Kunoichi

Fight Now, Bicker Later

Yori opened her eyes as if for the first time. The images were all blurry, like looking at the rain through a plastic sheet that had been thrown over her face; but gradually, and this was slower than she would have liked, Yori began to see the world clearly. She was in some sort of transport vehicle—a helicopter if the sound of propellers was any indication—with Kimiko sitting not too far off to the side. The assassin looked at her once, her face judgmental. "About time you woke up."

"How…long?" Her entire face felt groggy, like she'd just woken up after a serious operation and the anesthesia had yet to wear off. Time seemed to stand still as Yori slowly regained control of her body. It was agonizingly slow, but with every passing second, Yori could feel her strength returning.

"A couple hours, I'd guess," Kimiko shrugged. "They had to fix you up before transporting you. Guess you can thank me for that. If I hadn't messed you up as bad as I did, we'd have been airborne a long time ago." She gave Yori's prone form a pleased look. "She did a good job. You would never know I'd broken your arm."

The kunoichi managed to lift her head and turn it. The top half of her gi had been removed so as to gain access to her broken limb. Her chest was covered in white wrappings that protected her decency as well as provide warmth without taking away freedom of movement. Her left arm had been completely healed. Yori flexed it for confirmation and sure enough it was as good as new. Come to think of it, her body had recovered entirely from her battle with Kimiko. Yori could not recall when she felt so rejuvenated.

Sitting up, Yori pulled her gi back on. Once she tied the waist, Yori regarded Kimiko with a stern face. "What happened after I was knocked out?"

"You weren't knocked out, Yori. She turned you off."

"She?"

"Yo-Yo." Kimiko fidgeted slightly at the name. It was sullen but Yori saw the way her fingers tensed along the fabric of her one-piece yellow body suit. "Of all the freaks in Saito's army, it had to be her."

"Who is she?"

"What is she?" Kimiko corrected. "I have no idea. An experiment gone wrong. A possessed child. The result of a coupling between a man and a demon. Your guess is as good as mine."

"You said she turned me off. What did you mean?"

"It means exactly what it means. She wanted you to stop moving—so you stopped moving."

Yori's face whitened. "S-She can do that?"

"You just saw it, didn't you?"

"But…I didn't."

"She did the same thing to me just before she did it to you. Once Yo-Yo wants to play there's no getting out. We were done."

Yori tried to wrap her head around the concept of a magically-induced child. She had seen many strange and frightening things in her years, but never had she come across a…a demon child, if that was what Kimiko hinted at. Children are the most innocent things in the world. For anything so pure to be corrupted is too horrible to contemplate. Only a monster as cruel as Saito would employ a child like that in his army.

Yori turned to the window. It was dark outside. She could see nothing but emptiness on the ground below, though she could still make out mountains in the distance. They must be traveling over a very rural area of Japan for there were only a handful of lights that she could make out; probably from a passing car on a solitary road.

"Where are we going?" She asked Kimiko.

"Probably to one of Saito's private estates. He has scores hidden throughout the country."

"You don't seem disturbed."

She shrugged.

"You mean to do nothing?"

"We're a hundred feet above ground. You want to jump? Be my guest."

Yori could not argue with her there.

"Sometimes it's just best to wait for the right opportunity. Saito's men will let their guard down eventually. That is when we try to…"

"We will try nothing."

Kimiko stopped talking.

"I do not work with traitors."

"Yori,"

"You betrayed me."

"I could have killed you. I didn't."

"That does not excuse you."

Kimiko sat cross-legged on the opposing side of the helicopter. Her arms were folded beneath her breasts and she seemed more agitated than afraid of their current situation. The older woman was an image of strength, of fortitude, and Yori may have found her demeanor inspiring had she not discovered her true motives. Right now her eyes were filled with contempt.

Kimiko did sigh, though. Fighting was one thing; talking was another. Yusuke once commented how she loved to talk.

"I admired you when we first met. I believed you to be a woman of great honor. Now I find that could not be farther from the truth. You are a liar. You manipulated me for personal gain. How my father's belief in you could be so misplaced I will never understand."

"You never knew Kenji," Kimiko stated.

"Of that you are right." Yori turned back to the window. "I do not understand this world. These Yakuza are worse than barbarians. Saito is even worse than that. Knowing my parents were once a part of them has made me question everything I thought I knew about myself. Master Sensei never told me anything about my family. He always said I would learn when the time is right and from the right person."

"Was I that person, Yori?"

"Right is one word I would never associate with you."

"Ouch."

"Do not make light of this. While I admit circumstances may have driven you down this path, I can never forgive you for what you have done."

"Hate me if that makes you feel better. It won't change anything."

Yori glared at her.

"Saito has us both. He is closer to obtaining the power he craves and he has you to thank for it. Had you not led him straight to me,"

"Had you not used me to begin with…"

"Quiet!" Kimiko snapped. "Fighting amongst ourselves will get us nowhere."

"I told you that I have no intention of joining forces."

"You may not have a choice. Without me you don't stand a chance."

"I have faced these odds before."

"Not with Saito. Not with her."

Standing up, Yori marched about halfway toward Kimiko. "If you are so afraid of this girl, then what makes you think you can defeat Saito? You're scared of her. A child! How do you plan measuring up against the most powerful man in Japan if you cannot hope to defeat just one of his minions?"

"I admit I did not think Saito would send Yo-Yo after me. He usually keeps her busy with more pressing matters closer to home." Kimiko gave Yori a look that said "don't ask." "But now that she's here it can only mean one thing. Saito is desperate. For him to send his most powerful soldier against us means he feels he is running out of time."

"Out of time for what? He wants my father. Kenji Ishimura has been missing for five years. Why is it so important that he be found this instant?"

"Kenji knew things about the Yakuza even Saito could not fathom. Fujimori passed his secrets onto Kenji in hopes of keeping them from the ears of his enemies. When your father left the Yakuza with Yuriko, it was with the understanding that so long as the daughter lived, the father would be untouchable and vice versa. This meant that your father would be left alone as well, forever guarding the secrets passed down to him by the head of the clan."

"But surely my grandfather would pass away eventually. That would have voided the pact he made with the demons."

"Your reasoning makes sense. As I've told you, Kenji never shared what he knew with me. All I can surmise is that something must have happened. Perhaps Fujimori betrayed the Youma. Maybe the demons decided to alter the deal. Or…someone found a loophole and took advantage of it."

"Saito?"

"Maybe. But something about this doesn't feel right. Saito believes I know where to find Kenji. I too thought the same of him. When we meet, all we can do is look each other in the eye and shrug our shoulders. We'll be back where we started."

"So all your scheming will be for nothing." A defiant smirk creased her beautiful face. "For once I am glad I have been of little use."

But Kimiko did not hear. She was still trying to put the pieces together. She muttered under her breath.

"What is it?"

"I'm not sure." Yori watched as she scratched her chin. "I think that perhaps there is another."

"Another who?"

At that, the assassin chuckled. "You really have no idea how this game is played do you?"

Yori pouted.

"It's called exploitation. People use one another to get what they want. You learned that lesson firsthand. Most don't get a second chance."

"You're a good teacher."

Kimiko did not miss the sarcasm in her voice. "Regardless of how you feel about me, it's time you listened and listened well. Each of us; you, me, and Saito, need to find Kenji for one reason or another. None of us know how to do that but fate, it seems, has seen fit to bring the three of us together for that purpose."

"You believe someone else is using us to find my father?"

"Perhaps. But I think there's more to it than that. Seems an awful lot of trouble to go through just to gather three people who have no idea where to find Kenji Ishimura. I believe that whoever is manipulating us knows this to be true."

"Then why the deception?"

"Deception is the point. Make your enemies do all the work while you reap the rewards."

"I do not understand."

Kimiko felt a twinge of guilt for all she put Yori through. Despite having grown up in a secret ninja school, she still is in many ways a child. Her naivety and innocence strikes a cord in Kimiko's heart that she did not know she had any longer. True she did use Yori and had seriously wounded her, but her intent was never to bring harm to the girl she helped bring into this world. Poor Yori was a victim of circumstance, forced to face the truth before she was ready.

And she had Kimiko to thank for that.

She blinked once as if that could stem the tide of guilt that had slowly begun to spill through her barriers. It is hard to believe that a girl she had not seen in eighteen years can have this affect on her. Maybe this is what they meant when referring to the power of a child. Afterall, she was one of the first to ever hold Yori in her arms back when the child could not even open her eyes. She was so warm. Kimiko did not want to let her go.

She found herself staring at Yori.

"What?"

"I'm not sure," She answered.

But the more she looked at Yori, the less convincing her statement became. Kimiko was aware of this, hence she turned away.

"What aren't you telling me?"

"Nothing you do not already know."

"If you expect us to work together then I suggest you start by being honest with me. Tell me what you think you know."

Kimiko said nothing.

Yori leaned in, her eyes scrutinizing the assassin.

"We should rest. We're going to need our strength for the trials ahead." Kimiko sat herself down, relaxing her body as best she can in the hard-matted seat.

"Kimiko," Yori pressed but the look the assassin gave her was so stern that it left no more room for discussion. Like it or not, Yori wasn't getting anything else out of the woman.

"Rest, Yori," she said with finality.


When word of their escape became public knowledge, the teens made a break for it.

Kim and Ron took point while the ninja trailed behind. Focused as she is, Kim could not shake the feeling that this was all too easy. Even some of Drakken's lairs proved more of a challenge than this. These Yakuza are either too overconfident or they had just walked into a trap.

Given their luck, Kim betted on the second outcome. She waited for the proverbial foot to drop.

"KP!"

Kim heard Ron's warning and spotted a group of Yakuza who had come around a corner. Once they spotted the escaped prisoners and their American cohorts, the men charged. "Let's go, Ron."

"Got ya covered, Ki—" Ron was cut short as Hoshi and Hiro leaped over their heads. The ninja went to work on the gangsters. Team Possible watched as they neutralized the Yakuza with almost laughable ease. When the last man dropped, Hoshi dusted off her hands and flashed Kim and Ron a peace sign.

"Whoa."

"Come on, Ron." Kim hooked an arm around her awed boyfriend and proceeded to lead them out of the bunker. She was very impressed with the way Hiro and that girl ninja handled the Yakuza. Between the four of them, any black-suited henchmen they came across did not stand a chance. So why did she have that nagging feeling in the back of her head telling her it was far from over?

Ahead of them was an elevator which opened up to reveal two hooded men. "I've got this one."

"Ron!" It was too late. Before Kim could stop him, Ron charged headfirst. He did a flying kick aimed at the one on the right. A gloved hand caught Ron's foot in midair. With a twist, it sent Ron falling flat on his face.

"Meant to do that," Ron said through pained teeth.

The man lifted Ron up like he was as light as a feather and threw him back. The teens parted ways before Ron could bowl them over. He came to a halt on the far wall. "Are you all right, Stoppable-san?" Hiro asked.

He gave a weak thumbs-up.

"No one tosses my boyfriend around like that." Kim turned to face the hoods who stepped out of the elevator. She charged one of them, punching so as to throw him off guard. The man blocked them and leaped over a kick Kim meant to sweep his feet out from under him. This guy's good, Kim thought. She went on defense as the man began attacking her next.

"Allow me to assist you." Hirotaka came in at an opposing side, offering a glancing kick that threw the man off guard. Kim took advantage of the opening and did a spinning back kick that caught him square in the gut. The man moved back but appeared unphased.

"Nicely done," Hiro applauded.

Kim was bent over rubbing her foot. "Something's not right. No one's abs are that hard. I feel like I kicked the side of a truck."

The two men pulled back their hoods revealing two faceless heads. Other than the design of a human head there are no discernable features.

"What is this?" Hirotaka took a cautious step back.

"The other foot," Kim grumbled as she got into fighting stance.

The faceless men charged.


Several armed men were there to meet them on arrival. Yori did not recognize who they are. They donned black uniforms with black caps and carried firearms more resonate of the military. Is this Saito's private army?

"Mercenaries," Kimiko spoke as if reading her mind. "Ex-cops. Dishonorably discharged servicemen. Out of work bouncers. Recently-released prisoners. It's amazing whose loyalty you can buy with the right amount of money."

"He commands so many."

"Nothing we can't handle." She offered Yori a wink like they were friends. Yori didn't like it, but she kept her focus solely on the man approaching the chopper. It was Minobu and he was escorted by two soldiers. The firearms they wielded did not look like any military-standard issue. Not that Yori was an expert on such things. The muzzle of the gun was cone-shaped, about five inches thick. It appeared to have a rotating mechanism that allowed it to fire multiple rounds. A fat box constituted the clip. Obviously the gun ate up bullets at an alarming rate, requiring the use of extra munitions. It didn't seem that agile, though. They looked more like portable machines guns rather than rifles. A weapon like that is meant to spray a hail of bullets at the enemy—not for precision shooting.

This could be a good thing—if there weren't so many of them. The landing platform was bare with no hiding places. Yori is fast, but even she couldn't dodge bullets let alone a dozen guns capable of firing hundreds of rounds per second.

Minobu waited while one of the guards opened the door then greeted them with a smile.

"Welcome! Saito-sama will be pleased to know you've returned unharmed. I trust your flight was enjoyable?"

"No in-flight movie," Kimiko said. "Though Yori and I did have plenty of time to catch up."

"Saito-sama will be very interested to hear all about it. Come. Our limo is just this way."

"Champagne?"

"Of course."

"Blow it out your ass."

"Such language. I should think your flight would have given you time to see the wisdom in your cooperation. Need I remind you that you are hopelessly outnumbered?"

"Need I remind you that you are hopelessly outmatched?"

His eyes widened.

"Yori!"

Kimiko dashed to the side while Yori jumped forward. Her target: Minobu. The guards immediately came to his aid but while their attention was focused on Yori, who for the moment provided the imminent threat, Kimiko flashed into existence right next to the first guard and disarmed him, flipped the weapon around so as to butt him in the face with it. The other guard was momentarily distracted by this and that's where Yori's flying kick caught him square in the face. He went down even harder than his companion. Exposed, Minobu cried for his men for help. Their weapons were leveled at the two women but by then Yori had grabbed Minobu and pulled his arm into a lock behind his back. She used him as a human shield as she faced the guards.

"Throw down your weapons," She commanded. "Unless you want to explain to your master why you failed to protect one of his most valuable assets."

The soldiers looked to one another. One by one, they each discarded their guns.

Kimiko picked up the weapon she took from the guard. She leveled it at Saito's men. "Impressive, Yori."

"You provide an adequate distraction."

"I mean you're learning. Saito doesn't see his men as people, but tools. You are right to call Minobu-san here an asset." She gave the man a devilish smile. "But assets can always be replaced can't they, Minobu?"

"You are making a grievous error," he started. Yori's hand tightened the hold on his arm. Her face was just up to his shoulder, high enough for her to whisper into his air.

"You are a fool if you think us willing to walk into the lion's den."

"You don't understand. You cannot win."

"He's right."

Yori was startled to hear the words come from Kimiko's mouth. She gave her a questioning look.

"You didn't forget Minobu's little partner did you?"

Still holding onto Minobu very tightly, Yori glanced over her shoulder to the little girl standing between them and the transport chopper. She was wearing a red dress with furls on the shoulders. The skirt was ripped in some places but that did not take away from her beauty. Short black hair cropped around her head provided the illusion of a curtain. Her skin was near alabaster white and she had eyes so dark it was almost impossible to look away from them. The girl had a doll with her; an aging doll that it had been made in the last century. It might have been pretty once, but the doll was too tattered now.

"Yo-Yo." Kimiko tightened her hold on the weapon. Yo-Yo eyed her. The assassin loosened her grip. Yori didn't know whether the girl had made Kimiko do that on her own or was it the assassin who didn't want to make any false moves. If she could just "turn off" Kimiko and Yori back in the street like that, having Kimiko drop her weapon would be child's play.

Minobu choked out an order. "Yo-Yo! Disable these ruffians so that we can be on our way."

"Is this part of your plan?" Yori said.

"Somewhat," Kimiko admitted. "Say, Yo-Yo. You want to play?"

"Play?" Yori shivered at the sound of the voice. It was so sweet and innocent. They spared another glance at the girl. Her face was solemn…almost sad. Her blank stare reminded Yori of someone who had lost all hope.

"Hope?"

Yori's eyes widened. Who said that?

"You said Hope," came the voice.

Yori looked around. "Who is speaking?"

"She is."

"The voice…it sounds like it's in my head."

"That's because it is. Do you see the child's mouth moving?" Kimiko eyed Yo-Yo suspiciously. "She's talking through your head."

"But,"

"Telepathy. She can't speak."

"I don't understand."

Kimiko sighed. "Telepaths use their minds to communicate. They can send and receive images, signals, even words. From what I know, this girl has never been able to talk. Her powers give her the ability to speak through the minds of others." Kimiko looked at Yori. "She can also read minds."

"What?"

"Don't think."

"But I…"

"Yo-Yo!" Minobu cried. "Stop them now!"

Inhaling, Yori turned to Yo-Yo. Something was different. Her face now had a broad smile and her large oval eyes had shrunk to tiny pupils. Never had she'd seen something so scary. "Play time!"

In a flash, Kimiko moved. She dived to the side and opened fire. Her target was the fuel silage on the chopper. A few good rounds and the whole thing went up. Yo-Yo was caught in the explosion.

Yori grabbed Minobu. The two of them were blown off their feet. Yori collapsed atop Minobu, nearly losing consciousness. She fought through the pain and tried to subdue the ringing in her ears. Yori remained low as shrapnel began flying in every direction. A couple of small bits cut into her uniform and she winced as one pierced the skin. Blood began to trickle.

The heat was intense but Yori knew she had to move. Pieces of the chopper began falling about the pad. The soldiers ducked and covered. One of them was hit by a large piece of metal. It decapitated him instantly. There were screams and orders began flailing about. Yori spared one quick look at Minobu who was still out cold. Despite everything he is and what he has done, she still saved him. Some might call her a fool, but Yori was no killer. Besides he was harmless. The real threat was all around her.

She heard someone calling out to her. Her ears picked up the sound of gunfire. Kimiko was shooting at Saito's men. The rounds went of endlessly.

"Yori!" She cried. A soldier went down in a stream of bullets. A couple began shooting back. Kimiko got onto her stomach and rolled, firing as she did. She managed to pick one more off before rolling up to Yori. "Let's go!" Still dazed, Kimiko managed to pick Yori off her feet and drag her towards the edge. She kept shooting to keep the guards off their footing while trying to get Yori to shake herself out of it. "Pick up the pace!"

They just reached the edge. The platform was situated in the middle of a forest. The midday sun blared against their skin and the fire wasn't making things any more tolerable. It was a good thirty-foot drop but Kimiko saw no option. They'll have to grab one of those trees. "Jump."

"What?"

"She's not dead!"

At that, the fire parted and Yo-Yo appeared. She was surrounded by a globe, holding her ragged doll close to her body.

"Dammit, Yori!" Kimiko pushed her off. "Wake up!"

Yori did…and just in time. Screaming, the ninja reached out with her arms. She struck several branches which smacked against her face. She tasted blood. Her body was wracked around finally coming to a stop in the most painful way. She imagined if she were born a boy, she'd be paralyzed completely, but her lack of exposed genitals provided only a sharp pain between her legs. She cried out and fell over. Yori managed to grab another branch to stop her uncontrolled descent. Her weak hold gave way and she fell to the ground. Training made her duck and roll to absorb the impact.

Yori was still hurting, though. She moaned on the ground, writing as her brain registered each bump and bruise.

Shouting came from atop the platform. Bullets flew everywhere. A figure leaped off the top and came crashing down in much the same manner as Yori though landing with much better results.

Kimiko ran to Yori once she hit the ground. "You okay?"

"Was that really necessary?"

"Those men won't follow us the same way down. Even Saito doesn't pay that well."

"You killed her!" Yori spat. "You fired on a little girl. What kind of a monster are you?"

"I told you she's not dead. If she were that easy to kill don't you think somebody would have done her in a long time ago?"

"But the blast…"

"Was a distraction. Now we make our escape." She helped the girl up. "Now let's go." Kimiko dragged Yori a few steps until she managed to find her footing and move on her own. They heard soldiers shouting as they ran.

"How could she have survived the blast?"

"She's not a little girl. Don't forget that the next time we meet."

"I do not think I want there to be a next time."


With four against two it would seem the odds are in their favor. Not so. The teens found themselves against the wall. In Ron and Hoshi's case, it was literal.

Pinned against the wall as they were, they couldn't move. The humanoid Yakuza held them by their necks—choking them.

"KP," Ron tried to say.

Hoshi tried using her legs to kick but the body was too far away. She tried wrapping her legs around the arm but there were no pressure points to exploit. They were trapped.

"Ron!" Kim backed away from a roundhouse kick by the synthetic Yakuza next to Hirotaka. "They need help."

"They shall have it." Hiro cupped his hands together.

Taking the hint, she used him to jump over the synthetic humanoid. She landed behind the second and delivered a powerful kick against the back of the knee. It buckled and released Hoshi and Ron.

"Nice…save…KP." Ron rubbed his throat.

"Arigato," Hoshi said. "That means thank you."

"I figured as much." The synthetic twisted its upper body around to face Kim. Its arms grabbed her in a pincer and held her up. Kim squirmed but couldn't set herself free. "What are these things?"

"Put my GF down, roboboy!" Ron's eyes flashed blue. He jumped up and knocked the robot's head to the side with one powerful kick. It released Kim and struggled to realign its head.

"Thanks, Ron."

The glow vanished. "Uh-oh. Come on!"

"What was that?" Hoshi said.

"Mystical Monkey Power. It comes and it goes."

"Can you bring it back?"

The synthetic popped its head back into place and turned to Ron.

"Trying." He concentrated. "Failing." The synthetic reared back its arm. "Running!" Ron fled as the arm punched a hole through the wall.

Hoshi and Kim faced the synthetic back to back. "Any ideas, Kim Possible?"

"There's got to be a way to make this thing feel pain."

"It can always hear Hiro sing."

"Hey!" Hiro called from a distance.

"Or we can just hit it until something gives," Kim suggested.

"Works for me."


Ron was still running. He figured the synthetic would be chasing him so it never crossed his mind to stop and look. At full speed, he almost did not see the trapdoor in time. Ron did jump and reach the other end. What was on the bottom he could not see but he knew he didn't want to find out. "Too close for comfort, Ron Man."

Someone spotted him. Ron saw a bunch of Yakuza appear down the hall. One shouted in Japanese and they pulled out guns. Dumb luck allowed Ron to dodge some of the bullets, but it also made him lose his balance and fall into the pit. The Yakuza heard him scream. They all approached the pit as if wanting to see what became of the clumsy blonde-haired boy. What they got was a flash of blue light and Ron Stoppable flying out of the abyss. "Nani?!"

Ron bowled through them. He stopped once the glow faded and turned to admire his work. "Booyah! I think I'm getting the hang of this thing." His elbow touched the wall and hit a switch. The wall gave way revealing a control room of sorts. Numerous screens and panels flashed before his eyes. "Hm. That's convenient." He stepped in to take a look. Ron found schematics for the entire bunker not to mention the position of everyone inside. Several Yakuza were closing on Kim.

"KP!" Ron rummaged through the controls. "There's got to be a comm. system somewhere. Maybe I can tell her…" His fingers hit several buttons at once. Laser turrets and laser grids started going on line all over the place. The Yakuza suddenly found themselves facing their own security system. They yelped and jumped and leaped and cried, doing everything possible to escape. "Hey. Now this is what I'm talking about." He cracked his fingers. "Welcome to Ron's House of Pain."


In the battle of Man vs. Machine, Kim, Hirotaka, and Hoshi could not get a break.

These are skilled combatants, trained in various forms of martial arts. Yet all their training could not put them on the same level as their synthetic counterparts. The robots are just too fast, too strong, and lack any visible weakness. Kim Possible, legendary teen heroine, finds herself nearly outmatched. Hoshi Mifune and Hirotaka Sakaguchi, two of the finest young ninja to have ever lived, are slowly giving ground.

"Has anyone seen Ron?" Kim worried for him when he ran off. She always felt stronger when Ron was around. No matter how tough the opponent, Kim found that Ron had a way of leveling the playing field in his own unique way. They could sure use some leveling right about now.

Hoshi's voice called for her attention. Kim looked to the side where a part of the ceiling opened up, revealing a large laser turret. The turret took aim.

"Heads up!" Kim cried but before she could even move, the turret fired. One of the synthetic humanoids had its head disintegrated in a heartbeat. The body remained standing momentarily before it crumbled to the floor, flinching but showing no signs of continuing the fight.

Hirotaka didn't know what to make of it. "That was…unexpected."

Kim was smiling. "No. That was Ron."

The laser fired at the second synthetic but this one had the presence of mind to move. It avoided the turret's laser fire as it gradually began backing away to gain more freedom of movement. A second turret appeared from the opposite ceiling and started firing. The entire hall became one big shooting gallery. Too bad the synthetic was not the only one in the hall.

The teenagers were caught in a deadly crossfire. Hoshi yelped as a laser came too close for comfort. The skin on her left ankle had been singed after a near miss. She rolled on the floor and came up wincing.

"Hoshi!" Hirotaka tried to reach her but there was too much incoming fire.

Kim was closer. "Are you okay?"

"I'll live."

"Not for long!" Kim's tackled Hoshi's body out of the way of an incoming blast of concentrated plasma. The girls barreled right into the wall but were unharmed. Kim sat atop of Hoshi. "That was close."

"Thanks."

"No big."

"Am I intruding?" Hirotaka took a moment to tease them while he double jumped off the wall, on the ceiling, and flipped through the air, taking a knee as he landed next to them.

"Better get off me, Kim. Else Hiro reveals a turret of a different kind."

"I don't…" Green eyes widened. "Ewww!"

"My thoughts exactly."

"It appears to me that we are out of the target zone." Hiro's announcement proved true as the turrets were shooting only at the synthetic. Reaching into its pockets, it removed a thin disk which it then threw at the nearest turret. An explosion on impact destroyed the turret in a blaze of fire. A second disk likely removed the second turret from the playing field. Now that that was out of the way, the synthetic could turn its attention to its primary targets.

"Get ready!" Kim said. Hoshi and Hirotaka took up positions to either side. The synthetic approached them casually. If the thing understood what fear is it was sure hiding it well. Even alone with its partner destroyed, it seemed fully confident in its ability to defeat the threesome. Now just four steps away, the synthetic raised its arm for a swipe…

Then the ceiling came down.

A huge block slammed down hard on the synthetic. It struggled at first, using its remarkable strength to push the block up a few inches, but its durability paled in comparison to the tonnage behind the block. After a few more seconds, the block came all the way down and crushed the faceless man beneath it.

"Kay someone needs to explain this to me because I am stumped," Hoshi said.

"Apparently so is he." Hiro picked up a piece of the synthetic's arm that was nothing more than a crumpled-up piece of technology. A dangling finger twitched suddenly. Hiro dropped the destroyed limb and stood up to face the girls—namely Kim. "Did Ron Stoppable have something to do with this?"

"A chaotic element that happens to turn the tide at just the right moment? Yup. That's Ron."

"Impressive." A look of admiration came over his face.

"Confusing is all I'll say. Does this happen a lot?"

Kim gave Hoshi the most ironic smile she could manage. "You know, I've lost count."


Wiping the sweat from his brow, Ron finally got the chance to relax. It was touch and go there for a minute but through his seemingly divine ability to stumble onto the right thing at the right time he managed not only to keep the Yakuza busy but save the life of his girlfriend and their Japanese counterparts. He secretly thanked whatever powers that were watching over him and propped his feet up on the control console.

His foot struck a series of buttons which brought up a different display on the screen. An automated voice began to speak in Japanese.

Ron jerked his head about frantically trying to discern the meaning of the message. If only he paid more attention to his Japanese lessons he'd have no problems right now. Kay, those lessons were actually hours of watching imported anime on the television but his dad sure wasn't about to spend a fortune on a Category IV language course knowing his son's study habits. Ron did get the gist of it, though. A flashing red screen usually meant something was very wrong.

"Okay. Why are you angry and will this in any way have seriously painful repercussions for me?" He asked the computer. The Japanese voice repeated the same phrase over and over and when Ron did nothing the wall in the back slid open. A six-foot robot whose head consisted of a thin, red visor, slowly stepped out. It approached Ron soundlessly as it had no feet but tracks whose noise was silenced thanks to special mufflers. Two long arms snaked out of the cylinder-like body—claws spread for mutilation. So busy was Ron that he did not even feel the robot's presence until the shadow loomed over him. Looking back, he screamed….

….just as the robot's visor went dead and the arms slumped to its side. The body sagged forward and remained still. A flap on the robot's head flipped open and a small, hairless rodent poked out its little head. Waving a greeting, the rodent blurted out a happy, "Hello!"

"Rufus!" Ron exclaimed as his friend jumped into his open hand. "I thought we told you to cover our exit."

The naked molerat began chattering in its language.

"Okay so it's a good think you didn't. But that doesn't mean I can't look after myself."

Rufus eyed him skeptically.

"What?" He asked Rufus. "You don't think I can last ten minutes without you?"

Rufus held up five claws.

"You are so not giving me my due."

He said something to Ron.

"Okay, okay. I'm happy you decided to take the initiative and disobey my orders. Happy?"

"Heh?"

"Fine. Kim's orders."

Rufus nodded.

"Did someone say my name?" Kim and the ninja appeared at the doorway. They spotted Ron and Rufus as well as the disabled robot sentry. "What's that?"

"Nothing Rufus couldn't handle. You guys alright?"

"Thanks to you," Kim said.

"Mostly," Hoshi mumbled, regarding her singed ankle.

Hirotaka approached the console. "Did you do this, Ron Stoppable?"

"Me? Yeah. Thing hasn't shut up since."

"What's it saying, Hirotaka?"

"It is asking for a pass code of some sort. Apparently Ron Stoppable has uncovered some highly-classified information."

"Classified? As in 'need to know' basis?" Ron said.

Hiro bobbed his head.

Kim took out her Kimunicator. "That means whatever this is the Yakuza don't want just anybody stumbling on it."

"Too late for that." Ron and Rufus slapped high fives. "Booyah!"

"You are thinking to steal it?" Hiro asked Kim.

"I'm thinking we can use whatever's on there to help us find Yori. Maybe even where to find this Saito guy and put a stop to him once and for all."

Ron was smiling at Hiro. "She's a Big Picture Girl."

"Wade. Kim. I need you to hack into a computer mainframe and download everything you can. You all set?"

"Always."

She removed a wire from the Kimunicator and plugged it into the console.

"The script's entirely in Japanese. I'm going to need a while to translate it."

"No need." Hoshi tapped her earring. "You got that IT?"

Rufus inquired as to who she was talking to.

"It's the guy Wade's been talking to in Japan."

"Oh."

Hoshi was listening to something that only she can hear. "Got it. Have your boy transfer the data to IT and he'll translate the text."

"Got that, Wade?"

"Sure. IT and I go way back. We'll have this thing synched in no time." There was a sharp beep. "Data transfer is complete. I'll get back to you when I can."

"Thanks Wade." Kim signed off.

Hoshi did too.

"Isn't it time we made our exit?" Hiro asked.

"Eager to find your girlfriend?" Hoshi left it at that and ran out the room.

"Girlfriend?" Kim repeated.

"Oh." Ron's face flushed. "You mean you and Yori…"

"Hoshi speaks falsely. We are no more than comrades."

"You mean you two aren't,"

"No."

"Not even,"

"Of course not."

"So,"

"Yori and I have great respect for one another. Our relationship is built on mutual trust and friendship, nothing else." He turned for the door. "As if that can ever turn into something more." He left the room.

Ron and Kim looked at one another. Rufus smirked. "Heh-heh."


Running for what seemed like hours, the two women felt their legs growing weaker with each passing step. Yori's was the harder hit. She did not fully recover from that fall. The harder she pushed herself, the more exhausted she became. Fearing she would pass out soon, she fell to her knees.

"Get up!" Kimiko ordered. "We have to put as much distance between us as that witch as possible. If we don't move now her agents will catch up to us and we're in no position to put up a fight." She eyed Yori. "Well at least you aren't."

"I'm moved by your affection. But I need rest. I am injured."

"I once had to flee a squad of Saito's goons while nursing a broken leg and two shattered ribs. Back then I wasn't much older than you. I pushed through the pain and you'll just have to do it too."

"I am no stranger to pain, Kimiko."

"Then get up."

Frustrated, Yori got to her feet. "Do you have any idea where we are? Where are we going? Is there any semblance of a plan?"

Kimiko was already walking.

Cursing, Yori tried to keep up but her wounds were making it difficult. It was still daylight but already the sun had waned to another part of the sky. In a few hours it would be dark. Already it was getting cold. Her body was trying to maintain her vital organs such as her heart and lungs which meant most of the heat was going to keep them working. That left her limbs little in the way of warmth. She was cold. Yori grew up in the mountains of Japan. She knew firsthand how harsh the cold weather can be in such an elevation and in this time of year. Bad enough she was being hunted by a devil child and heavily-armed soldiers, she was facing hypothermia and possible internal bleeding.

"I have to stop." Yori leaned against a tree, her head swimming.

"We have to keep moving."

"I'm cold and my injuries are more severe than I realized."

"Yo-Yo will do a fine job of fixing you up. Although I doubt you'll get another chance at escape."

"I need medical attention."

"What you need is to get on your feet. I'm sure there's a town or a shrine around here. If we proceed we're bound to find some semblance of civilization."

Yori did not respond.

Kimiko considered leaving Yori behind. It would be so much easier if she were left to keep them busy while she made her escape. Kimiko could go back into hiding, plan her next move and strike at Saito when he least suspected. But if her previous musings were any indication, Yori was too important to leave behind. Keeping her out of Saito's grasp would make things more difficult on him. That's something Kimiko could always get behind.

On the other hand, Kimiko knew that as much as Yori despised who she is, she would never abandon her. What shred of honor she had left was nagging at her every survival instinct.

"I am reduced to a walking stick." Trudging over to her, Kimiko wound Yori's arm around her neck and started walking. "On your feet."

They made slow progress, but it was progress nonetheless. Kimiko half dragged Yori through the woods. Hard as it was to admit, she was getting tired. The temperature was dropping and unless they found some kind of shelter soon, they would freeze to death. That is, unless Yo-Yo didn't find them first.

"T-Thank you."

Kimiko stopped.

"For not leaving me," Yori said weakly.

"I need you if I'm ever going to get Saito off my back. Do not read too much into this."

She heard a chuckle.

"What are you laughing about?"

"It seems we are forced to be together whether we like it or not. I say there is some higher purpose at work here. Perhaps we are here for a reason."

"And what reason is that."

"Redemption."

They were already walking again when Yori spoke those words. "What could you possibly have done that requires redemption?"

"Not I. For the shames of my family."

"What happened all those years ago was not your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed about."

"The sins of the father," Yori began. "Are visited upon the son. It is a Western saying though its meaning is universal. What our ancestors do in life reflect on their descendants. Should they bring dishonor upon the family then it falls to the next generation to reconcile their sins. My father may not have been an evil man, but his actions and those of my grandfather have allowed a man like Saito to obtain all the power he has accumulated thus far. How many have suffered because of that man? How many more will suffer if he is not stopped? His fight has become my own. As has yours."

"You speak nonsense."

"Do I? Not long ago you were willing to abandon me on a street with a broken arm. Then you risk your life to save me when you could have left me on that platform. Now here you are carrying me along when it would be easier to just leave me behind."

"I'm still considering that."

"Maybe. But you won't."

"And what makes you so sure?"

Yori smiled as if the answer were so obvious. "Because you're starting to care again."

"About you?" she scoffed.

"About everything. You stopped caring, Kimiko. That is why you lost your way. When you start to care about others, about the evil men do, when you decide to fight for what is right instead of for your own survival, you find life starts to have meaning again. When that happens even the most impossible fight seems winnable."

"Did Master Sensei teach you that?"

"No."

"Then who?"

"Kimiko," Yori whispered. "We are not alone."

Kimiko noticed it too. It startled her to know that Yori sensed them before she did, but perhaps her lack of common sense had heightened her other senses to peak efficiency. Either that or Kimiko allowed herself to become distracted and that could cost a woman her life.

Shadows loomed in from all around. White ninjas materialized from the trees. There were a dozen of them in all, surrounding the women with startling speed. Try as she might, Kimiko could spot no means of escape. They were trapped.

"Come with us," One of the albino ninjas said.

"Who are they?" Yori could scarcely lift her head up but managed to take in their predicament.

"Evil girls. Armed soldiers. You don't think Saito's got ninja on the payroll?"

"If they work for him then they are not true ninja."

"Spoken like a true idiot," Kimiko muttered.

The leader of the group stepped forward. "Give it up. We have you completely surrounded. There is no chance of escape. You can surrender peacefully or we will take you by force."

"Promise?" Kimiko joked.

"So be it." The ninja removed a small sword, a ninjato, from its scabbard.

Scores of pellets hit the ground. A bright flash illuminated the air and everyone was blinded. Kimiko and Yori fell to their knees while all around them sounds of a struggle could be heard.

Yori's eyes were the first to recover as she had been mostly looking at the earth when it happened. She could just make out a lone figure fighting the white ninja. He dispatched one after the other. The few who managed to recover from the shock of the flash barely managed to bring up their arms before they were put down. The leader was the last to fall. He collapsed after chop to the back of the neck and lay still.

Now that he was no longer zipping around like a hornet, Yori got a good look at the newcomer. He was dressed in a green suit that covered every inch of his body. The suit was form-fitting but with patches of armor. His face was covered by a mask that kept all his features from view. The head turned to look at Yori.

"What is it?" Kimiko asked, still blinded.

"There's a green man before us."

"A green man?"

"He defeated Saito's ninja as is now walking toward us."

The green man approached them cautiously. What he had to fear from two injured and half-frozen women when he so easily defeated a dozen ninja Yori could not figure. He looked at Kimiko momentarily but his gaze remained fixed on Yori.

Kimiko's eyes began to focus. "Who are you?" She asked.

"I think he is an ally." Yori turned to her. "He did save us from Saito's men."

"Don't be coerced so easily. We don't know him. That makes him a threat."

"We don't know that."

"Is it in your nature to trust everyone?"

"Is it in yours to not?"

"Will you stop judging me for once?"

"I did not mean to sound like that."

"Just be quiet. I have enough to worry about without you scrutinizing my every move, decision, and consideration. Let me do the talking and keep your mouth shut."

Laughter.

The women looked up at the green man who was laughing at them.

"What is so funny?" Kimiko asked venomously.

"You always did love to talk, Kimiko." He raised a hand to his mask. "You're still as bossy as ever though." Touching an unseen button, the screen in front of the mask melted away. "But I'm still happy to see you."

"Do I…know you?"

"It's been eighteen years but yes you do. I recall a certain young girl who used to protect me from bullies when I was a kid yet took great pleasure in bullying me herself." He leaned in closer. "But that's what sisters do don't they?"

Seconds passed. Kimiko's eyes lit up. "It can't be."

"You know him?"

"I know you," the man said. "You were much cuter then."

Yori's face flushed.

Chuckling to herself, Kimiko had to admit that after everything that happened, this should not surprise her in the least. "Of course I know him. I helped raise him and his brother when they were kids. I would have raised you too if given the chance." She turned her head slightly to one side. "This is Yusuke. Ishimura Yusuke. Your brother."

Yusuke flashed Yori a smile. "Long time no see, baby sis."



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