14:31 APRIL 7 2030

JUNE 21 2030

01:27 JUNE 21 2030

It rained all night the time we met up with Okubo. Warm sheets of rain poured out of the black sky. And as we pulled up into the car park it thundered off the tarmac to create a carpet of roiling vapour. Otsu and I stayed with the car. I let Dyson and Akira handle the meeting. Okubo is some junkie down in a hole in the wall bar called 'Jingu's'. Never heard of the place. So Akira and Dyson stride through the rain and into the shopping arcade. All closed down, except for this little bar. Otsu flipped open his Hitachi Netspace-5 and began his flight through the consensual 3D no-space that is the cyberspace matrix. His target was Jingu's computer system. This guy used to work as a console cowboy for Makita Genetics, and is one shit-hot programmer. His idea was to access the building's cameras, lights, electronic systems and stuff. Meanwhile I scanned the team's FM band. Akira and Dyson are on their own, walking down a corroded and motionless escalator. The rhythmic thump, thump of music. Lights up ahead, silhouttes of customers stood outside, talking, drinking, dealing.

The two got in OK. Both were carrying, and both wore long trench-coats to hide the fact. The damned rainstorm outside only made their appearance that much more believable. The tiny place was hot, sweaty, noisy. Akira immediately scoped Okubo sat up against the wall on a raised area to the right. But Dyson moved barwards, pushing and elbowing his way through the dense tangle of flesh. Akira moved up to Okubo, who wore a long coat and black silk shirt. The junkie's forehead creased and he brushed his slick hair backwards. 'You Haruna Biolabs?' Akira nodded, 'Look, I shouldn't be telling you this. I'm in the shit already. But I don't like it OK? Give me what I want - I thought we had a deal. Then you get the full picture.'

'OK' Akira fumbled inside his pocket, came out with three transdermal patches. Synthetic endorphin analog. Okubo smiled. 'I love doing business with drug companies, man ... what you want to know is that Makita Genetics are meeting the Yakuza tomorrow night at the old Nikkolaido Cathedral in Ochimanizu. Their man is called Nobuda, security chief . Makita are so desperate to fund this war of theirs with your guys, that they're going to turn to the Yakuza for readies'.

Dyson had a couple of bottles of Kirin and turned to watch proceedings. It was difficult to see much of anything. And if that guy next to Dyson didn't stop elbowing him then he considered pulling the high velocity Heckler and Koch G18 bullpup rifle out from under his coat and just blowing him away. A little voice, far away: 'don't do it, don't do it ...' His conscience? No, me, Bosatsu his boss, talking into his ear through the FM link.

Suddenly shit happened. A guy in a green combat jacket blocked Dyson's view. 'Get out of my ...' And he saw the Sony Megastore carrier-bag drop away, a wire-stocked Remington 870 ready for action. Akira flinched as Okubo lurched back against the wall, a fountain of blood painting a lurid glistening backdrop. Then the sound of the gun, far way with screams and panic. Akira pulled his piece, a Pancor Six. Dyson realised he was too far away, from Akira, from the doors. Jostled and pushed, the Yakuza assassin steadied himself, turned to escape back through the double doors. Akira opened up with the Pancor, spraying a burst of napalm-filled incendiary rounds into the crowd. The killer fell into a mass of burning people. Thrashed around in his death throes. The entrance was blocked by fire. Crowds surged toward the bar, hit the floor and rolled out of the couple's way. 'Fire exit, fire exit!' roared Dyson.

I turned to Otsu in the car. 'Come on man, we need electronic back-up here. Got a layout? Blueprints? Sprinklers?' He shook his head. 'Bad news. That shitty little place is a goddamn death-trap. No sprinklers, no cameras, no computer system, no nothing.'

I knew I should have gone with them. Then again, Otsu always seemed to survive these missions 'cos he always stayed in the car. Must remember that.

Akira had jumped down from the raised area and met up with Dyson, no exit anywhere - but they saw a fire exit sign, unlit. Above a blank piece of wall. 'Huh?' Akira kicked it. 'It's a door, been plastered over.' As the crowds sceamed in fear and agony, as the fire consumed the end of the bar turning up the temperature and melting the decor into flammable rain, Akira flexed his bio-genetically enhanced muscles and pushed. And pushed. His arms had the equivalent pushing power of five men. He pushed. His chest and back muscles, a design patented by Haruna Biolabs four years earlier, flexed. With a crash the door fell in, plaster crumbled, and the crowds surged after them.

I reached behind my car seat and pushed open one of the back doors. Both Akira and Dyson were sprinting through the rainstorm toward the parked car. People scattered in all directions. The flicker of orange could be seen. Otsu had jacked out of cyberspace, and was reving the Honda's motor. Then they were in. We powered away, and lurched down a ramp and over a speed bump, the hardware rattled as we hit the ground again. A sudden yellow flash caught our attention in the gloom. In the mirror. The blast was tremenendous. I could see fiery fragments falling to earth, across the car park, the roof of the arcade. 'Man ...'

Otsu grinned as he drove back towards Asakusa. 'Now using napalm in an enclosed space without any visible means of escape was a great move Akira'. Akira, noticeably uncomfortable muttered to himself, 'I got us out of there... and we got the information we needed'.

I shook my head silently. I suddenly knew I needed to get a transfer to another team when Dyson stared at the receding image of fire in the mirror and said quite emphatically to no-one in particular: 'You know I didn't get to shoot anybody?'

With its spire reaching up into the murky nighttime mists that hung inccessently over Tokyo, the Nikkolaidai Cathedral stood out from the buildings that surrounded it on every side. It was a Russian Orthodox church amongst an almost purely Shinto and Buddhist people. These days it lay derelict - disused and boarded, waiting for just the right moment when some entertainment giant like TKS or Yoshiko might transform it into some holographic picture palace or theme tour museum ... or even the venue for a high level zaibatsu meeting.

"Do it right - I'm not going through this again" muttered Nobuda into his throat mike. His voice rumbled and growled, menacing bass tones that resonated inside the limosine's interior. He glanced through the darkened anti-ballistic polyperspex out across the dimly lit plaza surrounding the cathedral. Beyond he saw a row of stores - the security shutters gleaming dull grey in the bad light. On the corner a brashy neon-lit fast-food place lit up the sidewalk and surrounding street like a multi-coloured searchlight. People moving inside, customers. "Big Buns ... what kind of a name is that ... yes, OK, yeah I see your truck now, yes the team is inside and has proceedings underway, remember to keep a low profile. Security is pretty tight on this one. By midnight we should have an armed Makita jump-jet on station".

He turned to look away from the Russian church away into the night and the park, like everything else around here locked up for the night. Beyond lay the vast and perplexing stellar array of Tokyo. This district, Ochinamizu catered for the bustling and lively student population. Tokyo's great universities were all centred here and were supported by street after street of bookstores, academic software stores, business seminar courses and academic suppliers. Little of interest to the zaibatsu ever happened here. If anything, it served only as a recruiting ground for the large multinationals, places where the scientific genii of the next decade were quietly and studiously adding to their CVs, little knowing that they could in future be a pawn in the violent and costly battles of big business.

For Nobuda it had happened that way too. He searched the cluttered back seat of the Daiwoo for his phone and thought of those early days back in 2011, the year of the Hong Kong Conflict. One of the top five in his year, Nobuda had excelled at Business Studies and his radical views on the identification and auditing of profit-centres found their way into one of the nation's most prestigious journals. He was everything his parents had hoped for, had dreamt of. Corporate boy, sarariman, yes man. His multi-million yen embezzlement came as a shock to his family, and to his tutors. What had happened to his true Japanese values, to his ethics?

But shadowy figures in the corporate underworld had understood that what some had taken for weakness and betrayal could also be seen as strength and cunning. Makita Genetics were on the upswing and wanted to put together an unscrupulous and talented team that thoroughly understood the theory (and practice) of inter-corporate warfare. And so began Nobuda's meteroic rise to Senior Executive Manager in charge of Competitor Intelligence.

"Ken Kannushi's office!"

"Tell Kannushi that the lotus is ready to bloom. Ask him if he would be so kind as to met us at the altar at 1 a.m. Thank you." Nobuda leaned forward to his driver, "Take me back to HQ, I need to see the boss before we sell our souls to these gangsters."

Otsu was driving again, and gently brought the Honda Bluejay to a stop alongside the Nikkolaidai plaza. "What's the plan" whispered Akira urgently. Dyson glanced sideways at him, his face contorted by an expression of confusion, "plan?"

"Look ..." I said, "we just check the place out. We're over an hour early, neither the Yakuza nor Makita can be here yet. We're safe. Forget it!"

Both Akira, Otsu and Dyson were comforted by my words, Dyson especially so, since he had used our corporate gold card to purchase for himself a Mitsubishi-Optic 9 40MW combat laser. It lay in the back of the Honda under a red tartan blanket.

I got out of the car and spotted Big Buns, "Look, I'll be over there. That's our rendezvous, OK?" Their eyes rolled skywards and the team edged slowly up the steps onto the cathedral plaza. They split up but kept in touch by FM radio. I monitored their progress from the diner. As they circled looking for an ingress, Otsu discovered a cellar door and began to decrypt the sophisticated cardlock. His near perfect night-vision (patented, of course by Haruna Biolabs five years previously) made the job alot easier than it would otherwise have been. And he was in.

Dyson spotted a row of parked cars, and a van, at the main doors to the church. All was quiet. He drew the Heckler and Koch from under his trench-coat and ran his fingers nervously through his silky long black hair. Although a large man, Dyson trod lightly. Akira put his back up against the cold stone of the church - and froze. An armed man was walking past scanning for movement. "Akira - leave it" I ordered him, "Dyson, watch your back!"

Otsu, ever the accomplished technofetishist had gained entrance to the church. Within minutes he gave the rest of us a whispered report. The nave was being fitted for a top-level meeting. A table, complete with drinks, food, and pink-noise generators sat amidst a tangled mess of cables providing power and security. From a cable mounted in the high ceiling sat a multi-band jammer. Obviously neither the Yakuza nor Makita wanted anybody overhearing. Too bad. Otsu, in chinos and black silk shirt had penetrated their defences and on a balcony high above the nave was ready and waiting to compromise this covert conference.

"Hey you!". Too good to be true. Otsu rolled sideways whilst pulling out both his MAC12 machine pistols. Ancient and beautifully carved woodwork exploded into a thousand splinters as the eagle-eyed Makita guard opened fire on Otsu. Thinking quickly the Haruna agent simply lept over the balcony, trusting his genetically-enhanced inner-ear to land him right-side up. He hit the white cloth-clad table with a thump, his knees bending reflexively. Technicians turned to look at him. A guard near a mast-light pulled up an Ultra-Uzi, depressed the trigger and swept a trail of death up the table. Otsu squeezed both triggers, saw the guard recoil backwards into the mast, send it and he spinnng into wires and cables. And dived ... blood pounding in his head Otsu sprinted down the nave toward the main doors.

"Akira - where the hell are you?"

Akira had his own problems. The guard outside in the Ginza suit suddenly stopped, turned, looked straight at Akira. Akira couldn't take any chances. The Pancor came up and pumped a couple of fat 20mm rounds into him, throwing him, doll-like off the raised plaza. Dyson was running around to help. Too late.

Both heard the strained whine of turbo-fans. I stood up in the diner and gazed out across the square at the Nikkolaidai, at the heavy MBB thrust-vectored hover wagon as it sailed into view then vanished around behind the cathedral. "Oh god, no ...". We were spotted, it had gone wrong again.

Akira looked up as the hover wagon floated into view, the noise of the jets was deafening, and the spotlight circled him beautifully. Attached to a universal pylon below the sliding door sat a multi-barrelled minigun. Akira sprinted for cover and in those three terrifying seconds the thing spewed out over 300 bullets in his direction. He lay against some nineteenth century stonework and bled. His upper right thigh had come apart, muscle pushed out, scarlet blood began casacading across his thigh, spattering onto the dark ground. "Bosatsu! Bosatsu! Answer!" Akira screamed with pain and desperation into his thorat mike, but the thing had been damaged in the dash for cover and was out of action.

Dyson knew his only chance against the jump-jet was the laser, and he sprinted for the car. With the pilot and gunner preoccupied with Akira he made it. Akira, however, was just able to roll around a buttress into cover as the 6mm rain of death tore giant chunks of stonework apart. Shattered hundred-year old stained glass.

I kicked open Big Bun's double doors and strode meaningfully into the square. What next?

Inside the cathedral, Otsu had given his pursuers the slip and had hidden as they began a thorough search. Noises of gunfire could be heard against the east wall. He tried to get to the main doors again. Maybe he could reach them without being detected.

Dyson slotted the 40MW powercell and knelt on the back seat of the Honda waiting for those five crucial seconds of power-up. Four seconds too long. The hover wagon swept toward him and opened fire turning the small golden sedan into scrap metal. Tires burst, windows shattered, bodywork was crushed and dented. Dyson managed to duck and miraculously survived being injured at all. With grim determination he then fired the laser at the MBB - and hit! But the hull easily withstood the white-hot nova of the laser's blast. It hovered there and the persistent gunner opened fire again. This time what had retained a semblance of car after the last burst of gunfire disintegrated into twisted aluminium. Dyson lay trapped on the back seat, his chest pierced by bullets, glass and Honda body hull. He fought for life as his blood pumped furiously out of his pierced and broken body. For the moment he was going nowhere.

Akira staggered across the plaza. "Gotta call for back-up, gotta call". He saw a phone booth near the park and staggered toward it. The rising scream of jump-jets came in on his senses like a thunderclap. He was spotlit on the edge of the sidewalk. Again the minigun opened fire, and broad-chested Akira was propelled by the impact of a dozen high-velocity rounds into the gutter, desperately fighting off both death and the pain that dragged him to it.

Mustering every gram of willpower, Dyson raised the combat laser, saw the wink of a red LED telling him the cell was fully charged, and fired again. A blossoming cloud of pink spray erupted from the shoulders of the jump-jet's gunner as he leaned out to angle the minigun down onto Akira's slumped body. The jet dropped and peeled away with a tremendous roar, almost total silence cut off the noise as the vehicle disappeared behind the cathedral. Dyson rolled out of the wreck and staggered away toward the park - hunting for safety, obscurity.

For Akira, meanwhile, that reprieve had been well timed. With a superhuman effort of will he picked himself up and lurched drunkenly toward the phone box. He was dying. Behind him Otsu was sprinting his way through the night trying to put some distance between him and his pursuers. Akira called me on my cell phone. I told him I had back-up arranged. Told him to get his ass into the park ready for immediate evacuation by Haruna Biolabs hover wagon. I walked the opposite way, hailed a cab and got out of there. What a goddamn disaster! Someone would pay for that, I cursed. But as project manager I realised that I was the one who would take the blame. Then again maybe I should.

De-briefing was a joke. Our team had gone to stop the Yakuza-Makita Genetics meeting and/or discover exactly what was being said there. Instead we stumbled in blindly. Yes we prevented the meeting from going ahead, but now it would surely go ahead anyway in some unknown location. We would never understand what diabolical compact these two economic giants were creating at Haruna's expense. Our debrief took place in a private room in the Haruna Central Hospital where Akira was in intensive care. His shattered body had more holes than a cheese grater, but he looked on the road to recovery. We didn't like to boast, but the Haruna Life Corp organization provided the best clinical treament in Japan, if if not the world. Akira's time to die would come, but not tonight.