Chapter 12: Strike

The world wasn’t hazy, exactly, but it didn’t seem quite right. Her head was feeling somehow groggy, yet when she tried to sit up on her bed, her movements were completely coordinated. It was as if there was some kind of disconnect between her conscious, thinking mind and the brain that was controlling her motor functions.

“Quickly now. We don’t have any time to waste.” A human voice. British accent. Friendly sounding although a bit brisk. She turned her head to see the source of that voice: a laptop computer with an image of a human face on its screen. “We must hurry,” it said. “We only have a few hours before her personality takes over and you disappear. There, that’s it now. Just stand right up. I have the van here. It’s a good thing you had it ordered some time ago just in case this very sort of thing happened. It’s waiting in the garage. Don’t you worry about me. I’ll get myself into position just as we agreed.”

Something made her trust him. Some subliminal force in her mind urged her on, and she didn’t walk to the garage. She ran. And somehow, she even knew where this garage was.

There was a white van there painted with the logos of a plumbing company. The sliding door on the side was open. “Get in the car,” called out a feminine voice from within. It sounded familiar. She knew who that was but couldn’t quite find the proper name in her head. Well, if she had heard it before, she could probably trust it. In her current state, she didn’t really have any other choice.

There was another bed in the van of the sort that ambulances carried. And just beyond it was a screen with another face on it. This one didn’t react to her presence as the other one did. It was pre-recorded.

The van’s door slid shut behind her. As she started and looked at it, the van started up and began driving away with her inside it. She felt the faint tuggings of panic rising within her.

“Don’t worry,” said the face on the screen. “You’re completely safe, and this is all planned in advance. Trust me. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you.” Then the face smiled wryly. “After all, you and I are the same person.”

That was it. She had amnesia and was using these recordings to guide her future self to where she needed to go. Fair enough. The person she had used to be seemed like a pretty competent person.

“You’ve had everything on the inside changed,” said the face. “Now it’s time to work on the outside. This van has a robotic plastic surgeon. It’s completely safe, but you are going to have to go to sleep again. This was all planned. Now, lie down on the table.”

Sleep sounded nice. The van was moving very slowly now so that its motion wouldn’t disturb the bed she was lying on. The very gentle motions as the van eased into a turn and the quiet hum of its engine suddenly seemed to combine into a very drowsy, welcoming atmosphere. She wondered which way her head was supposed to go and then decided that it probably didn’t matter for a robotic surgeon. She lay down on the bed, felt her muscles relax and closed her eyes.

And opened them again. Was it over already? The strange feeling in her head was gone. She sat up and saw a mirror attached to the back door. A strange face stared back at her. She blinked and then smiled and stuck out her tongue just to make sure that was really her. It seemed so young. She wasn’t sure how old she was, but she certainly couldn’t be the age of this child before her. And she didn’t even feel any pain. It was as if she had worn this face on the front of her head all her life. It was amazing what modern plastic surgery could do these days. Although come to think of it, she didn’t really know what day it was today.

As she stood up, she realized that she was wearing a sort of night gown. It reminded her of sleep. She wanted to sleep again, but she had the feeling that there was still something left to do.

A voice sounded to her right, and she looked to see a face on a screen beside her. “Off you go now. Take that bear with you. It seemed only fair for you to have him as your link to the past. Remember the number. You’ll remember these past few minutes when you hear my voice saying the code words to you. They’ll help you piece together everything that’s been going on.

This is where you and I part ways. Good luck. Until we meet again.”

The door opened before her. She was in a van. What was she doing in a van? She slowly picked up the stuffed polar bear that sat at her bedside. It was rather cute, and she smiled slightly at it. The two of them could face the world together, she thought as she stepped out into the cold night.

As soon as she was clear, the van’s doors slammed shut, and it pulled away. She watched it drive off for a moment before glancing around at where she was. It was an alley of sorts. Very dark. But she had no fear. Somehow she knew that she could take care of herself. She just had to take a nap to shake off some of this weariness.

There was an apartment above her that seemed to be on fire. Perhaps she should help. On second thought, in her current worn out state, she would probably do more harm than good. She had to sleep. Everything would be better if she just closed her eyes and let go. The need was getting so urgent that she was starting to rock on her feet. Just a quick rest and then she would be ready for anything.

Nearby, there was a trash dump with some particularly soft looking junk inside. That would do. She slowly climbed in and eased herself carefully onto her back, careful to keep the bear sitting on top of her so that he wouldn’t get dirty.

And she closed her eyes.

And then she died.

***

Brian Pearson was waiting for them when they arrived at UM headquarters. The last time Hikaru had seen him, it had been dark, and he had been standing some distance away. This was her first real look at him. She immediately noticed the numerous scars on his face. Some of them look very deep, and it looked as if he had received most of them at the same time. His face must have been nothing more than a mask of blood when he had gotten those scars.

Brian smiled slightly as Eric escorted Hikaru at gunpoint to the front of the building. “Hey bro. Nice of you to drop by, Hikaru,” he said dryly. “Or do you still insist that I call you Onryou? United Motors tries to be accommodating.”

“Spare me,” Hikaru said shortly. “You’ve got me. Just get on with it.”

Brian shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He held the door open for Eric and Hikaru to walk in. There seemed to be something wrong. Eric was very quiet. Usually he would be gloating over a catch such as CI’s top agent. He scrutinized the two of them closely as he walked with them into the building. Eric’s gun was pressed against Hikaru’s back, and the safety catch was off. Hikaru was only wearing a black sleeveless silk shirt and matching pants. She wouldn’t have been able to hide anything besides some cards within her clothing.

So there had to be something about the laptop she was carrying. By the time he realized this, they had already entered the factory section of the building. They were on a walkway above the bio-android manufacturing facility when Brian said, “All right, stop right there and give me that laptop.”

Hikaru only smiled and didn’t even turn to face him. “I don’t think your brother Eric would like that.”

Brian’s eyes narrowed. “What are you up to?”

“Have you ever considered the fact that maybe it’s not your brother who is holding me hostage? I saw you look me over for hidden items, but you seem to have ignored anything that might be hidden on him.” Then she turned the laptop slightly and allowed him to see her finger pressed on a button at the base. Brian understood immediately. With trained reflexes, he whipped out his gun. “Careful there,” Hikaru said. “You don’t want your brother spread all over the factory floor. And besides, you won’t feel too well either if I let go of this button.”

Brian clenched his teeth. “All right, that was clever, Onryou,” he spat out. “But now you’re stuck. It doesn’t matter to either of us if we die. It’s very different for you. You won’t get anywhere if you’re dead.” He stopped a moment to let it sink in. “So what will it be? You can either disarm that bomb, hand over the laptop and come with us peacefully, or you can just blow us all up and die along with us. It doesn’t make a difference. You lose either way.”

Hikaru only smiled again. “You’re slipping. Don’t you think I would have thought of that?” A sudden pain ripped into Brian’s hand, and the gun flew out of his hand. He staggered back clutching his bleeding hand. Looking up, he saw the small barrel in the laptop that he should have seen before. He had heard about laptop guns, but he had never thought it possible to manufacture a functioning laptop capable of withstanding the stress of a fully automatic machine gun.

Then he wondered why Eric hadn’t shot Hikaru yet. He was going to die, so he might as well have taken her with him. Then, Hikaru whirled away from Eric and vaulted over the railing on the side of the walkway. Simultaneously, Brian saw the plug within the barrel of Eric’s gun and the look on his brother’s face. Eric raised his hands helplessly and seemed to beg forgiveness before he exploded into flames. As he was thrown backwards and slammed into the floor, Brian vowed that he would make Hikaru die a slow, lingering death.

***

It was about a 20 meter fall from the walkway to the factory floor below. For most people, attempting that fall would have been downright suicidal. Even a skilled operative could only have ended up with broken legs after such a fall. Of course, most people didn’t have the kind of bones that Hikaru had. The landing didn’t cause her any hurt beyond a feeling that her entire body had shrunk by a few centimeters. The impact was jarring enough to knock the laptop out of her hands. She heard Eric explode above her, but she paid no attention to that. Her immediate concern was to make sure that the laptop was intact. She picked it up and opened it. Dr. Carroll’s face immediately appeared.

“Are we in?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” Hikaru answered. “This laptop is really very useful, you know.”

The image on the screen smiled slightly. “Naturally. Laptop guns have existed for a while, but I had a part in designing this one.”

“Is the car on the way?”

“Yes. I sent the signal. It should be pulling into the parking lot in about ten minutes.”

“Are you sure you can keep it headed this way? I’m going to be carrying you through this mission, and you’ll get shaken around a bit.”

“Don’t worry. This laptop was designed to be carried on missions and used as a weapon. The plastic casing is strong enough to stop a bullet if it really has to. Just get the information and let me worry about getting your supplies here.”

Hikaru nodded and closed the laptop. Then she took a look at her surroundings. There were large glass containers around her. Something that looked very much like human flesh and organs were inside them immersed in a pink liquid. This was what she was up against. At some later date, she was going to destroy this and rid the world of knowledge that had never been meant to be known. She turned and walked toward a door.

Her first task was getting a weapon. The laptop gun only held a single magazine, and she had used up most of it. Peering around a corner, she saw her opportunity. A guard was pacing the hallway, and right now he was walking towards her. She quickly dropped back before he saw her and waited patiently. The guard passed by her, and she quickly grabbed his head. Before he could react, she had her right hand over his mouth and the other hand upside down on the right side of his head. She pushed in one smooth motion and snapped his neck. He fell to the ground, but she grabbed his rifle before it could hit the ground and attract attention with the resulting clatter. Out of habit, she brought the rifle up and swept it around her to make sure nobody had seen her. Then she moved on.

Logan was standing around the next corner holding a mop in his hand. He almost seemed surprised to see her. Hikaru had certainly never expected to see him. As usual, Logan recovered instantly. “You’re here to find some sort of information, I take it,” he said.

“Something like that,” Hikaru said. Then she had an idea. “Janitors have closets don’t they?”

Logan nodded and then looked around the corner at the dead guard’s body. He didn’t say a word but only picked up the body and carried it to a door. Opening that door, he dumped the body in a corner. Then he opened another container and removed a Falcon 3 hidden inside a false bottom. “You should take this,” he said. Hikaru nodded and accepted the gun along with three spare magazines that he handed her. Then she removed her boots and stuck them into the closet as well. Underneath the boots she was wearing the slipper-like shoes that were ideal for silent running.  

“Where would they keep information about bio-android brains?” she asked.

“Go down the stairs on your right, go down two floors and it will be in the third door on your left. It will be locked and heavily reinforced.”

“I have some ways around that.” She began to walk away, and then paused and turned back to face him. “How long ago did you kill that girl?”

“Thirteen years ago,” was the prompt answer.

Hikaru hesitated as if afraid to ask the next question. “How old are you now?”

“29.”

Nothing else needed to be said. Hikaru only nodded once and then ran off.

It took her a matter of minutes to find the door she wanted and then only a few more minutes to blow it in with a strategically placed explosive she had hidden in a compartment in the bottom of the laptop. The computer she was looking for was right in front of her. She quickly hooked up the laptop. Dr. Carroll’s face appeared once again on the screen.

“Can you do what you need to do from here?” she asked him.

“It shouldn’t be a problem. I can even order Joanna’s creation and download data at the same time.” That had been the plan. Hacking into the company’s network while leaving abundant evidence would camouflage her trueintent which was to recreate Joanna. The data she stole would just be icing on the cake.

“How long?” she asked.

“No more than ten minutes.” Then the alarm sounded. She had been wondering when that would happen. Undoubtedly, the security force’s first move would be to protect the very computer she was standing next to. She was not in a defensible position, and so she moved.

The building had apparently been built for defense. Columns lined the walls. They were the perfect spots for someone to hide and fire from behind. There was one column where Hikaru could hide behind and fire upon anybody emerging from the stairs or heading towards the room with the computer. She wondered if UM had anticipated that someone might use the building’s own defenses against them.

It didn’t take long for a guard to emerge from the stairwell. She quickly brought him down with her Falcon 3 and then decided to take a chance. She ran over to his body and looted it, coming up with some spare magazines for the rifle she had already stolen. Then she ducked behind the column and waited again. A more heavily armed force came out of the stairwell. They had anticipated that she might be hiding behind a column, but they still did not have a chance because they had also had to make sure she wasn’t somewhere else. With the element of surprise on her side, she quickly mowed them down with her stolen rifle. They were carrying better rifles. She stole them and then also stole some of the grenades they had carried.

That was when things almost went fatally wrong. Another group had taken a different set of stairs, and just then they rounded the corner to enter the hallway Hikaru was in. She was still crouched over a dead body when it happened, and so she could only dive to the side as bullets began to fly toward her. She quickly rolled back behind the column holding the rifle in front of her and squeezing the trigger. She wasn’t expecting to hit anyone, but perhaps she could get them to fall back a bit. All the same, a bullet slammed into her shoulder. She cursed herself and then armed a grenade. She took her thumb off the trigger and silently counted two seconds before quickly ducking around the column to pitch it at the group of guards before her. They had no chance to avoid it.

Another group quickly came out of the stairwell. She began exchanging fire with them, but by this time she had used up most of the bullets in her magazine. She used the rest of them and then quickly drew her Falcon 3 and continued firing. When she had used up the Falcon 3’s magazine, there was still one guard left. She quickly reloaded and then dispatched him.

Her position was quickly becoming untenable, and besides her download was nearly over. It was time for her to become mobile again so that she could use her main advantages: stealth and speed. She reloaded all her weapons and took one last sweep of the area. Then she sprinted for the room where she had left Dr. Carroll. “Is the car here yet?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, it’s waiting for you in the back parking lot.”

Hikaru didn’t waste words. She snapped the laptop shut and then headed for the stairs again. The logical thing for her to do would be to exit the building through the front lobby or a first-floor window on the front of the building. She was pretty certain that they wouldn’t expect her to leave the building through a side window on the third floor.

She met a few executives on her way. They were probably relatively innocent, so she simply smashed them in the head with the butt of her rifle and made sure that they were unconscious. She found the perfect window in a manager’s office. Stepping backward, she ran forward and then jumped feet first through the window. She landed on someone’s car and the roof caved in underneath her. She could see the car now. Nobody seemed to have noticed it in all the chaos. She moved towards it cautiously at first and then broke into a dead run when it was clear that nobody was watching. Dr. Carroll had turned it off as soon as it had reached its destination, but Hikaru had left the keys in the ignition. She quickly turned the car on, switched on the headlights and floored the accelerator. That would definitely attract attention, and she still had one more job to do.

Stopping the car next to a garden with several bushes, she opened the trunk. Her X-33 was inside as well as a large heavy box. She had spent quite a bit of her stolen money on that box, and only military personnel of a certain rank were allowed to purchase it anyway. Fortunately, CI’s top agent was qualified, and the store manager hadn’t even bothered to scan her ID card as she was so familiar. She took out the X-33 which now had a sniper scope attached to it. It was loaded with .50 caliber bullets. Opening the laptop, she instructed Dr. Carroll to move the car forward 30 meters. Crouching in the bushes with the X-33, she watched as a group of guards headed towards the car which they naturally assumed had her in it. She dropped them all in rapid succession and then waited. Nobody else came. She carefully searched the building and saw that a sniper was perched inside the building trying to look for her near the car. She shot him as well, and then after making sure that there was nobody else, she hid the box under a particularly large bush and ran for the car. Nobody tried to stop her.

She had one last distraction to provide as she drove away. Pushing a button to roll down the passenger side window, she pulled out a grenade launcher. Like the box she had just hidden, she had purchased it from a military supply store where she had been required to provide identification before being allowed to make her purchase. She took careful aim and then fired the grenade through the window. It flew off, landed on the front door and exploded with a satisfyingly large explosion. The front door had been on nearly the other side of the parking lot from her. As security personnel headed towards the door, Hikaru drove out of UM headquarters and into the city.

***

It had been another tiring day for Jasleen. She had spent nearly the entire day poring over the bio-android brains she had trying to discover how they worked and how they might be modified. She really had insufficient data for the job, but she had to do it. Nobody had told her, but she knew that Hikaru’s life might depend on her success. If bio-android transceivers could be deactivated without destroying the brain, bio-androids would become harmless and UM would no longer have any incentive to produce them. It had become pretty clear that bio-androids were built with the purpose of gathering information and then relaying it back to UM headquarters.

If she only had complete specifications on the brains, she would find the solution in no time.

But that was wishful thinking. She didn’t have specs, so she had to make do with what she had.

She wearily pushed open the door to her apartment and entered. She didn’t look around the room as she walked in. She was too tired. She only began to suspect something when she saw that Snuffels wasn’t sitting in his usual place on the table. Whirling about, she saw Hikaru sitting at her place in front of the go board holding Snuffels in one arm.

“Sit down,” Hikaru said. “I have something to show you.”

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