|A century of peace has followed the fall of the Deathlord. Despite this the world again hangs on the brink as the people of the Crystal Millennium learn its not a good idea to design your successors.|
"On The Brink"
A tale of the Crystal Millennium
From the archives of CTID
By: James Reid
Naoko Takeuchi created the Sailor Senshi, related characters and situations.
Calcite and the DKR created by Mark Latus.
Ferrite and Iron Corp created by Frank Barr.
Chapter 1: A New World
Arc Lab, Outside the Freezone - May 12, 227 AS (2243 AD)
A cold shiver ran down Jim Blake's neck. Cautiously he drew his lab coat closers as he exhaled small clouds of fog. It was just the cold and nothing more. He had no reason to be apprehensive as everything would go as planned. Breathing warmth into his cupped hands he paused for only moment before continuing his manipulations. His matrix was flawless, his weaving controlled and timely which was fortunate. At this stage, timing would be just as vital as accuracy. The administration had pressed the gravity of the situation as well as the cost of failure. But there wasn't anything to worry about; surely they were just overstating the risks. So maybe this was his first time within the chamber itself, but nothing had ever happened to those before him. Besides, his peers would have told him if the risks were genuine, right?
"Blake, are you finished the A.R.M. sequence yet?" a hollow voice echoed over the com-system with more than a slight sense of urgency in his tone.
"One more minute, that's all I need." Blake muttered, roughly feigning confidence as well as he could.
"We don't have another minute Blake."
Steeling his nerves and speeding the flow of mana through his matrix Blake finished the last alterations. "We are armed and ready to process!" Silently he mutter a prayer, he hadn't even had time to recheck his efforts. Even the slightest flaw could disrupt weeks of preparing the unit for the etching process. No, the matrixes he encoded were without fault, they had to be for his sake.
"Excellent. Processing unit gamma-twelve. Phase one, initiating."
Blake glanced to his companion within the chamber, a tall man of an ethnic decent he could not identify. The stone-like edges of his face betrayed no emotion, which unnerved Blake. It was impossible to place his age between the mixed features of youth and age but Blake instinctively knew the man was his elder, if only by experience. The man quickly becoming aware of the attention and glanced to Blake, his dull gray eyes giving clear warning to find something else of interest. Blake did so without delay, he didn't know the man but his gut instinct screamed at him not to press the issue. He wasn't even sure if he knew the man's name. Socializing wasn't a priority here, not that he had spoken a word in the last hour anyways. Etching matrixes into the genetic code itself was a daunting and draining task that demanded complete focus.
"The cellular structure has stabilized. Life signs are nominal. Activating phase two cellular mitosis sequence."
Again the numbness bit at Blake's finger as he breathed into his hands to warm them. Logically he knew why it had to be so cold but it was damn inconvenient. Especially if anything did go wrong. Burying that thought he pushed away from the console of flashing bio readouts. He had to get his blood; flowing besides he wanted to get a good look at the infant Lapis as it was born. Moving across the small chamber he stopped in front of the modified TOAST chamber that emitted an eerie green glow across the darkened room. Blake could only stand in mixed awe at the technological wonder he bore witness too. Everything but this was irrelevant now. In his minds eye he could imagine the cells dividing; multiplying at a rate unknown to any life form born to nature. In but a few minutes it would be visible for the naked eye to see.
All attention from the remote viewers was focused on the unit as it grew. This phase was the most critical in the whole process. If everything went right they'd be lavishly rewarded. If anything went wrong...well it was best not to think about that. In this world there were only two outcomes, success or failure.
"Unit at 25% of full adult size. Maintaining current rate of growth."
Everyone was transfixed on the TOAST chamber as the mass of organic matter grew at an exponential rate. Within a matter of minutes the creature of which the world had seen no other was fully grown. Still it merely floated lifelessly, nothing more then a puppet without strings. Movement; Blake could have sworn he saw a twitch of life, but knew all to well it was impossible at this stage. The Lapis was only alive in the loosest sense of the word. It had no more spirit then the simple squid the majority of its DNA was based from. This was unfortunate for the creature as many theorized spiritual energy was the basis of life, though that mattered little to Blake's superiors. To them it was something far simpler, a source of power. It was well known the best wizards of the awakened world had strong spiritual energy. Without a strong spirit the unit's ability to absorb background mana and inborn paranormal abilities would be next to useless. Blake allowed himself a cold smile; this was why Tetra Tech abandoned their research and cut his job. Of course they were not nearly as innovative as his new employers.
"Unit has achieved maximum growth expectations. Beginning the Spiritual Augmentation procedure."
Various devices buzzed with activity as a golden light enveloped the TOAST chamber almost completely obscuring the unit. The moment of truth was upon them; a process so secret only two of their members truly knew the details of it. Oh his peers had speculated but only one thing was clear. After this process the unit would posses a spirit stronger then any human known. The overpowering sense of awe continued to fill Blake; still he could not help but shiver. It had to be his imagination; the creature wasn't aware yet, but why did it seem like it was screaming. He glanced to the cold face of his companion. No emotion lingered there, so it had to be natural. Didn't it?
"Procedure complete. Phase 3 regeneration activating."
The golden light vanished as the backup generators moved into full gear funneling megawatts of energy into the various magisci sensors and devices. The green liquid slowly metamorphosed into a blue gel as mana bled out of it to fuel the healing spells correcting the abnormalities and cancerous growths. Blake could feel his heart racing; the moment of birth would be soon. He couldn't help but stare as he drew closer to the tank. His hand hovered over the shielding that he dare not touch. Scientifically he knew touching the glass like substance would draw all warmth from his hand ensuring 3rd degree frost bite in mere seconds but even knowing that he was tempted to do so. He had helped create a new life, a new species. A sense of godlike power overtook him; there wasn't anything they couldn't do. He smiled at the inhuman creature as its leathery skin began to stretch and flex. The six tentacle growths began to show life tactilely exploring its environment, just as a newborn would kick inside the womb. The potential for this unit was incredible. He looked into its singular eye and tried to envision the good it could do for humanity. The eye stared back into Blake's eyes and focused.
Blake blinked in return, it couldn't be staring at him; the tube was opaque from the inside. He missed the movements of his partner as he slowly backed away from the alchemically reinforced glass.
"Primary regeneration sequence complete. Beginning final purification process."
The eye flickered about its limited environment as it senses registered a large source of mana building. Blake adjusted his glasses; he must have been seeing things. He glanced to his partner at the console and nodded as the okay went through to begin the last critical step. Time seemed to slow down, as everything started happened at once.
The machinery hummed as its energy reached it max and discharged. A sudden motion caught Blake by surprise as he turned back to the TOAST chamber. The scream ripped through the soundproofing shattering vials but Blake couldn't even shield his ears as he watched the creature thrash - seemingly in abject pain.
Panic broke out in the remote lab. Alarms blared as deep blue lights flashed about the room. Blake stood paralyzed before the organism oblivious to the panorama. He felt like a god, there right in front of him a new life crafted by his very hand was moving. It was alive!
"Abort! Abort! Abort!" Blake's companion yelled into his audio pickup.
Immediately a nerve racked voice came over the intercom, "Shutting down! Attempting Shutdown...Its...its not...its not shutting down." A massive explosion drowned out the shouting as the backup generators overloaded from a power surge. A tense second followed before everyone began yelling at once.
"Force shielding down!"
"Get them out of there, damnit!"
"Situation Critical. Abort the unit at all costs. Code Blue! Code Blue!"
"No we must salvage the unit!"
"Blake, get away from the tube!"
Blake could only contemplate as the shielding shattered as if it had been nothing more then glass. He could only barely perceive the object rushing towards him and the following numbness in his chest. Struggling to keep his eyes open Blake could only mutter a single world "God." His last breath crept through the room and then he felt no more. More fragments of shield cracked off as the creature forced its way out, its still wet skin cracking under the stress of the foreign environment. With a flick of its appendage it freed itself from the impaled Dr. Blake.
The late Dr. Blake's partner slowly stood as the creature evaluated him with newfound awareness. It could smell the blood and violence on the man and merely reacted to its fear lunging out at the predator before it became its prey.
You could almost see a faint if illusionary smile on the man's emotionless face. He brought the MP6 he had concealed under the desk to arm and leveled it at the monster. It had barely broke into a stride as multiple hits scored up and down its still unhardened skin. Reevaluating the situation it would have attempted to escape but it was far to late for that. Taking precision aim not known to any of the lab crew, the man who wasn't as scientist at all fired a controlled burst at the beast's eye. He didn't stop there, he hadn't lived this long making assumptions. The room flashed as another clip was empty and a long silence gripped the telecom line.
"Unit has been aborted. Repeat, Unit has been aborted. Security down to yellow and open up this damn hatch ASAP." The man grunted into his audio pickup. The door opened up as two scientists cautiously peeked into the room. Stepping over the rapidly cooling body of the man who had blotched this whole experiment he pushed by the scientists without a hint of compassion. His work here was done, and he had no intention of staying around a bunch of bumbling morons.
Storming into the Remote Lab, he tore past the hapless scientists still trying to piece together what went wrong. By contrast the person he was heading to see was the very personification of the 'calm before the storm'.
"Was that really necessary? You have just cost us several weeks of research." The scientist spoke with barely controlled anger, his very tone a challenge of authority.
The stone-faced man didn't rise to the challenge. He didn't have to. "Let us get one thing perfectly clear Dr. Torretta, I do not and shall not take orders from you or your superior. That being said, yes it was necessary. You have cost yourselves several weeks of research and a lab technician that _I_ will have to replace."
"Look here! That unit might still have been salvageable before you went to work on it. Dr. Iwano is going to be furious at you for..."
"Need I repeat myself? I do not take orders from you or your superior. To be frank, Dr. Torretta, _my_ superiors, the ones funding this great marvel are far from pleased with Dr. Iwano's process and she is far from irreplaceable"
Torretta's jaw snapped shut in mid protest as the rational side of his mind overrode his emotions. It was unwise to bite the hand that feeds you. There was limits to how much Mynarm would take and he wasn't anybody Torretta wanted to cross.
"I would also see to it that you deliver the new unit on schedule. My employer is becoming impatient with all these...excuses."
Torretta's throat went dry at the implications. All he could manage was to simply nod. Pleased enough with the response Mynarm left as quickly as he came. Of course the responsibility of informing Dr. Iwano her 'baby' was killed was going to fall on his head now. Of course Dr. Iwano he could bare, he always got chill down his back when talking to Mynarm. Given his position it was unavoidable, still he couldn't help wondering just to whom he'd really sold his soul to.
London, Republic of Britain - May 11, 227 AS (2243 AD)
Change is a fundamental aspect of the world. Anyone who had lived through the Great Darkness could have testified to that. In a single night, everything humanity held to be true had been swept away. It was replaced with alien invaders, mini-skirted defenders of justice, and magic. Yes magic, the very antithesis of science became the new truth of the world.
Or rather part of it. When you came down to the core of the matter, nothing truly changed. Change, after all, was nothing more then a never-ending cycle. Civilizations would rise and civilizations would fall. People would live and people would die. Well, most people would - the fact that the ruling class of Crystal Tokyo seemed effectively immortal gave contradiction to the rule. But then Crystal Tokyo was the one true exception to nearly every rule. But for the rest of the world life would go on as it always had. Countries would rise and fall from power as the economy happily bounced between boom and bust. And just as peace would come after war, war would come after peace and the world would again hover on the brink of disaster just as it always had. After one hundred and fifty years of peace the world was over due for a crisis.
Aino Hiro could feel this in his gut. It wasn't a paranormal ability (as far as he knew) but merely the result of nearly two centuries of experience. Although even in his youth he had a sense of this universal constant. The sleepless weeks spent brooding he would later trace to the first major crisis of the newly found Crystal Millennium. He might not have seen what the Death Lord did first hand but as part of the Crystal Tokyo Army, he came in as part of the relief effort. He never let go of those memories. The horrific images that showed the result of what hatred and magic could bring. In hindsight it was obvious he would end up here one day. Assuming of course he had known that Crystal Tokyo's Intelligence Division actually existed.
But CTID was very real and despite all the conspiracy theories, no one had even an inkling that it existed at all. When he had first heard the accusations it was a struggle to keep from laughing. "Bond, James Bond of the Queen's Secret Service?" Hiro thought not. Crystal Tokyo would never go off assassinating people, even if it were for the greater good of the world. And it didn't - CTID might be a covert intelligence organization, but it was still part of Crystal Tokyo. Of course the President of the 'zone free from the imperialistic and corrupting influence of Crystal Tokyo' didn't know this. Actually to be frank Hiro was certain that he never really knew anything at all (about anything) and was just taking part in the time honored political tradition of mud slinging.
Not that any mud could stick to Crystal Tokyo's sparkling clean image for long. And for good reason, they didn't call it utopia just because it was a nice place to live. All though this did raise some philosophical questions of how no-place could actually be some place thus nullifying the literal meaning of the word, Hiro didn't really care; Crystal Tokyo was a utopia even if only by comparison. Anyone suggesting that being born in the City of Crystal itself made him biased was asking for more then a bruised ego. Hiro had seen what the entire world wanted to show and through ID he also had seen everything the world wanted to hide.
It all came down to patterns really. The more people tried to hide, the easier it was to spot the patterns, which was exactly why CTID loved to hide in plain sight. This was exactly why Hiro was dressed casually in a utilitarian pair of slacks and loose fitting shirt that combined in a very non-descript way. Even with the apparent maroon hair dye and tinted purple contacts that were still far from common, Hiro appeared to be an unexceptional young man. At the very least, top secret agent didn't come to mind.
A lady with waist long kinky auburn hair broke away from the crowded streets of London and took hold of his arm. For all intents and purposes you would have guessed them to be a few years apart in age but then outside Crystal Tokyo people had a bad habit of assuming age by appearance. Unlike her companion she did a good job of drawing attention with her outburst. Yes she had all the tell tale signs of a Crystal Tokyoian and more spunk then anyone in their right mind knew what to do with.
Hiro managed to stifle a long suffering sigh, Maiko had a habit of getting under his skin, never unintentionally though.
Maiko's green eyes flashed a devious innocence as she glanced up to Hiro.
"Mou...did you sleep in _again_?" she pouted, "I've been waiting for an hour."
Hiro wasn't quite able to hide his wince this time. This wasn't really part of the act but he didn't have much of a choice now. He should have guessed Mai would try this when he scanned over the memo Top Brass sent him. Hiro wasn't a dull bulb. If it weren't for Top Brass' stoic personality he would expect this was just another attempt to get him involved with Maiko. Not that she had any real interest in him outside deflating his occasionally oversized ego. But Top Brass was approaching his 70th birthday and was hoping his only Granddaughter would give him a couple of great grandchildren. Who better to be the father then a 1st generation Aino?
"Uh...sorry Mai." Hiro muttered lamely, mimicking well a boyfriend who could potentially be in for a world of hurt.
Hiro began to feel that exact anxiety as soon as he saw Mai's 'innocent' smile. "Oh I'm sure you can make it up to me." No he was wrong before, Brass was up in his office about now having a good chuckle over this. Hiro knew his old friend well, and Top Brass had always struck him as someone who had a subtle sense of humor behind a serious face. Hiro knew the type all to well his own father being exactly as such.
Glancing to Hiro's suddenly vengeful face Maiko couldn't help but giggle. He always looked ridiculous like that. Should she bug him now or wait till they got to their contact point? Her contemplating was quickly resolved as the location came into view. This was going to be good.
"Hi~ro~kun." she whispered chidingly bringing him out of his reminiscing.
Hiro didn't even have time to mutter a "huh" as his eyes loathingly caught sight of their contact point. A cute neon pink sign flashing "Love Connections" identified the building. Hiro managed to keep himself from groaning out loud. Check that, Top Brass was in his office rolling around on the floor in a fit of uncontrolled laughter.
Mai beamed and without further ado the pretend couple entered the cafe. Both glanced about the interior with vastly different thoughts. Maiko was enjoying this immensely while Hiro felt he had found hell on earth. Oh, he could get over the generally sappy nature of this establishment. He could ignore the fact that it was populated with a bunch of lovesick twits. He could even pretend that Maiko's needling wasn't bugging him. But for Serenity's sake would someone change the bloody radio station? Not that he had anything against the Moonlight Densetsu even if he wasn't a huge fan of the genre. But in his not so unbiased opinion Megumi Love did a grave injustice to the song. Though he avoided commenting. He was well aware Maiko was a big Megumi fan; of course she never had to grow up with the little brat now did she. If Aino Family life was one thing, it wasn't dull by any stretch of the imagination.
A sharp jolt of pain promptly reacquainted Hiro with the here and now. This entailed Maiko giving him a very put upon expression and a waitress led them to a table. "Brooding again Hiro-kun, how uncool." She whispered in mutilated English, a smirk betraying her otherwise exasperated expression. After a few years of working with Mai he had gotten use to her attitude. He had dealt with it since the first day they met four years ago.
Central Command, Taklimakan Desert - October 5, 223 AS (2239 AD)
Central Command was not what you would expect for the most advanced intelligence organization in the world. There were no stereotypical dark dingy hall walls or winding mazes that invoked mystery or intrigue. After all CTID was based on efficency rather then image and Hiro had to admit the brightly lit well-kept hallways were better suited for work. Besides the idea of being in CTID was not to stand out, or at the very least if you did, not to be linked to Crystal Tokyo. Which is why agents were masters of misdirection supporting a number of aliases to be lost in the ranks of Lesser Senshi and Masked Men.
Arriving at his destination, Hiro took a moment to straighten the short trenchcoat that was part of his personalized uniform. Style was his middle name, an unfortunate given how often he had to sacrifice it to blend in with the crowd. Not that he always made that sacrifice. After all taking your job too seriously always put you at a disadvantage over time and a little style could go a long way to breaking up that tension.
The balding man in his 60's didn't spare a glance upwards as Hiro entered the room. Hunched behind a desk, the short man of obvious Japanese decent was intent on the various data readouts stacked meticulously around him. If he was going senile or just testing the patience of an old friendly rival, Hiro was never quite sure. Still he remained silent as the man known to many only as Top Brass finished studying the report. Despite popular belief Hiro had a healthy respect for Top Brass, even if he had felt a bit gulled losing the position to his friend and rival of the day Shimizu Teruo. Those days had been more then a few years ago when TB was actually known to smile.
Today something was bothering Hiro though, he was being watched. This wasn't all that uncommon in his day-to-day operations. But an untraceable observer in the middle of central wasn't. Instinctively he withdrew a crystal rod that begun to sweep the room for bugs. Not so surprisingly it came up blank. Miffed by not undaunted Hiro continued a quick visual sweep of the office. It was neither cramped nor dimly lit and there was definitely no crook for an observer to hide. A crash of slates attracted Hiro's attention, as Top Brass not so gently tossed aside the data readout he had been scanning with a degree of disgust. Hiro promptly tucked the scanner back into pocket space before Top Brass was even given a chance to frown over it. The odds of Top Brass not knowing about their hidden friend was non-existent and for better or worse ID was run on a need to know basis. If Hiro needed to know, he would have been told. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say Top Brass was one of the most informed people in the world. When one person knows that much it can be dangerous, but if everyone knew that much it would be catastrophic. ID wasn't keeping secrets for their own good or even strictly for Crystal Tokyo's sake, but for the good of the entire world. Besides did anyone from the so-called free nations really want to know how closely their own government was watching them? Or how often the world really came to the edge of disaster before the Senshi had to step in. Granted it wasn't nearly as bad as before, but nobody had even been told about numerous pre-darkness crises. Nobody could be comforted knowing the world had nearly (and a few times had) been destroyed by the forces of darkness more times then the Senshi could remember.
As a regional commander Hiro knew more then most people would care too, still there were many things Hiro wasn't even sure of, he wasn't privy to ID's extensive achieves.
"Hiro, We have a new recruit arriving today. After she goes through the final exam of her T2-B training she will report to you under the region of Greater Europe."
"Feh, is that all? Why didn't you just send a memo instead of wasting my time?"
"Because you will be overseeing her final exam after which you will _personally_ show her the ropes. And just so we're perfectly clear I will hold you responsible if anything happens to my grand daughter. Is that understood Hiro?"
Hiro met Top Brass' cold stare with a hostile one, "If you think I'm going to be stuck baby sitting for you, you have another thing coming _old_ friend." Having said his piece, Hiro turned to leave. He was CTID's best agent, not a nanny and he would NOT be bothered training brat who only managed to get in because of family connections.
"This isn't a request _old_ friend, it's an order. You will do this unless you wish to be court marshaled."
Hiro turned to face his commander. He wouldn't dare do that; would he? Staring at Top Brass' stern expression Hiro wasn't so sure he wouldn't. Stomaching his remarks, Hiro gave a grunt of acknowledgement and took his leave. Anywhere else he would have been demoted or fired for his attitude but Top Brass was an old friend. Besides that wasn't how CTID worked.
A slight flick of a tail gave away the concealed location of the feline observer. "I still don't think this is a good idea." An obviously feminine voice broke the long silence.
A ghost of a smile crossed Teruo Shimizu's face, "Don't worry about Mai. I may be her Grandfather but I will not put anything ahead of my duty to her majesty. Maiko is here because she worked hard to be here; you've seen her aptitude score. Even counting her attitude she has more potential then some of our best agents."
"I never questioned your priorities nor am I questioning Maiko! I'm sure she will make a fine agent..."
Top Brass wasn't surprised often, but this didn't add up. "Then why all your objections?"
"You are making a mistake placing her in the Greater European Zone." the tone was flat and uncompromising.
"I don't see why you would say that. You know as well as I do that we're stretching our resources to far apart in that region, we could use another agent there."
"I know that! I just don't think it's a wise move..." There was a pause as Teruo's companion chose her words carefully, "Judging by the agents already in Europe I believe adding Maiko could cause unnecessary tension. And to be frank we could do without any more internal difficulties!"
Top Brass hid his frown, her objections still didn't add up. "Even if that's true Hiro has kept the zone running smoothly. It's the best managed team in all of ID." Which was true omitting the fact many of the agents had been requesting transfers, part of the reason they needed more agents there in the first place. "You know as well as I do Hiro will resolve any conflicts on his team before they begin."
"Its Hiro I'm worried about!" A hint of exasperation was found behind her unyielding opinion.
Internally Top Brass 'Awed' as everything clicked into place. Given that he had an excellent poker face he merely nodded. He probably should have seen it sooner. She never did approve of him promoting Hiro to Regional Commander but he didn't really have any other options. Like it or not Hiro got the job done even if he was becoming very obnoxious about it.
"I see. I suppose Hiro is becoming something of a problem." Top Brass added sincerely, or so it sounded. He did value his companion's advice, but she wasn't without bias. Besides he had the feeling he was going to hear all about why Hiro was a bad choice for anything even without baiting the topic. This just got to the heart of the matter a lot quicker.
The cat's tail twitched making her exasperation obvious, "He is become blatantly disrespectful of orders! If that wasn't bad enough he is and always was an irresponsible lout. He might have some skill and luck, but he's nearly screwed up the last three missions. His team is walking on eggshells around him and he still has the gall to claim he is our best agent! And all you do is pat him on the back and tell him he's doing a good job. Its no wonder he's becoming so haughty!"
"He is our best agent." Top Brass rationally interjected. "Nearly only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades and Hiro always has got the job done, even if we've deemed it next to impossible. As for his team, he holds them to high standards. They might not like it but he's made them into the best division in the history of this organization. I've known him a lot longer then you, he might appear irresponsible but he takes his work more serious then you would suspect."
There was a slight snort, "I've known him just as long as you and even longer. He was irresponsible as a child and he was irresponsible as an officer and that's not going to change now. I don't deny he's dedicated, but that's only because he's still in denial after fifty years."
Top Brass gave an internal sigh; he never really could get use to having such an ancient companion. She was right though, he might have worked with Hiro for the last 30 years but she had been around before Hiro was even born. It didn't help that Hiro wasn't forthcoming about any personal matters even when they were on equal terms so many years ago. "What is he in denial over pray-tell."
His companion seemed a bit regretful, more then likely having said more then she would have liked to. But it did make sense that she would know Hiro. He was after all an Aino child, which could be considered part of the ruling class. It didn't really matter what it was though. Hiro's problems were his own unless they conflicted with a mission. As Top Brass he had no place probing. As a friend he would help only if help were wanted. But the one thing Hiro never wanted was help. The silence continued before Teruo waved it off, "I still say you are judging him too harshly."
"How can you say that? Now I will admit he has always done his job well in the past but as of late he is so full of his own ego that he has nearly blotched missions that could have easily unveiled our existence. I don't need to remind you of all people how critical it is that we stick to the shadows. Honestly, I don't know what you're thinking!"
"I would have hoped you knew me better then that." Top Brass gave a rare grin as he continued; "I have several reasons for assigning Mai under Hiro's command. His talent is only the third reason."
A slow dawning came upon Top Brass's companion. "Are you implying that Maiko is a handful?"
"Come now, I'm her grandfather I should know her better then anyone. To say she was merely a handful would be a grave understatement."
There was a cautious nod as his companion thought, "Then what is the second reason?"
Top Brass merely smiled as his companion began to look shocked, "When did you become so flippant!"
"Tsk, tsk. When the cats away the mice do play."
"I will have you know I'm still very much here and I will be keeping an eye on them. That was a terrible pun by the way."
"I can't be serious about everything." The elderly man said with a unseen smile, "Though speaking of serious matters; I was reading these memo's. We have another group in North America funneling money into a shady organization. We suspect it might be dimension research again." Top Brass's tone grew hard again; the world didn't stop when you did and he borne too many burdens to play.
"You're not going to try the dark queen gambit again are you?" Top Brass's companion rang of disapproval.
"Those were exceptional circumstances, and you rejected the other option."
The cat gave a long-suffering sigh, "Indeed! Thank Serenity I was there."
Top Brass couldn't help one last smirk, "If you're done with the dramatics o'cat there is much still to go over."
Hiro muttered a few select curses in various languages that were far from Crystal Tokyo's tame standards given his time spent in the outside world. He didn't like this and if it weren't for the ultimatum he wouldn't be here at all. Hiro's time in the Crystal Tokyo Army might not have drilled a respect for authority and orders into him but there were lines even he didn't cross.
Hiro glanced to a clock. Ten minutes late and counting, it would be hypocritical of him to condemn others for being tardy but that didn't stop him. He briefly considered activating the test before his pupil arrived to grade how she reacted to a surprise attack. Given the environment was artificial she wouldn't be ready for it and this whole foolishness would end right here and now. He rejected it almost as immediately, while life wasn't fair he was expected to be. Besides, he wasn't a total bastard, at least not all the time.
Hiro glanced about the illusionary city, which in itself held no personal relevance to him. It was hard to believe his parents lived here so many years ago. At first glance you wouldn't have expected it to be a city of such universal importance, but it was. It was the city of Tokyo or at least a good impression of a section of it, the Juban district to be exact. No the location in itself was not significant to Hiro. The events that would soon occur were. This was the only scenario he could never win. Actually it was a scenario nobody could ever win - that was the point of it. There was no solution, or even a win/lose situation. To watch how a person would react under the ultimate of pressure a hopeless situation was the true exam.
Artificial wind gusted by as a subway train pulled in or appeared too. The projection of the train actually was running along the concealed wall of the chamber. The train doors slid open revealing a long hallway that could not physically exist there had the train been real. Cautiously a young lady that appeared to be no older then 22 stepped into the illusionary setting. She was a sight shorter then Hiro, who wasn't overly tall himself compared to his dad or older brother and had ridiculously large bangs tied with a simple x braid on both sides which were overly common to her generation. Like so many of their agents she didn't exactly fill suave secret agent cliché but then neither did Hiro so he wasn't about to complain.
"Agent Hiro?" The comment was more a statement then a question. Finding no contraction her initial hesitation vanished replaced by a look of strong willed confidence. There was no bravo in the expression, probably because her confidence was well based in reality. She was after all the grand daughter of this organization's head. Further more she had shown incredible aptitude and skill despite her youth, which was rather unfortunate given the doomed nature of the test.
"Miss Shimizu. I trust you will be on time in the future."
A sheepish grin grew on her face, "Yeah, I didn't know central would be so big. Oh and call me Mai no need to be formal if we're working together."
Hiro didn't challenge the logic to her statement, CTID wasn't an organization based on formality so he would let it slide. "You will be taking the T2-B practical training exam." Hiro stated with all the monotonous nature of a person doing their job and loathing every second of it. "You have read the ISACC manual and are familiar with its basic operations, correct?"
Mai smiled simply, "Yeah but I had just one question before this starts."
"Are you going to be a factor in this scenario?"
"As an observer and nothing more." Hiro said slightly wearily missing Maiko's slight grin.
"I see. I'll try to make it entertaining then."
"If that is all Mai?"
"Hrm? Oh right sure, seeya later Hiro."
"Activate exam Iceseed2010 in T minus one minute. Object Hiro properties non-player observer. Object Maiko properties student_280474." There was an acknowledging beep as Hiro faded from Maiko's view. The city of Tokyo brimmed with activity as the predarkness era civilians walked the streets oblivious to the unstoppable doom that would soon befall the world. An unnaturally cold wind gusted ominously from the north but Mai took no heed as she stretched radiating confidence.
"Yosh! Lets get this started!"
Stalemate. Bristling Hiro checked and rechecked the probability extrapolation. Logically it was possible, practically was another matter. By all accounts Maiko had managed to contain the spread of the Ice Seed even while dealing with the hoard of Ice Demons. She had, with skill, knowledge and more luck then a Senshi, held back the initial Acolytes attack on Tokyo. Granted the illusions were nowhere near the power of the true Acolytes by all means this scenario should have had only one outcome: failure. No human, mage or even demiyouma (as Hiro could testify to) should have been able to win or even avoid losing the situation. Historically the Senshi hadn't even faired as well as Maiko did.
No, even with Mai's magically skill and apparent historical background knowledge of the event there was no explaining these results. Any attempt to win at the scenario would ultimately fail, not even uncanny luck could save you from programming. Any attempt to win would lead to failure; Hiro paused. Son of a! She knew from the start! All her organization and offbeat plans would have never won. That was the point; from square one she had been going for a stalemate, which meant she had to have known the true purpose of the exam. Hiro bit back his anger and looked the benefits of the fact. He could get the whole exam thrown out and be done with all this foolishness. Abandoning his unwritten report Hiro made his way to Top Brass' office.
"Evening Hiro." Brass said with methodical calmness as Hiro shoved past the door.
"Maiko just completed the T2-B exam." Hiro's tone was icy. "Of course you were already aware of that." He amended catching Brass' demeanor. The man never seemed to smile, but you could tell he was overjoyed. That glow of parental pride was more then apparent to Hiro.
"Indeed, and your report."
"The test should be discounted on the grounds of foreknowledge."
The grandparent's expression did not falter in the least, "And your justification for why and how she might have received that information is?"
There were limits to even what Hiro would say without heed which is why he merely stared at Top Brass. He might not have said anything verbally but his body language said the rest.
The pleasant glow faded behind a bitter snarl, "CTID does not make exceptions for anyone, be they my grand daughter or the son of lady Aino. I suggest you remember that Hiro. Now your justification for why and how Maiko might have received foreknowledge of the T2-B test? Or are you merely saying you were so incompetent as to give away the whole nature of the test."
Hiro bite his tongue. "I don't have an explanation as to how, but there is no way such results could have been achieved, unless the T2-B test has suddenly developed a solution. That is evidence enough to suggest the exam is no longer valid."
"According the reports I have accessed Maiko didn't solve the T2-B test, unless you are saying she went on to drive off the Acolytes."
"Unless I mistaken the test was designed to observe agents in a losing situation. Maiko didn't fail the test either."
"Excellent point," Top Brass conceded which immediately worried Hiro, "But that leaves us with a conundrum. How do we resolve the situation as clearly Maiko did not pass or fail the purpose of the exam?"
In any other situation the test would have to be retaken, however the entire point of the T2-B was based on a deception. Taking the test again had been unheard even if it wasn't an exercise in futility. The point of the exam was always crystal clear at the end. Any future tests would not be accurate representations for the very reason Hiro wished to throw the test out for in the first place.
Top Brass took advantage of Hiro's contemplation to soldier on, "As we can not reissue the test, responsibility to decide falls on the Top Brass, but given the situation I am excluded from grading Mai. So how would you suggest we resolve this?"
"There isn't any regulation for this scenario. I don't have authority to decided if I can not base the result on the test."
"Yes by the regulations. Honestly Hiro I'm surprised someone of your age doesn't realize the fallacy of rules."
Looking back Hiro would have chuckled at the situation. He had never been an obedient rule-abiding child, as a teenager he'd been far from. Heck he had hung out with the closest thing Crystal Tokyo had to a true rebellious group. They weren't out to be bad the bone or rebels without a clue, just a bunch of people that weren't always so fond of order. They didn't usually last long in Crystal, as Hiro proved; most of them either grew up and mellowed or moved away depending on their conviction.
"So we ignore regulation. But that still doesn't resolve what we are to do."
"Not ignore, amend. We have a unique situation here, obviously you don't have the authority to pass or fail Maiko and I don't have the authority to judge her. However if you were to grade Maiko using a test we mutually agreed on I would be able to ratify it."
"Let me guess, you have an idea." Hiro muttered skeptically.
"I believe the most obvious solution would be an informal interview. I'm curious to know exactly how she was able to see through the one test nobody has been able to solve."
Hiro didn't like it, but he didn't fool himself. He wouldn't have liked any solution, besides he wanted to know exactly how Maiko did beat the T2-B exam as well.
Maiko's reaction wasn't one to be expected given the situation. She wasn't worried or even apprehensive in the slightest. If there was one thing she didn't lack it was confidence though a mite more common sense might have been more helpful in the long run.
"Ojiisan, would you please pass the sugar?" Maiko said making a slight face at the bitterness of her coffee. Her grandfather happily obliged and Hiro avoided making any comments. This wasn't what he had in mind when Top Brass had said informal. Leaning against the wall he stared impatiently at the artificial pedestrians walking up and down the busy street. This was a blatant abuse of ISSAC just to make an informal French café. Any number of rooms could have served the point, worse yet, it being Top Brass' idea there was nothing he could say about it much less do.
He ignored their small talk out of boredom more then politeness. The sooner they got down to busy and settled this whole matter the better. Of course he could very likely end up having to deal with Maiko's annoyances more frequently if things went well for her.
Top Brass chuckled, "I see. It certainly sounds like your father hasn't changed much. I should tell you about the puppet incident."
"Mmm, maybe later Ojiisan, Hiro-kun is looking kind of left out. But you definitely have to tell me later! Hey Hiro, why aren't you having some coffee to? Is it too bitter for you? Maybe you should try it with more sugar."
"I prefer my coffee black and substantial. If you two are done can we get on with this?"
If Hiro didn't know better he would have sworn TB looked rather sheepish. He might have well been, but it was rare he let anything slip. "Yes, I suppose we should. While you did excellent on the last test there is a one more exam before you will be able to gain agent status."
Maiko seemed a bit disappointed by not dejected by any means. It was galling to have yet another secret exam be suddenly brought up but Mai wasn't about to let it get her down. She had decided long ago that the more you worried the more things went wrong so what was the point of worrying. "Ah, Okay Ojiisan, when is this one? I hope it's not early in the morning again."
"Actually we'll do it right now, it shouldn't take too long at all. Right Hiro?" There was a slight hint of iron behind is otherwise friendly tone.
"I'm going to ask a few question to assist me in my evaluation. The sooner you answer them, the sooner this will all be done." Hiro said flatly.
"Oh, I see." Maiko smiled and leaned back in her chair, "Well, ask away Hiro-kun"
"How many years have you been training?"
"About a little less then a year I guess. Isn't that right Ojiisan?" Maiko looked to her grandfather whom nodded in agreement.
Hiro avoided choking, standard training was at least 4 years and usually more unless you were exceptionally skilled. Or had past experience. "Do you have any prior experiences in this field?"
Maiko flashed a V sign, "Sailor Sakura aka White Seraph Honey at your service."
Hiro barely avoided groaning. Of course to be fair he had his own lesser-masked hero identity as Trench. Often confused with rarely seen Trenchcoat Mask but that wasn't his problem. He didn't do it out of interest in the 'career' though. Unlike his sisters who all went through at least one phase of lesser senshidom he never had wanted to be like Tuxedomask, a standard role model among the young boys of Crystal Tokyo. He didn't mind the group so much at first, actually when he was young he cheered for them. After all his two older sisters had their own lesser senshi identities. Of course Setsuna and Hotaru were relatively competent. Megumi on the other hand had a natural talent for getting into sticky situations. Unfortunately unlike most of the Aino sisters who had to stick around the safe and boring Crystal Tokyo, her childhood stardom brought her out in to the world in her early teens. Father had always to busy to bail her out of trouble all the time. Fortunately Hiro had been able to pull some strings in the military and got transferred around as she toured. Funny what you get away with the Military Commander is your mother's best friend. It didn't take him very long to realize how incompetent most of the lesser senshi really were.
"Magic based powers I assume? How many years was that and what areas of the world did you protect?"
Maiko spared a glance at her grandfather then shrugged. "Well, I started when I was 15 but there wasn't much to do in Crystal Tokyo so I moved after I graduated." She smiled slightly as her Grandpa looked rather surprised; he could go and tell her dad now for all she cared. She was old enough to make her own choices now even if she probably shouldn't have been out fighting for love and justice at such a young age. "Osaka was just as pretty dull, too many lesser Senshi there already so I went to France. Then there was the whole Quilton mess.
Hiro glanced questioningly to Top Brass, whom looked vaguely sour. Quite ironically ID tended to pick up its best agents in nearly botched missions. He'd have to check the files at a later date. "So then Mai, why did you choose such an odd strategy in the scenario?"
"It seemed like a good idea." Mai said with a slight shrug but otherwise seemed neutral on the issue. Hiro wasn't sure if she was pleased or disappointed with her results.
"You do realize the T2-B exam is not meant to be a winnable scenario, not that you attempted to win. Its clear from the very beginning you were never trying to solve the scenario."
"Pff, Of course it wasn't winnable." Mai rolled her eyes.
"What made you assume the scenario wasn't winnable."
"Mou, are you kidding?" Mai said with an 'as matter of fact' tone. "I mean it was a complete anime cliché. Besides the Senshi didn't even win that battle. Wasn't it obvious?" Her argument sounded genuine but Hiro wasn't so sure.
"I shouldn't have to say that the world isn't a anime with 'clichés'. Had you have been wrong you never would have saved anyone." Hiro frowned for a minute, "And how did you know the Senshi didn't win that battle? All records of the Great Darkness have been lost or are highly classified."
"Maybe, but you'd be surprised what you can find out if you really put your mind to it." Mai smiled, "And I wasn't wrong and instead I saved as many people as I could have, which is way more then what everyone was expecting."
"If you knew the purpose of the test why did you bother trying at all?"
"And miss the most detailed recreation of the first attack on Tokyo during the Great Darkness ever? Do you know what any Senshi okaku would give to have seen that?"
Hiro didn't answer, he'd heard enough. Actually he was pretty sure he heard more then he had wanted to. "I see. That will be all then." Hiro didn't like being wrong, but he had been and it was time to own up to the consequences.
"If you'd excuse us for a minute Mai?" Top Brass spoke calmly after having remained silent for so long. Usually it was hard for Hiro to read his emotions, but he could tell that Top Brass was pleased as punch. He had good reason to be.
"Hai, hai." Mai muttered picking up her coat, "I'll be down a couple streets. I saw this lovely sweater for sale. Ja ni."
Once Mai was safely out of range, Top Brass nodded to Hiro who had resumed leaning against the café's wall. "Well?"
"There was a lot of information left off her file."
"Yes, I suppose there was." Top Brass smile vaguely as he sipped his tea.
"I underestimated her. She's sharper then she lets on. Is it all an act?"
"No. No that is simply who she is. I told you she was here because she earned the right to be. I wouldn't have brought her into the fold if she wasn't agent material."
"She's going to be better then me isn't she." Hiro muttered grudgingly
"Maybe?" Hiro looked at the old man.
"She has all the potential, but there is a lot more to being an agent then potential. You of all people should know that. I don't know if she has the attitude or edge to become a better agent then you."
"Which is why you want me to train her."
"That would be one of the reasons, yes. Am I to assume she passed your test then?"
"Yeah." Hiro muttered grudgingly. He was having mixed feelings about this now. Oh he still loathed the idea, but how much of that was fear of becoming second rank. Why did that even matter? When did he start doing his job for prestige? Maybe he liked showing off, but he couldn't put that ahead of the purpose of ID could he. In the end he had no choice but agree. To do anything else wouldn't have been in the best interest of Crystal Tokyo.
Top Brass nodded and Hiro suspected he knew all this would have happened before he even asked Hiro to give Mai the exam. "I will go tell her, besides this old man would like to spend some time with his family." Without another word Top Brass left leaving Hiro to contemplate this twist of fate.
London, Republic of Britain - May 11, 227 AS (2243 AD)
Hiro had to admit lunch had been pleasant enough despite all the annoyances of this meeting. The food was half decent and the music tolerable now. He could only speculate why a retired agent would have wanted to go into this market. That wasn't his business though, besides it made an excellent contact point after London has increased their vigil against terrorism. Of course this meant they were looking over backgrounds in more detail then ID was willing to provide. Having a few retired agents there who would overlook a few discreet transactions in their place of business saved ID from having to plant a full time agent in the city until things blew over. The vigil wouldn't last, it never did and things would return to business as usual.
He had been caught off guard by the sudden summon from Top Brass. Abandoning his personal business in Scotland, he had been rushed to London of all places to meet Mai of all people. Hiro couldn't help but wonder what exactly the threat was this time. It was obviously out of his zone or the orders would have gone to him first and further more it had to be serious enough that Top Brass would put out a call for CTID's best agents of which he was unquestionably still the top. Mai still hadn't toppled that position yet but how many more years would it be? He shook of the speculation there were more important things to think about. Could it be a threat against Crystal Tokyo itself? Unlikely, but still there was those whom despised the city of crystal for the 'grave injustice' it had done to the world.
After all Crystal Tokyo had often been accused of stopping progress. Anyone who had been around as long as Hiro knew this wasn't true. The Great Darkness had caused a lot of calamity that all but completely halted progress but that was long since past. Serenity's meddling in heavy industry might have vastly reduced the market for pure technology but magisci was still causing leaps and bounds in advancement. Though compared to what he had read about the 20th century it was still slowed progress. But what do you expect if you compare the Crystal Millennium to a generation that considered the bubblegum crisis scenario an attractive way to run the world.
Catching sight of Mai, Hiro shook off the line of thought, he'd know soon enough. Having excused herself to 'go to the ladies room' a few moments ago Mai had been able to get in touch with Central. A sharp contrasted to her normally Genki self, Mai sat down slowly pressing a crystal to the underside of the table. The barely audible hum of the device gave testament to its activation. Having successfully established themselves as dull to any possible eavesdroppers, it was safe to invoke security measures without arousing suspicion. Given the noisy atmosphere of the cafe, nobody would notice the sonic dampening field around their table. The real trick now was not to get out of character in case anyone was watching to closely.
"I take it we have quite a situation on our hands." Hiro spoke without any determinable emotion, cautiously noting Mai's attitude.
Noticing Hiro's stare Mai quickly snapped out of it. "Mou, there you go again! You're worse then Ojiisan. Come on, do you ever relax?" Maiko pouted against Hiro's stern glare.
"I'll relax tomorrow, right now we've got a job otherwise we wouldn't have been called here."
"But tomorrow never arrives." Maiko interjected.
"Well said. Shall we move on then?" Hiro smirked causing Mai to roll her eyes.
"Honestly I don't know what Jane and the others see in you."
Hiro simply shrugged, "Sharp Clothes, Dashing good looks, Money and the famous Aino name. What else?"
Maiko actually glared at Hiro, which in itself put him off tilt. Maiko rarely got angry for any length of time. "You would have just earned yourself a smack if we were anywhere else. And if you ever hurt Jane I will do more then that, situation be damned!"
Hiro snorted, relationships had never been his strong point, even after being married for so many years. Fortunately he didn't share his dad's (and many of his siblings) utter cluelessness about the opposite gender. Unfortunately he didn't need that to screw up all the time. Maybe if he wasn't such a fatalist he'd have better experiences but being shaped by his childhood it was hard to change something like that after so many years. "Don't worry, I need Jane's affection like I need a hole in my head. The only thing that'd lead her on is her own delusions."
This said Hiro received swift kick in the shin under the table. He didn't make a big production out of it given their situation but it did hurt. At first glance you wouldn't think Mai could pack much of a punch but she was actually quite strong.
Still simmering Maiko ignored her moronic partner in favor stirring her coffee, which was likewise simmering. Now Mai rarely brooded but these were exceptional circumstances. Hiro wasn't the only one who could see a simple pattern, and nearly everyone in ID knew something was up. Mai however knew a little bit more; Hiro hadn't been incorrect when he said they had a situation. What else would they be calling out agents from all over the world for, especially to Hong Kong of all places? What could possible be going on that was too big for the local ID agents and Hunters to handle?
Even at that Maiko wouldn't normally have been too concerned. As far as she was concerned you couldn't worry about the whole world and still be able things done. If you worked hard enough locally you could collectively help things globally. No, other things were bothering Mai, things she wouldn't tell Hiro. He was a good friend but Mai knew he couldn't be much help even if he wasn't acting like a jerk right now.
"Earth to Mai, do you read?" Mai blinked at Hiro's unusually concerned face.
"Uh, its nothing, just thinking." Maiko quickly blurted out anticipating Hiro's next question.
Hiro himself looked dubious. It must be bad if it was worrying Mai, and that bothered Hiro a lot more then any potential crisis. "Mai? Thinking? It's a sign of the apocalypse!" This earned him another kick in the shin but alleviated the source of his concern, which was all that really mattered. Besides he healed fast.
Mai shot him one last hostile glance before a thought crossed her mind. It was definitely getting late in the afternoon, but how late? Hopefully it wasn't past three o'clock; they had a plane to catch. Oh well, Hiro would remember. As soon as she explained the situation to Hiro they could leave anyways, wait a minute; she hadn't told him about the flight yet either had she. "What time is it?"
"One thirty by my watch."
"Oh okay." Mai said with a sigh of relief.
"Which would make it about three thirty local time."
Not so subtly Maiko grabbed Hiro's arm to double-check the time. "No way! We're going to be late."
"Late? Late for what?"
Falling into an overly energized panic Mai summarized everything she was going to have said had she not dallied into the span of a few seconds. "Theplane! We'regoingtohongkongtoinfiltrateironcorporsomethingcomeonorwe'regoingtobelate!" This came out as little more then a jumble, which was fortunately as the sonic dampers could only do so much. Hiro was still trying to work this out as he was summarily dragged out the door. It was just going to be one of those days it seemed.
Maebashi, Nippon - May 8, 227 AS (2243 AD)
This May had been unseasonably cool for Maebashi's spring. If it was due to a natural weather formation or a weather altering mana-sink anyone's guess would do. Weather forecasting was always been something of a science of guesswork before mana was reintroduced to the world. Now it was one part science, two parts art and 5 parts guesswork. Even 200 years after the creation of Crystal Tokyo scientists were trying to work out the exact effect of CT's constantly pleasant weather had on a global scale. Given the volume of mana induced weather phenomenon, it was unlikely they'd ever isolate it.
Of course none of this really mattered to the young women sleeping awkwardly on an old-fashioned park bench. Pulling a shard of a filthy blanket closer around herself, she attempted to shield out the cold. Moving to a warmer climate would have had definite advantages.
For Iwata Natsumi, life wasn't going quite way she envisioned it. In the span of a single month she had lost everything that would have meant anything to her less then a year ago. Everything your average person held dear had been ripped from her and replaced by a life of living day to day on the scraps of others. She was too proud to accept help, even if she wasn't how could she. They were all unbelievers.
It had all started with her parents. Why couldn't they have just accepted Shuji as he was? How could they condemn him? He had shown her the truth of life. He held a mirror up to society and revealed all of them lived lies. Shuji saved her from her own demons. He supported her in helping other people overcome theirs. He had even explained why so many people could never escape their dark side. Natsumi knew her parents could never understand the truth but she loved them anyways. Then they wanted her to stop seeing Shuji. Shuji loved her; he was the only one who understood her. They didn't understand her they simply could not. They didn't believe.
What else could she do but abandon them. Losing her parents had hurt, but no pain was unbearable in light of the truth. Then disaster struck again as she lost her job at Matsuzaki Inc. Being executive assistant to one of the middle managers you would have expected a bit more job security but they tossed her aside without a shred of decency. Obviously her boss was threatened by her newfound confidence. Oh Serenity would try and have you think otherwise but it was still a sexist world. It of course didn't have a thing to do with her chronic absenteeism, or co employee's constant complaints about her attacking their various beliefs. Not one of them could ever handle the truth, never over come their inner self and reach enlightenment. They wouldn't believe.
This might have been a set back, but with her newfound strength of spirit nothing would keep her down. Life would go on, but not before she was evicted from her cozy two-bedroom apartment. So maybe she was a few months behind on rent, she was supporting a greater cause! All she needed was a few more weeks to make it up, but the landlord gave no heed to her pleas. Surely compassion still existed somewhere in the world. But this city of Maebashi was full of nothing but unbelievers. They simply couldn't believe.
That must have been why Shuji disappeared. He couldn't have left her because he loved her too, just as he loved everyone he helped. Shuji was more important then any of the people who lived lies ever realized. He was a true believer, more so then herself. He had been enlightened by the holy-one herself. Shuji was one of the chosen, one who could lead them all to true salvation. Without him Natsumi wasn't sure what she would do. If she had never met him she would have gone on living the same lie as everyone else.
But Shuji was gone, and it had hurt more then any physical pain the world could muster. More then everything that had happened to her in the last month, more then the combined weight of her entire lifetime's worth of pain, agony and lies. Days floated by without meaning. She had lost everything but her faith and she felt that begin to slip, what was there left to hope for. She hit the bottom with a silent thud but refused to lie down. She still had her faith. The pain focused her vision she understood more then she ever had before. No she had never truly understood until now. She wasn't just a believer now. She was a true believer. Her Queen had tested her strength of will; her faith and she had passed. She would lead humanity to salvation just as Shuji did.
No, life was not going the way Iwata Natsumi envisioned it. It was so much better. She had lost everything. Her life would never be the same again. And she felt enriched.
The question remained, where to begin, where to start her holy task? Again she felt helpless when the light entered her mind once more. She had felt this warmness only once before in her entire life, when she ask Shuji the ultimate question. After he had revealed everything to her, she asked the one single question every human will ask at least once in his or her life time.
"Why do we exist?"
"How can we go on?"
Then it had only whispered to her, she was not ready to hear. She was ready now and the Queen would tell her what to do. The light slowly receded but the warmth was still there, blocking out the cold morning of May. She could see it; she could see where she must go. She had been given a holy vision. What more could she do then follow.
Natsumi rouse to her feet, her grubby blond hair wisping in the soft breeze. Pressing her exhausted body on she packed up her meager belongings in perpetration for her long journey. Dining humbly on a week old crust of bread she salvaged from the garbage she ready herself from the quest ahead. A calling from the west beckoned her, and she would go to it and even the ocean itself would part way for her. Because she believed.
CTAir Jet, Over the People's Republic of China - May 12, 227 AS (2243 AD)
Pain, terror, hate, he could feel the emotions swirl around him; they were not his own but external thoughts. He didn't question how he could sense them, nor did he question his weightlessness before the void. One could only barely identify its blackly mass by the vague light that narrowly avoided being consumed. Yes consumed just as it inhaled the thoughts around him. Vague he realized they were not just thoughts in the void but people. People whom where falling past him trying to cling to his form to avoid their fate. As his eyes adjusted to the bleakness he could make up the inky sea rippling as each person melted into the surface like so many drops of rain. As the sea rippled he felt himself mirror the waves and ripple, the screaming faded away as nothingness overtook nothingness and folded in on itself and so it was only himself once more.
Hiro peeped open his eyes. Had he been dreaming again or had he even feel asleep. He couldn't tell he was having trouble sleeping again. It was troubling; disaster was looming over the world again.
His senses returning Hiro became aware of someone leaning against his arm. Turning his head minimally his eyes came to focus on a tress of auburn hair. It was Mai. She must have falling asleep on the aircraft as well. Regardless of the advancements from before the Great Darkness, aircraft seating hadn't been on the list of things to fix. Allowing himself a rare smile of affection Hiro returned to his previous task of trying to get a few hours of much needed sleep before they arrived. Despite their animosity or maybe because of it Hiro had grown rather fond of Mai over the years. She reminded him a lot of his younger sister whom likewise he would deny any attachment too, but that was sibling rivalry for you.
Being exceptionally long lived yet eternally young has an odd affect on various individuals. In many ways it placed you into an age group of your own. The majority of the time you could spend living life day to day then at the oddest moments you could feel the full weight of your years. It was always the small things that invoked them and if one wasn't careful they could end up brooding all the time.
That being said, Hiro was feeling very old which in one sense he was having been born in the late twenty first century. But he rarely ever felt old, but a reminder of the time had struck him. Had it already been 10 years since he had last seen his younger sister? It had been longer yet since he had seen the rest of his siblings.
Family had always been important to him, which was true for most of his siblings. They were called a clan for reasons other then sheer number. But he hadn't even seen his own children in sometime. Of course they had long since grown up and had started families of their own.
Brushing a spec of sleepy dust from his eyes he shook off the speculation. There might not be anything more important then family, but wasn't that why he we doing this? Keep the world safe for all their descendants who already were beginning to reach across the entire world. Maybe after this case he'd take some time off. Maybe, but was it just his imagination or were operations increasing. He'd worry about that later, one step at a time.
Flicking open the old-fashioned pocket watch that had been a wedding day gift from his parents he judged the time. They'd be landing within an hour; maybe he could organize the preliminary information they had received from the archive. Far to sparse for his liking, what exactly was Iron Corp up to? He didn't doubt this would be a challenging, from what they did know Iron Corp's central office in the Free State of Hong Kong was heavily guarded. That was also nearly the complete sum of their knowledge of the central office. Unlikely many corporations Iron Corp was actually successful being discreet. And even if they managed to pull off the mission flawlessly the Hunters were based in Hong Kong and that could open up a whole other can of worms if ID didn't play its cards right. Could they get a message to Hunter Prime before they started? Would that even be wise? He resumed planning; he couldn't even assume more information would be waiting when they got there, he'd have to find his own sources.
Dawn's light broke through the window in a blinding radiance of orange and red over the limitless horizon. Squinting slightly Hiro paused his pace to observe the view. Maybe hard times were coming, but so was a new day. Nothing could change that.
|End Chapter One.|