What the hell are these two nutjobs doing? I can hear the explosions from the other side of the freaking city. Were they towing a howitzer behind their car or something? I know I asked them to be ready, but not even those two would go as far as blowing up Altera, right?
Nova had seen in her mirrors what had happened to her friends’ car. She was a bit worried about Ethan and Hiraki – no matter how much soldier training one went through, car accidents could easily be lethal – but there was nothing she could do. Or rather, there were a few things she could do, but as important as Ethan and Hiraki were to her, her own life was more important still.
Also, those two were the kind of people who wouldn’t die even if they were killed. They never seemed to take anything seriously, but they were still some of the best Viper Nest had to offer. Nova had never seen them in anything but perfect control of any situation.
They could take care of themselves.
Nova’s own situation was not quite as comforting. The sports bike had already disappeared somewhere, but more cars had taken its place on her tail. They hadn’t started shooting at her, fortunately, but maybe they’d change their minds about that soon.
And they were closing in on her. Nova’s motorcycle wasn’t powerful enough to draw her apart from her pursuers. She had to capitalize on the bike’s superior maneuverability and take some twists and turns down narrow alleyways to keep her lead on them. But even then, despite her efforts, she could never lose them altogether. They always managed to find her again, other cars appearing in front of her to form an encirclement around her.
They’re professionals. Are those people Duke Bumfuck’s subordinates? Does he have some sort of private army at his disposal? Seems a bit reckless to deploy them in the capital, though. This could backfire on him rather easily. Guy didn’t look like the kind to make this sort of risky decision… And what about the motorcycle from earlier? How does it fit in?
Casting off those pointless thoughts – she didn’t have enough pieces of the puzzle to have a hope of solving it, yet – Nova accelerated again and took another turn down a gap between two buildings, so tightly that she brushed against the angle of a fence.
For a few moments, her pursuers disappeared in the maze of streets and alleys behind her, and Nova took the opportunity to glance down at her bracer’s screen.
‘ETA DRONES: 28:55’
‘ETA DRONES: 28:54’
‘ETA DRONES: 28:53’
Apparently, Hiraki or Ethan had already signaled Marian for support. It would take a while for the drones to get to her, though. Viper Nest’s airfield was around 300 kilometers away, and as far as Nova was aware, this kind of unmanned aircraft could only fly at a maximum speed of 700 km/h. That was already three times faster than one of the Predator drones used on Earth, but that still left her to her own devices for quite a while.
A lot of things could happen in half an hour.
Won’t the drones be shot down by the alteran air force, actually? I doubt anyone would be happy to see this kind of war machine rushing toward their capital city’s airspace and firing missiles and Gatling guns into their streets.
Nova considered leaving the city and getting on the freeway, where the drones would more easily reach her, but she quickly gave up on that idea. On the freeway, she wouldn’t be able to use her bike’s mobility as much as in the city; her pursuers would catch up to her in no time.
Nova’s eyes returned to the mirrors rising from the handlebars. Once again, another car had appeared behind her. It was already rather late, so traffic wasn’t as heavy as before, but if any doubts remained in her mind that this might be a civilian vehicle, the breakneck speed at which the car drove after her once it spotted her immediately crushed them.
Fuck. I’m going to have some trouble getting to the safe house, at this rate. Should I change destination? But the Storm Corp building and the royal palace are even further, now.
Her heart started beating faster as a tinge of anxiety and fear thrummed through her body. It was the first time she found herself in such direct danger. Usually, Marian or Yuri or another team leader would be giving the orders and grabbing all the attention, while Nova hung back with her sniper rifle, far from danger. She only ever saw the actual violence through the magnification of her scope or helmet. So, despite all her training, she couldn’t help but feel a little scared, now that she was in the thick of it.
I suppose it’s already good to only be a little scared, instead of directly shitting my pants in panic…
Part of her calm was also due to her increased mental processing speed, which gave her enough time to process and consider the situation thoroughly. And which also allowed her to perform some rather dangerous turns on her motorcycle.
Eventually, however, no amount of reckless driving could get Nova past the net surrounding her. The ones hunting for her definitely weren’t doing this for the first time. Perhaps, if she’d had more experience in high-speed chases, Nova may have managed to escape, despite it all, but Viper Nest’s teachings had not yet covered this particular scenario.
It had only been two years since Nova had started training, after all. It sounded like a lot of time, but she wasn’t a natural-born genius soldier who could learn anything just by casually trying it once. Her strengthened memory certainly gave her an advantage on the theory portion of her education, but as for actual practice, there were only so many skills she could make hers in that limited time frame. Her age was another barrier. Thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls weren’t even supposed to know how to drive, were they? It was already good enough for Nova to have learned how to pilot virtually any vehicle she could find; to pilot them like an experienced stuntman in an action movie would be asking too much, now.
Is there a need for these guys to go that far, though? They sure aren’t skimping on the personnel, just to catch an adolescent girl. I’ve seen… five different cars chasing after me, so far? Plus the ones presumably tying up Ethan and Hiraki… The more I think about it, the more difficult it becomes to believe that the duke was the one who ordered these people to do this. Although, I suppose he could have agreed to apologize because he knew he’d fuck me up later, maybe. Seems like something of a reach, though. I’m not sure even I would go that far just for personal revenge. And I’m probably the pettiest person on this whole fucking planet, so that’s saying something.
The net was still tightening around her, reducing Nova’s chances to reach the Viper Nest safe house almost to nil. Eventually, she had to give up altogether and started looking for an alternative.
She quickly found that alternative in a construction site, standing perhaps halfway between the royal palace and the safe house that had been her intended destination.
This late in the evening, there was no longer anyone working on this construction site. The place was deserted. The skeleton of a half-finished, tall building stood dark and foreboding in the middle of an empty plot of land, the earth around it churned and ravaged by the passage of heavy machinery. There weren’t any lights that Nova could see inside the bare structure, and it honestly looked a little scary. To Nova, however, it was merely a place where she’d be able to hide efficiently, at least until the drones arrived or until Ethan and Hiraki dealt with the interruption on their side and caught up with her.
Another option would have been to take refuge inside an inhabited building, picked at random from those bordering the street, and hope this would dissuade her pursuers from anything too overt. But Nova wasn’t sure the presence of witnesses would be enough to deter the people following her. Someone who had the balls to start a gunfight and high-speed chase in Altera likely would just ignore civilians who happened to see them – or eliminate them altogether.
Better to find a place where she could hide and act without restraint.
# # #
“Wieslaw, do you have a visual on Nova’s position?” Sirius asked as he leaped from one rooftop to the next, jumping a good seven or eight meters above a 20-storey drop.
“I do. She’s moving fast. But from what I can see, she has half-a-dozen cars on her tail. I’d be surprised if she made it out if their encirclement.”
“Where is she heading?”
“Not sure. Not the Storm Corporation tower. Not the police station, either. I don’t know. She’s moving with purpose, but I can’t predict where she’s heading.”
“You sure she’s actually heading somewhere?” Sirius asked, leaping over another street where a young boy happened to be looking up at the quickly darkening sky. Before Sirius could find any amusement in the open-mouthed astonishment on the boy’s face as he witnessed a man jump over his head, he’d already landed on the opposite rooftop and resumed running. “She may be driving randomly to lose her pursuers.”
“She isn’t. I’d be able to tell if she was.”
Sirius acknowledged his friend’s point – judging from what Sirius knew of Wieslaw’s past life, his partner’s confidence was justified – and sighed. “I’m not sure how I’m going to explain the bike…”
“The bike? Oh. Oooooh… Right. It was your dad’s, yes?”
A sharp inhalation came through Sirius’s earpiece. “He’s going to kill you.”
“Yes, he is,” Sirius said in a dark voice.
“Maybe, once you catch Nova Storm, you can ask her for a replacement. She’s rich, after all. And it was her bodyguards who destroyed that bike. I mean, they should have been more careful with that grenade launcher…”
“You know what, maybe I will ask her.”
“In the meantime, couldn’t you steal another one? I hate to say it, but no matter how superhuman you are, you won’t run as consistently fast as a motorcycle.”
“One, I’m not a thief. Two, I don’t even know how to hotwire a motorcycle. Fiddling with one until it works out would take way too long.”
“One, lives are at stake. Two, seriously? Back on Earth, you never had to ‘borrow’ a vehicle when you needed to go somewhere fast to help someone?”
Sirius chuckled. “Living in the slums doesn’t automatically mean I was a thief, Wieslaw. Most people there lived perfectly honest lives. And I did indeed borrow vehicles, but without the audible quotes around the word ‘borrow.’ It honestly was borrowing. The people there knew me well enough to know I really would give their cars and bikes and trucks back to them when I was done. I could always find a helping hand just by asking.”
Wieslaw sighed at that. “Every time I hear about your past life, I can’t help but wonder if you’re not making it all up from a movie you saw somewhere.”
“Hahaha. In truth, it was probably much less romantic than in a movie. Especially the part where I died horribly in my early twenties. Your own history seems much more interesting. I can easily imagine it as a thriller with Harrison Ford in the leading role.”
“Oh, you know Harrison Ford, huh?”
“Heh, yes. Once again, living in a slump doesn’t mean I had no culture. I did watch movies, sometimes, you know? I wasn’t crushing drug lords and sex traffickers all day, every day. I also had a life.”
“Of course, my apologies if I gave offense.”
Sirius only laughed. “It’s fine. Don’t worry. I was just joking. Only, it’s amusing to hear you wonder at my knowledge of pop culture when you’re the one who confuses Batman with Superman.”
“Hmm. But, a life, huh? I remember you telling me once that you didn’t have any family left on Earth, but did you leave a girlfriend behind, perhaps?”
“No,” Sirius said as he ducked under power lines hanging dangerously low over a house’s roof, then jumped onto the railing of a balcony over on the next building, landing as sure-footed as if he was racing down in the street below at ground level. “It would have been too irresponsible to hope for such a thing. With the kind of life I lead…”
After a few moments of charged silence, Sirius uncomfortably changed the subject. “Anyway, am I still going in the right direction?”
“Yes, don’t worry. Continue north for about three or four minutes, and you’ll find a construction site with five cars parked on its front door and another slowly circling it, in a rather suspicious manner, I have to say. That’s where little Red Riding Hood is hiding from the wolves hunting for her.”
“A construction site?” Sirius repeated, baffled. “Wouldn’t people usually go into a supermarket or something? Somewhere bright and with lots of witnesses? What kind of girl goes into a construction site for shelter? Is there even anyone there?”
“No. It’s deserted. I don’t know why she went there, either, but try to hurry. Saving Nova Storm would be a good way to start off our relationship with her father.”
“Please keep your cold calculations out of my selfless crime-fighting and life-saving,” Sirius joked. “And I am hurrying, you know.”
Actually, he could probably go faster with his rooftop-hopping than he currently did, but it would leave him exhausted once he reached his goal. Exhausted meant helpless. He had enough experience in rescuing people from dangerous situations to know that it was taxing work. Pacing oneself was vital.
Information was also critical.
“Do we have any idea who these guys even are? I don’t like going in blind like this.”
At least, he still wore his helmet, so whatever backing those gunmen had, Sirius could take them out with little risk of fallout on him or his family.
“All of them are masked, so I have little hope of identifying them individually. I’ve been trying to trace the origin of the cars that followed Nova Storm to the construction site. No luck, for now. I’ll keep you updated if I find anything.”
“Not even a suspect?” Sirius asked. “Who stands to gain from nabbing the youngest daughter of the Storm family?”
“Well, the influence her father has on the world isn’t public knowledge. I suspect that, even if Aaron Storm’s achievements and capabilities were to be reported in a newspaper, most would only take it as some kind of silly conspiracy theory, in fact. After all, it doesn’t sound particularly realistic that one man could propel the technological level of an entire species to such an extent and across so many different fields.”
“It’s probably not all to his credit, though. Doesn’t he have a team of researchers to help him?”
“Yes, good point. But at least, he’s the face of their little secret society.”
“‘Secret society,'” Sirius repeated, tasting the words. “Did you send me here to make a deal with the leader of the Illuminati?”
“Heh. Maybe you’re not too far off? Anyway, what I meant to say was, even though he’s not a notable celebrity in the eyes of the plebs, the upper echelons of most governments should be aware of him. Some in the scientific community, too. The number of people who have something to gain by holding a Storm hostage is… well, ‘countless,’ I think, would be the word. Or, it could also be revenge against Marian Storm, from someone against whom she conducted military operations in the past… In brief, yes, I have suspects. Too many to know what to do with them.”
With one last mighty jump, Sirius vaulted directly over a one-storey house that stood in his way and landed on the pavement in front of the link fence surrounding the construction site Wieslaw had spoken of. Apparently, he hadn’t arrived on the right side of it to see the gunmen’s parked cars, but what he did see was a vehicle just rounding the angle of the construction site and turning into Sirius’s street.
Sirius looked at it. “Is that car the one?”
“Good. In that case, I’m starting.”
Sirius walked toward the car like he was just any passerby on an evening stroll. But just as the car passed by him, its tinted windows hiding the driver and passengers from view, Sirius exploded into motion and rushed onto the street. He tackled the side of the car, pushing it with all the power in his superhuman body into a barrel roll which ended with the car sliding into a building with its roof scraping loudly against the asphalt, throwing sparks all along the way.
Sirius alone remained on the empty road, massaging his aching shoulder, watching to see if anyone would crawl out of the wreckage.
“You’re insane,” Wieslaw said in a bland voice, having apparently watched the scene from one of the city security cameras somewhere.
“I know,” Sirius said. “It’s quite painful. I don’t think I’ll do that again.”
Fortunately, his ‘pain tolerance’ and ‘regeneration’ traits formed a beautiful combo which allowed Sirius to pretty much disregard any such injuries he may sustain in the course of his nightly activities.
Of course, no trait would help him survive a bullet to the face.
Seeing that no occupant of the upturned vehicle seemed in any hurry – or state – to exit and pick a fight with him, Sirius turned away and looked at the foreboding construction site. It was still silent, which Sirius wasn’t sure was a good sign.
He took a deep breath and said, “Let’s do this. Keep an eye on me.”
“Leave it to me,” Wieslaw replied quietly in his earpiece.