We waited for night to fall in a small coffee shop about a mile away from the lab. There wasn't really a hiding point any closer, and I liked my staging grounds to be comfortable and come equipped with café lattes. We just waltzed in, wearing all black and carrying a duffel bag, and the customers were polite and Japanese enough to studiously ignore us. The coffee was okay, if nothing to write home about, but the cream cake was absolutely orgasmic. I ate four pieces while we waited for the sun to finish setting and the sky to turn velvet black.
Wufei shuffled crumbs from his croissant around on his plate with the tiny golden fork he'd taken from me. My toying with sharp objects apparently made him nervous; I guess he preferred to toy with them himself. "I think we're almost at hour zero," he said.
"Looks like it." I checked my watch. "Let's head out, then."
We left after paying and headed toward the lab, taking the back route of alleyways and cutting through train stations. One of the things I loved best about Japan was that we could walk the alleys without risking our lives or our shoes. In one alley, we paused to ditch the duffel bag, festooning ourselves with the contents. We looked like something straight out of a spy movie when we were done. Everything was black and padded for silence, from climbing hooks to glasscutters to guns to computers. We were going in loaded for bear.
A chain link fence, topped with razor wire, surrounded the lab. Which was fine, since we weren't going anywhere near the top. Wufei got out the wire cutters and started snipping the chain away from the fence post while I took care of the two security cameras that covered our insertion point. It was the simple matter of splicing a little black box into their image feed; I'd grab my hardware on the way back out and no one would even be able to tell I'd interfered unless they inspected very closely.
The building itself was a two-story brick box, just about one of the ugliest things I'd ever seen. The rear, where we stood, was a featureless tan wall, broken by a single, heavy metal door in the exact center and a shuttered loading dock to one side. There was no way for anyone from the building to see us, since we'd established early on that they weren't paranoid enough to post guards on the roof. An overconfident enemy, just how I liked 'em. So Wufei and I simply slipped through the fence and walked across the well-lit concrete yard bold as you please. Which was fine with me, since I always felt silly doing cockroachy scurrying unless absolutely necessary.
The door was a little tougher, but not by much. It had an electro-magnetic lock that was controlled with a keypad. I couldn't kill the door without taking out an entire section of the municipal power grid, and that was a little obvious. Plus, most doors had backup mechanical dead locks that I'd need an acetylene torch to break through. All of course assuming that the building didn't have a backup generator if the power went out. So really, it was better to just unlock it the semi-normal way.
I had a knife strapped to my left thigh; I used it to pop the plastic cover off the keypad, catching it with my free hand before it could hit the ground. "Here, hold this," I whispered, handing the panel to Wufei. The guts of the panel were a morass of color coded wires. I went straight for the green ones and spliced my pocket computer right in. I had an attack prog designed specifically for the primitive lock processors, and it went through like a hot knife in butter, cutting the door off from the network and disengaging the lock. I grinned at the soft click and started undoing my splices, shoving the wires back into the box and snapping the panel in place. "Let's go, we've got three hours until the program cycles down and the interruption will be noticed."
Wufei nodded and drew his knife (which I still insisted was actually a sword) from his back, then opened the door with such slow caution that it made me want to tear my hair out. Finally satisfied that it wasn't going to explode or something, he stepped inside and gestured me through.
My turn. I summoned up the mental image of the floor maps I'd memorized, and off we went. Most people didn't like running lead on missions. I was one of them. But I was the best lead man for our teams, and I had the best rearguard I'd ever met, so I wasn't going to complain.
The lab was only minimally manned during off hours; security guards, an on-call sysadmin, maybe the odd scientist that needed to do an experiment at night. The hall lights had been turned off everywhere but intersections, so everything was in shades of charcoal. Our feet made no sound on the carpet as we crept along. It all reminded me of way too many bad slasher flicks.
There had to be miles of hall, flat and featureless, broken only by the occasional fire alarm pull or framed picture that it was too dark to see anyway. It was a fucking labyrinth that spiraled into the building's center, which held sealed labs of some sort - probably hot labs, as much as that thought scared the hell out of me - and the computer server room, which was my target.
Three turns in, I caught a flicker of movement in one of the round mirrors conveniently stuck on the ceiling. I gave Wufei the signal to stop with one hand, and we slid into the dark recess of a doorway. It wasn't much protection; thank God we were both relatively small. The movement resolved into a security guard wearing an ugly khaki blazer. He was carrying a heavy flashlight, and was armed. The light circle created by the flashlight swept back and forth across the grey and maroon carpet as he looked our way. Beside me, Wufei tensed, reading to leap at the man as I began to slip my gun from its holster. The circle of light moved closer and closer, now only a few inches away from my feet...
Then the guard turned and started walking away from us, singing quietly to himself in Japanese. It sounded like an Okinawan folksong to me.
"Nice singing voice," I murmured.
Wufei grabbed my arm and gave it a warning squeeze. I took it to mean he was politely requesting that I shut the hell up. I shrugged out of his hold. He had a great sense of humor normally, but when he was on, he was on. We'd joke about it later.
We gave the guard another minute or two to change his mind and come back before we got moving again, taking the hall he'd just come out of.
One hundred and fifty meters out from the server room, disaster tried to strike again. We passed in front of a set of bathrooms, and a moment later, the women's room door opened, flooding the hall with light and half blinding us. Wufei spun and pounced before the lady in the doorway even really had a chance to figure out what was going on. One hand went arrowing to the side of her neck and she folded like a cheap lawn chair. Somehow, he caught her and dragged her into the bathroom in a single, fluid motion. I followed, kicking the crumpled ball of paper towels that had fallen from her fingers in front of me.
Wufei lowered her to the floor and stood up. His shoulders and arms sang with tension. "She saw us," he said. His voice was flat and strained.
I walked over, pulling my gun and resting it against her temple. She was young and had silver wire frame bifocals. I could imagine she had a cute smile, too. What the fuck was I turning in to? "No," I whispered, shaking my head and holstering my gun, "if we finish the job, it's not like they won't know we were here. She didn't get a good look at us, and she'll be out for a while. We leave her."
Wufei nodded. I'd never seen him look so relieved. "You're lead on the mission."
"If I'd decided the opposite, what would you have done?" I asked. It suddenly seemed very important.
"I don't know." Wufei admitted. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "And I find that very disturbing."
"You and me both." I shook my head. "What are we turning in to, Wu?"
Wufei shook his head. "We can figure it out later. We have a time table. And I don't want to think about it right now."
We dragged her into the handicapped stall and set her up against the wall so her feet wouldn't be visible. The floor was white with green tiles; everything was neat and sterile. "Wow, so that's what chick bathrooms look like," I murmured to Wufei. "I'm disappointed. I figured there'd be a mini-theatre or something." I grinned at him, but he didn't smile back.
While Wufei poked his head out into the hall, I checked my watch. I didn't really need to - I had a great internal clock - but it never hurt to double check. We still had over two hours, we were doing great. All we had to do was reach the server room, and then the building would belong to us. Well, me really, but Wufei was my partner and I believed in sharing my megalomania.
The halls were silent once more as we made our way through the last leg of our journey to the server room. It had another electro-magnetic lock on it that I defeated just like the first. I let Wufei open the door again. When he signaled to me that things were all clear, I hurried in and made a beeline for the server stacks in the middle of the room. The lighting was dim; they had this room on power save as well, it seemed. Maybe the sysadmin was off raiding a vending machine or something. My footsteps sounded loud on the white, anti-static tiles.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I fished my tools out of my pocket. I felt like someone had just run an ice cold finger up my spine. Something was wrong. If nothing else, the eerie silence was getting to me; the only sounds were Wufei's quiet movements as he did a perimeter of the room, looking for traps or security devices we had missed. Either this lab had the quietest servers I'd ever encountered in my life, or...
Fuck delicacy. I shoved my lock picking kit to one side and grabbed my knife again. I jammed the point into a hairline crack in the front of the cabinet and gave it a sharp twist. The pathetic excuse for the lock snapped like dry pasta and the door to the cabinet opened, revealing...
Nothing. A few loose wires and some dust, but no servers. Not even a fucking LAN cable. Oh shit.
I jerked to my feet, kicking my tool pouch. Tiny screw drivers and alan wrenches scattered across the floor like metal confetti. "Wu, we have a problem," I started, stepping around the cabinet so I could see him. He stood at one end of the room, which we hadn't been able to see clearly from the door because the cabinets had been in the way. The walls there were covered with mirror, from floor to ceiling.
Wufei pointed at them. "Mirror, Duo. I've looked at them closely now... the walls behind them are solid, they're not one way glass. I don't know why they would be here, and this worries me."
I didn't hear him, not really. I was too busy staring at the mirrors as my skin felt like it was trying to crawl off my body. Each mirror was a square pane, taller than me, with a thin black frame. They surrounded Wufei on three sides, reflecting him back and forth into infinity. Except that there was a movement there, something that didn't belong to Wufei.
A ragged edge of black seemed to flow from the frame, peeping into each mirror. The black edge grew, blowing as if on an invisible breeze toward the center of the mirror. Then a figure, shrouded from head to toe stepped into the mirror, reflected from nothing. It was repeated in each mirror.
This was not happening. This had to be some kind of fucked up dream.
The figure reached a black-gloved hand into its sleeve and drew forth the blue-black feather of a raven.
"WUFEI!" Cold that burned through my soul hit me in a wave.
The light flickered into darkness, leaving only a ghostly blue glow from the dummy terminal monitors.
As if he were trapped in molasses, Wufei began to turn, drawing his sword.
A scream, the shriek of something terrible begging for death, sliced through my mind.
The mirrors exploded.
Wufei ducked, covering his head with his arms as he was enveloped in a blizzard of silver glass shards. Eight black figures stepped down on to the floor as the mirrors rained down.
Everything clicked into place in an instant. I yanked my gun from its holster, took careful aim at the nearest one's head, and fired. "Not on my watch, you murdering fucks!" I shouted.
My shot was true; the thing went down with an all too human and all too female scream.
That sure got everyone's attention.
Wufei jumped to his feet, streaming blood from a myriad of cuts on his arms. His shirt and pants were shredded, his face was set and grim. He only stopped long enough to yell, "Duo, abort!" before he lunged at the closest Cloak, taking an overhand swing at it. The Cloak dodged faster than a human should have been able to, and batted the sword aside with a metallic clang. It said a lot about Wufei's strength that he managed to hold on to it.
So they were wearing some sort of armor. I'd have to remember that central mass shots would probably be useless, and that made my job a lot harder. "Like hell I will!" I shouted back at Wufei, and then they were on me.
They came like ghosts, absolutely silent. I fired at one, but another grabbed my arm and yanked, spinning me. The touch burned like cold fire, and I bit into my lip, barely holding in a shriek of pain. The taste of copper flooded my mouth. I let go of my gun without a fight, more concerned with freeing my hand then anything else. I had knives I could use; close range wasn't my thing, but I didn't have a choice.
I freed myself as two more dove in; I managed to dodge, slipping behind one of the others as I yanked my knives out from their sheathes. I took a stab at the unprotected back of the Cloak in front of me. The knife point skittered across armor like I'd guessed it would, tearing an enormous hole in the black shroud and yanking its hood back. Glints of silver from the armor caught my eye. My target whipped around and tried to disarm me, but I danced back, trying to find a better defensive position. It was a woman, pale and gaunt with black hair in oiled ringlet. Tattoos that moved like a thing living covered her face, forming into patterns that made my eyes itch and burn.
I'd seen tattoos like that before - the old witch in the department store when Heero was still randomly setting things on fire with that power of his. This did not bode well.
She lunged at me again and I slashed at her face. Only an undignified jerk to the side saved her nose.
One of her compatriots slammed her shoulder into me, almost knocking me over and throwing me into the arms of another anonymous Cloak. It locked an arm around my throat and tried to choke me. No dice. I slammed my foot down on its instep and was free in an instant. I'd been hoping they hadn't thought to put armor on their feet.
I dodged again and snap kicked someone in the stomach. It hurt my foot but drove him back, granting me a moment to regroup. I could tell from the noise near the wall that Wufei was still fighting the good fight. Great, since it meant he was still alive, bad because it meant he probably wasn't winning. Which meant I was really fucked, since I wasn't even half the fighter he was.
While I was trying to fend off two Cloaks and work my way toward Wufei, another landed a kick in the small of my back and I went sprawling. Only divine intervention kept me from being skewered on one of my own knives.
Somehow, I produced a snake-twist and flipped onto my back, just in time to get one of my arms stepped on, the other grabbed by one of those burning hands. A third Cloak bent over me as I frantically struggled, reaching into its sleeve and drawing out a capped syringe.
Oh hell no! I twisted my wrist and yanked, freeing my right hand. A red, burned welt was already visible on my wrist. With desperate strength and a lot more flexibility than I thought I had, I drove the knife up, under the hood of the one leaned over me, and felt it bite deep. With a burbling gasp, the Cloak fell over, right on top of me. I could barely move under the weight, and the absolute cold radiating from it sent my nerves screaming for mercy.
Even better. I was nose to nose with the now dead woman. Her hair was bone white and in a crew cut. Blood ran freely from her mouth and nose, soaking into my shirt as she stared into me with fishy blue eyes. The tattoos on her face shriveled like a worm on a hot sidewalk.
I didn't get to enjoy the view for long. Someone knelt down on my left arm, and the sharp line of a needle got stabbed into my triceps. I let out my fear and frustration in the loudest scream I'd ever produced in my life. A moment later, needle and knee were gone, and in a fit of insane strength, I shoved the corpse off of me.
My arm was on fire, every vein outlined in cold agony. I struggled to my feet and stumbled away, clutching my arm and frantically searching the floor for my gun. The Cloaks that surrounded me turned their backs and walked toward the continuing fight with Wufei.
I almost slipped on my gun when I stepped on it, but I didn't really care. The world felt like it was beginning to bend and twist around me as I bent to pick it up. My fingers didn't seem to want to work properly; I'd never had to concentrate so hard. The gun weighed about eleven hundred tons, but I leveled it at the group of Cloaks, and struggled to pull back the trigger. The sound of the shot stretched out until it was like a peel of thunder; the kick of the gun knocked it from my hand and it went clattering to the floor again.
But the most important was the blood I suddenly saw blossom from the head of one of those bitches. At least I'd done something.
My knees gave way and I crashed to the floor as the creeping fire reached my heart and began licking at my spine, toward my brain. "Wufei," I croaked, "Run. Get out. Run..." The words were hopelessly slurred. Nothing seemed to work as I crumpled into an untidy heap. Cold fingers sank into my brain, and for a minute, it was agony. Then the best orgasm I'd ever had in my life exploded through me, running from the ends of my hair to my toenails. The world turned infra red, then melted into a puddle that faded to black.
I couldn't help but wonder as consciousness slid away in a wave of euphoria, if my eye was going to end up floating in a jar somewhere.
Not that I cared as long as it felt this good...