[Fic] The Tenant of Room 404

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Tabasco
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Postby Tabasco » Mon Mar 31, 2008 3:49 pm

Nope, its the room two doors down from where Rei lived in the series, Apartment 402. Smith lived there for a bit before it became an ex-apartment.
---
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one insists on adapting the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
- George Bernard Shaw

Enki v.2
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Postby Enki v.2 » Mon Mar 31, 2008 4:12 pm

Bah, I know that much. But why not 400? 404 is the HTTP error code for file not found, and it is also the Japanese "unlucky" room (something like the 13th floor is for USAmericans). Someone could BS several hundred different symbolic significances based on that, most of them applicable to the story.

Plus, at the beginning of the story he was under the stairs, and for most of the story he was living in an appartment with a 4-digit number (1523? something like that) next door to Misato. To keep the appartment number that he had for less than one arc (between getting into NERV and getting the appartment and the following angel attack that leveled said appartment) as the title should have some kind of meaning.

Or we could just pretend it does.

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Postby BobBQ » Sun Apr 13, 2008 4:13 am

Goodness, I've really been neglecting this story for far too long.

Enki v.2 wrote:Words about quantum physics and Judaic history.

Thanks. I'll keep that in mind.

404 is the HTTP error code for file not found, and it is also the Japanese "unlucky" room (something like the 13th floor is for USAmericans).

Yes, indeed. Well spotted!

This chapter is very heavy on action, but the next will be less so. Also, those who miss the Children and Evas and all that jazz will be pleased to learn that we are now quite close to seeing them all again.

Thanks very much to SSD and Zeak for introducing me to Scared Weird Little Guys, whose songs will be referenced in this and following chapters.

Recon Number 54: Roland the Penniless Thompson Gunner | TROUBLE SHOOTING

Nobody spoke as we sprinted towards the gaping facade of a derelict building-I think it had originally been a coffee shop or some such-on the right side of the street and took up positions along the outer wall, crouching in booths long ago stripped of seat cushions and window glass. "I'm no good here," K-Bar grunted, sprinting into the back. "Gotta go round to the rear line. Whatever they do, don't shoot first. Got it?"

"Sure," I muttered as the Arume directed their weapons to the street outside. "YT, see if you can find a higher position. I think we're going to need precision cover."

"Right." Kirov took off, giving me a slap on the back as she passed. "Stay alive."

"Always do." I propped the Garand against the window frame before me and checked the readiness of the Schnellfeuer: my insurance if anything went wrong with the M1. The Humvees were right outside now, pulling into an arrowhead position in the center of the street as the H&R came back up. Two armed men in Darkstar outfits got out of the nearer vehicle, then an older man with close-cropped gray hair and something on his chest that flashed gold in the sunlight. I instinctively drew a bead on him as the others took up perimeter positions in a surrounding square.

Yuukanael, perched in the booth immediately to my left, hissed something in her native language. "Schuhart," she added after a moment, "that forime is one of their leaders. His name is Turner Anderson. Be wary-he always carries two weapons and is very cruel."

"Noted. Let's see what he wants."

Anderson looked around briefly, hands on hips, then took a megaphone from one of the regular mercs and pointed it in what appeared to be the direction of the majority of the attending refugees, down the street to our left. "I want to talk to the person in charge. Send him out."

"There's nobody in charge here," Nereus called back. "What do you want?"

"You illegals are willfully harboring a dangerous criminal and terrorist, the man behind an attack on us two days ago. Turn him over to us promptly and you can spare yourselves an intervention by force."

"You wanna bust terrorists, you should go check out the native nationalist camps over on the western fringe. We don't associate with that type here... Not that I believe you even have the authority to throw your weight around like so. Aren't you supposed to be babysitting some nerds?"

"Cut the bullshit," Anderson ordered. "I'm not a patient man... You can surrender the fugitive, alias Smith, or face stiff consequences."

"None of my business," the Pole retorted. "You want some guy to surrender, you gotta talk him into it yourself."

One of the mercs stepped up and said something to the leader, motioning towards us. Anderson turned, passing the megaphone off to his lackey. "You... women," he barked in what sounded an awful lot like a resentful tone. "Which is the leader?"

"I am," Nebaril answered defiantly.

"I presume you've made a deal with that man. I can offer you a better one."

"I'll bet," the alien retorted. "What is it?"

"An exchange: the American for your... friends." That last bit looked like it was really killing him.

"He's a poor liar," I cut in quietly as Nebaril crawled across to my position, "and a moron, if he seriously thought he could intimidate us so easily." I raised my voice. "Nice deal, but I've got a better one: their comrades and the girl you kidnapped in exchange for me not busting a thirty-cal cap in your ass! Whaddaya say?"

Anderson didn't answer, instead motioning to one of the other mercs. Two more appeared from around the rear of the Humvee, dragging a bound, gagged and frail-looking Arume between them, wearing an oversized windbreaker over an Arume bodysuit. I heard a sharp intake of breath from Yuukanael. "We can start with this one," the mercenary called. "We just want the American, dead or alive."

I rolled my eyes. "What, are we a bunch of gullible six year olds..." The sentence trailed off as I felt something hard and narrow poking my kidneys. "Nell, what..?"

"Our kind come first," the Arume spat, then raised her voice. "I accept your-"

The M3's muzzle suddenly swiped across my back. I twisted around as Yuukanael retracted her foot and the dislodged Grease Gun hit the floor. Nebaril was already reaching for it: I swung the Garand around and caught her upside her collarbone with the butt. She went over backwards, pulled out the M1917 and promptly dropped it as the M1 punched her in the belly. "You're a genius, Nell," I spat, reaching out and snagging a fistful of her shirt. "You and that stupid bastard are just made for each other... Semper fi, bitch!"

Yuukanael made an 'eep' noise as her nominal superior went flying out the window ass-first. I was already raising the Garand, zeroing in on the startled mercenaries. "Anderson!" I roared. "Allow me to introduce my Siamese children!"

Poomph!

The mercenary officer slumped against the side of the Humvee and slid down its drab surface, leaving a brilliant red stain on the door he'd been trying to open. The merc on the far right whipped up his F15.

Poomph!

A flying cloud of brain matter flashed pale pink in the midday sun. Fish in a barrel.

Poomph!

One of the grunts dragging the captive Arume behind the Humvee collapsed with a scream, clutching at his leg. A low flier, that shot, but no matter: a sharp crack-crack sounded from above as Kirov put the man down for good. The rest had managed to find cover between the two vehicles, however, and I had no clear vectors from this angle. "Roland!" Kirov yelled. "Power armor coming out!" She fired three times fast. "Five-fifty-six ineffective-"

The rest was drowned out by machine gun fire... Lots of it. Carefully raising my head a little, I saw a figure completely clad in a suit of hard armor with urban camo paint stomp into view, cradling a hefty belt-fed affair. Judging by the size, either the suit was a bulky contraption in itself or the operator was another of those cyborgs.

Poomph! ...Poomph!

Two hits to the chest and it hadn't reacted at all. I shifted my point of aim to the knee joints, looking for a weak point. The first round missed the joint and slammed futilely against the curve of the shin armor. The second hit the joint section itself, but I couldn't tell if it had made any difference.

Poomph!

Ping-g-g!


Contrary to what just about every Second World War movie on the planet would have us believe, the Garand does not usually make such a loud sound when ejecting an empty clip. There's a ping, yes, but it tends to be blotted out by the sound of the last shot itself. The noise I'd just heard was not that of ejection, but of the empty clip hitting the floor. Not good either way: I ducked, reaching for another eight-round en bloc. Nebaril scrambled in through the newly vacated window with a panicked expression, landing in a heap behind me. Confused, I peered over the edge of the window's frame and saw the armored enemy bracing the gun against his shoulder.

Nebaril pulled me backwards. "Down!"

The next four seconds were among the most terrifying of my life. The MG chewed right through walls, booths and just about everything else in its way: there was nothing to do except curl up beside Nebaril and hope the target didn't make a low pass after the high one.

And then, mercifully, the lead hosepipe dried up. I rolled over, snatched up the M1 and jammed a fresh clip in with a furious snarl. "IS THERE SOME REASON WHY I'M THE ONLY ONE SHOOTING BACK?!"

"Schuhart," Yuukanael cried, "Kataph-Kate is hit! She's bleeding badly!"

I scrambled back into my firing position as Nebaril scooped up her guns and scrambled towards her companions, apparently having lost her enthusiasm for teamkilling. The armored grunt was fumbling with a new ammo belt, as if unused to reloading while in such clumsy garb. I went for the exposed part of the belt this time, severing it with two shots. Three more went into the box holding the remaining belt, rupturing that as well.

"YT," I called as the stymied gunner slowly retreated towards the Humvees, finally limping a little. "YT, you still with me?"

"I'm good," Kirov coughed, crawling out from the back of the shop. "My Steyr got trashed, though."

"Damn." I fired off the remaining rounds, reloaded and passed the Garand back. "Use this. I'm going to reinforce the others."

She accepted the handful of spare clips with a nod. "I've got your back."

I pulled out the Schnellfeuer and crawled down the row, picking my way through the numerous chunks of shattered concrete, plaster and so forth. Whatever that MG was firing-7.62 NATO, probably but not certainly-it packed one hell of a punch. Thank goodness these Humvees didn't have top turrets like the first one!

Pachachachachacha!

They did still have crew, however, and those crew seemed to be regrouping. I heard another burst of light-caliber fire, answered by the Garand and-finally-a Grease Gun. Putting my advance on hold, I snapped the Mauser's stock into place and scooted into position in the booth formerly occupied by Yuukanael. The merc in the power armor had fallen down and was trying to crawl the rest of the way to safety. The others were attempting to cover him without exposing themselves too much, and getting thoroughly mixed results for their pains. I swept the vehicle briefly and locked onto a merc who was trying to fire across the hood.

Crack-crack-crack-crack!

Minimal recoil and lousy sights: the definitive characteristics of a Mauser in carbine configuration. Accuracy was as good as anything, however, and the man didn't last long. I strafed left, closing on the Arume while laying down suppression fire. Why didn't the mercs just pack up and run away?

"Schuhart," Kataphel coughed as I reached her, while Nebaril let off another burst. "It's not as bad... as it looks."

It looked pretty serious to me. The bullet had gone right through the engineer, piercing the lower part of her right lung. Yuukanael had a hand clamped over each end of the wound's trail, slick with blood turned white-oxidization of the nanomachines or some such thing. The patient still had a determined if weakening grip on the BAR. "I can fight," its owner asserted. "But I can't risk hitting the hostage."

"Sure," I muttered, inserting a stripper clip into the Schnellfeuer. "We just have to get her away from them. Everyone else okay?"

"We're fine." Nebaril emptied her magazine and ducked to reload. "Got another brilliant plan, forime?"

"Working on it." I pulled the clip out and eased the hammer back, releasing the bolt. "They're in a tight spot and they know it. If we can just-yes! You go, girl!"

The captive Arume was making a break for it, running towards Kirov's end of the shop like a slightly handicapped track star. "This is your chance, Kate," I yelled as the rear Humvee's engine revved. "Hit 'em!"

"R-Right!" Kataphel crawled up onto the vacant seat in the booth and braced herself as the Humvee accelerated in an arc, swinging towards us. The BAR chattered, hurling twenty .30-06 M2 ball rounds at the heavy vehicle's windshield in mere moments. The mercs' ride veered off a little and, without slowing, embedded itself in the wall between Kirov and ourselves.

"Ugh," I coughed as chunks of the ceiling broke off in several places. "YT, sound off!"

"I'm fine! I've got the hostage here!"

I pulled the Mauser free of its stock-no point in letting the accessory slow me down at such close range-and started moving around to the front of the crashed Humvee, watching for movement all the while. The windshield had shattered across most of its width, which probably accounted for the loss of control. Muffled curses emanating from inside supported that assumption. "Good," I called, "keep her that way!"

Kataphel emptied another BAR magazine at the other Humvee, still parked in the open. I put a foot up and boosted myself onto the crashed one's hood, Mauser trained on the interior. A hand appeared in the windshield gap, clutching a Beretta: I fired twice, hitting him in the forearm and between the middle and ring fingers, then lunged forward as the pistol bounced off the dashboard. Thus disarmed, the merc riding shotgun stood no chance. The driver had already been killed, hit through the forehead during Kataphel's opening barrage. The vehicle appeared to be otherwise empty, so I rolled to the right. Kirov gave a quick glance in my direction, then went back to the Garand. "Nice work."

I turned my attention to the Arume. "Turn around." The restraints on her wrists were made of plastic and quickly fell apart under a punishing assault from my Leatherman. The duct tape over her mouth immediately followed. "Okay," I said, handing her my Beretta and its magazines. "Take these and go back up your comrades."

She accepted the nine millimeter with a brief nod and scrambled around the Humvee's dented nose, leaving Kirov and I alone. "These people are incompetent," she observed. "Completely green."

"Sure looks like it," I agreed. "Losing their leader right off probably didn't help."

"So now what?"

"They've got the power armor guy in the second Hummer," I mused. "But he took some damage. These crates haven't got any armor add-ons... If I were in their place, I'd be running for my life right about now. Maybe the other's engine is knocked out?"

"Could be." Kirov paused as Kataphel dumped a third mag. "Hey, Kate! Don't burn up all your ammo just yet! ...Okay, cleaning up." She lowered the Garand slightly. "These things don't have any rear windows, so we can rush from behind pretty easily. Suppose we have the Browning keep them pinned down form here while we displace and make a right hook?"

"Fine by me," I grunted. "I'll go first."

"Your call."

"Okay." I made my way over to the window itself. "Kate, still with us?"

"Yes..."

"We're going after 'em. Cover us, but don't hit us!"

"Affirmative."

"We'll do it in stages," I said to Kirov. "Short sprints, one at a time."

"Gotcha."

I reattached the Mauser's stock, jumped out the window and moved around to the rear of the crashed Humvee. The way looked clear, so I waved Kirov forwards. She sprinted past and took up a position a little ways ahead and to the right. Upon her signal, I strafed across to a new point. Still no signs of life from the mercenaries or, for that matter, all the refugees. Where the hell were our supposed allies, anyway? I gave Kirov the sign and she advanced again. I shortly followed, still pondering that question as we came to the Humvee itself.

There was a metallic bang from the far side of the Humvee, then another. Kirov-now kneeling at the rear end-whipped up the Garand and took a shot, then threw herself towards me as somebody shot back. "Three are running for it," she coughed, rolling back onto her feet. "One's got a shotgun. Looks like they ditched the armored guy. I winged one, don't know how bad."

"Got it... Nell, dump the Browning mags and get up here! Bring your short friend and the other Grease Gun!"

"Right," Nebaril sighed. "Coming."

I waited impatiently as the Arume joined us. "Okay," said I, "two at a time now. Nell, you're with me. You, uh..."

"Tarimamel."

"You're with YT here. Got it?"

The newcomer nodded.

"Good. Let's go." I started moving again. "Suppression fire!"

There was a flurry of shooting, from both us and them. Evidently the mercs weren't quite ready to quit the battlefield entirely. I ran flat-out towards the right end of the target building, a store with a wide display window minus its glass. Kirov and Tarimamel did a good job of keeping the enemy heads down: Nebaril and I both mode it without a scratch. "'Kay," I panted, ramming another ten rounds into the Mauser, "next wave." I pulled the pistol free of its stock and blind-fired a couple of times around the window frame, then waved to the second team. The next eight cartridges were also sacrificed to whatever imaginary being watches over those who run through open areas inside free-fire zones. "Right." That done with, I swapped the Schnellfeuer's ten round magazine for the twenty and rotated the fire selector from 'N' to 'R'. "I'll blitz 'em, you finish 'em."

Kirov reached over and gave me another of those gentle slaps on the back. Taking that as my cue, I stepped up, straight-armed the Mauser-simeltaneously flipping it onto its side-and emptied the magazine in one burst that dragged the point of aim across the entire length of the display space. Who knew, maybe all those apocryphal stories about the Chinese using this tactic were worth something after all? Pistol empty, I dove for the ground, a hand fumbling for another stripper. "Hit 'em! Hard 'n' fast!"

Kirov strafed past me, Garand thumping, and followed my lead in seeking cover the moment the clip ejected. Finally Nebaril and Tarimamel raked the enemy position with their submachine guns, arcs of flashing .45 brass leaving little smoke trails in the air. Kirov and I reloaded, her finishing well ahead, and got up. "Check for survivors," I ordered, flipping the selector back to semi mode and throwing a leg up and over the windowsill.

Shrink-chink!

Oops.

"D-Don't move," the merc ordered, rising from his hiding place in the blind spot under the window. "Drop the guns."

The SPAS-12 was shaking so much that it looked like the fresh-faced kid was trying to cover all of us at once. "Great," I sighed, rolling my eyes, "a clueless newbie."

"Watch it, man," said he. "I know what I'm doing!"

"The hell you do," I snorted. "You've still got your safety on, dumbass!"

He glared at me for a moment, then his eyes darted to the device in question. I whipped out my left arm, smacking the shotgun to the side, and drove the toe of my shoe up into his groin. He doubled up with an agonized scream, only to be hauled up by the hair, relieved of his Beretta and thrown bodily out into the open. "Get the other two," I ordered tersely, then stepped out and faced the survivor. "Somewhere out there, Kojima Hideo is laughing at you. Where's the guy with the fancy suit?"

"In there." The merc nervously waved towards the nearer Humvee. "You fucked up his knee and we couldn't carry him... Don't shoot me, man!"

"Tell him to come out with his hands up or we'll just pincushion the damned thing... And believe me, we have plenty of ammo left."

"Uh... Okay, man, okay... Huey? Huey, man, they want ya to come outta there..."

The rear door's narrow window shattered, a shower of fragments exploding outwards. I glimpsed the black muzzle of a positively huge handgun emerging from the darkness of the Humvee's interior. No option but to barrel roll out of the way as dirty yellow flowers bloomed and wilted in frenetic acceleration and thunder rolled off the surrounding walls.

"Ngh..!" I sat up as Kirov charged, Garand held high. "What the-"

"My vas pokhoronim!"

More rolling thunder, terminating with a ping. The armored hand clutching the cannon went limp, dangling out the window. I pushed myself onto an even keel, strafed around to the rearward side of the door and yanked it open. The power armor merc slumped sideways and tumbled out, revealing a wraparound black visor shattered by the M1's hammering. "So," I said, turning to the surviving merc with an ugly expression, "any other surprises you might be sufficiently generous to warn us about?"

"N-No, man! We were the last guys left, I swear!"

"Uh-huh." I motioned for him to get up. "Outta the flak jacket."

"Yeah, sure." The Kevlar vest fell to the ground. "What's... What's gonna happen to me, man?"

I waved to the Arume as Kirov did a perimeter sweep. "Nell, Tarim, go make sure Kate and Yvonne are still alive... As for you, that depends on whether you can tell us anything interesting."

"Don't I only have to say my name and number?"

"The Geneva Convention does not apply to us, as we are not signatories of it, nor to you, as you are a participant who is motivated by promised or actual personal material gain and are not a member of the armed forces of a state which is party to this conflict... In other words-" I leaned in until we were practically face to face. "-all your ass is belong to us. Get me?"

He nodded, trembling.

"Good... Sit down over there. Back flat against the wall, legs straight in front of you, hands under your butt."

"Okay, man..."

"Roland," Kirov called, "our Humvee's coming out."

"Ah," I said sourly. "So they finally saw fit to get off their butts. Let's hope they're still on our side."

"I know."

"Um..."

"Shut up." I cast another irked look at the Darkstar captive. "You got a name?"

"Brad... Brad Mustin."

"Hm." I watched as the captured Humvee pulled up. The Darwin brothers, Nereus, Seva and Daemon got out and strode towards us. "Nice of you to join us," I snapped. "Took your sweet time."

"Sorry," Nereus said shortly. "I'll explain once this guy's out of the way."

"Sure," I replied coolly. "Got a safe place we can keep him for the time being?"

"We'll watch 'im," Phil Darwin volunteered. "Take right proper care of 'im, we will."

"No torture," I prompted. "Reasonable standards of conduct."

"'Course we will," said Errol. "Ooh, this'll be a real pint o' piss, won't it?"

"Yeah," his brother cackled. "Oy, git yer arse up, ya lazy sod."

Mustin scrambled to his feet. "Okay, yeah, I'm here."

"I c'n see 'at," Phil snorted. "Over 'ere, now."

"YT," I said as the Australians frog-marched the prisoner down the street, "can you drive a Humvee?"

"I think so. Why?"

"Take the first one and run Kate and the others back to base. I'll deal with the rest here."

"Right. You want this Garand back?"

"Keep it. You might need it more than me."

"Suit yourself. Can you take my bike to Nereus' place on the way back?"

"Sure." I walked back to the nearer of the disabled Humvees as Nereus pried the pistol out of the armored merc's hand. It was a Desert Eagle, dull black in color, with a ten-inch barrel that looked to be .50 Action Express caliber. The profile differed slightly from the type I was familiar with: the barrel remained wide out to the muzzle, rather than tapering ahead of the end of the frame, and had a Picatinny rail on top instead of the old pseudo-Weaver type.

"Mark Twenty-Four," he observed. "One of those new Rheinmetall models. Must have cost a pretty penny... Make a nice wall-hanger out of it, maybe."

"Huh." I recovered Mustin's SPAS and looked it over briefly. It was the short-barreled variation of Franchi's classic model, with new-style trigger unit plus the folding stock so prized by Hollywood. A heavy, bulky and unhealthily complicated design, but not something I'd reject out of hand. I put on the associated shotshell bandoleer and slung the gun across my back. "So, where were you guys?"

"The Russians weren't entirely convinced of your sincerity," the Pole grunted. "And we had some lingering doubts of our own."

"Oh, I see." I said sardonically. "Make the new guys prove their worth by throwing them into a fight with no backup and see if they pull through. Wonderful idea, I must say!"

"Don't harp on it, you'll just get ulcers... Besides, I don't think anyone's going to doubt your worth after this. As a bonus, I'd say you convinced damned near all the rest of the community leaders that you're a force worth joining with. A lot of them weren't keen on getting involved." Nereus paused to prod the power armor with his foot. "Not that they should need any persuading after seeing this monster."

"Yeah," I sighed, feeling slightly enervated as the adrenaline wore off. "Let's just scrounge what we can and get on with the show. I doubt Tiller and company are going to hold back much longer, and they're probably keeping the good stuff in reserve."

"My thoughts as well," Daemon added, rejoining us with an F15 in his hands. "These people must have been green as tea-none of them were even issued grenade rounds."

I looked around as Novaya Tula personnel filtered onto the scene and started collecting the corpses and weapons of the defeated. "I have a feeling they miscalculated something awful."

Nereus nodded. "Yeah... What will you do now?"

"Get back to cleaning the grease off those guns. We're going to need each and every last one." I walked across to Seva. "And you need to stop diddling around and get us the damned ammo, you hear me?"

"It's on the way," the Russian replied calmly.

"Good." I started off towards the trashed shop where we had initially taken cover. "I'll see you all later."

The merc leader was lying where he'd initially fallen. I stopped long enough to frisk him, recovered a pair of rather interesting arms and took his tags for good measure.

"Goodbye, Mister Anderson... And good riddance, you cash-sucking bastard."

***

Karan and Karolina were investigating the crashed Humvee when I arrived. "That was really something," the former told me upon my entrance. "I wanted to help, but the Russians-"

"I know," I said shortly. "Found anything interesting?"

The Indian pointed to the corpse of the merc who had been riding shotgun. "Interesting effect here," said he, indicated the man's hand. "The bullet went in between his fingers, traveled up to the wrist and completely fragmented the bones. Quite effective for such a small caliber bullet."

"I seem to recall Fairbairn and Sykes noting such an effect in one of their books." I wrinkled my nose. "Though at the moment I'm more interested in its effect against these armor vests."

"It goes right through," Karan assured me. "I checked two others already."

"That's Chinese steel-core ammo for you, I guess." I walked over to the power armor merc's disabled M60E4 and gave it a cursory examination. The box and belt were damaged but not unsalvageable and the weapon was otherwise intact.

"Your lady friends were very interested in the Mauser pistol's efficacy," Karan went on. "I hope the tall one will be all right."

"Me too," said I. "Karolina, is something wrong?"

The armorer's daughter was quietly poking at the drying stains of Kataphel's blood. "I don't understand," she said quietly. "Why did Yvonne seem so scared?"

"What happened?"

"I tried to help her friend, the one who was hurt, but she pushed me away." Karolina ran a fingertip across one of the bloodstains. "Was it because of this?"

"Um..."

"It's just artificial blood, right? I've seen it in science books... What's so bad about that?"

"Some people don't like the stuff," I suggested, trying to fabricate a cover story on the fly. "And it's because they have this that the mercs are after them... It's a kind of industrial espionage, you know?"

The Polish woman shuddered. "That's horrible."

"I know." I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring pat on the back. "It's not like you won't see her again, if that's what you're worried about."

"Mm... Say, Roland?"

"Yeah?"

"When you next see her, can you, um, tell her that I don't hate her or anything?"

"Sure," I answered softly. "I'll do that."

"One other thing," Karan said as I made to leave. "The imam and his followers took off as soon as the trouble started. I can't say for sure, but I think he's planning something. Be careful out there."

"Thanks for the warning." Digging around in my pockets, I realized that I had exactly one Mauser clip left. I swapped mags and used it to refill the smaller of the two, then holstered the gun. "I'll be around."

***

Isanil looked relieved to see me. "What is happening?" she asked.

"Things have settled down for the moment," I explained. "The refugees will handle disposing of the bodies... What's new here?"

"The work goes on. Kataphel will recover, but I cannot send her out again unless absolutely necessary."

"Figures." I opened my fist, dropping a pair of tarnished dog tags on the table. "On the other hand, Turner Joy Anderson is no longer part of the problem which faces us."

"That is good news."

"Yeah... And as a bonus, I pinched his toys for you." I set the late mercenary's guns on the table. "This one is a Detonics CombatMaster, basically a chopped-down stainless Nineteen-Eleven. It's good to have when you can't pack anything bigger... The other is a late-model Glock Eighteen-C, fairly cutting-edge, in nine by nineteen millimeter. It's moderately simple, quite tough and capable of full-auto fire, though you'd have to hang on pretty tightly even with the ported barrel. Anderson had one standard magazine and three extended capacity ones, so carrying this comfortably will take some experimentation. I'll walk you through the details later."

"I would appreciate that." Isanil glanced to the door which led to the weapons-prep room. "Your partner said she would join us once she had returned the vehicle. I believe Tarimamel wished to speak with you, as well."

"Ah. Okay, then."

"Schuhart..."

"Hm?"

"Thank you for bringing her back."

"Wasn't just me. It was all of us out there."

"But you made it possible."

"Only in that I shot first, which Lucas will no doubt see fit to correct in twenty years."

"I don't understand."

"Bad joke, sorry."

"Yuukanael told me about Nebaril's behavior. I spoke to her, but there is little I can administer in the way of disciplinary action right now."

"I see."

"I'm sorry about it, I really am."

"Oh, well. I suppose what happens is what happens... I'll keep an eye on her."

***

Tarimamel was indeed waiting in the other room, but Edamamel got to me first. "Schuhart," she said nervously. "Is this a bad time?"

"Not especially," I answered warily, this particular Arume's transgressions rather fresh in my memory. "You need something?"

"I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am to you for bringing my sister back."

"Your sister?" I looked to Tarimamel for confirmation and got it.

"And I, um, wanted to apologize for, uh, trying to get between you and your mate."

"Ah. Well, as long as-wait, what?"

"That forime woman... You two aren't together?"

"I think we're still trying to figure that out. Hard to find the time in our line of work."

"Oh... Anyway, I won't interfere again."

"Thanks." I went over to the nearest of the remaining crates and lifted the lid. "Well, looks like we've kept the best for last... Tarim, the Acting Commander said you wanted to see me?"

"Yes... Perhaps this is an inconvenient time."

"I'm listening," I replied, lifting a preservative-coated Russian SKS-45 out of the crate. "Go ahead."

"The others tell me you know the forime named Tiller."

"That's right."

"I and the two who were left behind have been able to observe him a number of times since the others escaped. His mental condition has been deteriorating and he is now very unstable. I have heard him speak many times of a forime he called Smith, who by his description must be yourself."

"That's right."

"Tiller originally appeared to view you as an annoyance, but your persistent survival has driven him to rising degrees of rage. It seems that repeated use of his telepathic abilities is causing psychological damage, and he now suffers severe migraines almost constantly... He has lately taken to asserting that you are some sort of malevolent supernatural entity and blames you for restricting his ability to control others, forcing him to depend on unreliable third parties."

"I'm not sure whether to laugh or wince. Sounds like the further he goes, the more he loses it."

"Correct."

"Anything else you can tell me?"

"At least one of the mercenary leaders is under his control. Anderson wasn't, but he was loyal to that one."

"What was the point of today's excursion?"

"They didn't know about the recovered weapons: Tiller believed you were simply hiding among the local forime, who are not supposed to be heavily armed. Anderson was told he would simply be showing force, bullying the residents into revealing your location. He took inexperienced troops with him for that reason, because he did not expect to be fighting." Tarimamel smiled a little. "He was wrong and it cost him. Did you see the look on his face when he fell?"

"Afraid I didn't."

"A pity. They were all surprised."

"Why did they bring you along?"

"A shield, in case my own kind ambushed them."

"Ah... Oh, this is nice."

"What is that?"

"Inglis Hi-Power, Number One Mark One-Star... Chinese contract model with tangent sight and Mauser pattern holster-stock."

"By your tone, that must be good."

"Most definitely." I lifted another of the Canadian Hi-Powers out of the crate. "What are these down at the bottom? ...Oh, wow."

Edamamel came over. "What?"

I reached into the depths of the crate once more. "If heaven existed, I'd think I was in it."

***

"Is there a problem?"

"No," said I. "We're finishing up the last batch now. It's time to start repacking the cleaned weapons and moving them closer to the surface for transport."

"Good." Isanil frowned a little. "I pray we succeed."

I noticed she was absently toying with a small device which bore a vague resemblance to a garage door opener. "What's that?"

"A memento from home." She squeezed the device, activating a hologram projector. I leaned in for a closer look and saw a small static green image of four Arume posing for a camera. Isanil herself was in the center.

"Your family?"

"Yes." She pointed to each in turn, right to left. "Birth mother, myself, seed sister, seed mother."

"'Seed sister'..?"

"The words we use do not translate easily... It is a frequent practice for those couples who are both in the military to become pregnant by one another at the same time, to simplify logistical demands."

"I think I understand. You were born to one parent and your sister to the other?"

"Yes. Both our parents are with the military police in Bavaria. I was raised in a communal setting and saw little of them growing up... This was taken when I graduated from the academy two years ago. It was the first time I'd met them face to face in a while, and the last before we came to this world."

"You miss them."

"Yes." The Acting Commander switched the device off. "Schuhart, do you have family?"

"Two parents, a brother and a sister, both younger."

"Surely you feel the same way."

"Yeah... Guess we're not so different, are we?"

"Yes." Her eyes drifted over my shoulder. "What is that?"

"Ah." It was hard not to grin like an idiot when I set it on the table before her. "This is a Chicago Typewriter."

"Er..."

"A Thompson Model Nineteen-Twenty-Eight A-One submachine gun, a product of a day and age when small arms were considerably more refined than they are now. It's a shame we only have ten, because these things are really handy in close quarters... Check this out." Shick-click! "Fifty round drum magazine-clear out an entire room in one go with it. We've got one for each user."

Kirov, who'd been teaching handling practices to a progression of Arume since rejoining us, gave me a skeptical look. "And when those run out?"

I patted the bulging pockets on my vest. "Stick mags, twenty rounds each. Eight per user."

"Isn't all that really heavy?"

"Of course it's heavy. All those years of hauling junk lumber are finally paying off. No worries!"

"But it fires forty-five ACP, Roland. It won't do much against Darkstar's body armor."

I patted my Schnellfeuer. "That's what we have these for... In any case, we can aim for the limbs or, since they don't seem to use backing plates, try for blunt force trauma."

"Maybe."

"It's worth a try. Those Shpagins and Sudaevs we dug out earlier can back them up if it doesn't work. Ditto the M-Two carbines... Be nice if our benefactors had only seen fit to throw in some Kalashnikovs while they were at it."

"Do we have any drums for the Shpagins?"

"A few. I'm sure we can figure something out." I picked up the Thompson and went over to Yuukanael, who under Kirov's tutelage had been running drills with a Karabiner 98k. "How's it going?"

"She's got it down," the latter answered proudly. "Another couple of minutes and I'll switch again."

"Okay. I'll get back to work, then... Oh, and Yuuka? Karolina said to tell you that she's not upset about, uh, what happened earlier. I got the distinct impression that she rather enjoys your company."

"Oh... Thank you for telling me."

"No problem. Carry on." I turned away and had half-opened the door when the whooping started. "Uh oh..."

I turned around right as the door leading to the subway platforms and the topside entrance flew open. An Arume sentry staggered in, bleeding from a gash along her right forearm. A second followed her, discharging a burst from an Arume assault rifle towards whoever was following.

So, more unfriendly company. In that instant I found myself more than a little grateful for the fact that the Thompson in my hands was not only cleaned and lubed, but also fully loaded: I'd filled the drum and the sticks both partly to familiarize myself with the process and partly in response to Karan's warning. Now it looked like that was ready to pay off. "Isanil," I called, sidestepping to better cover the door, "get down!"

Karan had been right on the money: the next person to enter was one of the Indonesians who had confronted us earlier, brandishing a machete with white trails running down the blade. His eyes fixed on me. "Ninja!"

The Thompson drew a bloody line up the middle of his shirt, waist to collar. He dropped in a pile, exposing two more. When they fell, three rushed in to take their place. Two after that, then four at once. The drum ran empty-I yanked it, dropped it on the table and loaded a stick as Kirov took up a parallel position with the K98. The first mag ran dry, then the second. "What the hell," I complained, sliding the third into place. "How many followers does that old coot have?"

"Too many," Kirov grunted, furiously cycling her bolt. "If they know where we are, we'll have to relocate everyone."

"Yeah," I agreed reluctantly. "First, let's kick their asses! Who's with me?"

Nebaril appeared, clutching her Grease Gun. "I am!"

"And us," Edamamel added, she and her sister both brandishing PPSh-41s. "We're right behind you!"

"Good! YT, ditch that and grab a-thanks, Kate."

Kataphel nodded as Kirov passed the Mauser rifle back to Yuukanael and grabbed the proffered SKS. "I'm coming too."

"Don't push yourself." I raised the Thompson and started towards the door, stepping over the first of the corpses. "Let's do this!"

***

A bullet whizzed past me as I entered the platform area. I dropped onto one knee and fired two bursts in return. "Spread out and find cover!" The sister Arume strafed past, Shpagin subguns practically buzzing. Magazines empty, they ducked behind a large pillar. Nebaril and Kirov went the other way, laying down withering fire while I reloaded. "You sticking with me, Kate?"

"Yes."

Another wave of the imam's followers poured into the area from the surface. I dumped the fourth magazine in three spurts and reloaded again, moving to the shelter of a ticket kiosk. A familiar pukka-pukka prompted a look to the side as Kataphel followed me, a 1911 in each hand. "What-Kate, are those all you've got?!"

"There wasn't time to take anything else," the engineer replied as her target sank to his knees. She gritted her teeth, ducking a little as a reflexive shot from the man's Tokarev ricocheted off the platform and punched into another pillar. "Besides, these seem to work."

"Easy to say," I snapped, ceasing fire long enough to swing the SPAS off my shoulder. "Take this for now."

"If you insist."

"I do insist," said I, waiting as she donned the ammo carrier and unfolded the stock. "Follow my lead, ladies!"

Shoot, duck, shoot, reload, shoot and move up... This was starting to get rather tedious. Surely the enemy were running low on numbers by now? Another whoop from the direction of the steps indicated that such was not yet the case. Abandoning caution for the moment, I made a rapid advance to the stairs themselves and leaned around the corner at the end of the bottom flight of steps in time to catch a full dozen intruders in the open. The subgun swept over part of their group, but the remainder closed rapidly: I ducked out of the way, letting Kataphel put the shotgun to work until the others caught up. A couple of the Indonesians managed to reach the bottom on momentum alone, albeit dead upon landing.

"Watch your heads," Kirov cautioned as we advanced up the stairs. "They might have sniper cover."

I nodded. "What she said."

Our formation spread out once we drew near the top, each automatically covering one sector of the surrounding area. As luck had it, the imam himself and a few lingering devotees were in Kirov's slice of the pie: she'd capped all the underlings by the time I finished my sweep and turned around. "Nice shooting," I said to her as we closed on the ringleader.

The Ukrainian-by-birth nodded briefly. "Thanks... So what do we do with this one?"

"Good question," I mused, giving the wizened little man with the beard and the white cap a cold look. "I've got no patience for subversive elements and-"

"Impure thing!" the man suddenly screamed. "I do not fear you, sorcerer! I am a servant of God, and your demons cannot harm me!" He went off into a tirade in some other language.

"Gee," I drawled, slinging the Thompson. "You and Tiller would make great friends... So you're some kind of holy guy and we can't do anything because your god will protect you, is that it?"

"Yes!" the imam exclaimed, jumping back to English. "I am faithful and obedient to God, and He loves all his followers. He will not one whose faith is strong be harmed! God will punish you, you who peer into darkness and-"

"Uh-huh." I pulled out the Vaquero and thumbed the hammer back. "Let's test that, shall we? If there really is some god watching over you, then surely a mere bullet is useless."

"What?" Evidently he hadn't been expecting that. "What do you say?"

"What I say is, how about I shoot you and we see if you die?"

It finally seemed to dawn on the man, encircled as he was, that the end might really be nigh. "You think your evil magic will harm me?" he bluffed. "I am one who believes-"

"Oh, shut up. Who said anything about magic, anyway?"

"You cannot deny your nature, blasphemer! Maker of false idols! Infidel!"

"Ooh. Blasphemy on top of everything else, huh?"

"Yes, this is blasphemy! It is madness!"

Poor choice of words. "Madness..? THIS-IS-SCIENCE!"

Pow!

"Well," Kirov observed philosophically. "Another obstacle dealt with, I guess."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Felt oddly satisfying, too... I really shouldn't make a habit of that."

Nebaril frowned, cocking her head. "We have more company."

"Damn," I hissed. "Quick, everyone-too late..."

"It's okay," said Kirov. "It's ours."

Indeed, the Humvee bearing down on us was the first we had captured. It screeched to a halt close by, rapidly discharging Karan, Karolina, Roopen and three people unknown to me. "Hey, everyone," I said flippantly. "Welcome to the party."

"This isn't what I'd call funny," Karan retorted. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, we're fine... We just had to fend off a small invasion, that's all. Thanks for the warning, by the way-I owe you for that."

"I'm glad it paid off." He looked down at the imam's shattered head briefly, then turned away. "Ugh! What did you shoot him with?"

"Thirty-eight Special explosive hollowpoint, just something Nereus gave me."

"Ah."

"Powerful stuff." I looked around. "So, you guys come out here to back us up?"

"That was the plan. Sorry we didn't get here in time to be of use."

"I don't know about that," I returned mildly. "You can load up the first shipment of weapons while you're here."

The Indian perked up at that. "We can? Really?"

"Might as well... Set up a defensive perimeter and we'll start carrying them up."

***

"Good work," Nereus told me as I sat down in front of the communal fire in the marketplace. "We got a lot done."

"Distributed a bunch of the weapons and ammo, assembled the FlaK, relocated our female friends to a safer part of town, repaired the newly acquired Humvees and generally kicked ass." I glanced over my shoulder at the darkness beyond, punctuated here and there by other fires and the occasional electric light. "I hope it's enough."

"We'll see," the armorer agreed. "The vote on the bill goes down tomorrow."

"I know."

"You did good today, son. Real good."

"Thanks. I just wish people would stop giving me funny looks everywhere I go."

"Can't help that. You're quite well known now, the dashing young stranger who took on the mercs and the imam and beat both."

"Not alone," I sighed. "Everyone keeps forgetting that it's been a team effort all the way."

"That's true," said the Pole, "but you've got a, a motivating effect, you know? You pull people together."

"Doesn't feel like it."

"Don't be so hard on yourself. Hey, you eaten yet?"

"Yeah, I grabbed some bites earlier... Probably a good time to go to bed."

"Kirova turned in already?"

"Yeah."

"She remembered anything new?"

"Not that I know of."

"All right, then. Just keep watching her."

"Sure... Speaking of watching, how about that prisoner?"

"The Darwins have got him walking around with a cinder block tied to each foot," Nereus chuckled. "Seem to have taken a shine to the boy. Can't say they've gotten much of immediate use out of him yet, but they're working on it."

"Is that so?" I listened as the sound of a guitar wafted down the street, accompanied by the twins' voices.

"Red-backed funnel web, blue-ringed octopus, taipan tiger snake and a box jellyfish, stonefish and the poison thing that lives in a shell, that spikes you when you pick it up!"

"Out of their minds," I sighed. "Well, better on our side than not."

"Come to Australia-you might accident'ly get killed!"

***

"Schuhart."

I nodded in the light of the rising moon. "Nebaril. How's Kate?"

"She's all right... Been working on the coilgun, reworking the driver unit wires or something."

"Ah, good. Something you need?"

"No... That is... About earlier..."

"I think you've redeemed yourself," said I.

"Really?"

"Yeah. Of course, if it happens again..." I leaned in for emphasis. "I'll gut you like a fish and send you back to Isanil filleted and shrink-wrapped. Understand?"

"Perfectly... Good night!"

With that, the fickle Arume fled and left me alone with my thoughts.

***

All was quiet when I entered Nereus' home and made my way up to the loft. "YT?" I queried, slipping inside and easing the door shut. "You awake?"

"Yeah." Click. "Put the guns down there."

"What..?"

"Just do it." Kirov stepped into the pool of moonlight below the skylight, stripped down to her night wear and training her suppressed Springfield on me. "Please."

"What's this about?"

"I'm sorry, Smith... I can't run away from my duty any longer."
Last edited by BobBQ on Sun Apr 13, 2008 8:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Tabasco » Sun Apr 13, 2008 10:05 am

Updates! Sweet deal.

I like military fiction, I really do, but I'm also glad to hear we'll be getting back on the Eva storyline shortly. Any chance of events here echoing into the happenings around T3?

Otherwise, I'm throughly enjoying this. Particularly that Smith can make the odd mistake in a fight now and then. And that the arume crew are showing some individual personalities.

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Last edited by Tabasco on Sun Apr 13, 2008 1:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Enki v.2 » Sun Apr 13, 2008 11:06 am

Not bad. I wonder what Y.T.'s "duty" is? Is this a SEELE thing, or a Tiller thing? :P

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Postby chee » Sun Apr 13, 2008 11:55 am

BobBQ wrote:“I'm sorry, Smith... I can't run away from my duty any longer.”


OH SHI-

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Postby universalperson » Sun Apr 13, 2008 8:19 pm

BobBQ wrote: “Somewhere out there, Kojima Hideo is laughing at you.

Smith....Come in Smith? Smith? SMIIIIIITHHHHH!

In other words—“ I leaned in until we were practically face to face. “—all your ass is belong to us. Get me?”


Poor choice of words. “Madness..? THIS—IS—SCIENCE!”


Awesome.
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Postby Sailor Star Dust » Sun Apr 13, 2008 9:15 pm

What Universal Person quoted. ^_^

And also, interesting with YT. Wonder if she was just (partly) playing dumb with having that memory problem to see how Smith would act towards her?

And even though the Darwin Brothers are insane, at least they're entertaining. :)
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Postby UrsusArctos » Sun Apr 13, 2008 9:15 pm

Sweet indeed, although I wish these chapters didn't have to end up with death facing Smith each time.
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Postby Enki v.2 » Sun Apr 13, 2008 9:19 pm

The darwin brothers and I would get along quite well. I think, as well, that I would be more in the way of making-concrete-shoes rather than wearing them :P.

Maybe I'd paint graffiti on the concrete shoes. Who knows.

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Postby BobBQ » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:29 pm

UrsusArctos wrote:I wish these chapters didn't have to end up with death facing Smith each time.

That's right, it's Death facing Smith and not Smith facing Death. After all, Death loses each time.

Now I need everybody to go read up on the Kaishaku Maneuver.

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Postby chee » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:45 pm

BobBQ wrote:Kaishaku Maneuver


If you're referring to what I think you're referring to...

Oh dear.

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Postby The Imperialist » Tue Apr 15, 2008 4:46 pm

What, literally a sword onto the neck? (With a wakizashi in the stomach?)
I feel old

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Postby BobBQ » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:54 pm

Go away, you ignorant savage.

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Postby Indigo Arcangel » Sat Apr 19, 2008 1:33 pm

Kaishaku Maneuver - I would not want to be the guy who had to do that...

Also - Please, PLEASE use the word BOIK in the next chapter - PLEEEASE???
Normality is overrated

Kaworu/Asuka - give it a chance!
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Postby Omegagouki » Sun Apr 20, 2008 5:27 pm

Awesome. This is definitely one of the best pieces of fanfiction I've read in my 8-year Internet lifetime. I forget if I've said that before or not. While this has jumped a little bit away from Eva, that makes it no less fantastic. I've really enjoyed this arc, with Tiller being revealed and the high-octane action, and the nice little cameos. ...Oh, and the Arume, too, of course. And the use of cyborgs! And and...
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Postby BobBQ » Tue Apr 29, 2008 2:45 am

Image

Part 55: What Had Tobe Done | GAME SET MATCH

“I see,” I said quietly, not feeling at all surprised. “Was the amnesia just an act?”

“No... No, it wasn't. If you hadn't been there when I woke up, the mercenaries would have found me... And then nobody would have to die tonight.”

“So the Kuznetsov note was about me.”

“You knew?”

“Kucherov called me that by accident when I first met him.” I watched the end of the Springfield's muffler oscillate slightly. “I was really hoping it wouldn't come to this.”

“Me too.” Kirov stepped forwards until the tip of the suppressor was inches from the front of my shirt. “I'm sorry.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I told you so, didn't I?”

“I know, Smith, I know.” Her voice cracked a little. “Do you still remember my answer?”

“Yeah.” I pushed the .45 aside, clamped down on the slide and twisted the grip out of her hand. “You said, don't miss.”

She nodded again, closing her eyes, and took a step back.

“...”

“...”

“...”

“...What are you waiting for?”

I thumbed the magazine release and racked the slide. “Nice try.”

“What..?”

The 1911 slipped from my fingers. “You're faking it. I've done enough CQ disarms to know if the opponent isn't even trying.”

“Does it matter?” Kirov's eyes opened. “You know what you have to do.”

“Don't take that for granted.” I frowned. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because there's nothing else left.”

“How's that?”

She turned her back on me. “It doesn't matter... Nothing will, if you just get it over with.”

“No.”

“Then... It can't be helped.” Kirov suddenly pulled her shirt off and flung it away. The panties soon followed.

“H—Hey...” Fight-or-flight kicked in, vacillated momentarily and went into an infinite loop, giving the woman ample time to walk over and throw me onto the nearer of the futons. “Oof! What are you—ow..!”

“Don't move,” she ordered, dropping onto her hands and knees above me. “Don't say anything... Just go with it, understand?”

“Somehow,” I muttered, wincing as the SPAS's charging handle jabbed into my kidney again, “I don't think I want to.”

“I don't care,” Kirov retorted. The words came out forced, as if pronouncing each one was an act involving intense pain. “It's too late for that... But I can make it easier for you.” One of her hands left my shoulder and slipped into the alien place between her legs. Her breathing, already stressed, became short and ragged.

“Kirov... Svetlana...”

“Don't call me that.” The loathing in her voice scared me, even though it seemed directed at another entirely. “I hate that name.”

“Why..?”

“Do you know what it means?” Kirov's lip curled. “'Pure' or 'holy'... I'm neither, I've never been...” Her head sagged. “Born in the dark, living in the shadow.” The self-stimulation, briefly forgotten, resumed with a vengeance. “So this... This is... for the best...”

“The hell it is.” Her emotional fluctuations were starting to rub off on me, I realized with a pang of alarm. I wanted to get away, wanted to put some distance between us, but beyond that I had no plan, no strategy. I'd vaguely anticipated having to deal with Kirov's recovery from amnesia, but this... This was something I'd never seen coming, and that fact terrified me in a way I'd never experienced under while fire.

Kirov didn't seem to know it, but she'd managed to hit me right where the armor was thinnest, hit me harder than any bullet known to man. “YT, stop it... Please! Don't do this to yourself!”

The corners of her mouth turned up. “Does it... disgust you?” The fingers of her other hand dug into my shoulder. “Seeing me do this?”

“That's not the problem.” I gritted my teeth as the SPAS and Thompson both reminded me of their present location. “Do you need to masturbate right on top of me?”

“You're getting angry.” The self-mocking smile widened into a leer. “That's a good boy... Don't hold it in now, don't hold it back.”

I swallowed. “What's happened to you? First assisted suicide and now...”

At that moment, something clicked.

My eyes narrowed. “Oh, you gotta be kidding me. It's the Kaishaku Maneuver, isn't it?” My voice shifted into a low snarl. “So that's what you're playing at... You couldn't trick me into shooting you, so you think forcing yourself on me will provoke me into killing you?”

Kirov's hand stopped its reciprocal motion again. “I...”

“What if I still refuse? What if I say no, just to spite you?”

“You... You wouldn't do that...”

“Not out of spite, no...” I couldn't maintain the hard edge in my tone. “But what if I refuse because I don't want you to die?”

“...”

“What if I refuse because I care about you?”

Something warm and wet fell on one cheek, then the other. “Why?” Kirov demanded weakly, the tears coming freely now. “Why do you do this to me..?”

“I don't understand.”

“You won't kill me, but you won't take me as your own either... I can't go on like this.” A sob jolted her body. “You should have ended it before I even woke up, back in the shrine.”

“But why?”

“You can't possibly mean that... It hurts so much already, don't make it worse by pretending you don't know.”

“It's the truth.” I saw an opening and went for it, bracing my arms against the sides of the futon and pushing myself up. Kirov didn't try to stop me, instead settling back into a kneeling position, straddling my lap. For a few tense seconds we just looked at each other, then I wrapped my arms around the trembling body in front of me. That must have been the sign she was looking for, because she returned the motion before burying her face in my shoulder. We must have stayed that way for two, maybe three minutes before Kirov's sobbing subsided.

Time to find out once and for all, I thought grimly, and took a deep breath. “YT, however clever or badass you may think I am and however much I may actually be, the truth is... I'm an exceptionally dense person. If there's something you think I should know, I need you to stop being evasive and just tell me what it is.”

She lifted her head reluctantly, looking at me only after a hesitant pause. “Smith, you idiot,” she quavered, “I love you.”

“...”

“I understand.” She drew away, as far as my arms would permit. “You don't love me.”

I blinked. “I—“

“I can't kill you, not when you're doing so much for these people, and I can't go back to Seele, back to that life... But I can't survive on my own either, I've got too many enemies. The only chance I have is with you, but if you won't have me... I'd rather it all just ended. I can't just be a teammate, just someone who covers your back in fights. I need more than that.”

“But if you want to die, why go to all this trouble? Why not do it yourself?”

“I'm a coward. I never had the guts... Even though I kill for a living, I needed someone else to end my pain for me.”

“And you picked me.”

“I don't think I ever made a conscious choice... When you came into my life, I wanted release from my existence more than anything else. All I could see was the corrupt circle I belonged to and the cowed, ignorant masses they controlled... And then I found you.”

“Okay... And?”

“And then I realized that there are people in this world who are still free. I told you, didn't I? That I volunteered to monitor you?”

“Yeah.”

“When I was with you, I was able to forget my servitude for a little while... I was so happy then. When you said we needed to keep apart from each other, it made me miserable even though I knew you were right. These last few days let me relive the good feelings all over, because I lost the past.” The tears began to trickle forth once more. “A little while ago, it all came back to me. I was crushed. I couldn't take it.”

“And now here we are.”

A nod. “It's your choice, Smith... Eros or Thanatos. Which will you give me?”

“You make it sound so easy,” I replied in a frustrated tone. “I like you, YT, I really do. You've been there for me when I needed backup and when I needed someone to hold on to, and I was really glad to have you with me out here. I'm very grateful for all the help and I think it's possible that we could go further, but... I also think that you could find someone a lot better than me, that I'm not really as amazing as you seem to believe. I'm just an ugly guy with an abrasive personality who was in the wrong place at the right time, you know?”

“I know,” Kirov answered, her voice calming now, “and I don't care. I've never felt this way about anyone before. I want you. Not a handsome man or a popular man or a rich man, you.”

“All right,” I sighed. “If you're sure... Look, I'm sorry if it seems like I've been stringing you along or playing with your feelings. I honestly didn't realize you felt so strongly about this and—and... Those three words... I've never had anything happy associated with them, so... I'm having to improvise everything.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you must be lonely too... Aren't you?”

“I try not to think about it... Right now I'm still trying to make sense of my own feelings, but when this is over, when the mission is done, I'd like to get to know you better. I can't promise that your dream will come true, but I can at least give it a go.”

“You'd do that?” The hopeful tone sent another pang through my heart. “Even after what I did... What I almost did to you, you'd give me that chance?”

“It might be the stupidest thing I ever do, or the best thing. I won't know unless I try.”

This time her embrace squeezed most of the wind out of me, giving that confounded shotgun another jab at my spine along the way. “Smith, I—this—you don't know how happy this makes me...”

“I've got some idea,” I said weakly. “Uh...”

The grip slackened. “Sorry.”

“S'okay,” I grunted, discarding the long arms. “These things were starting to bug me.”

“I didn't think about that,” Kirov admitted sheepishly.

“Forget it.” I started rubbing my back with my good hand. “Listen, just... Just take it easy, okay? We could both use some rest, especially if we have to fight tomorrow.”

“Yeah.” She lifted herself off me and sat at the end of the futon. “Um...”

“Hm?”

“Do you... mind if I finish? I can't sleep when I'm buzzed like this.”

“Oh... Yeah, sure.” I picked up the SPAS and Thompson. “I'll go take a walk.”

“No.”

“Huh?”

“I don't want to be alone.”

“Ah.” Definitely more than I'd bargained for. “Okay.”

“It bothers you,” Kirov said softly, “doesn't it?”

“Well, that kind of thing is... It's really none of my business, is it?”

“Then... You wouldn't want to help me.”

I looked up. “Say what?”

She was blushing intensely. “Doing it by myself... It's so lonely.” She bowed her head. “But if you don't want to, that's okay. I won't push you if you're not ready.”

“You want me to... To touch you like that?”

Nod-nod.

This is getting out of hand.

The hell it is. Go for it, boya!

But isn't this taking things a little far?

You're thinking too hard. When was the last time a woman liked you this way?

...

See? You got yourself into this, you silly fat bastard, and by golly you're going to see it through!

But—

No ifs, ands or buts. Get over there and make her happy!

What if she regrets it later?

Pfft. Did you survive this long by worrying about every little thing?

Well, no, but still...

If all else fails, consider this a sacrifice for the sake of appeasing the dark goddess whose favor you must earn before you can go forwards. Show her what it is to be loved!

What's with the melodrama?

Don't think, act! You've overcome the impossible, now kick reason to the curb and be a man! Pierce her heavens with your bayonet!

Now you're just being silly.

WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?


“Okay,” I muttered. “You're sure about this?”

“Yeah, I'm sure.”

“No regrets, then.” I set the guns aside and scooted off the futon. “Lie down.”

Kirov stretched out and rolled onto her back, drawing her legs apart. “Is this all right?”

“Whatever's comfortable for you.” I cautiously flexed my left hand and winced—so much for that. “I'm flying blind here, so feedback would be helpful.”

She reached out and curled her fingers around my right wrist. “Don't worry.”

***

“You sure you're okay?”

“I'm fine.” Kirov propped herself up on an elbow with an apologetic look. “Is it bleeding?”

I turned my hand over in the semi-dark, examining the spots where her fingers had dug in. “No... I might have some bruises, but that's all.”

“I'm sorry... I shouldn't have assumed you knew what to expect.”

I shook my head. “I think it was more just the intensity. I was afraid I'd hurt you.”

“No, not at all... You were really gentle, not like... Not like the others.”

She looked so peaceful now, a far cry from the way she'd been just a few minutes ago. The image that would be forever burned into my memory was nothing like this: Kirov arching her back, shuddering under a wave of violent spasms, convulsively squeezing my wrist as a guttural, animal noise slipped past bared teeth. When she abruptly collapsed back onto the futon, the wet muscles around my fingers going completely slack, I'd momentarily thought she was having a seizure.

“Hey.” I suddenly realized Kirov was kneeling in front of me. “What's wrong?”

“Nothing. I was thinking, that's all.” I yawned. “Let's get some shuteye, 'kay?”

“Mm.”

I waited for her to move, then lay back and closed my eyes. “'Night.”

Something warm and soft covered my mouth briefly: I opened an eye and saw Kirov's face above, smiling happily. “We're doing things all out of order,” she whispered, “but I don't mind.” She assumed her preferred position with a contented sigh. “See you in the morning.”

“You too.”

***

The crossing bells' crescendo rose and then fell in a predictable pattern. The seat under me jolted as the train traversed some junction or switch. Why was it perpetually late afternoon here?

“So,” the man said affably. “Congratulations.”

“Huh..?”

He turned around. The suit, the pipe and the knowing smile were familiar. The acutely triangular red sunglasses were not. “You did it, my boy. You tamed the demon.”

“What?”

“Still waiting for that to sink in, eh? No worries, take your time.” He blew a ring of smoke down the length of the passenger car. “Mind you, a lot of folks out there say that angels and demons can't be together, but I don't pay them any heed. Most of 'em are reactionary conservatives who haven't gotten any in longer than I've been married.”

I gave him a nonplussed look. “Get to the point, would you?”

“Her heart's yours, son. Nobody's ever managed it before.”

I rolled my eyes. “Why am I not deliriously elated?”

“You're still worried about that? Still don't think you're good enough?” He shook his head knowingly. “Son, don't look at it that way. You decided she was good enough for you and you pulled her right out of the dark. You saved her, you understand?”

“Not really.”

The man smiled again. “You will.”

“What are you trying to say? That what was in the photo can still come true?”

“It could.” His bearing turned serious. “Son, you've got a difficult path to walk and I don't envy you for it. You've done good by a lot of people and that'll count for something when you need it to, but at the end of the day you're going to have to make some tough choices and live with 'em.” He paused to suck at his pipe. “Now, you're about to face some pretty serious hurdles, but if you keep your head down and count your bullets you'll pull through okay. Treat the woman right and no man will ever have a better partner than you and yours.”

I looked out the window at the landscape flashing by, an indistinct and indeterminate blur. “I wish I had that kind of optimism... Bravado alone won't stop tanks and helicopters.”

“Sure it can, if you've got enough of it.” He drew in a quantity of that strange smoke and blew it at me. “I'll be rooting for you, my boy, so believe in me who believes in you... And remember—“

“I know,” I sighed resentfully as the scene faded. “Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.”

***

“Smith... Hey, wake up.”

“Hm..?”

“It's a little before dawn... The sky's clear, so I thought maybe we could watch the sunrise together.”

“Oh.” I blinked a few times. “Sure.”

“All right... I did my stretches already, so we can go as soon as you're up.”

I sat up and stretched my arms, frowning a little when I realized Kirov was still in as-issued condition and only now collecting her garments. “You did them like that?”

“It was a spur of the moment thing.” She blushed a little. “An experiment in eroticism. I was going to wake you up sooner, but I thought you might need the extra downtime.”

“Your concern is appreciated.” I reached for my shoes. “How was it?”

“Nice. No sweat, no chafing.” She smiled and made a coy pose, covering herself with her hands. “I could perform for you, once we have some time to ourselves.”

“That's your call.” I picked up the Thompson. “Come on, or we'll miss it.”

***

“It's beautiful.”

“Yeah,” I agreed as the fiery light broke over the distant hills and swept down on us. “It is.”

“Have you ever... done this before?”

“This? Just with my family... You?”

“When I was a punk in Kiev, there was an abandoned apartment block that my gang liked to hang out in. Many mornings I'd go up on the roof and just sit there, looking out over the city. It was hard to find the time once I got the—the job, and there weren't many good places in Novy Vladivostok, where I spent my downtime... But those times were different. There was nobody to watch it with me.” She intertwined her arm with mine and rested her head on my shoulder. “After ten years of living in the night, I feel like I'm seeing this light for the first time.”

“Mm.”

“Say, Smith.”

“Hm?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Sure,” I replied casually. “I'm a god. You're a god. Any people who control their own destinies are gods... After all, gods are a human invention.”

“You're paraphrasing.”

“I'm not Mark Lee and you aren't Sung Tse Ho.” I slid my arm free of hers, unslung the Thompson and laid it across my knees. “Our opponent isn't a small-time counterfeiter with a gang of useless thugs.”

“That's true.” Kirov snuggled up to me again. “But we're fighting with our own kind of honor, aren't we? Our own loyalty and purpose?”

“Yeah... Yeah, we are.” I extended my arm and let my hand settle on her far hip. “And unlike Mark and Ho, we have a whole army at our backs.”

“A small one.” I twisted around as Karolina and Yuukanael made their way across the roof. “But even small armies can win big battles,” the former continued. “Right?”

I nodded. “Something Voltaire said about big battalions comes to mind, but I forget the exact words... You were coming to watch the sunrise too?”

“Yes,” Yuukanael answered. “But it seems we're too late.”

“There will be plenty more where this came from.” I patted the warm spot beside me. “Sit down and enjoy the remainder.”

They did so. “You look happy,” the Arume remarked curiously. “Did something happen?”

“Yes,” said Kirov. “We learned something important about each other last night.”

“That's good,” Karolina replied. “So did we.”

“Oh?” I noted that they were sitting in a posture not unlike our own. “Well, good for you.”

The Polish woman nodded. “It's very peaceful up here, isn't it?” Her voice grew sad. “Father says the bill is almost certainly going to pass... I wonder if this is something we'll ever see again.”

“Sure you will.” I didn't understand where this sudden confidence was coming from, but I decided not to waste it. “If we all give it our best, we'll beat the tar outta those bottom-feeding scum-suckers for sure!”

“That's what everyone's saying, but I just can't keep myself from worrying about what's going to happen... I even prayed for a little bit.”

“Did you?” I looked out over the ruined city, my expression turning grim. “I suppose it's the thought that counts.”

“You don't like that?”

“It's hard to, what with Tiller being such a self-appointed paragon of virtuous faith and all.”

“It's horrible,” she asserted strongly. “Ignoring the real message and twisting select parts to support his own agenda like that. Father says there were people like him back in Poland as well... I'm glad I can't remember them.”

“Yeah,” I said slowly, “Tiller's definitely a few rounds short of a full mag, and he was by no means the only one the United States has exported in living memory. I suppose one can find them in a lot of places.”

“It's scary, isn't it?” Karolina bit her lip. “Do you think it's a problem, if I believe in Christian things?”

“Depends on which things you believe. You mind talking about it?”

“Not really.” She thought for a few moments. “I was raised Catholic... I guess what I believe is that when it comes to things like the bible, you should pay attention to the message it has more than what it literally says. You know, the Golden Rule and stuff like that.”

“I see.”

“Things like the creation story... Maybe it's like a parable, you know? Because the bible is a book written by people, it has things that don't quite fit because they didn't know about evolution and stuff back then.”

“What about Christ's miracles?”

“I'm not really sure. I guess maybe he had some way of doing them that people didn't know about, or maybe they really were miracles... But like I said, I think what he was saying is more important than what he was doing. That people should be good to each other, right?”

“Nothing wrong with that principle... So for you, what's God?”

“Well... I don't really think God is a he or a she, you know? Not someone who looks just like us... Maybe more like a form of energy? Something more abstract?”

“As opposed to a vindictive, jealous old man who turns people into pillars of salt just to spite their spouses.”

“No, definitely not.”

“That's reassuring.” I scratched my head. “What about all the other faiths out there?”

“I think they're all connected in some way... Like they're all different forms of the same thing, maybe.”

“What happens to loathsome godless commies like me?”

“There are lots of people who say they believe in Jesus but don't follow what he said about helping others and such, and there are also people who don't believe in him but do good things on their own. I think it doesn't really matter so much if you believe, as long as you try to be a good person.”

“Ah... So to put it in a nutshell, would you say that for you faith is something you look to for assurance and support in a big, vicious shark-eat-fish universe?”

“Um... Yes, that's pretty much how I see it. Do you... think it's wrong?”

“I can live with it,” I said mildly. “You seem like a decent person, and you're certainly far better than Tiller.”

“Thanks.” There was a lull in the talking before she spoke again. “Can I ask about what you believe?”

“What do I have faith in, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Three things. These—“ I pointed to my eyes. “—these—“ I held up my hands. “—and this.” I picked up the Thompson. “Anything more abstract can't be relied on.”

“Isn't that kind of... bleak?”

“Maybe... I'm used to it—I'm a cynic, after all.” I stood up. “It's all very well to talk, but there's still work to be done. See you all later.”

***

I was regretting my choice by the time I got to Nereus' workshop. At the very least, I should have stayed a little longer.

“Morning, Schuhart,” the armorer grunted. “You're up early.”

“Speak for yourself.” I looked at the rifles laid out before me. “What's this?”

“Present from the Russians.” He tossed me an object covered in bubble wrap. “Got a whole box of 'em.”

I unwrapped it carefully. “Scopes?”

“PSOPs with mounting rails. I'm outfitting as many of the Siminovs and Mausers as I can while there's still time. Mind giving me a hand?”

“Not at all.” I flexed my fingers. “Anything for the war effort.”

***

“Schuhart.”

“Freebooter.” I eyed the Russian coolly. “Something you need?”

“It's okay,” Kirov said, appearing behind him. “He's here to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For turning Kirova,” Seva answered curtly, tossing a cardboard box onto the workbench beside me. “And to give you some recompense for the... regrettable lack of support yesterday.”

“Uh-huh.”

“That's all.” With that, the gunrunner departed.

Kirov sat next to me. “Sorry I haven't been around,” she said softly. “Did you get anything done here?”

I waved towards the stack of newly scoped SKSs and Karabiners. “See for yourself. Anyway, what was that land pirate talking about?”

“I spilled the beans,” the assassin informed me with quiet triumph. “I told them everything I know about Seele's operations here and in east Russia. It should be enough to give them an edge.”

“Then... You're defecting.”

“I already have.” She smiled. “To you.”

“It seems kind of rash.”

“I wanted out for a long time... Now I've got it.” She put her arms around me. “And I've got you.”

“Mm.”

“What are you doing?”

“Waiting for the paint to dry.” I held up the Schnellfeuer so that she could see the orange and white I'd painstakingly daubed on the sights, plus the friction tape running up and down the grip frame and along the forward edge of the magazine well. “I've been trying to make expedient corrections to the more glaring flaws.”

“What's this? A spare barrel?”

“A barrel and bolt assembly Nereus got as part of a trade. It was originally from a 1916 Prussian Contract nine millimeter, but got reworked after the war: somebody chopped the nose down to Bolo size, converted the tangent sights to a fixed setup and stamped a nice big '1920' on the right chamber flat. There was no frame to go with it, so I did a little work on the underside with a file and now it fits the Schnellfeuer just fine.”

“Caliber conversion. That could be useful, if it works.”

“It did when I tried it.”

“Hm... What's in the box?”

“Good question.” I set the Mauser aside and opened it carefully. “Well, well. From Russia with regards, eh?”

“An Izhmech MP-Four-Twelve,” Kirov said approvingly. “Not bad. A lot of police in Vladivostok carry them.”

“They were generous enough to throw in a belt holster and a couple of speedloaders, too.” I lifted the revolver free of its packaging and turned it over. This existed in my world, where it was known as the REx, or Revolver for Export, but it had never seen mass production due to unfavorable market conditions. Evidently Second Impact had changed that here. The design was an anachronistic affair, a break-top design in the manner of the old Smith & Wessons but built using modern steel and plastic. The entire lower frame was housed in a shell of the latter material, in fact. The barrel was six inches and the heavy full-length shroud gave it a distinctly nose-heavy balance. Opening it up required both hands and not a little effort, a reassuring fact considering that this gun, unlike its ancestors, was a .357 Magnum. “Feels pretty rugged,” I remarked at last. “I guess it's time to hand in the Vaquero.”

“Mm...” Kirov picked up a scoped SKS and hefted it experimentally. “I'll take one of these. Not a Steyr, but it'll do.”

***

“G'Day!”

I twitched. “Gah..!”

“Gotcha, mate.” Errol Darwin pranced away with a cackle. “Oy, Phil! The funny Yankee's come 'round!”

“Be right with ya.”

“Must 'ave just come outta the shower—smells like bloody daffodils!”

“Gee, thanks,” I said flatly, and walked over to Brad Mustin, the merc prisoner, who was chewing a piece of jerky and trying to be inconspicuous. “So... You're still alive.”

“Yeah, man.” He looked me over warily. “What's up?”

“Nothing much. They treating you humanely?”

“Yeah... Except that they keep talkin' about prune juice.” He shivered a little.

“Huh.”

“If you came to ask about Darkstar, I can't tell you nothin'. I dunno what the plan is.”

“That's fine,” I said evenly. “We'll get by.”

“'Course we will,” Phil chimed in, emerging into the sunshine. He carried his Encore plus another SKS, a Yugoslavian Type 59/66 with the original muzzle-mounted grenade launcher and a compact scope attached using a Warsaw Pact side rail, like that on my Albanian specimen and those I'd spent the morning installing. “So wot can we do fer ya?”

“I came to check on Tiddles mostly... And anything else you might have.”

“Sure thing... Errol, your turn. I'll beat the koala for a bit.”

“Right.” Errol motioned towards the half-tent set against the nearest standing wall. “In 'ere... This one's mine,” he went on once I'd followed, picking up a Webley Mark VI, an old .455 British service model with its trigger guard removed and the front sight replaced by a shard of orange plastic. I noted with a feeling of mixed amusement and alarm that he appeared to possess both a bayonet and a shoulder stock for the antiquated revolver. “Bit of a fiddly old thing, but it works... Now, these are the real kickers.”

I suddenly found myself gifted with what looked like two RPG-7 launcher tubes attached to a single trigger module. “Oof! What's this for?”

“Heavy duty damage. You put a HEAP or HE-DP round in this barrel and a frag round in the other, use the first to punch through the armor and the second to mop up any bugger who survives the first.”

“I see.” Lowering it, I saw that somebody had brushed the word 'SPNKR' onto the outer barrel in white paint. “Got the name right, at least.”

“Dunno who put that on,” he shrugged, “but if you like it, that's fine... Now, this 'ere is what we call a 'Scudzooka'.” He hoisted the single-tube launcher onto his shoulder, tipping it way back. “We made this fer throwin' grenades over houses and fer when ya can't get a line o' sight to the target... Maybe have an edge against thin top armor too, but we ain't been able to test it much. We got lots of ammo though, thanks to the Russkies.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“Not much that you can't find on any good black market... We've got Tiddles loaded into one of them Humvee things out back. It's over this way.”

***

“Why did I get saddled with this piece of junk?” Nebaril cast a baleful glare at me as I slipped into the Arume camp in a gutted cafe, now mostly dismantled and packed up. She looked as if she were contemplating throwing the Mosin-Nagant 91/30 at me. “A manual repeater with a five-round capacity? It's worthless!”

“Don't knock it 'til you've shot it,” I retorted. “Unless you want Simo Hayha to rise from the grave and ventilate you.”

“Who?”

“A Finnish sniper. In a hundred-day period during the Winter War of 1939 to 1940, he killed over five hundred Soviet soldiers with a rifle not unlike that one... Using only iron sights, no less. He racked up something on the order of two hundred more kills with a submachine gun before being wounded and forced to leave the battlefield. The Soviets never got him.” I couldn't resist a little smirk. “If a lowly—not to mention short—Terran could pull that off in freezing conditions with five hours of light each day, surely a tough, seasoned Arume like you can do far better in such fine weather as this... and if all else fails, just grab it by the barrel and swing like so... Boik!”

“Rrrgh!”

“Glad to hear it. I look forward to an impressive after-action report.” I moved on to Kataphel, busily cleaning her M1918A2. “Morning, Kate.”

The engineer nodded. “Schuhart. You are well?”

“Pretty good. You?”

“Recovering. It is painful, but I am not severely restricted.”

“Don't overdo it, okay?”

“Of course.”

“Is Isanil around?”

“In the back.”

“Thanks.”

***

I found the Acting Commander sitting on an inverted milk crate, a map of Tokyo across her knees. She felt very uncomfortable in refugee clothing, it seemed. “Hey,” I said quietly. “How goes it?”

“Nothing to do but wait,” she answered. “We've made all the preparations we can.”

“I see.”

“Is there something you need?”

“You, not me.” I unslung the SPAS. “Here... If you have to take Narwhal by force, you'll need this more than I do. Kate knows how to work it, so talk to her if you have questions.”

Isanil frowned. “What of yourself?”

“I'll be fine. I've got enough guns already.”

“As you like.”

“Yeah... Well, I guess this is it, huh?”

“Yes.”

“In case we don't meet again after this, I'd like to say that I'm glad we were able to work something out and, well... Good luck out there, I guess.”

The Arume gave me a wry smile. “You're a mystery to me, forime, but you've been a great help to us and you have my gratitude for it. If there is anything we can do in return, you have only to ask.”

“Nothing practical occurs to me at the moment, but thanks. I'll keep that in mind.”

“Where will you go now?”

“At the moment I'm just doing rounds and checking up on people. I'll be in the neighborhood if anything comes up.”

***

“Hey.”

“Hi.” I ducked into the shade of the awning. “What's up?”

Kirov shrugged. “Nothing. I was helping zero those makeshift sniper rifles, but that's finished now.”

“Ah. You've changed back into your regular clothes.”

“Just like you. It was really nice of Karolina to wash them.”

“Yeah.”

“I hear you told Nell about Belaya Smert.”

“About..?”

“That's what we call Hayha. Means 'White Death'.”

“Oh.”

“Good try, but I think the lesson is wasted on her.”

I shrugged. “We'll see, won't we?”

“Guess so... Nereus gave me this, by the way.” She held out an FN Hi-Power with a chunky slide and clipped slide release. “One of his special projects. Started out as a forty-caliber, now it's a nine with a shock buffer and a super recoil spring. Something he put together to shoot the hot AP loads Novaya Tula use in their Yarygin and Gryazev-Shipunow pistols.”

“Anti-armor duty, eh?”

“To compensate for the Springfield's lack of penetration.”

“Good idea. Just got to watch the backstop, right?”

“Right... Um, got a question for you.”

“Go ahead.”

“What's the Kaishaku Maneuver?”

“Oh, that... An inane plot device conjured up by somebody who'd had too many Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters, so-called in honor of the manga group which made it popular. Diogenized, it goes like this: Person X likes Person Y. Y probably returns these feelings, but it isn't absolutely necessary. X wants to be with Y, but has some dark secret which would destroy the relationship. X struggles with this for a time and decides that the best thing to do is to go out in such a way that Y won't shed a tear, which usually means that X does something awful to Y in hopes that Y will retaliate by killing X.”

“I see...” Kirov looked at her feet. “That's exactly what I tried to do, isn't it? I must have been crazy.”

“I'm just glad you didn't go through with it,” I said earnestly.

“So am I.”

“Didn't go through with what?”

“Hello, Karan,” I said, quickly putting on a happier air. “All psyched up for the big one?”

The Indian made a so-so gesture. “I'm fine, but a lot of other people aren't.”

I made a sour face. “What is it now?”

“They're scared. The mercs have tanks and the best most of ours have got are bolt-action battle rifles... They don't think they can win this.”

“Uh-huh... Is this a general feeling, or is it based among a discrete group?”

“A little of both. There's a crowd gathering outside Daemon's place, waiting to hear the outcome of the vote. The mood's pretty tense there.”

“Damn,” I muttered. “This won't help any. I'll head over there and keep an eye on things.”

Karan nodded. “I'm heading to the front,” he said. “See you there.”

***

“What news?”

Daemon ran a rag across his forehead. “The bill passed. The vote is technically still going, but the supporters already got a clear majority. It'll just be a few minutes until the official announcement.”

“I see... What about the mercs?”

“I've got couriers watching the front. Darkstar's getting ready to move... As soon as they get clearance, the choppers will be right on top of us.”

“What do they have?”

“An AH-One-F and an AH-Sixty-Four-A, both former Israeli units.”

“A Bell Cobra and a Hughes Apache, huh? Well, they're not indestructible. As long as we have some RPGs on hand, we'll stand a decent chance. What about the tanks?”

“Not sure yet.”

“I assume the plan is still to lure them into isolated parts of the city and try to destroy them with ambush tactics?”

“If we can... But if they charge straight down the middle, we'll have to engage on unfavorable terms.”

“But we still have the home field advantage.”

“For the time being, yes... All this depends on the mercs working by themselves. If the military gets involved—”

“We'll be in trouble.” I pointed to his laptop's screen, where a new window had appeared. “What's that?”

“That,” he replied grimly, “is the balloon going up.”

“That's it, then.” I felt calmer than I would have expected. “We're going to war.”

“Yes.”

“Send out an alert, I'll deal with the crowd. YT, get your bike and prep for rapid deployment.”

Daemon held out the computer. “There's one more thing... Take a look at this.”

***

The crowd stirred as we emerged into the open, an agitated buzzing filling the air. “Okay,” I said to myself. “Soapbox, need a soapbox...”

“How about a gun crate, will that do?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

Roopen nodded. “You've got four, maybe five minutes. Make it good.”

“Right.” I climbed up on the plastic box and cleared my throat. “Ahem... Okay, people! Pay attention!”

“What happen?” A voice shouted. “Is bill passed?”

“Yes, the bill has passed. The mercenaries are mobilizing already, and the ultranationalist group called the Great Sun Society has issued a pledge to back them up in their actions against us.” I frowned as a murmur of discontent rumbled through those gathered before me. “Do I hear talk of flight? Talk of surrender? Perish these thoughts! There is nowhere we can run and nowhere we can hide, if the mercenaries and their backers come against us in full strength. The sponsor of our enemy is as cruel as he is mad, and he cares nothing for the lives of those who get in his way. Comrades, our choice is a simple one: we can fight and some of us will die, or we can not fight and all of us will die. Which will it be?”

“You're crazy!” another voice called. “We can't fight tanks!”

“No? A tank is a machine, made by humans and their tools. A thing which is built can also be unbuilt, can it not? Just because it looks frightening, do not be deceived into believing that it is invincible! They have tanks? So what? We have rockets! Do you know how many tanks have been lost to rockets, even small rockets that can be launched by a single person?”

“But they're professionals!” the voice protested. “We're just ordinary people!”

I shook my head. “Why do you so easily forget the lessons of history? Did the Red Armies in China get through the Long March by complaining that their Guomindang opponents were professionals with superior arms and armor? No! Were those who made that march somehow superhuman? No! They were ordinary men and women, even more poorly equipped than you, and they traveled thousands of kilometers in awful conditions! Were they guided by miracle-workers? No! Their leaders were as human as they were, flawed and imperfect! Did they all make it to Yan'an? No! They suffered horrendous casualties along the way, but those who survived went on to make China into a world power! Compared to their obstacles, a bunch of pissant guns-for-hire with a few surplus vehicles is nothing!”

The masses seemed to be swinging towards my point of view. Time to wrap this up. “We've defeated these mercenaries twice already! Now we have a chance to make a stand, to show the world that those it forgets will not simply fade away! I've fought these mercs before and I'll fight them again, with a gun, a knife, even my bare hands if they're all I have left! Will you fight with me? Will you fight for a better tomorrow?”

The pause which followed was filled by the distant sound of helicopter rotors. “The time for talk is over,” I barked, jumping down from my perch. “From here on, it's do or die!”

Kirov pulled up with a roar as the crowd dispersed into the streets. “Ready?”

“As much as ever,” I grunted, climbing onto the rear of the motorcycle. “You?”

“Never readier.”

“Wonderful.” I waved towards the north. “The weeaboos are that-a-way. Let's get 'em!”
Last edited by BobBQ on Tue Apr 29, 2008 9:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

majlund
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Postby majlund » Tue Apr 29, 2008 4:00 am

As usual - another highquality update. You pamper your audience.
Si vis Pacem para Bellum

Tabasco
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Postby Tabasco » Tue Apr 29, 2008 8:29 am

Heh, Commissar Smith indeed. :smirk:

I'm starting to wonder about Mr. Hallucination though.
---
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one insists on adapting the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
- George Bernard Shaw

Jay911
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Postby Jay911 » Tue Apr 29, 2008 8:56 am

Yay for updates.

Almost expected a "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!" bit in there at the end. ;) :D
--j.


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