.

"Man's enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself." - Abraham Lincoln

#

Shadow Play

Chapter Four

Doctor's Orders

#

Anthony Trent needed to stop screwing around. Forces were aligning against him and he was treating his expatriation as if he were on vacation in the South Pacific. Which, technically, he was.

Fearless or not, Anthony Trent was just a mortal man. With over thousands of ways to die, Tony was always just one heartbeat away from going now for the count. Tony needed someone who didn't have this problem. Someone who be relied on to survive anything.

Tony Trent ordered another Zombie cocktail. The waiter, a dark round fellow, had forgotten the little cocktail umbrella in the first one. Tony wondered if killing him would be too much of a hassle. As a fugitive from the law, Tony was supposed to keep a low profile but tolerating any amount of poor customer service was beyond him.

A large shadow fell upon him. "You're late," Tony said without looking up. Port Gleason was the only major city on this island and it wasn't exactly a booming metropolis. "Tiki bar next to the airport."

Jay Wheeler gave his customary greeting, a menacing growl. "I know," Jay said with a voice like rocks smashing together. "I was delayed." Despite his age, Jay still had plenty of gladiator left in him.

Tony broke the silence with a laugh. "I meant nothing by it, old chum." Tony smirked. "I was just making small talk. No hard feelings." It was no surprise Jay made most of his fortune playing poker. Guys like him were impossible to read. "Now that we have the small talk out of the way, I think it'd be best if we get down to business. Namely, what to do with You-Know-Who." Jay knew who he meant.

The Green Lama had faked his death. Anthony Trent should have recognized the tell-tale signs of a pseudocide immediately.

Tony cleared his throat. "It has been suggested, by you of all people, that we turn him. You even implied that the old man might help us if we offered to roll back the mileage on his odometer, sort of speak." Jay nodded. "I just want to say right now that it's way too risky. Better to kill him now than risk him mucking about with our plans later."

Jay shook his head. "It would be a waste of a man." Tony laughed at that. Killing someone usually was. "The man plays the part of the hero quite well." There was a note of compassion in his voice. "In truth, he is a broken shell of a man who yearns for youth."

Tony gritted his teeth. "Listen, Conan." Jay didn't catch the reference but growled anyways. "I'm not a retarded Bond villain." Jay didn't catch that reference either. "I'm a thinking man and I think this man has a lot more integrity than you give him credit for."

Anthony finished the Zombie cocktail in one long sip. "So, we are agreed then." Jay growled. "Despite a little nostalgia for his glory days, the guy's a bleeding heart idealist and he cannot be bought. Not with money and not with water from the Fountain of Youth."

Tony nodded. "So, you're going to kill him without trying to turn him first, right?" Jay nodded, then got up from his chair and walked off. Tony sighed. "That boy is going to be trouble." Tony could feel it.

#

Alice McCoy collapsed onto the tiny wall bed in her office. Alice felt like she had been in a boxing match with Manny Pacquiao himself, uttering defenseless as her body took a beating of a lifetime.

Star didn't like the idea of transporting Prisoner D with her on her trip to Japan. The argument was actually part of a long-standing schism within the ranks of the Culper. There were two schools of thought: The Bug Ins and the Bug Outs. The Bug Ins believed in minimizing the movement of high-risk prisoners while the Bug Outs advocated constant relocation to confound any outside rescue.

Boredom, surprisingly enough, was one of the great perils of working for the Culper Ring. There was only so many times one could punch the clock for a Little Shop of Horrors without becoming numb to it. If the agents were constantly dealing with new arrivals, it would significantly reduce the number of "accidents" due to carelessness.

On the other hand, as Star had pointed out in many similar debates, reeducating agents was costly and relocation could just as easily expose the prisoner's coordinates, given the logistics involved.

After weeks of nonstop negotiation, Star and Ace agreed to a compromise of sorts. Prisoner D would be transported to the Okami Island research facility but she would not be allowed visitation rights.

Alice smirked. Star made him sound like a kid caught in a custody battle between two parents. Which, technically, he was.

Alice almost laughed at the thought of the world inching this much closer to Armageddon over a tiff with her boss. Alice should have just dropped it. Alice had been away from the prisoner on two missions already. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened then. Granted, she hadn't been out of the country on the two jobs.

This was Japan. The land of the rising sun. A place she had been indoctrinated to see as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Despite the Culper Ring presence in that country after World War Two, Alice hadn't set foot on Japanese soil in many years now.

There was a chance that, if she went to Japan, she might not be coming back. If that were the case, she didn't want anyone else to have to clean up her mess. Prisoner D was her problem and nobody else's. Hence, he needed to come along for the ride.

Due to the very high security clearance of the mission, Alice would be putting her piloting skills to good use with the Ghost Plane. No more armored humvee road trips from them. The team would be flown from Chicago to Tokyo in less than three hours' time. Fake IDs with matching passports would be issued to the operatives.

Alice wished she were back in Empire City. She could be helping the agents there transport Prisoner D. The containment pod, an armored tanning bed with high-intensity UV lamps, needed to be lined with the soil from his native land. This would keep him alive yet mostly powerless. One false step and all Hell would break loose.

#

The din of foot traffic circulated through the Narita International Airport. It seemed busy for a Thursday. Perhaps, more people were catching flights to less crowded parts of Japan in honor of Vernal Equinox Day. Or, maybe, it was just a coincidence. Jethro actually liked the larger crowd. Easy to blend in with.

This plan could now add stupid on top of dangerous to its list of shortcomings. Jethro couldn't even remember how Diana had talked him into all this. She wanted to prove to him that they were the good guys and willing to help out in as morally sound a way as humanly possible. Jethro wanted to believe her. He really did.

Jethro had trust issues when it came to the government. The same democratic hard cases who still had over two thousand United States servicemen unaccounted for from the Vietnam War weren't the people he could have any faith in. They simply hadn't earned it.

Thinking back to his days as a rough-and-tumble kill-them-all USMC private, Jethro Dumont saw a lot of himself in Diana. Perhaps, that was the real reason he went along with this farce. Even if they weren't the good guys now, it didn't mean they couldn't be later. If that twenty-year-old monster could live to be a sixty-three-year old Buddhist wunderkind, then anyone could change for the better.

Vietnam. That little country no one could even find on a map before the war had changed his life and his country forever. Jethro had remembered joining the Marines to piss off his father. With his political influence, his father could have got him a cushy stint in the Coast Guard. Jethro didn't want to be that guy.

Jethro Dumont, age twenty, wanted to be the guy who had single-handedly won this stupid war by killing every funny little brown person who ever looked at him funny. He was a drunken upper-crust trust-fund baby who liked to mimic the mannerisms of white trash.

In Buddhist terms, he was a man burning through all the good karma of his past lives and racking up bad karma for his future lives. He was a prisoner in a jail he never even noticed was there.

Jethro still remembered the day when it all changed. It was another battlefield, another chance to prove himself to the boys and fulfill his patriotic duty to hunt down the Communist Menace.

He never even saw the face of the sniper who punched a hole in him from five hundred yards out. Jethro's platoon fell back, unaware that he was still alive. With the last of his strength, he hid himself under some muddy palm leaves. He had heard about what the Viet Cong did to G.I. corpses. He didn't want to be that guy.

Next thing Jethro knew he was alive and well in a Buddhist temple. The attending monks there treated him quite well despite his first words to them being, "Get away from me, you gooks!" Jethro looked at his wound. "Who did this?" he remembered asking them.

These were the stitches of an expert field surgeon. Perhaps, these weren't monks at all but actors at a prisoner camp with an eye for weird psychological torture. At last, Jethro met the man who had fixed him up. Tsarong, a former medic turned Tibetan monk, had fled his country when the Chinese took over. Tsarong would become the first of many masters Jethro would seek out to mend his broken ways.

Jethro often wondered about the what ifs in life. What if he hadn't been shot that day and lived on to fight (and die) on some other battlefield? What if the monks hadn't found him in time and he died as that man-child playing games in the jungles of Vietnam?

A female security guard dismounted from her Segway. "Do you speak Japanese?" Jethro nodded. "Passport and ID," the woman said in less-than-polite Japanese. While it was true that the Japanese had more ways of showing politeness in their grammar, that meant they had more ways of showing impoliteness as well.

And this woman was being downright rude. "Quickly."

Jethro Dumont handed her the fake passport. "What is the purpose of your visit to Tokyo, Dr. Pali?" Jethro explained that he was visiting an old teacher of his at Toudai. Professor Tetsuo Konishi. While Konishi was, in fact, his old teacher, Jethro wasn't visiting him. The woman bowed half-heartedly. "I hope you enjoy your stay."

Jethro shook his head as the security guard rode off. All the young kids these days weren't as hardcore about saving face as the older set were. That damn generation gap just keeps getting wider.

#

"Wow," Timothy Roland said as they entered the Narita International Airport. "I'm actually here." In actuality, Tim had been "here" for twelve hours already but this was the first time they had been allowed in a public place for supposed "security reasons."

Apparently, Ace's bosses couldn't risk them getting caught on surveillance. A lower middle class black kid going from Chicago to Tokyo in three hours would be highly suspect in this day and age.

The Ghost Plane, their supersonic chariot of the skies, had landed in an anonymous airfield miles outside of Tokyo. The Narita Airport would be where they rendezvous with their courier who would take them to their island fortress. Very James Bond of them.

Ace doled out the fake ID packages. Tim unwrapped his faster than a present on Christmas morning. "Louis Black?" Tim asked. "That's the worst name ever. Nobody will believe that."

Diana grimaced when she saw her name. "Better than mine." Tim smirked. "Betty White." Tim wondered if Ace had even spent a whole minute coming up with their names. "What did you get?"

Ace flashed the passport in their faces. "Alice McCoy?" Tim broke down in fits of laughter. "Geez, you didn't try to make that one sound real." With that, the three walked into the food court.

Tim giggled as Ace approached a young Japanese woman in a schoolgirl outfit with a red-and-black pleated skirt. This was the part where the two exchanged signs and countersigns. "Where's Old Man Perry?" Translated: "How goes the situation in Japan?"

The girl in the fetish gear bowed. "Fishing in Lake Okutama." Translation: Same old, some old. "Would you like to see him?" Ready to go? Ace nodded. With that, the four of them left the food court.

Tim felt gypped by Japan in a way only an American otaku could be. In a world that was supposed to brimming with freaks like him, he expected Tokyo, the heart of Japan, to be nothing but robot rumbles and samurai showdowns from dawn until dusk. Instead, Tokyo was just another city and Japan was just another country. Still, Tim was glad he had a chance to see them once before he died.

The schoolgirl's cell rang. The schoolgirl answered it. A short yet tense conversation in Japanese ensued. "Damn," she cursed. "The van's late. Again." She turned to her new entourage. "Follow me."

Diana smirked. "I'm going out on a limb here and assuming I don't need an escort to the ladies' room." Ace nodded. "OK then."

Tim noticed the piece that the schoolgirl was packing on her. "What's with the sword?" Tim asked her as they walked through the terminal. Tim was teasing. He didn't expect her to have an answer.

"Protection." The goofy grin ran off from Timothy's face. "While the Culper Ring in Japan will always welcome the help, we often prefer to handle things in-house. Certain agents would view your visit as an unnecessary intrusion and seek to ... inconvenience your stay."

Great, Tim thought. Just when he had gotten used to the idea of a global occult conspiracy with no government oversight, Miss Personality here had to introduce him to the possibility of in-fighting.

Tim smirked as Ace walked up to him. "What's her problem?"

Ace sighed. "Kitsune is one of those agents she was telling you about." Ace shrugged. "This job might be her punishment for that."

Tim laughed. "Kitsune." Tim raised an eyebrow. "Like the fox spirit." As an otaku, Tim had a cursory knowlede of Japanese myth.

Ace shook her head. "Not like a fox spirit." Ace gestured to the wisp of fur peeking out from under Kitsune's pleated skirt. "She is a fox spirit." Ace smirked as Tim's eyes bulged. "A very young one too, I'm told. Only seventy years old. Give or take a couple of years."

Ace sighed. "If I live to be a thousand, I'll never understand what's so special about being human." Tim looked at Ace like she claimed to be an imp from the fifth dimension. "Think about it. You're part fire ant. Diana can shoot the wings off of flies and I'm a ninety year old pilot who doesn't look a day over forty. Why is a fox spirit moonlighting as a schoolgirl so hard for you to accept?"

Tim had never thought about it like that before. All things considered, the humans on this planet made up a diverse cast of characters. If he could accept all those freaks, a fox tail shouldn't be a deal breaker. "I guess that makes me a speciesist," Tim joked.

Despite his attempt at levity and self-awareness, the thought that this seemingly human female had a tail gave him the wiggins.

Tim couldn't stop staring at Kitsune's backside, looking for it. As they entered luggage claim, Kitsune turned around, her hand on her sword. "What are you doing?" She had him caught staring at her ...

"Nothing," Tim said. Tim searched for a ready excuse. "I'm just checking you out." Kitsune's face softened. "You're kinda of cute." Tim grinned. "I was wondering if you wanted to get a coffee later?"

Kitsune smiled. A crazed slasher smile but a smile nonetheless. "I don't think so ... Tim, was it?" Tim nodded. Kitsune moved her hand to the hilt of her katana. "Just so we're clear. If I catch you looking for my tail again, I'd cut your tail off." Tim was about to mention that he didn't have a tail when he realized the obvious implication of her words.

#

"That was too easy, Jim," Diana Adams explained as she took a seat next to Jethro Dumont. Diana thought his name was James Pali. Jethro had been "convinced" to reveal that name to her when she offered to give out her real name as well. It was a "you-show-me-yours-and-I'll-show-you-mine" kind of a deal.

"I'm finding it harder and harder to believe you gave them the slip for thirty years," Diana mused to herself. "It must have been a busy time for them back then." Jethro just smiled. "What's so funny?"

Jethro explained. "You are." Jethro looked around. "You're judging me by how obvious I look but you're waking around with pistols on in a Japanese airport." Jethro laughed. "You're lucky you haven't been arrested yet." Smile vanished. "Were you followed?"

Diana took offense to that. After all, this clearly wasn't her first rodeo. Not even close. The street-level punks she turned into toe tags weren't exactly Napoleons of strategy but the bigger fish in the world of organized crime lived and died by their ability to plan ahead. Diana must have outfoxed every single last one of them.

Diana shook her head in frustration. "For the hundredth time, no." Diana rolled her eyes. "I mean, you're the one who's getting sloppy, old man." Diana must have known that she had crossed the line by saying that but there was nothing she could do about it now.

Jethro sighed. "I know what it's like to be young." Diana probably knew this speech quite well. Her father must have loved this speech. All older men did. "You think that you know everything, so growing old just means growing weak." Jethro turned to face her.

"Let me tell you something very important, Diana." Diana looked around nervously, hoping nobody noticed them talking like this. Jethro needed to set her straight. "Growing old is an art and I can say without hyperbole that I'm Leonardo da Vinci when it comes to my autumn years. It's not easy but it can be rewarding."

Jethro sighed again. "You think you have to be tough. I know that feeling too. I had it right up to the point when a Viet Cong sniper round missed my heart. An inch to the left and growing old wouldn't have been my problem." Jethro was starting to ramble. "My point is, if you feel like calling it quits, there's no shame in that."

Diana shook her head. "Call it quits?" Diana laughed. "Not on your life." Diana smiled. "We haven't even gotten to the good parts yet." Jethro smiled warmly as Diana got up from the bench and walked off. Something very weird was happening here.

Jethro was starting to admire Diana Adams' devil-may-care attitude towards everything. So long he had condemned the folly of his youth, Jethro Dumont had forgotten how much that ferocity had been missing from his life in his latter years. Jethro could only hope he had been wrong about Diana's chances of surviving to old age. With all this under her belt, she'd make an interesting grandmother.

#

Hikaru Strange had given serious thought to firing Genji. He never seemed to arrive on time for anything. This time, he didn't even bother showing up. The base had to send the helicopter directly to them. An enormous security risk given its high profile.

The only problem with terminating anyone's employment with this agency was the guilt. If he let him go, he might as well slip a noose around his neck and shove him off a ledge. He could not be allowed the chance to go rogue. Genji was a samurai wannabe prick but even he didn't deserve to be put down like a dog.

The helicopter from the mainland touched down the helipad. Hikaru held out his arms as he saw Ace herself in the flesh. Hikaru hugged her as her two operatives looked on. "Long time, no see."

Hikaru Strange didn't mean to sound like a jerk when he asked, "Where's the rest of your team?" Apparently, this was the rest of her team. "We'll talk turkey later. First, let's you guys inside and cleaned up." The storm hitting the island was turning into a tsunami.

The main entrance door opened automatically for them.

Hikaru grabbed a hold of his right hand. This was new. He used to only get the shakes whenever he tried to go cold turkey. Now, they happened whenever he got nervous. The green ghost must have been overstimulating his thyroid again. No big deal.

The two operatives were directed to the orientation room by Kitsune. Ace looked him up and down. "So, any new developments with your treatment?" Hikaru didn't know where to start with that.

In a stoke of genius, Hikaru held out his right hand. Ace tried to shake it. Her fingers passed effortlessly through him as he phased out. "You could say that." Ace took a seat next to his desk in his office.

Hikaru smiled. "I always liked you." Hikaru searched for the folders containing his research on the green ghost. "Normal woman would be screaming if I pulled that trick on her. Not you. You're just eager to learn how I did that just then, aren't you?" Ace nodded. "It's quite simple really. Irradiated ectoplasm can transmit certain ghostly traits to the patient after a prolonged treatment schedule."

Hikaru incised the fact that the tumor had gone into remission and he was now injecting himself with the green ghost for recreation only. Hikaru thought about bringing up the situation with Tachyon but that would have to wait. There was more bad news coming her way. "The Queen Marie never arrived in Tokyo Harbor. It's missing."

Ace must have been thinking that same thing he was. How did a one-hundred-fifty-thousand-ton cargo ship just vanish like that? "Trent is a big crime boss in America but he's just a bit player in the Asian underworld." That meant one thing. "He must have brought in some outside help. Someone really high up on the totem pole."

"Any leads?" Ace asked.

"Nothing concrete. Just the usual suspects." Hikaru was a doctor and (whether he wanted to admit to himself or not) a drug addict. Detective work wasn't his area of expertise unless it involved needles and scalpels. "But whoever it is, they're getting away."

The look on Ace's face said it all. Even if he wasn't a detective, Hikaru knew that Ace was in the worst stop for one. She had no real leads, no evidence of a crime yet every reason to believe that the bad guys were getting farther away with every passing minute.

Poor Ace, Hikaru thought. I wonder if she ever thinks about Okinawa. Hikaru couldn't believe how selfish he was being. Here Ace was, having a nervous breakdown and he was wondering if she ever thought about the last time they played Hide The Rainbow Roll.

To bring up Okinawa wouldn't have lead to a romantic scroll down memory lane. Okinawa would only remind her of her last visit. The one that kept her from coming back to Japan for eleven years. Also, Okinawa was one of the reasons for the Tachyon situation.

#

"You know what I find most frustrating about all this?" Genji didn't answer and just continued to wrestled against the steel bars holding down, like he would spontaneously develop the strength to unbend them if he just kept trying. "It would be entirely unnecessary if I still had my memory uploading capabilities " Koichi Araki smiled. "I could have just downloaded all the data from your head into mine."

Koichi pointed at the computer the size of a school bus "I have managed to hack the CPU in your tracking chip." Koichi smirked. "You use the codename 'Genji,' a classical reference that you, in all likelihood, don't get. I'll bet you never read The Tale of Genji." Genji just kept glaring at him. "It's quite fascinating. Believed to be the first novel ever written, it tells the story of an emperor's son named Hikaru Genji. He is forced to live as a commoner. He tries hard to find some happiness in this life and it is implied that he kills himself at the end."

Obviously, Genji didn't see the humor in that. Koichi explained it to him. "You named yourself after a guy who can't catch a break and that's exactly what you are right now." Koichi laughed alone. "Well, I think it's funny. It makes me wonder about your real name."

Koichi Araki needed a practice run with so-called enhanced interrogation protocols. "What is your name?" Genji spit in his face. Koichi wiped it off and pushed his index finger into his chest cavity. "I repeat. What is your name?" Koichi fingered the hole that he made.

"Urashima Keitaro!" Genji screamed at last.

Koichi stopped. "Like the manga character from Love Hina?" Genji nodded. His vitals checked up. He was telling the truth. "That name doesn't suit you at all." Koichi sifted through his database. "If I remember correctly and I always do, Urashima Keitaro was a good man despite his many flaws while you are an irredeemable sack of crap." Koichi played with the wound. "Right?" Genji nodded readily.

Koichi stepped away from Genji. "Here are the facts." Koichi pulled up the files on the computer. "My father, Kenji Araki, was killed by men posing as terrorists attempting to ransack his office for research papers on building synthetic humanoids like myself. I have recently unearthed documents that suggest that these killers were acting under orders from an unidentified foreign black-ops agency."

Koichi pointed at the screen again for Genji's edification. "An agency that makes a habit of secretly implanting their people with these tracking chips which happen to be based on the prototypes developed by my father." Koichi lifted Genji's head and crouched down to eye level. "Ipso facto, that must make you one of them."

Koichi paused, hopefully to let Genji's situation sink in. "You had nothing to do with my father's death but that mission was ordered by someone and I want to know where that person can be found."

Genji remained silent. "You're a leftie." Koichi bit off the index finger on his left hand. "I guess you'll have to start practicing with your right." Genji whimpered but didn't offer up anything. "I'm amazed. Really, I am. I just bit off a finger and you're not talking." Koichi shrugged it off. "Perhaps, I was aiming a little too low."

Genji screamed as his blood spurted out of the right side of his head. Koichi leaned up close to his remaining ear. "Talk or go deaf." Koichi listened as Genji frantically yelled out a string of coordinates.

The computer showed the map of those coordinates. "Okami Island." Koichi nodded. "An island named for an extinct animal." He licked his bloody lips in anticipation. "A fitting setting for a death."

Koichi looked over at Genji. "What to do with you?" Koichi tilted his head. "I can't kill you. That would trigger the dead man's switch in your chip and alert them to my arrival. So I guess that means you get to live." Koichi noticed Genji's mouth frothing with blood. "What do you think you're doing?" Genji flatlined. "Dammit."

#

The news flashed on all the computer screens as Hikaru Strange joined everyone in the orientation room. "What's going on?" both of the operatives asked in unison. Ace just stared a bit glassy-eyed at all the screens. RED ALERT: AGENT "GENJI" STATUS: DEACTIVATED.

Hikaru turned around and looked Ace in the eyes as if for the last time. "He's coming." Hikaru didn't need to specify who. Genji was either dead or someone was screwing around with his tracking chip. Either way, all signs pointed to Tachyon. Hikaru walked out of the room. Ace ran after him. "I didn't want you to see this, Alice."

That name stopped her dead in her tracks. Hikaru rarely ever used her real name or thought about it. Revealing one's real name, even to a trusted fellow agent, was just unheard-of in the agency.

Hikaru got out his rig and started injecting him with the last ready vial of irradiated ectoplasm. "By the way, I might have neglected to mention this in my reports." Hikaru groaned with pleasure as the green ghost flowed through his veins. "My tumor went into remission months ago but irradiated ectoplasm is highly addictive." Hikaru's eyes glowed green. "Time for a debriefing."

Hikaru reentered the orientation room. "You have a situation." The black guy grimaced at the sound of that word. "A Threat Level Red combatant is en route to this location. He is a heavily armored inorganic lifeform of almost unlimited strength and speed and he is extremely hostile and presumably aware of the presence of the Culper Ring on this island." Hikaru sighed. "He must not be allowed into the compound. Tachyon's CPU could hack the system network."

The black guy smirked. "Seriously, what is everyone so worried for?" Everyone turned to him. "How can he get to us on an island?"

Hikaru struggled to remember the black guy's name. "Timothy Roland, correct?" Tim nodded. "You don't seem to realize just how fast he is." Hikaru sighed. "Weighing in at two hundred grams, the common basilisk can displace water for up to fifteen feet at speeds of forty miles per hour." The color left Tim's face. "Tachyon's much heavier but he's also much faster." A loud crash came at the door.

The main entrance door was ten inches of steel set in eighteen inches of reinforced concrete walls. Much heavier than the average bank-vault installation. And Tachyon ripped it open in ten seconds.

Kitsune, didn't even hesitate. She dropped her human guise and unsheathed her family heirloom, an unbreakable katana that enhanced her already tremendous magical powers. Kitsune let out a kiai as she charged into battle. Her bloodied katana smashed through one of the windows of the orientation room, her hands latched onto to her weapon of choice even in death.

This can't be happening. This can't be happening.

Tim ran up the owner-less katana. He broke Kitsune's dead fingers and gripped the katana in his own hands. Letting loose his own battle cry, Tim continued what Kitsune started and met with similar results, except this time, he was with the katana when it smashed through another window. Tim Roland wasn't getting up.

"Enough!" Hikaru screamed as Ace's female operative sent an invertible sideways rain of lead onto Tachyon's hardened combat chassis. Hikaru floated through the broken windows. "Enough!"

This was gonna suck. Hikaru Strange phased his right hand into Tachyon's chest. He touched his miniaturized antimatter core. Solid black veins crawled their way up his arm before he finally pulled it out. Tachyon vanished. Tachyon was shorting out but he'd be back.

#

Jethro Dumont arrived to darkened motel room. Diana Adams had texted over the coordinates of Okami Island. At this point, Diana did not care about subtlety. She clearly wanted him to join them. A shiver shot down his spine as he felt another presence in the room.

"Bang, you're dead." Jethro flipped on the lights. There, in the corner, sat Jay Wheeler, slouched in a chair, waiting for him. "Just kidding, Jim." Jay got up from his seat. "I didn't even bring a gun." Jay smirked. "Look. Look. I am unarmed." Jay spread out his arms to show his lack of weapons. "I came here to talk. So, let us talk."

Damn. Jethro should've noticed something was off. Someone had worked over the lock. He thought that it was simply a case of getting what he paid for. Jay Wheeler must have tracked him down to this seedy motel and then broke into his room while he was away.

Jay Wheeler sighed. "James Pali." Jay shook his head. "Pali? The language the first Buddhists wrote in." Jay smiled. "Funny thing you being Buddhist and you have a last name like that." Jethro sighed. He knew what he was angling at. Jay had always been a little curious. "Just between old friends, who are you? Really?"

A silence followed that seemed to stretch on for eons. "Fine. Don't talk." Jay laughed. "Listen." Jay took a dramatic pause. He always loved to imitate the great orators from his time. "I was sent here to kill you. I was told, begged, in fact, not to try and turn you. I was told it would be a waste of my time. I don't think that at all."

Jay smiled. "You strike me as a man open to new ideas? Am I right?" Jethro nodded hesitantly. "Here is a new idea for you." Jay cleared his throat. "A new order is coming." Jay licked his lips.

"It will conquer the world and vanquish all its enemies and make everything out there better than new." Jay pointed out the scratched window of the motel room. "And it can't be outfought. It can't be outdone. It can't be outmatched. It can't be outrun."

Jay shook his head. "No." Jay paused. "And its name is Tiwaz."

Jethro smirked at Jay's attempt at improvised line poetry. It sounded very familiar though. "A piece of the pie, Jim." Jay circled Jethro, opening his trenchcoat to show he was packing. "It's all any of us ever want. And what you want will be yours if you join us, Jim."

Jethro shook his head. "I hoped with all my heart that Anthony Trent had really kidnapped you." Jethro took his turn to circle Jay.

"I had been told that you were with them. I wanted with all my heart not to believe that." Jethro sighed. "Buddhism teaches us that truth is more vital to one's life than ego. I must seek truth even when it hurts me deeply. And this hurts me very deeply. The answer is no."

Jay sighed. "You were always like this, Jim. Planning out your next three moves when it was best to go with your gut." Jay grinned. "I know what your gut tells you. It tells what I have known for some time and you will come to know as well." Jay shook his head. "Tony Trent cannot be stopped." Jay shrugged. "We can only join him."

Jethro answered with silence. "Is this the part we fight?" Jethro nodded softly. "You would die." Jethro nodded. He knew that quite well. Neither of them had any weapons on them. So the advantage went to the guy who couldn't die. "Sadly, I must decline your offer of single combat. I know you well, Jim. You will need this time to think."

Jay Wheeler departed through the door had broken through. Jay was half right. Jethro Dumont did need this time to think but not about Jay's offer. There was another offer on the table and it was looking a lot more attractive now that Jay knew where to find him.

#

Koichi Araki cursed his overconfidence. Father had warned him about emotions. Having emotions was as much a blessing as it was a curse. Defeating a kitsune, a mythological creature. had bloated his ego. After that kill, he thought he could take on anything. Then, the enemy threw a ghost at him. The freak shorted out his energy relays.

Koichi rerouted around the shorted out circuitry. He was a hundred percent now. As long as he stayed away from their ghost, he'd be just fine. He didn't know when one of them was the one responsible for father's death. "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius," Koichi remembered. Kill them all. Let God sort them out.

As Koichi ran across the water between the mainland and the shores of Okami Island, something strange happened. Something hit him. Hard enough to propel him many meters before he fell under the waves. He ran back to the mainland, soaking wet and confused.

A voice answered his unspoken question. "That was just a love tap." Koichi looked over from the source of the voice. The hit he had taken had damaged his auditory receptors. He couldn't pinpoint the sound's origin but sounded very close. "Friendly warning, if you will."

Koichi Araki growled in the general direction of the voice. "Where are you?" Koichi balled his hands into fists. "Show yourself!" If he had sweat glands, they would have been overworked right now.

The voice chuckled. "I'm sorry." Koichi looked all around. "I must have messed your hearing." The voice laughed again. "As for where I am, you've looked in every possible direction ... except up." Koichi turned his head to the sky. A man waved at him. "Howdy."

The blow hadn't damaged his visual acuity which meant what he was seeing was authentic. A Caucasian male, about thirty years of age, hovering unaided in the air approximately nineteen meters above the sand. Koichi said: "This is none of your concern, stranger."

The flying man's eyes narrowed. "That's my country you were messing with back there, stranger." The man flashed Koichi a heroic smile. "And that's always my concern. So get gone before I hurt ya."

Koichi bared his teeth. "Cocky Americans." The man smirked at that comment, more amused than angered. "Always think they're so unstoppable." Koichi shook his head. "Why are you hiding from me up there?" Koichi laughed. "Afraid I'm gonna breaking those perfect teeth of yours?" That wiped the smile off the gaijin's face.

The flying man descended onto the spot right next to him. "Where I'm from, them's fighting words." Now earthbound, the man smiled again. "So I reckon we're gonna fight." Koichi reared back his fist, slow so he could savor it. "Hold your horses." Koichi stopped out of curiosity. "We do this, we do it like civilized men. Okay, partner?"

Koichi laughed. The man sounded like a refugee from an Old Western flick. "You hit me with everything you got. Then you give me the chance to do the same." Koichi grinned from ear to ear. "Deal?"

Koichi nodded. "Good." A second passed as Koichi wrapped his fingers around one another and slammed both of his fists down onto the American's collar bone. Koichi couldn't believe what he saw. Not even a bruise. The compression waves alone should have popped his eyes out of their sockets. "My turn." Koichi saw the sky, then the sand, then the sky again and finally saw a headless body as it collapsed onto its knees. It took a moment to process the fact that the American had knocked his head off and then disappeared.

#

Alice McCoy ran down all the options with the Okami Island research facility. If Koichi Araki knew where to find this place, then it could never be entirely secure until he was on the trash heap in Hell.

Alice sighed. There wasn't wiggle room when it came to a super-powered android who wanted nothing more than to reap an apocalyptic vengeance against anyone even remotely tied to his creator's death. He could be return for Round Two at this moment.

Okami Island wouldn't survive a Round Two, especially with its only real barrier, the vault door, hanging wide open. Alice asked if the Akiba site under the Chiyoda line platform was up and running yet. Hikaru shook his head. "It's still being built after twelve years." Alice couldn't be angry at Hikaru. It was understandably hard to take subcontractors to task for incompetence when one belonged to a quasi-government agency that wasn't even supposed to exist.

Alice was relieved to see that Koichi Araki was taking his sweet time coming back. His emotions, though his greatest strengths, were also his greatest weaknesses. Despite his manufactured adult appearance, Koichi Araki had the emotional maturity of a teenager. The agents even had a chance to collect all of Kitsune's body parts.

The repair team had to work double time on the vault door. Koichi had torn through that door in ten seconds. While ten seconds didn't sound like a lot of time, his last onslaught showed how much could happen on a timescale of seconds. They needed to hurry up.

Alice looked over at Hikaru Strange. She knew that look on his face quite intimately. The thousand-yard stare of a lost soul. The "what-have-I-done" face he wore after they had made love back in Okinawa. "I'm sorry." Alice asked what he was sorry for. "For what I've become." Hikaru sighed. "Every day, I fight this uphill battle not to O.D. on the green ghost. Not to let this green filth destroy me."

Alice shook her head. "And yet this 'green filth' saved our lives." Hikaru shivered. "It's true. Tachyon was going to kill us all and you found a way to your curse against him. It was brilliant, Hikaru." Alice always fought it odd that he never had a codename. It didn't feel right and it was that same uneasy personability to Hikaru that made it impossible to refuse his advances. "We owe you our lives."

As usual for every quiet moment that didn't occur on the island of Okinawa, something came along and ruined it. A loud commotion clammered from down the hall. The same thought went through both of their heads. It came from the direction of the Door.

Alice sighed. Diana Adams were still in the orientation room, brooding over Tim's near-death experience. Tim hadn't regained consciousness yet. Diana didn't wanted to see him in that hospital bed, rigged up to all sorts of machines, unable to breath on himself. Diana spoke for everyone when she said, "Dear God, what now?"

"What now" stepped over the unconscious bodies of the repair team. They weren't dead. Just unconscious. Rendered that way by the man walking over them. The Green Lama strolled into the orientation room just as Alice and Hikaru entered it. The Green Lama took off his mask and drew back his hood. "My name is Jethro Dumont." Diana's eyes widened. "I heard there was a job opening."

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