Chapter 3:

Chapter 003

Ergon V

“Not to let this escalate, you said?” White Leopard snorted as her head snapped off the scope to gaze at what was left of the overturned vehicle. Alpha and Bravo were establishing a perimeter around it, while Blue Jaguar had abandoned his bike behind to join them. She was getting angry at him; there was such a thing as taking too much initiative. Even worse, he showed little concern for the integrity of the operation. White Leopard hated unexpected things. They made her lose her patience, and above all, made her mission more complicated. “Please tell me the data is safe or else—”

“What the hell was I supposed to do, then?” his brother interjected. “He was gonna escape down a side street!”

“You couldn’t know that. That’s why I told you to stick to plan and don’t do—”

“Alpha-One here,” the operative on the ground broke into their argument. “There’s only one body in the car. We found the stick, but it’s damaged.”

As her radio chat lapsed into silence, White Leopard heard nothing but the chopper’s rotors for a few moments, trying to process what her colleague had just said. But before she could speculate further came the voice of her superior officer. “Alpha-One, this is Big Boss. See if the stick remained in the car while Bravo sets up a perimeter with the police. We’re analyzing the CCTV cameras from here.”

Almost anticipating her inevitable outburst of fury against him, Blue Jaguar spoke promptly. “No need for that, Big Boss. Check the replay from my feed.”

White Leopard released her grip from her precision rifle, holding its weight with her shoulder while keeping it in place by stepping on a strap wrapped around her foot. She tapped a few keys on the screen panel on the back of her right glove and activated its holographic display. A translucent recording from Blue Jaguar's helmet flickered into view, floating above her arm and displaying the moment he urged his ride away from the bus to move around it. At first, White Leopard saw nothing that stood out, but when the footage was rewound and played at a slower speed, she found what she was looking for. A human figure wearing black attire had gone out the rear of the vehicle, fading into the front of the bus.

It had to be the missing terrorist.

Before White Leopard could estimate his course and destination, a live feed from a security camera barged into her display. It showed a guy with a hood and a mechanical arm hurrying down a wide two-way street. “Alpha, upload the drive with the SUV’s data port. We’ll see if we can recover anything from here,” declared Big Boss. “Meanwhile, all units, resume the ground pursuit. Without the drive, the terrorist is our only link to Amateratsu’s plan.”

The helicopter’s nose came down as it gained speed and veered northeast on a daring flight. White Leopard pressed her eye on her scope again, toggling its lens optics to thermal vision. The world before her took on a monochromatic gray hue, the nearby buildings, trees, and vehicles painted in various dark shades, the passersby, in contrast, shining white and clear. At that moment, a figure moving between cars to reach the curb caught her attention. Tracing her telescopic sight over it, the orange tints of the infra-red highlight revealed his right arm housed a heat source of its own. It was a mechanical prosthesis. On top of it, he bobbed his head backward every two by three as if he were conscious the Sentinel SUVs were closing in. Then, as the vehicles converged on his position, he broke into a frantic run, sweeping aside anyone who dared to come across his path. Trying to discern his next move, White Leopard realized the man had opted to escape on foot. He wouldn’t keep up for long. Yet half a block ahead on his way was a subway exit. Getting lost in the crowd of passengers seemed a viable alternative.

“I have him,” White Leopard stated confidently on her radio, “He’s heading towards Hiroo station’s southeast entrance.”

“Then take the shot at once,” Blue Jaguar replied. “It could be our only chance.”

While there was some truth in his suggestion, the option entailed undesired consequences. “Negative. It’s not clean. Too many passersby in the way.”

As the one-handed man got to the exit, he headed straight into it, strolling downstairs amid a large crowd of commuters. At any moment, he would reach a U-turn and disappear from her sights. But White Leopard was far from convinced. She didn’t want to make a mistake that could prove costly to an innocent bystander.

Big Boss, however, had other plans for her. “I agree with Blue Jaguar here, White Leopard,” he stated. She began to stir at that. “Keep a single-coil setting to avoid major civilian injuries.” Indeed, her weapon’s firing process comprised three stages of projectile acceleration, or in this case, an electrical discharge. Yet someone could still be injured by it, even at its lowest setting, and to a serious degree. It was no guarantee of safety.

White Leopard swallowed hard, her pulse rising as her index finger savored the trigger of her rifle. She began timing her breathing, inhaling deeply through her nose to then exhale through her mouth… But the constant hammering of her heart wouldn’t decrease. Worse, her finger trembled as she felt a chill racing through her entire body. In a sudden impulse, she began checking the contents of her pockets and pouches with her free hand as if the mere act of doing so would prevent her world from spinning out of control.

“We can’t lose him, White Leopard,” his brother urged. “Shoot him down, now!”

“Warning,” announced a female digital voice inside her helmet with a calmness she envied. “Synchronization at 101%. Reduce heart rate to—”

For half a heartbeat, a picture flashed in her mind’s eye. A young woman, just like her, slowly sank into a cold and lightless abyss of water. Her outstretched fingers struggled in vain to keep her afloat, but the surrounding weight would only pull her down. Cries of anguish came out of her mouth, shaped as bubbles that would never make it to the surface. And then, realizing her struggle no longer made sense, she let her arms and legs go limp, embracing the inevitability of it all. She had been abandoned, left to fend for herself as she sank deeper into a pit of fear and darkness.

Then, all of a sudden, the voice of her brother brought her back from her lapse. “What happened? Did he get in there?” White Leopard didn’t respond. She had heard his words clearly, yet it was impossible for her to give voice to those of her own. It was as though her mind and body had turned to ice. “Do you hear me, White Leopard?” Blue Jaguar insisted. “Did he get into the station!?”

This time, the words came to her mouth. “A-Affirmative...” Indeed, as her eyes averted the cascade of warning icons raining down before her and darted back to the subway exit, White Leopard verified the terrorist was nowhere to be seen. She had missed her shot.

“Then, why didn’t you shoot him down?” Blue Jaguar demanded. “I told you we—“

“It was too risky, dammit! I could have hurt someone!” she spat at him out of the blue, although she sensed her outburst was, in fact, directed at herself.

“Easy, people. What’s done is done,” Big Boss stepped in with a firm voice that admitted no further dispute. She calmed down a bit at that. “Blue Jaguar, follow him underground as Alpha and Bravo cover the exits. We’ll find a way to shut down the service.”

As the SUVs and his brother’s motorcycle arrived in the area, White Leopard couldn’t help but wonder what the hell that had been. She was a soldier; she ought to be stronger and set aside even the slightest trace of doubt or fear within her. Yet while her mind pressed her for a rational explanation, delving into such issues at the time was of no use. Now, she would have to leave everything in her brother’s hands.

Blue Jaguar bolted down the steps to the subway as soon as he turned into the southeast exit of Hiroo Station. He tried to get the thoughts of her sister’s fallout out of his mind, even though he had to admit it wasn’t characteristic of her to display such hesitation. The thick crowds of pedestrians kept him busy since he had to push through them to make his way to the platform area. As he reached the half-turn landing, he quickly spun left—and the sound of gunfire broke out. It was a short but brutal chatter, where bursts of the submachine gun dimmed the responses of a semi-automatic pistol.

“Out of the way! Get out of here!” Blue Jaguar’s distorted voice exclaimed as he fought frantically for space amid a frenzied tie of human bodies.

Once he reached the bottom of the stairs and rounded a corner to his right, Blue Jaguar stopped dead in his tracks. He scanned back and forth the platform but didn’t see the terrorist. Instead, past the row of ticket dispensing machines, he eyed a policeman lying on the ground. He jumped over the turnstiles, bumping into a couple of lagging passengers fleeing away from the now empty stationary subway cars. His suit hydraulics hissed loud at the sudden quietness as he strolled toward the officer. He squatted at his side, noticing his face grimaced in pain while his right hand held onto his left shoulder. All around his fingers, a dark stain dimmed his blue uniform while slowly spreading across his chest; he’d been shot. Multiple bio-readings appeared over Blue Jaguar’s visor, from his vital signs to body anatomy. Once he measured the extent of the damage, he removed the officer’s hand from the injury area, tearing apart his uniform to expose his wound.

“I have a wounded officer,” he stated on his helmet mike, “but the bullet went clean, no vital arteries compromised. I’ll give him first aid, but send medical help anyway.”

Without further delay, Blue Jaguar employed the same ritualistic hand gesture he had used before, this time applying the electric charge directly over the officer’s wound. The man shivered from top to bottom, so Blue Jaguar gripped his body with his free hand as he finished with one end of the hole to work on the other. It took a few seconds of struggling until a tiny gray fog emerged from the wounded area, the tissue now cauterized to prevent further blood loss.

Glimpsing the officer’s fearful gaze, Blue Jaguar apologized to him. “Sorry about that, officer. Don’t worry. An ambulance is on its way.”

As if requiring further reassurance, he checked with his own eyes the state of his wound, bumping into a fresh scar. The policeman relaxed at this, allowing himself a slight smile as he nodded at Blue Jaguar in gratitude.

And then, all of a sudden, a shadow of terror fell across his face.

Blue Jaguar was aware of movement behind him, so he shifted his body to shield the wounded officer. A hail of bullets slammed into his back without mercy. Yet they merely bounced off it and dropped to the ground like marbles amid a shower of bright sparks, courtesy of his kinetic shields; as effective as his titanium plates were, they weren’t pain proof when dealing with high-velocity impacts. Not before long, the terrorist had nothing left on his ammo magazine. Blue Jaguar wasted no time. He went after him in a rush, throwing a powerful punch the terrorist’s prosthetic arm countered with an upper-level, back-handed block. The ringing clash of metal on metal echoed through the station—just as Blue Jaguar had to mirror his foe’s faint to block a strike from his right hand.

A savage exchange of blows ensued, punches, blocks, and counterpunches going back and forth for a little while. The hydraulic pistons on Blue Jaguar’s exoskeleton hissed and whirred at each move, hinting at the immense power he was wielding. Yet the terrorist was quicker than any normal man, he had to admit to himself, even though he was still no match for him. Indeed, Blue Jaguar caught him off guard with an inside leg kick, bringing him down so he could kneel-kick his chin. The terrorist mitigated the second onslaught with his prosthesis, although the momentum sent him stumbling backward. At this, Blue Jaguar threw a powerful downward kick at his stomach, then spun around on the leg to carry out a spinning roundhouse kick aimed at his head. The terrorist, however, had crawled backward fast enough to evade both attacks and soon regained his footing to back away.

The first round concluded, it was evident it had taken a toll on him. Exhausted, the man gasped for breath and winced in pain, rubbing his beaten leg repeatedly. Blue Jaguar, for his part, lowered his own, which was still dangling in midair after his last attack. Silence hung over the station for a few moments…

Until a sudden chime came from the speakers, followed by the voice of an announcer. “Due to an incident, Hiroo station is now closed and all Hibiya line trains are momentarily interrupted. We’re sorry for the inconvenience—”

At that last word, the one-handed man lunged at Blue Jaguar. As he pondered how to respond to his challenge, the terrorist veered off course, rushing toward a column halfway to him at a forty-five-degree angle. He leaped toward the concrete structure, stepping into it with his right leg, and pushed off the wall in a roundhouse kick Blue Jaguar failed to anticipate.

That was when his suit’s enhanced reflex features took control. A short low-pitched sound cracked in his ears for a brief second. At this, and like a puppet on strings, Blue Jaguar saw his left foot stepping forward, his knee flexing as his center of mass shifted down from one moment to another. Not only did he evade the terrorist’s attack, but he also dove to the floor on his hands and set himself for a low spinning kick, sweeping the terrorist’s feet to bring him down. Blue Jaguar then pounced on his prey, his own reflexes showing up as he threw fists left and right at his torso. His opponent crossed his arms in front of it to protect himself, but Blue Jaguar pushed his arm block against his own body with his right elbow, pinning him down to get him right where he wanted.

At that moment, however, Blue Jaguar narrowed his eyes at something placed on his torso. It flashed an array of wiggly lines hooked up to a tiny screen monitoring the terrorist’s heartbeats. The clear implication of an explosive device made him hesitate for a moment, an opportunity the terrorist seized to free himself from his clutches. And when Blue Jaguar threw a punch at him, it came a beat too late; he‘d already rolled over the floor and away from his reach. But now Blue Jaguar wasn’t sure how to continue, the risk of causing the device to explode too high for his taste. His next blow, as a consequence, came a half-second too slow, the terrorist blocking it with ease. Even worse, the bastard connected a heavy strike with his prosthetic arm that struck deep into Blue Jaguar’s abdomen. The kinetic shields somehow had failed to engage, and the blow knocked his breath out of his lungs.

His rhythm broken, the terrorist followed with a kick that pushed him back against a column, then came at him like thunder with a flurry of fast punches. Blue Jaguar had to work hard to deflect them, never getting the chance to strike back. But his opponent’s overconfidence was explicit now, and despite the spike of pain he felt, he was far from defeated. He let him go on like this for a while, right until the terrorist threw a powerful but poorly timed punch toward his head. Blue Jaguar docked to dodge it, the fake limb crunching into the beam above him and ripping steel chunks from it. Then, he punched him hard in his stomach’s pit and threw an immediate high spinning kick that sent him flying to a wall. He crashed his back against it with an awful crack, falling on his backside over the ground. At long last, he was down for good.

Yanking off the oni mask, Blue Jaguar came across a bruised young man with dark hair, his features lacking any distinction at all. What surprise him, however, was his reaction to his capture. For no apparent reason, the terrorist began laughing amidst his misery, spatting some blood every now and then before the extent of his wounds.

“What could possibly be so funny?” he asked the terrorists.

“Your lack of resolve,” he replied with some effort. “You pulled most of your punches.”

“We’re peacekeepers, pal. And you’re still finished.”

The man chuckled, amused. “You won’t get it. I can almost see the mark of the collar to which your chain is fastened. If your masters keep restraining you like that, then you’re doomed to fail. And that’s why we’ll triumph.” He then said with a wicked grin on his face, “For us, there’s no life... Nor death.”

As Blue Jaguar realized his prosthetic arm was giving birth to a series of menacing light crackles, a voice yelled behind them, “Stop what you’re doing, right now!”

Blue Jaguar turned to meet the wounded officer limping towards them, gun in hand and aimed at the terrorist. His forehead was drenched in sweat, his breath ragged and hesitant. He was going to shoot him. “Please, officer, keep your cool,” he said while trying to calm him down with his arms. “He has a bomb. Just lower your gun and let me—”

“No!” the desperate man yelled, his lips trembling while his eyes went wide with panic. He bobbed his head in disbelief. “Stop immediately, or I’ll shoot you down, I swear!”

The terrorist, in the meantime, had let a triumphant smile show on his face as the charge on his hand kept increasing, the officer eyeing him with increasing nervousness and mistrust. He wasn’t listening to Blue Jaguar. He kept moving in, the pistol in his hand leveling on the terrorist’s chest.

Blue Jaguar swallowed hard. “Wait, officer. Don’t—!”

The report of the gunshot echoed across the station, then gradually faded. With a sickening thump, the terrorist’s body slumped to the ground, a stream of blood gushing out from the hole in his head. The police officer relaxed at this, lowering his gun as he wiped the sweat from his forehead with his free arm. But Blue Jaguar wasn’t calm. His mouth bone-dry, he stared down at the corpse with a bad feeling about what would occur next.


As the sound kept repeating itself, Blue Jaguar fixed his eyes on the torso of the dead man, confirming his worst fears. He spotted a flashing red light on it as the interval between the pulses decreased. Although he wasn’t sure if they would make it in time, he rushed towards the officer, grabbing hold of him despite his physical resistance.

“What are you doing?” the policeman complained, unaware Blue Jaguar was trying to save his life. “Let me—!”

When White Leopard leaped out of the helicopter, which had just settled down on the street, a massive explosion shook the asphalt below her feet. She strode across the road toward the subway exit, bumping into a blanket of dense black smoke coming from inside.

“Blue Jaguar, what happened?” she spoke on his radio. No response came from him, an eerie ambiance looming over the billowing dust for long seconds that seemed to last an eternity. “Blue Jaguar? Are you alright?” she insisted. At his silence, White Leopard felt a spark of fear, her body tensing at the possibility something had happened to her brother or the policeman because of her own moment of weakness.

Then, a faint scuffling cut through, two ghostly shapes emerging from the slowly dispersing smoke. One of them, taller and imposing, had his hand around the waist of the second one, who was limping on his shoulders. The cloak covering his torso was torn, revealing part of the plates that protected him, intact in contrast. White Leopard exhaled a long breath as she confirmed both Blue Jaguar and the officer were alive. The wail of ambulances had taken over the area, paramedics rushing to assist the injured officer, hoisting him off Blue Jaguar’s shoulders in a two-person crutch carry to take him away.

As she joined her brother, she found him wiping clean the remains of burnt cloth from his cloak. “Your concern for me is touching, White Leopard, if not misplaced,” he said to her, presumptuous as usual. “Still, they completely outwitted us this time.”

“Yeah, I know,” she conceded to the latter in disappointment. “It’s almost as if we’re always one step behind.”

“Big Boss to all units,” their commander chimed in from their operations base. “We recovered a fragment of stray data from the drive, an email with an address for a storage unit connected with ‘Porphyrion’.”

It was then that the promise of the augured storm became a reality. A sudden downpour lashed over the tarmac, and for a few moments, nothing was heard but the sound of the intense flood accompanied by the occasional rumbling of thunder. White Leopard lowered her eyes as a sense of powerlessness had descended upon her.

Blue Jaguar gave her a hard pat on her right arm. “Cheer up. This could be our big break,” he encouraged her after a pause. “It’s too soon for us to give up. We have a duty.”

Her brother’s words seemed to have put new heart into her, for White Leopard now found herself raising her head to meet the rain with a prospect of hope. She only wandered if she could find a way to keep it alive long enough.