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Chapter 10

A Dirty Pair/ Iria: Zeiram fusion
by DB Sommer

Any and all C+C appreciated. You can contact me at: sommer@3rdm.net

Disclaimer: Dirty Pair created by Hideki Sonoda and Haruka Takachiho. Iria: Zeiram belongs to Crowd, Bandai Visual, Mitsubishi Corp, Banpresto and US Manga Corps.

By the time the armored truck arrived at YSC's ground facility, the ten acres of sprawling research labs called the Holcomb Complex, 'Big Shot' Dane and the other four members of his mercenary unit had suited up using the equipment that had been provided by their current employer. As the truck pulled up to a stop, they poured out of the rear of the vehicle, an imposing sight to the guards standing outside the loading dock the truck had driven up to.

Dane was dressed in a bright yellow and blue uniform with a number of gray lines running up and down the arms and legs. The outfit was a custom-made Farrgan Frame, which ran the fine line between defense and agility. It was composed of absorption mesh that absorbed kinetic impacts to a large degree, making the wearer impervious to small arms projectile fire. Whatever shock the mesh was incapable of cushioning, it would distribute the remainder evenly throughout the wearer's body, protecting him from all but the most severe impacts. Due to its skintight nature it afforded the wearer a maximum of mobility.

The offensive power came from the exo-frame embedded in the mesh that increased the wearer's strength five-fold. Its use was limited to about five minutes before the frame ran out of power, but Dane knew that any fight against their current opponents would not last five minutes, win or lose.

There were a variety of pouches and a belt that held a number of smaller items at different parts of the body. But they were nothing compared to the weapons pod that had replaced his right hand. A number of different weapons, from lasers to masers to projectiles, were concealed in the extraordinarily versatile attachment that cost more than a standard battle tank. About the only thing Dane couldn't do with it was scratch his nose.

Artus and his sibling, Harrison, were the next to exit, jumping down to the ground and landing at the exact same time and manner, their knees even bent at identical angles as their feet hit the duracrete. The albino and his dark-skinned brother wore much bulkier exo-frames that were clearly visible to the naked eye and would provide far more raw strength for a longer duration than Dane's could. These were augmented by golden bracer attachments that ran the lengths of their arms and legs, each with sharp edges that would make brushing against them a painful experience.

About the only difference in their raiment were the items strapped to their backs. Slung across Harrison's were twin sledgehammers whose handles, bristling with wiring and readouts, indicated they were no mundane pieces of wood and steel. Artus had a large powerpack whose cables fed into a special jackport that was embedded in the back of his neck.

The last to exit was the only one who was wearing less now than when he boarded. Stegrax had discarded his trench coat, and now stood glistening under the noonday sun. His cybernetic body was in the shape of a bulky bipedal dinosaur. The fierce-looking snout was that of a carnivorous beast, while plates stood up on his back and a long spiked tail was attached to his rear. It appeared the tail should have dragged on the ground due to its length, but sensors kept it poised no more than three millimeters above it, preventing the extra appendage from causing unnecessary destruction. The cyborg's chassis massed at least two tons, and thumped loudly as he plodded toward the facility.

One of the guards stepped forward from the rest of the group, all of whom had tensed up at the appearance of the newcomers. While he wore the same uniform as the others, his was different from the rest by the rank of sergeant shoulders.

"Greetings," the sergeant said formally to Dane. His hand started to rise up, intending a handshake, when it stopped as he realized what he would be trying to shake. He recovered and settled for a deep bow.

Dane didn't bow back. "You that Milon Sancrest guy?"

The sergeant appeared irritated by Dane's rudeness. "No, he's at the command center keeping a close watch on things, in case of attack. I'm to take you to him."

"Then let's get going." Dane indicated the sergeant should lead the way.

"I was informed there would be five of you," the sergeant mentioned.

"There are," a quiet voice said in his ear.

The sergeant jumped and nearly went for his side arm. He had never heard Whisper approach. She was dressed in a completely different manner from the others. A skin-tight outfit whose colors seemed to shift to blend into the background hugged her frame. While it wasn't a perfect form of camouflage, it made it difficult to see her from anything but straight on, especially since she was so slender and unobtrusive. She wore a blue visor over her eyes, with a set of wires leading from it to entry ports in her neck. A couple of small pistols and a bandoleer of shuriken were her only form of obvious weaponry.

"We'd better get going," the sergeant seconded, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the creepy newcomers as he could.

The route through the base took time, with security outposts at nearly every corner. As they walked, Dane began interrogating their guide. "What are the defenses like here?"

The sergeant's mood improved and confidence entered his stride. "Holcomb is the most secure facility in YSC, outside of the bio center on Arema and the main headquarters on Danube. The facility is surrounded on all sides by a wall ten meters high and composed of titanium-lined duracrete that can withstand a bulldozer plowing into it. Every millimeter of the area is watched above and below with overlapping sensors. There's a quarter kilometer of open terrain between the inside of the walls and the main building, all of that watched as well. The building's outer wall is composed of meter-thick duracrete with ferriman alloy sheets as well, which can resist small explosives without being scratched. There are only five entryways into the facility, all of them with double the normal guard detail and watched as well. The control center is deep underground in the base, and impervious to anything short of a small nuclear explosion. With the current crisis on our hands, our entire security staff is here, as well as others from neighboring facilities. We now have over 200 highly trained security personnel on site, all of them armed with at least high duty laser rifles. We also have several roving teams with heavier weaponry that operate in sets of four. We're as secure as humanly possible."

"About time I was given something decent to work with," Dane said.

The rest of the journey progressed in silence. They were forced to go through no less than three different 'checkpoints' where their identities were reconfirmed. Each was a room lined with thick metal doors and walls and a host of deadly weapons that would be turned on them should they fail to pass any of the inspections.

Eventually they came to what the sergeant dubbed the 'inner sanctum' of Holcomb. After a half dozen retina, voiceprint, and other nearly impossible to circumvent security measures, they arrived at the control center of the facility, where the man in charge of the installation was waiting for them. He was dressed in the same type of white and gold uniform as the rest of the security staff, though he had an ostentatious number of bars on his shoulders. He appeared to be in his late thirties, and in superior physical shape.

He rose to greet them, moving stiffly, yet with a cautious step. He went to shake Dane's hand until he, like the sergeant before him, discovered the complications that entailed. He bowed, and introduced himself. "Colonel Milon Sancrest, formerly of Cartasia and a member of his Imperial Warlord's Black Troops." His chest puffed out in pride.

Dane scratched his head. "Cartasian Black Troops? That name sounds familiar."

Harrison spoke up. "We killed about two dozen of them last year on Thermagin."

"Why don't I remember them?"

"They were pretty easy to kill," Artus supplied.

"That would explain it," Dane said in satisfaction, smiling at his teammate.

The veins on Milon's forehead bulged in fury. Before he could bluster out an insult, Dane spoke. "We'll be taking control of the facility now. I'm sure you've been doing a… competent job, but the real professionals are here. You just keep operating things like you were while I look over the specifics and I'll tell you where you need to beef up things."

"I assure you, this building is impenetrable," Milon said, barely reigning in his anger.

"I doubt that. I can think of three different ways me and my crew could crack this nut," Dane bragged.

Whisper added, "Of course, if we were breaking into this place, people as good as us wouldn't be waiting inside to deal with intruders, would they?"

"Heh, there is that, and that's what'll make the difference when Big Z comes a knockin'," Dane said as began toying with his weapons pod.

Dalia Montenegro was fantasizing about what she was going to do on her upcoming vacation. She and her ship, the 'Durango', had just entered Terrakon 6's orbit, and all that remained was to land the beast of a cargo hauler at the spaceport and it was off for a whole week of unadulterated fun. Skiing in the Yawew Mountains sounded like the best option. After being cooped up in a mining ship for the last three months, selling off the ore into more manageable trade goods, and finding a buyer on Terrakon 6, she needed fresh air, a landscape, and a real sky to gaze up at instead of the unlimited vastness of space. There was even a certain customs official who might be worth spending some time with. Hot tubbing, massages, and a handsome man were all Dalia was looking forward to.

And then the SOS came in.

"Shit!" Dalia punched up the Durango's sensor array in an effort to locate the source of the distress signal. It was a ship not more than two light minutes away.

Even as she began reading the specifics of the message, Dalia hit the intercom and shouted to one of her three fellow crewwomen, "Yo, Trace, we just picked up an SOS we're two minutes from."

A whiny response came back. "Come on! We're fifteen minutes away from landing, and we're not a rescue ship. Alert the authorities."

It was times like this Dalia hated her shipmates. By the end of three months of being exclusively in each other's company, all they wanted was to not be around one another at almost any cost. Experience had taught Dalia that working only with women in a confined space was always a bad idea. The only thing worse would be working with only women and one guy. That had happened once. Never again!

Dalia's reply was curt and laden with an unspoken warning. "We can't. He's got a hull breach and venting oxy." She examined the sensor array that confirmed that the ship was indeed leaking oxygen. "He might not have five minutes, depending on how fast he's pissing air. So suit up."

"Right, right. Suit up, people! We're going to move out!"

The intercom went dead.

Dalia guided the Durango alongside the ship in question, another cargo hauler, though of a different make and model. There were no visible signs of distress, save for the main hatchway being opened ever so slightly. Maybe it was a systems failure. It didn't matter. The one great law of spacers was that any SOS was always answered. Tracy and the others would board the ship, find out what was wrong, secure the crew, then let the authorities deal with it. Dalia had already forwarded the distress call planetside, and they had assured her rescue units were on the way and would be there in less than half an hour.

Through the viewport Dalia watched as the Durango's connecting tube affixed itself to the ruptured hatch. That would halt the oxygen bleed and enable Tracy and the others to board her.

Tracy's voice came over the intercom from her space suit's transmitter. "We're ready."

Now that they were firmly connected, Dalia used the tube's overrides to pop open the other ship's hatch. There was a brief bust of static as she heard Tracy call out "Holy—" and then static.

Dalia was caught off guard by the cry. It was probably nothing. Tracy was prone to histrionics, and made a big deal out of nothing. She once had the crew fumigate the entire ship on the basis of finding one cockroach she herself had probably brought in on her uniform or something. "Trace, what is it?"

There was no response.

"Aimee, Shan, respond!"

Again, nothing.

Then she heard it. A noise that came from the inside of her ship. A low, dull, thumping sound, as though someone was carrying a great weight, and each ponderous step sent reverberations through the ship.

Pirates? Could it have been some sort of hijacking? Impossible. No pirate would be stupid enough to try to hijack a ship in planetary orbit. The authorities would nail them before they made it to the nearest moon. What could it be?

The thumping grew louder. Dalia reached under the console and drew the laser pistol she had concealed there. Whatever was coming, it would end up with an entire magazine's worth of holes in it. She wasn't a marksman, but with only two meters between her and the door to the bridge, she didn't have to be. Once she had dealt with whoever was approaching, Dalia would go over to the other ship and find out what happened to her crew. And if anything had happened to them, there would be hell to pay.

The thumping stopped right outside the door. Dalia took a deep breath and calmed herself as she held the pistol aimed right at the center of the door. It wasn't locked. There wasn't a need to. Holing up wasn't an option since she had to get out there and discover what had happened to her friends.

The door slid open, revealing the cause of the disturbance.

Dalia would have described herself as having nerves of steel. She had flown through asteroid belts while being shot at by an irate rival, dealt with an ejection into space when a ship of hers had exploded, and even outran an energy wave from a star that had gone nova when her navigational computer had made a near-fatal miscalculation. But this, this was more than she could deal with. Her grip faltered slightly as her hand lost its strength.

It was then the white head in the brim of Zeiram's top raced out. That snapped Dalia out of her stupor long enough to bring the gun back up. She snapped off two shots, both missing the darting head, before it clamped its mouth on her neck and ripped her throat out.

"I still say we should have taken Killgore up on his offer and gotten a ride down with him," Yuri said as the wind from the open-air jeep whipped through her hair.

"No way! I'm not getting any nearer to that bastard than I have to, and I don't trust him enough for him not to try something if we're trapped on his shuttle! The Kreeper V is perfectly capable of atmospheric landings." Iria made a turn.

"And having two ships on the surface is better than one," Kei added from Yuri's side.

"You're just laid back about him 'cause you got a little action on the side," Yuri snapped testily.

Before Kei could reply, Iria punched the accelerator they hit the next turn, nearly causing the jeep to roll over. Kei and Yuri, sitting next to one another in the backseat, were squished together as the vehicle made the turn.

The road turned into a straightaway again and the jeep settled down for a smooth, fast, ride.

As they untangled themselves from each other, Kei whispered into Yuri's ear. "Perhaps it would be best if we didn't mention the little fact I slept with Mikael in Iria's presence. She's a bit testy about it."

"Right," Yuri said warily as she wondered how they had made it this far. Killgore had informed them that Terrakon 6 was the next place on Zeiram and Scorphius' hit list and was only a handful of days away. While he had been close-mouthed about what Zeiram was after in this planet, it was obvious from the women's perspective that YSC had figured out Scorphius was after something specific and this was the place to steal it.

Terrakon 6 was different from the other places Zeiram had hit. So far Scorphius had been careful to only attack YSC facilities in isolated spots that couldn't do much to defend themselves against attacks. While in the distant past Zeiram had threatened all of Myce, that had been only after several days of preparation in creating an army of Zeiranoids. Now he was traveling light, and the possibility of such a huge assault seemed slim with how little of a head start Scorphius had after the Station Zionacht fiasco. Terrakon 6 was fully inhabited, and the Holcomb Complex was in the middle of a megalopolis of twenty-five million people. The armed forces on the planet were large, and a number of military installations could send warcraft to the complex within a handful of minutes. Admittedly, it was unlikely they could bring their full force to bear in the middle of their own city, but they could take Zeiram down through sheer numbers if it came to that.

Of course, YSC, in its desperation to not let the public know someone with a personal ax to grind was using Zeiram to systematically eliminate everything they owned, had not bothered alerting the local authorities that Zeiram was coming, and instead was relying on the use of private troops, and mercenary specialists like Killgore, to take Zeiram out. She doubted the planetside authorities would be kept in the dark for long once the big green destruction machine showed up. Zeiram had a way of making his presence known wherever he went. Sort of like herself and Kei, once Yuri thought about it. That made her frown. They weren't like Zeiram. He went around intending to cause trouble. For Yuri and Kei, it was just something that seemed to happen once they arrived.

Since Kei had 'lost' the Lovely Angel's Bouncer, Killgore had offered to escort the women planetside in his personal shuttle, since his ship wasn't designed for atmospheric landings. Yuri was looking forward to the idea of cozying up to Killgore, especially with Kei out of the running since she had hooked up with her 'little brother' (Yuri was *never* going to let her live that one down). Unfortunately, Iria wouldn't hear of it, citing Killgore was more untrustworthy than ever since Yuri had discovered her mysterious inability to contact 3WA headquarters. Kei naturally sided with her former guardian, and Yuri couldn't really counter the argument, so she agreed to travel down to the planet in the Kreeper V, leaving Moogi and the battered Lovely Angel in orbit in case they needed backup.

The landing went smoothly, though Iria had insisted on renting a private jeep instead of using the vehicle the company had provided to escort them there. In Yuri's opinion, Iria was being a touch paranoid, but as long as she was paying for the rental, it was her business. Assuming the madwoman didn't crash them into a wall with the reckless way she was driving.

The city itself was uninteresting. It looked like any other megalopolis, jam-packed with people and buildings, where anything could be had if you knew which section of town to head toward. Currently they were in a shopping district. Yuri watched the large stores and their displays of wares, including some nice-looking clothing. Maybe if they took care of Zeiram quickly, she could do some shopping afterward before heading back and informing headquarters of everything that had happened.

Eventually they departed the shopping district and ended up in a manufacturing one. They traveled unerringly through the streets, heading to their destination thanks to the jeep's navigation system. They took the quickest route through the city, and in less than fifteen minutes, arrived at the entryway of the Holcomb Building.

Thanks to Iria's reign of terror through the streets, they had arrived before Killgore. Now they were forced to wait for him to catch up, since only he had permission, and the proper codes, to approach the facility.

His vehicle arrived within minutes and he and his men exited the truck, relaxed and calm. Yuri noted that he and the two dozen of the mercenaries he had brought along were already suited up, armed, and eager to go.

"Told you they'd beat us," Cross said to Killgore. The effeminate man held his hand out expectantly.

"Here you go." Killgore handed over a wad of bills, that Cross immediately tucked into a pocket. Killgore walked over to the women, casual despite the light armor he wore and the ninety pounds of heavy plasma cannon slung across his back. "You must have driven like a maniac to beat us here." He stared pointedly at Iria.

Kei defended her. "I felt more threatened by Zeiram than Iria's driving."

"Not by much," Yuri added, running a hand through her hair to make try to make herself presentable. While now wasn't the proper place to flirt with Killgore, there was never a time when it was acceptable to not look her best.

"Let's just get the hell inside," Iria snapped.

Killgore's companions remained behind him as he walked up to the towering guard post next to the main entrance to the facility. While there were live guards present, they remained behind the safety of the walls and observed everything through monitors that lined the exterior of the facility. Killgore walked up to a video monitor and stated his name and an eight alphanumeric code. A moment later, a panel slid back and several other scanning devices came into play. They pored over Killgore, who appeared bored by the entire procedure.

"Identity confirmed," came a voice from a speaker. The first set of gates opened up to admit the truck and jeep inside.

"Let Dane know I'm coming in," Killgore said, a hint of uncharacteristic irritation in his voice. He turned toward the truck, not wanting to walk the distance to the facility. Just as he was about to enter the back of the vehicle, a flashing light from high above caught his attention. "I wonder what that is."

Iria and the others stared upward. She dropped the goggles that rested on her head over her eyes and activated their telescopic feature.

"Uh oh," she said.

In the central control room of the Holcomb Complex, one of the communications personnel relayed a message to his new superior. "The front gate says Killgore and his people have arrived, Sir."

"Great," Dane grumbled. That had broken the boredom the mercenary had been suffering from since arriving at the command center, and not in a good way. He supposed it had been an idle fantasy to expect the target to show up before Killgore did. Having the idiot arrive after Dane had bagged Zeiram would have been the ultimate victory. He would have bragged about pulling one out from under Killgore's nose from one end of the galaxy to the other, smearing his rival's name in the dirt. The possibility still existed, but it was trickier with Killgore present. Dane would just have to put more effort into outmaneuvering his rival, while nailing Zeiram at the same time.

At least by arriving first Dane had control of the facility, even if Killgore was technically an independent and didn't have to take direct orders from Dane. At least the oversized buffoon wasn't in charge of the situation this time. Dane could make Killgore stay out of the way once Zeiram showed up, and he was certain that time was coming soon. His hunter's instinct was telling him something big was coming, and it was rarely wrong. Maybe he'd get lucky, and Zeiram would knock off Killgore before Dane finished the monster himself and earned the hefty bonus for successful completion of the secondary objective as well. He handled the small cylinder at his waist. Oh yes, he was going to receive a large injection of cash above and beyond the standard contract fee before this mission was over.

Warning klaxons blared in the control room. One of the technicians manning the exterior sensors reported to Dane. "A ship is approaching us from orbit at a high speed."

"It's trying to land?" Dane asked.

"No sir, it's coming way too fast for that, and it's heading right for the center of the facility."

"We don't have anything that can take it out!" another technician warned.

Dane turned to Sancrest. "Impenetrable, huh?" He ducked under a console and waited for the inevitable.

"Get down!" Iria cried as she grabbed Kei and Yuri and ducked behind the jeep, using its body for additional cover. There wasn't time to figure out the trajectory of the ship as it headed toward the planet. If the large cargo hauler hit near them, it was over anyway, but if it struck the center of the facility or the far side, they would have a chance.

Iria's hopes were realized as the breaking jets on the rectangular spaceship ignited, slowing its descent enough to, while not arrest its progress, prevent it from striking so hard nothing would be left but a huge crater. Instead the hauler landed straight as an arrow, bow-first in the middle of the complex. The ship's velocity caused it to easily shatter the building and destroyed a major portion of the interior as well as crumpling its own bow, squeezing it down almost like a giant accordion as the weight and inertia caused the front to buckle from the stress.

There were no explosions, nor did the vehicle tip over. It rested above the ruins of the center of the sprawling complex, like a compact tombstone dedicated to its own demise.

Dane poked his head from below the desk. He heard the impact, felt the building tremble, and saw the lights in the control room flicker once. Then there was nothing else. Surprised, but in a pleasant way, he poked his head up and surveyed the room.

Others were in similar positions, having abandoned their posts and taking shelter under their consoles in the hopes of surviving the impact. All that was save Stegrax, who hadn't moved the entire time. When it became obvious their impending destruction had been averted, an air of relief and cool professionalism took over the staff as they returned to their jobs.

The technician that had first observed the spacecraft heading toward them pieced together what had happened. "The craft's descent was slowed at the last minute. It still hit hard, but not enough to crack the reinforced bunkers on the lower levels or anything in the outer areas of the complex."

Another spoke up. "I'm getting responses from people in the outer areas and lower levels. Most of them seem okay. I'm getting nothing from the center of the complex, though."

A third said, "Destruction's near total there. Damn, my cousin was working in one of the chem labs there." He pounded his fist on the console he manned, then bit down on the fist in worry.

By that time, Dane had fully recovered and assessed the situation, coming to the only possible conclusion. "Boys and girls, Zeiram has landed and managed to not only penetrate our much vaunted defenses," he shot Sancrest a smirk, "but took out a major portion of the security forces here, as well as causing so much chaos that if I wasn't paying attention, he'd probably get out of this without anyone firing a shot at him."

"He couldn't possibly have survived the crash," Sancrest claimed, trying to regain some standing in the eyes of anyone present.

Dane shook his head. "He once survived atmospheric reentry without a spaceship. He can survive that little crash, especially since he slowed down at the end. He probably didn't want to take a chance of destroying the lower levels and ruining what he's come here for." Dane turned to the communication's technician. "Alert all security forces to gather into their units and patrol the facility in their pre-assigned routes until they locate Zeiram. He'll be hard to miss. He's big, green, has a head shaped like a giant mushroom, and will be trying to kill everything that comes into his line of sight."

"But sir, shouldn't we have people start with rescue efforts and try to help the injured first?" the man who had lost his cousin mentioned.

Dane waved dismissively at the man. "Alert the city emergency systems, if they haven't been already. Zeiram's continued presence here is more dangerous." And Dane wouldn't get paid for wasting time saving easily replaceable personnel anyway. Everyone in the entire complex could die, for all he cared. Only Zeiram mattered.

Whisper was at his side in an instant. "What about that message we received right before the ship dropped into our lap?"

"Oh, yes." Dane had forgotten that little detail. Now that he considered the matter, he realized that the chaos might be providing him with a unique opportunity. He gave an order to the communication technician. "Tell all security forces to assume anyone going about armed that is not one of them or a member of my crew, is hostile and should be shot on sight. I'll take full responsibility." He shot the technician a warning glare.

The technician picked up on the hint. "Yes, sir." He sent out the order.

Dane turned to the rest of his partners and said with intentionally melodramatic flair, "Now it's time for us to go out into this brave world and see if we can't dispose of an annoying monster and some irritating rivals." He turned to go, shouting over his back to the staff, "Let me know if Zeiram's spotted or if there's trouble."

He waved good-bye to the room's occupants as he led the rest of his people deeper into the facility.

"That was no accident. It was Zeiram," Iria stated coldly as she rose from her position behind the jeep. It (and the giant wall surrounding the facility) had served as sufficient protection from the heat, wind, and debris kicked up by the crash. She hadn't suffered a scratch, nor had Kei or Yuri as they also returned to their feet.

Killgore and the other two dozen members of his staff exited the back of the truck and the protection its armored walls had provided, equally unharmed.

Some of the security personnel manning the front gate exited the guard post, watching in stunned disbelief at the crumpled ship as it stood up embedded in the facility, like an arrow driven into the body of an animal that had died instantly and fallen on the spot.

Killgore took charge of the matter as he grabbed the most senior security guard by his collar. "Get us in there."

That shook the man out of his stupor. He ran as fast as he could with the others, heading directly for the main doors. The covered the distance in under a minute, despite the burden of their gear.

The security head tried opening the door, but the lights of the scanner were dark. "There's no power to the doors. I can't get them open."

Killgore turned to two of his men. "Door opener."

Everyone in the unit, save two men he had spoken to, moved to the side of the wall along the doors. The two exceptions instead moved in front of the doors, then removed large blocks of some rectangular substance from their packs. They peeled off a strip of paper from the back of the items, and stuck them to the doors, where the rectangles affixed themselves. They placed small pieces of metal, with a digital readout on the top, onto the items. The men pushed a few buttons, and several lights activated.

Seeing the reactions from the rest of Killgore's crew, and recognizing the items as fusion blocks, Iria and the Lovely Angels moved alongside the wall as well.

Within moments the two people that had set up the explosives joined the others. They pulled out remote detonators and set off the charges. There was the sound of a small explosion, then nothing.

Everyone stepped away from the wall and saw that the barrier of metal now had two holes large enough for two people to walk abreast through. Point men from Killgore's team entered first, guns at the ready. After determining the entryway was as deserted as it appeared, they signaled the rest of the team to follow.

Once everyone (save the security guard who had chosen to rejoin his men and wait for new orders) had set up in the entryway, Killgore began to issue instructions.

"It looks like the long bout with boredom we feared was waiting for us was all for naught, boys and girls," he quipped. "Zeiram's crawling around somewhere in this pit, and I want him dealt with once and for all. We're going to separate into teams of four and prowl around until Zeiram is located. Once you find him you will not confront him. Instead you will alert the other teams and then track his movements until we set up an ambush point to waste him. I don't want any heroics, so don't think you can take him out yourselves and get killed. Got it?"

There was a collection of affirmatives and head nodding.

"Good. I'm in charge of Team One. Cross is head of Team Two. Cha— where are you going?" he asked Iria as she grabbed Kei and Yuri by the arms and made to leave.

"To kill Zeiram, so don't get in the way," she said.

"It'd be safer for us to take him on with everyone around," Killgore pointed out.

"It's safer not to rely on you or your scumbag partners," she said icily.

The proclamation met with a host of angry glares from the men.

Yuri tried to placate any hard feelings, especially since she'd rather not have the men try to shoot her in the back for being offended. "What she means is, you guys are used to working as a team, and we'd just get in the way. Besides, we work better on our own. I'll give you a ring if I spot Zeiram," she assured them as she turned to catch up to her partner and the outer rim bounty hunter.

Once they were out of earshot, Cross said, "You know, she's right about them being in the way."

"Just find Zeiram. I'll take care of them later, when the time comes," Killgore assured him.

The team separated into groups of four and began a search of the building.

"Have you ever considered a career as a diplomat?" Yuri inquired of Iria's back, since the bounty hunter had all but run down the corridors since leaving the entryway behind, not giving Yuri a chance to catch up.

"I'd be great at it, since everyone would know that whatever comes from my mouth must be the whole and honest truth," Iria said, though the retort lacked any vigor. Her attention was solely for what lay in front of them.

"All I'm saying is our lives might depend on one of Killgore's men at some point, and it would be a major pain if they decide not to do anything since they'd be happy if we were dead."

"It's already coming," Iria assured her. "Keep your eyes open for it."

"Whatever." Yuri officially gave up. With any luck, they'd finally kill Zeiram and put all of events from the last week behind them. This was possibly the worst chase in her life, largely because she didn't feel like she was gaining on her foe. If anything, the gap between them was widening. Not only had they not slowed Zeiram down, but it appeared he (or more specifically, Anton Scorphius) was accomplishing everything he wanted to, and running up a body count impressive even by Yuri's standards in the process. It had to come to an end soon, one way or another.

Her ponderings were interrupted as they came to a four-way junction and spotted a pair of security guards that had turned the corner at the end of the hallway in front of them. They appeared tense with their rifles firmly in their grip. Yuri decided to take charge, before Iria did something to set them off. She put her best smile on, thrust her chest out slightly, and waved. "Hey guys, how are you doing? We're trying to find Zeiram. I don't suppose you've seen him."

The men stared at each other. Then their reflexes kicked in as they said, "Intruders!" and leveled their guns at the trio of women.

Yuri was caught off guard. "No, we were let in by—"

Kei tackled Yuri out of the way as a laser nearly parted her hair. They ducked behind one of corners of the junction, while Iria went for the other.

"Have you ever considered a career as a diplomat?" Iria said as several other bolts streaked down the corridor they had just been walking down.

"All I said was 'Hi'," Yuri snarled as she drew her pistol.

"It's not that big a deal. We're used to complete strangers shooting at us," Kei said.

"Usually it's preceded by, 'Look! It's the Dirty Pair!' though. These guys had no idea who we were. They just decided to shoot first and not bother with the whole questions part." Making certain she was still under cover, Yuri shouted to the men, "Hey, we're on your side! We were hired to help you in case the place was attacked, which it has been."

One of the guards shouted back. "Like we'd fall for that! You're part of the bad guys, just like we were told!" Several more shots were fired in Yuri's direction.

"Looks like we're really on our own." Iria pulled a small disc, shaped like a hockey puck, from one of her pouches. "Close your eyes and cover your ears," she warned, as she once again slipped her goggles over her eyes and pulled the sides down to cover her ears.

Yuri and Kei had to satisfy themselves with closing their eyes and covering their ears with their hands.

Iria poked her hand far enough around the corner to slide the disc along the floor. When it hit the far wall next to the men, it went off. Even with her protective gear, the flash and noise was powerful enough to make her eyes water and ears pop.

The bounty hunter poked her head around the corner, pistol at the ready. Both men lay on the floor. One was unconscious from the stun bomb, while a low moan issued from the other, who was curled up in a fetal position on the floor.

Iria pulled out a small tube from her belt and pressed it against the back of the man's neck. She hit the plunger and a small white pad stuck itself to his neck. Within seconds he went limp.

As she did the same thing to the second man, Kei and Yuri, who had judged whatever it was Iria had done was over, approached.

"What are you doing?" Kei asked.

"Administering a sedative that will keep them out for the next ten hours. I'm not taking any chances on them recovering and attacking us from behind, and it's more humane than shooting them."

"What kind of sedative?" Kei asked.


Kei grimaced. "I got hit with that once. It leaves you with a hangover to remember."

"I did say 'humane' not 'pleasant.' It's the least they deserve for shooting at me."

"And from what he said, I have a feeling the rest of the guards will be trying to treat us the same way." Yuri sighed in resignation. "Great, instead of having a small army helping us hunt Zeiram, we have a small army trying to hunt us and Zeiram. It's never the easy way, is it?"

Kei and Iria merely nodded their heads sadly.

Iria's communicator beeped. "Yes?"

"Problem, Sunshine," came Killgore's voice. "Someone seems to have told the security forces here that any intruders, meaning us, are to be considered hostile and shot on sight."

"We've already encountered that little problem." Iria nudged one of the unconscious men with her boot.

"It's all that bastard Dane's fault. He knew we were coming, and decided to try to take out a little competition using these guys in the confusion. He'd better pray Zeiram finds him before I do. He'll only get devoured and turned into a Zeiranoid. What I'll do to him will be much, much worse."

"I see," Iria said. "Well, marrying him seems a bit extreme, but I have to agree, it'd be worse than running into Zeiram." She turned off the communicator before he could respond.

"That has got to be one of the nastiest divorces ever," Yuri whispered to her partner. Kei could only nod in response.

Nearly fifteen minutes of searching turned up nothing on the women's part, nor was there further communication from any of Killgore's teams. With each passing minute, Iria, who insisted on remaining in the lead, became increasingly restless. It became worse when their progress slowed as they neared the areas where the spacecraft had hit. The damage to the building was evident as cracks had formed in the floor, ceiling, walls, and in some cases had caused collapses filled with debris. Emergency lighting was the only form of illumination, bathing everything in an eerie crimson glow.

Iria stopped at a junction and signaled the others to do the same. "This is bad. We have to find him quickly before he escapes again. He could slip out of any hole and we'd never know he was gone."

"What do you recommend?" Kei asked.

"Splitting up. It'll increase our chances of finding him."

"That'll be dangerous. And what about the other guards around here?" Yuri pointed out.

"I haven't seen any in a while. I'd bet they're sticking mostly to the outer areas for now. If any get in our way, we'll take care of them."

"What about Zeiram?" Kei asked.

"If you find him just track him. Don't try to handle him on your own. Lance was right about one thing; he is too powerful to take on alone."

Kei and Yuri nodded their heads in agreement and stayed together as they chose to go to the left, while Iria went in the opposite direction.

The bounty hunter slipped her goggles back on and used their light amplification system to see the room as though it was brightly lit. Now that Kei and Yuri were gone, she moved more quickly, almost recklessly, through the increasingly damaged sections of the facility. Zeiram was here. She could feel it, like the tingling sensation across the skin as lightning was about to strike. This time there would be no escape for the demon that had haunted her for so long.

She paused in a hallway. There was a sound that had caught the edge of her hearing. It was a loud thud that echoed in one of the corridors from up ahead. She paused, listening intently. There was another thud, and another. They could only be sounds belonging to something monstrously heavy walking toward her location. It didn't take a genius to figure out what that monstrous thing was.

Moving forward, Iria positioned herself so that she could ambush Zeiram, her instruction to Kei forgotten. She thumbed the selector switch on her rifle to rocket launcher, and attached one to the barrel. The slender attachment was an armor piercer, designed for penetration rather than explosive power. Blowback wouldn't be a problem unless she fired it at point blank range. She crouched several meters away from the edge of the passageway that Zeiram was coming down. The instant he was in the open, she'd fire.

The thuds grew louder, then, curiously, grew softer. Iria listened intently, and realized the tread was now moving away from her. Panicking, she raced up to the edge of the corridor and peered around it. There was another passageway just a handful of meters away, leading in a different direction. Obviously Zeiram had taken that one, and was increasing his pace from the sounds of it.

Iria raced to the start of the corridor, intent on getting a shot at Zeiram before he noticed her. As the length of passageway entered her sight and she was able to look down it, she saw the hulking figure not more than ten meters away. She lifted her rifle and sighted it on the center of the creature's back when she stopped. While the thing was certainly as wide as Zeiram, and nearly as tall, it was clearly not the monster she had been seeking. Instead he was made entirely of silvery metal, had a double row of armored triangular plates that rose from his back, and had a tail with spikes protruding from it.

Iria lowered her rifle in confusion.

Stegrax's head swiveled a hundred and eighty degrees. Iria found red faceted eyes and a pointed snout filled with sharp teeth aimed in her direction. From the mechanoid's shoulders, two small laser mounts poked up from their concealment and also swiveled in her direction.

Reflexes took over as Iria dove for cover. Twin lines of pencil thin energy lanced out from the small shoulder weapons. They crisscrossed with one another as they tried to track Iria, their light leaving a smoking black line across everything they touched. One of the ruby beams nicked the edge of Iria's shin guard, leaving dark scoring on it but failing to penetrate the white armor. Then she was out of sight at the edge of the corridor.

She leaned flat against the wall and assessed the situation. Cyborg or robot, and not one that belonged here. No security force would commission such a thing for a facility like this. A private owner with a flare for flamboyance might indulge himself in such a way, but not a megacorporation like YSC. Either he was also working for Scorphius, or he was one of those other mercenaries Killgore had been complaining about. Iria leaned toward the latter. A mercenary would think something as ridiculous looking as a robotic dinosaur was intimidating.

Iria was about to spin around the corner and use her armor piercing rocket on her new foe when she heard a loud click come from the direction of the cyborg. Instinctively she backed away as fast as she could.

A moment later, large wads of energy cleaved through the metal of the wall right where she had been standing, as though it wasn't there. A second slower and even her armor would have been equally useless as those powerful blasts would have melted her insides faster than she could blink.

Iria backed away more quickly, reevaluating her foe. Whoever he was, his weaponry far outstripped hers. She had to get the first shot in and prayed it crippled him. She backed away to her original ambush point, poking a small mirror, no more than a handful of centimeters wide, around the corner to give her a view down it. The moment the cyborg fully popped out, she would nail him with the rocket.

The wait wasn't long as Stegrax showed his overconfidence in assuming he had hit Iria with his second salvo. He appeared, turning to look at where he had fired, in obvious expectation of finding a body. Iria noted that popped out from his sides were what appeared to be cylinders from a gigantic revolver. A pair of 'Revolver Cannons' if she identified them correctly. Those would have been powerful enough to punch through a wall like that, and in something his size, they would probably have a decent rate of fire, coming from both of his sides.

It didn't matter. They'd be scrap, just like the rest of him. Mentally marking his position, she withdrew the mirror, then spun and fired.

Stegrax saw the movement and reacted. As the rocket erupted from the front of the bounty hunter's rifle, the cyborg pointed his maw at her and opened it. The rocket had covered half the distance when he let out a roar. A solid wave of sonic energy erupted from his mouth, knocking the rocket off course and sending it to careen into a nearby wall where it detonated, throwing shards of metal in every direction. A normal person would have been cut severely and knocked off their feet by the force of the explosion. Stegrax merely stood there, ignoring the rain of metal as it was merely water.

The wave of sonic force rolled down the hallway undisturbed, slamming into Iria and sending her flying backward. She went limp as she struck the wall behind her with near bone breaking force. She had barely touched the ground when she was rolling backward. The reflexive move was just in time as another salvo of large energy blasts melted the floor where she had been lying a moment ago.

Gasping for air, Iria staggered backward in retreat, unwilling to turn her back on the cyborg. She thumbed the selector switch back to laser mode as she tried increasing her speed, a difficult feat given her lack of oxygen.

Stegrax turned the corner, let out a bellow of triumph, and fired his revolver cannon again. The blasts streamed out, one per cylinder, spitting out synchronized death and destruction.

Despite her winded state, Iria returned fire. It was a combination of luck and skill as one of the shots went up the launch tube of the left revolver cannon, blowing out the breech and shutting the weapon down. Stegrax then learned one of the drawbacks to having the cannons fire in synchronicity: when one shut down, so did the other.

More shots struck the cyborg, but his armor was thick enough to ward them off. Instead, even as the revolver cannons retracted back into their housing, he raised his right hand and pointed it at Iria.

Iria continued to pour on the fire, hoping to hit another vulnerable point. Sparing some attention to the hand, she was surprised to see it suddenly fall from its housing on the arm, considering she hadn't hit it. The hand only remained attached by a small strip of metal at the bottom.

Then the bounty hunter realized that the hand had not fallen off, but rather had served as camouflage for the barrel of a weapon that had been concealed behind it. The one pointing directly at her. Despite her winded state, Iria dove out of the way even as the missile left its housing.

It was the third near miss in almost as many seconds as the missile almost hit her. Already airborne, the explosion propelled her much farther than her dive would have taken her. Luckily, the only major pieces of shrapnel to hit her were deflected by her armor, though a number of smaller pieces cut into the unprotected areas of her body.

She was hurled against a wall at the far end of the corridor, though since she was already out of breath, the impact did nothing to worsen her condition. Her rifle had been blown out of her hands and was out of reach. Going back for it was out of the question, since she would have to place herself directly in Stegrax's line of fire. Instead she abandoned the weapon and tried running, though her pace was slow with how badly her body ached from being hurled into metal walls like a giant racquetball.

Iria almost made it out of Stegrax's line of sight when a trio of guards appeared in front of her. All of them were tensed for combat, obviously from overhearing the sounds of the running battle between the bounty hunter and her opponent.

"It's an intruder! Kill her!" one of the men shouted.

Three rifles were aimed at her unprotected head. Standing no more than a handful of feet from her, there was no way all of them would miss. It was unlikely any of them would. Iria winced. This was one of the most stupid ways to go. Taken out by a toaster version of Zeiram and a handful of rent-a-cops that barely knew which way to point a gun.

Before any of the security personnel could fire, their chests erupted into fountains of bloody gore as flechette rounds fired from behind Iria tore them to shreds. Sensing she too was in the line of fire, she dove for yet another corner. It was the only thing that prevented her from becoming a pile of shattered bone and shredded muscle like the trio of men now behind her. As she dove, she caught a glimpse of Stegrax holding his other arm up and the flechettes coming from the palm of the left hand. She had no idea why he had saved her, but she had a feeling it wasn't to apologize for his rude treatment of her from before.

Running was proving itself untenable. Iria knew her only hope was to gain some space between her and her opponent and try to set up an ambush. She had an ideal weapon to work on something made of metal, but hitting him with it would be tricky. She needed to set up a trap. Much to her dismay, she saw that further up the passageway that she had blindly darted into, the ceiling had collapsed, effectively cutting off any avenue of escape. The side the men had come up was clear, but that would mean cutting across the other passageway and entering the cyborg's line of fire, which was almost certain death.

Looking back up the corridor she was in, Iria noticed there were a couple of rooms, one to the right and one to the left. The door on the right was wide open, caught in that position by the power failure. She ran up to it and looked inside. It was some sort of small theater. Whatever purpose it held in such a place was beyond her. She inventoried the contents of the room. Holographic projection equipment located near the front. Lots of chairs. A water cooler off to the side.

Water cooler. It was stand-alone design that needed no power, and had in fact been in service in industrial buildings for centuries since its basic design was inexpensive and had never been improved upon. An idea formed. She could definitely make use of that. But first she needed the door closed. Luckily there was a manual override next to the door. She opened the emergency compartment and spun the wheel, shutting the door and setting the locking mechanism into place. Not that she seriously thought it would stop the cyborg, but it might be enough to buy her the time and privacy she needed.

Running like death itself was on her tail, Iria pulled out two steel vials she had in separate pouches. Combined, they composed a weapon she thought might be effective against Zeiram, but it had other uses as well. She examined the water cooler. As she hoped, it loaded from the top. She pried off the gasket that sealed it and poured the contents of the binary solution into the water. It would dilute the effect somewhat, but should still do what was needed. She placed a small shaped charge and transmitter on the side of it. The work was quick, but it would have to suffice. Not that she was placing all of her trust in that. She had planned a more direct approach. The ceiling was slightly taller than the door, which would give her a perfect ambush point.

Iria heard the loud tread of Stegrax through the walls, drawing nearer. Obviously he had divined exactly where she had hidden herself. She had to move fast. She attached several magnetic strips to her palms and bottom of her boots, then used a rappel line to draw her up to the ceiling, where she attached herself to it like a giant spider. It was a gamble. If he looked up she would be a stationary target with no means of cover or escape, but she had to take a chance on outsmarting her foe since overpowering him was out of the question.

The loud thudding stopped. She wondered how he'd enter the room. Ripping the door off its tracks was the easiest way, and he'd be able to use it for cover in case she was waiting to shoot him. Luckily, it would only shield him from frontal assaults, not ones from above.

There was a peculiar whooshing sound from out in the hall. Iria's musings as to its origin were cut short as, from about a meter to the left of the door, Stegrax's tail lashed out, cutting through the metal of the wall, the door, and the wall on the other side, leaving a long wide tear behind. The tail retreated out of sight. It was followed up by twin thin laser beams that crisscrossed each other in the firing port created by the tail, slicing effortlessly through the chairs like a surgeon's scalpel through flesh. Iria suddenly felt a lot better. She had considered waiting in front of the door and shooting through it when the cyborg appeared. Had she done so, she'd have been sliced in half, just liked the furnishings. The water cooler, luckily, was out of sight along the side, and remained untouched by the lasers.

The beams stopped and the sound of crumpling metal came from below Iria. The remnants of the door were hurled into the room at a high velocity, creating even more damage. Sweat beaded Iria's brow as the cyborg refused to appear. Then she heard his heavy tread as he began walking forward.

As she hoped, Stegrax's eyes scanned the room in a left to right manner, not looking up just yet. Perfect. She dropped down on him, mindful to keep from impaling herself on the upraised triangular plates that lined his back. She wrapped an arm around his neck and attached a small packet to his shoulder.

Before she could do anything else, the tail curled upward, swatting her aside like a bothersome fly. She was hurled across the room, this time hitting her head. The world spun around shakily from the effects of the concussion. It was only instinct that made her press the remote on her belt.

The explosive attached to Stegrax's shoulder detonated with a loud boom. At point blank range, it destroyed all of the plating and much of the wiring in the right arm, rendering it immobile, as well as knocking out a number of his other systems.

He was still reeling when Iria kicked over the water cooler, knocking it on its side and releasing the tank filled with the water from the top. She shoved it with her foot toward Stegrax, the water sloshing about as it rolled toward him.

Stegrax's targeting computer informed him the container represented no threat, so he ignored it while bringing up his flechette hand and aiming it in Iria's direction.

Before he could fire, she activated the second explosive while simultaneously diving behind one of the few intact seats. The liquid vessel burst open, spraying the contents about the room, including all over Stegrax. He reevaluated the threat, wondering why the container had exploded for no apparent reason. Then he saw what the droplets were doing to his metal exterior as they slowly ate it away.

Acid! It was a cyborg's worst enemy. While Stegrax had an acid-resistance coating applied to him several months ago, he had been through a lot of action, and it barely held back any of the metal eating properties of the substance. The acid would have been worse, had it not been diluted by the water in the cooler, but there was far more of it all over his body. Already pock marks formed on his exterior and ate through the exposed wiring from the earlier explosion.

Stunned by the unexpected reversal, Stegrax left himself open as a rocket struck him in the stomach, blowing open more of his armor and revealing more of his internal mechanisms. Luckily it was a lighter explosive, pistol sized rather than one created for a larger rifle. Even with his armor weakened by the acid, it held up well, only causing another half dozen systems to crash. He roared once, unleashing another sonic blast in Iria's general direction, then retreated as fast as he could before she finished him off.

The sonic wave struck Iria, who was fully exposed to the blast since she had just finished firing and her reflexes, dulled from the abuse she had received, were too slow. She was hurled into the metal backing of the seat behind her. The pain from having been tossed around and rammed into things multiple times, combined with her concussion, was too much for her to take. It overwhelmed her, and she let out one faint curse before passing out.

Stegrax had not paused in his flight for even a second, which was why he was unaware that he had essentially won the fight against the woman who had blown apart half of his systems. All he cared about was fleeing to somewhere safe, where he'd sit out the rest of the fight. The most likely place to ensure his survival would be the command center. It was a reinforced bunker with plenty of men left behind to guard it as they monitored the situation as best as they could. Stegrax's internal communications were still working, so he informed them that he would be arriving in a short while and to be on the lookout.

With the schematics of the facility in his computer, Stegrax calculated the quickest route to the command center. It would take him near the heart of the impact, but he was in a hurry, and his speed had been hampered seriously in the fight. Even his tail no longer responded to his commands and dragged behind him limply across the floor. He ran a diagnostic program on himself to determine the extent of the damage while he ran for safety. Far too many of his systems were down. He was vulnerable in a way that he hadn't been since he was made of only flesh and blood.

Stegrax came to a door and forced it open with his one good arm. Cutting through one of the larger labs would save him five minutes of moving through possibly hostile corridors. As he entered the room, he stumbled upon another occupant already inside, hunched over a metal barrel. The sound of the door being forced open alerted the occupant to the intruder.

Zeiram turned around.

"Hmm. A distinct lack of dead bodies here," Kei muttered mostly to herself.

"Except those we found crushed by falling sections of the building," Yuri reminded her.

"Well, yeah. I meant shot up or ripped apart corpses. The type Zeiram always leaves behind wherever he goes. Not that crushed people don't count. I meant we can't tell which way he went if he doesn't leave us a bunch of dead bodies to follow," Kei clarified.

"Right." In a moment of epiphany, Yuri wondered when they had become so casual about people being dead around them. She supposed others would feel sick or disgusted at the idea of a casual conversation about what sort of dead people they were looking for. She supposed it was a type of defense mechanism, though even in her days as a rookie, she couldn't remember feeling too broken up about people dying around her. That she wasn't responsible for their deaths helped, and she felt bad on an intellectual level about it, but that was all. Kei was the same way. The lack of emotional response didn't even bother her. It was just something she noted.

Yuri's musings were interrupted as she and Kei entered a large empty room the size of a gymnasium. At first glance, it appeared to be some sort of testing area. They had only taken a handful of steps when a door located on the opposite side of the area opened and two other people entered.

The men were the exact opposite of one another. One was black and so large his arms were the size of Kei and Yuri's legs. What appeared to be twin sledgehammers were strapped across his back. His comrade, while the same size, was the opposite in coloring. He was so pale that he had to be an albino, and for some bizarre reason the top two inches of his skull seemed to be missing. Strapped to his back was a large power pack of unknown design. It was confusing, since he didn't appear to have any weapons on his person to hook up to the pack. Both wore bulky exo-frames, which would afford them some protection from physical harm as well as augmenting their strength.

Since she and Kei didn't recognize the pair, Yuri felt it safe to assume they were also operating on the 'shoot all intruders' order given to the security personnel. While it was obvious they weren't rank and file rent-a-cops, both radiated an aura of danger despite their lack of a weapon more sophisticated than a sledgehammer between them.

Yuri and Kei aimed their pistols at the pair. The men responded by looking the women over more closely.

The black one said, "I'd guess by their uniforms these are the 3WA agents our contact wanted dead."

"Unless there are another pair of agents around here," the albino concurred.

"I kind of doubt that. Ah well, won't be the first time we've wasted the 3WA's lackeys."

Kei and Yuri looked at each other, scowling. "Whitey," Kei said.

That left Yuri with the darker of the pair. They aimed at their targets and fired.

The albino raised his hand, and a large distortion in the air, rectangular in shape, appeared directly in front of the men. The air shimmered, like the effect produced by black asphalt on a sunny summer day. The shots hit the distortion and dissipated, as though they had impacted against a solid surface that had the durability of a tank. Unperturbed, Yuri and Kei poured continuous fire into the distortion, but the men behind it merely stared in amusement.

Seeing their shots had no effect, the Dirty Pair paused as they considered what to do next. However, they weren't given any time to think as the darker of the pair pulled out his sledgehammers, wielding them in his grasp as if they were weightless Styrofoam props. As he advanced, so did the shimmering barrier, keeping one step ahead of him. Again the women fired, this time only at the foe approaching them, and again not a single shot breached the mysterious distortion.

It seemed to Yuri that the darker of the pair was heading toward Kei at an angle as he moved forward, staying to her left and keeping himself from being caught between the women. Yuri's finger jerked quickly on her trigger, firing at his arms and legs, hoping to find a weak point in the wall. Kei did the opposite, shooting at the exact same spot repeatedly as she tried to hammer through it with brute force.

The man was no more than a couple of meters in front of Kei when he stopped moving forward and instead raised the sledgehammers into the air, the heads of each now surrounded by a glowing golden aura, demonstrating they were not normal construction tools. Kei backed away while Yuri, who was well out of reach, continued firing ineffectually.

The man brought the hammers down at the same time. Surprisingly, the target was not Kei, but rather the floor. While the shimmering wall might have stopped lasers, it didn't prevent the shockwave produced by the impact from being transmitted through the floor. Kei was knocked onto her backside, while Yuri was staggered and her gun slipped from her grasp as she was forced to pinwheel her arms and try to balance herself.

Suddenly the shimmering was gone. The darker man, who had kept his balance the entire time brought his hammers back up, heads glowing again, and aimed right at Kei. She rolled out of the way of the hammer aimed at her body, but the second one crashed down on her gun, smashing it into a bent piece of metal and nearly doing the same to her hand, which she narrowly snatched out of the way in time.

Yuri bent down and recovered her own laser pistol. Years of training enabled her to aim unerringly even as she brought it up, sighting in the attacker's head. Just as she fired, the shimmering appeared right in front of her, stopping the laser only centimeters after it left the barrel.

"Why don't we let those two duke it out for a while?" the albino called out from his position at the far side of the room.

Yuri turned to look at him and realized something. The shimmering wasn't wrapped around her. It remained a large rectangle interposed between herself and Kei, stopping her in one direction and no other. She switched targets and aimed at the albino.

The wall moved as fast as thought, now between her and her target. She fired a trio of times, finding her luck the same as before.

"How are you doing it?" she asked, hoping against hope he was stupid enough to tell her. He seemed the bragging type. Sort of like Kei, when Yuri thought of it.

He pointed at his head. "Telekinesis. Oh, they had to operate on my brain a bit in order to refine it and increase it by several levels of magnitude, but I didn't really need the parts they removed. My telekinetic walls are immovable objects. That's how I earned my nickname, 'The Anvil'. They call my brother Harrison, 'Hammer', for less subtle reasons." He pointed in the direction of the other man.

Yuri turned to see that since Kei had been rendered weaponless, 'Hammer' was trying his best to flatten her with his namesake. Every time the glowing weapons struck the floor or walls, the metal crumpled underneath the force. Even a glancing blow would be enough to finish off Yuri's partner.

Not that Kei was content to play the role of helpless target. Several times she used her nimble form to lash out with fist or foot, but the exo-frame easily absorbed the attacks, not even causing Hammer flinch. Despite the man's tremendous size and the weight of his weapons, his exo-frame made every swing as powerful as the one before, while Kei was slowing down ever so slightly. It was only a matter of time before Kei grew tired and was flattened into a bloody mess. Then it would be Yuri's turn.

Yuri tested the Anvil's boast and aimed at Hammer and then back at the telekinetic. In each case he tracked her movements and placed the wall between her and her targets. Yuri had enough familiarity with the power of the mind from the Nolandia affair to know this was trouble. Still, if this Anvil guy needed such drastic measures as removing sections of his brain to increase his telekinesis, his power had to be limited. She decided to test the waters. "You can't keep this up forever. Sooner or later your brain will get tired and I'll nail you and your partner." She shot once into the wall for emphasis.

The Anvil smirked. "You'll run out of ammo long before I run out of power, thanks to this." He threw a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the pack on his back.

So now Yuri had a tertiary target. She calmed herself. There was something about the wall that was bothering her. Obviously his control over telekinesis was limited, or he would have ripped their guns out of their hands or crushed their heads with his mind or some similar feat of power. It appeared he relied on the wall structure for protection. An impressive defense, while his hammer wielding brother provided the offense, but it had limitations as well.

Yuri carefully examined the telekinetic wall. Ten meters long and about eight high, nearly reaching to the ceiling of the room. It was mobile, but inflexible, or else he'd throw her in a cocoon instead of moving the wall in front of her gun. Running toward him while firing at his brother might work, but the Anvil would see her coming, and probably angle the wall to drive her back while keeping her from hitting anything. What she really needed was two guns so she could divide her targets. Or something that could reach around corners.

It was then Yuri knew what to do. She bent down, firing at the Anvil the entire time, as she removed her 'Bloody Card' from her boot. Keeping it hidden from sight behind her back, she opened up with a laser volley in the Anvil's direction, one bright enough to make him blink.

He did so, and she flung the card with a snap of the wrist in a direction parallel to the wall. As she hoped, its gyroscopes and her skill allowed it to arc around the telekinetic structure and all the way to the far wall of the room before sailing across and heading toward its target.

"You're wasting your time, girl," the Anvil bragged once her laser storm was over. Then he paused. For all his bluster, he was a professional, and the girl was waiting for something to happen. Something good, judging by her smile. Good for her would be bad for him. Now that he thought about it, she might have thrown something out from behind her back at the height of her volley.

The Anvil sensed more than heard the Bloody Card cutting through the air. He tucked and rolled into a ball while concentrating on maintaining his shield. If she fired at his brother while he was distracted, it could be bad. He just hoped her attention remained focused on him during her attack.

The Anvil came out of his roll and on his feet. There was a slightly perturbed look on Yuri's features. Good, he had circumvented whatever it was she had planned. "Nice try girl, whatever it was, but you fail…" his boast died on his lips as she was now displaying a wide smile for him. He couldn't figure out why until the smell of ozone and the sound of sparks reached his senses. Both were coming from behind him.

"Oh, shit! Harrison!" he cried out, even as the damage to the powerpack caused it to explode. It was not Artus 'The Anvil' Winston's lucky day. The card, while missing the original target that was his neck, had struck one of the few vital points on his power unit: the connection wire between the pack and the terminal port in his neck. The feedback caused the pack to overload rather than shut down. Had the latter happened, Artus could have summoned enough strength to maintain his telekinetic wall until he and his brother retreated. With the force of the contained, but impressive explosion, it blew through the protection of his exo-frame and sent over a hundred pieces of metal and plastic debris through his back and out the front of his chest.

Harrison 'Hammer' Winston had just tripped Kei and knocked her prone on the floor. There would be no escape from her in that position. His twin hammers were raised high above his head when he heard the explosion come from across the room and turned just in time to see his brother's dead body slump to the floor.

"Artus!" he cried out. That was his last word as a shot from Yuri's pistol went through the faceplate of his exo-frame, killing him instantly. The sledgehammers, no longer supported, slipped from his hands and fell right on top him, driving the upper part of exo-frame into his corpse and his body into the ground.

"Blech!" Kei commented as she rose to her feet and backed away from the grisly remains.

"Gruesome," Yuri agreed.

"I was more worried about getting his blood on me," Kei clarified. She looked over to the dead body across the room. "Unusual foes."

"Yeah, they gave you a hard time for a minute." Yuri shot her partner a mischievous look.

Kei appeared offended. "Me? Au contraire. I was distracting the big guy, since I knew he'd squash you flat inside thirty seconds. I knew you'd figure out how to get around that force field thing before he'd come close to me."

"Yeah, right," Yuri said drolly as the pair exited the room.

The assassin known as Cross, who would insist that not only was he not a Samidat, but that such a cabal did not exist, lead the three members of his team through one of the numerous labs in the facility, trying to locate Zeiram. As they passed through, Cross noted some of the substances in the numerous containers that were marked with numbers rather than the names of their actual contents. Most would have expressed surprise to discover that he recognized what the unmarked contents were and what uses they had. Cross had the equivalent of a high level degree in over four sciences, and had he chosen so, could have earned a seven figure salary with any megacorporation, including YSC or the Tormand Confederation. Not that he had any intention of doing such. It was just that he grew bored easily, and there was such a thing as overtraining. So he studied science on the side as a hobby, and it turned out he had an aptitude for it, similar to his ability to kill people.

As Cross noted the containers, and the only things that they could be used for in conjunction with one another, he made a mental note that YSC was up to some very interesting things besides the item that Zeiram was after. It was nice to know Killgore trusted him enough to inform him of what Scorphius was after here. It was a pity they hadn't the time to find out where it was located at the facility, so he could head directly to it and dispatch Zeiram himself. He was certain he could do it. The monster could feel pain and bleed. Anything that did those two things could die. If there was a way to kill it, Cross would find that way.

The assassin suddenly stopped in the middle of the room, as though he was frozen in place.

One of the women behind him asked, "What is it?" and began pointing her gun warily in many directions.

"Cross senses something," one of the others provided, and did the same as the woman.

After a moment, Cross said, "I really must give you my apologies. It appears we're dealing with a true professional." And dove to the floor just as several small objects came into the room through a wall. The blurs headed toward the three remaining people and where Cross had been a moment ago. The ionic shuriken, which had passed through two inches of metal as though they weren't there, sliced through vital points of each of the three still standing people, killing them instantly.

Cross was in motion. Whoever it was had something that enabled them to see through walls, probably a heat sensor. Having noted where some of the more volatile chemicals were located, he shot them, causing a small fire to erupt in the lab. He interposed the flames between himself and the holes left behind from the paths the shuriken had taken.

Much to his annoyance, a half dozen others were thrown from a different point in the wall, heading toward the small conflagration. While the attacker couldn't tell precisely where he was, they would have a good idea and were willing to take a chance that a flurry of the weapons might get lucky and hit him.

Cross dove in the direction of more chemicals, shooting at them and causing another explosion. This time one of the shuriken clipping his leg, biting deep enough to make him bleed profusely and severely limit his mobility. Yes, whoever it was stalking him was damn good. He was disgusted to note that a part of him was thrilled with someone so worthy trying to kill him. He was a professional, and only killed for business, not pleasure. No true professional wanted a difficult target. Easy ones were always the best. But Cross found himself so rarely challenged that there was something exhilarating about knowing how close to death he was.

Cross shot up several other chemicals, causing fires throughout the lab. Soon the blaze would claim the whole room, and him with it. He had to end the fight fast.

Even as he placed a rebreather on his face, to keep the smoke from getting to him, he noted that the shuriken probably weren't coated in poison, since they had to pass through walls and any such substance would be lost when it cut through the metal. Ionic shuriken were an interesting choice of weapon. Using them required a high level of training, and the number one could carry was limited. On the other hand, they were silent, had no tell tale power signature until they were activated, and didn't necessarily have to come from a straight path. Though from the way they had been clustered in both attacks, Cross assumed each wave was coming at him in a direct line. He doubted there was enough room on the other side of the wall for them to arc and hide the origin point. That meant he had already circumvented one of his opponent's advantages by forcing them to make mass attacks from one point instead of single attacks from anywhere.

Cross noted that the area they had been thrown from had changed from right to left. The foe was probably moving even as the shuriken left their hands. But what direction? Did they have a habit of moving in a particular direction? At the level they were operating at, he doubted it.

Cross boosted the power level on his pistol. It was a pity he shunned heavy weapons, but he was a surgeon and preferred using scalpels. Killgore was the type who liked flash and big explosions, which was what made them the perfect team. At the moment, Cross really could have used Killgore's plasma cannon to melt the wall down and make things a whole lot easier. Instead he was going to have to shoot through the wall at his highest setting in order to kill his opponent. That meant only four shots per magazine before the power level was drained and he'd have to reload. And he didn't have an unlimited number of magazines. He hadn't expected a protracted fight, not with Zeiram.

There was a plan of attack he had for situations like this, though it was based on the premise of two foes fighting in pitch blackness with no way to pierce the gloom. It would have to be adjusted slightly.

Cross tensed up and dove for another fire. He chose a point on the wall one meter to the left from where the first attack had come from, and fired four shots in a perfect vertical line, twenty centimeters apart.

Sure enough, the foe attacked when Cross gave away his position. A quartet of shuriken buried themselves in the plate of the flooring in between the fires. This time the throws had come from the right of the last attack, and were lower. So the mystery attacker wasn't repeating the dodge pattern. They probably wouldn't dodge twice in the same direction in a row. It was too chancy. Now, it was time to play process of elimination. Cross loaded a fresh magazine, and prayed to the gods of chance that his foe's luck ran out before his.

This time he chose to fire to the left, hoping to herd his foe to the right where he had laid his trap. His shot passed through the wall, followed a moment later by another quartet of shuriken. One nicked him in his shoulder, luckily his off fighting hand. They had come from impossibly high this time. His foe had been standing on something when launching the attack. Very smart.

Cross repeated his firing pattern, always to the left, but either high, middle or low. As he hoped, he slowly herded his foe to the right. It was subconscious, but logical since he was firing in the same direction, and eventually he would get lucky if they dove that way.

The protracted fight took its toll. Cross took another cut across the forehead and a fourth to his side, slicing deeply into flesh but missing anything vital. He shut out the pain, as he had been taught. Pain was the same as any other feeling, nothing more than a warning sign. You could feel hot. You could feel cold. You could either choose to acknowledge it and react accordingly, or ignore it and move on until the body overloaded and collapsed. He'd swallow a coagulant after the fight, when he had the time.

The assassin looked over the room. The fire had spread throughout it now, restricting the number of avenues he could take. He had no choice but to head to a corner, where it would be the end of him if he didn't nail his foe in the next two shots. Perhaps they had set up a trap too, even as he did the same to them.

Another shot, and this time a trio of shuriken headed toward him, barely missing. And then it happened. Behind the original quartet of holes created in his initial salvo, there was a flash of motion from the lower two. Cross aimed ahead of the flash and fired the remaining two shots in his magazine, and found himself in the corner. There were no answering shuriken this time. There could be only two explanations. Either his foe had run out of ammunition, which was unlikely since three had been in the last volley instead of just one, or he had finally hit his target.

Cross emptied his two remaining magazines in the area that he had shot at, then picked his way through the fire and out the exit before he was consumed in the flames. Still no answering attack came forth. He could have tried entering the next room to make sure of the kill, but he didn't care. If the foe was only wounded, and still armed, Cross could be walking into a trap. Odds were higher that simply leaving the foe behind was safe, and they wouldn't be coming after him again since they were either injured or dead. There was no reason to confirm the kill.

After all, it was about business, not pleasure.

On the other side of the wall, Whisper slowly brought her communicator to her lips, gurgling blood from her punctured lung and quickly bleeding to death from the leg that had been severed at the hip. "Dane." She sounded like her namesake, her voice faint and with just a hint of a rasp.

"Go on," came the response.

"I came close to nailing the Samidat. Just one more… move and he was dead. I think I figured how he did it. I should have gone left just… once more. Not bad, coming within one move of killing a Samidat, and only luck saved him. How many can say that?"

"Not many," came the voice. There was the sound of tired resignation, but nothing else.

She felt everything going dark. "Guess I won't be whispering in your ear anymore."

"That bad?"

"Oh yeah. That bad. Remember the… promise."

"Sure thing. It'll be the biggest, gaudiest mausoleum on your birthplace at Beti Minor. Everyone on the planet will talk about it."

"Thanks." She let go then. Whisper knew she was going to die at some point, and given her profession, sooner was more likely than later. Since in life she had made an art of going unnoticed, she wanted to be acknowledged in death. And a mausoleum that was three stories tall and painted in a rainbow of swirls with four 'eternal flames' burning, was sure to make people sit up and take notice of the woman born into the galaxy as Contessa Anzia Filiono Pontaine.

And then she died. Content, if not happy, which was more than most were given.

"Crap!" Dane cursed as he turned off the communicator. He had one confirmed death, and neither Hammer nor Anvil had reported in when they were supposed to. That meant they were probably dead. Stegrax hadn't reported for a while either, but that wasn't a surprise. The cyborg had been constantly disobedient, bordering on mutinous. He had been teetering at the edge of sanity for some time, and had probably gone over it. It wasn't a surprise. He hadn't been that stable to begin with. Who in their right mind voluntarily gave up their perfectly healthy body for that thing he had put his brain into? Stegrax's death would be convenient, since Dane had considered the possibility of killing the cyborg himself, before he became a liability on a mission.

The other three, though, they had formed the core of his team. They had kicked ass and taken names from one side of the galaxy to the next and come out on top every time. Replacing them with new people as talented and reliable as they were was going to be a major pain in the ass. He even liked them, for the most part. Like he would a trio of favored hound dogs.

Killing Zeiram, getting the fat bonus on the side, and maybe taking out Killgore and company, would ease Dane's heart-rending torment. Well, major annoyance might be a better word. Yes, that much money could wipe out any amount of misery. People that claimed money couldn't buy happiness never had enough to buy any.

"Where to, Sir?" one of the dozen security personnel backing up Dane asked.

While Dane had faith in his own abilities, and considered himself the most skilled mercenary of his team, it never hurt to have a lot of people with guns backing up one's plays, at least by his estimation.

Dane was considering trying to raise Hammer and Anvil again when from up ahead at a 'T' junction there came the sound of heavy plodding. Dane silently signaled the men to fan out, leaving himself to command things from the rear of the pack, until the situation sorted itself out.

Thirteen men aimed their guns toward the sound of the slow, yet relentless noise. A single bead of sweat came to Dane's brow. There was no question in his mind as to who this could be, the one being in the universe that could decimate half his team without giving them a chance to warn him.

Then Stegrax's head appeared from around the corner.

"I knew it." Dane sighed in relief, bringing his weapons pod down.

The rest of the men also began to lower their weapon with the identification.

Then the rest of Stegrax, and the creature holding him, turned the corner. Now in full view, Dane stared in stunned silence at the sight. Zeiram had an odd barrel-shaped container in one hand and held the upper torso of Stegrax up and out like a shield, with the other. Pulsing veins traveling up Stegrax's frame could be seen, as though the cyborg had formed an unholy fusion with what was supposed to be his mortal foe. Then Dane remembered the dossier on Zeiram that he had received from YSC mentioning the monster's ability to merge with nearly any weapon system that existed.

"Shit!" Dane cursed as Stegrax opened his mouth and unleashed a sonic wave. All of the guards were sent tumbling to the floor, all save Dane, whose absorption mesh cushioned the impact, enabling him to withstand it.

That gave him just enough time to seek a doorframe for cover as Stegrax's left hand came up and filled the corridor with flechettes. Every man caught in the open died under the hail of small sharp objects traveling just under the speed of sound. Only Dane survived unharmed in his miniscule shelter.

The hail stopped, as Dane knew it would. He was familiar with Stegrax's weapons systems and knew it would take a full second to reload for another volley. As Dane came out of the corner and raised his arm up, the appropriate barrel of his pod already in place, he noted Zeiram had made a cardinal mistake. He should have used a fatal attack as his opening move. Now he was going to pay for it with his life.

Mind working as fast as the speed of thought could muster, Dane aimed at the junction of Stegrax's neck. The mini-missile shot out from the launcher just as the next round of flechettes loaded.

The missile hit, exploding before Zeiram could do anything. The detonation threw everything below the severed neck backward, hammering into Zeiram and knocking him off balance, making him drop the large container he carried. Dane followed up as a second barrel locked into position and fired. A coruscating flow of green, blue, and yellow energies intertwined like snakes, emitted from the barrel. The trio of energies formed a single beam as they went clean through Zeiram's front and out the back, blowing a large hole in him.

Zeiram's inhuman roar of pain was like that of hundred men as it echoed through the labyrinth corridors of the facility. The monster fell to the ground, writhing in torment.

Even Dane was impressed by Zeiram's resilience. He refrained from using the Trinity Cannon a second time for two reasons. One was that he needed Zeiram alive for just a little longer in order to get the bonus, and the other was because the weapon took so much power the pod could only hold one shot. It would take the better part of a half hour to recharge enough so that he could fire a second bolt.

Not that Dane needed it. There were other weapons at his disposal, and Zeiram was helpless on the ground. Stationary targets were always his favorites. Still, the green monster was durable, and it wouldn't do to underestimate him. A little more softening up was in order.

Dane switched his weapon pod over to its laser function and began walking up to Zeiram, firing on the move. Surprisingly, the beam had little effect, merely scorching the creature's outside and barely penetrating. Switching over to his slug thrower, Dane pumped a sextet of seven centimeter depleted vanadanium-reatium core slugs into the monster. Even Zeiram's tough exterior couldn't protect him with the speeds the high density rounds struck. Each went deep into his body, making him cry out again in pain, though much more weakly than before. Once a spasm of twitching passed, Zeiram remained motionless.

"Don't die on me yet, big guy, not until I get my bonus." Dane pulled out the item that had been in the special package YSC had sent him when he first accepted the assignment and was informed of what earning his bonus entailed. It would nearly double his take. No, even better. With everyone else dead, he would more than triple his normal fee. Apparently losing one's comrades in the line of duty had a certain upside. He'd make certain to give Whisper a really ostentatious mausoleum when the time came.

The cylindrical object looked like nothing more than a high tech syringe with a computer display on the side to monitor the contents. Dane saw the display indicated it was ready. He moved forward to where the gaping wound in Zeiram's chest was. It was amazing. Any normal humanoid creature would have died with a hole that big in their chest cavity. Zeiram was not only alive, but Dane could see the blood flow had slowed to a trickle and there were signs of the wound starting to regenerate. The mercenary wagered putting some plasma into the top of his mushroom cap and sending it down the trunk of the body would finish it off for good.

As Dane bent down to stick the syringe in, the white face at the brim of Zeiram's wide head suddenly came to life. It shot out from its housing, its serpentine body connecting it to the brim as it sank its needlelike teeth into its foe. The white slivers tore through the absorption mesh and bit deep into the meat of his forearm. Dane cried out in pain and dropped the syringe as he began a tug of war with the evil-looking thing as it tried to cling onto him for dear life.

Using all his strength, Dane pulled his arm out of the creature's toothy maw, leaving behind a good chunk of his forearm in the process. As much pain as he was in, he still had enough cognizance to be revolted as the head swallowed the piece of flesh it had bitten off and almost seemed to laugh at him in satisfaction

The rest of Zeiram was not idle. As Dane pulled away, the monster rolled up into a kneeling position, displaying surprising agility for a creature his size, especially considering the wounds he had suffered. His arm lashed out in an arc, and Dane was just barely aware of a trio of spikes, with red tassels on them, heading toward him.

Finely honed reflexes took over as Dane managed to dodge the first two. The third, which had been aimed at his face, was intercepted as he brought his weapons pod in front of him. Hurled with Zeiram's considerable strength, the spike pierced the outer casing of the pod and embedded itself in the metal.

"Nice try!" Dane cried out as he aimed the plasma cannon barrel right at the evil white head.

Then the spike exploded, taking the weapon pod with it. Dane found himself assailed by a cloud of shrapnel. His suit absorbed some of it, but many other pieces cut deep into his body. Worse, the white phosphorus tube in his pod spilled its contents directly upon his face. His voice, unable to reach the inhuman pitch Zeiram's could, still rivaled the beast's earlier cry. It was Dane's turn to roll on the ground as the phosphorous ate away at his flesh.

Zeiram rose to his feet somewhat wobbly. He took a single step toward Dane, then stopped as his head jerked abruptly. He turned around, picked up the container he had been carrying, and proceeded to walk away at a high rate of speed, his wounds healing every step of the way.

Dane was unaware of Zeiram's peculiar actions. He was unaware of anything other then whiteness of pain that his entire reality had turned into. It was so great that it refused to allow him even the relief of unconsciousness, and instead left him floating in a world that was composed solely of agony.

How long Dane remained in that state he could not say, time lost all meaning. Everything lost meaning. It was an unending Moebius loop of pain. But then other things began to intrude. A gradual lessening of the pain allowed the introduction of thought, of concepts beyond agony. Then came awareness. He was a man, Alexander Dane. Memories. He was a mercenary, who had fought against a powerful enemy and lost. Then the pain seemed to go away, with nothing left in its wake. Numbness covered his body. It was like his flesh had turned into several inches of rubber, desensitizing him to the world.

A deep, masculine voice said, "I loaded you up with Namadol. It'll deaden every pain receptor in your brain, as well as most of your receptors for motor control. But you'll be aware mentally."

Dane found his head didn't really want to move, so instead he turned his eyes. Only one responded. There was nothing but blackness in the other. He saw that his salvation was the next to last person he had ever expected to see.

"Killgore." The word came out muffled through a jaw that barely responded to commands. It was difficult enough to make his tongue move.

"Yep. The one and only."

Since Killgore had saved him, there was a good chance he was unaware of the actions Dane had taken to have him eliminated. He praised every god there was the idiot security forces had failed to dispose of Killgore. "Good… to… see… you."

Killgore seemed unimpressed. "Odd. That wasn't the attitude you had earlier when you ordered your troops to kill us. I lost six men to those idiots. That really pisses me off."

This was bad. "Not… true. Stupid… security… misunderstand… order."

"Save it." Killgore said in a tired voice. "I only pumped you full of painkiller so you'd see what's coming."

"Wait!" Dane said in desperation. "We're… on… same… side. I… got… stuff… for… bonus."

Killgore raised his heavy plasma cannon up and aimed it at Dane's face. "Nice try, but I saw the empty unit. Right now there's only one thing you can do for me."


"Die." Killgore pulled the trigger, watching Dane's head vaporize in the heat generated by the weapon. "Thanks." Killgore said, giving the remains a mock salute.

Then Killgore felt the unmistakable touch of cold metal pressed against his lower back. He gave a tired sigh. "There's only one person in the universe I know who'd want to put a gun to my back yet not automatically pull the trigger. How's it going, Sunshine?"

Iria spat on the ground, blood mingling with the saliva. Despite having recovered somewhat from her battle with Stegrax, she still appeared worn and exhausted. "Well, well, well, that little conversation sure was interesting. I don't recall you mentioning anything about a bonus or empty units."

Killgore turned around to look Iria in the eye. She backed off, but kept the gun pointed at him. "It's a time bonus. If we stop Zeiram quickly, we get more money. But that's looking like the longest shot I've ever seen in my life."

"What about the empty unit?"

"It's a minor thing I've been sworn to secrecy about, and it doesn't concern you. I want Zeiram dead. You want Zeiram dead. YSC obviously wants him dead, maybe more than everyone else put together." His voice instantly went from tired to irate, as though something had snapped all at once inside him. "I'm tired of your pointless questions, constant paranoia, threats, and finding a gun pointed at me every time you feel agitated and want to blow of some steam. Either shoot me or get that damn thing out of my face."

Iria turned bright red, and her grip tightened to the point it made the gun tremble. Her eyes seemed to glaze over for a brief second, and the edge of a smile made its appearance known. Then she seemed to regain control and holstered the gun. She turned away and walked off without another word.

Once Killgore was convinced she was well out of earshot, he released his breath. That had been much closer than he expected.

A figure detached itself from some nearby shadows. "The little tart had no idea how close to death she was."

"Always watching my back?" Killgore asked, flashing Cross his winning smile.

The assassin shrugged. "What can I say? I get bored easily."

As he moved fully into the lighting, Killgore noticed the bloody bandages on his side and ankle. "You should really get those looked at."

"I took some coagulants. I'm a little slow, but still lethal."

"I'm sure you are." Killgore said. Before their conversation could continue, there was a burst of static. The mercenary brought out his communicator. "Talk to me."

"This is Destiny. We just got a contact with a ship that put down for a second next to the facility and took off again."

"Shit!" Killgore cursed. "Don't wait for us. Follow it and take her out."

"That might be a problem, Sir. Apparently the authorities have our ship in their database as a mercenary company and have us detained until they can ascertain we had nothing to do with the crash. I don't think we can shoot our way out. Their ships look mighty big, and they have us targeted."

"Don't try it. Just let them be." He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Are they at least pursuing the other ship?"

"Yes, but none of their units were in position, so it seems unlikely they'll catch up before the ship's long gone."

"That figures. We'll be up once things get sorted out. Killgore out." He cut the switch and there was silence.

"What do you want to do?" Cross asked.

"I'm getting sick and tired of being behind. Now that Zeiram has what he came for, and I'm sure he does, I need more intelligence and a few answers. I'm going to YSC headquarters and talk to Springer myself."

"Do you want me to go with you?" Cross asked.

Killgore gave him his trademark smile. "Nope, I'll probably need you to take care of matters here."

The light of understanding dawned in Cross' eyes. "I see. Yes. Just give me the word, and I'll 'take care of matters'."

"Good." Killgore spat once more on Dane's corpse and headed for the nearest exit. It was time to get some answers and solve some sticky situations that had come up in one fell swoop.


To be continued.

Special thanks to

  • Aondehafka
  • David McMillan
Chapter 11
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