The Eight-Headed Serpent, Part I


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Scene Title The Eight-Headed Serpent, Part I
Synopsis Monica Dawson learns the definition of severance.
Date April 26, 2019

Steel collides with steel, sending birds scattering from the treetops into the sky.

Locked together, Takezo Kensei faces down a figure of myth. Broad-shouldered and ferocious, armor scarred by a hundred swords, eyes piercing with murderous intent, Umakashte — Whitebeard — overpowers Kensei and knocks him to the ground. The ferocious warrior with a long beard as black as coal streaked with white swings his katana in a taunting flourish.

“«Rise, Kensei! Rise and die on your feet!»” Whitebeard taunts, watching as Kensei props himself up on one arm, looking past the bearded samurai to his disarmed sword in the dirt behind him. Kensei’s eyes focus on the blade of Whitebeard’s sword, on the two-handed grip the swordsman takes it in, raising it above his head. Kensei can see his own self reflected in the steel.

Kensei does what Whitebeard didn't expect, he rises. As his opponent stands, Whitebeard swings down and at a 45-degree angle toward his neck. But what Whitebeard failed to realize is that Kensei’s weapon in this fight was never his sword. It was time.

Before that cleaving blow can cut through Kensei’s neck, the wooden buildings boxing the swordsmen in explode in screaming blasts of flame and splintering wood. The shockwave knocks both Kensei and Whitebeard over, and screams erupt from all around the camp as an invading force begins pouring into the camp. Fighting erupts between burning buildings, long rifles pop and flash, but screams erupt as much as gunfire from muskets does. Blades flash in the dark, flames illuminate sword-wielding silhouettes.

Kensei rises for the second time, his facemask blown off by the blast, as is much of his face. Blood covers Kensei from nose and neck, but even as disfigured as he is, he seems to feel no pain. Whitebeard, however, clutches the mangled stump that remains of his right hand.

For the first time Whitebeard sees the face of Takezo Kensei, through blinding pain and confusion. “«Coward»” Whitebeard hisses in betrayal, watching as Kensei picks up Whitebeard’s sword from the ground and mirrors that arrogant flourish.

“No,” Kensei says in English as he takes the sword in both hands and raises it above his head, staring down at his defenseless foe. “That's not how history will remember it…”

Kensei’s eyes glow a faint gold. “They will only know me as,” the sword comes down in a sudden arc.


Three Hundred and Forty-Eight Years Later

It's been months since Kam’s death. Months since everything changed at Yamagato Industries. Kimiko Nakamura has settled herself in as regional director of the North American initiative. Given the challenges faced by Yamagato’s operations in the United States, she has made the choice to resolve them directly.

Monica Dawson has felt like a small ship in the eve of a greater storm for the last three months. Kam’s death was covered up, her disappearance staged as a discreet retirement and desire for privacy. Not even the Japanese government knows what happened, and especially not the American government.

Sitting outside of the executive suite on the Yamagato Building’s top floor, Monica can't help but remember the last time she was here. It wasn't for something as banal as an executive meeting. The last three months have been hard to acclimate to, pulled off of active duty and forced to cool her heels while the company restructures from the inside. Yamagato Industries came out of the tumult of 2018 a leaner company, one run more aggressively than ever, and with more opacity in its actions.

“President Nakamura will see you now,” a new receptionist states from his desk, peering over the top of a transparent monitor to make eye contact with Monica. No one knows what happened to Kam’s old assistant. But knowing what Monica does of Yamagato Industries’ darker dealings?

Probably nothing good.

It hasn't been easy. Monica has been scarce, even to people she trusts, just off the grid and in the wind. It's an old habit, to disappear when things go wrong and lean only on herself.

And this time, she had to see if she could still do it.

She looks over when the receptionist speaks, a flat expression meeting her gaze. It's a long moment before Monica moves, like she's still deciding whether or not she's going to actually go in. She rises languidly to her feet, moving toward the door without a word to the receptionist. And she enters the office without a word to the president, either. Shutting the door behind her, she plants herself there near the door.

The lights in Kimiko’s office are always kept dim. She had suffered significant retinal damage during the bombing at the Yamagato Headquarters in Tokyo and now minimizes her exposure to bright lights. The dim glow of a holographic display over her desktop illuminates her face, cheekbones seeming sharper and more angular than in the past. Her cybernetic hand clicks across a touch-screen surface in rhythm with her organic hand, typing out a message to someone half a world away.

“Come take a seat,” Kimiko notes with a motion of her head to the low-backed black leather chair across from her desk, “I think it’s time you and I talk.” Finishing whatever it is she was typing, Kimiko dismisses the holographic screen with a wave of her living hand through its ephemeral surface, dismissing it in a swirl of photoreactive gas and laser-light scanlines.

When she looks up to Monica, Kimiko folds her hands in front of her on the desk and takes in a deep breath, the exhales a slow sigh. “Honestly, we should have spoken sooner… but it’s taken me this long to consider how to proceed. I imagine you’ve been doing much of the same.”

Monica steps toward Kimiko's desk, her hand coming to rest on the back of the chair. "I prefer to stand," she says, but she is at least near the chair. She watches her type, falling silent until she's addressed again. "Something like that," she says, as far as what she's been considering. "I've been thinking about my position here for a long time, actually. It might not surprise you to hear." Considering how long it's been since she felt safe inside Yamagato Park, maybe it's been quite a while.

"I don't want to kill people for you anymore. Or anyone else. I don't even know who any of my jobs were for, given what we learned about Kam. And I still don't know who is working for who in this company." She lets out a sigh, her hand moving through her hair. "I don't even know if we're the good guys."

Kimiko pointedly looks up from a flashing icon on her desk, assessing Monica for a moment. “I'll tell you what my father told me when I was young. The idea of good and evil is a fiction that we have ourselves believe. Good is an outcome of actions, not a moral metric. Don't pretend like I'm telling you something you don't already know.”

Sighing, Kimiko sits back in her chair and folds her hands in her lap. “For what it's worth, I personally reviewed all of your assignment logs after each mission and corroborated them through Damaris. Now, I can't say who might have fed you information to destroy a warehouse on Staten Island using Yamagato Industries property… but I suppose you'd intended to keep your own council on that. Kam may have been a double agent, but she didn't leverage you against Praxis’ enemies. And… as far as I can tell, she also didn't warn them of our work in advance. Which implies, to me, a very specific goal.”

“But,” Kimiko spreads her hands, “none of that is really any of your concern any longer, I suppose.” Looking down to her desk, Kimiko touches the screen and taps an icon and brings up a digital document, turning it with a two-fingered gesture and pushing it across the surface to Monica.

“Your mutual release form.” Kimiko explains in a flat tone. “You will be released from your contract with Yamagato Industries, and in return you will relinquish our property. I won't be so barbaric as go require you to undergo reconstructive surgery to remove the wetware in your nervous system, but it will be deactivated once the arm is removed.”

That document had already been drafted before Monica even came into the office. This wasn't a response to Monica’s assertion about being a hired assassin. This was something that must have been in the works for a while.

Those first words have Monica's jaw tensing, rather than her answering in any concrete way. It only relaxes again at the overview of her assignments, even though one of those happens to be a side hustle. She doesn't comment on that, not because she doesn't have an explanation, but because the follow up takes her focus from what was to what is. Moving closer to the desk, she looks down at the document.

When Kimiko explains what it is, Monica sits down.

"So I'm fired?" she asks, although she doesn't seem to need an answer, since she takes a few moments to actually read it. She blinks. Her lips press into a flat line. And then she looks up at Kimiko. "That's appreciated," she says, at the mention of surgery, "that surgery really hurt the first time." Her tone is dry and she doesn't quite make it to sincere. But then, she's trying to keep her breathing steady and her eyes dry as the wider effects of this document settle in.

“Fires is an oversimplification,” Kimiko opines, “but it will suffice.” With a sigh, Kimiko leans back into her chair and folds her hands in her lap. “Very little in this world is permanent, Monica. Even the pyramids will be lumps of dirt one day. But that isn't some nihilistic navel-gazing. It means that everything can change, given the appropriate momentum.”

For all her worth, Kimiko is an echo of her father’s rigid placidity. The moment neither affects her, not fails to affect her. She is void, without emotional form of structure, allowing herself to be a mirror for whatever Monica’s outward emotions choose to be. It is a certain, zen-like quality that her more tempestuous brother lacked.

“I don't want you to see this as the period on the end of a sentence,” Kimiko adds, looking down to a gently flashing icon on her desk before looking back to Monica again. “I want you to see this as a comma. What comes next will ultimately be yours to write.”

Monica's own emotional state is held at bay. She's not a void, though, she's a cracked dam. It presses against her, showing in her hand held in a fist, in her teeth clenched tightly together, in the deliberate steadiness of her breath. But for her own dignity's sake, she's keeping herself under control.

"Something for me to think about," she says after a pause, "seems I'll have the time." Her hand unfolds and she rests her fingers on the edge of the desk. "Do I get a severance package?" It's a genuine question, but one that implies more. It implies acceptance; she can't bring herself to fight for a position she's not certain of. And certainty has been in short supply.

“Two weeks for every year you were with us,” Kimiko indicates at the document. “I know the United States doesn’t offer unemployment insurance these days, due to the state of the federal reserve, but you’ll be eligible for labor insurance through the nation of Japan. It’s all outlined there, and I’ve forwarded it to your personal devices in Cresting Wave.”

Looking down to the document, Kimiko furrows her brows. “You’ll need to move by the end of the week,” is an unexpected sucker punch following up this event. She struggles to maintain a neutral expression, finally looking up to meet Monica’s eyes.

“Once you’ve signed, Eizen will show you out.”

Straightening at that extra piece of news, Monica meets Kimiko's gaze. "Of course," is what she says, but her tone is suddenly icy. "I'll be out of Yamagato's hair before you know it." She'll have to find a place for Foggy. She'll have to get used to not having Jiba in her ear. She'll have to adjust to having one arm again.

She hasn't lived with that since the war.

But she leans over and signs the document, not planning to put up a fight, it would seem. It might be contrary to her reputation, but when she takes her leave from Kimiko's office, she manages to do it with civility.

It's only when she's gone that Kimiko balls up one hand into a fist and rests her mouth against it, brows strained, jaw set.

The way forward is never easy.

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