The Duality of Human Nature

While the Yakuza lost millions, Akumi Sato stood atop the Sunshine 60 and looked out across Tokyo Bay. The air was crisp and a chilly wind carried the strong smell of sea air, but the weather wasn’t bad for early February. Even if the temperature dropped into bitter lows, she wouldn’t have moved from the rooftop. Sunrise, as seen from such heights, was one of the few indulgences she allowed herself. The beginning of a new day, the opportunity to leave behind everything that had come before and start anew…it was hard to imagine anything better than that.

She thought about checking the time, but decided against it. Akumi had developed a sense for this, over the years. It wasn’t that she could necessarily feel the sunrise coming. It was the anticipation, however, that she’d grown to understand. The feeling rose in her chest, swelling and growing with every breath, until she could barely stand it. Then, and only then, the sun would creep just above the horizon, spilling warm red-orange light over the water.

Ruining that feeling would be an unconscionable waste.

Instead, Akumi removed a small flask from her suit jacket and downed a shot of whiskey; not enough that the liquor made her cough, but just enough that the liquor burned on the way down. Sake would have been more traditional, obviously, but she’d never really cared much about tradition. The whiskey was cheap American swill, which suited Akumi just fine. She wasn’t feeling particularly classy this morning.

It had all started the previous night. Her task, passed down through various intermediaries, was the sort of thing she’d done dozens of times. Errands from the bosses, usually run-of-the-mill busy work, rarely led to anything exciting. Most people simply bent the knee when a black-suited gangster showed up at their doorstep, paying whatever taxes or tithes were due, without any sort of argument. A little bit of revenue off the top was hardly worth a person’s life or livelihood, after all.

The Yakuza had a reputation to uphold, in general, but the twins were the face of that reputation. When people whispered about the consequences for disobedience, it was the twins they visualized. When someone got out of line and needed to be taught a lesson, it was the twins who took care of that ‘education.’ Virtually all disputes and negotiations came to a screeching halt when either of the twins showed up. Both of them, in one place, made even the Yakuza higher-ups nervous.

So, Akumi hadn’t been expecting trouble when she’d gotten her marching orders. Foreign interests attempted to extend their reach without the proper courtesies every couple of months. It usually didn’t take more than a chat – along with a broken bone or three, in the worst case scenario – to convince an interloper to reach terms with the local power.

Last night had been a far cry from ‘the usual.’

Things had gone badly, almost from the start. The newcomers had been hostile and aggressive, sure, but they’d also seemed desperate. Instead of respect or wariness, Akumi had found herself confronted by a strike team of paranoid, heavily armed men intent on selling their wares and spoiling for a fight. At the first mention of terms, the men had decided, through some unspoken means, to attack. She’d been outnumbered fourteen to one and they’d caught her flat flooted. It should have been a slaughter.

And it had been. In the process of demonstrating exactly how she’d become one of Japan’s premiere enforcers, Akumi nearly ruined her favorite shirt and irreparably damaged a new switchblade. It took her almost a full hour in the shower to wash off the blood after she’d finished.

Violence on that scale was her prerogative, but it also necessitated a report to the nearest area boss. Someone had to make bodies disappear, bribe law enforcement, and generally see to it that the general public didn’t catch a glimpse of how seedy the underworld could be. So, after making herself presentable, Akumi had driven to a nearby gambling den and endured an exhaustive tongue-lashing from a man whose name she couldn’t be bothered to remember. He’d railed against her presumption, talked at length about the difficulties of managing the docks, and ranted until Akumi’s eyes glazed over.

How were his shortcomings her problem? The bosses had sent her to solve a problem and she’d done it. This middleman could take it up with his superiors, if he thought his case strong enough, but Akumi knew that he wouldn’t do that. She existed outside of the traditional organizational structure, which technically gave the area boss authority to chastise her. In practice, there was nothing stopping her from punching him in the face and doing whatever she pleased, so long as she enforced the oyabun’s will.

By the time the area boss finished his rant, the time for sleep had long since passed. So, instead of journeying back to her apartment, Akumi had decided to greet the sunrise, in hopes that it might lift her spirits.

So far, it was working. Not by a lot, but anything was better than nothing.

Akumi was about to take another drink from her flask, when the rooftop door opened behind her. She tensed, muscles tightening in case of an attack, but relaxed when she realized the familiar presence of her guest. Some auras a person just recognized, as easily as they knew their own hands.

“You turned your phone off,” the newcomer said.

“Not off. It’s on silent.”

“And what if someone needed to speak with you?”

“I imagine they’d find a way to get in touch,” Akumi said. “And here you are, little brother. Seems like I was right.”

Kira Sato walked right up to the edge of the Sunshine 60, so that Akumi could see her twin in her peripheral vision. They shared the same nose and cheekbones, inheritances from their father, but the similarities ended there. Where her eyes were dark, almost black, Kira’s were a pale brown. He kept his hair short, in that traditionally masculine style, while hers fell to the small of her back when she let it down. He wore a heavy coat, its collar fringed with fur like a wolf’s pelt; dark jeans, probably purchased from some local designer; and each finger sported a fashionable ring. Akumi wore a plain black pantsuit and no outerwear at all.

She couldn’t see it beneath his coat, but Akumi knew that he’d be wearing a 100 yen coin on a chain, as close to his chest as possible. It was the exact match for the one she hid beneath her plain white shirt. Neither twin had taken off their medallion since their mother’s death and neither twin was likely to take it off before their own demise.

“I heard what happened,” Kira said. He took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one, and blew a cloud of smoke out into the open air. “I should have been there.”

“It shouldn’t have gone like that. There wasn’t anything worth dying over, but they seemed very determined to die anyway.” Akumi shrugged. “No one would’ve thought we both needed to get involved, which is probably why you weren’t summoned.”

“Still.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “How bad was it?”

“Fourteen men, semi-automatics. Small room, though, and they didn’t really come prepared for a fight. Plus, I’m pretty sure they were scared out of their minds. I mostly just let them shoot themselves and then cleaned up after they ran out of ammo. Almost ruined a shirt, I guess.”

“What shirt?”

Akumi grimaced. “The embroidered one.”

Kira turned to look at her and groaned. “That was an original, sister, and it was an Ochuben gift. Why were you even wearing that on the clock?”

“I wasn’t on the clock when I got the call,” Akumi said. A wicked thought occurred to her and she barely kept the smirk from her face. “I was on a date, you see, and I didn’t really have an opportunity to get back to the apartment to change, so…”

Kira held up his hands and stepped back. “Point taken. Please, please don’t go into any more detail.”

“You asked.”

The twins lapsed into comfortable, familiar silence. It was hard to be uncomfortable with someone as close, Akumi mused.

The sun began to rise. Kira finished off his cigarette, but he didn’t start a second one.

“He wants to talk to you,” he said, without preamble. “Well, us.”

“Who? The guy from the gambling den? What’s his name again?”

“That would be Machii-san,” Kira said. “I don’t understand how you can’t remember these things, sis.”

“I don’t understand why you bother,” Akumi retorted. “But you seem to enjoy it, so…”

Kira acknowledged that with a little smile. “Fair enough. Machii-san isn’t thrilled with the mess you left at the docks, but he knows better than to make a fuss about it.”

“Who, then?”

Him,” Kira said, and his inflection stressed the one syllable to the breaking point.

That made Akumi stand up straighter. “Goto-san?”

Kira nodded.

“About the docks? How did he even find out about that so quickly? Why would he even care?”

“I don’t think it’s about last night,” Kira said. “I got the phone call an hour ago. No one said anything about the docks, so you’re probably in the clear about that.”

Akumi pursed her lips for a few seconds. “You should probably change. You know how Goto-san is about proper decorum.”

“I do and I would, if there were any time.”

“We can stop by my apartment. After we got back from London, you left some suits there.”

Kira shook his head. “Goto-san­ isn’t in Ginza. He’s here.”

“In Tokyo?”

“In this building. He rented out the restaurant. All of the advisers are here, too.”

Akumi turned away from the sunrise and stared at her twin for several long seconds. The advisers rarely convened in the same place and they never did that outside of their strongholds. Goto-san made a point to avoid meetings, in case of an assassination attempt. If the heads of their family were breaking with longstanding tradition, something big must be going on.

The twins left the rooftop, Kira naturally falling a half step behind his sister, and took the elevator down to the 58th floor. As soon as they stepped into the restaurant, Akumi could feel the tension in the atmosphere. She walked into the main room and saw twelve men in identical suits seated around a long rectangular table. At the head of the table, a slightly overweight man in a black kimono surveyed his advisers like a king staring out over his land. Which, in a very real way, was an accurate metaphor.

Yoshinori Goto was old-school Yakuza, handpicked by the previous boss and groomed for years to take over the position when it became necessary. He lived by an unimpeachable code of honor and, accordingly, had ruled as head of the family for nearly three decades without incident. His businesses were as prolific as they were successful. From local gambling dens and street corners, Goto had expanded into politics and banking. He was integral to the infrastructure of Tokyo as the subways and the electric grid.

Goto broke off a conversation with the adviser to his right – Takumi-san, if Akumi’s memory served her correctly – when the twins came into sight. Kira and Akumi both bowed.

Finally, you arrive,” Goto said. “It took you long enough to get her, Kira.”

One of Goto’s strangest quirks, in complete defiance of his adherence to tradition, was a selective use of the proper honorifics. Most people who talked to him semi-regularly got used to it. Akumi certainly had.

Kira, apparently, had not. The corner of his mouth twitched downwards minutely before he answered. “Had I known you needed her immediately, I would have been back sooner.”

“The matter was important enough that I wouldn’t allow you to change,” Goto said. “You could have assumed that time was a factor.”

“My apologies, Goto-san,” Kira said, bowing once more.

Goto waved a hand, casually dismissing the matter. He turned his attention to Akumi. “Tell me, how much do you know about our operations in Macau?”

Thankfully, Akumi actually knew an answer to that question. “In order to expand our revenue from gambling, we came to an agreement with the Triads over our profits. More traffic leads to more money for both parties, Goto-san.

“Exactly correct. I knew there was a reason you were my favorite.” He said it with a little twinkle in his eye, but Akumi wasn’t sure if she was serious or not. He was well past the age where sex could be a motivation and he’d never made a move; still, it was safer not to roll the dice on that.

“Is something wrong in Macau?” Kira asked.

The advisers started murmuring around the table. Goto raised one hand from the table and silenced all of them.

“Yes,” he said. “As far as my advisers have been able to confirm, it seems as though our money has been stolen.”

“How much money?”

“All of it,” Goto replied. He gave that pronouncement room to breathe, so that it had the proper effect on the stunned twins. “Several million in liquid funds, as well as a great deal of capital we’d intended to use for development of some more legitimate businesses.”

Akumi swallowed nervously. She’d seen Goto furious only three times. Once, he’d broken a table in two and thrown both halves through the window. Once, he’d sentenced three traitors – three low level dealers who’d been caught cheating at cards – to summary execution. And, once, he’d strangled a man to death with his bare hands.

He wasn’t furious now. That was more concerning than any outward sign of emotion.

Kira shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “We can be on the next flight to Macau, Goto-san. We’ll find your money.”

“While I would like to have my money back,” Goto said, “I am less concerned with that than I am with finding the thieves who stole it in the first place.”

“Would you prefer us to deal with them ourselves?” Kira asked. “Or would you like to handle them personally?”

“I am…interested,” Goto said.

“Interested, Goto-san?”

“Whoever stole from the Triads didn’t know they were stealing from us,” Goto clarified. “If they had knowingly done that, I would happily send the two of you to bring them to justice. But it seems as though the Triads are not the only victims.”

Akumi’s brain made a connection. “The fight at the docks? Was that connected to the theft in Macau?”

Goto looked at an adviser, who nodded after checking a tablet in front of him. “Potentially, yes. There have been several high profile thefts in the past few months. It has made many people very desperate. In order to stay solvent and ahead of their debts, some organizations are reaching out farther than wisdom or caution would allow.”

Kira made eye contact with his sister for just an instant. It only took a heartbeat for the message to come across clearly. A familiar face in London had piqued their interest, right before the drug empire imploded, seemingly overnight. It wasn’t exactly the same, but there were key similarities. Large amounts of money disappearing…an agent or agents who worked from the shadows to accomplish impossibly large tasks…the downfall of an organization that had profited, primarily, on the suffering of others.

The other message contained within the instant of eye contact was stark and clear: Say nothing. Akumi didn’t understand why her twin would send that thought, but she trusted him implicitly. He would have some reason for keeping details to himself; she merely had to trust him and play along.

The communication didn’t last long enough for anyone else in the room to notice. Even after fifteen years, Goto continued to underestimate the connection between the twins. To him, and to everyone else, they were a highly effective pair of enforcers, trained and empowered to act more or less on their own orders.

To Akumi, they were a single organism, operating with two distinct bodies.

She spoke, without betraying the slightest hint that she’d been communicating with her twin. “What would you like us to do?”

“I’m giving you access to a discretionary account,” Goto said, “and relieving you of any of your regular duties. I want you to go to Macau, find whatever trail remains of these thieves, and locate them for me. When you’ve done that, I will give you further orders. Do you have any questions?”

“None, Goto-san,” Akumi and Kira said, at the exact same time. They bowed, also in unison, and left the restaurant.

They didn’t say anything else until they were safely on the elevator.

“I’m thinking about London,” Kira said. “You don’t think she could be involved in Macau, do you?”

“I’ve never been certain that she had anything to do with London,” Akumi replied. “It isn’t how she operates. Emilia has always been a fighter, not a thief.”

Kira considered that. “I can only accept so many coincidences. Aiden and his men were involved with the drug lord in London. He was robbed, even if the official reports do not show that, by someone capable of disappearing into the wind. And Emilia happened to be in London while all of this was going on. You don’t think it’s a bit strange?”

“Of course it’s strange. I just don’t know if it’s strange enough to act on.” That wasn’t quite true. After a few seconds, she relented and elaborated. “It is…likely, fine. Although I still don’t know why she’d be involved with thieves, it stands to reason.”

“Do you have any way to reach her?”

Akumi shook her head. “According to my contacts, she disappeared after London. No new contracts, no jobs. I could ask Goto-san to have someone hack into her finances.”

“No…no, if she is trying to disappear, she won’t be using those accounts anymore.” He thought silently while the elevator plummeted a few more floors. “Macau is probably the best lead we’ll have.”

Another handful of seconds ticked away.



“Why didn’t you want me to tell Goto-san about this?”

“I…don’t know,” Kira admitted. “It feels like…something else is going on. Something bigger than Goto-san was telling us. Maybe even bigger than he realizes.”

Now that he’d spoken the thought out loud, Akumi realized that she felt the same. Emilia had always been a creature of habits. For her to break with tradition and become a thief? There must be a reason for a change like that.

Akumi intended to find out what that reason was.

The twins reached the bottom floor, crossed the lobby, and stepped out into the early morning. Sunrise was well underway, warming the pavement and casting a burnt light across the sleeping city. As they walked, she removed the flask from her pocket and held it up, angled slightly so that her arm pointed behind her. Kira took it, unscrewed the top, and took a long pull before passing it back. Neither he nor she said a word; they performed the action in perfect synchronization, as if it had been something planned and not an intuitive understanding of the other.

Akumi took one more look at the horizon – not as beautiful as it would have been from the rooftop, but still gorgeous – before she turned and strode toward a waiting limousine.

It was a new day and Akumi couldn’t wait to see where it would lead.

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