Conferencing
rating: +10+x

“You’re gonna want to hold off on that.”

Yuudai Shibata’s hand froze midway through its mission to deliver a snack to his mouth. He looked at his senior partner, detective Katsuo Tanaka, with a quizzical look.

Katsuo held out a hand and uncurled it, revealing two generic blue pills.

“These will mess you up. Believe me, it is not a pleasant experience. Take it from someone who’s done this a lot.” Katsuo cracked a whisper of a smile before popping one of the pills in his mouth and dry-swallowing it.

“What is it?” Yuudai asked, holding up the small blue pill to the light.

“A very specific, localized amnestic. It’ll let us be in a conference with other undercover agents without recognizing them. You’ll see how it works.”

Katsuo returned to drumming his fingers on the conference table as he awaited the arrival of the others who would show up to the meeting. He didn’t actually know how many people would even be here. These days, he almost never spent any time at headquarters due to the nature of his undercover work. Moreover, Commander Iwata wasn’t exactly the talkative type when it came to meeting briefings. He supposed that, at the end of the day, he would still just have to do his job.

The nature of that job varied day to day. On most days, he and Yuudai were more or less ordinary detectives for the Fukuoka Metropolitan Police, solving mundane crimes and filing paperwork as most other police officers did. However, the past few weeks had decidedly not been like Most Days.

Spirit Dust.

That was the demon lurking in the shadows of Katsuo’s waking hours. The drug that made its users temporary gods. The drug that officially could not exist. The drug that made his other job a lot more complicated. On the best of days, it wasn’t easy being an undercover agent for the Foundation. The past few weeks were certainly proving to be no exception.

The sound of the door opening broke Tanaka’s contemplation, and made him crane his neck to see who was entering.

The Iron Lady of Kyushu seemed like anything but, standing at just a hair over five feet tall. Most people meeting Minori Iwata for the first time didn’t believe that it could actually be her. Hell, Katsuo had been one of them. Not a mistake that he’d ever make again.

Following behind her was a man that Katsuo had never seen before. He tried to study his face, but he felt as though he couldn’t actually get a firm grasp of what the whole thing looked like. He could recognize the individual parts of it well enough, the dark eyes, the strong jaw, the whisper of facial hair, but he couldn’t seem to snap it all together into one coherent face. Looking at the man’s face made him go cross-eyed, like one of those magic eye picture books he had read as a kid.

Ah. So that’s who the meeting was with.

Iwata shut the door and stiffly motioned for the stranger to sit down before she took her own place at the head of the table. Shibata looked around the room.

“Iwata-san, is there no one else?” Yuudai inquired.

The commander straightened some papers on the table for a moment, the gesture betraying her slight annoyance, before sighing. She paused in her idle gesture before looking Yuudai straight in the eyes.

“No, agent. This is it.”

Katsuo thought he saw a muscle twitch in Yuudai’s jaw, but his junior partner held his tongue for the moment. Good. He was learning at least. The kid had heart, but his brain was still catching up. At least for now, he knew when it was time to speak and when it was time to let your elders talk.

“Three agents. That’s all you can offer?” The mystery man finally opened his mouth, speaking with the thinnest air of an attitude that Katsuo winced at. Or was it the amnestics? The words coming out of his mouth sounded slightly scrambled, like the man was speaking through a voice changer. Maybe he imagined the attitude?

He turned to look at Iwata.

Ah.

Not imagined, then.

He definitely saw a muscle twitch in Iwata’s jaw, as the commander visibly ground her teeth. She directed a tight-lipped glare at the other undercover agent.

“Would you like me to call the entire department in here? Perhaps you’d like us to introduce you to the entirety of our branch? Yes, let’s get everyone involved in your undercover operation! What a stellar idea!” Minori had risen to her feet at this point and was leaning over the table, palms slammed down onto the wooden surface. Every word felt more accusatory than the last.

The clock on the wall ticked out every awkward second. Yuudai coughed uncomfortably. Finally, the stranger spoke up.

“…my apologies, Iwata-san. I didn’t mean to cause offense. I was merely asking for more support. You must understand the stress that we are under.”

Minori sighed, the vitriol disappearing as she sagged her head. She settled back into her chair, and began rubbing at her temples tiredly. “Of course I understand. I’m the only one who knows what you’re both doing. You think I don’t get it?”

Katsuo cleared his throat. “If I may ask then, Iwata-san: why exactly are we here, if not to get more support from the main headquarters?”

“See for yourself.”

Iwata picked up a remote from the table and pointed it at the TV at the far end. It flicked to life, showing a saved broadcast of the evening news from the night before.

“…sources are now saying that the narcotic found in Shigeru Takeda’s autopsy has been positively identified as ‘Spirit Dust,’ a new drug that-”

“No…” Yuudai gasped.

“Yes. It’s officially leaked over to the civilian authorities. We no longer have the luxury of time-every day that goes by, we risk the chance that the masquerade falls. I have already dispatched a containment team to the Fukuoka coroner’s office under the guise of a federal investigation, but we can’t possibly catch every case before it spreads out of our control. Agents, we are simply out of time.” Iwata folded her arms over her chest.

Once again, silence.

Tick tock.

Tick.

Tock.

“So what do you propose we do about it?” The mystery agent finally asked.

“That depends. What do you have for me?” Iwata replied.

“Unfortunately, not as much as I would have liked. We’ve begun tracking the shipments of Spirit Dust that route through our corner of the market and covertly seizing them afterwards, but we are only one small branch in a very large tree, Commander. And not one of the largest ones, might I add.”

“Mmm. Any progress on finding the source?”

“No. The old man’s been playing this game longer than I’ve been alive, so he’s not going to spill anything unless he absolutely has to. He likes me, I think, but he’s not parting with his secrets anytime soon. I need time, Iwata-san.”

“As I have made abundantly clear, agent, time is not a luxury we can afford. Be better.”

The other agent inclined his head in a shallow bow. “Understood, commander.”

Commander Iwata turned her attention to Katsuo and Yuudai. “And you two? What do you have to report?”

Katsuo rubbed at the back of his neck. “We’re handling the official response in conjunction with the embedded assets. So far we’ve managed to divert almost all of the major Spirit Dust related cases our way, but it’s not getting any easier to predict when they’re going to actually crop up…”

Yuudai picked up for him. “We’ve picked up on a few leads though! We’ve back-traced some of the major sales to a few regional distributors. I think we can at least mitigate some of the spread by making moves on the networks that we’ve already identified.”

“So long as you don’t get in my way, that’s acceptable.” The voice at the other end of the table interrupted.

Yuudai paused, and looked back at his partner instinctually. Katsuo squinted at the other agent.

“We’ll clear it with Iwata-san before we make any big moves. But I can’t guarantee that there won’t be collateral damage with…your end of the operations, agent.”

“Appreciated…agent. But again, stay out of my crew’s way. I can’t risk you blowing my cover.”

“Blowing your cover? We’re going to do our job, you lowlife-” Yuudai fired back.

Minori slammed her hand down on the table, getting a jump out of Yuudai and a blink from Tanaka, though he couldn’t help but notice that the other man appeared unfazed.

“Enough! What are you, children? I think I’ve made my point abundantly clear: get to work, and make it quick. If there are no other objections or interruptions…” She made a point of fixing Shibata with a withering glare that melted the junior detective.

“…then we are adjourned. Regular updates the moment you are able to. Dismissed.”


Naoki Koga stiffly rose from his chair as Commander Iwata closed out the meeting. He bent at the waist for a deep bow, as did his fellow undercover agents. Watching them, Koga noticed the one who seemed more senior awkwardly stretch before stuffing his hands into his pockets and sauntering out of the room, accompanied by his smart-mouthed partner.

Heh. Kids.

Minori turned her attention back to Naoki as she noticed him still standing there. She sighed once again, before sinking back into her chair and giving him a look.

“Well? What do you want?”

Koga leaned forward on the table and rested his chin on his palm.

“I’m concerned about you, Iwata-san. You look tired.”

“Your concern is noted, agent. Is that all? Flattery won’t get you anywhere.”

“No, I was being polite. My real concern is how much deeper I can get without further risk.”

“Worried for your safety?”

Naoki paused for a moment, considering. He placed his hands on the table in front of him before holding up his left hand. Minori’s eyes flicked away for a moment before returning to his face, an admission of guilt that he hadn’t failed to pick up on. She didn’t want to look at his hand, or the missing tip of his little finger.

“My first year undercover in the yakuza, my kyodai asked me to beat the shit out of an old shopkeeper who hadn’t made his payments for the month. He was older, balding. He looked to be old enough to be an early dankai, probably had worked his entire life since he didn’t know any better. He looked a lot like my grandfather.”

Naoki leaned back, closing his eyes.

“So, no. I couldn’t do it to him. How could I? How could anyone? My kyodai didn’t care. The rest of the men beat him even more harshly afterwards, and sent him to the hospital for weeks. For my dishonor? My kyodai asked for my finger. The Dojin-kai may buck the traditions of other families, but this is one that we have not forgotten.”

Naoki tilted his head forward and looked Minori in the eyes. She was not looking away this time. Good.

“That night, I was brought in front of my entire crew and forced to strip down until I was nearly naked, before they handed me a cleaver. I cut my own finger off in front of a dozen of my brothers. Since then, I have not flinched.”

“And yet, a few weeks ago, the oyabun himself called me for lunch. I watched as his bodyguard gutted a brother who was accused of skimming some of the profits for himself. They tossed the rest of his body into the harbor that night. I cannot imagine what they would do to a mole like me. No, I am not concerned for my own safety; I understand better than anyone what the risks are. But you must understand, Iwata-san, that this is a dangerous game. Any sniff of treason, and I am a dead man.”

Naoki crossed his arms over his chest. Minori looked deep in thought. She straightened the fictional untidiness of the papers on the table before setting them down, and staring into Naoki’s eyes while clasping her fingers together.

“Koga-san. I understand your reservations. But you must also understand that barely half a month has passed in this crisis, and we’ve already seen dozens of dead civilians who had no business being part of this game. It is our job to defend them, no matter what the consequences to us may be.”

Naoki paused, and gave a slow nod, before a slow grin touched the corners of his mouth.

“We die in the dark, so they can live in the light? Really, Iwata-san?”

She snorted, but Koga could see the whisper of a smile curling her lips upwards.

“If you enjoy American propaganda and it gets you doing your job, then fine by me, Koga-san. Speaking of which…some of us have actual work to do that isn’t playing at being a gangster.” She stood up, picking up her papers, and turning for the door before pausing. Iwata turned back to Koga once more.

“Koga-san, understand this: I am watching out for you. And I will not abandon you, regardless of what you may think is happening on the other side. You have my word.”

Naoki bowed at the waist, a deeper one this time.

“Thank you, Iwata-san. So long as we are both on the same page.”

Minori gave him a firm nod, and exited the room. Koga took his time to shrug his coat over his shoulders before departing the conference room and the generic business park where they had arranged to have their meeting. Outside on the street, hordes of Fukuoka’s busy workers were bustling on the streets, jamming the entrances to the subway while schoolchildren were excitedly chattering as they strolled home or waited at the bus stop. A few scattered street vendors were hawking snacks at the hungry masses, the scent wafting in the air to Naoki’s nose.

All in all, it was a peaceful afternoon, Naoki thought. He gave it one last look.

Then, he dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone before swiping it open. He punched in a number and held it up to his ear while waiting for the call to go through.

“Yo. Boss here. What do you have for me?”

It was time to go to work.

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