(This story was slated for turn 33 or 34 but was never completed. It was reconstructed from two partial fragments that had been stored on different computers, and as such has a chunk missing in the middle, completely unwritten. I'm resubmitting it because it provides a nice "end cap" to several of the secondary characters from my older PBEM stories.)
"Victoria Hagen was one of the most charming, witty, intelligent and professional people that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Furthermore I know that she is out there and reading this."
—Sandra Blackmore, Escape from Neo York
Ever since the arrival of the so called "Black Triangles" with the accompanying massive increase in the numbers and quality of the Jinsei troops in the Zone, things had been going badly. The resistance to the Jinsei invasion had ceased any semblance of organization, instead breaking down into ever increasingly smaller and smaller cells. For the last two months, it could be definitively said that Jinsei were 'winning' the so called War on the Zone; their forces had been slowly pushing the resistance further and further back, whittling down their numbers. To many, it seemed like it was just a matter of time.
Sara Bryant had no intentions of being taken out by Jinsei. Yet, as she ran through the rubble-choked streets of the Zone, she began to realize that her time may be coming.
She and the other members of the Red Snakes (She had wondered why she still called them that, as there were no Red Snakes left, just the last few Brown Armbands) had been on a raid to obtain supplies; food, ammo, clothes, anything really. They were desperate and they knew it. Unfortunately, Jinsei had also seemed to know it. The result was an ambush that had seen several members of her gang killed, and the rest all run off leaving her alone, and on the run.
Sara figured that she could probably handle a Jinsei soldier in a fight, probably two. Unfortunately, there was a full squad of them nearby, all well-armed and all seemingly out for her blood. And given their tendency to carry large assault rifles and fire like they had an unlimited supply of ammo, it probably wasn't a good idea to fight. Instead, she concentrated on running. It seemed like the best idea.
She vaulted over a low wall, crouching as she ran to gain some cover from the enemy squad. Sure enough, there was the sound of bullets whizzing overhead or pining off the nearby walls as the soldiers opened fire on her position. She scurried under cover, ducking around a corner before sprinting off away from the soldiers.
Glancing around, she could see that she was in familiar territory. As near as she could figure, she was within a few blocks of the gang's hideout. There were places around here where she could hide and escape from her pursuers, places where she would be safe. All she needed to do was get there. Good. Glancing around, she decided to risk it and broke into a run.
At first, she went well. She made a fair amount of distance in a short amount of time, sprinting towards safety. Then, as if to taunt her, a piece of rubble slipped out form under her feet, sending her sprawling forwards. She slid to the ground, her face splashing down in a muddy puddle on the street while her beret flopped away. Sara blinked furiously, trying to wipe the mud and water out of her eyes. "Grah..." She began. "Dam it, why does his sort of thing have to-"
"FREEZE!" A voice called out from behind her. Glancing over her shoulders, she could see a pair of Jinsei soldiers advancing towards her, rifles raised. "Don't move!"
Sara swallowed nervously, terrified of what was about to happen. Would they shoot her on sight, or would they drag her back to their detention centers or interrogation? Would these two—she could tell they were men—try for a little sport before handing her over or what? While she liked to think of herself as a tough woman, there were circumstances where she knew when she was beaten—and when she didn't want to face what would happen next.
Before anything could happen, however, there was a loud crack. The soldier nearest to her suddenly reeled back, a red spurt coming out from his chest. The soldier collapsed, his rifle clattering to the ground nearby. The second soldier looked around, then realizing what had happened, turned tail and ran away. He made it only a few meters before he collapsed, apparently shot in the back.
For a moment, there was silence. Sara knew there were more Jinsei troops around, but at the same time they seemed to be rather reluctant to approach. Maybe they'd seen what had happened to their buddies and didn't want to face off with an unseen attacker. Rolling over into a mud-splattered crouch, Sara nervously watched the street. Nothing moved, the two bodies lying in place where they had fallen.
For a moment, she considered grabbing one of the assault rifles. Then she figured that her best bet was to run for cover and figure out what to do from there. As soon as she was back where she knew she was safe, then she would wok out what to do next.
She came to her feet and turned around, ready to run off. Instead she found someone standing in front of her. The figure was wrapped entirely in a tattered cloak that was serving as a form of camouflage, their face covered by a pair of goggles. All Sara could make out was that they were rather short—a fact emphasized by the rather large rifle they were carrying on their back. "Uhh..." She began. "I guess I owe you my life. Thank you."
"It's cool." The figure replied in a surprisingly high voice. It wasn't that the figure was a woman that caught Sara off-guard; it's that she sounded more like a girl then anything else. "I saw a chance and... piyong."
"I see..." Sara glanced around nervously. "Look, I'm getting out of here before any more of them come back."
"Cool beans. Let's groove." The girl added.
"Just follow me." Sara began. She broke into a run, moping down the choked street as best she could. The cloaked figure followed behind her, moving surprisingly quickly. Reaching the end of the street, Sara turned and darted down a side-street, the cloaked figure just behind her. She ducked into an alley, cautiously approaching a door set into one wall, the girl following her, seemingly retracing every footstep.
Sara tried the door, only to find it locked. More to the point, she found that it was firmly wedged shut. Those idiots, she thought. They've locked me out. She hammered on the door, both to attract the attention of someone inside and to vent her frustrations. "Open up!" She hissed. "Damn you all, open this door!"
There was a brief silence, then a muffled voice spoke from side. "Who is it?"
"It's me, Sara." She snapped.
"How do I know it's you?" The voice asked.
"Harry, open this damn door or else I will break it down then come in there and kill you myself!" She shouted. Behind her, the cloaked figure giggled.
"Er... hang on." There was the sound of something metal clattering on stairs, then the door opened. Sara strode inside, stopping only to glare at Harry who was waiting by the door. The cloaked figure walked behind her, stepping inside to follow. "Hey!" Harry called out. "Who said they could come in?"
"This woman" (She assumed it was a woman) "Just saved my life and killed two Jinsei troops. They're in." She glared at him. "Certainly she's done more then you have."
"Weeell..." Harry nervously replied. "You know, she's more then welcome here."
Sara headed down the steps, the cloaked figure behind her. The pair of them stepped into the main room, Sara looking around. She could see Thomas and Richard by the bar, the latter pouring drinks from their strategically hoarded booze supply. Donald was lurking in a corner, looming ominously as he tended to do. "Boss..." Thomas began. "I thought you were-"
"We're glad to see you made it back." Richard cut him off, stepping around from the bar with a glass of booze in his hand. "We're so glad our, uh, distraction worked to allow you to get away."
She took the drink and downed it in one gulp, then turned to him. "You mean you ran away and abandoned me."
"We made a tactical withdrawal." Richard replied, a nervous grin on his face. "To preserve our forces."
"Busteeeed." The cloaked figure began.
"Yep." Donald added.
"Fine then." She snapped. "So where is everyone else?"
There was another long silence. "Well..." Richard explained. "You see... uh... there sort of is nobody else."
"Sort of?" She asked. "What do you mean by 'sort of?'"
"Weeell..." Richard explained. "We don't know if everyone was killed or who was captured or what. But we were the only people to make it back here."
"I see." Sara began. Well that made things a lot worse then she expected. She only had four members of her gang left... and three of them, well...
"Uh, boss?" Thomas finally spoke up. "Who's that with ya?"
She turned around, glancing at the cloaked figure. She had all but forgotten about them, too concerned with the state of the gang. But now that they had pointed it out, she did need to know. She turned to the figure, sizing them up. They were easily the shortest person in the room, but there was very little else that could be said about them. "Yes." Sara began, her eyes narrowing. "Just who are you?"
"Me?" She asked in reply. The figure pulled off their hood, revealing a mess of scraggly, straw-like blonde hair and a face that belonged on a girl no older then twenty. She then pulled up her goggles, reveling a pair of rather unusual-looking yellowish-green eyes. "I am but another fighter in this desolate wasteland, one of those poor dregs of humanity that are forever condemned to fight to defend their home soil against a hostile invader." She grinned in a way that revealed a lot of teeth. "And they make funny noises when they fall down."
There was a moment of silence.
"Yesssss!" The girl hissed. "Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Got you sooo bad."
"I don't get it." Harry spoke up. "Who is this girl anyway?"
"She saved my life." Sara repeated. "I was trying to get back—without any help from anyone else here—when I was jumped by a squad of Jinsei thugs. The ambushed me and knocked me down-" She was lying blatantly, but she wanted it to sound better. "-When she took them out."
"Oh yeah." The girl replied. "It was like... pow! Goodbye mister thug two who has only wound points. One hit and SPALT!"
"But who are you?" Richard asked.
"I am a shadow who lurks in the darkest places of these streets." She began. "I am but an illusion of your imagination, a stranger who you never see again, a sudden sharp slice that ends it all, a dingo that sneaks into your tent and steals away into the night."
There was another moment of silence.
She sighed. "My name is Vic Hagen. I used to snipe for money now I snipe to survive. One day, I hope to get out of here and snipe on E-Bay."
"Hagen, huh?" Richard asked. "I've heard of you... but... shouldn't you be taller?"
"I'm often mistaken for someone larger. And crazier." Vic continued. "But he's right. I'm good. I'm that damn good. I'm so good, I can take ten on a shot if I want to, AND it's in my threat range." She grinned again.
"Well Miss Hagen." Sara began. "I want to know... what would it take to get you on our side for a little expedition?"
"What kind of an expedition?"
"We need supplies. Food, clean water, clothes, weapons, ammo, you name it." She indicated to the room and its continents. "Anything we can get our hands on, in essence. This is all we have."
"Oooh, wow." Vic nodded. "You people are real desperate!"
"So, will you help us?" Sara asked. "I can't promise you much, but-"
"Are the odds against us?" Vic asked. "Does the situation look bad? Are you desperate? Do you need this more then life itself? And are there rows of Jinsei red shirts all lined up to meet their designated Klingon?"
"What's a Klingon?" Harry asked.
Vic glared at him out of the corner of her eye. "Man, are you a cultural illiterate or what?"
"Well, I don't know about Klingons." Sara interrupted. "But I can say yes to all of those things."
"Very well then!" Vic grinned. "For I, Vic Hagen, the greatest sniper in the entire Zone, will aid you in your valiant quest to get stuff and make lots of Jinsei guys fall down dead." She offered Sara her hand. "So, when do we get started?"
"Soon." Sara replied as she shook it. "Very soon."
In order to keep their troops supplied as they advanced into the Zero Zone, Jinsei had set up a number of supply caches across the territory they controlled, but relatively close to the front. While there wasn't much distance form their central command to the "front line", because of the terrain (densely packed urban, decaying into near-impassible streets and rubble-choked mazes), the passage of supplies was often rather slow and torturous. Added to that the risk of attack by guerillas (Which was what most of the Zone's defenders were by now), the need for the supply caches became obvious.
To prevent these caches from falling into the hands of the resistance, the Jinsei forces made sure that they were reasonably protected. The manpower needed to cover the caches was a lot less then what was needed to cover a whole supply column, and the risk of a large-scale attack was a lot lower. Big columns tended to attract all the nuts, they'd found, so it was best to avoid using them wherever possible.
The typical cache itself consisted of several tents set up in the middle of a wasteland of ruined buildings. There was always enough room left to prevent easy ambushes or snipers getting good vantage points in order to make things as difficult for any would be raiders. Still, people did occasionally try.
One of the depots had recently been raided by a gang of would-be resistance fighters who had seemed desperate to their supplies. The raid had been a total disaster, with most of the attackers dead, and the rest driven off. Despite this, the security forces onsite weren't letting their guard down. They knew that another attack could come at any time.
Missing bit goes here
Mariko watched the firefight going on below, noting with some surprise how well the gangers were doing. She'd really hoped for more from the local Jinsei troops but, given their backgrounds, it was probably too much to expect. As one, they were poor Zone-trash from other cities in America, not too much better then the low-lifes they were fighting. On the other hand, she was from one of Jinsei's prestigious branches in Japan. She was a model soldier, an excellent officer and a superb marksman.
Which was more then she could say for her opponent. About the only skill that they had shown was to run fast between shots and manage to avoid getting themselves killed. And that wasn't going to last them forever.
She was pretty certain that her opponent was the one sniper that had been plaguing Jinsei troops in the Zone for months. What was a rather satisfying thought. It would be a very prestigious kill, one that would prove just how skilled she was. She would be able to bring down the dreaded Zobne sniper, something that none of the useless local troopers had been able to do.
All she needed was a clean shot at them.
A shot narrowly missed her, instead blasting apart a portion of wooden window frame and showering her with splinters. Glancing around, Mariko looked for any sign of her attacker. There. That window. He'd turned away, clearly looking around or considering his options—and exposing himself to her at the same time. Perfect.
She lined up her Jinsei rifle and fired. The figure shuddered for a moment, then keeled over. And then she realized three things.
The first was that the figure would have had to have been deliberately exposing himself to her.
The second was that the figure was actually a Jinsei soldier, one who looked to have been already dead when she shot him.
The third was that she had just given away her location to the real-
"Bang." Vic said to herself, then fired. The Jinsei soldier recoiled, then collapsed, a trickle of blood coming down form the front of their helmet and flowing across their face.
"Heeeey." She called out over her radio. "Big bad fall down go bang."
"Uh, sure." Sara replied. "So it's safe to run?"
"Relatively speaking, I suppose." Vic finished. "Well, yeah, it is. Make your dash. I'll gloop anyone who comes after you."
"Yeah, gloop." Vic finished with a smile. "Gloop."
"They're running!" One soldier called out. "They're running away!"
"The hell?" Karin Anderson called back form her hiding place behind a wall. "What's going on out there?"
"That gang are bolting, lieutenant." He continued. "They're trying to make a break for it."
That made no sense. She and her men had been pinned down by a surprising amount of fire supported by a rather accurate sniper—possibly the same one she'd had a run in with several months ago—which meant that, while they outnumbered the enemy, they had nowhere to go. And at the same time, it had left the bulk of the attacking force free to loot their supplies as they saw fit. The enemy distraction, such as it was, had proven to be remarkably effective.
She wore under her breath at the Japanese branch commander how had gotten them into this situation by essentially using her squad as bait for the enemy force. Of course, at the same time, she couldn't completely begrudge her. If captain Hinaka was half the sniper she claimed to be, then she might just be able to take out that menace which had given her so much grief.
But now that they were running... could something have happened, she wondered. Could their feared support have suddenly withdrawn or even been taken out? If so, then it would be a definite advantage to her men.
"Go!" She called out. "Don't let them escape!" She leaped out of the ruined house, charging after the withdrawing gang. After slapping a fresh clip into her rifle, she waved to the rest of her squad, indicating for them to follow her. As one, the team charged across the open ground between buildings, chasing after the raiders. They may have lost the day, but by god she was going to make them pay for what they had taken. And maybe a sudden reduction in enemy numbers would be enough to break the back of the resistance forces.
"Aaah!" A shout came form behind her. Glancing back, she saw MacAdam go down, clutching his shoulder. Glancing around, she could see no clear sign of an attacker, which meant-
"DOWN!" She called out. "Get to cover, now!" She grabbed her downed man and pulled him, half leading, half-dragging him to a ruined store on one side of the street. While its windows and most of its fittings were long gone, it was some cover—and that was better then none at all. The pair of them crashed inside the building, flattering themselves to the floor.
It was there that she noticed the dead body of another Jinsei soldier. A quick glance told her that it was one of Hinaka's men, the men who had been escorting her as she-
She grabbed her communicator. "Anderson to Hinaka, come in please." She began, trying to remain clam. "Anderson to Hinaka, come in please. Do you read me, over?"
"Anderson to Hinaka, if you can hear me, please respond."
"Damn it. She's gone and gotten herself killed, hasn't she?" She asked nobody in particular. MacAdam offered a moan as a confirmation. "Crap."
She sighed, then reactivated the communicator. "Anderson to Starling, are you there?"
"Yes, lieutenant?" answered the nervous voice of her comms officer.
"Contact the rest of the squad; tell them to stay down and get to cover, and not to move."
"Yes, sir." Starling replied.
"And then call HQ. Tell them..." She paused. "Tell them that things have gone bad, that we're pinned down and that Hinaka's squad have been wiped out. And don't mention the stolen supplies yet."
Sighing to herself, Anderson checked on MacAdam. It didn't look too bad, which meant that he'd gotten really lucky. Sighing to herself, she looked for her first aid kit. "This has been a real good mess." She muttered as she went to work. "Great."
Half an hour later, Sara's expeditionary force regrouped in a half-burned warehouse a fair distance from both the Jinsei supply depot and their headquarters. A quick headcount looked good. Sara and the four members of her gang had all come back with only a few scrapes and bruises to report, albeit with a lot less ammo then they'd left with. Her runners had lost two men, but had also returned with a fair-sized pile of supplies; food, water, ammo and other consumables that would, at the very least, keep them in the fight a little longer. Certainly it was a substantial improvement over what they had started with.
And Vic had come back fine, grinning broadly.
"Nice work everyone." Sara commented as she looked over the supplies taken. "This will do us nicely and certainly give us a little more to go on. We all did good work today; we've benefited our own cause as well as bloodying Jinsei's nose. Nice job everyone."
"Nice?" Harry wheezed out. "I nearly got me bloody arse shot off!"
"Ah stop complaining." Richard replied. "It was a good day... largely thanks to our new friend here."
"Aww shucks." Vic commented, acting suddenly mock shy.
"So what do you think, Miss Hagen?" Sara continued. "Care to hang around with us for a little longer?"
"Naw, I'm deranged... we, freerange." She shook her head. 'But, whenever you need lots of random destruction, well, there I am."
"Fair enough." Sara finished. "Our work here is done."
"But wait!" Vic called out. "What about the gratuitous blowing up of the local filling station?"
There was a whoosh, like a rocket passing overheard, with an accompanying trail of smoke. And then a loud explosion, form the vicinity of the Jinsei depot. Thick black smoke billowed up form behind the buildings, filling the air.
"Yeah, baby!" A voice called out. "Yeah!"
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