Strider Hunter remained clung to the ceiling of the office, upside-down and still cloaked by his stealth imager. There he had witnessed the completion of Hiryu’s first objective: the elimination of Bernard Vyson. Precise, efficient, and lethal. Hiryu took perhaps a little too much time conversing with the target, a trivial matter that he wouldn’t mention to Vice Director Matic.
As soon as Hiryu left the office, Hunter dropped noiselessly from the ceiling to his feet. He approached the now cooling corpse of the target and simply stared at it. Distasteful and dishonorable, how the pathetic man had met his end; pleading for his life, not even attempting to fight for a chance. He didn’t even deserve the merciful speed of his death, and in that Hiryu showed his humanity.
Hunter’s own first kill had not been so forgiving. An elderly priest, one whose family had gotten too close to a vast crime syndicate. The priest needed to be silenced, and there had been fear in the old man’s eyes, too. Fear, but not cowardice…he met his end with dignity. Hunter remembered those defiant eyes as he slashed the old priest’s throat. It took a long time for him to die, the faint gurgling resounding in his ears until he breathed no more. Hunter had walked away from it, pleased at the time. Perhaps a part of his humanity had died with him, there on that cold wet street...
Screams suddenly echoed through the halls outside the office, wrenching back Hunter through time. Sounds of heavy weapons fire and a cypher blade slicing through metal and flesh. Hiryu is much quicker than I thought. Hunter sprinted out of the office, hurriedly recording his monitoring report.
Down several corridors lay mangled and eviscerated corpses…the torn bodies of Vyson’s personal guards and security forces. Blood stained everything, spattered on the walls and carpeting, linking the carcasses in a demonic crimson pool. Among them the wreckage of robotic sentries, their machine-gun turrets still smoldering. At the end of the hall Hunter saw the gaping elevator shafts, the elevator doors slashed open and aside. Hiryu was already on his way to destroy the database vaults.
The rank air beside Hunter abruptly warped and distorted, until the slender figure of Vermillion materialized. Her eyes went wide as she spoke. “How could Hiryu have survived this…this assault without stealth or assistance? They outnumbered him ten to one, all heavily armed, and yet he plowed directly through them!”
No response came. He found himself gazing upon the massacre in silence, now sure that there was more to come. Truly it was a sight to behold.
“Come on,” he finally said, sprinting toward the elevator shafts. “We’ve got to keep moving.”
The underground vaults holding GeissTech’s information databases proved to be secure indeed. Five rectangular rooms of reinforced composite steel, access code entry only. All containing computer systems and data storage of all the company’s important files, documents, designs, blueprints, etc. Designed to be impregnable. A lesser man would have aborted his mission, but a Strider would die trying.
Hiryu hacked apart the last robotic sentry with ease, sending its circuitry flying in all directions. It was relatively simple to dispatch the machines and the few human guards that confronted him, but more would be coming and would consume his strength and time. He still had not broken through the first vault door yet, and there were four more vaults to be destroyed. Hiryu stood back from the door and with both hands on his Falchion blade, swung fiercely upward. The already-weakened slab of metal screeched a last time as it split itself down the middle, finally allowing access to the treasure within.
Wasting no time, Hiryu set to work. A series of slashes here and there, and the electronic devices crumbled in a shower of metal and electricity, ruined and unable to be salvaged. This room was done, but four remained. There had to be an easier way to destroy them all.
Behind him approached rapid footsteps. Hiryu leapt into the air and somersaulted just as ferocious gunfire burst into the room. The stunned guards reacted too slowly as Hiryu landed behind them in the blink of an eye. The Strider slashed high and spun low with another sweep of the blade, and two human guards fell aside—decapitated and halved at the waist. Amid the spurting bodies the last guard opened fire and sprayed his bullets frantically at the inhuman thing. Hiryu held Falchion up vertically and blocked the on-target rounds, then retaliated with lightning fast speed. The guard collapsed in a heap, dead before his shriek could echo through the vaults.
Time was still against him, for reinforcements in their sheer numbers could still overpower his efforts. There just had to be another way to obliterate the remaining targets. Hiryu thought a few moments in a rushed but sustained manner. An idea hit him suddenly, one that might work if executed correctly. His focus shifting, Hiryu raced out of the vaults and farther down the dimly lit corridor.
Hunter and Vermillion pressed themselves against the walls as they saw Hiryu dash past them, unaware of their invisible presence. They looked on as he turned a dark corner and vanished.
“Where is he going?” Vermillion asked in a low voice. “Objective Two has not been completed.”
Hunter noted the young woman’s concern. He too wondered what strategy was developing in Hiryu’s mind. “Wait here.” Without a sound he gave chase, preparing himself for anything.
Down the dark winding passage, Hunter felt his legs straining to keep up. Maybe he was getting too old for this after all. Unlike Hiryu, who seemed like a relentless machine with his speed and agility. And the proficiency in which the young Strider had cut down all those guards…amazing. After Vyson, what were a dozen more killings to him? Killing was one of those things that got easier each time, for better or worse.
At last Hunter came upon another long corridor, the end of which stood double doors that had been ripped through. From where he stood more slashing sounds came from within. Confused, Hunter glanced around for any clues, wondering what business Hiryu had down there. Then he saw the warning signs pointing down the corridor: “Power Core Generator.” Realization hit home, and Hunter narrowed his eyes as he looked back toward the end of the hall.
The first rumbling came with a muted blast, shaking the very earth beneath his feet. Then came another, and another, until he heard the largest and loudest explosion yet. The ground trembled continuously now, and at the end of the corridor orange light intensified. Suddenly a huge fireball emerged from the generator room, like an awakened, angry behemoth from its lair. And directly in front of it raced Strider Hiryu.
In astonishment, Hunter didn’t even realize the oncoming threat until the blue streak that was Hiryu had dashed past him. In an instant Hunter followed, already feeling the waves of heat wash over him from behind. Hiryu means to wipe out the entire complex! The devastating explosions had started to bring the building down; large chunks of concrete rained down as obstacles. Hunter kept on Hiryu’s trail, knowing that he had to get Vermillion out of there as well. Up the winding passage, he broke away from the direction Hiryu dashed, turning left toward the vaults.
He saw Vermillion standing near the open doorway, yelling something at him. But all he could hear was the deafening roar of the angry flare rolling behind him. “Run!” was all he could shout, and took hold of the young woman’s arm. She understood, and kept beside him as they both dashed upward toward the stairs, hoping that there was a quick way out. They reached the first floor lobby and acting on pure instinct, crashed through the windows and to the outside.
Both Striders sprinted out onto the fields and dove behind a knoll, just as the underground explosions swelled to the breaking point. All at once, the entire building erupted. Entire floors gave way as the thundering explosions blew up and outward, culminating in a gigantic blaze toward the sky. Within moments, glass and debris rained down everywhere as the once powerful GeissTech headquarters was now reduced to fiery rubble.
Calmly, though he was grateful to be still in one piece, Hunter glanced over to Vermillion. She laid on her side, awake and alive, her eyes blinking as if to remind herself the reality of it all. “Are you all right?” he shouted over the smaller explosions filling the air. She only nodded; behind the mask he could see her lips trying to form words, but to no avail. Not an unusual reaction, considering they had almost been flash-fried. He would just shrug it aside, remembering even closer calls, but the young woman would undoubtedly never forget what had happened here.
With a satisfied sigh, he looked up. Above them, the outline of a Glider sped away from the area, rocketing to the east coast. His objectives completed, Strider Hiryu sped to his next destination.
“This is turning out to be more than I bargained for,” Hunter said to no one in particular. But this still remained an important mission for him, and to all the Striders. If Hiryu, who was merely at the starting point of his vocation, was capable of such skill, then imagine what he could do in his prime. Perhaps their future looked brighter after all, with Hiryu leading the way. He would be a force to be reckoned with, and then some.
He reached on his belt and signaled his own Glider, doing the same for the still-stunned Vermillion. What little rest they could get along the way would be welcome, but for now they had to get going after Hiryu.
There were still two more objectives to be completed.