Here we have part two. It's as far as I've got for now. This part is unbetaed. It took me so long to write that my beta disappeared in the meantime. I don't blame them. But, that does mean that if you see something strange, please please let me know so I can fix it.
Thank you, and enjoy,
Mike Saunders turned around quickly at the mention of his name. The guy who had called out his name pointed at the sign the sergeant was holding. "I think you're waiting for me," he said, holding up a Red Shield ID card to prove it. Then he held out his hand, "Kai Miyagusuku."
"Welcome to the US, sir," Mike said, then looked sheepishly at the sign. It read 'Mr. Miyagi'. Some joker from his squad had made it. Now, to be fair, the piece of card was a little small to carry the whole name in a readable size, but it really wouldn't have been hard to stick two pieces together. He tore it apart. "Sorry about that, sir."
Miyagusuku didn't take offense. He offered up a smile, instead, and shook his head. "I've had people mangle it worse." He lifted a small backpack. "Shall we?"
"Yes, sir." Mike indicated the direction they should go. "This way, sir." He let Miyagusuku take the lead. So far, the man wasn't living up to expectations.
The whole thing was unusual, actually. Normally, Red Shield only provided consultants, people skilled enough in the theoretical ways of dealing with Chiropterans, or 'mice', as the vernacular went in the US military, but not fighters. While they did have their own strike team, Red Shield only brought that in on the explicit request of the government of whatever country had an outbreak. And even then the strike team was only used to supplement and train the regular troops. This time, however, from what Mike had heard, Red Shield had contacted the American government and had not only asked permission to operate on US soil, they had urgently requested the cooperation of the US armed forces. They would never have been allowed to operate without that cooperation, of course, but still the request was made. And it had been made and granted quickly.
Mike's unit had only got the signal to move out late last night, and the strike would be made later this afternoon. That was apparently also the main reason Red Shield had requested the help of the Special Forces the US maintained to keep Chiropterans in check. There wasn't enough time to bring in a large enough number of Red Shield soldiers. Yet despite the brief time-frame, they had insisted on bringing over this guy from Japan, even jamming him in on the earliest commercial flight because it would take too long to get their own transports there. From that kind of urgency to include Miyagusuku, Mike would have expected him to be some sort of superman. Or at least to look a little more like a soldier.
He barely even looked Japanese! The only indication he was Asian was a slight slant to his eyes. He was about as tall as Mike, his skin was pale even for a white guy, and his hair was reddish-brown. He did have an accent, but it wasn't very heavy at all.
They reached the exit and Miyagusuku looked back at Mike for guidance. Mike now led the way to the car (a rental; a military Jeep would have been too obvious). Miyagusuku got in without a further word. He kept silent, too, for the first part of the drive. He spent the time looking around and tapping his fingers on the windowsill. What did he have to be nervous about?
Mike wasn't the chatty type, but the weird situation and, oddly enough, his guest's silence drove him to talking. "You do this a lot, sir?"
Miyagusuku started, as if he hadn't expected to be spoken to. He was slow to answer, too. "Not really," he said. "I only get asked for the really bad ones. And a few special cases." He stared ahead, at the road for a short time. "Do you know what happened in Brazil six years ago?"
"Cleanup of Rio, sir?" That had been a much-publicized happening. It wasn't all that often that the UN sent troops to actually destroy most of a city. It had happened a few times since, but that had been the first time. As a matter of fact, Colonel O'Hare had been there as well, as part of the American delegation.
Miyagusuku nodded. "Got it in one. That was the first time I did something like this."
Kai came home to find the back door unlocked. Inside, Mao had fallen asleep at the kitchen table. She had to have let herself in, then fallen asleep waiting for Kai to come home. He wondered briefly why she would have come to see him, especially at this hour, but then decided it couldn't have been important enough to wake her up. She would have called him, were that the case.
He put a blanket over Mao's shoulders and went to take a quick shower. He still stank of the greasy kitchen he worked at. He could take it, but there was no need to subject Mao to it.
When Kai came out of the shower, Mao was still asleep. Now he saw that she had fallen asleep on top of the biology textbook he'd been planning to read. Oh well. Then he might as well make a start preparing breakfast and the girls' lunches.
He had just finished frying the eggs when Mao stirred. "Something smells good," she mumbled, then frowned. She pushed herself upright and rubbed her face. "Did I fall asleep?"
"Good morning," Kai said, and set a cup of tea in front of her. "You did." He put away the book Mao had used for a pillow and started laying the table. "So why did you show up at night?"
Mao ran her hands through her hair, pulling loose strands into a rough ponytail. "I was jet-lagged anyway, and David told me you worked nights." She nodded in the direction of the locked-up restaurant. "I just thought you'd be working them here."
Kai snorted. "I'd actually have to be a consistently good chef if I ever want to make anything of the Omoro again." He shook his head. "As it is, I can't keep enough customers to make a profit, so I had to close it down."
Mao eyed the eggs on the counter next to the stove, then walked over and tasted them. "This isn't bad."
Kai smiled. "I got lucky today." He pointed to the cookbook that was also on the counter. "I know all the basics. As long as I stick tightly to the recipes, then I'm fine while there's nothing funny going on with the ingredients. But if the eggs are larger, the peppers sweeter, or I left the fire a bit high or whatever, I can't fix it. I regularly get an earful from Elisa about it." He smiled sheepishly, then shrugged. "For a fast-food restaurant it's fine because nobody expects great cooking there. But from a normal restaurant, people expect a little more originality."
Mao frowned. "That's too bad," she said sympathetically. "The place deserved to be thriving." She sighed. "Or maybe that's just the nostalgia speaking."
"Much as I loved the place, it probably is. The Omoro was home." Kai, finished with the morning's tasks, sat down on the chair opposite the one Mao had taken. "And speaking of 'home', you're usually more than keen to avoid it, so what brings you here?"
Mao groaned and slumped down on her chair. "Don't start about my father, please. He's still got Okamura convinced that if he ever shows his face in Japan again, my father will have him killed." She walked back to the table and sat down. "It's probably not true, but Okamura's not taking any risks. However…" She shook her head and squared her shoulders. "I'm not here to talk about my daddy issues."
"I thought as much," Kai replied with a smirk. Then he looked up as he heard stumbling from upstairs. He checked the clock. "Time for the girls to get up." He got up and finished putting the food on the table.
It didn't take long for Irene to come racing down, calling back to Elisa to hurry up. "Hello, aunt Mao," she greeted Mao, "nice to see you again."
"Aunt?" Mao asked, sounding mildly insulted. "Hasn't anyone told you it's not polite to call people that if they haven't asked you to?"
Irene's reply was forestalled by Elisa coming down, looking distinctly disheveled. She, too, greeted Mao with "Good morning, aunt Mao." Mao just groaned, this time.
"Oh come on now, girls, be polite," Kai interrupted. Mao shot him a look of gratitude, but he winked at her and continued, "Mao's had a promotion at her job. She's now a director, so you should call her 'Chairman' Mao, you know."
Irene, who had kept up with her history lessons, giggled immediately. Elisa looked nonplussed for a second, then laughed anyway. Mao scowled at Kai, and sighed. "Fine, if you're going to be like that, just call me Mao, okay?"
"Yes Ma'am, Chairman Mao." Irene saluted her with a grin, then quickly finished her breakfast and picked up her lunchbox. "Come on, Elisa, we're going to be late."
Elisa stuffed the last bits of her breakfast in her mouth while Kai helped her into her coat and handed her another lunchbox. He wished both of them a fun day at school, then sat staring after them until well after they were out of view.
"So how often do you follow them to school?" Mao asked.
Kai shook his head to clear it. Then he smiled. "Every day for about a month. Then Elisa caught me at it and made me promise not to do it again." He raised his voice in a fairly reasonable imitation of Elisa's: "We're old enough to go by ourselves now, Kai, you don't have to follow us." He stopped the imitation. "So I don't. Often."
Mao smiled. "A real dad, I guess."
Kai's smile fell. "I'm not so sure." He rubbed his hands over his face. "But you're not here to talk about my daddy issues either, Mao." Kai got up to pour another cup of tea, then sat down and folded his arms with an air of finality. "What brings the new Director of Operations for Red Shield back down to Okinawa?"
"You knew about that, huh?" Mao scowled. "Could have said something sooner."
"Hey, I can talk to David a lot more easily than you can." Kai shrugged. "Although it was Julia who told me. Congratulations, by the way. You've worked hard enough for it."
"Thanks." Mao nodded her acknowledgment of the compliment. Then she sighed. "Unfortunately, that's also why I'm here."
Kai sat up straight, frowning. "I don't think I'm going to like this."
Mao held out a hand. "Hear me out first, please." At Kai's nod, she continued. "I think I told you about Brazil once, right?"
"Constant outbreaks of people transforming into Chiropterans in the slums of Rio de Janeiro," Kai confirmed. "It's been in the papers, too. It's been getting worse again, lately, it seems."
Mao nodded. "We had things almost under control. We made sure to exterminate all the vermin we could catch, and we've been working on a new vaccine that would protect against Diva's bloodline, not just counteract the effects of Cinq Flèches' conversion drugs. We had some limited success elsewhere. It worked in Rio, too, for a while. But the last few months, the vaccines just don't seem to be working."
"That doesn't sound too good."
Mao shook her head. "No. It's so bad, in fact, that the government of Brazil has finally given up trying to contain it. They've requested help from the UN to clean up this mess, and Red Shield has been hired to provide the expertise in dealing with Chiropterans."
Kai leaned back in his chair. "Good luck with that."
Mao allowed an upward twitch of her lips. "We are used to doing things like this. It's just that the scale is several orders of magnitude above anything we've done before, and we could use all the extra hands we can get."
Miyagusuku filled up the rest of the drive to the base with small talk. Mike pressed him a little about
Brazil – it was as good a chance as any to find out about what they might be dealing with here, but apart from an assurance that this case wouldn't be nearly as bad - not within several orders of magnitude - Miyagusuku didn't go into any details.
At the base, they were greeted by the Red Shield contact, an oversized black man who greeted Miyagusuku like an old friend. And in Japanese.
Mike's knowledge of Japanese was limited to a few random words picked up during a youthful obsession with anime. It was more than most of his squadmates would have managed, but it wasn't nearly enough to follow the conversation. All he could pick up on was that Lewis asked Miyagusuku about his daughters, and the response to that question was very lively and animated. It looked like Miyagusuku really opened up to his friends, although why a man who clearly loved his children would do this kind of work was a bit of a puzzle. In any case, Miyagusuku's mood dropped considerably once he caught sight of Colonel O'Hare.
The Colonel was waiting just inside the base. That surprised Mike, who had expected his commanding officer to only come out of his office for the mission briefing. He had, after all, no particular reason to meet the special representative of Red Shield. His liaison was, and would still be, Lewis.
Miyagusuku greeted the Colonel with a slight bow. "Colonel. It's good to see you."
Colonel O'Hare regarded the man with deep distaste. "Kept us waiting," he said, not even acknowledging the greeting. "This way." Then he turned around and led the way into the base.
Mike was briefly surprised when the Colonel walked right past the briefing room, and then even more surprised when the door he did open was the one to the infirmary. "Here we are." He addressed Lewis. "I'm going to brief my men. Be ready to go in half an hour. You…" he turned toward Mike, "stay here. Keep an eye on these two." Then, without even waiting for Mike's "Yes, sir", he was gone again.
"Friendly sort, isn't he?" Lewis remarked, to nobody in particular. But he did it in English, so Mike shrugged in response.
Miyagusuku, on the other hand, wasn't paying attention at all. He was checking the contents of one of the coolers. The cooler had a note stuck on the outside with Miyagusuku's name on it. From the brief glimpse Mike got of the contents, there was a lot of whole blood in there.
Miyagusuku closed the cooler again and checked the stack of equipment – a uniform and weapons, but no ammunition - that had been left on the desk. Then he looked toward Lewis and asked something in Japanese.
Lewis shook his head and responded in English. "I don't think O'Hare'd allow you the dignity. But there's not enough time for it, anyway. Better just drink up."
"Right." Miyagusuku switched to English as well and started to change into the clothing. "What about my chase team?"
Lewis picked up one of the weapons, and took it apart to check for dirt. He easily put it back together. "Looks like I'm it. There's nobody else from Red Shield around. O'Hare said he'd make up the numbers on the team himself."
Miyagusuku's eyes widened. "I see." He turned toward. "I guess that makes you the fourth man, sergeant. What did you do to make your Colonel dislike you that much?"
"Sir?" Mike had no idea what the two of them were talking about. As far as he was aware, the Colonel didn't like him any more or less than any other soldier under his command.
"You just got volunteered for a very risky job, and you weren't even briefed about it," Lewis explained.
"I signed up for a risky job, sir," Mike countered. "And we got called out so fast there hasn't been time for extensive briefings. That's not unusual, either."
Miyagusuku nodded. "I can understand that attitude, sergeant." He had finished changing his clothes, and now wore a set of urban camouflage gear that seemed to have been made for Lewis rather than Miyagusuku. It hung loosely off his hips and shoulders. Oddly enough, he hadn't exchanged his sneakers for combat boots. Miyagusuku looked at Lewis. "Can you give the instructions?"
"Did you bring the tranqs?"
"In the bag." Miyagusuku pointed to the bag he'd brought himself.
"Then yes, of course."
"Good." Miyagusuku nodded, then walked back to the refrigerator and took out one of the bags of blood. "Take a good look at what you'll be up against, sergeant," he said. Then he bit into the top of the bag, and, with every sign of enjoyment, started drinking the blood.
"What?" Mao seemed surprised by Kai's reply to her still unspoken request.
"I can see where this is going," Kai said, "and the answer is 'no'. No way." Kai leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. Mao was going to ask him to help, but he was in no position to do that. "I have to take care of Elis— the girls." He rubbed his eyes. "And I think I have a better chance of keeping people safe just staying here."
"Don't talk nonsense." Mao leaned forward across the table. "We need your strength and your experience. And we can find someone to take care of the girls. If all else fails, we'll take them to a Red Shield safe house. They'll be protected by our people."
That would leave the girls in the hands of Red Shield, something Kai didn't want to happen if at all possible. But that wasn't a point that he could argue with Mao. He'd lost that argument before he'd been able to think to offer it, because it was through Red Shield that he had the girls at all. There were other arguments, however, that might have a little more power. They were just as true, and if Mao had been talking to David, she should know about them already, too. "And what about protecting anybody from me?"
Mao frowned, looking confused. "Why would anyone need protecting from you?"
"I have control issues." Kai sighed deliberately. "I know you talked to David. Don't tell me he kept that to himself. I still haven't got any sort of solid control over how or when I get into Chiropteran form, and I'm liable to go berserk if I don't get enough blood."
"He told me there were a few incidents he helped cover up, yes." Mao closed her eyed and slowly nodded. Then she opened her eyes again to look at Kai. "He also told me the last incident was almost a year ago. You seem to have gotten past it."
"Only because I'm here." Kai jabbed a finger down on the table for emphasis. "I know everyone I'm likely to run into here, and I know exactly how to avoid situations where I would feel the need to be stronger or faster." He let his head hang. "And I'm more motivated because I don't want Elisa and Irene to find out."
One corner Mao's mouth twitched upward. "It's not exactly as if we'd have any objection to you using that strength to help." She forestalled Kai's next comment by simply not pausing before the next sentence. "And we can get you blood, too."
"Sure," Kai said, letting some sarcasm shimmer through, "and I'm sure you can get it to me in the middle of a battlefield as well, if necessary." He shook his head. "I need a lot of blood to keep from going on a rampage here. If I get hurt, I'll need more blood, and probably a lot of it, right there and then, or I could attack anyone who's too slow to get away." He looked up. "Which would be just about everyone."
Mao frowned. "It's not that bad, surely?"
"It is." Kai looked down at his hands. This was going to be difficult. "Elisa and Irene get blood about once every month. Three weeks, maybe. I need as much as they get, every week, just to keep from going crazy. When I lost it the first time, I was on the same schedule as they were, and Julia just started giving me more after that. But that didn't help." He shook his head. "I don't know why that is. Haji doesn't need even half as much as the twins do. I haven't ever seen him drink any."
"Haji does seem to be a bit of a control freak," Mao said sympathetically, "and he's also a lot older than you."
Kai forced a brief smile, then turned serious again. "He thinks it could be because Julia pumped me full of blood right after Elisa turned me. Maybe my body's gotten used to a regular supply." He shrugged. "It's a theory."
"You talk a lot with Haji?" Mao asked.
Kai nodded. "He helped me get what control I have. Like you said, he's got experience with it." He looked up at Mao. "He's also had to keep me down when I lost control. It just doesn't come that easily to me."
Mao leaned forward, a mischievous smile on her face. "Want Red Shield to help with that?" She sat up straight again. "Research has been working on tranquilizers that'll work for Chiropterans – it's a lot easier to put them down if they're slowed down or completely asleep. We've got one that looks promising. It could help you keep control of yourself, too."
"You mean I can drug myself up to the point where I couldn't hurt anyone even if I wanted to, is that it?" Kai remained defensive, but in truth, he was tempted. Haji was a pretty strict teacher, and Kai'd picked up some meditation techniques to help calm himself down if necessary, but it still didn't always work. And he couldn't keep on relying on Haji and David to calm him down and cover up his screwups. Then again… "And to get this—" he started.
"—help in Brazil," Mao and he finished together.
Kai mimicked a sigh. "Mao, even if these drugs work, I can't take them going into combat. Which means they won't solve any of the problems I have with going in there."
Mao copied the sigh, probably for real. "We can set up a plan so we'll have someone nearby who can administer the sedatives, keep you calm until we can get you some blood. Yes, in the middle of a battlefield." Mao folded her hands. "They invented portable coolers for a reason."
Kai remained quiet. He didn't want to agree, even though Mao so far had at the very least tried to find solutions for every objection he could voice. He didn't want to say yes, but she was running him out of options. She hadn't gotten that director's post for nothing.
"So?" Mao knew he was running out of arguments, so she pressed the matter.
Kai had one possible counter left. It wasn't all that much, but it might just be enough. Haji had broken his total isolation to help Kai, but he had remained aloof from pretty much everything else. It was extremely unlikely he'd agree to come. He let his head hang. "Okay." He looked up again, and raised a hand to stop Mao from saying anything. "On one condition. Haji agrees to come along. If I lose control, he at least can stop me."
Mao's grin widened. "Well, that's decided, then." At Kai's look of surprise, she explained. "I talked to Haji yesterday evening. He agreed to come if you came." She pushed herself up out of her chair. "I guess we'd better start making arrangements to get you to Brazil."
Lewis explained the function of the dart gun that fired the tranquilizer darts. Mike listened with about half his attention and when prompted disassembled and reassembled the weapon. The other half of his attention, however, he kept focused on Miyagusuku. He had emptied the first bag of blood, and was now close to finishing a second one. "Sir, what are you doing?"
Miyagusuku didn't respond until he'd finished the second bag. Then he walked to the exam table and lifted himself to sit on it. "I was drinking the blood," he said when he was seated, "but that's not the question you wanted to ask, is it?"
"It was, sir." Mike's reasoning hadn't gotten beyond that, yet. Although there was a follow-up question. "Why, sir?" Among his squadmates, it might have been a great show of machismo; it was also the kind of stunt troops at this level were expected to be too mature to pull. Besides, there was nobody here to impress except Mike, and really the context for impressing him was wrong as well. And if it really was a stunt, there'd be no need for the second bag.
"Because I need it," Miyagusuku answered matter-of-factly. "And I need it because I'm a Chiropteran."
Mike raised the tranq gun he was still holding in reflex, before the ridiculousness of that statement penetrated. Then he laughed. "Yeah right. Good joke, sir." Chiropterans were huge, violent beast, not scrawny people. Yes, they went after people's blood, but then again, they might just as easily go for the meat. They bit big enough chunks out of their victims.
"Not a joke," Lewis confirmed.
"There are different types of Chiropterans, were you ever briefed on that?" Miyagusuku shook his head. "It's very unlikely. That's not something Red Shield likes to become common knowledge." He smiled briefly. "And the American government apparently agrees."
"What you'd call 'Mice' is the most common type – the violent beasts, just smart enough to be even more dangerous," Lewis added. "But there's other kinds that stay more human. Like him." He nodded at Miyagusuku. "They're rare, but they exist."
"Whatever you say, sir." It wasn't Mike's place to object, and he'd keep this information in mind, but he still had a hard time believing any of it.
Miyagusuku seemed to be able to tell. He smiled. "I don't think you believe me, sergeant." He shook his head. "Unfortunately, if I tried to prove it to you here and now, we'd never get around to the mission."
"Yes, sir." Mike still hadn't heard what the mission was, exactly, so he couldn't really say much else. "And what is the mission, sir?"
Lewis answered that one. "We think we have a lead on the last remaining director of Cinq Fleches, Nathan Mahler."
"Who is also Chiropteran," Miyagusuku interrupted, "and that's why I'm here. If Nathan decides to get violent, your people won't know what hit them until he's long gone. I should at least be able to keep up with him."
Lewis took over again. "The job for your colleagues is to deal with any distractions he may have set up, and help Kai corner Nathan, so we can take him into custody, or kill him if necessary. But we'd like to capture him alive." He gestured at the weapon in Mike's hands, then continued. "The dart gun you've got there shoots darts that contain a sedative strong enough to kill most humans. One dart'll slow down most 'Mice' long enough for you to run away, if necessary. But that's not what we've got them for."
Mike held up the gun. "So our job is to shoot Nathan?"'
"No," Miyagusuku said. "Well, not with these," he then corrected himself. "If you get the chance, you could try to shoot him with your normal gun. "
"Why not these, sir?"
"It's very unlikely they'll work." Miyagusu picked one of the darts out of an ammo belt and held it up. "These things were fine-tuned for me, and… well, it's a long, science-riddled explanation that basically boils down to that, even if the sedative works on him, it'll be much weaker. Shooting him with it wouldn't do you much good. I'm here to capture Nathan.
"The real reason for my chase team is to make sure I don't go out of control." He got up from the exam table and turned to face Mike fully. "There is a chance, if I get hurt too badly, that I'll lose control and start attacking friends." He shook his head. "I don't want to do that – I don't want to hurt anyone – and I've taken precautions against it, but it could still happen." He looked Mike in the eyes. "If it does, you shoot me. And you keep shooting until I drop."
Mike wanted to reply to that, saying all this was too ridiculous for words, but the Colonel chose that moment to reenter the room. "All done?" he asked.
"As much as possible, Colonel," Miyagusuku answered, but the Colonel ignored him.
"They brief you?" he asked Mike instead. At Mike's nod, he beckoned for Mike to come into the hallway. Once the door to the infirmary was closed, the colonel asked again, "What did they tell you?"
Mike recounted the story mechanically, refraining from making any comment. Strangely enough, the Colonel seemed to believe it. He nodded. "Good. At least they told you the truth, even if not all of it. That thing is dangerous. I don't understand why Red Shield hasn't killed it yet. You don't let it out of your sight. The second you even suspect it's going to do something, you first pump it full of darts, and then you start with the bullets. Got that?"
"Good." The Colonel opened the door to the infirmary again and spoke into the room. "We're moving out."
"Ready to go?"
Mao entered the room of the evacuated hospital Red Shield was using as a base. A medic had just finished removing the IV needle from Kai's arm, and Kai was buttoning his shirt. Haji had watched the whole procedure from a corner of the room.
Kai sighed. "As ready as I'll ever be, I guess. Let's go."
"We're going to assign you to an American platoon today," Mao said while Kai and his team strapped on their equipment and checked their weapons. "There's a higher than expected amount of transformations in their sector, and they've requested additional personnel from us. "
The reward for hard work still was more work, it appeared. Kai had arrived in Brazil after a week of training and testing in the no-man's-land in Vietnam, where a large area had been given over to the Chiropterans that had appeared there due to experiments from Cinq Flèches. This in order to get used to the people he'd be working with, and to confirm the sedatives worked. They did, though not as well as Kai had hoped. They weren't even half as effective as Red Shield had thought they'd be, based on their tests. Still, they should work to subdue him, if he got them in sufficient quantities.
Then the team had come to Brazil and had been assigned a section of Rio to clean up – typically a few streets per day. Kai and Haji had proven very efficient at sniffing out the contaminated rats, and far more efficient than the Red Shield troops at dealing with any transformed humans. They'd even managed to catch one, for the Red Shield scientists to study and find out why the vaccines were no longer working. In the three days they'd worked so far, they'd gotten ahead of their schedule, and continuing now would take them too deeply into areas where there'd be no support, and the cleanup there would be undone after a night because the chiropterans would just come back in from the surrounding streets. So today they'd be supporting nearby areas that had fallen behind on their schedule.
On the way there, Kai studied the map of the area they'd be patrolling today. It was a more upmarket neighborhood, not one of the slums like he'd been working in for the past few days. On the one hand, there were probably fewer nooks and crannies for the rats to hide in. On the other hand, there were multiple floors to check, and line-of-sight would be significantly reduced.
When they reached the checkpoint where the American forces were waiting for them, their reception was less than cordial. Kai was introduced to the commanding officer, a Major O'Hare.
"I didn't ask for you," the Major greeted him. "I have trouble enough when the higher-ups just let me get on with my job. Now they want me to babysit civilians, as well."
Friendly fellow, that. Nevertheless, Kay shook his hand politely. "I thought you requested our assistance, Major."
"I didn't," the Major cut him off, "I was ordered to accommodate you in my plans by General Newstone." He shook his head. "I hear your people are good at finding these damn mice and rats."
"We've had good luck with that in the past few days, yes," Kai confirmed.
The Major nodded. "Good." He used his hand to metaphorically chop the team in three. "You two are with third squad," he said to Haji and the team leader, then indicated two team members, "You can join second, and you," he turned to Kai after glancing at the remaining team member, "can join me with the first squad."
"Um," Kai wasn't quite sure how to interrupt. "We usually work as a single team. I don't like to be without my team."
"What, you can't handle cooperation with professional soldiers?" the Major asked, drawing matching frowns from the Red Shield soldiers –all of whom had been the elite of their respective countries' armed forces before joining Red Shield and receiving more training. The Major ignored them. "If you can't even do that, you can't really expect me to trust you and your team not getting in the way while we do our work, can you?"
"I must insist, Major," Kai persisted. In an already strange situation and with only one backup his situation was precarious enough already. He kept up the argument with the increasingly annoyed Major O'Hare until he had persuaded the commander to at least let the two people the Major had assigned to second squad come along with Kai. That still meant no Haji and left his team without their usual commander, but Major O'Hare wouldn't budge on that point.
"If I understand the whole thing right, you and Mr. Long-hair over there are the best trackers. There's absolutely no point to have you both in the same squad, " the Major ended the argument. "Now let's move out!"
The building they were going to assault was a large freestanding villa. It looked far more likely to house some minor movie star who wanted somewhere to stay outside of Tinseltown than to play home to a bloodsucking mad scientist who had to hide from pretty much the entire international community.
Troops were planned to enter through all four possible entrances on the ground floor and through the balconies on the first floor using ladders, then converge on the central room, in this case a sitting room on the first floor. A small team would guard the tunnel that lead outside through the basement (also very Hollywood, that). Miyagusuku, and with him Mike, the Colonel and Lewis, would enter through the garden entrance, before the normal assault troops, and proceed according to Miyagusuku's judgment.
It all happened exactly like planned, and it almost felt a little silly to Mike. At least with exercises, they tended to play sound tapes of gunfire or Mouse roars. Now, at first, nothing. Complete and utter silence.
Miyagusuku moved his head around, scanning the surroundings. Then he nodded to the leader of the team also entering through the big glass doors and set off in a different direction.
He moved differently now. Gone was the nonchalance he'd shown at the airport and even, up to a point, at the base. He was clearly tense now, and his face was drawn with concentration. He led Mike and the others through the house quickly, at a pace that had Mike breathing hard after getting up the back stairs. The Colonel, in peak condition but not the youngest anymore, was breathing even harder. Mike hadn't really expected Lewis to keep up, what with his bulk, but he was still there as well.
Miyagusuku halted them in the middle of a hallway, cocking his head as if listening for something. Just as he started moving again, a panicked call came over the radio. It was accompanied by the sounds of gunfire carrying through the house.
"This is Six. We got Mice in the tunnel, a fucking army of 'em!"
The Colonel was responding almost before the message was finished. "Keep your underwear clean, Six. All units converge on the basement." He broke off the transmission, then shouted after Miyagusuku, who was still headed in the opposite direction. "That means us, too."
"It's a distraction," Miyagusuku argued, "Our target is going that way." He pointed down the hallway.
"I don't really care about your target," the Colonel said, almost calmly, "I do care about my men, and they're in trouble. You claim you can help, go help."
"I came here for Nathan." Miyagusuku made no move to rush to the aid of the soldiers. He spoke just as calmly as the Colonel, but his hands were curled into fists, and the words he spoke sounded clipped, as if he was speaking through clenched teeth. "He's causing this. Catch him, and he won't be able to trigger any more transformations. Your men are trained soldiers. They can take care of themselves." He made a move to continue after Nathan.
The Colonel brought up his tranq gun under Miyagusuku's chin, stopping the man in his tracks. "Oh no you don't, you friggin' leech. One more step in that direction and I'll put one of these in your brain, and we'll see how much chasing you'll do then. You asked for our help this time, and I'm not letting my men get killed over it. You got something to make up for, in my book."
"Kai, he has a point," Lewis spoke into the stalemate, the voice of reason. "Those Mice iare/i the more direct danger, and we don't really want more bodies."
"Which there will be if Nathan keeps escaping," Miyagusuku answered, but then nodded carefully.
"Fine, Colonel, we'll do it your way." Before the Colonel could even twitch a muscle, he grabbed the barrel of the gun and disarmed the Colonel. With a brief nod, he handed the gun back and set off down the corridor.
"After him!" the Colonel shouted, but Miyagusuku's pace was now impossible to keep up with. They'd have to trust he was really going down to the basement to help deal with the Chiropterans there.
Mike ran back down the stairs as fasts as his legs would carry him, leaving the Colonel and Lewis behind. The sounds of gunfire and Mouse roars quickly increased in volume. It was still a surprise when turning a corner on the ground floor, Mike suddenly found himself face to face with an injured Chiropteran.
He didn't have time to react. The thing was moving towards him already, and by the time he could bring his gun in line, it would already be on Mike. He tried anyway, but in the next instant it would be bye-bye to Mrs Saunders' little boy.
Something else moved between them, so fast Mike could only see a blur. He was shoved towards the wall, while the Chiropteran was sent flying with a forceful tackle. It landed on its back several yards away, already moving to get up before it had even slid to a halt.
The rescuer was Miyagusuku. He stood between Mike and the Chiropteran and pulled his pistol – the only firearm he carried. He put two rounds into the Chiropteran's chest. When the creature opened its mouth to roar, he put a third bullet into its skull, through the opened mouth. The Chiropteran's skull exploded outwards, and the remains of the body slumped to the ground.
"Sergeant, are you okay?" Miyagusuku asked. Mike didn't answer, but kept his eyes fixed on the slowly crystallizing body of the Chiropteran. He hadn't seen this before. Hell, he hadn't ever been this close to a live Chiropteran before.
Standard procedure for dealing with Mice was to decapitate them with grenades, or, if the situation didn't allow for that, to do the same thing with fully automatic gunfire at fairly long range. The pistol clips everyone was issued with were loaded with alternating rounds – two armor-piercing and one exploding. It was theoretically possible to kill a Chiropteran in three shots, but the pistol was a weapon of last resort. Mike hadn't heard of the technique actually working, ever. It required faster reflexes and a steadier hand than such a situation tended to allow for. But Miyagusuku had just done it, by the book, as if he'd been standing on a shooting range, while Mike was still recovering from the shock of seeing a Mouse that up close and personal.
"Sergeant!" Miyagusuku's second call snapped Mike out of it. "Are you hurt? Did you get blood on you?" He was giving Mike a quick check, and Mike performed the double-check.
"Nothing, sir. Thank you."
"You're my back-up, sergeant, not the other way around. I need you alive." Miyagusuku helped Mike up, then nodded toward the basement. "I came up after this one. There's still plenty of trouble down there, though. You're better off staying up here."
The man looked different, now. His skin, already pale, now looked grayish, and the whites of his eyes were so bloodshot they were completely red. He looked like some creature from a horror movie. Which he probably was, come to think of it. He just hadn't seemed it until now.
Miyagusuku caught Mike's stare, frowned, and took a look at his own hands. "Sorry sergeant, I didn't mean to scare you.'' He smiled, showing elongated canines for good measure. "I barely even realize when this happens, especially in these situations."
"I'm not scared, sir," Mike denied, "just surprised, is all." He straightened up completely. "I can't wait up here, sir. Orders were to go down and help the others."
Miyagusuku had his eyes closed, and opened and closed his fists a few times. As he did it, some of the color returned to his skin. When he opened his eyes again, the whites of were also mostly the proper color again. "As you wish, sergeant. Do stay out of the way. It will get messy down there."
"Yes, sir." It was a superfluous observation, but it was in some ways a comfort, these friendly words from a decidedly no longer friendly face. "Sir? Was this the proof you didn't want to show me earlier?"
"What?" Miyagusuku looked confused for a split second, then shook his head. He raised his hand.
"This is – an intermediate, is the word, I think. I'm trying to stay human, but it's not quite working. It tends to happen when I have to fight." He grimaced. "The full transformation is worse."
Couldn't hurt to ask. "What's it like?"
"You ever read the Hulk?"
"I've seen the movies, sir."
"Well, it's nothing like that."
"We've got trouble coming up, Major," Kai warned. He pointed away from the house they'd just cleaned out. "At least three Chiropterans in that direction, probably more, and I think they're moving." Quite possibly the scent of blood from the house they were in attracted them. Kai had a little trouble ignoring it, himself.
It had all started out well enough. Kai guided the Americans to two nests of rats, and they were duly exterminated. He could stay well back, since the soldiers didn't really seem to appreciate him being at the forefront of the exercise anyway. Even the first full-fledged Chiropteran they came across, all by itself, was handled well enough without Kai stepping in, though he regretted the enormous amounts of ammunition being expended just to make sure one 'Mouse' stayed dead. It still hadn't finished crystallizing, but more trouble was already on the way.
"Damn," the Major said, then pulled out his radio to call the commanders of his other squads.
"Danvers, Rodriguez, what's your status?"
"Pretty busy here, sir," Danvers replied over the radio. "We'll handle it, but we won't be able to back anyone up anytime soon." He was hard to understand over the background chatter of gunfire.
"Same here, " Rodriguez came in. "We're holding off two Mice. We'll hold out. The Red Shield guy warned us so we could set up cover."
Kai whistled. That was as many Chiropterans than they'd come across in their own sector, all in one day, and all at the same time. Well, at least the American command hadn't been exaggerating about the troubles in their sector.
"I'm calling in our helos," Major O'Hare replied to both of them, and proceeded to do so. Then he turned to the lieutenant nominally in command of the squad. "Looks like we'll be on our own for a while. What can we set up for cover?"
Kai joined in the deliberations, although the only input that was accepted was on where the Chiropterans would be attracted to, so that the squad's positions could take this into account. O'Hare assigned Kai's team positions in the defense without so much as a by-your-leave. The Major ordered Kai to stay with him, and that was that.
The discussion didn't take long. It couldn't, because it had barely started when the blasts of gunfire from a forward position announced that the Chiropterans had been spotted. Kai was pulled behind cover by O'Hare. He didn't stay there long, however, because very quickly the roars of the Chiropterans became audible even over the cacophony of shots. Even worse, soon after that the unmistakable smell of human blood assaulted his senses. The Chiropterans had gotten to one of the soldiers.
He was useless back here, under cover. He wasn't qualified with an automatic rifle, so all he had was his trusty pistol. Which was fine, but even he couldn't fire that at this distance and have a hope of hitting what he wanted to hit. He'd have to get in closer.
Kai was away from his cover in the blink of an eye, effortlessly evading O'Hare's hand grabbing for him and ignoring the curses the Major sent after him. The position under assault wasn't far away, and the point from where Kai could usefully shoot was even closer. He emptied an entire clip into the closest Chiropteran. Unfortunately the creature wouldn't do him the favor of turning around and opening its mouth, so it took all of those bullets to dent the skull. If it even had. The Chiropteran might still be alive, but at least it was out of it for now.
One of the soldiers being assaulted was still alive. Kai grabbed the back of his flak vest and pulled him away, shoving the soldier in the direction of his previous cover. He himself switched clips and finished the job on the recovering Chiropteran. He was going to run out of ammunition soon if this kept up.
"Get down!" another soldier behind Kai shouted, and he obligingly ducked behind what little cover remained between the crystallizing Chiropteran and the dead body of a soldier. Bullets flew over his head to thud into a second Chiropteran, coming to check out the scent of blood right here. Not that those bullets did much good. Instead, they drew the Chiropteran's attention to fresher blood, and it shifted its path. Right into crossfire that decapitated it.
Kai heard the soldier who had presumably fired the killing shots whoop. At the same time, the soldier Kai had rescued came forward with two colleagues to collect the body of their comrade. One tapped Kai on the shoulder. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Kai answered, but he was on his feet again and scanning around for the other Chiropteran. There had to be at least one more. But it was hard to tell where he should be found now, with the blood confusing Kai's senses. He shook his head to clear it. It didn't really help.
"You sure? You don't look too good."
"I am perfectly okay," Kai reiterated distractedly. He was straining his ears in the hope of hearing where the remaining Chiropteran had hidden himself, since his nose was now near useless and his eyes only had limited line of sight.
But then he did catch a scent underneath all the different types of blood, and the felt the hairs on the
back of his neck rise. This wasn't just a Chiropteran. And it wasn't Haji, either. Which meant it could be only one person.
So this was where he'd been hiding himself all these years, and causing this whole mess alongside it. Damn him.
Kai took off at speed, only just catching the exclamations of surprise from the soldiers behind him. He was probably going a bit too fast to be humanly possible, but at this point he didn't care. If he caught Nathan, everything would be over, and he could have peace again, together with Elisa and Irene.
He followed the scent, leaving the squad far behind. Somewhere in the back of his head the thought registered that if Nathan hadn't been near his squad, then there had to be another Chiropteran out there, but he didn't pay any attention to it. Nathan was the greater threat.
While Kai was tracking him, he could tell Nathan was moving. He needed more speed to catch up. He couldn't do that with the armor he had on restricting him. It was useless anyway. He tore it off, then grabbed onto the nearest windowsill and used it as a jump-off point to get to the roof of the building. He'd have better line of sight there.
Sure enough, as soon as he got up on the roof, he spotted Nathan, in Chiropteran form, dragging a soldier along. By the uniform, it was another one of the Americans, probably from the second squad. By the amount of blood on the uniform, the American was no longer alive. Another Chiropteran, shreds of uniform still on its back, was heading away from the two of them.
Throwing all caution into the wind, Kai spread his wings and flew at Nathan, barreling into him and carrying him along until both of them smashed into a building. The crash took them through a brick wall onto the second floor. While they tumbled to a halt, Kai was already clawing at Nathan's chest and neck, leaving bloody streaks that healed instantly.
Nathan didn't hesitate, either. As soon as the both of them had stopped rolling and he had some sort of solid ground to push off against, he threw Kai off and jumped to his feet. A kick and a throw set Kai sliding further away. Nathan took advantage of the time this gained him to shift back into human shape and spit a few questions. "Who the hell are you? One of Saya's?"
Kai didn't bother to respond – it would have been difficult anyway, since he didn't have Nathan's ease in shifting between forms and speaking through fangs was a skill he hadn't quite acquired yet either. He could if he tried, but there was no need for words here. Just ending the one remaining threat to his girls. He simply got to his feet and charged again.
Nathan sidestepped and, once Kai was past, grabbed on to one wing. He wrenched Kai out of his path and sent him flying again. But somewhere during that move, he had to have gotten a sniff or a taste, because this time, when Kai landed, he said his name. "Kai?" He started laughing. "You decided to take that offer after all, did you? Maybe you realized that in thirty years, you'd be an old man without anything to offer Saya?"
"Shut up, you bastard," Kai said while he prepared for another charge, but it came out as little more than a growl. Kai was now regretting the fact that when he'd shed his armor and shortly afterwards his human shape, he'd also left his pistol behind. Hand-to-hand or claw-to-claw, Nathan had more experience and probably more strength than him. Still, it was all he had left, so that's what he was going to use. At least in here, Nathan didn't have the luxury of running. Kai rushed in again, this time anticipating Nathan's sidestep. He evaded the grab for his wings by dropping into a roll, aiming a kick at Nathan's stomach during the drop, and stabbing a claw into Nathan's shoulder when he came back up. Too bad. He'd aimed for the chest. "I didn't ask for this," he tried again, and this time it was a little clearer. He tried to strike Nathan's face with his remaining free hand, but Nathan blocked it easily and then threw Kai off again.
"There's no need for us to fight, you know," he said, almost as if he hadn't just tossed Kai into a heap of furniture. He started to say more, but was distracted by the sounds of gunfire from outside, and changed his mind. His shoulders dropped. "Are you with these pests?"
Kai paid no attention to Nathans words. He charged again and again, leaving Nathan no other option
than to evade or strike back. Kai's attacks failed to penetrate, but Nathan still didn't seem particularly interested in actually fighting back. He kept asking Kai to calm down. Of course, that wasn't going to happen any time soon.
Actually, it happened sooner than Kai was ready for. He was right in the middle of an attack when the gunfire was suddenly very close and bullets hit him. He roared out in pain and twisted around to see who was firing at him. American soldiers. As Kai was turning, more came into the room and started firing. Kai raised his arms to protect his face. He tried to shout at them to stop, but couldn't make any intelligible words come out.
Nathan took advantage of Kai's momentary distraction. He ducked underneath Kai's wings and ran toward the soldiers, who obligingly stood aside for him. Then they resumed firing. Nathan was out the door in seconds.
Kai stormed after him, but his way was blocked by ever more soldiers, all of them firing constantly, hoping to score a fatal hit. They had no such luck. Kai's wounds healed as soon as the bullets passed through.
Kai swatted the massed soldiers aside, clearing a path. The shots, heal though they might, hurt. He couldn't protect himself against them, and they were whittling away at his reserves of blood. Kai had to get out. At this rate, Nathan was going to get away. He was getting thirsty, too.
He managed to get outside, but all he found there was more massed firepower, backed up by a helicopter this time. Kai wasted valuable seconds looking around for a long gone Nathan. That meant he only saw the heavy caliber guns trained on him when they were already firing. No time to dodge. The impact obliterated his left shoulder and threw him against the building he'd just come out of.
The pain overruled everything else. He needed blood. Luckily, there were handy packets of it running around. They were pestering him with stings, too. Two birds with one stone.
He got to his feet. His left arm wasn't working right yet, so he lunged with his right at the closest source of blood-scent. It dodged. So could he. A short hop landed him on top of his prey. It tried to fight back with a gun still, but it was disarmed easily enough. He bit down, drinking in gloriously warm blood and taking a chunk of flesh for good measure. It didn't take long for the blood to stop flowing. No matter, there was more to be had elsewhere.
There were shouts from somewhere in the distance, and the bullets stopped flying in his direction so much. All the better. He lunged for another prey…
…only to find it roughly torn away from in front of him. Instead, he faced another chiropteran. Another chevalier, even, though he remained in the human form. Haji, his mind supplied. Why would Haji stop him from getting the blood he needed? That puzzle made him stop in his tracks for a fraction of a second. It was long enough for Haji to bring up his bandaged hand and stab the oversized syringe it held into Kai's chest.
Kai reflexively tried to block Haji's strike, but he was too slow. And as soon as Haji withdrew his hand, Kai could already feel his reactions become more sluggish. This wasn't good. He was surrounded by people shooting at him, and he was already short of blood. He had to get away. He brushed Haji aside and tried to continue feeding, but Haji stepped back in and pushed him away.
Then he felt more impacts. Instead of hurting, however, the places where they hit turned numb. When Kai turned to find the source of these shots (slowly, oh so slowly), he recognized the shooter as his team leader just before his vision went dark.
Miyagusuku led the way into the basement tunnel. Mike caught up with him again at a bend further down the corridor. The acute angle of the tunnel wall there provided a little bit of cover, which was being used by several of his colleagues to make a stand against the raging chiropterans.
"… eight of us caught on the other side," one of those colleagues was reporting to Miyagusuku just as Mike arrived. The others were using rapid bursts of fire to drive the chiropterans back. The main reason they were relatively safe, however , was because the Mice were too busy with the soldiers on the other side. They had no cover at all, and so were easier prey.
The remains of one Mouse was at Mike's colleagues' feet, the bright tatters of a pizza deliveryman's uniform standing out among the red crystal. There were seven more in the corridor beyond. The only thing really saving his fellows was the fact that the big mass of Mice couldn't really maneuver all that well in the tight tunnel.
"Try the tranquilizers, sir?" Mike suggested.
Miyagusuku shook his head. "Save them," he said. "There's no way you're going to be able to hit all of those with enough of it to make a difference." He touched the transmit button on his radio. "Colonel, better get down here. It will get messy very quick." Then he turned back to Mike and his colleagues. "Try not to shoot me, if you can."
He stepped into the melee, too fast to be able to hear the corporal he'd been talking to earlier call him an idiot – only not in such polite terms. He was firing his pistol as soon as he'd rounded the corner. Mike could see the first three shots hit the back of the closest Mouse, which turned around only to receive a further two shots to the chest and one in the head. It dropped.
A second Mouse had also turned around. Miyagusuku shot it, but his final shot missed, and one of the Mouse's claws came down to tear out a sizeable chunk of his shoulder. The corporal turned away, but Mike forced himself to keep looking.
Miyagusuku dropped the gun, and caught the claw. Barehanded. At about the same time as he transformed.
"Holy shit," another corporal swore, and Mike felt like confirming the statement. Miyagusuku had been right. Had this happened at the barracks, they wouldn't have gotten out of there.
Like Miyagusuku said, it was nothing like the Hulk. It was actually quite a smooth and quick transition. Almost like looking at one of those speeded-up movies that showed a small sapling growing into a large tree in a matter of seconds. This didn't even take that long. Miyagusuku went from average, pale-skinned human to huge, grey-skinned Chiropteran in about the time it took to blink.
A pair of wings, like sails of leather, pushed up the oversized jacket he wore and spread out as far as they could in the confined space. Since when did Chiropterans have wings? Maybe it had something to do with the 'special kind' of Chiropteran Miyagusuku said he was.
Bigger or not, wings or not, it didn't make much of a difference to the efficiency of Miyagusuku's movement. He'd levered the Mouse that attacked him aside, then kicked it to the ground and placed one foot on it to keep it down.
Its screams drew the attention of the other five Mice, and it didn't take long for Miyagusuku to be surrounded by the things, their claws tearing at his flesh and wings in their attempts to keep him off them.
That was quite the gruesome sight. The claws from the Mice left deep gashes or sometimes even holes, but the wounds healed rapidly, even quicker than Mike had seen happen before on normal Mice. The same went for the bullet holes from the fire that some of Mike's fellow soldiers were still directing at the Mice. Those big wings couldn't stay out of the way of everything.
Well, he could at least try to do something about the shooting. "This is Saunders," he spoke into his radio, "the big one is a friendly. Hold your fire unless you know you can hit the smaller ones."
"Keep firing," another voice intruded on the channel, and the Colonel's voice was unmistakable. "He can take a few bullets."
Mike looked around to see the Colonel and Lewis standing behind him, having finally caught up. He opened his mouth to protest the order, but then remembered his own rank and thought better of it.
The Colonel still must have noticed, however, because he came closer to Mike to speak without the radio. "Those bullets hurt him less than those Mice tearing chunks out of his flesh. We can kill even one, we've helped him more than if we stop firing now."
Questions were coming over the radio channel, but the Colonel overruled them all by repeating his order. Still, at least some of the fire was directed away from Miyagusuku now.
To be honest, he looked like he needed all the help he could get. He was tearing into the Mice with efficient viciousness, but the reverse was equally true. Mike could recognize some martial arts forms in Miyagusuku's movements, even concealed as they were by his current shape, and that was certainly something he'd never seen or heard of a Chiropteran doing. His movements, however, were restricted by his size and the number of opponents further crowding the limited space. Still, one by one the Mice fell.
When only two were left, Mike noticed that Lewis was readying his tranquilizer gun. It looked like he was expecting trouble. Just in case, Mike lifted his, too. It seemed wrong to shoot Miyagusuku, though. The man had been fighting hard.
He still was, in fact. That instant, he kicked one of the Mice against the tunnel wall, then struck the other one in the chest with both claws. He pulled back, and a bloody mess came out with it. Without shaking the gore off, he then grabbed the Mouse's head and tore it away.
Mike winced. Lewis did, too, and now actually aimed his gun. Some people were still trapped. The soldiers on the other side of the melee had people with injuries with them, and the whole floor was covered with Chiropteran blood. They'd have to be carried out one by one. By now, there was only one Mouse left, and then there was nothing but these tranq guns keeping a very hungry and demonstrably very powerful Chiropteran from attacking everyone in the hallway.
Except the Chiropteran himself. So far, Miyagusuku had killed the Mice in pretty much the same way he'd disposed of the second-to-last one, with his hands. Now he took the last remaining Mouse in some sort of hold, pinning its arms to its body, and bit down on its neck.
The thing struggled at first, and struggled hard, but it couldn't break free and soon its efforts weakened. Then it stopped moving altogether, and color started leeching from it grey-brown skin. Still Miyagusuku didn't let go. Only when all color had gone from the Mouse, he disengaged and dropped the body. It shattered into tiny red crystals as soon as it hit the floor. The fight was over.
When Kai regained consciousness, he was in a hospital room, heavy-duty restraints crisscrossing over his arms, legs, and chest. He was also hooked up to two IV's of whole blood at the same time. Several empty blood bags were in a bin marked 'Incineration' next to his bed.
Haji stood in a corner of the room, looking at him disapprovingly. By the door, two troopers stood looking at him nervously, their tranquilizer guns aimed at his chest. Why all the precautions?
That was when his memory kicked in, and Kai slumped back into the pillows. Right. Everything he'd feared could go wrong, ihad/i gone wrong. No wonder his guards were twitchy.
Their twitchiness wasn't helped by Mao, who chose that moment to enter the room, slamming the door behind her.
"Just what the hell were you thinking!" she shouted at Kai, and then went on without waiting for an answer. "You go off by yourself, leaving your squad to deal with two vicious Mice by themselves, and then you start killing soldiers yourself! Ever heard of idiscipline?/i I've got a whole brigade's worth of American officers out there screaming for your head, a diplomatic incident with the UN like you wouldn't believe, the press are two hundred deep around this hospital trying to find out about the flying Chiropteran. iAnd/i there are six dead Americans that someone will want compensation for."
"I know." Kai hung his head, insofar that was possible while lying flat on his back. Then he kept his mouth shut. There wasn't really anything he could say apart from that. You couldn't just apologize for something like this.
Mao had rounded on the two soldiers at the door. "You two, iout/i," she commanded them. When one of the soldiers opened his mouth to protest, she stifled it with a glare. "It's best you don't see what I'm about to do here."
The soldiers took the hint.
When they were gone, Mao turned her attention back to Kai. "You really are an idiot, you know that? All you had to do was stay in the rear and point out the Mice to the Americans. They'd have handled the rest, and everything would be fine now. But no, you had to go play the hero! Look where it got you!
"And iyou/i," she continued, twisting around to face Haji, "don't get any points for subtlety either. The least you could have done was slip away from the Americans, instead of bringing the whole company with you."
Haji, as usual, didn't dignify that with an answer. Kai thought Mao was being a bit unreasonable, there, too. The Americans were close by, and it wasn't as if a hulking great Chiropteran flying through the air was ever going to pass unnoticed. He'd been seen, and that meant the Americans would have shown up sooner or later anyway. Mao seemed to realize that, too, actually, as her righteous anger seemed to deflate, and she sank into the chair next to Kai's bed. She massaged her temples. "What a mess."
She was right, it was a mess. And it was all his fault. But, thinking back, Kai couldn't figure out a point at which he should have done anything differently. Holding back, as Mao seemed to have been suggesting, would still have resulted in dead bodies, just different ones. And once he'd noticed Nathan, he'd had to go after him, too, because allowing him to escape would mean he'd come after Elisa one day. Of course, Nathan had still managed to escape, but… "Go on, say it," Mao said to him, nudging Kai's train of thought out of its tracks.
He frowned. "Say what?"
"Say 'I told you so,' and get it over with," Mao said. "You weren't ready for this and you knew it, but I made you come anyway."
"This isn't something I wanted to be right about," Kai answered, turning his eyes away from Mao. "If there's anything I can do, tell me."
He heard the rush of hair over fabric as Mao shook her head. "You've done enough, believe me. You're through here. We'll get you back to Japan, so I can tell people you've been dealt with." She sighed. It sounded angry. "That's going to do so much good to the clean-up efforts, but it can't be helped. Rio is probably a lost cause anyway, with all the blood you spread around today.
"It was all going so well, too. You were making good progress with the cleanup, and we were getting some interesting results from the Mouse you captured. We'll at least still have that, but all the rest of your effort has gone down the drain."
"Interesting results?" Kai asked.
Mao nodded. "That Mouse you two captured a few days ago was non-responsive to everything based off Saya's or Diva's blood we tried on it. I got a preliminary analysis from some samples this afternoon, just before your mess broke out. It's completely different from any other Chiropteran we know of." She paused for dramatic effect, looking Kai in the eye. "That includes Irene and Elisa."
Kai was taken aback by that statement. It was very strange. There really wasn't any way for any Chiropterans to not be descended from Diva or Saya, nor, apart from himself, Elisa or Irene. Unless… well, they never ihad/i figured out when Nathan had joined Diva's clique. And Nathan had been here, in Brazil. It was worth the suggestion, anyway.
"Could it be Nathan?" he asked.
Mao's eyebrows rose. "What gives you that idea? We haven't heard anything from him in iyears/i. And he was one of Diva's Chevaliers, in any case."
"Nathan was here," Kai said. He wondered why Haji hadn't told anyone about that. Well, he didn't really know if Haji had even irealized/i. Nathan and Haji hadn't gotten all that close together today, after all. Then again, Kai had sensed Nathan from far, far off.
"What did you say?" Mao's surprise was clear from her voice.
"I fought Nathan today," Kai repeated. "I sensed him when he was converting soldiers, that's why I went after him."
"That puts a new spin on things," Mao said. "I mean, we can't be sure that he's responsible for this. Even if he isn't, if he's converting people, that makes him a threat again. We'll have to catch him anyway."
"I'll help, if you'll let me, " Kai offered.
Mao considered that for a few seconds while playing with the clipboard that had lain next to Kai's bed. Then she shook her head. "I don't think that's such a good idea. Not with what happened today."
Kai pulled at his restraints. They were stronger than he'd expected. Then he let himself fall back onto the cushion. "Yeah, I suppose," he acknowledged Mao's concern. "But how else are you going to capture a Chevalier that doesn't want to get captured?"
Mao didn't answer that. Instead, she just looked Kai over, as he was tied to the bed, and raised an eyebrow.
Kai sighed. "That's my point, actually. You needed Haji to get close enough to dose me with the sedative once I'd really lost it. Even if my team'd been there at first, I could have been far gone by the time they thought to aim."
Mao held out her hand to stop him. "And yet, here you are talking yourself up as just as dangerous, if not more so, than Nathan. Just shut up for now, and let me think it through." She leaned back in her chair again, frowning. "You need more control, clearly."
"I can learn that. I will learn to control myself," Kai assured her again.
Mao smiled and shook her head. "Easier said than done, Kai. As you've proven today. As you warned me for, today." She turned her head to look at Haji. "Maybe if Haji would come along to keep you safe?"
Haji didn't move under her gaze for several seconds. Then he slowly shook his head. "No." After a long pause, he continued. "I will teach you control. I will help contain other chiropterans, because Saya would want me to. I will not hunt Nathan."
Kai felt surprised. For Haji, that was quite the speech. He had to care quite a lot. Well, Nathan had saved his life. That'd influence anyone's opinion. He nodded. "I guess I can understand that. I'll just have to take those lessons to heart."
Haji also inclined his head, and that should have been the end of the matter. But Mao wasn't ready to give up that quickly. She spoke up with some indignation. "Why wouldn't you help? You're just as much part of Red Shield as the rest of us are."
Haji shook his head. "I never have been a member of Red Shield," he said. "I only help them because they want the same things. In this, we do not want the same thing." After a brief silence that was just long enough for Mao to open her mouth for a retort, he nodded a goodbye to Kai. "I will not discuss this further." With that, he left the room.
"Hey!" Mao called after him. She got up out of her chair, ready to call out to the Red Shield soldiers outside the room to stop Haji.
"Leave it," Kai called out to her. "He's got a point, you know," he continued when Mao turned on her heel to face him again. "Red Shield is an organization set up to fight Chiropterans. As a Chevalier, he –" Kai grimaced, then corrected himself, "iwe/i can't ever really be a part of it."
"Nonsense," Mao objected, sitting back down. At least she seemed to have abandoned her objective of having Haji confined. "You've been with Red Shield since you were sixteen. And Saya's been with Red Shield as long as it existed, as far as I've been told."
Kai shook his head. "The Red Shield that was created to support Saya against Diva isn't the Red Shield that exists now. That fight is over. The public organization that Red Shield has become has very little in common with what it was." He looked Mao in the eye. "What are you going to do when Saya wakes up, Mao? Announce her to all the world as a Chiropteran hunter? Put her to work again? Then what have we fought for?"
"She'll want to help," Mao said, with cold certainty. "If it's still necessary by then."
"She probably would, at that," Kai nodded, frowning. "But only because she still feels guilty about releasing Diva. I know she just wants to live normally." He looked down, flexing his hands in their restraints. "I want to help her do that. I want to help Red Shield do that." He looked up at Mao again. "But first I have to protect my daughters. And to do that, I need to stop Nathan. And I'll do it with or without Red Shield."
For half an instant, Mike observed the carnage that Miyagusuku had wrought among the Mice. Then realization dawned that Miyagusuku hadn't exactly come off unscathed, either. And by his own admission, injuries made him hungry. Hunger made him lose control. And right now, he was surrounded by what must look like an entire platoon of meals on legs. Oh shit. Mike tightened his grip on his rifle.
iEveryone/i now raised their weapons, but Miyagusuku didn't move. He stood there, shaking slightly. After a few seconds, he collapsed onto the floor. Somehow, on the way down, he went back to looking human.
Lewis was a Miyagusuku's side as soon as he hit the floor, rolling down his sleeves and putting on a face mask in a practiced movement as he dropped to his knees in the pool of chiropteran blood. "Kai!" he shouted, but got no reaction.
The rest of the assault team were helping their wounded past the pool of blood without getting any into open wounds. There had been two casualties, but those bodies would be incinerated later. One of them was among the now crystallizing bodies of the Mice. Mike could still see shreds of urban camouflage gear on that one. The other had been shot by his colleagues before the transformation could complete. Mike slowly approached Miyagusuku, the only one of the team who did so.
The man looked bad. What little color his skin had had, it was gone now, and portions of it were flaking off, into thin, hard – almost crystalline, in fact – pieces. He was still moving, though, just barely. "What's happening to him?" Mike asked.
Lewis was also looking at some of the flakes and frowning. "Even Red Shield doesn't have a lot of information about Chiropteran diseases," he said. "But this looks like what happened to the Schiff after drinking Haji's blood. Just a lot slower." He looked back at the carnage behind him. "Damn idiot kid. More guts than brains, always has been."
Lewis dragged one of Kai's arms over his shoulders, then stood up, gesturing to Mike to take the other arm. "Let's get him to hospital. Maybe we can still do something."
Mike took up his position. Miyagusuku barely weighed anything. From the feel of it, Lewis could easily have carried him alone. But at least this way, he had a chance to ask some more questions. "You know what's happening to him, then?"
Lewis shook his head. "Just guessing." He let go of Miyagusuku with one hand to lift the tranq gun that still hung from his side by its strap. "The sedative in these darts is made from a compound found in the blood of Chiropterans from a different strain than Kai's. He must have realized he was too far gone to stay safe and drained that Mouse to get the same effect." He shifted Kai's arm to a better position over his shoulders. "A queen's blood from a different strain is lethal, but we've never had this particular situation yet. I don't know what's going to happen." Those last word sounded worried.
"So what do we do?" Mike asked.
"I only know of one thing that ever helped a Chiropteran. I just hope it's enough." They were now passing the Colonel, and Lewis addressed him before the Colonel could say anything. "We need to get him to a hospital. He needs blood. Lots of it."
Miyagusuku was loaded into a separate ambulance from the other casualties of Mike's team. Lewis got in the back of the car with Miyagusuku, and then motioned for Mike to come as well.
After Mike got in the car, he made to secure the tranquilizer weapon, but Lewis motioned for him to keep it ready. Lewis himself was helping the ambulance crew hook up as many IV bags of blood as they could fit on the tree.
"Looks like your intelligence services are going to get even more than they asked for," Lewis said after he'd done everything he could. It didn't really seem to be helping much. Miyagusuku's skin had gone grey and crackly and it was flaking off wherever Lewis or the medics touched it. "I don't think we're going to fix this in the two days we'd agreed to let your doctors study him."
The corner of Lewis' mouth twitched as he turned his head to look at Mike. "You don't think Red Shield would just be allowed to take control over American forces, do you?"
Mike shook his head. "Of course not, sir. I'd assumed there was some sort of emergency."
Lewis nodded. "There was. Capturing Nathan is enough of a priority for us, and especially for Kai here, that he agreed to let researchers here look him over, iafter/i the mission. Now they're not just getting a look at a fully healthy Chevalier, but also how he recovers from disease." He shifted forward again, to check on the man they were talking about. His condition didn't seem to be improving. Then again, it didn't look like it was getting worse, either. "And from the look of it, that's going to be a doozy."
Lewis took out his cell phone and started making calls. Some were in English, all of them informing various people of what had happened, not much more. For the final one, though, he switched to Japanese, and although Mike couldn't understand most of what was being said, the explanation was a lot longer. And again, near the end of the conversation, the word for 'daughter' fell, leading to Lewis frowning and making occasional noises of assent while whoever was on the other side held out a long argument. Lewis didn't put the phone down until the ambulance had reached the hospital.
Lewis went along with the medics who took Miyagusuku into the hospital, leaving Mike behind.
Over the next couple of days, Mike didn't see a lot of either Lewis or Miyagusuku. Access to the entire wing of the hospital the Chiropteran was in was severely restricted. The closest Mike came for nearly two weeks was as a guard on the door.
In that capacity, he also saw the contingent of doctors and researchers from all over the world, brought in either by Red Shield or the US government. It was fairly easy to tell those two kinds apart, even without their badges. The Red Shield ones, especially, did not look happy when they walked out the doors again.
After those two weeks, Mike finally caught Lewis coming out of the ward without anyone accompanying him. He nodded a greeting at Mike, and Mike acknowledged it. Then he asked, "how's he doing, sir?"
Lewis halted when Mike spoke. The turned around to face him, shaking his head. "He's not well, sergeant. He still hasn't regained consciousness."
"Can I see him, sir?"
Lewis frowned at him. "Why would you want to? You barely met him."
Mike lowered his head, then raised it again. "He still saved my life, sir."
Lewis considered it for a few moments. "Ah well, why not," he then said. "Just let me get something to eat, first. When will you be relieved?"
Mike told him when his guard shift would be over, and sure enough, Lewis came back with his relief. He led Mike down stairs into the basement of the wing where a single large room had been fortified. The windows had either been closed up with steel sheets, or, on the one side where they remained in place, had been barred with inch-thick bars, close enough together that it was barely possible to see through.
Inside the room, Miyagusuku lay tied to a bed, hooked up to several IV's and all sorts of other machinery. He wasn't moving, didn't even seem to be breathing. Yet he was still strapped to the bed. And it wasn't a standard issue hospital bed, either. This thing looked solid enough to carry an elephant.
"That's a hell of a lot of security for one unconscious guy," Mike said.
"It's what happens when he wakes up that we're worried about," a woman answered him. From the accent, she was probably as Japanese as Miyagusuku, if not more so. Mike turned around to see where she'd come from, and the first sight of her confirmed the guess about her origins.
She, in turn, studied him. "Who are you?" she finally asked.
"Let me introduce you," Lewis interrupted. "Sergeant Mike Saunders, this is Ms. Jahana Mao, one of Red Shield's directors. Sergeant Saunders was on Kai's chase team when we went in after Nathan. He asked to see how our friend was doing."
"I see." Director Jahana - that was her last name, if Mike understood correctly - nodded. "Thank you for your hard work, sergeant," she then said.
"Thank you, ma'am," Mike said, but Director Jahana had already turned away and was talking to Lewis in Japanese. It didn't sound good, even if he couldn't understand a word of what was said. Well, that wasn't entirely true. But all he icould/i catch was most likely the Japanese equivalent to 'if this goes on any longer', in a tone that predicted only bad things.
Eventually, Director Jahana left again, after taking another long look through the glass at Miyagusuku.
"How is he really doing, sir?" Mike asked Lewis.
"Well, there is actually some reason for optimism, " Lewis said. "His blood cells are apparently finally showing some signs of recovery. But it's very, very slow."
"Don't think anyone would recover quickly from the kind of damage he'd taken, sir."
Lewis actually laughed. "You're not a doctor, sergeant. And you don't know Kai that well." He nodded at Kai lying in the bed. "The physical injuries, before he drank that blood, should have taken him a day to heal, tops. And that's with our sedatives slowing his system down. The blood he drank really messed up his healing.
"But, he is getting there, however slowly. Of course, that just brings with it its own problems."
Lewis shot him a look. "You saw how strong he is, sergeant. And that was with his strength and temper under control. Now imagine that strength – let's say this whole process halved it just for argument's sake – but now powered by so much hunger he's not going to be reasonable anymore. That bed, this room… is not going to hold him when he wakes up."
He shook his head. "If you wanted to say goodbye, sergeant, or thank him, do it now. We're moving him as soon as the plane gets here."
Mike Summers never saw Kai Miyagusuku again.