We Won't Get Fooled Again


eizen_icon.gif hayate_icon.gif kay4_icon.gif wenyi_icon.gif

Scene Title We Won't Get Fooled Again
Synopsis When Kaydence Damaris returns to work at Yamagato Industries she finds the life she left crumbling around her.
Date March 2, 2021

Snow falls in the Safe Zone, creating a neon haze across the skyline of Yamagato Park.

The clean white walls of the Yamagato Medical Center share significant aesthetic similarities to that of the Renautas-Weiss labs in Toronto. For Kaydence Damaris, seated on the edge of a bed with a tether of intravenous fluids connecting her to an IV stand, it feels like escaping one prison to return to another.

“And that’s… all you remember?”

Eizen Erizawa has been circling the same conversation for a half an hour now. Bandaged up as he is, off the clock as he may be, he’s still the chief of Yamagato’s security and this happened on his watch. He’s been invasive with his questioning about what happened, how Kay was taken, who was there, but has shared little about how they found her or what has happened in her absence.

“I don’t know what else to tell you, Eizen.” At least for this, Kay has managed to sit up. She’s managed to get clothes. It’s just a pair of flannel pyjama pants and a basic tank top, but whoever picked them from her drawers knew her well enough to know she’d feel some modicum better to be dressed in purple. She’s confused by it, but has much bigger fish to fry.

“They— They knew. Everything. They knew my schedule. Exactly where I’d be and when. Fuck, I don’t even tell you all that.” Kay presses the back of her hand against her mouth in a slow swipe across. “They didn’t even want to know about…” Having completed that pass, she gestures around her to indicate the facility and the greater corporate entity behind it.

Her gaze, having gone unfocused while she searched her thoughts for what feels like the thousandth time for some new detail that could prove helpful, finally comes back up to meet Eizen’s. “I don’t know what they got out of me. I don’t know what was real. But that Lucien Crane…” There’s unmistakable murder in her eyes when she speaks his name, “He got into my head and just… I don’t know what he took from me, but he didn’t ask about now, he asked about my past.

In this state, she looks smaller, more vulnerable than he’s seen her since she accepted the position offered to her and took his former responsibilities off his plate. “How do I know this is real right now? That this isn’t just another elaborate simulation designed to rattle me and get me to give more away again?”

“I don’t know,” Eizen says, hanging his head. “I’m sorry, for this. For everything. For not finding you sooner.” He looks up to her, guilt visible in his eyes. “The man I rescued the day you vanished, Kain Leblanc, told us some useful information. We’re having him followed for the time being to see if he can lead us to any more pressing information.”

Hiding behind the details, Eizen uses them like a shield to protect himself from the feeling of failure he has every time he looks at Kay. “Your… replacement is being detained in a facility In-Park, though with everything that’s happened I don’t know for how much longer.” There’s a grim sense of finality to that.

“I…” Eizen says with a sigh. “I’m so sorry.”

Eizen,” Kay cuts in with all the sternness she’d deliver to her daughter when she wallows in her self-pity for having overshot or fallen short of the play she needed to make in one of her softball games. Would it have made the difference and allowed them to win? Maybe. Or maybe the other team would have scored another homerun in extra innings and they still would have lost. Some things just happen. “You couldn’t have known,” she insists with a shake of her head.

Trailing off. The name of the man he rescued doesn’t slip her notice, but she too hides behind the details. They’re her armor when she wants to cry and beg to know where he is. He survived. For now, that’s the relevant information she needs. He survived, and he’s being followed. That means she can make use of that information, when she’s ready.

God, she doesn’t want Kain to see her like this. Self-consciously, she touches the side of her head, fingers brushing over the shaved fuzz of her hair. Heart contracting, her throat gets tight. So badly, Kay wants to turn this over to her anger, but she needs her head clear. Needs to think straight. “Whoever they replaced me with, I want them alive,” she dictates. If she doesn’t have any power over this situation, she will take it. “They lived with my daughter. They don’t get any kind of release until they answer to me.” That includes the release of death.

There’s no argument she’s accepting there, and he knows her well enough to see the sense of finality in her. She won’t hear a word to the contrary. Not yet, at any rate.

Instead, Kay’s shoulders sag, her fingers stay where they are against her scalp. “They cut my fuckin’ hair,” is a ridiculous thing to say, and she knows it, but it’s a small piece of agency stolen from her that became something larger. The other side of her head sees her blonde locks hanging past her shoulder. Her roots, however, are dark. It’s easy even for Eizen to forget that the honey shade her hair has been since she took her position with Yamagato is not her natural shade.

Brown eyes stare off past Eizen, her chest drawing inward as she breathes from the effort to keep her emotions in check. “What did they do to me?” Kay asks in a quiet voice. One thing she’s pointedly left out of her recounting, even to her friend, is any mention of the technopathic power Erica Kravid informed her that she’s blessed with. If they can leave it out of the report, then she can fly under the radar. She knows she doesn’t have to spell out to Eizen the usefulness of that.

But right now, it doesn’t feel useful. “The doctors just talk about dehydration, malnutrition, atrophy…” A deep breath is sucked in and she blinks rapidly, pressing her lips together for a moment in an unsuccessful attempt to keep them from trembling.

What did they do to me?”

Eizen’s eyes are focused down at his feet, hands folded behind his back and shoulders sloped. He looks both unwilling and unable to look at Kay directly. “I’m not…” he starts to say. But whatever Eizen was going to say next is swallowed down when the door at his back opens. The woman who enters the room is someone Kay hasn’t ever met in person, but is familiar with professionally..

Cora Wenyi is nearly sixty, though she doesn’t look the part. Her personal style is sleek and head-and-shoulders above the fashion trends of post-war America, owing to a high-society life overseas. Kay knows her more in-depth from her dossiers on Agent Wenyi of the Company. Though unlike Kaydence, Cora owed her allegiances to Kaito Nakamura, not Daniel Linderman.

“Mr. Erizawa.” Wenyi says with a glance to the security chief. Eizen pushes away a frown with a smile when he meets her eyes. Wenyi turns her attention to Kaydence.

“Ms. Damaris, I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure. I’m Doctor Cora Wenyi, chief of biosciences division. Given your detention at a medical facility and what we were able to assess was…” she glances to the ports on the shaved side of Kay’s head, “done to you, I wanted to pay you a visit personally, and let you know that I will be attending to your rehabilitation.”

Wenyi smiles, a measured and appropriate one for the circumstances. “How aware are you of what was done to you?”

Eizen says nothing, letting Kaydence speak for herself.

The moment the door begins to open, Kay makes sure her focus stays on Eizen, when it shouldn’t be. “Don’t go,” she whispers, with an edge to it. Call it demanding, call it commanding, call it desperation… Whatever the descriptive, she’s very clear. She does not want to be left alone here. Not with anyone else.

Grinding the heels of her palms over her eyes like she’s just rubbing away some sleep, Kaydence takes in a deep breath, like the prelude to a yawn, covering her mouth on the exhale. See? She’s been resting. A tired smile is offered to the newcomer. “Dr. Wenyi,” she murmurs in greeting. “Yes, I’ve heard of your work, even if our paths haven’t had chance to cross.” That smile is strategically still in place as she flits a glance back to the security chief.

She feels comfortable for the moment that he isn’t going anywhere. It’s a relief not just because she’s feeling like a fish out of water here and is in dire need of a friendly face, but also because she has one very important question left to ask him, and it’s burning a pit in her chest. For now, it seems Wenyi has the answer to her last question, but first she must answer the one posed to her.

“As my daughter likes to hashtag so many of her social media posts, I woke up like this.

Doctor Wenyi’s expression shows no amusement, save for a tiny smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. “The surgery performed on you,” she says without missing a beat, “installed a cranial cybernetic component in your right temporal lobe. The component,” she begins to say, stepping in and gesturing to the implant on Kay’s head, “is a data induction port, designed to allow you to directly interface with specially designed electronic devices.”

Wenyi looks at Eizen for a moment, then back to Kay. “After our assessment of the hardware, we believe it was custom designed to work with a special form of hardware known as SEER, a brain-machine interface, that allowed you to experience certain electronic stimuli as neurological stimuli. In essence, allowing you to inhabit or be inhabited by electronic signals.”

Wenyi takes a step back, tucking her hands into her labcoat pockets. “The unfortunate side effect of this is that the surgery was risky. While we could perform a procedure to remove it, there would be long term neurological side effects from its removal. A small portion of your brain was removed to accommodate for the device, which now compensates for that fractional absence.”

Angling her head to the side, Wenyi frowns slightly. “However, should you keep the device you will need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of your life, or risk developing Kauper-Engel Syndrome.” A risk Kay has known far too well as something Monica Dawson had to deal with every day of her life since obtaining her cybernetic arm.

“Yamagato Industries will, obviously, supply you with your required medication, as well as instructions on the proper care and maintenance for your… enhancement.” Wenyi is careful to label it as anything but. “We do not believe your implant is dangerous in any way, save for environmental concerns with regards to MRIs and infection, but we can go over that in private. I will note that there are routes to take where this implant could be further developed to assist you in your role in the company, but that’s a conversation we can have at a later, less delicate time.”

Glancing to Eizen, Wenyi goes silent. When she looks back to Kay, her expression is once-more tempered. “I’ve already updated Jiba on your augmentation-therapy schedule, you can check with him for more details once you’re discharged.”

While she’s being spoken to, Kay does her best to keep her chin up and her eyes attentive. At some point after a small portion of your brain was removed, her gaze goes distant, lowering slowly before her chin follows suit, tucking in toward her chest. Her hands clasp together in her lap and she’s visually attentive to the way her fingers fold, nest neatly together and alongside one another.

Medication. Maintenance. Enhancement.

How she can best serve.

It’s that notion that almost breaks her, but she gets no further than a quick inhale, biting down on her lip before it becomes bitter laughter. Of course her employer is looking for the silver lining in her condition. And maybe she should be too.

Kay lifts her head again and nods her understanding when she’s made eye contact with Wenyi again. “I understand. Yes, please give me… A short time to process what you’ve told me. I’m sure we can have a productive discussion next time. I’ll try to prepare my questions ahead of time so we can be on the same page.” Now it’s like any other meeting, and not something so deeply personal. “If there’s nothing else at this time, I do have some details to finish up here with Erizawa.” Her smile is personable. It’s the one she always wore before sending Monica off on an assignment.

Wenyi looks from Kay to Eizen, then back again and gives her a small and formal nod. “I wish you the best in your recovery, Ms. Damaris. Welcome home.” Then, she turns for the door and departs.

Once Wenyi is gone, Eizen relaxes a little and looks back to Kay. He is still silent, still apologetic even if it only shows in his eyes. He is wounded, literally and metaphorically.

The smile fades and Kay draws in slow, deep breaths to calm herself. She points to the closed door and asks in a voice that would be a shout if she wasn’t worried about drawing unwanted attention to her space. “What the fuck was that?” she asks in a barely restrained whisper instead.

Eizen shakes his head. “Leadership is extremely concerned about your well-being. Doctor Wenyi is a specialist in cybernetics as they apply to organic systems, she helped design Monica’s original arm. The uh, interfaces for it. President Kawahara wants her to look after you, personally.”

Kay’s brows hike up at that last part. It led in the direction she expected, but what she found behind that door was not what she expected. Or who, in this case. Kawahara is a name known to her, but more abstractly than Eizen seems to be leaning into. How could this have—

Feeling slighted that she hasn’t received the visit she’s been waiting for seems childish. Instead, she nods her head. “I… I shut down hard there,” she admits quietly. “Oh, god.” There’s a war in her head where one side tells her to trust Eizen, because she’s in desperate need of allies. The other tells her that the only person she can rely on is herself. Look at what that got her.

“What’s your—” Kay bites down on her lip again, brows furrowing with her self-directed annoyance. That question can wait. She needs to stop letting herself get sidetracked. “Eizen… How did you know where to find me?” And she already knows where the dodge comes in, so she blocks that direction swiftly. “I don’t mean in Toronto— Weiss’ facility. I mean… How did you know where to look for me when they took me? I didn’t tell anyone. I made damn sure ‘Ella wasn’t around before I left. And they sure as hell didn’t just roll Kain— Leblanc out of the SUV to bleed out on the pavement.”

Though she stumbles on the name, it’s covered well by her growing frustration. “It wasn’t about Yamagato. They didn’t ask for a ransom. How did you know there was even a reason to come looking for me?”

“You may be surprised, but I do my job sometimes.” Eizen says in a self-deprecating manner. “Your annual trips have never been unsupervised. But since Alvin Mott left the security department and returned to Japan, I made it a personal concern of my own.”

Mott, that little invisible bastard.

“I saw what happened from too far a distance to do anything.” Eizen says, and suddenly his earlier apology takes on a more personal meaning. “I saw the mercenaries that took you dump Leblanc’s body, and I took a chance. He was still alive. I kept him that way so that he could provide me with information I needed.”

Eizen looks down at his feet, brows furrowed. “This is how I knew, the moment you came back, that it was not you. We limited your impostor’s access, she gained nothing of value and was never even aware.”

It’s this that finally ruins her composure. Kay’s jaw trembles, her eyes start to get glassy from tears she won’t shed just yet. “You— You’ve been following me? For that? Did you follow me to my parents’ place, too? Jesus Christ.”

If she stares at him any harder, she might bore a hole through him, so she looks away, exhaling a shuddering breath as she curls her fingers into fists. “I was going to jump, and you were just going to watch.” That part… That part she isn’t even upset about. It’s what she wanted after all. If she’d wanted someone to stop her, she might have goddamn told someone where she was going. “I can’t believe this.”

Swiveling back to him, she shakes her head, incredulous. “I can’t believe you.” Suddenly, her own conscience and guilt for the injuries he sustained retrieving her are a little less heavy. That might change in an hour, or maybe tomorrow.

“You knew, you say. You knew the moment that person showed up, that she wasn’t me.” Now, she’s shaking. Kay lifts her chin, the corners of her mouth tight. Heedless of the screaming in her muscles, she pushes to her feet and shores up the distance between herself and her colleague. First, she slaps him in the face. Then, she drives her fist into his stomach.

“You knew and you let her live with my daughter!” Kaydence roars. Now, she doesn’t give a single, solitary fuck who comes running.

“I did.” Eizen says as an answer to everything once the wind comes back to him. He works his jaw from side to side, then slowly straightens and brings one hand to where he is bandaged beneath his suit. “To save you.”

Eizen’s composure is steely, black eyes emotionless like that of a serpent. Kay had always known he had a reputation for cold, calculated decisions, but his genial demeanor that he wears when outside of business was so perfected. Eizen had never allowed her to see him as he sees himself. Now, the mask is off.

“You are the single-most valuable asset this company has,” Eizen says through his teeth. “Inheritor to Kam Nisatta’s role, our chief intelligence apparatus. You are fortunate that I am the one who decided how and when you were surveilled, and you are not the only asset of this company who is so. Did you think Monica was the only one Ms. Nakamura spied on?”

Reaching up to rub at his mouth, Eizen stares at Kay. “If you wanted to throw away your life, I would not deny you that freedom of choice. But I will be damned if I allow another to make that choice for you. I did what I did to keep you alive and bring you home, whether you are grateful or not is inconsequential.”

Rolling his tongue against the inside of his mouth, Eizen glances over his shoulder to the door to Kay’s room, then back again. “Ella is waiting outside.”

It’s the answer Kay never wanted to a question she carefully never asked. She shakes her hand out at her side and holds her ground, as much as she wants to lean on the IV stand for support. As much as she wants to sit down again even more. “You know,” she stares off past Eizen’s shoulder and toward the door he previously indicated, “I always thought you and I had some sort of… I don’t know. Affinity. Kinship. Understanding. You held this position before I did. You know what it does to a person.”

And in some ways, Kay knows she’s staring into a mirror. Or at least a mirror that reflects what she’ll see and be if she spends much longer on this path. She’s made these decisions he’s made. She’s left assets in the field before. Had them killed rather than captured. Monica was different. Monica made her soft. Monica kept coming back.

“Have your people keep tailing Leblanc. Don’t bring him in. Just tell me where I can find him. I have questions of my own.” When her head tilts to one side, there’s no brush of hair against her shoulder the way she’s used to. She clenches a fist, but says nothing. “Do you think you can let me manage that on my own? Or do you want to hold the seat while I push the pedals?”

Eizen’s expression is once again apologetic. He averts his eyes from Kay, chin tipped down. “I don’t think that is my decision to make anymore,” he says with weight in his voice. Then, Eizen steps away and turns for the door.

“I will tell Ella you are ready to see her.”

Two Days Later

Yamagato Building
Yamagato Park

March 2nd
8:07 am

As the elevator doors open to the executive level of the Yamagato Building, Kay feels a distinct change in the atmosphere. Gone is the confidence she once held in Kimiko Nakamura's presence, gone is a sense of safety and security. It feels at once more corporate and colder, uninviting and foreign even if the physical space itself has not changed at all.

Things feel different today. Kay is different today. In the dark halls of the executive floor of the Yamagato Building, marble floors and wooden walls that once gave the space a semblance of old world aesthetic feel claustrophobic and threatening. From behind a black desk, a young Japanese man looks attentively at Kay. She does not recognize him.

“Ms. Damaris?” He says cheerfully. “President Kawahara is expecting you.” The executive assistant motions to a tall pair of opaque, black glass doors.

President Kawahara.

It feels, somehow, inappropriate to wear her customary red for this meeting. Shark grey is a suitable enough substitute, her blazer and wide-leg slacks coordinated, along with the band around her black sateen trilby, which matches the silk of her blouse. She tells herself that it makes her a predator too, although most of that sense stems from a pep talk from her teenager.

Kawahara’s assistant doesn’t know her. It sets her blood to boil, but she smiles as sweet as the tea served back home. “That’s right. Thank you.” Kay makes sure to grant him a nod before she turns toward the doors to admit herself.

Interloper. The word echoes through her mind and she reminds herself why she’s here. Getting the lay of the land, finding out where she stands, and finding out how to navigate around the new boss are paramount. This is no different, she tells herself, than when she transitioned from reporting to Kam to reporting directly to Kimiko.

That had been fucked up too, after all. Bracing herself for whatever changes she’ll find in the office, she steps inside, shoulders straight, head high, confident. Selling herself the lie, she belongs here.

Beyond the doors, the office of Yamagato Industries' president is now both familiar and foreign. The office is as large as Kay remembers, with its cathedral ceilings and tapered black columns trimmed in gold rising to meet those heights. The ferns and other potted plants are still spaced around the room along with six foot high decorative trees, too.

But now a stranger sits behind Kimiko Nakamura's desk. Hayate Kawahara is an elderly man with a dour demeanor, dressed in a charcoal gray and white formal kimono over which is worn a matching haori coat. Antique paintings of Showa-era landscapes adorn the walls, new decoration choices. The stark lines and regal appointment of the office normally would inspire a sense of wonder in first-time visitors, but this is not Kaydence's first time here.

President Kawahara does not stand when Kay enters. Instead, with a motion of his eyes, he directs the doors to close behind her.

"Kaydence Damaris." Hayate says. It is the only English he speaks for the remainder of their meeting and he slips immediately into Japanese. "«I am pleased you were returned safely from the arms of our corporate rivals. You are looking well, for a woman who was put into such a predicament.»"

Hayate Kawahara is old, his hair a shock of steel gray, his face a weathered countenance like old wood. But in spite of his seemingly frail nature, Kaydence knows how much power there is behind his eyes. Not supernatural power, but something just as dangerous: political power. Hayate Kawahara is old blood in Japan, his family encircles some of the most powerful and influential politicians in the nation. At Yamagato Industries, Hayate made his name as a shrewd businessman, helping Kaito Nakamura and later Kimiko Nakamura maintain their financial empire.

Now, the board of directors has seated him upon a throne he helped build. Hayate Kawahara has been around long enough to know where all the bodies are buried, who did the digging, and where they're buried too.

"«Would you like something to drink?»" Hayate asks politely, one steel gray brow raised.

“President Kawahara,” Kay greets in kind, stopping before the desk, resting her palms over the front of her thighs and dipping forward in a bow. The receptionist gets a nod, but Kawahara is of a stature requiring a certain amount of deference, and she’s done her homework. “«Thank you, sir. It is good to be back.»” Her accent still leaves much to be desired, but she doesn’t have to ask for anyone to speak slower for her anymore, and almost never stumbles over her own words, even if it means some of her responses are more simplistic than she’d like. She’s much better at nuance in English.

“«Ah, only if you will join me.»” It’s impolite to pour a drink for oneself, and drinks should be partaken as a group. “«We have much to discuss.»” Kay does take her seat just yet, though she makes movements in that direction. She’s prepared to make herself useful, or to get down to business, however he leads.

Inside her chest, her heart is hammering.

Hayate smiles, though it is an affectation entirely. His eyes move to look over Kay’s shoulder, and when she hears the sound of something whirring to life her blood runs cold. It sounds like the servos of a Qing activating, but there’s a lightness to it that the Qing don’t have.

The mechanical noise of something moving is enough to draw Kay’s attention to the folding screen behind her and to her right, where a Yamagato Tetsujin drone marches out from behind the partition. The machine moves over to a small side table where a tea set has been arranged and begins setting water to boil. Hayate’s eyes settle back on Kaydence.

“«While we wait,»” Hayate says with that smile still painted on his lips, “«it is with great disappointment that I must inform you that your office will no longer be supported by Eizen Erizawa as the head of park security. In light of Ms. Nakamura’s death and your abduction, we have decided to terminate Mr. Erizawa’s employment effective today.»”

Hayate folds his weathered hands on the glass desk in front of himself. “«In order to fill the space Mr. Erizawa leaves behind, I have chosen to make a bold maneuver, and commission the assistance of the JSDF Mugai-Ryu Unit-9 to take over security operations within Yamagato Park until such a time as I am confident we are able to replace Mr. Erizawa.»”

There is a subtle roiling sound coming from the electric kettle by the Tetsujin. Not quite a boil, just the noise of the coils heating up.

Kay’s breath is stolen from her, though it’s impossible to tell by the look on her face. If Hayate had been hoping to watch her jump to hear the drone spin up, then she’s exceedingly not sorry to disappoint. “«How helpful,»” she remarks with an absent sort of appreciation. She lowers herself into a seat opposite the man she’s here to see and resists the urge to reach down to massage the pins and needles sensations out of her legs.

For a second time, her breath arrests while her face stays placid. “«That seems a sensible decision.»” Her tone is one of commiseration regarding the termination of her colleague’s employment. It can’t have been easy, it says. In her pocket is a phone not registered to her. She’s already visualizing the message she’ll send. “«Has this matter been handled? Or shall I be escorting him from the premises?»” Her smile is tight, like maybe it would please her just a little if she could send Eizen packing.

Get out of the park.

Go anywhere but here.

Find Godfrey or Asi.

Kay imagines hitting send on each one and immediately regretting it. None is the right message. Or maybe they all are? What can she say in a short text that will get Eizen to trust an unknown number? All of this is assuming it isn’t already too late. “«It is no trouble for me.»”

“«No need.»” Hayate says with a tiny smile, more a purse of his lips. “«Mr. Erizawa was put on a flight to Tokyo earlier this morning. I would not trouble you with simple, administrative tedium. Not when I have high expectations for your performance. A distraction would serve none.»”

Bubbles begin to form in the heating water.

“«Your office has had a number of failures as of late,»” Hayate notes, making the smallest gesture with his right hand, conjuring documents to his desk that illuminate beneath the glossy black surface. “«This situation with Godfrey Wells is, understandably, troubling.»” He says with a look blinked back up to Kay. “«But I would like for you and I to start on a fresh footing. It is why I dismissed Mr. Erizawa. His failures, stemming from the failures of our intelligence branch to keep security up to date, would weigh you down.»”

Slowly, the water in the kettle begins to boil.

“«In your role,»” Hayate says with a look to the Tetsujin, who begins stacking the tea set, “«every error is a slap across this company’s face. As the CEO, it is a slap across my face. I am not a man who accepts a woman striking him. So, you can see my dilemma.»” Hayate slowly spreads his hands, then dismisses the files on Godfrey off the desk as if they were physical paper, to make room for the tray containing the electric kettle and the cups.

“«Kimiko’s death is the latest in a series of catastrophic failures, of brutal backhands across my mouth,»” Hayate says as he watches the machine set a cup down for him, then one for Kay. “«I am tired of it. I expect better of you, going forward, and if that is going to be outside of your skill set…»”

The water is boiling.

“«You are welcome to leave.»” Hayate notes, gently motioning to the door. “«Which will it be?»”

It’s her instinct to weigh in, to argue, but she holds her tongue and lets her superior speak. The hotter that water seems to get, the colder the blood in Kay’s veins becomes. It’s glacial by the time it comes to a boil. It isn’t hard to go off to the races with thoughts of what becomes of her if she doesn’t give the right responses here. Her time as a cop showed her time and time again what happens to pretty women who disappoint and anger powerful men.

Kay’s fingers have tightened around the arms of the chair she’s seated in, little by little, until her knuckles have almost gone white. A voice in the back of her mind reminds her to breathe. Deep and even. Posturing is a dance she’s familiar with. Hayate Kawahara, however, has no need to posture.

This… This is how Kay always imagined her role within Yamagato was. That this was all unspoken under the layers of niceties and smiles. Every misstep, every mistake was a chance to wind up in a body bag like Nisatta. This moment has shown her how wrong she was.

“«I believe you have laid out your expectations clearly,»” Kay responds, a polite smile on her face. The message to Asi will be a simple one: Find Eizen. “«I can do this. I will stay.»” She wonders how many steps away from the desk she’d get before she discovered what caliber of bullet the Tetsujin would fire.

“«I am pleased to hear that,»” Hayate says as the tetsujin begins preparing tea with the now boiling water. “«Then, with that ugliness aside, it is time to introduce you to your new direct report.»” It’s only then that Kay notices three ceramic cups are being set out.

Hayate motions to a door in the back of his office that leads into a suite, and the door opens. From within, a blonde woman in a dark jacket emerges. It would seem she had been waiting for this moment, or perhaps another, depending on how Kay answered. “«Kaydence Damaris, allow me to introduce you to Major Aoi Housen of the Mugai-Ryu.»”


Aoi Housen is younger and smaller than Kaydence, dressed in a sleek style of urban combat chic; an asymmetrical jacket with a high collar, light body armor vest, and loose pants tucked into tall boots. She has a metal cuff bracelet with an inset LED plate that reads 発電: electricity generation, or less literally read electrokinesis.

“«Good morning, Ms. Damaris.»” Aoi says with an angle of her head to the side, settling in at the other chair opposite Hayate, beside Kay. The third ceramic cup is set out for her, tea leaves settled in the bottom. The tetsujin begins pouring boiling hot water in, its glowing eyes focused on the task at hand.

“«Major Housen is going to handle the more delicate aspects of your work, much as Monica Dawson once did.»” Hayate says with a gesture to Aoi. “«She is familiar with clandestine operations. Prior to her return to Japan, she worked for the American military under Colonel Leon Heller in FRONTLINE Unit-OS. You will find she has no problems following orders to the letter.»”

The ugliness just keeps coming from where Kaydence is sitting. She wills her fingers to uncurl, feels how stiff they’ve become, slowly folds them in her lap as she waits to hear what comes next, waits for tea. Her gaze lifts and settles on her new charge and she allows her smile to warm some. Blame the fact that her blood has come to a boil now just hearing the name Heller. “«That is excellent news. This position can be…»”

The hat atop her head doesn’t so much as shift as she tips her head from one side to the other, dithering on her words. “«Demanding,»” seems a reasonable choice. “«I look forward to seeing you in action for myself,»” she tells Housen.

With a twist of a knife in her own heart, she further adds, “どうぞ よろしく.1

She could burn this place to the ground.

“«Excellent.»” Hayate says with a smile, picking up his tea, cradling the small cup in his hands. Aoi does the same, though she affords Kay a momentary side-long look when she does.

“«I would like you and Major Housen to coordinate on a counter-offensive to the corporate interests that abducted you, Ms. Damaris. I feel you are both earned this vengeance, and deserving of it.»” Hayate explains, gently rolling the cup between his palms to transfer the heat. “«Renautas-Weiss’ CEO will be coming to Yamagato Park in April to discuss the events in Toronto. I would greatly appreciate it if she never made it back to Germany.»”

Hayate smiles, lifting the tea to his mouth to take the smallest of sips. “«I will forward you all the details as soon as I have them. Once Ms. Weiss is out of the picture, we can more swiftly move on reclaiming the Renautas corporation and rooting out the individuals who stole so much of your life from you.»”

Aoi looks at Hayate, then Kay, seeming perfectly fine with this development. She, too, takes a sip of her tea.

The spark in Kay’s eye isn’t entirely put on. She would dearly love to give a New York hello to those responsible for her abduction and mutilation. Lifting her tea, she takes a sip, eyes closing briefly to savor the warmth passing through her. The cup lowers and her eyes open again. A smile curves her lips. “«In what manner do we wish Ms. Weiss dispatched? An accident? An unfortunate circumstance?»”

Leaning back in her chair, she makes it very clear what her preference is for this assignment. “«An example?»”

Hayate shakes his head, taking another sip of his tea. “«Whichever you prefer. What matters to me is that she dies, not the specifics. I trust you, as a professional, to make the right choice.»”

Aoi remains silent, taking another sip of her tea as she listens to the two. Eventually she sets down her teacup and watches the way the tetsujin drone beside the desk remains so still while awaiting further instructions.

“«Unless there was anything further, you are both dismissed.»” Hayate says, drawing Aoi’s attention back to the CEO. She shakes her head in the negative, then looks to Kay in deference.

A barely perceptible nod is given to Aoi, like tacit approval. Kay sets down her tea cup and shakes her head. “«No, sir. Nothing further. I’ll be spending the next week or so getting back up to speed, but shall be available if you have need of me.»”

Climbing to her feet, she makes sure again to bow, before turning to the other blonde. “«Major Housen. Please make an appointment with my office at your convenience. We have much to discuss.»”

Aoi returns Kay’s request with a simple, wordless nod.

And since she’s been dismissed by the only person in this room whose permission she requires, Kay turns on her heel and moves to make her measured escape from this marbled hellscape. She has to get out. Anywhere but here.

Back to her office where she can pretend she has any sort of control.

A Short Time Later

Yamagato Fellowship Center
Director Damaris’ Office

The top floor of the Yamagato Fellowship building is reserved for executive staff only. It is a sprawling, open space that is a study in value. The floor is a polished plane of jet black marble that mutedly reflects the spherical hanging lights suspended from the ceiling. The walls are inwardly angled translucent panes of photovoltaic nanomaterials that are both windows and solar collectors. The vaulted ceiling is eggshell in color and makes the office feel cavernous. For Kaydence, it feels like coming home.

She’s been seated at her desk for several minutes now in silence. Home doesn’t feel the way it used to. Nothing does after so much of her perception of the world was thrown into question. “Is this real?” is a question she asks herself to this day.

But there are times for breakdowns and times for action. Picking her phone out of her pocket and pairing it with her desk, Kay notices something on the display that flashes to life on the desk’s surface:

E. Erizawa
Message Sent

A. Tetsuyama
Message Sent

Kay freezes in place and stares down at the phone. “Fuck me,” she whispers, checking the content of those messages and holding her breath as she reads. Messages she only thought of sending stare back at her, waiting to be read by their recipients. A wave of her hand dismisses them and she exhales, hands shaking.

“Jiba,” her voice is terse, reflecting her tension. Her eyes close briefly in tandem with a sigh. She tries again. “Jiba?” This time is far softer around the edges. She vowed to treat Jiba more as a person — as a colleague or a friend — than just a glorified search engine given a voice. “I need some help. Could you…?”

Jiba’s icon appears over Kay’s desk, a flickering hologram of blue and white rings. Then the lights in Kay’s office flicker, Jiba’s icon gutters, distorts with digital noise, and the whole room is thrown into momentary darkness.

Then, a spark of red. A new symbol hovering where Jiba’s once was over Kay’s desk, blazing red and angry like the eye of some violent god.

K-K-K-K a y d e n c e

The lights flicker, sputter, but the room remains dark save for the symbol, and the voice. That distorted, sputtering voice.

There is much w̷̻̮̮͙̖͇̽́̄ö̶̻͚̠̟́̿̊̉̉̕͜r̶̨̭̪̪͙̤̍̄̉͑͝͝k̶̩̓͑̾̈́̓̈́͝͝ to do.

Kay knows that voice.

Is t̵̨̖̽́ĥ̸̢̝̅͑ë̸̛̠͈́̇͠ ̸͖̓́͊̃i̶͖͕̅̾͒͂n̸̳̤̠̠̔̚h̸̢͛̅e̷͈̘̚r̴̡̢̦̀̓́̇ͅi̵̢̹͔̫͂͂̕t̵͎̘̙͓́͑̈́à̶͚͍̺́n̶̠͇̘̩̽̇ĉ̷̦̙e̴̳̬͛ safe?


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