Fanning the Flames (Ghost in the Shell Fan Fiction)

Title: Fanning the Flames
Author:
Rhyssa Fireheart
Pairing:
None to begin with. OCs featured though. (Eventual Pazu/OC)
Fandom:
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (set after 2nd Gig and before Solid State Society)
Rating: T for language and situations
Disclaimer:
Don’t own it, never will. Just like to play around with it in my mind.

Also archived here on Fanfiction.net


“Shit.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Our target just showed up.”

“So?”

“With his bodyguard.”

“So?”

“It’s Ahito.”

“Shit. How the hell can he afford her?”

“No idea. Must be trying to make an impression on the other crime lords.”

“Is it working?”

“What do you think?”

Pazu was definitely pissed off. None of the intel they’d gathered had even hinted that their target had the kind of money needed to hire a bodyguard of her caliber. He stared at the couple standing on the landing, the woman obviously observing everyone in the room.

Their target looked like a middle-class businessman – grey suit, red power tie, slicked back hair. There was nothing remarkable about him at all, until you noticed the woman standing next to him. She drew the attention of everyone in the room even if they had no clue who she was. Ahito was tiny, barely 160cm tall. Tonight she wore a deep emerald cheongsam, embroidered with dragons and slit to her hips to show black leggings beneath. Black slippers and gloves completed the ensemble, but looking closely it was apparent that both shoes and gloves were practical leather instead of decorative silk. Her black hair was pulled up into a bun on the top of her head and secured with twin chopsticks; Pazu had no doubt they were also weapons of some sort going by everything he’d heard about her.

The conversation in the room slowly died away as the new arrivals stood on the landing. Ahito surveyed the room, her eyes sweeping over everyone waiting below while a smile played around the edges of her full red lips. When her gaze met his for a moment, Pazu got a glimpse of emerald green before looking away.

“I wonder if she color coordinates that as well.”

“What’s that?”

“Nothing. Are you picking all this up?”

“Yep. She’s quite an eyeful, isn’t she? I wonder if she costs so much because of her looks or her skills.”

“Want to come challenge her to a fight and find out for yourself, Ishikawa?”

“No thanks, I think I’ll stay safe here in our van and let you deal with her if need be.”

Pazu grimaced at Ishikawa’s retort, but couldn’t really fault his teammate. The woman really did have a reputation as an excellent bodyguard. He could only think of three reasons how she’d come to be working for someone like Yoshida – the crime lord had borrowed heavily to afford her fees, the reports of his finances were drastically wrong and he really could afford to hire her or someone else had purchased her services for him. Thoughts of who was paying her fee fell by the wayside when Ahito suddenly smiled and turned to her employer to indicate it was safe to join the party in progress. Pazu idly wondered if the rumors were true that her face wasn’t cybernetic but instead completely natural. If it was true, that would explain the dark looks she was getting from the assorted courtesans and dutch wives scattered around the room. Calling her beautiful would be an understatement.

The murmur of conversation picked back up again when Yoshida reached the floor. He began to greet other guests, his hearty voice sounding overloud in the secretive hush that covered the room. Pazu watched Yoshida’s progress as he crossed the room, eddies of movement flowing around the unseen woman and the crime lord following in her wake.

Ahito looked around at the gathering of underworld powers as she led the way towards the back of the room. The lower level bosses were the ones she worried about the most, since they all had the most to gain if Yoshida were taken out. The look of quiet amusement she wore never faltered though and it unnerved many of the attendees. Anyone who could walk through such a group and look like she was enjoying a private joke was either very confident or very insane and either state of mind was enough to give others second thoughts.

She paused once to look over some hired thug who’d moved out of the way a bit too slowly for her tastes. The young man swallowed noticeably when her smile widened as she looked him over. Pazu had been making his way towards the back of room as well, but he stopped to see what she was going to do. When he reached for her, no doubt intending to pull her into his arms, it became obvious that the thug was one of those who didn’t know who she was. Within seconds, the man went from reaching out to clutching his slashed and bloodied arm, shock written on his face. Ahito stood calmly, left hand on her hip, right hand idly waving a patterned fan before her. The thug’s gasp filled the sudden silence and before he could begin to yell, security guards appeared at his side and dragged him away. Pazu had a feeling the man would disappear, never to be seen again.

In the meantime, Ahito closed the fan with a flip of her wrist and turned to Yoshida to indicate it was okay to continue on. The fan remained in her hand though, an implicit threat. The pair reached the circle of chairs in the back of the club without further incident and Yoshida seated himself in the remaining open seat, Ahito taking her place behind him.

By this time, Pazu had reached his own place behind Yamamoto, the crime lord he was using as a cover. Yamamoto, Yoshida, Haruko, Petrolov and Brigham – these five major crime syndicate lords were meeting tonight to cut a deal and it was Section 9’s job to prevent it. Petrolov and Brigham were offering military grade weapons in exchange for various cyberdrugs from Yoshida. Yamamoto was acting as the arbiter, Haruko was the witness and each would receive a percentage of both drugs and weapons for his own organization. Section 9 intended to prevent Yoshida from procuring the weapons and escalating the gang wars he was involved in; stopping the drug trade would be a side bonus. All they needed was evidence of Yoshida making the deal and they could arrest him and the other crime lords as well.

“Pazu, report.”

“They’re just starting the negotiations now, Major.”

“Does it look like there’ll be any problems?”

“Not unless you’re worried about Yoshida offending the other bosses. He’s pretty obnoxious for someone in his position.”

“As long as the deal goes down and we can prevent these weapons from coming into the country, he can be as obnoxious as he wants. I’m sure it will go over well once he’s in prison. Let us know when the deal is final and we can move in.”

“Roger.”

As the five men began their discussion, Pazu shifted to get a better view of the proceedings. He could hear Yoshida clearly, his voice loud and boisterous. The other men spoke more quietly, their calm demeanors a contrast to Yoshida’s exuberance.

The conversation eventually reached a climax and the men all stood up to shake hands. Pazu noticed Ahito moving around the chairs to stand next to Yoshida and he moved closer as well. Her eyes darted his way, assessing the level of threat he presented to her and her employer. She looked him over slowly, another smile gracing her face. He watched her as well, wondering when the second fan had appeared in her left hand. She was famous for those unusual weapons, hard to use and even more difficult to master. All reports listed her as a master.

Once the handshakes were complete and the deal was sealed, all the bodyguards relaxed slightly, except for Ahito and Pazu. She seemed to be waiting for something to happen and he knew something was about to happen. With a glance at Yoshida, she stepped forward to address Yamamoto directly.

“Mr. Yamamoto, may I ask you a question, please.” Her voice made Pazu wonder what it would be like to have her alone. It brought to mind dark moonlit nights, cigarettes and whiskey, and much more pleasurable surroundings than a club full of other people.

“Of course you may, my dear. I could never refuse the request of such a beautiful woman.” Yamamoto smiled at Ahito, more than willing to be congenial now that he’d made a nice profit for simply hosting the meeting at his club.

“Does that one belong to you?” She pointed and Pazu was surprised to realize she was referring to him.

“Hmm? I believe he is employed as one of my bodyguards. Ryozo, correct?” Pazu could only nod in reply.

“Would you be interested in selling him? I could use a new toy and he looks… interesting.” Her smile transformed her face and the look she directed at him promised many things.

“Selling him? I really hadn’t thought about it.” Yamamoto gave “Ryozo” a considering look, obviously mulling over the implications of having Ahito possibly owe him a favor sometime in the future. “How long did you want to keep him for?”

“Well, that would all depend on his work performance, of course. I prefer to have my toys already trained, but I’m willing to put in some effort if they are worth it.” She gave him another sultry look and stepping closer, drew the closed fan down his chest slowly. “How about it, Ryozo? Are you trained or do I need to put in some effort?”

“Pazu, report.”

“Just a moment, Major. I don’t think they’re quite finished yet.” He hoped the Major wasn’t watching through his eyes right now or he was going to be in some serious trouble.

“Not quite finished, huh? That’s an interesting way of putting it, I guess.” Ishikawa’s voice broke into his thoughts and he knew that it was a private message.

Still praying that the Major wasn’t watching, Pazu took a risk and moved closer to Ahito. When her smile didn’t change, he told himself that danger could be exciting and moving slowly, took her into his arms and kissed her. He could feel her stretching to put her arms around his neck and she returned the kiss with some enthusiasm. When he stepped back, her smile had changed. It seemed more real this time, as if she were pleased.

“Now!”

When the lights went down, she twisted out of his arms and he felt the solid edge of a fan come down on his shoulder. He struck out with a hand, trying to connect with her head and knock her out. Instead, he felt a piercing jab through his lower arm before hitting something soft. Pazu heard a grunt of pain and swung his other arm out aiming for the sound. He felt his fist connect solidly with the side of Ahito’s head as the emergency lighting came up. The dim light provided enough illumination for him to see the end of her spin before his legs were swept out from under him. The last thing he saw was her smile as a fist crashed into his jaw.

Ahito stared down at the limp form before bending down to place a small white card into the pocket of his jacket. Then before the police could get any closer, she grabbed Yoshida’s arm and pulled him towards the back of the room. Yamamoto had disappeared somewhere back this way and she needed to find the hidden exit so she could get her employer out. As the door closed behind them, she turned to take one last look back.

“Good-bye, Ryozo. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

2033 – Four Years Later

“So remind me again why we’re meeting recruits today?” Batou asked, boredom evident in his voice.

“Because I’d prefer to have new members that fit in well with the rest of us. You’ll be the ones working with them, so I want your opinions.” Togusa answered in an exasperated tone. “Last on the list for today – Kono. Ishikawa, could you bring up her information for us on the screen?” Togusa stood at the back of Chief Aramaki’s office while the other members of Section 9 arranged themselves on the chairs, couches and against the walls.

“Another woman? We could use a few more on the team.” Morgan said with a smile from her spot on the couch. She ignored the sour glance Batou directed her way.

In the meantime, Ishikawa brought up the requested information on the screen, showing basic data and an identification photo. Those assembled in the room took the time to read what was shown of her history.

“She’s been part of Section 3 for eight years now,” Borma noted. “Why does she want to transfer out?”

“There’s no reason listed, actually. I believe she was recommended by her superior.” Togusa said. “She has a good record and several citations for exemplary work.”

“Looks like she did a lot of undercover work for S3; must mean she has some good contacts in the underworld.” Pazu noted. “That could come in useful.”

“What did she do before joining Section 3?” Morgan asked. “The file just says she was in the military but doesn’t give any details.”

“There aren’t any details to be found it seems.” Ishikawa retorted. “I’ve been digging around, but all I get is what you see. She served for eleven years before transferring to Section 3, again no reason given for transfer. It shows her rank and MOS, but I can’t find any details about what she actually did. Nor can I find out anything about that MOS listing; it’s not one I recognize.”

“Well, let’s bring her in and just ask.” Aramaki said before sending a cybercomm message to have Kono sent in. A few seconds later the door opened and a woman entered the room. She faced the couch and chairs before the Chief’s desk but her back was turned to the men leaning against the wall behind her. Togusa walked forward to greet her and perform introductions to the rest of the team in the room.

“Good afternoon, Kono. Thank you for coming in to be interviewed like this.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m glad to be here, even though I’m not entirely sure why I was suggested for a transfer to this section.” Her voice was pleasant and musical sounding, and it started Pazu thinking. From what he could see from his position against the wall, she wasn’t very tall and had wavy black hair pulled back into a braid that fell to just below her shoulders. She was dressed in dark slacks and a blue shirt and he could see the bulge of a holster at the small of her back as well.

“Well, I’m sure we can figure that out, but let me introduce you to the other members of the team.” Togusa replied. He started with those seated on the couch and chairs and then turned towards the men standing up.

“This is Pazu.” He straightened up from his slouch against the wall and held his hand out in greeting before her features registered in his mind. Her green eyes stared back at him, surprise evident in her gaze before they were both moving. His right hand pulled his gun from the shoulder holster he commonly wore as his left reached out to grab her right hand in turn. He got his gun pointed at her head before he realized that her right hand was pushing his gun away from her face and his left was holding on to her elbow instead. She was holding her own gun left handed with the cold barrel pressed against his jaw. They froze in that position as the rest of the room stared at them in shock.

“Well, what do you know; a woman who wants to kill Pazu? Never would have guessed that could happen.” Batou’s voice was amused and his comment caused Kono to shift her gaze towards him in confusion. She didn’t lower her weapon though and Pazu turned his hand slightly to point his gun more towards her head.

“Both of you, stop it now!” Togusa barked sternly. “I expect an explanation for why you drew your weapons like that.”

After staring at each other for another long moment, they both withdrew their weapons at the same time; Kono pushing his hand away from her. She put the safety back on and reholstered her gun before turning to answer Togusa.

“I apologize, but I didn’t expect to see a hired thug like Ryozo here in a place like this.” She said quietly.

“And I never expected someone like Ahito to show up here claiming to be a member of Section 3 either.” Pazu replied angrily.

“Ahito!” Everyone looked at him as if he were crazy and Pazu nodded. The woman in question just stood near the wall screen, arms crossed on her chest and looking as if she was enjoying a private joke.

“Pazu, are you sure this is Ahito?” Togusa asked.

“Yes, I first met her when we were trying to arrest Yoshida on that arms deal four years ago. I saw her from close up and she’s rather hard to forget. I’ve seen her several times since, at a distance though.”

“Well,” Aramaki said, “what do you have to say to that, Kono?” She shrugged slightly at the question.

“What would you like me to say, sir? Obviously he’s seen Ahito up close and would apparently recognize her.” She said with a sidelong glance in Pazu’s direction. “I’m certainly not going to lie about using that alias for some of my undercover operations.”

“So you really are Ahito? Why are you going by Kono then?”

“Because Kono is my name. Ahito is just one of the alias’ I’ve used for the past eight years when I go undercover.”

“Very well then. Let’s see if we can figure this out.” Togusa said. “Would you like to be seated?”

“I’m fine standing if that’s all right, sir.”

Before any questioning could begin though, Batou suddenly moved from his position against the wall and walked over to stand behind Kono. Having someone looming at her back obviously bothered her, but Kono only turned her head slightly and looked over her shoulder in response. He stood there for a second before speaking in a bored tone of voice.

“Wait a minute, Togusa. I want to ask Kono here what she thinks about luminous rainbows.”

At his words, her head jerked up and she opened her mouth for a second before closing it again, the smile widening somewhat. She dropped her head to look at the floor in front of her, waiting to see what he was going to do next. The others just watched and wondered at Batou’s strange behavior.

“Don’t care for them, hmm? Maybe you’d prefer a transparent flower instead?” As before, she jerked slightly as if to speak. This time, the smile became a full-fledged grin but she maintained her crossed arm stance in the middle of the room.

“Well, I’m disappointed. Guess that means you aren’t much of a nature person. You probably wouldn’t like aggravated frogs either, would you?” This time his words got a more pronounced reaction. She spun around, her left hand punching towards a smirking Batou. Just before striking him though, she froze for a second and stared at him, then reached up to pat him gently on the cheek.

“You really are an amusing man, aren’t you?” She said as she turned back around to face the rest of the room. “I suppose you’ll be nice now and explain to your teammates what this was all about?”

Batou walked back to his place against the wall before answering her question.

“That MOS code is a Ranger one. Took me a while to remember where I’d seen it before. It wasn’t too common so a lot of people don’t know about it. She was an Infiltrator and basically spent most of her time undercover setting up situations for a Ranger team to come and handle. There’ve never been very many of them because it’s not the easiest training to handle, or so I’ve heard.”

“That’s true.” She said. “Not many people can handle having their minds messed with on a regular basis. It takes someone who’s pretty sure of who they are; someone who won’t get lost in an undercover personality.”

“You don’t look like you were a Ranger though.” Saito noted.

“I don’t have the eyes you mean?” Kono replied with a nod towards Batou. “It’s a bit difficult to go undercover when you have eyes like that.” She continued. “Still, I did have the normal Ranger training in addition to the separate Infiltrator training as well.”

“So you were a Ranger for eleven years. Why did you transfer to Section 3?” Batou asked.

“My handlers are gone. There really wasn’t a choice but to leave Section 4.”

“What happened to them?”

“They both died within a few days of each other. Official reports list the causes of death as accidents.” Judging by her flat tone of voice, it was apparent that she didn’t agree with the official results.

“So why can’t we view your full records though? Everything that Ishikawa has been able to dig up is what you see up on that screen.” She turned to look at the wall screen, reading what information was shown there before turning back to watch Batou. “Something’s missing.”

“The records were sealed at my request when I left the Rangers. No one’s seen them unless they know how to access the information directly.”

“Why’d you request that?”

“Call it a form of closure for my time there. It works for me.”

“I see.”

Batou just looked at Kono for a while after their exchange and she in turn stared back. After long moments, she turned to look at Pazu instead, considering her options. Making a decision, she turned to Ishikawa.

“Search under ‘Konahito’.”

“Huh?”

“Do your search using the name ‘Konahito.’ K-o-n-a-h-i-t-o.”

Ishikawa waited to get an affirmative nod from the Chief before starting, but once the name was entered, new data started to flow across the screen rapidly. Lists of projects, countries, assignments and other mission data appeared before them, along with a much more detailed set of personal information. Togusa gave her a hard look before saying anything.

“Well?”

“Konahito is my given name.” A sigh. “I’ve gone by Kono since middle school, but the military refused to allow me to enlist under anything but my full name when I joined. All my records are under ‘Konahito,’ but they’re masked by the ‘Kono’ information you originally pulled up.”

“I see. That actually makes a certain amount of sense, to be honest.” Togusa looked around thoughtfully before continuing. “So what was it that Batou said before to make you react?”

“He obviously knows some of the field agent commands, which is what he was using there. When I’m in my ‘default’ mode, for lack of a better term, I can ignore the field commands.” She paused to think before explaining further. “Infiltrators generally have three levels of command sets that can be used on them. The field set is the most basic one and is used to allow other Rangers to get reports from the Infiltrator without having to break cover. Basically, the first two times Batou asked me to report and then he gave an order to attack. It’s made of up two or three word phrases that you wouldn’t hear in normal conversation.

“The second level of commands is the control set. These are the ones used by the handlers to control the Infiltrator; get them ready for going undercover, bringing them out of it, setting up the memory integration afterwards, things like that. Generally an Infiltrator will only listen to control commands from her own handlers and no one else, but there are some commands that can be used by anyone that knows them.

“The last set is the master control commands. These are the ones that are used to create handlers and infiltrators. You can create and control the barriers and protections that are placed in the agent’s mind and make changes as needed. There were only four handlers that knew this set of commands, and two of them are dead now. I’m not even sure if they’re still creating Infiltrators anymore.”

“So you mean each Infiltrator is programmed with different sets of commands, and anyone who knows these commands can tell you what to do?” Morgan’s voice was shocked.

“More or less.” Kono went back to looking privately amused once again. “There were reasons why we designed the programming like we did. Mostly it was to protect the agent while they were undercover. In fact, that was what made the whole Infiltrator program work, discovering how to protect someone’s core personality while they were given a new personality overlay to use while working.”

“You said ‘we.’” Batou noted. “You implying you helped set all that up?”

“Yes. I was the guinea pig we used to create the templates from.” Her smile turned slightly bitter. “How else could we be sure the programming worked if we didn’t test it on someone first?”

“So that means…” Batou turned to look at the information on the wall screen once more, taking note of her MOS and rank codes. “That’s why your MOS rank is listed like that, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I was the first Infiltrator. I helped create all the rest along with my two best friends. They were also my handlers.” Kono went back to staring at the floor. “We’d known each other since middle school and enlisted together. They were the ones who knew how to create the different types of programming needed and apply it to a person’s mind. I was the one who figured out what needed to be done to manipulate someone’s mind into accepting outside commands like that, and what sorts of overlays would work best, and basically just how to control someone like we did.” An offhanded shrug. “It worked much better than we ever imagined it could, but like I said, we tested everything on me first to see what would and wouldn’t work.”

“So you let someone else control you like that?” Azuma seemed slightly horrified at the thought.

“They were my best friends; I trusted them with my life. Of course I let them control me.” She seemed unbothered by the questions, answering them in a matter-of-fact voice that was at odds with her smile. “It was a necessary part of the program. But there needs to be a lot of trust between the Infiltrator and the handlers, otherwise it won’t work.”

“So how exactly did it work?” Aramaki asked. Kono looked thoughtful for several seconds before she answered.

“Every person has a core personality; the conscious ‘you,’ in essence. What we figured out was how to protect that core personality when someone goes undercover, especially if it’s for an extended period of time. The core is put to sleep and a personality overlay is done. The overlay is meant to work with the subconscious so that you essentially become a new person for however long is needed.

“It sounds easy and in a way, it was. Where it gets hard is creating the personality overlay and making sure it’s believable and will last. You can’t create something that is too different from the agent’s basic personality in the first place, otherwise the overlay won’t last as long and there’s a risk it will break. If that happens, they can be left in overlay mode without any conscious directions to work with. It happened a few times in the beginning.” There was a wealth of sadness in her voice as she admitted the last.

“We hadn’t completely figured out how to put protections around the core personality to keep it safe back then. When the overlays broke, the core woke up and that was usually pretty disastrous when it happened. That’s why an Infiltrator has a lot of barriers and firewalls built into their mind. It’s for protection. A good portion of those protections aren’t under the Infiltrators control either, again for protection. You can’t remove what you don’t control, and when undercover, what you don’t even realize exists. A word of advice, don’t ever connect directly to me. I don’t have any more control over my barriers than any other Infiltrator, and mine are more elaborate. I also have an active attack barrier that I can’t shut off. I generally use a substitute barrier collar to work with others directly.”

“So why didn’t you get new handlers when yours died? Especially if there were two others that knew the master set of commands as you said. Why’d you decide to leave Section 4 instead?” Togusa wondered.

“Eleven years was long enough. I didn’t feel like continuing without my friends and there really wasn’t anyone else I felt I could place that amount of trust in. Besides, my handlers were the only ones that really understood how I was programmed; I didn’t think anyone else there would be able to understand it all.” Silence fell over the room after she was finished speaking.

“So if you don’t have handlers anymore, how do you manage going undercover as Ahito then?” Pazu finally spoke up.

“Becoming Ahito really isn’t going undercover for me. She’s basically me, only more so.” The look of amusement was back. “Since I don’t usually have to be her for extended lengths of time, I don’t worry about it.”

“I see.” Chief Aramaki said. “Very well, would you please wait outside while we discuss this further?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” Kono bowed slightly before leaving the room, the rest of Section 9 watching as the door closed behind her.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Everyone in the room was silent for a long time, thinking about what Kono had told them. Finally Togusa spoke up and asked a question.

“Should we take on someone like her as part of the team? She can’t even connect directly with anyone, if what she says is true. Opinions?”

“Batou, why do you think she gave Ishikawa her real name to find her info? She only said it after talking to you.” Borma asked curiously.

“Not sure, but I say we take her on.”

“I agree.” Pazu added. He shrugged slightly when everyone turned to look at him in surprise. “Well, it’ll make it easier for me to keep track of her at least, since she’s trying to kill me and all.”

“Wait, so she really is trying to kill you? I thought that was just because she thought you were some criminal.” Togusa said.

“Yeah, she put a death mark out on me after the Yoshida incident. She’s never bothered trying to collect on it though, and we’ve run across each other a few times since then. Maybe if she’s working here, I can stop worrying about getting stabbed in the back anytime soon.” He said with another shrug.

“I’m not sure about this.” Azuma said. “I mean, if what she says is true, someone can control her if they know the right commands. What’s to stop them from finding out about her history and setting her up to get to us, or someone important? And she has an active attack barrier up all the time. That creeps me out just a bit.”

“True, but I wonder if Ishikawa and Borma could do something about that barrier. She obviously doesn’t have a problem with someone playing around in her mind like that.” Saito offered. Ishikawa looked interested at the thought of hacking someone’s mind to try getting around an attack barrier.

“Actually, what good are her infiltrator skills going to be if we can’t use them? She doesn’t have any handlers, so we’re relying on regular skills and connections that plenty of investigators also have.” Borma put in. “What makes her any more special than the other recruits we have now?”

“Well, she does have years of experience, both military and as a police investigator. That’s something that we have to take into account.” Togusa mused. “I know I’d prefer to have someone who’s familiar with procedures but has military experience to fall back on. The whole control issue is the biggest problem though. Chief, what do you think?”

Everyone turned to look at the white haired man seated behind his desk. His chin rested on folded hands and he didn’t say anything for a long while.

“I agree with Batou and Pazu; she’s worth bringing onto the team, especially for the reasons Togusa listed. However, we are going to need to find a solution to work with her safely. I can’t have my agents worrying about connecting to her. And having someone with her resources can only be a benefit. Ask her to come back in, please.”

Once more Kono walked into the office and stood in front of the wall screen, hands clasped behind her back.

“Kono, we’ve decided that you would be a good fit for Section 9, at least on a trial basis,” the Chief began. “However, there is still the problem of your Infiltrator programming interfering with standard operations. We need to come up with a solution for that.” Kono nodded at his words and looked thoughtful.

“I completely understand, sir.” She replied. “Is that the main concern about my joining the team?”

“It’s the primary one mentioned, yes. But both Batou and Pazu think you’d fit in here and your years of experience cannot be ignored. Do you have any ideas on how to handle your problem though?”

When the Chief said who’d suggested she join the team, Kono turned to both men in turn, murmuring “keep your enemies close, hmm?” when she looked at Pazu. Turning back to Batou, she asked a question.

“Would you?”

Batou glanced over at the other people gathered in the room, taking his time before answering.

“Yeah. I would and have.” He seemed to understand exactly what she was asking, leaving everyone else in the dark. At his words, Kono let her shoulders slump slightly as she brought her hands around in front of her body. A flick of her fingers and a black data chip appeared in her left hand. She held it before her, looking at it sadly. She brought her hands together again and the chip disappeared. Solemnly, she looked at Pazu.

“And you?”

Pazu also glanced around the room before repeating Batou’s answer. Once more the chip appeared in her hands, and taking a step, she held it out to Pazu. Looking perplexed, he reached out to take it, his fingers brushing hers. For a moment she refused to release the small piece of plastic, but with a sigh, her hand dropped and she returned to her place before the wall screen.

“How long have you had it?” Batou’s voice was soft, understanding.

“I’ve always had one, just in case. There hasn’t been anyone I’ve felt I could give it to though until now. I assume you’ll know who to choose.” All hint of amusement was gone from her face; she looked tired and resigned. Pazu wondered if any of her clients had seen her like this; thought she was still beautiful in ways cybernetics couldn’t hope to match.

“Yea, we know who to choose. How long will it take to understand the info on the chip?”

“Depends on who’s accessing it. If they understand it right off, then the basics can be finished in an hour or so. Longer for more detailed control.”

“All right. You should probably wait outside again. We’ll send someone to get you when it’s time to go down to the workroom.” Everyone waited as she left the room again, walking out without a glance at the chip Pazu held.

“Batou, what’s going on here? What is that chip she gave Pazu?” Togusa demanded once the door was closed.

“It should contain all the details about her Infiltrator programming and the master control set of commands. Most infiltrators wouldn’t have one, but since she was the first, I’m not surprised that she does. Especially since she said her programming was more elaborate and detailed than usual. She’s given us the ability to control her and create new handlers. I’d suggest we set up Ishikawa and Borma to do it.”

“She just handed over something that can control her?” Azuma sounded amazed at the thought. “Why on earth would she do that?”

“Probably because Batou and I both said we’d do the same. That’s what she asked us.” Pazu said dryly. “Apparently, she trusts us for some reason.”

“Fine then.” Togusa said briskly. “Ishikawa, Borma, get to work with that data chip and let’s see what you can do with her. Make sure it’s legit and there isn’t anything hidden in there we need to worry about. After they’re done, Morgan can show her around.”

“Oh sure, make me be the happy hostess.” At Togusa’s look of reprimand, Morgan sighed. “Yes, sir. Not a problem. One guided tour coming up.”

The rest of Section 9 filed out of Aramaki’s office; Ishikawa and Borma hurrying to their workroom to start diving into the information on the data chip. Pazu waited until everyone else had left before starting to leave. The chief’s voice stopped him at the door.

“Pazu, keep an eye on her. I don’t want her trying anything.”

“Understood.”

Outside the office, Kono was sitting in the waiting room, arms crossed and eyes closed, seemingly asleep. He paused in front of her, waiting until she spoke.

“So are you appointed my watchdog until someone’s sure I’m under control?” Her voice was tired sounding.

“Why me?” Pazu ignored her question to ask one of his own.

“Why’d I give you the chip?” Without opening her eyes, she smiled. “Maybe I like you.”

“Is that why you want to kill me?”

“Have you ever considered that if I really wanted to kill you, one of us would be dead by now? I haven’t called in that mark in the four years since I put it out, why would I worry about it now?” She finally opened her eyes and looked up at him. “Maybe I really do like you.” Ahito’s voice, Ahito’s smile. Kono watched as Pazu pulled out a pack of cigarettes and went through the motions of lighting up. She could recognize the signs of someone stalling; didn’t let it bother her as she simply enjoyed watching the man before her.

“Are the rumors true?” He finally said.

“Which ones? There are a lot of them about me.”

“About your face. That it’s real and not cybernetic.” He kept his own face hidden behind a cloud of smoke and watched as hers went through several emotions – surprise, amusement, resignation.

“Oh, that one. Yes, it’s true. This is the face I grew into. Haven’t found any reason to change it yet, although having my nose broken four years ago made me give some consideration to the process. Someone punched me in the dark one night for no reason at all. Took a while to heal up and I had two black eyes for weeks.” She just looked back at him, idly waving smoke away.

“Huh, sorry to hear that. Come on. Ishikawa said they’re ready for you in the workroom.” Standing up, she followed him down the hallways to begin her new job.

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