My feet slammed into the mud and I flattened myself against the ground. Mud spurted up into my mouth, speckling the goggles that I was given to protect my eyes. My gun rode my into my chest, making it impossible to breathe. I gasped. Behind me, I heard the thuds as ten other people jumped out of the helicopter. In front of me, Nakamuro was wriggling in the mud, his expression in a familiar permanent scowl. One flash of the two fingered solute, and we were crawling through the dirt and sludge, smearing it across the front of our uniforms. Half a mile like this, Nakamuro had said. He was leading us in through an excretory system that dumped waste into a manmade lake behind the complex. Not the prettiest way to get it, but it did its job.
Nakamuro's heel jabbed into my jaw as he squirmed ahead, moving his shoulders and his torso like he was a deformed snake. He would have been snakelike standing, and as he slithered through the mud I could almost hear him hissing. Almost. Mud clung to my clothing and grass stuck up in my hair. The drone of the helicopter floated away, and was suddenly replaced by the pattering of rain against the tall grass. It drained into our eyes, making it impossible to see. The only way I could find the right direction was by following the painful stabs of Nakamuro's boot at it kicked me in the jaw.
So far, Japan looked more threatening than impressing. From the helicopter, we could only see a distant grey compound and miles of sickly green-brown muck. The grass here stood at about two feet tall, so we were easily concealed. Still, I would have preferred to just go commando, showing up at the door with a machine gun and blasting their brains onto the wall. Instead we were stuck edging our way through the dismal quagmires that plastered the ground for miles and miles. As soon as I had hit the ground, my uniform was sopping.
After about ten minutes of such conditions, the swamp let off to a concrete drain. Nakamuro slid onto his back, kicking me in the face one last time, and inched his way down slowly, placing himself close to the grass. The drain was about twenty feet long with a steady decline that led into a pool of murky green water. Gritting my teeth, I turned to Avery behind me and flashed him a two fingered solute. It was okay to descend. Swiftly, if that was possible in drenched clothing, I maneuvered myself so that my feet were facing forwards. For a minute I wanted to bash my feet into the back of Nakamuro's skull, but I decided that that wouldn't go over to well with Carthane. Instead I crawled down the drain, keeping myself as flat as possible, until my boots filled with disgusting green water.
Nakamuro, of course, was already swimming. He had placed his gear in his mouth and was already giving the signal to submerge. Following suit, I swung the gear up from the chain around my neck and bit the rubber plates in the corners. Oxygen instantly started to swell into my mouth, and I let myself dip into the water. It was freezing. I let it come over my head, through my hair until I was completely submerged. But when I was, I couldn't see Nakamuro. The green smog that covered the surface of the lake also drained down, leaving us in a blur of sludge that was impossible to see through. I turned around and saw Avery treading water behind me, his wispy black hair framing around the edges of his face. He looked ahead and pointed.
There was a light a few feet ahead. Nakamuro had switched on his emergency flasher on his belt so that I could see him. Quickly, I did the same, and pushed off of the bank to join him. We must have looked ridiculous, like a school of deranged fish floating through that lake. But the pieces of the puzzle were there; we were probably floating through a vat of toxic chemicals that their doctors used for testing. If this really was a medical facility, then this was all of their liquid waste. For once, I was glad to be wearing Carthane's mandatory unbreathable suit under my uniform.
We went on like this for what seemed like forever. Swimming through the murky blackness. My only hope was that no one had seen us yet. I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure that Avery was behind me. I couldn't see him; instead I saw the faint red blinking through the water, and I was reassured. We started descending. Underwater, swimming towards the bottom like we were trying to drown ourselves. Suddenly, Nakamuro came into view. He flipped the light off on his belt, and he pointed ahead of him. There was a narrow tube that wound down like a drain. I hoped that it would go back up on the other end. Nakamuro headed down before I could protest. The pipe was so thin that I could barely breathe. My shoulders were hunched and I had to hold my arms out in front of me in order to fit through the passage. It was like being sucked through a dark vacuum. No air and barely any light…
I saw light. We were heading up now, and I saw an artificial light that couldn't have possible been the dreary Japanese sun. Nakamuro broke through the surface and disappeared. I kicked, trying not to cut Avery in the face, and my head bobbed above the surface. Nakamuro was standing to my right, flipping on his gun. He was positively soaked, dripping sickening pools of water onto the concrete floor. For a medical facility, this place didn't look very hygienic. The walls were concrete, smeared with grime and mold, and if you looked up pipes were visibly winding through the ceiling.
I pulled myself out of the tub and curled myself against the wall next to Nakamuro. Avery was unearthed from the tub next, followed by a man named Zell.
"Ryder," Nakumaro whispered, turning to face me. His breath billowed out from his lips with the cold and he shuddered. "We're on the bottom level. We need to work our way up." He jabbed up with a pudgy finger. I nodded.
"I'm following you until we're spotted."
Nakumaro laughed, his lip twitching up into a sneer.
"What makes you think we're going to be caught?"
I shrugged. Something about this mission felt very childish, capture-the-flag like. I didn't like the way that serious, stern looking Nakumaro was suddenly smiling like he'd willingly storm the complex himself.
"We'll split up," I said, jabbing my thumb backwards to indicate the troop behind me. "You take three through seven, and I'll take eight through twelve."
Nakumaro nodded and gave me the familiar two-fingered salute. He motioned for three through seven to join him, and they silently huddled together in front of the door. Something hissed overhead and I shivered. This place felt more like a prison than a lab.
And they were gone. Nakumaro sprinted ahead, splitting off to the right passage. That left me the left. Before we went, I pulled everyone into a huddle. Again, it felt childish, like we weren't really prepared. How long had it been since I'd been sitting in the library, leafing through pages and pages of Japanese history?
"Most of you have been here longer than me," I breathed, scanning their serious, mud-covered faces. "You know what to do. We need to get into the central boiler room and plant the bomb. We'll have twenty minutes. We're here for stealth, not action."
"Right," Avery said to my right. "Just like Mission Impossible. Sneaky."
"Follow," I said, throwing up the salute.
I threw myself into the left passage, followed by Avery and the others. If what Nakumaro said was accurate, then we had to wind up a few staircases and pass a few offices before we'd reach the boiler room. So far, we hadn't seen or heard anything. I rounded each corner carefully, curling my gun along the edge of the wall before sliding into the hallway. I'd then clear for them to follow me, and we would proceed.
There was still no sign that this place was a medical center. I hadn't seen a single doctor, or a single person for that matter. There were doors lining each side of the hallway, each inscribed with a number. Shivering, I passed by each silently, trying to move as swiftly as possible in my soaking wet boots.
The pipes overhead began to whine in protest. Steam shot out ahead of us, but we proceeded. It was nothing, maybe a trigger in the air conditioner. A few people behind me winced, but I pressed ahead. Glancing at my watch, I saw that we had only a pathetic three hours and forty seven minutes left. We needed to count on twenty minutes to clear the facility, and then an extra hour after the explosion to head back to the helicopter. I felt like I had been thrown into the middle of a game of laser tag; only if I got shot, the pain would be real, as well as the life threatening injury. Not to mention my troop…I swallowed hard when I thought of the power Carthane had entrusted to me. I couldn't mess this up.
But apparently Nakamuro could.
There was an explosive sound and the entire building rumbled. The hall shook so horribly that we all fell over, scrambling as pipes in the ceiling burst and steam poured into the hall. As quickly as it had started it was over, and we were on our feet again, gripping our guns. Doors on either side of the hall opened, and people streaked out into the open. People with guns fastened to their belts. Apparently, Nakamuro had dumped us in some military offices hall.
There was a string of Japanese curses and a deafening scream as bullets began to fly.
"RUN!" I screamed, pushing my way through the stream of beams and bullets. Avery was close behind me. At the end of the hall we turned around a fired, watching as the Japanese fell to their knees in pools of their own blood.
There was another explosion and the hall shook again, tipping forwards and then back again like the Titanic. My knees slammed into the concrete and Avery plowed into me. Struggling, I stood up and pushed him passed me.
"Get out!" I shouted. He shook his head.
"We're close, we can still plant it!"
"GO!" I shouted, shoving his shoulder forwards. Only two more people streaked around the corner. Two had gone down. I caught my breath and shoved Avery forwards. He refused to move. I could hear the pattering of feet as the Japanese fought to catch up with us.
"Avery, damnit, move!" Shouted Zell from behind me, and together we plowed forwards.
"Give it to me then! I'll do it!" He screamed, lunging at me for the device that would set the entire building up in flames. At the same time, there was a screaming of bullets from behind us and he wriggled in the air before falling over limp. I grabbed Zell and threw myself at the ground. My elbows were numb from the beating, and my head was spinning from the noise. What had Nakamuro done?
Zell screamed in pain beside me. I grabbed him, trying to hoist him up, but before I could there was a barrel of a gun pressed against the underside of my jaw. The firing had stopped. I looked up and saw a serious face, very much like Nakamuro's, staring down at me with contempt. There was blood spattered across his front from the short lived battle.
I didn't speak. Somehow he took that as a yes, and someone yanked me up from behind. My heart was hammering hard in my chest. What about the bomb? If they found it, everything was ruined. The only thing left was to suicide the mission, pull it out and set it off now. I reached for my pocket, but the butt of the gun came down across my hand with a slapping sound. I winced.
"No moving," said the man in a sharp accent. And suddenly, everything went black. Something was thrown over my eyes and I was staggering through the halls, guarded along by these strange men. The way they spoke bothered me. Not in a racist way, but in a way that reminded me of Nakamuro. He was just like them.
We walked up a flight of stairs, turning right, right again, and finally left. I remembered the directions carefully, though I was positive that I wouldn't have a chance at escaping.
"Sit," said the harsh voice again. The cloth was yanked off of my head and I was thrown against a wall. "Hands on head." I did as he said. Suddenly, the door fanned open and two others were led through. Jones was recognizable with his flaming red hair, and the second was a girl called Deckermann. Her stringy brown hair clung to her back in wet tendrils, and she was shivering. They were both thrown down next to me, and their head coverings were removed.
We were outnumbered three to ten. I looked around at their faces. Jones was scowling at one of them. I followed his gaze and gritted my teeth. Nakamuro. He was one of them. He had ripped off his sopping uniform to reveal a Japanese suit underneath. My gut clenched and I stared up at him with venom.
"Silence!" Screamed one of the guards, and his hand flew through the air and struck my cheek with a pop. I gasped with the pain, bit I tried not to show how badly it actually hurt. "Which one of you is Ryder?"
No one spoke. Deckermann twitched her eyes to look at me, but I stared straight ahead, as did Jones. It wasn't until Nakamuro spoke up that the silence was drowned out of the room.
"Boy on the right."
"Excellent," said the man, and he whisked a pistol out of his pocket and fired two shots. Next to me, Jones and Deckermann were thrown into the wall, their heads cracking against the concrete at blood and brains spilled out of the gashes in their foreheads. I couldn't look. I kept staring straight ahead, gasping, overwhelmed at how badly this mission had gone.
"Good, then," said the man with the pistol. "We can get down to business."
"He won't talk easily," Nakamuro said sternly, his nose twitching up in an expression of pure distaste.
"We can make him talk."
"No, that was not the deal."
Nakamuro was suddenly angry. His arms uncrossed and he looked exasperated. The man with the pistol slipped the gun back into the pocket of his suit and frowned.
"No. Deal or I take him."
The man frowned again, the creases on his face furrowing. They all looked the same. The man with the pistol thought for a moment, then took out the gun again. My heart dropped into my stomach.
He turned to the guard next to him and said, "Take him to fourteen."
He walked up to me and glared for a moment. Then the butt of his gun slammed down into my forehead and I saw stars. I slouched against the frozen concrete, unconscious.