Chapter 18: the Fugitive
Makoto tossed back the blankets and threw her legs over the side of the bed. The side wall of her room—which was about half glass—let in the ocean view. The sky was still dark and obscuring, but that was no surprise at 4:30 AM.
Ever since returning from that awful tower three days before, Makoto had been unable to slide back into her old routine. Gone were her late awakenings at 6:30. She couldn’t even feel comfortable under a hot shower.
After her return, she was up before the sun.
She showered in icy water and dressed silently, covering her sore, lightly muscled arms and pulling a hat down over her thin, broken, and ratty hair.
“Rise and shine, Makoto.” Hiroshida poked his head in the doorway. His eyes were bright and aware—he’d been up for a while.
Stretching her aching back and core, Makoto shot her father an incredulous glance. “What shine?”
Hiroshida had been a strange combination of better and worse ever since she had gotten back. Half the time he had been at her beck and call, ready with a light joke and a protecting hug.
But the other half he had been far more severe on her than before, taking her casefiles away from her and not even letting her out to see Chester.
“Breakfast is waiting.” He called as he walked down the hall away from her.
Makoto grabbed her backpack and followed him at a slower pace, mind bursting. Had Chester followed both sets of clues? Had he found anything? Had anyone told him that she was back?
Was he out of the hospital yet?
She entered the kitchen, zipping up her jacket.
Hiroshida placed her breakfast before her with a flourish.
She raised her eyebrows at it. She was pretty sure he’d never cooked a day in his life. “Thanks, Dad.”
He nodded shortly. “I won’t force this on you, but I’d like you to seriously consider dropping out of school.” He suggested slowly.
Makoto seriously considered pushing her breakfast off of the counter. “Dad, I’m not gonna drop out of college.” She argued.
“You could stay home and be safe. Or you could accompany me on my trips as my assistant.” He offered, sounding desperate.
Makoto stared at him in disbelief. “You know I’d have to go to college to be qualified for that, right?” She poked at her food. “And besides, you hired Hybrid to be my bodyguard, remember?” She gave him a significant look.
Hiroshida sighed tiredly. “I actually haven’t heard much from him since just after you were kidnapped. As far as I know, he’s terminated his own service.”
Makoto raised both eyebrows. “I doubt it.”
A soft knock sounded at the door and then an older woman stepped into the room. “Mr. Akari, you’ll be late for your meeting with Mr. Richards.”
Makoto took this as her cue to finish her breakfast and get going. “Bye, Dad.” She called from the doorway, only getting a wave of dismissal. She stepped outside, not even caring.
The morning was cold and fresh—just the way she liked it. Her keys jingled between her fingers as she made her way to the garage.
“Makoto.” Hiroshida called after her from the front door and she turned, surprised by his uncharacteristic personable attitude.
“Yes?” She responded attentively.
“I’ll be out all day dealing with this mess that Sakuza has left for me, but I should be home by nine. Make sure and have dinner ready and hot for me, okay?” He requested.
Frowning at the mention of her brother’s name, Makoto nodded. “Yes sir.”
Makoto returned to the garage, sighing heavily.
Home sweet home.
Another change that had occurred after getting back from her isolated vacation in that awful tower that had bad cell reception and even worse complimentary breakfast was, in a manner that was typical, perspective.
For instance, she stopped beside her car and just stared at it for a long time.
It wasn’t the type of car that you’d expect a wealthy diplomat’s daughter would have.
Hiroshida firmly believed that power, status, and position were not to be abused. Apparently that meant he couldn’t use his position to get a nice car.
The gray car was built in the 80′s, which was why there wasn’t a single inch of it that looked nice. Before she got dragged away by Zeke, Makoto had hated her car. It was old, ugly, had been wrecked twice by previous owners, and had horrible gas mileage. What did she expect from an old beater that she paid $350 for?
But in that moment she was staring at it with something akin to fondness. What had been ugly became a familiar, welcoming sight. What had been old and unreliable was just tired and slow, but still faithfully chugging along.
As Makoto swept her hand over the frame, her phone dinged with an incoming text.
It was from Savannah Anderson: “Uriel Adams has been placed in all of your classes.”
Makoto blinked at it for a long time. Uriel Adams was one of the girls who came to rescue her, wasn’t she? Wasn’t she a special agent?
She tapped out a quick reply before getting into her car: “Why?”
“To assist Hybrid in keeping you safe. No arguments, Makoto. Political power or not, nobody should be kidnapped as often as you have been.”
Makoto started her car, growing increasingly frustrated. “That’s too much trouble. I learned a lot recently. I’m better equipped to handle myself.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but that is yet to be determined. Until I feel comfortable knowing you can handle yourself, I want you to accept Uriel as a friend.” Savannah responded.
Makoto grumbled to herself, but responded genuinely before putting her phone away and heading to school: “Of course I can do that. Thank you for looking out for me.”
But she forgot about Uriel almost instantly.
Hiroshida wanted her to quit college?
She loved college.
She didn’t do great and her grades were low, but she loved working for something and learning everything that they taught her. There was no way she’d give up college and the chance of a future of her own accord.
It wasn’t like being a detective was what got her in trouble all the time. Half of it was her father’s political status, and the other half was his escapades as a crime fighter.
So he was blaming her life for all of the danger when really he was responsible.
Her thoughts were still racing when she pulled up in the school parking lot. She stepped out of her car, slipping on a pair of shades and breathing in the crisp morning air.
Her eyes roamed the distant buildings of the campus, an involuntary smile tugging at her lips. She’d not quite realized how much she had missed it.
Sure, she was weeks behind and she had tons to catch up on, but she was so glad to have normal problems again. She could worry about her math tests and A&P memorization like regular people instead of wondering if Christina was going to drag her away and kill her.
Life wasn’t easy.
She still had her family to worry about, and that whole frequent kidnapping thing.
But even though she wasn’t technically a detective—yet—she did have a big job in operations. She worked real cases and through Savannah’s friend in the force, she occasionally got the chance to help the police.
She got to work in the field, as it were, as well as occupy the space behind a desk to assist other students on their cases when the situation got rough.
Savannah called it being a field coordinator, which meant watching the paths that the student detectives took and guide them through without leading them into a trap.
That included doing research and decrypting and translating and full-on secretary appointment scheduling.
Makoto hadn’t don that job very often, but she could handle it.
She wasn’t the best man for the job, she knew.
But she was quick and smart and she made do.
Makoto was still standing in the parking lot, contemplating the morning sky when a voice next to her said, “Detective.”
She turned, finding a tall, slim, red haired woman watching her, a messenger bag slung over her shoulder.
Makoto swiped off her shades, squinting against the bright sunlight. Her gaze travelled across the telling details that covered the woman from head to toe.
Her deductions swam in her head, but she picked through the important ones.
This woman was wearing the same jacket and boots that the woman from Hybrid’s rescue party had been wearing.
Her shoulders and back were painfully straight, evidence of efficient, military training.
Her eyes were sharp and piercing, actively gathering information, just as Makoto’s were.
She was muscular and carried herself strongly with confidence.
She must have been Special Agent Uriel Adams.
“Agent,” Makoto responded politely.
The red-head stood next to an old blue pickup that she seemed rather fond of, if the way she was leaning against it was any indication.
Her face broke into a brilliant smile, her amber eyes seeming to reflect the sunlight. “Hey,” She greeted more humanly.
Makoto returned the relaxed formality, bowing her head politely.
Despite Uriel’s stiff and professional mannerisms, when she was on a job, she seemed friendly and enjoyable to be around.
“Savannah told you, then?” Uriel asked as they headed toward the college together.
Makoto nodded, forcing herself to be friendly until she felt comfortable enough to actually be friendly.
Fake it until you make it, right?
“Yeah. You’re my bodyguard 2.0. I’m guessing Hybrid didn’t request this partnership.”
Uriel grinned in amusement. “Not at all. He put up quite an argument.”
Makoto shrugged. “I’m all for bringing in the girl power,” She shot Uriel a sideways grin. “But I won’t forget that he was here first.”
“Absolutely. I understand.” She responded mechanically, a reminder that she wasn’t there to make friends, but to protect a client. “I wanted to let you know that Savannah wants me to assist in training you, if you don’t mind. And Hybrid recommends Judo and Jujitsu.”
Readily appreciative and eager to accept, Makoto nodded. “Sounds good.”
They both entered the main study hall, and Makoto instantly caught sight of Chester’s backpack sitting on a chair. She felt a clenching in her chest and she tried to hold back tears. It had been weeks since she’d seen him. “Chester’s here?” She asked, not even thinking to consider that Uriel might not know who he was.
“He was released from the hospital a couple weeks ago.” Her new friend responded. “We’re all having a private meeting with Savannah this morning.”
Makoto raised an eyebrow. That was a first. What was going on? Obviously, calling a bunch of students in for a meeting with the president wasn’t a normal thing.
Makoto went down the hall with Uriel and entered a private study room. Behind a row of computers, a collection of familiar faces were gathered around a table, waiting for them.
“Hey, Mako.” Chester Strapps greeted casually as they approached, his expression barely containing his excitement at seeing her.
Makoto followed his lead and kept her cool, though she wanted nothing more than to fall on her face and apologize for not being with him while he was healing from a terrible pain.
So she gave him a saucy look at the lazy nickname. But when she walked past him, she dropped a hand on his shoulder with a slight smile. “Good morning, Chester.”
“Morning, Hime.” Another voice added, with a refreshing lack of sarcasm.
For once, Makoto felt no dread at the prospect at seeing Tadashi. While she was still confused about his bipolar behavior toward her, it was comforting that she had convinced herself that he was Hybrid.
She didn’t even care that he hadn’t told her.
She just liked knowing.
Makoto turned to him. “Morning,” She responded cheerily.
He almost looked taken aback.
“Hello, Makoto. Uriel. Thank you for joining us.” Savannah said from the far end of the table. She gestured for the girls to find their seats.
Uriel went to sit by Tadashi while Makoto took the empty seat next to Chester. She dropped her backpack under the table, but left her phone on the surface in front of her.
Makoto tossed Chester a quick smile.
She was eager to hear about all of the time he’d spent while she was gone.
Chester’s blue eyes flashed her a returning smile.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” Savannah began professionally, keeping her voice low, but clearly enunciated. “I hate to break it to you, but the case you are all involved in is bigger than we original thought. I apologize for mixing you all up in it, and for opting to have you see it through rather than bring other students in or leave it entirely on ENIGMA’s plate.”
Makoto gave her a long look. Why apologize? She wanted to see it through.
“It’s no longer about the quarter piece. The case has been expanded to encompass the fugitive known as Christina Redding and all those that she is involved with.”
She got away? Anger burned within Makoto’s chest.
She was a fugitive. Running from justice. How could she get away from them so soon?
Chester nudged her with his shoulder.
Makoto glanced at him, her anger rapidly cooling. He gave her a gentle, comforting nod, reminding her that they were all mad at Christina—they’d just have to work through it.
“As she committed a serious offense by keeping Makoto captive, among numerous other crimes, we are being aided by ENIGMA, evident by the presence of Agent Adams.” Savannah nodded appreciatively to the woman in question, who smiled graciously.
“Makoto, I want you at a desk finding a pattern in her movements. If we know where Redding is going to be, we’re one step ahead. You good with that?” Savannah ordered.
Makoto fought down her disappointment and nodded. “Yes ma’am.” She didn’t like being benched, but given her track record it was understandable.
“Agent Adams, I want you to have eyes on the Akari family at all times. Christina promised to have them killed. They’re at high risk.”
Guilt and worry ate at Makoto’s stomach as Uriel accepted the responsibility.
“Tadashi and Chester,” Savannah turned to the men at the table and fixed them with a practiced glare that had them both listening attentively. “You’re my field team. You follow Makoto’s leads and find Redding.” She glanced around the table. “Any questions?”
When no one responded, she stood. “I want you set up in Active Operations, room 15C. Get on it.” She left the room, back to performing her duties as president of Anderson’s School of Deduction.
“And here I was hoping we could catch up.” Makoto muttered.
Chester scoffed. “When is life ever that kind?”
She turned to him, her eyes finding the burn scars that marked his face and throat. Her jaw clenched in pain as she thought of all the days he spent lying in agony on an uncomfortable hospital bed, and she wasn’t even there to provide a little comfort.
Chester got up and Makoto did, too. “It’s good to be working with you again, at least.” Makoto sent a glance toward Uriel and Tadashi before heading for the door.
She looked back, finding Uriel behind her.
“We’ll train later—don’t think you got off easy.” Uriel informed her.
Makoto nodded slightly. “I figured.” She glanced at the others. “Strap in, guys. Finding Christina is going to be a wild goose chase.”
Over Uriel’s shoulder, Makoto saw Chester roll his eyes at her very intentional play on words. She mentally high-fived herself.
When she looked at Uriel, her eyes had gone serious and she had become the no-nonsense agent that held her reputation. She gave Makoto an unimpressed look.
Makoto flashed her an innocent smile.
A few minutes later, the newly assigned task force had moved to Active Operations building, room 15C. Makoto settled down at her station, completely focused. She was more serious than she thought she would ever be before the age of twenty-three.
Then again, a lot of things about her life forced her to be different from other kids. Forced into maturity? That was certainly something life was trying to do. Unfortunately, she could be far too immature to comply.
Makoto logged onto her computer and began her search.
She wasn’t one to let pain or anger interfere with her work, but researching Christina was like a trigger. A deep, dark part of her wanted to track the woman down and kill her for everything she’d done.
But she couldn’t lose control of herself.
She searched for any sign of Christina, Zeke, and known associates, which weren’t many. It was difficult to find someone who spent most of her time in a completely different dimension.
Makoto fought to remain patient with the tedious job. It always took an outrageous amount of time to find someone when she was being as thorough as she was.
She finally found an old article that mentioned some kind of science fund raiser, and Christina was in the background of the attached picture.
She used the photo to initiate a facial recognition software, and let it run in the background as she looked for another angle. Makoto was at that desk for hours while Tadashi and Chester lounged around doing homework in silence.
At some point, Uriel got back from putting up cameras to monitor the Akari family and joined the guys.
Makoto, after hour number three, glanced back at Tadashi. She had felt his eyes on her periodically, and it was taking him a good twenty minutes to get through each page of his reading.
She knew he must have information to contribute, but couldn’t at the risk of giving away his identity.
Respectful of that, Makoto at last stood up and stretched. “I’m gonna go see if my bodyguard is hanging around. He might know something.” She left the room with a tired yawn, her upper back spiking with the pain of leaning over her monitor.
Sure, she didn’t know for sure that Tadashi was Hybrid.
And her evidence was less than rock solid.
She had strong suspicion and an ever growing list of commonalities between the two men that supported her theory.
Still, Tadashi or not, she’d need to see what Hybrid knew.
He revealed himself to her three minutes later. She had taken the bench she had been at when she told him of her diabetes. And to hint that she needed to talk to him, she pulled the tracker that he had given her out of her backpack and set it on the bench beside her.
Not long after that, his modulated voice came from the tree above her. “Everything alright?”
She didn’t look up, for the sake of keeping him concealed from all of campus. “Savannah has us scouting for Christina. You got any useful information for me?” It was strange speaking to him like that. She’d been so out of the job for so long that it was hard to shift back into gear.
She felt like a shady criminal meeting up with an informant.
There was slight hesitation. “Are you alright with that?”
Her entire thought process became paralyzed with confusion. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Because she kidnapped you for over a month? She hurt you? She threatened everyone you love?” He suggested sarcastically.
She resisted shooting him a glare. “Yeah. I’m going to refuse to help bring a criminal in because I’m mad at her. That’ll show her.” Who did he think she was? That didn’t even make any sense.
Hybrid was silent for a long moment. “The first thing you need to know is that Christina is ruthless and will not be afraid to stick her neck out as long as it means she can do some damage. The good news is that she is religiously against bombs. She prefers to clean out buildings and put her own people in them rather than destroy them.”
Makoto’s stomach turned in revulsion.
‘Clean out’ meant kill.
What a sick woman.
“What’s her problem? Boyfriend didn’t appreciate her? Angry atheist? Psychopath?”
Hybrid responded in the negative. “She’s power hungry and she wants an army so she can take over her father’s kingdom back in Jupiter.”
Makoto paused, lost once again. Jupiter...the planet? “Wait, why is she looking for an army over here? Why can’t she find people who like her in Dimension X? And why is she killing people?”
“They refuse her, they get the noose.” Hybrid responded grimly. “And she’s over here because she’s on everyone’s top most wanted. So far, nobody’s followed her over.” The crime fighter told her.
Makoto hummed thoughtfully. “Any idea where she might be now?”
“She booked it back home after we got you back, but I’ve heard that she made her way across again. Sources say she’s headed for the Commander in Chief.” Hybrid finished.
Makoto shot to her feet, snatching up her stuff. “DC? Why didn’t you lead with that?” Before he could answer, she was halfway back to Active Operations.
As soon as she was back in front of her computer, the facial recognition hit on a match. Just as Hybrid said, the source location was Washington, DC. “I’ve got her—call the president.” She announced.
Uriel was instantly up and at the closest phone.
Makoto’s eyes flicked back at Chester and Tadashi, who were both moving closer to get the information.
As Makoto sifted through the data that had popped up, she muttered to herself in annoyance. It was unacceptable. Why did people think they had the right to go after whomever they wanted? It was like they thought that the legality of murder was more of a suggestion.
A hand dropped on her shoulder, silencing her incessant murmuring. “What is it?” Chester asked, looking down at her screen.
She shot him a concerned look, and he just raised his eyebrows at her. Before she answered, she pulled up the picture that her search program had found. It had been taken twenty three minutes before. It was a tourist selfie with Christina coincidentally in the background, posted to a social media site.
Based on the scenery in the photo and the caption posted on the website, Makoto was able to find the exact location of the picture.
Her frown deepened. “She’s five blocks from the White House.”
Yeah, there was no way they could keep that mission quiet anymore. Thanks a lot, Christina.
“When was this?” Savannah’s voice came from the phone.
“Twenty minutes ago.” Makoto called, throat tight with worry.
“Gentlemen.” Savannah’s voice said authoritatively. “I’ve got a jet inbound. Head to the East parking lot. It’ll be waiting there for you.”
Makoto’s gaze slid from her computer to Tadashi and Chester.
“Yes, ma’am.” Chester responded. He glanced at Makoto and gave her shoulder a squeeze as he turned.
“Chess,” As his hand slipped from her shoulder, she caught it. He turned to face her, his expression questioning. Makoto searched for the words. Be careful. Don’t die. You’d better not leave me. Try not to get too injured. “Be careful.” She ordered instead, images of Takeo’s flag flashing back to mind.
The soldier nodded seriously. “Good work, Makoto.” He ran off toward the door, accepting a comms device from Uriel as he passed.
When she glanced after him in concern, her eyes caught Tadashi crouching close by, tightening his boot laces. She knew he had been listening, so she added an offhanded, “You too.”
His surprised, dark eyes flicked up to meet hers. After a long second, he finished with his laces and nodded just as Chester had.
Physically allergic to concern.
But then he said, “You got it, Hime.” And then he was headed for the door.
Makoto’s computer pinged and she focused her attention on it. A startled laugh passed her lips. “ENIGMA just got me White House security cameras.” She announced.
“Keep an eye on them.” Savannah’s voice commanded.
Makoto got to work instantly, urgency spurring her to move faster.
Chester and Tadashi were halfway out the door when Savannah stopped them. “Wait—I got word from someone in the area. Makoto and Uriel, you have to go with them. ENIGMA’s sending Tobias with the jet.”
Chester spun around to face the phone, wide-eyed, “Wait, why’s she coming?”
Makoto was already up and zipping up her jacket. She shot him a glare which he deliberately ignored.
As incompetent as she was in combat, she was perfectly capable of being useful.
Chester pointed at Makoto as though Savannah could see through the phone. “She’s not ready to be out in the field like this.”
Makoto suddenly felt singled out, and glanced at Uriel. The young agent had a neutral expression on her face.
Zeke hadn’t taught her much more than how to defend herself in an emergency, and maybe it was her arrogance, but she felt like she would do just fine in a fight. Then again, she felt equal confidence that she would crash and burn.
Even so, she wanted to be out of there, mean it death or victory. She didn’t want to stay behind and do nothing.
How would she learn and grow and get better if she was constantly being denied the chance?
She tied up her hair and crossed the room to stand before Chester. He stared down at her, bound and determined to remain firm in his opinion that she would not be going. “I know what you’re saying and I understand your position. But my time in the hands of Christina was not entirely horrible. I can go with you, and I will.”
He opened his mouth to argue, but Savannah spoke before he could start.
“She knows what’s happening. She knows where you’re going. She’s been closer to Christina than any of you. She’s going with you and that’s an order, Mr. Strapps.”
Makoto raised an eyebrow defiantly and moved past Chester. “We’re wasting time.”
Uriel turned and went on ahead of her. She was faster than Makoto, and had good form when she ran. She was even loading her gun as she sprinted down the quiet hallway.
Makoto couldn’t depend on her own ability not to trip over a flat surface.
Despite the show they felt they had made getting to the parking lot, what with their guns and rushed pace, they didn’t seem to be attracting any unwanted attention.
Tadashi was the first one onboard the ENIGMA-issued jet. He nodded a short greeting to Agent Tobias Meyers, Uriel’s field partner, who had been sent with the aircraft.
Chester sulked the whole way to his seat, but shot her a confident grin when she sat next to him. She gave him a strange look, wondering what had him so on edge.
“You okay?” She asked. It might have been a completely ridiculous question, considering the temper tantrum he’d thrown ten minutes before.
He gave her a sharp look. “You literally just got back. You’re hot off the grill and now you’re angling to chase down the woman who grabbed you? Sounds an awful lot like revenge to me.”
Grounded by his harshness, Makoto stared at him for a long minute. Revenge? Of course it wasn’t revenge. She knew better than that. Why did everyone think she had to make it personal? “That’s not what this is.”
“And have you seen your PE grades lately?” Chester added.
“The more time you spend worrying about her, the less capable you are of defending yourself.” Tadashi advised, amused at Chester’s show.
Makoto raised an eyebrow at him. Of all people to jump to her defense, Tadashi was at least seven names down the list.
“Shouldn’t that be a compelling reason to make her stay behind?” Chester argued. He was afraid of sounding like her father, excluding and offensive, but no one could deny that she was a highly likely candidate for PTSD and therefore not mentally equipped to be operating in a high-stress situation.
“Or maybe you should just leave her be and have a little faith in the woman who withstood nearly two months of captivity and got straight back to work again.” Tadashi responded simply.
Makoto glanced at him in surprise, but found his attention long since averted to something else. Even so, she was hit with the reality of the situation. She was incapable of properly holding up in a fight, and she was going to put her teammates at risk and be compared to Uriel.
She concealed a moan. What had she gotten herself into?
Tobias, sitting beside Tadashi, reached across and handed her a holster containing a pistol. Makoto slid it onto her belt and accepted the four additional magazines that he gave her.
She eyed them carefully.
“You know what to do with those?” Tobias asked, looking a little concerned. After all, if she was going to be on their team, she had to know what she was doing.
She nodded firmly. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks.”
“Give her a sniper and put her in the back.” Chester suggested sourly. He was really missing the don’t-sound-like-her-father thing.
“Where she would have every reason and opportunity to shoot you in the back. If the president can see her worth in the field, then she’ll be fine, Strapps. Maybe if you actually waited before you condemned her to death, you’d see it, too.” Tadashi commented quietly.
Makoto concealed a grateful smile, suddenly wanting to sit by him rather than the person who would rather throw her out of a flying jet to save her life than give her a fighting chance with a gun.
Don’t be such a baby, Makoto. Don’t even think about it.
Chester had clearly detected a threat in Tadashi’s voice and had elected to remain quiet after that remark.