Flight of The Blackbird
The car ride back to Benny’s was… eventful, to say the least. Blood was still oozing from the wound in my leg, and the makeshift bandaging that I’d attached wasn’t doing much to help. The once-white cloth was now dyed a crimson red, and dripping wet. I opened the glove box and found a syringe full of a green, viscous liquid called “Regrowth”. This liquid was a healing agent that had been developed some time ago that allowed rapid cell regrowth. In other words, it sealed up and healed wounds at an alarmingly fast rate. It had drawbacks such as exhaustion, because it used a lot of the body’s energy to create cells quickly, and it also had a low risk of causing the user to contract cancer due to shoddily formed cells.
That, however, wasn’t my concern at the moment. I took the syringe and jammed it into my leg only a centimeter above the wound. It stung nearly as bad as the bullet had, but it began working immediately, closing up the wound and replacing the muscle tissue. The infernal itching sensation from the wound closing was even more unbearable than the gunshot itself, but I endured it. It would be better in about two days, given I don’t do anything stupid. Unfortunately for me, “stupid” included missions.
Shit… I have to take time off…
We were only a few minutes from Benny’s so I began to remove my gear. The jacket, torn undershirt, and bloodstained combat pants were swapped for my school uniform. I didn’t bother cleaning up, as most of the blood was on my clothes, and cleaning is a pain in the ass. The wound still stung a bit, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been.
Once changed, we arrived at Benny’s restaurant. I thanked Stork for the ride and hopped out of the car, then went through the glass front door, which gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. The bell chimed as I entered, alerting Benny. None of the others had shifts today, so I expected them to be seated at a table talking somewhere. And sure enough, at a table in the back, were Kota, Shiro, and Tomoe, laughing about whatever it was that they were talking about. I looked around the restaurant and noticed it was a bit busier than usual. Most of the booths were filled with families eating an early dinner. I spotted a little girl, no more than ten, eating with her mother and father.
The scene would have been heartwarming to any other, but to me, it was just a bitter memory of the time I lost. From time to time, seeing families just going about their business filled me with anguish. These kids all get to live out their childhood with both of their parents, and I couldn’t grasp that. It’s enough to make the noblest saint bitter.
Fortunately, the feeling always passes, and is instead replaced by a determination to never let a child live through what I have. To protect good people, so nobody has to suffer. Those feelings led to a resolve to avenge my parents, and you know the rest. I clenched my fist tightly to avoid spiraling down into a stream of self-deprecation. Unhealthy thoughts like that would only distract me.
I approached the table that the three were sitting at, being careful not to make it known through my awkward gait that I was in pain. They noticed me walking up, but Kota had sharper eyes than anyone in the room. He immediately noticed that my walk was weird, and got up to help me, joking all the while to make sure nobody became suspicious of us.
“What the hell happened to you? It looks like you got hit by a truck!” He said in his signature smart-ass tone.
“Feels like I got shot. I fell down the stairs chasing something, lost it, and hurt my leg like an idiot.”
Kota nodded knowingly and helped me walk over to the vacant chair next to Tomoe. I plopped down in said chair and let out a sigh of relief, grateful to take the weight off my leg.
Damn… guess it’s harder to hide physical pain than I thought…
I glanced over at Tomoe, who seemed to be lost in thought. She kept looking down at the leg I’d been shot, then up at me, then down at the table. She repeated this pattern a few times before I got a little weirded out.
“Uh… what is it, Tomoe?”
“Huh?!” she began blushing for… unknown reasons and stared directly at the wall.
Ignoring that peculiar happening, we began talking about nothing in particular. Apparently, while I had been “working”, they got bored and went to a PC cafe for a little while, where they saw the hostage situation on the news. I grimaced at the idea of them having seen me, but apparently nobody had caught my not-so-great escape on camera. I let out another, this time inaudible, sigh of relief. I knew I had a mask on, but I still wanted to be extremely cautious. Kota and Shiro shot me a very quick collective glance that confirmed their suspicion about me being behind the liberation of the warehouse.
The conversation quickly devolved into a story told by Kota. Apparently, he was walking down the street one day, when he saw a frog on the sidewalk by a building. The first thought that came to his head was to name him Ralph. Ralph, being a frog, wasn’t the most intelligent creature.
“So this ingenious animal hops around a bit,” he began, “before thinking it was a great idea to jump directly in the road. I saw this, and chased after him, trying to protect him from getting flattened. So anyway, I finally grabbed the little dude, but I nearly got hit by a car in the process. The driver was this big angry Italian dude who started yelling at me for being a moron, and his anger got even worse when I showed him the damn frog. So basically, I nearly caused a multi-car pileup over Ralph the Frog.”
Ralph… you madman… you menace… you… legend. We will never forget you. Wherever you are, continue causing traffic pile-ups and war crimes. We believe in you Ralph, see you around.
With Ralph the frog now in the back of our minds, we moved to the topic of school. I’d only gone to school for a single day, but I had already formed some opinions on the subject, specifically about the people and the walk there.
“I get why you said that Andy’s an insufferable douche, Kota.”
That remark got an eye roll from everyone, good-natured Kota, mild-mannered Tomoe and stone-faced Shiro. They’d dealt with him much longer than I had, so I could only imagine what that was like.
“He does nothing but cause problems,” Tomoe groaned uncharacteristically.
“Yeah,” Shiro added.
These complaints, together with my own personal opinion of him and the mission at hand all mashed together to form a somewhat coherent train of thought about my next move. I clasped my hands together and stared down at the table, lost in thought.
So… the general consensus is that he’s insufferable, and I think so as well. That doesn’t, however, mean that he’s a target. I need far more substantial evidence that he’s our guy before I just flat out kill him. However, that’s not to say I don’t suspect him or his family. I’m almost one-hundred percent certain that his father is connected to a number of shady business dealings. I’ve recently noticed a despicable pattern about him and his work force. Many of his high-level workers go missing after a while. They just… vanish. And I’m not so naïve as to think that they have nothing to do with it.
I sighed internally once again. I knew that if I didn’t keep my guard up, this mission would go to hell in a handbasket very quickly.
I’ll keep an eye on the kid. I’ll-
The bell on the door snapped me out of my far-gone state. I looked around to notice that all three of my companions were staring at me. I looked at each of them, then my heart nearly stopped as a scent wafted past my nose.
The smells of blood and gunpowder.
My head shot up and I scanned the room as fast as I could. The memory of bell dinging brought my eyes to and around the door first. A man seemingly in his late twenties had entered the restaurant. He was only a few inches taller than me, with a muscular frame and bronzed skin. He had black hair and black eyes, with a small tattoo on his neck, resembling a black skull with a dagger through the eye. His eyes were sharp, like that of a hawk, and his stance was foreboding and aggressive. He immediately was marked as hostile in my mind.
Was I followed somehow? If so, why did he not shoot at me when I was injured? And even before that, why did he not fight me in the warehouse? None of this makes sense... who are you?
My frantic eye movement seemed to have put the other three on alert. They likely didn’t smell the blood or gunpowder, having not been trained to do so. After fighting for nearly three years straight, my nose got extremely sharp when it came to certain smells. In addition to those two, gasoline, machine oil, and sweat were scents I could pick up from much farther off.
I paid no mind to the others, instead watching the man as he walked slowly around the restaurant and looked at each of the customers. He eventually made it to our table, took one look at me, and growled four words.
“You, come with me.”
I looked into the eyes of each of my friends for a split second, and they all, with the exception of Tomoe, knew exactly what was about to happen. I rose from my chair and approached the door behind the man. Confused on-lookers watched as he led me outside and into an alleyway, though no one dared to follow behind us.
Let’s get this done quickly, I don’t feel like being here. Standing up hurts my leg anyway.
“What do you want?” I asked the man.
“What do I want?” He began yelling, “WHAT DO I WANT!? MOTHERFUCKER, YOU KILLED MY BROTHERS! BOTH OF THEM! IN THE WAREHOUSE! I WAS THE TWELFTH MAN, STATIONED IN ONE OF THE CORNERS. AFTER YOU LEFT… I RAN ALL AROUND… LOOKING FOR THEM. ALL I… SAW… WAS THEIR CORPSES…. STUFFED IN A SHIPPING CRATE LIKE GARBAGE. DOES THAT MEAN NOTHING TO YOU?!”
He suddenly stopped, out of breath. He then calmly looked up at me, raising his head until he towered above me.
I don’t like this…
The alleyway was dead silent. It was like time itself had stopped moving to watch these next few seconds. All of the anguish and fear drained from the man’s eyes. The corners of his mouth curled up into a twisted grin.
“You’re done for,” he said in an eerily calm voice, unrepresentative of the pure insanity on his face.
The sound of rustling cloth emanated from just below my line of sight. I looked down to see a .357 magnum pointed at my stomach.
“Any last words, you son of a bitch?”
What should I do? If I kill him in broad daylight, someone’s bound to see. I don’t have my mask either. But if I don’t kill him, I die instead. Shit… this is giving me a headache. I haven’t avenged them yet…
Just then, I had an idea
“Uh yeah… I have a question. How did you escape the warehouse? It was surrounded on all sides by onlookers and cops.”
He blinked, obviously not expecting a question like this.
Good, that’s it. Tell me how much better you are than me.
“Ahahaha… AHAHAHA. YOU MEAN TO TELL ME YOU CAME WITHOUT KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT THE BUILDING?”
He took a deep breath then continued to speak in a normal tone.
“There was a sewer system directly below the warehouse,” He began, “that’s how we got in in the first place. We’re not stupid as a group, so we were sneaky. Unlike you, you fool. I slipped out of there a minute after finding my brothers. When I came out, I was on the opposite side of the police tape and saw you getting into that black car. I followed you back to this restaurant so I could get my revenge.”
As he spoke, I slid a small bit of wire out of my wrist. Just enough to impale the man with.
And now, I make my move. First, provoke.
“So… you’re a coward who ran away in fear for your life.”
His eyes widened, and that unbridled rage from before returned. Exactly as I wanted it to.
And now, ATTACK!
In the split second that ensued, chaos broke loose. I smacked the man’s shooting hand, causing him to fire a shot directly next to me. Gunsmoke plumed from inside the revolver as I stepped forward and skewered the man with the ejected wire while grappling up the building with the other one. We shot up like a rocket, his dying body in my arms and blood leaking onto my clothes once again.
Once we got to the top, I laid him down on the roof. He didn’t move, coughing and sputtering as the life drained from his eyes. A pool of red formed around him and continued to grow as his life force leaked through his wound.
I’m… sorry that I had to do this. Now you can see your brothers once again.
I left him there, dying on the roof.
I took off my bloodied shirt once again and hopped off the building. My grappling wire was attached to the edge of the roof, so I gently sailed down to ground level. What I saw, however, was not what I expected. Kota was standing in the alleway, waiting for me, with Shiro and Tomoe at the entrance making sure nobody else entered.
Why did they let Tomoe out here… what if she saw what I did! I can’t let her know what I really am… though if I remember correctly, I kind of showed her already. Having friends on top of my work is difficult…
When my feet touched the earth, I caught the shirt that Kota had tossed to me. Hopefully, it’d be my last change for the day. Kota’s normally happy face was shrouded in darkness.
“You know… I hate that you always have to put yourself in danger. I don’t care how skilled you are, it still worries me…”
“Thanks Kota, but I’ll be fine. I’ve trained to do this for years. One guy won’t get the best of me. It’ll take an army,” I responded with a bit of fake, over-the-top confidence.
In reality, I had nearly been killed twice today. My heart was still pumping at a million miles a minute, and my hands were shaking. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and put the shirt on, covering the bloodstains that had seeped through the shirt. When my head was visible, I opened my eyes again and let out the breath. I began to walk back with Kota.
Alright… let’s go back in-
“Wait, Reiji!” Tomoe stopped us from leaving the alley, to the surprise of the rest of us.
“Y-yeah,” I responded shakily.
I have a bad feeling about this…
“Wha-What did you do to that man… Why did he pull you out of the restaurant and what did you do to him? What… are you?” She asked frantically, throwing out questions in droves.
What should I do? Do I tell her everything? Or do I hide it? What will she think of me, knowing the person who saved her is just another criminal? Mom… Dad… what am I supposed to do here?
The two Reiji’s in my head battled it out once again, their battle this time even more ferocious than the last.
“Why would you even consider telling her? What will she think?”
“But it’s likely she already knows!”
“So what, don’t spill your guts to a girl you’ve known for three days. Who cares if she’s pretty, this could be the death of you!”
“She has a right to know! She’s my friend!”
“No she doesn’t!”
Shut up, damn it! I’ve gotta make a decision now or I could give myself away in the worst way possible!
“This day was bound to come sooner or later. Alright, I’ll tell you everything, follow me.”
Was this the right decision? I had no idea. But I honestly had no other choice. Had I have lied, it would have only made it that much worse when she did find out. And as much as I don’t like to admit it, I’d hate to hurt her.
I sighed again.
This is going to be a long night…