Kadath in the Cold Waste (kadath) wrote in pre96,
Kadath in the Cold Waste
kadath
pre96

Ghost in the Shell: That First Step

Title: That First Step
Author: Kadath
Fandom: Ghost in the Shell
Pairing: none
Rating: PG. Mature themes, and there's a spot of serious but vaguely-described violence.
Scenario: "Your characters attend a conference/convention."
Disclaimer: Characters and settings are copyright Masamune Shirow/Kodansha Ltd./Bandai Visual Co., Ltd./Manga Entertainment, and are used utterly without permission--but utterly without profit, as well.
Notes: This is written solely based on the Ghost in the Shell movie (1995--I squeak in under the cutoff!) which is a rather different animal from the manga continuity--darker and with less humor, and the main character, Motoko Kusanagi, is more mature than her pen-and-paper counterpart. I honestly don't know if this piece is at all accessible to someone who hasn't seen the movie, and I would especially appreciate feedback in that respect.

A word on style conventions: italicized dialogue represents conversation among people with cybernetic implanted radios. Like telepathy, such a conversation is silent to the outside world. Italics seemed the least distracting way to denote this, and I apologize for the confusion caused before I added this note.

Hong Kong had banished the night. Major Motoko Kusanagi--special operative, cyborg, and, for the moment, assassin--sat above it all on the edge of a multi-story hotel, looking out over the fluorescent second day that replaced the darkness. She saw none of it as she watched the green and black tactical display carried over the wires plugged into the back of her neck. In her mental hearing, the team radio chatter played while they all waited for the Chief to give the signal.

"Watch that first step, Major," Batou said dryly from his gravitationally-secure position in a car in front of the hotel. Kusanagi didn't reply, but she checked the straps of her harness one more time. A fall from this height, in addition to being painful in a way that would redefine the word, would also almost certainly require a new body.

New body. The thought triggered old memories, doubtless spiking some wave pattern on a monitor somewhere so a technician could cluck over it and make a note for her next evaluation. This wasn't the first time she had sat perched in the shadows, waiting to kill and meditating upon the nature of silicone flesh and metal bones. The first time was just after she had finally signed her life away to Section 9.

"You'll be fine, Lieutenant," a younger Chief Aramaki had said, uncharacteristically patting her hand as they waited in traffic on the way to the convention center. "Your skin has finished outgassing, all your kinesthetic control tests place you in at least 90th percentile, and you'll only get better."

It's not about the new body, Kusanagi thought, opening and closing a fist strong enough to crumple a rifle barrel. It's about what you want me to do with it.

"Yes sir," she said aloud.

"Don't be so glum," he told her. "You don't have to do a thing until after the buffet." He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Kusanagi overheard a burst of encrypted radio before she stopped listening to look out the window at what she could see of the water, glinting as the chop in the harbor caught the sunlight like so many diamonds--or muzzle flashes.

"The future as seen from the 1980s," Aramaki said gruffly as they climbed out of the car at the front doors of the convention center. The building swept outwards into the harbor, the outer walls all enormous expanses of glass and the roof a silvery brushed metal with seemingly no corners at all. Kusanagi fiddled with her convention badge and the briefcase that contained nothing remotely close to a computer.

"I'm going to check the building security," she said, spotting the row of chairs with datajacks next to the front desk.

"It's all been taken care of, Lieutenant," Aramaki said, scanning the entrance hall. "All you're here to do is pull the trigger."

"I don't like being kept in the dark about this kind of thing, sir."

"Fine, if it will make you feel better," he said flatly.

Kusanagi stalked across the floor, annoyed but with no outlet to express it. As she leaned back in the chair to let the wires plug in, she saw Aramaki speaking to a bespectacled, jowly man with a sour expression. Right before her real-world view cut out, the stranger gestured in her direction, and Aramaki shook his head in answer to something the other had said.

Kusanagi blew brusquely through the convention center's user-friendly interface into the guts of the system. The cameras in the conference room were programmed to switch to a loop of earlier recording an hour before the start of the target's talk, the alarms were deactivated, and convention center security personnel were assigned such that the nearest of them was at least a minute away--it was, indeed, all taken care of. Searching for something to be legitimately annoyed about, she stayed logged in to the system, and was reviewing the schedule of talks when she felt the virtual equivalent of someone brushing by her. Startled, she turned her attention to an overview of the system, represented in virtual reality as a birds-eye view of a city map, but everything was still except for logged in convention center employees and visitors, marked by bright pointers.

"There's someone else in the system," she told Aramaki. "Is it one of ours?"

"What? No. Track him down."

"He got away from me. Could be anywhere--wait!" A superuser pointer, similar to how her own must look, emerged from the Security 'building' and crossed the 'street' into Climate Control. "I picked him up again," she said, following the pointer down into the schematic representation of air conditioning ducts and thermostat wiring. Discarding stealth in favor of speed, she tore through subsystems, presumably sending up a chorus of alarms in her wake--or would have if they hadn't already been deactivated.

In the Heritage Room thermostat monitoring system, she caught up with the other superuser. There was the unmistakable feeling of someone turning to look at her. Kusanagi reached out to make contact, and then the icon blinked out of existence as whomever it belonged to disconnected from the system.

"He's gone, Chief. Does the designation '2501' ring any bells? It's all I got before he logged out," she asked.

"Just a moment," Aramaki said. Kusanagi took the opportunity to log out, and returned to awareness of the real world to see the man standing with Aramaki glaring in her direction.

"Don't worry about it, Lieutenant," Aramaki told her.

"What?"

"You heard me."

"Fine." She picked up her briefcase again. "You clearly don't need me. I'm going to go get lunch."

"Behave yourself and come meet Nakamura from Section 6," Aramaki said. "Mr. Nakamura, this is my aide, Motoko Kusanagi."

"Mr. Nakamura," she said.

"Lieu--Ms. Kusanagi." Nakamura glanced around, presumably to see if anyone had been listening to notice his slip.

"He knows me? What is going on, Chief?" she asked plaintively.

Aramaki ignored her. "Nakamura, it was good to run into you. Don't worry about your problem--I told you we'd handle it."

"I have no doubt you will," Nakamura said, but he was again staring at Kusanagi.

"Come on, Kusanagi, we have lunch reservations," Aramaki said, and begain to weave his way through the crowds in the entrance hall. Kusanagi trailed along, feeling Nakamura's eyes following them as they rounded the corner.

One all-you-can-eat buffet of strained silence later, Kusanagi and Aramaki were standing in a nearly empty lecture hall as convention staff bustled about arranging chairs. "Picked a good spot?" he asked conversationally.

Choking back everything she wanted to say, Kusanagi just nodded. "Those beams in the back should hold my weight."

"Good. Shoot him before he announces the title of his talk. I'll be in the front," Aramaki said, and walked back out into the hallway to reenter with the other, non-murderous conference-goers.

Grumbling to herself, Kusanagi checked to make sure none of the employees in the room were looking at her, then jumped a full three meters up into the exposed gridwork of the ceiling, where she settled back into the shadows and started to unpack rifle pieces from her briefcase. There was about half an hour to wait.

A few months ago, that jump would have been impossible for her. Now Kusanagi made it without a second thought. Sometimes this new body scared her as much as it delighted her--and now, in the lonely, boring minutes before the action, she wondered just how high a price Section 9 planned to extract for making her so superlatively other than human. No longer just a cog in the machine, she was the machine.

A machine with a ghost, she reminded herself. She could still hear the little intuitions, the voices that spoke in the back of her mind, whether for good or ill. These things, said the psychologists, said made her human, even though the only thing born of woman that remained to her were a few braincells, nourished and cushioned by a nutrient bath and augmented by computer inside the metal curve of her skull.

Kusanagi assembled her rifle with automatic efficiency, her mind far away, as people began to file into the room. She sighted on the podium, well within range, and waited, calling up the picture of her target to pass the time. He was young, college-age, with a head of dark hair, unkempt as suited his reputation as a top programmer. In the photograph she had stored, he was looking off to the right, distracted by something off-camera. He was, in fact, entirely unremarkable, and could have gone unnoticed in any crowd. What had prompted him to sell his services to another country, she wondered? And what information had he been trusted with by his own that made it necessary to kill him, rather than simply lock him away? She had a feeling assassins didn't often get answers to questions like that.

Assassin. Kusanagi didn't like it and didn't want it, but there it was, sitting next to her on the rafter as surely as if it had a body of its own. Aramaki thought she was capable of killing in cold blood--was so sure of it that he hadn't even bothered to discuss it with her before assigning her the task. She thought black thoughts and stroked the barrel of the rifle absently with a thumb. A stir onstage suggested the moment was at hand.

"Here he comes," Aramaki told her. "Gray jacket, red tie."

Kusanagi found the man in question as he mounted the stage, matched him to the picture...and hesitated.

"He's a traitor," Aramaki said.

"He's a kid." Indeed, he looked very young and lost standing alone at the podium. He cleared his throat.

"Take your shot, Lieutenant," Aramaki ordered, voice all ice and warning.

Something inside Kusanagi crystalized. It was laughably easy. She knew she didn't need the scope, knew that the telescopic magnification built into her eyes would work seamlessly with the targeting software in her brain, cuing her to hold her breath and holding her as still as death but for a single finger, curling around the trigger. She held her target's head steady in the crosshairs. Time stretched out. He smiled at some thought forever lost as Kusanagi did as ordered and his head exploded.

"Very good," Aramaki said over the radio as time snapped back to normal. She zoomed in on him, an unmoving figure in the growing chaos, looking straight at where she sat in the rafters. "Meet me on the docks. Someone will be picking us up there."

"Why are we doing Section 6's dirty work, Chief?" she asked as she broke down her rifle.

"That's none of your concern," Aramaki said, vanishing into the crowd at the door.

"Section 9 can act where Section 6 can't, is that it?" she kept after him as she took advantage of the confusion to slide down a column. "What are you getting in exchange? Revoking someone's diplomatic immunity? An overseas operation? A favor for the future?" Aramaki's end of the radio connection was silent.

"How does it feel, Lieutenant?" he asked her when she caught up to him at the dock. He was standing with his hands clasped behind his back, staring out over the water as a powerboat edged its way up to them.

"Like nothing at all," Kusanagi said, realizing it as she formed the words.

"Mmm. It'll hit later," Aramaki replied. "But you'll get over it."

"Major, are you there?" Batou asked, jolting her out of her reverie and back to the rooftop and the task at hand.

"Yeah, I heard you, she answered.

"I'm surprised you can hear anything. What's with all the noise in your brain today?"

"Must be a loose wire," Kusanagi said. Pulling the connectors in the back of her neck free, she rose as the tactical feed disappeared from her field of vision, and stripped off her coat to stand covered only by the thin film of her thermoptic camouflage. Such a fragile thing it was, yet it would turn her into a ghost, falling past the signs and windows in a near-invisible blur of redirected light. Motoko Kusanagi racked the slide on her pistol, and jumped.
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