Issue 01: The Coming of the Ninja (Season One Premiere) [Unedited]

Wire cutters - the extension of a black-gloved right hand happened to be the culprit. The numerous way stations of satellite feed service had long since been segmented out to local franchise owners who were more readily available to mobilize in the event a consumer had issues with the setup or its use than the national governments that owned the stellar equipment would ever be. There was not much maintenance involved with a communications feed because it was well designed becoming the universal standard in fact, and yet the franchisees still found a way to cut corners. Oddly the corner of this junction box was mangled and peeled partway open. Had not Massimo Venneri snipped out the wires from within, the rain would have surely taken down the subscribers in due time.

Ignoring the sparks of interrupted current Massimo had just created by severing the most important pairs of conduit within the junction box, he closed the front opening and used a key to lock it back up. No his entry was not forced.

This time around, Massimo wore the uniform of a service person as his cloak. Whatever the mission objective called for was the part he fell into, and the mercenary's research of its details often made him question why he passed up a chance in theater. Those professions were not all that different. Going beyond just simple line memorization to the point of reinventing and transforming oneself into becoming another for the purposes of believability was essential to the success of both.

The Houseman Home

A beautiful family room with a view-screen in the foreground, a set of stairs leading up to the second floor in the background, a kitchen off to the right, and a spacious entrance with columns toward the left was missing one thing. The feed was out, and to two small children and one prideful dad, this all came as quite a big disappointment.

That mixed martial arts tournament on Second Earth had been such a big draw. With the impact of insanely big purses for both the winner and loser being blunted by common sense and a winner-take-all sensibility, combat sports had suddenly redeemed themselves with a necessary shot in the arm of credibility. After adding in plus encouraging trash talk and those other antics to the likes of professional wrestling, the various fight circuits explored incredible story lines that could have been scripted but were astonishingly real, and the outcomes were not predetermined. Perhaps this all just added to the amount of suspense this new take on an old and fading theme was. No more were these fights disputable because a judge scored their card differently than a spectator might have liked. Everything was settled in the ring, so if a fighter could not answer the ten-count, that was it. And paper champions got exposed. There was no ducking fights because of a litany of contractual nonsense and inexcusable excuses. There was no defending a title once every year and a half to two years. There were no draws, no points, and no main events lasting fourteen seconds but costing a viewer a disproportionate amount of their paycheck. The only thing remaining was a fighter's rank, and this was all that mattered. Things had not quite gotten to the point where sanctioned matches could be carried out randomly in the middle of the street, but this was the quickly approaching next step if only somebody could figure out the logistics.

"How can the feed go out, now of all times?" Dalveer Houseman said from behind the view-screen fidgeting with its wiring. He was too busy trying to figure out his own logistics at the moment to be concerned with the state of mixed martial arts' next big moves promising to move the sport into even further infamy. Seeing the fight moves from tonight could have more than sufficed if the equipment would just cooperate. His children watched quietly from the couch as he worked.

Dalveer's daughter, Melerine, took the opportunity to plunk his son, Mallory, in the back of the head with the palm side of a closed fist. So much for the quiet because there was not going to be anymore peace after that.

"Dad!" Mallory cried. He was of a kindergarten age and much younger than Melerine who happened to be in the sixth grade and always thought of her little brother as an inconvenience - a mistake.

Oh the joys of parenting. Still entangled behind the view-screen wires and beneath a mess of electronics, Dalveer projected his voice as the expression of his displeasure although this occurrence probably called for a disapproving scowl as well, "That's enough, you two. If you don't stop, it'll be right to homework. Although I don't think any of us will be able to catch the fights at this rate anyway."

"Did I miss anything?" Gzemma, Dalveer's engineer wife, asked while entering the family room with her keys in hand and her lab coat still on. She looked hurried in appearance probably because she had rushed home from work in order to make it on time for the fights.

"The feed's out. It just went out," Dalveer pleaded through the muffling of the view-screen's components. "I can't believe this."

The one night Gzemma decided to take off early from work - she began to peel away her lab coat while shrugging, "What? That figures."

Capturing the focus of an otherwise calm evening was a scream from Mallory, "Ouch!"

Raising his voice this time to further enunciate his displeasure, Dalveer growled, "Cut it out over there!"

As the discombobulation would for any mother, Gzemma's attention was drawn immediately to a scene of vibrant contrasts. On one half of the couch was a visibly wincing Mallory writhing in obvious pain with tears sobbing out his eyes. On the other half of the couch was Melerine who was just as calm looking so innocent; she could not have possibly done that.

"Why don't you just call the satellite people?" Gzemma asked the 'pull over for directions' question as she kept her eyes tied to the kids.

"No, no - I've almost got it," Dalveer replied. He almost seemed to be causing a bigger issue than there was with the original problem. Cabling was everywhere, and the flat-screen of the view-screen was dismantled hanging halfway off and dangling by a screw!

Skeptical, Gzemma pulled out her smartphone and put it to her ear. "Right." Melerine had since come over and taken hold of her free hand as they both headed for the kitchen. "Dinner smells wonderful."

The view-screen began to fall forward as Dalveer announced, "Jerk Chicken tonight." Soon after, the entire system crashed to the floor and exploded.

"Ooooh," Mallory said with an accusatory, pointing right index finger and an almost ashamed left hand over his mouth if he were not about to burst out laughing.

"What was that?" Gzemma called with an air of concern in her voice from within the kitchen.

"It's these old uh - feed setups, honey," Dalveer lied with a left index finger tracing perpendicularly across his lips to try and hush Mallory. Shortly thereafter, he began an attempt to literally fan the flames while unfortunately fanning those very same flames figuratively in working frantically to reassemble the view-screen.

"Hi, this is...," Massimo took a brief moment to look down at the credentials clipped to the breast pocket of his uniform before continuing, "...Andy. How may I help you?" Having no more use for the name badge, he tossed it in back of the service van with the body of the original and actual dispatch technician whose identity he had also recently assumed - a continuing theme.

The Houseman Home

The entertainment center may have been in disarray, but it was not the only thing busted. Gzemma stood before the carnage with a frown - not happy with Dalveer at all and actually considering the possibility he may have been the main culprit for the feed going out originally! She kept a composure that masked a bubbling fury which was about to burst, however the anger did not translate to any sort of animosity being projected at the technician, "Yes hello Andy. Can you please dispatch somebody out to my residence. For some reason, our feed went out. Tonight is the night of the big fights, so I'm sure you're getting a ton of calls. Honestly I'm surprised I was able to get a live operator at this hour."

It was also a pleasant surprise for Dalveer giving him the opportunity to make a dash for upstairs while levying a convenient excuse of, "We're gonna get washed up for dinner," before kissing Gzemma, insisting, "I love you," and taking Mallory by the hand for insurance. She would have been incapable of throwing anything at him with their son in the picture.

And Gzemma knew this too, so she smiled away her angst while mouthing playful threats in Dalveer's direction - unable to voice her real opinion with the technician on the line. Oh the joys of marriage.

Meanwhile Melerine picked up a piece of loose circuitry. She had no idea what it was or what it did, but the child was old enough to know it was not supposed to be outside the view-screen. To put this in perspective, view-screens were built into everything from personal monitors to windows to walls. For the previously perfect contouring of the view-screen as the entire family room wall in the foreground to be lying in multiple pieces of a smoky and sparking heap across the floor with a mess of wires pouring out a gaping hole as some sort of metallic floral ambiance, it meant her next few attempts to torture Mallory would be all but overlooked because her father was going to be in a perpetual doghouse with the couch being his bed for at least a month.

Melerine's little brother was supposed to be her little sister, and Mallory could not even get that right, but he would soon learn his place. Oh yes, he would learn.

Gzemma worried about Melerine sometimes.

That contemplative look in her daughter's distant yet devious eyes was not normal for a sixth grader. All that could be done was to try and keep the children separated until she could get Melerine some counseling and Mallory enrolled in self-defense classes over at the Djibouti Clan Dojo. Gzemma turned her attention back to the smartphone conversation as the technician began his reply.

Speaking through an Ear-To-Mouth Com paired with a handheld de-sequencer box that was no more than six inches long, three inches wide, and one inch deep, the device plugged into the original technician's own smartphone via a cable extending out its top and specifically snagged Gzemma's call from the overall queue - Massimo's response was, "Well the call center is never where you'd expect it to be, Ma'am."

Dyoogie LaCroix played the shadows as he perched atop the roof of a nearby condominium sitting toward the edge of a set of those high-rise buildings. High-powered binoculars enhanced his eyesight as he watched Massimo's van roll slowly down the block.

A flowing white headband that must have been capable of draping down the length of Dyoogie's body fluttered at the mercy of a brisk night breeze - swayed by the openness of the altitude. Black form-fitting ninja garb traced from his neck all the way down to his jika-tabi footwear which separated the big toes from the other toes, and the hidden secrets of this wardrobe were as of yet undisclosed. A telling Crimson Red Belt set off the ensemble wrapping snugly around him at the waist with its ends pointed away from each other at opposing directions downward. Connected to the belt was a scabbard holding the Sword of Zahn.

Zooming in through the passenger side window of the van, Dyoogie witnessed a black-gloved right hand reaching for a laser rifle - serious weaponry. The bulky rectangular weapon was Space Force issue, but only the Space Force and government officials like national militaries and local law enforcement had access to it. So outside of them, the only other group who could legally purchase the arms were mercenaries. There was no black market for Space Force standard issue armaments because criminals genuinely sought out non-Human weaponry from around the universe. The demand for such items was large, and the gunrunning trade was a massive source of anxiety for those tasked with keeping the order but were constantly outgunned. He should know: The ninja had been granted a pass by those governments, militaries, and law enforcement agencies in order to not only deal with preventing the consequences from its potential spreading but deal a serious blow to the logistics as well.

To Dyoogie, a gun was a coward's weapon that only allowed the user to concentrate hate. With a sword, all emotions could pass through the blade like a conduit, and this allowed for much greater focus. Swords, in general, featured an incredible balance of options, and his weapon of choice - the Sword of Zahn also had a good weight to it.

The pen was perhaps mightier than the sword, but there was no doubt in Dyoogie's mind the sword was mightier than the gun. And it was looking like tonight, he would have another opportunity to prove that yet again.

"We're just trying to become more customer service-oriented," Massimo stated as he pulled the van up against the curb and stopped in front the Houseman home - satisfied with the confirmation of his target being on the premises.

The Houseman Home

"We'll be waiting!" Gzemma said happily albeit unknowingly of the danger she was waiting for and about to casually invite into her house. "Thanks again for your help."

The time to strike was not a rush ordeal as far as Dyoogie was concerned. He guided the zoom on his binoculars to catch the face of the mercenary now scaling the side paneling of the house. No mask meant no witnesses. That could not ordinarily be assumed with mercenaries because each mission featured different objectives. But this time, at least one of those objectives was clear. Once the full situation was ascertained, the ninja would make his move - and not before. Precision operations required delicate hands. Rushing headlong into skirmishes like a movie action hero could jeopardize the chance to net information on those other objectives.

The hands-free functionality of Ear-To-Mouth Coms was incredible, so Massimo continued to climb quietly up the two story house without missing a beat or the chance to respond, "Of course, Ma'am. Thanks for your patience," so Gzemma would never come to expect what was about to hit her. Mercenaries also dealt in specificity as well. It was part of the job description, and although nobody in that house would live to see another day, this was merely the third objective. His first was to grab a hostage, so if the timing on any of this was off, there would be no achieving the second and most important objective. At that point, the only thing which could be completed would have been mission failure.

In the upstairs bathroom, water was splashed onto the floor from the tub with its shower curtain pulled closed. Initially walking past the room, Dalveer had to do a double take when his mind caught up to and processed the visual from his eyes. Great.

"Mallory!" Dalveer bellowed disappointedly as he entered the bathroom and began to quickly pull up the soaked circular rug lining the toilet that sat before the tub to its right. "I thought I told you enough water had been run. You're really flirting with dessert being taken away tonight! Just look at this mess."

One person who did not need to see it was Massimo because he made the mess when he plopped down into the tub after entering from the bathroom window. The mercenary was drenched up to his knees in warm, bubbly, and fragrant bath water children would love. He noticed a toy NSF Sub floating away from him and a Domina action figure sitting on the rim up against a rectangular sponge awaiting her turn in the pool.

A simple alarm system would have prevented this, but that was probably why an alarm systems technician was lying in a heap next to the original feed technician in back of the van. The mercenary probably created a false positive on the monitoring side before severing or rerouting the security connection on the local side. Dyoogie might have been a martial artist, but he was also a detective. The ninja closed the rear doors to the vehicle lightly so as to not arouse any suspicion from the sound of their slamming.

The people in the house were expecting somebody to arrive, and Dyoogie could have meddled in the mercenary's plans by playing that card which might or might not save them, but again he would not get another opportunity like this to be in a position such as this to learn of the elusive second objective. Stealth was still called for in this instance, and the ninja could take a guess at what the mercenary was aiming to do by not using the front door.

Almost assuredly it meant the mercenary's initial play was to grab a hostage. And this meant the people inside the house had something of value which might not be worth their lives. That had to be the second objective. Now what was the item: Tangible or intangible, specifically?

Soon. Very soon the time would come for Dyoogie to engage. Not that any alarm system mattered to him, but he welcomed the chance to be able to maneuver in silence without having to disable one. It was one less factor to have to worry about, and since the ninja was still not quite able to see the entire picture, he would take advantage of every break he could catch.

Taking one of the children would have been preferable as Gzemma did not seem to be too happy with Dalveer when she spoke with Massimo earlier, so nabbing the husband could potentially albeit comically not be sufficient enough leverage to get her to cooperate. Whatever, the mercenary thought - this could cause them to become closer in the long run. He savagely snatched open the shower curtain and then proceeded to crack the man of the house in the face with a vicious rake from the butt of his laser rifle.

If Massimo was betting Dalveer probably had no idea what just happened, it would be a good gamble. He watched as his hostage collapsed to the bathroom floor in a puddle of overrun bathwater that was previously in the process of being mopped up but now being mixed with blood (that initially squirted but was now flowing freely) from a broken nose, a busted lip, and a bitten tongue - a result of the violent chain reaction.

Proud of his accomplishment, Massimo actually got that smack flush too. This guy was going to be out cold with a concussion for at least a week if not longer and comatose, but a pulse was present, so the first objective was met successfully. The mercenary slung his laser rifle around his shoulder, hopped out the tub, and got into a position with his back turned to the bathroom door where he could best drag Dalveer toward the next phase of the mission.

After hearing that thump of a limp body resonating off the acoustic bathroom floor, Dyoogie watched the boy pause before turning to enter the bathroom. His hesitance was almost instinctual, and this was a handy trait to possess, but it almost seemed to be rooted in insecurity which was not. Kids should never face the world with self-doubt when they had a universe of possibilities available to them. Honestly the youth were too innocent to be jaded into not dreaming big, so who really had this wrong? The children who did not know enough to give up? Or the adults who thought they knew it all and gave up on those childhood aspirations? Anyway he could benefit from some training at the Djibouti Clan Dojo to work on that self-confidence. But for right now, the child was going to benefit from the ninja's outstretched arm allowing a vise grip of a right hand to grab the collar of his shirt and yank him back further into the hallway but out of harm's way. He did not need to see what had just occurred in the bathroom - fragile soul or not; innocence was something to be cherished.

What was that? Massimo turned to look over his left shoulder at the empty bathroom doorway. Now he had been on way too many of these missions to start hearing things. Besides this one was easy. The intel had actually been substantial for such a meager assignment which was rare, but the pay was on point, so the mercenary was not about to complain. He took hold of his bloodied hostage's left wrist and proceeded to drag the lifeless body out into the hall.

"The table's all set," Melerine announced from a position just outside the range of the swinging kitchen door.

Kneeling, Gzemma happened to have taken her eyes off Melerine for a brief moment in order to begin tidying up the mess of loose components that were lying about the floor but still acknowledged, "Good job. Now we're just waiting on your father and your brother so we can chow down."

The timing had to be perfect on this one. Dyoogie thrust his arm through the swinging kitchen door and plucked the girl out the family room! He only needed to wait moments more for the final blank of the second objective to be filled in. Unfortunately the desire to prevent the next sequence was going to be grueling, but his obligation was ultimately to the prevention of future occurrences like this, and that called for a stingy patience. To not act was as highly regarded a skill as anything else in the set. It was only a matter of when - and not before.

"He's not the best around electronics," Gzemma admitted while looking up and turning toward the kitchen, however Melerine was no longer there - only the swinging door remained visible, "but he can sure cook."

Suddenly Massimo started dragging Dalveer down the stairs behind Gzemma! The scientist was obviously startled because her mind was running through the aimless and eerie possibilities concerning the whereabouts of her possibly missing children at this point. The body just bumped limply against the carpeted decline, so when she stood, turned, and saw that, disheartening feelings of powerlessness and dread paralyzed her into frozen tracks. What were the options? Why was this happening? Where was that smartphone? Who in the universe was this crazy person toting a laser rifle in one hand and the wrist of her listless, bloodied husband in the other?

Screaming more than questioning, Gzemma bellowed out, "Who are you? What do you want?" Remember: Right pocket! She was absolutely terrified and her fingers fumbled about.

After slamming Dalveer's nonresistant body savagely to the floor where it barely bounced - sort of slid to an uneasy halt before Gzemma and pointing his laser rifle at the unconscious man with only the couch between them, Massimo advised, "I'd put that smartphone away if I were you."

"Andy?" An astonished Gzemma determined because the man's voice sounded so recently familiar.

"You don't get to ask the questions," Massimo smiled, "but mine should answer all of yours, so I'm only going to ask this once: Where is the Chakra?"

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Two Weeks Later)

Pang wanted no origin, and in fact, he wanted to forget his. As one of the faceless who were never seen let alone identified during the wars on terror - the innocent civilians of the occupied country who got caught up in the fighting but had zero recourse, the world forgot him. Gone but not forgotten, his physical pain might have long since subsided, but the mental anguish served as a painful amplifier of a reminder to what was lost - who was lost. And how they were lost.

Bitterness consumed his days. Nobody even gave a fu--. Where was the United Nations resolution for Pang's family and closest friends? They were just smeared by some international campaign across his country's sovereign soil.

Where was the national statement from Mexico? The government was so corrupt that one hand was taking money from the drug cartels as a retainer on a non (legally) taxable cut while the other was pandering to the United States for an infusion of terror funds meant to be used against the maniacal drug trade!

Pandering to the United States was always a mistake because accepting that money was similar to selling one's soul to El Diablo. It also included the acceptance of permanent military bases that encroached upon a nation's pride like a black eye. No, Pang's neighbors to the north did not want the drug cartels curtailed anymore than they wanted to win the war on drugs in their own sorry country. This was about hegemony, pure and simple.

Knowing the neighborly United States, the incident was probably all but concealed from the wanton gazes of the other worthless nations throughout Earth. But it was doubtful they would have even cared. How could a tragedy of this magnitude have been allowed to persist without any international outrage? Where was the opposition to such madness? What if this had happened to them?

To Pang, 'fu-- the world' was not just a rap song, and his every waking moment was dedicated to planning out how to bend the planet to his will by bending it over so he could mount his revenge sans lube. True his hate drove him, but it was the love for his family that fueled him and these lofty desires.

The universe referred to this kind of person without a country or a flag as a terrorist, but Pang knew himself and his rightful place as the last bastion of checks and balances on the seven superpowers: China, Iran, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. The media referred to him as a monster, a savage, a barbarian; but he would challenge anybody to add up the body counts from just one of the superpowers in a year's time, compare it to what he had done in just a few months, and ask them to kindly reconsider the label while reevaluating the math.

It was funny how Earth really was a peaceful place to live before the Space Force vacated the planet. What they had managed to accomplish in beating the mighty United States down to its knees and unifying a world government was a model of capitalistic skulduggery Pang did not have anywhere close to the resources to be able to emulate, but he still felt the overall vision was achievable by not just subordinating these powerful nations but eliminating them entirely. They were so da-n cutthroat his antics were allowed to continue on in the hopes it would save them the hassle of having to tangle directly with one another, but nobody respected him. There was no fear from the blown up buildings, the shot up crowds, or the tainted food and water supplies. Respect only went as far as he could be used as a tool to further their respective political agendas: Funneling absurd amounts of the national budget to their militaries, creating a villain to unite a country in hate when its leadership was too pathetic to unite the nation on an Apollo Project, and keeping everybody's mind off the subtle but as of yet unknown reason as to why the universe's megapower had forsaken them! Something big was coming to the solar system, and terrorism really was a rounding error in the scheme of things.

But those were Pang's days.

The evenings were commandeered by sorrow, so Pang sat slumped over in a chair wallowing through a never-ending sequence of flashbacks on repeat with his face buried in his arms on the top of a desk. It was the only bed he had known in quite some time and his only cover was a trench coat that draped over him like a cape as a horizontal slumber was much too presumptuous for the paranoid. Too many enemies were gunning for the terrorist to have been resting so comfortably. Fortunately or unfortunately his dreams made certain not to allow any chance at that.

Clutching a charred family photograph with a metalized left hand, Pang looked Human and all, but underneath a surprisingly thick layer of clothes (especially for the heatwave Puerto Vallarta was experiencing) including a refurbished set of puffy combat gear of the laser projectile retardant variety that could be purchased from an army surplus store, it was unclear as to whether or not skin had been grafted over the majority of his mutilated body. He would never allow anybody to know for certain as his right hand and head looked completely normal after El Dia de Dolor which utterly changed him:

"¡La policía!" A man exclaimed frantically as he ran down the cobblestone street of a simple pueblo.

The sounds of air-raid sirens bellowed boisterously in support of the man's observation. Meaning well as he pushed his way through the crowds of onlookers standing out in the middle of the street and an open market, each person who came in contact with him tried to grab ahold of an arm or a wrist - anything to get the delirious guy to slow down and explain. There was not a close-minded person among them who did not want to know, at least, what the sudden commotion was about. Quiet villages and the good life were usually absent of the drama associated with much larger towns, so the noise and this man's individual behavior were quite the spectacle. Shirking the attempts of those who would detain him with some slick escape moves, he charged on through the marketplace living out his Paul Revere fantasy as a proclamation and the enunciation of a foreshadowy nightmare.

"¿Qué pasa?" Pang asked in a concerned manner as he hurried out a modest single-level home that was rickety yet adequate. His house stood toward the end of the market, so after being alerted by the sirens, he was able to catch up with the frantic man in stride of escaping a mob scene of barterers.

Nearly tackled by Pang, the man became delirious his progress was being impeded - kicking and screaming, "¡Es la policía y los cárteles de drogas! ¡Ellos hacen la guerra!," while pointing back toward the direction he had come from.

This did not make any sense to Pang. Stunned, he questioned, "¿La guerra? No es posible. Aquí hay muchos niños y mujeres."

As if the sequence could not get anymore chaotic, a series of heavily armored and gun turret-equipped jeeps drove wildly through the market. Three even slammed into a chain of booths lining either side of the street - sending merchandise flying in all directions and the crowd of people scattering. Some got hit. Others were trampled. A few nice people helped the less fortunate up only to be gunned down in the process by members of a drug cartel working the jeeps' artillery like novices when spraying laser pulses in any direction as they too feared and fled what was coming!

Where was everybody supposed to run? And how would they get there? Why?

"¡Corre!" The man finally freed himself from Pang's grasp and ran away screaming, "¡Corre!"

In having access to the internet, Pang knew exactly what an NSF Fighter was when he saw one. The military-industrial complex was alive and well, and those who perpetuated it happened to be salespeople first, so the specifications of the latest war machines were almost always listed in blistering detail online. The ships were swooping down from the clouds and firing down upon the various positions held by the drug cartel throughout the market. Interestingly those fighters did not seem to care about the Human shields the cartel was obviously trying to immerse itself within. Plus the NSF - the Nebulan Science Forces were based out the United States. Why such a stark response to a Mexican drug problem? The jurisdiction was all wrong here and the response did not seem to fit or be fitting of the crime.

Not that the drug cartel did not deserve this kind of punishment for potentially poisoning various communities throughout Mexico with their addicting filth. Generations would possibly see long-term ripples of ramifications because of the quest for blood money. Pang wondered if these were still referred to as victimless crimes. He was a rather learned individual who had graduated from a nearby university and supplemented any further educational deficit that might have come about from living out in the sticks with an active internet connection. People may have thought the people of this pueblo were lesser-educated because they lived simply, but most of them chose this comfort of a peaceful lifestyle which offered 'enough'. Until today, it was actually the best-kept secret.

And this was a secret the drug cartel had been hoping would deliver a measure of mercy on behalf of their pursuers. Surprisingly the jeeps were well-armed to be able to withstand this onslaught. Certainly no pushovers, one of the jeeps actually managed to down one of the NSF Fighters! Veering off uncontrollably, the ship crashed into a string of buildings before its ensuing explosion sent chunks of the construction and clouds of dust spraying outward ahead of the infrastructure collapsing under the unusual strain. Each was built with the idea of being able to handle earthquakes, but that stimulus was from below. A fighter crashing through the middle of the structures like a missile was not a part of the original design requirement.

In horror, Pang watched while the people (who had believed seeking out the buildings for cover would suffice) cowered when everything came tumbling down on top their helplessly raised arms trying to brace in any way as an involuntary, last-ditch gesture before being crushed. Flames burst out from the NSF Fighter's explosion and the implosion of the various structures caught up in the chain reaction of carnage. Dead bodies - many of whom, he knew personally. Everybody knew everyone here. Destruction. Did anybody here even own a gun? Why them? A riot worth of terrorized mobs. There was nowhere to run fast enough. A drug war being fought in the middle of this peaceful pueblo. It unnerved him he was powerless to have prevented this and unable to have stopped this from spiraling even more inextricably out of control.

The pilots of the NSF Fighters must have felt the same way as they had apparently had enough and began to pull out. The patrons of the market were either licking their wounds or taking an inventory of the wounded. The drug cartel let out a raucous set of cheers, but....

"No," Pang said to himself as he looked up toward the darkening sky.

Something big was coming, and its sound drowned out the air-raid sirens with a bass drop rumbling the entire vicinity. Defeated, the people who retained consciousness were almost like, 'What now,' while the elation from the drug cartel had all but ceased and became a much more tepid 'oh shi-' kind of moment.

It was looking more and more like the frightened man from earlier had the right idea. Just point the body in a direction and run. It was not a sexy alternative because running entailed quite a bit of work with no guarantees of success - only the carried risk associated with the tactic. It was not a glamorous solution by any means because escaping meant abandoning their homes, livelihood, and community. It was not the preferred method in the slightest because they could all be tracked down by a pushy country like the United States who was bold enough to try and might very well succeed in pulling a stunt like this with the audacity of broad daylight flaunting their power and prowess out in the openness of arrogance.

What Pang seriously wanted to know was the specifics behind this violation, but what he really needed to know was that his family would be safe and backtracked toward his home with almost a lunge of familial desperation. Even if it was not to be enough, to be with them might have been. As if to try and halt the inevitable, his will forced his lungs and mouth to unleash a cortisol-laced scream of desire and disapproval all at the same time, "¡No!"

The entire pueblo was razed with some sort of unnatural energy from above. Its radius attack happened to be so precise the carnal beam left all the buildings intact. It was just the bodies - they were all horribly charred by what appeared to be and seemingly felt like an ERW. Pang also knew about world history and of the blight that had repeatedly doomed its magnificence: The arms race.

Nobody had been able to perfect an enhanced radiation weapon that could bring about the desired affects of preserving the infrastructure while unleashing the proper (read: significant) dose of neutron radiation needed to kill instantly in a practical manner apparently until now! The blast and heat of the older nuclear weapons had always done a number on the buildings despite being tamped down, but there each building stood untouched. Outside of the structures which had an NSF Fighter flown through them or were shot up with laser pulses in the initial commotion, everything was flawless save for the people of course. The hundreds of inhabitants throughout simply happened to be left where they were at the moment when the attack hit: In the same place, just charred - dead. The drug cartel members who had been languishing in their jeeps were left the same way. And....

Outside his home, Pang had an outstretched left arm that was not even close to being able to reach the doorknob. The fingers of his left hand were clutched intensely as his head dropped whether by force of the radius attack or by heaviness of a broken heart which came to terms with but could not accept the fact his family had perished or perhaps a combination of both, it was unclear to him.

"No," Pang cried softly with some hard tears during an agonizing power nap before picking his head up to meet the pitying gazes of two guards similarly dressed.

Bruno Noela and Pa Estêvão were the typical hardened types. Hardened by life, fortified by experience, solidified by this bloody campaign, and justified by its mandate - even they had to turn away and look off aimlessly to the side in order to stall a teary-eyed bout of their own from coming on. Each of them needed to remain strong in the face of Meta-Pang's previous adversity if there was going to be any hope of a chance to staredown the future adversity they would surely be facing by accepting the burden of his plight. His pain was an inspiration, and a big reason why many of these so-called unlawful combatants followed Pang's lead. None of them had been there at the pueblo, but many knew of somebody who was. Still others felt an obligation to see the as of yet not achieved atonement was obtained for the massacre.

Meta-Pang - that was what Bruno and Pa called him. It fit, and Pang did not seem to mind the nickname. He was a different person than before. Better was debatable.

"Sir," Bruno alerted softly, "all seven of the mercenaries have finally arrived."

After stashing the photo away inside a convenient pocket within the right breast side of his combat gear, Pang composed himself by wiping his face clean and pushed his body up from his seat at the desk while grabbing a laser rifle leaned against its edge as he proceeded to do so. Everybody inside the base had seen him cry before, and contrary to some made-up cultural beliefs by somebody in power who probably had unresolved issues with their mother, his show of emotion was manly. To not suffer some sort of release from time to time really would mean he was the psychopath his detractors were making him out to be.

Slipping right back into the role of the base's leader, Pang replied, "I'll be meaning to speak to Massimo about his punctuality making us all wait like this. Schedules need to be kept, my friends. Things work so much more smoothly with the efficiency of automation."

Pang, Bruno, and Pa left the office that was really a classroom and walked down the halls of a high school which had been converted for their basing purposes. They were each alive and living well within the center of a luxurious vacation destination in Puerto Vallarta. Healthy, not exactly missing any meals, and equipped with the electronics and armaments of a global command center, it could be said significant elements within the Mexican government were not only privy to this base's whereabouts but well aware of its ongoing operations. These terrorists were basically a part of the community, but snitches and leaks had no chance of bringing them down because the normal terrorism conventions were not followed.

This was not about ego, so one would never catch Pang putting his face on camera or voice on tape. That type of behavior was not only foolish but insane as far as maintaining secrecy was concerned. He had no need to get all political and poke his nose into other's affairs with cryptic proclamations and lofty threats of retaliation arrogantly inviting capture with a silly logistical setup which had way too many moving parts that could each be tracked plus traced.

Nobody even knew of Pang's name let alone his identity, so anonymity constantly played out in his favor. Who or what was getting hit when and by whom? The so-called seven superpowers had no clue. To be honest, he had died for all intents and purposes and a lack of a better understanding during those events on El Dia de Dolor and had been attempting to reinvent himself ever since. It would be a bold (read: arrogant, cocky, conceited, stupid...) individual to want to push their luck by trying to pull off what he continually accomplished as public enemy number one. The pressure of such scrutiny really was extensive even though it might seem like the countries who would be chasing after him were bumbling incompetents. That was always a ploy to elicit overconfidence and a lowering of one's guard. Once a country was on to a person, it never stopped looking for the person or looking for a way to eliminate said person, so this crossed generations and administrations.

The other thing was this operation did not even have a name. With no country and no terrorist organization to point a finger at, Pang was nearly impossible to catch. He subscribed to a tactic known as an innocence crime ring. People only knew to play their specific part and had no idea of how it affected the overall mission. That type of information was not even doled out on a need-to-know basis because the vision of the endgame was his alone, and it was achievable regardless of any faltering from the individual players. The power of this scenario was in the fact those players did not even need to be allied with him to be playing along. The crazy cab driver with no shocks on their car who ran the red light and cut off a bus in the process could have unknowingly cemented the diversion he would have needed for the subtleties of his operations to be overlooked momentarily but just enough in other areas. It really was that simple if it were not so complex.

A school gymnasium was not supposed to be housing Si-Powered fighter jets and helicopters plus other military vehicles - all courtesy of the CIA, but there they stood throughout as Pang's operations were also very well-financed. War games were funny like that. The people who chose to play always thought they were so smart - smarter than everybody else, but then there were others like Pang who did not play games. Sure, in the early goings he had carried out some missions for them, but he wound up carrying away some top secret technology in the process which was happily reverse engineered by the next coalition on his list to be double-crossed. This was not part of the rules, eh? Well what part of the game was the regime change on a sovereign nation who had democratically elected its leaders they had imperialistically ordered? These nations were going to learn. The most powerful did not need to hide behind a flag or an economy. In fact, the lack of a bureaucracy made this new type of terrorist that much stronger.

A group of choppers indistinguishable from heavily armored gunships played the background for this meeting. In front of them were seven mercenaries. Pang, Bruno, and Pa entered from the foreground.

"The merchandise?" Pang cut straight to business. He was paying them after all, and their fee was not necessarily materials or time clock-based, but their services came at a premium and the cost had been exorbitant. If a person wanted something done right and was not capable of doing it themselves, hiring the best would seem to be the next best alternative option.

From left to right, Hasumati Kolby was the first to begin the mandatory inspection. Outside of a lengthy ponytail for a bald head that had probably not been cut since birth, Hasumati's most prominent feature was a double scabbard sitting on the left side of his waist which housed dual wakizashis - the sword length in between a katana and tanto. What really caught Pang's eye was the fact the mercenary also had a hand laser holstered on his right side as well. It just seemed out of place culturally.

Hasumati extended both bare arms as his shirt was sleeveless and held up what looked to be some sort of component shaped like a spherical segment plus pulsating with an energetic glow. Excellent, he had secured the Anahata (Heart): Air Chakra.

Next was Patria Patel who looked nothing short of elegant - fully clothed in all pink with a matching pink burqa. Honestly it was a good idea to try and deflect some of this Puerto Vallartan heat. Culturally Pang did not mind. Unassuming, she displayed no visible weaponry, but he knew she was formidable. A mercenary who openly wore hot pink when the job often called for covert stealth had to be.

Patria made very little eye contact when offering up the Muladhara (Root): Earth Chakra - also with two hands. These things must have really had some weight to them.

Pang flung a serious eye contact toward Concepcion Durham - a man from the same corner of the planet actually. This guy was a total cock, extremely arrogant, and overly smug with himself. The best were not always agreeable or even likable individuals, so passing judgment was irrelevant. The open Hawaiian shirt with his chest showing was unbelievably a bit much. He was in good shape though, so if a person could pull it off - why not?

Concepcion spun the Manipura (Navel): Fire Chakra in his right hand and nearly dropped the thing! Pfffffffffff. Pathetic. But, whatever works.

Now Cami Noma appearance-wise did not fit in with the rest of these hardened killers, and that was exactly why this bubbly and vivacious soul who looked more like a college girl gone wild was extremely dangerous. She dressed in a tank top, shorts, and sneakers like she was vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. Unless there was a gun somehow hidden inside her purse, there could not have been any other weapon on her. Interesting.

Cami searched around for a moment as if to figure out what she was supposed to be doing in the lineup. It was an awkward sequence that caused some of the other mercenaries to turn and stare at her in disbelief. Honestly how could a person show up to this meeting unprepared? This was not like some stupid weekly team meeting that would be better off not even being had. Each of them had been paid enough to be able to retire quietly for eternity, and the precision of this operation.... No wait, the mercenary just dug the Svadhisthana (Sacral): Water Chakra out her purse and presented it confidently with one hand (!) and a playful giggle. Pang shrugged and went on to the next.

If there was a potential to be overdressed for this operation, Scux would have been the odd person out. Talk about a person who loved his Second Amendment rights: Chest holsters, forearm holsters, waist holsters, thigh holsters, ankle holsters, back holsters which seemed to be modded sword scabbards to house laser rifles, and this was the weaponry that was visible! He even lugged around a backpack which appeared to be of additional gear. This was not insecurity; it was insurance.

Scux retrieved the Vishuddhi (Throat): Ether/Sound Chakra from the bag with one hand in order to meet Pang's visual and nodding approval before immediately replacing it within its confinement. A very serious demeanor for an extremely serious task was something that he could respect. Well-done.

Two more to go, and Riddell Kristof did not make Pang wait before revealing his offering. He had spent some time in the Trenches of Kalos 7 fighting a bitter series of skirmishes for the Space Force against a vicious Slorg onslaught for the prize of a strategic foothold, but the military life was no longer for him. For hire, the mercenaric lifestyle gave him the chance to ween himself off the need for battle - at a fair price, of course. Proficient in Space Force weaponry, those displayed probably held a greater significance for him than for anybody else who had just picked a hand laser or a laser rifle off the shelf to use.

Riddell took a swig of some canteen water while presenting the Ajña (Third Eye): Light/Dark Chakra again with one hand. Perhaps this was an indication of each mercenary's power level. It might be something for Pang to watch.

One thing or person, rather, Pang did not see was Massimo. Already on his shi- list for setting the operation back one whole week, he stared at Dyoogie in order to ascertain the meaning of this.

Dyoogie removed the Sahasrara (Crown): Thought/Space Chakra from a satchel also with one hand, but that was not good enough, and Pang moved in to face him while inquiring, "What happened to Massimo?"

This was a face-to-face confrontation with obvious implications to what the future between Dyoogie and Pang held. There was no animosity between them because honestly, what did it matter who delivered the Chakra, and neither had any history, so no beef could be associated with this uncanny occurrence.

"He couldn't make it," Dyoogie answered.

"Couldn't," Cami whispered to Riddell, "or didn't?"

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