Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK characters
"Kaito! It's real."
Kaito rose quickly from where he'd been reading a magazine on the couch as the suite's front door burst open, spilling a wide-eyed Shinichi into the room. "What's real? Where have you been?"
"I was—" Shinichi cut himself off, took a deep breath, and began pacing around the room. "You know that the Noir Foundation has its headquarters here in the city, right?"
Kaito frowned, mind picking out the unspoken words and implications. "You went to see them? Why didn't you tell me? Hell, why did you go? What if something had happened? You know what kind of reputation they have!"
"I didn't say anything because I knew you'd stop me," the mechanic retorted. "But that's not the point. I saw it!"
"It?" Folding his arms, Kaito leaned against the kitchen counter, indigo eyes following his teammate's restless progress around and around the common room.
Shinichi dropped onto one of the couches. His hands were shaking. He stared at them for a moment, blue eyes unseeing, then he rose again and resumed pacing. Kaito raised an eyebrow behind his impassive mask. He wasn't used to seeing Shinichi so…tightly strung? Scared? agitated? Something had clearly spooked him.
"I was at their hangar, and I thought I'd take a look around for anything out of the ordinary while I could." Shinichi came to a stop in front of the large windows. Inhaling deeply, he let his breath out slowly and ordered himself to calm down. Then, taking care not to miss a single detail, he described his venture into the Foundation's lair. He went over the conversation he'd had with Chris Vineyard and described both the office building and the hangar. By the time he came to what he'd seen in that empty arena with the silver-haired man and the hover racers with no pilots, he felt as though he'd just run a marathon.
Kaito listened in silence. When Shinichi had finished, he poured them both large cups of coffee and pulled the mechanic over so that they could both sit down on the couches.
"Are you sure that they didn't see you sneaking around their testing area?"
"I…I don't know," Shinichi admitted. "Miss Vineyard didn't seem suspicious when I got back, and I don't think that man running the tests saw me, but he did notice that someone was there."
"What about security cameras?"
"I—It's possible. I wasn't thinking about that. I just wanted to find out if they were hiding anything." Thinking back, he had been a bit reckless, hadn't he? His shoulders sagged. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"
"Maybe, maybe not." Kaito sipped at his drink in silence for a few moments before setting the cup down with a rather final clunk. "No point thinking about that right now. If they did see you, we'll hear about it sooner or later, one way or another."
"Should we contact the police?"
"There isn't any point. All we could tell them is stuff they already know or strongly suspect. We have no real proof that they can act upon. We can talk to them when we know more. For now, I want to talk about that machine. Do you have any idea what they were testing?"
Shinichi opened his mouth then shut it again, expression settling into a thoughtful frown. "Well, they can't have been testing if it could freeze hover crafts since it seems like they've been doing just that for a long time already. And when the craft crashed, that man acted as though it was a failure."
"Hold on. You said that they were testing the crafts, not the disruption device."
"That's what it looked like…" Shinichi trailed off as his eyes met Kaito's over the coffee table. "You don't think…"
"It would make sense, wouldn't it?"
"But that means that if they succeed—"
"They'll be able to cheat to their little hearts' content, and we won't be able to stop them."
"That's not good."
"No. I'd say it's safe to say that good is about as far from what it's going to be as things can get."
A tense silence moved in, wrapping its thick, stifling cloak around both pilot and mechanic. It was Shinichi who eventually broke it.
"If only we had more information about how the disruptor works. Then maybe we could build our own shielding."
"Could we, you know, build our own?"
"Our own what?"
Shinichi choked on his coffee. "What?!"
"Not to use, obviously," Kaito said quickly. "Real champions don't cheat. But if we could build our own, maybe we could find a way to protect ourselves against it. The prelims end tomorrow. After that, there's a two week break for everyone to rest up and see to their machines."
"That's practically no time at all."
"I know, but we've got all that data from the police researchers to use too. Those recordings don't just tell us what everything looks like when it's normal. They're literally like a blueprint of how all the elements involved in hover racing come together and interact. Even if we can't build a working model of a disruptor, I'll bet the two of us together could come up with some good, solid theories."
"It's worth a try," Shinichi agreed after only a moment of hesitation. "But we'll have to get started right away. Or, well, I will. You should get ready for tomorrow's race."
"Miss Nakamori, I hope you haven't been waiting long."
Glancing around at the sound of her name, Aoko smiled. "Oh, no, I just got here myself. And please, just call me Aoko."
The newcomer nodded with an amiable grin. Pushing open the door of the café behind them, he held it open and gestured for her to enter. "After you."
A few minutes later, the two of them were seated at a corner table. Aoko had ordered a cup of hot, green tea. She poured a packet of sugar into it and stirred it as she studied the man seated across from her.
"Congratulations on qualifying for the semifinals," she said.
"Your face has been on almost all the news channels these last few days."
He chuckled. "What can I say? Everyone's been falling over themselves to talk to me. It's rather flattering, but it's driving Shinichi nuts."
Aoko blinked at him. "Are they going after him too? I heard he didn't like being interviewed."
"It's not so much the reporters themselves that he's upset about. It's more the way they start hammering at our door at seven every morning. I don't mind so much, since I'm usually up by then, but Shinichi's not a morning person."
"I don't think you have to be a non-morning person to be annoyed when strangers come calling that early," Aoko laughed. "But I assume you didn't ask to see me about the journalists."
"That would be correct." He gave her his most charming smile. "The truth is, there's something I was hoping you might be able to help me with."
"I'll do what I can," she said before giving him a searching look that was equal parts curious and scrutinizing. "What do you need?"
"It's a small favor," he assured her. "There is an item I would like to acquire. One that is, I am sure, something that wouldn't be too hard for someone in your position to get. Well, when I say position, I mean your…ah, other job."
"Oh, I see." The brunette took a sip from her cup as she thought. "I can't promise you anything, but if it is a reasonable request, then I'll see what I can do."
"Fair enough. So here's what I was looking for."
The Skylark was both everything Shinichi had expected it to be and feared it would be. As per its reputation, the restaurant was elegantly furnished with high ceilings and tall windows that made it feel like a palace. Ornamental pillars and potted plants separated the place into multiple small courts where small tables set for two awaited the arrival of their guests. Each table had its own court, giving the occupants their privacy while at the same time providing a taste of the more grandiose setting. If they had been here during the day, the place would surely have been filled with sunbeams, but it was nighttime now, and that meant that the only lights in the restaurant were being provided by tall, elegantly designed candelabras and braziers set around the courts and on the tables.
It was beautiful and classy and exactly the kind of place that made Shinichi feel like a fish out of water. It wasn't that he hadn't ever dined in such places before. When he'd been little, he'd gone to his fair share of parties when his mother was invited to them by rich fans and corporations hoping to get her to endorse their products and help them market their wares. Those ventures into the realm of glamour and business had, however, left Shinichi with a degree of dislike for the fallacious atmosphere of empty compliments and subtle insults. This restaurant reminded him of that, but at the same time it was different.
For one, he was here with Kaito.
As a couple.
For a romantic dinner.
As a couple.
He was having a hard time getting over that last part, but he realized that in some ways he had accepted it when he'd accepted the invitation. While he had grown more open to Kaito's advances, this was still the first date they had been on that Shinichi had to finally admit really was a date. It was impossible to call a meal at a place like this anything else.
"Is your steak okay? You've barely touched it."
Starting out of his thoughts, Shinichi hurried to pop a cube of steak into his mouth. He chewed then swallowed before answering. "It's good."
"That's good. So what's on your mind then?"
"Well, I…was kind of wondering if we should really be spending all this money on a meal…"
"It's a celebration! And besides, we're already here. No point fretting about it now. Don't worry. I keep a close eye on our finances. We can spare a little to indulge ourselves every now and then."
Shinichi continued to eat in silence for several minutes, thoughts focused on the man seated across from him. Kaito was chattering away about the last preliminary race and the new trick he had developed during it. He was also evaluating his opponents and speculating on how they were going to stack up against them in the future. It was all interesting and relevant information, but more than that Shinichi found himself thinking how he liked to hear Kaito talking like this—liked listening to him talk about the future and the adventures that he was sure they were going to have. And he liked how Kaito's speculations about that future were always about them. Not him, but them.
And here in the warm glow of the candlelight surrounded by the distant laughter of other couples in love and the much closer glitter of candle flames on glass and cutlery, Shinichi looked at the friend he had spent almost three years following and supporting, and he found he understood. It was like a switch had been flipped. Warmth flooded through him, soft and fuzzy but just a little anxious too.
"Kaito?" he asked, wondering if his voice sounded as tentative to Kaito as it did to him.
The taller man paused in his criticism of the pilots he thought shouldn't have made it as far as they had to smile across the table at his companion. Shinichi's face warmed a little under that look, but he was trying not to think about it.
"Do you…" he started, stopped, then started again. "Remember after the Black Diamond? We were talking, and you…you told me that you—"
"That I love you."
Shinichi's blush darkened. He noted the present tense in which Kaito had spoken his declaration and his stomach fluttered in that unsettling way it had started doing a lot around Kaito these days. "I…I wanted to tell you…"
Kaito waited as Shinichi trailed off into silence once more. The mechanic was now the color of a ripe tomato, and really it was cute how those big blue eyes kept flickering to peer at him anxiously as though wishing Kaito would just read his mind and save him the trouble of voicing his thoughts before darting away again like skittish kittens. "What is it?" he prompted gently when Shinichi said no more.
The smaller boy took a deep breath then mumbled out in a voice that was just shy of a whisper. "I think…I might…lo—like you too…"
With his eyes fixed on the table, he missed the look of surprise that flickered across Kaito's face before it gave way to a fond grin laced with barely suppressed glee. What he did notice was a warm, calloused hand closing over his own. He looked up, startled, and froze, trapped in place by the earnest intensity shining in Kaito's indigo eyes.
Before either of them could say more, however, their waitress arrived to collect their plates and set out their desserts. The tension in the air snapped with an almost audible twang. Even the sky falling would not have been a more effective diversion than the appearance of the restaurant's specialty chocolate cake. Shinichi wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed that any further discussion was obviously going to be postponed. He settled for relieved.
"By the way, I have something for you," Kaito said later as they sipped at cups of coffee. Fishing a rectangular box from a pocket, he set it down between their empty plates and opened it. Inside sat a pair of pins. They were both shaped like four-leaf clovers.
Curious, Shinichi carefully lifted one from the box. It was a beautifully crafted little thing composed of expertly woven strands of silver and chips of jade.
"Miss Nakamori helped me acquire them," Kaito said, pinning the second pin to his own lapel.
Shinichi blinked. "Miss Nakamori?"
"That's right. You see, these aren't just for luck." Kaito glanced around then rose from his chair. Stepping around the table so that he was standing by his companion's chair, he leaned down and whispered into his blue-eyed angel's ear. Said sapphire orbs widened as he spoke. When he pulled away, Shinichi bit his lip.
"Do you really think that's necessary?"
"Let's just say it's better to be safe than sorry."
Shinichi paused with his hand on the door to his room to glance back at Kaito. They hadn't bothered turning on the lights, so only the faint glimmer of the moon lifted the darkness in the suite. In its faint, wintry light, he could just barely make out the angles of Kaito's face and the glint of indigo orbs.
"I was just wondering. Now that we're officially dating, does it mean I can stay with you in your room?"
Shinichi stared at him blankly for a moment before the meaning of the pilot's words finally clicked. He turned right red.
"What? No!" With that, he dove through his door and slammed it shut. And here he'd been expecting something serious! Still spluttering in embarrassment, he flopped down onto the bed. Honestly, some people had no grasp of propriety.
Outside, Kaito allowed himself a moment of disappointment, but by the time he was in his own room, it had been replaced by an amused smile. Shinichi was just too cute when he was flustered and embarrassed.
It was the pattern that caught his attention. There was a pattern in the energy fluctuations. They were the heartbeat of the craft, and in their constant beat he felt as though he could see something familiar. It was something he had seen fairly recently, he was sure of it. But that didn't narrow things down much. It meant it could have been in the monitor data or their own diagnostics tests. Then there was all the simulations they'd been running for the different equipment they'd been installing into the hover racer. But no, none of those places sounded right. He'd seen it written down—or rather drawn—by hand, in ink…
On a whim, he hurried to pull out the files containing Kuroba Toichi and Chikage's original plans. Riffling quickly through the many sketches and charts, codes and ambiguous messages, he eventually found what he wanted. The lines on this diagram looked just like… But then if he was reading it right, that meant that this was…
Kaito, having been preparing for an interview he'd agreed to give later that day, poked his head out of his room to find Shinichi scrambling through the heaps of files, papers, books, and laptops that now ruled the sitting room of the suite. It looked like a lab just without any of the conveniences like good machinery and helpful assistants. Anyhow, he could just make out the cowlick on Shinichi's head that told him the mechanic was somewhere in the heart of the nest of papers.
"What is it?"
"I figured out what the Pandorika is!"
Kaito blinked. "The what? Oh, you're not talking about that weird gismo my dad diagramed and never bothered to explain, are you?"
"Yes, yes, that one! It's a generator for an electromagnetic shield! It creates a sort of force field that wraps around the hover craft, protecting the integrity of the flow of energy within the craft and deflecting any noise that might try to interfere. There're also some notes here on how to use it to create a layer of buffering to cushion the craft against hard obstacles or deflect harmful projectiles like sharp rocks and leaves, branches, that sort of thing. If we can get it to work, it'll be amazing!"
"So it's like an all purpose shield that might actually solve our interference problem."
"Exactly! Or, well, not all purpose, but definitely very adaptable." Shinichi rose from the nest of papers with a triumphant smile and eyes bright with excitement. Kaito loved that sparkle in those blue, blue eyes. It made them look more alive.
"But do we have what we'd need to make it?"
"I'm not sure…" Calming down somewhat, Shinichi frowned at the mess that now ruled over their suite. "Most of what we have, we need for emergency repairs. The parts we'd need are all available in most shops though."
"Write up a list then and we'll go get 'em."
"It could take some time to actually build it then perfect it though. It won't be ready before the semifinals start."
"That's okay. We'll just work as fast as we can—while still doing it right, of course—and see how the competition rolls. Again, I don't think they'll be pulling out their secret weapon from the get go, it'd be a waste on their part. So we really only need to get this working by either the late semifinals or the finals themselves. Can we do it?"
Shinichi took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and nodded. "We can." Because he had made a promise to himself that he would do everything he could to help Kaito win the Red Diamond and bring down the Foundation that had not only taken Kuroba Toichi away but was clawing its way into taking over the racing world. They had to protect the purity and the art of the race.
Emptying out two large backpacks, Kaito tossed one to Shinichi and slid the other over his own shoulders. A few minutes later, they were out the door, heading across town like hunters searching for some very special prey.
Their journey wound its way through almost every mechanics shop and electronics emporium in the city. Shinichi was a little worried that they might be spending a little more than was wise on items that weren't exactly what they were looking for, but as Kaito said, they would have to make do. "You can't experiment without breaking a few eggs."
By the time they exited the last shop, both their backpacks were stuffed full, and Shinichi didn't understand how Kaito could still be grinning and bounding with energy because all he could think about by now was dropping the load on his back and falling into bed.
"It seems to me that there is something they're not telling us."
Aoko blinked across the table at her partner's frowning face. They were still acting as journalists for the Horizon. Heading back to the magazine's office from their latest interview, they had decided to stop by this restaurant for lunch. Before the waiter had come to take their orders, they had been discussing what material to use in their next article, but she had the feeling that Saguru's comment just now wasn't about that.
"What do you mean?"
"They insisted that we remove all surveillance equipment from within their hangar."
The pieces clicked together. So this was about Kaito's team. They had made the request in question three days ago, saying only that they had confidential work to do for their craft. "It's not really that strange," she said, picking up her glass of water and taking a sip. After spending the whole morning talking with interviewees, the cool liquid sliding down her throat was like a godsend. She drank slowly, relishing each soothing drop. "There are a lot of companies out there who'd love to get a look at the inner workings of their hover craft."
"But then why now? Why not from the beginning when we first installed the surveillance system?"
"Well, they are in the semifinals now. Everyone's getting more focused. Maybe they have something extra special that they were saving for the big leagues that they'll want to install now."
Aoko could tell that the blonde was anything but convinced. He was always like that, she reflected. He was the kind of person who suspected everyone. It was a helpful trait to have when catching criminals, but it sometimes led him to biting off more than he could chew. To him, all crimes were equally terrible, and he would put the same effort into catching a purse-snatcher as he would into catching a murderer. She admired that about him, but Aoko knew that sometimes you had to let the smaller things go in order to land the really big fish. Besides, she rather liked both Kaito and Shinichi. They were good people, she was sure of it, even if the former was above averagely secretive.
"Speaking of the case, I heard a strange story the other day," she said.
Brown eyes focused on her face. "A strange story?"
Aoko nodded. "Remember I said I'd be checking out that club that our sources said some of the Foundation's members frequented?"
"I remember. Your report said that you didn't find anything."
"Well, I didn't, not exactly," she admitted, blushing faintly. "There wasn't anything concrete enough for me to feel right writing it into the report. But one of the guys bought me a drink, and we got to talking."
Blond eyebrows drew together. "You let him buy you a drink?"
"Just a small one," she said quickly. "Anyhow, we got to talking, and he started bragging about winning the Red Diamond this year and bringing home the prize. I asked him what he planned to do with the prize money if he won, and he laughed. He said, and I quote, "That's not the real prize, Miss. The real prize is what comes after". I assumed at the time that he was talking about the fame."
Her partner looked puzzled. "Wasn't he?"
"I suppose he still might have been, but the thing is, he got a bit drunk later on, and at that point he started telling me about how he was going to find some kind of sky temple place. He said a lot of things that didn't make sense—or, well, I guess maybe it would be more accurate to say that a lot of what he said sounded impossible. So after I left, I did a little research. It turns out that the temple he was talking about is part of a legend about the Red Diamond."
"Is this legend the strange story you mentioned earlier?"
"That's right. There are a lot of versions of the legend, but they all basically amounted to the idea that a great, magical treasure, or the path to one, will be revealed to the person who proves him or herself by winning all three Diamonds."
"But it is only a myth."
"I know, but, well, let's just pretend that someone out there really believed it. I don't think it would be too farfetched to assume that such a person could be driven to go to great lengths to pursue it."
"Are you suggesting that the Foundation has been working towards this myth all along?" The skepticism in Saguru's voice was hard to miss.
Aoko winced. "I guess it does sound a bit stupid. I just thought, well, the way the man was talking, it seemed like the story was pretty popular in his circle. And it would explain why they're so determined to be the first to win the Triple Diamonds at all costs. After all, haven't you noticed that all the racers they've targeted with their disruptor have been ones that were favored for doing just that? Kuroba Toichi was on the verge of being the first to win all three when he had his accident. The others who were attacked weren't quite as close as he was, but they were all pilots that were picked out for having that level of potential. And they all had at least one—usually two—Diamond win under their belts."
"That is an interesting point," the blonde conceded. "However, I still find it difficult to believe that anyone would go to such lengths for a mere fairytale."
Aoko shrugged. "I don't think so. But I guess in the end it doesn't really matter."
It was Aoko's turn to frown. "No. It doesn't matter why they did it, they've still committed murder. And that means they have to be stopped."
Hakuba nodded slowly, expression solemn. "Indeed."
"Shin-chan, do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Huh?" Tearing his gaze from the glowing monitor he'd been sitting in front of since dinner, Shinichi did a double take. There were two Kaitos? He blinked rapidly and the double image cleared to reveal that no, his teammate hadn't duplicated. He let out a sigh of relief.
"Hello? Earth to Shinichi! Is anyone home?"
Shinichi blushed and huffed, swatting at the hand being waved in front of his face. "Stop that! What do you want now? I'm busy."
"Shinichi, it's three in the morning."
"What? It can't be that—oh." The mechanic blinked at the little numbers on the corner of his screen. Then his brows furrowed. "What are you still doing up? There's another race tomorrow. You know they're not showing the participants until just before it. You need to be ready!"
"No," Kaito said patiently. "We need to be ready. Now we can do this the easy way, wherein you agree to call it a night, or the hard way—or, well, hard for you, easier for me. In case you were wondering, that's the way where I take drastic measures."
Shinichi eyed him warily, debating the helpfulness of edging away. "Do I want to know what those are?"
"Probably not. So? What's it gonna be?"
"But we have to get this working as soon as we can," Shinichi said in what he thought was a very reasonable tone. "We're running out of time."
Kaito hid a grin behind a stern expression (Shinichi probably didn't realize that he was pouting. It was adorable, but he couldn't get sidetracked here). "Answer me this. If you pull an all-nighter today, would you be done working on that tomorrow?"
Blue eyes blinked in confusion. "I doubt it." The mechanic's gaze flickered down to the monitor again. "I swear your father wrote this whole plan in code."
"Sounds like Dad all right. I'd have done the same if it were me. But my point is, a few hours isn't going to make much difference. Besides, how do you expect to unscramble his notes if you're too tired to think?"
"I…guess you're right."
Kaito's cheery grin returned with the victory. "Of course I am. Now shut that down and—did you hear that?"
Kaito didn't answer. Instead, he turned, indigo eyes narrowed. When he spoke again, it was in a quiet, controlled voice. "There's someone outside. Stay here."
Shinichi started to protest, but Kaito was already gone on steps silent as the shadows. Biting his lip, Shinichi rose carefully to his feet, ears straining for the slightest hint of trouble.
Should he call the police? But what would he say? "My friend and I thought we heard someone outside our hangar" probably wouldn't go over very well. It sounded pretty ridiculous even in his own head.
It was probably nothing, he told himself. This area was full of assorted hangars and warehouses owned by the city. Right now, most of them were occupied by teams racing in the Red Diamond and the equipment necessary for setting up and running the races themselves. That meant that there were people going by outside all the time.
But…at three in the morning? Shinichi was fairly certain that he wasn't the only person who felt the need to work late with the semifinals in progress. However, those people wouldn't have any reason for approaching their hangar.
Should he go after Kaito? Why hadn't he come back yet? How long had it been anyway? Half a minute? A minute? Ten, fifteen? Half an hour? Somehow, between his last few thoughts, he had completely lost track of time.
The silence splintered with a crash and a shout. Shinichi nearly jumped out of his skin. Whirling around, he set off towards the noise. The cry had given away to shouting. It was not Kaito's voice.
Bursting out of the hangar's side door, he almost tripped over someone's leg. Catching himself just in time to avoid a nasty fall, he stumbled around and stared, eyes blinking in an attempt to adjust to the sudden loss of illumination.
"I'm here," his partner's voice replied, sounding completely unperturbed.
"Get off me!" the unfamiliar voice was hollering—or trying to holler. It sounded strangely muffled. Once Shinichi's vision had adjusted to the darkness, he realized that that was because the voice was coming from a man currently lying face down outside their door. It was this stranger's leg that had almost tripped him.
Kaito was leaning over the man, a knee planted in just the right spot on the stranger's back to prevent him from getting up. He also had the man's arms twisted up behind his back for good measure. What Shinichi could see of his expression was amiable, but there was a dangerous edge to his smile that made the mechanic want to step away.
"This guy was trying to break into our hangar."
"I was not!" the man argued, squirming ineffectually against his captor's iron grip. "I was just passing by!"
"Is that so?" Kaito drawled. "And where exactly were you headed then that would lead you to, ah, passing by our humble abode?"
"What? Uh, I… I was…you know, going to one of the other hangars," the man stammered. "Yeah, that's it. So let me up! You have no right to treat me like this."
"What? Which what?"
"Which team's hangar were you headed for?"
There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
Keeping his hold on the stranger, Kaito turned his attention to Shinichi. "Check his box. He dropped it over there."
"Wait, no, that's mine!" his captive protested.
Ignoring his complaints, Shinichi moved to crouch by the box in question. It was rather large tool box. Flipping the latches holding it shut, he opened the lid. Inside lay an assortment of hammers, drills, screwdrivers, scissors, knives, coils of wire, and other tools. None of it was particularly out of the ordinary for a handyman. It wasn't, however, what he expected to see in the toolkit of a man who worked with hover crafts. Tools for working on the delicate and intricate mechanisms responsible for the inner workings of the crafts. All you could hope to do with tools like these was cause a huge mess and a lot of damage.
Blue eyes took them in, turned over the information, put the pieces together, and narrowed. "You… You were going to smash her!"
"You bastard," Kaito snarled, tightening his grip on the man's arm, causing the guy to let out another cry of pain.
"No! No, I swear! It wasn't my idea! I—I mean I wasn't going to do anything like that. Really!"
Shinichi marched back towards the open hangar door. "I'm calling the police."
In less than ten minutes, Hakuba and Aoko arrived with a squad of officers in tow. They pulled the footage from the security cameras while officers scoured the area for signs of any other intruders. The cameras revealed that the man, now handcuffed and bound to a chair with almost an entire roll of duct tape (courtesy of Kaito), had indeed been poking around their hangar. He had snuck all the way around it before apparently deciding to try entering via the side door. That was when Kaito had materialized from the shadows like a vengeful ghost. The pilot had made short work of subduing the man despite the fact that the stranger was several years older and half a head taller.
"It would be in your best interest to tell us exactly what brought you here tonight," Hakuba Saguru told the man, face grim. "We already know that you did not come with good intentions. Now, unless I am mistaken, I doubt you decided to sabotage a team just because you felt like it. So who are you here on behalf of? Who sent you?"
"All right, all right, I admit it. I was going to just break a few things. You know, so they'd miss the next few races. But that was all. I wasn't going to hurt anyone."
"But who sent you?" Aoko asked this time.
"I don't know."
"Don't know, or won't say?"
"No, seriously, I don't know! It was just some guy I met at the bar last night. He said he'd pay me three grand if I did it. It sounded like easy money, so I took the job. Anyone would have, right? I mean, three grand just for putting a few dents in some machine!"
"Three grand for breaking more than two dozen laws," Hakuba retorted sharply. "Did you not even wonder why someone would make such a request?"
"Not really. Everyone's trying ta get a leg up in the competition, right? It's nothing new. I hear it happens all the time."
"Not really," Aoko muttered. "And even if it did, that doesn't make it right. You could have killed someone, you know?"
"What? I'd never kill anyone! I told you, it was only gonna be the machine!"
Aoko leveled the man with a hard, flat stare. "Do you know how many pilots die every year because there was something wrong with their equipment?"
He fell silent, looking uncomfortable. "It's not like anyone would climb into something that looked damaged," he mumbled.
The two law-enforcement officers traded glances.
"So about your employer," Hakuba started, deciding it was time to get back to business. "It was a man?"
"And you met him at a bar?"
"I want you to describe exactly what happened during your meeting. Try to remember exactly how you each spoke, what the man sounded like, how he looked—I want all the details you can provide."
Stuffing his hands in his pockets as he leaned back against his hover racer, Kaito glanced to his side. Shinichi was listening closely to the interrogation. The way the mechanic was looking at the culprit was rather like the way Kaito imagined a mother would look at a man who tried to harm her baby.
"So do you think it was them?" he asked, nudging the smaller boy with his elbow.
Shinichi jumped then looked up at him. "Them?"
"You know. Them."
"Oh." Shinichi looked thoughtful. "No," he said eventually. "They want access to our technology. I don't think they'd want to smash it up before they got to analyze it."
Kaito hummed in agreement. "That's what I thought. So I guess now we have two known enemies. We sure are getting popular."
Shinichi groaned, slumping against the craft behind them. "It just keeps getting worse…"
Warm hands caught his. Surprised, Shinichi opened his eyes to find that Kaito had moved to stand in front of him.
"We're going to be okay," Kaito said firmly. "Now I believe we're long overdo for some sleep. The police don't really need us here. I'll just go let them know we're leaving."