Riana had tried for quite a while to come up with some other word  or description to refute the obvious appearance of what was happening before her. But, as hard as she thought about it, not to mention the words of her mother about  her growing abilities, she’d just settled on using the word she kept trying to avoid: teleport. Simpler was so often better, and dealing with such esoteric concepts as point-to-point travel without actually traversing distance tended to break people’s minds. So using familiar, simple words seemed the way to go.

One of her mothers, Kilishandra, had explained what was happening as essentially sound science, then pulled an old literary quote out to describe it, saying something about sufficiently advanced science appearing as magic. Initially, Riana had used Kalijor as a sort of intermediary, crossing distances there, instead of the real world, and then shifting back into normal space in a new location. The time difference between Kalijor and the ‘real’ world made the travel seem extremely fast to those watching, even though she had to physically travel the distance in Kalijor, and spend the time it took to do so. But now, on a hunch that she was using Kalijor as a crutch, Riana pictured the secluded hallway outside the restrooms at Magoun’s bistro in her mind’s eye and simply nudged herself across the spatial gap between the Serendipity and the eatery.

The actual travel was not unpleasant, or even uncomfortable. Not at all like teleportation in Kalijor. There was almost no sensation, just a subtle movement of air that could easily be attributed to the change in temperature and humidity between the two locations. She was simply on the bridge with Vincent one instant, and standing in the hallway outside the restrooms of a local restaurant the next. No lurching, or squeezing, or darkness. No flashing lights or wild energy vortexes. She was just there. And in the next instant,  a poor young man bearing a large tray filled with dirty dishes toward the kitchen’s back entrance ran into her.

To his credit, he managed himself very well. He kept the tray as level as possible, even as he bounced off Riana’s deceptively lithe form and staggered backward in eminent danger of completely loosing his balance. The startled gasp that escaped his lips was not the sort of sound she would expect  from someone who had just run into a person that had not been there an instant before. Instead, it was a sort of quietly dignified sigh, as if to say ‘here we go again.’

Bringing her cybernetically enhanced body into motion, Riana acted with lightning speed. She took a step toward the reeling man, snaked an arm around his shoulders to arrest his fall, and snatched the precariously piled tray of soiled dishes from him with her free hand, stabilizing the platform with a subtle clacking of dishes and tinkling of silverware. Smiling at the waiter as she helped him back to his feet, she held onto the tray until he was composed enough to take it back from her.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I must have been in too much of a rush.” He tried to cover the incident by taking the blame.

“It’s my fault,” Riana smiled, returning the tray to him. “I sort of came out of nowhere there.” As she handed the man his tray, she saw a glimmer of recognition in his eyes and preemptively shook her head, ears twitching. “Trust me, I’m not her. I’ve been getting no end of trouble since that crazy person started wreaking havoc all over the system. It seems we may have used the same Bio-Engineer…” Riana locked her violet eyes on the man and pleaded with every ounce of unspoken desperation she could muster.

The waiter looked at her for a long moment, then seemed to process what she had said and slowly nodded. “Yeah, that kinda sucks. Can I get you anything? Are you with someone?”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Riana nodded. “Yeah, I’d like a plate of pierogies and smoked sausage with a glass of water. My guy will be along in a bit, he’s just battening down the hatches.”

“Okay, have a seat wherever you like and I’ll be right back with your order,” he said, smiling, moving off into the back of the restaurant.

“This is going to be a problem,” she whispered, watching him go. Casting her eyes around as she moved into the dining room, she watched as eyes darted away from her gaze, quickly turning to look anywhere but at her. Moving off to a corner booth, she slid into the barely-comfortable chair and turned her attention to the video screen on the table. Swiping through various channels, she was happy to learn that whatever was going on in Neo-Tokyo, it was at least no longer the news du jour. She had to search a bit to locate the feeds about the siege on the city.

What she did find confirmed what she had been told back in Ceres. Anja had taken over the place. She’d made no attempts to conceal herself, and her almost completely identical appearance to Riana, in more  than just outward looks, insured that any scanner or other apparatus would identify her ~as~ Riana. So, pulling up footage of the other woman moving down main street Neo-Tokyo a few weeks past, shooting people indiscriminately, Riana realized that just having different colored hair, eyes, and a wholly different personality, wasn’t going to be enough to convince anyone that they were truly different people.

She needed a plan. Something to get them both in the same place, at the same time, and in front of the right people, to insure there was no doubt that there were indeed two of them, and that they were not both raging maniacs. Riana needed to know what Anja was after, and why it was so important that she was willing to turn the entire solar system against her to get it. It was the only hope of stopping her.

She turned away from the video footage of the Conglomerate military forces at the intersection of the northern ring and Neo-Tokyo. Splaying her fingers out on the table, she absently shifted her gaze back and forth between her left and right hands as her mind worked on the problem. Pulling up the security feed she’d copied form the Tranquility port authority before all the madness began, she looked over Anja’s face, her own face, really. The other woman’s icy blue eyes looked up at the camera from beneath her shock of dark blue hair and her lips curled into a knowing, challenging smile.

Anja, it seemed, was Gregory Shantal, transformed by some unknown means into an almost exact replica of herself. He, or she, now, had used the similarities between them to wage a war across the Sol system and catapult Riana to the top of the most wanted list. She knew Riana would get out of the virtual prison she had locked her in, down in the depths of Ceres. She knew it, just as surely as she knew Riana would get ahold of the security footage from the port authority, and she had shared her little smile for just the two of them. Anja understood how Riana thought and was using that knowledge to keep her stumbling along in the wake of whatever grand plans she was orchestrating with her maniacal efforts.

As she thought, the waiter returned with her plate, setting it down and offering a sympathetic smile as he made a point of shifting his eyes to a pair seated across the small dining room. Following his gaze with a subtle eye movement of her own, she saw a man and a woman, wearing long coats, much like her own, all in dark fabrics with dark clothing peaking through from beneath. The man appeared to be around seven feet tall and had a few patches of metal showing around his neck and the side of his head. Tell tale signs of cybernetic modifications. The woman was of medium height and had elongated nostrils that opened up the sides of her nose slightly. The look was made even more creepy by the strange orange-yellow color of her eyes and the thin, forked tongue that occasionally darted out of her mouth as she and her companion spoke quietly to one another. They made a good show of just being out for lunch, but everything about them screamed ‘mercenaries on the hunt’.

Nodding her thanks to the waiter, she reached for the plate with her right hand and slid it closer to herself. As she did so, her gaze fell on her left hand, fingers still spread out over the table’s surface. All at once it struck her, like a physical blow to the head. She reeled back in her chair, gasping at the realization. “I can be so dense sometimes,” she said under her breath, twisting her hand back and forth, remembering how it had felt when Gregory Shantal, still the strange grey-haired, overall-wearing cyborg then, had cut it off.

Assuming her epiphany about Anja’s origin was correct, that left only the question of what Anja was doing next. She’d blazed a trail across the solar system, starting on Mars, then rolling through Venus Station, and finally ending up in Neo-Tokyo. What was the common element? Picking at her food as she pondered, her ears twitched at the sound of a person approaching. She saw him coming out of the corner of her eye, and angling her ears back a bit, she was able to pinpoint the woman, who had moved out of sight to position herself between Riana’s table and the back door.

Setting her fork down and wiping her mouth, Riana looked up at the dark figure as he came to a stop in front of her. He struck a pose, trying to make himself look even larger, and stared down at her with his faintly glowing eyes. Swallowing her last bite, she smiled at him and said, “I don’t suppose it would make much difference if I told you I wasn’t her?”

“Not really,” he responded with a mild amusement in his tone.

“Wouldn’t be the first time you’ve heard that, I’m sure,” she added, eliciting a nod from him.

“For what it’s worth, I believe you,” he said.

Riana narrowed her eyes at him, looking him up and down.

“We just got the call,” he answered her unasked question. “Someone here reported you and we were called in to get you, as quietly as possible. Now we either go back with you, or with a damn good explanation as to why we don’t have you.”

“So, I’m guessing a rational explanation with a promise of taking care of the real problem won’t cut it as an explanation?”

“Afraid not. You know these types, all business…” he began.

“No compromise,” she finished, nodding. “So, can I finish my lunch, or call my boyfriend and tell him where I’m off to before we begin?”

“I’m not paid by the hour,” he shook his head.

“Then can we at least go outside? I like this place and I have no desire to shoot it up.”

“So, you’re set on fighting?” He took a half step back and pulled his long jacket open to reveal a rather impressive arsenal beneath it, strapped to his person.

“No,” Riana said, shaking her head. “But you aren’t exactly a bubbling fountain of options that lead to another destination. I’m just trying to be practical.” She cast a curious eye around his weaponry, raising an eyebrow at a couple of the more serious pieces of hardware. “Is that a Quark Industries plasma pistol?”

“Yeah,” he smirked.

“If you fire that thing in here, you could kill a dozen people.” Her face soured. Her words carried just far enough that a ripple of panic began to wash over the dining room, which had fallen deathly silent in the wake of the pair’s actions. A few of the closer people began to stand up and try to quietly excuse themselves, which caused a flood of others to start moving as well.

“Dammit,” he grumbled, reaching for a pistol in his shoulder harness.

With every ounce of calm she could muster, Riana slid to the edge of the bench seat and stood up to face the man, offering his companion a spare glance in the process. For her part, she was standing by the back door, popping her knuckles and looking a little nervous about the whole situation. Locking her eyes on his, Riana pressed her lips into a hard line and shook her head. “My name is Riana. Riana Thorindal. Daughter of Ezrina and Kilishandra. The person you think I am is Anja. She is a psychotic who happens to be using a copy of my body for her own purposes. What those purposes are, I haven’t quite divined yet, but I will, and then I will stop her. But for that to happen, I am afraid that I cannot allow you to take me anywhere. By the same token, I will not allow you to harm these people. So, either you back off and try again some other time, or we take this outside like civilized people.”

“Fine,” he spat, raising his voice so his companion could hear it over the growing din of the increasingly panicked crowd, “the hard way it is.”

As he drew his weapon, Riana closed the distance between them with a quick step. Pressing up against him to block him from cross-drawing his pistol, she reached inside his jacket, gripped the butt of the plasma pistol in her left hand as she winked at him, and then slipped through sub-space, leaving him in the restaurant.

Scanning her surroundings for any signs of trouble, or that anyone had seen her just appear, she quickly tucked the plasma pistol into the pocket of her jacket and keyed up Vincent on her comm link. “Vin, I had to move, a couple mercenaries came at me and I didn’t want to start a scene.”

“Okay,” he responded without so much as a hitch. “Where are you now? I’ll head your way.”

“I’m in that park you found me in after Firiel and I fought. But I don’t think you should come after me…” she trailed off.

“Alright. I’ll find a way into Neo-Tokyo and we can meet inside, once we’re all clear. Ping me back in twelve hours.”

Riana nodded, relieved by his acceptance of the situation, as she marked the time on her internal chronometer. “Okay. I love you. Be safe.”

“I love you too,” he said, warmth filling the void before the line went dead.

“Okay,” she breathed, turning around to give her surroundings one more inspection. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”

 

Chapter 3