"Joint Venture"
rating: +96+x

"This is a really dumb idea," Skunkboy muttered. He shifted his weight on the chameleon-cloth pad he'd been laying on for the past thirty-six hours. He was pretty sure he was developing some sores on his elbows and knees. Worst of all, he was running out of bags to store his piss in, and pretty soon, despite all the immodium and MRE peanut butter, he was going to have to take a shit… and it was a choice between sneaking into the building and risking getting caught, or taking one of the alternatives that would make him even more miserable.

All in all, it was pretty much like any other mission for a scout sniper, except that he was laying all alone on the roof of a Hong Kong skyscraper rather than in the middle of the woods or the desert. On the other hand, there was the fucking noise. Even with the plugs in his ears, the dull roar of the building's ventilation equipment was beginning to rattle his jaws.

He blinked back the exhaustion and closed his eyes for a few moments to clear the blurry double-vision from them, then lowered his face back to his spotter's scopes. Hong Kong at night was actually kinda pretty, he decided. It was just a shame that he wasn't going to have the chance to do any sightseeing. Except for a small stretch of warehouses near the docks.

A flicker of light and movement caught his attention. He swung the scope around very slowly, then nodded to himself and keyed his throat mike for the first time in over six hours. "Sparkplug Two to all units. How do you read? Over."

"Sparkplug one, reading loud and clear."

"Three, loud and clear."

"Four, loud and clear. Over."

"Got it. Everyone reading loud and clear. Two here. I've got a mission report: Opposition elements are approaching the docks on schedule. Convoy consists of four vehicles, description follows: One convertible sports car, red, highly customized. Two SUVs, both black. One van, also black. VERITAS reads… two persons in sports car. Four persons each in the SUVs. Two persons in the van… no VERITAS signature from the back of the van. All persons read as baseline humans, no parathreats. Break."

"Um, Four here," Spider said, interrupting Skunkboy. "You're certain there's no VERITAS signature from the back of the van? There should be at least one. Over."

"Two here. Wait one." Skunkboy adjusted the settings on his VERITAS scope and did a second scan of the van. "Yeah, no dice, Spider. Nothing, over."

"That's not right. The manifest included at least one living creature… damn it." Skunkboy heard Spider mutter under her breath. He was sure that the team's thaumatologist was pacing back and forth again, as she tended to do when agitated. "Damn."

"Do you want to abort, Spider?" Bullfrog interrupted.

"No. I'm good," Spider said. "But keep a close eye on them for me. I don't know what's going on."

"All right, then. Mission is go. If the shooting starts, I initiate. Acknowledged?"

"Two here. We wait until you shoot or order it. Over."

"Three," Kitten said. "You start the shooting. Over."

"What do I do if we start shooting?" Spider asked.

"Hit the deck and find some cover," Bullfrog said. "And hope you don't get shot."

"That's not a very comforting prospect." Spider said sardonically.

"It'll have to do. Let's cut the chatter. Out."

Skunkboy adjusted his stance and stretched his toes out a little bit. Just a little longer, and it would all be over.

"Lao Feng isn't going to like this," Zheng muttered.

"Lao Feng can kiss my ass," Yang said. "His superstitions haven't gotten us anywhere. Meanwhile, the Silver Swords are cutting into the market… girls, guns, and drugs aren't going to cut it any more. We need to get in on this on the ground floor."

"This isn't like running hookers or heroin, or even guns," Zheng insisted. "This is more like getting involved with dealing nukes or chemical weapons… I don't like this."

It wasn't a new argument: the two men had argued these points many times in the past few days. Every time, the disagreement ended the same way.

"You'd rather let Shi Wang Zhou and his thugs run all over us? You'd rather see that dogfucker Lefty feeling up your little sisters?" Yang growled. "Because that's what's going to happen if the Silver Swords get a lock on the market."

"You know I don't want that, but… shit. This is fucking scary."

"Keep it to yourself, then," Yang muttered. "I don't want you pissing yourself in front of the foreigners."

"You know I've got your back, bro."

"I know you do," Yang agreed. "All right. Game face, lil bro."

The red convertible pulled up to the warehouse and came to a halt, followed shortly by the two SUVS and the van carrying the goods. Yang's brow furrowed as he looked into the dimly lit, empty warehouse.

"I thought they'd bring more people," he admitted.

"Arrogant fuckers," Zheng agreed.

He got out of the convertible and jogged over to the first SUV, rapping on the window. It rolled down, tinted glass giving way to reveal a huge man with a sardonic grin and an ugly, puckered scar running across the entire left side of his face.

"What's up, Yang?"

"They've only got three people. I don't want to spook them. So have the rest of the boys wait outside," Yang said.

"Shit, you sure that's smart? What if something goes down?"

"Shit's much less likely to go down if the foreigners don't think this is a fucking setup. Everyone stays outside," Yang insisted. "But keep an eye out… and make sure everyone's armed."

"You got it, bro."

Yang took a moment to adjust the collar of his shirt in the reflection on the side of the SUV, before rejoining Zheng by the convertible. "Ready?" he asked.

"Yeah, let's go."

There were three of them waiting inside the dimly-lit warehouse. Two of them looked like brainless thugs: one of them a tall, muscular looking woman with bored eyes and short-cropped hair. The other was a short, stout looking man with a big beard, whose ill-fitting suit strained to contain his broad chest. Yang marked them as soldiers. Probably bodyguards for the third: an Asian woman wearing a well-tailored suit: fairly young and attractive in a broad-hipped sort of way. She was nervous, despite her best efforts to hide it: she kept pushing up her glasses and fiddling with her expensive-looking tablet computer. Maybe a new lieutenant for the actual boss.

"You're late," she said irritably, as Yang walked into the warehouse. "And you brought too many people with you."

"Are you sure you didn't bring enough?" Yang said, grinning disarmingly. "If I were carrying that much cash on me, I'd have brought more than two guards."

"I did," the young woman said curtly. She fiddled nervously with a lock of her hair. "Tell the thug outside to please look down at his chest before he gets any more ideas about sending teams to flank us."

Yang turned and looked out the door, and pursed his lips, before nodding to Zheng.

"Cuntface," Zheng growled into his walkie-talkie. "Quit trying to be clever and tell the boys to go back to the cars."


"Look at your chest, you fucking idiot," Zheng snapped. "The foreigners have you in their sights."

There was a brief bout of cursing over the radios, as the scar-faced goon finally saw the red dot floating on his chest, and a flurry of movement and shouting as a bunch of guys sheepishly emerged from the shadows and jogged back to the cars.

"I thought that snipers usually don't use laser sights," Yang mused. "Especially not visible light ones."

"Consider it… making a point," the woman said, sighing with relief. "Now that we've gotten that out of the way, shall we move on to business?"

Skunkboy carefully turned off the laser pointer and slid it back into his pants pocket. It was a silly trick, but one that worked pretty well for intimidation purposes.

The taller one with the fancy silk shirt nodded to his friend, who growled a couple of words into his walkie-talkie. The big van pulled away from the two SUVs and began backing up towards the warehouse door.

"Shit," Skunkboy whispered over the comms. "I don't have a line of sight to inside the van."

"Watch the fuckers outside," Bullfrog muttered. "Let Kitten and I worry about the van."

"Boss, there's eight of the motherfuckers outside," Skunkboy griped. "Even I can't take on eight of them."

"Then get the leader and keep the rest of their heads down, if it comes to that," Bullfrog said, "and we'll help out as soon as possible."

"Easy for you to fucking say," Skunkboy muttered, but he ducked his head back down and continued to scan the exterior scene through his rifle scope.

Just to be sure, though, he made sure he had a round in the chamber.

The van doors opened, and the young woman's brow furrowed. She reached into the back of the van and rattled the bars of a heavy-gauge wire cage. "… it's dead," she said.

"It was alive when we left," Yang insisted.

"Well, it's dead now," the woman hissed. She rattled the bars of the cage again and threw her hands in the air. "What am I supposed to do with a dead specimen?"

"Stuff it and mount it? I don't know…"

"Wait," the woman snapped. "Are these cage bars steel?"

"Is that a problem?"

"Yes, it's a problem! These things are allergic to ferrous metals!" the woman shouted angrily. "No wonder it died on the way here! It was probably dead of shock before it got halfway here! And your brainless thugs didn't notice?"

"Kai?" Yang growled.

"… we heard it yelling and thrashing!" the younger man admitted. "But we thought it was just…"

"You stupid dogfucking idiot!" Yang shouted. "You didn't think to tell me?"

"But…" Kai halted and bit back the rest of his words, before bowing his head respectfully to the older man. "No excuse, sir."

"Get the fuck back in the van and start unloading. I'll deal with you later," Yang shouted. He turned back to the woman and gave her his best, most charming smile. "Now… I deeply apologize for…"

"I'm not paying full price for the shipment," the woman interrupted. "Two million only."

"That's half of what we agreed upon!" Zheng objected. "Just because one stupid animal is dead?"

"That stupid animal was the most valuable thing in the shipment. All the rest is trinkets. Two million. Take it or leave it."

"We'll take it," Yang said curtly. He turned to his friend and said, in a low voice, "You want them to start dealing with the Swords instead?"

"… two million isn't enough. We can't arm ourselves on two million. We need at least three," Zheng pointed out.

"We'll make do with two million for now. And we'll set up a second shipment for the foreigners."

"That's not going to help if the Silver Swords make their move before then."

"Then we'll just have to pray that they don't," Yang said. "Maybe you should invest some of that two million in incense for the gods."

He slapped his friend on the shoulder and turned back to the foreigners. "Two million."

"Oh, thank fucking God," Skunkboy sighed. "You have no idea how close that ugly dude out here came to shooting. He actually had his gun out of its holster."

"Well, it's over now," Bullfrog said. "So get packed up and let's get the fuck out of this country."

"All right, I'll see you… wait one." Skunkboy halted as something moved in the corner of his field of vision. He panned the scope down and to the left. "Fuck!" he snapped. "Boss, I fucked up!"

Yang was surprised when the big foreigner, the man, put his hand to his ear and shouted, "Situation report!" in English, very loudly. He was even more surprised when the foreigner grabbed the young woman by the shoulder and pulled her away from the van and pushed her to the ground, one hand dipping into his jacket as he did so.

"What the hell is this?" Yang shouted.

"We're about to get hit!" Bullfrog snapped. "This is a fucking setup!"

Yang turned to yell for Cuntface Teng and the boys to get ready, but as he turned to face his soldiers, he realized that all eight of them had their guns out… and pointed at him.

Oh. So it's THAT kind of setup.

He grabbed Zheng by the collar and pulled him to the ground just as the shooting started.

It was really too easy, in the end. All but two of the boys were in on the plan, and those two were in the warehouse with Yang and Zheng. It was too bad that his plan to sneak a few guys to block off the back exits had failed, but he would make do with two-to-one odds.

Cuntface Teng wasn't exactly the brightest bulb in the pack, but he was smart enough to see where the tide was turning. And the tide was most definitely turning away from Lao Feng and towards Shi Wang Zhou. Not that he had anything against the old man, but there was no way the family was going to survive, not against the resources the Silver Swords could muster.

Lao Feng was old school. He believed in the gods and the spirits. That sort of antiquated mindset wasn't going to work any more.

It was a shame that a bunch of good boys were going to die, good boys that Shi Wang Zhou could use. At the very least, he'd get to see that faggot Yang get it.

"Skunkboy!" Bullfrog shouted over the comms. "Take these fuckers out!"

"Can't!" Skunkboy shouted back. "I've got three fucking vehicles full of fucking Triads coming up the road!"

"Shit!" Bullfrog shouted. He was seriously hating this entire fucking mission. Bullets were snapping past his head and splintering the wooden crates behind him and punching holes into the side of the van. He could already see one of the Triad guys laying on the ground in a pool of blood. A second was huddled behind the van's wheel, weeping and cursing as he tried to stop a wound in his leg that was pouring blood. A second burst of gunfire skipped off the concrete and into his gut, and he slumped over, breath gurgling.

The two remaining gangsters had managed to get behind cover along with his team: the boss guy with the fancy shirt and his friend with the angry eyes. They had pistols in their hands, and were firing wildly over the tops of the crates, before ducking back down as another burst of gunfire stitched through the air.

The situation, Bullfrog realized, was looking pretty much unsurvivable. He was pinned down by a force with superior numbers and firepower. He had the advantage of cover for now, but it was only a matter of time before the enemy managed to flank him. Then he was going to die.

It was time to do something stupid.

"Kitten!" he shouted.

The tall, wiry woman glanced up from her position. Her expression had not changed one bit from its usual boredom, even when a close burst caused a bullet to whip by so close to her face that it actually ruffled her hair.

Bullfrog slid his pistol across the concrete to his teammate. "Go start some shit," he shouted.

Kitten's eyes lit up. Her mouth twisted into a fierce, angry grin. Bullfrog saw her draw the biggest fucking knife he'd ever seen from some hidden sheath under her suit jacket and hold it in her teeth. She closed her eyes for a moment, inhaled once long and slow, exhaled sharply.

Then she moved.

Skunkboy had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the United States Marine Corps. On the one hand, they'd taken half a decade of his life, forced him to endure shitty food and idiotic colleagues, and basically given him nothing but hatred and contempt for the modern military. If he had to deal with one more slogan-spewing jarhead in his life, it would be too much. When the recruiter had asked him to re-up after his first term of service, he'd laughed at the guy to his face.

On the other hand, there were times when the Marine Corps way of doing things could be useful. Like when you were a lone marksman on the roof of a Hong Kong building trying to stop three big vans full of bloodthirsty Triad gangsters.

At times like those, there were few things that felt more comfortable, more familiar, to him, than his old Parris Island indoctrinations.

"This is my rifle," he murmured, as he shifted over to his weapon and lined up his shot. "There are many like it, but this one is mine."

He was going to have to time his shot perfectly. It would be best if he could catch the convoy just as they were about to exit where the street narrowed, between two warehouse buildings.

"My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life."

The driver… that would be a tough shot. Maybe he should go for the engine instead?

"My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true."

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Take up the slack. Line up the shot. Get into the rhythm of your own beating heart.

"I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me."


The first round was a good one, but Skunkboy was already working the bolt and lining up his second, even before the first round hit home. He had barely enough time to see the bullet punch through the hood of the vehicle, enough time to see the hood start to spew smoke. He fired his second shot, was gratified to see the driver's side window shatter, but the driver had slammed the brakes so hard that the car behind it rear-ended the lead vehicle. He saw the driver stumble out of the door and start yelling and waving to his allies.

"I will."


Skunkboy saw the driver of the lead car stumble and slump to the ground, rolling in agony as he clutched his abdomen. The guy riding shotgun was trying to lean over and get the car moving again, so Skunkboy put another round through the hood, for good measure.

Then he got to work.

Cuntface Teng's first warning was when the two smoke grenades came rolling out from the dimly lit warehouse and began spewing red smoke all over the area, causing the world to become shrouded in a scarlet mist. In the light of the streetlamps, it gave the entire place a hellish air.

"Watch it!" he shouted to his teams. "They may try to escape through the smo—"

There was the sound of rapidly moving feet. He saw the tall female foreigner sprinting across the open court. Her eyes were wide and wild, and she had a giant knife in her teeth and a gun in each hand.

Cuntface Teng wanted to laugh. Everyone knew that there was no way in hell to shoot straight with a gun in each hand! The foreigner had been seeing too many John Woo action movies!

He ducked behind the van as a wild fusillade of gunfire snapped towards him and the boys. The shots were mostly wild, and failed to hit anyone, as expected. All he'd have to do is wait for the bitch to run out of ammunition, and then…

He saw Loverboy Lu go down. Something spun in the air where it had bounced off his forehead: one of the two pistols the bitch had carried. Fatheaded Kai tried to shoot her, got his submachinegun kicked out of his hand, and then she beat his face in with the butt of her empty pistol before slashing open his throat with that huge fucking knife.

She'd never intended to hit anyone.

The pistols were just to keep him and his boys' heads down while she closed the distance.

She slid the empty pistol back into the direction of the warehouse, where the big male foreigner stopped it with his foot and reloaded it. He raised the pistol in a two-handed grip and began firing slow and methodical, hugging the wall of the warehouse.

Within a few moments, six of his guys were down. Two more killed by that crazy bitch with the knife, two of them shot by the big male. Teng's will broke. He turned and ran for it.

As he fled, he could hear the screaming of his two remaining guys. After a few minutes, he couldn't even hear that any more.

Skunkboy often thought that an enemy unit in panic mode looked a lot like an anthill, after someone had poked it with a stick.

There were a bunch of the Triad guys milling around, pointing in every direction, shooting out windows at random and yelling at each other a lot. It was almost comical.

A moment like this didn't seem to deserve the solemnity of the Rifleman's Creed. It was time for something a little more… upbeat.

"We shoot the sick, the young, the lame, we do our best to maim," he hummed. He knew he had the biggest grin on his face. He didn't care. "Because the kills all count the same…"


"Napalm sticks to kids…"

He ejected the magazine of his rifle and laid it neatly next to the two empty mags he'd already gone through. He carefully seated his third magazine, worked the bolt, and raised the rifle back to his shoulder.

"Flying low across the trees, pilots doing what they please…"


One more Triad down. That made four.

"Dropping frags on refugees… Napalm sticks to kids…"

All things considered, this was actually going pretty well for him.

"Situation report!" Bullfrog snapped, as the firing ceased.

"I've got the backup pinned down," Skunkboy reported. "Looks like they're getting ready to bug out."

"Eight down," Kitten said. "One got away. The scarfaced one that started the shooting."

"I'll find him," Zheng hissed. "Lao Feng isn't going to let him get away with this. Ten good soldiers dead in one night."

"I know," Yang said grimly. "But for now…" He turned back to the Asian woman who he had thought was their leader, and bowed deeply and respectfully. "My apologies," he said. "I was unable to control my men, and put us all in danger. If you had not been ready for them, we would have all lost our lives. I promise you, we will find the traitor and exact our punishment against him."

"When I find him I'll feed him his own balls raw. After I cut off a finger for each of our brothers he killed," Zheng agreed.

"I think I can help you with that," Spider said. She pushed her glasses up into place, and her dark eyes were fierce and angry.

Cuntface Teng wept as he staggered through the alleyway alone.

It just wasn't fair. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. American bitches weren't supposed to murder ten trained Triad killers with a knife and a pistol. He, Cuntface Teng, was supposed to be the terror of Lao Feng's soldiers. The terror of Lao Feng's soldiers wasn't supposed to run from a battle with pants stained with urine and a giant gash across one arm.

He was going to have to go to Shi Wang Zhou. It was his only choice. That faggot Yang would make sure everyone knew what he had done… and the Families didn't treat traitors very well. He'd gambled and lost… it was time to get out of the game before he lost his entire stake.

He was stepping out into the light of the rising sun when he felt the pain stab into his lower abdomen. He screamed as he crumpled over and clutched at his stomach… then began to howl in agony as a burst of blinding pain started at the base of his spine and raked slowly up his back. Then he clutched at his eyes and wept as what felt like pure fire stabbed into his optic nerves.

As the sun rose over Hong Kong, the man they called Cuntface Teng writhed and howled in agonizing pain, unable to do anything but huddle in the shadow of the abandoned warehouses and scream.

Spider gave the burlap doll one more vicious stab in the groin for good measure, before pinning it to the side of the van with Kitten's knife. She had stitched the doll together many weeks before, filling it with graveyard earth and a dash of silicon oxide. It only needed a link to her intended victim to provide the contagion it needed to find a target… a link like the blood Kitten had drawn when she had, spectacularly, slashed open the unfortunate Teng's arm with her kukri.

"Are we done here, Spider?" Bullfrog asked.

"Yeah, we're done." She turned to the two Triad leaders and slipped back into her childhood Mandarin. "You'll find your traitorous dog of a former colleague at the east side of the docks. He'll be screaming in agony. Don't take the knife out until you find him."

"… who the hell are you people anyway?" the fancy man in the nice shirt asked.

"… don't worry about it," Spider replied, smiling disarmingly. "Better to think about what you guys are."

"Which is?"

"The ones who rooted out the traitor working for Shi Wang Zhou, and brought him back to Lao Feng alive."

She hopped into the back of the van alongside Kitten and Bullfrog, who had finished loading the goods into their vehicle while she had performed her working. She gave the two perplexed-looking Chinese gangsters a cheerful wave as the three of them drove out of the warehouse.

"You do realize," Kitten pointed out, "that we need to retrieve Skunkboy, evade the Hong Kong police department, and somehow make our way back home now, right?"

"Yup," Bullfrog said.

"Just wanted to be sure." The tall woman leaned back her seat and closed her eyes.

A few moments later, she started snoring.

"Sometimes, I envy that crazy bitch," Bullfrog admitted.

"That wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I agreed to this joint operation," D.C. al Fine said to the shimmering image of the old Chinese man sitting in the chair across from her.

"The objectives were met. The shipment was stopped. The mole was rooted out, and soon Shi Wang Zhou's illegal operation will be halted," Lao Feng, Leader of the Immortal Lily Brotherhood said. He picked up a teacup that didn't exist in al Fine's office and took a small, measured sip, before wiping the rim with a napkin and putting it back down on the tea table.

"We also shot up a Hong Kong warehouse, killed over a dozen guys, and brought the attention of the Hong Kong PD upon the entire thing," al Fine pointed out. "I hope whatever you found out from the informant was worth it."

"It was. We confirmed that Shi Wang Zhou found and took over an abandoned Factory manufacturing plant and reopened it. He has been pumping out threat entity-level artifacts daily. His quality is shoddy, but his prices are much cheaper than his competitors." Lao Feng laughed and shook his head. "The irony was not lost on me."

"Will you need our help in taking them down? I could dispatch a couple of Strike Teams."

"The day that the Immortal Lily Brotherhood needs your help in a war against its rival gangs is the day that we finally join your Global Occult Coalition," Lao Feng said, smiling politely. "No, I thank you for your help, but we shall handle this matter ourselves."

"Just so long as you hand over all Factory assets to the Coalition," al Fine insisted.

"Of course. I have no desire to get involved in paranormal matters. The affairs of ghosts and gods are no place for a simple Hong Kong businessman."

"You are going to have to, eventually. It's not a good sign that two of your most trusted lieutenants tried to pull off a paranormal arms deal right under your nose," al Fine pointed out.

"I knew of their plans long before. If I had not wished to root out the traitor in my organization, we would have… had words… long before. As it is, I feel I owe Yang an apology… and an explanation. Perhaps it is time to tell him what the Immortal Lily Brotherhood really is."

"He might not be happy. He signed on to join a Triad gang, not an ancient Chinese order of monster hunters."

"He will adapt. Good bye, Ma'am."

"Good bye, Lao Feng."

"… You know," Zheng sighed. "One of these days I'm going to end up following you into an early grave."

The two gangsters were sitting together on the balcony of one of the Immortal Lily Brotherhood's safe houses, watching the sun set over Hong Kong. The city, Yang thought, had never looked more beautiful.

"No one says you need to follow," Yang pointed out. "You could just run."

"Dying would be easier," Zheng said. He put his hand over that of his friend's, and leaned in to kiss the other man on the cheek. "As it is, you owe me for this, my brother."

"Dinner at the Lucky Dragon, then? Once the heat dies down?"

"That would be a good place to start." Zheng laughed. "And maybe now we can enjoy ourselves without that homophobe Teng giving us shit."

"It would be hard for him to call me a faggot with no tongue," Yang agreed.

He kissed Zheng back, and the two men shared a brief moment of affection, before walking back into the apartment and turning out the lights. Outside, the sun finally dipped below the horizon, shrouding the city in twilight.

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