Ex-mercenary Olivia Thorne is a Private Investigator for hire, on paper that is. These days the money is good for someone who can navigate the slums around the quarantine zone, it's even better for someone who can find kidnapped kids and bring them back to their rich parents.
During the recovery of a ransomed girl, Olivia discovers a human experimentation ring that's using smuggled tech from the quarantine zone. It was supposed to be an easy in and out job, but it’s starting to become more trouble than it’s worth.
When a second mysterious client shows up at her office offering even more money for information and lethal ghosts from her dark past come calling, she had better learn to dodge bullets as quick as she’s been dodging questions from the cops.
The only way to get clear of the problem is to wrap up the case, stay alive and get paid.
Olivia took a deep breath and lowered the night vision headset attached to her helmet. Her hand drifted down over her vest, adjusting the metal ballistic plate before feeling the handle of the pistol holstered on her right thigh.
She considered re-checking it to see if she had chambered a round, but knew that it would border on obsessive if she did so. She had checked it three times before they had even begun their infiltration into the shantytown and knew that the safety was the only thing that might slow her down if she needed to draw it in a pinch.
She could hear the five similarly dressed men behind her breathing heavily, shifting like racehorses confined to the starting line before the gates opened. Looking over her shoulder at them Olivia, adjusted her balaclava to cover her crooked, thin nose. A mix of helmets, balaclavas, and night vision headsets stared back at her.
Turning back to the mouth of the alley, she pressed her shoulder against the wall, resting her hand on the grip of the slung submachine gun as she waited, staring at the dark street.
The smell of urine and feces wafted past on the humid breeze. The thick air shifted the piled mounds of garbage, creating a constant flicker of movement at the periphery of her vision.
“Hang tight, you guys have a straggler coming your way,” came the voice of their scout over the radio. He was part of Jay’s team which she had contracted to help her recover someone’s prized possession.
A clopping noise of footsteps echoed down the street, and the group’s focus tightened. Slowly, a shadow lengthened its way across the mouth of the alley.
Olivia crouched slightly, lifting her weapon to her shoulder. Its suppressed muzzle flattened at head level. Behind her the shifting stopped and a wall of muscles and tattoos tensed at the sign of aggression.
Don’t come around the corner, she thought to herself, weighing the moral choice between having to shoot someone to save a life.
If the alarm went up, it would ruin a week of careful detective work and surveillance, let alone get them and the kidnapped girl killed. The police did not come here. There was no rule of law. The only thing that kept you alive was the will of the cartels, and the group of mercenaries that crouched behind her were not welcome here.
The form of a shambling teenager crossed the mouth of the alleyway, never noticing the silent, unmoving hunters. The boy raised a paper bag to his lips, and deflated as the smell of spray paint wafted towards them. The clomping of unsteady feet wandered down the hill, unaware of their presence.
Olivia’s breath hitched in her chest for a moment as the radio chirped in her ear, “All clear on the street, whenever you’re ready.”
The swish of fabric from the back of the line moved forward like a wave until a hand reached up and squeezed her shoulder hard. Without looking back, she rose up ghost like from her position and moved forward, levelling the small weapon at the horizon.
Stepping forward Olivia pointed her weapon left, checking on the slowly disappearing paint huffer before turning sharply to the right. Her body rigid as her legs crept forward in a practiced fluid motion. The weapon trained on the corner of the block up the steep incline of the paved road.
She knew that the five others behind her were scanning the windows with suppressed weapons and night vision, each looking for any sign of aggression. Each a lethal machine bent on bringing everyone on the team home alive at all costs. Olivia preferred to do this quieter, but Jay’s team was a necessary evil. It was the wild west out here and she couldn’t do this alone.
The light patter of soft-soled boots sounded like thunder in her ears as they approached the door.
Stopping next to the crudely painted wooden door, she raised her free hand and waved someone forward as her dominant hand kept the weapon ready for anyone foolish enough to attempt an exit at the wrong time.
A heavyset gentleman shuffled up from the rear carrying a chainsaw-like device from the handle at its top. Its sheer weight was only matched by its cumbersome size. The mans thick gloved hand pressed a button on the handle and a thin circle of red light appeared around the door. He looked at Olivia for a second and she nodded before turning away and closing her eyes.
A bright flash forced its way through her eyelids, and ashes flowed to the ground like billowing snow. An ozone smell wafted through the night air followed by a warm crackle of wood burning.
Turning back she could see a six foot hole stood where the doorway used to be. The perfect circular nature of the opening was ringed in charred material.
The new opening allowing her room to advance and she swept through the opening down the hallway. Swinging into the first room to the left her night vision illuminated a tattooed man who had been roused by the subtle sound of movement. His arm was reaching for a shotgun braced against the wall next to him.
Her finger twitched twice over the trigger and the weapon thumped into her shoulder silently. Invisible projectiles of lead burped forward and pushed through the man, ending his threat. The lifeless body folded to the floor
Turning back, Olivia moved into the hallway, falling in line with the last man in the stack for a moment before stopping.
She turned and kneeled, training her weapon on the large opening that they had cut, watching their rear while the rest of the team did what they were hired to do.
Elsewhere she could hear the muted burp of weapons, and thumps as bodies fell to the hard, wooden floor of the ancient house.
Someone in a room yelled before the explosion of a shotgun echoed through the neighborhood. Pops and cracks of suppressed weapons firing at a faster rate were the only response. Unflinching Olivia maintained her position, covering their entrance and exit.
Another shotgun blast from inside cut through the night like thunder. Two more followed, before the cough of suppressed weapons loosened the trigger of the attacker.
Across the street lights were coming on, and Olivia shifted into a doorway to the side for cover from the beams of light.
“Neighborhood knows you guys are there,” came the invisible scout over the radio. “Everyone’s waking up. It’s going to get very busy in a minute or two.”
“Understood. Building’s clear,” another voice came over the radio. “Olive, come to the back; we got a live one, but no VIPs.”
Her heart sank as she moved quickly down the hallway, her gun lowered but her eyes still checked for any stragglers that they may have missed.
The peeling drywall and floors were bare of anything other than the most basic adornments. Headlamps at the end of the hallway illuminated a small room, and she flipped up her night vision angrily.
Two men from the strike team erupted into the hallway, and Olivia ducked sideways into a doorway to allow them to pass. She watched them set up with weapons pointing at the door she had just been guarding.
She made her way to the back rooms to see headlamps and flashlights attached to weapons illuminating three bodies on the floor, and a fourth man, still alive, with blood running from his mouth and nose. He knelt with his head down and hands and feet bound behind his back.
Her eyes assessed the bodies. All of them were older males; tattooed, pierced, and in various states of dress. Each of them a member of whatever local gang controlled this block.
Jay looked up at her, through his balaclava. “We need you to do your thing. He’s not talking.”
Olivia nodded and looked at the lone survivor kneeling at Jay’s feet. The survivor was Japanese, and far better dressed than the other dead gang members, “Where is the girl?”
The man shook his head and shrugged. Without looking at her he spoke in Japanese, “I don’t speak English.” Blood pooled at the man’s feet from his broken nose.
Olivia lifted his head by placing one gloved finger on the man’s forehead. She spoke clearly and quietly in Japanese, “Don’t worry. I speak Japanese, but these guys only know one language. Tell me where ‘the’ girl is. Tell me and you get to live. All I want is the girl and then we leave.”
He looked at her and shrugged, switching to English, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
She looked at his face, waiting for the minor facial ticks and tells to show themselves, each boiling to the surface like bubbles of truth. The shift of his eyes and the dilation of his pupils alone were enough. She could easily tell it was a lie.
Olivia punched him in the side of the neck and he winced, coughing.
She turned the man’s head from side to side, looking at his neck tattoos. Her hand yanked on the buttons separating the front of the expensive shirt. Swirling Asian ink lay across the mans chest, and she suspected the rest of his body. The microscopic scent of fear filled her nose, almost gagging her. It couldn’t be masked by the expensive cologne.
“You’re far from Japan, Yakusa. Far from your bosses, and everyone here in this house is dead.”
She turned his head towards her and repeated the question, “Where is the girl? We don’t have a lot of time, which means you don’t have a lot of time. Make the right decision.”
Her radio whispered in here ear, “Two males with weapons approaching the door. They are getting ready to enter.”
“Maybe they moved her?” someone said, eyeing the hallway and adjusting his weapon nervously. The horses were restless again.
“She is here,” Olivia said. “We have been watching the house. Unless they have a secret room…”
The man’s brow twitched almost imperceptibly, but her eyes caught it.
There it was… the truth. She smiled.
“It’s a false room. She’s in a false room, isn’t she?”
The gang member looked away guiltily. She punched him in the side of the neck again, harder. The man’s body rocked to the side, but her free hand grabbed him and pulled him back.
“Where?” Olivia hissed at him.
The man wasn’t talking. He sneered at her now. Angry.
“Is it in this room?” She grabbed his face again, staring into his eyes. They stared back unwavering. Her hand covered his mouth knowing he would spit if he could.
“It creeps me out when she does this,” Jay whispered to one of the men in the room.
Olivia asked again, whispering quietly to the man, “The kitchen?”
“What about the bedroom across the hall?”
Again the man stared her down. She wondered if he had tuned out and stopped listening altogether.
His cheek fluttered minutely under her hand, so subtly that she almost didn’t feel it through the leather gloves she wore.
“There’s a secret room in the bathroom,” she told Jay, never breaking eye contact with Yakusa.
The short man pointed at two of the men in the room and then towards the door. Muscle and Kevlar moved past her, wafting the smell of burnt gunpowder and blood.
With a vicelike grip on his cheeks she raised her weapon to the kneeling mans forehead. “Is she still alive?”
The man nodded emphatically and she lowered it.
The sound of repetitive firing from unsuppressed weapons cut through the house as rounds popped holes in the drywall above them. A shower of debris rained down. The sound of the firing stopped, and a scream of pain echoed outside followed by two thuds. A follow up cough of silenced rounds indicated to her that their aggressors were no more.
“Got a spider hole under the tub,” a voice called from the bathroom.
Olivia stood, pushing the man’s face away, and wiped his own blood on his expensive shirt.
She looked at Jay, “Get his photo. Make sure you get the tattoos on his chest. I have a friend who might be interested in why he’s here.” She sneered beneath the material covering her face. Resisting the temptation to kick the kneeling man, Olivia turned and flitted across the hallway to the bathroom. She minimized the time in the open; the hallway was prospectively a shooting alley.
Olivia could see that the two men had lifted the tub and it was leaned against the wall revealing a small two-foot hole, large enough for her but not large enough for any of the armored men around her. She shivered and a cold sweat broke out across her body.
“You’re the only one that will fit,” a deep voice said. The man was twice her width, and she knew what needed to be done.
“Mom? Dad?” a small voice called out from the darkness. The men’s headlamps snapped to the sound.
Olivia immediately peeled off her body armour and tossed it to the side. The sweat-soaked black shirt underneath clung to her thin body, and the cooling night air raised goose bumps along her arms. She flicked her night vision goggles down and stood over the hole with one foot on either side. The bottom was visible, and the floor below looked like concrete.
Hopping up, she brought her legs together and dropped through the hole, tightening her body.
Landing hard she rolled to the side to defer the impact before coming up in a crouch, weapon raised. The walls were close and claustrophobia was setting in already. Her breathing was shallow, and her heart hammered as she spun with her weapon up. It was a concrete box, with one opening too tall for her to reach.
Driving the panic down into her gut she swung around, searching.
“Mom? Dad?” came a voice from the darkness behind her.
Turning, Olivia could make out a little girl sitting on a mattress. She guessed that the skinny, undernourished form was about four years old. A bump under a blanket was curled up next to her.
Olivia flipped up her goggles, satisfied that no aggressors were down here. Clicking on her head lamp, she stepped toward the girl, illuminating her in the bright white light. The dirt encrusted figure cringed back, turning away and covering a sleeping form under a filthy blanket next to her.
“Are you Sara?” Olivia asked quietly, taking her helmet and balaclava off. She pointed the light from the helmet at the girl, but let enough light shine on her own face so the girl could see her. Olivia’s sweat-soaked, shoulder-length blonde hair spilled out, silhouetting her face in the dark, and she reached up and hooked it behind her ears.
The girl blinked and her face saddened. “Are you Sara’s mommy?”
“I’m Olivia. I’m looking for Sara. How many other people are here?”
“Just Sara. She sleeps a lot when she is hooked up to the dream machine.”
“Show me,” Olive said, as gunfire erupted upstairs.
The radio crackled a moment later, and gunfire erupted again. “They have breached. Keep them outside till we have the VIP.”
The little girl flinched at the noise, but stayed in the light, guarding her sleeping friend; the girl they had been searching for.
Olivia’s heart hammered away in her chest. “Please don’t be dead…”
Her gloved hand reached out and rolled the little girl over. Dried blood caked in the thin blond hair around her temple. A crude assembly of wires had been taped together and fitted into a metal ringed hole in her temple. The tiny face matched the one they had been searching for.
The little chest rose and fell with a soft rasping noise as Olivia traced the wire a short distance away to a small lunch box shaped object. The metal casing looked strange, almost organic, and only a small, dim green light blinked on and off.
She hesitated for a moment, considering the possibility it could be a bomb. Kneeling over she assessed if it was a threat.
“They told her that if she dreams enough and learns how to use the puzzle box we get to go home,” the girl said, petting Sara’s head. She turned to Olivia, “Can we go home now?”
Olivia looked at the little girl, “What’s your name?”
“Janie, have you ever seen this box move. Has anyone ever picked it up and moved it?”
Janie nodded sweetly, “We move it all the time when we go for our walks. Sometimes I carry it for Sara when she is tired.”
Olivia’s leather gloves gently picked up the box confirming that it was not a threat. A small handle on the opposite side seemed to indicate safety in being carried.
A gun battle escalated upstairs as she keyed her microphone. “We have the VIP plus one more. We need a lift out of the hole!”
The cacophony increased above, but no response over the radio.
A moment later a thick arm reached downwards, grasping at air, “C’mon!”.
Olivia reached over and placed the smooth metal box on Sara’s tiny abdomen before scooping her up tightly to her chest. Olivia could feel the rise and fall of Sara’s breath and the warmth was reassuring against her neck. “Come with me Janie.”
It didn’t take more than a few steps to cross the tiny room to stand under the opening.
A few red tracer rounds punched laser like lines across the opening, cracking above the hole.
The small girl screamed and Olivia grabbed her roughly by the shirt before she could bolt, and with one arm heaved the tiny body up to the grasping hand. A moment later the arm came down and Olivia passed up Sara, carefully passing the box attached by the umbilical.
“What the fuck is this?” the man paused mid lift.
She looked at it as it hung in the man’s hand. The metal looked worn and pot marked. Old and used, but no writing.
“No idea, but its not a bomb. It’s attached to the girl though. Keep them together if you want to get paid, I think its keeping her alive.”
Both the girl and the leashed box were extracted quickly.
It felt like an eternity, but finally the arm came down and rescued her from the dark tomb of the hidden chamber, pulling her upwards.
Once over the edge she mantled, and grabbed her body armour. Staying low, Olivia swung it back on, fastening it back into place.
The man who had lifted her out of the hole pushed past the two little girls corralled in the corner to rejoin the fight. Scrambling to her feet, Olivia pushed her shoulder against the edge of the standing tub, sending it crashing down over the hole. The metallic clang made the little girl scream and curl up in a ball.
Picking the sleeping Sara up, Olivia lay her down inside the tub before lifting the other girl into the tub. The girl had relegated to dealing with the noise and chaos by covering her ears and closing her eyes, alternating periods of silence with screaming a high pitched terrifying whine. Sara made sure both girls lay inside the metal tub before getting back on the radio. “We need a back door! We’re ready to leave.”
Stepping out around the corner, Olivia could see men down the hallway, throwing lead out towards the attackers.
On seeing Olivia raise her weapon to take his place in the firefight, the heavy man with the door cutter turned from his position and picked up the device. For a heavy man, he moved fluidly to the back room.
Between bursts of rounds, Olivia could see Jay drag the hogtied Yakusa to the side as the burly man lifted the cutter. He faced the far wall, stepped back and after a moment of fiddling, a six foot red circle projected onto the wall.
“Look away!” he yelled.
Olivia pulled back from the fight and brought her arm up, scrunching her eyelids together. The familiar flash of white light flicked for a microsecond and once the white light abated, another six-foot hole in the exterior wall had disintegrated. The alley where they had been standing earlier was devoid of attackers.
The building groaned and the ceiling sagged.
“Back door is open!” the large man bellowed out into the hallway.
Olivia keyed her radio. “Lets go! Everyone out the back! Scout, you’re good to clear out now.”
Turning back to the tub, Olivia picked up Sara and the attached machine in her left arm, and the other girl leaped up into her right, wrapping her arms tightly around her neck. Olivia was surprised at how strong the little arms were. “Close your eyes, sweetie. Hold on tight.” It felt as though she was carrying an extra hundred pounds.
Olive stepped through the wall and out into the moonlight as the men peeled back from the firefight.
“Frag out,” came over the radio, and Olive stepped further out around the protection of the wall before a dull thud near the front of the house reduced the number of their attackers. Feeling exposed with no weapon in her hands, she shifted tighter to the wall. Sweat was pouring down her back, and the little girl clung to her as though trying to choke her out.
The large man ran past her and she turned to follow, holding her precious cargo.
“Team two, we are going to be using the primary extraction point,” Jay said. “No change. We have gone loud, and are currently en-route to you and taking fire.”
Olivia didn’t hear the confirmation over the radio as she focused on the cracking noises from inaccurate automatic gunfire blasting by them. Occasionally a red tracer round would punch through the night and careen wildly.
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