Chapter 1: Yuurei

For most secret agents, a large, brightly lit room patrolled by a guard with no objects to hide behind is to be avoided like the plague. To Hikaru Shinsuke, it was a golden opportunity. Who would expect her to attempt to run through this room? To be fair, most people trying to pass unnoticed through this area would fail. Hikaru was not most people.

She spent the next few seconds peering into the room through the doorway that she would eventually be using. Her destination was another door almost directly across the room from her position. The distance was about 30 meters, and the guard was patrolling a path perpendicular to the one she would take. He took about eight seconds to walk from the middle of the room to the end of his path. That was plenty of time. Hikaru waited, gathered herself, and then launched herself into a full sprint when the time was right. Her legs propelled her on long, even strides, touching the ground just enough to push her forward. Her feet didn’t make a sound as she ran behind the guard close enough to reach out and touch him. He never heard her breath whispering through her mouth, didn’t notice the slightest stir of air created by her body, never knew that she had been there. By the time he reached the end of his path and turned around, Hikaru was already gone.

She quickly turned out of sight and stopped to take a deep, slow breath as she scanned the territory ahead. Ahead of her was a door opening into a stairwell that she wanted to get to. Doors in high security buildings like the one she was in always had a system to detect when they were opened. The trick with these things is to look at the mechanism by which a person who belongs in the building would normally open the door. In this case, it was a slot for sliding cards through manufactured by Aidan Security Systems. She had studied this particular model extensively and immediately knew what to do. Quickly unscrewing the plate from the wall, she dug in with her hands and found the two wires she was looking for. In order to protect against the very thing she was attempting, all the wires in the wall were black instead of conveniently color-coded, but it didn’t matter to Hikaru. She was working entirely on feel. Stripping the wires with a knife she had brought along, she crossed the wires and crimped them together. The resulting short circuit disabled the door’s locking mechanism, but the building’s security monitors would not detect anything amiss. Hikaru pushed the door open and slipped into the stairwell, looking to see what she had to deal with next.

The seemingly insurmountable obstacle was a security camera pointed at the base of the stairs. Undoubtedly, the architect had designed the stairwell to be a small area that a single camera could easily monitor. It was a good idea, but it had one weakness that Hikaru intended to exploit. The camera was monitoring the base of the stairs. It wasn’t looking at the ceiling. Hikaru had some pads that were to be worn on the hands and knees. The surfaces of those pads were coated with a substance that became sticky when an electric current was run through it—sticky enough to support the weight of a human clinging to a wall. Slipping them on, she crawled up the wall and then began climbing under the stairs. She quickly reached the second floor, and just for good measure, she stayed on the ceiling until she was out of the stairwell.

Now, all she had to do was cross a pressure sensitive floor to pick up a disk sitting on a desk. She suspected that she was light enough on her feet to cross some pressure sensitive floors, but she wasn’t willing to test the theory. Besides, she would have to turn around to get back out, and sudden changes in direction like that would make her steps land heavily no matter how skilled she was. She didn’t have to touch that floor in the first place, anyway. Arming a laser sight attached to her left wrist, she took aim at a spot on the ceiling above the desk and then pushed a button placed on her palm. A cable immediately shot out towards the spot her laser had indicated. It was tipped with the same kind of substance that coated the pads she used for wall climbing and stuck firmly to the ceiling. She pushed another button and the cable rapidly reeled in, pulling her up and over the floor until she was hanging over the desk. It was a simple matter from there to take the disk and leave the room.

Hikaru could theoretically have gotten out of the building the same way she got in, but she had set a time limit for herself. There was a window in the hallway outside the room containing the file she had just stolen. Jumping out would normally be suicide, and Hikaru wasn’t crazy enough to try it. Instead, she pulled out her climbing gear and crawled down the outside wall of the building. Upon reaching the ground, she glanced at her watch, smiled briefly and then ran off.

***

“There’s too much noise on these instruments,” Carrington noted.

“Can’t be helped,” the technician beside him shrugged. “The world doesn’t stand still, so the sensors are always going to be picking up something.”

“CI Headquarters manages better.”

“That’s because our security system has the benefit of alien technology,” the technician pointed out. “It’s really sort of overkill. The systems in this building are the best commercially available.”

Carrington shook his head. “You don’t know her. I’m convinced that she could break into CI if she needed to.”

Just then, the door behind them opened and a figure, covered from head to toe in black and vaguely recognizable as female, entered the room. It immediately removed its hood, revealing Hikaru’s smiling face underneath. She presented her other hand with the disk she had just stolen nestled in its palm to Carrington. “Here you are, Dad.”

Carrington gravely took the disk and inserted it into a slot on the console before him. He glanced once at the numbers displayed on a screen and then smiled quietly at the technician. “I rest my case.”

“Now wait a second.” The technician was a jaded man, but that wasn’t evident on his face at the moment. “The instruments say the disk is still there.”

“Aha,” Hikaru remarked. “So you did add in a few extra measures that you didn’t tell me about. It’s a good thing I brought along a spare disk as a replacement to put on that desk. If you look back, you’ll probably see the point where I made the switch.”

Carrington walked to look over the technician’s shoulder at the monitor. As the computer scanned backward in time, Carrington pointed at a miniscule bump on one of the many lines. “That’s it, I think.”

“Probably,” agreed the technician. “Very deft. The system didn’t notice it, and an amateur monitoring this thing wouldn’t have found it. It just barely stands out in the background noise.”

Hikaru walked over and looked at the monitor over the technician’s other shoulder. “So what’s my time?

“Oh, not bad,” Carrington said with a grin. “You just broke Perfect Dark’s record by about a minute, that’s all.”

“I don’t understand,” the technician said. “Even if you had sprinted through the entire course, you would have needed at least four minutes to get to the end.

“Not if I cut through Conference Room J,” Hikaru pointed out.

“But that room’s patrolled by a guard.”

“My daughter has certain skills in the art of stealth,” Carrington said with a smile.

“I didn’t do that part very well.” Hikaru dropped her backpack to the floor and began peeling off her ninja suit. “I let the guard make more rounds than I should have. I could have cut my time by at least another ten seconds if I had just started running earlier.”

“You’re getting too hard on yourself again,” Carrington said. “Nobody else has ever done what you did tonight. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve passed your qualifying tests with flying colors. It’s time for you to have a call sign.”

“I have the perfect one in mind,” Hikaru said, and her face clearly indicated that she did indeed have the perfect one in mind. “Yuurei.”

Carrington smiled. The Japanese word for “ghost” seemed appropriate for Hikaru given her abilities.

“Yuurei it is,” the technician said. He turned to his computer to make a note in the records and then paused with a frown. Hikaru helpfully spelled the word out for him to type in.

Carrington extended his hand. “Agent Yuurei, allow me to congratulate you on your A++ rating.”

“Oh, you don’t need to be that way, Dad,” Hikaru said as she smiled and shook his hand. “I can still be your little Ruku. Have you found out anything about Stoker?” Suddenly, she wasn’t smiling any more.

Carrington sighed. “Not much more than you already know. His arm was broken at the elbow, that much is certain. And it appears that he initiated the confrontation by firing a bullet into that robber’s hand. He was killed by one of his own bullets entering above his right eye.”

“Was the robber right-handed?”

Carrington started and suddenly became thoughtful. “From the videotapes, it would appear that he was.” Hikaru, Carrington and the technician stared at each other for a long moment. They were all thinking the same thing. The robber’s hand had been destroyed by a bullet, but he had used that same hand to kill Stoker.

It was Hikaru who broke the silence. “We’ll figure it out eventually. I’m not up to puzzling it out right now anyway. I need a shower and then a nap for a few hours. Then maybe I can help you think about it.” She gave Carrington a fond peck on the cheek, and then walked out the door.

***

Hikaru had no idea how quickly she would find out just what kind of criminal this robber was. He struck again, and this time it was Hikaru’s misfortune to be in the same store with him. He seemed to be getting bolder. Not content with robbing convenience stores, he now struck a supermarket. Hikaru was in an aisle deciding on a brand of cereal when she first heard the shouting. Poking her head out of the aisle, she saw what could only be the same man as the one she had seen in the video. He was still tall, still wore a leather jacket, and still wore jeans. And he was holding a gun. He was holding it in his right hand.

Hikaru quickly ducked back. “Great,” she muttered under her breath. Of all the criminals she could have run into, she had to get this one only a day after receiving her call sign. She quickly tapped a button on the pager in her belt, activating a communicator in her ear. “Agent Yuurei,” she whispered. “Central here,” came the dispatcher’s voice. “We read loud and clear.”

“I have a bogey robbing a store. Tall, male and armed. Shots have not been fired and I am undiscovered.”

“Roger that, Yuurei. You are instructed not to engage. Repeat. Do not engage.”

Hikaru was about to agree when she heard gunshots. Glancing back toward the checkout counters, she saw three shoppers lying on the ground bleeding. They did not appear to be dead, but it was only a matter of time before someone was. She swore feelingly and tapped her communicator again. “Central, subject has begun firing. I must engage. Repeat. I must engage.” She didn’t hear the reply. She had already shut off her communicator. They would probably take a few minutes to decide whether it was worth the risk. By that time, it might be too late. An agent was expected to make his or her own decisions, and Hikaru had done just that. Grimly drawing the Falcon 3 from her belt, Agent Yuurei stepped out of the aisle and took aim.

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