Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. From the very start things have been surreal; she has transferred to the Japan of anime, where the incomprehensible is normal and transfer students mean widespread destruction.
She finally managed to make some friends but now they have been captured and taken to The Institute. The Institute is either fighting a deadly computer virus that can infect people, or it started the virus, or maybe the Institute doesn’t really know what it’s up to either. All Allison knows is that she has to rescue her friends from the Institute and defeat the virus. Apparently she’s the only one who can. It seems that Allison’s past may be catching up with her…
If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.
Kaneda couldn’t shake the feeling of deja vu. It had started the moment he walked into the disco with Allison and the others. Only… Allison hadn’t been with them. Yet still he remembered her next to him as they walked past the police cordon, remembered her touching his arm as they went through the door. But she hadn’t been there. He remembered that clearly, as well.
Now it was as if he sat in two pitch-black cells simultaneously, sitting on two cold stone benches, chained to two stone walls, with two headaches threatening to split his cranium in two (or four?). Even the absolute silence echoed twice in his mind. Must be from the concussion, he thought. Seiji was sitting on a bench opposite him.
How did he know that?
“Seiji?” he asked quietly.
“Is that you, Kaneda?” Seiji’s voice echoed double.
“Yeah. Where are we?”
“You really have to ask.”
Kaneda closed his eyes, tried to fight back the pain in his head. Opened them again to admit no light. “I didn’t think the Institute would be so… dungeony,” he said.
“I expected to end up floating in a glass cylinder filled with greenish liquid, or something like that.”
“Well, there’s still time.”
“Yes, there is. Time for the room with no doors.”
“The room with no doors? What the heck is that?”
Kaneda tried to concentrate. “I don’t know.”
“Then shut up about it already.”
They lapsed into silence. It might have been an hour, might have been five minutes in that unchanging place when Kaneda finally said, “She’s coming. Allison is.”
“Quiet, you fool!” Seiji grated out through clenched teeth. “They’re probably listening.”
An idea began to take root in Kaneda’s tortured brain. “They already know,” he said. “They know all about her.”
“You can’t be sure,” Seiji said.
“They must know. They know about her arm that turns into a plasma cannon, certainly.”
“Her… wha?” asked Seiji.
“And they must know about her ability to fly.”
Kaneda thought he could hear Seiji smile in the blackness. Seiji kept his voice serious as he said, “I think you’re right. I think they even know about the… uh… kittens.”
“Yes. Her only weakness. When they were marching us in here, it was confusing of course, but I think some of the guards had kitten launchers.”
“Then we are doomed,” Kaneda said.
“Damn!” Allison muttered over her keyboard. She had to find a way to get her friends out of the Institute, but there was no way she was going to win by trying to force her way in. The idea was stupid on the face of it. No, she would have to use her best skill. She had to get into the Institute’s mainframe and learn as much as she could. Maybe she could alter their files and mark her friends for release. Maybe she could learn enough to go to the police. There was nothing she couldn’t hack if she put her mind to it.
Outside, distant thunder rumbled. The wind was picking up, shaking the trees and sending leaves flying. Barometric pressure was plummeting. She could feel it in her bones. She turned back to her work.
She ran another probe, through a series of proxies. It was blocked almost instantly. “Damn and double-damn!” she cried out. Her bag of tricks was running empty.
“Is everything all right, dear?” her aunt called up the stairs.
“Oh, uh… everything’s fine,” she said. “Just practicing my Japanese homework.”
“Well! I’m sure I don’t know what they are teaching you kids these days. Would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you,” said Allison. She turned back to her laptop.
You know what you need. The voice in her head might even have been her own.
She stopped typing. “I can do this by myself.”
Can you? They know every trick you’ve ever used. They’ve studied you.
“Who are they?”
The Institute. The directors. All the peple there. Your friends. They are all one in the Room with no Doors.
“What do you know about my friends?”
More than you ever will. Their hopes, their dreams, their loves, their hates. Their past. The voice paused for a second, then said, Their future.
Allison’s laptop screen had changed to show a shifting pattern of light. She hadn’t even noticed. “It’s my fault they’re in there,” she said. The lights gained intensity, threatened to resolve into one image, then another, but fading before she could make it out. Noises came from the speakers, music and noise and animal sounds, human speech just beyond hearing.
All of this is your fault. I am your fault. And you are my fault.
The color was all around her now, the sounds and even smells became her world. “I have to save them,” she said. “Even if it means…”
You must complete me, White Shadow whispered. And I must complete you.
“Yes,” said Allison. She would die, but her friends would be free. She began to pull up the files for her anti-White Shadow virus. They floated in the air around her, pure abstract symbols. She gasped. Able to see the code this way, able to sense the motion of every bit, the software became a world. She could complete the virus in only a few hours, she thought.
You should probably know that there are five armed men about to burst through your front door.
Hitomi was not surprised when the speaker at the front of the classroom buzzed to life. This was the sort of day when schools exploded.
“Attention students,” the announcer said. The teacher slowly stopped droning whatever lesson he had been on. “This is an emergency announcement. Repeat: This is an emergency announcement.” Whoever was reading the announcement cleared his throat. “Government Scientists have discovered a virulent plague that has already swept through Hokkaido, resulting in massive deaths. The disease moves very quickly and is spread through contact with… kittens, it says here. Kittens.
“In cooperation with the government the Biological Computation Institute has agreed to gather and quarantine all kittens until the crisis is past. Please take all kittens immediately to the closest kitten-gathering station. All kittens will be returned after the crisis is past. Kittens not submitted to quarantine will be destroyed. Students with kittens are excused from class for the rest of the day. That is all.”
A murmur rose in the room as students exchanged confused looks. Kano let out a wail. “My babies!” she cried. “They are just six weeks old!” She fled the room, flanked by her sycophants.
Hitomi scowled. Kano had borne kittens? Most irregular. She stood and adjusted the sword at her side. Surely there was a battle looming. If she could understand out how the kittens figured in, she might even survive.