Human Resources 4: Parting Shots

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Shimizu Yumishita. A name to ruin my day.

Well, that's not quite right; it's most of my days, lately, not just one. Sunrise till sunset - and let's not kid myself here, I don't go off the clock at sunset - it seems like all I get to deal with. Some lunatic with a crossbow shooting up our best and brightest... which, I admit, sometimes aren't that special or even bright. We take what we can get. Point is, it's a loss, something which I'm here to stop. With her wish, though... Ah, Petey, this is why you've gotta have me around for contracts. Looks like she ran circles around his clueless little ears.

Going to be a real pain to catch her, now.

“I won't say 'I told you so', but...”

“Your objection is noted, Ryouno. I will be sure to consult you on future contracts.”

“Hey, let me help you, that's all I'm asking for.”

“All? I suppose I must have imagined your salary, then.”

...Huh. Didn't expect that kind of crack from the little guy. Put a smile on my face, somehow, until the rest of the office made me all dizzy again. Whole place is crazy, even if it's not quite as bad as the River of Tales. Just wasn't really made for humans. You'd think he would fix that, after all this time, but I don't think my hints quite got through, and either he couldn't be bothered or... really had no idea it was that bad.

Ah well. Wouldn't be in this job if I wasn't ready for a little weirdness now and then.

Still don't get this Yumishita kid. I mean, yeah, revenge and so on, I can see that. Petty little brat, but I kinda get it. What I don't understand is the way she's doing it. Shooting up the rabbit, that much is pretty obvious, and it's around when I found out how little that means. At least he went and ate the corpse somewhere out of sight, so I guess he's learning a thing or two about tact. She ran off before we could catch her, seemed to just melt away. And then...

And then what?

Shoot up magical girls from the Third, sometimes even the Ninth, with no rhyme or reason? Camp out in witch barriers and snipe down all comers? It just doesn't hold up, even as some kind of revenge story. She can't have snapped completely yet, that'd probably make her witch out or something. But if not, then... why? I just can't see the point in it all. Not that it matters much with the mountain of corpses she's racking up, but it might help a bit with figuring out how she works.

“You got anything, Peter?”

“Very little. What I do see here is a pattern, however. Though there is a semi-random element to her choice of location, Yumishita appears to gravitate towards the barriers of powerful witches. Whether she does so because they provide better hiding spots or an increased flow of victims is, I'm afraid, a question only she can answer. Of note, however, is the fact that she targets magical girls exclusively, and does not assault civilians, including victims of witches. Typically, if a witch brings in too many civilian victims, she quickly disposes of the offending witch. Naturally, since the resulting grief seed is not returned to us, this is in itself a problem.”

Wonderful, now she's costing us grief seeds, too. Something didn't quite click here, between the samaritanism and the whole psychotic serial killer thing she has going. Still, it's a start. At least we've got a decent hunch about where to spot her.

“So we hit the biggest, nastiest barrier we can find, then, and we root her out. Or... we could try shoving some civvies in there to lure her, but that'd be a tough one to explain to the kids. Call it a second priority. We hunt her in her own element, in the worst place we can think of. Am I hearing this right?”

“Approximately.” Oh, joy. And it's my job to do something about this. At least I'm not going in person.

“Send a force into the worst witch barrier we can find to hunt down a rogue Vindicare – one that's killed about two dozen already – and hope it's the right place. Can we afford that kind of bloodbath on the numbers we've got?”

“Can we afford to leave her at large?”

Hate it when he's right. He has a point, though. We can't very well afford the meat grinder option with the numbers we've got right now. It's about time we made it stick. Ordinarily I'd want a squad or three for something on this scale, but since we can't just grab whole human waves for this – assuming for the sake of the argument that we're calling magical girls human – I'm going to have to hand-pick a group.

“Peter, I'm going to go have a chat with Masame. See what I can figure out for our plan. Permission to leave?”

“Of course. I look forward to any progress you may make.”

“Careful with all that 'looking forward' talk, now. Got to keep those pesky emotions in check, right?” ...And he just kinda froze, for a second. Couldn't exactly read his expression, obviously, but I think I hit a nerve. Funny idea, really, that something can still bug him. Didn't feel like pressing it, somehow, so I just showed myself out.


Hitomi's room – she couldn't let me in fast enough when I knocked at the door – isn't quite most people would expect. It's a loud, lively sort of place, where the TV never switches off and there's usually strobe lights turned on overhead. Not to mention music blaring from a couple different speakers around the room. Honestly, the whole place looked five seconds away from some kind of rave. Not that she's the type.

Always gave me a bit of a headache. Can't help feeling a little old, too. She says the white noise helps to keep the visions away. Me, I'd much rather she held onto anything she might be able to learn, but we can't tell her that. ...Which reminds me, I should talk to the rabbit about changing up contracts. At least let us track soul gems or something, in case we get another renegade. Shouldn't be too difficult.

“Oh, um, please have a seat, Miss R- I mean, Harumi. Sorry it's so messy in here, I haven't had a chance to-”

“It's fine, really! Try to relax, before I start scaring the others. Working for Sanbey doesn't make me some kind of inspector, you know. Did the others drop by again?”

She nods. Figured. She's got her a slightly bigger dorm room than most – it's an easy way to keep the precious prognosticatrix relatively happy – and doesn't exactly know how to say no, so the rest of the Officio tends to crash the place on the regular for whatever they can think of. They're a whole lot messier than she'd ever be, so the place ends up looking like a bomb went off, half the time.

Screen's blinking with another reminder of the visit, showing... I think that one's... it's whatever. All I know is that I got lectured last time I called it Street Fighter; never had much of a head for this stuff. Way she explained it, her precognition moves to just reading the next few seconds if she's in a dangerous situation, and she's trained her head into seeing that as just about the same as combat. Sounds ridiculous to me, but if it works, I guess. Went about five rounds with her once, pretty sure she practically cheats at this by existing. Always had a hunch that the real reason's more about getting to feel smug about something. Like a seer has a shortage of excuses for that.

...Whatever. The point. That is, after handing her a batch of cookies I made last night, and chatting about nothing in particular for close to half an hour. It's not a waste of time if you need to do it to keep everything running smoothly, and I try to tell myself that while the rest of my head's screaming at me that I need to move along.

“Ah, Hitomi?” I asked like I'd just remembered. “Sanbey and I were hoping you could help us with something. You've... heard about the Yumishita case, right?”

“Of course. Were you going to send-” Ha. Ha ha ha. Ha. No, girl, we're not throwing you into the thick of it, you're too handy to be cannon fodder. Nothing about a prognosticatrix really says 'front lines', anyway. Would just be a waste of everyone's time.

“Oh, no, no. Don't worry, Hitomi, nothing like that. I just wanted to check something. This might sound a bit silly to you, but I never had much of a chance to learn about how... anything a Vanus does really works. Can I ask you a question?” That takes a minute to click, like she'd never even considered that she'd have a choice, but somehow she only seemed to be more eager after it.

“Please, go on. If there's anything I can do to help...” Sometimes I feel like all she ever wants is for someone to tell her she's doing a good job. Who's a good oracle? You are! Yes you are! Ah, whatever. Makes it easy to keep her happy and far from witching out.

“Can you track someone?”

“...Yes and no,” she answers after thinking about it for a bit, looking a little embarrassed. “I've heard that others can just scry, but even with the River, it's a bit unreliable for me. Do you think you could get... a piece of her? A hair or something? With that, I should be able to track her down.” Well, what do you know. I had a hunch, but it all seemed too witch doctor-y to me. Shows what I know. I wonder for a moment if it's coincidence or the stories come from real magical girls way back, then decide I don't care.

“That's perfect!” I tell her with a little clap of my hands. 'Perfect' as in it'll take going through hell and high water to get her what she needs, but it's a start. “I'll get started on that as soon as I go back to the office, then. Thank you, Hitomi; I think you might have just rescued us.”

“I haven't really-” Done much. I know. Not yet, anyway. Instead, I put one arm around her shoulders and shush her gently. Can't have that.

“Now now, you've helped more than enough; we really couldn't do this without you. ...Enough about work, though. How are your headaches lately?” If I had to guess, it was something to do with her visions, but she seemed to get them on and off. Looked surprised that I even remembered, actually. I guess she doesn't know how many notes I keep. The little props you use to show someone you really do care.

“Still here,” she admits after a bit, one hand on her temple. “I've been... seeing more recently. It's not helping much.” A quiet laugh and a sheepish little smile. Gotta admit, I like her spirit if nothing else, trying to shrug all this off.

“I had a feeling,” I tell her, all frowning concern. “Let's see... you'll need rest, obviously. I'll talk to Sanbey about that.” Simple enough, may as well have her recuperate before any big oracle work. “I'll try to get you something for it, too. I hate to say it, but you might want to turn the music off, or at least choose something more soothing, otherwise you'll only make it worse. If it's anything like the last migraine I had, you won't want anything that can rustle, either. Would you like to have that cleaned up?”

I point at the mess of candy wrappers practically burying the floor, and she tries to do something about it first, but I get her to stay put with a little pat on the head. Takes all of ten minutes to sweep the whole mess into a bag and seal it shut. I stay another half hour past that and chat with her, tell her it's nothing, get her to cheer up. She takes it pretty well, says she's eager to help, and eventually we split up. I'd like to think making arrangements for her break with the rabbit over the phone while she was still around made a difference.

Let's see, I'm going to need a team to track down one rogue Vindicare, and get... something, anything to scry on her with. Maybe even just pick up something she's dropped? Probably best to sneak around instead of getting shot to pieces. Someone to keep them from being spotted, another to figure out just where she is in the barrier, and someone who can... well, who can actually fight. I'm not sending just a Callidus and a Vanus into a major barrier.

Yeah, I think I know the ones. Just a few calls to make.