Mikiko heard and smelled them coming. The contact wasn’t with them but she’d been told they would arrive about now. When the door was kicked open and half a dozen heavily armed agents burst into the room, Sienna jumped halfway off of Fleming just as his hand emerged from the underside of a chair holding a Glock 26. He’d already been rapidly reaching for the weapon before the agents abruptly entered but to Mikiko, he might as well be moving in slow motion.
Sienna was on her hands and knees staring at the door, the agents behind her were still running in, and Timothy Fleming was now swinging his arm up from under the chair in the process of attempting to aim at Mikiko.
She moved her arms slightly and fired. Although his head and chest were now exposed, Mikiko avoided those targets. She could have permanently crippled Fleming by firing into his shoulder joint, but instead shot his right deltoid. At nearly point-blank range, the impact was astonishing, sending searing waves of pain through his arm, neck, and chest. He immediately released the Glock and reflexively shielded his wound with his left hand. She could have crippled him for life or even killed him. Why mercy? For Sienna’s sake or her own?
This all took less than a second and then two agents grabbed the now screaming Sienna, one using a trank gun to inject her carotid artery with a sedative that almost immediately rendered her unconscious. Three other agents took custody of Fleming, with one ripping away a piece of decorative cloth on a nearby end table and using it to stop his bleeding.
Another held a SIG Sauer P226 to the prisoner’s head, while the third injected him in a manner identical to how Sienna had been subdued.
The last agent moved next to Mikiko. “You’re to come with me. We have a secure way for you to exit the building.”
She took her eyes off of Fleming once she realized he was no longer an immediate threat and then looked at the operative. They were all masked but she would have no trouble identifying any of them again by their scent. Five men and one woman. A male and female team took charge of Sienna and she was already out of the room. Three male agents were getting a groggy Fleming to his feet.
“We’ll send for them. Your mission is complete. We need to debrief you.”
The contact said she’d have to come in after the op was concluded. With Sienna safe and Fleming in custody, there was no reason for her to stay here anyway.
“Follow me.” The masked agent turned toward the door and by the time the both of them got into the hall, Mikiko saw the elevator closing on the assassin and his captors. There were an additional three agents in the hall, probably there to make sure anyone trying to leave their condos didn’t, at least while they were present. She accompanied the operative assigned to her into the elevator and he pressed the button for the basement garage.
Mikiko had replaced her handgun in her small pack. She still had sixteen rounds in the magazine and five more magazines held in reserve. She’d anticipated the worst but in the end only had to fire a single shot.
The doors opened on the basement garage. A car was pulling out. She could smell Fleming and the three agents who had him. They were just leaving. Sienna must already be on her way to wherever they planned to take her, probably to debrief her and then process her for transport back to England. The Agency would want to know everything possible about her time as a prisoner in France and whatever she knew or had learned about her mother.
She was following the agent toward a car but something was wrong. His scent. He was anxious, even frightened.
In the security room of Bloomingdale’s, Agents “Williams” and “Martin” were viewing all of the activity on various monitors. Williams had reactivated the alarms on the two fire doors Mikiko had used since they were no longer needed, and he was watching the three operatives on the 29th floor secure the area with yellow crime scene tape. Chicago P.D. had been called and they’d arrive conveniently just after Hellspite, Sienna, and Mikiko had left, except something wasn’t going to plan.
“What’s Blue One up to?” Concern was written on the wrinkles of Williams’s brow. “That’s not the exit strategy for Mikiko. He was supposed to escort her to the opposite side of the garage and wait.”
Minutes ago as the op abruptly unfolded with the “invasion” of nine masked operatives on the condo level, White and Brady started to object but Martin reached into his jacket with his right hand, presumably as a prelude to drawing his firearm. “Gentlemen, remain calm. The court order you were served with requires you to cooperate fully. We will be out of your building in just a few minutes and Chicago’s Finest will be called on site to mop up. You can ask them all the questions you want. They don’t know anything.”
“Yeah. Okay. It’s cool,” Brady was the peacemaker and he knew he’d better fulfill that role fast since his partner had a bad temper and sometimes not enough sense to keep it in check. “Isn’t that right, Jaylan? We’re cool, right?”
Jaylan White was still staring at Martin, at his hand inside the cheap sports coat, calculating how fast the supposed TSA Agent could draw his weapon. Then he decided it wasn’t worth the risk to challenge him and he let his muscles relax marginally.
“Yeah, that’s right, Brady. We’re all cool here.”
Martin slowly pulled his hand back out of his jacket. “Glad to hear that.”
Williams keyed a throat mike no one had noticed until just now. “Blue One, this is Williams. You’re off plan. Please advise, over.”
Seconds ago, the agent pointed to a car, another dark-colored sedan and said, “That’s our ride. Get in the back.” Mikiko walked forward just ahead of the operative, but all of her senses were fully engaged now that she sensed he was double-crossing her. She heard soft static coming from a small earpiece the agent wore and then a tiny click. The static ceased. He’d turned off his communications. The scent of fear was now flooding out of his pores. She reached into the pack at her waist in front, out of his field of vision, and gripped the butt of her Glock.
She could hear the snap of the restraint holding his handgun in his holster being released and the sound of metal on artificial leather as he started to slowly pull it out.
Mikiko jumped ahead and then spun, her leg extended, her heel striking his head in a roundhouse kick. She knew she had fractured the left side of his skull. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.
“Stay here,” Williams ordered. He was up, across the room, and out the door before Martin could reply. Walking rapidly toward the elevators, he keyed his mike again. “Green One and Two, this is Williams. Meet me in the garage. Blue One has attacked the Asset. Green Three, stay on site until P.D. arrives.” He pressed the down button and waited for the car.
“This is Green One, Roger that. Two and I are on our way.”
Each team on the assault had specific designations. The team assigned to Fleming was Red, Yellow was assigned to Sienna, and Blue was to safeguard the Asset. Green was supposed to secure the premises. Blue One had been ordered to take Mikiko to their car and then wait for Williams and Martin. The three of them were to bring her in together for debriefing. He must have been paid off or was a long-term mole. He had actually been stupid enough to think he could take her by himself.
No, if he’d escaped detection in the Agency this long, he couldn’t be that stupid.
The elevator finally came and the doors opened. He heard Martin in his ear. “Action in the garage. Blue One isn’t acting alone.”
“Martin, I want all exits out of that garage locked down now!”
As Mikiko completed her kick, too late did she hear the sound of a car’s power window lowering, and the sound of a trigger being pulled. She smelled human odor but no one she recognized. She felt an impact, two, three in rapid succession, her left shoulder, upper back, middle back. She finished her turn and was facing the car again. She realized the Glock was in her right hand and she was raising her arm to fire at the person holding the tranquilizer pistol inside the sedan she had been walking toward.
Now Mikiko felt like she was moving in slow motion, like in a dream. She couldn’t make her arm move fast enough. Her vision was blurred and her hand was trembling. Two more soft sounds. Two more darts. She tried to make herself dodge but she was rooted to the spot. They both hit her in the upper left chest.
“Easy with that shit, Mary. You’ll kill her.” The man’s voice sounded like it was coming from a long tunnel.”
“Why the hell is she still on her feet? I shot her with enough of this stuff to knock out a gorilla.”
Mikiko’s vision was dimming. Her legs felt like melted butter. Point blank range. She tried to pull the trigger but couldn’t. She knew the safety wasn’t on. She knew she had to escape. No one could take her. They might learn…
Agency vehicles converged on the garage exits and others moved to place agents at the doors and stairs but they were too late. Just as Williams’s elevator opened onto the garage, he heard an explosion and the concussion nearly knocked him off his feet. At the same time, he heard a voice in his earpiece.
“Vehicle four outside the garage entrance. Some sort of flash bang detonation. Blinded by it, then smoke. Car exited.”
“Damnit! Is there a drone in the air?”
“Negative. No anticipated need for the op, Sir.”
“Get traffic cams on them. I want to find that car fast. Also alert the warehouse surveillance team. They’re probably are too smart to take her back there, but no use taking chances. We’ve already fumbled the ball and now the Asset’s compromised.”
“Roger that. Relaying to Central.”
Willliams was walking over to a prone form. It was Blue One. He heard the “ping” announcing another elevator arriving and turned briefly to notice Green One and Two coming out. They did a sweep of the area but found nothing. Then they joined the lead agent.
“Dead. One to the head.”
“The Asset, Sir?”
“I don’t think so.” He keyed his mike. “Martin?”
“Someone concealed in a car shot the Asset several times with what looked to be tranquilizer darts. She held up for several seconds, almost got a shot off before she collapsed. She took out Blue One with a roundhouse kick. Never saw someone move so fast.”
“Just report the facts, Martin.”
“Man in dark clothing and a ski mask exited the car. Put a slug in Blue One’s head, then he and a similarly masked woman carried the Asset to the car, put her in the back, and took off. Looked like they used some sort of flash smoke grenade…”
“Yeah, I got that part of it. You heard Vehicle Four’s report?”
“I got it. Want me to wait here?”
“No, report down here. We need to follow the exit plan and wait for word on the Asset’s location. London is going to have a cow and kittens when he finds out.”
“Copy that, Williams. I’m one my way. Out.”
“Williams to Vehicle Four. Pull into the garage. I need you to retrieve Blue One’s body. Can’t leave him for P.D.”
“Roger that. We’re rolling.”
Williams looked at the garage entrance where the van would be coming in any second. Kittens, hell. Colins would have his balls for breakfast when he found out they’d lost the Asset.
Mikiko was literally in the dark. No light coming through her closed eyelids. Her thinking was still a little fuzzy but she remembered getting shot. Some sort of tranquilizer. She could feel herself resisting it, trying to stay conscious, but it overwhelmed her. She had been captured.
She’d been trained in every conceivable combat skill and tested with a seemingly endless set of scenarios including being taken captive by hostile forces. She knew the first thing was to pretend to be helpless and assess the situation looking, ideally, for a means of escape and, if possible, any intel on who was holding her, anything she could use against them once she freed herself or was liberated.
Dark room. She was sitting in a chair. Wrists were zip tied together and to a wooden slat at the chair back. Each ankle was zip tied to a leg of the chair. The chair itself was new and solid. It wouldn’t break easily.
No sounds in the immediate vicinity so she was alone, but there were human scents nearby. Another room. She reached out and detected what seemed to be about twenty individual scents of varying degrees of freshness and distance.
The warehouse? It seemed right, but they would be idiots not to assume that it had been discovered and was being watched. An alternate location but similar. Isolated building, either abandoned or rented by a dummy corporation for their usage.
They were Hellspite’s people. They knew he’d been taken. Why weren’t they running? A trade? Her for him? Could be.
But they’d also want to know everything she knew. That meant interrogation. That meant more drugs, truth agents. She might be able to resist them as she had the tranquilizers, but for how long?
Two human odors getting closer. She could hear their footsteps approaching. The door was being unlocked. Man and a woman. The woman was the one who shot her. Mikiko didn’t recognize the man’s scent so he hadn’t been in the garage when she was taken.
“Rise and shine, dearie.” The woman’s voice was feigning friendliness.
Mikiko felt water splashed against her face and hair.
“Didn’t have a bucket handy, so a glass of water will have to do.
She pretended to sputter as if surprised and did her best to appear groggy, even though she was now fully alert.
“Wha…what…where…where am I?” She slowly raised her head. Same dark clothes on both, same ski masks. Both caucasian by what she could see of their eyes and mouths. She saw a mirror on the same wall as the door. That’s how they observed her. It was a window on the other side.
“Where we can have a nice chat.” The woman leaned down a bit to make better eye contact but still kept her distance. The man was carrying something. She set the now empty glass down on a nearby table as the man did the same with the small case. He opened it. A syringe and bottle. She was right about the drugs.
“I dislike torture and anyway, it takes too long, so we’re going to speed up the process a bit with this.” She nodded her head to indicate her companion who was filling the syringe.
He walked behind her and Mikiko could feel him raising up one of her sleeves. Dim light from a couple of overhead bulbs so how was he going to see to give her the…Oh, she heard the click. He must have a small flashlight. She felt a cord of some kind go around her arm, he must have found a vein. She turned down her tactile sensitivity to minimize the “pinch” of the needle entering her arm, but it was more by reflex. Mikiko had experienced every known form of invasive surgery so getting an injection was nothing to her.
The man behind her spoke for the first time. “This’ll take effect in about ten to fifteen minutes. Then you’ll be very cooperative.”
A slower acting drug than the tranquilizers. They needed her conscious but under the influence. If she could speed up her metabolism, the short-term effect would be stunningly intense, but she might be past most of it by the time they actually started questioning her.
“We’ll be back in ten or fifteen. Then we’ll have a nice, long chat.”
The man replaced the syringe and bottle in the case and closed it. He seemed very impassive, but the woman was smiling at Mikiko. She was still superficially friendly but her undertones were malevolent.
“Sorry, Williams. They must have changed vehicles. We found the sedan in a downtown parking lot. Plates match the car that they took the Asset with. Caught the number on the security cams as it left the garage. Stolen. Wiped clean. Professional job.”
“Shit.” Williams paused and then looked back up at Martin. “Thanks.”
“Sure. I’m glad to deliver bad news anytime you want it.”
Both men smiled for a moment. They were meeting in a construction shack on the site of a new building just a few miles from Bloomingdale’s. Work had been halted when funding ran out, so they “subleased” the facilities. It was just temporary, but that described everyplace they met. Being mobile was one way they stayed ahead of the competition and their adversaries.
“How’s the target?”
“Surgery’s done. The Asset knew exactly where to hit him to temporarily incapacitate him without doing any real damage.”
“That’s why she’s the Asset, Martin.”
As Jaylan White had easily guessed, their names weren’t really “Williams” and “Martin,” but for the duration of the operation, they would continue to use code names. The op was supposed to have been concluded, at least the Chicago portion of it, but when the Asset was captured, it became a whole new ballgame.
They’d moved on the warehouse location but the suspects were gone. A series of tunnels to a building across the street was how they got out unseen. The twin warehouses had been there since prohibition days and when they pulled the archives on the two structures, they discovered Capone had used them to transfer booze back and forth, staying one step ahead of Eliot Ness. It sure worked in this case too, so they must have another hole in Chicago where they’ve hidden Mikiko.
“Think our person on the inside can get through to us again, Williams?”
“Beats me. Can’t afford to blow cover, so we’ll just have to hope.”
“Yeah. Here’s hoping.”
“Sienna, I know you’re upset, but we have to get everything we can from you. I’m very sorry about your mother. We just found out a few hours ago.”
Geoffrey Colins learned the corpse of Amanda Thomas had been discovered in an alley in a Paris suburb just a few hours before his flight landed at O’Hare. He wanted to be on hand when Hellspite was captured and to be able to personally debrief both Mikiko and Sienna, but then the victory became partial when he was informed about Mikiko’s disappearance.
“It’s quite alright, Sienna. Take some time to compose yourself.”
More than one building in Chicago had Cold War era bomb shelters that were no longer in use, and the Agency was now employing this particular one for their purposes. It was comfortable enough, which was important since they were treating the girl as non-hostile. As far as her brother and friends were concerned, she was still missing, but that was only until they could secure her cooperation, plus extract all of the useful information she knew.
“Do you feel up to talking about him, about Timothy Fleming? You said he told you he was your half-brother?”
“Yes. That’s right. He said his Dad…”
“Yes. His Dad had an affair with Mama. That he’s my real Dad, or was.”
“Mr. Singleton is dead. We have strong evidence that Mr. Fleming was the person who shot him.”
“He said his Mum and Dad divorced. She found out about his affair, about me. He paid her enough to keep it all quiet and Timothy and his Mum moved here to the States.”
“Did he say anything about the Hellspite, why he assumed that identity and the uh…advocation associated with it?”
“Not so much. He might have if your Agent hadn’t come in right when she did. All he told me was that he wouldn’t hurt me, that he wanted to help me escape from Mama, from who she was. Did he really…did he really…?”
She started crying again. Colins handed her another tissue from a nearby box. He was sitting in a chair facing the sofa she was on.
“We don’t know. We believe Fleming ordered your kidnapping as a lure to acquire your mother. They questioned her, extracted information.”
“Mary, the woman here, the one who was at the warehouse, she told me they used drugs on Mama.”
“Yes, a truth serum was found in her system but we don’t know if Fleming ordered your mother’s death. The men who held her went missing but I’ve received reports they too were found deceased.”
They were actually found in the back of a garbage trunk crashed off the side of a rural road fifty or so kilometers from where the Agency discovered the location Sienna and her mother had been held. There were enough clues on Amanda’s body to lead them right to it, so whoever had her killed wanted them to find it. They wanted them to find the bodies of Hellspite’s minions. Someone, probably the Organization, was trying to send a message.
“Is whoever murdered Mama going to come after me?”
“It’s unlikely, Sienna. If Fleming didn’t have your mother killed, then the next most likely suspect is someone in the Organization your mother worked for.”
“Correct.” Colins tried to keep his voice soft, sounding compassionate. He’d been at this so long, he sometimes forgot how most people, victims like Sienna, became devastated in the face of death.
She was probably still in shock, poor girl. She’d been through a lot but the worst of it was the knowledge that her mother was an international criminal, someone who enslaved children as young as five and had them sold as sex slaves. Mikiko may have rescued her physically, but Sienna Thomas would be a prisoner of those memories for the rest of her life.
If Mikiko had any food in her stomach, she would have vomited. As it was, she fought as hard as she could to suppress the retching. She was sweating profusely. She was nearly blind, her ears were ringing and it was like she had a terrible head cold. She couldn’t smell anything.
Yet in all her confusion and delirium, there was some small part of her mind that was observing everything else, a part of her who could see the rest, who was witnessing Mikiko as a prisoner.
“Can you hear me?”
The voice was echoing terribly. She barely recognized it as Mary’s. She could feel her hair being pulled. Mary must be grabbing it to move her head, to look at her face.
“Neal, get your ass in here.”
From somewhere in the distance, a door opened and closed, then footsteps echoed across the room.
“How much of this shit did you give her, asshole? She looks stoned out of her mind. She’s babbling like a six-month old. I can’t understand a thing.”
“Just the standard dose for someone of her weight and build, Mary.”
“I don’t get it. I had to hit her five times to trank her in the garage, so I figured she was no lightweight. Now she’s acting like an overdosed junkie. Allergic reaction?”
“Shouldn’t be. I mean it’s almost impossible. Maybe she’s faking, Mary.”
“No, pulse is rapid, pupils dilated, sweating like its August in Phoenix. She couldn’t fake that.”
Mikiko’s head was beginning to clear by slow degrees. Mary might be able to tell if she took her pulse again.
“I’ll stay if you’d like. Keep an eye on her vitals. If she becomes more coherent, I can call you on the walkie-talkie.”
“Yeah. You do that. I’ll be right back. Got to use the can.”
Mikiko’s senses were starting to come back under control. She accurately heard Mary’s footsteps as she retreated, smelled her scent as she left the room and then went down what was probably a hall. She heard Neal sit in the chair Mary had occupied earlier. He’d probably wait at least a few minutes before checking her again. If he looked closely, he’d see she wasn’t sweating so much anymore. Could she change her responses, increase her heart rate?
How long had she been here? She couldn’t afford to wait much longer. She was past most of the drug influence, but if they gave her more, she might not be able to handle it. There were limits to her control and she couldn’t chance them interrogating her and discovering the truth. If they learned she were a synthetic-organic human, a syntheorg, they might decide she was more valuable to them as a hostage and not exchange her for Hellspite. They could take her and vanish.
No. She couldn’t stay. She had to be free. If only they’d find her. Where was the contact? He and his agents could be outside right now working on an extraction plan, but she couldn’t let that be her only hope. She had to get out herself. How? The capture and escape simulations. They involved killing her captors. It was the only way, especially when she was outnumbered like this.
Mikiko almost killed Fleming. She had the opportunity to kill him or cripple him. She was relieved when she didn’t but she’d come so close.
She didn’t want to kill, to murder, but this was survival. She was trapped, restrained, drugged, in the hands of kidnappers, human traffickers, killers.
The accident. She was just a trunk with stubs where her arms and legs used to be. She was a helpless, rotting mass of scar tissue, severely burned, blind, deaf, mute. They kept her unconscious most of the time but the drugs didn’t always work in the early days and Mikiko had horrifying moments of clarity and agony. It was like being buried alive, like being mummified, suffocating alone in the dark, terrified, unable to cry out, to scream. She tried to move but she was either strapped down or paralyzed. “No, no, no, no! Please! Get me out of here!”
She was trapped, caged, confined, claustrophobic, panicked. She had to get free.
Mikiko felt the zip ties at her wrists but not exactly with her fingers. There was something else. Her…nails…her claws? Something long and hard and sharp at the end of each of her fingers. Her teeth. There were fangs now. What? When? Her head was still down. She opened her eyes. She could see perfectly. She could see further into the infrared but the small amount of light in the visible spectrum was amplified, too. Her eyes had changed.
She heard a low, feral growl and realized it was coming from her own throat. Neal’s heart rate was increasing. He started to stand, to get closer to her. He was afraid, he was sweating, he was prey. She could hear him clearing his throat, about to call out.
Behind the mirror. Three men. They were moving. The door was opening. Mikiko could hear them starting to draw their handguns.
It was time.
Her claws cut through the zip ties at her wrist like tissue paper. A quick movement and her legs were free and then as she rose, she drove the nails of her right hand into Neal’s throat and ripped it out. She enjoyed the blood spraying on her face, the smell, the taste.
The other victims, all of them with their guns almost out of their holsters. To them the room was half dark and even though their eyes were adjusted to it, she was still almost a shadow to them while each of them seemed like they were standing in broad daylight.
By the time she had that realization, the man closest to her was dead with a broken neck. She was behind the other two and they just now saw this and were starting to react. They were far too late. The second man died when she reached around and tore out his throat like she’d done to Neal. Mikiko gave the last man a sporting chance and waited until she could see his eyes before ramming one of her claws through his eyeball and into his brain.
Less than four seconds had passed and she was out of the room. Observation room. Her pack, her phone, her hotel room key card weren’t there but her Glock and extra magazines were. Mikiko could barely pick them up with the adaptations to her hands, but managed to shove the handgun into her waist band. Her pants pockets were big enough to hold one magazine each. That would have to do. She couldn’t slow down now. So far the only people who knew she’d gotten free were dead.
She had been trained in several methods of stealth including ninjitsu and so she wasn’t surprised to be moving as silently as a jungle cat. She could hear and smell others nearby. One was the man who had been with Mary in the garage and then there was Mary herself.
There had to be a way out without killing everyone. She could have killed them all. It wasn’t a matter of conscience at this point, but if she confronted too many at once, especially with guns, she might not survive. She had to survive, had to escape, had to get away from them. Where could she be safe?
Mary. She was approaching. Mikiko took a side corridor and hid in the shadows. Perfect, she walked right past, but she was going back to the cell. She’d discover the corpses. Mikiko had less than a minute before her adversary sounded the alarm. The men she’d killed all wore walkie-talkies. So was Mary. She hadn’t seen or heard them being used, probably because they operated on common frequencies that might be picked up inadvertently by other nearby radio sets.
Sound. She could hear people moving as well as smelling them. There were echoes down the corridor ahead. Mikiko moved closer. A door. A large space on the other side. No one was nearby. Now if no one was actually looking at the door when she opened it.
Bright light coming from under the door. Her eyes. She shut them and opened the door a crack, then she blinked rapidly. For an instant, all she saw was blinding white light, like staring into the Sun, like old-fashioned over exposed film. Then her vision adjusted, returned to normal or normal for her.
She looked down at her hands. The claws. Her nails were still longer than normal and sharp but they weren’t the misshapen things she’d had just a few minutes ago. There was still blood all over her clothes, hands, and face.
Mikiko heard shouting. Mary had found the bodies. She slipped quickly into the large warehouse space and behind some large crates, trying to maneuver as far from the door as possible and remain unseen.
“She got out. Neal, Fredricks, Malcolm, and Jeffers, all dead. God, she’s an animal.” Mary was at the doorway yelling, almost screaming. She smelled terrified. “Everyone on their radios. Report immediately if you spot her.”
Men and women moved to cover the exits. Five of them joined Mary. The lights came on in the hallways. Everyone had their weapons drawn. If only she’d had more time before they found out. What was she thinking? She’d killed those four men with her hands, with something that wasn’t really her hands.
Everyone around her was alert but as the minutes passed and no one saw or heard her, they began to relax a little bit. Not every person at an exit could be seen by the others. Mikiko chose a side door with a single guard. He was in direct line of sight of only one other person but he was on the far side of the warehouse, over 1,500 meters away.
If she moved fast enough…Mikiko’s closest approach to him unseen was about five meters. He was scanning the area left to right, right to left. She waited until his face was turned as far away from her position as possible and then ran almost silently. He must have heard because he started to turn her way but she was on him, grabbing his head and twisting it violently, instantly breaking his neck.
Enhanced strength and adrenaline helped her pull his 88 kilo frame back behind her shelter of crates. She might have minutes or even seconds before the guard on the other side of the warehouse floor noticed he was missing. She peeked around the corner. So far he hadn’t seen anything. She ran back to the door. Not locked. No apparent alarm. She opened it, slipped outside and closed it behind her.
Mikiko was on a small covered concrete platform. Steps to her left led to the ground. Broken asphalt. She was right about a different warehouse. The sun was just setting. She’d been here almost a full day. She was running out of time. One more man at the corner of the warehouse, between her and her way out.
He had his walkie-talkie on. Static. Some chatter. “Nothing in the northeast corridors. Still searching.” A voice she didn’t recognize. She was ten meters from the man. He was facing away from her. Checking on his section of the parameter. Beyond him was the fence. Razor wire along the top but near it was construction equipment. She could use this.
Five meters from the last guard, three, two. He turned unexpectedly and saw her. His gun was still holstered. Mikiko jumped forward and up driving her foot into his gut doubling him over, then a roundhouse kick to the head. No fractured skull this time. She grabbed the arm reaching for his gun and twisted, one fracture, now two. He howled in pain until she smashed his forehead against the ground.
“He’s down, unconscious, maybe crippled. Got to escape. They’ve probably got cameras scanning the area but any second, they could find the guard I killed.”
Mikiko still felt trapped but being outside, breathing the air, seeing the streetlights beyond the parameter fence, she also felt hopeful. Near Grand Avenue. She could smell the Chicago River. “I can’t wait here.”
The fence was meant primarily to keep people out. They probably thought none of their prisoners would get this far. Prisoners. Twenty to twenty-five people like Mary, like Neal, like the others. No other prisoners beside her. Where were they? The captives, the immigrants, the ones the Organization brought in from the Middle East and Europe? If Hellspite wasn’t also involved as a human trafficker, why the people, the warehouses, the infrastructure? What game was he playing?
Just over a hundred and ten meters to the fence. Chain link, three meters tall, razor wire on the top. The world’s record for the standing jump was about 1.5 meters. Mikiko could probably make two but that wouldn’t be good enough.
The fence wasn’t meant to keep people in. That equipment. piles of wooden pallets, most too unstable to use, but the forklift was promising. Its tallest point must be just over two meters high. With a running start and using a smaller stack of pallets as a jumping point, she could leap to the top of the machine, then over the fence. She could make it.
“Run, Mikiko. Come on. Don’t be afraid. You’ve made it this far. Run.”
She opened her mouth and through gritted teeth whispered, “Run.”
One hundred and ten meters to the fence. A little less than that to the palates and then the forklift. Olympian Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters to win a gold metal in just 9.58 seconds with an average speed of 37.8 kph and a top speed of just over 48 kph or 30 mph, roughly 13.4 meters per second. Later, when she had time to think, she’d recall that she must have been traveling nearly 17 meters per second to reach the other side of the yard in under 6.5 seconds.
Four seconds after she started running, she could hear the door she’d escaped through slam open. “There she is!” Gunshots. What were they feeling as they watched her moving faster than any other living human being?
Five seconds. Almost there. More gunshots. No pain yet but it was only a matter of time before someone got the range and speed right.
Six seconds and she was already in the air, her right foot extending toward the top of the pallet stack.
Gunshot. Pain. Left deltoid. Left foot on the machine’s safety cage, right foot, down, up. She was in the air again, clearing the wire by nearly a meter. Gunshots. The one that hit her, shooter must have gotten lucky. She’s dialed down the pain. Mikiko would worry how bad it was in a minute. On the ground, roll, absorb the shock, then get up and run. She had to put some distance between herself and the warehouse, try to get out of sight.
Outer parking lot. Bus stop to her left. W. Grand and N. Canal Street. The river. A bridge. Metal beams. Chicago River. She’d slowed down. Mikiko had been clocked running at a sustained speed of 25.75 kph or just over 16 miles per hour for up to three hours before needing rest. Of course, she hadn’t just escaped captivity, been shot full of drugs, and taken a bullet in the shoulder at the same time, but she still crossed the bridge in less than two seconds.
“Slow down, Mikiko. People can see you.”
Another bus stop ahead. She glanced at her shoulder. The wound, little more than a scratch really, had already stopped bleeding and was beginning to clot. The efficient little nanoprobes were still doing their job.
Chicago Express Doctors off to her right. Couldn’t risk it. Gunshot wound. They’d call the police. For the first time, Mikiko realized she was barefoot. They probably took her shoes in the event she got loose thinking it would slow her down, but along with the other adaptations she’d manifested…
The adaptations. Mikiko looked at her hands. They were her hands again. Running her tongue around inside her mouth she found only teeth, no fangs. She was still covered in gore. The taste of her victim’s blood no longer was savory.
“What have I done? I killed those men, five of them, and crippled a sixth. What happened to me?”
The cybernetic chips in her brain made a subtle adjustment and nearly paralyzing remorse and grief were set aside. She could still feel the emotions, but it was more like a distant memory of them now.
Now. Now she needed to come in. No cell. She had to reach the contact.
Would they come after her, Mary and the others? No signs of pursuit. She was out in public. It would be harder, maybe almost impossible for them to reacquire her and return her to captivity. Their alternative was to abandon the warehouse and run.
She turned south, crossing near some condos. Someone getting out of their car in the parking lot. He had his mobile out.
He heard the rapid slap of bare feet on asphalt less than a second before he felt the impact of the heel of her palm hitting him in the side of the head. The stranger slammed back against his car sending his cell phone airborne. Mikiko didn’t slow her stride as she caught it and kept on going.
She hadn’t seriously hurt him. At worst, he’d be dazed for about thirty seconds or so, which would be long enough for her to run across W. Illinois and into another parking lot. Businesses. There’d be an alleyway between them.
The phone wasn’t secure, but it was all she had. She entered the alley. No human smells nearby. All inside the buildings. No one was out emptying the garbage.
She dialed a memorized number. An electronically disguised voice answered. “Control 40, 56, 12, 4, 100.”
“Asset 78, 8, 30, 67, 2. I need to come in. I’ve been compromised.”
“Stand by, Asset. Transferring to Central.”
There was a pause of only a few seconds, but Mikiko felt her anxiety rising.
“This is the contact. I’ll come personally. Location.”
She recognized his voice. It made sense. They knew she’d been captured. She’d only trust someone she knew.
Mikiko gave the contact a description of the alleyway behind the businesses near N. Orleans and W. Hubbard. She also told him the location of where she had been held. He could deploy a drone or other surveillance to see if anyone were still there, but if they were smart, they’d be gone by now.
“Acknowledged, Asset. “I’ll be there in less than ten minutes. Destroy the cell phone.”
They broke the connection and she smashed the phone, fingered through the debris, and destroyed the sim card. She was too easily traced through the device.
Ten minutes. She concealed herself as best she could and tried not to think about what she’d done back at the warehouse, about her claws, her fangs, the sweet taste of men’s blood in her mouth, how it felt to sink her claws into Neal’s soft throat, to grip his trachea and to pull…
Mikiko retched behind a dumpster. She felt filthy, covered in the stink of the blood and flesh of dead men. She was on her hands and knees staring down at asphalt and grime, and then something wet. She was crying. Her tears dripping off of her face.
Colins was still in the shelter but in a different room than Sienna. She’d fallen asleep on the sofa after they managed to get her to eat something. Exhausted both physically and emotionally. He used the time to catch up on the reports. They’d just told him that Mikiko was out in the open. She’d called and her contact was in route to pick her up and bring her in. A tremendous weight had been lifted off of his chest.
Geoffrey had personally approved Mikiko’s assignment to the op, in spite of her total lack of experience in the field. She was his responsibility, and if anything happened to her…
His secure cell rang. “Colins here.”
He listened, then his hand tightened on the phone.
“How the hell did that happen? Who was in charge of security?”
“Yes, this is an emergency. Go find him and bring him back, I don’t care how, just don’t let him go black, and I want reports every fifteen minutes. Do it!”
He broke the connection and set the cell down on the desk in front of him. How could this have happened? He was in a secure wing of a local hospital. There were thirty agents assigned to guard him. He’d been wounded, been in surgery less than twelve hours ago. How the hell had Hellspite managed to escape?
This story is the immediate sequel to The Vengeful and chronicles the capture of Hellspite and the rescue of Sienna Thomas. It also “ups the game” quite a bit since Mikiko is captured by the assassin’s group and reveals something new about the syntheorg’s abilities. She can manifest short-term physical and psychological adaptations under extreme circumstances.
It finally happened. Mikiko has killed. Now she’ll have to learn to live with the aftermath, but that may have to wait. Hellspite has escaped and is on the run. Will he disappear along with this operatives, or does he have something more sinister in mind?
Here are other stories in Mikiko’s overall saga in the order I wrote them but not in chronological order:
- The Reconstructed Woman
- Burn Victim
- Woman Under Repair
- Woman in the Shadows
- The Search for Armageddon
- The Swimmer
- Murder at 900 North Michigan
- First Flight
- The Man in the Dark
- The Vengeful
The next chapter is The Protector.