It would be redundant to say that there was a lot riding on Hikaru’s shoulders. Her target had clearly demonstrated that he was willing to use brutal force in order to get more money from his victims. She briefly wondered if he expected more money to magically materialize in a person’s wallet just because of a few gunshots. At any rate, he was dangerous, and by any standard, Hikaru would have been fully justified in using lethal force. Most people do not wish to use such force unless absolutely necessary, however, and Hikaru was no different in that respect. Law enforcement officers who are good enough will always try to subdue their foe alive, and Hikaru was good enough. She knew it, too.
And so she carefully tracked her target’s weapon as it waved about at people. She had turned on her Falcon 3’s laser-sight which painted her target with a small dot visible only to special glasses. Like most younger agents conscious of their appearance, Hikaru was wearing contact lenses instead, but the effect was the same. The robber could not see what appeared to Hikaru as a small red dot located on the back of his hand. She knew that her bullet would land exactly where the laser pointed. The Falcon 3 incorporated the latest in rail-gun technology learned from the Maians. It was silent and had no recoil. As Hikaru felt her heart rate slow and her hands steady, she saw her target wave his gun in the air. At that instant, his gun was not pointed at anyone. It was the chance she had been waiting for.
The first shot glanced off of his gun and didn’t quite succeed in knocking it out of his hand. It did surprise him enough to pause for a second, and that was all the time Hikaru needed to fire two more shots from her recoilless gun. One shot knocked the gun out of his hand. The other shot hit him in the knee. Hikaru had reason to be satisfied with herself.
The good feelings did not last long. To her shocked dismay, the robber stood up and began running on his damaged knee. Hikaru had seen a security videotape of him in action. She knew that he was fast. Unlike Ben Stoker, she was prepared for this. Stoker’s mistake had been to stand still while searching around him. Hikaru knew that she would never find her target that way. Instead, she turned and ran back into the frozen food aisle. The soles of her shoes were a little too hard for her steps to be absolutely noiseless the way she liked, but in the confusion, they were quiet enough. After she had dashed about for a while, she was certain that her quarry had no idea where she was. But she knew where he was. Standing in an aisle, she peered over a bag of cookies and saw the telltale leather jacket in the aisle beyond it. She fired two more shots. They both hit him in the arm. She had known that they would. He ran off, but she quickly followed him. Before he could get to the end of the aisle, she had fired another shot pointing slightly downward. She guessed that the bullet had hit him somewhere in the leg. It had certainly made contact because he cried out in pain. She reached the end of the aisle and turned to meet him. He had been expecting her, but she had been expecting him to expect her. As soon as she rounded the corner, Hikaru leaped into the air and somersaulted, flying over the robber’s head and landing behind him. The surprised man did not react quickly enough to avoid a bullet in the shoulder. It was Hikaru’s last.
On an intellectual level, Hikaru had surmised that her bullets hitting non-vital areas would have little effect. That realization had failed to fully dawn on her until now. Her opponent swung around and threw his fist at her face. His shoulder had received a bullet and his fist had received two others. Besides that, a Magnum bullet had hit that very hand only a few days ago. Yet, he moved as if he had only been cut. His bones should have been broken by now, but they were not. Hikaru had just enough time to absorb these facts before she instinctively brought up one hand and struck his arm to the side. She grunted at the impact of her arm against his. He was very strong, and she hadn’t had time to get balanced properly. For all that, her opponent was a surprisingly slow fighter. He obviously had never had any formal training in the martial arts. Hikaru had studied martial arts all her life.
Hikaru threw her gun aside and dodged another punch. Then she quickly moved past his fist toward him and threw her own counterstrike. At this point, she was still hoping that she could knock him unconscious somehow and keep him alive for questioning later. Her attack was an index knuckle aimed directly below the eyehole of his ski mask. Her aim was perfect, and her opponent flinched back as his hand instinctively covered his eye. While she was still close, Hikaru took the opportunity to drive her elbow into his solar plexus. Now, he was staggering back, and Hikaru helped him along by spinning around and using her momentum to deliver a stunning back kick to his head. He jacknifed backwards to land jarringly on the floor. Then he began to get back up. In his hand was a knife.
Hikaru was not in the least bit afraid of being killed by the knife. She had learned his fighting style by now, and she knew that she could dodge anything he threw at her. There was still some hope of keeping him alive. He lunged forward with his knife extended. He had too much forward momentum, and Hikaru used it against him by dodging to the side, grabbing his hand and pulling sharply down and backwards causing him to flip over to land on his back. Hikaru deftly applied a nikkio wrist lock causing him to gasp in pain and drop his knife. She now had him exactly where she wanted: on the ground where she could apply more pressure to his wrist if he tried to get up.
That was the theory anyway. To her consternation, the thug on the floor before her began to wriggle about in an attempt to get up despite her wrist lock. She desperately leaned her full weight on him, but his wrist would not break. If Hikaru had a weakness as a fighter, it was her relatively light weight which made it easy for opponents to defeat her in a contest of pure strength. With her extensive repertoire of joint locks and pressure point attacks, Hikaru was more than able to make up for that shortcoming, but such techniques only worked on people who care about whether they will ever be able to use their hands again. This man seemed not only capable of ignoring the pain but also able to shrug off the immense pressure being applied to his bones and tendons. He managed to throw her balance slightly and quickly took advantage by kicking upwards at her. She was forced to let go and dodge away which gave him enough time to get back to his feet. By that time, he had another knife in his hand.
As he advanced on her, she used a quick crescent kick to deflect his knife and then drove her heel into his face causing his head to snap back. She quickly followed that up by jabbing a knuckle into his throat, then taking one step forward to drive her knee into his stomach. Still moving forward, she turned slightly and drove her elbow into the small of his back, and he went down again.
But it was not the fight that had told her that keeping him alive was hopeless. It had been what she saw in his eyes as he lunged at her with a knife. He was fully focused on her now, and he would not stop until he had killed her or he had been killed. With a sense of finality, Hikaru reached behind her back and drew a pair of sai. They were her favorite weapons, and she never went anywhere without them. As her opponent got up once more to slash at her with his knife, she deftly trapped the flat of his blade against her arm, then slashed at his stomach with the very tip of her own weapon. Then, as he bent forward, she leaned onto her front foot slightly and drove both of her weapons home. She watched as he stared in stupefied shock at the metal protruding from his chest, coughed once, and then slid off the blades with a strange gurgling sigh.
“He certainly isn’t a normal person,” the doctor later told Carrington and Hikaru. “For one thing, he is far too fit to be as poor as he looks. His blood oxygen levels are high enough to make him an Olympic marathon runner. A gold medal winning Olympic marathon runner. He also has very good muscle structure and his sensory organs are working perfectly. I wouldn’t have thought much of it if I had seen it in a CI agent, but in a person off the streets who relies on robbery and presumably hasn’t had the proper nutrition, it just seems impossible.”
“I wonder what his bones were made of,” Hikaru said as she rubbed one of her wrists. “I still have bruises from blocking his punches.”
“Whatever his bones were made of, they weren’t made of calcium. It appears to be made out of something stronger than that. It’s organic, so it can probably be created by regular biological processes. But that kind of thing would take several million years to evolve in our species.”
“Our species,” Carrington repeated. His expression was thoughtful. “Are you suggesting that he is not human, then?”
The doctor knew Carrington, and so he was allowed to be a little more imaginative. “Sir, I think there’s something more. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something not quite human about the way he’s set up. It’s almost as if he was created in imitation by something other than nature. It’s just little things–a capillary bed here and there that looks a little sparse, a little twist in the fingerprints. If I had seen them in a normal human, I wouldn’t have given them a second thought, but with a person that I know isn’t quite normal…well, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he comes from somewhere other than Earth, sir.”
Carrington sighed. “I thought the Maians were supposed to warn us if anything approached from outer space.”
“We don’t know that he’s from outer space yet, Dad,” Hikaru pointed out. “What’s the use of worrying about it now?”
“I’m just afraid that if I stop worrying for one minute, I’ll lose control of everything.”
“Now that’s not true.” Hikaru got up and took hold of his hands. Then she began tugging until he got up onto his feet. “He’s dead now. We don’t have to worry about him until we want to. And we don’t want to. We have a party to go to, remember?”
“God! I completely forgot about it!”
Hikaru smiled and pecked him on the cheek. “You have a lot to think about, Dad, but you sometimes lose sight of what’s in front of you. You don’t need to worry about that, though. That’s what I’m for.”
“Now don’t you start mothering me. I swore that I would be rid of that once and for all many decades ago.”
Hikaru laughed and led him out of the room. The doctor watched them both in bemused wonder. Then he shook his head and returned to his office.
The party that Daniel Carrington and Hikaru Shinsuke attended was the typical kind of party among the elite. Full of extravagance and luxury and populated by the shallow denizens of the upper class, it was the kind of affair Carrington never missed an opportunity to disparage. There was apparently some business that he had to attend to at this party, but Hikaru secretly suspected her father’s only real reason for attending was to play a little joke on everyone.
Carrington was wearing his usual conservative style which disappeared among the rich folk at the party. Hikaru’s dress was quite different. It was a stylish garment made of black silk (Hikaru adored silk) on which were printed designs of lilies and flowers. Perhaps more interesting was the fact that although it covered her fairly well, it also clung to her lithe body closely enough to hint at contours that proved very interesting to any males within the vicinity.
Carrington immediately got the most attention, although Hikaru wasn’t far behind. It was known that Carrington hated parties, but now he was here. On top of it all, he had a young woman on his arm just like all the other old rich men. Perhaps it says something about Hikaru that she did not mind the scrutiny and whispers at all. She simply followed Carrington onto the dance floor and allowed him to lead her through a waltz. That particular part had taken some practice. Hikaru had never danced a waltz before, but if she wasn’t perfect, she was still good enough to keep the eyes of the company riveted on her. Hikaru carefully made sure to keep her eyes on her father’s face as if he was the only person in the world she cared about. It wasn’t too hard.
After the dance, Hikaru and Carrington separated to mingle with the other people at the party. Just for good measure, Hikaru planted a kiss on Carrington’s cheek before he walked away. She quickly found herself fencing with a group of women who were clearly curious about her. They exchanged a few pleasantries first. Hikaru received several compliments on her dress and replied in turn. A few of them seemed surprised when she gave her name as “Hikaru Shinsuke Carrington.” They didn’t say it, but nobody had thought of Carrington as the marrying type. “You certainly are a lucky one,” a woman in a red dress commented.
“I always thought so,” Hikaru said with a smile.
“Quite frankly, I’m wondering what could have happened to him,” another woman muttered. “Many of us have been chasing him for years. It’s just like him to go off in secret.”
Hikaru put her best look of confusion on her face. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean,” she confessed.
“Why my dear girl, of course you know what I mean. Carrigton didn’t let anybody know the wedding until today. He’s probably been looking forward to this party for weeks just for the satisfaction of walking in here and watching everyone stare. It’s so much like him. He’s always playing tricks on us at parties.”
Hikaru would have been bent over with laughter by now, but she was a first-rate actress, so she continued to look perplexed. “The wedding? Whose wedding might you be talking about?”
“Why yours! Whose did you think I might be talking about?”
Hikaru stared at the other woman and did her best not to overact her incomprehension. “But I’m not married.” Then she allowed just the right amount of shock to creep into her face. “I’m sorry. Did you think that I was his wife?”
They were confused. They were very confused. The woman who had started it all said, “Well, you do share his last name.”
Hikaru could blush at will. She employed that tactic now, and lowered her eyes slightly. “I’m sorry to confuse you, but I’m not married to him at all. I’m his daughter.”
There was a stunned silence for a few seconds. The woman in red tried to salvage something. “I didn’t know he ever had a daughter. Why didn’t he ever tell anyone?”
“I wasn’t his daughter until seven years ago,” Hikaru explained softly. She was still blushing furiously, and so she excused herself and headed toward the ladies’ room. It was not until she was very much out of earshot that she allowed the slightest of smiles to cross her face.
“Did you hear all that, Dad?”
Carrington grinned openly. He could afford to do that since he was in a private room. He switched his watch to SEND and said, “I could have sworn that I heard the expressions on their faces.”
Hikaru’s laughter sparkled through the speaker on his watch. “What did you think of my act?”
“Perfect. I really sometimes wonder why you haven’t run off to Hollywood yet. You should be congratulated. I’m sure it was difficult to keep your composure.”
Hikaru laughed again. “I have to get moving now. I can’t stay in the toilet here forever.”
“Yes, you probably should. I’ll meet you out front in an hour.”
“All right. Bye, Dad.” Carrington’s watch went silent. Now, he turned to the man who had been standing diffidently in a corner watching. “Well, now that I’ve had my fun, I suppose I’ll have to get back to work again. Let’s have your report, Logan.”
Logan nodded once. “I’ll keep it brief, sir. I’ve been keeping track of company purchases at United Motors. One thing I noticed was that several shipments of raw materials were being transported to particular areas. There are factories there that ostensibly produce engine parts, but that doesn’t explain why they are receiving shipments of nitrates, phosphorus and carbon.”
“Indeed. Either they’ve invented a new manufacturing process or they aren’t producing engine parts at all.”
“The latter appears to be the case. I did some digging, and I now have some strong evidence that United Motors has been using its manufacturing business as a front for research into robotics.”
“Robotics? What kind of robots?”
“I’m afraid they are the worst kind of robots, sir. As nearly as I could tell, their goal was to create a robot indistinguishable from a human.”
Carrington took a moment to absorb that. What Logan didn’t know was that Hikaru had already met one of those robots. “To what end?” he wondered aloud.
“Speculation isn’t my field, sir, but the files I found strongly hinted that these robots were to be used for espionage purposes. Their brains were specifically designed to transmit information back to their home base.”
Carrington sighed. “And these robots would probably be physically superior to a real human?”
“I would guess that at the very least they would have superior strength and reflexes compared to the average human.”
Carrington looked out over the party and began to wonder just how hard it was to tell one of these robots from a human. For all he could tell, his daughter was chatting with one of them right now. “It looks like that robber had a purpose after all.”