Sector 21, Andromeda
Atobe Keigo's boots skidded on the waterlogged bitumen as he ran up the street. It was approximately ten in the morning, Gibson +600 time. The buildings were narrow in this part of town; between three and five storeys high, walls streaked with rain and old blood.
He rounded the corner, stopped when he entered the alleyway and saw the other boy in front of him.
“Atobe. You're early.” Oshitari Yuushi, dressed in rainjacket and waterproof jeans; black hair soaked right through, pulled back in a ponytail.
Keigo shrugged. “So are you.” As he spoke, he took in the scene around him: brick walls, narrow passageway, and if you walked east about a hundred metres you hit a dead end, complete with a dumpster and a concrete wall so high it would take a firefighter's ladder to scale it. (Well, that or Mukahi's skills.)
The other side of the concrete wall, he noted, was where St. Rudolph territory began.
“I presumed you've investigated what happened. What are the findings so far?” he asked. He could, he realised, pick up a vague smell of rubbish from where they were standing.
“My sources tell me it happened at about midnight last night.” Most people would have checked their infodevices at this point, but not Oshitari, whose mind was clean and sharp as a newly polished blade. “At least five runners were involved: Mizuki Hajime, the Fuji brothers, and a couple other St. Rudolph members, whom we haven't been able to identify.
“Mizuki came in at about eleven-thirty in a flyer.” Oshitari nodded at a sandy spot over in the corner, where wheel marks could unmistakably be seen – the wheel marks of a LAFV (Low-Altitude Flying Vehicle), the transportation of choice in Shin Tokyo these days.
“We're not sure what Mizuki was up to, but he's been trying to make inroads into this territory for years, so he may just have been scouting for information. The other St. Rudolph members arrived later. Seems like there was some in-fighting going on.”
“Is that so?” Keigo looked down at the ground, where he could see faint bloodstains, several of them too red to be more than a few hours old. “How many people were hurt?”
“Not more than one or two, I don't think. From what I hear, Yuuta finally figured out what's inside the pills Mizuki feeds him.”
Keigo chuckled. “Finally?” He rather liked Fuji Yuuta: excellent fighter, good squadron leader, but the boy's level of intelligence, considering who his brother was--
Or rather, perhaps it was because of who his brother was, that made Fuji Jr. so dense.
“I wouldn't have liked to be Mizuki at that stage,” Oshitari pulled a face. “Yuuta-kun has a dreadful temper. I had Taki analyse the blood samples we found; luckily our runners got them before the rain started.”
He pointed a finger at the stains on the asphalt. The rain was running in rivulets along the alley, washing all but the last traces of blood away. “He must have lost a substantial amount of blood; but it's probably not fatal, since no one in St. Rudolph this morning seems particularly anxious.”
Keigo privately thought having Mizuki Hajime as your de facto leader was more than enough cause for anxiety, when other, more pressing matters occurred to him.
“What about Fuji Syuusuke? When did he become involved?”
“He seems to have arrived about five minutes after. The other SeiRu runners got Yuuta with a stunner after he attacked Mizuki, which was when the aniki arrived on the scene. Fuji grabbed his brother, then took off in a flyer. Nobody felt like arguing with him.”
“All by himself, then? No backup, either from his own teammates, or the Patrol?”
Oshitari gave him a look that said it's Fuji Syuusuke, are you kidding me, and Keigo resisted the urge to roll his eyes. What in heaven or hell kept Fuji in Seigaku? Tezuka was the absolute antithesis of what Fuji stood for: stubborn, idealistic, transparent as glass.
There's no room for either you or me if Tezuka wins this game, Fuji Syuusuke.
Oshitari must have been aware that Keigo's attention was wavering, but kept talking anyway, since everyone in Hyoutei knew that accusing Keigo of being less than flawless was – unproductive, at best. “One last thing. Akazawa came back later about eight o'clock, but our people were already here by this point. They tried to question him, but he left without saying anything.”
“Akazawa?” The rain had slowed to a gentle drizzle; Keigo could feel his eyes narrowing, his mind dipping into a deeper train of thought. “Think he was looking for something?”
“Perhaps, but what?”
Keigo thought about the rumors he'd been hearing about St. Rudolph, over the past few days. “Have you searched the area yet?”
“We had people inspect everything within a fifty metre radius.”
“Fifty metres....” He glanced east, up at the dizzyingly high concrete wall that seperated this alley from Mizuki's land.
It was a hunch; one Keigo didn't have much basis for. But Oshitari was more than logical enough for the both of them. He began walking towards the far end of the alley. “Let's look over here, Oshitari,” he murmured.
The smell of waste and decay seemed to grow stronger as he approached the dead end, more than than made sense, surely? It was a very well-kept alleyway, he couldn't spot a single piece of stray rubbish. The dumpster was closed, and shouldn't be emitting a smell this strong.
Unless someone came in and meddled with the garbage before putting everything in order again...
There were two lids on the dumpster, one for organic waste and inorganic. He flung one open, and then the other.
Atobe's sixth sense, if he'd ever had one, was screaming.
For once, he didn't bother worrying about niceties. He headed for the organic section, filled with vat-grown peel and last night's dinner scraps. “You search that one,” he ordered “I'll take this one.”
Oshitari raised an eyebrow. “Taking the messy section for yourself?”
“Just do it, Oshitari.” The other boy, thankfully, took the hint, as they began foraging.
About a minute later, he spotted the stray finger, poking out of a tangle of fishbones, crumpled paper and thick, unidentifiable liquid. Wrinkling his nose, he leaned into the blue metal bin, and pulled.
Oshitari stopped working and turned to look as Keigo pulled first an arm, then a torso, and then the whole corpse out.
It was a girl, no more than about five feet tall. Keigo reached out to grab it before the entire body could sag to the ground. It was cold and clammy as it brushed against his hands, his wet clothes. Her hair was long and tangled; it looked like it'd had an encounter with what used to be Chinese stir-fry.
He leaned down and laid her out on the ground, face up.
“Nice legs,” Oshitari said.
“Be quiet, won't you?” Oshitari might be a medic, and hold a professional's ennui when it came to corpses, but there were times when his sense of irony grated on Keigo, who suddenly felt light-headed.
“What's going on, Atobe? Oshitari turned and looked at him. “You know the girl, don't you?” he said sharply. “Who is she?”
“I do.” Keigo felt strangely detached, as if there were two processes going on in his mind at once. One part of his brain was speeding ahead, making political calculations, creating lists of things to do.
The other part had no idea how to react.
“Her name was Kotoha,” he said, finally. It was no longer raining.