Chapter 12:

Sever Your Ties; Pull the Plug (1)

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


Yume tapped her fingers over the glossy tempered glass of the conference table. The expensive centre piece to this near-empty room was nothing more than a show of class, made evident by the imported walnut veneer that held up the surface. Such gaudy displays made Yume want to roll her eyes, but the formal atmosphere stopped her from doing so.

The sun was setting, but the gorgeous pastel orange view from the 152nd floor was sorely under-appreciated by all the government officials and higher-ups sitting in the room. Yume, on the other hand, felt captivated by the sun’s evening blush, sinking her further into her thoughts.

What was Kagehisa trying to tell me?

“Captain Nagayoshi, are you listening?”

Yume jumped at the call of her name, and she slammed her hand on the table and garnering the attention of some of the officials. “Huh? Yes, sorry.”

One of the officials continued with a cough. “The increase of foreigners starting gangs along the coastal suburbs of Japan will require more surveillance. It may be hard to delegate people now, considering the Northern base you guys are trying to establish…”

“No, I believe rotating a pair of our finest on a weekly basis should be manageable. Two is better than one, and it isn’t a huge demand of our team,” Rosiel chirped up, firmly placing the tablet down on the surface before her. “Thoughts on this, Cap?”

Yume surveyed each individual sitting around the table. She picked at every little detail about them, from pursed lips to the crinkles at the corners of their eyes from age. She felt uneasy at the centre of their cold stares. She couldn’t be bothered to please them, not when there was something more important weighing on her mind.

Was there something I was forgetting? Someone?

An impatient voice called out. “Captain Nagayoshi.”

“Gangs are nothing new. Why are we so pressed with having the Compound involve themselves in what would otherwise be menial matters that regular officers can deal with?”

The Compound was a secret project by extension of the Japanese government. From what she gathered over the last four days, she’s the captain of a rather… elite team. Since civil servants worked hard under the scrutiny of the public, there were certain tasks they shouldn’t handle. At least not when they were bound to the strict reforms of civil protocols over the years.

These tasks included handling certain cases with extreme measures, so Rosiel wasn’t exactly joking around when she called them ‘assassins’ in the training room. It certainly explained the precognitive thoughts she had during altercations. 

However, gangs were nothing new; they’ve existed for centuries, and most of them were handled by regular officers. If it was manageable enough without the intervention of such agents, then it didn’t take a fully-invested Captain to know that using the Compound’s resources on this matter would be a waste.

“Excuse me, Captain Nagayoshi??”

Rosiel quickly stood, offering an apologetic bow on her captain’s behalf. “I think what Captain Nagayoshi meant was that… Unless the gangs are involved in businesses beyond the police’s area of expertise, it would be best to reserve what limited manpower we have.”

“Gangs exist everywhere we go. Proper intel to prove that our intervention is necessary would prevent us from exhausting our personnel when we already have backlogged assignments.”

“Are you implying that the civilians in the suburbs are not worth your time, Captain?”

“Are you implying that these gangs you’re worried about are conducting business beyond what we’d all expect of a gang?” Yume questioned brusquely. “You are all more than familiar with the type of work we take on. From handling corrupt politicians, unwelcomed businesses and people, and max-security level criminals, we don’t intervene unless…”

Unless what? What exactly does this team intervene with aside from matters the government deemed necessary to keep quiet? But why, so they could upkeep their utopia?

Rosiel placed a firm hand on Yume’s wrist, shaking her from her verbal thoughts before she could babble any further.

“It would be better if we focused our attention on the backlogged cases and missions that came to be during my absence.”

Another official scoffed. “Proper Captains wouldn’t allow their team to derail from their objectives simply because they take time off. Speaking of, were you not away for more than two months? How could you leave your team for such an extended period of time?”

A sarcastic feeling coiled in the pit of her stomach at the questions, but Yume had to suppress the urge to laugh. She admired the team, truly. They were skilled fighters and motivated individuals sworn to continue serving the country they believe in from within the shadows, but she doesn't belong. 

I don't belong here.

Yume's eyes widened at her own thoughts. The official's patronizing tone echoed in her mind. She prepared a retort that only simmered to a small chuckle when a message popped up in her line of vision.

Matsui, K.
Location:
Sasagama Tower — Rooftop

What is he doing here?

Yume stood up abruptly from her seat, the force nearly knocking the cushioned seat over. “If you think I’m unfit to be a captain, replace me with someone competent and willing to deal with your run-of-the-mill gangsters. Pardon my manners, but I have other matters to attend to, so I will take my leave first.”

“We’re not done discussing our scheduled matters, Captain Nagayoshi.”

“You are taking this way too lightly. Where are your manners?”

“I’d sit back down if I were you, Captain.”

Rosiel gawked at her captain, wide-eyed in disbelief at how she sauntered out of the room without a care or even a proper bow.

“Corleone, what is the meaning of this?!”

“I-I… Ugh, just give me a moment,” Rosiel swiftly bowed and sprinted off to catch Yume by the arm before she reached the elevator at the end of the minimal hallway. “Yume! What are you doing? What’s gotten into you? You don’t just walk out of a meeting because one of those oldies is talking down to you!”

The captain heaved a sigh, exhausted by the forceful behaviour she’s endured all day. Her mind had been set on something else, something she couldn’t shake, and it frustrated her that she could not get a moment to think without others grabbing her attention. Dull blue eyes meet furious pink ones, a spark of challenge just waiting to send Yume off the edge.

She pulled her arm away, glaring daggers at her best friend. “I said I had other things to do.”

“But those things can wait! What’s so important that you gotta leave out of the blue like this? It makes you look bad—it makes the team look bad.”

“Then you can suck up to these stupidly rich oldies, please them with the allocation of our teammates, but I have things to do,” Yume hissed, spinning on her heels at the sound of the elevator’s arrival. “I’ll deal with the mess when I’m back later.”

Rosiel wedged her foot between the closing doors, head down, leaving an eerie shadow to shield her face. “Is this about Kagehisa?”

Yume’s finger hovered over the button for the rooftop. Her eyes flickered from the command panel to her best friend, closing her mouth before she could find any indication of shock. “…Pardon?”

“I asked,” the pink-haired woman stepped into the doorway. “If this is about Kagehisa.”

The elevator started to grow stale and suffocating. A feeling deep within the pit of Yume’s stomach told her that Rosiel’s attitude would only escalate if she gave her the wrong answer, but telling the truth wasn’t an option either.

“My schedule for the evening was to gather intel on Kaito with Kagehisa. Is that a problem?”

The advisor doesn’t move, and for split second, Yume could have sworn her heart wedged itself in her throat. She swallowed down her nerve, cementing her ground and her authority to remind Rosiel that this was a mutual decision made after breakfast.

A sinister smile tugged on both corners of her tinted lips, one that left a bitter taste in Yume’s mouth and a knotted feeling of rising bile in her stomach. Her face twitched a couple of times before the creepy smile disappeared. 

“No, it’s not a problem,” Rosiel responded bitterly, moving out of the way for the doors to close. “I will handle the meeting. Stay safe, Captain Nagayoshi.”

The elevator doors closed before Yume could say anything else, ascending the last couple of floors to the roof where Kagehisa was waiting. Something about Rosiel was very off, and now Yume’s head was filled with horrifying thoughts of waking nightmares that could only happen when someone gave her the look that her best friend had given her. It wasn’t something she could so easily shake off and forget, engrained deep within the part of her mind that spiralled at a mere scary story in the dark.

A small chime sounded, but the captain was met with an empty surrounding. Kagehisa wasn't in sight, so she took a cautious step out, hairs standing on ends at the thought of some sick twist of events.

Yume sensed movement behind her on the bulkhead, but an arm curled tightly around her neck before she could turn to it. The figure spun them around to face the closed elevator, pressure firm on her throat. A blade glinted beneath her left eye and forced her to stop struggling. There was a streak of old blood on the edge of the blade, which meant it must have been used recently. 

“Did you come alone?” a familiar male voice emitted from the mask with a small chitter.

Yume tapped at the firm arm, begging to be released. “Yes, I came a-alone. R-Rosie down…stairs.”

Relieved that they were alone, he released her from the tight grip and sheathed his weapon in its holster. Yume spun around, hand massaging her neck as she glared at Kagehisa.

“Is she preoccupied with the meeting?”

“Yes, and why are you here? I thought the investigation into Kaito was later?”

“I made up the stuff about Kaito to buy us time. We need to talk, but I can’t do that with Rosiel around you.”

Kagehisa turned to leave, but Yume stopped him by the wrist. “Hey, she’s been acting weird. Should I be concerned?”

“Consider that one of your warning signs. This is exactly why we need to talk,” Kagehisa murmured, adjusting his rig. “Did you have a chance to practice the grapple?”

“The what?”

Without a word, dual cable wires shot out of his rig on each side, encasing Yume between as it wrapped the hooks around the railing of the rooftop. She shrieked at the gadget’s close call with her own rig, causing Kagehisa to cackle at her reaction.

“How many functions does this damn thing even have?” Yume groaned, checking the harness around her hips. “How does this work?”

“The cables are part of a pulley system built into the rig, so once you shoot it, any form of slack will command ascent.”

“You just love making things sound easier than they are, don’t you?”

Kagehisa shrugged, pocketing something in his vest before gesturing at the building across the street. “Make your way towards Club Yuzu. I’ll follow after you.”

“Wait, wait, wait! What’s the command?”

A gloved hand turns her head to face the target building. “Release is the only command it needs. Just look where you want the grapple to go and set that as the target. Once you get to where you wanna go, the command will retract the grapple.”

Red eyes searched for a good place to send the grapple. Her Techcons zoomed in on the satellite dish on top of the roof’s bulkhead. Yume took the suggestion and envisioned the wire, but the grapple launched without warning, tugging Yume forward an inch.

“Now what?”

“Give it slack. It’s easiest to jump, but focus on your spatial awareness, so you don’t—”

Yume jumped before Kagehisa could finish his sentence, hoping to test the range of motion, but the sudden release in tension tripped the recoil maneuver. It all happened so fast. The pulley system yanked the captain towards its point of contact across the street. In a moment of surprise, she accidentally collided her knee into the railing and smacked into the satellite dish before she could engage her AG disk.

CLANG!

Thud.

Kagehisa winced at the series of impacts as he made his way across, using the railing as leverage for a better height and acceleration towards Yume’s crumpled form below the satellite.

“As I was saying, spatial awareness is important, so you don’t bump into things… It could also be key for finding leverages,” Kagehisa grinned sheepishly when she groaned in pain, hugging her knee to her chest. “Are you okay?”

Yume nodded meekly, hissing as she stretched out her leg. “That’s gonna leave a bruise tomorrow. Do we have to travel with the grapple? Can’t we just, I don’t know, take a taxi? Why didn’t you bring a jet?”

Rhetorical questions remained unanswered because Yume knew exactly why Kagehisa would avoid bringing a jet. It would be under the same reasoning for leaving the comms behind the last time they went on an outing. 

“Would you prefer to walk to the club on the ground? It’ll take about,” he paused to check the time. “20 minutes.”

“Fine, grapple it is…” Yume grumbled, waving her hand in the air for Kagehisa to take. “Help me up, please.”

The lieutenant helped the captain to her feet, dusting off the debris from her shoulder as she tested the strength of her knee. He could tell she was trying to downplay the pain. In any other situation, he would have offered to wait for her pain to subside before continuing their plan. Still, one glance at the jet docked on Sasagama's roof, and he was blatantly reminded that the quicker they could get to Club Yuzu, the better it would be for Yume. 

Kagehisa tutted. "Do you want me to lead?" 

"Sure, yeah. Might be easier to mimic you in this state while I grasp the basics." 

"Alright, follow me."