Anartech

Chapter 1

Eric felt like he couldn't run any further, but he had no choice. He had to run, and he had to get away. He didn't know what his parents wanted with him, but he was certain that it wasn't good. And he knew that he had to escape.

Finally, he no longer felt like he couldn't run any further. He knew he couldn't run any further. He collapsed against a graffiti strewn brick wall, sat amongst the various black plastic bags trying to hold garbage, and by the looks of it, failing.

Questions began to float through his mind. What was going to happen to him? Where would he go? Why had his parents done what they did? He looked down at his two sais he held clutched in his paws. Fashioned out of a strong steel unknown to even him, the handle wrapped in a strong tape like substance to allow a firm, yet comfortable grip. The handles then branched off into three blades, like a fork, the middle blade extending to about three times the length of the other two.

Then Eric realized that the middle blade of his right sai had was tinted crimson near the tip. Blood. His father's blood. And with that realization, Eric buried his head into his arms and began to cry.

Midnight ran along the rooftops of the small 5 floor apartments scattering a small suburban neighborhood on the island of Montreal. A small, black satchel lay over his left shoulder, and a 4-foot long wooden staff was clenched firmly in his right paw. As he reached the edge of the roof, he sped up, jammed his staff firmly into the roof, and vaulted over the alleyway. He landed on the other side, rolled head over shoulders twice, and without losing too much momentum continued running. He was about to do the same thing again, when he stopped dead at the edge. Something below had caught his attention.

He flattened his belly against the building's top, and looked down. A small bundle of fur was sitting directly below him, and the bundle was crying. Midnight stared at the creature, a look of puzzlement etched on his black and white cat's face. I wonder what he's crying about? He thought. Then he looked at his watch, a black Timex Expedition digital that lay beneath the sleeve of his black leather jacket. He shook his head. Whatever that things problem was, it wasn't his. It was almost 7:30 PM, and he needed to get his cat butt home.

But his curiosity kept him from going on. And as he tucked his staff into a harness built into his satchel strap, he though about the saying, curiosity killed the cat. He hated that saying. But as he climbed headfirst down the fire escape ladder, he supposed it was true.

As he got closer, he saw that the creature was canine, and at first glance he thought it was fox, but then realized the shade of red furs and the head shape weren't quite right. And after getting a further inspection of the top of the head, for he or she had his or her face buried, Midnight decided it must be a Shiba Inu, a race originating in Japan. "Hey," Midnight called out gently.

The dog stopped crying and looked around in confusion. "Up here," Midnight called.

The dog tilted its head upwards, and looked at Midnight. "Hi." Midnight said.

The dog jumped up, and Midnight was surprised to see that he was armed. The dog had its left arm straight out in front of his face, gripping a sai firmly by its handle. Its other arm was sticking out to the side, elbow bent so that the other sai blade was covering the dog's face. The dog stared at Midnight, breathing calmly and Midnight figured it must have been about 14 or 15 years old.

Midnight remained on the ladder, and called out, "Relax! I'm not here to hurt you!"

The dog didn't move from its stance.

"My name's Midnight. What's yours?"

No response.

"Do you have a name?"

Still no response.

"Can you understand a damn thing I'm saying, or should I speak en Français?"

Finally, the dog spoke in a soft, obviously male voice. "I speak English."

"Well, now we're getting somewhere. So why were you lying there crying like that?"

"None of your business."

"Really? Oh well, then." Midnight threw himself from the ladder, flipped upright in the air, and landed in a crouch. As he got up, he said, "I guess I'll just be on my way then."

He walked past the dog, who turned to keep his eye on the black and white cat. "Wait!" he called after Midnight, who had begun to mount the fire escape ladder on the other building. "I, I guess I could use someone to talk to."

Midnight smiled and turned around to face the dog. "That's great, but if we're going to have a proper conversation, you should put those things away." He motioned towards the sais held firmly in the dog's paws. The dog stared at Midnight for a few seconds, then dropped the stance and stuck the sais into leather holsters attached to the hips of his khakis, underneath his red hoody.

Midnight smiled as he looked over the young dog. He had mostly a very light orangish-reddish fur, with large patches of white under his large, blue eyes and also under his mouth and down the center of his neck. "Great. Now, the second important part to having a conversation is to make sure everyone knows each other. I already told you my name is Midnight, but what's yours?"

"Eric. My name's Eric."

Midnight stuck his right paw towards Eric. "Pleased to meet you, Eric."

Eric raised his left eyebrow, but shook Midnight's paw. "Thanks, I think."

"So, Eric. Why were you crying back there?"

Eric sighed, and sat down on the top of a green, plastic garbage can. "My parents."

Midnight could see tears beginning to accumulate in Eric's eyes.

"First of all, they were never there for me. All my life, I barely knew them at all. Then today, they decide to take me for a drive and the next thing I know, I'm being held at gunpoint by my mom!"

Midnight was shocked, and it showed on his face, which was mostly black with a patch of white encircling the left side of his mouth and just under the nose. "Gunpoint?"

"Yes," Eric said, sniffling. "When they stopped at a red light, a jumped out. And my mother shot at me! I ran down the road, and my dad chased me. I, I slashed at his leg with my sai, I think I did some damage, I don't know." Eric was now crying again. "And I don't know why they did that."

Midnight didn't know what to say. He had heard such stories, but always on the news. Never first hand, like this.

Eric wiped his face on the sleeve of his red hoody, and continued. "The funny thing was, I've read about guns and played plenty of First Person Shooter video games, I've never seen a gun like the one my mother held at my head."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, it was all silver and round, with four red lights forming a cross around the barrel. The shaft also had a small lever sticking out the right side. When my mother loaded it, she knocked the shaft down, stuck this elliptical thing into it, and snapped the shaft into place. Almost like a shotgun, or a flare pistol. Then she pulled the small lever back until it clicked, and released it. When she shot it, it sounded like it was using compressed air, there was practically no noise. Really weird."

Suddenly, Midnight knew what was going on. And he felt a great load of pity for poor Eric. "Eric, I know why you parents did what they did."

Eric looked up, surprised. "Wha, you do?"

Midnight nodded, and pulled out from his back pocket a small hand pistol exactly like the one Eric described. "Did the weapon look like this?"

Eric started to get excited. "That's it! That's it!"

Midnight nodded gravely. He pulled out from his left pocket an elliptical cartridge, and inserted it into the shaft of the weapon. He shook the handle, causing the shaft to snap into place, and pulled the lever back until it clicked, and released it. "The weapon is a tranquilizer gun. The cartridges are filled with small darts, containing a non-lethal substance that knocks a subject out cold in seconds. The darts are lined around the rim of the cartridge, pulling the lever moves the needle directly next to it into the center and spins the cartridge around in preparation for the next shot. The lights are laser pointers for extra accuracy, see?"

He thumbed a small button on the guns side, and Eric saw a small dot appear on the wall next to him.

Midnight pulled the trigger, and there was a small POP and Eric saw a small dart sticking in the wall next to him. He picked it up and examined it.

"It does indeed fire on compressed air, and since there are several darts in one cartridge, it provides a rapid reload time."

Eric looked over the small dart. There were faint markings on the side he couldn't quite make out. He looked up at Midnight. "Non-lethal, you say?"

Midnight shook his head. "Non-lethal during impact, but throw it up in the air."

Eric did, and Midnight thumbed another button. Eric watched wide-eyed as the dart exploded into a small fireball in the air above him. "Whoa. I've never seen anything like that."

Midnight sighed and re-pocketed the gun. "That's because it's not from Earth."

Eric snapped his head downwards to stare at Midnight. "What did you say?"

"I said that weapon isn't from this planet. Not even from this galaxy."

Eric continued to stare at Midnight. "But… but…"

"You don't know it Eric, but Earth is actually under attack by beings from another planet. Well, perhaps attack isn't exactly the right word, although they do attack often. Invasion is more like it…"

"No." Eric said seriously, cutting Midnight off. "That's not possible, that's just crazy! Aliens from another galaxy invading Earth…"

"How old are you, Eric?"

"Huh? I'm 16."

"That would explain it. You're parents are what we call 'Units', people who have been enslaved by the…"

"Whoa! Slow down man, 'Units'?"

"Yes, people who've been put under control of the beings, who as far as we can tell are called the Tsar-Chaan. Using a complicated electro-stimulation method on the brain, they are able to put a person completely under their control."

Eric began to laugh. "Oh man! That's funny! That's real funny! I mean, you're joking right?"

Midnight stared seriously at Eric.

Eric stopped laughing. "He's not joking. OK. Do you realize how insane you sound?"

"Yes. But truth is truth, no matter how insane it may appear. I mean do you believe in god?"

"Yes…"

"Well I don't. I think the idea that there is a being living outside of our reality with supreme power is insane too, even more insane than an invasion by beings from another galaxy."

"Have you seen these beings?"

"Yes." Midnight replied seriously.

"And, were you on anything at the time?"

Midnight frowned. "The only drug I take is caffeine."

Eric took a deep breath. He figured he was dealing with a mad man. "So, where did you see these, beings?" emphasizing the word "beings".

"You know about the Second Chance Orphanage?" Midnight asked.

"Yes, the name rings a bell."

"Well, my friends and I, who were children at that orphanage, soon learned that people were always adopted after they turned 16."

"So what?"

"Well, doesn't it seem odd that somebody who hasn't been adopted for 16 years is suddenly picked up the day of his 16th birthday? Every single time?"

"Maybe the orphanage made an agreement with somebody to give them all their un-adopted 16 year olds." Eric stated matter-of-factly.

"Maybe, but we followed one 16 year old when he was called away on his birthday. Followed him down to the basement. And we watched while the beings, tall and reptilian, forced him into a chair where a beam of blue light began to shine into his eyes. The kid screamed and squirmed for about half an hour, until the light went out and he fell forward onto his chest. He was then dragged away, never seen again."

Eric could only stare at Midnight.

"That night, my friends and I knew we couldn't stay at the orphanage, we had to escape. So we ran away."

"Oh, right. You just up and ran away."

Midnight shrugged. "Well, yeah it took some doing. And we were chased. And where shot at by the tranquilizers. Luckily, the missed except for my shoe but that didn't do anything.

"We ran until we couldn't run any further, and stopped outside of an old Martial Arts training building. The owner found us, and luckily, he knew what was going on as he recognized the dart in my shoe. So we lived with him, learning various Martial Arts, until they got him."

"Let me guess, they enslaved him too?"

"No. We got out, and he committed suicide. That was too years ago. My friends and I have been battling the Tsar-Chaan ever since." Midnight pulled out his staff, and looked it over. "He gave this to me. Gave each of us a gift. Refused to tell me where it came from, just told me to be thankful I had it. We've been through a lot together, This Bo and I." Midnight ran his left paw over the smooth, dark wooden surface.

"I'm sorry, but this is all to insane to be believable…"

"SSSH!" Midnight hissed suddenly, cutting him off. Midnight pressed his back against the wall, and looked in both directions. On his right, the alley ended against a brick wall covered in purple graffiti. On his left, it branched sharply left again. He put a finger over his lips and motioned for Eric to stay where he was. Then, he crept silently along the edge of the wall towards the corner. When he reached it, he threw himself around, facing the second alley with his Bo in both paws.

"AAH!" Cried a very surprised police officer and his partner.

Midnight kept his Bo in the ready position, and hissed, "What do you want?"

The larger officer pulled out a flyer with Eric's picture on it. "Nothing much, just looking for this dog. Have you seen him?"

Midnight moved his eyes downward to scan the picture quickly, then returned them to the two officers. The one holding the flyer was a timber wolf, with yellow eyes and dark gray fir covering his face. The other, smaller officer was a coyote, his fur more of a brownish colour.

"No, officers. Can't say that I have."

The timber wolf folded the flyer up and pocketed it. Then he grinned maliciously at Midnight. "Well, at least we won't return empty handed. We've been looking for you," He quickly whipped out a tranquilizer pistol. "Midnight. The Overmind will be very pleased when we return with you, alive. I'm sure he'll want your death to take as long as possible."

"Yes, well as fascinating as that sounds, I'm afraid I have other plans.

Midnight suddenly struck at the officer's right paw with the top of his stick, making sharp contact with the veins and arteries. The officer cried in pain as his hand flew open involuntarily, dropping the gun. Without pausing, Midnight then delivered a sharp blow to side of the cop's right leg using the bottom of his staff. The impact was strong, and the cop was knocked off balance. He began to fall, but before he hit the ground, Midnight drove his staff directly downwards into his rib cage. There was a sharp crack, and the officer grabbed his chest, gasping for breath as two of his ribs broke.

By now, the second officer had realized what was going on, and had drawn his own tranquilizer pistol. He fired, but Midnight was ready. With a quick thrust of his staff, the dart ended up embedded in the wood. Midnight pulled the dart out, spun it around between his fingers and threw it at the cop, hitting him in the upper right shoulder. The officer dropped his gun and grabbed at the dart, but the chemicals were already taking affect. He fell face forward, completely knocked out.

It was then that Midnight saw the lead officer, wincing and gasping for breath, reach into his belt for his other gun. Midnight quickly struck him across the face with the bottom of the Bo. There was a sharp SMACK, and the cop's face spun left and fell against the pavement. The eyes closed and the cop was unconscious.

"OH MY GOD!"

Midnight whirled around to see Eric standing behind him.

"I thought I told you to stay where you were," Midnight told him, a little irritated.

Eric shrugged. "You looked finished. But look at that! That wolf's got green blood."

Midnight looked down, and saw that the blood trickling from the Wolf's broken nose was indeed green. Midnight immediately stuck his Bo into his satchel harness, and pulled from his pocket a small device that looked like a black pen. Midnight crouched beside the fallen wolf, and ran his finger over the pen shaped item. A large blade snapped out, and he began cutting the police uniform down the center. He removed it from the body, throwing it aside. Then he folded the blade up and pocketed it, while reaching into the inside of his leather jacket with his other paw.

From a small pouch inside his leather jacket, Midnight extracted a glass tube containing a blue liquid. He held the tube over the wolf's right wrist, and turned the stopper clockwise. A small needle popped out, and the liquid began to drain into the wolf's wrist. Instantly, all the fur on the naked wolf's body began to shrink away. Eric watched in bewilderment as the fur completely disappeared into the pink skin, which began to turn green and harden. The limbs stretched forward, until the arms reached to the knees, and the legs were double their original size. The wolf's snout began to melt into the face, flattening itself beneath the eyes, which had grown to triple their original size, taking up most of the face. The ears folded in on themselves, and disappeared into the head. Then, all over the body, the hard, green skin began to split into segments that covered every inch of the skin, like a suit of armor.

"Still don't believe me?" asked Midnight.

Eric stared at the creature before him, eyes wide. "I, I…"

He spun around and fell, and Midnight rushed forward to catch him.

After laying him gently on the ground, Midnight removed the tube, and put it back inside his jacket. The particular chemical he had chosen coated with a layer of cyanide, which meant the Tsar-Chaan was already dead. He stood up, and walked towards the coyote. He pulled out his pen shaped item again, flicked out the blade and sliced gingerly at the coyote's wrist. Red blood began to flow from the smooth cut. Midnight nodded; glad it was a unit and not another alien. He closed and pocketed the knife. Then he pulled out from his jacket another tube, about half the size of the previous one, coloured black so that the contents weren't recognizable. He held it against the coyote's neck, and twisted the stopper. When he released it, it spun around back to its original position. The tube was full of cyanide as well, but only a small amount was needed for the coyote. Satisfied, he returned the black tube and walked back to Eric.

He picked up the unconscious dog, and slung him over his shoulder. Then he returned the previous alley, and climbed up the ladder he had stood by only minutes before. But instead of going straight across the roof, he turned and went in another direction. It would be slower, but there was no way he was going to jump across alleyways with Eric over his shoulder.

Eric woke up in bed, but kept his eyes closed. He could feel his mother sitting at the foot of the bed as she often did on when she was home. No matter how old Eric got, it was always a great feeling, it made him feel safe, secure and most of all it made him feel loved. He smiled and snuggled down into the covers.

"I had the strangest dream," he mumbled.

"Hmm? Tell me about it?" said a voice that was clearly not his mothers.

Eric's eyes snapped open, and he saw Midnight sitting at the edge of his bed, wearing a pair of blue jeans but no shirt. Eric could see that the white patch that ran down Midnight's neck expanded to cover his entire chest. Set against all the other black fur, it almost looked like Midnight was wearing a tux. He also had a silver chain around his neck.

Eric sat up in surprise. "You're not my mother!" he cried.

"Obviously," Midnight replied.

"Of course," Eric replied, looking at the strange, blue blankets covering his pants. "My mom was enslaved by that weird thing I saw."

"Well, I don't know if it was that exact one, but yeah."

Eric began to feel tears appear in his eyes again. "All the time my parents hugged me, cuddled me, and told me they loved me. It was all, all a lie."

Midnight watched as a single tear rolled down Eric's cheek. He didn't know what to say, he had no idea what Eric was going through right now.

"I'm sure you're parents loved you, Eric." He said, trying to be comforting.

"Well, at least I'm lucky to have an excuse for why my parents were never around. They were probably at meetings, discussing ways of enslaving the planet or something. Suppose that's better then having them not care about you at all." Eric buried his face him his hands again. "No, its not." And he began to cry.

Midnight moved down the bed towards Eric, and put his arm around Eric's neck. Eric found himself laying his head against Midnight's chest.

"I can't imagine what you're going through, Eric." Midnight said softly, looking into the distance. "I never knew my parents. They were from Japan, somewhere. But they moved here a year before I was born. One night, they were out a party or something, I don't know. There was a bomb, a damn car bomb. They never found out who did it, and I was put in the Second Chance Orphanage at just a year and a half."

Eric sniffed and wiped his eyes. He looked up at Midnight. "Really?"

Midnight looked back down at Eric and nodded solemnly. Then he patted Eric's arm, saying, "Come on. I'll introduce you to my crew. They've been dying to meet you."

Eric sniffed again, and stood up. "Okay."

He stretched, and reached for his sais. "My sais! Where are they?"

Midnight indicated to a small wooden crate at the foot of the small bed. Lying on top was his sais, still in their holsters. He rushed over to pick them up and attach them to his hips. Midnight raised his eyebrows, but Eric shrugged and didn't say anything else.

Outside of the small room, Eric found himself in a long corridor with walls made of what appeared to be various forms of scrap metal welded together.

"Not exactly pretty," Midnight told him. "But when you have no money and are forced to steal all your materials, you're forced to go with 'Function before form.'"

The hallway was also very dark, lit only by various light bulbs hanging from the ceiling at irregular intervals.

"Each member has their own room," Midnight explained. "You were just in yours, unless you decide to leave. Which is fine, but I'd really rather you didn't. Mine's nearby as well. The others are situated here and there. And this, is the main chamber."

Eric stared in awe. The room wasn't very large, probably the size of his high school gym. But it was absolutely stuffed. The room was a virtual maze, the walls made of shelves full of strange looking devices of various shapes and sizes. The floor was also cluttered with crates set up as tables, covered tools and pieces of paper with complex sketches and designs scrawled over.

Midnight pointed to a small area in the corner to Eric's left where a semi circle had been erected by carefully arranged shelves. Inside, Eric saw a Jaguar who was so black, he could have been mistaken for a shadow. "That's Edge," Midnight said. "He's one of my best friends. We've been together since, forever practically. He's from Japan, but his parents were killed while visiting here. The authorities couldn't find any relatives, which is very odd. They put him in the Second Chance Orphanage, and he grew up in the bed right next to me."

As well as being completely black, Edge also seemed to wear nothing but black. His pants and shoes were completely black, as was his long, leather trench coat. He held what appeared to be a Katana in his paws, and was dancing around the semicircle, performing intricate moves of defense and offense against an unseen enemy, his trench coat flowing gracefully about his legs as he moved.

"Hey Edge!" Midnight called out.

Edge stopped what he was doing, looked at Midnight, sheathed his sword into a scabbard attached the back of his coat, pulled two mini earphones from out of his ears and walked towards the other two.

"Hey, Midnight, yo yo, wassup?" he asked, a large smile on his face. "Hey, it's the new guy! Wassup?" He held out his right paw in a fist, and Eric returned the gesture by giving it a quick punch. "All right, that's my man! Welcome to the club, brother!" he said, spreading his arms out wide.

"Where are we?" Eric asked.

"Uh, we are several hundred meters down, under ground that is, below the Underground City."

Eric's eyes widened. "Below the Underground City?"

Edge nodded. "Below the Centre Eaton actually, or more or less."

Eric whistled in amazement. "How'd you manage that?"

"Kinda hard to say, man. But it took some damn doing, that's for sure. I mean, ain't no brother carving this place out himself, if you get the picture. We were just lucky to stumble into this mighty fine hole."

"Stumble's the right word," grumbled Midnight.

"Right, see Me, Midnight here and Sharp, who I believe is around somewhere, started this whole crazy thing, and seeing as how no one was using this place, we claimed it as our own. That was way back then, and this whole place was nothing but some old lights and things."

"And a mess." Added Midnight.

"What the hell you talking 'bout, this place is always a mess. I don't even know what the world clean means anymore, I've been down here so long."

"So why don't you step into my quarters and find out?" asked Midnight, smirking.

"Cus I don't need to know what clean means. I mean, as long as this place ain't a health hazard an all, who really gives a shit?"

Midnight just smiled, shook his head and rolled his green eyes.

"Yeah, well no one asked you anyway. Come on, Eric. I'll show you around this place. Over there's my space, see? That's where I practice my kick ass Katana moves."

"Yeah," Eric said. "I saw you. You're pretty good."

"Pretty good?"

"Oh no," groaned Midnight, turning around.

"Let me teach you something important, little man. When it comes to the Katana, there can be only one champion." Eric put his thumb on his chest. "Me. Ya know what I'm saying? See, there ain't nobody who's better than me. Nobody, understand? An' if someone wants to challenge my title, I kick their ass."

"Is that so?" asked Eric, a slight smirk on his red and white face.

"Ooh! The wildcat smells a challenge. And normally, I'd accept the bait, but under the circumstances, I must refuse. Midnight would have me hung if I were to do any, uh damage if you know what I mean."

"Damn right." Said Midnight. "Can't have you killing all my recruits."

Eric sighed. "Ya see?" suddenly, Eric's ears picked up a rapid beeping sound. Edge pulled the left sleeve of his coat up to reveal a black watch, which Eric assumed was the source of the beeping. Edge pressed a small button on the side, the beeping stopped, and he let the coat recover the watch. "Perhaps later, ya know? I gotta meditate right now, but it was good talking to ya, been real!"

Edge walked back to the center of his semicircle and sat cross-legged on the floor in the center, his long, black tail curling around his right leg. He replaced his mini earphones, and pressed a button on a portable CD player in his coat pocket.

"We better move on, he'll be out of reach for an hour now unless there's an emergency."

"Lost in spiritual revelation or something like that?" asked Eric.

Midnight shrugged. "Lost in his music, more likely. Always has that Linkin Park CD up too loud."

"Linkin Park? How do you meditate to Linkin Park?"

"I don't know. I don't meditate, and I don't listen to Linkin Park, I listen to techno and trance. Come on, I've got to show you around."

The corner on the other side of the hallway was sort of a living area. In the corner itself was a rather large television set, with a Toshiba DVD player, surround sound system and a strange box. Eric looked questioningly at Midnight. "We did a Future Shop raid," he explained. "The CEO was a unit anyway, and I classified it as a troop moral booster."

Eric laughed lightly, and looked around at the various loveseats that appeared to have foam sticking out of the cushions in at least six different parts each.

"You raid Future Shop, but you won't get any decent furniture?"

"Priorities, Eric."

Behind the three loveseats and the black chair, which seemed to be the only piece of furniture is good condition, there was a small kitchen with the entire works, all the electronic parts looking brand new. Probably from Future Shop too. Midnight explained that he was entitled to whatever food he wanted, as long as he participated in the grocery store raids, which were performed every week or so, or when they ran out of food. He also said that if something had someone else's name on it, it was reserved and not to be touched. The main meals would be eaten here, either in front of the television or at the table, which was more of a large metal slab on four metal sticks with chairs.

"Who's the cook?" Eric asked.

Midnight grinned. "Yours truly. I hope you like frozen food, frozen food, frozen food, frozen food, and for a change we might have frozen food. Occasionally I through in some canned stuff or dried stuff. You know."

"Do you know how to cook with real ingredients?"

"Ha! That's a laugh! I doubt anyone here knows how to work with real ingredients!"

"Well, you just got yourself a new chef. I got highest grades in Home Ec, and I'm a killer cooker."

"Killer, eh?"

"That's what you'll say when you eat my chili."

Midnight chuckled, and pointed to a small door by the refrigerator. "That's the bathroom," he explained. "The other two are, up there in that box," He pointed to the corner on the exact opposite side of the room, and Eric saw that there was a small box attached the top, with many windows and a set of spiral staircases going up. "And the other is at the end of the corridor. That's the one with showers."

"Showers?" Eric asked, putting extra emphasis on the "s" at the end.

"Cubicles. You try running a place with 7 guys, 1 shower. It can't be done."

"No, I don't suppose it could.

Next, Midnight led them to the only remaining unoccupied corner, which was walled off from the rest of the room. Inside, Eric saw that the room was a target practice room. The room was separated into six lanes by a series of ropes. Each lane had a sectioned off firing zone, and a target at the other side. The targets got closer with each lane. The lanes were unoccupied except one, the furthest one from the door and also the longest. The lane was occupied by a Leopard, lying prone at the firing zone in front of a large rifle sitting on a bipod stand.

The leopard looked down the scope attached to the rifle for a couple of seconds, then pressed a small button on the wall. There was a small hiss, then with whirring of mechanical parts the target began to move up and down and left and right randomly. Eric noticed that the target was shaped like a standing figure, exact race he couldn't quite figure out. There were no markings on the figure, no "bulls eye" to aim for. Just lines indicating where the head and neck separated, and the chest and the arms.

The leopard sat staring down the scope, and after a few seconds fired at the moving target. Eric's eyes began to squeeze shut involuntarily as the barrel exploded for less then a second. The target stopped immediately, and Eric looked up to see a hole about a couple of millimeters thick square in the targets temple. Had the target been a living person, it would be dead, no questions asked.

The leopard exhaled, and stood up, turning to face Eric and Midnight. Eric saw that the spotted cat wore a pair of baggy, sandy khakis and a blue short-sleeved button up shirt, unbuttoned so his chest was visible. He also sported a pair of military tags around his neck.

"Hey Midnight, how's it going?" he said as he walked towards the two.

"Not bad. This is Eric, the guy I dragged in yesterday night."

"Ah, yes. Eric, isn't it? Name's Sharp." And he stuck out his paw for Eric, who took it.

"That's pretty impressive," Eric said, nodding towards the target.

Sharp grinned. "Yeah, I don't like to brag or anything, but I am pretty good with a rifle."

"Excuse me!" said Midnight. "Excuse me! Sharp, my friend, you are too modest for your own good. Eric, this guy never misses. He's our ultimate sharp shooter."

Sharp began to blush slightly, and just replied sheepishly, "Hence the name, I guess."

"So what model do you use?" asked Eric, sounding quite interested.

"Oh that. That, my friend is my Sig 550. Sniper variant, excellent rifle. Accurate, powerful, and rugged. I've dropped that thing from rooftops, and it still works as good as new."

Eric nodded. "Yeah, I heard about them. Aren't they illegal in North America or something?"

Sharp frowned. "I'm not sure. Could be, but I don't really care. It isn't like our organization is legal either, so who cares?"

"Where'd you get it?"

"A gift from Enricku,"

"Eh?" asked Eric. "Who's Enricku?"

"Enricku is the guy who owned that Martial Arts place and took us in when we ran away from the orphanage," Explained Midnight. "See, it was me, Sharp and Edge, as Edge explained previously."

"You met Edge?" Sharp asked, not so enthusiastically.

"Yeah, he seemed pretty cool." Eric replied.

Sharp shook his head. "I suppose. I personally think he's kinda full of it." He shrugged, and looked off into the distance. "I dunno."

"Anyways," said Midnight, continuing from where he had left off. "Enricku taught us self defense and martial arts. Later on, he gave us our weapons. That's where Edge got his Katana. That was a few days before he was captured and killed himself. Strange. Almost like he knew what was going to happen."

"But," Sharp continued for Midnight. "Martial arts and me just didn't mix. Enricku kept taking me aside and telling me that if my strengths lay elsewhere. Eventually, he set me up with that rifle at a target range he built, and discovered I could shoot."

"We all discovered he could shoot," said Midnight, laughing lightly. "And he's been our sniper ever since, covering our butts on missions. He's been a very valuable asset."

"So I've been told."

Midnight gave him a playful punch to the left shoulder. "Don't kid yourself, Sharp. I would personally be dead if it weren't for you."

"If you say so, Midnight. Look, I gotta keep practicing."

"Sure thing, I'm gonna take Eric to see the rest of the place."

"Sure."

As they left, Eric asked Midnight where Sharp got his army tags. Midnight explained that Sharp's dad was serving in the Canadian military as a peacekeeper before Sharp was born. He had been assigned to Kosovo, and was shot and killed by a Serb sniper. They sent the tags to his mother, who left them for her unborn child. She died giving birth, and the hospital tried to pass him over to his grandparents and other relatives, but they wouldn't have him. So he was put into the orphanage.

"Now, the rest of this area down here is Mark's mechanical area." Midnight explained. "Eh, Mark!" he called out.

"I'm over here!" a voice called back. Midnight walked towards the voice, followed by Eric, and together they maneuvered around the various crates and shelves until they found a fox sitting in front of an actual table. He was puffing on a cigarette as he tinkered with a small box with a screwdriver. He wore a pair of light blue jeans and a white tank top, and Eric noticed several silver studs in his left ear. The top half of his face and muzzle were coloured a strong shade of red, while the rest of the face was white, with several patches of brown dirt.

"Yeah, I'll be with you in a sec, Midnight. I just have to get this screw in… ah." He looked up and smiled. He picked up the small, brown plastic box and held it up with pride. "It's a box."

Midnight raised an eyebrow skeptically. "I can see that, Mark. What's so special about it?"

"Well, most people think the bomb is inside the box. But not so in this case. This time, the bomb is the box."

"Very good, Mark. But, most people tend to suspect the entire package, nowadays."

"It's not meant to go on a mission, silly." Said Mark, tossing the box over his shoulder. Eric leaned sideways to watch the box bounce away. "It's meant to sit on our shelves as a security system. Just in case."

"I see. Mark, I want you to meet Eric. The new guy."

Mark nodded. "Hey, man. I'm engineering. I design it, build it, finalize it, and it's good. I can make anything look like anything else. And act like anything else."

"I see," said Eric. "Does that include your cigarette? Cus that's not real."

Mark frowned, and pounded the table with his fist. "Damn it! How did you know?"

Eric smiled. "My lungs are very sensitive to cigarette smoke. But I had no reaction to yours."

Mark sighed. "So, it's a problem with the smoke generator, then. I'll have to work on that. Redesign the whole thing." He reached under the table and pulled out a rolled up scroll. He spread it out over the table, pulled out a pencil from his pocket and went over the design spread out before him. Eric leaned over the paper to see what it was, and saw a large picture of what appeared to be a cigarette, filled with various pieces of machinery and illegible handwriting.

"Hmm… maybe if I, no, no, no. That's not the problem." He reached under the table and pulled out another slightly smaller sheet of paper, which appeared to be covered with chemical formulas of various types. "The problem is artificially re-creating that one," he said as he tapped one of the formulas with his pencil, causing a small mark to appear in the middle. "But how?" He turned to look at Eric. "Besides the smoke, you had no idea it was fake?"

Eric shook his head. "If it's not a cigarette, what does it do?"

Mark smiled, rolled up his sheet of chemistry and removed the cigarette with his left paw. He gingerly squeezed the butt with his right paw, and immediately the small box he had thrown over his shoulder blew up into a large fireball. Eric shielded his eyes from the brightness as the fireball rose into the air and disappeared, leaving nothing on the floor but a large ring of black. It was then that Eric realized the floor showed signs of previous maneuvers.

"Predictable," Midnight told Mark. "And not much of an explosion."

"It's only meant to destroy the contents of the box," Mark stated simply.

"Well, as you can see, Mark is our expert explosive designer." Midnight said to an amazed Eric. "Mark has provided us with a security system for this place, as well as enough firepower to take out most of Montreal."

"Simply put, you can't have a war without explosives." Mark said, grinning.

"I see. So I take it you weren't from the orphanage, right?" Eric asked.

"No." Mark said. "No, my parents were very much alive. Unfortunately."

"Unfortunately?"

Mark sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "Yes, you see my parents weren't exactly parenting material. I was always left with some babysitter who just watched wrestling while they went off and got drunk or high. Or both.  Then they'd come home, the babysitter would go home and they'd rant and rave about something or other to me. Bunch of assholes. I was left to do what I wanted in our small house on the outskirts of New York. I discovered my grandfathers old chemistry set in the attic, and discovered I was quite good at making things."

"And making them blow up." Added Midnight.

Mark shrugged. "Yeah, that too. I went through high school as a loner, always sticking to my chemistry books and myself. One day, a few weeks before graduation, my parents came home drunk and high off of some new designer drug. They barged into the attic and destroyed my lab, saying it was environmentally harmful. They had no idea who they were, where they were, or what they were doing. I had had enough, and I packed up my books and ran off. I was able to hitchhike to Montreal, where I wandered the streets for parts.

"That's when I ran into Midnight here, who was impressed with some of the stuff I had made out of junk and asked me if I wanted to join his team. I agreed, and arrived here with the others dissecting a Tsar-Chaan! It was quite an interesting moment, I can tell you. Since then I've designed dozens of hidden explosives and various chemicals to counter the invasion. Still no way to revert units, though."

"I don't think there'll ever be a way," Midnight said solemnly.

"Don't give up hope yet. You watch, I'll figure something out. Someday. But not today. Today, I have to perfect my magic cigarette detonator."

"And I have to introduce Eric here to Jason."

Mark grinned. "Ah. Much as I'd love to join you, I think I'll stay down here and work on puzzle at hand. Besides, I can't stand his childish music."

"Come on, Eric," said Midnight, walking off.

"See ya later," Eric called to Mark.

"Count on it, kid!"

Midnight lead Eric up the spiraling stairs to the room above. "This is Jason's lab, as well as his quarters and Marks." They reached the top and Midnight knocked on the door. There was no response. He knocked again. Still no response.

"What did Mark mean by 'Childish music'?" Eric asked as Midnight gave up knocking and reached for the door handle.

Midnight grinned as he opened the door. "You'll see."

The first thing Eric noticed about the room was that it was bright. Much brighter than the area outside. The second was that the walls were painted bright white, which made the room seem even brighter. The third thing he noticed was the computer array set up against one of the walls in the room. A large central monitor set against the wall, with various other monitors surrounding it. Eric noticed that each of the surrounding monitors had its own keyboard below it, and each screen was displaying something different. Several were displaying what appeared to be web pages of various content. One displayed what appeared to be a media player. A large amount showed various angles of the base from what Eric assumed were security cameras position around the cavern. The big monitor in the center was all black, except for some green text splashed across the screen.

In front of the massive number of monitors, sat another fox. Shorter than Mark, and slightly wider, his fur was a strange mix or reddish brown, brown and white patches on his lower face. His tail, which was sticking upright out of the chair, wasn't as bushy as most foxes and Eric assumed that Jason must be a crossbreed. Jason wore sandy Khakis too, and a black T-Shirt with the words, "I frag, therefore I am" written on the back in white. Eric noted a number of beaded necklaces as well around his neck.

Jason was sitting in front of the computer complex, madly typing away and listening to music on his headphones.

He was also singing.

"Da ba dee da ba dy, da ba dee da ba dy, da ba de da ba die! I'm blue…"

"Jason!" Midnight shouted, cutting him off.

Jason reached up to the monitor displaying the media player, typed a command at the keyboard underneath it and took his headphones off. He spun around in his chair to face the two, smiling.

"Midnight! What brings you up here?"

"Jason, this is the new guy, Eric."

"Hi," Eric said, sticking out his paw.

"Ah, paw shakes are for strangers." He spread his arms wide. "We hug around here!"

Eric began to look nervous, not moving. Jason brought his arms back to his sides, laughing. "I'm just kidding, man, don't worry. Unless you really want to hug me. But you probably don't so don't worry about it. Welcome to Anartech!"

"Eh?"

"Anartech. That's what this place is called. I created the name myself. Anar from Anarchy because we work with no government. Although we do have rules, and we definitely have a ruler. He's standing by the door, incase you didn't know it."

"Yeah, I sorta figured that." Eric looked up at Midnight, grinning. Midnight smiled back, and began to blush.

"And the tech part comes from technology. This security system around here? No one else's got it."

"Else? There're others?"

"Damn right, there're other groups like us. Even a few in Montreal, too. But none around here as technologically advanced as ours. What we lack in personnel, we make up in power. And technology is power. That's what Mark and me give to this joint. Mark makes it, I program it and it works. Guaranteed, or your money back. Plus, I'm the official ass kicker at Unreal Tournament."

Midnight began to laugh. "Says you!"

Jason frowned at him. "What are you talking about! You couldn't frag someone if your life depends on it! The only one here even remotely close to my skills here is Sharp. Sharp shooting, sniper bugger."

Suddenly, one of the monitors on the array of displays began to flash. Jason swiveled in his chair and typed a command at the keyboard below the flashing screen. The picture on that monitor and the picture on the main screen switched, and Jason scanned over the e-mail that he had pulled up.

"Its from Veeo Beat." He said.

"Who?" asked Eric, looking up at Midnight.

Midnight replied, "They're another group who fight the Tsar-Chaan. They're based in the Nightclub Le Beat Violent. Pretty good, and they have plenty of men. Wonder what they want?"

"It says here they want to organize a meeting with us and the other groups in Montreal at their club, right away."

"Anything else?"

"Only that's it urgent."

Midnight nodded, then walked towards Jason's station. Lying next to the mouse and main keyboard was a small speaker panel and some buttons. Midnight pushed down the red one, and leaned over to speak into the panel. "All right everyone, we've got news from Veeo Beat. They want to see us. Lets suit up and prepare to move out."

He released the button and walked towards the door, but Jason stopped him. "Hey Midnight? What about Eric here."

Midnight stopped, and turned to look at Eric. "Well, I guess this would be a good chance for him to get some field work. Not like it's a dangerous assignment or anything. Fine. Eric, go down and see Mark. He'll get you equipped."

Eric smiled and ran outside the door and down the stairs. Midnight watched him go.

"You like him, don't you." Jason said.

Midnight turned his head to look at Jason. "What kinda question is that?"

"Man, you barely left his side last night. You just sat there at his bed, watching him sleep."

Midnight stared at the floor, his tail moving about, slowly drawing circles around his feet. "I felt sorry for him. That's all."

"All right, if you say." And he switched displays again and resumed his typing. Midnight watched him for a few seconds, then slowly walked out the door.