OK, I told myself I was finally going to finish this while I'm in Korea for the month...and it's done. I'll post it in several installments.
Author's notes: This story was started months ago, and is the product of long bored hours stuck in a hotel room, or camped out in an airport somewhere. It makes several assumptions concerning the MT characters, which reflect my own current ideas about their nature. None of those ideas are cast in stone, and some might be rendered obsolete even before the story is finished. For example, the comments concerning Waltah, Miho's butler, were not inconsistent with what was known about him back when they were written. I'm fine with that, and am not inclined to rewrite the story as new information is revealed about the characters. I'm indebted to Fred for the many hours of quality entertainment he has provided me, and hope this story contributes positively to the collective cultural phenomenon that is MegaTokyo. All characters, of course, belong solely to Fred Gallagher; I've merely respectfully borrowed them.
This story almost got abandoned altogether a while back when someone was talking about potential MT storylines, and an arc similar to this was discussed, then dismissed as hopelessly clichéd. It's probably true. There really aren't many totally original storylines kicking around anymore; all you can do is try to tell a good story.
"Good morning, Miss."
Miho smiled, amused. Waltah was always so formal and proper, as careful about his speech as he was about his appearance. It really was strange for someone who tended bar at a place like the Cave of Evil. Waltah was in some ways as much a mystery as Miho herself. All anyone really knew about him for sure was that he was the best bartender the club had seen in many years. Weaving her way deftly through the tables surrounding the dance floor, Miho couldn't help but compare the empty, quiet room to the raucous, over-the-top place it had been the night before. It had been a good crowd. The morning after the party always seemed a little sad to Miho, which was why she was rarely up early on weekends. This time something had woke her, and she didn't know what. It was just…something. Miho's grin at Waltah's stiffness faded into a puzzled frown. Things were about to happen, and Miho disliked the feeling of not knowing what or when. She was more accustomed to being the cause than waiting passively for events to unfold. She took a seat that gave her a clear view of the door, propped her chin primly on her hands…and waited.
It didn't take long. A steady, rhythmic vibration in the floor announced an arrival. Everyone in Tokyo knew that sound. The walking mechs of the Tokyo Police Cataclysmic Division were designed to create a strong impression; they weren't capable of making a subtle approach. Miho brightened a bit. There was just one person with the TPCD who might have a reason to visit the Cave of Evil, and he was very much a known quantity to her. As the mech pulled up, Miho caught something else as well. A dark fog of anger and worry accompanied the machine's arrival. It broiled through the walls like an unhealthy fog, seen by her alone. An expert at discerning the emotional state of anyone in her proximity, Miho was still a bit taken back. If it was indeed Inspector Sonoda calling, he was very upset. She was confident that she could handle anything that might walk in the door, but another confrontation with the police—and this police officer in particular—was not something she welcomed. Miho stood and stepped out into the clear space of the dance floor as the man walked in.
"Inspector Sonoda, this is unexpected."
If the inspector had not already had Miho's full attention, that would have got it. The two had known each other for years, and the relationship had not been amiable. A few years back Miho had been responsible for a situation that even the TPCD had barely been able to contain. Inspector Sonoda took his job very seriously; he was not a man to forgive and forget. Miho could hardly remember him ever using her name, let alone addressing her with the traditional courtesy. This was turning out to be a most interesting morning.
"What can I do for you this morning, Inspector?" she asked gravely.
"I need your help."
Miho could have easily thought of any number of creative responses to a statement like that, but she held her piece. Even after all she'd been through, Tohya Miho still had a sense of awe. She was not intimidated by Sonoda himself, but given their history, she was very much in awe of any situation dire enough to compel the Inspector to come to her for help. Tohya Miho very much wanted to know what was going on. She turned and gestured to the table behind her, hiding a catlike grin. It amused her to be playing the hostess with Sonoda.
"Would you care for a cup of coffee, Inspector, or tea perhaps?"
"No…thank you." He replied. He was getting impatient; agitated. She seated herself, took a deep breath, and felt invigorated as the strong emotions he was broadcasting lent her their vital energy. Miho would not have admitted it, but she did respect the man for his capabilities, and for the power of his position. She even actually liked him, a little. Once again she decided against a subtle jab, and got to the point.
"What kind of help do you need from me, Inspector?"
"My daughter Yuki….she's disappeared."
"I don't like this." growled Junichi.
"She should be waking up soon," said Chain, "She'll have a nasty headache. She'll be thirsty, too." He rummaged through a cupboard in the houseboat's tiny galley, and came up with a small pill bottle that evidently satisfied him. The lanky, sleepy-eyed man then pulled a bottle of mineral water from a cooler on the floor.
Junichi said nothing, his mouth set in a thin, angry line. Chain sighed, realizing that they were going to have to go through this. Again.
"Alright, Chub, spit it out."
Junichi bristled. It was a sight which had shut down a lot of bar fights before they'd started over the years. He was not a small man, and had a hard, mean look about him. His bald dome carried several ominous scars and dents, proof that he could absorb punishment and survive. Another man might have paid dearly for dragging out his old nickname at a time like that, but Junichi and Chain had been partnered for a long time, and it suited each of them well enough to put up with the other.
"This whole job stinks, that's what."
"You're telling me?" Chain snarled, evidently deciding that rather than listen to Junichi's rather unimaginative griping, he'd do a better job of it himself. "First we gotta nab some kid"—he paused to spit into the wastebasket in the corner—"but not just any kid, oh no. It's gotta be a kid whose dad's a cop and mom's a former magic girl."
"It ain't like we're going to hurt her." Junichi said, a little defensively. It never occurred to him to wonder how he suddenly ended up in the conciliatory role when he'd been the one complaining in the first place. The big man's specialties were muscle and mayhem; beyond those parameters he was not generally considered employable based on his intellect.
"Yeah, right. You go tell that to her folks when they catch up with us. Hey, we didn't hurt your girl any, we just kind of…kidnapped her a little."
"Can't be helped," Junichi growled, "Haruki said so."
"And he'd better be able to cover us when the heat comes down. I'm having my doubts just like you are."
Normally it was not a smart thing to doubt Yoshi Haruki's capabilities any more than it was to question or balk when he gave an order. A respected and feared crime boss, he had called on a favor (it seemed half the players in Tokyo's seedy underworld owed Haruki a favor or two) to hire the pair for this job. Kidnapping a school kid was normally the kind of gig that Chain and Junichi would have turned down flat—violently, if necessary--but the Haruki had not been willing to take no for an answer, and that was that.
"At least we got backup." Chain reasoned.
Junichi just snorted. Backup which probably wouldn't bolt at the first sign of trouble. Haruki's guns were normally capable guys, but in this particular case all bets were off. Besides, it was a little unsettling that Haruki had hired out the actual kidnapping itself, using his own people only for the second-tier stuff. The two couldn't be tied directly to Haruki in any way, and they had no hard proof that it really was him that had hired them. If things went wrong, it would be far better for them to keep their mouths shut and take the heat themselves. Assuming they survived, of course. Neither man could be blamed for feeling just a little bit edgy at that moment.
"It's bad business." Junichi finally announced. "We were screwed no matter what we did. I'm not going to forget that."
"Me either, buddy. If we get out of this in one piece, someone's gonna owe us."
At the moment a low moan came from the bedroom. Chain gathered up the pills and water. There was no question which of them would be dealing directly with their captive. Junichi, who weighed 130 kilos, and had nothing that even remotely resembled a neck, could make babies cry just by smiling at them. Chain, on the other hand, could be tactful, and even charming when he had to. As much as he would have preferred to just go in and tell the little brat to keep quiet and behave or he'd let the big scary man hurt her, there was no way he was going to play it that way. Not on a job that could so easily go sour.
"The last time anyone saw her was Thursday afternoon," said Sonoda, "She left the school when classes ended for the day, and just…disappeared."
Miho gave the Inspector a very direct look. Her eyes were flashing.
"You don't think I had anything to do with…"
"No, Toyha-san, not at all. But you two seemed to know each other."
"Was asking me about this your idea, or your wife's?"
"Damnit, girl…" the inspector had half-risen out of his seat, then brought himself under control with a visible effort. He sat back down, letting out a long, slow breath.
"Meimi suggested it. She doesn't suspect you either," he added hastily, "but she thought you might have heard or…felt something."
Inspector Sonoda's voice almost cracked. The battling emotions inside the man, and the effort it was taking to keep them from overpowering him was causing sparks to dance on the edges of Miho's vision. She felt genuine pity for the man.
"Do you have any leads or clues at all?"
"No. We've checked out all the normal possibilities, and a number of very improbable ones. Yuki didn't just stay over at a friend's place without telling us or something. She really is missing. And believe me we have some very good people on the case." Sonoda's frustration needed no voice.
"I don't have any information about this, Inspector. I was…ill Thursday, and didn't attend classes," Toyha didn't voice the thought that if she had been there that day, she might very well have sensed whatever happened at the school and been able to intervene. It wasn't by far the biggest regret she'd ever had to deal with. "But I will make some inquiries."
"…Thank you, Tohya-san." The inspector handed her a card. "Here's my contact information. The cell number should reach me anytime. Also, contact me if you need anything." Miho quickly tapped the number into her own phone and a moment later Sonoda's phone beeped.
"Now you have my number as well, Inspector. Do let me know if you find her before I do."
"…before you do…"
"Yes Inspector. We will find her."
Not trusting himself to reply, Sonoda simply nodded and left. How many times in his long career as a cop had he seen similar comfort offered to a distraught family member? Now for the first time he truly understood how hollow it sounded…and yet how infinitely better it was than nothing at all.
It was all unfamiliar, frightening and wrong. The bed was small and hard, not like hers at all. The sheets were coarse and the pillow thin and lumpy. The smell was all wrong as well; stale and damp and fishy. And (ugh) what was she doing sleeping in her school uniform? Hadn't she even taken her shoes off? And why did the room seem to be rocking? Worst of all was the taste in her mouth; dry and pasty and sour, like she hadn't brushed her teeth in a week.
Where was she?
Yuki opened her eyes and tried to sit up, and quickly discovered that there was something that felt worse than her mouth. Her head immediately started pounding, and the world swam around her. Moaning, she laid back down. That was better--a bit--but the fuzzy glimpse of the room she was in was totally unfamiliar to her. It was a cramped little bedroom with cheap paneling on the walls. The bed she was laying on and a small dresser took up almost the entire floor space. The small window was heavily curtained. Slowly she became aware that a sharper, smaller pain was competing for attention with her throbbing head. She tried to move her leg, and felt something cold and hard tug at her ankle. Handcuffs. She had played with her dad's police-issue cuffs often enough to recognize them. Another jerk confirmed that her ankle was cuffed to the metal bed frame.
Where was she?
Yuki tried to remember, but she was too dizzy to focus. The headache hadn't gone away. She moaned again. She heard a door open, and tried to look, but her eyes didn't want to open. She sobbed, curling up in a protective position, wishing for more than a thin sheet between her and…everything.
"How are you feeling?" It was a man's voice, unfamiliar. The tone was gentle, but she didn't trust it. There was something wrong about it.
"Where am I?"
"How are you feeling?" The man said again, a hint of impatience creeping into his tone.
"Dizzy. Headache. Thirsty." Yuki hated to give ground that easily, but didn't see any good options.
She heard the sound of a twist-cap being removed.
"Hold out your hand," the voice said, and when she did, she was handed a plastic bottle. "It's water. Take small sips, and then I've got some aspirin for the headache."
"Who are you?"
"Water first, Yuki-san. Then the aspirin, and then when you're feeling better I'll explain everything."
Yuki didn't like hearing the man speak her name. She didn't trust him, but she didn't have much choice. She still couldn't open her eyes without feeling like she was going to faint. She took a drink.
"Small sips," the man reminded, "or you'll make yourself sick. Now hold out your hand again."
Hesitantly she obeyed, and felt two small objects drop into her palm.
"When you feel like you can swallow, take those two pills. They'll make you feel better, and then I'll come back and talk to you."
"…Ok." She said.
"Good girl. I'll be back in a bit."
Good girl. Even through the fog of her pounding head, Yuki felt a flash of resentment at being patronized. Be a good girl, Yuki. She vowed to herself to be a very bad girl as soon as she had the chance. She heard the man move away, and then the door closed. Yuki took another sip of water, then laid back and tried to think. The headache…had she been drugged? What did she remember last? School was out for the day…she left the way she usually did…and then everything became a blur. It was pretty obvious what had happened; she'd been drugged and kidnapped. That would have frightened her more, but her pounding head was still occupying a lot of her attention. She did have a passing thought that when her dad caught up with whoever was responsible, they were going to be very, very sorry. Should she take the pills the man had given her? She forced her eyes to open and focused on the objects in her hand. The effort was costly, and her vision blurred around the edges before she closed them again, but she could see the two white pills. They appeared to be plain aspirin, stamped with the logo of a brand she recognized. Well, she'd never be able to do anything feeling like this. Yuki swallowed the pills, took another drink of water, and lay back on the bed.
The old building had been abandoned long enough to attract a few nesting birds, but not long enough to be really run down. In a few weeks they'd start renovations, and she and the birds would have to find another roost. Miho sometimes came there when she needed to get away by herself and think. This time she was there because of the view. The place was built on the top of a small hill. Perched daintily on a brick ledge eight stories above the ground, she had a marvelous view looking east. To the southeast, she could see the water of the harbor in the distance. The sun was high in the sky just behind her, casting the city in a soft light.
Somewhere out there in that vast city was something lost, waiting to be found.
Yuki-san, where are you?
It had never occurred to Miho not to get involved. The strings of fate that tied herself to Sonoda Yuki were complex. There was Miho's past involvement with Yuki's parents, their mutual fascination with a certain American boy, and even the simple fact that they were schoolmates. And then there was the most interesting thing of all; something Yuki's father still didn't know (although her mother surely did), and Yuki herself was only beginning to realize: Yuki was a magic girl too.
Miho closed her eyes, and reached out with her other senses. She had no names for them, or any way to describe exactly how they worked, but, they had drawn her to the center of the chaos again and again. They always told her just where she needed to be to play the game. This time the stakes were higher than they had been in…a while.
She stood unmoving, still seeing the view of the city in her mind. It wasn't such a long shot as some might think. On several occasions, Miho's uncanny ability to be exactly where she needed to be had drawn her directly to Sonoda Yuki. Asking for a particular focus instead of simply following those mysterious promptings was always a bit risky, but this time it was necessary.
She might have been a statue, except that no statue in Tokyo had ever quite looked the way she did. Maybe one of the mannequins in the trendy shops in Shinjuku, but not a statue. Thick-soled black leather boots, each with four prominent chromed buckles, stopped just below her knees, while a simple, black leather skirt fell just above them. Deep purple tights flashed between the two. Above the skirt she wore a light long-sleeved sweater, knit in vertical black and purple stripes, with a wide black leather belt hugging it to her waste. It was an outfit she could move very quickly in if she needed to. A slender black choker adorned her neck, and her signature ribbons were carefully wound through her hair.
Why Sonoda Yuki? Miho long ago gave up asking questions like that. She was important, that's all. Of course, all magic girls were important, but Yuki was important to Miho. She might almost be…a friend.
Tokyo was a sprawling maze, tightly packed and teeming with life. From where she stood she could only see a fraction of that massive city. Yuki could be anywhere, but Miho wasn't fazed by that in the least. All she needed was…
That was her cell phone, ringing with the tones she'd programmed for Inspector Sonoda. Miho smiled. It was timely.
"We've received a communication. Yuki has been kidnapped."
"I have an idea where she is, Inspector. I'd like to discuss it with you."
"Where can I meet you?
Miho named a tall building a few blocks away from her.
"There's a landing pad on the roof. Come in a helicopter if you can."
"A helicopter? Why?"
"Your daughter is somewhere on the waterfront, Inspector. I don't think we should make her come to us."
A half-hour had passed since her captor had left. The pills she'd been given must have been simple painkillers after all; Yuki's head was quickly clearing. She'd drank half the bottle of water, and was propped up on her elbows, looking around. There wasn't much in immediate evidence that her first painful look hadn't already told her. She was in a bedroom on some kind of houseboat. It was stale-smelling, undecorated, and long overdue for a remodel. The small dresser she'd seen earlier had a thin layer of dust on its top. The room was small enough that from her position she could reach it, and she had quietly checked the drawers—nothing in any of them. The single, curtained window was out of reach on the other side of the room.
Yuki was frightened, but a little angry too, and that was keeping her focused and thinking. She'd heard voices in the houseboat's main area so there were at least two of them. Once when someone had moved around it had rocked the place quite a bit. Either that person was pretty heavy, or the houseboat was really small. Maybe both.
She heard the sound of people moving, and the houseboat rocked gently again. Then the door opened and the man returned. Yuki sank down on the bed and pulled the sheet up to her shoulders. The man brought a metal chair in to the room, fumbling a bit to get it in and close the door. He then sat down backwards on it, with the chair's back between them.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"That's understandable." The man replied. "Headache gone?"
"Good. Now I promised I'd explain things to you, as much as I can. We have to keep you here for a couple of days."
"I don't know all the reasons. I'm just the guy they hired to do this part of the job."
"Now, c'mon, Yuki-san. You know I'm not going to be able to tell you that. And before you ask, I don't really know why we had to take you, either. It has something to do with your parents."
"They won't cooperate," she said.
"That's not my worry."
"So you'll let me go after my parents do whatever it is that your boss is trying to make them do."
"That's the plan."
Yuki couldn't bring herself to look at the man. She was trembling slightly.
"And what happens to me if they don't do it?"
Chain leaned back in the chair and regarded her. The room was small enough that he could rest his back against the wall.
"Nobody's said anything to me about hurting you." He said evenly.
Yuki was silent for a moment, then:
"Where's the other one?"
"He's out on the deck. If things go well you'll never even see him. That should make you happy. He's a scary, dangerous man."
"But you're a real nice guy, Right?"
"By comparison, yes. Do you need to use the bathroom?" The man asked.
Now that the suggestion had been made, Yuki realized that she did. She nodded.
"I hope that you won't try anything silly," the man said as he fished a key out of his pocket, and uncuffed her ankle, "We'd really rather not have to hurt you." He then led her out into the houseboat's main cabin, and indicated the door to the head. Yuki was still a little unsteady on her feet, but was recovering quickly.
"My partner's outside, watching." He said. "No tricks."
The houseboats head was tiny, and not very clean. The window was curtained, and too small even for her to fit through. She resisted the urge to peek out, not wanting to know how close the mysterious partner might be "watching". When she was finished, she let herself be led back to the bedroom, where the man reattached the handcuff to her ankle.
"Now just relax," the man said, "I'll bring you something to eat and some fresh water in a while."
After the door clicked shut behind him, Yuki allowed a little smile to play across her face. She brought a small metallic object out from under the sheets and held it up in triumph.
It was, of course, the key to the handcuffs.
Yuki felt a good deal better once the metal fetter was off her ankle. The strangest thing about it was not that Yuki knew exactly what to do next, but that she knew not to do it yet. Her heart was beating like crazy, and every nerve in her body was screaming go, but she waited. If the man came back and found her leg uncuffed…well, she'd just deal with it, wouldn't she? It was unlikely that the he and his friend could catch her again. But when…?
But why not now?
No answer to that one. It simply wasn't the right time yet. Yuki Sighed and settled back on the bed. She wasn't particularly good at being patient.
Not one, but two sleek, black police helicopters approached the building in the classic wingman formation. Miho stood motionless near the roof's maintenance shed. The escort banked off to hover while the lead chopper landed smoothly in the center of the helipad. Ducking slightly, the ribbons whipping furiously in her hair, she moved to the airship as the door opened, and climbed aboard as if she did this sort of thing every day. Nor was she surprised to find Sonoda Meimi as well as her husband waiting for her. There was a third man in the passenger compartment that she didn't recognize. Miho took the rear-facing seat directly behind the pilot. As the pilot spun up the rotors for takeoff, she accepted the intercom headset Sonoda offered her, and settled it on her head.
"Good afternoon, Inspector-san, Meimi-san." She gave the woman a knowing smile. "It's been a long time."
"Goodness, yes it has, Tohya-san. I'm glad to see you well." Meimi answered.
"You mentioned the waterfront." The inspector said, "anyplace in particular?"
"Not yet, Inspector. Yuki-san is on some sort of boat. If we can sweep the area, I expect to get something more."
Sonoda nodded, and spoke to the pilot. The chopper veered off and headed towards the distant shimmer of water. The second airship, which Miho had noted was filled with a police swat team, fell into position on their flank.
Inspector Sonoda then indicated the other man. "Tohya-san, this is Detective Shinsi. He's in charge of the investigation into Yuki's kidnapping." The detective nodded gravely to her. He was a serious looking middle-aged man, whose round, mustached face was lined with fatigue and strain.
Miho greeted the detective politely, then lifted an eyebrow slightly towards Sonoda.
"The Cataclysm Division doesn't usually investigate kidnapping cases." Sonoda said with a grim smile, "I've been detached from my normal duties to assist, but I'm not an expert in these matters. Detective Shinsi has been briefed on your role in the case. He's also familiar with my wife's…capabilities.
"I see. Do we know what the kidnappers want?"
"We do," answered the detective. Miho appreciated that he evidently had no problem briefing a teenage girl on the details of his case. He was a man who cared more for solving crime than dwelling on the dignity of his position. "They want Mrs. Sonoda to do a job for them.
Miho glanced at Meimi "They want her to…take something?"
"Not quite. The object is in a vault in the mansion of a known crime boss. It's protected against theft with a pyrotechnic failsafe. If an attempt is made on the contents, and that attempt gets past the initial security measures, a mix of jet fuel and oxygen is released in the vault and ignited, destroying everything in it, and melting the safe itself to slag."
"That seems rather extreme."
"That depends on how bad it would be if the contents fell into an enemy's hands." Shinsi replied. "We don't even know what's in there. They just want Mrs. Sonada to trip the Sampson device without being detected."
Miho considered that. There was no doubt that Meimi could easily accomplish such a simple task. There was also no doubt that she would not.
"They don't know much about magic girls, do they?"
"I knew that when they kidnapped my daughter," said Sonoda Meimi, her dark eyes flashing.
"Indeed. Inspector Sonoda, I think I know what the answer will be, but if it's our best chance to get Yuki-san back safely, I'd be willing to do this thing."
The three regarded her in stunned silence for a moment. Inspector Sonoda looked like he couldn't have said anything if he wanted to.
"Thank you, dear," Meimi said, reaching across to pat her knee. "But do you really think that will be necessary?"
Miho's grin was pure mischief. "No." Then she turned serious. "But I wanted you to know…the offer was sincere."
"…Thank you." The inspector finally managed.
At that moment the pilot interrupted them. They had reached the waterfront.
"Which way, Detective?"
Shinsi looked at Miho. She was gazing out the cockpit window, her eyes unfocused, listening.
"To the left, please, Detective."
Detective Shinsi nodded to the pilot and the choppers veered off, heading north along the waterfront.
"Do we know what we're looking for?" the pilot wanted to know.
Miho thought a moment, then shook her head.
"Not yet. But I think we're getting closer. A little faster please, Detective, and have your men prepare; we're going to want to surprise them if we can." As Shinsi confirmed the instructions to the pilot Tohya turned towards the window, staring out, forward. The airship nosed down a bit as it picked up speed.
Inspector Sonoda glanced at his wife questioningly. She was studying Miho intently, but finally shook her head slightly, shrugging her shoulders. Whatever Miho was sensing, she couldn't feel it.
Haruki had provided backup for the job. Just up the shoreline from where the houseboat was moored, six gunmen cursed and sweated in a tiny, rented apartment. They watched the houseboat and surrounding area, two at a time, each working one-hour watches, and trading off one man every half-hour. A second four-man team was stationed less than a half-kilometer away to the north. Contrary to Chain and Junichi's expectations, they would not bolt if the fireworks started, however they did have orders the two knew nothing about. There were also two-man teams positioned at strategic points further out around the area: The perimeter lookouts.
It was one such team, the southernmost pair on the waterfront that first heard the telltale sound of the police helicopters. The two men, dressed in grubby work clothes, were loitering against a wall outside a seedy-looking bar. One of them stiffened and looked up as the second was reaching for his radio. By the time he keyed the mic the two birds were flashing overhead.
"Tiger one. Two cop-choppers from the south, coming fast."
"Damn, man; look at that!" His partner suddenly exclaimed. "The lead bird..."
"What's going on?" That was Haruki himself, on the radio.
"Uh…they saw us, boss."
"A chick in one of the helicopters…she was looking right at us as they went by. They know we're here."
"The cop's wife?"
"Naw, some other chick. She looked like she was just a kid, and…she had purple hair."
Chain's cell phone rang. He quickly answered.
"Get the girl and get out! Keep her close! Don't let her out of your sight!" [click]
As he pocketed the phone, Chain heard the unmistakable sound of helicopters approaching. Moving with a street fighter's reflexes, he shouted to Junichi, who had begun to feel hemmed-in by the claustrophobic cabin, and gone out to prowl around the deck. That was the best place for him, anyway. Chain could handle the kid. As he opened the bedroom door, a blur of motion flashed in front of his face.
But she was gone. That blur had been Yuki herself, jumping cleanly through the window with all the grace of a perfectly-thrown basketball passing through a hoop. The window glass had been swung back on its hinges against the wall, and the curtain was on the floor. The opened handcuffs dangled uselessly from the bed frame. All this Chain took in as he was turning towards the houseboat's front door, his hand instinctively reaching for the pistol under his jacket. He hadn't reached adulthood in a very dangerous business by standing and gaping when impossible things happened. He heard Junichi's startled shout, and then as he went through the door, a large splash. That's wrong. He thought to himself. The timing of the splash, in relationship to the jump he'd just seen…that kid was in the air for a long time.
Chain was no dummy. Along with that revelation came the certain knowledge that it was time for the two partners to cut their losses and run fast. Even with Junichi and all Haruki's goons to back him up, he had no desire to face a couple choppers full of cops and two pissed-off magic girls.
Meimi had seen Miho follow something on the ground intently, and leaned over her husband for a look.
"Is that them, Miho chan?"
Miho nodded. "Most likely lookouts."
Inspector Sonoda had seen the two men as well. If Miho hadn't called them to attention, he wouldn't have given them a second glance.
"Lookouts? Wait a minute! Shouldn't we…"
Meimi reached over and gently touch his arm.
"There's no time, dearest. Don't worry, it'll be fine."
"Wha…?"Inspector Sonoda was clearly worried and irritated, but his wife's calm smile had a noticeable effect on him. Miho spared a moment to glance at the couple, who were—just for a moment—in their own world. A profound feeling of sadness swept through her, and then was gone. No time for that, either; they had arrived.
Detective Shinsi was on the radio, talking to the second chopper. Meimi was leaning over her husband, scanning the shoreline out the port side window. The area was dotted with small marinas, and watercraft of all descriptions were scattered along the docks. Suddenly a flurry of activity drew their attention to a shabby looking houseboat, moored to a short dock which connected directly to the shore.
"There!" Miho called, "there she is!"
"I see her." Meimi answered. They were almost on top of it, a bit to the right, about 80 meters up.
"Get your daughter; I'll deal with the rest."
"Wait…" was all Inspector Sonoda had time for. Both women simultaneously threw open their cabin doors…and jumped.
"Hey…!" That was the pilot, as the helicopter slewed unexpectedly. The loss of the two diminutive passengers was not that many kilos difference, but it was unexpected. Also, Sonoda Meimi, being on the far side of the helicopter, had grabbed the door's threshold on the way out, using it to swing herself around towards the splash ripples in the water below.
Detective shinsi and Inspector Sonoda were left alone in the chopper's aft cabin, staring in amazement at each other.
(sigh) "Magic girls! Well, you'd better have the pilot bring us down, detective, or we're going to be late for our own operation."
Yuki hit the water a good thirty meters away from the houseboat. She could have done better, but she'd been concentrating on accuracy rather than distance. Clipping the window frame on the way out wouldn't have been fun. The sudden cold was a shock, but she was a strong swimmer, and had always preferred to dive right into cold water rather than inching her way in, shivering and complaining like Mami-chan always did. She had entered the water in a shallow dive, and now was using her forward momentum to put even more distance between herself and the two thugs, staying underwater as long as she could. Yuki felt alive and elated. Her dad was here. She'd heard the sound of the helicopters, and knew she wouldn't have to run for long. As she was about to come up for air, she heard a large splash, startlingly close. Had that man somehow followed her? That was hard to believe, but it didn't matter; she needed to breathe, and soon. She'd make him sorry if he had. She broke water gasping, preparing to dive again to evade capture if necessary. But at that moment she heard the last thing she would have expected.
It was, unmistakably, her mother's voice.
The two partners ran along the aged dock, sending it rocking and pulling at its moorings. Junichi could be amazingly agile for a big man, but he couldn't avoid the laws of physics. The bucking of the deck didn't bother Chain much at all, but he did worry that Junichi would put a foot through the old, half-rotten timbers. Reaching the bank, the two veered to the right, heading towards the escape route they'd agreed on. A thick maze of ramshackle buildings and narrow streets lay in that direction, and the two had stashed a car in an alley. They should have been able to expect some help from Haruki's people before long, but that whispery voice of survival was advising Chain not to count on it. By the sound of the choppers the cops were already on the ground, and the two needed to lose themselves quickly to have any hope of escaping. Trying not to imagine police sniper lasers crawling on his back, Chain rounded a corner and pounded on.
Suddenly, a girl appeared in front of them. That was an apt way to put it; one moment the street had been clear, and then she was just…there. The kid was unmistakably there for them; she was standing directly in their path, regarding the pair intently. If she was at all afraid of the two armed thugs, she gave no sign of it.
Great, Chain thought to himself. Another magic girl. Now all I need is hemorrhoids. I ever see Haruki again I'm gonna rip his lips off…
Recognizing a threat to their plans for escape, Junichi growled deep in his throat and raised his pistol.
"No!" Chain cried, but it was too late. There was still ten meters between them and the girl, but suddenly she was inside the big man's guard. Taking the pistol out of his hand as if he were a small child, she gave him an almost negligent shove to the shoulder. Junichi flew sideways into a wall, splintering the siding, and bouncing back to land in a stunned heap on the sidewalk. He wasn't seriously hurt; Chain had seen him absorb much worse, but he was a little slow getting up. The kid had gone easy on him, and Chain fervently hoped his partner would realize it. The girl was now between the two men, regarding Junichi with her hands on her hips. That she currently had her back turned to Chain, who was still armed, didn't seem to bother her in the least.
Nor should it. Chain knew better than to try anything stupid, and was carefully putting his own pistol on the ground.
"We give up, miss." He said to the girl's back.
Junichi had rolled onto his stomach when he fell, and was pulling himself up onto one knee. Hearing his partner capitulate, he looked up sharply. Clearly he wanted to contest the point, but in light of what had just happened, was thinking about it. The girl turned to Chain, and he got his first close look at her.
Cute, in a dark sort of way….
"That's good. A very wise move," she said quietly, "but if you've hurt Yuki-san, I'll still rip your head off."
The girl's eyes scared the hell out of him. Sweating slightly, Chain concentrated very hard on hoping that Yuki hadn't been injured jumping out that window.
Jungo was watching the scene intently from his cover a block away, cursing his luck. His three team members were arranged around him in a careful ambush, but it looked like no one would be falling in. The orders Haruki had given him were not complicated; if the heat came down, intercept the pair that had been hired to kidnap the kid. If they still had her with them, get them all to a secure place. If not, kill them. Jungo had no problem with that. He'd followed orders as bad and worse for years, and done just fine. The distinct possibility that someday someone following orders would put a bullet in his own head didn't much bother him either. In Jungo's dark little world, that was just how things worked.
So there were his two targets, minus the girl, right down the street. The problem was that some teenaged goth chick--who was way too fast and strong to be real--had stopped them before they ran into Jungo's team. The range was too far to be sure with the pistols he and his boys were packing…and with these three Jungo badly needed to be sure. His options were to wait for a better opportunity, charge the trio until the range was better and open up, or try for the long shots. He didn't like any of them much. Given more time he could try to flank them, but the cops would be there any moment; he had seconds, not minutes, to make a call.
Just then a shout, followed by a rifle shot rang out. That would be Haruki's A team distracting the cops. Whether they were doing it voluntarily or not he couldn't tell, but either way it was too close for comfort. Jungo didn't waste time cursing.
"Yoshi, take the big guy. Yumita, get the skinny one. Sadao, you're with me on the girl. On three…" With that he propped his pistol on the crate he'd been using for cover, and took very careful aim. At least the targets were stationary for the moment.
Junichi had risen to his feet, glowering at the girl, but acquiescent for the moment.
"You two walk back to the dock with your hands up, and surrender to the police," the girl said as if she were talking about what to fix for lunch. "I'll go deal with the four goons over there who were just about to kill you."
With that dismissal, she turned up the street, facing the direction they'd originally been running, and started walking purposely forward.
And the light came on in Chain's head.
"What do we do now?" Junichi asked.
"You kidding? We do exactly what the magic girl said. Last time I checked, jail is still better than worm food."
"And when we get out, we're going to find Haruki and kill him. Slowly."
"…two…" Jungo appeared dead calm, but he was sweating. He'd hit smaller targets from this range before, just not every time. The girl had turned towards him. That was good and bad. It gave him a larger target, but she was acting like she knew they were there. Yoshi would get the walking mountain for sure, but hitting him and killing him were two different things. Chain was still standing side-on, presenting Yumita a very tricky target. Jungo wanted to wait for a better shot for Yumita, but that girl…
Sirens were wailing in the distance. There was no time.
The girl was perfectly framed in his gun sights. It would be a clean shot to the chest. As Jungo's finger tightened on the trigger, his vision seemed to blur for a moment…
…and his finger closed on empty air.
"Huh?..." Not as quick on the uptake as Chain, Jungo stared stupidly at his hand for a moment, refusing to believe that his pistol was suddenly no longer there. It slowly dawned on him that no shots had been fired; the rest of his team was in a similar state.
Haruki's gonna be pissed…
That exclamation came from behind him and to the left. Looking over his shoulder he saw a young girl in a school uniform about 6 meters away from him. She was dripping water, and struggling to keep hold of four large pistols with hands too small to handle even one of them properly. As he watched, gaping, one of the guns—Yoshi's magnum revolver, still cocked—slipped out of her hands and fell to the pavement. Knowing that Yoshi's piece had a hair trigger, Jungo yelped and ducked, covering his head. The magnum fired when it hit the ground, and the round slammed into the crate just centimeters from his shoulder.
"Sorry!" called the girl.
"Hey!" Jungo started to come to his feet, angry, but a small hand with many rings fell on his shoulder, and he felt himself pressed inexorably back to the ground.
"Stay down, boyo, and you won't get hurt," whispered a soft feminine voice seductively in his ear. A black ribbon tickled his cheek. He smelled lilacs.
Yumita tried to break and run. He got nearly to the corner before being snatched up by the scruff. His captor was a striking middle-aged woman who couldn't have weighed more than 50 kilos fully clothed and soaking wet (she was currently both). Nevertheless, she managed to get his feet a full 20 centimeters off the ground.
"Urk!" He said as his collar dug into his neck.
"My goodness you're in a hurry today, sir." exclaimed the woman, holding the man off the ground one-handed with no visible effort. With the other hand she batted aside his earnest attempts to punch her. She swung him this way and that, easily avoiding his clumsy kicks.
"Toyha-chan!" Yuki had managed to put the other three guns down without another incident. She ran to the older girl and threw her arms around her.
Miho froze, with a strange look on her face. She looked like she didn't know what to do for a moment, and then tentatively gave the younger girl a brief hug. Yuki noticed none of the awkwardness.
"Thank you for coming for me, Tohya-chan." Yuki said into Miho's shoulder.
Something was caught in Miho's eye.
"C'mon, Yuki-san, you're getting me wet." She took Yuki by the shoulders and drew her away so she could see her face. "Of course I came for you, Yuki-san. Us magic girls have to stick together."
That last was delivered with a wink towards Meimi, who was still holding Yumita at bay. Yuki noticed what was going on.
"Hey scumbag! If you don't quit trying to hit my mom I'm going to come over there and kick your butt!"
"Well, I will!"
This time Inspector Sonoda was expected. The pounding of the walking mech outside the Cave of Evil was accompanied by none of the emotional turmoil as the visit that had started the whole adventure less than a week ago. Miho and Masamichi greeted each other cordially, and chatted for a few moments over tea before the Inspector got down to business.
"You wanted to see me, Tohya-san?" He asked.
"Yes Inspector; I have something for you." Miho reached down for a large, expensive-looking attaché case, and placed it on the table between them.
"What is this?"
"It's the contents of that vault; the one Yuki's kidnapper wanted your wife to destroy." Said Miho. She was trying hard not to preen, but was in fact feeling pretty good about herself.
Sonoda looked at her for a moment, stunned.
"Are you serious?"
"Absolutely Inspector. Your daughter's kidnapper was a man named Yoshi Haruki. I would imagine that the people from your organized crime division will know him. It seems that he's involved in a quiet little turf war with the owner of the vault, who was collecting incriminating information about Haruki, along with…some other things. Not a nice man at all. There's enough evidence in there to convict them both, of many, many bad deeds, and probably shut down several major crime rings in the city as well."
"Tohya-san, how did you get this?"
Miho hunched her shoulders in a dainty little shrug, playfully batting her long eyelashes.
"Oh come now, inspector; a girl has to have a few secrets."
Sonoda chuckled and leaned back in his chair.
"Very well. I just don't like the idea of you putting your life in danger to do our job."
"Hah! Believe me, Inspector Sonoda, I was in no real danger from those idiots."
The Inspector was lost in thought for a moment.
"So Detective Shinsi was right…"
"About what, Inspector?"
"He said the whole incident didn't make any sense. Kidnapping Yuki had to be an act of absolute desperation on someone's part. And yet you probably know that we haven't been able to get any of the men we arrested to talk, which indicates someone very powerful. Now we know why this Haruki was driven to try such a thing. Tohya…I'm running out of ways to express how indebted I am to you."
"How is Yuki doing?"
The inspector's brow furrowed in irritation. "How can anyone tell? One moment she's all bubbly and happy, like nothing happened, and the next she's stomping around hollering and throwing stuffed animals."
"Ah! She sound's perfectly normal for a girl her age," said Miho, laughing.
"Do you think she'll be all right?"
Miho smiled. Sonoda Masamichi , the hard-bitten professional police inspector, was as adrift as any other father, dealing with the complexities of an adolescent daughter for the first time.
"She'll be fine, Inspector, and so will you. Now you'd better get that case of evidence back to headquarters before someone discovers it's missing."
"Yes, I should." said Sonoda, and rose. "Oh Tohya-san, there's…one more thing. Meimi wanted me to invite you to dinner later this week. Is there an evening that works well for you?
"Thursday would be wonderful."
"Ah…excellent. Can we expect you at six?
"You seem a bit nervous, inspector."
"Nothing to do with you, Tohya-San." Said the Inspector quickly. "It's just that lately Meimi's dinner events have tended to be…a bit unusual."
Miho laughed. It was something that she'd been doing a lot more lately. It felt good.
"With myself and Yuki-san and Meimi-san together in one place, Inspector? What could possibly happen?"
End. Hope it works for someone. Even if it doesn't, it was fun to write.