Burn Up/Angel

 

So against all my previous expectations, here we were, not only on old Earth, but sitting in a cheap but cheerful little family run ramen bar in the new Tokyo. You could tell it was family run, because we were the only customers this lunchtime, and of the proprietors, she was looking pathetically grateful at our presence, and he was looking put-upon as he prepared our orders.

And knowing that it would be Japan, I was at least equipped with a 'fish, plugged in under my right ear, that was giving me a running commentary - and allowing me to order safely from the menu without having to rely on Yuri's recommendations - or risking inadvertently picking up the wasabi surprise or the pota sanoichi.

The assignment had come out of the blue. After a long while on cold stand-by, kicking our heels around the training ranges at HQ, doing the minimal tasks needed to keep up our required skills, wondering whether the call would ever come again, the Chief called us in.

"The CC has matched you two up to a case that has just come in. So help me. It wants you to go the Earth. Please try and leave the place intact. Remember how much it has cost to redevelop the place already."

Earth.

Fifty years before I was born, it had been devastated in the Nanoclysm. After a week of chaos, the old home world was a silent, quarantined wilderness. After a year, to everyone's surprise, the first signs of green had returned. Within a decade, the first cautious dumb probes had been dropped to find the place almost entirely reset to zero - the atmosphere purged of the signs of inhabitation, only the lack of old trees and large animals a give-away. After twenty, the first sample returns had shown that there were indeed no live remnants of the nanoplague, even in the major centres of the Nanoclysm. And soon thereafter, everyone who still had more loyalty to a patch of ground on the homeworld than their new home was clamouring to be let back.

It took a few years for the powers that be to overcome their natural paranoia, but eventually the return movements got their way, and the first people made a one-way trip to their ancestral lands. The organization that has now become the 3WA monitored the continued quarantine, up to only a few years ago, before finally allowing a limited number of tourists, and some trade.

"The request was a personal one rather than coming through official channels, but the CC decided that there was enough merit to take up the case. Though I admit to some surprise that it did as it did..."

That was enough to make things sound even more mysterious - and to make things worse, we were given no further briefing. That would have to wait until we were Earthside, and made contact with the person who had unofficially called us in.

Back in the now, while I had finished my bowl of pork and garlic ramen, and was working on a second beer, Yuri was still picking at her first bowl of noodles, keeping on looking out over my shoulder to the street. Despite the fine weather, despite the fact that we were supposed to be tourists - and despite our normal uniform - she had insisted on wearing one of her usual frumpy off-duty outfits - blouse with a big bow, long skirt, flat - sensible - shoes and a jacket. I'd taken the chance to look the part of the tourist, and wow the world with the body beautiful, in properly casual gear - halter top, cut-offs, and some decent walking boots. And to complete the tourist rig, a back-pack with a number of souvenir patches - including the battered old Tokyo Tower Centenary holopatch that was supposed to identify us to our contact.

I'd given in to temptation and was stuck into seconds of the pork and garlic when the proprietor's face lit up, and behind me, the door opened. Three people, from the sounds of footsteps, two at least women by their voices. I looked around casually. Local police - not surprising since their local HQ was just down the street - one clearly of notably higher rank, given the difference in uniform. And all three women.

Now, I'm not sure what upgrade program they had taken, but they sure seem to have gotten their money's worth. I know people have accused me of playing third fiddle to my own chest, but by comparison with the tall, and - superstructure apart - comparatively willowy younger women, I would look like a gymnast.

The senior officer looked around, spending just a second too long gazing at where I'd put my backpack.

"There are three ways you could have got that patch." she remarked. Good old cloak and dagger code phrases.

"None that would cause any trouble, officer." Yuri beat me to the punchline.

"May we join you?"

So we all huddled around the one table in an otherwise empty restaurant. The proprietor clearly recognised regulars, as their order arrived without needing to be asked for.

"Glad to meet you." the senior officer - I guess she was about ten years older than the rest of us - began, when the food and more drinks had arrived, "I'm Superintendent Kawasaki - but please call me Maki. These are Officers Kinezono-"

"Hi, Rio," the girl with the long blonde hair introduced herself.

"- and Jingu."

"Maya." the girl with the green hair added.

"I am Bitenshi Yuri," Yuri added, sitting herself up straight, hands in lap, eyes slightly downcast, and using a mode of the language that my 'fish identified as excruciatingly formal, even archaic, what with the given name coming last, and using a very deferential pronoun form, in contrast with the "all friends together" mode that everyone else - even the Super - Maki, I corrected myself - had been using.

"Kei Bitenshi, 3WA trouble consultant" I completed the round, letting my native accent show through despite the best efforts of my 'fish.

This was where things would usually start to go pear shaped. I waited for someone to recognise our names. I could see a frown of concentration, then-

"Are you two, like, married?" the blonde one - Rio - asked, narrowing her eyes.

"Oh, no," Yuri said, and giggled demurely, hand to mouth, colouring slightly.

"Those are our official names," I explained, relieved that we didn't have to go through *that* scene in public again.

"Rio and Maya are two of the officers I have recruited for a special operations team - Team Warrior," Maki explained, "We pick up unusual cases on an officially unofficial basis. I suppose you could call us the local TroCon equivalents. But for this particular operation, there are ramifications that meant we had to call in the real thing. Off-world ramifications."


In many ways the scene was a familiar one. Another towering planetary police building, another high ranking flat-foot laying problems on us in their office looking out over the city. But this time was different. For once we hadn't stormed in through the front door, in full uniform, to try and coerce cooperation. This time we'd been smuggled in the back, via a goods elevator, and then emergency stairs, and were still in our civvies. In particular, I was missing the reassuring weight of a gun at my hip, and the other gear that goes with the uniform.

"Not only does this case reach off-world," Maki was explaining, "but there is also a political spin. Hence the need for discretion - some facets of this operation aren't even officially unofficial - this is something I'll have to take personal responsibility for, should you not live up to your reputation."

"Huh?" What did she mean by that crack?

"When the, uh, Lovely Angels get involved in a case, the case ends up finally, ultimately, definitively closed. So, one way or another, I would hope not to have to take the fall for this action."

Now, that was a different spin. I was starting to think that the Chief could take some lessons here.

"There have been a number of incidents that at first seemed disconnected, where Warrior have been involved, but the one that prompted me to call in covert 3WA help was about a month back. We, that's the whole NeoTokyo police force, had been assigned a squad of these Kuan-Yin security mechs for auxiliary policing."

She placed a picture on the desk - one of those smiley-face 'bots that had caused us grief on Pacifica, and again on the Kalevala habitat.

"We're familiar with that model," Yuri summarised.

"Then you will understand that when some of them developed faults, it was not trivial to subdue them. And that was when we found out that these ones had been enhanced. The usual processor had been replaced by this-"

Next picture, the braincase of one, looking somewhat battered, opened, and a view of some jet black crystal structure.

"It appears to be some form of nano-mechanical processor. Now do you understand the sensitivity of the operation?"

We nodded.

"There is one element linking these anomalous cases. There is a woman who seems to have been dealings in high value thefts, arms and technology smuggling, and terrorism. At one point we were almost able to make an arrest, but she was able to out-fight Rio here when it came to a struggle."

And she played the next picture.

I looked at it. And saw red.

"The bitch!" I shouted.

"Easy, Kei." Yuri put her hand on my shoulder to calm me down. And then

whiteout


When things solidified again, I found myself seated in an office chair, head between my knees in the recovery position, and Yuri was likewise a few feet away, with another woman fussing over her. The newcomer was dark skinned - Indian, I'd guess - with black hair that glossed deep red like varnished copper wire in the light, and not in any kind of uniform.

"What did you see?" Yuri asked.

"Something like an insect/dinosaur cross - boxy body, a long neck - or maybe tail - complicated bits at each end. And a man - creepy feeling chap, long straggly hair, glasses - round ones, rather like Maki's. I don't know why, but I felt I needed to give his sorry ass a good kicking."

"Me too, though I think the first image was a ship of some sort. There was also something about them both that made me feel that I ought to recognise them, that I'd seen them before, if only I could remember. But why would a picture of Shasti trigger that sort of association?"

"You recognise the woman?"

I sat myself up. We were still in Maki's office. I looked at her, then cast a significant glance at the newcomer.

"Don't worry - Nanvel here is another member of Team Warrior." Nanvel smiled, and gave a little wave.

"Yes." Yuri and I spoke together, answering the question, but I let her explain. After all, this would need a bit of skillful grovelling - it was one time where a case we were on - however unofficially - seemed not to have been quite closed. Though we'd left her for dead, wherever she'd warped to, we'd not had a body - or a prisoner - to be sure of. And who knew exactly what tricks she'd had engineered in, both with the 3WA and in black labs thereafter. I had another question to ask, though.

"Officer Kinezono - when she out-fought you, what happened?"

"Rio, please," she replied, "And it was nothing really - just a bit of a brawl, really. I'd been drinking, hadn't been expecting trouble, when it happened."

"How badly were you hurt?"

"Just a few bruises and scrapes - but most of those were just what you'd expect scrapping in the street. Though she did lecture me on my fighting style, which hurt the most."

That last touch was definitely the Shasti I remembered from training. And I had to consider myself impressed by someone who could walk away from a one-on-one fight with her.


© Steve Gilham 2004
© Mr. Tines 2004


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