Author: Sunhawk

Death Takes A Mission

Heero was in the hanger, working on his Gundam and the others were all out of the house when it finally happened. I got an assignment. Damn. The last week had been such a paradise after the week before, that I had all but forgotten that I had returned myself to the active duty list. And worse, I had never quite gotten around to telling Heero that little piece of information. He was going to be severely pissed. He was going to kill me. He was not going to let me go. He was going to take the mission himself.

All this flashed through my mind as I scanned the mission detail report. A simple infiltration and extraction. I wouldn't even need Deathscythe. I had a ticket waiting for me at the shuttle port to take me a thousand miles from here. There would be a packet of ids and credentials waiting for me at the Post Office drop site. I shouldn't be gone two or three days.

Suddenly, it was very important to me to do this. I couldn't let Heero protect me forever. I was losing myself in this blissful world of peace and tranquility. How the hell long had it been since I'd handled a mission? Three months? I was supposed to be a soldier; I was supposed to be helping win this damn war.

Thank whatever there was to be thanked, that I had checked my mail before going down to the gym; it was still early. With a little luck, I would be long gone before anyone realized anything was up.

I packed my duffle, stowing a change of clothes and a set of my black 'working' clothes. In went my laptop, with all the pertinent information downloaded on it, and whatever 'tools' I thought I might need.

Then I sat down at the desk and tried to figure out what to say to who. Gods; they were going to be pissed off at me. Heero was going to go into hyper Mama-Yuy mode. The note, I decided, should not be to him, there was only one person in the house who might half understand my doing this.

'Wufei, I got a job this morning. I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys, but I returned myself to active duty. I meant to tell you, but somehow it never came up. Please don't worry, it's not a big deal; just a little bit of sneak-work, my specialty, remember?

Please, don't be mad, but I have to ask you to keep an eye on Heero. He's going to be really, really upset. I know he is, and I'm sorry, but I have to do this. I think you understand.

It should only take me a couple of days, three at the outside.

I want to thank you for putting up with my shit. I was glad you were there more than once. Take that kind of care of Heero for me?


I folded the note and wrote Wufei's name on it and went and put it in the middle of his bed. Then I went to Heero's room and tried to figure out what to say to him. How could I leave him a note and say what was in my heart? I was half afraid he would be so mad at me that he wouldn't get over it. Running off like this... I had to leave something. Then I saw his laptop sitting on his desk and went and opened and booted it up. I could leave him the sound of my voice. Maybe that would make it a little easier. Once it booted, I started recording,

"Heero... I'm so sorry. I... I meant to tell you, but the time was never right. I... I returned myself to active duty the night after the fight at the mall. I... God, love, I'm so sorry... I have to do this. I got an assignment this morning. I knew you'd try to stop me. But, please try to understand... if I let someone else go in my place... and something went wrong... I can't... I couldn't handle that. Ok? Please don't be mad. It's an easy mission, I swear. I'll be careful. Shouldn't take two or three days. Heero... I love you. With all my heart and soul. I'm coming back, love. I promise... I'm coming back."

God, I almost didn't save it. I did everything but beg him not to stop loving me. But I didn't have time, I had to get out of here or I'd never make it, so I hit the save and put the file in the middle of his desktop where he couldn't miss it.

Then I got my gear out of my room and booked. Wufei had the maroon car, and Quatre and Trowa had the gray, so I had to get the jeep out of the garage. I sweat bullets until I was clear of the driveway, but Heero never heard me, and I didn't pass anyone else on the access road to the house, and I carefully took an alternate route to town.

First stop was my pick-up point where I collected the information packet that contained my fake id, shuttle tickets, and a hefty little chunk of cash. I ditched the jeep six blocks from a car rental place where I picked up a vehicle that I drove to the shuttle-port. There was a little bit of time before my shuttle left and there was always the possibility that the guys would figure out I was missing before I anticipated they would, and try to follow me. The more twists I put in my trail, the better. Once the shuttle lifted off, there wasn't going to be a lot they could do, but I was fairly vulnerable until I got to that point. I turned the rental in at the shuttle-port and got a strange look from the clerk when she checked me in. I guess people don't generally rent cars for a ten-mile drive. Go figure.

I had over an hour, so I went into the gift shop and picked up a hideous, bright yellow t-shirt with the local college logo on it, a matching ball cap and a pair of sunglasses. Then went into the restroom, where I changed into the new shirt; definitely not my normal choice of color, coiled my braid and stuffed it under the cap and slipped the shades on. Not anything that would pass a close inspection, of course, but I hoped I might fool someone running through a crowded shuttle-port frantically looking for little ol' Duo, until it was too late.

I have to admit, when the shuttle boarded without the cavalry thundering into the terminal, I felt a little stupid, but what the hell? Didn't hurt anything, right?

The shuttle wasn't crowded, and I was able to sit and read over my mission instructions in relative peace.

I was after information. In the person of one Makoto Ito. He was, apparently, a bloody genius who was developing a new refining process for gundanium ore. He was currently in the employ of Oz, but wanted to defect to our side. Objective number one was the data. Objective number two was the good professor. Objective number three, if the first two proved impossible, was the elimination of same professor. The information was that important. Get it. If you can't get it, keep the enemy from getting it.

There was a picture of Mr. Ito taken at a family gathering, smiling, with a little girl perched on his knee. Had to be a granddaughter, the man looked freaking ancient. I studied his face until I knew I could pick him out of a crowd, and then turned my attention to the blue prints of the installation I would probably be hip deep in by this time tomorrow. There were a number of possible entries, but fewer exits. Especially if I were towing a sixty year old man. So far, he wasn't under any suspicion, but obviously well guarded due to his importance. That would help some, if they still trusted him.

By the time the shuttle landed, I had been over everything once, and was beginning to formulate a plan. I wanted to see the building though, without drawing attention to myself. I stopped off in the shuttle-port cyber café, ordered a sandwich and jacked my laptop into the net. I called up a map of the city, located my building, and found a hotel on the opposite side, ensuring a taxi ride from here to there would go right by what I wanted to see. I flipped to the hotel web site and made a reservation for the night. Then I returned to the city map and studied the area surrounding the hotel while I ate my sandwich.

Then I jacked out and called a cab.

I asked stupid tourist questions from the time I got in the cab, so there was nothing unusual in my conversation when we passed the 'Galitron Corporation' building. The building was massive; had it's own water tower, for crying out loud. It was well landscaped, but all new growth, no tall trees or substantial, Duo-hiding shrubbery. The cabby informed me they had their own generator in the basement and the whole area was fenced and guarded. His cousin had a friend whose brother worked there. Claimed it was practically a self-sufficient town in the center of the city. This might take a little longer than I had projected.

The cab let me off at the hotel, and I tipped the man, though not enough to make me stick in his memory.

I went into the hotel lobby, still wearing that Gods awful yellow shirt, and walked up to the registration desk. There was a pretty young girl working, and she smiled coyly at me. I almost laughed out loud; Honey if you only knew!

I babbled to her about amateur photography and wanting to take pictures of the city sky line, and she, in an attempt to make points, gave me a room with a view of the city and, coincidentally, Galitron.

I swung through the hotel gift shop and picked up shampoo and a few other things I had neglected to pack, and then headed up to my room. It was a nice room, two beds, they all seemed to have two beds anymore, didn't anybody travel alone? A big, comfortable chair and a nice sized, round, conference table. I dumped my gear on the spare bed and the mission pack on the table, and checked the room over end to end out of ancient habit. Checked the bathroom and the closets, and under the beds, and anyplace else that an enemy might be lurking. Then I kicked back in the big comfy chair and had to grin. This was bliss. This was solitude. I could spend an hour in the shower washing my hair if I wanted, I could walk around naked afterward, I could watch cartoons, I could order pizza.

I absolutely basked in it. If I could have taken 'solitude' and thrown it on the floor, I would have gotten down and rolled in it. It lasted about five minutes, six, tops. Then the guilt hit me like a ton of bricks. Damn; guilt sucks.

So then I sat there for awhile and felt like shit. The guys damn well knew I was gone by now. Had probably known for some hours. Heero was probably frantic... and really, really, really... pissed off.

I could not even imagine what he was doing. Trying to find me? Possibly, unless Wufei intervened on my behalf, and I'm not sure even Wufei is that suicidal. After all, he gave his oath to Heero to watch over me. I didn't have his oath; all I had was a pathetic little note begging him to pretty please keep Heero from imploding. Finding me now should not really be possible. The details of missions are strictly confidential between base and each individual agent. We usually shared them, but that was our own call, and in this case, I hadn't shared anything. All they should know is what little I left for them; a mission of infiltration of some sort. They would probably find the jeep, but I left it in the middle of nowhere, with no ties to where I was heading. Even if they figured out the rental car, they had no idea what name I was traveling under and they should get stopped cold at the shuttle-port, if they got that far. I was out here on my own, just like I had wanted.

It was almost dark out, so I went ahead and took that shower, and damn it; I took my hour and I lathered my hair up freaking twice and even used conditioner, and there wasn't anybody to yell at me for using all the hot water. But I kinda missed their voices. And yeah, I stood in the dark, naked as the day I was born, by the window combing my hair out, but all I could do was think about Heero combing my hair for me. There aren't any cartoons on that time of night, and I really didn't want pizza. Guilt really, really sucks.

So I sat in the dark for a bit and watched the building through my binoculars, timing guard changes and noting when lights went on and off. The cabby had over stated things a bit, or perhaps his cousins, friends, brother had; there was a guard station at each entrance, but the grounds didn't seem to be patrolled. Though there did seem to be interior patrols, the building seemed to have closed at five for regular business, but lights turned on and off throughout the building in what developed into a regular pattern. I studied and timed it until I knew it by heart. Once an hour, each floor got a walk through; one man or possibly a team per two floors. Start lower east, go west, go up, come back east, and back down. Indicated a guard station on every other floor. Possibly one on each floor, but only every other floor was manned at night.

The building was six stories, and the top floor was the one that intrigued me, because it was obviously still occupied. The comings and goings there were random, and the lights stayed on in certain rooms. I suspected that the top floor was residential, and if that were true, that was where my quarry would be.

The floor plans I had been given were just that; floor plans, and didn't tell me a thing about what I would find in that maze of rooms and hallways. The lab area seemed to be below ground, based on wide-open spaces on the blueprint, and the first five floors seemed to be executive and office areas. Then there was the presumably residential sixth floor.

The water system interested me; they obviously had their own water supply, but didn't have their own water treatment system, and had to connect into the city sewer system somewhere. In a pinch, that might be my way in. Though I much preferred the front door, thank you.

Much as I did not want this to drag out, I also did not want it to go sour on me. I was trying to prove I could still handle myself, right? Getting my ass caught or killed wouldn't go very far toward stating my case. This seemed to warrant a little more observation, and unfortunately, a little more time. I would not let my desire to get back to Heero push me into doing something stupid.

It was well after eleven, and I went ahead and ordered that pizza, having only eaten the one sandwich at the shuttle-port, all day. I cleared my gear out of sight before the delivery driver got there, and remembered to pull my pants on at the last minute. I engaged the driver in idle conversation while I made a show of digging around scraping money together. I learned that he had indeed delivered pizza to the 'really big' building across the way, and yes they were really good tippers. No he didn't think he would be delivering pizza forever, and yes it paid Ok, for a night job. He was really sorry I was down on my luck and it was really cool that I was blowing the last of my money on one big weekend in the big city in this classy hotel, and yes, they were always looking for new delivery drivers. I tipped him a couple of bucks with an apologetic smile, and he laughed and almost gave it back. He went away, and I sat down to eat my dinner.

Ok; a couple of possibilities, though the pizza delivery thing was older than dirt and might not get me past the guard gate anyway, but one always had to look for alternatives.

I finished my pizza, stripped off the jeans and crawled into bed with the curtains left wide open. I dozed off watching the guards make their floor check; east, lights on, lights off. West, lights on, lights off. Up west, lights on, lights off. East again, lights on, lights off. Back down. Better than counting sheep.

It was almost four in the morning when the nightmare hit me in the gut like a sledgehammer, and I woke up screaming my damn fool head off. Control kicked back in within minutes, and I staggered to the television and switched it on, turning the volume up loud. I let it run for a few minutes while I got my breath back and then switched it off and called the front desk to complain about the damn defective set. I would expect the stupid thing to be replaced tomorrow, damn it! And what were they trying to do? Give me a heart attack? Stinking volume control stuck on high for Gods sake! The night clerk apologized profusely, and assured me that the thing would be replaced first thing in the morning. In the background, I could hear the ringing sound of phones, the neighboring rooms, calling, I'm sure, to complain about the noise.

I hung up the phone and collapsed on the bed. Dear Gods, this was the first time I had slept alone since... since... damn. Damn. Damn! Damn it to hell! The nightmares weren't gone; Heero had just been holding them at bay.

I hurt so bad I was shaking, and curled up there on the end of the bed like a frightened child and bit my lip to stop the moaning. It burned like fire and I was trembling so badly now my teeth were chattering together. I groped for the blanket and pulled it over me, it was so damn cold all of a sudden. My heart wouldn't stop pounding in my ears, and it amazed me that I had managed to get up to perform that little bit of maintenance control on the phone.

I wrapped my arms around myself and struggled to stay in the here and now; I had no anchor, nothing to hold me here. When I closed my eyes, they were right in front of me; the bear and the blond, leering and making those obscene noises. I rubbed at the scar on the palm of my hand and forced myself to not reach down to feel the blood on my thighs. I refused to let me eyes close; took deep, regimented breaths, and tried to hear the sound of Heero's voice. But it was too far away, too hard to hear over the other voices. It took over an hour before I was able to get up on wobbling legs and stagger to the bathroom, and when I looked myself in the face in the bathroom mirror; I promptly threw up in the sink.

A shower was necessary to wash away the stink of my terror. I washed and scrubbed and scrubbed some more, letting the water run as hot as I could stand it. Eventually, things calmed down to a dull ache, and I climbed shakily out and went to wrap myself in the blankets from the bed and sat by the window to resume my watch on the building.

The intelligence report told me that Ito was a permanent resident of the place, living and working there, never far from the protection of his guards. But the rest of the place was on an eight-hour shift schedule, and I sat down to watch workers begin to arrive. It was eight in the morning. I was surprised to see that there was a small amount of outgoing traffic. So... there was a third shift. No office workers; must be limited to the technical departments. Maybe a late working IT staff. I memorized a couple of license numbers. Security wasn't that tight; the gates were opened at seven thirty and there was a single guard at the little hut, the cars slowed as they passed him and he would glance at the stickers on the windshield, but he never left the stool in the little shack he sat in, and vehicles weren't searched.

Traffic trickled down to nothing by eight thirty, and concentrating on the mission had helped me focus and my trembling had subsided to the point I thought I could function again. I got up and dressed, braiding my hair and stuffing it back up under my hat. I packed my gear and went down to check out. I got more apologies from the front desk for the defective television and actually got a reduction in my bill. I almost laughed.

Out on the street, I hailed a cab and had him find me a car rental place. Once I had wheels, I drove around until I found another hotel, one with a different vantage of my goal. The hat come off, and I unbound my hair and went in to get a room, using a different id than the one I had used in the last place. This time, I complained about needing the morning sun to wake up in the morning, and the bored clerk gave me a room on the desired side of the hotel without argument, I think just to get rid of me so he could get make to his game of solitaire.

I went up to the room, stowed my gear and immediately went back out to find a mall. A plan was starting to formulate.

To my delight, I found another cyber-café, this one supplying more than just Internet jacks. I ordered some breakfast and sat to work. I quickly scanned the system I was using for monitoring programs and disabled the logging. Then I went out to the DMV and spent a little time hacking in. Next I ran a search on the license numbers I had memorized that morning from the cars of the third shift folks at Galitron, opening another window to pull up a map of the area. I needed somebody who didn't live too far away. I was starting to get worried that I might have to abandon my half-formed plan, when I hit the proverbial pay dirt. It was actually one of the vehicles in my top five most wanted, so I was doubly delighted to find that the gentleman in question only lived about a half a mile from work. I closed all my windows, pulled up the log file and entered enough false data to account for my time on-line, re-enabled the monitor utility and went shopping.

I bought a new jacket and a bottle of caffeine pills; a big bottle. Found a pair of those leather gloves with the fingers cut out, and even bought one of those spandex knee support things while I was in the drug store.

Back at the hotel, I dropped off my purchases in my room and headed right back out for a walk. It felt truly bizarre, walking around with the wind playing with my loose hair, but I knew what a difference having it unbraided made in my appearance. I walked up the 'back' side of the building and went on a couple of blocks, turning and coming back down the other side, looking around in a confused, dumb kid in the big city manner. I stopped not far from the guard shack, my eyes taking in every detail I could manage, while I did my little, help-me-I'm-lost routine. The sucker wouldn't budge his ass off the stool long enough to step outside and ask me if I needed help, so after a minute, I 'noticed' him and walked over with a patented Duo Maxwell idiot smile plastered on my face.

"Hey!" I exclaimed in a relived tone of voice, "can you help me?"

The guy was having trouble taking his eyes off my hair, looking at it like he'd never in all his life seen long hair on a guy before. "What can I do for you?" he smirked, and I leaned into the window of his little inner sanctum.

"Man! I am so lost!"

There were four monitors set into the desk in front of him, one showed this side of the building, the second showed the opposite side, the third showed what was probably the front lobby, and the last one was flipping through a series of cameras that had to be in the parking garage. Of course, I didn't look directly at them.

"What'ja looking for, kid?"

He had a holster on his right hip, and a nightstick hanging from his belt on the left. He did not look like your typical out of shape rent-a-cop.

"Somebody at the hotel told me there was a nice like burger joint down here, but I've looked everywhere."

The corner of my eye was counting the rotating views in the parking garage, one, two, three, four.

"You're too far over, kid, you need to go that way," he gestured vaguely to the east, "a couple of blocks."

Five, six. Six cameras in the garage.

"That way?" I asked, turning as though I could see the restaurant from here.

"Yeah, just go over two blocks and then head back toward downtown, you can't miss it."

"Thanks, man!" I gushed, swinging my hair and turning back to shake his hand vigorously, "You're the first friendly face I've seen around this town!"

He laughed and I moved off, following his directions and finding the little bistro without any trouble at all. I went ahead and ate lunch there, not that I thought he would check on me, but what the hell, I was there.

Then it was back to the room where I waited out the rest of the afternoon, using the binoculars to watch the sixth floor intently, and I'm not sure, but I may have seen Ito come into his rooms around five thirty. Regretfully, I formatted the hard drive on my laptop before I packed my gear again, made a last use of the facilities, and went down to the front desk and paid for the room for an additional two nights. Never hurt to have an extra bolthole. I reclaimed the rental car, drove it back and turned it in, and took a bus back down to the mall. Once there, I found a restroom and braided my hair, getting out the sunglasses again and went to find another car rental desk. A third id, one of my own disposable ones, and not one of the ones I had been given for the assignment, and I drove out in a little white sports car.

I drove through my target neighborhood once, finding the house of one Mr. James N. Hewlett, driver of one dark blue, mid-sized pickup truck. Then I circled back and found a place to park the new rental, a couple of blocks from the Galitron building, where I didn't think anyone would notice it sitting for a couple of days.

It was full dark now, and sitting in the car, I changed into my 'working clothes', with the pockets full of everything I could think I might need, from my lock picks, knives and gun, to a small flashlight and the caffeine pills. The later removed from their noisy bottle and dumped into a zip lock bag, I went ahead and took one while I was at it. My braid was tight against my back, under my black t-shirt and black vest, and I put the new gray jacket on over the whole thing. I pulled on the gloves, mostly for support for my weak left hand. The knee support was already on under my jeans. What was left, I stuffed back in my duffle bag and locked it in the trunk.

Then it was off to pay Mr. Hewlett a visit. Or, at least, pay his truck a visit.

Shift started at midnight, and when our loyal Galitron employee came dashing out his front door at ten minutes till, he didn't see the passenger he had up underneath his truck, braced carefully and as solidly as I could manage on the truck frame, and hoping to the Gods he wasn't running too late.

It was a harrowing trip, and I thought I was dead more than once, may the inventor of the speed bump rot in hell. But, just about the time I thought my left hand was going to fail me, and not a moment before I was cooked by the exhaust system, we slowed, and I heard the voice of my friendly gate guard laughing,

"You still got three minutes to clock in, Jimbo!" and then I was hanging on with the last of my strength as Jimbo sped his truck around three turns into the bowels of the parking garage. The door slammed, and there was the sound of running feet. Gods! I had to pick a guy who was perpetually late to work!

But I was in.

I eased down slowly, still clinging to the frame; nothing would attract the guard's attention to his monitor faster than a sudden movement. I looked out to the right and then to the left until I finally spotted the camera for this level. It was panning the garage slowly and I grinned; I loved those. I could see that it never was going to come around low enough where it would pick me up under the truck, so I finally let go and dropped to the ground with in inner sigh of relief. Good thing Jimbo didn't live any further away; might have had a little Duo road kill.

I lay very still, and counted out the timing on the camera. One good thing about hitching a ride with Mr. I'm-late; I hadn't had to hang there and hide from a bunch of co-workers; he was apparently the last one in, and second shift seemed to be already gone. I lay there listening for a bit anyway, just to make sure. Besides, my screaming muscles needed a minute.

Then, I caught the camera at its apex, and bolted across the garage toward the elevator bank, counting in my head. At twenty, I ducked behind a car and counted the next ten before jumping out again and finishing my dash.

I didn't dare use the elevators. I checked the stairs and found the doors locked. There were more than likely, motion sensors in there. There were four elevators, and I went to each in turn, prying the doors open enough to see if the elevator car was there. On the third one, I got lucky, and pulled the door back far enough to slip inside. Then it was out the top of the car through the escape hatch. Out came the flashlight and I found the air duct I was looking for a good ten feet over my head. I checked my watch; I had thirty minutes left before the guards started their walk throughs. I memorized my route up, and switched the light off and put it back in my pocket. I cast a tiny prayer to the heavens that nobody arrived late to work and used this particular elevator, and began the climb up the shaft. The grate on the duct proved to be secured with a simple thumbscrew, and I was up and in, but the fit was so tight, I had to go in feet first in order to be able to close the grate behind me. Out came the light again, and I squirmed my way in the only direction I could go. It's lucky I'm not claustrophobic. I came to a T intersection after twenty feet or so, and was able to send my feet around to the right in order to get my head going to the left and was a lot more comfortable going forward. I could see the dim outline of a grate ahead of me, and I checked my watch again, noting that time was getting tight for the next guard round. I opted to turn off my light and wait for it. Five more minutes passed, and light flared briefly through the lattice in front of me, and I heard muffled voices below.

"... stupid, is what it is; nothing ever happens around this place."

"Hey, you get paid for sitting on your butt half the night don't you?"

"I'd rather get back out to where the fighting is!"

"You're nuts! What in the hell would... ."

Then they were gone. Enough to tell me they were not just security rentals, but true Oz soldiers. Which was bad. But obviously on a dead job for so long they were getting complacent. Which was good.

I counted it out in my head, and when I was sure they were gone from this floor, I moved again, and slipped out onto what should be the second floor.

I cat-footed through the place, and found a coat rack to leave my jacket on. Then went in search of a PC to hack into. I found a likely candidate on a desk with a lot of photos of a little kid, and found the kids name on a piece of refrigerator art tacked to the cube wall. Sure enough, when I sat down to the PC, the password for 'cgunn' turned out to be her kid's name. Every time.

I quickly went out to the Internet, and called up the web site I had gotten off the pizza box last night. On-line ordering; wonderful idea. I used the credit card for the id I had quit using when I checked out of the first hotel, and ordered three pizzas to be delivered to each of the guard stations in two hours, with a note about appreciation of passing a hundred hours with no job related injuries, signed with the name of an obvious executive garnered from a memo on the desk in front of me. Then I logged out and put everything back where I had found it. Back to the air duct, back to the elevator shaft, and a Gods awful climb in the dark up four more floors. My left hand was cramping so bad by the time I got there, I thought I wasn't going to make it. There was a gut wrenching moment, where I had to hold on one handed while I worked the air duct grate open, and then I just pitched inside and lay still as a stone until my heart slowed and I had worked some of the pain out of my hand. Then I began the slow, difficult backward squirm along the shaft until I was able to make the intersection and turn myself around. I was going slow now, because I fully anticipated Ito was below me somewhere in his apartments, and I didn't know if he would be alone. I came to the first grate and inched forward until I could peer out into the room. The lights were out, but my eyes were fully adjusted and I appeared to be looking out into a living room, and I could just make out a line of light under a door down the hall. I checked my watch, it was near two in the morning, and I would have expected Ito to be asleep, he had no way of knowing I was coming, and it should have been business as usual for him, he had to work tomorrow morning.

I decided to work my way on down the air duct to see if it was possible to see into the room with the light on. This might not even be the right set of rooms. Going was slow with the pressing need to be as silent as the air stirring around me, and the crawling was starting to get to my knee. I paused midway between the two rooms, and worked the bag of caffeine pills out of my pocket and took another one. I was starting to feel the effects of my aborted sleep the night before. Now was not the time to get groggy and careless. I could see the light coming through the grate ahead of me, and I slid forward until I could see out into the room. It was a bedroom, Ito's, in fact, because he was lying there in bed asleep, a book fallen closed on his chest. I debated climbing down in the bedroom, but thought better of it, so I worked my way backward to the living room grate and eased it open. I jumped lightly down, and almost went the rest of the way to the floor when my knee protested the treatment of the last several hours. I bent and rubbed it for a minute, before running a quick reconnaissance of the apartment, finding a kitchen leading off to the left before the hall that ran to the bedroom. There was a second room off that same hallway to the right that looked to be a study or a library. Ito's room was at the end of the hall, next to the bathroom.

Gun in hand, silencer in place, I crept down the hall and gently pushed the door open. Makoto Ito was still asleep on his bed, reading glasses sliding down his nose, book lying on his softly rising and falling chest, and I had to push aside the knowledge that this was somebody's Grandpa. This was a mission; he was an objective.

I moved swiftly to the side of the bed and bent to cover his mouth with my hand, he was instantly awake, eyes flying wide, and for a split second I worried if I might have given the old man a heart attack.

"Makoto Ito," I whispered low, "Shinigami has come for you."

I don't know who dreams these stupid code phrases up, but I imagined them sitting around a table, drunk on their asses trying to out do each other with utterly inappropriate shit.

His eyes never left mine, and he shivered, but managed a nod and I took my hand away.

"I... I would embrace the coming of the God of Death." He stammered his code in return and I had to roll my eyes.

"Sorry, Gramps; I don't make this shit up." I grinned at him, and moved away from him while he got himself together. He set the book aside, took his glasses off his nose, and pulled his dressing gown to rights, never taking his eyes off me.

"Listen, Gramps, I would rather get out of here tonight, but walking out the front door is preferable to how I got in here." I said, "Are you free to leave the building at any time?"

"No." He told me flatly, having gathered his wits rather faster than I had thought he would, "Not since the rest of my family left the planet."

I grunted; nobody left to use as hostages to keep the old guy in line. I wondered how they had managed to slip free of Oz security. I moved about the room, poking into drawers and looking in the closet. "We'll have to do this the hard way then. Get dressed. Dark clothes, comfortable, easy to move in."

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