"We need more support this weekend in the morgue."
Kabuto looked up at the man and pretended to give a sigh of frustration. "I have to study, but I could possibly come in the morning." Kabuto gave the countersign.
The messenger nodded and handed him what looked like medical reports bound up in twine.
"It would be best if you came earlier."
Kabuto kept surprise from his face. Whatever message Orochimaru had hidden in the documents was flagged as the highest possible emergency.
"I'll try my best." He promised.
His fellow spy nodded and quickly made himself scarce. Kabuto waited another half hour before excusing himself from work to decode the message hidden the medical documents.
Kabuto spent the next twenty minutes flipping through the pages and slowly applying his memorized cipher decoding the message. It was a recall order from Orochimaru directly. Telling him that he needed to report back immediately to assist the Snake Sannin. It really didn't go into much beyond that his assistance was required. Kabuto was fairly confident it was just to provide medical expertise on a sensitive project.
It wasn't anything he hadn't done before. He should send a copy of the message to Danzo and gain permission to go, but the last line of the message was making him hesitant.
He had triple checked that he was interpreting the code correctly. Kabuto found himself wondering if maybe he had been compromised.
After all, there was no way that Orochimaru would send a message stating "I can't leave for two hours to buy a bra without these morons doing something stupid."
He finally had to admit defeat and came to the conclusion that one of Orochimaru's people had accidentally put a personal note in with the message. Mistakes did occasionally happen at what was basically the secretary level of the ninja spy game. So, he sent the contents of the message, minus the last sentence, off for his Root contact to report to Danzo. He technically should wait around to receive permission from Danzo to leave, but he could probably get away without doing so since his summons was flagged at such a high priority.
Kabuto made his excuses at the hospital, grabbed one of his pre-set travel packs, and was leaving the pit of hypocrisy that was Konoha in a shorter amount of time than it took him to decode the first message.
His journey had him arriving at Oto's major hideout late in the evening. The time when most people will have finished their last meal of the day and would soon find themselves settling into their beds. Which was really Kabuto's least favorite time of the day. It was too late for most people to want to do business and too early to kill someone while they slept.
Kabuto started to head for Orochimaru's private office when he ran into Hibiki Nagisa, whose expression was that of a pinched lemon.
"Oh. You're back." Hibiki said.
Kabuto put on his plastic smile. "Yes. Orochimaru-sama had summoned me. He asked for me to report as soon as possible."
Hibiki's face soured further. "Why?"
The scientist was beginning to really try Kabuto's patience, but he made sure to keep the friendly smile on his face. Hibiki was simply worried that Kabuto would going to replace him, part of the older man knew that the only reason he was around was because of how long he'd worked on the body changing technique and knew enough to assist the Snake Sannin. So it was only a matter of time before someone else learned enough to bump him out of his spot as second in command.
Which was frightening, because one did not typically leave Orochimaru's employ with a retirement plan and health benefits.
"I'm not sure. I don't make a habit of questioning Orochimaru-sama's decisions." Kabuto replied.
"Ah. Yes, see that you don't." Hibiki said before turning away, "I will take you to him then."
Then, to Kabuto's surprise, Nagisa did not head towards Orochimaru's private labs, but instead walked towards what Kabuto knew to be where they kept their "laboratory volunteers" locked up. Orochimaru very rarely ever went there, preferring to send someone else to fetch a test subject if he needed one. Though quite a few things were beginning to show him that the layout of Otogakure was likely very different compared to the last time he had been there.
Painted walls. Bright colors. More lighting. There was even the occasional potted plant and a few strategically placed benches.
Kabuto couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. It made no sense for Orochimaru waste resources on such frivolous things. From what he knew of Orochimaru the man probably wouldn't even think to add benches in the first place.
"Nagisa-sempai. There have been lots of changes since I was last here. What's going on?"
The older man gave a scoff. "Orochimaru-sama has ordered we make changes to our goals to focus on more long term benefits rather than short term ones. Increasing the strength of our soldiers through better training and having them stay mentally refreshed to best function as ninja. Orochimaru-sama stated his research has showed these...decorative changes help with that." He said as if chastising Kabuto for not already knowing what the Snake Sannin had said.
Kabuto, personally, just found he couldn't wait until he managed to take Hibiki's job. The man was insufferable. But if what the man had said was true, then Kabuto had much more to worry about. Danzo had never worried about Otogakure since the place was obviously designed to fail at a moments notice. To not seem threatening to the other village's power. If it was shifting focus to allow for a proper hidden village there would be blood spilled. And it would be soon.
Considering how Otogakure was run, there was no way that this could last long without sweeping changes in administration. Kabuto suddenly had a very bad feeling he knew exactly why it was that he was being recalled.
"It's open. Good. Orochimaru-sama is still here." Nagisa said as the closed in on what he knew to be the cell block where they kept all of the test subjects below the age of ten. Before him sat a heavy iron door completely coated in seals. The door had not been there before and, more surprisingly, was clearly designed not for keeping people in, but rather keeping others out.
Far more of a shock, was what he saw when he stepped into the room. Color. Bright primary colors painted all over the room. Colorful cartooned animals were all over the walls playing in fields of flowers and cheery sunlight. There was one spot on the wall painted a dark black, but children's chalk drawling covered it's surface.
Where there had been cells before there were now small rooms with curtains to protect privacy and a bunk bed equipped with a small dresser sat in each room too. None of that compared to what he observed next though.
"The acorn rolled down and down~"
All the children were gathered together on the pelt of a massive tiger. In the middle of them, on a rocking chair of all things, sat a woman that looked disturbingly like Orochimaru. The woman had a smiling child in her lap that was rapidly loosing it's fight against sleep.
And this Orochimaru impostor was singing.
"He suddenly fell into a pond~"
Singly beautifully and with a great amount of femininity.
Kabuto looked over at Nagisa, hoping that there might be some other explanation for what exactly was going on here, especially since, going by the fact that Nagisa had told him he was taking him to Orochimaru, he was clearly indicating that this...person was supposed to be the same one he had done a vivisection with the last time he was here.
Nagisa was also staring with varying amounts of confusion, worry, and contemplation at the singing woman. Kabuto himself had trouble tearing his gaze of bizarre fascination on the woman wearing a purple turtleneck sweater. He however managed to do so when he spotted something else that made him do a double take.
Guren, a ninja capable of using crystal release and one of Orochimaru's strongest jonin, was also in the room and currently placing an infant into a newly formed crib made of crystal. The pale woman with purple hair soon marched to them and hissed over to them.
"Why are you here. Orochimaru-sama does not wish to be disturbed."
Kabuto's mind noted that the woman was taking pains to not be loud and interrupt...Oroshimaru's nursery song. He also observed that none of the children seemed to find the use of her crystal release particularly noteworthy. Meaning that Guren, the same Guren that he knew always smiled at the possibility of bloodshed, was coming into this room on a regular basis and being assigned to watch children.
"Orochimaru-sama asked for me to report immediately. It was marked with highest possible urgency." Kabuto said with his standard issue smile.
Guren turned her angry gaze to Nagisa. "You were told to not come in here anymore."
"Ah. Well. Kabuto said it was urgent so..." The older man trailed off.
"Leave." Guren ordered Nagisa. Though to Kabuto she ordered, "Go stand over there, and if I see you so much as approach one of the children I will turn you into a statue."
Kabuto adjusted his glasses, "Oh! What has you so protective? Gaining a soft spot are we?"
Guren scoffed, "No. Orochimaru-sama has charged me with the protection of these children. None may lay a hand on them without permission."
Orochimaru had assigned Guren, one of Otogakure's strongest ninja, to constantly guard these children? That was a complete waste of resources. In any other village he'd say it was due to some ideal about the innocence of children, but this was Orochimaru. There must be some specific threat he was trying to combat. One of the children must be important. Or maybe it's just busy work for Guren.
"Ara ara. Look at all those sleepy nodding heads. It seems we have arrived at bedtime." Orochimaru said, and in response the children groaned in complaint. They actually groan at Orochimaru stopping her singing. While it did actually sound fairly good it was still the Snake Sannin! The single most feared ninja of Konoha in the last two decades for his cruelty and pragmatism.
These children where gripping her leg and-
"Can we stay up Orochitama?"/ "Can't you read that story from last time again?"/ "Next time I get to sit in your lap, right?"
Then it all clicked.
Nagisa had said that Orochimaru was switching to long term goals. The entire building was now made to make people to feel more at ease. More at home. Previously ninja were made to just be discarded and only by being useful could they be allowed to survive. This was how many ninja villages operated. It was shown to be how you make the most people loyal for their entire lives. But this was more like Kumo and Konoha's methods. Making people think they were valued and invest that ideal into a home. While it produced less middle tier ninja this way it consistently produced the most jonin level ninja.
With Orochimaru changing bodies too it was the perfect time for it. People put so much stock in appearances that with just a slightly different way of talking and looking just bit different people will subconsciously wave away previous actions.
The obviously exaggerated matronly features were even more devious. The number of people that would die for their country was extensive, but the people that would die for family, for their mother? That was a far more impressive list.
Orochimaru had spent years grinding down the wills of the people. Making them lose hope. Lose meaning. Lose themselves. And now they were going to be giving it back, and the only person they will have to thank will be Orochimaru.
It was brilliant. Inspired even. He wondered if Orochimaru had timed this specifically so he could see these children's naked devotion. So few people would understand what happened. Why it happened. Guren herself probably had no idea and thought that Orochimaru was truly doing this out of a sudden value for children, getting one of her strongest ninja to swallow this change of practice, while at the same time using her as an enforcer to make anyone very afraid of saying anything against Orochimaru's new standards.
It was probably why he had been called back too. A new face in the administration to go with the new rules.
Orochimaru...or rather Orochitama really had thought of everything.
Orochitama was already committing to this new persona even in secured communication. Having themselves come off as just an overly busy innocent woman. The change would be so sudden most other villages wouldn't know what to do and assume false data or just wait to watch what happens, because ninja hate jumping into something when they have no idea what they are jumping into. It would buy her a few months, maybe a year, to build up the village to be something just troublesome enough to not be worth crushing.
It was a gamble, but one that might just work.
"Ara ara. You finally arrived Kabuto-kun. I've been so excited for you to come back. Come with me to my office and we'll discuss what I need from you." Orochitama said.
"Yes, Orochitama-sama." Kabuto said with a knowing tone, the Snake Sannin paused just for a moment, so slowly he almost doubted his judgment on the hesitance, before they turned to address Guren.
That hesitation was telling. He couldn't be certain on what it was for, but he had clearly caught them by surprise when he used Orochitama. But since no correction came, that was basically permission for him to use that name going forward.
"Do you need anything else for tonight Guren-chan?"
"No Orochimaru-sama. Though..." Guren hesitated, with a meaningful glance at Kabuto before admitting, "We could use more of the diapers. We use them almost faster than we can clean them."
Kabuto noted the Crystal Ninja's embarrassment about dealing with such matters as a future pressure point.
"I'll see it's done Guren-chan."
Kabuto just shook his head. What a masterful performance.
I finally had Kabuto and I was once again having mixed feelings on the matter. The med-nin had dropped a few hints at something and I really wasn't sure what it was. It had started when he first called me Orochitama and I hesitated on deciding if I wanted him to actually call me that or not. Anything he called me would spread to others calling me that too. It should be fine. It initially started when a toddler had mangled saying Orochimaru-sama and the others just kind of went with it. However, thanks to Orochimaru's training and memories, I'm pretty sure that Kabuto thinks I have some secret plan with all of this that I don't really have.
I mean, outside establishing this place as a proper hidden village. He figured that out on his own and I had confirmed it, but he kept acting like there was a deeper secret and seemed just amused when I said there wasn't one.
Whatever it is that Kabuto thinks he understands though is working really well for me. When I had brought him to my office and told him what it was that I was wanting him to do he seemed to immediately grasp the concept.
"You want me to limit any sort of injury or death of anyone in the facility, and you want me to enforce your new rules with as gentle of a hand as possible, while only killing someone when they directly choose to disobey one of your new rules with a stated intention to do so again."
"Yes, Kabuto-kun. That's exactly what I want."
"I understand Orochitama-sama."
I had regularly been told that in the weeks leading up to that moment and I it was regularly proven to me that the other person did NOT understand.
"Just to make sure Kabuto-kun. I'm going to ask some questions." I said, "If someone asks you if it's okay for human testing of an assassination technique, how do you respond?"
"For them to test it on an animal subject until polished enough to use in the field. Then to only use it in the field and not an fellow subjects of Otogakure."
I gave a nod of agreement. "If someone is found stealing from the kitchens, what is the appropriate response?"
"Speak to them in private and inform them that their actions would greatly displease you, Orochitama-sama, and that if they do not correct their behavior they will suffer your disappointment."
I had been pretty sure he meant that with far more menace than I would want him to have, but that was loads better than the last time I had asked the question and had been told that they would have the offender dragged away to be force fed live burrowing beetles.
"That would be fine. I'd add that since they are wanting more food we can offer them more missions that would increase their personal ration supply."
Kabuto gave a nod. "Ah. Yes. Addressing his concerns."
On the questions went, with Kabuto showing he at least mostly understood what it was I wanted and only took a slight bit of correcting on some of his questions. He was even able to answer questions on why I wanted things done.
"And why don't I want us to do testing on a human subject until we know it's absolutely safe?"
"We want good science with lots of data points to be able to understand best what we are doing, instead of just throwing away a resource. A resource that is a valued and loved part of Orochitama-sama's village."
My eyes narrowed because while the words were correct there was absolutely a feeling behind them that wasn't what I was looking for.
However, beggars can't be choosers, and of all the candidates I've had thus far he was the only one that could at least answer the questions right, even if it wasn't in quite the way that I want. But I couldn't exactly inject human kindness into someone as of yet, so it would have to do for the moment.
"When you aren't managing the other workers I want you focusing on two projects. Both of which I will be assisting with. The first is trying to help Kimimaro's condition. I've removed him from active missions for the moment so we can best make sure he is taken care of."
Kabuto nodded, "Yes. He is far too great of a resource for us to lose."
I gave a nod. He wasn't wrong. When completely healthy Kimimaro could challenge Hatake Kakashi in a straight fight, at least with his cursed seal form. Losing him would be a great blow to our village.
"The other thing is a technique I have that I want to put the finishing touches on. It will be purely theoretical polishing for the moment."
Brief but genuine excitement crossed Kabuto's face. Orochimaru had managed to sway Kabuto to his side because he understood one thing about the spy. He loved to study. He loved to learn. Putting the finest polish on the theory behind something was practically a reward for Kabuto. In his life of no attachments Kabuto had one thing to ground himself. His curiosity. The one thing Danzo allowed him to have.
"What technique will we be working on?" Kabuto asked, mask of politeness in place.
I hesitated. It was a technique I hated. The very concept behind it was almost insulting to my morality, but it's utility was too great for me to ignore. Which also kind of scared me too.
"You will help me study the Edo Tensei."
Kabuto gave me an eager smile, that probably wasn't completely fake. Which was probably a good thing. I needed his enthusiasm. I needed to do what I could to have him on my side. Because I had to leave soon. I had certain things I didn't trust to my subordinates. Plus, while I was quite strong, I needed to be stronger for the coming days. One month. I would stick around for one more month to make sure that Kabuto was capable of having things run without me present, then I would need to leave for several weeks.
Soon it was time for me to actually go out into the world. God help them.