Rating: PG-13 to be safe (minor character death)
Summary: In the maze of complex codes a secret agent tries to figure out the code of his own destiny. Perhaps the key to that is finding a missing colleague.
Dedication: For Nox who is evil.
A/N: 'Jumon' is the Japanese for 'spell'. This story has ruined my brain. Period. XD (Also, Alex, I'm very sorry!)
Running around with a gun is not his thing. Not because it's all about shooting people and, well, running. And not because when your life is in constant danger, you are one day bound to go off your rocker. He likes to tell himself that in the field life goes on too fast and he just wants it to slow down, and that was his reason to transfer into the Office and bury himself in paperwork and teaching.
It may be because he's had enough of trying to save everyone and wants to turn into a happy office egoist whose natural response to a request of help of any sort will be, 'what's in it for me?'
It may also be that he has always liked those complicated glyphs.
In a nutshell, his life these days boils down to a small white room with a blackboard and a few desks, a black briefcase and a laptop, three shirts and a Toyota, and finally, several pairs of eyes watching him from behind those desks. The tricky part is when he realizes that he likes them – and also kind of doesn't. Back in Special Ops nobody ever depended so heavily on him. Whatever the case may be, he has made a vow not to question his own decision to trade Special Ops for the relative peace of the Office.
Head of Encoders Division 301, alias K, position Sensei – and to some it sounds almost as cool as Special Ops.
The trainees often make him smile. There are ten of them, and some clearly find him boring, while others stare at him with indescribable hunger in their eyes. He finds it hard to say which group he would belong to if he were in their shoes.
There was this one time when he came into the classroom, and they burst out laughing. He arched an eyebrow at them, wondering briefly what they had been discussing. Him perhaps? Or someone else from the official staff? He fired back at them with a test that very day, and it was his turn to laugh while checking it.
He is hardly vengeful. But their relationship is built on such tricks. Sometimes it is reminiscent of a never-ending game, Him vs. Them. Those on back seats complain that his voice is too low, but refuse to move closer. Those on front seats talk back at him and crack jokes and ask questions all the time. He smiles and traces the outline of his bottom lip with his finger and gives calm, thoughtful answers, gunshots echoing in his head.
"K's quitting." That's what he hears one day in a hallway.
"Did he say that?"
"No, but he didn't have to."
He never really talks to any of the colleagues. Most of them had worked here long before he showed up. It's not like they have a lot to talk about. He doesn't talk to the trainees either, not outside of class at least. He is usually the first to leave. He slips the laptop into the briefcase, puts his jacket on – and off he goes.
He wonders if his half-baked decision to quit is really written all over his face.
Today he has a double lesson with Div 301. He strums a beat over the table surface, while a few trainees write out code glyphs on the blackboard. Stroke after stroke. He berates them for the messy handwriting (knowing full well that his own is hardly better; but he always bears in mind that a flawed code is fatal, whereas they regard it simply as a number of symbols) and thinks that he definitely won't be missing that if he quits.
'I could go back to scientific research,' he tells himself. 'I could even go back to Osaka.'
His gaze lingers on the empty seat in the front row. This one rarely skips.
"Yeah, okay, I think we're done here," Sensei says and motions for the trainees to get back on their seats. "Good job, but using more than a few brain cells usually helps too."
"Oh, I'm sure you'd love to see us fail," one of the trainees quips.
K narrows his eyes and smiles briefly.
"Absolutely. Especially since I'd be blamed for that."
The trainee's brow twitches. It is clear that he is torn between another snide remark and a cheesy assurance that that would be undesirable. Check, Sensei smirks inwardly.
This guy, V, is obnoxious, ambitious, intelligent in his own way, and belongs to the 'pro-K' camp. The latter is so painfully obvious that one day he might be stalking K in the bathroom. Sensei finds him annoying, but he likes teasing him. It's like throwing a fake mouse to a stray cat and then pulling it away slowly.
The clock strikes twelve and they call a break. K leaves the classroom immediately, before anyone of them sucks him into a conversation. He reads a newspaper in the lounge, nods briefly to the head of another Division, and yawns secretly. What a sleepy day…
He is on his way back to the classroom when commotion at the end of the hallway catches his attention. He frowns slightly. By rights, the control room should be empty at this hour.
He checks it off mentally: come by after the class and inquire about what's going on. The trainees practise strokes on the board.
"Wrong glyph," K corrects automatically. He takes a piece of chalk and presses it hard against the blackboard. "I assume you mean 'child' here. But it depends… This one adds a positive meaning, whereas this one would be more negative."
"Which one's used more frequently?" V asks.
"How would I know which situation you're more prone to find yourself in?"
K's phone buzzes before V is able to respond. The display reads: Conference room. Things are getting weirder and weirder. He tells the trainees to repeat Lesson 16 and takes the stairs to the ground floor where a spacious hall with two giant plazma screens, a flipchart and endless terraced rows of chairs is situated. The conference room is overcrowded with members of the Directorate; some Sensei are also present.
"What's going on?" K asks point-blank.
"Code Red," a colleague informs him. Agent missing.
He flashes back to the empty seat in his classroom. She is one of his trainees. Suddenly there are too many people in the room.
"Clear the area," he says in a hoarse voice. "I'm bringing my team in on this."
Strictly speaking, he couldn't have made a less wise decision. It is one of the unwritten rules of the Agency: whenever a colleague gets in a fix, it should be the members of any team but theirs to help them out. Otherwise, it might get too personal.
Nevertheless, nobody tries to talk him out of it. Div 301 shows up within a few minutes, headed by V, and they set down to deciphering clues at once.
"Think of it as a big test," K instructs them. The last thing he needs is for them to get nervous. "We need to find her–."
"Before she goes Code Black on us," V adds.
Provision 14.1 of the Official Agency Rulebook: Colour codes. Code Blue: All Things In Order. Code Red: Agent Missing. Code Black: Agent Dead.
V is undeniably right in assuming this possibility; at the moment K sincerely wants to punch him.
T is about the only 'front seat' girl in Div 301. Others clearly dislike K, but she… He isn't sure how she feels. He isn't sure he wants to know she feels. He isn't even sure if he is supposed to want to know that.
She drew him once. He found it odd, but also kind of nice. He wondered why she chose to draw him – and he understood nothing of her explanation, but he couldn't help but feel flattered.
No, she definitely doesn't dislike him.
He met her in the hall once, fifteen minutes into the class.
"Overslept," she replied stiffly.
He wondered if she too dreamt of codes like he had when he had been a trainee.
T has been missing for two days already. During that time, Div 301 managed to garner a lot of information on the supposed kidnappers. Internal conflicts, competition of various branches of secret service, finally the code she broke without his knowing. K remembers a notebook she carries around, with pages lined with glyphs of various complexity. 'Shit,' is all he can think afterwards, numbly. Predictably, the notebook is missing too.
On the third day, T unexpectedly returns. She says she's escaped. She undergoes interrogation in one of the secured rooms equipped with cameras; Div 301 at full strength watches it on the plazma screens. K cannot shake off the feeling that something is wrong. He peers at her intensely, taking in every detail. Her dark-red hair falling in hectic waves over her face. A black hair slide flicking in and out of its mass. Apprehensive eyes.
Everything is supposed to be fine now. V releases a barely audible sigh of relief. These past few days have been hell for the team.
Yet something is off. K cannot say what it is until he looks briefly away from the screen and catches an alien face from the corner of his eye. He snaps back and still sees T on the screen.
"It's not her," he says automatically.
"What?" V looks alarmed.
"It's not her."
This is the first time in his memory when V doesn't know what to say. He reaches for the walkie-talkie slowly, never taking his eyes from K, and announces: "Security Code 25. Intruder in the building."
"And the real T–?" someone whispers.
"Is not dead," K presses. His gaze slides over the screen. The interrogation room is empty. He swears lightly under his breath.
Security post is silent. It's field all over again and these kids never held a gun in their life. The radio belches rough noise at them and goes dead in V's hand.
"This is freaky," one of the girls, S, squeals. "I'm leaving! We never signed up for this."
Lights go out. This is bad. This is really, really bad. K makes a go to stop her, but she swings the door open, and there is a familiar figure behind it, a blank face, the barrel of a gun with a silencer attached flicking in the air. The bullet hits S flat in the forehead, and she falls. Outcries of shock follow.
"Lead them away," K whispers to V who promptly drives the rest of the team towards emergency exit. Shortly before stepping outside he halts.
"What about you?"
K waves dismissively at him, and the guy vanishes into the hallway. There are only three of them in the conference room now: the girl with a gun, the corpse, and him.
He lunges at her, grasps her by the hand that's holding the gun, twists it, and tosses her into the wall. She spins like a top and fires at him several times. He has forgotten how much fun dodging bullets may be.
When she runs out of bullets, he attacks her. She is too strong and too precise for a human, and he suspects she might be one of those walking explosives' containers their rivals designed a few years back. If that's the case, he must find a way to disable her correctly and swiftly. There should be a weak point on her neck; now, if he could reach it…
She drops like a broken doll, morphing into her original appearance, looking nothing like T now. She still looks female, but it's someone he had never met, and he releases a slow, calm breath. She doesn't move. His gaze drifts away from her towards S's bloodied face. He forces himself to look away and moves to the door, hoping to catch up with the rest of Div 301.
Low buzzing reaches his ears. He glances back over his shoulder hastily. The replica's eyes flash red.
A blast wave hits him, and the world goes dark.
"Good thing you managed to jump into the hallway," the medic drones. He keeps switching his flashlight on and off, checking K's reactions.
"I was lucky," K answers, wishing to hell the medic would go and tend to someone who needs it. His skull is buzzing on the inside, as though there are several sirens installed there, and his ears feel like they are filled with cotton wool. He has sustained a few light burns and, quite possibly, has acquired a few more cracks in his bones – but he is alive, dammit, and he has far more important matters to attend to than sitting here, playing a victim.
"You're a rack, K," one of the female Sensei murmurs sympathetically. "Go home. We'll contact you if something… well…"
He looks past her, towards the landing where his Division has gathered. A few of them have most likely been crying. Their eyes are still puffy.
"I'm sorry," the Sensei says. "About S."
K catches V's look and reads something akin to admiration in it.
"For all we know, T is still alive," he replies. "That's what we should focus on right now."
For more than a day afterwards there is no news. The search parties keep working, trying to trace the replica's way back to the hostile organization's HQ. The kidnappers have done an exceedingly clean job.
The Office is under lockdown. No one comes in, no one goes out. Security locks have been altered. Once deceptively safe, the Office now resembles a prison.
K insists on personally inspecting the ruins of the conference room. He returns there with a group of experts and a couple of hours later they retrieve a miniature portable computer. Its case is half-melted from the blast wave, but the Information Corps nerds will undoubtedly bring the innards back to life.
So they do at the end of the day. K is busy flipping through security reports, while the members of Div 301 have nearly fallen asleep. They perk up when an Info clerk shows up in their classroom with a code to crack. The code is simplified glyphs and it has been extracted from the replica's computer. It may be part of the order or a piece of some important communiqué. K hands it over to the trainees and goes back to the reports.
It doesn't take them long to decipher the sentence.
"What… is… the Japanese for… Tokyo?"
K looks up and frowns.
"What's the Japanese for Tokyo?" R, one of the girls, repeats. "This doesn't make sense!"
"Yes, it does," K remarks. "It's a control question within a written code. It will make sense once you crack it."
The question is so primitive it is almost insulting. Were he a little less exhausted, he would already find the solution. He feels that the nonsensical words hide a very familiar meaning, yet it evades him. He presses the pad of his finger against his lower lip, lost in thought, while the trainees brainstorm. The silence in the room is almost soothing.
"Shh," K observes, glancing at the supposedly sleeping V, when someone noisily drops a notepad on the floor. "Agent V here is going to dream a solution for us."
V snaps his head up, blinking rabidly. "I'm not… not sleeping!" He rubs his eyes and mutters: "It's just that I can't shake off a feeling that I've heard this phrase somewhere…"
He lowers his head back on the desk, engrossed in his ruminations. K looks at him in ironic compassion.
"Perhaps you'd like a cup of coffee?"
"Okay, enough of this!" someone exclaims. "How about we talk about something that's really important? Like, I don't know, maybe Tokyo?"
"So…" the other trainee murmurs. "What do we know about it?"
The monologue that follows sounds like a snippet of last year's examination on World History. Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, the Imperial capital of Japan since 1868; the city of Tokyo was abolished as a municipality in 1943 and merged with Tokyo Metropolis, one of the 47 prefectures of…
K barely listens to them. He doesn't need to refresh his knowledge of Japan, God forbid, not after he spent so much time there. But in the middle of it, something dawns upon him. His memory flashes back to the history of the Agency unexpectedly. He remembers the reformation, the merging of institutes, one Office blending into another. Little Japan, that's how they jokingly called the Agency. All because of the Glyph Code Department that had become the most prominent one on the Encoders Board. Its own Tokyo.
"It's us," he says and hardly refrains from laughing. "This is Tokyo."
"Then the Japanese is–."
"Glyph codes!" V livens up.
"Still doesn't make sense," R grumbles.
It begins making sense at night when the building is attacked again, this time by several replicas at once, and the bombs go off like fireworks during summer festivals.
"What the hell is so funny about this?" a trainee asks, catching a smirk upon K's lips.
"We have a rat on the staff," he explains wearily. "That's why we never realized where the first replica had come from. She was already here."
The rat isn't that hard to find. Most likely, it is someone who knows about T's notebook, someone who saw her writing in it, someone who can read those codes. That actually narrows the list to a few people only except K himself, all of them part of the Glyph Codes Department.
The question about Tokyo is really very much a request. Give away the password codes to the Agency databanks. And those few people are the only ones who have access to it.
"I remembered where I heard that phrase!" V whispers suddenly. "Glyph Codes Introductory Studies last year! With Agent J. T wrote it down because it seemed so stupid!"
It is no big surprise that only this candidate remains. Tall, dressed in black, with cropped grey hair and unpleasant eyes that always seem to look asquint. A pretty high member of the Directorate, too.
"And here I thought field work was stressful," K jokes quietly as Div 301 positions itself opposite the man's office door. He is a former Sensei, alias J.
"Gee, a sucky teacher and a traitor on top of all, how cliché is that?" one of the girls laughs nervously.
K notes how quickly all of them have re-trained for battle. But then, back in Osaka, wasn't he exactly like that?
They burst in, taking J by surprise. He tries to protest, but the sight of K's gun shuts him up quickly.
"I have nothing to do with what you're accusing me of!" he shrieks in his high voice. "Agent K, this is ridiculous! At a time like this–."
"Is that the arm you broke last year?" one of the trainees interrupts and motions at J's left arm. "Wanna break another one?"
One touch is enough to make him talk.
"Th… the old warehouse! By the river! She's there! I swear she's there!" When they turn to leave, J hisses vehemently: "She was too smart for her own sake."
And K is tempted to shoot him. Tempted to shove that past tense down his throat along with a blazing bullet. He chooses not to waste time, though. The guy's done for anyway.
The warehouse by the river… She was so close all this time. They used to do a much better work back in the old days.
It's a relief to get out of the stuffed Office building under the spring rain. By the time they get to the warehouse they are soaked through, shivering from cold and excesses of adrenaline.
And T is not there.
"The fucker tricked us!" there comes a yell.
K shakes his head slowly. No, there has got to be something else. Some secret trapdoor under the rug in the corner, some ventilation shaft… He can tell it when people are lying. J wasn't.
A gun fires overhead. Somebody yells, "Duck!" and K does, and propels himself forward, shooting at the dark figures that block the exit. The nauseating darkness of the warehouse reeks with gunpowder and dampened dust.
K springs out, chasing the last remaining shooter. He pulls the trigger, something clicks, and the realization sinks in at once: he is out of ammo. The man stops running, turns around and raises his gun. Raindrops crash heavily against the ground.
A gunshot thunders. K's breath hitches.
The shooter drops dead, and behind him, there is another one, holding a gun with both hands, an awkward pose of a newbie. K throws his empty gun on the ground and staggers forth slowly.
Looking at him with a faint half-smile on her lips, her wet hair plastered against her cheeks. There are a few bruises on her face, but otherwise she looks unharmed.
This time it's her, and he is positive about it. He comes closer, vaguely aware that the trainees have made it out of the warehouse and will be running to them any minute. He should probably say something. Some reserved praise would be just by the book.
Or maybe that he was thinking about her all this time. It would be absolutely inappropriate, but at least unexpected. Or that she is amazing and she has thwarted his attempts to play hero once again with a single shot and now he feels slightly ridiculous. Maybe it's just the irony of the Capricorn/Scorpio chemistry between them.
Instead, he keeps perfectly quiet, his face mere inches away from hers. The veil of rain is thinning. Stars glimmer in the pitch-black sky.
He holds out his hand (in a very by-the-book gesture), intending to take the weapon away from her. There is a vague wrongness of the way the events have played out: he should have been the one to shoot a man for her, not vice versa. The gun slides into his open palm. T's smile widens, but she averts her gaze.
He pulls away reluctantly, grasping at his usual equanimity, breaking the spell that prevailed over them just a moment ago. Perhaps this was his reason to retire into the Office after all: to stop running, to stop for moments like this.
He takes a minute to watch her later when she is surrounded by her teammates demanding details on her dashing escape. He wonders if she knows he's watching and if she'll watch him back when turns away. He wonders if they'll have more moments under that simple spell when her seat in his class is filled again.
He extracts the radio and says into the crackling noise:
"Base, this is 301. Code Blue."
April 15–17, 2009