Chapter 21: Demoted
Not long after falling asleep, Makoto felt a hand on her shoulder and just barely caught herself from grabbing and breaking it. Her eyes snapped open and she struggled to make out Uriel’s face in the darkness.
But Uriel had gone home hours ago. What was happening?
“Get up, Makoto. We have to go.” Uriel whispered.
It was 1:00 A.M. What could possibly be going on? “Where? Why?” Makoto asked, sitting up slowly to ease her burning stomach.
“Christina made an attempt on Sakuza’s life. She was stopped by the prison guards and she got away, so Savannah and your father want you somewhere safe. You’ll be staying with me for a while.” Uriel responded in a hushed tone.
Makoto blinked at her. “What about my dad? You want me to just leave him?”
“He’s gotta go to Japan for about 10 days, which is why you’re in my charge. Get up. Get packed.”
“Why now?” Makoto moaned. She crawled out of bed and watched listlessly as Uriel grabbed her backpack and a duffel bag.
“Because your dad leaves at four in the morning and Christina’s the type to break in at night. Pack your bags. Get dressed. We gotta go.” Uriel responded briskly.
Makoto quickly scooped various necessities into the available bags. Clothes, overnight bag, laptop, phone, keys, and anything she could reach. Hiroshida hadn’t mentioned any trip to her. Why hadn’t he told her he was leaving?
“Do you have a personal vehicle?” Uriel asked.
Makoto paused in tugging on a button-up shirt. “Last time I saw it, it was at the college. Three weeks ago.”
“Fine. We’ll arrange to get it later. You good?” Uriel moved back to the door.
Makoto nodded blearily and hauled her bags after her new bodyguard and wished she understood what was going on. She couldn’t put her finger on why, but she had a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach about leaving.
She wished she had rewrapped her injury before they had gotten started.
Three days later, after her classes, Makoto meandered into the living area of Uriel’s tiny apartment. She moved to the kitchen and searched for food.
Uriel was out at ENIGMA, doing whatever it was that secret agents do.
Makoto grabbed the blender and fixed herself a smoothie. She crossed the tiny expanse of the living room and sat down at Uriel’s computer. She booted up the machine and set her cup down on the desk, logging onto the college server.
Once she had access to all of her case information, Makoto dialed the number that Zeke had left for her.
He answered on the first ring, sounding eager to speak to her. “Where have you been?” He asked. “It’s been a month—I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”
Makoto grimaced with regret. “Funny, the things that slip your mind when you’re in a coma. I’m sorry it had to be so long.”
“Don’t worry about it. Whatever happened—I’m glad you’re awake. I’m assuming you need help with something?” Zeke guessed.
“Actually, yeah. You got access to one of those databases?” Makoto asked.
“Of course I do. Why?”
“If you don’t mind, could you research the owner of the Quarter Piece and figure out who I need to return it to?”
There was a slight pause and then Zeke’s thoughtful voice. “Yeah, I can do that. You in a rush?”
“Not really. Take your time and get back to me.” Makoto responded. “Thanks Zeke.” After completing the phone call, she turned her focus to researching Christina’s break-in at the prison where Sakuza was being held.
In the three days since Makoto had been staying with Uriel, she’d done enough research to discover that Christina, herself, had broken into Charlton Prison and made it far enough to stick a knife through Sakuza’s shoulder.
But that day, with a little more digging, Makoto found that Christina had first broken into Charlton and killed a man who seemed to have been wrongly convicted, based on Makoto’s findings.
It was only after that that Christina went to the complete opposite side of the compound to attack Sakuza.
Makoto’s investigation of the murdered man led her to learning that he was a preacher at a local church of Christ who was the only survivor of a shooting in the church building. Despite multiple witnesses claiming to have seen a lone gunman leaving the building and taking off in a vehicle, the preacher was charged with first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
She soon realized that she had long since strayed far from her brother’s predicament and turned off the computer.
She went to the middle of the room and went over the details of the fight. I shouldn’t have dropped my guard. I need to be faster, stronger, more agile and aware. Makoto bent down, easily touching her toes.
Her wound strained, but she ignored it.
The doors swung open and Uriel walked in, dropping her keys on the counter. She watched Makoto stretch for a long second and then moved into the kitchen. “You should be resting.”
“I’m not going to spend the duration of my hiding watching TV.” Makoto refuted, bending over backwards and grabbing her ankles.
“I understand that.” Uriel was momentarily silent as Makoto bent to both sides, occasionally groaning in pain. She lifted her shirt to find a small trickle of blood slide away from an invisible scar. It was cracking, and a few more streams of blood ran down her stomach.
“But I also think your exhaustive workouts are due to your ridiculous need to prove yourself to Tadashi and Chester.” Uriel commented.
Makoto glared up at the ceiling in exasperation. “What do you know?”
“A lot, actually. Stop wasting your time in denying it.” Uriel responded.
Makoto scoffed and grabbed her cup, joining Uriel in the kitchen. She retrieved an ice pack and held it to her area of injury and secured it in place with a bandage.
Ha. Prove myself.
I have everything to prove. I have everything to prove. But the insinuation that I have a partiality—especially to Kido—was outrageous. Sure, I had to prove myself to him, too, but there’s no reason to single him out.
That evening, Uriel took Makoto to ENIGMA’s firing range for practice. It wasn’t a huge empty room with targets lining the back wall. It was like a maze, walls and barrels and doorways. It was a shooter’s paradise.
Makoto gaped at it, beyond impressed.
“You think it’s great now? Imagine a team airsoft battle in here.” Uriel smirked at her companion’s expression. She reached over and hit a switch on the wall.
The arena filled with noise, fake gun shots resounding off the wall. A mannequin hanging off of the ceiling swung in front of Uriel and she shot. The arrow gave a muffled thump as it landed in the stuffed dummy.
Makoto heard a whirring noise behind them.
Uriel spun around too late and got hit by a paintball on the shoulder.
Makoto stared at the splatter of paint for a second before searching for the origin.
There was a hole in the middle of the abdomen of each target, from which spring-fired paintballs were shot.
Uriel was clean of paint when she finished, except for one on her shoulder and another on her thigh. Hardly breathing heavily, Uriel turned with a broad smile and held out the bow to Makoto.
Makoto gave it a hesitant look. “I’ve never shot before.”
“I’ll show you. And the targets will remain stationary.” Uriel pressed the bow into Makoto’s hands and proceeded to instruct her. She taught Makoto where to put her feet and how to straighten her shoulders and which fingers to put on the string.
She was just showing Makoto where to rest the string against her jaw when they were interrupted.
“Tetsudai masyou ka.”
Makoto lowered to bow to find Tadashi in the doorway. They exchanged polite bows and then Tadashi entered the room and gestured to the bow. “This is American archery. I can show you the kyūdō stance if you like.”
“This isn’t a long bow.” Makoto argued.
Tadashi shrugged. “It will do if you want to try.”
Makoto glanced at Uriel, who nodded invitingly.
“Arigatou.” Makoto relented.
Tadashi stepped forward and stood beside Uriel, telling Makoto how to begin. She was to first nock an arrow, which was made easy by the arrow rest on the recurve. Then he had her hold the bow out in front of her, lifting her arms above her head.
As she drew back, he guided her through lowering the bow to a more natural position. When she was ready to shoot, Makoto had her left arm extended, her hand in line with her mouth.
Her right hand held the arrow behind her ear, away from her face.
She finally got to shoot after practicing her form. She missed the target the first six times, and then occasionally hit her mark here and there from that point on.
When Makoto finally retired to Uriel and Tobias’ lounge that they shared with two other teams, she was sore and shaky. She didn’t know what the draw weight on that bow had been, but considering Uriel possessed superhuman strength, it was probably beyond a beginner’s weight.
She wondered about Tadashi’s contribution to her training. He had been on a nice-guy streak ever since she’d gotten back from captivity and she was just waiting for it to break. Until then, she appreciated the help he offered.
Makoto was busy doing homework when Uriel entered the lounge. “I’ve been talking to the directors.” She began, taking a seat. “They don’t want you here while I’m on duty unless they or Anderson calls you in. So until I’m done every day, you’ll still be staying at the apartment.”
Makoto shrugged. “That’s fine.”
“That’s not much better than you living at your place, that’s what it is.” Uriel argued. “But we’ll figure something out.”
That evening, after they’d returned to the apartment, Makoto found herself becoming restless at around 8 p.m. Grabbing a jump rope, she set to work, keeping time with her breathing. It was exceedingly painful, but she forced herself to ignore it.
Uriel wouldn’t let such a minor injury stop her.
For the first time, Makoto was half-glad that Takeo wasn’t there. He would throw a fit if he saw how much she was working herself. She could only justify it to herself by repeating that it was absolutely necessary for a detective to be in top shape.
“You should rest.” Uriel persisted from her position on the couch. “Your injury will only get worse. Why don’t you watch a movie?”
“I don’t see how that will better prepare myself for the case that Mrs. Anderson has assigned to us.” Makoto responded simply.
“You mean besides giving yourself a chance to heal?”
“I was in full power-saver mode for three weeks. I think that’s enough chance. Anything else is just an excuse.” The Japanese woman stated resolutely.
Uriel leaned forward, but not close enough to get smacked by the jump rope. “Makoto, I have to tell you some—”
“Have the others made any headway on the case?” Makoto interrupted.
“Makoto. You have been removed from the position of Chester’s field partner.” Uriel said with grounding solemnity. Her eyes were heavy with the burden of having to carry the news.
Makoto’s arms fell, dropping the jump rope. “What?” She stared at Uriel, unwilling to believe what she’d heard. Her chest clenched as, deep down, she knew it was true.
“You have been deemed incompatible by the system. I’m sorry, Makoto. I know it was out of your control, but when you fell so far behind, you became incapable of operating at his level.” Uriel expressed softly.
Makoto silently folded up the jump rope and placed it back on the shelf where she’d found it. “Yeah, I get it. Thanks.” She left the room, going to her bed to try with all her might not to break down.
If the rest of her world was broken, who was left to be strong but her?
At that point, Makoto felt she had become a distraction to the team. Someone else they have to look after.
She administered her insulin and then twenty minutes later ate a bowl of fruit. She didn’t really care that she hadn’t eaten a full meal for three days.
The next morning, Makoto was at school before the sun rose. She crossed campus in the dark, mood sour and expression bitter. She wanted nothing more to lock herself in a gym and force herself to be better at everything she failed at.
She pretty much pouted through her classes. Tadashi and Chester both hung back until lunch, sensing her emotional unrest. They probably knew exactly how much she wanted to attack a kick bag and shoot as many holes as she could manage through a target.
Knowing all of that, it wouldn’t be too wild to assume that she would readily substitute a target and kick bag for either or both of them.
“You should try nutrition. You know—protein?” Chester suggested, approaching her table and beholding her granola bar with a look of disgust. “I believe your doctor prescribes a well-balanced diet.”
Makoto looked up slowly. “A nutritional diet won’t make me feel better.” Of course Chester had to come over and talk to her. What he must think of her. How he must regard someone who had fallen so far.
He sat at her table with an unbelieving look. A second later he was pushing an apple and a slice of chicken onto her tray. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve got to eat. A coma won’t make you feel any better, either.”
Makoto raised an eyebrow. “Actually—”
“Just eat.” Chester muttered, reaching for his fork.
“Akari.” Tadashi’s presence was made known to her by his quiet voice. “Koko ni suwatte ii desu ka?” He nodded to the seat next to Chester, who didn’t speak Japanese and looked extremely confused.
Makoto paused, her fork halfway to her mouth. She shrugged. She didn’t own the table. It wasn’t like he had to ask.
He sat silently, ignoring Chester’s lost expression.
“Guys—you know that’s rude, right?” Chester commented dryly.
Makoto raised her eyebrows. “I thought it was polite, actually.”
Tadashi smirked as the confusion turned to irritation.
“Learn Japanese, Chester. You might need it for your next partner.” Makoto muttered, causing Chester to go quiet and put his fork down.
But before he could say anything, Tadashi turned to Makoto and said, “You planning on eating that?”
Makoto shook her head. “No.”
Chester gave Tadashi a dark look.
“Have at it.” Makoto pushed her tray over to him, but Tadashi completely bypassed it and grabbed her wrist, pulling her out of her seat.
She grunted in alarm, stumbling as he pulled her after him. “What are you doing? Let me go.” She snapped, pinching his hand.
“You need training. Just come and I’ll help you.” He promised.
Not wanting to let him but not willing to refuse, Makoto took her bent pride and followed him.
They entered a small gym, which was cut off from the main room where PE was held. Three bags on tracks hung from the ceiling, waiting to be activated. A balance beam and a series of bars stood against the wall, along with mats and barbells on the shelves. A treadmill stood to their left.
“What are we doing?” Makoto wondered, glancing at the few other students using their lunch breaks to decimate a few punching bags.
Tadashi pulled a lever and the kick bags began moving quickly on their on their tracks. Tadashi stepped swiftly in the midst of it. He punched one out of the way and kicked the next. He leapt into the air, spun and kicked the third one nearly off of its hook.
A few minutes later, he was standing in front of Makoto again. She gave him an exhausted look. “I’ve been trying to be good at this for years. Unless you can work some magic, this is a waste of time.”
“Then you know what to do.” He stepped out of her way and nodded for her to get started.
A good fifteen minutes of constant interruption and instruction later, Makoto’s muscles were tense and burning with soreness.
As she continued to punch and kick, her abdomen began to sting. Perspiration dripped down her spine and she tossed her sweatshirt to the ground, cooler in her t-shirt.
When Tadashi decided she could be finished, he handed her a bottle of water and gave her a moment of silence as she checked her phone for messages.
There was one from Hiroshida: “Have arranged for Sakuza’s release. Will be back to bring him home in two days.”
So. Life could get worse. She jammed the phone back into her pocket and turning toward the door.
But then remembering Tadashi, she faced him with a small bow. “Arigatou. I’ll see you in Operations.” And then she was gone. She had free period after lunch, which was fortunate because she needed more than anything to clear her head.
She collected her gym bag and changed into her running clothes. How could Hiroshida do that? How could her own father bring her brother back from where he so clearly belonged?
As if she weren’t having a hard enough time getting back on her feet. Because she definitely needed another threat to be worried about. Maybe Uriel would let her stay forever.
Makoto strapped a compact pistol to her belt and pulled her t-shirt down to cover it. What could she say—she wasn’t in the mood to get kidnapped or stabbed.
“Where are you going?”
Makoto glared darkly. Why was Uriel always everywhere? “I’m going running. 4 miles.” She concealed a groan as she felt pain spike up her abdomen.
“I suggest you run 2 miles at most. You’re in no condition to be running long distance. Remember how hard it was to exercise yesterday?” Uriel responded.
Maybe if I do, I won’t be so stressed anymore. “Stretches make everyone sore. I’m fine.” Makoto said, grabbing her iPod. Uriel was worse than Takeo.
Uriel crossed her arms challengingly, but it only pushed Makoto to stand firm.
She headed for the door. “I’m going. See you.” Makoto pulled the door shut behind her and took a good two minutes to stretch and loosen her muscles before starting. She found herself holding her breath, trying to ignore the steady throb of pain, and had to remind herself to exhale in rhythm.
The Oregon weather was warm, but it suited her just fine.
Beautiful trees decorated the side of the trail that she ran on, and she didn’t hear her music half the time, due to studying her surroundings.
But not for the view. It made her feel paranoid and kind of crazy, but she couldn’t help being hyper-aware of anyone who might be following her.
She was pleased to find that she didn’t grow weary throughout the run, not even breaking a sweat. And her breathing was easy to control. She tested her limits, even going farther than four miles. She took time on the way back to slow down and stretch before pain from her stomach could bring her to her knees.
Makoto took a swig of water and shook her hair out of her face.
Berating herself for not bringing her phone, she felt like chewing her father out for making a huge mistake.
Maybe she wouldn’t have to go home.
She swished the water around in her bottle, looking at the ground and using hearing to take in her surroundings. Birds chirped in the trees to her left. She heard a stream running through a tunnel beneath her.
In front of her, she heard footsteps. She looked up and saw a young man, taller than Makoto, with his attention on his magazine.
He was two feet away from running into her when she said, “The world’s out here. It’s about to hit you in the face.”
He looked up sharply and scuffed to a stop, looking up. “Sorry.” He stared at her for an eerily long time. “Sorry for staring. You just look really familiar.” He shook his head and extended his hand. “Ken.”
“Akari Makoto.” She responded.
His hand froze in her grasp. “Not the one on TV?”
“Afraid so.” She muttered, not sure why she was talking to him in the first place. She blanked her expression and said. “Nice to meet you, Ken.” And began to walk on.
She’d never stopped and talked to a stranger for no reason before. She wasn’t really interested in people. She focused on work and survival. Even as a self-acclaimed detective, the reason for her striking up a conversation would always remain a mystery.
There was something about Ken that put her on edge. Maybe it was his recognition of her. But that shouldn’t be all too surprising. She’d been part of television and magazine interviews multiple times.
Despite the gun on her hip, she felt insecure and walked faster. She had the sinking feeling that he was either following or watching her closer.
She groaned when her stomach informed her that she had pushed herself too much, and wrapped her hand around her waist. Stop being so weak. The pain doesn’t matter. Chester wouldn’t stop because of an aching wound.
Makoto heard the scuffle of his boots and tensed. The sound went farther away and she relaxed. How does someone train themselves not to be so tense?
Back at Active Operations, Makoto changed her clothes and discarded her water bottle.
“How was the run?” Chester asked as she entered their missions room.
“Just fine, thanks.” She responded stiffly. She went to her work station and tracked Christina’s movement to the best of her abilities. The others milled around her busily, mostly keeping to themselves. Sometimes they stopped to add their findings to her work.
At some point she checked her phone, and was about to dial her father’s number when a text popped up from Mrs. Anderson. Intrigued, she clicked on it.
She was kind of confused by the fact that she had gotten a text from her at all, but what it contained seemed like it was a lead. “Christina scheduled to meet contact in an hour at Military Park.”
Makoto considered the text message carefully. Savannah had never texted her before. She’d always taken the time to meet in person. It was even unlikely that Savannah was doing her own investigation on the Redding case, especially since she assigned an entire task force to it.
It was almost definitely a trap.
She glanced up from her monitor.
Chester was writing a history essay. Uriel was reading a book on codes ciphers. Tadashi was staring intently at a pen that sat on his desk. A second later, his hand darted out and pushed it over the edge.
As the pen clattered against the floor, he looked up quickly to see if anyone had witnessed his weirdness.
Makoto rolled her eyes and grabbed her things. Trap or no trap, it was probably still a lead. And if she was right about the whole Tadashi-Hybrid thing—and she likely was, based on the pen incident—he would show up in one form or another.
She stood and headed briskly for the door.
“Where are you—” Chester started.
Makoto shot him a glare. “If you’re going to control me so much, why don’t you put me on a leash?”
She wasn’t mad at Chester at all for being removed as his partner. As far as Makoto knew, it wasn’t his fault. She was, however, mad at herself. And through that, she grew angry at the obnoxious amount of times people asked where she was going and what she was doing.
So she crossed the parking lot, got in her car, and drove away. She watched carefully as she went, but found no tails or suspicious persons.
When she reached Military Park, she stepped out of her car and shouldered her bag. She locked the car and slipped the keys into her pocket.
After a quick glance around, Makoto looked at her watch. She guessed she had about ten minutes before the alleged meeting. But if it were a trap, Christina’s people were probably lying in wait for her to show up.
Military Park was small and, for the most part, open. Evil people generally have secret meetings in secret places. Likewise, evil people typically kidnap people discreetly from a secluded place.
The only area that fit that description was a park bench that had two trees behind it and a line of shrubs in front of it. Apart from that, the rest of the park was open.
Makoto made her way to that spot, taking a seat.
Not two minutes later, a hand slammed into her mouth. In response, she dug her elbow into the person’s solar plexus and spun around, socking him in the jaw. The masked attacker grabbed her wrists and she threw up her leg, kicking him in the chest. His hold only tightened.
Makoto growled in frustration. If he’d let her go, she could go for her gun.
Makoto glanced around and caught a glimpse of black hair and worried eyes.
Makoto bent and rammed her shoulder into the attacker’s chest and spun around. She saw Ken to her left and another man to her right. She buckled her knees and threw all of her weight down.
The action knocked her captor off-balance and he let go of her. She twisted around, getting her feet under her, and had her pistol trained on his liver.
The second man clearly felt no attachment for his companion, for he ran at Makoto with complete disregard for the other man’s well-being.
Before he could get within two feet of her, a heavy body tackled him to the ground. Just as Makoto had suspected, Hybrid had come to her aid and was entertaining himself in a savage brawl with one of Christina’s men.
The guy that Makoto held at gunpoint suddenly whipped around to attempt to regain the upper hand. In reflexive panic, Makoto swung her pistol at him defensively, clobbering him across the face.
He staggered back, dazed, and she seized the opportunity to lung at his throat.
As expected, he threw his arms up to block her.
Makoto planted her foot against his thigh and launched herself forward, clapping her arm around his throat and swinging around behind him, the way she’d accidentally learned from Zeke.
But instead of stopping there, Makoto tightened her grip and let her momentum swing her all the way around in front of him again.
The force propelled her opponent toward the ground and he landed with his face in the dirt.
A quick check found him to be unconscious.
Makoto fell back, feeling her heart hammer and noticing a dark blotch on her shirt, and wetness over her stomach. Her wound had come open again and it was no gentle tickle.
Breathing shakily through her teeth, Makoto’s fingers scratched through her pockets in search of her candy bar. Suck it up and take it. She told herself. Don’t be a ninny.
Her fingers found the candy and she ate it slowly, very slowly setting her malfunctioning body at ease.
Soft footsteps approached and then Hybrid was kneeling next to her, lifting her up enough for her to breathe more easily.
“Are you hurt?” He uttered through his modulator.
She shook her head. “My scar split and my diabetes took a kick in the gut, but I’m fine.” She smiled wearily at him “Thanks for showing up, but I was getting it under control.”
Hybrid laughed shortly, sounding weird with his throat speaker. “Sorry. Old habits.”
Makoto lay there for a long time, letting her poor, shocked body return to regulated vitals.
“You really gotta stop reopening that wound.” Hybrid said carefully. “It’ll never heal.”
“Everything heals.” Makoto muttered. “Eventually.”