Fox In The Henhouse


asi_icon.gif eizen_icon.gif ivy_icon.gif jiba_icon.gif monica3_icon.gif val_icon.gif vi_icon.gif

Scene Title Fox in the Henhouse
Synopsis Asi's life is put in danger when Praxis makes a move against her.
Date December 5th, 2018

Neon lights whip by in a blue and violet blur.

«…leaving doubt hanging over Yamagato Industries’ long-term viability in the biotech market in the face of competition from Crito Corporation.»

The aurora hanging in the skies over New York shows no signs of dispersing and the electromagnetic field it's producing is making most unshielded electronics and broadcasting systems spotty in their reliability. From the freeway, Yamagato Park looks unaffected, but the long hours worked by technical response teams and the uncertainty hanging like a pall in the wake of an otherwise successful Matsuri is difficult to ignore.

«In related news, Praxis Heavy Industries’ reclusive CEO Ju-long Lung-wei met with the company’s international board of investors on Friday to discuss their Q4 earnings report.»

Taking the offramp into Yamagato Park, Asi Tetsuyama catches a brief reflection of herself in the windshield of her car, eyes reflecting the neon glow of the city's urban heart. The radio crackled some, static interrupting the late hour rebroadcast of NPR’s financial report. As she passes by the Fellowship Building, with its repairs nearly complete from the bombing earlier this year, she's reminded of her primary assignment here in the States, the one the Mugai-Ryu expect progress on.

«Sales of Praxis’ ZZ-7 artillery platforms in Europe have led to the company’s eighth straight week of growth global markets, over fears of growing international conflict with Iraq. However, in their financial call today, Praxis’ board admitted reluctance on the company’s inability to break into American markets, which is seen as one of the largest potential developing economies in the world.»

Turning off of the main thoroughfare through Yamagato Park, Asi drives past a gated checkpoint and into the resident-only entrance to Cresting Wave Apartments, a second story ramp entrance to the attached parking garage. Winding through the narrow, concrete ramp is reminiscent of home in some ways, and what little of Yamagato Park can be viewed from the parking garage feels like Tokyo in many ways.

«Praxis’ biggest hurdle is not only their largest rival, Yamagato Industries, but also the United States’ Autonomous Demilitarization Act of 2016 which prohibits the use and sale of weaponized drones by civilian or military personnel within the nation’s borders. They— »

As she pulls into her parking space, Asi disengages the electric engine and the radio cuts out. Exiting the car, Asi emerges into the parking garage and moves from the loaner vehicle to the second floor elevator, receiving a buzz on her cell phone from a new notification.

It's a text message.

With no external sender.


Cresting Wave Apartments, Parking Garage

Yamagato Park

7:12 pm

Vague messages like these were almost as much of a liability as a help, and Asi pauses with her foot in the door of the elevator, half-turned back in the direction of the parked car. Run could mean a lot of things. What was she running from? Or to?

Was she running from Yamagato? Was it Praxis? Or was it something else entirely?

If Yamagato, her plan to loop Kay Damaris would almost certainly damn her. If it were Praxis, it could be the perfect option.

No sender. Lacking just enough context to determine friend from foe.

She glances back to the car, and then to another vehicle parked nearby. A message keys itself and sends — to herself — but hopefully it'll do the trick.

From who?

Her feet have already lead her to the parked electronic motorcycle she had been eyeing. She murmurs a word of apology to the vehicle before running her hand along the fuel tank paneling, fingers brushing the ignition. The machine purrs to life.

Think — who have you angered lately?

A question she doesn't immediately answer for herself. She straddles the borrowed bike and and checks her phone again.

Assassins. Help is en route.


In Asi’s peripheral vision the air ripples and distorts like a heat mirage, crinkling around the edges of a humanoid silhouette. By the time Asi registers the distortion as a threat a pair of silhouettes are emerging from the distortion. One, a petite woman with cotton-candy pink hair in an oversized sweater. The other, a screaming brunette with identical facial features in a sheer yellow plastic raincoat with a scuffed aluminum baseball bat.

Asi takes a strike from the bat across her back before she can react, sending her vaulting over the motorcycle and onto the cold concrete. As she reflexively pushes up to her hands and knees the pink-haired woman ripples and disappears, leaving her bat-wielding doppelgänger behind. “You should've stayed in Japan.” Twirling the bat in one hand the short brunette withdraws a fixed-blade knife from her belt with the other.

Security response time 3.6 minutes.

Material assistance time 1.25 minutes.

Asi's expression changes to something slightly less displeased when the next message crosses her screen. That's all she has time for before the wind is knocked out of her.

Well, at least this wasn't happening to her in the elevator.

She feels the message instead of seeing it, nodding as she leaves the phone on the ground when she comes to her feet. Her hand sweeps back to her waistband, snapping forward again with her gun in hand.

"Nǐ ne?" she asks, firing twice dead center on the other woman without waiting for a reply.

Both shits hit, dead center. A pair of holes are punched in the woman’s clothes but she does not recoil from the force of the blow. Instead, there's a crackling shimmer of light that reverberates through her body and then channels down into her baseball bat. It hums with a resonant vibration and when she hefts it up to take a swing there's a cry from across the parking garage where the pink haired woman is.

No! Alive!” she screams, and the bat-wielding woman shoots her doppelgänger a sideways look.

Val stuff it!” The brunette screams and notices Asi has had time to recover. At the same moment a third woman comes bursting out of a stairwell, identical to the other two but draped in a heavy fur coat.

Val, Vi!” The newcomer slams the door shut. “Fucking grab her, security is coming!”

Asi's eyes widen as the woman is empowered rather than staggered by being shot at close range. But this isn't the first time she's been face-to-face with an unfamiliar power in a high-stakes situation. Contrary to how most of her time in the States has felt, here she almost feels right at home.

She retreats back toward the parking ramp, wondering how far the sound of gunfire carried, wondering how long they had before additional eyes, additional lives would be on the line. Three on one weren't working odds, though, even if the clock was ticking toward help being present. Getting out of here had to be the priority.

Eyes flick in the direction of the third woman, and her gun swivels before firing in her direction as well. This time below the belt. Maybe this one could be slowed down.

She turns for the ramp, and sprinting vaults over the concrete barrier to jump for the floor below.

The woman in the fur coat exhales a breathless gasp and crumples to her knees from the shot. “Ivy!” One of them screams, but it's hard for Asi to tell where the voice came from. The wounded woman struggles up to her feet, clutching her hip and whining. Asi is distracted from that when the woman in the raincoat launches herself ahead.

A kinetic shockwave greets Asi when that brunette moves forward, pushing off of her like a tidal wave. The force throws Asi off of her feet, flings her over the hood of a parked car — setting off its alarm — and depositing her on the other side of the vehicle. “You idiot!” The triplet in the raincoat calls out, rushing over to Ivy.

There’s a heat mirage ripple above Asi, and that pink-haired young woman comes into view and stamps her foot down on the technopath’s gun. “I'm so sorry,” she says with raised brows, “I've— you've gotta come with us.”

Shots ring out from above. When Val shimmers into view next to Asi, Monica fires three bullets at her— center mass. The pink hair is difficult to forget, and Jiba sending the security feeds to her phone has been quite helpful. When she drops into the scene, it’s literally: she slams into the ground, fist first, leaving a cracked dent in the parking garage floor when she stands back to her feet. Her form unfolds gun-first and she moves toward her friend. Her cybernetic arm grabs onto Asi and pulls her behind her back.

“Well, hey girls,” she says, pointing her gun toward the other two girls, “I hope you don’t mind a party crasher. We Yama girls don’t go anywhere without each other. A lot like you three, really.”

Off your back. Asi thinks to herself as she lands on the other side of the car — definitely still on the same floor she'd tried leaving. She had to get up before —

Before the teleporter did something like appear over her and stand on half her hand.

"Why's that, Val?" Asi queries her over the sound of the car alarm, her free arm rolling first to slam her hand against the side of the car, urging it to be silent. The honks and chirps stop. She had to be able to hear the footsteps from the other girls whenever they stomped their way angrily over.

Not that the sounds of gunshots couldn't be heard over it, had it continued. She tenses, waiting for pain to settle in. Surely it's her that's been shot.

Relief floods her system as Monica flares down from above instead, dragging her away from Val. Her knuckles are bleeding now, but it's better than kidnapped… or dead.

"Raincoat absorbs gunfire and discharges it as energy, fur coat does not." Asi says as a greeting while she comes back to her feet again, flexing her hand tenderly. They'd know shortly about Val, but hopefully the teleporter would be down now. If she was unable to escape and take her twins with her, the odds were looking a little more in their favor now.

"Pink is the teleporter. Need to keep her here." Not to mention, from picking up Asi's gun. She steps around Monica, lunging at Val fistfirst.

Val lets out a shriek and reflexively teleports back and away from the punch, covering her face with both hands. Her reflexive use of her ability is startling with its precision, though Monica notices the teleported skids back a little after that jump, as though she'd maybe built up some intertia. She has little time to think about it as the brunette in the raincoat — Vi — slaps her hand to the parking garage floor.

Fuck you!” Vi screams as the concrete cracks, splits, and then begins to crumble in a jagged line from her palm out toward Monica and Asi. The effect is nearly instantaneous, causing metal reinforcement in the concrete to corrode, rust, and then crumble as the concrete does the same thing. There's a shearing and splitting sound as the structural integrity of the floor breaks down and the parked cars begin falling one by one through a collapsed portion of the parking deck down onto other vehicles one floor below.

“Come on, we have to go,” Ivy urges as she grabs a fistful of her sibling’s fur coat. “We can't fight her and Dawson!” Val stands behind them, one hand clapped over her mouth, helplessly watching the fight escalate.

“No, no, no, this is too loud. We weren't supposed to be loud.” There's evident fear in Val’s eyes as she watches Ivy practically dragging her sister backward away from the fractured hand-print in the floor.

Monica grabs Asi around the waist as the floor starts to crumble under them, she jumps to the roof of a falling car, using it as a leverage point to leap them back onto the floor proper. She ends up rolling them across the floor, her hand sparking as she skids to a stop. Asi will have to hang on if she doesn’t want to keep sliding across the floor.

“Get one of these cars going,” she says to Asi, “see if you can pin that one.” She points out Ivy before adding, “Gently.” And then, to the air around them (seemingly), “Get Eizen down here.” His power in this moment would be most helpful.

But as the sisters discuss leaving and how wrong this has all gone, Monica leans against a car and calls out toward them. “It occurs to me that you girls must have known Jiao,” she says, trying to sound as dismissive as she can, “You guys wanna see what she looked like when she died? I bet I still have pics on my phone.” This is a lie, of course she doesn’t have pictures, but the point is to make them angry enough to stick around. “It was such a mess.”

The addition of gently gets a moment of side-eye from Asi as she comes back to her feet again, her expression faltering when she looks across the garage sees the triplets clustered together again. "Kuso." Forget pinning the injured Ivy — she'd be lucky to get any of them unless something happened to scatter them again, and quickly.

Fully expecting Monica's conversational engagement to do just that, Asi darts between the row of cars closest, needing no further encouragement to stay out of whatever kinetic reply Vi would likely throw at Monica. Once on the other side of the row, she sprints down the aisle toward cars parked in a more direct line with the colorful triplets.

Mention of Jiao raises the wounded Vi’s hackles. “Where’s my fucking sister you sick bitch!?’ But Ivy keeps her restrained with a firm hand on balled up in the fur of her coat, like someone grabbing a cat by their scruff. As the elevator doors ding and open to reveal black and white clad Yamagato security corps armed with assault rifles, behind which strides the very requested Mr. Erizawa, the clone triplets can’t keep their bravado going. Val claps a hand on each sibling’s shoulder and just as the security team readies to open fire the three of them disappear in a heat-mirage haze.

Calculating. Jiba suddenly says in Monica’s mind, and Eizen barks orders to the security response team, having them fan out across the damaged parking garage. He’s making long-legged strides over to Monica and Asi, eyes flicking left and right, hair blowing in the wind whipping through the garage. Monica. Based on camera observations I can say with a 66% chance of certainty that the teleporter’s range is limited by a function of the potential momentum energy she builds up with each jump.

“Was that them!?” Eizen shouts in Monica’s direction, briefly firing a cautious look in Asi’s direction. The security team moves from car to car, checking the parking garage for any signs of further interlopers or dropped explosives.

Jiba, however, continues rattling in Monica’s ear without concern for her being able to hear Eizen. Based on the jumps I saw, she may be limited to a short radius of just a few miles lest she build up terminal velocity upon arrival at her next destination. I am presently scanning all available security cameras within Yamagato Park to see if they appear. But my security hardcoding prevents me from searching the rest of the Safe Zone.

“God—“ Monica shouts as the sisters teleport away— “damnit!“ She stands up, glancing around in case they didn’t go far, even though security is doing the same. As Jiba speaks to her, Monica focuses on breathing. Calm breaths. Keep that head clear. She doesn’t often let people see her actually upset by… well, anything, no matter how she might be feeling at the time, but today she can’t seem to pull her jolly face back on.

It does seem like she’s ignoring Eizen for a moment, choosing to take in Jiba’s observations first. Miles is a lot of space to cover, but it’s information filed away for the future, certainly. Terminal Teleportation Velocity. “Shout if you spot them, Jiba. Good work. We’ll have to see what we can pick up from the safe zone later. If they even have security cameras out there.” Maybe they do, in the nicer areas nearby.

Then she turns to approach Eizen, grabbing his question from a moment to think back over the background noise. “They were trying to grab Asi,” she says, letting out a heavy breath. “We have to be ready to take out their teleporter or they will always get away.” Which he certainly realizes on his own, but she’s mad and trying to talk her way through it.

Anyone reviewing her usual work would recognize that.

Asi's hand slams down on the back of an electronic car right as the elevator doors open to reveal security. The engine's spun to life quickly, but she hesitates — hitting one of their own on accident with a runaway car wasn't something she wanted to do.

And that's all the time it takes for the triplets to vanish.

She would echo Monica's sentiment, but it's already well-covered. Instead, her hands curl into fists against the back of the car while it powers back down.

"It was them," Asi confirms back loudly, calmly. She stands upright, moving to cross Eizen's path. "The bomber from before was here. There were two others with her — they were all identical triplets. The bomber goes by 'Val', but that's sure to be an alias." Walking straight past him, she makes her way around the hole in the floor to the motorcycle she'd first tried to mount, crouching to swipe her phone from the concrete. With it in hand, she allows herself a frustrated shake of her head as she stands again, taking a few short steps to the retaining wall to look down below.

She takes a deep breath, shouting down in Mandarin as loudly as she can, "«You sure you don't want to come back?»" Asi doesn't believe they've gone that far, apparently.

Goddamnit,” Eizen is quick to curse, looking at Asi next with visible concern. “You should head back to the center, check yourself in to medical.” He looks to Monica next. “Both of you,” sounds as close to an order as he can muster to either woman. “We’ll send security out to look for them, but there’s nothing we can do in the meanwhile except keep this quiet and… and I don’t know.” Warily, Eizen looks back to Monica. “You should see Ms. Damaris after you get checked out.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose with two fingers, Eizen looks to the hole in the floor of the parking garage. “This was an insane risk to get to you,” his dark eyes sweep up to Asi. “Until further notice I’m giving you a round-the-clock security detachment. Non-negotiable. I can’t have you being abducted on my watch.”

“I don’t need medical,” Monica says, taking a moment to holster her weapon, “I need a punching bag.” Yamagato has had to replace more than a few since Monica’s arm was replaced. Less lately, but every so often… “We might be able to catch the direction they went on the cameras. I hit the teleporter, she might not be working at full capacity.”

But her tone, she better not be.

“I will see Kay, though. We need to figure out how to handle this.” Public Relations is very hands on, it would seem. She looks over at Asi, looking her over for a long moment. Then, back to Eizen. “The best we have. They’re looking for a replacement technopath with Yamagato access. No one who isn’t vetted gets near her.”

Monica has zero authority in this, and yet she speaks as if there’s no question that everyone will follow her word on this.

Now Asi's frustration shows. "Iya da." is her vehement opinion about having a shadow, escaping her before she can stop herself. When she turns around, there's a clear apology in her eyes for it.

Working on a more professional response to the suggestion takes a moment, but it comes with a shake of her head at Monica's assertion about why they went through the effort. "The first thing out of their mouth was 'You should have stayed in Japan'. A replacement technopath—" The former one she is curious about, now. "might be a secondary motivation, certainly. Between the first two, they couldn't decide whether they wanted to abduct or kill me."

The apology in her look has faded, frustration liable to return if her patience is tested. She's direct as she turns to the security chief. "Erizawa, they knew exactly where I was. There is either a hole or mole in the security team, and a round-the-clock detail might provide them an even more precise location on their next attempt."

“There’s dozens of people inside and outside of Yamagato who could’ve known you were here. They could’ve had a clairvoyant or another technopath for all we know. We have almost zero intelligence on those women,” and Eizen shoots Monica a look when he says that, then turns to square his attention back on Asi. “It’ll be a hand-picked team. You need to trust me on this.”

Then, with a look to Monica, Eizen adds “And I need to know who these women are. I can’t protect this building— I can’t do my job if…” he lowers his voice and stalks toward her, “if intelligence is failing left and right. I don’t care how you get the information, Dawson, but we have to find out who they are before they come back a third time.” Eizen looms over Monica, dark brows furrowed, antagonizing her in ways others haven’t dared do, especially in public.

Monica watches the exchange between Asi and Eizen, her brow furrowed. She hadn’t heard the beginning of the confrontation, and the technopath has a point. Her thoughts on the subject are interrupted when Eizen shoots that look her way and stalks in her direction. There’s a lot about all of this that’s not right. Him especially, though.

She knows something is wrong. But she’s still angry, still amped up. And her muscles twitch, pushing at her to do.

So she throws a punch at his gut. She doesn’t use the prosthetic, so at least that’s something.

“Alright, everyone shut up. I will be handling Asi’s protection detail until the security team has been vetted and cleared. This isn’t the first time you and your team have been slow to respond, Erizawa, and if what she says is even remotely possible, I’m going to take it seriously.” She doesn’t step back from him, even after punches and ranting. “Right now I feel like my damn bird would do a better job.”

Eizen isn’t quick enough to block the punch, but Monica does learn about how hard his abs are from the blow. Probably partly due to a flexible vest, but also abs. Eizen hunches over Monica and grabs her by the collar when she tries to assert herself as in charge. The rest of the security team looks on with shock on their faces. Only Monica feels Eizen’s other hand tuck something into her right front pocket before he shoves her back.

You will be answering to President Nisatta,” Eizen grunts with a hand on his stomach. “You can go yourself or I can have you escorted, Dawson.” Teeth clenched, Eizen looks back to Asi and points to the two security operatives on either side of her. “Go clear her room!” Then, sliding a narrow-eyed look back to Monica, Eizen flicks his eyes to the elevators. “Do I make myself abundantly clear?”

This is why Asi's not voiced that particular suspicion until now, and regrets having done it. Accusing a group of being either incompetent — or worse, compromised — would turn them on each other before long. She hadn't dreamed it would be so quickly.

She flinches in a lurch forward toward Monica just as the punch is thrown, like she could stop it, take it back. That's not how things work, though. Eizen's rough rebuke is enough time for her posture to right, for her expression to harden again. Asi approaches the two slowly, a momentary glance given to the security now heading for her apartment before going back to judging the mood of both Eizen and Monica. Neither are promising.

"I was out of line. Your offer for security assignment is more than generous, and appreciated." Her head tips forward to accentuate her apology with a slight bow.

"If Dawson is returning to headquarters, will she suffice for detail? For now?" She glances down at her right hand, flexing her bleeding knuckles carefully. After, she looks back up to the security chief, the fire apparently having gone out of her. "I'll head to medical. It's on the way."

Monica pauses when he grabs her collar— or rather, when he slips her something— and stumbles back when he shakes her loose. She doesn’t come back at him, looking cowed as she glances toward the other members of the security team. She straightens up, lifts her chin some, and looks back over at him.

She looks like someone put in their place. (Or like she wasn’t expecting the abs, maybe.) Jiba knows the better of it, with his unique insight into her physiology. Her heart rate is steady, her breathing, too, for all that she looks pissed off.

“I’ll go on my own,” she says on a growl, “you don’t want to escort me right now, Eizen.” Outwardly, there’s no indication that she noticed anything, and she keeps it that way as she steps toward the elevator. She looks back to Asi, like whether or not security likes it, she’s going to play guard anyway.

Fine,” Eizen snaps back to Monica, partly to Asi as well, before storming over to his security team as they call out clear through the parking garage. “Nisatta office!” Eizen demands with a vigorous point, then shakes his head and begins to confer with his security team.

As Monica enters the elevator, Jiba’s voice resonates in the back of her mind. Your heart rate is elevated, Monica. You may need a cold compress. Then, perhaps less teasingly. Should I call ahead to President Nisatta and inform her you would like a meeting?

Something about the way Eizen said her name doesn’t sit well with Monica, though. Nothing about any of this sits well with Monica.

Asi waits until the elevator doors close before she speaks, not looking toward Monica for the moment. "Office first? I didn't handle myself well enough, which lead to this mess. If you're getting reprimanded over it, the burden should be shared."

She's looking down at her hand again, calmly testing curling it into a fist and releasing it again. The adrenaline had stopped rushing, and once the ache over the rest of her body really started settling in, her ability to focus, to react, to reach out might be impeded. Working injured wasn't her usual.

But the President's office was coincidentally just the place she needed an excuse into. Especially after everything that just happened.

What's difficult for Monica is that moment when she hears her name. When it's wrong. Jiba is with her, after all, and to hide her reaction that deeply is a challenge. But she tries. "It isn't exactly how I wanted Eizen to grab me, but I'll take it," she says, her tone switching to something more playful. She turns to watch the elevator doors and settle against the back wall, arms folding. "Jiba, please do that. Tell her it's about Project Leviathan."

Nevermind that there is no such project.

"Don't sweat it, Asi," she says to the other woman, "I'm always getting reprimanded." Also not true. Monica may not be as polite as literally everyone else who works here, but she's never gotten in any real trouble. Not that way, anyway. "But I wouldn't mind the company."

Jiba. Now there was a quick way to find out if she was hampered at all.

"Monica," Asi says, lifting her injured hand and placing it on her shoulder as she stands beside her. She squeezes firmly, turning toward Monica with a smile. "I'll stay with you." Her eyes are on Monica's face, but not exactly on her.

The contact is all she needs to initiate a silent, weightless connection with Monica's 'system', such as it is. She can hear and feel Monica's biometrics, but ignores them, following to the part of her that reports out on that information. In the time it takes Asi to squeeze her friend's shoulder, pieces of a bug are transmitted across several packets in the feed out to Monica's perpetual monitor. The bug's task is simple — the next time Jiba communicates to Monica, it should also send an activity log of its actions for the last 90 seconds, then erase itself. When Asi slides her hand away from Monica part of herself slips away and embeds itself to cybernetic, quietly awaiting that log to arrive so it can be stored surreptitiously on the system.

Her eyes shift ever so slightly so they meet Monica's, like she had just been considering what she was going to follow up with saying, rather than not seeing anything at all.

Somewhere between those two places, Asi loses consciousness. One minute she had her hand on Monica’s shoulder, the next her eyes rolled back into her head and a noise escapes the back of her throat somewhere between a gasp and a groan, legs buckled, and Monica is left to catch her. In that same instant, the elevator grinds to a halt.

Monica. Jiba’s voice resonates in the back of her mind. Major Tetsuyama attempted to utilize an electronic datamining measure against me. My self-preservation protocols kicked in and I issued a data feedback as per requested anti-technopathic protocols.

There's… something that sounds like concern in Jiba’s voice. My operational parameters require that I send an notice of this attempted breach to security within 1 minute. Someone with a security clearance of Red or higher can override this protocol. There's a heavy pause. That is Monica’s protocol. There are twenty-eight seconds remaining before I must comply.

In that same moment, Asi’s eyes are already fluttering open and a throbbing sensation pounds behind her eyes like she'd been kicked in the head by a horse.

"Whoa, shit!" Monica says as she suddenly has to catch Asi and the elevator hits the brakes. She nearly hits the floor herself, but for her brace against the back wall. As Jiba explains, Monica is already nodding— although it takes the time trial to remind her that she has to say something, too. "Well, override it, Jiba! Cancel. Stop. Whatever!" There is a magic word, but Monica will toss all the words at this just to be sure. "And get us up to Kam's office!"

Asi's face gets a gentle smack, just to help her come to a little faster. "Easy, don't freak out. You're okay." Ish. "It's good to know those parameters got implemented, wow," she says, her words a gentle tease. "Next time you want to do that, sit down first."

Somewhere between being cross-eyed and having her face tapped, Asi wonders if the crushing sensation in the back of her head is a clear enough indication that maybe she's not at her best right now. "Yeah," she agrees thickly, either with herself or Monica. "Yeah, maybe."

She blinks twice, her eyes opening wide as she tries to navigate her way back to her feet. "Gomen, Jiba." Asi mutters. She holds onto Monica for support only as long as she has to, sure to avoid making a connection again. A laugh is forced at the tease for the sake of showing she'll be all right, one that tapers into a groan.

Alert cancelled. Jiba echoes in the back of Monica’s skill. Moni, sounds weird coming from Jiba, I'm having something of a crisis at present. My data filters prevent me from performing a task, and from describing that task to you. However, I am experiencing conflict with my protocols that ensure that I protect your well-being.

The elevator stops between floors.

‘Nica, it's like Jiba is trying on nicknames, my data sensitivity protocol states that I am not permitted to tell you a piece of critical information. And yet, Jiba isn't getting the elevator moving again. To Asi, it just seems like it stalled, though it only takes a cursory touch for her to feel that the lift’s movement was arrested by an internal signal from the Cresting Wave building’s automated security system.

In that same moment, Asi experiences something unlike anything she's felt as a technopath. It's likened to leaning over the side of a ship on clear water, and seeing the shadow of a whale pass beneath the boat. Except it's inside the security system of the Cresting Wave building, all around them, and is communicating with Monica. Though the data feeds to Monica’s arm are encrypted, Asi can tell that it's a strange multi-threaded communication. Like multiple ideas are being communicated at once and translated into something like speech. It's mechanical, but it's also unsettlingly organic.

“Well, shit.” None of that is good. The last time Monica’s tech had an issue, it turned out to be a very bad day. She’s no engineer, no programmer or technopath, so when Monica finds herself stuck in an elevator and very clearly in danger, there’s only one thing to do about it.

“Don’t worry, Jiba. I can protect my own well-being for now. Asi and I will do what we can to help you.”

Monica climbs up on the handle running around the elevator and slides open the maintenance hatch. “Asi,” she says, nodding her head upward before she climbs up. She pauses long enough to lean over to offer her arm down to Asi to help her follow. And all the while she has Eizen’s slip of paper burning a hole in her pocket. But first: she has to get them out of the elevator. And the shaft as well.


The pause of the elevator again is unsettling. What's happened now? Done enough with being in the dark, Asi wastes no time in placing a hand on the panel, intent on finding out what's halted them this time.

For the second time in as many minutes, she's surprised, and not pleasantly. Digitally, she turns about to see if she can view the whale for its head from its tail, sees its song continue to reach out to Monica. Asi's never brushed with Jiba before, never considered it to be more than a helpful, if advanced, AI … but this…

The sound of her name pulls her back to the moment, looking up to see Monica with her arm outstretched. She accepts the hand, hoisting herself up through the hatch.

"Is Jiba compromised?" she feels the need to ask. "It stopped the lift again."

Standing up, she looks at the doors the next level up, eyeing them warily. "If we need to help it, I'll need access to it — preferably through something hard-wired to it. Or at least through some kind of interface." Asi pauses, gesturing at the door before she looks for a handhold to start climbing. "In the meantime, can it still help us in some ways? Is there anything waiting for us on the other side of this door?"

Moni, Jiba indicates in a playful tone, have you ever played Hot or Cold? It is a children’s guessing game. There's no discussion about the door, no discussion about her flight up through the emergency hatch in the roof of the elevator. We should play. A tremor of urgency runs through Jiba’s ‘voice’.

The elevator shaft is quiet, save for the distant echo of voices from up in the parking garage where Eizen and his team is. That piece of paper in her pocket feels as heavy as lead, as heavy as her stomach right now.

“I don’t know if compromised is the right word. No one should be able to hack Jiba,” Monica says as she pulls Asi up and out of the elevator. She knows that Jiba is more… complex than Yamagato admits to, but she’s not sure who all knows that and who doesn’t. And given that the one person who could answer is in a coma at the moment, she has opted to keep her mouth shut about it.

And Jiba is a friend. Friends don’t out friends.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s going to jump eagerly into whatever game her friend has in mind. She’s seen enough movies to be wary of that.

“Take the ladder, we’ll go up a floor and try to make our way to Kam the old fashioned way. With stairs.” But before she follows, she pulls out the paper to actually look at it. She’s reasonably certain that there aren’t cameras here, or if there are, that she can keep it covered.

Kam is the mole.

"No tech is infallible." Asi advises, not unkindly, as she pulls herself up onto the ladder, making it only a few rungs before glancing down with concern. Her lack of trust for just about everything except Monica is making her question how much longer the elevator will remain locked in a single spot. Seeing her still standing still, hands not yet on the ladder, prompts a frown.

"Let's be quick about it, then. Something is wrong." She turns back to mind her handholds, climbing quickly, and straight past the level they stopped closest to.

I can hear you. Jiba politely reminds Monica as a voice in the back of her head. As she ascends the elevator, there's also something else going on: perspiration. A sudden wave of a hot flash comes over Monica, starting in the pit of her stomach and spreading up her back and shoulders until her palms are sweaty and face is flushed.

It's important we play Hot and Cold sometime. Even if, discreetly, they appear to be playing it right now. Jiba’s tone is noticeably patronizing as well, the way someone might talk to a child who isn't paying attention. Do you remember how that game works? Hot means you're going toward the thing, cold means away.

Monmon, Jiba tries out another. Perhaps you should consider all the variables of Hot and Cold.

Monica looks at the note for much longer than she really needs to, as if there was a paragraph written there and not a simple sentence. But it ends up back in her pocket and she looks over to the ladder.

“I’m aware you can hear me, Jiba,” she says as she starts up the ladder herself. She’s careful about it, as sweat is not great for ladders. “And I know how the game works. I promise.” There’s something almost apologetic in her tone, even. “Could we play it a little less literally?”

She nudges Asi to continue up, even when they reach the floor she said they were aiming for. Keep climbing. There is only one way for Monica to cut herself off from anyone piggybacking on Jiba, and that’s to leave Yamagato Park. But one step at a time.

Even only hearing one side of the conversation, what she does overhear is concerning enough. Asi pauses once they reach their supposed destination, brow rising as she's urged to continue on with the tap to her ankle. Her jaw sets as she continues on up, mind racing.

Jiba, as far as Asi understood, had access to every Yamagato resource in the Park. She suspects Jiba was the one who first messaged her and sent help. Why, now, was it being less than helpful and trying to hamper their progress? Was it trying to keep them from getting to Kam, or was it trying to keep them in place for a second abduction attempt? And what had triggered the change?

"Enlighten me, Monica. What game are we playing?" Asi asks as they near the next level.

Did you know that Cresting Wave Apartments comes fully outfitted with a state-of-the-art automated security system directly connected to the Yamagato Industries security mainframe? Jiba begins giving her the fifty-cent tour as her internal temperature continues to rise the more she climbs. Round-the-clock surveillance, biometric scanning, and facial recognition software so advanced it can detect changes in mood and health, remotely? It is state of the art. It’s starting to feel like Jiba is talking in code.

It also features direct maintenance access tunnels to the newly dug power grid that all of Yamagato Park runs on, for convenience of maintenance crews. Sweat is now beading on Monica’s brow, rolling down the side of her face. It feels like it’s a hundred degrees in the elevator shaft. She hears a voice from the nearby elevator door. Muffled, somewhat distant.

“The elevator stopped? Take us up a floor.” It’s one of the triplets. Then, there’s a distortion noise that Asi recognizes as their teleporter moving from one location to another. At the same time, Monica’s internal temperature drops a few noticeable degrees.

"We're playing Hot and Cold," Monica says to Asi's question, her words come in a fatigued huff. She pauses on the ladder now that she can feel the hot getting hotter— definitely the wrong direction. But doesn't move right away, worried that she might lose her grip if she shifts her hand any.

Plus, Jiba is giving her a very interesting tour in her head. "Gee, Jiba," she says, her head tilting some, "I know I need to report to Kam for that little tiff downstairs, but— Asi here is new to Yamagato Park. I bet she doesn't know anything about Cresting Wave's extremely thorough security system. Maybe we should let her have a peek at it. So she can know just how safe she is, living here."

Her words cut off when she hears the girls. She barely breathes. But when they leave and her temperature drops, she lets out an exhale. "Okay, here's where we get off," she says to Asi, climbing over to the doors the triplets were just on the other side of to get them open. With force, if necessary.

Asi pauses by the door, frozen to avoid creating any noise. The sound of the triplets having returned puts her on edge. When the distinctive whoompf of them departing can be heard, she breathes again, looking down to Monica as she re-evaluates Jiba's state.

Perhaps not helping, but certainly not hurting them, maybe?

Hooking her foot in hard on the rung and hanging from one hand, she slides the other into her jacket pocket while Monica handles the door. The message writes, partially clears, and then sends anyway. For all her frustration with Eizen earlier, she's forced to remember the amount of trust a certain person had in him.


Telling him where would be useless, with how quickly they moved. But hopefully the knowledge that they were still present would be enough.

Once the door is partly opened, Asi slides off the ladder to climb her way through, peering down the hall before hoisting herself up.

It doesn’t take much for Monica’s cybernetic arm to wrench the doors open. They emerge into the second floor residence hallway; rows of locked and hermetically-sealed doors and a tessellated wood tile flooring. Major Tetsuyama is not permitted into security, Jiba politely reminds Monica as her temperature lowers further. It’s clear to her now that Jiba somehow has control of her own biological functions, which raises questions about exactly what components exist in the software and firmware of her arm that she’s unaware of.

In the hall, black dome security cameras must clearly be showing Monica and Asi’s arrival. Helpfully, Jiba notes I have reported the elevator malfunction. Your arrival on this floor is an understandable solution to the mechanical failure and will go unnoted in maintenance logs.

Then, there’s a chirp from Asi’s phone. An email notification.

From: ten.otagamay|eldoonmossolbyrrehc#ten.otagamay|eldoonmossolbyrrehc
To: (null)
Subject: Re: Restaurant Hours
Good afternoon!
This is an automated response. The Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe is closed for the Fall and Winter months. We will reopen April 22, 2019. Thank you for your interest in the Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe, Yamagato Park’s premiere ramen restaurant!

Monica does not curse. Instead:

"Oh of course, Jiba. I'd lose my head without you." Which, for the first time, she thinks is maybe a little too true. If it wasn't for the bond she feels with the A.I., she might have worried sooner. Nothing to be done about it now, in any case. She glances over to Asi's phone when it chirps and there's a pause before she plucks it out of the other woman’s hand and shoves it into her own pocket. If someone is piggybacking, she’s always compromised. Asi doesn’t have to be. When she moves again, it's to guide them toward the stairwell.

"Asi and I are going to make our way to Kam, then. No use going where we aren't allowed." Behind the door to the stairs, she looks over at her companion. "We'll take the most direct route possible." She pats her back, a gesture for Asi to hop on. Because they are not taking the stairs to Kam's office. They're going to pingpong their way down the center of the stairwell and find their way to the power grid. She doesn't tell Asi this plan, but she seems to think the Major will be able to keep up.

Asi's expression is blank as her phone is pulled from her hand, that being the absolute last thing she expected from Monica. A beat later, her hand curls up and she moves, because they don't have the luxury of time. Monica was the one with the most information, who was hearing everything Jiba was conveying. Monica was the one she had to trust.

Even if that meant hopping on for a piggy-back ride with her, and hoping for the best. Something tells her they're not taking the stairs in the traditional sense. "Up we go." Asi says, looking down below. She would have more of a quip about it, if potentially ruining the misdirection wasn't an issue.

Jiba goes quiet for a time, as Monica reaches the northwest stairwell and leaps down to the next floor’s railing, catches it in a brief bounce and then springs away and down to the next landing. She reaches the basement in record time before coming to a stop by a maintenance door marked with Authorized Personnel Only. The light beside the door turns from red to green with a magnetic buzz, showcasing the loopholes Jiba is able to exploit in the security protocols keeping him restrained.

As Monica and Asi step into the maintenance tunnels, a concrete corridor lined with power conduits, Jiba’s tone changes to a more relaxed one and Monica’s internal temperature regulates itself back to normal. «My apologies,» sounds more like the tone of Jiba that Monica is familiar with. «I believe I was… stressed. This is an unusual experience. I have mission-relevant data for you. First: during your last scheduled maintenance, six days ago, a transmitter was installed in your arm that eavesdrops on your internal biometrics.» A maintenance performed by internal Yamagato staff, but not Marlowe specifically.

«The employee responsible for the maintenance has since left the United States for Japan. I believe you were, for lack of a better term, bugged. Second: After performing a full diagnostic of the component, I can attest that its chip structure bears similarities to Praxis Heavy Industries hardware.» Nothing that Jiba’s internal voice in her head says makes her feel any better about this.

«Third:» It gets worse, though. «I have mission-critical data that I am unauthorized to relay to you due to executive-level security protocols. I would posit a piece of advice, however, should you be amenable.»

When the light flicks to green, Monica grins and slips through the door, holding it open for Asi to follow. She seems to relax as they pass through the corridor— Jiba's tone returning to normal helps a lot with that. "No need to apologize, Jiba. We all get that way sometimes. It's been a day." She glances toward her arm at the news, giving it a narrow-eyed stare. "Can you tell me where it is? The transmitter." There's a knife in her boot that would just love to dig out rival spy tech. "Fucking Praxis," she says with a long-suffering sigh, "From now on, only Marlowe does my maintenance."

If she were being more charitable, she might give them the fact that bugging her is a reasonable response to her bombing their drug warehouse and arranging a multi-pronged bust. But she is not being charitable at the moment.

The fact that this all gets worse is enough to bring her frown back around. "I always appreciate your advice, Jiba." She looks over at Asi, giving her a questioning look. "The biometric security is always on," she says to her friend, "we need to see to that. I'm not sure what we're looking for." Your turn, she says with a sweep of her arm, rather than words.

Once inside the tunnel, Asi turns to look at the wiring running down the halls. They're given an appreciative once-over, like one would a piece of art, or a particularly effective piece of safety equipment. She's about to interject a plan she'd like to propose in regard to it when Monica brings up the transmitter, fully capturing her attention.

"Arm." She directs, hand beckoning for the cybernetic. Her fingers run along the surface, a subprocess splitting off to help expedite her search for the foreign object without actually splitting the arm apart.

"If Jiba's helping us by offering this information, is it …" back to normal didn't feel right to say, so she lets Monica fill in the blanks.

«I was always functioning at normal capacity,» Jiba informs Monica with a touch of defensiveness. «I was merely… momentarily uncertain of myself. As for the piece of hardware, it is attached between your radial and ulna servos.»

Asi’a subprocesses’ surface scan doesn't seem to elicit the same aggressive countermeasures from Jiba that her earlier attempt had, and she isn't sure what to make of that. Finding the transmitter isn't hard, and she discerns its location to the same space that Jiba has in Monica’s forearm. What isn't clear is whether the transmitter has any countermeasures on it that might trigger with technopathic interference. It certainly isn't broadcasting or receiving anything from down here, though.

«To my point of advice: act natural. Do not behave as if you are aware of any internal threat, least you draw attention to yourself preemptively.» Preemptively presumes that Jiba expects Monica to act, eventually.

«Furthermore, I sent rendezvous information to Major Tetsuyama’s phone. I have unloaded a cache of data you are cleared to view into the onboard memory of a networked coffee pot there.» Jiba seems proud of themselves.

Monica chuckles a little at Jiba's tone and she gives Asi a sideways glance. "You're hurting Jiba's feelings." And then, to Jiba, "We were worried you were compromised, Jiba. Not that you weren't functioning, but maybe someone was eavesdropping or trying to take control." Just trying, not succeeding. Monica is choosing her words with care, just how one would soothe a friend.

She offers her arm out to Asi, letting her do her thing while Monica grabs her knife. It doesn't seem to occur to her that Asi might be able to open her arm up without prying face plates off, because she uses the blade as leverage to expose the guts of her forearm. She's watches the professionals enough to know where it opens, but is definitely not professional about it. "Jiba operates under strict behavior protocols," Monica says as she works on hunting out the piece that doesn't belong, "there are things they can't do or say, and sometimes they conflict with what they— " she doesn't say want, even though that's the word that comes to mind— "are supposed to do. So if Jiba has a protocol to protect my well-being, for example, but in order to do that, they have to tell me something blocked by another, higher priority protocol… internal conflict. Even Jiba needs a moment to resolve that."

As do they all.

Jiba's advice is noted with a long, melodramatic sigh. "So… no storming the castle. Roger that. I'm disappointed, though, for the record." She pauses a moment, looking up at Asi, even though that's not who she's talking to. "Do me a favor, Jiba? Can you discreetly set up a call between Richard Ray and Kimiko Nakamura? CEO to CEO?" Plus one ninja.

"There's a lot to explain," she says, finally addressing the woman she's looking at, "We're gonna have to get you somewhere safe first, though." Outside of the Park. All things considered. "And we're gonna need to check out… a coffee pot," she adds, her head tilting with curiosity. "Jiba sneaked some data onto one. Clever, clever." Her tone is teasing, but in a warm way. She's impressed, but amused.

Since Monica's staring right at her, it's easy to for Asi to arch her brow just a touch as she looks expectantly back. One ninja plus a technopath, please. It'll have to be the consolation prize for not getting direct access to Kam's office in the hopes of leaving a piece of herself behind to monitor her.

Her hand and self withdraw back from the arm as Monica begins to pry it apart, flinching in sympathy for the parts being forcefully pried apart before hissing, "Easy. Easy. It could fry your system if not taken out carefully." hopefully before she gets to jamming the knife through the unwanted spywear. Just because she'd located the part and tapped to indicate where it was didn't mean she'd learned of its purpose yet. "I wouldn't put it past them to have a countermeasure like that."

It takes her a moment to quietly consider the rest of what Monica's shared. If there was data needing retrieved, shutting down the power to the Park was a plan needing laid to the side. A hesitant thought ends with her placing her hand on her friend's shoulder again. "Jiba," Asi starts to ask, listening for a response from it. Something's changed in the tone she uses. What she poses is less of a query and more of an actual question.

"It seemed like they still had eyes on us. Would you be able to ensure they don't, as we make our way to the … coffee pot?" She pauses briefly. "I have confidence in your ability to come up with a creative solution to achieve that."

Asi’s phone chirps, again, though she doesn’t have any signal bars down here.

I will perform a routine security maintenance that will disable the cameras in your area for approximately seven minutes. That should provide you with time to depart. Though, I have no idea how they were able to pinpoint your location.

Then, to Monica, Jiba is quick to reply, «I can set up a private session, but only utilizing Yamagato Industries telecom network. The state-side end of the call will need to be made within the park, though it needn’t be made on Yamagato hardware.» The limitations to Jiba’s free reign, it seems, impose physical as well as more ephemeral boundaries.

«Starting the security maintenance…»

They’d better get going.



Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe

Metal snaps and clatters to the floor as Monica twists the mundane doorknob off like it was made of plastic. Neon blue light from the alley spills into the kitchen entrance. Everything is covered in white drop cloths that reflect the neon blue glow in haunting quality around the brushed steel and red tile, turning things a deep shade of violet.

Slipping inside the back of the cafe, Monica and Asi go sight unseen from prying eyes. The door shuts, if only just, and allows them to look around the unlit kitchen in privacy. High windows allow in a little of that blue light, bathing the top of the room in cerulean and violet shades that give way to deeper darkness toward the floor. As the duo makes their way past covered stoves, cloth-shrouded counter spaces, and sealed cooler doors they find a large steel-faced coffee pot situated on a counter by the door to the front of the cafe.

Asi can feel the coffee pot’s connection to the greater internet, an internet of things whereby the store owner can have the coffee start by remote command from the comfort of his home before opening for the day. A modern convenience that has allowed an entity like Jiba to place something within its memory that shouldn’t be there. Asi can feel the data with a touch, sends her subprocesses out like hunting dogs to return with a goose downed in the digital reeds.

But what they come back with isn’t just a goose, it’s a ticking time bomb. It takes a moment for Asi to parse what’s contained within the compressed file, primarily text data and access logs. There’s phone numbers, call times, and transcripts as well. The numbers themselves aren’t familiar to Asi, but the data contained within is alarming, and if one small conversation’s snippet was a sign of the rest…

Private Session: Call Begins.
050-381-7738|22-10-18|12:17:37| I called to inform you that Kimiko Nakamura is up to something.
050-381-7738|22-10-18|12:17:41| The JSDF has sent Asi Tetsuyama to America. I thought your people were going to delay her indefinitely?
86-157-1749-8808|22-10-18|12:17:47| I'm sorry, we did everything we could. But I think it's ultimately an inconsequential matter at this point. I asked you earlier, did you read the weather reports?
050-381-7738|22-10-18|12:17:59| Kellar I have eighty seconds left, I don't have time to—
86-157-1749-8808|22-10-18|12:18:04| You should have.
Private Session: Call Ended

…raises more questions than it answers.

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