Chapter 29: the Cypher
He sought her out at lunch, knowing that by then she’d have finished with Savannah. She’d probably even figured out that he’d arranged for their partnership.
Despite what he’d heard the previous evening in the form of Hybrid, he couldn’t help but feel like she was in denial about the threat she posed to herself.
Maybe she didn’t even realize it. But who allows themselves to be kidnapped twelve times? Who lets two grown men abuse her and return only love? As far as he knew, only people who believe they deserve it.
He had to protect her from herself.
If she refused to protect herself, he had to make sure she didn’t let herself get killed.
He found her sitting on her usual bench, a sandwich in her lap and her insulin pen sitting beside her. She didn’t seem surprised when he sat next to her and opened up his own lunch bag.
Instead of demanding that he leave, she finished chewing and said, “Welcome to the first day of the worst weeks of your life. Before you kill me and bury my body under this bench, I feel like I should tell you that Anderson assigned me to you as your partner.”
She was equally unsurprised when he simply said, “I thought that was yesterday.” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “And I’m killing you because...?”
The man had the mood swings of a pregnant woman.
“Because by now you’ve certainly realized that I left Aikido at home and you think I should have him with me constantly.” She responded.
He hesitated. He hadn’t noticed. Nonetheless, he addressed her original statement. “If I wanted you dead, I wouldn’t have arranged for you to be my field partner.”
A flicker of surprise crossed her face before it vanished. “Really? Because you’re kind of worrying me. Not that I’m scared of you. I’m not. You’re acting intense. And that doesn’t worry me, I just—”
He pursed his lips, her nervous babble reminding him of when he first met her. He couldn’t believe that, after how much she’d changed, she still babbled. “You run into fights without thinking.” He interrupted, silencing her. “You can’t do that. If we’re going to work together, I need to know that you’re not going to run head first into a trap without caring.”
Makoto met his serious stare with a frown. “I do care. I just put the safety of this country before my own. Don’t you?”
He fought the urge to laugh. She hadn’t changed in that respect either. She’d always been protective. But he just gave her an angry look. She merely finished her lunch.
“In case Savanah has not told you, you are now the Watson to my Holmes – as I can’t argue, I have one stipulation if we are to succeed: silence must be more frequent than conversation.”
“I agree.” He responded simply.
Somewhat appeased in her fears, Makoto followed behind him at an easy pace when he got up from the bench. Partners or not, they still had every single class together.
She moped her way through math, science, criminal psychology, and world history before anything minutely notable happened.
And it wasn’t one of the pesky journalists breaking through campus security to get an exclusive with her.
Savannah Anderson and Director Olivia Patton were waiting outside the classroom for Tadashi and Makoto.
Makoto glanced at them in surprise. “Is everything alright?” She asked, studying Director Patton’s face.
It was pointless to try to glean information from Savannah’s expression or stature. As usual, she remained stoic and blank.
But Makoto had no reason to fear bad news.
Director Patton was completely at ease, if worn by stress.
Tadashi joined them at that moment. In a single glance at the three of them, he guessed: “We’re off the Foxtail case.”
Makoto raised an eyebrow.
Surely he wasn’t right—
“Afraid so.” Savannah confirmed.
How in the name of humanity did he deduce that? Makoto wondered enviously.
But then, thinking on it, she knew it was a logical solution: Savannah had brought Director Patton but not Director Barton – it wasn’t an emergency.
Patton was relaxed and pleasant – there was no bad news to bear.
Savannah carried no casefile, nor did she meet with them privately to discuss the details of a case – there was no new case.
But ENIGMA had to be involved.
If Patton and Anderson brought no case, then that was simply it: there was no case.
They were released from Operation Foxtail.
“On behalf of ENIGMA, I thank both of you for your diligent work on this operation. It would have taken far longer to retrieve Christina and clean up her mess without the two of you.” Director Patton expressed gratefully. “You are both, however, relieved of any work for ENIGMA. While your assistance was vital, it is against protocol to enlist civilians for classified missions.”
It was hard for Makoto to let go just like that. She’d devoted nearly a year of her life to the case, to the mission. There were more people to save; there was more evil to stop.
But that was ENIGMA’s job. “So when I join, I can take over the operation, right?” She joked, mentally counting down the days until graduation.
“If there’s still a mission to take over by the time you’re ready to join, you might reconsider enlisting.” Director Patton returned.
Makoto shrugged. “It just means you need me.”
Director Patton shared a glance with President Anderson. “Christina is under close watch. She’s being cooperative in her rehabilitation, and she won’t be seeing any more field missions for a while. Her syndicate, however, is still extremely active. Watch your backs.” Patton shook both of their hands.
Makoto inwardly strangled the part of her that wanted to jump up and track down Christina’s people. She gripped Olivia’s hand tightly. “Wrap it up.” She said seriously. “They’re not playing around. You need to clean this up.”
The ENIGMA director hesitated at her cold voice. Her eyes drank in Makoto’s solemn expression. “They’re our people that they’re targeting too.” She said quietly. “We’re doing everything we can.”
She thanked them both again, and then paused as Savannah shook their hands before heading out with the president in tow.
But when Savannah’s hand closed around Makoto’s, the sharp edge of a piece of folded paper poked into her skin. When her back was to the hallway, she opened the paper.
Inside was a note in Savannah’s writing: ‘Decrypt this. Bring it to me when you’ve finished.’
Glancing at Tadashi, who read it as well, Makoto looked at the words written on the piece of paper to be decrypted:
WMLDJ ZEQD. COIIOED AWOBLZ. W DLQ WIILJ OI DLLZLZ. BOGKOZWJL JPL TOZI YBWIILI. WTWHO QOBB FWV AEH JPLC
Makoto stared at it. A simple substitution cipher? Surely this isn’t serious. Substitution ciphers were thousands of years old. There were millions of ciphers far more sophisticated.
By that time, substitution ciphers were kids’ play. No one would put vital information behind one. It was like securing valuables in a cardboard box.
Nevertheless, Makoto set to decrypting it.
Her eyes instantly zeroed in on the letter W. It was the only letter that had been written by itself – apart from N, which was undoubtedly an initial.
Based on the only two words in the English language comprised of a single letter, W was either A or I.
Supposing it was A, the most likely, Makoto rewrote the message, separating the encrypted and decrypted letters by capitalization.
aMLDJ ZEQD. COIIOED AaOBLZ. a DLQ aIILJ OI DLLZLZ. BOGKOZaJL JPL TOZI YBaIILI. aTaHO QOBB FaV AEH JPLC
She studied it further, trying to recall what she learned of that decryption method in class.
“L is E.” Tadashi supplied.
Taking his word for it, Makoto filled it in.
aMeDJ ZEQn. COIIOED AaOBeZ. a DeQ aIIeJ OI DeeZeZ. BOGKOZaJe JPe TOZI YBaIIeI. aTaHO QOBB FaV AEH JPeC
He was probably right, considering E was the most common letter of the alphabet, though how he determined it so quickly was beyond her.
Instead of asking, she noticed the letters that had duplicates. E had been one of them, I and B were the others.
Duplicated letters were most frequently vowels. A and E were already decrypted. I was rarely duplicated in English, and so was U.
She hesitated. It could also be S or T or L.
Makoto changed her focus to the word. DeeZeZ.
Guessing that it translated to needed, she once again rewrote the message:
aMenJ dEQn. COIIOEn AaOBed. a neQ aIIeJ OI needed. BOGKOdaJe JPe TOdI YBaIIeI. aTaHO QOBB FaV AEH JPeC
“Q is W.” Tadashi helped.
“Yes, I know.” She’d realized it as she’d written it.
aMenJ dEwn. COIIOEn AaOBed. a new aIIeJ OI needed. BOGKOdaJe JPe TOdI YBaIIeI. aTaHO wOBB FaV AEH JPeC
The second word was either dawn or down. Since W already translated to A, it was only natural to assume E translated to O.
aMenJ down. COIIOon AaOBed. a new aIIeJ OI needed. BOGKOdaJe JPe TOdI YBaIIeI. aTaHO wOBB FaV AoH JPeC
If the second word was down, Makoto imagined that aMenJ equaled agent. It wasn’t the best way to solve a cipher, but it was faster than making all the calculations.
“M is G.” She said under her breath.
“Yeah, and J is T.”
agent down. COIIOon AaOBed. a new aIIet OI needed. BOGKOdate tPe TOdI YBaIIeI. aTaHO wOBB FaV AoH tPeC
The word tPe had to be the and the word aIIet had to be asset. P was H and I was S.
agent down. COssOon AaOBed. a new asset Os needed. BOGKOdate the TOds YBasses. aTaHO wOBB FaV AoH theC
Os was most likely is and the C was probably M.
agent down. mission AaiBed. a Dew asset is needed. BiGKidate the Tids YBasses. aTaHi wiBB FaV AoH them
“A is F and B is L.” Tadashi pointed to AaiBed. ‘Failed.’
“And T is K.” Makoto added.
agent down. mission failed. a new asset is needed. liGKidate the kids Ylasses. akaHi will FaV foH them
From there, Makoto could see that liGKidate was liquidate and Ylasses was classes and foH was for.
agent down. mission failed. a new asset is needed. liquidate the kids classes. akari will FaV for them
There were a few seconds as Makoto studied. Then Tadashi’s finger pointed at akari. “What does that word look like to you?”
Makoto fell still.
But the encryption couldn’t be real.
Her brother wasn’t involved in anything.
Tadashi took the pen from her frozen fingers.
Agent down. Mission failed. A new asset is needed. Liquidate the kids classes. Akari will FaU for them.
“The key-phrase is lamppost.” He murmured, and filled in the rest:
Agent down. Mission failed. A new asset is needed. Liquidate the kids classes. Akari will pay for them.
Makoto grabbed the message and stormed out of the building after Savannah.
“What is this?”
“I don’t know.”
“You probably deciphered this in a single glance – don’t tell me you don’t know what it says.” Makoto wadded the note into a ball and threw it on the president’s desk.
Savannah stared at the offending projectile. “I know what it says.” She confirmed. “But I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s fake, that’s what it is. It’s child’s play. This is not legitimate even in the slightest.” Makoto snapped.
Akari will pay for them?
It certainly wasn’t talking about her.
And while Sakuza was the slimiest person she knew, criminals met during her career as a detective included, he didn’t exactly have a king’s inheritance coming his way.
And if V was planning on ‘paying for them’ by kidnapping him and demanding a ransom, he was in for a rude awakening; there was no way anyone was wasting a single yin on that aho ingrate.
The only other option was Akari Hiroshida.
Makoto scoffed at the idea.
Like her father would meet the demands of any sort of criminal.
But Tadashi stopped Savannah’s next words by grabbing the wadded-up note and tossing it back to Makoto. “Miite.” He said. “You already know.”
His partner glared at him.
We’re talking now, are we?
Nevertheless, she unfolded the note. She’d studied every single letter over and over again to derive it’s meaning until she knew both the encrypted and decrypted versions by heart.
But she hadn’t studied the note in it’s entirety.
As her perspective broadened, she could see that the words had been pressed cruelly into the paper, as though the writer had wished to punish it.
Additionally, the letters had been penned in blocky hand. And there, below the dark ink, a faint fingerprint had been pressed into the corner – an accident, no doubt.
The fingerprint was tiny.
She looked up sharply. “So I was right: it is child’s play. What’s a kid doing writing this stuff?”
Savannah’s lips pursed into a thin line. “I don’t know. Find out. I’m not sure I like the sound of liquidating kids classes.”
“It is vaguely ominous.” Makoto agreed, dread settling in the pit of her stomach. A child had written an encoded message about downed agents, failed missions, new assets, liquidated kids classes, and mentioned Akari all in one primitive paragraph.
Since Tadashi didn’t seem to be too keen to speak up again, Makoto took the lead on gathering information. “How did you get this?”
Savannah folded her hands neatly. “It was on my desk when I came back from breakfast after our meeting this morning.”
Makoto felt the weight of the paper. She raised it to her nose and breathed in the variables. Having her own suspicions but choosing first to utilize her ready resources, she handed it to the cat with super-senses.
Tadashi took it absently, and performed his own investigation.
“Have you checked your cameras?” Makoto asked.
The president nodded. “Unfortunately the messenger was a psychokinetic. The note floated through the air vent and landed squarely on my keyboard.”
Makoto rocked back on her heels, ready to take her leave. “If that’s all?”
Tadashi was on her heels as she exited the building. “What do you think?” She inquired, referring to the note in his hand.
He scoffed. “I thought you were a detective?”
Her hackles rose.
Tadashi shook his head and pressed the page back into her stiff hand. “What did I tell you, Akari?” He smirked and walked away from her. “Merely a woman in a man’s world.”
Makoto could have scratched his eyes out. “If I’m such a damsel in distress to your deductive prowess, why don’t you rescue me?”
He turned on his heel and raised an eyebrow smartly. “Because there are some princesses who are simply better left to rot in their dragon-infested tower.”
She gaped at him. Wasn’t that the ground that Ronin – her father – had held? She stormed after him, propelled by her rage but hindered by the pain of the previous day’s injuries. “In case you’ve forgotten, Kido, I’ve been locked in a tower with a dragon. For months. And he was far better company than you. So how about you pick an analogy that doesn’t make me long for it to become reality?”
He laughed in the face of her tempestuous temper. But his smile held no mirth and was soon gone. “I don’t want to tell you, Hime, because if I can make this partnership fail and get you out of my life, I’ll do it as fast as possible.”
“As quickly as possible – and who do you think you are? You have been as gum on the sole of my shoe from day one. It has been you who darkened my days and worsened my headaches. You have been as fickle with your heart as a cat every day that I have known you. Just yesterday you were pledging yourself to be my shoulder to cry on because I’m emotionally decrepit. You orchestrated this stupid partnership.” Had her voice been any louder, she would have been screaming.
It only just occurred to her that she might have been harassing a bipolar mental patient.
Tadashi physically pushed her out of his face.
As he had the strength of an Ardennais-sized cat, Makoto fell to her back.
She gave him no satisfaction of superiority and quickly jumped to her feet.
“I pity you.” He spat with sudden venom. “You try to keep up with us and yet here you are – months behind in your classes, a dozen kidnappings under your belt, a family implicated in illegal dealings, and now you have a guard dog. What’s more, you were disqualified from the partner’s list for your inadequacy. I was chosen to babysit you.”
She itched to punch him again. The bruise over his eye was an invitation to be darkened.
“No.” Her voice was a growl. “You don’t get to treat me like I’m less than you – how dare you speak to anyone as though you have the right to demoralize them?
His expression became mild.
She got so close that she could see her own reflection in his eyes. “But since I can’t stop you – say what you like. Sharpen your tongue and dip it in poison until it’s deadly, but you won’t touch me. No matter how hard you try, you will never convince me that I need your pity.” She stepped around him. “Or your rescue.”
He watched her go with a deep frown that masked his sadness in frustration.
She was strong.
She was confident in herself.
If she could withstand the storm of her experiences, she could bear the trials he brought.
She shouldn’t have to, of course, and it butchered him to have to treat his savior and friend that way.
But the Russian hadn’t been lying – every inch of Makoto’s life was documented by cameras. Tadashi hadn’t yet ejected her from his life like the Russian expected him to, but he was well on his way.
He had two ideas for fixing the situation – the first was to torture the Russian until he surrendered his fixation with Makoto.
The second was to drop all pretenses – come clean to Makoto about everything – stop treating her like a spawn of the devil – and get her help with protecting her family.
“You are doing well – slow, but well.” A Russian accent ejaculated.
“Urusai.” Tadashi snarled.
The Russian laughed. “Let’s not get nasty.”
Tadashi faced him, heart set on bringing on some serious pain. “How ’bout you back off and leave Makoto and her family alone?”
The Russian crossed his arms. “I still have need of her.” At Tadashi’s growl, he scoffed. “What are you going to do? Throw up in my shoes?”
Yeah, because the cat jokes never get old.
“Don’t tempt me.” Tadashi stepped closer to avoid anyone else on campus overhearing.
The Russian gave Kido a thumb up. “Good work. Keep it up. You have until tomorrow.” He turned and walked away.
Tadashi instantly sprinted after him, but the man walked behind a tree and disappeared. Even his stench was gone.
That left option two.