[TWO WEEKS EARLIER]
Tokyo’s neon-lined skyscrapers towered beneath the starless sky, fading into the smoky darkness. Between buildings of varying heights and blaring billboards, hover cars left fading trails of multicoloured lights in their wake. Only the moonlight’s ghastly glow faintly illuminated the settlements and struggles of the common classes.
In the distance, upon the highest hills stood lavish manors that broke through the smog. Fortified by large stone walls, the three-story establishments overlooked the city, owned by those who clawed for power from long forgotten eras.
Perfectly groomed hedge mazes encircled one particular estate. Crystal light bulbs adorned the shrubbery, guiding the invited to a secluded paradise. Hundreds of Tokyo’s “finest” scurried through the winding path, each of them wearing a diverse assortment of fur, silk, and cashmere dresses and suits. Each of these overpriced garbs would have been enough to feed a working family for months.
“Hey! HEY!” I could practically hear the man’s neck fat warble with every call behind me. “Are you deaf?!”
Here we go.
I stopped dead in my tracks, the frills on my maid outfit whirling as I turned in my high heels. I quickly realised the voice was not from one ugly bastard, but a gaggle of them.
“Apologies, gentlemen. I didn’t notice you there.” I moved the empty tray I was carrying to the front of my chest, giving a slight bow. “How may I be of service?”
The middle-aged men bore their stature in front of me with their drunk-red faces. The party had barely started—their livers were probably the only thing that they overworked harder than their employees.
“Tch. They don’t make maids like they used to.” He swiveled a mostly empty bottle in front of my face. “But I’m feeling generous. Give me a good drink, and I just might let you off the hook. My room, personally delivered.”
Specks of drool spewed out the mouth of another man behind him. “Yeah, sweet cheeks!”
“Shut it, pig!” Ugly bastard number one shoved a pudgy hand into the equally-pudgy face of his companion. “Get your own!”
He winked back at me and licked his lips.
“Right away, sir.” My voice maintained its usual veneer. “You’re in the Master Guest Suite, correct?”
“Smart girl. You know your guests well.” He grabbed one of my shoulders. Each inch he traced down my body, he tried camouflaging with a gentle squeeze. “Or are you just that eager to see me?”
“Of course, Mister Beiger. There isn’t anyone at this party who doesn’t know about you.” I forced a coy look on my face just as hard as I pulled myself out of his grip. “If you excuse me, I have other patrons to attend to first. The night is still young, I’ll see you soon.”
Before he could reply, I headed straight for the kitchen. Closing the door behind, I let out a sigh.
Stage one complete.
Every muscle in my body seized as I heard my pseudo-name.
“The speech is in minutes! We need everyone on the floor, so stop lazing around!” The manager thrusted a full tray of drinks in my direction as aggressively as he could without spilling them. “Get some drinks on those trays and get your ass out there! NOW!”
I took the new tray and headed back out into the large reception hall. A massive stage adorned the distant walls, decorated with colourful bouquets of flowers carefully placed equidistant from each other. The podium’s bright lights bathed the reserved seating area a few metres away with a self-aggrandizing radiance.
With every step I took, another drink was whisked away from my tray by a shadowy hand off to the side. As expected, not a single person thanked me, making it easier to close the distance unnoticed.
The lights dimmed as everyone went quiet. A man, seemingly in his mid 50’s, strode to the centre. Combined with his well-toned physique, his pristine, black suit commanded respect. In the newfound silence, his clacking steps reverberated throughout the spellbound audience.
The scattered spotlights refocused themselves onto him.
I made my way back into the kitchen, sliding along the back wall in the cover of darkness. I grabbed a large wine and two glasses, placed them on the tray, and headed into the main entrance of the estate. The sprawling corridors were empty, save for a few passed-out nobles. If it wasn’t for their excessive clothing, it would’ve been easy to mistake the scene for a bar on a Friday night.
Going up the stairs, I removed the tie around my neck. I loosened the uppermost button of my blouse, revealing the top of my modest chest.
Not my greatest asset… but you play every card you can.
I knocked on the door of the Master Suite. After a loud crash past the door, Mr. Beiger answered with a hiccup. He immediately looked exactly where he’s supposed to.
“Good evening, sir. Your drink, as per your request.” I raised the tray towards him. “May I come in and serve you?”
“A-about time!” His eyes were nearly bulging out of their sockets. “I’d have you fired if you were any later!”
I brushed past him and walked to the centre of the large suite. Placing the drinks and tray on the large coffee table, I turned around. He’s still frozen stupid at the front door. My smile warmed him back into motion.
“I’m just going to freshen up before we get started.” I untied my straight, silver hair and let it fall to my shoulders. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
I gave him a wink for good measure before heading into the bathroom. As I slid the door behind me, I saw his large, blurred figure stagger towards the bed.
The running shower would mask any suspicious noises.
I released the latch under the sink and leaned in. Beyond the pipes was a large duffle bag, stuffed deep into the darkness. I pulled the sack out, carelessly tossing my maid costume into the bathtub.
Never was my style. Far too constricting for the job.
Inside, I found my normal outfit. My black with red-striped shiny tights, black crop top shirt and knee-length, all black jacket. After slipping my favourite harness suit over my chest and waist, I gripped the pistol from the lining of the jacket. The gun made a familiar, satisfactory click once I loaded a fresh magazine in and cocked it.
I opened my left chest pouch. LB flew out to greet me, nuzzling herself up to my face as if she’s giving me a kiss.
“Aww. Missed you too, LB.” I gave her a few pats. “Johna’s providing overwatch?”
LB hovered up and down before moving to the window above the sink. Sure enough, high in one of the trees outside, was exactly what I was waiting for:
A flashing light.
I placed my gas mask on. These days, life without it felt stranger than having it on. Perhaps I just relished in the extra layer of obscurity. After adjusting its straps, I slipped the earpiece on and peeked my head out of the windowsill.
A voice crackled over the frequency:
“Aww, can you put the outfit back on? I wasn’t done being mesmerised.”
I’m sure he heard the laugh I tried to stifle. Another point for him.
“In your dreams, Johna. I’ll be happy to wear it for you… if you don’t mind ending up like my target later.”
“Mee-ouch. But… that’s not a no, is it?”
“And this is why I prefer working alone.” I pulled away from the window. “So, what’re we doing with this one?”
I heard Johna sit down on, what I could only guess, was the large branch currently poking into his rear.
“Arnold Beiger, 55. Runs the largest New European import and export in Tokyo. Apparently tonight's largest benefactor. Looks like he warmed up to you more than his biggest client. Not surprised. We’ve tried reasoning with him before, but he’s starting to become a thorn in the organisation’s side. Have some fun, take what you can, and get rid of him.”
“Any preferred methods of elimination by Control?”
“Humiliate the poor bastard.”
A wicked smile formed over my face. “Know what, Johna? I think I can handle this one just fine. Be back soon.”
I took the earpiece off. Checking my hair in the mirror one last time, I waved out the window.
Johna ought to hate that.
I silenced the shower and slid the bathroom door open. With his back turned to me, Mr. Beiger’s lying on the king-sized silk bed. He’s completely naked, aside from the blanket covering all the bits that count. Thankfully, it stayed on as he rolled over to face my side. His eyes bulged at my getup again, but not with the same enthusiasm as before.
Before he sat up, I drew my pistol.
“Pleasure to finally chat with you, Mr. Beiger.” I strode towards him. “I’m here representing Dragons Breath. I trust you remember who we are?”
I sat down on the bed next to him. His stiff demeanour demonstrates he’s not one for conflict.
“What’s the matter, Arnold? You’re the largest weapons trader in the whole city, but you’re not used to having one pointed at you? Ironic, don’t you think?”
Arnold gripped his blanket to his chest like a terrified child. “Who are you?!”
His shout gave him the momentary confidence he needed to try and move from the bed. I immediately squashed it by grabbing his arm and rolling him onto his stomach. He gasped, as I sat on his back and tied his hands with velcro. Won’t leave marks on the wrists later.
I leaned into his ear with a whisper:
Arnold’s body tensed up. His heart was beating so hard and fast, I could hear it thrum through the mattress. I could practically see the microchip in his brain working overtime, trying to process what was coming next.
“So, Arnie. Can I call you that? Here’s how this works.” I shoved him into the bed. “Inside your jacket pocket is your monocle. The one with retinal protection. Unlock that, and you get to walk. Otherwise… Well, you’ve already seen my face, so you should understand by now what that means.”
“Okay, okay! I’ll give you the access, just…” Arnold was shivering hard enough that I could see the folds of his body shudder with him. “Just don’t kill me here! You want info, I'll give it, so please!”
“Shinjuku, 2032. The night Tokyo fell and Neo Tokyo was born. Tell me everything.”
“Look, I only know little pieces-”
“Arnie.” I made sure he could feel the tip of my pistol’s silencer on the back of his skull. “Pieces aren’t gonna cut it.”
“B-but I know Eric’s your man!” Arnold nodded to himself as hard as he could. “Yeah, Eric Peterson! I can get you two acquainted after his speech! He always brags about it, you know? Crushing the rebellion! That bastard even keeps a charm from the whole massacre on his desk, like some sort of sick memento!”
I involuntarily tightened my grip on my sidearm. From Johna’s trees, a beam of light flared in the corner of my eye. Rapturous applause from outside only confirmed it— the speech was over.
“The monocle.” My tone went razor-sharp. “Now.”
“Can’t we do this someplace else? Where I can feel a little more talkative?”
He can’t be serious.
Arnold’s hopeful eyes said otherwise. “I deserve that much with all the info I already gave you, r-right?”
I responded by slamming the butt of my gun against the back of his neck. Arnold fell forward, his arms struggling against the velcro as he instinctively tried to grab at the wounded area.
“Starting to get really tired of your stupidity.”
I stepped off him and pulled a rope from my back harness. Grabbing one end, I threw it over one of the large, steel beams holding the ceiling together. Then, as gravity brought it back to me, I wrapped one end around Arnold’s neck.
A little tug, and he’s already squealing.
“Feeling more talkative yet?”
I yanked harder, forcing Arnold to stand on the mattress. Little by little, I increased my force, lifting him until he was almost on his toes. He can barely stand now—any higher and that would become an impossibility.
Tying my end of the rope around one of the bedposts, I walked behind his flailing body. I pushed one of the thick, large pillows under his feet. The extra breathing room is just enough for him to start catching air again.
“The monocle. And I’ll let you down.”
Like a fish out of water, Arnold’s lips twisted and turned for desperate gulps of air. His pleading eyes reflected his shattered resolve against my demands.
“See?” I moved to the coat rack by the door and took the monocle out from his jacket’s hidden inner pocket. “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
I stepped onto the bed, reaching up to place the monocle on his right eye. The device’s speaker finally piped up.
“Well, I’m sure it’s been a real pleasure for the both of us…” I took the monocle back, hopped off the mattress, and unlatched the bedframe’s wheels. “But I'm afraid to read through this information, I'm gonna need somewhere comfortable to sit.”
“W-Wait! Stop!” Even though I wasn’t looking Arnold in the eyes, I could feel the aristocrat’s panicked gaze stare me down. ”I’ll do anything! Think this through! I can be a big asset-!”
“You were, Arnie.” I pressed the sole of my thin matte, black running shoes against the pillow beneath his feet. “Up until the very end.”
With the slightest nudge, he hung in freefall, his feet flailing around for the floor. Dangling once again from his toes, the last thing he saw were my silvery-blue eyes before I pushed the edge of the bed away from him. He dropped a few more inches and began to twitch.
I quickly pulled LB out of my pouch. She immediately began scanning the now-unlocked monocle. From the corner of my vision, I saw Arnold’s shadow go still against the walls.
Placing the monocle inside LB’s back wings for storage, I felt the body’s wrist.
I pushed the bed back under his feet and undid the straps around his wrists. His arms slumped, dangling at his sides.
I pulled the coffee table over, opened his holotablet to a very questionable website, and hit the Play symbol over one of its videos. Taking one last look at the room, I was fully satisfied.
Enough chaos to slow down any detective work.
Duffle bag in hand, I made my exit out to the balcony. As I closed the door behind me, I made sure to put my earpiece back on. From the rooftop, I could see the aquamarine-violet glow over Tokyo looming in the distance, like an artificial sunrise. All of it, so far detached from the mediaeval-styled estates of the wealthy.