Future Nerf: Chapter 5

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READ THIS FIRST!

This is being added to the beginning of every chapter of the former "Future Nerf" series that I wrote several years ago. While the story is available for nostalgia purposes, it must be understood that the story as I've understood and developed it is a far cry from what you'll find here. Please do not modify or construct any prequel/sequel/alternate stories of your own based on these. One day when I've put all my thoughts into words there may be a re-release...not only of these chapters, but of the entire story, beginning to end, which no one has seen yet. Aside from this, enjoy :-).


February 16, 2012, 0600 hours

Boomslang had begun the longest part of his dream after seeing the bombing of RADHQ's building. It was a climb. An endless, dark climb to the top. The top of what he didn't know, but he knew he had to get there. And so he continued the climb. He climbed for an eternity, and finally he had a feeling that he was reaching his unset goal. The climb became more difficult, and he began to remember what his real life was about, finally separating the events of his dreams from his true memories. Finally, he reached a hand up past the highest, final obstacle...

...and, laying in the hospital bed, opened his eyes onto the brighter world. Immediately, the readings on the hospital equipment changed drastically, welcoming Boom back to the conscious world, and alerting the doctors to his condition. His eyes adjusted quickly to the room's lights, and as Dr. Kim entered the room, he was sitting up stretching.

"Do you think you'll need any sleep for the next few days?" Echo asked jokingly. Boom smiled, "I don't think I'll ever need to sleep again. Why am I not tired? I thought waking up from anesthetics caused that." "You would be tired," Echo explained, checking some charts, "if you had awakened straight off of the gas. But you didn't. The anesthetic filtered out about eight hours ago, and you decided to sleep in, it seems." "Well, that's something," Boom said, looking at the date on the digital clock, "I've been out longer than you thought." "Yes, you were," Echo confirmed, "Apparently, the nanobuilders planning on doing a more thorough job." "I'd like to get back on the job, especially if the nanobuilders are working," Boom paused, "What's the status on those?"

Echo smiled again and said, "They set in exactly as planned. You should be able to use the construct at will," she stood up, "I'll leave you to get dressed now, but I want to run a couple of tests to determine how potent this system really is. I'll let you get used to it for a few days. Who knows, it will probably help you with any fighting you have to do between now and then."

"I can go now?" Boom asked, surprised. "After you get dressed," Echo said, and left the room.

Boom felt more alive than he had in years. His step was fast and light as he went home, showered and changed, and made his way to RADHQ to report in. He'd requested that no one contact Custer: He wanted to surprise everyone. Surprise didn't quite describe the activity of the RADHQ room when Boom walked in the door and announced himself. Everyone but Custer was there.

"Looks like you slept in a bit," Ace said, shaking Boom's hand, "I'm Ace, good to meet you finally." "You too," Boom said, "What's been going on while I was out?" "Ah, not much," Curt said, "it's been pretty quiet, but Custer's back now."

Almost on cue, Custer burst in the door, flipping through a stack of papers, and looking anxious. Noticing that Boom was back, he only threw a quick nod, and said, "about time you were back."

Everyone knew this was important. They didn't wait to be called, they all gathered at the central table. Custer finally finished reviewing the papers, and then threw them down on the table, heaving a sigh. "Three government agents went missing yesterday," Custer began, "They were inspecting the Hasbro complex here in Nerf Central. The complex's power usage level increase by three hundred percent, and the agents were sent in to discovery why after the government was unable to talk to Hasbro reps about it." "If they're missing agents, why don't they go in after them?" Sharpknux asked.

"They hired us because they wanted free agents in the mix should something go wrong," Custer replied, "In short, they don't want to lose any more of their people. They're running low on agents as it is. Our job is simply to find out if the agents are there, if there are, rescue them, and secure the general area so the other government agents can go in and clean up. We're going to take the safe approach, just go in, ask for tours of the various facilities, and we look for anything suspicious. They will certainly recognize us, and most likely suspect us of working with the government, and this is to our advantage. If they have nothing to hide, they will have to reason to work against us. If they try to hide anything...you get the idea. I want everyone here to help out with this. Boom, can you fight?"

"Probably better than before," Boom replied confidently, "I'd be in even if you didn't invite me."

Custer nodded once. "Good," He then pulled out one of the sheets he had been reviewing before, an area map of the Hasbro complex, "Ace, you'll be stationed as a sniper in this group of trees. You're going to be in position before we arrive, and you don't leave until after we do. You need to monitor all outside activity and report it. Curt, the government produced all this information from Hasbro systems they hacked for evidence," he handed several sheets to Curt and Cam, "As you can see, there was nothing solid, but a couple references to some unnamed meddlers from yesterday. You two need to access one of their servers from the source. It can't be reached from outside at all. Sharpknux will check out the factory, Boom will take the warehouses, and I've got the administrative block."

Cam looked skeptically at her objectives. She knew the actual main objective shouldn’t be a problem, but if there was combat...she wasn't looking forward to it. Curt didn't seem to mind it. Ace was looking forward to his first job as a real sniper. Sharpknux and Boom both had itching trigger fingers. Custer, if anything could be said, just wanted to get it over with. His job of finding the company's CEO would no doubt be the most difficult if things went sour in the beginning. Hasbro's security was supposed to be good, but the few elite guards in the executive section were rumored to be the best in the business.

Custer looked down at his hands, flexed them. It had been a long time since he had engaged in any true hand-to-hand combat, although he knew his capabilities well. As much as he hated to admit it, he wanted to fight too. Finally, having briefed the team and setting a 1500 hours departure time, he left for the martial arts studio.

Everyone was so occupied with the concept of the mission that they barely noticed Custer's departure. They all knew that this mission had a fifty-fifty chance of going smoothly, and in either case, only a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding at all. Nevertheless, they began preparing.

Curt sat down at his station, plugging his PocketPC into its docking cradle, charging it and transferring essential tools and data, right down to items that he probably wouldn't use, but might like to have. He researched the kinds of systems Hasbro used in the interior, and completely familiarized himself with the hardware and software. He was already a professional. Learning a few new twists was no difficult task, and within an hour's time, he was prepared. All that was left were weapons. He settled for a single SecretClip: he didn't like traveling heavy.

Sharpknux and Boom believed otherwise. With evil grins, they entered the armory room and turned on the lights, revealing hundreds of weapons and munitions. They knew there was a chance that the mission would go smoothly, but truth be known, they didn't want it to. They wanted some action, and they wanted to be prepared for action. They each threw on a Quickdraw backpack on top of holster-filled trench coats. Now the fun began. They pulled many assortments and combinations of weapons out of their places, taking much time deciding what weapon would be most easily drawn and used from where, where ammo would be most effectively stored, and so on. They ended up carrying at least sixteen semi-auto or fully automatic handguns, not to mention several shotguns and carbine weapons that the Quickdraws were designed to hold. When they walked out, they felt much heavier, and far more powerful. The trench coats performed wonderfully, not revealing too much about their interior, and not getting in the way too much as they moved.

Ace settled for a chair at the headquarters’ main table, tuning his personal Hyperstrike for the mission. He tuned the scope until he was sure he could shoot accurately enough to split an atom, or at least hit someone square in the eye at fifty yards. Finally, he carefully limbered it in its back-strapping carrying case.

Cam prepared her techie gear in much the same way as Curt had, but hesitated when it came to choosing weapons. She hadn't studied them much, and in general had very low confidence in her fighting abilities. Ace finally stepped in, and persuaded her to carry a pair of Duzi Threes.

Duncan would have enjoyed the occasion immensely had he been there to be a part of it, but right now, Duncan was in China, once again about to travel, this time to Japan. He wasn't directly enjoying his training, but knew he would enjoy the results.

Custer, at last, made it to the martial arts studio that members of RAD usually practiced in. In fact, they practiced there so regularly that he, Duncan and Boom all now had photographs on their entrance wall. Custer paused to look at them.

"How would you handle this?" he asked in the silence, regarding the other twos' faces

Shaking his head, wondering why he was talking to photographs, he knew that at long last it was time to relieve some of his stress. Disappointed that there was no one in the studio to challenge, he changed into the lighter fighting attire and headed for the center of a circle formed by five large punching and kicking bags, each about five feet tall, suspended from the ceiling and tethered to the ground. He snapped into a multi-directional defensive stance in the midst of the bags. Twisting his waist to face forward again, he jumped in the air, and back slightly. In mid air, he threw his right leg into the bag behind him, laying in the momentum and pushing off toward the two in front of him. Still in the air but coming down toward the two, he slashed his arms back and forth twice and landed chops on the top of both bags, pouring enough inertia in to significantly soften his landing. Immediately, he launched himself off the ground again with his left leg, twisting left and side kicking one of the side bags with his right leg. Pulling back quickly, he landed on his right leg, and spun left toward the last remaining bag behind him, using the momentum of the twist to land hundreds of pounds of force on it with the heel of his right hand. He resumed the stance in the center again, and repeated the routine, this time jumping higher, landing lighter, and hitting harder. He did this three more times, but on the fifth round, he varied his approach. After side kicking the fourth bag, he landed in a crouch, and then launched himself fast at the fifth with a flying kick.

Custer hadn't realized exactly how much force he was exerting in this workout until that critical instant when he hit the punching bag. Barely able to stop his flight, it split in half, spraying torn foam and other materials over the floor. As he maintained his balance and landed, he saw the top section of the bag hanging empty from the upper hook, while the bottom half had simply fallen to the ground, spilling its contents out half way. Custer looked at his hands again, and saw the red marks from the impacts. He had surprised himself, not knowing his strength had actually increased in the time he hadn't fought. Deciding to apologize to the owner later for the damage, Custer changed again and headed for the door. Before he walked out, he noticed a pile of concrete slabs someone had left nearby, but had either forgotten or failed to break. With a slight smile, he brought his hand down on the stack, cleaving it from top to bottom and leaving a dust pile beneath it. Satisfied, he headed back to RADHQ.


1430 hours

Everyone was gathered at RADHQ once again, and Ace was just leaving to find and take up his post. Custer was reviewing the operation with the rest of the team, and going over some floor plans of the buildings each person was assigned to. Half an hour later, they had double-checked their load out and were ready to go. Piling into Sharpknux's team van, they strapped in and set off for their target. On the way in, Ace contacted them, reporting that he was in position, and there was little activity in the complex's outdoor area, though several small groups of security guards had passed through.

The Hasbro complex was divided into five buildings, which formed a semi-circle around a central outdoor rotunda. The one in the center of the semi-circle was northern-most of the buildings, and it was the administrative section. It was here that the team would start their "private" investigation. To the West were the data center and one of the warehouses. On the eastern side were the factory building and a second warehouse. The van parked in the outer parking lot, about two hundred feet out to Ace's left. The parking lot went forward several hundred more feet before it met the complex's rotunda. Several business people walked about talking to each other, and several regarded the RAD team cautiously as they approached the administrative building.

Custer was the first in the door, leading his team in. The lobby area of the building consisted of a row of twenty pillars on each side of a long, wide hall that led to the front desk. A receptionist, busy redirecting more lines than any of the RAD team had seen on one phone, looked up and asked how she could help them.

"We're interested in touring the facilities," Custer informed her, "we've got separate buildings we want to see." "If you'll wait just a moment, I can assign tour guides to you all," the receptionist said politely. "And I need to speak with the CEO, if he's available," Custer continued. The receptionist's face paled slightly. "He's not," she said a little too quickly, "If you come back another day, you may be able to set up an appointment." "Oh, alright then," Custer said, not having to fake disappointment much, "I'd still like to tour the rest of the administrative section.”

"Hold on one moment, and the tour guides will be here," The receptionist replied, relieved, as she picked up the phone again.

Someone else was watching as the RAD team requested tours. The man that had coordinated the near-fall of the US NPG two months ago gazed at the screen built into his desk. The Hasbro complex was secretly allied with him, and as such, he had access to all their resources. He had watched the team enter the lobby and make their request. That's what he was afraid of: an investigation. Without hesitation, he ordered a squad of Hasbro security guards in to apprehend the team. Switching off his monitor, he turned to more important business.

After waiting several minutes, the team still saw no sign of the promised tour guides. Custer was becoming suspicious. Curt and Cam were looking nervous. Boom's arms were folded, feeling the grips of the weapons inside their coats. Sharpknux looked ready to explode. Custer happened to look back to the entrance door, just in time to see at least ten...no, twelve security guards move in.

"You there, please remove any weapons you're carrying and put your hands over your heads," said the squad leader, a man about Custer's equal in height and weight, wearing a navy beret.

Custer signaled the team to hold their position for now, and walked quickly to meet the squad halfway between his team and the door. He faced the leader. "What seems to be the problem?" Custer asked politely. "I've been ordered to detain you and your group," the leader replied, bringing out a set of handcuffs, "Please face the pillar and place your hands behind your head."

Custer played along, turning the long way around to throw a discreet wink at his team. Custer faced the pillar, about four feet from it. Two guards and their leader faced Custer's back. The other nine headed for the RAD team at the desk. The team put their hands behind their heads as well. They stood in a long row, with Cam at the left, then Sharpknux and Boom, with Curt at the right. They watched Custer carefully, knowing he wouldn't let this happen. He didn't. "May I ask why?" Custer questioned. "No," the squad leader replied, "I'm not even allowed to ask why. I just get the orders and..."

Custer jumped at the pillar, his feet hitting it four feet from the ground. Sharp and Boom's trigger fingers were as itchy as ever, and the millisecond Custer jumped, they had used their somewhat hidden hands to each draw a shotgun from their backpacks. Cam and Curt leapt for cover behind the pillars in opposite directions. Custer kicked back off the pillar, back flipping and twisting around in one fluid motion. Using his momentum, he landed his feet in the faces of the two security guards, and landed behind them. When he touched the ground, he threw his left leg back, kicking the guards' leader in the back and smashing him into the pillar.

The noise distracted the guards, who hadn't caught onto the fact that Sharp and Boom were armed. Two shotgun blasts echoed through the lobby and two security guards zeroed. Custer ducked for cover behind a pillar, yanking his Secret Clip from its suspender holster. Curt, behind a pillar closer to the desk, leapt, flying clear of the pillar, speeding past the next, and landing on his shoulder behind a third, all the while loosing shots blindly at the security rabble. One of them fell, another clutched his arm.

So it was that half the security squad was down before they knew what happened. Boom and Sharpknux moved behind cover, reloading their weapons. The security guards dashed in the direction of the door, and to cover behind pillars further away. One of them strayed too far past a pillar, and was corrected by two shots from Custer's SecretClip. Custer worked his way up to Sharpknux's position.

"We don't have time for this," Custer whispered over the tension, "Do you think a level three Nerf bomb would take them out?"

Sharpknux shook his head, "In an area this wide with this strong of pillars," he said, "I'd go with level two. Better get back past the front desk to the side entrances."

"Come out with your hands up!" a nervous, cracking voice asked politely from down the lobby.

Too late. The team, except for Sharpknux, had slipped behind cover to the less obvious side exits. Sharp planted the Nerf bomb next to his pillar, then ran for it, under fire. The Nerf bomb blew a second before he exited the door, and the air compression tossed him out. Flame filled the lobby, and deafening crashes were heard where several pillars fell, but the rest held, and the now-empty lobby remained standing.

"You've all got your orders," Custer said over their combs, "Let's do it." The RAD team split up and headed to their designated buildings. Custer went back inside, and worked his way through the outer offices and their panicking workers.

Somehow, in the lobby chaos, the doomed security guards didn't manage to radio news of their situation to their control center. The sole monitor in the control center had also taken that opportunity for a coffee refill break, and the entire scene went unnoticed. Concern arose upon hearing the explosion, and when the screens were checked, he found that there was no signal coming from the lobby. In this confusion, Curt and Cam were able to make it to the data center without being noticed.

The data center had extremely tight security, but not live security. It consisted of consisted of codes and locking mechanisms that were sure to be safe against any violent attacker.

That would be true if the intruder had been anyone but Curt. Far from He could use his PocketPC's wireless network connection to hack the door controls, but that would take too much time, and there was a chance that the main door wasn't connected to the network at all. Instead, he pulled out a pair of wires, plugged them into one of the PDA's three data ports, and then loaded a circuit analyzer program. Raising his right leg, he kicked the cover off the key panel. Curt attached the wires to the data transfer lines inside the panel, and began testing codes. In a matter of minutes he had slipped in the correct code, and the door slid open.

Sharpknux was also using the outdoor confusion to his advantage. Walking right up to the factory, he was greeted by a security guard. Obviously concerned about the recent explosion, he had opted to remain at his post anyway. "Are you with a tour guide?" The guard challenged. "Well, I was going to be, but something happened," Sharp answered, ready to pull the Larami Hunter from his pack again. "So I see. Maybe we can help schedule a new appointment for..." "I planted a bomb, that's what happened," Sharp retorted. By the time his words had sunk in, Sharp had his shotgun out and had blasted the unfortunate security guard out of his way. Pumping his weapon again, he kicked the front door open, and began to lovingly "investigate" the factory.

Boom, like the others, had confusion on his side in getting to the first building on his list, the West warehouse. There was no security outside, but upon entering through the personnel door on the right side of the front wall, he saw that there was, in fact, plenty of security inside. Deciding to keep a low profile, he slipped in quickly and shut the door again. None of the guards had noticed him yet. Two huge lifting arms were busily scooting crates around, or lifting them out the back door. He sneaked around each crate carefully, reading their markings. Some were being shipped off to various outlets and stores, some to larger teams, and many were being sent to various military bases. Must have approved a military budget increase after all, Boom surmised.

Boom was now roughly in the center of the room, on the blind side of an extremely large crate, and saw that the markings on it showed that it was off to Obsidian Tower itself, although the contents line was blotted out. Suddenly, Boom was shocked to see the label rise away from his face. He thought he was dizzy at first until he realized that one of the lifting cranes had picked up the crate he was looking at, exposing him to the security guards. The guards, having been watching the container, spotted him immediately and raised their weapons.

The cooler side of Boom's head prevailed as he recalled Dr. Kim's instructions. Looks like a good time to test the nanobuilder construct, Boom thought. He tossed his mind into sudden, perfect relaxation. He felt a slight pulse in the back of his head, and the world slowed down. The guards on the balcony still had their weapons trained on him as the ones on the lower floor moved in. Suddenly able to move and think faster, Boom had his Hunter out and ready. Before any of them realized it had happened, one guard was down, and plastic shot was heading speedily toward another guard's face. Boom leapt backwards, flipping in mid-air to land atop a five-foot tall crate. As he looked up, he saw two guards jump from the balcony straight at him! He raised his weapon and fired before they were halfway down. He pumped the weapon again before the shot had even hit the guard on the left. To his dismay, the shotgun was empty when he pulled the trigger. Spinning the weapon by its trigger guard, he let it fly for an instant, and then caught it by the barrel in a firm grip. His last shot had just hit the first leaping guard, and the second was getting dangerously close. Boom sidestepped, and swung the shotgun into the second's chin. The guard's position changed, and he was suddenly flying feet-first past the container he had aimed for. Tossing the useless weapon away, Boom dove off the container just as the guards on the floor regained their senses and rained a hail of foam at him. He ducked behind a four-foot crate, and pulled out a pair of Duzi Threes. He turned and jumped on top of the container, then leaped again toward the next crate between him and the guards, bringing his weapons up and firing bursts. Even with the extremely fast weapons, the time between each shot seemed an eternity to Boomslang. Between two shots, he reminded himself to thank Echo for leaving that syringe where it had been. Now on the last crate, the ammo in the Duzis spent, Boom landed in the middle of the security guard crowd, some of which were still floor-bound.

The guards knew better than to try to shoot in such close quarters with so many teammates nearby, so they moved as fast as they possibly could to take Boom down hand to hand. They were soon doing worse than they had with guns. Boom saw and was able to calculate ever muscle twitch, every flick of the wrist.

The guard right in front of Boom now was carrying a Wildfire AR, and attempted to bring it up in reverse to Boom's chin. Boom caught it halfway, when the weapon was parallel to the floor. Raising it suddenly with both hands, he sent the guard flying past his comrades. Boom squeezed the trigger down to empty the last few rounds right before he flung it into the stomach of the guard behind him. The guards on either side leapt for Boom. Boom ducked, allowing them to crash into each other, as he swept the leg of the guard that had just received the Wildfire AR to the pelvis, and then reversed position to kick his chin when he had almost hit the floor. Shoving off the ground this time with his arms, Boom ignored the guards trying to help his first attacker back to his feet, and concentrated on one to his left that had dropped his weapon in favor of an old fashioned punch. An unprofessional and, quite stupidly, inefficient punch. Boom humored him by letting the fist close to within two inches from his face, then stepped left and turned right, grabbed the arm, twisted it, and threw the guard in the direction of the punch. He landed on top of the two that had conveniently knocked each other senseless.

Boom smiled. First time using his new abilities, and he was starting a body pile already. All sorts of evil thoughts about how high he could make the pile rise entered his head as a guard beside the last one attempted to roundhouse kick Boom. Boom jumped straight up, rose above the guard's leg right as it passed him, and threw a kick into the guard's face that, had he not been teleported out immediately, would have certainly broken his neck. Boom landed facing the opposite direction to face a short Asian with well-toned muscles in a disciplined fighting stance. He moved more quickly than anyone else, but Boom could see everything happen, and went to work blocking one attack at a time in turn. The guard fired off three punches, which Boom blocked with a spinning forearm, the palm raised. When the guard stopped. Boom paused, then shoved his palm all the way out into the guard's chest. The guard flew back, disappointed.

The group decided that now would be a good time to pull back and try for the weapons again. Boom stood there as they retreated, pondering what to do next. Glancing to his right, down the warehouse, he saw an airshaft in the floor with the grille ripped off. Running for it, he jumped in headfirst as several darts barely missed his foot. Once deep inside the tunnel, he could hear loud machinery, and see swirling light from moving parts. He took the tunnel in the opposite direction.

Custer had found his way to the back of the administrative building, after handling several security guards who tried to stand in his way. He entered the elevator and punched in the button for ten, the top floor. To his slight annoyance, the elevator stopped at nine, and as the door slid open, he saw two of the elite security guards prepared to rush him.

Curt and Cam had been working their way through a labyrinth of halls and small computer rooms until they finally found the main server room at the back. It was clearly marked, but was closed, and had no keypad or entry apparatus.

"Must be triggered by a remote device that transmits authorization information, or..." Curt said, pulling his PocketPC out once again, "triggered manually. This may take a while."

It took a few minutes, but not as long as Curt had thought. Maybe he was just too good. Using the wireless network connection, he was able to break into the internal systems and open the door. Curt knew that there was no chance now of keeping the investigation a secret. He whipped out the NPG search warrant card.

"Everyone move away from the consoles, this facility is under government investigation!" Curt yelled, marching in.

One of the techs dove for a console, typing lock and erase codes frantically. Curt drew and shot him before he hit the enter key. The tech hit the floor, not quite zeroed. Looking to the workstation, Curt simply unchecked the "emergency format" command, and logged in using the password the tech had entered.

"Thanks," Curt said looking down at the crumpled tech, "You just saved us a lot of time," Curt tapped his comm, "Curt here, data center is secure."

"Acknowledged," Custer replied from the elevator. Two unconscious "elite" security guards lay on the floor, tied with their own belts, as the elevator rose to the top level.

"Ace here," a voice crackled over the comm, "a copter's cranking up on top of the administrative building." "We may need to track it, Ace. Tag it for me," Custer ordered.

"Got it," Ace replied, manually loading a magnetic homing dart into his Hyperstrike. The copter, its blades now at full speed, began lifting off the roof. Ace winked through scope, and lined up the crosshair with the tail of the aircraft. He squeezed the trigger suddenly, and a split second later was able to see the tracker securely attached. The foam tail fell away, and the beacon was activated. Ace reported his hit. "Copter is tagged...uh oh..."

Ace saw two of Hasbro's security vans pull into the lot. They must have come from the nearby training facility, Ace guessed: Hasbro's security was maintained as a sort of private militia. They hadn't prepared for this. "They've sent in backup, get out now!" Ace warned as thirty fresh, prepared troops swarmed out of the vans. "Almost done here, hold your water," Curt said. "I'm a little busy here..." Boom reported from deep inside an airshaft, heading for what sounded like a vent. "But I just started having fun!" Sharp whined: He had been hunting down factory security guards and owning them one by one. "Ace," Custer ordered, "do not fire on the guards. Observe only, and report what happens to the government agents. Do you think we can get back to the van?"

"No chance, but if you hurry, you might be able to regroup," Ace said, watching the soldiers dash towards the rotunda.

Custer found the CEO's office empty. The CEO had most likely fled on the helicopter. Breaking into a run, Custer took the stairs to the bottom of the building to meet his team.

Ace watched as the Hasbro troops dashed towards the complex. He choked back the recurring urge to open fire on the threatening crowd. As he watched, he saw Custer, Sharpknux, Curt, and Cam exit buildings one at a time. Seeing the approaching guards, they ran up to a huge smattering of barrels and crates at the front of the rotunda. It was a simple matter to arrange them into a makeshift fort as the troops semicircle around the entrance.

A well-balanced standoff was in progress when the government agents, hearing Ace's report, arrived to pull the RAD team out. Two armored cars pulled into the parking lot, and twelve agents, led by Durst, sped on foot towards the scene. They approached the Hasbro guards' captain.

"We've got the situation under control," the captain explained, "This area is our jurisdiction, so you may as well leave." "Curt, have you got all the evidence from the servers?" Custer asked. "Yeah, it's all on here," Curt replied, pulling out a disc in a slim line case. "In case this doesn't work," Custer said solemnly, "Make sure it gets to the agents." "All the same," Durst replied, "some persons involved here fall under our jurisdiction. Please stand aside." The captain showed no sign of backing down, until the second part of Custer's plan went into effect. Right on time, the local news reporting crew pulled up to, almost on top of, the scene. Durst smiled.

The Hasbro troops were in a lose-lose situation, and their captain knew it. He couldn't possibly attack the agents without Hasbro's disloyalty being exposed, and he had no way of knowing what information the RAD team had acquired. He thought it might be alright, that maybe they had found nothing, as the RAD team left their makeshift fort and headed for Durst and his agents. One of their teammates wasn't here, after all. Probably zeroed or captured. And they obviously hadn't found the underground complex, or the captured agents. Before he could think any more happy thoughts, he saw the fountain in the middle of the rotunda explode. The blast staggered the now-yelling guards and news crew as the rush of compressed air simply ruined a whining reporter's hair.

The dust settled, and the captain's hopes were dashed to pieces just like fountain. Boom emerged slowly, pulling himself out of a gaping hole in the ground. Everyone watched as he reached down and pulled three very tired, disheveled, but alert agents out of the passage. The agents cuffed the Hasbro security guards, who were too shocked by what had happened to resist. The captain fainted.

"Well, from what you gathered here, it looks like Hasbro was maintaining their military contract while also shipping weapons out to suspected gangsters," Howard said, laying some papers on his desk, "But they're no longer suspected gangsters. These documents also confirm their activities and identities."

The RAD team sat in Howard’s plush office, along with Durst and Smith, for their debriefing. Mir sat nearby: Howard had called her here, but so far had told no one why.

"So what's going to happen to this factory?" Custer asked. "The other Hasbro V.P.s are choosing a new CEO for the company," Smith reported, "The factory will be operational in a matter of days. The underground facility is being shut down pending specialized investigation." "We've spent the last four hours clearing the facility," Howard continued, "It turns out our boys weren't the only ones captured. Mir, this is the reason you're here."

Howard pressed a button on his desk, and the door opened. An agent and doctor escorted Crystal in. Curt, who had turned around, was out of his seat with a pistol drawn in an instant. It was Crystal...but not nearly the same as any of them had seen her recently.

"I think I can explain the problem you recently had, Mir," Howard began, "Crystal did not, in fact, betray your team. Ah...in this theory, I suppose you still have the traitor locked up?" Mir indicated that they did.

"Good," Howard continued, "It looks like your real bodyguard was taken captive, and someone else put in her place." Mir, dazed, pulled out her phone and pressed three buttons. She instructed her people to bring the prisoner immediately. About ten minutes later, Crystal seemed to be standing next to her reflection. "I believe you recall me mentioning my sister," Crystal said to Mir, "Allow me to introduce Amber." "Identical twins," Curt whispered.

"You remember me saying we lost contact a year ago?" Crystal continued, "Seems she's been busy." "I remember," Mir confirmed, "What happened?" "One of those moments when I knew I'd regret letting you out of my sight," Crystal replied, "Right after the NPG attack I screwed up. I only remember seeing Amber for a second, and then...I've been wondering where I was and what was going on outside until now."

Discussions went on for another hour, Crystal catching up on all that had happened. Finally, Howard dismissed everyone. The RAD team welcomed Crystal back, except for Curt. "It's going to take some getting used to," Curt had said, "not wanting to kill you."

Amber sat patiently in the central back seat of the Luna hovercraft during its journey back to the security building. Analyzing her situation, she knew this was the only shot at escape she was going to get. The pilot concentrated on her flying, content to let the two Lunas on either side of Amber watch her back. Many times Luna mercenaries traveled in pairs. One would be an experienced warrior, the other a rookie assigned to her for instruction. Looking at their insignia, Amber saw that this was the case. The one on her right was the veteran. Amber remembered the course they had taken the first time, and now waited for the right moment to execute a plan.

Finally, the pilot brought the craft lower and turned tightly to the left. Amber twisted to the right and threw her right leg at the sliding door. She hit the panel squarely, and it flew open. The Luna near the door had no time to regain her balance from the turn before Amber's left foot sent the veteran hurtling towards the streets. The other Luna, obviously not confident having lost her teacher, attempted to rush and arm lock Amber. It was a simple move, but just as simple for an experienced fighter to counter. Changing the rookie's grasp to a grasp of her own, Amber threw the rookie out the door as well. The pilot went for a pistol stored in the cabin, but had it kicked into the air as soon as she brought it around. Catching the airborne weapon, Amber shot the pilot in the head twice. The pilot was zeroed and teleported out in seconds. Moving quickly, Amber kicked out one of the cabin access panels, revealing the GPS and tracking system. After tearing free several wires to hide the craft's position from scanners, Amber took the pilot's seat. She gunned the thrusters for altitude, then set her course east, out of the city, across the United States, and over the Atlantic.