She was walking in the back alleys of the city. She knew them all by heart. An agent occasionally needed to lose pursuers in the winding, twisting maze where few decent citizens dared to venture. Her hands were thrust into her pockets, and her eyes were lowered. When she passed an occasional light from a window, her shadow could be seen walking beside her. It seemed even smaller than she was. Every once in a while, the moon emerged from behind the clouds to shine down upon her and cast the entire city into a strange blue hue. She saw none of this and only continued to walk. Even in her current state of mind, her footsteps were absolutely silent. Thus, she attained the ultimate goal of a ninja: to be nothing more than a ghost in the night.
I should have known. The facts were all there. An agent whose physical measurements were so close to Joanna’s that she sat in one of her chairs and felt completely comfortable. She was the only one to ever break Perfect Dark’s record, and Perfect Dark had not been human. Her parents died nine years ago, exactly the same year that Perfect Dark disappeared. And they died in a fire so that there were no bodies left to recover. It all makes perfect sense.
She made a left turn and began to go deeper into the slums of the city. She could disappear very easily here, even if she had a tracking device in her head.
What was it like for you to find out, Joanna? Did one of your bones fail to break when it should have? Or was it something else? How did it feel to know that your life was nothing? That your childhood had never happened? Did you start to go mad?
Are you in there, Joanna? My body is yours, but is my mind? Are you inside me, hidden in some remote corner, waiting to return? Or were you erased before I was implanted into you? You must have had someone do it for you. Someone you trusted. It wasn’t UM. They are still looking for you. They never caught you—you’re too good for them. You did this to yourself. So did you commit suicide? Are you still there to help me?
It was growing very dark now. A few young men were starting to follow her. As time passed and she did not look around, they grew bolder. Steadily, they grew in number. Finally, there were half a dozen of them behind her, and others were running to cut off her other escape routes. She ignored them completely.
She was finally forced to stop by a muscular boy standing directly in her path. The scars on his bare arms attested to a long experience dealing with people who resisted his attacks. She stared back at him, her black eyes unblinking, uncaring, unliving. He demanded that she hand her money over. His expression clearly indicated that he intended to do more than steal her money. She didn’t seem to hear his words. She only stared back at him. He began to feel uncertain of himself. There was an undefinable eeriness in the way she stood perfectly still, her dead black eyes staring at him, seeing him and not seeing him at the same time. Those eyes belonged to a demon, a ghost—not this gentle looking creature who stood a head shorter than him. For a moment, he hesitated. Then, he regained his confidence, and in that act, he sealed his doom.
So what now? Is there still anything left to live for? Is there anything left to die for?
He shouted his demands this time, threatened her, pulled out a gun. She continued to stand where she was. Finally, he took two steps forward so that he towered over her. Standing this close, he was the first to see the metallic gleam of a weapon in her hand. By then, it was far too late.
There were four full seconds of stunned silence as the other gang members stared at the gleaming sai jutting out of their leader’s chest. He made no sound as his knees gave out and he slowly sank to the ground. Then, as one, they lifted their weapons and began to fire. She was already gone. They heard absolutely nothing as two of their comrades fell to the ground, each with a red circular dot in his forehead. They stopped for a moment. She was hidden somewhere in the steadily growing darkness. Then, another fell. The only sound they heard was the sound of a bullet crunching through a skull. As one, they decided to split up to find her. One of them felt an arm wrap around his neck from behind. He didn’t have enough time to think about what that meant before his head was sharply twisted around with a faint crack. Another one never even felt anything. He simply dropped as a sai was driven into the back of his head.
There was only one left now. He didn’t know that until he returned to the center of the street and saw two more bodies lying on the ground. He would be the only one in his gang to ever feel panic. Turning, he began to run away and then stopped short with a gasp. She stood before him, her eyes as cold and uncaring as ever. An inhuman cry of terror ripped from his throat, and purely out of reflex, he raised his gun and fired at her face.
Her head jerked back, and she nearly fell. Then she regained her balance and stood up straight again. The lone survivor stared in horror at the bullet that was clearly visible on he forehead. Reaching up, she pulled it out and dropped it to the floor. She wasn’t even bleeding much. She smiled. In all his life, he never saw anything more frightening than the smile on that beautiful face with the dead eyes and the red circle on the forehead. All the will drained out of him, and he dropped to his knees before her. He didn’t feel himself die.
So you created me. And now I know why. I know who I am and why I’m here. I am Onryou, the vengeful ghost. I’m here to avenge you. I’m here to destroy your killers and to ensure that nobody else is forced to suffer the way you did. And if not, I am here to die trying.
So be it.
Breaking into the Carrington Institute headquarters unnoticed was a cakewalk for one of CI’s own agents. The building had a number of underground passageways that were to be used in the case of an emergency. They were meant for evacuation purposes, but they served well enough as a method of entry so long as one avoided the security cameras. Avoiding those cameras would have been impossible for someone who did not know where they were. They were simply too well-placed. However, Hikaru knew exactly where they were and so avoided them without difficulty. In a few moments, she was back at CI headquarters.
She went first to the building’s storage area. At this hour, the place would be deserted and locked. She entered the conventional way: she slid her security card through the slot and walked through the temporarily opened door. Once inside, she employed her security card again to open a safe. Inside was the X-33. CI only had two, and only two people had the clearance to gain access to them. Daniel Carrington was one of them. The other was CI’s top agent, whoever that was. After gaining her weapon, she gathered up a ninja suit and a pack of ammunition. She collected three magazines of 9 mm rifle bullets, five magazines of the more standard 7.62 mm bullets and two magazines of the .50 caliber bullets used for long range sniping.
Leaving the storage area, she next headed for the intelligence center. This area was also deserted, and she was also able to enter by means of her security card. Here, she collected a palm top computer and then downloaded the UM list off of the main computer. She pocketed the palm top as she left.
Exiting the building unnoticed was much harder than entering. This was because the security cameras pointed outwards, making it difficult to accurately predict their field of vision from inside. Therefore, Hikaruheaded towards her apartment. She had something to collect there anyway. Unlike the other areas, this one was occupied by a person. Hikaru could hear Jasleen watching TV in another room. She had finally arrived home. Moving silently, Hikaru went to her own room and opened a drawer. It contained a short knife. Unsheathing it, she regarded the razor sharp blade. It had never been used before, and she didn’t know when she would have to employ it for its intended purpose. Closing the drawer and making sure she left no trace of her presence, she walked back to the center room and headed for the window. Then, she stopped, momentarily confronted by the black eyes of Snuffels sitting on a table. For a moment, they stared at each other. Snuffels wore the same expression as always, but now there seemed to be a strange sympathy in that expression. At the same time, there was trust. He understood her completely, and he didn’t reprove her. It was only natural. They had known each other for thirteen years. At least that was what she had been led to believe. She couldn’t resist reaching out a hand to touch him. “And where did you come from?” she whispered. “What’s your story?” She was silent for another moment. “You’re the only one left to trust. I know you won’t betray me.”
She stepped away from him and opened the window. It was a windy night, and her hair blew out behind her in a black stream. Carefully, she stepped out and attached her climbing gear to the outside of the building. Then she closed the window, careful not to make any noise. As she was closing the window, an especially strong gust of wind blew in. Perched on the edge of the table, Snuffels teetered for a moment as he was struck by that wind. Perhaps because of chance, perhaps because of something else, he continued to lean precariously as Hikaru descended the side of the building. Then, as she fell out of sight and pulled the window closed afterherself, he tipped over another fraction of a centimeter and flopped over to land on the floor.
Jasleen couldn’t concentrate on her TV show. In her head, she kept going over the events of that night. She remembered Hikaru’s back as she chased the purse-snatcher. She remembered the police arriving and tracking Hikaru down into a dark alley. There had only been a few traces of blood on the floor. The police had found the body of the purse snatcher in that alley with a bullet in his stomach which was unprotected by bones. Of Hikaru there had been no trace.
She gave up and switched off the TV. Walking back into the main room, she immediately saw Snuffels lying on the floor looking up at her. There was something wrong. He had been sitting on the table last time she saw him. The only possibility was the some sudden gust of wind had blown him over. And the only possible source of that wind…
Her heart thundering within her, Jasleen grabbed a gun and searched the apartment. She checked the window. It was closed, but the dust on the windowpane had been disturbed recently. Entering Hikaru’s room, some instinct told her to look in the drawer. Opening it, she saw Hikaru’s knife missing. She only stared at the empty drawer for another second before bolting out of the apartment in search of Daniel Carrington.
It was all over CNN the next day. Robert Ecker, a prominent businessman, had been murdered that night in his house. Authorities had been perplexed until they found photographs, obviously planted, showing pictures of Ecker dealing with known criminals. One of those criminals had been a hit man. He had been the victim of gang war, authorities concluded.
At least that’s what the authorities told the public. Daniel Carrington had concluded differently. For starters, the bullet lodged in Ecker’s heart still had its outer casing. Any conventional weapon forces the bullet out of its outer casing and ejects the leftover shell before chambering another bullet. There was only one weapon that fired the entire bullet and did not eject any shells. One of those weapons had been found to be missing from CI’s storage area. Daniel Carrington hadn’t taken it out, so everybody knew who had.
Carrington stood next to Ecker’s body lying on the autopsy table. Dr. O’Connor had quickly confirmed that Ecker had been a bio-android. Now, Carrington was left alone to gaze upon the handiwork of his adopted daughter. The room was silent for several minutes.
That was how Jasleen found him when she entered the room. Quickly, she told him that she had learned more about the structure of bio-android brains. By hooking up wires to certain parts of the brain, she could theoretically create a picture of the memories contained within that brain. The procedure would destroy the brain, but Ecker didn’t need it anymore. Carrington gave his approval.
If anything, watching the video was more painful than seeing Ecker’s dead body. The image was far from perfect, but it didn’t need to be. Everyone clearly saw Ecker’s bodyguards slaughtered single-handedly byHikaru with her bare hands. In her movements had been an absolute ruthlessness that nobody would have guessed she was capable of a few days ago.
Then her image on the screen approached them. There was no sound—Jasleen hadn’t been able to reproduce memories of sound—but there was no need. Everybody clearly saw in her expression that Ecker had said something to her. Everybody watched as she slowly smiled while her eyes remained empty. Then she began to speak.
“Dear God, Hikaru,” Carrington whispered. “What’s happened to you?” Everybody assumed that he was reacting to the sight of that dead face, but they were not quite correct. Alone of all the people who watched the video, Carrington was the only person capable of hearing her words. As she stepped closer to Ecker, he clearly read the words formed by her lips.
“Who am I? Interesting that you should ask.” She smiled a smile that was strangely empty and yet sad at the same time. Then she leaned closer to give him the full effect of her black eyes.
“I am an experiment gone horribly wrong.”