Track 21: Life in the Fast Lane

“So,” I asked Jen, “what’s the smokescreen you’re planning on using?” We were driving down the highway, Jen, Andrew, and Lydia in the middle row. Mayu, John, and I were in the middle. Hirosama was driving and Kaori was on the passenger side. John and I were scanning the road for threats. I didn’t know if he felt it too, but I had a bad feeling.

“Well,” Jen said, “apparently, the vast majority of known spy satellites have a certain flaw. Let’s say someone launches a fairly sloppy hacking attempt on them.”

“Which I just did,” Lydia (at least I think it was Lydia, the costume made it very hard to tell.) “Well, it’s more like a DDoS on all the ones that will cover Japan for the next eight hours…”

“Anyway,” Jen said, cutting her off, “when the hack…”

“Technically, attempt at unauthorized access,” Andrew (at least, I’m pretty sure it was Andrew) interrupted.

“Whatever!” Jen’s outburst made Andrew and Lydia shut up. “When the thing happens, the satellite shuts down. Quite the equalizer, right? And all you really need is a way to contact the satellite.”

“Is that something you used your botnet for?” Mayu asked excitedly.

“Oh hell yeah!” Andy (or Lydia) said. “That’s exactly what that’s for!” He or she laughed. “Can you imagine? Billions of dollars’ worth of government equipment brought down by smart appliances.”

“Yes,” I said dryly. “I honestly can imagine some of these governments dropping a smart bomb on some poor bastard’s home because his toaster is spamming a spy satellite with dank memes.” This truly was the dumbest future.

“Oh don’t be such a killjoy,” Jen said as Lydia and Andrew laughed. “Oh, and Bushido? Kuniochi? In the future, please remember: a magician doesn’t reveal their secrets. Except to their patrons, of course.” Lydia and Andrew got the message and shut up.

We drove along for a little while in silence. Mayu then asked, “So… what is a smart home?”

“Basically,” John said, “it’s a way of connecting various appliances and utilities to the internet. If you want your heating system or AC to be off while you’re at work, but you want your house to be the perfect temperature when you walk in the door? That’s part of a smart home. Want to be able to unlock your door if your parents show up when you’re at work? That’s part of a smart home. Want to have a camera system connected to the internet? That’s part of a smart home. The problem is, these systems are currently kind of a patchwork, fuck up a lot, and are really, really easy to hack. I actually took a class about how to kill people just by using their own smart home.”

“So…” Mayu asked, “is Kage fortress a smart home?”

I considered this for a moment. “Yes. But probably a lot more elegant and secure than most, if you listen to Hiro.”

“Just like a government spy satellite is more elegant and secure than a home security system?” Mayu asked?

I nodded, wondering where Mayu was going with this. She just continued to sit there, smiling her fixed smile. We drove in silence for a while longer.

Eventually, Jen said, “So, apparently the Defenders have figured out how to miniaturize Anti-Jump fields.”

“Really?” John asked. “How do you know?”

“Because,” Jen said, “they were using them. Don’t worry, they aren’t really that good, I was still able to jump. It just took a lot out of me. That reminds me… did we bring the drone?”

“The one with the anti-Anti-Jump field?” one of the people in the Bushido costumes asked. “Got it right here.” There was a sound of a belt being patted. “Your pet genius did it again.”

“I thought you were her pet geniuses,” I said.

“And I thought you had learned to stop asking questions,” Jen responded. “Really, Nate, you have too many habits that will get you killed.” I took the somewhat subtle hint and shut the fuck up.

A long silence followed. During that time, Kaori turned on the BBC. It quickly became apparent that Russia wasn’t the only one having to deal with a sudden influx of what sounded to be Dragon’s Teeth. The partial list seemed to be Germany, Russia, France, South Korea, India and Pakistan. Then, there was the news that Belgium had already fallen. Other countries were also reporting terrorist attacks. It all seemed so unreal.

Mayu was the one to break the awkward silence. “Oh! I’ve been meaning to ask you this, Kagemoto-sama!” she said. She reached into a pocket on her skirt and handed Jen a folded piece of paper. “Does the person I drew look familiar?”

Jen took the paper. “Huh. He looks a lot like Mubashir.”

I tensed. So did John. Mayu must have noticed, but she gave no sign of it. “I am curious,” she said, “where did you meet Mubashir? Was it at this fabled Nowhere Island University?”

“How the hell did you even hear about that?” Jen asked.

“Jacobs-san and Marshall-san both had the logo on their jackets when I first met them,” Mayu said, referring to our hoodies. “The logo is also on the back of their phones, and the phones of Blackmoor-Ward-ojou and Henderson-san. My relative met with me briefly and noted that he was trained there. Or did you mean how did I know who Mubashir is?” Her voice had the same bubbly cheeriness, but I could hear a bit of bitterness underneath.

“Mayu,” I said, “Is now really the time to be talking about this?”

“Considering what’s on the radio,” Mayu asked, her mask of perpetual cheerfulness slipping, “it’s almost too late to talk about it.”

“What is this we’re talking about?” Jen asked.

“Remember how you told me not to ask questions?” I shot back. “You’re not allowed to know, you don’t need to know, and honestly, you don’t want to know.”

“I’m sorry,” Jen said, “I just thought the fact that, you know, being right in the middle of whatever you’re doing would give me some right to know what’s going on.”

“Trust me,” John replied, “this entire thing is so stupid. You don’t want to know.”

“Look,” I said to Mayu, “this is stupid. If you think I’m going to stop you and Charlotte from going after Mubashir, even now, I wouldn’t do anything that could stop you.”

“But if you could,” Mayu said, “you would, wouldn’t you?”

I considered this. “I would want to make sure you realized that Moob’s human,” I said eventually. “Not some sort of weapon or tool.” Mayu was about to say something, but I added, “I’d also want you to talk to some sort of psychologist. You know, make sure you’re in a good place. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?” Actually, considering Mayu’s outburst earlier today, Charlotte would probably find that reasonable as well. Maybe I could get what I wanted after all.

May’s already near-albino complexion somehow went even whiter and her eyes widened. She began gripping her rifle much tighter, as if she was trying to hang on for dear life. “Of-of course, Jacobs-san,” she said. I noticed her breathing was labored. I suddenly realized she was having a panic attack. “Completely reasonable.” She laughed, obviously trying to make me think she was fine. It didn’t work. She then turned to face the road ahead. “Completely reasonable.”

There was more silence. Mayu wasn’t relaxing. The road we were driving on was a raised highway. Lydia had apparently checked it ahead of time for roadblocks and there weren’t any. The traffic was at that point where it was as heavy as it could be without slowing down, and there was a bit of a mist and some rain. Occasionally, we had heard helicopters fly overhead. However, there had been one for the past few minutes that had been hovering directly over us. I was starting to get a little suspicious.

Just before I was about to voice my suspicions, I suddenly felt like I had been buried. Jen let out a gasp and Mayu’s grip on her HK 417 somehow got even tighter. “Shit!” either or Lydia or Andrew said, “anti-jumpfield!”

“Launch. The. Drone.” Jen said through gritted teeth.

“We can’t,” Lydia or Andrew said. “The car’s going too fast and the traffic’s too heavy. The wind’ll make it impossible to launch, and a car could hit it.”

“We have a problem,” Kaori said.

“I noticed,” Jen growled, holding her head. Then she snarled at her two techs, pain evident in her voice, “Launch it anyway.”

“It would only be a temporary…”

“The brakes are disabled!” Kaori yelled.

“What?” Jen asked. “Turn off the engine! Use the e-brake!”

“I can’t!” Kaori said, obviously panicking. “The car just keeps accelerating!”

“Heh,” Mayu said, her fixed grin morphing into something malevolent. “Sayonara, baka.” Even I knew what that meant, but before I could do anything, she jumped. Only thin air remained behind: no weapons, no equipment, just air. The seatbelt retracted immediately after.

“Mayu’s gone!” I said. “She just jumped out of here!”

I looked back just in time to see the stop indicator lights of the van in front of us turn red. “Kaori, turn!” Someone yelled that. It may have been me. It may have been someone else. Either way, it was too late. As soon as the last consonant was uttered, we hit the van. Before we had any time to react, something slammed into us from the rear.

We all took some time to recover. I turned to look at John. He was bent forward, blinking in shock. The roof of the Escalade had caved in to dope slap him. “Holy shit,” I said. I turned to the rear. The thing that had hit us was an eighteen-wheeler. “Holy shit,” I said again.

“Yeah, I know, right?” John said. He looked just as freaked out as I felt.

Then the helicopter above us smashed into a building nearby.

“Ok,” I said as everyone groaned, “everyone, sound off. Tell me what your status is.”

“We’re a little…” someone from the middle row began.

Then the minivan hit us.

 

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Track 20: We Have Big Gun

We headed towards Jen, our guns still up, but our fingers resting on the guards instead of the triggers. “Don’t worry,” Jen said, “they’re all dead.” She closed her eyes. “They’re all dead. Now, excuse me, I need to rest.”

“First off,” I said, “I’ll believe that when I fucking see it. And second, they’re not done. I bet we’re going to see a follow-up strike pretty soon.”

That woke Jen up. “You’re right. Fuck. Ok, we need to get our stuff. Meanwhile, I’m going to get Andrew and Lydia to give us some cover. Then I’m going to get my game face on.”

We headed into the room that sort of doubled as a main entrance/mud room for farm hands to take off their boots. Immediately, I saw a biker with several holes in his center mass lying against the wall, a surprised look on his face. Near his hand lay a Maccabee, one of the assault rifles that had been made by Nari and me. Seeing as that was a hell of a lot better than what I currently had, I bent down to pick it up. In the background, we could hear a TV.

When I did, I noticed that it had several attachments that weren’t factory-standard. In fact, they were the first third-party add-ons for the Maccabee and the Ballpeen. The magazine, for instance, was a prototype octa-stacked magazine, identifiable by the cartoon octopus. The scope was a combination video/x-ray/sonar/thermal/ultraviolet scope. I knew for a fact that there were only twenty prototypes and fifty production models in existence. “Jen,” I said, my voice dangerous, “what the hell is all this shit on my gun?”

“Oh God, Nathan, are you going full tech bro on me?” Jen asked, then patronizingly added, “You realize that once you sold your weapons to the Boston PD, you don’t get a say in what happens to them any…”

She was cut off by the sound of gunfire. We turned around, raising our weapons. That’s when I realized that the idiot who had chosen this gun had elected to put on the twenty-four inch barrel instead of the normal sixteen inch barrel, its heavier brother of equal length, or the nine inch barrel that was, you know, actually designed for this situation. I found this out because the barrel had literally caught on the doorframe.

“Wait,” Jen said, just as I had gotten the barrel unhooked from the door frame, “that’s from the TV.”

“Let’s check it out,” I said, “just to make sure.” I honestly kind of wanted it to be a continuation of the firefight. If it was, that meant I wouldn’t have to watch how I had almost single-handedly sent two peaceful cities into a panic over terrorism. Still, we moved towards the sound of the gunfire.

As we did, I suddenly realized that it couldn’t have been me. First off, it was still going on. There had only been one engagement I had had that could have been going on this long, and no cameras could have recorded it. There were also too many explosions. Plus, there seemed to be a Japanese reporter covering it live, with a lot of people yelling and screaming in what sounded to be Russian. That definitely ruled out something I had done, as I had never had fired a shot in front of a TV crew, and certainly had never been to Russia.

When we got into the TV room, I stopped and stared. Of course, the three other bikers who had been guarding us were all dead. One had been blown up with a well-placed grenade. The other two had been taking down with expertly placed bursts from an assault rifle. Two Ballpeen SMGs and one Maccabee plus assorted magazines and ammo boxes lay on a table far out of reach from the three dead men.

However, the thing that stuck out the most to me was what the images on TV depicted. Despite the fact that it had taken a few rounds of shrapnel, I could still see what looked to be a naval base under heavy attack. The reporter, a wild eyed Asian woman in a skirt suit and heels, was crouched behind some sandbags and desperately describing the situation in Japanese. To the left were a variety of drab concrete buildings. To the right, a destroyer was moored to the dock. Up the road, there was a hastily constructed barricade of sandbags and barbed wire manned by what looked to be Russian soldiers. They were supported by two BMPs (basically, Russian tank-like things designed to carry troops and kill infantry) and the guns on the destroyer. We didn’t have a clear view of what they were fighting. I did know that whatever it was, it was bad enough that multiple shots from the destroyer’s cannon hadn’t destroyed it.

The camera panned to people farther down the docks, showing that several subs, destroyers, and even an aircraft carrier were moored at the dock. It then zoomed in on people close by, desperately trying to get destroyer free. There were also others trying to get on board the carrier, some sailors, some soldiers, even a few civilians. I guessed similar scenes were happening at every ship. It panned back down the docks, showing that more barricades were being prepared.

The camera was then violently jerked to look at a group of Russian soldiers. The leader of the group, who I noted with a shock was younger than I was, said something in Russian that I assumed translated to “What the fuck are you still doing here? Get on the Goddamned boat!” The reporter, switching to what seemed to be broken Russian tried to protest.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and the camera went dead. After a few seconds, the view switched from static to a pair of stunned anchors. I looked around. Kaori, Lydia, Hirosama, Andrew, and Mayu had come down while we had been watching. I noticed that both Lydia and Andrew were dressed like a villain called Bushido. I briefly wondered if that explained his long disappearance a while back and his newfound ability to be in multiple places at once. I had to admit, I was impressed at how the future biker samurai costume had been adjusted to mask Lydia and Andrew’s physical differences. I also noticed that Mayu had a black eye, a cut and puffy lip and several bruises from the beating Jen had given her, yet still was smiling her standard smile.

Hirosama and Kaori were also in costume as well. I suppose that I should call them Tatsu and Dokustsu, now that they were in costume. Both costumes were dark red and samurai-inspired like Jen’s, but the Dokusutsu costume had a seemingly eyeless hood and intricate conical hat done up to look like flame. The Tatsu costume had a dragon mask that left the mouth exposed and no gloves. A gas mask hung from around her neck.

Before I could ask about the costumes, Jen said, “Alright, the Defenders aren’t going to be spending their time watching the news, so neither should we. Bushido, Kuniochi, how long will it take to set up the smokescreen?”

One of the two people in the Bushido costume (I honestly couldn’t tell which one was Andrew and which one was Lydia, that’s how good their costumes were at disguising them) took out a laptop with an antenna attached and said, “Ten minutes or never, if something goes freakishly wrong.” The villain’s voice was extremely distorted.

The other said, “In most cases, it shouldn’t take more than three minutes.”

“Good,” Jen said. “Tatsu, Dokusutsu, get the car disguised and ready. Keep an eye out. Our consultants think there may be a second round.”

“Hai, Kagemoto-sama,” Tatsu and Dokusutsu both said in unison, bowing. They quickly moved off.

Jen turned to me and John. “You two, take Mayu and see if you can find anything useful. I’ll be up in the room, putting my war face on.”

“Do you want us to get our clothes?” I asked.

Jen, already almost out of the room, cocked her head, thinking about it. “No,” she said. “we have a safe house in mind. It should be secure long enough for us to change into civvies, then head to the Embassy.” She then began to head off. “In the meantime, your names while in disguise will be Killer and Driver.”

“Ok,” I said, “John… Driver, whatever, you and Mayu, go get any firearms, explosives, body armor, backpacks, and face masks you can find in the room. I’ll consolidate anything useful from the bikers and breachers.”

As John and Mayu moved out, I asked the two costumed hackers who had just pushed off a corpse from one of the couches and sat down to type, “You guys have any spare gloves?”

“Yeah,” the one who wasn’t typing said. S/he opened a pouch on their belt and pulled a handful of rubber gloves. “Sometimes I wear these over my costume gloves because they’ve got some pretty unique fibers in them. Not usually a problem, but sometimes I like to play it extra safe.”

“Makes sense,” I said as I pulled the gloves on. “By the way, what kind of weaponry do you two have?”

“I got a Glock 33,” the one who’d given me the gloves said, patting a holster. “Lydia’s got a Glock 29. We’ve also got a few party favors.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Why would we need anything else?” the one sitting at the laptop asked. This time I was able to identify her as Lydia.

I sighed, leaning my Maccabee against the other couch. I walked over to the Ballpeen with the sniper barrel. As I changed it to the ultra-short barrel, I said, “Your Glocks are going to be able to kind of penetrate Level I and Level II body armor. The problem is these guys tend to wear Level III and IV body armor. Those are designed to take multiple AK rounds.” I finally got the more appropriate barrel in. “This guy, however, is designed to defeat standard Dragon’s Teeth Legionary armor at pistol range, which I’d guess to be Level VII.” I tossed the weapon to the person I assumed to be Andrew. “Safety’s on. It works a lot like an M4, but the magazine release is a pistol release and you cock it and check it like an AK.”

Andrew caught it. When he did, he accidentally pressed the trigger on the foregrip that turned on the laser and light. This one had been set to solid laser on trigger. “Yo, this is awesome!” Andrew said, laughing like a kid finding a cool feature on an old toy for the first time. He flipped down the grip and began playing with the light and laser settings. I noticed his finger was on the gun’s trigger as well as the laser/light’s trigger.

“Hey,” I said, putting my souvenir guns on the couch opposite the villains, “keep that shit pointed in a safe direction.” The safety was still on, I knew for a fact that there wasn’t a round in the chamber (I had checked before I switched barrels like a safe person,) and I had removed the magazine (Again, part of good barrel-changing discipline.) Still, trigger discipline says a lot about whether or not you should work with a person.

“Sorry,” he said. Even though his voice was extremely distorted, he still sounded sheepish. I began to replace the barrel on my Maccabee with a more appropriate 14-inch heavy-barrel. Meanwhile, Andrew sat next to Lydia, suitably cowed. “Hey,” Andrew asked when I had put in a standard sixty-round mag, “any other cool stuff you can show me?”

Smiling, I began to explain him the various advantages of the gun, such as its MP-5 style stock, how the magazines worked, and how to change barrels. I was just explaining the advantages of a tactical sling when John and Mayu came back in, their arms full of weapons. John had wrapped his bundle in plate carriers, Mayu had hers in two backpacks.

“Nice,” I said, “but we can’t take all of them and I don’t want prints.”

“Of course,” Jen said, walking into the room, now in her Hinomoto Oniko costume. “That’s why we’re going to burn the building down when we leave.”

“Fair enough,” John said, handing me a ski mask and my pistols.

As I put my mask on, I told John, “Thanks. By the way, I want you to take one the other Maccabee and put it into a SAW configuration. You’ll be the closest thing we’ve got to a machinegunner out there and I do not want to be trapped out there without some suppressive fire.”

“Gotcha,” John said. “I also brought some medkits.”

We then took the guns we needed. John and I just took the Maccabees, our personal guns, and the body armor we had worn when we’d rescued Jen. Andrew and Lydia took the Ballpeens and a Benelli M3. Jen took her Kriss Vector and the M3 Grease Gun. Mayu retained her pink VP-70 and took an HK 417 with an underbarrel M-26 and EOTech holographic reflex sight, a Walther PPK, the shitty pistol I had hoped to abandon, the PM-9 I had taken from Jen’s rescue, and a relatively undamaged plate carrier that had obviously come from one of the Defenders that was loaded with grenades of various types. I noticed that Mayu had somehow managed to conceal her selected pistols extremely well.

When we were done, Jen said, “Ok. Let’s get to the car.”

“Are we really going to be taking the Escalade?” I asked. “Isn’t that a little obvious?”

I was pretty sure Jen smiled under the mask as she gestured for us to follow her. We did. When we got to a barn, I saw the Escalade. It had changed color from black to white and I’m pretty sure the license plates were different as well. “What do you think?” Jen asked.

Mayu immediately began teleporting around the car like an anime character, gushing in Japanese. “First off,” I said, “It’s still a big luxury American SUV in a country that hates SUVs. Secondly… should Mayu be able to jump that much?”

“You know…” Jen said, “I’m in the 99th percentile of Jumpers in terms of teleportation. That kind of strain would kill me.” Mayu stopped her jumping and giggled nervously. She didn’t even look strained. “Then again, everything about her is somewhat impossible.”

 

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Track 19: We’ve Got a Fast Car

“Is she dead?” I asked John.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s pretty dead.”

“Just so you know,” I said, “I’ve seen at least two other people. Have you seen any others?”

“Well,” John said, “she’s the sixth person I’ve killed in this dump.” He sighed. “Still, there might be more I haven’t seen. You want a better gun?”

He was talking about the revolver I had picked up. “Definitely,” I said, “but I’m not leaving this guy behind for them to get prints off.” John reached down and gave me the gun from the dead woman. It was a Walther PPK with a tiny silencer. As he did so, I asked, “Do you have an escape plan?”

“Well,” he said, “either someone threw out a perfectly good Skyline or we’re stealing it.”

“Either way,” I said, “I’m down with that. Lead the way.” True to his word, an orange 2002 Nissan Skyline GTR was waiting for us, almost hidden among the garbage. The way it was hiding seemed almost deliberate.

“Hey, John,” I said, “can you pop the trunk? Just to satisfy my curiousity.” He did. Inside the trunk, underneath the garish spoiler, someone had managed to stuff several suitcases. I popped one open.

“What is it?” John asked.

“Either someone is clandestinely lending their neighbor a lot of sugar,” I said, “or we’ve stumbled upon an LSD buy.” I considered the case for a moment. “You know, we should probably leave the briefcases.”

John walked over and looked at the case. “I mean, it could be cocaine,” he said hopefully. “That’s less expensive, less likely to get them annoyed if we interrupt their deal. I mean, we’re gonna let them keep their controlled substance either way, but…”

“Nah,” I said, “It’s more cubed. Not powdery enough.” I looked at the car. “Besides, this is a nice car. It’s probably part of the deal.”

“I realize it’s a sweet car,” John said. “They should have realized it’s a sweet car and guarded it. Plus, they can get it back if they can find where we ditch it.”

“There’re three other cases in the trunk,” I said. “Want to bet there’s more LSD in it?”

John screwed up his face, estimating grams of LSD in a suitcase, then converting to dollars, then using that and other data to calculate ability and willingness to track us back to the US and do horrible things to us and our families. Finally, he said, “Fuck it. We’ve met scarier and pissed them off worse, and I’ve always wanted to drive a Skyline.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

We then removed all the suitcases of LSD and made a quick check for other valuables. Then John hotwired the car and began negotiating the labyrinth of refuse. When he finally hit the road, he gunned the motor. The acceleration pinned me back in my seat.

“Hey John,” I said as the needles on the speedometer and tachometer rapidly rose, “maybe slow it down, ok? This shit feels like a fucking cop magnet and I do not want to get pulled over.”

“Well…” John said, “remember when you asked how they were planning on dealing with Mayu?”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“I keep coming back to what she said,” John said. “You know, about killing Mayu.”

“She wasn’t informed about it,” I said, “in fact, her exact words were ‘I’m not informed about it.’”

“Yeah,” John said, “That means either they don’t have a plan or it’s already in motion. Plus… I don’t know. It seemed like she knew something she wasn’t supposed to say.”

I opened my mouth, considered the logic and John’s uncanny ability to open his mouth when things were about to go wrong. “Can this go any faster?” I asked.

“Physically?” John said. “Yes. In practical terms, no.” He sighed. “I mean, who doesn’t want to go a hundred fifty miles per hour?”

We continued on the road. Eventually, we got to a large town or small city halfway between our hideout and the dump we had left half a dozen corpses in. Suddenly, traffic slowed to a crawl. We had gone from about forty five miles per hour to five. A long line of cars blocked our path.

“Should we find an alternate route?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” John said. “I only gave a slight skim of the map. I got alternate routes, but I don’t have alternate alternate routes. Plus, I have no clue where the blockage is.”

“Fair enough,” I said. There seemed to be a blockage somewhere, causing traffic to only flow in one direction.

We continued inching down the road at a painfully slow pace. Meanwhile, I don’t know why, I was looking at the roofs of the two-to-four-story buildings we were going by. Suddenly, I saw something jump between the roofs. “Hey John,” I asked, “Did you see…?”

“The roadblock ahead?” John asked. “Yes, I do.” I looked ahead. “Roadblock” was less the word to describe it and more “massive perimeter around a specific building.” JSDF soldiers and various light vehicles surrounded what appeared to be a small campus. They looked on edge, and were all dressed for chemical warfare. They also were checking the various vehicles that were passing quite thoroughly, looking at licenses and registrations, opening trunks, and wheeling mirrors under the chasis. I also saw a few of them dragging Jersey barriers, sandbags, and crewed weapons and laying them in defensive positions.

“I actually did not notice that,” I said. “But no, I was talking about the thing on the roof. I thought I saw something get up and then vanish.” I considered the vast array of military equipment before us. “You know,” I said, “we are at a turn we could easily take. Let’s do it and skip… whatever this is.”

“But no one else is turning,” John said. “It might look suspicious or there…” He was cut off by a burst of gunfire. The soldiers in front of the facility turned around to face it or went prone. They all started shouting. “Was that an M-249?” John asked.

Then there was a massive explosion. A large part of the building’s exterior bulged like a boil, then burst in a mass of debris and fire. The force sent some bricks, office supplies, and what looked to be body parts at least as far as we were. I knew this because a keyboard and two staplers hit the windshield right in front of my face like a shotgun blast and something big and heavy landed on the roof, leaving a dent. Other cars suffered similar damage. Burning paper, cloth, and insulation fell like snow. Understandably, there was screaming.

One of those people was me. “FUCKING DRIVE, JOHN!” I yelled as the smaller stuff sailed towards my face. Before I had said his name, John had already slammed the gas.

We sped the rest of the way. John also decided to go onto the highway, and damn any possible checkpoints. “The fuck was that?” John asked. We had been silent for a long time, due to both of us panicking and we were close to the safe house.

“Not us,” I said. “Not Jen’s merry band of maniacs, not our hosts, and I kinda doubt that the Defenders of Fuji or Charlotte’s people would want to blow that up.” I paused, considering everything that had happened on this trip. “You know,” I said, “unless the JSDF screwed up massively, I think there might be another game of James Bond being played here.”

John groaned. “Hey,” I said to him, “whatever they’re doing … isn’t our problem. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

John considered this. “You know what? It does. It really does. But you know what makes me feel even better?” He pointed to a cornfield ahead of us. “That is where the safehouse is! In fact… oh fuck me.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“A white van just went straight into the cornfield,” John said angrily. “Fuck me, right?” As he said this, he made a sharp turn, driving us through five lanes of traffic and a median.

“John, what the fuck?” I asked, each syllable seemingly delivering a new near-death experience as cars clipped past us.

As we skidded onto the dirt road, John said, “Hey, we aren’t going home without Mayu. Also, as much as I hate her, Jen, and all of Jen’s creepy friends, leaving them to die is going to be the kind of thing that gives me nightmares.”

“Yeah, same here,” I said, “but maybe don’t drive like a fucking… like a fucking…” I searched desperately for something that appropriately conveyed how stupid that was. I gave up and just said, “You and whoever was driving that little compact came close to killing me today then a team of over eleven trained professionals!”

“Shit,” John said. Under the roar of the engine, we had both heard a thump that sounded like a hand grenade. The pop of gunfire began soon after that. “They’ve started. We need to…”

There was a large bang and our car began to spin like a top. When it finally came to a stop, John and I got out, drawing our weapons. “What happened?” I asked. “Are we under fire?”

John checked the front driver side tire. “I think we hit a rock. Tire blew out, we went into a spin.”

“Ok,” I said, “I guess this means we’re walking. Let’s move.”

We headed out quickly but cautiously, scanning the area for threats. At first, the gunfire was intense, but after that, it dropped off to scattered bursts with the occasional explosion. They became less and less frequent as we moved forwards. Eventually, they stopped altogether. That wasn’t a good sign.

We saw our enemy at the same time they saw us. The van was parked directly outside the house, and two operatives in body armor, helmets and ski masks were guarding it. Behind them, the farm house was burning slightly. As soon as the two operatives saw us, they raised their rifles. At that range, an idiot could reliably hit us with the rifles they had. Judging by how fast they were raising their weapons, they weren’t idiots. We, however, had pistols designed for concealability rather than range. Any attempt to hit them would be a dice roll at best.

Before any of us could fire, however, Jen suddenly appeared standing between the two men, pressing a Berretta to each of their heads. There were two pops and both the men fell dead. Jen gave them each an extra security shot just to make sure they were really dead. Then she slid down the side of the van.

John and I both looked at her in horror. Then we ran to her. When we got close, we noticed with relief that she had no injuries apart from what Mayu had given her earlier. However, she did look much more tired, plus she was visibly trembling. “Ah,” she said, smiling weakly, “Nathan. John. You would not believe the day I’ve had.”

 

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Track 18: Somebody’s Watching Me

It turned out that I was right about how close my new shadows were. As soon as I had walked a few steps into the crowd, they were everywhere. I only saw five, but every time I turned around, one of the five would be in a different place.

I dived deep into the crowd, but they still followed me. My plan was to see if I could lose them by the time I made it to a subway station. I had seen one on the way there.  If there was a checkpoint between where I was and the station, I was more than prepared to simply drop my revolver and its piddly remaining four rounds of .38 Special. Maybe they had deliberately given that idiot such a shit gun so that when he inevitably got disarmed, I wouldn’t have gotten anything good.

The plan to double back the way I had come was dashed when I heard the helicopter blades. I looked up and saw that a group of three black helicopters, one Huey and two Little Birds, flying towards the consulate and pachinko parlor. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought  I saw people sitting with their legs hanging off the sides of the Blackhawk. That could only mean special forces. I rubbernecked long enough to avoid arousing suspicion, then headed down the street in the opposite direction.

As I did, I saw multiple police vehicles and two Bearcat armored cars marked with Kanji and the Roman letters “SAT” on the sides rush by. All of them were heading to the pachinko parlor and Consulate I had just shot up. Thankfully, I had gotten to a subway station soon after I had seen my first LAV. The look on my face was mildly interested/concerned (or at least I hope it was) as I watched a cop car and three green Humvee-like vehicles drive past, M2s cocked and manned. Then I followed everyone else down into the subway.

The station was crowded. At first, I thought it was because there was a checkpoint in the station. That would make sense, right? Then I looked over the sea of heads of people going down the steps. There was no checkpoint. Oh God, I thought, Is this how it normally are? No wonder there isn’t a checkpoint here.

The crowd was like a crushing force. I had to fight it just to make sure I was able to pay. I had to fight it again when the next train came and it was going in a completely different direction than what I wanted. Then I had to fight it a third time to get on the right train. That train was standing-room only.

The quarters were so cramped that I instantly gave up on trying to avoid having my gun grind into anyone. I spent a long time desperately hoping certain parts of my anatomy behaved and trying to find a position that would lead to as little unwanted contact for everyone as possible. Of particular note was the businesswoman in sunglasses who was right behind me, trying awkwardly not to look at me.

I also scanned the area for people wearing earwigs and casual business wear. Of course, everyone seemed to be wearing casual business wear, and it was really hard to see if they were mic’d up. I sighed. This was the worst thing ever.

Still, the subway ride wasn’t going to be too long, and when I got out I’d be only twenty minutes away. Still, at each stop, I’d have to brace for the rush of people leaving. It would move me like a fucking tidal wave and I’d have to brace for impact every time I heard a ding. Finally, on the third one, I could go with the flow.

As the crowd pushed me forwards, I noticed that at the top of stairs, a group of JSDF and local officers were randomly scanning people with wands. I sighed. Well, having the revolver had been fun, but it was time to let go. I reached into my pants, decocked it, made sure it was on safe, and then simply let it drop. The din of people talking and a train taking off masked the metallic clatter as it hit the floor. No one even knew there was even a gun.

Luckily for me, they were distracted by a huge baby-faced man of European descent to check for the papers I didn’t have. I continued walking, breathing a sigh of relief that I hadn’t been stopped. Then I suddenly realized I had seen the giant before.

I turned around. The man looked a lot like a fellow student back at NIU. Ulfric Trollbjorn was a baby-faced psycho who was famous among the assorted terrorists, psychopaths and criminals of the Academy of Military Science and Shadowhaven for how many people he had killed with his bare hands. If you told me you had seen him rip out people’s spines out like the Predator or took a man by both ankles and pulled him apart like a whishbone, I’d laugh and say I’d seen him do worse. If you said you’d heard a more disturbing sound than his high-pitched, weirdly innocent giggle that he gave whenever he found something amusing (I hadn’t really got a read on his sense of humor, he rarely talked,) I’d call you a liar. Needless to say, I made a double-take.

At first, I breathed a sigh of relief. The attitude was all wrong for Ulfric. Ulfric was childlike but obviously scarily intelligent. This guy, however, seemed normal. Where Ulfric would either be wearing his default grin, have some sort of hangdog expression, or be gleefully dismembering people, this man was arguing with several JSDF soldiers, his hands moving animatedly. Another even bigger giveaway was that the man was speaking. Ulfric spoke. Hell, from what I could tell, he spoke every language known to man like a native. The problem was that on a good day he could only seem to speak a sentence or two at a time.

“Oh!” a woman said as she bumped into me. “Sumimasen!”

I waved her off, then continued to stare at the Ulfric look-alike. Everything about him looked exactly the same as Ulfric. His buzzed hair, his sheer massive size, how he was built like a slightly more muscular-than-usual runner, and his baby face were all the same as Ulfric’s. I stared at him for a while. There was no way this man could be anything other than Ulfric’s twin. I refused to believe there were more than two baby-faced giants in the world.

I shook my head and began to walk away. “None of your business, Nate,” I said. “None of your business.” This was definitely not something I needed to know about.

A few blocks later and the crowd had mostly begun to clear out. I then began to notice that there were people following me. I first noticed it when I looked in the reflection of a small electronics store. Pretending to watch the TV’s news report (for some reason, it had a picture of a cartoon UFO on it,) I noticed some familiar faces I had seen on the train, one woman, two men, all three wearing businesswear and sunglasses. I suddenly realized that the woman had passed me when I was staring at the Ulfric-impersonator. She had also been standing behind me on the train.

It was probably nothing, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. Not today. Not after a Military Attaché had attempted to poison me. Not after a bunch of his friends had stormed a consulate just to kill me. Not when those friends were from an organization that had been famous for training ninja back in the day. I began dodging them.

I lost them quickly. All it had taken was going through another shopping mall, this one a lot seedier. Then I was on my way back to the dump.

When I got to the dump, a nasty thought occurred to me. These were people who had hacked into my abandoned cPhone in two hours, something that should be impossible. They were obviously really good with tech, and that woman had been extremely close to me on multiple occaisons…

I checked my pockets. There was a small plastic strip that hadn’t been there when I had put on my pants this morning. A red dot blinked away cheerily. Shit.

I sighed and entered the dump. As I did, I tossed the tracker into a pile of rotting food and hoped it sank deep. Then I went to find John. I figured I had five minutes until a Defenders team showed up and shot me to death.

I had not been looking for even a minute when the business lady who had bumped into me jumped out from behind a pile of garbage and hit me in the face with something. There was a flash of white and I was suddenly looking up at the woman aiming a very familiar revolver right at my face. “I believe you dropped this,” she said, smiling evily.

“How did you know…” I asked.

“Later,” she said. “Get up.”

“Ok,” I said, following her orders, “but you should know, if that gun is the same one that I dropped, it isn’t loaded.”

“Ok,” she said as I got to my feet, “then rush me.” She pulled the hammer of the gun back, her finger resting on the trigger. When I didn’t, she sighed. “Did you really think I was that stupid?”

“No,” I admitted, “but considering how I got it, I could always hope.” Unless this woman had decided to go on a rampage, that revolver still had four of its five shots left. Not a lot of margin for error, but more than enough to ruin my entire day.

“Where are we going?” I asked. She motioned deeper into the dump. I followed her orders.

“So,” she asked, “why did you even come here?” I noticed that her voice seemed slightly nervous.

“I don’t know,” I said, “why do you want me alive?”

“Leverage,” she said. “If you were us, would you want to fight the combined might of the British Empire? We keep you for a while and negotiate for peace.”

“And what about Mayu?” I asked. “I thought you started this because you wanted her dead. Or at least some of you wanted her dead.”

“I’m not informed about that,” she said. “Why did you say you came here again?”

I was trying to think of a lie when we both suddenly heard a series of muffled pops. I turned around to look her right in the face. “Oh, I was going to meet up with my friend, John Marshall. Did Nakashima tell you about the program we went to?”

Judging by how her face went pale, she had. Just as she glanced in the direction the shots had come in, I made a grab for the revolver. It went off, but I had knocked it out of her hands. She kicked it away.

That’s when I made a mistake. I dived towards the gun, thinking my opponent would as well. I miscalculated, landing a few inches. Before I could adjust, I heard the click of a safety being disengaged. “Don’t do it!” I heard my opponent say. I froze. “Put your hands on your neck,” she said, breathing heavily. “Interlace your…”

She was cut off by the sound of a silenced pistol unloading. Not daring to look up, I asked, “Hey John, is that you?”

“Who else would it be?” John’s voice asked. I could hear him moving towards the corpse and me. “The Dragon’s Teeth? Aliens?”

I at this, I got up and looked John right in the eye as he kicked away a pistol from my attacker, a silenced Glock still trained on the corpse. “Knowing your luck,” I said, “Both of those are in our near future.”

“You realize,” John said, looking directly at me, “I could shoot you and say one of them did it?”

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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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