Description: With Vega once again disappearing into the shadows to pursue his secret agendas, Juri finds herself in the usual holding pattern of bored self-indulgence. That is until an unexpected visitor drops in to offer her a job. Seeing no harm in at least hearing him out, she flies out to a secret meeting with a very unexpected employer who has an offer that might change the direction of her destiny entirely.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
It's an old Taiwanese proverb, the true meaning of which is no doubt wrapped up in several layers of metaphor. But Juri never was much for flighty concepts of philosophy or hidden wisdom. To her the meaning of the saying is rather simple: people act according to their nature.
This thought creeps into the girl's mind despite the deafening roar of the crowd. All around her, dozens of unfamiliar people scream and cheer, their voices joining together into a wave of noise that is almost physically tangible. That part is easy to ignore. It's the collective surge of eagerness for bloodshed and violence that speaks to her on a much more primal level, stoking her naturally sadistic urges like coals being stirred in a forge.
Something of that crazed desire must have shown on her face. The man standing opposite her flinches visibly, his own expression curling up into a furious snarl upon realizing that he'd just shown weakness to an opponent - and a girl at that. Fueled by a sudden surge of wounded machismo, the shirtless warrior hurls himself at her with an angry shout that is echoed by the crowd. His fists swing at her in a pair of wild strikes, powerful but lacking control.
Juri sighs, barely even bothering to pay attention. Even without the aid of the Engine, her skill is well beyond such pitiful displays of brute force. A quick sidestep carries her out of the brawler's line of attack and all of his momentum is wasted as he tries to pivot and adjust turning the second strike into a clumsy flail.
A simple thrust with her palm catches the man's elbow at full extension. She hardly even needs to put any power into the blow, his own uncontrolled strength wrenching the joint painfully around the fulcrum of her slender hand. A collective groan ripples through the spectators as the man lets out a bellow of pain as his elbow noisily pops out of its socket.
"Ridiculous," the young girl says, shaking her head as she rests her hands on her hips. "I thought this was supposed to be a place where real warriors came to hone their skills. But you're just another chump."
Sneering down her nose at the fighter, now crumpled on the ground cradling his wounded arm, Juri can't help but feel a sense of satisfaction despite the ease at which she'd handled this 'street fighter'. Crushing the egos of big tough men like this clown is one of the most enjoyable things there is in this life. She no longer does it simply to affirm her own power - that much is all but carved into stone at this point. Only a handful of people on this world stand even the vaguest chance of besting her in a direct confrontation. But there is an almost sacrilegious aspect of her strength that makes it all the more enjoyable.
Men are supposed to be stronger, faster, tougher. Evolution has carved them into physical power houses, best able to adapt to the needs of the ancient world where hitting something with a big stick wasn't just a fun hobby. Women, on the other hand, are soft and weak, better suited for raising children than engaging in warfare. Which is why the look of disbelief and shock that always makes its way onto the faces of those testosterone fueled apes is so delightfully amusing to her. Getting beaten by another muscle-bound thug isn't surprising, it's the natural order of things. But getting embarrassed by some slender slip of a teenage girl? There are few things that can inflict a wound upon the ego of a man who prides himself a fighter more deadly than that.
Juri's smug look of superiority stabs into the fallen man's ego as swift and true as a dagger, her velvety mockery twisting the blade cruelly. She savors the look of fury that boils up inside of her latest victim, watching him consider further violence before realizing that he stands no chance which only makes him angrier.
She doesn't interfere as he staggers to his feet, glaring daggers at her the entire time. Her posture remains calm and relaxed despite standing within easy reach of any sudden attack he might chose to throw at her, further taunting him with her apathy towards the threat he poses. For several seconds the two of them exchange looks, his glare waging war with her casual smirk. In the end, he does the smart thing and turns away, shuffling slowly towards the heavy gate that serves as the arena's only entrance.
The crowd voices their displeasure with a roar of angry boos. Though his back is turned to her, she can see the fighter's grimace ripple through his body. He slows, coming to a halt as war with his ego and reality breaks out in his mind again. She can sense his thoughts without much effort. Even through background noise of the crowd and their bloodlust she can feel his anger surging, overwhelming his reason. This humiliation was already hard to bear but with the added weight of the crowd's fury he crumples like a cheap folding chair.
Whirling around with a sudden surge of movement, the warrior hurls himself at his opponent again, heedless of the pain in his damaged arm. Juri is already in motion by the time his thoughts solidify into action, wicked purple light shining in her left eye like the baleful glint of an evil star. The man's ferocious warcry turns into a startled screech of terror as the girl lunges at him with inhuman speed, whirling into a maelstrom of deadly power.
Silence falls over the entire crowd as Juri's sadistic presence blossoms outwards in a sudden explosion of psychic menace, strangling the air from their lungs as thoroughly as if she had her hands around each of their necks. Twisted laughter fills the empty void as the girl carries her victim skywards in a tornado of magenta soulfire, spiking him straight back down to the ground like a volleyball upon reaching the apex of their ascent. Moving with impossible alacrity, Juri dives to the ground, swooping underneath the plummeting warrior to catch him square in the spine with an upwards kick that puts her incredible flexibility on display.
Slowly, almost sensuously, the teenager arches her back upwards until her face is resting beside that of the man hoisted aloft on her foot. She reaches out and strokes his cheek, brushing her long fingers across his sweaty skin with a mockingly loving gentleness. A spider lightly caressing her latest kill as she weaves the web closed around him.
"I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did," she coos into his ear, her words dripping with poisonous affection even as she drives him to the ground with a final deadly pivot of her hips.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
Juri's song is one of madness and violence. She isn't looking for an answer. She doesn't fight to understand her place in the world. She isn't interested in causes or ideologies. It's simply in her nature to inflict pain and suffering upon others. To cause misery and destruction wherever she goes.
And damn if it doesn't feel good.
The curtain of sadistic id that filters through the crowd is a tangible thing. It slithers around the throats of the captivated onlookers and bridles their excitement with discomfort, the physical pain of the man leeched away and made a feed for a cold and inhuman thing. The sensation, he reflected, must be rather similar to watching a centipede eat a mouse in a cage.
Phuket was one of the more remote locations the executive had occasion to travel to in the course of his normal duties, and certainly one would forgive the famously fastidious company man a measure of the ill's grace for being caught dead in any one of the filthy neon-threaded sand stalls installed along the length and breadth of Bangla Road's infamous nightlife. But in Thailand, there were more than a few ways for even residents to lose themselves in the sprawl, and it was a misfortune that he be tasked to find one of the most dangerous: being caught in a match with the spider.
You can see it now, truly, the equal parts exult, greed and misery of crunching bone and shattered ego, the rapture of the finish dueling with the unrivalled violence of the psychic blast. The morality of the honorable edge of even a black market sport clashes with her lusts as garishly as his suit is lit by the colorful fluorescent tubes that he arrives under.
'You're not supposed to be back here,' a man protests.
'Obviously,' he replies calmly. 'It should be fine enough for now,' he remarks, paying precious little more attention to the fight organizer.
She can feel him long before he arrives.
When he makes his way to the commotions of the back alley behind the dingy little street shop, she can feel the heartbeats slow in their chests even by his very proximity, as if cold water got thrown on the whole affair just by his very presence. It discomfits, the thought, as if something were simply out of place in all the mess and verve of the street fight. A glass of water that should be refilled, tilted to the lips in long draught, and thirst slowly, methodically, quenched. Cooler moments inercede long before he ever steps into view.
To contrast the crumpled gorilla on the ground in her wake, he is just a slip of a man, taller than the taekwondoka by a head, older than her by an unseen stretch, but slender enough that he is heavier only by necessity. An office worker or a salaryman by any other stretch, of the sort that drink themselves into a stupor at any given hour by the handful here. His suit alone is more expensive than the entire prize purse for the whole week here. Were it not so that he is plainly wearing fighting gloves, and the stray and errant bits of dirt on his boots, there would be nothing about him, not a strand of hair out of place.
Were it not so easy to feel the unmistakable metronome of his heartbeat, one that grows louder with each man he passes.
A slow breath outwards, as thirst is cooled.
"Han Juri," he begins, terse but not without a measyre of politeness.
"My employer has sent me to gather you," the executive explains without explaining.
He barely has to raise his voice, as the crowd simmers. A hand opens.
The leather of his fighting glove creaks with audible, precise warning.
"Certainly your efforts must have left you famished. Allow us."
In the long moment after she has delivered the finishing blow, Juri eagerly basks in the silent aftermath. Though their voices have caught in their throats, she can still hear the vibrant echo of the spirits of those who were exposed to her violent animus. The enthusiasm and lust for violence has melted like a layer of thin wax before a roaring flame, bleeding away into a hot puddle that swamps their feet and keeps the crowd mired firmly in place. Its in wake is left a raw bleeding sore upon their psyches, a collective wound that fills the air with the stench of primal fear.
The scent of it is intoxicating to her, paradoxically pulling her towards contentment and further violence. It is a balmy incense that makes her want to sink into its embrace and float upon a current of warm pleasure while at the same time flooding her senses with a heated desire to indulge her passions again. Such chaotic urges are far from unusual for the girl, however, and after such a display she doubts anyone else will be foolish enough to challenge her within this venue.
It is something of a miracle that she managed to find anyone stupid enough to fight her in the first place. In Thailand, Shadaloo is as omnipresent as the mafia in Italy or the Yakuza in Japan. It's something of an open secret and quite often the criminal organization operates openly despite the international heat that its activities tend to bring down. While she doesn't exactly go around putting up fliers with her face and rank on them, out of any place on the planet, she is most famously well known for her shady connections here in the heart of Vega's dark empire.
Needless to say, only the incredibly stupid knowingly pit themselves against her. This little underground operation is probably not officially sanctioned by any of the local gangs, likely a quick and dirty set up designed to scrape together some quick cash and then crumble whenever anyone applies pressure. Not that she gives a damn about the local criminal politics. Breaking kneecaps for shit like this is boring and well beneath her attention. The fact that she had just ruined the house favorite to the point that he might never walk again, much less bust head for wagers, has nothing to do with that. It will likely be interpreted that way once her identity is sorted out though. Whatever.
Sighing softly, the teenager folds her hands behind her head and does a few stretches, idly working out some kinks while she waits for the crowd to disperse. Trying to worm her way through a bunch of sweaty peasants that have all been crammed into the same tiny space for the past couple hours sounds more annoying than giving them a few minutes to clear out.
Yet, as she soaks in the lingering aroma of fear, another presence suddenly cuts through the haze. A shiver runs down her spine involuntarily, a reaction born out of primitive instinct rather than any conscious sensation of fear, as if someone had just run an ice cube down her bare skin.
It takes a few moments for the girl's brain to snap back into focus, caught off guard by the sudden intrusion. Slowly, she lowers her hands back down to rest on her waist, her posture flowing into that of teenage disinterest with practiced ease. Her gaze remains pointedly fixed on the crowd, her back turned to the arena's gate in a display of petulant rebelliousness. Whoever has chosen to intrude upon her leisure time will not be getting a warm welcome. Maybe if her reputation precedes her enough, simply giving them the cold shoulder will make them go away instead of bothering her with whatever foolish nonsense brought them in the first place.
Of course, it never actually works out that way. The girl lets out another long sigh as her name is called out, dispelling any possibility that she might leverage it against her unwanted guest. The second statement, however, makes her bristle visibly despite the mildly deferential tone.
The girl twists around at the waist, swiveling her torso only far enough to regard her visitor over one shoulder with a sour expression. Magi's corporate attire seems to magnify her distaste, one corner of her mouth twisting up into a disgusted sneer.
"Is that so? Your employer is rather bold to assume I'm willing to be 'gathered' and you'd be rather foolish to try and attempt it."
She glares at him for a few seconds longer then turns her gaze back to the far wall, pointedly leaving Magi to do as he pleases behind her back. Whatever strange power he might possess, it's no match for the Engine. Nothing really is. That's why she's the one people are flying halfway around the world to court for whatever stupid schemes they're getting up to instead of some other loser.
But, as much as she dislikes the idea of being anyone's servant, things have been pretty damn boring lately. Lord Buttchin has up and vanished again, as he is wont to do, leaving the little fish to squabble over what little slices of power they can carve out for themselves in the absence of dictatorial edicts. Running the day to day operations of Shadaloo isn't anything Juri cares about which has left her precious little to do for entertainment beyond the usual indulgences of criminal hedonism; and even those start to wear thin eventually.
After another few long moments of silence, the girl whirls around on her heel and casually stalks past the corpo. Her body brushes up against his side in a manner that is both dominant and playful, teasing him with the soft touch of her delicate curves while brushing him aside with far more strength than a slender waif of a girl should possess. Her hips sashay back and forth as she wanders over to the edge of the arena, pausing a few paces away from the dirty iron gate to turn and regard Magi with an expectant look.
"Well? Didn't anyone teach you to open doors for a lady?"
"You wouldn't begrudge us our fallacies, would you? Boldness is a human trait," the calm agent replies easily. "It is at the root of all ambitions, and certainly it's of more interest than a comparable meekness."
It's true that this area has only been cleared for insertion due to the fact that Shadaloo activities have been comparably sparse in the country, owing to the various international distractions that consume a person like the warlord Vega. Of course, something could be said about the events of late that his department is sponsoring being of a greater interest to the various cartels and syndicates than business at the so-called homefront. And that, in itself, is not something that was unintended, after all. If the situation is untenable, one does what one can.
The people will filter away in their own due time, broken of the spell of violence that the Shadaloo Lotus worked upon them. And to that merit, Han's elder seems not at all predisposed towards impatience, content to stand in solemn quiet. He is certainly not as attuned to the crowd as the woman is, and the dregs of fear that thread through them are more of a matter of academics to him. Academics, as opposed to the very, very visceral way the taekwondoka weaves with the flow of it. But then, exactly what is it 'he' feels? Certainly, the salaryman is easy enough for her to read.
There is nothing about him that's well known, and nothing about him that takes up any more space than is needed. Yet irrespective of that, his heartbeat - a powerful, strong thing - is an inescapable rhythm that surrounds him. Approaching him is a matter of 'mounting synchronicity' -- that is, there is nothing about him that is intimidating or brave at all. There is no psychic impression of menace, confidence or resolve. Just that pervasive soothing rhythm that winds sinuously about him, provocative in the worst way; all too accomodating, all too nondescript. It is unnatural in ways that require a lot of thought to describe, and certainly there are easier things in life.
The man's sharp features lift slightly, finally, as he chooses to continue.
"Above all, isn't it a matter of practicality? I've not yet heard of a woman of your skill turn down a free meal after the fight. I could imagine that there are no limits on the number of stalls in the neighborhood that would die for your patronage after a performance. But I know of a few places worth a trek off of the beaten path. After all, Thailand is so ...filthy."
Of course, one could imagine that he speaks in more than one meaning.
The slender agent moves like a willow, stepping aside when the teenager brushes past him. Her delicacies are hardly of the sort he's fooled with for even a moment, the bold spider making a claim to the space he cedes. There is a sensation there -- that he simply doesn't matter in the slightest -- told to her with just a moment's exchange, wordless and primal. The inviting rhythm of his heartbeat doesn't change, as if he were something sent to her specifically to please. He looks after the spider for moments as she makes her expectation known. And ... curiously, the older man dips his chin neatly in the mildest consent.
There is a lie somewhere, in all of what he shows her.
It is impossible with this much to know what it is.
"...Certainly, miss Han. My mistake."
Interestingly, it only takes him a nod to the guard at the other side to get the gate unlatched. The rest is meaningful, from his stride past her to the slow and inviting way he opens the filthy gate for her. He gestures ahead of her, the way presented for her. "I've taken the liberty of having the helicopter ready for you. Would you like me to send for any of your effects?"
Juri makes no efforts to engage in conversation with her chaperone. Despite her often single-minded focus on causing mayhem, she grew up in the lap of luxury and is well versed in the sorts of high-minded philosophical drivel that people who think far too much of themselves like to spout when they want to sound more important than they are. One of the quickest ways to tune her out of any conversation is to start yammering about the nature of humanity. Blah blah blah, people act certain ways because they're people. There's nothing deep or meaningful about that.
The teenager makes her disinterest in the conversation topic known by her expression and her body language, all but radiating boredom like a palpable aura. This is no facet of her psychic abilities but simply the stubborn willpower of a spoiled brat. She's used to getting her way - even more so now that she has the power of a demi god. There is but one single force in this world that has proven capable of making her do what she doesn't want to with any ease and since he's not here right now that pretty much makes Juri the arbiter of fate.
As such, her choice to accompany Magi despite her petulant silence is meaningful. He's piqued her interest, at least enough for her to see who went through all the trouble. The prospect of a free meal is of no concern. She's got access to more money than some governments if she wants it and there'd be nothing to stop her from just barging in and taking whatever supplies she could desire even without such wealth.
Perhaps it is the strangely mellow aura that he exudes which keeps her worst nature in check. The frenzy of lust and violence that she'd been edging towards with her unnecessary display of brutality has all but been dispelled already. Not that crushing a single insignificant insect would be enough to really get her motor running but the psychic maelstrom of fear that was ready to spill over after the crowd witnessed her supernatural display was certainly putting her in the mood for more violence.
Magi's arrival was like having a bucket of cold water dumped on her head. Needless to say, having what little fun she was able to scratch up suddenly scattered has not put her in the most friendly of moods. It is only the prospect of perhaps finding something actually worth her time that keeps her from taking it out on him. Or that's what she keeps telling herself, at least, in the deep recesses of her subconscious. For some reason she just can't seem to muster up her usual fire around this guy and that frustration expresses itself in the next most familiar manner to someone like Juri.
Waiting like a noblewoman of old for some servant to handle the most trivial of tasks for her, Juri merely stands silently until the gate has been unlatched and swung open. Once again, she brushes imperiously past the corporate suit as if he matters roughly as much as the dust clinging to her bare feet.
Yet even as she disregards his existence with her behavior, her body language settles into the comfortable rhythms of suggestive grace. She is in many ways the exact opposite of Magi. Everything about the girl seems handcrafted to draw attention, from her slender yet pleasingly feminine silhouette to the subtlety exaggerated sway of her hips. Her manner of dress is provocative and flashy, her demeanor suggestive and teasing while hinting at an unknown danger that lurks just beneath the surface.
Unlike a classic femme fatale, however, there is little mystery behind Juri's mask of the playful vamp. She simply likes toying with people, teasing them with what they want but will never have. The attention that her looks and her power brings her is a drug all on its own.
It isn't until she has made her way out of the dingy little fight club and back out into the afternoon sun that Juri pauses once again, turning to regard Magi with another disinterested look.
"I hope your employer isn't wasting my time with some frivolous errand."
He's satisfied with that much.
The executive is content to show deference, primly folding his hands one over the other as Juri walks straight past him. Every part of her is a provocation, and were he anyone else, it would be hard to let her do as she pleases. However, the volatility of the situation could not be overstated, and Magi knows the part he has to play. She was the sort where a single unkind word could jeopardize everything months of analytics. There are types of people out there whom know exactly how much of the house balances on a single stick. Even moreso, there are those who would relish in the idea of taking the house down.
That is why Ultratech sent him.
The agent looks after the fine lines of the killer spider's violet-wrapped form as she tosses him that incautious look. The lenses of his shades flash under the neon light, the saturation making it hard to place the color of his bright eyes. "Not to worry, Miss Han."
"If we wanted to waste your time, there are far less expensive ways to do so."
And so it is as he promises. A man can be sent for a change of clothes as needed, or she can opt for the clothes provided by the company aboard the jet. The helicopter to the airfield is within a few minutes of her fight, and the drive is fairly uneventful. The equipment is unmarked; there is no real indicator of exactly who the corporate agent works for, and yet it's executive business first class all the way out of Thailand, with a full chartered jet and staff.
Despite his casual deference to the woman's wit and whims, the agent accompanying her seems to be of noticeably higher rank and in control of most of the people she sees, with very few exceptions. He never strays too far from her, but is content to allow her to roam the cabin at will, as she is provided every amenity, from food, movies, spa, shower, to even an open bar, as dubiously legal as servicing the young woman may be. But then, in truth, they seem to be the only actual passengers aboard the jet -- everyone else is some grade of staff. Or handler. You can spot them easily, men with more interest in Juri than seems reasonable, and most eager to please where needed. It is obvious, even through casual interaction, that they've been very specifically hired to know nothing at all. She might have even seen a few in the international fighting circuits, people who she might not have care to see a second time, people who have otherwise disappeared into the annals of the loser's bracket.
For those people, Juri is the most dangerous thing they've ever laid eyes on.
To her credit, Magi takes the stubborn teenager seriously when she reacts with boredom to his talking, and so the executive spends most of the flight in another section of the cabin in silence on his phone. The strange aura he carries with him is something tepid, something cool, to the point where it's never too hard to find him, as his attention is never quite lax enough to let her slip. But for his own part, he doesn't volunteer any information of his own will, though certainly he is likely the only person on the plane who actually knows anything at all.
The flight is mercifully short, only a few hours.
It is her choice as to what she wishes to do with it.
Juri's behavior throughout the trip is, thankfully, rather normal.
The helicopter ride to the airfield is endured in silence, the girl's gaze absently directed out the nearest window for the duration. Even removed from the churning swamp of chaotic emotions a subtle aura of menace persists around her, a faint creeping dread that prickles at the skin uncomfortably. It is not a conscious effort on her part to be irritating, though she would no doubt find it amusing were someone to attribute the sensation to her openly. The side effect of being possessed of so much raw willpower is that it tends to affect things around her without her even realizing it, keying off her mood and thoughts, her very presence warping reality around her by virtue of simply existing.
The atmosphere within the cabin gets noticeably tense when Juri sets foot into its spacious interior. All eyes fall upon the teenager as she slinks to a halt a few paces into the room, her expression bored even as she sweeps her gaze around to inspect what it has to offer. She doesn't make a pageant out of it but not does she need to. Her half-lidded eyes scan the cabin with the lazy interest of a predator sizing up a new den and each time they fall upon one of the staff the individual involuntarily shivers or hurriedly looks away.
The Engine has no difficulty confirming the identity of any of the former 'professional' fighters among the assembled crew but she pays them as little mind as the others. They are no threat to her, though she does find it odd that someone would go through the trouble.
Seemingly satisfied with the accommodations, the girl promptly ghosts right past the gaggle of attendants as if they don't even exist and makes her way towards the rear of the cabin without so much as a word. Juri starts to shed her sweaty clothes halfway down the aisle, apparently unconcerned with exposing herself to random strangers, tossing the dirty garments haphazardly in random directions like someone used to having other people clean up her messes. She spends a few minutes familiarizing herself with the facilities, casually slinking about in the nude as if she were alone in the comfort of her own home until finally taking advantage of the shower.
Once clean, Juri quickly makes it obvious that the clothes they have provided for her are beneath her standards. She goes through the various articles, dismissively tossing them over her shoulder until none are left for her to discard. Frowning, she gathers up one of the previously rejected shirts, a long loose garment that was clearly meant for someone much larger than her, and slips it on. It settles onto her slender frame in a haphazard fashion, the oversized collar drifting down over one shoulder and leaving her decolletage scandalously exposed while the hem barely hangs halfway down her thighs.
Thus adorned with what she deems necessary for her own comfort, the teenager strides back into the main room and glances around again. Her clothes, she notes, have already been collected. Pursing her lips, the girl makes her way over to the closest of the staff. Being singled out makes the man go rigid with involuntary apprehension. Juri seems to take amusement at his discomfort and intensifies it by invading his personal space until she is almost pressed right up against him. The handler's eyes struggle to remain on her face as she leans forward, hands on her hips and purrs at him in a soft velvety voice.
"I expect my clothes to be clean by the time we land. Otherwise, I might just get a little upset. Understand?"
A faint glimmer of baleful purple light twinkles in her eye at the command, her cornered prey breaking out into an open sweat under the direct pressure of her psychic focus. He nods hurriedly, stammering an affirmation. Juri chuckles in that sweetly poisonous manner of hers, the tone somehow playful and menacing at the same time.
"That's a good boy."
Her next victim proves to be the bartender. Seating herself upon one of the stools, the teen peruses the labels of the various bottles lined up on the enclosed shelves like a connoisseur. The legality of what she does is not something she pays particular mind to. After picking out some of the choicer wines, completely unconcerned about the possibility that they might be drugged or poisoned, she retreats to one of the large booths and demands food to accompany it. Thus properly fed and enjoying a nice mellow buzz, the girl drifts off to sleep for the remainder of the flight, slumped casually against the soft cushions.
Yet even as the girl sinks into the depths of gentle content slumber that faint sense of deep primal fear continues to permeate the cabin, as if she were Smaug perched silently atop his horde ready to lay waste to anything that draws his ire.
"Sir, she's --"
"Do you know why you're here?"
The amount of mayhem sown aboard the flight is mercifully minimal. Comparably speaking, of course -- one's version of 'minds their manners' certainly can be much, much different than another's, and by the measure of a temporary contract flight attendant's measure, dealing with effortless nudity in the aisles is at least uncommon, no matter how many celebrity charter jets they've run before. But even so, being dressed down by a barely legal girl in barely legal clothes is enough for at least some of the staff to assume something is amiss, and it's roughly then that Magi receives the complaint, originating from an older, rotund man from the Filipino kali circuits. Regrettably, the steward doesn't get much further than the opening salvo before the executive cuts him off, a mildly asocial glare originating from dark eyes behind tea shades.
"Please, do not make the mistake of presuming that you enjoy my protection. You are only a distraction, and a well-paid one at that. It is the company's expectation that the crew bring this plane to the ground on time, with a minimum of damage..."
Everything is, to its own extent, an abstraction. Theatre, if one cared to be truthful about it. The particular program upon which Magi commissioned Juri's exfiltration from the unsecure Thailand locations were exacting in detail, and the extra expense to hire fighters whom Juri would notice -- but not regard as anything of a threat -- was purposeful. Men whom knew enough of what the Shadaloo spider had to know to be afraid, but paid well enough that they would keep their mouths shut. So, when the handlers are pinned between the wall and the seductive purr of a woman that tells them wordlessly that she could kill them with one kick to their neck, it is absolutely intentional. She wouldn't notice anything less, and may take advantage of anything more.
Ultimately, the director commissioned the battle-worn staff for the same reason executives hire pretty young ladies to entice their contemporaries in meetings -- to make interesting the fantasy of something that will never happen.
The dreams aboard the flight are brief, and intense. When the young killer sleeps, the mien that keeps the staff humming to her call reins at cross-purposes to that chilling sense of 'synchronicity' that pervades her ever-suffering guardian through the brief trip. There is a crushing sense that she is watched, that she is not alone in the space between wakefulness and deep sleep. A great fey machine watches her in her exulting rest, an incomprehensibly patient 'eye' waiting for her. That chilling metronome that pervades everything about the older man that accompanies her quickens, as the eye watches. Asleep as one can be, it's hard for your body to understand where one heartbeat stops and its own begins. Even as she sleeps, the gyre of something incomprehensible lowers, and his fingertips brush her face ever lightly --
The executive has already deplaned by the time Juri awakens. The staff has taken Juri's word at its face value, and laundered her clothing aboard. By the time Juri awakens, the car is already prepared and waiting.
Ultimately, judging by the city signs, he's taken her to Shanghai. While they left Thailand in the early evening, it is now very late at night and threatening early morning by the time they arrive at the Ye-Ying Ke Bar downtown in the Bund, tucked out of view of the waterfront, making it less of a desirable location for tourism. However, the kitchen is still going strong as Magi arrives with his entourage, a group of black suited men and women who stay outside. "Ah, finally," Magi begins.
"When I was young, I could not eat my fill of the cold eel noodles here," the executive comments. The scents do not seem quite correct for eel, admittedly. "Something to do with the house ginger they used, I think.." He pauses, removing his fighting gloves.
"I digress. At any rate, my apologies," the slim man begs without explanation.
Juri wakes up with a cold shiver, blearily blinking her eyes as she shakes off the heavy blanket of restful lethargy. Her half open eyes scan her surroundings with that predatory slowness again as if she has forgotten where she is and why. Like a rattlesnake warning off potential threats, her menacing presence extends its tendrils into the cabin as she rouses herself, the gesture reflexive and immediate. What remains of the onboard staff find themselves breaking out into a cold sweat as the deadly young teen's attention sweeps over them, her killing intent searing at their minds like an exposed piece of radioactive material.
It takes the girl only a few seconds to gather her wits. By the time her feet have hit the floor the insidious ire of her animus has been reduced to little more than a candle flame, still present but noticeable only on the periphery of one's consciousness. Juri wordlessly moves to the rear of the cabin, finding her clothes washed and neatly folded on a counter near the bathroom. She avails herself of the facilities and gets dressed, her spirits improving somewhat as she dons the familiar attire.
The lack of her chaperone's presence aboard the plane did not go unnoticed. No doubt he is off making further arrangements for their transport to whatever location her prospective employer wants to meet. A quick glance out one of the windows is all it takes for her to recognize the massive city of Shanghai. Her job as Shadaloo's premiere troubleshooter has required her to travel to all manner of places, from famous cities to nameless wastelands in the middle of nowhere. Far and away, she much prefers the former. How people lived without air conditioning for thousands of years she will never understand.
The waiting car on the tarmac below catches her eye next. She smirks, wondering how long they've been sitting around waiting for her to wake up because they were too afraid to rouse her. Well, they can wait a little longer.
The process of wrapping her long silken tresses up into the familiar devil-like horns is complicated and time consuming, nor does she put any effort into speeding it along. She takes her time, enjoying the simple pleasure of engaging in the familiar ritual.
No doubt her awakening has already been reported. It wasn't hard to tell that most of the staff onboard the plane were specifically picked to be people she might recognize. What other reason would they have for turning failed athletes into fancy stewards? This entire flight was some sort of strange game, perhaps meant to see how she would react to unusual circumstances.
Well, she can play games too.
It was around the time she started meticulously flossing her teeth, discarding each piece for a fresh length of twine every time she moved on to a new tooth, that she is pretty sure they started to catch on that she was deliberately wasting their time, forcing them to kowtow to her ridiculous demands simply out of mean-spirited amusement. It was a simple strategy but one to which they had no appropriate counter-measure. She holds all of the power here and everyone knows it.
After roughly an hour of playing the part of an obnoxiously spoiled rich girl, she tires of the game. By now her point has been made. If these clowns want her help, they'll be playing by her rules. Even if she ends up rejecting whatever offer they plan to make her, the simple pleasure of toying with a bunch of former tough guys forced to wait on her hand and foot has proven more amusing than she expected.
When she finally deigns to descend to the waiting vehicle, Juri offers no explanation for her extreme tardiness beyond a self-satisfied smirk. She enjoys the lengthy ride into the city, once again lapsing into aloof silence, her gaze pointedly directed out at the impressive skyline of the megacity as if taking it in for the very first time.
When they finally arrive at their destination, Juri seems less than impressed with the choice of venue. Her gaze shifts back to Magi, regarding him for the first time since their arrival with a direct look as he breaks the ice with a rather stilted attempt at conversation.
One eyebrow quirks upwards at his second statement in particular, the girl's expression shifting slowly from an imperious mask to an lazy grin.
"You know, when someone randomly starts apologizing to me without any sort of context, it makes me think of those scenes in movies where someone leads in with an apology only to go for a sucker punch of some kind. It's usually played for a cheap laugh. A bit played out though."
The girl's posture shifts, her feet spreading a little wider apart. One hand slinks up to rest loosely on her hip as she cocks her waist casually out to the side. To most people, it would appear she's simply adjusting to a more comfortable, if slightly suggestive, standing position. But any skilled fighter would be able to sense the slight tension in her muscles, notice the way her knees are bent ever so slightly in preparation to lunge at a moment's notice.
Juri's voice dips into that low velvety register that utilizes when purring her poisonously seductive words to potential victims, her eyelids drooping slightly into a lazy predatory stare. The menace in the air around her grows ever so slightly stronger, wafting about like a puff of cigarette smoke blown dismissively into the corpo's face.
"So? Are we in a bad movie? Or are you terrible at making conversational segues?
And everyone plays their part flawlessly. The clock keepers are nettled as the stewards are put out of their way. And to Juri's own extreme credit, even Magi is forced to check his watch exactly once in all of the production, sturm und drang of the spider preparing her signature look for all onlooking. One could accuse her of solipsism, if it wasn't absolutely assured that the woman did it all for their benefit, and ostensibly for the benefit of their mutual benefactor. A shame, then, that when they arrive, the only thing she is truly prepared for is an attack, an idea even the director's carefully curated expression could not help but crack in the face of.
Magi looks at Juri quizzically, his fighting gloves still off and in one hand. At a glance, it's self-explanatory. But never let it be said that Magi is not an unaccomodating host, because he has no problems explaining as he reaches into his left slack pocket. "As satisfying as it may have been to take you 1,700 miles away from Thailand to punch you in the stomach, we have assets more than capable of doing so without the air fare. Mm."
The slight verbal tic introduces a small remote control, produced from the executive's pocket. "As I said," Magi continues, "I used to love the eel here." A small white light appears on the remote as he holds it up. It occurs only a moment later that he actually pressed a button on the tiny fob.
"Unfortunately, that is a luxury very much in the past."
Like a curtain being drawn back, light patterns shift in kaleidoscopic repose, beams that were not at all visible only moments prior flickering and rebooting as hidden emitters stop painting the air. As he does, the illusion breaks, with waitresses on the other side of the otherwise lonely establishment flickering into nonexistence only moments before they pass Juri. The energy that it takes to fabricate such an illusion becomes immediately apparent, the undertrappings of energy and sensory simulations breaking and giving way, silently, to an empty storefront, partially retrofitted with glowing, arcane machines. As the illusion reconfigures, Juri may hear the barest hiss as the near-silent polarized microhex panels behind her shift. In only a moment, the storefront glass turns opaque to the eye as easily and as smoothly as a Vegas host deals the next hand. Slowly, the illusion shifts, and changes.
"They were driven out of business, some time ago by the Triads," Magi reflects. "Then, after the years, we made an excellent offer, and took our due. Gaining a hardline in an otherwise remote area unnoticed is not always a trivial feat," he explains. "As I said," he says finally, getting to the point. "My apologies, that you cannot share in a taste of my childhood. However, our benefactor's time is at a premium, you understand. As I am sure you are of no doubt aware. At any rate, we can now can be assured of a modicum of privacy."
By the time the projectors finish loading the new simulations, translucent graphical simulators have cast a neon blue linescape on the floor, such as to give the tiled surface the semblance of disappearing entirely, replacing it with a voluminous grid, stretching out as far as the eye can see. And in the middle of it, an industrial logo whirls into view: The menacing triangular red-and-black tactical logo emblazoned with a single letter: U. Though the three-foot-tall floating logo is unmistakably that of ULTRATECH INDUSTRIES, Magi does not actually introduce the idea formally, for certain reasons that may not be entirely clear to Juri.
"You see, our mutual benefactors are carrying out a certain project that will benefit the social condition. Allow me to make the point clear: the Shadaloo engine currently driving the sensory output in your eye is of intense interest to our engineers, and we would like to study it to see if their hypotheses are correct."
"A shame," Juri replies with a shrug. The tension bleeds out of her so quickly at his response that she must have known even before asking what the answer would be, the gentle sarcasm in her voice reinforcing that conclusion. "A fight probably would have been more interesting than this meeting."
The girl's eyes shift lazily down to the small fob remote that Magi produces for a moment, then back up to his face as he speaks again, but her attention is quickly consumed by the radical shift in their surroundings as the holographic camouflage reveals itself. The teen's expression remains carefully neutral save for a slight raising of her brows. She watches as the illusionary restaurant and its staff vanish into motes of light only to be replaced by high-tech machinery that she doesn't recognize.
The effect is rather impressive, she has to admit. Her work with Shadaloo and S.I.N. has exposed her to a great many technological marvels but it's always surprising to learn just how many incredible advances in science exist hidden from the public knowledge. Whoever is responsible for this set up must be extremely wealthy to have managed such a feat and extremely influential or stupid to do so on the doorstep of the Triads. Even Shadaloo doesn't intentionally step on their toes without good reason.
Magi's explanation answers at least a couple of her questions. Her shoulder rolls in a lazy shrug again, both at his repeated apology and the idea that she might be wasting someone else's time.
"Somehow I think I'll manage to get over it."
The shift from dingy cafeteria to Matrix-esque grid takes a few moments, leaving Juri to stare impatiently as she waits for the pageantry to run its course. Only when the sharp image of the corporate logo finally takes form it seems to make the girl more edgy rather than less.
Setting foot into the world of corporate intrigue usually proves a far more tedious task that she cares to deal with. It isn't that she's too stupid or slow to deal with such delicate matters - on the contrary, the sharpness of Juri's mind is one of the most dangerous things about her - it's just that she doesn't have the patience to put up with the sorts of carefully woven webs of lies and subterfuge that such people rely on. She's much more interested in direct action, pitting her overwhelming might against whatever pitiful resistance an enemy can muster in straightforward combat. How can properly rub in her superiority if she's busy sneaking around trying not to get caught?
"Ultratech... figures it'd be someone like that."
Juri's arms cross loosely over her chest as she scowls at the digital symbol. Her knowledge of what the megacorp tends to get up to is limited to what information resides in Shadaloo's databanks. While the big cheese likes to employ his own network of spies and double agents, most of Shadaloo's goons are of the disposable thug variety. Information isn't really their speciality beyond what can be tortured or bribed out of their captives and corpo agents that actually know anything worthwhile have an annoying habit of being extremely difficult to coerce.
So it is with genuine surprise that she reacts to Magi's mention of the Feng Shui Engine. The creation of that weapon was conducted with the utmost secrecy. She never speaks about it, never draws any undue attention to its existence. For all anyone should know, outside of the small circle of S.I.N. scientists who developed and tweak the Engine, the strange glow in her left eye is merely a manifestation of her own natural power.
It takes a couple of seconds for the teen to wipe the look of shock off her face, her mouth slightly ajar and her eyes wide with alarm. That expression of confusion quickly shifts into a mask of utter rage, her lips peeling back into an ugly snarl beneath eyes wide with fury. Raw seething malice erupts from the girl as she gathers power, bathing the room in a flickering magenta glow as her aura manifests intensely enough to be visible to the naked eye. The sheer pressure of that psychic assault is like a physical force, a maelstrom of violent intent that whirls around Juri as if she is suddenly standing at the eye of a steadily building hurricane, willed into existence by the baleful glow of the very eye he speaks of.
"You sneaky corpo rat! How did you learn about that?!"
He smiles faintly.
"Give it time."
She recognizes the name. Certainly, Ultratech is an international company, well known enough that it wouldn't be untowards for Juri to have known it. But the company's psychological profiles disagreed on the point of whether she actually cared enough to recall the names of any number of multinational weapons corporations that made the news on any given day. What Magi says is just as important as what he doesn't say, and her recognition is valuable in determining how the moment would unfold, how they were to proceed.
As to what happens from this moment onward, it will be measurably harder to predict.
Juri's rage flares brilliantly, magenta rippling off of her lithe form in coronal focus, enough to cause some Rayleigh scattering along the background of the holographic emitters, causing the algorithms to noticeably hang and desync for seconds at a time in big blocky translucent holoxels as they attempt to compensate and correct for the sheer amperage-volume of her psychic output. The blast of the spider's surprise ripples along the director's coat, causing Magi to step back for a moment, favoring his belt buckle with a hand to keep his jacket from fluttering open ingloriously in the wake of Juri's very, very obvious displeasure. If she was poisonous only a moment ago, now she might as well be openly breathing fire.
The gravity to which Magi treats the incursion is mindful -- his brow knits into a tight furrow as his expression remarks the disdain he has for the moment, and it doesn't take much of an analyst to determine that he'd rather be somewhere else today. But with a touch of his ring finger he adjusts his glasses, pressing them further up the bridge of his nose lest he lose them entirely to Juri's reaction.
"...Too many people think of us as a weapons manufacturer," the director explains. "In reality, we provide solutions. It shouldn't come as a surprise to you that our research departments have access to some of the highest quality above- and middle-board data available to modern science today. A year of circumstantial iterative analysis, and your own response confirms that our sources provided quality data, that the 'Shadaloo engine' exists, and that you have it." Tucking away the remote, the director pulls his gloves back on, one at a time, only to step forward on one foot, holding up a finger. "Before you respond, allow me a moment to demonstrate how iterative analysis works."
"Number one," he begins, wagging that finger.
"Your performance ratings are highly irregular and prone to sudden unexplained spikes. Even as a genius, we initially suspected you of doping, and sought to reverse-engineer your compounds. However, now we realize that is more likely the result of the experimental, unrefined technology."
Another finger raises, the soft creak of leather crossing between the harsh sound of her power.
"Number two. You are a spirit who does not like to be under someone's yoke. Given that you are involved with an organization headed by a warlord who will dominate the entire world, your situation within the group is likely to be untenable, if not entirely unstable."
A third finger.
"Number three. Because of factors one and two, we have to imagine that the Shadaloo engine at the least must have a limitation to ensure your continued cooperation.."
Magi lowers his hand, just barely slow enough, deliberate enough not to be read as a precursor to an attack. "You can correct me on any point you feel is inaccurate," he states mildly, buttoning the lower buttons of his suit jacket so they'll not be blown around in the microbursts Juri is throwing off with the sheer weight of her aggression. As he does, the trim surrounding the holographic logo of Ultratech briefly shimmers gold as a connection is established. "That is why we had to take you to a location where we could be sure you were unmonitored, where the Triads would be blamed for any indiscretion. Because, as I said, if your cooperation with Shadaloo is only a convenience of compulsion, we are eager to provide a more progressive solution."
<< "Vega" ... does not have to be your future. >>
The ethereal female voice seems to echo from the very bones of the building.
Perhaps surprisingly, Juri actually listens to his response, though the desire to hurl herself at the agent in a frenzy of unrelenting violence seems only barely restrained.
The Feng Shui Engine is, above anything else she possesses, her most carefully guarded secret and viscously protected asset. Even without its power she is a force to be reckoned with, especially for someone of her youthful age, but that little machine represents more than just power. It is the vessel through which she stands shoulder to shoulder with veritable gods like Vega, dragging her talent from incredible to super human. More importantly, it is the tool that will one day facilitate her revenge upon that man.
But, the only way that remains true is if she is the sole beneficiary of its incredible power. Even Vega understands that mass production of such a weapon would be counter productive to his own interests. Her own elevation to the ranks of the demi-gods has caused him almost more trouble than any benefits he might have gained from such a powerful subordinate. She is openly belligerent and frequently hostile, forcing him to personally smack her back into line on a regular basis. Imagine what ten Juris would do to his power base.
The very notion that some soulless corporation has somehow managed to deduce the origins of her unique power makes her skin crawl. People like Vega she can understand well enough - after all, she and he are much the same. Arrogant, self-absorbed tyrants who care only for their own agendas. But as crazy and twisted as they are, both of them are still people with very human traits and desires. They can be spoken to, reasoned with, bargained with, and placated.
Corporations, on the other hand, are almost like alien entities. Cold, clinical, and detached, caring only for their ever-present hunger for advancement and efficiency. Armies of clerks devote their entire lives to sorted through numbers and analytics, sifting like computers through troves of data for even the tiniest morsel that might slightly shift a point on some graph to be displayed in the boardroom so some executive can show it off to the shareholders. Even personal ambition is a carefully controlled commodity within such organizations, the petty squabbles for power between managers and CEOs alike waged in a silent war of skullduggery and misdirection where lives are ruined through a few carefully placed words in the right ears.
Juri has no doubts whatsoever that an entity like Ultratech would go to any lengths to get its hand on a power like the Engine. She has trouble imagining anything that might be a greater nightmare to her plans for the future. How long would it be before mass produced Engines installed into mind-controlled cyborgs or corpo drones brainwashed into cult-like loyalty start getting churned out en masse?
Much to her great discomfort, most of Magi's observations are on point - all save the last. As far as she is aware, there are no limiters installed into the eye that put any sort of prohibition on her behavior.
More than once, she's made attempts to overthrow the lord of Shadaloo himself, wielding the power of that fel technology to its full extent. Had he installed any sort of failsafe it most certainly would have been to prevent her from harming him in any way. But, no, that isn't the sort of person Vega is and she knows it. He didn't bother to limit her potential in any way because he didn't need to. As far as he is concerned, she is but a pale shadow of his own blinding might, a rowdy apprentice skilled enough to handle tasks more challenging than those suitable for hired goons. Every time she's tried to take him on she's been slapped down hard, subduing her rebellious spirit for a little while.
As much as it chafes, the leash he has around her neck is quite secure and she knows it.
Juri falls silent for several seconds as the man speaks, her thoughts racing through possible scenarios. There is the slim possibility that there might be some merit to granting them access to her coveted technology. S.I.N.'s scientists have struggled for years to work out all of the kinks in the Engine. Every time they think they've fixed one problem, another seems to pop up.
She's wondered on more than one occasion if such 'malfunctions' aren't by design. After all, the constant need for maintenance and adjustments is the only reason she hasn't killed every single one of them and torched the databases to ensure that she is the only person with copies of its blueprints. Perhaps getting expert advice from another source could prove enlightening, even if only to confirm that such glitches are in fact technical issues and not cleverly placed life insurance policies. If she could manage to do that without giving Ultratech full access to the machine's data or was certain that she could go full scorched earth on the corpo eggheads after they were done she might consider it.
The lilting intercession of another voice causes the teen to visibly react, her eyes widening briefly as she glances around. No obvious source makes itself visible though considering she's standing in the middle of a giant holodeck that doesn't tell her much. Her psychic senses extend outwards at a thought, probing for signs of life that might be hidden behind veils of light or well-disguised doors but as far as she can tell the only two people in the room are her and the suit.
"Show yourself," she demands, her voice filled with obvious heat. "And give me one good reason why I shouldn't torch this place and every other Ultratech building I can find until I'm sure no one who knows about this is left alive."
Ultratech is a data corporation. In the end, it took an incredible amount of data to discern even the slightest crack in the Shadaloo armor, and even then, only by the metadata - truthfully, the research concerning Juri was the subject of three intersecting research projects. All of it culminates in this moment, a potential fulcrum upon which the human race -- as contemporary society understands it -- balances precariously.
The director is not without his supposition's inaccuracies, but the point is left aside. The man visibly steps back from Juri as the voice ripples into being around them. He takes a brisk moment to straighten the hang of his jacket and vest, before breathing outward noticeably, one hand holding the wrist of the other as the conversation, in as much as his part in it is concerned, comes to a swift and anticlimactic end. It is somewhat unnerving how quickly the man can go from commanding all attention to deliberately fading into the background like a ghost.
Try as she might, there is no other psychic impression in the room other than the two. Instead, the ground seems alive with energy, though not of the living sort that those such as Juri can tangibly feel and feed off of. The hardline into the superficially delapidated bar was, indeed, quite expensive to attain and maintain, and there was more than one reason why the taekwondoka was brought a thousand miles away for this meeting. And now they are in that moment spoken of. That incisive voice ripples throughout the room, a voice of infuriatingly indeterminate age. There is no particular mien of command in her voice, but the unparalleled weight of observation tolls heavily on Juri, and even in the midst of her lividity she will feel the weight and truth of the unlimited surveillance to which she has been subjected.
<< --you would be killed, >> the voice replies, quickly and with no guile.
It is a matter of fact assessment, and the most salient one that matters to someone like Juri. There is a moment between that assessment and this. << You would destroy six to twelve facilities. In the process, eleven agents totalling value of sixty seven points or more would be lost. In all, up to nine billion dollars of damage could be done. After insurance and regional credits, the company is projected to recover all potential liabilities by quarter two, 2023. A regrettable setback which poses a distinct threat to us. >>
The voice does not change in meter or tonality in the slightest, but the message sent is absolutely clear.
<< However, it is not my intention to avoid a conflict in which we are already non-productively engaged. It is my intention to share with you the revelation that specific cooperation between yourself and our research groups could be of mutual beneficience. I have analyzed your equipment, and have determined that only I can perfect it. With it perfected, you would be free to realize the apex of your potential as human, wherever you choose it to lead you. >>
The voice pauses for a moment, long enough for the swirling logo to make one rotation. As Juri inspects the area around her, she might notice that the fine lines holo-projected in the floor, along with the trim in the color changing logo, oscillate with every modulation in frequency from the chilling voice that emanates from around them. To that end, the voice takes a moment before continuing.
<< You've come a long way in a short time, >> she continues. << and you have found me. >>
The sound ripples throughout the floorboards as the modulation breaks, an electronic knife introduced as honey.
<< I am Ultratech. >>
Log created on 20:10:42 09/24/2021 by Juri, and last modified on 15:32:30 10/05/2021.