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Tess

Chapter Text

Another day at the office, Tess thought, as she moved in search of a way out, just another day at some shady corporate office, filled with trigger happy employees...

The infiltration into the skyscraper had taken longer than she had anticipated, due to what she suspected was faulty intelligence that was provided from the very start. More guards, more drones, and the lack of wriggle room to move undetected, resulted in Tess eventually being found, with fatal consequences for her initial pursuers. Their blood still clung to her bodysuit, much to Tess' annoyance.

... And I just had this cleaned.

Pistol raised in one hand, and the data drive she was tasked to acquire in the other, she jogged as quietly as she could through darkened hallways, while an alarm continued to sound in the background. Her senses were keen, her eyes made the most of what little light there was coming through the tinted windows of the 32nd floor. She felt prepared, ready to fire at anything that ran at her with a stun baton or rifle. Yet all of a sudden, something moving that didn't have legs caught her attention; a drone, scanning through all the windows of her hallway with a sweeping laser grid. It hadn't seen her yet, but it was only a few windows away as it continued to speed its way towards her!

Without another thought, Tess darts over to the corner of an archway beside a window, tucking in her arms and legs as close as she could to narrowly avoid the lasers that angle past her. The drone flies on by, with no sign of it slowing down, judging by the sound of its high pitched rotors. A sigh of relief is breathed by the quick-thinking spy, but it is short lived when the light strips of her hallway come back to life, as corporate security guards suddenly appear from where Tess had come from. Laser sights fill the area, with Tess in full view of them!

"There she is!!"

The guards raise their rifles to shoot, but Tess is quicker on the draw. She unloads a volley of bullets while launching into a run to get clear of the hallway, forcing the guards to duck from the oncoming bullets. This however has little effect on the drone from moments earlier, which was now racing back along the windows with a deployed turret.

Door! Right!

Knowing that she'd be in the drone's direct line of fire within seconds, Tess fires a bullet into a nearby office door that was made of glass, and immediately dives through it with an arm held up to shield her face. She completes a combat roll to smooth out her landing, just as a burst of pellets whizz on by, narrowly missing Tess' head. Plaster dust hangs in the air, as Tess crawls for cover by a photocopier, past a wall that was now littered with holes. Out of sight for the time being, she takes in her surroundings.

Well... can't say a desk job in a cubicle would be more exciting than this.

It was a large space with a low ceiling, filled to the brim with black office cubicles that were lit by blue light strips over their top edges; all quite boring to Tess' eye. The only thing that did catch her attention, was another exit that was 20 metres in front of her, that was in the line of sight of the door she just smashed through. Shouting could be heard from outside, along with the unmistakable noise of the drone that was coming in through smashed windows.

Surmising that the guards would let the drone take point, Tess crouch rolls over into a cubicle aisle, and grabs a nearby swivel chair. She waits calmly for the correct time to enact what was a distraction plan, which comes moments after she is ready, with the arrival of her mechanized pursuer. She pushes the chair in a open direction away from her, coursing the drone to angle its sensors and turret to track the rolling object, which gives Tess the needed window to lie out of cover to shoot the machine. She empties her remaining magazine in doing so, leaving the rotor disabled drone to crash into a pile of files in a fit of sparks.

Leaning back against a cubicle, she reloads, pulling a fresh magazine out of her jacket with a smile on her face. Slider shut, she dares another peek at the smashed doorway, noting that the drone she brought down was well and truly offline. Ahead, the exit remained clear, which she then starts to move for at a hunched-over run through the cubicles. The guards from behind wouldn't stay content for long with their toy shut down, but neither would the three guards that suddenly came bursting in from the exit! The spy stops in her tracks, not a few metres from the new targets that had just entered the room; she was about to be found! Acting first, she lurches up and out of concealment to lock an arm around one guard's throat, to hold her as a body shield, before effortlessly plugging two shots into each of the remaining guards.

"I wouldn't," muttered Tess, pressing her pistol's hot muzzle against the jaw of her new hostage.

Having dropped her rifle, the guard had attempted to reach for her stun baton, but now she was forced to keep her hands raised, in the face of guards from the other side who were piling into the room.

"Now now boys and girls, let's not do anything rash. May I have one person collect all your weapons, to throw them out the window back there?"

The guards froze, remaining actionless in the face of a calm killer. Tess tilts her head, before pressing the pistol harder into her hostage.

"Please...?"
"... Th-throw 'em... god damn it, throw them out!!" cried out the helpless guard.

Reluctantly, one of the guards step forward to collect all their rifles and stun batons, before throwing their pile of gear out of the 32nd floor. Tess keeps a close eye on the disposer through the smashed doorway, to ensure he wouldn't try anything funny.

"Good, now I'm sure you would all like to receive your paychecks after all this is over, so why don't you folks touch that wall over there."

Looking to each other, the guards give mixed expressions of anger and fear at what this striking spy was ordering them to do. Before long, five guards in total comply with hands against the opposite wall.

"Very good. Step this way if you'd be so kind," said Tess to her now mortified hostage.
"Blonde bitch!!" shouted one of the wall huggers, "you can't take all of us!!"
"Oh don't worry, I'm only taking this one."

The pair of late night workers shuffle back out the door behind them.

"Close the door."

The hostage closes the door. Tess holsters her pistol.

"Wh-What are you... what are you going to..."
"Shhh. It's alright. You did good."

And without sparing the guard another thought, Tess pecks the woman's right ear before zapping her in the back with her own baton, leaving her unconscious on the floor.

Not a bad bit of kit.

Satisfied at the electric jolt that was administered, Tess goes ahead to also holster the baton as a souvenir.

Data drive still in hand, she sprints off again along the slickly designed hallways of her floor, meeting no further resistance as she went. She soon finds the reception area that housed the lifts, which she mashes the controls off to call up a ride. She snoops about the receptionist's desk while she waits, as the good spy she was, until a lift carriage arrives for her to board, bringing with it the sounds of its own genre of music.

Ugh, as soon as I'm out of this place...

She shook her head, as her mind drifted into thinking about the first thing she was going to say to the intelligence department about her package, before she moved on to consider how she still managed to pull off her assignment with the added inconveniences. To date, this undoubtedly was Tess' biggest grab, which was enough of a reason to still smile. Yet in her moment of daydreaming, what wasn't reason to smile, was how the lift suddenly stopped around the 14th floor, ahead of where she needed to be; the spy wasn't clear yet.

Ah... guess I could use the extra exercise.

While the surveillance team behind the elevator's one camera were quick to spot Tess, it wasn't that big of a dent in her plan. Best case scenario; ride straight down to around the 8th floor to access ventilation ducts. Worst case scenario; the same as the best case, except with more climbing.

Tess gives a small wave to the camera above her, as she reaches for her stun baton to short out the camera, before turning back to examine the ceiling. Hooking the data drive to a hip belt, she then hops up onto two railings lining the carriage, to then push at a panel that opened to the lift shaft. She pulls herself up and closes the hatch, leaving behind the pleasant elevator melodies.

Climb down fifteen floors, go for a hot shower. No pressure.

She scans her surroundings, looking for a structural part of the shaft that she could use to travel down, before she eventually settles on a vertical steel beam and a wall corner. Back braced against concrete, and feet against metal, Tess carefully begins to slide her way down past the lift carriage, with the aid of Gecko Tape that was laced in her gloves. She soon comes across a horizontal steel beam as an obstruction on the 12th floor, which she hangs off from while repositioning her back against the wall corner to continue sliding. Confused voices at one point could be heard from the carriage Tess abandoned, as she continued her pattern of movement over every level, until finally, she arrived at the 8th floor. She hugs the wall while balancing on a horizontal beam, with fatigue apparent in her legs. Sitting down, Tess scoots over to the small mesh of metal that hid the crucial air duct, and opens it with a creak. A spinning fan lies within to block her route down to the basement, which Tess responds too with another jab of the increasingly useful baton.

Baton - 3... Security - 0.

Fan disabled with last bit of juice from the baton, she enters the vent feet first, before closing the grate behind her, to then descend another nine floors. By which time, in reaching what Tess could assume was a damp utilities room, she was starting to feel the burn in her muscles. She panted for air, in the musty confines of her vent, near a grate that was hidden behind lots of piping.

Ok Tess... stay focused... they might be checking down here.

Slowly opening the grate with a drawn pistol, she hears nothing but the hum of vibrating pipes. But on the other side of the underground room, was a door that was suspiciously wide open, which gave Tess course to listen harder; her instincts win through. Before long, footsteps came into range from the corridor beyond, along with light rays that was being flicked around from a torch. They were getting closer, prompting Tess to find some cover behind a small pillar away from the vent which she leaves open. Seconds later, a lone guard enters the room, who is quick to spot the unsealed vent. He stands still, taking in what he sees, before reaching for his radio.

Oh no you don't mister!

Not willing to have her presence compromised any further, Tess jumps out of hiding to subdue the guard, opting to simply use her hands to keep things quiet. She grabs the guard's left arm with one hand, and the front of his neck with the other, before bringing a foot into the guard's left knee. It twists out of place, coursing him to falter onto his good knee, allowing Tess to guide her target's head into a nearby pipe to knock him out cold. Attack slickly executed, she steps back to observe and confirm that her target was indeed down for the count in a puddle of water.

Hope he's the only one.

Turning to the corridor, she could sense that the final exit was nearby from what she memorized with the floor plans, but she didn't let her excitement get in the way of the potential for more resistance. Fortunately, her hope holds true, as she finally finds the staircase leading to the ground floor, and the service corridor leading to a small side street. Taking in the cold night, she could see to her left the massive cityscape that lit up the sky, and to her right, a homeless man that was giving her a rather quizzical look.

"Evening," Tess coolly remarked, readjusting her jacket before walking off to find her motorbike that was parked on the main street.

Hot shower, here I come...

Mission Accomplished.

Chapter Text

Let’s see... three Yakuza thugs, kitted with underarm holsters for pistols, probably with knives too. My hands are handcuffed behind me, my pistol is pointed to my back, and it looks like we’re headed for the lifts. Looking good...

Despite how bad things may have looked to the untrained eye, Tess remained unfazed by her armed opponents, even as they pushed her towards the lobby’s lifts. Bystanders in the building looked on from a distance with a mild degree of concern, before they went on their way to avoid what was a common occurrence with the Yakuza... which was a planned occurrence by Tess.

She had fully intended to get captured, to allow her captors to take her to the Yakuza’s head office operating out of Kyoto. Now, as they moved into the close quarters of a lift carriage, it was time for her to start pushing people around, to make good on what she really came here to do; to reach the 41st floor.

The Yakuza thug with the gun pressed to Tess’ back, shoves Tess into the glass window of the lift carriage. He then slips out a special keycard that slots into the control panel of the lift, a keycard that the spy was intent on acquiring. Several previously unlit floors now light up green, indicating the granted access for floors that the lift normally couldn’t travel too. Among them, was the 42nd; the Yakuza’s office level the lift now moved for.

I have to get that keycard, the master key to this lift. I have to turn this thing around to the 41st.

The other two Yakuza thugs, who were subordinates of the first, flank Tess on either side. Their backs are to the glass; one of them is looking over the spy.

“あなたが見るもののように? (Like what you see?),” asked Tess with a smile, leaning back against the carriage railing.
“何?女性として?または犬の食べ物として? (What? As a woman? Or as dog food?),” the first thug responded, clearly not liking how collected Tess was.

Keep him talking. Just ignore how ugly his mug is, and keep talking.

Distracted, Tess carefully moves her cuffs into a position where she could reach for the clear plastic needle that was concealed on the edge of her jacket’s right sleeve. The lift carriage passes the 5th floor.

“Hm, それは彼らがあなたに与えるものです? (Hm, is that what they serve you?)”

The first thug twitches a smile, while the second thug to Tess’ right giving a scoff.

“... このダムブロンドを信じられますか? (... Can you believe this dumb blonde?),” remarked the first thug to the third to Tess’ left.

The third thug shakes his head. Plastic needle in between fingers, Tess feels for the ratchet hole with the right cuff; she is quick to find it. 10th floor.

Piece of cake.

 A backhand slap suddenly comes in from the first thug. It hits just beneath Tess’ left eye, with a ring on one of his fingers bruising the spot. Her fingers manage to hold onto the needle.

“私はあなたに何が起こるかをあなたが知っているとは思わない。(I don’t think you know what’s going to happen to you).”
“... 私はいくつか考えている。なぜ私は銃を持ってきたと思いますか? (... I have some idea. Why do you think I brought a gun?)”

The needle slots into the ratchet, sliding its way between the case and the teeth of the cuff, which Tess deliberately tightens.

“はい...銃... (Yes... the gun...)”

Raising Tess’ Glock, he starts to examine the slick weapon. 15th Floor.

“なぜ女の子は高価な市場銃で街の周りに不思議に思うだろうか? (Why would a girl be wondering around our streets with an expensive market gun)?”

Needle jammed firmly into the right cuff, the spy slides out the cuff’s teeth; her right hand is free.

“... Let me show you.”

Suddenly, in one swift motion, her hands sweep out to bat the Glock from the first thug; her captors are completely taken by surprise. Tess then grabs the first by the throat and left arm, and swings him around to crash into the third thug. The second reaches for a pistol from under his suit, and attempts to aim for Tess, who leans back into the right side of the carriage to avoid the pistol. She then grabs the second thug’s gun arm and kicks in his right knee. He yelps as his leg bends out of position, allowing Tess to take control of his pistol. She fires off a single shot at the first and third thug, who were scrambling to get out of each other’s way.

The bullet hits the third thug in the right shoulder, sending him back into his corner with blood spraying over the lift buttons. The first meanwhile charges forward and shoulder tackles Tess before she could fire a second shot. A right punch is thrown by the first thug into Tess’ nose, coursing her to accidentally fire two stray shots, before having her pistol disarmed. The two then wrestle towards a corner by the doors, where the first thug attempts to push Tess onto the floor by strangling her; she retaliates by trying to gouge his eyes. The second thug gets back to his feet, and draws a flip knife to stab Tess. She barely stops the incoming blade, by punching the first thug into the wall to jam the knife arm. 20th Floor.

Augh... I need... air!

She felt unsteady on her feet; she was going to go onto the ground! But before this could happen, Tess reaches for the locked knife arm with her right arm, and rips the knife away, as she is finally forced down into a sitting position. Blade in hand, the spy recoils her right arm to slash across the first thug’s chest, before following up on the blow with a stab to the kidney. He screams in agony, paralysed by the pain, coursing him to lean over Tess. Blood seeps onto her bodysuit, all the while as he weakly beats fists against Tess and the floor in desperation.

The carnage that now was turning their small space red, after how quickly everything went so wrong, had thrown off the second thug. He frantically searches for the pistol he dropped after he was freed from Tess, right as Tess goes to grab a pistol that was resting against her left thigh. It was her Glock that she knocked away when the fighting started, which she brings to bear to shoot at the second thug. The first shot misses, due to the first thug who was still fidgeting against her, and instead hits the laminated glass of the lift carriage. However the second shot for the second thug hits, just as he finds and picks up his pistol.

He collapses and dies atop of the third thug in the opposite corner, who was still crippled by his fresh shoulder wound, who was now attempting to draw his own pistol! He groans in pain as he lifts his weapon, but Tess is quick to react by pushing off the first thug to then perform a combat roll back towards the window. She gets a clear shot, and takes it, nailing the third thug in the neck who was unable to keep up with Tess’ movement. Blood spurts from his ruptured neck artery, and before long, the carriage quietens. Nothing but the sound of whistling wind, Tess’ own breathing, and the groans of the first thug could now be heard. 25th floor.

Ok, they’re down... up you get Tess.

Tess gets to her feet and tests her jaw to see if it was still ok; it was. Aside from the blood that covered her hands and body, and the blows she took to the head, she was a picture of health.

Ugh… I'm making a habit of bloody messes.

She holsters her pistol in her jacket and readjusts it, while eyeing the first thug who didn’t have very long; he raises his hands in surrender.

“お願いします... お願いします... (Please... please...)”

Yet in spite of his pleas for mercy, Tess’ sharp eyes pick out a hand that was reaching for his holstered pistol.

Nice try.

Quickly walking over to him, she lifts a boot to stomp his kidney wound. He immediately falters, with more screaming and swearing, leaving Tess to pull out his weapon to shoot him in the head. Now she was alone. 30th floor.

Tossing aside the pistol, Tess then starts to rummage through the Yakuza’s pockets to find the handcuff key and the lift’s special keycard. Using the keycard, she resets the carriage’s destination to travel for the 41st floor, before removing the handcuff from her left hand.

Security was automated on the floor that held the Yakuza’s server farm. Ultrasonic motion sensors and pressure plates were security elements Tess had to avoid, or else drones would flood the entire floor. Fortunately, by the time the doors opened again, a solution was waiting for her on the otherwise deserted floor. Tess held her Glock up as she exited with caution, to meet with a defector who was hiding by a building column. It was a young Yakuza woman, who was through with living her life in the service of ruthless criminals.

In one hand, she held an Uzi, in the other, she held a duffle bag. Off to Tess’ left, were the bodies of two more Yakuza members that no doubt were the work of the defector, as evidenced by the expended Uzi casings that were on the ground.

“You look like hell...”
“What can I say, it was a bumpy ride. Is that for me?”

Referring to the duffle bag, the woman slides it over to Tess.

“Full-body ultrasonic dampener and the keys to the server doors. You better be quick, we need to leave.”

Without another word, Tess picks up the duffle bag and runs for the nearest door to a server farm. She throws off her jacket, and then unzips the bag to pull out a slim fitting suit that was meant to render her invisible to the Yakuza’s motion sensors. No doubt this was a specialised piece of kit that the defector had stolen for Tess, out of a stockpile of gear the Yakuza had. Removing her boots, she slides herself into the black suit and zips it up, covering herself from head-to-toe with the special metamaterial.

A tight fit, but it’ll have to do.

Using an in-built pouch, she quickly grabs and pockets a small USB stick that she brought in her jacket.

Time to deliver the bomb.

Turning to the glass door, she takes out the bundle of keys the defector also stole to unlock the door. It slides off to one side, leaving the server room exposed for the spy. Pocketing the keys, Tess then turns the woman who was by the open lift she rode up in. She fires off a quick burst with her Uzi to disable the carriage.

“Hey, come give me a hand with this.”

She swivels her head between the spy and the lifts, sighting that no lift was coming, before she runs over. Tess holds out her Glock.

“What is it?”
“Here, take my gun, get on all fours for me.”
“What?”
“Please do it, I need a way up.”

Pressure plates were positioned right in front of the door, which were patterned out to cover the rest of the room’s floor. There was only one place the spy could go that was safe, as she looked on at the nearest server stack.

Without hesitating any further, the defector did as she was asked, positioning herself right at the threshold of the door on all fours. Tess backs herself away to line up a run.

Ok. Remember, the floor is lava.

She takes one deep breath, visualising the moves she would have to perform, before starting off on a sprint for the server room. Using the defector as a vaulting block of sorts to get extra height, she leaps for the top-side edge of the nearest server stack. Both hands connect as Tess impacts the side of her box with a grunt, before she quickly pulls herself up. Crouched atop of the tower of electronics she was able to parkour on, the spy turns back to the defector and gives an “OK” sign with her fingers. She nods, before she turns back to the lobby area to stay on guard duty, Glock and Uzi in both hands.

She seems nice.

Turning back to the task at hand, Tess starts jogging over the lines of shelved computers, jumping gracefully from aisle to aisle, to eventually find the correct terminal to plant her USB. Lying flat on her belly, she notes that the target port was shelved behind a door that was safeguarded by an old fashioned padlock.

I guess someone likes being sentimental about security.

Unzipping the pouch that held the keys, she carefully leans over the edge to reach for the padlock.

Damn it. I’m short.

Suddenly, she hears yelling above the whirring fans of the room; the defector had company!

“彼女はそこだ!! (There she is!!)”

Time was growing short; an exchange of gun fire was now in progress. Tess could see, through all of the glass panels that lined the room, the defector who was taking cover behind her column. She furiously sprayed her Uzi at the Yakuza who were currently stuck in a lift carriage. Stray bullets thud against the windows, but they hold in their bullet resistance.

Move Tess!

Leaning even further over the edge, she stops herself from sliding off by bracing one arm against the meshed server door opposite her in the aisle. The padlock was now in reach, and the correct key for it was in hand. She slots the numbered key in and clicks the lock open.

Careful! You’re still in a room full of motion sensors.

Door free to swing, she opens the server stack very slowly, to allow just enough room to slip an arm in. Unzipping the pouch with the USB, she makes good on her assignment and plugs the device into the appropriate port. The small digital screen on the USB lights up, displaying that the virus was being uploaded.

 Ok. Let’s get out of here!

Peering back up at the firefight that had broken out, the defector had dispensed with another two Yakuza thugs. Two more remained however, firing blindly from their bullet riddled lift. Yet just as the defector was in the process of reloading, one of the thugs charges out to take cover be Tess’ server room.

The spy moved as quickly as she could, staying hunched over as she ran, ready to drop low at a moment’s notice if she was spotted. Fortunately, the thug was too busy to look through the glass, and instead was continuing to rain bullets at their would-be traitor.

“臆病者!出てきて、私たちに向き合ってください!! (Coward!! Come out and face us!!)”

Tess had to act; the defector wouldn’t last much longer! Speeding up, she jogs to the end of the aisle that was in line with the exit and leaps for the top of the door frame. Latching on, she swings herself clear of the server farm’s pressure plates and lands perfectly on her feet in a crouched position. She turns to the thug by the glass, who still hadn’t noticed her presence, and stealthily approaches the woman from behind. Without any hesitation, Tess wraps her arms around the thug’s head, and twists them apart to snap her neck. She falls to the ground in a heap, followed by Tess who drops to the floor to use the corpse as cover against the last thug in the elevator. She turns to shoot at the surprise assailant; one bullet glances over the spy’s left arm, ripping through her suit to draw blood.

Ow!! Just wait till I get my hands on you when you have to reload!

“Stallion!!”

Recognising what was her codename, Tess peers above her meat shield to spot the defector, who was throwing a spare Yakuza pistol over to her. The spy reaches up to grab the pistol from midair, and before the thug could react in time, Tess levels the gun against her target to fire off the whole magazine. The last Yakuza attacker is downed.

Slowly, the woman carrying her Uzi steps out from behind her mostly destroyed cover, to observe that there was no one else left to fight, at least for now. She then runs over to Tess, who was already back on her feet and in the process of retrieving her jacket and boots.

“You alright?”

Unzipping the head portion of her dampening suit, the spy unfurls her blond pony tail. She briefly glances at her flesh wound.

“Yeah... just glad that wasn’t my jacket...” responded Tess with a smile.

She slips into her boots and fastens them, before sliding on her jacket.

“... Let’s get you out of here... the name’s Tess, by the way. I’m guessing your real name isn’t PufferFisher247?”
“Katsuko.”
“Ah... あなたと一緒に仕事をしている喜び。ニーススロー。(Ah... pleasure to be working with you Katsuko. Nice throw).”
“ありがとう... (Thanks...)”

Leaving behind the carnage that was the Yakuza HQ of Kyoto, the newly met partners in crime leave via a fire escape, and escape together on a motorbike.

A month's worth of secret communications and careful planning prior to the assignment, had paid off.

Server bombed. Katsuko rescued. Need a hot shower.

Mission Accomplished.

Chapter Text

It was a long ride with the motorbike to reach the nearest safe house; the apartment that was rented out by Tess' agency took almost half an hour to reach. Upon arriving, Tess and Katsuko quickly dismount to head inside, checking their surroundings as they went to make sure that they weren't being followed. They then take a lift to the 5th floor to find their apartment unit, where a biometric scan of Tess' left hand was required to enter.

Once inside, within what was a modern yet old fashioned space, the two agents of espionage could finally rest for the night. Tess walks on through to the bathroom, one of three rooms that made up the unit, to grab a medkit that was stored under a sink. Katsuko meanwhile looks around the initial room she had entered, which featured a lounge and a kitchen in one. The floors were mostly white, consisting of slick ceramic slabs and foam carpeting, all lit by light strips that lined the edges of the room. The overall structure of the place was what made it modern, but what made it old fashioned, were the cheap furnishings and appliances that filled it. Of note, was a single couch that ringed a flatscreen TV in the lounge area, wrinkled and faded in its black colour.

"I'll be just a minute! Go ahead and turn on the TV if you like!"

Walking over to the couch, Katsuko finds what was a chunky TV remote by modern standards. She flicks on the TV and sits down, upon seeing that her shootout with the Yakuza was being reported on. News correspondents were already at the scene trying to piece together what occurred, with the police giving only tight lipped responses for all the cameras that had gathered. Everyone looked unsure about what happened, something that Katsuko was all too familiar with seeing. Whether it was with some property damage, some robbery, or something even worse that had been carried out by Yakuza, any news that surfaced would be brushed aside with ease, presumably with money that was stashed in all the right places.

Tess comes back over to watch, barefoot and soaked with water. The ultrasonic suit was slung unzipped over her right shoulder, while she held her jacket in her left hand. She presses a gauze pad against the slash wound across her left arm.

"Quite the stir, huh?" Tess remarked.

Katsuko turns to face Tess, who stood in a doorway wearing only her bodysuit, woven of a manufactured spider silk. It was capable of stopping various types of bullets and knives, but otherwise, it was an unassuming piece of fashion for the average civilian.

"... Yeah."

Tess peels away the gauze to check on the bleeding; it was going to need suturing. She folds the jacket and ultrasonic suit over the head of the couch, before heading back to the bathroom to get the needle and thread. She makes herself comfortable on a closed toilet, and readies her medical utensils, but pauses when she sees Katsuko come in.

"You need some help with that?" Katsuko asked.
"Sure."

Let's see what you got.

While they had only met face-to-face for the first time, their shared struggle with surviving the night was enough for Tess to trust in the ex-Yakuza's resourcefulness. She took off her black formal suit and washed her hands, before seating herself beside the spy on the rim of a bath tub, sleeves rolled up. With care, Katsuko begins her triage with Tess, with hands that were held ever so steady as she sewed.

"I take it, this isn't your first time?"
"... No, it isn't."

Tess briefly looks over at her helper; her eyes were focused, unwavering in every weave she was making.

"When you're with a gang that doesn't take failure well, make yourself as useful as you can. Teaching myself first aid was one way I could last longer."

A few minutes pass by in silence, as Tess contemplated on Katsuko's criminal past, along with what was yet to come. The agency had plans in place for if Tess was able to successfully extract the defector from the criminal syndicate. Choices would have to made about her future.

... She should know.

Stitching done, a bandage is wrapped around the spy's arm to protect the threads. Tess smiles, admiring the clean work.

"非常に素晴らしい。(Very nice)."
"ありがとう。(Thanks)."

Katsuko stands to dispose of the bloodied utensils and to wash her hands again, when Tess notices something along the woman's waist.

"... Kat?"
"Yeah?"
"Lift your shirt... I think you've been hit too."

Small blood spots littered her white shirt which was torn in places. She sits herself down to let the spy examine the damage, where upon closer inspection, Tess could see it was the result of concrete fragments that created dozens of small cuts. No doubt the debris was from a column the defector was previously using as cover, that was hammered by bullets.

"何でもありません。(It's nothing)."

Dampening another gauze, Tess gives a quick wipe to clean her waist, which leads her to happen upon another injury. She lifts the shirt further to examine her back, but then her hand is pushed away by Katsuko. Tess squeezes at the hand that held her back, sensing some form of nervousness from the ex-Yakuza woman.

"それは大丈夫です、私は見てみましょう。 (It's ok, let me have a look)."

Slowly, she relents, allowing Tess to lift her shirt to find several old scars that lined her back.

"... Jeez."
"As I said... they despise failure..."

The shape of the scars indicated that a sharp whip was used to hurt her, to damage what was otherwise flawless skin.

"Then they're fools... psychotic fools..."

Katsuko motions her head towards Tess, somewhat taken aback by her show of concern, as she then went about wrapping a bandage around her waist.

"... You know, I half expected you to not show up tonight. And even if you did..."

She stops, deciding to turn around to face her rescuer, bandage fully applied.

"... I thought you'd just throw me back to them."
"We had a plan. We had an agreement about how we were going to do this, together."
"I know... but you had other reasons for coming. You were on a job."

Reaching for Katsuko's hand again, Tess begins stroking a thumb over her knucklebones.

"... If you really didn't trust me, you could've just left me when I was pinned back there. You didn't have to throw me a pistol."

Looking over the defector's bodily build, the spy notes the Uzi that was still strapped to her side.

"You still don't trust me now, do you?"
"... You... and your agency..."

Tess tilts her head, remaining calm as ever. Katsuko's eyes corner towards her weapon, if only for a moment.

"見て、私はあなたを傷つけることはありません、あなたは十分に傷ついています。 (Look, I'm not here to hurt you, you've been hurt enough)."
"... 私の手を放す。 (... Let go of my hand)".
"... お手伝いしましょう。(... I can help you)."
"Help your agency, you mean?"
"As an intelligence source, yes... but also as someone who's scared."
"... You think I'm scared of you?"
"No, I think you're scared of the Yakuza, that they might find you again."
"..."

The defector averts her gaze, peering back out the doorway of the bathroom.

"I also think, you're scared of my agency leading you into another building; another prison, of sorts. With a criminal history like yours, they’d be inclined to keep you locked up tight... so..."

Tess let's go of Katsuko.

"... Let me offer you a third choice."
"... What choice?"

Standing up, the spy then brings Katsuko to her feet and pulls her into a close embrace, with hands around her waist. Their statures mirror each other, with Tess being only a little taller.

"Tomorrow, we'll both leave the apartment, with some money from the safe to get new phones; we'll add each other's numbers. Then, I'll ask a man from the agency to return a favor for me, by getting him to create a new passport for you, and to encrypt our phones. And then... you pick another country, get a ticket, and leave."

The defector's eyes widen at the proposal; she takes a moment to process what it all could mean.

"... New phones for you and me?"
"So the agency can't snoop on us through registered phones. I talk to you, you talk to me; nothing more."
"... Would they not like that?"

Tess' lips light up again with another delicate smile.

"No, they wouldn't. They especially wouldn't like it if I just let you fall off the grid, leaving me as their only line of contact to you. But to them, I would simply say that I'm cultivating new intelligence sources for the future... tends to calm them down when I use long words... still..."

She then cups a hand against Katsuko's right cheek.

"... I appreciate the concern..." Tess whispered.

They lean closer to each other, with Katsuko sensing that she was about to kiss her.

"... No... this is a trick... like you'd make it that easy for me..."
"Hm... well, I guess you better shoot me then..."

For a moment, the defector freezes, but then she suddenly draws her Uzi to press it against the spy's exposed belly. Tess looks down at the weapon, her breathing only quickened by how hard she was prodded, otherwise she was calm as ever.

"... What will you do?"

The ex-Yakuza looks deep into Tess' brilliant blue eyes, searching for some kind of tell that would unveil the spy as a liar. Instead, all she finds is the tell of an attractive woman, who knew what it meant to handle a gun for a living... who truly knew what life and death was. Her weapon hand grows heavy, and before long, the Uzi slips out of her hand to clatter against the bathroom tiling.

"いまいましい... (Damn it...)."

In what was an emotional standoff of wits and posturing, Katsuko finally folds in her guard. Her hands feel their way around Tess' wet bodysuit, before willingly, she is pulled into a deep kiss. Tears form in the ex-Yakuza's eyes, where for the first time in a long time, she was allowed to show weakness in front of another person, who wouldn't feed her to the dogs.

A minute or so later, their lips part, with Katsuko leaning against Tess' neck to breath, while gently being held in a hug.

"ありがとうございました... (Thank you...)," Katsuko breaths out.
"Anytime, Kat."
"... Since when did I say you could call me Kat?"
"Don't know, you didn't seem to mind the last few times."
"... It's not bad... maybe you can call me Kathy."
"... Sure."

They fall into silence, feeling each other's warmth, before they both exit the bathroom to reconvene by the lounge.

"Just... one last thing I have to sort out with you..."
"... What?"

The spy plants two hands over the head of the old couch.

"Shall I take the couch, or can we share...?" Tess playfully asks.

Chapter Text

Nice view...

From the height she was flying at, Tess could see the many lights that crisscrossed the city below. Rain which dotted her helmet's visor, gave the view a more mystical look.

... Best to enjoy it while I can.

No doubt it was going to be a rough night in Osaka, as the spy flew onwards to her next assignment aboard a six-rotor drone. A business meeting, between various Yakuza members from all around Japan, was about to start in a few minutes. Among the attendees, were members from the Kyoto head office that Tess a month ago had server bombed, which proved to be a costly setback for the crimes syndicate, both in money and in personnel. As a result, security at tonight's venue would be far tighter than usual, even by Yakuza standards.

Five minutes out, the spy goes to check all of her equipment one last time, beyond just the flight harness she was wearing.

Her black, full body, armoured suit, with reinforced graphene plates atop of the usual spider silk, all fitted to her body comfortably. A cable winch system built into the torso's back, forearm guards with controls and two battery packs, an integrated radio for communications; all green. A suppressed subsonic SMG, a tranquilliser gun, a backup pistol, a combat knife with a glass cutter; all harnessed and loaded.

Checks done. Thank you helmet.

Two minutes out, with her suit and tools ready to go, it was now down to Tess to act on them. The spy ran through the plan of attack that would surely push her training to the limit, as the target skyscraper loomed.

Just another glass box. Nothing I haven't handled before.

She took in a few deep breaths, allowing the frigid air to fill her lungs, to keep her alert.

"Approaching the drop zone. One minute," buzzed the radio.
"... I see it."
"Are you ready Stallion?"

Unstrapping herself from the remotely operated drone, Tess holds tight to the bars that hang over her. She wriggles her toes.

"Ready..."

The drone began to slow down in its forward velocity, which was noted on the display screen within Tess' helmet.  Eventually, by the time the rain was no longer leaning into Tess, she was hovering approximately 50 metres above a skyscraper's roof.

"Clear to deploy. Go!"

Pulling a lever, a repelling line Tess was pre-hooked into drops from the drone, and without another thought, the spy hops off her seat to begin a speedy repel to the ground. Her descent is managed through wrapped legs and through the gecko tape that was laced in her gloves.

She spares a glance at the drone, all the while as it shrank away into the night and rain. Within seconds, the spy reaches the knot at the end of the rope, about a metre above the roof. As per the pilot's job, this was so that the rope didn't make any ground noise for any guards to hear, of which... there were two.

"Two Yaks by the north-west corner."

Reaching for her harness' hook, she releases it to land smoothly on her feet, before dropping to her belly.

"... Noted," Tess murmured.
"Pulling back to a safe distance. Good luck Stallion."

Looking back while she unfastened her harness, Tess could see the rope from the drone move back into darkness, as if by some spooky force. Now alone behind a ventilation duct, it was down to her to call the shots, starting with the two Yakuza guards the drone had ID'ed. Peeking over, the spy pinpoints the suited thugs under a piece of cover from the rain, talking and smoking in front of a lit stairwell door. Each had a device wrapped around their wrists, which presumably were heart monitors.

I need to gather more intel about this meet... better poke around fast.

While it was clear that the spy was at the right building, the floor for the conference meeting was another piece of information Tess had to obtain in the field.

Plotting her movements from the south-east, she snakes her way past vents and air conditioning systems, to arrive by an open stretch of ground between her and her targets. She draws the tranquilliser gun.

Heart monitors shouldn't be a problem with darts that can knock out an elephant.

She takes a step back to raise her gun, before marching out from behind cover to approach the two guards head on. Sighted in, the spy pulls the trigger on the thug to her left, launching a red dart. It hits the thug right in the collar, coursing him to roll his eyes and to collapse onto the concrete. His partner shudders back in alarm, before he turns to pinpoint the attacker.

"ダメ! (Don't)!" Exclaimed Tess through a voice modulator.

The right thug freezes, halfway through reaching for his pistol. The spy flicks her gun, indicating to him to put his weapon on the ground. The thug complies, kicking his weapon away.

"よしよし。じゃ、上司の在りかを教えてくれない?(Good man. Care to tell me where I can find your boss?)."

The man remains silent, at a loss for words with what was suddenly being demanded of him.

"驚いたか?そうね、私は誰かを殺しに来た。だが、貴様と同士を殺さないで済むことができる。では、上司はどこ? (Yes, surprise, I'm here on a job to kill people... doesn't mean I have to hurt you... or your friend... you're not my priority unless you insist on being one... so, where is your boss?)"
"...やれるならやってみろ。貴様なんて者は俺様を傷つけることが出来ない! (... You wouldn't dare... you can't touch me!)" Said the thug with an air of authority, lifting his monitored arm.
"本当?(You sure about that)?"
"..."

... Hm... not the fearful kind of guy to run his mouth I see.

The spy sighs, which sounds out eerily in an electronic tone.

"まあ、いいか。(Fine)."

Wasting no more time with the man who called out on Tess' bluff, the spy casually darts the right thug.

Probably was sworn to hold his ground or face punishment. Still, was worth a shot. Hopefully I can find someone who works for the building.

Holstering the tranquilliser, the spy turns to her left forearm guard, to press one of three buttons on its underside. A tiny camera on a poseable wire pops out, which Tess could peer through using her helmet.

Time to recon the other 26 floors.

Passing into the stairwell, the spy quietly travels down several flights of stairs, stopping at every door along the way to peek with the camera. By the 20th floor, she hears some Japanese utterances, from a number of floors below. The spy peers over a railing to gauge how far off the sounds might've been; she is unable to determine.

More guards in the stairwell. Be lighter on the boots.

At a slower pace, she continues to descend, in anticipation that the guards could start moving at any moment. Hand on the tranquilliser gun, she is putting one foot in front of the other with great care, until something else becomes audible on the 16th floor. Leaning closer to the door Tess was peeking, she smiles, upon recognising what the sound was; a vacuum cleaner.

Aha, just the sort of person I've been looking for.

Sighting that no-one was in the immediate vicinity, the spy takes a chance and heads in. Inside, only a handful of ceiling lights were on, across the many office cubicles that filled the floor.

Well... this seems familiar. Not as modern as the last set of cubicles I bounced through.

She walks through the aisles at a casual pace, towards the person operating the vacuum cleaner.

Looks like he's been around for a long time.

The man who was hard at work under the lights, looked to be in his late 50's, early 60's. His hair was mostly thinned out, with what little hair there was left being grey. He wore wide rimmed glasses, and a set of ear plugs connected to an old IPod on his belt, which looked to be what the elderly worker was lip syncing with.

Tess knew what she came here to do, but for a moment, she couldn't help but lean by a wall to take in what was a quaint sight. He was too busy to notice that he wasn't alone.

... Alright, time to surprise his evening.

Walking up to the man, Tess stands in front of him to get his attention. He stops, noting first the boots that were in his way, before looking up to find a suited woman who had a hand on a hip, who was strapped with weapons. He turns off the vacuum cleaner and pulls out his ear plugs.

"こんばんは!突然すみませんが、少し手伝ってくれませんか? (Hi. Sorry for having to bother you like this, but could you help me out with something?)," Tess politely asked.
"えっと...うん。ヤクザか? (Uh... sure. Are you with the Yakuza?)"
"そうではありません。でも、ヤクザについて聞きたいです...。(No sir... though that is what I would like to ask about.)"

Tess walks over to a nearby desk and sits on it with crossed legs.

"彼らがどちらの階にいるか知っていますか? (Do you know which floor they're on)?"
"... シフトを始めたとき、11階を放っておくと命令されたんじゃ。彼らがそこにいると思うのう。(... When I started my shift here tonight, I was told not to clean the 11th floor. I guess that's where they are)."
"何人いるか知ってる? (You know how many are here?)"
"... 分からない。数えなかったのう。(... Don't know... I wasn't counting.)"

The spy nods her head in understanding.

"ありがとうね!(Thank you.)"
"... 財布なんか奪わない?(... Are you not going to rob me)?"
"いいえ、いいえ。そのために行かなかったよ。(No sir, that's not what I'm here for)."

Tilting her head to one side, Tess peers at the IPod at the elderly man's side.

"美しいアンティークですね。珍しい。(That's a beautiful antique. Don't see a lot of those these days.)"

The man smiles weakly.

"... 家宝じゃ。ワイヤレスイヤホンを買うのが面倒じゃった。(... A family heirloom... could never bother to get the wireless ear plugs.)"
"Hm..."

Tess hops off the desk and proceeds to leave.

"それ、大事にしてね。もうすぐ騒々しくなる。その時、帰って。(Keep it close to you. Things will get loud soon. Go home when it does.)"
"... どんなに物持ちでも、必ずもっと多くを望む。(... It's never enough is it? With people wanting more.)"
"... 必ず... (... Never is...)"

Giving one last glance at the innocent worker, the spy heads back for the stairs to continue with her assignment. The cleaner resumes his noisy duties once Tess leaves.

Quite the gentleman. Down we go. One more floor.

With a clearer idea of which floor to focus on, the spy heads to the 15th floor to prepare for her next move, seven minutes into her assignment. A quick under-the-door check later and Tess exits the stairwell again to wonder through more offices.

"Ok. Did you get what that man said?"
"Yes. It looks like there is only one conference room on that floor. That could be where our targets are.
"... On the east side of the building... I'll take a look."
"Confirm their location. We'll be ready with the fly-by package."

Referencing a blueprint of the 11th floor, the spy looks to the glass-lined offices surrounding the perimeter of her current floor. She quickly settles on one office in the north-east corner, with a locked glass door.

Time to give the knife a whirl.

Unsheathing the knife, she finds the small power port near the hilt, to plug in a cable from the left forearm guard. Then, pressing the forearm's second button, the glass cutter lights up red, with the required power to make a cut by the door knob. The spy presses the handle's bottom against the glass, guiding around a pinpoint of white light. Small rolling balls embedded in handle's base, help to maintain consistent motions with the tool.

Within a minute, the spy finishes cutting a hole in the glass divider, allowing her to slip an arm inside the office to open the door. Inside the well kept space, Tess immediately starts work on the east window, to cut a hole that was big enough for her to slip onto the skyscraper's exterior. She had done that math with what cable length she had to work with, over the four floor distance that needed to be scaled.

This should be doable. Just don't slip around with all the rain.

The work was meticulous, even for a hole that Tess was trying to keep as small as possible at the window's base. Eventually, with some care to not let a large piece of window fall to the street, an opening is made, allowing the high rise’s wind to whistle through.

Turning to her right forearm, Tess presses one of four buttons to unwind her built-in cabling. She picks up the hooked end of the cable, loops it through a hoop on the front of her chest plate, and then tethers it to the office desk that was bolted down. A few hard tugs are given for the cable; it holds.

Locked, loaded, and harnessed for action...

The spy was ready to venture outside. She blows out some air, taking in the wind and rain that she would have to climb through.

... Let's dance...

Without any further hesitation, Tess lays down on her front, and slips herself out feet first. A hand is over the buttons on her right forearm, to control how fast she would descend. Soon, with enough cable unwound, Tess pushes herself against the building to swing away, so she could get her feet planted on the exterior. Landing squarely on her legs, the spy begins to quietly repel past floors of windows, in a suit that acted as a full body harness.

She stays alert on what windows pass by, making sure that no-one is standing nearby for her presence to be noticed. The 14th, 13th and 12th floors all have their lights switched off along the east side, however, the 11th floor has several lights that are switched on, behind drawn curtains.

"I see lights on the 11th floor... conference room," Tess whispered, while hanging around the 13th floor.
"Can you confirm our targets?"

Edging her way down the 12th floor, she squints through a curtain gap, in an effort to pick out something; it proves too difficult from her current angle.

"Hang on a sec... eugh..."

Pushing herself right to the border of the 11th floor, the spy lifts her legs up and coils the cable, so that she could rotate herself upside-down. She finds her balance, keeping herself as still as possible to avoid accidentally flipping upright, as she reached for the camera on her left forearm. Slowly, she extends her left arm with the deployed camera to peek into the conference room, all the while as she held her precarious orientation.

Jackpot.

"... They're inside."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. Lots of suits. Lots of guns."
"Copy that. Fly-by is a go then. Get clear of the area."
"Gladly."

High ranking Yakuza found, it was time to back off for the first strike that was to come. The spy retracts herself about half a meter to get clear of the 11th floor, in order to rotate herself back into a repelling position. She relies on her upper body strength to carefully bring her legs back into place, before she begins her return to the 14th floor.

Reaching close to where she started, the spy then side steps around the skyscraper's north-east corner. There, she holds position to unlatch the SMG from her back, to sling the weapon onto her front, for when its need would inevitably arise.

"I'm clear."
"Good to go?"
"Whenever you are ready."
"... Copy that... stand by for the package... 30 seconds..."

Tess hugs the glass; her gecko gloves keep her firmly in place, as she does one last scan of her surroundings. Below her, was the 9th floor landing pad for hover vehicles.

Possible escape route.

"20 seconds..."

... Kathy certainly delivered with the intelligence to get me this far... Maybe I can ask her out once this is all over...

Tess smiles momentarily from under her helmet, briefly reminiscing over the ex-Yakuza she was able to save a month prior.

"10 seconds..."

Deep breath... keep it quick and clean...

The spy takes in one last breath and closes her eyes, keeping calm and focused.

"5... 4... 3..."

Suddenly, Tess hears over the rain the sound of the drone she initially rode in on. It is charging in, on a collision course with the targeted conference room! But just before it even touches the glass, the bomb it was carrying, detonates!

Shockwaves generated from the blast shake the entire skyscraper, shattering many of the windows leading up to the 14th floor. The window Tess was leaning against fractures, but holds thanks to its thickness and lamination. However, the violent vibrations still course the spy to be rocked of balance, coursing her slide-roll back around to the east side. Her helmet knocks loudly in her ears, yet amidst the tumbling, she manages to regain control, by planting her feet and hands back into the windows in one move.

... Consider me shaken... not stirred.

Looking down, she sees a plume of dust rising in her direction. Alarms were now the noise that replaced the weather.

"Nice flying, good effect on target."
"Copy that..." the operator responded, with a hint of satisfaction.
"Go to radio silence for now, I'll take it from here."
"Solid copy. Radio me when you need a pickup. Out."

Time to go!

Giving no further regard for subtlety, the spy starts rapidly descending for her targets, avoiding the other wrecked floors along the way with well timed pushes to keep her outside. Within seconds, the spy arrives at the epicentre of the drone strike.

She latches one hand on the top of a window rim to keep herself steady, leaving the other to point the SMG into the conference room. The place was flooded with fire, smoke, and rain; no movement could presently be seen through the smog of destruction.

Lowering herself further, the spy starts a series of swings to get inside, over a section of floor that had clearly become unstable from the blast. A wide enough arc achieved, she hits the descent button one last time to land herself in a crouched position. She then hits the release button, coursing the winch in her back to cut the rest of her cable, freeing Tess.

The spy stays low to observe what was immediately around her, all the while as her helmet filtered out all the dust and smoke that hung in the air. Numerous Yakuza members laid dead all around her, all with nasty lacerations from the shards of glass that blew in. One corpse still had a sizeable chunk sticking out of their back.

... Death by a thousand cuts.

Yet despite the drone's gruesome work, the spy notes that a handful of people were still alive amidst the wreckage, mostly towards the interior of the skyscraper. She stands to aim her weapon at four targets that still writhed in pain, who fall silent when they are each finished with two bullets.

Better sweep through the rest of this fast. More will be showing up soon.

The spy starts moving from north to south in search of more live targets, walking past upturned chairs and hanging wires, around what looked to be a massive ornate table that was built into the floor. She bumps a foot against a body which grunts; two bullets. A Yakuza tries to stand; two bullets.

Before long, Tess approaches the end of the table by the skyscraper's south side, and peers back to double check her work. In total, there were an estimated twenty Yakuza who had perished behind her. Yet ahead, there still were more to eliminate, as there abruptly came noises from a nearby door.

Here they come.

Taking a crouched stance by a wall and some debris, she points her SMG in the direction of the inbound guards, and waits. They ram the locked door multiple times, until finally, bullets bust through the lock to allow five Yakuza guards in. Some gag at the smell that hits them, others are simply taken aback by the scene. Either way, all of them are too distracted to notice the one black figure who had them all lined up.

The target nearest Tess; double tapped. The partner behind her; double tapped. The remaining three who had grouped further away; sprayed. None had a chance to retaliate.

The spy stands again and reloads her SMG, using a revolving magazine loader that was attached to its top. As she does so, another groan sounds from the floor, this time towards the south end of the table that was yet to be swept.

Clear him, then clear off.

The man looked to be the last one left, who was trying to get back on his feet to leave. The spy takes aims and fires, but misses, when a hand from behind the table pulls him back into cover; there was still more left.

Ugh... Need another angle.

Much to her annoyance, Tess begins to move closer to get another shot, but suddenly, someone grabs her hard by the left ankle! She tries to shake free of the grip, but this only serves to tighten the hand of the wounded guard at her feet.

Hey! Hands off the boots!

The spy attempts to change aim to shoot off the woman, but with two hands now wrapped around the spy's ankles, she yanks the feet out from under Tess, coursing her to fall flat onto her side.

The strength of the pull completely takes the spy by surprise, but she quickly determines how this was possible, as the wounded woman was trying to crawl on top of her! The thug, who wore an ornate helmet, raises a right fist to attack, which was gloved in a metal that extended down the length of her arm to a chest plate.

 An exo-suit! Block!

SMG still in hand, the spy barely moves the weapon in time to block the fist that could've smashed through her helmet. The thug exclaims in frustration, giving Tess the opening to push the woman off, to draw her backup pistol. She then whips the pistol around to shove it under the thug's chin, which was unprotected by her exoskeleton.

With a bang, the exo-Yakuza is finished. Blood seeps through the mouthpiece of her Samurai-like, head piece.

The spy meanwhile takes a momentary respite, taking in quick breaths from the surprise attack. At the same time however, the other survivor she had almost finished off, tries to make a break for the exit. The spy swings her pistol around and tilts her head up, to try and get a shot on the escaping target, but she is too late. Two wild shots fire towards the exit; they both miss.

Damn it.

She gets back up, agitated that she should've caught the live exo-suit sooner. Holstering her pistol to return to her SMG, something else returns to her mind about what happened.

Where's the one who protected the other guy?

A quick glance over, she finds that the escapee’s saviour was still here, scrumming around at the end of the table. The spy marches around to get an angle with the SMG, to unload on the man at point blank range. He freezes at the sight of this new threat, in the midst of getting back up with his own exo-suit, which undoubtedly was what saved him beforehand.

Let's see how you do against automatics.

Tess pulls the trigger... but the only sound that is produced, was the sound of a jammed gun. She looks to the side of the weapon, to find that the magazine was partly damaged from when the first exo-Yakuza tried to hit her.

Oh sh-

Suddenly, before the spy could even finish her thought, the second exo-Yakuza catches her mistake, and seizes it by pouncing for her weapon. He catches the SMG with both hands, twists Tess' arms off to one side, and shoulder rams her into a wall. The impact, enhanced in strength by the exo-suit's hydraulics, creates a dent in the wall, with a stunted Tess as its impression. She loses focus on where her weapons are, leading the exo-Yakuza to press the attack by hoisting Tess over his head by an armpit and inner thigh, to then hurl her into the table behind him.

Broken glass dances off the table as the spy is slammed onto her back. Air is completely knocked out of her; her whole back is bruised.

"Agh... ngh..."

She attempts to roll onto her hands and knees, as she groaned and gasped for air, but the exo-Yakuza was already upon her again! A kick hits her squarely in the stomach, sending her tumbling across the table. Desperation begins to set in with the new pain, as the spy's hands instinctively find a metal pipe that was blown free of the fire sprinkler system.

With a yell, she throws the pipe at the advancing man, who stops only briefly to block the projectile with ease. She then rolls back off the table to get to her feet, out of the path of a foot stomp that narrowly misses.

... My gun... grab your g-! No! Block!!

Unrelenting in his attacks, the exo-Yakuza next performs a roundhouse kick that is aimed at Tess' head, which is barely deflected by a pair of raised forearms. The spy is pushed down again from the force she absorbs, but the worst of the kick immediately becomes apparent when the floor starts to crumble around her!

Her hands desperately scramble to cling on to something, but to no avail, as she falls through to the 10th floor, slamming right side first into rubble. Her graphene plates cushion the fall to some extent, but she still bruises her rib cage from the landing. Spasms of pain run up her waist, as she crawls off onto a carpet.

 Ahhhhh!! No... no... no... no!

Damage control in effect, she internalises her agony as best as she can, immediately sensing that screaming would only serve to hurt her further. Her only comfort, was that the exo-Yakuza was now further away, and that she still had a pistol, which she was trying her hardest to distract herself with.

Grab your pistol... Grab your pistol...

A hand finds the handle and pulls at it, which she fumbles to wield with two hands. Rolling over to look up, she sees the hole she fell through, followed by her attacker moments later. He swings down, as the spy tries to aim for him. One shot fires; it completely misses.

The exo-Yakuza reaches out and grabs down on Tess' wrists, crippling her control over the pistol with an iron grip. Several more shots fire sporadically, out of a hope that one of the bullets would somehow find their mark; they don't. She is then lifted into a partial sitting position, where the spy attempts several front kicks into the exo-Yakuza's left knee; it doesn't budge.

Come on... break!

His helmeted face, also Samurai-esqe in design, leans closer to Tess'.

"You're mine... assassin."

Even as the attacker calmly stated his position, Tess was frantically still trying to get free, even as each kick was becoming weaker than the last. Eventually, he tilts his head to acknowledge the spy's futile attempts, prompting him to tighten his grip further.

"Arrrrrrgh!" Exclaimed Tess through gritted teeth.

She falters in what little resistance she has left from the increased pressure over her wrists, coursing her to drop the pistol and to let her kicks fall. The exo-Yakuza then quickly switches from holding her by wrists, to holding her by the throat.

Can't... brea-... Knife! Grab your knife!

A hand pats around her holsters for another handle; the attacker notes this. He lifts Tess just off the ground, still choking, and moves a hand to her belly, to then throw the spy into a nearby bookcase. Its shelves all collapse from the crash, as Tess crumples to the ground in a heap. The books that fall, only add insult to her injuries.

... Argh... I can't... take... much more of this...

Her crippled body wanted nothing more than to give in at this point, but her mind had other ideas.

... Knife... I still... no...

Through the visor of her battered helmet, which was likely what kept her conscious throughout the fight, she could see her knife a metre or so away, lying just out of reach. Her heart sinks at the sight... but her mind still keeps working.

Meanwhile, the exo-Yakuza idles up to Tess, kneels, and proceeds to wrench off the helmet that concealed her face. He then lifts a bunch of Tess' blond ponytail to get a better look, before he lets her head thud to the carpet again. Cool water from the fire sprinklers that were still functioning, tickle her exposed skin, which helps to refocus her senses.

... Water... electricity... my forearm guards...

Continuing the examination of his beaten opponent, the man spots the radio earpiece attached to Tess' right ear. He removes it and sits to one side, holding up the spy's helmet to peer into its visor, as he spoke directly to the spy's agency.

"Your assassin is ours... I hope she won't break too easy..."

... Like hell I will... I'm not giving you anything... I'm not giving you Kathy!

Quietly, while the man was occupied with his conversation, Tess goes to press the last buttons on both forearms which, up till now, had remained unpressed.

"Hm... they sound worried."
"... Nothing new..." Tess weakly quipped.

The exo-Yakuza scoffs.

Wait for it...

He stands to hurl Tess' helmet out of the skyscraper.

Now!!

His right knee exposed, the spy pushes every bit of strength she had left into hitting the knee with a forearm taser. Two electrified prods that protruded outwards near her right wrist, connect with the knee's hydraulic servo, coursing the part to short out and contract violently.

He roars in pain, as he falls over from his right leg being snapped backwards by his own exo-suit!

Go for the knife!

Seizing the opening, the spy performs an awkward leap-frog over the exo-Yakuza to grab her knife. Blade reacquired, she then swings around her left forearm to taser the thug’s neck, shorting out the upper portion of his suit. His head contorts backwards, forcing his spine to arc up from the floor; the thug now was well and truly immobilised!

Finally, with one last shuffle over his chest, Tess slashes the knife across his throat with a yell; target down. Her breathing is heavy, in a cross between a shortness of breath and a sigh of relief.

"Oh look..." heaved out Tess, "you broke first..."

The exo-Yakuza responds only in gargles and coughs, his eyes dart around in panic at how quickly everything turned on him. Within seconds, his noises eventually die down into the backdrop of the fire sprinklers, leaving Tess to lie next to him, badly hurt, but alive.

Asshole...

The spy was soaked and everything was sore; she needed to stay still, if only for another minute. Lazily, she scoops back her earpiece from the left hand of the expired man, and connects it to her right ear.

"Ahem... this is Stallion speaking, how may I be of service?" Tess jokingly inquires, distracting herself from the pain.
"Jesus Christ! What the fuck just happened?!"
"... Good to hear you too..." said Tess, wincing at the operator's peaking voice.
"Stallion?!"
"Just a dead man in an exo-suit, he wasn't a problem."
"Fuck me, an exo-suit?!
"Err yeah, that's what I said."
"... How badly hurt are you?"
"Ugh... I'm fine, ok? Relax. Sounding like a professional unprofessional."
"Fuck sakes..."

The operator breathes a frustrated sigh.

Well... that's a first.

"Ok, fine... If you're still good to move, you better get out of there while you can. There's probably more Yaks on the way up from the main stairwell."
"Surprise surprise."
"Which side of the 11th floor can we pick you up on?"
"It'll have to be the 10th."
"... Say again?"
"Pick me up on the 10th floor, along the west side."
"... Copy... 10th floor, west side. Extraction will be there in two minutes. Dare I ask how you got there?"
"Love you too."
"... Fucking hell."

Tess smiles, taking in the fact that this was the first time the operator actually sounded spooked, which she was more than happy to rib him for.

Ok Tess... time to go.

Carefully, the spy shifts onto all fours, testing how bad her bruises were as she went. Twinges of pain prickle throughout her body, with every breath she took.

Walk it off girl... Just walk it off.

The spy gets to her feet, clutching her rib cage as she stretched. She collects her pistol, checks the chamber, and holsters it along with the knife, before limping out of the office. Her speed increases the further she proceeds through the floor, piling on more spasms as she approached jogging speed, which she welcomes in her determination to escape.

I need to buy myself more time.

Grabbing a chair from near the stairwell exit, she jams it under the exit's door handle to block access.

Should be good to hold out, especially with the lifts also shut down.

But just as Tess goes to hide by the west side of her floor, she spots lights refracting off the indoor sprinklers. It was coming from outside, from the headlights of two fast moving hovercars, arriving from the east.

... Those aren't my ride.

They fly around to the north side, and slow down to approach the 9th floor landing platform.

The one who escaped; that has to be him!

Without hesitating on her realisation, she starts jogging back towards the north, to take one last chance at rounding off her assignment. She draws her pistol and raises her weapon with two hands, as the spy approached the open windows overlooking the landing zone.

Deep breath...

The timing had to be just right; the spy didn't dare to blink. As soon as the vehicles landed, the Yakuza would make a run for it across several metres of open ground, as the spy's only window.

Find the shot...

Many seconds go by, as Tess remained frozen in her stance... until the moment came. Yakuza guards dash out from the floor beneath, towards the hover car parked to Tess' left. Among them, was the target the spy had sights on, approximately five to ten metres away.

Katsuko sends her regards...

She pulls the trigger, pistol tracked in, to land what was a trivial precision shot. The target trips to the ground, with the one bullet that was fired hitting him squarely in the back. The guards all dive apart, confused at first with where the shot came from, before they are properly notified of Tess' presence when she fires off the rest of her magazine to suppress them.

The spy backs away as she fires, in anticipation of their retaliation, which comes the moment she stops shooting. All manner of pistols, SMGs and shotguns, come pounding into the ceiling of the 10th floor, as Tess retreats while reloading her weapon.

Now... I hold out.

Yelling is heard from the frenzied Yakuza, who were now trying to salvage their failure of protecting their boss, by going after the spy... by foot, and by a hovercar.

Tess looks back, noting that a hovering engine was rising in pitch; a takeoff noise. Soon, a hovercar comes into view with a mounted machine gun on the side, which opens fire. The spy dives for cover behind a concrete column, as bullets tear through glass and plaster.

... Anytime now.

"... Stallion?! Are you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm still here."
"Extraction should be arriving now! Get moving!"

Sure enough, with the operator's impeccable timing, a ride hovers into view by the south-west corner, not twenty metres away. Bashes against the stairwell door are heard, amidst a lull in the machine gun fire; the heavy weapon was being relocated to the east.

Run!!

Pushing herself out of cover, Tess makes the final dash for freedom. Bullets come again when she clears the halfway mark, as the Yakuza on foot finally burst in, with weapons drawn to add to the chaos. The spy holds up her right arm to protect her face, as she did everything she could to keep her pursuers at bay with the pistol in her left.

Gap! Jump it!!

Shooting out the window as she reached the edge, Tess then leaps through to the hovervan, with nothing but a ten story drop over several metres. Her hands hold to her pistol, as she fires one last bullet at the Yakuza while in midair, which fittingly was pre-engraved with "auf wiedersehen" (goodbye).

In the end, avoiding a fall to the streets below, and a collision with a confused taxi cab, Tess nails the landing into the hovervan, with only a minor head injury.

The doors close and the engine revs; an exhausted spy was going home, too drained of energy to immediately comprehend what she had accomplished...

... Not a ten for the landing... but I'll take it... and the hot shower...

Mission Accomplished.

Chapter Text

A humid evening in the Spanish city of Barcelona, far from all the troubles Tess had to contend with in Japan. She rested against a brick wall with folded arms, behind several dumpster bins of the alleyway she hid in, waiting for the right moment to leave.

Hmm... she should be home about now...

Checking her phone, the clock read 6:11pm. It was only a few hours after she had disembarked from her flight from Tokyo, days after her last assignment. Bruises were still present from her run in with the Yakuza, on top of the usual jet-lag and tiredness. She needed time to recuperate, something her agency was more than willing to allow after her recent performance.

Peering out onto the main street, the traffic was starting to die down for the day, with rush hour having passed. Pedestrians continued to pass by, all appearing from their various walks of life... except for the one Tess was looking for. Her eyes scanned for a Japanese female, with black hair and a caramel handbag Tess had bought her, around where an agency safe house was located.

... Wrong gender... wrong gender... right gender, wrong ethnic...

Eventually, the spy's eyes catch on to the woman she had been looking for, who was headed for the apartment building with the safe house. She stretches out a yawn and gets herself moving again, jogging across the street to head into the apartment's lobby. Several lifts are ahead; one is open which Tess makes just in time before the doors close. The black haired woman's eyes widen, at the spy who was now resting on a railing next to her. She says nothing for the moment, shifting her gaze away from Tess, until they both exit onto the correct floor.

"... Were you... in Osaka?" Kathy hesitantly asks.
"... It's a long story," replied Tess with a gentle smile, before beckoning Kathy into her home.

The place bore a more weathered look with its interiors and decor in comparison to the unit in Kyoto, something Tess noted as a lack of maintenance on the part of her agency. Nevertheless, in the month since Kathy started her new life in Spain, it was still a refuge that was well out of the way of any prying eyes. Kathy closes the front door with a creak, as Tess seats herself on a nearby couch to unstrap her boots.

"Hope you don't mind if I crash here for a while. I was given some time off, so I thought I'd check up on you."

Laying back, she curls herself over the length of the couch and undoes her hair from the usual ponytail.

"How has Spain been for you?"

Kathy takes a seat on a couch opposite Tess.

"... Alright... hanging with the locals... the usual."
"You doing ok with your job?"
"... It's fine... just cleaning dishes and toilets."
"Right..."

She seems uneasy...

The ex-Yakuza's head was lowered as she gave her short responses; her eyes blankly stared at anything except Tess.

... She probably wants to know what happened in Osaka.

Breathing a small sigh, the spy seats herself upright, realising that dodging the elephant in the room was probably not going to be possible, even with a demeanour as cool as Tess'.

"You were watching the news I take it?"
"... 29 dead... all Yakuza..."

Kathy's eyes finally peer up at Tess.

"... All because of you?"
"... Yes."

The ex-Yakuza freezes, her mouth slightly ajar, before looking away again.

"そうですか... (I see...)" Kathy mutters to herself.

A tense pause creeps in following the spy's honesty, which Tess tries to shift by bringing up a request made by her agency. Pulling out her phone, she taps open the photo gallery, with the intent of showing Kathy the pictures within.

I would rather not do this, but I need to understand how you're really feeling.

"My agency asked me to show you these pictures we obtained from a coroner's office, to fill in the gaps with some of the Yakuza who attended... but we can do this another time, if you're alright with this."
"No, it's fine. I can have a look."
"... Ok."

Passing the phone over, Kathy begins to flick through the 29 pictures of Tess' marks. Some were the typical mugshots of senior Yakuza figures, whilst others were mugshots of lower ranking members who rested on metal slabs, deceased and bloody. Kathy flicked through some of the pictures without delay, but with other faces she came across, she took her time to examine with unease spreading over her.

Eventually, after three minutes, Kathy puts the phone down and closes her eyes.

"... I've told you everything I know."

Tess gives a small nod, acknowledging the ex-Yakuza's sincerity.

"Yes."

Kathy stands to holds herself by a window.

"It was always fear, day in and out. As things went on, it just... became harder for me to accept that this was the life I was bound to live. I wanted nothing more than to escape it..."

She massages her hands, suppressing what looked to be shakes.

"Now I realise the price I have paid... in being selfish as I was..."

A glance is spared by Kathy for the last picture being displayed on the phone.

"Many were cruel... but some were kind... almost like family."

Tess stands from her couch.

"You so sure about that? That they wouldn't have sold you out if an opportunity came, just so they could survive?"
"You didn't know them!"
"... No, I didn't. The whips and guns were all I needed to know... and now there's less of them."

The spy takes a few steps forward, coursing Kathy to back peddle, with a look of fear she was trying very hard to suppress.

"... Miho, Fumika, Yasue... you murdered all of them..."
"You've killed Yakuza too."
"That was self-defence!"
"During an escape we pre-meditated for a month."
"That's not the fucking point!"
"What is then?"
"I could've got them out!!" Shouted Kathy, "... I could've tried... but I didn't... and now they're gone."

Fear now replaced by anger, the ex-Yakuza's eyes were now locked with Tess'. Jolted as she was in feeling Kathy's vulnerableness, the spy briefly closes her eyes as she tries to wrestle with Kathy's regrets.

"... It was already risky trying to get you out. If more knew of what you were trying-"
"You never told me how you would use the intel... if I hadn't told you..."
"Kathy..."

Tess takes another step forward; Kathy takes another step back into a wall.

"... And now you're here... showing me dead Yakuza...

A hand hovers over the backside of her belt, prompting the spy to instinctively reach for her pistol.

"... You... you were testing me, weren't you?"

That's my girl...

Tess nods, leaving Kathy to gaze over Tess' jacket that concealed her weapon. The ex-Yakuza lets her hands fall to her sides, before she turns to face a wall.

"I was just another target, wasn't I? Just another criminal..."
"... Kathy..."

The spy found herself at a loss for what Kathy was assuming, in that she was somehow a loose end that needed to be tied off. Wanting nothing more than to prove the ex-Yakuza wrong, she draws her pistol and proceeds to eject the loaded magazine and remove the one bullet already in the chamber.

"Hold out your hand."

The ex-Yakuza hesitates while on the verge of sobbing, before she raises her left hand. Tess then hands over her unloaded weapon and ammo while standing right behind Kathy.

"... あなたは髪を伸ばした... (... You grew out your hair...)"

Gently, arms are wrapped around Kathy's waist, leaving Tess to rest her head against her black hair.

"... 似合っていますね (... It suits you)," said Tess, with as much warmth as she could bring.

She could feel a shiver passing through Kathy, as she let out a nervous sigh.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again; I'm not going to hurt you, not unless you give me reason too," whispered Tess.
"..."
"I didn't want to have to show those photos, but I needed too... for my safety, and to keep our agency happy."
"Your safety?"

Hand on a shoulder, Tess slowly turns Kathy around to come face-to-face; eyes were still averted from the spy.

"You're a very capable girl Kat. Not so... up-tight, like every other suit I've met."

The spy tilts her head to one side of the ex-Yakuza.

"Switch blade under the belt. Is that about right?"
"... An old habit."
"It's a good habit."
"Wouldn't have meant much against you."
"You never know... I do slip up from time to time."
"... Even for someone who's killed many others like me?"

The spy is taken aback by the question, leaving room for more questions as to how doubt ridden Kathy was with herself.

"... Kat... you are not like the others... you lived a life that you decided was wrong... and then you did something about it..."

Tess brushes a thumb over Kathy's right cheek.

"... That takes a lot of courage..."
"I... I'm not..."
"Yes, you are..."
"Why?! Because I'm still useful as a source? An asset?"
"..."
"... Or am I just your play-thing?"
"Kat, look at me!" Said Tess with great unrest.

Sensing the shift in Tess' tone, Kathy peers up into the spy's eyes.

"... I know what I am... and nothing would change no matter how many times I asked for forgiveness... but at least I can try to do better, by you... not just through my agency..."

The spy passes a hand over where she was bruised.

"... I was thinking of you, when things got rough... when they had me on the ground..."
"..."

Moving her head closer, Tess' forehead meets Kathy's.

"私が傷つけることができない秒を考えないでください... (Don't think for a second I can't be hurt...)"

Leaning in, Tess gives Kathy a peck on the lips, only to suddenly be pushed away into a wall. She takes the impact against her back with a grunt. Kathy drops the spy's gun and ammo, along with her own switch blade, to leave her hands rolled up in fists.

... Don't push back... let her have her way.

Tess remains cool, as Kathy begins to advance on her. Pinning herself against Tess, she holds close, their cheeks touching. Tess' injuries are exacerbated as Kathy goes to pull off her jacket... but the spy rolls with the pain with more kisses.

"... You... called me Kat, again!" Exclaimed Kathy between breaths.
"Old habits..."

Arms around waists, the couple soon stumble toward a bedroom, removing most of their clothes as they went. Tess is then pushed onto a narrow bed to leave Kathy to hop onto the spy, leaving her face down for Kathy to run her hands over her back. Bruises and scars could be seen over their bare skin.

"How's it look?" Asked Tess.

Shifting onto her back, Tess peers up at Kathy, hands propped around her slender waist. The spy thinks on how lonely she must've been in having to keep a low profile for so long, in the time Tess was away. The two killers had stuck close to each other back in Japan, but now reunited, things were more intimate than they had ever been.

It was good to put trust in someone who wasn't from the agency for once, something Tess welcomed by holding Kathy close to comfort her.

Chapter Text

Based on Tess, the OC spy created by raikoart
(See "she'll take your heart and you won't feel it" on raiko's DeviantArt)


Some 20 minutes of jogging later, as part of a morning routine to stay loose, Tess idles up to a nearby beach bench to catch her breath. Sitting on the table, she stares out toward the Mediterranean Sea and the rising sun.

Definitely feeling faster than two weeks ago.

The spy's aches were all but healed during her week away, having taken full advantage of her job's travel perks while she remained in Barcelona. Restaurants, shops, morning views; these were all ordinary things Tess had learned to make the most off long ago, as part of a vacation routine she had comfortably maintained outside of her work. That was, until she more recently saw her routine challenged, as she found herself exploring Barcelona with someone other than herself.

As the sky gradually lit up, Tess' thoughts drifted over to her tender relationship with the ex-Yakuza. The spy had been in several relationships before, mostly for agency situations that required her to be with the right person for the right occasion, as someone who's charm could lean either way. Kathy however felt different, among those the spy had both the pleasure and displeasure of marking. She no longer was someone Tess had to pursue professionally; there was no narrative to sell, no further information that needed extracting. At least for the moment, it was just Tess and her feelings that were keeping Kathy in the loop.

Kathy's work visa and the safe house... they're only temporary fixes...

The spy bows her head in thought, smiling at the notion for how far she had truly fought for Kathy.

Kiss first, ask questions later... something I did technically train for...

Time and the powers at large would be against the couple going forward, if Kathy wanted to remain situated in Spain. Yet if they could team up to survive gunfights, surviving legal proceedings and paperwork would seemingly be a breeze.

Probable risk of being bored to death... oh what a danger, however shall I cope...

The spy humoured over what the future could hold, before returning to her run again. She felt ready for more hurdles, as Tess quickened her pace to return back to Kathy's safe house.

Over what was a weekend, today was Kathy's day off from her low profile job as a kitchen hand, meaning she was likely still in bed for the morning. Making sure to shut the front door quietly when Tess returned, she walks over to the bedroom.

Right where I left you...

Sure enough, there laid Kathy, cosy under a thin blanket from another warm night. Tess idles up to the foot of the bed, before slinking herself over it to lay by Kathy's turned back. She wraps an arm around Kathy's bare waist, sliding herself closer.

"Morning..." Tess mumbles.

Kathy finally stirs from her peaceful slumber, letting out a small yawn.

"... Mmm... あなたが嗅ぐ。(... mmm... you smell)."
"Morning run."

Tess feels a hand squeeze hers.

"You could run with me tomorrow... watch the sun rise..." offered Tess.
"... Mmm... a smelly bed works for me."

The pair remain in bed for a few minutes, safe within their gloomy space. All was quiet, with only the occasional hum of hover cars passing by... until inevitably, Tess' mobile started to ring.

Let me guess...

Rolling over to the bedside table, Tess reaches for her phone, with the guess that it was her agency calling at such an early hour. Sure enough, upon flicking the phone over to glance at the screen, the ID she read indicated it was her handler.

"I got to take this."

Sitting upright against the bed head, Tess answers the call.

"Turner."
"... Good morning, Ms Turner."
"Mr West."
"I trust you're well rested?"
"Enough to scale a skyscraper, if that's what you're calling me for."
"Hopefully that won't be necessary again in the near future."
"... What do you need?"
"Well, we have another upcoming assignment for you. It's still in its planning phases at the moment, what with the number of people to get details on, all for a tech convention taking place in Venice, as your next destination."
"Hm. Quite the vacation location to spoil me with. What kind of tech convention?"
"Private military, cyber defence, various big data companies, the kind with a lot of ties to national security, that kind of thing."
"Sounds nice and boring."
"The convention will be held during this coming week, on Friday. Once we have all the details for the venue, we'll have you briefed as soon as you're able to link up with the Venetian cell."
"When do I leave?"
"We've scheduled your arrival for next Wednesday by 2200 hours, at the Venice Marco Polo Airport. We'll organise two operators to be there with signage who will be looking for a "Mrs Craig". They, will be handling your accommodation."
"Alright. I'll send you a postcard when I'm there."
"Good... now, Ms Turner, there is one other matter I have to discuss with you. It's with regards to your earlier work in Japan."

Tess sighs, remembering how she lost her helmet during her close brush with the Yakuza, weeks earlier.

"I know, I shouldn't have left any of our equipment behind except for the ammunition..."
"... I wasn't referring to your headgear at the Yakuza conference. Yes, it was an expensive piece of kit, but a replaceable piece of kit nonetheless, even if R&D is fussing for funds."
"... So what is the fuss?"
"Katsuko Nagata; the Yakuza defector you extracted a month and a half ago."

The spy felt her stomach sink a little at the pointedness of Kathy's mention. She glances at Kathy who was still half-asleep, before stroking a hand across her hair.

"... What about her?"
"I think you know exactly what I mean about her."
"You still grumpy over not having her over at your place?"

Kathy rolls around, trying to make out what was being said.

"We gave you the opportunity to keep her in play your way. She provided useable intel, we acted on it, now it's time to bring her in."
"So she can become another full-time asset for a decade?"
"... As protocol states. Katsuko's experience is not something we can lawfully ignore, but neither is it experience we should waste. Her safety and a place to stay, in exchange for her service. Was that not what we agreed on?"
"She is in service. Was the hole in the skyscraper really not big enough for you?"
"The Yakuza have been damaged, crippled in their influence, but they are not the only threat facing our allies. Katsuko can help and must help the agency to combat them, redeem herself for what she's done by coming in. You know our policy, Ms Turner. I hold the utmost regard for you as a trained operator, but frankly, I shouldn't have to spell this out to you."
"I never asked you too."
"... Then why are you continuing to conceal Katsuko from us, under a safe house reserved for working agency operators?"
"... We agreed on the terms of Katsuko's defection; I remember them clearly, Mr West. But if you value me as a spy, a trained operator, then value my experience from the field."

Tess' eyes met Kathy's, now far more alert than before the call came.

"Katsuko is not the type of person you can mould through rigorous conditioning. I've seen the reports, and even if you don't care to admit it, the agency brand of criminal recruitment hasn't always rubbed off well for everyone, has it?"
"... We offer them the chance for new lives. It's their choice if they refuse to conform."
"Leave her with me, sir. Give her space."
"Ms Turner-"
"In fact, let me speak to her about the Venice assignment..."

Reaching out a left arm, Tess holds closer to Kathy as she sits up.

"... What are you suggesting?"
"I bring Katsuko to the convention as my plus one, she assists me with whatever we need to do, and you don't confine her to your fortress of solitude. Then after that, let her find a new home so you don't have to worry about Katsuko freeloading any safe houses."

Noting Kathy's growing look of concern, Tess reaches for her right cheek to stroke with a thumb.

"She'll be in service to me, I'll be in service to the agency, so Katsuko will be in service to the agency... just with a lot less hamfisting."
"She is still a criminal subject to the law. We don't hand out month old criminal defectors as local assets!"
"Oh please, not like this is the first time you've bent the rules. Surely I shouldn't have to spell out our history to someone who's been in the intelligence game for, what... 27 years?"
"... Just what do you think she can offer outside of any additional training?"
"A spare waist to hold. She can double as a wife or girlfriend, whichever comes first. Did you read my report on her?"
"I have."
"You understand what she's capable off?"
"Yes."
"Great. So unless we're strolling into a battlefield, she should have enough experience for whatever you plan to throw at me."
"... You certain she trusts you enough to go along with this?"
"I'm sure, wouldn't be making this request if I wasn't."
"... This is most irregular Ms Turner."
"When is it ever not?"

Mr West lets out a sigh before clearing his throat, a tell Tess had long keyed him for as a sign of annoyance.

"... I'll see what I can do."
"Great. Good talk."

Hung up on by her handler, Tess tosses the phone to one side, breathing an air of relief. Kathy sits up on the edge of her bed.

"... I'll do it Tess... I'll do it... for the arrangement."
"They were going to ask for your commitment, one way or another."
"I know..."

An awkward silence resides over the women.

"... You remember the "prison" I mentioned, with my agency?" Tess quietly asked.
"I do."
"... It's a training program. Takes place over a whole year; no leave, no holiday. It takes whoever comes along as a reject or lawbreaker, trains them inside-out... and then at the end of it all, they receive a tranquilliser chip, a tracker and a explosive charge near their heart, for any assignment they are sent on..."
"... I see."

Tess sits next to her, shoulder to shoulder.

"The rigorous conditioning, the full-time decade of service... that's what I was talking about."
"... You've been protecting me from your agency... from that program?"
"Yeah... that one."
"Were you... ever a part of it?"
"... No, not me... I served in a military branch once upon a time, though I wasn't... a good fit, for their style of work. That's when the agency found me, made me an offer that didn't involve a loud mouth CO. I accepted, trained, got bounced around from place to place, into all sorts of jams... and then I met this girl in Japan... a not so uptight girl."

Kathy lights up with a small smile.

"The one assignment that involved someone I had to rescue, that was her, from the internet to Barcelona."
"Who wishes that your mobile phone didn't go off in the morning."

Tess smiles back.

"... At least you got to hear what was being said."

She shifts around to sit cross-legged facing Kathy.

"How much did you hear, Kathy?"
"Hmmm, I heard stuff about me, a technology convention, an airport, something about Mrs Craig... but I'm tired so..."
"Yes, you have been working... or, perhaps you know more than you're saying."

Kathy faces the spy, who at this point was giving a funny look. All of a sudden, before Kathy could react in her drowsy state, Tess had reached around her waist to push her back onto the bed, leaving the spy to seat herself on top.

"ねえ! あなたは何-。(Hey! What are you-)."
"I need to know what you heard, Kat," said Tess in a playful tone."

The spy then leaned in to tickle Kathy around her hips. Bursts of laughter Kathy was trying to suppress sprung forth, all the while at she tried to push herself away from Tess' clutches.

"Start talking."
"テス... お尻。(Tess... you ass)."

Not to be outdone in the exchange, Kathy is able to push Tess by her left shoulder onto the bed for a reversal. Now on top, Kathy grabs at the spy's hands that were still going for her hips, to eventually pin them down.

"I see you don't talk so easy."
"... I'm... not one for conditioning."

The tussle winds down, leaving Kathy to lay by Tess' side, nuzzling her hair.

"Me neither..." Tess whispers as she gazed into Kathy's eyes.

Kathy shuffles herself closer. Tess parts a kiss to her cheek. Their warmth, shared in their resolve for what was to come.

"We do this together... you and me... keep everyone off our backs. 対処? (Deal)?"
"対処。(Deal)."

Chapter Text

"Hm... would've preferred a suit."
"We'll walk around for a bit; you'll get used to it."

Kathy readjusts the straps of her dress, still unsettled by the foreign attire she was wearing. Its interior fabric was dyed a deep blue, while the exterior was dyed black with silver highlights, covering enough of her body to ensure that her scarred back could not be seen. Tess meanwhile wore a similar dress that complimented Kathy's, differing only in the deep red of her dress' interior and the lack of shoulder straps. Diamond shaped earrings and a triangular necklace made from platinum rounded out her seemingly innocent appearance.

Together, the pair patiently sat on their yacht as they coasted along a Venetian canal to their destination. Lights filled the route as dusk was approaching; their cold and warm colours mirroring off the water's surface. The surrounding structures were a strange mix of contemporary and traditional designs, for a city that was uniquely aged within its watery locale. It was a peaceful afternoon, undercut only by the sound of boat motors and bass-heavy music, music that was signalling the spies’ destination.

"Sounds like our convention," Tess notes, "it'll be a bit of everything from what I was briefed on, with Mr Lombardi. A very needy rich guy by the sounds of it."

Kathy moves to a railing to gaze over the water.

"You nervous?"
"... I prefer staying quiet in meetings with guns around."
"Fair enough. I'll handle the small talk. You do you."

The two spies fall silent for the next minute, listening on to the music which was growing ever louder.

"A rich, weapons contractor, tied maybe to criminals... with the Yakuza?"
"It's something the agency suspects, yes."
"... Could they be here?"
"... It's certainly not impossible."

The ex-Yakuza falls silent with a look of worry ever present, prompting Tess to idle up to her.

"Least it's not Kyoto..." Tess quietly states.
"... Not like I have many choices here either."
"Well, you never know... you could try to throw me overboard and run with the boat... 400 euros mind you for the dress."

Kathy gives a brief glance at the spy's attire.

"Kat."

She turns to face Tess, eyes averted.

"Relax, ok? Don't work yourself up over the details; that's my job. I need you to remember what you need to do."
"... Alright."
"Like I said, most of this is classified anyway."
"... Can't trust criminal defectors, can they?"
"... Not yet it seems."

With a sigh, Tess casually turns to lean back against the railing. Kathy isn't too receptive of the spy's cool demeanour.

"Look, the Yakuza, your name on their list, I haven't forgotten... crowds will be around, we'll just blend in as two rich girls who are looking for a party, keep an eye out as we go."

Kathy slowly nods.

"I'll be ten, fifteen minutes tops with what I need to do, you just handle the baggage... if you can't for any reason, send a text, leave with the yacht... and if, someone asks about where I am..."

Tess gestures a hand at Kathy for an answer.

"... Restroom... fixing your makeup."
"There, certified spy," Tess chimes, giving Kathy a light pat on the back.

The ex-Yakuza lets out a nervous scoff.

"All things considered, you'll be doing practically nothing, which would still mean a hell of lot for the agency."
"Right."

Rounding the last corner of the yacht's route, the source of the music could finally be seen. Past the many jetties and boats lining the canal's edge, there stood a massive three-story mansion with two distinct wings; one north, one south. Most of the structure was painted in a sky blue, which looked notably unchipped compared to the paint of the surrounding neighbourhood.

The yacht, through its autonomous sailing, carefully docks itself by an unoccupied section of the pier. Various attendees dressed in suits and gowns, jumpers and jeans, and the occasional military uniform could be seen milling in the area. One individual, appearing to be a servant for the venue, steps forward to the yacht, offering a hand for Tess and Kathy to hop off the boat.

"Benvenuti signora."
"Ciao. Busy night for you?" Asked Tess.
"Oh, quite a night. Tickets, er... all gone."
"Wow riiight. Big party?"
"Sì, big party signora! Err, right up there, second gate there," said the attendant, pointing to the entrance of the mansion courtyard.
"Grazie."

Tess turns to Kathy, shouldering her handbag with an appearance of excitement.

"Shall we?"
"Yes, let's..." Kathy quietly responds.

Tess gives a small nod to the attendant, as the spies began their way along the stony pier. Approaching the second gate, the spies are stopped by two upper class bouncers for a ticket check in. Dressed in tailored turquoise suits, one bouncer went about scanning Tess and Kathy with a portable metal detector before checking Tess' handbag, while the other processed their tickets. Nothing of note is found within the next minute, leading the bouncers to quickly allow the spies into the venue for them to check the next lineup of guests.

They pass through a small garden, lined with waist high hedges and small statues, before entering the mansion itself. There, the couple reach the source of the loud music, within what was a massive foyer that was crowded with people, travelling between dozens of business stalls and showcase stages. Wide chandeliers filled the space, above a smooth stone floor.

"What now?"
"... Anything catch your eye?"
"No, not really."

Tess reaches into her bag to check the time on her phone.

"Let's browse for a bit, we'll have all evening. How are the heels?"
"許容できる. (Tolerable)."

Turquoise lights gave the place a moody atmosphere, as the spies continued deeper into the convention. Portable rail gun prototypes, new data mining systems, the latest in drone technologies; it was all up for grabs for anyone who had the ambition to spend big. Though notably, what appeared to draw the most attention for ambitious buyers, was a next generation APC vehicle that was parked on an indoor stage. A video was playing that was showcasing the APC's impressive ability to withstand IED attacks over its various competitors.

Can't imagine the agency wouldn't be tickled by all this.

Already, there looked to be three officers from opposing military branches that were having a lively discussion about production costs with the exhibitor.

After a 10 minute walk within the central structure of the mansion, the next stop was the bordered courtyard in the middle. There, refreshments and nibbles were being served from a portable bar, amidst a crowd of guests. Motioning to a bartender, Tess orders two glasses of champagne and sushi nibbles, before sitting over at a raised table with stools. Kathy eyes the food and drinks, as Tess takes a bite.

"So we're drinking while we're here?"
"Eat the sushi first, it'll sponge up the alcohol. Sip afterwards."

Kathy eyes her food some more, decadent in its presentation, before finally taking a bite.

"Hm... needy rich guy."
"Champagne's pretty needy too; the date looked pretty expensive."
"... Do you go to many parties like this?"
"... On occasion..."

Taking her first sip of the champagne, Kathy's frowns at the sweet alcoholic taste.

"I gather, there wasn't much time for partying back in Japan."
"No, not really."
"Hm... to making up for lost time then?" said Tess with a raise of her glass to chime against Kathy's.

Taking another sip of champagne between the spies, they finish off the remaining sushi. All around them, within a convention that appeared to be getting only busier as time went on, the spies could watch the various exhibits in motion through the many windows of the courtyard. The bass-heavy music continued to play over the next 10 minutes, until an announcement came from over the speakers.

Spoken in both Italian and English, the excitable voice that came through was from none other than Mr Lombardi himself, wishing his guests a wonderful evening of both work and play. A mention is made of a quieter dance floor opening in the northern wing, before the music resumes.

"Sounds like a place where noise cancelling ear buds would actually mean a damn."

Briefly startling Kathy from over her left shoulder, was a familiar face Tess didn't often have the pleasure of seeing in the field. It was the operator from the Osaka assignment.

"Should take in what you can Gerard, take whatever covered flights you can get," Tess casually responded.
"Sights; sure. A party as a poor excuse for a tech convention; not so much," sighed Gerard as he pulled up a stool to join the spies, a hand rubbing his forehead.
"The suit been working out for you?"
"This wasn't even a black tie event. Why did I have to wear this?"
"Don't know... guess Operations wanted a sharper looking exhibitor without the cheeto dust."
"... I can exhibit stuff just fine, without being tie strangled," grumbled Gerard, as he reached for his blue tie to loosen it.
"Hm, fair enough. How did your little sonar demonstration out the side go?"
"Well, the buyers seemed pretty quick to move on to that APC; I doubt we'll be getting any calls for an aging scanner system..."

Clearing his throat, Gerard leans in a little closer.

"... It's still there, just beneath the surface."

Tess gives a short series of nods.

"... Party on," responded Tess, glass raised, before finishing the last of her champagne.
"The dock wasn't being too handsy when you came through?"
"Metal detectors and bag searching, like you said. Everything is on me."
"... Alright... good... I'll see you soon then?"

Stepping of her stool, Tess reaches forward with both hands to retighten Gerard's tie.

"Keep looking the part," chimed Tess, with a pat on Gerard's suit.

The exhibitor breathes a sigh of annoyance. He stands to wave a waiter over to grab a glass of champagne.

"It's good to see you again Ms Nagata, favors or otherwise."

Kathy gives a small nod, before Gerard turns to head back inside with his drink.

"... Annoying fashion; something we have in common," spoke Kathy, before sculling the rest of her glass.
"... Let's go for a walk," Tess teased, hand extended.

With an irritable glance to her heels, Kathy slides off her seat to join Tess on a wider tour of the convention, starting in the south wing. Here, there was less in the way of high-tech equipment that was brought specifically for the evening. More of the aristocratic side of the mansion was on display, from its many paintings and marble busts, to its ornate furniture and fine-stitched carpets. For the spies, it felt as though they had jumped back a few centuries when they crossed the main threshold leading into the wing.

Away from the loud speakers of the mansion's central area, this appeared to be where most people went to socialize in comfort. Under more traditional lighting, Tess could pick out a few people from the crowd that were of interest from her briefing. Whether or not they were actually here for shady business inquiries with Mr Lombardi, was what Tess was tasked to determine outside of directly conversing with them.

Follow their ledgers, follow their money.

Half an hour passes by the time a circuit of the south wing is complete, having remained largely in the background for the duration. Only on two occasions were the spies approached by a guest, both appearing to strike up a conversation purely out of interest for Tess. Consequently, this led to both gentlemen being turned down through a subtle arm ring with Kathy.

"The perks of having a date. Nice to keep things moving for once."
"Yes... yes it is," said Kathy, sounding a little distant.

Looking to Kathy, Tess notices her eye-line being directed towards a group of guests who appeared to be Japanese in ethnicity. Gently, Tess puts a hand on Kathy's back to guide her away.

Heading to the north wing through the central exhibits of the mansion, Tess and Kathy arrive at what they could only assume was the dance floor Mr Lombardi had announced earlier, erected within a pavilion. Indeed it was quieter inside than in the halls of the north wing, thanks to the use of sound proof padding and noise cancelling speakers. Classical music played for a number of partnered dancers to waltz too, over a floor lit by warm orange lights. To one side of the pavilion-holding hall were more refreshments and nibbles, and off to the other, were three curtained double doors with signage out the front of one, which lacked in extravagance compared to everything else that was on display. It was Gerard's exhibit, which, despite how slow things were going, currently had a customer inquiring at the front.

Without a word, Tess leads Kathy by a hand toward the dance floor.

"What are we doing?"
"Just to pass the time for Gerard."

While the spies had been moving from crowd to crowd all night, stepping into spotlights was now making Kathy more nervous than before the assignment had begun. Tess could feel a slight tug of resistance.

"する必要がありますか? (Do we have to)?"
"合意のため. (For the agreement)."

Taking an outer position on the dance floor, hands are clasped and waists are held, as Tess begins to guide Kathy through some simple side-to-side motions. It takes a moment for Kathy to register the beats correctly, something Tess was widening her smile over as she gazed straight on. Kathy averts her gaze, trying to pull her focus toward tracking where Tess' feet were going.

"Hm... something just occurred to me... just now."
"... What?"
"... Something we've been missing in all this... something staring me in the face."
"What?"
"A date."
"... A date for what?"
"Dating... back home..."

Briefly, Kathy spares a glance at Tess' eyes.

"... You've been staying with me."
"You've been working a lot. I think we can do better than a city tour and a view from home... this is work too."
"... Making me dance doesn't sound like work for you."
"Well... Lombardi did say this was a place of work and play. Best of both worlds."

Step by step, Kathy was becoming smoother with her motions across the dance floor, her eyes still mostly at her feet.

"Any recommendations for a time and place?"
"For what?"
"Our little get-together."
"... Right."

With a tilt of her head, Tess gazes at Kathy expectantly for an answer.

"Any place with Japanese cuisine?"
"... Tess?"
"Yeah?"
"... I think I know those people we passed by."
"The Japanese business suits?"
"Yes."

Tess, through her peripheral vision, takes a moment to scan her surroundings.

... Nothing, at least for now... looks like Gerard is finishing up with the lucky customer.

"How sure?"
"They look like people that visited Osaka a few times."
"... Could be quicker on the call there."
"They might not be, I did not get a good view... you wanted to dance."
"... Hm... good foot work by the way."
"... Can we please go?"

Looking toward the open doors to Gerard's booth, it was now vacant.

"Guess we better had."

Hand-in-hand, Tess and Kathy finally meet up with Gerard as well as two other stall hands; the operators who accompanied the spies from the Marco Polo Airport. They all move from the stall front to the back, situated outdoors. Stone railings ringed what was a narrow stretch of balcony, which hung low over a waterway that was gated off to the west. To the east, floated a single pleasure yacht with a width that took up most of waterway, confined past two further balconies.

Gerard motions toward a long pole with sonar equipment deployed in the water, suspended by a series of cables and clamps. He goes to reel in a nearby fishing line out of three others strung over the side.

"It's about five metres to the bottom. The entry should be by the third balcony over."

Through a monitor wired into the sonar, one of the stall hands point out the exact perturbation indicative of an underwater duct.

 A typical pool length swim with some cave diving thrown in... the other balconies are pretty much empty…

Satisfied with the direction to take and the privacy the waterway walls offered, Tess sets her handbag next to the railing before she goes about flicking off shoes, removing jewellery and unzipping her dress in a corner. Kathy instinctively moves in front of Tess, to partially block the balcony doors.

"You're going in there?"

Peering up at Kathy with a wink, Tess lets her 400 euro dress fall to her feet, to reveal a white one-piece wetsuit, folded downwards below her strapless bra. In a smooth motion, the folded half of the wetsuit is unfurled to allow the spy to squeeze her arms through its sleeveless holes, allowing the wetsuit to then be zipped up from the front. It is a firm fit, within an outfit that was laced with an aerogel tailored specifically to repel water.

Retrieved from a fishing line, Gerard hands over a weighted belt and diver's mask for Tess to equip. Drops of water that were trickling from the belt, bounce off the wetsuit with no surface tension to enable the drops to adhere. Curiously, Kathy notes the same effect occurring over Tess' legs, from water drops that were ramping off her knees.

"Maybe not a restaurant... maybe a date by the sea... or on the sea," Tess muses.
"... I can't swim."
"Hm, perhaps the perfect time to learn... lipstick and phone please," asked Tess, gesturing towards the handbag.

Kathy steps over to rummage through the bag, while Tess gives a passing glance at her hips to double-check the number of plastic tranquillising needles she had concealed.

"So... this is not lipstick?" Kathy queried, soon finding and passing the items to Tess.
"... A loud colour... more or less."

Sliding the phone and lipstick into appropriately sized pockets around the belly of the wetsuit, one with a camera and torch hole, the spy takes stock of the fact that she now had all the gear she needed to proceed. She lets out a long exhale, rolling her shoulders and stretching her arms, before leaning closer to Kathy.

"Mind if I borrow some air?" Muttered Tess, hand on Kathy's shoulder.

Kathy glances over at Gerard and the other two operators, before leaning in to briefly meet Tess’ lips.

"... Fifteen minutes tops, ok?"
"Ok."
"Watch the bag, watch them... make sure Gerard doesn't strangle himself with his tie."
"Mhm, balconies are clear, whenever you're ready," Gerard sighed out.

... Time to go...

Stepping out from the balcony corner, the spy in a effortless motion mounts and sits on the railing, facing the direction of her objective. She then kicks out with both legs and pushes off without breaking eye contact with where she had to go, dropping a metre below to land in the murky canal. The cold hits the spy, yet not in the typical way a diver would experience without the aid of hydrophobic materials. A pocket of air now clung to most of her body, providing an extra layer of insulation as well as buoyancy, as the spy began to swim along the wall to her right.

Makeup powders sure are expensive these days.

The spy's strokes are methodical, with a comfortable amount of air left in her lungs as she passes underneath the second balcony through darkness.

One more over.

Within a minute, she soon makes it under the third balcony. The spy surfaces for some air, with hardly a sound made as the waters part, masked entirely by the sounds of partying. She pulls out her phone and switches on its built-in torch to then dive in search of the underwater duct. Visibility is restricted, even more so the deeper the spy went away from the surface. Free hand extended, she feels her way along the wall for something other than hewn stone or barnacles. Eventually, at around a depth of five metres, fingers dance over what feels like a metal mesh, to which the spy is able to confirm with a spotlight to the area.

Right on Gerard.

With a smile, the spy makes a mental note of the duct's location and its half-a-metre diameter before returning to the surface. She tucks the phone back into its pocket, with the torch still shining through, before diving a second time. More quickly this time, the spy reaches the duct again for her to then pull out the lipstick and remove its blasting cap. Notches rotate around the top of the cap, as the spy sets the detonation countdown to 20 seconds. The red C-4 stick is then yanked out of its casing and smeared over the circumference of the duct's cover, leaving the blasting cap to then be pressed in and activated.

Fire in a hole.

Rising to the surface to get clear, a bassy thud is heard and felt from the water a few seconds later, as yet another sound masked by the music still humming from the mansion. The spy's checklist was coming together, with only a few more steps to go to get inside, something Tess was taking extra breaths for.

It'll be a tight squeeze... watch for anything jagged...

A minute passes, as the spy drafts out her moves. Then, with one last inhale of cool air, the spy begins her descent for the third time to come upon what was now a damaged yet still attached duct cover. Beneath her diving goggles, she gives a frown at the warped mesh, but then notes a section of bordering stone that did crumble from the blast. Moving closer, the spy clasps fingers around the duct's rim. Feet then braced against the wall, the spy begins to pull at the cover, which, after releasing a few strained bubbles, eventually gives way with the right tug. It pops out with an audible clang leaving the mesh to sink to the bottom, the way now open.

The spy backflips from the pull to loop back to the hole. Peering in, a faint blue glow can seen coming from within.

No time to waste, in we go.

Entering in head first, arms outstretched and legs straight, the spy carefully palms the interior of the duct to slowly guide herself in, in spite of stomach contractions that were beginning to heave at her low oxygen. Eventually, with hands reaching the other side of the metre thick wall to pull herself inside, the spy was now within the private server basement of one Mr Lombardi.

That's a lot of ledgers...

Tess kneels down, against a grated metal floor bolted over the basement's older stonework. Within the surrounding waters by two arching stone pillars, the source of the blue lights could now be seen originating from light strips surrounding four metal-meshed columns, extending in rectangular shapes up and out of the water into a darker floor above. Within every column aside from one, small red and blue lights could be seen blinking away from the shadowy outline of water cooled server stacks.

Nice and spooky... let's keep it that way.

The spy slips out the phone and switches off the torch to instead use night vision in the low light. With one free hand, she then goes about unbuckling her weighted belt, reasoning that access to the servers would probably come from climbing somewhere above, outside of a ladder just visible on the far side that might be under watch. Contractions beginning to grow painful, she lowers the belt onto the grate flooring, before pushing off to take a quick look at some of the thick cables connecting all the columns. Of note to the spy, are cable connections appearing to be connected and held by motorised devices; air gapping security measures.

That certainly would've... ugh... made things difficult... nevermind the top tier... ow... firewalls the agency couldn't crack.

Unable to withstand the stomach pains for much longer, the spy ascends, still taking care to emerge from the water as slow as possible. Fingers tightly grasp through the mesh of a column, as Tess bows her head against it in an effort to control her breathing from being too sharp or too loud. Half a minute later, with her body calming to a more comfortable state, the spy takes a moment to listen to her surroundings. Aside from the occasional drips from her diver's mask and phone, no one else was nearby.

The spy pulls the mask down to get a clearer view of things, before turning the phone towards the grated upper floor, covering the infrared LED of the night vision camera.

Go figure that this place wasn't going to be empty.

Close to the wall the spy emerged from, stood a wide computer console linked to a number of wall mounted monitors. But more notably above all the hardware, there was also the faint glow of infrared lights from a camera mounted to the ceiling.

Pushing off the column with both feet, the spy drifts to beneath the console while scanning the rest of the upper floor for more security cameras; none can be seen. Only one camera appeared to be live, angled to record down the central aisle of servers towards a single door, based on the angle of its lights.

No cameras to watch your console... privacy at the cost of a blindspot...

Following all the thick cables leading away from the columns, they all converge into an aligned configuration travelling up a wall into the back of the console, with a gap of about 30 centimetres in between. It appears to be a way up, out of sight, as something the spy could climb using sparsely welded cable clamps as a ladder.

Stowing the phone to free both hands, the spy grabs the furthest clamp within reach, using whatever gaps there were between the clamp and the cables. Her feet next find purchase, though narrow, on another clamp with thighs bent nearly at right angles to her hips. Then, poised with another clamp sitting at chest level, she pulls her full weight up and out of the water to reach the next clamp above, for her feet to then move up to the middle clamp. Her body wobbles momentarily in her second squat-like position, but with a quick wriggle of her toes, stability is reached.

Awkward as this partial pull-up was, the spy now had a tactile grasp on what movements she needed to repeat to continue climbing, enabling her to execute the manoeuvre half a dozen more times. Her grip strength and flexibility is pushed to the limit with every pull, until finally, the clamps stop next to where the cables twist into the console. It's a tight fit for the spy's head and shoulders at the top, but it's enough to leave one free hand within touching distance of the console's back panel.

Twisting her head and hips, the spy uses touch and her peripheral vision to find a series of USB ports along the back panel. Her shoulder blades resting partly on the console, she then pulls out her phone and activates the screen logger program.

A stylish phone with all the features; in-built USB cable, invisibility from computers, streams everything it connects with...

The screen switches off, with all user data erased except for the data pertaining to the phone's now only function; espionage. Sparing a thumb from one hand clasped around a clamp, the spy flicks out the phone's USB plug. Cable between her teeth, she pulls out the cable before plugging it into a USB port on the console.

Next time he logs on, we'll log on.

Putting the finishing touches to the spyware, the spy thumbs off the phone's back cover to reveal embedded patches of adhesive tape and gecko tape. The cover falls to the water below, as Tess goes about planting the device against a nearby I-beam, her muscles straining by this point.

Done. Time to go.

Not wanting to spend another second on narrow ledges with aching arms and legs, the spy relaxes her muscles, and with one hand, guides herself to swing off the I-beam to splash into the water below. She breaststrokes over to the floating phone cover to retrieve it, before masking up to dive for the weighted belt. Buoyant as she was, the spy is able to reach the belt using a column and the floor to pull herself along. But before the spy could fasten on the belt, white lights suddenly illuminate the space above.

The spy's head rears in surprise. Instinctively, she stays low and immediately swims for a nearby stone column for cover.

Are they looking for me? Did I trigger something?

Quickly scanning her immediate surroundings, the spy still appeared to be the only threat within the basement waters, but looking above, the distorted silhouettes of two people could now be seen next to the console above. Carefully, the spy surfaces to breathe and listen, within a basement now ringing with the sounds of an angry Italian; Mr Lombardi himself.

His subordinate is hardly able to get any words in, as his boss continued to rant while interfacing with the console. The spy remains where she is for the time being over the next five minutes, certain that any sudden moves might tip them off to her presence. It is unclear as to what was being said, yet whatever it was that provoked Mr Lombardi in this manner, there seemed to be an air of urgency as well as frustration, based on the sounds of his fast typing. The taps soon seize however, when all the submerged server stacks from within their metal columns are lifted out of the water, leaving all cable connections severed. The spy peeks around again, this time to see Mr Lombardi and his subordinate leaving at a brisk pace. Before long, as quickly as the lights came on, they switch off again, plunging the waters into the familiar darkness bathed in blue lights, as the doors above close with a slam.

Tess breathes a sigh of relief.

Whatever is happening, Kathy and I should probably leave.

Stuck longer than she would've ideally preferred, the spy redoubles her efforts to leave, reacquiring her belt before passing back through the tight water duct. The spy surfaces on the mansion's exterior where she listens for any sign of movement coming from the balcony directly above; none. What was of note though, was a party-goer on his phone on the next balcony over, between Tess and Gerard’s stall.

The spy submerges again to swim past the unaware man, to then re-emerge next to the Gerard’s balcony, opposite to where she had initially dived from. One of the operators is standing arms crossed, back leaning against the railing.

"... Ahem," coughed Tess.

The operator's attention peaks. He spins on the spot to look down at Tess who is giving a small smile and wave. Wordlessly, the operator turns to grab some rope to drop over the railing, allowing the spy to then be hoisted back onto dry land by both operators and a relieved Kathy. The spy clambers over the railing while no-one is watching, with most of the water from her swim having slid off, leaving only her hair partly soaked. Stepping over to a corner, Tess starts getting dressed, with a more relieved Kathy helping to pass items over.

"... All good up here?" Asked Tess.
"Fine, you?" Replied Kathy.
"Yeah, never better... It's done."
"... So it is. Nice work," said Gerard, gazing at his phone with a nod.
"Time we better off though, Mr Lombardi wasn't exactly in a good mood when I saw him."

Gerard peers up.

"You saw Mr Lombardi?"
"He was checking his servers down there. Something was really pissing him off, enough for him to disconnect all the stacks."
"You?"
"I don't think so. I was pretty out of the way, same with the device. Still, better safe than sorry... pass the rag."

Tess remained cool in her explanation, folding down the wetsuit and slipping on the dress as she went without missing a beat. Rag offered by an operator, she takes it and gives a quick wipe down of her hair before slipping on her jewellery and heels again. Within two minutes, the spy was back in disguise.

"How do I look?" Asked Tess, gesturing to her appearance with open arms.
"... Like 400 euros," Kathy mused, letting out a small smile.

Smiling back, Tess offers an arm for Kathy to loop, handbag shouldered with the other.

"We'll make ourselves scarce now."
"Right. Check in tomorrow."

Tess gives Gerard the OK sign as she steps toward the front of the stall.

"Enjoy the rest of the convention."

Job done, the spies enter the crowds once more, weaving their way to the mansion's central foyer at a brisk pace.

"You still ok with the heels?"
"大丈夫だよ. ここで終わりましたか? (It's fine. Are we done here)?"
"そのヨットに戻ったらすぐに. (As soon as we're back on that yacht)."

Passing by the numerous exhibits within the still busy space on their way to the dock exit, Tess spots some rough movement a ways off in the crowd. It was a group of three security guards in turquoise dress, clearing a path for a fourth person arriving from the north wing.

Squeezing at Kathy's right arm, Tess redirects their path to hide behind a poster board. A hand hovers over the nearest tranquilliser needle under her dress.

"それは何ですか? (What is it?)"

Let me guess...

Glancing from around cover, following with what Tess had witnessed downstairs, it was Mr Lombardi again, this time making waves within a crowd. He is still visibly agitated, as he and his security continue past the spies without much notice, before stopping to ask one of his guards to get on the radio.

"... Yeah, everyone's wifi must've cooked the routers huh?"

An Englishwoman from the other side of the poster board could be heard from within her stall. Tess' eyes narrow at what was happening invisibly, over the seemingly normal backdrop of a business event.

"Your internet not working for you too?" Tess inquired, stepping around to the front of the Englishwoman's stall.
"So it would seem. Funny for a tech convention, ain't it?"
"Yeah... same with the other stalls?"
"Looks that way."

The spy scans her surroundings, looking for signs of an internet outage with the other exhibits. One booth with a number of TV screens was showing connection errors to various websites convention-goers and staff were trying to navigate.

My phone had active wifi before I connected it to the console. This is recent, 10 minutes or so.

"Lombardi angry about Wifi?" Kathy queried.
"... I'm not sure... let's go."

Electing to keep playing things safe in case Mr Lombardi somehow turned his sights on the spies, Tess beckons Kathy to follow. But no more than a dozen steps later, the music abruptly falls into silence. A few curious glances are thrown between people as Tess and Kathy continue moving, with the exit in sight. Yet all of a sudden, the spies are stopped in their tracks when an eight rotor drone comes tearing through the foyer to crash into a chandelier! It tumbles out of control, crashing through a stall front, with shattered glass falling from the damaged mansion light. Screams echo throughout the foyer.

"Tess!?"
"Go! Go!"

The speakers come back to life, but not with music. Instead, an ear-splitting, high pitch note rings out through the convention, leaving everyone momentarily stunned, trying to block their ears from the horrendous noise. Shouting can barely be heard from one of the security guards holding a radio.

Ears blocked with hands, Tess nudges an elbow into Kathy to keep going, even as turquoise mood lights begin blink out all around them. The spies try to run in the dim space, but Kathy trips in her heels to fall onto all fours. Tess reaches down to pull Kathy up, braving the noise with open ears, when suddenly, white lights flash in their direction. The ground rumbles, pandemonium ensues as people begin to run for the exit, trying to outrun something that was growing closer. Tess' glances back, her eyes widening at the sight of an APC bulldozing its way through exhibits, headed straight for them!

"Jump!!"

With only seconds before the runaway vehicle would reach them, Tess twists Kathy to the right towards a small stall to get out of the way of the APC. With a push to her back, Kathy dives over the fold-up table at the stall's front. Tess follows, but she is only midway across the table when in an instant, Tess' vision is thrown into a spin, as she is catapulted through the air, from furniture being up-flung by the APC. The spy slams into a light rigging pole, her lower back taking most of the impact, before hitting the marble floor left shoulder first.

Tess' head knocks across the ground, as she rolls to a rest on her stomach. Pain sears through her body, yet she is unable to even utter a sound after having the air knocked out of her. Her vision blurs, her eyes lazily hang open, with thoughts of a suspicious convention now replaced only by the thoughts of how familiar this agony was to her assignment in Osaka. Seconds pass, which feel longer than seconds ought to be, before Tess tries to move something.

She slides her right arm toward her with little issue, but upon trying her left, the arm sends new waves of pain through the shoulder joint, leaving her stunned.

"Mmmgh... ahhh," Tess winced with a cheek to the ground, teeth gritted.

More seconds pass, as the spy tries to get a grip over her injuries. Banging sounds begin to echo around her, banging sounds that take a moment for Tess to put together.

I can't... argh... can't move... I can't think... it's... it's too loud... loud guns... loud guns!

Recognising that she was in fact hearing pistol fire and metal impacts, her senses sharpen up. She forces herself onto her back to then scoot over to some cover, in the form of a partly ripped, stall wall. It is at this point that Tess realises that the APC that nearly ran her over was still nearby, partly lodged in a wall of masonry, under fire likely from security. Its wheels aren't rolling, but its engine is still running, right next to where a fold-up table was keeping Kathy pinned.

"くそ! 降りる. クソ下車! (Fuck! Get off. Fucking get off!)" Kathy strained, trying to lift the table off herself.

With one hand, Tess starts scooting over to Kathy in an effort to help. Fortunately though, Kathy is able to get herself free without Tess' aid, through one solid push up to crawl out. She slides over to Tess, as bullets continue to ping off the APC.

"大丈夫!?(You ok!?)"
"くそ... かかと! (Fuck... heels!)" Exclaimed Kathy.

As well as shots striking the APC, the still screeching speakers in the area appeared to also be targets for the shooters, as one by one, the overall foyer noise is reduced with every speaker cone that was destroyed. But in its place, there came the sudden squeal of the APC's tires, as its electric engine threw the vehicle back into reverse. Panicked shouts in Italian and a brief rise in gun fire are heard as the vehicle careens back into the depths of the mansion, destroying more property as it went.

"Now, g- ah."

Tess falters back to the ground, almost twisting an ankle in her attempt get back on her feet, on her heels. Unceremoniously, she unbuckles the shoes to chuck them away.

"Next time, we can go in suits."

Kathy takes the same action, being more than happy to rid herself of the awkward foot wear. Together, the barefoot spies help each other up to start walking, arms around shoulders, to finally make it outside.

Past the garden with ears still ringing, it is chaos on the docks, with the few security guards present looking overwhelmed by a crowd of terrified attendees, as gunshots continued to echo on. Canal lights in the night gave the environment an ominous look, but with the home yacht in sight, the spies press on.

"Ah... ow..." Tess winced, after a passerby knocks her left shoulder."
"What is it?"
"I think my arm might be dislocated."
"... Looks like more than that."
"Wha..."

Trailing off, Tess notices that blood is starting to drip from her forehead.

"Oh... maybe... a concussion?"

Her coordination was growing notably weaker by the moment.

"Signora! You ok? Need ambulance?"

Pushing his way through was the dock attendant that greeted Tess earlier in the evening.

"It's ok. Hospital, I'm taking her to the hospital," responded Kathy, somewhat caught off guard.
"Yeah... what she said. I'm fine by the way."

The attendant gives a quick nod before continuing his push through the crowd towards the mansion, leaving the spies to make one last push over to their pier, and eventually, over the gangplank to the autonomous yacht.

... I need a shower… Not just for the salt water in my hair…

Mission Accomplished.

Chapter Text

Kathy deposits Tess onto a bed below deck, before walking over to a touchpad to frantically press buttons, in an effort to get the yacht moving.

"どのように仕事をしていますか?スイッチはどこにありますか?(How the fuck do you work? Where the fuck is the on switch?)"
"Hey, hey, easy. Stop stabbing the thing," spoke Tess, stumbling over.

With a quick series of taps, blood prints left on the screen, Tess charts a route back to their hotel. The yacht slowly shifts into motion, leading Tess to sit back on the bed with a wobble, her forehead cupped with one hand. Kathy meanwhile darts over to the bathroom to wet a face towel.

"Ice dispenser..." Tess mumbles, pointing to a nearby fridge.

Kathy pounds the dispenser's lever, without much care for some of the ice cubes that miss the towel she was using to catch them.

"Here," said Kathy, offering the wrapped towel of ice.

A welcome, cooling sensation pulses through Tess' forehead, as she holds the towel in place to stop the trickle of warm blood. Kathy moves to sit by and hold Tess' dislocated left arm, passing only a look to the injured spy to indicate what she is about to do.

"Do it."

With a firm twist and a push, Kathy locks the arm back into place, causing Tess to briefly shudder from the pain. The spies, now able to have a moment to themselves, both let out a shared sigh, as if they had been holding their breath the entire time in public. Silence hangs for a minute over the couple, within the dim interior of their cramped yet luxurious quarters.

"Huh... starting to make a habit of this," spoke Tess, lifting her towel to check her injury.
"... Tess... what happened?"
"... Not sure... definitely wasn't in the assignment description..."

Kathy stands to pace around the room, raking fingers through her hair in an nervous fashion.

"このドレスをファック! (Fuck this dress!)" Kathy mumbles angrily, as she moves to unstrap herself from her outfit.

Letting it slide to her feet, Kathy bundles up the dress and tosses it into a corner, leaving her to slip on some jeans and a flowing tank top. She then resumes pacing around Tess.

"Gerard... hang on a sec."

Able to more coherently collect her thoughts, Tess notes that Gerard and the operators were probably in trouble at the mansion as well. She peers around the cabin for a moment in search of her actual phone, before finding it in a nearby dresser to ring Gerard.

"Gerard, you there?"
"Tess! Where are you?!" Gerard frantically asks.
"We're on the yacht down the canal. Where are you?"
"Mansion! We're still at the mansion stall! There's shots fired! The lights are out!
"Ok listen, do not make your way through the foyer, that APC from the showcase stage, it's running rampant in there! Some drones also went haywire too. The staff were shooting back."
"... An APC is driving in the foyer!?"
"Yes, it was crashing through stalls."
"Fuck me..."
"Stay with the operators, stay out of the way."
"Yeah, like hell I'm going anywhere without them... this has to be... what? Yeah I got it!"
"Gerard?"
"... This has to be some kind of cyber attack... some fucking technology convention, I said it was more party than security!"
"Gerard. Stay with the operators, stay out of the way, you understand?"
"Yeah... I got it, well under the table here."
"Ok, call back as soon as you're out, keep your head down."
"Will do."

Putting the phone to one side, Tess peers up at Kathy.

"Everything electrical in that convention went bad. That truck... the drone, all the lights..." Kathy mumbles.
"... Obviously not a power issue."
"Was someone really hacking the mansion?"
"... Looks that way... maybe they were here at the party, or somewhere else entirely.
"... Was the truck meant for us?"
"That APC seemed to be meant for a lot of people."
"We were about to leave... maybe they had cameras, and they knew us, and they saw us!"
"Could just be a coincidence."
"Ugh... fuck!" Kathy exclaimed, fisting a wardrobe door closed.
"Kat, easy on the ship... have a Kit-Kat, have a seat, just... augh, take it easy."

Kathy stops in her tracks to stare at her feet for a moment, before sitting back over with Tess with a huff.

"The Yakuza... maybe this was them, here."
"... Can you name them?"
"... I don't know."

Falling into a brief silence, Tess shifts a hand over to rest on Kathy's right knee.

"We'll need to learn more, but there's not much we can do now."
"... Yeah."

Moving to arch her back in a stretch, Tess stops as twinges off pain shoot up from her back injury.

"Ow. That's definitely bruising tomorrow..."
"... What's wrong?"
"Not much, took a pole in the back... how about you?" Spoke Tess, trying to sport a smile.
"... Just a table."
"... Right."

Kathy blinks for a moment, before deciding to scoot around the bed to face Tess' back.

"Want me to look?"
"Sure."

Unzipping the dress to peel it down, Kathy does a once-over look of Tess' back, prodding as she went to source any areas of pain. Turning away after a thorough look, Kathy leans back-to-back with Tess.

"Hm... we forgot the handbag," Tess stated nonchalantly.
"... What?"
"A few hundred euros, nothing serious."
"Nothing important?"
"Nothing important," Tess yawns, "enough excitement for one night."

Leaning back onto the bed, she closes her eyes for a moment, taking in the softness of the mattress to keep her mind off the pain. Kathy moves off to find another rag, this time to act as a bandage around Tess' head.

"Should hold for now," Kathy says, as she finishes up on a tie, "we can find something better at the hospital."
"Hmm... maybe not the hotel, definitely not a hospital... whatever is going on, maybe we should sleep on it on open waters."
"You sure?"
"I'm 90 percent sure I haven't broken anything, I'll be fine."

Kathy stares back with a frown.

"95 percent? Look, whatever is going on, we should keep out heads down until we figure this out. Right?"
"... Ok."
"... Head hurts just thinking about thinking."

Reluctantly, Tess stands back up to alter the course of the yacht toward an isolated stretch of water, just outside the Venetian city limits. The spies remain awake and unmoving on the bed, monitoring themselves for the next hour to make sure their injuries didn't worsen. Only a call from Gerard would break the silence, letting the spies know that he and the operators were safely out of the tech convention.

Pained as the spies were, they soon fall asleep, with the aid of the yacht's weighted gyros to keep itself steady.