Heat Guy J: Shutdown

a continuation fiction by fetch-thranduilion

all characters, places, etc. © their original owners

Episode 1: Trapped (Winner)

Spotless and dazzling as the room in which she sat, the ash-blond-haired woman bent her head, deep in thought and uneasy in her chair. Conflicting notions flitted across her face—concern, vexation, contemplation—with no clear victor in sight. Pinning her bottom lip between her teeth, she bit down gently; around her, her standing colleagues flinched. It had been years since her return, yet most of them had yet to adjust to the mannerisms their peer had acquired during her long absence. The change in mindset—from wild rebel to polished, perfect citizen—was widely welcomed. If only she weren't still so eccentric...

Shadows hid in her luminous eyes, nestled among her lashes and cast a pall over her flawless face. Before those eyes, visions danced in all their ethereal horror, memories of the sights she had accidentally born witness to during her tour of the city at which the transport currently docked. The howls of the condemned echoed in her ears accusingly; their wild eyes bored holes through a soul childish in its innocence and ignorance. How long had the people treated their prisoners thusly? How long had her people been blinded by the very individuals they had thought trusted them entirely? She, of all people, ought to have known better than to assume such atrocities could not possibly exist under her people's jurisdiction. Hadn't she wanted to see what life as one of them was like? And hadn't she decided to forsake it?

Sighing and shaking her head, sending her curtain of hair rippling and swinging gracefully, she wondered exactly how things had gotten this bad, how she had become responsible for such decisions—she, who detested the idea of being fettered down. Life had grown stale in the city, so she returned home and dedicated herself with new vigor to her duties. Her bright mind, applied to useful tasks for once instead of fanciful dreamings, carried her upward on pearly wings. But now her wings were tired. She wanted out. The stakes had grown too tall, and she wanted them uprooted. At their current height, they trapped her.

Coming down to the root of the problem, there really was no decision to be made and every single member of the delegation knew it. But it gnawed at them, and each wished another the privilege of voicing the judgment. Naturally, the task had fallen to her. Didn't it always? By virtue of her very uniqueness, the grotesque when uttered from her mouth became almost acceptable; her conscience could remain clean, for the pronunciations of a silly child were not to be held against them. Best to get it over with, then.

She smiled up at the eleven, equally beautiful people surrounding her, but no mirth lurked at the corners of her usually impish mouth. "I have decided, then. They cannot be forgiven."

"No, they cannot." One by one the others murmured their consent, hearts aching but knowing their duty. Then they fell silent again, looking at her. She understood.

"I shall make the announcement, then." Standing, she caught a glimpse of her pale, drawn face in the windows—a face much more used to laughing than condemning. For a brief moment, thinking of all the lives who would suffer for the sins of their city, she remembered the near-disaster of the previous year. No such last-minute salvation, she predicted, would come to these citizens. Their city was rotten, and they would learn too late their duties.

The city that had almost fallen...it had been "her" city, hadn't it? Had her children watched as their world nearly crumbled around them? And her brother...he had vanished there as well. Why hadn't he spoken up?

But she almost never thought of them anymore, and in a moment they too had vanished to the airy depths of her mind. Soon all troubling thoughts would be beyond her, and she would be sailing away to paradise once more. That at least was something to be thankful for: no matter how unpleasant the observational tours became, they always ended. There was always home, waiting.

It did not occur to her, as she began to speak into the device that would project her voice across the doomed metropolis, that her actions were also taking a home away. That her actions had always done so, and would continue to do so as long as her own anchored her down and distracted her mind. Such speculation was not becoming to one such as she. After all, she and her people were on a Mission. They could not possibly be wrong.

o0o0o0o0o0o

"...the unspeakable crimes committed by the people of Magnagalia upon their own citizens through the perversions of science will not be tolerated..."

Groaning, the young man kept his curly blond head planted stubbornly in his pillow and, swatting with one hand, tried to switch his radio off. But no matter how firmly he pounded the offending object, the voice continued. Finally sleep retreated from his mind, taking with it the mess of cobwebs muddling his thoughts, and he came to understand that the voice came not from the hotel radio but from some projected speaker outside the building. Tossing off his covers, he wandered over to the window and yanked the curtains apart.

Sunlight burst in, causing his light green eyes to blink and water; squeezing them half-shut, he gazed blearily out. The voice finished its recitations just as he woke entirely.

"...will be shut down in forty-eight hours unless the citizens of Magnagalia present us with a plan of alternate action to be put into effect immediately." Then the city was silent. Deathly so.

"Damn," the young man wondered aloud, shaking his head. "Not again. Guess they found out about the prisoners." The alterations performed in Magnagalian prisons appalled him too, but he hadn't figured that the citizens would be punished by the Celestials that severely. All the more reason for him to go home today, then. His visa had expired two days ago, but he had tarried in the city, reluctant to return to work just yet when there were still so many places to explore; but if Judoh was about to be swamped with frantic refugees, then they had better get fair warning. He felt awful about the fate of the city, though. To deprive everyone because of the decisions of a few...he understood the need for justice, but Celestial justice tended towards the extreme. There was always the hope the alternate plan presented, however. He wished he'd been awake enough to have heard the whole message. Something about the voice had distracted him, jolted his memory...

Realizing what, he sat down heavily on the hotel bed, hand groping for a memento that no longer hung around his neck. Catching himself in the action, he dropped both arms into his lap. What were the odds? He visited a city, only to find it undergoing inspection. Only to encounter...

"Well, well," he marveled, smiling crookedly. "Long time no see, Mom." Then, pulling on his shirt and jacket and stuffing his feet into tan boots, the young man swaggered out of his hotel room. He left his bags, but he did not return.

O0o0o0o0o0o

Raising his punch glass in a toast, the dark-haired boy fidgeted in his itchy tuxedo and cast a derisive yet eager glance around the room. Of all the officials in the gathering, he at barely twenty years of age was by far the youngest; but his youth was not the reason why no one would meet his eerily violet eyes. No one knew why the young head of Company Vita had been invited to the new head of Shop Echigo's celebratory reception save that Vita held Echigo stock, and no one trusted him. Even after the events a year ago, gratefulness only went so far.

"...and it is with the greatest pleasure that I drink to you, Dominic Jomas, new head of Shop Echigo. To Echigo!" The head of state, proposing the toast, was himself newly appointed. He still remembered with fondness his own induction, and—casting a surreptitious glance at the boy standing by the punch bowl—with considerably less nostalgia what had happened immediately afterwards. Now, watching the boy and the tall man next to him share a smile, the same shivers skittered down his backbone. They were planning something, the boy and his henchman. But what?

"To Echigo!" he declared again, raising his glass high; around the room, the officials of Judoh mimicked the movement and cry, then drained their punch glasses.

Over by the bowl, the pair clinked glasses. "To Echigo," the boy smirked, taking a deep draught of his punch, then carefully wiping off the outside of the glass; he'd cut his thumb earlier and hadn't yet had time to wrap the injury.

His bodyguard grinned and nodded at his master before drinking his punch. "To Echigo, Vampire. And long may he serve."

The boy smiled, licked a bead of blood off his wounded finger. Around the room, the highest officials of Judoh finished their punch. Excellent. "Believe me, Giovanni. I intend to."

o0o0o0o0o0o

"So they stayed the whole night but did nothing?" Kyoko Milchan barely glanced at the small girl sitting on the couch before turning back to her own typing, sequestered as always behind her desk. The Special Unit's office had been repaired admirably, with most everything put back into place as it had been prior to the explosion. Indeed, already most of Judoh had recovered surprisingly well from the attempted coup d'etat and the following economic recession, as the largest provider of consumer goods in the city, Shop Echigo, reeled in the lost of its reclusive leader—actually long dead but only recently discovered as such. Now a new head of state had been voted on, a new head of Echigo had been appointed...and the underworld, apparently, had just sat back and let it happen. Didn't the upheaval within the government affect their business as well?

For her part, the girl sitting on the couch toying with one of her messy, shockingly copper braids seemed unconcerned with the activity of men working below the law. "They just stood around and talked. They stared at people and got stared at, too. And they let me take their picture!" This, at least, was a point of interest for the child. "They paid a lot for it, too! More than double the price I was asking at the door! I didn't get a picture of the new head of Echigo, though." Her face fell. "I could have made prints and sold those for a lot."

"So the new wagon is working?" Kyoko started a new report on her screen entitled "Special Unit Surveillance Progress: Monica Gabriel, Information." "People still talk to you?"

"Oh, yes, lots!" She bounced a bit on the cushion. "Most are really happy that Mom is feeling better and that we don't have to live in the wagon anymore, but it's still almost always just the two of us in the apartment. Edmundo's always at the stupid station."

"And did you hear anything of interest for the Special Unit?" The pink-haired young woman's pristinely manicured nails clicked against her keyboard as she worked away.

"Well...Shogun's place is open again, Wei Long-lin opened another hotel, and lots and lots of people wanted to know when Daisuke's coming back. I want to know too." She pouted, making red spots appear on both cheeks as her face flushed. "But no one ever knows anything."

"It's only been a year," Kyoko replied softly, hands falling idle as her eyelids drooped gravely. "He has two more."

"Two more till what??" Hopping off the couch, the girl put both hands on her hips and, leaning over, scowled at the secretary. "What do you know, Kyoko? Tell me, tell me!"

"A man keeps all promises made to those he loves," a gravelly voice contributed from the far corner. "Daisuke will return."

Both women sighed and regarded the tall, solidly built figure standing sentinel by the door with affectionate exasperation. "Easy for you to say," the younger huffed; Kyoko shook her head to clear it of—certain distractions—and turned back to her work. Then, puzzled, she looked up.

"Wait a minute. Monica, you said the Weis opened a new hotel?"

"Yeah, a real posh one with three swimming pools and four tennis courts and a bar in every room and--"

"Didn't they have a lot of money from Vita that they lost after Dai saved Clair?"

"Over a hundred bars of gold originally alloted to the Wei family were turned over to charity," the man in the corner reported, golden eyes focusing on numbers and charts only he could see. "Estimated losses incalculable but significant."

"Yet he's starting something new." Kyoko's polished lips drooped in a pondering frown. "That might be worth looking into."

"Who are you gonna send, though?" Returning to the couch, the girl flopped down on her stomach, short dress flipping up with the motion but ignorant of the view such a position presented to anyone entering the room. "Edmundo's busy with his other job and Boma..."

"Can never be found unless he wants to be," finished Kyoko tiredly, shoulders sagging. "I know. Plus the Weis know both of them." No one had said that running the office would be easy. She had known going into the venture that with Daisuke, the chief (and for a long time only) operative indefinitely away, the chances of the Unit actually serving its purpose were slim if they indeed existed at all. But after all that had happened, all that the Unit had achieved...her own pride if nothing else prevented her from letting the ragtag band be dissolved in the face of the new government. "We could call Kia, that boy Daisuke recommended, but who's to say if he's reliable?"

"I could go," the girl offered, counting out the coins in the purse around her neck. "I have enough for cab fare right now. But you'd have to pay me back. With interest."

"There is another option yet to be processed," the man in the corner replied before Kyoko had finished opening her mouth to decline the girl's generous offer. "The East Wind, according to Monica, is open again. It is logical to assume that Shogun continues to operate in his original position, especially after the Gazaardoll success in the last conflict."

"So we ask the man who knows everyone if he'll help us out," mused Kyoko thoughtfully, hand straying to the silver charm around her neck. "He might know about...other people too." She did not bring up the name. Everyone in the room knew who she meant.

o0o0o0o0o0o

"Aw, come on, Officer, what's two days in the grand scheme of things?" The young man scratched his blond hair in a helpless gesture, grinning widely at the dour patrolman perusing his expired travel visa. It was bad phrasing on his part in light of recent events, which he realized too late. "I mean, I'm hurrying back to Judoh to get help since we only have two days."

"Nice try," grunted the policeman, but his mind obviously wasn't on the now-illegal alien he'd accosted for speeding on the Magnagalian freeway. The blond man understood: threatened with the slow extinction of everything and everyone in the city, the force had engaged in almost frantic denial, trying desperately to prove its competence by apprehending anyone who put a toe out of line. Some things, no matter where you lived, stayed the same. The paranoia of the law force was apparently one of them. "Two days won't get you to Judoh, kid. Takes at least a week." He said it heavily, resignedly. The hope those two days provided in the form of alternate legislation seemed thought to be slim.

The boy smiled. "You'd be surprised what I can do. Now look, you've got more important things to be doing and so have I. You can't honestly arrest somebody and export them when they were on their way out already. It's doing the same damn thing with more paperwork. And who wants more of that?"

"Rules are rules, kid," the policeman said, clapping handcuffs on the boy and taking another look at the visa. "You're practically a child. Run away from home?"

"Funny you should say that," the boy laughed. "Part of my home's on that Celestial ship. I thought about going over to say hi, putting in a good word for you—anything to help--"

But the man's eyes were bugging out. "Y-you're a Celest--"

"Only half," the young man admitted. "For what that's worth."

Apparently it was worth with quite a bit. Sputtering and staring at the young man's cocky face, the uniformed man finally regained his composure and turned a knob on the handcuffs. The boy laughed nervously.

"Turning the shockers on? I'm not going to try to get out, you don't have to--"

"Get in," the man ordered, pushing the young man into his armored car. "And no funny business. They'll think twice about pulling the plug on us if one of their own's in trouble."

"Actually, they'll yank it faster, but--"

"Shut your mouth!" The man revved up his vehicle and sped down the road at nearly twice the velocity for which he had apprehended the young man. Sighing, the blond looked forlornly out the window at where his parked motorbike receded from view. He gave it a small salute.

"See you round," he bid it ruefully, then turned around again. And this was supposed to be a quiet, interesting leave of absence. So much for intentions.

o0o0o0o0o0o

Sometime during the night the maids had removed the hateful tuxedo from where he'd tossed it in a crumpled ball on the bedroom floor; he wasn't sure how he felt about the fact his room was accessible while he was sleeping, and decided to look into changing his locks. For the time being, the dark-haired young man, cut thumb now sterilized and wrapped, lay motionless on his bed, mind restlessly wandering across the past year of his life and finding not much to be agitated about.

Game after game, the pieces had fallen into place, the roulette had picked his number, and the various strata of Judoh society—both legal and otherwise--into which he'd forced his fingers had responded to his prodding as desired. In an effort to promote fuller democracy, the people had elected in the wake of "Dictator Aurora", as the orchestrator of both sides of last year's coup had deemed himself, a pleasant but weak-willed middle-aged man by the name of Morton Tawari. Getting him to move most of his stock into funds controlled by Company Vita had been simple enough. Two well-placed faulty explosives, one well-timed casual conversation with his young children, and Chairman Tawari had buckled under the supposed threat. It would make him a wealthy man, no matter how soiled the man's conscience may have felt. Clair Leonelli was nothing, in his own opinion, if not fair. Services rendered were repaid in kind.

Playing with the small silver ring protruding from his lower lip, Clair frowned at the drapes above his bed. Yes, getting Tawari had been easy enough. Getting Jomas had been even easier—unlike Tawari, the businessman held no scruples regarding exactly whence came his living expenses. Had he been an honest man, after all, he would not have survived in such a company; the only reason the Shop was never called into court was that, in many ways, the conglomerate held Judoh's consumer economy together. If Shop Echigo fell, Judoh would fall. The city had become dependent on its shadow fixer to preserve the delicate balance between light and darkness. And its new head—its true new leader—had every reason to maintain that balance.

So cuts from Echigo would go to Vita, cuts from Vita would go to the board, and thus the board wouldn't rebel again. A perfect arrangement. Game over...or rather, game indefinitely sustained, but with Clair Leonelli as the constant winner. Last night had been the final gamble, a statement he hadn't needed to make but no one had noticed anyway. Yet that was alright with Clair. It was more fun that way. Now every time he would see their faces in the news, heard them condemning his company, he would know and they would not that they had sworn...

Even his thoughts broke off as he giggled madly, slender body shaking the bed as his shoulders buckled with mirth. He heard the thunder of footsteps in the hall, knew before the door burst open who would be arriving, and decided once and for all to hire a locksmith.

"Young Master!" Panting for breath, his aging body not accustomed to the strain of running, Clair's assistant Mauro leaned on the tall wooden bedpost and appraised his superior over tiny tinted glasses. "Are you alright?"

"Master Clair!" Giovanni, the tall dark-haired man who had toasted Clair the previous evening, entered hot on Mauro's heels. Seeing sooner than the aged advisor that nothing was wrong, he crossed his arms in front of his torso and shook his head almost reprovingly at his Vampire. Other men would have been reproached at the very least for such a slight, but Clair let Giovanni scold him for making a scene. The pair had...well, they had been through a lot together, and Clair had come to trust the tall man more than he even trusted himself.

Getting them both so worked up over absolutely nothing made Clair laugh even harder. Sitting up in bed, he clutched his heaving chest and doubled over in glee until, gasping for breath, his stamina ran out and he shakily lay bent in half, still grinning like a maniac. He had figured out the problem, determined what exactly had gone wrong in his life, what blemish had cast itself upon his otherwise perfect dealings with the world at large. It was so simple, really, the cause of the distress nagging at his mind. He didn't know why it hadn't occurred to him sooner—say, at the party last night, which had confirmed it. No one had approached him suspiciously, no man had flashed a badge at him and required to know his connection to the festivity. Even the Special Unit girl, though no doubt there in part to investigate, hadn't seemed to notice anything odd. He'd even let her take his picture in the suppressed hope that then something would happen...but nothing did. Now that he'd finally achieved success, this was his reaction? Clair was disappointed in himself. All that hard work for the same results as before? Pathetic.

"I don't suppose," he gasped, trying to regain his composure as his mood shifted in gravity, "that Daisuke Aurora's come back."

Obviously befuddled by this follow-up to the laughing fit, Mauro shook his wizened, worried head. "No word has reached us, Young Master. Has something happened?"

Clair shook his own head in return, swinging his legs out of bed and standing; Giovanni fetched his bathrobe and helped him slide it on. "That's just the problem, Mauro. All this, and we've gotten completely away with it. No one's poking around or suspecting a thing. I could declare myself Dictator the way that idiot did last year and those monkeys on the Senate would just bob their heads and drink another transfusion to my success." He sighed, good mood now completely evaporated. "Someone better be investigating in secret, and they better make whatever they do next good. Because if things continue they way they're heading now, I'm going to end up unendurably bored."

o0o0o0o0o0o

News of Magnagalia's plight reached Judoh that very morning courtesy of a few illegal aliens with highly modified and enhanced radios, a day after the beautiful woman had gotten on the speaker and been heard by her wandering son. Remembering all too well the near-catastrophe they themselves had nearly undergone at the hands of the same guardians, the citizens of Judoh expressed their extreme distress at the plight of their Magnagalian brothers but made no move to assist them. Regardless of the extremity of their actions, Celestials were still Celestials, beings to be revered and awed, not understood. And after all, hadn't the Magnagalians had it coming to them for quite some time? All that nonsense about genetic manipulation, and giving the faces of beasts to human criminals...why, the act itself was ironically bestial and spiteful (not to mention a problem for Judoh when said criminals escaped and emigrated). Plus, and this was the greatest reason of all, no city-state could interfere with the affairs of another. All too often, such interaction led to war. So Judoh at large, while mourning the victims, extended no helping hand.

Certain individuals, however, reacted quite differently. Clair Leonelli heard the news over breakfast that morning and instantly thousands of possibilities sprang to his starved brain. Not the least among them involved the prolonged absence of a friend whose discovery would not only liven things up for him once more in Judoh, but also in the meantime provide a welcome diversion from his otherwise tedium lifestyle. Almost immediately, he locked himself in his office (the locksmith had indeed been summoned and only Giovanni given a key) and began making phone calls.

Kyoko Milchan heard it not on the television but from her grandfather as she headed out the door for work. She could not explain, had anyone asked her to, her initial reaction to the disaster: her hand jerked to the bullet pendant hanging around her neck and clasped it tight. Her foldable bicycle clattered to the floor as she absorbed what she'd been told and the absurdly paranoid notions dancing around it in her head. Thanking her grandfather, and giving him a small hug to try and alleviate the grim set of his usually smiling jaw, she retrieved her bike and hurried away, eager to get back to work and so hopefully banish the fears clenching her gut.

Monica Gabriel, the girl with the pigtails Kyoko had sent to the party, heard the news firsthand from the very radio that first picked it up, located in the basement of a newly renovated dry goods store known as "East Wind." She had come for information of a different kind, but upon bearing witness to the disturbing revelation thanked the owner and dashed off, suspicions already growing in her active mind. One phrase in particular caught and held her attention: "How the presence of a believed half-Celestial here in Magnagalia will affect the city's fate remains to be seen, but until the crisis is either averted or occurs no citizens are to enter or exit. For the protection of the Celestials, we shall remain in total lockdown."

It was too good to be an accident. And she knew just where to take things from there.

Wouldn't they pay her well for this!