Where are you now?
A few seconds pass with no response. Maybe Kenn put too much faith in me, or too little faith in Hideo’s stubbornness. I bite my lip, then send a second message.
I have more info for you. Best to talk in person. It’s an emergency.
Info from his hunter—it’s the only thing I can think of to say that might get him to see me.
More time drags on. Just when I’m starting to think Kenn has gotten it all wrong about me, an encrypted message appears. I confirm my identity to unlock it, and in return, an address pops up in my view. Hideo’s address. I almost sag in relief. Then I store the location in my GPS and delete the message.
Beside me, Asher raises his voice. “Anyone want to play a shots game? We need the waiter to come back.”
I hop to my feet. “I’ll go find him!” I say, then make a beeline for the door. Perfect. By the time the waiter gets to them, they’ll be so busy having fun that none of them will notice I’ve left. Plenty of time for me to come up with a good excuse. I exit the room and hurry down the hall. As I go, I bring up my map with Hideo’s current location.
His gold dot pops up somewhere in the northern area of the city. I hurry down a side corridor. Moments later, the hall leads me out into the narrow back alley behind the building and near its garbage bins.
A cold drizzle has dampened the sidewalk, and as I step outside, I’m hit with a blast of chilly night air. Neon lights reflect against the wetness, painting the ground a menagerie of smeared gold, green, and blue. The city block’s number—16—hovers in bright yellow letters over the pavement, while a gold dotted line leads from where I stand to the corner of the block, where it turns right and disappears from view. A cheerful Start! message and an estimated arrival time hover in the center of my vision, waiting for me to follow the map. Thirty minutes.
I shiver, draw my hoodie tightly up so that it covers all of my hair, and pull on a black face mask. I also download a virtual face to disguise myself. Anyone on the street who’s logged in to the NeuroLink should now see me as a complete stranger instead of a face they recognize from the news. Better than no disguise. Then I throw my electric skateboard down and jump on it. It shoots me forward as I follow the gold line.
Half an hour later, I emerge in a quiet, upper-class neighborhood on a hill overlooking the city. The travel time shifts in my view as I go, counting down the minutes that it will take for me to arrive. The drizzle has turned into a steady rain now, soaking through my hoodie and drenching my hair. I try to stop myself from trembling.
Finally, I’m here. The gold dotted line stops in front of the gates of a warm, well-lit estate with a curved wall and carved lions outside its doorway. I don’t know how much security Hideo usually has at his residences—but tonight, at least five cars are sitting here, and two bodyguards are at the front gate, waiting to greet me. Others look like they’re scattered around the estate.
One of them approaches me now, then tells me to hold out my arms. I turn off my virtual face and do as he says. He pats me down thoroughly, pausing to inspect my board. When he’s satisfied, he holds out an umbrella for me as I hurry to the entrance.
“It’s okay, I don’t need the umbrella anymore,” I tell the man. When he eyes me sideways, as if he never gets this order, I gesture to my soaking clothes. “Seriously.”
He reluctantly puts it down, and we walk in silence for a moment before reaching the front entrance. Inside the house, I hear a dog barking.
Hideo answers the door. His bodyguard blinks in surprise, as if this is not something Hideo does often. He’s still dressed in his clothes from earlier, but one sleeve of his shirt is pushed up to his elbows, while he’s undoing the cuff link on his other sleeve. His collar is flipped up, the top buttons open, and his black tie is draped loosely over his shoulders. His hair is damp with a few drops of rain, the silver streak shining white. He looks concerned and bewildered, a sudden, startling reminder to me of just how young he is. It’s so easy to forget.
“You’re soaking wet,” he says.
“And you’re alive,” I reply. “That’s good.”
The bodyguard leaves us alone. Hideo opens the door wide and ushers me inside. Beside him trots a fat orange-and-white dog with short legs and enormous fox ears. It stops in front of me, wags its stubby tail, and looks up at me with a panting smile. I pet it vigorously, then remove my wet shoes near the doorway and step inside.
The home is impeccably clean, with soaring ceilings and beautiful, modern furniture. Soft music plays from some sort of built-in sound system. To my surprise, I see no virtual letters, colors, or numbers anywhere in the house. Everything is real. How much does a house as gorgeous as this cost in a city as expensive as Tokyo?
“You’re trembling,” he says now.
I shrug it off. “Just get me out of these clothes.” Then I realize what I’ve said, and heat rushes to my cheeks. “I mean, well, not that—”
The edges of Hideo’s lips twitch with a smile, a brief respite from his grave look, and he nods for me to follow him. “I’ll bring some dry clothes for you.”
“I got a glimpse of a single file from Ren,” I tell Hideo as we head down the hall. Then I mention its name. “It’s obvious that Zero wanted to, well . . . try an assassination today. How’s your bodyguard doing?”
“He’ll live. There have been worse attacks than today.”
Worse attacks. “Any word on the culprit?”
Hideo shakes his head as he pushes his second sleeve up to his elbow. He’s weary, his dark mood still not lifted. “Kenn says the power had been thoroughly cut. In all the confusion, whomever it was managed to get away and blend in with the crowds. We’ll be studying every nook and cranny of the dome for evidence, but I won’t lie. They were ready.”
The culprit is still out there. I try to swallow my fear. “Just because nothing happened today doesn’t mean Zero’s not waiting in the wings to act. It could be one part of his grand plan.” I take a deep breath. “They’re going to try again. They could have been trying even before this. And there will be plenty of times when you won’t be as guarded as you were in the dome.”
Hideo’s lips tighten slightly, but it’s the only response he gives about his safety. He stops for a moment to look at me. “Did it report any data back about you?”
I hesitate. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of Zero grabbing info of me from the object—and the idea sends a shiver through me, even as I warm at Hideo’s obvious concern. “Shouldn’t be possible,” I reply. “I’m fine. Besides, it’s not me that we should be worried about. The more pieces of this that I find, the more ominous it sounds.”
“My security detail is used to being careful. After your warning, we did a full sweep of my home. They’ll be watchful.”
“That’s not what I mean. Hideo, you almost died tonight. You realize that, don’t you?”
“I’m well protected here. There are eight bodyguards on my premises alone.” He nods toward the rest of the house. “It sounds like you’re edging closer and closer to finishing this, at any rate.”
“I don’t understand how you can be so calm about this,” I say, my frustration rising. No wonder Kenn sounded so exasperated. “You need to get out of Tokyo. It isn’t safe for you here. Every moment you stay puts you in danger.”
Hideo casts a serious look my way. “I’m not going to be chased out of my city by a vague threat,” he replies. For the first time since I’ve known him, a note of anger creeps into his voice. “This isn’t the first time someone has targeted me, and it won’t be the last.”
I’m about to raise my voice, but then I sneeze. The cool air in the house is seeping straight into my soaked clothes, and I realize that my teeth are chattering.
Hideo tightens his lips. “We’ll continue this after you warm up. Come with me.”
We reach a spacious bedroom, its glass walls leading out into a serene Zen garden adorned with golden dangling lights. A large bathroom suite branches off from one side of the room.
“Take your time,” Hideo says, nodding toward the suite. “When you’re ready, we’ll talk further. Would you like tea?”
A nice cup of tea after your assassination attempt. Sure. I nod, too cold to argue. “I’d love some.”
Hideo closes the bedroom door and leaves me alone. I let out a long, slow breath. So far, I’m not doing a very good job of convincing him of the real danger he’s in. I sigh and strip off my hoodie, jeans, and undergarments, laying all the clothes out carefully along the bathtub to dry. My reflection in the mirror catches my eye; my makeup from the tournament earlier now looks smeared and smoky, dampened by the rain, and my hair hangs in wet strands of color. No wonder Hideo isn’t listening to my advice—I look half crazy. My gaze wanders from myself to the rest of the bathroom. The shower is enormous, with a rain showerhead installed right into the ceiling. I turn the faucet and let the hot water steam for a bit, then step inside.