Chapter 25: New Mexico
Three months after the captivity of Christina, AKA Foxtail, not much had changed. Christina had started quite the impressive uprising all over the world, and ENIGMA was still sending agents out to deal with it.
Not much was heard from Agent Springfield, as he was returned to the task of re-rehabilitating his partner. The tragedy of the matter was the undeniable fragility of the human mind. Once a memory is destroyed, there could be no resurrection.
It would all be new to her, should the rehabilitation prove successful a second time.
Makoto was still living in her father’s mansion at his order, but remained fully protected by Aikido, her guard dog. She had faced no abuse from her father or Sakuza since receiving the animal, who, at the first idea of hostility, would rise instantly in her defense.
Aikido also faithfully kept her from forgetting to administer a single dose of insulin. He proved to be completely invaluable, if somewhat dangerous to anyone but herself.
Her schooling and training were greatly improved. She had applied immense dedication to getting her grades up, and it was paying off. Even her physical grades were completely turned around.
She was just a few months away from graduation, and President Anderson was hinting around at assigning her a partner so she could do her finals and get full credit for the work.
Her interest in working for ENIGMA had led her to submitting a job application with her résumé. She came recommended by President Anderson and Detective Brian Copper, both valued contributors to the agency.
They knew of her competence from their work with her in bringing in Foxtail, giving her prior experience with them.
Her résumé itself was not lacking, either. Besides being the daughter of foreign diplomat Akari Hiroshida, Makoto had a great number of achievements and abilities listed. She’d interned at the White House during her freshman year of college.
During her sophomore year, she’d interned at a scientific research facility to expand upon her studies of chemistry and biology.
Makoto also had a few paying jobs listed—a job at a garage during her junior year, when she had shown promise with mechanics. She, besides becoming a detective through the school, had been an IT specialist for a short time as well.
She’d included her fluent knowledge of the English, Chinese and Korean languages for good measure.
She hoped knowing four languages would give her good standing in the espionage business.
ENIGMA had been impressed with her qualifications and promised to consider her.
Makoto took a swig from her water bottle and rubbed her arm gingerly. Her expression turned to one of pain as her muscles throbbed and protested against the gruel torture she had put them through.
“You’re getting better.” Ari Jones, her ninjutsu instructor, told her encouragingly. She wiped the back of her neck with a towel, and then fixed her piercing gaze on Makoto. “I’m serious—you’re doing excellently.”
Makoto allowed herself only a moment of quiet victory before she turned away to pack up her things. She knew she was doing better. She had been working diligently at it for the past three months.
She still felt she had a long way to go to graduate with top marks.
Makoto’s hands froze over her gym bag zipper when she heard a familiar voice come from behind the door. Even over the clatter of a dozen PE students leaving the gym, she heard Chester’s quiet voice as he hummed softly to himself.
A second later, her gym bag was sitting on the bench by itself and Makoto was across the gym floor, vaulting up to the top of the lockers that stood by the door.
She flattened herself out on her stomach and waited, eyes closed.
A shuffle as Chester switched his bag to his other hand.
The smell of laundry detergent as he reached for the door.
A soft buffet of air as the door swung open.
Makoto curled into a crouch and sprung, grabbing his arm and wrapping her leg around one of his own, tripping and pinning him face-down on the floor. “Hey, Strapps.” She greeted cheerfully, locking his arm behind his back.
It really was amazing how far she’d come in three months.
Chester threw back his free elbow, clipping her in the ribs and flipping himself over, pinning her to the floor instead. “Mako.” He responded smartly, a silly grin sliding over his face.
She rolled her eyes and tapped out, poking him harshly in the side. Chester bounced to his feet and helped her up, patting her head condescendingly. “Cute try, Mako.”
Makoto kicked him in the knee cap and marched away from him.
“She’ll be better than you in no time, Mr. Strapps.” Ari warned, attacking a kick-bag. She was very up to date with their back and forth banter. Occupational hazard of being in constant contact with egotistical maniacs.
“Her?” Chester hooked a thumb in Makoto’s direction. He shook his head with a short laugh. “As if. She had to climb the furniture to be tall enough to reach me.” He twisted around childishly, seeing if Makoto had taken the bait.
Her water bottle was already sailing through the air, hurtling straight for him. It collided with his face with an extremely satisfying sound and clattered innocently to the floor.
The soldier shook it off with a broad smile and returned to setting up his gym bag.
Makoto shrugged out of her sweatshirt and let her hair down. The gentle air conditioning blew on her hot skin like a refreshing breeze. She sat down to rest her tired legs and injured ego. Chester was a hundred pounds heavier than her. Literally. How was that her fault?
She pulled a candy bar from her bag and chewed on it bitterly, missing the pleasure of kicking his knees in.
Something solid and warm nudged her ankle and she flinched, looking down sharply.
From his curled up position under the bench, Aikido blinked up at her with an expression that was unmistakably one of boredom. She rubbed his side with her foot and leaned back against the wall with a tired sigh.
She watched Chester strap on some gloves and begin working on a fast bag, filling the small gym with noise. She reached for her sweatshirt, wadding it into a ball as she observed from a distance.
Silently moving from her spot on the bench, Makoto tiptoed across the gym, headed in Chester’s direction. She hurled the sweatshirt, and then spun on her heel, innocently watching Ari as it smacked Chester on the back of the head.
The punching stopped.
A soft exhale.
A slight whistling of air movement.
Makoto dropped a shoulder and rolled to the side, her own sweatshirt flying through the air where her head had been.
She straightened, looking insulted. She met Chester’s peeved gaze with raised eyebrows. “Really, Chess? How old are you?” She shook her head with a patronizing frown and gathered up her things. “Shame, your wasted potential. The things a mature person could do in your shoes...”
Makoto shot her best friend a haughty smirk that he instantly stuck his tongue out at. She slung her bag over her shoulder. “Come on, Aikido.” She called, pulling the door open.
Since the conclusion of the Foxtail, Uriel had gone back to her life, which meant that Makoto no longer had to cram to be able to work in Active Operations every evening. It made slacking off between classes a less-guilty pleasure.
After her second PE class where she learned martial arts and SWAT training, she had classes in the PS—Physical Sciences—building. Her GPA had never really faced the suffering in PS that it had in her PE and sciences classes.
At least, she didn’t think her 3.5 was too heinous.
Suddenly, Aikido started growling. His legs were stiff, his head low and his lip curled.
The animal hadn’t exactly warmed up to Makoto in all of their three months together, but he knew what a threat looked like, and he knew when her body was failing, even if he didn’t know why.
But he was definitely picking something up on his bad-guy radar, and she didn’t like it.
Makoto pushed the strap of her bag farther up her shoulder, falling still. The hallway seemed empty of any threats, but she’d come to trust Aikido.
Her hand fell to her pants pocket, a pen being the only weapon she had at her disposal. She had it in her hand when Aikido grunted and dropped to the floor, eyes rolling back.
Makoto jerked in surprise, her gaze glued to him in shock. “Aikido.” She hissed. She was afraid to bend down and lose visibility and awareness, so she just kicked him gently in the ribs.
He didn’t budge.
Heart pounding in alarm, Makoto shuffled forward, moving her foot right in front of his nose. Her muscles relaxed as she felt his calm breaths against her ankle.
He was alive.
“Chill out. He’ll wake up just in time to find you gone.”
Makoto spun around at the voice, her pen clenched in her fist. She narrowed her eyes at a short girl with dark hair and a sinister smile twisting her face.
Makoto gave her a grin, her lips curling into a self-assured smirk. “You sure you know how this is going down?”
The girl eyed Makoto’s pen, and then reached behind her. From her belt, she drew a long blade that glinted in the light of the ceiling fixtures. “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
Makoto shuffled her weight confidently, chin lowering in a challenge. She had to focus. She had the skill. She just had to concentrate.
The girl had her knife to Makoto’s throat before she could react.
Remove weak spots from danger.
Makoto took two hopping steps backwards, away from the knife.
Disarm and weaken.
She lunged forward, catching the girl’s knife wrist and twisted it harshly, jamming the tip of her pen into the crook of her elbow.
The girl cried out, releasing the blade and jerking out of her opponent’s reach.
Makoto barely managed to drop to the floor beside Aikido to keep from being beheaded by the second knife that the girl apparently had on her person.
Repeat step 2.
Makoto leapt to her feet and grasped the railing that lined the hallway. She threw her weight back and tossed her legs up, one striking the knife and the other smashing into the girl’s throat.
She grunted gutturally, stumbling back and gasping for air. She lunged at Makoto, landing two damaging punches to her face before the Japanese woman grabbed her arm, twisted, and socked her in the face, hearing her jaw pop.
Makoto hooked her foot around the girl’s ankle and jerked, shoving her back and into the wall.
The girl groaned, her face going pale.
Her arm snapped across the narrow expanse of the hallway, her hand clutching a fistful of Makoto’s hair. She jerked her closer, one of her knives weakly gripped in her shaking, wounded hand. She drew back to ventilate Makoto’s chest, but then froze.
Her eyes went wide and her hands went slack.
Makoto watched in confusion as her attacker wavered weakly and then fell on her face, a knife sticking out from her back.
“Probably too late to ask this, but you needed her dead, right?” Chester asked, appearing around the corner, hands tucked away innocently in his pockets, eyebrows raised curiously.
The bones of Makoto’s upper half seemed to disappear as she slumped against the wall, eyes rolling back in relief. She took a minute to try to remember how to breathe.
She’d concentrated, right?
Hadn’t she been focusing?
So she would have walked away victorious, had Chester given her a few more seconds, right?
“Really, Chess?” She panted. “My hero. Do I need to testify in court?” She asked sarcastically, kneeling next to Aikido. Her fingers ran over his short coat. Grouchy dog or not, she loved him. “Boy, you really got suckered this time.” She muttered.
Chester dropped to one knee beside her and retrieved his knife, cleaning it and replacing it on his belt. He swiveled back around on his foot, his eyes coasting over Aikido’s body before settling on Makoto.
He didn’t neglect to notice the red splotches that spread across her skin in the dim light. A smile curled his lips as he realized how the fallen attacker had gotten to be in the state of injury that she had been in before he had thrown his knife at her.
Nevertheless, he had a duty as a friend to read one or two lines of the basic just-got-attacked script. “You okay? Did she hurt you?”
Makoto shook her head. Besides the sting of hair being pulled from her scalp, she felt fine. The skin of her knuckles felt tight and there was the faint glow of inflammation evident in the fading light, but otherwise, she was fine. “I’m good, thanks.”
Their attention inevitably returned to the young woman and the incriminating trickle of blood that dripped from her felling wound. Makoto only wondered why there wasn’t more blood. She chose to avoid contemplating how she felt so calm sitting six inches from a corpse.
“We have a lot of paperwork.” She said. “You gonna call the president, or am I?” She raised wide, questioning eyes to Chester. “Because, I mean, you are the one who killed her. And I know she was attacking me and all, but you probably could have just choked her out to make her stop. Maybe being a soldier makes you think you need to permanently remove all threats, but—”
“Mako.” Chester shifted and dug his phone out of his pocket.
Again with the babbling.
The next thing she knew, he was thrusting his phone in her face.
Leaning away from the blurry square of light, blinking furiously, Makoto waited for the produced image to focus. Who could read a brightly lit electronic screen at point-blank range, anyway?
When she could actually see it, Makoto discovered that she was looking at a picture of her attacker posted to some kind of Army website that was probably visible exclusively to members of his specific task force. She scanned through the information that followed the picture:
Name: Kim Greenly
Criminal History: 4 charges of first degree murder, 3 charges of abduction, 4 charges of armed theft.
Current Status: Active
Orders: Terminate on sight.
Makoto raised an eyebrow at the classified information that she was reading. “And you’re cleared to carry out these orders?” She asked suspiciously.
He pocketed his phone. “’Course I am. The Army doesn’t put out a public database of targets. This one is for us specifically because we don’t operate on base.” Chester got to his feet and hefted the dead assassin into his arms. “I’ll deal with her. You better get to class.”
Makoto nodded. “As soon as Aikido wakes up.” She looked back down at him as she felt his pulse pick up and his breaths quicken. “What’d she do to him, anyway?”
“Animal cerebral control.” Chester explained. “Comes in handy for neutralizing an attack dog.” He disappeared down an adjacent hallway as Makoto realized from the smell of Vortex and the sound of a gently beeping earpiece that Tadashi was standing behind her.
“So why didn’t she kill him?” She murmured.
She could have been talking to herself.
Her eyes were fixed on Aikido’s awakening form and her voice was almost too low to be heard, but Tadashi knew better.
“I think it’s safe to assume that when one shares a telepathic connection with an otherwise incoherently communicative creature, one is bound to become sympathetic.” He answered flatly, watching curiously as Makoto smoothly got to her feet and straightened her backpack.
“Even one who has become a monster can’t shed every ounce of humanity in one’s heart.” She mused, turning around to face him with a melodramatic expression.
She may or may not have been meant for the stage.
“Every monster is a little bit human. Every human is a little bit human. Every human is a little bit monster.” Tadashi responded dryly, brushing past her.
The stage was evidently his calling as well.
Philosophical curiosity aroused, she followed him. “If the line is so gray, then what is a monster?” Makoto hopped in her steps to keep up with him, a cheerful song playing in her head all of a sudden.
It was going to get stuck there, wasn’t it?
“Ask me that less dramatically and maybe I’ll answer you.” Tadashi grouched.
He was headed straight in a collision course with a distracted student, but was in too sour a mood to be bothered with adjusting his speed.
Makoto grabbed his backpack and dug her heels in, thinking of a way to rephrase her question as he stumbled to a stop. The distracted student meandered harmlessly past and didn’t notice the disgusted death glare that Tadashi was giving him.
What Makoto wouldn’t give for a thesaurus.
“What part of human nature would you describe as the resident evil?” She finally asked, not verbally broaching the subject of the averted collision course.
Tadashi shook his head at her and walked on, his shoulders visibly stiff. Something was eating at him. Probably the fact that she was following him. “Any negative emotion that causes you to want to do something evil, whether you do it or not.”
Makoto blinked at his quick response. That wasn’t what she was expecting, though she didn’t disagree. She would have probably chosen to call it something along the lines of ‘the part of us that falls into Satan’s temptation,’ but whatever. “And the humanity?” She was all-out leaping in stride at that point, too bored to walk like a normal human.
“Any positive emotion that makes you want to do something good, I guess.” Tadashi practically spat. “Understanding that there’s no literal monster and both perspectives are human. Most people tend to blame their mistakes and bad choices on some dark force inside them when really they just don’t have the self-control to keep themselves in check.”
Makoto hummed softly to herself, wondering what had him so bitter. Not that he was usually cheerful and welcoming. “Was Greenly your friend, or what?” She asked, observing with amusement how he reached up and absent-mindedly batted at a low-hanging branch.
“Who’s Greenly?” He shot back.
“The girl Chester killed. I don’t know, you’re just acting grumpy. Someone spit in your oatmeal?” She drew her phone from her pocket and focused on it, pulling her stare off of Tadashi and easing the pressure of answering.
Tadashi glanced at his watch. “We’ll talk later.” He responded briskly, before continuing on his way.
As if they didn’t have the exact same class schedule.
Makoto begrudgingly hurried after him.
In an unplanned meeting with the President, Makoto found herself and Chester going over the details of that afternoon’s catastrophe. She had gotten a call from Savannah after her last class, which meant she’d be late getting home.
After they told her everything, Anderson shook her head with a disturbed sigh. “As much as you hate to hear it, Akari, I’m glad it happened the way it did. She had an official kill order on her head and I don’t have to worry about a civilian carrying it out.”
Makoto ignored the smug look Chester sent her way and shrugged. “I agree—it couldn’t have gone better.”
Anderson raised an eyebrow. “Not to throw around expectations or stereotypes, but usually my young women have more trouble with being involved in someone’s death.”
Chester added his curious stare to Anderson’s, and then Makoto was pinned like an unfortunate bug beneath their gazes. She shifted slightly, not uncomfortable conversing the death, but with her apathy toward the entire situation.
“It’s not like I wanted her dead. I’m glad I didn’t kill her—you’d be facing a very different reaction. But every choice she made led her to that moment, and she gave up her chance of a free life.” Makoto babbled awkwardly. “She killed people. She forfeited her own right to live when she took it away from someone else.”
Anderson blinked in surprise at the onslaught of words. “I see.” She commented quietly.
“Does she need counselling...?” Chester asked carefully.
Makoto punching him in the ribs, glaring at him.
“Not yet.” Anderson responded lightly. “I wanted the two of you to know that you’re still in good standing with the law. And with the school.”
Makoto breathed an inaudible sigh. She hadn’t realize how nervous she’d been about it until she heard the words. It was a weight off her chest.
“I’ll be assigning a few more cases in the next couple of days, too.” Anderson added. “So if there’s any homework you’re procrastinating over, I suggest you get that over with.”
A list of assignments flooded Makoto’s memories and she felt the pressure of guilt cloaking her previous relief.
“You are dismissed.” Anderson added, but caught Makoto’s arm.
When Chester looked back to see if she was coming, he hesitated, unsure. At Anderson’s pointed look, he flashed them an off-handed salute and disappeared down the hallway.
If anything could be said for Savannah Anderson, it was that she took individual confidentiality very seriously. It was evident when all she had to say was, “I received your request to be reassigned a partner.”
Makoto looked up at her hopefully. “Yes, ma’am?”
Anderson gave a half smile. “I’ll consider it.”
Makoto thanked her and tugged on Aikido’s leash, prompting him to get up and lumber out of the office after her. It was a bit of a let-down, to get held back just to be told something she already knew, but there was nothing she could do about it.
She fished her keys out of her pocket and headed for the door, but was stopped abruptly when Aikido froze. She glanced back at him in confusion, jerking the leash.
He just growled lowly, refusing to move.
Makoto gave him an annoyed glare. Seriously, the amount of times he rebelled because he didn’t like her was astronomical. “Aikido.” She reprimanded. “Come.”
He didn’t budge an inch.
She decided to, yet again, give him the benefit of the doubt.
But she felt perfectly normal.
All she smelled was a dirty hallway.
All she heard was the low hum of computer equipment.
She couldn’t see anything strange.
“Aikido, come on.” She tugged on him again, and that time he moved—straight past her to the door. She turned to see where he was dragging her and saw Tadashi standing outside, hand on the door handle.
Aikido actually looked happy to see him.
It made sense, Makoto contemplated. It was Hybrid who arranged for Aikido to be placed with Makoto. They had a connection before she did. Plus, Tadashi kind of smelled like a cat.
She clenched her jaw in frustration and followed Aikido.
Tadashi pulled at the door and held it open for her. She stepped through with a quiet thank you and glanced back at him curiously when he fell into step beside her rather than entering the office building.
“What’s up?” She asked, refraining from the urge to jump into conversation with Hybrid.
He nodded towards the parking lot, where one of ENIGMA’s jets was waiting. Makoto raised an eyebrow at it. “What’s going on?”
“Can’t tell you until you agree to come with us.” He responded shortly, subtly edging away from Aikido.
“I don’t know—Savannah hasn’t signed off on any cases for me...” She argued, concerned.
“This isn’t a CSD case. This is an ENIGMA mission, calling on your skills as an individual.” Tadashi answered. He really was a confusing person. First, he was the meanest guy she knew. Then he was somewhat tolerable. Then he became slightly friendly, but he still spoke to her like it was physically painful for him to do so.
Nevertheless, she was itching for a mission, so she agreed without further prompting.
“Since reacquiring Foxtail, ENIGMA has been working to clean up the mess she left behind.” Tadashi explained flatly.
Makoto’s face brightened. “So we’re cleaning up a mess?”
“We’re bringing in her second in command and shutting down his branch.”
She glanced back at the jet. “If they were travelling via air, they must be planning a lengthy trip. “Where?”
“New Mexico.” He glanced at her to see her reaction, but she merely nodded.