Kunoichi

Raid on Nakasumi Tower

Yori had no idea how she did it, but Hoshi booked them on the next flight to Tokyo. With a simple call, she had all three of them seated at the head of the plane with all the first-class accommodations they could ask for. Yori would have preferred to call in a Yamanouchi operative for assistance, but Hoshi told her she'd take care of it and she did. They left Nagasaki behind them, Yori once again by the window seat while Hoshi kicked back; listening to her own music via the complimentary iPod she'd been provided by the staff.

The seats were very spacious – much too big for a small woman like Yori. She fidgeted a lot, trying to find a comfortable position. Eventually she just pulled her legs in and sat as she would as if meditating in the dojo back home.

"These seats must have been expensive," Yori told Hoshi. "How did you manage to get tickets on such short notice?"

Overhearing Yori, Hoshi paused her music selection. "What? Oh the seats? Don't worry about it. I've got connections."

"Nothing illegal I hope."

This made Hoshi laugh which was not what Yori intended. "If it was, we'd be traveling even better than this, I promise you."

"Do you know someone at the airport?"

"Nope."

"Then how,"

"Yori." Hoshi silenced her with a finger. "Ever heard the expression 'never look a gift horse in the mouth?'"

"I…yes."

"Then don't worry your head off and just relax. Take it easy. Kick back." She motioned to the seat behind her. "Like Hiro-chan there."

Yori did look back. Hirotaka was out cold, his body slowly fighting through the alcohol he chugged back at the bar. It was so embarrassing having to drag his drunken form onto the plane with everyone looking. Standard procedure forbade airplanes from letting drunks on board an out-bound flight, but Hoshi managed to get them through without so much as a question. Right now, Hirotaka slumped to the side, his mouth wide with drool slowly traveling down his chin. The passenger next to him, while having plenty of room to herself, etched away as far as she could from Hiro.

"His breath stinks." Yori pinched her nose. "I still cannot believe you allowed him to get this drunk."

"He's a big boy. Not my fault if he doesn't know his limits."

"You should have stopped him."

"From having a good time? Now what kind of hostess would I be if I did that?" Her teeth showed with her smile.

"Speaking of hostess," Yori started. "Why are you accompanying us? I thought Nagasaki was your protectorate."

"It's just a place I hang out. I get around you know."

"I don't know."

"Better that way, I suppose. But hey, I got us a nice ride so why are you grilling me?"

"Grilling?" Her face questioned.

Hoshi sighed. "Look, I'm tagging along, I proved I can be a great help, so what's the problem?"

"I do not have a problem with your coming with us. I just want to know why."

"You really want to know?"

"Yes."

"Fine." Hoshi spared a glance behind her and then leaned in toward Yori. "I'm secretly in love with Hirotaka."

"What?!"

When Hoshi laughed, Yori's eyes narrowed. "I am not amused, Hoshi-san."

"Lighten up, Yori. It was just a joke. And just call me Hoshi. We're friends right?" She eyed her. "Right?"

"I guess." In truth, she did not know how to answer that. She was always taught to be polite and respectful – even if she found the person she was dealing with most distasteful. It's not that she found Hoshi to be in that category, but she just didn't know her that well. Once, when she was still at Yamanouchi, Yori felt that she and Hoshi may become good friends but her departure changed all that and she was left wondering what if. Now that they could pick up where they left off, Yori wasn't sure she wanted to explore that relationship. Something was different about Hoshi. Call it ninja's intuition, but she wasn't the same girl Yori once knew.

"Good." Hoshi went back to listening to her music.

Yori went back to looking out the window. She cringed when she heard Hirotaka snore but did not turn around. He made his bed now he may sleep in it.

She found her thoughts drifting back to Kimiko. Yori could not help but feel responsible for her. She was the reason, however inadvertently, that her life had become such a mess. It was her father's past that ruined Kimiko's future, and that shame carried on to Yori. She promised that she would somehow fix this; find a way to help Kimiko reclaim what she had once been. Afterall, it was Kimiko who had returned something that was missing in Yori's life – it's only fair she return the favor.

Thinking about Kimiko made her think about her father. Kimiko explained to her in great detail what Kenji looked like but that was many years ago, before Yori ever knew him. He was a different man now. A different person. What kind of person was left to be seen.

What would she say to him when they met? Would it be a happy reunion? Could they return to being father and daughter? Or would he continue his quest for vengeance – dragging Yori along with him?

No. She decided she would not allow herself to become like Kimiko. Vengeance was a twisted path that always strayed from your chosen road. Should she lose herself on that path there would be no going back. That way of life nearly ruined him beyond redemption, if that was even plausible anymore. This Saito, this Yakuza kingpin, must be an evil man indeed if he could turn two such wonderful people into what they became. Then again, her father was in the Yakuza before this happened…as was her mother.

Does that hateful blood run through Yori's veins? She held her hand. She could feel the warmth in the fingers and the heartbeat through her wrists. Deep down may be a part of her she hoped did not exist. She was reminded of Fukushima, the youth who betrayed Yamanouchi. He had allowed the dark seed within him to grow and thrive and Yori nearly paid the ultimate price.

Then there was Monkey Fist, the demented simian hybrid who was the sworn enemy of Yamanouchi. Good men once. No more. Would she ever fall like they did? Like Kenji? Like Kimiko?


"I get this room!" Hoshi announced upon entry. "Yori, you and Hiro-chan can have the bedroom – you being so close and all."

"I'd much prefer it if you help me with my baggage." Yori's voice came from the hall.

"All our bags are already here." Hoshi strode in and made herself comfortable on the couch. She kicked off her shoes and placed her weary legs on the footrest. "Gotta say, for ninja, you two do take a lot of stuff. Did you bring the entire dojo with you?"

Grunting, Yori appeared by the doorway with Hirotaka. She had his arm slung over her shoulder and was carrying him as if he'd been wounded in a battle. Hirotaka was barely awake. Yori had to drag him every step of the way. It was embarrassing but he was her comrade and responsibility and she would not have strangers looking after him. That being said, you'd think a fellow ninja like Hoshi would have helped. No such luck.

Yori moved toward the seat adjacent to Hoshi. A small, glass table sat before the two pieces of furniture and Hiro's foot bumped into it, forcing a protest from his mouth. "Serves you right," Yori said. Dumping him unceremoniously on the lazy chair, Yori discarded him with a dusting of hands. "I am very ashamed of you, Hiro-chan."

All he did was groan.

Yori closed the door to their suite. It was splendid boarding, more well-manicured than anything Yori had seen. The floor was solid marble, its sheen allowing Yori to see herself where she stood. The ceiling was six feet above her head, easily accommodating the tall, foreign guests which frequented this hotel. The first room was a taste of decadence. Large enough to fit several cars, the guest would travel down a small flight of stairs into a lavish, decorated abode that would make the ancient Romans proud. The room had a more Western feel, with Ionian columns lining the corners and white walls and doors with golden handles. A forty-inch flat-screen TV sat between two statues of the goddesses Venus and Diana – goddesses of Love and the Hunt respectively – with a plush blue carpet leading to the semi-circle of chairs and couches at the very center.

Hoshi was scrolling through the list of channels on the guide provided for them. "Ooh, Evil Eye for the Bad Guy is on!" She smiled cheesily at Yori. "And who says Americans don't have taste?"

Yori walked briskly to the seating area. Standing before Hoshi with her hands on her hips, Yori glowered at her with accusing eyes. Hoshi dropped the guide to stare back, albeit questioningly. "What?"

"We do not have time to waste. Do you know where the Nakasumi Tower is?" Hoshi nodded. "Then take me there at once."

"Commanding aren't we?" Hoshi set aside what she was reading and sat up straight. She found Yori's imperious stature rather amusing though she'd never tell her that. Funny or no, Yori was determined to do whatever it is she set out to do. Sides, Hoshi liked Yori and she didn't want to patronize her. "I will take you there, Yori. But how about we rest first? We can go there tonight."

"I'm afraid time is of the essence. We must go now."

"Yori, what's this all about?"

"I told you that it was a private matter."

"True. But I'm involved now. That means I deserve a little more info before I help you any further."

Insulted, Yori turned away. "So is that why you came? Because you wanted to invade my privacy? Hiro-chan is right, you have no honor!"

"Sorry. That didn't come out right. What I mean is," Hoshi chose her words. "Look, Yori, consider me a tool. I'm here to help you, but only if you use me the right way." Then she added. "Boy did that come out wrong."

"The best way you can help is to take me to Nakasumi Tower."

"To do what?"

"That is my business."

"Yori." Hoshi's eyes strayed to Hiro's sleeping form. "Does Hirotaka know?"

"Yes. But why," She gawked, turning on her. "You will not pry the information out of him!"

But Hoshi smiled. "I have my ways."

"How?"

"Hey, I got honor boy there drunk as a skunk just a few hours ago. Imagine what I can do with a few minutes, a couple martinis," She fluffed her breasts. "And these."

Yori sighed. "You are impossible."

"I'm also a friend," Hoshi said. "Believe me, Yori. I want to help you any way I can. But to do that you have to at least give me the details of the mission. I'm not saying you have to tell me everything, just what your plans are. You've seen what I can do." She motioned to the room. "I have resources. Make use of them."

Much of what Hoshi said rang true, although Yori was still cautious around her. It was not only a matter of privacy but of trust. Bonds took time to develop and were very easy to break. The only other person in this room she trusted above all others was laying unconscious in a drunken sprawl – of no use to her or her mission. Hoshi on the other hand, proved quite capable of doing what she set out to do. It was just the two of them and, Yori concluded, sneaking into a Yakuza den filled with unknown dangers was not something she was looking forward to alone.

Finally, she decided to enlighten Hoshi to her plight. "Very well."

Hoshi waited until she sat down before giving her ear.

"I am here to rescue someone. Someone…important to me."

"How important?" Hoshi pressed.

Yori glared at her momentarily; then realizing it wouldn't hurt said, "My father."

"Go on," Hoshi said as if the revelation meant nothing to her.

"That woman I spoke to, Kimiko, she told me my father was being held in the basement of the Nakasumi Tower."

"Why?"

"It's…a long story. Suffice it to say it has been difficult for him and I want to free him as soon as possible." She nervously folded her hands together and purposely avoided looking Hoshi in the face. Yori was never comfortable talking about herself let alone her family history – which by the way, she'd only just learned. It also felt strange talking about her father as if she'd known him her whole life. "Difficult" was hardly the right word. She had no intention of reciting the whole story but hoped at least it would get some sympathy from Hoshi.

Hoshi studied Yori, crossing her legs in the process. "Fair enough. How do you plan on getting him out of there?"

"I was thinking of doing some reconnaissance. Perhaps then I may find some way inside."

"Using your ninja skills to break him free?"

Yori nodded.

"Yori, you're a good ninja. I can tell just by looking at you. But it seems to me recon is not your game." Before Yori could argue the point, Hoshi raised her hand. "Do you understand what it means? It means to gather information on the enemy before making your move. Did this Kimiko woman tell you anything about the defenses they might have? What kind of personnel or obstacles you'd have to face?" She knew the answer before Yori shook her head. "And now you just plan of scoping the place out? Walking along outside? In broad daylight where a thousand cameras can have your picture by lunch? Do you have any idea what Nakasumi Tower is?"

"A tower, I take it?"

"Leave the sarcasm to me, honey. Let me enlighten you. Nakasumi Tower is only slated to be the largest building in Tokyo. It's still under construction but already dwarfs everything around it. To top it off, the man responsible for it is one of the richest men in the world and one of the most famous faces in Japan: Nakasumi Ito. The guy's a billionaire toymaker. Which brings up an important question?" Hoshi brought her hand to her chin. "What is your father doing locked up in the basement of Nakasumi Tower in the first place?"

Yori shied away.

"There's something you're not telling me. That's okay. I'll find out sooner or later." Sooner rather than later. "But the place is going to be heavily guarded. Nakasumi doesn't play around when it comes to protecting his secrets. I wouldn't be surprised if that place has got better security than the Imperial Palace. Breaking in there won't be easy even for ninja like us. We're going to need a plan of action. We'll have to set up our escape plan before we make our entrance."

"Then," she continued. "We're going to have to figure out how we're going to get your father out of there."

"I will carry him," Yori said as if it were that simple.

Hoshi did not see it that way. "That alone tells me you've never done a rescue. Sneaking around by yourself is easy, Yori. Try doing that while carrying someone with a wounded leg. Trust me, it's no fun. Especially when there are heavily-armed goons gunning for you. It slows you down and puts you in the very, very bad position of having to play escort. If you're found out, then you have to protect your target and yourself. Don't count on him helping you if he's beaten to a bloody pulp. Your target is a major consideration in these things."

"You sound like you've had much experience."

Hoshi rolled her eyes. "Like you wouldn't believe. I've had to break people out of prison!" Her gaze darkened. "A Chinese prison."

"Wow."

"Yeah. Wow." Hoshi relaxed. "Anyway, between the three of us we should be able to get him out of there easy enough, so maybe I'm just being paranoid." She looked over at Hirotaka. "Hiro-chan can carry your daddy while me make sure the coast is clear."

"Seeing as how he shamed Yamanouchi it is the least he can do."

"My thoughts exactly."

Yori started. "But then how do we…recon the tower if we can't get near it."

"Already got it covered. IT?"

"IT?"

"You heard? Yeah…see what you can find out."

Yori glanced around the room. Other than Hirotaka, there was no one else besides them. "Who are you talking to?"

She noticed Hoshi titling her head slightly to the side as if listening in on something.

"Are you…feeling well?"

"Hold on a minute," she said and looking at Yori. "I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

"It's just…you're talking to yourself."

"Oh. I sometimes forget how this might look." Hoshi pointed to her left earring. "It's a communication device. My friend's on the other line."

"Your friend?"

"I have friends."

"How come we've never seen her?"

"It's a he. And the reason is because he's locked himself up in his room and never comes out." She saw the look Yori gave him. "He's a bit of an Otaku."

"Ah." She nodded. In Japanese culture, an Otaku was the equivalent of the American geek. These were boys (and sometimes girls) who spent their days reading manga, watching anime, and playing video games. They were socially inept, had difficulty being around women, and almost always had a stench permeating from their person. They were not usually attractive so Yori pictured an overnight youth sitting in front of his computer looking at online porn. She shivered.

"He's also a hacker," Hoshi's words rang out. "Smartest kid I've ever met." She smiled a moment. "Why you're welcome, IT."

"Why do you call him that?"

"All hackers have nicknames. Kind of like fanfiction writers. Think it makes them sound cool or something, I don't know." Hoshi paused to listen. "I'm just saying…what's wrong with the name your mom gave you?" Then she sighed. "Oh that's mature, IT. Really mature."

Yori could not help but smile. Just knowing Hoshi had a friend made her feel more relaxed around her. Made her seem less of a lone wolf and more of a team player. Then it hit her. "Wait a minute! A hacker? Does that mean back at the airport when the lights went out,"

"IT says it was nothing. Airport security over here is as bad as in America," Hoshi told her. "Oh and Yori? He says that half the security personnel were looking at your ass when you arrived." Listening again, Hoshi cackled. "He gives you a ten out of ten!"

At that, Yori blushed, given her tan skin a radish coloring. She sank further into the chair as if that would forever protect her rear end from peeping toms.

"Don't feel so bad, Yori. IT has seen a lot of girls online and he says you're the prettiest by far."

"Online?!"

"You know, chat rooms and such."

"I'm sure." Yori stifled a complaint.

"Thanks, IT." Hoshi sat up and began walking away. "Yes, punch it up here will you?"

Yori followed her to the computer desktop on the far wall. The screen flashed followed by building schematics. On the top read, in English, Nakasumi Tower. "Got it." Hoshi sat herself down and began looking it over. "Kid works fast."

Leaning over her shoulder, Yori studied it as best she could. Not particularly gifted in architecture, she could nevertheless tell it would be a marvelous structure upon completion. The green grid revealed the interior as well as the exterior. The two girls were looking at the very innards of the most high-security buildings in the country. Yori almost felt like she was intruding.

"What do you think?" She asked Hoshi.

"Hm." Hoshi watched a bit more before pointing. "There! See the elevator?"

Yori looked. "But there is no elevator."

"Right. There's just a shaft running down the length of the tower. That's how we get in."

Yori stood back. "You mean to grapple down an empty shaft hundreds of feet above the ground?"

Hoshi swiveled around until she was facing her. "We're ninja. We'll manage."

"I don't think we have ropes that big."

"We'll use the cables."

"I don't look forward to climbing that way again with my father over my shoulder."

"Then we'll find a different way out."

"Won't there be security?"

"There's always security. Risk is part of the job." She turned back around. "If it wasn't we'd be, I don't know, contestants on some crappy game show." She typed something on the keyboard. The map panned down to show the basement. "Three floors. That's a lot of room to cover."

"We need to narrow it down."

"Already have." Hoshi pushed a button and a red dot appeared in a room on the lowest level. "There's your daddy."

"But how,"

"Simple," Hoshi turned again. "It's the only heat signature in the entire complex."

"What?"

"Your father's the only human being down there."

"But that would mean he's alone, unguarded."

"Not the same thing, Yori. In fact, he may not be either. I'd wager he's protected by some automatic security system so advanced that even a fly couldn't get in."

Yori's heart sank.

"But don't forget," Hoshi brightened. "We have a world-renowned hacker at our disposal."

"And he can help us get in?"

"Like nerds at a convention." Hoshi cringed all of a sudden, touching her earring. "I didn't mean it like that…wait! Oh come on! I was joking."

Yori chuckled.


Night had fallen over the city of the future. In the heart of Shinjuku rose the indomitable Nakasumi Tower. Its sleek design made its neighbors look like relics of the twentieth century. Like all Nakasumi Corporation buildings, it was heavily automated. There were only two security guards in the entire building and they were stationed at the main entrance. One of them was already half asleep, while the other was watching a baseball game on television. One would chalk this up to laziness but in truth there was hardly any need for human guards. Their only purpose was to serve as formality should anyone come through the door. That was unlikely to happen being that the entire grounds was off limits to visitors.

Throughout the halls and on each floor, scores of security droids patrolled the office space. They were about four feet in height with tracks instead of feet; their head constituted of a flat visor connected to a broad metallic body of complex circuitry. While armed, the droids possessed non-lethal weapons. Nakasumi wanted to ensure that while it did not tolerate intrusions, it would retrain trespassers by humane means.

Cameras were posted on every corner – scanning left, then right, and back again. Almost every blind spot had some sort of surveillance. A tiny buzzing sound signified the approach of an automated glider the size of an insect. The glider was small in comparison to its larger, ground-based cousins yet was capable of emitting a fierce electric shock powerful enough to render a grown man unconscious.

No one would suspect the many security measures hidden behind the walls of the tower. From a distance it appeared quiet and unassuming.

"Still waters run deep."

"What?"

Hoshi turned to face Hirotaka who was still fighting off the remnants of his hangover. "It's a saying. It means,"

"I know what it means," He said in a grouchy voice. Seems his ears had yet to fully clear up. At least now he was able to move of his own accord and formulate words without sounding as if he was having a heart attack. When he had finally regained himself, Hiro glared at Hoshi with murderous eyes. "It's your own fault," she told him. And that's what made him angrier. He allowed himself to be fooled by this vixen once again. Can she blame him for glaring daggers at her every time she turned her back?

"How are you holding up?"

"Your concern is dually noted, Hoshi-san. But I assure you I will not be a hindrance to this mission."

"Hope not. You're the one who's going to carry daddy-sama."

Hiro shook his head. "I still can't believe she told you."

"You were out cold. Yori needed someone to talk to so we talked. Girls like to talk."

Hirotaka turned away, doing his best to pretend she wasn't there. Hoshi smiled. They were both donned in their black ninja gi except with their faces exposed. Doing a little last-minute reconnaissance before they broke into "Fort Nakasumi", as Hoshi nicknamed it, was actually her way of breaking the ice with Hiro. They would need to rely on each other once inside and she didn't want someone holding a grudge watching her back.

She sent Yori off to check their equipment while she joined Hirotaka at their vantage point.

"You know I was wrong about you," Hoshi began. "You really know how to mellow out. You sing pretty well too."

Hiro said nothing.

"Okay, tough guy. I'm sorry. Is that what you want to hear? I'm sorry for tricking you into a drunken stupor."

"You did not trick me. I got drunk of my own accord."

"That's right, Hiro-chan! Be proud of your accomplishment!"

"That was no accomplishment."

"I beg to differ. Most guys I know wouldn't have the balls to do what you did. Getting wasted and singing in front of a room of strangers while the waitresses laughed at you from the back,"

His eyes darted toward her. "They were laughing at me?" He asked as if that were some kind of curse.

"Hysterically. Actually, you remember that girl you knocked over? I heard her say you were kind of cute."

His eyes perked up. "Really?"

"Yeah…though that was right before you tried to shake your bon-bon while singing to 'Bon-Bon.'"

Hiro sighed. Hoshi tagged him playfully on the arm. "Buck up! Who needs those low-wage sluts around when you got two smoking-hot ninja babes?"

"Say what you will. At least there I could have gotten laid."

Hoshi glowered. "Pig."

The ninja shrugged – turning so that he was looking through a pair of binoculars. "Are you sure this is the best point of access?"

"The wind resistance is less strong here. We should be able to zip line over to the tower and work our way up. From there, we just slide down through the shaft until we reach the basement. Then we go in, find Yori's sperm donor, and get back out without anyone being the wiser."

Hiro turned to her. "And you're sure your imaginary friend's information can be trusted?"

"He's not imaginary. And yes, it can. IT has never let me down before."

"Does IT have a real name?"

"He doesn't say."

"Typical," Hiro said. "A ninja dropout who takes orders from an earring." He received a swift side kick for that one. "Ow!"

"Transfer, Hiro. They let me in, I let myself out."

Rubbing his bruised backside, Hirotaka scoffed. "I still think we're putting too much faith in a piece of jewelry."

They felt someone's presence close behind. "Faith is one of the few things a ninja has, Hiro-chan." Yori arrived carrying a large bag of equipment. She dropped it between them and began removing its contents. "I used to think a ninja could only rely on her skill to survive. Past experience has shown me that a little luck is also practical when facing insurmountable odds."

"I'd hardly call Nakasumi Tower insurmountable." Hiro looked through the binoculars again. "Formidable maybe."

Yori pulled out ropes, a grapple gun, and a zip line. "Hoshi, will you help me with this?" Together the kunoichi set up the grapple gun. They embedded a spike firmly into the roof to hold the line. Tying the cord firmly into the spike, Hoshi took aim as Yori set in the zip line. "Ready when you are."

Hoshi nodded. She took aim, taking into account the wind and which spot would best shroud their horizontal approach. "There." She fired. The thick cord flew through the air – the magnetic grapple latching onto the steel side of the tower. Pressing a button, Hoshi pulled the line in until it was rigid and secure. Making sure it did not wobble too much, Hoshi checked the balance with a firm shake. Confident it was solid; she turned to her partners and nodded her approval. They put on their masks.

Moments later, three black figures were performing a dangerous trapeze act over the busy Shinjuku streets. Yori was in the lead, being the lightest, followed by Hoshi and Hirotaka bringing up the rear. Once Yori reached the other side, she removed two pads from her belt. They were suction pads, allowing for easy climbing up steep, metal surfaces.

One by one, each ninja made their way slowly up the building. It was a long trek, made hazardous by the onrushing wind. At one point, Yori motioned for them to stop as a strong gust pushed her in view of a window. A security droid making its rounds thought it saw something and rushed to investigate. It peered outside for long, tense seconds before returning to its duties. Yori breathed out a long sigh before going back up.

Once they reached the top, the team took a moment to rest. "I used to climb mountains at Yamanouchi, but they were nowhere near as trying as this," Hirotaka said. Bent over, he was catching his breath.

Yori was sitting down next to an air duct, her chest heaving. "Indeed."

"Aw, you guys are wimps." Hoshi rushed over to the door opposite of where they were standing. "Come on. You country bumpkins have to get with the program."

"Country…"

"…bumpkins?"

Hoshi touched her earring. "We're at the top floor. The door obviously has some kind of warning device on it."

"How can you tell?" asked Hirotaka who came up behind her.

Hoshi pointed and Hiro followed her gesture to a sign that read: WARNING: FIRE EXIT.

"Oh."

"My boy is working on it." Hoshi's ponytail whipped about as she regarded each of them. "He'll have this door open in no,"

The door creaked open.

"Time," Hoshi finished. "Damn he's fast." She led them down the stairway and onto the top floor. Carefully, she peeked out of the door that led into the hallway. She saw the elevator doors closed shut. At the end of the hall sat a camera keeping watch on hallway. Hoshi turned back and motioned to them. "Camera." She tapped her earring and brought up five fingers. Counting down to one, she smiled when she heard a beep. "Let's go."

Hoshi opened the door. Hiro and Yori surely followed except they froze when they saw the camera still moving. "Hoshi!" Yori cried.

"Relax. IT took care of it. See that light?" There was a green light on top of the camera's visor. "That used to be red. To anyone watching it, it will look like the hall is still empty even though we're standing right in it. You can thank IT for that."

"Very impressive," Hiro said as the camera looked directly at him without sounding an alert. Yori closed the door behind him.

"He says thanks. Now,"

"Wait!" Yori's keen ears picked up a sound. "Something is coming."

Around the corner appeared a robot sentry, its treads humming along the floor. It proceeded toward the end of the hall, checked the door, and looked around. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, the sentry turned and disappeared around the corner to some other part of the floor. Had it bothered to look up, it would have spotted the three ninja spreading themselves along the ceiling. When sure the robot was not coming back anytime soon, they dropped without a sound.

"That was close," Hiro said.

"IT, we just had a close call. Why didn't you warn us about…what's that have to do with it? Serious? Why didn't you tell me this before? Great…just great."

"Problem?" The one male asked.

With a heavy sigh, Hoshi told them, "He says there is some kind of dampening field inside the building. It makes it harder for him to hack into the building's mainframe and see what's inside. That's how the robot was able to get so close without our knowing." She looked down. "It gets worse." Back up. "It seems the field gets stronger the deeper we go. We may lose contact when we hit the basement."

"Which means we will be blind. Yori, I think it's best if we,"

"We are not abandoning my father."

"That is not what I was going to suggest."

"Hold on," Hoshi silenced them. Standing there in the middle of the hall where the sentry could return at any moment was eating away at their nerves despite their best attempts to remain calm. They were not used to staying in such a vulnerable place for a long time.

"Kay got it." Hoshi spoke up. "IT says he'll try to find a way through the field. He should have done so in a few minutes but in the meantime we're just going to have to do this old school."

"Old school?"

"It means the old-fashioned way. Honestly, Yori, get with the times."

Yori grimaced behind her mask.

"Hiro-chan, mind getting the door."

Always up for a chance to show off in front of the ladies, Hiro cracked his fingers as he approached the elevator. With hardly a grunt, his flexed muscles removed the obstruction from their path, giving way to a black pit that extended far beyond their sight. He stepped back so as to allow the girls a view. Long way down, they all thought, but they had a job to do and nothing was more determined than a ninja on a mission.

"There are the cables." Hoshi pointed to a set of thick cords straddled on the other side of the shaft. "I'll go first," and with that, Hoshi committed a leap that sent her flying through the darkness. She clasped the closet cord and held on for dear life. The others didn't know that she briefly shut her eyes as the cord wobbled. Relief swept over her.

"Are you all right?" She heard Yori ask, her voice echoing just slightly.

"Peachy." Hoshi slid down just a little. "Try to keep your voice down, though. I don't know if the robots have ears but I wouldn't want to push our luck." Then Hoshi began her descent – her heart pounding with each floor.

"Ladies first," Hiro offered and watched Yori leap onto the cord next. Hirotaka stepped out onto the ledge of the elevator. With a slight tug he managed to get the doors to close themselves automatically leaving him in a precarious position. "Hiro!" She heard Yori whisper as loud as she dared. "What are you doing?"

"That sentry is going to come back. We can't have the doors standing open, can we?" Preparing himself, Hirotaka did one of the most reckless things Yori had seen him do. Gathering his inner chi into his legs, he leapt backward, coming to an awkward upside-down position on the cord. Reorienting himself quickly, Hiro now hung right-side up, looking down at Yori with a smug stare. "What?" She shook her head and continued downward.

The flight down was far more perilous than the journey up. Any mistake could send the ninja falling down hundreds of feet to a grim death below. All their discipline was put to the test as they slowly – an excruciating pace – descended into the shaft. No word was passed between them for fear of alerting the robot sentries. Still, a whisper would come up and down the shaft whenever one of three thought they heard something and wished the others to remain silent. They would wait, listen, and proceed when sure the coast was clear.

After what seemed like hours, the trio reached the ground floor. Now they were just above the basement. They took this time to catch their breath along the edges of the shaft. Yori's early musings were correct, there was no way they were going back up the way they came; especially if they had to carry her father with them.

Once they were rested they pressed on. "Hold it!" Hoshi muttered. Still on the elevator cord, Hoshi removed a series of pellets from her belt and threw them down below. The pellets exploded upon hitting the wall and released a gas that revealed a series of lasers. "Great." She looked up. "IT warned me about these. They're usually found in the most high-security levels. Figured any place used as a holding cell has got to fit that description."

"Can we proceed?" Hiro asked.

"Ninja style." Hoshi led by example. Using her incredible agility, the kunoichi flipped through the nearest laser and grabbed onto a service ladder. "Follow me."

"I don't know who worries me more: her or you." Yori directed that last quip at Hirotaka but soon followed with a graceful leap of her own. Like acrobats, the ninja moved left and right, spotting tenacious footholds where normal people would see nothing. Their dance was beautiful to watch but dangerous to behold. Still, it didn't take long before they had made it to the final level.

Hirotaka positioned himself to open the door but Hoshi stopped him. "Wait." She tapped her earring which was hidden underneath her mask. "IT, do you read me?" There was a long silence. "IT?"

Hirotaka looked to Yori who in turn spoke to Hoshi. "Hoshi, perhaps we,"

"Wait a minute. I've got him!" She kept her voice to a whisper. "Yes…good…thank you. Listen up! He managed to break through the field and can finally help us again. Good thing too." She pointed to the doors. "Those are rigged with a silent alarm. If you opened them up we'd have had a swarm of guards on us in minutes. IT is working on the problem right now."

They waited.

"Yori-chan," Hiro called out. "I just realized something. We just broke the record for highest climb in Yamanouchi."

"Does that really matter now?"

"Just thought I should point that out." She could hear the pride in his voice.

There was a sudden SWOOSH as the door opened. Yori and Hiro looked ready to bolt but Hoshi calmed them down. "That was our boy. We can move in now."

Finally free of that treacherous shaft, the ninja stood in a polished hallway with plain walls and red lighting. It looked more like something you'd find in a hospital than a corporate basement. "Which way?" Yori asked.

"Over here." Hoshi led the way to the right, IT guiding her via secret communiqué. She peeked around the corner before proceeding. Every hall looked exactly like the one they left, giving the impression they were running around in circles. With Hoshi leading the way, Yori and Hirotaka looked every which way as if searching for danger. It seemed strange to have come from such an arduous beginning to an easy middle of their story. Hopefully, the ending will be just as smooth – or this was just the quiet before the storm.

Hoshi stopped again, her back against the wall as she listened. "We're not that far. Just a couple more turns and we'll be there."

"Doesn't it strike you as odd," Hiro began. "How easy this has been?"

"I agree. My father should be more heavily guarded."

"Any particular reason?" Hoshi asked, raising an eyebrow.

"He…has enemies. I'm sure they wouldn't want him taken so easily."

Hoshi's eyes regarded her with serious intent. "Yori, nothing about this has made sense since we started. A woman you just met tells you where your father is being held and it just so happens to be in the new corporate headquarters of the richest man in the country; who, I might add, is beloved by children all over the world? You still haven't explained to me why that is but I'm risking myself anyway. If you want we can just turn back and have IT shut down all the security systems on the main floor and make our escape, gods know I wouldn't mind doing just that. But if your father is here, and that's a big IF, do you want to risk just leaving because it's been a walk in the park?"

"The best place to hide something is in plain sight," Hiro explained. "Perhaps they don't feel the need for such high security measures. Who would think to look for a prisoner in a place like this?"

"But my father is…" Yori stuttered to a halt. Not even Hirotaka knew the truth and she didn't want to just blurt it out. Her comrades knew her reaction to be a reserved attempt at keeping a secret but they didn't want to force it out of her. Hirotaka because he would do anything for Yori and Hoshi because she just liked her.

"I cannot ask you to go on without first understanding what it is you are risking your lives for." She hugged her arms. "My father…was Yakuza."

Hiro's eyes widened slightly but Hoshi let out a whistle. "No wonder you wanted to keep that on the low."

"Years ago he was captured by a man named Saito. He is the current leader of the Yakuza and controls all criminal dealings in Japan. My father tried to kill him – with Kimiko's help. The assassination failed and she lost track of my father. She was able to uncover his whereabouts and told me he was being held here. I can't imagine what he has been through but I must see him. Next to my brothers he is the only family I have left."

"You have brothers?!" The two exclaimed at once.

But she smiled. "I said the same thing. Once this is over with I plan to find them and bring them home."

"To Yamanouchi?" Hiro asked.

"To me."

"That's nice. But how about you ask yourself one question: how in the world did Kimiko suddenly find your father when he's been missing for so many years? It's a conspiracy." Hoshi shot.

"You have your sources, she has hers."

"Oh and you've known this woman how long?"

"Hoshi I,"

"Yori, this could be a trap. Did it ever cross your mind when dealing with this woman that she might be setting you up?"

"She helped my father."

"Who was Yakuza."

The threat in Yori's eyes was very apparent. "What does that mean?"

"Okay, I didn't mean to imply your dad's untrustworthy. But face it, kiddo. You can never be too sure when you're dealing with the criminal underworld. I've crossed those guys a few times and let me tell you they're no joke. These men will kill babies and rape children if they get the chance…which I'm sure some of them have. They have a very nasty trait of getting people to do what they want, whether you want to or not. For all we know, Kimiko could be working for them."

"I don't think that is the case."

"Sometimes I wonder if you Yamanouchi think at all! She's playing us, Yori."

"No she isn't."

Hoshi grunted. "Hirotaka," she used his full name. "Can you talk some sense into her?"

The male ninja had his arms crossed, watching the two girls exchange dialogue. "It has been my experience that when faced with too many variables, the best course of action is to follow one's instinct. If this is a trap then we should leave and count our blessings we weren't caught. However, if Yori's father is indeed here and we abandon him, his fate will haunt us for years to come. I'd rather face the possibility of a trap than just leave without ever knowing."

"So you're going with her," She stated more than asked.

"She leads, I follow."

Hoshi sighed. "You two will be the death of me." She looked at Yori. "You're sure about this?"

"No. But as Hiro-chan says, I have to follow my instinct."

"Like a dog in a horror movie." Hoshi's smirk was hidden behind her mask. "Okay. Guess that means I'm sticking around. Wouldn't be much of a guide if I let you two kick the bucket now."

"Kick the bucket?"

"Yori-chan, you and I have got to hang out more." Hoshi checked her earring. "Got an update from IT. He's definitely alive. Come on!"

The ninja hurried through the remainder of the complex. Their path led them to a single door down a narrow corridor. "This is the place." Hoshi moved in but was stopped by a hand on the shoulder. It was Yori. She wanted to take the lead. Understanding, Hoshi stepped aside and let her pass.

Standing in front of the door, Yori froze. Behind this door was the man who helped bring her into this world. So many years had gone by – would he recognize his only daughter?

"Yori," Hoshi said. "The door is clean. You can go in."

Nodding, she braced herself for what she would find. Reaching out, Yori's hand creased the surface of the door…and the floor gave way beneath her. The ninja fell into a black room, landing harshly on the floor twenty feet below.

Her legs stinging, Yori tried to recover from the shock. "What happened?" She subconsciously looked around for Hoshi though couldn't see anything but darkness.

"I thought you said the door was clear," She heard Hiro say somewhere behind her and to the right.

Hoshi's voice was much closer and Yori zeroed in on it. "It was! IT!" She called. "IT, do you read me?" Hoshi swore. It was a word unfamiliar to Hoshi because it wasn't Japanese. "I lost him!"

Reaching out, Yori finally found Hoshi and grabbed her arm. "Hoshi! What happened? Why did your friend not warn us about the trapdoor?"

"I don't know. He would have warned us if he picked up any…oh man!"

"What? What is it?"

"It was a trapdoor."

"We know that!" Hiro barked.

"I mean it was a regular trapdoor. No wiring, no electronic devices, just an old-fashioned booby trap. Don't you get it? We were under the assumption that everything inside this place would be automated. IT would warn us if we came across something like that. Only he couldn't warn us about this trap because,"

"It wasn't automated," Yori finished for her. "It must have been activated when I touched the door."

"Pressure activated," Hoshi concluded. She let out a chuckle. "Guess the old ways really are the best."

They heard Hirotaka grumble under his breath. "I can't believe we fell for something so amateur."

"Even monkeys fall from trees," Yori stated.

"Who you calling a monkey?" Hoshi asked.

"Enough. Let's just get out of here before we're found o…" A bright flash cut Hirotaka off at the end of the sentence. The ninja were temporarily blinded by large lamps that focused on their position. A series of clicks reverberated before them and they need not see to know those were guns. Soft footsteps echoed in the black room and they squinted to see who it was. A tall figure walked toward them, tapping a cane as he came to a stop.

"Monkeys," He spoke with a thick Japanese accent. "Indeed you are. For only those with the intelligence of a simian would even attempt to do what you have done." The figure chuckled slightly. "Tell me, did you really think it would be that easy?"

"I am so tempted to use a 'Kill Bill' line right about now," Hoshi uttered.

"Who are you?" Yori demanded.

"I am the one asking the questions. Not that I need to for you see, I already know who you are, Ishimura Yori."

The ninja gasped. "H-How?"

"I feel as if I've known you my whole life. Your father wouldn't stop talking about you."

She grit her teeth. "Where is my father?"

"In a safe place. You can meet him if you want. All you have to do is come with me."

"Like hell," Hoshi spat. "Don't trust this guy, Yori."

"Mifune Hoshi," the man addressed her. "And Sakaguchi Hirotaka," to Hiro. "I must ask you keep quiet. You see, Yori and I have much to talk about."

"I have nothing to say to you."

"You'll change your tune once we get to know each other." He titled his head sideways. "Come now, kunoichi. Don't you now who I am? I am the man who changed your life forever."

Yori squinted to see him. Only when her brain registered what he said did they widen. "You are Saito!"

He bowed his head. "In the flesh."

Biting back a retort, Hoshi regarded Hirotaka with a harsh whisper. "So what do your instincts tell you now, Mister you lead, I follow?"

"Quite frankly, I think we're up the creek without a paddle."

For once, Yori did not ask what that means.



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