Chapter 14:

Typhoon Warning

Challengers


A Soviet Union Dreadnought-class heavy cyborg stands nearly two meters tall. Facial features are replaced with so many cybernetic enhancements it blurs the boundary between human and machine. A barrel chest combined with arms and legs that look like oaks are augmented with strength-enhancing cybernetics. Through the use of drugs, psychological conditioning -- and sometimes, torture -- they’re trained to kill and follow orders without hesitation.

It was one of these things that strode out of the woods behind the Kimura community center, heading directly toward the mother struggling to get her child off of the park swing.

I don’t remember drawing my pistol. One second it was in its holster, the next it was in my hands and I was looking at the monster over my sights.

But before I could pull the trigger, someone grabbed my wrist and forced the gun down. I was shocked when I saw who it was.

It was Doc. He was shouting something at me.

I broke free of his grip but before I could aim again he tackled me. We hit the ground with a solid thump that knocked the breath out of my lungs, then rolled across the manicured lawn, wrestling for control of the pistol.

I strained but couldn’t free myself from his grip. “What’s wrong with you? It’s going to kill those civilians, let me go!

Our scuffle caught the attention of the Dreadnought. The nightmare face turned our way, and he stopped moving toward the child. But then he started in my direction.

The words Doc was shouting finally came through “... not an enemy! Don’t shoot! He’s a friendly!”

“Eh? Not an enemy? What do you mean?” I glanced back at the Dreadnought.

I watched in amazement as he waved the mother and child to the ground, then placed himself squarely between me and the civilians. I finally realized what was happening: the cyborg was trying to protect the two from a crazy guy waving a gun.

A Dreadnought -- safeguarding a civilian?

I stopped fighting. “Okay, I get it. He's a friendly. I’m putting the pistol back, see?” I slid the weapon into its holster and held my hands up.

“Thank goodness,” Doc breathed. He felt around in the grass and picked up his wireframe spectacles that had been knocked off during the fight. “Not that your gun would do much damage to Lev, but I’d really hate to start treating anyone for injuries now. We have bigger problems headed our way."

Rio floated up in her chair, her gaze flicking between Doc and me. “Jim, what’s going on?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.” I climbed to my feet and gave Benji a hand. “How about an explanation, Doc?”

“I believe I will provide that explanation, Lieutenant,” said a cold voice from behind me.

Turning around, I saw a stern-looking Japanese businesswoman, complete with hose, heels, and skirt, coming through the doors of the community building. “If you’re through making a spectacle of yourself, would you be so good as to join a meeting of the town council?”

***

I’d originally intended to just dump our supplies and head back to the ship after Rio fixed the town’s communications system.

But the presence of the Dreadnought changed everything. I needed to stay here and find out all I could about him. So, before Rio and I attended the council meeting I directed the driver of the second truck to offload his supplies then go back to the Mistral without Rio and me.

It turned out that the woman with the attitude and hard edge was the company representative of the Yamanaki Future Technologies megacorporation. At the start of the meeting she’d introduced herself as Kira Nakamura.

She had a face that could only belong to someone who’d never had fun in her entire life. And I was  certain that no one ever called her by her first name.

Although she held no official position on the town council, Miss Nakamura sat at the head of the conference table in the meeting room. The position was normally reserved for the mayor, who sat at Nakamura’s left. It was immediately obvious to anyone with eyes who the real power in Kimura was.

The YFT representative leaned back in her well-padded chair, the biggest one at the table, one leg crossed casually over the other. She was smartly dressed, except for the lime-green military-style jacket over her designer clothing. The jacket identified members of the town council at a glance and everyone in the room wore one except for me, Rio, and Doc.

Even the Dreadnought had a council jacket on. Nakamura introduced the hulking being sitting in the chair on her right. “This is Lev Semenov, Lieutenant Peterson. He is, in fact, from the same era as you and Captain Ishikawa. Like you and the doctor, he passed through an anomaly -- what you would call a ‘rip’ -- several years ago. But Semenov is no longer a combatant in a war that has never existed in this reality.”

I shifted my gaze from the executive to the cyborg. “Why is a former Soviet Union killing machine on the town council?” I couldn’t keep the coldness out of my voice. Rio glanced at me with a startled expression.

The Dreadnought said nothing. He hadn’t so much as twitched from the moment he’d taken his chair. But I could feel his eyes, now concealed behind a black visor, staring at me.

Nakamura’s nostrils flared, confirming that I’d touched on a sensitive topic. “Semenov is my personal bodyguard. Since I have a consulting position with Kimura, both he and I work for the town. As such, I would appreciate it if you would not assault either of us again in the future.”

She gave a sharp, scornful laugh. “You should be thankful that you didn’t actually attack him. He would have made short work of you.”

I was going to let that slide, but Rio jumped to my defense. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Miss Nakamura. Jim -- I mean, Lieutenant Peterson -- recently fought and destroyed over two dozen cyborgs like your bodyguard. All by himself!”

Except I mostly hid behind boxes and ambushed them with mines, I thought. But a win is a win.

Exclamations of fear and amazement broke out around the council table. Doc, sitting across from me, rolled his eyes heavenward before giving me a crooked smile. “I can’t leave you alone for a moment, can I?” he said.

A flash of anger passed briefly across Nakamura’s face, quickly replaced with an expression of skepticism. “Really? I find that hard to believe, but I will receive your report later.”

“Oh, that’s very gracious of you,” I said.

My sarcasm went unremarked. Nakamura continued speaking. “Everyone, I have -- excuse me, I mean the mayor -- has called us together for an update. Mister Wada?”

A skinny young man with the title of “Emergency Manager” printed on his jacket rose to his feet and activated the holoprojector in the middle of the conference table. “A typhoon warning went into effect today. Since most of Kimura's residents had already been evacuated due to the earlier tsunami warning, only essential personnel are present on the island.

"Which doesn’t include you and your team, Lieutenant Peterson,” Nakamura snapped.

The emergency manager stopped talking until she gave him permission to continue with a sharp nod. He gave a brief bow before continuing. The YFT rep really has these people under her thumb, I thought.

A radar map of Japan appeared. “This is Typhoon Kujira,” Wada said. He zoomed the hologram out. The spiral arms of a large typhoon spread across most of the southwestern portion of the map. 

I looked closely at the predicted track of the storm. It was heading northeast and would pass directly over Kimura Jima. “Currently, it is a Category 4 typhoon," Wada explained, "but it will almost certainly become a Category 5 super typhoon when it makes landfall on Kimura Jima.”

“When will it arrive?” I asked. Nakamura scowled at me, probably for speaking without raising my hand first.

“The outer bands will arrive in a matter of hours, but the main body of the storm? Approximately one day. It is possible that none of the buildings in Kimura will survive. However...” 

Wada zoomed the projection in until the island of Kimura Jima took up the entire space. A flashing red outline of a cave opening appeared on a rocky cliff facing the sea. “We are preparing to ride out the storm in our emergency shelter located here, in the old Pacific War submarine base.”

Nakamura cut him off. “Absolutely not. Yamanaki Future Technologies is doing top-secret research down there.” She stabbed a finger at the cave. “The remoteness and security of the old base facilities are a major reason why we leased the site from Kimura. Your own mayor signed off on the agreement.”

The mayor finally spoke up. “There was a provision in the agreement that we could use the facility in case of emergencies, such as typhoons,” she said in a quiet voice. Defying the YFT representative in front of the council was probably something not done very often, and the look on Nakamura’s face as she glared at the mayor confirmed this.

She bore Nakamura’s glare calmly and I looked more closely at her. Recognition dawned on me. The mayor of the city council had been the woman chasing after mini-Aiko earlier.

I jumped into the awkward silence. “Outstanding! I already have supplies loaded on a truck. I can take it directly to the shelter, if someone wants to lead the way.” The YFT representative shifted her glare from the mayor to me, which I returned with a serene smile.

A Dreadnought from the 20th century, a megacorporation executive with secrets to hide, and a restricted research facility. And chances were that the Cyclad attack on the Mistral Challenger was somehow linked.

There was definitely something going on at that World War II sub base, and I really, really wanted to find out what it was.

I should have known it wouldn’t be easy.

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