Chapter 24: Aikido
In chemistry class, Makoto learned how to make three different gases using the available chemicals. While she caught on quickly and had little trouble with the task, Uriel was suspiciously good at it.
Makoto only saw her look at the ingredient lists once before she got to work and flawlessly created the concoctions.
In history they learned about a nuclear disaster that happened in the 80′s that led to an extremely dangerous radioactive material being released into the building. Apparently, it didn’t take much exposure to the material and radiation to make it lethal.
She was in PE, in the middle of her ninjutsu class, when Tadashi walked in, late. Makoto glanced at him as he walked stiffly past her, hauling his gym bag over to the shelf that stood against the wall.
He smelled like Vortex, leather, and tree sap.
He must have been working as Hybrid between classes.
“Where were you?” Makoto asked innocently, swinging a training sword and going through the warm-ups.
Tadashi moved toward the other side of the gym. “Out.” He said, avoiding her gaze.
He was radiating pure rage.
What were the chances it was directed at her?
But why would it be?
She couldn’t bring herself to care enough to dwell on it, so she let it slide.
After working up a sweat and adding a dozen new invisible bruises to her collection, Makoto headed to her mechanics class, chewing on a candy bar before she could pass out.
She had done better.
Her physical scores were improving despite being so far behind. Since cleaning up her diet—due to the diabetes—she was able to withstand more physical exertion. Zeke and Tadashi’s private training lessons had contributed greatly to her building success.
When Makoto reached Room 15C of Active Operations that evening after classes, everyone was already there, including ENIGMA Director Barton, President Anderson, and Uriel’s partner Tobias.
“Your assignment has become a rescue mission.” Director Barton told them bluntly as Makoto entered.
Savannah gestured for her to sit at the large table in the middle of the room with the others.
“I don’t understand. Why are we being reassigned?” Chester demanded.
“You’re not being reassigned. Your target is still Foxtail.” President Anderson responded.
“Foxtail? I thought her name was Redding.” Makoto questioned, taking a seat between Chester and Tadashi.
“Foxtail is her code name.” Tobias clarified. “She’s field partners with Jered Springfield—my best friend. I was able to identify her in DC when I accompanied you on your first field run. Since then I’ve been trying to confirm that she is indeed Christina Redding and not an imposter.”
“From the beginning, Agent Meyers.” Director Barton ordered swiftly.
Tobias leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. He rolled his shoulders and stared down at his hands, irritation evident in the strength of his gaze.
Makoto narrowed her eyes inquisitively as she beheld him. He smelled like dirty laundry and sweat. He looked as though he hadn’t shaved in a week, and blood seeped from his shirt in a straight line down his back.
She saw the edge of a knife wound above the collar of his shirt below his ear.
He had been hard at work for days and it had taken a lot out of him.
“My buddy pulled Christina from a rogue ops team and convinced her to switch to our side about 4 years ago. Since then she’s been one of ENIGMA’s best, a Christian, and the partner of my buddy, Jered.” Tobias explained, rubbing at some dark stains that marked his knuckles.
Makoto couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Christina was a misunderstood saint?
She was a victim?
She was not rescuing the woman who took people captive, killed people, and was the root of personal grievances of both Makoto and Tadashi.
Not after what she did to Zeke.
“And did you anticipate that one of ENIGMA’s best would stab you in the back?” Makoto eyed Tobias’ knife wound. “...Literally?”
The special agent gave her a dark glare. “Christina was recently taken and assumed killed by a known fugitive. Turns out he spared her life only to use his standard MO against her—he stripped her of her memory. We think he reset her five years.”
Uriel glanced over at Makoto. “Like when an Alzheimer’s patient wakes up and thinks he’s still living in his twenties.” She explained.
“And what was her rogue ops unit’s mission five years ago?” Chester asked carefully, dreading the answer.
They all dreaded it.
“The persecution and absolute destruction of the church of Christ.” Director Barton responded seriously.
Makoto groaned into her hands. “Let me guess—she’s mad at God because her friends or family believed in Him and He let them die.”
“Close.” Tobias responded.
“Her parents both took it to the extreme. She snapped.” Uriel said, sadness laced in her voice.
“What kind of extreme?” Chester wondered.
“They decided to take the fast track to heaven and kindly took their whole church with them.” Tobias answered flatly.
“They...they killed a bunch of Christian families and then killed themselves?” Chester translated, sounding sick.
“They didn’t realize that suicide doesn’t get you there, did they?” Makoto commented dryly.
“Her mom blew up their congregation and took herself with it. That morning, her dad mercifully went after Christina to send her to a place of perfect bliss but she freaked out and booked it. Now she’s back to getting rid of New Testament Christians.” Tobias said, exhaustion pressing down on his shoulders.
Christina had to be his friend. He had to watch her relive her awful past. His best friend had to start all over again and bring her back to sanity.
“She does know that killing a bunch of Christians is only going to land them in peace, right?” Makoto questioned, unamused.
“Oh, she knows.” Uriel responded disgustedly.
“Death is never enough.” Director Barton explained. “Redding knows that every devout Christian dies with hope and happiness in their hearts, and killing them brings only peace. She does believe in God, and that’s why she takes His people, soul by soul, and she leads them straight through the broad gate. She doesn’t want to kill us. She wants to strip from us our faith and give us assurance only of eternal torment. Then, once we forget we are Christians and go back to our sinful lives, she kills us.”
Makoto leaned back in her chair, horror knotting in her stomach. “That’s...” she glanced at Chester. “That’s terrifying. How do they fight that?”
“They can’t.” Tobias responded. “And neither can she. She has no idea that she’s one of the people she’s condemned to hell.”
“Basically she’s the Bloody Mary of Jupiter. She wants an army to take over her father’s kingdom and eradicate Christianity. The path of least resistance to Earth, where no one knows her. She handpicks her warriors and carries out her mission as she goes.” President Anderson continued.
There were a few seconds of disturbed silence.
Director Barton reached for his bag, packing up to go.
What kind of sick, twisted mind would try and wage a war with God? Christina really was a deranged person before ENIGMA got to her. Makoto could only sit in awe of Jered Springfield’s good work with her.
Speaking of which...
“So you and Jered will be there tomorrow, then?” Makoto asked Tobias, 98% certain that Uriel had reported to ENIGMA about the meeting scheduled to take place the next morning.
“We’ll be there.” He confirmed. “And we’re here now to form a plan because you’re definitely not going to meet her alone.” Tobias lowered his eyebrows, daring her to jump down his throat with a feminist accusation.
But Makoto had zero problem admitting that he was absolutely right. “I am well aware, thank you.”
“I have 300 of my top students in excellent physical condition, ready to help.” President Anderson said.
“As backup.” Director Barton responded firmly. “I’m not putting a bunch of college students in the line of fire.”
President Anderson’s head swiveled around to fix him with a steady glare. “Fine by me.” It wasn’t like she was anxious to put a bunch of twenty-year-olds in the path of a storm of bullets.
Barton spread a map of Parking Lot 7 and the surrounding campus on the table. “My agents will be moving into the dormitories that surround the lot and keep an eye on the windows.” He gestured to the three closest buildings. “I’ll have a few on the ground and a few in cars. You’ll be completely surrounded. You’ll be safe enough walking out there by yourself.”
“And once I meet with her?” Makoto asked.
“She’ll almost definitely have soldiers with her and people on the outskirts. So you’ll certainly be on the end of a whole lot of scopes. I hope it’s comforting to you that most of them will be ours.”
Makoto gave the director a flat look. “Not until I have a plan of action.”
Tobias took that moment to drop two large capsules on the table. “Smoke. Five or six of these are going to be deployed right around you. As soon as you’re under cover, Uriel, Jered, and I are going to move in and get her out. But the first thing she’s going to do is reach for you. You’ve got to hold her off long enough for us to get to you.”
“Done.” Makoto responded, not as sure as she sounded.
“And us?” Chester asked.
“You and Mr. Kido are going to be in the chopper.”
Hiroshida and Sakuza were already there by the time Makoto got to the mansion that evening. She greeted her father readily but felt only dread as she turned to her brother.
He had changed.
His face was blank.
His body was relaxed.
He was completely quiet.
It was terrifying.
She bowed to him nonetheless. “Sakuza.”
He didn’t answer. His only reaction was to stare darkly at the wall above her head.
Makoto sought refuge in her father, facing him attentively. But just as she was about to ask him about Uriel’s apartment, he excused himself to go to bed.
The next morning at 2 A.M., Makoto was standing in front of her mirror, brushing her hair. She’d gotten up and dressed hours before. It was hard to sleep in a place that scared her more than Christina’s tower.
She’d just set to untangling a particularly stubborn knot when an arm banded like steel around her chest. Her eyes snapped up to see a scar-faced man glaring back at her in the mirror.
She didn’t recognize him.
Somehow, this guy scared her less than her own brother did.
Makoto shoved her elbow back, bashing him harshly in the face just as he started to drag her backwards. She jabbed her brush handle into his stomach and blocked his knee when it swung toward her ribs. She managed to deflect a practiced punch at her arm, and forced his hand up over his head as she slammed her heel into his stomach as hard as she could.
He doubled over, his arm snapping out and grabbing her by the waist again.
Makoto wrapped her leg around his and threw herself back, knocking him off balance. But then he was holding a knife to her throat. He’d evidently assumed that ‘easy target’ meant she’d fall down and play dead.
Makoto seized his wrist and sank her teeth into it, only causing him to pinch her neck. She threw her head back, breaking his nose.
The man drew a gun with a click, letting her go.
She knew what to do. She didn’t know if she could, but she knew how to do it. All those PE classes full of martial arts had to be worth something, right?
In a motion that lasted less than a second, Makoto grabbed the barrel of the gun and flipped over it, jerking his arm so far over that his wrist broke.
Immensely impressed with herself, Makoto snatched the knife and tucked it into her belt, keeping her attacker at gunpoint. “Get up.” She growled at him, kicking him sharply in the ribs.
Her door slammed open and Hiroshida burst into the room, a decorative Japanese sword in hand. “Makoto—” His eyes fell on the whimpering man on his knees.
Sakuza came in behind him, looking smug. “I didn’t think you’d actually get the drop on him. Well done, Makoto.”
Hiroshida whipped around to stare at his son in shock. A second later he dropped the sword, grabbed the intruder by the arm, hauled him off the floor, and threw him out the window.
Out the window.
Who does that?
Of course, he’d fallen only about twelve feet to the dock and was more than likely only unconscious.
“Hey!” Sakuza lurched forward, seizing his father’s arm and jerking him down to eye level. “I expect you to treat my friends with respect and honor.”
Hiroshida threw Sakuza off and towered above him, his shoulders so stiff they were shaking. His death glare was truly fatal.
Even though he was just pulled out of prison, Sakuza seemed to be fearless in admitting to sending an assassin in to kill his own sister. She didn’t understand what could make him so hateful. Sure, their mother and brother died. But Makoto went through that, too, and she didn’t lose her mind.
Hiroshida drew himself up, tall and strong, and addressed his youngest son with a voice full of rage and disappointment. “You do not understand the dishonor you’ve placed on your family.”
“Who cares about honor anymore?” Sakuza snapped, shoving his father back.
Makoto voted to send him back to prison.
Hiroshida’s glower deepened. “If this happens again, I will send you back to Japan and let them deal with you. I have tried to save your name, Sakuza. Unfortunately, I’ve made the mistake in thinking it’s worth saving.”
Makoto was still in awe of her father’s decision even as she approached her car. How could he release him from prison and then let him off with a warning when he tried to kill her?
She felt her blood drain from her head, growing dizzy.
A sharp barking sounded somewhere behind her, startling her.
Makoto reached for her car door handle.
Her legs began to shake and she growled to herself. Of course. She got startled by an intruder, exhausted a good deal of energy taking him out, and then neglected to eat anything, all without taking a dose of insulin.
Her legs buckled as she was searching for her insulin.
But she didn’t fall to the ground.
She found herself collapsing against something warm, solid, and alive. The first thought that ran through her head was that she’d run over a homeless person.
Makoto flung her arm out to catch hold of something that she could use to push herself back up. But she only found her arm wrapped around the narrow, muscled back of a darkly colored animal.
Immediately relief washed through her.
She was just administering her insulin when footsteps sounded close by. Her heart jumped and her head snapped around, sharp eyes catching sight of Hybrid, in human form.
Makoto froze, heart slowing down rapidly.
Her fingers clenched around her needle as she slowly lifted her arm from the animal .
If Hybrid was standing in front of her...
Who was holding her up?
“Relax.” Hybrid’s modulated voice called through the darkness, doing nothing to calm her.
She looked down at the animal, finding a very large black dog standing at her hip. He was extremely muscular and kind of looked more like a panther than a dog.
“He’s a cane corso.” Hybrid explained. “He’s for you.”
Standing strongly on her own two feet despite her weariness, Makoto gave Hybrid a long, slow look. “Why?” A dog. He brought her a dog. Was he nuts?
“He’ll protect you. He can sense when you need insulin. Keep him with you.” Hybrid gave the dog a careful look.
Cats and dogs.
It was hilarious how poorly they went together, as though some ancient rivalry between them had been keeping them apart since the dawn of time. She wondered why Hybrid hadn’t just bought her a cat.
“What’s his name?” She asked, at last at ease as she stowed her insulin pen and knelt on her knees to see the dog. She let him smell her hand, but didn’t get the expected face-full of excited licking and friend-making. Instead, the big dog dropped to his haunches and sat before her, completely stoic.
“He has no name. He’s two years old and imported directly from Jupiter. He was trained there as a military companion dog.” Hybrid responded, watching as Makoto reached out to the dog.
There he goes with Jupiter again.
The animal remained perfectly still as she ran her fingers through his short coat and rubbed the base of his skull. “What put him out of commission?” She asked, looking for an injury or some form of disability, but finding nothing.
“Nothing. He was transferred to earth and assigned to you. I didn’t bring you a pet or a lost puppy. He’s on duty.” Hybrid responded pointedly.
Makoto sat back on her heels and beheld the dog as though he were somehow more professional human bodyguard than animal. “He is just a dog, though, right? Not like—” Not like you, she had intended to say.
“He is as much dog as any canine on earth. I’d say he’s far better trained than any other, but he’s only a dog.” Hybrid tossed her a small silver tube. She failed to catch it until it struck her shoulder and fell to her lap.
She scooped it into her palm, finding that it was a whistle. “How did they train him for two years without a name?” She asked, getting to her feet and rolling the whistle between her fingers.
“He has a secret name used only by his trainer. By the customs of the people, no one can know it but the man who named him. It is a bond between only the dog and the one man that separates him from any other owner.” Hybrid admitted, his head tilting back toward the mansion as though to make sure they were still alone.
“Cool.” Makoto offered the solemn dog a smile, intrigued by the level of his training. She offered Hybrid a grateful bow. “Thank you.” She really did appreciate the protector—as long as he did his job.
He returned her bow with practiced posture, once more giving away evidence of his Japanese heritage.
She dug through her pockets for her keys, anxious to get to the college. Her body was clenched with nerves. They didn’t have many chances to confront Christina, and they were no casual encounters.
The meeting could end with death on either side and it depended heavily on Makoto’s abilities and performance.
Contemplating the matter further, she found that she felt no concern for her own well-being, and felt no inclination to shy away from the line of fire. She was worried about her teammates. All of the students who were putting themselves in danger at her request.
She felt responsible for all of them.
Christina wanted her specifically.
No one else would be hurt because of it.
She grasped the cold metal and slipped it into the lock, breathing deeply to calm herself.
“Makoto.” Hybrid said carefully.
She started at the sound of her given name. She was sure he used it as a cover, in the pretense that he didn’t know very well the manners of her culture, but it was still shocking to hear.
The keys slipped from her grasp but she quickly brought them back into her death grip before they could fall.
“I’ll be there the whole time. You’ll be safe.” Hybrid promised.
Makoto stared at him with wide eyes. “Just stay out of the way and don’t interfere.” She said, taking him completely by surprise.
“What?” He demanded, utterly slack-jawed.
“I don’t want your protection. If I get hurt, then I get hurt. I’ll not spill another’s blood to keep myself safe. I don’t value my own life above another’s to accept their protection.” She opened the door and gestured to the dog.
He hopped in readily and settled in the back seat.
“What’s going on?” Hybrid asked suspiciously. “Where is this coming from?” He reached out to stop her from getting in the car, but she ducked inside too quickly.
“Let me fight my own battles.” She responded, and left him in her own driveway. She really didn’t want him fighting and getting hurt for her. Who would? It’s not his job to take every knife or bullet that comes her way.
She had no right to ask that of anyone.
Makoto did not want him to be injured protecting her. She’d never let it happen. Not even the dog would suffer.
She had four minutes to spare when she reached Parking Lot 7. There were probably thirty cars scattered around the lot, and she assumed that the majority of them were owned by ENIGMA agents.
Makoto left the dog in the car and stepped out to lean against the door and wait. It was still pitch black outside, and all of the surrounding dorms were completely dark.
She couldn’t help but wonder which windows had friendly guns hiding behind them and which were covering the enemy.
It was frustrating, knowing her life was in the hands of the people on the sidelines. She was increasingly better at protecting herself, but she was still struggling. She was a twenty-three year old woman in a school that taught many martial arts. There was no reason for her to be inadequate in combat.
“Is that you? I can’t tell over the smell of dog.” A rude, sing-song voice called through the darkness, and the soft scuffing of boots padded across the parking lot towards the car.
Makoto straightened, her hands falling from her pockets. “I thought you knew better than to come with backup, Christina.” She called, a tone of confidence carrying her voice through the dark morning.
“I thought I told you to come alone.” Christina returned easily.
Makoto shrugged with an easy grin as the other woman’s silhouette became visible. “What can be done about it now?” She spread her arms wide. “Why don’t we change the deal?”
Christina came to a stop in front of Makoto, not at all concerned with the situation. They were both way too comfortable with being at the ends of dozens of rifles. “What do you propose?”
Makoto hummed thoughtfully to herself, kicking a few loose stones across the concrete. “We duke it out between us like grownups and tell our monkeys to keep out of it?”
Christina paused as though sizing up her opponent. “Good idea.” She shrugged off her jacket. “What are the stakes?”
Makoto shed her own jacket and stepped away from her car. “I win, you come meet my friends. You win, I go with you.” She hooked her thumbs into her pockets, brushing the top of a cool piece of metal. Her chest thudded with anxiety and her stomach twisted.
Christina laughed softly. “Works for me. We shake on it, or what?”
In the light of the street lamps, Makoto brought her hands together and bowed. With a small smirk, Christina mimicked her movement, and then straightened abruptly.
Makoto subtly nodded to an invisible observer behind Christina.
The women faced each other, tense and waiting.
Their breaths clouded in front of them, their faces pink with cold. Makoto’s hands were shaking. Christina was a seasoned predator, searching for weakness.
Makoto gave her one.
She began to circle the other woman, discreetly faking a limp.
Christina zeroed in on it like a dog on fresh meat, and in a motion like lightning, her long fingers were wrapping around Makoto’s shoulder and her knee was swinging through the air at her presumably injured leg.
That’s when smoke began to fill the air, and running footsteps sounded behind them.
Somehow, Makoto managed to catch Christina’s wrist and slide a stun gun from her pocket in a matter of milliseconds. She slammed it with nervous force against Christina’s chest and hit the button. Electricity crackled from the weapon, rendering Christina motionless.
They were completely shrouded in smoke by the time the woman hit the ground. Tobias, Uriel, and Jered were on them when a helicopter roared over them, prepped for extraction.
Panicked gunfire began to fill the parking lot as Christina’s men frantically tried to regain control of the situation.
Rope ladders fell through the smoke, followed by a tethered gurney.
The guys dumped Christina’s unconscious body into the gurney and then hit a button on the rope that sent her into a rapid ascent inbound to the chopper.
Tobias broke through the smoke at Makoto’s side, grabbing her arm. “Get on the ladder.” His voice was loud and forced over the sound of gunfire.
“I’m not leaving.” She argued, moving back in the general direction of her car. “I have a dog in my car.”
“You’re not staying here.” Tobias shot back, pushing her toward the ladder. A bullet whizzed past her ear, but she barely flinched.
“I’m not leaving my dog.” She responded firmly, pulling away from him. She could hear the animal barking and the thought of finding him riddled with bullets was sickening.
But before she reached her car, the man she assumed to be Jered grabbed her shoulder and pulled her down to the ground for cover. Makoto fought his grip, but he held her firmly.
“Just wait.” He said lowly. “Christina’s men will be neutralized momentarily.” He ducked his head and settled down to wait, expecting her to fall over and do as he said.
“I can’t wait—it might already be too late.” She snapped, reaching for her stun-gun again. She really didn’t want to zap someone she was working with, but if he was going to stop her from getting the dog out of a warzone, she was going to fry him.
But there was no time for a single word before absolute silence, excluding the roar of the chopper, fell over the campus. All the gunfire stopped.
Makoto fell still. “What happened?” She hissed, peering through the gradually clearing smoke. It wasn’t normal for everyone to stop firing when their leader was being taken into custody.
Jered got to his feet and made a beeline to her car, jerking the door open. The huge cane corso leapt from the seat and fixed himself at Makoto’s side as though he knew exactly what his job was.
“Like I said.” Jered responded, gesturing for her to move to the helo. “Our guys neutralized hers.” He knelt to tie a rope onto a harness and fasten it around the dog.
A minute later he stood and looked to Makoto. He held the rope ladder out to her. “After you.”