The Times They Are A-Changin' (Part III)
Author notes: thanks to the people taking time to review this story. Reviews are the fuel of my inspiration. I realized I messed up on one location. Mugen Academy was not in the Minato Ward, but on an artificial (and fictional) island of the Tokyo Bay called Sankakusu. This arranges me as it’s easier to put the Arcology there than in a ward known for its embassies and the Tokyo Tower. I therefore made a small correction in the first chapter. I hope you will enjoy this chapter.
--- Apex Arcology, 10 June 2006 ---
Moka was feeling great. She was finally out of the hospital, after a month spent floating in a kind of slimy tank. True, she had been sleeping most of the time while machines smaller than a living cell ran through every part of her body, cleaning it of Alucard’s stain. She also hadn’t been alone in that ordeal as most of her family had been contaminated to one degree or another.
“Well… it’s different,” she said as she looked at her apartments.
She didn’t have only one room, but a whole suite for herself in the ‘private residence’ levels of the Arcology. That meant a bedroom, a living room with a kitchenette, a study and a bathroom. From what she had learnt, it was the same for all members of the Shuzen Clan. Contrarily to the romantic castle she had spent most of her childhood in, the Arcology seemed like something right out of a science fiction movie. Everything was… ultramodern wasn’t even the name, it was beyond that. The style’s not bad but… I need a nice, thick carpet,
she thought, eying the dark wooden floor and the creamy white walls.
While it was not the first time she came here, it was only now that she really understood the meaning of the word Arcology and the sheer size of the pyramid. This wasn’t a simple building. This was a small, self-contained town with its own galleria, entertainment centers, offices and habitations. If she remembered well her aunt’s explanations, it was also energetically independent and recycled its water in situ, using the organic waste as fertilizer for the gardens and hydroponic greenhouses.
She looked at the maid that was busy finishing putting away the many clothes Hotaru had bought her to replace the things destroyed with the castle. This was another thing to get used to. It was not the matter of having servants. They had some at the castle. It was the nature of the servants. To her vampiric senses, the maid felt dead and just as appetizing as a vacuum cleaner.
“I don’t know how it is for you, but they scare me a little,” said a feminine voice from the entrance of her suite.
“You, scared? I don’t believe it, Akua-neesan.”
There was ice in Moka’s voice. While she had promised her mother to forgive, she wasn’t about to forget what Akua did and said that day.
“It’s not the matter of not being able to fight them if I need. It’s just how much these… dolls manage to look human. With the way they move and how realistic the skin is, most people will need a moment to notice the vacant eyes and the articulation seams.”
“You, know, Akua-chan,” said Hotaru as she entered the room, “I intend to market this model in a little more than a year. Not necessarily with this appearance, but the physical capabilities will be the same.”
Hotaru smiled as she saw the discomfort on Akua’s face. Having the goddess treat her as family was still something she had to wrap her mind around. It was easier for Moka, for which Hotaru was her beloved godmother before being Kali’s reincarnation.
“How much can they… understand?” asked Akua.
“They’re not sentient and don’t have emotions, but they can understand requests and their program includes responses to behaviors such as the display of distress. As they have wireless access, they can ask the Arcology’s central AI for instructions if they reach the limits of their programming.”
While Akua despised humans, she had been enough in touch with the human world to hear about some of the recent technological developments. The first AI had been revealed to the public in 2001 and, because of its voice and the then current year, had quickly been nicknamed SAL 9000 by the media, in reference to the feminine AI in Arthur C. Clarke’s novels. It had raised many conflicting voices among the public, even after they had gotten used to the AI’s real name: Himiko.
“Something troubling you, Akua-chan?” asked Hotaru.
“Just remembering some of the westerners’ reactions about the first AI you made public. Between those who think it’s a blasphemy and those who fear it…”
“And what’s your opinion?”
“I grew up in China. We have a lot of stories about exceptional items gaining sentience and even the ability to transform into humans. In the stories, they often act strangely because they don’t know how to be human. To me, an AI is like those artifacts.”
“An interesting point of view. Grandpa Hino once told me that he used to be called to bless industrial robots, as Japanese people believe they can have their own kami, like any other object. As for Buddhists, they see robots and AI as a new kind of existence that has potential to attain Buddhahood.”
“I would also say it like this,” said Moka. “When Westerners think of robots, they often end up thinking about Frankenstein. We Japanese think about Mighty Atom*.”
“Indeed,” said Hotaru, smiling. “I bet that Usagi will be happy to know that you spent time to read her mangas… I have an appointment for the next hour. Just ask Himiko if you need anything.”
--- Sixty-two levels lower, at the same time ---
Rupert Giles was sitting on the terrace of a coffee shop in the public levels of the Arcology. He knew very well why the Watchers’ Council had sent him to Japan. He was expendable, a troublemaker that the Council wouldn’t regret losing if Hotaru Tomoe took offense at his presence.
In the last hours, he had taken part in an organized tour of the facilities. Like most people with a TV set, he had already seen the building but coming here was something else. The Arcology was not built on an island in the Tokyo Bay. It was an island, the walls of the irregular, crystalline pyramid going from the seafloor forty meters below the surface and rising at forty-five degrees until they reached the top, eight hundred meters above sea level, with a vast array of platforms nested in the crevices of the artificial mountain.
The terrace he was on was in a park situated on one of those platforms. It was easy for him to lose himself in the mass of tourists here. After all, he was in one of the most visited places in Tokyo, a place that was considered by many as the prototype of future cities: fully integrated environments with a low ecological impact thanks to technology. For his historian eyes, used to decipher the plans of medieval cities, it looked differently. It was a fortress that would have made the envy of King Richard I. Or of a James Bond’s villain… The protections they showed us during the tour – officially built to allow the Arcology to shield itself in case of typhoon – can transform the place in a bunker. Even the ferry and industrial harbors are internal, with doors that can close. I also bet that the subway tunnels to the coast can be closed.
He went once again through the biographical information he had been able to gather about Hotaru Tomoe. Her grandfather had gained a lot of money during the reconstruction, after World War Two. It had allowed the next generation to build Sankakusu, the artificial island that served as the basis for the current arcology. At that time, it became a commercial district whose main features were the Tomoe Research Center and the Mugen Academy.
Then, in September 1983, Mugen Academy and the neighboring research center exploded. The official version spoke of a terrorist incident that tried to target the many wealthy exchange students but, thankfully, a defect in the bomb had it set off at night when the Academy grounds were almost empty. The investigation soon accused a Trotskyist movement that Moscow was more than happy to help Japan get rid of.
However, the Watchers knew that an occult event of apocalyptic importance happened – or rather was prevented – that night. An event that oracles assured was linked to one of England’s most popular – and at the same time most mysterious – witches: the teen that went in those days by the nickname of Sailor V.
After that, the then eighteen years old Hotaru Tomoe disappeared for a while, officially as she wandered the world to mourn her father and only came back in March 1985, with the pink-haired woman called Usagi who was soon adopted as Hotaru’s little sister. It was when she started to transform her family’s assets into a corporate empire that spanned the entire planet. And again, her reappearance corresponds with an event that generated many omens, this time speaking about a ‘shift in destiny’. That’s when the Watchers were almost sure she was a demon… something we confirmed when she was received in Whitehall three years later, though we were never able to ascertain her species.
The sketchy records of Hotaru Tomoe’s childhood that the Watchers had managed to gather had led them to think that Hotaru Tomoe was possessed, probably since her early childhood. They thought that the demon slowly destroyed her humanity until they were able to merge, probably in 1983. During the last two decades, speculation had been going on regarding her plans. Plans that don’t make sense… or rather that don’t fit what we Watchers would expect of a powerful demon.
Sometimes, he wondered if his old friend Ethan wasn’t right, if Hotaru Tomoe was a stranded alien raised as a human rather than a demon.
A young woman was bowing to him in proper Japanese way. She was Caucasian, probably Australian and wore the ‘stewardess’ uniform he had seen on many female members of the personnel of the Arcology. From what he had seen, the secondary color of the black skirt suit was an indication of function. He had seen the same sky blue trims on the guides and accompanying staff.
“I apologize for the disturbance, but your appointment has been moved and I have been charged to lead you to the meeting place,” continued the young woman.
Giles quickly took notice of his environment. Just as he had thought the number of people in black with an orange trim, in other words the security officers, in the vicinity had augmented very recently. The guide woman had obviously been sent to allow him to save face by coming like a respected guest instead of being shamefully arrested under one pretense or another.
He calculated his options. He could maybe use the public as human shields, but this would probably lead to an official complaint to the British Embassy… and Downing Street would end up asking the Council why they felt like endangering England’s business relations with the East Pacific Alliance. Another point in which the Tomoe sisters are different from the regular demons: not only do they have access to the high spheres of the human world, but they also know perfectly well which buttons to push.
He got up, gathering his things and followed the guide. Just as he thought, the security was moving to shadow them, covering all main escape routes. It was really subtle and most people would only have seen it in relation with an announcement about a pickpocket that was now passing on the information screens. Pickpocket who will probably have been ‘caught’ in another part of the complex once I am out of here…
The guide woman led him through the halls and they soon reached an elevator. She stepped in with him. Either she is expendable or… No, she’s here to make me understand they won’t harm me, for now. The poor lass probably doesn’t know her bosses are not human.
A minute passed in an awkward silence as the elevator alternated between rising and moving sideways. He had read about this, about how some elevators doubled with a kind of internal metro system. He had heard American tourists call it a ‘turbolift’ though he hadn’t caught the reference. Finally, the lift stopped and the woman bowed again.
“I hope you will be successful in your business, Giles-dono.”
He got out and knew where he was. From what he could see by the windows, he was near the top of the ‘mountain’, where the public map of the Arcology became white. The armored doors in front of him bore the crest of Apex: a three-fold purple tomoe sitting at the center of a black unicursal hexagram.
He heard the lift door close behind him and the armored doors slid silently, revealing a young Japanese woman in a French maid uniform.
“Giles-dono, please follow me. Tomoe-sama is expecting you,” she said, bowing to him. So it seems the devil herself wants to see me…
“I can reassure you,” continued the maid. “My mistress only wishes to speak with you. If you were to be detained, you would be in the security complex, below sea level. You will be free to leave afterwards.”
The maid turned and started to walk in the hall beyond the armored door. He started to follow and the gates soon closed silently behind him. The place was, like the rest of the Arcology, too modern for his taste, but this level felt homier than the public ones. The dark wooden floor’s pieces traced complex geometric patterns, meeting cream walls adorned by statues and paintings. Napoleon triumphant at Austerlitz… Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot… Ramses the Second at the battle of Qadesh… T.E. Lawrence at Aqaba… Caesar crossing the Rubicon… Elizabeth the First knighting Francis Drake… all great warriors and charismatic leaders,
he thought while scanning the art pieces.
As he looked at his new guide, he could not shake a feeling of uneasiness. Something felt wrong about this maid. Her moves were too precise. All of her steps were identical, looking more like a thoroughly rehearsed performance than something natural. Then he saw another maid coming from another hall. Another maid absolutely identical to his guide. Demons with a collective… no, I must not think like I usually do. A lot of the power of Hotaru Tomoe comes from science. Let’s try this.
“Excuse me, Miss but… are you an android?”
“Given that my body has been devised to follow the shape of the human female, the exact term is gynoid, Giles-dono.”
He had been paying a particular attention to the intonations of ‘her’ voice. It had lacked emotion, but it could pass as a rather apathetic person. It had also been a lot more than the simple yes or no he almost expected. Very, very frightening.
The maid entered a room which made him immediately feel better as he smelled the familiar scent of ancient books. It was a library with many well filled stacks. As the maid led him, he looked at some of the titles, tried to resist and finally failed as he neared a papyrus in a glass showcase.
The papyrus he was looking at wasn’t mystical. It was a piece of history. It was in Greek and…
“Good Lord… this was written by Alexander the Great.”
“Yes,” said Hotaru as she neared him. “This is a copy, however. The original is kept safe from light and humidity.”
“How did you…”
“This papyrus, as well as a good half of the books in this library are an inheritance from a late friend. Setsuna always had… a taste for history.”
He looked at her, discovering a rather fragile-looking woman with an ageless beauty. Black hair in a bob cut framed her pale visage. She was dressed rather casually, in a black pleated skirt and a purple turtleneck. One thing, however, was very different from the many pictures that could be found in the media. Her eyes weren’t black, but scarlet, with slit pupils. Her smile also revealed vampiric fangs.
“Would you like to join me for tea? It’s probably a little early, but I would like to discuss some things with you, Mister Giles,” she continued.
She invited him to follow her with a gracious gesture. They soon reached a place in the library where comfortable armchairs sat near great windows.
“Please have a seat, Mister Giles,” said Hotaru. “I must say that this is a surprise to find you being such an agreeable guest. My previous contacts with members of your organization gave me the habit to expect more… nervous people.”
“I suppose you are talking about the time where you appeared on the BBC.”
“Indeed. I could smell their fear and… well, you know how it is. It tends to make someone like me a little hungry. Tea?”
A mechanical maid had come with a tray holding a kettle and cups, depositing it on a low ebony table. They weren’t the usual Japanese ones, but the kind of fine china that would have been approved by the most demanding of British ladies. Hotaru Tomoe decidedly wasn’t like the typical demon lord, who usually delighted on having ‘guests’ crawl and cower before him. They were probably enemies, but some things, some trappings of civilization were just more important than any enmity among honorable people.
“With pleasure,” he replied, his guts telling him that this particular demon would find it dishonorable to breach the rules of hospitality.
She poured two cups and he felt the delicious aroma of fine tea rise.
“I must say that you are a really good surprise, Mister Giles. It is truly agreeable to be able to sit with you like two civilized people, despite our differences. I have one question for starters. Why didn’t you try to flee?”
“If I had in the public levels, there would have been political consequences, as an incident would have given the British government a perfect excuse to intrude in the Council’s affairs.”
“This was indeed a possibility and, by realizing it existed, you proved yourself a lot smarter than the Council’s black ops team which tried to intrude in one of my African projects. Instead of coming along quietly… which would have allowed my subordinates to free them with a light slap on the hand, they fired back and it became an official matter. You can tell Travers that I will ask the Burkinabe government to release them discreetly in six months, just the time for the public opinion to forget them. In the meantime, I made sure… they would have plenty of exercise. And once you were out of the public area?” Translated, six months of hard labor, just to be sure they learn their lesson.
“I suppose I decided to trust your sense of hospitality.”
She had a little laugh.
“Very nicely said… British humor is in my opinion a cornerstone of your culture’s contribution to civilization. Well, to get to the main matter that had me arrange this meeting, I would like you to convey some information to the Inner Council. During the next decade, I intend to extend my company’s operations in… a delicate area. It would not do for the Watchers to misunderstand my intentions.”
“A quaint little town called Sunnydale. It’s on the Californian Coast. Even if you are not aware of its importance personally, the Inner Council will be.”
“This place holds a rift to a dimension with a lot of disagreeable creatures. It is sealed… mostly. The place has a tendency to attract demons who would like no better than to open the rift… or the Hellmouth as the local demon population calls it.”
“The Council will not like the idea of letting any demon faction near it.”
“Contrarily to what some people in your organization like to believe, most demons are not interested in destroying this world. A lot of them just realize that their fancy lifestyle isn’t possible without the human civilization to supply it. Even some of those who wish for the return of the Old Ones… they have no idea how it was then.”
As he looked at the steel in her scarlet eyes, Rupert Giles just felt some of the aberrant pieces fall together in a coherent picture. The demon woman in front of him had seen the dark times where the Old Ones ruled the Earth. She maybe was an Old One herself. No… that’s not it. I’m still missing something.
“And you, what are your reasons? Why do you do all of this?”
“A fair question. Some of my reasons are solely mine to know, but I will tell you this. Back in the eighties, as I traveled the world, I saw signs showing that humanity was on a path of self-destruction, even without demon intervention. Oh! It would probably not have been the flashy, nuclear Armageddon kind, but rather a slow decay, a corruption that would have destroyed civilization as humans became greedy beasts. I chose to prevent it, by steering history, by whipping humanity back into shape.”
“And space colonization was your mean for that.”
“Let’s say the most obvious one... I have here some files about the recent whereabouts of some problematic demon factions like the Sisterhood of Jhe,” she said while waving at a maid holding a thick paper dossier on a tray. “Take it as a gesture of good will on my part.”
--- Sunnydale City Hall, 14 August 2006 ---
“Is there a problem, Allan?” asked the Mayor of Sunnydale to his deputy.
Allan Finch was busy going through rather voluminous files.
“Just a series of building permits.”
“I suppose this is important as you are handling them personally.”
“It is. The total amount concerned is over forty million dollars.”
The Mayor frowned then looked at the dossier. His frown deepened as he saw the header of a letter: a three-fold tomoe over a unicursal hexagram.
“Yes, they bought Calax and intend to refurbish the research center Calax was about to close in Sunnydale. They have agreed to use mostly local companies to do the job. This also means the construction of several family houses for the employees who will settle here.”
The Mayor felt conflicted. Politically, this was not an opportunity he could refuse without raising suspicion, even in Sunnydale. Most of his colleagues in the nearby cities would probably be ready to a lot of compromises to have a company like Apex settle in their community. After all, the news regularly spoke of the projects they had in places like Africa and on how much they had helped the local economy develop. But Apex is not your typical corporation that will decide to cut their losses after too many people falling prey to Sunnydale’s night life… Apex means Yokai in my town.
“This looks interesting… but won’t it cause problems with the state?”
“I think not. From the agreements the Apex representative showed me, developing the Sunnydale area is a major part of the agreement signed by Apex with the Department of Commerce for the takeover of Calax. It is probable that the Governor will call you soon to congratulate you.”
The Mayor called on all of his reserves of phlegm. He wondered why he had not been warned about it then it hit him. Calax was mostly based on the East Coast, in Vermont if he remembered correctly. Their Sunnydale Research and Development branch was only a minor project developed in collaboration with the University of California and that they were about to close now that the funding dried up. From Washington’s standpoint, what happened in Sunnydale was just a footnote in a billion dollars deal.
He remembered what a lawyer of Wolfram and Hart had told him about dealing with Japanese companies and Apex in particular: with them, business is war. If it had been any other company, he would not have minded his town being a ‘nice footnote’. But he was almost sure that the Yokai who owned the company had targeted Sunnydale all along and that Calax’s main facilities in Vermont were just a bonus for them.
Currently, he just felt as cornered as Lee at Appomattox. He had no choice but to accept. If he did anything else than to nod enthusiastically, the Governor and the Secretary of Commerce would wonder why and the Men in Black would jump on the occasion to help the FBI with Sunnydale’s ‘gang problem’. After that… Apex would deal with his successor. I guess I will need a nice, calming game of miniature golf tonight…
“Allan, is there still an Apex representative in our city?”
“Yes, Ageha Kurono. She is currently speaking with local contractors.”
The Mayor found back a little of his smile seeing the blush on his deputy’s face.
“Can you arrange for me to meet Ms. Kurono at the earliest opportunity?”
--- Apex Arcology, at the same time ---
Hotaru was smiling as she looked at the four girls in front of her. Now that they were living at the Arcology, she had more time to train the Shuzen sisters in the art of war. Currently, that meant teaching them Saturnian martial arts. And training members of my own species is a real joy… humans are so fragile.
They were currently sparring, Kokoa against Kalhua and Akua against Moka, while Hotaru watched and corrected mistakes.
“That’s all for now, girls,” said Hotaru. “Now that your youki has circulated well, we can see to the second step. All vampires know instinctively how to channel their energy in their fists or kicks to power them up. While useful, this is a really raw use of our power. We can do a lot better, which is the whole point of youjutsu. Akua already knows a couple of those. However, what you are all lacking is the understanding of how these techniques are built.”
She raised her hand while a ball of swirling purple light materialized in it.
“What I will teach you are the rules on how to direct your energy to do whatever you want. For example, I just duplicated here a technique used by a ninja in a popular manga. Given that I’m improvising, it’s crude and rather inefficient, but I can nonetheless do it, which can get me out of a hot spot where my usual attacks would not work.”
“Aunt Hotaru,” asked Kahlua, “sorry to ask this… but is there any circumstances where the technique you used against Alucard wouldn’t work?”
Hotaru smiled gently.
“Well… the Death Reborn Revolution can wipe out towns but it has two rather obvious defects. Can you tell me which ones?”
“Its own huge power is both an advantage and a defect,” said Akua. “It’s a weapon of mass destruction, so you cannot use it for precise strikes.”
“Very good. Think about the battle. You all saw me. What’s the other one?”
“The weapon you had, the Silence Glaive. Can you use the technique without it?” asked Moka.
“Indeed, that’s a problem. The power comes from me, but the Glaive is needed to channel such amounts properly. I’ll keep for myself what happens if I try to use it without the Glaive. Anyway, that’s why I have a whole array of techniques, some needing the Glaive, others not. Akua, you faced a similar issue against Alucard, right?”
“Yes… aunt Hotaru. My main techniques were inappropriate against an enemy that had to be destroyed cell by cell.”
“Which once again proves the importance of variety… we’ll take what I’m doing as an exercise on basic energy projection. Channel your youki in your hand, but instead of simply powering your fist, visualize it exiting through the palm and forming a whirlwind…”
She continued to explain and guide while they tried to reproduce her technique. It was relatively simple for Akua, but harder for the others. For Hotaru, it was a great time. Seeing Kokoa’s joy as she managed to create a ball of swirling fiery youki in her hand… It reminded her of the good times she spent in similar situations, a long time ago. Except it was with Nirrti, Lilith, Thrudr and Sekmeth… I miss them.
She concentrated back on her lesson.
“Very good. The next step in technique building is what I will call the ‘keys’. While calling a technique with willpower alone is practical, it require a lot of concentration, which means more energy expended. Adding incantation keys makes the technique less flexible, but easier to control and diminishes the energy expenditure. What kind of keys can you think of?”
“Stances, gestures of a kind or another,” said Akua.
“Words,” added Moka.
“And items,” added Kahlua, playing with her cross-shaped earring.
“Very good. Each kind of key has advantages and inconveniences. Items can be removed, you can be prevented from moving or speaking, so it’s a trade-off. The Death Reborn Revolution uses the three kind of keys.”
“Hem… Aunt Hotaru,” said Kahlua. “Why is the incantation of the Death Born Revolution in English?”
“To make a computer metaphor, my magic’s ‘regional settings’ have been changed when I was reincarnated. I could reset them, but never really saw the need.”
--- Alameda, 8 December 2006 ---
Angel was smiling as he finished to type his report on one of their last cases. He felt a lot better since he had joined the Men in Black. If he had to summarize it, he would probably say that he felt useful. Currently, it was the thought that the vampire who decided it would be fun to copycat Angelus – his former ‘bad guy’ identity – was dusted that felt particularly nice to him.
“Angel, I’m going to Flanagan’s for steaks with Kriemhildr and Telzor. You want to join?” asked Ai, peeking in their common office.
He thought about declining and go back to his flat. Months ago, he would probably have done that and spent the evening brooding.
“Sure,” he said instead.
He locked his work station and got up, taking his jacket. He soon reached the elevator, seeing a blonde woman discussing with Ai while a rather burly man waited, leaning on a nearby wall. As usual, his nose told him a different story than the relatively normal appearance of his three colleagues.
Telzor had not been too much of a surprise for him. The surprise rather came from the ring that allowed the demon to cover his scaly, reptilian skin with the illusion of a human. Kriemhildr, on the other hand…
From what he had learnt, she had been retrieved as a statue with a bunch of magical antiques brought back from Germany in 1945. She had been forgotten in a reserve until when, one day of 1984, the statue of a wounded Valkyrie suddenly became a woman of flesh and blood.
Kriemhildr had then told to the Men in Black an incredible story about the last days of the kingdom of Elysion. It had all started when the prince Endymion fell in love with the Princess of the Moon Kingdom, Serenity. The princess Beryl came to conceive jealousy towards the Moon Princess, jealousy that soon became blind hatred. She started to plot not only to depose the King Atlas but also to wage war with the Moon.
Kriemhildr was then an aide at the Asgardian Consulate. She stumbled on Beryl’s plan by luck and was petrified by one of the conspirators, the General Kunzite. After that, she didn’t know but neither Elysion nor the Moon Kingdom were standing anymore.
At first, the MiB thought she came from some yet unknown demon dimension. Then two things happened. The first had been Kriemhildr’s reaction to the face of Hotaru Tomoe on the cover of the Time Magazine in 1987, which led to another series of explanations about the Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology. The Men in Black then understood that Nine Worlds was to be taken as Nine Planets. According to Asgardian – or rather Jupiterian – lore, Hotaru Tomoe was in fact Kali, queen of Saturn.
The second thing, one could say the final nail, had been when the NASA found ruins while digging to build Moonbase Clavius. The event was hushed. After all, it was only a few vaguely shaped stones, no? The bas-relief had been brought back to Earth and studied carefully. Very little was left, but it was enough to understand one thing. The Moon’s Kingdom main city was just under Serenity City, which gave the final proof about Apex being linked to the pre-Ragnarok world.
They reached the surface, the four of them doing small talk about one thing or another. Angel felt deliciously human in those moments. Sure, his life wasn’t perfect, but at least it was life, not mere day-to-day existence.
“I wonder what they are doing this time,” said Kriemhildr, pointing a group of people in a non-refurbished part of the base.
“Looks like something about a boat and a big pole,” said Angel.
“As long as they’re not trying to debunk the myth we’re supposed to represent,” said Telzor.
They all laughed as they walked under the rain, soon reaching their favorite Irish pub. They sat in a box and ordered. Thankfully, the waiters were used to them or the quantities would have been… curious. While Angel didn’t eat much, Ai and Kriemhildr both had, be it because of the first cybernetic implants taking their energy from consumed food or the second’s Asgardian metabolism, quite higher needs than ‘normal’ women of their size.
“We had a run-in with our British friends in Seattle,” said Kriemhildr.
Ai rolled her eyes while Angel sighed. Trust between the Watchers and the Men in Black was certainly not a given. The former had good reasons to be wary of governments meddling in the supernatural, but they failed to recognize that times had changed. Angel knew for sure that the Soviets had their own paranormal agency, officially a branch of the KGB. The Chinese probably also did. In Europe, the Vatican was notoriously becoming more active on the supernatural front. As for the East Pacific Alliance, they relied on their Yokai community, mainly using Apex and the Shinto priesthood as ‘agents’.
“Speaking of wonderful news. Rui told me we’re opening a branch in southern California, probably in Sunnydale.”
“Oh joy…” said Telzor. “Who… your sister dumped that on you?”
“Angel and I volunteered in fact.”
--- Apex Arcology, Tokyo, summer 2012 ---
Elizabeth ‘Buffy’ Summers lowered herself with delight in the hot water. Dawn and Celia had left to see some museum and she had been more than happy to let them both attend to their geeky activities, while she enjoyed something she had come to love every time she was in Japan: the baths. Sure, it had needed some adaptation from her part, mostly to overcome her shyness about being naked in public. In the end, though, it was no worse than the showers at school… and a lot more relaxing. And I must say that these baths are just gorgeous…
Her aunt’s family had moved in the Arcology a year ago, following her uncle’s promotion at the headquarters of a society part of the Apex keireitsu.
She looked at her Mom, who was discussing with Aunt Lolly nearby. Joyce had gotten over her shyness quite easily and Elizabeth wondered once again where the small scars she could see here and there on her mother’s skin came from. When she had asked, Joyce had said something about… having been a little reckless in her youth, but always refused to elaborate, saying that the past had to stay dead.
Her gaze shifted towards her aunt. Even if she knew that Lolly Takahashi was born in California, Elizabeth had always thought of her as ‘the aunt from Japan’. She was completely adapted to her new country and to the life in Tokyo, probably to the point that her native country would have felt strange to her. From what the fifteen-year old girl had guessed, this was in good part thanks to the ‘coaching’ of Aunt Lolly’s mother-in-law.
“Mom, I’m going to the arcade,” she said after a while.
“Of course dear and…”
“Dawn and I made peace for now, Mom. We didn’t want Cel-chan being all pouty at us.”
Joyce smiled at her daughter. As the twins grew up, their interests had diverged, Dawn becoming more of a bookworm while Elizabeth hanged with the popular girls of her school and thought about becoming a cheerleader. And then those snotty bitches tried to force Buffy to choose between her sister and her school reputation…
This had almost degenerated in a sisterly war when the summer break started. Joyce remembered Celia’s gaze when they welcomed them at the Haneda Airport. The half-Japanese teen had probably noticed the change of mood of her cousins through their regular videoconferences. There had been a discussion between the three girls and things seemed to be better now.
“So… now that we’re alone, anego…” said Lolly.
“Hank thinks I don’t know, but…”
“Please… In my opinion, you should have married that Taiwanese guy… what was his name?”
“Li Qian-De,” said Joyce. “I… I wanted to get away from that world, after it killed Arlene.”
Lolly put her hand on her sister’s. They both still mourned their big sister and she couldn’t really say too much on this issue. She had herself preferred to settle down when love knocked at her door, rather than staying in that world.
“Does Hank know who you were?”
--- Crown Arcade Café, an hour later ---
Buffy really liked this place that Celia had made them discover a few days ago. It was mostly done to resemble the arcades of the eighties and it had many vintage video games, like the one she was playing to now.
This was not usual for her. Dawn was the gaming girl but this one… it had felt like finding back an old friend. She grinned as the controls of the old Sailor V game moved expertly under her hands, the pixelated magical girl on the screen trouncing through her enemies. Soon, as she progressed through the game, she started to notice another teen near her, looking at the screen of the video game.
“Wow! You’re good,” said a redhead with green eyes in Japanese. “I never managed to go that far.”
“Hope it will last,” replied Elizabeth, having learnt the language thanks to her constant chats with her cousin.
The blonde teen managed to pass another level before biting the dust. She sighed as she looked that she was in second position in the memorized high scores. She entered ‘Lisa’ in the list, wondering who the ‘Minako’ that was number one on that game was.
“Any idea who she is?” she asked to the redhead.
“Not really. According to the Arcade’s manager, the game’s high scores were never reset at the owner’s request, so it might be here since twenty years or more. But as you have beaten my high score, I have to challenge you,” said the redhead while starting a two player versus match.
“Okay… this means war,” said Buffy.
“Oh yes… by the way, I’m Kokoa Shuzen.”
“Elizabeth Summers, but I usually go by Lisa here in Japan.”
On the screen, two magical girls started to exchange attacks while the two teens acted rather roughly with the venerable machine’s commands.
“Yep, from Los Angeles. My cousin lives here though.”
The fought for three full games, Buffy only winning by pure luck on the third match.
“Well… you know what? This place has the best ice cream in the Arcology. So…” said Kokoa.
“I see we have similar tastes.”
They both started to walk, reaching the café part of the place. They were soon both seated, each with a big bowl of delicious looking ice cream. They started to talk. It was just regular girl talk but… Elizabeth was realizing that with this almost stranger, she didn’t have to watch her mouth as much, to fear that any slip would be used against her later in school. Slowly, she started to talk about school and her problems with her sister.
“It’s not really my place to meddle,” said Kokoa after a while, “but if I was in your shoes, I would probably have beaten the crap out of those bitches. Your family is more important than them.”
“You have sisters too?”
“I’m the youngest of the four Shuzen daughters. We tend to squabble from time to time, but we watch each other’s back. Anyone messing with any of my sisters is my enemy.”
Elizabeth wondered what kind of life Kokoa had to use so casually words like ‘enemy’.
“Think about it: your sister probably thinks that you’re betraying her in favor of some bitches that will stab you in the back at the first sign of weakness. If you continue, you will lose her and… the next time it will be even easier to betray someone else… until you’re alone and only see others, even your own family, as tools.”
The American could feel the bitterness in Kokoa’s voice. But… she was betrayed by someone dear. Who?
“I think you’re right. I’ve been an idiot,” she said, hacking her ice cream with her spoon. “That’s probably the end of my popularity but…”
“As Moka-neesama is fond to say: you don’t want popularity, you want respect.” Neesama? Speak about old school… I feel like if I was speaking to a Maf… could she be a Yakuza daughter?
“Not sure I…”
“I know what you need: a makeover. You will have a whole new look for the next trimester at school and I just know the perfect place for that.”
“Hem, I was supposed to meet my sister and my cousin here.”
“Not a problem,” said Kokoa, taking out her portable vidphone. “Himiko, locate Lisa-chan’s sister and inform her we’re going to Arakawa’s.”
“As you wish, Kokoa,” replied an eerie voice on the phone.
Buffy didn’t even have the time to protest while the redhead took her hand and dragged her away. As both girls left, a waitress smiled and left her service. Soon, she fiddled with a pen-like object in her hand. The illusion faded, revealing a woman with pink hair arranged in a strange twin ponytail.
“That was funny to arrange,” said Usagi. “Yes, definitely a lot funnier than doing it myself under a disguise. A pity I cannot approach Puu-chan, though.”
--- Elsewhere in the Arcology, at the same time ---
Dawn was looking at a stone tablet, reading the translation from Sumerian on the interactive tablet visitors could take for their visit in the Setsuna Meiô Art and History Museum. From what she had learnt, the Museum had been founded in memory of a friend of Hotaru Tomoe, who gifted a rather extensive collection of historical artifacts to the billionaire woman.
Suddenly, the display shifted, displaying a ‘you have mail’ icon. Dawn blinked, and then clicked on it, finding a message indicating that her sister was going to a place called Arakawa.
“Someone asked Himiko to find you and send you a message. All of the Arcology’s inhabitants can do that,” replied her cousin, peeking over her shoulder.
“For privacy reasons, the AI will not tell where the recipient is, but she will give the message.”
“Right… you know where Arakawa is?”
“Arakawa’s is a clothing shop on level eleven. Guess that Lisa-chan could not resist the call of shoes…”
“The message was not sent by her, but by a Kokoa Shuzen… You know her?”
They both continued their visit. Over the years, Celia had become Dawn’s best friend in addition to being her cousin. She knew very well why. A secret called Sailor Pluto was linking them. Dawn was still incapable to call on her power like she did that night, but she had discovered some things she could do. Mostly, it had to do with her perceptions and time. When looking at artifacts or better, touching them, she could sometimes see things that happened in the past in relation to the item. But still no way to do that for the future at this point.
They both finished their visit and walked to Arakawa’s, finding Elizabeth looking at herself in a big mirror while a redhead girl nodded. The dress she was wearing was elegant, yet casual enough to be used at school. It was a far cry from her typical fashion which flirted with the limit their mother had set them with flaunting flesh.
“It’s missing something… I know!” said Buffy.
She took a red bow and used it to tie her hair in a high ponytail.
--- Shinjuku, Tokyo, two days later ---
Joyce was taking a stroll. She had been in dire need of some time alone, to clear her head from her marital issues. She didn’t wasn’t to listen to the dark part of her, the part that told her to drop her unfaithful husband and his floozy in the sea… with concrete shoes. That part also told her something else, something she was more ready to listen to. There were many hosts club in that part of Tokyo where beautiful men would be delighted to attend to her partying needs.
She looked sideways as she passed a house, welcoming the distraction it provided her.
“The Cat’s Eye Café has reopened?”
She had a smile, remembering fondly her stays in this coffee house in the early eighties. At the time, she had been sent by her big sister to attend to some of her family’s affairs with… local small businesses. She had enjoyed chatting with the three sisters managing it, as well as listening to some of the police inspectors that were fond of the place because one of them was the fiancé of the middle sister, Hitomi Kisugi. Then, one day, the sisters had closed the coffee shop, moving to California to find their long-lost father.
She hesitated, wondering if the new manager would be a disappointment, then marched on, soon reaching the door. The place was emptier than it had been in the eighties but it still had the same feeling. The only customers were a teenage girl, maybe eighteen or so and probably of Chinese origin, helping a younger teen with ocean blue hair to do her homework. Ouch… this girl surely is… precocious,
she thought, eying the blue-haired teenager’s obvious chest. It’s probably not easy at school for her, with the added GES.
Joyce felt the presence of the barman, a tanned, bald colossus with black shades and stood agape. She knew that man. She remembered quite well when she met him. Suddenly, she wished for something she thought she had left behind a long time ago. Her eyes quickly scanned for anything she could use as a weapon if needed.
“It’s been long time, Kyrie. Are you here for business?”
“Then, will you have a coffee?”
“Yes, I will,” she said, as she sat at the bar.
Joyce felt an awareness she had been more than happy to bury come back. The older teen at the table had been watching her, her killing intent rising when she heard her old nickname, then lessening when she sat at the bar. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the teen’s position. She was a little more relaxed, but still wary and able to react in less than a second. Joyce felt like crying. She remembered when she had been just like that girl, a tool molded by her asshole father to do… certain tasks. Are her hands as stained as mine were at her age?
Looking at the barman, a man she had met while they were both looking down the barrel of each other’s weapon, she noticed some things in the way he moved. It was really subtle, a true testament to the man’s mastery of his own body but…
“I go by Falcon, now… and you?”
“Just Joyce. You’re blind, right?”
“Yes. I don’t really want to talk about it. From your aura, I guess you left our old world behind you.”
“Yes… married, two daughters. When we met, I rather saw myself ending full of lead in some back alley.”
“What changed? If you want to talk about it.”
“Arlene… Sandfall was killed in Bogota, covering the Don’s escape. Our old ‘friends’ from the Union Teope and… it wasn’t pretty. Lolly and I went on a rampage, finishing what Ryo had begun here then we decided we had enough.”
“I heard someone say my name…” said a man from the coffee shop’s entrance.
Joyce turned. He had aged of course but… he was still the same in so many ways. He still had the same smile, the same mirth in his eyes. She rose and went to hug him… just before she started sobbing.
“Ryo-papa…” asked the eldest of the two teens.
“It’s all right, Xiang-Ying,” said Ryo, still holding Joyce. “She’s an old friend… and yes she is who you think she is.”
Joyce caught the appreciative nod of the teen. No doubt that her ‘education’ had taught her of her youthful deeds.
“Ryo-papa? You?” asked Joyce with a smirk.
“Hem… complicated story,” replied the man while, behind the bar, Umibozu sniggered.
“I’m adopted,” said Xiang-Ying. “I… had enough too. Kurumu-chan,” she added, pointing the blue-haired girl, “on the other hand, is Ryo-papa’s biological daughter.”
Joyce giggled as she caught her old friend’s embarrassment. It seemed like Ryo Saeba’s skirt chasing ways had finally caught him. The part of her that had tried so hard to be a proper housewife knew she should have felt angry at his womanizing, particularly with what Hank was doing to her these days. But it’s different. Ryo chases skirts but doesn’t give his word lightly. No promise further than a night of pleasure… while Hank betrayed me.
“I was about to go meet some acquaintances in a club in Kabuki-cho,” said Ryo. “You want to tag along?”
She had felt Ryo’s hand on her own and the light touch of his fingers on her wedding ring. He had also probably deduced from the way she had hugged him that her marriage was not going well. Always so perceptive… despite all the effort you spend to play dumb.
“Yes… I would like that.”
* Mighty Atom is better known in the West as Astro Boy