Malkovich, Chapter Thirteen

Unit three thousand twenty one/ Is warming, makes a humming sound/ When its circuits duplicate emotions/ And a sense of coldness detaches/ One more robot learns to be/ Something more than a machine/ When it tries the way it does/ Makes it feel like it can love/ Cause it's hard to say what's real/ When you know the way you feel/ One More Robot/ Sympathy 3000-21, The Flaming Lips

Itakura stood close to the hotel room door, listening intently.

So it seems like they're going to Wuhan anyway. . . It's a perfect coincidence. What should I do now? Follow them? It's about all I can do, isn't it?

At the sound of footsteps approaching the door, Itakura quickly sidesteps and hurries al little way down the corridor, praying he looks like a regular hotel guest.
The first one to leave the room is Malkovich. She looks down the corridor, away from him, as if she was suspicious.

Some one can't have told her, can they? Who would know?

For a second, Margarete's eyes rest on Itakura.

He does look suspicious. He looks as if he's trying not to be looked at.

By now, the others had filed out of the hotel room behind her.

Any normal person'd be at least a little curious about an odd group like us.

Itakura is walking down the corridor away from them, consciously trying not to go too slow or too fast, trying not to have any conspicuous traits and above all, trying not to look nervous.

He's almost certainly that army guy, and not a very experienced one either. I'd doubt he's ever done a spying mission like this before.

Margarete lets the others get a little ahead of her, until they're just out of the hotel. Mr Zhen is proposing a good luck drink in his pub- on the house, of course.

Sensing her opportunity, Margarete announces she might have left some stuff in the room, and arranges to meet the others in the pub as soon as she's made sure.

The moment she is inside the building, she hurries up the stairs and along the corridor. As she'd expected, Itakura is still there, planning his next move.

She's almost relieved that he looks so frightened when he sees her. Her mind is running ahead in time, trying to work out what to do with him.

I think shooting him is a complete write-off. Not in the middle of Shanghai. And even if this was in the middle of nowhere. . . .

I don't 'think I could.

The realisation washes quickly through her mind like cold water.

After. . . After that time on the boat, it seems nobody is just a nobody. Looking at it that way makes it a hell of a lot harder to just shoot them. I could kill him if I reallyhad to. . . . If he was some one I really hated. . . But this guy's just a poor bugger doing his job, none of this is decided by him. . . . .

But I'll have to keep an eye on him. Can't have him reporting back to the army or anything. And we have to get out of Shanghai and go to Wuhan, pretty damn soon.

. . . Take him with us?

Look, what's your name?' she asks him.

Itakura,' he says and immediately regrets not having given a false name. Gods, why can't I think before I speak?

What's your mission?' She doesn't think it's worth pretending either of them doesn't know what's going on.

What are you talking about?' Clearly he doesn't share this viewpoint.

You know damn well what I'm talking about!' exclaims a frustrated Margarete. There isn't time to hang about here, especially if he's going to act so stupid!

In a quick snap of a movement, she grabs her pistol and points it at his face.

I won't shoot you if you tell me. Why are you here?'

Itakura has no way of knowing she wouldn't shoot him anyway. Margarete steps purposefully forwards, her gun now inches away from Itakura's face. Tell me''

Okay. Say I don't. She shoots me. If I do. . . Then what? She's probably lying. If she's going to shoot me anyway I shouldn't tell her. If I don't tell her and she shoots me then I'll never know.

I'm going to have to take a chance and tell her. I'm no use to the Army dead, after all. But if I'm dead, will it matter? I don't know. . .

I haven't got all day!' snaps Margarete. Itakura tenses, ready to duck, in case she is lying. In case she tries to shoot him anyway.

My mission. . .' he begins shakily. . . . is. . . to locate the group you were with, find out what was going on. . . Try to persuade the remainder of the group to go to Wuhan.

How convenient for you that we were going there anyway. What were you going to do when we got to Wuhan?'

I don't know-'

Margarete jabs her gun a little closer to his face.

No, really, I don't! There's Army troops at the Temple! It was going to involve killing Dehuai somehow. I didn't get told anything else.'

She believes him. He doesn't know the first thing about spying, and there's real fear on his face. Margarete sighs.

I suppose you can kinda guess by now what happened to Kawashima and Kato,' she murmours, almost an aside. Then, suddenly stern again, They were much better trained than you, remember. If you don't want the same to happen to you, you will do exactly what say.'

Itakura feels a hard, cold ball of nauseous nerves at the base of his throat. What do I have to do?'

I can't really afford to let you out of my sight now, can I? So you are going to come to Wuhan with us. At Wuhan. . . well. . . We'll see. To explain your presence to the rest of the group. . . I don't know. Start thinking fast, because what I do know is that certain members of the group would be sorely tempted to rip you limb from limb if they thought you were from the Army and planning on arresting anyone. Especially if you were planning on arresting Alice Elliott. She's innocent, by the way.'

Itakura could barely keep up with all the new information she was throwing at him.

She's innocent. . .? What about the man she was with. . . .?'

Yuri? He's . . . wasn't involved in the train murders either.'

Itakura opens his mouth to ask who was responsiblethen, but Margarete speaks again before he has time to talk.

Now', she continues. I know you're still on the Army's side, don't trust me, think I'm lying, think I'm gonna shoot you the minute you turn your back. I don't really blame you and frankly I don't care. Trust is not an issue here. There isn't time. What is an issue is that if I find any funny behaviour from you- like reporting in- before we get to Wuhan, you're going to wish you'd never been born. Got that, sonny boy?'

Itakura nods, dumbstruck.

In fact, best be on the safe side.' Margarete holds out her free hand. Give me your intercom.'

He doesn't know what else he could possibly do. Shaky, he pulls it out of his pocket and hands it to her. Margarete slips it in an inside pocket of her coat.

Good. When we meet the other members of the group, you are. . .' Margarete still can't think of a way to explain him to the group, but they've already taken so long. She'll think something up off the top of her head, she's good at improvising when she really has to.
Thinking it's now safe to do so, she returns her gun to its holster. Okay, just keep your mouth shut until you know who you're meant to be. Now, c'mon, and do try to act like you've got some idea what you're doing. .'

Remember,' she says as they make their way down to Mr Zhen's pub. this is all in the Army's best interests. We are going to defeat Dehuai anyway, but I expect you already knew that from when you were listening in on our conversation earlier.'

She hadn't been dead certain that he had heard, but chances were he'd at least tried to listen in at one point. By the look on his face, it's clear he had, and still thought she didn't know about it.

Margarete enters the pub first and immediately sees the rest of the group, the only customers. They're crowded around one of the small tables near to the door. Yuri greets her with a call of So you finally decided to join us, huh? We were beginning to think -

He stops in mid sentence as he catches sight of Itakura. Noticing that Yuri is staring at something, the others follow his line of sight. Soon, though, they all end up staring at Margarete. They're certain she has more of an explanation than that confused-looking guy she seems to have dragged along. When Margarete realises they're all looking at her, she can't help but find the situation inexplicably funny. She suppresses a grin.

This is Itakura . . . He's doing research for a book on Taoist Mysticism, and he . . . couldn't help overhearing that we were going to Wuhan . . . which is where he's going too . . . So he mentioned it to me when I went back to the hotel . . . and . . . She shrugs. I said he might as well come to Wuhan with us, cause we were bound to meet him on the way, he'd've ended up practically following us.'

The group takes this in with almost cynical looks. In immediate retrospect, it was a pretty crap story. They don't know how to voice their mistrust to her, or anyone else, though, so they keep quiet. Alice retains her usual trusting expression, and Margarete wonders what she really thinks. Surely it's impossible for one person to be so unquestioning?

Zhuzhen rises and announces he'll go to the bar for another round of drinks, pointedly asking Margarete to help him carry them back to the table.

As soon as they're halfway across the room, Zhuzhen mutters Why is he really here?'

Okay. . . um. . . he's sent by the Japanese Army- hey, don't lose your temper until you've heard the whole story- he was listening outside the hotel room door earlier so I didn't think it was safe to let him go.'

Zhuzhen stares at Margarete in disbelief. How much does he know?'

About what he's doing? Surprisingly little. About what we're doing? I don't know exactly. The most he could know by now is. . . everything. But I doubt that. Almost feel sorry for the guy, he's just-'

Zhuzhen shoots her a warning look.

. . . Okay. We'll just have to get rid of him around Wuhan somehow. The Army wants Dehuai defeated as well, so they think we'll be useful for that, But afterwards, I think they'll want most of us shot. Obviously if one of their soldiers is trailing us, we're screwed.'

The Adept sighs. How does having one of their soldiers accepted into our group make the situation any better?'

I have his intercom,' Margarete announces brightly. He can't contact the Army. I think I have him pretty much under control.'

That isn't a great comfort coming from you.'

Hey, don't be so negative! Miss Spy Genious, remember. I'll sort this one out no bother, just you see. '

Zhuzhen merely raises his eyebrows and begins to walk back over to the table, carrying some of the drinks. Margarete picks up the remainders from the bar and follows them, growing uncertainty in her mind.

What will we do at Wuhan?

Itakura sits awkwardly in the midst of the group gathered around the table. He observes everyone there in turn. There's a pair who seem to be running this bar, and they look related. Father and daughter seems to be their most likely relationship. There's the man who turned into a demon, messy-haired, tired-eyed, and with several bruises of varying shades on his face. On one side of him, a grey-haired old man who carries an Adept's staff. Next to him is Agent Malkovich, or Margarete, which seems to be her real name. Itakura is sitting between Margarete and Elliott . . . Alice. The murderess. Earlier, Margarete had said she was innocent. Looking at her, he finds that easy to believe. She's pale-skinned, fragile-looking, doesn't seem physically possible of doing all that damage.

But Margarete was probably lying. Perhaps Alice persuaded that man . . . I think his name is Yuri . . . to do the actual killing for her.

Itakura watches Alice's face with a sidewards glance. Maybe he would see some manipulative tone in her eyes.

He can't see anything like that. Beguiling naivety, but nothing darker. Of course, she could just be acting. With an expression like that, Alice could persuade anyone to do anything.

From his observations of her, Itakura thinks Alice looks almost as out of her depth here as he is.

Well obviously she's been here longer, and she knows these people better . . . but she still doesn't seem comfortable with them. That can't be a good sign.

Over the course of the conversation- carefully skirting around any details of the group's main plans- Itakura finds himself constantly flicking his eyes to the side to catch another glimpse of Alice. He tries to be as subtle as he can, and silently prays she hasn't noticed him looking. He finds something about her naive, innocent air irresistibly mesmerising.

He wonders where the marks on her face came from, though. Around her nose, it's red and swollen, as if someone had punched her there recently.

Why would someone punch her? Either she isn't as innocent as she looks, and she started the fight herself, or someone was . . . What? Trying to keep her quiet, maybe, keeping her in line by hitting her.

Maybe she wasn't the murderess after all. Maybe she's being used as a scapegoat. By who?

Itakura's eyes move to Yuri, the man he'd previously thought of as her accomplice. He looks tired and resigned, but angry underneath it. Alice appears to have been watching Yuri's face as intently as Itakura had been watching hers.

Occasionally, during the conversation- Itakura's missed most of it- Yuri's face will break into a wide, angular grin, although the laughter in his eyes fades before the smile does. At this, Alice looks at his face confused, intimidated, but almost adoring- what on Earth? - but certainly not like she hates him, like she would if it had been him that hit her.

So who was responsible for the train murders? Is it even somebody here? What's going on with Yuri? Is Alice really that innocent? Or does she even want to be here? What the hell have these people all got to do with each other? This isn't as simple as it looked . . .

Now usually it's my fault it takes three hundred years between chapters, but this time it really is not my fault. My brother was trying to throw a cushoin at my head, missed by a mile and knocked coffee all over my notebook. . He will be lucky if he lives till his tenage years.

Thanks for reviewing last chapter, gutterfiend (thank you), Leels (Death Emperor is a far, far weider thing to fancy than Roger Bacon), Kim (again, thank you), and aegis (Snip-snip, huh? That's giving me plot ideas...)

This is the most reviews I've ever had on a fic before, I think. =D Yay! *goes hyper*