In a long courtyard in the new city of the Eagle, Ikari grabbed the sling of his rifle and tossed it on his back. He drew his sword, and from his expression Evangeline could tell he was planning on rushing the enemy.
Eva and her team had emerged from the embattled subway car to find a city in chaos. Black-clad Rakhar mercenaries were everywhere, seeming to lack a goal other than to kill everyone in sight. The citizens of the Eagle were fighting back ferociously, but there were very few plasma rifles to go around and fewer opportunities for hand-to-hand combat. Still, some groups of Eaglites had managed to capture merc weapons and mount a defense. Ikari was only interested in getting his charges back to the command center, though he did stop to issue orders to a few errant troops on their way there.
Contact had been sporadic for the team until they tried to cut through the main dojo. It was there in the courtyard that they ran headlong into a merc squad, and no sooner could they find cover were they engaged in a pitched firefight. Reveki and Talyn huddled together behind a thick column, the Kau’Rii still faltering from his injuries, and Ikari and Eva crouched behind a column on the opposite side of the courtyard. Cane had taken cover a few meters back, and was firing his semi-auto rapidly. Eva grabbed Ikari’s arm before he could pounce on the enemy.
“Take my Phalanx,” she said, passing off the carbine and the two remaining magazines.
“I don’t know how to use the grenade laucher,” Ikari replied, “but I appreciate the ammo.”
Eva ducked as plasma fire chipped away at the column. “Don’t worry about the grenades! Just get ready to cover me!”
“Understood,” Ikari said, flipping off the safety.
Eva unlimbered her AK, which up until this point had been doing nothing but digging into her back. She pushed the safety down and racked the bolt handle. Across the way, Vecky was firing all but blind with her M1, and Talyn looked like he was ready to pass out. Cane was choosing his shots more carefully with his Liberator; Eva had to wonder if he was running low on ammo. Though she remained calm, her adrenaline was starting to run out and her muscles were beginning to tremble. She leaned around the column. The mercs were advancing by fire, and were practically within spitting distance. Eva squeezed the trigger and raked the closest one from crotch to shoulder, the deafening report reminding her that her old-school rifle lacked the integral sound suppression of the Phalanxes. At least it handled as well.
Ikari popped out from the other side of the column, and felled two more mercs as they attempted to flank left. Eva had a clear shot on another that was about to close with Vecky, and she shot his knees out from under him. One more round thudded into his head, and he stopped moving. Vecky gasped as the Rakhar’s blood splashed across her boots. To her right, Talyn flopped over onto his side. At first Eva thought he’d lost consciousness, but the Kau’Rii let loose with his carbine and drove back two more mercs from the right flank.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to break this assault,” Eva said to Ikari.
Ikari’s repy was lost as Eva fired at a target of opportunity. The merc seemed to shed the rounds like raindrops, but Eva knew she was simply missing. She steadied her aim and tried to get fancy with the trigger, hesitant to switch to semi-auto despite the obvious drawback of firing in full. He disappeared behind a nearby column.
Ikari took a deep breath. “I said we can go through the bath house, but if they’re in there already we’re dead!
Eva ejected an empty mag, stuffing it into her thigh cargo pocket. “It’s either that or fall back.”
“Fall back to where?”
Eva reloaded. “Right. Reveki! Cane! Talyn! Get ready to move!”
Vecky struggled to shove another magazine into her carbine. Talyn grabbed her on the shoulder and spoke into her ear. A moment later he nodded at Eva.
“On three,” began Ikari. “One, two…”
A beat later, Eva and Ikari fired madly toward the enemy. Vecky and Talyn stumbled across the courtyard, followed immediately by Cane.
Eva pointed at the door to the bath house. “Go, go!”
The trio crashed through the rice paper doors and disappeared. Ikari slapped Eva’s arm, and she went next. The antechamber to the bath house was empty, thankfully, filled only with benches and wooden lockers. Vecky and Cane stood over a collapsed Talyn. Eva reloaded again and rushed to their side. A second later, Ikari entered, also reloading.
“Gimme that for a second,” she said, taking his Phalanx, “and pay attention.”
Eva flipped the weapon around and fired a grenade back toward the courtyard. The concussion of the explosion was followed with at least one scream of pain. Eva reloaded and returned the weapon to Ikari along with her two bandoleers of grenades.
“Got it,” he said, managing a slight smile.
“Talyn’s in trouble,” said Vecky.
The others gathered at the Kau’Rii’s side. Talyn was still conscious.
“One of the dermaplasts tore away,” he said. “They’re not meant for this sort of shit.”
Eva examined his leg. The dermaplast flopped open like a loose piece of skin, revealing a deep laceration and fur matted with blood.
“Normally I’d just slap another bandage on there,” she said.
Shouts from the mercs could be heard from the courtyard, and Ikari looked at the others. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it fast.”
“Leave me a fresh dermaplast, I’ll take care of it,” began Talyn. “Get out of here, I’ll hold them off and meet up with you later.”
“That’s insane,” said Cane.
“Don’t worry about me, I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve. This is a great choke point, anyway.”
“I’m not leaving you, dumbass.”
“If the two of you want to volunteer to hold this point, that’s fine with me!” exclaimed Ikari.
“Are you sure you can realistically hold them here?” Eva asked Cane.
“Of course,” Cane replied, smiling like an idiot. “This group of assholes hasn’t seen my fission pistol yet, right?”
Eva grabbed his arm and kissed him. “You’d better not get killed. Nobody else can piss me off like you do.”
“For the love of the core,” muttered Ikari.
Ikari seemed at the edge of his patience as he passed one of the bandoleers of grenades to Talyn. He nodded at Eva and Vecky, and readied his weapon.
“Good luck, guys,” began Vecky. “Stay alive, I’ve lost enough crew for one month already.”
Vecky gave Talyn a quick peck on the cheek, and moved to Eva’s side. The women looked to Ikari to lead the way. With one more glance toward Cane and Talyn, the trio exited to the bath room. A square pool with a wooden modesty divider lay ahead, with steam softly wafting from the water. They made their way along the edge to the other end of the room. A burst of noise followed them from the antechamber, including automatic fire, Cane’s single-shot pistol, and finally, the report of two grenades.
“I hope they know what they’re doing,” said Eva.
The other end of the bath was the female locker room, and was also empty. The trio emerged onto the street, which was relatively quiet. Battle still raged in other parts of the city. As Ikari got his bearings, another tremor shook the ground, and all of the artificial light flickered and died. They were left with nothing but the stars through the overhead dome. A second, more powerful tremor washed across the city, and scores of roofing tiles broke loose and crashed to the street. Ikari grabbed Eva’s arm reflexively, and looked upward in terror.
“My God, is this truly the end of the world?” he breathed.
“Don’t lose your shit now, Ikari,” said Eva. “Just get us to Yurishi and let the Eagle worry about herself.”
Ikari nodded, and moved ahead. For several minutes they traveled without being accosted, and arrived at the outer edge of a cordon that had been set up in front of the entrance to the command center. The team was challenged by the guards, but quickly allowed access once they recognized Ikari. They passed through two more layers of security before reaching the elevator. The center must have been on emergency power, as the elevator was still working, and they soon emerged into the control room.
The room was in a quiet frenzy. Yurishi was overseeing the counterattack, and moved calmly from station to station. The center was dark, with only the computer stations and the main monitor receiving power. As such, the team’s arrival went unnoticed at first. Ikari approached his leader and stood at attention, waiting for the Daimyo to finish his conversation with Yamashita. Eva noticed that one of the overlays on the main monitor was displaying the mercenary stilettos in orbit. There was no sign of the Fox or the Bellatrix. Presently, Ikari spoke with Yurishi, and they came over to Eva and Vecky.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here,” the Daimyo said. “Adeler, I ought to kill you where you stand and send the Kitsune girl to the stockade.”
“Daimyo,” began Eva, “We’re here for one simple reason, to rescue Maoko. We have little interest in Tomoyasu’s motives, but your refusal to negotiate for her release has forced our hand. As for the mercenaries, the volume of their effort simply doesn’t make sense based on our dealings with them. There must be something else here that they want.”
“I know. These Rakhar interlopers claim to have no connection to you or Miyamoto’s lot, which is the only reason why I’m still talking to you.”
“You spoke to the mercs?”
“Yes, their reptillian spokesperson and I exchanged a few words before they attacked. It set their terms: surrender the technology to our reactor, or face total subjugation. The Eagle is sovereign ground, so of course I refused. Now, whether or not your two groups are working together, it does beg the question of how the mercenaries know about the value of our reactor.”
Eva nodded thoughtfully. “One could simply assume that a facility of this size needs a substantial power source to function.”
“You don’t base an all-out invasion on assumptions!” exclaimed Yurishi. “But since I can’t prove anything against you two, I’ll make you a simple trade. Maoko for Tomoyasu.”
Yurishi gestured to the side, and a guard brought Maoko forth from a deep shadow. She radiated serenity and strode forward as if she hadn’t a care in the world. She smiled at Vecky.
“Hello, my dear,” she said.
Vecky quickly but carefully placed her carbine on the deck, and embraced her mother. They held each other for a long time, the girl soon breaking into sobs. Despite his steely exterior, Eva could tell that Yurishi was touched by the sight.
“Tell me Tomoyasu’s plan, and I’ll help you get back to the Fox with Maoko. We were ready to evacuate her in the shuttle, and we can still do so. The Fox is holding at the edge of sensor range, and you can make it there long before the mercenary ships can stop you.”
Eva said, “You already know Tomoyasu wants to challenge you to mononoke kettle. While I’m reluctant to betray his trust, I figure you’re too late to stop him from accomplishing his first goal.”
Eva sighed. “Tomoyasu is going to transfer the main reactor’s fuel source to a portable storage device, and hold it as ransom against your duel.”
Horror crossed Yurishi’s face. “Our Progenitors protect us. Do you have any idea what that really means?”
“It seems fate is finally catching up to you, Karu,” said Maoko.
“How can you say that? It was the decision of Our Progenitors to… do that… in the first place!”
“What the hell are you two talking about?” asked Eva.
Yurishi said, “Ikari, Adeler, and the Kitsunes, in my chambers now. Yamashita, you’re in charge.”
“Aye, sir,” said the old man.
Vecky let go of Maoko and retrieved her rifle. The group traversed a short corridor and entered Yurishi’s office. He considered his words for a moment, his eyes passing over each one of them.
“What I am about to tell you is a secret known only to the Daimyo and his most trusted aides. Our Progenitors are beings of immense power, you already know that. What is a critical secret is that our reactor is nothing more than a containment chamber for one of their own, a prisoner and outcast from their own plane of existence. It is that same being that facilitates the genetic infusion program. One would have to assume that while this creature has been cooperating with its masters, it has no love for the asteroid itself. What that fool Tomoyasu doesn’t know, or the mercenaries for that matter, is that the reactor containment system is failing. If that thing gets out, it is powerful enough to destroy the entire asteroid. For us, it really would be the end of the world.”
“Real wrath of God type stuff, eh?” said Eva. “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Vecky. “If Tomoyasu intends to transfer this ‘power source’ to his portable device, won’t that prevent the Kira’To from escaping? It doesn’t solve your power problem, but at least it won’t get loose.”
Yurishi frowned. “I find it hard to believe that any device small enough to be man-portable would be sufficient to contain the prisoner, but I’m not an expert on the true nature of these beings. If what you say is possible, then Tomoyasu could indeed prevent the destruction of the Eagle.”
“It sounds to me like you two should be working together,” said Eva. “Maybe if you could temporarily put the Kira’To in the device, you could find a way to repair the main reactor’s containment and put it back. Not that I approve of their God damned genetic infusion program, but it’s better than letting everyone die.”
“How can you be so sure the heart of the Eagle will seek revenge on us?” asked Maoko. “Perhaps all it wants is to be free, like every sentient being.”
“I have to consider the worst case scenario,” replied Yurishi. “You have a connection to Our Progenitors. Do you think this thing will be a threat to us?”
“If you actively attempt to thwart its escape, what do you think?”
“That’s a good point, but I can’t take that chance. I also realize that Tomoyasu is going to get his way no matter what I do.” Yurishi crossed to his rack of swords. He swapped out his long sword for one with a bright blue scabbard, and secured it to his belt. “Adeler, I suggest you take the Kitsunes and get off of the asteroid while you still can.”
“I’m not leaving until I get to the real truth of the matter,” replied Eva. “My whole planet deserves to be safe from the Kira’To. If you’re going to the reactor room, I’m going with you. Vecky, get your mom to the Fox and I’ll meet you back there when this is all over.”
“I’m going with Karu,” said Maoko. “If it gets loose, I may be the only one capable of reasoning with it.”
“What?” protested Vecky.
“I can’t guarantee your safety, Maoko,” replied Yurishi.
“You can’t go out there in the middle of all this!”
Maoko smiled. “I’ll be fine. Can’t you see? Evangeline is a Praetorian, even if she doesn’t realize it yet. She will protect us.”
Vecky scrunched up her brow. “I don’t know what that means.”
“That makes two of us,” added Eva.
Another tremor shook the room. Yurishi headed for the door.
“Come, don’t come, I don’t care. We can be at the reactor room in five minutes using the express elevator, so if any of you want to help, let’s go. We’re running out of time.”