Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. Since the moment she was introduced to the class, not much has made a whole lot of sense. Some of the girls in class have befriended her, but the boys remain wary, for reasons she cannot understand. She is unaware that the entire class assumes she has super powers of some sort or another. She’s a transfer student, after all, and in this Japan transfer students always bring trouble. She is staying with distant relatives, who are becoming more distant all the time. Her “aunt” is completely uncommunicative, while her “uncle” is content to sit in front of his computer day in and day out. Allison spent last night with the girls who live at the old monastery, and while they are friendly, Allison suspects that they are all insane. There have been a couple of mysterious strangers, but let’s not worry about them, yet, all right?
If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.
Her uncle sat exactly as he had the night before, staring into the shifting patterns on the monitors, moving only occasionally to sip a thick liquid from a plastic cup. Allison hesitated. Had there been four monitors the night before? In the morning light some of the cables strewn around had an organic look, slightly shiny and slowly pulsating. A hum rose from the machinery, punctuated by the occasional menacing hiss. Her uncle’s clothes were stained; she suspected he had been wearing them non-stop for several days.
Allison made her own breakfast; her aunt was nowhere to be found. She reflected that even her poor attempts at cooking were better than anything her aunt had produced while she was in the house.
“’Bye!” she called out as she left for school, then wondered who she thought she was talking to.
Outside the fresh breeze carried what seemed to be a snowstorm of plum blossoms. They coated the ground and stuck in her hair. She looked around, searching for the source, but there were no plum trees nearby.
There was a boy waiting for her by her front gate. Allison recognized him from her class; he was one of the boys that seemed to spend most of their time huddled in some sort of serious conference. She knew it must just be paranoia when she got the feeling that they were talking about her, but she couldn’t help it. Now here he was, doing a horrible job of pretending to just be passing by.
She had heard his name before, she was sure, on that first confusing day, but the only boy’s name she had managed to retain was Seiji’s. This boy was taller, angular in an awkward way, and he peered at her through thick-framed glasses. A mild case of acne spotted his cheeks. “Allison!” he said louder than necessary. “You live here?”
“What a coincidence! Hahahaha!” His laugh was awkward, his arm behind his head, a light blush coloring his cheeks.
Allison racked her brain for any clue what the boy’s name might be. There was no hope. Maybe she could fake it until she could ask Ruchia. “Um… Hi! Do you live nearby?”
“Yes! Uh, well, that is, no. I was just, er, making a delivery.”
They stood for an awkward moment, then the boy said, “Are you going to school now? I could walk with you.”
Allison tried to conceal her surprise. Other than Seiji’s sarcastic comments, none of the boys in class had even spoken to her. She was beginning to think she must have some sort of horrible deforming disease the way they avoided her. Maybe this guy would be the start of turning things around. He seemed nice enough, anyway, even if he was watching her with a slightly unsettling intensity. “All right,” she said.
“Great!” They stood there for another awkward moment, then Allison started walking. The boy fell in next to her, but he was unable to say anything. He seemed a little less nervous, though.
They had taken only a few steps when the front gate of the house next to Allison’s rattled and there was Seiji. He blinked, looking from one to the other. “Hello, Kaneda,” he finally said. “Hello, Allison.”
“Kaneda, Kaneda, Kaneda,” Allison mumbled to herself, committing the name to memory, then, louder, “Good Morning, Seiji.”
Kaneda had become so nervous Allison thought he might melt down. “Oh! Seiji! Good Morning! I was just in the neighborhood to make a delivery!”
“Is that a fact?” Seiji asked with a flat voice.
“Do you live here?” Allison asked.
Seiji looked at her with mounting suspicion. “Yeah…”
“I live right there. We’re neighbors!”
“Neighb… k-k-k-k-k” Nothing more came from Seiji except a choking noise from his throat.
Allison was annoyed. “Jeez, Seiji, is it that terrible?”
Kaneda said, “Seiji, I thought you lived over in…”
“Did you move after—”
“We don’t live there anymore! That’s all!”
Seiji’s outburst left them all standing in silence for a moment.
“Well, somebody got up on the wrong side of bed this morning,” Allison said. “Come on, Kaneda, or we’ll be late.” She turned and strode off toward the Academy, Kaneda hurrying to catch up. Seiji stood for a moment longer under a little personal cloud, before he too turned and trudged toward the school.
He did not see the shadowy figure emerge from the bushes after he left, or notice the mysterious figure as it followed him up the road.
It was quieter than usual when Allison and Kaneda arrived in class. As they walked in the door a knot of boys wheeled around and stared at him openly, their faces portraits of hungry curiosity. Allison felt herself turning red.
Kaneda seemed unaware of the scrutiny. “Hey, guys!” he said. “Where’s Yoshiki?”
“Haven’t seen him,” said Kouta. “I’m a bit worried. You know how he likes those games…”
Shinta looked over to where Rei was sitting. “Hey, Rei, you were hanging out with him yesterday after school, weren’t you? Uh… Rei?”
So intent was Rei on the gameboy he held that he did not hear his friends. They exchanged an uneasy look. Kouta looked over the intent boy’s shoulder at the game. Rei was not moving, not even his thumbs, he was simply staring in mute fascination at the screen of the game. “Hey! Rei!” Kouta called out. “Oi!” He passes his hands in front of Rei’s eyes. Nothing.
“White Shadow,” Kaneda whispered, then glanced at Allison guiltily, as if regretting letting her hear the phrase.
Without warning Shinta grabbed the game out of Rei’s insensate fingers. For a moment nothing happened, then Rei began to tense up, tilting his head back, then arching his entire back and clawing at the air with crazed crooked clawlike fingers. His eyes began to bug out, bloodshot, pupils so small they were almost invisible. “Reset! Reset!” he screamed, then toppled to the floor.
“Stupid!” Seiji called out, pushing into the group. He tore the game from Shinta’s surprised grip and held the screen in front of Rei’s eyes. “Come on, Rei,” Seiji urged, “focus!” Seiji slapped Rei, hard, then a second time. Rei’s breath caught and his eyes focussed on the game. With a desperate grab he tore the game away from Seiji. He curled on the floor, staring at the screen once more, openly weeping.
Seiji inspected his hand, injured when Rei took back the game. “Call the Institute,” he said. “They need to come and get Rei before his batteries go dead.”
“Not the hospital?” asked Allison. “What’s wrong with him, anyway?”
Seiji looked at her with deep suspicion. “You really don’t know?”
“Have you ever been to the Institute?” Kaneda asked coyly.
“What institute? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” As usual, she added to herself.
“Stand aside, please.” the deep voice was oddly distorted, like it was coming through a small speaker. Allison turned to find three big men standing behind her. At least, she assumed they were men, it was impossible to tell for sure who was inside the bulky rubber suits. The suits had hoses and backpacks and dials and it was impossible to see through the tinted face shields. On each suit was a number and the logo that read “Biological Computation Institute”. They each carried a weapon and they moved with military precision.
The students stepped back and the Institute men gathered up Rei without any wasted movement or commentary. As swiftly as they had arrived, they were gone, and class began to return to normal.
“Will he be all right?” Allison asked Seiji when they sat down for lessons.
Seiji paused for a moment before answering. “The Institute is trying to find a cure, but so far all they can do is keep the victims alive.”
“Victims? Of what? What’s this White Shadow thing?”
“It’s a kind of computer virus. Do you know much about computers?”
“I’m pretty good with them.”
“Really? Hm. Well, this computer virus is different. It doesn’t just infect the computer, it gets into people’s brains. It resonates with their nerves and causes the brain to release chemicals. Before long the brain becomes dependent on the signals; the natural chemicals in the brain are way more powerful than heroin and once you pass a certain limit you can’t stop looking at the patterns or you’ll die.”
“That’s terrible! Why would someone make something like that?”
“So, just how good are you with computers?”
“You think I did this?”
“Nooo…” Seiji said, but he didn’t sound very certain.
From the roof the Emergency Committee watched Allison and Ruchia eating their lunch beneath a tree in the yard below. It felt strange to Seiji to have a meeting without Yoshiki or Rei, but they all had to face the grim truth that they would probably never see their friends again. People didn’t come back when a place like the Institute took them.
Allison was mixed up in this somehow, he was sure, but her innocent act seemed genuine.
Kouta took charge as usual. “Kaneda, you walked to school with her?”
Kaneda nodded smartly. “Yes.”
“Did you see her teeth?”
“No. I was just starting to charm her when Seiji here showed up and with his usual tact and wit put her in a bad mood that lasted all they way to school. Boy, was she pissed off.”
“Nice move, Seiji,” grumbled Naota.
“You’re blaming me? The girl’s impossible!”
Kaneda interjected, “It turns out they’re next door neighbors.”
Kouta turned on Seiji, a sparkle in his eye. “Reeeally?”
“…” Seiji muttered.
Kouta returned to business. “So we still don’t know if she’s a demon.”
“She’s good with computers.”
“Interesting. Perhaps she’s a killer robot after all.”
“Or some sort of hyperintelligent mutation,” suggested Masashi.
“I bet the Institute made her,” said Bando.
Seiji nodded. “I’ve never heard of a demon that’s good with computers. I don’t think we need to have Kaneda be nice to her anymore.”
Kaneda smiled. “You know, I still think I should. She might be a demon from a technologically advanced realm. I owe it to the school to stick with her until she smiles. Only after I see her teeth will we know for sure.”
Seiji’s voice carried a hint of anger. “Really, Kaneda, that’s not necessary.”
“Oh? Does it bother you?”
“Of course not! I just don’t want you wasting your time!”
“Well, it’s my time to waste if I want to.”
Kouta intervened. “Look, we have to work together on this. Kaneda, you continue to be nice to her.”
“Can I be nice too?” Masashi asked.
“Certainly. Seiji, we need you to begin surveilance of her home. Report any suspicious activity.”
“Surveillance? You want me to peek in her windows?”
“We need facts, Seiji. Does she display superhuman strength when no one is watching? Can she see in the dark? Do her eyes glow? Plus, we need to see if she has wings, and if so, whether they are feathered or leathery. Horns? Are any parts of her made of metal? Is she anatomically correct? Scales? Corporate tattoos or serial numbers? In short, gentlemen, we need to see her naked.”
“I volunteer!” all the boys called out at once.
All the boys, that is, except Seiji. He knew what would happen to a boy who saw the transfer student naked. It would be painful, embarassing, and ongoing. Whoever the poor sap was would be publicly humiliated before the entire school, and his reputation would never recover, unless…
Seiji resolved to never, ever, see Allison naked.