Standing next to the doorway Kira and I had originally entered, nearly parallel to our position, one of the two running mercenaries shouldered a cocked AK-47. He skidded to a halt. AK-47 front sights lined up on our position. Even before I reached down to tug Odera into motion, two bolts sprouted from his chest in the next heartbeat. A figure garbed in black discarded a discharged mini-crossbow. As the mercenary fell to the floor, Kira stalked her second prey on the dead run.
The remaining gun bearer pressed the magazine release button to swap out his exhausted banana clip, one eye on Kira as she charged forward, sword drawn and held out in front. It seemed as though Kira ran in slow motion. Heartfelt concern that she might not reach him quickly enough fostered unworthy doubts in me about her ability. The reality was that her opponent recognized he would not swap in the new magazine and jack the firing bolt in time, so he chucked his rifle at Kira, and withdrew the jungle machete encased in a long leather holster at his waist.
Japanese steel swung right to left in hidari yokogiri smoothly swept away the tumbling rifle. Two more steps and Kira launched herself high into the air. The mercenary now held a jungle machete with a long and broadly curved blade in one hand, a heavy K-Bar combat knife in the other. Before Kira completed shinchokugiri, head splitter, the vertical downward cut, her opponent dove to the side and rolled gracefully back to his feet.
“Who are you?” asked the man as he circled to the weak side. His question met silence. “You think you have skills cuz you dress pretty? Puto. I’ll show you how we do it in the jungle. I’ll cut off your balls and stuff them in your mouth for your bitch mother to fish out.”
Before the last word crossed his lips, he came in high with the machete and low with the K-Bar’s surgical steel point. Graceful and sure, Kira sidestepped to the man’s right, away from the dagger, and locked blades with the machete. Before she executed the next manoeuvre, the man raised his knee and drove it into her side as he pushed off from her, surprised at the lack of resistance.
Kira let herself be shoved backward disarming a portion of her opponent’s strength, but the strike had contained too much brute force for her to absorb all of it. The ribs on her left side throbbed keenly. The blow had threatened to drive the wind from her. She had no more time to recover as the man stepped forward and swung at her knees with the machete. Steel rang out as her sword intercepted his blade. The jungle fighter let his body keep turning one-hundred and eighty degrees with the momentum of his swing until the other hand grasping the K-Bar slashed into play. Its wickedly curved tip sliced past black cloth and into Kira’s upper thigh as he completed the spinning strike.
Dancing from side to side like some version of a cobra swaying hypnotically to lull its prey, the jungle fighter smiled thinly. Warm rivulets of blood leaked down Kira’s leg. The wound had not crippled her ability to move, but she felt the pain begin as her opponent began another spinning strike that brought one and then the other edged weapon into play. Once, and then twice, Kira deflected incredibly quick blows from the heavier machete, forced to the defensive as the quicker and smaller K-Bar sought unprotected flesh. Her blade flashed out, but always the man allowed his spinning momentum to carry him beyond reach.
Kira assumed jōdan-no-gamae, the high stance, and waited for the jungle fighter to enter her sphere. As he began another attack inside her sphere, Kira short-stepped forward to issue kirioroshi, cutting downward, interrupting his rhythm. He shuffled awkwardly to the outside and struck back inside with a graceless crosswind. Rather than block the strike, Kira lunged forward and into the air where she executed a front roll. When her front foot hit the ground to land her in a three-point position facing forward, she swung backward.
Monouchi, the last three inches of her katana, severed tendon and muscle as it passed cleanly through the man’s hamstring. When he lunged awkwardly at Kira’s unprotected back, dragging his injured leg, thinking to end the fight in one fell swoop, she uncoiled from her three-point stance, launching herself up and back, performing an acrobatic one-handed back spring. His strike passed beneath her back spring, missing her body and hand as she flowed backward to land again in the three-point position where she looked into her adversary’s eyes as she drove the point of her sword through the jungle fighter’s chest.
It bisected his heart to exit his back.
“Arigatō,” said Kira as the man’s astonished expression showed that he understood a woman had shortened his life. When she withdrew her blade, the man collapsed to the ground. “My art has benefited. Die well.”
Kira wiped her blade clean on his back.
I yelled, “Blossom! Over here.”
When she sighted me, I motioned to her to hurry and turned to Odera who thrashed from side to side trying to look over her shoulder at her back.
“I’ve been shot! Bruce, I’ve been shot. Help me.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as I ran my hands up and down Odera’s back where the bullet had struck to find nothing more than a six-inch leather and Spectra fibre furrow. The steep angle upon which the bullet had hit spared Odera a head-on impact. The Spectra fibre leather coat had performed as advertised.
“Stop worming around,” I ordered, pressing and feeling the section of her back where the slug had slid along.
It had missed her spine, so I checked for broken ribs.
“Ow. Ow. Ow. What are you doing? Ow. Ow. Stop. That hurts!”
Nothing broken, just bruising, almost certainly.
“You’re wearing a bulletproof coat. If you can complain that loudly, then you are not that hurt.”
“Bulletproof? I am? That is, I’m not bleeding? Frig that hurts. That sick bitch shot me.”
“Ready yourself to move. That debris cloud won’t screen us forever. And we have less than four minutes before the next detonation. Another three minutes after that and I’m expecting a big finale that will rock the joint to its knees. Kira’s on her way to us as I speak.”
“I am not sharing your holidays again. Ever. Unless I choose the destination,” she said pulling the Mac Eleven out of the coat pocket. “Wait till I see that wetback blowtorch-bearing butch bitch. She fucking shot me.” A few seconds passed. “Two more explosions? What? Where is she?”
I swapped out the Mac Eleven’s empty clip for her, jacked the bolt and put it back in her hand.
“Yup. Should be here any second. She just downed a pair of uglies.”
No sooner had I gotten the words out of my mouth than Kira limped around the corner startling Odera. I had cautiously placed my hand on top of the Mac Eleven to ensure it did not rise.
“Lean on me,” I said to Kira and took her by the arm. “I’ll help you to sit down. I need to bind that leg. Can’t have you dripping DNA everywhere.”
Kira pulled down her face covering and said around clenched teeth, “Very heartened to find you alive, Odera.”
The sound of cotton cloth ripping, as I tore Kira’s cotton pants from mid-thigh to crotch and jostled her leg, preceded a sharp moan and a tensed body as she fought the urge to pull back from me. The torn pant leg exposed a four-inch slash in her upper thigh. Perhaps an inch deep. It bled freely, seeping out of muscle steadily, but not profusely. No pumpers. No ruptured arteries.
“This will hurt, but I’ll make it quick.”
Kira nodded and braced herself for pain, resting one hand on my leg to steady herself from moving. Odera grabbed her other hand.
“Did you really kill men for me?”
“They die because they make the wrong decisions and protested our presence,” answered Kira in a rising voice as I tentatively pressed the wound’s edges together. A five-inch gash ran from the upper middle quadrant of her outer thigh to the center of thigh. “More will protest our departure. I estimate eight other gunmen.”
Kira relaxed as I shed my vest and removed my T-shirt before donning my vest again, saying, “It’s pretty deep, but all muscle, I think. It missed the femoral artery, but it’s up pretty high. There might be potential tendon and ligament damage. We need to get you to a doctor, Kira. Just to be safe. You need stitches, not just to close the wound. Understand?”
“Bind it tightly so I can travel. Father has medical knowledge; he will know how to treat it.”
“This will sting.”
Kira’s backpack contained vital first aid items which included an aerosol can filled with a substance called instant bandage, which I more aptly felt should be named crazy glue in a can. I folded my T-shirt lengthways into a wide band, stripped it into two pieces using my katana, and blotted the blood from her wound. At Kira’s nod, I pressed the edges of her wound together with my left hand, squeezing her flesh closed between thumb and forefinger. She gripped my leg harder and harder as her pain grew, but otherwise remained still. I wiped the damaged areas dry one more time and sprayed a light coating of instant bandage over it. Once I had covered the wound and waited five seconds for it to harden, I slowly removed my left hand from the wound. Kira’s flesh held together. Her grip loosened until I pinched closed the upper portion of the cut that I could not reach the first time and depressed the nozzle again to apply a second heavier second coat across the entire gash. Having refolded the second half of the T-shirt, I bound her leg as tightly as I dared without cutting off its circulation.
“Sorry about that,” I said to her as the blood returned to her face. “Now, if you two ladies don’t object, I’d like to leave. We’ve outstayed our welcome.” I helped Kira to her feet. “We do not want to be here when the last pipe bomb says hello. Do we Kira?”
“Would not be wise, brother,” said Kira forcing a grin.
“How does it feel? Can you run?”
“Good. Yes. I can travel, but maybe not quickly.”
“Lean on Odera as much as you can to keep your weight off it.” Looking at Odera, I said, “Don’t forget about the safety lever. Down to fire. Finger off the trigger until you see a target. And do not point that at me. At the ceiling.”
“God, you’re bossy. Where’s Gomez?”
“Headed downstairs would be my guess. I bet they’re plenty pissed at you.” I checked my watch. “Thirty seconds.”
“Me? What did I do? Hey, you never really answered me about my condo. You must want me to move in with you pretty badly to have blown it up. Did you know he blew up my condo, Kira?”
“He admitted that he was present at the time of explosion,” she answered helpfully, limping well, bracing herself against Odera’s left side. “Never did he deny outright responsibility.”
“We need a girl’s night out, away from Bruce, so we can compare notes.”
“Have you tried sake? Rice wine very good for the sinuses.”
“Any more out of you two and I’m joining the other side.” I consulted my watch. “Five seconds. Cover your ears and don’t hold your breath. Here we go.”
Seconds later the copper and brass hoppers exploded, blowing apart like fragment grenades. Burning molten globs of muddy material splattered everywhere. A large fire that had not been present earlier jumped to life behind us. An overhead water pipe burst. Plant workers screamed and yelled at each other. Several people raced by our position oblivious to our presence.
“Kira, watch our backs. I’ll take point. We have three minutes to travel the length of the plant. Did you find the video storage computer?”
“Yes. Close to shipping and receiving behind a locked door.”
“Did you destroy the video data drive?”
“No. They have two active computer rooms. One for backup, and one that monitors the plant offices, security features and video collection. I forced the backup computers to perform a hard drive format and cut all cables leading into the room. All data was destroyed, but not the collection room’s machines.”
“Then that’s our destination.”