Track 10: In the Den

I had gotten my hands in front of me when I suddenly realized Mayu wasn’t taking the opportunity to kill me. Instead, she seemed to be sobbing. I paused, unsure what to do. The table seriously blocked my view. I couldn’t tell if Hicks was fine or if he was dead. I also couldn’t tell if Mayu really was this unstable or if she was trying to lure me out from behind the table.

By the time I had realized that it was probably that Mayu might actually be too emotionally incapacitated to kill me, she had staggered zombie-like into my field of view, the Glock hanging loosely at her side. She raised it to her head and I could see that the grip was slick with blood. My breath caught in my throat. Before I could figure out how I felt about that, she adjusted the gun to aim directly at my heart. Then she shifted back to her head.

This process repeated several times, ending with the gun pointed at my chest. “Well,” she said, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I thought you wanted this. I thought you wanted to help people.”

“Mayu,” I said, “I do. But there’s something wrong with you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “Then why aren’t I dead?”

At this, Mayu’s eyes widened and her hands began to shake. I had her. If I could just find the right words, maybe nobody would have to die today.

Then the door burst open. I turned just in time to see two men in suits open fire. One fell, a bullet in his head. The other advanced into the room. “Target has left the area,” he said. I noticed that he had a Visitor tag and a US Marshal’s badge on a chain around his neck. Also of note was that he wore cowboy boots that probably added a few inches to his height. “We have survivors.”

“Shit!” a man said, running into the room, this one without a badge. “What the hell happened?”

“Someone tried to kill the person we’re trying to take into custody,” the marshal said as he grabbed me by the arm, lifting me up. “You do have a mole, and we need to get our suspect out of here.”

As he lifted me, Hicks suddenly said, “Hey.” I turned to look at him. His face was extremely bloody and his eyes were slightly unfocused. As the most recent arrival tried to bandage him, Hicks stared at the US Marshall for a moment, taking him in from head to toe. Then he looked at the dead Marshal. He then turned to me and said, “Be careful, kid.”

I nodded, a little confused. Why was Hicks wishing me luck? I’d severely screwed him over, and here were a bunch of US Marshals coming in to whisk me away to a place where he probably couldn’t arrest me. Maybe the concussion was talking.

“Please accompany me,” the marshal said, still grabbing arm. He didn’t have to pull very hard. I was actually very curious as to what was going on.

Out in the hallway, I immediately noticed six men. When I turned around, there was a seventh. Of them, only one wasn’t wearing a visitor tag and a US Marshal badge. Except for the person I assumed to be the FBI escort, there seemed to be something similar about them. Not their height, they were all the same size. Their faces and hair colors were all different as well.

“We need to get him out of here,” a Marshal said. “This building is not secure.”

“We’ve got time,” the FBI agent said. “Nakashima’s a lone wolf. We should go to the security station on this level and-”

“We need to leave,” the Marshal said. “If her information is open-source, we might have more incoming.”

“Like what?” the FBI agent asked.

“We have reason to believe that the Dragon’s Teeth wants to apprehend him.” Once I heard this, it made sense. After all, they had made a serious attempt to take me alive at the NIU airfield. Then, I instantly began to wonder why they wanted me and how the US Marshals knew that and the FBI didn’t.

“Well,” the agent said, “can we compromise and stop off at the people in the National Security Branch? Maybe tell them how you know?”

“Affirmative,” a Marshal said. “But all we can really do is put them in contact with those who do.”

“Ok,” the FBI agent said. “I’ll lead the way.” He began to walk off. When we finally got to an elevator and all crowded into it,  the FBI agent commented, “Never worked with marshals before. You guys are really formal.”

The one who had been leading me by the arm suddenly clenched it. “We are just-” four started at once. Then they cast a few looks around and one said, “We’re just a little new with working with our counterparts as well. We are being a little extra professional to make a good impression.”

“Ok,” the FBI agent said. Then his phone beeped, indicating a text message. “Wait, I gotta take…”

The FBI agent was by the door controls and I was in the corner at the opposite end. He was mostly blocked by the six Marshals so I couldn’t see what the text said. I could, however, see that everyone had adopted “oh shit” expressions. The FBI agent even managed to say it partly before one of the Marshals pulled out a strange pistol and executed him with a shot to the back of the head. There was no exit wound, and I couldn’t see the entry wound. I could, however, smell something sweet and spicy, as well as burning hair and flesh.

I recognized the pistol instantly. The immediate giveaway was the lack of noise. The thing that movies don’t really tell you about guns is how loud they are, even with silencers. Even a nine millimeter pistol with a good silencer would probably alert everyone within fifty meters that a gun had been fired. A rifle like an AK or an AR might have deafened everyone in such cramped conditions, even with a silencer. They just might think it had been from a lot further away.

This pistol, known as a Sgian, was so quiet I could barely hear it, even in these cramped spaces. It was very rare. So rare that there was only one group that I or anyone else to my knowledge had seen use it. They were called the Picts, and they were an elite group of Dragon’s Teeth soldiers. That, combined with the dead FBI agent, meant that these weren’t US Marshals.

This was confirmed a few seconds later when they began pulling off their faces and hands. Underneath were the same neutral faces, red hair and green eyes… but wildly different tattoos.

I had never personally seen under a Dragon’s Teeth helmet, but I had managed to get some documents that, among other things, analyzed the tattoos the Deets decorated themselves with. I was still surprised. Several had Mexican Day of the Dead-style skulls tattooed over their faces. Some had Celtic trees of life on their cheeks or back of their neck with the lines made out of a mix of Japanese and Chinese characters, Gaelic writing, and Latin. Those words appeared other places as well, often seeming like a translation. All the work was done in either white or black ink, with the white ink reserved for the skulls.

There were exceptions to how the body art was only in white and black ink. I noticed that some had raised scars that seemed to be names or numbers. There was also a color portrait of a naked skeletal woman with dark hair on the back of one of their necks. Unlike many pictures of naked women, these seemed to have more in common with pictures of Jesus. It was very Day of the Dead, but there were also some elements of old Japanese paintings before they had started using perspective.

I was suddenly slammed against the wall, a pocket gas mask of some sort forced over my face. A Pict suddenly loomed into my face, his face tattooed with a skull mask. On the center of his forehead, in the center of a yellow circle, was another Japanese/Day of the Dead-style image of the woman, except this time she was clothed in a dark robe, had six arms, and was comforting a severely injured Pict. Once he had made sure my mask was on, he moved back.

From my position, I couldn’t really see the person pinning me, but I could kind of see the elevator door and a few other Picts if I strained. They had all gotten their gas masks on. That could only mean they were planning on using a chemical weapon, and I had a pretty good idea on what that was. They also had drawn what either were captured Glocks or Dragon’s Teeth weapons designed to look like Glocks. One Pict, shielded from view from those outside the elevator, even had a small black spherical object.

Suddenly, the elevator doors opened with a ding. Outside, I could see at least two FBI agents crouching behind desks, Glocks aimed at us. They weren’t wearing gas masks. The Pict operator body slammed me further into the elevator wall, both controlling my movements and shielding me from any incoming fire.

At the same time, I heard agents call out things like “Drop your guns!” “Hands on your heads” or “Release the hostage or we will open fire!”

“Shoot them!” I yelled. “Shoot them now!”

Then somebody, I’m not sure who, complied with my request and everything went to hell.

 

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Track 9: Losing Her Conviction

“There’s supposed to be an anti-jumpfield here,” Hicks said.

He was very calm, considering that Mayu Nakashima had stolen his service weapon and jamming it into his neck. They actually made an interesting contrast, with Hicks’ greying hair and age-weathered face compared to Mayu’s unnaturally pale skin and pure white hair. Mayu’s mask-like smile was plastered on her face, and Hicks’ face was sour and unreadable as always. I noticed that both Hicks’ gray eyes and Mayu’s near white ones were both bloodshot, like they hadn’t been sleeping well.

“They don’t work on her,” I said.

“Really?” Hicks said.

“SHUT UP!” Mayu screamed, her face contorting into a mask of rage. Hicks made a choking sound as the muzzle of his Glock was drove further into his neck. A few drops of Mayu’s spittle hit me in the face. She saw the wetness on my extremely terrified face, then a look of confusion passed over hers. She blinked, then just as quickly relaxed. “I am sorry,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “That was uncalled for.”

“I apologize, too,” I said mimicking her head bob, “We shouldn’t have ignored you. Right, Agent?”

“Yeah,” Hicks said. He was terrified and out of breath, but he seemed to have a plan. I wondered if he realized I was trying to talk her down. “Any reason you’re visiting us?”

“Why,” Mayu said, “I said it already. I am here to lead you to the Messiah!”

“I was hoping,” Hicks said, giving me a meaningful look, “that someone could elaborate.”

“Mayu’s been a bit unwell,” I said. “She’s been in isolation for over a while and has some…”

“LIAR!” Mayu screamed, her face contorting with rage. Shit. What the hell had I been thinking? Hicks could tell she was crazy, she’d killed fourty-four people on his watch, five having been tortured to death. “I’M NOT CRAZY! I’M NOT CRAZY, YOU’RE LYING! YOU’VE SEEN HIM WITH YOUR OWN EYES! YOU KNOW HIS-” She halted mid-paranoid rant, her face lighting up with realization. Then she began to laugh hysterically. When she was done, she asked, “You haven’t told him, have you? You haven’t told Agent Hicks about Mubarak-kami, have you?”

“No, he hasn’t,” Hicks said, shooting me a rightfully annoyed glare. “Mind filling in?”

“Did he tell you about Mubarak-kami?” Mayu asked. “I bet he told you he was just a turncoat and a spy, nothing really special. Just some lowly, dishonorable coward.”

“He didn’t say anything like that,” Hicks said. “He only told me his name, that he was under the protection of the CIA and you were after him.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m not trying to throw Mubashir-”

“Show some respect,” Mayu snarled. I suddenly realized that the honorific that Mayu was using on Moob’s name was extremely strange. I had heard kami, the Japanese word for spirit or god before, but had never heard it used in that way. I wondered if it a sign that Mayu’s mind was fraying even more.

“Mubarak… kami?” I said making sure I had gotten it right. “Listen, the guy’s my friend and I’m just trying to protect him. If I tell Hicks he’s with the CIA, he doesn’t ask questions, and neither does the CIA.”

“So,” Mayu said, her face in its normal smile, “for you, protecting him means lying?” I hesitated, my mouth opened. She obviously was with it enough to trap me. “Well,” she said, her smile becoming so wide for a moment her eyes temporarily closed, “I think that says how much we can trust Jacobs-san, doesn’t it, Hicks-san?”

“Yeah,” Hicks said noncommittally.

“What you need to know about Mubarak-kami,” Mayu said, “is that he is God. He’ll fix everything.” That last word was said with such an intensity that Hicks and I flinched, even though it wasn’t angry. Then, she added so quietly I could barely hear it, “He’ll fix me.” She then reverted back to her normal smiling self. “That’s why I need you two. Jacobs-san, you know him. You can help convince him to use his power. Hicks-san, you helped the CIA with its informant extraction and relocation program.” At this, Hicks suddenly looked like the floor had fallen out from under him. “If you help, if you join me, we won’t have to kill anyone else.”

“Mayu,” I said, “There are a few reasons I’ve been uncooperative with you and Hicks.”

“Like he’s not really God?” Hicks said. “I figured that one out.”

There was a long silence. Finally I said, “The evidence,” I said, “actually indicates him being a God being a possibility.”

“What do you mean?” Hicks asked.

“You’ve seen it, haven’t you?” Mayu asked excitedly. “You’ve seen his power?” Suddenly, she got suspicious. “Why aren’t you worshipping him right now?”

“Can we talk about the things we’ll all agree on first?” I asked. Mayu nodded.

“Yeah,” Hicks said, glancing at where Mayu was pressing a gun into his neck. “That’d probably be safer.”

“This is a person,” I said, “who, in what appears to be a limited range,” or what I genuinely spent some nights praying was a limited range, “can make the laws of nature his bitch. If he… wants to, he can choose not to die if you put a three-round burst in his skull. If he wants to, he can turn someone into a fountain. If he wants to turn the immediate area into a cross between an Escher painting and one of those Scooby-Doo chase scenes where the doors lead into the hallway, he can. I mean, wants to is a strong word, but-”

“He can turn people into a fountain.” Hicks’ tone of flat disbelief was frankly expected.

“He can,” I said. “And I really don’t want the CIA doing their MK ULTRA crap on him. And don’t tell me that it’s stopped, or it doesn’t exist, or that they won’t try to do it to him. This is way too much of an opportunity for some of the people there not to take.”

“So,” Mayu said, “why aren’t you helping me?”

This was going to get me shot. I knew that as soon as I realized I had to say it. “Mayu,” I said, “Mu-Mubarak-kami isn’t who you think he is.”

“Yes he is,” Mayu said. “He’s the Architect, isn’t he?”

“Mayu,” I said, “the Architect isn’t some all-loving person. The Architect is a scared, traumatized kid with a split personality that controls his power.”

“What… what do you mean?” Mayu asked.

“Mayu,” I said, trying desperately to connect with her on some level, “ever since he was taken by Al-Qaeda, Mubarak-kami has been trying to kill himself. He told me this after saving my life for the third time, when I realized he’s the Architect. He’s not Mubarak-kami, here to usher in some golden age. He’s Moob, a kid from some Middle Eastern village trying to leave the past behind him. He’s Moob, a guy who has this power he literally believes is a curse from his God for thinking he could do a better job.” I took a deep breath and said, “Mayu, Mubashir’s not the person you want him to be.”

Mayu had been becoming more and more panicked as I spoke. Finally, she whispered, “Liar.”

“Mayu,” I said, “why would I lie to you?”

“LIAR!” Mayu screamed. She then aimed her gun at me again. This time Hicks grabbed the gun. I didn’t see because I had launched myself sideways. The gun went off, but thanks to my dodge and Hicks’ grab, the shot went wild and hit the mirror.

I heard something smash into the table. Hicks grunted in pain. Meanwhile, I tried to step through the handcuffs. As I tried, I heard what sounded like Mayu pistol-whipping Hicks and yelling. “You moron! I was trying to do this right! I was trying to save you! I was trying to save the world! Why do hate me? WHY DO YOU HATE ME? WHY DO YOU HATE MEEEEE?!”

This, I thought to myself, actually might be going better than I expected.

 

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Track 28: Anime Beauty/Anime Psycho

“Jacobs-san,” Hiro asked, “Does my ancestor have any reason to suspect you’d know where The Architect is?” I nodded, but didn’t elaborate. In the dim red light, I could see Hiro’s eyes narrow. “Mmm. I see.” He got up. “Well,” he said, “If you’ll excuse me…” He then called out some orders in Japanese. Two of the guards got up and followed him out, one drawing what was a SIG-Sauer P220 or a Minebea P-9 pistol, the other bringing up a PM-9.

The other six guards took up anti-Jumper positions. Four moved into the corners of the room, drawing their pistols, the ones with underbarrel lights switching them on. The other two stood right next to me. One drew a shotgun with a high-powered light built into the slide and began nervously scanning the room. The other had a Heckler & Koch pistol. He kept it pointed at the floor, rightly realizing he was too nervous to be aiming it.

From far away, I could hear people shouting. Then there was a brief exchange of gunfire. Everything went disturbingly quiet. One of the guards asked something, but he was shushed. We went back to waiting. Occasionally we would hear gunfire in other areas of the castle. It appeared to be getting further and further away, but if it really was Mayu, that meant absolutely nothing.

Eventually, silence reigned again. That didn’t stop any of the guards from lowering their weapons. That was smart of them, but it didn’t save them.

What felt like an eternity later, I was stretching my neck to my left to avoid it seizing up. That was the only reason I saw it.

Suddenly, Mayu was in between the two guards, two green metalic pear-shaped objects in her hands. “Tsukamu!” she called out cheerily as she tossed the objects at the guards standing beside her.

Recognizing what they were, I turned my head to the right, hoping to shield my face from whatever fun contents the grenades were about to vent. There, standing between the guards on the opposite side, was Mayu. She had her shitty five-round revolver and pink VP-70 aimed at their heads. She fired just as the grenades went off. One guard fell sideways, his head blown apart by a three-round burst. He had just squeezed out a few shots where Mayu had been. The other collapsed against the wall, clutching his neck. Blood spurted out between his fingers. Judging by the rate at which it came out, he would be dead by the time he had hit the floor. Heroically, he tried to adjust his aim to where Mayu had been standing.

The guard with the shotgun also had the same idea. However, by the time he began blasting away, Mayu was gone.

I turned to hear the guard at the right of my bed yell something. There was the crunch of the door being kicked open, and the guard fired. At the same time, someone else fired a short burst from an assault rifle. I turned to see Mayu standing in the doorway, aiming down the sights of her HK 417. She adjusted her aim and let off two more bursts. She then moved into the room, making sure her back was to the wall and not the door, and quickly and professionally scanned for hostiles, her usual grin plastered onto her face.

When she was satisfied that everyone was dead, she lowered her gun and gave her big, eye closing smile, bowed, and said “O-jama shimasu!” If you had told me that, from her first appearance, to this cheerful pleasantry, the massacre had taken fifteen seconds, I would have said that sounded too long.

“Jacobs-san,” she said with concern, ejecting the magazine. It was translucent, so I could see that it was not empty. She quickly inserted a new one. As she did so, she said, “You don’t look well.” I stared at her, trying to determine whether or not she was faking the concern. It was hard to tell.

We were interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Mayu paused, turned and asked worriedly, “Nani…?” The gunfire didn’t stop. If anything, it began to increase in volume. Mayu turned back towards me, her usual smile back. “Well, it doesn’t seem like we have too much time to talk.”

“Stop the bullshit,” I murmured. “You know… this isn’t a… good time for… whatever this is. I’ve got… collapsed lung… Defenders or whoever… are coming…”

“So you’ll just have to talk faster, won’t you?” Mayu said in a perky voice, her smile expanding again. As she said this, she took out a wicked-looking switchblade from seemingly nowhere and opened it in a menacing manner.

I laughed. “Experienced torturer… would break me in six months… maybe six days. You don’t even… have six minutes. No knowledge of psychology… no carrot… just a stick.” I laughed. Then began coughing. “You don’t…” I rasped, “…have any reason why…” I gasped for breath, “…I should give you The Architect.”

Mayu froze like a deer in the headlights. It was like something large and unforeseen was barreling straight towards her. “Why… I should be given…” she said. “Ah. Oh dear. It seems like you misunderstand my intentions.” She walked towards me and knelt by my bed. Looking directly into her eyes, I could see that she had that same spark of insanity in her eyes I had seen all too often back at NIU. “I’m not trying to take the Architect. I’m not trying to kidnap… Mubashir, that’s his name, right? I’m trying to prove myself.”

I been staring at her while she said this. “Explain,” I said.

Mayu got up. That’s probably what saved her. There was the pop of a pistol shot and she stumbled back into the wall. The follow-up shots missed her and hit the headboard of my bed. She vanished just as I turned around to look at the shooter.

There, standing in the doorway was Li, holding a P9. Directly behind him was Mayu. She grabbed the arm Li was holding his pistol in and smashed it into the door. “EHHHH?!” she screamed. She then slammed Li’s head against the doorframe. Li collapsed as Mayu began ranting in Japanese. When he was on the floor, Mayu began to slam the heavy iron door into his head over and over again. As she did so, I notice the arm she was gripping the door with was bleeding from the shoulder. The door closed more each time until eventually it was just clanging against the frame.

After a while, Mayu looked down at what she had done. I couldn’t see the mess, but Mayu’s assault on Li had been so vigorous that bits of blood had spattered her face. Her expression of rage froze, a look of panic bubbling just underneath the surface. It was quickly replaced by her standard smile. She walked back into the room, closing the door behind her.

“Anyway,” she said, “You are Christian, right?”

“Jewish,” I said. I stared at the person before me. Was she seriously going to pretend that she hadn’t just beaten a man to death? Could she really just change gears like that? More importantly, did she really think I’d buy the truck driver’s gear change in conversation?

“So,” Mayu said, her face taking on a zealous glow, “if you found the Messiah, would you try to control it or fall at its feet and beg forgiveness for your sins?” I held up two fingers to indicate choice two. I would have said something about maybe not begging for forgiveness, but I wanted to see where she was going with this. Plus, you know, collapsed lung.

Mayu nodded. “See?” she said. “We both have the same goal. To make the world perfect.” Ok, that was a leap of logic, but I’d let it slide. Mostly because speaking hurt. “The person you call Mubashir, or The Architect, is also what you’d call the Messiah.” The evangelical fervor in her voice was reaching a fever pitch, her smile gone. “I am here to be his Herald. I shall find him and expunge my sins at his feet. Then he will fix the world, ending want and suffering.” She smiled at me. It was not her normal smile, all mask-like and plastic. It was much more disturbing. She then held out her hand, offering me to take it. “Tell me, Jacobs-san, will you help me find Mubashir? Will you help to make the world perfect?”

I sat there, trying to unpack the various flavors of crazy. There was a lot, and I’d need to defuse it all if I wanted to live. If I said the wrong thing, she would start beating me. Or maybe she’d start cutting into me. I noticed that her other hand was soaked in blood and clutching the knife. I’d have to move fast, because she was looking impatient.

I was saved by what felt like a lead curtain falling down over me. Whatever it was, Mayu felt it more. She doubled over and vomited a mix of blood and something chunky onto my bed. Some of it splashed onto my bare arm and I recoiled. Most of it sloshed off the bed and onto the floor. After the third retching, Mayu looked up. The sick had sloshed over her mouth and her nose was bleeding profusely, but it was her eyes that scared me. The previously clear whites were now turning pink, with a few cuts starting to leak tears of blood.

“They’re coming…” she said. Then she vomited again. Outside the door, I heard muffled shouting. I couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like English.

“Give up…” I said to Mayu. “…can’t get out of… this. You can… survive.” This wasn’t because I cared about her. I just didn’t want whoever came through the door to accidentally shoot me. The last thing I wanted was to die in a room that smelled of gunpowder, blood, excrement and vomit.

Mayu raised her head, glaring at me with enough rage and determination to kill. In what must have been an act of supreme determination, she stood up and aimed her revolver at my heart while pulling back the hammer in one smooth move. Then the door was kicked in, John, Eliza, and someone I didn’t recognize coming in. Eliza was carrying an L1A1 battle rifle, John his Type 89-F, and the third guy seemed to be an SAS operative with some sort of M-4 clone.

“Drop the gun, sunshine,” Eliza said, staring down her rifle’s infrared scope. “I’ve just about ‘ad it with this mess.”

Mayu, her voice cold, simply said, “No.”

“I’m warning you,” Eliza said, “I will put a bullet through your fucking skull…”

“Which will cause my grip to tighten,” Mayu said. “Do I have to explain what would happen then?” Her voice, in what I assume had to be more herculean willpower, returned to its normal bubbly demeanor.

“What do you want?” John asked.

“Mubashir.” Mayu made it sound like the most innocent thing in the world. “You know where he is. I would like to talk to him.”

“We don’t know where…”

“LIAR!” Mayu shrieked. Her finger tightened on the trigger. She took a deep breath and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry for that outburst,” she said. “That was rude. But so is lying.” Her voice was bubbly except for how acidly she said lying. “You know, this has been such a disappointment. I thought for sure you would understand. But if you insist on being so unreasonable, I will have to kill Jacobs-san.”

“We don’t know where Moob is,” John said. “We specifically set it up so we didn’t know in case of situations like this.”

“That’s a shame,” Mayu said. “There’s no point in leaving him alive then.”

“Wait!” Eliza said desperately, lowering her weapon. “We don’t know where he is…”

“Not what I…” Mayu began.

“But we know who’s holding him,” Eliza finished.

“Eliza…” I said. “Not… good…”

“Nate,” Eliza said, “the CIA know their business. If she makes trouble, they’ll smack her down.” She turned to Mayu. “Now come on, lower your gun. There’s no way you can get out of here. You got what you wanted, now come quietly.”

“What about the second-best option?” Mayu asked.

“What’s that?” John asked. Then Mayu vanished. “How…? What…? What?” John sputtered this, lowering his gun. He then sighed and just said, “Fuck me, right?”

 

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Ok, some news. There is some stuff that’s going on. Some of it is job-related. Other bits actually have to do with NIU. I actually am very close to getting NIU self-published. I’m going through edits, then I need to get the cover (I’m paying for it, if you saw my art, you’d understand why,) then I’m going to have to do some forms of marketing. It isn’t going to be something that’s immediate, and it could all go up in flames. Just thought I’d let you know.

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 15: Cabin Fever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I need them!” Mayu said desperately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How bad is it?” I asked.

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

“Ok, where’s the next nearest one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whenever you want,” I said.

“How about now?”

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

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

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Track 14: Leave Your Lights On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everyone I love dies,” Jen said.

“It’s ok,” I said. “It’s ok…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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