It had been a good long while, Koichi realized, since he'd counted himself amongst Jinsei's forces. Well over a month now since he'd turned on them to ally with the guerrilla fighters holding off the corporate invasion. And things sure had changed since.

He was thin these days, so thin his old uniform hung loose on his frame, and always hungry it seemed. He'd let his hair get scruffy, and even managed to grow a shadow of a beard. Long gone was his old uniform, even the weapons he 'd defected with. Now he spent his time in the unofficial uniform of the Zone army; urban cammo pants, black t-shirt and whatever kind of jacket he could find. But most importantly, his perceptions had changed, and more than anything, the kids were the ones to do it.

He'd barely believed in Jinsei's cause when the invasion began. Clean up the zone, restore civilization; it never quite rang true to him. He'd defected fast enough, and come to see things from the residents' viewpoint. "It's a cesspool," someone had said to him, half-joking. "But it's our cesspool." He 'd found the same camaraderie and loyalty he'd seen in Jinsei's forces, but with more relaxed structure and discipline. And then came the kids.

Watching the small group rescued from block 28 of the detention camp, Koichi still couldn't believe the truths they represented. This entire operation, it seemed was about no more than gathering - 'farming,' someone had called it - young espers for Jinsei's own purpose. He'd known the claims of 'cleaning' the zone were a lie from the start, but to find this was the true reason chilled him to the bone. But today he had the chance to watch them, as he tried to sort out his impressions and feelings.

They were training; there was no other way to put it. The children had gathered in an old, half-wrecked warehouse which some people had started to call the playroom. Inside they were testing their powers, straining their minds to see what each could do. From his seat by the door, Koichi was closest to an odd pairing, Johan Scirocco and Eliza Pie.

Johan was among the oldest of the kids, close to seventeen. He was lean, with short spiky black hair and cold blue eyes. He'd managed to scrape up a remarkably clean set of black jeans and a leather jacket - some rumored he was already teleporting to the city on chopping trips - which he'd topped up with a yellow bandanna tied around his left arm. Eliza on the other hand was the youngest of the group, only eleven. The blonde girl was said to be the youngest esper ever, not that anyone had records to check. Johan had somehow scraped up a yellow shirt for her. Glancing around, Koichi noted that a in the riot of colors that was their salvaged outfits, a good few had a splash of yellow on them.

Turning back to the pair, he saw Scirocco kneel down beside Eliza. He muttered a few words of encouragement to the girl, who creased her brow in concentration. Her short hair raised in an unseen wind, and her loose shirt billowed about her in strange patterns. She looked up at the wall before her. Following her gaze, Koichi saw the rough outline of a man had been drawn on it, with a Jinsei logo scrawled across the chest. Scirocco silently nodded at Eliza, and she let out a gasp of alarm.

The wall splintered. A loud tearing noise filled the room as a small hole was shot through the wall to the left of the figure. A second followed, blasting of the shape's hand. A third and forth blasted holes to either side of its neck. Eliza 'fired' a fifth time, but the sound was different. The chest was pierced with the sound of splintering wood, tearing fabric and a thud of hard impact. Koichi sprang to his feet and stepped out of the building to confirm his looming suspicions.

On the outer wall was hung an armored vest of the sort most Jinsei soldiers wore. Eliza's shot had torn a hole straight through the chest with no doubt lethal force. Unable to help himself, Koichi stepped forwards and fingered the hole. It was smooth, perfectly round, and precisely over the inside figure's heart.

A footstep next to him caused him to turn with alarm. Scirocco had stepped outside to admire his young charge's handiwork. The boy glanced between the torn vest and Koichi's startled expression, before giving him a faint smile and stepping casually back inside. "Good work, Eliza," he heard the boy say. "That's just what we'll need."

Things had changed again, Koichi thought as he stepped away from the playroom, shaking his head. Sooner or later, someone would ask them to fight Jinsei. Ask the former captives to strike back against their captors. And he just knew they would.

"Jinsei is justa buncha pussies," Jay opinionated. "They think they're tough, but they ain't."

Sitting in Jay's lap, Bern giggled. "You tell 'em Jay."

Raising his new shiny black FA-MAS in one hand, Jay sighted down the barrel and out the window. "Bang," he whispered, killing an imaginary Jinsei trooper with a perfect headshot.

"Yeah, Jay," Joe exclaimed from where he sat on the other side of the room, stripping another FA-MAS. "Those fuckin' fuckers thought they could fuckin' fuck with us... and we fucked them over."

"Fuckin' a," Jay dipped his other hand between Bern's denim-clad thighs, making her squeal and writhe in his lap. She almost—almost—dropped her rifle, but the guns were too new, and too effective, for the gangers to just toss them around. For a while they'd been stripping equipment from dead Jinsei troopers, but now, now the other corps were taking a vested interest in seeing Jinsei fail, so guns like the ones they now had were being fed into the Zone, and just about anyone could get one.

"Oh... Jay, yer so wicked," Bern breathed into her lover's ear.

Any attempt at further conversation ended in a seemingly endless kiss, as the two entwined their bodies into an awkward, albeit passionate embrace. Joe glanced up, gave them a wolfish grin, and went back to reassembling his rifle. They had guns now, good ones, almost as good as what Jinsei had, and they were going to dish out some major hurt. They were young, all of them, young and seemingly immortal. Jinsei didn't stand a chance.

"Wooo..." Bern exclaimed they pulled apart. "Jay yer just too bad!"

"You know it." Jay grinned and started in for another kiss, just as a flash from the window caught his eye. "What?"

"What what?" Bern turned around and then gave a squawk as Jay unceremoniously dumped her to the floor. "Hey!? Whadya do that for?"

"Shaddup." Jay leaned out the window and looked up at the sky. "Joe, come look at this."

"What the hell?" the tall ganger muttered once he'd taken a look. "What is that?"

"Dunno..." Jay shook his head. "But it's big."

Bern shook her head and rubbed at her eyes. "It's weird... it's just a big black shape... you can only see it where it cuts off the stars."

Joe snapped the bolt back on his rifle. "Ya suppose it's Jinsei's?"

"Maybe." Jay looked back up in the sky at where the triangular black hung silently. "I wonder what it's doing here..."

Jay's answer cam far sooner than he would have thought possible, as the underside of the dark shape came to life, and Bern, Jay, Joe, their building their were in, and the surrounding city block, all vanished in a storm of fire and shrapnel.

The Jinsei Yozora-ryu (lit. "Night Sky Dragon") was, for all intents and purposes, the direct descendent of the Vietnam-era AC-47 and AC-130 gunships. Built around a Boeing lifting body, it packed an immense amount of destructive hardware into its equally immense frame. The top of the aircraft was covered with small blisters containing pulsed laser cannon and 30 mm chain guns (for antiaircraft and missile defense), while the bottom boasted three 150 mm howitzers, one for each point of the Yozora-ryu's triangular airframe. Clustered around these were universal turrets mounting ion cannon, as well as more 30 mm chainguns, 7.62 mm miniguns, quad batteries of lasers, and clusters of 2.5 inch rockets. The aircraft had been designed with one mission in mind, to saturate a specific area with enough destructive firepower to rend it utterly null and void as a military target. And even when confronted by an area as large and cluttered as the Neo York Zero Zone, it was more than capable of wrecking widespread havoc.

At a thousand feet up the air was quite cold, far unlike the streets of Neo York, where the tall apartment and office towers trapped heat and blocked the wind. But here, high in the sky, she was at the mercy of the gusts and the chill. Her hair and her cloak billowed about her, refusing to bow to the will of the Empress. She could calm things with just a thought, but Shion had more important things to think about, like espers.

Espers had always been a wild card where the corps were concerned. It was the one thing they couldn't simply make when they needed it. Espers were random, appearing here and there, with unpredictable results. Oh, sure, there were activation drugs, but none of them were perfect, and many ended up doing more harm to their subject than good. And to make matters worse (at least from the corporate perspective) the number of espers was growing. Slowly, but surely, there were more and more Here, there, all over. They were the children of espers, or the children of children of those who had been subject to epsers tests in the last Century. Or they simply had been exposed to another esper and their Power had awoken within them.

And now Jinsei was searching the Zone for espers. Specifically young ones, ones they could recruit with promises of food, clothing, money, and a place to live. Recruiting them so they could become yet another corporate asset. Yet another thing the corporations could control.

For sometime, Shion had been wondering about becoming the Empress in more than just name and reputation. But Empress of what? It wasn't like the espers of the world were all in one convenient place where she could rouse them into an army and lead them to victory. Besides, leading espers was like herding cats, and an even worse proposition for someone like herself. Most espers feared her... much like they feared Ran. They wouldn't follow her, unless things were a lot worse, and if it ever got that bad, then there would be little she could do anyway. No... the espers needed someone who they could trust, someone who's sheer power level didn't frighten them all witless... someone like...

"Raven." Shion uttered the word and watched her breath vanish in the breeze. Raven was in the area, she was sure of it, there was no way the young esper would leave the Zone to be ravaged by the likes of Jinsei. Perhaps she could go look for her, and... talk.

Turning around, Shion stopped dead in the air, staring at the shapes floating not more than a mile away from her. Two (or was it three?) Jinsei Sky Dragons, all hovering over the Zone like some great birds of prey, or to be more apt, a scavenger just waiting to feed on a warm and bloody corpse.

Drawing her cloak around her, Shion wrapped her body in protective fields, just in case.

[translated from the Japanese]

Saeko Hanada stared at her monitor in a state what almost could be called shock. Of everything they'd been told to expect as part of their mission, this was far from it. "Commander?" she called over her comlink.

"Yes, Warrant Officer Hanada?"

"I have the Empress on monitor three."

For a moment all was silent on the bridge of the Jinsei Yozora-ryu Kaki-Hana. Then there was the faint sound of someone swallowing, followed by: "Transfer feed to the main screen."

At the press of a button, Saeko send her video feed to the large panel overhanging the bridge. The screen flickered and then came to life to reveal the slightly fuzzy image of a tall white-haired woman clad in a long gray cloak. As Saeko enlarged and focused the image, it became obvious that a ring of distorted air was quite visible around her body.

Once again Commander Ohtori took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. He knew such an event wasn't unexpected, but much like any other soldier he had figured it to be something that would happen to someone else. And it wasn't like she'd made any threatening moves, right? Right? Besides, he currently had more direct firepower at his fingertips than even the Empress could handle, if it came to that.

Or so he hoped. That was the trouble with espers, you never could tell what they were capable of—until it as too late, and by then either you or they was just another smear on the landscape. Still, he had a mission to carry out and his pride and honor to think of.

"Have the starboard topside batteries ready in case she starts to move against us. Lasers first, then the chainguns. All other gunners, select your targets and commence Operation Forest Clearing."

Ron Jeremy had died yesterday, shot through the head by one of the innumerable snipers who ringed the Jinsei compound. They had been coming back from patrol, tired, dirty, sweaty, and wanting nothing more than a hot meal and a chance to lay down. There had been a sharp crack and then Ron had pitched forward on his face, his helmet bouncing off down the street. The round had caught him at the base of the neck, severing his spinal cord and punching out through his larynx. He'd died almost instantly.

Afterwards Barocca and Peter had done the only think that made sense—they'd gotten as drunk as humanly possible on whatever alcoholic beverages they could find. That had gotten them through the first night.

Their commanding officer sent them back out the next day. Their orders had been simple—kill at least six of the enemy, nine if they could find them. So they did, expending ammunition and grenades in an explosive orgy of violence and bloodletting. They'd actually managed to make their quota, and then some. The Zoners were becoming more brave with each passing day, and what with all the weapons being smuggled in, they had the firepower to back up their actions. But they were still rabble. A Jinsei squad could take them easily—provided they showed themselves.

Once back at the TOC, Barocca and Peter returned to their quarters, where the tall, dark-skinned woman surprised her squadmate by stripping off her uniform and demanding he remove his. It was simple, really, if they could die at anytime, then they were going to take their pleasures when and where they could, and everyone else be damned.

And then, while they lay there entwined, naked and sweaty, the night lit up in a flare of light and sound. The ground shuddered, the air thundered, and in the far distance explosions ripped the horizon. Pulling apart they staggered to the door, unmindful of their nudity. Overhead a huge Jinsei transport hovered, disgorging a seemingly endless stream of huge and hulking cyberdroids from its open bays. In the distance a second transport ripped the night apart with a constant stream of fire from its underside, creating a swath of destruction through the heart of the Zone.

Jinsei had finally decided enough was enough.

Spycorp Report

21 February 2034

Jinsei have stepped up hostilities across the zone, deploying an array of new and far more devastating vehicles, weapons and cyberdroids. Their focus seems to have changed from clearing sectors and taking prisoners to utter annihilation. Although their new units are moving slowly across the zone, the terrain behind them is left undoubtedly in Jinsei's control. At the same time, several major corporations have stepped up hostilities against Jinsei, both through supplying their enemies in the Zone and with attacks and raids on Jinsei facilities worldwide. A flood of new missions have come in targeting Jinsei facilities; contact Spycorp directly for locations and details.

Missions for this report include:

Bail Out: While doing her documentary, Corey Emerson and her escort team have run afoul a Zone crime lord known as Helmar Valsek. Communications have been cut off from them for two days now. We need someone to go into the Zone, find Valsek, and rescue Corey and her escorts. Valsek is known to operate on the edge of the wastes, and is said to have a large band of followers.

ID Tag: A pair of espers have been sighted repeatedly operating within the zone, separate from the Zone's own forces or the movements of Jinsei's troops. Spycorp is paying handsomely for information related to the pair, including their identities and objectives.

Mark: Three of the Guildenstein members discovered by Spycorp have garnered interest from other corporations. Said corporations are willing to pay handsomely for a successful extraction of any of these people. They are a researcher, a security commander and the regional vice-head, from Neo York, Japan and Hong Kong branches respectively. Contact Spycorp for further details.

Puppy Walk: An operative is required to test a new model of security synthetic in the field. The corporation in question wishes to see how their new product handles live combat and unexpected situations. The corporation ads that an operation in the Zero Zone would be the perfect testing ground. Contact Spycorp for additional missions to aid in the testing process.

Runner: A corporation has placed a bounty on the head of a notable gun smuggler who has been making his way through Asia. Sources indicate that he is stockpiling a variety of unusual high-tech weapons for an unknown client. He is believed to be headed for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau in the next couple of weeks. The bounty is for capture; no money will be paid if the target is killed.

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories