It was a grim, dark Wednesday afternoon. Two o'clock, not much activity on all fronts. The heavy rainfall had just come around three hours prior. A greyscale palette coated the city streets whilst the neon lights, great towers and car headlights forced their way through the emotionless day. From beyond the shadowed car window, there was a sick stench from the midnight market stalls and dazzling light-show convenience stores all combining into one foul aroma. Measly flashes of dark alleyway dealings, bustled crowds and the odd corporate get-together littered each corner street the vehicle passed through. It was the same synthesised presentation the city had latched on to since its inception. There was little tradition at first glance as the new neo-modern era had just grown out of its infancy. It had been quite a while since he'd taken in most of the city's sights as the last months had restricted him to the local area of the recovery centre, with very little variety other than the quieter regions of the metropolis. Takai sighed and placed his head back against the passenger's headrest. It was probably the most uncomfortable thing he'd leant against, and he sure did miss the coddled security of the medical facility.
One had a lot to ponder over. There hadn't been much news from the National Security Force since his untimely incapacitation and news on the raids, inner-circle and operations had to have been reserved only to those within its walls. Loose lips sink ships, after all. Out of the loop, and out of the picture, he felt like an outcast. The new metallic replacements to his body weren't anything other than a detriment to his identity. And to go down the roads and streets of NeoTokyo, riddled with a strange disturbance to it all, assured him that he'd just returned to reality from his privately owned utopia.
Then again, he felt a strangeness to finally being called upon as 'Takai'. He had grown as used to his alter-ego, Yōta Akimoto, as much as he had learned to hate it. He wasn't going to miss having a day go by when the alias shared with an ex-footballer would be brought up, where he'd pretend to laugh it off in docile small-talk. Saying that though, he couldn't fault the medical staff the NSF had given him. They were kind and caring, something he clearly hadn't been used to. And the accompanying figure of Doctor Miho Yamada, who was currently sat in the car with him, reminded him of where his true roots were planted. They made the arduous process of rapid "recovery" and rehabilitation worthwhile, for the small part. And the odd letter, encrypted with permission from NSF Staff, made for a brief reminder that he was someone other than Yōta. Still, with the NSF facilitated coverup story in place, it was a matter of just waiting.
He grew less hopeful of his return. At least two operations would have taken place since his brutish separation from his unaugmented state. He'd cut his hair and looked almost like a different man, with the shorter and far sterner appearance. There had been a reinforcement placed in his facial mounting port for the PHUD, and the most notable changes in his forearm and leg were difficult to ignore, even if he'd covered them up with clothing.
The car ride had been very quiet. Neither the driver nor the two passengers had made any attempts at conversation up until they reached the final stretch. A long, prestigious alleyway leading up to the governmental parking allotment, which was ultimately one of the few routes to the NSF's main headquarters. Recognising the street, Takai readjusted his composer and sat up straight.
"How're you feeling now?" Breaking the silence, Miho spoke over her silent workings - and she drowned out the tapping of her fingers against her notepad. "Stressed? Worried?"
"On edge, to be honest." He spoke with a moderate stiffness to his tone. His voice, both reserved and composed, mirrored the clear-cut examination conversations he'd shared with Miho over the previous months, and he found it ever the more difficult to break out of that strictly professional barrier. "A lot may have changed in three months, and I am unsure if I am ready to partake in that shift."
"Well, you're right in that things will have changed, but I wouldn't call it unrecognisable. Just take your time and figure out how you want to ease back into this. You won't be placed on any D.A.Ds anytime soon, so you should be able to ease back into this." In reference to the Direct Assault Duties, he eased off a little. Going straight back into the assaulting scene was the last thing he needed. Having a few test-runs on investigations at least gave him the chance to prove he was mentally and physically fit to return to active service. Miho closed her datapad and turned her gaze to Takai, who's eyes were still fixated on the outside world. Just beyond his window, the shadow of the parking lot crept in and the light of the rain-fed day faded in an instant. She placed a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry. We've practiced this. And you're not completely alone. I've fully integrated into the organisation, and you still have the aforementioned allies. Kaz, and Iha too. They're still alive and well, so it seems."
Takai gave her a nod of affirmation, but went back to watching the outside world drift by. The rain no longer danced against his window pane and the cold interior of the parking lot became little more than a tedious performance. He looked away and finally turned to his medical director.
"What's on the agenda today? I'll need to know where I can make myself most useful."
"Oh, well, I'm not sure today completely. There's a meeting happening on the higher levels, not sure about what. I know there's an analysis on a small component recovered during a raid a couple of nights before, but that's really up for the engineers. Maybe there's a director of sorts you could reaffirm your return with? Friends as well? Don't rush into these things."
"Right, I'm sorry." He watched as the car twisted down the tunnels and bypassed the many checkpoints laid out for them. Seeing as they had taken one of the more exposed yet heavily armoured entrances, it took up to an additional ten minutes to get through each guard post, each posed as part of a regular governing body located nearby. In time, they reached the main facility, and the car pulled to a halt. Without a word, Takai opened the door, but was stopped by Miho's voice.
"Take it easy today. You're a new man with a dirty piece of slate to write on. Don't rush the cleaning process and keep yourself tempered. You'll be given an investigation soon enough when the time comes, and by then you'll be ready. Do you understand?"
The patronising professionalism soon began to irk him the wrong way, but he brushed it off with a slight smirk. Of course he knew, and she knew that as well, but the chances of him running off and trying to get back into what he did before were still quite high, even if that place held the very source of his trauma.
"I understand." Miho smiled and nodded to herself, congratulating on the final step of her jobline's phase. Finally, she'd given Takai the steps to reintegrate back into the NSF, and with that had completed the most time-consuming part of her assignment. Her placement laid in the medical facilities of the NSF's main headquarters, and so she stayed in the vehicle and let was carried away when it drove off. Takai stood in place for a moment, lugging around a small rucksack filled with a few personal bits and pieces that hadn't already been transported back to the NSF's lockers. And with everything seemingly in place, he walked into the main hall of the NSF, unsure of what he'd meet when he first re-entered the arduous shadow conflict.
With fourteen armed personnel by his side, he wandered through the hallways of the deepest levels of the facility. He looked around at the decorations hung on the metallic and concrete walls. Photos, paintings and framed works of previous short-lived programmes created of similar purposes. The past minister, even one for himself, and traditional art works handpicked by the leader himself. He smiled as he admired their strokes and embraced their presence with curled lips. One of the nearby lights flickered and he pointed to it, watching as another man noted down its little fault quickly. They were meagre things to take note of, but he liked to be thorough. After all, these were the greatest depths of the National Security Force. It would be uncouth to let it fall apart by ignoring the concerns of perfectionism.
He entered a small room, where the secretary leading the way opened the door for him and showed him to a large, LED-lit desk. He smiled to himself and gladly walked in, with most of the security detachment following in closely. Tapping his fingers against the surface, he found the least comfortable seat and gently placed himself down upon it, before nodding quietly to the secretary. She smiled back at him and gave him a graceful welcoming.
"Thank you for the wait, Mr Mashai, one of our Board of Directors will be here to meet with you shortly."