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Anime/Manga Fan Fiction >> Dirty Pair >> Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

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Chapter 5
By D.B Sommer

 

About time I got to this:

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot
Chapter 5

A Dirty Pair, Iria: Zeiram the animation crossover.

Any and all C+C appreciated. You can contact me at:
sommer@3rdm.net

Standard Disclaimer:
I disclaim I own any of the Dirty Pair characters or the folks from Iria:
Zeiram, the Animation

All of my stuff is now stored at:


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And then the head snapped back just as lightning quick, restored in its
original position in the brim of Zeiram's head. Inexplicably, the giant
green creature turned and strode away just as purposefully as it had when it
approached Iria's prone form.

Disbelief, not relief, was the prevailing emotion Iria felt. What had just
happened defied any process of logic. Zeiram never demonstrated mercy,
almost as though the very concept eluded it. Moreover, Iria had attacked it,
all but begging to be its next target. So why, when it have taken it the
same amount of effort to rip out her throat that most people had to chew a
candy bar, had it stopped, and walked away as though its work was already
done?

The high-pitched drone of engines filled the sky directly above Iria,
distracting her. Lacking the strength to do anything more than raise her
head, she gazed upward to see a boxy freighter swoop low and angle towards
an open area a hundred meters away from her, right in the path of the
oncoming Zeiram.

Was the pilot insane? Didn't he understand the danger he would be in if he
landed? She wanted to cry out and warn the foolish pilot away before he got
himself and anyone else on board killed, but then the memory of a
static-filled screen rose to the surface of her thoughts. Once remembered,
it was a simple matter to place where she had seen the fat ship before.

So Zeiram was still employing the same freighter that was on the space
station as his means of getting around. Even if it felt that it had killed
everyone else on the planet, why leave her alive? And the way Zeiram had
just stopped and turned away, it made no sense!

The ship touched the ground and a ramp lowered from its midsection. Zeiram
maintained the same steady pace it had before the craft landed. Had it
called the freighter down, or was there some other factor involved? There
were too many questions that she had no answers to.

"Not... get away," Iria managed to get out under her breath. She watched
through a veil of pain as Zeiram approached the ramp. The bounty hunter knew
she could survive, would survive, to avenge Kei and Yuri, though it was Kei
she was really thinking of. Zeiram had now taken everything from her except
her life, which it seemed to regard as not being worth snuffing out like it
had everyone else. It would pay for its mistake. Perhaps not now, but soon.
Very soon. She would not let herself die on this planet with the second
chance Zeiram had given her. However, she needed time to recover before she
could make good on her vow. If Zeiram flew off planet, he would escape
again. But there was a way to track him.

Pain massaged every part of her body, making her vision grow dark around the
edges. Hate fueled her awareness. Locked in a life and death struggle with
consciousness, she refused to black out until her mission was accomplished.
With her good arm, she brought out a pistol and pushed a selector switch.
Unable to feel the fingers on the wrist Zeiram had stepped on, she placed
the gun on the ground and went to her belt for the device. Her fingers
fumbled around through the pouches as she tried to locate it. She knew she
had a mobile transmitter head in her belt. She knew it! She just had to find
the right pouch it was in.

Zeiram was less than twenty meters from the ship, whose engines were still
running. She had to hurry, or else it would be too late. The monster was
only ten meters away when her fingers finally closed on the desired piece.
It was the only item with a smooth flat head. She brought it out and
inserted the long prong at the end of it into the barrel of the sidearm
laying on the ground. It was difficult arming the weapon one-handed, but her
skills were up to the task as she managed with wavering fingers to jam it up
the barrel, hearing the reassuring 'click' that let her know it was primed
to be fired. Brushing a finger across the flat portion of the transmitter,
it responded by activating its adhesive head. Zeiram's skin was armor hard,
and hopefully just as sensitive, or else it was unlikely her impromptu plan
would work.

Picking up the gun, Iria saw she was out of time. Zeiram was about to walk
up the ramp. She moved quickly, her eyes tearing as the quick movement
caused a new wave of pain to shoot through her. She tried lining up the
sights, but the tears made her vision watery and her hand was wavering. She
would never make the difficult shot.

And then, for one brief moment, the world came into perfect focus. She could
see it all so clearly. Everything ceased to exist between her and the
target. Taking one extra fraction of a second to hold her breath, she fired.

The large tiny projectile shot through the air in a straight line in the
direction of the ship, impacting into the hardened earth right under where
Zeiram's foot had been but a moment before.

The gun fell from unfeeling fingers and hit the ground with a dull thud. She
had jerked pulling the trigger! It was a beginner's mistake, one she hadn't
made since Gren was still alive. The mistake had cost her everything. If she
had even shot a split second before, it would have hit Zeiram's heel at
least. But she hadn't and it didn't.

As she watched in mute despair, unable to summon the energy to even rise to
her feet, the ramp folded up behind Zeiram, sealing the ship for space
travel. The instant the ramp was in place the freighter took off at top
speed, heading straight up through the atmosphere and beyond. It was little
more than another twinkling light in the sky in under fifteen seconds.

Iria's eyes remained focused on the light until it disappeared completely
from sight. It was over. There was no more strength left in her to fight any
longer. She had failed everyone, from herself to the people of Yanki's
Beautiful Haven, though it was Kei that was foremost on her mind. Kei that
meant the most of them all. The most by far.

"I'm sorry." The apology barely escaped Iria's lips. Already her breath was
beginning to mist from the cold air, the planet unable to contain enough
heat necessary for survival now that atmospheric processor was destroyed.
And the air was getting harder to breathe. That was the thicker atmosphere
slowly leaking away, being replaced by the lighter one that originally
circled the planet, one filled with only trace amounts of oxygen. Darkness
beckoned while its brother, Pain, pushed her forward into its black embrace.
Lacking the strength, and more importantly, the heart to fight it, she
allowed herself to fall into a dreamless void.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

It sensed the departure of its progenitor and could feel the air around it
become steadily colder. It felt neither angry nor frightened at being
abandoned. It did not care in the slightest; it was too simple for such
complex feelings. It was an elementary creature, an almost random mix of DNA
that was somehow able to function as a living being. It was slightly over
one and a half meters long, possessing a snake-like body with a huge head
full of dagger sharp teeth. Its flesh was jet black, the teeth and eyes pure
white standing in stark contrast to its shiny obsidian surface.

It was motivated by an uncomplicated drive that involved little more than
absolute obedience to its progenitor, and killing everything not like it and
its siblings. There were no other siblings present any longer, nor could it
find things not like it to kill. They were all already dead and it had eaten
its fill to continue doing what it knew it must. But still, it would be
certain there was nothing else to kill by searching again.

The change in the elemental composition of the air mattered little to it. It
could breathe just about anything. It could even travel through deep space
if it had to, entering a state of semi-hibernation until arriving at
whatever destination it was called to. But it received no summons to follow
the progenitor, so instead it moved around and sought more things to kill.

It slithered through shattered buildings and long conduits of pipes until it
found another not like it thing. The other rested on the open ground, but it
could feel the thing that was not like it still radiating heat and
breathing. It would solve that problem quickly.

It sped across the ground, mindful of the other possibly rising up and
trying to destroy it. Other things not like it had tried to do that, but
they had all failed and been killed. It could conceive of when things not
like it tried to prevent it from carrying out its tasks, and it would avoid
those attacks so it could kill the others instead. Being attacked didn't
make the creature angry; it wasn't able to care about that either.

It watched the thing not like it carefully as the creature slithered ever
closer. The creature paused a moment before the prey laying on the ground,
considering the best way to kill it since it was just lying there and
allowing the creature to figure out the way to carry out its genetic
imperatives with the least amount of effort. It was able to sense the armor
covering most of the body, as well as the throat that was not protected by
the armor. That would be the easiest vulnerable point. Course decided, it
drew back its head and prepared to rip out the throat and feast on the
other's flesh, unknowingly mirroring what its progenitor had done several
minutes before, though this time having no intention of stopping at the last
moment.

It coiled and lunged forward, but was intercepted halfway to its target by a
boot. It forced the creature down to the surface, pinning it on the ground
by the portion of its body located right beneath the head. Unable to move
from a force that was much stronger than it, it hissed in protest and
writhed around, trying to gain purchase and launch a counterattack.

It heard the words, "Bad Zeonoid! Now play dead!"

A white hot bolt of energy lanced through its head, disintegrating over half
of its brain in less then a micro-second. The last thing it heard was, "Good
boy."

And then there was nothing.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sounds drifted in the white haze that she floated in. The white was nice,
but she felt naked and bare when it retreated and made her aware of
something other than the white.

There were only sounds at first, but eventually the sounds seemed to form
patterns. It took a while for her brain to establish that the patterns were
recognizable. Words. The sounds were words. Now all that remained was to
decipher them.

"-am telling you that I'm still cold. We would definitely have frozen to
death before suffocating."

"And I'm telling you that it was getting too hard to breathe quicker. We'd
have suffocated first."

"All right, I'll grant you we'd have passed out before hypothermia set it,
but we would definitely have frozen to death before our bodies suffocated.
Remember, you don't need as much oxygen when you're asleep."

"No, no, no. You're all wrong. I... oh, look. Iria's starting to move."

That name triggered the return of memory. She was Iria. She was a bounty
hunter. She needed to protect Kei and kill Zeiram. But Kei had died
alongside Yuri when the building collapsed upon them. Feeling her heart
break anew, Iria opened her eyes to see both members of the Lovely Angels
standing next to her. Yuri watched her intently while Kei all but hovered
directly above her fallen mentor.

"I'm dead too?" Iria's voice cracked with strain, as though she hadn't
spoken for a week.

Yuri folded her arms and snorted in disgust. "Excuse me, but I am offended
at the very idea that I would end up in the same place in the afterlife as
Kei."

The particular outburst-cum-insult caused Kei to scowl at her partner.
Giving Yuri a bland stare, the redhead said one word. "Clydesdales."

For a moment, it looked to Iria as though Yuri would fall over dead, given
the ashen pallor her entire body took on in the span of a heartbeat. In
total shock, the raven-haired troubleshooter babbled out, "I thought your
memory of that whole day was erased!"

"Yuri, there are some things that are so disturbing they can never truly be
erased from anyone's mind." Kei seemed highly amused now.

Falling to her knees, Yuri blurted out in a panicked stream, "I'll do
whatever you want whenever you want, just don't ever mention that word to me
again."

"What word?" Kei asked, now happy at having the upper hand.

"Right," Yuri said, relaxing somewhat.

Iria found herself convinced that she must be alive, as it was categorically
impossible she would end up in the same place in the afterlife with either
of her current companions. "So what's going on? How did you two survive?"

With some semblance of order returned, the duo began relating events as to
exactly what had happened.

Kei starting things off, pointing to Yuri. "Actually, she's the one that
saved our butts."

A measure of pride returned to Yuri as she preened slightly. "Just as the
building was coming down on top of us, I noticed we were standing on the
section of floor right above the coolant tanks for the atmospheric
generator. So I emptied my gun into the floor, which gave way, and allowed
us to splash down into the twenty thousand gallon tanks they have down
there. Luckily, the rest of the flooring held and the building didn't come
crashing down on top of us, at least not most of it. After things settled,
it was only a matter of minutes for us to swim our way out, pick you up, and
get off planet."

"And the radioactive elements in the coolant were really low and it didn't
permanently affect us or anything," Kei added, happy that she wasn't glowing
in the dark.

"I see," Iria said, relieved at Kei's continued health while angry at
herself for letting Zeiram get away. Again. She looked around trying to
figure out where she was. "Why are we on my ship?"

"We didn't want you getting any blood in our beds," Yuri said casually,
eliciting a quick elbow to the ribs from Kei. The raven-haired 3WA agent
shot her partner a nasty look. "Excuse me, but as I recall, the first words
out of your lips were, 'she's not bleeding on my sheets'."

Giving a sad shake of her head, Iria tried to rise from the bed and into a
sitting position, but a wave of dizziness swept over her and she found
herself unable to get more than a handful of inches up before having to
settle back down again. "What's wrong with me?"

Kei heard the edge in Iria's voice. Speaking quickly to calm her mentor, she
said, "Not much, really. Just a sprained wrist, two broken ribs, numerous
contusions, second degree burns along the back of your neck and scalp, and a
minor concussion. Sort of like what happens when you slip on a bar of soap
in the bathroom while carrying a grenade with the pin pulled out."

"Why is it so hard to think?" Iria muttered through the haze of white that
was still affecting her.

"That would be from the triple dose of Effarx painkillers we loaded you up
with," Yuri explained.

Iria shook her head. "No. Painkillers will keep my head fuzzy and won't heal
me up fast enough. Get me some Acenon Bandages."

That made Kei recoil. "No way! Those things will screw you up." Everyone
knew that while the bandages did accelerate healing to incredible levels,
they also increased the level of pain due to the augmentation in healing.
Also, as time passed, it was proven that in some cases it would permanently
lower or even ruin altogether the ability to heal from injuries, even from
something as insignificant as a paper cut. Worse, it was completely random.
Someone could use the bandages several times with no ill effects, and then
suddenly end up dying from a minor gash. The number of people affected was a
low percentage, which was why Acenon was still manufactured and utilized,
but it did happen.

"I use them all the time," Iria slurred dismissively.

"You've used them five times in ten years, under heavy protest from me each
time," Bob's voice was identical to that of a mother reminding her child
that jumping into a raging blast furnace was probably a bad idea.

Kei placed a hand firmly on Iria's shoulders, making her lay back down.
"That settles it. You kick back and enjoy your drug induced dreams. Let me
and Yuri take care of things for a while now. You've earned a break."

Kei felt Iria slump in defeat, the bounty hunter resting her head on her
pillow as her eyes became heavy lidded. "Okay, but wake me up if you find
Zeiram." Iria's voice drifted off, with the word "Zeiram" taking three times
longer to finish than it normally would.

Seeing Iria give up and drift off, a smile rose to Kei's lips as she
considered the remarkable turn of events that led her to be the one taking
care of the older woman for a change. The lack of an argument from the
bounty hunter was an obvious indication of just how badly she had been hurt.
Once satisfied Iria was going to sleep, Kei wordlessly left the bedside and
returned to the Lovely Angel with Yuri in tow.

They were gone for no more than a couple of minutes when Iria's eyes
fluttered open. Sensing the Lovely Angels would not be returning anytime
soon, the bounty hunter focused with every ounce of remaining concentration
she possessed. It seemed to take forever for her to summon enough strength
to roll out of bed and onto the floor, her fall only being interrupted by
the deck plates underneath. It took a few more seconds to regain enough
strength to start a slow, arduous crawl towards the back of the ship.

"I could call Kei and have her strap you to the bed," Bob offered. He didn't
need his sensors to tell him that Iria was trying to get to the first aid
kit stored in a nearby locker where some Acenon Bandages were stored.
However, the glare Iria shot informed him that if such an event occurred, he
would be reduced to running the waste management programs for the rest of
his electronic existence. The loud sigh he gave to Iria announced he was
washing his hands clean of the matter. Putting his free time to good use, he
returned to processing the most recent information he had gleaned from
Yanki's Beautiful Haven. There was something there, some important detail
that could be added to the rest of the information he had uncovered and
produce a clearer picture. Bob was sure he could figure out if he had just a
little more time.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

It was time.

After leaving the Creeper V, Kei announced she needed to grab some food from
the mess and asked Yuri if she wanted some. Declining, the raven-haired
troubleshooter gave some vague answer about finishing some work she had
started and headed directly to the bridge.

There was a little twinge from Yuri's conscience, just a tiny thing that
protested what she was considering, but realistically there was no question
that it had to be done. They had failed to bring in Zeiram again, had nearly
died in the attempt, which meant it was time to call in reinforcements.

Bob would probably be okay with her decision, he seemed to be the reasonable
sort, but Iria and Kei would raise hell about it. It wasn't Iria's reaction
Yuri was so much concerned about, but rather Kei's. They were partners after
all, and she loved Kei like a sister. The redhead's feelings nearly always
meant something to Yuri, but with this mission, Kei had gone too far. She
had allowed her own personal feelings to get in the way of professionalism
and they were suffering for it. Oh sure, Kei and others had made that
accusation about Yuri in the past, but they were full of crap. Just because
a few planets had blown up on missions she'd been assigned to was no
indication of allowing her performance level to curve down due to personal
problems; she was a professional to the bone.

Course at last finalized, Yuri went to the communications console and
punched up the data on the memory banks. Not finding her report in the
primary memory, she checked the backup in case that had somehow been set up
as the default program for storing the message. Again, there was nothing,
not even the automatic backup that should have been generated when she
initially saved the report.

Yuri was still trying to figure out what had happened when Kei entered the
bridge with a steaming cup of coffee in hand. Continuing to scowl at the
console, the raven-haired woman spoke without looking at her partner. "Did
you fool around with the computer systems at all?"

"Nah. I didn't mess up anything." Kei took a sip of the coffee. "I
deliberately erased your report. You can't really call that 'fooling
around', now can you?"

Head jerking at the casual way Kei had delivered the statement, Yuri spun on
her with a mix of anger at what her partner had done and surprise at her
secretive actions being mentioned in such an offhand manner. "You had no
business doing that!"

Kei met the accusation with a scowl of her own. "I told you, this is our
case. We can handle it without any outside interference."

"The hell we can!" Yuri slammed her hand down on the console. It was the
wiser course of action, preferable to going with her initial urge and
hitting Kei, but it felt nowhere near as satisfying. "People are dying left
and right, and we haven't come close to stopping any of it. We've been lucky
to have survived ourselves. We need to call headquarters and get somebody
else on this case."

Kei snarled back in anger, "This is bigger than just Zeiram, and you know
it! Did you forget what happened on Delabar? We go public with this and the
bad guys are either going to go into hiding or really unload on everything
around."

"Bullshit!" Yuri's own anger increased in direct proportion to Kei's. How
dare she get angry when it was Yuri that had been so terribly wronged. "We
don't know anything of the kind. You've completely lost any objectivity.
This is personal for you and Iria, Kei. It's been that way from the
beginning. You two just have to settle this personal vendetta and screw
everyone else who might get hurt in the process, just so long as its you two
who take out Zeiram in the end!"

"We're the best suited for the job!"

"But you're not the only ones suited for it," Yuri said with iron in her
voice. "I'm informing headquarters of everything we know."

Yuri reached out for the transmitter, but Kei's hand shot forward and
grasped it halfway there.

"Don't make me stop you, Yuri."

The soft tone of seriousness in Kei's voice made Yuri recoil. Kei was loud
and boisterous when delivering threats, not quiet and solemn, that was more
along Yuri's lines. "You're threatening me?"

Kei didn't back off in the slightest. "I'm telling you not to do this."

Yuri ripped her hand out of Kei's, furious beyond measure. Never had Kei
pushed her like this, not over this sort of matter. "I'm your partner, not
your subordinate. You ask me things. You don't order me around."

"Then I'm asking you to let it go," Kei might have been pleading, but it
carried the same hint of iron Yuri's had, and told her Kei would not be
backing down in the slightest.

Under different circumstances, Yuri might have gone along with it given
Kei's obvious feelings on the matter, but with the way her partner had been
all but gushing since Iria had shown up and been doing everything short of
groveling to please her, coupled with the irrational Captain Ahab-like
vengeance Kei had demonstrated pursuing Zeiram, all it succeeded in doing
was making Yuri angry instead. "Not a chance." Her voice was heavy with
finality.

"Don't make me do something we'll both regret," Kei said, begging without
sounding like it in the least as her hands formed fists.

More incensed than ever, Yuri backed up and mirrored her partner's
aggressive stance. How dare Kei do this to her! "Partners for over fifteen
years and you're going to piss it all away because of some oversized walking
mushroom and your god-damn obsessed mother figure."

The punch was so fast Yuri didn't realize she was falling until her head
struck the corner of the console hard. Her body continued onward, crashing
'pleasantly' to the metal of the floor, bouncing only once before settling
down on the cool surface.

"Don't call Iria that! Don't you dare call her anything like that ever
again, Yuri!" Kei shouted through her tears. The redhead could feel her
heart breaking, torn in two directions because of Yuri. Why couldn't she
just back off and see reason? Why did she have to choose now to be
intractable and insulting? And she had no business calling Iria names. Not
Yuri. Not her own partner. Of all the people in Kei's life, Yuri should have
been the last one in the entire universe to insult someone so important to
her. It was almost as though her partner was trying to force Kei to choose
between her and Iria. There was no choice to be made, and even if there was,
it was impossible to choose between the two. No one could ever make such a
choice.

Kei watched Yuri try to get up, then fall onto her back, eyes almost rolling
into the back of her head. Her anger became mixed with concern. No matter
how pig-headed and offensive Yuri was behaving, they were still partners,
and it did look like she had hit her head hard against the console. Add to
that Kei's own tremendous strength and it was lucky Yuri's jaw was still
attached at all.

Kei kneeled down on the floor and bent over the prone woman. "Hey, Yuri. I
didn't hit you too hard, did I? You are okay, right?"

"Better than you are," Yuri managed to get out.

A rabbit punch connected with Kei's solar plexus, the unexpected blow
knocking the wind clean out of her. Kei fell onto her back, sounding like a
set of bellows as she tried to recover her breath. "Going... to... get...
you... for... that," she got out between gasps.

"No way, blubberguts." Yuri tried picking herself up using the chair for
support, only to seemingly have the chair move itself from out of her grasp
and cause her collapse to the floor again. "Computer, make the room stop
spinning," she ordered.

"We don't have an... audio response system... chunky." Kei managed to get to
her feet first, looking for something to hit Yuri with. Fists were nice, but
there was something infinitely more satisfying about pummeling someone with
a large metal object.

Yuri at last regained her own footing, somewhat shakily, and confronted Kei
once again. The two squared off more cautiously than before.

Kei moved first, lunging at Yuri and determined to use her slight strength
advantage to overpower her in a clench. Yuri countered by twisting in the
direction she had already been swooning towards, so that it was Kei that met
the floor hard instead. Although at the last second Kei had lashed out with
her hand and caught Yuri by the top of her outfit, dragging the dark-haired
woman down to the floor as well and slowing her fall with Yuri's resistance.
Kei released her hold on the top and tried grappling her opponent, while
Yuri tried to do the same. The duo rolled around on the deck, each trying to
gain an advantage over the other.

Yuri had a death grip on Kei's hair, while Kei had one of Yuri's arms bent
behind her back, when a male voice, smooth as ice, purred "Oh yeah. Keep at
it, girls! I'm getting all of this on video. We're going to make millions
with this hot catfight."

Both opponents froze, only their heads turning in the direction from where
the voice had come from, their console.

Kei managed to speak first, "Bob, what the hell are you talking about?"

Bob continued using the Lovely Angel's bridge console to talk smoothly to
them. "I think we'll dub it, 'The Dirty Pair Get Down and Nasty'. Send a
little preview through the galactic net, and I see preorders stretching into
the billions."

The pair, suddenly realizing the position they were in, shot to their feet
and stood a full meter away from one another. Embarrassment at what they had
done, or more importantly, what they had been caught doing, temporarily
eradicating their anger.

"Yuri, breasts," Kei hissed.

Yuri looked down at her top, seeing that one of her breasts had popped free
when Kei had grabbed her by it. She gave a yelp and promptly covered it up
once again.

"So much for the free show," Bob sighed.

"Look you," Yuri warned, her anger at Kei gone in light of the potential
embarrassment from Bob's threat. And it was only a threat. She would make
damn sure of that. "What are you doing in our ship anyway?"

"I needed to get some information and your transmitter was more powerful.
Since I was here, I decided to let you know what I discovered." Not that he
was pleased at the duo duking it out for some reason. His time dealing with
women, Iria in particular, made him realize that embarrassing them was a far
more effective way of breaking up the fight instead of demanding they stop.
Women never reacted well to being ordered around. Being subtle always gained
far better results, even when one was composed of data and electricity
instead of flesh.

"What information was that?" Yuri asked, relaxing somewhat from the
distraction and mystery.

"Several things, mostly ownership records. I think I've found a pattern in
Zeiram's targets. One that might enable us to head him off for a change."

"That's great!" Kei said, also putting what had just happened in the back of
her mind as she found another target for her aggression. "Where?"

"Let's get back together with Iria first. I don't want to have to explain
things twice." And maybe Kei could persuade her to not use the Acenon
Bandages, though he held no real hopes for that. Even Kei had only so much
pull with Iria, and two voices of reason were as likely to be ignored as one
in this case.

The duo shot uncertain glances at one another, then seemed to come to an
unspoken truce. Getting Zeiram would take precedence over their 'discussion'
but they would return to it when time allowed. There were way too many
issues to be settled, and not all of them were related to sending word to
headquarters. However, there was one other small detail to take care of
before anything else. Even more important that hunting down Zeiram.

"Ah, Bob, you didn't videotape that, did you?" Kei asked hesitantly.

"Now Kei, would I do something like that?"

"You're avoiding answering the question," Yuri informed him.

"I would never sell a videotape of you two in a compromising position."

"Well, that's better-" Kei began.

"At least not without digitally fogging your faces first."

"BOB!" The two yelled in one voice.

"No, I didn't. Give me some credit," Bob said in genuine irritation. Even if
taping it and keeping a private copy would have been sort of neat. He had
become something of a voyeur over the years, though being reduced to his
current state had a lot to do with that.

After several more inquiries, and being satisfied that Bob had definitely
not taped them, the duo headed off the bridge. The fight itself was left
behind, but some tension still existed between them.

Despite the barrier, or perhaps because of it, Yuri remarked teasingly to
her partner, "Going for my breasts, Kei? I always thought you looked at me a
bit funny. I hate to break it to you, but I don't go that way."

"I am not that way!" Kei shot back.

"What about Senchiro Sykes?"

"For your information, he was a hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodites don't count.
And it wasn't like I knew he was one until we..."

Bob tuned everything out after that. There were some things no man, even one
reduced to being a computer intelligence, wanted to know.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

"You're a complete idiot!"

"A complete idiot? Good. I hate doing things halfway."

"Tell her she's bring a complete idiot, Bob!"

"I can't. She'll cut me off from cyber-porn sites, and then I really will go
insane."

"You tell her, Yuri."

"What Kei said." Yuri stood resting her back against the bulkhead of the
Creeper V, well away from the other two. Actually Kei probably was correct,
since Iria was sitting up in her bed, doing a damn poor job of hiding just
how much suffering she was in. The pain was coming from the Acenon Bandages
she had wrapped around her torso and neck. Painkillers wouldn't work any
more once the bandages were in place. Something about the Acenon negating
the effect of any drug. It was the price one paid for ultra-quick healing.
Still, even Yuri could tell the red marks from the burns were already fading
and that the ribs would most likely heal within the next seven hours, a
testament to just how effective the augmenting property of the bandages was.

Upon their return to the ship, and seeing the state Iria was in, Kei nearly
shot across the chamber and ripped the bandages off herself. Only the
knowledge that any potential damage would already have occurred staved off
that action, though not by much. Instead, Kei had gone into a tongue-lashing
that even Iria would have winced at, had she not been already wincing from
her wounds and bandages. "Complete idiot" was probably the most pleasant
appellation Kei had made so far. There had been plenty of others that would
have made a Progtalian smuggler blush. As far as Yuri was concerned, she
agreed with Kei, but figured it wasn't her place to take a side. It was
Iria's life, and she had the right to take it into her own hands. And that
wasn't considering the bounty hunter was not exactly Yuri's favorite person
in the galaxy at the moment.

"Can we get on with this?" Iria finally said through deeply red bloodshot
eyes, another side effect of Acenon.

Kei continued sitting next to Iria, going between fussing and cursing at
least twice in each sentence. Sensing Kei had no intention of stopping
anytime this week, Yuri added, "I want to know what you've uncovered too,
Bob."

With the vote three to one, Bob began his explanation. "I've been running
over every fact we've come across since encountering Zeiram at the space
station, trying to make some sort of sense out of all of this mess. Up until
now, I simply didn't have enough to make even a half-decent guess about
anything. But with this latest attack, I think I've finally figured out the
common denominator with nearly all of the targets he's hit thus far: they
all belong to Yurenex-Solvar Corporation."

That perked all three women up, even the pain-shrouded Iria.

"All of them?" Kei asked.

There was hesitation in Bob's voice. "Well, all but the mining operation.
That was owned by Sarvgon, a small geology corporation that operates in this
arm of the galaxy. But all of the others were owned by YSC. And there's
something else. Once I made the YCS connection, I did some additional
digging, that's why I needed borrowed your pass codes to get the information
from the 3WA Information net."

"And?" Yuri asked.

"Well, this is a bit of a jump in logic, but when Tedan-Tippendai went belly
up after the Zeiram fiasco, they were bought out by a company called the
Tormend Confederation."

That made Iria react. "TC is competing fiercely with Yurenex-Solvar in
several areas, including trying to muscle in on YSC's near deathlock on the
space station industry."

"And all of the targets hit, except for the mining colony, were the closest
Yurenex-Solvar owned businesses in this sector of space." Bob said,
satisfied that the others understood the full importance of the knowledge he
had uncovered.

"Where's the next closest YSC owned operation?" Iria asked, her pain pushed
to the background for the time being as the scent of the hunt filled her
senses once again.

"Now there we have something of a problem," Bob admitted. "According to my
database, there are two YSC business almost equal distance from here. One is
located in the Baltron system, the other in Omicron 4. Baltron is closer,
but smaller, a series of banks on the one populated planet in the system.
However, the one on Omicron 4 is a biggie. Management center for this part
of the sector. If Zeiram is trying to hurt these guys, that would almost
definitely be his target."

The others processed all of the surprising information. At last some pieces
were falling into place, although there were still some important ones
missing.

Kei mentioned that first. "Going after specific targets, like businesses
owned by a corporation, is definitely not the method of operation Zeiram
used last time. He definitely went with something more along the lines of a
'see it, kill it,' philosophy."

"Maybe he's got a grudge against Yurenex-Solvar?" Yuri offered.

"He's not the kind of guy to carry those sorts of grudges," Kei assured her.

"There's another possibility," Iria said, continuing to ignore the pain that
was wracking her body. "Zeiram didn't kill me, despite having the
opportunity to finish me off with just the clamping of his jaws. Just when
it looked like he was about to, he stopped and walked away. A moment later
that freighter he used on the space station landed and gave him a ride off
planet. I wasn't in any shape to consider what had happened up until now,
but the more I think about it, the more I believe that he didn't summon that
ship anymore than he flew it off the space station like we first assumed. I
think someone else landed it and picked him up. I think Zeiram has himself a
partner."

"A zeonoid?" Yuri asked.

Kei shook her head. "None of them are anywhere near bright enough to pilot a
spaceship of any kind."

"And that still doesn't explain why he didn't kill me when he had the
chance," Iria pointed out. Talking was becoming easier as the pain seemed to
subside somewhat.

"Gren?" Kei asked hesitantly.

Iria grimaced, though no one could tell if it was from a sudden shard of
pain, or from the memory, not even Iria herself. "No. Even when he was in
Zeiram, and I don't think he is any longer, the best he could do was make
Zeiram vulnerable for only a handful of seconds. Whatever it was that made
tall dark and ugly leave, it wasn't Gren."

No one was foolish enough to imply Zeiram's reaction came from a sudden
conversion to pacifism. That seemed to leave only one reasonable option.
Yuri was the one to give voice to it. "Someone's controlling Zeiram?"

None of the others were able to discount that one, no matter how much they
wanted to, not with what it implied. Zeiram was bad enough with the regular
'hunt-kill' intelligence it had possessed before. It was smart, but fell
into certain predictable patterns. But if it was being controlled by an
outside force, things would become significantly more difficult. But that
new fact would do nothing to dissuade the women. If anything, it simply
served to prove the necessity of stopping Zeiram quickly.

The sentiment was clearly stated when Iria announced, "Then it's off to
Omicron 4 we go."

Kei was all for it, which was exactly what Yuri had mentally predicted was
going to happen when she saw the direction the conversation was taking.
Naturally with their obsessions they would overlook a significant detail. It
was up to Yuri to force the issue by making them confront the potential
problem, even if the other two did not want to hear it.

"What if we're wrong and he hits Baltron?" Yuri asked Iria, but shot a glare
to Kei. It was returned just as fiercely by the redhead.

Despite the pain, Iria was mentally clear enough to consider those words of
caution. Splitting up was out of the question, it was going to take all
three of them to get the mission accomplished. But if Zeiram did indeed hit
Baltron while they were searching Omicron 4, any ensuing deaths that
resulted from the planet not being warned would be their responsibility.
Still, to warn them would mean letting information about Zeiram out and
possibly having him and his associates go into hiding, if their guesses were
right. If they were and that happened, Zeiram might not surface again for
years, if ever.

"We'll send a warning about the freighter. Say there's a Class-1 Biological
Hazard on board and that the ship is not to land under any circumstances,
even if it means shooting it down. That should do it." Iria didn't like
tipping their hand about suspecting where Zeiram would strike, but since
they had to admit there was a realistic possibility he would attack there,
they had to do something to protect the people.

Kei looked at Yuri, who seemed to accept the decision reluctantly.
Technically Zeiram could be rated as a Class-1 Biological Hazard. And it
would serve to put the planet on alert for him. That concession made it a
victory of sorts for Yuri, though a small one. Still, it seemed the first
she had since running into Iria and Zeiram. Since it was her idea, Yuri
headed off to make the warning.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The communications relay satellite Optima 4 hung in planetary orbit above
Baltron. It was the planet's primary means of receiving deep space
communications, a new device put up just three years before and proving
itself more than capable of handling the entire information load that had
been distributed among the aging, expensive to maintain, and far less
effective series of Kintups 5 satellites that had previously handled all
deep space communications. Once the planetary government was certain the new
device was capable of doing all of the services it was supposed to, all but
one of the Kintups were abandoned and left to break down or burn up on
reentry to the atmosphere. The remaining Kintups served as a backup in case
something did happen to Optima 4, allowing it to be pressed into service
once again until another of the Optima series could be put up to replace the
old one. But since nothing ever happened to the state of the art relay
system, no one ever bothered to man the communications console for the old
Kintups, allowing the satellite to log all of the messages it received on
automatic.

Had anyone bothered to examine the logs on the remaining Kintups, they would
have discovered an anomaly; a warning about a freighter with a Class 1
Biological Hazard that had not been relayed by Optima 4 to planetary
control. However no one ever did examine it, so no one ever discovered the
omission.

But Optima 4 had indeed received the transmission. It failed to transmit the
message to planetary control due to a number of hidden backdoors programmed
into it, and that someone had recently given it a set of orders that
superseded the commands that had been inserted by the Baltron Planetary
Government. Instead, the message was relayed somewhere else, a place where
others had been keeping their 'ears' open for such bits of information. A
place where decisions were made.

"Transmit orders to Group Beta. They'll know what to do."

And so it was done.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Surprisingly easy and simple, isn't it?"

"Yes, very," Iria agreed. Her ribs didn't hurt anymore, at least not as much
as when they had been broken. All that was left was a lingering throbbing
sensation from the center of her chest. Everything else was perfect. A seven
hour spaceflight was more than enough time for the Acenon to work its
miraculous magic.

However, the condition of her mentor's health was not what Kei was
commenting on, but rather the ease with which they had seemed to locate
Zeiram. Upon arriving in Omicron 4's atmosphere, they picked up current
broadcasts that told them Yurenex-Solvar's headquarters' was under attack by
some unknown force. Law enforcement units were reportedly already at the
scene and controlling the situation. Using their authority as 3WA
troubleshooters, the Dirty Pair were given preferential treatment and
escorted immediately to the site, bringing Iria along under the auspices of
an 'observer.' Upon arriving at the scene, the trio acknowledged that
'controlling the situation' might have been a bit of an exaggeration. It was
more along the lines of, 'we're getting out asses kicked all over the place
like a giant soccer ball.'

The police's position nearly three-quarters of a kilometer away from the
headquarters allowed the trio to view the almost total carnage before them.
YSC had purchased the land all around their main building, making it a
variety of parking lots and areas of green lawn that would have been very
pleasing to the eye had it not been for the over half dozen smoking vehicles
that were lying in complete ruin around the site. Well over twenty bodies
could be seen sprawled out over the grounds, none of them even close to the
structure (which could only be dubbed 'surrounded' using the loosest form of
the term) by the remaining members of the local authorities, who were
cowering behind their vehicles well beyond the nearest flaming ruin. No one
seemed the least bit eager to approach the headquarters again.

The trio asked around, trying to locate the commander of the forces there.
As they went from person to person, Iria noticed that Kei and Yuri no longer
walked as near to one another as before, each seeming intent on putting Iria
between them. Now that she was out of the haze of pain, the bounty hunter
observed that there was a noticeable tension between them. Hopefully, it
wouldn't affect the mission. She would grill Kei about what had happened
later, after they had taken care of Zeiram for the final time.

Once informed of who the commander was, they located him in short order. He
was the a rotund man squatting behind a police hover vehicle, surrounded by
a small pile of used cigarettes at his feet and holding a sidearm in one
hand and a radio in the other. He was yelling at the radio through another
dangling cigarette in his mouth.

"-get me some goddamn support, you military screwjobs! No, I don't care if
you don't have jurisdiction and it'll cause an incident! No, I don't care if
your coming here does trigger a civil war with the city authorities, we've
already got a war right here, you blue-coated weaselshafts! WHAT?! You'll
send in observer to determine if the situation requires your assistance?!
Observe this, you warmongering whore!" The man brought his gun up and shot
the transmitter, nearly taking his hand off in the process.

"You sure showed him," Yuri commented dryly as they drew near enough to the
commander to be heard over the din of panicked confusion his men were in,
noting that the name tag on his badge said, 'Renaldo Simms.' All the rest of
his men had succeeded in doing so far was keeping the civilian population
back and away from the site, although maybe it was the people's survival
instincts that accomplished that feat.

Simms took in the trio before him. He didn't seem to know what to make of
Iria, but upon looking Kei and Yuri over, he said. "I've got no time for
hookers, girls. See me after this shit's all over, though knowing my luck,
I'll get tagged in the balls and have to get one of those X-L J. Holmes
prosthetics."

"We're 3WA troubleshooters, you asshole!" Kei snapped with a vicious glint
in her eye. Yuri appeared just as eager to draw her gun and correct the
officer the hard way, namely by pistol whipping him.

Simms scrutinized them a second time. "Don't you think you guys are a bit
old to be going around in two piece outfits like that. You aren't doing
anyone any favors by showing the effect gravity has on a body, you know."

Iria was barely able to restrain the two from making the man as dead as
Zeiram would have. Deciding she had the most level head of the people
present, she took charge of the situation, allowing the man to assume she
was a troubleshooter as well. "If I were you, I'd watch my mouth. It seems
to me you don't have all that many options, since it's obvious no one is
coming to help bail your ass out. And you've been doing so well on your own,
too." Iria pointed at the wasteland of law enforcement debris before her.

The commander considered that and nodded in apology. "Sorry. Your sag is
barely noticeable."

Iria had the Dirty Pair calmed down enough to start talking coherently in
under five minutes.

Once peace was achieved, Simms began explaining the situation. "We received
a silent alarm from YSC's headquarters here at 13:40 local time. Two units
were sent out to investigate. When they didn't report in, and we received a
call saying there was an explosion around here, we came out in full force.
That was a mistake. It turned out to be an ambush."

"Let me guess. It was a huge nine foot tall monster that looks like a giant
mushroom on steroids and is able to use any kind of firearm like a highly
trained mercenary," Kei said smugly.

"Wow! That's amazing," the officer said in awe.

Kei smirked. "Thanks. I know I-"

"That anyone could be so far off on the description of a perp," the officer
finished.

Kei's eyebrow twitched. "What?"

Iria was just as concerned. "Do you mean to tell me that isn't what attacked
you? Are you sure?"

Simms placed his hand to his chin in thought. "Well, now that you mention
it, I suppose I could have mistaken several guys wearing black special
forces type jumpsuits and carrying sophisticated state-of-the-art armament
while moving with a military precision that managed to blow up half of the
police force in the city in just over a minute as not being a giant walking
mushroom. Sorry about that. I guess it was your perp"

Kei looked the commander's forces over. "We could have done it in under a
minute."

That raised Simms' ire. He stood up, bowing and gesturing to the YSC
building. "By all means, help yourselves. Hope you don't choke on a missile
barrage."

For the first time since leaving the ship, Kei and Yuri smiled at one
another. "Sounds like he's giving us jurisdiction, wouldn't you say?" Yuri
asked.

"Sounded like it to me," Kei agreed.

"That is not what I meant," Simms started to argue, but it was far, far too
late.

Yuri smiled, all the while knowing his protests would do him no good. "But
that's what you said, and unlike most people, our word alone is admissible
in intergalactic court and not treated as hearsay. So you're going to yield
control of the situation to us and render what assistance you can."

Simms blustered in anger at being tricked into the helping them. "In case
you didn't notice, there isn't a whole lot of help I can give you. We're
completely wasted."

"Oh relax," Yuri said soothingly, which only served to make Simms more
nervous. "We'll take care of things ourselves. None of your men will be
placed at additional risk. Not intentionally, anyway."

Simms blood pressure nearly doubled. "I don't see what you can do. That
whole place is a kill zone. It's all open area and those guys have an
unrestricted view of everything and the firepower to bring down an armored
spaceship. You try getting to that building, and you'll just get yourselves
wasted."

"We've cracked tougher nuts than this," Kei bragged. It was at that point
Simms gave up. The only consolation he had was that since there were three
of them, they weren't the Dirty Pair. If they had been, he'd have probably
jumped off planet in a heartbeat, wife and family be damned.

Satisfied they now had the situation under control, the three women formed a
huddle and began a quiet discussion so that the commander couldn't hear
them.

Iria spoke first. "As incompetent as this guy is, I think he's right. This
doesn't sound like Zeiram."

"But from the description the foul-mouthed jerk gave, I'd say the attackers
do bear a strong resemblance to that guy that tried to kill us in the
library," Yuri mentioned.

Kei nodded in agreement. "And they're hitting a YCS operation. Sounds like a
probable connection to me. And it's our duty to help out the people of this
planet out, as well as saving anyone left alive inside."

"You're just looking for an excuse to shoot something," Iria smirked while
ruffling Kei's hair.

"Cut it out, you're embarrassing me," Kei protested.

Yuri gave a loud "Ahem!" to catch their attention. Really, did they have to
act so unprofessional? "Let's figure out how we can get in there."

The three discussed the plan for all of thirty seconds before coming to an
agreement. Yuri acted as spokesperson for the trio. She went up to the
commander and began listing her demands. "We aren't going to need much to
get into that place. Just one of your larger vehicles, three full body
reinforced firefighting outfits, as big a smokescreen as you can manage, a
hundred, twenty gallon drums of paint thinner and kerosene, a powerful laser
cutting torch, and last but not least, a cinderblock."

All Simms could manage was a twitch of the jaw.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Rene Foulcard looked out from his position on the third story of the north
side of Yurenex-Solvar's Regional Third Branch Headquarters. There were only
twenty-four members in his unit, but a few people in key positions, armed
appropriately, could hold off a force ten times its size from the building's
location. Setting up the defense had been easy for him. He was a master of
strategy. Chess was his favorite game and he was almost a rated grandmaster
at it. And like all of his strategies, this one had turned out perfectly.

According to the other members of the unit, their tasks were nearly
completed and they could depart through the upper atmosphere once the signal
for their escort cover was sent. The job had been a messy business, but that
was what Rene was paid to do. What he had been trained to do. What he lived
for.

One of the members of his unit drew close. "Captain."

"No ranks!" Rene hissed. Ranks denoted training and were a clue others might
be able to follow up on should a person overhear, not that there was anyone
left alive in the facility outside of his own people. Still, only the
careless took chances, and the careless always died in the end. Always. Out
in the field they were numbers, not names. Number 8, Kira Ohara, knew better
than that. He would discipline her once they were back at the nearest
safehouse they were delivered to. And it wasn't the sort of discipline Ohara
would like, even with her unusual tastes.

'Number 8' took the admonishment in stride, appearing truly repentant. He
rather liked that part of the training they had been forced to endure,
reinforcing submissiveness to higher ranked personnel. Ranks were sometimes
all that reminded the men of who their masters truly were.

"Number 22!" Ohara said urgently.

Rene had thought it particularly brilliant designating himself as Number 22.
It made him sound less important to those outside the unit that were
ignorant of the truth. Likewise, it made him a less valuable target for
snipers, that would no doubt make whoever Number 1 was the primary target,
believing him to be the commander. This mission it had been Stroski, who had
managed to get on Rene's bad side a few weeks back by picking up a woman in
a bar that Rene had wanted to get to know better. Maybe it would be Stroski
next mission too. The woman had been painfully attractive, after all.

Good looking women were hard to come by for Rene. He would be the first to
admit he was not particularly handsome, balding so much that by the age of
twenty-five he shaved off all of his hair considering it a lost cause
anyway. He was slender and possessed a wiry strength, and though not
unattractive, neither was he remarkable in any way save the eyes. Most
people that dared voice their opinion about them claimed they were slightly
crazed. Rene knew the truth though, they were just jealous of his
superiority. And besides, everyone knew the eyes were the mirror to the
soul, and his soul was remarkable. His eyes were just a reflection of that.

The thought ran through Rene's mind in an instant as he understood that
Ohara was pointing over his shoulder. He looked out the window, and saw a
canister hit the ground and begin emitting some kind of gas. It was the
fifth so far, and more could be seen on the way through the rapidly
thickening cloud of gray.

"Morons," Rene cursed. This was insulting. As though they could be gassed
out. Over his communicator, he ordered. "All personnel, gas attack." Rene
fit his own mask over his face, the transparent plastic not restricting his
view in the slightest as it affixed to the hood of his suit and formed an
air tight seal. It was so clear it was as though it wasn't there, and it
would keep out every kind of gas there was. It was a top of the line
innovation that every military organization in the world would want, if his
employers ever saw fit to release it on the open market.

"Motor running," Number 8 noted.

Rene had to admit, the woman's hearing was even more acute than his own.
Perhaps her punishment would not be so severe after all. Rene had certainly
done his share of bloodletting today, and his more savage, baser instincts
were satisfied, at least for a while.

Switching the mask over to heat detection, he could easily make out the
truck that was barreling toward the building, hidden from normal sight by
the huge gas cloud. "They are even bigger fools than I first believed. They
deserve to die." He picked up the portable missile launcher that sat next to
his post at the window and lined the laser tracking computer on the target.
He waited until the manual sight he had attached to the weapon was lined up
with the approaching vehicle. He never liked relying too much on technology.
It had a bad tendency to give out on you when you could least afford to lose
it. Personal prowess could always be counted on, even when things turned to
shit.

"So long." Rene triggered the weapon and felt the kick from the launcher as
the missile shot out towards the target. His heat imaging easily allowed him
to track the missile's flight until it impacted with the oncoming vehicle a
moment later.

A titanic fireball blossomed from the truck, the force of the explosion
shattering even the durable windows at a distance of a hundred meters. The
sudden flash of heat blinded both Rene and Ohara, and caused them to cry in
pain and shut their eyes.

Once the initial surprised passed, Number 8 said, "Holy shit, Number 22.
What sort of explosive did you use? Nalpa? I didn't think even that could
make a fireball that big."

"That's because it can't, you worthless twit!" Rene snarled as his vision
slowly started to return. It was a good thing he had been blinking just as
the explosion occurred, otherwise there was no telling how long it would
have taken to recover his eyesight.

Still, he knew Number 8 was right. That was an impressive explosion. Too
impressive. The truck had gone up like a fuel tanker, which made no sense.
Why would they send a fuel tanker at...

"SHIT!" he cursed at the top of his lungs and looked out at the scene in
front of the building. Flames covered the ground, starting smaller fires
everywhere on the lawn, and the air was still superheated from the
explosion. Rene could barely make out anything. It was all a yellow blur on
heat imaging. Switching to regular vision proved no better, light
amplification was worthless, and they possessed no portable radar units. It
took only a moment to figure out what had happened, and what it meant for
his men.

Speaking into his com-link, Rene gave his commands. "All personnel,
intruders have breached the perimeter. Orders are to shoot on sight, and
shoot to kill."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Brilliant work, Kei."

"I have to admit, Iria, that the idea of paint thinner and kerosene was the
perfect choice of liquids to use."

"And the cinderblock to keep the empty vehicle moving was simple in design,
though effective, Kei. Congratulations to you."

"A good thing you thought about the firefighting suits to use to walk
through the flames, Yuri. I hate to think what would have happened if we had
forgotten about that little detail."

"Definitely an all-around good plan." Although Kei thought that infiltrating
the place by hiding in a giant wooden badger would have worked just as well.
The others shouldn't have made fun of her idea like that. It was a good plan
too.

The trio ran through the masking wall of smoke and flames and made their way
next to a featureless section of the wall on the east side of the building,
peeling out of their bulky fireproof suits once they got there. The
opposition was probably just as well trained as the people they had fought
on the station and the library, which meant they would anticipate
conventional tactics. The next thing an opponent would have done in order to
enter the building would have been to approach through one of the doors or
windows and enter through one of those egresses, hoping they weren't well
covered or else blasting their way in. However, unconventional thought meant
ignoring the building's openings and making one of their own.

Which was where the laser cutting torch came in. In under a minute, Kei cut
their way through wall and into the building proper. All three had their
weapons drawn, laser pistols all. Heavy, bulky weapons tended to be a
detriment in close quarters when dealing with quick and nimble opponents
that were nearly the complete opposite of Zeiram.

"Spread out," Yuri said. It would be the quickest way to sweep the building
clear of all the intruders and try to save any workers that might have been
kept as hostages.

Separating, any illusions of that were quickly dispelled when each of the
women came across the various bodies left laying about the complex, all of
them apparently having been shot right where they were found. Head shots
ensured there were no survivors among those that had been fired upon.

Suddenly the desire to take some of the men alive was quelled in the women.
Thinking along the same lines, each came up with the idea that one was all
they needed, and even then the survivor didn't need to have all his limbs in
order to talk about all he knew.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Shots blazed toward the corner Kei had started to walk around. Still, the
quick glance she managed to get showed three people, dressed in the same
black uniform as the man Kei had killed on the space station and armed with
light assault weapons, were approaching cautiously up the corridor in a
loose formation. Taking them all at once would be impossible with how spread
out they were. She had to lure them closer together.

And then she saw the small black ball roll up the corridor from the enemy's
position further up the hall. It paused at the intersection, then rolled
into her hallway. A small light at the top began to blink, getting
progressively faster with each flash of the green colored light.

"Shit," Kei hissed.

And then the world went white from an explosion.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Alexei Farkus, Number 12 for the current mission, waited until the smoke
settled before waving his comrades onward. "I love these remote control
grenades."

"I could have taken her solo. It was only one chick," Alfonse Hunter, Number
88 assured him.

A woman known to the others as simply as Ginger, aka Number 23, remained
silent, attention completely focused on the corridor before them.

Pausing at the intersection, pressed close against the wall, Number 12 waved
Number 23 forward. She moved quickly into the corridor, prepared to shoot
anything that moved. Numbers 12 and 88 provided cover.

Nothing moved in the smoking remains of the upper section of the corridor.
The closest room's door was blown off its hinges, the force of the explosion
had been that powerful.

"Any sign of remains?" Number 12 whispered. It was possible the body had
been destroyed if the grenade had detonated right on top of their opponent.
He had seen it happen before. Maybe they could find some teeth.

Number 88 was about to enter the room with the door blown off when Number 12
whispered "Got something."

The others paused and watched as she picked up a standard blue halter type
top in good shape from the middle of the debris. Number 12 nodded his head.
"Looks like the top she was wearing when she poked herself around the
corner."

"Yeah. She had nice hooters," Number 88 confirmed.

"Pigs," Ginger snapped. It figured they would notice a woman's chest first,
even while they were shooting at her. All except Ginger's chest. They never
checked it or her out. They all just cringed, and all because she was the
unit's top interrogator. Was it her fault she was good at her work and
enjoyed it so much? A quiet country girl like her might have thought the
others were afraid of her or something.

"That takes care of that," Number 12 started to say, then looked more
closely at the top that Number 23 was tossing contemptuously away. "Hey,
wait a minute. If she was blown up so badly, why is the top still in one
piece?"

"Because I tossed it out there to distract you," Kei said as she sprung from
out of the nearby room and shot the nearest man, Number 88, before moving on
to Numbers 12 and 23, neither getting a chance to do more than bring their
guns up and reflexively fire into the floor as they died. Kei waited a full
minute to see if any backup appeared, then finally went into the hall and
recovered her top. As she put it back on, she angrily said, "It figures the
one guy that thinks I got a nice rack I had to kill. I just don't have any
luck."

The redhead continued her search looking for more compliments as well as
people to kill.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Yuri ran, trying to catch her breath as the whine of pulse lasers could be
heard behind her. It figured she would stumble on a trio of the mysterious
raiders and kill them, only to have another trio run into her and open fire.
It was pure luck that they had only tagged her laser pistol. Of course,
since she hadn't thought to pack another sidearm she was now forced to run
scared. She did have another backup weapon, of course, but with the state of
caution her attackers were in, it was unlikely she could manage even two of
them. And once she used it, she was out of options.

There was a throbbing of pain from Yuri's injured leg. It had been holding
up well and was on its way to being fully healed, but the sudden amount of
hard running made it ache and she realized she was slowing down. She needed
a moment to catch her breath. She hit a corner, than ran down another longer
one. Gauging the speed of her pursuers, and that she was running even slower
than before, she knew they would reach the hall before she got to the
adjoining corridor. Acting in desperation, she ducked into a side room with
its door partially open.

A quick look over the chamber showed no one, either alive or dead, in the
room. It took only a moment to realize what its purpose was: a recreation
area. No weapons to be found there either, since it appeared the folks
didn't like playing 'Grenade Golf,' or Russian Roulette during their
downtime.

But then Yuri's eyes spotted what was lying on one of the tables. An idea
began to form. A very risky idea, but the only chance she saw herself
having.


'In one of the side rooms,' Number 18 signaled. Taki Omori knew damn well
the intruder they were pursuing couldn't have made it to the next corridor
before they had arrived in the hall. Not with the way she was limping. She
might have been wounded, though he hadn't seen an injury or any telltale
blood on the ground. He was becoming fairly certain she didn't have any
additional weapons either, since she had not returned fire at them since the
start of the chase. Still, he would rather error on the side of caution when
it came to potentially being shot at.

The troopers were cautious and orderly, searching each room one at a time in
order, always keeping one eye on the hall should she be further down and try
making a break for it. Their caution paid off as, during a search of the
third room, Yuri ran out of hers and made for the adjoining corridor.

Number 18 saw her and shouted a warning to the others. Just as he lined her
up in his rifle's sights, she flung something white behind her and in his
direction. Reflexively triggering a quick shot that missed, he ducked back
into the room with the others.

When nothing happened for several moments, two of the men looked back out in
the corridor. Number 18 was confused until he spotted the white thing lying
midway in the corridor. It was rectangular, and very thin. He had a bad idea
of what it was as he signaled his men to follow him. The others kept their
eyes focused ahead as Number 18 bent down and picked the object up: the
queen of spades from a standard deck of cards.

"Move!" The others did as they were instructed, trying to catch up to Yuri.
Taki was pissed as hell. No one made a fool of him and got away with it. No
one.

They were surprised to catch up with her in the very next corridor, just as
she was about to duck into another adjoining one. Just as they rounded it,
she threw another white thing at them. Training took over as they all ducked
back again, only to poke their heads around the corner to see that it was
indeed another playing card she had thrown, the object not making it three
feet from where she had tossed it.

"You're dead, bitch!" Number 18 shouted. Running hard for the next corridor,
forcing his men to catch up. Again they rounded the corner, just in time to
see Yuri about to throw yet another card at them.

"Last time you make a fool of me!" Number 18 shouted as he aimed at her even
as she let the card fly and hit the ground. Taki's first shot hit where she
had been standing a moment before, melting part of the wall behind her. He
didn't get a second shot as the 'Bloody Card' sliced through his neck,
severing an artery. Before his first spray of blood hit the floor, he heard
two more cries of pain from behind. The gun fell to the ground as Number 18
went down to his knees and clutched at his neck, blood pouring from between
his fingers as though his hands weren't even there.

Yuri walked up to him and grabbed his rifle for herself. "You're right. That
was the last time I'll make a fool of you."

She tossed the remaining fifty cards at his body as it slumped to the floor,
his lifeblood joining him in a growing pool of crimson at his side.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Number 55? Number 18? Number 12? Someone report in!" Rene shouted into his
communication's headset. Everything had gone to hell in under fifteen
minutes. How could this have happened? He had the best trained soldiers
money could buy. All of them dedicated and loyal. No one would have
abandoned their post, and no stupid handful of policemen could have
outmaneuvered them. Something else had to have happened, but what?

Now with Numbers 8 and 9 in tow, he headed to the main computer banks, the
primary objective of their mission. Killing everyone else in the complex had
been secondary. Less than five minutes before, Rene had received
confirmation that the team assigned to the room had almost completed
destroying the information, but now there was nothing. Not even static. The
whole situation cried out that something had happened down there, and Rene
wanted to personally make sure that their mission had been accomplished. His
superiors would kill him without a second thought if they suspected for one
moment he had failed. Cautiously, ever aware of the danger around them, he
and his companions made their way to the main computer banks.

Just as Rene was about to give up hope, a call came in from the computer
team. "Re...Number 22, we've been attacked. One woman killed 15 and 26 and I
think she took out Argus's team as well. But I can confirm with one hundred
percent certainty the purge was a success." His voice was quiet, full of a
fear Rene had never heard from him before. Okari had always been a good,
strong man. "I think she's a troubleshooter. I'm exchanging fire with her,
but I doARGH!"

And then there was nothing.

Rene reigned in his emotions. If it was a 3WA troubleshooter, that was bad.
However, if it was one, or someone with those same philosophies, he might
have a chance. A plan began to form in his mind, the strategy coming
together just like it would when playing chess. But he had to act fast. They
were on the same floor as the computer center, probably no more than a
couple halls away. They had to get there before the troubleshooter left. He
ducked into a room where he had personally killed two of the scientists
running the testing area. Sure enough, the bodies were just where he had
left them. The one nearest to him would do.

Rene waved Numbers 8 and 9 closer. "Here's what we're going to do. You two
go on ahead and try to get around the intruder using the front corridor to
the main computer lab. I'll take the back way. One way or another she'll be
flanked, then we'll catch her in a crossfire."

"How are we going to time it so we'll attack at the same time?" Number 8
asked.

Rene scowled at the question. "Wait thirty seconds. I'll be in position by
then. I guarantee it. We'll nail that bitch for sure." He placed his hands
on their shoulders, the first show of affection he had ever given either of
them. "I'm counting on you. Of all the people in the unit, you're the two
I've held in the highest regard. I mean that."

The two looked at each other and practically beamed at the praise. Their
commander never praised anyone. Number 8 said, "No problem, Number 22."

"She's as good as dead." Number 9 agreed.

"Then get moving," Rene said, watching the two depart. Once certain they had
gone, he initiated the second part of his plan.

xxxxxxxxxx

Iria surveyed the scene of destruction before her, one she had created. That
made another three man team she had taken out. Killing both sets had been no
easy task, the men showing an impressive amount of training. Not as much as
her, of course. She had learned how to fight using the old school standards,
by ending up in real life and death struggles. However, from the way the men
had fought, she felt confident they had received such training in similar
fashion.

The last team had behaved very oddly. Rather than trying to combat her, two
of them had sought to keep her out of the main computer room while their
compatriot had done something inside. Unfortunately, by the time she had
killed the two guards and entered the room, the inside man had completed
whatever it was he was doing and tried to ambush her. He came close to
taking her head off with his initial shot, but all that mattered was that he
had failed and now his dead soul would join that of his comrades.

Iria was about to leave the room when she heard some sort of rustling come
from one of the entrances at the far side of the room. Silently, she crept
behind an upturned table for cover, then kept her pistol aimed near the
door.

Almost at the very moment she ducked behind her cover two people, dressed in
the same outfits as the others, shot out from the doorway and opened fire on
her. She snapped off a laser bolt that struck high over the first man, but
before she could shoot a second time two crimson bolts of energy lashed out
from where they had sprung from. Both shots took them in the back as they
fell limply to the ground. Neither body moved as unblinking eyes looked out
from both of her fallen foes.

That was a very nice job. Iria looked up, expecting to see Kei or Yuri
emerge from the passageway. Instead, a man in his early thirties, completely
bald and wearing a white lab coat drenched in blood, staggered into the
room, gun in hand. His face was a matching mask of blood, though through it
Iria noted that there was an odd glint to his eyes. Sighing, he slumped
against a wall, the arm that didn't have a gun hanging limply at his side as
though it were broken.

Slowly, almost inaudibly, he got out, "They...killed everyone else. I hid,
until I found a gun on a dead body and...are they dead?"

"As dead as a ten day old gravisteds," Iria said. A look of relief seemed to
pass over the man's features, and he slumped to the ground, back still
braced against the wall. He seemed to be staring off into space. Iria rushed
over to the man's side in order to check him out. Given the amount of blood
that drenched his clothes, it was a miracle he could have walked at all, let
alone shot the two killers in the back.

Iria placed her gun on the ground and went to open his lab jacket. It was
then she noticed that, in spite of the blood adorning the garment, there was
no corresponding wound inside.

The barrel of a gun was jammed under her chin. The uncomprehending eyes of
the 'scientist' now fully aware and shining at her. It was then she
remembered that the other two teams had three members in them as well.

Rene smiled at himself. The stupid fool, allowing her compassion to override
common sense and caution. However, it was ungracious of him to criticize
her; she had been outmatched from the beginning. It was a pity he had to
shoot two of his own people in the back to lower the woman's guard, but he
was a master of chess, and knew the necessity of sacrificing pawns in order
to win the game.

"Checkmate," Rene bragged as he tightened his grip on the trigger.

Unwilling to be intimidated, Iria stared right into the man's eyes without
the slightest bit of fear. Maybe it was the end, but she was damned if she
would give him the satisfaction of being afraid of him. The bounty hunter
saw the twinkle in his eyes as she felt him tighten his grip on the gun.

And then his head exploded like a melon hit with a sledgehammer.

Blood splattered over Iria's armor as the gun fell away from her chin. She
stood up, looking in the direction that the shot had come from. Once again
she owed her life to Kei, or maybe it was Yuri this time. It was as she rose
to her full height that she saw exactly who her savior truly was.

"YOU?!"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Kei heard Iria's scream from the room up ahead, unable to determine if it
was from surprise, rage, or pain. She ran as fast as she could, unmindful of
the potential danger as she charged into the room, ready to defend Iria to
the death. The scene before the redhead, however, left her a bit confused.

Inside, Kei bore witness to what was possibly the fiercest look of rage she
had ever seen on Iria. The bounty hunter was pointing her gun in the
direction of a man standing across from her, about four meters away. He was
tall, standing head and shoulders over the much smaller woman. His frame was
muscular and the style of his clothing made it readily apparent that he was
in excellent physical condition, despite obviously being at least forty. His
black hair held a touch of gray at the temples and was tied back in a
ponytail that traveled down just below his neck. It touched the back of the
very stylish white top and blue vest he was wearing. Kei noted that the pair
of matching white pants molded to his posterior perfectly. The outfit was
finished off with a pair of mid thigh black boots that were so immaculate
that the room's light reflected off their mirrorlike finish. Slung across
his back was a heavy laser rifle that looked like it weighed at least fifty
pounds, though he was bearing it as though it was no heavier than a cloak.
His hands were raised, almost as though he were being held up by Iria.
Though he might have appeared helpless, there was no look of fear in his
eyes, just an amusement that was mirrored in his smile. Kei thought that his
appearance, combined with that whiplash grin, made him easily one of the
most handsome men she had ever laid eyes upon.

"What's going on here?" Kei tried maintaining an awareness of her
surroundings to prevent anyone from sneaking up on them, but it was
difficult with someone so handsome standing before her, even if it did seem
as though Iria was on the verge of blowing him away.

Iria kept her gun trained on the man, not allowing it to waver in the
slightest. Through gritted teeth, she was barely able to spit out, "Kei, I
want to introduce you to the biggest waste of flesh that has ever existed.
The one creature in the galaxy that ranks only behind Zeiram as the lowest
form of organism around, and he's a real close second. This pustule that
stands before you is named Eugene Lance Killgore."

Killgore appeared offended at the comparison, though the smile never left
his features. "Hey there, Sunshine, is that any way to properly introduce
your husband?"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sorry it took so long to get this chapter out. Got distracted with writing
low grade porn and real life business around these holidays. Only have a
single one shot idea floating around in my head that might prevent me from
getting the next chapter out sooner.

BTW: No one said 'Clydesdales' is a reference to horses. Of course, it
doesn't say it's not either. ^_^



"If you start off by listing all the reasons you should fall in love with
someone, you don't love them. If you start off by listing all the reasons
you shouldn't fall in love with them, then you already have."

--Alexander Dupres






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