Locus of Control

Chapter 30

80 years ago

She fidgeted uncomfortably, her fingers tapping restlessly against the side of her leg as Yamamoto's voice droned on and on in the background. Another year end meeting, another annual report filled with fruitless drivel submitted, another afternoon spent wasted away. Try as she might, she could not get herself to focus, even if she had been initially surprised that all the appointed Captains decided to show up this time, even the brute Kenpachi. There were too many things she needed to get done. There were always things that needed to be done.

First of all, that scroll sitting on her desk, the one she liberated from Akane's remains, had finally been deciphered weeks ago. But there was no name. Only three words. Truth. Compassion. Forbearance. She had no idea what it meant. It clearly appeared to be a slogan of some sort, but by who? Simply more questions. And she'd been itching to ask Mayuri for updates on any of their projects, especially if there was any interesting feed from the bugs. It always bothered her. She could see how they came in handy, she trusted Mayuri enough in his skills when he told her thirteen years ago that the wires the intruder left behind all over the lab could be reverse-tapped to give them live feeds into the Real World. She had had doubts of course, which turned out to be fair. After three years, he was finally able to determine what they were trying to spy on, but whoever was on the other end – she could hazard a pretty good guess – was pretty good at scrambling any useful data that may have otherwise been salvageable.

So they had spent a few more years surreptitiously trying to root out the rest of the surveillance tools left behind by their illusive intruders across Seireitei and behind everyone else's back. She had enough sway with Kyoraku, Ukitake and Unohana, so it had been relatively easy to gain access to their areas and make a clean sweep – as well as the divisions still without captains. But they hadn't yet come up with possible plan of action to sweep through the fifth division's areas, or the eleventh, or even the Captain-Commander – she suspected this was because they were both, still, untrustworthy to a certain extent. The new captain of the ninth, a blind man by the name of Tosen, used to work under Aizen and had a squeaky clean record. She eyed him covertly, thankful of his handicap if only because it allowed her to observe him without fear of being caught or interrupted. She hadn't officially met him, and wasn't able to make it to his test – but from the slight observations of his interactions with others, he appeared to be soft-spoken, level-headed and serene, if a bit snobbish. It unnerved her. It was a bias she could never quite erase, but clean records did nothing to ease her paranoia about any of the fifth division captain's known associates.

At any rate, if she could have her way, she would have demanded that Mayuri come up with a location so she could hunt them down. As it stood, it would have been difficult to get any action towards this sanctioned, as they were operating under the radar – a trip to the world of the living was out of the question, especially under the scrutiny placed upon her in recent years. Yamamoto made it clear that he wanted to be kept in the loop – despite the fact that he seemed to forget anything discussed in previous conversations, which made reporting to him redundant and a waste of time.

But he wasn't the one that gave her the most trouble. The citizens of Rukongai were growing ever hostile to the constant shinigami presence in their districts, despite reassurances that it was all for their own protection – which it was – the disappearances were, if infrequent, still constant enough to warrant more vigilant supervision of potential victims. She stopped losing officers, at least. While she would have liked to attribute it to their ever-evolving and intensive training regimen, and experience under her rule, intuition said it was because whoever was targeting them realized it wasn't worth the trouble. Hostile citizens, she could handle – what was becoming a pressing worry was the increasing protests emerging from the noble families, who were all trying to muster support from the splintered lower-nobility in efforts to face both the Omnitsukido and the Shihoins. Sui-Feng wasn't so naïve as to believe the Shihoins were truly a target of the two-pronged attack (that part was questionable and still under investigation), it was really the Omnitsukido that was under fire for the several high-profile assassinations – she personally worked two of the contracts – they had pulled off in the recent years. They were completely professional hits and completely clean, but everybody knew whose work it was. Apparently the masses were not as passive as she had led herself to believe.

And it was going to be a long fight. The members of Central 46 were anonymous – in theory – but she had gathered a sizable list of names over the years, and after rooting through Urahara and Yoruichi's encrypted files with Mayuri, but there were several who were members of the nobility – which meant any momentum gained in the appeal to officially strip it from Shihoin control and abolish the Omnitsukido completely was threatening indeed. The deck was heavily stacked in their favor. In recent reports, it became apparent that the nobility were even reaching out to the already hostile Rukongai citizens, across all districts, rallying support by pinning the disappearances on the Omnitsukido – they were a perfect scapegoat – most citizens didn't know of their organization's presence within Seireitei, but it was altogether too easy to believe and over twenty years of unsolved disappearances, the public was clamoring for someone to blame.

She wasn't sure if this was an incredibly convoluted ploy from the Shihoins to abolish the Omnitsukido publicly and wrest control of it after a reformation, but it was a possibility, especially seeing as the Omnitsukido, for all intents and purposes, hadn't been truly under their control since she unexpectedly succeeded the trial to become Commander. Though she had been acting, quite loyally, under Shizuka's thumb – Masanori apparently had no knowledge of their dealings, so it very well could be an orchestrated coup on his part, which made things all the more complicated – she needed his support to quell the rebellion, and also to go after Aizen with the backing of the nobility in order to stand up in Central 46, except if Masanori Shihoin was indeed the mastermind, then her largest share of potential allies for heavy-hitting in politics would be irrevocably alienated, which left her with nowhere to turn in search of the ultimate truth.

It wasn't all hopeless – she was especially good friends with Kyoraku, though if anyone else had told her before she would have laughed cruelly at them and banished them from her office, and they regularly got together on weekends at Yumi's teahouse. She even started drinking sake along with him, in more recent years. While he was essentially estranged, by choice, from his family, they carried a lot of weight in the political backdrop, and should she require it, she was certain he wouldn't mind smooth-talking his family to her favor. From what she knew, though he disliked it and thus avoided his family, he was their treasured son and would be welcomed back with open arms and others would trip head over heels for him. She watched him yawn blearily, unabashed, a few spots down when she was struck with another thought. The nobility had a good number of women who were strikingly adept at politics and were essentially the heads of family operating behind the masks of their husbands, and Kyoraku was a known womanizer – he could likely gain their favor as well… though it would have to be subtle. Not to arouse suspicion. She could not afford to allow the husbands to know that she was sending Seireitei's most notorious womanizer after their wives. The wives themselves, well, there did not exist many woman who could resist properly offered, and safely orchestrated temptation.

Kuukaku was also quite firmly in her corner. She was close with her brother Kaien, and the little one block-headed Ganju. While their family lacked the weight it used to have when both their parents were still alive, Kaien seemed reasonable – as his Captain would be. She did not anticipate any problems gathering them in her corner, should the need come to pass. For the other families… well. She knew the nobility loved their money and influence. This was workable, thanks to her buffoon of a lieutenant, Omaeda, she had his family in her back pocket. His mother had even taken quite a liking to her because she was a "great gossiper" (for all intents and purposes, this actually simply meant that Sui-Feng was one of the select few who could listen to gossip for hours on end without interruption or offering pesky conflicting opinions, which Mareka Omaeda adored), and she usually visited once a month to catch up. None of them were shrewd enough to deal directly for her purposes, but they had a vast wealth, which she could tap into and leverage – everybody had a price. One of her old friends and corps commander, Chie, would be perfect for the task…

"Captain Sui-Feng, how are you planning on dealing with the situation with the Omnitsukido?" Yamamoto's voice disrupted her thoughts with a purpose. She could feel her mind slow to a crawl as all the eyes in the room fell upon her.

"Promptly," she stated, without elaborating. She hated being put on the spot. Especially when she wasn't even paying attention, weren't they just talking about budget cuts in the divisions without Captains a few minutes ago when she last tuned in?

"Well, good, I suppose. You are aware that your control over the Omnitsukido has been a great asset to the Gotei 13 for the past few years and throughout the transition as we appoint new Captains," he paused, his gaze shifting slightly to the newly appointed Captain in question, before falling back on her. "It would be a pity if we lost those invaluable resources –"

Sui-Feng pursed her lips, unable to keep the slight flush from creeping up her neck. The ancient geezer wasn't exactly, subtle, was he? A horrifying thought struck her, just as she was about to retort in a restrained a tone as she could muster. No, he couldn't have anything to do with it. It wouldn't make sense. The appeal was a direct threat to the Gotei 13, since it was, on paper, under their control… had Yamamoto been inclined to draw upon the influence, except he simply seemed content to let it run its course. So was he finally making a move? She knew she was still suspect in the other's eyes, if they were truly worthy of the respect she had come to afford them. Her mind whirred incessantly, fingers tapping a sullen tattoo into her thigh along with the seconds ticking away. While he might not have anything to do with the appeal, he might – emphasis on might, she didn't think he was all there in the head anymore – take the opportunity to solidify her influence over her or eliminate the threat she possessed altogether, especially as there were numerous candidates in the works, especially if they all had ties to Aizen – could he be behind this too? She felt so conflicted… and confused. "I wasn't aware word had travelled so quickly."

Yamamoto opened one eye. Not a good sign. Was she making him angry? "Do you forget you are also a Captain of the Gotei 13? Any action taken against us, indirectly or direct, should be carefully dealt with. As you are the Commander of the Special Forces, I believe it is your duty to do your part in protecting Seireitei... and it does not bode well for us if you aren't even aware of what your allies know."

Sui-Feng flushed darker, her index and thumb pressed tightly together at the fingertips. She was being made to look like a fool – though she hated it – perhaps she could turn it to her advantage. They need not know what she was planning. She carefully constructed her response as one she had heard from many ineffectual bureaucrats in the past. First, a flustered excuse, "My apologies, Captain-Commander, that – ah – that wasn't what I meant to imply," then, a reassurance filled with false bravado, "trust me, you need not worry about the appeal," followed by a bombastic claim in her own power with a sheepish afterthought to return to the intended goal, "I will do everything I can to ensure the Omnitsukido remains intact, as well as the Gotei Thirteen's stake in the organization."

"If you can avoid alienating the nobility, that would be much appreciated," Yamamoto replied, appearing semi-placated, with a glance towards Ginrei, who was, as everyone knew, part of the nobility in question. Sui-Feng watched his reaction closely, but received nothing. Ginrei's expression was perpetually stuck in that frown, lips pursed under a full silver mustache, the lines of his face unyielding.

"As we do draw quite a few resources from their demographic, including talented officers. Of course, our budgets would be much tighter as well," he gave a chuckle at this and was joined in by several of the Captains, the others simply donned half-heartedly amused smiles.

She smiled, inclining her head ever so slightly, thin-lipped. "I'll do my best."

So, we're quickly drawing towards the climax of the story around the 50 year mark, and things are speeding up a lot more after that. It'll be a quick denouement and we'll finally have the reunion between Yoruichi and Sui-Feng. I just have to get through one more political arc before we can have Sui-Feng launch a proper attack on Aizen... to bring us to the present and the Soul Society arc.

I feel like people are kind of losing interest in the story - and I totally understand, the bulk of what I've written to date is mostly groundwork and completely the result of the artistic license I have taken. But hopefully those of you still reading will stick by me for the important/canonical events on the horizon. So thanks again to those who've taken the time to leave a meaningful message in the year of 2012. Your support means so much and without it this story wouldn't be where it is today.