Jun 23 2014 3:00pm
In 2020, eleven years after the passengers of flight BA142 from London to Delhi developed extraordinary abilities corresponding to their innermost desires, the world is overrun with supers. Some use their powers for good, others for evil, and some just want to pulverize iconic monuments and star in their own reality show. But now, from New York to Tokyo, someone is hunting down supers, killing heroes and villains both, and it’s up to the Unit to stop them…
Resistance, the sequel to Samit Basu’s action-packed Turbulence, is available July 8th from Titan Books! Read an excerpt below.
A giant lobster rises slowly out of Tokyo Bay. It is an old-school kaiju, 300 feet long, and stands upright, its hind limbs still under water, in defiance of biology, physics and all codes of lobster etiquette.
It totters slightly, taking in the scenery, and waves its massive claws in the general direction of Tokyo. It screams, an angry, unearthly sound that scatters a passing flock of seagulls. It turns, creaking, to left and right, looks at Chiba, and at Kanagawa, but then does what every kaiju must.
The giant lobster strides towards Tokyo.
Norio is sparring with a trainer robot in his 124th-floor penthouse on the island of Odaiba, when the call comes. He performs the standby mode kata, and the robot powers down, humming softly. He waves an arm and a holographic talkscreen appears, floating in front of him as he paces around the dojo. It’s Azusa.
“Monster,” she says.
“Two jets. Four missiles.”
“None. Should I send out the signal?”
Norio disconnects, issues a command, and a giant screen on a nearby wall flickers to life. He mutes the excited chatter of the news anchor with a gesture, and stares at the kaiju onscreen as it lumbers towards Odaiba. At its current pace, it will take at least twenty minutes before it starts the usual property damage. More than enough time.
The Kaiju King’s creations usually surface in time to feature on the primetime evening news, but this one is clearly in a hurry, and wants to catch sunset over the Tokyo skyline as it tears up the city.
At least the giant lobster looks suitably monstrous—the last one, three weeks ago, had been a seriously oversized seaweed chips packet with arms. But this one could have had its own Toho franchise. It could have held Godzilla to at least a few draws. The lobster’s maroon exoskeleton shows no signs of missile damage apart from a few burnt spots. Before the Kaiju King’s powers transformed it into its current behemoth form, it had been an ise-ebi, a spiny lobster. Norio looks it up, and is annoyed to find that normal spiny lobsters don’t have claws—the Kaiju King has added those, and his research process is clearly flawed. Clawed or not, Norio has met this lobster’s kind before, in expensive restaurants. Usually as sashimi, though he is quite fond of eating ise-ebi roasted alive. An option that is possibly available today.
Norio fights the memory, but fails. Dinner with his father and brother at some ridiculously exclusive restaurant in Asakusa. September 2012. They’d talked about lobster that night as well—an American lobster, a normal-sized one, had been found in Tokyo Bay, and his father had been very annoyed. Norio remembered how spectacularly bored he’d felt. He’d wanted to talk about superheroes.
The tattoo on Norio’s wrist throbs, and he shakes his head, clearing eight-year-old cobwebs. He looks ruefully at the tattoo. It’s a goryo, a vengeful aristocratic spirit. It had been the right choice for him, no question, but he wished he could have picked a creature that didn’t rhyme with his name.
He strides to the wall, presses the secret panel, and after it slides open, pushes a button. Another section of the wall clicks, and the secret elevator opens. Norio walks in.
In Tokyo’s Akihabara Electric Town district, a woman in her mid-twenties shuffles out of a second-hand electronics store. She’s short and slightly unkempt; her akiba-kei T-shirt has seen better days. She snakes through crowded lanes overflowing with comics and electronic stores, ignoring the hypnotic strobing neon signs everywhere around her. She pauses for a second outside a costume cafe to exchanging scornful glances with the French-maid-costumed servers and their spellbound otaku customers. Hoverpad operators offer her free rides; she ignores them.
Her tattoo, a wolf made of lightning, glows again, red and urgent, and she picks up the pace. She dodges into a mangakissa and runs up a narrow flight of stairs to a floor full of private cubicles. She runs down a corridor full of purikura photo booths, sliding past groups of giggling cosplaying teenagers mirror dancing with holographic anime versions of themselves. At the end of the corridor is a closed cubicle, its door streaked with stains, an “Out of Order” notice stuck to it with frayed tape. She taps the door and it slides open to reveal a shining metal elevator. She looks up at the camera, draws a sign in mid-air. A robotic voice asks her to identify herself.
“Raiju online,” she says, and the door slides shut.
In Shibuya, a sushi chef, hat askew, runs down Spain Slope, causing much merriment among a group of German students ambling by a trendy bistro. They film him on their phones as he rushes into his restaurant, barks orders at his trembling assistants, scolds an American couple for pouring too much soya sauce on their salmon rolls, and rushes into the toilet.
Once in, he leans against a toilet cubicle and looks at his arm, where a tattoo of a nightmare-devouring baku glows green. The cubicle wall spins around, pitching him into a dark room behind it, and the words “Baku online” can be heard before the wall closes with a loud click.
And in a love hotel in the Kabukicho red light district, a stunningly beautiful man in a ballerina outfit apologises to his wailing client. He watches the scruffy businessman stomp out of his boudoir, pops a pill, and hums a popular soap opera theme as he pulls up his stockings, covering a glittering purple tattoo of a horned oni.
In the preparation chamber, a gigantic hall in an abandoned Hisatomi toy factory on the southern edge of Odaiba, Norio stands in his harness as robotic arms swing around him, attaching his battle-suit components to his body. Azusa’s harness is opposite his, and he watches with the usual mixture of amusement and furtive desire as her slender body disappears like a reversed egg-hatching video, as the round, genderless components snap into place, leaving them both looking like action figures. He’d have preferred an American-style body armour, more sleek and muscly, less rounded, chunky and asexual. But he hadn’t had a say in the equipment design.
Norio’s augmented-reality visor slides down, and through the video feed he watches the giant crustacean’s progress towards Odaiba. Why did they always come to Odaiba? Why not take a right turn and head for the amusement park across the bay? The beast floats steadily towards the man-made island, its entirely wrong body causing only the smallest of ripples in the bay. Most of the mammal and reptile kaiju make a huge mess, wading, splashing, falling down, sending massive waves in every direction. This incredibly ugly Tokyocidal behemoth is one of the most graceful Norio has seen.
Far above the lobster, TV and livestream crews hover, shouting excitedly, each claiming exclusive footage—they used to come in lower, but some of the kaiju had flame breath or hidden wings, and helicopters are expensive. The lobster finds them as annoying as Norio does; it screams at them, and snaps its claws upwards in a futile attempt to pluck them out of the sky.
About five minutes to combat.
Lights go on in quick succession above three tunnel openings on the eastern wall of the preparation chamber. The rest of the team is here. Battle-suited, Norio and Azusa leave their harnesses and head towards the delivery pod. Behind them, come the other three mecha-pilots, all armoured in transit, all moving slightly unsteadily: the mag-lev transportation gondolas from central Tokya to Odaiba have been built for speed and efficiency, not comfort. But the five do make an impressive spectacle as they walk towards the battle; in the anime based on their adventures, they usually show this walk in slow motion. Each battle-suit is both white and the mecha-pilot’s specific colour and has their chosen demon emblazoned on its chest. The multi-coloured AR visors obscure their faces: by mutual pact, they have chosen not to know one another’s real-life identities. They’d decided this would make it easier if any team member were captured, or killed. So far neither has happened.
The delivery pod hurtles underground, playing an annoying catchy tune, and then launches into Tokyo Bay, heading for ARMOR station, their command centre. The pilots stand in silence: in their TV show, this is usually the point where they exchange friendly banter and their leader, the mermaid princess Amabie, tells them what the mission is. There is no need for Azusa to do this: the giant lobster on their AR visors is a fairly substantial hint.
Not too far away, the kaiju makes its first kill: a TV helicopter hovers too low, its crew either reckless or new at this game, and the lobster powers out of the water and snaps it in half. The team freezes the image of the beast entirely out of the water on their visors; it is always better to see the whole kaiju as early as one can, since some of them have wholly unexpected body parts hidden underwater. In this case, it’s a hundred feet of additional lobster tail. The other helicopters hover on, cameramen shooting excitedly; the kaiju, framed in a fireball, surrounded by falling chunks of helicopter and human, is a photographer’s dream come true.
“Are you leading this one, Amabie?” asks Raiju.
Azusa shakes her head. “Goryo,” she says.
The others nod.
The pod docks into ARMOR station and its doors slide open. The underwater hangar lights up. They’ve all done this before, several times, but the pilots cannot help their breath catching for moment as they see their battle-mechas.
Five giant mecha-demons, each thirty-feet tall, stand in the hangar, ominous, powerful, silent. As Goryo steps off the delivery pod onto the hangar floor, the creatures’ eyes light up, and their chests open, revealing hollow metal spheres, nine feet in diameter, inlaid with complex circuitry and AR screens. The pilots race to their demons and as they clamber in, the mechas draw them into their bodies. At Norio’s signal, they power up, and float up to the hangar roof, towards the release chamber.
A minute later, Team ARMOR shoots upwards through the dark, muddy waters of Tokyo Bay.
They surround the kaiju underwater. Azusa’s golden mermaid-mecha’s tail undulates as it circles the beast’s tail. The first strike is Norio’s, and his black skull-faced ghost-mecha speeds ahead of the monster and turns, waiting for the others to take their positions. Raiju’s red wolf-mecha poises, waiting to run up the kaiju’s back. Oni and Baku’s hideous metal faces lurk near its lowest pair of limbs.
“ARMOR engage,” whispers Norio.
His black spirit mecha streaks out of the water, shooting pulses of shimmering white plasma at the lobster.
Amabie’s arms extend into sixty-foot-long spikes; she spears its tail.
Oni and Baku’s mecha limbs transform into giant hammers, and they pound at the kaiju’s legs.
Raiju leaps out of the bay behind the monster, landing with a crunch on its shell.
Rings of white light trace the ridges and crags left on the beast’s body from Goryo’s assault, burning its shell as they go, and Raiju’s weight thundering onto its back at full power decides the issue. The kaiju tilts forward, lurching, claws snapping furiously, but its shell does not crack. Screaming, it topples forward, a crustacean skyscraper crumbling in slow motion. What is left of its lobster brain forgets for a moment whatever made it this unnatural size, made it stand upright.
The splash from the fall hurts the creature more than the mechas did. A wall of water rises in every direction, knocking Raiju off its back, sending Oni and Baku scrambling, leaving only Amabie hanging on grimly to its tail. Goryo plummets into the depths at full speed to avoid getting crushed by the falling lobster above him.
The beast streaks forward underwater, and the mechas race after it. The incredible design of their control spheres has left all the members of the team upright and unharmed, even as their mechas twist and topple around them. Now they brace into attack position and charge at full speed.
Stuck to the kaiju’s thrashing tail, Amabie retracts a spike, shuffles forward and impales the beast again, and it shudders and writhes, its mad northward dash halted. Amabie’s mermaid-mecha drags itself further up the tail, and looks for more imaginative ways to hurt the lobster. But the kaiju is in shallower waters now, and it thrusts forwards and upwards, leaping out of the bay by the shipyard just to the south of the Odaiba Telecom Tower. As the beast swings its tail about, Amabie lets go just in time to avoid being crushed to a pulp against a huge cargo ship.
By the time the rest of Team ARMOR catches up, the giant lobster is waiting for them. Perched on a massive tanker, its tail crushing containers on the shore, its six claws poised to strike, its insanely heavy body somehow held up by its four skinny hind limbs, water flowing off its shell and glittering in the light of the setting sun, the Kaiju King’s finest creation yet is ready for battle.
And battle is just what it gets.
A horn-missile from Oni’s mecha, bobbing squat and ugly behind the tanker, fizzes up from the water and scores a direct hit on the monster’s right eye.
Amabie’s metal-scaled mermaid tail launches a ball of adhesive goo that disables one of its lower claws.
Raiju’s wolf-mecha emerges roaring from the water and gets smacked squarely on the side for her pains. The lightning wolf goes flying across the shipyard, scattering massive shipping containers like dominoes.
Baku taunts the kaiju with machine-gun fire, skimming away just out of the creature’s reach, keeping it distracted.
As Goryo’s mecha-demon breaks the surface to the north, Norio looks at his teammates in wonder. He knows why he’s doing this, but he’s never understood why four other human beings, all mostly normal and hopefully sane adults, have agreed to help him. He doesn’t know about the others, but Azusa seems to be in this fight out of sheer nobility. To protect and serve the citizens of Tokyo? That seemed illogical. Unless she has a secret burning need for revenge as well. But who is she avenging? His father?
The lobster dives off the tanker, thousands of tons of angry beast hurtling straight at Oni. The demon-mecha skids away, but not fast enough. The edge of an outstretched claw catches the mecha’s right foot, and for a moment it looks as if Oni is captured, but a foray by Baku along the beast’s underbelly distracts it long enough for Oni to slip away.
“Please explain why I gave up two hours of sweaty sex for this,” says Oni on the communicator.
“We pay more,” says Norio.
“My mecha’s badly damaged, in case anyone cares.”
“No one cares.”
“Another inspiring speech from our glorious leader,” says Oni, and returns to the fray.
The lobster thrashes for a gut-churning two seconds in the water, shudders violently, and is still. The mechas rise above the surface and hover in the air, circling, waiting. Norio has seen this before; there’s no conclusive way to prove his theory yet, but he knows the lobster part of this kaiju is now dead, simply unable to cope with its new behemoth body, with the sheer impossibility of pretending to have any control over its massive limbs and nerves and sloshing liquid insides. No one knows what the Kaiju King’s power involves—magic? Induced metamorphosis from some dystopic future? Freak natural organic nuclear reactions? Whatever it is, the beast has now surrendered to it. It is all monster now, and has only one thing on its mind.
The waters swirl, eddy and foam as endless antennae and the first pair of claws emerge. The kaiju rises.
“Form up?” asks Baku.
“Hold position,” says Norio.
“The public wants us to form up.”
“Seventy-seven percent of viewers say we should form up right now.”
“Get off the internet. We have to crack its shell.”
The monster emerges from Tokyo Bay, rising eerily, silently, turning on some magical mid-water suspended hinge like the world’s largest and ugliest drawbridge.
“A hashtag about how you suck as a leader is trending, Goryo,” says Raiju.
“Shut up, Raiju. I need a lightning strike. Aim for the plectrum at the base of the antennae. Take your time, don’t miss.”
“Aim for the who?”
“Look it up, since you’re online. Why are you online? You want some netvillain to hack us all?”
“I’m not an idiot. I’m surfing from my phone.”
The kaiju stands up again in the water between them, a towering nightmare made flesh. It screams, and the mechas rattle and shake.
“Yes, sorry. Just sending a message asking how everyone would feel if we just went home, since we’re so terrible. Bloody whiners.”
Norio understands Raiju’s anger, but the truth is there is no one left to help ARMOR fight the kaiju any more. Every time one of the Kaiju King’s overgrown children attacks the city, superpowered criminals run amok, and civilian defence squads, both human and powered, have more than enough to do. At least the real supervillains stay hidden—they don’t like coming out while the media is occupied elsewhere.
The kaiju turns around, facing Odaiba again.
Team ARMOR springs into action.
Goryo, stung by complaints about his leadership, heads the charge, zooming up in front of the kaiju and hitting it with dual sonic blasts—ineffective—and showering its carapace with plasma. The beast swings its claws, but Goryo is out of range.
Oni, Baku and Amabie plunge into the bay again, hacking at the creature’s legs.
“At least this one isn’t breathing fire,” says Baku.
No doubt stung by this criticism, the kaiju charges at Goryo. Twin flaps on either side of its head open, and jets of smoking liquid gush out, arcing through the air. Goryo swings aside, but is caught in the stream. His mecha’s controls fail, and the machine shudders and lurches in the corrosive onslaught. Goryo cuts his engine, and the mecha-demon falls stone-like into the water.
“Acid spit,” says Norio. “Oni, Baku, rise and engage.”
“Actually, Goryo,” says Raiju, “That’s not spit.”
“I just looked it up,” says Raiju. “It peed on you.”
“Well, you asked me to look it up. I know where the plectrum thing is now, if that’s any help. The lobster’s bladder, though, is located...”
“Focus,” Azusa says coldly, silencing the team’s laughter.
“Kill it!” screams Norio.
The red lightning wolf rises high in the air and turns. Its jaws open, a cannon emerges. The other mechas fall back.
The kaiju swerves, looking for its next victim.
Then Raiju bathes it in lightning. The kaiju’s carapace cracks down the middle; shards of shell fly out in fractal patterns. Sizzling, hissing, screaming, it convulses, but somehow manages to stand. Smoke billows from the crack in its shell, and huge quantities of thick black kaiju blood ooze out, dropping into the sea in smoking globs.
“ARMOR form,” says Norio. “Let’s give the people what they want.”
The mechas shoot away from the monster, and a ragged cheer rises from the news helicopters hovering far above them. A hundred feet above sea level, the mechas transform and unite. In an impossible dance of mid-air toy building, plates emerge and slide, limbs interlock, blades swing into place. Bursts of multi-coloured light streak across the sky, keeping the kaiju distracted. Five spirits merge, a single giant figure towers over Tokyo Bay. ARMOR is formed.
Norio hadn’t come up with the name—Advanced Robot for Monster Onslaught Resistance is a term that was cooked up by their anime producers. But ARMOR itself is Norio’s creation, Norio’s child. The giant mecha-warrior hovers, arms folded across its chest, warrior’s helmet and crest sliding into place on its bullet-shaped head. Its blank, eerily beautiful diamond eyes light up. Its wristbands click as rockets slide into place in their launch tunnels. The last ray of the setting sun gleams on its elongated, razor-sharp shoulder pads. 300 feet tall, impossibly strong, Tokyo’s greatest defender stands ready, and cries of jubilation ring out across the watching world.
The kaiju charges.
With impossible agility, ARMOR leaps back to avoid its acid jets, then kneels, splashing, in the water. Its right arm straightens, and rings of blue light shoot out, knocking the kaiju back, halting its mad rush towards the mecha gladiator.
The kaiju wavers.
ARMOR runs at the monster. Giant waves merge into a wall of sound as it speeds towards its enemy, and a sickening crunch echoes across the bay as it slams into the beast’s thorax, folding it in half, sending it flying backwards. The cracks in the kaiju’s carapace widen; its mysterious power source groans and somehow holds it together.
ARMOR launches seven missiles from its left wrist. They swerve and converge, and fireballs blossom on the kaiju’s chest. Chunks of monstrous flesh hurtle in every direction, and rivers of black ooze sizzle into the bay. The beast screams in pain.
“Sashimi time,” says Norio.
ARMOR launches into a series of quick charge-up katas. Parts rearrange themselves, humming and clicking, plates rising, folding, turning, a hundred aeroplane wings sewn together.
A seventy-foot-long sword emerges from ARMOR’s right arm. The kaiju sees its death approaching, swinging, gleaming, glittering in helicopter spotlight beams. It cries out one final time, bellowing its defiance to the emerging stars.
The first stroke pierces its heart. ARMOR draws the sword out, covering itself in a mist of kaiju blood. Five more precise slashes, and it’s over. All that remains of the Kaiju King’s monster is a mountain of steaming shell and flesh trickling into the all-forgiving bay. ARMOR performs its customary celebratory air-punch, turns and strides into deeper waters, unfolding, transforming, reshaping itself into its five-part mecha-army.
“Do you mind if I stick around for a bit?” asks Baku. “I’ve actually ordered industrial amounts of seaweed and rice. My lobster volcano roll is a big hit nowadays, but kaiju lobster roll...”
“No, but could you please stop telling us exactly who you are and what you do?” asks Norio.
“Of course, Goryo. Apologies. I just want to see if kaiju meat works while fresh.”
“I don’t want to know. Good work, team.”
Baku hovers near the kaiju’s corpse as the other four victorious warriors disappear into the murky waters, projecting holograms to confuse the following news crews as they wind their way back to ARMOR base. Oni and Raiju chatter excitedly, reliving the fight. Azusa is silent, as always, and so is Norio. His day is far from over, and the ordeal he has to face now is potentially more dangerous than a kaiju battle.
Norio Hisatomi has a celebrity auction to attend.
At four a.m., a tuxedo-clad Norio lounges poolside at Tokyo’s most glamorous new hotel, the Ginza Mikado, trying not to let his extreme tiredness and irritation bubble to the surface.
An ambitious society matron spots him from across the pool, and tries the time-tested technique of wading into the fluorescent-lit warm water, approaching Norio in a straight line, with the single-minded precision of a hungry shark. In a few seconds, her piercing giggles and admirably toned figure have captured the attention of everyone at the gathering, with the single exception of her quarry. Norio looks away deliberately, desperately wishing she were just another kaiju. And in doing so, he spots something far above him, silhouetted against the neon-hued night sky, something that actually makes his jaw drop. He sits up sharply. He blinks, shakes his head, and looks again.
It’s real. It’s still there.
With his left arm, he gently dislodges a Brazilian supermodel’s death-grip on his right, rises, and excuses himself. Ignoring numerous parting witticisms, he strides out of the pool area, through the lobby, away from lurking paparazzi, and into an elevator.
A few minutes and several bribes later, Norio is on the Ginza Mikado’s roof. He runs, swiftly passing vents, chimneys, and a couple of intertwined off-duty cleaners. He finds the corner where he had seen it, standing on the roof.
Where he had seen him.
It doesn’t look like a statue. It looks like... him. Black cape, fluttering in the gentle breeze. That unmistakeable twin-pointed silhouette, perfectly framed in the cityscape around them, so many skyscrapers, so many people, so many stories.
Norio clears his throat nervously, reminds himself he’s a billionaire, an action hero, and nobody’s fanboy. He struggles to say the word, feels ridiculous, but there’s nothing else to say.
“Batman?” asks Norio.
Norio asks again, louder, and is met with silence once more. Rage wells up within him, and embarrassment, and more rage. Of course it’s not him. It couldn’t be him. He isn’t real. It’s so easy to forget that, in a world where nothing seems real.
“Do you have any idea how much trouble you could get into, standing around in that costume?” he asks. “Not just with the bloody super-copyright lawyers, but with every passing supervillain who decides you’d make the perfect trophy?”
“It’s just a mannequin,” says a voice behind him. Norio spins around just as the dart sticks into his neck. The night blurs, and Norio falls, heavily, staring through the all-enveloping haze at his assailant. She’s short, curvy, mid-forties. Very pretty.
“Hello, Norio,” she says. “Sorry to do it this way, but I need to talk to you, and it’s so difficult to catch you alone. I’m—”
“Tia,” slurs Norio, and passes out.
Resistance © Samit Basu, 2014