"Yue Ayase"

"Date of birth?" Sonoda asked, in the same semi-bored tone he had been using for the last forty five or so minutes.

"November sixteenth." Yue sighed. She had gone past boredom around twenty questions ago. They had started with her name and age before moving onto the the usual collection of privacy-violating questions that usually came with background checks and job applications at law enforcement or military agencies. She hadn't had to lie per se on any of them yet, but she had little doubt her background investigation would end up with a lot of blank spots. Still, she hadn't had to answer 'Classified Information' on anything yet, but she wasn't counting on her luck lasting much longer.

For the time being, the questionnaire had once again started asking for basics and whatever software they were using wasn't smart enough to remember the answers from earlier and Sonoda didn't seem interested in flipping back through a few dozen pages for the data. Instead, he was just asking her again. "I need a year as well."

Yue let out another sigh. "Nineteen-eighty eight."

Sonoda blinked as he looked at Yue. "You're Twenty-One?" He paused for a minute before turning back to the screen and punching in the year.

"Yeah," Yue arched an eyebrow. "why?"

"Because I've never seen anybody with this many redacted's on the background check." Sonoda replied as he gestured at the screen. "Most people our age don't really have anything. You have stuff, but..."

"Its above your paygrade?" Yue grinned.

"Based on these disclaimers I think it's above the chief's paygrade." Sonoda replied. "What on earth have you been doing?"

"You're fancy database tells you you aren't cleared to know and you think that you can find out just by asking me?" Yue looked at the Inspector. "Has that ever worked for you?"

"Actually," Sonoda chuckled as he tapped a few more keys. "It has. No dice then?"

"I'd sooner turn into an ermine." Yue answered. In this case, she was mostly literal.

"An...ermine?" Sonoda repeated, briefly confused.

"Its a – nevermind." Yue answered, ending that train of conversation before it could start. "Are we done?"

The computer answered for him with a series of shrill little beeps. "Looks like it – just need to print out your consulting badge and papers for the files." A few more keystrokes and a nearby printer whirred to life. "And now for your picture."

"My pic-?" Yue's question was cut off as a small red light blinked somewhere in her peripheral vision, and she turned to it almost entirely on reflex. A split second after she had turned to face it a bright flash filled her entire field of view as another printer – this one much closer – started to print something off.

"Lets take a look at this..." Yue shook her head to clear her vision of the stars she was seeing as Sonoda spoke, and her vision cleared to the sight of him studying a small card of some sort with a grin that, after a moment, started to shrink. "Huh – that actually doesn't look half bad."

"Give me that." Yue reached over the table and snatched the freshly laminated card from the inspector, darting back out of his reach before he could take it back. "Lets see here..." The card was a fairly plain looking affair, vertically oriented with her photograph and identifying information sitting between a the SDO seal below and the word 'CONSULTANT' in over-sized white-on-blue characters at the top. A small chip of some sort was centered at the bottom. She flipped it over, finding some sort of QR code and a magnetic strip across the back. "kind of boring for a badge, don't you think? Does it come with the case?"

Sonoda replied by pulling a small clip and a thin chain from one of the drawers and sliding them across the table to Yue. "You want the fancy case, join the force. Just make sure you keep it visible on you when you're in here – or at crime scenes. It'll let you past the tape and keep them from throwing you out of here. Now clip it on or throw it around your neck."

"Time to go to work?" Yue asked as she rose to her feet, clipping the badge to her jacket before pocketing the chain.

Sonoda got up from behind the desk, snapping his coat back out. "Time to get to work."

Sonoda led them out of the administrative offices and back into the station, after a moment turning down a hall and into an area Yue hadn't seen yet. "So then," Yue started. "Whats the plan?"

"Yuuji mentioned that we had some guys in holding that might have been with our overcooked friend. Figure we should start by talking to them."

"Shouldn't you at least read the files first?" Yue asked.

"What files?" Sonoda replied. "On the case that brought them in? Not really relevant at this point. The files on the murder case? There isn't any yet."

"You don't think you might find anything useful in the files?" Yue asked. "If they were working together, there might be a lead in there."

"Which we can find later." Sonoda shrugged. "The reports aren't going anywhere. I'd rather get my information first-hand. Besides, a good interrogation is way more fun than reading a bunch of files."

"So are you the good cop or the bad cop then?" Yue asked as they turned another corner. The hallway they were on was a series of plain doors with eye-level slit-windows and a small number plate under that, but were otherwise unremarkable. It would have looked like a particularly boring stretch of offices if it wasn't for the fact that all the doors seemed to be made of solid metal.

Sonoda strolled up to the single aberration – a window built into the wall behind which a very bored looking officer was flipping through a book. Sonoda rapped on the window to get his attention. "Lemme take a look at the roster."

The officer behind the glass barely looked up from his book as he slipped a clipboard through the small hole at the bottom of the window. The clipboard was stacked thick with forms, all of them little more than lines to fill in names and holding information for whoever was brought in from what Yue could see. Sonoda flipped through to the latest page, scanning down the names before stopping about half-way through. "This guy – he was brought in on that smuggling bust?"

The bored officer finally bothered to look up briefly at the name before looking back down at his book. "Him and three other guys. Why?"

Sonoda flipped the forms back and slid the clipboard back through the window. "We think he's connected to another case. Can you get him transferred to interrogation room three in five minutes?"

The officer sighed and closed his book before glancing at the clock. "How about ten?"

"Perfect." Sonoda tapped on the glass and gave the officer a wave. "Thanks. Enjoy the book." The guard gave a grunt in response and a lethargic wave as Sonoda started back down the hall.

Yue followed after him. "I thought we were doing an interrogation?"

"Can't just interrogate him in his cell." Sonoda shrugged. "And even I won't screw with regulations about witnesses – way too much paperwork if any of that goes wrong."

"Oh." Was the only reply Yue could manage after a minute. "I should have thought of that."

Sonoda shrugged. "You aren't actually a cop, despite your prodigious crime-fighting skills. Not surprised you don't know police bureaucracy."

Well, her last job gave her a lot more leeway, Yue thought, but she didn't mention that – no interest in being an ermine and all that. "So if we've got ten minutes to kill, are you going to read the case files now?"

"Not a chance." Sonoda replied as the turned the corner and Yue found them near the elevator she had arrived on – in fact, they were on the opposite side of what had been the ridiculous crowd. It had shrunk to a much more manageable mob by now, and with less people Yue could make out the rows of desks that filled most of the oversized room. Sonoda led them down a row before dropping into a chair behind one. Yue slipped into the spare chair opposite him as he pulled a file out of the stack sitting in the box at one corner, dropping it in front of you. "The case file – feel free to take a look."

Yue eyed Sonoda for a moment before picking up the file and opening it the the first couple of pages. The case looked fairly straight forward – the police had been working another case, hunting down members of a ring hawking stolen goods when one of the suspects had offered up information on the whereabouts of some former colleagues who had apparently moved onto greener pastures. The resulting police raid had swept up a trio of two-bit thieves and the collection of strange-looking guns currently sitting in the lab.

The interesting bit was what all of them claimed regarding their employers. The two as described had been a very distinct sounding pair. One of them was a contact of theirs, supposedly having first popped up a few years back. The second was a very familiar sounding tall fellow wrapped in a cloak. "Sounds like our detainees' have met our perpetrator before."

Sonoda leaned over the table, scanning over the file before leaning back with a shrug. "And our victim is probably one of the mover's that the raid didn't grab."

Yue kept reading the file. "Say's here that they hadn't heard from either of them for nearly a month up until a week ago when their contact had them change where they were taking their goods too."

"Does it say anything about the goods?" Yue flipped through the file. It seemed that the 'movers' as Sonoda called them were told never to open the crates. "Well then," Sonoda answered as he rose to his feet. "That just leaves where they were taking them too then. Our friend should have been delivered by now – time to have a chat. Feel free to bring the file."

"I get the feeling you don't like me." Yue quipped as she fell in next to Sonoda. "Prefer to work alone?"

"Feels too much like the Inspector is having me watched." Sonoda replied. "You remind me too much of IA, impressive scumbag takedown skills or not."

"You don't want me to slow you down." Yue realized.

"You said it, not me." Sonoda replied as he stopped in front of a plain looking door, opening it for Yue with a small flourish. "But the day is young – besides, you had a good morning. You've still got some credit left."

What Yue was finding the most irksome wasn't the Inspector's doubt despite the morning – all he had was the word of a woman he didn't know and what he had seen this morning. It wasn't even his slightly condescending attitude – though it really didn't help. It was that she couldn't actually prove his assumptions wrong. She couldn't tell him about any of the cases she had worked unless she wanted to get turned into an ermine. And she really didn't want to be turned into an ermine. Instead, all Yue could do was look at Sonoda for a moment before striding past him and slipping into the only open seat opposite their suspect and dropping the file onto the table before calmly flipping it open.

Their suspect was fairly nondescript – a mess of black hair long overdue for a cut and dressed like almost every other twenty-something. Some people expected criminals to look... criminal-like. Yue had learned it wasn't usually that easy. She said nothing as the suspect studied her. "You're not a cop."

"No, I am not." Yue replied calmly. "Since this isn't a police matter – but you already knew that."

"I have no idea-" He started, but Sonoda cut him off.

"You can save yourself the hot air," Sonoda started walking around the table toward the suspect. "We've seen what you were moving – pretty high-tier stuff for a low-time operation like yours. But we aren't here for the smuggling." The relaxed, but only until Sonoda's next words. "We're here about the murder."

That caught his attention. "Murder!?"

Sonoda reached into his coat, pulling out his phone, punching a few keys to bring up images of the crime scene before turning the small screen to the smuggler. The smuggler's face drained of color. "W-What is this shit?"

"Its what's left of one of your colleagues." Sonoda replied. "He had one of those custom handkerchiefs your lot seem to use for membership cards. Anybody not show up for their shift recently?"

"I can promise you some leniency," Yue chimed in. "That is, if you cooperate."

"Cop's around her don't cut deals." the smuggler replied.

Yue gave him a small grin. "But, as you said, I am not a cop. Any recent interactions with a tall fellow? Likely wore a cloak at all times?"

The smuggler considered the proposition. "I tell you this, you get me a deal? Like those American cop shows?"

"More or less." Yue nodded. "So – I'm guessing problems at work, if he killed one of yours."

"You could call it that." the smuggler replied, still a little uneasy. "No idea who he is, or where he came from. One of our contacts introduced him to us. Told us he needed things moved quietly."

"What sort of things?" Sonoda asked.

"You probably know better than I do." the smuggler shrugged. "We just moved crates in and out. Mostly around the district. There was no pattern to it – sometimes we'd pick up from a spot, then the next week it was the drop off. Other times it was just in the middle of a field."

"What about most of the time?" Sonoda leaned on the desk.

"The base of the world tree." the smuggler replied, leaning back as the Inspector intruded into his personal space. "Or near the lake. A couple times it was under the streets...somewhere. I was never sure where the tunnels were compared to the streets."

"Most of the sewer tunnels aren't large enough for people." Sonoda pointed out. "You'd have to be crawling around the flood control system."

"Unless," Yue added. "You were crawling around some decidedly older tunnels. Tell me, did you ever see temples as you moved through those tunnels? Perhaps see strange lights, unusual caverns? My guess is you probably had to pick up or drop stuff off at that sort of place."

"How do you know that?" The smuggler now looked thoroughly unsettled. "I don't even know what some of those places were! Our contact showed us around the first couple times..."

"I represent certain interests." Yue replied. "And those interests are very interested in whatever you saw down below."

"What about that in-fighting." Sonoda cut in before the smuggler could get too wrapped up in induced paranoia. "You mentioned some...issues at work?"

"Our contact started having us deliver the crates to new places a couple of weeks ago." the smuggler explained. "No more underground spots. These were warehouses or shop backrooms of something – normal places. Not long after the cloak guy showed up and he was seriously pissed."

Sonoda quirked an eyebrow. "How pissed?"

"He threw one of our guys through a stack of crates." the smuggler replied. "He was lucky they were empty. Still ended up being a pain in the ass to explain at the hospital. We told him we were just following instructions from our contact. After that, neither of them showed up. Never saw them again." the smuggler paused for a moment. "There was one other guy."

"Who?" Sonoda asked.

"Never got a name." the smuggler replied with a shrug. "He showed up around the same time we started changing where we delivered to. I figured he was handling things further downstream."

"So he was the new buyer?" Yue asked.

"Or the new middleman." The smuggler replied. "And I don't think the guy in the cloak knew we were selling to the new guy."

"Anything you can tell us about the new guy?" Sonoda asked.

"Just that he looked real jumpy for having as many tattoos on his face as he did." the smuggler replied. "Thats all I can tell you. So...about that deal?"

Yue rose from her seat. "My people will be in touch with you. Until then, you'll remain here in the custody of the Special District office." The smuggler started sputtering something about getting scammed when Sonoda gave him a pat on the shoulder.

"Your problem," Sonoda explained. "Is you think you're actually in a position to bargain with her." Sonoda left the indignant suspect as he stepped back into the hall, finding Yue resting her head against the wall. "You alright?"

"Fine." Yue replied. "That sort of act just take a lot out of me."

"That was... acting?" Sonoda blinked owlishly. "Where did you learn to pull an act like that? That was less 'cop' and more 'secret government agent' back there."

"My last job," Yue replied. "wasn't exactly normal. I need a drink."

"Well there's a vending machine down the hall if you want something." Sonoda pointed down toward one end of the hall. "Think they have something eel flavored in there."

Yue chuckled. "Just eel or eel curry?"

Sonoda shrugged. "never tried it. That was seriously an act in there?"

"I've learned that people tend to be more cooperative when they think you can do really horrible things to them and get away with it." Yue shrugged. "Also helps to have a good poker face."

"Thats...vaguely disturbing." Sonoda managed. "Effective though – you think are victim was the contact he kept mentioning?"

"Seems reasonable." Yue replied as she leaned back from the wall, stretching for a moment before starting toward the mentioned vending machines. "Though it doesn't tell us where the shipments were being redirected to."

"Or where to find this other guy he mentioned." Sonoda added, following behind Yue at a leisurely pace as they stopped by the vending machine. "We know who to look for, but not where to find them."

Yue fished a small bauble out of her pocket, along with some pocket change. "I might be able to help with that."

"What is that?" Sonoda peered at the item. "Wait, is that from the crime scene? You were giving me crap about protocol and you stole evidence from a crime scene?"

"You broke your own protocols." Yue replied as she fed the machine a few coins and punched one of the buttons. "I am still well within mine." At least, she thought she was. "Either way, I might know somebody who can help us."

Sonoda leaned against the wall. "You know a guy?"

The machine gave a metallic clank as it dispensed Yue's order. She fished it out of the hopper at the bottom, giving the inspector a small grin as she popped the can of eel-flavored drink open. "I think its time we visited the Bookstore."