We're All Soldiers Now [Story Thread]

Discussion in 'Stories' started by Spirits, Sep 17, 2018.

  1. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    I'll hopefully update this thread frequently with new chapters.

    Here's the character list :

    Ethan Jyung - @Oliiver
    Melody Harper - @GlowingLights
    Robyn Winchester - @HelloColdWorld
    Isaac Newton - @Wolfyy
    Minchi Juko - @Boriiii
    Blythe Sailynn - kimochi
    Adrian Fletcher - @Technoscrub
    Autumn Lloyd - @Hyrotis
    Sakura Naganohara - @Jack'O'Rann

    Isaac Newton, callsign Newt, hadn't been able to sleep at all, and he couldn't figure out why. He'd eaten last night's fill and felt totally relaxed. So why did he feel like there was something in the air about to drop on him? He was staring out of his window like he was waiting for a meteorite to crash in.
    Isaac's room was tidy. All of his papers were in one neat pile on his desk. He'd made his bed. Brushed his teeth. Everything a normal person with a normal life would normally do, in preparation for a normal day doing normal things. But there was something nagging him, something out of the blue. He felt its presence near him.

    "Sir," called a voice from behind. Newt whipped around to turn to the voice, eager for something to do, anything to take his mind off… whatever he thought he was thinking about. The voice belonged to a male, much younger than Newt himself. His name was Kiro Nakamura, but everyone just called him Kiro. His voice once again sounded like any normal person's, except his body was as different to everyone else. He was covered head to toe in metal and graphene circuits and armour, except for his face, on which he wore a metallic mask to cover his mouth and nose. The inscription on his armour on his right arm read the name キロ, which was his name in Japanese, his native tongue. And the centre of his chest bore a circular core, which glowed red.

    "Hello Kiro, how have you been?" Newt figured he'd start with the pleasantries. He hadn't talked to Kiro for a long time. He didn't have anything against the guy, but their relationship hadn't seemed to exist.
    "I'm fine sir, thank you."
    "You don't have to call me sir, Kiro. Newt will do."
    "Alright, Newt. There's a video call coming to our big screen." Kiro told him. Suddenly his voice had gotten a little smaller.
    Newt hesitated. "Who's calling…?" he asked slowly.
    "That's why I'm here," Kiro said monotonously. "I think you'd better come and see this for yourself."

    ~

    Centre of International Communications, or CIC for short. This was where all of the intel came from. Satellites, leaders from other countries, anything to get a lead on Michael Kratos. People were sitting at computers on the sides of the room, tapping their keyboards and making calls.

    Newt wasted no time. He burst into the room with large strides, with Kiro following behind. "Fletch," Newt called while walking up to the big screen. "put on the caller. And if it turns out to be who I think it is, trace the source of the call. Find out where he's hiding. The sooner we shut him down, the better."

    Adrian Fletcher, master hacker and comms expert, turned around to his keyboard and tapped his spacebar. Instantly, the room filled with the light of the screen, and in the screen was the man who was the reason that all of this tech, this entire society, existed. Michael Kratos.

    A shaved, slightly wrinkled face appeared, a face that Newt knew too well, and would have paid billions to forget. Lightning blue eyes, fringed brown hair, and a large red scar underneath his left eye. His expression was that of plain amusement, no anger or motivation. He directly faced Newt, with a small smile on his old face.

    "Isaac Newton," he said with a grand impression in his voice. "Twenty seven years old, and leader of the agency… what was it called again?"

    Newt had to take great care not to clench his fists. "Ark Angel." He muttered through gritted teeth.

    "Ah, yes, Ark Angel…" he mused. "…the bane of my existence. Ah, that reminds me. How's your predecessor as commander? What was the name… Wolf?"

    This time Newt actually did clench his fists. "What the hell do you want, Kratos?"

    "No time for formalities, eh?" Kratos frowned. "Nevermind. I just called to order Ark Angel to stand down."

    "Excuse me?"

    "You heard me, Newton. Every major organisation is out for my blood. And so far, yours is the only one who has actually posed a threat to my business. Now, I can't allow that to happen, so I'm asking you nicely to give up and go home."

    Newt could not believe what he was hearing. He almost laughed right to the gigantic face of Kratos. "You want me to give up?" he said challengingly, "After the progress we've made, you want us to pack up and go back to our families? Live the rest of our lives in your shadow?" Newt folded his arms. "Believe me, Kratos, I'd love to go back home. I have a family to live with. Friends to enjoy life with. And what am I doing? Risking my life to track down a drug lord and tyrant. I'm only here because of you, Michael. If you didn't exist, I could actually go out and lead an enjoyable life. I'm here because Wolf would want me to keep going. And I'm not stopping until I land a bullet in your forehead." Newt said flatly. He strode over to the central control panel and slammed his fist down on a large button. Instantly the large screen went to static and then blacked out.

    He whipped his head right around to Fletch. "You got his location?" he asked with no emotion.
    "Indeed I did," Fletch replied. "He's at the old castle site, somewhere near the south-east border. He's no doubt detected that someone's been tracking him, so I'm jamming all of their satellite signals and comms. They'll be down for at most an hour. You'd better get moving quickly."

    "Round up Mel and Robyn," he said in a louder voice. "we're going to pull off an assassination."

    Northwell Castle looked nothing like it was a millennium ago. The buildings and foundation were severely unstable and were known to spontaneously collapse, so they had closed off the site decades ago for the safety of the public. It was still breaking itself down, sometimes at night, you could hear part of the walls crashing into the ground. It was also known for having large areas of radiation. Years ago the nuclear bombs that caused the castle’s downfall had left patches of radioactive matter on the grass. Fatal.

    “Comms check. Fletch, do you copy?”

    “Roger that. Comms are up and running.”

    “Mel, Robyn, do you copy?”

    “Roger that.” They both said in unison.

    “Short briefing. We’ve got intel that Kratos is in hiding at the castle site, and we’re told that he’s receiving a supply of valuables in an hour. We’re gonna crash the deal.” Newt paused for a few seconds, then continued. “Robyn’s going to set up her rifle on the tallest tower, overlooking the courtyard where the transfer will happen. Mel and I are gonna hide nearby where we can’t be spotted. Robyn’s usual sniper rifle won’t have the range to hit Kratos from that distance, so she’s bringing a different one. This doesn’t have a suppressor so everyone here will know what happened the instant Kratos gets shot. When that happens, the place will be chaos. We’re gonna take out any resistance that we meet, and get us all out of there. Blythe’s on standby with a helicopter ready to take us out of here, she’s using callsign Guardian.”

    Newt got up from his prone position in the grass. He was wearing a ghillie suit which had blended in perfectly with the grass. Both Mel and Robyn were also wearing ghillies as they too started to get up.

    “Too much radiation, we’ll have to go around.” Newt said softly. “Follow me, and keep low.” The three ran silently to the east, near a small abandoned outhouse with shattered windows. One masked guard stood near the entrance, cigarette in one hand, an AK-47 in the other. He clearly hadn’t detected any movement or sound.

    “One by the shack,” Mel pointed out.

    “Robyn, you’re up. Use your suppressed rifle and take him out silently.” Newt hissed.

    Robyn slowly reached behind her back and clutched a large M21 sniper rifle, brought it to her eye and aimed the crosshair on the man’s head. A fraction of a second later, one dead corpse slumped to the ground, soundlessly. “Good, keep moving, stay low.” Newt ordered without delay.
    2 minutes later they came up to the walls of the castle. Newt quickly surveyed the area with his eyes. “Standby,” he held his hand up.

    Immediately Mel and Robyn hit the ground. “Two tangos by the main gate, and a lookout in the battlement above. No sudden movements, the lookout will notice.” He stared at the two by the gate. “Do you have a shot on the lookout, Robyn?”

    Robyn, with her telescopic sight mods, zoomed in on the battlement tower. It would be close, but Robyn could just about see the outline of his head.

    “Roger that.”

    “Standby, wait for my mark. After you take out the lookout, you have to take out the other two in quick succession. We can’t risk anyone raising the alarm.”

    “Roger.”

    Robyn readied her suppressed rifle and rested her crosshair on the edge of the lookout’s head.

    “Standby…”

    Robyn flicked off her safety.

    “Standby…”

    Rested her finger on the trigger.

    “Mark.”

    Robyn pulled the trigger a fraction of a second after she heard the order. Her suppressed bullet just about clipped the side of the guard’s head, and he went down. “Target neutralised.”

    “Okay, now for the other tangos.” Same routine. Robyn rested her crosshair on one guard and took him out silently while the other wasn’t looking. Two seconds later, his friend went down too.

    “Beautiful. Move out.”

    Soon they made their way to the gate of the tower where Robyn was to set up her weapon. There was one guard unaware of their presence, looking the other way. “Stand back,” Melody said. “this one’s mine.” She walked up slowly behind the guard while extracting her striped handgun from her belt holster.

    “Oi, Jack.” She hissed at the guard, before sticking him hard with the handle of her pistol. He crumpled to the ground immediately. “That’s how it’s done.”

    “Robyn, get to the top of the tower. Mel and I are gonna find a place to spy on the meeting. I’ll be in contact through comms. Mel, follow me.”
    ~
    “Robyn, the meeting is underway. It won’t be long until Kratos shows up."

    “Copy that, my weapon’s set up. We’ve got a problem though, the place is crawling with hostiles. Getting out of here won’t be easy.”

    Robyn zoomed in on the courtyard with her telescopic sight. She immediately took of a mental note of what she saw. Five military grade jeeps, possibly six. Two crates with a warning sign painted on it. It was anyone’s guess to what was inside, but Robyn assumed it was either money or weaponry. She spied a little red flag on top of one of the jeeps. That was good. She could use that to judge the wind speed and direction. Those were crucial elements for a snipe at such a distance. Robyn estimated she was about 400 metres away from the meeting. She turned her sight to the two jeeps furthest left. Her keen eyes spotted two leafy figures under the jeeps, both armed, one with a classic SCAR-H assault rifle, another with a green and blue striped pistol. “I’ve got you in my sights, Newt.”

    “Roger that.”

    Mel was closer to the deal than Newt. She kept her pistol in her right hand with the safety off, ready to pick off anybody at short notice. She almost yawned until she saw a large man come out of one of the jeeps. Large scar, permanent scowl. Their intel had been accurate. This was Kratos.

    “Be advised, I have a positive ID on Michael Kratos,” Mel spoke into her comms. “standby, and wait for Newt’s mark.”

    “Copy.”

    Newt spoke. “The wind’s getting choppy, Robyn. You’ll want to be careful.”

    Mel couldn’t see a lot under the jeep, but she could hear quite a few details. She heard the crate opening, and two men grunting as they supposedly held something heavy. Then she heard Kratos yelling in some other language that she couldn’t recognise, and the heavy slam of the crate’s lid.
    Robyn was looking through her sniper sights now. Kratos looked pretty ticked off, yelling at the other men and waving his arms around, forcefully shutting the crate. She’d clocked the flag on the jeep, it was strong wind pointing south-west, where Kratos was standing. Good. The wind would carry the bullet and hit harder. The harder, the better.

    Suddenly Kratos had changed his behaviour. He was no longer waving his arms around or shouting. He had put two fingers to his ear, and immediately he froze, completely still, and turned to look at the tower where Robyn was lying.

    She’d been spotted!

    “Newt, I’ve been compromised!” she said in a panicked voice.

    “TAKE THE SHOT!” Newt screamed. “TAKE THE BLOODY SHOT!”

    Robyn’s finger rushed to the trigger. She pulled back, and the shot discharged with a large booming noise, almost knocking Robyn back.

    The shot missed.
    "It's time to move!" Newt yelled as he got out from the car's underbelly and started laying down rounds on the men still looking around with confused faces. "Robyn, rappel your way down the tower to us, and I'll call in for exfil!"

    Robyn wasted no time. She hooked up her rappel rope to the railing and prepared to drop down, but her keen bionic eye made a decision that would save her life. She immediately went prone just as a sniper round zipped over her head into the cracked wall. "Counter sniper on me!" Robyn said through her microphone. "I can't get down before taking him out."

    "Well, Robyn, the logical thing to do then is TAKE THEM OUT! And keep him off our backs!" Newt was in a crouching stance firing away, and Mel had now gotten out from under her jeep and started blasting hostiles with her pistol, occasionally zipping up to them and slamming the butt of her gun into their faces.

    Robyn stood flat against the wall, her personal sniper in her hands. She formed a quick plan in her head. Whip around to the open window, while bringing her sights to her eye, and make a rough aim and hope for a body shot. It didn't matter if the sniper lived or died. Robyn just needed to disable him.

    There were a few problems with the plan, however. She could accidentally scrape her hand against the jagged brick wall. And of course, the sniper was waiting there for Robyn's head to peek out. She had to pull a fast shot. If she missed, it would be the last shot she would ever take.

    Time slowed down. Robyn started to sweat. She took a deep breath, and whirled her entire body to the window, whereas she had assumed, the sniper was lying in wait. In the little time she had to observe the target's position, she noticed that her enemy wasn't wearing armour. That would work in her favour, maybe she wouldn't even have to go for a disabling shot.
    She brought the sights to her eye. Lined up her crosshair with the target's body. She wasted no time. She took the shot, and saw a large splatter of blood erupt from the man's side. The whole process took maybe half a second.

    "Enemy neutralised, I'm heading down now." Robyn ran over to the window where she had set up her rappel rope before, and hooked herself up. Seconds later she was jumping down the wall of the tower, and soon made contact with the ground.

    "Mel, Robyn, follow me!" Newt stopped firing and sprinted to the nearest gate, with Mel's blazing speed in tail. Robyn switched her gun to assault rifle build, and ran up to her friends, while occasionally blasting at an enemy.

    "Cover me while I call in for exfil!" Newt said. Then he started shouting into his comms. "Guardian 1, this is Bravo Two Four, requesting evac, do you copy?"

    The comms were scratchy, and pilot Blythe's voice was cut off frequently and almost hurt his ears. "I hear ya, Two Four, but something's... Comms are… I need to know where to pick you up…"

    "Copy! Meet you at the secondary LZ! And get Fletch on the line!"
    "Roger that. On my way now, ETA 15 minutes." Newt waited for a few seconds, until a new voice came on. "Two Four, this is Fletch, what's going on?"

    "Comms are going haywire! What's up with the jammer?"

    "Standby, Two Four, I'll see what I can do."

    "Hurry it up, Fletch, we're taking heavy fire!" Newt had now continued firing along with Mel and Robyn.

    "Newt!" Mel shouted in the noise of the gunfire. "We can move into the apartment building there! Get to the high ground!"

    "Copy! Get into the building! We can lose them in there!" Newt ran into the building, with Mel and Robyn in pursuit. They ran up to the second floor, and out of the exit on the other side of the building, into a large garden.

    "Seems quiet." Mel said.

    "We're not out of here yet. Stay frosty."

    An eerie silence dropped on the three soldiers. There was no movement. Not at all. Everything was dead. "Watch yourself, it could well be an ambush." Newt warned.

    "What's that noise?" Robyn warned cautiously.

    Newt strained his ears. At first he couldn't hear a thing, but as seconds passed he heard a wooshing sound, and it was coming from the sky.

    Mel had recognised the threat before Newt did. "Enemy helo! Get behind cover!" she shouted. Suddenly the earth shook as a large attack helicopter armed with missile launchers and miniguns swung around the corner, looking directly towards them. Newt could tell its guns were warming up, ready to obliterate them.

    "We're in the open! There's no cover!" Newt yelled back. "Ground that chopper!"

    "Hang on! I'm lining up a shot!" Newt looked around and saw Robyn in a crouching stance, her sniper aimed directly at the cockpit. She was evidently struggling. The helicopter was rocking back and forth, meaning she couldn't get a precise shot on the pilot.

    "The rocket pods!" Mel shouted. "Hit the pods!"

    Without any notice, Robyn immediately switched her target to the larger missile pods on the left wing of the helicopter, and shot without hesitation. Immediately the left wing burst into flames and exploded, knocking Robyn once again flat on the floor. The helicopter was spinning out of control. She could almost see the pilot's panicked face as he tried to regain control of the helicopter. No luck. All he could do was scream as the vehicle spiralled randomly, until it finally gave up trying to take flight and fell in one direction.

    Robyn's direction.

    "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Robyn had to push Newt aside as she was rammed by 50 tons of metal.
    ~

    The smoke and dust cleared. Newt got shakily to his feet, in a coughing fit. For a few seconds he forgot who he was, what he was doing. Then it all came rushing back to him. Kratos. The failed assassination. The helicopter.

    Robyn!

    Newt immediately cleared his mind and ran towards the wreckage. It wasn't pretty at all. The frame of the helicopter had caught flames as had the rotors. He considered whispering Robyn's name in fear of being caught, then he remembered that they'd just brought a helicopter to the ground. Everyone would've heard the blast. That meant they were going to meet with much more resistance when they got out of here with Robyn.

    If they got out of there with Robyn.

    Newt settled on yelling her name. "Robyn!" he shouted. "Where the hell are you?!"

    Then he heard a woman's grunt and groan, and he looked a few metres in front of him where Robyn was crushed by the tail rotor. "Newt!" she called weakly. He ran over to her, and immediately attempted to lift up the rotor with a heavy grunt. It budged, but he wasn't strong enough. He needed more power.

    "Mel!" he yelled. "I need your help!" He continued trying to remove the metal beam from Robyn, and she almost shouted in pain as the pressure eased off her legs.

    "MEL!"

    Suddenly Newt heard little footsteps. Rapid footsteps. A second later Mel had whipped around the helicopter and saw Robyn trapped under the helicopter.

    "Oh God –" she started to say, but Newt cut her off.

    "No time. I need more strength to lift this up. Give me your neck."

    Mel reacted immediately. She knew exactly what Newt was going to do. She turned around facing away from Newt, so Newt could see the place where her spine connected with her skull. He placed his right index and middle finger on the back of Mel's neck, and his special ops glove glowed blue. Immediately Mel felt a little bit tired, but she knew that was supposed to happen. Newt removed his fingers and tried lifting the rotor again. Immediately he felt a surge of energy as he harnessed Mel's physical strength and moved the rotor away from Robyn, with a loud metallic creak.

    "Thanks for that, Mel." Newt nodded.

    "Glad I could help."

    "Robyn, you okay?" Newt asked, even though he knew that was a stupid question. Most of Robyn was still intact, but her legs had taken the brunt of the impact. They were bruised, bleeding, and Newt thought he could see her left thigh bend unnaturally far to the left.

    "I'll live." She attempted to stand, but consequently collapsed again with a gasp of pain. "My legs are messed up." she breathed. "I can't walk."

    Newt sighed. "Sorry mate," he said. "looks like I'll have to carry you."

    Newt slipped his left hand under Robyn's knees and his other around her torso, and made sure she was secure before walking towards the forest, with Mel in tow. "I'll have to put you down sometimes, if we come across any resistance." Newt told Robyn. "But I don't hear anyone else, and they'll all be gathering at the crash site, so I think we'll be okay."

    "I get you." Robyn replied. "Just put me down where I can get a clear shot on hostiles. And maybe check the status of our exfil."

    Newt nodded, and activated his mic. "Guardian 1, requesting immediate casevac. Our sniper's unable to walk, I'm having to carry her."

    His speaker burst to life, but he heard even more static and sound clipping. He just about identified the voice as Fletch's. "I read you, Two Four. Be advised, the enemy are using anti-jammers as well as cutting off our communication. Meaning they have comms, and we don't."

    "That might not be a problem, Guardian. We're almost at the LZ. You got an ETA?"

    "Two minutes. Guardian out." And with that, the connection cut off.

    "Listen up, Guardian's two minutes away. We have to hold this position until they get here. All unknowns are hostile, and shoot to kill."

    "You're keeping the SCAR, Newt?" Mel asked.

    "Nah. I'm out of ammo anyway." Newt unsheathed his favoured weapons: two knives with carvings. One with a fox, another with the wolf. "I'll stick with these." Newt liked his wolf knife, it reminded him of older days, with older friends…

    "Newt," Robyn said abruptly. "get me on that small mound. It's an easy place to pick off hostiles."

    "I get you. Let's go. Pick up the pace." Newt started walking a little faster with Robyn in his arms.

    The three burst into a clear space that seemed to resemble some sort of playground. There were two damaged poles at either end of a large stone slab embedded into the ground. "The mound. There." Robyn pointed at a small emerging near the wall. Newt carried her there, and placed her down gently. She breathed sharply, before exhaling and equipping her rifle. "It's possible we might not see anyone at all." She noted.

    "Don't betray yourself," Newt scolded. "keep watching the treeline."

    Newt's earpiece crackled to life again. "Bravo Two Four, this is Guardian. We're entering your airspace now. Prepare for extraction."

    "Copy that, Guardian. Make it quick. No one's appeared yet." Newt twirled his knives around his fingers, eager to leave. He was getting rowdy.

    "Patience, Newt." Robyn murmured. "Rushing will only make you a dead man."

    Suddenly Mel's voice cut into the conversation through earpiece. "Cut the chatter, I spy movement in the trees, 25 degrees North."

    "Guardian's 30 seconds out. Is it just one?" Newt asked.

    "Looks like it. Permission to silently engage?"

    "Negative. If there's more in there, you're done for. Better to wait for reinforcements."

    "Roger that."

    Newt could hear their helicopter whirring in the near distance. He hoped desperately it would arrive before they got into a fight.

    "Newt, there's more than one." Mel said. "I count at least seven." Over the earpiece Newt could hear the sound of Mel flicking her safety off.

    "Watch yourself, Mel." Newt could see the helicopter now, coming in from the West. It was so close...

    "Come on… be quicker…" he murmured under his breath. He'd hoped he would leave without a large battle, but perhaps that was too much to ask for.

    His thoughts were confirmed when he heard Mel scream through her comms. "I've been spotted!" she shrieked. "Engaging!" He heard familiar sounds of shots from Mel's pistol, and unfamiliar shots from assault rifles, although he couldn't tell what kind.

    "Robyn, watch the treeline for stragglers, I'm going to help Mel!"

    "Roger. Be careful."

    Newt whirled his knives to the front of his palms and sprinted incredibly fast with the power of his enhanced reflexes towards the trees where Mel had engaged in some intense combat. She was holding her own just fine, hitting accurate headshots and occasionally smacking noses with the gun. She was evidently struggling, though. More and more enemies just appeared from the trees.

    Newt readied his weapons as he talked to Blythe the pilot. "Guardian, be careful, the LZ is hot, you'd better be guns blazing." He met his first target, and finished him very quickly with a quick slash to the neck. He choked on his own blood as he crumpled to the ground.

    "I see ya, Two Four. Where d'you want me to hit ‘em?"

    "In the forest! Lots of hostiles in the forest!"

    "Copy. Engaging."

    "Mel, get out of the trees! Guardian's engaging!" Newt shouted as he stabbed another enemy in the chest. The two sprinted out of the treeline to where Robyn was laying down sniper shots on the trees. As Newt looked up to the sky, he saw the Sun was blocked by a colossal helicopter, complete with grenade launchers and Mark II miniguns, as well as automatic gatling guns near the front of the aircraft. These guns were the first to fire, with loud, rapid blasts they ripped down the entire treeline, and every hostile in the forest. It was all happening so quickly.

    "That's bloody outrageous, mate!" Newt yelled with a happy whoop.

    "All enemies neutralised. Load up." The chopper landed and the cargo door opened, where Fletch was waving inside the carrier. Newt ran over to Robyn to pick her up, and carried her to the door. He set her down gently on the seat, where Fletch immediately attended to her wounds. Newt looked at Robyn, deadly serious.

    "You saved my life back there, Robyn. I owe you big time." Newt saluted with the standard Ark Angel salute, his right index and middle finger waving off the right side of his head.

    "Damn right, you do." Robyn smiled at him.

    Newt walked up to the cockpit, where Blythe Sailynn was already priming the carrier for takeoff. "How'd the mission go?" she asked casually.
    Newt sighed regrettably. "Mission failed," he muttered. "we missed the fool."

    "We'll get him next time, no worries." Newt walked back into the main hold as Blythe got on to the radio back at base. "Ark Angel, this is Guardian 1. Mission failed, I repeat mission failed. Kratos is alive and well. Heading back to base now, ETA 30 minutes."
    “So we’re all aware that the planned assassination on Kratos was a bust.” Newt addressed to the rest of his team in the room. They were all paying close attention to his words. Kiro was gripping his sword like always, Ethan Jyung was twirling one of his ACP handguns around his finger. Blythe, the team’s pilot and mechanic, had her heavy pipe hanging from her belt. The rest of the team either had their hands in their pockets, or their arms folded.

    Fletch raised his hand. “We’re getting cocky,” he explained. “instead of going right after him, we need to cut off his supplies. Make sure his forces are weaker.”

    “I agree, wholeheartedly.” Newt nodded. “Fletch, show us what you found.”
    Fletch stood up like he was giving a massive speech. “I’ve been digging around the system,” he waved his arms around. “and I’ve found out two things. One,” he raised his index finger. “I know where his supply from the arms deal came from. There’s a desert in South America, the Colorado Plateau. Kratos has a base there, far away from civilisation. And there are more weapons where they came from. We should get explosives all around the base, and blow it all up.”

    Newt nodded again. “Kapaia and Blythe, I’m sending you two to that base, and I need you to blow it sky high.”

    Kapaia giggled maniacally. “Sounds like a treat,” she chuckled.

    “I was going to send Robyn with you, but seeing as she’s out of action for now, I’m sending in Ethan as your cover sniper. He’ll make sure you’re not compromised.”

    “Another thing,” Fletch pointed out. “Kratos is absolutely sure no one will find his base. Chances are he’s got a lot of secrets there. And secrets mean intel. If you could extract any of that, that would be great.”

    “In that case, Kiro’s going with you too. This is a covert op, so he’ll make sure no one can set off the alarm. While you’re planting explosives, he can go around and find anything to get us a lead on Kratos.”

    “Very well,” Kiro nodded. “What’s this other thing you found, Fletch?”

    “I’m so glad you asked!” he grinned broadly. “It turns out Kratos has an informant himself, some sort of hacker. That’s why Kratos found Robyn. Why Kratos set up a counter sniper. And that’s how he knew we were using a jammer.”

    “You mean we have a spy among us?” Minchi spoke up, almost shouted in fear.

    “Not necessarily. Technology is clever. The enemy could be listening to us right now, but I’ve set up another jammer in this very room. No one but us can hear this conversation. No, this hacker broke into our defences somehow. I’ll have to upgrade them.”

    “So, what can we do about it?” Sakura spoke up.

    “I’ve found out where he’s based!” Fletch said cheerily. “Ryogoku, in Tokyo. It turns out Kratos has affiliations with the Japanese, and I think Kiro can confirm. Mel, you said Kratos was speaking another language?”

    “Yeah,” Mel said. “he was.”

    “Could you give me some sort of example of what it sounded like?”

    “Ahh…” Mel scratched her head. “something like… anata wa… gete eye-roo?”

    Kiro nodded his head. “Japanese.” He said. “Most definitely Japanese. You’re trying to say ‘you fool.’ I guess Kratos was pretty mad at the others.”

    Fletch agreed. “We need to take the informant out, but before we do that, we need to get as much information from him as we can. Interrogate him. No doubt he knows a lot of things.”

    Newt cleared his throat. “We need to strike both at the same time, because if not, one will surely raise the alarm to the other. That means we’re splitting up. The rest of us not going to Colorado are going to Japan.”

    Ethan nudged Kiro. “Bet you wish you were going home, eh?” Kiro’s face mask made him look much more dangerous, and for a second Ethan thought he’d actually made a mistake as he stared into his eyes. Then Kiro turned his head back to Newt.

    “When are we leaving?”

    “In four hours.” Newt said. “Get all your stuff ready.”
    ~
    Mel walked outside into the night sky, away from the base building and towards the edge of the mountain. There was someone sitting there, and Mel already knew who it was. Kiro was sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, his right index and middle finger on his mask, where his lips would be. Meditating. His graphene armour glowed an ambient turquoise.

    Mel sat down next to him, as silently as she could. She knew not to disturb Kiro’s meditation. She’d done it once, and she was sure as hell she didn’t want to go through that again. Mel imitated his position, crossing her legs and bringing her fingers to her lips. She looked out to the landscape. This place was always beautiful at night. There were plenty of houses underneath them, and Mel found it relaxing just to stare at those lights.

    “It looks like I need to teach you Japanese,” Kiro spoke suddenly. Mel almost flinched.

    “I guess so.” Mel replied.

    Kiro’s eyes snapped open. “Do you see all of this, Melody? The landscape? Such beauty. Humanity has come a long way. Unfortunately, Japanese prophecy tells that all of this will cease to exist. Very soon.”

    “Oh?” Mel didn’t know how else to respond.

    “That’s why I want to take out Kratos as quickly as possible. I’d like to see his head on a spike before I die. Preferably my spike.” His hand instinctively gripped the handle of his blade.

    Mel sighed. “Don’t worry yourself, Kiro.” She said. “We’ll get him. Even if it costs our own lives.”

    “I should hope so.” Kiro stood up. “I must leave for the Colorado op. I wish you luck in Japan.”

    “You too,” Mel replied. And as Kiro walked away, she couldn’t help but wonder what interest Kiro had in her. He’d told her that she’d shown promise as a soldier, and maybe he just wanted to help her. It didn’t matter to her. She was grateful for the company. Kiro just seemed to… understand her, even when no one else did. Perhaps it was all the machinery whirring inside his head, she didn’t know. She also got up and made her way to the airfield, where her helicopter to Japan was waiting. Ethan Jyung stood just next to the sliding door, watching Mel as she approached.

    “Ready to go?” he asked.

    “Yep.”

    “Okay, that’s good. Everyone else is already here.” He turned his head into the helicopter and shouted to the cockpit. “Newt, you sure you know how to fly this thing?”

    Newt’s voice shouted back. “I’m only a little rusty, Ethan, I haven’t forgotten everything. I’ve still got it.”
    “If you say so.” He shrugged, and as Mel entered the helicopter he nudged her and whispered with a large grin. “If we crash, we blame Newt.” Mel nodded with a cheeky smile and climbed into the chopper.

    There wasn’t a lot of space, especially with the number of people onboard. Some people were sharing seats, others standing. “Excited for Japan?” Fletch said to Mel.

    “I guess,” she shrugged.

    “Okay, Newt, we’re all here, wheels up!” Fletch shouted to the pilot.

    “Blythe, we’re leaving for Japan, I’ll see you soon,” Newt said into his comms.

    “Roger. Good luck.” Blythe’s voice responded.
    "Looks like there's a sandstorm picking up," Kapaia shouted over the deafening sound of the helicopter.

    "That doesn't matter," Ethan yelled back. "if anything, that would only help us!"

    The Colorado Plateau. Ethan had a hard time seeing through the sandstorm. He could just about see the outline of a large site, it looked a lot like a military airfield. "Blythe, put us down somewhere so the enemy can't see us coming! If we're spotted, this mission's dead!"

    "Roger. There's a clearing about half a klick from the base. I can't land but you can drop down with your ropes. You can approach on foot." Blythe spoke through the microphone. "You'll need to call for extraction after you're finished."

    "Okay. Get your ropes ready, team. Link to the sidebar of the doorway."

    Ethan grabbed his carabiner and linked it to the metal sidebar, as the three others did too. He looked over to Kiro, who merely returned the glance and nodded with no sign of emotion. "Let's go! Drop now!" Ethan yelled as he jumped from the open door. His hands firmly gripped the rope as he rapidly slid down to the ground. He hit the sand with a small grunt. He prepared his rifle and attached a sound suppressor as the rest of his squad hit the ground.

    Kiro immediately took point. "Blythe already told us we're half a klick away from the target. We need to move quickly and silently. Being compromised is not an option until we plant the explosives." His robotic hand pointed to the side of a small canyon. "We'll jump down from the canyon there, and follow the river. Does everyone have their landing assist gear?"

    His question was met with two nods. "There could be armed personnel on the ground. Ethan, take them out before we jump. We'll hide the bodies in the river. Let's get it done." The squad ran to the edge of the canyon, and Ethan looked over the cliff. Sure enough, there were two black-clad guards by the river, engaged in casual conversation. Neither were armed. "You're up, Ethan."

    Ethan didn't even have to line up a proper shot. Since they were stationary, Ethan trusted his own instinct and luck to loosely hold his rifle and take the shots. Both men went down. Kiro spoke. "Now, this is still experimental technology, but what should happen is that the thrust from the landing assist eases your fall and lands you safely. Try engaging the boosters about two seconds before you hit the ground. Follow my lead." Kiro jumped from the side of the canyon, and his brain implants stimulated the boosters to activate at his will, just before he made contact with the ground. He landed softly. Soon the rest of his team followed, with Ethan landing last.

    "Along the river," he motioned with two fingers. "go."

    2 minutes of walking along the river, Kapaia spoke up. "The storm's getting violent." She said. "soon we won't even be able to see our hands in front of us."

    "That can only work in our favour," Ethan shouted. "It means we can get inside the compound easily without being spotted."

    "Stop." Kiro suddenly said. The others stopped moving immediately. "This is the place. We have to climb the cliffside."

    "And how exactly do you plan to do that?" Kapaia's snarky attitude replied.

    "With these." Kiro reached into his belt bag and took out three identical objects. It was about the size of Ethan's forearm. "Grapple hooks. Newest advancement in technology. These are silent, so zero chance of anyone hearing us. Attach them to your stronger arm." They did so. "Aim the tip of your iron sights on the crest of the cliff. Then press the small button just next to your thumb's natural position."

    The team made sure that they knew where their button was and nodded their readiness. "I'll go first, just to make sure there aren't any threats." Kiro stretched out his right arm in the direction of the high cliff and pressed the button. Immediately his arm recoiled slightly, and he saw a small piece of rock fall away from the cliff as he shot up into the air, and landed perfectly on two feet. Immediately he unsheathed his wakizashi, his shorter blade, from the sheath just above the back of his waist, ready to silently take down any surprising hostiles. Fortunately, there were none. "It's clear. Come up."

    Kiro saw Ethan come up, but when he saw Kapaia's hook hit, he instantly realised she'd aimed too low. He dashed to the edge and grabbed her arm just as she was about to fall. He pulled her up to the ground effortlessly and didn't even wait for thanks. "Over this hill," he motioned. "move."
    ~
    "It's a big place," Ethan admitted. "this is gonna take a while."

    "We can take as long as we want," Kapaia retorted. "as long as we ain't spotted. Kiro, where do you want the explosives?"

    "Any place that either holds a lot of supplies or is very explosive."

    "I like the second part," Kapaia giggled.

    "I see three possible hotspots. The tower over there," he pointed to the north. "it'll be hosting communication signals. If that goes down, the enemy has no radio comms. There's also some sort of hangar about 100 metres west of that. Seems to be the biggest building here. Bigger buildings mean more supplies. Lastly, if there's a hangar, there must be a refuelling station nearby. That'll grab everyone's attention, and eliminates the fuel source."

    "Rules of engagement?" Ethan asked.

    "Silent kills only. Find a concealed spot where you can take shots from, but do not take any shots without my confirmation. Kapaia, you'll take point and bring explosives to the hotspots, and plant. I'll be following behind you, making sure no one jumps us, which isn't likely. Let's go. Communication tower first. Watch our backs, Ethan."

    "Roger. Get it done."

    Kapaia took a large flintlock gun out of her belt. "No shots, Kapaia," Kiro warned. "That thing is very loud. Melee strikes only. If things go south, we may have to go to Plan B."

    "What's Plan B?"

    "You'll know when we need it."

    "Fine. Let's go." Kapaia half-ran in the direction of the tower. The C4 explosives on her belt jingled and rattled every time she took a step.

    "They won't hear you over this massacre of a sandstorm. You don't have to worry about that." Ethan said over the radio. "And they won't be able to see you until you're really close. You'll only really need to fight anyone unless they accidentally walk into you."

    Thirty seconds later, they made it to the tower. It stood about 120 feet tall, with red and white stripes, and it was right next to a large cliff. Kapaia extracted two bags from her backpack and stuck them on the two legs closest to the sheer drop. "Explosives primed. Where next?"

    "Refuelling station. Same procedure." Kiro said. "Ethan, are we good?"

    "You're good," Ethan replied.

    Kiro and Kapaia made their way to the station. On the way, Kapaia had tripped on something, possibly a rock, and a nearby guard had been alerted. However, he hadn't had time to trigger the alarm, as Kiro unsheathed his wakizashi and sliced the guard's neck in a lightning-quick movement. "Clearly don't know what silent means, do you?" he shook his head and dragged the body into a hidden corner where no one could see it. "Keep moving. Don't mess up this time."

    They got to the station, with Kapaia planting the bombs right on the fuel canisters, out of sight. "I can't wait to blow this up." Kapaia chuckled quietly.

    "We're not done yet. Stay focused." Kiro scolded. "Last place is the hangar. Then we can finally call Blythe and get out of here. Go."

    Fortunately, the hangar door was already open. When Kiro stepped inside, he realised this was the only building in the compound he'd actually been inside. It was spacious inside. At the back, there was a small room, with crates and bags. "Kapaia, plant the explosives in the room at the back."

    "Roger."

    While Kapaia was gone, Kiro snooped around. He found a lot of weapons and currency, and at one point he even found a smashed photo behind a chair. It was cracked badly, so badly that Kiro couldn't even tell what the picture was of. But it was as he put the picture back, his eyes picked out a small, blue glow behind one of the crates. When he looked behind it, he found a small laptop, just like any other laptop. Kiro picked it up and examined it. It seemed to be in pristine condition. A user was still logged in. That meant they could get access to some of the files. Kiro put the laptop in his pack when Ethan almost shouted over the radio.

    "Kiro! You've got company!"

    Not even a second after he said that, around five armed soldiers had blocked the large entrance, and in front of them was an old Japanese man, probably a commander of some sort. He spoke in English however, with a very crooked accent. Kiro thought he must have looked incredibly suspicious, holding two swords and a mask covering his lower face. "Freeze! Disarm yourself of all weapons and come outside!"
    Kiro did not face them. Instead, under his breath he alerted Kapaia.

    "Kapaia, I've been compromised. Maintain a low profile and stay behind cover. Do not reveal yourself."

    The commander was still shouting. "Come out NOW! My men WILL fire if you do not comply! You have five seconds!"

    Kiro breathed. "Kapaia," he muttered. "go to Plan B."

    "Five!" The soldiers cocked their rifles.

    "Four!" Kiro's hand instinctively went for the katana on his back.

    "Three!" What on earth was Kapaia doing? He was about to be shredded!

    "Two!" Kiro couldn't help but let loose a drop of sweat down his neck. Come on, Kapaia. He screamed in his brain.

    "ONE!"

    Kiro unsheathed his sword as all hell broke loose.

    The first explosion he heard was directly behind him. Shrapnel and boxes flew over Kiro's head, and he had to jump out of the way so he didn't get hit. The back room was already on fire, orange flames licking the ceiling of the room. In the distance through the large door, Kiro saw an orange cloud erupt from the bottom of the cell tower, which creaked loudly as its foundations gave way and toppled into the canyon below.

    Startled screams of confusion and panic filled the air, as Kiro primed razor-sharp shurikens into his robotic hands, three in each hand, between his fingers. Before any of the hostile soldiers regained their sense, Kiro threw all six shurikens with all his might. 6 Japanese men, including the commander, fell to the floor, one shuriken each buried into their neck. The ground was covered in blood.

    Kapaia peeked her head out behind a table. "That," she grinned like crazy. "was awesome."

    "I'm sure it was." Kiro activated his radio and unsheathed both of his swords. "Ethan, call Blythe for extraction. Secondary LZ. Let's get moving!"

    "Roger. We'll have to snatch an enemy vehicle." Ethan replied.

    "Well, that clearly won't be a problem." Kapaia pointed outside. "Convoy inbound!"

    Kiro looked and saw two jeeps barrelling top speed towards them. One jeep had its passenger poking their head out, handling an assault rifle. It didn't help him. Before he had the chance to take any shots, his head suddenly erupted into blood, which horrified the driver into turning the wheel in panic and hitting the other jeep. Both jeeps rolled over each other and eventually came to a stop.

    "Good kill, Ethan," Kiro admitted.

    "Thanks. Grab one of those jeeps. I'll come to you."

    "Roger." Both Kiro and Kapaia rushed over to the jeep and dragged two mangled bodies out. Ethan ran over to them and immediately got into the driver's seat, with Kiro in the back seat and Kapaia up front. She almost squealed as her clothes were stained with blood.

    "Get moving! Let's go!" Kiro shouted. Ethan floored the accelerator, and the tyres squealed as the vehicle shot forwards towards the desert. Kiro grabbed an assault rifle from under the back seat and shoved it into Kapaia's arms. "EMP bullets. Enough hits and the car's computer will short circuit."

    Kapaia almost frowned. "Don't you have something a little more… explosive?"

    Just then, a spray of bullets burst through the back window and into the windscreen. Ethan yelped and almost lost control of the vehicle. "Ethan, keep your head low! Kapaia, shut up and keep them pinned down!"

    Kapaia scoffed and took the rifle. She leaned out of the window and started laying rounds on the pursuing jeeps. "There's at least six vehicles following us!" she warned.

    Kiro snarled. "Bullets won't do much against that force, especially with your aim." Kapaia made a face but did not stop shooting. Kiro looked back at the jeeps. He quickly formulated a plan in his head and sighed.

    "I'm about to do something incredibly stupid." Kiro grabbed his wakizashi and slashed the leather covering on the roof of their vehicle.

    "What are you –" Kapaia complained.

    "Don't stop firing! I'm taking them on directly!" Kiro gripped the roof of the jeep and hauled himself up, so he was standing on the jeep. He had a clear view of all the enemy vehicles, three in all. Kapaia had already knocked three of them out, their burnt chassis smoking in the distance. One was about 10 metres to the right of their jeep, but the passengers hadn't seemed to notice Kiro in the open. Kiro breathed deeply and felt power surge through his legs.

    He jumped.

    He landed on the hood of the enemy jeep, and his bionic right arm shot through the windscreen, his fingers wrapped around the driver's neck. He let out a startled scream before Kiro crushed his neck without a single thought. The passenger had no time to react either, as Kiro immediately grabbed the driver's knife from his front pocket and shoved the blade into his chest. Blood erupted from his body.

    Kiro had already leapt in the direction of another jeep, as the one he had just been on lost control and crashed into a rock. He cut through the steel roof of the jeep with his katana, and jumped onto the passenger's head, instantly snapping his neck. The driver panicked, and his steering wheel went out of control. The vehicle careered randomly, and Kiro was forced to jump out of the jeep before it flipped itself over and landed on its side.

    Kiro roughly slammed into the ground. His vision was blurry. His bionic senses were acting up. There was an incredibly annoying ringing in his ears, and he couldn't stand straight. But a few seconds later, he finally was able to stand on his feet, and locate the last jeep chasing Ethan and Kapaia. They were too far away. There was no way he could run over there on time, even with his agility.

    That left his grappler as his last option.

    Kiro lifted his right arm to his eye, lining up the iron sights with the back window of the enemy jeep. Time slowed down in Kiro's mind frame. He wasn't even sure if his grappler could hit the jeep at this distance, but he had no other choice. His vision darkened just before he took the shot, and his body lurched forward at an incredible speed towards the jeeps. Rocks and cacti whizzed past him as he flew onto the roof of the enemy.
    He gripped the roof firmly with his hands as he swung his legs through the window and in the driver's face. However, he did not falter. Instead, he jerked the steering wheel a sharp right, into Ethan's and Kapaia's jeep, crushing Kiro between the two. He grunted loudly in pain, and he lost his grip on the enemy jeep. He hit the ground once again, the air knocked out of him. For a second he couldn't control his bionic arm, but soon regained control. Fortunately, his quick thinking got him back into the action, as he grabbed something on the underbelly of his own jeep with his normal, human hand. He moved under the jeep, so the enemy driver couldn't see him. Kapaia was still shooting at them, but the bullets didn't penetrate the armoured glass. Kiro looked to see what he could use against the enemy. That's when he saw the driveline of the enemy jeep, the structure that held all of the wheels together. If that failed, the jeep was no good.

    Kiro knew what he had to do. He armed a single shuriken to his right hand, which meant he was only hanging on by his left hand. His body scraped against the ground occasionally, and his bionic arm was almost screaming with pain, but Kiro ignored it. He had to throw the weapon directly at the driveline, so it could sever the connection and render the wheels useless. Kiro didn't have the conditions to concentrate, the jeep engine squealing right next to him and the bouncing of the tires against the hard ground. He had to take a wild shot. He threw the shuriken.

    It cut cleanly through the driveline and embedded itself into the chassis of the jeep. The vehicle careered out of control, and came to a stop, with no casualties or destruction.

    "We're at the LZ!" Ethan shouted.

    The jeep came to a stop, and Kiro heard a new sound: a helicopter. He dropped from the underbelly of the jeep and crawled out to see Blythe waving everyone onto the helicopter. "C'mon Kiro, let's go!" Blythe shouted.
    The three ran towards the cargo door and sat inside the helicopter, as Blythe got back to the pilot's seat and took off. Ethan looked down at the jeep they'd used to escape with. "Damn it," he cursed. "we should've scrapped it."

    "One step ahead of you, mate." Kapaia grinned wildly as she took a detonator from her belt and pressed the charge. Instantly the jeep blew up and burst into flames. "I was never going to leave this place without one last boom." She said.

    "Of course you weren't," Ethan replied. He looked over at Kiro, who was holding his left arm and examining it. "Your arm okay?" he asked.

    "Yeah," Kiro replied. "it's fine. Just took a few hits."

    "Kiro, where do you want to go now?" Blythe asked over the radio.

    Kiro closed his eyes. There was no point going back to base since everyone else had gone to Japan. But he needed to get his arm fixed, otherwise, he could ruin the Japan mission for them all, with the state of his arm. But what if they needed his help to capture the informant? His mind flooded with contradictory thoughts, and he couldn't think.

    "Hey," Ethan tapped his shoulder. "calm down. It's your call, and I'll support your decision, whatever you choose." Kiro looked at Ethan's face, and his expression softened. It wasn't often that someone decided to support Kiro, so he was grateful that Ethan had decided to stick up for him.

    "Thanks, Ethan. Blythe," Kiro announced, "we're going to Japan."
    "This place is a hell zone," Newt muttered.

    He flew the helicopter over towering skyscrapers and blinding lights. Newt may have even been inclined to admire the sight, but he knew better. Although he couldn't see them in the darkness of night, he knew there were terrorists and enemy soldiers on the ground. He hoped that the helicopter's cloaking device would help them to land undetected, but even then, he started doubting himself. He flew over intelligent rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns, but it didn't seem like any of them had detected the helicopter.

    Fletch had gotten up from his seat and briefed the team. "Okay guys," he said. "our mission is to track down this enemy informant and interrogate him about the whereabouts of Kratos, and his plans for the future. I'd prefer to do this quietly, but seeing as we've got like a bajillion SAM sites down there, we'll have to put up a fight. Only after we land, though. We should be quiet until we deploy." "We'll be pushing to a clock tower about 200 metres from where we'll deploy. I'm going to go up there, and use this thing." Fletch grabbed his backpack and pulled out a large screen, a little bigger than an iPad. "This is a facial recognition device. It'll identify targets from a good couple of hundred metres away, but it'll become less effective as the range increases. I'll use this to mark the target, and then some of you can run after him and stop him. Do not go for a kill, however. That's a crucial part of the mission. It's pretty hard to interrogate a bleeding corpse."

    A loud noise interrupted his speech. A wailing alarm from the cockpit. "Damn it!" Newt swore. "Missile locked onto us!"

    "What?!" Fletch shouted. "How?! The cloak is still active!"

    "They must be using heat sensors!" Newt shouted back. "BRACE FOR IMPACT!" Everyone firmly gripped some sort of handlebar or seat as the helicopter suddenly rocked violently. It spun in circles, both of its rotors ablaze. Unfortunately, Sakura Naganohara's grip wasn't strong enough to sustain her. Her fingers slipped on the bar she was holding on to, and the inertial force from the spinning helicopter meant she couldn't hold on anymore. She let go, and Mel tried to grab her arm in a last attempt to keep her onboard, but to no avail. Her arm slipped from her grasp, and Sakura shot towards the ground.

    "Sakura!" Mel shouted.

    "Forget it, Mel," Fletch said. "We can't do anything for her now. Hold on!"
    That was the last thing Mel heard before the helicopter crashed.

    ~

    Sakura opened her eyes slowly. She winced a little bit as sharp light stabbed her retinas. She felt along her left arm for her computer module and tapped it randomly. Instantly, the heavy-duty plastic ball that had saved her life reduced to a small cube, which Sakura pocketed. She stood up and looked around the place. She seemed to be in some sort of laboratory, there were computers and equipment everywhere, which she found quite messy. Fortunately, it didn't seem like anyone was in the room. I need to find a way out of here, Sakura thought. She looked behind her. Her plastic ball had created a large hole in the side of the building, which chilled her spine. There was no way that nobody would notice a gaping hole in a building, which meant she really had to get moving. But she couldn't leave just yet. She had no weapons due to her assault rifle and sickles being lost while Sakura was falling from the heights. She also didn't have anything to protect herself, so she needed to find something she could use to either challenge an opposition or push through the resistance.

    She started to explore the lab. She couldn't find anything useful in the room she was currently in, just computers and large screens. She pushed through double doors into another room, and that was when her eyes widened.

    This room wasn't nearly as big as the one she had crashed into, but she'd found what she was looking for. At the very back of the room, something similar to a robot suit was standing on supports. There wasn't an occupant. Sakura walked over and tried to get into the suit. Her feet slipped a few times, but eventually, she was able to get her hands and feet into the robot's arms and legs. A helmet visor automatically fitted over her head. She stepped off the platform wearing the suit and experimented with her movement. She found that there were two miniguns, one on each arm, that she could fire and reload at will. There were also six rocket pods on the back of the suit, which Sakura soon learnt were heat seeking. Again, she could reload these.

    After a few minutes, she'd learned how to engage forward and jump thrusters, and she found a large scythe she could equip to her right arm, in case an enemy got too close. Just before she left the room, a small screen appeared on the top right corner of her vision. It displayed a single word. Crusader.

    ~

    Everything hurt.

    Mel couldn't see yet, but she heard metal creaking and shouting from her friends. When she managed to open her eyes, she noticed her vision was blurred, and she couldn't walk properly. Her hearing was filled with the roaring of flames, and she found herself coughing. She looked up and saw a blurry cloud of blonde run towards her. Even in her groggy state, Mel assumed it was Newt. She heard Newt shouting at her, but his voice sounded like it was underwater. "Get out of the helicopter!" he was screaming. "It's gonna fall!" Mel ran to the cargo door. She tripped on a seat, but Newt picked her back up quickly and they both jumped from the helicopter, just before it creaked loudly and slipped from the roof they'd crashed on. It plummeted down and hit the ground with a nasty crunch.

    "Well," Newt said matter-of-factly, "guess we're not using that helicopter."

    "Newt!" everyone behind him moaned. Newt looked at them and frowned. "You seriously thought I was gonna crash the helicopter? You saw this coming?" Everyone laughed. "Ack, whatever. The clock tower shouldn't be too far from here, anyway. We'll jump down using the landing assists and approach on foot. Do not fire unless they fire first." They hit the ground silently, and they all equipped their weapons. Newt and Mini unsheathed their knives and Mel whipped out her pistol. Fletch didn't bring a weapon. "We'll find you a weapon, don't worry," Newt told him. "Let's move. Snake formation, single file."

    Newt led the line, while everyone followed behind him in a tight line. He moved into a small alleyway, where a man stood with his back facing them. He had an AK-47 slung across his back, and it seemed like he was smoking a cigarette. Newt threw his hand up, signalling to his team to standby, and walked up to the man. He covered his mouth and nose and stabbed him in the neck with his knife. He made sure the knife dug as deep as possible and then yanked it back out. The man fell to the ground, still choking on his own blood. Newt grabbed the SMG from the man's belt, an Atlas-72A, and tossed it to Fletch, who almost fumbled the catch.

    They continued along the alleyway until they came to the end. It opened into a sidewalk, on a single road. Newt peeked around the corner and saw two armed men, also with AK-47s. There was also an old man on the floor, who was being kicked repeatedly by the men. They shouted and jeered at him, and spat into his face, covered with blood. Newt didn't feel sympathy for the man. He crouch-walked across the road slowly, hoping that the men wouldn't notice him.

    The good news: the armed men didn't see him.

    The bad news: the old man did.

    He screamed at the sight of Newt, which caught the attention of the soldiers. "Damn it," Newt growled as he ducked under a spray of bullets behind a car. "Mini, throw a flashbang!" Mini took the order by surprise. She took a grenade from her belt and removed the pin. She lobbed it at the two men firing on Newt. They hadn't seen the rest of the team yet. The flashbang hit the ground in front of the men with a small ping, and everyone shut their eyes or turned away as the grenade exploded with a small cloud of smoke. The men cried out in confusion, and later in pain, as Newt ran up and slashed both of their necks. The rest of the team came out from the alleyway, and Newt nodded to Mini as a sign of thanks. She nodded back. The old man was still on the floor but was trying to stand. Newt barked at him, "MOVE!" Whether the Japanese man understood his word or not, he got the general message. He crawled away, whimpering.

    "Something's wrong," Fletch said suddenly.

    Newt looked at him. "What?"

    "Surely someone would've heard the bullets, but no one's here. What's up with that?" he frowned.

    Newt cursed. Fletch was right. "Does your computer… device… shenanigan… whatever. Does it detect heat signatures?"

    "Yeah."

    "Check the area."

    Fletch took his tablet out of his pack and switched it on. It immediately came to life, its turquoise lights glowing brightly. He pressed buttons and swiped through menus until the screen became a simulation of their environment. He could see the two men bleeding on the floor, obviously, they did not register heat signatures. "Check the roofs," Newt said. Fletch aimed his screen to the rooftops and panned slowly from left to right. He didn't see anything. But just before he gave up, he noticed a small yellow glow from behind a billboard advertising facial cream. It didn't look like a person, but he found that a large red dot appeared in the middle of the figure, and it was turning orange, yellow, white.

    That meant whatever it was, it was warming up. And Fletch had a pretty good idea of what it was.

    "Charge sniper!" he yelled. "Get away from the car!" Everyone either ducked into the alleyway or just jumped away from the car, as a loud boom filled the air and a blue beam from the billboard hit the car. It exploded instantly, roaring into flames and charring black. Fletch looked back up at the billboard. Sure enough, there was a large hole in the wood, and in the hole was a black-clad female, wearing a mask and holding the infamous MT09-ASX sniper rifle. The MT used energy cells to charge a shot, and released all the energy in firing the gun, the first of its kind. The more energy cells you used, the more powerful the shot. However, that made it very unreliable when shooting multiple targets, because you would need to replenish the cells every time you took shots. That would explain why she shot the car, and not one of the team members.

    "She's not the only one!" Mel shouted. "Infantry, 12 o'clock!" Newt looked further down the road and saw a small force running towards their position, all handling assault rifles. They opened fire once they were 50 feet from the team's position. The sound that filled the air was deafening, so many guns were being fired and lots of shouting.

    "There's no cover on the street!" Mini cried. "We're outnumbered and outgunned!"

    "We have to draw their fire, somehow!" Fletch called. "We need a tank!"

    "Tank incoming!" A voice came over the radio, and Newt barely had time to recognize the voice before the middle of the road became a cloud of dust and ash, and a large booming noise filled the atmosphere. When the air cleared, Newt could not believe what he saw. A massive battle mech had crushed the sidewalk and the road, handling miniguns and rocket launchers which immediately warmed up and fired at the enemy infantry. Bullets and rockets flew everywhere. The smart ones ran into buildings or hit the ground. The less fortunate ones were shredded to pieces. In a matter of seconds, the entire road was clear of hostility. But the thing that really took Newt by surprise was when he saw who was controlling it.

    "Sakura?!" Newt shouted. "Where the hell did you find that thing?!"

    Sakura laughed. "When I fell from the helicopter, I had to use my protective bubble and I crashed through a building, where I found this beauty." She raised the miniguns into the air. "I call it Crusader."

    Mel ran up to the mech and spoke to Sakura. "Kurann, we thought you were dead."

    "Well, I'm not much use to Ark Angel if I'm dead, am I?" she shrugged. "Anyway, Fletch needs to get up to the clock tower. It's just on the end of this road. Let's go!" The team ran along the road, with Newt at the back. "Hey, Newt!" He looked back at Kurann. "Want a go on this?"

    Newt laughed. "On that monster? No thanks. I'd probably find a way to blow it up. Plus, you look really good in it, and I need to escort Fletch to the tower."

    "You're sure?" Kurann asked. "I really don't mind giving this to you."

    "I'm sure. Now, let's go."

    Ten minutes later, they approached the tower. Newt took control and spoke into the radio. "Fletch, come with me to the top of the tower. Everyone else, hold position until we find the informant." His orders were met with rogers all around.

    ~

    "I have a possible facial match to the informant. He's running on the rooftops about 500 metres from here, heading towards our position!" Fletch said. "Mel, Mini, disable him! Do not kill him! I can't stress the importance of that!"

    "Roger," Mel responded. She called to Mini and formed a quick plan. "Mini, go straight through the houses and try to cut him off. I'm going to chase him from behind. Go!" Mini nodded and sprinted as fast as she could into an alleyway while unsheathing her knives. Mel took out her pistol and checked the ammo, and ran to one of the houses and scaled the wall. She was now on the roof, scanning for anybody on the rooftops. A few seconds later she saw a man running east on the rooftops, wearing a black suit, trousers and shoes. "I have visual!" Mel shouted. She leapt across the roofs and got behind the man, with about 100 metres separating them. He hadn't seen Mel yet.

    "No fatal shots!" Newt's voice came on the radio. "Go for the leg!" Mel had to stop running after the man in order to take out her pistol and aim down her sights. She closed her left eye and rested her right vision along the top of her gun. She locked onto the man's calf and fired. She kept her balance as the gun recoiled, and she saw the man collapse. She ran over to the man and checked his face. Immediately she noticed something was wrong. The facial structure wasn't right. His cheeks were too chubby and slightly wrinkled. His neck was too pronounced. And his torso just seemed too big. This wasn't the informant.

    "Negative ID!" Mel shouted. "It's not him!" As she said this, she noticed the man's hand move away from his pocket, and he was holding something. A detonator.

    Suddenly Mel realized why his torso was so large and solid. He was wearing explosives.

    "Crap!" She instantly moved to jump from the rooftop before the entire place went up in flames. And suddenly Mel was back on the crashed helicopter. Flames roared in her ears. She couldn't see anything, just blurs. Her arms were too weak to support her. She looked for the messy blonde hair to help her again, but she couldn't find it. This time a rush of dark brown hair ran over to her and grabbed her hand. This voice was also underwater.

    "Mel!" Mini was screaming. "Get up! We need to go!" Mel's vision refocused, and her mind whirred back into action. They were still on the rooftop. She got up and immediately ran for the edge of the roof.

    "Mini, jump! Use your landing assists!" Mel leapt from the roof and landed safely with her boot jets. Mini soon followed.

    "Mel, what the hell happened over there?!" Newt shouted over the radio. "It was a trap! A rigged body double!" Mel shouted. "The informant is still alive! It must've been a diversion." Over the radio, Mel could hear bullets being sprayed and hitting walls. "Fletch needs to find him again!"

    A new voice butted into the conversation. Fletch. "Already found him!" he shouted. "Crap… he's got a convoy with him. Three armored vehicles in snake formation. They're on the road, heading to your position. Can you set up an ambush?"

    Mel sighed. "How am I gonna do that?"

    Mini's squeaky voice popped up behind her. "I can."

    "You have thirty seconds, Mini. Make it quick." Fletch warned. Mini went to work instantly and quickly. She grabbed C4 charges from her waistbelt and planted them in the middle of the road, primed them and linked them to a wireless detonator.

    "Get to a concealed spot where no one can see you," Mini told Mel. She immediately ran over to a house, kicked the door down and went inside. Mini did the same.

    "I hear the convoy," Mel said. Ten seconds later, the ground rumbled and three jeeps barrelled around the corner. The jeep in front rolled over the charges, and then the second in the middle. "Blow the charge!" Mel shouted.

    Mini pressed the trigger.

    The jeep in the middle took the brunt of the explosion. It exploded instantly and was propelled into the air about 10 feet and landed with a crunch on the opposite side of the road. The front jeep didn't take a lot of damage, but it quickly accelerated and went down a side road, its wheels screeching. Mini didn't care. She already knew the informant wasn't in there. He was in the back jeep, which had flipped over onto its roof. Mel opened the passenger door of the upside-down jeep and dragged the man out and helped him to stand. But instantly, after he stood, he made a fist and punched Mel as hard as he could. She fell to the floor, dizzy and with a bleeding nose, but she could still see the man leaping over the jeep and running along the road. "He's getting away!" she cried.

    "Not on my watch," a new voice presented itself. Before he could disappear into an alleyway, a figure stepped out from the shadows and shoved their palm into the target's face. However, he was not fazed. The informant unsheathed a knife from their belt and shoved it into his attacker's left arm. He grunted, but he was not in severe pain. There was no blood, but orange sparks. He punched the informant in the nose, and he finally went down. The figure who had just taken down the informant wore a black mask and two swords. Kiro.

    Mel ran up to Kiro. "Why'd you come here?" she asked.

    "Well, we finished up in Colorado, so I thought you might need help here." Kiro looked at the man on the floor and kicked him lightly in the ribs. "And it turns out you did." Everyone else was starting to show up now, and Mel waved at all of them. She noticed Sakura was no longer in her Crusader mech.

    "Kurann, what happened to your suit?" she asked.

    "Got hit by that charge sniper." She said. "Wasn't nice at all. But I'm still in one piece."

    "Mel!" Newt called. He walked up to her. "You okay?"

    "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a couple of explosions, right?" she said sarcastically.

    "Right…" Newt scratched his head. "Anyway, congratulations on bringing him in. This guy's a key part of our hunt for Kratos." Mel looked at Mini, who was standing near the jeep watching Kiro handle the informant. Mel didn't know what made her do it, but she took Mini's side.

    "I actually can't take all credit, Newt." She said. "If not for Mini, he probably would've gotten away." Newt raised his eyebrow but nodded. He ran over to Kiro and helped him control the dazed man. Mel cursed to herself. Why had she stuck up for Mini? She didn't usually do that.

    ~

    "Where is Michael Kratos?"

    Everyone was in a large garage. Kiro was standing in front of the informant, who was tied up to a chair and bloodied. Mel was holding her pistol to his head. Mini had the laptop that Kiro had found in the hangar at Colorado since Fletch couldn't read Japanese. She was sitting at a nearby table, clacking keys and pressing buttons. Everyone else was either outside standing guard or watching Kiro interrogate the informant, who they nicknamed Snitch.

    Snitch coughed. "I do not know who that is." He said in Japanese. Kiro slapped his face. "Hiretsuna. Where is Michael Kratos?"

    "I do not know where he is!"

    "Very well. What are his plans for the future?"

    This time Snitch hesitated. "You know something." Kiro coaxed.

    Snitch exhaled deeply and spoke. "Michael Kratos plans to kidnap the President of the United Nations General Assembly."

    "Elias Gosfield?" Kiro frowned. "You're insane. There is no way someone would dare to do so. Even Kratos." Kiro turned to Mel. "Do it."

    "NO!" Snitch gasped. "I swear to God, I am not lying. Gosfield has information that no man should ever know. If Michael Kratos gets to know this information, the world will never be the same!" Kiro looked at him in disgust. He was gasping heavily, a wild look in his eyes. His forehead was glinting with sweat.

    "I still don't believe you." He said shortly.

    "Uh, guys…?" Mini squeaked. Everyone in the room turned to look at her. "He may actually be telling the truth. I was checking through all the files on this laptop. There's almost nothing there, so I checked the search history, and there was only one page. It's Elias Gosfield's Twitter. Here's his latest tweet."

    "The United Nations military force has been hard at work building a ballistic missile in Japan. I am the only man who can authorize the use of this weapon."

    Fletch facepalmed in disappointment. "Why," he groaned. "would you announce to the entire world that you're the only person with the launch codes for a rocket? Wouldn't that make you a target?"

    Newt scoffed. "If the UN President wasn't a target before, he definitely is now."

    Kiro turned back to Snitch. "How will Kratos do this?" he demanded.

    "The world leaders will gather for a meeting in Paris!"

    "Paris? You mean to tell me that Kratos is going to travel all the way to France?"

    "Yes! And Elias Gosfield will be at the meeting. He plans to kill all the world leaders and extort the launch codes from Gosfield."

    Kiro turned to Newt. "Gosfield needs a better security detail."

    "Gosfield always needed a better security detail." Newt joked. He stood up and rounded up the rest of his team. "We didn't get what we came for, but we got something better. I'll give a full debrief back at base. Mel, kill him." He said casually while walking out of the garage. He heard a loud gunshot and a scream behind him as he walked into the daylight.
    "The Japanese forces are coming to claim their missing informant… or what's left of him. We're going to push through the streets and fight any opposition. Equip assault rifles and sniper rifles. They'll be coming in large numbers, so any explosives we can get our hands on have the green light for use. We don't know what kind of opposition exactly we'll meet with, so be prepared."

    "How are we getting out of Japan?"

    "I don't know yet. Both of our helicopters were grounded, and the nearest airport is hours away. We don't have hours. I guess we'll just have to see what happens. Robyn Winchester is back at base, she'll be providing intelligence from the satellites and helping us get the hell out of here."

    "Alright, then." Mel loaded her pistol. "Let's move."

    "Robyn, what does it look like outside?" Newt asked.

    "Seems quiet," an American female responded. "I don't detect any heat signatures, so it looks like you're good to go."

    "Thanks," Newt responded. "Get on the main road, and keep it quiet. There could be a trap." The team exited the alleyway they had been hiding in and ran along the street, with Newt leading the pack. They hadn't even passed a full block when Newt spotted movement across the road. "Stop!" he hissed. Everyone immediately halted. He strained his eyes to properly make out what he saw. It was a dog, a German Shepherd, it seemed to be wrestling a piece of meat in its mouth. It didn't look like it had a collar. "Stray dog," he said. "leave it alone. No need to attract unnecessary attention."

    "If there's a dog here, then it's possible there are people here, too." Mel pointed out. "Robyn, detected any heat signatures?"

    "Just from the dog. Keep moving." They kept running along the same road. They received confused and suspicious glares from the public, but that didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was finding a way to go home. They passed a large house, with massive windows and a grey paint job.

    "Two armed, on the house balcony. They see us." Mel warned. Newt looked, and sure enough, there were two men holding SCAR-Z assault rifles staring down on them. They weren't aiming their weapons, however. They seemed to be deciding if it was a good idea to engage.

    "No shots yet. They seem to be leaving us alone for whatever reason. If they decide to shoot at us, put as many rounds in them as you like." Newt said.

    "One's aiming down their sights at us!" Ethan yelped.

    "Keep your sniper sight on him. Take him down instantly if he fires a single shot. We may have to go loud if their weapons aren't suppressed."

    Suddenly, a male voice was yelling from the house. He spoke in Japanese, but Kiro understood. "They're going to open fire!" he shouted. "Ethan, take them out!"

    Ethan lined up his shots perfectly and landed bullets in both of the men's heads. "More opposition behind us on the road!" he warned.

    "Lay down some fire! There's no point keeping quiet now!" Newt said. "I see at least 10 hostiles, take them out!" Gunshots filled the air. Fletch was blasting at the enemy with his SMG and reloading with lightning speed. Ethan had adopted a crouching stance and took precise shots with his sniper. Everyone else was either hiding behind a wall or suppressing the enemy with their own personal weapons. Very soon, the entire resistance was on the floor, bleeding.

    "This is not good," Fletch breathed. "this is really not good."

    "Guys, you have a problem." Robyn's voice cut through Newt's ears.

    "What's up?"

    "I'm seeing around 30 helicopters entering your airspace, arming grenade launchers and carrying infantry. Is that correct?" Everyone looked at each other in confusion. They couldn't see nor hear any vehicles.

    "That's a solid negative, Robyn. There's no one here. We're safe."

    "Hang on. Let me run a malfunction scan." A pause of 20 seconds, then: "Damn it. Newt, you've got around 70 helicopters entering the area. I'm not detecting a malfunction with the system, confirm!"

    "I don't know what to tell you, Robyn," Newt said, exasperated. "The skies are clear. We're alright. If it makes you feel any better, we can move up to the roof of a building and watch below, but I doubt it'll do any good."

    ~

    Back at base, Robyn sighed and put her face in her hands. "No," she said. "keep moving. Staying on a roof isn't gonna help you at all. I just don't understand, though. The system is still healthy, and the marks are showing up. I really think you're going to have a messy situation. Let me check the ACS one last time." Robyn reached under the table and opened a loose panel. It revealed a black box with lots of LED lights attached. All of them glowed green. She closed the panel and sighed again. "Newt, all the lights are green, I –"


    "THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!"


    Robyn blinked. "Ark Angel, say again!"

    "They were using cloaks! A ton of choppers just entered the area, hostiles dropping on rappels!" Newt was screaming. "We've got a bunch of heavy armour on our position! Tanks, mechs, everything! They're in full force!" Robyn could hear the chaos that was happening over the radio. Bullets were being shot everywhere, and explosions were happening every few seconds.

    "Get everyone to cover! I'll find the nearest available force to assist! Kill as many as you can!"

    Robyn turned to a new computer screen and established a connection with a random source. "Hello? Can anyone hear me?" A few seconds of silence passed, and Robyn almost gave up. But the room's silence was interrupted by a scratchy British accent. Female.

    "I read you. This is the acting commander of Valkyrie 72, from the Hellbringer Agency. I hear your team could use some help."

    "What's your name?" Robyn asked.

    "Aurora."

    ~

    "Into the building! Let's go!" Newt waved all of his team into the back door of the jewellery store. Everyone ran inside, weapons engaged, ready to fire at any surprises. Mel ran inside last and closed the door behind her.

    "Where are we going to go?" Mel asked. "We can't go to the roof, those helicopters will shred us."

    Newt swore under his breath. "We have to keep moving," he said quietly. "staying in one place is only gonna get us killed faster."

    "Hostiles in the windows!" a female voice shouted. Newt turned to see Kapaia and Mini throwing frag grenades out of the window, hoping to damage one of the enemies. There were shouts as the men tried to dodge the grenades, but some were not fast enough. Kapaia occasionally used her flintlock to shoot anyone that got too close. "They're overwhelming us! We need to move!" Kapaia yelled.

    Newt looked outside, trying to find something, anything they could use as cover. The only thing he could recognise as viable was a large statue of a man in royal robes. "We need to move to the statue on the other side of the street!" he shouted. "Use your smokescreens if you have them!"

    Newt didn't have time to turn around as he was suddenly tackled to the floor and his head was smashed against the floor. Red filled his vision. He could only faintly see the man who had tackled him, wearing a balaclava and unsheathing a knife. Newt reacted as fast as his arms would go, his right hand grabbing the man's fist and his left gripping his neck. Newt mustered all the strength he could gather just to keep the knife away from him, but he was getting weaker, and his arms were getting tired. Suddenly the weight was lifted off his arms, as the man stopped struggling and he dropped his knife. It clattered harmlessly next to Newt. Both of the man's hands went to his neck, as Mini quickly armed a knife and shoved it into the soft spot. His eyes went red with blood, and he fell to the side. Newt went to thank Mini, but she shut him up quickly. "The smokescreens are up, we're moving up to the statue! Come on, get up!" He grunted and got up shakily. Mini forced something into his hand. Newt looked down and identified it as a Sirach-68 handgun. "Come on! The others are already moving up!" Newt's vision was still blurry from his head impact, and he stumbled a few times while exiting the store. Mini had to pick him up a few times and support his weight. She started shouting into her radio. "Robyn, what's the status of our support?"

    "They're coming, but they've met with heavy resistance! Hang in there a little longer!"

    "The tank's spotted us!" Mel shouted. "Get behind something solid!" Newt had regained his focus and was able to fight again. He equipped the Sirach that Mini had given him and shot at the enemy. However, he constantly had to duck under the statue to avoid being torn apart by the tank.

    "Guys!" Sakura called from behind. "Take these!" She was handing out Riot Shields to everyone, including Newt who grabbed the last one.

    "Do we have any more smokes?" Newt asked.

    "Just two," Mini held up two dark green grenades. "we used most of them trying to get here."

    "That's all we need. You and Kapaia need to use the cover of the smoke and get some explosives on that tank. Kiro, cover them!" The three ran out into the street, all of them using their Riot Shields. Mini threw her smoke grenades, and the tank was surrounded by a grey cloud.

    "Get the C4 planted!" Kiro shouted. "I'll cover you with my shield!" Kiro set himself directly behind the two, holding his Riot shield out in front of him and occasionally tossing shurikens at the enemy.

    "It's done!" Kapaia said. "Get out of the blast zone!" Bullets pinged off Kiro's shield as the three made their way back to the safety of the statue. "Mini, blow the charge!"

    Two seconds later, the tank caught fire and exploded, the blast wave almost knocking Mini back.

    "I'm out of ammo!" Ethan yelled.

    Kiro reached into his belt for a shuriken but came up empty-handed. "I don't have any stars left!"

    Everyone else kept firing until a few seconds later, all of their weapons clicked. "We don't have any ammo!" Fletch screamed. "We're screwed, man! I'm telling you!"

    "Shut up and keep your head down!" Newt scolded.

    "There's more tanks coming up the road!" Mel warned.

    "We're out of explosives! This is hopeless!" Kapaia shouted. "We've lost!"

    Suddenly, everyone's earpiece cracked. Robyn's voice came on. "There's a fire mission on your street! Get to cover and hit the ground!" Everyone dropped onto their chests immediately. High-pitched whistles filled the air as sudden missiles shot out of the sky and slammed into the tanks. They instantly blew up in flames. The entire opposition was shouting in confusion as more missiles rained down on them. All of the enemy helicopters in the area were either shot down or simply retreated. Newt dared to look up to the sky, and saw a large carrier stride over their heads, armed with intelligent missile and grenade launchers.

    "Who is that?" Mel shouted.

    "That's our support!" Newt yelled back.

    The carrier hovered over the junction as ropes were thrown down and black-clad figures slid down. One walked up to Newt and spoke. She had a sniper rifle slung across her back, and she wore a mask, much like Kiro's. Her lightning blue eyes seemed to stare him down. "You're Isaac Newton, right?" She held her hand out. "I'm from Hellbringer, Valkyrie 72."

    "Yeah." Newt shook her hand. "Most people call me Newt though. Thanks for the assist."

    The girl pulled her mask down, and Mel gasped.

    "Aurora?!"

    The girl's eyes widened at the sight of Mel. "Mel? What are you doing here?"

    "Okay, uh, can we have this weird little reunion after we get home? I feel like dozens of dead bodies and burned vehicles kinda kill the mood." Fletch said. "Also, I'm hungry."

    The girl called Aurora nodded. "Very well," she said. "Get in the chopper. We're going to our own home base." She punched Mel lightly on the shoulder. "Guess we've got a lot to talk about, eh?"
    Five Years Earlier

    Mel stepped out of the car. Her green hair flew in the wind and her black shirt clung to her skin. The sky was a depressing grey and was full of clouds. It was quite cold, and Mel shivered a little bit. The car had stopped in front of a checkpoint, where a single man dressed in full black sat in a small booth, reading a newspaper. Mel's driver, she called herself Chloe, walked to the booth and whispered to the man. He nodded once and reached to his left and pulled a switch. The bar lifted and the man waved them through.

    Mel looked at her surroundings. The entire place was flat ground, except for three large buildings which looked like hangars, and a few smaller buildings at the end of the plot. Three jeeps were parked diagonally, one of them had two occupants. They were laughing and sharing a drink of Cola. There was a small shooting range, where a single woman was using a sniper rifle to aim downrange. From what Mel could see, she was hitting every shot. Her blonde hair was incredibly long.

    "Through here," Chloe said. Mel followed her direction into the leftmost hangar building. "Welcome to the Ruby Angels, Mel. We're glad to have you on board." Chloe walked up to a keypad and punched in a few numbers, and the hangar door opened slowly. "I'll run you through basic weapon training, and then I'll take you to the next building."

    They both walked inside. Inside was a shooting range much like the one Mel had just seen outside. Opposite the range was a table, stacked with guns. "Grab one of the pistols on the desk." Mel picked up the smallest pistol, a Seric-Z7. Chloe tossed a clip in her direction, which Mel almost dropped. "Literally just slot it into the space inside the handle." Mel did so, and the gun clicked loudly. "Aiming is relatively easy," Chloe explained, "just line up the top of the gun with the target. Oh, and don't hold the gun too close to your eye. The recoil will force the gun into your face, as I learned the hard way." She chuckled lightly. "You also don't want to hold it at arm's length, because the force could potentially bend your arm the other way, and I don't have to tell you it's not a nice thing to live with. Try to find the middle way, see what's comfortable for you."

    Mel experimented with her arm length and decided that she found it best to stretch her right arm as far as she could and place her left hand under the gun, to support the right arm. Eventually, she felt confident enough to aim her gun at the target Chloe had pulled up. She closed her left eye and made sure the top of her gun was in line with the target. She pulled the trigger. Instantly Mel understood why Chloe hadn't wanted her to hold the gun to her face. If she had, she'd probably be in the hospital ward with a broken nose. She stumbled backwards as the muzzle of the gun flashed and her hand vibrated. She regained her balance and checked where her bullet had hit.

    Chloe whistled. "Bullseye. Nice job." The bullet had hit the head of the target square in the centre. "Now, if you prefer, you can attach a red dot to the gun." She tossed the scope to her again, and Mel caught it. "Literally just slip it onto the top. Aiming is more or less the same, except this time you'll want to align the red dot to the target." Mel did so. Her arms took the same position, she closed her left eye and fired. Another perfect shot. "Red dots are usually more effective when you're running and firing at the same time, but when you're standing still you may prefer not to use one. Of course, that's all down to preference. Reloading a Seric is incredibly easy too. Just squeeze the plate on the top of the handle." Mel squeezed, and the empty magazine dropped like a stone. "Nice. Assault rifles work more or less the same way. To reload, you have to actually pull the magazine out and put it in a new one. We're not going to go through rifles since they're both used the same way."

    A phone rang. Chloe patted herself down, looking for her phone. She finally found it and answered. "Hello?" A pause. "Now? Okay then, we're coming." She put the phone back in her pocket and nodded at Mel. "The captain wants to see you. She's in the next building."

    Chloe beckoned Mel towards the side door. The two walked up to another large door, and Chloe keyed in her ID. "I'll warn you right now," Chloe leaned over and whispered. "the captain's a bit of work."

    The door opened and daylight flooded into the room. Three people inside turned around to face them. Two had their entire faces covered with balaclavas and goggles. "This is Melody Harper, Molly," Chloe told the one in the middle. Molly wore a normal army jacket and black jeans. Her Nike trainers were worn and battered, and her brown hair was only shoulder length.

    She merely nodded. "Harper, it's your turn to run the sweep out test." She waved behind her at the back door. "It's just outside. Aurora's going to track your progress while I stand by and watch. Go through that door." Mel stepped outside.

    This place seemed poorly maintained compared to the grounds themselves. There were lots of cut holes in the wire fences and the grass was patchy. She assumed it was like that on purpose. She turned left and saw someone standing over the weapons table. Mel looked at her hair and realised this was the same girl that had been sniping downrange a few minutes ago. The girl looked up and smiled at Mel. "Hey," she shook her hand. "you're Melody, right? My name's Aurora. I'll be helping you run the course. Grab whatever weapon you like." Mel looked over the weapons assortment and noticed they were the same weapons as in the first building. She skimmed over the sidearms until she found the Seric-Z7, and loaded the gun.

    "Just a handgun?" Aurora smirked. "In that case, let me show you something. I'm not supposed to help the course runners, but you can hold a knife below your gun using your left hand, pointing the same direction as your gun. You can still support the firing arm with your left forearm, so if someone jumps in front of you, you can do a quick jab and keep going." Mel took a single army knife from the table and copied Aurora's position. "That's it. I gotta head up to the observatory. Good luck." She winked.

    "Agent 52247, Melody Harper." Molly's booming voice came on the loudspeakers dotted around on the wire fence. "Your task is to eliminate as many enemy targets as you can. These will be cardboard popups with a masked man aiming a gun at you. There will also be civilians in play. If you shoot a civilian, points will be deducted. You have 60 seconds. Aurora currently holds the record at 22 seconds. Run through the gate when you're ready.The timer will start then." Mel checked her ammo one last time and made sure she had enough magazines to sustain her throughout the course. She assumed the position that Aurora had shown her, her knife hand crossing under her gun hand. She took a deep breath and charged through the gate into the ditch.

    "Go!"

    Three targets immediately popped up behind small rocks, all of them holding guns. Mel quickly shot down all three of them and sprinted to the building. "In the windows! Watch for civilians!" A target appeared in each window, four in total. A civilian target stood in the doorway, wearing a striped shirt and a scared expression drawn. Mel shot all the enemy targets quickly, and the civilian flipped back onto the floor. "Through the building and into the office! Go!"he ran inside and up the stairs. She was about to charge through the office door Swhen a single target popped out of nowhere into Mel's face. "Melee with your knife!"

    Mel remembered Aurora's advice. Do a quick jab, she said. Mel lifted her gun arm and stabbed her left arm forward into the target where the chest would be. "The office is the last station! Kick the door down and eliminate all hostiles!" Mel reloaded her gun and shoved her foot into the door handle as hard as she could. There were four targets in the room, all of them hostile, but there was also a real person with their feet on the desk and leaning back on the chair. Mel took care not to shoot them as she shot the rest of the targets. They all went down.

    The person took their feet off the desk and stood up. Upon closer inspection, Mel realised it was actually Chloe. "Thanks for not blasting my head off," she laughed. "Molly, what's her time?"

    "25 seconds." She said shortly on the loudspeaker.

    Chloe whistled. "That's cutting it close to the record, there. Great job. We run this course at the end of every month. We did this now so we can compare future results with today's. Aurora will take you back to your dormitory room now, where you'll be sleeping."

    ~

    "Good job on the sweep-out course," Aurora admitted. "not many make it under 45 seconds. You hit almost every target on the first shot, how did you do that?"

    "I played a lot of video games when I was younger," Mel shrugged. "but I've kinda grown out of them now."

    Aurora chuckled. "If you beat my record, I'll give you ten pounds. Better start practising." They walked up to a small building with only a few windows. Aurora put all of her fingers and thumb on a small screen next to the door. After a few seconds, the door handle clicked, and she went inside with Mel following behind. "Hey, Ellie! Meet the new girl!" she said as they walked in the dorm.

    Mel noticed that the room was pretty small. It had just enough space to fit the three bunk beds that were already inside. Two were on either side of Mel as she walked in, and the other was against the opposite wall. It was the third bunk bed that Ellie was sitting on, she was on her phone and scrolling through Instagram. She wore a half sleeve black T-shirt and army jeans. She had bright turquoise hair, which was as long as Aurora's. She looked up when she heard Aurora and smiled as she saw Mel. She got up and shook her hand. "Hey, my name's Ellie. It's great to meet you. Obviously, you've already met Aurora."

    "I love your hair!" Mel exclaimed.

    "Thanks, I really like it too." She giggled. "Yeah, you can tell the room's pretty minimal. The Angels prefer spending their budget on hardware and weaponry." She gestured towards the doors on both sides of Ellie's bunk. "Bathroom, laundry room. Pretty simple." She checked her watch. "Ah… dinner's in ten. You can sleep on this bunk here." She knocked on the bed on Mel's right. "Meet us at the canteen for dinner, yeah? It's the last hangar building, probably the one you haven't been to. Unpack your stuff and I'll show you around the place properly after dinner. Sound good?"

    "Yeah."

    "Lovely, I'll see you there!" Both Ellie and Aurora walked out of the room, leaving Mel to unpack and settle down. They're incredibly nice, she thought to herself. She was glad she made the choice to join the Ruby Angels.
    "Where have you been all this time?" Mel asked.

    The carrier touched down in the largest hangar Mel had ever seen. It could probably fit around 20 of these carriers and have room to spare. There were fighter jets and tanks dotted around the place, technicians and engineers working. Aurora jumped out, with Mel following.

    "After the Angels split up, I went underground. I actually found a job in British Intelligence as a hacker and sniper. I got some serious pay from that."

    "Really? Why'd you leave?"

    "I wasn't wild about ‘serving Queen and Country,' so I left and did my own thing. For a few years, I just became a crime fighter. Taking out the odd mugger and the odd robber, stuff like that. Then Michael Kratos showed up, and I couldn't just stand around while this guy was destroying society. I took the money I made from Intelligence and made…" she clicked her tongue and waved her arms around the hangar. "…this. I've established an agency to find Michael Kratos and bring him in. We've been around for a few months, but we haven't got anything solid yet. I'm hoping you've got something that could help."

    Newt coughed. "Well, we do, actually. Kratos' number two spilt information about a confidential meeting with the world leaders, and Elias Gosfield, the President of the United Nations will be there."

    "Isn't that the guy with the massive missile?"

    "Yep. If Kratos gets his way, all of the world leaders will be bleeding corpses, and Gosfield will eventually spill the launch codes."

    "What would he want with a nuclear rocket, though?"

    "Beats me. Maybe as leverage, or blackmail. We don't know yet. But we do know that Kratos will be there personally to see things off, which means we could get a chance to put a round or two in him."

    "Right…" Aurora nodded. "This is good. We're finally making progress. Through here." She opened a door which led into a large office. Computers were dotted all around the room, most of them switched off except for one in the corner. A girl was sending emails and browsing the Internet, she didn't notice everyone come in.

    Aurora spoke up. "Ellie, you're not gonna believe who I found." The girl spun around in her chair and looked at Mel with wide eyes.

    "Harper?" Immediately she got up and ran over to her, and hugged Mel as tightly as she could. "It's so good to see you!" She released Mel and looked at everyone else. "And who may these be?"

    "This is Ark Angel, another task force built to take down Michael Kratos."

    "I see." Ellie nodded. "What do you guys need?"

    "First off, we need a technician for this guy." Aurora jabbed a thumb at Kiro's ripped arm.

    "Oh, that's easy. Just head down the stairs on the right when you leave the room and you'll see a sign saying Technician's Office. He should be able to help you." Kiro nodded and left the room.

    "We also need to organize a new op," Aurora said. "Ark Angel has kindly provided intel about a secret meeting with major politicians around the world, including Elias Gosfield. Gosfield knows the launch sequence for a nuclear weapon, and Kratos wants it for whatever reason."

    "So what's the op?"

    "We know that Kratos himself will be there. We're going to grab our best snipers and plant them around the place. One of us also needs to be there at the meeting as a security guard, in case Kratos decides to be more physical. We could possibly get the French GIGN on the op too, but that seems pretty unlikely, so, for now, it'll be Ark Angel and Hellbringer. The meeting is at 2 in the afternoon, French time. We can also have some of us at the Eiffel Tower, just in case Kratos tries to make an escape there."

    "What about Robyn Winchester?" Newt piped up. "She's still back at Ark Angel."

    "No worries. One of our helicopters is already on the way to pick her up. She should be here in a few hours." Aurora's earpiece crackled. She stopped talking and listened to the male voice. Newt couldn't tell what he was saying, but it must've been a problem because Aurora suddenly scowled and disconnected the radio.

    "This is going to have to wait," she said. "Kratos is invading the local Japanese village!"

    ~

    "There's a village just south of here." A man paced around the room. He called himself Markus, but Newt doubted that was his real name. He didn't look like a Markus to him. He wore a standard military uniform and had a shaved head. "Around 100 kilometres. The enemy is using Javelin missiles and fighter jets to terrorize the village."

    "Is this village in Nagasaki?" Kiro cut in.

    "Yes." Markus said shortly. "Why?"

    "That is where I am from." "I see." Markus nodded. "We have to disable the missile launchers and the jets. We've also had word that they've taken hostages, so we need to rescue them. Hopefully, we'll be able to move on to Paris straight after that."

    Aurora spoke up. "The village is in a valley. We'll set up snipers around the place to provide overwatch while everyone else assaults the village and rescues the hostages. And we're gonna leave behind a hell of devastation."

    "Is the old castle still there?" Kiro interrupted again.

    "The ruins are. I'm told it's still breaking down, so we're not permitted to go there. So put simply, we have overwatch snipers and ground assault teams rescuing the villagers and kicking butts. Any of you know how to fly a helicopter?" Markus asked.

    "I do." Blythe raised her hand. "The name's Blythe, sir."

    "You're getting the team in and out of there, as well as commencing gun runs and fire missions. The demo team will plant explosives on machine guns and any armor and blow it sky high. If you move quickly, you can get straight to Paris with time to spare. You'll insert at the local farm and get extracted at the fuel station on the higher road." He coughed. "Everybody know where they're going? Everybody know what's going on?" He was answered with "Yes sir" and rogers all around. "Then move out. Commandeer the carrier in Bay 74, Blythe."

    ~

    "You're already here, Robyn?" Newt climbed into the helicopter and sat next to her. "Don't worry, I've already been briefed." Robyn's legs looked like they were in perfect condition, no bruises or scars. You never would've guessed that she'd been crushed by a fifty-ton helicopter. She kept her sniper rifle on her lap. "And I'm ready to do some damage."

    "That's good," Newt said as everyone else got in and took their seats, including Aurora.

    "Markus and Ellie are going to be our observation and communications." She said while taking out an earpiece from her pocket and handing it to Newt. "You'll need this." He nodded and attached it to his ear.

    "Here's the team plan," she announced to everyone on the carrier. "Robyn Winchester, Ethan Jyung and I are going to provide overwatch. Minchi Juko and Kapaia Lloyd are going to destroy the enemy weaponry. Everyone else is on ground assault."

    "Rules of engagement?" Newt asked Aurora.

    "Weapons free."
    "What kind of opposition's waiting for us?" Newt asked Aurora.

    "Anti-aircraft gunnery, that's why we're using the Cloak. The enemy is using Javelin missile launchers to terrorize the village, and of course, foot soldiers. Mission is to destroy all the enemy weaponry and save hostages." The helicopter touched down in the large, empty field. The closest building was the small barn, evidently unoccupied by the charred roof and broken windows.

    Everyone got out, and Blythe took to the skies again. "We'll need you to hang around, Blythe," Newt said. "Chances are we'll need fire support."

    "Roger that. I'll be hovering over the general airspace."

    The team ran out of the field and up the side of the mountain, with Aurora and Newt leading. They came to the edge of the path, where they could see the entire village. It wasn't pretty. Most of the buildings had caught flame, some had already been burnt to the ground. In the centre of the village were two large machine guns pointed towards the sky, Newt assumed they were anti-aircraft guns. There were also a few large tanks in the middle, they were launching rockets into the sky, which hit nearby buildings and burnt them to a crisp. The entire village was practically glowing.

    "This is something." Aurora suddenly spoke. "We gotta stop this as soon as we can."

    "Right," Newt nodded. "Sniper Team, set up on the ledge over there," he pointed to the left path, "and provide overwatch. Everyone else, on me. Let's get it done." Aurora, Ethan and Robyn equipped their sniper rifles and ran up the path. Newt beckoned the remainder of the team towards him and ran down into the valley, with everyone in pursuit. The entrance to the village was a mere stone wall with a small gate. Everyone crouched behind the wall and readied their weapons. "Aurora, are we clear to engage?"

    "Roger that. All units, commence the attack."

    There were a group of enemy soldiers walking casually by the gate as if the chaos currently happening didn't appear to them. Newt counted around seven of them. "Mini, toss a nine-banger. Kapaia and Mel, get your guns ready." Mini took a grenade from her belt and pulled the pin. She lobbed it in the group's direction, and they all looked down at the grenade in confusion as it pinged across the ground. However, that soon changed when they started shouting in pain and panic as the small grenade exploded into sparks and dispersed the group, nine explosions in all. "Weapons free!" Newt shouted as he got up and leapt over the wall. Mel and Kapaia were already on their feet, blasting at the enemy stragglers with their handguns. In a matter of seconds, they were all dead.

    "Assault Team, push up to the village centre!" Aurora spoke into the radio. "You've got a bit of opposition, twenty plus foot-mobiles and technicals." Newt heard a sniper shot from her microphone as she spoke.

    "By, we're moving up to the middle! Soften them up!"

    "Roger that, engaging gun run, danger close," Blythe called over the radio. Newt looked up and saw their helicopter fly over. He heard a low hum as it flew over him, and he knew that was the sound of its weapon system warming up.

    "Let's go!" Newt shouted as he picked up an assault rifle from one of the dead soldiers and ran into the village square. The air was filled with the constant drumming of Blythe's miniguns and missile launchers. Newt saw that most of the opposition were hiding in windows or behind burning cars. Most of them were firing on Blythe, but their bullets did not affect the heavy-duty chassis. He immediately opened fire on the soldiers behind the cars, who couldn't do anything but crumple to the ground. By this time everyone else had caught up with Newt and started killing their own share of enemies. Mini threw grenades at the mobile gunners until their vehicles exploded with large bangs, but these were hardly audible over the sheer mess of guns being fired.

    One brave soldier tried to get up close to Newt, but his bravery was in vain as Newt quickly unsheathed a knife and slit his throat. He fell to the ground, clasping his bleeding neck and choking. It was as Newt finished his kill that his natural sense compelled him to look at the building furthest from him on the other side of the square. He looked up to the highest window and saw a single person aiming an assault rifle up at Blythe's helicopter. No... not an assault rifle. It was something else.

    Crap.

    "Blythe!" he yelled. "Get out of here!"

    Too late.

    A single rocket launched from the soldier's weapon, which Newt now identified as a Stinger missile launcher. He knew hoping that the rocket would miss was hopeless. Stingers were built to seek their targets, and the helicopter was much too large.

    A large orange cloud erupted from the side of the helicopter where the rocket had hit. Newt heard Blythe grunt from the impact and saw the helicopter spinning around in circles chaotically. "Don't worry, I can get back up! I still have pressure in the pedals!" Blythe shouted. "Come on, you son of a gun! Keep their fire off me!"

    "Aurora! Stinger missiles in the southmost window at my 12 o'clock!"

    "I got him." She replied. Instantly the figure at the window went down with a splatter of blood. "Get Demo Team to take out the heavy weapons, or Blythe isn't going to get out of there alive."

    "Mini, Kapaia, get C4 on those artillery! Go!" The weapons were still launching rockets into the sky, and their gunners didn't seem to notice two quick people darting to each launcher and arming C4 on each underbelly. Just as quickly as they had arrived, Kapaia and Mini sprinted as fast as they could back to the safety of their squad. "Blow the charges," Newt said. Both women held their detonators and pressed their charges. Instantly all of the artillery blew apart, their chassis parts flying everywhere. The gunners hadn't even known that they were about to die. Mini felt a momentary pang of guilt, but soon picked herself back up when she realised that those men were killing innocent civilians. They probably deserved to die in such a way.

    "Thanks for the assist, guys." Blythe exhaled heavily as she managed to bring the helicopter back to the air. "Torque feels okay. Tail rotor effective, and hydraulics seem to be holding. Fuel at eighty percent."

    "English, Blythe."

    "I'm good to go, thanks."

    "Good job, Demo Team." Aurora's voice returned. "We've got new orders from the top. Markus reckons the enemy have hostages in the house furthest to the north, right at the edge of the village. Bedroom on the first floor. Get the Assault Team to storm the house and free the hostages. We'll be providing overwatch. Get moving."

    "Copy all. Let's go! House at the north end of the village!" Newt shouted to his team. "Mel, take point!" Mel ran into a smaller road while drawing her pistol, with Kiro and everyone else falling behind. She checked all of her corners carefully, making sure there wasn't a straggler or stray sniper.

    Suddenly Mel was conscious of how strangely quiet everything was. The surrounding gunfire had ceased, and the explosions had stopped. It made Mel a little uneasy. She abruptly thought of a song that she used to sing when she was really young. She wasn't sure why she thought of it just now, but she couldn't help but admit to herself that it made her feel a little bit braver.

    Behind Mel, Kiro was watching her back. He kept both hands on both of his swords, ready to quickly cut down anyone who tried to attack her. His bionic left eye was blinded from the fire in his thermal vision, and he could hear the flames roaring in his ears. It weirdly reminded him of how a waterfall sounds. For some reason, it relaxed him. Kiro liked Mel. He wasn't sure why. He admired her ability in combat, sure, but what was she to him, outside of the war zone? Kiro didn't like to think much about romance or anything like that, he thought that sort of thing was not important. However, he had to admit that something made Mel stand out from the rest of his squadmates. Maybe it was her bright green hair, he didn't know. He doubted Mel was interested anyway. And even if she was, he would want to spare Mel the publicity of liking a bionic super-soldier. He knew one thing though; he could not stand anything bad happening to her.

    Suddenly all of his senses focused on Mel. The air next to her shimmered slightly. She hadn't noticed. Kiro did.

    Alarms wailed in his mind. He lunged forward just as a man dressed in standard military uniform materialized out of nowhere, his cloaking device disabled. Kiro tackled him to the dusty ground before the soldier had a chance to unsheathe an army knife. Both warriors rolled onto the ground. Kiro was flat on the floor, with the soldier on top. He equipped his army knife, ready to impale it in Kiro's glowing core. Kiro moved his arms so that they crossed each other in an X-shape, just as the man thrust down with his knife. The blade tip never reached its target as Kiro's X blocked the strike. He immediately reached with his mechanical left hand and gripped the man's knife arm firmly. His arm shot downwards, and the man yelled in pain as the tissue in his shoulder tore. He dropped his knife and it fell to Kiro's side. Why wasn't anyone doing anything? He realised. He was about to be skewered!

    He finally found the chance to unsheathe his own wakizashi from his waist and cut across his assailant's neck. He did not attempt to cover his neck nor retaliate, he awkwardly stumbled on Kiro's right. He was dead before he hit the ground, his blood forming a dark red puddle around his corpse.

    Kiro stood straight and dusted his clothes off, while almost maliciously glaring at the rest of his team. Mel was the first to speak. "You…" she almost stammered, her eyes wide, "you saved my life."

    "Don't dwell on it. We still have civilians to rescue."

    ~

    The house was pretty big. It had two floors plus an attic and made from clean oak wood. Whoever owned this house must've had a lot of money to burn. "Stay frosty. There may be stragglers hiding in the house. Check your corners and keep your weapons tight. Sniper Team will cover the outside." Aurora said.

    "Copy all. Blythe, get to the extraction point. We'll meet you there along with the hostages." Blythe roger'd and the helicopter took off into the sky. Newt quickly formulated a plan in his head. "Two assault teams. Kiro, take Kapaia and Mel and cut the power. Enter through the back door afterwards. Fletch, Mini on me. Sakura, hold position out here until we get everyone out." His orders were understood and responded to by everyone. "My team, stack up on the door. Kiro, go around. We'll breach as soon as you cut the power." Kiro nodded and beckoned his own squad to move around the back of the house. Newt's team equipped their guns and lay flat against the wall against the door.

    They stayed in this position for a few seconds until Kiro's voice came over the intercom. "I've cut the power. Go." Newt noticed all of the lights in the house dying. He reached for the door handle, knife in his other hand. He turned the handle and pushed the door softly. It swung open without a sound.

    "Fletch, activate our NV modules," Newt whispered as he crept into the living room.

    "Night vision online now." He replied softly. Instantly Newt's world changed. The house was still dark, but the floor and walls were split into large squares which occasionally pulsed green. He looked forward and saw a single figure illuminated in green. He was aiming his rifle directly at Newt, but he didn't fire, because he couldn't actually see him. Newt wasn't going to wait for the man to sense his presence. He lunged forwards. He covered the man's mouth with his left hand and spun a knife in his right, which he shoved into his chest. The man groaned, but the sound was muffled greatly. It took Newt two stabs in the chest for the man to finally stop tensing, and he caught the dead corpse just before it could hit the floor.

    "Up the stairs. Move." Newt hissed. They crawled up the staircase as quietly as they could, the occasional creak breaking the eerie silence. When Newt broke into the first floor, he looked up and saw another green figure looking directly at him. He panicked and made to stab his leg, but the figure caught his arm.

    "Check your target, it's just me." Kiro chided. Newt dropped his arm in embarrassment and mumbled an apology. He knew Kiro wouldn't care if he heard it or not. "Five rooms up here, as well as the attic. That makes six rooms and six of us. One person to breach each room. Choose whatever room you want. If there are enemies, we'll be going loud. Weapons tight, the last thing we need is to accidentally kill a hostage."

    Mini volunteered to take the attic. It was hidden by a trap door on the ceiling, so she had to find a ladder that would take her up. She lifted the trapdoor ever so slightly while dislodging a flashbang from her belt. She tossed the grenade into the room and instantly slammed the trapdoor shut as everyone downstairs kicked their doors open. A small explosion was heard in the attic, which was Mini's signal to move in. She flipped the trapdoor open and ran at the two men who were shouting in panic. In a few seconds, both of them were on the floor, blood oozing from their necks. She turned her attention to her left. A little girl was tied up and gagged on a small chair, Mini estimated she was around five years old. She immediately went to work untying her, wondering if she was traumatized by the way she'd murdered her captors. The girl tried to stand but instantly collapsed. Her face was stained with tears.

    Mini held her face in her hands and spoke to her in Japanese. "Do you understand what I am saying?" The girl whimpered but nodded. "Go downstairs and look for the blonde man. He will help you." She held the girl's hand as she climbed down the ladder and met with the rest of her team. There only seemed to be one hostage, which Mini assumed was the girl's mother. The girl immediately broke from Mini's grip and ran to her and hugged her tightly. The woman looked up to Mini and whispered "Arigatō."

    "No problem."
    She replied.

    Newt's earpiece cracked. "Guys, we have a problem," Aurora said. "Japanese reinforcements are en route to your position. Get to the LZ immediately, Sniper Team is already on their way." Almost right on cue, the windows behind them shattered loudly and the familiar noise of gunfire had returned. The little girl started wailing.

    "Everyone to the extraction point, double time! We'll cut through the castle ruins!" Newt shouted.

    "But Markus said they were unstable! We could die in there!" Mel argued.

    "I know we're definitely going to die if we run out into the open, we don't have any other choice!" He thundered down the steps, and the rest of the team reluctantly followed. They burst through the back door into a small garden. Newt scaled the fence and kept running towards the ruins.

    Very soon all of the team were inside the ruins. "Stop running," Newt panted, "they won't dare to look in here." The little girl, whose name Mini had learnt was Asuka, had stopped wailing. However, she was still sobbing quietly into her mother's clothes. "We'll move quickly to the other end of the ruins, where Blythe's waiting with our ride out of here. Whatever you do, don't stop running."

    "Newt, this is Aurora. Sniper Team are on the helicopter, where the hell are you?"

    "We're on our way! We're passing through the ruins as a shortcut! Out!" Newt almost growled quietly in his throat. "Move! Now!" Everyone sprinted out from their hiding place across the courtyard of the broken castle. They didn't make an effort to check their corners or watch their backs. All they wanted was to get out of here.

    All except for Kiro, who'd taken the back of the line. As he was running, he saw a flash of white disappear into one of the broken buildings. This sparked Kiro's interest. The soldiers they'd been fighting were wearing standard military clothing, so who was so important that they wore a white coat?

    Kiro stopped running.

    No one took notice of it. He turned direction and followed the white flash into the building. There was no light at all. His night vision mod didn't help at all, so he had to rely on his own natural sense. There was no sound, except for the occasional tapping of running footsteps.

    "Kiro Nakamura."

    He froze.

    "You made a mistake, following me in here." It was Michael Kratos. No doubt about it. Kiro drew both swords and prepared for a surprise attack.

    "Oh, you don't need that arm."

    What?

    Suddenly Kiro lost all feeling in his mechanical left arm. It dropped loosely to his side, and his sword clattered loudly on the ground. As much as he tried, he couldn't move his arm. Now he was left only with his right arm and his own wits. "Leave me alone, Kratos."

    "Leave you alone?" his voice echoed around the room. He almost sounded amused. "It was your choice to follow me here, and I'm not letting you leave." Kiro's night vision suddenly came back online, and he had to focus his mind to adapt to the new conditions. He looked on his left and was met with the green face of Michael Kratos, grinning in his face. He swung his sword into him, right at his neck. The blade passed all the way through, but he did not collapse. Instead, he just tilted his head to the side and dissolved. He looked behind him and saw Kratos again. He delivered a swift strike to the stomach. Same result. His night vision flickered, blinding Kiro between total darkness and green walls. He stumbled backwards, and suddenly started shrieking as he felt his entire body burn. He couldn't think straight or even react properly. Kiro screamed and collapsed as every bionic circuit in his body exploded.

    People usually looked up to Kiro as the man who could not be shaken, could not be broken. But he was only seventeen. He was still a child. Which meant he could always be scared. "What's happening to me?!" he shrieked.

    "Simple." Kratos' voice was much closer now. Kiro looked up and saw the man himself towering over him. The flaring pain had stopped, but his body still ached. He stood up very slowly while Kratos watched him without expression, his scar seeming to be brighter in darkness. It was only then that Kiro noticed what Kratos held in his hand, a black MR97 revolver. Loaded. "I'm disabling all of your systems. You'll never see the light of day again."

    "Monsutā." Kiro hissed. Monster. He took one weak but final swing at Kratos' face, and that was his mistake.

    Kratos caught his flying fist and slammed his revolver into Kiro's face. He felt his mask shatter and stumbled backwards. The part of his face he had been hiding for years, painted with scars and battle wounds, was now exposed. Kiro let that distract him, which gave Kratos the opportunity to shove him into a nearby wall face-first. Kiro went dizzy, and fell to the floor, dazed. His mechanical eye had stopped functioning, he only had vision in his right eye. He tasted blood in his mouth. Through his blurred, one-eyed vision, he saw his attacker standing over him once again, aiming his revolver directly at his core, blinking red. "I'll be sure to send them your regards," Kratos growled. Those were the last words Kiro ever heard, as a single bullet penetrated his armour and core, completely disrupting all of his vital systems. He had a few seconds to feel his entire body go into spasm, his limbs catching fire once more, his vision filling with red before he finally rested on the stone, cold ground.

    Kiro died.




    Kratos holstered his own revolver and whistled. Instantly two masked men appeared on his sides. One was holding a video camera. "Tear him apart," Kratos ordered. "I want to send a message to Ark Angel."

    Note to the reader: I do plan on killing more of the characters during the story.
    "Fellow citizens of the world. You do not need me to tell you who I am. But I will tell you this: you are afraid. You are afraid because you have been brought… into the light." The video on the screen was pitch black for a few seconds before the cameraman moved into the light. It pointed at Kratos' face, a scowl hardened with scorn, eyes full of injustice and murder. "The human race is evolving quickly. Your scientists tell you this is beneficial… but I tell you, this is what will kill us all. This is what I mean." Kratos stepped out of the camera's view, and what was now in view sent fear into the hearts of every person watching the livestream.

    It was Kiro, but… it wasn't Kiro. His full face was exposed, his mask now disposed of. His head and face were fine, but it was under the neck that shocked everyone. Wires and circuits were coming out from the inside of Kiro's limbs which had been detached from his torso. Strangely, there was no blood, just shining metal wires and connections covering Kiro's body. His vital core which once glowed an ambient red was now dim and shattered, a clean hole perfectly cut out in the centre. It looked like a robot had been ripped apart and its circuitry strewn everywhere.

    "Do you see this?" Kratos said. "This man – no, this boy – depended on technology to save his own life, and this is what he has come to. Technology is easily manipulated, easily used. Technology is the result of what happens when we, as humans, use our intelligence to make life easier for ourselves. But it has its drawbacks. Everything… has its drawbacks. Nothing is perfect, and nothing will ever be perfect. Like us, tech has its flaws and faults.

    "Technology is a cancer. I am here to liberate you from this cancer. But this can only be done if I have total control." He said the last few words with emphasis. "I demand access to all critical systems of all countries. Communications, industries, everything. I require the world leaders to hand over all of their power… to me.

    "And I leave off with this last message to Ark Angel, the anti-war group responsible for the delays in my conquest. You have twenty-four hours to surrender your cause, or else I assure you, every single one of you will meet the same fate as Kiro Nakamura."
    The video turned to black and ended. Every member of Ark Angel stared at the blank screen in total silence, the only present sounds being the howling wind outside and the occasional sob of Mini, her face in her hands. Blythe had a hand on her shoulder, doing her best to comfort her.

    Finally, Mel stood up. "We're not going to let him get away with this, are we?" she hissed.

    "No," Newt said quietly. "we're not."

    "So why the hell are we just sitting here when we could be out there, painting holes in that lunatic's skull?"

    "Because we have a different job to do. What matters now is the safety of Elias Gosfield, even if that man deserves a bullet or two himself."

    "He's right," Ethan spoke up. "I don't know about you guys, but I think the death of one over millions is worth it. There's no point mourning someone that's already gone. Right now we need to focus on the Paris mission." Everyone muttered agreement.

    "I'll go through the mission plan one last time," Aurora said. "Gosfield and the world leaders are meeting privately in the building north of the Eiffel Tower. Newt is going to infiltrate the building and keep an eye on the meeting. Ethan and Kapaia are going to set up a sniper in the building south of the Tower and wait for Kratos to show. Everyone else is going to hold position at the Tower."

    "Wait, why me?" Kapaia complained.

    "There's no one else to do the job. Mini's going to set up claymores in the park, so you'll just be making sure Ethan spots his target." Aurora said shortly.

    "We're going to insert quietly," Newt said. "we don't want Kratos nor Gosfield to know that we're there. I don't need to remind you how important this mission is. Either Kratos dies tomorrow, or we do. I think you know which option I prefer." Everyone nodded.

    "Michael Kratos showing his head in the middle of a killzone?" Robyn mused. "Sounds convenient, if you ask me."

    "Overconfidence makes you careless," Newt scolded, "and there's no room for error."

    "The city's locked down tight," Ethan said. "How are we getting in?"

    Newt almost chuckled. "You'll see."

    ~

    "Okay, when I asked how we're getting in, I didn't think this would be it." Ethan groaned in disgust as he waded through the sewage pipe. His clothes were very soggy and at one time he got the full experience of sewer water splashing into his face. He didn't think he'd ever be able to get the taste out of his mouth. "I would've preferred a more hygienic infil."

    "Shut up Ethan, I think you'd rather be swimming in wastewater than be shot full of holes. Let's just get this over with." Newt chided. The two, as well as Kapaia, moved slowly through the water, careful not to make a splash. The stink was horrible, and their clothes stuck to them. They eventually emerged from the sewage pipe into a stream leading to the docks. It was night, and the rain was coming down like hail. The noise filled their ears.

    "I'll be damned, what are these soldiers for?" Kapaia asked. On each platform stood an armed guard, dressed in full black which made him almost invisible in the pitch-black sky. She estimated there were at least twenty of them.

    "Probably the army. Looks like Gosfield got his security right." Ethan said.

    "Well, it won't make a difference if they're friendly or not. They'll fire on any unrecognized contacts. Stay in the water and move under the platforms." They started moving again, silently and slowly. The guards couldn't hear them over the deafening storm and were too busy looking out on the street. Their earpieces cracked. It was Aurora.

    "This is Aurora. We've convinced the French police to work with us on this op, but they're going to take a while to get here. Like, at least an hour."

    "Better get moving quickly, then," Newt said. The connection cut off. "Up here," Newt said. He climbed up onto the concrete floor, instantly hit with the freezing rain. He reached back to the water to help Ethan up, who helped Kapaia. "I bet you're glad you're out of the water, eh?" he nudged Ethan.

    "You worry about yourself, Newt." He retorted.

    "Fair enough. Stay low, we'll leg it to the building over there," he pointed, "try not to alert anyone."

    The Eiffel Tower stood directly in front of them. Despite what was happening, Newt had to admit that the sight was impressive. It might have been even better if there weren't armed men crawling around the place. "Go!" he hissed. The three ran as fast as they could around the park and stuck to the shadows where they couldn't be seen. None of the guards even glanced in their direction as they hid behind the building, waiting for the shouts alerting their presence to everyone else. They didn't come. "Doesn't look like anyone saw us. You two, get to the end of the road and on the top floor of the overwatch building. I'll be going to the target building. Don't get spotted." Newt ran into the nearest alleyway and disappeared.

    "Guess we're on our own, now." Kapaia sighed. "Come on, let's go. Don't want to keep him waiting." She tapped Ethan's shoulder and jogged along the road, with Ethan in pursuit. Still, none of the guards looked in their direction. Most of them were either staring up at the Eiffel Tower or just simply standing around, their weapons hanging loosely.

    Ethan escaped his near daydream as Kapaia suddenly stopped. "Get down, now!" she hissed, and both of them hit the floor. Ethan looked up and saw a thin red dot dancing on the ground near them. "Sniper on the top of the Tower." She said. "Take him out, or he'll alert the others." Ethan equipped his sniper rifle very slowly and pointed it at the top of the tower. He saw a single figure standing there, a laser sight issuing from their sniper. He lined up his crosshairs and pulled the trigger quickly. Perfect headshot.

    "Good shot. Keep moving." They got back on their feet and continued their journey. In the ten minutes they were jogging, they passed soldiers, spotlights, landmines, snipers. They even passed a tank at one point, heavily armoured and manning a machine gun.

    "That's some serious firepower," Ethan noted, "this meeting must be pretty important."

    "That's why we can't get spotted. You don't want to get shredded by that thing. Come on, we're almost there."

    Soon they were crouching behind a dumpster leaning against a metal fence. Kapaia looked through the gaps in the fence and immediately her heart sank slightly. It was a bloody convention out there. At least thirty armed soldiers were standing guard around the yard, and from what she could tell from the looks on their faces, they were way more experienced than the ones they'd passed. The place itself looked like a market square. Makeshift wooden booths were set up in the middle, their shelves lined with stuffed toys and food. There was no one tending these booths.

    "Damn me, it's not going to be easy taking on all of these guys at once." She hesitated. "Then again, neither is sneaking past them."

    Newt's voice cut through the night. "I'm in position, how are things?"

    "Not good," she replied, "there's a heck ton of military here, and there's no bloody way we're going through with a fight."

    "Okay... hold on." Newt exhaled. "I think I can see you. I've got a telescopic sight with me. I may be able to help you sneak past them."

    "It'll be close. The sun will come up any minute."

    ~

    Newt observed the courtyard below him. He was standing on the roof of an office building, on one knee and peering through his mini-telescope. He spotted Kapaia and Ethan crouching behind the green dumpster and counted each individual guard in his sight. 27 in all. This was not going to be easy.

    There were a few tall flowerbeds dotted around the square, growing orchids and daffodils. They could crawl behind them to stay out of sight. They could also duck behind the booths, but other than that, the market square did not offer a great deal of cover. Kapaia was right. It was going to be an incredibly close escape.

    "Okay, once that soldier directly in front of you moves position, leap over the fence and lie behind the flowerbed. I'll tell you when he moves." Newt sat there staring at the man standing in front of the fence. It didn't look like he was paying a lot of attention. His eyes frequently shot to look at different places and he didn't seem to know where to put his arms. He continued this odd behaviour for about ten seconds before a deep shout filled the air, and he walked away from the fence. "Move, now!" he ordered. Kapaia and Ethan climbed over the fence and lay flat on their bellies next to the flowerbed.

    "There's nobody in front of us," Ethan said, "should we make a run for it?"

    "No. Better not take the risk. Just keep crawling towards the road. I'll tell you if anyone comes." Thankfully, he didn't have to. The soldiers didn't change their positions, and after a minute or two, Kapaia and Ethan were safely out of the killzone.

    "Thanks, Newt. We owe you big time." Kapaia said.

    "No problem. Get to your sniper post, I'll get to my own position. Out."

    ~

    The connection cut out. "We're not far from the place. Just the top of this building here." Kapaia looked up at the seven-storey building that towered in front of her. It looked like a hotel, no doubt occupied. It wouldn't take an age to scale the wall at all, but there wouldn't be any need if nobody knew they were here.

    "Chance of hostiles?" Ethan asked.

    "Probably zero. I'd assume most of the residents are asleep, so we'll just move up the stairs. Stay quiet though, we don't need to wake anyone up."

    "I get you. I don't think anyone would take kindly to two armed killing machines." "You call yourself a killing machine?" Kapaia smirked.

    "Ninety-seven per cent shot accuracy, Kapaia. Try and keep up." Ethan smiled sweetly at Kapaia and entered the building. After rolling her eyes, she followed him up the stairs silently.

    Two minutes later they entered an old, dusty room on the highest floor of the hotel. A small, broken bed creaked on their left, and the walls were worn out and grey. "Newt, we're in position." Kapaia said.

    "Copy that. Just sit tight, we've got a few hours until the meeting."
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2018
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  2. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite+

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    Ahhhhh loving this so far! Your writing style is amazing!
     
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  3. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ultimate Partier Elite+

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    I love how you added the backstories with certain individuals ;), can't wait to see what happens to the characters!
     
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  4. Bori

    Bori Heroic Partier Elite

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    neato!
     
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  5. Technoscrub

    Technoscrub Hyper Partier Elite

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    Ayyy My Boi Adrian goin hammm
     
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  6. HelloColdWorld

    HelloColdWorld Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite

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    Looking forward to more!
     
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  7. Technoscrub

    Technoscrub Hyper Partier Elite

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    Ummm @Spirits you okay? You haven't done anything on the story for a while...
     
  8. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ultimate Partier Elite+

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    He was probably busy.
     
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  9. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    Chapter 2 out now!

    I'm pretty busy with school and other stuff so I may get chapters out pretty late. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten ;)
     
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  10. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite+

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    Aaaaaa loving it!
     
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  11. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ultimate Partier Elite+

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    That ending is killing me, I blame you Spirits.
     
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  12. Technoscrub

    Technoscrub Hyper Partier Elite

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    Chapter two ending. Spirits I am gonna stab you so hard

    Um... @Spirits did you die again?
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2018
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  13. christmochi

    christmochi Heroic Partier VIP+

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    Cant wait to see everyone appear! <3
     
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  14. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ultimate Partier Elite+

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    If there were a better line then this, SO HELP ME! Great chapter Spirits!

    Cries in gay - God I love my husband
     
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  15. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    so uh I forgot to bump the thread after posting but clearly someone else already did that rip

    anyway chapter 3 out now!

    (No I did not type chapter 4 the first time get off my back)
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2018
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  16. HelloColdWorld

    HelloColdWorld Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite

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    The story is so good! You’re an amazing action storyteller and I’m loving Robyn’s characterisation, brava!
     
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  17. Bori

    Bori Heroic Partier Elite

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    Finally got to read the story! It's amazing <3 can't wait to see Minchi aha-
     
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  18. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite+

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    Melody's characterisation is just as I imagined it when creating her character! Brilliant!

    Also the chapter out is 3, not 4
     
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  19. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    Chapter 4 weeee
     
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  20. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite+

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    Melody's attempt at Japanese made me laugh so much. Another great chapter
     
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