Captain Scarlet slowly awakened.
The terrible pain he remembered was completely gone now and he felt refreshed, if somewhat famished like he usually did after a retrometabolic sleep. He wondered if he had died, as he recalled very little of what had happened from the moment Nicolas Laws had flung him onto his shoulders to take him away from the clearing and into the forest, where they hoped to find cover. After that, he had totally lost track of time; he imagined that he had succumbed to unconsciousness soon after.
He realised almost instantly that he wasn’t in the jungle anymore, but that he was indoors, lying on his back on a comfortable bed. He opened his eyes to stare at a low white ceiling, where a fan slowly rotated above his head. He blinked his eyes, wondering exactly what this place could be; he turned his head to his right, towards a large window through which bright sunlight entered. It was day now, and Scarlet understood that many hours had gone by since he passed out. It was more than likely the next day, and the nightmares and dangers of the previous night were finished.
The thought of Harmony then came into his mind and, as if stung by a bee, he shot into a sitting position, suddenly remembering that she, too, had been in mortal peril. He heard the jingling sound first, then felt the weight upon his wrists, and he lowered his eyes to look at them: heavy shackles encircled them, linked together by a length of chain. His feet were similarly restrained, with the chain looping around the frame of the bed.
What the devil…?
“So. That is your secret, then.”
Scarlet shivered almost despite himself at the sound of this nearby voice. He looked around, searching where it came from, and discovered to his left, standing a few meters from him, Hayato Ryoushi, with both of his hands resting on a sheathed katana, that he held like a cane in front of him. Behind him, on either side of closed sliding doors, stood two heavily armed guards, wearing the mercenaries’ khaki uniform.
At the sight of Ryoushi, Scarlet felt a righteous anger wash over him; all of his instincts dictated him to jump at the Japanese’s throat and to strangle him on the spot with his restraints. However, somehow, he managed to keep his calm and not to move, and he watched, with a murderous glow in his blue eyes, as Ryoushi approached the bed quietly.
“Ryoushi-san,” the Spectrum officer said, doing his utmost to sound courteous. He glanced about, taking in the décor of the room, the paintings hung on the walls, the delicately decorated vase in one corner, and the hikido doors between the guards. He also took note of the metal bars, on the other side of the opened window, and knew there didn’t seem to be any way for him to escape this room. He looked back to Ryoushi. “Looks like we’re back at your home, then.”
Ryoushi smiled down at him. “You are my guest, Captain Scarlet – for the moment, that is.”
“A captive guest?” Scarlet asked, showing his chains.
“A necessary precaution. I’m sure you understand. I was curious to see how much time it took you to recover.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Scarlet retorted with a straight face. “Aren’t you afraid of Spectrum finding us here?”
“We have some time,” Ryoushi said, always serenely. “I’ve had it from very reliable sources that your colleagues are very busy at the moment.”
“At Stanton Air Base?” Scarlet asked, a little more harshly than before. “Or at Glenn Field, this time?” He marked a short pause, before voicing the question that really was important to him: “Where’s Harmony Angel?”
Ryoushi quietly pulled up a chair set against the wall next to the bed and sat down in front of Scarlet. “Let’s have a little talk first, Captain,” he said instead of answering.
“Is she all right?” Scarlet asked insistently.
Ryoushi smiled thinly. “You worry uselessly about her, Captain. I can promise you, neither my men nor I did her any harm.”
“And I should believe you?”
“I give you my word of honour. Now… let’s have our talk. We’ll discuss you, and then me… And then I’ll tell you want you want to know about your precious little Angel.”
Scarlet scrutinised the man before him with attention. “Still resorting to blackmail, aren’t you?”
“If it works, why not? Bear with me, Captain. It’s not like you have a choice, anyway.”
Scarlet scowled, and then relented with a petulant grunt. “What is it you want to know?”
“You are being reasonable. That’s good.” Ryoushi nodded slowly. “I figured out what it is that make you so special, Captain Scarlet. You’re a Mysteron agent.”
“I am not,” Scarlet retorted coldly.
“Of course you’re not. How thoughtless of me.” Ryoushi looked at him intently, in a pensive way, his left hand resting on his chin. “I should have said: you were a Mysteron agent, who happened to have retained from your former masters the power to heal from any wound and to even revive from death. I should have realised this sooner, really. That explains how you can take risks others can’t, and survive where everyone else would surely die.” Resting on his sword, he leaned towards Scarlet, who was silently glaring at him. “Does President Younger know?”
“Why not ask him the next time you have dinner with him?” Scarlet snapped in a voice that would have frozen an erupting volcano.
“He must know, surely,” Ryoushi continued musingly. “It would only be with his blessing that you would still be working with Spectrum. I’m quite sure your colonel was quick to explain to the World President the strategic importance of having a former Mysteron agent working against those dreadful aliens. Colonel White, I hear, can be quite convincing when he wants to. That must not have been easy, though. After all, if I’m not mistaken, you must be the one who kidnapped President Younger for the Mysterons, two years ago… So Spectrum must have taken you back from Mysteron control after that. What a brilliant move.”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes at him, suspiciously. “I would be very curious to learn exactly how you came by such information,” he said. “You have it right, in almost every detail.”
Ryoushi grinned with no concealed satisfaction. “I told you, Captain: I am an expert tactician. Once I have the facts and figures handed to me, no matter how scrambled, the pieces will fall into place and I will see the big picture – and be able to act upon it.”
“Well, that doesn’t account for everything,” Scarlet sternly retorted. “Some of those ‘facts and figures’ that you can’t possibly have guessed happen to be highly classified information. Nobody outside of Spectrum – or some high levels of World Government security or the World Government cabinet – are even aware of those facts.”
“Such as the Mysterons being aliens from Mars, and being able to take control of people or objects – after destroying them?” Ryoushi offered quietly.
“And the fact that these… duplicates can be virtually indestructible, if the Mysterons choose them to be? Like you seem to be yourself?”
Scarlet scowled. Ryoushi obviously knew even more than he had first imagined. “Will you tell me how you know all that already?”
“I told you: I have very reliable sources.”
“Sources that might be considered guilty of high treason for exposing top secret information, which makes them looking at a possible very long term in prison.”
Ryoushi chuckled. “Don’t be so melodramatic, Captain.”
“As you are looking at the same, for kidnapping and killing a considerable number of people – including World security officials – just to satisfy your sadistic needs,” Scarlet continued harshly.
Ryoushi shook his head, slowly. “No, Captain. Not only for that. I admit, I do take some pleasure in hunting human prey from time to time, and the more dangerous the prey, the better the sport is.”
“You’re insane, Ryoushi.”
“But,” the Japanese continued, without seeming to take any notice of Scarlet’s interruption, “hunting humans isn’t the most important thing to me.” He leaned closer to Scarlet who still glared murderously at him. “You might not believe me, but I could have done without it, if it wasn’t useful to me for something which has much more meaning.”
“Hunting that creature that lives on the other island.”
Ryoushi leaned back on the backrest of his chair and nodded silently. It was Scarlet’s turn to lean towards him, the chains holding him rattling against the shackles.
“I’ve seen him, up close and personal, Ryoushi. I saw his face. It’s like nothing I ever seen. It’s not… human.”
“It is not, indeed,” Ryoushi confirmed with a nod.
“I looked him in the eyes, Ryoushi.” Scarlet raised his hand and gestured to the left side of his face. “He was scarred, and his left eye was blind. Just like yours.” He saw the crooked smile on Ryoushi’s lips, as the man listened to him silently, and he continued: “I was pretty much out of it when you appeared back then in the jungle to face him, but I had the distinct impression that the two of you knew each other intimately. I even think you spoke his language. And I know he speaks Japanese.”
“Only some Japanese words,” Ryoushi said. “Those he finds useful. He probably knows a bit of English too. Actually, he picked up words from various languages, heard from the many prey he hunted over the years. But the one he knows best is Japanese. I suspect that Yautja bastard understands it much better than I give him credit for.”
Scarlet nodded his understanding at these last words. “He learned them from you.”
“Indeed, he has.”
“He’s that sensei you mentioned the other day.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. Scarlet narrowed his eyes at the Japanese man. “You said he is… a Yautja?”
Ryoushi nodded slowly, looking down at the tip of his sheathed katana. “He’s a hunter,” he said. He rose to his feet, followed by Scarlet’s eyes, and went to stand in front of the opened window to look outside. “An alien creature who found himself stranded, when his spacecraft crashed on this planet, many years ago, before you were born. Before I was even born.”
“An alien?” Scarlet repeated doubtfully.
“Surely, you must believe that’s the truth, Captain. After all, you know of the Mysterons’ existence.” Ryoushi turned to face the Spectrum officer, with his hands holding his sword behind his back. “And you have it right. He was indeed my sensei. My n’yaka-de, which, in his own language, means something like ‘teacher’ or ‘master’.”
With measured steps, he walked away from the window, past the chair he had sat on, and came to stand at the end of the bed, in front of Scarlet; the latter kept following him with his eyes, waiting for him to reveal the full and unusual story that he knew Ryoushi was dying to tell him.
“My father was a rich entrepreneur,” Ryoushi explained, his only eye looking into the distance. “Thirty-five years ago, he bought this archipelago, with plans to build a hotel resort that would become the envy of the world, a paradise, where tourists would be willing to pay big prices for their vacations. So he came here, aboard his yacht, with his business partners, his lawyers, architects… and me, his only son. Why he brought me along, I don’t know. At eleven, I had no interest in my father’s business. The call of adventure, however – now that interested me.” He paused, to look straight at Scarlet. “My father and the others made camp on the big island, on that beach you already know, Captain. And while they were making plans for the future, I went exploring… and got lost. I accidentally wandered into the deepest part of the forest. I tried to find my way back to the beach and nightfall surprised me. My father, the employees from the yacht, everybody, they came looking for me. They eventually found me, as I was finally nearing the camp after hours of walking aimlessly. My father – he was furious with me. I would like to believe it was because he had been worried about me so much, but I would be deceiving myself. He was a harsh man by nature, ruthless, and prone to violence. After hugging me to his heart, he struck me – like he often did before that day. This time, it was to ‘teach me to be more responsible’. It was a harsh lesson. Unfortunately, it would be the last one my father gave me.”
“The creature was there?” Scarlet asked.
Ryoushi nodded. “I believe he followed me from the depths of his lair, maybe curious as to what manner of creature I could be at the time. As I learned afterwards, he already had been stranded on that island for many years – from my estimate of what he told me, close to a hundred years. He had very little contact with civilisation – except maybe for other unfortunate souls who came onto his island in the past. It was a blessing in itself that he had crashed there, instead of somewhere where he might meet more human beings. He would surely have created a bloodbath.”
“The creature killed everyone on the island that night, in front of my very eyes. Beginning with my father. He cut his head off, with one single swing of his spear. Then, he massacred all the others, one by one, without any effort, without them even having a single chance to fight back or to escape. He destroyed the yacht with his Sivk'va-tai – his plasma-caster. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. He carries it on his shoulder.”
“Big gun, short barrel,” Scarlet confirmed. “Shoots powerful and devastating blasts of energy.” He nodded. “I saw it in action, yes.”
“The hunter has at his disposition an impressive array of advanced weapons,” Ryoushi explained. “The plasma-caster is but one example.”
“I found myself at the receiving end of his telescopic spear,” muttered Scarlet.
“So that’s how he got you,” Ryoushi realised. “As I said, impressive. But that’s not nearly as impressive as his cloaking device, which permits him to watch his prey and sneak up on them when comes the time to surprise and kill them. That’s how he killed everyone that night. They never saw him approach – until it was too late.”
“So you were the only survivor. Why did the creature not kill you as well?”
“At the time, I believed he was about to,” Ryoushi explained. “After he had killed everyone, he seized me in one cold, clawed hand and lifted me up from the ground. At this point, he had removed his mask, to look more closely at me, and I saw his hideous, alien face for the first time. I was frightened; my heart was beating so fast at the thought that I was going to die. But I wasn’t going to go without a fight. Before he caught me, I had managed to grab a piece of flint from the ground – and when I was close enough… I struck him. Right at his face.”
“Putting out his left eye,” Scarlet realised. “And he let you live anyway?”
“He could have killed me right there, with my father and all the others.” Ryoushi paused a second. “Instead, he contented himself with striking me in return, the same way I struck him.” Ryoushi gestured towards the scar on the left side of his face. “That was to be my first lesson from him. From that moment on, he took me under his wing. Still today, I am not sure why he made such a choice.”
“Maybe he felt lonely and wanted some companionship?” Scarlet commented with a shake of his head.
“Maybe. And perhaps he saw potential in me. I showed spirit. The Yautja respect and appreciate courage. And perhaps also, because I was a youngling. Yautja do not kill young, Captain, except if they’re posing a threat or carrying a weapon. It goes against all the rules of the Path.”
“The Yautja’s code of Hunt, Captain Scarlet. The creature taught me everything about it, in all the years he trained me.” Ryoushi lifted his head, proudly. “The Hunt is the Yautja’s way of life. They live only for the hunt and the honour it brings. The rules of the Path are very strict. There is much to say about it, but I can summarise it for you very easily: you follow it, you live by it – or you die. You train, and follow the rules of the hunt, until no prey can escape you. You learn to use all manner of weapons, to make weapons out of anything, and to kill with your bare hands. Your skills must be perfected, to a point where you are a killing machine. You leave the unarmed and younglings, and hunt the worthy prey, to give it an honourable kill. You never leave a prey behind. You take its head as trophy and keep it to proudly display for all to see.”
“Very nice,” Scarlet deadpanned. “That almost sounds like war. Except for the hunting references. And the head as trophy bit.”
“Do not mock me, Captain Scarlet,” Ryoushi warned with a scowl. “For the Yautja, this is very serious business. And it is for me as well.”
“Sounds like you’re actually more ‘Yautja’ than human, Ryoushi.”
“Maybe I am. Chij’na made sure his lessons would stick.”
Scarlet nodded. “Chij’na. That’s the creature’s name, then?”
Ryoushi chuckled. “It means ‘scar’ in the Yautja language. That’s the name I gave him, because I disfigured him. I never truly knew his real name.”
“He taught you to be the hunter you are today – and now, if I understand correctly, you want to see him dead?”
“Captain.” Ryoushi’s expression became hard. “I spent twelve long years on that island, following the harsh and cruel lessons of the Yautja. He wasn’t a kind teacher. To be kind is not the Yautja way. A youngling must learn through hardships, conflicts and tests, if he is to survive. If he doesn’t survive, he isn’t worthy and deserves to die. I nearly died countless times, Captain, but day after day, I became stronger, and tougher – and more hating of that evil creature.”
“… Who chose to let you live.”
“…And who killed my father.” A flash of hatred passed in Ryoushi’s single eye as he said these words, and he continued, between clenched teeth: “Every day, Captain Scarlet, I could see the skull of my father hanging in that devil’s lair. Every day, for twelve years, until I was able to leave that island, it was staring back at me, claiming vengeance, and begging me to kill the devil that had murdered him and his companions, and who, to all intents and purposes, kept me captive. The child that met the Yautja those many years ago gradually became but a ghost in my memory.”
He paused yet again, to draw a deep breath, while Scarlet, silently, stared at him, waiting.
“I became determined to learn as much as I could from the creature,” Ryoushi continued. “I would be his equal, his better if possible. I swore that one day, I would be strong enough and skilful enough to get my revenge on him. I studied his weaknesses – for example, I learned that without his mask, during the day, he wasn’t much better than if he was thoroughly blind. He sees much better during the night.”
“He uses a heat-tracking device,” Scarlet commented. “That must help him to see better. But if you keep behind a heat source, or immerse yourself in cold water… You are likely to become invisible to him.”
“You learn fast, Captain.” Ryoushi nodded slowly. “That is his main weakness, yes. But his senses of smell and of hearing are very developed. You would not be able to sneak up on him easily – if that’s even possible. His other major weakness is his self-confidence in his capacities; he is so arrogant, that he believes that no-one can be better than him. He is in his mind, the best hunter. I often entertained the thought that he was only training me to keep his edge – and that one day I would become a proper prey for him to hunt... so I swore that, when the time came, I would give him the sport he wishes for – and more.”
“You escaped him eventually,” Scarlet pointed out.
“I did. It was the coming of a ship to this island that provided me with a means to escape. I don’t know why the crewmembers of that ship went ashore on the island. Perhaps to enjoy a few moments’ leisure… They made the mistake of bringing guns with them, to hunt for fresh meat, probably. That made them fair game.”
“The creature hunted them.”
“We both did.”
Scarlet was shocked at the unemotional way Ryoushi made that declaration. The Japanese tilted his head, looking at him. “Did I shock you, Captain? Surely, you must have expected it. I was a young man then, in my prime, and it was time for me to prove I was a worthy hunter. I don’t make any excuse for it. It was the first time I hunted and killed human beings. And I enjoyed the thrill it provided me.”
Scarlet didn’t reply, but by the way he was staring at Ryoushi, the latter could clearly see he didn’t win his approval at all. Not that he expected to. The Japanese gave him a cruel smile, and pursued his tale: “After the hunt, the Yautja considered I was indeed a worthy hunter. And so he wanted to give me the highest honour a Hunter could bestow a novice: he would make me a full Blooded hunter.” Seeing Scarlet’s perplexed and interrogative expression, he explained: “It’s a Yautja ceremony, in which a Hunter accepts the young into the Clan, by giving him the Mark. Here, engraved on his brow.” He pointed to his forehead.
Scarlet nodded. “I saw a scar on the creature’s forehead,” he remembered. “Three wavy lines, forming a triangle.”
“The mark of Chij’na’s Clan,” Ryoushi explained. “The same he was to give me. But as you can see, I don’t bear any mark. I refused that honour from my n’yaka-de. That was something unheard of. And an offence to a Yautja, and to all of his Clan. I earned then my Yautja name: ‘L’ulij-bpe’, the Mad One. For Chij’na considered that I was truly mad to refuse the honour he was giving me.
“I imagined that from that moment, I was marked for dead. A Yautja doesn’t hunt another Yautja, unless he is Bad Blood. I wasn’t a Yautja, so I was now fair game to Chij’na. I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to hunt and kill me, so I fled. I used the ship of those men we killed and was able to return to civilisation. There, I was able to make contact with my father’s good friend, Seijitsu Yu, who had kept my father’s company running during all this time. He helped me reclaim what was mine by birthright. I changed my name, because I wasn’t my father’s son anymore, and my experiences on the island had made me a different man from the one he was. Under Seijitsu’s tutelage, I became the ruthless and powerful businessman I am today – and gained those important connections throughout the industrial and political world, that would prove to be so useful to me.”
“And that’s how a business empire falls into the hands of a mad man,” Scarlet commented quietly. “I imagine that from there, you started gaining your reputation as a renowned hunter... And then, eventually, set up your plan for your revenge against the Yautja creature.”
“I’ve kept Chij’na on his island, and set up one of my homes on this one, to keep a close eye on him. I’ve been providing him with prey for years… Using them as bait to one day have my chance of killing him.”
“Obviously, not very successfully.”
“I am a patient man, Captain. Chij’na thought me that, and thought me well. Every prey, every hunt was bringing me closer to my ultimate goal. I didn’t mind if it would take me an eternity. I would, eventually, kill the Yautja. He would become my ultimate trophy.”
“Or you would become his.”
Ryoushi nodded. “That is also a possibility.”
“I was right in my assumption of you, Ryoushi,” Scarlet harshly said. “You are insane.”
“Perhaps I am, Captain. But considering what my life had been – can you truly blame me for it?”
“Many people live through traumatising experiences, Ryoushi. Not all of them become monsters.”
Ryoushi scowled in irritation. “The true monster, Captain, is that creature living on the next island.”
“That creature only does what it was born to do, Ryoushi, and follows his own code of ethics,” Scarlet retorted. “He didn’t choose to be the way he is. You, on the other hand, you chose to become what you are today: a sadistic murderer, obsessed with vengeance, and who will go to any lengths to see it done. I don’t want to think of how many lives were forfeit to satisfy your thirst for revenge. I have certainly more respect for the Yautja than I could have for you.”
Ryoushi grinned wickedly. “I wonder if you’ll judge the hunter so lightly, Captain, and hold him in the same respect, when you learn what happened to that half-breed you call your colleague.”
Scarlet froze and paled at the sound of these words; he felt his heart miss a beat. “What?” he murmured with uncertainty. “What do you mean? Where’s Harmony? What happened to her?”
Ryoushi looked at him with an indifferent expression upon his face. “She’s dead, I was told. Killed by the creature in the jungle.”
Scarlet stared at him in disbelieving shock. “But you said –”
“I said that neither my men nor I had done her any harm. I never included the creature, Captain.”
Grief filled Scarlet’s heart; All this time Ryoushi had been talking with him, he was keeping that information to himself; the man had simply led him to believe that Harmony was fine, maybe held captive in another room. But now, the truth was out.
If someone didn’t deserve to die in this adventure, it was certainly Harmony. A blind rage took hold of Scarlet. With eyes filled with hatred, despite the chains restraining him, he leapt straight at Ryoushi, in the hope of reaching him and putting his hands around his throat.
Ryoushi, his face set in stone, stepped back and, in a swift and fluid movement, unsheathed his sword, to press the point against Scarlet’s neck. The Spectrum officer froze instantly, just in time to avoid having his throat slashed. The guards standing on each side of the door rushed over, and came to stand by the bed, pointing their weapons at close range at Scarlet. He ignored them, and kept glaring murderously at Ryoushi.
“You fucking bastard,” he growled between clenched teeth. “That’s your fault if she’s dead!”
Ryoushi considered him with the same Olympian calmness as before. “Calm down now, Captain,” he said quietly. “There’s no sense getting so riled over the death of a half-breed girl. You wouldn’t want to be killed so quickly after having revived, would you?”
“If it could bring about your own death, you despicable scum, I wouldn’t care less!”
“That would not really avenge your colleague’s death, Captain. Surely, you must realise that. The devil would still live.” He nodded to the two men, and they lowered their weapons, to seize Scarlet by the arms and hold him still. Then Ryoushi removed his sword from the Spectrum captain’s throat and put one knee on the floor to speak levelly at him: “But I now have the means to trap this monster, and to put an end of all this madness.”
“You don’t care about avenging Harmony,” Scarlet seethed. “You despised her, because of her dual heritage. You just care about your own obsessive revenge, you insane maniac!”
“I am now very close to my objective, Captain,” Ryoushi placidly replied. “My next move will permit me, once and for all, to put an end to this history between the creature and me. I will kill him, this time. I have no doubt about it. That should please you.”
“And how will you do that exactly?” Scarlet asked. “Seems to me that until now, none of your plans worked very well.”
“This one will work. With your help, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet scoffed. “You tried that already. That wasn’t successful either.”
“It’s different this time. Because now, Chij’na knows about you.”
“What do you mean?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“You know very well what I mean. For him, you are not ‘Ooman’, like the rest of us. He called you ‘Khujhade’ – which in his tongue means ‘Destroyer’. I don’t see any other reason for him giving you that name than the fact that he had discovered that you were a Mysteron.”
“What does it have to do with anything?” Scarlet snapped.
“I have the distinct impression that Chij’na very much wants to add you in his collection of trophies,” Ryoushi explained. “In the jungle last night, he was more interested in getting you than in facing me. That was a first, in the many years we’ve been fighting each other. So, I’ll be using you as bait, Captain, once again. But I’ll be doing it differently this time, in a way that will have the creature at my mercy.”
“I hope he’ll be the one who’ll get you, Ryoushi,” Scarlet spat. “And I hope I’ll be there when he does it.”
Ryoushi raised a mocking brow. “It’ll be very unlikely that you will be alive at that point, Captain.” He rose to his feet and sheathed his katana, before motioning to his men once more. “Bring him to the courtyard,” he ordered. “And make sure he won’t escape.”
After they had helped him set foot back on the top of the cliff, the hunter had not killed the female Ooman or her companion. Although, he had to admit, with the male Ooman, he had been tempted to do so, if only to teach him a lesson that it wasn’t a good idea to mock a Yautja or to threaten him.
However, honour demanded that the hunter did not touch either of them for the time being; the female had saved his life. Granted, she had probably done so because if he had died and let go, she would have fallen to her death as well, but the result was the same. And nothing forced her, or her companion, to help him out of his precarious position. They could have left him to hang there, if they had chosen to, but they had not. Perhaps they did not know that, eventually, he probably would have been able to climb back up… but even if they did, the hunter wondered if that would have made any difference in their choice.
He thought not.
There was motivation behind their decision to help him; at least, for the female, there was. Her dim-witted companion, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any idea why she had done it – why she was willing to trust the one who, until very recently had been hunting them so relentlessly. The hunter didn’t need to perfectly understand their language to figure out they had divided opinions on the subject. The way they argued was enough of an indication.
The hunter had considerably underestimated the female. She was sain'ja, and a very talented one, although quite different from the Khujhade warrior, or even her male companion of the moment – who, too, seemed like a competent warrior, but he truly didn’t count. The female’s fighting skills were quite similar to that of L’ulij-bpe, when he was but a youngling, but much more experienced than he ever was. Her wits were sharp, and she knew no fear. All about her commanded respect. She was one of the finest specimens he had ever met on this planet.
Ah, if he had not misjudged her before, she would have made a worthy prey; but now, it wasn’t even something to consider.
And honour wasn’t the only thing staying the hunter’s hand; on a practical note, both Ooman could prove useful allies against the dreaded Khujhade – who seemed to be more than one. He had realised that the female sain’ja had also identified the Ooman hunter who had tried to kill them both as a Khujhade slave. She knew about Khujhade, and obviously she didn’t like them anymore than the hunter did. However, she didn’t seem to acknowledge that her mate was one as well – and more, he knew that she had been willing to give her life to save him. He wondered if she was so blind as to not know, or if there was information that he wasn’t aware of.
There was a mystery here, and, as curiosity was part of a Yautja’s nature, he was looking forward to solving it.
He hoped that, in the meantime, by his infuriating behaviour, the male Ooman would not force him to dishonour himself, by cutting off his head…
* * *
“You are not kidding me – the Mysterons Spectrum is fighting – are really aliens from Mars who have declared war on Earth?”
Harmony Angel and Nicolas Laws were seated in the shade of the trees bordering the beach where, the day before, Ryoushi’s guests had set up camp, before going on their fateful hunt party. Now, that beach was completely deserted, the tents dismounted, the equipment removed, and the helijet gone, and nothing had been left to mark the camp’s emplacement other than the burned and darkened remains of the fire that had been built in the middle.
To protect themselves from the sun and some possible prying eyes, Harmony and Laws had decided to keep under cover, while they discussed the events of the previous night and decided what to do next. The hunter – who had come with them even though he seemed somewhat reluctant to do so – had elected to comfortably install himself on the sturdy bough of a nearby tree, and was almost hidden from their view by the foliage. He didn’t seem inclined to keep them company, and yet, he was curious about them, and was keeping a watchful eye on them – which was making Laws very nervous.
Harmony made good on her promise, and explained to Laws all she judged would be acceptable for him to know about the Mysterons from Mars and the duplicates they created in their war against Earth. At this point, it really didn’t matter that much that she was revealing was classified information: he had seen too much to keep him much longer in the dark, and she figured it was better to tell him what they were up against. From what she knew, some higher-level U.S.S. agents were already in the know anyway, so in the worst of cases, Harmony considered she contributed to assist Laws in a possibly long-awaited promotion within his service.
If Laws had proven sceptical at the beginning, he could only concur that the young woman’s story was supported by the rumours he had already heard within the U.S.S., as well as by what he had witnessed, in the course of the previous night.
At his comment, Harmony nodded silently, and Laws pursued: “And they use dead guys as their agents against us, making duplicates of them. Which explains why Rodriguez, whom I had killed, appeared in front of me hours after, without a single scratch on him, and that there are two exact copies of Johnston presently lying at the bottom of the cliff.”
Harmony nodded again. “They were both Mysteron agents, yes,” she confirmed.
“And is there a chance that a third copy of Johnston surprises us here, while we’re talking?”
“That would be highly unlikely,” Harmony said, smiling at the perplexed and doubtful expression displayed on Laws’ features. “The Mysterons do not replicate another replicate – at least that we know of. They could make them difficult to kill, however. But since the body of the second Johnston is still at the bottom of the cliff as we speak and has no way to climb up…”
“I get it.”
Laws stood up and walked a few steps, musing over this information. Up in his tree, the hunter was following his pacing with a watchful eye, noticing how edgy the man had grown since the moment the young woman had started talking to him.
“And what about Paul?” Laws stopped pacing and turned to face Harmony. “You just said that Mysteron agents are difficult to kill. He had been badly hurt, back there at the camp, and I would not have bet on his chances for survival. Yet, some time later, he seemed to be recovering.”
Harmony hesitated for a moment, unsure how much exactly she should say that wouldn’t give away too much of her colleague’s secret. “Captain Scarlet is a very unique individual,” she said carefully. “At one point, the Mysterons did try to make an agent out of him. But he escaped them, and somehow, he kept some of the abilities they give to their agents.”
“And that includes what?” Laws almost snapped. “Healing at an incredibly rapid rate?”
Harmony hesitated anew. “You have seen it yourself, Mr Laws,” she finally said, without committing herself.
Laws stared at her with growing perplexity. He wasn’t sure if he should implicitly believe all of what she’d been telling him.
“All this seems all so impossible, Harmony,” he said. “I… I know you’re telling the truth, but – it’ll take me some time to swallow it.” He looked at her inquisitively. “Are you sure Paul Metcalfe is still himself? If I am to believe what you say –”
“Ever since he escaped them, Captain Scarlet has been using these abilities against the Mysterons,” Harmony replied. She looked up at the grim-looking Laws. “He’s thoroughly loyal and dedicated to Spectrum. And I know no-one on this Earth who fights the Mysterons as hard as he does.”
“I bet he does,” Laws groused. “If I know him – and I do know him well – he would want to make these Mysterons pay for attempting to use him against his will.” He spotted the hunter, half-hidden behind the foliage of the tree, and thumbed in his direction. “And where does this one stand exactly in this?”
Harmony looked at the hunter, pensively. Then, she lowered her eyes to the mask, that she held between her hands, and that she had been playing with for the last few minutes. “I wouldn’t want to assume, but I think he is an alien as well.”
“What, another one?” Laws said, almost derisively. “And from what planet does he come from? Mars as well? Venus? Or one of the many moons of Jupiter?”
He heard a low growl coming from behind, in answer to his sarcastic comments, and turned around to glare at the hunter. “Oh be quiet, ugly. I’m not talking to you.”
“I don’t know where he comes from,” Harmony admitted. She raised the mask to her face, as if she was to put it on. The inside surface was covered with what looked like electronic components. Through the narrow eye slits, she could only see Laws as if he was but a single infrared image, with light and dark spots marking various parts of his body. She lowered the mask, blinked her eyes several times to regain a normal vision and looked up at the scowling Laws, who had turned his attention back to her. “But I very much doubt he is from Mars as well. Yet, it seems obvious he knows about the Mysterons. And that he doesn’t like them.”
“How did you come to that conclusion?”
“By the way he’s been acting. You must remember – he was very eager to get to Captain Scarlet. He called him by the same name he did Johnston, before the latter was killed: ‘Khujhade’ – which I can only guess is what his kind calls the Mysterons.”
“But you just said that Paul has escaped from these Mysterons’ control?”
“And I also said that he retained some of their abilities. The hunter must have sensed them.”
“Or maybe not,” Laws sharply retorted. “That murderous monster has killed I don’t know exactly how many people last night, and uncountable others before that. Ryoushi has been delivering him victim after victim for years, and I doubt that all of them were Mysterons… or ‘Khujhade’, as this beast calls them!” Laws shook his head and gave a frustrated sigh, throwing his arms in the air. “No, Harmony. I think you are making wild guesses, here. We can’t really know if –”
He was interrupted by a strident snarl that made him turn on his heels again; the hunter had jumped to the ground and was now barking loudly at him. Laws scowled, and Harmony slowly stood up.
“I don’t think he likes your tone of voice,” she commented quietly.
Laws snorted. “He doesn’t like my tone of voice,” he slowly echoed, sardonically. “Well that’s tough on you, handsome. Because I don’t like your fucking hideous face!”
The hunter recognised the insult for what it was, and he snarled in clear anger, his mandibles flaring wide. He walked to Laws in long strides, clenching his right hand into a fist so that the claws of his wristband flicked out. Laws stood his ground, and raised Johnston’s gun that he had picked up earlier near the edge of the cliff.
Harmony leapt between the two of them and extended her arms, so they would keep their distance.
“Yamete!” she yelled forcefully. “Stop, the both of you!” She looked straight at the hunter, who had started to raise his arm, ready to strike. Seeing her there, glaring defiantly at him, he grunted and quickly took a step back, to avoid hurting her. A flash of sunlight hit him in the face and he lowered his head, rumbling with irritation, and raising his other arm to protect his one eye.
“Now what is the matter with him?” grumbled Laws.
“I don’t think the sun agrees much with him,” Harmony reflected.
“Great,” Laws said with affected hope. “Then, maybe we’ll get lucky and he'll make like a good little vampire and burst into flames?”
“It’s not like that,” Harmony retorted, trying to hide her irritation of his pleasantry. “I just think it impairs his vision.”
Slowly, she walked towards the hunter, the mask in her hands.
“Harmony,” Laws said warningly, “if I were you, I wouldn’t come near –”
Harmony shushed him sternly and Laws shut up instantly. She continued to approach the hunter until she came to stand in front of him. She barely reached his chest and seemed so diminutive in front of him. He looked down at her, with some visible suspicion, as she carefully presented him with the mask.
“You need this to see properly, don’t you?” she asked in Japanese in as calm a voice as she could muster.
He fixed the mask with his only eye, still hesitant. Harmony held her breath until he finally seemed to decide it was safe to trust her. His clawed hands reached for the mask and he took it; grunting with satisfaction, he put it on, and addressed a brief nod to Harmony – that she interpreted as thanks.
Keeping his distance from the hunter, Nicolas Laws gave a low grunt and crossed his arms against his chest.
“Nice job, Harmony. At least now, that saves us from looking at his ugly mug.”
Harmony rolled her eyes and turned to him, with a sigh. “Please, Mr Laws, don’t antagonise him.”
Laws scowled at this second remonstrance, and the Angel, ignoring him, turned to the hunter standing behind her. She was grateful that he didn’t seem to react to Laws’ obvious taunting. Perhaps he didn’t understand it; or perhaps he had decided to simply ignore it.
“I don’t know how much Japanese you actually understand,” she told him in that language, “but I’m hoping that it’s enough for us to communicate.” He simply looked down at her, with his head tilted to one side. A little like a curious dog which would look inquisitively at something it found very interesting.
“Harmony, what are you doing?” Laws inquired.
“Trying to figure out who or what he is,” she answered, still looking up at the hunter. “Who are you? Anata wa dare desuka?” The hunter didn’t reply, and Harmony frowned. “Anata wa Yautja desuka? Are you Yautja?”
This time, she received an answer: “Hai. Yautja.” He pointed with his clawed finger at her, and then at Laws: “Pyode Amedha – Ooman.”
“Well, that’s easy enough to understand,” Laws mumbled. “The last word, that is.”
“How about those others?” Harmony continued in Japanese. “Khujhade?”
The hunter emitted a noise that very much sounded like a mix of spitting and snorting: “Pauk’de Khujhade! Mei’shan…” He paused, seemingly searching for the way to say it in words she would understand. He looked straight at Harmony, and then added: “Mei’shan… Teki.”
“Teki, that’s ‘enemy’ in Japanese, isn’t it?” Laws asked.
Harmony nodded, without turning around.
“Who taught you the little Japanese you speak?” Harmony asked again. “Ryoushi Hayato?” Again, he looked, in incomprehension. “The man who attacked you with the two swords last night,” she explained.
The hunter seemed to understand that. “L’ulij-bpe,” he said.
Harmony remembered she had heard him say the word the previous night – or at least something similar. “That’s how you call him? L’ulij-bpe? I heard you call him your son.”
He huffed disdainfully, and this time, if he didn’t answer, it was probably because he refused to.
“You are his sensei, aren’t you?” Harmony continued. “You are the one who trained him.”
Harmony nodded slowly. She turned to Laws, who was waiting patiently for her to report. There was an inquiring expression on his face, as he shook his head. “I know a little bit of Japanese,” he confessed. “But not enough to understand everything. What’s this about a ‘sensei’, exactly?”
Harmony told her what she believed: that the hunter – the Yautja – had indeed trained Hayato Ryoushi in the art of the hunt. That left Laws a little perplexed.
“This would be an extraordinary enough story, Harmony.”
“But it’s true. Ryoushi said that his sensei showed him the art of hunting and the honour it brought. Obviously, this Yautja is an expert hunter. Not a warrior, like I first thought. And like Ryoushi, he likes big game.”
“And humans are big game for him,” Laws commented between his teeth.
Harmony nodded. “You were there during dinner, Mr Laws. Remember what Ryoushi told us of his sensei, and how he put out one of his eyes?”
“Yes,” Laws said approvingly. “And that following that, his sensei took one of Ryoushi’s eyes as well.” He nodded slowly. “Okay. I’ll buy it. Ryoushi was trained by a hunter from another world… But that doesn’t tell us why he wants him so dead now that he uses people as bait to lure him out. Although,” he added grimly, “I’m guessing that this guy did something that must have infuriated Ryoushi greatly.”
“Perhaps only Ryoushi could tell us that,” Harmony commented. “I don’t think the Yautja hunter would be able to.” She was frowning, obviously trying very hard to put all the clues of the puzzle together and to see the whole picture clearly. “There is something not quite right, here…” she murmured pensively.
“And what that might be?”
“I am trying to figure out what is the Mysterons’ angle in all this. They never do anything without a reason. Why are they here?”
“Perhaps, after all, it was Ryoushi who was the intended target that brought you and Paul here, two days ago?” Laws suggested. “If you want my advice, you’d better let them have it their way. Ryoushi certainly has it coming.”
Harmony shook her head. “No… Captain Scarlet was right in thinking that there doesn’t seem to be any interest for the Mysterons to kill a Japanese businessman. It doesn’t seem logical.”
“Well, we know he isn’t only a businessman… He’s a dirty murderer.”
“The threat,” Harmony murmured. “The injured hunter will face his deadliest challenge and be destroyed by the hand of his...” She stopped, and then looked at the hunter, straight in the face. Her eyes focused on the deep scratches marking his metallic mask, and then on the triangular symbol of the forehead – a symbol that matched the scar she had seen on the creature’s brow. “… fiercest rival,” she finished. “I think I now understand.”
“What – Ryoushi and Nosferatu here are rivals? Ryoushi is meant to be killed by the creature?”
“No… actually, I think the Yautja hunter is the intended target!” She turned to Laws. “Don’t you see? He is the injured hunter. He is blind in one eye…”
“…Who is the Yautja’s fiercest rival,” Harmony insisted. “The Mysterons obviously hate the Yautja. From what I understand, the Mysterons intend to wipe their kind from existence – I heard Johnston’s replicate on the cliff, when he was talking to the hunter. It was him whom he planned to kill. Ryoushi never was the target.”
“Nor Stanton or Glenn Field,” Laws realised grimly, looking at the hunter. “If anything, this guy might be the last of his kind. But that of course, we cannot know.”
“The Mysterons would know.” Harmony nodded quietly. “We must protect him.”
Laws stared at her with shock. “What?! Protect that murderous beast? Whatever for?”
“It is Spectrum’s job to protect the Mysterons’ intended targets,” Harmony reasoned. “If he is indeed the last of his kind, then all the more reason to help him. And perhaps, he can help us in return. We have common foes, Mr Laws. What we need to do is earn his trust, so that we can become allies."
“Allies? Do tell me you’re kidding!”
“The Mysterons want him dead. We can help him against them, and he can help us get off this island alive.” Harmony turned to Laws. “We need him.”
“The hell we do!” the incredulous Laws protested with a scowl. “And in what way would we need him?”
“How many men do you reckon are currently under Ryoushi’s orders?”
“After the massacre of last night… I would say about ten at the most. Not counting Ryoushi himself, Rodriguez… and I’m not even considering Seijitsu.”
“Still, we are hopelessly outnumbered. The hunter is a force to reckon with. You just recalled the events of last night.”
“Yeah, and as well as those events, I remember that he hunted us like animals. Christ, Harmony – remember what he did to Paul! He nearly gutted him. We don’t know when he’ll turn against us and kill us! I don’t trust him, and wouldn’t turn my back on him!”
“Mr Laws, I do not think it is such a good idea to argue –”
“Ki’dte!” The loud impatient bark from the hunter startled the both of them, and they stared at him, their common expressions reflecting a mix of concern and surprise. He huffed loudly, and with his clawed finger, pointed towards the beach. They turned around and checked the direction he indicated. It wasn’t the beach he was showing them, but rather something beyond, floating on the ocean, dragged by the waves which were threatening to send it down.
A small boat.
The three of them rushed for the beach, towards it.
“Oh, do tell me it’s a miracle!” Laws exclaimed, and he ran into the water and paddled against the surging tide.
“Too much of a miracle,” Harmony said quietly. She didn’t go further in than to her knees, as she judged the current much too strong for her to keep her footing safely. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she watched as the struggling Laws slowly made his way towards the boat.
She then heard a whistling sound that made her turn around; the Yautja hunter, standing not that far from her, had his arm raised towards the boat. A long cable had ejected from his wristband and had crossed the long distance to the vessel at high speed, whizzing by Laws’ ear and nearly making him lose his footing. A small grapnel hit the top of the hull with force and embedded itself into the wood. Laws opened his eyes wide with astonishment – and irritation. He looked over his shoulder; the hunter, very smoothly, was hauling the line, pulling the boat in his direction.
Grunting, Laws returned to the beach on foot. “Show off,” he called to the hunter when he arrived within earshot. He heard the Yautja give a strange growl. To Laws, it sounded like the creature’s version of a laugh.
The creature pulled the boat safely to shore and the three of them approached to examine it. It was a sturdy motorboat, with a fast and powerful engine, just big enough to carry about four to five people. Harmony and Laws froze, when they saw, lying at the bottom, the still body of a man. The hunter grunted lowly, and pulled out the claws of his wristband, ready to kill at the first aggressive sign.
Laws muttered a curse, when he recognised the set face, with closed eyes: it was Markham, one of the men he had encountered the night before, with Seijitsu and Rodriguez. He climbed aboard and checked the man’s pulse; before looking up to Harmony.
“He’s dead.” He examined the body, rapidly, and then gave a perplexed shrug. “Now that’s curious, I don’t find any trace of injury.”
“Khujhade,” the hunter then declared.
“Really, Dracula?” Laws muttered. “Well, I can’t see if he’s ‘Khujhade’ or not… Harmony, what do you think?”
“Spectrum has equipment to detect Mysterons,” she confirmed, “but I don’t have it with me right now, of course. We will have to take the word of our friend on that. His mask is filled with electronic components. He might have something in there to detect Mysterons.”
“If you say so… Well, I don’t know what could have killed Markham. There ought to be something, but I can’t see what at the moment.”
“Maybe the Mysterons have ‘disconnected’ him,” Harmony suggested. Laws looked at her in incomprehension, and she shrugged. “Maybe because they didn’t need him anymore?”
“Do they do that, usually?”
“I really can’t tell… but we know that they abandon their agents if they fail in their mission – or are not useful anymore.”
“It might be the case, then. What do you make of it? Wouldn’t that be exactly what we need to leave this island?”
“That would be,” Harmony murmured. “But this is too suspicious. A boat, piloted by a dead Mysteron…” She mused over this, her brow furrowed. “He brought this boat here,” she realised. “And then, he died, very conveniently, as it was sure it would be washed ashore.”
“You think so?” Laws inquired. “Then it wouldn’t be a coincidence?”
“They’re not even trying to be subtle. They want us to leave this island.”
“By ‘they’, you mean, the Mysterons. Acting through Ryoushi probably. They know we can’t go into open sea in this cockleshell. So that would mean only one possible destination for us…”
“For him.” Harmony turned to the hunter, who was considering the boat with deep interest. “They want to lure him off this island, and onto Ryoushi’s territory, where they will be waiting for him. Where they will attempt to trap and kill him.” She shook her head. “It is not meant for us, Mr Laws. It’s him they want.”
“You know, we could always use this boat to go to one of the other smaller islands,” Laws suggested.
“To what purpose? Is there anything there that might help us?” As Laws kept silent, Harmony took that as an answer to her question, and continued: “Beside, he will not want to hide. He will want to go. Look at him.” She nodded at the hunter, who was walking around the boat, examining it on all sides. “Does he look like you will be able to convince him to go anywhere but where he wants to go?”
“I guess you are right there,” Laws said grimly.
Harmony walked towards the hunter, who, upon seeing her approach, stopped what he was doing, and stood in front of her. He watched her closely, as she began to spoke to him in Japanese, very slowly:
“Your enemies – the Khujhade… They want you off this island, away from safety – to trap you, and to kill you. Do you know what I mean?”
“Sei-i. Ki'sei.” That was his own language. He noted that she didn’t understand what he meant, and added in Japanese: “Hai. Wakari masu. Betsu Khujhade.”
“Yes, there is another Khujhade, from what we know,” Harmony confirmed. “Maybe more than one other, even. I know you want to go and kill them. Kill the Khujhade. But you can’t do it alone.”
He huffed with derision. He didn’t seem to be too concerned by that fact.
“We can help each other,” Harmony offered. That seemed to intrigue him and he tilted his head even more. “They are our enemies too. They have declared war on my kind. Do you understand me?”
“We go together in that boat. We go with you. We’ll help you and you will help me. My friend… they captured him.”
He looked at her, this time with obvious and deep curiosity.
“Tsureai?” The question surprised Harmony and brought some red to her ears. “Iie. He is not.”
“He’s asked if Paul is your mate?” Laws translated innocently.
“You don’t know much Japanese, but enough to recognise that word, don’t you, Mr Laws?” Harmony remarked.
“I know it in any language, honey,” Laws said with a teasing grin.
“And he is not Khujhade,” Harmony continued, addressing the hunter. “He had escaped them, many years ago. He is free of them. He is their enemy and fights them.”
“M’di Khujhade? Sy'ua…” The hunter lowered his head and seemed to think it over. “Shinjirarenai.”
The last word, spoken in Japanese, had been pronounced with a profound and doubtful voice.
“Maybe it seems ‘incredible’ to you, but it is true,” Harmony insisted. “The Khujhade hate him as much as they hate you. They want to kill him, like they want to kill you. I believe they’ve been using him to lure you into a trap. He will be your ally, if you help free him. You have my word I am telling the truth. Do you understand what I say?”
He seemed to give some thought to her words and then, he nodded briefly. “Wakari masu.”
“I don’t like this, Harmony,” Laws muttered. “He says he understands, but does he truly? If we go on that boat with him, we’ll be at his mercy. He can turn on us at any time.
“If he had wanted to kill us, he would have done so already.”
“You presented the same argument earlier. I don’t know why I listened to you.”
“Because you know I’m right?” Harmony offered.
Laws grunted with irritation. “I could swear I just heard Paul Metcalfe.”
She gave him a weak smile. “He was already doing that at West Point?”
“All the time. The bastard thought he had all the answers.” Laws paused. “Well, he must have had some of them, considering he succeeded in nearly everything,” he admitted in a low voice.
“I’ve learned to trust his judgment, Mr Laws. I’d like for you to trust mine as well.”
Laws grunted. “Well, I have to admit, so far, it has served us well. But I’m not sure if this’ll work, Harmony. That sounds damned risky.”
“I am trying to appeal to the Yautja’s sense of honour.”
“Sense of honour?” Laws snorted. “And what makes you think he has any honour, or knowledge of what the word could mean?”
“Honour,” the hunter then echoed in English, much to Laws’ surprise. “Pa’ya-te.” He thumbed on his chest, with a proud gesture, and then proclaimed loudly: “Pe M-di Pa’ya-te Thei-de.”
“Whatever, Nosferatu,” Laws grumbled. “What makes you think we give a damn what you say in that gibberish of yours?”
“I think he is trying to make us understand he will be helping us, Mr Laws,” Harmony retorted, narrowing her eyes at the hunter.
He looked down at her, examining her with attention once again. Perhaps he had indeed understood her proposition and he was musing on it. A rumbling came from his throat and gently, he put one hand on her slim shoulder. He pressed it gently.
“Mei-jadhi,” he grunted gruffly. Harmony did not understand what this word meant exactly, but, despite the tone, she had the definite feeling that the hunter was doing her what he considered a great honour.
Laws sighed, giving up. “Can’t believe I’m going through with this,” he muttered. “I hope we won’t live to regret it. Okay, then. What do we do now?”
“We’ll bring the fight to Ryoushi,” Harmony declared with confidence. “And we lure out the Mysterons waiting for the hunter in his house. They won’t expect us to have joined forces. And that will be their downfall.”
“You might not believe me, Captain Scarlet, but I am truly sorry for all this.”
Captain Scarlet snapped out of his near-slumber and raised his head at the sound of the voice addressing him. He was on his knees, his shackled hands raised above his head, the chain restraining them having been fastened through an eyebolt nailed into the trunk of a palm tree standing in the middle of Ryoushi’s large garden. He had tested his bonds, as soon as he had been left there on his own, but the only thing he had been able to achieve was the certainty that he would never be able to free himself on his own. The chains and shackles were sturdy, and the eyebolt had been driven deep into the tree. None of his efforts would make it budge. The guards left to keep their eyes on him, who stayed under the shade of the roof overhanging one quarter of the garden, didn’t even try to stop him, and simply kept staring at him, chuckling at his futile attempts. He then gave up.
His position was strenuous, the weight of his heavy restraints pulling hard on his arms; he couldn’t stand up, the chains on his feet nailed as well to the tree. At least, he reflected, the large crown of leaves atop the palm tree provided him with enough shade to ensure he would not suffer from the heat. A luxury that Harmony had not enjoyed the previous day, when she had been held for many hours under a scorching sun.
He had lost all sense of time, and didn’t know how many long hours had passed since he had been left there; he had seen the sun come to its zenith and start its slow descent towards the western horizon. Five, six hours, more… he wasn’t sure. He only knew he was exhausted, and felt sore in all his muscles. He needed some water and food for his crying stomach. But he wasn’t about to give his tormentors the satisfaction of pleading for it, or for any other kind of mercy.
“Don’t give me that crap, Ryoushi,” he replied in a slurred voice to the man standing in front of him, still holding his sheathed katana. “I can certainly do without your false sympathy. I know you don’t really mean it.”
“On the contrary, I do.” Ryoushi crouched in front of Scarlet. Yu Seijitsu, his secretary, who was with him, preferred to remain standing, as he watched the Spectrum officer with attention behind his thick glasses. “A man of your value, Captain, ought not to die by the hand of the Yautja,” Ryoushi continued. “Even if you are indestructible, I doubt you will survive the next encounter with him. Yautja take skulls, and sometimes spines as well, as trophies. I doubt you would be able to grow new ones.”
“You’re a real comedian, aren’t you, Ryoushi?” Scarlet replied.
“I might be able to stop him,” the Japanese continued. “I could use a man like you in my service. All you have to do is say the word… And I’ll make you disappear, and I will give you a new identity. You’ll be a rich man, free of any duties… except for the few services I will be asking of you from time to time.”
Scarlet scoffed. “I wonder what kind of ‘services’ you might have in mind, Ryoushi,” he said coldly.
“You’re a soldier. A trained killer. Extremely good at what you do. Those talents of yours could prove very useful…” Ryoushi replied.
Scarlet glared at Ryoushi with a cold expression. “You want to have me as your employee – just like Nicolas Laws?”
“Mr Laws…” Ryoushi echoed the name in a pensive way, not quite looking straight at Scarlet. “He’s been very disappointing. You know he betrayed me, of course. In order to attempt to save you and the Angel pilot. He was your friend, I believe…”
“Was?” Scarlet repeated.
“As a reward for his betrayal, we left him on the other island,” Ryoushi explained. “To fend for himself against the Yautja creature. Surely, he must be dead by now. The Yautja never leaves prey alive on his island for long. Nor does he tolerate trespassers.”
Scarlet lowered his eyes. “He wasn’t exactly a friend,” he murmured. “But at least, at the end, he tried to make a difference.” He looked at Ryoushi again. “You’re offering me his job, is that it?”
“Not quite. Your job would be more rewarding. You wouldn’t be a simple head of security like Mr Laws was. I would call on your special talents, Captain… for removing obstacles that might sometimes stand in my way.”
“I see. You want an assassin at your service,” Scarlet said very coldly. “The offer alone is an insult, Ryoushi. How can you believe I would accept it, and be your lackey? You, who are responsible for so many deaths, including one of my friends and colleagues? I’d rather suffer a thousand deaths and die for good.”
Ryoushi’s face hardened and he stood up, slowly. “You will suffer, Captain,” Ryoushi promised. “And you will die. The Yautja will see to that.”
Scarlet gave him a cold smile. “My only consolation is that you’ll be soon following me to the grave, you fucking coward.”
Ryoushi bristled under the insult; with a roar of anger, he raised his sheathed sword and struck Scarlet across the face with it. The impact forced the Spectrum officer to avert his eyes and made his head reel; he felt a trickle of blood against his sore cheek. Scarlet blinked a few times, trying to regain his wits. Slowly, he returned his attention to Ryoushi, still standing in front of him, and glared at him with eyes bright with cold and heavy resentment.
“You’ve just proven my point,” he said evenly. “Only a coward would strike a defenceless man.”
Ryoushi seized the front of his shirt. “If I didn’t need you so much, I would have made you swallow these words in a fair fight, Captain.”
“What’s stopping you?” Scarlet challenged him, leaning towards the Japanese as close as he could.
Grunting, Ryoushi let go of him. “Unfortunately, I can’t. You are the bait for the devil. If I kill you, all my long and hard work would be for nothing.”
“Of course,” Scarlet said sourly. Let’s not forget the most important thing: your vengeance. So when are you taking me back to the jungle then, to offer me to the beast?”
“You are not going back to the other island, Captain,” Ryoushi retorted with a shake of his head. As the Spectrum officer stared at him with incomprehension, he explained: “Mr Seijitsu made special arrangements… so that this time, Chij’na will come to me. Here on this very island.”
Scarlet nodded slowly. “Drawing him out of his territory,” he said dispassionately. “And onto yours.”
“Through all these years, he had home advantage. I never was able to defeat him on his own ground. He knows his island better than anyone – he has lived there for so many years. But out of his element… it might be the way to beat him, at last.”
“You’re letting the devil out of its cage, Ryoushi,” Scarlet said, shaking his head. “If this plan fails, how do you expect him to go back? He’s likely to kill everyone on this island, you included.”
“If this plan fails, Captain, and if I die, then at least I would die an honourable death.”
“And everyone else would be dying with you.”
“They are of no importance to me.”
“Oh yeah?” Scarlet looked squarely at Seijitsu, standing stoically by his employer’s side. “What do you have to say about this statement, Seijitsu-san? Are you willing to sacrifice yourself to your boss’s mad suicidal scheme? How can you stand there and let him say that your life has no importance in his eyes? Sorry, I should say ‘his eye’ ”
“My life only has meaning if I am able to use it to serve my Shacho, Scarlet Taii,” Seijitsu said without any hesitation. “If he needs me to sacrifice it for him, I will gladly do so.”
As Ryoushi turned towards him, and looked at him with a somewhat unruffled expression, Seijitsu solemnly and respectfully bowed to him. Ryoushi answered with a bow of his own, and Scarlet frowned with obvious scepticism.
“The Samurai way is a thing of the past, Seijitsu-san,” he grimly commented, causing both men to turn their attention to him. “I daresay dying for your master is pretty much out of fashion, these days.”
“It surprises me that you should say such a thing, Captain,” Ryoushi retorted. “Aren’t you, after all, willing to die – repeatedly, I might add – for your own cause? In a way, you are like a modern Samurai.”
Scarlet didn’t care to answer to this remark. His eyes had caught sight of a man who had just exited the house, a few meters behind both Japanese men. He was carrying a rifle on his back, holding it by the strap and was approaching them in long strides. The Spectrum officer had recognised him instantly.
“Coronel Rodriguez,” he welcomed him. “I see you survived yesterday’s hunt. You fared much better than your pals Carrington and Johnston.”
Rodriguez glared crossly at him. “You ought to know, Captain – you murdered one of them in front of me.”
“But I’m guiltless of the other.” Scarlet gave it some thought, scowling. “Well, maybe not. If he had not fled like a coward from me, he might not have dropped to his death from the top of that cliff…”
Rodriguez gave a disdainful huff, before turning away from Scarlet and addressing Ryoushi: “I come from the observation tower,” he explained. “Mr Tyrell says that he’s picking up a trace from that boat you sent with Markham earlier to the other island. It’s coming back.”
Ryoushi nodded his acknowledgement of the news. “With the creature?”
“Too far to see at this point. But it’ll be within range of the binoculars in about five minutes.”
“Thank you, Mr Rodriguez.”
“So you know about Ryoushi’s devil, then,” Scarlet, who had followed the short exchange, said. “He finally told you.”
“He did, yes,” Rodriguez replied. “The ultimate predator, that he’s been hunting for so many years… I saw what the creature did on the island, to all of these men. Such butchery… When Ryoushi invited me to join him in the hunt to finally put an end to this evil beast, I readily accepted. This kind of prey, this is what every big game hunter wishes for, all his life, without much hope of ever finding. I am really excited about this.”
“Are you?” Scarlet said harshly. “Did Ryoushi also tell you that he’s been using us – you, me, all the others – as bait to lure out the creature? He has done that numerous times in the past, with countless people. You were marked for death, just as I was, Colonel. It’s just by a stroke of fate that we survived.”
Ryoushi kept silent at Scarlet’s words, waiting for Rodriguez to respond; Scarlet took notice of how he kept his hand on the handle of his sword, ready to draw it out if Rodriguez’ answer should not be to his liking.
The Panamanian retired colonel grinned. “But we did survive, Captain, where others died,” he replied stoically. “We are survivors, you and I. and it’s the privilege and choice of survivors to join the pack if it should prove to their interest and advantage. I am grateful to Ryoushi-san for the privilege he bestowed me – when he invited me to be his partner for this hunt.”
“It doesn’t sound like you had much of a choice, sir.”
“Captain Scarlet refused the generous offer I made, for him to work for me,” Ryoushi explained.
Rodriguez tutted at the Spectrum officer, with false sympathy. “It doesn’t sound like you made such a good choice, Capitan. At least I will survive and share my friend Ryoushi’s glory. And you will become nothing more than a memory.”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes at him. Somehow he was feeling feverish; his sight was slightly blurred, and his head was pounding with a coming headache. He figured it was his current state of exhaustion which caused him such discomfort. It didn’t stop him from glaring defiantly at the Panamanian colonel.
“Remember the fate of the Pequod, Señor Rodriguez,” he placidly commented. “And how all of its crew went down with her, when Captain Ahab found his white whale.”
“All but one, Captain,” Ryoushi replied with a very thin smile. “But if I were you, I would not expect to be that lone survival. I will bid you farewell now… I do not think we’ll have the pleasure of talking again, I’m afraid. The devil is coming for you.”
“No, Ryoushi,” Scarlet said simply. “He’s coming for all of us.”
Ryoushi shrugged dismissively, and turned to Rodriguez. “I will go to the tower, Señor Rodriguez. You are most welcome to accompany me.” With that, he turned on his heel, and walked towards the house.
Scarlet followed him with his eyes, taking little notice that neither Rodriguez, nor Seijitsu were tagging along with him yet. He then realised that his discomfort was growing worst, and was quickly transforming into a queasiness forming in the pit of his stomach.
He suddenly realised what exactly it was when he heard the voice of Rodriguez, talking to him again: “Two birds with one stone, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet’s attention focused on the Panamanian, who was looking down at him with a malevolent crooked smile on his thin lips – and a cold stare in his dark eyes he knew very well. At this point, Seijitsu had turned around to follow his employer.
“You will finally prove to be a useful instrument, Captain… like you should have been, two years ago.”
Scarlet paled at these words and gaped unbelievingly at Rodriguez. “Oh no,” he whispered. “Mysterons…?”
The Panamanian colonel simply nodded and chuckled contemptuously, before turning on his heels to go after Seijitsu and Ryoushi in long strides. The latter had just opened to door to enter his house.
“Wait!” Scarlet cried out, desperately pulling on his chains. “Ryoushi, listen to me! Rodriguez… He’s a Mysteron! You’re in danger!”
But either Ryoushi didn’t hear him, or ignored him; he didn’t even turn around, just went inside, and Seijitsu and Rodriguez entered after him. The door closed on them.
Scarlet gave one frustrated tug to his restraints. They resisted his efforts, like they had previously, and he gave up with a loud and irritated grunt. He hung his head, sighing. Mysterons… here… what did they want exactly? Could Ryoushi really be the target of their latest threat after all? It seemed so unlikely… Either as a businessman, a man of influence, or a mad psychopath, his life was of little consequence to the Mysterons, and his death would be even less. And yet, Scarlet knew better than anyone that the Mysterons certainly appreciated a large dose of irony and even justice when they performed their acts of retaliation. Killing Hayato Ryoushi, who seemed untouchable, might very well be their way of providing justice, where Earthmen had been unable to.
Why should I care what happens to this madman? Scarlet told himself with irritation. He’s responsible for Harmony’s death – probably for Nicolas’ death as well… He ought to pay for his numerous crimes, and if the Mysterons are able to do it, then why would I feel compelled to stop them?
Not that he actually could, restrained as he was and ready to be offered as bait to a bloodthirsty creature who would kill him without blinking – if it could blink, that was.
And even if he found a way to free himself, between the Yautja and the Mysterons, he doubted that this time, he had a single chance of making it out alive…
* * *
“That is perfect.”
Ryoushi had reached the control tower, set on top of his residence, and using binoculars, was checking the small motorboat which was making its way between the larger island and his island. He could see the Yautja hunter at the helm, handling it as expertly as if he had been an authentic born seaman, skimming across the waves and evading the reefs protruding from the surface of the sea.
Ryoushi removed the binoculars from his eyes, and handed them to Rodriguez, who was standing by his side. The latter took a look in turn, and nodded slowly, at the sight of the creature. The Japanese businessman took some steps away from the large bay window of the tower and came to stand next to the silent Seijitsu. He closely observed his guest, who had discovered the boat racing through the sea and was now watching it with interest.
“Isn’t he magnificent, like I promised you?” he asked after a moment.
“He is indeed,” Rodriguez murmured, his eyes glued to the binoculars. “Isn’t it surprising how such a primitive creature is able to pilot such a craft?”
“Yautja are not primitive creatures, Mr Rodriguez,” Ryoushi replied in a harsh voice. “On the contrary. Their kind has developed a very sophisticated technology, more advanced than our own, which permits them to travel between the stars – to go from galaxy to galaxy. As for the weapons they use…” He narrowed his eyes. “I’m quite sure you’ll find them very impressive, when you get your hands on them. The cloaking device alone would be enough for you to win you an indecent fortune.”
“And you don’t care about keeping that technology for yourself?” Rodriguez asked with just a hint of suspicion.
Ryoushi waved the consideration aside. “I don’t care for weapons development. And I have money to last me five lifetimes. The technology is yours, if you can replicate it.”
Rodriguez grinned. “You are too generous, my friend. This… and the chance to hunt this murderous beast… I will certainly remember your kindness towards me.”
Ryoushi nodded curtly at him. Then, he glanced through the large window, in the general direction of the motor boat he couldn’t see with the naked eye. “The creature will soon come ashore on this island; the sun hinders his vision, so he will wait for dusk or night to act. It is his usual technique, and since this is unfamiliar territory for him, he will want to put all chances on his side. I put you in charge of instructing the men to their stations, so that once he’s within our clutches, the devil will not be able to escape.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t miss him,” Rodriguez replied, the binoculars still to his eyes. “That filthy beast won’t escape this time. We’ll make sure to put all the chances on our side as well. The creature is as good as dead, and I’ll shoot him through the head myself, to make sure of that.”
Ryoushi didn’t reply, but his single eye seemed to flare at the words; he pursed his lips with some irritation and then turned around towards the fourth man, who stood with them in the control tower. “When Colonel Rodriguez has finished, keep monitoring the boat’s approach,” he instructed. “Notify me when it’ll reach land.”
Ryoushi gave a last antagonistic glance in direction of Rodriguez. “If you would excuse me now, I have preparations to make.”
Rodriguez waved at him dismissively, without even turning around, and Ryoushi climbed down the stairs of the tower, Seijitsu bringing up the rear, glued to his master as if he was his own shadow.
* * *
“I’m not sure this is such a bright idea.”
Stretched out on the floor of the cramp little boat, into a very uncomfortable and cramped position, and hidden under a large canvas they had found in a small cabinet under the dashboard, Harmony Angel and Nicolas Laws were doing their best to keep immobile and to make sure that they would remain invisible. They had not a single doubt that, as they were approaching the island where Ryoushi had established his residence, someone would be watching them. Laws knew very well about the control tower erected on the roof of Ryoushi’s house and Harmony certainly remembered having seen it on her arrival two days before, and to have noticed the shadow of a man standing behind the large window.
If Harmony had a very peaceful attitude towards her current situation and was patiently waiting until they would finally reach the shore and be able to walk on dry ground and remove the stiffness from their cramped limbs, Laws was making no secret that he didn’t like it one bit. The Yautja creature was piloting the boat like a maniac, cutting through the waves and jumping over them, and each time the craft dropped down onto the water, the impact would cause both clandestine passengers to hit the floor with such force that it was certain they would sport bruises for days. Water splashed over the side and splattered them, so that they were soaked to the skin. And to add insult to injury, Laws particularly didn’t appreciate his nose being so close to the Yautja’s feet, which smell would make him gasp every time he didn’t think he would drown.
“Please, Mr Laws, do calm down,” Harmony requested pleadingly. “You are going to make him very angry.”
“I can’t help it, Harmony,” he groaned loudly. “The stench is disgusting. Doesn’t that guy ever wash his feet?”
“Ki’dte!” the hunter snapped at him, with sounded like an impatient voice.
Laws turned inquiringly to Harmony. “What did he say?”
“Shut up, I imagine,” the young woman replied, a little edgily. “It isn’t Japanese.”
“Shut up,” the hunter echoed in English, after which he gave the same kind of growl they had heard him emit earlier, which sounded like an expression of amusement. Laws figured he was probably making fun of him again and he glared at him, before returning his attention to Harmony.
“I can’t wait to arrive, even though I’m quite sure that Ryoushi’s guys will be waiting for us and will gun the three of us down before we could take three steps onto his island.”
“Ryoushi didn’t send this boat to have the hunter shot by his men,” Harmony reasoned. “He…” one particularly violent bump from the boat made her head hit the floor and she grunted. “Ouch… He wants his own fight with him. Like he did last night, when he attacked him, armed only with swords.”
“Well, for the creature, he might be willing to wait. But for us…”
“That’s why we have to stay hidden. I’m sure they don’t even imagine we might have allied ourselves with our friend.”
“I would hardly call him a friend. And quite frankly, he probably only tolerates our presence because he might want to use us as some kind of diversion.”
“You mean, like we might be using him?” Harmony exchanged glances with Laws who kept silent at her words. “I don’t think our intentions are any different from his, when it comes down to it,” she said. “But as we’re all aware that we need each other against the same enemy…”
“Then I suppose we can live with that.” Laws paused, then added, trying to keep an even voice: “Do you think Paul’s still alive?”
“He is. He must be.” Harmony gave it some thought. “Seijitsu did tell you that Ryoushi would have plans for him,” she reminded her companion. “He would have not captured him to kill him afterwards, then. I am thinking… that Captain Scarlet must be alive, because Ryoushi wants to use him again, in some way – against the hunter.”
“Well, I would think the same, considering how obsessed Ryoushi is about killing that brute.”
“We must rescue Captain Scarlet. And then, try to make contact with your superiors – or mine, preferably. And finally – put an end to Ryoushi’s activities.”
“And all that while avoiding getting ourselves killed,” Laws said, rolling his eyes.
“That would be preferable, yes,” Harmony confirmed with a thin smile.
“Well, then – if we must do this…” Laws sighed. “The best place to land this cockleshell is on a beach, on the eastern side,” he said. “Just beyond a one mile long cliff. It’s nearly on the other side of the island from Ryoushi’s house. We’ll be hidden from view there, and that’ll give us time to land and to make our way to the house.”
“Through the forest?” Harmony asked.
He nodded. “Fortunately, it’s far less treacherous than the creature’s jungle,” he commented. “We’ll cross the forest easily enough and should be able to reach the house somewhere around nightfall. Provided none of Ryoushi’s men intercepts us before we get there, that is.”
“That should be perfect then,” Harmony approved. “The night will be our ally.” Another violent bump threw them up and then down against the floor again, and they moaned in pain. The hunter grunted something, and kept on piloting the boat.
“You think you’re able to give him the necessary directions to get to that beach?” Laws grumbled, addressing Harmony.
She sighed, looking up at the hunter. “I can try. I only hope he knows enough Japanese or even English to understand what I will be telling him…”
* * *
Hayato Ryoushi pushed opened the door leading to the living room with such strength that it nearly slid off its wooden railing and slammed loudly against the frame. Fuming, he strode into the room, followed by Seijitsu who, upon entering, carefully closed the door behind him. He looked on as his employer went to a small table, on which stood a small engraved glass carafe containing whisky. Despite his taste for Asian food in general, Ryoushi had a preference for more Occidental alcohols, and Scotch whisky had always been his first choice.
“That Hispanic must not be allowed to kill the Yautja,” he said in Japanese in an irritated voice. “After all these years of hunting him, the devil is mine alone to kill!” Leaning his sword against the table, he poured two glasses and took a large gulp of his, and then returned to Seijitsu, to hand him the other one. The older man accepted it with a gracious nod. Ryoushi took another sip. “I should kill that dog for assuming he could deprive me of my rightful kill.”
“For the moment, we need his military expertise,” Seijitsu commented, tasting the contents of his glass. “He knows how to handle the mercenaries and will make sure they will be well-positioned and will know what to do when the creature will come.”
“He’s a fair replacement for Mr Laws, that’s true,” Ryoushi agreed, turning the whisky in his glass in a pensive way. “That was a good decision to keep him, old friend. But if Rodriguez should prove a threat standing between me and my revenge against the Yautja, he will have to be dealt with.”
Seijitsu took another sip from his glass, and bowed to him. “I only live to serve you, Shacho. I’ll make sure Colonel Rodriguez will not interfere.”
Ryoushi looked at him, a deep thoughtful scowl marking his brow, his lips pursed so much that his mouth now appeared only as a very thin line. He took one last gulp of his glass, and then spoke again, this time, with a softer voice:
“My old friend, I hope you didn’t believe I was including you, when I told Captain Scarlet that no one on this island had any importance to me. I would never permit any harm ever to come to you. There is a helijet on the roof. It is at your disposal to return to Tokyo at once. There, you will be safe.”
Seijitsu thanked him with an even lower bow. “If you would permit me, Ryoushi Shacho… I will not choose the coward’s way and leave you at this important moment – the most important moment of your life.”
“I would not think any less of you,” Ryoushi said softly.
“Still, I would prefer stay with you, and continue to serve you, as I always have. I am confident that you will kill the beast, Shacho. Like you were always meant to do. This is your destiny.”
Ryoushi smiled fondly at these words. He slapped his secretary’s shoulder, vigorously, almost making him stumble forwards, and then squeezed it with affection. “You’ve always been the most loyal of friends, Seijitsu-san,” he told him. “You’ve always supported me in all my decisions. I know it has not always been easy for you – or that you didn’t always approve of them. But even when you voiced your disagreement, you always stood by my side anyway.”
“Because it is my place, Shacho.”
Ryoushi’s grin widened; he took Seijitsu’s almost full glass from him and handed him his empty one. “Go get yourself another drink, my friend. There’s sake in the cabinet underneath the table. I know you much prefer that over whisky.” He showed the glass he now held. “I’ll take care of this.”
Seijitsu thanked him with a smile and ambled towards the small table; with his back turned to him, Ryoushi slowly walked in the direction of the large window which opened into the garden. He stood there, turning the glass in his hand, looking pensively outside. Behind him, he could hear his secretary opening the cabinet and chose a bottle of sake. He smiled to himself. Seijitsu certainly was the most loyal of men; he would deserve a reward, for his support throughout all these years of service. And Ryoushi promised himself he would give it to him.
From where he stood, he could see Scarlet chained to the palm tree, waiting for death. What a shame, he repeated to himself for the nth time. Such an unique individual… As unique as Ryoushi himself. In a way, they were kindred spirits. Both of their lives had been altered in an unusual way, by their respective meeting with an alien fiend. Captain Scarlet might not have physical scars like Ryoushi had – as truly, it was made impossible for him to even sport a single scratch – but the wounds to his soul certainly lay as deep as those of the Japanese himself.
His communicator chimed in his pocket and Ryoushi, taking it, put it to his ear. “Ryoushi,” he announced himself.
“Tyrell from the control tower, sir,” a voice answered right away. “The boat has disappeared from visual contact behind the cliffs bordering the eastern beach, on the other side of the island. Radar confirms that it has touched shore.”
“So. The creature will need to cross the forest to get to the house.” Ryoushi looked towards the western horizon. The sun was rapidly declining; the sky was turning a reddish colour. Soon, it would be dusk. “He’ll arrive here at nightfall, then,” he calculated. “Is Colonel Rodriguez still with you?”
“No, sir. He left shortly after you did. Saying he had preparations to make too.”
“Good. Then everything will be ready to receive our friend. Inform Mr Patterson in the surveillance room. Tell him to keep his eyes on the security cameras surrounding the house, and to aim them towards the forest. I doubt, we will see the creature approach, but if he sees anything out of the ordinary, or if one of the cameras should die suddenly, I want to be informed right away.
“Of course, sir.”
Ryoushi closed the communication and pocketed his communicator. He gave a deep sigh, and then took a slow sip of his drink. I must not drink too much of this, he told himself. I need my mind to be clear, when the time comes to finally confront Chij’na. He was confident that this time would be the last. That no matter what was to happen, this battle to come will settle their scores once and for all. But Ryoushi was confident that he would be victorious, and that the Yautja’s head would hang on his trophy wall, in the place of honour.
Behind, he could hear Seijitsu approach quietly; he did not turn around to acknowledge him. “This will finish tonight, my friend,” he told him quietly. “All these long years of dreaming of this moment – now, almost within my reach.” He took another sip of whisky, kept the alcoholic beverage in his mouth for a moment, savouring the burning taste of it, and then swallowed. He could feel Seijitsu’s presence, as he stood behind him, like he often did. “And I have to thank you for this,” he added quietly. “For that brilliant idea to lure the devil out of his territory. For sending him that boat, that brought him here, within my grasp. I am curious, though – how did you convince Mr Markham to pilot that boat to the other island exactly? Surely, he knew that it would be a trip with no return, and that the creature would kill him? How did you do it?”
“He only did what he had to, Ryoushi Shacho. As I do what I must do.” As Yu Seijitsu pronounced these words, Ryoushi suddenly felt a sharp pain that went straight from his back through his whole body. His breath suddenly failed him and he gasped for air; his right hand opened on impulse, and let go of his glass, which crashed upon the floor.
He felt blood mounting into his throat and reaching his mouth to then trickle out from the corners of his tightened lips. The pain was terrible, but it was nothing to the shock he experienced, as he lowered his gaze to look down at the blood-covered end of his own katana blade, which was emerging from his chest.
He turned around slowly, his single eye starting to glaze over, and looked with a stunned expression at Yu Seijitsu, who stood there, staring at him implacably. He raised his hand, in an almost pleading gesture, and tried to reach for his secretary, who simply took one step back to avoid his touch.
Ryoushi fell on his knees, gasping. Holding himself up on one arm, he raised a questioning and disbelieving gaze towards his secretary… his most loyal servant… his friend of so many years.
“W-why?” His voice was no more than a strangled murmur, as the simple act of breathing was failing him.
Seijitsu looked at him with the same coldness – almost hatred – that Ryoushi could now easily decipher in his eyes. “Why? Because the Mysterons commanded it, Ryoushi Hayato,” he said in an even voice. “Because they know that you need an additional edge to kill the monster who poisoned your life.” He nodded very slowly. “You should be thankful to them, Earthman. You will now have the edge to finally have your revenge.”
Realisation dawned on Ryoushi at that moment: the man standing in front of him wasn’t his faithful friend, but an evil and murderous replicate created by the Mysterons, in order to get to him. This meant that the real Seijitsu was dead – since when, he had no idea. Not that it had any importance.
Behind Seijitsu standing in front of him, he saw the hikido doors slid open, and Colonel Rodriguez quietly enter to stride in their direction. On his face, there was the same cold, unemotional expression that could be seen on Seijitsu’s face.
At this ultimate instant, as his strength at last abandoned him and he fell to the floor, Hayato Ryoushi realised that he had been taken for a fool. He thought he could toy with the Mysterons, and use their threat to his advantage.
But it was truly the Mysterons who had toyed with him.
Night had fallen on the small archipelago. Like the night before, the sky was mostly clear of clouds and the moon was shining brightly, hiding most of the stars under its glow. The mercenaries at Ryoushi’s house were on alert, and under Colonel Rodriguez’ orders, they had taken their assigned positions, armed to the teeth and ready to act when the time came. All the surveillance cameras were functioning and every inch inside and out of the house was covered, and so it seemed that no-one would be able to approach without being seen.
That was without counting on Nicolas Laws. Months of working undercover as head of security at Ryoushi’s residence had given him an extensive knowledge of the house’s security system and procedures. It was easy to see that, even though another had obviously taken over from him, the men hadn’t changed their ways that much. He knew where the sentries were stationed, and the itinerary of every guard patrolling the grounds. He also knew every camera’s position and possible angles, so it had been easy for him to guide his companions through the woods at the boundaries of the residence, in order to avoid them all and get as close as possible to the house. They were so close, in fact, that they were able to leave the cover of the trees and access the vast garden.
They had just reached a small hedge of Japanese privets to duck behind when one of the patrolling guards came along and stopped a few feet only from where they were hiding. He didn’t notice their presence and took his communicator from his belt.
“Scarpoli to control, reporting in,” he called.
“Come in, Scarpoli.”
“Patrolling the north side of the garden, sir. Nothing to report yet.”
“Acknowledged. Resume patrol and report in ten minutes. Call if there’s anything suspicious.”
“Roger that, Control.”
Scarpoli cut communication and was about to resume his stroll when suddenly, the hunter rose to his full height from behind the hedge and stood in front of him. The mercenary gasped in shocked surprise and, reaching for his sidearm, took a step back… straight into the arms of Laws who put one hand on his mouth to stifle the cry of alarm he was about to shout, while his other hand rested on the butt of his sidearm, preventing the man from taking it. The hunter swiftly seized Scarpoli’s head between his huge hands – and twisted his neck, killing him instantly. The man’s body slumped into Laws’ arms and he dragged him behind the hedge.
“Got to hand it to you, Drac,” he said in a low voice as the hunter crouched by his side, and he started relieving Scarpoli of all his weapons. “You certainly know your stuff…” He examined the handgun’s ammunition, and then turned to Harmony, who was checking the surroundings through the hedge. “Okay, we have ten minutes before this guy is due to make his next report. We should make our move, before the others notice something’s happened to him. Or we’ll lose our element of surprise.”
“I found Captain Scarlet,” Harmony reported, in a morose voice.
Laws moved to her side and pushed the branches slightly aside so that he could see what she was seeing. He easily found Scarlet as well – in a kneeling position, chained to a palm tree. There was a beam of light illuminating the scene, as if someone wanted to attract attention to him. Two armed men were standing nearby, obviously watching him.
“You were right,” Laws whispered to Harmony. “He is alive. Why did they put him there, under that spotlight? It just looks like…”
“They’re using him as bait,” Harmony said in a colourless voice. “Just like they did with me, on the other island. They expect to use him to lure the hunter out.” She glanced at the Yautja, who was crouched behind them both, looking at the scene at well, with a visibly deep interest. “That was so obvious. For the hunter, he is a Mysteron,” she continued. “Ryoushi somehow knows he hates Mysterons – and he’s counting on the fact that the hunter won’t resist temptation.”
“And he might be right,” Laws muttered, glancing in turn at the hunter. He would have to be blind not to realise how excited the Yautja now seemed to be. “Does our friend really understand that Paul is on our side?”
“I certainly hope he does…”
Laws grunted. “Well, we still need to make our move soon. I counted eleven men in all on the grounds, or standing watch at various stations, counting these two with Paul. Hey, Drac…” He thumped the hunter’s arm, to attract his attention. The Yautja snapped at him with a growl, as if he had been startled and didn’t quite appreciate being touched. “Calm down, ugly… I just want information.” Laws pointed to the tower they could see on the roof, and the hunter looked at it. “How many people do you see up there, with your gizmo?” he asked. “Ooman… like me…” He pointed to himself, then counted on his fingers and pointed to the tower again. “You know that heat-seeking device of yours…”
Harmony repeated the question in Japanese, and the hunter stared back at the tower. He watched for a few seconds, before turning to Laws again and presenting his hand with one finger up.
“Twelve, then,” Laws said with a nod. “And I don’t know where Ryoushi might be exactly. Obviously, he not in the tower, and he wouldn’t be with the mercenaries. My guess is – he’s waiting somewhere for his moment of triumph.”
“He would want to be close to the action,” Harmony agreed.
“And then there’s Rodriguez,” Laws grunted disdainfully. “I would very much like to know where that one is.” He sighed. “Okay, then. What’s our plan?”
“There’s a helijet on the roof,” Harmony said. “If we can reach it, we might be able to escape this island… and use its onboard communicator to contact Spectrum.”
“Well, to reach that chopper, we must cross the garden, and take the stairs,” Laws commented. “Those you came down when you arrived, remember?”
“Yes. Is there any other way to get up there?”
“Inside the house. There’s another staircase, going from the first floor to roof. But it would be even more impossible to get inside the house than to reach those stairs in the garden. Our best bet would be to create a diversion, somehow, and while everybody is busy with that, we can make our move.”
“We need to free Captain Scarlet.”
“Of course, but that might prove rather difficult.” Laws checked his watch. “Five minutes left before Scarpoli’s report. We have to move soon.”
The hunter grunted a question, obviously wondering what exactly his two human allies could be talking about. Harmony tried her best explaining to him in simple Japanese words what was the situation; he listened with attention. Then he rumbled something in bad Japanese and Harmony had to make an effort to understand him. Then he started to move to leave. She caught him by the arm and he turned back at her.
“Remember – he’s my friend,” she said pleadingly. “He’s not… Khujhade.”
He seemed to give it some consideration, before answering with a curt nod. “Shinjite kudasai,” he answered in Japanese. He then sat back on his heels, and with his clawed fingers, pressed two buttons on his wristband.
Before Harmony and Laws’s astonished eyes, he seemed to dissolve into the air; he was still there – his cloaking device mostly keeping him from their view, but his presence was still marked by the faintest distortion of space, as if they were looking through clear water, and when he moved and then stood still, they were at first able to discern where he was, but they quickly lost track of him when he stepped from behind the hedge.
“Hey, what the…?” Laws turned to Harmony with worry plain in his eyes. He could see she looked as concerned as he was himself about their alien companion’s departure. “Where the hell is he going?”
“I think he said… he would provide diversion and free Captain Scarlet himself,” she answered with some uncertainty.
“He will what?” Laws blanched. He was beside himself. “Harmony, he’d sooner kill Paul than free him! How could you let him go?”
“How would you have me stop him?” she retorted sharply. “I do not have any control over him.”
“This will end badly,” moaned Laws. “I knew we would regret bringing him with us. Do you truly believe he will help?”
Harmony marked a moment’s hesitation. She wished she could be able to answer that question without any doubt, but it was impossible. All she could do was hope that the hunter would not betray her confidence.
“He told me to trust him,” she replied, trying to sound positive. “But I suppose we have to get ready for anything and make the most of it in the next few minutes…”
* * *
It was a trap; that much was obvious.
He wouldn’t be a hunter if he had not realised that on first glance. It was almost exactly the same settings as for the female, when he had first set his eyes on her. But this time, it was him who was the ‘tiger’, as he had heard the Ooman say.
L’ulij-bpe wasn’t even trying to be clever; he lacked imagination. But then again, he was applying the principle that if a formula worked, it was good to use it again.
L’ulij-bpe fully expected to see his old n’yaka-de to be lured by this offering of the Khujhade . So the hunter didn’t plan to disappoint him.
The thrill of the hunt took hold of him as soon as he left his temporary Ooman allies who were slowing him down so much. As good as they were – and for Oomans, they certainly were good – they could not compare with a Yautja hunting pack, who moved as one when came the time to close in on the prey. It would have been folly to rely on them at the moment of the attack and to expect them to protect his back, so the hunter thought it safer to act solo in his approach.
As he moved toward the Ooman dwelling, he had activated the location device of his mask to know the exact position of every Ooman within killing reach. There were six in total: two sentries standing on either end of the roof overhanging part of the garden, another sentry in front of a door leading into the house, a guard patrolling the ground, and the two watching over the captive. They were nothing much to worry about, and would be easily disposed of. The other heat signatures were out of striking range for the moment, but at this point, he imagined that, should it come down to it, his allies might easily take care of them; he’d be doing the worst and most dangerous part of the job, anyway… Not that he complained about it. He felt rather exhilarated, after such long, boring hours of inactivity; listening to the abuse and complaints of the male sain'ja, the hunter had discovered in himself a patience he didn’t know he had. Now was time to let off some steam.
He ran across the yard, and attacked quickly, first with the chakt-ra disc that he threw towards one of the sentries on the roof. It slashed the Ooman’s throat so swiftly that he died without a sound. When the disc returned to him, the hunter threw it again, at the other man on the roof; that one toppled down from his perch and landed with a dull impact onto the ground. The guard in front of the door jumped in surprise and aimed his weapon in the direction of the sound, and one of the Khujhade captive’s guards turned around.
The chakt-ra had not returned. Probably, it had remained stuck in the body of its last victim. No matter. The hunter had other weapons in his arsenal. His left wristband fired kv'Vurj-de energy darts at the sentry in front of the door. It pierced his skull and threw his body against the wall. He was the first of the hunter’s victims to cry out.
His presence now known, it was time for the sivk'va-tai plasma-caster. Already raised onto the hunter’s shoulder, he aimed it at one of the captive’s guards. The energy blast was powerful, and lifted him off his feet, blowing him apart. Another volley of the energy darts took care of the second guard.
The hunter heard the crackling sound of an automatic weapon; he felt the impact of the projectiles on his body, but didn’t care. The Oomans’ ordinary firearms had little or no effect on him, and could barely pierce his thick, scaled skin, unless they were at very close range. When fired at a distance, they only served to slow him down. The sivk’va-tai found the culprit – the patrolling guard on the ground, who was running towards the hunter – and roared again. The blast threw the Ooman off his feet.
The sounds of gunfire didn’t stop. The hunter expected that the commotion he was causing had attracted the attention of the other Ooman mercenaries. He saw other heat signatures appear in his line of vision. Good. That was what he hoped for; now they were all coming within his range. Now he would be able to kill them all.
The diversion was working.
Fizzling statics indicated to him that his cloak was about to fall; probably, he imagined, a fluky bullet had struck one of the device’s components. The hunter deactivated it; it didn’t matter now that he was in full view; the plasma-caster had given away his position, and, anyway, he wanted all eyes to turn to him.
He took his Ki'cti-pa from his back and, with a flick of his hands, extended it to its full length. The spear was his favourite weapon at close quarters, and he handled it expertly.
He expected his Ooman allies to make their move – whatever it was exactly they were planning to do, while he was attracting attention to himself. In the meantime, he planned to have some sport…
* * *
“Rodriguez to Ryoushi. The tiger is in the field.”
Esteban Rodriguez stood on the last step of the high stairs leading into the control tower, set on the roof of Ryoushi’s residence. The barrel of the huge, heavy weapon he was holding was resting atop the railing and he was using the eyepiece to follow the action in the open part of the garden, where Captain Scarlet was held captive. Rodriguez had seen two of the sentries on the roof drop as if they had been shot from a distance, quickly attracting the attention of other guards who were now rushing to the side of the roof to see what had happened.
Rodriguez had the best seat of all. He was able to see it all. The Yautja hunter had killed four men before the guards had been able to make a single move. Now he had appeared to them, and bullets were flying, but he wasn’t slowing down.
And with his spear, he was causing total carnage.
“Bullets won’t stop him,” Rodriguez said into the small microphone attached to his shirt. “The guards are like sheep at the slaughterhouse. He’s killing them all.”
“Of course, they are serving their purpose,” the voice of Ryoushi replied.
“I can blow him away right now, if you want,” Rodriguez proposed, aiming his weapon carefully at the hunter as he made his way across the garden towards the captive, killing everyone in his path.
“No. Wait for my signal. We have to make sure the creature will not escape…” There was a pause, before Ryoushi added: “And we also want to take Captain Scarlet out of the equation as well…”
The commotion drew Captain Scarlet out of his momentary torpor and he opened his eyes to see what was going on. He was just in time to see the two guards recently assigned to him falling under the attack of an unknown party. One had been blown apart by an energy blast he knew very well, and the other had been hit by a multitude of small arrows that went through his body like a sharp knife through hot butter.
It has started, he reflected grimly. He is here.
The Yautja hunter.
He saw him appear then, in a crackling sound of static, his cloaking device falling as upcoming mercenaries came rushing to the scene and firing at the spot where the hunter’s big gun had fired. The bullets weren’t enough to stop him, and he rushed at the men, silently, twirling his long spear in his hands and slashing through anyone within striking distance. There was blood, and cries of pain and terror, and men falling dead at the feet of the creature. It was easy to see that they didn’t stand a chance. The two who realised that had thrown down their weapons and attempted to run away. The hunter blasted them with his cannon.
Scarlet pulled on his chains, desperate to get free. Only two guards now stood between him and the creature, who was coming straight at him. When the creature had killed them, there would be nothing in his way. And there Scarlet was, chained, defenceless, without a weapon, and about to face his death.
He could see no way to escape it now. As Ryoushi had said… there was little chance that his decapitated body would be able to revive.
The hunter disposed of the two last mercenaries in only a few seconds; the first fell, when darts projected by the creature’s wristband struck him in the throat. The second was even less lucky: the sharp edge of the spear severed his right arm, which was still holding a pistol and then cut his body in two, in midsection. His cry of pain was horrible to hear and seemingly annoyed by it, the hunter mercifully finished him off with a dart through the head, as he purposefully continued his advance towards his target.
Scarlet would have given anything to stand up and face him properly, instead of being there, on his knees and barely able to move; but he felt so numb that he could do nothing but watch the creature approach him – until he stood in front of him, and looked down at him, through that metallic mask that hid his alien face.
Scarlet glared back, trying to calm down his rapidly beating heart. Aside from a low rumble coming from the creature’s throat, the latter was silent. He didn’t seem to be inclined to speak to his would-be victim, and was simply staring curiously at him as if he was a strange and rare animal. Which, Scarlet imagined, he probably was for the Yautja. He pulled again on the chains holding him, but he knew it was a meaningless gesture. He couldn’t hope to break free, and the creature was very much aware of that.
“I don’t suppose you realise this is a trap,” Scarlet said between his teeth. “You’ve been set up for the kill, you murderous bastard. Ryoushi… L’ulij-bpe to you, is probably just waiting for you to kill me, before making his move. So what are you waiting for?”
The hunter didn’t answer and for a few short seconds more kept staring at him.
“You like to make the moment last, don’t you?” Scarlet snapped at him. “Go on – be done with it already!”
Suddenly, in a very fluid and swift movement, the hunter raised his spear high in the air and brought it down. Scarlet fully expected the powerful blow to split his head in two and he averted his eyes. But the blade never reached him; instead, in the same expert strike, it cut through the chain holding his wrists, the bolt linking it to the tree and one of the shackles around his wrists, as easily as if they were papier-mâché. Unexpectedly released from the uncomfortable position he had been forced to keep for long hours, Scarlet lost his balance and dropped face first onto the ground. He barely had the time to catch himself. The hunter stepped to the side, and the spear, following the same curve, struck one of the shackles holding the Spectrum’s officer feet, splitting it in two. Another strike to the last shackle completely freed Scarlet.
For a moment, Scarlet lay on his belly, trying to regain his focus and to comprehend exactly what was happening. Rumbling, the creature walked a full circle around him, to come and stand in front of the captain who raised inquiring eyes to him.
The hunter drove the point of his spear into the ground, just by Scarlet’s head.
“Ki'cti-pa,” he announced, stepping back one long stride from Scarlet who struggled to his knees. He pointed to the spear. “Take.”
Scarlet looked at him unbelievingly. “You’re willing to give me a chance, then, monster?” he asked in a low voice.
The hunter grunted. He had no taste for wasting time. He clenched his right fist and the claws embedded in his wristband flicked out. “Fight.”
Scarlet kept staring at him, unsure what to do exactly, but the creature’s attitude left very little doubt as to what his intentions were. He seized the spear with a determined gesture and pulled himself to his feet – and straight away, came in to attack, roaring fiercely, and aiming the point of the spear straight at the hunter.
* * *
Taking advantage of the hunter’s diversion, Harmony and Nicolas Laws had made their way to the other side of the garden covered by the roof in relative ease. They found only two guards in their path – the others having run in the hunter’s direction in an attempt to stop him – and they were easily taken care of. With the way cleared, Harmony and Laws reached the foot of the stairs leading to the roof. Laws was about to climb the steps, when he heard Harmony’s worried voice.
He turned to her and saw her pale features, her eyes fixed in a specific direction; he looked in turn – and saw Captain Scarlet, now freed from his tree, standing in front of the Yautja hunter, with the long spear in his hands, before launching himself in a fierce attack. From where he stood he heard the loud metallic impact of the spear meeting with the hunter’s drawn claws, and saw the sparks it produced.
Laws cursed under his breath and took his gun out of his belt to aim it at the hunter.
“I knew we should not have trusted him!” he grumbled.
“No!” Harmony swiftly put his hand on his arm to stop him, and he looked at him with perplexity. Didn’t she want her colleague to be saved? “I’ll go and stop them. You go to the helijet.”
He looked at her in incomprehension, as if she had said something thoroughly stupid.
“It’s all part of the diversion,” she said. “Don’t you see?” She pointed to the two combatants. “The hunter, he’s only defending himself – he’s not attacking. Captain Scarlet doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Laws scowled. He had to admit that the hunter effectively didn’t seem inclined to attack Scarlet, and was simply parrying the blows the latter was throwing at him.
“And if you’re wrong?” he asked Harmony.
She shrugged, seemingly dismissing this possibility. “Go to the helijet. Try the radio to call for help. We’ll join you as soon as we can. We don’t have a second to spare!”
With that, she ran towards the two combatants, before Laws could utter a word of protest. He watched her go for a brief second, still somewhat hesitant, and then took his decision and rushed up the stairs.
The Angel pilot was right. They didn’t have a single moment to lose.
* * *
Grunting with satisfaction, the hunter stepped to the side, avoiding the sharp blade. He moved swiftly to avoid a second strike, as the sain'ja, turning the spear in his hand, attempted to hit him to his flank. The blow was easily deflected, but the hunter was surprised to discover the strength behind it.
The sain’ja was a magnificent fighter, and it was a wonder that he should be so fit to attack, as, from the way he looked, he had probably been chained to that tree without any nourishment for a long time. And yet, he was doing battle with power and motivation, with a will to win that wasn’t unlike that of any Yautja warrior or hunter. Of course, he didn’t know that, as far as the hunter was concerned, the fight was staged, only so long as his allies had done what they had set themselves to do. So for the sain’ja,, the battle was real, and he was fighting for his life.
As Paya was his witness… the hunter had rarely seen such spirit, vitality and skill in all the years he had hunted on this pitiful planet. He would even go so far as to consider the sain’ja’s proficiency superior to L’ulij-bpe.
He truly wasn’t Khujhade. Up close, the hunter could see the aura readings were slightly off; he had never seen the like before, and wasn’t even sure what it meant exactly, but he had a vague suspicion of what the sain’ja might actually be. And if he was right, then what he had in front of him was even rarer than anything any hunter had ever met. Something that only came by once or twice in millennia.
Yautja legends had mentioned the likes of him before: Khujhade Tbi; individuals, who had been pawns of the cursed Khujhade, but who had somehow managed to escape their clutches, and who had regained their free will… and sometimes, retaining some of the abilities their former masters had given to them. And this one – a most outstanding warrior – was dedicated to fight those who had taken him as a slave.
Truly, the rarest of specimens.
He certainly was a most precious prey.
Ah, Mei-jadhi... he reflected, thinking of the female Ooman he respected so much he was starting to view her as a fitting sister. I do hope I’ll remain worthy of your trust.
But resisting temptation is so difficult right now…
* * *
As he attacked the fearsome alien hunter with blow after blow, Captain Scarlet was himself amazed at his own vigour; it was as if all weariness had left his previously cramped muscles all of a sudden, giving way to a determination to fight – and to win against impossible odds.
It was surely the effects of adrenalin – combined with the retrometabolism and his superhuman stamina… He could see no other explanation for his sudden recovery, which was unusual, even for himself.
He pressed his attacks – and to his surprise and satisfaction, saw the creature backing away, in the direction of the house. He narrowly avoided the claws aimed at his face, ducked underneath them and violently hit the creature with the stave of his spear right in his belly. It was with intense pleasure that he heard the grunt of pain from his adversary, and he aimed the point of the spear at his throat. The hunter raised his clawed hand and intercepted the weapon.
For a moment, they stood close to one another, their faces almost touching. Scarlet was struggling in his attempt to push the spear into the creature’s throat.
“I don’t care that you came from outer space and that hunting is your way of life,” Scarlet seethed angrily between his teeth. “I’m going to avenge Harmony, if it’s the last thing I do…”
The female call startled Scarlet so much that he automatically stepped back from the hunter; opening his eyes wide with bewilderment, he watched as a slender form ran towards him, coming from the covered section of the garden. It was Harmony – wearing the same outlandish mixed outfit of a too-large hunting jacket, thrown over the torn and half-destroyed dress. She was dirtier, her hair was a total mess, and she looked more like a vagrant than anything else, but she was definitely alive.
Or was she? He wondered as a doubt crossed his mind.
He didn’t have time to extrapolate on that suspicion, as suddenly, the hunter pushed him aside so brutally that he threw him down to the ground and stood in front of Harmony – the cannon on his shoulder, seemingly taking aim at her.
For a brief, panicky moment, Scarlet thought the creature was about to blast her away – but as the powerful gun projected its beam of energy, it passed safely away from her and hit a guard who stood a few feet behind her, a rifle in his hand.
“S'yuit-de!” the hunter spat with obvious disgust. This was obviously one guard he had not seen up until now, and he didn’t seem very happy with himself for this unforgiveable faux-pas.
Harmony had reached Scarlet and was helping him to his feet. “Arigato gozaimasu, Yautja-san,” she said quickly to the hunter,
That caught Scarlet’s attention instantly. He looked at her with confusion. “You… are friends with this guy?”
“Allies, really,” she replied.
That added to Scarlet’s growing perplexity; but before he was able to ask any question, the hunter, imperatively, was pointing to the house. “Gkei'moun,” he said, before quickly adding: “tayasui.”
“Too easy?” Harmony repeated with perplexity in English.
“Too easy?” Scarlet repeated unbelievingly. “What the hell was too easy?”
“Later, Captain. We have to get away from here first. Mr Laws will be on the roof, waiting in the helijet.”
Scarlet barely had the time to register the news that Nicolas Laws was alive as well, and that a fully organised plan of escape had been drawn up, involving the Yautja hunter, than Harmony veered him in the direction of the house. As they started to hurry over the roof-covered part of the garden, he caught sight, from the corner of his eye, of a brilliant flash of fire originating from the control tower on top of the roof, and which seemed to come towards them at full speed.
“Incoming!” he yelled, and pushed Harmony towards the house.
The hunter had seen the flash as well, and he moved on the other side.
A huge ball of fire exploded between them, creating a crater and projecting fire and soil in every direction. The hunter was thrown to the ground.
Scarlet and Harmony ran towards the house as fast as their legs could carry them. They were under the overhanging roof when another powerful ball of energy came towards them. It narrowly missed them, but destroyed behind them two of the columns supporting the roof. Scarlet looked up in horror as part of the roof started to fall on them. He brutally pushed Harmony beyond the opening leading to the inside of the house and made a frantic leap in an attempt to clear the falling debris.
The last thing he was conscious of was the shock to his head and then it went dark.
* * *
“C'jit!” Nearly as soon as he had fallen, the hunter was up to his feet. He looked at the destruction in front of him; the debris was piling almost up to the roof, and was blocking the access to the Ooman dwelling. Of his female ally and her male companion – whether he was Khujhade or not at this point, the hunter didn’t know or really cared – there was no trace. They could well lie under all this rubble, or perhaps they had time to take refuge in the house. There was too much dust and too much debris for his heat-seeker to pick them up.
The hunter was rather perplexed as to the kind of weapon that had been used against them, and which was able to cause that much destruction. It sounded and looked not unlike his own plasma-caster, but there was something different to it.
The powerful shout coming from behind him made the hunter turn around. There, a few noks from him, stood a tall figure, all clad in armour, and carrying two swords. The hunter recognized the stance of the newcomer, as well as the weapons.
It was L’ulij-bpe.
“This time, monster, you won’t escape me!”
The hunter growled. He had not recognised all of the words in L’ulij-bpe’s own language, but the meaning couldn’t be clearer. It was more than a challenge, it was a promise.
L’ulij-bpe intended for this to be their last fight. And the hunter couldn’t agree more.
All of the events of their combined lives had led them to this ultimate moment. Now it was time for them to settle their scores.
On the ground lay his Ki'cti-pa, that the sain’ja had let go of at the moment of the explosion, and very smoothly, the hunter moved towards his former pupil. At only five noks from each other, they started circling one another. The hunter nodded in the direction of the pile of debris.
“Sivk'va-tai?” he asked with curiosity.
L’ulij-bpe grunted. “No, devil, it wasn’t done by your beloved plasma-caster,” he said in his language. “But by an Earth weapon still very similar to it, courtesy of Colonel Rodriguez, who seems to handle it with an expert hand. Unfortunately, it fires only two shots and then needs to be loaded again, and it failed in its task to take you out once and for all. So it’ll be up to me to do the work, Yautja. As I am meant to.”
As he glared at his opponent, L’ulij-bpe’s single eye seemed to glow with a hatred that knew no bounds. The hunter stared at him with attention; there was coldness in his voice that didn’t quite fit in. L’ulij-bpe usually used a mix of Yautja and his own language to talk to him, to make sure he would understand him perfectly. This time, however, he didn’t even bother, and that made the hunter suspicious.
And then, as he read the information of the spectra-reader, he discovered the unmistakable aura surrounding the heat-signature of the armour-clad Ooman standing in front of him.
It wasn’t L’ulij-bpe at all. It was without a doubt the readings of a Khujhade aseigan.
The hunter knew exactly what it meant.
L’ulij-bpe – his former apprentice – the only one with whom he had any sense of connection on this planet – had been killed. And his desecrated body had been taken over and was being used by this… foul creature.
A righteous wrath then took hold of him and the rumbling from his throat grew in intensity. Fury became his main drive. Thwei-i'tge-k'ti – revenge – became his purpose.
With a terrible roar, he leapt at his opponent.
* * *
Nicolas Laws was standing not far from the tower, when he felt the roof shaking under his feet and saw the other end of it, the part overhanging the extreme end of the garden, cave in. He had seen the two balls of fire – slightly resembling the energy blast from the hunter’s powerful plasma-caster – coming from some distance into the garden and knew that someone was probably taking pot-shots at his companions – and was quite willing to destroy anything standing in his way to kill them. Including himself, by the look of things, because if he was to destroy the roof, the tower might fall as well.
If he was to believe Harmony’s earlier description of the Mysterons’ usual behaviour, and how they gave little regard to their lives as long as the job was done, then Laws suspected that the shooter was indeed a Mysteron.
Laws rushed to the destroyed side of the roof; he slowed down as soon as he reached the part that seemed unsafe and looked down carefully. The debris was piled in front of the door, so that it was difficult to enter the house that way. Through the dust, he couldn’t see any trace of either Harmony or Scarlet. As for the hunter, he was still in the garden… and fighting a Samurai-clad individual whose identity Laws had no difficulty guessing.
Laws turned on his heels and looked in the direction of the helijet; it stood at a safe distance from the destroyed part of the roof, and hadn’t suffered any damage. However, he wondered for how long this would be the case; quite apart from the fact that the structure of the entire roof might have been compromised already, the shooter in the tower might actually take the helijet as a target, if he suspected that it could become an escape route for his would-be victims.
He looked up to the tower and saw a silhouette, standing on the last step of the stairs leading into the control room, leaning against the railing an object that looked like a huge, cannon-like gun. The weapon he had seen in action, he imagined. Something similar to a bazooka, maybe.
If he sees me take off, or only get inside, he might fire, Laws pondered. I’ve got to get rid of this guy.
The shooter didn’t seem to have noticed Laws’ presence until now, so the U.S.S. agent thought he still had an advantage. But the only pistol he held wasn’t enough to do the job. He looked around, frantically… He thought he had seen…
There. A few feet away, sprawled very near the hole created by the earlier blast, was the body of one of the sentries the hunter had killed. Laws made his way to him; the man’s empty eyes were looking up to the sky without it, and had a kind of disk, with sharp claw-like edges, embedded in his chest. That weapon wouldn’t help me much, Laws thought grimly. He knew the sentries often carried a powerful semi-automatic long-range gun with them, but he couldn’t see where this one could have dropped his.
Then he saw it. It had fallen onto the debris, and was lying there, only a couple of feet away from reach. Laws leaned to reach it. He was only able to graze the strap with the tip of his fingers.
He cursed under his breath. “Damn… Why does it always need to be so difficult?”
He pulled the sharp disc from the dead man’s chest and, removing his belt, hoped that it would make a good enough grapnel.
* * *
Harmony Angel tentatively rose to her feet; to have escaped from the falling debris practically unscathed was to her akin to a miracle, and she knew to whom she owed that miracle.
Her throat irritated, she coughed and turned around, trying to pierce the cloud of dust surrounding her in search of the man who had saved her life; she found him, lying on the floor of the hall, his body half covered with dirt and concrete debris of various sizes. She stumbled to him and fell on her knees by his side. The moonlight entering the window was enough to permit her to see his set face, and closed eyes. She timidly searched for a pulse on his neck; she was relieved to find it, beating fast and strong.
At first glance, she realised he didn’t appear to have suffer much injury. There were bruises and abrasions on various parts of his body, but none of his limbs or his torso were broken or crushed. He had a nasty, bleeding bump on the head where she imagined a piece of the roof had hit him – which had probably caused him to lose consciousness.
“Captain?” she called to him, shaking his shoulder. He didn’t react, and she started removing the rubble covering him, all the while hoping that he would quickly come to. They had to get to the roof – there had to be an access other than the stair in the garden – and make their way to the helijet. Laws must be waiting for them there; and surely, he had contacted Spectrum already, or his superiors, or any other manner of authority – and people would be on their way to help them.
“You’ve been a very meddlesome young woman, Harmony Angel.”
Harmony was still working at clearing the debris off her colleague, when those Japanese words echoed through the empty hall and made her raise her head. She apprehensively searched around, wondering where they were coming from exactly. That’s when she saw the silhouette holding a long katana in one hand, standing in the entrance of the living room. When he realised she had seen her, he approached, his footsteps resonating into the seemingly empty house.
“But then again,” he added serenely, “it is Spectrum’s habit to interfere whenever they feel like they have the right to.”
Harmony slowly stood up, swallowing hard. “Seijitsu-san?” she asked with uncertainty.
“More or less.”
He took one more step and stood in the light; it was Yu Seijitsu, all right, but his expression was so cold and detached that it didn’t seem like it was quite him. His last words were a sure indication to Harmony who knew exactly who stood in front of her.
“You are a Mysteron,” she said in English.
“I am,” he answered, his expression unchanged. “Since before we met, actually. He pointed his katana at Scarlet. “Your colleague didn’t pick me up, as you can see. The Mysterons expected he wouldn’t, considering my person didn’t exactly pose a threat to him.”
“So – the alien hunter was the Mysterons’ target since the very beginning?” Harmony said.
He offered a bitter smile. “Not the fighter jets in Stanton. Nor the satellite in Glenn Field. And even less Ryoushi Hayato. It was the Yautja, yes. But you had figured that out already, didn’t you? My congratulations, Harmony Angel. And not only for having survived an encounter with the hunter, but to obviously have been able to make an ally out of him. Considering the nature of these blood-thirsty beasts, this is a truly remarkable achievement.”
“You have some gall to call him a blood-thirsty beast,” Harmony replied sharply. “With all that your masters are doing to Earth… you cannot really cast stones at him.”
“The Yautja are the filth of the universe,” Seijitsu spat. “They deserve to be exterminated!”
“Like Earth deserves to be destroyed?”
“This has nothing to do with Earth,” Seijitsu hissed. “Our business with the Hunters is ours alone. You have nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing to do with it?” Harmony scoffed. “Considering what you and Ryoushi, and the others have done to my colleague and myself, kidnapping us… using us in order to lure the Yautja out… Do you really believe we ought not to get involved?”
“Yes… You are involved now. And that will be your downfall.”
“Spectrum will stop you.”
Seijitsu grinned. “What, this time? Or the other times? No, Harmony, I believe all is over and done with your pitiful planet now. As all will be done with the Yautja very soon. Ryoushi is having his battle with him now, in the garden, and if the creature should survive it, we have other ways to take him out.” Seijitsu plunged his free hand into the pocket of his jacket and extracted from it a very small, shining metallic object that he showed the young woman. “Do you know what this is?” he asked her.
She scowled. “Should I?”
“No, of course, you don’t… You’ve never seen one of these before…” Seijitsu glanced at it. “This, my dear, is a Yautja communication device. It comes from the lair of the hunter you’ve been keeping company with these last few hours.”
“How did you come by it?” she asked with curiosity, keeping on the defensive.
“Years ago, when young Ryoushi escaped the creature’s clutches, he took with him a number of objects… notably this device, for he knew that the creature’s most cherished desire was to leave this planet and return to his kind. The device, of course, was damaged… It didn’t work, but Ryoushi, who so much wanted his revenge on the creature, didn’t want to take the risk of him being finally able to repair it – even after so many years of failing to do so. If the device were functional, he would have called his kind and they would have come to pick him up.”
“So, Ryoushi kept the hunter captive on this island, with no way to return home?” Harmony asked with a renewed frown.
“It was more than that, Harmony Angel… Think about it, for a moment. A spacecraft-load of Yautja hunters coming to Earth to retrieve their prodigal son… and finding a suitable ground for their hunting games. Wouldn’t that have been disastrous for Earth? In a way, Ryoushi kept this planet safe from further alien invaders… for he knew better than anyone the horror caused by one Yautja alone. Imagine if there were hundreds.” He smiled at her. “But that’s a thing of the past. The device is repaired now. It might be advanced, by Earth’s standards, but Ryoushi has access to expert technology that was able to do a good part of the job of replacing the defective components. Still, it lacked the energy needed to power it up.”
“Let me guess,” Harmony said in a shaky voice. “The Mysterons saw to that?”
Seijitsu nodded. “The device will be used to send a beacon into space; the Yautja are a nomadic species travelling the galaxies. One of their ships must be within reach, and it’ll answer the signal. They’ll come to Earth – and will find that their missing brother is dead – killed by Oomans.” He shook his head. “Yautja don’t have the same notion as revenge as you Earthmen have. Or as the Mysterons have. But still, they’ll consider that any species able to best one of their own is worth a second look…”
Harmony was looking at him with horror. “You’re a monster. You are planning an interplanetary war between two species – just to serve the Mysterons’ desire for vengeance.”
“And at the same time, striking a blow at both our enemies,” Seijitsu approved.
“How many enemies do the Mysterons have exactly?” Harmony asked sharply. “How many other species had the misfortune to meet them and unwittingly arouse their anger?”
“You don’t know what the Yautja did to the Mysterons,” Seijitsu retorted. “So you cannot pass judgment on them.”
“But they certainly can pass judgment on all others, don’t they?”
Seijitsu sighed. “I can’t expect you to understand,” he said, with a shake of his head. “But it doesn’t matter anymore. I can’t let you live, Harmony Angel. You have caused us enough trouble until now. So you must die. You, and your interfering colleague.”
He launched at Harmony with his blade high, but she was faster. At the last possible second, she ducked, and hit him low in the groin with a swift kick. He gasped in pain and stepped back from her, rolling furious eyes. The communication device escaped from his hand and rolled onto the floor, but he held tight to his katana.
Harmony took advantage of this respite and ran from him towards the open door behind him. She heard his roar of anger as he pursued her. Quickly she crossed the entire living room and went straight at the Samurai armour set against the wall next to the door leading to the trophy room. The katana was gone; she imagined that it was the weapon Seijitsu held in his hands at the moment. However, the shorter blade, the wakizashi, was still there. Harmony unsheathed it in one swift gesture and swiftly turned on her heels.
Seijitsu stepped into the room and got a glimpse of her; he saw the sword in her hands, and her defensive stance, and noticed the fierce expression of his face; then he burst out laughing.
“Do you really think you have one chance, Earthwoman?” he asked, advancing on her. “The hunter might have trained Ryoushi how to be a hunter – but who do you think first taught him the art of using katana?” He twirled his sword around, grinning callously as he stood in front of her. “Believe me, I may have appeared as a weak and quiet little man to you – but nothing can be further from the truth.”
Harmony looked back at him with determination. She had no intention of giving up, or giving him the satisfaction to see fear in her eyes.
That’s when she noticed the body slumped on the floor, not far from the window which overlooked the garden, and of the large pool of blood in which it lay. The face of the dead man was staring blankly at her.
One blank eye was completely white; the other had a dark, dilated pupil, which was now as dead as the other one.
Harmony’s heart missed a beat as she realised that the Ryoushi Hayato, whom Seijitsu had just told her was fighting the Yautja hunter in the garden, was in fact a Mysteron agent. But she had little time to ponder further on this new discovery.
With a grunt, Seijitsu was rushing towards her, ready to strike.
* * *
Through the reflector sight of his weapon, Esteban Rodriguez was following the fight between Hayato Ryoushi and the Yautja hunter. He muttered under his breath, cursing himself for having missed his target at such a close distance with so powerful a weapon. Usually, he could have blown his victim apart with his eyes closed. He could only consider that his failure was due to his over-excitement at finally being able to get rid of a creature that was the Mysterons’ enemy as much as the cursed Earthmen.
That won’t happen again, he promised himself. My next shot will take care of him.
He returned inside the tower and loaded a new charge into his weapon, then he returned to his earlier station, outside, on the first step atop the stairs. He leaned his heavy gun onto the railing and, putting his eye to the eyepiece, he searched for the fighters. He easily found them. The fight seemed to be even between them, and the Yautja was striking his opponent with ferocious blows, obviously meant to kill him. He must have realised Ryoushi is now an agent of the Mysterons, he reflected. And as he knew well, the Yautja hated the Mysterons as much as the Mysterons hated the Yautja.
Rodriguez knew that once the gun was loaded, he needed to wait a few more minutes for it to fully recharge; he was confident that Ryoushi would be able to make the fight last long enough until he would be ready to fire.
And then the will of the Mysterons will be done.
* * *
Triumphantly, Nicolas Laws pulled on his belt, tied to his improvised grapnel which had caught hold of the rifle’s strap. As soon as the weapon was within reach, he seized it; he quickly checked the contents of the magazine. There was more than enough ammunition for what he needed to do.
Turning to the tower, he put himself on one knee, and raised his gun; with his eye to the sight, he took aim at the man standing on the last step; that’s when he realised that the man in question was Esteban Rodriguez – and that Rodriguez was taking aim toward a specific direction in the open garden.
Laws looked over his shoulder, searching for what it was that Rodriguez could be aiming at. He could only see the Yautja hunter, fighting Ryoushi on the ground. It was easy to guess who it was the Panamanian colonel had in his sight.
“Oh no, you don’t,” he muttered. “I might not like the ugly bugger much, but I like you even less…” He took careful aim, closing one eye. “You fucking asshole…”
* * *
Rodriguez was about to pull the trigger of his weapon when suddenly he noticed a tiny flash coming from the roof; it distracted him, long enough to glance at what it could be.
He saw a man, with a rifle aiming at him.
“No, Earthman,” he growled with cold anger. He took aim again. “The Mysterons’ orders must be carried out!”
He pulled the trigger.
* * *
Laws fired his gun at the same time his target did; he saw a powerful discharge emerge from the cannon-like weapon at almost the same moment the bullet struck home. Laws saw him stumbling down the stairs, but took less than a second to relish his victory, as his eyes followed with concern the trajectory of the projectile Rodriguez had been able to fire.
It struck the garden, at the approximate position he had seen the two fighters a few seconds earlier. There was a blinding light on impact, and Laws covered his eyes; the ground shook,
He couldn’t see what had happened, but the first impact seemed to have initiated a series of explosions that made the whole ground, and the house standing upon it, shudder. It must have hit a gas pipe, Laws reflected. No way this one projectile alone could cause that much destruction!
The smell he detected soon after – the acrid, distasteful odour of gas – told him he had guessed right. Other explosions followed and he knew that the pipe must have been a main one, and that the damage would be severe – and might eventually destroy all of the residence.
He feared that the roof on which he stood would give way. He turned apprehensively towards the helijet. Underneath its feet, a fissure had appeared in the concrete and Laws wasn’t too sure, but it looked like it had moved a couple of feet to the right.
“Damn,” he muttered. “We’d better get the hell away from here now!”
Forgetting about the Yautja hunter and his fight with Ryoushi, and whatever their fate had been after the explosion, he rushed to the helijet.
* * *
Harmony parried the first blows from Seijitsu as well as she could; as she had said to Captain Scarlet the previous night, she was more adept at hand-to-hand combat, and wasn’t as used to handling cold weapons, despite the few lessons she had received while studying various kinds of martial arts. It was obvious that Seijitsu was an expert, much more so than she was, and she didn’t expect to last more than a few minutes in front of him.
For the moment, he was simply playing with her and was making her back away through the door behind her, and straight into the trophy room. With the wakizashi, it was all she could do to avoid being hit by Seijitsu’s longer blade, and couldn’t even strike in turn. Soon, he would have enough, and would strike the fatal blow.
“You know how to handle a sword,” he told her. “It is obvious you had training. But it’s also obvious you should have paid better attention to your lessons – and practiced more than you did.”
She had backed away between the extended paws of the huge bear standing in the trophy room and couldn’t go further.
Seijitsu stepped back, pointing his blade at her and grinning evilly, obviously delighting in his now more than assured victory.
“You lose, Harmony Angel,” he coldly said. “I’m sorry. But now it’s time to die.”
Harmony held her breath, and raised her sword again, hoping to survive the next attack.
And then, behind him, the wall to wall window on the other side of the room exploded in thousands of pieces and shards, blown in by a blast coming from the garden on the other side. The floor moved violently under their feet and part of the ceiling fell. Harmony was cast to the floor, and instinctively, put her arms over her head to protect herself. She saw the body of Seijitsu tossed around by the force of another blow, which lifted him off the ground and tossed him across the distance that separated him from where the Angel previously stood. Harmony heard a brief cry that was quickly stifled when the man’s throat impaled itself on the razor-sharp claws of one of the bear’s extended paws. He managed to find the strength to pull himself from the bear, but it was a futile attempt – and seemed to make things worse for him. As he stumbled to turn towards Harmony, she averted her eyes at the sight of the massive quantity of blood spraying from the gouged out throat. He tried to speak, and took one step – and then slumped to the floor.
Heart pounding, Harmony started at him, fully expecting him to stand up again; but he didn’t move and she then permitted herself a deep sigh of relief.
Then, she looked around in confusion. The house was still standing, mostly, but there was dust and debris everywhere. The large window was gone, and most of the wall where it was with it. There was now open access to the garden, where she could see multiple fires burning. A distinct odour of gas hit her nostrils and she knew what must have happened.
She stood up, slowly. Another, smaller explosion made the floor quake under her feet. She knew now they had to go quickly, before it was too late. She hoped the helijet was still intact, on the roof, and that Laws was all right as well.
She moved to the gutted wall and glanced outside; she could see very little through the dust and fire, but still, on her right, there was the stair leading to the roof. It seemed all there and she blew a sigh of relief. There was no sign of anyone about: the mercenaries were gone – either they had all been killed or had run away. The Yautja hunter was nowhere to be seen either; and as for Ryoushi… he seemed to have disappeared as well.
Another tremor nearly threw her off her feet, and she steadied herself against what remained of the wall. She coughed, as the acrid smell of gas irritated her throat.
“Captain Scarlet,” she murmured to herself. “I’ve got to get Captain Scarlet…”
She slowly turned around in order to leave the room and return to the hall to get her colleague, when a hand caught her arm in such a vice-like grip that she yelled in pain. Then, she was brutally pulled out through the opening in the wall… And thrown without any consideration against the rough surface of the garden’s slates.
Harmony’s back received the brunt of the impact; the pain was such that she thought she would lose consciousness. Nevertheless, she made an attempt to rise back to her feet; a shadow appeared through the dust and punched her in the face; she fell back, half-stunned, her head reeling.
Through a fog, she then realised that her assailant was none other than Hayato Ryoushi; he had lost his helmet, half of his armour was gone, and there was a gash on the same side of his face which was already scarred. He held one katana in his hand and was glaring at her with total anger and hate so obvious in his only eye, that Harmony had no doubt that the man intended to kill her.
“I expected you to already be dead, Harmony Angel,” he said between his teeth. “I see that the devil has spared you – for whatever reason, I can’t begin to imagine.” As she attempted again to raise herself up, he struck her anew across the cheek with a violent slap that made her sprawl back to the ground. “You’ve been in the way of the Mysterons for the last time, half-breed,” he hissed at her with consummate rage. “I don’t know where the creature has gone to since the explosion, but I’ll find him – but before I do that, I will make sure you will not interfere!”
He raised his katana and swiftly brought it down. Harmony’s eyes opened wide with horror.
And then… a second unexpected miracle happened.
Another katana appeared in her line of vision and parried the blade that was coming down on her. The two blades met with a clanging sound, and the new one held firm, saving the young woman’s life.
Harmony looked beyond the hand holding the sword that had saved her, and saw Captain Scarlet’s face, looking sternly straight into Ryoushi’s dispassionate features.
“Try someone who can defend himself, mate,” the English captain said with a sharp edge to his voice.
He roughly pushed the blade away from Harmony, forcing Ryoushi to step back. The Japanese hunter stood at a safe distance, gauging his adversary, who was moving away from Harmony, so to keep her out of harm’s way. He smiled evilly, twirling the sword expertly in his hand. “Captain Scarlet, my pleasure. But do you know how to use a Japanese katana?”
Scarlet twirled his sword, in an exact copy of the move Ryoushi had made. “Try me,” he replied icily.
Ryoushi lunged at Scarlet and the latter parried, with extreme ease. He didn’t even try to attack in turn. Ryoushi gauged him again – and then, launched himself into another assault, with a series of blows that Scarlet deflected without so much as batting an eyelid, and then applied a swift counter-riposte that made Ryoushi step back.
Captain Scarlet’s hands tightened on the handle of his sword and he brought it into a vertical hold close to his person. “That good enough for you?” he asked stoically.
Ryoushi’s only eye narrowed and he lunged forward.
The hunter had seen the ball of fire coming in their direction.
He had seen the earlier destruction, and knew that if that blast was to hit him, he would be killed. He wasn’t ready to die just yet, so he did something that was completely unexpected from a Yautja.
He suddenly left the fight and ran away from the site of the impact.
He dashed behind a wall of debris caused by the previous cave-in of the roof just as the blast hit the ground. The breath of the explosion managed to knock him off his feet and projected him against the wall of the Ooman’s dwelling; he went through, in a rain of plaster and wood, and landed unceremoniously inside, on his back. The ground was shaking as other explosions resonated, and pieces of walls and ceilings fell down all around him.
His claws extended, and his spear in his other hand, the hunter struggled to his feet and looked around to assess the situation. He had landed in a large room, and in front of a door he saw the silhouette of a tall Ooman, dressed in sophisticated armour not unlike the one the Khujhade with L’ulij-bpe’s face was wearing outside. Instantly, he turned his plasma-caster towards it. The Ooman didn’t move and then the hunter saw that there wasn’t any heat signature to it. Growling softly, he approached, looking at it with a tilted head. He stood in front of it and touched the surface of its armour.
He huffed loudly. Nothing alive was inside the armour. It was a statue… a mannequin of some sort. A display, not unlike the heads he exhibited as trophies. He felt like a fool to have imagined it as a threat and he turned his back on it, determined to ignore it.
It was then that he noticed the body lying on the floor, and that made him stop. He stared at it, tilting his head again in curiosity. His instrument wasn’t detecting any heat signature from it either, but it wasn’t because this one was an empty shell. The pool of blood surrounding it was proof enough that, not that long ago, it was a living and breathing individual.
Slowly, the hunter approached the dead body; there might not be any heat signature, but there were other ways for him to determine who that Ooman was. But before his instruments could even give him any confirmation, he had guessed.
It was L’ulij-bpe’s body lying there.
The hunter knelt by the dead man’s side. Yes, he’d been a sentimental idiot. He had treated this foolish Ooman not unlike he would have done a youngling of his kind. No… that wasn’t true. He had treated him better than any youngling of his kind. He had grown attached to him, and even though L’ulij-bpe had tried for many years to kill him, and the hunter had fought back in a way that might have led L’ulij-bpe to presume he was ready to kill him as well, his fondness, and the pride he felt for his former novice, had never wavered.
L’ulij-bpe... my son… look what they did to you.
Cursed Khujhade... they have desecrated your body and cast your soul into the place where no soul ought to go… They have stolen from you your chance of a victory over me. Perhaps you would have succeeded one day to kill me. Perhaps not. But now, we will never know.
The hunter rose to his feet and looked around; the anger in him subsided, but was still present. The Khujhade who had stolen his novice’s body had to be destroyed. If he wasn’t already dead in the first place. For the hunter didn’t know if the blast outside had killed his opponent, if he had been able to avoid it, like he had done himself.
He had all of L’ulij-bpe ‘s skills. There was a good chance he had escaped as well.
The instruments inside the hunter’s mask picked up an object lying on the floor at some distance from him and he turned his attention to him. The data displayed in front of his eyes were mentioning a device of Yautja origins, which seemed like an impossibility.
He crouched down and picked up the device; it was so small it nearly disappeared in his hand. He examined it and grunted in surprise. He recognised it. It was indeed Yautja. Many years ago, he had had something similar in his possession… something which he had discovered had disappeared, shortly after L’ulij-bpe had left him. He had quickly dismissed the disappearance as the object in question was broken and wasn’t of any use to him.
But this one – found here, in L’ulij-bpe’s dwelling – was fully functional.
Could it be L’ulij-bpe himself who had taken it from him? Could it be that he had found a way to repair it?
It was a communication device – the key to his leaving this planet and returning to his kind.
Slowly, he rose to his feet, looking down at the device resting in his hand. L’ulij-bpe’s last gift. Perhaps he never truly intended to give it to him, but still, Fate had decided and the hunter was truly grateful for this un-hoped for opportunity that presented itself to him.
He pressed the small concealed button on top of the device and then listened as it started beeping. He hoped a signal would reach people of his kind. That a ship was passing by and that they would stop to pick him up.
He was rather surprised when he realised that already a signal was answering.
Someone was near. Nearer than he had ever hoped for. They had heard him.
And they were coming. They would be following the beacon sent by this device, and find him. And then he would leave this planet, where he had been kept a captive for so long.
He hooked the object to his belt and looked around anew. This place, he decided, will have to disappear; L’ulij-bpe’s body needed to be cleansed by fire, and all of his possession would go with him in the life beyond life.
But first, he needed to take care of the Khujhade devil who had taken the place of his son.
* * *
Slowly, Harmony rose to her feet, and watched with enthralment, as Ryoushi and Scarlet exchanged blow after blow, without speaking a single word. Ryoushi was obviously trying his best, and seemed like a deadly opponent. Yet, Captain Scarlet was able to hold his own against him – with such disarming expertise that it seemed to unhinge his adversary and make his confidence waver. Scarlet was a master-of-arms, expert in handling all manner of weapons – cold weapons and firearms. While Ryoushi was ignorant of that fact, Harmony knew that perfectly – but it was always fascinating to watch Scarlet in action, especially in the use of weapons that called for special techniques and training such as the one he currently held.
At the end of the quick exchange, Scarlet was able to hit Ryoushi on his left arm, causing a slight scratch that made the Japanese grunt in discontent more than in pain. He retaliated by slashing his sword wildly at his opponent, and Scarlet was forced to duck and to step back. A deep cut had appeared on his neck, but he didn’t seem too bothered by it.
“We both draw blood,” Ryoushi commented, his voice betraying his admiration, as he pointed his katana at his adversary. You are a worthy adversary, Captain Scarlet.”
Scarlet glared at him, and changed his stance, stretching out his arm, transforming the sword into an extension of this arm. “The only thing I regret,” he replied slowly, “is that I am not facing the real Ryoushi right now. Because I would have loved to be able to do this to the real thing, instead of satisfying myself with a second-rate replacement.”
The Mysteron didn’t reply, but it was obvious that the insult had struck a chord; which was what Scarlet hoped for.
Blinded by his anger, Ryoushi launched himself into another attack. Scarlet stepped to the side to avoid the twirling blade – narrowly – and thrust his own sword… deep into the abdomen of his adversary. That stopped Ryoushi in his tracks and he gasped in pain.
Scarlet swiftly pulled the katana from his adversary, and the latter fell on his knees. He watched with incomprehension the deep gash in his abdomen, blood mounting to his mouth. Then, he raised his head and his one eye fixed on the Spectrum officer who was looking imperturbably down at him. Ryoushi seemingly attempted to say something but his strength abandoned him.
And he fell face first to the ground.
Nicolas Laws started the engine of the helijet and heard with satisfaction the comforting swish of the rotors over his head. He sighed with relief and checked the instruments; it would need a moment or two for the engine to warm up sufficiently in order to reach lift-off capacity. There wasn’t much fuel in the tank, he noted with displeasure, but at least, there should be enough to get themselves to safety.
As for the radio, it was fully functional, and Laws was reaching for it, when there was another explosion, and he felt a stronger tremor that shook the roof so much that the helijet slid to the side. Laws then realised the fissure on which the craft was standing was growing wider, and forgetting about the radio, he quickly put his hands back on the helm and held on.
“Come on,” he muttered. “Just a little more time…” He prayed the roof would hold long enough for the engine to be ready.
And he hoped that the others were already on their way and would be with him soon.
* * *
Scarlet blew a deep sigh and lowered his sword; he turned to Harmony who was staring at the scene with astonishment.
“About time that was over,” he said. “I don’t know how long I would have been able to keep it up.”
“You were magnificent,” Harmony replied with something of awe displayed on her face.
“Magnificent.” The deep voice coming from inside the house made Scarlet turn on his heels, raising his sword. Instantly, the hunter standing in the hole opened in the wall, adjusted his plasma-caster, and three little dots appeared on Scarlet’s brow.
Scarlet didn’t lower his defence. “We’re not coming back to this, are we?” he growled in a low voice. “Chij’na, isn’t that right?”
The hunter seemed to consider his word and then, the big gun folded down behind his back. He stepped over the debris and approached the Spectrum officer who hesitantly lowered the katana, if only a little. Both stared into each other’s eyes.
“Khujhade,” the hunter said gruffly.
Scarlet bristled. “I am not a Mysteron. No Khujhade, as you say.”
Harmony approached carefully. “Yautja-san, my friend isn’t Khujhade,” she tentatively explained in Japanese. “I thought you had understood this…”
“Wakari masu.” He pointed to the dead body of the Mysteronised Ryoushi. “Khujhade.”
“Well, he’s got that part right, at least,” Scarlet muttered. “Obviously, he wasn’t the intended target of the Mysterons if they decided to use him.”
“No, Captain,” Harmony confirmed. “Ryoushi wasn’t the target.” She looked at their alien companion, standing between the two of them. “The Yautja was.”
Scarlet received that information with perplexity – but could only concur that it was the most acceptable probability.
The sound of an engine coming from above attracted their attention, and they looked up. Harmony was the first to react.
“Laws,” she said. “He was supposed to get the helijet so we could leave this place.”
Scarlet shook his head. “So what are we waiting for?” he asked with a grin.
Harmony nodded briefly and the both of them rushed for the nearby stairs, the hunter bringing up the rear. The stairs had been half-destroyed by the explosions, but were still intact enough for them to use.
As they had nearly reached the roof, another, more powerful explosion resonated and they felt the stairs move; they held on, avoiding falling back down the steps they had just climbed; Scarlet helped Harmony to the roof, and leapt up in turn; they looked with horror at the control tower, which was shuddering so much that it was threatening to fall. And there, not far from it, was the helijet.
The hunter left the stairs last, and just as the staircase crumbled and fell, jumped onto the roof next to his Ooman allies. Scarlet stared at him, unsure of what he should do with him.
Gunshots rang out and a bullet grazed his arm, the pain drawing him out of his reflection; he stumbled and his hand reached for the fresh wound. Harmony helped him to keep on his feet, and the hunter turned around, grunting like a wild animal.
A man was striding their way, coming from the direction of the tower and aiming a pistol at them; it was Esteban Rodriguez, sporting a fresh bullet wound on his left shoulder, his body covered with bruises, and his left arm hanging loosely by his side as if it were broken.
“Yautja!” he roared. “You have not escaped the Mysterons’ wrath yet!”
He fired many consecutive shots, and the hunter swiftly presented himself as a shield in front of Scarlet and Harmony. The bullets struck him and he shuddered. He looked over his shoulder, and gave an imperative bark to his allies: “Itte!”
“He said to go!” Harmony translated.
“I got that bit,” Scarlet replied, moving towards the helijet and pulling her along. “Let’s!”
“How about him?” the young woman protested.
“Itte!” the hunter roared more insistently. And he started walking in the direction of the approaching Rodriguez.
Scarlet tugged on Harmony’s arm. “Let’s go, Harmony!”
It was an order and she didn’t object anymore. She glanced at the hunter one last time as he was nearing Rodriguez and she averted her eyes, rushing with Scarlet to the helijet; she couldn’t hear the detonations of the handgun but then perhaps it was the sound of the rotor drowning them.
As they approached the cockpit, they saw Nicolas Laws at the helm, glaring at them impatiently.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he barked. “The roof is about to give way! We have to go now!”
“And it’s good to see you again, old friend,” Scarlet retorted, swiftly climbing aboard and helping Harmony to do the same.
“Move over,” the young woman told Laws.
“You want to pilot this thing?” he asked in surprise.
“I’m the best pilot you could have,” she retorted. “If things go wrong, I’m the best chance you have of surviving.” There was no over-confidence in her words, just knowledge that she was stating the truth. She wasn’t the kind to boast or brag about her own abilities. Laws saw them immediately and vacated the pilot seat, to move over as co-pilot. Scarlet had already taken his seat behind them, when Harmony sat down at her place and pulled the helm sharply.
The helijet immediately climbed up.
* * *
“I will kill you, creature! The Mysterons’ order will be carried out!”
The words were mostly unknown to him, but the hunter understood them perfectly; it was the last boasting of the wounded prey, as it felt itself dying and was prepared to take its last victim with him. Another Khujhade – heavily injured, but not surprisingly, unwilling to fall just yet.
The hunter walked purposefully to him, his body offered as a target, covering the escape of his companions. As he drew closer, the projectiles raining on him risked penetrating his scaled skin, and at close range, a lucky shot might actually be able to sink deep enough into his flesh to reach a vital organ. But the hunter didn’t care. This last Khujhade needed to die and he was willing to risk his own life to make that possible.
He was nearly on top of the shooter, when the latter aimed his weapon straight between his eyes; the hunter froze and watched the smile appear on the Khujhade’s distorted lips. But when he pulled the trigger, the gun simply clicked. And death didn’t emerge from the barrel.
The expression on the Khujhade’s face changed drastically, and became one of terror, as the hunter emitted a satisfied growl. The claws from his right wristband flicked out, and in one swift and powerful movement, the throat of the Khujhade was slashed, and his lifeless body, at last, slumped to the floor.
The hunter stood there, covered with the blood of his latest victim, that he watched with some fascination. He would have loved to take his skull, and to keep it as a trophy, but he had little time to spare at the moment; the roof he was standing on was unsteady and threatened to go at any moment; he could hear the craft behind about to take off, taking his Ooman allies with it.
Swiftly, he raised his right arm, and flicked the cover of the control box set on top of his wristband. After all this time, he remembered the code. He knew that if he were never to leave this planet, he might have to use it one day – the bomb, carried by all hunters, that they were to detonate to erase all traces of their passage, or as a last resort, when there was nothing else to do to avoid capture. Today, though, it was for a different purpose that he activated it.
The code was entered, and the hunter detached the bomb from his wrist, and threw it in an offhand gesture atop the body of the dead Khujhade.
For you, L’ulij-bpe. To avenge and honour your death.
And then he turned around and darted toward the helijet which was taking off.
* * *
The helijet was up a few meters off the roof and was starting to move away when Harmony felt a powerful tug that threatened to take the craft down; she used the helm to compensate, thinking that something had hit them, when looking past her feet through the still opened window, she realised the truth.
The hunter had made an incredible leap from the roof and was now hanging on for dear life to one of the helijet’s skids.
“Itte!” he roared in a loud voice, trying to make himself heard through the sound of the engine. “Hayaku!”
“Quickly?” she repeated with uncertainty.
With his free hand, he gestured towards the roof beneath him. “Akrei-non! Itte! Itte!”
“He seems to be in a hurry,” Laws commented. “I would listen to him.”
“I would too,” Scarlet approved. “Pedal to the metal, Harmony!”
She nodded briefly and pulled on the helm, making the helicopter veer, hoping that the hunter was holding tight. The helijet gained some height and speed as it made its way from the house.
And then, there was a huge explosion, and a high ball of fire emerging from the roof; it was so powerful, so much more than anything else they had witnessed that night, that it made them jump in surprise. They saw the tower finally crumbling down.
“Harmony!” Scarlet yelled.
“I’m on it!”
The young woman pushed the helm and the helijet moved away from the scene.
The hunter held on, sinking his claws into the skid to ensure he wouldn’t fall during the craft’s many manoeuvres to avoid being hit by any flying debris. The flight was fast, and unsteady, probably because of his added weight, which unbalanced the helijet, but Harmony made the best of what she could under the circumstances.
Scarlet and Laws were looking behind in horror as the blast seemed to spread to encompass a wide area around the spot where the initial detonation had occurred. It was like a huge dome of fire and energy was now covering all of Ryoushi’s residence, and half of the island on which it was built.
“Atomic bomb?” Laws commented with deep concern.
Scarlet shook his head. “If it was, we would be dead,” he said simply. “No, it was something different…” He lowered his eyes to the hunter, hanging underneath the helijet. “Something… alien.”
They were at a safe distance now, presumably, as the blast had stopped expanding and they were out of range of whatever it could have thrown in their path. Scarlet started to relax and sat back on his seat. There was still the matter of what to do with the hunter present in his mind, but at least they were alive.
The craft was now flying over the small archipelago of islands, and whatever they would do now, it will be without the threat of the Mysterons hanging over their head.
At least for this assignment.
The helijet suddenly lurched and he instinctively held onto his seat. He heard alerts and multiple beeping sounds coming from the control panel.
“We hit something!” Harmony yelled.
“What?” Scarlet leaned over her seat. The panel in front of her was illuminated with many red lights and indicators running wild. “Did any debris hit us as we escaped the explosion?”
She shook her head. “No, we were clear. It’s something else. But I can’t see anything out there!” She was struggling with the helm, obviously having trouble controlling the craft. “I’m losing it!”
“Can you make it land?” Laws inquired, his face white as a sheet.
She nodded. “Crash land, at the best.” She pressed a button on her control, and they heard a swishing sound. “I’ve just jettisoned what remained of our fuel. At least we won’t explode on impact.”
“That is reassuring,” Laws mumbled. “Where are we to land?”
Harmony pointed to a spot through the canopy, and Laws groaned, recognising the larger island of the archipelago.
“Not that place again!”
“We don’t have the luxury to be picky!” Scarlet said. “Harmony, bring this bird down!”
“S.I.G.,” she murmured.
She pushed the nearly out of control helijet down, as gently as she could. The craft skimmed the ocean surface and approached the island; she hoped she would have time to reach the beach, where she would be able to land relatively smoothly, but it didn’t look like she would be able to make it. The altimeter was going wild, but she didn’t need it to know that she was going straight for the trees.
“There!” she said under her breath, looking straight ahead. “The beach…”
The helijet was losing height and she felt the top of the trees grazing the underbelly. Instinctively, she had a thought for the Yautja hunter hanging there, but she didn’t dare divert her eyes from her target.
“Captain Scarlet, the hunter…?”
Scarlet glanced down the opened door; the skid where the alien had been hanging on for dear life only a moment ago was now empty. Except for two deep gash in the metallic surface, made by his claws, there was no trace of him.
“He’s gone!” he reported.
“Harmony, concentrate on the flight! We’re going to hit!”
Harmony tried to pull up to gain what little height as she could; they were just approaching the beach, and all that was left to do was to cross the last boundaries formed by the treetops. She almost succeeded – but higher boughs got caught in the skids of the helijet, tearing them off; the impact sent the craft flying wild. This time, the Angel pilot totally lost control.
With its passengers tossed around in the cabin, the helijet roughly landed on its side on the smooth sand of the beach, and rolled over a few times, the tail tearing itself from the main body. The craft didn’t explode; the little fuel left in its belly had been thankfully almost all exhausted. The rotors at first dug into the sand sending it flying to all sides, before disintegrating with a loud screeching sound.
Finally, the helijet stopped rolling over, and finished its course on its side, resting against the foot of a huge palm tree.
For a moment, there was no sound or movement coming from inside, and then the passengers started to groan.
Captain Scarlet, lying on his back, opened his eyes slowly, and tested his sore body.
“Harmony…?” he whispered.
She was still attached to her seat, hanging in a rather awkward position from her seat belt. She was breathing hard, but her eyes were clear when she looked in his direction.
“I’m okay,” she answered. “Just… have difficulty breathing. My belt…”
“Hang on, I’ll help you.”
Scarlet moved slowly, extracting himself from his position, and stepped out of the destroyed helijet. He leaned over Harmony and pushed the button to unbuckle her belt, he held her so that she wouldn’t fall down, and helped her out and onto her feet.
Underneath her, there was Nicolas Laws, groaning in pain.
“Nick, are you all right?” Scarlet asked in concern.
“Sure I am…” he mumbled. “That’s one of the wildest rides I’ve had in a long time, and I would have enjoyed myself tremendously if I’d not been scared half to death…”
Scarlet smiled thinly. “If you can joke, than it means you’re all right.”
“Not quite.” Laws was pale as a sheet, and sweat was dripping down his face. He blinked several times. “I think I broke my left arm…”
“Let me help you out.”
With Harmony standing back, Scarlet leaned in to disengage his old friend from his belt, and gently pulled him out of the wreckage. Laws moaned and cursed and struggled to his feet, once they had been freed. He tested them, and came to the conclusion that he had nothing broken there.
His left arm, on the other hand, was useless, and Scarlet examined it quickly. A single touch made Laws wince in pain.
“Yes, I’m afraid it’s broken,” he concluded. “We’ll have to take care of it quickly.
“I must consider myself lucky to get out of this adventure with only that,” Laws muttered. “Considering what’s been going on…” He looked in wonder at what was left of the helijet. “That was some major landing. You’re one hell of a pilot, Harmony.”
“I just wish I knew what it was I hit,” the young woman retorted. “I never saw anything.”
“Hey,” Laws said, turning at her and grinning. “It happens to the best of us…” His words caught in his throat, as looking into the starry sky beyond her, he suddenly saw something that astonished him. “Oh hell… I think I know what you hit.”
Both Scarlet and Harmony turned around and looked where he was looking.
At first they didn’t see anything, but then, they noticed the strange shimmering, that seemed to distort a large portion of the sky. Then… there was a crackle of static, and the smell of ozone filled their nostrils.
Something appeared out of thin air before their very eyes. Except it wasn’t exactly appearing out of thin air – it was just emerging from behind the invisibility cloak that kept it from their view.
It was a huge spaceship – unlike anything they had ever seen – and it was slowly landing nearby, on the beach. Silently, without making a single sound.
“Oh… I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” Scarlet murmured.
He pulled Harmony behind him to stand next to Laws, and stepped in front of both of them, facing the spaceship which had finished its landing procedure. Immediately, a door started to open with a soft, hissing sound.
Scarlet was beyond surprise now, with what he had witnessed and learned in the past few days. Somehow, the presence of this craft, while unexpected, seemed to be the only logical conclusion to this very strange assignment.
He knew exactly who these newcomers were. They couldn’t be Mysterons – as far as he knew, they didn’t travel in spaceships. And the chances that a third alien species were to visit them on this ominous night were very unlikely.
He couldn’t see anyone about for now; no-one seemed to have emerged from the open door of the craft. But Scarlet knew that looks could be deceiving; as he had learned recently, just because he couldn’t see someone, didn’t mean that there wasn’t someone.
And he realised quickly how dreadfully right he was, although he could have wished for once he would not have been.
The space in front of them, all around them, started to shimmer, and at least a dozen Yautja hunters, armoured and armed to the teeth appeared to their view.
“Oh boy…” Laws said under his breath. “We’re dead, that’s for sure.”
Scarlet stepped back to close in on his companions; he couldn’t see very well how he would be able to protect them now. He had difficult holding his own against one hunter – thinking they would be successful with twelve… it was impossible to even consider it.
For now, however, the newcomers stood still, and simply watched them.
“They came.” Scarlet turned to Harmony who had whispered these words. She was staring at the assembled hunters with wide eyes filled with fear. “Seijitsu Yu,” she explained. “He had a Yautja communication device. He was planning to activate it, so the Yautja would come and find one of their kind dead, and think we killed him. That would cause war between our species.” She shook her head despondently. “He must have activated it already.” She looked at Scarlet with horror. “Captain, if they were to consider you a Mysteron –”
“We’re all in the same boat right now, Harmony,” Scarlet replied, his teeth clenched. “Mysterons or humans, these guys are going to tear us apart…”
The call, in the deep voice they had come to know so well, came from the trees behind them and they turned around; crouched on a low bough of a tree, they saw the familiar silhouette of the hunter, who was staring at the scene intently. He held his spear – which had resumed its three feet long length in his left hand and the cannon on his shoulder was lowered down behind his back.
“Chij’na,” Scarlet said in a low voice.
“He’s alive,” Harmony added.
“He probably jumped from the chopper to the trees, as soon as they were close enough,” commented Laws. “Is he friend or foe, now that his kind has found him?”
They looked around and saw that the other Yautja had now turned their attention to this newcomer, who swiftly jumped the four meters distance separating him from the ground. Then he walked purposefully in their direction.
“We’ll soon find out, I imagine,” Scarlet muttered.
The other hunters didn’t make a single move at their brother’s approach, except for a plasma-caster or two rising on some shoulders to take aim at him. It was obvious that, if he should prove a threat, he would swiftly be dealt with.
The hunter walked casually past the group of humans who were waiting to learn their fate, and went directly to the tallest individual of the group of aliens surrounding them. He was standing on his own, in the middle of a half-circle of heavily-armoured hunters. To Scarlet’s experienced eye, he looked like a leader of some sort – maybe someone older. Ryoushi had mentioned ‘clans’ when he had told him about Yautja culture. Maybe this one was a clan leader.
He had confirmation that he was someone of influence when he saw Chij’na bowing his head to him in obvious deference to his rank.
The taller hunter nodded curtly and pointed to Chij’na’s mask, at the mark adorning the brow. He bowed in turn and spoke in a voice that was even deeper than his interlocutor: “N'jauka, Mei’hswei.” He then put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it.
“What’s going on?” Laws whispered in concern.
“That must be a universal gesture for ‘welcome back’,” Scarlet replied in the same voice. “Or so I believe.”
Their exchange, as low as it was, still attracted attention from the creatures surrounding them, and the leader looked straight at them. He then pointed his clawed finger in their direction.
“Ooman Mei'shan,” the leader said. It sounded like a statement, but as far as Scarlet could tell, it could as well be a question.
“H’ko,” was Chij’na’s reply. “Ooman Mei'hswei.”
That caused the leader to stare at him. “Mei’hswei?” Now that was definitely a question, as if the statement from the younger hunter was surprising him.
“Sei-i.” He pointed directly to Scarlet and the latter tensed at becoming the centre of such attention all of a sudden. He didn’t like the fact that one cannon was aimed directly at his chest.
At any moment now, Chij’na could pronounce the word that could mean his death: Khujhade.
But it didn’t come.
Instead, the leader gave a loud huff, and then gestured with his hand, addressing Chij’na, and finally pointed to his own brow and at the one on Chij’na’s mask. Then, he took a small cylinder from his belt and handed it to him.
Chij’na turned around and looked in Scarlet’s direction, in a pensive way. He then took the cylinder offered by the leader and walked the short distance separating him from the humans. Scarlet held his breath. He decided that maybe he would do well to put some distance between him and his companions.
“Stay here,” he ordered.
He walked towards Chij’na. They stopped barely one foot from one another.
“Mei’hswei,” the hunter told him.
Scarlet frowned, not understanding his word.
“Kyoudai,” the hunter said.
“That’s Japanese,” Harmony said behind Scarlet. “For ‘brother’.”
Scarlet nodded nervously. He watched as the hunter presented the small cylinder; it look like a pen of some sort, with a point at the end.
“What do you want me to do, exactly?” Scarlet breathed out.
The hunter activated the object. The point at the end became red and he presented it to Scarlet, pointing as his own brow and then at Scarlet’s brow.
Uh-oh, the Spectrum officer realised. He wants to give me his mark. Like he wanted to do with Ryoushi.
He looked around. Refusing that honour, according to Ryoushi, was a dreadful insult, and it could very well mean death for him and his companions. Probably awarding him the mark was a way for Chij’na to save their lives.
Scarlet sighed, and rolled up his sleeve. “It isn’t really the tradition of my kind to put tattoos on our forehead,” he said, trying to sound casual, and not really expecting the Yautja around him to fully understand him. “I don’t expect you saw many brow-tattooed prey amongst those L’ulij-bpe provided you…” The hunter in front of him was tilting his head to the side – which he imagined was a mark of their curiosity. He caught other hunters around them doing the same, while staring at him. In other circumstances, he would have found it amusing – if his life and others’ weren’t on the line.
He offered his bare arm to Chij’na. “Would you mind putting it there instead?” Just in case retrometabolism wouldn’t take care of it, he added inwardly. If the hunter were to refuse, however, he felt like he would have no choice but to accept the mark on his forehead.
He was taking a dangerous gamble; what if the hunters should view his demand as insulting? But at the same time, if he were to accept without negotiating, maybe they would view him as weak.
He realised his gamble had paid off when he saw Chij’na turn around to consult with the leader; the latter emitted a growling sound. “Yeyinde,” he commented, and then he nodded. Other nods from the other Yautja hunters followed.
Chij’na turned to Scarlet and grunted his approval. He touched the point of the small, pen-like object against the Spectrum’s officer’s arm. The latter could feel the heat, nearly two inches before it touched his skin. He realised it was a laser of some sort, and he knew already that the procedure would be painful; he tensed.
He winced, and bit his lip; he could hear his flesh sizzling, and smell it burning as Chij’na slowly drew his mark on his forearm. He resisted the pain, with the minimum of display, hoping to impress the hunters surrounding them. But he had to admit, it was easier said than done – even for a man who had suffered all sort of pain in the last two years, and had come back from the dead numerous times.
His deed done, Chij’na put away the pen. Scarlet relaxed, blinking his eyes as he looked down at the mark on his arm; it was the exact copy of the triangular one Chij’na had on his mask – and the scar he had seen on his large brow.
Scarlet flexed his fingers, to regain blood circulation in them, when he realised they were numb from his earlier tension. He raised his eyes to meet Chij’na’s stare.
“Sain’ja.” The hunter then presented his spear to him in a solemn gesture. Scarlet stared at it, unsure what do to.
Chij’na grunted. “Ki'cti-pa. Take.”
“No fight this time, I hope?” Scarlet took the proffered weapon. He easily found the command to extend it at both ends and it instantly became nine feet long. He heard grunts of approval around him.
Scarlet nodded his understanding; so this was a parting gift. He activated the weapon again, and it returned to its three-feet long size.
It was like a signal, as he saw the Yautja breaking ranks and walking back to the spaceship in silence; they didn’t give another glance to the humans watching them go, without really hoping that this was really happening.
Chij’na lingered behind. He looked towards Harmony and Nicolas Laws, who still stood a few feet behind Scarlet; he gave them both a curt nod, that they felt compelled to answer. The hunter’s eye lingered longer on Harmony, before returning his attention to Scarlet.
“N'dhi-ja,” he said soberly. Then, seeing that, as usual, the humans had not understood him, he added in Japanese: “Sayonara.” With that, he turned on his heel, with no more ceremony and walked towards his peers, waiting for him.
He didn’t look back as he climbed aboard the spaceship behind the leader; he didn’t wave a last goodbye.
It probably wasn’t the Yautja way.
The door closed on him and the ship silently, as if there was no engine involved, started to lift off from the sandy beach. Scarlet, Harmony and Laws stepped back, to avoid swallowing sand; they covered their eyes and watched in awe as the ship quickly gained height.
Its nose turned around and aimed for the sky; and then, before their eyes, just as it was picking up speed, it shimmered…
And disappeared from their view.
They heard a sonic boom in the distance, and then there was nothing.
It was only then that the three humans standing on the beach, looking up to the stars, permitted themselves to breathe again. Harmony and Laws rushed to Scarlet; his tension completely leaving him, the latter dropped to his knees.
“Captain, are you all right?” Harmony knelt by his side and took him by the shoulder. He was pale and seemed exhausted. She took a look at the mark on his forearm, and saw how deep Chij’na’s laser had cut. She shivered. This was a scar that was meant to stay for life.
“I’m all right,” Scarlet said under his breath; he chuckled nervously, and then looked down at the scar on his forearm and looked into Harmony’s face. “It must be the shock… I can’t believe this is finished and that we’re alive…”
“You and me both, brother,” Laws said morosely. “You have balls, to negotiate the way you did for that mark, no knowing how those guys would react. Of course, if I had been in your place, I would not have looked forward to having that ugly scar on my forehead either…”
“There was more to it than that, Nicolas,” Scarlet said with a shake of his head.
“I bet there was.” Laws looked up to the sky and sighed. “Got to admit, I will miss Nosferatu.”
“Not me,” Scarlet said, shaking his head. “I might admit his culture is different from ours, and that he lives by rules that we don’t approve of – which are quite acceptable for his kind – but he didn’t belong here, on our planet.”
“Do you think they’ll return?” Harmony asked, looking to the sky as well.
“I don’t know…” Scarlet murmured. “I do hope to God they won’t. And I doubt we would even be able to make some kind an alliance with them against the Mysterons… which would have been nice, when you think about it. These Yautja are a power to reckon with…” He shook his head. “But they’re totally unmanageable.” He looked at each of his companions. “Do you know if the helijet radio is working?”
“It surely was when we left Ryoushi’s house,” Laws commented. “And we would be very unlucky if it had been destroyed during the crash. In any case, even if your commander doesn’t know your exact location, my superiors do. And… let’s not forget that Ryoushi’s place has been utterly destroyed. The intensity of that explosion can’t have gone unnoticed. So… someone is bound to come looking for us – eventually.”
“No offence, mate,” Scarlet said with a sad smile. “But I’d rather wish we would be picked up much sooner than later.”
Laws grinned at him and thumped his shoulder with his valid arm. “I’ll check if we can make that call.”
He jogged to the wreckage, and Scarlet and Harmony watched him go, pensively. “I’ll be glad when all of this will be behind us,” Scarlet murmured. “Remind me to thank Colonel White the next time he offers us a ‘cushy assignment where nothing unexpected will happen’.”
Harmony chuckled. “I will. But I expect he’ll be understanding when he hears about our adventure.”
“Which brings us to another problem altogether,” Scarlet muttered.
“What is that?”
“How the hell are we going to explain what happened here?”
“Mr Laws, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Nicolas Laws stood up from the bed, as Colonel White entered his room, followed by Captain Scarlet. In the last few minutes, he had been struggling to put his jacket on, and with one of his arms in a sling, it wasn’t an easy task. The arrival of the Spectrum commanding officer prevented from uttering a curse that would no doubt be frowned upon.
“Colonel White.” Laws vigorously shook the colonel’s proffered hand, smiling widely as he did. “The pleasure is all mine, believe me. I’m glad I’m able to thank you properly for your generous hospitality onboard Cloudbase.”
“It is I who should thank you, Mr Laws,” the colonel retorted. “For the help you provided my officers during this dreadful affair. Without you, they might not have returned to us in one piece.”
“All part of the job, Colonel.”
“I hope you understand why we needed to keep you confined to Cloudbase?” White inquired as he invited his guest, with a gesture, to sit back down. “As you know, your security clearance had not been confirmed at first by your superior – who had the utmost difficulty in even admitting that you existed. Fortunately for you, I know Mr Weston personally – so I was able to, as you might say, squeeze the information out of him.”
“Well, sir, if you were able to do that, then you are truly able to do remarkable things.” Laws smiled. “That’s the downside of being an undercover agent. Nobody really wants to acknowledge we exist. But in the meantime, everyone is quite happy that we’re willing to do the dirty jobs for them.”
“Indeed. I am quite familiar with the work of undercover agents, Mr Laws.” White sat on the only chair in the room, facing Laws. “Your clearance officially arrived early this morning, by the way. Unfortunately, it’s arrived just as you are about to leave us. Your superiors request your return to headquarters as soon as you are able to travel. And I believe you are able to travel now?”
“That I am, sir. With the tender care of your doctors up here on Cloudbase… and of your lovely nurses, of course,” he added, making a show of not noticing the colonel’s rising brow and Scarlet’s roll of his eyes. “My broken arm has been set, and my many bruises and cuts cleaned… And after a shave, a good shower, and three long days of rest, I feel like I’m back from the dead.” He smiled up at Scarlet. “No pun intended, Paul… er… I mean, Captain Scarlet. No offence, pal.”
“None taken,” Scarlet replied. “You look positively civilised now, Nicolas. That makes a nice change.”
“Regarding Captain Scarlet, Mr Laws,” White then said, “I do hope you realise the importance of keeping the secret about his… erm… unusual abilities. We do not wish for this information to become common knowledge, even to U.S.S. high command. In view of the nature of our fight against the Mysterons…”
“… It might be possible that at any moment, one of its members could become an instrument of the Mysterons,” Laws concluded for him. “So you wouldn’t want them to have information they could use against you. Yes, sir. I understand completely. Captain Scarlet’s secret is safe with me, you can count on that. And you can count on my discretion concerning the Mysterons’ real nature, as well. I will already have a hard time trying to explain my encounter with one alien species. I doubt my superiors will even believe me. So imagine if I were to mention a second one…”
“I imagine this perfectly,” White said. “Captain Scarlet and Harmony Angel can bear witness to my disbelief when they gave me their full report on what has been going on.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes again behind his commander’s back, and that made Laws smile. “He was wondering how you would take it, sir.”
“We have received special instructions from the World Government,” White continued. “Regarding this whole affair with Ryoushi’s… extracurricular activities. As you know, Hayato Ryoushi was an important man. With contacts and influence throughout the Asian Republic and within the World Government as well. He was… an intimate acquaintance of World President Younger. And he was regarded as a humanitarian in many circles.
Laws scoffed derisively. “A humanitarian… that no-good… murderer.”
“Nevertheless, Mr Laws… The World Government has agreed to the Asian Republic’s request that the real reason behind Mr Ryoushi’s death remains a secret to the world at large.” Laws looked straight at White at this news and then at Scarlet who shrugged indifferently. “The official cause of his death will be reported as an accident… while residing on his private island in the Pacific. A gas leak, that ended up in a series of explosion that destroyed the house, killing everyone.”
“So no-one gets to know that Ryoushi was really a bad guy?”
White shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Mr Laws. I’m just telling you what I’ve been told. I believe that your superiors will explain things further to you, when you return to headquarters for your report.”
Laws sighed. “Well… I can’t say I’m really surprised,” he muttered. “Considering how this whole affair has been treated, right from the beginning.”
“Yes, it’s been rather a cloak and dagger game, hasn’t it?” White commented. “I must admit, I also didn’t like the information that Captain Scarlet gave me – regarding the World President being perfectly au fait of your assignment, Mr Laws,” White continued with an edge to his voice. “A piece of information that was confirmed during your stay with us, I must add. Indeed, the World President didn’t want Mr Ryoushi to suspect he was under investigation – and also hoped that Captain Scarlet and Harmony Angel would be instrumental in Ryoushi’s apprehension.”
Laws nodded slowly. “Just as you suspected, Paul,” he said, glancing at Scarlet.
“Yes, well, as I said, the World President and myself are not on the best of terms, at the moment,” Scarlet muttered.
“I’ll have a word with the World President,” White said ominously. “Spectrum might be under his direct orders, but I do not take it kindly that important information should be withheld from my personnel – thus putting their lives in danger. This could have had serious consequences for Harmony Angel… and Captain Scarlet as well.”
“How’s Harmony?” Laws inquired.
“She’s fine,” White answered in a softer voice. “She’s been put back on light duties since this morning – on her own request, I might add.”
Laws chuckled. “She is one tough lady,” he said approvingly.
“She told me she’ll come to visit you shortly,” Scarlet said. “Before you leave Cloudbase.”
“I’d very much like to meet her again,” Laws said with a nod. “She’s a remarkable young woman.”
“She is,” Colonel White said, his smile an exact duplicate of Scarlet’s as the latter nodded his approval. “All our Angels are unique, each in her own way.”
“Then I’d be curious to meet the others as well.”
“That might be possible…” White rose from his seat, and Laws jumped to his feet, to stand in front of him. “Captain Scarlet, please arrange a guided tour for Mr Laws, before he leaves us. The usual V.I.P. tour… including the Amber Room. That’s the Angels’ ready room, Mr Laws.” Scarlet acknowledged his order with a brief nod and White addressed Laws again: “I wish to thank you again for all your help.”
“Please, Colonel – don’t mention it.”
White simply smiled. “I’ll leave you in Captain Scarlet’s hands, then.” He turned on his heels, nodded to Scarlet, and left, putting his cap on his head.
The two old friends were left alone. “You seem to have a good commander, Paul,” Laws commented.
“Well… he does have his moments, yes.”
“I haven’t seen you these past three days, since we arrived on Cloudbase and got taken directly to sickbay. Where did you disappear to?”
“I’ve been busy. As you might suspect, it takes far less time for me to heal than any ordinary human being. For example…” Scarlet pulled up the sleeve of his uniform, and presented his forearm to his friend, who could see nothing but unblemished flesh. “The mark Chij’na gave me? It was gone after barely four hours.”
“That must be useful at times,” Laws commented in a pleasant enough voice. “I wish I could heal my broken arm in that short amount of time.”
Scarlet pulled down his sleeve. “Don’t wish it,” he said sharply. “Yes, at times, it could seem like it’s a gift… but most of the time… I consider it a curse.”
Seeing his harsh expression put Laws ill-at-ease. He cleared his throat, and then said: “Sorry, Paul, I had no idea. Of course it must be hard on you. I mean… it’s already hard to absorb… you, with these amazing abilities… It’s true, then, you can return from the dead?”
“So far,” Scarlet said with a thin smile.
“Ouch. Now that’s hard to swallow.”
“I’m still the same guy, Nicolas.”
“Oh, I can see that. You’re still the same insufferable Limey I knew all those years ago.” Scarlet grimaced, and visibly relaxed. Laws smiled at him, and pointed to his friend’s arm. “You think he knew this would happen? The hunter, I mean… he knew about you and the fact you had been a Mysteron agent. So he must have known about… what do you call it, exactly? A healing factor?”
“Not exactly a healing factor,” Scarlet replied. “Retrometabolism.”
“Well, whatever. He surely knew you wouldn’t keep that mark of his very long.”
“I think he did, yes. He probably only gave it to me to save all our lives.”
“I fully expected him to mention to his people you were a Mysteron. But obviously he didn’t. I didn’t hear him say that word… ‘Khujhade’.”
“He didn’t. He could have, any time he wanted. That might have signed my death warrant.”
“And ours as well,” Laws added, musingly. He nodded, slowly. “That was a crazy ride, Paul.”
Scarlet nodded in turn. “Yes. Yes, it was.”
“Ryoushi was an insane son-of-a-bitch.”
“He was insane, yes…” Scarlet admitted. “But still, he did some great things in his time.” And as Laws stared at him with scepticism, he continued: “Did you know it was through his influence that Harmony and many of her compatriots from the Asian Republic were allowed to be members of Spectrum? I thought they were only rumours. I checked, when we returned from the island. It turned out to be true.”
“Still, one – or many – good deeds… that doesn’t make a wrong right, Paul.”
“Perhaps not,” Scarlet mused. “Hayato Ryoushi was a very complex man. I believe he was a freedom-loving man… and he might have believed in justice, and in freedom of choice, once upon a time. Maybe it was all due to all those years he stayed as little more than a captive on that island, with the Yautja training him to become the perfect hunter. He had little freedom at the time… and no choice to do whatever he pleased.”
Laws asked with a scowl. “You’re not trying to excuse his actions, are you?”
“No… I’m not.” Scarlet gave a deep sigh. “As you said, Ryoushi was insane, so I guess it’s fruitless to try to find an explanation for why he was the way he was.”
“On that, you may be right. I have not yet figured out exactly how many unfortunate victims he had… prey or hunters… during those ludicrous hunt parties of his. They must be countless. Now, with the way things are… I’ll probably be ordered to put an end to my investigation.”
“How long have you been doing that kind of work?” Scarlet asked him.
Laws gave it some thought. He shrugged. “Seems like an eternity to me.”
“When you’ve had enough of it – you know, there could be a place for you in Spectrum.”
Laws raised an inquiring brow. “Are you serious?”
“The colonel asked if I could make the offer officially. He thought that maybe it would sound better coming from me.” Scarlet grinned. “You could make a great Spectrum officer. If you put your back into it. And maybe, after you followed proper training, and received your commission – you could even get posted to Cloudbase. I think you’re good enough for it,” he added with a teasing chuckle.
“Oh right – you would think so!” Laws chortled. “But you wouldn’t really like that, would you?”
“Not really,” Scarlet freely admitted. “I can do without the competition. But I know someone who might actually like to see you aboard.” He smiled, refusing to reveal the name. But Laws could easily guess who he meant.
“Harmony?” he said in a doubtful voice. “Come on… she hasn’t even come to see me during these last three days… She’s not thinking about me anymore.”
“And you say you know about women?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow. “Besides… remember that I said earlier that she’s going to visit you, before you leave.”
“Yes… you said that…” Laws became very thoughtful. “So, you think she likes me? A little bit?”
“The real question, my friend, is… do you like her? And you don’t have to answer that: I already know.”
Laws nodded, very slowly, as all kinds of thoughts went through his mind. “I’ll think about your offer,” he said. “But I can’t promise you anything for now.” He reached for his jacket, that he had discarded on the bed a few minutes earlier. “How about that guided tour your commander promised me, Captain Scarlet? Can we go now?”
“Whenever you want, Mr Laws,” Scarlet replied with a smile.
“Then help me put this on. I want to look my best when we visit the Amber Room, and meet those lovely ladies Colonel White told me about. And of course,” he added with a mischievous wink, “I’ll be able to say ‘hi’ to Harmony at the same time.”
“You’ll get into trouble, Nicolas.”
“Hey! My middle name is ‘Trouble’… or didn’t you know already?”
“I knew.” Scarlet rolled his eyes. “But I guess I had totally forgotten about that.”
The stars were bright; brighter up here than they seemed when viewed from his island.
Standing in front of the large viewing bay, the hunter realised how much, until now, he had forgotten the immensity of it all, and how much he had missed it. The island had become his prison, but his restricted home as well, where he was king and master over all he saw, and would decide the fate of whoever set foot on his domain. He had a novice he had trained to near perfection – as far as it could be achieved in an Ooman that was – and he had been proud of him.
His years of solitude had made him stronger, wiser, much more experienced than when he had left his clan, so many, many years ago. He was with his peers now – a Hunter within a pack. No more a king, but he could become a master, and even a leader, if he put his mind into it. So he would be someone of importance, when he finally rejoined his clan.
When exactly he’d be with his peers, he didn’t know – but surely, he was closer to them than he had ever been for many years. He had left the planet where he had been shipwrecked for so long, it was far behind him now, and he had left on it so many memories – and trophies as well, he realised, but that didn’t bother him very much. Memories would always follow him; trophies… he could get others.
He would always remember his novice – his son, as he had come to call him. L’ulij-bpe, the mad one. L’ulij-bpe, who had been so proud that he thought himself better than his n’yaka-de, and who was denied his right to prove it, when he had been murdered by Khujhade, who had stolen his body and soiled his soul.
And who had now been redeemed by his n’yaka-de, who had decided that from now on, he would carry the name of his novice.
He would now be the mad and proud one. He would be L’ulij-bpe.
And the hell with what the other hunters might think. He knew he was their better. He had survived the Khujhade, and killed one of them. He had fought with and beside the impossible legend – the only Khujhade Tbi that any of his kind would cross paths with in the millennia to come.
And truly, he was ‘L’ulij-bpe’ for not having taken his skull, and for even protecting him and hiding him from his peers.
But he regretted nothing of what he had done.
As the ship passed not far from the fourth planet of this solar system, his eye wandered about and he lost himself in his contemplation of it. The atmosphere was filled with rusty ferrite dust and gave it an orange hue; it was slightly smaller than the planet he had left, and there was no water, or trees, or vegetation on it. There was nothing but rocks.
A dead planet, he concluded. Which didn’t hold any life. Thus of little interest for a pack of hunters.
He shrugged his shoulders dismissively, and turning his back on it, walked away from the window.
Now it was time for him to reclaim the life that had been taken away from him for so long.
Now it was time to face his destiny.
It seems to have become a habit of mine… Me, finishing the challenge, with one last story. And me, writing a story that becomes one part longer than I intended it to be.
As usual, this story has been on the planning stage for a few years. I’ve always loved the ‘Predator’. Created by the screenwriters team of John and Jim Thomas for the movie of the same title, ‘the Predator’ – or rather ‘Predators’, as there is a whole race of them – appeared in many other movie sequels , but also, saw their universe expanding in novels, comic strips, and games, which in turned gave inspiration to the latest movies. The name ‘Yautja’, which didn’t came from the movies – were used in the other medias, alternatively with the name ‘Hish’. The name Yautja, originally came from the series Dark Horse’s comic strips ‘Aliens VS Predators’, which inspired a series of novels of the same title, written by Steve Perry, Stephani Perry, and David Bischoff. Those novels provided the most inspiration for this story, especially the first one ‘Prey’, which featured an tricky alliance between a Yautja Elder and a young Japanese woman, fighting the Aliens creatures (from the movie series ‘Aliens’) on a faraway planet called… Ryushi. It’s also in the novels and Dark Horse comic strips that the Yautja language was developed.
Through the many, many comic strips that followed the movies, the Predators encountered and faced many enemies, many of them through crossovers stories from other publishers: the Aliens (or Xenomorphs or Kainde Amedha in the Yautja language, which are parts of the Predators’ culture of the hunt), the Terminator, Tarzan, Batman, Superman, Judge Dredd, etc. So it seemed like a good idea to also make them encounter Captain Scarlet…
Many sources were used for work on this story. Notably, fan websites, who made a wonderful job of cataloguing the many information that could be found about the Predators, especially in view of their culture, and language, such as: Possumpie1’s Deviant Page on Yautja Language, The Yautja Encyclopedia website, Xenopia- Aliens Vs Predators Wiki, Dark Moon Hunters.
Internet also provided much help for Japanese language, mostly for usual phrases: The Freedict Online English to Japanese – Japanese to English Dictionary, the English Japanese Online Dictionary, and many others.
In that aspect, I must also thank Captain Yellow, a Japanese fan of Captain Scarlet, for helping me with some Japanese lines, the through the struggle of proper Japanese addresses, and other useful details. Any remaining mistake I might have made regarding Japanese language and culture (or even Yautja language and culture!) are my own only, and I should be the only one to blame.
My thanks as always to my beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, for her patience, and for the time and effort she made in checking my story. She did a marvellous job in such a very short time. Here as well, I take full responsibility of any mistakes that might still be found within the text.
I do not own either the Captain Scarlet rights, not those of the Predator franchise. I’m just playing with them, as respectfully as I hope, and give them back to their original owners, with an admiring nod to their creators who gave us so much throughout the years.
Happy Halloween 2012.