Sirius heard the gunfire right about the time he was slamming a man’s face into the door of his car. It left a nice face-shaped indent into it, but Sirius didn’t have a chance to admire his work.
He raised his eyes to the half-finished building and thought he could see some muzzle flashes through one of the windows there as the sounds of a firefight continued ringing.
“Did I just hear what I think I just heard?” Wieslaw asked in his earpiece.
Dropping the man he’d just knocked out in a boneless heap on the ground, Sirius slid over the hood of the car in front of him, a metal stud on his jeans leaving a long, screeching scrape in the paint, and sprinted for the building. The action seemed to be all taking place on the third floor. Finding and climbing the stairs would take too long. By the time he reached Nova Storm to help her, the girl would most likely be dead already.
Even now, a terribly loud explosion rang out, stinging Sirius’s ears even from this distance.
His anxiety rising, Sirius took a deep breath and put more power into his legs, reaching for that oh-so-useful superhuman strength he’d acquired in his new life. His speed instantly shot up by an order of magnitude, and when he reached an appropriate point, he jumped. Sirius’s leap brought him right up to one of the third-floor windows that faced the front of the construction site. His hands reached forward and grabbed the sides of the window pane, and he pulled himself inside, folding his knees against his chest so as not to trip and fall flat on his face.
The moment he entered the building, he knelt, held his breath for silence, and focused on his enhanced hearing and what it could tell him.
The gunfire had already stopped. Now, there were only running footsteps, then muffled voices.
They weren’t far, either.
Just the next room over, in point of fact.
It was good that Sirius had taken care to land softly when vaulting through the window, or these people might have heard him arrive. It was also fortunate that the car he’d tackled out of the street had crashed on the far side of the construction site. The noise of it would have been a lot more subdued this far and into the building – the two men waiting near their cars that he’d already dispatched, on the other hand, had heard the commotion, but it hadn’t helped them any. In any case, as it was, Sirius still had the element of surprise on his side against his new opponents.
Sirius closed his eyes and started counting the voices, trying to get an idea of how many of them he’d need to neutralize. As he did, he idly caught the thread of their conversation.
“Man, that was crazy,” a first voice complained. “We busted our asses so much just because of a little girl like this. Almost died, too. I shouldn’t have signed up for this mission.”
“I know what you mean,” a second replied, more amused than anything else, “but it’s not that surprising when you think about it. Like mother, like daughter, or something like that? It didn’t end so badly, anyway.”
“Really?” the first voice said. “Two confirmed dead. One injured. Two missing – probably dead too, as soon as we find their bodies. Add that to the ambush in Amidonia, and we’re gonna be needing some new blood.”
“I see it more as a culling, personally,” a third voice cut in, this one thick with a strange accent Sirius didn’t recognize. “The idiots and the weak are removed while the rest of us make off with a bigger share of the reward. Isn’t it just perfect?”
“I agree,” a fourth voice said. “And there is always a steady stream of recruits from Horelon and Tuvir, anyway, so we’re not gonna run dry anytime soon. The bastards from these two countries always jump at the first offer to escape the shitholes they live in, no matter how terrible the terms of their contract.”
A chorus of contemptuous chuckles answered the man’s words, and that was even better than their dialogue to give Sirius an idea of their numbers. He counted six of them with a sense of humor so poor they found the idea of taking advantage of desperate refugees from war-torn countries amusing enough to laugh at. It was possible there were more inside with enough moral fiber to not react to such drivel, but Sirius didn’t want to wait. He prepared himself, settling into his crouch like a sprinter on the starting line, facing the wall that separated him from the voices of his targets.
“Well, whatever,” the first voice continued. “We got this little bitch alive. Uninjured, even. The young master’s gonna be pleased. So let’s hurry up and go; we don’t have much time left. Don’t forget to remove that thing on her arm, too.”
“Yeah, yeah,” another said. There were a few rustling and clattering sounds as if he was tossing some stuff to the floor. “Oooh, she really is a jewel. Maybe we should wait a while before handing her off to that spoiled little shit.”
“Really? Turn her around. I can’t see her face.”
Thankfully, Sirius didn’t have to listen to any more of this. He was ready. He had a pretty good idea of what was waiting for him on the other side of that wall, and the dangerous direction their conversation was heading had rid him of any leftover scruples toward the idea of employing violence against these people. He would use his strength without reserve.
From one instant to the next, Sirius went from one side of the room to the other and burst through the wall in front of him like a speeding bulldozer, fragments of plaster and wood raining down on the gunmen in the room beyond. With his motorcycle helmet still on, his face was protected adequately, and he had no need to shield himself with his arms or close his eyes. He was free to look around. Focusing his mind, the broken fragments of the wall seemed to hover in the air as the flow of time slowed, and his eyes swept over his enemies.
There were six of them, standing around the unconscious form of an adolescent girl. Even without all the guns and the dark, gloomy, foreboding construction site, any witness would find this situation damn suspicious. They looked like a motley crew, no two of them alike, whether in appearance or gear. More mercenaries than soldiers. They’d probably bought their own weapons, which most of them were holding casually, apparently confident that the evening was done and no new threat was forthcoming. One of the men was injured and being supported by another in the corner of the room, an arm slung over his partner’s shoulder while the other cradled his ribs – was he hit during the firefight? Another was waiting halfway out of the destroyed doorway linking this room to the hallway. Yet another was kneeling next to their fallen victim. Judging from their positions, he’d just turned her over onto her back. In his hand was some kind of transparent sheet of plastic, with straps on each end. Sirius had no idea what that was – maybe high-tech handcuffs? He didn’t care enough to spare the guy and ask him.
The only thing that mattered right now was his tactical assessment of the situation. That is, would he be able to prevent these bugs from committing whatever repulsive crime they’d planned?
The answer came easily.
The room was rather cramped, especially with so many crowded inside. There wouldn’t be much room for guns in here. A distinct advantage for Sirius, then. Now that he’d taken a direct look at the situation, he was confident he could take them all out without too much trouble.
In fact, even during his past life on Earth, without all his nifty superhuman powers, he would have been able to handle these mongrels. Experience told him so. He’d done it often enough to trust in his own judgment.
Instead, he directed his gaze to the mongrels’ victim. That was his only concern. Would she be injured during the fight? Would one of them try to target her or take her hostage? He’d need to avoid that at all costs.
At least, she didn’t seem injured. Yet, she was unconscious, her eyes closed and her face peaceful as if she was merely sleeping. A motorcycle helmet – and a few weapons, too – lay discarded in a corner of the room, so for the first time, Sirius could get a good look at the face of the girl he’d followed for the past few days. And in a way, he could suddenly understand – though obviously not condone or even excuse – the excitement of these mercenaries. Sirius had to admit the girl was indeed even more strikingly beautiful than he’d already expected from watching her at the concert hall.
Still, it wasn’t time to stare.
Sirius’s brain was instead busy with thoughts of how to avoid trampling this girl during the subsequent fight, in case he struggled more than expected and lost control of the situation enough to allow such a thing to happen.
He was still in mid-air by the time his thoughts on the situation led him to a definitive plan. When he was done, he relaxed his focus a little and time started flowing again at more reasonable speeds.
Before the six mercenaries could react to someone suddenly bursting through a wall in a building that should by all rights have been deserted, Sirius had already crashed like a battering ram into one of them, taking him off his feet and flinging him into another in a tangle of limbs. The injured mercenary in the corner, along with the one supporting him, only gawked open-mouthed at the unexpected attack. The one kneeling next to Nova reacted with more professionalism, but he wasn’t in a very good position to draw and aim his weapon. He hastily dropped the transparent plastic sheet he was holding, and his hand whipped for his gun, but Sirius only had to take a step to be in range for a wonderful, chin-destroying kick. Sirius restrained his strength a little – he didn’t want to decapitate the man – but apparently not enough. The sick sound of breaking bone rang out from the man’s neck as his head whiplashed back with incredible force, probably destroying a few vertebrae in the process. The man fell lifelessly to the floor.
Sirius winced at the idea that he’d taken another life – even the life of a villain – but he quickly shook off the thought and refocused on the fight. He was the only one who could save Nova Storm from her predicament, and they weren’t out of the woods, just yet.
The two men on the floor still hadn’t disentangled themselves from each other, but the others were starting to react. The one by the door had turned in his direction, his gun almost level with Sirius and ready to open fire.
He was the most immediate threat, so Sirius decided to deal with him first.
More by instinct than anything else, Sirius’s hand shot out and his fingers closed around the transparent sheet of plastic his previous opponent had dropped. He lashed out and threw the sheet at the barrel of the man’s gun. Sirius had bet that the thing would be transparent enough that, in the commotion and the rush, the man wouldn’t see it coming properly enough to adjust. He bet right. The mercenary only saw Sirius throw something in his direction, but his eyes didn’t inform him of what it was, and when something struck his gun and turned it in another direction, he flinched and opened fire prematurely. The bullets tore into the two men who were struggling to rise from the floor, between him and Sirius. Little puffs of blood rose up from their bodies with each shot they suffered.
Even Sirius blinked at this. He really hadn’t expected this to work quite so well as to provoke friendly fire among his enemies.
Perhaps, sometimes, even he could get lucky.
Sirius wasn’t sure if the two on the floor were dead, but he didn’t wait to find out.
By now, it would be easy to finish the others.
Sirius rushed toward the man at the door, jumping over the two probably-dead bodies. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the injured mercenary in the corner had been dropped to the floor by the comrade who’d been supporting him – this one too was now aiming his gun in Sirius’s direction. Sirius was too fast to allow that, though. Drawing upon the inhuman power hiding in his body, he shot forward like a bullet, probably disappearing from the vision of his enemies for a moment, and tackled the man at the door into the hallway behind him. With Sirius’s speed and strength, they flew inordinately long before they landed and slid on the floor with Sirius on top. When they stopped, one of Sirius’s hands kept the man’s gun at bay, pointed to the side, while his other hand grasped the front of his opponent’s head in a crushing grip and slammed it against the floor.
One slam was enough, and the man moved no longer.
Sirius rolled off the unconscious mercenary, taking the man’s rifle with him. Staying on the floor, Sirius looked back down the corridor at the devastated room, aiming his gun at the point of the wall where the last threat was standing a moment ago.
Then, he fired.
The assault rifle was terribly loud and flooded Sirius’s senses with pain that his resistance trait immediately brought down to mere discomfort. Even on full-auto, Sirius trusted the strength of his grip to fight against the recoil and swept the gun to the side, drawing a line of bullet holes into the wall. He took great care not to lower his aim too low. It would have been stupid to accidentally kill the one he’d been trying to rescue.
The sound of a falling body was enough to tell Sirius that he’d succeeded in dispatching the last dangerous mercenary.
Quickly rising to his feet, Sirius ran back into the room, waving his stolen weapon around in search of another target. But the only one still conscious was the injured one, who’d needed to be supported even to stand properly and hadn’t been a threat from start to finish. The man still had a handgun strapped to his thigh and could probably use it as well as anyone else, but even when Sirius burst back into the room, the man made no move to take it. He only lay on the floor with his hands and feet stretched to his sides in surrender, his face locked in a pained grimace, presumably at his broken ribs.
“I surrender,” the mercenary said with a pale face.
Sirius only nodded. He didn’t intend to speak and let this man know what his real voice sounded like. It wasn’t as if the helmet he was wearing could modulate his voice, like super spies in the movies. There should be no way for this guy or the influence standing behind him to discover Sirius’s identity and threaten him or his family, but neither was there any point in taking risks.
Without a word, Sirius approached the injured mercenary.
Then he kicked him in the face, knocking him out cold in a single blow.
Letting out a sigh, Sirius looked at the carnage around him. He was the only one standing in a sea of bodies, some of them very much dead.
Sirius shook his head. It wasn’t the first time such a thing happened, and he’d made his peace with the idea that it was better for the criminals to die, rather than their innocent victims. But he still wasn’t entirely comfortable with reaping lives so casually, either. He didn’t want to turn into some kind of stone-cold, murderous executioner with no regard for human life.
“Everything all right over there?” Wieslaw asked, bringing Sirius out of his thoughts.
“Fine,” Sirius answered. “Mission accomplished.”
“Good job. I suggest you take the girl and link up with her bodyguards. I’m not entirely sure all hostiles have been neutralized, so both you and Nova Storm would be safer with them.”
“You sure? You don’t want to stay hidden and observe for a while longer?”
“I think it should be fine. You should’ve accumulated some good points in the Storm family’s books, what with saving their daughter and all. This is a good chance to make peaceful contact.”
“What if you end up finding out the Storm family is as bad as you’d feared, though? What if they’re truly some kind of mafia family?”
“Yes, that’s also a possibility,” Wieslaw acknowledged. “But it’s important to grab opportunities when they appear. If we always hang back in fear, we’ll never achieve anything. Now that we have a good chance to achieve cooperation, we should take the risk.”
“I should take the risk, you mean. And I’m pretty sure you just don’t want to admit that not even you think they’re as bad as you made them out to be.” Before Wieslaw could start grumbling and denying whatever shred of idealism he might have betrayed, Sirius continued. “All right, then. Where can I find these bodyguards?”
“They’re not far, heading for this construction site.”
Wieslaw, with his access to the city’s CCTV, transmitted the needed directions, while Sirius bent down and examined Nova Storm for injuries. As he worked, he tried to remain as clinical as possible, but he and his teenage hormones still couldn’t help but note that this girl had grown well, for a 15-year-old. She wore rather tight clothing, too, which did a fantastic job of showing off the lovely curves underneath.
Okay. Stop. Stop right there. Focus on the task at hand. Fifteen years old. Fifteen fifteen fifteen. Let’s not forget that. I’m almost old enough to be her father!
More seriously, Sirius wasn’t sure why Nova was even unconscious in the first place. She didn’t seem to have suffered any injuries. There wasn’t even a single bruise or bump on her head.
I should probably carry her to a hospital, but for now, it should be safe to move her. It doesn’t look like her spine has been damaged or anything.
Sirius scooped up Nova and slung her over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, leaving one of his hands free to hold a gun. Nova was quite a bit heavier than he’d expected, but even then, her weight brought no strain on Sirius’s strength. Really, what strain he felt was more on his mind, from the soft body pressing down on his shoulders and back.
This is so not good. If I get attacked by more of these mercenaries while I’m this distracted, it’s not going to end well for anybody…
Shaking his head at his wayward thoughts, Sirius bent down to pick up another assault rifle with a full magazine, then trotted out of the room and down the hallway, stepping over the dead or unconscious mercenaries. He couldn’t exactly jump out of the third floor with his passenger riding on his shoulders, so he started running toward where he imagined the staircase must be.
Soon, he found something else, however.
Um. I didn’t do that…
Two dead bodies were lying on the floor, in the darkness further down the hallway. Someone had thoroughly blown off their heads. They couldn’t have been more dead than that.
Sirius turned his head to look at his passenger.
Did she do that? Was Wieslaw right about her being more than meets the eye?
After a moment of reflection, though, Sirius decided that it didn’t matter much. Even if she’d been the one who killed these two, hadn’t she just defended herself? It was perfectly natural. Come to that, he was worse. He’d poked his nose into business that technically didn’t concern him, without perfectly understanding the situation, and killed people who hadn’t done him any wrong. From one perspective, it would be pretty easy to see him as a deranged mass murderer – which, as a matter of fact, Sirius knew had been the case for some people, even in his past life; he’d left quite a trail of bodies in his wake, after all.
Putting the matter out of his mind, he continued on his way, turning corners purely on instinct, until he successfully made his way to the staircase and the grisly spectacle waiting for him there.
Ugh… What is this? A war zone? Maybe I really should ask this girl a few questions, when she wakes up…
Forcing his eyes away from the mangled, bloody remains of what seemed like two different people spread all over the walls and floor and ceiling near the exit of the staircase, Sirius quickly walked down to the first floor.
When he stepped off the stairs and was about to look around to reorient himself and join up with Nova Storm’s bodyguards, Sirius found that he didn’t need to. The two of them were already making their way in his direction, the woman with a machine gun in her hands, the man with a grenade launcher.
Both sides stopped walking as they caught sight of each other. There were a few seconds of silence.
Then, Sirius raised a hand.
“Hi,” he said.
The two bodyguards raised their guns. At him.
“Hi,” they said.