Mezu took the train to the USS Lexington.
It was a cloudless day in Corpus Christi. The tourists on the train were buzzing with excitement.
The colossal grey warship that was the USS Lexington came into view. It was a legendary vessel, having played a key role in defeating the Empire of Japan, his people, in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Mezu took a moment to admire its 55-caliber main gun, it’s twin 25-caliber anti-aircraft guns, and the squadron of eighty fighter jets parked on its main deck. It was a truly beautiful instrument of war.
A giant koi fish came swimming through the air up beside the train and gave him a sour look. ‘LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?’
It was Umibōzu, his Spirit Beast. As well as being the personification of his psyche, Umibōzu was the spirit of his zanbatō. Mezu reached his hand into the Zone and rubbed the sheath of his sword. ‘Don’t worry. You’re the only woman for me. We could cut that hulk in half if we wanted to.’
Umibōzu’s features softened. She swam out of view.
The train came to a stop.
Marilyn and the Blue Nasties were standing in front of an America News Network helicopter on the harbour.
Marilyn’s brows were furrowed, her arms were crossed, and her heel was tapping on the pavement. ‘It’s about time you arrived, Mezu. Now that everyone’s here, we can get to work. The Patriots have been hunting Shark Man across the east coast. They managed to wound him, and now he’s hiding somewhere around here. Finish him off before the Patriots arrive. Jack and Puck are part of the Big Five now, so this should be no problem for you.’
Marilyn had run a false story on America News Network about Jack having killed Fubsy the Clown at the Devil’s Circus. Due to the real events having taken place in the Dungeon Universe, no one could contest it, so The Slasher Times upped Jack’s position on the Hot List.
Mezu looked around at the tourists. ‘With this many people around? During daylight?’
‘Yes,’ said Marilyn. ‘Your masks will protect your secret identities. Get on with it.’ She turned her back on them and opened the helicopter door.
‘What about the plan?’ said Mezu.
‘What about a little pep talk?’ said Sam.
Marilyn scowled at them over her shoulder. ‘Plan? Pep talk? The last time we made a plan, the Lonely Hearts got killed, and you only won by a fluke. The last time I tried to boost the team’s morale, Billy got killed, and you only won by luck. No plan or morale survives contact with the enemy. Just do as you’re told.’
Puck stepped forwards. ‘Hey, boss, what’s with the disrespect?! We’re risking our lives out here while you sit in a helicopter eating tea and crumpets! The least you could do is—'
Marilyn lifted Puck up by her throat one-handed. Her teeth were bared. ‘Your little lives are mine to spend!’ She dropped Puck on her behind, got in the helicopter, and slammed the door behind her.
The helicopter took off into the air.
‘That witch!’ said Puck.
Jack helped her up. ‘She’s been under a lot of stress lately. I’m sure she’ll return to her regular self when the Death Game is over.’
Sam leant close to Mezu and whispered. ‘Did you know she was that strong?’
Mezu shook his head.
Sam shrugged. ‘Must be taking aerobics.’
Lobo whined and gave them all a puppy face.
Sam ruffled her hair. ‘Aw, it’s alright, girl! Marilyn’s just found out she’s ginger, is all!’
They all walked up to the ramp leading to the main deck of the USS Lexington, where a leathery old Hawaiian Navy veteran was sat reading the newspaper.
‘Howdy, folks!’ The Tour Guide folded the newspaper and put it on the ground. ‘Come to take the tour of the ship, have ye’?’
Jack shook his head. ‘No, we’re…journalists filming a documentary about slashers for America News Network. You haven’t seen Shark Man around here, have you? Big fella? Half shark-half man? Likes eating people?’
The Tour Guide sucked in his lips. ‘No, I haven’t. I’ve heard tell the Army’s been fightin’ him all the way up the coast, though. Damn fools.’
‘Why are they fools?’
The Tour Guide rubbed his calloused hands together. ‘Let me tell you young people a story. Ten years ago, a lil’ Hawaiian boy was attacked by a shark, and his father dove in the water to save him. The shark dragged the boy all the way down to the Mariana Trench. The father followed. When the father reached the bottom, he discovered the Kingdom of Kāmohoaliʻi, the Hawaiian God of Sharks. The father pleaded with Kāmohoaliʻi for his son's life, but Kāmohoaliʻi is a cruel god, so he set the father a challenge instead. If he became the avatar of Kāmohoaliʻi by merging with the shark who took his son and then ate a hundred thousand humans in ten years, Kāmohoaliʻi would return his son to him.’
He interlocked his fingers. ‘The father has been taking down Navy and merchant ships on the west coast ever since. More recently, though, with his time running out, he’s become more savage. Moved onto the mainland and started killing women and even children.’ He shook his head. ‘No one should try to fight Shark Man right now. If you see him…run.’
Lobo whimpered and backed away.
Jack held her in place and smiled at the Tour Guide. ‘Well, a life without risk is a life without reward! We’ll just go up on the main deck and see what we can see!’
The Tour Guide nodded solemnly.
They walked past him and up the ramp.
‘Young man,’ said the Tour Guide.
Jack turned around.
The Tour Guide pulled his cheek back and pointed to his left bottom molar. ‘The word is the Army hurt Shark Man by chaining a bunch of death-row jailbirds to a naval mine and waiting ‘till he bit down on it. He has an open wound right here. If you want to put him to rest, that’s the spot you need to hit.’
Jack smiled and nodded. ‘Thanks. We’ll be sure to tell the next soldier we meet.’
The Tour Guide nodded, picked his newspaper off the ground, and started reading again.