PAIN! Fiery burning PAIN! Gasping to scream and feeling like her lungs were on fire. She awakened yet again to the echoes of her screams. She was still thrashing around, covered in sweat, gripped by her dark and fiery memories. A weight was pinning her down. Frantically, she tried to push the weight away while brushing the hair out of her eyes so she could see. As soon as her hand encountered the thick soft fur of Shtiya, reality started to return. Reality was brutally reinforced when her missing hand was unable to brush her hair out of her remaining eye. A sob escaped her as she struggled to sit up. Burying her face in the giant Alaskan malamute's fur, she wrapped her remaining arm around the dog and cried. The well-trained comfort dog patiently sat there and licked her hand until she managed to compose herself.
Thank god for Shtiya, whose name meant 'My Strength'. If the VA recovery center had not assigned the dog to her, she almost definitely would have given up and killed herself in the long, desolate, pain-filled years after the IED had blown her apart. The dog and her restaurant were all she had now, and she poured her heart and soul into them.
It was only 4AM, but she knew from bitter experience she would not be able to get back to sleep. She was lucky, her PTSD was getting better and she rarely had dreams of THAT DAY more than two or three times a month. Straightening, she said, "Good girl! Now get down so I can get you a treat." 'Good girl' got Shtiya's ears to perk up and her fuzzy tail swinging, 'down' and 'treat' got the huge snow dog scrambling off the bed onto the floor where she waited patiently for her promised treat. Slowly and carefully, Becky sat up and started getting dressed. Bra, right arm, tee shirt, left leg, right leg, underwear, pants and finally her black eye patch. Carefully standing and using Shtiya to balance, she finished pulling up her pants. Even after all these years, it still took her a minute to get used to walking with her artificial legs. Although she had never been trained to, Shtiya always walked right beside Becky, gently pressing against her left hip. She would turn her head to the side across Becky's thigh to help her balance walking. Having the 105 lb. dog glued to her hip whenever she walked, Becky had long ago gotten rid of her cane.
A brief smile lit her face as she remembered decking the idiot storeowner who had insisted that the dog was not allowed in the store. Only Seeing Eye dogs were allowed in, and the big dog 'obviously' was not one. The police had been very understanding once they got past the image of a raging amazon standing over the poor man with the broken jaw. The fact she had both VA and ADA certifications for her dog meant the dog could go anywhere and everywhere she could.
Patting Shtiya's head again as she walked at Becky's side, Becky went into the kitchen and gave her a large dog biscuit smothered in peanut butter. She then finished her morning rituals and made a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, French toast and bacon. As usual, half the breakfast wound up vanishing under the table accompanied by enthusiastic tail thumping. After breakfast, she headed out to her car.
It was a personal victory that she had been able to get a civilian driver's license despite the extent of her injuries. While in the Army, she had driven everything from Hummers up to the largest heavy haul tank tenders. Now she was limited to a small sedan. Every time she thought about that, she sighed in pain. As usual, however, the sight of Shtiya sprawled out in the back seat made her smile. The huge snow dog almost completely filled the back seat when she lay down, and she was so cute, looking at Mommy expectantly. "Ok, ok," Becky laughed, "Time for a ride."
It is time, time it is. The fools are in place. I've used them well and they never knew. Never knew they danced to my tune. The others are no better, and they will take the blame, let them all go down. Dear Rachael, soon you will have lots of company and the murdering bastards will know what it's like.
The only good thing about the early morning wake up was that she was able to plow through the backlog of the restaurant's paperwork before starting the usual morning prep work. By the time the morning staff finished straggling in, almost everything had been done. In the years since the Confederacy had started doing pickups, her business had boomed. Since the Confederacy often targeted restaurants, diners and cafes for pickups, volunteers and hopefuls flocked to them, just in case. Eventually, she'd had to set a minimum hourly purchase amount to keep people from spending the entire day sitting around drinking water. Even with the required hourly purchases, the place was packed all day, every day. In only a few months she had made enough money to remodel the place and made it into a Wi-Fi hub so business professionals could tele-commute. It was pure luck that the city's building inspector was also ex-Army and had quietly upped the building's maximum occupancy so even more people could hang out all day.
As usual, by 9AM the place was just about standing room only. 'So much hope and dreams packed into one little area, ' she thought a touch bitterly, since she had none. Becky liked to think the food served here helped keep the people coming back as well. Looking around from her vantage point behind the counter she spotted dozens of regulars. Scowling, she noticed the Earth First group in their usual spot in the corner. She absolutely hated them! The fact that there always seemed to be different faces in the mix also pissed her off. How many of the bastards were there? As far as she was concerned, they were as bad as, or worse, than the terrorists she had spent years fighting overseas. Unconsciously, she fingered the huge Glock-20 10mm semi-automatic pistol she always wore concealed in the specially designed hollow area of her prosthetic leg. It had taken years of daily shooting to train her left hand and strengthen her wrist to shoot accurately and handle the punishing recoil. Of course, it had to have been her right arm she lost. It had made her recovery even more miserable having to learn to do everything left-handed. She sighed and moved her hand away.
The Earth Firsters always made her minimum hourly purchases and did not respond to her rudeness or insults, giving her no excuse to throw them out. Well, that one guy had come close, always tapping the most identifiable part of the Metallica song, "One". When the leader of the group noticed how upset she was getting, he made the guy leave, never to return. The nightmares had been horrible that week! Besides, she did not really want to risk coming in one morning and seeing nothing but a smoking ruin where her beloved restaurant used to stand. As long as they played by her rules, and the government did not declare them criminals, she swallowed her personal prejudices. As she so often did though, she fantasized about drawing her gun and systematically shooting all eight of them. She never knew about the frighteningly feral smile that bared her teeth or about the hot fury that filled her remaining eye as she dreamed about filling the Earth First terrorists full of 10mm hollow point bullets. Being so focused on the table she knew about, she completely missed the other two tables with unfamiliar faces.
Rana looked over at her boss and shivered. Becky had that look on her face again and it scared the crap out of her. She had never gotten the story of what had happened to Becky, but it must have been bad. Even with the deep wrinkles etched in her face by pain and sorrow, Becky was still strikingly beautiful. At almost 6' tall, she towered over Rana. Becky's single gray eye was really pretty; at least it was when she didn't have the look of an insane berserker looking for a victim. The eye patch, dark clothes and long braid of bright red hair hanging down to her ass reminded Rana of a pirate captain. Just looking at her got Rana hot and bothered, much to her embarrassment. She knew with her CAP score of 5.8 there was only one way off the planet and she really hoped it would be at Becky's side. The thought made her blush yet again, but it was true.
Of course, Becky had never shown any interest in anyone, male or female, and Rana was far too shy to try and initiate anything. At 5'2" tall and slightly overweight, she was completely dwarfed by the huge woman. To her great annoyance, she had managed to inherit her father's short, squat Inuit genes rather than her mother's tall, thin Cherokee build. She had to admit though; she had gotten her mother's beauty. It looked like her twelve-year-old twin daughters would grow up to resemble her mom in both looks and physique. It was too early to tell which way her seven-year-old daughter would go.
She sighed bitterly, it sucked being single, it sucked being a single mom with no one to help her and it especially sucked knowing she was stuck here to become an alien's snack unless someone chose to take her away. On the bright side, since the place was so packed all day, every day, she was getting paid about five times what a waitress normally made, not counting the small fortune in tips she got. Being well-off financially for the few remaining years before the Swarm arrived definitely beat the hell out of being poor and stuck in a roach-filled, one bedroom apartment that she could barely afford. Things had not always been that way, but after her asshole husband managed to get himself killed in a drunken driving accident and the lawsuit the victim had filed was settled, she had barely been able to afford to breathe. Being treated like a pariah by the other members of the tribe had not helped at all. She had been forced to stay in the city, albeit in a crappy slum rather that the nice condo they'd lived in previously. Moving herself and the kids into a nicer place had been the highpoint of the year.
It was really convenient that an opportunistic entrepreneur had opened a day-care center right next door and had offered the restaurant staff free child care. This way, the regulars could spend the day hoping for a pickup without having to worry about their kids being forced to behave in a restaurant all the time. The heavy security at the day care center was also a reassurance for them. Neither a psychotic ex-spouse nor Earth First terrorists nor money-seeking kidnappers had any chance of getting in. Many of the regulars were quite wealthy, as were the professionals who worked in the area, so they willingly paid a premium for the heavy security. 'Oh well, ' she thought, 'enough wool-gathering, time to make some money.' She plastered on her best "I'm really glad to be here helping you" smile and returned to work.
Dirk leaned over and whispered to Mike, "On the bright side, at least if we have to stay here all day we have a pretty hot waitress to look at."
Mike scowled but had to admit Rana was pretty cute, even if she wasn't white. The patriot said today was the day, so they were all tense and looking for any distractions to help the time pass. Looking around for their busty waitress, he noticed the owner looking their way. Despite his fighting Irish blood, growing up in the Combat Zone section of Boston, numerous fights against dark-skinned gang trash with his fellow skin-heads and eight long years in prison, he was afraid of her.
He had seen the dossier his superiors had put together on her when his group was assigned here. Sergeant Rebecca Rose had spent fourteen years in the army, with six of those years being the range coach for her transportation unit. A qualified expert with both the M-16A3 and the 9mm pistol, she was also qualified to range coach machine guns, grenade launchers and shotgun combat courses. She had volunteered for the spec-ops program and completed training with both airborne rangers and the Green Berets. This qualified her to be deployed with Special Forces units to assist in post-combat field ops. He was not too supportive of the program. Who honestly cared how traumatized the damn village women were after their men were killed in a firefight. It was their own damn fault for being there in the first place and supporting the terrorists.
Included in the dossier was the after-action report of her last convoy mission as she was transferring to a Special Forces unit. As much as he hated to admit it, she had some serious balls. He was pretty sure he would not have been able to do what she had done. After getting blown up by an IED, she had managed to drag herself to a flanking position where she was able to pin down the attackers with the RPG's long enough for the surviving convoy personnel to retreat, firing her M-16 with her off-hand, one-handed, using rubble to balance and brace it. She had been willing to sacrifice herself to save them, knowing when she ran out of ammunition she would be killed or worse, assuming she did not bleed to death first. She'd had no way of knowing there was a helicopter gunship escorting a medivac chopper only a few miles away. By the time it was over, she had four unconfirmed kills and one confirmed kill caught on the Apache's gun camera as it flew in and flattened the building the insurgents had been using for cover. Yup, she was a tough fucking bitch; to have survived wounds that the most experienced military doctors were certain would be fatal. Despite the loss of one eye, traumatic brain injury, skull fractures, amputation of her right arm and both legs, extensive abdominal injuries, six broken ribs and a collapsed lung, she had managed to pull through.
He wished he had met her before she was injured! Hell, she was still pretty hot despite her injuries and being on the wrong side of 40. He tried to picture her young and naked, YUM! The images, fantasies and the physical result quickly vanished when he saw his death in her insane glare. He had seen that look from her before, always directed at their table. A cop friend of his had been able to confirm she had a concealed weapons permit, so he was almost positive she was packing, even if he had never seen any evidence of it. That was why he had ordered his men to absolutely behave no matter how much she provoked them. It was also why he'd assigned two of his men to kill her immediately if there was a pick-up.
A commotion by the door drew his attention and his adrenaline spiked when he saw the group of four women and ten men standing by the door. They were wary, watchful and moved like professional soldiers. Grabbing his grenade, he prepared himself for a fight, reassured by how his well-trained men tensed for action. Noticing Rana walk over to them, he sighed in disappointment. The entire group were Asian and below average in height. Seeing their large gym bags, he realized they were just a bunch of athletes and he had misread their moves. Damn Asians! They needed to go back where they belonged and stop stealing jobs from real Americans. Knowing Confederacy Marines were extremely tall and mostly Caucasian, he told his men to stand down, false alarm. Sadly for him, he missed the determined-looking woman and her above-average-sized male companion that slipped in behind the group.
Pasting a polite smile on his face, Seiji returned the waitress' friendly greeting and said it would be fine if his group was split up. He reassured her that he understood that there far too many customers here already for them to accommodate such a large group. Akane leaned over to Seiji after the waitress left and whispered, "Did you notice?"
"Yes," he replied, "Three groups, all armed, ready to start shooting. They will be our prime targets when the Confederacy arrives."
He was still not entirely pleased that the clan elders had ordered them to come to America to be extracted. Of course, he had obeyed. The habit of a life-time of obedience could not be denied. He had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the elders had been correct. The clan had existed for centuries, moving and adapting as required when discovered or threatened. It had taken years, but he had finally understood why the clan had quietly stopped any questionable activities. They must have realized early on that criminals would not be allowed to leave the planet. So, while the clan did not appear in any known criminal databases, the elders did not want the alien AI's to believe the Hollywood movie version of ninjas and find anything that would stop the extraction. Since there was no place on Earth safe from the Sa'arm, the elders had decided to send most of the clan members off-world to survive and continue the clan traditions.
After researching all the businesses in the city, they had chosen the ones most likely to have a large number of volunteers. Once that had been determined, making a list of nearby restaurants, day care facilities and other probable pickup locations was child's play. They quickly set up a network of spy cameras in the best surveillance locations and settled in to wait. For the last two weeks, the clan had been on standby, studying targets and getting familiar with the city. They spent most of every day driving around in rented vans, waiting for extraction info. When the call had come in that there were possible Confederacy Marines near this restaurant, they thankfully were only a few blocks away and were able to race here before an interdiction field went up. They were inside now, so all was going according to plan. Hopefully, they could spin their skills well enough to get picked up as a group.
"No, I meant the woman behind the counter," Akane corrected. "She looked like she was in a kill-trance and was ready to act."
Looking around the restaurant, which really resembled a cyber café with all the businessmen and women using their tables as workstations, he spotted the tall American woman with one eye. He was impressed in spite of himself. She was clearly a warrior, her bearing being almost identical to Akane's. He could sense her dangerousness as well as the hostility she held toward the largest group of Earth Firsters.
"Hmm, we definitely have a common enemy, but keep an eye on her. You are right, she is too dangerous to ignore." Nodding her agreement, Akane made her way over to the counter and sat down. The rest of the clan scattered around the restaurant, sitting as close to the Earth First terrorists as possible while trying to remain out of the direct line-of-fire.
Becky was not sure what had snapped her out of her bloody fantasy, but something had set off her internal warning bells. She had been too engrossed in her fantasy to notice the Earth Firsters tensing for a fight. Looking around, she noticed the small group of Asians still standing by the door. They made her a bit uneasy so, after telling Shtiya to stay, she quietly slipped over to them. The leader had been busy giving directions and did not notice her quiet approach. He had an air of command about him and he moved like some of the veteran Special Forces instructors who had trained her. He was short, being only about 5'5" tall, but solidly buiLieutenant Her unease increased when she noticed the Asian woman who followed her from the counter. Watching her reflection in the window, Becky could see the woman moved like a dancer. Coming up behind the Asian man just as he finished giving what sounded suspiciously like orders in Japanese, she side-stepped, putting her back to the wall so she could see both the man and the woman who had followed her. Opening her mouth, she said...
Suddenly a harsh, croaking voice came from right behind Seiji. "Who are you and what the hell kind of trouble are you planning?"
Surprised that he had not sensed anyone near him, Seiji spun around, hands vanishing into his clothing, coming nose-to-tit with the speaker. He was stunned to see the tall woman from the counter only a few feet away from him, her back to the wall, obviously splitting her attention between him and Akane, ready for a fight. Her size, skill and beauty all grabbed his amazed attention, but what really shocked him to the core was that the woman who had managed to sneak up on him had crippling injuries, missing one arm and both legs, and yet he still felt uneasy being on the wrong end of her hostility. Despite all his deadly skills and training, a woman using prosthetic legs had snuck up on him and intimidated him. He was in lust! No matter what he had to do, he was going with her when the pickup occurred. Even her harsh, destroyed voice had a strange beauty to it.
Slowly removing his hands from his clothes and showing them to be empty, he bowed and said, "My name is Seiji. I am the leader of this group. We were ordered off-world by our clan leaders and found out there would be a pickup here today." He could see Akane's shocked frown as she realized he was revealing their secrets to an outsider, but he continued anyway, "I scattered the others around the room to make sure any trouble was handled."
The rage was cooling, red rage, nice and warm. Can't let it go, it's all that's left. Remember, remember what they did, what they have done and why I must pay them back.
'So what happened to Mike? I haven't seen him today.'
'Didn't you hear? One of his concubines attacked him'
'Her name was Rachael Kitty, so he decided to make her fit her name and made her into a cat-girl. Apparently she freaked when she saw what he'd done to her and attacked him. They shoved her into the nearest recycler and he had a new concubine by the end of the day. Idiot, never make a woman look like your dream, make her look like HER dream and your life will be amazing.'
Rachael, my Rachael, my dear sister, I missed you by one day. You are gone now and they don't even care. They murdered you! Murdered! Murdered! I will make them pay! Shhh, easy now, quiet like the mouse, no patient like the cat, waiting to pounce. Yes, that's me, the cat waiting to pounce, and when I do, they will pay for what they did. Family means so little to them. I'll show them. Today is the day.
Looking around the room, Becky spotted the Japanese slowly, casually spreading around. Four were about halfway to the large group of Earth Firsters. "Clan?" she asked, noting the skill they exhibited by the way they moved.
"Yes," the Asian man, Seiji, responded, "We are a clan of n..."
A loud, amplified voice cut him off. "May I have your attention please?"
By the time the female voice had finished speaking, a gray field had cut off all outside views. With a yell of, "Death to the alien-loving traitors!" the Earth First table she had been watching earlier jumped to their feet. To her chagrin, two other tables of apparent Earth Firsters that she had missed also jumped up, drawing weapons.
Time froze, the trouble she had been half expecting for months unfolded around her.
Snap shot- the large man and woman, apparently Confederacy Marines, moving back-to-back drawing some type of brass knuckles.
Snap shot-three tables of men, 17 total, jumping up and drawing pistols, sawed-off shotguns and one even holding a fucking grenade.
Snap shot- Seiji and the Asian woman tensing for combat, their hands suddenly filled with star-shaped throwing weapons.
Snap shot- the other Asians lunging toward the Earth Firsters with a variety of weapons, including swords, in their hands.
Becky even had time to see the resignation on the faces of the four Asians lunging toward the back of the restaurant, knowing they were too slow to stop the man with the grenade. Suddenly, she was locked back in her bloody fantasy, complete with ringing ears and the sounds of screams. Only this time it was real.
As fast as he and Akane were to fill the air with razor-sharp shuriken, the redheaded woman had been even faster. A huge, semi-automatic pistol suddenly filled her hand and with surprising speed and accuracy, she gunned down six of the eight Earth Firsters on the far side of the restaurant. The first person she dropped was the man holding the grenade, and when it detonated, the remaining two Earth Firsters had no chance. Ironically, their bodies and the hardwood table they had been in the process of overturning for cover protected most of the patrons from the grenade blast.
Seiji followed the tall woman's gun hand with his eyes as she ejected the half-empty magazine and dropped it to her leg. He was impressed when he saw that the seam in her pants was open revealing a holster built into her prosthetic leg. Apparently, drawing the gun had released a simple spring-loaded mechanism that caused a spare magazine to lean out at exactly the right angle so she simply had to slam the gun against her leg in a well-practiced move to reload. Having only one hand, she had been forced to improvise, since reloading one-handed was slow and extremely awkward.
She had impressed him repeatedly in the last few minutes. There was no fear in her, just a deadly resolve to kill the terrorists. In less than 10 seconds, his ninja team and the red-haired woman had killed all 17 men. By the time the Marine reinforcements had poured into the restaurant through the kitchen, it was all over but the screaming.
"Freeze," the tall redhead yelled, her harsh voice cutting through the screams. The initial two Marines, seeing the huge gun pointed at them, did just that. "Drop them, NOW!" she snarled.
Exchanging grim looks, the two Marines complied, and then raised their hands high. With a few gestures, Seiji set his team in motion. Flashing unhindered through the confused, shocked mass of people, the ninjas surrounded the Marines before they were even noticed.
'Oh well, ' Seiji thought wryly, remembering the saying about plans and combat, 'how the hell am I going to fix this mess?'
Lieutenant Whyte was stunned by the disaster. Almost before they could react, the restaurant owner and the Japanese group they had used as a distraction when they came in the restaurant had slaughtered well over a dozen Earth First gunmen who had obviously been waiting for the Marines, and then taken her entire squad prisoner. She had no idea what the Asians' intentions were, but they were helpless at the moment and could only hope for the best.