Liu Kang closed his eyes as he sat cross-legged in the middle of the darkened room. Four candles, at the cardinal points, flickered across his eyelids. He took a cleansing breath, trying to concentrate, and to clear his mind of all his thoughts.
It was not easy. There was something in the air, something disturbing, that he could sense at the fringes of his mind. He wasn't sure where he had gotten this ability from, but it had served him well over the years, and he trusted it.
He opened his eyes, looking around him, as though the problem would be written in glowing letters over his head. The only things glowing were the candles, flickering against the wall.
"Something's the matter," he whispered, concentrating, speaking to the deities in general. "But what is it?"
In the ordinary realm of existence, such a query, directed at the universe at large, would remain unheeded. But Liu did not belong to that group of mortals. His circumstances were special.
As soon as he had asked his question out loud, one of the flames began to flicker wildly, dancing madly in front of him. He stared, slightly bewildered, as the flame grew in proportion, splattering sparks every where. He got to his feet and stepped backwards. The flame was nearly as tall as he was. Suddenly it seemed to shudder, and became the figure of a woman, who brushed the remaining flames from her bright red clothing. She looked right at Liu, bemused. "You rang?"
"Hiko, you frightened me," he admitted, calming down. "I wish you didn't do that."
"I would never let it hurt you," she replied, referring to her fiery entrance. "I just came to let you know that Jax is here."
"He is?" Liu exclaimed, taking a moment to remember. It had been several months since the mortal had been introduced to the captain. "I--"
"Woah, there." Hiko held up a hand. "He's not actually here yet. He's coming. Rayden's gone to greet him."
"I wonder if that's what I'm sensing," he mused out loud, thoughtfully. To his surprise, Hiko looked downcast. When he frowned, about to ask a question, she simply nodded, and then sighed.
"We don't know what it is, but Rayden'll find out," she said, certain. "I just hope we can help."
Jax looked up as a peal of thunder boomed overhead. A moment later, he remembered where he was. "Rayden?" he said aloud. "All right, where are you?"
"Is that any way to greet a friend?" the god asked in an injured tone from just behind Jax's left shoulder. "Hey, long time no see. How've you been?"
"Fine," Jax said automatically, then grimaced. "No, not fine."
"How's Sonya?" Jax didn't answer. "How's Sonya?" Rayden repeated a little louder, in case Jax hadn't heard.
Jax looked down at his boots, avoiding Rayden's eyes. "So you don't know. I was kind of hoping you already did--I mean, that's the sort of thing you--"
"Jax. Take it easy." Rayden stepped in front of him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "What's the matter?"
"It's Sonya," Jax answered dully.
"What's Sonya?" Rayden asked. He frowned. "Just a second."
There was a flash of light, and the two of them were abruptly inside the Temple, sitting on a comfortable sofa. "Much better," Rayden said with satisfaction. "Now we can talk." He held out a mug. "Coffee?"
"No," Jax snapped.
Rayden shrugged and took a sip. "So what's wrong with Sonya?"
"She--" Jax seemed to steel himself. "She bought it a few days ago. We were on leave last week, and--"
"Bought it?" Rayden repeated. "Bought what?"
"She's dead!" Jax shouted. Rayden looked taken aback. "Sonya. Is. Dead. I came here as soon as I could, to tell Liu; I thought he ought to know, since he and Sonya were so close."
"Ah," the thunder god said, after a long pause and a sip of coffee. "I see."
"That's good, 'cause I sure as hell don't," Jax muttered, getting off the sofa and starting to pace back and forth. "I've been replaying it over in my mind--wait a second--what exactly do you 'see'?"
"What the fuss was about," Rayden replied, easily, simply, calmly, still drinking his coffee. "We could sense your agitation from miles away."
"We? Oh, right, Hiko." Jax shook his head. He had to remember about the god's wife; it wouldn't be polite or prudent to forget her. He sighed.
"Hiko actually noticed before I did," Rayden admitted, almost sheepishly, "but then I wasn't really paying any attention, I've been helping with the monk's training..." He trailed off and shook his head. "Never mind that. Hiko's with Liu. I'll get her to bring him, and we can all discuss this--"
"There's nothing to discuss," Jax snapped, suddenly, irritated and frustrated beyond tolerance. "Sonya's dead and I--"
He was interrupted by a flash of light as an orange and red ringed portal opened; Liu stepped through and then Hiko. The portal closed neatly around her.
"And you what?" Liu asked, curious. "It's nice to see you again, Jax."
"It's nice to see you too, Liu," Jax answered, hollowly, at a loss for words. Hiko, meanwhile, crossed over to the sofa and sat down neatly on Rayden's lap, taking care not to spill his coffee. He didn't look upset.
"Was I right?" she asked him. He nodded, and she turned to look at Jax. The captain realised that Liu was staring at him as well. He was center stage now. Time for the speech.
"I--" He had gone over what to say; he had prepared something and it was gone. Completely. Out of his head. "Sonya--is dead."
Hiko and Liu stared at him, uncomprehending, unblinking. "What?" Liu stuttered, shocked.
"That's absurd," Hiko replied, a moment later. She looked to Rayden. "It's absurd, isn't it?"
"Hiko," Jax said patiently, as calmly as he could, "I didn't make this up, and I didn't come all this way to tell you something like this if I didn't absolutely believe it. Sonya--" he paused for breath, "--is dead."
Liu just stood.
Hiko's eyes widened, and she turned back again to her husband. "Rayden?"
"He's got nothing to do with it--" Jax began, frustrated, but the god cut him off.
"Actually," Rayden began quietly, "Hiko's right. It is absurd. Sonya's alive and well."
"No." Jax shook his head. "Much as I'd like to believe that, it isn't possible. I saw it--"
"You actually saw her die?" Liu asked. "I mean, did you see a body? I've never known Rayden to be wrong about something like this."
"I'm not wrong," Rayden added. Hiko shushed him.
"I didn't see a body, no," Jax admitted, "but I saw what I saw. She couldn't have survived."
Hiko frowned. "Well, what happened? Let's start with that." Jax nodded, took a deep breath, and began.
"--of course, it took all three of us to get the truck unstuck," Sonya continued as they crossed the street, "and meanwhile the sergeant is shouting something or other at us, which we can't hear because of the storm, so I run up the hill to hear what he's saying, and then I realize Venducci and Cliff are right beside me, and we all look back just in time to see the truck roll right back into the river again."
Jax threw back his head and laughed. "I can just see it." Sonya grinned.
"Your turn," she said. "What's the stupidest thing you ever did in basic training?"
"I--hey, this looks familiar." Jax glanced up at the street sign on the corner. "Yeah, I know where we are now."
"Finally," Sonya said. They'd spent the last hour searching for a bar that Jax had been told about by one of his friends. The two of them were on a three-day leave in New York. Sonya, although she didn't usually have much interest in vacations, had to admit that this was one of Jax's better ideas. "So we aren't lost?"
"Would you stop asking me that? No, we're not lost. It wouldn't kill you to let your hair down a bit, you know."
"I resent that," Sonya said. "Anyway, you're just trying to get out of telling your story. Must be a good one."
Jax opened his mouth, no doubt to make a smart remark, and his cellular phone buzzed. His eyebrows went up. "That's weird. Who'd be calling me?"
"You could try answering it," Sonya suggested. Jax glared at her and pulled out the phone.
"Briggs." He listened. "Yes, sir. Yes, she is, sir. Understood, sir." He turned off the phone and put it away.
"Who was it?" Sonya asked.
Jax glared at her. "The pope. Who do you think? Matthews, of course."
"Report, captain!" she snapped, and for a moment he was very confused, then he realised she was making a joke. It was a very bad joke, but it was meant to be taken humourously. He was pretty sure.
"Matthews is just checking to make sure we're in New York," Jax replied. "You think he'd be more trusting."
"We have been known to run off to China for no apparent reason," she replied, another pseudo-joke. "Is this the building your friend recommended?"
They stood outside the three storey run-down Neo-classical apartment building, complete with nailed boards over the window and sacks of garbage on the stairs. Sonya looked to her partner, her eyebrows raised.
"He said it was a great little place..." Jax trailed off, confused. "I don't understand..."
"I do," Sonya replied, bitterly. "This is Rob's idea of a joke."
"Rob doesn't make jokes... wait a second, yes he does. Never mind." Jax sighed, heavily, and shifted his sack to the ground. "Dammit, I'm going to get him for this."
"Just call him," Sonya replied with an irritated roll of the eyes. "He's probably expecting that--he'll give us the real address when you do, after his hearty laugh. I knew this was a bad idea." She stepped up to the first stair, and looked through the crack in the rotten wooden door. "I think I see someone in there."
"Someone lives in there?" Jax wrinkled his nose, unclipping his cell phone from his belt. "I doubt it."
"Maybe it's Rob," Sonya answered, stepping up. "Or maybe there's a note, explaining this whole thing."
Jax nodded, dialling.
She shouldered the door and it gave way. She stepped into the darkened interior.
Jax listened to the busy signal for two rings and then disconnected in disgust. He turned to Sonya. "I--" He heard a strange noise from the inside of a building--beeping--a timer going off? An alarm of some sort? Here? "Sonya?"
There was no answer. The beeping paused, and then began a sustained note; then the building blew.
"I couldn't get to her in time," Jax said, shaking his head. "She was only a few feet away from me when the place went up. I dove out of the way the second I heard the explosion, and when I looked back--it couldn't have been more than five seconds--the whole place was on fire. I saw her through the door and ran back, but I couldn't even get close. She fell. That was all I saw. I radioed for help, but by the time they came there was nothing left."
"Nothing?" Hiko asked with a frown. "You didn't think that was odd?"
Jax shrugged. "The place was an inferno, Hiko. I didn't expect they'd find anything."
"They'd find bones, at least," Hiko said. "I should know. I'm an authority on the subject."
"Of bones?" Rayden asked. Hiko swatted him.
"You've got a coffee moustache, dear," she said, rolling her eyes. "Jax, a fire like that could not completely obliterate a human body. I know that for a fact, and whoever investigated this probably knows it too. So--"
"So if they knew they should have found--remains," Jax said slowly, "and they didn't, then why did they declare her dead without any sort of search or anything?"
"The army isn't investigating this?" Liu asked with a frown.
"No. Well, I mean, they are, but only in terms of who set off the explosion. Sonya's officially dead. They aren't looking for her."
"I can find her," Rayden said confidently. "Just a minute." He closed his eyes.
"This might not be such a good idea," Liu said in an undertone. "If you're right, and the Army is behind this--"
"I didn't say that," Jax said.
"Who else could have cut the search short and had her declared dead so quickly?"
Jax nodded. "All right, you have a point. So what?"
"So we might want to be careful. They could have a reason for what they're doing, you know."
"I know," Jax said. "Rayden, how long will it take you to locate her?"
Rayden opened his eyes. "I just did. She's still in New York."
"New York. It's a city in America. Lots of buildings, good pizza--"
Jax rolled his eyes. "Where in New York, Rayden?"
"A building. I don't know the address. I can take us there easily enough, though."
"This falls under the heading of not being careful," Hiko pointed out.
"You have a better idea?" Jax asked.
"I think we should all go," she replied, indicating herself and Rayden as well as the mortals. "We would be able to offer far more help than any mortal would."
"We're not showing off, are we?" Rayden muttered.
She glared down at him. "Are you saying you don't want to go?"
"Did I say that at all? I simply said--"
"Ahem," Liu interrupted, coughing into his palm.
"As long as we do it quickly," Jax emphasized. "I'm supposed to be back on base in forty-eight hours. They'll be suspicious of me enough all ready."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Rayden asked. He waved his hand--
Hiko sighed, looking around. She wrinkled her nose. "Why is it that large concentrations of mortals smell so much?"
Jax stood for a moment, blinking, disorientated by the sudden transportation. "What?"
"I hate visiting mortal cities, there's always such a--"
"Hiko," Rayden said, gently, wrapping an arm around her waist. "I think we need to figure out what to do, now." Hiko harumphed, and leaned against Rayden's side, trying not to breathe too deeply.
She blinked, startled, and took a deep breath. The air was clean, clear of smoke, and there was a undertone of an air-conditioner; she was in an office building.
Sonya tried to sit up, but found herself restrained. That told her two things: that she was lying down, and that she was in enemy hands.
Which enemy, Blade?
It was definitely Earth; that made things easier. She struggled against the bonds, thick nylon straps tied to a hospital bed. This wasn't a hospital room, however; it was too dark. The decor was wrong, and the antiseptic tang was absent from the air.
A light came on over her head, the panel brightening obscenely to her dark-adjusted eyes; there was the sound of a door opening.
"Ah, Lieutenant Blade." The man's voice pronounced it left-tenant. "You're awake."
"Who are you, where am I, and what are you holding me for?" she demanded, without preamble.
The man stepped into view. He was tall, but not overly so; average weight, mousey-brown hair cut short, but not bristly. He was plain. He was average enough to blend into any crowd. Or any wall, for that matter. "The name is Johannson. I'll be your new commanding officer."
"Like hell," she snapped, fighting against the bonds. "Where's Matthews?"
"Matthews believes you are dead, Lieutenant," Johannson replied simply, checking his watch. "It is a shame we didn't get your partner, either, but ah well. Another day, another psi-bomb. Cheri, have you found Captain Briggs yet?"
A woman's voice answered from outside the room. "No sir. I nearly had a lock on him, but unfortunately there was a burst of chi-radiation that disrupted my abilities."
"Ah." Johannson nodded. "Chi-radiation. Nasty stuff."
"It also means that the Immortals are involved," the woman replied, obviously unnerved. "I would prefer not to deal with them."
The man looked away from the door back to Sonya, regarding her carefully. "Cheri is half-Djinn," he said, his hands behind his back, as though he was simply talking about the weather. "She seems to think that your friend Rayden has certain biases when it comes to her heritage."
"How do you--" Sonya blurted, her eyes wide.
Johannson smiled, thinly. "We know, Lieutenant. Welcome to ATTFOR."
"Okay, here's the plan," Jax began. Liu cut him off.
"Let me guess--we all burst in through the front door, guns blazing?"
"You got a better one?" Jax asked, pulling his gun from his holster. "I'd like to hear it."
"Rayden and I could--" Hiko volunteered.
"They'll be expecting that too," Liu explained. "I'm willing to bet that they captured Sonya because of what--or who--she knows. They'll be waiting for us to use magic. They might even have a way to compensate for it."
Rayden and Hiko exchanged glances. "Looks like we'll have to go incognito," he said, with a grin. "Sounds like fun."
Hiko grumbled. "I don't see what's so fun about it, but oh well--" She snapped her fingers, as did her husband, and instantly they both transformed. Rayden wore Army fatigues, his hair now short brown and bristly under the standard-issue cap; Hiko wore a long white lab-coat, her hair dull auburn and in a page-boy, curled under chin. Glasses were perched on her nose. "I look like Mary," she sighed, resigned.
Liu and Jax both blinked. "That was... quite impressive," Liu admitted, casting a worried look to the passers-by on the sidewalk and the street. He noticed, for the first time, how little concerned they were by the strange party on the street. He waved his hand in the face of one pedestrian; she didn't even blink.
"It's the simplest thing in the world to make mortals look the other way," Hiko explained, creating a clipboard. "Now, you two will need disguises as well--"
Jax shook his head. "They'll still recognise me, no matter what clothes you put me in, and there's not a whole lot you can do with my hair, anyway. I've been thinking: the best way to get this done is to split up. You two sneak in, find Sonya following the paper trail and Liu and I will--"
"Burst through the front door, guns blazing?" he finished with a smirk. "We'll be the diversion."
"Gotcha." Rayden nodded, looking to Hiko. She seemed distracted, but then she caught his eye and nodded as well.
"Rayden, before you go--" Liu trailed off, gesturing with his empty hands. Jax cut him off.
"I'll take care of that," he replied, handing Liu his gun. Liu looked confused, but Jax just shrugged. "I've got others."
"I apologize for our unorthodox means of bringing you here," Johannson said. He looked down at her. "But as you can see, it does have its good points."
Sonya glared up at him from the floor. She had been released and had almost immediately tried to make a break for it, only to be teleported back to the same place before getting anywhere near an exit. The woman Cheri seemed to have some sort of power that was going to be difficult to evade.
"I hope this demonstration has been enough to convince you that we are serious," Johannson continued. "I also hope this isn't your usual behaviour toward your superior officers."
"Why should I believe anything you tell me?" Sonya demanded. "You tried to kill me--"
"We faked your death. I explained that," Johannson said with a hint of impatience.
"You could have killed me and Jax both. I haven't seen any proof that you people are really associated with the army. I've never even heard of ATTFOR."
"Of course you haven't." Johannson smiled. "We don't exist. Officially, anyway. All information about the Alternative Truth Task Force is restricted to a very few people, and if we didn't need you--and Captain Briggs as well--then you would not be one of them."
Sonya nodded. This she understood; she'd run into her share of classified projects. Some of the army regulations on security were illogical, and some were downright silly--having to be at an approved location to download the specifications of a field telephone, for instance--but she could see that this project, whatever it was, had every reason to be wrapped in secrecy. But just because she understood it didn't mean she liked it.
She tried to sit up, and almost immediately found herself pinned against the floor, by a very familiar sensation. A force-field. She stopped struggling, and the field vanished.
Johannson smiled, slightly, his hands clasped behind his back as he rocked on his heels. "You don't look surprised."
"Why should I?" she inquired, tiredly. "If Cheri could teleport me, she could obviously do simple shielding."
The small smile broadened. "Do you see? That is why we picked you. You are one of the few people on this planet who would think this obvious."
Sonya glared up at him, narrowing her eyes. He seemed to find her amusing, or perhaps just her situation; either way, she didn't like being laughed at. "So when are you going to let me go?"
He blinked. "I thought you would have figured that out by now, Lieutenant. You're not going anywhere until we have Captain Briggs, and even then, you'll only work under our supervision and control."
"And if we refuse?" She felt she knew the answer, but had to ask anyway.
The smile dropped away, and Johannson stared down at her, steely-eyed. "Then we kill you."
She had been right.
"Sir?" Cheri said, suddenly, breaking the awkward silence. She stepped into the room and Sonya got her first good look at her: she was small, and slight. She looked Indian, or at least from that area, with dark colouring and large, round brown eyes. Her hair was shorn and tousled. "Sir--I'm detecting chi-radiation in the area."
"Really?" Johannson looked thoughtful. "The other outcasts, perhaps?"
"They are not due back for another two weeks," Cheri reminded him. "And it is... too powerful. Perhaps it is a full Djinn, running from Neflheim... but more likely, it is an Immortal." Her lips trembled; she was trying very hard to keep herself contained.
He nodded, once. "I understand. Lieutenant, I have your first mission. Do you accept?"
Sonya looked up at him. "I don't have any choice, do I?"
"Not really," Johannson agreed. He looked to Cheri and nodded; the shield around Sonya disappeared. The lieutenant got to her feet warily, still expecting a trap. Cheri raised her hand in front of her face, and Sonya took a step backwards; she had seen such gestures before. But the half-Djinn merely created a portal with a flick of her wrist and stepped through.
"Now, Lieutenant--" Johannson began, when he suddenly came to the realisation that Sonya's fist was heading towards his face. "What--!"
It connected and the world went black.
"There's always a choice," Sonya muttered, as she stepped over his unconscious body to the door.
"Sir!" A young officer ran up to Rayden and Hiko as they were walking through the halls. "Sir--I can't raise Colonel Johansson and I think there might be intruders--"
Rayden raised his hand to cut him off. "I know. Two mortals--we can take 'em."
"They're not empowered?" the officer breathed, with obvious relief. "That makes things easier. But the Colonel--"
"Do you know his last whereabouts?" Rayden demanded, trying to sound gruff and used to being obeyed.
The officer--barely more than a boy--nodded. "Detention level. With the new recruit, sir."
"Then I'll check it out," Rayden replied. "Once I get the doctor here out of harm's way."
"Thank you, sir." The officer nodded, again, and headed off down the corridor.
Hiko leaned toward Rayden, so that her mouth was near his ear. "If the Colonel was guarding Sonya, and he can't be reached--"
"Just what I was thinking, love," Rayden replied, with a smile, under his breath. "Let's get--wait a minute."
He stopped, suddenly, and turned, looking back at something that wasn't there. "Jax and Liu."
"I think so--" Rayden started down the hallway, but she pulled on his arm. He turned to look at her.
"Just teleport there," she explained. "If any one sees you--take care of them."
He saluted her sharply, grinning, and then he portalled away.
Jax and Liu leapt out from around the corner, Jax with his gun drawn, and Liu in a defensive posture.
They were met by one lone female. A woman, small and slight, dark, with round brown eyes.
"Where's Sonya?" Jax demanded, loudly.
The woman looked at him, her eyes glistening. "You are Jax Briggs," she said, her voice very quiet, and tiny in the empty hall.
"I am--where's Son--" Jax got no further before the woman held up her hand, and an explosive burst of energy blasted Jax off his feet, throwing him against the wall. Before he dropped to the ground, he was tied and bundled with energy cords.
"What the hell?" Liu exclaimed, looking at the woman in horror. "What are you?"
She glared back at him, sneering. She raised her hand towards him, when suddenly there was a rumble of thunder. Startled, she looked around her in horror, backing up, terrified, then turning and bolting down the hall. The bonds around Jax disappeared.
A flicker of lightning coalesced into Rayden, and he stood for a moment, silent, glaring down the hallway. "I hate Djinn," he muttered, sourly. "If I'd known there'd be one here, I wouldn't have come."
"What's a Djinn?" asked Liu.
"We have to find Sonya," announced Jax, getting to his feet, holstering his gun, and charging off down the corridor. "That woman knows where she is."
"Jax, wait!" Rayden snapped, but it was too late; the captain was barrelling down the hallway at top speed. "Dammit."
Hiko looked up at the sudden sound of thumping footsteps. Someone was running down the corridor at full tilt. The energy was weird, as well. She stepped out of the office, just in time to avoid a collision with a woman. The woman threw herself to the side of the wall, just in time, her eyes wide with horror.
It puzzled Hiko for a moment--the woman should not know who she was, her disguise was firmly in place, but then the goddess realised the mortal's energy was wrong; she wasn't a mortal. She was a Djinn.
Gasping, Hiko's disguise fell away, revealing the goddess' true form in all its blazing glory. Hiko didn't want to have to fight a Djinn on top of everything else. But the Djinn, terrified, just fell to her knees; she curled into a ball, begin to weep with fear. She lay against the wall, clutching her knees as she waited for the final blow, sobbing in anticipation.
"Cheri!" cried a voice from down the hall. It was a man, a mortal. He rounded the corner, and came face to face with Hiko in her Immortal nature, blazing fire and light. He stopped dead in his tracks, awed, and bewildered. "It is true," he whispered, almost to himself. She glared at him, not wanting to sound the alarm--that was definitely not in the plan--but she couldn't bring herself to dispatch him, either.
He was snapped out of his reverie by the sobbing Djinn. "Cheri!" he called again, anxious. He dared not step further towards the goddess.
"She's going to kill me," Cheri wailed, hysterical, trying to cover her head in her hands. "They all try to kill me, Stephen, get out of here, please--"
The man, who was as plain and average as the Djinn was distinctive, took a hesitant step forward. "Please don't harm Cheri," he said, to Hiko, tentatively. "I don't know what the Djinn have done to you in the past, but Cheri had no part of it, she's not even a whole Djinn--"
"Stephen, leave, please!" Cheri screamed in response, "I don't want her to kill you too!"
"I'm not going to kill anybody," Hiko decided out loud. She couldn't transform back to her mortal disguise here, or they'd know; so she teleported away.
The man, the moment Hiko was gone, ran forward and took Cheri into his arms, letting her sob onto his shirt, clutching at him, still afraid. He pulled out a walkie-talkie. "Johannson to Eldrich, come in," he said, tersely. The radio crackled, endless static. He stared at it; it should have been working, there wasn't any electrical disturbances nearby--"Ah." He slipped his walkie-talkie back into its holder. Rayden must be here in the complex as well. "Come on," he said to Cheri, trying to stand while dragging her up as well. "We'll get you out of here, don't worry."
"They come for you," she whispered, "they come and they can't be stopped, Stephen--"
"No one is going to get you," Johannson repeated, firmly, taking her arm over his shoulder. "I'll deal with the Immortals myself."
Sonya made her way down the hallway, cautious, on guard. The complex seemed deserted, but that could be an illusion. They could all be waiting around the next corner...
A crowd of armed-to-the-teeth soldiers came rushing at her from around the bend, and she backed up, startled and slipping into a defensive position. But they ignored her; they rushed past her. Confused, she watched them barrel down the halls. If they were looking for her, they were doing a really bad job of it.
An alarm suddenly sounded, and Johannson's voice rang out of hidden speakers: "Warning. There are Immortals on the premises. As well as mortal intruders. Prepare contingency plan two-nine alpha. Repeat, there are Immortals on the premises--"
Sonya grinned to herself. So the calvary was here to get her. She started down the corridor, stopping when she came to a staircase. She looked both ways--the hall was still deserted--and then ducked into the stairwell.
Up or down? she thought to herself. There didn't seem to be any difference; she had no idea where she was. There were no windows in this rat maze. But it was more likely that she was on a higher storey than the basement, so she headed down, two at a time.
Jax skidded to a halt as an alarm blared, suddenly. "Warning. There are Immortals on the premises. As well as mortal intruders. Prepare contingency plan two-nine alpha. Repeat, there are Immortals on the premises--"
Great, just great. He scowled and pulled out another gun; it felt more reassuring to have two. Rayden and Liu came up from behind them, also listening to the announcement. "Way to go, Rayden."
"It's not my fault!" the god exclaimed. "No one has seen me except for that Djinn--" the word djinn was spat out of his mouth like a piece of gristle "--so it must have been Hiko who alerted them."
"Somehow, I can't see Hiko being that careless," Liu observed.
"Me neither," Jax replied.
"Thanks, guys," Rayden said dryly. "Look, we had better--"
"Intruders!" came a sudden cry from the end of the hallway, from where they had come. They whirled to see a group of soldiers appear. The guns came out, but Jax and Liu were painfully out-matched.
Lightning began to crackle along the hallway, and Rayden spread his arms wide. "I'll take care of this," he decided, grinning.
The soldiers all looked to one another in confusion and horror; they weren't sure what to do next. It was clear that they had not confronted an actual Immortal before.
"Use the Djinn trap," one of the officers advised, gathering his senses. Unfortunately for him, this was the worst possible thing he could have said.
"Djinn trap?" Rayden roared, his disguise vanishing as his powers flared to true and startling life around him. "Djinn trap?! Try to catch me with a Djinn trap!"
Jax and Liu sheltered their eyes, hurriedly, as the lightning becoming too bright to see. Electricity ran along their skin and through their hair. "Rayden--don't--!" Liu cried, unable to see, but hearing the agonized screams from the end of the corridor. "They don't know what--"
The lightning vanished, the hallway darkened.
"--they're doing," Liu finished lamely, uncovering his eyes, blinking. The soldiers all lay in a heap at the end of the hallway, but they seemed to be uncharred, a good sign. The mortal looked to Rayden, who was breathing heavily with exertion. That wasn't like him.
"I didn't kill them," the god said, under his breath, his arms limply at his side. "I didn't even mean to--" he stopped, shaking his head, his disguise forming around him again. "Let's get going, and find Hiko and Sonya."
"Best thing I've heard you say yet," Jax muttered, setting off, giving his counterparts at the opposite end of the hallway one final look, and a shake of the head.
Sonya looked around in dismay. She was definitely not on the main floor. This looked like a basement facility; the walls were unpainted cinder block, the floor simple concrete. There was a set of unlatched doors, white, with frosted glass windows, like those on the upper levels.
Sonya was curious, but not that curious. She turned to leave.
"Hello?" cried a small, distant voice. "Is someone there?"
Sonya whirled back to the doors. Was someone else a prisoner of ATTFOR? She pushed her way through the doors, swinging them open.
The corridor smelled musty, and very sweet, but it was a sickly sweet smell and Sonya recognised it immediately. It was a tranquillizer of some sort, fed into the air-supply. She covered her nose and mouth with the bottom edge of her shirt.
There were rooms, empty, lining the hallway. They were cells, or pens; one large glass door constituted the entire fourth wall. There was a key slot at each end, and a slot for food.
"Hello?" cried the voice again, weakly.
Sonya hurried towards it, careful not to breathe too deeply. "Hello? Who's there?" she called.
"Hello?" the voice asked again, hopefully. Sonya found the cell with the single prisoner. It was a woman, dressed in archaic clothing; she looked like a pirate from a movie of the thirties. Her thick black curly hair was held back haphazardly by a red bandanna; a similar red sash was tied around the waist of her leather jacket. She looked up from the floor, blinking hopefully. "You're not one of them?"
"No, I'm not," Sonya replied. The door mechanism looked simple enough, if only she could short-circuit the lock--
The woman sighed, struggling to get up. She had obviously been breathing the spiked air for some time. "I can--get the lock--if you can touch me."
"What?" Sonya blurted. The woman, leaning against the door for support, stuck her hand through the food slot. It beckoned at Sonya, and for a moment, she held her own hand out, in a trance. Then she snapped free. "Why?"
"I can draw power from humans," the woman whispered. "I've been in insolation for so long--no power of my own left--"
Tingles ran up and down Sonya's spine. The woman seemed so familiar, although the lieutenant knew for sure she had never met her before; she would have remembered the distinctive eyes, one blue, one brown.
The alarm suddenly rang again. Apparently it was on a loop. Gritting her teeth, Sonya reached out and touched the woman's hand.
Cheri shivered, hugging herself tightly, her eyes darting around the room. Johannson laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, his other hand flicking off the alarm recording, but she didn't seem to notice him.
"The gas is circulating freely now, my dear," he said, reaching under the desk to pull out a small mask. "Here you go."
She blinked, snapping out of her anxious reverie; she stared at him as she slipped it out. "How do you even know that it will work?"
He shrugged. "I don't. We haven't had actual full Immortals to test it on. But if Ray was right, then it should work the same way as on Djinn."
"Immortals don't need to breathe," Cheri reminded him. "Not really, anyway."
Johannson sighed. "We know they're in mortal guise; they shouldn't realise what the problem is until it's too late."
"I live in hope, my dear; it's the best I can do." He started reading over his instrumentation. "Hmm--there's a disturbance in the Pen."
"No!" Cheri blurted. "Not her, too!"
"I'm sure it's nothing, you know how she acts up," Johannson replied, scanning the sensors. "She's probably just reacting to the energy around her. She can't get out, you know."
"She'll find a way," Cheri whispered, shivering violently, nearly in tears. "Oh, I wish I could have stayed in Veritas!"
"I thought you hated your ruler there," Johannson murmured, trying to distract her.
"At least Lady Celebria wouldn't bother me," Cheri retorted. "She wouldn't have done anything, even if she did find out, unlike Lord Rayden. He hates Djinn. Especially half-breeds."
"So I've heard," the colonel muttered. "I'll have to ask him about that, when we get him."
"You won't," Cheri said savagely. "You won't, he'll break free, and then he'll come and kill me, if she doesn't, first."
Sonya gasped as fire shook up her arm, not it wasn't fire, but a terrible burning and terrible pain--
The woman grinned, power arching around her, shocking the lock system, and the lock blew. The door started to slide open, and Sonya's hand was dropped, unexpectedly; she staggered backwards. She remembered now that feeling of unease, and where she had experienced it before. When I was around Shang Tsung. It was a sense of powerful magic, in the hands of a human. She collapsed, feeling faint.
The woman stood over her, one of her high-heeled, knee-high leather boots resting on Sonya's stomach. She looked like a Pirate Queen, all she needed was a parrot on her shoulder. "Thank you ever so much, mortal," she grinned, flashing white teeth in a savage smile. "That's just what I needed to break free. You are so kind, I will remember you."
She kicked Sonya a little in the ribs and trotted gaily down the corridor, her heels clicking on the bare concrete. She was singing at the top of her lungs: "...and here she comes to save the day..."
Sonya passed out.
Hiko opened the drawer and began rifling her fingers along the edges of the file folders. This was a classified cabinet, and one could only get in with the aid of several keys; unless one happened to be a goddess, of course. Then it was only a matter of persuasion.
Quite unexpectedly, she came across "Blade, Sonya". It was a thick dossier, packed with pictures. Sonya fighting at the Tournament. Sonya with Jax. Sonya with--Hiko squinted. Yes, that was Liu Kang and Johnny Cage in the background.
She set that folder to one side and, on impulse, looked up Cage, John; he was there. His folder wasn't as thick, but made several references to the Tournament and the Temple of Light. Apparently these people had been keeping close tabs on the fighters.
Hiko smiled, and flicked to "H". She wasn't there. But she decided to look up Rayden, just for comparison, and there he was. A very, very thin folder was constructed for her husband: one lone picture and a description. "Rayden, God of Thunder. Class A. Do not approach." She snickered. She knew Rayden prided himself on being the approachable kind...
She slipped the folders back in, sighing. This Army complex obviously had to do with spying on magical affairs; of course, she'd already guessed that from the irritating alarm that kept blaring every so often. She wished it would go away--what could they possibly do to her?--and then, quite suddenly, she yawned.
Startled, she shut her mouth with a click. She wasn't tired. She shouldn't be, anyway. But a definite sense of weariness was creeping through her.
"How bizarre," she murmured, pushing her glasses back from the tip of her nose.
"Doctor?" cried a voice. Startled, she whirled, slamming the file cabinet shut. It was a young intern, blonde, with a long white lab coat. "Doctor? Have you heard the alarm?"
"Yes," Hiko replied, calmly. "Yes, I have, but--"
"Can you imagine? Immortals, here? Now we'll have a chance to prove all our research. I hope the Colonel catches them," the woman exclaimed breathlessly, a gleam in her eyes. They were peculiar eyes; both brown, but one had a distinctive green tinge to it.
Hiko blinked. "Research?"
"Oh, doctor," the intern giggled. "The Immortal containment unit! How could you forget?"
"How indeed," Hiko muttered. She rubbed the bridge of her nose just as the alarm started again. It was so irritating--
The alarm caused the intern to whimper. "As much as I want to finish my research," she said, "I don't think I want to be here when the gods show up. Cheri says they're killers, you know."
"Really," Hiko replied, dryly. She yawned again, feeling very tired.
"C'mon, Doctor, let me get you to a safe location," the intern said kindly. "You must be new; you might not know where they are--"
"Thank you," Hiko replied, through a yawn that nearly dislocated her jaw. She could barely keep her eyes open, and started to sway. The intern held out her hand, beckoning.
"Just take my hand, Doctor, everything will be okay."
Jax and Liu both charged the door, but it remained standing, much to their irritation. "This is stupid," Jax panted. "The door shouldn't be able to take that much pressure."
"It's magic," Rayden sighed, leaning against the wall. He took his cap off and wiped his forehead with it; he looked exhausted. "I think I can break it." He tried to straighten up, so as to reach the door; but he stumbled. Liu caught him, in surprise.
"Rayden! What's the matter?"
"Don't know." Rayden gritted his teeth. "I can't focus, and I'm having problems breathing--"
"That's not possible--what could be affecting you?" Liu persisted, helping the god to touch the door lock pad. Sparks erupted, showering the trio. The door slid open.
"Immortal Kryptonite?" Jax volunteered, swinging his guns up and stepping carefully through the doorway.
"Very funny, Jax," Liu grunted. Rayden was leaning on him like a sack of potatoes. Almost... dead weight. "Rayden, wake up."
Alarmed, Jax realised how far gone Rayden was; he helped take the burden solely off Liu. "What do we do know? We can't charge around looking for Sonya dragging him along."
"Hiko," Liu replied, simply. "We'll get Hiko, she can help."
"Hiko, is that the Lady's name?" a suave voice inquired from the depths of the darkened room. A man stepped out, flanked by several armed guards. "Captain, drop your weapons."
Jax tensed up, but realised that there was nothing else he could do. The guns clattered to the floor.
"Thank you," the man replied. "Ah, Liu Kang. Very nice to meet you in person."
Liu didn't reply, but glared at the average, plain-looking man.
"Allow me to introduce myself," he continued, blithely. "I am Colonel Johannson."
At the mention of the name, Rayden struggled to right himself, barely awake. "He's the one--Sonya--" he barely managed to mumble before slipping back to semi-consciousness.
Jax's head whipped up and over, his eyes narrowing.
"Quite true," Johannson said with a smile, his arms folded behind his back. "I was the one with Sonya. Unfortunately, our Lieutenant--" he pronounced it left-tenant "has gone AWOL. We have teams looking for her at this very moment."
"What did you do--" Jax managed to get out, in a growl.
"To Sonya, or your friend, here? Who I am assuming is none other than Lord Rayden himself. The brown hair is quite an improvement if you ask me. Drop him." This last instruction was directed at Liu.
Liu tensed, no intention of obeying.
Johannson brought up one of his arms, sharply, the gun pointing straight at Liu's face. "Drop him," he ordered again, "or I drop you, too."
Jax and Liu exchanged looks, and they, very reluctantly, lowered Rayden to the floor.
"Stand back," Johannson continued.
They did so, taking a single step back.
"Waters, is the system ready?" the colonel inquired.
"Not yet, sir," a reedy-looking man from the back replied, nervously. "I mean, it hasn't really been tested--"
"Then test it." Johannson's voice was steel-strong and his aim, still trained on the two mortals, never wavered.
"We don't know what kind of effect it could have--" Waters argued.
"It won't kill him, he's immortal, remember?" Johannson spared a single glance backwards. "Do it!"
Waters, nervously, stepped forward, bearing what seemed to be a collar, a black elastic band, from which a block of circuitry blinked and beeped. He bent down and slipped the band onto Rayden's arm. The god groaned.
Waters leapt back up, and scuttled backwards, slipping a remote-control device from his pocket.
"What are you doing?" Liu snapped, unable to keep his silence. They ignored him.
"Activating anti-chi force-field... now..." Waters pressed a series of buttons and the circuitry began to beep violently, the lights flashing on and off. "It's charging--full strength!"
Rayden groaned, and tried to roll over, gritting his teeth in his sleep. His disguise began to shift away, leaving him in his white robes, with his normal hair.
Johannson seemed impressed. "It is Rayden."
"Who did you think it was?" Jax snapped. "Santa Claus?"
"That's enough, Captain," the colonel barked in return. He gestured with his head to the soldiers behind him. "Take Lord Rayden and place him in the Pen. Liu Kang as well. Jax will be sent to the recruitment center."
Sonya groaned, coming to. Her head felt as though someone had been jumping up and down on it. As the sparkles cleared from her vision, she realised that she was still in the basement of ATTFOR.
She got to her feet. "That--" She was interrupted by the sound of footfalls. Startled, she ducked into the woman's ruined cell; the door was fused open. From the sound of the footfalls, the approaching people were men, and Army-trained. She listened closely; they were dragging something heavy with them.
"Where should we put them?" one person, a deep-voiced male, inquired.
"The god should be in one, this guy in another," someone replied.
God? Sonya nearly burst out loud.
"When Rayden comes to, nothing's going to be able to stop him," Liu Kang suddenly exclaimed.
Liu! She grinned. They didn't know she was here, with them; the minute the soldiers left she could spring them. She wasn't sure what the matter with Rayden was, but it worried her. Could he be what they were dragging?
There was sounds of a scuffle, and something being dumped unceremoniously to the floor; then two clicks and a hum of the doors being activated. Then the footsteps retreated.
Sonya waited several moments, before she crept out of the cell. "Liu?" she called, softly.
"Sonya?" he blurted, rushing to the glass door. She grinned as she saw him, and he grinned back. "You're a sight for sore eyes."
"You don't look so great yourself. Where's--?" She trailed off as she saw Rayden in the next cell, unconscious, in a heap on the floor. "What the hell happened to him?"
"Something about anti-chi or something. The armband, that's what's doing it, I think," Liu explained. He charged the door, but all it did was shiver and send him flying backwards. "Dammit!"
"I think I know how to get them open," Sonya told him. She point to the wall just to the right of the cell; it was out of his field of view, she realised. Her hand dropped. "There's an electric lock."
"That's helpful," Liu replied. "Think you can hot-wire it?"
She shrugged. "I can try."
She walked up to the panel, studying it closely. It had a number pad on one side, then a slot to insert a card, as well as a small touch pad and a speaker. Quite complicated. She checked her pockets to see if they had left her any equipment she could use--her right hand closed around something small and plastic, very thin. She pulled it out.
An ID card, made out to Sonya Blade, Lieutenant, member of ATTFOR.
She stared at it, dumbly. Why would they give her a card to open locked doors with? Unless--unless they were truly trusting her to join them. But why would they? What could they possibly expect of her?
She remembered the strange woman she had inadvertently released. She had reminded Sonya so much of Shang Tsung; maybe that's why she was here in the first place.
"Sonya?" Liu prompted, concerned. "What's the matter?"
"Maybe we're all on the same side," she replied, softly, showing him the ID card. He blinked at it and she stepped forward, dragging it through the slot.
The touchpad lit up. "Please place your thumbprint on the pad," a tinny, genderless voice asked. She did so. The panel blinked three times. "Lieutenant Sonya Blade confirmed." It blinked again, and the door slid open.
Liu stepped out. "Sonya? Where'd you get that from?"
"From Colonel Johannson," she replied, thoughtfully. He stared at her, and she shrugged. "I've got a lot of thinking to do, Liu."
"Later," he said, firmly, stepping over to Rayden's cell. "Now, we act."
Cheri had a bad feeling as she crept along the hallway, the mask firmly on her face. She couldn't describe the feeling as anything but dread; why it had forced her to leave the safety of the office, she didn't know.
A door to the records office was open. That was unusual. She crept timidly forward. She could sense someone, but she wasn't sure who--Immortal, or otherwise. The energy was badly off. In fact, it reminded her of--
"Oh no," she breathed. That horrible woman had been in here, stealing energy again. Cheri ran forward, into the office, and stopped dead in her tracks.
The red-haired goddess lay sprawled on the floor, her arm out, stretched away from her. Her robes lay in tangled disarray beneath and around her.
Cheri knelt by her, taking the limp hand. The goddess had been drained, that much was for certain. She took a deep breath. What should she do? On the one hand, the Immortals hated the Djinn. But this goddess hadn't done anything to Cheri, or to Stephen, for that matter. She didn't seem the vengeful type, unlike Lord Rayden... Cheri shivered.
Her first instinct was to help the goddess, but she wasn't sure. The gas would be interfering with the Immortal's powers, anyway, and there was only the one mask... Cheri was tempted just to leave. Or to call Stephen... maybe that was the better choice-
She stopped, torn. She knew that the gods were only here to save Lieutenant Blade; she was one of their friends. They didn't want to be locked up any more than anyone else. And the goddess did let Cheri go...
Shaking slightly, Cheri removed her mask and slipped it over the goddess's face. At once, the sickly-sweet tinge in the air filled her nostrils; it made her sick. She made herself breathe deeply, as her powers drained out of her. She didn't want to be awake when the goddess was restored to health; perhaps she would take pity on the poor half-djinn and leave her be. Or if she did kill her, at least Cheri would be unconscious. It was the best she could hope for.
Her eyes were drooping, they felt like lead. She could barely breathe, and she started to slip forward, down towards the ground. She could see the goddess starting to revive. I hope I made the right choice, oh great Creator...
Someone prodded him in the chest. He didn't know who it was; all he wanted to do was go back to sleep. The poke came again. "Quit it, Hiko," he muttered, trying to roll over and take the sheets back with him. He was so cold, and she always hogged them--
"Rayden," a male voice said, sharply.
He blinked, and suddenly became aware of the bright lights, of the hard floor under him, of the lack of a bed, blankets, or Hiko, for that matter. "What?"
"Get up!" the voice insisted. It was familiar; it was--
"Liu?" he groaned.
"Get up!" Liu repeated. Two arms tugged on his own and he was reluctantly dragged upright. He could barely keep his eyes open for a fraction of a second; he was so tired.
"I wonder..." murmured another voice, also familiar. Sonya. It was Sonya's voice. Weren't they looking for her? Rayden wasn't sure. It seemed like a bad dream. "I think it might be the gas," Sonya continued. "That sweet smell in the air."
"I was wondering what that was," Liu replied. "But we haven't been affected by it..."
"I think it's for Immortals only. Here, hold Rayden up."
Rayden tried to stand on his own; he felt he should, but he couldn't, and instead remained leaning heavily on Liu. Something was pressed to his face. He struggled, and then a hand held his head in place.
"Breathe deeply, Rayden," Sonya told him sharply. He did as he was told, and things began to grow a little sharper. He could open his eyes. He could tell that it was a fold of his own robes pressed against his nose. He could start to sense things again--
"Hiko?" he muttered.
"I don't know where she is--" Liu tried to explain, when Rayden suddenly bolted upright, standing on his own.
"Hiko!" the god exclaimed, muffled by the cloth. Suddenly his powers arced around him; Sonya and Liu leapt away in the panic, Sonya's grip on the cloth falling away as well. But that didn't matter any more. The minute his powers returned to him, the last traces of sleep were washed away. He was alert again, he was fine, and he was frightened. Something had happened to Hiko. He could barely feel her; her energy was so low--
"What's happened?" Liu demanded. "What's wrong with Hiko?"
"She's hurt," Rayden exclaimed. "I've got to go--"
"At least," Sonya interrupted, stepping in front of him, but still far enough away to avoid the current of electricity, "take us with you."
He nodded, creating a portal.
"Hmm," Johannson murmured, as a small beeper chimed from his belt. He took it off to examine it. "It seems that Blade has discovered and used her ID card."
Eldrich snorted. A tall, thick blonde man, he resembled a Viking, as seen by Hollywood; he only needed a hat with two horns on it to complete the image. "Why did you give her that, anyway?"
"To show her that we trust her." Johannson's pace never slacked as they marched through the hall to the recruitment center. "I know Blade. She's reliable, and she believes in doing the right thing. Once she realises--" His beeper chirped again, and he pressed a sequence of controls. "Dammit!" He stopped dead in his tracks, so suddenly that Eldrich sped by him before he knew to stop. "She's let them out. Goddammit."
"I thought she could be trusted," Eldrich replied, with a smirk. Johannson snarled at him.
"She'll come around. I haven't been wrong about a recruit yet."
"There's always a first time," Eldrich answered, smugly, as he and Johannson began to walk again. "Where's that freak of yours?"
The colonel gritted his teeth. "I haven't seen Cheri since the Immortals broke out."
"Shouldn't she be helping us?"
Johannson shook his head. "She's terrified of the Immortals, you know that."
Eldrich snorted again. "Some fighter."
"Look--" Johannson began, nearly at the end of his rope when Eldrich held up his hand and slowed to a stop. Puzzled, the colonel held his breath, trying to hear.
There was someone walking from around the corner, they could hear the tattoo of high-heeled boots quite loudly. Johannson made a face, and brought his walkie-talkie to his mouth. "Code Delta, section 15 level two," he whispered. He repeated the code once more and waited for a buzz that signalled that the ATTFOR operator had heard him; a task-force would be assigned and summoned to deal with a Class C.
"We'll have to hold her here for a few moments," Eldrich whispered. "I hope Waters' system works. I'll set up the trap."
Johannson nodded. They pressed themselves against the wall, waiting as the footsteps approached. They could hear her singing, now, in a language neither knew, but it seemed jaunty, almost folky.
Suddenly the singing stopped, and the footsteps paused. "Come out, come out, where ever you are!" the woman's voice sang out, almost gleefully. "Johannson, you old goat, I can sense you coming!"
He scowled and leapt out into the middle of the corridor, whirling around the corner, ahead of schedule. "Hukuseh. A pleasure, as always."
The woman smiled rakishly, a gloved hand on her hip, over her sash. "Oh, Johannson. It's been too long. You didn't come to visit me, shame on you."
She held her hand out in front of her, and a blast of energy threatened to blow Johannson off his feet; he staggered backwards, but remained standing. "Is that the best you can throw at me? You're getting old, Hukuseh."
She scowled. "I--" She stopped, and tilted her head, listening to something only she could hear, or sense. "What's that?" Then she smiled, delightedly. "Oh my, this is a welcome development. Haven't seen him in a while. Sorry Colonel, we'll have to post-pone this little affair. Something's come up." She blew the two a kiss and disappeared in a flash.
"Dammit!" Johannson snarled, whipping out his walkie-talkie. Normally she didn't run off so quickly; she liked to talk her prey to death. He'd been counting on it--"Cancel the Code Delta, she's gone." He snapped a button, flipping the frequency. "Cheri, where are you? I need your help. Cheri."
"That was usefull," Eldrich observed, still trying to assemble his Djinn trap. "I thought you were supposed to stall her."
"Shut up," Johannson snarled. "If you weren't a civilian I'd--"
"Order me to peel potatoes? I doubt that would be effective, but then, being effective doesn't seem to be your strong suit, Steve." Eldrich snapped the final component into place. "Dammit, speaking of inefficient--"
"Never mind about those," Johannson told him, fiercely. "The trap's no good if she's not here. And I wonder where Cheri could be?"
"Hiko," Rayden murmured, holding her head, gently. Her energy had been drained, almost too low; but she was saved from the further debilitating effects of the gas thanks to a mask over her face. She was still unconscious. He looked up to Sonya, who was standing guard at the door. "How could they have done this to her?"
"I don't think it was ATTFOR," Sonya replied, tersely. "I think it might have been that woman in the pen, that I released."
"The sorceress," Liu clarified. He was examining the body of the unconscious half-Djinn, who lay a few feet from Hiko.
"That's the one," Sonya replied, turning and leaning against the door. "I have a bad feeling about all of this."
"You're not the only one," Rayden growled. "If there are two Djinn running around--"
"What's the big deal, anyway?" Liu snapped, irritated. "Yes, they're enemies, but you're treating them like the Devil incarnate. They can't be that bad. We've seen worse."
Rayden scowled, growing red. "Djinn are... vermin!"
"They can't be that bad," Liu repeated.
The god spat. "Djinn have no morals, no ethics-nothing! They kill for fun-they attack Immortal children-they even scorn the Creator. The only deity who has anything to do with them is Turan-and even he doesn't trust them!"
"She doesn't seem to be like that," Liu observed, quietly, referring to Cheri. "She seems to be firmly on their side."
"I would agree with that," Sonya replied. "From what I've seen of her, she's fighting with us." Both Liu and Rayden looked up at her as she said that, but she had turned back to the outside and wasn't paying attention.
Rayden sighed, frustrated, and looked down at his wife. "Hiko, wake up," he instructed her, tired of waiting in this place. He had been sending her healing energy, but it was taking a long time. Finally, she began to awaken.
"What?" she murmured, blinking up at Rayden.
"You've got to switch back to normal," he advised her. "It's the only way to counter-act the effects."
She stared for a moment, confused; then she switched to her natural state, as Rayden was, although she was a lot more radiant than the thunder god; Liu found it hurt to look at her. "What happened? Where's that intern?"
"What intern?" Liu asked.
"She--" Hiko struggled to get up, and then accepted Rayden' help. "She came to warn me about the alarm, and then held out her hand, and I--"
"That was the sorceress!" Sonya blurted, wide-eyed. "That's what happened to me!"
"Oh," Hiko muttered, holding a hand to her head. She was still woozy. "Wait a minute--weren't we looking for you?"
"We were," Rayden confirmed, an arm around her, supporting her, relieved immensely that she was all right. "But now we're looking for Jax."
"Oh," she said, again, still confused.
"Something's not right," Sonya blurted. "You thought she was an intern--but I thought that you could sense Djinn right off the bat."
"She wasn't a Djinn," Hiko explained hurriedly, but then she stopped, bewildered. "I don't think she was. Rayden?"
Rayden had gone pale white. "Oh no," he breathed. "Not her."
"Her who?" Hiko inquired. This seemed to snap him out of the spell; he shook his head, his colour returning.
"It doesn't matter. C'mon, let's get Jax and go," he insisted.
"Wait, what about her?" Liu said, very suddenly. He was still sitting next to the unconscious Cheri. "I think she helped Hiko."
Hiko and Rayden looked at each other. "She's a Djinn," Hiko informed the mortal helpfully.
"Djinn don't help people," Rayden added.
This caused Hiko to look surprised, and then thoughtful. "They don't cower, either," she replied, softly. Rayden stared at her, as though he couldn't understand what she was saying.
"Look," Liu explained, pointing at red marks on Cheri's face. "These are from elastics. They match up with the mask that Hiko had on."
"And if the gas effects Djinn the way it does Immortals--" Sonya realised.
Liu nodded. "She took off her mask to save Hiko."
Both Immortals were flabbergasted. "What?" Rayden blurted. "Djinn don't help people! They lie! They cheat! They steal! They kill--!"
"They cry, and beg," Hiko murmured. "They try to save their loved ones."
"They don't have loved ones," Rayden replied, so savagely that even Hiko was taken aback. "They have no sense of right or wrong, or that other people have feelings--"
"That's whole Djinn," Hiko snapped, growing irritated with her husband's prejudice. "She's half-Djinn, half-mortal."
He was silent, and sullen. He started to say something, but then paused; he knew he was in the wrong, but that didn't change his feelings, and only added to his irritation. Hiko gave him a brief hug. "You'll have to tell me all about it when we get back."
"I'd rather not," Rayden admitted, still grumbling. "It's too long a story."
"When we get back," Hiko repeated, in a tone that broached no argument. "Sonya, do you know where they could have taken Jax?"
It was Liu who answered. "They said something about a recruitment center."
Sonya nodded. "That's where they first took me. And it fits." She headed for the door, and then stopped. "Uh..."
"Yeah?" Liu asked. "You know we're behind you, one hundred percent."
"That's the thing," she said, awkwardly. "I need to do this alone."
The two deities and the mortal exchanged glances at each other. "What?" Rayden asked, for them all. "What are you talking about? They tried to kill you."
"Not exactly." Sonya sighed. "Look, give me fifteen minutes with them. If you don't hear from me in fifteen minutes, come in, the full calvary thing. But let me do it on my own first."
Rayden and Liu exchanged another look. "I thought you'd gotten over this whole help thing," the mortal sighed.
"It's not that!" Sonya snapped. "Fifteen minutes! That's all I'm asking!" She turned and stormed from the hallway.
"Gotten over what help thing?" Hiko asked, bewildered. "What was that all about?"
"Never mind," Rayden snapped, starting to pace. "By the Creator, I don't like being trapped here, with Djinn lurking around... this place gives me the creeps."
"I know," Hiko commiserated. "And that intern said something about research on Immortals."
"Really?" both turned to look at her.
"What sort of research?" Rayden asked, his colour returning to normal as he found something to take away his focus from the Djinn. "Did she say?" Hiko shook her head.
"Very interesting," the god said, stopping suddenly. "Liu, is the gas still in the air?"
Liu took a few sniffs. "No-I think they've finally stopped it."
"Good. Hiko, shift back to mortal guise." Rayden snapped back himself, creating a pair of hand guns and tossing one to Liu.
"What-?" his wife blurted.
"We should check it out-while we're waiting for Sonya, of course. With me, Liu?"
"Beats sitting in here," the mortal agreed. "Let's get going."
"That's my boy. Any idea where to start looking, Hiko?"
Hiko, back in her despised doctor's dress uniform, shrugged. "I did come across some files-they've been doing research on all the fighters from the Tournaments. There's a big file for Liu, and Johnny."
Liu looked disturbed; it was the last thing he wanted, to have the Army on his trail.
"Me too?" Rayden inquired. Hiko nodded.
"But yours is just a photo and the caption: 'Class A, do not approach'." Hiko reached over and picked up the folder from the top of the cabinet where she'd left it. "Look."
Rayden took it, his nose wrinkling. "That's a terrible shot."
Liu rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Rayden, let's get this research thing tracked down."
"Yeah, yeah. They got the class right, but what do they mean, 'do not approach'? I'm extremely approachable!"
"Considering they're the kind of people you like to fry for breakfast, I think they have a point," Liu snapped. "I know it's an ego blow, but let's get going!" He took the folder from the god's hands and handed it to Hiko.
"All right already! By the Name...!" Grumbling, Rayden set off down the corridor. Liu followed him, sighing, and Hiko, shaking her head slightly, brought up the rear.
"I told you, I'm not joining anything!" Jax spat at Johannson's feet. He would have liked to throttle the cocky colonel instead, but as he was bound to a chair, spitting was the best he could do. "And where's Sonya?"
"Actually, I don't know," Johannson admitted. "The lieutenant is just as resourceful as we'd thought; we have no idea where she is now."
Eldrich stifled a snicker.
Johannson stiffened. "Problem, Mr. Eldrich?"
"Nope, Steve. Nothing could be more perfect. How many months have you wasted, trying to get these two to join? And one escapes and the other's more stubborn than I am. He also brought his friends-including two Immortals-who are currently still at large-thanks to your first target, whom you trustingly gave a key card to." Eldrich sniffed. "Everything's just peachy."
"You forgot that Hukuseh's escape as well," Waters chimed.
Eldrich snapped his fingers at him. "That's right. Thanks for reminding me, Four Eyes."
"Don't mention it," Waters replied, too busy working on the Djinn-trap to pick up on the jibe.
Johannson had gone purple, but he was, as yet, silent. Eldrich sniffed again, signalling that the display was over. "Finished? Good. I will not tolerate dissent, Eldrich, civilian or not."
Eldrich simply rolled his eyes. But he held his tongue.
Johannson turned to Jax, who had been witness to the entire thing. "Do you see, Captain Briggs, why I am so anxious for you and Lieutenant Blade to join our operation? I need trained professionals who understand what they're up against, but who will also follow orders."
Jax took a deep breath, feeling oddly conflicted. Johannson seemed so sincere-he could be just an actor, but then, no one could fake the reaction that he'd had to Eldrich. Jax decided to help lighten the mood. "Sonya doesn't follow orders, no matter who's giving them."
Johannson was starting to return to normal, and acknowledged the remark with a brief chuckle. "That's true enough. But I have enough yes-men. I need trained officers who can be left in the field to manage for themselves."
"That's what we've been doing," a woman announced, entering the room. All heads turned, including Jax, as best as he was able.
"Sonya!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I've been thinking, Jax," she said, talking to her partner, but looking at Johannson. "And noticing a few things."
"Such as..." Eldrich asked, mock-polite. She stared at him; she didn't know who he was.
"Such as that woman they were holding in the basement. She reminded me of Shang Tsung, Jax."
"Him." Jax wrinkled his nose. "What woman? What are you talking about?"
"Oh-right. You weren't there. I'll fill you in later..." She shook her head, her hands in fists at her side. "I just think... that we might be able to trust them."
Johannson allowed himself a ghost of a smile. Eldrich looked stunned. Waters was still playing with his Djinn trap.
"Are you sure?" Jax asked, looking between his partner and the Colonel.
"No," Sonya replied, bluntly. The smile faded. "But, Johannson, I'm willing to give you a try. If-if-you grant a few concessions."
"Such as?" he asked, stone-faced and steely-eyed.
"Such as-Jax and I are still partners. Such as we're not stuck in an office building. Such as we're given our orders and then left to do them, with no one breathing down our necks." She straightened her back and squared her shoulders, daring him to reply.
He smiled, slightly. "I think... that can be arranged. Does that go for you as well, Jax?"
Jax and Sonya exchanged a look for a long moment, then he turned his head back around. "Yeah, it does."
"Good." Immediately, Johannson bent to untie the captain. "I apologise for tying you up; but we can't find Cherie-"
"She's in one of the filing offices on the second floor," Sonya informed him, flatly.
Johannson paled. "Is she... all right?"
"Breathed a lot of your gas, but yeah, she should be fine." Sonya's eyes narrowed. "She didn't have a run-in with Rayden, if that's what you're worried about."
At the mention of the God of Thunder, Johannson looked startled, and then relieved.
She sniffed. "I thought so. Care to explain this whole feud thing?"
"I don't know much about it." Johannson shrugged. "She says he rounded up the Djinn when she was very small, and she's been terrified of him ever since. That's all I can get out of her."
Jax was about to add something, when an alarm began to sound in the room.
"Warning! There has been a breach in the Lab! Two Class As, one Class F-please send-" There was a sudden squawk and the alarm shut off.
"Two Class As and a Class F?" Waters looked up. "That must mean your friends, Lieutenant."
She nodded. "Probably-what's Class F?"
"Normal human with... supernatural connections," Johannson filled in. "The grades refer to magical ability. As far we now, Liu has none, but is known to associate with those who do."
"I see. So Sonya and I-?" Jax trailed off.
"Are Class F as well. Most humans are Class G-no powers, no magical associates." Johannson was busy trying his radio. "Dammit, Rayden is still shorting it out." Suddenly his head lifted. "That means he's using his powers, correct?"
"Yeah..." Sonya furrowed her eyebrows.
"The security detail must be trying to trap him-"
"Trap him!" Jax interrupted, running to Sonya's side. "Uh oh-we gotta go stop them."
"What?" Her partner was already at the door. "What's the matter, Jax?"
"Earlier, they tried to catch him with a... 'Djinn Trap'," he explained. "Rayden went... nuts. Looneytunes. I've never seen him so mad, ever. If we don't hurry, he could kill somebody."
"Or several somebodies," Sonya agreed. "Let's get going."
The door resembled all the other important base doors: plain, simple, unmarked. It might as well have had a giant neon sign saying: "This way to important military secrets!"
Rayden went to push the door open, but Hiko stopped him, holding him back. She turned to look to Liu, snapping her fingers. Instantly, his attire changed to match Rayden's. They looked at her questioningly. "If anyone asks, you're my back-up," she explained. "I don't want to do this the hard way. Got it?"
Rayden nodded, and stepped back, doing a mock-bow, letting the good doctor through first. She bowed back and sashayed through. The doors led to a small, unfurnished, bare-concrete hallway; the door at the end was locked by a keypad and was marked: "off-limits".
"Those are the best kinds of limits," Liu remarked. "Can you get the lock, Hiko?"
"Allow me," Rayden gallantly interrupted, stepping forwards, placing his hand near the keypad, sparks erupting furiously. Something beeped, and the light went green. "After you, m'Lady."
They stepped through the threshold, into the bright, scrubbed lab area. Interns scuttled around. Computers lined every wall, except one.
That wall held large glass specimen jars.
With specimens inside.
"Fascinating," Hiko breathed, looking over her glasses. "Those look like Shao Khan's handiwork. The few I've seen, anyway."
Liu recognised the specimens as well, although he had a different word for them. "Outworld flunkies."
Rayden sighed, looking around. "So this is the research."
"Doctor!" One of the attendants finally noticed them, and hurried over. "Doctor Munro-I'm glad to see you're finally here. What with the radio black-out, I was never able to locate you-"
"It's all right," Hiko said, with a wave. "I just want to get down to work."
"Indeed." The researcher bobbed his head. "We have several mutant species that we'd like you to take a look at. It's a shame, but our Class C escaped."
"Really? She's loose?" Hiko gasped, horrified, a hand to her chest.
"Yes-" The researched stopped. "How did you know she was a she?" He glared at her suspiciously through eyes so narrowed they were almost closed.
Liu leaped to her defence. "It was in the debriefing."
The doctor blinked. "You two were debriefed as well?"
"Of course," Rayden snapped, so roughly that half of the people in the area jumped. "Doctor Munro, are you going to be all right here?"
"Of course," Hiko nodded, with a quick look to the researcher and his name-tag. "Doctor Clover and I have a lot to discuss."
"Then let's leave the two, Lieutenant," Rayden continued, saluting. Liu followed with a salute as well, but unfortunately, he goofed it up, knocking his cap brim, and drew giggles from a few of the younger interns.
"I'll call you if I need you, General," Hiko agreed. She found Clover staring at her. "When the black-out is over."
"Ah, the black-out." Rayden stopped in his tracks. Liu and Hiko could both tell he was sensing something; to cover it up he added: "Maybe we ought to stay with you, until that time, Doctor. We'll stay out of the way."
"I suppose that's all right," Hiko agreed, with a heavy sigh. "Now, Doctor Clover, please let me know where to start..."
The two trailed off, the very trusting-and-slightly-naive Doctor Clover divulging secrets left right and backwards, while Rayden pulled Liu by the arm into one of the corners, by a specimen jar. The creature inside looked mostly human; but it touted wings and had cloven feet.
"Ugly," Liu remarked.
"It's one of Shao Khan's few forays into creation," Rayden observed, under his breath. "He was never any good at animals. This little beauty was secretly introduced into Earthrealm, several millennia ago. Guess what it inspired legends of."
Liu saw it, first with the eyes of a modern person, who saw a badly designed mockery of a human; then he saw it with the eyes of a primitive, and saw... "Fallen angels."
Rayden tapped his finger to the side of his nose. His voice dropped even lower. "They're trying to awaken it."
"What?" Liu blurted, in horror.
Rayden nodded, noticing the looks around them. They're trying to wake it up. I don't know how, or why. But I can feel it.
Liu shivered. He imagined the chaos that a creature of Shao Khan could unleash on a group of surprised, unprepared humans. He looked around him at the researchers. They wouldn't have a chance.
Oh, they've probably got military back-up. But that's not the point. I don't want these things running around in my Realm. They were hard enough to eradicate the last time.
Liu suddenly realised what Rayden was intending to do, and he hurried back from the glass, just as the liquid inside began to fix and bubble, as it was excited by an electrical current.
Screams and shouts broke out. The creature inside spasmed, flailing against the inside of its jar. Liu tried to pull Rayden back, to act horrified like all the others; but Rayden had forgotten about his role. He was staring at the jar with intensity, just as the glass began to crack.
"No!" someone yelled. "What's going on? Stop whatever it is that you're doing!"
The glass shattered, spraying outwards. Liu held a hand up to his face, belatedly, but something stopped the glass from hitting anything, it was hovering in mid-air.
The assembled crowd gasped. "Magic! There's an enhanced being in here!" someone yelled.
Someone else was more astute. "It's the General-he's the Immortal who was in the base earlier!" Rayden was standing, one hand raised, the crackle of thunder in his eyes. He dropped his hand and the glass fell, clinking against the tiled floor. The liquid in the jar was now pooling, and Liu stepped backwards, his eyes meeting Hiko's for a fraction of a second.
"You're not Dr. Munro!" Clover was not as dumb as they first thought; he saw the look and knew the implications. "Who are you people? What are you doing here?"
Rayden ignored him. "We should be going. Did he say whether any more of these things alive, Hiko?"
Hiko nodded, and pointed to several others.
"Call security!" Clover bellowed. A researcher made a dive for the alarm system. Rayden turned, his head snapping around, his eyes narrowing, and he raised his hand again. There was a snap of thunder and the researcher screamed, then dropped to the floor.
"Warning! There has been a breach in the Lab!" An intern, on the opposite side of the Lab, had reached an alternate alarm system, and was frantically speaking into it. "Two Class As, one Class F-please send-" He gargled, twitching, and then fell to the floor, as white energy crackled around him, throwing sparks.
"Anybody else feel like making a call?" Rayden asked the crowd. There was only a hush as response.
"Good going!" Hiko snapped. "I didn't want to end up doing this!"
Rayden shrugged. "Liu, stand back."
Liu sighed. He hadn't wanted it to end up like this either. "Are you going to destroy the Lab?"
There were several gasps and whimpers.
"No. Get them into one of the corners. There are going to be some fireworks." Rayden cracked his knuckles. Liu gestured with his gun; the interns and researchers reluctantly gathered in the corner farthest from either the doors or the specimen tubes. "I don't want these things in my Realm."
"But-" One intern was brave enough to speak up; Rayden turned to look at her.
"Yes?" he inquired sweetly.
She was quaking, she knew what he was capable of. But she also was the sort of person who couldn't be stopped, once she started. "We've worked so hard, studying them."
"Really." Rayden didn't seem at all threatening; he cocked his head at her. "And do you know how hard I've worked, clearing the Realm after Shao Khan left it in such a mess?
"You-you're Rayden?" she continued, stuttering, shocked. He smiled.
"I am. And you are?"
She didn't know what to make of the request; she stammered, out of habit: "Nurse Embry."
"Well, Nurse Embry, pleased to make your acquaintance. Kindly don't question my actions in the future. Thank you." He smiled at her, then raised his hand in a quick slice motion. The four jars that Hiko had pointed to exploded outward, the creatures inside spasming and then disintegrating in a shower of sparks. The glass fell to the white tile floor like glittering rain. Thunder rumbled overhead.
"You are such a show off," Hiko said, shaking her head slightly, her arms crossed. "You could have simply killed them."
"I like to make an impression," Rayden replied, making eye contact with Nurse Embry as he did so. She started to shake and grabbed onto one of her companions for support.
"Now that you've made one, let's get out of here. I don't want to fight my way through troops again," Liu started, but the door slamming open obscured his last sentence in a burst of universal irony.
"Hold it right there, don't move!" the lead soldier yelled. He and the several behind him were carrying weapons that looked like whips.
Hiko and Rayden exchanged looks.
"Watch it!" screamed one of the interns.
Hiko charged forward, releasing a blast of fire, not one to incinerate the soldiers where they stood, but to at least drive them back; curiously, the fire died out before it reached them. Startled, the trio stopped in their tracks; the lead guard seized his chance. He cracked the whip, throwing it as he did so. It caught Rayden, wrapping around his torso, trapping his arms to his sides.
"What in the Name...?" he began, when the whip began to glow, and then crackle with the god's signature white lightning. Stunned, he managed to give a startled yelp before he dropped to the ground, unconscious.
"Rayden!" Hiko stared in horror at Liu. He caught her eyes, hardening his expression, and then the two nodded. He pulled out his gun, and began firing, throwing himself to take cover behind one of the bank of computers as he did so. Hiko threw herself in the opposite direction, missing her whip by moments and inches.
"Hiko!" Liu yelled. "Can you take them out from there?" Liu yelled, ducking out to shoot at the soldiers, who were alternately setting up their own defence and helping the doctors to safety.
"I should-but that force field-" Hiko replied, worriedly. She looked over to Rayden, who was still unconscious. "Rayden-!" She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. Immediately a wall of fire sprang up, heading towards the soldiers; again it fizzled and went out. "By the Creator!" she screamed, furious and frustrated. She had no way to fight hand to hand, if it came to it; they had the whips which would take care of her long before she could reach them.
There was the sudden sound of laughter, a high-pitched giggling. "Taking the Name in vain, Lady?" the voice giggled, coalescing into a woman, floating a foot in the air to the right of the soldiers. "For shame!"
"It's the Class C!" they yelped, preparing the Djinn trap. She held up a hand.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, boys. I'm the one shielding you; better one ally than none."
"You!" Hiko spat. "You're that Djinn that tricked me!"
"I am," the woman giggled. "Hukuseh the Magnificent at your service. Well, not really. Say, who managed to drop Rayden? Good shot!"
Hiko growled and another fire burst, blazingly bright, into existence, before a wave from Hukuseh cancelled it out. The half-Djinn floated serenely to over the god, then dropped lightly to the ground, on one knee beside him. "Didn't think I'd catch up with you again, did you? Better late than never, lover." She rolled him over, and then took off one of her gloves. "I wouldn't mind a taste of the Thunder power again."
Liu could see her the entire time. She had seen him, but disregarded the mortal; obviously didn't remember him, but he remembered her: the sorceress who had attacked him when he was helping Rayden clean up after the final battle with Shao Khan. She'd tried to drain his energy then too, but Liu had managed to drive her off. She wasn't invulnerable, like a god. He raised his gun and fired.
Just as Hukuseh's hand touched Rayden's cheek, she was spun away from him by the force of a bullet slamming into her shoulder. Screaming, she was knocked backwards to the floor. "Now, Hiko!" Liu yelled. He didn't need to repeat the order; the goddess was already ahead of him. Fire exploded within the Lab, hot enough to begin to melt the computers, although Liu felt no heat. Hukuseh screamed again and then disappeared
"I think we're too late," Sonya said, feeling a familiar tingle in her bones, in the air. Jax was several feet from her. He was about to turn the corner to the Lab; instead she ran and pulled him back so hard that she jerked him off his feet.
Fire came roaring out of the corridor, hitting the wall and spraying backwards. Sonya and Jax both scuttled back, hastily; Johannson and Eldrich skidded to a halt. "My men!" Johannson cried.
"You shouldn't have sent them against Hiko or Rayden," Sonya snorted, as she and her partner got to their feet. "What did you think was going to happen!"
"But-" Johannson stared at horror at the smoking corridor. "But-"
"They're gods, Colonel. And they're called gods for good reason."
"The men probably aren't dead," Jax offered, even though the smoke seemed to contradict him. "I mean, Rayden doesn't like to kill if he doesn't have to-"
"Hiko doesn't either, I don't think," Sonya agreed, finally. "But I'm not sure. She doesn't have the same regard for mortals that Rayden does."
Johannson and Eldrich were both pale white; obviously, neither had any idea what they had gotten messed up with.
"I'll take care of them," Sonya declared, waving the smoke from her face as she set off down the corridor, Jax at her side.
"Someone's coming!" Liu observed, seeing the forms through the curling smoke. He had his gun ready. "Stay where you are!"
"It's me, Liu!" Sonya cried. "Hiko-can't you do anything about the smoke?"
"Hiko's a bit busy at the moment," Liu informed her, jogging to her side. "Jax! You two okay?"
"Yeah-you?" Jax asked. "I see you're on the winning side."
Liu rolled his eyes. "This place has made Rayden jumpy. He blew out half the lab, then the soldiers-then the sorceress-"
"Where are they at the moment?" Sonya asked, still unable to discern clearly through the dusky air.
"The soldiers are over there-I don't think Hiko killed them-she shielded them from most of the blast, I think. The sorceress is gone. They used some sort of whip on Rayden-he's over there. Hiko can't set him free from it; it-well, it keeps shocking her." Liu shook his head. "I think it's using Rayden's own magic against her."
"I can stop it," Sonya said, starting deeper into the room. Liu grabbed her arm. She looked at him questioningly until he starting leading her off to the side and she realised she'd been heading in the wrong direction. "Hiko-I can shut the trap off."
Hiko was kneeling beside Rayden, who was unconscious. She was trying to break the whip; it would shock her, she'd gasp and drop it, then pick it up again, more determined. And more angry, judging by the rise in temperature as they approached her.
"Hiko, I can shut it off!" Sonya repeated. "Stop triggering it!"
The goddess, nearly in tears, finally dropped it and moved a few inches back. Sonya crouched down, looking for the control unit. Rayden was lying on it, she realised; she rolled him onto his stomach. "Ah. There we go." She had seen Waters playing with the same piece of equipment. It looked straightforward enough... she flipped a series of switches and the green light stopped blinking. There was a hissing sound, and then the whip suddenly lost its tension.
"Thank the Creator," Hiko breathed, touching Rayden's cheek. "He's lost a lot of energy, but he should be okay."
"Let's get going," Liu agreed. "Jax is right behind me-"
"Jax and I aren't going back with you," Sonya interrupted.
"What?" both Liu and Hiko cried. "What are you talking about?"
"We've decided to join them. They're on our side; they just have different methods."
Hiko raised an eyebrow. "And they're a bit confused. Don't you generally not attack those on your side? It may be a mortal thing, just let me know-"
Sonya snorted. "Yes, they're confused. But I'm sorting them out. Trust me."
"Sonya-" Liu began, but she looked up at him and he trailed off. "Are you sure about this?"
"Very," she said simply, with a ghost of smile.
"Then that's enough for me," Liu said, finally, relaxing. "I guess we'll just portal back to the Temple.. You'll phone, let me know what this is all about?"
"Of course," Jax answered for them. "Once we get settled. Promise. We might even visit."
"This is entirely too confusing for me," Hiko announced, loudly. She took Rayden's hand and offered her other to Liu. "I'm going. All those who wish to follow-last chance."
"I'll see you guys later," Sonya replied, getting to her feet. "I'll keep in touch."
The goddess nodded, briefly, and then she disappeared in an orange flash, along with her husband, and Liu.
"Well." Jax coughed in the smoke.
"I think we should get going," Sonya agreed, as they headed for the door.
Captain Jax Briggs, special agent the Alternate Task Truth Force, put his feet up on his new desk, in his new office/apartment. Lieutenant Sonya Blade stared out the window at the Hong Kong skyline. "It was nice for them to post us in Hong Kong," he said, just to make conversation. He felt cheerful; he had un-packed moments earlier. It was the first time in ages that he'd had an apartment to call his own. True, he was living with Sonya, but she wasn't five other guys, so it was a big change. A nice one.
She turned to look at him. "It only makes sense-we run off to China all the time anyway. This saves them the airfare."
He grinned, sitting back up. The phone rang, and it picked it up. Only ATTFOR had this number; only they could use it. "Yes, sir?" He listened for a moment. "Yes, sir. I will tell her, sir." He hung the phone back in the cradle.
"Orders?" Sonya inquired.
"Our first mission, Lieutenant," Jax said, with a grin. "About time, too. I was getting bored."