“Aaaaaah, fuck! Hiraki, I’m dying.”
“I’m serious. I must have broken at least three toes and half a rib.”
“Good for you, jackass.”
“I detect a distinct lack of concern in your tone.”
Hiraki and Ethan had been driving down the avenue, exchanging their usual insults and following after little Nova, when a dump truck had rather rudely slammed into them from the side. Fortunately, the car they were driving was an armored vehicle, and the extra weight had prevented it from being sent flying too violently. Still, the thing would move no longer. They’d probably have to ‘requisition’ another vehicle from one of Altera’s helpful, sharing civilians.
“All right. This is a red alert if I’ve ever seen one,” Hiraki said in an exasperated voice, reaching for her phone.
“Wait!” Ethan shouted suddenly, his face grave and solemn. “Are you really going to press the alert button? You know what it’ll mean if you do.”
Hiraki looked at him dumbfoundedly. “What? Yes, I do know. And yes, I’m going to press the fucking button. Why? Do you have an objection? Nova even warned us something might happen. Why all the fuss now?”
“No, it’s nothing,” Ethan replied thoughtfully. “I just felt like I should say something to make your button pressing look more dramatic.”
Hiraki cursed at him with words that would have made Ethan blush if he hadn’t deserved them so much.
“Do you have your gun with you?” he asked quickly to steer the conversation toward less dangerous waters.
Hiraki pocketed her phone after pressing the Doom Button and threw another disdainful glance at him. “Is today the national holiday for stupid fucking questions or what? Of course, I brought my gun, you dolt. What else do you want me to bring, a fucking dildo?”
“Well, if you charged at our enemies while waving a dildo in the air and shouting death threats at the top of your voice, I’m pretty sure they would run away. I know I would.”
Outside, two cars drifted to a stop near the scene of the crash, and armed men wearing balaclavas filed out of them, a variety of automatic weapons – mostly modern assault rifles; things street punks wouldn’t have a hope of getting their hands onto – at the ready. At the same time, the driver of the dump truck clambered out of his cabin. He must clearly still have rattled by the impact to do something so reckless – or perhaps he believed that Hiraki and Ethan were already out of commission after the crash.
Hiraki sighed as she flicked the safety off a compact submachine gun she’d produced from underneath her seat and shot that moron dead right where he stood with a burst of fire, in punishment for ruining their nifty car. “Just shut up and help me kill these bastards, will ya?” she said to Ethan.
“Yes, ma’am. I must say, though, it’s been a while since our last gunfight in public, like this. Didn’t think it’d happen in Altera, of all…”
“Woah, woah, woah!” Hiraki suddenly cut him off. “The fuck is this?”
“The fuck is what?”
“This?” Ethan asked, hefting his weapon and quirking an eyebrow. “What does it look like? It’s a gun. My gun. It doesn’t have a name because that’d be weird, but you can call it Bartholomew if you really want to.”
The gunmen started shooting. Bullets clanged against the armored body and windows of the car – Hiraki had quickly closed hers again after popping a cap in the dump truck driver’s ass – but they didn’t pierce through. Still, Hiraki and Ethan both lowered their heads, in case their luck suddenly took a turn for the worse or someone on the other side swapped for armor-piercing rounds.
“Are you insane?” Hiraki shouted at him as she squirmed out of the car on the far side from the attackers without exposing herself through the windows and windshield. “Or just plain brain-dead? You just said it; this is Altera. The capital of Altera, where Alterans live!”
“So?” Ethan blandly asked as he followed after her and sat with his back against the side of the car, putting the engine block between him and their assailants. Gunshots cracked, and bullets struck the hood of the car and punched tiny, ragged craters in the concrete of the street, next to them.
Everyone else on that avenue had long since disappeared, with commendable alacrity and good sense.
“So, not a fucking warzone! What are you gonna do with an automatic grenade launcher? And what sort of idiot does it take to bring this kind of firepower on a bodyguard mission?”
Ethan’s weapon was a huge monstrosity with a five-centimeter-wide barrel and a revolving magazine of dangerous-looking shells.
“It takes a virile one! This thing is a statement on my overpowering masculinity. And it’s not stupid. You never know what we might face,” Ethan replied with a daring, roguish grin that forced Hiraki to suppress the impulse to punch him in the nuts. “What if someone driving a tank harasses little Nova? Huh? What then? I just like to be prepared for every eventuality.”
“Just a friendly reminder, shitstain,” Hiraki said as she popped up from cover and sprayed a few bullets in the general direction of where the enemy fire was coming from. “There are civilians in all those buildings, so I sure hope these aren’t shrapnel grenades. Also, if you see a tank, it’s probably the alteran army coming to take you down for shooting a fucking grenade launcher in the middle of their city. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t blow them up. We’re not here to fight a war.”
Ethan shook his head. “Look, these guys are clearly targeting Nova. And you pressed the Doom Button. Don’t you think it’s a bit late to worry about collateral damage? I mean, when the drones get here…”
“Hmm. Right. You do make a good point. Okay, then. Go. Display your virility to the world.”
Hiraki peeked up from cover again to keep the gunmen busy – one of them fell to the ground after her first few shots; maybe she got him in the leg or the head, but she didn’t have time to see exactly. Then, Ethan opened fire.
“ROAR, BARTHOLOMEW, ROAR!”
The massive explosion blew a crater into the street and powdered three of the attacking gunmen. At the same time, it peppered the walls of the buildings lining the street with bits of concrete and flesh and blasted every window of the surrounding blocks to pieces.
“BOOYAH MOTHERFUCKERS, HAHAHAHA! WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, EH?”
“Nobody was laughing in the first place. And are you really a trained special forces soldier?” Hiraki couldn’t help but ask as they both ducked back down behind the cover of their car, though the grisly result of that grenade seemed to have temporarily deterred the surviving gunmen. “Seriously, where is your dignity? You sound more like some doped-up gangsta excited about doing this for the first time. Surely you’ve fired grenade launchers before, right?”
“Yes, I know. Sorry about that. It’s just, you know, the atmosphere. You can’t shoot one of these without getting a bit wrapped up in it. It’s like how you can’t fire a heavy machine gun from the hip without screaming your lungs out. It’s tradition, I guess you could say.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve never screamed my lungs out while firing machine guns, heavy or otherwise. Like, ever. I’m also pretty sure the boss wouldn’t approve of this sort of thing. It just doesn’t look very professional.”
Ethan only clicked his tongue in disapproval. “Tch. Your concerns only prove you’re not virile enough, Hiraki. You should take example on me. I’m a magnificent specimen of virility.”
“I am female, you know. Virility is not expected of me.”
“Oh, my!” Ethan said as he looked at her, shocked. “I didn’t know you were so sexist. I’m disappointed in you, my friend. Very disappointed. Now, make amends. Here.” He offered her the grenade launcher. “Go ahead. Give it a try.” Seeing Hiraki hesitate, he quickly continued. “Come oooon; you know you want to. There are a few of those idiots left. Hurry up! We need to catch up to Nova. Some other guys must be going after her while those pin us down here!”
Hiraki licked her lips and felt them lift in a predatory smile. “Fine. Give it here.”
They swapped guns, and Ethan laughed loudly as he reloaded Hiraki’s submachine gun. “Hahaha! That’s right! Give it to them!”
The remaining gunmen had spread out, but Ethan sprayed enough bullets to keep them occupied. Hiraki stood up and leveled the grenade launcher. Then, she started shouting.
“OOOOOOOOH, THIS GRENADE LAUNCHER OF MINE IS BURNING RED! ITS LOUD ROAR TELLS ME TO GRASP VICTORY! ERUPTING! BURNING! GRENAAAAAAAADE!”