354. 2252, Present Day. Ueno residential district, Tokyo. Athan.

It was a few more frustrating days before anything really even happened. It sucked, but as AEGIS had advised, things were improving.

Lia, obviously, was back with us once she’d gotten a lot more sleep. I found her awake at peculiar hours, and she definitely wasn’t quite herself, but it was obvious she was putting a lot of energy into pretending everything was normal, and seemed embarrassed for being out of it, when really, it was jet lag, and neither a fault nor an issue.

Karu similarly had worked through her issues, finding a shapeless sweatshirt with a deep hood, and a surgical mask, which were apparently common in Japan as a way to reduce the spread of germs, and as a general indicator of hey, I’m sick, don’t interact with me, which seemed so simplistically brilliant I wasn’t sure how that was not more global.

Saga, however, was worse if anything. She’d taken to camping out in the huge park near our rented-house, both I think for the large trees to sit under and the reduced population density. A local cat had taken to perching on her lap at all hours, and when I went to check on her, often found her in the midst of praising the animal for not speaking. It seemed she’d given up on learning the language, and was just trying to endure the constant stream of voices in her head until such a time as she was allowed to kill everyone.

Which, y’know, being Saga, she might just decide is any day. So we had to keep moving.

The problem was, we still didn’t have anywhere to move. I found AEGIS typing away in the air at all hours, digging up information which might lead us anywhere, but nothing was concrete. We’d been making day trips around the city to all sorts of holdings we’d found connected to Ichiro, but none of it was like, a house, or a dingy jail where we’d find his daughter chained up. Just storehouses which Saga confirmed were void of human life, commercial holdings, and other regular, ordinary, frustratingly boring crap.

We were on one such errand now, finding just another IkaCo branch office in a sea of skyscrapers which, if I hadn’t already been there, you could have easily convinced me was downtown Tokyo. AEGIS was with us for navigation and translation, and Saga to pick out Moon if we could, with Lia and Karu back at home, working on their own angles.

Saga looked like she was going to be sick, and I was practically carrying her down the street, practically shoving our way through the sea of people crowding the sidewalks.

“One of these places has got to be something,” AEGIS fretted, looking up at the office building. The red-and-white logo of IKACO plainly visible, and inexplicably in English, like much of the city.

“Just kill me,” Saga moaned, cradling her head. “I can’t take anymore. It’s desu this and onegaishimasu that.”

“It would get better if you just learned the language,” AEGIS frowned.

“It’d get better if they were dead.”

“I’m sure we’ll find something,” AEGIS repeated. But the words had a lot less impact given that she’d said them a dozen times already, and we felt no closer than when we’d started.

I realized those thoughts weren’t only my own, as Saga stared at my eyes and gave me a conspiratorial nod, her face creased with a heavy frown. I only realized what she was doing as her thoughts passed through me.

“Wait–” I told her, reaching for her like it’d make a difference.

But I could tell by my shared link that she’d already gone ahead. Saga could endure anything, but that didn’t mean she would. I felt…almost saw, that she’d found someone inside the office with a modicum of English, and was starting the process of hijacking them.

“What’s going on?” AEGIS asked, glancing nervously between us.

“Saga’s…deciding to find an easier way.”

“Easier? How?”

“Shut up,” Saga said through grit teeth, still holding her head. She bounced a bit as traffic continued to swell around us, and more than once glared daggers at those who bumped into her. “Goddamn bastards. It’s hard enough to focus as it is.”

“It looks like…some kind of IkaCo exec,” I explained to AEGIS, though half-aware I was doing a bad job of it. “Um, Saga’s…kind of…interrogating her.”

“Even this bitch can’t misunderstand this,” Saga huffed.

I saw the images shoved into the woman’s consciousness, of Ichiro and a crude representation of a house. The woman blanched and leaned on a desk, unsure of what this bizarre, overpowering sensation in her head meant.

Where’s he live, you bitch.

“Saga, you’re not going to get anything that way,” I said. “Let her go.”

She slapped my hand away and growled at me. It was weird, seeing her look so pristine, her body well-rested, her eyes clear and bright, but the exhaustion and frustration behind them was visible in her poise, and of course, in her choosing to mind-fuck this poor woman.

“Do I need to…” AEGIS rocked back and forth uncertainly, glancing between us.

“No just…step out for now. That poor woman, though,” I fretted. “Damn it, Saga, this isn’t helping.”

“It’s helping me,” Saga growled. “I’m gonna take every word of this bullshit echoing around me and run it through her fucking head and see how she likes it.”

“That’s just torture,” AEGIS said.

“Well that’s what my life has been like for four days now. If I can endure it, she fucking can.”

“Saga, wait,” I pleaded, and she shot me a mocking sneer, turning up the intensity on the woman just to spite me. “Goddamn it, wait.”

“Why? So we can visit more crowded city centers and find nothing? So we can have a comprehensive fucking tour of every fucking IkaCo holding in the whole of fucking Tokyo? Do you have any idea how much it hurts to even be here?”

“No, Saga–“

“Of course you don’t, you’ve got me ninety-nine percent closed off because even peeking into my mind hurts you! You think I don’t notice, you fuck? I don’t even like Tem and Moon. They’re not worth this shit!” she shrieked, drawing intense stares. Saga glanced around at those around, veritably hissing at them. The woman in Saga’s mind began to thrash in her office, uncontrollably.

This was fucked up, and wasn’t getting any better. I hadn’t expected Saga to lose it like this, but I guess even she had her limits, and four days of feeling like she was torturing herself for nothing was apparently pushing it. If things continued, if there was overt show of her powers, I knew AEGIS would intervene, and then the two of them would start fighting in the streets.

I had to act before then, pulling out my comms and dialing. As soon as I heard a voice, I ripped it out, and shoved it in Saga’s ear, her spindly fingers clawing at my face.

“Fuck you, Athan–! Fuck–I don’t want to talk to her!”

I held the comms in as she thrashed under me. “Go on,” I shouted. “Tell Lia what you’re doing.”

“No! This is fucked up, Athan.”

“Explain to my sister why you’re torturing some poor woman. Go ahead.”

“You’re a serious piece of shit, Athan,” she hissed, but she’d stopped thrashing, and so had the woman upstairs.

“Yeah, because I happen to know you actually give a shit what Lia thinks of you.”

“Because you’re still running to your little sister when you can’t deal with your own issues,” she spat.

“Like I even care. You’re the one mind-fucking people in broad daylight. Now can you calm down or do I have to tell her what you’ve been doing here?”

Saga fell silent for a few moments, limp in my arms. “Lia, just forget you heard all of this, okay?” she asked sweetly, and I knew the compel meant she wouldn’t have a choice. I sighed as I pulled out the comms and held Saga dangling in my arms.

“Jesus you guys are screwed up,” AEGIS murmured.

“Saga, I just wanted you to wait, because you do have a good idea, okay? Just going into people’s minds and tearing them up isn’t going to help. But if we can use that mind–“

How, Athan?” Saga spat. “I don’t fucking speak Japanese.”

“Yeah, well, AEGIS does.”

“Oh good. Have her use her mind powers then. I’m going back to America.”

I rolled my eyes. “AEGIS, how do you ask where Ichiro lives? In Japanese?”

“Umm…Ikeda shacho wa doko ni sunde imasu ka?

“Got it?” I asked Saga, who shook her head at me. “Okay, one more time, AEGIS?”

She repeated the phrase, and again Saga shook her head, seeming more stubborn and resolute not to understand it this time.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just have to get the idea into her head,” I grunted.

“Well you fucking do it then,” she snapped. “With ten thousand other people shouting similar Japanese gobbledygook in your head.”

“Fine,” I said. “I will.”

And then I dove into Saga’s mind, and through it, into that woman’s, while Saga dealt with the ten-thousand others.

The woman, unsure where this mangled-Japanese thought came from, nonetheless found herself answering it, and as she thought the words, I found myself repeating them, as loud as I could while people stared.

“Um, I’ve got it,” AEGIS said, shaking me gently. “But you’re kinda yelling at the top of your lungs. I think the police might be coming after all this.”

“Sorry. I was…kind of not in my own body there. Let’s just go.”

Let’s,” Saga agreed, severing the connection with the woman in a way which, I’m sure, might have caused brain damage. I wasn’t about to pick a fight with her right now again, but did make my displeasure readily apparent in the forefront of my mind for her benefit.

So yeah. The rest of us may have been improving, but Saga was decidedly worse. And worst of all, hers was a role both essential and irreplaceable. I might be able to use her as a bridge to get into people’s minds, but I couldn’t do it without her.

She flipped us off at the station and headed for the park while AEGIS and I walked slowly back home. A slight breeze ruffled the trees, and I realized, after the packed streets of the office buildings and the metro, it was quiet and empty here.

AEGIS must have been thinking similarly, because she commented, quietly as though to herself, “It’s really pretty here.”

I looked around, and she wasn’t wrong. A tall fence near the back of the park, crested with vertical sheafs of bamboo. A hill on our right, caked with form-fitting stones and studded with black-barked trees, just past their bloom. Small clouds drifted in the blue sky over the sea of two-story residential buildings further down the road.

“It is,” I agreed. “Shame Saga’s getting too hammered with thoughts to be able to see it.”

“That is a shame. And for the record, I feel really bad for her. But as you all proved today, she’s kinda, sorta, completely unstable. Indispensable, sure. And she’s going to be even more so if fighting ever breaks out.”

“Yeah, I think she’s really looking forward to that. For a while, she was just stockpiling ass-kicking one-liners that she’d be spouting off as she crushed people’s brains’ in, but I think even that hasn’t held up to the anguish she’s finding herself in.”

“Well, we can start going out at night if that helps,” AEGIS said, pulling on her hair. “Of course, the police will be suspicious if they see us…but I’ve been working on my drunk American idiot impression.” She suddenly leaned heavily on me and when she spoke, it was through a hearty country twang. “Oh. My. God, Athannn. You know what we should do? Dance. Because this is totally my song.”

“Please tell me you don’t practice that,” I said, gently removing her hand from my shoulder.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” she said, dusting herself off.

“Yeah, that isn’t worth doing. I’m sure Saga would appreciate the night when fewer people are awake, and if we’re moving from offices to residences, we’d want to visit at night time anyway.”

“We’ll lose Lia though. Her sleep schedule is demolished already anyway.”

“Well, I’d generally prefer she not be anywhere near the action anyway. I just want her around, and safe.”

We got home, and said sister greeted us at the door with forced enthusiasm.

“Hey guys, how was it?” she asked, bouncing, and pressing what looked like a croissant into my hands. “Where’d Saga go?”

“Park,” I said, mouth already full of the treat. It was a croissant, if they were filled with chocolate and deliciousness. What the hell this was doing in Japan, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t complaining.

“Find anything?” she continued.

“Yeah, just a sec,” AEGIS answered, fishing out cables as she inspected the side of the living room’s holo. “Oh good, standard hookups. Here–“

She plugged in and brought the holo to life, pulling up a map from the ‘net with the address I’d apparently screamed at her. The map was utterly unfamiliar to me, the streets interwoven and seemingly too close.

“This is his house?” I asked.

“No, this is us,” she said, which mostly just confirmed that I had no idea where I was or what I was doing here. The map panned quickly, though whether it was headed in or out of Tokyo or the distance was great or small, I had no idea. All I really noticed by contrast was, wherever it stopped, there were hardly any roads.

“Are you sure this is right?” AEGIS asked, scrutinizing her own map.

“How would I know? That was what the lady was thinking in response to asking Ichiro’s address. I don’t even know that she knew.”

“The lady?” Lia asked, flopping next to me. “Actually, never mind. We have an address though?”

The holo wiped a few times as AEGIS jumped ‘net sites until it was replaced with a set of still images. Walls, tall and apparently stone surrounded a tree-filled compound, lush with grasses and water. Grey gravel pathways connected the handful of buildings, the most stereotypical Japanese architecture I could imagine; sloped tile roofs, white walled buildings with dark wood accents. The peak of the main building was crowned with a pair of golden statues, oxes or bulls with long horns raised, as though throwing an invisible intruder into the sky.

“Nice house,” I commented. I was probably looking at a billion dollars in real estate, not even counting the difference in prices between here and home.

“I think we found Ichiro’s place, that’s for sure,” Lia agreed.

“Well…” AEGIS bit her lip, and the image changed to another equally expensive compound. And then another, and then another. “Those are listings of the neighboring properties,” she commented, as more flashed by. “There’s plenty of big and expensive properties, and plenty of people who could be the one who owns ’em. Besides…I’m not sure this is it.”

She went back to pictures of the first compound and tugged at her hair. “I don’t have many drones with us, but I picked up this address pretty early and sent one over there. But the whole time it’s been there, I haven’t seen anything of either Moon or Ichiro on the premises. I’m not convinced it’s the one. Heck, he might have multiple houses and this is just the…I dunno, the fancy one for guests or something. He certainly doesn’t go home there every day.”

“Even if that’s the case, it’s still his, right?” Lia asked.

“I mean…I just said it might not be.”

“But you found that place, and Athan found it independently. That means something.”

AEGIS sighed. “All that means is maybe Athan’s source and my source saw the same thing. It doesn’t–“

“It means something,” Lia interrupted with confidence. “You might be right that it’s not where he lives, or where he’s keeping Moon, but you’ve pretty much exhausted looking at IkaCo offices in Tokyo, right? If we’re after Ichiro’s secrets instead of IkaCo’s, maybe we need to look at his holdings instead of theirs.”

AEGIS frown deepened, but she didn’t respond. Instead, she switched the holo feed again, and we saw…

“…uh, what are we looking at here, exactly?” I asked.

“This is the live feed of that address.”

“Why is it…who are they?”

They are all sorts of people. JSDF. SEALs. XPCA. SWC. Spetsnaz.”

“Why are there like, two-hundred special forces guys camped out in this guy’s front yard?”

Two-hundred was probably a low estimate. There were tents set up all inside the walls, and bodies everywhere between them. There were a few cars parked inside, but none which looked like they were for driving — more of the transporting or shooting variety.

“Probably because the inside is full,” she said, tugging her hair. “Something crazy is going on there, and reading between the lines a little bit…we know that IkaCo is one of the world’s premiere weapon suppliers. Ichiro is currently in a panic state with whatever made him feel he had to reach out to his estranged daughter. Terrorists are gunning for him and his. And…” she cleared her throat significantly “…a dangerous Exhuman and his sympathizers recently disappeared in America, with potential motive to come out here and after him.”

“Wait. You’re saying Ichiro is hiring super-elite military forces from around the world to guard his house, because of us?” I turned to her, disbelieving.

“You should be flattered,” Lia giggled.

“Because of all of the things I just said, but yes, you’re on that list,” AEGIS said, pulling at her hair still. “I wouldn’t guess that they think or know they’re being used to guard the house…more than likely, he’s operating under the guise of a weapons expo or something…special forces aren’t typically for sale, but a guy with his wealth and influence can still have anything he wants.”

“Maybe we can sneak in?” Lia asked, sitting upright. “Lots of unfamiliar faces on the property…we might be able to blend in to the crowd.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” AEGIS said, tilting her head as she thought. “But none of us actually look the part. I love your body of course, Athan, but you don’t have the physique of a soldier in peak condition. Maybe Karu could pass, but–“

“It would not work,” she said from the doorway. “I would be identifiable as American in an instant by any of the other groups, and the top echelons of the American special forces are a tightly-knit group, as it were. Any of them would recognize me as an outsider in a heartbeat.”

“They might have extra help in the house? We don’t need to go in as soldiers or officers, necessarily. Maybe just…dropping off a delivery or something.”

“We’re not Asian enough. They’d expect Japanese employees for most everything from local business I imagine,” AEGIS said. “And if we were asked even a simple question, it’d be light’s out for us.”

“We could shoot first,” Karu shrugged. “Not in the ‘engage battle’ sense, but more surreptitiously dispose of any who grew suspicious of our disguises.”

“Yeah, I’m not a fan of anytime Karu proposes we dispose of people. Those are innocent men and women, who have jobs and families,” I commented. Nobody in the room seemed to hear me, each lost in thought, except AEGIS who gave me a small shrug and smile.

“So…sounds to me…” Lia said “like we need someone who looks close enough to Japanese, and can silently deal with any problems they encounter during infiltration. At least until they get far enough in to determine whether or not Moon is on-premises, or otherwise do some intel gathering to give us a better lead.”

Everyone fell silent, looking at Lia like they could neither agree nor disagree with her. I think she said what everyone was thinking, but nobody wanted to say.

The spell was broken by the rattling of the door as it opened and Saga forced her way through with a broken sigh.

“I hate it here,” she commented, sliding into the room on bare feet, and then paused on seeing us. “What? Why are you all staring at me?”

I felt her brush past my mind, making my spine tingle unpleasantly.

“Oh no. You want me to willingly waltz into a few hundred guys who could each beat down my bony backside and lock me up again? Alert all the world governments of my existence and set off a fox chase of which one of them gets to lock me up and experiment on me for the rest of my life, which I remind you, is forever? You’re all out of your collective goddamn minds.”

“Think of it as such,” Karu said “A grand opportunity to mess with a lot of people, with our endorsement.”

“Don’t care about your endorsement, not even a little bit, funbags.”

I spoke up while Karu repeated the last word to herself questioningly. “You’ll be helping us out a lot. You might even save Moon and Tem’s life.”

She looked at me and then yawned obnoxiously.

Lia sat up and grinned.

“Yeah, and what have you got?” Saga said, turning on her.

“Easy. It’s out in the rich districts where there’s way more space than people…and most of the people who are there are American. And AEGIS thinks it’s a trade deal–that means literally everyone there speaks English. You won’t see a distribution like that most anywhere else in Tokyo.”

She waggled her eyebrows while Saga held her head and sighed. I saw, felt her struggling for a few moments to come up with a rebuttal, but her trains of thought kept crashing into the presence of the minds around her, serving only to amplify Lia’s point. At long last, Saga sighed again and sat down.

“Alright. If it means so damn much to you, I’ll go pretend to be a Jap and fuck with people’s heads. Happy now?”

I wasn’t particularly. Saga was, objectively, a horrible, monstrous, and apparently racist-as-fuck person, and unleashing her on a bunch of dudes with guns seemed like an awful idea.

But awful as it was, it was the only idea we had at the moment. And a bad idea had to be better than no idea at all…right?


2 thoughts on “354. 2252, Present Day. Ueno residential district, Tokyo. Athan.

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