“We all go through periods of darkness. In such times, we can turn to the Lord, but it’s good to have friends.”
- Joshua Graham
Breaking Stuff to Look Tough
When Kurama finally came to, he found himself securely bound to a high-backed oak chair in the center of an empty room. There were no windows, a single door, and no fixtures in the room at all, save for himself and the chair. The left side of his head and his left shoulder throbbed painfully, and he could tell that his shoulder was dislocated by the absolute lack of feeling in his left arm below the shoulder. He couldn’t move his left arm at all, but attempting to move his right indicated that they were cuffed together. It was difficult for him to concentrate with the on-and-off throbbing, burning pain in his shoulder.
In the occasional moments of lucidity, he knew it was all part of the enemy’s plan. He had been captured, that much he remembered. He hadn’t gotten a good look at his assailant, but if he had to bet money on it, he would have to bet that it had been Sousuke Sagara. The boy had recognized him during the Tokyo incident, which meant that he’d somehow survived his encounter with the wonder boy of Amalgam’s fancy new Arm Slave, probably by giving up the girl to survive. So he was either out for revenge or information. The fact that he, Kurama, was still alive narrowed those options from two down to one. They were going to torture him for information, and his current surroundings were a part of it.
Kurama hadn’t gotten as far in life as he had without being able to take punishment. The dislocated shoulder was causing him horrible pain, but it wasn’t debilitating, wasn’t making him think differently than he would normally. He wouldn’t break. That boy Sagara didn’t have enough experience to know enough to break him. In the end, he’d probably not leave this place alive, but at least he would take his secrets to the grave with him.
The doorway out of the room opened, but the hallway beyond appeared nondescript. Sousuke Sagara, the scar-cheeked wonder boy of MITHRIL, stepped into the room and closed the door behind him, then folded his arms behind his back and regarded Kurama almost curiously. He said nothing.
Provoking another jolt of pain from his shoulder, Kurama rocked to see if he could move himself or his seat, but it was bolted to the floor. Gritting his teeth, shaking his head to clear the haze of pain trying to pull him back to unconsciousness, he glared up at the boy and declared, “Just kill me and stop wasting both of our time. I’m not going to tell you anything.”
Sagara didn’t react. He didn’t say anything, or nod, or shake his head, or even shrug. He merely raised his hand to his mouth to politely cover a cough, then stepped forward, placed that hand on Kurama’s chest, and gripped Kurama’s arm with the other hand. Kurama could feel the pressure of the grasp, but otherwise nothing.
Oh, shit, Kurama thought, then gritted his teeth and braced himself. Sagara wrenched Kurama’s arm forward, a grinding sound emanating from the limb as the ball joint scraped harshly across the rotator cuff, followed by a crunch as the joint popped back into place. Sudden relief flooded his system as the pressure was relieved, followed almost immediately by sharp pain as the nerve endings suddenly came back awake and the formerly-restricted blood flow loosened up, the sensation akin to that of having a rusty razor blade run across the nerve endings all down his arm.
Sagara was gone when Kurama finally managed to divert his attention away from his no-longer-dislocated shoulder, having somehow snuck out the door in a matter of seconds, leaving a thoroughly-confused but no longer horribly-pained mercenary in his wake. He was expecting Sagara to start hammering away, firing questions between blows, but not a word had passed the younger mercenary’s lips.
January 25, 0932 hours, local time (1432 hours, Greenwich Mean Time)
New York City, New York, United States of America
Abandoned Subway Platform
Deep beneath the streets of New York City, beneath even the subway system, there existed the older network of abandoned tunnels no longer used by the New York City Transit Authority. It was to one of these abandoned tunnels that Wraith and Sousuke brought Kurama for interrogation. They had no idea how long it would take to break him, and so the subway was a good choice not only for the fact that it allowed them to remain undisturbed, but storing him in a utility supply room kept him from judging the passage of time, which would assist in their psychological efforts to break him.
Ji-Eun was occupied at her workstation when ‘Sousuke’ exited the supply room, so stealthy that even the Intelligence operative didn’t notice him. Her workstation consisted of a laptop computer, a wireless linkup with enough signal strength to function even despite their depth below the surface, and a television that she kept tuned to the news stations. Part of the reason she failed to notice ‘Sousuke’ was likely due to her being engrossed in her work, but the other half was just as likely due to her inattentive streak; it was that trait that had allowed Kaname to get the drop on her years before in Tokyo, after all.
Kashim, currently in control of Sousuke’s body, paused as the door closed behind him, giving Sousuke’s currently-buried consciousness a mental tap on the head to awaken him. Back to you now, ‘brother.’ I’ve done my part for now. Call me when it’s time for me to come back.
Sousuke came back to awareness to suddenly find that he was leaning back against the door of the supply room, looking out toward Ji-Eun working diligently at her workstation. It seemed this arrangement with Kashim was going well, his darker self performing the tasks he was assigned to perform without taking any unnecessary liberties while he was in control of Sousuke’s body. The soldier would remain cautious, of course, but all in all, it was going well.
Then something strange happened as he started to move toward Ji-Eun’s workstation. His body locked up in midstride, effectively halting him in place, as his vision went dark. His first thought was some side-effect of his split-personality, his second that Kashim was doing this. Those thoughts were blown away by what appeared before his eyes, more accurately, in his mind’s eye.
It was Kaname’s face, washed out in blue and hazy, shot through with static as though a holographic communication from those Star Wars movies. More images of Kaname, equally-poor in quality, flashed through his mind, overlapping one another as he heard her voice whisper into his mind, “Could you sacrifice me to complete your mission?” The images cleaned up then, showing her staring directly into his eyes, as though searching his very soul, before shifting again, the new image that of Kaname collapsing to the ground in agony. “Could you watch me die?”
His vision cleared, the voices disappeared, and his body was freed immediately afterwards. He stumbled forward as he attempted to regain his balance, this motion drawing Ji-Eun’s attention. The former Intelligence agent glanced over lazily from her workstation. “Having a problem, Sagara?”
For a moment, he briefly debated on telling her about the vision, then decided against it. She thought him crazy enough for all this business with his split personality. So he shook his head and said, “No, I’m fine.” He moved to sit in a chair near her workstation, then nodded toward her work. “Any new updates so far?”
She shook her head, continuing to type away at her laptop. “No, other than the United States seeming to be serious about what it said about Amalgam.” She reached over and keyed up the volume of the television, which was displaying recorded images of an earlier speech by Barack Obama.
“...will not let this terroristic organization have free reign to do as it wishes the world over. Previously, we had enjoyed the unknown protection of a privately-funded paramilitary force that contended with Amalgam. Now, with that organization no longer capable of providing that protection, it falls to the free nations of the world to step forth and see to the safety and stability of the world by our own hands...”
“Are the American people really going to go along quietly with this?” Sousuke asked. “I’d imagine that they wouldn’t willingly get involved in another war so soon after ending the Middle East conflicts.”
“It’s the galvanizing affect of having one of their carrier fleets sunk by Amalgam,” Ji-Eun answered without looking up from her screen. “So how are the prospects with him?”
“He’s confused and in pain,” Sousuke answered, reaching into the cooler beside the desk and producing a bottle of water. “Perhaps your method will work better. Time will tell.”
Sousuke’s original plan had been to simply pummel Kurama until the mercenary gave up the information that they wanted. It was simple and efficient that way. It was Ji-Eun who had proposed the plan they were using: Kurama, being a hardened mercenary, would be familiar with and trained in the methods of dealing with physical torture. Ji-Eun’s plan was for their interrogation to be more psychological than physical, dependent on breaking his mind as well as his body. Sousuke’s darker half, Kashim, had come up with five methods to use on Kurama, each targeting a different area of the body, guaranteeing that he’d break by the fifth one.
“What of your efforts in trying to find MITHRIL survivors?” he asked her.
“Some luck,” she answered. “I’ve confirmed that the USS Arizona picked up the survivors of the Tuatha de Danaan that escaped in lifeboats. They’re hiding within the US fleet for the time being. Our headquarters in Sydney was flattened by a cruise missile strike; I doubt there will be many survivors there. As we’ve seen, the Americas division of MITHRIL survived solely because of location, and all personnel have scattered in the event that Amalgam decides they want to strike inside American soil anyway.”
“I wonder, would they stage such a raid?” he mused quietly, staring down at the corroded concrete floor. “The drawbacks from such an action would drastically outweigh the benefits, I believe. After all, Amalgam has already achieved their objectives. MITHRIL, what little of it remains, now lacks the strategic resources and the command and control structure to effectively combat them.”
And they have Chidori.
Neither of them said it. They were both thinking it.
“From the information we have, which is abysmal,” Ji-Eun answered, “you appear to be correct. However, the fact of the matter is we do not have any information of what their plans and goals are. And so, to that end, we must assume that nothing is beyond them. After all, we assumed that they would never stage a direct, high-profile blitzkrieg assault against MITHRIL, either.”
Sousuke nodded. Leave it to the intelligence expert to take a situation, review it for a few moments, and then give a concise and detailed appraisal of said situation in a way that it would take a special kind of idiot not to understand it. “I assume that US intelligence analysts have been made aware of the danger they’re in.”
“Reminded, yes.” Sousuke watched Ji-Eun’s eyes flicker from place to place on the screen of her laptop. “They’ve long since known the potential danger of Amalgam since they’ve received regular reports from our Intelligence division, and the attack on MITHRIL has been a wake-up call. They know that Obama’s little speech about not letting Amalgam get away with it is going to draw their attention down on them hard and fast.”
The ace MITHRIL pilot raised an eyebrow. “You think it’ll be Washington, then?”
Ji-Eun nodded. “What better way for Amalgam to set an example? Destroy Washington, assassinate the leadership of the United States, and though it will only further stir up the American retaliatory spirit, they’ll lack the effective means to do anything about it.”
That affirmation of his thoughts soured the taste of the water he was drinking. He scowled slightly and set the bottle down on the table. “We’re powerless to do anything.”
She shrugged. “More or less. I took the time to plan an op for elements of our MITHRIL-Americas force to extract the president, vice president, and cabinet from Washington without anyone knowing about it, but those PRT guys aren’t likely to listen to an Intelligence head. They have the plan in their hands. Whether they carry it out or not is beyond my control.” She reached over and grabbed the water bottle, tilting her head back to pour the water into her mouth without coming in contact with the lip of the bottle. Sousuke expected himself to be offended, but wasn’t. She set the bottle back down, then continued, “All that’s in my control is what we gain from whatever information that Kurama gives us.” Reaching forward, she tapped a few keys on her laptop, then turned the screen so Sousuke could see. “And this.”
He leaned forward to look at what she was showing him. He immediately recognized an Arm Slave schematic, details such as powerplant, arrangement of components, weapon power consumption ratios, the sorts of things that the thinktanks in R&D were responsible for that looked like a foreign language to him. The design was labeled ‘ARX-8 LAEVATEIN.’ The model was vaguely similar to a blend of the Arbalest and the enemy Venom units, but it was otherwise unlike anything he had ever seen before.
“A new AS model?”
“R&D had been working on it for about three months before Amalgam hit us,” Ji-Eun explained. “I managed to snag the schematics for the unit and its related systems from our system before the data scrubbers got to it. The problem is that the design team never finished it, and they’re scattered all over the Pacific Rim now.”
This was partially true. What Ji-Eun neglected to impart was that Kaname was the primary design technician on the Laevatein unit, a collaborative effort between her and Arbalest’s AI unit, tailor-built to Sousuke’s personal style of combat. It was said that Arm Slaves are an extension of the pilot’s body, and the Laevatein was designed to take that saying to the extreme. Laevatein, Kaname had said, was not a weapon, was not a machine. It was a work of art and a tool of extreme power. High Command had wanted to shut the Laevatein project down in favor of research in installing LAMBDA Drivers on other machines, forcing Kaname to reveal her trump card: Laevatein was being built around a theoretical system that could disable the LAMBDA Driver.
And now, with Kaname in Amalgam’s hands, the odds of either that system or Laevatein being completed were slim to none. However, if they could find enough Whispered, or even ‘mundane’ mechanical experts that could help the one Whispered they still had, Sarah Miller, then they might at least be able to complete the unit itself, if not Kaname’s special system.
January 26, 0115 hours, local time (0615 hours, Greenwich Mean Time)
New York City, New York, United States of America
Utility Supply Room
Kurama had no idea how much time had passed since Sagara had nearly broken his shoulder to set it back in its place, but he knew that it had been a long time. He also had no idea what the boy was planning. The pain in his shoulder was long gone, that lack of distraction giving him plenty of time to analyze his situation. Perhaps Sagara was wise enough not to simply attempt to beat the information he wanted out of him, and would rely on this isolation in an attempt to persuade him similar to putting an uncooperative inmate in solitary confinement. It was a poor plan, but it was all that Kurama could come up with that the boy was doing.
He had slept for a time, without any idea how long he had slept, but knowing that it wasn’t enough. Hunger and thirst weren’t a problem yet, though they were gearing up to become one. Perhaps that would be another facet of the boy’s plan: deny him food and drink in an effort to loose his tongue. That wouldn’t work either; Kurama knew from experience exactly how long he could survive without food or water, and he doubted the boy’s patience would outlast his ability to endure.
The door groaned open again, and Sagara stepped in, closing it behind him with a heavy metallic slam. When he turned back around, Kurama saw that he was carrying three leather belts draped over his arm and a ball peen hammer in his hand. The belts were real, genuine, thick leather, not the cheap knockoffs found in a local Walmart. They were probably going to be used to restrain his legs, but then what would he need a third one for? To lash him with it? Like that would do any good. And the presence of that hammer was rather foreboding.
As if predicting resistance, Sagara put the hammer and one of the belts on the ground a good distance away, then moved forward and began to kneel close to Kurama’s feet, a belt in either hand. The trapped mercenary lashed out with a kick, hoping to catch his captor by surprise. With the same amount of ease as though Kurama had told him exactly what he planned to do, Sagara caught the offending limb before it could pose a threat to him.
Retribution was swift and harsh.
Slamming the boot to the ground, Sagara rose in the same motion and drove a hammer fist down on top of Kurama’s most pain-sensitive region, smashing the organs there against the chair. Kurama let out an involuntary squeak of pain as his vision flashed white, sharp pain like white-hot needles driving into his nerves. It was in this fog of pain that Sagara took the advantage of time to bind both of his ankles to the legs of the chair in which he sat.
Standing back, Sagara had picked up the third belt and the ball peen hammer, and was drawing out the process of looking over the items, carefully inspecting them as though for defects that would cause them to fail during the process of whatever he was intending to use them for. Finally, he deemed them satisfactory to his needs, approached again, and draped the third belt vertically along the front of Kurama’s left leg, laying it flat over the ridge of his tibia. Kurama immediately struggled, causing the belt to slip from its place. Without a change in expression, Sagara raised the hammer and held it in place over the mercenary’s previously-assaulted groin. He said nothing, but the threat was obvious.
Seething in hatred, Kurama went still. Sagara calmly resituated the belt and raised the hammer to his chest level, drawing his swinging arm across his body. Without pausing to give Kurama time to think about what was about to happen, Sagara slammed the hammer with precision accuracy onto the belt.
Kurama’s screams filled the room as his tibia fractured in numerous places, the belt’s thickness bleeding just enough force and momentum from the strike to prevent the bone from outright breaking. Muscle spasms in his legs ground against the bone, further exacerbating the fractures into a spider-web running the length of the bone.
“What the fuck!” Kurama shrieked. “You fucking psycho! What the hell do you w—”
A mirroring strike to Kurama’s other leg cut off his words, sending him into another bout of unintelligible screaming.
January 26, 1343 hours, local time (1843 hours, Greenwich Mean Time)
New York City, New York, United States of America
Abandoned Subway Platform
‘Kashim’ stood up and brushed his arms as though to remove lint, then stood and moved to the small box that he had brought down with him. Ji-Eun watched him at work, his very movements advertising the difference between ‘Sousuke’ and ‘Kashim.’ She watched him withdraw a vial with a corrosive materials label on it, followed by a hypodermic syringe, which he used to extract exactly 30ccs of the colorless liquid.
“I assume you have a plan, then.” She was much more terse with ‘Kashim’ than she was with ‘Sousuke.’ At least ‘Sousuke’ didn’t act like an insane clown.
He turned to her then, that not-all-there glint in his eye. He cocked his head to the side and gave her a crooked half-grin. “Do I really look like a guy with a plan?” he asked sardonically. He waved his free hand dismissively. “MITHRIL has plans. Amalgam has plans. Me?” He lifted the syringe theatrically and flicked the tube several times, though there were no air bubbles within. “I’m more something of an agent of anarchy. I like to introduce a little chaos, you see.”
With that said, Kashim turned and crossed to the door of the utility room, throwing back the latch and swinging the heavy metal door open, then stepping inside and closing it behind him. He turned to look at Kurama, who was glaring daggers at him, still full of defiance. It was taking a lot of willpower not to taunt the mercenary, but that would be detrimental to the strategy.
“You’re after that girl, right?” There was an edge of pain in Kurama’s voice. Kashim almost smiled; that pain was about to get a whole lot worse. “Well, you’re shit out of luck! I don’t know anything about where she’s at!”
That’s fine, Kashim thought. I don’t expect to get directly to her through you. You’re nobody. I’ll be lucky if you know enough to get me to the next level.
Saying nothing, Kashim knelt down in front of Kurama’s bound form, raised the syringe in his right hand, and theatrically tapped the device. With that done, he grabbed Kurama’s leg above his knee, jabbed the needle in behind his kneecap, eliciting a sharp yelp from the mercenary, and then injected the colorless liquid, withdrew the needle, and stood up to leave the room.
Kurama was just beginning to scream as Kashim closed the door again behind him. The screams drew Ji-Eun’s attention. “What was in that syringe?” she asked.
“Nitric acid,” he answered, just as simply.
Ji-Eun made a face, then turned her attention back to her station. Nitric acid was a highly-corrosive acid commonly used to strip-clean corrosion from Arm Slave and aviation components. Depending on how high a concentration he used, and where he’d injected it...
“Where’d you stick him?”
Well, that definitely explained the scream. He probably no longer had a kneecap by now. Kashim was certainly not pulling any punches when it came to the work he was doing on Kurama. Ji-Eun started to wonder what else he had in store, but checked herself in a hurry. She had no desire to know what depraved things that twisted dark side of Sousuke could come up with.
Kashim moved off to the far side of the platform, probably to do whatever it was he did to transfer ‘control’ back to Sousuke. Ji-Eun still thought the SRT pilot a basket case for this insanity of his. But he was a damned good pilot, and pretty much the only hope they had of taking out Amalgam, what with that insanely-powerful Arm Slave in their possession that she hoped the Laevetain could stand against.
She noticed that she had a new messenger window when she turned her attention back to the screen. It was from one of her intelligence contacts, and its text read simply, “It’s going down.”
Furrowing her brow, she reached to the left of her laptop, where MITHRIL radio equipment was sitting unused. Turning the device on, she dialed the frequency to the US military’s central command frequency, keying in an encryption code she had memorized hours earlier. As she waited for the static to die off and begin transmitting messages, she thought the idle thought that she was currently monitoring the US military communications in the Washington DC area. Then, all of a sudden, voices burst out of the radio, hundreds of communications from soldiers and field commanders, all transmitting over the same frequency at once.
“-emy forces...lready inside the city...”
“-kind of shield techn-”
“Dammit,” she swore, turning back to her laptop, her fingers flying across the keyboard. She went into her intelligence programs, the spy and surveillance systems that only those in Intelligence knew about. Hacking into the security camera feeds, she pulled up as many civilian video feeds as she could get access to; even she couldn’t access the military cameras.
The picture she was assembling wasn’t exactly clear; Amalgam’s forces were destroying cameras as they came across them. The first several feeds she only got bare glimpses of: American soldiers routed by heavy fire, the angle of which suggested it originated from Arm Slaves, a brief glimpse of a Behemoth firing its heavy cannon from the Potomac River, Arastols marching on the National Mall, cutting down helpless civilians as they attempted to flee the premises or hide with neither mercy nor remorse.
Finally, a clear, steady image appeared on her displays, from a civilian news network, showing an explosion ripping the top of the Washington Monument from its perch, debris crumbling down to the ground below. From the left of the frame, an armed figure stepped into view, not an American soldier, but a figure wearing full body plate armor with a helmet that featured a distinctive T-shaped visor. The armored figure fired several bursts from its assault rifle as several more similarly-armored figures entered the frame, until a half dozen of them had appeared and passed through the frame, escorting a number of civilians away from the battle.
“What’s happening?” Sousuke asked from behind her right shoulder.
“Amalgam’s attacking Washington,” she answered, watching as one of the passing figures knocked the camera to the ground, leaving it at a lopsided angle before the image disappeared entirely, likely cut off by either the government or at the news station. She turned to change stations on the television, bringing up a news program that was starting to cover the attack. “They’ve got a lot of M9s in the area for defense, but they don’t even have Fairy Eyes to help them against the LAMBDA Driver.”
Neither of them said anything for several moments afterwards, both watching the civilian coverage of the incident, knowing that it was far worse than what was being shown on network broadcast. Ji-Eun noticed that they were not showing the Amalgam troops, both Arastols and human infantry, killing civilians, or the destruction of an iconic American landmark.
The voice of a newscaster sounded over the images, somber and mournful, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re just joining us, America is under attack.”
Sousuke shot to his feet, going for the box of tools again. Ji-Eun watched silently, her attention half on her erstwhile partner, half on the news coverage of the attack. She wasn’t American, had no loyalty to the country, but something about seeing the capital of the United States under siege, its skies filled with jets and helicopters of Russian design, its streets filled with enemy-model Arm Slaves, was heartbreaking to her. In a moment of striking clarity, she realized that feeling had nothing to do with the location under attack and everything to do with the fact that, once again, Amalgam was making a successful surprise attack on her watch. That she had failed in her role as an intelligence specialist, again.
The ace pilot pulled a pair of thick gloves, a smaller box with identifying labels that stated it contained dry ice, and a thin knife of the type used to fillet fish or other meat. Without a word, Sousuke tucked the items under his left arm and stepped over to the utility room, unlatching the heavy metal door and not bothering to shut it behind him.
What Ji-Eun heard from within that room would stay with her until the day she died. She heard cloth tearing, and then the very visceral sound of that knife cutting into flesh. Kurama yelped in shock at the action, indicating the cuts, and she could hear more and more of them, were superficial and not life-threatening in and of themselves.
“This is dry ice,” she heard Sousuke’s voice, spoken in the tones and inflections of his mad alter ego, Kashim. “When introduced into these nifty little cuts in your chest, they’ll cause massive muscle spasms. Anywhere else it’d be an inconvenience and probably break bones, but over your chest, we’re looking at massive rib fractures, possible punctured lungs. Hell, you might even go into cardiac arrest. And I was never that great at CPR, just so you know. You can end this now if you give me names. Locations will suffice, too.”
Kurama answered something that was too quiet for Ji-Eun to hear. ‘Kashim’ was silent for a moment, and he made a good attempt at seeming sorrowful. “Well, it’s a shame you feel that way…”