The Eight Headed Serpent, Part II


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Scene Title The Eight-Headed Serpent, Part II
Synopsis In the aftermath of Kam Nisatta's death, life has changed for Asi Tetsuyama.
Date April 26, 2019

Sixteen thousand eight-hundred and ninety eight lines of text.

That's what Asi Tetsuyama’s remote processes were able to recover from Kam Nisatta’s desk after her death. The lion’s share of the data is meaningless and mundane, the daily communique of a corporate executive juggling too much responsibility. But, like a tombstone rubbing, it isn't what the charcoal writes that's interesting. It's the negative space.

Seated on the couch in her Cresting Wave apartment, Asi listens to the sound of rain hammering on the glass wall overlooking the Yamagato Building, violet neon from nearby businesses blooming in streaks of color on the window where the rainwater reflects it back. Her apartment is dark, save for the glow of a single laptop scrolling with lines of code, and the gaps therein.

One hundred and sixty-eight calls were scrubbed from Kam’s desk from the time she became head of Public Relations to the violent end of her tenure as President of the North American branch of the company. The dates and times of the eradicated logs aren't available, even the timeframe she believes they occupy is an educated guess by the timestamps of adjacent calls around the blank spots. What is, perhaps, most worrisome about this entire archive is the fingerprints over each and every call log redaction.


Jiba’s unique network identifier.

Cresting Wave Apartments

Yamagato Park

February 3

7:57 pm

A soft chime comes from the door to Asi’s apartment, and judging from the tone someone is buzzing directly outside of her door rather than from the front desk. It implies a resident, but Monica never knocks and Marlowe texts first.

The chime calls again, persistently.

Perhaps Kay, Asi might think, but Kay is more patient than that. She lifts her chin off her palm, ceases massaging her mouth with her fingers. The streaming lines of log she's analyzing reflect off her eyes even as they glance away. Hm. She comes to her feet with less grace than she might if she knew anyone were watching, walking in socks alone rather than the slippers she has left by the front door. Asi regards the door coolly as she approaches it silently, head and hand turning to the control panel adjacent to it, pages cycling away from the settings for Heating and Lighting until she gets to the Home Security frame. Rather than answer whoever's ringing directly, she first checks the camera.

Godfrey, maybe? But that'd be too much to hope for, wouldn't it.

The woman in the white jacket standing in the hallway with a wet umbrella is no stranger to Asi. Kimiko Nakamura has no reason to need to make house calls, let alone on a Sunday, and yet there she is.

A number of single-word utterances come to mind when she sees who it is, but Asi leaves all of them unsaid. It's a quick trot back to her laptop to shut the screen so it locks and sleeps automatically, and she returns to the door, slippers on before she opens it.

She wasn't expecting company, so she's not dressed for company. The door is opened only a crack at first as she glances out, then swung in entirely. Asi, dressed down in jeans in a long wool sweater of several greys, swings an arm toward the rest of the apartment to offer Kimiko in. "Ms. Nakamura," she greets quietly. There's no sense in announcing this was an unexpected visit, though it might be polite to. Instead, "I had hoped we would get to speak before I returned to Japan. Please, douzo ohairi."

It’s hard to read Kimiko’s expression in the doorway. There’s enough eye contact to show her confidence, but her expression is as steely as the cybernetic arm holding her umbrella. “Thank you, Major.” Tying her umbrella closed, Kimiko looks over at Asi and then around the apartment for a moment, lingering on the way shadows of water droplets stretch across the ceiling in the lambent neon glow of the street below. “I don’t want to draw this out any longer than it has to be, really…”

Reaching inside of her white wool coat, Kimiko produces an unsealed envelope and hands it out to Asi. “I’ve written a glowing review of your performance here in the States, along with a thank you letter to the Mugai-Ryu for their assistance in handling our security matter discreetly.” Kimiko looks down to the letter, then back up to Asi. “This is a copy for your own review. Mugai-Ryu command has already put in the necessary transportation requests… you will be headed back to Japan at the end of the week.”

Years of practice prevents Asi from having a visible reaction aside from accepting the offered envelope with both hands and a polite tip of her head. Despite that, she's no less surprised to hear she's not being thrown under the bus in some way. She turns over the envelope in her hand without looking at it, thumb brushing the edge. Her gaze returns to Kimiko directly.

"You could have had an aide deliver it," Asi points out, more direct than usual. "But the excuse for a face-to-face is appreciated."

There's a brief pause as she weighs a question, finds it suitable. The door is closed behind Kimiko to provide them with the illusion of privacy. "Did you learn everything you set out to?"

Kimiko’s nod is a small one, subtle, and opaque as to what precisely she's acknowledging. “I didn't want to send this to you through a courier, given both the sensitive nature of your work here and the rather… complicated way in which it concluded. I don't hold your choices against you, but I do wish things had been different.”

For a moment Kimiko looks as though she's going to leave it at that, turning partway back toward the door. But she stops herself, looks back to the window, then again to Asi. “I wish I could explain to you why things needed to be handled the way they were. I wish I didn't appear ignorant to you. I just hope that you understand we’re on the same… network.” She smiles, faintly. “We’re just on different sides of the firewall.”

"The nature of what you asked was sensitive from the start, and that was before learning a memetic entity was involved," Asi acknowledges, avoiding directly addressing the attempt to appeal to her as much as possible. It was kind, certainly, but diminished none of her frustration around that point. "But it is unfortunate I was so in the dark as I was. Perhaps it is my fault for not risking sending updates, for attempting to find other ways to communicate." Her eyes narrow at that thought, considering it, laying it aside. "Regardless, I also wish several things would have been different."

There's a beat as she brings her arms into a fold before her, making sure the envelope remains unharmed in the action. "What now, though?" she asks, as little of her business as it might formally be now that she's recalled. "Monroe continues his activities, continues spinning his web. Praxis continues to grow as a threat, perhaps in some part due to successful corporate espionage against you we were unable to uncover due to log scrubbing by trusted resources." There's a small scoff before she notes, "Monroe favored that method for details regarding himself, it's little surprise pawns of his might favor the same in activities carried out in his name."

Asi shrugs her shoulders as if the matter were a nuisance rather than the serious obstacle it is. She looks off to the side for a brief moment, eyes narrowing at a thought before she looks back. There's a cautious glint in her eye. "You're in no less need of assistance now than when this first began," this being Asi's part in the affair, anyway. "He could come back for you, or something worse could." Which concerned her, judging by how carefully the matter is broached.

"So what will you do?"

“Change tactics,” is the only response Kimiko affords Asi, save for the steeliness of her unblinking stare. Perhaps Asi was right, the evidence stacking up on her favor of the argument was numerous. But in the end, it didn’t change things.

That was the last time she saw Kimiko Nakamura before she left America.

National Public Safety Commission

Tokyo Restricted Zone

Tokyo, Japan

April 27th

5:19pm Local Time

The whirr of hydraulic pistons echoes through the cavernous interior chamber of the rooftop lift. A thinning curtain of rain spills down from the launch doors shutting overhead, even as the freight lift continues its descent. The sleek black frame of a Yamagato Industries K-713 vertical takeoff and landing craft glistens with beads of rainwater collected on its side. The tail designation, MR-1 is scuffed and scratched from years of use.

“«What a fucking day.»”

Feet up and slouched back in the pilot’s seat, Captain Ryuji Sako sucks a lungful of air through a lit cigarette. “«It blows my mind what one technopath can do with a couple of self-driving cars. I mean, at least we got the bank their money back.»” Ryuji is as weathered as his leather jacket, possessed of a thick mane of chalk white hair and dark, intense eyes. He's been with the Mugai-ryu since its inception, the oldest living member aside from Major Asi Tetsuyama.

“«You didn't have to kill him.»” Soft-spoken dissent is raised from a passenger seat behind Sato, where the dark-haired figure of First-Lieutenant Sasuke Kitada sits hunched forward in his seat, scrolling through alerts on his mobile device. Sasuke looks over at the passenger seat, quiet for a moment. Sako doesn't let the silence last.

“«Well, the next time some bank robbers got you at gunpoint I'll just ask them nicely instead of punching them into the sea, Sasuke.»” Sako throws his hands into the air, turning to look at the woman in the passenger seat. “«C’mon Major, back me up.»”

"«What a fucking day, indeed.»" Asi continues to look up at the ceiling, one foot planted on the edge of panel before her. It might she brushed against something important in propping it up there, but they weren't flying now.

If Sako was looking for her to back him up, he'd come barking to the wrong Mugai-ryu. She continues to seethe in silence, looking at neither of them as she counts the seconds until they're no longer sharing the same cramped space, until she can shed her armor and call it a day. They'd spent nearly two months leading up to this arrest that had gone south. Two months.

Ending an attempted apprehension with the unplanned death of their perp was bound to leave a sour taste in her mouth.

It was another thing entirely that the standoff was with a technopath.

Her hand remains firmly curled around the edge of her helmet while she waits for the helipad to complete its descension indoors. The floodlights periodically lining the shaft of the lift cast criss-crosses of shadow and light across her face before she rolls her head forward, still only looking ahead. She's been reminded today how justice is a truly rare thing in the world. She was stung with the reminder that it's really only the desires of corporations — their wants, their interests — that matter and drive things. She's been reminded yet again who and what controls this day and age.

At least the bank got their money back, Sako said.

Fuck it being a long day. It's been a long week. A long month.

It's been a long fucking year.

"«Kitada is right,»" she finally says, too done to care otherwise. "«Your armor would have absorbed a shot, maybe two. You chose the option that was easy instead of the option with greater payoff. Sure,»" Asi opines drily, "«It was an accident his cracked sternum, his punctured rib made him drown

"«But you made a shit choice today, Sako. We can't interrogate a corpse about its accomplices.»" She turns her head toward him finally, expression deadpan. "«Unless you're hiding a deathspeaker somewhere up your sleeve, that is.»"

"«But oh well»," Asi glibly shrugs. "«At least you'd already made sure the bank was saved.»" And by him, she means her.

This is the most she's said at once this entire month. The chase of a persistently slippery technopath has haunted her more than she's been willing to admit, and it shows in this moment. But — she did her job. Major Tetsuyama pulled through in helping pin down the rogue technopath and right their wrongs.

In the end, she won't hold Sako's choices against him, either. She just wishes things had been different.

The cargo lift comes to an abrupt stop accompanied by a green light igniting on the console of the gunship. Sako exhales a breath through his nostrils, pushing forward in his seat and then standing up slowly. He looks down at Asi, brows furrowed, then over to Sasuke who seems more than eager to disengage from the entire conversation.

“«You need to get laid, Oni.»” is Sako’s helpful followup as he ables out of the craft, flipping off the last of the shutdown toggles on his way out. Sasuke covers his face with one hand and exhales a sigh into his palm. Between two fingers he’s able to regard Asi, the one eye she can see brimming with apology. They both know he somehow meant well by that. Asi was right, it had been a long year.

After Sako steps off the craft, Asi finally rolls her jaw. They'll both owe each other an apology later, and will probably beat around the bush rather than say it. They might both have to satisfy themselves with the knowledge the other will leave comment about the remarks firmly out of the reports they'll file about today's affairs. She glances back toward Sasuke, the child caught between two arguing parents. Head leaning back, her brow lifts as she looks at him. “It's true,” she says as she comes to her feet, sliding off of her seat. She nudges his shoulder with her fist as she walks past, helmet still held tightly with her other hand.

“«Come on, Kitada.»”

Her footsteps are heavy as she hops out the side of the gunship, the heel of one foot coming down into a depression on the sloped-out surface extending away from the bay doors. The next brings her to solid ground, one step closer to shedding her armor and calling it a day. The crack in her facade of indefatigablilty has been sealed, no slouch to her step as she heads across the hangar.

Maintenance crews are already streaming out through slowly opening doors. Yellow lights flash on the wall to indicate heavy machinery in transit. A half dozen wheeled drones roll toward the gunship, toward where bullet holes pockmark the sides from small arms fire. The engineering crews are laughing and chatting with one another as they come out. Talking about what their plans are after work, tossing around inside jokes.

One inbound engineer carrying a spool of braided steel cable over one shoulder wears a thick metal bracelet on his wrist with an inset LED plate that reads 鉄曲げ: iron bending, or more less literally read: metal manipulation. Asi is plainly reminded, once again, the differences between Japan and America.

A slender woman in a crisp suit waits by the bay doors, hands clasped behind her back and chin up. She looks past Sako to Asi, lifting her chin in a subtle indication. “«Major. The Director would like to speak to you on his office.»”

Sako looks over his shoulder to Asi, smirking. “Oooh. «The Major’s in trouble.»” Even Sasuke can't help but smirk at the notion.

Asi not so much.

National Public Safety Commission

Director’s Office

Tokyo Restricted Zone

Tokyo, Japan

April 27th

6:27pm Local Time

One of the walls in Director Komura’s office is a saltwater aquarium. Forty-eight fish occupy the immaculately tended space; vibrantly colorful, shimmering and iridescent, simple and understated. Lights inside the aquarium spill a turquoise illumination on the walls of his otherwise dimly lit office space, where the opposite wall is a floor to ceiling window looking out over the blurry panorama of downtown Tokyo. Rain streaks the glass in forking paths that can never go back the way they were.

Director Komura is smoking when Asi enters his office, seated quietly at his desk and contemplating the small school's of colorful fish across the room. His cigar smolders dimly, much in the same way his dark stare does.

“«Major,»” Komura greets Asi, settling his cigar into an ashtray beside a small bronze statue of two koi fish. “«I'm sorry to call you in like this after the way that case went, but something’s come up.»”

Asi lifts her head from the curt bow she'd given her superior on entry, her helmet sandwiched to her side just above her hip. When she'd attempted to veer off to dress down, the administrative agent sent to retrieve her had apologized and informed her it was urgent.

"«That business done, my schedule's suddenly wide open, Director.»" she tells him, her gaze just past him. Her mind and body are heavy with weariness, eyes catching on the almost calming cascades of water and light — the last rays of sunset rivaling the fluorescent colors given off by the aquarium for just a moment before the sun dips behind the horizon.

Her gaze shifts back to Komura attentively. "«What has come up?»"

“«The CEO of Larange Genomics received a threat to his life earlier this morning. Larange is a mid-range biotech pharmaceutical company primarily utilized by Yamagato Industries in the production of EndoCell, an immuno-suppressant drug primarily used for people with cybernetic prosthetics.»” Komura leans forward and laces his fingers together, shoulders hunched and tense. “«Six months ago Yamagato Industries began selling a first-gen military prosthetic to PMCs operating out of Turkey on the border of the Confederated State of Iraq. In response to this, the terrorist organization Mazdak has targeted Lagrange Genomics as part of a campaign to push military cybernetics out of their territorial dispute with Turkey.»”

Komura raises one hand into the air and closes his eyes, sighing softly. “«The message that the Larange CEO received this morning threatened an assassination if he did not terminate the company’s contract with Yamagato. Obviously he has no intent on giving in to the terrorist’s demands, which is where the Mugai-ryu come in.»”

It takes effort not to laugh, or pass a sarcastic comment, or so much as blink out of order when Asi hears the CEO of some company is under threat. Instead, she focuses on the good that comes out of the company, the interest it bears her, once she lays the politics it's mired in aside. It lends her ground enough to mentally stand on to nod sternly to acknowledge the threat, silent agreement that she also finds it to be serious.

Komura's shift does elicit one in her, the intensity in her not as sharp after a slow blink. He, too, seems tired, and not just from the excessively long day he'd just overseen. "«Of course they didn't capitulate. Then what would people like us have to do for work?»" She speaks so drily it could be mistaken for a serious comment were it not for the faint smile that accompanies it. Her gaze hardens again. "«Is there reason to currently believe Mazdak is doing more than flapping its jaws about the matter?»"

If there was a credible Mazdak threat within Japan … it was the first she'd be hearing of it. "«Will we be providing security to the CEO and his family, or did you have something more creative in mind, sir?»"

Komura reaches for his cigar, picking it up and taking a drag off of it. Lit by the ember at the end, Komura’s eyes show a hint of both certainty and opacity. “«With all that Mazdak has accomplished in the last decade, we'd be stupid not to take them seriously. But, I've reached out to the Public Security Intelligence Agency none the less. They're going to forward us everything they have on Mazdak’s presence in and around Japan. But, if the Larange CEO is intimidated into backing out of his contract with Yamagato it will look just as badly on us as if he is killed.»”

Ever the pragmatist, Komura still hasn't committed to his approach. Which, in turn, would be the Mugai-ryu’s approach. “«We've put a security detail on the CEO and his wife, but I want our eyes on unconventional vectors of approach. I'm putting Sako and Kitada on babysitting. I want you to work the intelligence angle, try and figure out what assets Mazdak has to mobilize in Japan and — if we can manage it — neutralize them.»”

Both paths. Of course. Everything to save face.

Asi allows herself the luxury of a long exhale, moving from the door to stand behind one of the chairs on the other side of Komura's desk. She places her helmet on the back of it, her blue eyes darkening with thought. "«I'll pull from what Intelligence has and is working on and see what stones they've left unturned. See if any Mazdak fish hook themselves on bait left on their social media. See what the Net in particular could provide us for this one.»"

She's already thinking her next steps through — and the additional budget it will require to purchase fresh hardware for it. Asi lifts her head to look at Komura directly, brow arching almost expectantly. "«Do I have your permission to requisition the tools I'll need for that? Burners, mostly.»" Mostly.

Komura smiles, plucking his cigar from his mouth and leaning forward as if confiding a secret shared between the two and the fish.

“«When have I ever said no?»”

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