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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

Aibō da kara: Because He is My (I am His) Partner - Part 1

Updated: Mar 2, 2022


For those of you who are new to this, let me declare once and for all - I love Ginoza Nobuchika. He is my special interest. He is my babey. He is the ultimate fodder for all my deviancies. I fall asleep every night after plugging in the latest Nobuchika DVD from the endless archive of headcanons and alternate realities I have stored in my brain and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.


This fic was originally written for the Whumptober challenge issued by the good people at Whumptober 2021 on Tumblr. I managed to finish it sometime in early January. Because I am just that good. But very little of this would have been possible were it not for two ah-mazing writer-editor-beta reader friends I only know as Auriond and JediofBooksandSnacks on Tumblr and Discord. These two human persons gave me strength and the desire to carry on when a lot of things were going terribly for me - I will forever be in their debt for being the kindest, most helpful strangers I have ever come across on the internet. Also, Auriond-sama designed the Uta character sketch for this fic. I just coloured it in, like the artistic infant I am.


One last thing before the story begins, this is not the first time I have written Uta and Ginoza. If you are curious about the one that started this current obsession, you can read about how the time Ginoza finds himself in a dire predicament in the middle of a red-light district and how Uta ends up making him soup in Stuck-up Son of a-


Meanings for all Japanese terms and words included at the end. I have stuck to Japanese naming conventions where the surname/family name comes first and the first name after. Go ahead and read now.


No, wait! Trigger Warnings: violence, mentions and descriptions of sexual assault, torture, death and suicidal ideation, homophobia, violence, explosions, guns, blood, gore, burning, more blood, injury, serious injury, nakedness and did I mention violence?


Okay, now you can read.


Summary


Being Ginoza Nobuchika’s partner is both a blessing and a curse for Division 1’s Junior Inspector Yamako Uta. She takes it as it comes though, doing her best to not let her partner’s many acrimonious quirks rain on her parade. If you can believe it, over the past year, she’s even managed to get close to the man. And now he manages to drive her up the wall only 3 times a week, as opposed to every single hour.


But when Division 1 goes missing after a blast in Shinjuku, Uta must sift through memories and use every inch of her considerable Ginoza-knowledge to find her way back to them and find out what it truly means to be Ginoza Nobuchika's partner.



Japan 2113.09


Chapter 1


9:50 AM, Shinjuku


“Where is he?”


“You’re not in Yokohama, are you?”


“Where is he?”


“Are you sure you want to know?”


“Where is he?”


“Yamako Kanshikan, you need to be more careful or- ”


“I don’t fucking care! JUST TELL ME WHERE THE FUCK GINOZA NOBUCHIKA IS!”



Three hours ago…


The train to Yokohama is making perfect time.


With luck, Uta can stop off for a coffee and croissant at Ore no Furenchu before heading for her job interview at the Ministry of Information.


It had been weird, when this job opening popped up in her mailbox. Sybil-recommended. Not like Uta is shopping for a career change. But a new job at a new department? A lead position? Sounded marvellous to her. Also helps that being a Public Liaison Officer with the Ministry of Information pays a whole lot more than being Division 1’s junior inspector. And frankly, was far less likely to get her killed.


The people in charge are old-fashioned, she’s told. Preferring in-person conversations to interviews over holo. Like any reasonable person. But Uta supposes that if she is going to work for them, she better get used to their ways. She set up an appointment for the following week, on her day off. But they had called her last night to reschedule to today.


Whatever. The sooner the better, right?


Her files have already been sent across. With Chief Kasei’s stamp of approval, because what could that heartless crone do when Sybil System itself recommended Uta for the job? And with an astonishingly glowing recommendation from her favourite stuck-up-son-of-a-bitch - Ginoza Nobuchika. Uta had expected greater resistance there, to be honest. Because her partner isn’t exactly good at letting go.


But it’s not like he can complain about her leaving. Not when he is all but confirmed for a promotion at the end of the year. Ten years in the service and all. Not even thirty yet.


Again, whatever.


Uta is bloody ah-mazing. Even if she is a little bit of a late bloomer. Point is, this cushy job with all the perks in the world is going to be hers. She deserves it.


The train is just pulling up at Yokohama-eki when Uta gets the call.



9:51 AM, Shinjuku


She had left her division alone for two hours.


Two hours!


And now there was a hole the size of an Olympic swimming pool in the middle of Shinjuku and nearly all PSB were officers on-ground trying to lower Area Stress.


If Risa hadn’t called her…


Uta had taken the first hypercar she could rent and rushed back to Tokyo. She was at the scene now, desperately trying to get a trace on her team while Division 2 investigated the blast and Division 3 ran search-and-rescue. No deaths had been reported yet, thankfully. Plenty of people needed to be taken in for mental care though. In her job, this was a good thing. Calming down stressed people before they became latent criminals. But Uta couldn’t care less.


Division 1 had gone silent since the blast.


None of her calls connected. Not to Nobuchika. Not to Yayoi, Kougami, Masaoka or Kagari. Not to Tsunemori Kanshikan, the rookie who had supposedly been filling in for her today. They were all offline. Which could mean one of two things.

  1. Everyone was dead.

  2. Some of them, specifically the inspectors, were dead. Or incapacitated. And the enforcers were in the wind.

Neither of those was a particularly palatable scenario.


Which is why Uta had almost cried with relief when her wristlink rang with Ginoza’s grumpy face on the ID. But instead of Nobuchika, it was Kagari Shikkokan on the line.


And his smarmy tone and vague responses were not helping clear her hue any.


“Kagari, I swear to the System -”


“Fine. Kung Pao noodles.”


“W-what?”


“Kung-Pao-Noodles. If Yamako Kanshikan is as smart as Gino-sensei thinks she is… she’ll figure it out.”



Three months ago…


As usual, Uta doesn’t hear about it from Nobuchika himself.


If it wasn’t for Yayoi “accidentally” bumping in to her as she walks out of the bathroom, she would never have heard about it at all. Turns out the enforcement they had performed that morning had not been as routine as Ginoza had reported.


What happened in the morning was this: Uta had gone off with Kougami and Masaoka to take down the runners who were attempting to smuggle kids out of a trafficking den. Ginoza had taken Yayoi and Kagari to wrap up the heads of the operation. They had the element of surprise. They had the Dominators. There was nothing to worry about.


But what Yayoi tells her is not consistent with the way things were reported. She tells Uta about Kagari losing control. Dropping his Dominator to chase down a middle-aged man. Ginoza ordering Yayoi to bring him back.


“When we returned,” Yayoi says, “Ginoza Kanshikan was not at the spot I left him at. We tried to establish contact, when we couldn’t, I asked Shion to send us a live location. It took us fifteen minutes to relocate them.”


Yayoi stops speaking and looks at Uta, her face betraying nothing.


“And then?”


“I don’t feel comfortable sharing this with you, since Ginoza Kanshikan did not mention this in the report.”


“Did he explicitly order you not to tell me?”


“Not as such. But it was heavily implied.”


“If you don’t want to tell me, why are you even here Yayoi?”


“Because I think you should know.”


“Then report Shikkokan.”


“When we relocated Ginoza Kanshikan, he was on the ground, motionless. We emerged about fifteen feet from him. I could see that his shirt was torn apart and that his trousers were… pulled down. His face was turned towards us. So I could see that he was cognizant. His glasses had fallen off. The criminal…” Yayoi's jaw tightened for a second, before she continued her professional summary of the incident. “The criminal was on top of the inspector. Grunting like an animal, thrusting his hips against-”


“That’s enough. I get it. The criminal was sexually assaulting Ginoza Kanshikan. Continue.”


“Before I could do anything, Shuusei, I mean Kagari Shikkokan ran ahead and pushed the man off of Ginoza Kanshikan. Then I raised my Dominator. The criminal had a crime coefficient of 180. So I shot him with the paralyser. The man must have been on a stimulant, however, because the paralyser didn’t affect him. He came at Kagari, who shot him too. The second shot too made no difference other than enraging the assailant further. He pounced on Kagari… That’s when Ginoza Kanshikan shot him. It was a lethal enforcement, as reported.”




Uta squeezes her forehead between her fingers.


“That son of a bitch told me his clothes tore during the struggle.” Which, technically is true. But that doesn’t make Yayoi’s version any less horrifying. “When will that man learn to fucking trust me!”


Uta finds herself yelling at an empty hallway. Yayoi has walked in to the bathroom. Angry as she is, she still has to give the woman some credit. Of course, Ginoza would get suspicious if the two of them lingered too long out of his sight. Well, to hell with that. Uta marches back to the Division 1 office with the full intention of giving her partner the dressing down he deserves for keeping such vital information from her.


What she ends up doing is nothing.


Because when she enters the office and looks, truly looks at her partner, what she sees is a young man sitting at a stupidly massive desk, in PSB tracks two sizes too big, holding himself together out of sheer stubbornness. Even after nearly nine months of working with him, Uta still struggles to figure out what he is feeling or thinking at any given point. Because reading this book called Ginoza Nobuchika requires a certain grit. You have to keep staring at the page, reading the same line over and over again till the words blur together and some new meaning emerged. People don’t have that kind of time. Heck, Uta doesn’t have that kind of time. And she sure as hell can’t figure why she even bothers. Or why she feels guilty when he is the one keeping secrets from her.


Instead of confronting him, she ends up yanking her chair out, with more force than is strictly necessary. Then ignoring said chair she grabs some unnecessary object from her desk and goes over to place it on his.


“Is… everything alright?” Ginoza asks, almost too quietly, watching her from behind those stupid glasses.


See, this is what is unfair. Why is he allowed to make out that she’s upset when she doesn’t even notice what’s going on with him?


“Yeah, everything’s fine,” she says, struggling to keep her hands from turning into fists, “kung pao tonight?”


Ever since she had decided to be Ginoza Nobuchika’s friend instead of just his co-worker some three months ago now - a process that literally involved submitting a report to her partner about Sybil System guidelines on extracurricular activities and relationships with co-workers - the two of them make some serious efforts to “hang-out.” Well, Ginoza makes most of the efforts. Turns out her favourite son of a bitch is as much a stickler for rules and structure in his personal life as he is at work. A shared meal. Every Wednesday night. The one day between their weekly offs. From the same live noodle place in Chiyoda-ku, midway between both their residences. Uta tries different things on the menu. Ginoza always orders noodles with kung pao sauce, shichimi on the side. Who would have guessed the most stuck up son of a bitch on the planet has a thing for spicy food?


It’s like clockwork. Their routine. Ginoza’s routine to be honest. Uta just doesn’t bother fighting it. Today is not kung-pao Wednesday. Uta asks anyway. For reasons she doesn’t fully understand. And she fully expects a refusal. And one of those blood-curdling glares to boot.


What she gets is a soft hmm of assent.


Hours later, when they are just about to leave another alert comes in for Division 1. The screen flashes:


Assault in Akasaka, Minato-ku



9:55 AM, Shinjuku


The screen went blank. A small blip indicated that the caller was now offline.


Uta cussed in every language she knew how to cuss in. Then stopped mid-cuss.


Nobuchika’s love of kung pao was a very well-kept secret. Kagari mentioning it just now was no coincidence. Had Nobuchika designated kung pao their emergency safeword without consulting her? If so, what was she supposed to do with it?


“Uta-chan? Any news yet?”


Uta looked up to see Risa standing next to her. The Division 2 inspector looked equal parts tired and annoyed.


“I’m not sure,” Uta said, “You find out anything on the blast?”


“The battery of a parked car exploded due to overcharging.”


“What? That’s ridiculous. Cars have fail-safes to prevent-”


Uta’s words died as Risa turned to her, anger burning in her eyes.


“That’s the official conclusion,” Risa says through gritted teeth, “The case is closed.”


“But Division 1-”


“Was never here.”


“That’s bullshit. Of course they were! You said so yourself!”


“And what I am saying now is,” Risa’s voice went low as she looked intently into Uta’s eyes, “There is no record of Division 1 being deployed to Shinjuku this morning. All officers have been asked to report back to HQ.”


“I can’t go back. I have to find them.”


“Well, as per the records,” this time Risa gave Uta a slight smile, “You are still in Yokohama.”


With that Risa turned around and walked away.



Chapter 2


10:15 AM, Chiyoda-ku


A Tokyo-wide curfew was in effect.


It tended to happen after Area Stress Alerts the size of today’s Shinjuku scare. Common wisdom being that forcing citizens to stay home - cowering in the absence of information - is it a terror attack, is it a drill, did the Martians finally attack? - in the wake of emergencies reduces the chances of a Psycho Hazard. And of course, it makes the movement of PSB officials easier.


The noodle shop street was empty.


And Yamako Uta was very annoyed at her gut for leading her here. Maybe Nobuchika regaled the other enforcers with tales of his culinary adventures when she was not around. Maybe that’s how Kagari knew about the kung pao noodles. Maybe…


Maybe she was simply overthinking her process and just needed to get down to action.


She marched up to the noodle shop and for lack of any better way to announce herself, she kicked the shutter rigorously. If she imagined Kagari’s smug face when she did so, that was her own business.


It took three more minutes of kicking the corrugated steel before a bleary-eyed restaurant worker slid the shutter open for her. Before she could announce her CID credentials, the irate person thrust something at her and, very rudely, asked her to fuck off, because there was a curfew and they didn’t have time to play these silly games. Taken aback for a moment, Uta looked down at what had been handed to her. It was crumpled card paper, the kind that only artists used nowadays. The kind that Masaoka seemed to acquire endless reams of for his watercolour experiments. She could feel something hard within it. She undid the paper.


Inside was a key.


Like an actual key-shaped key. Like a hard metal key-key. Who the hell used these things anymore?


On the paper was an even more baffling clue - a series of numbers.

3570011395760


What the absolute hell!


Uta understood now, on a spiritual level, why Ginoza was always so angry. If something needed to be done, their bloody team would make sure to find the most convoluted way to do it. That is what’s you got sticking too many high intelligence baboons in a cage with no enrichment! She didn’t even have the luxury of congratulating herself on her hunch paying off. Uta took a deep, calming breath. Her nerves were on edge and she was channelling them in to rage. That’s all this was. In reality, she was a serene, calm body of water.


Fuck, is this how Nobuchika felt all the time? No, no. She couldn’t start thinking about her partner’s feelings. He wasn’t fucking here, was he? And wherever he was, he was certainly not thinking about how she was feeling right now, was he?


No, she had to solve this her own way. Which meant she had to think. Serene, calm body of water.


She rejected her first instinct of calling Shion. The analyst would no doubt be able to tell her what those numbers meant. But the fact that Kagari had led her here and left a message in analogue meant either:

  1. He was spending way too much time with Kougami, who still printed out case files and read paperbacks like this was the 2020s

  2. They needed to keep this off the radar and away from the System’s eyes…

Shit…


What had her team gotten themselves into? Uta suppressed that line of thought. That way lay disaster and rise in her crime coefficient if she wasn’t careful. No, stick with the clues. Find the solution to the question in front of you. One step at a time. No jumping to worse-case scenarios.


Numbers. A Key. A number? A stupidly large number. Offline. Can't look it up. What kind of number can’t be looked up? A number that would physically appear somewhere. Where? Where would it appear…



Four months ago…


“Wait! Hey, wait for me!”


Ginoza keeps walking. Uta has to almost jog to keep up. He walks into the elevator and Uta is forced to do a skip-hop thingy to get in before the doors close on her.


“Why are you so angry?”


Ginoza doesn’t answer her, just keeps glaring at the steel doorway.


“What the hell happened? Why won’t you talk to me?”


“I can’t.”


“What do you mean?”


He goes back to being silent.


“What did Kasei tell you?” Uta insists, getting desperate. “Did one of the enforcers do something? Did Division 1 piss her off again? We solved the case dammit, with no loss of life…”


The elevator chimes and the doors open. They have reached the enforcers quarters.


Uta gives it one last shot. She reaches out and grabs Ginoza’s arm before he can disembark.


“Why do you always have to shut me out! I’m your fucking partner!”


For a second Ginoza stills and Uta thinks she has made a breakthrough. Then he looks up at her. Uta catches a hint of something else beneath the cold anger in his eyes. Something that takes her completely unawares. Something looks uncannily like fear.


“Ginoza, what is going on? Please tell me.”


“I can’t,” he repeats.


He wrests his arm away from her. He marches, shoulders hunched, to the room Masaoka Tomomi occupies. Uta follows, a lot slower. Ginoza enters without announcing himself. Beyond him Uta sees Masaoka and Kougami jump up. She sees the whiskey glasses on the table between them. They were clearly unwinding after a hard day when their inspectors decided to rain on their parade. Ginoza does not stop to talk to them. Or notice how close they had been sitting. How Masaoka had placed himself before Kougami, almost protectively. He marches past them to the back wall that is covered with paper print-outs. Pictures from their case files. Articles from the anarchist commufields they had been investigating. A large map with an area marked out in red. That’s all Uta has time to see before Ginoza rips all of it off the walls with a violence she has never seen from him.


“Ginoza, what the hell!” Uta yells.


It makes no difference.


Ginoza continues to tear out whatever the heck that was. He doesn’t stop there. He goes to the kitchen area and brings back a metal garbage bin. He stuffs the paper in there. He gets Kougami’s lighter from the table. Grabs a larger sheet and sets it on fire. He waits till the flames nearly reach his hand and then drops it in the bin. Everything burns. This is why no one uses paper anymore! Masaoka and Kougami watch the flames with matching impassive expressions. Almost like they expected this. The floor bots go crazy trying to contain the fire. But it never leaves the bin. Once it’s done, Ginoza releases a breath that has no right to sound so relieved.


He doesn’t look at any of them. But Uta notices his eyes dart to the corner where the cam is - the one that is placed in every enforcer’s quarters, that links directly to the System and monitors any unusual fluctuations in crime coefficient. Handy to know in case the enforcers are planning a revolt or something. Before Uta can even wonder if that’s what Kogami and Masaoka were planning, Ginoza speaks.


“Not another, not again” he says, in all but a whisper. And then walks out.



10:20 AM, Chiyoda-ku


Uta tried to picture that moment in her head using the visualization techniques they had taught her in training. She frowned. Had Ginoza actually been shaking as he stood there? Or was that a pointless detail her imagination had added on? Uta shook her head. She couldn’t afford to get fixated on her partner. Not if she actually wanted to find him. Now, what did she need from that memory? Uta rewound the entire scene in her head, pausing at the moment just before Ginoza tore the papers off the wall. Freezing everything else, she walked forward. The map. They had been trying to locate something. There ‘x’s marking various spots and then a large area circled in the centre. In her mind’s eye, she zoomed into that circle. There. Scrawled above the circle. Numbers.


“Coordinates!” Uta exclaimed out loud. Her team had left her geographic coordinates! She was going to kill them when she found them!


Uta strode out of the lane and marched back to her autocar. She yanked open the door. Then stopped with one foot inside. Offline. Can’t let the System find out. Now how in hell was she supposed to find out where these coordinates led to if she couldn’t use the navigation system of her autocar. The navigation system that connected straight back to the PSB so that they always knew where their inspectors were at all times. Like the wristlinks weren’t enough…


Oh shit.


Uta unclasped her wristlink and threw it in the car like it had burned her. She slammed the door shut and staggered back, her heart threatening to beat out of her chest. Always keep your wristlink on your person. That was one of the basics of being an inspector. Your wristlink helped you keep tabs on your enforcers, connect to fellow inspectors, scan people for crime coefficients, get instructions from the PSB… and most importantly, with your wristlink on, the System always knew where you were. This was the first time since joining the CID that Uta had actually taken the wristlink off.


Uta did the deep breathing exercise her counsellor had taught her, till she could think again. Instead of trying to be a serene, calm body of water, Uta latched on to a new mantra.


Stay offline. Find team. Kill team.


In that order.


Okay, so travelling offline meant no autocars, no autotaxis, nothing that was connected to the grid. Something that ran on fossil fuel then? Where the hell…



One month ago...


Out of the kindness of her heart, Uta offers to pick Nobuchika up for work.


Even though it’s not her fault.


It’s not her fault that Nobuchika had an argument about the case with Masaoka and Kougami. Not her fault that he chose to go investigate the commufield anarchist’s home on his own. That the same anarchist had turned out to be some kind of explosives expert. Nor is it on her that the suspect had managed to rig an IED at the house. That Nobuchika had forced open the door with his PSB credentials after no one had answered, triggering the bomb. Thankfully, the explosion had been small and Nobuchika had sustained only minor injuries.


It certainly isn’t Uta’s fault that the second time, he wasn’t so lucky.


That instead of calling for medical services, the stuck up son of a bitch had walked back to his car, cradling his bleeding hand, intending to drive back to the PSB and report on the incident. Not realizing that in the time he spent upstairs, the anarchist had rigged another bomb. This time to his car. With far more devastating consequences.


Nobuchika had survived. With severe injuries - to his face, torso and left arm - nothing that modern medicine couldn’t fix - but still bad. His car, not so much. And in the general state of relief at not having to fill out request forms for a new partner, Uta offers to drive Nobuchika to work till he gets another car assigned to him.


Now, Uta regrets her generous spirit.


She fiddles with music settings in her autocar, trying to get it to recreate a lost playlist while Nobuchika takes his sweet time coming out. Uta tried to convince him that he needed more than a day off to recover. But when has her partner ever listened to anyone telling him to stay away from work? She had called before leaving home. Ginoza should have been waiting for her. Instead, she’s waiting for him. Something about that strikes her as odd. Uta has never had to wait for her partner once.


Uta gets out of the autocar and walks up to his door. The door slides open as soon as she is in range. Huh? When did Nobuchika add her to his home security system? She walks in and immediately discovers the source of the delay.


Nobuchika stands in the kitchen, shirt and jacket thrown off to the side, trying to stem the flow of blood from his forearm with paper towels.


“Nobuchika!”


He looks up at her. Distraught.


“It won’t stop,” he says.


“Where’s your medbot?”


“I don’t have one.”


“What? Who in their- Okay, never mind. First aid kit?”


He indicates the garage door. Uta rushes to it. Thankfully the box is right in front. She grabs it. But not before she notices a large oblong shape covered with canvas cloth stowed to the side of the large space. There’s no time for curiosity though. She rushes back to the kitchen. Suppressing the urge to whack him, Uta takes his arm. She presses down on the towels as hard as she can. Sees him wince. But she can’t stop. With a firm grip on the wound she leads him to the couch. Makes him lie down. Then raises his left arm above his heart. With one hand still holding the bleeding wound, she reaches into the first aid box and pulls out the coagulating aerosol. She peels back the towels. There’s a two-inch long tear at the site of the surgery that saved his shattered radius. She sprays the agent on the area. Nobuchika hisses in pain. She keeps holding the hand above him as the spray does its work.


“They said it was fully healed.”


“Didn’t they also warn you about the effects of rapid healing?”


Medicine had evolved way faster than the body’s trauma response. So while even grave injuries could be repaired in an instant, the body continued to believe that it was still wounded for several days after. And as a result, generated ruptures at the site of injury when stressed during recuperation.


Nobuchika doesn’t say anything. Uta chances a glance at him and sees him looking back at her. Mouth open. Breathing hard. Eyes still indicating alarm. And apology. Uta sighs and looks away. That’s when she notices the box full of paperbacks lying at the edge of the couch. And a blood trail leading from it to the kitchen.


“Did you try and lift that?”


“Yes.”


“Why? You know you are not supposed to be lifting heavy things!”


“I… Kougami had been asking and I’ve only now had the chance to collect these for him.”


“So you couldn’t call me inside to carry them?”


Nobuchika stays silent.


If Uta hadn’t still been holding his arm in the raised position, she would have throttled him right then and there. Instead, she shakes her head. She knows he doesn’t do it on purpose. But it still grates that he can’t turn to her when he needs help. Even after a year of eating kung-pao noodles together.


“What’s the big canvas-covered thing in the garage?”


“Masaoka’s motorcycle.”


“The one you told him you had destroyed?”


“He was going to give it to Kougami that time he got it in his head to run away from HQ.”


“So you lied to your father?”


If her pointing out the relationship he had always tried to deny rankles, Nobuchika doesn’t show it. He does develop a sudden fascination with the fabric of the couch though.


“Can I take it for a spin some time?”


“No, absolutely not.”


“You’re no fun.”


“We’re going to be late for work.”


“If we took the bike we’d get there faster.”


“No.”




10:45 AM, Chiyoda-ku


Uta was starting to believe that Nobuchika should never be let out without supervision. If she… when she found him, there was going to be a “conversation”. Oh boy was there going to be a conversation! The thought gave her enough courage to pull the canvas off the large motorcycle in Nobuchika’s garage. She was surprised to see it gleaming. Because frankly, she had expected nothing more than a rusty old bucket of bolts. Nobuchika clearly spent time taking care of this old thing. He spent time taking care of a lot of things.


Except himself.


She found the key hanging on the wall and using her meagre strength, Uta rolled the ginormous machine out of the garage. Now that she knew the how, she still had to figure the where. There was a leather pouch attached to - what she assumed was - the fuel tank. Hopeful, she opened it, hitting the jackpot. A neatly folded map of Tokyo and the surrounding region. She had never used one like this before. But she wasn’t afraid to start now. Fortunately for her, someone had already highlighted a path out of the city that avoided scanners. So she knew she had a way out. Using every ounce of logic she possessed, she located the coordinates.


35.7001° N, 139.5760° E - Lying on the outskirts of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, a place formerly known as Musashino.


Musashino? Strange… It didn’t matter though. She had to get going.


Uta straddled the motorcycle and tried to voice command the thing in to starting before realizing that was futile for a vehicle decommissioned since the pre-Sybil era. She knew the general theory of how to start it having observed Kagari ride similar vehicles during his video game binges. So she kicked the pedal thingy by her foot. The engine started to purr like it had been prepared for just such an eventuality. Placing her hand on the accelerator, she hoped to the System that she wouldn’t die on this thing before she got a chance to rip her whole team a new one.



Six months ago…


It’s been a few weeks since the Kabukichou incident. At least that’s how she refers to the time Ginoza Nobuchika called her in the middle of the night asking her to come retrieve his naked butt from the red-light district. Since then, they’ve shared meals on three occasions. It’s becoming a pattern. And Uta’s learning that her partner is not as horrible as she had believed him to be. Rude? Yes. Abrasive? Yes. A stuck up son of a bitch? Most definitely. Horrible? Not really.


Also relatively harmless once you got over all the yelling.


Uta jumps down from the log, landing with a splash in the ditch. Yayoi gives her a look. Kagari curses his luck somewhere behind her. Kougami is on the left flank. Masaoka on the right. Ginoza for some strange reason has taken point. The terrain is muddy and heavily forested. And it’s been raining non-stop since last evening. Uta is thankful for the layers she has on under her PSB windbreaker. See, this is what you got when you combined a dwindling population with Sybil’s limited relay system. Areas like Musashino, just outside the city. That had been abandoned by people and now reclaimed by nature. Where you had to muck through uncharted terrain on foot trying to catch the latest idiot who thought that escaping into the wilderness was a great way to skip Sybil’s justice.


Not on Division 1’s watch, thank you very much.


For Uta who has spent her entire life in the neon jungle of Tokyo, this back to nature shindig is a novel experience. A wet and miserable one to be sure. But she is trying to look at the bright side of things.


Up ahead, Ginoza stops. She watches as he slowly crouches down and reaches out to place a pale, thin hand on the bole of a tree. On the right, Masaoka stops too. He gazes back at his son, while appearing to do anything but.


Curiouser and curiouser.


Uta speeds up and comes to stand next to the tree.


“Ginoza?”


After much debate, well, ranting about proprietary from Ginoza and rude noises from Uta for the most part, they have agreed to drop the honorifics when talking to each other. Anything more would be too much too soon. Especially in front of their subordinates.


He takes a second to respond. Clearing his throat and looking up at her. His glasses have fogged up. And raindrops run down his cheek. His mouth is turned downward.


“How much further?”


“Shion’s pillbugs range about a mile further out from here. There’s a lake up ahead. A mile and a half. I think we can establish that as the search perimeter.”


A lake? Now how does he know that? Her nav device gave out miles back. And all she can see are trees.


“Have you been here before?”


“Yes, when I was little.”


“How little?”


“Eight, nine?”


“So you remember this place from like twenty years ago?”


“My… err… father used to bring me out here. He… he believed learning how to navigate without technology was essential. So he taught me how to remember the lay of the land, landmarks that don’t change over the years.”


Uta does her best not to look back at Masaoka. She looks instead to where Ginoza’s hand is resting against the tree. His fingers brush against bark. Barely visible beneath them are etched lines. Something that looks vaguely like a stick figure adult, holding the hand of a stick figure child. And the initials, MN and MT.


Masaoka Nobuchika and Masaoka Tomomi, her brain supplies.


Uta steps forward. A rock she hadn’t noticed turns under her and she loses her footing. Without thinking, she reaches out a hand and finds Ginoza’s shoulder. Steady now, she sees where her hand is and realizes the predicament she has landed herself into, even if it is an accident. They have definitely not discussed boundaries regarding touch. She is about to explain her stumble, apologize if needed to avoid a scene…


When Ginoza reaches back and places his hand - cold from the rain - over hers. Uta’s brain is too blown to respond to this. So her hand remains on Ginoza’s shoulder. And his hand remains over Uta. The rain continues to fall.


Until Kougami sounds the alarm.



Chapter 3


12:55 PM, Musashino Wilderness


Uta made it to Musashino without expiring of speed or fright.


From what she could figure, the area she was in now wasn’t too far from where they had enforced the escaped smugglers all those months ago. At least this place still had a functioning road. She got off the bike, walking bow-legged till her thighs and lower back unclenched. Without digital navigation, she was not sure how to locate the coordinates from here on. But she needn’t have worried. Because Division 1 had her covered.


Within five minutes of taking off on foot, she saw the next clue waiting for her. A crudely drawn map, nailed to a tree with what was unmistakably Kougami Shinya’s favourite switchblade. Uta took the map off with shaking hands and managed to shut and pocket the knife without chopping off her fingers. The map blurred before her eyes and once again, she had to do her breathing exercises in order to gain control of her situation. She could sense that she was close. So the minute she was capable of figuring out the path laid out on the map, Uta started running.


The path went downhill and she stumbled and fell more times than she should have in her hurry. But she didn’t care. She had to reach her team. She had to end this, whatever the hell this was. She had to find Nobuchika. So Uta ran. And ran.


And only stopped when the rifle sprang up, right in front of her face. Uta froze in terror. Her hands went up involuntarily as she tried to put more distance between her nose and the black barrel. Her eyes travelled up to hands aiming the rifle, to the familiar face grinning back at her.


Konnichiwa Kanshikan,” Kagari Shuusei said.



One year ago


It’s her third week at the job and Yamako Uta is not enjoying herself. Reasons being:

  1. August 2112 is the hottest on record since the reversal of Climate Change Protocols

  2. She’s on new hue-enhancing drugs and they have done a number on her sleep-cycle

  3. She is stuck in this car with the most boring, abrasive human person possible - Ginoza Nobuchika

Uta doesn’t even know why they are on this road trip to back-of-bumfuck-nowhere to begin with. It’s not like it was even their enforcer. Momota Mai had been a Division 3 underperformer whose only claim to fame was that she tried to run away from her inspectors during a field trip and had consequently been enforced.


Now, let’s not get things wrong.


Uta is affected by the way things played out. She is critical of the fact that the inspectors jumped straight to their Dominators instead of negotiating with one of their own. And she is certainly not blind to the slight edge that creeps into Division 1 enforcers when they are subjected to mandatory counselling to discourage similar ideation. Besides, the death of a fellow human being, especially for so foolish a reason, is a tragic event.


But that’s the accord they’ve signed, isn’t it? The Criminal Investigation Department of the PSB is an unforgiving place. You did what you had to do to survive. And accepting loss of life was part of that. Uta had attended the funeral. She had attended the debriefing with Kasei after. She had left her own enforcers a bottle of Yamazaki - which by the way - ridiculously difficult to procure.


What more could she be expected to do?


Drive 3 hours to Kyoto to pay her respects to the Momota family, apparently. Because that’s exactly what Ginoza has secured special permission for them to do. And his idea of a road trip is for her to sit incredibly still and silent, while he drives - yes, manually drives - the nearly 300 miles to their destination. Oh, and she is not even allowed to eat the beautiful ham sandwiches her food processor had lovingly printed and packed for her in the morning.


It’s windy when they reach the place. Ginoza’s silly hair flies all over the place. If it isn’t for that, he would have made an intimidating figure in that form-fitting black overcoat of his. He’s made her wear all black as well. But given the solemn nature of their visit, Uta doesn’t know what else he was expecting her to don.


The Momota home is surprisingly normal.


So are the young enforcer’s parents, her siblings and her two adorable niblings. Not at all the kind of place that should have spawned a latent criminal. Ginoza is the very picture of formality. He hands over Mai’s belongings. He bows low as he does so. Lower than his station demands.


Uta sits in the living room with the two children as Ginoza takes the adults to the kitchen. She assumes he gives them an edited account of the enforcement - anything else might risk their hue - and stays inside through their highly vocal tears. Uta does her best to distract the kids with outlandish drawings of chibi robots with the art materials that Ginoza had had the foresight to bring.


Fifteen minutes later Ginoza is walking out of the kitchen. He stops to let Uta untangle herself from the arty mess. Momota-san steps up the kitchen doorway.


“You know, Mai-chan really liked you, Ginoza Kanshikan,” she says, with a sad, tired smile. “Half her letters were just praises of you. She even sent us that last year. ”


She points to a row of digi-pics on the mantle. One of them seems to be dedicated to group photos from the annual PSB mixers. Uta stands to examine it. The pictures fade in and out. It’s easy enough to make out Momota. Her bright smile stands out. In one particular one, she is standing next to Ginoza. One in arms wrapped around his, giggling like someone handed her the sun. And Ginoza is… less glower-y than usual?


Hmmm…


“I did nothing to earn those praises,” Ginoza says like the sour dud he is, “we’ll be leaving now.”


He turns and walks back out into the wind. Uta bows to the family before leaving to catch up with him.


“Did you have a thing for the enforcer?” Uta calls out after him with the most neutral voice she can manage. “Is that why we are here?”


Ginoza stops. But doesn’t turn.


“No. We are here to pay our respects,” he says in that condescending tone that Uta has gotten so used to hearing.


“Respects, huh? I find that odd.” She knows she is pushing her luck, but the day has grated enough on her to stop her from caring, “Especially given the way you treat our enforcers. I mean, you didn’t even ask them if they were okay after all of this.”


“I didn’t need to,” Ginoza still doesn’t turn. And that sparks a nasty little something in Uta.


“Ginoza-san, I am your partner. Why can’t you just tell me what your real motives are?”


Ginoza turns. He directs his patent glare at her. One she has learned to school herself against reacting to. She stands her ground, chin jutting out.


“I came here because I hope that when the time comes, someone extends the same courtesy to me.”


Then he turns and strides back to the car and Uta knows that there will be no more conversation till they are back in the Division 1 office and tackling the next case.


With a sigh, she follows.


After all, she wouldn’t put it past him to leave her here if she didn’t take her seat by the time he struck the ignition.



01:45 PM, Musashino Wilderness


So this was how it ended. This was how Yamako Uta Kanshikan went down.


Uta stared down the barrel of the rifle. That muzzle seemed to open up like a black hole to swallow her whole. Her blood ran cold.


They were told about various firearms in training. Every so often they receive a memo highlighting the latest weapons to find their way in to Japan, despite the PSB crackdowns. But Uta has never actually been this close to a real-life gun before. One that does not rely on the Sybil System. One that won’t lock down because Uta has been such a good little girl and kept her hue clear.


“Did you come alone?” Kagari asked, toothy grin still intact. There is a bruise on his forehead, a cut that has seen the barest dabs of first aid.


“Yes,” Uta replied.


“Were you followed?”


“I-I don’t think so.”


Maaa, inspectors these days… no presence of mind at all!” Kagari watched her, his eyes holding none of the quiet laughter she was so used to seeing, “Hands up in the air!” he barked. Uta complied. He stepped forward to search her, letting the rifle point away from her. Uta didn’t even think of making a play for it. Even if she did manage to grab it from him, what was she going to do? Shoot Kagari?


She wasn’t sure she could. Not with a rifle. Maybe not with a Dominator either. Not until she found out what was going on. Kagari knew where Nobuchika was. He had to. No use killing him before she found out.


Kagari checked her wrist. Empty.


“I took it off at Chiyoda-ku,” she volunteered.


Saaa, did you?” Kagari smirked at her, “Looks like you’re not half as dumb as you look.”


Uta bristled but stayed still.


He searched her pockets. Roughly. Reclaimed Kougami’s knife. Pulled out her inspector’s id. Tossed it up in the air and lightning-fast aimed and shot it. The rifle had some sort of modified silencer, so the shot didn’t ring out loud like it should have. But her id was blasted to smithereens nonetheless.


Uta’s heart climbed into her throat.


“Are you going to kill me?”


“Does anyone at the CID know where you are or what you are doing?”


“No,” Uta realized that she may have just signed her death warrant. If no one knew where she was, no one was coming to help. But why call her all the way out here to kill her? Why kill her at all? Was this some kind of revenge for being his superior all this time? Was this some latent criminal mindfuck that she wasn’t equipped to understand?


“Where is Ginoza?” she asked.


“Don’t worry, you’ll join him soon enough.”


“Is he-did you… kill him?” As soon as she said the words, she wanted to take them back. If Nobuchika was dead, she didn’t want to know. But oh by the System, please let him be alive. Please!


“Kanshikan,” Kagari whined, “do you trust your enforcers?”


“I did till one of them pointed a gun at me!”


“Would you risk your hue for them?”


“What are you talking about?”


With a sigh and a glance heavenward, Kagari finally, finally lowered the rifle, letting it hang from his shoulder, barrel to the ground and away from her. Uta’s heart kickstarted enough for her to take an aggressive step towards him.


“Woah,” Kagari said holding up his hands, “Easy there detective. We didn’t bring you all the way here for nothing, now did we?”


“Bring me here?” Uta’s face scrunched up in anger. All the tension from the moment she had heard of the blast and Division 1 going missing came pouring out, “You bloody scoundrel! You have the fucking nerve to act cocky? After everything I did-”


“Did what exactly? We had to draw you a literal map for you to come find us! Some detective you are.”


She wondered briefly what she would have done if had a Dominator along right now. Sure, they were way out of range of Sybil System’s Relay Network. And the formidable weapon would have been offline and hence useless for enforcement purposes. But it would have been nice to have something to throw at her enforcer.


Suddenly, Kagari let out a frustrated groan, “Kou-chan would have explained this so much better!” he said, wiping his face down with the hand not holding the rifle steady by his side.


“Explained what?”


“This… this whole shitshow…”


“You’re going to have to be more specific than that.”


“I can’t, don’t you understand?” Kagari sighed and sat down on the ground like a petulant child, “Knowing is half the problem! If I tell you, your hue could cloud… your crime coefficient could shoot over 100, you could end up in isolation. Not that I care. The more the merrier. But Gino-san- ah, not saying.”


Uta latched on to that one name like a lifeline.


“Where is Ginoza? What have you done with him?”


“Not saying.”


“Is he dead? Did you kill him?”


“Not saying.”


“What the hell Kagari!”


“Not saying… not till you tell me that you understand.”


“Understand what?”


“That there is no going back,” Kagari scratched the back of his head, “This is taking too long. Just say you understand so we can get on with it.”


“If I don’t?”


Kuso!” Kagari cursed, “Then just leave! I’ll try not to shoot you in the butt while you walk away.”


“At least tell me if Ginoza-”


Mata ne! You know what? I’ll walk away, good luck finding your way back without this,” with this Kagari got up and snatched the map from her hand. He turned and started walking away.


Chotto mate!” Uta ran to cut him off, “Fine, I understand. Just-just tell me where-”


Kagari plonked down on the ground exactly where he was. “Sit.” He tossed her an energy bar when she did. “Eat. We have to keep our energy up.”


Uta unwrapped the bar as Kagari began.


“It all started at 7 in the morning, when nothing good ever happens. I was dreaming about Akane-chan…”


“Akane-chan?”


“The new inspector - Tsunemori Kanshikan, keep up, will you? So I was dreaming and in my dream, I was feeding Akane-chan aglio olio - that's a kind of pasta dish - with my hands, one noodle at a time… We were both naked-”


“Ka-ga-ri!”


“You sound so much like Gino-san, it’s scary!”


“Get on with it!”


“Right, Akane-chan was naked…”



Seven hours ago…


Kagari sprawls in his bed in a way that would make a traditional parent lose their shit. He is half on, half off. His t-shirt climbing up his chest and his boxers riding low. Eyes moving rapidly under closed lids as a smile graces his lips. He’s just getting to the good part of the dream when his wristlink screams bloody murder.


Kagari wakes with a start, cursing Ginoza on autopilot. He can swear that the bastard must have gotten Shion to amplify the volume of his particular device just so he can ruin his pleasant dreams like this. When he answers, it’s the self-same bastard who gruffly announces, “Loading bay, ten minutes.” Kagari would like nothing better to ignore the inspector and go back to sleep, except he knows that if he is not up and about in exactly 60 seconds, Yayoi will come and kick his butt to kingdom come. Another trick he is sure Ginoza has somehow set up. Why brilliant women like Shion and Yayoi would pander to Ginoza’s unending cruelty, he can never understand.


Eight minutes later he is dressed and on his way out. He grabs as many energy bars as he can and shoots a double dose of the special energy drug reserved only for PSB hounds. And by the time he reaches the enforcer loading bay, he is bouncing on his heels and as awake as he’ll ever be. He is surprised to see that it’s the new inspector, the cutie from his dreams - Tsunemori Akane who signs them out. Apparently, it’s her informant who brought them a tip about the new synthdrug lab set up in one of the abandoned shinkansen tunnels in Shinjuku. Division 1 has been chasing those buggers for a month now. They have been flooding the market with cheap synthdrugs that… Kagari is not really sure what the drugs do, to be honest - it’s supposed to be bad and evil and not-good-for-a-peaceful-society. He just knows he’s going out now and that he’s going to get to shoot things. And if he’s lucky, the new inspector will see him when he does. Maybe he’ll even get to save her from a few rough drug dealers.


Kagari doesn’t get to save Tsunemori from a few drug dealers.


He is, in fact, barely saving himself. His hearing is compromised, his vision is blurry. Blood is pouring down one side of his face and his shoulder won’t stop burning. Yayoi is leading the way for now. The only reason he can keep up is that double shot of energy drug.


That blast was catastrophic. He has no idea where everyone else is. Kanshikan Cutie was with Masa-san and Kou-san. Lucky bastards. But there has been no word from them since the blast. And Ginoza-sensei… Gino-sensei has disappeared. Technically, they are searching for him. But Kagari would much rather have him declared a lost cause and find a way out of the rubble and to a medbot. But he also doesn’t want Yayoi telling on him - which she will, that little rule-abiding wench. So he is following her and trying his best not to think too hard about how they landed up in this situation.


It had clearly been a trap.


They had been herded through the maze of tunnels like sheep. Brought to a point where their Dominators lost contact with the relay lines and then the trap had been sprung. For who or what, he doesn’t know. Well, he’s been in isolation since he was five, so it’s not like Kagari has enemies on the outside. Yayoi is too clean for this shit as well. Unless she pissed off her groupies and they somehow managed to acquire level 1 explosives. Kanshikan Cutie is milk and honey through and through. So not her. Masa-san and Kou-san, dammit, those two left grudges in their wake like Kagari leaves discarded candy wrappers. Gino-sensei… well he was more likely to piss people off than not. But would anyone really go through so much trouble just to get to the most anal officer in the CID?


Turns out they would.


When Division 1 finally manages to regroup in a relatively undamaged old engine room, the atmosphere is tense and bloody. As in everyone is covered in some amount of blood. Most of it is not their own. At least not for Kou-san and Masa-san. Figures that they would be the only ones to get a shot at the bastards who had put them through hell. Kanshikan Cutie has her enforcement baton out. Her skirt and stockings have a tear and Kagari’s eyes can’t help but wonder up the ripped seam. Until Kougami comes and stands in the way. Damn enforcer! The only one absent is Gino-sensei. Kou-san and Masa-san exchange a look. Kagari knows that look. It means they know something that he does not. And it’s still too bloody early in the morning for this nonsense.


“What the hell is going on?” he asks.


Yayoi gives him a look. It’s not different from the way she generally looks at him. But Kagari has been around her long enough to know that internally she is rolling her eyes. What? Was he the only one to have missed the memo?


“Our plan failed, that’s what’s going on,” Kougami says, his gruff voice devoid of any inflection.


“I should never have agreed to split our forces,” Kanshikan Cutie says, her face the picture of regret.


“It’s not your fault Ojou-san,” Masaoka says like he is still the daddiest of them all, “Once Nobuchika gets an idea in his head, it’s not very easy to change his mind.”


Kougami lights a cigarette.


“That’s not true,” Yayoi says and everyone turns to her.


“It’s not true that the inspector doesn’t change his mind,” she continues, denying everyone the pleasure of eye contact with her, “he just needs hard evidence and a logical argument to do so.”


Sā ne,” Kagari finds himself agreeing. “Yamako Kanshikan manages to change his mind so often, it’s not even funny anymore.”


“Why do you think she isn’t here today?” Kougami says, leaning against a wall with blood on his face and smoke pouring out of his mouth with every word.


Sometimes Kagari hated the people he worked with. This is one of those times.


“Why are we here today?” Kagari asks, channelling patience born from years of living in isolation. He directs his question at Kanshikan Cutie, really he should be allowed to call her Akane-chan by now. Fuck it, that’s what he is going to call her. At least in his head. After all, they had shed blood together or at least in a 100-foot radius of each other.


“Kagari-san,” Akane-chan says with a sigh, “have you heard of Panopticon?”


“Did they cover that in sex-ed? I missed that class on account of being locked up since I was five.”


Ginoza would have screamed, Kougami would have whacked him. Akane-chan simply gives him a sad smile and continues.


“Panopticon is advanced citizen surveillance created by a private tech firm. It was touted to be an alternative to Sybil System. But it failed during its limited testing period and was thus banned. The tech firm went under, but the technology itself remained untouched. Last year an entity known only as Bifrost gained control of this tech and has been using it to damage Sybil System and the PSB.”


Demo ne,” Kagari says, willing his brain to stay still, “What does this have to do with the drug traffickers we came for?”


“Shuusei, we didn’t come here for a drug bust,” Masaoka says with a wry smile, “Or do you think we all nearly died in that bloody explosion for nothing?”


“If you want my opinion, most of what we do is for nothing,” Kagari snaps back. “So if someone could just make this simple for once?”


“We came here to bring down Panopticon,” Akane-chan says grimly.


Kagari stays still for all of three seconds after hearing that. He’s not sure if the inspectors lied to him in the morning or if he simply wasn’t paying enough attention. Apparently, this is not news to everyone but him. But…


“How exactly were we supposed to do that?” he asks, hoping the collective logic of his superiors would soon become visible.


“The plan was to set Gino up as bait,” Kougami says. He must be on his third cigarette since this conversation began. The room’s become smoky enough.


Kagari barks out a laugh. “Kou-san, was this your bright ide-” Kagari stops talking and thinks - it happens sometimes, okay? Kougami was six different kinds of bastard on any given day, but no way was he enough of a bastard to endanger his inspector and ex-partner. Which could only mean…


Kagari follows Kougami’s narrowed eyes to Tsunemori.


This was Kanshikan Cutie's plan?


Suddenly his crush doubles in size.


“This a real piece of work, you know?” he says, refocusing on the crisis at hand. “Like anyone would want Gino-sensei-” Kagari stops speaking again. This time because Yayoi is giving him another look. “Wait a minute, you knew that Bifrost wanted Ginoza Kanshikan. You all knew! But why would they-”


“The enforcers are merely acting in accordance with their orders,” Tsunemori says with more authority than her small frame should be capable of. Kagari shudders.


“And what about you?” he asks.


“I am not at liberty to say anymore. Right now, we know that Ginoza-san’s life is in imminent danger. We need to find him and make sure he doesn’t fall into Bifrost’s hands”


“What if he has already fallen in to their hands?” Masa-san asks.


“Then we kill him,” Kagari says, smirking. No one gets the joke. “I mean, if he’s about to reveal all our dark, dirty secrets? No? Okay, got that.”


“We get him back,” Tsunemori says, in that determined voice of hers that always manages to give Kagari shivers. The good kind. “And we deliver justice.”


Kagari’s attempt at rustling a war cry after that statement is also rudely rejected.




Five hours ago…


In the hour or so since they left the old engine room, things have decidedly gone from bad to worse.


Kagari is crouching in the darkness under a broken stairwell. In his right hand, he clutches the firing cylinder he wrenched off a Panopticon drone. The tunnels are suddenly full of these things. Not very different from the ones they use at the PSB. Except these are out to hunt down and destroy them. And they are weaponized. Saw blades and high-energy laser shooters. Kagari has walloped six of them already. The secret is to aim for the sensors at the top. But he can’t keep this up forever.


He is alone.


In Akane-chan’s grand scheme of things, he is supposed to find a way to reestablish a connection with Shion, back in the Analysis Lab at NONA. Get their Dominators back online. Yayoi and Masa-san are tracking Ginoza - don’t ask him how, he has no idea. Apparently, Masaoka used to hunt things in the wilderness and this is somehow comparable. Kou-san and Akane-chan are looking for Bifrost. Because Kou-san theorizes that Panopticon tech-hub and the people operating it have to be close by, within the tunnel complex. Again, don’t ask Kagari how Kougami makes these leaps. As far as he is concerned his detecting skills may as well be magic.


He is hiding under the stairs.


Taking a minute to understand how he can exit this clusterfuck while losing the least amount of limbs and body fluids. The energy drug has started to wear off. There is no way out. There is no transmission port he can hack to try and reconnect to the grid. There is barely any light. Only these R2-D2 knock-offs trying to kill him. He has to continue his futile quest.


He starts to get up.


That’s when his wristcomm lights up. It’s a one-way video stream. And it’s not a friendly face. A middle-aged - he’s guessing woman - is looking straight at him. Though he knows she (they?) can’t really see him, the smile on their face sends a chill down his spine. That smile is twisted. That smile should not be allowed.


The smiling person doesn’t say anything. They smile and stare. Kagari knows that they can’t see him, not really - it’s a one-way relay - but it seems like they look right at him.


And then the smiler moves away.


Revealing Ginoza Nobuchika.


Ginoza is definitely not smiling. Not that he ever does. Kagari’s bastard of a superior is suspended in midair. By one of those electro-magnetic restrainers they use at isolation facilities for particularly violent latent criminals. His hands and forearms clamped in unforgiving metal. Pulled above and behind his head, such that any attempt at movement could dislocate his shoulder. Legs twisted and bound together in a vice that resembles a cement block. To ensure that the captive could not brace against his feet in order to leverage an escape. They say the model had been inspired by the images of crucifixion from some pre-collapse religion.


Kagari knows nothing about religion. But he knows how strong and inescapable those restrainers are. Not from experience thankfully. He was never put in those, but someone who was an almost-friend was, back when he was still interned at the Rehabilitation Centre. That almost-friend tried to escape sometime after that. And had been killed in the attempt.


Ginoza looks straight ahead. His usually displeased face unreadable. His PSB windbreaker, blazer and tie are gone. His shirt has been cut open. Kagari can see the sheared edges on the relay quite clearly. The smiler lets this visual last for the space of five breaths.


Before they casually walk forward and lay an electric shock baton against Ginoza’s ribs.


Kagari knows that a shock baton is supposed to, as the name suggests, shock an assailant into submission. It is not a lethal weapon. Not a popular one with the CID either. He knows that it is supposed to hurt. Not too much. Just enough to subdue. He’s used it in training often enough. So he knows, he knows, that a shock baton is not supposed to do what it is doing right now.


Ginoza screams.


He screams like his blood is on fire and like the devil is raking his insides without lubrication. His body convulses with the instinctive need to get away from the pain, but the restrainers don’t let him move. They pull him open instead, exposing more of his body. The smiler pushes the baton in harder, rolling it in to the softer parts of his abdomen. Kagari can make out shining-black-and slimy-red follow in the wake of the weapon. Kagari winces.


To his surprise, Ginoza clamps his jaw shut, stopping sound from leaving his throat. His face is red and tears stream down his cheeks. But Kagari knows that look. He’s seen it hundreds of times before. When his boss has decided to be particularly stubborn about something stupid.


“Dammit Gino-sensei,” Kagari thinks, “this is not the time to be an asshat.”


But to his further astonishment, the smiler pulls the baton away.


“Gino-chan,” they say, “Have you already grown bored of our little game, mmm?”


To Kagari they sound like someone’s favourite obaasan. It’s a contrast that makes him nauseous. Or maybe it’s just the breakfast that he skipped.


Ginoza’s chest is heaving. He looks like he is about to pass out. But that jaw of his remains firmly shut.


The smiler points a clicker at something and the restrainers lurch forward, moving so that Ginoza is now suspended at a 45o angle to the ground. The smiler moves out of the frame for a moment and returns with a small inoculating device. Again, Kagari recognizes the thing, but he is sure that the thing is not going to be used to give Ginoza his monthly immuno-boosters.


As before, without warning the smiler presses the inoculating device into the nape of Ginoza’s exposed neck and presses the release. Ginoza doesn't react. The smiler goes off-screen again. Ginoza is straightened back to his earlier position. But now his eyes are unfocused and his head lolls. His jaw remains shut tight though, so there is still hope.


Smiler returns wearing gloves and carrying something Kagari does not recognize this time round. They pull a metal tray behind them. They grab Ginoza by the hair, yanking his head into what must be a suitable position. Then stick the thing into his eye. It forces his eye wide open, something jutting out and entering, what Kagari assumes must be dilated pupils.


First one. Then the other.


Ginoza makes a choking noise.


Smiler drops the eye-tool into the tray and picks up another thing Kagari doesn’t recognize.


They stand in front of Ginoza, back to the camera, blocking most of him from view. An unfamiliar buzzing filters through. Ginoza winces, but like his heart’s not in it. His head rolls back. Then forward. After what seems like an eternity Smiler pulls away from. Kagari can now see Ginoza again. Blood drips down his front.


The word “Dominator” has been carved into his chest.


Smiler pulls a high chair and sits down next to Ginoza, whose eyes are almost shutting now. They tap an imperious finger against the word on his chest.


“I want one of these,” Smiler says, “Your inspector managed to destroy his, before we could subdue him properly.”


Kono yaro!” Kagari thinks, “so that’s what the blast was - a Dominator core exploding! That kasu didn’t even think about us being caught up in the blast!”


“...so now one of you has to bring one to me.” Smiler continued, “And please do make haste. You see, I am a doctor and I know how to keep someone conscious and in considerable amounts of pain longer than most people would think possible. So bring me Sybil’s little toy before I get through using all of mine on your senior detective.”


The video stream shuts off.


Only to be replaced by a map. A green beacon blinks on the northwest corner.


Kuso!” Kagari curses, “Kou-chan was right. They are inside the tunnel complex after all.


With some more cursing, Kagari gets up and starts following the map to Bifrost.



02:15 PM, Musashino Wilderness


“And then what?” Uta climbed on to her knees, grabbing Kagari in a rush of adrenalin, “What happened? Did you find Ginoza? Where is he? Is he alright?”


Kagari sighed.


“I guess Kou-chan was right about you too.”


“Kagari, please,” Uta looked straight in the enforcer’s eye. She didn’t even notice her own voice quivering. In that moment, it was all she could do to stop herself from being overwhelmed by the images etched into the back of her eyes by Kagari’s story. Nobuchika burned. Nobuchika bleeding. Nobuchika captured and trussed up like some kind of animal. “Please,” she repeated.


Kagari broke eye contact and sighed.


“Akane-chan and Kou-chan wanted to negotiate. Handover the Dominator. But buy some time. Figure out who Smiler was and what Bifrost wanted with the Dominators. But Masa-san... He… err… it was like… you remember that one video game I showed you? Where the guy from Earth defeats all those demons in space?”


“The one that was specifically taken away from you for being too violent?”


“Yes, the one Gino-sensei took away after you told on me,” Kagari looked like he was going to stick his tongue out at her and Uta felt a fleeting moment of satisfaction before her mind returned to what she was dealing with. “Masa-san was like that guy from the game. No strategy, no obeying orders, no Dominator… just his bare hands. He went in and started ripping everything and everyone apart - human, machine, didn’t matter. I’ve never-never seen the old man move like that. It was a bloodbath. When I grow up, I want to be just like Masa-san!”


“So-so, you got Ginoza out, right? You got him, right?” Uta asked.


“Turns out Smiler had a whole team of mercenaries waiting for us,” Kagari said with a shrug. “Biochemists too. So the drug tip was actually accurate. They had been messing around with new synthchemicals for a while now. They had rigged up more explosions. And there were these monkeys - not the holo kinds you see at the Zoo - real monkeys with claws and canines bigger than my thumb. Trust me, you do not want to be at the other end of a doped up money trying to claw your eyes out.”


“Kagari,” Uta warned.


“They escaped. Smiler and most of Bifrost. They didn’t manage to take Ginoza with them.”


Uta drew in a breath of relief, but stopped halfway. That wasn’t the whole story. Because of course, it wasn’t. She grabbed Kagari’s chin and turned him to face her.


“Thing is,” Kagari said through her tight grip, “we got him out, nantoka… Gino-sensei. But they did something to him.” Uta feels her heart stop, “Injected him with some kind of synthdrug - none of us have seen it before. He… anoetomoshikashi… it’s better if you see it for yourself.”


“Where is he?”


“Not too far from here,” Kagari stood as he spoke, pulling the rifle back up on his shoulder “I’ll take you there now.”


Uta was a little taken aback by Kagari’s forthcomingness. Up until this moment he had treated every bit of information like it was something specifically created to torture Uta with. But she wasn’t going to question it. Because even as her mind rushed through these thoughts, her feet were already following the enforcer deeper in to the woods.


It must have been about fifteen minutes before the house came into view. A simple one-story dwelling almost swallowed up by the wilderness. Uta wasn’t sure she would have ever found it on her own. She wasn’t sure if she would find her way back on her own. But all of that was secondary. Kagari was speaking again, after having led the way here in silence.


“Kou-chan and Akane-chan have gone after Smiler and the mercenaries. Yayoi and Masa-san are chasing down the biochemists. Until they resolve this… it’s our job is… to keep him… this place secure. You have the key?”


The key they left her at the noodle shop?


“Yeah,” Uta.


“Go on then.”


Uta closed her hand around the key in her pocket and turned to the house. There was a short path leading down from the tree cover to the clearing. She stepped on to it.


“Kanshikan?” Uta turned back to Kagari. Again, he wouldn’t meet her eyes. It was extremely uncharacteristic of this generally cavalier boy.


“What is it?”


“Nothing, just go.”


For some reason, those words slowed down her feet more than anything else that had happened today. Her mind went blank, unable to anticipate what lay inside that house. Uta walked down the muddy path. Stepped across what must have been a picket fence years and decades ago. Stepped up to a porch. Pulled out the key. Stuck it into the scratched brass lock. And turned it. There was no sound. She had expected a sound.


The door opened silently too. The room beyond was gloomy, unlit, undusted. She could see recent footprints scuffing the layer of dirt on the ground. Were some of those Ginoza’s? She walked where the footprints led. Across a large kitchen to a room with a sliding paper door. A single source of light shone through the translucent sheets. Slowly, like it was a secret she was spilling, Uta reached for the door. It slid away from her with a slight push. Making a soft scraping noise. The room beyond was empty of furniture. Just a single chair in the centre.


Tied up to that chair was Ginoza Nobuchika.




Glossary

Japanese Words:

Kanshikan: Inspector / Police Detective

eki: train station

Shikkokan: Enforcer, basically a person who does the dirty-work

sensei: Teacher / Doctor / Learned Person, generally used as an honorific. Here, Kagari uses it teasingly

-chan: Honorific, used to casually refer to children and among women who are close to each other

Konnichiwa: Good afternoon or Hello

Yamazaki: Single Malt Japanese Whisky

Maaa: Sound of vexation. Here Kagari uses it to tease Uta.

Saaa: Sound of admiration. Here Kagari uses it to tease Uta.

-san: Honorific, like the English Mr/Ms

Kuso: Fuck

Mata ne: Again. Here Kagari uses it to mean Uta is being stupid and asking the same question again.

Chotto mate: Wait a minute!

Demo ne: Yes, but...

Kono yaro: That bastard!

nantoka: Some how or the other

ano… eto… moshikashi: Err... umm... the thing is...


Locations:

Musashino: This is currently a very cute little town in the Tokyo Metropolis which I converted to a abandoned space reclaimed by nature for the purpose of the story. Fun-fact: The coordinates used in the story are for the Inokashira Park that sits by the Kanda river in Musashino today. I figured that's where the rewilding would start.

Kabukichou: This is the red-light district I love and will someday soon check out offline

Ore no Furenchu: A cafe name I made up, literally means My (informal) French


Psycho-Pass Vocabulary:

Crime Coefficient: A numerical indicator of a person's capacity for violence

Hue: A colour on the spectrum indicating a person's mental stability

Sybil System: The AI supercomputer that controls law enforcement in Tokyo in the Psycho-Pass Universe

wristlink/wristcomms: Communication device that goes on the wrist like a watch

PSB: Public Safety Bureau, this is an actual governmental organization in Japan today

Area Stress Alert: The Psycho-Pass world has sensors spread across the city to track the stress levels of citizens. An Area Stress Alert basically means something major has happened and the collective stress levels in the area are soaring

Psycho Hazard: A state where the stress levels of individuals are so high, that a darkening of hue and rise in crime-coefficient become almost contagious

Latent Criminal: A person whose crime coefficient is higher than 100 and has stabilized that way. Basically, people deemed too dangerous for society and incarcerated, even if they have not committed a crime. All enforcers are latent criminals.

Dominator: The ubercool handheld weapon of the Criminal Investigation Department. Can only be used by enforcers and inspectors. Directly connected to the Sybil System. Can measure crime coefficient in real time and allow valid users to paralyse, lethally enforce or blow up threats.

pillbug: a spiderlike drone that works like a remote comms, navigation and relay system


Photo and Artwork Credit:

Tokyo Night City: Image sourced from Piqsels.com from their Public Domain Collection

Ginoza, After the Assault: Original Art by Hina Siddiqui


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