I knew I was in trouble when I checked my email and my keyboard began to smoke. I was lucky that my training kicked in, because I only had moments to recall as much as possible before the entire laptop was engulfed in flames. I saw two things — a string symbols that were obviously Mayan, and the mon for the Black Ayar Clan. I was only able to glimpse the symbols for a fraction of a second, but that was enough. They were committed to memory.
I hummed a short note in the resonant frequency of the laptop case to quench the flames, and headed down the hall to my library. Son of a bitch killed my laptop. I still have three payments on it. I pulled the old journal off the shelf, blew the dust off of it, and cracked it. Gerald was always a studious note taker, God rest his soul. It was as I suspected. The string of symbols was a date. Some quick arithmetic and I knew that I had a week and three hours.
I filed a quick report letting my handler know that I had been contacted, and began to prepare. I would need three days meditation, so I had to handle logistics in four. It was going to take a full two days for the flight to Kobe to have my blade polished and back. It couldn’t be helped. I packed my no dachi and a clean pair of khakis. I had a flight to catch. I shoved a couple more dusty tomes into my carryon, and headed for the airport. I booked my flight in the car. I had to slow down to 115. I was too dangerous to drive any faster in a construction zone while navigating delta.com.
Of course I had trouble at the airport. No one can fly without being hassled these days. The mouth-breathing screener was an inconvenience I didn’t need. Someone had been slipping these critters some caffeine, because the girl on the X-ray machine apparently saw the blade in my bag. “Hand check,” she called out. Her voice clawed through my brain like Pomeranian digging for a Hershey kiss between the cushions of the couch.
The screener opened my bag, and gasped. “What’s this?!?” he asked. I knew I had no other choice. I waved my hand in front of him. “This is a pair of nail clippers.”
“This is a pair of nail clippers!”
I waved my hand.
“You know better than that.”
“You know better than that!”
I stood up straight. “Nail clippers are legal to carry-on now.” The mental process of the screener ground to a halt. I could see the memories of his training pushing through the layers of doughnuts and amphetamines that served as his brain.
He grinned sheepishly. “That’s right sir; I forgot. Enjoy your flight.”
I had cleared that hurdle, but I knew it wasn’t going to be this easy in a few days.
Harimaki was at home. I was afraid that the damned fool would be up on the mountain again. I didn’t want to have to go climbing the sheer ice face of that monster after him without my crampons. I kicked the stool from under him. It was no more successful than the dozen times I had tried the same trick. He stayed up in the same position from sheer force of will. “Polish my blade, old man.”
He refused to look up at me. “I don’t swing that way, gaijin. Try the nightclub in town.”
“I’m serious, Hari. I’ve got shit to do, so hurry up.”
“Oh, you have shit to doo-doo. Oh, me rearry solly, Meesta beeg shot.”
“You’re mixing your Jap and Spic accents again. I’m telling you, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a shit storm on the horizon, and I’m fresh out of toilet bowl mints.”
“You wouldn’t know a shit storm if Kronos himself popped a squat on a mortarboard and had Vishnu flinging it at you with all his hands.”
“I got a message. It was sealed with the Black Ayar mon.”
Harimaki fell silent. “Details?”
I shook my head. “Just a date. Encoded.”
“No shit. Those assholes wouldn’t know how to say anything straight. If the message was in the clear, it would be fake. I’m guessing it was trivial to decipher?”
“Mayan. Whoever it is knows me. Made it easy.” I slipped my hand into the bag, and drew the no dachi in a smooth stroke that laid the bag in twain and had the tip at the old man’s throat before the leather hit his ratan mat. “Like I said, you old lecher, polish my blade before you get dealt with.”
He grinned. “Fuck you.”
“When you leave, I’m square with the Order. Deal?”
Shit. WT is going to be pissed when he finds out I used up the Crimson Caduceus’ favor. “Deal.”
I arrived back at DFW two and a half days later. A trail of ruined mecha and broken ninja lay behind me, but they weren’t my concern. The ritual cleansing had to begin, and it had to begin now. I went to Ft. Worth and circled the building. I hadn’t entered an enclave for years, and it was in Irving last time I did. I looked for the marks. They were all there. It was amazing that none of our enemies had figured out the signs. It was just a matter of time before they did and burned all the enclaves out in a surprise simultaneous attack. Of course, that is why I avoided them.
I went down the spiraling staircase in the rear to the hollow and rapped on the door. A Gibbonator answered at the bolt hole beside it. I hate monkeys, I thought. “Open up, abomination. I’m here to prepare for a visit.” The beast screeched at me while the gears in its cerebellum implant ground. It isn’t even a well maintained gibbonator. The beast screeched at me. I showed him the brand, and he disappeared. I could hear the locks and bolts begin to throw. The door finally began to glide out, soundlessly and smoothly. 60 seconds later, all eight feet were past the threshold, and I slipped into the gap.
The enclave was filthy with the beasts. There were at least 30 of them, and they were the only company for the lizardroid caretaker. “Prepare me a room, lizard. And what are these fucking monkeys doing here?”
“Spoilssss, massster. From Libya.” Ghadaffi. I should have known. He’s the only true villain left with the style to reopen the manufacturing tubes of such a classic beast. All the others have moved on to newer creations, but Ghadaffi was always a sentimentalist. You have to give him that. He bowed deeply. “The Vast Right Wing Conssspiraccy welcomesss the Order of the Crimsson Caduceusss to our humble enclave.”
I rapped the minion across the back of the neck. “You garble our name one more time, and I’ll bring this coalition of the willing down. Have any Ayars been here lately?”
“No, masster.” He picked himself up. “Thisss way.”
The room was furnished traditionally. I grimaced as I chewed the peyote and began to concentrate on the fifteen foot portrait of J.R. Bob Dobbs. It was going to be a long three days.
I emerged cranky and hungry. The cleansing worked, though. I was ready to murder a gaggle of hippies with an olive fork while spraying DDT on condors and squeezing sweet crude off the forehead of Pocahontas. I grabbed one of the gibbons by the forehead with an Iron Claw and whipped it once, flinging the body away while I held the skull. The body crashed into the wall, and I feasted on the organs attached to the spine. I relished the tortured look on its face as consciousness slipped away. Filthy monkey. The others ran. I guess they didn’t know I was a light eater.
As the door finally cleared the threshold, I saw a dark outline at the top of the stairs. I could tell from the bib overalls and the stench of cheap moonshine that it was a hillbilly. This could be bad. “Clear out, old man,” I shouted.
He continued breaking the filters off his Camels. “I done come 800 miles and you just tell me to clear out? What kind of welcome is that?”
I recognized the voice from my briefings. “I take it this isn’t a chance encounter?”
I loosened the blade in its sheath. “What do you want?”
He leered. “Tacos.”
“Then I guess we fight.” I kicked a stone up the staircase, wrapping it around with two ricochets. I have to get out of this murder hole. The stone caught him square between the eyes. He chuckled. “So much for the Goliath bit,” I quipped.
He snapped the signature rifle up to his shoulder. I could smell the ozone from the capacitors that fed the magnetic coils that turned this varmint gun into a hypersonic magnetically assisted rail gun hybrid. I performed an inverted coiled serpent leap to avoid the bullets as I counted them off. twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty! I leapt at him, naked blade at the fore. I had to end this quick. The force of the incoming slugs knocked me senseless for a moment. I managed to arrow cut about three quarters of them, but the fifteen that got through had mangled my mono molecular mesh armor and crushed at least eight of my ribs. I could feel two of them digging into my left lung.
He cackled madly. “90 round mag! Got it from MWG! Gratis, baby!” Heathen. He ambled over to my broken form. “Whatchoo got to say for yourself, cowboy?”
“I say I’m not dead yet!” I punctuated the last word with a chi blast that ripped into him. It was misaimed, though, and merely managed to peel away the skin and some of the muscle. It was my turn to scream, however, when I saw him drop the rifle and bring the flamethrower to bear.
God hates me, I thought as I rolled out of the stairwell. Another rib dug into my lung. I would be coughing up blood for weeks. I kept my blade, though, and had it at ready. A fat lot of good it would do against a torrent of napalm, but I would die with it my hands. I readied for the blast as I saw him patting down the pockets up his overalls. He scowled. “Fuggin TSA. Sumbitches got my Bic.”
I sighed. If I passed up a chance for reconciliation in the condition I was in, my Sensei would never forgive me, God bless his soul. The first thing he taught me was when to cut my losses. “Tacos, right?”
He looked up. “Yeah. And gimme a light.” A gesture of good faith. I was game. I tossed him a book of matches. He struck one under his throat and lit the broken Camel.
“How about Mi Cocinas?”
He scowled. “It’s your town, man. Just so long as it ain’t Taco Bell.”
I spit. “Taco Bell is for hippies and Frank J.”
He grinned. “I knew we could get along.”