Tested in Fire: New Humanity

Twenty-four

"Oh you have GOT to be kidding me," Jack Scott sighed, tossing her cards down. "I fold," she grumbled, the jeans and t-shirt clad woman sitting back in her chair.

"You really are awful at poker," Motoko noted with some amusement, the beautiful young woman still in the game. She wasn't in one of her usual nightclub outfits, but had chosen a tight top and matching skirt.

Heather pouted, the other woman having dropped out of the game too. Jack's former girlfriend wasn't a regular here at the Sisterhood, but she wasn't consider a enemy either. "I thought I had a decent poker-face," she sighed, her Chinese style dress hugging her body.

Cole smirked, the shorts and bikini top clad catgirl commenting, "Whoever told you that was lying, honey."

Milly looked amused as she said, "I call. Let's see who has what left."

Everyone showed their hands, and Becky turned out to have a full house. There were annoyed sounds from several players, and she smiled as she pulled in the pile of coins. "Thank you, thank you," she said, "you're putting my daughter through college."

"You don't HAVE a daughter," Milly grumbled.

"Well, if I ever have one," Becky smirked as she bagged the money.

"Well, I'm done for the night," Jack sighed, getting up from the table. Before anyone could protest she added, "And no, I can't stick around. I have a client coming in the morning."

"Well, good game," Milly conceded. "see ya next week."

The game pretty much broke up at that point, with everyone getting up to leave and a guard armed with a sword escorting Cole out of the building. "Does that happen every time she visits?" Heather had to ask the others.

"They don't trust Cole as far as they can throw her," Jack shrugged. "And they rearrange the defences she passes after she leaves, just in case."

"I don't know if I should approve or say it's paranoid," Motoko admitted as they headed out to the street. She looked up at Jack as she added, "I'm sorry you can't stay out later. I had hoped we could go have a drink together."

Heather stiffened visibly, but couldn't think of anything intelligent to say. Well, other than grabbing Jack's arm and snarling 'Mine!' And she knew that wouldn't fly.

"Sorry," Jack said, seemingly oblivious to the drama, "she wanted to see me early, and it's a associate I did business with in the courier guild."

"I hope things go well," Heather offered politely.

"Yeah," Jack nodded. "Let's get you two to the taxi stand," she said as she escorted them both away from Harbour Center, up the street and away from the snipers the Sisterhood used to guard their headquarters.

"Have a good night, Jack," Motoko smiled as she gracefully climbed into the carriage. "You too, Heather," she added coolly.

"I'm surprised you two didn't ride together," Jack noted as she flagged down another horse drawn cab.

Heather gave Jack a look, wondering if she was joking. From the calm gaze, Heather decided that no, she wasn't. "Well, she and I don't live nearby," she decided to answer. She smiled, "Are you sure you couldn't... come over? We could catch up."

"I really can't," Jack said apologetically as she helped Heather into the next cab, "maybe later. Have a good night."

Heather sighed as she sat back. It was strange... when Jack had first left Vancouver years ago, they had been very close until Jack simply disappeared. Now that she had returned, though, it seemed a different distance was growing between them. Did Jack no longer care for her? Or was there something else going on?

Back at the taxi stand Jack waited a moment, then set off down Hastings street, heading east towards the old Woodwards building. The air was cold and slightly damp, the nearby ocean carried on the breeze. There was almost no lights out, the many buildings mostly dark as the residents went to bed, not wanting to waste lamp oil or electricity.

Jack wasn't sure what she should do about Heather, honestly. They had been close, back when she had first lived in Vancouver, but.. the years had changed her. She was more beautiful, surprisingly, but Jack found it harder to read her. Of course they had BOTH changed over the years...

Mike was dozing in the front foyer, and Jack hid a smile as she quietly went by, trying not to wake him. She went up the stairs then unlocked her office door, pausing to make sure no one had broken in. Once she was reasonably sure she was safe she went in, through the office to her quarters, got undressed and went to bed.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

It was raining in Vancouver, a irritating drizzle that made everything damp but didn't do much to wash down the filthy streets. The slim blonde entered the Woodwards building, pausing to look around with her eerie, metallic eyes.

"You," Mike said flatly from where he sat behind his desk.

Susan Warren of the courier good smiled charmingly, "Mike, I see you're still running the place. I would have thought you'd be dead by now."

Mike snorted, "Not for lack of trying. You here to see Scott?"

"I am, though our business is private," Susan answered politely.

"You're lucky she told me you were coming, or I'd take a shot at you," Mike answered. "Get upstairs, I don't want people think I willingly associate with you."

"Still carrying a grudge?" Susan asked flippantly as she walked by him towards the stairs.

Mike growled back, "Damn right."

Jack Scott's office was on a upper floor, and the door appeared to have been recently repaired. There was also a faint smell of paint in the air. Susan guessed the story about Jack's office being attacked was true, then...

She rapped on the door, then opened it as Jack called, "Come in."

Jack Scott was dressed in long pants and a button up shirt, what she usual wore when meeting a client. She also had leather boots on, the comfortable riding ones she liked, probably so she could move out quickly if needed. She looked more handsome than pretty, and Susan had never been quite sure if that was deliberate or not.

"Jack, good to see you," Susan said warmly as she entered the office.

Jack got up and offered her hand, "You too. You're looking well."

"Thank you," Susan shook it and then took a seat opposite from Jack at the old desk. Mildly she noted, "While I knew we wouldn't see much of you after you left the courier guild, I didn't expect not to see you at all."

Jack just casually shrugged, "I'm pretty sure you know how crazy things have been for me the past few weeks?"

Susan chuckled as she ticked off on her fingers, "Ran a errand for Bannon, met with Shogun and Wolf, bodyguarded Motoko and had a assassination attempt by the Mayor of Seattle. You HAVE been busy."

"I thought only a few people knew about the Seattle thing," Jack noted, surprised.

Susan smirked, but didn't reply.

"Yeah, yeah, you have your sources," Jack sighed, shaking her head. "Would you like something to drink?" she offered politely.

"Could I have a cup of tea?" Susan asked impishly, knowing Jack loathed the stuff.

Jack gave her a look. "I could order takeout from one of the local shops, if you REALLY want it," she said, "or I can actually give you fresh coffee."

"I'll take the devil's brew," Susan conceded, "it has to be better than take out."

Jack poured them both coffee without comment, then they sweetened them to taste. As Jack took a drink she said, "I assume you didn't just drop in to be sociable...?"

Susan sipped her own coffee then put it down. "Indeed," she said, "I would like to hire you to investigate something."

"Oh?" Jack answered neutrally.

"The going rate for your time, of course," Susan added. "As you've said, I have a network of contacts, in various levels of society."

Jack nodded, "I've heard."

"Well, recently there have been several... disappearances," Susan admitted. "As we both know people will move away, accept jobs and so on, but there people have disappeared with no warning."

"Friends and family don't know where they've gone?" Jack mused.

"Correct," Susan agreed, "and their homes are untouched."

"You've tried the police?" Jack asked.

"Oh come on," Susan gave her a scornful look. "Our police are just muscle nominated by whomever is in charge. They are barely trained and I suspect they couldn't find their way out of a paper bag," she sighed.

Jack didn't comment on that. Instead she continued with, "And the disappearances are in different areas?"

"They are," Susan conceded, "most are in Bannon's section, but there are people disappearing from the Shogun and Davies Street areas too."

"That's going to make things complicated," Jack mused.

Susan hid a smile, glad to hear that Jack seemed interested in the case. Still, she needed to be sure. "So, will you take the job?" she asked.

"Yeah," Jack nodded, "I owe you, and I figure this will make us square. But standard rates plus expenses, Susan."

"Expenses too?" Susan winced a bit.

"It's a good bet I'll have to throw bribes around," Jack shrugged, "that's not cheap."

"Fair enough," Susan conceded. She had only really argued for appearance sake anyway. She drew some papers from under her jacket, "Here's the names of the disappeared, their areas and a summary of what I knew about their occupations. It's not much, but..."

"It's a start," Jack took the papers, "thanks."

To be continued...