Track 17: Pachinko Violence

I heard the explosion outside when I cautiously begun to open the door. Whatever it had caused it, it sounded like it had came from the lobby. I decided that speed was now of the essence so I sprinted the short distance from the stairs to the rear exit. During that time, I heard the muffled sounds of gunfire coming from the lobby. By the time I had completed the five-second sprint to the door, it had ceased. It had sounded like both sides had contributed to around ten rounds fired.

Shit, I thought as I opened the door. Whoever these people are, they aren’t playing. I walked out into the late afternoon and began to head left. My plan was to double around and hope I could find John, so I made a left turn. Immediately, I saw that several people were fighting against the tide of people running away from the building. I made eye contact with one. He was wearing one of those single-ear earbuds that you see the Secret Service wearing. He immediately saw me and put his hand to his ear and started yelling.

“Fuck me,” I said, and began to run into traffic. A car skidded around me. “Sorry!” I yelled to the driver. When I turned around, I saw that someone holding a micro Uzi or MAC-11 had just come out of the Consulate’s rear exit. Thankfully, another car passed right between us.

Deciding that staying outside where there were clear lines of fire was a bad idea, I decided to run into the building with tacky neon lights directly in front of me. I crashed through the tinted double doors. Inside was a small lobby and a fat man in a suit that even I was able to identify as cheap. He stood up from his stool and began to say something, but I just ran past him and through the door he was guarding.

When I was in, I suddenly realized why the exterior was so tacky. This was a pachinko parlor. It was a pachinko parlor with the kind of clientele that wasn’t bothered by stuff like gunfire from across the street. I then began to head deeper into the pachinko parlor, making sure to zigzag a bit. I also moved casually so as not to disturb the people there.

Suddenly, I heard the door burst open and running feet. Eventually, the footsteps started getting closer. The rows were vertical with gaps and the feet were parallel to me so I froze in one of the gaps, pretending to inspect the machine and hoping the feet would pass. Most did, but one decided to run blindly down the hall I was hiding in.

When he got close, I reached out and jabbed my fingers into his windpipe. Like the rest of his friends, he was wearing business casual. He let out a startled choke and dropped just as a nearby unoccupied pachinko machines said “Phwoar!” There was an electronic trill, then I smashed the man’s head into one of the screens just as the machine said “Hit the lever!”

The gambler on the machine looked up just as I had finished collecting the downed man’s revolver. The gambler looked at the twitching hitman, then at me, then at my new revolver. Then he bowed and said something in Japanese, of which I only caught “sumimasen,” (which translates roughly as “pardon me” or “excuse me,”) then he nervously began to pretend to continue playing his machine. I flashed him a thumbs up, then scanned my surroundings.

That was the right move because had I not looked behind me, I would not have seen the guy behind me lean out with his Glock. It must have been a G-18 or some kind of conversion conversion, because the burst that followed me was definitely full auto. The sparking machines being hit made me feel like I was in some kind of John Woo movie.

Zig-zagging back roughly the way I came, I hoped my enemies hadn’t decided to leave guards by the entrance. The burst of micro Uzi fire dashed those hopes. I managed to backpedal, but some of the pachinko machines and one of the patrons weren’t so lucky. As his machine sparked, he lay on the ground, clutching his arm and screaming. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen.

Luckily, he wasn’t the only one screaming now. The parlor’s patrons had finally recognized that there was something hinky going on. I began hearing people screaming and yelling in other parts of the pachinko parlor. There were also a few gunshots. Underneath it, I heard the man guarding the door yelling at someone.

Hoping to God it was an opportunity and not him yelling at me, I leaned out from behind the row of pachinko machines and shot him in the face. Luckily, I had been right and he had been motioning for someone to get down. His finger hadn’t even been on the trigger.

Realizing I hadn’t much time and that the micro Uzi was too big to conceal, I didn’t bend to pick it up. I did glance down at the corpse and nudged it with my foot just to see if he was wearing body armor. Yes, he was. Good. Now I knew not to shoot them in the chest. My goal wasn’t to kill these guys, it was to get out safely. The more engagements and the longer they lasted, the worse off I would be.

On that note, I checked the chamber of my revolver as I entered the foyer. It apparently only held a maximum of five .38 special rounds, and I had already used one. In other words, I couldn’t afford to miss, or have a shot hit a plate. It was at that moment I decided I hated revolvers.

Hiding the revolver in my pants (yes, I know that’s a bad idea, but my only other choices were leaving it out or dropping it,) I then exited the street. Choosing a direction at random, I turned left. After a few blocks, I began wondering where the hell the cops were. After a few more blocks, I began to wonder why there was a white van following me.

When it started getting closer, I decided that turning into what appeared to be a tunnel of commercialism. Seriously, it was a building with an arch through it, and on the inside of the arch were a bunch of stores. I decided that my best bet would to be to find a clothing store that sold coats and sunglasses, buy them, put them on, then walk out the way I had come in. Or, considering I had nowhere near enough money, find something like a ruler I could use to jimmy a lock on a car. Or find another exit. Pretty much anything except what actually ended up happening.

A few moments, I saw the clothing store. I also found something standing right outside it. Something I thought I would never see. A line of payphones.

Not even hesitating, I ran to the payphones and began feeding it money. This was my one chance to talk to Charlotte. While the phone rang, I muttered, “Come on, Charlotte, pick the fuck up!” I also nervously scanned the crowd, hoping to God that I wouldn’t be shot in the back.

“Who is this?” A cultured British voice asked. It was Charlotte. Good.

“It’s me,” I said. “The guy who your Military Attaché just tried to drug.”

“Oh, God,” Charlotte said. “You saw Windbrooke, didn’t you? Why couldn’t you have gone one further a…” There was a pause, as I heard Eliza talking to Charlotte. “Oh bloody hell. Actually, never mind, you made the right choice. Why aren’t you calling on your cPhone?”

“They aren’t secure,” I said.

“What?” Charlotte asked incredulously. “They were designed by a Turing student. They’re unbreakable!”

“Ah!” a voice cut in from a different source. “That explains why it took me two hours to crack it. NSA encryption usually only takes me an hour and thirty minutes at most.”

“Who’s this?” Charlotte asked.

“That,” I said, recognizing Hiro Nakashima’s voice, “is the man who’s forced me to ditch all my electronic devices. Tell me, Hiro, how’d you get the cops to avoid us?”

“A magician never reveals his secrets,” Hiro said, “and you, Mr. Jacobs, have more important questions to ask me. For instance, how far away is the cleaner team?”

“I saw them following me,” I said. “If they remain true to form, I’d be surprised if it took more than fifteen seconds. If they’re better than I expect…” I scanned the crowd, “Well, then they’re probably already here.”

“What is your proposal?” Charlotte said. “Assuming you aren’t just trying to buy time.”

“It is a fairly simple one,” Hiro said. “Give us my ancestor, and everything resets. We will forget about the abuse of our hospitality, the murder of our men, and the damage to our political capitol.”

“That honestly sounds too good to be true,” I said. “What guarantee do I have that I can just walk out of here?”

“Nathan!” Charlotte said, shocked.

“Simple,” Hiro said, “we do not think that anyone like that should see the Architect. How long have you observed her, Mr. Jacobs? Three days? Four? It only took our psychologists a few hours to determine that she is mentally unstable. She is manipulative, violent, and obsessive. Does that sound like the kind of person you want to expose the Architect to?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Charlotte said. “We don’t give up the people under our protection.”

“Very high-minded of you,” Hiro said, “but not practical in the real world.”

“No,” Charlotte said, “discarding people like rags makes them wonder who’s next.” She paused. “Doesn’t this situation make you wonder, Mr. Nakashima? I mean, the Defenders spend a damn near unobtainable stone on your great-great-great-great whatever and lord knows how many millions of yen to keep her training current and within hours of getting her back decide to just… toss her away like so much garbage. All they spent on you was just a fancy four-year degree.”

The line went silent for a long time. “Hiro?” Charlotte asked innocently. “Are you still there? Or did I hit a nerve?”

“This offer,” Hiro said, his voice shaking, “can be redeemed by anyone. If either of you is truly loyal to the other, I would suggest taking it up.” He then hung up.

“I’m going to have to tell Jen about the offer,” I said, “but I don’t think she’ll go for it. These guys killed her brother over a five hundred year old feud. She’s about as likely to believe that promise as she is to root for the Yankees.”

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” Charlotte said, “and I’m not sure Jen is as honorable as you’re saying.”

“I’m not saying she’s honorable,” I said, trying not to feel sorry for a murderous gangster who could pass for a sociopath. “I’m saying her interests don’t align with theirs.”

“Do they align with mine?” Charlotte asked.

“I’m going to be honest,” I said, “apart from Mayu, you are rapidly becoming the only person who cares about keeping Mayu alive.” I sighed. “Keep an eye open for us. We’ll come to you.” She started to say something, but I cut her off. “Not over the phone, or near any other microphone connected to the net. People are listening.” I then hung up before she could fuck up any more than she already had.

 

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Track 16: Have Some Tea

“So,” I said as we walked by the second checkpoint, “Now do you admit I was right about leaving those things behind?” By “those things” I meant our weapons and armor.

John sighed. “Ok,” he said, “I admit it. We were almost screwed there. But we could have gone around it. Or we could have gone to the third-nearest consulate like I suggested.”

“Honestly,” I said, “I think we would have encountered some over-zealous police officers with metal detector wands there as well.”

“Yeah,” John said, “but at least I wouldn’t have had to deal with that asshole who patted me down for fifteen minutes. Seriously, if I wasn’t up to anything, I’d sue him for sexual harassment.”

“Well,” I said, looking at the free leather jacket with spiked shoulders I had been given, “we are dressed like bikers.”

The decision to go to a British consulate had been easy. The hard part had been choosing which one. We both agreed that the nearest one, considering we had just been on a murder spree in the city it was in, would be too hot for quite a while. John had wanted to go to the third-nearest one, but I thought it would be too far away. I had wanted to take the Escalade because it had tinted windows to protect us from prying eyes. John had wanted to take public transportation so we’d blend in. He also wanted us to at least bring some sort of weapon, whereas I thought that if we were going to take public transportation, we should avoid bringing anything that would set off a metal detector. Eventually, we had all gotten what we’d wanted and it had worked thus far.

“How much more further until we get to it?” I asked.

“Wait,” John said. He then pulled out a photograph, inspected it, then looked at a building a little down the street. “That’s it,” he said pointing to the building he had compared the photo to. “Should be it, just let me check the address.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re right,” I said. “I mean, it’s got a Union Jack and matching awning.”

“True,” John said, “but it could be some weird theme café.”

“The plan’s for you to wait outside until I come get you in case something goes wrong inside, right?” I said. “If it’s the wrong building, you’ll just see me a lot sooner than expected.”

John nodded. “Good luck, man.” As I walked away, he said, “You remember where the back-up point is, right?”

“Yeah, creepy dump. Hey, if it’s a weird café,” I said as I turning back to look at him, “you want me to get you a coffee or something?”

“Nah,” John said. “Save your money. You may need it for a payphone.” I laughed. “Hey,” John said, “don’t laugh. You might need one.”

“I know,” I said. And damn did I know it. However, I had a sneaking suspicion that if I needed a payphone in this country, I’d be well and truly fucked. I’d have to travel out to the boonies to find a place backwards enough to have them, and even then, there’d be a chance they’d have skipped payphones and gone straight to modern cellphones. Hell, I wasn’t even sure Japan had boonies.

I walked up to the door. Judging by the tinted glass and the sign on it that said “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Embassy,” it was probably the right place. I flashed John a thumbs-up and then opened the abnormally heavy door. Inside were two metal detectors leaving me no way choice but to walk through. They were manned by a Japanese police officer with an Akita Inu and two Brits in what seemed to be fatigues and Level IIIA body armor. Beyond them was a tasteful waiting room with prominent framed pictures of the Queen and what I assumed to be the Prime Minister and the ambassador to Japan. There were some other framed pictures including posters for British Invasion bands and famous paintings of even more famous British naval victories, all tastefully laid out but not as prominently placed or as expensively framed.

“…the bird’s puttin’ about the fookin’ Statue of Liberty,” one of the guards said in a Scottish accent, “an’ fook all’s ‘appening. An’ like some kinda mastermind, I says to ‘er, ‘the fook you still doin’ ‘ere, lass? There’s nought ‘ere!’ And then, just as I said that, she finds the bloody forklifts. She gets innae one o’ the things and starts rooning people down an’ she says to me, ‘An’ you said there’s nought ‘ere, ya idjit!”

With that, the three guards burst out laughing. The Scottish guard was about to say something else, but before he could start telling another story, I said, “Hi. I’m doing business with Charlotte Blackmoor-Ward. I can’t find her and I think she…”

“Oh fuckin’ ‘ell,” the other guard in fatigues said in a Cockney accent. “One of you.”

“Errr, excuse me?” I said. Everyone else seemed to be as confused. Even the Akita cocked its head and whimpered in confusion.

“Yeah, Purvis, what’re you on about?” the Scottish guard asked.

“When you get as many hours in Embassy detail as I do,” Purvis said, “you get to know the signs. Only the bloody loonies ask for a Blackmoor-Ward. Like ‘ow the Yanks get someone every few weeks askin’ about Area 51.”

“Well,” I said as patiently as I could, “there’s a first time for everything. I’m not crazy, and I do need to see Charlotte.”

Purvis rolled his eyes. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll humor you and see if anyone wants to talk to you.” He turned to head towards a reception desk. Over his shoulder, he called out to his fellow workers, “don’t let ‘im come any farther in unless I give ‘im the ok.”

When he got to the phone, he said, “Got someone down ‘ere, a bloody Two-Twenty-One…. No, not spouting off bollocks, just wants to see… What’s he look like? Got a beard and glasses… Yeah. Yeah.” He suddenly looked at the phone in surprise. “Really? I mean, of course, sir.” He looked up from the phone and said, “Right, you. Go up to the elevator. Third floor, Military Attaché’s office.”

“Thank you,” I said with some accidental venom. I walked into the elevator near to the left, my breath catching as I walked by the scanners. The police officer and his very big dog noticed, but said nothing. As I walked to the elevator, I took a quick note of map of the fire exits by the elevator. Apart from the elevator, there seemed to be only one staircase and exits were only on the ground floor. Luckily, the stairs would take me to the rear of the building.

I shook my head to clear those thoughts as the doors slid opened with a ding. No, I wasn’t going to need to run out of here. This was a secure building. The Defenders of Fuji would have to have someone on the inside to get in here on short notice. Or they’d have to use enough force to attract the attention of local police. I was safe.

The doors soon opened again and I found myself literally right across from the Military Attaché’s office. According to the plaque, his name was Lieutenant Simon Windbrooke. Before I could knock on it, the door swung open revealing a very high-strung man in a green suit with military bits. “Ah, Mr. Jacobs!” he said in an accent Eliza would refer to as “posh as fuck.” “Or is it Mr. Marshall? Either way, I have heard quite a bit about you.” He then laughed. It was the most annoying sound I’d ever heard in my entire life.

“Yeah,” I said. “Uh, I’m sure you realize that the stuff I’m involved in is kinda sensitive.” I paused, waiting for him to take my meaning. “Soooo, can I come in?”

“Ah, yes, of course,” Lieutenant Windbrooke said. “My apologies, I do believe I’ve left my manners in England.” He then gave a laugh somehow even more annoying laugh. “Do come in, I’ve brewed a cup of tea for you.”

He then ushered me into his office. Apparently, there were two rooms: his real office further in and a nicely furnished, if more than a little cramped, area he could meet with guests. On the wooden table was an electric kettle and a cup of tea. “Come now,” Windbrooke said steering me into the seat facing the teacup. “Drink up, drink up. You must have had quite a rough time of it, if what I’ve been hearing is true.”

I sat down. As I did, I noticed that Windbrooke had maneuvered himself into my blindspot. “So,” I said, carefully stirring my tea, “what have you been hearing about me?”

“Oh, Charlotte’s been worried sick about you two, dear boy,” Windbrooke said. “What with you being stuck with that vicious psychopath. Come on, drink  up.”

“Which one?” I said jokingly, after lifting the teacup but not drinking it.

“Why, Mayu Nakashima, of course!” Windbrooke said. “Girl’s been trained as an assassin, trapped in some alternate dimension, brainwashed about some mad god or other, and come back to find the plan she’s been programmed to carry out is obsolete. It’s a wonder she’s not a raving loony at this point.” He then suspiciously asked, “Who else would I be talking about?”

I tensed. Before, I had just had nagging doubts about Windbrooke. Like why there was only one teacup that he kept insisting I drink, and how it had been prepared before I had even walked in. Now, for some reason, he knew about the Architect and Mayu, but didn’t seem to realize that I was with Jen and her entourage. If Charlotte had been the one briefing him, he would know about Jen and would have no idea about the Architect or Mayu’s… thing about him.

Still stirring the tea, I asked, “So, how long have the Defenders had you on their payroll?”

An arm circled around my throat. The shock caused me to spill some tea on my leg. It was painful, but it gave me an idea. “It would have been so much easier,” Windbrooke hissed, “if you had AGGGH!”

He staggered back, clutching his face where I’d splashed hot tea in it. Before he could recover, I had gotten up and turned around. Making use of the momentum, I smashed the teacup into his face like brass knuckles. “Drunk my tea?” I asked. I then stabbed him in the neck with the remaining bits of porcelain still attached to the handle. “You first, I insist.”

As I watched him fall bleeding to the floor, I felt an odd mix of self-disgust and pride. Contrary to what you see in films, I’d never had an opportunity to drop a one-liner like that. I tossed the piece of china away, flung off the stupid biker jacket, then checked myself for blood. Luckily, it had only gotten on my face. As I dabbed at my face, I considered my options.

First thing I ruled out was going downstairs to explain what had happened to the two Consulate guards and the cop. At best, I’d be delivered to Charlotte wearing handcuffs. At worst, one or all of them could be working for the Defenders. That meant my best bet would be to get out of there by the rear staircase and hope none of the three decided to go on patrol. After that, I’d get John and start putting distance between us and the Consulate. Which direction, however, was the big question. I decided that I could answer that when I got to John.

Calmly, but purposefully, I left the office and headed for the stairs. Checking to make sure the stairwell door wasn’t set up to trip the fire alarm, I pushed it open. Before I went down, I looked down and listened to make sure no one was coming up. It was clear, so I headed down. As I headed down the stairs, I thanked God nothing else had gone wrong.

That’s precisely when everything else went wrong.

 

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Track 15: Cabin Fever

We got settled in pretty quickly, along with a lot of the bikers. We promptly sealed off a series of rooms all to ourselves. They seemed to be the section for people who actually lived in the farmhouse. Outside, we could hear our hosts making themselves comfortable. There were only three bedrooms, one master bedroom and two others. Jen got the biggest one, the Murakamis got one of the smaller ones, and Mayu got the last room. John and I crashed on one of the two couches in the common room area.

When I say “crashed,” that implies we slept and didn’t get up until morning. Instead, we ended up waking up every time we heard someone come our way. We had several tense exchanges where some person would knock on the door, only capable of speaking in Japanese and John would have to explain that we wanted to keep the room off-limits or that Jen was sleeping. Meanwhile, I’d be pointing the SIG at where the voice was coming from. Eventually, we just decided not to sleep.

Around 11 AM, Jen staggered out of bed in her pajamas (a modest white sports tank top and pink Dora the Explorer fuzzy pants,) mask dangling from her fingers in one hand, a pack of grits in the other. “Ugh,” she said, “that was a long night.” She turned and looked at us. “Why the hell aren’t you sleeping?” We explained. At that point, we were so tired, I forget who spoke and what we said. Jen just looked at us like we were hopeless. “Get some sleep,” she said. “You need it.”

Mayu walked in just as Jen finished pouring water into a tea kettle. The suite we had taken over had no windows in the common room. When Mayu had walked in, she had opened the door and showed us the light coming through the crack in her curtain. I suddenly realized how much I missed windows.

“Kagemoto-san!” Mayu said with a bow. “May I make a humble request of you?”

“I guess,” Jen said, turning on the stove. “Depends on the request, of course.”

“I need some paper and something to draw with,” Mayu said. Her manner was much more nervous than usual. I wondered if she actually did need it. “If it would not be too much trouble, of course.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Jen said. “Anyone have any other requests?”

“Yes,” I said. “John and I need more ammo and clothes that are clean.”

Jen took a sniff. “Yes,” she said, making a comically disgusted face. “You really do. Anyway, what kind of ammunition do you need?”

“Nine millimeter Parabellum and three-fifty-seven SIG for me,” I said, “and probably five-fifty-six NATO and ten millimeter auto for John.”

Jen sighed and lightly face-palmed when she heard this. “You couldn’t have brought anything they’d actually have? You know, like a twenty-two or thirty-eight?”

“Hey,” I said, “the original plan was that we’d be surrounded by a hundred Royal Marines and have an actual supply chain. Plus, I literally only had two hours to prepare.”

“And to be fair,” John said, “the assault rifle and the Uzi knock-off were salvaged here.”

“The Defenders of Fuji,” Jen said, “have an insane number of government contacts and are very creative. Getting military-grade weapons is probably the most benign thing they can do.” She shook her head. “Anyway, I’ll see what I can do. The pistol ammunition is doable. I think. You should probably give up on the rifle ammunition.”

“May I have a weapon?” Mayu asked. Everyone in the room immediately stared at her thoughtfully. “If the Defenders find us,” Mayu added reasonably, “you would need me able to fight.”

Jen nodded, then went to one of the pieces of luggage that had been scattered around the room. She opened a secret compartment and took out a Heckler & Koch VP-70 with a pink slide and matching silencer. “Here,” she said, holding the gun by the barrel. “We took a few spare guns from our armory. This one looked interesting.” Mayu took the gun and pulled the slide to check to see if it was loaded. “Can you work a gun?” Jen asked.

Mayu gave one of her huge eye-closing smiles. “Yep!” she said. “Not this one, but the Defenders sent us a lot of firearms to use.” To prove it, she ejected the magazine and locked the slide back, ejecting the round in the chamber. “You probably shouldn’t store it loaded,” she said after she put the mag in a pocket. “It’s unsafe and bad for the magazine.” She then sat down at the nearby table and began disassembling the weapon, a happy smile on her face.

“Well, have fun with that,” Jen said. “I’m going to have breakfast, then I’m going to put in our requests.” She held up the box of grits and shook it. “Anyone else want instant grits?” John and I raised our hands. Mayu was too busy happily examining the VP-70’s trigger group which she had just removed.

True to her word, after she had eaten her bowl of grits, she grabbed her mask and headed out the door. I was unsure how she was going to intimidate people while wearing fuzzy pink pants with cartoon characters, but I’m sure if anyone could do it, it would be Jen. Before she did, she gave Mayu a couple spare magazines for her new gun.

Jen came back in a short while. In that time, Mayu had stripped and reassembled the VP-70 several times, each time faster than the last. “So,” Jen said, “the clothes can be obtained quickly. In fact, they’re here.” To punctuate that sentence, she threw a couple garbage bags onto the floor. “However, the ammunition and any escape will take longer.”

“What about the drawing supplies?” Mayu asked, suddenly looking desperate. “When should those arrive?”

Jen, barely suppressing an eye roll, said, “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“But I need them!” Mayu said desperately.

“In between juggling appeasing newly-armed biker gangs and escaping a secret society trying to kill us,” Jen said, sarcasm dripping from her voice, “I promise to do my best to indulge your artistic tendencies. Deal?”

Mayu’s face froze in her desperate desire, apart from the occasional eye twitch. Finally, her face rearranged itself into its usual non-threatening smile. “Of course, Kagemoto-san.”

The next few days devolved into a pattern. At night, John and I would keep watch, despite everyone but Mayu suggesting it was unnecessary. Then, at around seven or nine in the morning, everyone would wake up and we’d have something for breakfast. Jen would go out and ask the bikers about the various favors we had requested. When she’d come back from the meeting, Mayu would ask her about the art supplies. This pattern would repeat after lunch and dinner.

On the second day, we got the ammunition and some bento boxes just before dinner. Mayu took exception to that. “How… how are these incompetents able to get ammunition before they can get art supplies?” she asked, a temple throbbing.

“I don’t know,” Jen said, obviously losing her patience. “Maybe, just maybe, it could be because they have much more fucking important things to do with their time!”

Mayu, ignoring Jen, loaded a paper plate with her portion of food, muttering, “Munona, munona, munona,” over and over under her breath. She then stormed off into her room still muttering. A few minutes later, we heard a muffled scream of rage. In response, Jen sighed in aggravation.

After a few minutes, I said, “Hey, Jen, can you ask if there is a nearby British consulate?”

“Actually,” Jen said, “there’s one in the city we just left.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not thinking of going back in there, are you?”

“How bad is it?” I asked.

“They locked the city down,” Jen said. “Municipal and Prefecture police and the JSDF have set up checkpoints throughout the city.”

“Ok, where’s the next nearest one?”

“You do realize,” Jen said, “that the Defenders of Fuji may have given the police your face?”

“I do,” I said. “I also realize that Mayu’s our ticket out of here and if you two spend too much more time here together, you’ll end up killing her out of sheer annoyance.”

“That is a risk I’m willing to take,” Jen said. “I don’t want to get arrested here. Even without the Defender’s help, I doubt I’d get less than life plus unnecessary additions.”

“If I may,” Hirosama said hesitantly, “the longer we stay here, the more likely our enemies will find us, and I doubt our hosts have the connections to arrange transport.”

“And,” Andrew spoke up, “I might be reading between the lines here, but your boy there might not want these bike guys knowing he’s working with the British.”

“Vice-versa,” John said. “At this point, I don’t give a fuck about our employers. Literally, the only reason,” he smashed his hand down on the table on the word only, “we are even in this Goddamn mess is that someone didn’t think this through.”

Jen blanched at that. I suddenly realized that Charlotte wasn’t the only one who was making rash decisions. “Speaking of our employer,” I said, “what do you think she’s doing?”

“No fucking clue,” John said. “But I kind of wonder how much of a force they can project.”

“Enough,” Jen said. “I was her roommate for two semesters. She’s clever.” She got up. “Still, I think we should give our hosts some time to do their thing. That seems safest.”

That effectively ended the conversation… at least until the very next day. The day went on as usual until Jen got back from her post-lunch visit. She walked in wearing her mask and a skirt suit, carrying a bag that seemed to be from some kind of art store.

“Well,” she said with a mixture of relief and forced cheer, closing the door with the heel of her shoe and raising her mask, “I finally have it. Here’s your art supplies, Mayu.” She set the bag on the table and then went over to the cabinet where she had stashed some food. She extracted a bottle of painkillers and a paper cup and downed two.

Meanwhile, Mayu eagerly began searching through the art supplies. First, there was a pad of paper that she seemed to appreciate. Then there were the colored pencils. There were two boxes, each with different colors. She scattered them out onto the table and began testing every brown on the first sheet of paper. As she did, her ecstatic expression began to become more and more forced. Then it began to become panicked rage.

“You know,” Jen said, walking over towards her, “when someone gets you a gift, it’s polite to thank them.”

“Three hundred and fifty.” Mayu’s voice, normally high and bubbly, was now a soft whisper. She had frozen, staring at the mass of colored pencils and the unsatisfactory scribbles she had made.

“Excuse me?” Jen asked, her voice conversational but with a dangerous edge.

“Three hundred and fifty colors,” Mayu said, visibly and vocally shaking, “and not one of them is the shade I want, you stupid reprobate.”

“I don’t think…” Jen began, her voice dangerous.

“BAKAAAAA!” Mayu screamed, launching herself at Jen, colored pencil in hand. She let out a burst of Japanese just as the colored pencil stabbed into Jen’s temple. As she ranted, she stabbed Jen over and over again, Jen trying to protect her face and neck with her arm. I didn’t catch most of it, but after several more stabs, it turned into “BAKABAKABA…”

Just as suddenly as she had launched herself at Jen, Andrew and Hirosama pulled Mayu off and flung her onto the floor. I didn’t have the best view of Mayu, but I saw her look of shock to have gone from stabbing someone with a colored pencil to being on the floor to looking down the barrel of a Glock and a Desert Eagle.

“Give us a reason why I shouldn’t pull the fucking trigger, bitch?” Andrew snarled.

“Because I said not to.” Jen’s voice, though at a reasonable volume, rang out through the room. Somehow, despite her two-inch heels and Mayu’s best efforts, Jen had remained standing. She was, however, bleeding from her face, side of her head, and arm. Andrew and Hirosama hesitantly began to raise their weapons. “Did I say to let her go?” Jen asked. Her voice was steady and conversational, yet dangerous. Andrew and Hirosama then turned their guns back on Mayu. Once Jen saw her orders were being carried out, she paused, visibly considering her options. As she did so, nobody even dared breathe.

Finally, she said, “Kaori, set a timer to fifteen minutes. Don’t start it until I say. Nobody. Else. Move.” Not even waiting to see if her orders had been carried out, she walked into the suite’s shared bathroom, still bleeding.

If any of us thought she was going to be tending to her wounds, those thoughts were challenged by the sounds of metallic clanking. After a while, she emerged carrying the hollow metal rod where the shower curtain was mounted. “Get her standing,” she said to Andrew and Hirosama. They did.

When Mayu was on her feet, Jen calmly said, “You just made your next fifteen minutes quite problematic.” Then she slammed the curtain rod down onto Mayu’s shoulder. Mayu collapsed with a cry of pain, and Jen tossed the now bent rod away and began stomping and kicking her.

I started forwards, but Lydia aimed her Glock and pointed it right at my face. I put my hands up and shut up. John obviously got the message as well.

Jen didn’t stop robotically beating Mayu until Kaori’s phone beeped. When it did, she stepped back and said, “Get up.” Mayu staggered to her feet. Her lip was split, her nose was bleeding and bruises were forming all along her unnaturally pale skin. “Let me be clear,” Jen continued, “you are here because I allow it. No other reason. You will treat me with respect, or the next time I won’t stop. Do you understand me?”

Mayu nodded. Jen then gave Mayu a brutal backhand across the cheek. “Answer me when I’m talking to you.”

Mayu kept her face turned for a few minutes, then turned back to Jen.  “Hai, Kagemoto-sama. I understand.” She then bowed.

“Good,” Jen said. “Now get the fuck out of my sight.” After Mayu scurried back inside her room, Jen, without turning to face us, said, “Nate, how do you feel about paying a visit to your friends?”

“Whenever you want,” I said.

“How about now?”

“Now works,” I said. “Does it work for you, John?”

“Yep,” John said, “I’m free.” With that, we left as quickly as possible.

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Track of the Day

Hey, everybody. Here’s something to do if you like this story. There’s this place called Top Web Fiction. Basically, think of it like the Top 40, except with web serials instead of music. To get on the list, I need to have at least seven people vote for me. A single person can vote for multiple serials, but can’t vote for the same one more than once a week. How does it help? Every time I get voted for, my listing moves further up. People looking for a recommendation will go there, and the higher up on the list NIU is, the more likely they are to see it. Right now, I only need four or five votes to get on the list. I only need ten to get into the top 30 of 45. I only need fifteen to get into the top twenty. How do you vote for NIU? Click here.

Nowhere Island University’s Second Anniversary

A quick thank-you post on my personal blog.

t4nky

So, it’s been two years. Two years since this became a thing. I’m not going to say that this is the serial that changed everything, or will change everything. Honestly, if you go solely by numbers, NIU should have changed nothing. However, numbers lie a hell of a lot.

For instance, my life has been changed. Whether for better or worse, its hard to to say. I mean, I’ve only been doing this for two years. I can say that thanks in part to the internet, and thanks in part to whoever is reading my little ramblings, I am living my dream of being a world famous author. (Ok, definitely not famous, but people all over the world are reading this, and thinking about it gives me this wonderful mix of sheer panic and joy.)

Seriously, though, I would like to take this time to thank some people. I…

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Track 14: Leave Your Lights On

As soon as our former captive was buried in the ground, Jen smiled and said, “Well, that was easier than I thought it would be.” She slipped her mask on. As it went on, the eyes began to glow blue and the mask began to filter her voice. “Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get into character.”

With that, she turned on her heel and walked to behind the Escalade. “Has…” Lydia asked, “has she ever needed to get into character before?”

Hirosama shrugged. “Not for this. I mean, she usually needs some time to prepare for talking to a court or her father.” His wife shot him a dirty look. “But she is our leader. We should not question her on this.”

I was listening to this, but only enough to hear if they noticed me moving after her. I doubted I was the only one who had noticed her voice crack, or how she was obviously lying when she said how easy it was. Or maybe they did. Jen’s pet supervillains seemed unquestioningly loyal, but they weren’t her friends. I thought it would be best to do a “perimeter check” and if I ran into Jennifer, maybe ask her how things were going.

When I got to where Jen had disappeared, I saw that she was leaning against the car, the horns on her mask touching the window. Her shoulders were also shaking. “Are you ok?” I asked.

She looked up. There was a long silence. I didn’t know what to think for those few seconds, apart from how genuinely terrifying she looked in that mask. I was starting to worry that I had offended her in some way when she suddenly hugged me.

“Um…” I said as our body armor clanked together. I was about to complain about how tight she was hugging or how I was currently dating someone else. Then I noticed how much she was trembling. There was also the strange staticky noise that I realized was what her mask’s voice changer did to sobbing. Hesitantly, I hugged her back.

“Everyone I love dies,” Jen said.

“It’s ok,” I said. “It’s ok…”

“And then I let them down!” Her sobbing doubled as she said this. “Every time!” Her hug tightened and then she said something that, between her voice changer and her sobbing, was incomprehensible.

I was unsure of what to do. On the one hand, at least for the moment, I need her badly. On the other, I wanted to avoid her. She was a liability, and not the kind I could (or wanted to) solve with violence.

Suddenly, there was a giggle. Jen let go of me like she had been burned and began adjusting her costume and looking innocent. I turned around. To my complete lack of surprise, Mayu was standing behind us, a hand covering her mouth. “I’m sorry to intrude,” she said.

“No you aren’t,” Jen said. A bit of her old self had returned.

“Are we needed out front?” I asked, trying to be conversational. Inside my head, I was thinking, Please don’t tell Eliza, please don’t tell Eliza, please don’t tell Eliza. Honestly, I think Eliza would have understood. I just didn’t want Mayu being the one to tell her.

Before Mayu could answer, Jen said, “I might as well head out. They’ll be here shortly.” She then walked off. I followed her. When she was back in front of the car, Hirosama opened his case he was carrying and presented what was inside to Jen. She nodded and took out two chrome and black Berretta 92G Elites. “Thank you,” she said as she holstered them. Hirosama then bowed and closed the case. After Jen had finished putting away the guns away, she said, “Well, our friends have another five minutes. I’m not really in the mood for games tonight.”

I relaxed. This was Jen getting back to normal. This was good, at least in this situation. Unless she started a fight, which would be bad. I pulled my mask down and arranged my PM-9 in a way that was easily accessible but not as threatening as it could be. I noticed that Jen’s associates were putting on surgical masks. We began to wait.

Around four minutes in, John noticed almost everyone else was wearing some sort of mask. Belatedly, he pulled his ski mask down. A few minutes later, Mayu began to realize she was the only one not wearing a mask and began to fidget nervously.

“Well,” Jen said, around ten minutes after they should have arrived, “this seems to be a bust.” At this point, it was almost dawn. The night was so dark that the eyes of Jen’s mask were really the only source of light. Apart from the wildlife and the occasional car, silence reigned. “I’ll give them another ten minutes, then we pack up and move to the back-up safe house.”

A few seconds later, I heard the sound of a group of multiple loud engines moving perpendicular to the freeway. “Wait,” I said, “how many people did you say were going to be meeting us?”

“I didn’t,” Jen said, “but there shouldn’t be that many.” I raised my PM-9 and John raised his Type 89. “Wait!” Jen said hurriedly, gesturing for us to lower our guns, “I didn’t say it wasn’t them!” We lowered our guns and took our fingers off our triggers, but didn’t take our hands of the grips.

As we did, a group of motorcycles turned down a corridor of corn farther up in front of us. Eventually, a formation of ten to fifteen motorcycles, two sports cars (I couldn’t tell their make and model due to the lights blinding me,) and one panel van were arrayed in front of us. The formation seemed to be set up so that the bikes acted as a screen for the sports cars and van. The bright halogen lights were good at preventing me from getting a good count on the men or a read on their equipment, but they seemed to be bikers. This assumption was based on the chains, pipes and giant pompadours.

The door of one of the sports cars opened, and a man exited the vehicle and began walking towards us. As he began walking towards us, four of the bikers got off their bikes and formed a sort of shield around him. “Hey, Jen,” I asked, preparing to raise my PM-9, “how close should we let them get?”

“Oh, stop being so jumpy, Nate,” Jen said somewhat dismissively. “They need more from me than just guns.” I nodded, noting that she had the straps of her holsters undone.

“Oi, Kagemoto-san!” the man who had gotten out of the sports car said as he got within ten meters, “you brought more people than agreed. What gives?” I noticed that part of the reason the lights of the bikes and cars were still on is that I could only make out the vague outlines of the people coming towards us.

“We ran into problems,” Jen said simply indicating John and me with a wave. “My two friends came to help, then they talked me into the rescue business.” She laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not going into the superhero business… at least not full time.” Her voice became serious again. “Anyway, I need a place to stay. In exchange, consider the guns a gift.”

The gang leader stared at John and me long and hard. “So,” he asked, “who are your friends?”

“Tourists,” John said. “Our AirBnB rating is five stars.”

“I highly doubt that,” the man said, “considering that either of you on your own outguns all of us.” He was right. I saw some chains, a few brass knuckles, and a lot of lead pipes and baseball bats. Not a single person, however, seemed to have any kind of firearm.

“Well,” I said, trying not to choke on my words, “if you want to change that, these guns we’re…” I actually did choke there. “…just giving away are very good.” I made them, I should know. “Just out of curiosity, why are there so many of you here? Do you really need this many people to make a buy?”

“Well,” the man said, “there was an incident in the city. Three cops are dead. Would you happen to know anything about that?”

“We want the same thing as you do,” Jen said. “We want a place to lie low and not have to worry about police officers. And honestly, I think we want to leave this country more than you want us gone. In exchange, I’ll send you a few gifts from time to time.”

There was a long pause “If I help you,” the gang leader said, “you will never set foot in this city again, you will never set foot in this prefecture again, you will never set foot in this country again and you will never contact me directly again.”

“Unless you change your mind,” Jen said, “I will never contact you directly ever again.”

The leader sighed and said something in Japanese that I hoped translated to “Good enough.” He then motioned for his people to check the boxes. They quickly broke into the crates and began picking up random and breaking down the guns or inspecting the bullets. As they did, they chatted to each other, expressing interest and surprise.

Eventually, one turned to me and said, “These kinds of guns, I’ve never seen them before. Are they good?”

“On paper?” I said, “very good. In practical terms? They’re still pretty experimental. I can’t give you any real details, I didn’t design them. You should note that they use proprietary ammunition and the pistols try to get away from you.” Yes, that’s it, Nate, keep badmouthing your own products. That way they won’t suspect who you are. “Also, I’m pretty sure the guy who made it is an idiot whose company gets by on child labor.”

“So?” the gangster said. Then he went back to talking to his friends. I went on looking for signs that the deal was going to go bad. There were none and the men packed the guns into the van. When they were done, the leader said, “Get back in your car. I’ll show you where the safe house is.” He turned around and shouted something in Japanese to his men. The other sports car, two thirds of the bikes, and the van scattered. A few motorcycles drove past us, but I noticed that they gave us a wide berth.

When we were finally in the car, we saw the sports car the gang leader had arrived in do a donut and drive back the way it came, albeit at a slower pace. The remaining bikes followed it and we followed those bikes. We drove through the maze of maize (ok, it might have been something else) until we got to a farm house. There, we could finally make out that the boss had been driving a Lamborghini.

“Ok,” the boss said as we got out of the Escalade, “this farm was recently abandoned. We bought it because we were going to see if we could grow weed here. There are other safe houses, but the police have been busy in the past few hours and started to set up road blocks and raiding places left and right. Something about a terrorist attack.” He turned to look directly at Jen. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you, Kagemoto-san?”

Jen simply looked at the farmhouse. “This is a very good hiding place.” She turned back to the gang leader and bowed. “Thank you for this favor. Someday I will return it.” She seemed genuinely grateful, but to me it sounded like a threat.

The gang leader must have thought it sounded ominous as well, because when he returned the bow he said, “Just don’t cause any additional trouble. That is all I ask of you.”

Jen, unable to keep her mouth shut, said, “Me, cause trouble? What makes you think that?”

 

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Track of the Day

Track 13: Too Late to Say Sorry

Shit.

That’s the last thing I had thought after the Escalade’s hatch opened. Lydia and Andrew threw the person face-first onto the pavement. The man landed face-first. As he lay face-first on the floor, I noticed that his legs were splayed at odd angles and the twist ties that bound his wrists were not only tight enough to cut off circulation, but they were also too tight for the old “dislocate your thumb and slip out” trick. I knew because both thumbs were broken, as well as both hands.

“Not so tough now, huh, bitch?” Andrew asked.

“Fuck you, monkey!” the man in the hood said in Japanese-accented English. I winced. I didn’t want to see what Andrew would do when pushed too far. “You think I’m scared of some scum American street sweepers failed to pick up?”

Instead, the woman with the burned face stepped in. Brutally, she ripped off his mask. Judging by the way he yelled and the marks on his face, some of his cuts had begun to scab up and mesh with the bag. Leaning in close, the woman said quietly, “Now this brings…”

She was interrupted by the man smashing his head into her face. Her sunglasses were knocked askew and she laughed. “Ha ha… this really does bring back memories!” She grabbed the man by the shoulder and squeezed. “Maybe you already figured it out by the accent, but I was an enforcer here.”

I suddenly realized what was going to happen. Not only was it going to be immoral, but it was going to be loud and it was going to be a freaking beacon for the cops. The problem was I didn’t want to undermine Jen. I didn’t understand the power dynamics at play. If I seemed to give orders, it could end up with Jen’s subordinates getting ideas or Jen shooting me to prevent the former.

I looked to Jen. She was staring at a point directly behind our captive, as if someone was there, trying to convince her of something. She frowned, obviously torn about something.

Meanwhile, her subordinate with the burned face continued her monologue. I swear, it was something she had rehearsed. “The first thing I always had to do with deadbeats,” she said, “was teach them respect.” As soon as she said “respect,” her hand burst into flames. The man screamed.

That snapped Jen out of it. “Kaori!” she said. “This isn’t the time or the place.” Kaori nodded sullenly. She turned to address the rest of her team. “Knock him out and put him back in the car. We need to get moving now.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lydia said. She drew a tazer from a holster and shot the man in the back with it. He grunted and convulsed, then slumped down. Andrew drew a Glock, then he and Lydia both pistol-whipped the man in the head several times for good measure. Meanwhile everyone else piled into the Escalade. Luckily, there were eight seats in the monster. John and I sat in the rear on either side of Mayu.

“So,” I asked Mayu, “what the hell happened when we were away?” While I asked the question, I noticed Jen was busy texting someone from the row in front of us.

“Oh,” Mayu said, “the Defenders showed up.” I noticed she didn’t seem to be taking that too hard. “The Defenders seemed to have thought that they could use the same trick twice. I did not see how Kaori and Hiromasa restrained them. We just found them on the air vent at the top of the building.”

“What happened to the others?” John asked nervously.

From the front of the car, the burly man I assumed to be Hiromasa chuckled. “We made them disappear,” he said.

Doing my best not to shudder, I reached for my phone. Then remembered I had thrown it out a car window. I needed to tell John and Mayu what we were in the car with. John, seeing as he was from New Hampshire, probably had guessed already. Mayu, however might not have picked up how deep we were in.

Kaori and Hirosama Murakami had been indicted a little after I had started High School. They had been taken into custody after a member of the Minutemen, Massachusetts’s local hero group, had managed to temporarily unmask a female Fire Elemental working for the Kagemotos named Tatsu and get a picture of her face with his body cam. Then he had leaked it to the newspapers and police.

It was quickly determined that the person in the picture was Kaori Murakami, a woman who officially was a bodyguard to Mark Kagemoto. Her husband and fellow bodyguard, Hirosama Murakami was one of Kaori’s most vocal defenders… at least until a writer at the Globe pointed out that he was of similar build to another supervillain called Dokustsu. Then, probably under the advice of his lawyer, he shut up. Then the rumors came out that before he came to the US, he had been responsible for strange disappearances and his wife had been a particularly aggressive debt collector.

For a while, it looked like the Kagemotos were going to lose Tatsu and Dokustsu, two of their heaviest hitters. Then there were accusations that the image had been faked. The camera somehow went missing, and the leader of the Minutemen kicked out the member who had taken the picture. A few years later, it was reported that the member had gone missing. The Murakamis were somehow never indicted.

I looked at John. He seemed to realize the situation we were in, too. Mayu, meanwhile, just seemed her normally bubbly self. Then again, she had seemed her normally bubbly self while watching our prisoner get tased and pistol-whipped. It was obviously just an act, but I had no clue what was underneath.

Andrew probably was also wondering what had happened. “So, uh, Mayu, right?” He asked.

“Hmm?”

“You done this before?” he asked nervously, “I mean, I know Nate and John have done stuff like this before and… and I’ve known a lot of people in this business, but I’ve never seen anyone react like you, y’know?”

“Oh no,” Mayu said. “This is all quite new to me.” I doubted that. She was the last person to survive in a pocket dimension of assassins, the rest had been either murdered or had committed suicide. She must have sensed that people weren’t buying it, because she added, “I have spent a lot of time training for this. It is a shame that…” she paused, hand on her mouth, “…that the people who trained me wanted me to do something different then what I signed up for.”

I nodded. I knew what that was like. When I found out that the international Parahuman investigation agency UNIX had sent me to NIU just for me to die, I had become rightly pissed off. I had felt abandoned and betrayed. I also became a huge asshole and a danger to myself and others.

I was distracted by John saying, “Hey… do the seats seem kind of hard to you?”

I paused. John was right. The seats were harder than you would expect a luxury car to be. I wiggled my butt around and found that most of it was soft in some places. In other places, it was hard. The shape seemed familiar. Suddenly, it clicked. Oh shit, I thought.

“Oh yes,” Jen said. “That reminds me, I still think we should make the meet.”

“Please, please, please,” I begged, “tell me you aren’t gun running as well.”

“No,” Jen said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Why would I, an upstanding citizen with no need for extra cash stoop to gun running?”

“Well,” John said while Mayu giggled, “she did say she wasn’t smuggling in guns.” I just glared at him. “Hey,” he said, “when I’m negative about everything, things still go wrong. I’d rather be positive.”

The car drove on in silence for quite a while. Eventually, we came to a farm. The car pulled onto the dirt road and parked behind some tall stalks of corn or wheat. Outside, the sun was starting to come up. “Everyone,” Jen said, “get the product out and ready for display. We have time, so also please remove our friend from the trunk as well. I would like to change into something a little more… imposing.”

“And… where is the product?” I asked.

“Just cut into the seats,” Kaori said.

John and I followed her directions. It didn’t take long for me to see the dust cases and ammo tins. The extremely familiar dust cases and ammo tins. “Jennifer,” I said, my voice dangerous, “how the fuck did you get these?”

“Not from you.” Jen said. “Really, Nathan, haven’t you heard of the Second Amendment?”

“Are they a special type of gun?” Mayu asked.

“Yes.” I said. “I made them.” There, in the back seat alone, were at least six Maccabee assault rifles, six Ballpeen SMGs, and twelve Uilon Mangchi pistols, plus several tins of ammo. “I also specifically set up distribution so that civilians couldn’t get them.”

“I thought Kagemoto-sama was a criminal,” Mayu said.

“She should have gotten them in the same way as a civilian,” I said. “In other words, she shouldn’t have been even able to put down an offer.”

“Normally,” Jen said, “you’d be right. However, the Boston and New York police accidentally over-ordered your weapons and ammo. I took them off their hands. It was quite the steal.” She laughed at her own joke.

“Any reason I should help you sell them?” I asked Jen.

“Our next safe house kind of depends on selling them.”

I let out a growl of frustration and slammed my fist down on a Maccabee dust case. There was a tense silence. Finally, I said, “Fine. Fine. Let’s just get this over with.” I also made a mental note to do an investigation into the BPD and NYPD when I got out of this.

In the meantime, I helped everyone unload the car of all the contraband. In the end, we had around six Maccabee rifles, eighteen Ballpeen SMGs, twenty-four Uilon Mangchis, and a decent amount of ammo. Plus, our friends seemed to have gotten out their own weapons. The Murakamis didn’t seem to have any weapons, but Hirosama was carrying a black case. Lydia and Andrew both had Glocks and tasers holstered underneath their jackets. Lydia had also taken the grease gun from Jen.

When the product was all unloaded, Lydia and Andrew opened up the rear of the car and threw out our prisoner. We watched him groan a bit for a while. Finally, Andrew asked, “Yo, you guys think she wants this asshole conscious?”

John and I shrugged. Hirosama said, “It is not our job to guess what she wants. Do nothing except watch him.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, “he’s just faking it.” His wrists were now bleeding and the zip tie was slightly frayed. “Apparently, this fucker found a sharp surface.”

The man opened his eyes to shoot me a dirty look as he got to his knees. I noticed that his eyes were different sizes. He said something in Japanese that I doubted was respectful. Even though my Japanese was terrible, I could tell that he was slurring his speech. He then spit at me. A spray of blood and a tooth landed halfway between us. I have to admit, I was impressed. Here he was, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Parahumans and armed thugs, wearing only his underwear, with both hands literally tied behind his back, and a concussion, yet he was still resisting.

Then the car door opened. Jen had changed from her street clothes into a dark red jumpsuit with bits styled to suggest or imitate Japanese samurai armor. A smooth, solid white mask with horns dangled from her hand. Our captive saw her and smiled.

“You know,” he said evily, “I think I met your brother.”

Jen just stared at him, her expression unreadable. Our captive continued. “The coward ran away when he saw us coming. When he died, he cried like a little girl.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about Brian?” Jen asked, squatting down so she was at eye-level with our captive. I was suddenly struck by how tired she sounded. No anger, no sadistic glee, just a bone-deep weariness.

“Just that I thought he was such a woman that I decided to shoot him in the balls,” our captive said.

“You know,” Jennifer said, “I think you have an understanding of what is going to happen next, right?” Our captive nodded defiantly. Jen sighed and began counting. “So there were my four jailors… the six, right?” She looked at John and me for confirmation. “The six who met us outside the apartment… and however many my bodyguards killed back at the hotel…”

“What are you counting?” our prisoner asked.

“The number of your friends who died,” Jen said, “because you killed the wrong Kagemoto.”

“What do you mean?” Our prisoner was suddenly suspicious. “Surely you want the fortress? You want to reclaim your…”

“Dude,” I said. “I was at your fortress. I talked to some people who maintain it. Not even your elders want it.”

“But…” he said, “the Kagemotos…”

“Haven’t given a solitary shit about it since my father killed grandpa,” Jen said, still in that tired voice. “Hell, Brian didn’t even want the empire we did have.” She smiled bitterly. “That’s why my father tricked you into killing him.” She suddenly made a sound halfway between a chuckle and a sob. “I honestly was hoping I could tell you how badly you’d been manipulated and you’d help me kill my dad, but things somehow got fucked and…”

She stood up, took a moment to console herself, and said, “My brother would want me to let you live. Failing that, he’d like to me to at least shoot you somewhere you’d die instantly.” She stood up, a look of genuine anguish on her face. “I’m sorry I can’t give you either of those things. Hirosama?”

“Wait, what are you…?” Our captive began to ask, but before he could, he began to sink into the ground. He tried to scream or beg, but dirt filled his mouth before he could finish a syllable. In less than a second, there was nothing left of him or any trace he had ever been there.

 

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Track of the Day

Track 12: I Shot the Sherriff

After we called Jen’s people, we traveled in silence for quite a bit. Then, suddenly, John said, “Shit… Jen, you left that shotgun! Were you wearing gloves?” He shook his head. “No, you weren’t. They have your prints.”

Jen laughed. “Could you explain to me what’s so funny?” I asked her.

“Do you know how hard it is to get prints off a gun?” Jen asked, a note of amusement in her voice.

John and I looked at each other and shrugged.  “I have no idea,” I admitted.

“Honestly, neither do I,” Jen said, “but I have a team of lawyers that can convince a jury that it would be downright criminal to put an angel like me in jail because of that.”

“Are these lawyers certified to practice in Japan?” I asked. In the mirror, I saw Jen open her mouth to reply, then close it and consider something in what seemed to be a growing panic. “I see. I guess I should call Charlotte.” I pulled out my cPhone and dialed her number.

I was halfway through dialing when I said, “Wait, for all we know Charlotte and Eliza are still at Kage Fortress. I can’t ask her for a pickup if a bunch of Defenders are sitting around, waiting for us to slip up.”

“What.” Jen said, obviously dumfounded.

“Don’t ask,” John said, “it’s so stupid, I can’t even comprehend it.”

“Me neither,” I said. “I can just hope that…” My phone rang, cutting me off.

“Well,” Jen said, “that sounds like that problem has been taken care of, at least.”

“That isn’t Charlotte’s number,” I said. John and Jen both opened their mouths. “It isn’t Eliza’s either. It is a cPhone, though.” I put it to my head. “Who is this?” I asked.

“Jacobs-san,” Nakashima said with strained politeness, “you have been very busy, haven’t you?”

“I would apologize,” I said, “but you kind of took a friend of mine prisoner. The only reason I’m sorry is that if I knew you’d taken her…”

I heard Nakashima sigh on the other end. “Don’t… lie. We aren’t idiots. We know you helped my distant relative escape.”

“Before I throw my phone out the window,” I said, “can I ask your first name? It’s going to get confusing.”

“My name is Hiro Nakashima,” he said, “and I would like to point out that you are not the only student of NIU on this island. You cannot win. But you can…”

As he had spoken, I had been lowering the window. When it was done, I tossed the phone out of the car. For a few seconds, the car was silent. Then John’s phone began to ring. He took it out of his pocket and handed it to me. I checked the ID. It was Hiro’s number, so I tossed it out the window as well. As soon as it left the car, however, a third phone started to ring.

It took me a few minutes to find it, but eventually I found the third phone, buried in one of the glove compartments. I tossed it out the window. I only glanced at the caller ID briefly, but I didn’t need to in order to know it was from Hiro. “Guy doesn’t quit,” I said. “Jen…”

“Already ditched it,” she said. “Who was that?”

“Apparently,” I said, “while Mayu was in her little bubble with the other heralds, her ancestors went about life normally. End result is we’ve got another Nakashima who’s good with computers. Like, scarily good. Possibly also an NIU CompSci student.” I paused.  “Anyone have any devices that send or receive EM transmissions? Because we need to dump them yesterday.”

“Well,” Jen said, “There’s my tracker…”

“I heard its subdermal,” I said conversationally. “Does that mean…?”

“That I’ll need a knife and some bandages?” I could hear the grimace in Jen’s voice. “Yes. Yes it does.” I opened my backpack and reached for some bandages. I then handed them to Jen, along with my knife. “Thanks,” she said sarcastically as she took them. “Excellent bedside manners, nurse.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I just don’t someone to track us.” I turned to John. “How close are we?”

“About five minutes out,” John said.

“Ok, circle the block until Jen gets her transmitter out. I don’t want the Defenders crashing our RV.”

John nodded and began circling. I scanned the street, trying to ignore the somewhat disturbing grunts of pain from Jen in the back seat. This went on for a few laps. Occasionally, I’d look back and see Jen working on her forearm with the knife. Blood was getting everywhere, and it was starting to look like Jen had murdered someone in the backseat. Eventually, she started wrapping her bandage.

“Ok,” she said, “I’m bandaged up and I can throw this shit out the window.”

“That may be a bad idea,” John said, pointing at the rearview mirror. I looked at it. There, in the rearview mirror, was a cop car, its lights flashing. “What should I do?” John asked nervously.

“Pull over,” I said. “He may be going somewhere else.”

He did. I made sure to seal the bag with the Type 89, M-3, and the PM-9, just in case. For similar reasons, I put my SIG between my seat and the door so I could draw it easily. Then I began to pray that the car would pass us. It didn’t. Instead it parked and a police officer got out.

There was a tense moment as the officer walked towards us. During the time, I tried to see if there was another officer in the car. Eventually, I said, “I don’t think he’s got a partner, but I’m not sure.” Jen nodded.

Eventually, the cop stood out on the driver’s side. “Konbanwa,” he said, bowing. I knew that meant “good evening.” Then he said something else that I couldn’t make out, but I could guess translated as “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Or it could have been “Why is your backseat drenched in blood?” It could’ve been either one, really. Then he must have seen our faces, because he must have asked, “Anata wa nihongo o hanasemasu ka?” That, at least I knew, translated to “Do you speak Japanese?”

John responded in Japanese. I assume at least part of it translated to “I do, but my friends don’t.”

The officer nodded. “Ah. Excuse me. There is explosion. We are stopping everyone to find suspect. Pureasu step out of the vehicle.”

I came to a decision in an instant. I pulled out my SIG and shot him twice in the chest and once in the head. “GET US OUT OF HERE!” I yelled at John.

“What the hell, Nate?” John asked. He stepped on the gas, so I didn’t really complain.

“Do you really think he would have left us go?” I said as the car’s sudden acceleration threw me back into the seat. “And do you really think they wouldn’t have put two and two together and figured out we were responsible for that mess we left?”

“Honestly,” Jen said, “I was afraid you’d ask to keep him.” She shuddered. “God, can you imagine having two prisoners while every cop in the fucking country is looking for us? That’s the definition of a nightmare.”

John’s only response was to grunt mutinously. I sighed. If we were going to get through this situation, I was going to have to make amends with John. “Listen,” I said, “I admit, there were better ways of handling that.” Behind me, Jen laughed incredulously. “Or at least more moral ways. But the longer I spent thinking about them, the less likely they would be to work. Then we’d be in prison, and our only hope would be Charlotte.”

“You know,” Jen said, “I actually doubt Charlotte would have let us rot in prison. Eliza…”

“Has no control over the situation anymore,” John said. “And Charlotte only thinks she does.” He sighed. “You were right, Nate.” He smacked the dash. “God damn it!”

“Hey,” I said, “think of it this way: you’re the only one who hasn’t killed a cop.”

“So I’m an accessory?”

“Well, yes,” Jen said. “The good news is that this is a rather nice city. The cops shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Anyway, there’s the parking lot.”

John pulled into the parking lot. We got out and looked around. “Ah,” Jen said, looking up, “they’re here.” I looked too. There, towering above all the other cars, was the Escalade Jen had brought with us. Making it even more conspicuous was the fact that all the cars in the lot were cheap, tiny commuters and compacts that fit comfortably into their tiny spaces. The Escalade, meanwhile, was not only scraping against the sides of its space, but its rear also hung out over the edge, blocking the road a bit. Apart from the Maybach, it was the only car I had seen in the area over $50,000. Including the Maybach, it was the only one I had seen with windows tinted that dark. In fact, the windows were so dark I wasn’t even sure it was legal.

“Very inconspicuous,” I said as Lydia and Andrew got out of the car. In unison, they both smashed the doors into the cars on either side of them. “We blend in perfectly.” As the door opened, I could hear muffled grunts from inside.

“I told you,” the woman with the burned face said as she exited the vehicle, “you should have gone with something else.” On the other side, her hard-faced comrade also exited the vehicle.

“Hey,” Andrew said, “If we had just brought a sedan could we have done this?” With what seemed to be practiced fluidity, Andrew and Lydia opened the Escalade’s hatch.

I stopped and stared. Inside was a man with a bag over his head and his arms bound behind his back. Apart from his bag and some boxer shorts, he was completely naked. Judging by the smear of blood on the bag, he had been trying to open the hatch by banging his head against it. Or someone had punched him in the face repeatedly. The way the night had been going, I wouldn’t rule either possibility out. From the rear seat, Mayu was watching both us and the prisoner with her standard smile.

“Well now,” John said, a note of venom in his voice, “this, uh, complicates things, doesn’t it?”

 

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