Chapter 6: The Unrecognized One

“There’s a profiler working on this, you know,” Jasleen said. She frowned at the computer screen before her for a moment and then narrowed her search terms.

“It’s not enough,” Hikaru contended. “Joanna’s the key to this case. I know it. She found out something about UM and she’s still alive, hiding out somewhere. Whatever she knows, it’s enough UM is willing to kill to make sure it doesn’t go out.”

“Well, here’s her psych profile. Had it done a year before her disappearance, so it’s about the best way to predict her movements we can come up with.”

Hikaru stood up and looked over her roommate’s head. “Very idealistic, it says. Even after all those years in the company. She wouldn’t let an innocent person die for any reason. She really beat herself up when it happened once even though it wasn’t her fault. Hmm…” She began to pace in her room, tapping her finger against her lips. “Let’s go back to the explosion where she disappeared. UM captured her. That’s how they had her suit. But she escaped somehow. She couldn’t run back to CI or even contact anyone because it would compromise even more secrets. Her only chance was to hope we’d figure out that she was alive and go looking for her.” Hikaru turned to stare at the computer screen again. “She knew her own psych profile. So her best chance was to do exactly what it predicted she would do: go save some innocent people. And the best way for her to know of some innocent people being harmed is if she had found out about it while UM had her prisoner. She’s doing her very best to foil their plans but in such a way that she flies under everyone’s radar. But how could she do that and how can we find her?”

“You could do a nationwide search of unexplained events involving UM starting since her death, I guess,” said Jasleen. She glanced at her watch. “You’ll have to do that yourself, for now. I have some more work to do on those brains.”

“Have fun.”

Jasleen rolled her eyes as she stood up and walked to the door. “It’s some of the most tedious and frustrating stuff I’ve ever done.”

“Well, you’ve been telling me that you hate having it so easy in school.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking. See you whenever.” And with that, Jasleen left.

Hikaru was in no hurry to get started looking through case files. It was almost time for her to work out in the gym. She only sat down in the chair that Jasleen had just vacated and stared at the unblinking portrait photograph of Joanna that stared back.

So you’re sabotaging all of UM’s secret plans, but you’re doing it in such a way that nobody in the government knows it’s going on and nobody can find you anyway. The perfect vendetta, in other words.

But you’ve been inside their secret buildings. You know how dangerous they are and that we have to stop them. You know you can’t do it alone. There’s got to be something you can do to contact us without compromising secrets. You’re probably trying it right now, and we just aren’t paying attention.

Where are you, Joanna?

***

Logan was standing diffidently in a corner of Hikaru’s holding Snuffels in his arms. Hikaru had told him that Snuffels liked being hugged. In front of him was a screen of the type one might use to cover oneself while changing clothes. On the other side of that screen was Hikaru. She was changing into a brand new ninja suit. It was always a brand new suit before every mission. CI regulations clearly stated that a ninja suit was not to be used again after a mission until it had been carefully examined and repaired. Hikaru probably hadn’t damaged her suit in the last mission dispatching terrorists, but one never knew. What was unusual was the fact that she was changing putting this suit on so soon after her last mission. Just days after dispatching the terrorists in the mall, another mission had already popped up requiring her specialized skills. She had to be exhausted after one mission already. Physically, she had not exerted herself much, but the mission had to have been extremely stressful. One wrong move on her part would have led to dozens of deaths. Many people preferred to rest for a few days after a mission in order to recuperate. Hikaru hadn’t complained upon hearing that she had another mission. On the contrary, she had seemed almost happy. That was wrong, and Logan knew it. A good agent didn’t hate missions or even particularly try to avoid them. However, an agent who actually looked forward to them could become unstable after a few years. Logan himself had known one agent who had become a little too eager during missions and finally lost his grip. An agent had to remain cold as ice during and before a mission. Hikaru wasn’t doing that. Then, Logan shrugged. Up till now, Hikaru had never failed a mission. She would eventually fail in one of them. Every agent did. At that point, Logan guessed that the way Hikaru viewed missions would change dramatically.

“So where’s the mission?” Hikaru asked. That was another odd thing about her. She didn’t mind having her briefing while changing. Therefore, she had taken Logan, who was to give her the briefing, into her room so that she could change and learn about her next mission at the same time. It was very practical, but it was odd nonetheless.

“On the local highway,” he answered.

The sound of rustling clothes stopped for a moment. “<i>On</i> the highway?”

“You’re going to hijack a caravan of trucks, and the best time to do it is while they’re on the road.”

Hikaru didn’t answer immediately. Logan guessed that she had a shirt over her head at the moment. Whether she was pulling it off or on he couldn’t tell. Finally, she said, “Those mission designers don’t ask much, do they?”

Logan ignored the remark. “The caravan consists of seven trucks. Just half an hour ago, one of the bugs I planted at UM picked up the voices of some people talking about moving some valuable cargo to another place. Right afterwards, satellites detected the caravan moving out of UM headquarters. They’re headed towards the logical place. It’s a facility that’s extremely heavily guarded. We think bio-androids are manufactured there. Nobody’s ever been able to get inside.”

“So we want to make sure that caravan doesn’t get there.” It wasn’t a question.

Logan nodded although he knew that Hikaru couldn’t see him. “The conversation indicated that this valuable cargo would be carried in the second truck in line. The other trucks are transporting legitimate items: mufflers, engine parts, tires and so on.”

“If this is on a highway, there are bound to be other cars around.”

“Yes. You are to keep casualties to a minimum, of course. And, leave the other trucks untouched. If we start stealing car parts from UM, they can legitimately sue CI for disrupting their business. We don’t have enough evidence yet to prove that they are behind the bio-androids, so such a lawsuit would be a disaster.” Logan paused to remember the other things he had been instructed to tell her. “You will be approaching the caravan from behind. The local police arranged for an accident on that highway, so there will be a traffic jam. You will be transferred onto the last from a police car that will get through the traffic with its sirens.” Logan paused again and determined that he had said everything he needed to say. “Any questions?”

“Yeah.” Hikaru stepped out from behind the screen and held her arms out to the side. “Does this suit make me look fat?”

Logan examined her meticulously with his eyes. Then he walked around behind her and again looked her over. He privately suspected that Hikaru would look slim in a trench coat. He walked over to her right side and began looking her over from that angle. At that point, Hikaru evidently became tired of holding her arms out and dropped them. “No, I wouldn’t say you look fat,” Logan said without any hint of amusement.

Hikaru’s face wasn’t one that was particularly well suited to scowling, but she did her best to scowl anyway. “Do you always have to ruin my fun?” she complained. “Couldn’t you act surprised or something?”

“I am surprised,” Logan said without a trace of surprise on his face. “I can’t believe that I’ve forgotten to give this back to you.” He placed Snuffels in her arms, and then opened her door to walk out. “You need to be ready to leave in five minutes.” Then he left.

Hikaru stood for a moment holding Snuffels and then shook her head ruefully. “I’m going to need to work on him,” she told Snuffels. Then, depositing him in an armchair, she walked out of the room.

***

The transfer of Hikaru onto the truck went smoothly enough. Approaching the driver’s side of the truck, Hikaru had opened the passenger door of the police car she was in and leapt onto the side of the truck. She stuck to the side by virtue of the same equipment she used to climb walls. If she had tried the same stunt on any truck besides the last one, a driver behind would have noticed her immediately. The mission planners certainly avoided any risk they could think of.

It was just Hikaru’s misfortune that the driver of the truck she was on happened to look into his rearview mirror. Apparently, the drivers in the caravan were in communication with each other because as one, they immediately headed for the shoulder of the road. Hikaru fervently prayed that they were not going to stop. She would have no problem dealing with the drivers, but it would be very messy.

Apparently, the executives at UM didn’t want to have to explain what they were transporting to any police who showed up. Upon reaching the shoulder, the trucks immediately sped forward. Quite a few cars honked at them. Hikaru suspected that not a few drivers were staring at the black clad form stuck to the side of one of the trucks. It did help somewhat that she was on the truck’s left side away from all the traffic. She began climbing to the top of the trailer she was clinging to. She had to move slowly. A truck moving at 100 kilometers per hour shakes quite a bit, and it didn’t help that today was a particularly windy day.

In a matter of seconds, the caravan had moved past the accident on the road, and the trucks began to speed forward in earnest. Hikaru was concentrating so hard on reaching the top of her trailer that at first, she did not notice that the trucks kept shifting lanes left. She finally noticed that the truck was in the left lane, which was odd because trucks never drive in the left lane. Quickly looking forward, she saw that the trucks were going to pass under a bridge very soon. Then, the truck she was on shifted into the left shoulder. It was close enough that anything stuck to the left side of the truck would slam very hard into the pillar holding the bridge up. Hikaru didn’t have enough time to reach the top. Berating herself for not noticing sooner, she attached her sticky grappling pad to the side of the trailer. Then, paying out as much cable as she dared, she let go of the side. She flew backwards, but she had judged the length of cable correctly. She went back exactly to the end of the trailer, and there, she reached out to grab one of the handles used to open the back of the trailer. Pulling herself onto the back, she waited until the truck passed under the bridge. So much for being shielded by the trailer’s body, she thought wryly. Clinging to the back of the vehicle, she was completely exposed to all the rubbernecking passers by. Then, releasing the handle, she began pulling herself back to the climbing gear which was still stuck to the side. Reaching them, she quickly got onto the top.

From here, it was a simple matter of crawling forward on the trailer using her cups for a grip and then getting onto the next truck using her cable. Hikaru accomplished that much for the first two trucks. On the third, she ran into resistance. UM truly was prepared for almost anything. A flap on top of the trailer rose and a man’s head poked out. Then his hand appeared. He was holding a gun. Taking aim at her, he fired. Quickly releasing one hand, Hikaru reached down to her waist. She was only carrying her Falcon 3. Taking a two-handed weapon on this mission would have been suicidal. As she swung around on one arm, she took aim and placed a bullet in the middle of the man’s forehead. He fell back into the truck, and the flap fell down above him. Then Hikaru saw that the other trucks were similarly defended. She would be vulnerable while transferring from one truck to the next. She had to kill those men first. Bringing her gun to her face, she used her chin to turn on the laser-sight. She set it to emit a straight beam of light instead of a simple dot. Taking careful aim, she managed to shoot the men defending the next two trucks. Holstering her gun, she began to crawl forward again.

She was clinging to the fifth truck now. She only had to move forward one more. Her arms were getting very tired now. Her aim would not be steady, she knew, so she crawled as far forward as she could on her truck. Drawing the Falcon 3, she took aim and fired. She missed. She fired again, and missed again. Her aim was growing wildly erratic. She knew that it was no use trying to aim any longer. Her arms were too tired. Pointing in the general direction of her target, she fired until her magazine was empty. The man was still there. Hikaru sighed and put her gun away. With one hand to keep her attached to the trailer, it was impossible for her to reload. It seemed very likely that she would fail. At the very least, she would have to call for help in the form of a helicopter. Then she remembered her gas grenades. It was standard for agents to carry a pair of those on every mission. Hikaru had thought that they would be useless on this mission, but she had decided to take them along anyway. She was glad of that. Pulling a grenade from her belt, she pulled out the pin with her teeth and then lobbed it as accurately as she could behind the man’s head. The grenade contained an instant-acting nerve gas. It had no long-term effects, but anybody who breathed in the gas would fall unconscious within seconds. The gas was bright green, and as the grenade exploded, a cloud of that green gas drifted backwards over the man’s head. Hikaru held her breath as she flew through the gas cloud. It was going to confuse some of the drivers on the road behind, but that couldn’t be helped. When she looked up again, the man was gone. She had a few minutes to get to him before he woke up. She did get to him before he woke up. Lifting up the flap on the trailer, she saw the crew-cut head of the man who had given her so much trouble. She was absolutely certain about what she had to do next. Drawing one of her sai, she reached down and stabbed him through the heart. Then she let the flap fall back down.

Hikaru’s plan upon reaching the destination truck was simple. Holding on to the top of the cab, she reached down with one hand and opened the driver’s door. Grabbing the surprised driver’s shoulder, she wrenched and threw him out of his seat. It was a good thing that he hadn’t chosen to wear a seatbelt. Nimbly swinging around, Hikaru landed in his seat and took control of the truck.

For a while, she simply followed the lead truck. Then, she saw that the caravan would reach a rest stop very soon. She waited until she was only about half a kilometer away from the exit. Then, turning the wheel hard and accelerating, she cut across the highway towards the exit. Horns blared and a number of cars nearly collided in order to avoid her. That couldn’t be helped. As far as she could tell, no cars actually did collide. She reached the exit safely and pulled to a stop in front of a fast food restaurant. She had never heard of this particular chain, but she realized that she was hungry now. Getting out of the truck, she fell back against the door and stood there for a few minutes trying to work the ache out of her arms. Then she decided to look at the top secret item that she had just stolen.

The door on the back of the trailer was locked, of course. Hikaru had no trouble blasting off the locks with her now reloaded Falcon 3. She pulled open the door to reveal that the trailer was nearly empty. Lying in the middle was the body of the man she had stabbed. All the way in the back, Hikaru saw a blond woman. For a moment, she wondered what was so important about this woman. Then, when Hikaru hopped into the trailer and the other woman raised her face, she understood. Holding out her hand, Hikaru pulled the other woman to her feet. She had never met this woman before, but she had seen her picture. She looked directly into the blond woman’s eyes and said, “It’s a privilege to meet you, Velvet Dark.”

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