We almost lost another one last night to the plague of silence.
'Name Undisclosed', a student at a local school, was found lying down on the railroad tracks near her home, crying and sobbing, but otherwise motionless. Nobody put her there; she had walked there and laid down of her own will. A homeless man (outcast by society for being useless) found her and quickly pulled her from the tracks before the next train could come by. The police took her in, dusted her off, then shipped her back to her parents. No questions asked, no answers sought. My sources say that her school's policy is that this incident does not need to be mentioned again, and the identity of the girl is not to be revealed. Achtung, verboten, nyet, 'no way jose' is this little wobble in the train tracks of life to derail us all. The mute button is, as usual, official policy.
I'll honor the second one, since she has to find the strength to introduce herself to us on her own. But as you know by now, I'll never honor a monk-like vow of silence.
You want more? Here's an example you might recall. After all, it happened only hours ago, in our very own Wazurau High.
Komachi Aki (formerly of the Fashion Club) stole a megaphone from the storage room, and went to the most visible point on campus in order to denounce her friends, decry the social castes, and strip off her clothes in a peaceful if inappropriately entertaining protest of the way things are. My sources tell me she was given a combination 'medical leave' and 'disciplinary action' three day suspension, and the staff was told not to talk about the incident again. After all, why remind people of things that could upset them?
Of course, none of these actions will stop the kids from mocking her as an outsider and a freak when she gets back to school. Nor will anybody stop the things she protested from happening all over again. The vicious circle of the Circles and Clubs is endless.
You probably knew that already. But not a lot of people do. That's because we have no voices to cry out with, no matter how hard they beat us.
We are a doomed generation, my friends. Everywhere we look, there are people ready and waiting to victimize us. Teachers jamming route memorized factoids down our neck stumps, and deliberately discouraging us from being individuals. Adults ordering silence to the questions that shake their fragile little worlds. Perverts and psychotics roaming the street, such as the man who killed a thirteen year old girl and stuffed her in a dumpster days ago. Even our own peers will criticize and mock us if we can't fit in to the mold -- the harshest cut of all from those on the same eye level.
We are a people officially screwed in the ass, and nothing is going to be done about it.
This isn't even localized on Japan. America is struggling with its own issues of youth identity, trying to purge the ghost of Columbine from its shadow. Their fall from imaginary grace is oddly similar to our own, but at least they aren't denying the fall. They chase dust bunnies into the corners of childhood without understanding the true cause... but at least they're chasing the cause, in a typically American overreactive sort of way. You have to applaud that kind of zealous fervor. Especially if you get to watch from very, very far away...
Pessimism? Cynicism? Realism? Pick your poison. But whatever you do, don't avoid the decision. Don't give up the fight. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how much you're pushed down, be yourself. Cry out, scream it out, let it out -- we have voices that open eyes, and the rude awakening is coming faster than you think. All we need to do is remove the pesky snooze button that's crippled our cause so far.
My name is Kongou Shin, and the truth will set you free or die trying.
Kongou Shin is a sophomore member of the Journalism Club and a regular contributor to The Wazurau Daily View. She has won the Golden Typewriter regional prize for Journalism and is an aspiring nonfiction author, a 'self proclaimed future Pulitzer prize winner'. Shin's complete and uncensored web archives are available at www.todachi.co.jp/~kshin. Complaints may be directed to the 'Rude Awakening Complaints' box outside the Journalism Club Room. If box is full, please slip note under the door.
A crime had taken place. Exactly what the crime was, nobody was certain. Still, it wouldn't do to visibly ignore the problem; instead the police taped off the area, and had a guy standing around to tell people there was nothing to see here until interest faded.
For practical purposes, the officer in charge of dissuading interest will be called A-kun, since he cares about as much about the crime scene as the truth behind the scene cares about him. A-kun was told that two kids had passed out back here, there were reports from the locals of loud noises... and then nothing. The kids woke up, called the police, and went home. No indication of what really happened, but since nobody got hurt and nothing seemed to happen, they were chalking it up to another case of teenage stress and leaving it at that. In fact, A-kun felt relatively insulted that he had to perform this meaningless duty when there were more important crimes going on, like speeding and jaywalking...
"There's nothing to see here, move along," A-kun replied automatically.
"Yes, but there's that yellow tape," the young man said, pointing it out. "That's something to see, isn't it?"
"There's nothing behind the yellow tape to see, then," A-kun said, wondering if the cheeky kid would incite him to some police brutality like he saw in cop movies. It might break the tedium.
"No bodies? No charred corpses or anything?" the kid prodded. "Sleeping people, maybe?"
"They went home," A-kun said, without realizing how important that confirmation was. "And so should you."
The kid nodded, and put his hands back in his pockets. "Okay. The sleepers left. Just making sure. Thanks for your time, officer."
Weird guy, the cop thought, as he walked off. And what was with that white hair? Kids today and their strange fashion sense. Probably nothing important, though. Just a few hours to go and they could declare the scene boring enough to open up, and he could go home to sleep. A-kun smiled, and continued his unimportant life.
DUSTY: There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this...
HIMEI: You're talking, Dusty.
DUSTY: Yes, well, that's part of my perfectly reasonable explanation. The thing about me talking in front of Aki, I mean--
AKI: It's okay, Himei. I know about the Sailor stuff. Well... mostly about it. Dusty had to explain while we were running to save you, so there wasn't a whole lot of--
HIMEI: You were the one, weren't you?
HIMEI: The one who saved me. You called yourself... you called yourself Sailor...
AKI: Beauty. Sailor Beauty. Well... I was a bit nervous and I couldn't think of anything else. I may be out of the fashion club but I haven't lost my sense of style, and--
HIMEI: Another... another sailor, no... this is impossible...
DUSTY: Well, actually, Kamen didn't give you your powers, remember? I did. He gave me that ability as an animal companion middle management sort. I guess I'm not limited to just one use, either. It's all very technical beyond that point--
HIMEI: This can't be happening... this...
DUSTY: Himei? Deep breaths, Himei. Remember your breathing...
DUSTY: ...blast, she passed out. It's okay, Aki, don't panic. She does this when she's too stressed. Get a wet washcloth.
AKI: She's not happy about this, is she...
DUSTY: Yes, well, I've got to be firm on this matter. So should you. Washcloth, please, right... she might not be happy about it, but she'll learn to live with it. LIVE with it, that's the important word... yeah, that'll work. Just put the cloth on her forehead. She'll come to in a little while. Works like a charm. Right.
AKI: ...Himei's going to be very angry with me. I've never seen Himei angry about anything before. Sad, yes. Tired, sure. Angry?... I hope she doesn't come to just yet...
DUSTY: She'll learn to live with it, Aki. Just keep telling yourself that. Everything's going to be okay now.
Two in the morning. Some of the best writing was done at two in the morning. The samurai wrote their texts of war poetry this late. Great novelists like Mark Twain and Tolstoy likely had some sleepless nights like these. It only made sense that Kongou Shin, future star on the horizon, should work the twilight hours as well...
Fortunately, her combination good friend and hated enemy Kotashi the school newspaper editor was usually awake at this hour too. He had an addiction to online RPGs, and his overseas friends were only able to log in at this time thanks to the time zones. He kept his e-mail open while he played, which meant Shin could ship her columns this late and still make the morning press. A good deal.
Of course, it also meant she had to wait for him to stop playing long enough to send a submission rejection or acceptance note. She refused to go to bed until she knew for sure, since it meant either she could rest easily knowing it'd see print, or would have to post the rejected, censored column to her website. Her readers demanded timely updates, and the truth waited for no one!
(Except for Kotashi, of course.)
She cracked open a fresh can of soda, waiting for that critical note as she lounged around in her computer chair (snatched from a dumpster, perfectly serviceable after some applied electrical tape). Shin glanced up at the wall, to confirm that the photo of her holding up the Golden Typewriter trophy was still there and was still proof of her inevitable success... hmm, good thing she cut her hair to pageboy style since then. She was starting to look like one of those Fashion Club ko-gals...
A familiar beep.
Instant message? She doubleclicked, curious now. Usually he just e-mailed...
I'd like to reject this, but I want to explain why first. wc? Y/N
Curiouser and curiouser. For kicks, she clicked Y, and flicked her eyes over to the tiny web camera as the red light turned on...
A jumpy and jittery video window opened. In the background, she could make out an intense session of Phantasy Star Online on pause. In the foreground was her loathed and loved editor, in a ragged t-shirt and shorts. (She herself was only wearing a T-shirt and panties, but they were both night owls and sleepwear was thus socially acceptable. Besides, the desk hid anything important.)
Shin slid her chair away from the desk, making a nice and relaxed pose. "So, what's wrong this time?" she asked. "Word from on high? Men in black threaten your housepets? Principal call you up crying and begging you not to let the truth run wild across his school?"
"No, it's boring."
Shin's chair slid right back into place, her expression downshifting into mild annoyance.
"'Boring'?" she repeated. "Excuse me? Dangerous, I can see. Confrontational, controversial, sure thing, I'm great with that, nail me to the cross and I'll smile. But BORING? You want me to come over there and wrench your arm behind your back until you say uncle, Kotashi?"
"Hey, I meant what I said," her editor defended, just as firm as she was. "Look, Shin... you said you wanted me to speak straight with you, yeah? Back when I agreed we'd run your column as often as we could you said I should just say what's on my mind. This column is boring. You've got that gripping, melodramatic sense to it that you usually have... but this is retreat ground, Shin. You ALWAYS talk about this stuff."
"It's my area of study, okay? You knew I was keen on the culture of victimization we live in when you let me into the Journalism Club--"
"It's not the area, Shin, it's what you're presenting in it," Kotashi clarified, sitting back a bit, backing down. "Listen... you've done some spectacular articles. Eye openers. The soccer club passing around test answers? Great scandal there, we went to bat for you with the office about publishing that. Your sit down interview with the girl who tried to jump from the roof?"
"Golden Typewriter, Kotashi. That one was not boring. Even the grups thought so."
"No, it wasn't. But this is," Kotashi explained. "You're not breaking any new ground, Shin. There's some bits in here about the Aki incident today but it's just you musing about it randomly. You need hard evidence. You need fresh examples and ways to present them. You're beating a dead horse by now -- we KNOW that high school sucks and we're all in dire straights, okay? But I want to SEE through your eyes. Through your writing. I've already seen everything you wrote today, so.... it was boring. I'd like to reject it, but I'll put it in if you insist--"
"Oh no, far be it for me to overthrow your editorial throne, m'lord," Shin mocked. "Fine. Reject it. I'll just write something six times better to blow you away the next day, AND to royally piss off the powers that be. They'll be running me out of town covered in tar and feathers, mark my words. See you tomorrow."
She cut the feed.
And exhaled. That wasn't good. She lost it. He dared to criticize--!
...but she deserved it. She didn't do a whole lot of investigation. Somewhere deep inside, she knew you could summarize today's article by saying 'Look! Aki's an example! Really! I don't have to prove it or anything..'. There simply wasn't enough meat on the bone. She didn't cover the story righteously. She didn't get the truth...
At times like this, instead of looking at the picture of her Golden Typewriter to her left, she looked to the poster of Hunter S. Thompson to the right. In a cultural mishmash, she liked to look up to the spooky gonzo journalist rebel that ruffled feathers across America as a retainer would look up to his samurai warlord and sensei in the arts.
"I dropped the ball," she admitted to his poster. "I'll never get that Pulitzer like this. But tomorrow, I'll dig my claws in. I'll get the truth about Aki. Then... they'll all know."
DUSTY: You hear something? Oh, and hit me.
AKI: Eight of diamonds, you bust. Sorry, Dusty. Hear what?
AKI: Himei! You awake now? How are you feel--
HIMEI: Why did you do this?
AKI: What? You mean...? Well, I--
HIMEI: Not you, Aki. Dusty. Dusty, how could you do this?
HIMEI: You.. you turned Aki into a sailor. You did it just to save me. How could you do such a thing?
DUSTY: ...I'd say 'I don't see what the big deal is' but yes, I know it's a big deal. I--
HIMEI: That's the sort of thing Magnificent Kamen would do, Dusty. Dropping someone who didn't know any better right into the fire with me... taking advantage of someone's innocence and getting them involved in my problems just to--
DUSTY: Hey, HEY! Himei... don't compare me to that bastard. This is totally different, completely and totally. For starters... it was Aki's idea, not mine. Swear to kami.
AKI: It was my idea to become a sailor, like Dusty said.
HIMEI: But, but...
DUSTY: I was actually hoping she'd whack the Yamiko with a stick or something and distract it long enough for you to win. You know, be a better distraction than a tiny cat mewling away... since she had to hear me talk in order to get the window open, I figured 'what the hell' and, you know, better safe than sorry and all that, asked her to help me. But the sailor thing, Himei, that was her idea. I told her the score... well, abbreviated it a bit, just the relevancies...
AKI: And I asked him how he expected me to fight a real monster -- since I now knew that you really were fighting monsters, just like you did when you saved me -- and he said he only wanted me to distract it. I asked if he could make me a sailor instead, and he said he could, so I asked him to do it. And, um... well, you were there for the rest, I guess.
HIMEI: I... I don't understand. How could you ever... it's not like it is on TV, Aki. It's not like an anime. Dusty, didn't you tell her? Didn't you warn her what it was really like before you did this?
DUSTY: As much as I could while running at high speed, yes. Believe me, I tried to dissuade her, but she kept insisting. With you in mortal danger, and no time to really think it out... I guess I went with my instincts. I made her a sailor. She wanted to be one, after all, and wasn't tricked into it like you were, right?
DUSTY: Uh, Himei? Her parents are asleep. Let's keep the voice down.
AKI: ...I don't know why. I just know it was the right decision to make, and I made it. I don't know why I made it...
HIMEI: Aki, that doesn't make any sense.
AKI: I'm doing my best to make sense of all this, Himei. This morning I was popular and safe and normal and now I'm wearing a sailor suit and fighting evil. I'm doing my best to adjust to this. Okay? And I want you to be okay with this and I want to be okay with this and I don't know what else I can say and I just know I wanted this and I don't know how I can make you happy and... and...
DUSTY: ...Himei? Tissues, please. By your elbow.
HIMEI: G-Gomen. Here, Aki.
DUSTY: I think we need a little time out here, girls. Aki, you mind if I have a word with Himei alone?
AKI: H-Hai. I'm sorry. I'm really a mess, I wanted to be strong like you are, but...
DUSTY: It's okay, really. Don't worry. Hey, I know -- you got any fruit juice downstairs? Himei could probably use some fluids right now, and it'd help you too. Trust me. Okay?
AKI: Okay. Himei, I'll be right back. Um. I mean, back in a minute. ...I'm sorry. I didn't want to make you upset. I just wanted to help.
DUSTY: ...right. Okay. Himei, I want you to be quiet for a moment and just listen to me. Okay? You're free to disagree afterwards but this needs to be said. Okay? ... ... Okay. Himei, I agree with Aki's decision, for whatever reason she made it. I've been thinking about this for the last few days, and it's exactly what you need. Ever since we split off from Magnificent Bastard, you've been going at it alone. As much of a prick as he was, he DID help you out when you were in trouble. Now, I know what I am: I'm a cat. I can guide you, but I can't fight like you can. You need a partner, Himei. Someone who can fight with you. You knew going out tonight that it was suicide, right?
DUSTY: Well, I don't want you to die. Aki doesn't want you to die -- she doesn't feel let down by you, she doesn't want you to die for any mistake you might have made today. We're both going to do what we can to help you, anything we can. If Magnificent Kamen was the strategist and leader, I'm going to have to take on that role in his absence, just as Aki will take on the role of your partner in battle. This is a war, and teamwork is what wins wars. Soldiers in squadrons, not lone warriors against an entire army. All I'm asking is that you try to accept this. This is reality, Himei. This is the way it's going to be; she's your partner, and you know well that it's not reversible. Just work with it... please, work with it. Make an effort.
DUSTY: Good... good. Ah, great, just set that over there, Aki.
AKI: I can't. That table's a bit rickety, it might not hold up the tray.
DUSTY: ...oh. Well, anywhere, then. Heh. Sorry... guess I'm taking a bit TOO much command. Gomen.
Absolute ruin. A fallen city is like a dried and decayed corpse; it's a husk that suggests a shape without fleshing out the details. The outline of the victim is there, and the empty holes where it used to look out upon the world... but glass or eye, the critical things that make it alive and breathing are long gone.
Few people actually venture into the dead city. There's no need, when there's plenty of room in the palace -- the grandeur of the palace, alive with light and sound and energy. Creatures laughing and screaming and partying endlessly in a scene that would make Dante aroused, a shining but flawed gem sitting on top of a pile of refuse...
This is the Yami-gaia, and it's not entirely unlike the world humans know.
There are even distinct similarities in the fallen city when you compare it against Tokyo. In the few parts of the city that have electrical power, the neon lights and animated billboards flicker and stutter. A dim pool of light from a skewed street lamp illuminates the sidewalk... where a young man of ageless grace paces in irritation.
'Fashionably Late,' he mused. Of course the floof would be fashionably late. Evil people did not keep punctual appointments, not when they had so many vices to satisfy, even if efficiency would give them the ability to satisfy more vices in the long run...
A flowing wind brushed through his hair. Ah, that'd be him.
"I hope you know I'm missing a particularly memorable party," Argon spoke.
"You can catch the next one," the man suggested, turning to face the Dark General. "It's not like Neon won't be throwing another tomorrow--"
"Xenon, actually," Argon said, sliding his manicured hands into the pockets of his cloak. "You visit the palace more often, Cobalt, you're out of touch. He spirited away an entire school bus from Kyoto, and we're having some fun with them before we turn them. Although, if the fun continues, we might just enjoy them until they're all used up rather than bother with the turning... newly spawned Yamiko can be SO boring compared to a good, terrified human."
"A newly spawned Yamiko can add more to our forces," Cobalt replied, knowing the argument would be fruitless but feeling he had to make the effort regardless. "A new Yamiko can bring skills we need to restore the Yami-gaia to power once more. The scientist I turned at the Tokyo university is responsible for restoring electrical services to this city block, you know. Brilliant mind. And I MADE him come back here rather than let him play on Earth first, so he's still alive."
"Ah," Argon said, looking up at the street lamp with bored indifference. "How droll. I turned some gymnasts today. Twins, brother and sister. They were so wonderfully pure and kind to each other, that their Yamiko would have proven to be excellent playthings. I was going to make it a holiday gift for Xenon, except--"
"Which conveniently brings me to why I've dragged you out of your party. 'Except'. Except they got killed, yes?"
"To put it bluntly, yes," Argon spoke, making a face. "You have yet to learn tact becoming of a Dark General, young one."
"And you need to learn to work and play well with others," Cobalt accused. "For instance... you could have TOLD me you were sampling out of the Wazaru High School area."
"Why does it matter?"
"Because I'VE been sampling from there as well! That's twice the usual number of spawnings in such a small area. That attracts attention. That brings the cops and the press and the curious, and most importantly, Sailor Salvation. And that's the other little tidbit, isn't it? Scuttlebutt says you got defeated by TWO sailors. Care to elaborate?"
"A trifle," Argon shrugged. "It's not like Magnificent Kamen hasn't developed small teams in the past--"
"A hundred years ago, maybe. Not now. Now, they raise attention. ALL of us, good and evil and whatever, need to be raising as little ruckus as possible. And that means you and the other noble gasses had better coordinate. I've made these photocopied day planners, based on the map of Tokyo. I want you and the others to--"
The photocopied day planners ignited in Cobalt's hand. This didn't improve his mood any.
"Tosh... you're a bore, Cobalt," Argon sighed. "I don't honestly see why the Queen keeps you around."
"Because I'm the only one who gets anything done," the younger Dark General spoke in a barely controlled manner.
"We are monsters, Cobalt. We are warriors and gods and demons alike. We exist to terrify humanity, to bring it ruin, to draw the darkness from its sheltered core and turn it against itself. That means we play where and when we please, with who we please. You're being far too practical for that. Yes, perhaps we should work at restoring our fallen kingdom... but there is time for that. There is an eternity. For now, it is MUCH more fun to scar them and burn them and rape their innocence away, rip them screaming from the comfort of the light. And that is why I have no interest in your day planners, your action item lists, and your silly efforts at revitalizing this... this cancerous, yet unimportant city of ancient dirt. You are wasting your time. But you'll soon see that and join us in our fun."
Cobalt tightened the grip on the ashes in his hand. "...I have orders from the Queen. 'Restore the Yami-gaia.' That's all that matters to me, not parties, not any of your 'fun'. Get out of my sight, Argon. I've got work to do. And tell the others not to get in my way."
"Or you'll what?" Argon asked, playfully. "You're not a strong Yamiko. You weren't as pure-hearted as we were before being turned. You're a nothing, and you can do nothing to back up your sniveling little complaints. A funny, funny man... but not a true Dark General. I'll avoid getting in your way... because you do not interest me. Farewell."
The Dark General of practical matters turned sharply and marched back towards his makeshift base of operations, ignoring whatever flashy exit Argon had selected. It didn't matter. None of them mattered. He had a purpose, a selfless purpose, and he was going to fufill it. Nobody would stop him. No General, and no Sailor alike.
AKI: ...she told me I was useless. Maybe that's why.
HIMEI: Useless? I don't get it. Aki, you're an important person. I mean, you're in a club, and you're helping organize the festival floats, and... um, you were, I mean. But you weren't useless. The Yamiko do that, they lie and they trick and hurt you just to be hurting you. Right, Dusty?
AKI: Himei, she wasn't lying. That's what made it so scary! She was right. What have I done with myself? I have a closet full of fashions I don't even like. They're not my style at all, I'm more of an autumn, not a summer... I was only working the floats to leverage some power for the group to get something else we wanted... and... and stuff. Useless stuff. Nothing that's really important, nothing that's useful to anybody but myself, and sometimes not even that.
HIMEI: Aki, we're not really old enough to worry about that. I mean, we're just kids, right? We don't have to be.. 'useful' yet, I guess. We just go to school and learn and later we gets jobs and--
AKI: But you're useful! You're fighting evil. That's as good as it gets, isn't it? What you do is the most useful thing ever, you're saving the world!
HIMEI: ...I told you it's not like anime. There's nothing fun about it. It's awful. You get hurt, and you see people get hurt, and some nights it's just so bad that I wish I could stop saving the world, no matter what it took to stop it...
AKI: I know. I mean... I think I get the idea. It's like a war, right? I've seen 'Saving Private Ryan'.
HIMEI: This is worse.
AKI: ...my point is, is that it's a good thing you do. Even if it's hard, even if you don't wanna do it, it's good. I just... I wanted to do something good. Something that mattered. Maybe that's why I became a sailor. I had to redeem myself for wasting all that time... even if I'm just a kid, even if I didn't have to be anything important, I didn't want to be that way. When the Yamiko told me what I was, I knew what I was and I knew I hated it. Maybe that's why.
HIMEI: That's not enough reason!
AKI: I didn't have anything else to do, either. I'm an outcast now. Nobody's going to treat me the same way again. I've got nothing else in my life except myself... and you.
AKI: I want to like myself. I want to! But I didn't like what I was, I just told myself I liked myself because other people told me I was good. That's gone now. I don't want to be depressed. I don't want to feel bad about myself anymore. If I have to do something drastic to find out what 'myself' is and if I can like it... I gotta do it. Maybe that's why... I don't know. Is this what you feel like, Himei?
HIMEI: ..me? What?
AKI: In the mornings. Sometimes you're so distant. The words you say are sleepy, like they don't make sense. You sound lost sometimes to me. I wasn't lost, I thought I was rock solid, so it sounded weird to me. I probably sound really weird right now to you. Like I'm losing my mind, like I'm losing myself... not solid, not like Dusty, not like you.
HIMEI: ...I'm not solid, Aki. I haven't been for a long time.
AKI: Then what do I do, Himei? I joined your world to find out what I'm supposed to do. Tell me. Please... I...
AKI: Right. Arigato.
HIMEI: I... I don't know, Aki. I guess that's my answer. I don't know. I just go with things as they come. There's no other way to live, not when you're a Sailor. You just have to feel your way through it, even if it's weird or strange or you sound funny. ...tonight is the first time I ever talked to anybody about this. You don't know how hard it is to find the words...
AKI: B... one second. ... my trash can's gonna fill with tissues if this keeps up... what about Magnificent Kamen? Didn't you talk to him?
HIMEI: No. He talked to me. There's a difference.
HIMEI: I've never had to talk about this, really talk about how I felt. ...not even to Dusty. He just sorta knew. He's a good friend and he can read me well. But I don't know if I sound strange to you, either. If I sound weird. So I guess if you're weird, and I'm weird, then...
AKI: ...then we're both weird together, and it's all okay.
HIMEI: Something like that. There's no other way to think about it.
AKI: Still... there's got to be a better way. Something better than just living moment to moment and never feeling like you have a good footing, that nothing's stable. That's got to be like being insane. I don't want to live that way.
HIMEI: You'll get used to it.
AKI: ...I think I need to sleep. I always think better after a good night's rest. Then maybe I can talk about this without going to pieces on you.
HIMEI: Okay. You should sleep. Goodnight.
AKI: Aren't you sleeping?
HIMEI: If I go to sleep now, I might not wake up if we have a nighttime Yamiko attack. I need to stay alert. I don't want to sleep through another..... what are you doing?
AKI: Tucking you in. You ARE going to sleep. I'll take the second cot.
AKI: You'll be even less alert and more likely to snooze if you don't get a night's rest. I'm sure Dusty will wake us up if anything goes wrong, right?
HIMEI: I guess, but...
AKI: No buts. This is what he'd do, I think, if he wasn't sleeping already. If I'm going to get a grip on this, maybe it'll help to follow that example. Now get some sleep. I'm suspended and you're on medical leave, so we can sleep in.
HIMEI: Unless there's an attack.
AKI: Right. Now sleep. ...and Himei?
HIMEI: (yawns) Hai?
AKI: ...thank you.
HIMEI: For what?
AKI: Just... thanks.
'Undergoing Renovations. Please see administrative office for permission to enter.'
Naturally. They couldn't string up 'POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS' tape since that'd mean admitting a crime occurred here. They probably couldn't get away with a disease quarantine, or bricking up the door, or any number of other ways to legitimately keep out curious onlookers. So, in traditional Japanese fashion, they politely requested you not enter.
Shin ignored the sign and opened the door, closing it quietly behind her.
The morning sun streamed in through the windows, quite nice, nearly pastoral. Shelves and boxes and crates and the like. She'd been in the storage room before, usually on some errand to bring more blank paper to the Journalism Club. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary here.
Still, her journalistic instincts were firing on all cylinders. They could have blocked up the door just to deter curiosity, even if there was nothing in here worth note... but this was the scene of the crime. If Shin was going to prove a crime happened, be it sociological or legal, she'd have to investigate. There had to be meat in her next Rude Awakening, not just a vague accusation. Hunter would have demanded nothing less.
It took ten minutes to find anything worth note in the cluttered room, but it was absolutely worth note.
The box cutter had slid under a shelf. The administration probably didn't see it; there's no way they would leave a bloodied, exposed retractable blade lying around. Someone had used this fairly recently, since no dust had gathered on the blade and the blood seemed fresh, if not actually wet.
Wearing a pair of latex gloves (traditional, since her sort of journalism was dirt sheet material) she turned the blade around and around, studying it. Sweeping for prints was a bit beyond her, but nobody would mind if she liberated this to loan to her trustworthy cousin in the police forensics lab...
She noticed the next clue while sealing the blade in a ziplock baggie.
Of course, electrical tape wasn't unheard of here. The shelves were in dire need of repair and tape was a good stopgap measure, but this tape wasn't holding anything together. It was simply wrapped in a wadded clump around one cornerpost of a shelf, twisted up and stretched... and (curiously enough) also cut apart. The box cutter must have been used. What was taped up here--
The pastoral silence of the storage room was shattered with a long, drawn out scream. A young girl's scream...
It passed after a few seconds, and Shin got herself off the floor.
What a novelty! she thought objectively, dusting herself off, making she she didn't drop the evidence. Haven't had an attack like that in months. Shin would have to make note of it when she got home...
Someone's wrists were taped here. (Otherwise, Shin wouldn't have been triggered off like that.) Definitely getting interesting now. Someone restrained. A bloody blade. The same blade freeing the person. And somehow, Aki moving from here to outside and back again...
Smell that? That's scandal. That's the truth waiting to be uncovered. Shin went through the steps -- snap a photo with her cheap little camera, pry the tape away, get out of the room. All pieces of the puzzle accounted for, all that was left was to assemble them into 'The Truth'.
For that, she'd have to have a nice, long talk with Komachi Aki.
AKI: So I said, "Are you kidding? Yellow in winter?" and of course she found some way to turn it back on me and make fun of what I was wearing, but I guess that's to be expected. But really, yellow doesn't go with snow on the ground, it's just too nasty, and that's why they don't make many yellow dessert toppings other than maybe butterscotch, which is more of a brown. I guess there's lemon ice cream but that's nasty too. Lemon snow-cones, though, those are okay for some reason, even if they're like directly pointing out the whole 'peeing on the snow' problem that's at the root of yellow fabric during the winter. That's why I eat strawberry. Makes sense, ne, Himei?
HIMEI: They're staring at us.
AKI: ...I know. I'm trying to ignore them.
HIMEI: Coming here was a bad idea. This is a place popular people go after school. We didn't even go to school today and we're also not very popular.
AKI: Just don't look at them, Himei.
HIMEI: I don't like crowds. Not when crowds are looking at me like I'm a freak. If I could blend in it wouldn't matter... we should go. Nobody wants us here.
AKI: No, we shouldn't go. Sit and enjoy your ice cream, you deserve a treat. This is my favorite coffee shop and I'm not leaving just because of... because of what's happened recently. It's my place and they won't take it away from me. Hurry, your sundae's melting.
HIMEI: I don't see why I deserve any of this.
AKI: I think after what you've been through, a little ice cream is a good start to making it all worthwhile.
HIMEI: It's not going to bring people back to life who I let die.
HIMEI: Nothing's going to make it all worthwhile. Not ice cream. Not even going on fighting. I have to keep fighting because if I don't it'll make everything even worse than it already is. But I don't deserve a medal or ice cream or.. a friend or anything just for doing that. I can't eat this. I feel sick...
AKI: Himei, it's okay, breathe deeply... Himei, where are you... Himei!
AKI: Himei? Are you in there? Your ice cream's melting. Come on. Come on, unlock the stall door.
HIMEI: Go away.
HIMEI: GO AWAY!
AKI: Okay I'll... go wait at the table for you. Remember to wash your hands when you're done. Okay?
AKI: Himei... I'm sorry. Maybe I'm pushing you too fast. I just... I wanted you to be happy. Ice cream and this shop always made me happy, so I figured... you know... I didn't want to upset you, I swear...
HIMEI: ...it's not your fault.
AKI: Let's finish our sweets, and then we can go to your house. Okay? Maybe watch TV. Do something fun. ...there you are.
HIMEI: I didn't really have to go to the bathroom.
AKI: I know, Himei. Come on, let's go.
HIMEI: ...we should go now.
AKI: Who did this? Which one of you guys did this?!
HIMEI: Aki, let's go.
AKI: No, I'm not going until I found out who dumped our ice cream all over our coats! Ami! I see you snickering back there. Was it you?
AMI: Who, me? Heavens, no. I just figured since you like to take your clothes off in front of people, you wouldn't need that horrible old thing anymore.
AKI: You... you..
AMI: Mmm? Going to cry, Aki? I guess Henmei's rubbing off on you, then. Go crying home to your mommy, you crazy girl! Go! This is the Fashion Club's coffee shop and you're not wanted!
AMI: Honestly, some people are so sensitive-- what do you want?
HIMEI: Sometimes... sometimes I don't feel sorry for you people when they get you. Aki, wait, I'm coming! ...
AMI: What did she mean by that?
Step One: Uncover the facts.
Step Two: Uncover the facts nobody else wants to uncover.
That would take some legwork, in a most literal fashion. Shin wandered back and forth, up and down the main drag of the commercial district at high speed, while ignoring attractive store displays. It takes some serious calories to canvas an area this size and ensure Aki didn't evade her in the process...
Something big and nasty was brewing here. Nasty on a personal scale, nasty on a widespread scale... Shin couldn't tell yet. But every instinct, every finely honed sense mired deep in the unpleasant underbelly of humanity was ringing like a six alarm fire. Of course, a 'sense' wasn't enough to write a column on... not unless she wanted to write a vague, preachy bastard like the other night. No, she needed those deep, nasty facts to work from before she started getting preachy.
With any luck, she'd get them straight from the horse's mouth. Aki might be on 'medical leave' but she HAD been seen in the area -- apparently not willing to give up her old haunts just yet. The commercial district around the school was a favored after hours locale for the elite, the hopeful and the hangers-on... including the Fashion Club. According to folks who owed her one, Aki was tooling around here during school hours... with Himei. Himei, who was also 'out sick' today.
That was the link Shin didn't quite have figured out yet. She knew Aki walked with Himei to school occasionally, despite trying to keep it quiet, but why start hanging out with her full time? Outcasts uniting under a banner of solidarity? Strangeness attracting strangeness? Just another point to drill Aki on, once Shin found her prey--
Her left hip began to chime. She could swear her pocket computer was at the left hip today, but it only rang at 6:14. Must've gotten the two mixed up again when outfitting for Serious Journalistic Endeavors. She snatched up the cellphone from its leather holster, tapped a button, and spoke.
"Speak," she said.
"Uh... I've got the results back."
"What, already?" Shin asked, turning a corner into an alley. A little privacy was hard to find in this city, and it meant pausing her Aki Quest, but this would be worth it.
The voice at the other end of the line paused a moment. "You were right... checking the school records first worked. The fingerprints on that knife were a dead lock, she must've been gripping it nice and hard--"
"She? Who was holding it? Give me the short of it, cousin."
Two plus two equaled three. Frowning, Shin leaned against a brick wall, to speak quietly. "You're positive about that?"
"98% positive. It's her print."
"And the blood?"
"Another match... a girl named Shoutan Himei. And it must've been pretty deep, because we've got intense oxygenation in the sample--"
"That doesn't make any sense," Shin spoke aloud, forgetting for a moment that she was on the phone. "If that's right, it means Aki attacked Himei... and now they're hanging out like best friends?"
"Look, Shin, I really think I should show this to my boss. We've got evidence here of aggravated assault, and that's technically a crime, you know--"
"No. Not yet. I need to figure out what happened that day," Shin quickly said. "If I can lock a real crime on this... I'll tell you. But until then, no questioning, no pressing charges, don't raise a stink. Aki's been through hell lately and adding a police drama on top of it is only going to make it worse. I mean, jeez, the rumor mill is already six feet deep over this one, let's ruin her reputation by having her be spotted with the pigs--"
"You know I don't like you calling us that."
"So you want me to shush this up? I thought you were Truth and Freedom Kongou Shin. Full disclosure above all. You're REALLY lucky I already hated his guts, you know, but if your aunt found out I was still talking to you, much less conspiring--"
Shin turned around, leaning back against the brick wall. It might stain her fuku a bit, but that didn't matter. She rubbed her temples, trying to think of how best to phrase this... "Cousin... there's something important about the truth. It's like... okay. It's like a Pokemon. If you grab it fresh out of the fields and send it up against MewTwo, it's gonna get annihilated. But if you can nurture it, enhance it, present it in a way that keeps it pure but makes it powerful... then you can become a Pokemon Master. You follow?"
"Do you LIVE in Japan?" Shin asked, incredulous. "Okay, fine. Blunt way: If I run around clanging a drum and shouting from the hills before I've got the Truth ready for public consumption, it'll fall on deaf ears -- or worse, get misinterpreted. My job isn't just to say 'This is the Truth', it's to say 'This is the Truth you must accept and why.' So if you go charging to the cops before we know what's really going on here, the spin machine kicks in, and bad shit happens. Got me now?"
"Uh... I think so. But you swear you'll tell me if you find a crime, right?"
"Cross my heart and hope not to die," Shin spoke, crossing her hand over her chest as she said it. "I'll talk to you later. And don't let your mother get you down, man. She's one of Them and not to be trusted, got it?"
"I'm more worried about her being down than me, Shin."
"Yeah, whatever. Hasta." Click.
Step two, done.
Step Three: Figure out what the hell the facts mean.
The window of opportunity was closing. Around this time, students would start heading home; she had to either locate Aki now, or go to the backup plan. A few quick sweeps up and down the drag turned up nothing, but she was a patient girl... to a point. To the point where she gave up hoping to accidentally run into her quarry and just busted in on the coffee shop with intent to DIG.
Unfortunately, a sweep of the shop showed no Aki. Fortunately, it showed something else she could exploit.
Before any of them could object, Shin slipped herself into a free chair at the table of the Wazaru High Fashion Club.
"Hi, how are you, nice day, Kongou Shin with the 'Daily View' and I was wondering if I could get some comments--"
"No comment," Ami spoke up quickly. "You're invading my space."
Shin coughed... while covertly brushing a finger along a button on her pocket computer, kicking in its audio record function silently.
"No comment? Really? Because my readers are very curious as to why one of your own spawn flipped out the other day. There's big talk going around," Shin lied. "Talk that the Fashion Club somehow dared her to do that, which would be a violation of the anti-hazing act of the Student Government--"
"We had nothing whatsoever to do with Aki's horrid display," Ami said for what would later be the record. "Nothing. I have no idea why she went crazy, nor do I care. The Fashion Club has no further ties with Komachi Aki."
"Really? That's funny, because my sources say she was desperate to contact the Fashion Club yesterday," Shin lied. "Can you think of any reason why that might be?"
"Will you go away if I tell you she called me yesterday, babbled crazy girl talk and then hung up?" Ami asked.
"It might, if you tell me what crazy girl talk the crazy girl talked," Shin suggested. "That might get me out of your hair... and if I print it, and it's really crazy, it'll just bury her further. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Ami-chan?"
"It would be beneficial to the community for you to warn them of what a loon she is, yes," Ami noted, starting to smile. "Might be more valuable than the usual tripe and lies you print, Shin-CHAN. She tried to convince me she didn't say those horrid things and didn't do any of that. Tried to pass it off on someone else doing it, and said nobody believed her, as they shouldn't. So I told her on no uncertain terms that we would have nothing further to do with her, and she cried and hung up without a second word."
Likely a pack of lies, but the initial part was too plain to dismiss, Shin thought. She brushed the Record Stop button. "I suppose that'll do... for now," she warned, getting up. "But if I find out you DID have something to do with all this... well. I'll have to make it be known. Publicly. I've never liked your little cult, personally, and that's not just because you voted me for the worst dressed of Wazaru list two years running."
"Talk all you want, we had nothing to do with this," Ami spoke, smiling more. "And that, as you like to say it, is the Truth. Girls? Let's go to my place, I just got the latest Namie CD."
Shin was too busy organizing her notes to bug them further. She reviewed her files on the pocket computer, trying to shuffle words around, get it to make sense.
"Blood from Himei on blade" "Aki's prints on blade" "Aki+Himei have some bond now" "Wrists taped to a shelf" "Aki but not Aki?"
Bizarre. Just bizarre. There had to be some Truth in here...
It would have to wait. The opportunity had passed, and going straight to Aki's place to talk to her would be tactless. Tomorrow. She could deal with this tomorrow... hopefully things could wait that long. Something was rotten here, something that had ruined Aki's life, and sooner Shin could expose it hopefully the sooner Aki could recover from this mess...
We've lost too many already, Shin thought. We can't afford to lose another one.
But tonight she'd have to deal with her hated enemy / editor asking where tomorrow's column was. Damn.
AKI: Stupid self centered arrogant little...! OOH! I can't believe I used to be one of them. I can't believe how easy it's been for me to toss them aside after all this, too... heh. Maybe I always wanted to, I just didn't want to admit it. Check it out, Himei, I psychoanalyzed myself!
HIMEI: I shouldn't have said what I said.
HIMEI: I told her... sometimes I wasn't sorry when they were taken. I shouldn't say that. I'm the heroine, right, Aki? I should be sympathetic. Sometimes it's hard to be.
AKI: Feh. I don't care what happens to them.
HIMEI: So you'd want them to be hurt the way you were hurt?
AKI: ...I didn't mean that. I just mean...
HIMEI: Sometimes I wonder if we're no better than the Yamiko. Magnificent Kamen wasn't. I knew that for years. But I hate them. I hate the Yamiko. I don't blame them. I don't blame him. But I hate them all the same. I hate myself for having to feel that way every day--
AKI: Hey, Himei, check this window display out! The new summer line is in ahead of schedule! We should get you a hat.
AKI: Because hats are cheerful. You pick the right hat, you've got a jaunty little accessory to perk up any day!
HIMEI: A hat isn't going to make me happy.
AKI: You won't know until you're wearing one.
AKI: ...fine, fine. [sighs] I'm sorry. I just... I mean... how can you take yourself?
AKI: Well... you're always talking about how awful things are. Doesn't it get really dreary? I couldn't stand myself if I was going to act like that. That's why I'm so upbeat today! Okay, things could be... a lot better, but... I have to stay bright and cheerful. Nothing can shake me!
HIMEI: Do you think I'm that disgusting?
AKI: I didn't mean it that way, Himei.
HIMEI: What did you mean, then?
AKI: I meant... I just.... oooh. I don't know. I'm just trying to help!
HIMEI: It's okay, Aki.
AKI: It is?
HIMEI: I'm beyond help.
AKI: There you go again! Honestly, Himei, you're so...
HIMEI: Maybe I should go home now. It's been a fun afternoon, thank you.
AKI: Don't push me away, Himei. I'm not trying to be mean to you, I swear. I like you. I really do! You're... you're the only friend I have left, and I want to be happy and you to be happy and...
HIMEI: And you're the only friend I have too, other than Dusty. ...I'm sorry, Aki. My.. 'people skills' aren't that good, I guess. Like I said... I haven't had to talk about any of this before. I could just put on a fake smile and talk about normal stuff... but--
AKI: Owww... Himei, my... my head is killing me... did something hit me? What happened...?
HIMEI: Come on. We have to hurry.
AKI: What is .. rgh. What is it?
"And that's why we're going to leave now," Dark General Cobalt finished explaining.
The freshly spawned Yamiko scratched his unshaven chin. He ignored the sleeping human host he came from, as he made his decision. "Sounds interesting. Certainly better than this shitty little job. I'll take your offer."
Finally, Cobalt thought. He had a good feeling about this guy; he did his research on this one. Ordinary clerk, stocking videos on shelves in a rental joint. Had no major peeves with life other than being bored. No enemies to get revenge on, no fetishes, no self loathing, nothing to tie him to the mortal world... and he was alone in the storage room behind the Smile Video store eating dinner at this hour every day of the week. Perfect setup.
His technical expertise at communications, totally wasted on this dead end job, would have the ruined city wired and ready to go within a month. Cobalt would still need to pluck a few more skilled folks to help this guy, maybe from the local University--
A box falling to the ground. Someone was in the alley. He declined the instinctive human urge to say "Did you hear that?" since the other Yamiko was too young to have developed abilities such as Cobalt's hearing...
The door was kicked open, and just as Cobalt suspected, in came the Sailors. But they weren't getting this one without a fight, he thought with determination....
Once the first Sailor rushed in, Cobalt was in a terrific position to give the door a savage kick -- slamming it closed, likely whacking the other Sailor in the face with it. Now that he knew there were two of the little bitches, he could apply a little divide and conquer. He twisted the lock shut on the door, knowing it would keep the girl out. Powerful anti-Yamiko attacks she may have, but she still had the strength of a little girl.
The Dark General turned, to see his new recruit holding the Sailor hostage with a knife from his dinner tray. Hmm, very resourceful indeed, and quick to react to the situation... Cobalt liked that. The former video clerk had the blade pressed good and hard to her neck... and she wasn't moving, for fear of being cut.
That was definitely fear in her eyes. This was the new; Sailor Salvation rarely showed fear these days. In fact, she rarely showed any emotion whatsoever. Could the new Sailor be inexperienced and easily defeated? Cobalt stepped up to examine those eyes up close... noting how they widened, how her breath quickened at his approach.
"So, you know what I am?" Cobalt asked. "I guess Salvation must have told you. That's good. It means you know I'm going to kill you. Frankly, one Sailor is bad enough, and two is unacceptable. Recruit, your first task is to slit her throat, then we'll get you assigned to work detail back home. Understood?"
"Understood," the video store clerk spoke... smiling. Apparently he DID have a little darkness inside against little girls that was amplified in the spawning. All the better, Cobalt thought--
The metal door dented, and then flew open. The garbage can that had knocked it open tumbled in, and rolled to the side, spilling discarded cardboard video boxes and decaying food all over the floor. Standing in the open doorframe... a very enraged Sailor Salvation. Not that her face bore expression, but she was glowing. Glowing with black light.
This isn't Sailor Salvation, Cobalt realized. It looks like her, but she's changed...
"Don't move," the new Yamiko said, keeping a firm grip on the girl, and on the knife. "If you move, I cut her. You understand, kid? And don't think of attacking, because you'll hit her if you--"
"Guess I'll need to find a new communications officer," Cobalt decided. "Sorry, man." Without another word, he faded into the shadows of the room, vanishing.
The clerk stared at the space Cobalt used to occupy. "But--"
HIMEI: Transform back, hurry. We've got to move before he wakes up. We're lucky Cobalt didn't explain to him that our attacks pass through regular people without damaging--
AKI: AHH! Oh, god, I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding, Himei, I'm going to die! I don't want to die!!
HIMEI: You're not going to die. You just got nicked. The blade didn't sink in far enough to cut any major veins or your windpipe. I've had worse.
AKI: I'm going cold... I can't feel my hands... please, please stop, I can't run--
HIMEI: At least transform back. ...better. There's a drugstore down the corner, I can go in and buy you a bandage.
AKI: He had a knife at my throat!
HIMEI: You've got plenty of scarves and things back home you can cover it up with afterwards.
AKI: He was going to kill me!
HIMEI: ...yes, Aki. That's what the Yamiko are trying to do. Kill me. Us.
AKI: He had a knife and... and he was going to... I can't stop shaking, Himei...
HIMEI: You'll learn how to stop shaking after awhile. I've had a knife at my throat many times before. We're lucky guns are illegal in Japan, but knives, Yamiko usually have knives when they find us. Do you see these?
HIMEI: These are scars. Mom thinks I just fall down a lot. She never asks more than that. I've been cut so often I don't care anymore. You don't feel a blade as it's going into your skin after you've felt it dozens of times be--
AKI: Stop it! STOP IT! Put your shirt down, please, stop it, I don't want to hear anymore--
HIMEI: You decided to take on the war, Aki. This is what war is.
AKI: I know. I KNOW. I just... I need some more time to adjust--
HIMEI: There isn't any more time. ...I'm sorry. But that's the way it is. Don't worry. You'll get used to it eventually. You'll be numb to it, like me.
HIMEI: Let's get you a bandage, then go to my house for dinner. Mom won't mind. She says I need to make more friends anyway.
You can make an office out of any spare surface. All it takes is enough topology to support a strewn mess of paperwork and notes -- everything else, paperclips, pencil sharpener, coffee maker, felt covered boxes -- is optional.
Dark General Cobalt had selected this building in the ruins to house his 'faction', as it were, due to the number of rooms it had which were not in danger of falling apart. He chose this particular room as his office because it had desks and filing cabinets, which he needed to store his research. No fancy computers, no networking capabilities (not that there was anything to network with), just good old fashioned paper and pastepot research with clippings from newspapers and official records. Every surface not covered in paper had smudges of glue from days past, threatening to adhere papers in a permanent manner if piled upon.
Despite the mess, it had a system. The haphazard pile to the left held data on Yamiko already aligned with his efforts. The cabinet to the right held loose stacks of raw material... humans with Yamiko potential and adequate technical skills. Unfortunately, the pile in the garbage can held the paperwork on Yamiko who were executed by Sailor Salvation, and it was larger than the other two piles combined.
The video rental guy had a file, and that file was filed in the round paper filing cabinet with the others.
Reaching into the metal container with delicate fingers, Dark General Argon withdrew the file, dusted it off and flipped through. It didn't take long to analyze.
"You have no eye for selection," Argon decided, letting the man's file topple back into the discard pile. "Too mild mannered. He would have ended up... well, a lot like you. You should be shooting higher -- saints, clergymen, the philanthropic--"
"You know damn well why I picked him," Cobalt said, having long since resigned his fate to Argon hanging around annoying him. He rifled through the filing cabinets in search for a way to shut the other general up.
Argon sighed, shaking his head in distress at the fruitless waste. He looked around the four walls plus door, sniffling a bit in disgust. "You are lucky, Cobalt. The other factions, my own included, could knock your paper building over with a pinky finger. If not for the ban on infighting imposed by our glorious Queen--"
"At least I don't waste my time on cheap sex, sadism, and 'art'," Cobalt reminded him. "Which represent the finest triumphs of Neon, Xenon, and you respectively. You see a paper chase and a bunch of weak Yamiko, because your idea of an ideal Yamiko is a relentlessly freakish bastard with no wants other than to piss off humans."
"Your point being? And I strongly dislike your tone when you mention my art, young one. Such noble pursuits are prized even your beloved humans."
"Your stuff would make Mapplethorpe look like Norman Rockwell. The only person it makes happy is yourself," Cobalt spoke, yanking out a folder and leafing through it. "You know what I see when I look at your 'artworks'?"
"Ah, now you're an art critic? Tell me, then. What do you see?"
Cobalt smiled, glad that the Dark General played along. "I see a Nine Inch Nails video," he said, slapping the folder down on his desk. "I see an NBC Mystery Movie of the Week. I see a video game politicians decry in order to win voters. I see Dante being ripped off for the umpteenth time in the course of history. But most of all... I see that you haven't achieved anything the humans haven't already thought of before. You and the other Dark Generals have been at this for so long that it stopped being original centuries ago. The Yamiko used to be fear itself... gloriously pure and horrible. Now you're just another thing to be afraid of."
Argon frowned slightly. "Did you practice that little speech, Cobalt? Does it feel good to finally say it to one of us? Make you feel like you're better than everybody else?"
"Yes, actually it does, thank you for asking," Cobalt said, tapping a finger on the paper. "And you want to know what I do? I do this. I organize, I track, and I use people for something other than selfish pleasures. I get shit DONE instead of doing shit. Meet my next volunteer, Argon."
Argon lightly waltzed over, since a true Dark General would never do something as plain as walking, and read the file.
"Journalism expert," Cobalt explained, pointing out various features in the file. "Young, but that means fertile and ready to learn. Good organizational skills, excellent analytical skills, perfect for helping with the reconstruction efforts. I'll still need a communications officer, but with this human, I'll have something to communicate. Clear. Precise. Unclouded by the political fudging you do whenever you report to the Queen."
"Wazaru?" Argon asked, having ignored most of that. "You're pulling this one from Wazaru High? Didn't you tell me to avoid that place, Cobalt?"
"It doesn't matter. I'll be in and out like that. This time, they won't find me in time."
"And if they do, you'd better run," Argon suggested, straightening his poise. "Run just as you did today, rather than dare to face the Sailors. Unlike the rest of us, you likely wouldn't withstand a Sailor's willpower. Your ego would be shattered like... well, Cobalt before a Sailor is the nastiest analogy I suppose I can think of..."
"Blow me, Argon."
"You'd enjoy it too much," the Dark General smiled.
"Blood from Himei on blade"
"Aki's prints on blade"
"Aki+Himei have some bond now"
"Wrists taped to a shelf"
"Aki but not Aki?"
Shin was embarrassed to admit she wrote that.
It was inspired by a soap opera she had flipped past while cruising towards CNN. Naturally, anything inspired by the mass media reeducation tool of the Illuminati was a twistedly flawed and insidious spider waiting to bite or something like that. Still, it DID fit the facts.
Because she thought best when writing, she sat down at her computer late at night in her, and wrote to herself. Writing conditions had to be optimal; sleep shirt on, latest gash in the cheap fabric of her office chair fixed with a handy roll of duct tape, a little light music playing over the headphones so as not to wake the parents. Yes, these were good conditions for work. Even if the work was absurd.
So a girl walks into a room, and gets attacked by someone. When she wakes up, and I say 'wakes up' because there wasn't any sign of struggle and take it from me, you'd damn well struggle as someone was taping your wrists to the furniture, she sees... what? She sees her Evil Twin.
And the Evil Twin must not like her very much, because -- after making sure she has a good view out the window, which she would have from that position as far as I could tell -- she assassinates her own character. Yes, the Evil Twin heads outside with a megaphone, denounces everything the girl stands for, embarrasses and humiliates her and then hightails it outta there before the thought police close in.
Then the girl's secret best friend runs in and cuts her up with a knife. But that doesn't happen, because it doesn't make sense. No, what happens is the Evil Twin returns, takes the knife (the girl's fingerprints now on it), and is going to cut the girl up with it. The friend who rushed off from class unexpectedly (confirmed by Himei's classmates earlier this evening) interrupts, there's a struggle, the friend gets cut (the blood on the blade). And then...
And then what? Something happens. The Evil Twin goes away somehow, and those in authority find on the scene... the girl. That's it. The knife is under a shelf, the friend is missing, and the girl's out cold. Nobody bothers to notice the duct tape or the knife because they'd raise too many questions anyway.
The girl calls the idiot Ko-Girls she used to hang with and tells them it wasn't her, it was someone that looked like her. The girl hooks up with her secret friend instead, and the two spend the next day enjoying sundaes, and they all lived happily ever after.
It sort of makes sense... but once you take out the Evil Twin, it all falls apart. And there's no such thing as Evil Twins.
The fact that THIS is the only logical explanation I was able to come up with shows that my skills as a Journalist are sucking quite hard today.
Shin tapped the shift key absently, as she hated sitting still. Some part inside of her was hoping when she sat down that she'd be able to bang out something vaguely resembling a column... instead, she wrote a fairy tale. This wouldn't wash. Not only wouldn't it wash, but if history repeats itself, now would be about the time that her hated enemy called up and asked--
A familiar beep.
She skipped reading the instant message and went straight for the videoconferencing program. Sure enough, there was an incoming video chat request, and it connected immediately upon loading...
"Where's my column?" her hated enemy asked.
"I don't think there's going to be one, Kotashi," Shin replied, rolling her patched up chair away from the table... and halting it, in surprise. "What in the name of Nixon are you doing there at this hour, man?"
The blurry image of her editor smiled through the digital haze. He nodded towards the contents of the Journalism Club Room behind him. Even in dim lighting, even flooded with MPEG jaggies, Shin could easily recognize her second favorite hangout spot.
"We lost our front page story," Kotashi replied, not stopping his keyboard clicking on account of her woes. "I got last minute word from the principal that we couldn't publish it. He didn't like the idea of the school festival float scandal making top headlines. So, I bribed the night janitor and stayed extra late. Gotta shuffle things around a lot... and you just made my job harder, I'd like to point out. That's another critical set of inches I need to expand to fill."
"Hey, it happens. But you don't have to worry. I'm onto something, you magnificent bastard."
"Oh? Is it the Aki thing?" her editor asked, pausing his keystrokes.
"It's most certainly the Aki thing," Shin replied, smiling widely. "It's adding up... to something that's weird beyond weird. I can't make heads or tails of it. At least, not plausible heads or acceptable tails..."
"Ah. Just what I wanted to hear, that you had another batch of vague and unexplainable accusations to hurl around in my paper. I can hear the rustle of the complaints letters already."
"Buddha on a stick, man, I just need to do a little more investigating," Shin grumbled. "I'll deliver the Truth piping hot and ready for pressing on the presses, don't worry. ...you've really been there since school got out?"
"The servers kept crashing. I had to call whatsisname three times. I've only been able to get down to serious work about an hour ago--"
"Say no more," Shin said, grabbing a pair of pants off the pile of discarded clothes lying on her bed. "I'll hop on my bike and be there in minutes. It's not like you and I haven't pulled an all nighter before, after all."
Kotashi groaned, leaning back. "Shin, it's late. Just go to bed. You've been staying up too late these days--"
"The Truth waits for no one," Shin reminded him, yanking her pants on. "I've got no column and nothing to work on, and I hate being unproductive. At least I can help you with the mess like a good little team player. Be there in three shakes of an intern's tail."
Shin tapped the Shut Down button, and flicked the lights off before exiting.
AKI: I think that's the finest beefbowl I've ever had. I mean... wow. ...wow.
HIMEI: You're welcome. My mom is a very good cook... and I think she was so happy to see me bringing a friend home that she really went all out.
DUSTY: I'll say. Even the leftovers were spectacular. Aki, do me a favor and drop by more often. You know? I'd say today worked out ... relatively well, all things considered. I'm proud of you, Himei, you've adjusted great to this.
AKI: ...actually, I'm a little disappointed. I reacted so badly to my first real fight...
DUSTY: You should have seen Himei after her first fight. She wouldn't come out of her room for days!
DUSTY: Uh... no offense, Himei. I mean... I'm just saying everybody gets scared, Aki, and considering the circumstances you had every right to be scared. There's no shame in that.
AKI: But you wouldn't have done that, Dusty. You wouldn't have just gone all weak in the knees and... you know. You'd have known just what to do.
DUSTY: Errr... Aki, I'm more of a thinker than a fighter. I'd have gone to the litter box all over myself if I was in that position.
AKI: Oh, come now--
DUSTY: I'm serious! Why do you think I wanted your help last night? If I tried to distract the Yamiko myself, I'd be dead meat. I'm a coward, Aki. Granted, I've got good reasons for it... but all the talk in the world doesn't help when someone's in mortal danger. Without Magnificent Kamen around, I felt just as powerless as you did, I bet...
AKI: Well... that won't be a problem anymore for Himei! Not with Sailor Beauty on the job! Next time, I'll do great, and there won't be any trouble at all! NE, Himei-chan?
HIMEI: You're my friend. You've said it a lot, and I've believed it. But... I still don't understand why. Why do you want to help me? Me. Why do you care about me? Why did you want to make me happy, and give me ice cream and... why are you so worried about me?
AKI: Uh, didn't we go over this? Well... because... like you just said, I'm your friend. Friends look out for each other.
HIMEI: ...I thought you were just using me for my homework skills before.
AKI: ... ... um...
HIMEI: I didn't mind. I really didn't. I was just happy to have a friend, even if might have been a make believe friend.
HIMEI: But you and I, today... we've had a bit of fun, even without the Yamiko. And you seem really happy to be around me. REALLY, not faking it. I know how people fake being happy, I've done it too, and you weren't doing it.
AKI: ...I was always your friend. I was just... afraid to really BE your friend. I always felt worried for you, though, that's not a recent thing... I just was scared to let anybody know, or really express that. Now I'm not scared to admit it. I am your friend. I always was, I think.
HIMEI: ...I always wanted to be your friend. I tried really hard, even if I was worried you didn't really like me. Aki... I'm... I guess I'm... happy--
HIMEI: Let's go, Aki.
AKI: I know... I know. We-- hey!
HIMEI: No time. Dusty, stay here... you could get hurt.
DUSTY: Fine by me. Like I said, I'd be no use to you there. Good luck and try not to get hurt...
AKI: H-Himei, wait! Shouldn't we have bicycles or something? Why are we running?
HIMEI: ...I don't know. It never occurred to me to use a bike. I guess that would help, wouldn't it?
DUSTY: That's thinking outside the box, that is. Good work, Aki.
HIMEI: Can talk about this after we save the world?
AKI: Oh, sorry. Yes... let's go.
Those who ride bicycles can do no wrong.
For urban environments, bikes are all-terrain. Traffic no longer becomes an issue, since you are not confined to the narrow strip of asphalt from curb to curb You can ride them on the street, you can ride them on the sidewalk, and if you're really good you can even roll down stairs with them. If nobody's looking, they're also excellent indoors.
For the environment in general, bikes are Earth Friendly. No engine, no gas fumes, no chemical wastes -- just plenty of good 'ol CO2 for the air, which gets converted by plants into oxygen anyway.
For your own health, you can't beat 'em. A ride to and from any spot in Tokyo equals a good workout for the whole body; pumping legs, balancing the body, twisting the hips, working the arms. It's almost the most physical all-body exercise available, next to sex.
For a noble crusader of truth and justice such as Shin, a bicycle was an ideal transportation vehicle. A short ten minute ride from home to school was a piece of cake, and meant she could be lazy and sleep in each morning a few extra minutes... or she could skip down to the institute of relatively higher learning to help out her hated enemy on an evening such as this one.
She leaned to her left, curving her ride into the gates of the school. A short hop up an embankment, and she was at the bike rack. Hopping off as the two wheeler rolled to a halt, she got her bike lock out and snapped it into place. Sure, Tokyo was historically low on crime, but she didn't trust government statistics.
A quick nod to the night janitor, who was familiar with her making the occasional nocturnal visit, and she was into forbidden territory.
The school at night took on an eerie sort of atmosphere. When you're used to seeing it flooded with sunlight and/or loaded with buzzing overhead lamps, having nothing but moonlight can turn it into something out of a bad tentacle anime. Fortunately, tentacle monsters don't exist, Shin thought. But then again, neither did Evil Twins...
Dismissing that thought before it went places that would make her nerves skitter around like chipmunks on amphetamines, she pushed open the door to the Journalism Club Room and announced her presence.
"Your savior has arrived, hark and stand at attention!" she spoke up... to a dark, freezing cold room. A quick look around showed that one of the windows had been left open. She rubbed her arms for warmth as she pulled her jacket tighter, instantly getting the chills. "Kotashi? Are you being civic minded and trying to cut down on the school's heating oil bill, or are you just trying to get pneumonia?... Kotashi? Hello?"
No response from the shadows. Then again, shadows wouldn't respond.
"You really must be bored to play the old 'Jump out and spook Shin like something out of a bad horror movie' gimmick," Shin commented aloud. "You know damn well I'm not the sort to fall for--"
The overhead lights snapped on silently, flooding the room with light. Although she hated herself for it, Shin nearly jumped a full inch into the air in shock, and let out a strangled yelp. It was quickly calmed when she noticed Kotashi was standing at her side all along... so she converted that calm into a nasty mood.
"Way to spook me, Kotashi, nine out of ten points," she mocked. "Brilliant. Give your star reporter a coronary. That won't get the column written any faster, your editorial highness--"
She had no idea Kotashi had such a powerful grip. He didn't seem the physical type; didn't go out for sports, generally spent his whole day sitting in front of a desk and/or keyboard. And yet he was able to wrap his fingers around her neck and squeeze tight enough to cut off her air supply. This would be fascinating if it didn't hurt like hell...
To make matters worse, from the shadows, a young man emerged. Literally emerged from shadows, something of feat with the overhead lights -- maybe the spots in Shin's eyes were responsible for the visual trick...
"It's time to go, Kotashi. Now," the man told her editor, snapping his fingers.
"Not yet. I've got... unfinished business," Kotashi spoke, in a voice Shin had never heard before. It was his to be sure, but... he'd never menaced anyone before in his life. She was hoping he'd never do it again. She was hoping he'd stop menacing her in specific. Her brain turned tricks trying to stay calm and rational while freaking out, alternately mystified and screaming on the inside...
"Look, we go NOW, or you end up dead," the man told Kotashi, getting visibly annoyed. "They're coming and they'll be here any minute now--"
Kotashi let go of her throat, which was good. He did this by hurling her against the nearest wall, which was not. If he was squeezing the breath out of her before, now he'd knocked it completely out of her. She slumped down the wall, panting and trying to recover... and saw something that she had earlier assumed to be impossible.
There, underneath a table, was Kotashi. He looked perfectly peaceful, sleeping soundly... a perfect double of the Kotashi who was assaulting her.
...or rather, the assailant was a perfect copy of this Kotashi. An Evil Twin...
"You think I'm gonna pass up this opportunity?" Evil Kotashi asked, cracking his knuckles... and kicking Shin firmly in the ribs, to keep her down. He turned back to his companion, to ask a question. "I want to have some fun. You can't force me to leave, can you?"
"Not as such," the white haired man said, with reluctance.
Shin struggled to stay conscious... she should be doing something, shouldn't she? Fighting back. Not happening, her body wanted to lie down and give up. Yelling out? Who would hear? Not that her voice would cooperate, coming out as a mere raspy whisper. Something boiled inside her, something long since conquered now finding strength...
When Evil Kotashi produced a roll of electrical tape from a desk drawer, that conquered thing sprang fully to life. Even if Shin wanted to act, she wouldn't be able to. The paralysis had set in, and she knew exactly why. So did he... as he peeled off a long strip of the tape, the horrible CHK CHK CHKKKK sound hammering into her eardrums like thunder...
"That's what you told me, isn't it, Shin?" Evil Kotashi asked, smiling softly as he tore off a strip of tape, kneeling down to look the helpless girl in the eyes. "That night when you and I were up late, like this, working together. When you told me YOUR Truth. Electrical tape. It makes you remember. The way he wrapped it around your wrists--"
The man in the cape rubbed his forehead with one hand, feeling a headache coming on. He didn't care about Shin's plight, showed no moral horror, no signs of anything other than... frustration, inconvenience. "This is so fucking stupid," he muttered.
Move away, she told her body. Get away from him. There's room to crawl. You've taken kickboxing lessons. You can do this.
Evil Kotashi effortlessly wrapped the tape around Shin's trembling wrists, before wrapping more tape around a water heater next to her. Her arms locked over her head, he next slapped a rough strip right over her mouth. And she didn't do anything to stop him, as much as she wanted to.
"I always had nightmares of doing this to you," Kotashi admitted. "Everybody has little thoughts they'd never act on. A dark little dream of a girl who I always considered asking out, but no, I didn't want to mix business with pleasure... I never wanted to hurt her, but now I do. I have you to thank for that, Cobalt."
"Gosh wow, you flatter me. Can we leave now?"
"How's the Truth now, Shin? Doesn't it hurt? You keep boasting that you got over it and conquered it, you kept finding new ways to use tape so you could have power over it... but I can see it in your eyes. The truth burns, it's still burning you badly. I'm going to make you relive that truth. I'm--"
Bizarrely enough, the dark man in the cloak was her momentary savior. He yanked Kotashi back to his feet, pulled him away from his fun. "Look, how about a deal?" the man suggested. "We take the human back with us right now, and you can do whatever the hell you want to her there. I don't care what, hell, I even know guys who can help you if it makes you happy. But either way, we have to LEAVE. They're--"
On television, when the unexplainable happens, the characters will write it off as a bad dream. But it's never a bad dream. The audience, yes, the audience always knows the truth. Shin always swore that if she got the impulse to ignore an impossible truth, she'd resist the impulse. Until now, she never had to fufill that oath.
Against all possibility, two magical girls entered the room and started kicking ass.
It went by in a flash. First, the man in the cape bailed out the window, vanishing into the shadows cast by the window frame.
Second, the shorter of the two gestured, and shouted something about nothingness. A void of light tore through the air in the room, like a silent thunder clap... as Evil Kotashi ducked to avoid it. He came up holding a spare keyboard, which he hurled at the Sailor.
It impacted against her chest, knocking her backwards... just as a second sailor jumped over her, screaming about the song 'Amazing Grace', and now a rainbow shower of sparkles and light soared... and struck Evil Kotashi just as easily as the keyboard had struck the other girl.
Unlike the downed magical girl, Evil Kotashi was vaporized instantly.
Just like watching television. Shin was the audience, watching in amazement as one of the girls walked over to her... scouting the tables for something sharp, and fetching a pair of scissors usually used for newspaper clippings. A few snips later and Shin's hands fell to her side.
The other girl was up, even if she was pressing a hand tightly to her chest, breathing hard. They exchanged some words Shin would never remember, cast a worried glance back at her... and then left. Walked right on out of the Club Room.
Shin stopped being the audience and started being herself when she heard Kotashi's groan. Her puppet strings were restored, and she immediately ripped the tape from her mouth, stripping the shreds of gray adhesive from her wrists as well. That took precedent over Kotashi. THEN she could check on him.
Her so-called hated enemy sat up, whacking his head on the underside of the table. Cursing, he crawled out from underneath, rubbing his head and asking the obvious question.
"What the hell just happened?" he asked Shin. "...Shin? Shin, you're white as a sheet! What's going on?--"
He touched her shoulder.
One minute later Kongou Shin was out the main gate of the school and pedaling like the devil himself was at her heels. Five minutes later the bike was dumped on her front yard, and Shin was buried under the blankets of her bed, hiding from monsters, hiding from the impossible truth, trembling until she finally passed out.
The truth will set you free, or die trying. Either you or the truth.
And so ends another episode of Magical Princess Sailor Heart Moon Wand, brought to you by Himemiya Heavy Industry Concern Superior Girl-Time Bath Soap. Credits.
PREVIEW OF NEXT EPISODE
There's more at risk than my life when I save the world. There's also risk of exposure.
Without that risk, I'd have never known you needed my help, Himei. Maybe some good can come of this.
Everything you have done... one mistake after another, after another, after another. It seems when cut adrift, all you can do is cause me problems. It's time to settle this, Himei. We will show you how inadequate you are.
Okay, so I got a little rattled. But now I'm like a shark, smelling blood in the water. You can't shake me, Aki. I'm going to expose this, and you can't stop me. It's up to you to pick which way it's gonna be.
Next time on Sailor Nothing, we're going to have two problems to cope with at the same time. Sheesh, it's never easy, is it?
There is only one way this can end for me.
TO BE CONTINUED
nothing copyright 2000 stefan gagne
unauthorized use prohibited