A Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon fan fiction story
Chronicled by Dro'gan NiteFlier
Disclaimer: The character of Rei Hino and her grandfather from Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, and the setting of Hikawa Shrine, are copyrighted by Naoko Takeuchi, Toei Animation, Kodansha, and DIC. Don't think that I'm stupid enough to claim them.
I think on this now to bring the few fragments I have of my past together, to become a greater whole. I still do not remember most of my time before my new Awakening, but I am determined, as I lie here, to find some "Self", as Simand says.
My first true memory was also my worst: when They came.
Snippets. A man — my father, I think — yelling at other men dressed in black suits. Peeking out from behind a skirt at the yelling man, and the calm men facing him. A woman — my mother? She gently pushes me to the back. The men in black have gotten angry now, pointing at me and demanding something. My father yells back, "You will not take her!" Mother has pushed me into the back room, but I can still hear yelling. Then a loud ringing sound and something hitting the floor hard. Mother telling me, "Run!"
But they find me.
I cannot remember much after they took me. They did something to my mind, something that even now I cannot undo. Memories, scraps. They mold me, change me; every moment of every day, something is being done in my head. They make me sit, or walk, or sleep. I cannot control my own body, my own thoughts, my own memories. The only thing that is myself is my flame, my spirit.
No one speaks to me.
But I still can hear. "Project", "Corps", "Esper". These words become my most hated. What is this Project, that they ripped me from my home? What kind of Corps uses children to fight? What is "Esper"?
Sleep. I must sleep.
They try to unlock secrets buried in my mind. Secrets that I know not. Secrets that are a part of me. Why do they kill me? Why do they destroy me? My flame dims.
I do not know what they did to me. I do not how long I was in their clutches. My organic memory serves me not, for it was that, my organic mind, that they killed. Trying to find secrets that I kept, that I did not have.
There were others like me. They make me face them, fight them. Not with my body, but with the secrets they have finally uncovered. Force walls push me, and ice burns me. They make me fight back, but I cannot. I know not how. They let me loose to fight, but I shall never let them back in.
I have to die first.
The fight is over. My body is broken, icy burns cover me. I can't let them take me over again. But my will is strained from resisting their touch, and I cannot stay awake anymore.
They control me. Never again do they let me go. Not in sleeping, or waking. I cannot control my body, I cannot control my mind, only my flame.
Brutalizing fights. Resting periods. Fights. Rest. I cannot stay awake. My mind is dreaming. My body moving to their will. In every fight, my opponent is different, but the outcome is always the same. I lose. I am wounded. I die just a bit more inside.
My mind sleeps.
My mind Dreams.
Dreams of a life without pain. A life without torture. A life that is mine own.
Can this life be mine as well?
My mind wakes. This life will be mine.
They are giving up on me. Their hold is less on my body, my mind. It will be their last mistake.
One last fight. A boy, taller, stronger, but that does not matter in fights like these. I let them control me. Let them make me fight. The boy wins. I am on the floor, wounded deeply. They finally let go just enough.
The door to my mind, stretched, broken open, always used. It is empty for the first time since I came here. I slam it shut.
They notice. They try to break back in. But I am off the floor. I stumble. I have not moved this body in so long, but it comes back to me; memory dribbles back of all the tortures they have done to me. I can see the boy turning, saying something.
I scream. And the world burns with my flame.
Am I dead? I cannot hear, cannot see, cannot feel, cannot smell. Is this death? Then I welcome it, for I am alone at last in my mind.
I sleep. For this will be the last time I truly can.
I cannot see, cannot feel, cannot smell.
I can hear.
Shuffling. The whir-click of machines. Someone softly singing.
I like him.
Steps. Someone, no, two someones approaching. They enter, but the man already present makes no notice of them. The two men, yes, they are men, stop above me. I am lying down?
"I don't like it."
"It was the only survivor. We have our orders."
"The records state that it was the worst one they had."
"Then why was it at the epicenter?"
"Could they have pushed it too far?"
"Who cares? We received what we needed. Simand!"
The shuffling and singing stop. The man in the background whispers near.
"What is its status?"
There is the shuffling of papers once more.
"Over ninety percent of her original material was replaced. Various techniques were used to tie the new portions into what was left of her neural net. As well, we slaved a NP/658 to make up for what brain matter she had lost. Her—"
"Enough. Have you activated it yet?"
"She was in the process of waking up when I last checked."
"You mean it's active?!"
"As far as I know, she is. However, due to orders, I've cut off what sensory input I could."
"Fine. Remember, Simand, You will make this work. A single report from me and you'll be tossed out onto your ass."
The two men leave. "Simand" stands by me for a second.
"That young fool." A harsh laugh. "This old fool as well."
There is movement, then a quiet voice by my ear.
"Can you hear me? Can you understand me?"
I cannot feel myself, but I think for my jaw to move. An echoing, sad, sorrowful wail. Is that me?
"Hush. It's all right. I understand." I can hear him move off. "It's all right. Just be calm for a moment."
I cannot hear, I cannot see, I cannot smell.
I can feel.
I am lying on a hard surface. My body is too heavy to be mine. My mouth opens again, but now I feel myself lifted up, being held, being comforted.
One at a time. Sound, smell, touch, sight. Systems check to see if I can assimilate the data each presents me. Simand is always with me. When I wake and when I sleep. He has a small cot in an adjacent room, and food is brought for him three times a day. Each day he checks a different system, making sure that I am calm with what I have become.
What am I?
When I asked Simand this, he asked me to search my memory, to try and find a basis for myself.
I have done so, and have come up with one answer.
I am nothing.
Simand does not like my answer.
"Why do you say you are nothing?"
Even though I cannot feel, I can still hear my slurred words. "H-how can I be anyth-thing, when I have nev-er been al-lowed to be mys-self?"
Strange. I think I can feel tears. Even stranger, is Simand holding me now?
"It's all right, my dear. You can cry as much as you want to. Never be afraid to show your emotions. I'll be here to help."
I can feel tears, now. I must tell him. Tell Simand of the torture that is my life.
"Just a moment."
Sound is dimmed. It's still there, along with my sense of touch and smell. That is something I have yet to tell Simand about. He still thinks I only have one sense at a time. But they are there, muted.
I look around the mechanical room. The table I sit on is the only piece of furniture in the room, the rest of the space is taken up by monitoring equipment. Machines monitoring a machine.
Off to the side is the door to Simand's room, and on the other side is the pressure-sealed door to the outside.
I have never left this room.
Simand, dear old Simand, turns around after typing something in the change commands in one of the computers. He is old and gray, but strong. He can lift my weight easily, a task I wonder at sometimes. He is clothed in shirt and pants and a long white jacket with pens and datapads stuffed into the pockets. There is a small pocket watch he wears on a chain, Oldtech, it is. He wears sandals to avoid the masses of wires on the floor.
Lastly, there is me. My body is unclothed, skin pale in the artificial light. Is this what I would have looked like, had I not been taken by "Project E", as Simand calls my last residence? Taken, and twisted?
Simand says I look like a normal ten-year-old girl. Am I ten? Was I a girl before? There are things I need to know that Simand cannot tell me, no matter how much he knows.
There are a few things to differ me from a "normal" girl. My mass is one; a perfect seventy-five point two-five kilograms. "Minor" flaws in my appearance is another: pale, no hair, and my piercing gaze that even Simand cannot quite get hold of. And the datajack, behind my left ear.
The datajack that keeps me connected to the ever-monitoring machines.
I look at the machines once more. Newtech, they are, with a bit of Oldtech thrown in here and there. No Lostech in them, though.
Not like me.
Simand told me that after the Great War, technology slowly built itself back up from the apocalypse. Oldtech was found, remnants of the great civilizations of the past, and reverse engineered to create Newtech for the civilizations of the present. Oldtech is worth more than Newtech, but less so each day. But there were artifacts from the past that were hidden quite well, and were not found until Newtech was accepted by the masses.
These artifacts could not be reverse engineered. They remained a mystery, and some of those who were more suspicious than others murmured "magic".
That was the reason for Project E: to see if there was latent power in certain bloodlines. It had been a partial success, they had found those who could wield magic, but even these could not make Lostech. The program did provide excellent warriors to pit against other nations, however, and so it continued as such.
I don't know how Simand got all this information, about Project E and Lostech. Both are considered top secret information, but Simand seems to know more than he lets on.
He was the one who recreated me.
He commandeered nearly every piece of Lostech he could find. I don't know how many toes he stepped on or stubbed to get what he wanted. He took my broken and burned body, and made me whole again. I do not know if this whole was me to begin with, but it is me now.
It is me.
Simand's pocket watch has fascinated me.
Its simple, measured movements, the turning of the gears inside. They make watches like it now, Newtech, but those aren't as pretty.
The sudden movement of the second to second, the slight movement of minute giving way to minute, the gradual sweep of the hour around and around.
I've spent days watching that watch. Listening to the click of gears inside of it. Feeling the minute vibrations of the time passing by.
I love that watch.
Do I sleep? Simand says I do. But he said it with that look in his eye. That look that says he's not telling everything. He gets that look whenever his superiors come to hear his reports.
I don't like them.
They are dressed in black suits, like the men who came to take me to Project E. For that alone I am biased against them. But there are other things. When they come, they are nervous around me. They clumsily try to make sure that I am not listening. Waving their hands in front of my eyes, coughing behind me, trying to examine the monitors of the machines.
I ignore them.
They are disbelieving, too, that I am what Simand is putting so much time into. Apparently he is an expert. Of what I do not know. For some reason they are unnerved most of all by the datajack and wire that comes out from behind my ear. Simand said that it is unusual for a datajack to be implanted in one so young. If it were not for the fact that that entire side of my head is artificial, he said that the bones would grow and crush the linkages inside my brain.
But it is artificial. It is metal, and the datajack will not be destroyed by growing bones. That saddens me some. I will never change from what I am now.
Some of the visitors have asked Simand about my hair. Since I have none, they are curious as to how he proposes to "field" me. Simand just shrugs and says that that is coming.
The visitors go as they have come, no real intelligence won from the meeting.
I have learned to ask Simand about things that I did not know of before.
My body is strange. I can feel the difference between the organic and tech portions. There is a thin line, almost ribbon-like, where the two meet. It is an unfortunately small ribbon. The only thing it really encompasses is the inside of my head, a thin strip in my neck and a bit of my right shoulder. All the rest is false-me, things that don't feel quite right.
Like the datajack in my head. It touches the true-me portion, but it goes deep to do so, all the way to the near middle of my head. The left side is Lostech, something that Simand seems to know far too much about. The datajack feels like something that was stuck in, like the rest of my body that is false-me.
I wish I could find a way to switch something from false to true. Lies to reality. I remember something that I thought I had lost.
My flame. My spirit.
I hadn't really thought about it since I came under Simand's care, but I can feel it's there. But it feels like false-me for some reason. It feels like it belongs to me but something keeps it away. It doesn't feel stuck in, but rather, pushed out.
Can I bring it in?
I try, but it is the same as the rest of the false-me. I can't quite reach it. But it grows brighter when I try. I try again, and it grows again. I remember.
I remember the last time I tried to use my flame. I did not try. I did.
Like the second hand on Simand's watch, clicking to the minute, forcing the minute to the hour, shifting the hour just enough so that all three are lined up in perfection for just one second
The part of me that is false-me disappears, leaving only true-me.
My second stretches forever.
Simand was surprised to find my eyes tracking him when he had switched my senses to hearing and smell. He had been taking it slow, edging into the area of two senses, but I had already beaten him there. I think it surprised him as well that I was overriding the commands from the machines.
"I suppose you have an idea of what you are doing?" he asked me.
"Not really." My stumbling over words was almost nonexistent now that I could both hear and feel what I was saying.
He nodded and stood in front of me. "There are limits to even my knowledge of Lostech, and I am reaching them. Do you want me to tell you what you are composed of?"
I thought a moment and nodded. I was still becoming used to the fact that there was no more false-me.
He sighed. "When you were brought to me, you were missing everything beyond the lower half of your torso, and nearly your entire left side was charred. Your skull had been split open, and you had lost perhaps ten to twenty percent of your neural matter. To replace what brain matter you had lost, I had to replace everything you had lost, as well as the majority of your right side as well, because of problems with fine muscle control. Eighty percent of what I put into you is Lostech. The rest is Oldtech, and far more reliable than any Newtech equivalent. Most of the Lostech, though ."
I wait patiently. He frowns suddenly, and reaches out to caress my skull. There is a sort of prickly sensation to it, as if he were not rubbing just skin. He takes a step back and gestures to me. "Stand up."
I quickly get down from the table that is my bed, and stand straight. He looks me over carefully, lifting my arm, dropping it back to my side, going behind me.
He returns to stand in front of me. "What did you do?" He doesn't look like he expects an answer, so I give him none. He turns away to one of the monitoring computers and concentrates on what he sees there. I get back up onto the table and lie down, moving the cord trailing behind me away and wishing I could feel tired, so I could sleep.
Only a few days later I realize that the prickly stuff on my head is hair. Real, silky hair! Mother always used to say my hair was such soft and silky stuff.
Mother? Who? Where did that come from?
Simand is nervous. I can tell. He's found something he can't explain. Not to himself, and definitely not to his superiors.
He can't explain my hair.
Within the twelve days since he noticed it, it has grown almost down to my shoulders.
And I've eaten.
Simand almost had a fit when I wandered into his room after he had been brought food and begged him for some. I had been feeling something strange in my mid-torso, and when the porter had brought food to him I remembered feeling the same way before Mother fed me. I'm remembering more. I remember faces, like Mother and Father, and Grandpa. I wonder if Grandpa is still around.
Simand had to arrange a meeting with his supervisors to finagle food for himself after I get done with his. But he didn't want to have to explain it, because he can't.
I sit on my table, ignoring the men in suits as they come in. They, however, cannot ignore me. They notice my hair, and stare.
Simand clears his throat, attracting their attention away from me. "Gentlemen, I requested you her today to—"
"Forget that!" says the younger, "What happened to it?"
Simand looks at me nervously. "There there was an error. There must have been. The NP/658 that took the place of her left hemisphere had decided to have her grow hair. To facilitate this, she's grown an appetite as well."
"What? You mean it gets hungry? And what do you mean about its brain?"
"Er." Simand looked at me again. "Yes, she gets hungry. And what don't you understand about her brain?"
"You told us you had replaced its brain with a computer!"
"No," Simand's voice grew rough. "I said that I had slaved a computer to her remaining neural functions. She still has a brain."
The older man stepped towards me. "Are you aware?" he asks me.
I cant my head to the side. "I know what is myself and I know what is not. What other kind of awareness is there?"
It is the first time either of the men have heard me speak. They are obviously surprised. The younger one starts to reach down by his side, but the older stops him. Turning back to me he asks, "And how long have you been you?"
I blink and think on this. "There were parts of me that were false-me. But now there aren't. All that is me is true-me."
Simand speaks up, "When? How?"
I turn to him. "A short while before you felt my hair. And " I think for a minute as the others wait. "I think it was like the second hand moving to noon."
I look at the three men and realize that even Simand doesn't know what I'm talking about. I hold out my hand to him and ask, "Watch."
His eyes widen as he realizes what my earlier statement meant. He pulls the watch out of his pocket and hands it to me. I open it and listen to its sound for a few moments. The watch face says that its four thirty-four. I shake my head and show the two men in suits. They are still puzzled.
"What has that got to do with you growing hair?" the younger one complains.
Simand explains. "She made a small change that had great effects."
The older man looks at me again. "What did you change?"
"I made the parts of me that were false-me become true-me. I don't know how I did it."
He frowns. "What is "false-me" and "true-me"?"
"False-me was almost everything. True-me was very little. Mostly up here." I tap my head.
Simand interrupted. "False-me was everything artificial, wasn't it?"
I nod at him and he fades back to one of the control computers.
The men in suits look at each other. The older turns to Simand. "Your request is approved. However " Simand looked back at him now. " I want to be informed the instant anything else happens."
Simand nods, and the men exit.
"How is it possible?"
Simand has been repeating this for some time, so I feel as if I should not ask him what he is talking about. Besides which, the frequency with which he looks at me gives it away.
I feel along my hair and luxuriate in the soft sensations my fingers pick up. I can't tell the difference between what was false and true. It is all true to me now. My fingernails, too, grew for a while, but then they stopped. At just the right length, I think.
I'm still eating a lot, though. And I feel off balance. Its weird.
"How is it possible?"
I look over at Simand and shake my head, but doing so brings the cord to my attention. That cord still keeps me attached to the computers, and at times drives me to distraction. It is not a part of me, but it is connected to me. I can feel the pulses it gives out, feeding the computers information on me.
I wonder what kind of data it transfers?
The computer that takes up the majority of the left side of my head is connected directly to that cord through the datajack. But isn't that computer a part of true-me? Couldn't I access what data it processes?
I try and stretch my consciousness down the cord, but can't. Is there some kind of block? Or am I just not doing it the correct way?
"How is it possible?"
"How do you use a datajack?"
"What? Oh, no, you don't!" He got up and walked over to me. "Don't try and use it alone. You don't have any browser software, or firewall functions. Don't even think about it."
"Will you give me those?"
"What? A browser and firewall? Why? You don't need anything like that yet; all you're hooked up to are these." He waved around the room.
"But I want to know what the pulses mean."
He stopped. "Pulses?"
I nod. "It gets annoying feeling them and not knowing what they mean."
He looks at me oddly. "How many are there?"
"Lots. Lots and lots. In just one second. They aren't even, though. That's how I know it must be data."
"You can feel electrons moving?"
"Only in the datajack."
Simand sighed. "Fine. I'll get you what you need to understand those."
I smile at him. I like smiling.
Hand, fingers splayed. Zoom on the pointer. Density and value of skin shown, then sensory information, and circulatory. A cross section shows the metal bones, with something hidden inside.
Switch to torso, lower half. Cross section shows organs. Zoom on stomach. Display relative content, nutritional value, estimated time until processed food has been moved to distribution channels.
Switch to head. Cross-section shows some areas in gray instead of active. Zoom on eye. Display shows no light is infiltrating lids, however, IR shows lots of heat, and other modes show different things.
Zoom out. Switch to NP/658. Shows neuron activity for organic side, as well as data rates for transfer. Different modes are accessible here. There is one called "datadump", another "dataacess".
I am lying on the table. Doing nothing more than following Simand as he flows commands through the cord and datajack. It is amazing what I am learning about myself.
"You know You can access this yourself," Simand says.
"Er. That is, why do you keep following me?"
He sighs. "Come here."
I get up from the table and walk towards him. My balance is still off, and I don't know why. I stand next to him and look at the screen. It shows the same as what I see in my head.
Simand turns back to the computer and zooms out to show my full form. "You're eating up to two thousand calories a day. Your systems weren't designed to handle that kind of load. A little bit here and there for appearances, but not that much. You are also eating more heavy elements than a completely biological person does. That much was expected and called for in basic, non-intrusive maintenance. What is worrying is that besides your hair, which has stopped for the most part, you as a whole are growing."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you are growing up."
I pause. I'm growing up? "I'm getting older?"
He nods. "Your organic parts are growing and, quite surprisingly, your inorganic parts as well."
I slowly sink down to the floor. Simand quickly gets up out of his chair and crouches near me.
"How?" I say in a small voice.
"I don't know. That is, I don't know how it started. I think it was when you changed your inorganic parts to true-me, instead of false-me. But now " he trailed off. "Now the Lostech in you is changing both itself and the Oldtech. Systems that were separate and disparate are combining to make a whole. A living, growing whole. The NP/658 is changing itself and becoming more a part of your brain as a whole than a computer put into your head. As well " He stopped.
I look up, hope in my eyes. There was nothing wrong? But why did he stop? "Simand? Tell me? Please?"
He looks at me for a moment. "Listen very well to this." He reached up behind my left ear and I hear a slight click, and the screen above us darkens and shows an error message. He tosses the end of the cord to the ground.
"Simand?" My voice wavers. I have never been without that cord since I became what I am now.
"Listen carefully. There were others before you. Others that were not as wounded, not as adaptable. They died without ever waking. Over time I was able to collect more and more Lostech, hoping that this time, I would not have to go about taking it out of them again. Then you came, holding onto life by sheer force of will, I put every piece of Lostech I had into you. I thought that I knew what each and every system and part did, but I know now I was fooling myself. Those pieces and parts are fusing, becoming a whole. Some of them aren't doing what I thought they would. You are becoming what you should have been."
I look at him, not really understanding what he is telling me. "What am I?"
Simand looks me over carefully. "This project that they have had me working on it was to give them an infiltrator into enemy operations. The NP/658 is a controller for the offensive and defensive systems integrated in you, but it has changed to become something more, and it has integrated into your organic brain. As a part of you, it commanded your hair to grow, and your body to age. I believe that when you reach the age that you believe is comfortable, you'll stop growing. That is what happened to your hair, after all."
"But what am I now?" I wail.
"Shh, shh, it is all right, everything will be fine." He holds me close, keeping my turmoil at bay. "They thought that your personality, your sense of self had been destroyed. But instead, it has taken over what they thought they could control." He pulls me back some, and looks me straight in the eyes. "You are You. Find your own path. You have the ability to be whatever you want. Here You can't stay here; I'll help you get out." He stands and pulls me towards his room. "I have a few things that you can take. I'm afraid none of my clothes will fit you, however."
He pulls a box from under his bed; inside are all sorts of different gadgets and small machines. Simand shuffles through it and pulls out a small bag, filling it with a few items from the box.
"Here's a few things to help you learn about yourself. And this." He pulls his watch from out of his pocket. "You made more use out of it than I ever did." He places the watch in the bag, and loops the shoulder strap around my head. "I can help you get out of the compound, but I won't be able to do much after that. You should go to one of the dark districts. They will surely come looking for you."
Simand grabs my hand again and we go to the doors to the outside. He raps on the door for a moment, then it opens to show a man in a strange splotchy outfit. "What—?!" He cries out, before Simand has laid him out with a straight punch.
We run down halls, turning corners seemingly at random. Simand looks like he knows where he's going. Before too long, however, I hear a loud synthetic wail. "Damn, I didn't think they'd catch on that soon," Simand says.
We are still running, but now I see other people, yelling and trying to catch up with us.
Suddenly, we are through a pair of doors and out into the night!
I hear shots now, and the rattle of plaster and concrete saying that they are aiming for us. We turn a corner, but Simand suddenly sags, and leans heavily on the wall next to us. I look at him, and see a dark stain spreading from his shoulder and chest.
"Go! I told you I couldn't help you from here. GO, damn it!" Simand collapses.
Three hundred and twenty-four kilograms of pressure strain my left leg and back; then, like a spring, the joints straighten out and release the pent-up energy into the roof, launching me into the sky once more.
Forty meters away, I come down on another flat roof. This time, my right leg bends and stores the potential for flight. Another launch, another landing. My clothes flap around me as my last arc clears several more buildings, bringing me to a clear area without any buildings.
This time, both legs touch down and bend, each absorbing the strain and pressure. Potential energy is diffused and scattered as my legs and back take and dissolve the strain.
I straighten and stand slowly, then walk a few steps away and look back at my landing spot.
"Ha, not even a scratch. I'm getting better."
I've landed on a street just outside the park that separates my Gang's territory from the next one: The Narator Gang.
I walk into the park, unzipping my jacket as I go. It's seen a lot of use, but I keep it in good condition. When Ran gave it to me three years ago, it was old and wearing thin, but with a few strategically placed patches, the black leather is still solid enough for me.
I'm still indebted to him for that night, and for the jacket, which he has never asked back.
I see lights ahead in the park. It's too near our entrance to be the Narator, and I can hear Gao's bellowing laugh. I turn a corner on the path, and sure enough, there they are.
Gao, heavyset but strong, leaning up against one of the oaks. Mike, a foreigner that showed up two years ago but was readily accepted. A few others scattered here and there, or talking to Sai, the leader that Ran picked to succeed him.
And there, overlooking all, is Ran. I'm slightly surprised to see him; since he enrolled in college and passed down the mantle to Sai, he hasn't come on too many of the nighttime patrols. No one's blamed him — he needs all the sleep he can get to pass his classes and get a good job. Its kind of nostalgic to see him here again, even as I realize that tonight won't be just some pissing match over territory.
I start to go over to him, when someone calls out, "Who let the kid come?"
Everyone stops. I turn and look at the speaker, someone who quite obviously has no idea what he's getting into. The guy is standing near Sai, who has put his hand to his forehead in an exasperated gesture. He's got a sneer on his face but isn't paying attention to anybody but me, not even the girl by his side, who is now inching away, distancing herself from his stupidity. I know that Sai would have told new people about me, so the guy must be spoiling for a fight or just a complete idiot.
"Where's he from, Sai?" I ask.
Sai drops his hand and rolls his eyes. "He's from neo-town, and he just moved out here a few days ago." He levels his gaze at me. "Don't hurt him too bad; we got a real fight on our hands."
The new guy blows off the subtle hint. "This little girl is supposed to harm me? You gotta be kidding." The girl that was by him, his sister from her looks, is glaring daggers into his back.
I step up to him, mindful of Sai's caution. "Wanna arm wrestle?"
He just sneers and rolls up his sleeve. We both drop to the ground and link hands. "Go," Sai calls absently. He, like everyone else here, knows that the outcome is a forgone conclusion.
The idiot grunts and strains, but my arm remains rock steady, keeping our hands pointed straight up. This goes on for several minutes, then I ask, "Done yet? 'Cause we really need to be getting on with the meeting tonight."
He just redoubles his efforts, but gains no ground. Sai is looking at me and silently telling me to get it over with. I smile at him, then look at my opponent. "Ready to lose?" He just sneers again. Slowly, ever so slowly, our hands move towards the ground. When they complete the steady arc, the back of his hand is touching the grass, and I am getting up off the ground.
Sai shakes his head. "If you're done playing, we need to get on with this." He gestured to the two new people. "This is Jiro, and his sister Mai. There wasn't any time to get together and meet formal-like, 'cause Narator and us are going to be hosting ." Sai trailed off.
Ran looked over at him. "We're hosting? How bad?"
Gao looked at him solemnly. "Gang Duel."
I sputter. "We're hosting a duel AGAIN?"
Sai nods. "Yeah, Mortigan's rules."
There are several gasps, and no few groans. I look around at us. A dozen of us, perhaps the same number for Narator, and no less than fifty for each of the Dueling Gangs. This was not good.
Ran looked over at Jiro and Mai, who looked confused. "You two ever been in a Gang before?" When they both shook their heads, he sighed. "Look, most nights aren't anything special. You spend the time patrolling the neighborhood, an' nothing special happens."
I spoke up. "The Gangs themselves are quasi-legal groups formed under the "Ward Militia Act". Each Gang takes over a certain area and keeps the peace. But sometimes people get greedy."
"And that's where the Duels come in," continued Sai. "They can range from individuals to the whole damn Gang, like we got tonight. But they're always hosted on neutral ground in between another two Gang's territories."
"And that's us tonight," piped up Gao. "We make sure the rules are kept."
"Which isn't much in a Mortigan fight," said Ran.
Jiro looked a bit worried now. "What's a Mortigan fight?"
We looked at each other and intoned as one: "No surrender, no mercy, no one left standing."
Both Mai and Jiro were pale now. "Let's get going," Sai said.
The dozen of us walked further into the park, on the lookout for any members of Narator or the two Dueling Gangs. We reached the lake, and spotted a few people on the other side.
"Wonder who's over there?" Sai asked aloud.
I look, magnifying the small group several times to bring their faces into focus. "Looks like Diu and two others. Think they might be the Gang leaders."
"Right," Sai said. "Gao, check the area, find out where the opposing sides are; take three. Ran, get the perimeter set; take two. Mike, you're with me. Rei," I grin at him. "Take Jiro and Mai. You know what to do."
I nod at the two to follow me, and the group breaks up.
"I take it you're some kind of tutor?" Jiro asks once we are out of hearing range.
I nod. "Something like that. I'm actually special ops for the Gang."
Mai looks at me oddly. "Special ops? What do you mean by that?"
"Huh. Follow me." I turn off the path and angle into the woods. This track should take us to the other side of the lake. "What I mean, is that I am not your ordinary thirteen-year-old as your brother found out. Why did you two join the Gang anyway?"
As I led the way, I could almost hear their mental gears shifting from the non-sequitur. "Uh Well, a few days ago we saw a couple of guys wandering around on the streets, and Jiro went down to see what they were up to," Mai explained.
"And was convinced that joining the Gang was a fun thing to do?" I asked.
Jiro hung his head. Mai gently hit him. "Yes, but it's sounding more like a job than he wanted."
"It is a job," I reply. "Of course, there are nights like this, where you wish that you didn't have to watch the slaughter."
"Slaughter?!" The sibling cried.
I stop and turn to face them. "They say it's a lottery that picks neutral ground. Tell me why, then, that three out of every five times there is a Duel, no matter what kind, we end up hosting it?" I look at one, then the other in the eyes. "The Hikawa Gang has its history of strange happenings — I'm an example of that — but there is no happenstance that lets us 'win' that lottery." The two of them have gone ashen. Maybe I let them know a bit too much? "Come." I continue on the track.
Better to call it the most amazing coincidence possible.
That night three years ago, I left Simand in the dark, hopped aboard a train, and fled, uncaring of where I went. I jumped the train and ran down streets, eventually stopping in a dead end.
Ran found me then, with Gao and two others, and gave me his jacket to cover myself. They took me to the Shrine, where the most incredible accident occurred.
I found my Grandpa.
I found my Name.
I found my Home.
I found my Dream.
It was a killing ground.
Blood ran into the lake from dying bodies, moans and screams came from those unfortunate enough to be conscious, and each of the watchers left the scene feeling no little revulsion towards a system that legalized such a massacre Even if it helped us live our lives in peace.
One of the Narator got caught in the battle, and nearly had his arm ripped off. Sai said condolences for us, but there was little we could do.
In the end, it was merely a pointless fight over land and prestige.
There are seven hundred and fifty stone steps up to the Shrine. It sits on the only hill for twelve kilometers, and is over five hundred years old. The Hikawa Shrine has survived fire, war, and bombing. The Hino family has kept the Shrine for seven generations, sometimes skipping a generation like with my father.
Emotion. It took time, Grandpa's help, and patience to teach me to feel. Long ago, Simand told me not to be afraid to feel. I still live by that.
I am older now, and wiser. I have lived three years with my Grandfather, and he has taught me much. Control, for one. He knows of the power that runs in our blood, and he showed me how to control my flame. He showed me the spiritual side of the world, and how to interact with it.
Ran taught me as well. Even though I still don't know his full name, like Saiun, Gaolus, Cojiro, and Maishu, he opened a different world to me. A computer is only as good as its programming, and he made some money fixing computers that didn't do what was expected. He showed me how to debug a program, and to create a working computer from scratch. He also showed me the Net.
That is an experience. I need not fear anything there, for there is no one to threaten me. That is, there is no one that notices me. The simple substitute/barrier firewall that I have removes me from detection unless I act against an object. Ran is the only one to know about my datajack, and he helped me improve the software that I have, and showed me how to code in changes on the fly, should I ever need it.
Computers are amazing devices, but they can only do what they are told. That is how I know that I am human. There is no code that dictates how I act, and what I do.
Thus, I am me.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I match the sweep of the broom to the ticking, cleaning the seven hundred and ninth step.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I pause for a moment, checking the stair, and move down one step to the seven hundred and eighth.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I am dressed in traditional Miko clothes, with my hair bound up with a watch chain, and the watch itself is tucked behind my ear.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
It is something I've kept with me at all times, ever since that night. I do not let it out of my sight even while bathing.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I check the step, and move down one more.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I pause as I see a group of people moving up the stairs. It looks like Cojiro and Maishu are coming with their family. It will be the first time that they have visited to pay their respects.
It is not like we force them too, but the Shrine is the beacon for our neighborhood. We're not called the Hikawa Gang for nothing. The Shrine is what we stand for, and it is why we have kept our area small but well-off. The people that we help may earn their money in other districts, but it all comes back to the shopkeepers here. We help each other out, improving our homes with our own labor, and keeping ourselves safe each night by volunteering for the Gang.
Their coming here is just an affirmation that they are a part of our community.
I step to the side as they come up to me, nodding at the sleepy Cojiro and Maishu. They look at me, surprised perhaps, since I did not tell them where I lived.
A bow later, and I am once again cleaning the stairs.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
"Mild-mannered shrine maiden by day, super-strong watchman by night."
Gao guffaws in that way of his, belly dancing with his laughs. Mai sighs and elbows her brother for the lame joke. I quirk my eyebrow at him.
"Mild-mannered? Hardly," I reply. We are patrolling, wandering randomly down the streets and alleyways that are a part of the Hikawa Gang's territory.
"So most nights are like this?" Mai asks.
Gao nods. "Yep. Cells of four, a leader and three subs. 'Course, none of the other leaders are quite so young as Rei here."
I snort and continue on. Normally, Sai wouldn't put siblings in the same cell, but the two work very well together, as they had proven when put through their paces earlier in the night. Or then, perhaps he just wants me to be with people nearer my own age.
The majority of the people in the Gang are between eighteen and twenty-two. Any older, and they have to get sleep at night for their jobs, and any younger and they are considered irresponsible. Jiro was sixteen and Mai fifteen, making them the second and third youngest members of the Gang. Gao's comment on my age merely exemplified it. Even though he didn't want to be a cell leader, it is a bit demeaning to have to follow the youngest member in the Gang.
But then, when is life fair?
Grandpa was unimpressed by my lungpower. "I said, 'isn't it about time that you thought about school?' Is that bad?"
I glared at him. He took it. I snapped, "Why do I need to go to school? I haven't in years!"
"Because, intelligent you may be, but there are some things that intelligence will not get you." He's being logical. Damn. "Besides, do you think that the city will let you inherit the Shrine without any formal education?" I grit my teeth; surely there is some way out of this! Some way where I don't have to tell him! "Listen, I went to school as well. I even have a degree in Western Theology! There is no reason for you not to go."
I take a deep breath. "Grandpa. What if someone is trying to find me? You know they didn't let me go willingly."
His face becomes impassive. "I know. That's one of the reasons I've enrolled you in a private school, even if it is just one more layer of cover. Another is that I've been down to Juuban Hall, looking specifically for your name. If they haven't picked up on that in the time since then, then maybe they've stopped looking. I don't know." He looks up with a glint in his eye. "But I do know that if anyone comes knocking, they'll have to deal with me!"
T&A Academy. School.
I don't remember the last time I went to school. Or had to wear a school uniform. Ick. Isn't there a law against cruel and unusual punishment? Because this sailor uniform is one of them.
I grumble as I get off the bus. The Academy was in neo-town, so I couldn't walk there, but it was an exclusive school. Grandpa also said that the school would be a good place to learn about girls my own age.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Don't need to know about girls my own age.
I grumble some more as I walk to the gates. I'm going to need to check in with the office and get my schedule.
School. Fun. Yippee.
Math. Science. History. English. Lunch. Home Economics. Gym.
Add new enemies to the mix, and you have my first day.
Grandpa is so going to get it.
The second day wasn't as bad. After another fight with Grandpa, he packed me off to the bus where I fumed the entire way to the school.
Waiting in my homeroom was Kimiko Hoyama. The nastiest, most evil girl that was ever spawned.
"Why, hello there, Hino-san!" Her words are polite, but her eyes are not. Until yesterday, she had been the number one girl in school.
I didn't try to take it from her, but just one mention of where I lived and everybody goes off on "Dark-town girl" and "Mysterious sponsor". I don't know where they got that one. I supposedly have a rich/powerful/influential sponsor to get me into such a "Prestigious" school. In truth, Grandpa talked to a few people, and had them test me. Once they found out how good my scores were, they almost begged me to join the school!
It sucks to be popular.
I sit down in my desk, carefully tossing my head just right for the watch to land behind my ear. Most people don't notice it there, but I can still hear and feel it just fine.
More students file into class, and as the bell rings, I see Hoyama glaring at me.
I ought to get one of those signs from Gao: "I can only please one person per day. Today is definitely not your day."
"Oh, Hino-san! Can you tell me about—"
"No! How did you do—"
"Would you like to—"
"Ladies! Perhaps if you leave her alone, since she is obviously trying to exit the campus ?"
I stop in my struggles to get past the annoying knot of girls blocking my escape route. I take a glance to assure myself that, indeed, my savior is Hoyama. Whatever happened to trying to make me combust from her stare?
The knot of schoolgirls breaks up, and forms a circle around us. Uh-oh.
I decide to take the first shot. "What gives, Hoyama? First you're angry at me for taking something I didn't even want, now you're doing me favors. What's your angle?"
The blond girl smirks. "Angle? Why, I believe that you are overreacting, my dear. I wish nothing more than to be your friend!"
I don't like her tone. "I'll give you a better deal. Take back your popularity. Take your irritating admirers. And most especially: Take your spotlight! I agreed to come here for my grandfather's sake. Nothing more." I turn, and storm to the gates, those few in front of me melt away, leaving the group, and most especially Hoyama, stunned.
"So where were you today? I went up to the Shrine after school and couldn't find you." We were strolling down the main road, heading towards one of the neutral areas.
"Grandpa decided to send me to school," I growled.
"What's so bad about school?" asked Jiro.
"Never had to go to school," I mutter.
Gao spoke up from the rear. "Yep! She never did. 'Bout time she joined the rest of us in misery."
The siblings look at each other. "How did you get out of school? The government mandates it!"
I look at the ground and keep walking. "Government can't make you do things if they think you're dead."
I can almost hear the three of them blinking in shock. "What?!"
I turn and face the three of them. Looking each in the face, I say calmly and slowly, "When I was six, during the Purge, they came and killed my family. My mother and father, killed! They they ." I grind to a halt. I cannot remember! Organic structure that was burned and destroyed by my own flame.
Mai steps toward me, and embraces me. Rocking ever so slightly, like I remember Simand doing, she tries to comfort me. The two boys come forward and pat my shoulders, offering what sympathy they could.
Why? What was so important in me? Is my flame, my spirit, worth the death of so much?
They took my life by taking my past.
The weeks passed quickly. Hoyama got her following back after I made it clear that I had no desire for such. I think that what I said to one persistent toady exemplified it:
"Listen, you little idiot! Quit following me just because you hope that whatever imaginary fame I have will rub off! I don't want some brainless hanger-on just because someone made up a few rumors about me! If you would be a friend, then be one for the qualities that I show, not a fable that isn't true!"
They left me alone after that.
"Well?" Hoyama stands over my desk, looming. "Why have you been staring at me?"
I put up my hands, trying to get her to back down. "I didn't mean anything by it. You just looked familiar, that's all."
Her eye twitches. "And we haven't been sharing the same class for a month now?"
I grimace. "No, no, it's just that I know I've seen someone that looks like you somewhere else."
She sits in the desk in front of mine. "I don't know where you ."
I look at her again. After she trailed off, she started staring out the window. "What's wrong?"
She shakes her head. "Nothing. It's just that Well, maybe you have."
"I'm not following."
She turns to look at me. "My parents are divorced, and recently my mother remarried and moved to dark-town with two of my siblings."
Got it! "Cojiro and Maishu!"
She nods. "Yeah. So you know them."
I shake my head, trying to envision my two cellmates and this girl as siblings. "Never would have thought of that connection. You three are really different."
Hoyama looks at me, then looks around the room. She had cornered me just as the lunch bell had rung, and everyone else was outside enjoying the spring air.
"Do you Do you really think that?" She is hesitant. What happened to the brash girl that is the talk of the school?
"I did " I start. "Until just now." I lean closer and look into her eyes. "Is this the real you? Why do you hide then? What do you fear?"
"I, uh, I guess " She looks down. "How can you be so open? Don't you know that you leave yourself open?"
I nod in agreement. "Someone once told me 'Never be afraid to show your emotions'. I've lived by that since then. There have been times where I could have crumpled; hell, there have been times that I've crumpled, but the 'me', what is myself, has persevered." I put my hand to the side of my head, fingers tracing the designs etched in the watch, and feeling time passing by. "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger."
Kimiko nods slightly. "I guess." He eyes follow my hand. "What is that? I've seen you wearing it."
"Hmm? You mean my watch?" I take the Oldtech device and unwind the chain from my hair. As the black locks fall down, I show the watch to her. "It's Oldtech, and very special to me."
She gently cradles the watch, fascinated by the sweep of time. I smile. She is captivated by the same thing I am.
I think I could get to like this girl.
"You didn't tell me that you had a sister!"
Mai and Jiro are shocked. "How did you find out?" Mai asks. "We hadn't told anybody!"
I smirk. "'Cause she goes to T&A! Same as I do!"
Jiro nods. "Yeah, that's right, she does, doesn't she?"
Mai punches him in the arm. "Jiro! You know perfectly well where she goes." She turns to me. "Do you know what happened?" I nod. "Well, we have another sibling, a brother that's two years older than Jiro. He's acts okay, but only when Mom, Kimiko, or me are around. If we're not there, he starts to beat up on Jiro, even if Dad's watching! He finally told me about it, and we went to Mom. When she presented the divorce to him, he blew it off, and let any of us kids that wanted to go with her. 'Ko didn't believe us, so she's still with Dad." She was pensive for a second. "I hope Motoki hasn't started hurting her "
That was something to stomach. I resolved to ask more about it from Kimiko when I could.
Unfortunately, Kimiko vehemently denied any abuse, and stated with no reservations that it was all a lie on her mother's part to get away and marry someone else.
Well, That's a dead end.
I did notice that Hoyama was taking less and less pleasure from basking in her admirers' company. I wonder why?
"You're going to what?!" I almost scream.
Kimiko makes hushing gestures. "Keep it down, okay? It's nothing big! I'm just going with my brother tonight with a few of his friends. We're just going to go down to dark-town and look around."
"Listen, Kimiko, if you really want to see what dark-town is like at night, I can show you! But some of those neighborhoods are dangerous! The Gangs don't always follow the rules!" I feel like shaking some sense into her.
She waves off my offer, "It's okay, maybe some other time. Besides, I'll have three big boys looking after me." She waves and runs on home.
Why, oh, why do I have this sinking feeling that it's the boys that she needs to be afraid of?
"Spill it, Rei! Why did you choose to take this area? We went over it just a few days ago!" Gao is understandably unhappy. This particular area is a warren that you can lose yourself quite easily in. It was taking quite a lot of patience and teamwork just for the four of us to stay together. No one wants to patrol it, so my offer to Sai was quite unexpected.
It's also the closest area that the Hikawa Gang has that is close to neo-town.
Ever since Kimiko had told me of her plans for her little jaunt, I had a bad feeling right behind my eyes. Something was going to go horribly wrong.
I just hoped that the Hikawa tendency for miracles would help me tonight.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Mai said.
"That's why we're here," I replied. "We're going to have to stop that bad thing from happening."
They each looked at me. Then we forged ahead with new purpose.
My sense of hearing is very acute when I want it to be. It was for that reason that I heard the other small group, wandering aimlessly around. I surprised the others when I sped off, leaving them behind.
I don't think that they will be able to find me in time.
I run, looking for the source of the sound. Finally, I see four shadows from a solitary street lamp. I look for a place to hide as they come near, and see a water pipe above me.
I jump, and twist around, catching the solid pipe, and dropping down, so that my feet are hooked around it and I am hanging upside down.
The four shadows turn a corner, to reveal three young men and Kimiko. One of the men looks suspiciously like Jiro. Another complains as he stubs his toe. "Yeowch! Why the hell are we here anyway? What're we looking for?"
"Yes, Motoki, it is pretty far," Kimiko says.
"Aw, I'm just looking for somebody and I heard that he lived near here." No bets on who he was looking for.
"Hey, man! My feet are tired, and I wanna have some fun!" The other guy says.
"Yeah. Whatever. Little enough fun to be had here," Motoki complains.
Kimiko suddenly perks up. "Do you hear something? Sounds like a clock "
The three blow her off, and the one who had been silent until now speaks up. "I know a way we can have some fun. 'Specially since I bet you could scream in here and nobody could hear you ."
The complainer perked up. "Yeah, Toki, we could have some fun." He starts eyeing Kimiko.
I'll give her this, she just realized that she's alone with three very large, very unhappy men. And she's the alternate course.
"Fine. Heh, ya know, I always wondered what you were like, 'Ko." Motoki grabs her roughly and kisses her. She struggles, bringing her knee up in a move all women know.
"YEOW!" he cries, and shoves her back against the wall. He steadies himself, then sneers at her. "You're going to pay for that, bitch."
A single, angled drop, and I am between the three and Kimiko. "Not tonight, boys. You're on Hikawa territory."
"Rei?" Kimiko cries from behind me.
The three just smirk and advance. "Looks like we'll be having two for dinner, boys," Motoki says.
He's just about to reach out for me when I plow my fist into his jaw, throwing him across the alleyway and embedding him in the wall. The other two stop for a moment, then jump me.
"Run, Kimiko! Now, dammit!"
She runs down the alley, and turns the corner. That's all the attention I can afford to spare as two brutes are on me.
A punch, a kick, a sweep. I'm keeping them busy, but Motoki decides to rejoin the fight and rams me full on. I hit the wall, and make an indention similar to his. The two henchmen grab my arms and secure me.
My head swims. I know there is something I'm missing. Surely I have enough strength to break free from these two goons. But something stops me.
Motoki brings his fist up, "I'm gonna enjoy making you suffer for—"
Confusion! Motoki is down, tackled by Gao?! Jiro is wrestling the thug that had my right arm, and the one to my left is now engaged in combat with Mai! Kimiko is beside me, helping me stand straight, talking to me, trying to get my reply.
Gao is shoved towards Jiro, throwing him off balance. It is enough that a single punch has now laid him out. Mai's arm is grabbed and twisted painfully, immobilizing her.
Motoki stands. "Well, if it isn't my runaway siblings. Didn't get enough before, so you came back to play, huh, Coj? I'm going to enjoy making you scream again."
I must do something. Anything! My friends are in danger!
U look at each of the three thugs, realizing that if they continue with what they are planning, dreams will be lost. My dream, of a peaceful life.
That will not be tolerated.
I summon my spirit, my flame, and I know that I cannot harm my friends, but I must save them. Words are rising to my lips, like the flame that is rising to my surface
"ASHES TO ASHES!"
Someone is crying. I can hear, but I cannot see. Am I back with Simand? No, for I can smell burnt flesh, and feel someone holding me in their lap.
"Don't, don't die!"
Who? Kimiko! Who is dying? Who did I not save?
I crack open my eyelids, and see her face crying tears over me. "W-who's dying?" I whisper.
"Kimiko! It's all right! She's alive!"
Was I dying?
But that can't be. I have so much to do, so much to live for.
I will see my Dream come true.
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