Nobody dared to touch it. Perhaps it was the bubbling pools of rubber that warned them. At any rate, the van exuded a heat that grew almost unbearable as they moved nearer. A few didn't approach at all, contented to watch the dancing flames.
"That's for killing all my men." The Commander said, softly. No longer did he smile. The charade was over. "Hose the van down and retrieve their bodies. Whatever's left of it."
The Commander turned away, flipping a handphone and auto-dialling.
"How many dead?" He asked, wasting no time for greetings. He listened in grim silence as the man at Internal told him early numbers and projected casualties.
It was a big mess-up, alright, he thought, watching smoke weave grey patterns above the ground. Somebody has to take the blame.
There was smoke ... and perhaps a hint. Of Something Else. The Commander flipped his phone shut, ignoring the report. There was a brief movement ... no, it had to be his tired mind playing tricks on him - even so ...
There was a blur black outline in the smoke.
The Commander squinted; he told himself it was just his imagination, but took out his gun anyway. The outline was still there - of a boy, it seemed. A plume of smoke blocked it from the Commander for an instant, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Then it was back.
Damn. The Commander seemed indecisive for a moment, staring at the outline, frustrated at the night, tired by the ordeal. Emotions were pulling and pushing his battered mind; his worry of the red tape he'd have to deal with, of the court martial he might get -
So the Commander raised the gun, trained the sights and fired. The shot made soldiers turn; the Commander saw the black outline collapse.
"Sir?" asked one of the engineers. "Is everything fine? Would you like us to scout the area?"
"No, no." he admonished. "Its nothing. Absolutely noth -"
Another figure had appeared.
This time soldiers saw it. Everyone froze, staring at the outline. A dumb conscript placed his hand on the smouldering van, yelled and started hopping around in pain. No one paid him any attention.
"Who're you?" the Commander ventured, gripping his gun until his knuckles turned white.
"Well," the shadow called out, " Your men've destroyed the transport, what else do you want?"
The Commander raised the gun again, as did the soldiers.
"Useless - what makes you think i'd be killed?" the voice came floating back.
They opened fire; the outline fell. Another appeared in the smoke.
The Commander suddenly understood. "Oragi," he said, and motioned for a captain to contact the Nobu strike teams.
"I wouldn't do that if i were you." the voice chided.
A slight rustle, a breeze. With a cry, the captain fell convulsing to the ground.
The Commander's face showed fear as he stepped away from the fallen man. His gun was shaking in his hand but he kept his voice firm.
"Alright. Who're you? We're an army here - you can't play this charade for long -"
"Who says we have to?" The voice cut him short. "You destroyed our van, now you're telling us we can't play with you, have a little fun -"
"Have all the fun you want." The Commander said. His fear vanished, and all the men knew it was just another facade. From behind his back he took out his mobile phone and waved it for the shadow to see. He dropped it.
Even before the gadget hit the ground a boy in a skin tight suit had appeared in front of the Commander. Nobu division assasin - an Oragi.
"A ploy," said the voice, bemused. "And now you've brought a proper fighter. Leveling out the playing field, are we?"
The Commander smirked. "The rest of his team are on the way. Have all the fun you want."