The Worcester Connection

Jennifer Kagemoto had a bit of a problem. It wasn’t the fact that her father expected her to kill someone. At seventeen years old, she was the most gifted hitman in Massachusetts, costumed or otherwise. No, the problem was who she had to kill.

She held one of her guns, a large nine millimeter pistol with a silver cutaway slide and black frame. Its twin was on the table, the slide pulled back. Suddenly, there was a clattering noise. Jen looked up to see the door to her hideout (a shipping crate in a Worcester industrial park) slide open. There was her father’s lawyer and her confidant, Ken Watanabe. “So,” he said, in his loud, twangy voice, “are we going to take down your dad?”

Despite their shared Japanese-American ancestry and upper-class status, the two could not be more different. Ken was a forty-something year-old man from Texas and let everyone know it, from his cowboy boots, to his large belt buckle, to his ten gallon hat. He also had come from quite hardscrabble beginnings, but with a very caring family. Jen, meanwhile, was a somewhat sophisticated teenage girl who had been uprooted from Worcester to move to Boston at the start of high school. Her family, while rich… wasn’t exactly functional. However, the two had mutual respect and admiration for each other’s skills.

“Maybe,” Jennifer said, glowering a bit. “But I definitely am not going to kill my brother.” Her father had given her the order a short while ago. “The problem with killing my dad, though,” she continued, “is that he still has some safeguards against his death. I don’t want to kill him only to have one of his loyal henchmen come after me.” She punched the table. “Damn! Ordering me to kill Brian forces my hand.

“If I may…” Ken said, “you didn’t pay attention to his exact words.” Jen turned to look at the somewhat overweight lawyer. Once Ken entered the shipping container and closed the door, he said, “your father’s exact words were, ‘My son is a disappointment. Jennifer, please do something to correct it. Use your talents.’”

“The problem is,” Jennifer said, turning her chair around to face Ken, “how do I convince him Brian’s ‘fixed’ without showing him a body.”

“You still have to show him a body,” Ken said. “Mark, I mean, your father blames Mary-Anne for Brian’s lack of interest in the business. It’s kind of irrational, I know, but your father’s not a rational man.”

“And this is the only other option?” Jen asked. It was a shame. She liked Mary-Anne Taylor, or Mary as she called her. However, she liked her brother more. Seems you like power more than either, a voice whispered in her head. She shook it off.

“Only one I can think of,” Ken said. “She’s going to be at Wooberry’s tonight. She’s meeting some family. If you suit up, you can catch her.”

“Actually,” Jen said, “I think I’ll stay in my civvies.” A plan was already forming in her mind. If she was right, the only problem would be pulling the trigger. She had never killed anyone she liked before.

Richard Forrest Taylor was on a mission. That was the only reason he had set foot in the liberal cesspool known as Massachusetts. If his sister was in trouble, he was going to save her, no matter the cost. It didn’t matter that she had run away from home to have extramarital sex with some Jap, family was family.

The problem was that his sister didn’t want to be saved. “Listen, Richie,” his sister said, her Alabama accent coming out despite years of being forcibly suppressed, “I’m not going anywhere.” They were sitting by the window at a frozen yogurt place called Wooberry’s. Mary-Anne was sitting on a stool across from him, her black hair cut very short and her face set in determination. She was still wearing a blue uniform with black apron for Chartwell’s dining service. Apparently, she worked at one of the nearby college’s dining halls.

“Listen,” Richard said, “these people that dad’s dealing with are scary. They don’t like that you’ve been… hanging out with the people you’ve been hanging out with. Please, come back.”

“Richard,” Mary-Anne said, “I’d love to pretend like nothing’s happened, but I can’t go back. I saw things that you guys have done that can’t be unseen. Going back to you…”

“Then don’t go back,” Richard said. He wasn’t really keen on staying here. For instance, the girl in the red hoodie sweater and dark blue sunglasses had very disturbing bulges in her front pockets. The cop was also giving him strange looks. Richard continued, checking on these potential threats nervously. “Disappear. Run. You did it before. The police aren’t going to be able to help you anyway.”

“For once we agree on something,” Mary-Anne said. “Listen, I appreciate the warning, but my life’s been in danger here before.” A bell signaled the rear door opening, but Richard was distracted by Mary-Anne grabbing his hand. “If you’re really worried,” she said, “you could come up and stay with me and Brian for a while. Maybe I can prove he isn’t so bad.”

Richard thought about this for a long time. He wanted badly to say yes. However, he couldn’t. His father would be so disappointed.

“Never thought I’d live to see the day,” someone drawled sadly. Richard looked up. There was Jeb, one of his father’s best guns. “Two of Rich Forrest’s kids turning race-traitor.” Richard also noticed another one of his father’s men, Dale, wearing a trench coat and standing behind the police officer. Disturbingly, Dale had no arms in the sleeves of the coat.

Richard reached for the Colt Government Model on his hip, but Jeb was faster. “Don’t think about it, Junior,” Jeb said, his face sad as he aimed his Glock into Richard’s face. People screamed. The girl in the red hoodie froze, her spoon halfway to her mouth and her head studying the scene intently.

The police officer stood up suddenly, but before he could draw his gun, Dale had pulled out a pump-action shotgun and pointed it at the officer’s head. “I would advise sitting down, sir,” Dale said.

“You know,” Jeb said hopefully, ignoring what was going on behind him, “if you put your hands where we all can see them, I’ll pretend I never saw you here. How’s that, Junior?”

“I ain’t a race traitor,” Richard, “but the only way you hurt my sister is over my dead body.”

“God damn, kid,” Jeb said sadly, starting to pull back the trigger, “I really liked you.”

Suddenly, the girl in the hoodie and sunglasses wasn’t sitting down. Instead, she was much closer and standing up with two Beretta 92G Elite IIs with chrome suppressors. One was touching Jeb’s throat, the other was aimed at Dale. Fuck me, Richard thought as he reached for his Colt, she’s a fucking Jumper. That was bad news. Teleporting could seriously ruin his day if he wasn’t careful.

Before he could draw, one of the Berettas coughed. Jeb collapsed on the floor, blood spraying out his exit wound. Dale turned around, but the other Beretta went off three or four times. Dale staggered backwards, two entrance wounds in his chest and the shotgun falling from his grip.

Richard used the opportunity to draw his Colt. The officer also drew his service weapon. “All right,” the officer said, “Everyone drop your weapons right now. We don’t need to kill anyone else.”

Suddenly, there was a loud buzzing noise. “I’m sorry,” Mary-Anne said apologetically, “should I take it?”

Richard shrugged, the girl in the hoodie remained impassive. The officer said, “It couldn’t hurt, Mary.”

“Wait,” Richard asked the cop, “you know her?”

“Hi, Brian,” Mary-Anne said, “This is actually a bad time… Yeah, they’re already here…” Her face suddenly turned white. “There’s multiple groups of them?”

“GET DOWN!” the girl in the red hoodie yelled. “NOW!”

Richard didn’t need to be told twice. Shoving his sister first, he launched himself to the floor. It was just in time. As soon as he began his descent, the world erupted in gunfire and shattering glass, most of it seemed to fall on top of him. He landed directly on top of Jeb. To his horror, he realized that Jeb was still bleeding, possibly even conscious.

He looked up to see the officer return fire to whoever was outside. Someone else got up to run, but both were cut down by whoever was outside. The cop fell back as multiple rounds hit him in the ballistic vest he wore under his uniform. Eventually, a lucky one hit him in the stomach. The runner, a black girl, fell down right in front of Richard. Birdshot had embedded itself in her shoulder, eye and neck. She looked Richard right in the eye and gurgled something that sounded a lot like “help me.”

Richard wasn’t a doctor or well versed in first aid, but he doubted anyone could help her. Just like he doubted the guy in the blue shirt who tried to crawl to safety only to be lacerated by submachinegun fire was still alive.

Instead, he turned over to aim out the window, thankful that the leather jacket he wore protected him from the glass shards. He quickly realized that his line of sight out onto the main street was blocked by the table he had just been eating at. Behind him, someone else who was closer to the back door made a break for it. He was almost out when a shotgun barked. He stumbled, his white shirt turning red, but still made it out the door.

Suddenly, things got quiet. Well, assuming you didn’t count the moans of pain and whimpers of fear. “Are they gone?” he whispered to Mary-Anne.

“If they were going to go,” she whispered back, “they would have left already.”

Richard nodded, and grabbed Jeb’s Glock. Judging by the barrel it was a 17L. “You still know how to work one of these?” He quietly asked his sister.

“Yeah,” she said. “Knowing Brian’s family, I’d be stupid not to.”

Then they heard someone from across the street yell, “Shut up, Dwight!”

Dwight, at least Richard thought it had to be Dwight, yelled, “Fuck you, man! The pig got me in the arm!”

“Man,” a third person on the other side of the street said, “shut the fuck up about your fucking arm! You’re lucky that you didn’t end up like Yukki!”

A line of cars whizzed by, drowning out the conversation. When they passed, the people on the other side had stopped talking. Richard and Mary-Anne waited, not daring to breathe. Eventually, could see three large squares of cloth through the window. He didn’t have a clear view due to the wall and the furniture.

Someone outside pushed down the table. It revealed three startled Asian teenagers. One had a .22 pistol, one had a TEC-9, and another had a crappy shotgun. Richard fired three or four rounds into the center one and Mary-Anne discovered that Jeb had modified his Glock to be fully automatic by dropping the one with the TEC. The one with the shotgun fired, but he was aiming at another table. Richard pumped a few rounds into him.

After all the shooters were down, Richard got up. He looked down to see the one with the TEC struggling to raise his weapon. Richard fired three more times. On the final pull, instead of a bang, there was a click. He felt eyes on him. He looked out to the street to see a minivan parked in the middle of the road, all the doors open. There was a line of cars behind it. On the other end of the street was a restaurant, with people looking out through the windows in curiosity. Richard suddenly realized he was covered in blood and shards of glass while in full view of potentially dozens of people. “We need to go,” he said as he ejected the spent magazine, making sure to catch it.

“Yeah,” his sister said. Richard looked down. She had been scavenging Jeb’s spare mags. “Things are going to get a whole lot worse.”

Richard finished reloading his Colt. “You’ll have to tell me more about it on the way.” He suddenly realized that this was his last magazine, and it only had eight rounds in it. “How much time do we have?”

“Not a lot,” Mary-Anne said. “How do you feel about fighting Parahumans and cyborgs?”

Richard holstered his Colt and picked up Dale’s shotgun. It had a shell rack on the receiver and its sling also carried a few more shells. The people still in Wooberry’s flinched as Richard walked near them. “I’m glad Dale gave me this,” he said as he hurried out the door.

Jennifer was crouched on top of the building to the left of Wooberry’s. Having to stay out of the action always annoyed her. However, today she was grateful. Maybe I won’t have to kill Mary, she thought. Maybe those amateurs will do their job. She instantly felt guilty. Don’t think like that. Mary’s just another job.

In a way, this was annoying. She had never had to deal with her conscience before. She actually was proud of how she had felt little remorse. From family friends who suddenly ceased being friendly, to a begging snitch, she had always done her job.

Your job is quite horrifying, isn’t it? That voice in her head asked.

“Shut up!” Jen snarled to herself. She turned back to the massacre. The people shooting into the frozen yogurt joint had driven up in an old black Dodge Caravan. Jen preferred a brownish beige or silver Toyota Sienna on a job. They were much more common and gave a suburban soccer mom feel. She also would have walked into the premises before opening fire. The target would be dead, and no one else.

Of course, if she was guessing right, these were morons who were wanted for robbing a branch of a local bank. The thing they hadn’t realized was that this branch of the bank kept all its cash in an ATM… and no one there had a key to open it. Instead of doing the sensible thing and stealing it and moving it to a place to open later, they just had to try to open it at the bank. Jen wondered how they had managed to get away so far.

If they pull this off, she thought, I might have to hire them. I could use that kind of luck.

After a while, the shooting stopped. There was a pause, during which Jennifer assumed the people in the people in the minivan were reloading.  After a while, the moron brigade got out of their minivan and walked over to the frozen yogurt place.

Jen watched with interest to see what they’d do. Odd, she thought, there’s only three. I thought there were five of them. Maybe one of them got hit. She was distracted by the sound of gunfire. In the time she had spent musing, Mary’s brother had shot the three.

Hmmm… maybe they weren’t as lucky as I thought, she decided. Shame. Now I’m starting to root for my targets. She was startled again as the brother stepped out of Wooberry’s to finish off one of his attackers who wasn’t quite dead. Ha! Now I’m definitely rooting for them. Very professional.

She debated whether or not to jump back to Wooberry’s and finish them off. Memories of all the times she had spent with Mary flashed through her mind. They might have been from different places in the literal sense, but their families were pretty similar. Some of the things Mary had told her… Jennifer just couldn’t look her in the face and pull the trigger.

The solution was simple: Jen had seen where the brother had parked. From this building, Jen had a clear shot. One bullet to the head, and it would all be over. And once again, that little voice in her head said, you don’t have to deal with your actions.

Ignoring the voice once again, Jen picked up one of her pistols and aimed it at the back door. Eventually, Mary’s brother emerged, a shotgun in hand. He did a quick check of the surrounding area, then ran to his pickup truck. Good check, Jen thought. Shame you didn’t look up. For some reason, no one ever does.

His sister followed. Mary cautiously poked her head out. Jennifer squinted down the barrel of her Berretta, and began to squeeze the trigger. Suddenly, she remembered the time she and the team of capes she led for her father had been severely beaten by The Minutemen. When they had scattered, Jennifer had been suffering from serious jump fatigue, a concussion, and some serious cuts from Valkyrie’s axe. When she had gotten into her escape vehicle, she realized she couldn’t make it all the way to Boston. The nearest safe place she could get to was Mary’s apartment.

When she woke up the next day, she said remembered saying to Mary, “Thank you, Mary. I owe you.”

“Please,” Mary said, going back to making breakfast, “forget it. It was… you’re a friend.”

Jennifer laughed. The laugh hurt and caused her to cough. “Mary, please,” she said. “You know me. I don’t just owe you for hiding me. I also owe you for being my friend. I will pay you back.”

Back in the present, Jennifer raised her gun and flicked the safety on. “Dammit,” she said, blinking back tears. “I can’t kill one of my only real friends, can I?”

Suddenly, the burner phone she carried with her rang. She pulled it out of her pocket. It was Ken. “Hello?” she asked.

“Jen,” Ken said, “Daren Tanaka just convinced your dad to let Brian live. Your father decided that it would be more… beneficial to company morale to deal with Anne and leave Brian alone for the time being. He’s using a bounty system, which I find a little interesting.” Ah. Her father had canceled the hit on Brian and put out an open contract.

“I figured that last part out,” Jen said as Mary and her brother drove away. “I just saw some of his contractors make a spirited attempt. It wasn’t very successful.”

“Well, this should make life easier for you,” Ken said. “As your lawyer, I advise you to go home, or even better, catch a movie. Y’know, celebrate.” Translation: go back to her safe house, or even better, somewhere public. Be seen somewhere far away from any of the shit that was about to go down.

“Your advice is understood,” Jen said. Then she hung up. She knew he was right. She could (and more importantly should) just leave all this behind her. Just… leave.

But Mary was in trouble. She had to go save her.

In what Jen thought was a clever bit of planning, she had backed her minivan up against the building she was standing on. To save on jumps (the teleporting kind,) she could just drop down to the roof of it, then the hood, then the ground. After that, she quickly checked the undercarriage for GPS trackers or bombs (a habit she had developed out of necessity) and got into her car.

After that, she pulled out a device that looked like a civilian GPS out of her glove compartment. Well, technically, it was a GPS. It just also monitored data from trackers, like the one she had placed on Mary’s brother’s pickup truck. She pulled out of the parking lot just as she heard the police sirens approaching.

Richard just wanted to drive. The images of the frozen yogurt place kept replaying in his mind. In fact, he was sure his imagination was filling in some details. For instance, he couldn’t have felt Jeb’s heart still beating for a while, could he? And there wasn’t enough time for that last shooter to rasp “don’t” before Richard had finished him off, right? Right?

Anyway, he just had to get back to his hotel room and then he could think about the next step. After that, he’d have to consider a long term plan to save his sister. He turned to see Mary-Anne sitting there, staring out the window, Jeb’s Glock in her lap.

“Hey sis,” he said, “you ok?”

“Are you?” she asked, giving him a look.

“Yeah,” he lied. “Anyway, I recognized Jeb and Dale, but who were those guys in the minivan? Who was that girl in the red sweater?”

“Remember that phone call I got?” she asked. “That was Brian. His dad decided to put out an open contract on me.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Richard asked.

“That means,” Mary-Anne said, “that if anyone wants a hundred thousand dollars, all they have to do is kill me and drag my corpse to Mark Kagemoto.”

“Wonderful,” Richard said. “So, was that jumper in the hoodie an amateur who couldn’t hack it or something?” Mary-Anne laughed. Richard sighed. “I don’t think there’s anything funny about being attacked by a mutie.”

“You’re right,” Mary-Anne said, still laughing. “That was Hiniomoto Oniko.”

“You mean to tell me,” Richard said, “that the leader of Mark Kagemoto’s team of capes had you directly in her sights… and did not pull the trigger?”

“Her real name’s Jennifer Kagemoto,” Mary-Anne said. “She’s… she’s Mark’s daughter, but she’s got reasons for wanting him dead, as well as reasons for wanting me to live. ‘Course, she’s probably got some damn good reasons for killin’ me as well.” She sighed. “Half the time, I can’t figure out what she’s doing. The other half I can’t figure out what she did. But apart from Brian, she might be the closest thing we’ve got to an ally.”

“Well,” Richard said jokingly, “maybe she doesn’t like you sleeping with her brother.”

Mary-Anne glared at him. “Y’know,” she said, “there’s some traditions I’ve followed. Like keeping pure for marriage and going to church. I’ve just learned a bit more about Christ’s love then the rest of you.”

“Sorry,” Richard said. After a while, he asked, “Does she still have a grudge against the Klan? Because that could be a bit awkward if we end up working together.” A few years ago, a rare pro-Parahuman splinter group of the KKK, The Power Knights, had come to Worcester to hold a rally. Many local groups had objected strenuously. Then, something happened and the next thing everyone knew, a cape calling herself Hinomoto Oniko was claiming responsibility for the execution of The Power Knight’s leaders.

“The Power Knight fiasco wasn’t a grudge, really,” Mary-Anne said. “They messed with the Kagemoto’s business, Jen decided to remove them. ‘Tit for tat’ as she put it.”

“I thought that was the reason you wanted to get away from us,” Richard said. “You know, all the violence and hate.”

“It is,” Mary-Anne said sadly. “Then I met this nice man who understood exactly where I was coming from and we started dating. Eventually, I figured out why he and his little sister understood me so well.” She turned back to looking out the window. “I should have tried to get you to come with me,” she said after a while.

“I would’ve stopped you,” Richard said. “And, thinking about it, I’m glad you didn’t. You’re much happier up here than you would’ve been back home. Or were, before someone put a hit out on you.”

“But I could’ve gotten you out,” Mary-Anne said.

“Well,” Richard said, “you kind of did get me out of the frying pan. Only trouble is this fire we’re in here. But we can work it out.”

Mary-Anne smiled at him. “Thanks, Richard.”

An hour later, they got to the hotel. Before they left, they used some wet wipes Richard had in his glove compartment to get the blood off their faces. They then realized that their clothes were also soaked with blood. “Good thing I parked around the back entrance,” Richard said as he refilled his Colt’s empty magazine. “We can’t exactly walk in the front door looking like this.”

Hiding the various weapons they had as well as they could, Richard and Mary-Anne walked in through the rear door and quickly entered the stairwell. Richard was a little nervous, as the room was near the front of the building. However, they quickly walked down the second floor hallway. As they hurried, Richard began to feel good about their chances.

That changed when they got to the large window overlooking the parking lot. “Richard?” A voice asked. Richard and Mary-Anne turned around. “Aw, man, I hope that ain’t you.” There, aiming a Kriss Vector submachinegun at them, was Rhett Cormack. Richard, Mary-Anne and Rhett had known each other since pre-school.

“I’m saving my sister,” Richard said, looking Rhett right in the eye. “What else could I do?” Briefly, Richard considered going for one of his weapons. He decided against it. It was at point blank range, and Rhett was the fastest shot out Richard knew of.

“You could have followed your parent’s orders like a good son!” Rhett yelled. Underneath his trucker’s cap, tears were starting to flow down his eyes.

“Dammit, Rhett!” Richard yelled back. “They want to kill their own daughter to please some mystery group! Wake up!”

“I’m sorry, Richard,” Rhett said, “but…”

There was a ding. Rhett turned to face the elevator to his left, but before he could turn all the way around, there was the thwip of a silenced pistol and the sound of something passing through glass at high speed. Blood spattered the window as Rhett fell to the floor, making a horrific, yet barely audible gurgling sound.

A feminine figure in dark red Samurai-inspired body armor strode out. Her hair was done up in a ponytail and some of it framed her slender face. The face itself was covered by a white mask with horns, painted lips, and, most disturbingly, glowing blue eyes. However, Richard kept his eyes fixed on the twin silenced Berettas the woman held, one of them smoking slightly.

“You know,” she said as she turned to face them, “This whole saving the day thing feels quite good.” Next to her, Rhett tried to raise his Vector. Without even bothering to look at him, the woman double-tapped him in the chest. “I’ll have to be careful,” she said jokingly as she pulled the trigger. “Next thing you know, I’ll be joining the Minutemen.”

Jennifer pulled her minivan into the parking lot. Once she parked, she clambered into the third row of her Sienna and opened a package. Inside was her costume. She placed her Berettas on top and removed her shoes and hoodie to reveal the bodysuit beneath. With the sweater on, it looked like she was wearing yoga pants, but they were actually designed to passively maintain a comfortable temperature from zero to ninety degrees Fahrenheit.

The first part of her costume she put on were the gloves. Most of the stuff she had was treated to not pick up finger prints, but she didn’t always touch her own stuff. Then she stuffed her feet into the steel-toed boots. Next was the breastplate, then the leg pads, then the pauldron, then the arm guards.

As she was checking to make sure that the various items she had were in their proper place (small holdout pistol in her ankle plates, smoke/flash bombs in her belt, and a small throwing knife concealed in the buckle) she saw a figure walking into the hotel lobby. He was dressed in a denim jacket and a trucker hat and clutching his side. Something cylindrical was hanging out from under the jacket. It glinted in the exterior lights around the building.

“Shit!” Jen said, grabbing the last piece of her costume. “Shit shit shit shit!” This last piece was a ceramic Noh mask. It was custom-made to have glowing eye pieces and have gas filters in the nose. In Jen’s opinion, the stab and bullet resistant capabilities were nice, but it was the terror that it inspired that she liked about it.

Quickly grabbing her pistols, she exited the minivan and walked into the lobby, trying to seem in control. She had only made one jump tonight, but it was a blind jump done in a panic and now she could hear whispers. She wasn’t sure she wanted to make another jump just to close the distance with the gunman. As a result, by the time Jen had got into the hotel, the elevator doors had closed. Luckily, the man hadn’t noticed her.

Between her hurry to see where the elevator stopped and her focus on looking casual, she didn’t notice the lack of screams from the receptionists until she had pushed the call button with the silencer of one her pistols. She looked at reception. There was only one on duty, a blond woman with several nose piercings bent over a book. Nothing unusual, just an employee reading on duty… and not turning any pages.

Jen was a little curious. Maybe the woman was just oblivious. Then Jen noticed a mixture of ozone, copper, and burnt vinyl. She walked over to the desk. An almost imperceptible cut was in her breast, going straight through her heart. Behind the desk, another receptionist had been beheaded. Both wounds had been cauterized.

Jen knew of only one weapon that could do that. It was owned by one of her subordinates who went by the name of Bushido. Bushido was a Japanese scientist who had made several inventions, including a super-heated sword capable of instantly cauterizing wounds. When the company he worked for fired him, he hadn’t taken it well. Somehow, he had ended up pledged to her father with the exact same alias that every third-rate cape with Japanese origins called themselves. It was almost as bad as an American cape calling themselves “The Patriot.” In summary, Bushido may have been smart, but he was also an uncreative asshole who was completely loyal to her father.

“Of course you’re here,” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “Why wouldn’t you find another way to fuck my plans over.” The elevator came down, and Jen walked over to it. She angrily stabbed the button for the floor the mysterious gunman had gone to.

When the elevator doors slid open with a ding, she saw the gunman pointing a submachinegun at someone. The person noticed Jen and tried to turn around, but Jen casually shot him in the neck. He collapsed, desperately gurgling.

Ignoring her victim, Jen walked out into the hallway. “You know,” she said, turning to face Mary and her brother staring at her in horror, “This whole saving the day thing feels quite good.” Deciding to put a few more rounds into the gunman, she continued, “I’ll have to be careful. Next thing you know, I’ll be joining the Minutemen.”

When Mary and her brother just stared at her in horror, Jen said, “That last part was a joke. You know, something you laugh at.”

“I’m sorry, Je… I mean Oniko,” Mary said. “You just killed a childhood friend.”

Jen turned to the corpse. It had stopped leaking. “Sorry,” she said, making an effort to care for Mary’s sake. “Was he about to help you?”

The two siblings looked at each other. “No,” Mary’s brother finally admitted.

“Oh,” Jen said, holstering her Berettas, “before I forget, I’m Hinimoto Oniko, a friend of Mary’s.” She held out her hand for him to shake.

“Why aren’t you calling her by her full first name?” the brother asked suspiciously, not taking the offered hand.

“All my friends up here just call me Mary,” Mary said. “It’s just… easier that way. Now shake hands with the nice lady, Richard.”

Warily, Richard walked forwards and grabbed her hand. “You know,” Jennifer said, “I don’t bite.”

“It ain’t the biting I’m worried about,” Richard said, still very wary, “but more the shooting and stabbing parts that concern me.”

Jen laughed. “I was right about you! You can survive more than fifteen minutes here.”

They were distracted by the sound of squealing tires. Outside, three SUVs pulled into the parking lot. One stopped in front of the main entrance, the others circled around the back. Four people got out of the stopped one. They all seemed to be rednecks with assault weaponry.

“That’s Uncle Joe’s crew,” Richard said. “We need to get to our room and…”

“If I’m guessing right,” Jennifer said, drawing her pistols, “Bushido is waiting for you in your room.” She added for Richard’s benefit, “which is bad. Let me deal with him.”

“And we’re supposed to take an army of ex-Marines on by ourselves?” Richard asked.

“That’s easier than fighting Bushido,” Mary said, pulling out a long-barreled pistol and pointing down the hall behind her. “Our room number is 210.”

Jen walked quickly to the marked room. Happily, it was facing the rear parking lot. Good. He hadn’t seen her come in. If she played her cards right, she might even be able to get him to help. Clearing her mind, she made the jump.

Instantly, she knew that she should have just knocked on the door and called to Bushido. Now that she was in The Unknown, the place Jumpers went between jumps, the whisperings became rumblings in heinous tongues. The geometry super-imposed on her vision was warping… changing… even more wrong than normal. She could also sense something watching her… and moving closer.

There were also physical effects now. There was an odd pressure in her head, and her stomach was getting a little upset. Plus, all the moisture in her mouth was gone and she was beginning to sweat. She swam through the shifting mass, somehow able to “see” back into her own dimension until she found room 210. It was brief, but it felt like an hour. Seeing that Bushido was sitting on the toilet, she decided she’d appear leaning on the wall opposite him.

When she landed, she had to fight to keep from vomiting and she could hear the strange language just as loud as when she had been in the Unknown. However, she was able to speak calmly. “Hello, Bushido,” she said to the man dressed like a biker samurai from the future. “The boss sent me.”

Bushido really did look like a futuristic biker. He was dressed in an all-black jumpsuit with various armored pads inspired by samurai. It was ok, except for the fact that the mask showed a sort of ghost-samurai mask. It was a cool effect, and if she didn’t know him, Jen would be impressed. However, she did know him, and it was just another sign of his insufferable devotion to an outmoded code.

“Kagemoto-sama,” Bushido said, his Japanese accent as thick as usual, “I was not aware your father had informed you of this operation.”

As usual, Jen thought, you are quite the suspicious bastard.

“First off,” Jen said, “I have no idea who this Kagemoto person is. Second, the boss wants you back at headquarters, not to play twenty implied questions with his most valued lieutenant.”

“Let me be specific,” Bushido said, “Your father specifically did not want you to know about sending me after Mary-Anne.” Jen noticed that he had a small orb in his hand that he was rubbing back and forth.

“I actually didn’t know that,” Jen lied, adding just a dab of malicious glee to her voice for good measure. “The boss just said to come collect you.”

“If that is so,” Bushido asked, “why are your guns drawn?” With that, he lifted up the hand he had the small ball in. Before he could throw it, Jen opened fire with her twin Berettas. The ball wasn’t thrown with force. Instead it just dropped.

Bushido, switching tactics, reached for something on his belt. Jennifer quickly decided that she didn’t want to find out what it was. She quickly did another blind jump, holstering her pistols as soon as she was inside The Unknown.

Swimming through The Unknown, she got back outside the door. However, she had landed back in her world a few feet up. Instantly, she felt sick. She got to her knees and lifted the mask off her face just in time to barf. The voice was now much louder, but something was blocking it. The horrible feeling  of being buried alive told Jen that the button on Bushido’s belt had opened up a miniature anti-jump field.

After she was done, she put her mask back on and stood up. From the rear of the building, she could hear gunfire. Ok, she thought, so I now know two things. First, subsonic hollow point bullets are terrible against the body armor Bushido makes. Second, apparently he can also make a portable anti-jump field. Why he doesn’t just start his own company I’ll…

She was interrupted by a white-hot katana blade stabbing through the door, smoke pouring out through the gash. It had some trouble with the lock. Ha ha, Jen thought. That idiot doesn’t even know how to open a door.

Bushido quickly cut through the locking mechanism, then kicked the door open. As he stepped out, Jen was pleased to see that his face mask had some spiderweb cracks from a few of her bullets. Before he could turn around, she charged forward and grabbed his sword.

“You know,” Jen said, while they struggled, “you’re a very good inventor. But you’re just terrible at being a hitman. Everything you’ve done, from the Rosa Martin job to your fight with Midnight Rider. Someone actually agreed to throw a fight in your favor, and you still managed to lose!”

“Your problem,” Bushido said, “is that you are arrogant!”

Good, Jen thought, he’s monologuing back. Now let’s see if I can figure out how to shut off his anti-jump field.

“You have become so convinced you are the greatest supervillain,” he continued as he drove her back into room 210, “that you have not considered the possibility I have placed a tracker on your uniform, despite the fact that I made your uniform.” An explosion in the distance caused them both to stagger. Jen still was focused on finding and shutting off the anti-jump field. “Nor that I would have given the monitoring device to your father!”

It has to be the red button on his belt, Jen decided. That’s what he was reaching for. Also, it wasn’t glowing before.

“Firstly,” Jen said, “I am the greatest supervillain. Secondly, I knew about your little device which is why I had someone else reverse-engineer this costume. And third, that button looks important.” With that, she kneed the button.

Instantly the belt fell off. “Baka!” Bushido yelled, kicking the belt behind him. “Anata ga chōdo yatta nin’i no aidea ga arimasu ka?” Jen knew enough Japanese to know that he was asking if she knew what she had done. Also, that he thought she was an idiot.

That was all the warning Jen got. The explosion that followed caused them to stagger closer to the window. Jen used everything that twelve years of Judo, Karate and ballet had taught her to spin Bushido around and give him a shove.

“What have I done?” she asked triumphantly as Bushido hit the window with a crack. The window didn’t break, but it was close. “I won.”

Before Bushido could regain his balance, Jen launched into a flying sidekick. It was perfectly executed. The window cracked and Bushido fell out, screaming all the way down. Jen watched him fall. After a while of watching Bushido not move or go for his dropped sword, she did a jump down.

It was a line of sight jump, so she shouldn’t have had any trouble. However, something scaly still managed to stroke her face. Shuddering slightly, she bent over and picked up the superheated katana Bushido had made. Then, with all her remaining strength, she shoved the blade downwards into Bushido’s face just to make sure he was dead. When she pulled it out, she realized it had gone through the hitman’s face and deep into the pavement below him.

After she removed the blade and figured out how to turn it off, she inspected it as it rapidly cooled. “You,” she said to the hi-tech sword, “I like you. I’m keeping you.” She then removed Bushido’s sheath for in and attached it to her own belt. Then she sheathed the sword.

As she reloaded her pistols, she considered the best way to get back up there. She had attracted the attention of something in The Unknown, and it was somehow able to grab onto her while she did quick jumps and its calls were so loud, she was surprised the earth wasn’t shaking.

Might be better to do a blind jump, Jen thought. To see what I’m up against.

She instantly regretted it. As soon as she was in The Unknown, she saw three tentacles in a triangle formation blocking her way. “Alright, you creepy pieces of shit,” Jennifer said, “Let’s see how you like the taste of lead!”

It turns out they didn’t mind so much. They just kept coming, and eventually a fourth joined them. By the time she had gotten back to the second floor, her pistols were out of ammo. She reappeared in front of the elevator, feeling completely beat.

In front of her, she saw that the person she had killed earlier still had his submachinegun. Shaking slightly, due to the headache and what felt like the beginnings of a bad fever, she reached over and slung it over her shoulder.

Standing up gingerly because of how lightheaded she felt, she walked to the rear of the hotel. There, she saw Richard sitting on the ground. “Richard,” she asked, trying not to vomit, “where’s Mary?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, somewhat dazed. “They got blew up the stairwell and we got separated. I don’t know what floor she’s on.”

“I’ll find her,” Jen said. She drew her newly-acquired sword and submachinegun and jumped again.

Instantly, she saw several things. The first was the tentacles. There were now dozens of them and they were all around her. She also saw a group of four rednecks with assault weapons waiting for the elevator in the lobby.

Most important, though, was the two people on the third floor. One was an elderly man with a long gray beard and a SPAS-12 shotgun. He was aiming it at Mary, who was lying on the floor, her pistol empty and her leg bloody. A cloud of buckshot was heading towards her. Luckily, being in The Unknown gave her a lot of time.

With a scream of fury, Jen swam forwards, slashing at the tentacles with her katana. The sword actually cut clean through the things, causing the beast to scream in agony. Its screams were so loud and shrill that Jen thought her head would literally split, but she managed to get all the way to where she was going.

When what felt like a truck hit her in her armor’s chest plate, she knew she had reappeared in the right place. The force caused her to stagger, but, much to the surprise of both herself and the bearded redneck before her, she kept on her feet. She also had vomited in her mask. She smiled at the man’s look of surprise.

That’s it you bastard, she thought, I’m your fucking death.

That thought, and an attempted decapitation blow, was interrupted by another shot from the SPAS-12. This one knocked her over.

Behind her, Mary screamed, “JEN!” Then the redneck’s shotgun barked again.

As Jen struggled for breath, her head ringing from her headache, the bastard who had shot her walked towards her, until he was towering over her. He then pointed his shotgun at her face. “Any last word, bitch?” he asked.

In response, Jen shoved the sword into his gut. It penetrated through his digestive track, lungs, and heart with minimal effort. The man dropped his SPAS-12 in shock. Then he fell over, smoke gently flowing out his gaping mouth and his wounds. “Yours sucked,” Jen spat, fighting to make her bruised lungs work.

Letting go of the sword, she began to crawl over to Mary’s corpse. “Mary,” Jen said, still struggling to breathe, “its ok. I’m alive. The man’s dead… Mary, please answer me.” She took off her mask. Instantly, she was refreshed by the lack of vomit being smeared against her face. “Mary… why aren’t you answering me?”

She knew why, deep down. But from her position on the floor, she could just see Mary lying there so she could still pretend. Jen finally got to look at Mary’s face. The shotgun blast had split Mary’s head open, but had somehow managed to keep the face perfectly intact. Mary’s normally calm and happy face was frozen in horror. Jen instantly wished it had been pulped. That way she could pretend her friend was still alive.

Hugging the corpse of what used to be one of her two friends, she began to cry hysterically. All she could do (and all she wanted to do) was clutch Mary’s corpse like a security blanket and bawl and beg until Mary came back to tell Jen everything would be all right.

Then the elevator dinged. Pure, unadulterated hate buried the grief as Jen turned around, drawing her looted SMG. All right, you bastards, Jen thought, you’ve just killed half the friends I have. Now, I’m going to kill you.

Richard had been watching the elevator nervously. After Hinomoto Oniko had disappeared, he had felt it prudent, as the only other entrances now were in direct line of sight from the elevator. When it had first moved, he had been somewhat nervous. When it had stopped on the third floor, Richard breathed a sigh of relief.

That relief had evaporated when he heard the sound of automatic gunfire. The fear Richard felt was even more intense when the elevator began descending again. Richard aimed his shotgun at the door.

When the doors slid open, he was surprised to see that no one was in it. Then he heard a cold voice say, “Down here.” He looked down. There, sitting against the wall, a sheathed sword and Rhett’s Vector in her lap and her mask in her hand, was Hinomoto Oniko. Her face looked like she had hastily tried to wipe blood, vomit and tears off it. All it had done, though, was spread it and her mascara run.

“Where’s Mary-Anne?” Richard asked.

“Get in the elevator,” the villainess said.

Richard got in. “Where’s Mary-Anne?” he asked again.

“Press one.”

He did. “Where’s Mary-Anne?” he asked for a third time as the doors closed.

“She’s dead,” the villainess said.

The words hit Richard like a battering ram to the gut. His shotgun clattered out of his hands as he let it go. Thoughts raced around his head, none of them good. They killed her. My parents killed my sister.

“Hey!” the supervillain shouted at him. “Focus. I’m going to need you to help me. The cops could arrive at any minute, and your sister wouldn’t want you to be taken by them.” When she saw Richard nod. “Ok, when the door opens up, you’re going to have to carry me to your car. Once we’re there, you’ll need to put me on the floor of the rear seat. Then I’ll tell you the address of the safe house. Also, tell me when we’re out of the parking lot.”

Richard nodded. When the doors opened, he picked up the villainess and hurried her over to his F-150. It was a little hard getting her into the truck, but they did it. Richard then hopped in the driver seat and turned the key. “Ok,” he said, “GPS is up. What’s the address?”

“1235 dash 5 Monument Street, Concord,” Hinomoto Oniko said. “My lawyer lives there. He’ll keep us safe and not ask questions.”

“Got it,” Richard said. He typed in the address. “Hey, that’s where the first battle in the first Revolution was, right?”

“Yes,” Hinomoto Oniko said, “but you won’t be staying long enough to do any tourism.” Richard immediately recognized the threat and started driving. The supervillain continued. “You’re Mary’s brother, and I like you. However, if you tell anyone about tonight, you will jeopardizing plans. Plans that involve saving my brother.”

“Oh, I won’t be talking about tonight,” Richard said, slightly annoyed by the threats. “I’ve got some plans for what I’m going to do. My parents also have some good plans, so I’ll pretend I’m their perfect boy, and when the time comes, I’ll set fire to everything they love.”

“Good,” Jen said. “If that time comes, call me. I’d love to help. In the meantime, I’ve got a sociopath to appease and a brother to protect.”

“Sounds like we’ll both be busy,” Richard said. Already, a plan was coming together. There were a few people he knew on Stormfront that he suspected were faking. All he had to do was confirm it and he’d have some allies. One thing was for sure, though: Mary-Anne’s death would be avenged.

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