By Alex Fauth

For not he first time, and certainly not the last time, Karin Anderson wondered what she was doing here in the Zero Zone. Of course, the answer was simple. She was an officer in Jinsei's security forces and she and her men had been assigned to help with Jinsei's pacification of the Zone. But what bugged her was why had they been ordered there in the first place?

The Zone, in many ways, reminded her of her childhood. She'd grown up poor in Cleveland and found that she had some talent for fighting while defending herself and staying alive. She'd gotten a job with Jinsei's security forces as it was one of the few things that someone from a poor background and minimal education could do. She'd just never expected to be dragged into a war zone. Her squad had bee called in after the first few weeks of fighting. A group from a backwater branch like Ohio were now supporting Jinsei's best troops from Japan. She'd never have expected it.

She was of average height, but muscular from years of working out and training. She had short, scruffy brown hair, brown eyes and fair skin with its own fair share of scars from various childhood misadventures. Replace the uniform with some rags, and she could have easily been on the other side of this conflict.

"Lieutenant?" It was Sergeant Willis, her second in command.


"Lieutenant Katsuragi is requesting support. He has a group holed up in a house and needs help flushing them out."

"Right." Katsuragi was technically her equal. However, he'd been in the field longer then her and this tended to act like he was superior. That and the fact that he was from the Mega-Tokyo branch itself made him practically unbearable. "Let's go."

They didn't have an APC available. It was currently back at the HQ, having a busted axle replaced. That axle that had been fowled by a well-concealed pothole on the road that the transport had run straight into. As a result, they'd been assigned to foot patrol. Better squads got access to the ever-shrinking pool of troop transports. It made going a little harder, but conversely, in the more contested areas, it made them harder targets.

Within minutes they were there. A lone house, the last in a row of what were now mostly burnt-out hulks. Katsuragi's squad were dug in behind rubble, taking potshots at the building. Several of the upper floor windows were partially boarded up, with people firing out through them.

Karin slipped down to behind the same section of wall as Katsuragi. "What have we got?" She asked.

"Gang." He shouted back in accented English. "Stupid rabble who don't know when to shut up." He glanced at her squad. "You three! Grenades on the upper floor! Now!"

Karin was resentful at having her authority undermined, but understood what he meant. She glanced back at three troops currently hiding behind the corner of another building. "Spencer, Grant, Haig. Top window, now!"

The three troops fired from their under barrel-mounted grenade launchers. The first grenade exploded against the boards, blowing them in. The second two sailed through, exploding inside, sending gouts of flame, smoke and debris flying out the opened window. The gunfire from the windows ceased.

<Now!> Katsuragi shouted in Japanese. <Go, go, go!> Several men from his squad burst out from their cover, charging to the front of the house. After taking positions at the front of the house, they waited. After a hand-signal form Katsuragi (Who was still under cover with Karin) one of them kicked open the door and sprayed the inside of the house.

"As you can see, lieutenant, we have the situation well in hand" He commented, a hint of smugness in his voice.

The pair of them watched the house intently, Karin just waiting to signal her squad. For a minute, there was no activity. Then a rather shabby-looking young man stumbled out of the front door. He was rather disheveled and clad in a tattered longcoat that seemed to be as much holes as it was material. He was bleeding profusely form a cut on his forehead, and looked to be limping. His hands were in the air. No sooner was he out of the house then a rather ragged young woman followed him, in a similar state.

This was the face of the enemy, she thought. This was the first time she'd seen the Zone's defenders like this. The few she'd seen so far were secure in Jinsei's facility by the Willimasburg bridge, while these ones had only been shooting at them a few minutes before. She looked at the man. He was thin and probably cold and underfed. Is this what we're here to stop, she asked herself.

"Pathetic, isn't it?" Katsuragi began as he stood on a clump of rubble. "I don't know why they don't just give up now. They'd probably be better off." He picked up his communicator. <Katsuragi here.> He began. <The area is secure. Repeat, the area is secu->

Suddenly, his head jerked back, a spray of red splattering on the wall behind him. He collapsed, the communicator falling from his hand and landing in front of Karin. The voice on the other end shouted in Japanese, before Karin grabbed it. "This is Anderson to command, come in!" She shouted as loudly as possible.

"What's happening?" The voice shouted, switching to English.

"Lieutenant Katsuragi has been killed by a sniper!" She shouted. "I can't find them-"

"Take them out immediately!" The voice replied.

"But they have cover and-"

"You have your orders, lieutenant!" The voice shouted, then closed the line.

She looked around frantically. The man and woman from the house were scampering away through the rubble, while her and Katsuragi's men were al diving for cover. All of them that is except for private Jill Starling, her communications officer, who was standing around, looking clueless.

"Get down!" She shouted.

"What's happening?" Starling yelled back.

"Damn!" Karin dashed out from behind the rubble and crash-tackled Starling. The pair of them collapsed behind the rubble, just as a shot smacked into the wall behind them - where Starling's head would have been a second ago.

"There's a sniper, you fool!" She hissed.

"Where?" Starling replied.

Karin looked around. She could see something between two chunks of rubble. There, it was someone moving, a blonde-haired figure. "There!" She shouted and pointed in the rough direction of the figure. "He's over there."

Her squad opened fire on the chunk of rubble, spraying it with bullets. "Stop! Stop!" She shouted when it was clear that they weren't achieving anything. She peered at the bullet-ridden chunk of rubble. There was no sign that the sniper had even been there.

"What's happening there?" The voice asked. 'What's the status?"

"The sniper has escaped." She replied, then glanced around. "Also the prisoners taken form the house have escaped."

"Get after them!" The voice demanded. "We need them hunted down and eliminated."

She could see their point of view. Any resistance in the Zone had to be neutralized. That sniper was definitely a threat, she assessed. She personally suspected that the gangers weren't that dangerous, but there was a nagging doubt at the back of her mind.

I could have been like that.

Vic ran. She ran a lot. She usually ran after taking a shot before the other end had a chance to find her and do her in. Running was fun. Running followed shooting. Shooting was fun.

She didn't have any real interest in helping out the gangers. She and Stuart had heard about the situation and had decided to take a look at it. By the time they'd gotten there it was all over save for some tool standing on a rock and declaring "Victoly! A winner is me!" So she'd plugged him. Silly man.

Tool. Hang on, she said tool. Sandra said tool. Sandra was now in HK with her man. Probably going smoooooooch. She should call Sandra. Except it'd be the middle of the night. And she didn't have a phone. But if she did, she would.

She thumbed her communicator. "Hey, Stuart." She began. "Got Mad Elvises on my case. May be late home for dinner."

"Wha?" Stuart asked. He wasn't very fast on the uptake.

"Never mind. Be a good boy and try not to wreck anything before I get back."

She scampered in amongst the rubble before darting into another abandoned house on a corner. This looked fun, she thought. These people are making my life quite enjoyable. She scampered up the stairs before finding a nice purchase in a window overlooking the street. The houses around here were relatively tightly packed, she noticed. It'd make sniping hard, but not impossible. A challenge, she thought. Fun!

She peered down the street through the scope. Hmm... Rubble choked streets. Lots of debris. Hint of movement form Jinsei troops. Good... their commander was smart. This was going to be fun. Now... she was in one of two most likely locations. The secret would be to see which one they picked first.

"Smart cookie." She muttered. "Now we play."

She peered through the scope, looking for targets. Nothing, nothing... hmm... this person was good. Either that or they'd given up trying and had found something else to do. That would be decidedly not fun. There. A glimpse of uniform moving in amongst some rubble. Perfect. She lined up the figure and fired. Bang. The soldier collapsed. Around it, there was a flurry of motion as others ducked for cover. Now it was becoming fun. "He's Jam!" She hissed. "Yum ja-am!"

A puff of smoke from the street caught her attention. Something sailed through the window next to her and clattered to the ground. "Poop." She muttered. A grenade. Not fun. She leaped away from the window to the other side of the room just as it went off. The blast threw her to the floor, shaken and bruised but largely unharmed. A second clanging noise indicated that it had a friend. "You guys take all the fun out of my life!" She shouted as she leaped for the stairs. The grenade when off, once again throwing her but leaving her unharmed.

"Somebody's going down." She muttered as she reached the ground floor. One shot then a run. Peering out the front window she could see people moving towards the house. Clearly they thought her dead or wounded form their grenades. A fair bet, but wrong. "Ay, poppy. Down." She lined up another soldier and took the shot. Bang.

No sooner was the soldier down then a hail of automatic gunfire saturated the building. Vic darted out the back as the meager contents of the front room were shredded by enemy fire. This was very Un-hoopy, she thought. True, these guys were more of a challenge, but they had decided to be so decidedly unfair as to pass beyond "more of a challenge" to "Being quite annoying" and were thusly no longer fun.

She ducked out the back door of the house and slammed it shut. Glancing around what had once been a tiny yard, she considered her options. Then the gunfire began again. So, they liked to come from behind too, she thought. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Rather then staying to fight, she chose to run. A sniper rifle was great over long distances when the enemy didn't know where you were. Over shorter distances against a whole bunch of people charging at you with autofire weapons blazing, you were at a disadvantage.

"I have her in sigh, Willis!" Karin excitedly shouted into her communicator as she ran along the line of the wall. "Target is heading due east of my direction. Suspect she is trying to make a break for friendly territory."

"Do you want me to follow?" He replied. "See If can cut her off?"

"Negative." She replied. "Hold your position in case she tries to double back." She wheezed out as she leaped over a low wall. "What's the condition of the men?"

"Archer is wounded. McCormack's dead."

"Damn it!" She swore as she landed behind the wall of a house, a pair of troopers coming up next to her. "Okay, Porter, Leeds, you two go around to the right. I'll take the left."

"But lieutenant-" Porter began

"No arguments, soldier." She replied. "I don't want to let them get away from me this time." And hopefully I can draw fire away from the rest of you. She looked around. Unless she's leading us into a trap, in which case we're screwed.

"Yes, lieutenant." He muttered.

"On three." She counted off three on her fingers, then burst into a run. Coming around the wall, she broke into a run, catching sight of her target. The blonde woman was running, her rifle in hand, trying to make for a cluster of ruined industrial buildings. If she made it to there, Karin thought, we're definitely going to loose her.

She fired as she ran, trying to keep the other woman pinned down. Surprisingly enough, her target continued to run towards the rusted, burnt-out hulk of an abandoned car. Was she crazy or just desperate, Karin thought. She'd seen enough of the zone's inhabitants in recent weeks to believe that either was possible.

Vic leaped over the wrecked car as shots whizzed past her. Turning in the air, she fired blindly, hoping to keep her opponent down. She landed on her back, firing again before rolling aside. The woman leaped over the car after her, a shot narrowly whizzing past her face, firing her own assault rifle. Vic rolled back, then leaped behind another chunk of rubble.

She waited for the inevitable hail of fire. Surprisingly enough, there was none. Instead there was a popping sound, like something popping out of a tube. Oh dear.

Only one thing to do. The unexpected.

She leaped back over the rubble, heading back towards the woman as the grenade sailed past her. Then it landed behind her, and made a few clanging sounds before exploding. While the wall shielded her from the blast, she was sent sprawling forwards, landing on her back.

There was movement. She turned and pointed her rifle up, only to find the Jinsei woman standing over her, her rifle in her face.

"Hi," she said, and grinned.

Karin was trying to remain calm. She had her rifle pointed at the woman's head. Unfortunately, her rifle was also pointed at Karin's head.

She'd finally got a good look at this mysterious attacker. She was grinning in a way that suggested that she knew something was going on and something bad was about to happen to Karin. Either that or she was going to bite. It was hard to tell. She tried her hardest not to flinch, which was difficult with a rifle in her face. The woman's own stare, with rather disquieting yellowy green eyes, made it hard.

"Don't..." Karin began. "Don't move."

The woman rather casually looked around. "Not much chance of that." She turned back to Karin. "So you come here often?"


Something caught Vic's eye. There was somebody in one of the buildings across the street. Somebody not in a Jinsei uniform. Somebody who was carrying a large object that was probably not a rifle. This would be fun.

"I probably shouldn't say this." Vic began. "But you might want to duck."

"Shut up!" She shouted back.

"Your funeral."

There was a whooshing noise. The Jinsei woman turned to see what it was just as the car exploded.

Karen picked herself up off the ground. She dimly remembered the explosion and being sent flying. After that it was a little hazy. Looking around, she could see no sign of the sniper girl from before or the attacker who'd destroyed the car. She'd probably made good her escape in the ensuing confusion.

Her communicator beeped. "Lieutenant?" It was Willis. "What happened?"

"She escaped." Karin replied.

"She?" He asked.

"The sniper. It was a woman. No sign of her now and I doubt she's hanging around here any more." She scanned the rubble. The other woman could be hiding somewhere, looking for the opportunity to take her out, but she somehow doubted it. They probably had little to gain from here. "Stay where you are for the moment, Sergeant. I'll be there soon."

As she set pout she thought about the look on that woman's face. It could only be described as crazed, as if she knew she was about to die and didn't care. Karin thought about it and shook her head. If things had turned out differently, if she hadn't joined Jinsei's security troops, she could have ended up like that.

For the first time in a while, she actually felt good.

Vic picked herself up. There was no sign of the other woman, or for that matter, any other members of her team. Poop. And she was having so much fun too.

She could see Stuart lurking behind a nearby wall, a smoking rocket launcher in hand. "I guess you could call it a rescue." She muttered Nothing seemed to be broken or out of place, so she supposed she should be thankful for that much.

She walked over to him. "Hey, Vic, you okay?" He began.

"Fine. I was having fun too." She replied. "Good, clean, healthy, violent fun."

"Fun?" Stuart asked. "But she was pointing a gun at your head!"

Vic yawned. "I know. I wanted to see what would happen next."

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