Rain and Fire – A Hecatonchires Short Story
Posted by Doug on April 13, 2010
The following is a short sort-of-sequel to my NaNoWriMo novel, Hecatonchires:
Even if Kadenokōji Takako had a free hand to hold it in, even the largest umbrella would have been inadequate defense against the nearly horizontal rain as the typhoon assailed Tokyo. The streets of Shibuya were all but deserted, with only the occasional emergency services vehicle passing by, and Kadenokōji had not seen a single pedestrian in what otherwise would have been one of the most crowded districts in the city. The downpour was so strong it made it difficult to walk, doubly when moving against the wind, and of course Kadenokōji’s destination was currently both upwind and uphill, and to make things even worse, walking slowly was not an option. I’ve got to get ahead of that damned squid! Her legs burning with the exertion, she pushed forwards, running up the hill as fast as she could without falling down. Needless to say, she was long since completely drenched, and that did nothing to improve her mood.
In her left hand she held a small LED flashlight, which really was not helping illuminate her path much; in her right, her weapon, a Heckler and Koch UMP submachine gun. Over her mauve pant suit she wore a heavy tan tactical vest like the Special Assault Team operators wore, filled with a half-dozen spare magazines for the UMP, her USP pistol and a couple spare magazines for it, and all manner of small equipment, from a police radio to a folding multi-tool. It weighed nearly fifteen kilograms, and Kadenokōji could not, at the moment, decide whether the extra weight was slowing her pace or helping keep her from getting blown away by the typhoon.
This was, more or less, her typical work attire: twenty-four-year-old Kadenokōji was a sergeant in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Safety Bureau Paranormal Operations Section, and her primary function was to defend against the hecatonchires. Nicknamed a ‘squid’ or a ‘hex’, the hecatonchires was a hyperdimensional entity that manifested as a putrid mass of eyes and tentacles the size of a bear, or so stated the current consensus of researchers. It did not matter much to Kadenokōji what they were; what mattered to her was what they were capable of doing. Over a hundred people had been killed by hecatonchires in Japan alone; worldwide the number was no doubt in the tens of thousands.
Ideally, she would have been chasing down the hecatonchires in the patrol vehicle she had been assigned, a two-year-old unmarked Subaru Legacy squad car, but it had died trying to ford an intersection four blocks back. Piece of junk couldn’t handle forty centimeters of water! For the hundredth time today, Kadenokōji wished she had kept the ancient but incredibly durable Suzuki Jimny they had assigned her when she had first transferred into Paranormal Ops four months ago. It wouldn’t have gotten bogged down even if the water had came up above the hood.
From ahead came the sound of screeching tires, barely audible over the relentless howl of the wind, and then a sickening crunch. Kadenokōji reached the top of the hill, and saw a dark red minivan in the middle of the street, its front end caved in, and beyond it, the hecatonchires continued floating down the street, seemingly unaffected by the torrential rain and the gale winds, reaching its tentacles out to grab onto the street below it or the signposts beside it and pull itself steadily along.
Kadenokōji ran up to the minivan on the passenger side, and looked in the shattered window. The driver of the minivan, a man in his mid-forties, no doubt a salaryman by his suit, was leaning back in his seat, groaning as he held the back of his neck. Using the flashlight to quickly look around the interior, she confirmed that the man was the only person in the vehicle. “Sir, don’t worry!” Kadenokōji had to almost scream to hear herself. “I’ll get you some help! Just stay in your vehicle no matter what!”
The man nodded. Kadenokōji looked around the minivan to see the hecatonchires was still just pulling itself down the street, and unclipped her radio from the shoulder of her tactical vest. She checked to make sure it was on the same channel that the regular Shibuya police were using. “All units in Shibuya district, there is a single vehicle accident at West Seventh near the 7-Eleven! One injured civilian! Be advised there is a hex in the area, heading north! I repeat, vehicle accident at West Seventh near the 7-Eleven, hecatonchires in the area!”
There was a garbled reply that sounded more-or-less like a confirmation, and since there was nothing more she could do to help the injured man in the minivan, she charged after the hecatonchires again. Now that it was in her sight, she pulled back the UMP’s cocking lever and let it snap back with a satisfyingly ominous click, loading a round into the chamber of the submachine gun. Holding both the flashlight and the UMP at the same time was a little awkward, so Kadenokōji stuffed the flashlight into one of her tactical vest’s many pockets, and brought the UMP up to her shoulder in both hands, and centered the hecatonchires in the gun’s reflex sight as she closed the distance.
At about twenty meters from the hecatonchires, she stopped, steadied her aim the best she could–Too much rain in my eyes. I need goggles or something!–released the safety, and then squeezed off one round, hitting the hecatonchires’ rubbery body. A black mist of foul-smelling musk sprayed from the point of the .40-caliber bullet’s impact. Instantly the hecatonchires stopped its progress down the street; as Kadenokōji had been expecting, it began pulling itself towards her. Yielding ground, she continued firing, alternating her point of aim from the body to lure it towards her, to the tentacles it was pulling itself along with to slow it down when it got too close. As long as she kept it at least ten meters away, she was in no danger of it being able to reach out and grab her. Okay, Sōichirō-kun, any time you want to get here and finish this thing off would be great.
As the hecatonchires lurched towards her, she quickly fired at its tentacles, and as it retracted them, slowing its advance, Kadenokōji hastily retreated back along the sidewalk, bumping into a street sign as she did. Aragaki Sōichirō. You can create and control fire–what do they call that? A pyro-something. Pyromaniac? No, that’s an crazy person who commits arson. Pyro…kineticist? That sounds right. She pulled the trigger of the UMP to fire at the hecatonchires, but nothing happened: the UMP was empty. With an ease born of many hours of practice, she exchanged the empty magazine for a loaded one, racked the cocking lever, and resumed firing, all in scarcely more than two seconds. She kept her rate of fire fairly steady as she led the hecatonchires towards Aragaki, past the crashed minivan, careful to keep her line of fire clear of it. She reloaded a second time as she backed down the hillside she had ran up earlier, and a third time, and a fourth, all just as efficiently as the first. “Oh yeah!” Kadenokōji shouted, proud of herself. Until now, she had problems reloading under duress, but the time spent practising had clearly paid off.
Yeah, Sōichirō-kun, you might be an pyrokineticist, but you sure are slow. Aragaki, she had learned, was incapable of running. He could walk perfectly normally, but regardless of the situation, he simply would not run, or even jog, or even walk fast. He had exactly one speed, which was just a little faster than Kadenokōji’s own normal gait. Loading her sixth full magazine, Kadenokōji noticed steam billowing off the barrel of the UMP from where the rain hit it. Focus! She resumed firing, steadily backing away. Where is he? “SŌICHIRŌ-KUN!” she shouted, hoping either that her voice was loud enough to be heard over the cacophonous rainfall, or that Aragaki’s sense of hearing was as supernatural as his other abilities and would pick it up anyways.
“It is not necessary to shout, given my proximity.”
Aragaki’s words startled Kadenokōji; the esper was standing not a meter to her side. Like Kadenokōji, he was drenched; unlike Kadenokōji, he did not seem the least bit bothered by it. “Damn it, Sōichirō-kun, don’t scare me like that! Make some noise or something!”
“I apologize for unsettling you,” Aragaki said as Kadenokōji began focusing on the hecatonchires’ tentacles to keep it from moving. He was thirteen years old, but as an esper, he was in the employ of the Metropolitan Police despite his youth. As always, Aragaki’s voice was devoid of any emotion, nor was any visible on his expressionless face. “You will immobilize the hecatonchires–“
“I know what to do!” Kadenokōji shouted. She shot the last one of the hecatonchires’ tentacles holding it to the ground, and for a moment, it hovered motionlessly in the air. A moment was long enough for Aragaki to bring his powers to bear. Without a word from him, without him even blinking, the hecatonchires was set ablaze, a wave of searing heat pushing Kadenokōji back. Reflexively she raised her arm to shield her face from the heat. The flames boiled the rain into steam, and mixing with the hecatonchires musk, the steam formed a noxious, billowing cloud that obscured all vision and sent Kadenokōji into a coughing fit. Lowering the UMP, she fell much further back; now that Aragaki had set the flames to it, the problem of the hecatonchires would be solved in moments.
The flames stopped abruptly, and sure enough, when the rain washed the cloud of steam away, Kadenokōji and Aragaki stood alone on the street in the pouring rain. The hecatonchires was gone.
“Just disappeared, like the others,” Kadenokōji said, and then coughed some more.
“The hecatonchires is a singular entity,” Aragaki said. “Even though it manifests in different locations in space-time, one manifestation is not in any way disparate from the others.”
Kadenokōji rolled her eyes. Switching the UMP’s fire control to ‘safe’, she slung it over her shoulder. So tired…but I can’t rest yet. “It doesn’t matter. There’s an injured civilian up ahead. Let’s go.”
Even though, technically, Aragaki was Kadenokōji’s superior, he accepted her order without complaint. As he followed her up the hill towards the minivan, he did say, “Your performance in this incident has been exceptional, Taka-neesan.”
Kadenokōji smiled. This was the first time Aragaki had called her anything other than ‘Kadenokōji-san’ without being prompted, and she found him calling her ‘big sister’ heartwarming. Impulsively, she reached her arm around his shoulders and pulled him close in a hug. Maybe he’s starting to change, to loosen up a little and be more…human…
His expression not changing even fractionally, Aragaki said, “This is a very inefficient way to walk.”
The heartwarming moment was gone as quickly as it had begun. Kadenokōji pushed Aragaki away. “Jerk.” Nope. No change whatsoever.