Chapter 14: Sweetness

According to the plan, Joanna was headed to a secret hiding place that she had built while wearing a lead helmet. Thus, United Motors had no idea where it was although they could track her position. She had chosen her hiding place well. She had directed Anna to drive to a local mountain resort. The place was pristine, white and beautiful at this time of the year. It was also huge, which was undoubtedly the point. Even though UM could pinpoint Joanna’s location down to a few centimeters, she was hidden in a cave underneath the mountain which meant they would have to waste time searching through the myriad tunnels for a way to get to her.

A cell phone in the car rang. “Pick it up,” Anna said without taking her eyes off the road. Hikaru was glad she didn’t. Anna was driving fast enough as it was, and a break in concentration now was potentially disastrous.

“Hello?” Hikaru answered.

The caller was a somewhat musical-voiced British woman. “You must be Hikaru.”

“And you must be Joanna.”

“Quite so. I’m terribly sorry about this mess I’ve gotten you into.”

“Save it for later, Joanna. We’ve got to rescue you first. Besides, what’s done is done.”

“Well, I seem to have struck on a bit of luck having a pragmatic one such as yourself to rescue me. Very well then—to business. I’m going to guide you to my location using this cell phone. You probably know that UM is also looking for me, but you will be one step ahead of them. They know my coordinates, but they don’t know the exact path they should take to reach me. It’s easy to get lost in this mountain. I’m going to tell you the path you should take to get to me, but of course UM can hear everything I say. Therefore, I won’t tell you anything until it’s time for you to know.”

“I understand. So basically, we’re going to be hiking up a path in this mountain, and all that time UM is going to be chasing us. And we can’t shake them off because they know what you’re telling us to do.”

“Yes, I’m afraid that is about right.”

“Don’t worry about it, Joanna. Just make sure we get to the right place.”

Hikaru closed the cell phone. The ski resort was within sight now. Anna pulled onto the private road leading to the bottom of the mountain. It was looking larger by the minute. “We’re almost there,” Anna said. “Grab the bag on the back seat.” When Hikaru had done that, Anna said, “Grab those magazines. They’re for you. And be careful. They’re PX-27s.”

Hikaru was immediately careful. The P signified that the bullets were tipped with poison. X-27 was a designation for an experimental poison developed by the Carrington Institute. Poison tipped bullets usually didn’t work because only a minuscule amount of poison could be used to coat the bullet. Such bullets might conceivably kill someone in an hour, but that was far too long for most missions. The X-27 drug was something else entirely. A few micrograms of that poison introduced into the bloodstream could induce heart failure within less than a second. A person struck by that bullet anywhere on the body—the arm, along the back, even on the toe—would probably be dead before he knew it.

It was the perfect weapon against bio-androids. Hikaru didn’t need to destroy their vital organs with a bullet anymore. She could strike them anywhere on the body, and as long as she drew blood, the bio-android would die. She wondered why she hadn’t thought of it before.

There were four magazines that fit in her Falcon 3 and six that her X-33 could accept. They weren’t likely to be enough to kill everyone she came up against, but they would have to do.

Anna stopped the car. Hikaru saw that they were only a good sprint away from the parking lot. She also saw that UM had arrived before them, but not by much. A group of vans were already in the parking lot, and operatives in black armor were emerging from them. There were more vans than Hikaru could easily count at the moment. She supposed that could be flattering under certain circumstances. UM took Perfect Dark andOnryou seriously.

As they got out of the car, Hikaru saw that Anna carried her own Falcon 3 as well as a grenade launcher with a sizable number of grenades. Quietly, Anna pointed up at the mountain. Following the direction of her finger, Hikaru saw a ledge on the mountain. She could easily get up there and fire down upon men below. All she needed was a distraction so that she could make a dash for it.

Anna provided that distraction for her. Taking careful aim at one of the vans with her grenade launcher, she fired. That particular grenade was a fairly powerful one. The van exploded with a stunning bang and rose slightly into the air before settling back down in flames. The men nearby were thrown to the ground. Hikaru was pretty sure that there had been men inside as well. Overall, it was the perfect distraction.

The two women didn’t wait for their enemies to open fire. Anna immediately strafed off the road and dove to the ground. Hikaru circled the other way around the parking lot towards the mountain. Finally, their car careened off in another direction. Dr. Carroll was in control again.

Hikaru had no problem getting to the mountain to begin her ascent. Nobody looked in her direction. After climbing a certain amount, she made a U-turn and scrambled onto the ledge Anna had pointed out before. Situated as she was, it would be nearly impossible to hit her from below. Looking through the scope, she saw Anna giving a good account of herself. There was a lot of tall grass about for her to hide in, so the UM forces had to essentially spray the field in the hopes of hitting her. The car that Anna and Hikaru had arrived in was driving off now. A van moved off in pursuit and then exploded as Anna hit it with a grenade.

It was time for Hikaru to enter the fray. Selecting someone who looked like a commanding officer, she took careful aim at his unprotected arm and then fired. He grabbed his arm and then suddenly keeled over dead. Through the scope, she could see the look of shocked surprise on his face. She quickly selected another man and repeated the same process. They were so engrossed in trying to kill Anna that Hikaru had to kill another of them before they realized what was going on. Then they scrambled for cover.

That was Anna’s chance to move, and she took it. Jumping out of cover, she headed for the mountain at a dead sprint. She was halfway there before someone noticed. By that time, she had launched another grenade into the group of vans. Someone got up to fire on her. Hikaru quickly dropped him and then another man who got up. All told, they had probably killed about two dozen men. She fired the last bullet in her magazine and then got up to head for the mountain path again. She met Anna there, and just then the cell phone rang. She picked it up.

“Head up the mountain and take the left path,” Joanna instructed. Then the connection went dead. She was taking no chances. Hikaru and Anna said nothing to each other. They only sprinted up the path.

Hikaru estimated that they ran about an eighth of a mile before reaching the branch in the path. Looking at Anna, she saw that the other woman was holding up very well. She probably ran several miles a day for exercise. Before turning on the path, Hikaru turned around, lay on the ground and took out her X-33. She could see her pursuers about a hundred meters behind. These shots were much harder to make now because all thatrunning had gotten her heart pumping. She took her time, slowly drew in a breath and then let it out even slower. She could feel the pulse of her body now. Her sights were centered on the leg of the lead man now. Her heart beat. She pulled the trigger. Her heart beat again. She had found another target by now, and pulled the trigger again. Her pursuers were in a panic now. She continued to fire upon them between heartbeats, her aim growing steadier as time passed. There was a momentary twinge of regret at having to kill these men who were having a very bad day. Then it passed. Hikaru got up, slung the X-33 on her back and then ran down the left path.

“Run 30 meters down that path and look for a depression to your right,” Joanna said over the cell phone. “The snow should be sunk a little bit. Get off the path and walk along that depression.”

It continued that way as Joanna continued to direct them towards her position. Every few minutes, Hikaru turned around and emptied a magazine at her pursuers. They were starting to stay far back now.

“When you see a ledge on your left that you can reach, climb onto it,” she said later. “You’ll come to three paths that slope downward. Take the middle one.”

“Climb up the wall on your right. There are plenty of handholds and footholds. When you get up there, head towards the mound on your right.”

“Circle around that mound to the other side and dig into the now. You should find an opening before long. I’m in there.”

Hikaru was definitely feeling the effects of all that running now. She was physically much more fit than her pursuers, and Anna wasn’t far behind. All the same, it had been a strenuous journey up to this spot about halfway to the top of the mountain. She saw that she was in the middle of a ski slope. That was clever. One couldn’t very well dig around here while skiers were zooming down the slope. Anna looked at Hikaru and spoke for the first time. “Why don’t you go in there first? I’ll follow behind with the laptop. You take the cell phone.”

Hikaru nodded and put the phone to her ear. Joanna spoke. “So you’re the one who’s going to get me. I must say that I look forward to this meeting.”

“So do I, Joanna. I’d like to see how much that surgeon had to change to give me my face.”

“Quite a lot. Your eyes and hair even had to be genetically altered.”

“Standard stuff. Sometimes I wonder what it was like in the days before it was so easy to change your appearance.”

“I think in a while, everyone is going to remember what it was like before today.”

“How do you mean?”

“This business with bio-androids has changed the whole definition of life. Humans don’t necessarily have to be born. Death isn’t permanent. Take you, for instance. I don’t think anybody else has ever died before.”

“No, you’re right about that. I just hope we can eradicate this technology before it gets out of hand. Ow.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Your butt’s too big, Joanna.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I got stuck crawling around in here, and my rear section comes from your body. So your butt is too big.”

“My apologies. I think my creator might have been having adolescent fantasies when he built me.”

“Well, there has been worse. Did you ever see some of the women they created in the late 20th century?”

“They created women?”

“Only computer-generated pictures.”

“Ah, those. I recall there was a lady who was rather top heavy.”

By this time, Hikaru was starting to hear another voice that did not emerge from the receiver of the cell phone she was carrying. It was Joanna’s voice. She was getting near. She scrambled forward a little further and then suddenly found that she no longer had to crawl. She stood up and said, “Joanna, are you there?”

A flashlight flicked on and Hikaru winced at the sudden glare. “Sorry about that,” Joanna said. She quickly lowered the flashlight and Hikaru was able to see again. She slowly lowered her hands, raised her hands and looked for the first time at the face of her creator.

***

Daniel Carrington had insisted on being present for this mission. He would never step out of his custom-built van with its titanium walls, electronic shielding systems and closed air circulation. He would be viewing everything through electronic instruments just as he would if he were sitting safe in his office at CI headquarters. But all the same, he had insisted on coming, and nobody had blamed him. His daughter was up on that mountain, after all.

Right now, he was watching the monitor that relayed information from the CI helicopter. UM had sent up its own helicopter. The difference between the two aircraft was that UM’s was a transport version capable of carrying a platoon of soldiers. Carrington was sure that those soldiers were ready to pounce upon Hikaru and Joanna as soon as they emerged from wherever they were. Strangely, the two helicopters paid no attention to each other. Neither carried weapons, so any sort of confrontation was impossible. Instead, they circled the area striving to be the first to locate the targets. Carrington was caught in a paradox. The situation was desperate because his daughter’s life was on the line, and if what Joanna had said was true, the fate of humanity was as well. On the other hand, nothing could happen until Joanna emerged, and until then everybody was simply waiting. Thus, Carrington became a nervous and edgy man forced into patience and calm. The combination was beginning to tell on him.

***

Joanna looked healthy and alert albeit a little pale from lack of exposure to the sun. She also did not appear to be much older than Hikaru. Well, although the other woman was technically many years older, her body was even younger than Hikaru’s.  

Right now, Joanna had a wire hanging from her ear. In her poking and prodding of the bio-android body, Jasleen had discovered a microscopically thin wire leading from the brain to the left earlobe. By attaching an alligator clip very precisely, she had found herself able to access the information contained within that brain. By playing around some more, she had been able to upload information into that brain. That was how she had deactivated the transceiver in Anna’s head and the same was being done to Joanna now. Anna was typing at the laptop hooked up to Joanna through that wire connected to her ear.

Joanna was scrutinizing Hikaru just as closely as Hikaru was scrutinizing Joanna. Finally, Joanna said, “You’ve changed quite a bit since I last saw you.”

Hikaru smiled ruefully. “Getting killed has a tendency to do that.”

Joanna also smiled. “You’re handling all this much better than I did.”

“No, not really. I almost got a permanent case of Mirror Syndrome after I found out.”

“Well, at any rate, I hope you’re feeling stable now. I’m afraid you’ll have to spend the rest of your life knowing who you are.”

“I think I’ll manage. I have some support, after all.” Hikaru’s gaze turned speculative. “You know, Joanna, you created me. You molded my mind and I have your genes. In an odd sort of way, I could even call you my mother.”

Joanna blinked in surprise and then laughed. “I suppose in a manner of speaking that’s true.” Then her face hardened slightly. “But if you ever call me ‘mommy’ I’ll never speak to you again.”

Hikaru grinned. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Perfect Dark.”

“There,” Anna announced. “The transceiver’s been deactivated.”

“Good,” Joanna said as she stood stiffly to her feet. Hikaru had found out early on that Joanna’s muscles were still working but that she was still slightly uncoordinated. It would take about a few hours for her to completely pull herself together. Joanna could walk and even run if she had to, but she clearly was no good for combat right now. “I’ve been waiting a long time to get that damn thing deactivated. Now it’s time for me to tell you how to get out of here. I didn’t do that before because I didn’t want UM to find out how I was planning to get out of here.” She pointed her flashlight at an opening in the cave they were in. It was a different one from the one Hikaru had crawled through. “That opening leads out to the ski slope. The opening is about a third of the way up the mountain which is much further down than UM is expecting. That way, we’ll be one step ahead of them.”

Hikaru glanced down at some shadowy shapes in the corner. “I suppose you brought along some equipment to help us descend the mountain a little faster.”

Joanna smiled. “Naturally.”

***

Hikaru had never gone snowboarding before, but she didn’t find it too difficult. The most difficult part had been resisting the urge to throw her hands out and stop herself once she began to slide down the slope. Once she had gotten used to the feeling that she was falling down a hill, she was able to look about and even steer herself around.

That was fortunate because she quickly had to concentrate on something else. Helicopters flying above had spotted her. She recognized a CI helicopter, and the troop transport had to be a UM helicopter. That company had apparently been prepared for this possibility because the helicopter began unloading soldiers on skis who began to chase her. They were armed with machine-pistols. Those guns were enormously inaccurate in outdoor combat, but they were compact which must have been a consideration in that helicopter. Besides, with enough guns firing at her, Hikaru would be hit soon enough if she didn’t do something. She drew a Falcon 3 in her right hand, twisted around to her right and fired backwards at the skiers bearing down on her. With each passing second, the experienced skiers were catching up to her, and the closer they got, the greater was Hikaru’schance of being seriously injured. Fortunately, Hikaru’s aim was relatively steady, her Falcon 3 was very accurate, and besides she only had to hit her enemies somewhere on the body.

Everything was going well by any standard until she hit a jump on the slope.

***

Carrington watched Hikaru hit the bump in the snow and fly through the air. She was balanced enough to land on her feet, but she had been looking backwards at the time. She spent the next several seconds desperately struggling to maintain her balance on the slope. Meanwhile, the soldiers behind her were closing in rapidly, and they continued to fire upon her. Hikaru’s survival was not important to Carrington simply because she was his daughter. Hikaru was acting as the rear-guard for a caravan that was made up of Anna skiing in the front and Joanna sprawled rather ungracefully in a sled between Hikaru and Anna. Being on a snowboard,Hikaru was the only one capable of firing backwards.

Fortunately, every team that Carrington sent to a mission included a set of snipers. He had brought three along this time. Picking up a radio, he instructed the snipers to open fire on the skiers. If they were bio-androids, it was very unlikely that this would do anything more than knock them over, but a skier tumbling head over heels had no chance of harming Hikaru.

In other areas, his men were engaging UM’s forces stationed at the bottom of the mountain. This battle was every bit as crucial as the one being waged on the ski slopes. It determined whether or not Joanna arrived at the bottom to meet a welcome or capture.

Hikaru was gaining control again. She had switched her front foot so that now she was firing backwards and to her left. She managed to drop to more men behind her while Carrington’s snipers hit most of the others. Meanwhile, the UM forces at the bottom were steadily overwhelmed by CI’s superior numbers. Hikaru was almost at the bottom. Carrington couldn’t stand it any longer. He opened the van’s back door and jumped out.

***

For Hikaru, the whole ordeal was over quickly. First, she had noticed that the group behind her was much more manageable than before. Then, she had seen the group of Carrington Institute agents stationed at the bottom of the mountain. It was then that she realized that she didn’t know how to stop on a snowboard. Desperately twisting her hips the way she had seen while watching the winter Olympics, she placed her board perpendicular to her path and did indeed slow down. Unfortunately, she still carried too much momentum and had not thought to lean backwards. Thus, her feet slowed, but the rest of her body did not. The resulting fall might have broken the ankles of a normal person. Hikaru found that what happened to her was more than bad enough as she careened directly into the snow and ended up in an undignified heap at the bottom of the mountain.

She was very groggy when she pushed herself to a sitting position. Then she noticed that someone was offering his hand to her. Still somewhat dazed, she moved her eyes from the hand to the arm, moving slowly up until she saw the brown beard, the twinkling eyes and the smile on the man’s face. She slowly smiled in her own turn and allowed her father to help her up.

***

“It’s really quite simple,” Joanna said. “UM is searching for technology. A few decades ago, a scientist discovered a method of producing anti-matter.”

“That’s quite something,” Jasleen commented. “Anti-matter will spontaneously combust as soon as it touches anything.”

Joanna nodded. “Quite so. This particular scientist seems to have found a method for containing anti-matter. I don’t understand exactly how she did it, but it appears that she found a method of producing and containing a gram of anti-matter.”

Jasleen whistled. “There’s no telling how much damage you could do with that anti-matter. Latest estimates are that the explosion you’d make from releasing that into the air would make Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like a children’s playground.”

That struck a chord with Hikaru. More than one of her ancestors had been killed in Nagasaki. “What happened to the scientist?” she asked quietly.

“UM tried to steal her research,” Joanna answered. “She didn’t intend to create a weapon. The other property of anti-matter is that a few particles at a time will react and produce a much smaller explosion. The reaction doesn’t require critical mass the way a conventional nuclear reaction does. Theoretically, a steady stream of particles of anti-matter can be made to power a sort of rocket engine in space. Such an engine can easily push a ship very close to the speed of light. Eventually, this scientist was hoping to build a spaceship capable of reaching a star such as Alpha Centauri.” She was quiet for a moment. “UM recognized the potential of this new technology. It would be just as revolutionary as nuclear technology in the 20th century was. Whoever controlled anti-matter controlled the world’s most powerful weapons, the ability to travel to space and the fate of the human race.”

“They didn’t get that technology,” Hikaru said.

“No, they did not. The scientist realized what was going on. She knew what could happen if her research fell into the wrong hands or even if she fell into the wrong hands. So she began destroying all her records. She wasn’t quite fast enough. Before she could destroy her last files, UM had located her and was moving in. So she committed suicide.”

“So they began searching for her last file,” Hikaru guessed. “And one of the best ways to find something is to have an intelligence network. UM could discover all kinds of information using bio-androids anyway. So the bio-android program began, and you and I were created.”

“That’s correct,” Joanna said. “By now, there are about seven thousand bio-androids walking about the city gathering information for UM. And they don’t even know that they are just machines created to spy on the human race.”

“Something must have gone wrong.” Logan spoke for the first time. “With that many bio-androids searching for over a decade, UM would have to have found something by now.”

“That’s what puzzles me,” Joanna admitted. “The scientist was apparently very clever in hiding her files.”

“Either way, we have to destroy them,” Hikaru said. “And in the meantime stop the bio-android program.” She stood up. “I was going to do that on my own, anyway.”

“I’m not letting you run solo missions again,” Carrington cut in. “You’re going to take somebody with you this time.”

“Two people,” Anna suggested. “Joanna and myself. We both have a score to settle.”

Carrington nodded. “All right then. I think it’s time for the Carrington Institute to spend some resources as well. Where do you think would be the best place to deploy some helicopters and troops?”

“From the back,” Hikaru answered. “I know the perfect pathway to infiltrate the company from the front. I can set up a distraction from the east side, and an attack from the north would be the perfect way to make sure security is stretched thin.”

“Let’s do it that way,” Carrington decided. “I don’t like hasty missions, but I think we need to do this quickly. The longer we wait, the more likely it is that UM will find those files. We move out tomorrow at 600 hours.”

That was the signal that the meeting was ended. Everybody stood up and began to walk out of the room. Carrington laid a hand on Hikaru’s shoulder, and she stayed behind. Neither of them spoke when they were alone. Finally, Carrington smiled sheepishly and said, “I think I had something to say, but I don’t any more.”

Hikaru laughed. “You didn’t need to say anything, Dad.” Then her face turned serious. “Can anything ever be the same after this? People don’t even have to be born to live anymore.”

Carrington knew what she was really asking. He looked her in the eyes and said, “Hikaru, I know this may be hard for you to believe, but I really don’t care what you are. It was quite a shock to find out, to be sure, but it couldn’t have been any better for you to find out. But you’re still the same person I took in as my daughter so long ago. That won’t ever change.”

She impulsively hugged him. “Thank you, Daddy.” She drew away from him and then turned toward the door. Before she took a step, she said, “Aren’t you going to tell me to be careful?”

“Do I really need to do that?”

She smiled back at him and then walked away.

***

It was morning the next day. There was only about a half-hour left before the mission began. Hikaru, dressed in a new black ninja suit and carrying her standard weaponry, was walking down the hall towards the deployment area when she heard Logan’s voice behind her. “Take care of yourself, Hikaru.”

She turned around and smiled back at him. “Why, Logan. I have the feeling that you’ve never said that to anyone before.”

“I haven’t.”

“That’s flattering, don’t you know? To be the first woman to stir any compassion out of you.” Logan said nothing. Hikaru immediately became serious. “I think I finally understand you now. Are you telling me that after all these thirteen years, you still can’t forgive yourself over killing that girl?” Again, he said nothing. “I had to ask you those questions, last time. You were sixteen years old when you killed her. Eight years older than her. You’re twenty-nine now. You’re eight years older than I am.” She paused and waited for him to say something. Finally, she said, “If you hadn’t killed that girl, she would be my age now. Do you feel that you can earn some sort of redemption through me?”

He only said, “You are perceptive, Hikaru.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m not. It was just the only explanation that made sense.” They stood silently for another uncomfortable moment. Finally, Hikaru said, “Logan, I can’t give you redemption for what you’ve done. There wasn’t any way for you to avoid doing what you did. You have to realize that for yourself. Nobody can help you do that. Nobody can forgive you. Not even me. I’m not that little girl.”

For the barest instant, she thought she saw something change in his face. Then he said, “It’s 0600 hours now. We have to get going.” He turned and then said, “Take care of yourself.”

Hikaru suddenly grinned at his back. “I’ll make it out. With you on the inside to tie them up, how can I lose?”

***

At UM headquarters, Hikaru quickly and silently found her way back to the box she had hidden in her last mission. Opening it, she saw that everything was in working order. It was another new type of weapon she had purchased from a military supply store. It consisted of three separate rocket launchers. As soon as she fired one of them, she could drop it into the box and pick up another one to fire. In the meantime, the box reloaded the weapon she had just dropped. Thus, she could continuously fire rockets at her enemies by going through the rocket launchers in cycle.

Taking a radio from her waist, she whispered into it, “Onryou is all set.”

She turned it down to the lowest volume and listened. She quickly heard the other teams report in succession. “Velvet Dark is in position.”

“Perfect Dark is in position.”

“Logan is in position.”

“Central, this is Alpha Team leader. We are go.”

Finally, she heard, “All units, this is Bear. Execute now.”

She grabbed a rocket launcher and swung it up to her shoulder. She heard the sound of gunfire from somewhere to her right. She carefully scanned around her, peering into the rocket launcher’s sight. The weapon was almost useless against personnel, so she was letting others handle that. Her job was to handle the heavy weaponry.

She immediately saw her chance. UM had deployed helicopters to meet the attackers. She lined her sights up on the helicopter and waited while a computer calculated the velocity of the helicopter. The sights adjusted and she shifted slightly. Then she fired. The helicopter flew directly into the path of the oncoming rocket. It had no chance.

Hikaru didn’t wait to see what happened. She dropped her rocket launcher into the box and picked up another one. Scanning to her left, she saw a group of jeeps heading towards the disturbance. She fired at the one in the front. It exploded and stopped, and another jeep behind it exploded as it crashed into the front jeep. Hikaru grabbed another rocket launcher and quickly shot down another jeep. They were scrambling in confusion now. She picked up her first rocket launcher, now reloaded, and fired a last rocket at them.

Then she saw a limousine pulling away. Company executives were being evacuated. Well, this plant was only a front for the production of bio-androids. There was no way they couldn’t know about what was going on. She destroyed that limousine as well.

Two more jeeps and another helicopter fell that night. Then there were no more vehicles. Hikaru still had three rockets left. She couldn’t fire it at the main building because Joanna and Anna were busy infiltrating it. Instead, Hikaru pointed her last rockets at a nearby truck and the company’s backup generator. The more distractions she could provide, the better.

Finally, she abandoned the rocket launchers, drew her Falcon 3s and headed for the main building.

***

Brian Pearson was having another bad day. Everything had dissolved into absolute chaos. It was clear that Hikaru wasn’t working alone this time. She had the support of the Carrington Institute this time.

There was more. Security cameras had detected Joanna Dark infiltrating the building. Joanna Dark! The perfect agent who had accounted for hundreds of kills in previous missions against overwhelming odds. It was Brian’s job to deal with her, but he truthfully didn’t know if he was up to the job. Years of being on the run had to have hardened her.

His front men walked up to a door in the building and pulled it open. Nobody was in that hallway. Cameras had determined that.

At least, that’s what he thought the cameras said. What he saw there was a very occupied hallway. Hikaru had been creeping down the hallway when the door opened to her left. She quickly whirled to face the men coming out of the building. At that moment, her eyes met Brian’s.

He would never understand what it was in her eyes that had frightened him so. The glance had lasted less than half a second, but in that glance he had seen a lifetime. The black eyes were cold. There was hatred there. He had killed her mentor. The eyes were almost dreamy now, and ever so slowly, within the space of that glance, she smiled at him.

She was here to murder him.

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