The first time Neji sees the assassin, it is as if all the colors in the world were drained away. White, sinfully fluffy carpet, a silhouette of dull black metal, and wet red dripping from the blades springing from the back of its hand.
White and red and black eyes. Watching him. Weighing him.
Smooth metal mask for a face. Empty eyes -- no emotions. AI?
"I take it Tanaka-san won't be coming to the speech," Neji says, barely hearing himself.
Faint surprise in its eyes now -- or wishful thinking? Anthropomorphism? Neji knows better. No emotions to appeal to -- and a dead secretary, ah, so that's why Tanaka left the gathering. Affair? Industrial espionage?
Whatever the reason, two deaths have been judged necessary. No need to ask why; no answers forthcoming. Only in bad vids do killers gloat before getting rid of the witnesses.
Neji moves between the white secretary desk and the white wall; combat stance, the fluid crouch of the Gentle Fist. The dark shape is slender; light armor, hopefully thin -- probably quick, though. At least Neji sees no gun. Maybe he'll be swift enough. He doesn't know this make; where are the weaknesses?
"Why," the assassin asks softly, "do you read as Hyuuga Hiashi?"
Neji flinches. Briefly. Barely visible; painfully obvious. He sneers in retaliation, as if the assassin cared what Neji thinks of him. The palms of his hands tingle with a suppressed charge.
The assassin glances down at them. He shouldn't be able to see.
"Why," Neji counters, not as much soft as carefully filed smooth, "do you care?"
"It might become pertinent later."
Neji hisses between his clenched teeth, and puts his feelings away. If he isn't allowed to kill the Hyuugas, no one else will.
"Who paid you?" he asks calmly, and slowly moves in the open space, where no chairs or wastebaskets will get in his way. He's still holding his crouch.
The assassin doesn't move, unnaturally still as he stands over the two crumpled bodies. He hasn't moved at all since Neji walked in. Only his long bangs flutter; the fan is still whirring softly on a desk behind him.
The computer is whirring too.
"That was -- personal?" Neji asks; he doesn't care, he just wants something to say as he steps to the side again -- there's a cable, snaking from the computer to lose itself in a smooth black ponytail.
Outrage; he's stealing data -- whatever! He's tethered. Thin cable, will break easy -- might damage his ports though, that's --
It isn't so much the quiet order that stops him, as the amused undertones. He looks up; the face is a mask, empty and smooth and surprisingly aesthetical. The eyes are red and non-organic and mocking. This isn't an AI, is it? They don't express such subtle feelings in that way.
"I won't let you touch me."
He knows. He knows about Neji's bioelectrical implants. How? They're an exclusive of the Hyuuga corporation. Neji sneers again; he only needs to brush against the assassin's armor, just once. It's a toss-up; if he can dodge fast enough...
A blade long like his forearm springs out of the back of the assassin's other hand.
"Why do you read as Hyuuga Hiashi?" he repeats smoothly, the blade a dull black that seems to absorb the stark light of the room.
"Why don't you hack into our computers and find out?"
This time he actually snorts -- "I will. Later." -- and reaches up to free the data cable from his data port.
Neji strikes, twisting to avoid the blades lashing at him.
Neji doesn't die, because the carpet is damp with blood and his foot slips. He doesn't die and it doesn't even hurt; a line of cool dampness against the left side of his chest, ending at his shoulder. In his shoulder. Whatever. He strikes again, a knee on the floor, aiming for a leg -- touches nothing but air. The assassin leaps over, lands on a desk.
The armor is even lighter than Neji thought; the desk barely dents at all. The desk's joints groan, high-pitched enough to hurt teeth, as the assassin shifts, aims his strike. Neji climbs back on his feet; he wants to face his death standing.
Behind Neji, someone screams. The desk creaks. Neji lifts his hands -- not fast enough -- where is he?
The assassin is crouching on the edge of the window -- blades gone -- Neji doesn't know how he manages to duck the sudden jet of fire. He rolls on the carpet, bumps against the secretary's desk -- pure instinct makes him crawl in the leg space and topple it over his body.
The fire roars on the other side of Neji's shelter. The sprinklers hiss, drenching him. The alarms howl. The interloper is still screaming. He waits for a heartbeat, two, then peeks out quickly -- the window is empty.
The computer is a melted mess of plastic and metal bits. The bodies are charred. Dark smoke fills the other end of the office. Quickly -- in case the assassin is still hiding behind another desk, however unlikely that is -- Neji dashes to the door, shoving the unlucky spectator along through it.
The heavy fire doors farther down the corridor burst open; Neji pauses, long enough to be recognized, then leans against the wall as security mills around them.
He's vaguely amused that a heavy, fortysomething corporate shark could even scream that loudly.
Someone's talking to him -- security? Paramedic, the badge says. He can't hear; the siren is still howling, and
sitting on the floor.
Huh. No white carpet here. Smooth marble. Cool under his hands. White and black, veined -- a red drop.
Now, of course, it starts to hurt. The colors bleed back into his world; the paramedic has a forest-green armband, the corporate screamer a dark blue suit. The walls are cream. He doesn't move as the medic applies pressure to his wound. He's shivering a little. It's just shock; it will pass in a minute.
Hyuuga Hiashi is standing in front of him. The man looks angry, sterner than usual, as he stares at the damp, bloody, shredded dress shirt as if it was a personal affront.
Neji clenches his teeth. "You'll have a scar," he comments, maybe a bit snidely.
Something in Hiashi's face tightens. Neji is satisfied. He pushes the paramedic away and straightens up, making sure to stand straight. He doesn't want more questions, so he starts talking first; "Assassin. Light armor, male body type, killed Tanaka-san and Midori-san's secretary, before hacking into a company computer."
Hiashi's expression darkens even more, and his eyes narrow. Midori-san has heard his name, and gets into Neji's face, demanding more details. Neji would shove him away, but he can't be that impolite to the host; but Hiashi cuts his business partner short, imperious. "The boy was injured, he almost got killed. He will answer the police's questions later, when he's feeling better; for now, he's going home. Come along, Neji."
Neji pushes away from the wall, refusing the hand that one of Hiashi's bodyguards offers him, and follows on his heels. He knows he won't see the police before Hiashi and his executive board are done debriefing him. It doesn't much matter; he's used to lying to the authorities by now.
He doesn't relish the prospect of facing that bunch of old vipers. No doubt they will berate him for being reckless; did he think about how much it would cost the Hyuuga to replace him?
No. No, he didn't. He could have run, he knows he could have. There would have been a chance that the assassin wouldn't have been quick enough to catch up.
He's just a clone after all. What does it matter if he lives or dies, in the end. What does it matter to anyone but him.
He didn't run; didn't even think of it. He stayed; he fought. They can't take that away from him. He steels himself, holds close the memory of dull-black and blood-red death. The feeling of being alive. It's his, nothing but his.
He's still cold; his clothes are damp from the sprinklers, and stick to his skin. He doesn't let the bodyguard drape a vest across his shoulders as they leave the building. He sinks in the limousine's cushions and closes his eyes, and hopes he scars so thick that no surgery will ever erase it.
At least he dodged the rest of the reception.
The beginning was meant to sound disjointed; I was trying to make it feel like shock. Did it work? And if you don't understand every detail of who and what Neji is... patience, patience. ;p (I really hope I don't need to tell you who the "assassin" was. XD)