Track 23: SHOT THROUGH THE LUNG

I was about to respond to John when a burst of gunfire hit the Z4. I turned to see that the driver had climbed out the window while I had been dealing with the flanking force. She was lying on her side and seemed to be in shot. “Are you shot?” I asked. She shook her head. “Ok,” I said, “if you can, run. Stay low, take the exit, and keep moving until you find shelter.”

She nodded, but just as she was about to get up, a burst of gunfire hit her car again. She screamed and put her head down. “JOHN!” I yelled. “COVERING FIRE!” We both opened up, hitting where we thought the shooter was coming from. “RUN!” I yelled to the woman. She didn’t need any more urging.

Finding places to aim that wouldn’t hit civilians but would hit whoever was shooting at us was a hard task. The entire road was filled with civilian vehicles, and our attackers didn’t seem to be hesitant to use them as cover. Combined with the fog and rain, identifying targets was pretty much impossible.

“John,” I said, “cover the other side of the road. We need to…” I was interrupted as a massive explosion rocked the overpass we were on. I turned to look at it. Apparently, the flanking force had more explosives than just the one rocket launcher. A small car had found this out the hard way when it had smashed into the back of it.

“Jesus!” John said. On cue, there was a series of smaller secondary explosions. The overpass shook a disturbingly large amount for something that was suspending us high above a concrete surface.

“Make sure no more of those things sneak up behind us to fuck us in the ass,” I said. “I’m going to Bushido and Kuniochi. We need a perimeter and we need it now.”

“Oh hell yeah,” John said. “Get one of them to help me cover the rear.”

I nodded and moved to the sound of Ballpeens firing, making sure to stay in cover. The traffic was backed up farther than I could see. Of course, due to it being a foggy, rainy night, that wasn’t very far. Plus, an eighteen-wheeler had skidded over, forming a sort of blockade. It rose out of the mist like an alien structure. I switched my scope to its thermal mode. There was no other way to see anything except vague muzzle flashes.

As I headed forward, I tried to ignore the crashed cars. The dead were fine, I had seen dead people enough times to realize they didn’t matter anymore, at least during combat situations. The living and obviously fine civilians were emotionally gratifying but tactically worrying. After all, the “uniform” our attackers were wearing was only slightly different from civilian clothing, or some idiot could pick up an abandoned firearm and play hero.

The worst part was the people who were dying. I don’t want to scar you with the details, but if you’re a paramedic with a lot of car accidents in your territory, you can probably fill in the details.

I turned around a station wagon. A man in business casual, raid vest, and a surgical mask was bent over another man in the same uniform lying face-down in the rain-soaked road. The second man had several holes in his back, holes I recognized as exit wounds from a Maccabee’s six-and-a-half millimeter cartridge. He seemed to have dragged himself behind the car, despite the fact that most of one of his lungs was now outside his body. Blood flowed across the tarmac.

The subject checking the downed hostile noticed me at the same time. His Type 89-F was pointed in the air. He lowered it to point at me, but I had already been aiming at him. I fired, twice at his chest and once at his head. I spared a brief moment to look at the blood trail. It led to some kind of M-4 clone (probably an HK 416 or 417) abandoned behind a coupe. I then moved forward and kicked the Type 89 away from the two subjects and moved on.

Eventually, I found one of the hackers crouched behind a car. “Bushido?” I asked as I got behind the vehicle. “That you?”

“Close enough,” the hacker said. “Have you seen my twin?”

It took me a moment to realize that s/he was referring to the person in the matching costume and not a relative. “No,” I said. “I was hoping you’d seen him.”

“Fuck.”

I agreed with Kuniochi. This was not good. I looked up and saw an even worse thing. Four men, three with belt-fed weaponry and one with what looked to be a six-shot grenade launcher were closing in. If they had seen us, I wouldn’t be able to raise my gun in time. “GET DOWN!” I yelled.

Three machineguns began to tear into the car in short, controlled bursts leaving no time for me to pop my head. I had followed my own advice and got behind the wheel underneath the engine block. The problem was that meant Kuniochi had to hide behind a door. I also realized that there was someone inside. Several bullets smashed through the flimsy metal and knocked Kuniochi on her back. Also, a few of the shards of glass were blood-stained.

Before I could worry about Kuniochi, she had raised her Ballpeen and began firing through the thin metal. “DIE!” She yelled. “FUCK THE FUCK OFF!”

“JESUS CHRIST!” I yelled as she began dry-firing, obviously wondering why her gun had stopped working. “STOP WASTING YOUR AMMO, AND TRY TO MAKE DECENT ONE-LINERS!”

My yelling was cut off by a grenade exploding on the roof of the car right in front of me. The shrapnel cut into my face. I was momentarily thankful for buying the scratch-resistant lenses for my glasses. Without them, I would have been blinded! Then the blood started leaking into my right eye.

Meanwhile, the machinegunners behind us were still firing. One bullet came so close that it passed through the sleeve of my sweater, so close it burned me. With a yell of pain, I lifted my arm to my face, just in time to block more shrapnel. The good news was my throat had been saved and my Maccabee took the brunt. The bad news is that my arm was now bleeding profusely and the only thing I owned that could hide injuries with was ruined.

Meanwhile, the car that doubled as our only source of cover was being ripped to shreds. A subject with a shotgun came into view. I fired, he fired. My shoulder was suddenly lacerated. He fell back, a few new holes in his chest. As this happened, a grenade flew through the now-fully shattered windows of our car and landed smack-dab in the center of the one I was facing. From inside that car I began to hear screaming.

I then noticed that the MGs had gone silent. I popped out of cover, still able to hold my gun. There, standing on a panel van, M3 in one hand and Vector in the other, was Jen. Well, she was in costume, so technically Hinomoto Oniko. She was obviously tired, despite the fact that she was wearing a mask and I could barely see her. She jumped down and began walking towards us.

“Damn!” I looked over to around where shotgun-subject had taken a pop. It was Bushido. “This is getting intense.”

Jen’s masked face turned to look at Bushido. “How the hell,” she asked, directing the question to both him and Kuniochi, “did you two think it was a good idea to split up?” I noticed that the visor on Kuniochi’s helmet was cracked. Either car doors were more bullet-resistant than I thought, or her visor was really tough.

“Good question,” I said, “but let’s save that for the after-action report, shall we?” I noticed that I was grabbing my arm. I pulled it away and noticed my hand was now soaked in blood. Ignoring it and the sting from rain falling into my wound, I began to use it to gesture. “Right now, we need to fall back and shore up the perimeter. We’ve left John alone too long.”

We began to head back to the where the Escalade was. I was falling behind, letting Bushido and Kuniochi take point. I should have been moving faster, considering that I was starting to hear gunfire again. Jen noticed this and fell back.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Kuniochi got shot in the face,” I said. “I’d be more worried about her.”

“I have access to her diagnostics,” Jen said. “Perks of our armor. Her brain scan is normal and she doesn’t seem to have whiplash. You, however are wincing like a puppy with a broken leg whenever rain hits your shoulder. That concerns me.”

“I’m good,” I said. “I’m fine.” Jen made a little “I see” noise. “Hey,” I said, “you should have seen me when I took a rifle grenade at Hell Semester.” Jen was unconvinced.

She was about to say something when the stray bullet hit her in the chest. Her armor was so good she only staggered a bit, but we both got to cover. I looked to see that it had come from several white panel vans that were now forming a barricade between us and the nearest exit.

Before I could switch to X-ray or sonar mode on my scope, the line of vans rocked, nearly crushing the people behind them. Dokutsu then got out, firing his Desert Eagle at the vans. He stomped his foot, and one of the vans flipped. Tatsu hurried out after him. She leaned back then forward, like the big bad wolf about to huff and puff.

The idea was probably the same because a cone of fire shot from where I assumed Tatsu’s mouth would be, explaining her lack of gas mask. The fire engulfed the vans and, I assumed, the fuel tanks as well because they began to explode.

“Come ON!” Jen yelled. “We need to get out of here!”

We advanced towards the exit ramp and the burning wrecks. No subjects popped out from the burning wrecks, but we still had someone cover them just in case as we headed down the ramp.

“Look,” Tatsu said pointing to a nearby building as we got to the base of the off-ramp. “That looks like a parking garage. We should be able to find some transportation in there.”

“Good,” Jen said. “We needed to have left half an hour ago.”

“Hey,” John said as we sprinted towards the building, “do you hear that?”

I listened. The whump-whump-whump of helicopter blades was getting louder and louder. “Shit,” I said. “Chopper. Here’s hoping that it just passes…”

There was a thwip and I felt something like a bee sting. Before I could even work out what had happened, I was face down, in extreme pain, and was having trouble breathing. Whatever had just happened was not good.

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Track 22: Zero to One Hundred

“Shit!” I said. This wasn’t an accident. The Toyota Sienna that had side-swiped us had clear windows, so I could see the frightened family inside. The hadn’t meant to side-swipe us. If what had happened to us was any indication, they didn’t have any choice. “I think this is a cyber-attack.”

“No shit, Sherlock!” Andrew or Lydia said.

“You’re the hackers!” I said. “Do someth…!” Another car, a BMW Z4, side-swiped us, knocking the minivan into traffic. Two other cars hit the minivan, one right after another, leaving it a crumpled mess. The driver of the Z4, a woman in a fancy evening gown, may have been saved by her airbag, but her passenger, a man in a suit, hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. He’d gone through the window and smashed his head against the side of the Escalade. I felt the walls of the Escalade hit my leg.

“Already on it!” one of the hackers yelled. “The fix should be taking effect…”

I looked up to see an old Toyota pickup barreling towards me.

“…About…”

It was hard to tell in the dark and at a distance, but I think the driver looked just as terrified as I did. He was obviously trying to turn, but the car wasn’t responding.

“…Now!”

At the last second, the pickup swerved. He missed us and the Z4, but was T-boned by a delivery van. Then a Subaru hit his bed. Cars were beginning to stop. Then the lights began to turn off. Soon, the only sources of lights were headlights. Someone or something had cut the power.

“Did you just hack the city’s power grid?” I asked the hackers.

“Don’t sound too impressed,” one of them said, grunting in pain. “We bought a… agh! A backdoor from some Russians… or people pretending to be Russians. All we had to do is… ahhh-ah-ah-ah… type in the zip code and all the power in the area shuts off. Cameras… traffic lights… they also fuck off.”

“You ok?” I asked.

“Didn’t…” the hacker said, “…didn’t put in the pads on my armor. Seatbelt just cracked my sternum.”

Resisting the urge to berate the hacker for not bringing the pads, I asked, “Can everyone move? We need to get moving.”

“I’ll…” Jen said weakly, “I’ll be a minute. My head…” There was some fumbling, then a wretching sound.

“Aw, gross!” one of the hackers said.

“We are trapped by the console,” Hirosama/Dokutsu said. “However, this is the exact reason we sewed some granite plates into the frame. “I should be able to get us free, but it will take time. Also…” That sounded ominous.

“Also…” Kaori/Tatsu said, obviously in intense pain, “…I seem to have a compound fracture. If someone could get me a cast, I could cauterize and set it while we work.”

“I got you,” John said, reaching into his pack. He took out a pack with a red cross and handed it over the middle seat. “Hey, someone pass this up to Tatsu.”

“While they’re doing that,” I said, “we need to set up a perimeter. Kuniochi, Bushido, you head out first, I’ll follow you. John get a neck brace on just to be safe, then follow us out. Jen, don’t come out unless you’re sure you’re fine.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Jen said. Her voice was unfiltered, so she’d probably taken off her mask. Then she vomited again.

“Door’s jammed shut,” one of the hackers said.

“Is it blocked?” Jen asked, annoyed.

“No.”

“Then blow the fucking charges.”

“Wait!” I said. “Before you exit the vehicle, I want you two to understand how we’re going to behave. We are going to show our weapons, but we will not aim them at civilians unless we suspect they’re not, or that they’re going to play hero. We’re going to be firm and only as loud as needed to be heard. I don’t want any dead civvies, and if you follow these rules there won’t be any. You understand?”

“Got it,” one of the hackers said, cocking the Maccabee. “Don’t fuck up the normies.”

Before I could express concern that I had given a 4chan troll automatic weaponry and told them to do one of the hardest jobs a soldier could do, the door blew open. The two hackers exited the vehicle and instantly began shouting curses and threats.

“They’re going to start shooting civilians any second, aren’t they?” John asked as he fixed his collar in place. I nodded. John sighed. “Fuck me, right?”

I exited the Escalade, unfolding my stock as I jumped out the hole where the door used to be. “What,” I asked dangerously, “did I say about controlling the civilians?” I paused, and saw that they both were pointing their guns at a man cowering by the crashed minivan, their lasers and lights illuminating him. I didn’t need to see them to know that their fingers were in their triggers. I did see that the man wasn’t holding anything and was obviously being as compliant as he could. “And what the fuck did I say about pointing weapons at civillians?”

“Uh…” one said, “…I’m thinking ‘don’t point weapons at civilians?’”

“For future reference,” I said, “Only point your weapon at a civilian if you can’t see their hands or if they enter this zone.” I indicated a semi-circular area around the Escalade. “If they start to get too close, use hand signals as well as words. Only pull your weapon if they get within twenty steps or have some sort of weapon. If you see a gun, call it in.”

“Follow those steps to the fucking letter,” John said, coming out towards us, “Or I’ll shoot you myself.” He looked at the man Bushido and Kuniochi had been terrorizing. “What’s his deal?” The man in question was sobbing and pleading. He may have been crying, but it was hard to tell in the rain.

“We don’t know,” one of the two hackers said. “We can’t speak Japanese, he can’t speak English.”

“I think I recognize him,” I said. “He was driving his family somewhere in that minivan.” I pointed to the crumpled minivan. The darkness, rain, fog and flickering headlights shining right at us made it hard to tell, but the driver’s side was empty and the door was open. The front windscreen shattered and bloodstained and the frame made it seem miraculous that anyone inside was even alive, let alone walking.

“Shit…” John said.

“I know,” I said. John began to move to help the man, but before he did, I said, “Hey, do you have a spare flashlight? I want to check to confirm the lack of hostiles and help any civvies as much as I can. Figure if the cops get us that would count for something, right?” Plus, there was the matter of the Geneva Convention and basic morality. John saw the logic and handed me a flashlight.

My first stop was the van we had hit. The man inside, a young Japanese man about my age, was breathing into a paper bag. Shining the light inside with one hand, I knocked on the window with the other. “Sir,” I asked, “are you alright?”  He shook his head, then locked the door. He must have noticed that I was carrying an assault rifle. I sighed and moved on to the Z4.

As I did, I heard Kuniochi and Bushido securing the perimeter in a much more professional manner. Good. That meant we had a chance of not hurting civvies.

That is, assuming any had survived the crash. The BMW had thrown its passenger through the windscreen and into the side of the Escalade. Judging by how much of his brains were showing, the funny angle of his neck, and the stains on the side of the now white Escalade, he was dead. If he was still alive by some miracle, he’d be dead soon. My guess was that he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. The hood of the car was crumpled like an egg carton that had been stepped on and all the windows had been cracked to hell and back by the impact. Through the spider web of cracks that had turned the windows snow white, I saw the driver move.

I ran to the driver’s side and knocked away what was left of the window. “Ma’am?” I asked the woman. “Are you OK?” She was slumped over her airbag. Her evening dress and much of the interior of her car was surprisingly clean, her gauzy blue-green dress with sequins only slightly ruffled and the gray and black leather of the interior mostly spotless. “Ma’am.”

She turned and looked at me. Her nose was broken and bleeding, her lips were cut, one of her formerly perfect teeth was loose, and her blood was causing her makeup to run. It was hard to tell because one of her eyes was swelling up, but I think the pupils were different sizes. Bits of safety glass glinted in her hair as she moved. “Kouta?” she asked, her voice slurred.

Shit. That was probably the person she had been driving with. “No.” I said. “Do you speak English?”

“H…hai… I mean yes,” she said. “I speak English. I can speak English.”

Ok, that would be useful. Then I saw her attention drifting to where her passenger had impacted. “Hey!” I said sharply. “Look at me. Look at me.” She did. “Can you get the door open?” This served two purposes. The first was that if she looked at her passenger, she’d most likely be a gibbering wreck for the next few hours. If I hadn’t gone through Hell Semester, I’d be wondering how she could even function right now. The other reason was that I wasn’t sure if she would be safe in there. I needed her out of the car in case it was a time bomb.

She began pushing the door. As she did, I heard one of the people in the Bushido costumes shout, “Hey, I’m seeing movement further up!”

“Listen,” I said to the woman, “I’m going to check something out. If I’m not back when you get out of there, I want you to move behind the wheel near the engine. That will keep you safe for a little while. Do you understand?” She nodded. I continued. “If you hear gunfire, leave through the window and run towards the exit ramp.” I looked at her feet. She was wearing six-inch heels. “Do you have any shoes without heels?”

She nodded. “I do. They don’t really go with my dress…”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, “if things go bad, and if you can run in those shoes, they may just save your life.” I looked for the exit. It was about fifty meters away. “You may need to sprint fifty meters. You won’t be able to do that in heels.” She nodded. “I’m going to be meeting with my friends. They…”

“Oh shit!” I heard one of the hackers yell. “Gun! Gun! Guh…!”

Maccabees and Ballpeens have distinctive sounds due to the extremely unconventional ammo and mechanism they use. Mostly, it’s just loud, louder than any other gun in their respective categories. The first burst wasn’t a Maccabee or Ballpeen. It was hard to tell who shot second, but I could tell that Lydia and Andrew were engaging multiple hostiles.

“Shit,” I said. “Listen, you need to crawl out of here and run. Use the other side.” I turned to head to the gunfire, turning the flashlight off and putting it in my vest’s webbing. “JOHN!” I yelled, “FINISH UP AND GET OVER HERE!”

On the side of the highway moving in the other direction, I saw a van pull up and start to disgorge people. I moved to the trunk, raised my gun and switched to thermal vision. That was the only way I would be able to see the subjects. They were armed. Of course they were.

“WAIT!” I yelled. “GET DOWN! CONTACT LEFT! CONTACT LEFT! CONTACT LEFT!” I began firing, trying to suppress them.

I was too late. One of the subjects had pulled out a rocket launcher and fired, causing him to light up on my scope. I saw John a few meters away from the minivan backlit by an explosion. He was firing his Maccabee at the van as well. The sound of his bursts of automatic fire and my semi-auto shots were much louder than their weapons. The enemy also discovered very quickly that hiding behind the walls of a van did nothing against someone with a Maccabee and X-ray/sonar scope.

John eventually got back to the Z4. By that point, the subjects in the minivan were either dead or thoroughly suppressed. “So,” he said, still aiming his gun at the now fully perforated van, his see-through magazine showing it was still mostly full, “things are going well, aren’t they?”

 

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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 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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Track 10: Let’s Jam

We stood outside the door to the apartment that Lydia had told us was the target. The building reminded me of one of those motels you see in America where the doors to the individual rooms are on the outside of the building. However, this building aggressively displayed the industrial late-20th century style unique to Japan.

As John put the small circle of plastic explosives on the door right above the handle and I drew my Beretta, I said, “I really hope that Lydia and Andrew are steering us straight. It wouldn’t be good to just breach and clear some poor asshole’s apartment all for nothing.”

“Do we still want to do this?” John asked.

I thought about this. Then I nodded, pulling down a ski mask over my face. “Ok,” John said, pulling a mask down as well, “On three…”

 

To back up a little, that text I had received while getting away from Kage fortress wasn’t from Jennifer. It was from Andrew, one of the obviously less experienced bodyguards. The gist was that Jen had disappeared and that we should meet “where we had last met.”

We had parked in an abandoned parking lot a few blocks from the Maid Café. As Mayu and John got out of the car, I texted Andrew to let him know we were coming.  He replied back, telling me to meet him and Lydia behind the café. That made sense, seeing as it was pretty late at night by the time we had arrived and the restaurant was a breakfast place. Still, I adjusted my sweater for easier access to my guns.

We found the two of them waiting nervously, two backpacks at their feet. They looked up in surprise. “Who the fuck’re they?” Andrew asked suspiciously, indicating John and Mayu. I noticed that he and Lydia were also armed. Despite being tightly buckled, Andrew’s pants sagged to one side and Lydia’s suit jacket bulged slightly under her arm.

“This is Mayu Nakashima,” I said. “We need to keep her safe and secure. John… If Jen hasn’t told you anything about him, you don’t need to know anything about him.” At that last bit, John nodded gratefully.

“I’m sorry,” Lydia said, “but we thought we’d get… you know, someone experienced. Where’s Eliza?”

“Experienced in what?” John asked.

“SWAT shit,” Andrew said. “You know, kicking down doors and shooting mofos in the face.”

“You lucked out then,” I said. “Eliza’s specialty is foiling the door kickers. John and I are the breachers.”

“Yeah, ok,” Lydia said, and I could hear the panic in her voice, “but we were expecting Eliza, y’know?”

“And I was expecting Jen,” I said.

“Yeah,” John said, “but life’s full of disappointments. Now, would you kindly take us to a safe house?”

“No.” That was Lydia.

John and I turned our gazes on her. Mayu giggled. “Excuse me?” I asked.

Quailing under Mayu’s creepiness, the negative attention of two trained killers, and whatever other pressures she was under, Lydia said, “Listen, Jen is the one who knows you. I don’t know what kinda deal she has with you two, but she’s gone. Someone gassed our hotel room and took her.”

I paused. John looked at them incredulously. “Excuse me?” he asked.

“There’s some good news!” Andrew said hurriedly. “Thanks to a subdermal tracker Jen had us implant, we know where she is, but the gas has still got our team’s power houses pretty fucked up. If you can get her back…”

“Ok,” I said, “get her,” at the word her I gave a shrug indicating Mayu, “to a safe place, and we’ll get Jen back.”

“We will,” Lydia said. “Meantime, we got some toys for you in those bags.”

 

“Two… One…” There was a thump and a flash of light, and a hole appeared above the door’s handle. In response, I kicked it open. Immediately, I saw a man staggering back, covering his eyes with one arm. The other arm was hanging loosely at his side and carrying what looked like a SIG-Sauer. Behind him were two other men.

My reaction had been drilled into me by a semester in what was called Kill House Lab. “Drop the gun!” I said in a loud, commanding voice. “Hands on your head, face on the ground.” John burst in besides me and repeated the commands in Japanese.

Instead of following our commands, the staggering man raised his gun. There were several gunshots, only three of which were mine. In between my second and third shot, I felt something hit the plate Lydia and Andrew had given me and I knew I would be feeling it tomorrow.

The man, however, would probably not be feeling anything ever again in a short while. Each of my three shots had hit him right in the heart. Judging by the red splotches on his once-pristine white dress shirt, he hadn’t been wearing armor.

Meanwhile, a table had been flipped over. Judging by the spray of blood on the window behind it, John had been able to get at least one of the guys who had been sitting there. A half-eaten meal of McDonalds had been scattered across the floor, the greasy smell of the food and the scent of the coffee already mingling with the coppery tang of blood and the smoky scent of gunpowder. Maybe that was the Japanese equivalent of bad Chinese food on a stakeout.

As we advanced, the other man popped up from behind the table. He had an assault rifle with a large, bulky silencer. There was more gunfire, not only from John and I, but from the man. Splinters and blood flew, and I was pretty sure that I saw the man fall back.

I hurried forwards to check the men. Both seemed dead, the one who had shot at us with the assault rifle had holes in his face, neck and chest, the one I hadn’t seen go down had a blood-stained hand clamped around his neck and a pool of blood nearby. I also noticed that a sawn-off semi-automatic shotgun had been taped underneath the table. Judging by the other bits of tape on the table and on the assault rifle, that gun had also been taped to the table.

I quickly kicked the assault rifle away from its former user just to be safe. I nodded to John, who had come up to me. As I did so, I noticed that he had a few holes where his plate was. He wasn’t limping, so I hoped that meant he was ok.

I did a quick scan. The room was a sort of kitchen-living room hybrid. There were also four Japanese-style futons and a strange device. Two security cameras, which I recognized as a popular model that could connect to the internet, were mounted on opposite corners of the wall. Off to the side were two doors. One was open to reveal a bathroom. The other was closed. I looked back towards the door we had entered from. There was an umbrella bucket, but instead of an umbrella, there was a curved, wooden handle indicating another sawn-off shotgun.

I indicated the closed door with a nod. We advanced on it from opposite sides, guns raised. We hadn’t even taken three steps when it opened and the fourth subject leaned out, an Uzi-like gun with a wooden foregrip built in, probably an early Minebea PM-9. There was an exchange of gunfire. I felt multiple impacts on my plate, but the padding stopped enough of the impact to keep me standing and my plate held. The fourth subject had ducked back into the door.

I looked at my gun. The slide was locked. I reached into a pocket and grabbed what Lydia claimed was a push-button flash-bang. I pressed the button and rolled it into the room. John reloaded while I was doing this.

The subject didn’t wait for the grenade to go off. He charged us, his right arm hanging loosely by his side, a bullet hole in that shoulder, and a cheap revolver in his left hand. John, by this point, had finished loading his gun. The subject fired once, his bullet hitting the floor. The grenade went off in a flash of light that blurred my vision and a thump that made my chest feel funny. It also caused my ears to ring. John fired five times, all of them hitting the subject in the center mass. All of this happened in such close proximity I wasn’t really sure what order these events happened.

I reloaded, careful to save the spent magazine instead of letting it drop to the floor. After all, the chances of getting another one were pretty low at this point. As I did so, I remembered that there were people who lived below the apartment. I seriously hoped they were alright. I also prayed to God they hadn’t called the cops.

When my magazine was back in, we entered the room. It was a bedroom with a Western-style bed, a dresser, a door into the bathroom, another web-accessible security camera, and nothing else. For a second, I panicked, wondering where Jen was. Then I heard a muffled voice say, “So, are you here to save me or kill me?” I looked underneath the bed. There was Jen, wearing the same clothes she had been wearing earlier that day when we had met at the maid café. She was looking the worse for wear, with her eyes looking slightly defocused and her clothes messed up.

“Rescue,” I said, holstering my Beretta. I turned to look at John. “John, check the bathroom. I wanna make sure we really are alone. Then gather up anything useful.”

John nodded. I turned to drag Jen out from under the bed. “Ah, Nathan,” she said muzzily, “howzzit goin’?”  In the background, I heard John kick open the door to the bathroom

“Have you heard the term ‘FUBAR?’” I asked as I dragged her out.

While I asked this, I heard John shout “Clear!” from inside the bathroom. While Jen tried to comprehend the question, I heard John move back into the main room and called out “Clear!” again.

After the second clear, Jen finally said, “Yeah… s’rry, jus’ got gassed, which messed wi’ my head. Then they drugged me with something. There’s also th’ ani-jumfield they’ve got.” It took me a while to realize that she meant anti-jump field. So that’s what that strange device was. “Fuckin’ hate ani-jumfields. Make me feel like I’m buried.” Noticing her arms hadn’t moved from beneath her back, I flipped her over. Just as I thought, she was zip-tied at the wrists. “Hey,” she said, “not until our second date!”

Ignoring her, I flipped out the knife and cut the ties. “Can you stand?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she slurred, “buh walkin’s gonna be tricky.”

I was distracted by John calling me in from the main room. “Hey, Nate! You better come take a look at this.”

“Wait right here,” I said to Jen, who was busy trying to get up. On the way out, I grabbed the PM-9 and slung it over my shoulder by the strap and tucked a spare fifty-round mag into my pocket. When I was in the main room, I saw John standing over the corpse of the first subject, the shotgun and assault rifle slung over his shoulder. “What is it?” I asked.

“Take a look,” John said. “Recognize that face?”

I suddenly remembered our first day at Kage fortress. “He was one of the first Defenders of Fuji we saw…”

Suddenly, we heard a laugh. It was a hysterical, drug induced laugh. We turned around to the door to the bedroom. There, leaning against the door frame, was Jennifer. Finally, she stopped laughing. “Well,” she said, “it looks like we finally have a common foe.”

 

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