Shizukesa spent most of the rest of Saturday resting, and had intended to do the same on Sunday. However not long after she woke up that day, she received a text message that seemed to put paid to that.
It was from Khorsheed, and read, "SAW THIS IN WANTED ADS OF LOCAL PAPER. THOUGHT U SHOULD C." Attached was a picture of said advertisement. Shizukesa opened the file, and read it with interest.
To the girl in the tower, it began. You probably didn't see me, but I saw you. I liked what I saw. I would like to meet you. I'm sure you'd like to meet me too; you owe me at least that much, right? The Blue Sky Café in Akihabara, 3pm today. Come alone. Look for the girl in the Digi-Tee. I'll be expecting you. Love, the girl in the helicopter.
To anyone else, this message would seem vague and confusing, but Shizukesa, even in her concussed state, was able to decipher its meaning fairly easily. It was directed at her, just as Khorsheed had no doubt suspected, and the writer was surely none other than the mysterious second shooter who had saved her life back at Tatsuyama's apartment. You owe me at least that much… it was certainly true that Shizukesa owed her life to this woman.
As Shizukesa re-read the message over and over, more and more details started to sink into her weary brain. The name of the meeting place - the "Blue Sky" café - could have been an allusion to Tatsuyama's first name, Sora. The girl in the helicopter… that explained how the shooter had been able to make that shot. She had created her own vantage point by firing from a helicopter hovering nearby. With advances in gyroscopic technology, it was certainly possible to keep a helicopter still enough for such a shot to be possible. Clever.
As she was pondering why the girl would choose a Digi-Tee as an identifying piece of clothing, she received another text message from Khorsheed. "MEETING MIGHT B TRAP", it said. "NOT SURE U SHOULD GO." This was a fair point. Meeting the girl on her own terms was a dangerous prospect, especially given Shizukesa's current condition. But at the same time, it was an excellent opportunity to find out more about this mysterious other assassin, and who she might be working for - possibly the only chance she might get.
"I KNOW," Shizukesa responded, "BUT I HAVE TO GO. I CAN'T NOT MEET HER. I'LL BE ON GUARD, DON'T WORRY."
"OK", came the response from Khorsheed. "I'LL LET BOARD KNOW. GL, DON'T DIE PLZ" Shizukesa couldn't help smiling at the response. As if I'm going to let myself be killed so easily, she thought.
After lunch, Shizukesa readied herself for the meeting, and true to her word, she took every precaution she could. The first step was her clothing. Her white T-shirt and jeans may have been perfectly ordinary, but what she was wearing beneath them was not.
Underneath her clothes was a skin-tight bodysuit, specially designed and built by Mitsukashi's scientists and usually only worn by Shizukesa on the most dangerous of missions. This wasn't exactly a mission, per se, but since there was a distinct possibility she would be fired upon by multiple assailants the moment she entered the café, it certainly counted as "most dangerous". The suit was entirely bulletproof, capable of withstanding sustained machine gun fire. It featured a built-in temperature regulation system, that could keep Shizukesa cool or warm as necessary. And unlike the stereotypical latex catsuits of Hollywood spy movies, it was actually quite comfortable.
Despite all this, however, Shizukesa did not really like wearing it. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, it stuck out like a sore thumb: after all, nothing says "spy" like a catsuit. While she could hide it under clothing, this exacerbated a different problem; it wasn't entirely breathable, and while the temperature system meant she didn't get hot, she still got rather sweaty. The suit also restricted her movement slightly, which was certainly not ideal. Finally, while it wasn't a shiny latex catsuit, it still - to Shizukesa at least - looked and felt a little fetishizing. At least it didn't show a ridiculous and impractical amount of cleavage.
With the bodysuit donned, Shizukesa strapped a handgun beneath her shirt, hoping it would not be noticed or, indeed, needed at all. Hopefully, this would end up being just a normal, civil conversation between two women, and not a violent confrontation between two opposing forces. But if it should turn into the latter - and there was every reason to believe that it might - she wasn't going to let the other girl have all the advantages.
Shizukesa took the car this time, as she'd never been to this café before; indeed, she had been to Akihabara only once before. It wasn't really her kind of place. Thinking about it, it seemed like a strange location for a covert meeting between two assassins, considering it was one of the busiest places in Tokyo. There would likely be plenty of other people in the café who could get caught in the crossfire if things went south. Of course, if things did go south, bystanders would be the least of her problems.
Anticipating a struggle to find a parking space, Shizukesa left with plenty of time to spare, and ended up arriving outside the café ten minutes early. It didn't look quite as garish as some of the other cafes she had spotted during her mercifully short search for parking, but it still undeniably belonged in the world's most famous otaku district. A transparent display stuck to the inside of the window showed a chibi anime character that Shizukesa didn't recognize, cheerfully dancing to an unheard tune; flashing blue text underneath read, "WE'RE OPEN!"
Through the window, Shizukesa could see a girl in a sky-blue maid outfit, wearing a sky-blue wig, taking an order from a customer. Male, of course. In fact, looking around through the front window, Shizukesa couldn't see a single woman inside who wasn't in a maid outfit and wig. The other assassin, therefore, was nowhere to be seen. Immediately, two possibilities came to mind. One, she had simply ended up arriving first. Two, this had been a set-up from the start. Slowly, Shizukesa began to reach for her handgun.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Shizukesa froze, then slowly turned round, her hand still halfway to her holster. Standing right behind her was a girl who, surely, had to be one she was here to see. As per the description, she was wearing a Digi-Tee, navy blue with white floral patterns that spiralled up the OLED-studded fabric and then faded away. Underneath, Shizukesa could make out the faint shape of what had to be a gun holstered at her side. There was a wry little smile on her face, as though she knew herself to have the upper hand.
"I didn't think you'd get here this early," the girl remarked.
Slowly, and very cautiously, Shizukesa reached into her pocket and took out her phone. The girl did not move, but her expression grew more curious, and she watched with interest as Shizukesa began to type. "I didn't think I'd be the first one here," came the response from the text-to-speech program.
The other girl couldn't help raising an eyebrow at the disembodied speech. "That's a neat party trick," she said.
"It's more of a necessity than a party trick," Shizukesa replied.
"I see," said the girl. "Well, shall we head inside? We have a lot to discuss."
Shizukesa nodded, and the two girls entered the café. Almost immediately, one of the waitresses appeared from seemingly nowhere to greet them. "Welcome home, mistresses!" she said cheerfully, bowing low. "May I show you to a table?"
"No thanks," said the girl, "we'll find our own table."
"Okay!" said the waitress, her smile unwavering. "Please let me know once you're ready to order~!"
The waitress scurried off to another table, and the girl headed off towards a conveniently empty table in the corner of the room, with Shizukesa following closely behind. As they sat down opposite each other, Shizukesa took a moment to survey her companion more closely. She had long, dark blue hair drawn back into a ponytail, and matching blue eyes. Along with her tacky digital shirt, she was wearing dark jeans and trainers. Shizukesa didn't bother wondering whether there was more to them than meets the eye, as there was with her own ensemble, for that was almost certainly the case. The girl looked maybe one or two years younger; certainly, she hadn't been in this particular business for as long. Shizukesa could tell from the look in her eyes.
"Alright, let's get down to business," said the girl, placing a menu in front of herself. "First of all, I know who you are, and who you work for. You're Shizukesa, Mitsukashi's assassin, aren't you?" Shizukesa did not respond, her face remaining blank, but her silence was all the confirmation the girl needed. "I thought so," she said after a moment. "Well, just so we're on the same footing, my name is Murasame. Well… my codename, anyway. I work for Namida Corporation, in the same capacity as you: assassination.
"I have to admit," she continued, "it was sheer coincidence that we were both gunning for Tatsuyama that night. I guess we both knew Hazama were finished, so we both went in for the kill. And that got me thinking. You see, Namida wanted me to take you out as well, and until that night I was perfectly willing to." Shizukesa's hand crept a little closer to her gun, before Murasame added: "But then, I had a better idea. Why don't the two of us, and our corporations, combine forces and form an alliance?"
This suggestion piqued Shizukesa's interest. Her hand froze halfway to her holster, her other hand starting to type. "An alliance?" she repeated.
Murasame nodded. "Think about it. If the two of us worked together, with our combined resources, we could take out the other three corporations twice as fast, and twice as easily. Two-against-three gives us both better odds than one-against-four, right?"
This made sense to Shizukesa, even with her lingering concussion. Stability, both politically and economically, was the key to global trade, and right now, with this ongoing battle for supremacy, Japan had no stability in either category. Finding foreign business partners and suppliers - which was vital for a company based on an island - was already becoming difficult, so if an alliance would end the power struggle faster, then it was certainly worth considering. There was, of course, one glaring issue to contend with.
"What happens when it's just the two of us left?" asked Shizukesa. "We can't both rule Japan, unless there's a merger, which I can't see happening somehow."
Murasame gave Shizukesa a strange smile. "It'll work out," she said. "Trust me."
Shizukesa was not convinced, but the discussion was put on hold for the time being as one of the waitresses approached the table, sky-blue tablet computer in hand. "Are you ready to order?" she asked.
"I'll have a slice of lemon drizzle cake," said Murasame, pointing it out on the menu, "and a lemon soda, please."
"Okay!" The waitress tapped on the tablet screen a few times, keying the order in. "And what will you have, mistress?" she asked, turning sweetly towards Shizukesa, oblivious to the fact that the latter hadn't even glanced at the menu yet.
"You should try the chocolate cake," suggested Murasame, "it's really good."
The suggestion immediately put Shizukesa on edge. "Then why aren't you having it?" she retorted, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"I just fancied a change," said Murasame, shrugging. "It's not like I'm trying to poison you or anything."
Shizukesa ignored her companion. "I'll just have a cup of tea, please."
"What kind?" asked the waitress. "We have French vanilla, earl grey, chamomile-"
Shizukesa closed her eyes, rubbing her forehead and grimacing a little. Her concussion was starting to kick in again, and the waitress' cutesy high-pitched voice wasn't helping. Darn it, she thought, not now. To shut the waitress up, she quickly typed, "French vanilla, please."
The waitress tapped on her tablet a few more times and the order was wirelessly sent to the kitchen. "Coming right up!" she said, before bowing and taking her leave. Shizukesa continued to absent-mindedly rub her forehead.
"Hey, are you alright?" asked Murasame. "You don't look so good."
The last thing Shizukesa wanted to do was tell Murasame that she was physically impaired. "I'm fine," she said. "Just a little tired."
Whether or not she actually believed this, Murasame decided to drop the subject and returned to the matter at hand. "So, anyway," she said, "what do you think? Are you in?"
Shizukesa tried to clear her head and focus. "It sounds like a good idea," she said, "but I'll have to discuss it with the board. It's not my call, I'm afraid."
"Alright, sure," said Murasame. "I'll pick up a disposable cell, and you can text me their decision; keep an eye on the classifieds and the number will be in there. Got it?"
Shizukesa nodded. "Got it."
With their main conversation topic now gone, the two girls sat in silence for a few moments. Shizukesa wanted to leave, having done what she had come there to do, but was unsure how to go about it. There was still a lingering dread that she would be shot in the back of the head the moment she turned to leave.
Murasame seemed to pick up on the suspicion. She leaned back in her seat, smirking. "You still don't trust me, do you?" she remarked. "I can't really blame you, I guess. Strange assassin invites you to a chat? Gotta be a trap, right? It's what I would think. Besides, it's not like I trust you entirely either, or I wouldn't have brought my gun. But you gotta at least trust me not to try and kill you. If that was my aim, I would've sniped you from two blocks away the moment you showed up. You know that, right?"
Shizukesa nodded. "I know. But not trusting people is part of our job. All it takes is to trust the wrong person and-"
"Sorry for the wait!" Shizukesa's headache flared up once more as the high-voiced waitress returned with their orders. "Here you are. Enjoy~!" Bowing once more, she retreated, and silence fell once more as Murasame started on her cake and Shizukesa took a sip of her tea. It wasn't half bad.
"As I was saying," typed Shizukesa, "I'm sure you can understand why I don't entirely trust you."
Murasame nodded, swallowing a mouthful of cake before responding. "I understand," she said. "Like I said, I don't blame you. I'm sure after we've worked together a bit, you'll start to trust me more."
Shizukesa raised her cup back to her lips, typing with the other hand. "We'll see," came the voice from the text-to-speech program, as Shizukesa took another sip.
Murasame smiled, amused. "That really is a neat party trick," she said.
The table fell silent for a few minutes. Shizukesa drank her tea quickly so she could leave once she was done, while Murasame ate her cake quickly simply because she was a fast eater. As they were almost done, Murasame suddenly leaned across the table, studying Shizukesa with a curious expression on her face. "Hey, Shizukesa," she asked. "Do you really believe in the etaicracy? Or is this just a job to you?"
Shizukesa put down her cup, pondering the question for a moment. "I don't believe etaicracy is the best system of government," she said. "Like all systems, it has its problems. But it's what the people have chosen, so I'm okay with it. As for whether I'm doing this for the etaicracy, or for myself, I'd say neither. I'm fighting for my employer, Mitsukashi Corporation. What they believe in doesn't matter to me, as long as I can fulfil my duty to them." She raised her cup to her lips again, but continued typing. "Does that answer satisfy you?"
Murasame continued to stare at Shizukesa for a moment, before shrugging and leaning back. "I guess so," she said. "I mean, if that's how you really feel."
"It is," said Shizukesa. Her thumb hovered over the keypad for a moment, as she wondered whether to ask Murasame what she was fighting for, or why she had asked such a question. However, with her head still not entirely clear, she still felt it was best to leave as soon as possible.
Murasame popped the last of her cake into her mouth and then laid her fork down on her plate. "Mmm… we'll have to meet up again here sometime," she said. "Maybe after our first mission together. I'll treat you to some cake. But since our business here is done for now, I'll let you get on with whatever else you need to do. I'll take care of the bill, don't worry about that."
"Alright then. Thank you," said Shizukesa, getting up from her chair. "I guess I'll see you around."
Murasame nodded. "Don't forget to keep an eye on the classifieds."
"Alright then, see you around," said Murasame.
Shizukesa turned and headed out of the café. By now, she was no longer expecting a sudden ambush from behind, but nonetheless her hand still hovered above her holstered gun as she walked, ready to draw it and fire at a moment's notice. Murasame, however, was preoccupied with asking a passing waitress for the bill, and the thought of ambushing Shizukesa did not even cross her mind.
As she left the café, Shizukesa took out her phone and began typing a message to the board. This was something they would definitely want to hear about.