard at work as she pleasured Sylia.

It wasn't long before she heard Sylia's scream of release and she surfaced to find Sylia staring at her in amazement. "H-how did you do that?" Priss laughed and helped her from the water. Sylia swayed unsteadily as Priss gently dried her off and then carried her into the bedroom. Sylia suddenly realized that that was one of the things that was bothering her. "You keep carrying me everywhere. You're not that strong."

Priss sighed and crawled onto the bed beside her. She propped herself up on her elbow and stared down at Sylia seriously. "I had Arashi increase my strength."

"What? Why Priss?"

She reached out and tugged Sylia's bangs slightly. "Because I don't intend to be that vulnerable to anyone ever again."

Sylia rolled closer and slipped her arms around Priss. "I'm sorry, Priss."

Priss laughed and returned the embrace. "Nothing for you to apologize for, Sylia."

"I can't help but remember how opposed you used to be to these kind of enhancements."

"Things change." There was an edge to her voice that disturbed Sylia and she searched Priss' face.

"Priss. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine Sylia." Priss began to kiss Sylia's throat but she wasn't letting her distract her again.

"No, Priss." She pushed against Priss' shoulders. "You're not fine. Something terrible happened to you, but you act like nothing's wrong. But I see it, Priss. I see that shadow in your eyes and I wonder how long you can keep running from it."

Her face might have been carved from stone. Priss stared down at Sylia and when she spoke her words where harsh. "I'm not running from anything. I know damn well what happened, Sylia. Trust me, I haven't forgotten an instant of it." She moved off the bed and went to the window, staring blindly at the sea as she tried to contain this wildness that was tearing at her.

Sylia pulled the sheet around herself and met Priss' eyes in the reflection. "I didn't mean to upset you. I'm just worried about you."

"Well don't worry, Sylia. I'm alive and I intend to stay that way. All this has done is bring things into focus for me."

"What things?"

Priss turned around, watching as Sylia stood up, and approached her, the sheet trailing behind her. "You. My singing. The Knight Sabers. My life."

"I don't understand."

Sighing deeply, Priss wondered how to explain something she couldn't really define. "I'm not sure I can explain it." She cupped Sylia's face in her hands and kissed her softly. "Like that kiss. I am totally aware of this moment and no matter what happens I will always remember it. Every thought I have had, every action that I have made is vividly fresh in my mind. I can remember the exact way you felt in my arms a week ago as opposed to the way you felt a few moments ago. I remember the taste of every kiss we've shared since I returned."

Her mind reeled as Sylia realized what Priss was saying. "That's impossible. Has Arashi done something else to you?"

"She says not. Arashi has been trying to figure out why this is happening, but truthfully I don't care why it happened I'm just glad it did." Priss touched her fingers to the furrow between Sylia's brows. "Don't scowl Sylia. I'm all right." She smoothed the lines away and kissed the tip of Sylia's nose. There was so much more happening, but something made Priss hesitate to tell Sylia. She realized that she was afraid of scaring her away.

"Priss, I want to run some tests when we get back, okay?"

Chuckling at Sylia's request, Priss swung her up in her arms and took her back to bed. "Of course, Sylia. Whatever makes you happy."

Priss could see her clearly, kneeling by the same stream she had crossed before. Her prey was relaxed, off guard and as Priss crept forward, she was careful to make no sound. Her blood pounded through her ears as she stalked her victim and Priss focused completely on the coming kill.

As the quarry stood to go, Priss sprang. She tackled her around the waist and they rolled into the stream. Priss moved quickly, the claws on her hands digging into her prey's arms, holding her in place as she leaned forward. Priss dimly heard the strangled scream and could taste the blood as it rushed into her mouth when she sank her teeth into Kutsuu's throat.

Sylia stirred restlessly and reached out to the empty space beside her in the huge bed. "Priss?"

< I'm on the balcony, Love. >

Sylia knew that she would not be able to return to sleep without Priss near and sat up with a small sigh. She had become so accustomed to sleeping in Priss' arms over the last week that she could no longer stand to sleep alone. Over two years we've been together, but now it's all changed and I'm still not sure how.

She didn't feel quite steady as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and Sylia realized that Priss seemed to be trying to love her into a state of exhaustion. < Something's off here. She wasn't this… driven before. > Other things were disturbing her, but she couldn't seem to get a clear picture of what they were.

= She's been through a lot Sylia. That kind of experience changes a person… or breaks them.=

< Yes, but maybe you'd better add a little enhancement to my strength and stamina. I can barely keep up with her right now. >

= I'll get started.=

The robe Priss had stripped off of her last night was lying on the floor next to the bed and Sylia pulled it on before stepping onto the balcony to join Priss.

Priss stood at the rail, dressed, but bare foot, watching the sun rise over the ocean. Sylia wrapped her arms around Priss' waist and rested her chin on her shoulder, feeling the hard edge where flesh and metal merged. "Good morning."

Priss felt Sylia pressed up against her and told herself sternly that they really needed to talk. This in mind, she did not turn around and pick Sylia up to carry her back to bed, but instead continued to watch the changing colors of the morning sky. "Good morning, Love. Sleep well?"

Sylia chuckled faintly. "I think the expression is 'like a log'."

"Good. We're leaving today."

Something in her voice told Sylia that there was more to her announcement than first appeared. "Are we going home?"

Priss pulled out of her arms and picked up a file from the table. "No. At least, not for long." She handed the file to Sylia. "We'll pick up the van and our suits."

Sylia saw the picture in the folder and froze. "This is…?"


Sylia stared at the picture and felt a rage begin to burn deep within her. This woman hurt Priss. "You know where she is."

"Yes. She's not that far away from here actually. We should be able to have her by tomorrow night."

Sylia looked into Priss' eyes and couldn't suppress her shiver at the thinly veiled hatred simmering there. Priss would not tell her what had been done to her and at times Sylia wasn't sure she wanted to know. "Well I guess I'd better pack."

Priss blinked at her pleasant, almost eager tone, dispelling the shadows from her own eyes. "No bringing up Knight Saber rules about personal vengeance?"

Sylia reached out and cupped Priss' cheek, holding her gaze as she spoke. "I never told you about the eleventh rule."

"The twelfth?" There were only ten rules that Priss knew of but since Sylia had created the first ten she was entitled to add another.

"Nobody hurts you and lives."

"Want her dead, huh?"


"Damn, Sylia." Priss hugged her tightly, feeling a decidedly foolish grin spreading over her face. "Don't I feel loved."

Sylia brushed her fingers over Priss' lips. "You are loved and not just by me, but by your whole family. Me, Linna, Nene and Mackie, we're your family." She kissed her lightly and Priss felt tears clog her throat. "And family takes care of each other."

"Sylia." Priss swept her up and tossed her over her shoulder, striding into the bedroom with obvious intent.


"Well hell, Sylia. You can't expect me not to make love to you after that?"

As her robe was thrown open and Priss began to kiss her breasts Sylia protested, "What about Kutsuu?"

Priss didn't even bother to raise her head. "Not a problem. It's not like she knows we're coming after her." She rose up and tugged off her t-shirt. "Besides, I want to mate."

Sylia lay on her side and watched Priss sleep. The strange things Priss would occasionally say now continued to take her by surprise and Sylia wondered what Priss was keeping from her. <Arashi? >

=Yes, Sylia? =

< Can you tell me what happened? >

=Priss doesn't want…she doesn't want to worry you.=

Sylia tensed. < What's wrong with her? >

= Nothing that I can find. She's just a little more… attuned with herself.= A very primitive part of herself.

< What did Kutsuu do to her? >

=That's for Priss to tell you, Sylia. She'd be furious if I broke my word. Just remember that no matter what happens or how odd Priss may seem at times, she loves you.=

Kutsuu heard the key rattle as it connected with the lock and wondered what housekeeping was doing here so late. She set her drink down and went to the door, reaching it as it swung open.

Priss stood in the doorway, her smile just this side of vicious. "I have a promise to keep."

Complete shock held her immobile and she didn't notice the balcony door slid open to admit a figure clad in white armor. "Priss..." She regained her composure quickly. "Come in, let's talk about this."

Priss laughed and shook her head. "Skip the small talk, Kutsuu. That doesn't work anymore."

Kutsuu shrugged. "I never thought it would, Priss." She played her final card. "Can I get you a frozen cat?" The strange phrase made Priss freeze.

Kutsuu ran a hand over Priss' hair. "Missed that little control, did you? The simplest of commands: Freeze. I want to thank you for coming back to me Priss. Believe me I'll make sure that you're never able to leave again." Priss and Arashi fought to break her control, but Kutsuu had planted this one very carefully.

She reached around Priss and shut the door. "Just let me get my things." A metal hand clamped over her shoulder and she looked back to see her own distorted reflection in the visor of a Knight Saber.

Linna smoothed the lotion over Nene's back automatically, not really paying attention to what she was doing. In her mind, she followed Nene as they moved through the system and tried not to get left behind. < What's you're hurry? >

Nene laughed impishly. < I want to do this and get back so I can concentrate on what you're doing. >

< In that case, we could just call the restaurant and make reservations. >

< I guess it is a little extreme to do it this way, but it's so much fun when you're with me now-. > She broke off as she ran into something in front of her. Nene looked up into the hazy features of Tsumari and gasped. < You scared me! >

His voice sounded strange when he spoke. < I have found you at last. >

Nene frowned in confusion. <You know where to find me all the time, Tsumari. What's wrong?>

He reached out and the dark tendrils trailing behind him surrounded her, yanking her away from Linna.

Linna cried out in protest as a sword appeared in her hand. < Let her go! > The strands around her seemed to erupt and Linna found herself under attack by the system itself. They tangled into a dark, wriggling mass and the sphere raced towards her. She slashed her way through the tentacles that tried to grab her, desperate to reach Nene. She saw Nene flinch and then heard her scream as the shadow creature pulled her away.

< Nene! >

Seiki was frantic. = No! He's severed the connection! Linna you have to stop him! =

< What? What connection? What's going on? > She hesitated and the orb seized the opening and Linna.

= He's taken her mind, Linna! I can keep her body alive, but you have to find her and quickly! =

Linna began to swing her sword, frantically trying to get free of the infection that was trying to overwhelm her. < Nene! > There was no answer and as the strands wrapped around her arms, she realized that she needed help.

Sylia watched Priss haul the chain up with what could only be described as delight. Kutsuu was hanging from her wrists and Priss had torn her clothes off before she'd strung her up. < Priss? >

< Yes, Love? > Priss lit a cigarette and watched her captive's eyes.

< What are you doing? I thought you were going to kill her. >

< I am… eventually. >

Sylia didn't like what she was hearing. < Priss, you're not going to… torture her, are you? >

Priss laughed and looked at her. Sylia gasped at what she saw in Priss' face. < What's good for the goose…Besides, you said I could kill her any way I liked. >

< I didn't mean torture! Priss this isn't like you. >

Priss dropped her cigarette and stepped on it before striding towards her. < Why don't you go upstairs Sylia? You need to get some rest and this doesn't really concern you. >

< How can you say that? Priss you can't do this-> She broke off as Priss' hand slipped up around her throat.

Priss kissed her forehead and cupped her face with her metal hand. < Sylia, do as I say. >

Something was under the surface of Priss' words and Sylia could see the dark shadows shifting through her eyes. Suddenly she was afraid of Priss. "Priss?"

Priss walked her out of the lab, shutting the door behind her. She pushed Sylia back into the wall and stared into her frightened eyes. "Don't question me, Sylia." The words rumbled out of her chest.

"Don't threaten me."

The menacing expression cleared suddenly as Priss smiled. "I'm not threatening you, Sylia. I just don't want to upset you."

"Then don't do this."

Priss sighed and kissed her cheek. "I have to, Sylia. Please, go upstairs?"

"I can't do that. My God, Priss! How can you ask me to?"

The shadow was back and this time it was focused on Sylia. "Go upstairs Sylia, before I become angry with you." Her voice was a deadly growl and Sylia flinched.

"And what, Priss? You'll hit me?"

Priss moved quickly and threw Sylia over her shoulder. She marched to the elevator and set her down inside, punching the button for the top floor as she left. The doors slid closed before Sylia could catch them and she pushed the button for the lab, but the car was already in motion.

< Arashi lock out this floor and code it so that Taisei can't break it. Then lock down the building so that Sylia can't leave. >

= Priss…=

< Do it! Or I'll have to tie her up. The choice is yours. > Priss walked back into the lab and smiled at Kutsuu. "Now where were we?"

Sylia struck the panel in frustration. "Damn! She's locked me out. Can you break the code?"

= I'm not sure. Arashi's rather good at this kind of thing. I think she's been studying up.=

< Try. > Sylia ran into the apartment and slid behind the desk. She brought up the building's security cameras and selected the lab camera. The screen remained black. "She's thought of that too. I have to stop her, Taisei."

Taisei had been checking all the other systems and realized that Sylia was trapped on this floor.= I don't think you can. She's locked out all of the elevators and even secured the stairways. We're trapped here.=

Kutsuu felt the claws open the flesh on her back and tried to jerk away. Priss smelled the blood and wondered why she had never noticed how sweet it was.

Arashi wasn't happy with her observation.= Priss. Stay focused here.=

Nodding reluctantly, Priss continued to use her claws and watched the blood pool beneath Kutsuu's body with grim satisfaction. "I'm sorry that I don't have time to do this right. I know you're something of a perfectionist."

Kutsuu bit back a cry as Priss raked her chest with her claws and gasped. "Quite… all right. Sometimes… one has to rush."

Priss raised her metal hand and stared at the blood in fascination. The scent filled her and Arashi spoke quickly.= Priss! Don't even think about it! You're letting her win! If you give in to this you'll have lost, Priss.=

Kutsuu had seen the look in Priss' eyes and she laughed quietly. "So my little kitty has found her claws."

Priss flinched and stared at her.

"It's killing you, isn't it? The smell of the blood, the knowledge that I'm your prey and completely helpless. You want so badly to just let go and give into that part of yourself." Kutsuu's voice whispered through Priss' mind as she tried to find anything that might save her. "I'm so proud of you, Priss. You've come so close to freeing yourself. Look at the blood, Priss. See how it gleams. "

= Priss! She's trying to manipulate you! =

The blood on her hand glistened in the light and Priss fought the urge to taste that essence of life. Kutsuu was trying to bring Priss back under her control, but her words were having the opposite effect. Instead, they were weakening Priss' willpower and letting this primal part of her gain ground. "Give in Priss. Let yourself feel the way you were meant to feel. Let me help you, Priss. I can help you to be free."

Priss looked at her impassively and heard Arashi's frantic warnings as if through a wall, faint and indistinct. Kutsuu was succeeding, but not in the way she hoped. Priss reached out with one clawed finger and she snarled as she slit the wall of Kutsuu's abdominal cavity.

"Priss!" Kutsuu screamed as her intestines bulged out and gravity did the rest. She watched her internal organs leave her body and knew that she would be dead very shortly.

Priss wrapped her human hand around Kutsuu's throat and growled softly, "You're dead."

Kutsuu drew breath for a scream that never came as Priss plunged her clawed hand up into her chest and gripped her heart.

The last thing Kutsuu saw before she died was her blood splattering across Priss' face.

Linna felt herself reel under the attack and knew that she was in trouble. She tried to focus on the others and sent out a desperate plea. < Sylia! Priss! Somebody help me! >

Kuraki heard the frantic call and automatically replied, forgetting that she was not the Sylia that Linna was calling to. < Linna! What's wrong? >

< Thank God Sylia. I need help, I'm being attacked in cyberspace and I can't get free. >

< Hold on, I'm coming. Taisei? >

Taisei did as she asked, refraining from pointing out how dangerous this was.

Kuraki plunged into the system and followed Linna's signal back to her former teammate. She saw the virus swell towards her and Taisei supplied the knowledge she needed in an instant. Kuraki bit back a cry of pain at the sudden influx of data and concentrated on dispatching the program. A ball of light burst from her hands and surrounded the virus, causing it to turn in on itself and dissolve.

Linna was on her knees and as Kuraki helped her to her feet, she laughed softly. < Christ, Sylia! And I thought Nene was good at this web stuff. That was incredible. >

Sabishii appeared beside them and glared at Linna angrily. < What's going on? >

Not sure why she was so upset Linna told them what had happened. < I couldn't stop him, Sylia. He was too powerful. Seiki is keeping Nene's body alive but we have to find her mind, or soul or whatever part of her that's trapped here. >

Sabishii gripped Kuraki's arm and spoke quietly. < This isn't our problem. >

Linna blinked. < What? Priss what are you-. > She broke off as she realized that this was not Priss. < My God! > She looked at Sylia. < What are you doing with her, Sylia? >

Kuraki shook her head and turned to Sabishii. < She doesn't see the differences? >

Sabishii looked at her and realized that she looked exactly like Sylia. Arashi piped up. < In your minds, you still see yourselves as you were, not as you are now. >

Kuraki pictured how she looked now and Linna saw her shimmer slightly and then gasped at the subtle differences. < I'm not Sylia… I'm her clone. My name is Kuraki. >

Her… clone? Linna could not believe it. Sylia cloned herself? No, she wouldn't have. Linna glared at Priss' clone and saw that she too had changed. The dark brown hair and vivid green eyes were striking, but did nothing to cool Linna's temper. < What did you do to them? Why didn't they answer me?>

< I don't know why they didn't answer; maybe they're out of range. > Sabishii was impatient. <Lets go Kuraki. >

< But Sabishii, what if Linna can't contact the others? It's Nene. >

Sabishii groaned. < Damn it. All right, but I'll go. You're not strong enough yet. >

< I am perfectly fit. > Her tone brooked no argument and Sabishii rolled her eyes.

< Fine. But if things get bad you're out, agreed? >

The slow rise of an eyebrow was Kuraki's only reply, but it was enough. Sabishii turned to Linna. < Now where was this thing heading when it took Nene? >

Blood filled her mouth and Priss swallowed it greedily as she licked the back of her hand. Arashi was screaming at her.= PRISS! STOP IT! =

This time Priss heard her. She came back to herself in a rush and stared at Kutsuu. She could smell the blood, and feel it on her face. It stained her clothes, covered her hands and Priss knew she should be horrified at her actions. Kutsuu's body hung in silent testament to the carnage that she was capable of.

= Priss? = Arashi couldn't tell what Priss was thinking.= Are you all right? =

Priss laughed faintly. "I killed her. I promised her that I would kill her." She dragged her bloody hands through her hair. "I have to clean this up."

Arashi was disturbed by Priss' calm demeanor. =Yes that would be a good idea. Should I let Sylia loose? =

"No, not yet. I need to get rid of the carcass first." She spread a tarp on the floor next to Kutsuu and then released her from the chains. Priss could feel more blood soaking into her clothes and forced herself to focus on what needed to be done. < Is that boomer you took over still around? >

=Yes. It's still in the garage. Actually, so is the car.=

Priss grinned. "Good. Can you still control it?"

=Yes. Do you want it to carry the body out? =

"No. I want it to kill Kutsuu."

Sylia heard the front door open and whirled to face Priss. The lack of disquiet on Priss' face frightened Sylia almost as much as the blood. "Priss! Are you all right?"

Priss shut the door and looked at Sylia. "I'm fine, Sylia."

"Is…is she dead?"

A slight twist of her lips was Priss' only reply, but Sylia had her answer. "I can't believe that you would… How could you?"

Priss snorted at her naivety. She strolled across the room and stood in front of Sylia. "I did what I had to. Nothing more, nothing less."

Sylia was angry and appalled by what Priss had done. She stared at the blood streaking across her lover's face and realized that she didn't know her now. "You tortured her to death, Priss. It makes you no better than she was."

Priss reached out and brushed Sylia's lips. "I survived, she didn't. That makes me a lot better than she was." She turned away and headed into the bedroom. "I'm taking a shower. I'd like some company."

"I don't think so."

Priss stopped and spoke quietly. "I wasn't asking."

Almost inhuman in its sound, her voice distressed Sylia greatly and the tone was clear. Priss expected her to join her and Sylia felt a wave of unease. Priss was not acting normally and she wondered again, how much her ordeal had changed her. "And if I refuse?"

Priss laughed harshly. "You can try."

< Arashi? Is Priss all right? Physically? >

Priss turned around and smiled at Sylia. "I'm fine, Sylia. There's nothing wrong with me."

"I wouldn't say that. You… you're different. You're more aggressive."

Sylia backed up a step as Priss approached her, feeling the desk press against the back of her legs. "You weren't like this before."

Priss stopped a breath away from her and shook her head. "Things change."

Sylia blanched and Priss smiled. "I have been through a hell that you cannot perceive and I hope you never do." She stroked Sylia's cheek. "She tried to turn me into an animal and she succeeded. What she didn't know was that I had already started down that path while I was hanging there being tortured day in and day out. The beatings and the drugs, the razors and the acid, it stripped away everything I thought I was and left something that I didn't even know I had. I survived her little games by finding that strength, Sylia. When Kutsuu took me, she had very definite plans for what she wanted me to be. She tried to break me, to twist me into her plaything. I refuse to feel remorse for terminating that piece of shit that tried to rape my mind the way you once raped my body."

Her words were a physical blow that sent Sylia reeling. She braced herself on the desk as her body began to tremble. "Priss…"

Priss took her hand and pulled her along behind her as she walked into the bedroom. Sylia did not resist.

Nene felt strange, like she had lost something important, but didn't know what. As she gradually became more aware, she realized that she couldn't move. Nene looked down at herself and gasped. Black strands wrapped around her, holding her in place within a huge, web of infected links. She strained against her bonds, but they didn't move. < Linna? Seiki? >

A shadow rose in front of her and she stared at it with frightened eyes. < Why have you done this? Where's Linna? >

The laughter that emanated from the entity was eerily familiar and Nene wondered where she had heard it before. < I brought you here to act as bait for my trap. Your friend is exhausting herself in a vain effort to reach you. Does that cover everything? >

< What trap? What are you talking about? > Something was wrong but she couldn't put her finger on it. < Tsumari… what's happened to you? >

A gentle voice reached her. < I am Tsumari, Nene. > Nene saw him appear beside her and looked from one being to the other, easily seeing the difference now that they were together. < But if you're Tsumari…who is this? >

The darker being ignored her and faced Tsumari. < I knew you would come to rescue your little friend. Now I'll destroy you! >

The water pounded over them as Priss made love to her. Sylia leaned against the shower wall, helpless against the intensity of Priss' touch. Fingers stroked her into a fervor and as Sylia came they did not stop, but increased their pace. Priss bit at Sylia's breasts until she was crying out from the overwhelming sensations. She tried to pull away, but Priss pinned her to the wall and continued to caress her, forcing Sylia to yield to her body's demands. Time was a meaningless thing as Priss brought her to completion again and again until Sylia could stand no longer and slid down to the floor of the shower.

Priss let her rest as she shut the water off and reached for a towel. She dried herself and then knelt beside Sylia, who was staring at her in confusion. "Why… why are you doing this?"

Priss shook her head and picked Sylia up, carrying her into the bed room. She sat her on the foot of the bed and dried her body, but did not answer her. Sylia watched her retrieve a brush from the dresser and let Priss brush her hair out, afraid to protest.

Priss pulled the covers back and motioned Sylia to get in bed. She did so, knowing that she could protest, but curious to see what Priss was doing.

The lamp beside the bed was snapped off and Sylia felt Priss join her in bed. Priss reached out and pulled Sylia against her side as she leaned back. They sat like that for a long time before Priss spoke and when she did Sylia jumped slightly. "Don't be afraid of me, Sylia. I would never hurt you."

"I don't understand, Priss."

"You… you belong to me in a way I can't explain."


Priss shook her head. "Let me finish. You're manipulative and overzealous. You try to control the world around you to the point of megalomania and you always assume that your way is the only way. You think too much and don't listen to your heart enough, so that on the rare occasions that you do listen to it, you overreact. You have too much knowledge for your own good and too much power to prevent you from using it. You hold a grudge longer than I do and have a feudal sense of justice. In short Sylia, you need a keeper."

Sylia was scowling at her. "I see. I suppose you're going to take on the task?"

Priss laughed. "I'm the only one who would dare."

"What if I don't want a keeper?"

"You misunderstand me, Sylia. I'm not asking you, I'm telling you." Priss caught her chin and stared into her eyes. "I love you Sylia, but I'm not blind to your faults anymore."

Sylia wasn't sure how to react to her declaration. "Why tell me this now? Why have you been making love to me at every opportunity? What game are you playing, Priss?"

Priss slid her hands down and cupped Sylia's breasts, brushing the tips with her thumbs. "I'm telling you this now, because I want you to understand why I'm going to be looking over your shoulder more. I've been making love to you as much as I can for several reasons that would anger you if I told you. So, I'm not going to. And as for the game that I'm playing…" She ducked her head and took the tip of Sylia's breast into her mouth.

Sabishii cursed as the strands of another virus tangled around her legs and she sliced through them with her energy blade as Kuraki continued to fire bolts at the dark sea of orbs that surrounded them. Linna realized that they were not getting any closer to finding Nene and she called to the others. < This isn't working! We need a new plan! >

Kuraki had been trying to find the origin of the infections, but she kept being blocked by the viruses, as if they knew what she was trying to do. < We need help! Sabishii, we have to call the others! >

Sabishii gritted her teeth as one of the tendrils lashed out and struck her face. < Damn it! All right! Linna, see if you can raise them. >

The first rays of sunlight were creeping over the horizon as Priss stirred. She could feel the warm body lying next to hers and she rolled over, burying her face in her mate's neck. The soothing scent filled Priss with pleasure and she could feel the quiet purr begin as she held Sylia close. High in the trees above them, the birds called to each other and Priss could hear the water from the stream splashing against the rocks. She rose up and looked around her. The remains of her kill hung safely in a tree nearby and Priss met Kutsuu's sightless eyes.

Priss jerked awake, her heart racing as the dream faded. <God! What's happening to me?>

=I keep trying to tell you, Priss. You've changed. You're not thinking like a normal person would anymore. =

Priss wiped the sweat from her face and turned to look at Sylia. < I'm afraid, Arashi. I was so angry when I found out what she had done. It wouldn't have taken much to lose control.>

=You just have to stay aware of what's happening to you, Priss. Know why you're feeling this way, but choose not to give into it. =

< And if I can't? >

Priss filled the glasses with iced tea as Sylia switched on the news and returned to the kitchen table. The simple lunch of salad and sandwiches struck Sylia as being terribly domestic and she smiled faintly.


"I just realized how nice this is. We're not running off into battle or fighting for our lives from some unseen threat. You're here, alive, Mackie is safe in Germany, and Linna and Nene are actually on a vacation together. It's… nice."

Priss caught her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. "I know just what you mean." They resumed eating in companionable silence and watched the local news. The weather was supposed to be clear and cool tonight and Priss began to plan another little drive, maybe inland this time, through the mountains.

"-Kutsuu who worked for Genom Corporation as a business consultant, was found in her car, the victim of a rogue boomer attack. Police are still trying to find the malfunctioning boomer and are warning residents in the area to stay alert."

Sylia's head whipped up and stared at the screen in surprise. She glanced at Priss, "A boomer attack?"

Priss shrugged. "It's a dangerous world."

Not about to let it go at that, Sylia started to question her further when the next report began. "Hawaii has been struck by a computer virus. Internet service interruptions have sprung up across all of the islands, disrupting businesses and communications. A spokesperson for NOL advises extreme caution when connecting to the Internet at this time. Apparently they have been unable to determine how the virus is spreading and people are advised to not get online if possible. Reports are starting to come in that areas in California and Osaka have also been hit by this virus and it is obviously spreading quickly."

Priss looked at Sylia and shook her head. "You don't think…?"

"No. Of course not. Just because they're in Hawaii doesn't mean that they're involved."

"No, no it doesn't."

< Taisei? Can you reach them? > Taisei was unable to find the others.= It could be because of the system failures. They might just be out of range.= Somehow Sylia doubted it.

< Arashi? Link me into the system. > Priss cursed as she shifted her position and looked around her in amazement. < Good grief! No wonder Nene's addicted! It's like a computer geek's heaven! >

< Yes, it's beautiful. >

Priss spun around and found Sylia standing behind her. < What are you doing here? >

Sylia smiled at her in disbelief. <Did you really think that I was going to let you have all the fun?>

< No, I guess not. So now what? >

< We try to find Linna and Nene. >

< Sylia! Priss! We need help! >

They heard Linna calling them and Priss grinned. < Well, that was easy. How do we get to them?>

Sylia pointed to a strand running in the direction of Linna's call. < We fly. > She grabbed the strand and was gone in a blink. < Hey! Wait up! > Priss gripped the line and found herself hurtling though the system. She howled wildly as she burst through several stations and on through to the next area. Something caught her, causing her to lose her hold on the strand and she fell with a cry.

Sylia helped her to her feet, her smile huge. < Quite a ride, eh? >

Priss scowled as she realized that Sylia was the one who had yanked her to a halt. <Next time, signal first. > She looked around and immediately saw Linna trying to fight back several evil-looking forms. She started forward and then looked back at Sylia. < How do I fight these things? >

Sylia pointed to her cybernetic arm. < That's not good enough for you? >

Priss raised her arm and watched the blade slid out. < I think I can manage. > She went to join Linna in battle and Sylia conferred briefly with Taisei. Her mind spun with the new information and she shook her head slightly, < Well that was unpleasant. > An impulse rifle appeared in her hands and Sylia began to open fire on the viruses, blowing away orbs as they tried to ensnare Priss and Linna.

The energy blade hissed as it cut through the creatures and Priss continued to beat them back. She glanced at Linna and had to grin at the armor she was wearing. < Well, well, the Green Knight. How goes the battle? >

Linna didn't bother to look at her as she wielded her sword with a stunning accuracy. < The battle sucks! The princess has been captured by the Black Knight and all hell is breaking loose in the kingdom! >

< The princess-Nene?! What happened? >

Linna snarled at the swarm as she pressed forwards, trying to gain ground. < That God Damn Tsumari severed her mind from her body and kidnapped her! We have to get her back! >

Priss started to reply when she saw a ball of blue energy hurtling towards her. She threw herself out of the way and it sailed over her head. Priss sat up and glared in the direction the blast had come from. < What the hell was that? >

A familiar face popped up from the other side of the horde and Priss blinked in shock. Kuraki waved cheerfully. < Sorry! That one got away from me! > She winked at Priss and turned as Sabishii joined her. They were fighting side by side and Priss felt an instant of displacement as she watched them. Sylia touched her arm, reminding her that they still had a battle to fight and Priss stood up. < This is getting more complicated by the second. >

Sylia shrugged and casually shot a stray sphere that was reaching out for Priss. < I think I spoke too soon about the peaceful lunch we were having. >

< No shit. > Priss scanned the battlefield and realized that they were not making any progress. <There's too many of them. We need something bigger Sylia, something to stop these things in their tracks.>

< I know, but I'm not sure what that would be. >

Sabishii was guarded. < I think we need to have a little conference. >

They agreed and began to work their way closer to each other until they were all together. Kuraki blew away another pair of the viruses and frowned. < Going to be difficult to talk and fight at the same time. Maybe we should pull out until we devise a plan? >

< No! We can't leave Nene! > Linna glared at them and moved to attack again.

Priss stepped forward and grabbed her arm. < Linna! I know what you're feeling, but we aren't getting anywhere like this! We need to calm down and think. Brute force isn't going to work. >

Linna knew she was right, but that didn't make it any easier to accept. < All right. >

Sabishii stared at Priss in surprise and then turned to Sylia. < Since when did she become an

advocate for clear thinking? >

< Since I took a little trip into hell. You should try it sometime it broadens the mind. > The sarcasm in Priss' voice was thick, but Sabishii let it pass. Priss had a good reason to be angry with her right now and that was something that Sabishii understood fully. She just hoped that Priss didn't take it upon herself to tell Kuraki what had been done to Sylia. That would not be pretty.

They rode the uninfected strands away from the group of spreading viruses and stopped at a station nearby. The cube of light seemed comforting in the darkness of the system and they immediately felt better.

Sylia wondered why Taisei hadn't suggested something. < Any ideas, Taisei? >

=We're working on it now, Sylia. We're almost finished.=

Sylia looked at the others in question, but they had no idea what Taisei was talking about. <Finished with what? >

=The answer to your problem.=

The final calculations were made and Arashi cackled at the results.= This is going to blow their minds! =

Taisei was more reserved. =We've come up with an idea that will help combat the viruses. It may seem a little extreme at first, but we think in the long run that it will be well worth it.=

Sabishii realized that her and Kuraki's enclaves had also been in on this little brainstorm and she scowled. <You want to fill us in or are you going to talk us to death? >

Her Arashi chuckled evilly. =Why don't we just show you? =

Sylia saw a small speck of light appear in front of her and watched it grow until it reached the size similar to that of the viruses. However, this orb was bright yellow and spikes of energy crackled around it. She glanced at the others and saw similar orbs near each of them, though the colors were different. <What is this Taisei? >

= A sentient anti viral program, not unlike the one that we used to stop the boomer virus.=

Linna watched the pale green orb float quietly near her and stepped back. The orb followed. <Why is it following me? >

= It's part of you… sort of.= Inji didn't sound too sure.

Priss shoved hers to the side and moved to stand in front of Sylia. <All right Taisei. What's the deal with these things? >

= It was Arashi's idea. We tapped into the instinctual part of each of you and used it to enhance the programs. I guess you could call them guard dogs.=

Priss was furious. < Like I don't have enough problems in that area already? What were you thinking? >

= We were trying to find a way for you to get past the infections and save Nene.= Seiki spoke quietly, but her frustration with them was obvious.= I can't keep her alive like this indefinitely. So stop complaining and go get her! =

< She's right. We need to get moving. > Kuraki waved a hand toward the dark gold orb beside her.<Come on Spot.> She headed for the nearest strand, the program bouncing along behind her.

Sabishii hurried after her. < Wait a minute, Kuraki! > But she was gone and Sabishii followed quickly, calling back, < Don't just stand there! Come on! >

She disappeared and Priss shook her head. < Idiots. I guess we better go help. >

They emerged back into the battle and found Sabishii and Kuraki actually making some progress.

Linna watched her orb hover aimlessly and frowned. < Okay, Inji. How does this thing work? >

= Easy. Just look at the viruses. Now what do you want to do to the viruses? =

< Um, destroy them? > Instantly the globe hurtled into the fray and Linna smiled. < So, that's why you tied them to us. They're reading our minds? >

=Yes. You might want to duck.= Linna whirled as a cluster of viruses swarmed her and she drew her sword. The orb returned immediately and Linna watched, as it seemed to absorb one of the viruses and then split. A paler version of the sphere began to attack the next virus as the original orb absorbed another one. < What's it doing? Reproducing? >

= Limitedly. The copies will erase themselves once they've used up the energy from the viruses they were made from.=

Sylia smiled in delight as she watched the infection began to shift into soldiers for their own side.

Nene watched the two creatures clash as she tried to free herself from the strands binding her. She quickly realized that she was stuck fast and ordered herself to calm down and think. Okay, I'm cut off from Seiki, Linna and my body. I can't get free and it looks like Tsumari is losing. I need to find a way to either get loose or to help Tsumari.

She watched her friend shudder as if in pain and studied the force attacking him He's like Tsumari, but I can see a link trail for him. He's still connected somewhere. He must be human. Nene pictured the first line of a new code in her mind and bit her lip to stifle a gasp, as it appeared in the air in front of her. Of course. The mind's perception. She began to add to the program, keeping one eye on the battling entities. Almost. Just a few more lines. Nene finished the code and watched in delight as the lines of characters shifted into a solid program. She targeted the dark presence and the delete command rocketed across the system, slamming into his back.

Tsumari watched his enemy howl in pain as the program tried to erase him and moved quickly to free Nene. <You must leave here now. It is too dangerous for you to remain. >

< But what about you? >

< I must finish this battle once and for all. Goodbye, Nene. > He pushed her towards an opening in the darkened web and Nene heard him cry out as the other one attacked him.

Nene whirled around, a long spear appearing in her hands. She threw the lance over Tsumari's head and saw it sink into his attacker. He fell back as the program tried to delete him and that was when the others arrived.

Linna saw Nene hurl the spear and had to smile at her ferocious expression. She caught her up in a fierce hug. < Thank God! Are you all right? >

Nene blinked at her in surprise and laughed. <Of course. Linna, we have to help Tsumari. > She turned to the fight that was still raging.

Kuraki watched the figures and glanced at Nene. <Which one is Tsumari? >

Nene pointed to the lighter shadow and looked at Kuraki. < The other one took me as bait to trap-Sylia? What happened to you? > She saw the original Sylia and shook her head. < What's going on? >

Sabishii waved her questions aside. <Not now, Nene! Right now we need to kill that thing.> Her guard dog surged forward and attacked only to be knocked aside.

The dark being quickly realized that he was out numbered and began to draw back. Tsumari followed, but he was unable to stop the creature from slipping through the web and disappearing.

Nene moved to Tsumari's side. <Are you alright?>

<I am unharmed. I was unable to defeat Sangai.>

<Sangai? You know who he is?>

<I know only the name he gave the first time we encountered each other.> Tsumari turned to the others curiously. <There are more of your kind?>

Nene laughed softly. <You have no idea. These are my friends. You've met Linna and that's Priss and Sylia.> She looked at Sabishii and Kuraki questioningly.

Sabishii sighed. <While I think that it's a really bad idea to give this guy our names Nene, I guess it's too late now. I'm Sabishii and this is Kuraki. Now I have a question; What the hell was that?>

Tsumari seemed to shift and Sabishii realized that it was a shrug. < I do not know. He is not like you, but neither is he like me. I have never seen his kind before. >

Sylia and Kuraki spoke at the same time. <Do you know what you are?> They looked at each other, startled.

Tsumari was vague and seemed unwilling to answer them. He turned to Nene. <You must go now, before he returns.>

<But what about you? He's trying to kill you!>

<I have had much practice in avoiding him. I will be fine. Goodbye, Nene.> With a low bow to them all, he slipped into the data stream and disappeared.

Linna touched Nene's arm. <We need to get you back, Nene. Seiki's the only thing keeping you alive.>

Nene nodded and glanced at the clones. She spoke quietly to Linna. <I think we better get back to Japan as soon as possible, Linna. >

Kuraki saw Sylia studying her. <Well. Here we are. >

Sylia's eyebrow rose slightly. <Yes. Here we are. > She wanted to ask if she was all right, if she had any questions or needed any help, but something made her hesitate. Kuraki's voice filled her mind and Sylia knew that the others could not hear as they began to work their way back through the system to where Nene had been taken. <I feel like there's something I should say to you, but I'm not sure what. >

Sylia grimaced as they sped along the link. <How about, 'Why did you clone Priss and start all this trouble? >

Kuraki laughed. <That's a good one. Why did you? >

<Your mind is an exact copy of mine from two months before Priss was killed. Or I guess I should say kidnapped. You didn't go through what happened after she died. >

<I guess I always thought that I would be able to deal with any of the team dying. >

Sylia's laughter was harsh. <Don't kid yourself. Priss is not just a member of the team and you know it. She gave us back our future. Because of her we know that there will be life after Genom when before that was the only goal. >

Kuraki knew she was right. <I was surprised though. I didn't expect Priss, I mean Sabishii, to do something so against what she believes in.> They watched as the others each gripped strands and whipped out of sight. Something in their faces must have told Sabishii and Priss that they needed to talk because they went ahead.

Sylia faced her double and shook her head slowly. < There's nothing like losing someone to make you realize how much you need them. I understand what Sabishii did, even if she did do it in the most traumatic way she could. >

<What do you mean? >

Sylia realized that Sabishii hadn't told her. <Hmm. A moral dilemma. Priss hates liars, yet she's obviously lied to you. Should I or shouldn't I?>

Kuraki tilted her head and crossed her arms over her chest. <Spit it out, Stingray. You made up your mind to tell me before you opened your mouth.>

The grim smile that played around Sylia's mouth told Kuraki that she had guessed correctly. She proceeded to tell her clone exactly what Sabishii had said and done to her, then topped it off by telling her how Priss had reacted when she found out. Kuraki had paled through the first part and was frowning in concern at the end of the second. <She…I had no idea.>

< Neither did I. We both have tigers by the tails and I'm damned if I know what to do about it.>

Kuraki stepped closer to a strand. <I think that we'd both better get a really good grip and hang on for dear life.> She grabbed the strand and vanished.

Sylia started to follow, but looked back at the turbulent system one last time. What else is lurking out here?

Nene stared at the strange silhouette and glanced nervously at Linna. <That looks like…me. > The residual energy pattern was suspended, kept open by Seiki and should allow Nene to rejoin with her body. Linna heard Seiki's impatient commands and nodded. <Okay. Nene, Seiki says that you just have to step into the pattern and she'll be able to yank you back. > She gripped her lover's shoulders and kissed her. <I'll be there when you get back. >

Nene nodded and waved goodbye to the others. She stepped into her shadow and gasped as Seiki reconnected her to the body waiting in the real world. She opened her eyes and found herself lying face down on the bed, Linna's hands still on her shoulders.

Linna scowled at Sabishii and Kuraki a moment and then her expression eased. <Thank you for helping me. > She smiled at Sylia and Priss and winked out of sight.

Sylia nodded at Kuraki and they both disappeared. Sabishii turned to Priss. <Guess I'll see you around.>

Priss shrugged. <I guess. Can I offer you some advice?>

< Go for it. >

< Don't trust her too far. In her own way, she's more of a loose cannon than both of us combined.> Priss unlinked from the system and immediately groaned. Her muscles were screaming in protest of the long period of stillness and Priss looked down at her plate in surprise. The remains of her sandwich were rock-hard and she glanced at the wall clock in surprise. "Damn! I can't believe we were in there for that long."

Sylia appeared in the kitchen doorway. "I know. It's dangerously easy to lose track of time in there. I started a hot bath. I think we both could use a soak."

Priss nodded and stood up cautiously. She raised her arms over her head and stretched out, not hearing the low rumble in her chest as she did so. Sylia stared at her, disturbed as the pieces suddenly fell into place. "She really did turn you into an animal, didn't she?"

Priss lowered her arms and smiled lazily at Sylia. "Yes." She laughed softly and moved toward Sylia with a grace that was not human. "Don't look so frightened Sylia. You have nothing to worry about."

"Priss this isn't something you can brush aside! If she's affected your mind to this extent then there might be other consequences. We have to undo what she did."

Priss crowded her back against the doorframe. "What if I don't want to undo it?"

Sylia met her fierce gaze calmly. "It's your choice Priss, but I thought that you hated the idea of dancing to someone else's tune."

She shrugged and headed for the bathroom. "I don't know, Sylia. I like the rhythm of this one." She stripped off her clothes and sank into the tub with a groan of pleasure. Sylia watched her carefully.

"Hmm. But you're not the writer of this song, Priss. I thought you only performed your own work?"

Priss motioned Sylia to join her and sighed as she watched her undress. "It's not the first time that I've been inspired by someone else's work. Don't worry Sylia. Arashi's helping me twist this beat into my own."

Sylia climbed into the tub and Priss immediately pulled her into her arms. "What if I don't like the dance?"

Priss nibbled the underside of her jaw. "You just need to learn the steps." She sat back and moved Sylia over her so that she was straddling her thigh. Sylia inhaled sharply at the warm pressure against her and Priss laughed. "See? There's nothing to it. Just let me lead you, Sylia. I won't let you trip."


The End

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