Valeriya pulled a lollipop from her pursed lips with a smack. “I wasn’t expecting you. Why the sudden visit?” Holding the candy like a cigarette, she placed her elbow on her desk. Her bright red kimono sleeve draped down the table’s edge.
“I need a place to crash for a few weeks.” Nicolas Estrella removed his damp overcoat and hung it on the rack inside Valeriya’s study.
“Go to a hotel.”
“Don’t be so cold. Aren’t we friends?”
“No. We’re allies. Big difference.”
“This place has a ton of rooms. Can’t you spare a few for me and my guys?”
Valeriya’s Tokyo office had more than twenty floors. Though rather narrow for its height as typical of Japanese structures, it did indeed have many vacant guest rooms. It also had a dojo, shooting range, laboratory, and many other facilities. Valeriya and Mitsuki practically lived there, rarely visiting their few rest houses in Japan.
“Tall order coming from the most wanted man in the Philippines.”
“Hey, I explained my plans beforehand.”
“I didn’t hear anything about you crashing at my place, or about Ken.”
Nick blinked twice and raised an eyebrow. “That’s what you’re angry about?”
“Damn right I am.” Valeriya flipped her desktop monitor and showed the image to Nick. “What did you do to him?”
The display showed a camera feed of the back entrance to the building. A teenage boy, around thirteen or fourteen, practiced some sort of martial art while being pelted by the rain.
“Nothing he didn’t wish for.”
“You’re telling me Ken asked for that?” Valeriya tapped a finger on the boy’s image on screen.
“His new body? The drugs? The training? I’m not sure what you’re asking about exactly.”
“Don’t test me.”
“All of it. I took him in after learning his background from you, but I didn’t force him to do anything. He wanted revenge against Shikimi for killing his sister, so I helped him. That’s all.”
It was actually Valeriya who had ordered Ageha to kill Sumire Minami in the underground arena, but she never explained that to Ken. After Sumire died. she had taken the boy in and placed him in one of her orphanages in Manila, where Nick adopted the boy.
Valeriya had spoken about Ken to Nick because they were allies. Seeing what the boy had become, she regretted that decision.
“Then why is he training in the rain while your other men are lounging around in my lobby?”
“He’s doing that on his own. Says he wants to get used to his ARMS as soon as he can. The kid’s young, but he isn’t stupid enough to run around shadow boxing in a building filled with your overprotective goons.” Nick released a soft chuckle. “I’m not abusing him, Ria. Go ask him if you don’t believe me.”
Valeriya hated people who took advantage of children. At the same time, she valued a youth’s opinion and determination as much as any adult. If the boy truly wished for it, it was not her place to interfere. However, that did not lessen her disgust at Nick’s actions.
“Scum.” She returned her monitor to its original position and closed the surveillance video feed.
“What’s new?” Nick made an exaggerated shrug. “If you plan to fight Nikaido in the future, Ken is going to be very useful. Shikimi won’t fight at his best if he actually cares about this boy like you said he does.”
“That was before. People change. Ageha has a different master and priorities now.”
“You consider that a person?”
“You and I aren’t much different.”
Nick laughed. “Maybe.”
“How long do you plan to be here?”
“About a month. Just until my men finish off the remaining rebels.”
“Rebels? Aren’t you the rebels?”
“Not anymore. Most of the capital and critical transportation routes are under our control. All that remains is cleaning up the trash. These old politicians are like rats. Always there to make a mess, but gone at the first sight of trouble. We’ll get ‘em soon enough, though.”
“A month’s a long time. In fact, this rebellion of yours has gone on way too long.You should’ve waited for a better opportunity. If you gathered the top officials in a building and then blew it up, this would’ve been over in a snap.”
“That would’ve defeated the purpose.”
“What purpose? Isn’t your goal to take over the Philippine government? I remember you teaming up with other rebel groups in Southeast Asia to get weapons and soldiers for that.”
“That’s just the means. You probably won’t believe me if I tell you my true objective.”
“I want to change my country for the better.”
Valeriya burst out laughing, but Nick did not look even remotely offended.
“Thanks, I needed that. I was having a bad day, what with an unwanted visitor and all.”
“Turns out I’m actually serious about it.”
“And that’s why you’re prolonging this rebellion? I don’t get it.”
“There have been several rebellions led by civilians in my country. A few of them even succeeded in deposing corrupt presidents. Things changed for the better, but only for a short time. The face of the government changed, but the rot within the system remained. Do you know why?”
“Because the rot is institutionalized.”
Nick nodded. “Institutions are made up of people and their beliefs. These are the same people who hate corruption enough to rise against it and win, several times even. But everything goes back to square one each time.”
“You’re not planning to kill everyone in the government, are you?”
“Tempting, but no. The nation would collapse if I did that. The really rotten officials will be executed, but that’s just part of the solution. I want to make sure people remember. The ‘rebellions’ I mentioned earlier all ended with almost no bloodshed. The Filipino people even take pride in that, saying it’s a sign of their love for peace or whatever. That’s the problem. Positive changes revert because people forget to protect them. Why? Because they didn’t suffer enough for those changes to happen. ”
I can see where this is going.
While she did not agree, Valeriya understood his reasoning. Tragedy and loss were much more memorable than joy and celebration.
“My people need to bleed to understand the true value of what they fought for. Real revolution is built on blood and bodies, not roadside concerts and colorful banners. The more martyrs there are, the more permanent the change will be. To put it more simply, a man who loses a hand to gain something would work harder to protect it than one who got it for a slap on the wrist.”
“…I take back what I said earlier, Nick. You’re nothing like me and Ageha. You’re more similar to Kaika.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I don’t intend to meddle in your affairs.” Valeriya bit into her candy, breaking it to pieces. She tossed the clean stick in the trash. “You can stay here for a while. Just don’t forget our deal. I help put you into power, but I wield that power when necessary.”
“Didn’t leave my mind for a minute.”
Sakuya stealthily opened the back door. The rain seemed to be easing up, but she brought a small folding umbrella just in case. Staying inside the building bored her, so she occasionally snuck out to kill time.
Opening the umbrella, she walked down the three-step stairway and onto the pavement. There she noticed a boy shadow boxing in the rain.
She knew she was not in the best position to criticize. Being half of a split personality made her more broken than most people. That, and she was a psychotic killer.
He looks delicious.
The boy’s movements were terrible, but his body was clearly enhanced. His clumsy punches and kicks cut the air with a whoosh, showing how powerful they were.
Sakuya loved killing. Animals or people, whatever put up the best fight was the ideal target for her hatred. However, she could not do much in her current state. A teenage girl’s body was not suited for fighting, so she held back from challenging the boy.
She called out to him out of curiosity. “Hey you.”
The boy continued his pointless exercise.
“I’m talking to you.”
He ignored her still.
Pissed off, Sakuya came closer and tripped him as he was about to launch a kick. Losing his balance, the boy toppled over and crashed to the wet ground.
He looked up at Sakuya with seething hatred in his eyes, but it was not directed at her. Being an avenger herself, she could tell those swirling jet black pools were pointed at something else, something unreachable. He was similar to her in that sense.
The boy stood up and resumed his practice. Being four inches shorter, Sakuya had to look up to glare at him.
“Don’t ignore me.”
“I’m busy. Please don’t bother me.”
“Busy with what?”
“Are you blind? I’m training.”
“That isn’t training. It’s a waste of time.”
The boy did not reply. He thrust out his fists and feet with even more vigor, his soaked clothes flicking water around him. Sakuya casually dodged the spray with a single step.
“Doing it harder won’t help. Practice makes perfect, but practicing the wrong way means you’ll get perfectly wrong results.”
The boy turned his head, eyes wide. Even Sakuya felt surprised by her own words. She was not the type to care about others except when she intended to kill them.
This must be Mitsuki’s doing…
Sakuya had become more and more active recently, taking about half the time Mitsuki’s body was awake. At first, she thought she was slowly stealing control from the original personality, not that she wanted to do such a thing, but a number of odd changes came with the shift.
First, her desire to kill had been dialed down a few degrees. Instead of a constant, irresistible urge, it was more of an occasional craving. Second, Mitsuki began remembering some of the things Sakuya did as dreams. Third, she could consciously relinquish control to Mitsuki as long as the latter wished for it. Finally, Sakuya started to take interest in things Mitsuki enjoyed.
“ARMS are attachments to your body at best,” she said. “They don’t work exactly like the real thing.”
The boy stopped training and turned to her.
“Finally in the mood to listen?”
“…I’ll do anything to become stronger.”
Sakuya giggled. “You remind me of someone. That girl is way more talented than you though.”
“I know I have no talent. But I need to get stronger anyway.”
The boy stepped back warily. “How did you know that?”
“Don’t joke with me. Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Sakuya, the daughter of this building’s owner.” She pointed her thumb at the towering structure behind her. “And you are?”
Realizing their respective positions, the boy changed his tone. “My name is Ken Minami. I’m one of Nick’s, I mean, Nicolas Estrella’s attendants.”
“Why are you wasting your time in this back alley?”
“Like I said, I’m training. I have no time to waste if I want to survive in this horrible world.”
“You look like you’re about to break down in tears at any moment.”
“That’s because I’m broken inside.”
“Then go ahead and cry. Maybe you’ll feel better and get rid of that annoying expression.”
“Even if I wanted to, my tears have dried up.”
“Wow. So dark and emo.”
Ken blushed. “Can you blame me!? Some bastard killed my sister!”
“I was forcefully adopted by the person who crushed my father’s neck in front of me.”
“Why are you apologizing?” Sakuya tilted her head. Seeing the rain stop, she folded up her umbrella and tossed it to the stairs. “Anyway, the key to fighting using artificial limbs is imagery. There’s an inherent and irreconcilable difference between human nerves and muscles compared to alloy ones. Practicing movement should begin from the very basics. Forcing yourself to use old muscle memory will get you nowhere. At least that’s what Gen said.”
“My mechanic. Here.” Sakuya placed a hand on Ken’s shoulder and grabbed his wrist. “Don’t just think, ‘I’m gonna punch!’ Instead, imagine each movement your shoulder, hips, arm, and wrist are supposed to do. Then do them while watching your body to adjust for discrepancies. Try it.”
Ken obediently did as told. “Like this?”
“Yep. Did you notice how your elbow is twisting inward? Focus on preventing that. Again.”
He thrust his hand out, this time with better form than before. “That… felt good.”
“Right? Now try with the other arm.”
With a sharp whipping sound, he executed a blindingly fast straight punch.
“Hmm… Not bad for an amateur. You’re making me wanna kill you.”
“Ah, nevermind. Just talking to myself.” Sakuya stepped back and watched him alternate punches. “You seem to have some martial arts training.”
“Yeah. My father taught me and my sister when we were kids. After he passed away, Sumire-nee sometimes gave me lessons. Just the basics though. I’m trying to learn from Nick’s men by watching their training, but I’m not getting anywhere.”
“Obviously. If people could get stronger just by watching, then everyone in the world would be masters.”
She decided not to mention she was an exception to that rule.
“C-Can you teach me some more?”
Sakuya thought about it. She had time to kill, and this was interesting in its own right. The idea that leaks from Mitsuki’s personality drove her to think this way annoyed Sakuya, but that did not change the fact that she felt the way she did.
“Thanks for seeing me,” said Mashiro.
“I happened to have some free time.” Kaika placed her clasped hands on her spacious desk. “What brings you over?”
Kaika Nikaido’s office at the top of NGC’s Tokyo headquarters was unnaturally large. Along the entire wall behind Kaika, glass windows extended to the ceiling providing a breathtaking view of the city. The furnishing left nothing to be desired, from the spacious lounge area to the fully stocked bar, not to mention the out of place entertainment section with multiple game consoles strewn about. It was the exact opposite of Mashiro’s office, which only had the bare necessities.
Mashiro had a hard time setting up a meeting with Kaika in person. Despite the extensive furnishing, the teenage tycoon rarely commuted to this office. The CEO was always at home, where she did not take business appointments, or on the road. Mashiro had called the NGC office every day to check if Kaika was in, and today that finally paid off.
“I wanted to get your opinion on a few things that are bothering me.”
Kaika showed her a welcoming smile. “Certainly. I’d be glad to help Max’s friend. Please take a seat.”
“If it’s okay with you, I’d rather stand. I’ve been sitting in meetings all day.”
The topic she was about to broach might lead to her being detained by security personnel. Staying on her feet might not make much of a difference, but it still made Mashiro feel less vulnerable.
“Of course. Would you like a drink? Tea perhaps?”
“Please don’t mind me. At the risk of sounding rude, I’d rather go straight into the topic.”
Kaika widened her round eyes, as if caught off guard by Mashiro’s eagerness. “By all means.”
“I wanted to ask about two things: Your engagement with Max, and your personal chef Ageha Shikimi.”
“What about them?” Kaika seemed genuinely curious.
“What are you planning to do after getting engaged to Max?”
“Get married, of course. Is that a trick question or something?”
“Please don’t play dumb. I know you have an ulterior motive. Are you planning to gain influence in the American government through his mother Senator Garvey?”
“It may seem that way from an outsider, but no, I’m planning no such thing. I like Max. I wouldn’t say I’m head over heels for him, but considering our social standings, it’s a good engagement. If my father were alive, he’d probably pick him too.”
Mashiro was taken aback by how easily Kaika admitted that. She had expected her to pretend she was deeply in love with Max.
“So your ARMS dealings with the U.S. military have nothing to do with it?”
“I’m not sure where you got that information. That’s confidential.”
“I have my sources.”
“I can’t say they’re completely unrelated. I met Max because I have business contracts with Rachel.” Kaika erased her smile and narrowed her eyes. “I don’t understand where you’re getting these ideas. To be honest, I’m quite offended.” Her voice carried a hint of irritation and coldness absent just seconds ago.
“It has to do with the other reason for my visit, Ageha Shikimi. I did some research on him-”
“I’m not letting him go. I can’t go on for a day without his cooking. Geez, you headhunters are so persistent.”
“I’m not trying to hire him!”
“Eh? Then what’s this about?”
“Like I said, I investigated Shikimi’s background.”
“Uh, why are you investigating my personal chef?”
“Because he isn’t just your personal chef, is he?”
“How did you know he’s my sex slave!?”
“He’s also your bodygua… He’s what!?” Mashiro stomped her foot in shock.
“Just a little joke to lighten the mood. Don’t get all maidenly on me.”
Mashiro coughed to regain her bearings. “Let me start from the beginning. I was kidnapped a little over a week ago.”
“Okay, that escalated quickly.”
“Please let me finish.”
“Sorry, couldn’t resist.”
“As I was saying, I was kidnapped, but a masked man rescued me from my captors. He murdered all of them in the blink of an eye and left the scene as abruptly as he appeared.”
“I’m not seeing the link.”
“The old TV show? Can you elaborate? I don’t watch reality TV.”
“No! Shikimi’s voice! He has the same voice as the man who saved me. Not only that, the masked man spoke English with a Japanese accent.”
“So you’re saying they’re the same person?” Kaika shook her head. “That’s a stretch.”
“Yes, that’s not enough evidence to prove anything. But it was a good starting point.” Mashiro placed a file on Kaika’s desk. “This is everything I got from the investigation.”
Kaika leaned back in her chair as she flipped through the document.
“There were many missing persons cases in the Tokyo area in the past five years. That by itself is nothing special, but there was a sudden drop in that number starting last year. The decrease is unnatural. No new changes to policy or law enforcement account for this difference. Not only that, if you pivot by demographic, a particular group stands out as having dramatically more disappearances.”
“Interesting. What demographic?”
“Successful, middle-aged men. The type of person that doesn’t normally vanish into thin air. But it happened more often in Tokyo than any other Japanese city in the past five years. There was no logical explanation for it. That is, until I saw Shikimi’s employment record. The sudden drop happened around the time you hired him as a personal chef.”
“You watch too many cop dramas.”
“Yes, but that has nothing to do with this.”
“Do you know how many people I hired that very same day? Not to mention every other employer in Tokyo.”
“There’s more. Some of his former coworkers at the Italian restaurant Sapore said he might be involved in his rival chef Matsunaga’s disappearance.”
“I also got the security camera videos from my kidnapper’s place. They show the masked man coming in and out of the estate. His height, build, and hair match Shikimi’s.”
“So do millions of other Japanese men.”
“But the thing that tipped me off the most was what the masked man said to me. I guess I need to give you some context. My friend Makoto Kaburagi was abducted along with me. He was shot during the incident.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Ah, no, he’s still unconscious, but the doctor says he’ll be okay.”
“That’s good news. I hope he gets well soon.”
“Thank you.” Mashiro felt sincerity in Kaika’s words. A twinge of guilt pulled at her heart as she continued her interrogation. “Getting back on topic, Makoto was unconscious on the ground when the masked man entered the room we were in. Before he left, he told me that my friend was still alive, clearly referring to Makoto.” Mashiro took a step closer and leaned over the edge of Kaika’s table. “But there was no way for him to know that the man on the ground was my friend unless he knew us. That narrows down the list of suspects significantly. Shikimi fits all the conditions I stated so far.”
“Cool story. It would almost sound convincing if there wasn’t the more obvious conclusion that your mysterious killer assumed you were friends since he didn’t injure Makoto. But I’ll play along. Let’s pretend it’s all true. What does it have to do with my engagement with Max?”
“It calls into question your character and goals. You employed Shikimi soon after your father’s untimely death. Then your brothers quickly followed him to the grave, leading to your promotion to NGC CEO. I don’t think you need me to spell it out.”
Mashiro watched Kaika carefully. All of the evidence was circumstantial, so her best bet was to incite a reaction from Kaika and record it with her receiver and mobile, just like she did in some of her previous negotiations. She had insisted on meeting her in person for that purpose.
Kaika sighed. “Is this some sort of attempt at ruining my engagement with Max? Do you like him or something?”
“Wha- What gives you that idea!?”
“I’m disappointed in you, Oogi-san.” Kaika slid the document across her wide desk, hitting the hem of Mashiro’s blazer. “You come in here with this fantasy novel and accuse me and my chef based on circumstantial evidence. I was impressed by your sense of justice when you defended Saya at the party, but now I see that was nothing but a manifestation of your messiah complex. Is Max your current target for salvation? Maybe America?” She snorted.
“To make matters worse, you try to trap me by recording our conversation.”
Mashiro unconsciously reached for her jacket pocket.
“So you really were doing something that stupid.” Kaika shook her head. “For your information, I can block out all signals coming in and out of this office at the press of a button, so wireless transfers are useless here. That precaution is standard for people in my position.” She sent a reproachful glare at her visitor. “This is my office, my building, Mashiro Oogi. I’m going to ask nicely. Please delete that recording here and now. I don’t want you hurting Max by letting him hear what I said about our engagement. I invited you to my office and you tried to stab me in the back, so this is really more than you deserve. But you’re still his friend. I may not be in love with him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care for him and what he values.”
In the span of a few seconds, Kaika had turned the tables around completely. Cornered, Mashiro could go no further with what she had and was forced to retreat.
“I understand.” Mashiro tossed the small recording device on the table and deleted the recording on her phone. She could not use anything Kaika said during the meeting anyway.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other things to attend to.” Kaika focused on her desktop monitor. “I don’t have as much free time as some people.”
“Thank you for seeing me despite the short notice. Until next time.” Mashiro left Kaika’s office and walked down the long hallway to the elevator.
She hid a small smile before it surfaced, afraid of being caught on the hallway cameras. She boarded the elevator and relaxed her shoulders. She had a reason to be satisfied. The first round had ended in a tie.
I’m worried about Max, but this is much larger than that.
That girl is planning something.
She came in only half-convinced about her own theories. It was hard to believe a young girl like Kaika could pull off so many amazing feats in the span of a year. But after seeing the girl in action firsthand, Mashiro was now completely convinced that Kaika was a terrifying foe in a tiny frame. No one else seemed to be aware of Kaika’s plans. Nothing stood between her and success, whatever that entailed.
I have to stop her.
“You can come out now,” said Kaika.
Ageha’s head popped out from between her legs. “That took forever.” He pushed Kaika’s chair forward and emerged from underneath her desk.
“I can’t believe you’re complaining when you were face to face with a maiden’s crotch the whole time.”
“I see you’re still diligent with your shaving. Smooth as silk.”
“I don’t shave my legs. Never got much hair on them.”
“I didn’t mean your legs.”
“Oh that part. How did you even see that? It’s under my skirt.”
Ageha tapped the corner of his right eye. “Night vision.”
“Forgot about that.”
“Don’t go commando with a skirt. Or at work for that matter.”
“I’ll think about it. Underwear is a pain sometimes. No one sees it anyway.”
“I saw something else because of that laziness, though.”
“Nothing you haven’t seen before. And it’s not like I’ll let just anyone under my desk, commando or not.”
He was at the NGC building to pick up Saya, but her meeting was running long. Ageha had been waiting for her in Kaika’s office when Mashiro showed up.
“Come to think of it, why did I have to hide under the table?”
“It’d be bad if Mashiro saw you in here.”
“You knew she was coming up, right? I could’ve left your office before she got here.”
“That wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting!”
“As perverted as usual.”
“More importantly, you have some explaining to do.”
“…Sorry, I just had to do it.”
Ageha narrated the events of the night he killed Donald Mitchell.
“You just had to kill a VIP on American soil, huh? I knew you were hiding something, but to think it’d be something like this. Now we have little miss detective hot on our heels. Since you technically saved the SecDef’s daughter, it might not turn into a total mess even if it gets out, but it’ll still be a lot of trouble.”
“I said I’m sorry.”
“I get why you did it, but why didn’t you tell me?”
“You wouldn’t approve.”
“You got that right. I’m not gonna force you to tell me everything you do, but you should’ve been more careful. She recognized your voice!”
Ageha’s helmet naturally muffled his voice, but he had chosen not to wear his headgear and armor during that mission to prioritize stealth and speed.
“I wasn’t planning on talking, at least not to anyone that’d survive. It just ended up that way.”
“You could’ve at least growled to prevent her from recognizing your voice.”
“Next you’ll ask me to wear a cape.”
“Hey that’s a good id-”
“Too bad. Back on topic, what’s with that incriminating line about her friend? That’s beyond careless.”
“If I didn’t speak up, Makoto would’ve died. Mashiro was too panicked to realize he was still breathing and needed medical attention.”
“Bunch of hero-wannabes.” Kaika clicked her tongue.
“I heard that.”
“I wanted you to hear it. And how many people did you kill before we met that you’re statistically significant!?”
“Good thing I knew she was sniffing around about us.”
“Did she trip your info net?”
“Nope. She used channels I don’t know about. I found out because Rin called me saying someone asked her about you. I put two and two together when Mashiro mentioned your name.”
“Rin didn’t say anything to me.”
“You’re the ex. I’m the BFF.”
“Don’t say that word. It’s disgusting coming from you.”
“One of these days, I’ll shave your head while you’re asleep.”
“Might be a good idea. Saya will have one less way to attack me.”
“Please don’t. I was kidding. Saya will hang me by my twintails if you did that.” Kaika clasped her fingers and raised her arms up for a stretch. “Let me guess, you got the information on Mitchell from Ria.”
“How much did that cost you?”
“Nothing with zeros.”
“That’s the most expensive kind of bill. C’mon, out with it.”
“She asked me to invite Mei Xing and his family to Arashi’s surprise party.”
They had been planning it in secret. Arashi no longer remembered the exact date of her birthday because she never celebrated it after her mother disappeared years ago. Saya had checked her birth certificate and suggested the surprise event.
“What’s that blond fox plotting this time?”
Valeriya told Ageha she wanted to meet Mei Xing in person to improve her ties with the Chinese triads. Knowing her, the chances of that being the whole truth was next to zero. Either way, that was not the answer Kaika was looking for.
Ageha shrugged. “Beats me. It’s your job to figure that out.”
“Says the mouth that got us into this mess in the first place.” Kaika stood on her chair and pinched his lips together.
“Shtop thaht. I’ll khiss yooh if yooh dhon’t.”
She spread her arms wide, welcoming him. “Go ahead.”
“I thought you didn’t like me that way.”
“I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find you attractive. Who declines a little smack from a hot guy? Don’t worry, I’ll keep it a secret from Saya. I don’t want Max finding out either.”
Hey, Kaika was cute as seven hells.
“Gotcha.” Kaika waved around a small device. “A little gift from Mashiro. It kept recording everything, including that last reply of yours. Oh, and the night vision part too. Good thing this model saves data internally and doesn’t transmit anything. Would’ve had to turn it off otherwise.”
“You little…” Ageha reached for it.
Kaika stopped him with her other hand and wagged her index finger. “Uh-uh. Even if you grab this, can you really lie to Saya and deny what you said if I tell on you?”
“It’s just a little insurance to stop you from going berserk like this time.” Kaika pocketed the device. “I can’t believe you fell for such a dumb trick though.”
“Speaking of that, how did you know Mashiro was recording your conversation? Do you have some kinda scanner installed in this room?”
“Of course not. She admitted to liking cop dramas, and the recording trope is overused in those stories. I just cast a net at the right spot. The jamming system I mentioned was also a bluff.”
“Have I ever told you how scary you are?”
“Have I ever told you the same thing?”
They shrugged at the same time.
“Still, that girl is dangerous,” said Kaika. “She managed to sniff out our tracks, and worse, she looks determined to get in my way.”
“You handled her fine.”
“Did it really seem that way to you?” Kaika shot him a criticizing look. “I screwed up. Now she knows I’m capable of everything she accused me of. The best way to handle that situation was too act like a dumb teen and push all the credit to Saya.”
“Why didn’t you do that then?”
“I’m not sure. For some reason, my pride won’t allow me to play the idiot in front of that fool.”
“She’s a lot of things, but she’s not a fool.”
“Idealists are fools, Ageha. I thought you of all people knew that.”
“I thought so too, but maybe the world is a larger place than either of us thought.”
“She’s more dangerous than you think. Putting aside her abilities, she has ridiculous luck.”
“I didn’t think you believed in the supernatural.”
“I don’t. I’m speaking from a purely statistical standpoint. With billions of people around, there’s bound to be someone who gets the long end of the stick every time. The odds of you showing up to save her and her boyfriend that night were astronomically low, but it happened. Some people are just chosen.”
“Like you are?”
Kaika glared at him.
“My bad.” Ageha closed his eyes and nodded in place of a bow. “That was a terrible joke.”
He knew how hard Kaika worked and how much she had sacrificed to get to where she was now. Calling her chosen belittled all that. Then again, the same applied to how she treated Mashiro. Perhaps Kaika had been unwilling to recognize Mashiro’s achievements because they stood on polar sides of the moral spectrum.
“I’ll forgive you if you kill her.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. Max respects her a lot. I don’t think she can persuade him to cancel our engagement, but her interference adds an extra variable I don’t want. Even the SecDef can’t do anything if we hide our tracks well enough. I’ll come up with a plan to make it happen.”
Ageha considered the risk of letting someone who knew about their misdeeds on the loose. Then he recalled Mashiro’s figure when she shot him in defense of her lover’s killer.
“Sorry, Kai. I can’t.”
“You gave up surprisingly fast.”
“I haven’t given up. Right now, you’ve been enamored by that bitch’s justice pheromones. I just have to think of a way to knock you to your senses.”