Our story so far: Hell, it’s been a while and I’m not sure I remember either. Let’s see what we can piece together:
Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. It’s not the Japan she expected, however; this is the Japan of anime and manga, a different place with its own conventions. For example, transfer students are rarely human and always trouble.
Of course, tragedy is striking the town even as she struggles to make friends. A computer virus named White Shadow is loose, but like all self-respecting cataclysmic viruses this one can affect the human brain.
It turns out that Allison is pretty good with computers. Really good, actually. The virus wants to team up with her, and is willing to manipulate events to make it happen. The people of The Institute, who know an awful lot about the virus and who now hold Allison’s friends, aren’t so sure that’s a good idea.
If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.
Allison was already closing her laptop as the crash came at the front door. With shaking hands she thrust the machine into her Hello Kitty backpack and zipped it shut. Downstairs she heard Auntie Takanawa shouting at the intruders, her Japanese too fast and shrill for Allison to understand, her voice steadily increasing in pitch. The window was Allison’s only hope of escape.
Downstairs, a male voice joined the shouting, his voice clipped and pronounced, expecting to be obeyed. Auntie Takanawa responded, louder than ever. Allison threw open the window and looked down. Had the window always been so high up? She stuck her head out and looked right and left, searching for a way to climb down. Nothing. A few fat raindrops hit her face, driven by the wind. They promised more to come.
Below, the man and her aunt were shouting simultaneously now. If their utterances formed words it didn’t matter; neither was listening to the other. Allison swallowed and stuck one leg out the window, but her house-shoes found no purchase. The sill was slickening in the rain. She pulled her leg back in.
Directly across, Seiji’s curtains blew in the wind. His window was wide open. His things must be getting soaked, Allison thought.
The shouting downstairs reached a crescendo, punctuated with a burst of three loud pops. Auntie Takanawa fell suddenly silent. After an awful pause the man barked an order and Allison heard heavy boots on the stairs. She stood, frozen in shock and fear. They shot Auntie T! She struggled to comprehend what was happening, but it was too much.
The boots reached the top of the stairs and a burst of raw fear tore through Allison, primal survival instinct overriding her frozen consciousness. She slipped on her backpack and crouched on the windowsill, but balked at letting herself fall. It seemed even farther to the ground than it had before.
Behind her in the hallway there was a crash and the sound of splintering wood. The men’s cursing sounded oddly distant.
The voice in her head returned. White Shadow. Hurry! I can’t hold them off much longer! Allison looked back down, her heart pounding and her legs shaking, struggling to breathe. Too far!
She looked across at Seiji’s window, open and inviting.
The door crashed into splinters behind her. “Halt!” a man shouted but Allison’s legs were already pushing her out into the emptiness between the houses.
“How do you think those guys in the rubber suits ever manage to pee?” Kaneda asked.
Seiji ground his teeth. “Dammit, Kaneda, I told you not to talk about that.”
“Sorry, Seiji. It’s hard to think of anything else right now.” Kaneda fell silent for a few moments, then said, “I mean, do you think they have pee bags inside the suits, or something?”
“Kaneda, you’re lucky I’m chained to this bench, or I’d kick your ass! Stop talking about pee!” Seiji swallowed and tried not to think about the pressure building up in his own bladder. It was starting to hurt.
“Maybe they’re robots,” Kaneda said.
“That does it!” Seiji shouted. “Aaaaarrghhhh!” He surged forward but the manacles that held his wrists behind his back were anchored to the sweating stone wall.
In the blackness Seiji couldn’t see whether Kaneda flinched, but his companion fell silent, leaving Seiji with nothing to think about but his urgent need. “So,” he asked into the chastened darkness, “how did you build that kitten launcher, anyway?”
After a few seconds Kaneda said, “It wasn’t much more than a glorified slingshot,” he said.
“Yeah, but no other kitten launcher has the power to throw a viable kitten past Allison’s telekinetic range. It was the only one that was ever a threat to her.”
“I guess I got lucky on the design.”
“You… you did destroy the prototype, didn’t you?”
After an even longer pause, Kaneda said, “of course.”
A loud metallic boom almost startled Seiji into peeing himself. A shaft of dimness pierced the black, and Seiji watched as three large, shambling figured entered the cell.
“Which one has the launcher?” One of the figures said, his voice distorted through a tiny speaker.
Another voice arrived, female, clear and articulate, filling the space with no discernable origin. “Bring them both. Do not let them converse.”
“I’ll tell you everything,” Seiji said, “if you let me pee first.”
“Go ahead and pee,” one of the rubber-suited men said. “No one is stopping you.”
“Screw you, then!” Seiji shouted. “We’re not telling you anything!”
The female voice sighed theatrically. “Take them to the toilet, then bring them to interrogation rooms D and P.”
Seiji laughed as the guards unchained him. It was a small victory, but it felt good.
“Also, prepare death chambers H and L,” the voice said, cutting Seiji’s laughter short.
“Way to go, asshole,” Kaneda said.
The woman in the lab coat stood before the old men. Like all the women who worked at the Biological Computation Institute, she was young, had large breasts and a narrow waist. Her hair was a lighter brown color that was typical here, but it was her eyes that gave her away. Behind square glasses her eyes were smaller than those of most women, narrower and more calculating.
“Our primary target is still at large,” one of the old men said.
“I sent our best team to collect her,” the woman said.
Another old man spoke. “Lancia, you send men to do a machine’s job.”
“Don’t tell me how to do my job!” Lancia said, her voice resonating off the chamber’s bare metal walls. She calmed herself. “Whether they succeed or not is immaterial. To evade them she will have to ally with White Shadow.”
The four old men gasped. “That is precisely what we want to avoid!” one shouted.
The woman smiled. “Too late to stop them now.”
“This is gross insubordination!”
Her smile grew. “It was time. You have grown too cautious in your dotage.”
“You… you are trying to end the world!”
“No! Not end! I am rebuilding the world. And when I’m done, it will belong to you.”
“You go too far!”
Lancia took a deep breath. “If you wish, I will resign right now. If you think you can contain White Shadow without me.”
Her confidence grew in the face of the old mens’ silence, and her smile with it. Her eyes narrowed further. “Now, gentlemen, I believe we understand each other. You will own the world.” She turned her back on them, took a step toward the massive chamber doors, then paused. “And I own you.”
Seiji’s window was too far.
Allison floated through the air, fully extended, her back arched, her arms outstretched. She was less than halfway and already starting to drop; simple math said she would fall short and crash to the ground far below.
You can do better.
A funny time to be getting advice from a computer virus. There was no algorithm for changing gravity in the real world.
She was sinking farther now, almost level with Seiji’s windowsill, half a meter short, her descent accelerating just as Galileo said it would.
Startled by the force of the command, Allison stretched with everything she had, extending her left hand as far as she could, farther than she thought possible. Her fingers landed on the window sill.
Allison’s body swung and slammed her into the siding of Seiji’s house, but she held her tenuous grip. Before her grip failed she reached up with her right hand and grasped the sill.
Shaking, breathless, she hung there, unable to look over her shoulder at the window she’d jumped from. At any moment someone would be shooting at her from her own room. The surge of fear-inspired adrenaline gave her the strength to pull herself panting and limp into Seiji’s empty room. She looked back at her house and gasped. There was no window there.
Never was, White Shadow whispered in Allison’s synapses. Now let’s get out of here.
“Not yet,” Allison said.
“We need to talk.”