Also Featuring:

kitada_icon.gif komura_icon.gif sako_icon.gif

Scene Title Photokeratitis
Synopsis Asi ventures into the heart of a Japanese underworld at the behest of the Mugai-Ryu and straight into a trap.
Date July 12, 2019

A wall of horizontal blinds block out much of the setting sun. The light that does spill through is vibrant shades of purple and orange, turning the width of the blinds into black bars breaking up the broad silhouette of Banri Komura sitting at his desk.

Cigar smoke is tinged in shades of purple and orange by the sunset, the glow from the ember at its tip illuminating Komura’s weathered old face. He looks down at a tablet atop his desk, to a communication received an hour ago. With two fingers, he swipes the conversation left into the trash bin, eliciting a soft vibration from the tablet to confirm the task is complete. It’s only then that Komura exhales a held breath, sending sunset-tinged cigar smoke wafting from his mouth and nostrils.

His office is otherwise dark, save for the perpetual glow of turquoise light from his fish tank, casting watery shadows on the far wall. Komura stares at those shifting patterns of light and dark, then reaches for his desk phone and single-button dials a stored number. As the phone rings, Komura pivots in his high-backed chair, looking out the blinded windows to the skyline of Tokyo beyond.

Until someone on the other end picks up, Komura sits there with brows furrowed, watching the lights of traffic maneuver through the elevated freeways below.

“«It’s Komura,»” he finally says when someone picks up on the other end.

“«She’s on her way.»”

Forty-Five Minutes Later

Kurashiki Steelworks

Keihin Industrial Ward

July 12th

8:27pm Local Time

Smokestacks are tall black columns against the midnight blue dusk sky. Slowly flashing red lights on the silent towers warn aircraft of their presence and look like the slowly blinking eyes of otherworldly creatures in the dark of night.

At street level, Keihin Ward is lit by rows of LED streetlamps, bathing the asphalt in a colorless and destaurating light. Neon glows burn in the distance, beyond where factories and foundries rise up to block the skyline. The high concrete wall of the Tokyo Restricted Zone looms nearby to the north, beyond where the perimeter of the Keihin Ward ends. Outside of the Restricted Zone, discreet public gatherings of Expressives are common counterculture experiences. That one is happening at a steelworks decommissioned last October is unsurprising.

The electric whine of Asi Tetsuyama’s motorcycle comes to a low tempo as she rolls to a stop outside of the concrete and steel walls of the Kurashiki Steelworks, just past the chain-link fence that was guarded by a couple of young teenagers in street style. Numerous other motorcycles are gathered out front of the derelict steelworks, but with its bay doors closed and exterior lights off it's hard to notice them until you’re right up on them.

There’s got to be at least a hundred people here, judging from the vehicles. Bosozoku gangs like these — with their highly modified motorcycles and elaborate paint jobs — are a familiar territory to Asi. But as she dismounts from her own motorcycle, the spray-painted sigils and symbols in carnation red on the steelworks face are far less comforting and all-together foreign.

But that’s how she knows this is the right place. She was told what the symbols represent.

She was told they’re Sumerian.

Sliding her helmet free lets Asi tilt her head back and more properly view the property she's come to park herself by, the building she means to enter. The sheer number of vehicles make her take pause before going any further.

It had been a deliberate decision to come alone, if one she was currently feeling the weight of.

Two months of preparation— infiltration lead to the information that brings her here now. One forged identity stuck out from the rest, the one she'll bear the moment she enters the door. She adjusts the bandana tied around her face, the stylistic blacklight-luminescent grin on it covering over her more natural features. Instead of her usual black leather with its bronze studs, the jacket she wears is slightly puffed in the sleeves, worn zipped though the drape of the dark purple fabric doesn't reach her hips. Gold fabric flashes at the cuff and edges, in the stitches of the thread that leaves subtle patterns up the sleeves.

Asi runs her hand back over her hair, securing the tie of her hair with a tug as she heads forward in the dark, heading directly for the door she'd been told to find.

There’s only a thin veneer of discretion happening at this location, if the motorcade of vehicles out front is any indication. A blacklight is installed over the side entrance, fluorescing all of the hidden colors on Asi’s attire and illuminating the neon green sunburst symbol spray-painted on the door. There’s an urban base beat thumping through the structure, making it feel more like an underground rave than a terrorist cell.

When Asi knocks on the door, it opens and inch and the barrel of a shotgun aimed at her through the gap suddenly brings her crashing back to the moment. The dyed blonde biker on the other side tilts his chin up at Asi, “«Password.»” He kicks up one shaved brow lined with piercings, and Asi speaks back the password she’d been informed would either get her access to the club or get her shot.


She was told it’s Sumerian.

The guard at the door looks past Asi, tips down the barrel of the shotgun and flings the door open. He reaches out, offering her a hand and grips her forearm with a tight embrace and an affirmed nod as if they were suddenly old friends. Then, he reaches inside his jacket and produces a leather pack of syringes filled with a blue liquid that is violently reacting to the blacklight, making it look like electricity in a syringe. She recognizes Refrain when she sees it. He doesn’t so much offer it out to her as he does place the syringe in her palm and close her fingers around it.

“«Go on down,»” the guard says with a jerk of this thumb over his shoulder, motioning to a concrete stairwell leading into the bowels of the steelworks, where the pulsing base beat originates like some electronic heart.

Not even three minutes in and she's palmed illegal, addictive substances. There's a distinct phrase for that running through her head.

Asi returns the embrace just as firmly as it's given, a smile visible in the crinkle at the corner of her eyes. The syringe is taken with the silent thanks of a nod before she floats in the direction of the stair like she belongs. Because in this moment, more than she has to, she does.

Who doesn't like a good party?

She pushes open the door at the bottom of the stair, senses assaulted with the pulsing sound coming from the floor. More than hear it, she can feel it bouncing off of her skin, thrumming in time with an excited heartbeat. The syringe remains capped, for the moment shoved into the deep pocket of her jacket, resting against the back of the cell she's brought with her. It's easy to see the appeal to being high and lost in an atmosphere like this, but…

That's not what she's here for.

Asi lets her gaze roam, from the ceiling to the crowd to anything else of interest. What do partying terrorists like to do? What else do they partake in here?

Under the glow of neon lights and flashing strobes it's hard to tell with any level of clarity. Most everyone here is young, younger than thirty and counterculture of one variety or another. The space on the other side of the door was once the foundry floor. Huge concrete vats the once held molten steel are suspended overhead on iron rails. Catwalks above are drowned in darkness and the club-like lighting is suspended from below. The concrete floor is drizzled with blacklight reactive paint that fluorescent vibrant colors in irregular patterns. Toward the far end of the foundry floor past the old machinery is a foreman's office with large windows plastered with newspaper, backlit by bright lamps. A metal catwalk that leads to the foreman’s office seems to double as an overlook to the dance floor, and long cloth banners bearing a sunburst symbol like those graffitied outside is embroidered on the dark red fabric.

The floor is filled with dancing, sweat-covered forms. In the blacklight and neon glow, Asi can see some of them writhing out of beat to the music, a sapphire blue light flickering behind their pupils, a telltale sign of active Refrain use. But with how many people she sees under its influence, that would have to mean most of the more than two hundred people here are… all Expressives.

The music is pumped in from large speakers on the floor and some suspended up on the catwalks. She can trace power lines cables across the floor to the foreman’s office, and there appears to be no visible house DJ. Someone just has a playlist on shuffle, but it's working. While most of the revelers are under the effects of Refrain, the atmosphere gives Asi the impression that's not the only drug available. But she blends into this light and life as though she belonged here. In a way, she does.

So she dances, arms tiered above her head, eyes rolling to the ceiling as she loses herself in the beat. Asi pauses in her winding path across the floor when a younger man slides his hand over her back and waist to try and hook her back in, letting their bodies drift closer. He circles her while they dance until it feels like she's barely blinked and the sea of bodies has separated them again. The song shifts — the lights overhead flash to a different beat. Breathing in, Asi spins in a half-circle to regain her direction.

And begins her journey across the dance floor anew.

Slipping between ravers is easy enough, the wicked grin painted on the bandana over her face glowing the whole time and helping maintain the illusion she's enjoying herself rather than wondering— digging slowly. She'd been heading in the direction of the DJ's booth, careful to avoid crashing into any of the people with the faint blue glow in their eye — all the better to not send them on a bad trip, right? Then the sunburst becomes more visible to her in a flash of light across the banner's surface, and her perception hones in on that area more intently than before.

The incredible, sheer concentration of Expressives in this place, the number of them high, make it let her feel as though she's floating through the crowd mostly unscrutinized. Her steps remain mostly to the beat — until she closes that last distance to the staircase up to the foreman's room. Her eyes flicker with a trace of neon to the blue as she concentrates intensely, trying to feel for any electronics in that papered-up office that might indicate who, if anyone she might find in there. Phones on a person, a deejay's headphones….

Asi creeps up the stair, fingertips trailing along the catwalk railing almost behind her while her eyes are filled with that light. She listens with her senses, the music a distant thing to her at the moment as she takes her time in approaching the open mystery of the foreman's office.

She finds herself wondering absently what that passphrase, the one in Sumerian, means.

The thought passes as she hooks on to the presence of something electronic. A pair of Bluetooth headphones and a Praxis Heavy Industries Naiyong tablet, designed for survival in industrial environments and made with reinforced materials. No cell phones, no smart watches, nothing else other than those two devices and— no, three. As she gets closer to the foreman’s office that doubles as the DJ booth she can feel the presence of additional audio equipment, hubs connected to the speakers. A wired earpiece as well, the kind often used by intelligence services.

It's moving.

Asi can see the door on the opposite side of the foreman’s office open, allowing a broad-shouldered and extremely tall man with a dark complexion and a shaved head to step out. His suit is impeccably tailored, and the woman behind him looks like she might be paramilitary. Fairer skin, dressed in black Kevlar-weave clothing. Short, dark hair and—

it's Chess?

She turns, touching the earpiece in her right ear and looking back to someone else still in the booth. She doesn't quite notice Asi on the lower level, and that's the time it takes for Asi to recognize that it isn't Chess at all. The face shook her for a moment. It isn't Kimberly either.


Even knowing intellectually that the broad strokes of Adam Monroe's reach touch Mazdak possibly as much as Praxis, seeing the blend of the two with her own eyes is something of a shock. And it definitely confirms she's where she needs to be, if a bit too close to it at the moment.

Quick, what would Eve do? Asi's list of people who have been actively high in her presence is small, so she works with what inspiration she has to draw from.

Trying to leave would most likely draw attention. Doing something obnoxious, like dancing up here, would certainly draw attention. But Eve did like to climb things, so maybe just…

She sits on the side of the catwalk, legs weaving in gentle kicks through the air. She keeps the goings-on of the door in the periphery of her vision, eyes still glinting with that inner glow, but overall does her best to look relaxed, enchanted and in-tune with the acts on the floor below rather than the serious business taking place nearby her.

The man and Lanhua exchange words out of Asi’s earshot thanks to the pulsing beat of the music. But her presence lingering like an overstimulated cat draped across the metal railing goes sight unseen by both parties. When the tall man turns, Asi catches a glimpse of his eyes in the dark — illuminated and vibrantly blue — but it's his irises and not his pupils. It isn't refrain, but something else. Something unnatural. Whatever he says to Lanhua has her nodding in sharp response to him and hurrying down the metal stairs directly behind Asi.

Lanhua stops, halfway down the landing, sending a wave of dread washing over Asi as their eyes meet. But Lanhua just smiles, an ignorant smile, and continues down the rest of the way into the crowd, moving with a purpose toward the exit. The tall, blue-eyed man stands at the top of the stairs, watching the crowd, but then slowly turns his attention to Asi. For a moment, with all the tension built up in his shoulders, it looks like he's about to push off the railing and come toward her. But instead he turns to look at the door to the foreman’s office, where two Japanese men in paramilitary-style uniforms are dragging another man with a black bag over his head out of the room.

The blue-eyed stranger motions to them to move him onto the catwalk in front of the papered up windows of the room he'd been held in. Even at this distance, unable to hear anything, Asi can smell the stink of urine in the air as they drag him closer.

Lanhua out the door, heading who knows where. The tension building in Asi's shoulders underneath the poof of her jacket doesn't dissipate entirely, disguised by her arms folded and laying on the catwalk railing. She keeps the scene playing out near the office in the corner of her vision. The man, the color of his irises, catches her attention. It's not unlike her own when her ability is active— but don't stare, Asi.

Her kicking becomes more absent, the man in the hood impossible for her to ignore. She can't hear him, but she can smell him, see him, and that alone indicates whatever is taking place doesn't bode well. Her head turns ever so slightly to try and get a better look at who it is they're dragging out, since the other man has turned away. A solid glance will tell her at least what he's wearing, providing an idea of just what kind of man they've got kidnapped here.

For the moment, she bides her time, ready to adjust her grasp on the railing and slide underneath to drop to the floor ten feet or so below if she feels as though she might be in danger. Bailing is an absolute last resort.

After all, she belongs here. Look at this dutiful reveler, thoughtfully enjoying the festivities… if standing apart from the rest for her distant appreciation of it all.

It's the soiled charcoal gray suit of the hooded man that worries Asi the most. His once-polished black shoes, his expensive wristwatch with a cracked face. A silk tie crumpled and bloodstained. The way the paramilitary figures manhandle him is familiar and confident. This isn't the first time they've done this. The blue-eyed man walks over to the three, saying something that's drowned out by the music. He then points out to the crowd and circles his hand in the air. One of the paramilitary men breaks away from the group and goes jogging back up to the DJ booth.

While he's gone, the blue-eyed man says something else to the man in the hood, who shudders and quakes in fear. The last paramilitary figure left pulls a knife out from his tactical vest and hands it off to the blue-eyed man, who uses it to—

—cut the zip tie on the hood around the kidnapped man’s neck.

Near the same moment, the music cuts out and one of the house lights is directed onto the catwalk. With the music off Asi is left with a subtle tinnitus ring in her ears. Slowly, the other revelers turn their attention up to where the spotlight is shining. Some clap and cheer noisily over the silence, but most people remain in a state of confused calm or intoxicated torpor.

“«People of Japan!»” The blue-eyed man shouts, but it's clear his voice is being amplified by the sound system. Asi can tell it's coming from the Bluetooth earpiece he's wearing. “«Do you feel heard?»”

The crowd emphatically shouts back in the negative.

“«Do you feel seen?»”

Again, the crowd angrily cries back, No.

“«Do you feel free?»”

Louder and angrier now, they shout their denial. Some of the members of the crowd hold up broken metal bracelets in a show of solidarity, the kind worn by “Class-3” Expressives forced to live in relocation settlements. The blue-eyed man spreads his arms, as if to ask why. But instead he pulls off the hood of the man standing to his side, revealing a terrified Japanese man in his mid-fifties.

Asi recognizes him immediately. It's the Minister of Justice, Takumi Seko.

The crowd screams louder than the music ever was.

Asi feels the hair on the back of her neck raising before the hood is even pulled. A thrill rushes through her veins, at odds with the sinking of her stomach and the chill that grips her. Her eyes go from the minister nearby to the crowd below, to the symbols of oppression they hoist above their heads.


She slowly comes to her feet in the shadows outside the spotlight, a distressingly few feet away from where the stage is set. Asi knows herself that it's systems as much people that have caused suffering of the Evolved in Japan, that the acts of any one person can't stand out… And yet…

She languished herself under the system. Freed only by a technicality, and through service. Asi feels the rush the same as the crowd does, deep in her gut. These are people who can't wait for the system to change, who want to effect it themselves. Some of them might feel sick to their stomach at it, were they in their right mind. But now? They're people who will seize any lash they're able to get back at a system that's wronged them. Those screams attest to it.

Still, decides her sense, her center of justice. She can't just stand by while…

And where else would this end up going?

One hand slides into her pocket, around the Refrain syringe to go flush with her phone.

“«Identity is powerful!»” The blue-eyed man shouts to the crowd, many of whom pump their fists into the air. “«This man, Takumi Seko, has worked his whole career to strip you of your identity! He and the Japanese government are secretly researching means to permanently destroy the genetic makeup that defines you! A cure for instability!»”

The noise coming from the crowd is just a sea of screams and profanity. Some are throwing their broken bracelets at the Minister, others are flashing the energetic effects of kinetic abilities in their hands. “«But many of you do not know him, or know me. Where he is the enemy of identity, I am the enemy of our enemy! My blood-kin, I am Baruti Naidu! I do not fear my identity, I relish it!»”


He's working the crowd, and Asi can feel the frenetic energy building to a crescendo. She can also feel her messages go out, even with the weak signal in this building. But how long will she wait for a response?

Asi's fingers tense along the back of the phone, the recording it was performing clipping, saving — sending. Pieces of herself splinter off to continue working away. A photo she took outside of the facility. The clip from now. GPS updates by the minute. Additional audio logs clipped and sent every thirty seconds. The shocking accusation regarding the government's research doesn't make her pause — if anything, it makes her work faster.

It doesn't take a superpower to know the situation in here is about to turn.

She doesn't have time to wait at all. All she can do is leave a pin on the map, messages to follow. And maybe delay what comes, if by only a precious few seconds.

Proof!»" Asi shouts as she advances a step toward the light, intending on being heard by more than just those on the catwalk if she can help it. "«The government wants to undo our birthright? What proof do you have, Baruti Naidu?»"

It's an earnest demand as much as an accusation he's lying.

Asi’s arrival elicits a flick of Baruti’s eyes, bright against the dark hollows of his eye sockets created by the intense overhead lights. It’s hard to tell if much of the crowd heard Asi, given the riotous shouting coming from them, and that Baruti’s voice is enhanced by the speaker system. The lone paramilitary-looking man on the catwalk nearly lunges in Asi’s direction, but Baruti slapstick back of his hand against the mercenary’s chest to arrest his forward movement. The minister stands there, terrified all the while.

Baruti regards Asi with a level and silent look while the shouts of the crowd start to die down. He steps away from the minister, walking down the catwalk toward Asi. He plucks one of his earpieces out, nods in Asi’s direction, then lobs it in an easy to follow underhanded arc to her. He's giving her an equal voice.

“«Our guest»,” Baruti says with a motion to Asi, “«would demand proof. The proof is standing in front of you.»” He motions to Minister Seko. Or perhaps his jacket. Baruti fishes around through Seko’s inner jacket pocket and produces a phone, holding it up in the air. “«She demands.»”

Baruti hands the phone to the Minister. “«Unlock it.»” With fumbling, shaky hands, Minister Seko unlocks his phone and hands it back to Baruti, who seems to know exactly what he wants as he thumbs through the phone and brings it up to his one earpiece. The tinny, exasperated voice on the other end of what sounds like a voicemail is unfamiliar to Asi.

«Seko. They— they came to my house. They came to my fucking house! They were asking about the gene therapy treatments. They took my fucking laptop! We need to meet. Tonight. Now. Araku in Shinjuku.»

Baruti ends the voicemail. “Shinya Osumi,” he explains the identity of the caller. “«An employee of Daiichi Seiyaku, the company severely testing this cure.»” Baruti looks to the Minister, then to the crowd. “«Are we a disease!?»”

The crowd cries back No! in English, accompanied by renewed fists in the air.

The mic tossed into her hand is unexpected. The othering of 'our guest' isn't. He's immediately pegged she's not one of 'them'. He's made his point, and given Asi the stage to make hers.

She wonders — they who? Did investigations yield something untoward and illegal happening? Or was it Naidu's people, finding the secrets he's boasting of now? There's nothing that can be done to determine that at the moment, though. Not in a situation like this.

"«And what do you mean to do now, with him at your feet? Do you think he did this alone? Or was he just the drain that caught the efforts of others?»" She shifts her grip on the earpiece, still holding it before her rather than affixing it to her ear. "«If you kill him here, you can't fathom the kind of open bigotry that will rise in the place of this.»"

Asi turns to the crowd, voice raised in a challenge. "«Do you want change?»"

She turns back to Naidu, entreating to him directly, "«Then grab him, grab the system by the arm and twist.»" A fierce passion she wasn't expecting comes forward. "«Use him like the tool he is to undo the damage done to us. Be the hand on his shoulder, and squeeze if he thinks about hurting us again.»"

Without looking at the man on the ground, she points at him, asking Naidu, "«Or do you just want chaos without change?»"

She has no idea if she's stalling, drawing this out to salvage the situation while outside forces gather and converge. She doesn't know if there's time, or if it's even possible given the numbers reported here, and the numbers of Mugai-Ryu who could quickly respond. There's no way to tell if that or any number of worsening-case scenarios could happen instead.

But her gaze tightens behind her grinning mask, not leaving Baruti Naidu. Well?

“«Major Tetsuyama,»” Baruti says, and hearing her own name thrown back at her twists Asi up inside, “«speaks the truth. The minister is a symptom of the true disease. The disease of the system itself that oppressed us as it has oppressed every group before us. Except it is we who have the power to fight back. We marginalized who are armed to stand against tyranny.»”

Baruti looks to Asi, then to the Minister, and it all just happens so fast.

There's a flash of light from Baruti’s eyes — brilliant like an arc-welder — and the muffled scream, the flash of smoke, the sudden stink of cooked meat. The minister falls down to the catwalk with a slam missing most of his face and head, sizzling smoke issuing up from the hole where some sort of plasma ray atomized flesh and bone.

“«The world is sick. We are the cure.»” Baruti says, and the entire crowd cheers and echoes his statement.

We are the cure.

There's no time even to make the token gesture of shouting no or stop. Her eyes are searing from having looked at something so shockingly bright, and they close as the minister's head is burned apart. Maybe that's for the better. Asi lets her arm fall by her side, any small noise of protest she makes lost in the roar of the crowd.

He knew who she was, somehow. There's no way, no way—

But that was a concern to deal with after she knew where she stood now.

Her hand lifts again, tugging down the bandana that covers the bottom half of her face. After all, there was no need for it, was there? The demonic grin is replaced with a flat line of a mouth, and when her eyes open, she studies him no less intently than she had moments before even though her vision is shrouded in white. Her whole body is tense. Asi lifts her chin in a tip to acknowledge him, still not having cast a glance down at what remains of the minister.

"グーテスアセか?" she calls out.

Gutes-Asi,” Baruti corrects. “«It is Sumerian. It means unite.»” So she'd been told. At this point the frenzy of the crowd has grown to a fever pitch and the murder of Minister Seko has sustained that momentum. Baruti watches Asi with those horrible blue eyes and behind him the paramilitary fighter that had withdrawn to the DJ booth emerges with someone else. An old man, possibly Japanese, shaved head and —

Wenzhou Zhao.

Asi immediately recognizes him when he turns, one of the known accomplices of Adam Monroe, leader of a Chinese Triad in the Safe Zone all the way back in America. He descends the catwalk beside the mercenary, coming to stand beside Baruti, who points to the crowd, then to Asi. “«Today isn't the day you pick a side, Oni. But that day is coming. Whether you are ready or not. Perhaps the remainder of tonight will inform your choices.»”

Zhao lays a hand on Baruti’s shoulder and it's like Asi’s vision get momentarily worse. The world around Baruti becomes a smear like a watercolor painting in the rain. Then, after a rush of displaced air, he, Zhao, and the two paramilitary figures are gone. The crowd is throwing their fists into the air and chanting Gutes-asi at the top of their lungs.

The bitter taste of the word intensifies after being corrected on its pronunciation. Asi doesn't move from her spot, all too aware of what the wrong move might trigger. For all her fire, she doesn't want to finish the night as another smear on the catwalk. When Zhao makes his appearance and closes in, her expression is stony and unchanging, her clearing vision honing in on him with a decidedly non-laser focus.

She doesn't have to wait long to wonder how he got here.

When the ripple in space smooths, her gut twists all over again. "Fuck." Asi looks ahead of her with a blank expression, hands clenching by her sides while the crowd screams. "Fuck!"

Lanhua was likely long-gone. That left the booth to explore, search for — anything. Something so she didn't leave empty-handed, room spinning even without having taken the drugs offered to her. Stepping over the body of the minister, Asi fishes her phone from her pocket to end the recordings, biting back any shame that would keep her from letting the last soundbyte send.

The silence is followed by messages in text: To the Americans, to not come; To her boss, that Naidu had escaped and with who.

She kicks the door of the booth in, phone held high with its flashlight on as she looks to see what, if anything, has been left in Mazdak and Praxis's wake aside from the body of Takumi Seko.

In the DJ booth there’s an open laptop on a folding table, small and cheap, the kind that runs a proprietary system primarily designed for web-browsing. A mixing board is hooked up to the laptop, cables everywhere. A microphone sits beside the laptop, but view of the screaming masses is hidden behind the layers of newspapers plastered to the windows to hide the goings-on in the room. There’s nothing, there’s not even a sign that Baruti was here except for—

— a high-pitched whine comes screaming over the roar of the crowd. Through gaps in the corrugated roof ceiling overhead Asi can see floodlights shining down in thin shafts of illumination. She recognizes the engine whine, it’s a Yamagato Industries K-713 — a Suzumebachi. It’s the Mugai-ryu.

They got here awfully fast.

Some of the crowd seems to recognize the noise, eliciting shouts from the crowd and a thunder of footsteps, mostly moving away from where Asi had been. The thunderous blast of a breaching charge blowing open a door several rooms over sends a vibration through the room and Asi herself. This is a raid, but—

The sense that something is horribly wrong here continues to climb.

How many people knew she was on this assignment? is an internally-asked question with layers of reason behind it. How did Baruti Naidu know who she was, when the agents storming the facility now wouldn't know why they were coming across her? Asi's expression twitches, a snarl suppressed just barely.

Fuck it if she was going to stand around waiting for the rifles to come peeking around the corner. Time to go.

Sure to not touch anything after giving the room a once-over, she steps out of the door and swings her head left and right to survey what exits might be of use to her now. Her hand seeks the railing of the catwalk, ready to bail over it if needed.

Two masked people in the crowd vanish almost instant — one in a puff of smoke another in a flash of sparks and light — taking roughly a dozen people with them. Teleporters are rare enough, but they're also incredibly hard to arrest for a multitude of reasons. The remaining gang members are breaking up into haphazard groups and flooding toward exits, every one that Asi would use would require moving with fleeing criminals.

A ladder nearby leads up to a second and then third story catwalk and — like a Donkey Kong level — ultimately exits out of a roof level trapdoor. Her options are vanishingly small, exacerbated by the booming voice that comes over the bullhorn from the hovering Suzumebachi outside:

“«This is the Mugai-Ryu! You are in violation of NJR codes against unlawful SJ Assembly! Submit to arrest!»

Asi knows that voice. It's Ryuji Sako.

They sent her team.

For a moment, her movement is arrested in indecision. Trust is something she's running extremely low on, but it's Ryuji. Then her gaze falls to the minister. She remembers the syringe in her pocket. What it could look like that she's here at all, much less if she's caught trying to run. She remembers the increasing use of force in detainment strategies.

Asi's hand tightens on the rail as she looks over the commotion… and looses as she takes a step back in the direction she'd just left. She decides she can't risk it. The chaos below is going to buy her a few moments of time. Hopefully, that's all she'd need.

She closes the door with her foot, hands wrapped around her phone. The shutter click from the camera app can barely be heard over the shouting coming from outside, much less over the rapidfire beat of her heart.

sos. need Miles.
life or death. room is empty, can't promise it stays that way long. image enroute.

Asi closes her eyes, jaw clenched. The feeling of the MMS being beamed out feels like a prayer raised. She counts the seconds, phone clutched tight in her hand.

It’s not that many seconds before the text and when Miles appears a little way away from her, right in the center of the picture she’d sent, as though her phone had summoned him.

Wait, no, that’s exactly what happened.


“What the hell?” he says as he materializes, the first couple words said even before he’s fully visible. He looks around, though it doesn’t take him that long to see Asi, of course. Probably best, since they don’t really have that long.

Though the dark room they're in affords little insight into what's going on outside thanks to the papered-over windows, the sound of the chopper overhead and shouts in Japanese filter through. If it sounds like a madhouse out there, it's because it is.

"We need to be anywhere but here," Asi tells him. Her phone stops transmitting a signal as it's passed from one hand to the other, and then she reaches for him.

In another world, the 'oni' Miles knew was fearless to the point of recklessness. A oft-drunk brawler with a dry sense of humor, she was prone to bouts of maudlin, but the look in this Asi's eyes is nothing like he's ever seen. It's a brief thing — his presence is already wiping the panic away. In its place, something more familiar to him is taking hold, something that had otherwise been absent in her since they met a few weeks ago.


"Let's go," she urges.

The whine of a hovering aircraft grows louder as Miles orients himself to Asi’s predicament. The pop of gunfire outside of the derelict steelworks elicits a reflexive pang of tension. But then there's a thunderclap outside, followed by a snap of electricity and significant shouting. Asi recalls how many Expressives were here. This is going to turn into a riot.

There’s a few seconds’ processing time as Miles listens to her, his head jerking away toward the sound of shots from outside, then back again in quick succession. It’s a little bit like when a cartoon character watches a tennis match — though likely less funny, at least at the moment.

However, at least he doesn’t ask questions. “Okay,” he says, closing the distance between them with a few steps as he reaches to grab her arm. “Let’s go.” Whatever expression is on her face, whether he notes it or not, whether it concerns him or confuses him — that is left for another time.

They’re already starting to disappear as he speaks.

Hours Later

«An estimated one-hundred and fifty unregistered SLC-Expressive people were arrested today after the Mugai-Ryu raided a suspected bosozuku gang hideout in the Keihin Industrial Ward just outside of the Tokyo Restricted Zone…»

The voice of a NHK World-Japan news anchor fills the otherwise quiet space of Banri Komura’s office. The broadcast, showing fires at an abandoned steelworks, continues across the room in his office’s small lounge. Seated in separate chairs, Asi’s Mugai-Ryu partners Sasuke Kitada and Ryuji Sako watch on in silence. Komura can’t bring himself to move from his desk, though he did make the effort to stand while he whittles away a fresh cigar in gulping breaths.

«Authorities discovered the body of the Minister of Justice Takumi Seko at the scene along with ¥60 billion in narcotics. Primarily the SLC-Expressive designer drug Kioku, better known as Refrain on the global drug markets.»

Ryuji scrubs a hand over his mouth and shakes his head. When he looks to Kitada, he expects the same level of disbelief. But Kitada maintains a placid expression of seeming indifference, betrayed only by the furrow of his brows and the tension in his jaw. Even that much is a relief to Ryuji.

«Authorities are ruling Minister Seko’s death a homicide and have named two individuals in his death based on surveillance camera footage from nearby buildings. One of the suspects is an American named Francesca Lang, an SLC-Expressive registered with the American government. The second suspect is Mugai-Ryu operative Major Asi Tetsuyama whom authorities believe is working in cooperation with Lang.»

“«Unbelievable.»” Seko says with a gesture at the television. “«I didn’t see Asi there goddamnit!»”

«NHK World-Japan has been given information that potentially connects Tetsuyama with the bosozuku gangs as well as with the international terrorism organization Mazdak. The Mugai-Ryu have disavowed Tetsuyama’s actions and promised that she and Lang will be apprehend— »

Kitada shuts the television off, then lowers the remote to the arm of his chair. “«I’ve heard enough.»” He blinks a look from Ryuji over to Komura, brows still furrowed. “«Sir. What do we do.»”

Komura takes in a deep breath and looks down to the floor, then over to the dim glow of his fish tank across the room. “«We don’t have much choice in the matter, our hands are tied.»” When Komura looks back to Kitada, his expression is drained of emotion.

“«We find her.»”

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