“Are you sure this is a good idea, boss?” Joker asked as he expertly piloted a small speedboat through the blue ocean.
“Do you intend to ask me about that before we start every mission?” Maria asked.
“That depends. Is every mission we go on gonna be completely crazy?” Joker quipped.
The super soldier rolled her eyes. After their last mission to the AIM compound, the intelligence they’d acquired there had made the blonde decide that they needed to turn their attention to DOATEC, where hopefully they would find the next piece of the puzzle they’d been trying to assemble. That a number of nefarious groups were apparently collaborating on something—a project that they knew was called “Chimera” but which they had little other intel on—was troubling to say the least.
Maria had made it her top priority to figure out what it was and how to stop it, which was why she and the rest of SHIELD Team Seven were currently en route to the uncharted island where the sixth Dead or Alive tournament was due to begin shortly.
“Seats at this event aren’t publically available,” Maria reminded Joker. “It was too late to ask the Director if he could pull strings and get us tickets, so the only way to get in was to enter myself and Maya as contestants.”
“Don’t worry, Joker,” Maya piped up from the rear of the boat. “Me and Maria can handle it, no problem!” she made a V-for-victory sign with her hand, grinning cheerfully.
“I know you two are absurdly tough, but I also know the kind of fighters these sorts of events tend to attract,” Joker warned. “ ‘Insane’ barely even begins to cover it.”
“Just be glad we don’t have to infiltrate a Tenkaichi Budokai. At those things, absolutely anybody can enter.” Maria said. “At least the Dead or Alive tournament still places *some* restrictions on what fighters are allowed. Which means we don’t need to worry about Saiyans, Kryptonians, gods, or gamma mutants.”
“If that’s the most reassuring thing you can say about this, I’m not sure I’m very reassured,” Joker said. “Why couldn’t we have just snuck in? Like, you know, the spies we are? I’m sure I could’ve gotten us past any defenses.”
Fujiko, who was laying atop the roof of the boat in a brief bikini, working on her suntan, allowed herself a laugh. “Is that what this is all about, Joker?” she asked. “You’re upset that you’re just here to chauffeur everyone back and forth, instead of getting a chance to really use your skills?”
“No!” the pilot snapped hotly. “I just think the Captain and Maya here are in for a bruising because we’re doing it this way.”
“It’s fine if we take a few lumps, Joker,” Maya reassured him. “That’s the way of the martial artist. Testing your skills against others and constantly seeking to learn how to hone your skills and become stronger. If that requires taking a few knocks upside the head, then that’s a price I’ll gladly pay.”
Joker blinked. That was an unusually serious and profound thing for the frequently ditzy ninja to say. “Wow, Maya, that—”
“Plus, tons of super cute guys who are in totally great shape are always at this type of event!” Maya interrupted him. “There’s no way I’d want to sneak around and not be seen when there’s a beefcake buffet available!”
The pilot sighed.
“We can handle it, Joker,” Maria reassured him. “And I do believe that this is best. The security for the Dead or Alive tournaments is always legendarily tight, and we just didn’t have enough time to prepare to pierce it.”
“So you just sit back and let yourself enjoy the show,” Fujiko advised him. “After all, it’s not only the male fighters who are known to be extra attractive at these things.”
Joker wanted to snap that he wasn’t the kind of guy to be able to appreciate that while on a mission. However, he’d made a few too many remarks about Fujiko’s own figure to think he’d get away with that.
“By the way,” he turned to Maria, deciding to change the subject. “Are you intending to just fight as yourself, or what?”
“No, I’ve already got my disguise all ready,” Maria informed him. “In fact, I should probably put it on now. We are getting pretty close.”
She pulled the Mari mask she’d worn on the previous mission over her head, then donned another mask atop that. This one was a blue, Mexican-wrestler style mask with white stars. Once she had those on, she began to peel off her battle suit, revealing an unarmored but still red, white, and blue garment beneath it.
“Say hello to the Star Spangled Girl,” she said.
“You’re wearing a mask on top of a mask,” Joker said flatly. “Also, you look like that Captain America Mari decided to try her hand at MMA fighting or something.”
“It gets the job done,” Maria said, frowning.
“No one will guess who she really is, at least,” Maya put in. “Also, I’ve met a couple of Mari alts. I could totally see them taking up MMA fighting.”
“We’re almost there,” Maria said, wanting to cut off further discussion on the topic of her disguise. “Fujiko, remember, it’s your job to do the work of actually infiltrating the facility and finding the information we want. Maya and I will have our hands full just staying in the tournament.”
“Right,” the ninja agreed, knowing that if they were both eliminated then they and their guests—Joker and Fujiko—would quickly be escorted off the island. If that happened before the mission was done, it was all over.
“Occupy myself by leering at the pretty ladies in the tournament, I know,” the pilot grumbled.
“I was going to say that you’re responsible for steering the boat away, especially if we need to leave in a hurry, but if that’s the way you want to interpret your mission…”
Joker sighed. This was not shaping up to be his day.
On the surface of the island—unofficially known as DOA Island for the moment—where the tournament was due to begin shortly, the stage was set for a major sporting event. The stadium that dominated most of the surface of the small landmass would’ve looked modest in a major city, but for such an out of the way place, it was nothing short of amazing. And small or not, it was clearly ready to host any event you could want; the place was fully stocked with everything necessary to keep scores of spectators happy, from the concession stands to the bathrooms.
Of course, as impressive as the facilities on the surface of the island were, they were nothing compared to the ones underground. It was in this extensive but secretive place where a man most commonly known as “Rig” was teleconferencing with one of the most infamous men to ever be associated with the fighting entertainment industry.
“How is our little project coming along?” Victor Donovan asked.
“Just fine,” Rig answered. “Everything is operating at full capacity, and production numbers are well within expectations. Once the tournament is concluded, we should have everything we need to complete Phase Five of Project Alpha.”
“Excellent,” Donovan said. “See that everything stays on schedule. I don’t need to tell you how vital the success of this endeavor is for us.”
“Yes, Father,” Rig said.
“I’ll leave matters to you, then. Donovan out,” the shadowy businessman said, his image winking off the screen.
“I won’t let you down,” Rig said softly.
“Wow, if I didn’t know better, I’d say I was at a football game or something,” Joker remarked as he limped along, heading for the block of seats reserved for guests of the fighters.
“It does have that kind of atmosphere to it, in spite of all the security,” Fujiko agreed.
The ninja and the super soldier had headed off to the fighters’ locker rooms and waiting areas a few minutes ago, parting ways with the pilot and the master thief. Surprisingly, the two weren’t at each other’s throats, at least, not yet.
“I guess if you want people to shell out so much cash for this kind of thing, you have to try and make them comfortable, even when you’ve got a small army in the area,” the pilot said. “How much do you think they’re getting from the Pay-per-view sales?” he asked, indicating a camera crew with a motion of his chin.
“Millions, at least,” Fujiko said, dark eyes sparkling and full lips curving into a smile at the thought of such wealth.
“Fujiko…” Joker growled warningly.
“Relax,” she said quietly. “I’m a thief, but I’m not an idiot. I doubt the revenue would be held in cash here. Besides, I’m not going to try a job like that in a place with this much security when I haven’t had a chance to do any reconnaissance. I’m worried enough about doing the job we came here for.”
Joker found himself surprised by her words. Fujiko’s pragmatic attitude hardly shifted his overall opinion of her, but this was perhaps the first time he’d seen her appear truly anxious, even afraid. He supposed it might be an act—the woman was a master manipulator, after all—but he still felt a bit of sympathy for her.
The captain and Maya had the job that guaranteed they’d take a few blows before this day was over, and his own task was just plain boring. Yet it was Fujiko who was really getting the short (and dangerous) end of the stick this time around.
The two finally found their seats, and Joker gratefully sat down. The man sitting next to them looked at him with a mixture of disbelief and envy, clearly shocked to see the obviously disabled and not ostentatiously wealthy man in the company of a dream woman like Fujiko.
Of course, they weren’t an item, and so far as Joker was concerned, the idea of dating the master thief was actually a nightmare. However, the guy looking at him incredulously didn’t know that, so the pilot gave him a smug grin, letting the jerk think that he and the woman with the bodacious body were together.
That apparently made the guy realize how blatantly he was staring, and he abruptly turned away.
Shortly after that, the announcer appeared and began to explain the weirdly complicated structure of the tournament as the lights in the stadium went down, save for those shining on the ring in the center.
“Looks like we made it just in time,” Fujiko remarked.
“Yeah,” Joker responded, suddenly feeling anxious and antsy as it sank in that he had nothing to do now expect watch the fights until it was time for them to go.
The plan was for Fujiko to depart, ostensibly for the restrooms or the concession stands, in the gap between the first and second fight. Given how potentially limited their time was, it would’ve been better if she could start at once, but it would’ve looked weird if she’d disappeared before the beginning of even one fight.
“Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the first match of our little tournament!” the announcer yelled. “Ibuki verses Mighty Mask!”
Maya entered the ring with an impressive series of back flips. “Ibuki, on the scene!” she proclaimed cheerfully.
“Oh, fantastic. One of our fighters is in the very first round,” Joker remarked.
“At least she had the good sense to not use her whole name, and to keep her mask up,” Fujiko said, indicating the black cloth that covered her nose and mouth. “Besides, I don’t think our girl will have trouble advancing to the next round.” She added as she watched Maya’s opponent enter the ring with a good deal less style than the ninja.
“Oh, great,” Maya complained as Mighty Mask approached her. “There are stud muffins by the dozen here, and I wind up facing *you* in the first round.”
Despite the black mask her opponent wore, it was obvious that the man was rather annoyed.
Not that the ninja was particularly ashamed of the sentiment. Mighty Mask was a stout man who was clearly in good shape, but even without seeing his face, she could tell he was a bit older; the gradual softening of his physique and the loss of muscle definition that came with age was just starting to become apparent. Maya judged him to be somewhere in his forties, well above the average age of most of the fighters present.
“This isn’t speed dating!” Mighty Mask snapped irritably, getting several chuckles from the audience.
For once, Maya had the good grace to be chagrined. “You are correct,” she admitted. She brought her hands together in front of her chest, one palm open, the other closed in a fist, and bowed. “It is an honor to meet you in battle.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Mighty Mask grinned, getting into a fighting stance.
“And…begin!” the announcer yelled, accompanied by the sound of a loud bell.
“Finally!” Mighty Mask exclaimed, charging forward with one fist extended.
Maya leaped nimbly into the air, kicking her foe not once but twice at the apex of her jump, sending him staggering backwards. Landing lightly on the ground, she suddenly surged forward in a blur of motion, somehow getting behind the still reeling fighter.
“Hiya!” she yelled, unleashing a triple spin kick that sent Mighty Mask falling to the ground face first.
The masked fighter got up just in time to walk straight into a throw from the ninja.
“You’ve got a ways to go!” Maya exclaimed cheerfully as he collided with the ground once more.
This time, Mighty Mask didn’t get up, and the announcer began the ten count.
The masked fighter didn’t even twitch for the whole of it.
The bell sounded again. “Ladies and gentlemen, your winner: Ibuki!” the announcer proclaimed.
“Thank you, thank you!” the ninja waved cheerfully at the audience. “You’re too kind! Hey, can I maybe get matched up with a total hunk of the next round…?”
“Well, that was quick,” Joker remarked.
“Looks like the first couple of rounds are going to be mostly about weeding out the fighters who really don’t belong here,” Fujiko observed. She released a bored sigh that was carefully calibrated to make her sound like a lady who’d been born to money and was used to being entertained. “I think I’ll go freshen up.”
“The fights just started,” the pilot pretended to argue.
“I’d rather miss them sorting the wheat from the chaff than have to step away during the exciting match ups,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” he agreed with a shrug.
Getting up from her seat, Fujiko made her way in the direction of the restrooms and was amused to note that there was already a line forming for the ladies room, despite the fact that there were far more men in the audience than women.
Fujiko lingered by the entrance of her alleged destination for a moment, then mimed a disgusted reaction and stalked off, ostensibly
in search of another ladies room.
Of course, finding a bathroom wasn’t at all what was on the stunning brunette’s mind. She quickly made her way through the corridors of the stadium’s interior until she located a stairwell that led downwards.
A sign posted just outside the door warned everyone who wasn’t a DOATEC employee with level two clearance to stay out.
“I swear, these people make it much too easy sometimes,” she said softly to herself, smirking.
Taking a quick look around to make sure no one else was in the area, Fujiko withdrew a small case from her pocket, opening it to reveal a pair of glasses, which she slipped on. She opened the door and began to make her way down the stairs, alert for any sign of anyone else.
At the bottom of the stairs, she found a single door of thick metal, with yet more warnings plastered across it. There was no handle or knob, just a card reader on the wall right next to it.
Undeterred, Fujiko began to get out the instruments she’d need to pick the electronic lock, when she heard movement from the other side of the door. Quickly gathering up her things, the brunette pressed herself against wall.
A moment later, the door slid open, and a man wearing a white coat emerged, looking tired and overworked.
He noticed the voluptuous woman next to the door just a moment too late.
Fujiko struck him upside the head with an extendable baton, and the man crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
“Don’t mind if I do, thank you,” she said, claiming the man’s lab coat for herself. It was a little short, which came as no surprise, since she had at least four inches on the unlucky scientist she’d just clubbed on the head, but it would do.
She checked the plastic badge clipped to the front of the coat, which thankfully didn’t have a picture on it. Apparently, she was Doctor Williams now.
Fully aware of the danger of lingering in this area, Fujiko quickly dragged the unconscious man behind the staircase, where he would hopefully remain unnoticed long enough for her to perform her mission and get out.
/Judging by the amount of dust and cobwebs back here, I think it’s safe to say people usually ignore this place./ She thought with distaste as she bound and gagged the man, in case he woke up.
That finally done, she emerged from behind the stairs, quickly brushing off the dust she’d picked up and straightening her hair. It wouldn’t do to go through all the trouble of ambushing a scientist and stealing his coat only to arouse suspicion because she looked oddly disheveled.
Of course, by now the door had slid itself shut and was sealed once again, but this time Fujiko was armed with the poor Dr. Williams’ ID badge. She ran it through the reader, and the door obediently swung aside for her.
/Perhaps this whole mission won’t be so bad after all./ She thought, mostly to reassure herself.
She didn’t like this whole escapade. It wasn’t that it was too crazy for her—frankly, she done far more insane things for fun and profit—but the almost total lack of information going in.
Fujiko hated charging in blind like that, but sometimes things weren’t always worse than you feared. Often they could be much easier.
She held onto that thought until she reached the end of the hallway and discovered the main underground facility.
“Oh my God,” she breathed.
“This hand of mine burns with an awesome power! Its loud roar tells me to defeat you! Ready? Here I go! Erupting Burning Finger!”
Domon Kasshu charged forward, his right hand wreathed in unearthly crimson fire.
It really looked like it would hurt quite a lot, Maria decided.
As he drew nearer, the super soldier jumped, sailing a very impressive six or seven feet into the air. She planted her feet on his shoulders as she came down, forcing a surprised cry out of her foe and sending him staggering.
Somersaulting over him, she landed lightly on the ground, then lashed out with a fierce kick.
Only to have her leg impact his own as he countered with the same move.
/Damn, he’s fast./ She thought with a grimace, as the two of them began to trade a flurry of attacks, punching and blocking at blinding speed.
She had sailed through the first round as easily as Maya had, but once that was over (and despite the sheer number of fights, it hadn’t taken long), the average skill level of the remaining fighters had climbed sharply. As good as she was, Maria wasn’t at all certain that she’d be able to stay in the tournament for very long.
Right now, though, she was just focused on making it through *this* match.
The Gundam fighter abruptly jumped backwards several yards, ending their volley of punches, and Maria took a defensive stance, wondering what he had in mind now.
Domon stomped the ground, and a chunk of the concrete that the battlefield was composed from burst into the air. The young fighter from Neo-Japan struck the rock with a fist, sending it flying toward Maria.
/Is he an earthbender?!/ the super soldier wondered as she dodged the rocky missile.
Domon repeated the trick several more times, and the air was soon thick with chunks of the ring. Maria dodged wildly, pressing her speed and acrobatic abilities to the limit as she tried to get close enough to her foe to hit him.
“Ooph!” she cried out as one of the rocks hit her right in the stomach, causing her to fall to her knees.
The Gundam fighter immediately ceased his assault. “Do you surrender?” he called.
Maria responded by concentrating her ki just like she had back at the AIM base, causing her muscles to more than triple in size. She rose back to her feet.
Unsurprisingly, Domon immediately resumed his assault. Maria swatted several of the rocks out of the air, but she was no longer remotely fast enough to dodge them all. She made sure to protect her head, but several hit her in the abdomen, in the chest, in the shoulders.
The super soldier carefully schooled her features, not letting any pain show on her face as she approached her foe.
When she finally drew to within striking distance of Domon, he quit his rock assault, instead lashing out with a fierce punch.
Maria abruptly released the high concentration of ki within her body, causing her to quickly shrink back to normal size, and her opponent’s blow missed as a result. The young man staggered forward, overbalanced.
That was all she needed. Applying every bit of her still great strength, she unleashed a storm of punches that left poor Domon dazed and battered.
“Hiya!” she yelled as she finished out with a great spin kick that sent him flying.
“And the Star Spangled Girl wins by ring out!” the announcer shouted as Domon landed on the soft grass outside the now abused battlefield.
Maria spread out her arms, making a show of soaking in the crowd’s applause and adulation, even though all she really wanted was to sit down and take five.
“Our repair crews should have the ring back in pristine condition in a moment folks,” the announcer continued, which Maria took as her cue to depart. “Until the next fight can begin, why not head over to one of the concession stands for a delicious snack or beverage?”
Maria ignored him, trudging over to the tiny, dugout-like area that she and Maya had to themselves. “Ugh,” she grunted.
“Are you okay, boss?” the ninja asked her worriedly.
“Define ‘okay’,” Maria replied.
She plopped down in a small folding chair, then lifted her shirt, exposing her midriff. Under normal circumstances this would’ve drawn attention to her impressive six pack, but Maya could only wince at the sight of the enormous purple bruise that had already formed, seemingly covering the whole front of her torso.
Maya handed her an ice pack, and Maria gratefully applied it to her battered midsection.
“I really hope Fujiko finds the information we need and gets out here quickly,” Maria said. “I’m not sure how long we can stay in this.”
“Of all the things that could’ve been down here, this is not what I would’ve guessed,” Fujiko muttered to herself as she snapped pictures of her surroundings with the camera concealed inside her glasses.
The enormous subterranean section on DOA Island contained a cloning facility, an enormous cloning facility. Great glass tubes filled with liquid lined the walls and took up entire rooms, easily numbering in the hundreds. Each and every one contained a clone in varying stages of development, and all of the clones, or at least the ones far enough along to be recognizable, were copies of the same person. A stunningly beautiful woman with long red hair.
Fujiko had never been a big fan of martial arts or fighting entertainment, but she had no trouble recognizing the woman who’s been duplicated over and over again here.
Kasumi of Mugen Tenshin ninja clan, the winner of the very first Dead or Alive tournament and thus one of the best martial artists in the world.
/It looks like they’re making an army of her here./ Fujiko thought as she continued to take pictures. /But why do it right below a huge event like this tournament? And if making an army is their aim, why isn’t this place in full production mode?/
In spite of obviously being a clone factory, most of the equipment was still and silent. Fujiko knew that even with drugs and other treatments available to make clones age to maturity faster, it still took some time to get them ready, but she was sure more could be going on.
Indeed, there were machines of various shapes and sizes everywhere that were just sitting around, doing nothing. The only thing that seemed to be happening, aside from waiting for the clones to grow, was that fluids were being pumped into and out of the tubes.
Spying a row of vats where all these chemicals were coming from, Fujiko went over to investigate. Most were clearly labeled, and contained nothing of any real interest; they were things like a saline solution, nutrients, antibiotics, the type of thing needed to keep growing clones alive and healthy in their glass wombs.
One, however, was different. There was a large red label on it, warning people not to ingest the liquid or get it into their eyes, but no sign to identify what it actually was. The stuff also smelled funny, she noted. It had a very medicine-y, chemical odor to it, but she had never smelled exactly the like before.
Taking a small glass vial, she quickly scooped up a bit of the chemical. Screwing the top of the tube tightly closed, she tucked it into her considerable cleavage.
/Time to go./ She decided as she turned.
Only to find herself face to face with a young man with close cropped hair. Fujiko barely managed to hold back a yelp of fright, cursing herself for not hearing him approach.
“Good afternoon…Doctor Williams,” he said, reading the name off of her stolen ID badge. “I haven’t encountered you here before.”
The words were spoken without accusation, and he wore the same smile that Fujiko had seen countless men direct at her, the one they wore because they were attracted to her and wanted very much to seem friendly. She relaxed as she realized he hadn’t seen her steal a little of the mystery chemical.
“I’m new here, Mister…?” she trailed off.
“Everyone just calls me Rig, I run the place,” he said.
“Oh! I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize you were the boss, Mr. Rig,” Fujiko said, doing her best to appear timid and flustered.
“Please, none of this ‘sir’ or ‘mister’ nonsense,” he said. “Just Rig is fine.”
“Sure, Rig,” Fujiko said.
“Since you’re new here, why don’t I show you around?” he offered, his grin growing wider.
/Do you give all your new scientists the tour, or just the ones who wear a DDD cup bra?/ She thought, noticing the way his gaze kept dipping away from her face. Not that that was a new experience for her.
“Oh, that’s very kind of you, but I should really get back to work,” Fujiko said, turning to walk away.
Rig gently took hold of her arm, then intertwined it with his. “I insist,” he said.
“Well,” Fujiko said, struggling to maintain her pleasant smile. “If you insist…”
“C’mon, Fujiko, where are you?” Joker muttered to himself from his place in the audience.
Already, another round had concluded. Maya had made it through a fight with a guy called Yamacha easily enough, but Maria had endured another brutal match with some kid named Kenichi, who’d proven to be a lot tougher than he looked. Joker wasn’t sure how much longer the pair would hold out.
/And if they’re eliminated before she gets back…/
Joker turned his head to watch as one of the stadium employees escorted out a guest of one of the recently eliminated fighters. The pilot thought he’d seen cops drag criminals to squad cars more politely.
He had no idea why DOATEC felt the need to kick out the fighters’ guests when the fighter who’d brought them was knocked out of the tournament, but it was something they were certainly serious about enforcing. Joker was quite sure that they wouldn’t take it well if Maria and Maya were eliminated and no one could tell them where Fujiko was.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” the announcer called out, getting Joker’s attention. “For the next three rounds, the tournament will feature tag team style match ups! Fighters who arrived to the tournament with an ally will be paired up with them. Those fighters who arrived alone, or whose ally was eliminated, will be randomly paired up with another fighter! Let’s see our teams now!”
On the stadium’s massive jumbo-tron, the images of the remaining fighters appeared, with team members close to each other. Naturally, Maria and Maya were a team.
Joker just shook his head. This tournament was weird; he’d never even heard of another that went from singles matches to tag team matches like this.
“A tag team is defeated if one member of the team falls,” the announcer continued. “Remember, a person can lose if they’re knocked out of the ring, give up, or are down for a ten count. Killing your opponent remains strictly forbidden by the rules and will result in automatic disqualification, as will a member of a team entering the ring without having been tagged in first. Now, let’s see who our match ups for this round will be!”
The images on the jumbo-tron flashed as a computer somewhere selected random match ups. Joker groaned when he saw the final result.
Maria and Maya were in the first match of this round, and they were paired up against some of the most dominant fighters he’d seen so far.
A pair of guys named Sub-Zero and Goro.
“Fighters, please report to the ring!” the announcer said, and the four martial artists did so. After some quiet discussion among the two pairs of fighters, Maria and Sub-Zero chose to fight first.
“And begin!” the announcer shouted, accompanied by the sharp ring of a bell.
“Pleasure to meet you, Sub-Zero,” Maria said as she took a defensive stance, trying to ignore how much her body ached by this point. “Hey, I’ve had a rough couple of rounds, so I’d kind of like to take it easy for a bit. I don’t suppose you’d be interested in saving yourself a beating and just forfeiting?”
It was the kind of thing she never would’ve said unless she was in disguise, like she was now. However, part of her really hoped he’d take her up on the offer, even though she knew better than to expect such a thing.
“You wish to talk rather than fight,” Sub-Zero grunted. “You are weak.”
Maria scowled, and threw a light punch, testing his defenses, which he easily blocked. The fight was begun.
The two probed one another’s abilities for only a few moments, then Sub-Zero began to attack aggressively, launching punches and kicks so quickly that Maria struggled to block them all.
/Come on. Come on./ She thought, searching for an opening. /No offense is ever perfect./
If she’d been fresh she might’ve been willing to take a gamble or two in order to seize the initiative. As it was, however, she was happy to play defense and wait for an opportunity.
Parrying one of his blows, Maria lashed out, striking him in the face with an open palm. The armored mask he wore saved him from a broken nose, but the blow still left him momentarily dazed.
Intent on ending the fight as quickly as possible, Maria went on an all out offensive, raining punches and kicks down upon her foe. If she could just knock him out of the ring…
Just as she was entertaining thoughts of getting to enjoy a power nap, the super soldier abruptly lost her footing, nearly falling. Too late she realized that her opponent had frozen a patch of the battlefield beneath her feet.
Sub-Zero backhanded her with enough force to send her flying, and Maria only barely managed to get herself under control and plant her feet on the ground in time to avoid a ring out.
She didn’t have much time to collect her bearings before Sub-Zero was coming at her with a huge war hammer made of solid ice. Releasing a small yelp, Maria nimbly leaped out of the way, just avoiding the blow. Tiles and chunks of concrete flew in all directions as the attack hit the ground instead of her.
“Do you intend to run away?” Sub-Zero taunted her, deliberately putting himself between Maria and Maya, who was frantically gesturing for the super soldier to tag her in.
Maria didn’t dignify that with a response. Reaching down, she picked up one of the tiles that Sub-Zero’s attack had dislodged. It was nearly the size of a manhole cover.
It was difficult to tell thanks to his mask, but she thought the cybernetic ninja smirked at that. Ice crystals formed in the air around him, as though winter was wrapping itself around the fighter. Then, Sub-Zero charged.
Maria unleashed her tile, throwing it like she would her shield. Sub-Zero moved to dodge, but he hadn’t taken the curve she’d put on it into consideration. Instead of avoiding it, he moved directly into its path.
“Argh!” he grunted as it slammed into his head and broke into pieces, leaving a bleeding gash.
Maria sprinted forward, ignoring the cries of her tired and battered body, and resumed her attack. With a growl, she sent him flying with an advanced throw, hoping to send him out of the ring.
And send him out she did, but there was one thing she’d forgotten to keep in mind; Maria had thrown him right in the direction of his tag team partner. As Sub-Zero was sailing by, Goro reached out, slapping his hand against the ice ninja’s.
“And Goro makes the tag!” the announcer yelled, getting loud roars from the audience. “Since Sub-Zero is no longer the active fighter, his landing outside the ring does *not* eliminate him!”
Suppressing the urge to swear, Maria scrambled to reach Maya, but Goro reached her before she could. The four armed warrior grabbed her, slamming her onto the battlefield hard enough to make her see stars.
This was going to be one of those fights, she realized.
“SSG!” Maya yelled, and it took Maria a few seconds to realize that that was supposed to be short for Star Spangled Girl. “Tag me in!”
/I’d love to, but I seem to be having a small problem here./ She thought.
The referee started the ten count, but he didn’t even make it past two before Goro picked the super soldier up with one hand, on her hand, forcing her into an upright position. With a growl, he began to beat her senselessly with the other three.
“And this is the break room,” Rig said. “I know I should be telling everyone to work hard, but I do hope I’ll be seeing a lot of you here, Dr. Williams.”
“Oh, well, I do try to stay focused on my projects,” Fujiko said. “Speaking of which, I should really get back to them…”
“No need to hurry. The facility won’t ramp up to full production mode until after the tournament’s over,” he said. “By the way, I’ve got you referring to me by my nickname, and I don’t even know your first name.”
“Oh, it’s Ashley,” Fujiko said the first name that came to her, then wanted to smack herself. She was usually much smoother operator than this. Of course, she usually didn’t have such an unforgiving time limit to work with.
“Ashley Williams,” Rig smiled, apparently having never heard of the well known Systems Alliance soldier. “That’s a nice name.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Now, what should I show you next?” Rig wondered aloud.
Before Fujiko could try and come up with some kind of excuse other than “work” to let her make her escape, a man wearing a dark uniform approached them. He had a rifle slung over his back and was clearly a security guard of some kind.
“Sir,” he addressed Rig. “One of the scientists has gone missing.”
“Who?” Rig demanded, and Fujiko felt her heart beat speed up.
Maria was pretty sure she’d taken a beating worse than this at some point in her life.
She couldn’t think of any at the moment, but that didn’t really mean anything. She couldn’t think a whole lot at all right then.
Goro probably could’ve won the match several times over by now, but he seemed perfectly satisfied to keep pummeling her.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he released his hold on her. Maria staggered back a step but managed to stay standing, wavering on her feet.
“Finish her!” Sub-Zero yelled from the sidelines, apparently still rather put out by his near defeat at Maria’s hands.
“No!” Maya yelled. “That’s against the rules! You’ll get yourself disqualified, you idiot! Don’t do it!”
Goro knocked Maria off her feet, causing the super soldier to land on her back. Then, the four armed man leaped on top of her, driving the wind from her lungs. Reaching down, he grabbed hold of all four of her limbs at once and began to pull, intending to rip her arms and legs right out of her.
Apparently, he didn’t care about breaking the rules all that much. Either that, or this was just too much of a habit for him.
“No!” Maya yelled.
Maria struggled to resist, trying to use her one ki trick to bulk herself up again, but with her head spinning from all the abuse, she couldn’t quite muster the needed level of concentration to pull it off.
“Finish her!” Sub-Zero repeated.
For a moment, Maria was ready to give in. Despite her youthful appearance, she’d lived a long life. It hadn’t been much like what she would’ve once expected, but it had been good, in its way.
“Don’t give up!” Maya yelled.
That was enough to remind the super soldier of her team. They were depending on her. If she died now, before Fujiko returned, they’d be in trouble. They might all be killed trying to escape.
With a Herculean effort, Maria managed to abruptly roll onto her side, surprising Goro and throwing him off of her. The big man let out a yell of surprise as he stumbled off of her.
The super soldier sprang to her feet as if the last several fights had never happened and charged her foe. He tried to stop her but was unprepared for her speed. With a loud battle cry, Maria attacked, unleashing precision blows at his joints. Goro cried out as one elbow after another was broken, rendering his four arms useless.
Jumping up, she kicked him, the tip of her boot hitting his jaw and sending him staggering. Then, she grabbed hold of him, and, with muscles screaming in protest, raised him above her head.
“No!” Goro yelled, struggling to get himself free.
Leaping high into the air, Maria quickly shifted his position, coming down in a ferocious pile driver.
The referee’s ten count was really just a formality after that.
“And our winners by knockout, the Star Spangled Girl and Ibuki!” the announcer said as the bell rang. “Let’s give them a big hand, folks!”
This time, Maria didn’t even bother to acknowledge the audience. Instead, she just limped over to Maya.
“You know, boss, I’m not sure whether to be more impressed you pulled that off or annoyed you didn’t save any for me,” the ninja said,
“Whatever you’re gonna do, do it later,” Maria grunted. “And get me more of those ice packs.”
“Doctor Williams?” Rig repeated.
“Yes, boss,” the guard nodded. “Doctor Fred Williams. He’s missing.”
Rig visibly relaxed. “I see,” he said, then turned to Fujiko. “Relative of yours?”
If it wasn’t for all the men who’d been rendered idiots by her mere presence over the years, Fujiko wouldn’t have believed it. “No,” she answered, shaking her head.
“Well, it’s a common name,” Rig said with a shrug. “I should see to this situation personally. Until next time, Ashley.”
“Right. See you soon,” Fujiko said, managing a flirty smile that would hopefully keep Rig’s mind too preoccupied with thoughts of her to put two and two together.
He left with the guard, and Fujiko seized her chance to bolt. Making her way out of the sealed facility, she quickly went behind the stairwell where she’d stashed the real Doctor Williams. Patting his cheek a few times was enough to rouse him.
His face drew into a dark scowl as he saw her, but there was nothing he could do, still bound and gagged as he was.
Fujiko withdrew a tiny aerosol can from her pocket, holding it in front of his face. She pressed the trigger, sending a spray of its contents at the man. The scientist’s eyes went unfocused.
“You were not ambushed by a beautiful woman,” she said to him as she undid his bonds. “You were not tied up and hidden behind the stairs. You went outside to get some air and lost track time. Understand?”
He nodded silently.
“Good,” she said, peeling off his coat and giving it back to him as she pulled off the gag.
That done, she began heading up the stairs, hoping she got back to the stadium in time.
/I really hope that stuff works like it’s supposed to./ She thought.
Compound B67 could erase people’s memories and also make them very suggestible to the idea that they had different ones in their place, but it wasn’t perfect. The creation of false memories was especially hit and miss, and occasionally people would regain their true memories as well, so SHIELD Team Seven avoided having to use it whenever possible.
/I wonder if the MIB would loan us a few neuralizers, if the Captain asked nicely enough./ Fujiko mused as she headed up the stairs.
She rather doubted they would, but she wasn’t too concerned about it right then. She had bigger worries at the moment, like getting off DOA Island before anyone realized she wasn’t supposed to have ever been inside the underground section of it.
“A cloning plant,” Maria said, looking at printouts of the photos Fujiko had taken. “Well, it looks like Donovan and DOATEC have resumed Project Alpha.”
“With a vengeance, judging from the number of clones,” Joker added.
It was several hours after their departure from the island, and SHIELD Team Seven was back in their own headquarters. Fujiko had returned long before the second round of tag team matches could start, and Maria and Maya had promptly forfeited, citing Maria’s condition.
Of course, by now the super soldier was looking much less battered and bruised, her body recovering at a much faster rate that normal people’s did.
“I don’t recognize a lot of this machinery, though,” Fujiko said. “For instance, I have no idea what this does.” She added, pointing to a picture of several devices that looked vaguely like big, mechanical brains made of metal pipes and wires.
“I do,” Maya scowled. “I saw one like it all the time, back at NERV. It’s a memory upload machine.”
“That’s why they put the cloning facility underneath the stadium where they were having that tournament,” Maria realized, eyes widening. “That’s the whole reason for the tournament, in fact. To collect data on the martial arts styles from a bunch of skilled fighters. They want to upload it all into those clones’ brains, along with what they already have from the original Kasumi, no doubt.”
“Will that work?” Joker asked. “It’s not like every fighter there showed off every move they have.”
“There will be gaps,” Maria conceded. “But you’d be surprised at how many of those a good AI can fill in. Also…also, the tournament’s format was so weird because DOATEC wanted to put the fighters into as many different situations as possible, to try to coax them into using more of their repertoires than they otherwise might.”
“So, DOATEC, which has some connection to this Chimera thing, is making an army of clones of an elite ninja, which will all have the skills of a tournament’s worth of martial artists,” Joker said. “That about the size of it?”
Before Maria could answer, Maya’s laptop, which had been sitting ignored on a nearby table, released a small chime, prompting the brunette to go over and look at it.
Her eyes widened.
“Actually, Joker, it looks like things are worse than that,” she said, not looking away from the computer screen. “Way, way worse than that, in fact.”
“How can it get worse than that?” the pilot asked.
“The results of the analysis on that chemical Fujiko took from the island just came in,” Maya said. “That stuff was super soldier serum, just like the kind in the boss.” She added, gesturing to Maria.
“No, no way,” Joker shook his head. “That *has* to be wrong.”
“It’s not,” Maria said, searching through the pile of printed photos until she found the one she was looking for. “I knew this looked familiar, but I didn’t recognize it until now, because it’s a much more modern model than the one used on me. This is a Vita-Ray generator. I can’t think of anything else it could be.”
Joker looked vaguely sick. “So…every last one of those clones is going to be as fast and as strong as you?”
“At least,” Maria said grimly. “It’s hard to figure just how much the serum will do for somebody who’s such a phenomenal warrior even without it.”
“We need to tell the Director about this right away,” Joker said.
“Agreed,” Maria said, getting up to do just that.
“Hey,” Maya said just as the super soldier was about to go through the door. “Does this mean we’re done now?”
“Hmm? Oh, sure,” Maria said, waving a hand. “It’s not like we’re going to go on another mission tonight.”
“Yes!” the ninja cheered as the super soldier walked out.
“You’re pretty happy for someone who knows what we just learned,” Joker remarked, frowning.
“Well, that’s freaking scary, of course, but what am I supposed to do? Hide in a closet until we get our next mission?” Maya retorted. “Forget that! A Hayate alt and me swapped phone numbers at the tournament!” she sighed dreamily. “He’s such a hottie! I’m gonna call him right now!”
With that, she also headed out of the common room, smart phone already in hand.
Joker shook his head. “I guess it’s sorta comforting to know that some things never change, even when the world’s about to blow up.”
Fujiko smirked as she looked at the door Maya had just slipped through. “She’s going to come off as overeager,” she mused aloud. “She’ll never wrap him around her little finger like that.”
Joker rolled his eyes. “Sorta comforting,” he repeated. “I guess.”