nagia: (rk; a/m; catch me on the ground)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2011-10-06 12:47 pm

Rurouni Kenshin; Rated T; "Catch Me On The Ground" [2/7]

Title: Catch Me On The Ground
Fandom/Pairing: Rurouni Kenshin; Aoshi/Misao
Rating: ESRB Rating of T for Teen
Summary: Takani Megumi escapes Takeda Kanryuu's clutches. Makimachi Misao is looking for Sagara Sanosuke. And Shinomori Aoshi appears to have a plan. Based on the scifi character designs.
Notes: By way of explanation: the sci-fi redesigns.

Catch Me On The Ground

She said, "Lately, falling's been easy on me
A lot like breathing used to be,
And call me crazy, but I was thinking
Maybe you'd be waiting on the ground
To come and catch me."
—Matt Nathanson, "Wings"

The sun beat down hard on the north-bound J-11. The heat was furious, was tangible, was more than just a shimmer in the air, it was a hammer against her back. All around her, lifts and speeders were streaming past, their engines and null-gravs making noises like hrrrv and grrm. She heard a crystospanner give out with a loud, shrieking scree-thunk scree-thunk scree-thunk.

It was second nature to avoid the dizzily kicking speeder and its desperate, panicking rider. Misao zipped around a liftcar and revved her engine to throw a rear glow. She pulled vertical while still going forward, then slammed the rear of the speeder back down. The blue lights around her rear tire glowed very nearly bright enough to blind. Showy, but it got her point across: even a large liftcar going that slow on the J-11 invariably ended up with tire tracks on its hood.

The liftcar behind her honked. Apparently, the driver didn't appreciate the warning.

Well, whatever. When a speedrider hopped up on god-knew-what ramped his speeder onto their liftcar, it wouldn't be her fault.

The J-11 was crazy. She wondered if Okina knew how crazily people drove. Apparently the government didn't care so long as nobody did too much damage to its property. And the unfriendlies mostly kept away from the main roads; it had taken them years, but they'd finally figured out that liftcars would simply flatten them.

She remembered when she'd been stuck taking the train. Those days had been when Okina first made absolutely certain that she could use her knives as katars. He'd been the one to pick up her hand-to-hand training, after Aoshi-sama and Hannya had left.

Thinking about it, he was right about one thing. The trains were pretty dangerous.

Ahead of her, somebody's null-gravs went sideways with a harsh grrthoktoktoktok and then a long, trailing whine. It was like the buzzing of a bee, only it was worse. It was louder, more nasal, higher-pitched. And it was lasting longer.

: unusual levels of null-grav radiation present ahead five meters, her helm told her.

"Understood. Hazard rating?'

: presently at zero.

That was good. "Thanks, Itachi. Alert me when hazard rating hits point five?"

: affirmative.

She zipped around the sinking speeder, but never got an alert.

Three hours later, Misao pulled into a way-station. The metal of the speeder seemed even hotter than usual. She was halfway there and both she and the speeder were thirsty.

The way-station's door slid open. A motion detector chimed. The inside was cooler than outside, but only barely. Dimly lit, too. Smelled stuffy with a faint tang of coolant fluid and the dry sweetness of burnt cooler coils. The half-dead air conditioner was making thok-thok-thok sounds in an attempt to cool the tiny building.

In the back room, she could distantly hear a newscaster droning on and on about the latest pointless thing that had happened in this nowheresville roughly halfway between Kyoto and Tokyo.

Somebody was snoring.

She grinned, walked to the refrigerated aisle. Bottle upon bottle of water glowed underneath the lights. Most of it was green, but she could see a few bottles of blue.

Crysto-Hydrate, they called it. The null-gravs were powered by the crystospanner, which used a hell of a lot of specially filtered water to gradually siphon lift energy from the lift crystal. What all that boiled down to? Speeders got thirsty. Fast. Especially in summer.

She grabbed two bottles of her preferred brand and a bottle of real water for herself.

By the time whoever was snoring in the back room noticed that he had a customer, she was sitting on the counter, drinking her water and watching the closed-circuit monitor on the wall behind the counter. She wasn't the only customer in the store; two men drifted down the shelves and aisles. One looked like a thug, with hair that swept out, like a bird's wing. The other looked like a cop. A very, very young cop.

"Hey! That's not daytime TV," the cashier snapped, face twisted into an expression that said she was in for it.

"Hot out there," she said without looking away from the monitor.

He scowled but rang up the three bottles of water on his ancient register. "Sixteen two."

She slid a few wrinkled bills and a pair of coins onto the counter. She hopped down, reveling in the feeling of the cool floor under feet.

Outside, her speeder sat in the shade, awaiting more crysto-hydrate. The metal of its cover was hot to the touch. She could have fried tempura on it.

Even close to Tokyo, the J-11 was still crazy. She watched a pair of speeders ramp onto a liftcar. The liftcar's horn blared, but the speeders were gone in a flash. Smart of them. This close to a city, that kind of nonsense could get you arrested.

Once actually approaching Tokyo, on the inbound, things got a lot hairier. Traffic slowed abruptly. There was some sort of check point controlling the inbound J-11. The line of cars and speeders was long. Longer than she'd imagined it could be.

Misao slowed to a stop, settling into a group of speedriders. One of them looked over her way, nodded.

She tilted her head and sighed. "How long's the wait going to be?"

"Hours," one of them replied. The voice was female, though the speeder's coloring and style weren't.

One of the other speedriders pressed a button on his helmet. The visor hissed away, revealing a face that startled her.

He was older than she was. Older than Aoshi-sama, for that matter. There was stubble on his chin. His eyes were a lethal gold.

Itachi chimed an alert to her visor. : vehicle registration ping detected. registration privacy override delta-delta-delta-zero-three. auto-acknowledge function engaged.

"What are you doing out of Kyoto, Itachi-musume?"

And now he was raising an eyebrow disdainfully at her. There was something cold in his expression, though, as if he was evaluating whether she was a threat or not.

"Family obligation. And don't call me that!"

His eyes never left her, still measuring. Still detached. A moment passed and his glance flicked away, disinterested.

"Just don't cause trouble for the rest of us."

That drew a disgruntled huff from her. She turned her head away from him, deliberately looking at the datascreen that covered half the external wall of the entry checkpoint. Characters scrolled along it almost too fast for her to read, family names, vehicle registration numbers, and reminders of the local laws that differed from the rest of Japan.

Time passed, slow as the sweat that rolled down the back of her neck. She gathered her braid in one hand, smoothed her armored fingers over it. Having her hair tied back kept her a little cooler, but she had a feeling not even that would work for long periods spent in direct sunlight.

If the uniform weren't so handy at night, she would have been cursing its color.

Tokyo, Meiji Cycle 11: Summer

Tokyo was huge. Kyoto had a strong focus on traditional architecture: sweeping roofs, graceful bridges, bright colors. Tokyo was modern. Tokyo looked like the holovids she'd seen of the central planet. Tall towers, durasteel and plascrete buildings, ugly dark roads.

She pulled over, close to the sidewalk, and pulled out her ancient data reader. She flipped it open, scrolling through data until she could read a text-com Okina had just sent. It contained a better photograph of Sagara Sanosuke and a list of places to look for him.

She didn't want to go haring off after him right now. She wanted to find someplace to stay.

It wasn't like she had much of a choice, she thought. At the very least, she could get a start. It would help.

Time to start in the teahouses and the bars near Yoshiwara. If she could find Yoshiwara.

The streets were a maze. She worried that she was lost, before the helm started chiming in directions.

: left ahead five meters

She took the left and then all the turns it recommended.

It wasn't hard to figure out when she'd entered the right district. When she parked the speeder and powered its systems down, she dug out her screwdriver and pulled a few panels apart. Reached deep into its wirings and workings until at last she pulled out a silver canister. Inside the canister was a blue lift crystal.

She powered its systems back on, input the armor command, and wired the auto-def to blow if someone entered an incorrect passcode more than twice.

The bar was dimly lit inside. Blue smoke hung in a haze around the light fixtures, fogged up some of the booths.

Misao crossed to the bar, leaned up against it with purpose. She pulled a crisp bill out of her glove, waved it right under her own nose, then vanished it again.

The bartender gave her a wary look.

She pushed her data reader forward. "I'm looking for this guy," she said, tone bright, deliberately so.

The bartender looked down, looked back up at her, then looked at her glove.

She smiled brightly. "Where does he usually hang?"

Tokyo, Meiji Cycle 11: Summer

Aoshi was four steps from the monitor room when the intercom buzzed. No one said his name over the loudspeaker, but the lack of any words after the ear-gratingly high pitched noise was cue enough.

He turned on his heel and ghosted through the halls, for once bothering with the door to Takeda's study.

The door clicked shut behind him. Quite loudly; any Oniwabanshuu would have turned immediately toward the sound. But Takeda was in no state to pay attention to such minor details.

The man was currently in the midst of heaving everything off his desk and stomping on it. Aoshi took note of the glint in the businessman's eyes and took care to stay even further out of Takeda's potential reach.

When he thought he stood a chance of being heard, he asked, "Wu Hei Shin again?"

"If only my idiot Chinese partner were my only problem!"

Aoshi raised an eyebrow.

"You're the one who thought he knew how to break her. And you were wrong! I ought to fire you."

So do, Aoshi didn't say. "I guessed, based on her background and disposition."

"Well, you guessed wrong. Guess again, and guess right this time."

He made no reply.

From the monologue that followed, he hadn't really been expected to. Takeda spoke to him slowly, as if trying to explain a difficult concept to a small child. "Shinomori, if my lead medical nanotechnologist won't work on my primary source of income, then I don't make any money. And if I don't make any money, you don't get paid."

As if the money was what mattered to him, and not the contract. Technically, he supposed the money should have mattered. No clan of competent ninja was ever poor, but the market had been collapsing ever since the Bakumatsu. Very nearly the only work left was corporate espionage -- for which his team was grossly unsuited.

"What is her primary objection?"

"The same as always: that I'm asking her to use her medical training to kill people." Takeda finally stopped attempting to grind paper into dust and cast him a long look. "If the nano-opiate isn't prepared correctly, then it can result in death."

"So tell her to prepare it correctly."

That earned him a very brief startled look, though Takeda quickly smoothed it away into his usual expression. "The problem is on the user's end. No matter what she does, the user has to prepare it just right. Apparently that weighs down on her conscience."

"Then you won't break her from a logical angle. You're going to have to rely on punishment and fear."

Another moment of startled silence. "You're so lenient with your men, I always thought you might have some sort of moral objection. You don't care that you're trying to persuade a doctor to create a deadly drug?"

"My job is to ensure the safety of your person and property and do my best to assist your business operations. So long as you don't interfere with my men, I don't care what you do or what the consequences of your actions are."

That seemed to drain Takeda of his previous ill will. Of course it did; that Aoshi truly did not care whether Takeda profited or not didn't matter. He didn't need Aoshi to agree with his cause. He just needed to know that he owned Aoshi's services.

The businessman sank into the chair behind his desk. "Punishment and fear, you say?"

Aoshi closed the door to Takeda's office, moved away from it as quickly as he could allow himself. Conversations with his employer always left him feeling like he needed a shower.

But what he needed now was to make it to the monitor room.

It wasn't to be. He received the briefest sense of not being alone before a holoprojector thrimmed. He stopped moving, turned to acknowledge his second-in-command.

Hannya stood by the door to an empty room, apparently looking at him closely. He had crossed his hands behind his back. "Surely you were not entirely honest with Takeda-san?"

Rather than ask how Hannya knew what had been said, or how much of the conversation he'd heard, Aoshi adjusted his glasses.

Hannya pressed. "Surely my Okashira was not entirely honest with Takeda-san?"

"Of course not," he replied.

"I had hoped," Hannya said.

That one caught his attention. Aoshi looked up.

"Death lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain," the other onmitsu murmured. "Sometimes I wonder if it's crushing us."

Aoshi closed his eyes for a short moment. Hannya was well within his rights to express doubt about their current course of action.

"The only way out is forward," he said, opening his eyes.

"Another way out might be down."

Aoshi shook his head once. "We're not samurai. I signed a contract; I didn't sell our souls."

"Only our dignity."

Now he was being ridiculous. Aoshi narrowed his eyes. "I wasn't aware you had a problem, Hannya."

"I understood -- and understand -- why you accepted it."

"Then what don't you understand?"

Hannya said nothing. Aoshi jerked his head toward the end of the hall, continued moving. He could feel the gauze balance wings drifting near his legs as he went. It wasn't long before Hannya followed him.

They stopped in another corridor, this one outside the Oniwabanshuu quarters.

"Why are we still here?"

"The contract --"

"-- means we are employed in the service of trash. We have served him well enough. You know the result of his product. Why stain the Oniwabanshuu's honor with --"

"And leaving in the middle of a contract does not stain the Oniwabanshuu's honor?" Aoshi took his glasses off, tugged one of the wings up to wipe at the lenses. He closed his eyes. "This conversation is over."

"As you wish."

Aoshi tapped a sequence of keys, listened to the locks hiss open. He swung the door inward. "I want you to check the security system. Standard procedure."

"As you wish, Okashira."

There was censure in Hannya's tone. Aoshi didn't allow it to affect him. He understood Hannya's concerns. He even shared them.

He simply understood that they were easily as damned if they stayed as if they left.

Aoshi pushed the key-tab into the lock and turned it, then entered the master code for the security system. The noise surely gave away his position, but he heard no indication that his presence mattered to Takani. No change in her breathing, no attempt to flee to another part of her quarters.

The doors locked automatically behind him, the security system re-armed itself. He forced himself to ignore the instinctive jolt of alarm at his entrance being sealed without his say-so. The sheer size of this prison meant there were at least three ways out without using his keys or the codes, though Takani might never find them.

He kept his pace measured and audible as he moved toward the bedroom.

Inside, Takani Megumi knelt on the far side of her bed, regarding the generator that kept her away from the window. It continued to whine at the wrong pitch.

"Those doors will stay locked until you cooperate with Takeda."

Only then did she turn to look at him. Her hair whirled as she turned around, long wavy strands a cloud of shimmering motion. The darker colored segments seemed to have a green sheen, in that lighting.

"Naturally," she said, tone dry.

Her sarcasm didn't come from defiance. She was breaking down, though not in the direction Takeda desired: she was ceasing to care if she lived or died. She probably hoped Aoshi would kill her for her insolence; it would spare her having to make the choice of her ethics or her survival.

Time to be blunt. "He'll try physical torture next."

"Let him."

Of course. If she cared nothing for her actual life, how much could the abstract possibility of pain frighten her?

Rather than hammer the point home directly -- that she had every reason to fear torture as much as she feared the loss of her soul -- he switched tracks. It was sometimes better, with pure intellectuals, to come at the subject from an angle.

"Do you trust yourself?"

She stared at him.

"He won't even have to let you leave the room. You'll have no warning, until you panic every time the door opens." Aoshi paused, then continued, tonelessly, as if it were simple fact and not conjecture designed to intimidate: "You'll snap. You'll agree to cooperate the moment the door opens. Do you trust yourself to practice medicine in the middle of a psychotic break?"

Fear flickered across her face, followed by disbelief, and then she settled back into her world-weary persona. But even the straight line of her mouth and brow, nor even her glasses, could hide the gleam of fear or the hint of desperation in her eyes.

"You can't be sure of that," she said. "You're just guessing. Just like you guessed before that taking space away would make me break. That was you, wasn't it?"

Aoshi made no reply. There was no point confirming or denying surrounding circumstances; regardless of who had seen it first, they had both seen that Takani needed control over her space. Removing her control was what wore on her psyche, more than trapping her.

He let his silence grate by, until it eroded what patience Takani still had. "Why are you here?"

"It was your last chance to end this peacefully," he told her.

"You mean your last chance before Kanryuu punished you," she said, apparently confident of her logic.

A poorly baited verbal trap if he'd ever seen one. He turned away, made it a point to re-arm the security system and each lock individually.