The Art of War

Chapter 12
==========

"Adventure is worthwhile."

-Aristotle.

December 8, 2010

It was after school and I was with Gina in her family's apartment indulging in being really girly for once. I sat on the floor of her small room against the bed while my bluenette friend concentrated on painting my toenails. I let my head hang back and closed my eyes, allowing myself the luxury of rest for a few minutes.

"So," began Gina after a few minutes of comfortable silence. The girl sounded very hesitant which was uncharacteristic of her. "I uh, I've been hearing things. Sounds like there's a real gang war going on out there."

That's what she was worried about asking? It wasn't exactly a secret. Well, maybe a lot of regular people didn't even realize what was going on. All the little skirmishes hadn't gotten a lot of media attention yet. Maybe that was because so far no innocent bystanders had gotten caught in the crossfire. Guess when it was only gangbangers hurting each other people didn't really care all that much.

I let out an exasperated sigh. "Gang war. Crud. Yeah. I guess you could call it that."

Gina shifted awkwardly. She must have sensed how much this was bothering me. "Do you… want to talk about it?" she offered tentatively, sounding just a bit uncomfortable.

To my surprise I found I kind of did. The last two weeks had been tiring and incredibly frustrating. Sure there were some things I really wouldn't be able to share with Gina… but at the same time I really, really needed someone to vent to a little bit.

"I'm irritated as fuck," I began as Gina continued to paint my toenails. "The Empire has been doing hit and run attacks into our territory. Six times in the last two weeks I've gotten a call in the middle of the night to go to one of our operations that was being hit by the Nazis. By the time I get there they are already gone or retreating. Ugh, fucking pussies."

Intellectually I knew it was a sound strategy. Somehow the Empire had gotten far better knowledge about where ABB operations were located than anyone had suspected. Hitting us and disrupting business, destroying drugs, terrorizing "costumers" and wrecking equipment… I wasn't an expert on how gangs worked but obviously being able to do that with minimal losses was putting the hurt on us.

Worse for me personally was the frustration of not being able to fight. In fact in the last two weeks of this "gang war" I hadn't gotten into even a single fight and it was starting to drive me crazy. It was a new feeling for me, wanting to get into a serious fight, and it was not a feeling that I felt particularly inclined to change. Their capes just didn't seem inclined to stand and fight. Swoop in, wreck some shit, hurt some ABB members, and then run away like frightened rabbits. Pussies.

The Empire having a vast numerical superiority in their capes was really hurting us badly. The bastards had even busted Stormtiger and Cricket out of prison the previous week further bolstering their numbers. A lot of their capes were pretty weak but their quantity was a definite strength of its own.

"What's Lung been doing about it?" Gina asked. Her lip curled slightly in distaste when she said his name. I tried not to let that bother me.

I shrugged. "About what you would expect. He waltzes into their territory and starts tearing stuff up in retaliation. Problem is he's doing a lot less damage to them than they are doing to us. Lung only knows where some of their operations are. Unless he starts burning down their whole territory I don't think the Empire is going to give him a straight up fight that plays to his strengths."

My casual mention of Lung "burning down their whole territory" made Gina visibly blanch. That puzzled me a bit until I remembered that she was just a regular person. For me a fire would be an inconvenience. For someone like Gina it could be deadly. I also knew that she really hated the ABB.

I frowned to myself and bit my lip as I looked at Gina. She did hate the ABB didn't she? And that brought up a question I was suddenly very interested in.

"Gina, don't take this the wrong way but… why are you my friend exactly?" I asked her softly.

Gina twitched a little but didn't look up from painting my nails. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean," I said with a roll of my eyes. Lowering my voice I continued. "I'm an ABB cape. Which makes me a gang member, technically. You hate the ABB. But you're also my friend. So what gives?"

My question seemed to make Gina profoundly uncomfortable. She stopped painting my nails and seem conflicted as to how to reply. After a few seconds she let out a breath and sat back on her hands looking at me square on. Her expression was serious but strangely vulnerable at the same time.

"You're right I hate the gang. I really really hate it. But it also scares the shit out of me," she said before taking a deep breath. "I know you. If I'm your friend then I know that me and my family will be protected. That's more than enough to offset you being part of the ABB."

My face fell at that. Was that the only reason Gina was my friend? At seeing my expression the girl almost rushed to continue.

"That's not the only reason though!" she added quickly, looking panicked like she knew she'd said something wrong. "You saved me from… from that place when you didn't even know me. That counts for a lot. For so much. And I'm sure you have your own reasons for being affiliated with that horrible gang but even if you're a criminal you're not a bad person. Exactly the opposite in fact. If you were a terrible person I wouldn't be your friend no matter how much it might protect us."

We locked gazes and I was moved by the sincere intensity in her eyes, willing me to believe her. I looked away first, suddenly feeling a little teary eyed. Wordlessly Gina got up and moved to sit next to me, wrapping her arm around me in a sideways hug. I let my head fall to rest against hers and closed my eyes. We stayed like that for a few minutes, each of us feeling emotional for different reasons.

Eventually though Gina broke our embrace, sniffing a little. "Well, uh… I'm pretty much done with your toes. You want to watch a movie or something?"

I glanced over at the clock on her nightstand and shook my head. "I'd love to but I can't. I have to get going in a bit. Got some business to attend to."

"Oh?" said Gina, her tone curious but I knew she wouldn't get offended if I chose not to answer.

I debated if I should tell her where I was going before deciding there was no harm in it. "Remember that Tinkertech thing I got for the Medhall heist?"

"Yeah."

"Well it's time to pay the piper. I'm going to meet with Uber and Leet about this videogame thing they want me to participate in as part of our deal for getting that computer gizmo from them. Hopefully it won't be something too stupid. At least I can't see them asking me to play Princess Peach."

"You're doing that now?" asked Gina a little incredulously. "In the middle of a gang war?"

I shrugged. "Why not? I don't want to put my life on hold. If I get a call then I'll just leave. Hopefully in won't come to that though."

Gina didn't look convinced but just shrugged. "I guess you would know best, Kat."

I huffed in laughter at that. "Not really. Trust me, I'm just making all of this up as I go along."

For some reason that didn't make Gina look particularly reassured.

✌✌✌The Art of War✌✌✌

One of the small side benefits of all the ongoing fighting was that if Lung wanted me to get around to put out fires then that meant I needed a car of my own. Or at least that is what I had insisted on. So without much resistance the old yellow Jeep that I had "appropriated" weeks ago from the motor pool was now more or less officially mine. I still didn't have a license or insurance but after the past two hectic weeks that didn't even register as an issue anymore.

Since that "gang war" had started I had gotten myself something of a cape outfit out of necessity. My outfit consisted of thick black cargo pants, a black long sleeve shirt with a black tactical vest on top of it. A large black Kato mask completed the outfit as it turned out I wasn't really a fan of wearing a full face mask. The best thing about my costume was that the clothes were large enough and the material stretchy enough to accommodate me when I grew into my armored form. It was a simple and not very impressive outfit but it got the job done. Eventually I'd probably need to see about getting a more professionally made costume.

I parked a few blocks away from my destination and broke into an old abandoned building to change into my cape costume. Uber and Leet wanted me to meet them in an old abandoned television repair shop. Leaving through a different door I took off jogging towards my destination.

Before long I found myself at the back of the repair shop knocking on the door. There was something that sounded like a good natured scuffle on the other side before a few moments before the door was thrown open. Waiting for me on the other side was Leet in full costume, looking me up and down and wagging his eyebrows at me in a completely cheesy manner.

"Hey there, beautiful," he said to me in the worst Antonio Banderas impersonation I had ever heard. "Are you a parking ticket? Because you've got fine written all over you."

I rolled my eyes but couldn't help but crack a smile. "That was absolutely terrible and you should be ashamed," I said, pushing the door open and forcing my way in past him. "You're lucky I don't just turn you into a greasy spot on the floor for that. I'd be doing the world a service as far as I'm concerned."

Leet shrugged playfully and grinned at me. "Come on Kuro you know how it is. Don't hate the player, hate the game!"

Leet was scrawny, blond and about an inch shorter than me which made him pretty short for a guy. He was currently dressed in a pretty subdued outfit for him from what I'd seen of their videos, basically a white bodysuit with red gloves and a utility belt. I couldn't help but think of Leet as someone's little brother. Funny and obnoxious in equal parts but still coming across as generally good natured.

"Whatever," I said, rolling my eyes at him with a small smile on my face. "How has the life of video game crime been treating you?"

"Same old same old. Working hard for the greater glory of the art and all that. How about you? After we found out you joined the ABB we were afraid you might get all high and mighty and back out on our deal."

I shook my head. "Naw, I like to keep my word. It's not something I'll break easily. Speaking of the ABB though we should probably get this show on the road. If the Empire attacks I might have to split in a hurry."

Leet winced at the reminder that there was a gang war going on right now. "Sure. This way, we're set up in the basement."

He led us further into the shop and down an old, rickety set of stairs. Downstairs the basement was more spacious than I would have guessed for a building that size and it was surprisingly clean. There were long tables with parts of multicolored armor scattered all around and a few other half-completed Tinkertech projects. I knew that this couldn't be their "main" base but it looked like this was where they were preparing and building whatever it was they needed for their next show.

A tall and muscular teenager stood up from where he was fiddling with a laptop when he saw us walk in. It was Uber, the other half of Borckton Bay's little video game partnership. Unlike Leet he was simply wearing a turtleneck with jeans and a mask that covered everything but his mouth. With a broad smile he walked over to me and offered his hand for me to shake.

"Good to see you again Kuro. I'm glad that we'll be working together on this after all," he said in a tone that managed to be both lighthearted and professional.

I nodded and shook his hand while offering him a small smile. "I said I would and here I am. Nice to see that at least one of you has a sense of decorum though."

Between the two of them Uber definitely came across as the more serious and professional one… though to be honest that wasn't a particularly hard feat to achieve when comparing yourself to Leet. He also treated me very gentlemanly and was a pretty good looking guy. If it wasn't for the mess of secret identities, gangs and conflicting criminality I'd seriously consider asking him out.

"Who needs decorum when you have awesome?" said Leet in overly dramatic faux-bafflement.

Uber and I both ignored him which I couldn't help but find kind of hilarious. Instead Uber let go of my hand and stepped to the side, motioning to where three chairs had been set up in front of a television. "I heard you say that you might not have much time. If you don't mind Kuro we'll get started."

With a nod I moved to take a seat. Obviously they wanted to show me something. On the way I asked, "When are you planning on holding the show?"

"Either tomorrow night or the day after," Uber replied. "Do you think you can make sure you can get away for a few hours uninterrupted?"

I suppressed a wince. Lung wouldn't be happy. But… I was pretty sure I could get away with telling him I would be unavailable for a few hours. There wasn't much he could really do to stop me and I had agreed to do this thing for Uber and Leet.

"Yeah. I can do that."

"Good," said Uber, sounding relieved. "It would be pretty much impossible to find a good replacement for you at this point."

"Yeah, we've been wanting to do this skit for a long time," said Leet cutting in with a great deal of enthusiasm. "When we saw your whole black armor thing we had a lot of great ideas, but this is one idea that we've been wanting to do forever and we really needed someone with some serious Brute strength to pull it off. There's only so much you can do even when you're a Tinker as awesome as me."

I refrained from commenting on that last comment. "Okay. So what video game are we going to be doing?"

Uber and Leet turned to look at each other and suddenly each of them got a broad grin on their faces. I swear they looked just like little boys. They both turned to me, excitement practically radiating off them in waves.

"Not exactly a video game," Uber said. "Have you ever heard of Red vs Blue?"

I sat down on the middle chair in front of the television and scrunched my brow as I tried to remember. "Doesn't ring a bell. What is it?"

"It's probably better if we just show you," said Leet, sounding positively giddy. I looked at him skeptically while he turned on the TV and hooked up a laptop to it. "Trust me this is totally awesome. Feast your eyes on Red vs Blue, Season 8, Chapter 10."

With a put upon sigh I crossed my legs and leaned back on the chair as the two cape nerds sat down on either side of me. I swear they were so excited you'd think they were getting laid. A few more key strokes from Leet and the video started.

"You my dear," said Leet with a grin, "get to be Agent Texas."

I'll just summarize the whole thing. The video was basically a video game skit of a bunch of idiots in red and blue futuristic armor getting their asses kicked by a chick in the same armor done in black. I'll admit it was more cool and entertaining than I had really expected it to be. It was really slapstick which I definitely liked. I also saw what Leet had meant about super strength. The one in black armor did a lot things that would require it, like punting an armored man across a warehouse and catching a falling shipping container with her bare hands. Some of the things she did also took a lot of agility. Frankly I wasn't sure how well I would be able to replicate all of that. Now all the multicolored pieces of armor on the tables made a lot more sense.

"You seriously think we can do all that without people getting hurt?" I asked cautiously once the video ended.

"Yes, absolutely," Leet replied right away.

"We wouldn't do it otherwise," added Uber.

"Especially since we plan to use PRT agents to be most of the reds and blues."

I blinked. "That… sounds like a terrible idea."

"Meh, we'll make it work," said Uber with a shrug.

"So what do you say Kuro?" said Leet, turning to face me and practically bouncing on his seat like an overexcited puppy. "Are you in?"

I sighed. Well. I was already wanted for theft at Medhall and was part of a gang with capes that had legit murdered people, including my own father. Would "kidnapping" a few PRT agents for a completely tasteless prank be all that much worse? Fuck it. I'd said I do it. As long as nobody got seriously hurt I wasn't going to back out on our deal.

"This is safe? And no one gets hurt?" I asked them, my voice and posture suddenly turning deadly serious.

Uber and even Leet sobered up at my tone. They looked at each other, communicating something silently, before Uber turned to face me. His tone was more serious than I'd ever heard from him.

"You have our word. This is totally safe. No one gets hurt."

I scrutinized him for a few long, quiet moments before nodding slowly. "Fine," I said. "As long as you keep your word then I'll be your Agent Texas."

Then I let my serious demeanor fall away and replaced it with a smirk. "Now show me what I have to do."

-