Abandoned Shepherd: Nobuchika Ginoza

Psycho hazard threat has passed. Zone average at regulation level.

I summoned the drones and gestured to the paralyzed target on the ground. "Secure her in the paddy wagon."

Over my shoulder, Masaoka peered down the twisted streets. "Someone got the lucky last shot. You think it was Division 2?"

"Probably. I know when I glanced after we got this one that the target wasn't in our range." I pointed off towards a distant alley. "Somewhere over that way. I think I saw Aoyanagi close by."

Masaoka shouldered his Dominator. "Well, if she pulled the trigger herself you know it was a high score."

Throwing him a stern glare, I narrowed his eyes. "You do realize you just insulted a superior. Aoyanagi is a fine officer."

"Meant nothin' of the sort." He closed his eyes and held up a hand. "Ko would have chuckled."

"He and I differ in what we let slide." I started to walk toward the alley, Masaoka at my shoulder. "Aoyanagi. Did one of your hounds take the last target, or was that you?"

Silence. That was unusual.

"Aoyanagi. Report." When there was nothing, I glanced at Masaoka's concerned expression. This wasn't typical at all. I broke into a flat out run toward the beacon. Tearing around the corner I lead with my Dominator. Immediately my heart rate shot through the roof.

Aoyanagi stood in a wide stance gripping her Dominator hard enough that she still squeezed the locked trigger, her back against the wall. The whites of her eyes shown beneath the streetlamp. I tracked her stare. A figure sprawled on the ground, flung awkwardly from a shot to the side of the chest. A Dominator several feet from his outstretched hand. The MWPSB logo on the jacket reflected in the dim light. The number 103 on his shoulder.

"Shinya!" I flung myself forward over my fallen partner. It had been a Paralyzer shot. He was still in one piece. Still breathing, though scraped from sliding across the ground … he'd been running … toward Aoyanagi? The detective in me kicked in, I eyed the angle from crouching beside Kogami. I stared right down the beaming shaft of her Dominator. The trigger released on a valid Inspector? I glanced around. No one else was here. What the hell had happened?

Calmly, Masaoka pushed Aoyanagi's hands down. "It's ok, Inspector. Just take a deep breath. What happened?"

Her eyes remained wide, staring at the unconscious Kogami with an expression of unbridled terror.

"Inspector Aoyanagi." I furrowed my brow. "Why did you shoot my partner? Answer me!"

"I … he … " There was nothing more. She slid down the wall, her haunted eyes still staring.

With a sigh, I pointed to Kogami. "I'll take care of Aoyanagi. Hound 1, carry him back to the wagon and secure him like you would any other target."

Masaoka blinked. "Are you serious? This is Ko we're talking about."

"We'll sort it out later. But we do know one thing. That trigger would not have released on a normal reading. How many times did we both warn him and he refused to listen?" I approached the catatonic officer, gently taking her by shoulder.

"Are you sure it's about the case?" Masaoka studied the alley. "There's nothing here but rubble. Ko was fine earlier in the office. Calm and collected as ever."

"Just do it." I started to lead her along. "Division 2 chips, this is Shepherd 1 of Division 1. Check in with me at your paddy wagon. Inspector Aoyanagi is with me."

"She ok?" One of her chips barked over the com.

I studied her distant eyes. "She should be alright." I hope. Patting her on the shoulder, I kept my reply off the channel. "We'll get you back to the department. Then it would be good to speak with a therapist." I took one last glance back at Kogami slung over Masaoka's shoulder. None of this made sense. What was I missing?

I hit the button and watched the elevator doors shut. The moment I was alone my stern facade cracked. Something about today seemed off. Of course I'd never gotten used to someone else sitting Kogami's desk intermittently over the past three months. Division 1 had been taken out of the field for the day, a situation I had learned about the moment I arrived at the empty office. Shortly after logging into my computer the chief summoned me to a meeting. I averted my eyes to the ceiling as the elevator climbed through the floors toward the destination. Being summoned to the chief's office was either fortune or fate. There was no in-between. Lately our division's performance had been lack-luster at best.

I fixed my glasses and tugged my tie straight just before the doors opened. Crossing the room, I stood at attention in front of her desk. The chief glanced at me sideways without a smile.

"You wanted to see me, Chief?"

Turning in the chair, she faced me and folded her hands on the desk. "Inspector Ginoza, prompt as always. I have a special assignment for you today."

Special assignment? I suppressed the urge to furrow my brow. "Am I to assume that is the reason my team has been benched?"

"Astute of you. How typical. You are to proceed to the Adachi Municipal Psycho-Pass Correction center."

My pulse quickened, "Are they finally releasing Kogami?"

The chief nodded.

I smiled and leaned forward on the desk. "That is excellent news. The temporary inspector assigned to Division 1 was alight, but there is no simply replacing Kogami's detective skills."

Staring over the rim of her glasses, the chief interrupted my rush of words. "Kogami will require an escort."

That final word slapped the smile off my face. I shifted back, withdrawing my hands from the desk. "Chief, surely you don't mean … "

"That his Psycho-Pass has stabilized classifying him as a latent criminal? Yes, Inspector, I do."

My mouth moved without a sound. No. This could not be true. My best friend never would have allowed this to happen. Shinya knew damn well how close that would cut.

At the touch of a finger, a holograph of her screen appeared in front of me bearing an immense readout. "I received a thorough report this morning. At the center he forced them to use their most aggressive techniques, all to no avail. He clearly remained undeterred in his mindset. That said, I'm assigning him to your division. To keep him in line will require the eyes of someone who can anticipate his behavior. And to remove a problematic lure, Special Case 102 is officially closed."

"Chief," I gasped. "That case has not been solved. What about the victims? You can't do this!"

She leveled her steely gaze.

The weight of it bored into me until I stared at my shoes. Had I just committed insubordination? Silently, I awaited the consequence of my outburst.

"You are fortunate that I admire your services, Inspector Ginoza. You would be wise to remember the delicate nature of that admiration in the future. Have I made myself clear?"

Swiftly I nodded, eyes remaining locked on the floor.

"Good." She stood and leaned on her hands. "Then I trust that there will be no more fuss. Naturally, I anticipated that there would be some turbulence. However, you are a professional. And I expect you not to the make the same mistake as your former partner. Separate your emotions and do what must be done. That is all."

My throat tightened. My mind reeled. How could this have happened?

Without remembering walking the halls, I found myself standing at my desk, staring across the room at Shepherd 2's desk. Kogami … over these last three months I kept picturing him back there. No where else. Staring at the screen in long patches of silence as a case first began before the brilliant insight left his lips out of the blue.

No more. He could only return into one rank. One place for the rest of his life. Enforcer. I picked up the wristcom I had retrieved for him. The cold metal brought a shiver to me. A collar for a hound, that's all this represented. A social deviant signing a lease on his life so as not to spend the remainder in complete isolation. And I was about to place this burden on the closest friend in my life.

How could you do this, Shinya? Memories flashed before my eyes. The vile taunts of the other students as they pushed me into the ground calling me a latent criminal by default all because of my lousy father. The sounds of a scuffle above me. A hand helping me to my feet. The bullies turning their threats onto Shinya, but he remained steadfast. Always there, grinning and laughing. Always there no matter how much it cost him for hanging out with a pariah. Shinya who had followed me into the PSB force because his scores left him choices and he'd said he wanted to help people.

I bowed my head. Of course he had known the price of his folly. There was no way he hadn't been aware with how many remarks the team had made about his late nights spent staring down clues on the screen in the darkened office. If he thought I hadn't noticed, he was deluding himself. All for a lost hound he had driven himself over the edge … at the cost of his own humanity.

Tightening my hand, I glared at the device. You betrayed me, Kogami … just like he did. The only difference is that you knew better and you went there anyway! That makes it ten times worse.

With a deep breath, I released it and shoved the pain down. A numbness took over me. No more time could be spared. I had to bring the hound back where he belonged.

"Inspector. We were informed earlier today that someone would be by." An orderly came out from behind the desk. "Didn't think it would be so soon. We'll go get him."

"No." I held up a hand. "There is an important conversation that needs to happen first."

The orderly cocked his head. "Thought everything was finalized. Well, alright, he's technically already under your department. Follow me. We shut the sensors off this morning, otherwise there was a fairly good chance you guys'd have to wait for him to wake back up again."

Following behind him, we passed cell after cell of degenerates. Out of the corner of my eyes I observed their various activities in their isolation. A woman stood at the door staring out at nothing at all. Another younger girl frolicked around her cell as if chasing some imaginary thing. A boy lay screaming confined to a bed, leads attached to him. Latent criminals. The very threat we chased down and removed from society.

Now that is what my partner—no—former partner was.

An alarm went off. The orderly darted a glance over his shoulder. "Aww shit, again? I gotta go help the doc, we've got another lively one." He pointed down the hall. "Keep going another five cells. Your guy is on the right."

In a way I was relieved to see him jogging off. I didn't want anyone witnessing my reaction. Taking a deep breath, I tried to steel myself for what I would find as I passed the last handful of cells. I don't even know what I was imagining. What I saw was not the confident Kogami I had grown up with.

In the back of the cell he sat wedged against the wall with his knees drawn up. His hands gripped his hair as he trembled. Even his toes were curled under. An orderly ran past me. The sound of every footfall triggered a strange jerking in Kogami's body. He huddled tighter, muttering words that weren't fully formed. I held my breath, this wreck was not what I had expected at all. A pang of sympathy struck me, the chief had said they used their most aggressive methods. Where did that leave him?

I pressed the holopane to bring up his last assessment. 257 with a charcoal gray hue. My jaw clenched. The graph had no real distinguishable hills or valleys. It was practically a flat line, gradually rising.

A sigh escaped me.

Kogami's hands loosened their grip. His own breathing halted for a moment before he edged his face up. His hollow eyes struck me like a blow, forcing me to fixate on the file as I swore they would pull me into his madness.

"Ginoza?" His hoarse voice grated me, but the demented smile creasing his face as he shuffled halfway on his knees toward the door lanced my heart. He practically fell against the pane. "Gino! I've been trying to reach you. No one would—"

It had not been my imagination, his speech almost sounded drunk. According to his file the last treatment had ended a few days ago. He'd only been ambulatory since this morning. I couldn't look at this wretched man I once knew. "I'm not here on a social visit. This is strictly business."

Kogami held his breath. My eyes betrayed me, meeting his dilated gaze. Two black pools struggled to track me even though I remained standing stock still. They seemed to try and track things that weren't there. From my perspective that condemning number from his graph emblazoned by his head, rather like a Dominator sight. "Three months, Kogami. Three damn months you've been here and not once has your crime coefficient dropped below two-hundred. Instead it has steadily climbed. Your hue? Rather than improving has gotten cloudier."

He jerked into a denial. "There's a reason. You have to listen—"

The more his raw voice stumbled, the hotter my anger burned. This man had been brilliant, now he was deranged. "No. It is time for you to listen. Like you should have done in the first place." My fists shook, if it weren't for the barrier I would have struck him.

"I have to know," he leaned on his hands against the door, "has the Specimen Case been solved?"

"You and that damn case." My jaw clenched hard enough I swore a tooth cracked. "The case has been closed, unsolved."

"What?" He plastered himself against the door, beating on it in a fit. "How could they? No … what about the four victims?"

I narrowed my eyes. "Five."

"There's been another? And they closed it? Is the chief insane?"

Do you know how much shame this is going to bring our division? … no, my division. You have no ownership in that now. "It's been closed strictly because of the fate of the last victim."

His clawed fingers raked down the pane leaving behind sweaty streaks. "We can't let this go. Give me the details, Gino."

I lowered my voice to a terse whisper. "You know exactly what happened to him, Kogami. I'm here on orders to finalize that file, to see where this ends." I knew the extent of the damage now. That detail never would have escaped Kogami's sharp detection before. He'd been reduced to a wild animal. My hand tightened around the wristcom in my pocket. Did I dare show him? He'd know instantly what it meant, or should. Could I inflict that revelation on him, even now? I met those feverish eyes searching for a sign that he still remained there. In those hollows the barb of his betrayal struck deep. This wasn't on my shoulders. I pulled it out and dropped it on the shelf outside the door.

Kogami's revulsion registered immediately. Drawing back, he gripped his chest. "No! … No, please! Gino, not that! There's no coming back from that. Give me more time. I can pull it back together, I just need more time."

How could he not have known it would come to this? Three damn months in here and he assumed that everything was still fine? I fixed him with a deadpan glare, all that he deserved now for his ignorance. "Your time is up. The experts have exhausted their efforts here. It's obvious your crime coefficient has settled into a latent criminal. Your choice is this," I pointed to the Enforcer wristcom. "Or permanent isolation. Which will it be?" In a way I wished that he would choose the latter, it would be easier not seeing him everyday. Yet, how would I explain to the chief why I hadn't bring him back?

This was clearly no longer the man I had known. He fell to his knees, sobbing, "Nubochika don't … " The sound of my given name wrenched me. He now had no right to use it.

"Shinya Kogami is dead." I turned my back on him, shielding myself from the wound I inflicted. "A victim of your stubborn rage."

His voice lost any trace of life. "So … the only choice I have left … is the size of my cage."

I remained with my back to him, unable to witness the moment he broke under the cruel revelation. My heartbeat drummed in my ears as the silence stretched out only punctuated by an intermittent strained gasp. The weight of those harsh breaths crashed on me, threatening to break my resolve. If I didn't walk away now I might join him on the floor. I took two steps before I heard his hand slipping up the pane.

"Gino, don't leave! I … I'll … I'll take it."

I glared over my shoulder, finding him with his head bowed, shattered and broken. I couldn't take him now. Not yet. Sternly I remarked, "I'll come back to fetch you once the transfer is complete."

"I'm sorry." Hardly a whisper through a strained throat.

I pressed my glasses higher up the bridge of my nose. "You should be after throwing your life away."

Without another word, I turned and strode away. The moment I was out of his possible line of sight I frantically dashed into a restroom, slamming open the door of the nearest stall. In an acidic torrent, my stomach violently ejected breakfast. Once my guts had finished racking me, I leaned back against the wall shutting my eyes tightly.

Two had crossed the line. First my father and now Kogami had let themselves be torn away, cast into the dregs of society. Now, I stood alone, abandoned by their reckless decisions. Returning to the office I would stand as superior to them both. I was already seeing a therapist, I didn't relish sharing this sick twist.

Bowing my head, I hid in that stall, thankful that for over an hour no one entered to discover me as I collected myself for my despicable duty.

I forced my head high flanking Kogami's left shoulder through the halls of the rehabilitation center. I didn't trust that wild look in his eyes. Every motion he made set me on edge, though I fought to suppress any outward sign of it. He reached up and loosened his tie, unbuttoning the collar to let the shirt fall open. Sloppy, not like how he used to dress. He stole glances over his shoulder at me. Every time I averted my gaze, refusing to met that of my newest subordinate. The further we got, the jumpier he seemed.

We approached the back of an open paddy wagon flanked by drones. He shuffled to a stop, shoulders dropping. "Gino, is this really necessary?" He fought for my gaze.

I stared beyond him. "The sooner you learn your new place, the better." I pointed up the ramp to the darkened interior. "Get in." Don't make me force you.

His shoulders sagged further. After a moment, he walked in, the shadows fell as the closing door swallowed him whole, sealing him off from society's eyes.

I slid into my car and set the route. I'd barely pulled out of the garage with the wagon in my rear view mirror before his call came. I'd been expecting this. I stared at my wristcom debating whether or not to answer. After all, I didn't owe him any answers. But the buzzing registered like a cry for help, albeit too late. At last I answered, blocking the video feed. Instead, Kogami's file displayed on the screen. Enforcer punched me in the gut, igniting my ire. "What?" I snapped.

He hesitated, the words coming out edged with shame. "Gino, we have to talk."

I tensed at the informal shortening of my name. That he would dare to do so knowing where he ranked now was a strike against me. "There's nothing more to be said. And it is Inspector Ginoza to you."

Rapidly he stuttered, "Let me explain. You think I didn't try to get better? I did. I fought damn hard, but whatever they used wasn't helping me. This whole situation just made things worse."

Arms folded, I drummed my fingers on my elbow. "So, now you're passing the blame."

A short pause, marked with a swallow. "Of course not, it's just that—"

He was lucky to be in another vehicle at this moment. Did he think I would let his reckless remark fly? This was going too far. "Sibyl ordered your treatment, you know. Perhaps if you hadn't been so stubborn and avoided the obvious solution early on, you wouldn't have ended up where you are now. The blame is solely on your shoulders."

"There's more to this, it's not so simple. Give me a chance, I'm still shaking off the side effects."

"Enough." I cut off the call, slamming my fist into the console of the car. What did it matter now? Words changed nothing and the more he tried to explain, the angrier I got. I had to calm down or my own hue would become clouded. As the buildings passed by I numbed myself to the situation, walling away my tarnished memories of the past. So intent on that task, I had failed to notice when we arrived back at the bureau's headquarters.

Standing outside of the wagon, I watched it open to reveal Kogami sitting with his downcast gaze, a beaten dog. The moment he dared to look my way I gestured for him to follow me. As we passed into the halls I noted as he tried to speak only to lapse back into silence before even a single word left him. I waited for the CID floor's door shut behind us to break the silence. "Enforcers are not permitted in public without being accompanied by an Inspector. Within the building, you are restricted to the CID floor … "

He interrupted with a burst of sarcasm I didn't expect, forcing me to glance his way. Were his eyes clearer than before? "Shit, Ginoza, it's only been three months. I remember the rules."

"Not from that side of the leash." I snapped. It didn't matter how much he tried to resemble the man I knew. Those days were over now. "Don't you try anything. I won't hesitate to pull the trigger."

"Your call." He met my threatening gaze with injured pride.

"Go to the dog pound and find your assigned quarters. I have files to finish thanks to you." Unable to stand this tension any longer, I pushed past him heading for the deserted office. In the dark, I slumped in my chair staring at the blank screen. I had lied. The files were already done. I just couldn't take the strain any longer. Folding my arms, I rested my head on them hoping that no one would wander in and discover me until I managed to pull myself back together again.

That's when I glimpsed the new rotation. Tomorrow morning duty resumed. My hounds would be 1 and 3. Masaoka and Kogami.

I shut my eyes. Shit.

I cursed my luck. The shift had barely begun when the call came in. Exiting my car, I glanced over my shoulder at the hulking paddy wagon knowing full well who was inside. Taking a deep breath, I authorized the clamps to release the back door. I faced the parking garage and the urban area where the flagged target had last been glimpsed as two sets of footsteps dropped down the ramp. The buzz and whine of the Dominators powering up filled the air.

"Alright. He was last spotted … " I swallowed my words as a familiar shadow moved past me. Kogami sauntered by with the gun rested on his shoulder heading on a beeline toward the parking structure. I took two steps after him before halting. No, this wasn't how this would start! "Hound 3 what do you think you're doing?"

He didn't stop. "What does it look like? My job. Just stay put and keep the wagon warmed up. Be back in a few."

Why that insubordinate piece of garbage!

Masaoka came up to my shoulder, lowering his Dominator and fighting a laugh. "Well, I think I'll just stay here in case he comes this way. That alright with you, Ko?"

"Sure thing, Pops."

My jaw ground tight. I flashed Masaoka a chastising glare, which only earned me a shrug. Cupping my hand I shouted to Kogami's back, "Hound 3! Did I tell you to—"

"Talkin' ain't getting it done." The shadows of the garage swallowed him as he leapt over the wall.

"Damn it!"

Masaoka grinned. "What are you worried about? He knows what he's doing."

"That's not the point." I waved a hand toward the structure. "He's not listening and you hardly helped by encouraging him."

Again he shrugged. "Ko needs to stretch his legs a bit, that's all. Give him a break. He'll come back."

I crossed my arms. "I'm not as certain as you are."

"Ginoza." His voice softened. "He knows how the system works better than some raw recruit. That means he's less likely to try and slip the leash since he knows the odds of that working. I know how you feel—"

"I don't need a lecture." I glowered.

Out of the second story of the garage, a man flung himself over the wall. The moment his hand left the cement his eyes went wide and he screamed. Not even a heartbeat later, Kogami launched out of the shadows, Dominator locked on target. His eyes focused and hard, he pulled the trigger in mid air nailing the flailing man. I held my breath as I watched them both seized by gravity. A bush caught the man. Kogami tucked into a tight roll and tumbled back onto his feet with a grunt. All I could think of looking at him was feral dog as he barked, "Hound 3. Enforcement completed."

Masaoka's laughter startled me out of my stupor. "With badass style, Ko."

I couldn't spare a moment to lecture Hound 1 for his encouragement. My glare locked onto Hound 3 as he strode back and replaced the Dominator in the rack. He had the gall to not even stop before mounting the ramp. I stomped my foot in the ramp, causing him to pause. "What kind of stunt were you pulling out there?"

He narrowed determined eyes at me. "My job, Gino."

The insolence! My temper snapped. I grabbed his jacket and rammed him against the bumper of the wagon. The air punched out of his lungs in a harsh breath. In a move I had learned from him, I forced my elbow against his throat. "For the last time, Hound, you are to address me properly as Inspector!"

The heat only intensified between us. In his eyes I could see the threat building. A wolf baring its fangs. "Those high school bullies sure taught you to beat a man when he's down, didn't they! Inspector."

My eyes widened. What had he said? Had I misread his expression? What the hell was I doing treating him like this? I knew what it was like to be pummeled by a wretched label. My grip slackened.

He took up the slack, snarling back, "But of course they would target a weakling like you. Two words about your father and you practically screamed 'kick my ass'!"

Without a thought I drew back a trembling fist. His eyes didn't blink. The hard stare fixed on my fist with expectation. Under my arm I felt his strength, he could overpower me at any moment. But he didn't even try to break my hold. Still, his words wrenched me at the core. How could he strike me like that? He knew! The insolent bastard knew. I jabbed a finger toward the paddy wagon. "Get in there before I change my mind about keeping you around."

Slipping into the back of the wagon with his hands in his pockets, he declared, "If you need me I'll be in the dog house where I apparently belong now."

What the hell was he thinking pulling a move like that? I pumped my fists ready to follow him inside and teach him a lesson. No. I was an inspector. It wasn't my place to snap and growl. That was his. Clearly he accepted that. Fine, if that's the way he wanted it.

I stormed past Masaoka. "Drones, get this guy loaded up." It took far too long for the drones to pick the subdued target from the bush. The whole time I fought the urge to glance over my shoulder and be certain that Kogami remained in the wagon. How dare he dredge up those old wounds. If anything, that proved to me all the more how lost he truly was now.

Shinya Kogami was dead, only a feral dog remained.