Tuesday, December 03, 2002

ok, well here it is. Twenty or so pages, folks.

And when the woman had smiled… she had smiled when Momoko had given her something…
Momoko felt her hand. Her moonstone ring was gone. And that wasn’t a dream
She thought harder but she couldn't remember anymore. She had been fighting Seijaku, and then he had kicked her blaster up toward the ceiling. It must have created an explosion. That explained the memory loss. But her ring was gone.. Her watch... she checked her arm.. her watch was still on her wrist. But what had happened to her ring?
And how had she gotten from the abandoned building to here?
She had lied to Seijaku when she said she had called for backup. She hadn't had a transmitter and it would have taken too long anyway. Even if there was a rescue team sent out, she wouldn't be in her apartment right now. She would be in the hospital.
Her transmitter started buzzing and vibrating from its position on the dresser. It shook so hard that it began to move. Momoko grabbed it before it could fall off.
She looked at the signature. It was the chief, so she turned it on and held it up to her ear. One minute I had Seijaku cornered and the next I’m in my apartment. And I’m missing
“Yes, sir?” she asked.
“Momoko-thank god,” the chief’s voice reverberated over the line, “that explosion- we thought you were dead when we saw it. Nothing in the debris. But this morning I turn on the comm channels for the days shift and yours is still operable. What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t quite know myself, sir,” Momoko leaned against the wall, “-“ she paused and looked at her hand- “I’m missing something.”
“Something valuable? You know, it was probably a street thief. They’ll take anything.”
“Yeah,” Momoko leaned back and sighed, “but if you didn’t find me, sir, who did?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Got any theories?”
Momoko bit her lip.
“No, sir. Looks like my lucky stars were just shining last night.”
“Well, stars or no stars, you’re pretty damn lucky. Let’s hope next time you won’t need it.”
“Amen, sir. I’ll see you at the office.”
“Office? Are you sure you’re up to that, Momoko?”
“Yeah. I’m good. I gotta go do something and then I’ll come in about an hour or so.”
“Ok. Don’t push it, kid.”
“See you, sir,” Momoko hung up the phone and looked at the mirror. She looked a mess, but it wouldn’t be the first time that she had to pull herself together in five minutes. She undressed and whacked the electro shower, stepping out five seconds later. She found a rather oversized and wrinkled uniform in the back of her closet (normally she washed her one in the evening) and grimaced as she pulled gargantuan knots out of her hair.
She checked her watch. Four minutes and twenty seconds. She was getting good.
Her ship was an old ship, even an amateur could tell that. It was made of brushed silver chrome, for when it was built the sun still shone on earth. Only a few high-end models had been built with mirror chrome, and almost all of them had crashed due to their tendency to reflect the sunlight into an oncoming driver’s eyes. By the beginning of the collapse of earth it had become almost taboo to buy such a ship, and so manufacturers had adjusted with no real cost change by changing the mirror chrome to brushed.
That had lasted for about ten years, but then when the sun was blocked out with all finality, the survivors of the earth switched back to the mirrored. It was easier to see on a cloudy sky.
That’s how you could always tell an earth vessel. Bright, mirrored chrome- any color, so long as it stood out. A sophisticated window apparatus to keep a clear view in the constant rain, and super bright headlights. For every planet the ship style fit the conditions.
She hopped in now. The interior was not pretty- two seats and it was a two handed manual control. You didn’t steer any of it with your feet. It was a sleek design, and two thruster jets protruded out and back-the fancier, muscle ships had three.
Momoko opened the door of her apartment garage and threw the ship in gear. It rumbled for a minute and then zoomed off into the gray earth sky.
___
Midori whistled as he walked down the food court of the titan spaceport. Idly he wandered if the food you ate in the database would in any way affect your body outside the database.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a Chiron Bakery. Chiron… it had the best pastries. Or so he had heard at Mars. Some of the kids there had money like you wouldn’t believe. Private ships. Concerts every other night. Imported foods- and pastries from Chiron.
If he tried it now, he wouldn’t have to pay for it.
He walked over to the line. It was long. Eager to practice his newfound skills, he concentrated for a moment on making it shorter.
“Can I get you something, sir?” He was at the head of the line. Everyone else was behind him. The girl at the register was smiling.
“Ummm….” Midori put his hands in his pockets and looked around. ”One of everything,” he said.
“One of everything?” The girl blinked.
“One of everything,” Midori said, and gave her a smile.
“Whoa. Ok,” said the girl, “give me a minute.”
She headed towards the back of the room. Midori didn’t want to wait.
“Here you go,” she said.
She was back. Midori allowed himself a smug grin. He was getting good at this. He took the proffered brown bag full of pastries and sat down at an empty table near the window where you could see out into space. In his opinion Saturn had always been the most beautiful of planets, and so he enjoyed watching as titan plodded along its orbit around the many-ringed planet.
He opened up the bag and pulled out a squarish looking tart with filling. Curious, he bit into it.
“JEEZ THIS TASTES GOOD!” He shouted, causing more than a few people to stare. But it was true, though. The pastry was like heaven on earth. Light and fluffy crust, with a honeyish inside mixed with sesame seeds. He took another bite and another, stuffing it down his mouth. He didn’t care about being a messy eater; he didn’t have to worry about being full. The pastry was everything he expected it to be. He was almost through a second one when he was interrupted.
“You know, in the real world they don’t really taste like that.”
Midori looked up and wiped the honey off of his face. Standing in front of him was an exceptionally tall woman with long, green hair tied back in a ponytail. She had a cherubic face, and Midori couldn’t help but notice that her iris was pure black.
“Are you…” He started to ask, not wanting to be rude.
“I am Android Hoshi, model number 120-3843-3042. I was built by Sun twelve years ago. I am of the make Inea 204. Do require further information about my origins?”
“No,” said Midori, shifting uncomfortably. He had never met an android before.
“Good,” said Hoshi, “May I sit…?” She gestured to the chair across from Midori.
“Sure,” Midori said, and got up and pulled it out for her.
When she had sat down, he asked her.
“What do you mean when you say they don’t taste like that in the real world.”
Hoshi sighed. Midori was amazed at how human her actions were. Even her blinks were right. She looked at him.
“In the database, everything you see is created by your imagination. You see, your image of the titan spaceport looks like this. But my image would look different- and probably be more accurate too, since I am an android. You, however, determine how everything is here. Including,” she pointed to his brown bag, “the pastries. You’ve never tasted them before, so you will simply taste what you think they taste like. Everything,” She picked up Midori’s pastry and bit it, “is perceived. This is too dry, and the inside is cream. This is what a real one looks like,” she held the pastry, and to Midori’s amazement it was filled with white cream instead of honey.
“How…”
“I’m afraid I don’t have time for that right now,” she snapped, “Modifying other’s perceptions is a tricky business, and it takes time, even for someone with a high IQ like you, to learn. I have an assignment from the SA.”
“Already?” Midori said, “I would have thought…”
“This is your fifth hour, Mr. Midori. In such a short time many things must be accomplished. Time in this place is perceived, and so it varies from person to person. Some people experience a whole year here in an hour. The longer a subject is in here, the more distorted their view of time becomes. However, the subject you are about to view is around the same time stretch as you, so you not experience any major discomfort.”
“How do you know it’s been five hours,” Midori asked, “I mean, I know you have an internal clock but-“
“I have been instructed to give you this,” Hoshi said, and she held up a plain sliver watch, “You will know the time it is in the ‘real’ world. You will be given appointments, and this way you will be able to meet them.”
Midori accepted the watch and put it on his left arm.
“Now, Mr. Midori, I am instructed to take you to the next location you need to report at. Please excuse any momentary discomfort. Traveling to a static interface often requires a slight shock to the brain.”
Midori watched as Hoshi stopped moving for a moment; an android’s way, he supposed, of concentrating. Her eyes got a far-off stare, and then all of a sudden he felt a rushing cold sensation run through his body. He doubled up on the floor, but then it disappeared- and he was falling.
“Please get up, Mr. Midori.”
Midori blinked.


Chapter Two: The Past Is Just Data
It is dark at night
The young girl’s radio blares loudly
And the boardwalk is filled
The stars are faint
The doorway of the academy at Titan is quite elaborate; built as to make a lasting impression. It was created from a model conglomeration of the ancient buildings of earth- at least, the ones that survived. The grand arch at the top, for which it is the most noted, was modeled after the coliseum’s arch directly above where the emperor of Rome would sit. The two thick brass doors are taken from the Himeji palace in Japan, and the windows in the sides from the cathedral in Charte.

All this makes for quite an eyesore.

Ugly or not, the door still had the ability to take a person off guard, which was exactly what it had just done to the young cadet who had walked through the door.

He was average height; with the face of a ‘good old boy’ from a 1950’s TV show. His hair was a dark red, braided in the Chinese style. His shirt was starched, his pants neatly pressed, and he smelled of aftershave.

He was also completely taken with the door. He stood there absolutely absorbed, his head tilted back and his eyes gazing towards the ceiling where the plaster molds were taken from the palace of Louis the 14th.

His renevoir, however, was soon broken off. Another cadet, shorter and with albino hair that had been tinged green, came up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He carried papers in his left hand, and it was these he motioned to.

A minute and a half later they were at the sign-in desk.

“Mugen, Tagami,” the first cadet said, handing the women behind the desk the papers. He noticed she had an unusual countenance.

“You are Seijaku Jiten?” she said, looking at the green-haired cadet. He nodded.

“Very good. I will need your signature here- both of you- on this list.”

Mugen signed it and handed the pencil to Seijaku. When he was finished the woman looked them over and filed them.

“Fifth door on the right is the reception hall. There’s a welcoming reception for all new cadets there.”

“Thank you,” Mugen said, and he grabbed his suitcase and Seijaku’s. Seijaku shrugged and followed.

Mugen didn’t say anything. Ever since high school Seijaku had never talked unless he had to, and even then it took some persuasion. He limited himself to yes and no answers, and asked no questions of his own.

Mugen thought it was a very productive way to go about living, and he wasn’t about to stop Seijaku from doing it. Although he did occasionally wish that Seijaku was a little more vocal about what he was thinking. He had made a point leave his acceptance notice to the academy on Mugen’s desk the week before they were going, and that was the first time he ever he talked- well, mentioned- going to the academy. Mugen accepted it as a part of his friend’s eccentric nature and left it at that.

“Hey! What’d she say to you?!”

Mugen spun around. Behind him was a boy with black hair and blue eyes. He looked like a first year cadet as well.

“Who?” Mugen asked.

“The android. At the desk. You signed in. I saw you.”

Mugen blinked, “Android?”

“Yeah. Inea make. Real sweet,” the boy lowered his voice, “She was designed for ‘dancer’ girls and that sort of thing, but her gig was busted last week. The SA took possession.”

“Oh,” Mugen said. He looked down at Seijaku, who was smiling, “I didn’t notice anything. She just was sorta… not human, that’s all.”

“My name’s Mugen,” he said, “This is Seijaku and you are…?”

“Eugene. Just plain Eugene. I’m here for the robotics program,” he looked at Seijaku, “Does he…er… talk?”

“Not really,” Mugen said. Seijaku shrugged.

“Hey! Are you guys going to the assembly?”

“Yeah.”

“Meet me there in a few minutes? I gotta go deliver something from the robotics lab,”

“We’ll save you a seat,” Mugen called out, but Eugene was already down the hall.

“Jeez… Somebody’s hyper.”

Seijaku nodded.

They took some seats in the middle row at the assembly, and Mugen put his suitcase on one to show that it was reserved. Seijaku had started a staring contest with his umbrella. Mugen looked around.

It seemed that other than the door all the rooms he had seen thus far at the academy were largely composed of steel floors and white walls- the epitome of institutional décor. The assembly hall was no exception. Excepting a blue curtain behind the stage, which did little to diffuse the cold light and mechanic atmosphere, the hall could have been an empty gym. Mugen sighed.

“Hey! Thanks for saving me a seat!”

Mugen looked up. It was Eugene.

“Uhh.. sure. No problem, Eugene. Some people wanted it but then Seijaku took out his Glock and started polishing it. They went away.”

Eugene frowned.

“It’s just a joke,” Mugen said, “sit down!”

“Oh, a joke! I get it now. Funny!”

Mugen’s temper was beginning to wane.

“ATTENTION! EVERYONE CALL TO ATTENTION!!”

Fortunately Eugene said no more. Mugen turned his focus to the platform, upon which a tall man in his fifties was standing at a podium. He wore a uniform. Mugen recognized him; he was Teva Hitakova.

“Department head,” he whispered to Seijaku, who nodded and looked up from his suitcase to see what this man was going to say.

Mugen was surprised, because Seijaku gave very few things his full attention. He never needed to, because he was so smart. If he did, it was for no other reason that he was either amused or trying to be respectful.

“I want to thank you all for coming here today,” the man said, “You are the next generation of fighting force, the new infusion of power into the organization. We need you. The SA is an excellent organization, but without you, the people who are willing to dedicate themselves our service, we would be nothing. For this reason I welcome you today.”
Seijaku yawned and leaned back. Mugen guessed he wasn’t interested. Oh well. He continued to listen intently.

“…is not true. The SA united a crumbling race. When the exodus from earth began the major world governments had already reached their crumbling, and left the human race to fend for themselves. But we are an enduring race, and out of the ruins we rose. The crumbling alliance of the terran powers left an elite few men to themselves; I was not one of them, but I was privileged enough to serve under them when they began their crusade to unite humanity peacefully. Before the first space shuttle left the ground a member of what was to become the Solar Introfac had been loaded onto every ship, a whole crew of SA loaded onto the ship bound for Titan, and in the years following we managed to unite the entire solar system- excepting Pluto, of course. They don’t really count.”

There were smiles and laughter. Pluto was the rebel planet that had refused to join the SA and murdered the officer the SA had sent with them. All the other planets had readily welcomed an alliance, for by the time that they were settled and the onboard SA officers discovered, the SA had set up a complex network originating from their headquarters on Titan, through which they controlled and standardized a huge power and food supply, as well as providing transport and medical aid to their members. They represented order and stability, something humanity was in sore need of.

“As a result the human race has finally been able to ‘reach’ the stars. The discovery of fusion power, under the direction of the SA, has allowed us to develop the industrial and manufacturing to heights we never dreamed possible, and the work in robotics done in collaboration with private industry renders us capable of making machines equal to ourselves and capable of helping us as we look ahead into the next era of human history.

“It is with an optimistic mind that I welcome you here today. I feel privileged to be allowed to greet the next generation of people who, I believe, will change the future.”

After the assembly Mugen picked up his suitcase and Seijaku followed suit. They picked up their room assignments from a rather large woman at the front counter. Mugen supposed she was not an android.

“We don’t take requests,” she had told Seijaku when he had motioned that he wanted to room with Mugen. Seijaku had looked at Mugen and Mugen had shrugged. Seijaku had angrily accepted a piece of paper from the woman and stomped down the corridor where his room was.

“Is he going to be ok?” A voice said from behind Mugen.

“Huh?” Mugen spun around, “Oh, Eugene,” he said, recognizing the black hair and regretting it, “He’ll be fine,” he reassured him, “He’ll mope for a little while and then go back to being his normal self- well, his self at the least.”

“Oh,” Eugene said, and looked at the piece of paper in Mugen’s hand, “Hey! You got your room assignment!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Mugen said, and was going to say “What’s it to you?” but before he could Eugene snatched the paper and ran up to the fat lady at the counter.

When he came back he was holding another piece of paper and smiling, “Lab workers get to chose their rooms,” he exclaimed emphatically, “Now we can room together. What do you say, Mugen?”

“Ummm… great,” Mugen said, feeling as if he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

“Excellent! I’ll take the left side, unless you object. I’ve always preferred the left side of rooms. Don’t know why, really. Just have. I’m left handed. Maybe that’s it. Is right okay with you?”

“Umm… sure,” Mugen was doubtful if any side of a room shared with Eugene would be okay.

For the next two hours Mugen unpacked, pulling out clothing and other necessities from the threadbare suitcase he had brought with him. Considering how old it was, however, it was a surprise that this suitcase’s only malady was its thread-bareness.

It had come from earth, an unusual thing, especially on Titan, where quite a bit of manufacturing was done. Most people on Titan only had one or two items from other planets, not to mention earth. But this suitcase had come from earth; it was Mugen’s grandfather’s; and it was this suitcase that he took with him as a young man when he left earth in its final days.

And so now, eighty years later, when Mugen’s grandfather was dead and the spaceships he traveled in long consigned to the scrap bins, this same suitcase led Mugen into a new world.

It was not a kind world; given that. But all things worth doing are rarely under kind conditions, and few people recognize that. Mugen had, however. He had recognized it the day he came to Titan with his little sister, when he was barely five years old. His parents had died in a rare collision between two space liners, and their grandfather had taken Mugen and Enjuku in. He remembered the SA man who came to the door to the house on Io, knocking on the door. And when only Mugen had answered he took Mugen and Enjuku, putting them in his spaceship and taking them to Titan.

Mugen remembered the first time he had come to Titan- they had landed in the main city, Lesis, and the SA officer had taken them to go get some food while the registrations were processed and the SA located Mugen’s grandfather.

The sky on Titan had no clouds, but it was forever occupied by its father planet, Saturn, in at least half of its sky. Mugen remembered looking up at it for the first time, trying to reach it. He remembered the SA man laughing, and then leading him past the gate into the city. He remembered being amazed.

Lesis was a city planned and designed by the famous architect Techn Kevel long before it was ever built, but it was not Techn’s incredible foresight, or his excellent and economical street design, that made the city of Lesis so attractive. It was Titan itself.

The buildings on titan shone. It wasn’t a reflective shine, it was almost as if they generated their own light. Mugen was later to learn the reason: Titan’s atmosphere contained a gas that, when it was absorbed by silicon based objects( which it bonded with frequently) it gave off a phosphorescing light. Silicon was the prevalent building material, and so shining buildings were the prevalent building type.

But Mugen was only four then, and so when the door had open and he had stepped out into the bright sunlight, holding the SA man’s left hand, he looked and did not think ‘phosphorescing buildings’. He looked and thought ‘heaven’. And he asked the SA man if he could see his parents here.

And so in a city he had once supposed to be the home of angels he grew up; he loved the city down to its very roots. And when he learned that the city had been built by the SA, he learned to love the SA.

He figured that anything that could make a place as beautiful as this had to be good; he supposed that the SA was something to which he should be grateful. And he was.

This feeling grew into support when the SA offered to pay for his college education after his grandfather died, wherever he should chose to go, so long as he got accepted and kept good grades. He wasted a year as an art major at Lesis University, which he had chosen simply because he loved the city and was decent at drawing. Then he decided to grow up, and he joined the SA.

And so, a week before he was to leave, while he was packing, Seijaku had come in and discreetly put his own acceptance letter on Mugen’s desk, smiling at the shocked expression on his friend’s face, pausing only long enough to shrug.

Eugene had, fortunately, gone off to repair a broken server, so Mugen had some peace and quiet for the rest of the afternoon. He folded up his spare uniform neatly and stowed it away in the metal dresser next to his bead (on the right side), turning his attention to the only remaining item in the suitcase.

It was a bright red phonograph, with gold lettering on the sides. Mugen only had one track that it could play, but he enjoyed it so much it didn’t matter. Besides, he only played the phonograph when others weren’t around. He considered it a rather private thing.

It had belonged to his father, who had picked it up on Mercury. It was an exchange for a summer’s worth of hard labor in the crystal mines, but Mugen’s father had considered it worth anything the moment he saw it. He had spent the summer sweating in the mines, and by the end he had found enough of the pure Myrian crystal to buy the red spaceship in dry-dock d. Mugen’s father raced spaceships, and this spaceship was perhaps one of the fastest ever built. As he walked down the streets of the market, he planned how he would race it in all the most prominent competitions and win prize money, allowing him to move to Europa and spend his life at ease, in days of long baths and large pitchers of wine.

He had turned his head to the side for a few moments, taking in the sights; for this was the last time he would be on Mercury for a long time.

And then he had seen her.

A simple girl, with black plaited hair and a pink cotton kimono- barefoot. She was standing at the doorway of a small house on the side of the road, picking up a bouquet of white lilies she had dropped on the ground. Mugen’s father had stopped, turned, ran to her, and picked up all the flowers before she could refuse, rearranging them so they looked like they hadn’t fallen down at all.

The girl had simply smiled.

With a shy mien she had accepted the bouquet, and walked back into the house. Mugen’s father had realized that she had dropped her handkerchief, and he picked it up to examine the embroidery on it.

Danielle Nakamura.

Blinking, he realized he had just met the girl of his dreams. He had never believed in love at first sight, but now he did. His heart sang as he ran down the streets, full of rapture at discovering, in a single moment, what everybody longs to discover; the part of them they have always been missing.

Later, on a walk down a different street, he would hear music playing from a merchant’s stand, and he would stop to listen. It sounded like an opera, and he would think that somebody was selling copies of the song.

But when he met the merchant and discovered the source of the music, it became apparent to him that what the merchant was selling was not copies of the track of Turin do.
Instead he was selling a much more valuable item. It was a bright red box, and in it spun a disk. When you wound the crank on the side the disc would go around and around, and then music would spill out of the box.

Mugen’s father asked him where he got it.

The merchant had a smile on his face. Ahh, it was very rare! An antique, and an old one at that. Centuries upon centuries old. Why, it was very possibly the only one left. Had this one not been saved by the Nakamura family-

Mugen’s father interrupted him. What did he mean by Nakamura?

The merchant told the boy. Surely he knew the story of the fall of the great Nakamura family? They were one of the richest families after the destruction of earth. They invested all their money in real estate on Io- a smart choice, it seemed, for Io was one of the closest worlds and easiest to settle. They had not known about the destructive fires that plagued the planet. And so, when the planet took up one of its deadly annual rains, it destroyed all of the buildings the Nakamuras had bought. It also destroyed their fortune. The family had moved to Mercury, where living was cheap, and sold most of their possessions.

Mugen’s father wondered how important the box was to them?

It was the little girl’s, said the merchant, her mother owned it before she died long ago, and her mother owned it before her. An old, old box. It was one of the last things they sold.

Mugen’s father looked mournfully at the money in his pocket, which he had intended for the spaceship.

Ten minutes later he was at the doorstep of the girl’s house. He knocked on the door and she answered. She looked questioningly at the wrapped box he had in his hand. He motioned for her to open it, and she had begun to cry when she saw what was inside.

A year later they were married.

The last song was almost at its end now. Mugen looked at the disc, watching it spin. Round and round. He checked his watch. It was getting late. He would go check on Seijaku, who he hoped had calmed down by now, and then polish his boots before he went to bed. He supposed his first day of training was not going to be easy.
___

“ATTENTION!! ALL CADETS TO ATTENTION!” Mugen stood up straight, as straight as he could. ‘Dr. Pepper’, the drill sergeant, was rumered to be particularly nasty. He was nicked named after an old soft drink, for some ridiculous reason Eugene had mention but which Mugen couldn’t remember. His overly friendly roommate had spent the twenty minutes the cadets were given to prepare for inspection babbling about him, while Mugen straightened up his bed and polished his boots.

Surprisingly, Eugene was totally silent during inspection. Mugen didn’t think that was possible, although he had considered that perhaps he was exaggerating Eugene’s talkativeness. It was entirely plausible, since the last ten years of his life had been spent with a friend that didn’t talk.

“CADET!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” Mugen’s reverie was interrupted by an image of Dr. Pepper screaming in his face. Only too late he realized what had happened. He had left his head staring intently at a girl far away in the window to his right.

“Nothing, sir!” Mugen turned it back as quickly as possible.

“Yeah, I’ll bet it was nothing,” Dr. Pepper looked at the window, but the girl was gone. “Was she pretty?” He asked. The gruff tone didn’t leave his voice even when he spoke normally.

“She was okay, sir,” Mugen said nervously.

There was laughter.

“Then don’t waste your time on her,” Dr. Pepper stopped at the end of the hallway of beds. More laughter. The cadets were relieved to learn that their commander was, although he didn’t appear to be, human. “Enough,” said Dr. Pepper, and they quieted down.

“I just want to make a little statement to those of you,” Dr. Pepper crossed his arms and looked at the cadets, “to those of you that joined because you had nothing else to do with your lives.”

Mugen knew he wasn’t one of these. He had joined the SA for a better reason than that. He had joined because he was dedicated.

“I’m sure you’ve all heard it one time or another; if you don’t have anything better to do with your lives, join the army. Well, I’m here to tell you different. This is no walk on Venus. It’s not fun. You have to work hard. Some of you are gonna get tired, and some of you are gonna get injured, and some of you are gonna quit. Some out of every class drops out. So if you’re not gonna try, then you might as well not waste my time. You might as well leave now.”

The cadets stood silent.

“Well, no quitters then?” The sergeant chuckled, “That’ll change real fast. First on the agenda for today: sparring.”


“We spar before breakfast,” said Dr. Pepper as Mugen bowed off to his opponent, a rather bulky man named Jean Kiro, “It keep you hungry for blood.”

Jean was about a foot taller than Mugen, and a lot meaner looking. Furthermore, Jean looked like he had spent a lot of time in the gym, while Mugen couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a bench press. Probably sophomore year.

He bent his knees slightly and rooted himself to the ground. He wondered what he was going to do. Nothing, he supposed. It would probably be better to let Jean come to him.

Sure enough, Jean advanced with a jab to the head. Mugen just barely managed to block it with his left hand. He hadn’t, however, taken into account what was to follow. Jean rushed in with a punch to the ribcage under his blocking arm.

“JEEZ!” Mugen cried, and he fell to floor. One of his left ribs gave a sickening crack. He tried to nurse it, and rubbed it gently-

It didn’t work. “ITAI!” He screamed, writhing in pain, “That hurt!

“Stop whining. You sound like my goddam baby sister,” Mugen looked up. It was Dr. Pepper.

“Yes, sir,” he gulped.

“Now get up.”

Mugen sheepishly got up, brushing off the dust from the mats.

“Where did he hit you?”

Mugen pointed weakly to his left side.

“Ah, broke a rib, did he?” Dr. Pepper grinned, “I’ve seen worse. You’ll be fine. Walk in off in a week.”

Mugen stared at him in astonishment.

“This isn’t preschool, cadet! We don’t give you a Band-Aid for all your little boo-boos, understand? Now get back up and try again!”

“Yes, sir,” Mugen got back up into his ready position.

“No! You’re much to tense! Loosen up!” Pepper shouted.

Mugen tried to relax, but found it difficult. Jean was panting like a bull.

“RELAX, DAMMIT! I COULD BREAK EVERY BONE IN YOUR BODY THE WAY YOU’RE STANDING!”

Mugen began to shake. Dr. Pepper sighed.

“Now, look,” he said, in a much softer voice, “hold your feet farther apart.”

Mugen did so.

“That’s better. Now bend your knees more. Just like that.”

Mugen smiled.

“That’s it. Now you gotta relax, ‘cause if you’re tense I can break your bones real easy. Try to imagine you’re somewhere you really like.”

Mugen closed his eyes and began to envision-

“DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES!”

Mugen opened his eyes.

“Where are you?” Dr. Pepper asked.

“The gateway of Lesis. South side.”

“Ok. Now in a minute, Jean here is gonna attack you. Stay on the balls of your feet, and stay relaxed. What are you gonna do when he tries to hit you?”

“Block it,” Mugen said.

“No, you aren’t. He’s much to strong for that. You’re gonna move out of the way, cause you can move fast now. You’re on the balls of your feet. And then you’re gonna hit him.”

Mugen stared blankly.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Go!”

Mugen bowed off to Jean. Then he moved his feet apart and bent his knees. He tried to imagine the gateway of Lesis.

WHAM! Jean hit him right to the head. It hurt. Mugen massaged it painfully.

Well he hadn’t fallen down. He’d just have to imagine faster.

Bow off, and then-
WHAM!

Mugen sighed and looked at the bruise on his left arm. Oh well.

Bow off, and-
WHAM!
BANG!
“OOWWW!!” A voice cried out in pain. All faces turned to Mugen, only it wasn’t him. It was Jean, who lay on the floor, curled up in pain.

Eugene ran up to Mugen, who was nursing his right elbow.

“What happened, man? I thought you were gonna get creamed.”

“I did,” Mugen said, and pointed to a bruise which was purpling on his forehead, “And I was, until he tried that same stupid combination on me for the third time, and I punched him out,” He pointed to writhing mass of humanity on the floor.

“Better call Dr. Pepper,” Eugene said, “he looks pretty bad.”

“What, he isn’t here?” Mugen said, “He didn’t see me?”

“No way, man. He left after he showed you the counter. Guess he thought you’d be ok.”

____

The speaker in the hallway blared loudly, but it could hardly be heard over the chatter of cadets rushing to the cafeteria. Lunchtime, Mugen had learned, was a precious piece of time, and not a moment of it was to be wasted.

He was in his fourth year, and this was to be the last time he ate in the cafeteria. Today the graduates received their new assignments as officers of the SA. Mugen wondered where he would be sent.

He wouldn’t find out if he couldn’t find out where to pick up his assignment. There was too much chatter in the hall. He was about to shout loudly at the first years for making too much noise, but then-

“HEY! MUGEN!”

“EUGENE!” Mugen turned around to see Eugene thirty feet away, wading in a sea of cadets.

“HEY! I PICKED UP YOUR ASSIGNMENT FOR YOU!”

“COME OVER HERE!”

“OKAY!”

Mugen barely managed to grab onto a nearby wall as a fresh wave of cadets poured into the hallway. He supposed they must be in Mr. Ventura’s class. That man always made the class stay late.

“Hey,” Eugene was at his side, “Where’s Seijaku?”

“I don’t know. I saw him with some chic before weapons yesterday.”

Eugene was incredulous, “You did? Seijaku? I mean, I just don’t see that-“

“-happening,” Mugen finished the sentence for him, “I know. I don’t either. But in a way, I could see how a girl could fall for him. He’s short, kind of pet like-“

“You mean like a rotweiler?”

Mugen glared, “I was thinking more along the lines of a small puppy or cat.”

“Yeah, if they carry a machine gun, ” Eugene was grinning shamelessly.

“Continuing on-“ Mugen started, but he was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. “What?” He demanded, spinning around angrily, expecting it to be some stupid first year who needed directions. It was Seijaku, smiling sheepishy.

“How long have you been standing there?” Mugen demanded. Seijaku looked as if he was going to laugh, but Mugen knew he wouldn’t. It was one of those things he just never did.

Eugene, however, did laugh. Mugen punched him in the nose. He stopped.

“Watch it, man,” he said, massaging his nose, “not all of us won the championship sparring match.”

Seijaku pulled on Mugen’s sleeve and waved a piece of paper at him. Mugen caught it.

“Earth. New York Division. Well, have fun man. I’m staying right here. I put in a request – hopefully they’ll meet it.”

“Think again,” Eugene said, “You’re going too.” He handed Mugen another piece of paper, this time with his name printed on the top.

Mugen stared at it in disbelief. Underneath his name, next to the word ‘assignment’, was printed exactly what was on Seijaku’s paper: Earth. New York Division.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” he demanded, swirling around to look at Eugene.

“Don’t look at me,” Eugene said, “I got sent there too.” He held up his paper in front of Mugen, “See- it reads Earth, New York Division right there.”

“I can tell what it says, Eugene,” Mugen growled, “what I want to know is why we- we three cadets, who all put it transfers for places other than New York- get sent there.”

“I don’t know,” Eugene said. Seijaku shrugged.

“Ok, well I’m going to find out,” Mugen declared. He snatched the transcript out of Eugene’s hand, and, with all three papers, he marched down the hall way to Dr. Pepper’s office.

“Somebody’s angry,” Eugene remarked, watching him trail off.

Seijaku put his hands in his pocket and shrugged.

“Don’t you ever do anything other than shrug?” Eugene looked at him, “I mean a hello, or a ‘yeah, you’re right Eugene’ would be nice once in a while. Even once a year! Just some acknowledgement other than a shrug! What do you think?”

Seijaku shrugged.
___

Since the sparring incident on his first day at the academy, Mugen had learned to respect his drill sergeant Dr. Pepper. Even in his senior year, when drill sergeants do not play a significant role in cadet’s training, Mugen found himself constantly seeking the Dr.’s help. Sure, he was rough around the edges, but he was always honest. Mugen knew he could get the straight story from him.

At this moment, however, he was fuming with rage at him. As he walked down the hallway, he meditated on how to best impress upon Dr. Pepper his feelings. By the time he was near the office, he had decided it would be best to throw the door open and shove the transcripts in Pepper’s face and demand an answer. This was not, however, what happened.

The door to Dr. Pepper’s office was a bright red door, and over it hung a wooden plaque with two words in latin: SIEMPRE FIDEL. Mugen never knew what the words meant, but he had been told they were from an old earth military force dating back to the 20th century.

Oh well. No matter. Whatever the words were that Dr. Pepper had posted over his door, Mugen was going to make him regret botching up his assignment. Why, he-

“Come in, Mr. Tagami,” Mugen blinked. Dr. Pepper was standing right in front of him, holding open the door, “or should I say Private Tagami now?”

Mugen smiled sheepishly, “Whichever you prefer, sir.”

Dr. Pepper walked over to his desk and sat down. He motioned for Mugen to sit in the chair opposite him. Then he reached into one of his desk drawers and pulled out a small booklet. It looked to Mugen like a data display.

“Well, Private- that’s what I’ll call you, ‘cause that’s what you are now, and you worked real hard for it,” Dr. Pepper said, “how’s life outta school? You happy with graduation? You and your buddies got anything,” he raised an eyebrow, “planned?”

Mugen grinned. He knew all about the sort of things that happened on graduation night.

“No, sir,” he said, “Seijaku’s got a girl, I think… seems kinda strange, tell you the truth. But we don’t really go to those places. Went once, I think. Girl named Lucy. She smelled like cheap whiskey, to be honest, and she didn’t look too good either. I left before much happened. Eugene threw up all his wine, and I had to carry him home with Seijaku smirking the whole way. Wasn’t very fun. Don’t think I’ll try it again.”

Dr. Pepper smiled, exposing some yellow teeth, “Smart lad,” he said, “my buddies and I, we weren’t as smart as you. But I think we had a bit more fun.” He pushed a button on the side of the data display. “Take a look. I once had my way with the ladies- didn’t always look this bad,” he smiled, “here’s a picture of me and my buddies on graduation night- before we got drunk.” He handed over the display. Mugen held it close.

On it was a picture dating back about forty years. There were five men in the picture, standing in a bar near the counter. The waitress was hugging one of them, and the man next to the one being hugged was most definitely Dr. Pepper. The face was less wrinkled, and the hair a different color, but it was unmistakably him.

“When I joined, the cadets didn’t have any choice as to where they were sent when they graduated,” Dr. Pepper said, “It was sink or swim. You either went there or you quit. A lot of people quit, but most stayed on. Found out they could do what they came here to do almost anywhere.”

“Sir?”

“Why did you join the SA, Mugen?”

Mugen looked at him, confused.

“Tell me,” Dr. Pepper said.

“I-I joined because I thought it was the right thing to do,” Mugen started, “you know when you get this feeling, like, like you know you should do something? Like you’re destined for it? Well, that’s how I felt about the SA. I came to Lesis when I was four, and you know what I thought about it? I thought it was heaven. It was that beautiful to me. And when I learned what ran the city, what was its very backbone. The SA ran it. Any organization that could make something that beautiful deserved my time and support.”

“It wasn’t just the way the buildings shone or how the sun reflected on the lake in the morning. At least, it became more than that. In the beginning that was all it was. But it became more as I got older. I studied a lot about government when I was in high school. I knew the signs of a well functioning one. And when I really started to look closer, I saw all these signs in the SA. Everyone here, sir, for the most part, is content. I don’t walk down the street and see homeless people. We have a very low crime rate. People have life expectancies over a hundred because we can provide our senior citizens with free health care. We have an awesome school system- sir! I mean, take a look around you! How could anyone not want to join the SA?”

“I must admit, though, that at first it took me a long time to realize this. I saw all the signs, and I recognized what a good government we had, but it never really clicked in me until one day my freshman year in college. I had been sitting there doing this drawing for my animation class, thinking how stupid and pointless the subject matter was, when it clicked in me; I could be doing something important with my life every day. I could help people every day.”

“A nice story,” Dr. Pepper said, leaning back in his chair, “Now I’ll ask you: do you really believe in what you just said?”

“Well, yeah,” Mugen replied, “I never would have said it if I didn’t.” He thought for a moment, “If you’re trying to tell me that I’m supposed to go help people on earth, just forget it. You can take your transcript and shove it. Lesis is my city. I live, I breathe, I die Lesis. This is where I want to be- at the very heart at the SA.”

“And New York is not the heart of the SA?” Dr. Pepper looked at him questioningly, “Where is the heart of the SA?”

“Here,” Mugen said, “It’s here. All the people, all the equiptment, all the facilities- they’re all here! Why do you think this is where they put the academy? Because it wasn’t the heart of the SA? No!”

Dr. Pepper smiled.

“What?” Mugen demanded.

“You’re right,” said Dr. Pepper, “absolutely, positively right. I mean, all those other places, they don’t matter, ‘cause they’re not the heart of the SA, you know?”

“That’s not what I meant!” Mugen slammed his fist down on the table.

“I know,” said Dr. Pepper, and he sat up straight now, “but Mugen, I want you to understand something. You know I’m the one that canceled that transcript request.”

“You made it pretty obvious. Only a cadet’s drill sergeant can change it. But how did you change Seijaku’s?”

Dr. Pepper grinned, “I had to pull a lot of strings for that one. This means a lot to me, kid. I’ve seen you and Eugene work together. I’ve seen you and Seijaku work together. That’s why I’m sending you, as a team, to New York.”

“That place is a hell hole!” Mugen cried.

“I know,” said Dr. Pepper, “would you believe, that at its height, it was once comparable to Lesis?”

“Sir?”

“New York is an ancient city, Mugen. It was founded with the colonization of America. I can’t remember the exact date. It reached its peak somewhere in the 23rd century and after that began to decline. It housed over 4 billion people then- think, Mugen, that’s almost one fifth of the current population. Unfortunately for it Earth fell and it disintegrated into chaos. It’s one of the few places left on Earth that is still inhabited and under SA jurisdiction.”

“Earth is a hotspot for conflict. New York doubly so. But the people there are real people- they’re not like those rich bastards on Europa or those self appointed intellectuals in Makartl off Venus’s coast.

“I’m not sending you there because I think it’s a valuable place for the SA. I don’t think it is nor do I ever think it will be again. It had its time, and now it’s fallen like all great empires. Nothing lasts forever. The real reason I’m sending you there is so that you can get something out of it.”

“Oh great,” Mugen said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “teach me, sifu.”

Dr. Pepper ignored him. “You will get something out of it,” he barked. “You will not come back until you do. I have permission from the general to hold you there as long as I deem necessary.”

“This is not fair!” Mugen shouted. “I won sparring championship three years in a row. Seijaku knows more about explosives and terriorist warfare than I- or anyone else for that matter- want him to know. And Eugene spends his spare time in conversation with the AI personality on the computer that he built himself! You can’t do this to us!”

“I can and I have,” Dr. Pepper said, “The matter is closed. You and your companions will remain on earth until I say you can leave. If you try to escape we will find you and send you back.”

“But-“ Mugen began.

“No buts, Private. That is a direct order. Now stand up straight and stop whining. You sound like a goddam girl!”

Glaring, Mugen stood up and faced Dr. Pepper. He’d show that stuck up sergeant- he’d be back in two months flat. No matter that soul-searching crap. He’d be the best e could be- and screw Dr. Pepper right over.

“Yes, sir!” he cried, and saluted.

“Very well then,” Dr. Pepper said, “be on your way then. Oh, and by the way-“ he said with a smile, “I think there’s a Porte’ Roussau by the door with your name on it. Be a shame not to drink it on your graduation night.”

That trick wouldn’t work on Mugen. He did, however, make an effort to mask his anger for the moment. By the door was indeed a bottle of pure Neptunian wine. He walked over and picked it up. Faking a smile, he turned around to Dr. Pepper.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, and tipped the glass at him before walking out the door.

“Hey, Mugen!” Eugene appeared out of nowhere as soon as the door was shut, Seijaku behind him.

“What were you guys doing?” Mugen demanded.

“Ummm…nothing. Just a little creative acquisition of information,” Eugene held up a listening device.

“You know you can get busted for listening in on other people’s conversations, Eugene.”

Eugene grinned, “Yeah, probably,” he said, “No luck, eh? Oh well.” He sighed, “Earth’s okay, I guess. I just wish we had been sent somewhere- somewhere-“

“With more robots?” Mugen suggested. Eugene threw a punch at him. He blocked it.

Seijaku smiled.

“Hey, no comments from the peanut gallery,” Eugene said to him.

“I don’t think he was commenting,” Mugen remarked.

“Can it,” Eugene growled, and marched down the hall, leaving Seijaku and Mugen standing alone.

Seijaku looked at Mugen.

“I don’t know where he’s going,” Mugen said, “probably off to flirt with some android girl, and then to talk Socrates with his computer. Too bad I didn’t show him this- he probably would have stayed.” Mugen held up the bottle of Porte Rousssau, “Nice stuff, this. Pepper’s trying to win me over. Well, that won’t work. Not after the shit he pulled with me.”
___

“No, I’m not quite sure why they’re being sent here,” the voice echoed over the line. Transmission from earth was bad, and inside a steel walled building doubly so. Kenji cursed.

“Can’t you at least send me their files, sir? If I have to supply weapons for four – sorry, three new men, I’m gonna have to know their shooting style.”

“The standard issue will do just fine, Kenji. And no custom makes. And no silencers.”

“What about-“

“No.”

“But you havn’t even seen it yet!’

“That’s irrelevant. The answer is no. The transport ship will arrive at 08:00 hours. Be ready.” The line clicked.

Kenji sighed. Commander Miridian didn’t understand the importance and fine work involved in a man’s own weapon. You didn’t just take any old thing off the shelf and say, “here. Use this. It shoots bullets.” It would be like making everybody wear the same shoe.

Ah well. One week from now and they wouldn’t have to deal with Miridian any more! He was being sent to Venus, and Fromm then on the single manned outpost on earth-New York Central Station- would be sent its instructions by telecom.

In the meantime Kenji had a lot to do. If from now on all orders were going to be routed by the same frequency hae had just used to talk to Jpohnson, then something had to be done about the feedback in the background. Hmmm. He could set up a station behind the wall, but that was going to take a while. Oh well. He didn’t care what Miridian said. He would prepare the weapons when the recruits got here, and in the meantime he would work on the receiver station. Heck, he would probably ed up giving them different weapons anyway.

He went into the office and retrieved a storage box. Opening it up, he removed a screwdriver and a wrench. The station was hundreds of years old, so Kenji felt safer using old fashioned tools on it as compared to the newer ones. He looked up at the ceiling and imagined what the building was like at its height. Even now it was beautiful, with its gilded foil and aluminum ceiling, its majestic columns. Years of dust covered most of it, though, and Kenji wondered how much more glorious it would look shined- with people all around.

“Must have been some place,” he said aloud, and, jumping over a railing, pulled out a screwdriver and a saw and slowly started to work tubes for the wiring.

A half an hour of work equaled twelve centimeters of wall and about 4 bandaids for his hand. Kenji wasn’t the greatest person with a saw, and the bits of wall he cut down kept falling on. He supposed he should work where the bits would fall beneath him, but unfortunately he wasn’t ten feet tall.

When the SA had established this base over 100 years ago, the technology had been quite different. The higher up you placed your receiver, the better reception you got. Now, of course, it didn’t matter.

“And heaven forbid they should make it an aerial base,” Kenji muttered to himself as he nursed another hand wound.

Aerial establishments, although now unnecessary because of the vast availability of land, were once earth’s only way to house its ever growing population. With the development of casual and accessible air flight came the development of pedestrian buildings suspended in the air. High up enough to allow for privacy, yet low enough to be a part of the city, these small saucer shaped buildings formed a literal haze over large cities. Although many were damaged or vandalized, at least 10,000 of various sizes were left over New York. They were, however, all abandoned. Fuel wasn’t cheap, and the ground was closer.

Kenji guessed he was about four more hours away from the receiver at the rate he was going. He considered taking a break but then decided he’d better not. “Leave it to the bastards to send me wire that couldn’t withstand the outdoors,” he grumbled, but he knew that he had been lucky to even get the wire. The type he was using went out of production 20 years ago, and Kenji understood why. It couldn’t be left outside, it only lasted for five years and then it completely eroded with the air, and it was very corrosive.

“Not to mention it’s damn annoying to work with,” Kenji gritted his teeth and he pulled off another bandage with one hand. He had poked himself with the wire again.

He had climbed about 20 feet now, inside the walls of Grand Central. He was narrowly balanced on a ledge. All he had to do was get a little higher and he could get to the connector port.
“Just a little higher-“ He said, trying to grasp a possible handhold. He missed.

“Damn,” he cursed, and slammed his boot onto the ledge. It crumbled.

He tried to grab on but couldn’t. He fell, sliding down with a pile of rubble.

Blackness…

___

Cold. Everywhere. Wetness… he was floating in a sea… a sea…

“NO, Seijaku. No more water.”

Kenji blinked.

“Hey! Eugene! He’s come around!” It was that same voice again…

“Be down in a minute. God, this guy really muddled the transceiver…”

Kenji felt angry. He couldn’t punch the person who said because he couldn’t see them, so he decided to go for verbal abuse. He opened his mouth to speak-

A torrent of water spilled all over him.

“Seijaku, I said NO MORE. Look at the mess! Go get a towel, man.”

“So what if you don’t know where they are! Go find one!”

Kenji experimentally lifted an arm. It felt fine. He tried pulling himself up- slowly. He blinked some more to get the water out of his eyes. His vision was almost back. He rubbed one of his eyes. The other. He could see perfectly.

Kneeling in front of him was an officer about his age- say, 22, with dark red braided hair. Not as tall as he was, but all the same rather tall. Or maybe it was just the exceptional shortness of the officer next to him- only about 4 feet 8 inches. This guy was holding a towel. Kenji figured it was to him that he owed the favor of being drenched in water.

He wondered where the second voice had come from- it had sounded far away.

“Eugene’s got a new transceiver unit he’s installing,” the red-haired officer said, “I think the other one crash landed with you and he has to use some of the parts cause he forgot the adapter.”

“I have one in the toolbox,” Kenji said.

“You mean this one?” asked the officer, holding up what looked to be a flattened piece of tin foil.

“Oh,” Kenji said.

“You are one lucky devil,” said the officer, “If you hadn’t landed exactly the way you did, you’d be dead.”

“I’m sure,” Kenji said, “but I think I’m ok.

correction. 26 pages ^-^

Thursday, October 31, 2002

The music in the room was bright. It floated in on golden wings, pausing only lightly over the cupboard, darting away from the mirror; only leaving a momentary glimmer in the window. It flitted over on to the bed, slowly coming up, until it was picked up and caught.
Momoko woke up with a start. Someone had turned on music in the apartment. Why had...?

Then it all came back to her... in stilted and surreal images. A woman, tall and fair, with troubled eyes. Those eyes... they were so sad...
But the woman wasn't real. It was just a dream. So who had turned on the music?

Momoko decided to go and investigate. She sprang up with a start, her light and agile body having recovered quickly from the damages that had been inflicted upon her not a day ago. She turned on the light, for it was still dark out, and walked up to the entry. She looked in and saw that somebody had turned on her old phonograph- an antique from nineteenth century earth.

Turindo, a japanese opera, was playing. A woman was singing, her voice clear and strong, ringing into the next room and out of the apartment. Momoko wandered if the neighbors could hear it.

She left it playing. It had been a long time since she had heard the old phonograph play. It was, she thought, quite beautiful. Music played on the digital devices didn't seem as... real. There was something about a record, that you could hold in your hand and had to use special equiptment, that was so much better than the digital even though the sound quality wasn't nearly comparable.

She remebered when she had first gotten it. She had been sixteen... it was her first real christmas. She had never even heard of it before, and since she was in training at the academy, she didn't expect any presents at all. But she had gotten one. Suzume had given it to her. He had been tall, and had strawberry colored hair. He worked part time at the academy...

"Chin up," he had said to her, during a sparring session.

Momoko lifted her chin. She looked at him and waited.

He threw a roundhouse kick. She dodged and made for the side of his head, but he was ready and he grabbed her wrist and threw her down.

"JEEZ!" She had shouted.

"You already tried that counter," he had said simply, folding his hands behind his back, "try to vary your moves. A good opponent will know when you're going to repeat a move."

She had laid back with a sigh, not motivated to get up.

"This is hour number three," she groaned.

He offered her a hand.

"You've got to be kidding me," she had said, and closed her eyes, "I need a nap."

"Not sparring," he said, "I promise."

She looked at him skeptically. He motioned for he to get up. She did so.

"Do you know what day it is today?" He had asked her.

"December 25," she said, "why?"

"It's more than just December 25. It's Christmas."

Momoko blinked, "And this means... what?"

"Christmas started at as an early religious celebration but now it's a day to spend with your family. I figure we're as close as family as anybody," he grinned, "Close as to brother and sister as possible. So I bought you a present," he had handed her a wrapped box.

"Nice," she had said.

"Open it! You're supposed to tear the wrapping!" He exclaimed.

Inside had been the phonograph. He had showed he how it worked, and they had spent the rest of the day listening to Turindo. They watched the people go by outside, watched the cadets spar, the new recruits salute off for inspection.

Those were the good days. Then, one day, Suzume hadn't shown up for class. Momoko had asked, but she had only gotten bogus answers in return and a lot of forwards up the buerocratic ladder chain with no true end. Suzume had never said anthing about a family, so Momoko couldn't try to find him that way. She looked for a long time, for Suzume had been like a brother to her. In the end she had never found him.

There was something about that woman, though, that reminded her of Suzume and her days back at the academy... those eyes..

They weren't the same color; that wasn't it... but there was something about them.. they burned.
Burning eyes.

Momoko rushed over to the silver plate at her bedstand. Normally she took off all her jewelry here, but last night she hadn't. Last night....

to be continued. I have a HUGE test tomorrow and then... totemo hima ga arimasu yo!

Thursday, October 24, 2002

A formal apology to everyone who actually bothers to read this *sighs*. Now that I've gotton all the characters and beganning scenes set up, I need to do a little editing and see where I am and where I want to go next. Please email me comments about the story. I really, really would appreciate them. But if you say stuff like 'you suck' then I will have to post your email for all to see in its stupidity.

Expect nice long posts in about November. I might add in a few scenes before then, but don't hold your breath.

Monday, October 21, 2002

The moon on titan is a bright moon, a lustrous moon which shines forever blue into the clear night sky, for on Titan there is no such thing as a cloudy night. You can always see the stars.

And it was under these same stars and this same moon that Enjuku waited on the top of a tall building, staring off into the glittering sky. In the distance she could see smoke drifting off int4o the sky- for tonight was the night upon which the inhabitant of titan were to celebrate the escape from the mother planet, and they would burn huge piles of smouldering papers, letting the smoke drift up into the sky. Enjuku knew because she had been there many times. She watched the horizon from where the smoke was coming. Nearby was the acclaimed ISA database- it held the every bit of knowledge the escapees had manged to salvage from earth. And it contained records of every single person that the ISA managed to get records of- about 90% of the population.

Enjuku knew she wasn't in those files. It was for the same reason that she was waiting her tonight. Watching.

How many more nights until freedom?

How many more nights until she became more than a whisper on the wind, a token shadow in the city?

How many more nights until she could give up her aninimity, and... live?

How many?

"You know, they say that of you manage to see all the stars at once, in one single moment, then you'll vanish and join the inmmortals."

Enjuku spun around. Behind her was a tall man, a little under six and a half feet. He had an composed sort of cluncky pose that was self conscious all the same, and his hair was bright chesnut brown, long and braided like a chinese soldier's. His clothes, a white dress shirt with rolled up sleeves and blue suit pants, didn't fit him right. To top it all off he has wearing cowboy boots. His whole appareance looked so disjointed that Enjuku almost found herself laughing.

It must have shown in her eyes for the man just grinned.

"You can thank your brother for the boots. I used to have nice respectable shoes until he shot a hole in them," the man lifted up his foot, "Right here," he pointed, "lucky they were steel bottomed- otherwise I'd have a hole in my foot right now."

"My brother," Enjuku started, "you know my brother? You wouldn't be-"

"Kenji Hoatzin, the one and only, at your service," Kenji said with a bow.

Enjuku giggled.

Kenji looked at her, "what are you doing here, anyway? The night is for sleeping and dreaming, not walking on building tops."

"I am watching the Monosugoi festival," she answered tartly, "and you are one to talk-- you are here as well."

"I have a job to do," Kenji said, and he pulled a small transmitter and a pair of eyescopes.

"Hmph," Enjuku said. She stared out at the horizon.

Kenji saw her and shrugged. He put the pair of eyescopes on and started scanning.

"Don't those hurt?" Enjuku asked.

"What? These?" Kenji pointed to the eyescopes.

"I've heard they damage the brain."

"Only if you concentrate on all the data your getting fully," Kenji answered. "But not if you're distracted. Normally I distract myself with this," Kenji held up the transmitter, "but I was thinking of watching the Monosugoi festival instead."

"You can't," Enjuku replied, "You don't have any eyes free."

"Oh well," Kenji sighed, "Talk to me."

"Huh?"

"Distract me. Tell me about yourself. Or your family. Anything.You're watching the Monosugoi festival. But why aren't you down there participating?"

Enujuku pursed her lips, "I can't go down there. You have to be in the ISA registry to get in."

"But you've been there before."

"Yes. When I was little I lived on Titan. When it was still young and when the ISA was still gaining its power. My grandfather used to take me- I would dress up in a big pink Kimono, and we would go down together. We would fold the paper, and sing, and watch the smoke until it was no more. He was born before the exodus from earth, so it meant a lot to him-- the festival. When my mother died he took me and Mugen in, and raised us by himself. Mugen was always such a wild one. Grandfather was always yelling at him- not in a bad sort of way, just as a teacher might reprimand an overly bright student."

"And now he's still like that," Kenji said.

:

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

***
Kenji sat down lightly now, with Makoto watching him attentively. He had been woken up a few minutes ago by a rather nasty surge of overinformation- a cheap trick used to awaken database occupants when they had gone unresponsive-. He would have to get Makoto back for that one.

In the mean time, though, he had to deal with the glass of milk placed in front of him. Kenji hated milk.

“Drink it,” Makoto commanded. He sat in a brown striped chair which should have been resigned to a dumpster long ago. Next to him was a sofa and in the background Kenji could see a kitchen.

“This your old apartment?” Kenji asked him, doubtfully sniffing the milk.

“Yes,” said Makoto, “drink the milk.”

“I don’t like milk,” Kenji said.

“Dammit, Kenji, you were out for eight hours flat! It took twelve surges to get you back up! You know how many it takes most people? One!” Makoto held up a finger, “Do you see? And you took twelve-eight hours, Kenji! You damn well better drink the milk.”

“That fact that I was out twelve hours has absolutely no meaning here,” Kenji said, “but oh! Wait a minute! Excuse me! You work for the ISA, don’t you? So you know the time, don’t you? While the rest of us sit around, not knowing where we actually are, what the hell they are doing to us, or what the hell is going on to us,” Kenji gritted his teeth, “you get to know, don’t you? Well excuse me if I had one to many drinks, while you were sitting around getting your news reports, government lapdog!”

“Say that again to my face!” Makoto shouted.

“Government lapdog!” Kenji shrieked.

“Better to be a government lapdog than the bloodsucking leech on humanity that you are!” Makoto yelled.

“How do you know?” Kenji shouted back, “You don’t even know what it’s like to be me! You idiot police and your stupid justice! Does justice involve killing innocent people?” Kenji walked up to Makoto and looked him in the eye, “Does justice involve killing her?”

“Kenji, you know that’s not what I meant,” Makoto said.

“Do I? Just shut the hell up, you stupid cop!”

“Well fine then! I’m leaving!” Makoto put on his jacket and turned around to head for the door, “You remember me someday.”

“Leave then!” Kenji shouted, “I’d rather be alone than with the likes of you! You killed her! You and all your kind! You call that justice?” His voice got lower now, and softer. Makoto thought he was crying, but Kenji never cried.

He paused.

Kenji sat, murmuring to himself. Makoto gave him the time.

Slowly he could began to here the murmurs break up, and Kenji spoke.

“Makoto-“

“Yeah?”

“Don’t go. I’m sorry, man. I just- I just miss her, that’s all. I’m sorry and all and so-“

“It’s fine,” Makoto said.

“I saw her for the first time last night,” Kenji said.

“Huh?” Makoto turned, confused.

“She was there. In my dream – when I was dreaming- or awake- or whatever it was,” Kenji looked at the floor, “She was there, the night I got turned in- with her purple hair, wearing that jacket,” he leaned his head back, “wearing that jacket she would always wear, the gray one the was a hand me down from her grandmother. And she talked to me, Makoto,” he looked Makoto in the eye, “Do you remember what it’s like to hear your wife’s voice?”

Makoto shifted his gaze to the floor.

“I miss her so much. And to see her again- I know she’s gone now, but doesn’t the fact that I can still dream of her- that she comes to me when I’m not waking, doesn’t that stand for something, Makoto?”

“It stands for the fact that she’ll never be forgotten. That you’ll always take her with you wherever you go. At the very least.”

“Yeah, you’re right, Makoto,” Kenji said, “at the very least, it stands for that.” He brought his head forward again, and for a moment the two friends sat in silence; one thinking of the past, and the other thinking of the future.

Finally Makoto broke the silence.

“She must have been some woman, to get such a grip on you.”

“She was,” Kenji said. He brushed a piece of his hair back with his finger and took a sip of the milk.

“This isn’t so bad,” he said, “Good job.”

“No problem,” said Makoto, with a chuckle.

***

The room was dark and musty. There was only one window that you could see light through; but it was grey outside today and the rain poured down in sheets. Tennyo couldn’t remember the last time she had seen a blue sky.

It was late now; she sighed as she turned the lock to open the door to the apartment. She turned on the light in the corner; it spread a light through the room. In such a world one could barely tell day from night, and yet the people of earth still followed the timeless clock established so many billions of years ago when the stars were born. Earth was dead, but the people on it were still alive.
After years of pollution, abuse and wars, the earth had finally capitulated to humanity. Almost overnight the multitudes of trees, birds, plants and animals that had once called earth their home had vanished like a fallen leaf bourne on the wind.
As if in mourning, the skies cast around earth a perpetual cloud of darkness that would not be lifted. It rained all day, every day. And in the winter it snowed.
Tears, Tennyo thought. She put the key in its tray on the bedstand. She smiled at the ringholder which Mugen had bought for her last year; a prancing dog with its tail curved off the to sky. Preparing for bead, she instinctively began to pull off the garnet ring which she kept on her middle finger. But the touch was wrong. She pulled off the ring.
It wasn’t the garnet ring but rather the cheap silver moonstone ring Momoko had given her earlier that day. Momoko had said that she had found it on the streets. Tennyo wondered who had dropped it- or whether it had been thrown away.
Perhaps a young girl, in a fit of adolescent fury against a boy who had wronged her, had taken it and thrown it onto the side of the street.
Or maybe it was a token highly prized. A pledge of love between two people. Something that shouldn’t have been lost but was.
Whatever it was, whoever had owned was most likely dead. Gem mining on earth had been stopped over a century ago, so she could tell that the original owner had to be that old. But anything from a century ago was considered to be fair game, in light of the fact that the majority of humanity had been wiped out around that time.
Scientists had pointed to the massive population growth earth had been experiencing and the dimishing resources, whatever had happened, half of the earth’s population had been wiped out a century ago- the same time the sun had left. Earth had reached a population of 50 billion, somewhat larger than the predicted maximum, but still a maximum nonetheless. Deprived of light, the surviving inhabitants of earth left in search of a new world.
And so in the years following there was a mass exodus from earth, so great that when ut was over only 100 million of the original 25 billion still alive were left on what had been humanity’s cradle for so long. Man had gone to the stars in search of light.
Mars was the first destination, it being closest and already colonized, but soon after the blackening of the sun it barred its gates; already having population problems to deal with. Jupiter’s system; however, was not yet settled, and so their was a great outpouring of the multitudes onto the inhabitable worlds; the four great moons of Jupiter. Io, the world of fire and lave, where the buildings had to be built of regenerative material because of the constant volcanic activity, was the first to be settled; and after that followed Europa, the planet of ice, beautiful and cold. It quickly became one of the prime living quarters for the rich- not only because of its desolate beauty but also because of the amount of money required to buy and maintain heating system in such a place. Kalypso and Ganymede, the two worlds of ore and rock, were the last to be settled.
For years the space wanderers traveled from planet to planet, and slowly the great swarm of people that had once been amassed on earth diffused throughout the solar system. They journeyed until they had pressed the limits of science and their ship’s; at Chiron, the moon of Pluto, they stopped. The remaining groups resigned themselves forever to space, and a space station was launched to hold the very last of earth’s escapees.
Having traveled so far and so long, humanity should have learned from the price they had paid for their deeds on earth. But such is the tune of many ballads, and this was not to be the last with that pitch. Factories and nuclear plants sprang up without warning, and had it not been for the discovery of fusion on Titan the year following the colonization of Pluto, the tragedy may very well have been repeated in short time.
But the universe seemed to be working in man’s favor for once, and for a short time a clean source of power helped to slow the oncoming rush of space age, and curb the side effects of a economic surplus. Satisfied with its work on the outside, humanity focused itself inward, in search of a sense of order.
Government.
Tennyo’s eyes turned to the picture on her mantelpiece. A young man with strawberry hair stood tall and proud in his uniform, his hand raised and open in the traditional British salute. For that was the salute of the ISA, and the uniform that the boy with the strawberry hair was wearing was the uniform of the organization; an organization of hate and love, of war and peace.
He had not been the only one lulled in by the serpent’s hypnotizing eyes. For on the mantelpiece, next to the single portrait, was a picture not much older, and taken around about the same time.
Four boys and two girls. One with strawberry hair and blue eyes; the one in the earlier picture, clutching a girl with yellow hair and burning eyes. She seemed happy.
Tennyo stared out at that girl, as she did every night, stared at it like a man who has traveled a thousand miles to find an ancient treasure only to discover at the end of journey that the treasure had never existed.
And every night as she stared at the picture with that mournful look and eyes which would make the most traveled of artists go into raptures at the beauty of mankind, she would wander where it had all come to this.
She would turn on the television for a while, but then, discovering that it did not help, she would turn it off and sit in darkness. For when there is no light in the your soul is when the light from the outside is the most painful.
And so sitting there in the dark she would plait her hair, and every so often the door would creak or the faucet would drip. And as she sat she would sing, moving her hair into braids, slowly getting higher and higher in pitch, and forgetting the world for an instant.
Then she would get up, gracefully lifting her body up from the bed and carrying it to the window, watching the stars, singing as she did, seeing the sky. While she looked at the stars she could remember, for a time, the good things, the sweet things that had happened, finding a way to sleep dreamless dreams.
In this way she found the strength to live another day.

Friday, August 16, 2002

"You have to get rid of her, Seijaku," Mugen said. He and Seijaku were sitting at the top of the wrecked empire state building- it had been partially knocked down by a tornado after the drastic weather changes from ozone depletion. Mugen, unlike his normally silent companion, looked like a real gangster. Black suit, white blouse- well, the tie was undone and the collar was unbuttoned, but considering the amount of climbing it took to get up this far it was impressive he made it up here at all.

His face was that of aninimity- one you would pass over, never notice. In a crowd he blended and disappeared. For most normal people this would just be a helpful feature when you'd pulled some traffic violation. For him it was invaluable when he was the man in the mask at the digital bank robbery.

He looked at Seijaku. Seijaku wasn't talking. He was kicking the glass beside him. Mugen knew what was going on. Seijaku was prone to fits of depression like this, and when he was he got very cynical and sadistic. As well as suicidal. It was happening more and more often, and he didn't know what was he, Mugen, was going to do when it finally took over Seijaku completely. All these years on the streets...

"Seijku-" He tried.

Seijaku looked up at him for a minute, but then continued kicking the glass.

"I need your permission. At least let me get another person for the pickup next time."

Seijaku smashed the glass with his fist.

"You know what will happen.You can't just keep doing this. You'll get caught eventually. Just like-" Mugen was about to finish the sentence, but then Seijaku stopped banging the glass.

"The girl will remain untouched," he said, pushing the broken bits of glass around with his finger, "and I will continue to do the pickups. At the same place. How much of that stuff do we have now?"

"405 tons," said Mugen. He did a few quick calculations in his head, "about 9 million yukes worth."

"9 million yuke's," Seijaku leaned back and closed his eyes, "for a drug which makes you constantly happy and immortal for a year, and then induces death. Do you think-" he leaned over and looked at Mugen, "that it's worth it?"

Mugen shrugged, "If you tired of living, why not go out with a bang?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," said Seijaku, "well, yeah, maybe it's true. Fools," he spat. "Fools love the world. Look at it, Mugen," he made a gesture to encompass his surroundings, "Look at it, Mugen. All that's left of man now is hatred and destruction. And unplesantness. They used to think that the good balanced out the evil. That only works until the world collapses. Then all you're left with is evil. With only one conclusion to draw:"

"What is that conclusion?"

"That the good doesn't balance out the evil. That this whole world is just a series of little parades through meaninglessness. You can enjoy it if you want, but to beleive that the good balances out the evil is to make yourself a puppet on a stage, amusing some deity.

"So to think that life is worth the trip, you really must be an optimist. For in this world there is hatred and pain and suffering. And you can't relish in the suffering, now can you, Mugen, because then you'll be evil, right?"

"Yeah, Seijaku," He needs a girlfriend or something, Mugen thought.

"And you can't be evil, now can you? Because evil is destruction, and if you're evil you'll destroy yourself. So you're a slave to the fact that the universe wants to torture you. So you, a creature of good, has to wander in an evil ridden world. Now, they make evil to look all bad and stuff, but what if it's just the opposite of you? So since you're at war with it, why not just make it really bad looking- because then it's an easier war to fight?"

There's this girl down on 27th that I met in college... hmmm..."

Seijaku looked at Mugen, who was staring off blankly into space.

"Wha?" Mugen asked.

"It's not important," Seijaku said, and laid back on the broken glass, "Just don't touch the girl, ok?"



A graveyard scene now. The rain is falling down, and the sky is grey. It is so hazy it is hard to make out the sky scrapers in the distance. The clouds are moving quickly. The darkest clouds are above the graveyard now, and the rain begans to pour down even harder than before.

So now in the corner of the graveyard, by a tall oak tree, a girl is sitting. She wears a gray trenchcoat and has long flowing golden hair. Her eyes are that of a child's but her face shows that of a thoasand troubles.

She has no name, as far as the grounds keeper knows, but he watches her every day as she comes and goes. He calls her Tenshi Nomeru, or fallen angel, and every time he sees her that is the name she answers to.

They have only met once, and that was when they buried a young man, a young man with blue eyes and dark hair. She had been there, weeping. There had been no funeral, for, like her, the young man had had no name.

His grave was blank, except for a carving she had commisioned, that of a flying dove in the light of the sun. She had brought it with her that day, when she came to the groundskeeper. A black car had pulled up on the sidewalk and she had stepped out, with black high heels and stockings so well kept you would have thought they weren't synthesized.

And then they had brought out the body, two men in black suits and top hats. One of them has reached into his inner jacket when they had spotted the grounds keeper, but she had put her hand on his and stopped him.

She had walked up the path to that little blue house, and straightened her face when the groundskeeper had opened the door.

He had let her in, thinking she was an banished immortal, from some faraway heaven where the sun still shined.

And he had told her yes, he would bury the body.

And tell no one? She had asked.

No one, he had promised.

And so, in a graveyard that had been so long ago abondoned by the people of the civilization of man, who now released their dead into space, mixing their atoms with that of the stars, a girl with golden hair now sat.

They had buried him with shovels, because there was nothing better, all the while the girl in golden hair standing by the groundskeeper, her hands folded, watching as the men consigned the boy to the ground.

There was no coffin.

When the men had finished, and were patting the dirt rather aimlessly, the golden haired girl had shook her hair, straightened, and walked into the car, pulling out the gray slate tablet which now marked his grave.

The men had looked anxious at first, but she put it down with such certainty and determination, with no shovel, but with her bare hands, they could not argue.

And then the men had taken the shovels and put them away, preparing to leave, but the girl did not want to go. They shrugged and got in the car. The car drove off.

The groundskeeper had gone back into his house.

And the girl, who for so long had stood silently without saying a word, collapsed down on the ground and cried.

The rain began to pour.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

All of a sudden there was coldness and enclosure... no light... and then.. nothing. He was in a void of absolute silence, with no light, no sound, no even temperature. He knew now what it was like on the other side of life.

A slow tingling sensation came up from his toes. It was like being tickled... but with ice poured over you. It crept up to his legs and into his torso. Then it started burning.

He screamed but he heard no sound, he grapsed out but there was nothing there. The burning sensation crept up and up and he could not escape it. His whole being was on fire. He felt like he was being ripped down from the very soul. How much longer?! He was on fire, he was screaming into a void.

And then it stopped. All of a sudden the sensation went away; and with went his body.

He was not and he was; he reached out to feel his body and nothing was there... He was not living but he still existed.. how? He didn't see, he didn't feel, he didn't breathe.. but he was conscious that he existed. How...

As he was spinning through the void somethinh reached out to him and touched him. It enfolded itself around him and immersed him- he could not take it away, for it enveloped his whole consciousness. An image floated in. A man was sitting on a pristine beach, surrounded by at least five beautiful women all scantily clad.

"New, aren't you?" The man shouted, "C'mon in, man, the water is fine!"

Midori felt a presence in his mind. It nudged him and tried to see what he was thinking. "GET AWAY FROM ME!" he shouted, and grabbed his head.

His head.

It was there. He felt his face.

His glasses were there, too. He looked down... he looked exactly as he had when he had left this morning.

This morning... a century ago? Or a millenium? It certainly felt like a long time.

"How did you do that?" He said to the man on the beach, who he had now noticed was twice the age of the women and had something of a beer belly.

"I didn't do anything, sonny, you did it all," the man said. He made a gesture with his hand and a chair appeared, "pull up a chair."

Midori obediantly lowered himself into the chair.

"So, sonny, what are you in for?" The fat man said.

"I was a member of the Pale Lotus Organization." Midori figured that if he was going to talk with these people, he would do much better as a comrade then as part of the enemy.

"You? By the looks of you I'd think you'd be busted for hacking or something," the old man chuckled, "Pale Lotus, eh? Fate is a strumpet, that's what shakespeare says. Well, sonny, your buddies didn't come in here to bust you out, now did they?"

"They will come," said Midori, and he lifted his him high- he was beganning to enjoy this, "I know they will."

"That's what they all say, sonny, that's what they all say," said the old man, and he pulled one of the woman- a blond- to him. "Me, I'm happy where I am. I know they aren't coming. I knew it from the beganning," he looked at the blond and she giggled, "So I learned to enjoy my destiny."

"What were you put in for, Mr..." Midori did not know the man's name.

"I am Toumin."

"What is your surname?" Midori asked.

"Just Toumin, sonny. My surname I abandoned long ago," the old man chuckled, "these girls, they don't seem to mind it to much."

"Are they.." Midori trailed off, afraid to be rude.

"Real? As real as my imagination," he leaned over and looked into Midori's eyes, "as real as your imagination, Midori."

"How do you know my name?" Midori hissed.

The old man smiled and sat back his chair. "You Pale Lotus folks take life too seriously. A young man like you, so healthy and strong, you should be out having fun and drinking and partying. Learn to relax." He waved his hand and three more women, all scantily clad and eye-poppingly gorgeous appeared by Midori's chair. They began stroking his shoulders.

"Tounin, this is quite unnessisary," Midori shooed the women away with his hands.

The old man laughed.

"I am politely requesting that you make them go away." Midori said.

"Not very gangsterlike, now is that, Midori?" The old man laughed, "Why don't you pull a gun on me while you're at it?"

"Now, Mr. Tounin." Midori was beganning to feel his patience being tested.

"Relax, Midori," the old man smiled, and with a snap of his fingers the women disappeared. Midori looked around. There was no trace of them.

"They don't give you much training now, do they?" Tounin said.

"I don't understand," Midori said, "what training?"

"Why, the introduction to the database," said Tounin. "I was one of the first ones in here, you know."

"Wha-"

"The trick to the database, Midori," said the old man, "is that it's all in your head. Technically this beach, this place, this beach, these wonderful ladies-" he gestured to the women, who were now massaging his back, "don't really exist. But I tell them to- I imagine that they exist. And then..." he waved his hand over Midori's face, "they do."

A beautiful prairie landscape appeared where the beach had existed. Everything was there- the beachchairs, the women, Tounin, but now with a prairie setting. Midori looked at Tounin in astonishment.

"Now it's your turn," said the old man, "now you take us somewhere. Let's try somewhere easy... say, the Titan spaceport. You've been there, havn't you?"

Midori nodded.

"Ok, then, close your eyes..."

Midori closed his eyes.

"Now imagine what the Titan spaceport looks like."

Midori did so-he had been there many times.

"Now, tell yourself that we're there. Have you got it?"

Midori nodded.

"Open your eyes."

Midori's eyelids fluttered open. He gasped.

He was floating in space- outside of the Titan spaceport.

"Nice, sonny." Tounin patted him on the back, "Now go find a place for yourself to relax."


Midori was walking down a long silver corridor now, with the tall man in the suit beside him. He listened only half-attentively; his mind was nervous and his body was cold.

"You'll work for eight hours and then we'll release you. If for any reason you need to get out, all you need to do is concentrate on sending us the signal. We'll get it and retrieve you."

"I can't let myself out?" Midori asked.

The man looked at Midori and a thin-lipped smile appeared across his face, "No, no, of course not. What would happen if people could escape? The database would be self-defeating."

"You're right," said Midori, "How do I hook myself up?"

"In the case of everyone else here, we have actually downloaded their consciousness and taken it away from their bodies. But for you it will be a little different."

"How so?"

"We will leave your lower body functions, like breathing and heart monitoring, to the parts of the brain that control it. Then we'll hook up your higher consciousness to ignore your body, and respond to the database."

"So basically it will respond to whatever it creates, " Midori said.

"In a manner of speaking, yes." The tall man stopped at the end of the corridor where two steel doors lay, "I believe we are here," and with a grandiose gesture he ushered Midori in.

"A question," said Midori.

"Yes?" said the tall man.

"If you simply download the consciouness of the prisoners, how do you know it's them and not just a copy?"

"A good question, Mr. Midori," said the man, "perhaps you can answer that for us." He motioned towards an apparatus in the back of the room which seemed to look something like a torturous dentist's chair from the 20th century, "Shall we began?"

Midori walked over and stepped into the chair, finding that it was oddly comfortable. He sank down into it and adjusted his weight.

"Ready?" said the man.

"Yeah. Just one question." Midori said.

"Yes?"

"Have you ever tested this thing out before?"

"Mr. Midori, I assure you that you are completely safe," said the tall man, and he pressed a button on the side of the chair.