Chapter Seven: Reported Alive
Author's Note: I have to make these chapters shorter, because they're taking too much out of me at their previous size. On the plus side, that should make chapters faster, as they won't be so colossal to tackle all at once.
Disclaimer: In this chapter, I don't own: men with guns; pepper spray, at least right at this moment; the Togashi phrase 'pug-ugly'; giant mutant earthworms, thank God, although they were my idea; a hole in the ground (really); a camera; a microphone; a TV station; any tanks at all; or the people that shouldn't have been even in this universe but snuck in here anyway, even though the last time they got stuck in someone else's universe they almost got killed! (Again.) I didn't invite them, I swear. Oh, and I don't own Yu Yu Hakusho. But I do own lots of sarcasm.
ON WITH THE SHOW!
Yusuke paid for his temporary lapse of attention as some demon got in a lucky shot, knocking the breath out of his lungs. Wheezing, Yusuke swiped back at it, glowing fist intercepting its head and sending it spinning.
He straightened up with effort, surveying the battlefield. The tide of demons emerging from the blasted-out pit in the rough center of the room was lessening somewhat, a good sign that there weren't many more to come.
What humans had been in the large, open atrium at the time when the tunnel had opened were still either screaming or gibbering, minus those who had fainted; run deeper into the building; or been killed by demonic forces. He couldn't see the woman with the pepper spray that he'd noticed in passing, or, come to think of it, the couple who had been finding creative uses for fire extinguishers. In the breaths between blows, he guessed that the former was probably dead, the latter pair escaped. Somehow he pegged them as the sort of people to be able to do that.
Reflexively, he ducked as the sound of gunfire—actual, real, substantial metal gunfire—erupted around him. Hands covering his head, he glared around, mouth gaping, at the wide wall of windows. One of the glass doors swung back and forth, bouncing around from the impact of a barrage of shells.
Yusuke could smell blood—human blood. It sounded like the army, which had oh-so-conveniently decided to park on their doorstep all of a sudden, had decided to take a hand.
"You're shooting at the wrong people, assholes!" Yusuke yelled in their general direction, because he never could miss an opportunity to yell at people in authority, and the United States Military was setting a new personal standard for him.
He was answered by another barrage, and the renewed attention of a flock of demons. Yusuke swore and took them all out with one blow, resolving out loud to mention how useful that Shotgun technique was to Genkai while simultaneously knowing he'd never do any such thing.
"Stupid demons!" he swore at them all, brandishing his fists. "Come on!"
It was a mark of how stupid these really were that they actually took him up on that. Personally, Yusuke was beginning to think that his team's analysis of this mob as C-Class had been overly generous. At least some C-Class could think, talk, crack jokes, and stay out of the way, while being about as powerful as your average light bulb. These pug-ugly underground creatures didn't have the brains Nature gave a carrot.
All the same, Yusuke was perfectly content to run around and beat the crap out of them. Undercover work was not his forte; the closest he'd willingly come to it before this was sneaking around trying to find out where those stupid copycat creatures that had decided to spoof him and Kuwabara were hiding.
Speaking of Kuwabara, where was he?
It had occurred to Kuwabara, as he ran down the stairs at Urameshi's side, that the vast majority of the general area would not be able to even see his Spirit Sword, as it was an extension of psychic energy, not a physical sword. So, it followed logically, if he went into his usual routine of noble posing and arrogant declarations, he'd look really stupid.
For now, he skipped the wind-up and just brought his golden sword swiping through the nearest demon, which he figured had to be the ugliest thing he'd seen since super-Toguro at the Dark Tournament. And up till now he'd thought that nothing could be uglier than that jerk.
Oh well, live and learn.
More things he was learning included that Urameshi obviously had the atrium under control and would probably resent someone else trying to help out. He had already lost track of Hiei, and he'd seen Kurama shoot past him, hot on the tail of something long, undulating, and screeching.
Kazuma Kuwabara swung his sword back and mowed his way through to the biggest hallway with lamentable ease. God, demons were stupid. Most demons, he amended. A statement like that, out loud, would make him the instant target of deadpan sarcasm; probably along the lines of if we're stupid, what are you?
"Dammit!" Kuwabara shouted at the nearest demon, which stared at him with one heavily clawed paw left hanging in the air with puzzlement. "I'm hallucinating annoying short demons inside my head!"
Seeing that he'd probably fatally confused the creature, he settled the matter with a short sword stroke at head level, leaving the demon, its head, and its hand behind.
Like everyone else in the building, he heard when the army arrived. They made it very easy to hear them.
Kuwabara started to get worried about then.
Demons didn't scare him. Men with guns didn't scare him. (His sister scared him, but that's beside the point, because Shizuru scared everybody.) But the impending arrival of the army made him just a bit nervous, because if he were Colonel Keith Whatever His Name Was, he'd just gas the whole place and sort out demons and humans then.
Kuwabara really hoped Colonel Whatever didn't think the same way he did, but the sound of bullets against thick, but not thick enough, glass crushed that hope pretty flat.
He swore aloud as someone jostled him in passing, running on a one-way trip to nowhere screaming his head off. There were so many damn people! Why couldn't some of them been out ordering pizza or something, he wanted to know. They were everywhere, some of them even running toward the demons in their panic.
An ear-piercing screech from the other end of the hall sent even the stupidest and most frantic running in the other direction. Suddenly, Kuwabara found himself fighting against a river of people reeking of fear and sweat and other, nastier, things, all trying to push him along with them. He was struggling just to hold his ground, and was forced to vanish away his Spirit Sword to avoid impaling them on something they couldn't even see to avoid, however tempting that may have been at that exact moment.
Seconds later, on the heels of another screech, he saw the reason everyone else had run away. The demon coiling its way toward him might have been a serpent in another life, might have been a dragon, but right now, and having spent heaven knows how long underground, it just looked like a really, really big albino earthworm with about thirteen too many legs, although any amount of legs is too many when you're talking about earthworms, even mutant demon ones.
It was the source of the intermittent screeches, its way of protesting the sudden influx of too much light and sound. The screams were hurting Kuwabara's ears extremely.
Shoving free of the mob, which had mostly pushed past him only to encounter Urameshi's Atrium Arena, side order of Army, Kuwabara summoned his Spirit Sword and prepared to filet the demon earthworm into little bits. Surely, something that big and nasty couldn't move very fast.
He was wrong. With the new source of light coming its way, the demon earthworm released a particularly shrill squeak and, lowering its head, jetted off down an adjacent corridor at a rate of knots.
One moment after the head moved, Kurama landed where it had just been. Pulling elongated claws out of the cracked and broken tile, he said a word Kuwabara hadn't thought he knew and brushed them off against his shirt.
"Problems, Red?" Kuwabara asked, lowering his sword and moving to his friend's side.
"It's fast," the fox hissed, biting off his words angrily, "and I don't have enough room to use my whip the way I'd like to. There are just too many humans!"
"You're telling me! You get rid of one group and another runs in from some other hall!"
Kurama wasn't quite listening. "I think I'll sic it on Hiei, next time I see him. He can deal with it. What were you saying?"
"Nothing. Where is Hiei?"
"At any given second, who knows? Are there any other people with Spirit power around?"
Kuwabara shrugged one shoulder, keeping his sword steady. "I can't tell. There's too much interference."
"Agreed. I can smell fear and sweat, earth and blood all in equal quantities, but just as soon as I get that sorted out, I get bits of other scents. I thought I smelled Reikai earlier, and there's something or someone around that doesn't smell like anything I know."
From somewhere down the hall, the worm screeched. Kurama winced and put his hands over his ears. "That doesn't help either."
Kuwabara turned to take the latest wave of demons. "You go get it; I've got your back," he called over his shoulder as the fox sped away.
About then, the army decided to take a hand.
Outside, one man cycled through the frequencies on his radio, trying to page one specific man. After several aborted attempts, he found the right channel.
"Hey, Pete, you there?"
Over the radio, he heard first a burst of static, and then an actual reply. "What?"
"Don't you think we should do something?"
"Like what?" his comrade in arms snapped back, and then added, "Oh, no. No, no, no, that's a negative, all that shit. We are not going to break ranks."
"But we could help—"
"We are helping. We're keeping it contained. I know you want to go in there swinging, but you do that and I'm not helping you explain why they're not hauling your dead ass outta there."
The lieutenant sighed regretfully into his radio. "I just don't see what the point of joining this outfit is if we don't get to fight for a bit."
"How about anonymity? Or is that too big a word for you, Selkirk? The colonel can sort it out without any interference from us. Demons or not, we stay normal. Otherwise, what's the point?"
Kuwabara flinched as a wave of sound, this time from outside, ever so briefly silenced the screaming crowd. It was the sound of many large vehicles getting ready to move, and it was accompanied by gunfire.
And this time, Kuwabara was ready to guess, they weren't firing warning shots. These sounded real.
In the middle of a pause in the battle, he lowered his sword and listened, wondering what was going on and whether he should be running to help or getting out of the way.
Automatically, Kuwabara swung around, one fist rising aggressively. "Whaddya mean, boy? 'You!' yourself!" It was admittedly not one of his better comebacks, but the man had caught him by surprise.
The man, grey-haired and limping somewhat, glared right back. "Report!" he snapped. He was wearing a camera around his neck.
Kuwabara was beginning to really hate this man in much the same way he'd objected to Yusuke Urameshi the first day (well, the first few seconds) they'd met. Namely, the guy just pissed him off.
"Go yell at someone else, gramps, I'm busy! In case you haven't noticed, there're a bunch of crazy monsters running around!"
"Why do you think I'm yelling? Don't put that sword away, you idiot!"
Kuwabara's eyes widened comically, almost trying to hide his Spirit Sword behind his back reflexively, as if that would help. He stopped himself before he was impaled on his own sword. "You can see it?"
The man sighed, rubbed his forehead, and shook his head. "Look, boy, let's make a deal. You don't act like I'm stupid, and I'll promise to do the same thing. Yes, I can."
Kuwabara put two and two together and got fifteen. "Hey!" he brightened up, "You must be our backup! You got some kind a weapon on you? 'Cause we need it."
"Actually," the man said, "I think you're my backup. Tyrone Raimund, demon fighter," he introduced himself over a renewed sequence of crashes.
Flinching, Kuwabara looked up at the ceiling, which was in pieces and showing too many pipes to be entirely flattering. "That's nice. What?" His brain caught up with his ears. "You're a demon hunter? No offence, gramps, but aren't you a little, um, well…"
Raimund glared at him. "Perhaps I should have said demon hunter, retired, involuntarily re-conscripted."
"What? Keep it short, Raimund, we're gonna be under attack any minute now."
"I said I don't fight demons anymore, but now I've been recruited. By the spirit world. I trust you know about them?"
Kuwabara snorted. "Know about them? I freakin' work for them, man!"
The elderly man actually smiled. "Perfect. Did they send you to keep the Sato information under control?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Because so am I, now. Look, I'll explain it later, if we're both still alive. Right now I need a second pair of eyes."
Waving his free hand, Kuwabara asked cautiously, "Wait, first let me clear something up. You're working for the Spirit World?"
Raimund considered all possible replies and settled for "Yes."
"All right then, let's go. You lead, and I'll eliminate any demons we meet—" Kuwabara recollected a phrase he'd heard on TV and finished with "with extreme prejudice."
They reached conference room ten, home base of the demonic exposé, without any major incident, although they did encounter several small bands of discombobulated underground demons. Kuwabara got to fulfill his promise of extreme prejudice, but despite his claims at being a former demon hunter, Raimund did nothing but watch.
"So how does this work from here on?" Kuwabara asked, returning from eliminating a nearby trio of demons and rejoining Raimund at the door embossed with 10. In the meantime, he had finally remembered where he'd seen Raimund before. "Because, just breaking in didn't work last time."
Raimund muttered something that sounded remarkably like "Bitch," before adding, "How do you know about that?"
"Successful espionage!" Kuwabara proclaimed happily. Coming down a little, he admitted, "I was sneaking around too, only I did it quietly."
"Well," Raimund said as meditatively as possible under the circumstances, "I was planning on opening the door and stunning everyone inside. By now, they should be setting up for their presentation, so all the information should be right there. Between the two of us, we should be able to steal or destroy it all."
"Oh, so that's why you needed a second person," Kuwabara groused, accurately realizing that 'between the two of us' meant 'you do the lifting and I'll supervise'.
"You'll be getting your job done, won't you? Now, close your eyes, else the stun will get you too."
"Just do it."
Kuwabara grumbled a little more, but obeyed. "Ready."
"Here goes." Kuwabara could hear the door opening. The rise in noise level this produced was abruptly lowered by the utter lunacy of someone coming in right now.
To the Japanese youth's surprise, Raimund said, "Smile, everyone." Personally, Kuwabara would have gone with something more along the lines of "Hands up, and nobody move!"
There was a very bright flash visible even through the double layer of eyelids and hands.
"All right, you can open your eyes now," Raimund told him.
He did. "What was that?"
Raimund was swinging the camera formerly around his neck from one hand freely. "Little compensation gift from the idiot who put me on this job. Stun camera. Amazing the dumb but useful things the spirits come up with."
"You're telling me," Kuwabara agreed absently, gaping at the room full of TV equipment, demonic displays, and unconscious people. "They gave my team leader a communicator that looks like a makeup compact. He loses it all over town about three times a week, minimum. They'd take it out of his pay, except we don't get paid."
"Right." Raimund brushed his hands together busily. "Let's get to work."
Kuwabara was still looking at the people. "I don't see that demon woman," he pointed out. "And are any of these Kobayashi-maru Sato?"
Raimund paused in what he was doing, namely exposing camera film. "You're right. Neither one of them is here. And there actually isn't very much stuff. Bones and all that. I wonder why not?"
Persis Iolani, demoness in disguise, had figured out within seconds of the interfering man's arrest that he was going to be back before very long. So she had taken steps to keep ahead of him.
It had been inconvenience itself getting the presentation, even if it was no longer to be to a live audience, moved to another room on the other end of the complex. She had wanted it moved to another zip code, maybe even another county, but just try convincing 'Yashi that was necessary. He'd made hell's own fuss about moving the presentation anyway.
She was beginning to feel as if she were either in a late-night horror flick that was horrific only in the fact that it was horrible—the type of movie with a gloating bad guy in a black trench coat and dark glasses set and a convenient tank of piranhas—or a British farce.
It was just too perfect, in a coldly practical sort of way, that just after they'd begun filming, as 'Yashi first broached the subject of a newly discovered phylum of creatures, the entire building shook.
He stopped, stared around. Persis cut the camera just in time. She didn't think, somehow, they'd have time to edit this.
"What was that?" he asked.
Persis immediately decided, without any remorse, to do some creative manipulation. In essence, she was going to lie like a rug and hope that he bought it.
"This morning I got a phone call," she said, trying for just the right mix of sincere and scared. The scared was real, but not for the same reason as his fear. "I don't know who it was, but they said that there was going to be an attack. That we were in danger, and that all this information was going to be destroyed."
"Huh?" 'Yashi said.
Oh, she didn't have time to explain. Right now they just needed to finish the presentation and get the film out on the streets. They needed—SHE needed—the general public to know. "'Yashi!" she cried. "Remember my theory? The one I told you about?"
"Not now, darling," he said distractedly, catching part of a skeleton as it threatened to fall.
"Yes, now! 'Yashi, I was telling you the truth! There are live ones out there, I can feel them! Live demons!"
'Yashi gaped. "You're kidding. Live ones?"
"Real actual demons, like from legends?"
"Exactly like. 'Yashi, you've got to skip right to the end. Where you talk about the parallel worlds, and parallel life."
'Yashi scratched his head and flipped through his notes. "Yeah, honey, I never understood why you insisted on putting that in there…"
"Because it's true." Persis Iolani, nee Prrrrsssh, stamped her feet impatiently. "It's all true. Now get back on camera and present, or by God I'll steal it out from under you."
He stared at her. She stared back.
'Yashi resettled his notes and dragged the skeleton and one of the models, mounted on their stands, over to the panel about the three-world theory Stephanie had gotten permission to reproduce from her contacts at her science magazine. He took up a stance beside the merged displays and nodded, eyes very wide.
"Persis, you had better explain this once we're through. Ready."
Persis sighed with relief, kept a portion of her senses on the door, and resumed filming as battle broke out downstairs.
Yusuke dropped the demon he was pounding, one of the few that remained, and made tracks for the door to the inner hallways just as the US Military broke in through what remained of the doors. He really didn't need to be stopped and forced to answer questions along the lines of 'what are these things, and what did you do to them?' That would be really inconvenient, and would break the whole 'undercover' thing wide open.
Leaving them to deal with what they found there, he muttered under his breath, "Like undercover matters anymore. The guys better have dealt with whatever got past me, 'cause I really don't want to run into some trash imp at this pace."
He skidded around a corner and stopped at the foot of the stairs to get his bearings. He was no psychic, like Kuwabara, but he could see auras when he looked. And right now, that was no help at all, because not one was in sight.
No demonic aura of the particular pair he was looking for, that is. There were enough human energy signatures packed into little rooms to blind him if he hadn't been used to it. And he couldn't hear Kuwabara anywhere. That speech routine usually made him easy to find.
"Guys!" he yelled, hoping that the demons at least would pick up. "The army's moving in!"
Warning issued, he pounded up the stairs. He was about a third of the way up when he narrowly avoided being run over by something. Or rather, someone.
"Hey, lady, watch it!" Yusuke yelled reflexively, snatching at the broken banister lest he tip over and fall down a flight of stairs. "Falling down a flight of stairs is not on my to-do list today, ya know!"
She barely gave him a glance. Instead, she just kept going.
Yusuke leaned over the banister to yell, "Hey, I'm talking here, lady!" to no avail. Suddenly falling silent in mid-sentence, he realized, "Hey, wait a second," and squinted at the woman's receding back as she ran deeper into the building, carrying a small rectangular case.
She was glowing faintly with an inhuman aura.
"What the hell?" Yusuke said. Just for good measure, he said it again.
A sudden spate of official-sounding shouting interrupted his train of thought, reminding him that he was running away from the army. Resuming his course up the stairs, he tried to remember why she was important.
Demon woman, demon woman, he chanted mentally. Demon woman in the science fair, he'd hated science fairs at school, except when pushing this button here could blow someone else's project up. Demon woman with a CD case? Now why would she have a CD case in the middle of an attack?
Emerging on the next level, he stopped, hearing, over someone else cursing fluently, a familiar voice.
"…do you mean, gone? What's gone? Where's it gone?"
"Hey, man," Yusuke greeted, trying to affect his usual casual saunter and failing miserably as he joined Kuwabara in Conference Room Ten. It came out as more of a stumble instead. "What's going on?"
Kuwabara looked down at him. "Well, that guy"—he pointed at the elderly man who was standing in the middle of the room amid heaps of bodies—"was trying to do the same thing we were supposed to."
"Hey, I know you, don't I?" Yusuke called across the room. The man stopped, stared at him.
"You're that—what's his name?—guy who said you were looking for Kobayashi-maru Sato!"
Raimund stared at him. "Who's this, Kuwabara?"
"Oh. Tyrone Raimund, meet Urameshi Yusuke. Sorry, that's Yusuke Urameshi for you. He's our team leader."
Raimund looked vague, then appeared to get himself under control. "Right. Right. You have a whole team here! How many more of you?" he asked Yusuke.
He shrugged. "I don't know where they are."
"Ok. Ok." Raimund seemed to be in the habit of repeating himself when he was trying to think.
Yusuke poked Kuwabara in the side. "Hey! Why are there a lot of knocked-out people on the floor?"
"He's got a stun gun."
"I have a flash camera."
"Yeah, fine, what he said."
"All right. Your team and I are trying to accomplish the same thing, right?"
"Sure," Kuwabara said.
Yusuke pointed out, "Yeah, but you've knocked them all out, so how come we need a plan? Can't we just break it all and go?"
"The important parts of his presentation aren't here," Raimund snapped. "He and that demon woman partner of his have moved it somewhere else!"
"Wait a second." Yusuke's heart sunk. "A demoness ally?"
"Pale woman, human-looking, dark hair?"
"She just ran past me not five minutes ago."
"WHAT?" Kuwabara and Raimund yelled.
Yusuke put his hands up defensively. "I didn't know!"
Kuwabara slapped his hand to his forehead. "We're a hell of a team," he told Raimund. "We just haven't got the teamwork bit down yet."
Yusuke figured that this would be a really good time to change the subject. "The people are waking up," he pointed out. "Can we move this somewhere else?"
"Good idea, Urameshi," Kuwabara agreed. "Come on if you're coming, Raimund."
Raimund followed them as they adjourned to one of the lounges. It was mostly intact, and there were only four people hiding in it. All of them screamed and ran out the back door when the temporary detective alliance came in.
Finding a convenient chair, Yusuke propped his sneakers up on the table. "So what now?"
This promising line of inquiry was postponed when the door opened again and both Hiei and Kurama came to join them, both very dirty, but alive and relatively uninjured.
"What's going on?"
Yusuke grinned. "We're screwed."
"Oh, is that all?"
"Shut up and find a chair, fox-boy."
Any further course of action that would have resulted from this meeting was about to become moot. To their extreme surprise, the TV bolted to the ceiling corner, part of the ever-present electronic system that had been broadcasting announcements and schedules all week, flickered to life.
On screen was a youngish man standing in front of a diorama that was very clearly about demons. It was evident that the film had been shot in a hurry.
No one said a word as Kobayashi-maru ran through his exposé. In under ten minutes of grainy, jumpy film, he outlined the existence of demons; how they were only different, not supernatural, and he was only calling them 'demons' because of their resemblance to such in folklore and old illustrations; how he'd found them; a theory about how more could be found; and the basics of where they came from.
All this was bad, but towards the end was something even worse. When she'd shot the film, Persis Iolani had been forced to leave the room in order to stop a pair of demons from reaching the room her fiancé was recording in. If she hadn't left then, she would have known about the bit he added in, based on his own limited observations. She hadn't had time to review the footage before broadcasting.
"Based on my observations of the demonic skeletons and sole living specimen found in Arizona, this particular branch of animals does not appear to be intelligent. Due to the small skull and limited opportunities for survival in the harsh world which it is adapted for, this species would not have evolved for intelligence. When others of its descendents or relatives are found living, I find it highly unlikely that they would be able to approach the intelligence of a chimpanzee or gorilla, two of humanity's closest relatives, much less that of a human."
About then during the filming, Persis had come back, with no idea of the disaster Kobayashi-maru had just invited.
To make things worse, from the Spirit Detectives' point of view, he mentioned demonic power, too. And the interesting possibilities if similar wavelengths could be generated in a lab—a lab, he added, that he did not have the resources or funding to build or use.
When he'd finished, with the disastrous fact that copies of the film were being sent through various media to other locations and channels, the Spirit Detectives and Tyrone Raimund stared at the freshly blank TV, in shock.
Just like that, the world had changed.
Yusuke summed it up. He was more right than he knew.
"We are so screwed."
Next: The boys get yelled at. The boys do some yelling. They get a new assignment, and are asked not to screw it up this time, please? Just for the novelty value.