Book 5, Chapter 19

It had been easy to break into Hiroki’s apartment. Yoko had chosen to enter from the outside rather than chance being caught on the surveillance cameras in the hallway at the front door. He slipped down the building’s exterior from a maintenance hatch and, clinging to a ledge barely as wide as one of his small, gloved hands, he pulled a remote device Sasha had provided him out of the cargo pocket at his left knee. All he had to do was reset the motion detectors attached to Hiroki’s security system and he would be able to slip past it unnoticed.

According to Surge’s research, the building’s security system would be set off by an energy wavelength of between nine and ten microns. If he altered the wavelength that would set off the motion detectors to between a thousand and a thousand-and-one microns, the system wouldn’t detect him. It was, as Surge had put it, a lame security system that any kid with a datapad and the right override software could get past. Yoko had never gotten along well with new technology, though, and despite the fact that he could climb sheer walls and knock down buildings without touching them, he was certain that the type of child Surge had described would have gotten the better of him in this case.

When Sasha had shown him how to use the device in his hand, it had seemed simple enough. Now, over three thousand feet above ground level, with the wind whipping his hair around his face and tugging at his clothes, he could only scowl at it. Balancing on one foot, he poked at the buttons, mimicking what Sasha had shown him and hoping that it would elicit the same results.

Although he was certain that he was doing exactly what he had seen Sasha doing, the device responded three times with an error message, forcing him to start over from scratch on the five minute sequence of button-pushing. When he decided to try it a fourth time, rather than chuck the device over his shoulder to the ground below and break the window, he was rewarded by the words “Alteration Approved” flashing across the screen. Not ready to celebrate just yet, Yoko clenched the corner of the little device in his teeth and, pressing his shoulder against the window, shifted his weight.

He had to put most of his weight behind the motion, but the window slid slowly open far enough for him to brace his foot against it and slip inside. He paused just inside, eyes on the sensor in the corner of the ceiling, but when the red light remained steady he allowed a smug smirk to twitch at the edges of his mouth and slipped the device into his pocket.

From the pocket on the other leg of his pants, he retrieved a curious wireless earpiece. He turned it over in his hands once, noting the tiny camera mounted so that it would perch next to his temple, then clipped it onto his ear and tapped the side of it once with his finger.

There was a brief silence, during which he glanced around the room--Hiroki’s bedroom, a wide, open space strewn with discarded, hideously colored clothing--before a voice spoke into his ear.

“Yoko?” It was Caine’s sleepy drawl. “You made it in.”

Yoko hummed an affirmative in his throat and picked his way across the room, careful not to tread on anything. He didn’t know where to even begin searching his brother’s home for clues, but the logical place seemed to be the desk. He didn’t think his brother was careless enough to leave important notes lying in the open, but he would look anyway.

Caine was silent on the other end of the wireless while Yoko opened drawers and sifted through their contents, assaulted on several occasions by odd, herbal smells that he didn’t altogether trust. They smelled like age and dark places and powerful words he was sure he had known once but had since forgotten; the familiar way they picked at the edge of his senses made him shy away from them, scowling in distaste.

As he pushed a drawer closed and grasped the pull on the next one down, there was an audible thump. He froze, eyes narrowed, all of his energy focused to pinpoint precision as he searched for the source of the sound. It seemed that it had come from the next room, but might have come from beyond it, from the hallway or a neighboring apartment.

“There’s been no movement,” Caine said into his ear after a full minute of straining silence. “You should be clear.”

Yoko remained still despite the assurance. This was Hiroki’s apartment, after all. There was no knowing what might be here. Abandoning the desk, he padded toward the closet, stood to one side like an SPD agent and nudged the door open with his foot.

A couple of shoes spilled out onto the floor, but otherwise, there was nothing. Yoko exhaled through his nose, annoyed instead of relieved, and stepped into the closet to sift through its contents.

“Yoko.” The murmur in his ear had a slight urgency beneath the drowsiness and Yoko paused, head cocked to listen. “He’s heading to the exit.”

There was silence on the other end of the connection. Caine, sitting in the New Anomalia University library, chewed on the edge of his thumb while he waited, eyes on the blond figure retreating toward the doors.

“Does he have his bag?” Yoko asked finally, voice husky over the wireless.

Caine squinted against the backlit figure, and murmured, “No.”

“He’s going to smoke. He does that. Sometimes.” There was another short pause and then he added, “If he isn’t back in fifteen minutes, tell me.”

Caine nodded, although Yoko couldn’t see him, and looked back at the datapad in his hand. The display showed the dim interior of Hiroki’s closet, as seen from the camera mounted on Yoko’s earpiece. The link’s audio and video were working perfectly, and wearing a similar earpiece, Caine could sit in the library without drawing unnecessary attention. For all intents and purposes, he looked as though he were listening to music while reading, and with his back against the wall, no one could come from behind him and see what he was really doing.

Of course, he did have to keep his voice down and speak as little as possible; more difficult than that, he had to stay awake. Without Cross there to help, that was the most problematic aspect of making sure Hiroki was away from home long enough for Yoko to search for clues.

For Caine, anyway. With a rueful smile, he imagined that climbing a building and sneaking around undetected in the apartment of a man who was not only very clever but also more than willing to do away with his opponents was in actuality the more difficult of their two tasks. Only Yoko and Surge were capable of it and, unwilling to ask the Impulse to take such a risk under his current circumstances, Yoko was the only one Caine could turn to. He didn’t envy him.

Caine watched as Yoko searched his brother’s closet to no result, feeling as though he were reading over Yoko’s shoulder. Blinking back sleep, he ran a finger over the buttons on the datapad in his hand and wondered just how Sasha had acquired the hardware they needed to pull this off. When he and Riyad had compiled the list of items they would need for their plan, it had become obvious that, with the types of items they needed, it would be easy for a clever hacker to trace the purchases and guess what they were doing. Explosive materials, metal piping, timers, enough special wireless headsets to go around, high powered binoculars, and the sort of device that had gotten Yoko into Hiroki’s apartment weren’t widely available outside of a military police installation, and any civilian caught buying all of them would immediately come under suspicion.

That was where Sasha had stepped in, cheerfully plucking the list out of Riyad’s hands and declaring that he could get them what they needed, in such a way that no one would be able to trace the purchases back to them. Not easily, anyway. As Sasha had put it, years of taking illegal drugs had made him good at covering his ass.

The Witness in any incarnation was always the epitome of paranoia; when Sasha said he could manage this, Caine knew it was the truth. It gave Sasha a constructive role to play during this preliminary phase, at least. According to Cross, this was absolutely essential to Sasha’s willingness to contribute later on. He resented being babied, she had explained, but wouldn’t have given details about how she knew that even if Caine had asked.

He didn’t need to ask if she resented her own role in their preparation. He knew she didn’t like waiting while everyone else took risks to get ready. But he also knew that most of the things that needed to be done she was either ill suited for or couldn’t have done. She’d offered to monitor Hiroki for Yoko, but she would have been out of place loitering in the university library. He wasn’t.

He told himself that his concern and love for her and for Sem had nothing to do with how he had assigned tasks. He told himself that under the circumstances, those feelings should be secondary to accomplishing their mission.

There was no way he could ever convince himself of that, though. A small smile curled his lips as he watched Yoko leave Hiroki’s bedroom, meander down a short hallway and enter the living room. The world could be falling down around his ears and his wife and son would be the first thought on his mind.

The vision hit him then, freezing him in place as his muscles locked up, eyes trained unseeing on the screen in his hand. It was brief, slamming into his mind and plowing through before he could collect himself, leaving him shuddering as his diaphragm lost its rhythm. There were flashes of blue-white fire, the smell of ozone, bodies plummeting from a great height, and then he was staring through Yoko’s eyes again at a book handwritten in a script he couldn’t make out.

“--my brother?”

Caine shook his head. “Ah...sorry. What was that?”

Yoko’s voice was soft and clipped, edged with tension, though Caine didn’t know why. “Where is my brother?”

“I don’t--” Caine looked up toward the entrance, but saw no trace of Hiroki. “I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him come back in.”

There was no reply. Yoko flipped through the pages of the book quickly, pausing for only an instant at each, as though trying to take them all in as quickly as possible. His fingers fidgeted at the edge of each page in a way that made Caine uneasy.

Then he dropped the book back on the floor on top of another--that must have been the thump they had heard before, Caine realized--and turned away. He crossed back into the bedroom and went straight for the window.

Caine wanted to ask what he’d found, but didn’t want to chance his half of the conversation drawing attention. He wasn’t even given the chance; Yoko pulled his headset off and severed their connection before he even reached the window.

The screen of Caine’s datapad went black for a moment and then shifted to its default menu. Thumbing the off button, he sighed and pulled off his own headset, slipping both into his pocket. He would have to wait until Yoko was ready to tell him what he’d found out. At least his datapad had recorded the video feed; he could review everything again later.

He rose, eager to get home now. He wanted to talk to Cross and try to enhance the pages of the book Yoko had looked through. It had been enough to make him stop his search short and retreat without a word of explanation. Whatever it was, it was important. Caine just hoped he’d be able to read the text when he’d enhanced it.

He almost didn’t notice Hiroki standing outside the exit doors, a cigarette in his teeth and another, unlit, tucked behind his ear. Caine glanced over as he passed him by and a knowing smile curled Hiroki’s lips as their eyes met. Smoke leaked from between his lips and Caine curled his nose at the smell, forcing himself not to hurry his pace. He imagined an ancient behemoth hiding beneath the ground, corrosive breath escaping through volcanic vents, and his skin broke out into goosebumps. That smile was more than just friendly and it filled Caine with dread, as though he had just been seen through.

That wasn’t possible, he was sure of it, but it was still a frightening thought. He wanted even more to be at home with Cross where things made sense. Her reassuring presence was essential to his own peace of mind now more than it had ever been before their separation and he knew he would need for every step in the plan from here on.

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