swarm of construction workers and
equipment work at a fevered pitch
under a starless sky. Resting on
an outstretched tarp in an elevated
thicket, some figures stifle their
breathing and observe operations
on a site for KOF 2001.
"(Well? Can you see anything, Leona.)"
"(Not a thing.)"
"(You said that before. So, what
"(Like I said, nothing....)"
Leona answers him as she looks through
her night-vision scope."
"(What could they be up to? We know
that this year's sponsor has the
backing of NESTS, right? There can't
be nothing going on.)"
The previous tournament...the man,
gone in the wreckage... feelings
when he viewed the video data, the
only "keepsake" of the event...But
after that, came the information
from the intelligence agency that
he was still alive...Could he really
"(Uh, yeah, sorry. All right, let's
call it a day. Leona! Let's rendezvous
A cobalt blue sea stretches out under
a bleached white city built out of
stucco and sun-dried brick.
In this picture-perfect city that
looks as if it would be included
in a feature article for a travel
magazine from Japan or thereabouts
is a safe-house used as a focus of
intelligence by the mercenary squad.
"Clark. So how did things go with
"I came up empty. I even tried the
military circuit, and there's no
mistaking that this year's KOF is
an official tournament."
"Is that so? ...Then what about NESTS?"
"There's no doubt that this year's
KOF sponsor is linked to NESTS, but
we don't know what their objectives
"Impossible! NESTS destroyed an entire
city during the last tournament,
didn't they? They can't be going
to all this trouble for just a mere
"But all reports attributed the incident
to the fall of an artificial satellite...."
"Nuts! We have nothing to go on with
Ralf pounds the top of his desk.
"Well aren't you the little hothead."
Everyone looks in the direction of
the voice in unison. And there they
see him, the man with the eyepatch,
standing in the doorway. It's the
leader of this mercenary squad, Heidern.
"Feast your eyes on this!"
Heidern plunks a thick pile of documents
down on the desk. Three Ss appear
on the top page of the pile, which
means "top secret" in this squad.
Ralf snatches up the stack of documents
and scans over them. As he leafs
through the documents, Ralf's face
turns flush and he mumbles as if
groaning in pain.
"Just what in blazes is this...?"
Clark and Leona peek at the document
in Ralf's hands. A photograph that
looks as if it was taken by a surveillance
satellite is attached to it. The
image is extensively blurred by a
sort of electronic "snow," perhaps
the result of some new kind of jamming
device. It's impossible to distinguish
any fine detail, but the group can
see a giant black shadow.
"...This is all we have to go on.
That, and this here."
Heidern pulls out a pamphlet and
tournament entry tickets for this
year's KOF tournament.
"Four tickets, is it? That leaves
us a bit short of entrants. Last
"Clark, take a look at the list of
The three do as instructed and scan
the roster of fighters.
Ralf screeches wildly, hardly apropos
of the situation.
"It's her all right. The genuine
article, the one and only Whip. She's
got all bases covered, I see."
"That little minx! Not even a phone
"And it doesn't stop there. Check
out the team she's on."
More surprisingly, the party finds
among the list of entered teams the
"NESTS! You got to be yanking my
chain! A NESTS team?"
"NESTS is a completely secret syndicate...only
but a handful of the privileged few
know of its existence."
Leona once again blurts out the blatantly
"But if Whippy is listed among the
tournament's participants, that means
she has already been accepted as
a team member. So, Leader, who's
going to be our fourth team member?"
"...This time I'm going to join you
in the tournament."
"Whoo! That's too much!"
"...OK, enough banter for now. All
of you, gather in the briefing room!"
The three salute Heidern in unison.
While they salute, something pops
into Ralf's mind. What's going to
happen this time around...? But we'll
have to play this out. Yup, we'll
just have to play this out.