Ming Tian, Part IV Calm Before the Storm “State Security, open up this instant!” A heavy gloved hand, covered in Kevlar and heavy metal designed for further protection smashed a staccato of notes on the wooden door that led into the apartment. The commander of this operation grimaced even more and smashed out another staccato. “Open up this instant, State Police! Do so now, or we will enter by force, and you will have waived your rights!” Luke watched in his own State Security armor from a safe distance away from the door. A tipoff from one of the neighbors on this hallway had led State Security here on the path of Ming Tian, devious assassin that he was. Luke’s leg throbbed, but he had left his pills at the office, and it was too far to go get them on an operation like this, and besides; Luke wanted to see Ming Tian be captured in the flesh, so that way he could possibly pay back the bastard that had crippled him. The commander was just about to rap on the door one final time before they broke in when it cracked open slightly, revealing a rather thin, bedraggled Chinese man standing in the doorway, looking like he was fresh from bed. Granted, it was about six thirty in the morning on a weekend, and that accounted for that, but all of the State Security personnel were watching him carefully. Dressed in undergarments and rubbing his eyes, he looked at all of them and raised his hands into the air, with half of the surrounding delegation of State Security troops raising their weapons to track his movement as he did. “Officers,” he began slowly, “I have not done anything.” He adjusted the glasses on the bridge of his nose and looked at them all as he crouched on his knees, several State Security personnel having automatic Tiger Industry rifles in their hands pointed at his skull. If he made even the slightest threatening movement, his brains would be patterned across the floor like so much exploded watermelon. “Clear out the apartment, look for any and all evidence,” the State Security commander ordered. “You know what we are looking for… secret compartments, chests, evidence of any kind, including newspaper clippings and whatnot. Anything that ties him to the assassinations, I want found and identified… and if he is clean, he can return back to his home and resume life.” About a dozen State Security officers nodded and filed into the room, rifles raised as they spread out and assumed formations to clear and make sure that nothing would possibly spring out at them, and that the Chinese individual did not have a friend of multiple friends hiding inside with shotguns at all. Luke proceeded in behind the State Security officers, limping slightly, gritting his teeth as he had one hand on his leg and gripping the scar tissue, as he continued to look around the apartment all around him. It was quite a nice place, if a little messy. Upon entering the apartment, the little foyer was mostly empty except for a welcome mat, a spot to put shoes, and two tables that balanced the mail and the newspaper respectively. Despite these humble beginnings to the dwelling, it opened up dramatically into a two level central hub of the house, with large windows looking out over the southern edge of Washington. It was quite large in this area, with a spiraling staircase heading upwards to the higher level, and in front of the windows was a large computer setup, of no less than three different machines and nearly half a dozen screens, with all of them currently on. The desk supporting them was made out of solid mahogany, and the general look of it appeared to be that it was a central hub for the entire apartment; items and empty containers were scattered left and right, as well as a massive amount of disks and removable flash drives, with huge amounts of data storage. A nice television was put above a woodstove against one of the walls, and adjacent hallways leading off towards the kitchen, a bedroom, and other areas of the apartment could be seen from a variety of directions. And the books! Bookcases around many of the walls, both on the first floor and on the second floor, going from floor to the next level or ceiling in many locations, filled with a variety of different types of literature and scripts, covering a variety of subjects. Luke limped by several of the bookshelves, looking at the titles as he did so; Dante’s Inferno, War and Peace, the entire twenty seven book collection of the Lance Chronicles, and many more books and collections of novels and assorted literature. It was amazing the amount of written material that this one man had contained here, and Luke was rather surprised at this. One wall was dedicated to posters of all shapes and sizes, from a variety of movies and shows. Some were American centric pieces of cinema and media, and others were Chinese and Japanese style tales, from anime to the heroic bloodshed films the government was discouraging but had not committed to stamping out, and even some Roman and German entertainment items here and there. As more of the man's frivolous belongings were being parsed through, and Luke was starting to grow concerned. He had expected something more along the lines of a military centric style home with manuals on weapon maintenance and on shooting and using weapons, or perhaps a Spartan type environment completely devoid of luxuries and strictly geared towards training and preparing for assassination and combat… not something like this apartment, with someone who apparently enjoyed a great selection of items that he enjoyed. It was frustrating… they had come to find Ming Tian, and yet again, it had been a false flag, a false flag with which they had not been able to find Ming Tian… yet again. The rest of the men of the State Security detachment were still sweeping through the apartment, but by the looks of it, they were finding nothing of interest at all. Some of them appeared to be quite frustrated by this, and one by one they started to file out of the apartment again. The commander out there rose his eyebrows at each man that passed by him, and each man shook his head and proceeded by. Luke hobbled out after them and shook his own head when the commander raised his eyebrows at him. Frowning, the State Security officer turned away from the door and towards the Chinese man on the ground, hands on his head as rifles were trained on him. “You are free to reenter your domicile, sir,” the commander said, “But keep in mind, we will be monitoring you for the time being due to supposed connections between you and an undesirable target. Keep that in mind, and remember this well; if we find out that you have been dealing with said individual, we will not be merciful next time and will not be taking you out of that apartment alive, or in one piece to be precise. Now, have a good day sir.” State Security then proceeded to march down the hallway and out of sight, Luke hobbling along behind them with his bad leg in tow. Ming watched the State Security officers go through the pair of binoculars he had, on par with the military sets that they handed out if not better. They came with infrared, night vision, long range zoom, and a variety of other features for such a seemingly low technological device, and functioned remarkably well despite the heavy use that they often had. Right now however, he was busy watching the State Security officers march in single file out the door of the apartment building and move towards two waiting vans that would take them back to a State Security compound somewhere in central Washington. Ming had only distaste for the State Security officers and men for the most part, since after all, they were no better than the Roman OVRA secret police and almost as brutal, if not more so, then the Chekra and the Russian Cheka. Ming had contemplated bombing both of the vans down there to strike some more fear into the hearts of the State Security officers, but that would only invite reprisals on the Chinese community, which had become quite common whenever Ming decided to start killing people. Killing the Roman man had been easy, and his crimes were many and varied, but there was still work to do, and people to kill; an assassin’s work is never done after all, and you just have to keep going and keep killing till you reach the very end. The State Security vehicles slowly drove away as Ming watched them go in silence, puttering off into the distance as they left the apartment that they had been investigating. Ming had almost lost an informant to them, and he was glad that he had not though, as sources of information were always wanted and gladly needed. Ming would have to apologize to the man later for the trouble that had been caused to him due to the association that they both shared… putting his friends at risk was something that he would rather avoid if at all possible. “I cannot believe we failed to find that damnable assassin or any other evidence in that damnable apartment.” State Security Patrol Commander Jacob Greaves fumed as he drove the vehicle, Luke in the seat beside of him. “How in the utter hell could we not have found anything is my question, something that will probably never be answered after all. That assassin is slippery as hell, and even though he has been quiet for a month or two now, he’s still out there. We got the President and the Committee for the Continued Preservation of Order in the State up our collective arses due to the whole fiasco in downtown Washington with that dead businessman, and damn it if they aren’t angry that the bombings on the munitions factories all across the State are becoming a problem! With a possible war with Rome on the horizon, and possibly Germany as well, we can’t afford to suffer this damned assassin to be wandering around destroying assets and materials across the State left and right!” Luke popped a pill into his mouth and rubbed his bad leg gently, the muscle pulsing slightly with pain. “Not my problem, Greaves, I am just here to oversee Washington operations since the San Francisco State Security Division has been rather… misplaced at the moment.” “If you mean blown to hell by that whole nuclear blast that wiped out half of the city, you got that nailed on the head. The only reason San Francisco isn’t completely rubble at the moment is because it was an overcast day with a slight drizzle at some points, which means that most of the fallout and radiation came right down on top of the city… but why you are here in Washington, I will never understand. The commanders up at State Security must see something in you that the others do not, as from what I have heard from others, you've been put on the backburner.” “What’s that supposed to mean, Greaves?” Luke looked at him carefully, a hard look in his eyes. He was not in the mood for this ****e, not now, not today. “Please… elaborate since you decided to bring it up.” “To be quite frank, Luke, you are someone that many of the others in division around here don’t really trust.” The car turned smoothly onto the downtown overpass and they began the long winding swinging route over Terry Hill. “First off, you survived that whole debacle over in San Francisco when we had a whole lot of people die over there, including many good soldiers of State Security. Then of course, there’s that whole thing with you being friends with a guy out of the Verbenschwa. Say what you will about State Security, the Verbenschwa are worse by a long ways, and we at least have some compassion and feeling. Those over in the Verbenschwa… we can’t stand them and we don’t like them, and not a whole lot of love is lost between them and the other parts of the security details organized by the State.” “Considering some of the friends that other members of State Security make, and the Ehrenguard State Security section that they have, the friends that I have and that I have made have no bearing upon this situation. Quite frankly, a few of the Ehrenguard section that they have trained and ready make some of the Verbenschwa sections look like basketfuls of puppies in comparison.” “If you count the non-combatant ones… I don’t know about you Luke, but the guy you know and are acquaintances with is not known as a good person in State Security and in other areas of the security details throughout the state. He may be a record and archivist keeper for the Verbenschwa, but don’t let that fool you; he’s a dangerous man.” “And what do you know of this Greaves? What experience do you have that has any bearing upon this conversation at all?” Greaves was silent for almost a minute as the car drove slowly along the overpass through the skyscrapers and apartment buildings that loomed into the sky all along the route that they took. Quietly, he spoke slowly and carefully. “I was once Verbenschwa myself, soldier in the ranks back before the Twenty Hour War. Your friend had a reputation in the Verbenschwa, even amongst all the psychopathic sociopaths in those ranks that they have up there, and you have to be especially violent and horrible to earn yourself a name that makes even the most hard ass of those guys to shudder when other bring up your name.” “I am quite frankly surprised that you served with the Verbenschwa in all frankness.” “Not surprising at all; we have a very heterogeneous mixture of operatives, and people that don’t find a good spot in one organization or group will be sent off to another one. You have State Security guys sent up to the Verbenschwa and then sent back to the Ehrenguard because they’ve learned all that they can from the Verbenschwa. And you have the agents as well… supposedly made up of guys from the State Security forces, the Chekra, the Verbenschwa itself, and even small, elite groups from the Ehrenguard and the Information Corps.” “The agents are a small group, not major players in all things… they say that they have hardened criminals and murderers in there as well, and that they also kill and murder dissidents in the State whenever they are ordered to do so.” “And what is it exactly good that we do?” “We round up dissidents, we have a job to do.” “As do the people in the Verbenschwa, and the agent program. They have jobs as well Luke. Mark my words, Luke, mark my words carefully, it’s going to get bloody if you don’t know what you are doing. And if you put too much trust in people and don’t ask enough questions or ask the wrong ones, you’ll end up dead if you aren’t careful…” Greaves trailed off at that point as he looked ahead, the sentence that he had been detailing falling away like a man off of a cliff as he and Luke watched in horror up ahead. The first truck in the line heading back to the State Security division headquarters for the southern part of the city was up nearly three hundred feet on the long road, separated from the rest of the convoy by a flock of civilian cars that had merged between the convoy when Greaves and the other had lagged behind. That didn’t matter much though, because at the precise moment that Greaves had trailed off, it ran over a manhole cover in the center of the street with its left tires, and almost completely disintegrated at that point. “Mother of God…” Graves cursed as he whipped the wheel around to avoid a civilian car that had stopped short, and the four way street was suddenly filled with obstacles. Luke hung in there, his bad leg hitting the side of the dashboard left and right as he bit back screams of pain, while ahead the broken van that had been taking State Security forces back to base burned with a scarlet and orange light. Four cars around the van on the four lane road had been blown apart as well, and burning vehicles littered the street, but the van was the center point, half of the vehicle gone, and pieces of it raining from the sky. In horrified fascination, Luke forgot all about the pain as bloody body parts started to smack into the ground. Greaves slammed on the breaks and narrowly avoided hitting a civvies’ car with the front end of the van, and as both he and Luke clambered out, one walking as fast as he could and the other limping, the sound of sirens started up, fire and police sirens as State Security personnel clambered out of the other vans with assault rifles and other weapons in tow as they started yelling and shouting at people to get back from the bloody, flaming carnage that had engulfed the security forces ahead. Greaves paused about fifty feet from the wreck, Luke catching up to the best of his ability as the other man craned his neck forward and put his hand up to his eyes to see closer to the wreck, searching for survivors in the flames. It was a lost cause though; everyone inside of it was dead by now. The smell of cooking flesh, the foul odor of horrible things, could be detected in the air, a fetid and hideous thing to behold, and Luke put his hands up to his face and started a violent coughing fit. Oily smoke rose out of the shattered front of the car, what was left of it at least; the gasoline tank had ignited and fed the flames on slowly. The ammunition and weapons inside of the vehicle started to cook off at this time, a shallow popping noise in the air, like a piece of wood with sap in it that had been lit up. “I think we ought to be moving back just a tad bit, don’t you think?” Luke grabbed Greaves’ shoulder and started pulling the man back with him to safety, as the sound of sirens filled the air. The radio on Greaves’ collar squawked several notes, as did the one on Luke’s hip. Greaves responded immediately and listened in as the words came in and let his eyes grow wide at several points as the orders flowed in. He clipped it off once the orders had been given and turned to Luke with a glance of determination and sadness. “We have to get the men together Luke, orders from the top; we have to conduct a roundup of sorts…” “Where exactly are we going to be heading to, Greaves?” “Sarjaku Ghetto, lower slums… we are supposed to round up as many German expatriates and ethnic Chinese to start… purging them. We have orders from the President himself. He’s putting the hammer down now, since apparently the Liberation Front decided an attack upon the state was in order now…” “We aren’t really going to be purging the Ghetto, are we? That’s sheer madness! That’s only reserved for the worst case scenarios!” “Our new president has apparently decided that it is time to start this… there are about four hundred thousand bodies in the morgues and graves due to terrorist attacks all across the State, and the President has ordered us to do it, or go off to be executed. Personally, I like living Luke, so we have to do this work before all else, and apparently, we have some Liberation soldiers hiding amongst the expatriates.” Greaves turned away and started to head back to the van, ammo popping in the background as the first fire trucks arrived on scene to deal with the blaze. “Saddle up Luke; it’s time for some blood that will be coming on the horizon.” “Apparently by the looks of it, our business is doing excellently sir, more so than anything else that we have dealt with before; the State is buying up huge amounts of chemical gases and acids, and a variety of biological weapons, and we of course are happy to provide.” Sherri, Hargreave Zhang’s assistant smiled. She was a short blonde woman of about twenty four years of age, and a good assistant to the CEO of Wulf Western Syndicate, and was giving him the listing of prices and shares and other financial data that they had been amassing for quite some time at this point. Zhang, a former soldier of the State, smiled as she did so; money made the world go by, and he was more than happy to provide weapons of all shapes and sizes for the regime so in that way, he could compete with those blasted Dai-Ichii weapons makers who had their fingers in everything. “Any new contracts that the State officials have seen fit to hand to us after our last assignment? We got all of that blasted nerve and chemical agents to the State on time and in good speed as well, beating our deadline by more than six days.” “The State has contracted us for another batch of the agent that we have been producing, about three thousand tons of the agent and also more production of artillery, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and a variety of handheld weapons for soldiers, as well as a select few vehicles, such as the C-22 Cecil tank and the M1 Abrams that they are keen to mobilize and use in order to expand the armored sections of the State Army.” Zhang smiled at that. “Very nice; how are our production rates at the moment?” “Our production rates have exceeded almost a hundred tons a day, and by the current rate, our production chain shall end up producing two hundred to three hundred tons of the viral agent every day, as well as gas and everything else that you have requested. Our current arms manufacturing means that we are producing almost two thousand handheld weapons for soldiers every hour. We are also producing six artillery pieces and two tanks by the end of the day, and with the expansion that Wulf Western Syndicate is undergoing, it appears to be that we will be increasing production with the opening of new factories.” Sherri smiled at Zhang on that last note and jotted some little tidbits of information onto her paper. “Thank you for the update and all the good work that’s been done for us here; we appreciate it.” Zhang stood up and pulled a pipe out of his desk and put the tobacco in it, and lit it gently. “Go ahead and take your leave ma’am, but be careful; I hear that the State Security has been in an uproar due to some sort of bombing that went on in the downtown today.” “Will do sir, have a good evening.” Sherri picked up her stuff and walked out the door of Zhang’s office as he smoked on the pipe gently, little tendrils of smoke wafting up into the air of the office to be slowly dispersed. It was a nice office, if a little bit too extravagant for the old soldier in him, but that had been years ago, and he was nearing his early seventies, unfortunately. A fine mahogany desk, the one that was indeed the central focal point of any office that a businessman called home, was displayed prominently, and quite Spartan, with only a small desktop computer there, with various other pieces of business littered around the desk. Cabinets lined the walls behind his desk, filled with papers full of information that were worth more than some of the people that he employed; some media outlets and international authorities would not take kindly to learning that a company within the State producing chemical and biological weaponry also made weapons, artillery, tanks, missiles, ammunition, handheld rifles, communication devices, and children’s toys, as well as using the money from all of those ventures to fund items of interest that could be called “insane.” There was a knock on the door as Zhang looked out the window of his office down onto the main courtyard of the facility, surrounded by sharp, grey stone walls. Zhang snuffed out the flame in the pipe and grimaced towards the door. Who in the hell could it be at this time of night? He started towards the door, but paused when the knocks came again, and louder. No businessman that he knew did that, they were more than happy to wait and be polite to the person that they were coming to see, and it wasn’t security either. If something was the matter, they would have phoned up to his office and alerted him, and Zhang would have waited with his semi-automatic pistol till they came up and secured the area… Some might say that that was rather incautious of him, but Zhang was an expert marksman with the pistol and had killed more men with it than there were people in some small villages and towns out in the countryside sometimes. Another knock on the door, and then the phone rang gently. Zhang picked it up while looking at the door and scrabbling for the locked part of his desk to open it up and get out his pistol. “Hello, Zhang’s office, Wulf Western Syndicate manufacturing, how may I help you this evening?” A strange voice came over the line, accented and cultured. The man on the other end had a Chinese touch to his voice, and he spoke quietly over the line. “Open the door, Zhang.” Zhang dropped the phone and clicked it off as he brought out his pistol, loaded an extended clip into the weapon and aimed towards the door. Several moments passed, and then the sound of someone kicking down the door sounded. A black combat boot came through the polished wood of the door with ease, withdrew, and followed by several sharp cracks as two knives punctured the area above the lock. Zhang flipped the safety off and carefully locked the gun, crouching behind the desk. The door flew off of the hinges in one smooth movement, splintering apart and fracturing as it sailed through the air. It skidded along the floor, as a tall, black cloaked man with a white mask stood in the doorway, looming out of the shadows to stride forward, double knives in hand and gripped firmly as he made his way towards Zhang. Striding like that, he was easy prey for Zhang’s marksmanship. Zhang fired twelve times in rapid succession, aiming for the center mass like he had been trained to do. Three bullets thudded into the center of Ming’s chest, another two clipping him in the right shoulder, four his left shoulder, and two in his mask, with one swinging out and burying itself in the wall behind the assassin. He kept going though, apparently not even wounded, as he broke into a sprint, towards the desk, as Zhang reloaded a clip. As Ming began to vault over the desk, Zhang rolled along the floor away from the desk, aiming as he did at Ming, firing off the remainder of his clip at the assassin that had come for him. Zhang might be old, but he was not going to go down as easily as the Roman man had. Six bullet crashed through the air, two hitting Ming in the chest again, and all the others missing. Rolling behind cover, Zhang ejected a clip, and grabbed a seemingly decorative knife that was actually an heirloom from his grandfather, and wielded it, blade pointing downwards against his arm. “Come at me, freak.” Ming turned towards him, and whipped towards Zhang, two knives arcing down. Zhang caught them with his own blade and held the knives there, pressing back against Ming and forcing the assassin to bend backwards to try and avoid the knife in case it released. “You are weak assassin, I can best you like you bested the Roman… and then, your reign of terror shall be ended as suddenly as it began.” In response, Ming took his foot and drove it up into Zhang’s abdomen, and sent the older man hurling backwards. Zhang stumbled as Ming moved forward, to stab him once in the abdomen and knock the knife out of his hands and kick it away. Bleeding, and still falling and stumbling backwards, Zhang smashed into a spare coffee table, falling through it as it splintered as it broke underneath his bulk. He coughed up blood, and felt three pieces of polished wood that had punctured his skin. Two of them were apparently in his digestive tract, and another had sliced through a lung and poke out just underneath the skin. He smiled slightly at it. Whoops. Ming kicked the pieces of wood around the fallen businessman, before taking his hands and gripping Zhang by the collar and hauling him up by it. The mask obscured most of the man’s face, but his eyes, his eyes had only hatred and bloodshed in them as he looked at Zhang and growled out in a low voice. “Hello Zhang, care to give me some answers?” “Let me guess, you here want to know exactly who are what Phantom Six is, and what purpose he serves.” Zhang grinned wide as blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth and ran down the sharp curves and lines of his face. “Aren’t you in luck then? I happen to know some of the answers that you seek, but I’m unfortunately not telling.” Ming hurled Zhang against a wall, and the latter man could feel the splinters going through his skin. A violent coughing fit ensued as pieces of lung and blood came up and out. “Now that was uncalled for, assassin… What makes you think I am going to tell you after that episode?” “If you don’t, I will kill you, Zhang.” Ming had a knife and pressed it up against the businessman’s neck . “I’m dying anyways, assassin…” Zhang smiled weakly now. “But I’ll let you know something… look for Mr. Fang, and maybe then you will pick up the trail.” “Where is he?” “South… to Buenos Aries, in the city… I will warn you though, the President and Colonel Hargreave won’t really tolerate you at this point.” “Sleep well then, merchant of death.” Ming twirled the knife between his fingers, and slammed it into Zhang’s throat. Everything turned red and Zhang died with a smile on his face.