Archive for the ‘Allison in Animeland’

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A few words of introduction

February 13th, 2007
What if the Japan in anime was real?

Late one night I was watching anime (it could have been any of them), and the Mysterious Girl was introduced to the class as a transfer student. I found myself thinking, man, you’d think by now students in Japan would know that transfer students always mean trouble. The following story is based on that thought. In this Japan, just about everyone has a mysterious past, parents are rare or nonexistent, little girls can build killer robots, and transfer students mean trouble. A lot of trouble. She might be a killer angel, a robot with a cat brain, or a demon hunter who has lost her powers, but one way or another the transfer student’s arrival heralds untold destruction.

Of course, this would be disorienting to anyone visiting Anime Japan from a more rational part of the universe. Enter Allison, who has no idea that in this place demons are real (although difficult to tell from angels), someone on the faculty of every school has a secret lab stashed away in the basement, that the government regularly experiments on the most innocent of schoolgirls, and a house filled with girls wearing only towels isn’t complete without a clumsy geeky guy somehow living among them.

Allison expected to have some difficulty adapting to Japanese culture, but nothing could have prepared her for this. Perhaps through some cosmic mix-up she got on the wrong plane in Los Angeles; it would have meant nothing to her that everyone else in line had spiky, colored hair. Perhaps some greater force decided it was time to blur the line between that world and our own. Allison has never seen an anime in her life, and now she is living in one.

That would be difficult enough, but of course she’s a transfer student as well.

Before you start

There are a couple of things that might make reading a little more pleasant: First, Don’t worry about the names. I sure can’t remember them, so I don’t expect you to. (I’ve never put the database in Jer’s Novel Writer to heavier use.) The names are Japanese so you don’t have preworn grooves in your brain for them; I don’t even expect you to recognize gender by the name. I tried to pick names that weren’t too similar. Still, there are a lot of names that come at you right off the bat. Just relax and go with it, they are just voices in the crowd; when those people come back in any significant way I will be sure to remind you which archetype is being referred to. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the anime references, you’re no worse off than Allison.

Second, writing things like this is what I do when you would watch TV. It’s a brain-switched-off activity, when I need to relax and not take myself so seriously. While I’ve been making a little bit of effort (very little) to raise the quality bar for the fiction here at Muddled Ramblings, you’re not going to find any Pulitzer-quality prose below. This is just recreational writing that I have decided to share with you. (You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.)

As a final note, the icon that appears next to the titles of the episodes is Club-To-Death Angel Dokuro-Chan, a sweet little angel with cute wings, a halo (which turns out to be wicked sharp), and a deadly spiked bat that complements her short temper. She, is, of course, a transfer student.

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AiA: Prologue

February 13th, 2007
First Day of School

Before we get started: This story is imagined as a sort of Galaxy Quest conceit — someone travels to a distant land and quite unexpectedly finds herself in a world where conventions of anime are real. You should still be able to enjoy the story even if you don’t know anime; you will be no more confused than Allison is herself.

Don’t worry about learning all the names in the first episode; you will have a chance to meet the characters later. At first I didn’t even bother to give many of the characters names as they are just voices in a crowd. We will all learn to remember the names together.

Allison Crenshaw walked up the nearly deserted street toward her new school. She felt awkward in her uniform; the skirt seemed shorter on her than it did on the other girls. She walked alone, clutching her books to her chest, practicing her Japanese under her breath.

“Hey, watch out!” Allison turned just in time to see the kid on the skateboard before he crashed into her. She fell, books flying, conscious of her short skirt.

“Watch where you’re going, stupid!” the kid said. The boy was perhaps twelve years old, and he wore the uniform for her school. He had added a backwards baseball cap to the standard issue.

“I’m sorry!” Allison said from where she sat on the concrete.

The kid brushed himself off and recovered his skateboard. “Jeeze, the dummy doesn’t even know which side of the sidewalk to walk on,” he said to himself. He smiled at her, his grin large and toothy. “Well, see you.” He hopped back on his skateboard and continued down the street towards the school.

Allison pulled herself together. Her knee was scuffed, oozing blood slowly. “Oh, man,” she moaned, “my first day.”

“Are you all right?” The male voice was smooth and resonant. “Let me help you.” Allison looked up into the large, almost violet eyes of the young man as he knelt down next to her. With great care he began gathering her books and stacking them neatly. “Don’t mind Daisuke. It’s always someone else’s fault when he crashes.”

He stood with her books and offered his hand. She took it and rose to stand next to him. His skin was smooth and cool, and even when she stood he was quite a bit taller than she was. He looked at her with his odd-colored eyes, eyes that seemed as deep as the ocean.

“Thank you,” she said. She could feel herself blushing under his gaze.

“You are going to the academy?” he asked.

“Uh, yes, I am. It’s my first day.”

“Ah, of course. That explains it.” He handed her books back.

“Explains what?”

“Why you’re late.”

“Oh, my gosh! I’m sorry, I have to go!”

“I understand.”

Allison took three quick steps and turned back to him. “It was nice to meet you.”

“I’m sure we’ll run into each other again. Goodbye.”

“Bye!” Allison ran up the street. “Oh!” she said and turned back once more, “My name is… Allison?”

There was no one there.

As Allison ran down the empty hallway she practiced her Japanese. “Please excuse me. I am sorry I am late.”

She reached the door of the class and composed herself as well as she could before cracking open the door, still out of breath.

“Ah, here she is now,” the teacher said.

Timidly Allison stepped into the room, feeling awkward in her school uniform. “I’m sorry I’m late,” she said.

The teacher glared at her fiercely. “I will overlook your tardiness this once,” he said, “but you are not in America anymore. We expect our students to be on time.”

Allison glanced around nervously. The rest of the class stared back at her with a strange intensity.

The teacher turned to address the students. “Class, please allow me to introduce our new transfer student…” He scowled at the paper he was holding as he tried to pronounce her name. “Arrisawrn…”

It didn’t matter what he said. Upon his utterance of the phrase ‘transfer student’, the class broke into pandemonium.

“Transfer student!” called one student as he dove under his desk.

“We’re doomed!” shouted a panicky girl, cowering in the corner. “So young… I’ve barely lived at all.”

“She’s so cute…,” said a boy holding a handkerchief to his nose.

“Everybody stay calm!” bellowed another girl over the noise.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” huffed a pretty blonde.

“Don’t turn me into a monkey! Please don’t turn me into a monkey,” sobbed another boy.

The teacher seemed unaware of the bedlam. “Allison has come all the way from America. She may not be familiar with all our customs, so be sure to do your best to help her feel welcome.”

The girl who had shouted for calm addressed the teacher. “Sir? She can sit next to me. There’s no one at this desk.” Allison watched as the girl dumped the previous occupant of the indicated desk onto the floor.

“There’s no one here, either!” said the blonde girl as she kicked the boy who was cowering underneath the desk next to hers. “She can sit next to me!”

“I’m class president! She will sit next to me!”

“She should sit by me. I’m the most popular, and I can explain to her who everyone is. Someone has to tell her.”

The boy under the desk just sobbed. “She’s going to turn me into a monkey. I just know it.”

“So young…”

Another girl, near the back, spoke quietly. “It would be most harmonious if she sat there.” She gestured toward a desk, its previous occupant impossible to determine in the mayhem.

“Good suggestion, Hitomi,” the teacher said. “That desk has been empty ever since…” The class fell silent. “Is that all right with you, Ruchia?”

The girl at the adjacent desk nodded. She was pretty, her long black hair glinting almost bluish in the light. “Yes, I would like to have someone there. Miss Allison, would you honor me by sitting in the seat next to mine?”

Allison stood at the front of the room, paralyzed with confusion and fear.

“Monkey, monkey,” the boy sobbed.

“Oh, cruel fate! So young, so much life ahead of me,” wailed the girl in the corner.

“Transfer student,” mumbled a girl who wore thick glasses, recording the event in her journal. “Commence observation.”

“Miss Clrensharwl?” asked the teacher.

Allison snapped out of her state. The class seemed to be settling down. Numbly she went to her desk and sat down.

The teacher said, “Now, if you will turn to page 143 in the text…”

“Hello,” said the girl next to her. “I’m Ruchia. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“I’m Allison.”

“You’re from America?”

“Uh, yes, that’s right.”

“I have a brother in America. He went there to play baseball.” The girl’s bright face clouded for a moment. “I haven’t heard from him in a long time. Not since the time of the giant explosion in Kyoto.” She brightened again. “But I’m sure he’s just busy. I bet you have lots of questions.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but shouldn’t we be listening to the teacher?”

Ruchia laughed. “You’re pretty funny.”

“But…”

“This is Seiji,” Ruchia said, gesturing to the boy on Allison’s right.

“Hello,” said Allison. She held out her hand for Seiji to shake, then remembered where she was. She bowed awkwardly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Seiji narrowed his eyes and studied at her, his eyes partially concealed behind his long hair. “Skilled at Japanese, but unfamiliar with our customs,” Seiji said as if she wasn’t there. His voice carried a rough strength, and an unnatural intensity. “Are you here with your parents?”

“Seiji!” Ruchia said. “That’s no way to talk to someone you’ve only just met!”

“Please excuse me,” Seiji said, suddenly stiffly formal.

“Don’t mind him,” Ruchia said. “He doesn’t know how to act around anyone.”

Seiji returned his gaze to the desk in front of him. Allison half-expected it to catch on fire. He looked back up and caught her watching him. Allison blushed for the second time that day.

“Your knee,” he said.

“What?”

“Your knee is injured.”

“Oh! Yes, I fell on my way to school. That’s why I was late.”

He nodded slowly. “So, it has started already.”

“Wha…?”

She was interrupted by a poke on her left arm. “Hey, Ruchia, aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Allison turned back the other way, but she still felt Seiji’s gaze burning into the back of her neck. Standing next to Ruchia was a pretty girl, slender in an athletic way. She had spiky black hair and an open smile filled with teeth. She poked Allison in the arm once more. “Wow. So lifelike.” She turned to Ruchia. “You always said Mika would make a good transfer student one day.”

“My name is Allison.”

“Riiiight. From America? No parents around?”

“I, well…”

Ruchia came to her rescue. “Tasuki, I don’t think she knows who Mika is.”

“Ah, that’s how it is, then?”

“Allison, this is Tasuki. She doesn’t mean to be rude. She thought you might be… friends with Mika. We all live in an old monastery together. I kind of thought you might know Mika, too, but then I saw your knee.”

Tasuki winked. “You don’t think Mika could do that?”

“Oh, no,” Allison said, finally understanding something. “This was an accident. There was a boy on a skateboard—”

“Daisuke!” the other two girls said together. Behind her she heard Seiji mutter “Daisuke. Of course. He shall answer for this.”

“I don’t know what his name was.”

Ruchia said, “It was him. Anyone who mentions ‘injury’ and ‘skateboard’ in the same sentence is talking about Daisuke.”

“The guy’s a rolling disaster,” Tasuki agreed. “So you really don’t know Mika? Let’s hope she doesn’t try to dismantle you, then. Oh, look, it’s lunch time. My favorite time of the day. Come on!”

“How do you guys learn anything?” asked Allison.

“We study all night, of course,” said Ruchia.

Kouta leaned against the railing, looking down into the courtyard below, where Allison was enjoying her lunch. Tasuki had a huge bag of food, and was throwing it back with abandon, while Ruchia nibbled demurely. Allison’s eating habits seemed perfectly normal.

Too normal,” Kouta said to himself. Out loud he said, “All right, let’s call this meeting to order.”

Kaneda snapped to attention. “Yes, sir! Meeting number one of the Emergency Committee is now called to order!”

Kouta surveyed the knot of his classmates who had gathered for the Emergency Committee. Most seemed excited, but Seiji, leaning against the railing off to the side, hands shoved in his pockets, was trying to hide his worry. He understood what was at stake, at least. “We have a transfer student.” Kouta began. “She seems normal, but we know that’s impossible. We need to learn her true nature and figure out what to do about her.”

“I think she’s a robot,” said Shinta.

Kaneda looked skeptical. “Maybe. Her knee was injured, though.”

Shinta was not to be dissuaded. “That’s convenient. What better way to allay suspicion?”

“You could be right, but she didn’t seem, well, roboty.”

Bando spoke for the first time. “Yeah, you saw how confused she was. Totally clueless. She’s an escaped lab experiment for sure.”

“Maybe…”

Kouta looked over at his friend. “You’ve been awfully quiet, Seiji. What do you think?”

“I think we need to get a good look at her teeth.”

“You think she’s a demon?” The eyes of some of the younger students went round.

“It fits the facts.”

Naota paled. “Oh, God, you’re right. She’s going to turn me into a monkey for sure. Why’d she have to transfer to our school?”

“Relax. Not all pretty transfer students who appear out of nowhere and don’t understand the local customs and have no parents bring untold destruction.”

Naota was not reassured. “Name one who didn’t. You read about that one in Osaka, didn’t you? They’re still rebuilding.”

Seiji spoke up. “She’s not living at the old monastery, is she?”

“No, she’s staying with distant relatives of some sort,” Kouta said.

“Let’s at least be thankful for that. If she was at the monastery with all those other girls…”

“What?”

“It would change everything.”

Shinta’s eyes glazed over. “Hot springs… towels slipping…”

“The only thing worse would be if she was secretly sleeping in someone’s closet,” Seiji said.

“She could sleep in my closet any time,” Shinta said.

“Don’t even think that!” Seiji said. “You may as well kill your mother yourself!”

“I’m just saying she’s cute, that’s all.”

“Careful,” said Kouta, “or you’ll give yourself another nosebleed.”

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 1

March 1st, 2007
Nosebleeds

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. Her first day was disorienting; she was delayed getting to class by a mysterious stranger, and then the entire class flew into a frenzy when the oblivious teacher uttered the phrase “transfer student”. Half the class dove for cover, while the other half fought to be the first to befriend her. She is sitting between Ruchia, a pretty, friendly girl, and Seiji, a brooding boy with a penetrating gaze, who says a lot of dramatically mysterious things. Seiji believes Allison is a demon, not a killer robot as his friends theorize.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison climbed out of bed, still groggy. She dressed and gathered her resolve for the ordeal of breakfast. Finally she went into the kitchen. “Good morning!” she said, trying to sound cheerful. The effort was wasted. Her “uncle” sat at the table, silently reading the newspaper, his eyes invisible behind the reflections of the fluorescent lights in his glasses. Her “aunt” was moving about the kitchen, timid as a mouse, afraid to break the silence imposed by her husband. Allison had been there three weeks now, and she didn’t think she would ever get used to living in that place.

“Thank you for the food,” she said when her aunt set breakfast in front of her. She ate in silence, reading one of her textbooks. Before she was finished her uncle rose abruptly and left the kitchen. From the next room she could hear the chatter of a keyboard, punctuated by mouse clicks.

“I wonder if he even has a voice,” Allison muttered. Her aunt looked at her sharply, but said nothing. Allison was only too happy to leave early for school. It was an ordeal of a different sort, but at least people spoke there. The other students seemed suspicious of her — wary, even — but she had read that the Japanese were slow to accept outsiders, and a few of her classmates were very friendly.

This morning Allison heard the skateboard wheels approaching in time to dodge Daisuke. He sailed on past. Allison wondered once more if he was trying to run her over. He certainly made no effort to avoid a collision.

She kept an eye out for the mysterious stranger who had helped her that first morning, but she had not seen him since. Oh, well. There were enough other mysteries to keep her mind spinning.

“Well, if it isn’t little Miss Transfer Student.”

The blonde girl stood, blocking her path, flanked by a pair of dark-haired girls Allison assumed to be identical twins. “Hello, Kano,” Allison said. “Hello, uh…” she wondered if the other two girls even had names.

“Hello yourself. I demand to know what you are doing here.”

“Yes, that’s right!” the twins said, their voices sharp and birdlike. “Kano is right!”

Allison wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. She had been getting hostile looks from Kano ever since her first day. “I’m just here to study.”

“Ho! Study! That’s a good one!” The other girls laughed. “Now listen. I’m the most popular girl here. I can bury you.”

“Kano’s right! She can bury you!”

“I don’t understand…”

A bookish girl that Allison saw in class every day appeared at her elbow. “You broke her record.” The girl opened her journal with ceremonial dignity. “Four nosebleeds when you walked into class, one of them a gusher. Kano got three, and one of those was borderline. The record before that was two, more than fifteen years ago.”

Kano glared at the other girl. “You can’t count the one when Rei dove under his desk. He probably just hit his nose on something.”

“Doesn’t matter, you know that; a nosebleed is a nosebleed. Allison caused it.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Kano’s right! That’s ridiculous!” the chorus chimed in.

Kano turned back to Allison. “Just remember your place, Miss Transfer Student, and we will get along just fine.” She spun in a pretty little huff and walked away.

The other girl was closing her journal with reverence. “Yomiko,” she said. “My name’s Yomiko.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Yomiko.”

“It might have been five.”

“Five what?”

“Nosebleeds. Things were confusing; I couldn’t confirm Shinta’s.” Yomiko thought for a moment. “It would be better if Kano accepted the inevitable.”

“What inevitable?”

“That you’re going to be more popular than she is. If she keeps acting like that she’ll turn into a cow or something.”

“Yomiko, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Am I having some sort of bizarre dream? Am I in a coma somewhere, hallucinating?”

Yomiko looked at her carefully. “I hadn’t considered that possibility.” She opened her journal and made a note in it. Coma? Check hospitals. She hesitated and added, Check morgues also.

They were almost to the academy when Yomiko broke the silence. “It’s going to be an interesting year,” she said.

It was still a few minutes before the start of class. Seiji was huddled with some of the other boys, but Allison could feel him watching her. She shuddered. Then Ruchia was there, smiles and sunshine, and Tasuki with her happy-go-lucky energy, and Allison relaxed. Just another day at school.

“Have you decided what club you’re going to join?” asked Tasuki. “You should join the tennis club, with me.”

“No, you should join the drama club,” Ruchia said. “You’d be great!”

“Well, actually, I thought it might be fun to try the fencing club.”

“Fencing! Do you know how?”

“No, but it seems like it would be fun to learn.”

“Fencing?” asked Seiji as he took his seat. “You can’t be serious.”

“Well, I am.” Allison said defensively.

Seiji’s reply was sarcastic, but there was something else there as well, probing. “Are you expecting to get into sword battles?”

“An interesting choice,” said a girl Allison had not met yet, “requiring discipline and dedication. Yes, that resonates well with you.” It was the girl who had decided where Allison should sit. She stood now, tall and thin, but there was something feline about her posture, a jungle beast always ready to spring, even when sleeping. Her eyes were steady and cold.

Allison remembered to bow rather than offer her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. My name is Allison.”

“Yes. Arrislawr Crlensharwl,” she imitated the teacher’s pronunciation perfectly. “My name is Hitomi.”

“Are you in the fencing club?”

“No, I prefer different weapons, but perhaps we can drill together.” Was that a fleeting smile? Allison wasn’t sure; it was gone almost before it arrived. “I think you will find the leader of the fencing club to be… interesting. Please be sure to do your best.”

“I’ll do anything if it will keep me out of my house for a while.”

“Is it that bad?” asked Ruchia with concern.

“They never say a word. He spends every moment on his computer, and she brings him food.”

Ruchia and Tasuki exchanged glances. “White Shadow” whispered Ruchia, then said, “Oh, well, hey, maybe you should come over to the old monastery tonight. We can have dinner and study together.”

“Really? That would be great!”

Seiji made a slight choking noise.

Hitomi nodded. “You would be most welcome.”

“You live there too?”

Allison looked up and noticed that the lecture had started. She shook her head, wondering if she was going to learn anything at all.

The Emergency Committee convened for their daily briefing. As usual, Kouta took charge.

“So, Seiji, have you gotten a look at her teeth yet?”

“No.”

Shinta nudged him playfully. “Maybe you should try being nice to her, dude. She’s a lot more likely to smile, then.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking. She’s pretty, and she’s nice, but…”

“I think Seiji’s got a crush on her!”

“Are you crazy?! She’s a Transfer Student!”

Bando nodded solemnly. “Methinks he protests too much.”

Kaneda spoke for the first time. “Listen, Seiji, if you’re not going to be nice to her, then it’s up to one of us to step up. For the safety of the school, I hereby volunteer to make friends with Allison and make her smile.”

“Hey! I was going to volunteer!” Yoshiki said.

“This is not a job for those who hesitate at the critical moment, Yoshiki. You hesitated, and I stepped up. This is a job for Kaneda, the master of love.”

“You?”, said Yoshiki, “Master of love? Don’t make me laugh.”

“You sure you don’t mind, Seiji?” Kaneda asked.

“Why should I care?”

Kouta nodded. “All right, then, it’s settled. Kaneda will be nice to the transfer student.”

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 2

March 23rd, 2007
The Old Monastery

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. She is only very slowly adapting to a culture that seems to depart from all reality. Her status as a transfer student has the entire class assuming she has mystical superpowers of some sort, and her fellow students are trying to determine what those powers are. She is staying with distant relatives, who seem completely absorbed in computers to the exclusion of all else. Meanwhile, she has been invited to the old monastery, where an odd assortment of girls live with seemingly no supervision.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Seiji stood in the shadows outside the Old Monastery. The lights were on inside, but things were otherwise quiet. “I don’t like this,” he muttered.

“That which is not liked is loved,” came a withered voice behind him. Seiji wheeled to find three old men standing uncomfortably close to him. They wore the robes of monks, and all were bald and toothless. They stood arranged tallest to shortest, and seemed to have been standing there for some time.

“Wha—?”

“It is not for the kitten to refuse his stripes,” the one in the middle said.

“Or his claws,” said the short one.

“What are you talking about?”

“It has begun,” the tall one said.

“Still going,” agreed the middle one.

“Never stopped,” said the short one, smiling toothlessly. All three laughed at the joke.

Seiji didn’t need cryptic prophecies to tell him that what was happening was unstoppable. He turned and stormed off.

“Kids,” said the tall one.

“Think they know everything,” said the middle one.

“They’re right.” said the short one. “They just don’t know it.” The monks laughed again before fading into the shadows.

“Wow, guys! This is fantastic!” Allison ate hungrily. “This is nothing like the stuff my aunt makes.”

“What sort of food do they fix you at home?” asked Ruchia.

“It’s got these weird flavors, like my aunt doesn’t care what it tastes like at all. Like it was just made by some formula to have all the necessary nutrients.”

“That’s terrible!” said Mika. “Food’s supposed to be fun!”

“Be careful,” warned Tasuki. “Mika’s definition of fun usually involves explosions. That goes for her spicy cooking as well.”

Allison’s knees were starting to ache from sitting at the low table, but she really was grateful for the meal and the lively company. She was still in a state of shock at the whirlwind of activity that surrounded her.

Her visit had started simply enough. Tasuki and Ruchia had ridden the train with her, and the two girls had sustained the conversation while Allison watched the city go by. It was a short ride, and then they walked up steep streets which got steadily narrower and more confusing as they neared the top of the hill. Perched at the crown was the Old Monastery.

The ancient building sat in harmony with the trees and lawns that surrounded it. The building itself hid its size well; it flowed with the natural contours of the land, and the structure’s proportions and subtle asymmetries made it seem more an act of nature than a work of man. The building was in perfect repair, the wood showing no signs of deterioration in the damp environment.

The first person she met was the building manager. Nemu was sweeping the front walk as the girls approached. She appeared to Allison to be about thirty years old. A bent cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth. Nemu stopped sweeping, leaned on her broom, and took a long drag from her cigarette. She exhaled a long plume of smoke and said, “Transfer student?”

Ruchia said, “This is Allison, Miss Nemu. She’s from America.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Allison said.

“’Bout time. You moving in?”

“Uh, no. I’m staying with relatives.”

Nemu took another drag on her cigarette and exhaled again. “I’m sorry.”

“What?”

“Are you close to them?”

“Jeeze, I hardly know them. And they never even talk to me.”

“White shadow,” Tasuki said in what passed for her as a whisper.

Nemu nodded. “Oh, well, that’s all right, then. I can wait. He’s not here yet anyway.”

“What is this White Shadow?” asked Allison. “You mentioned it before.”

“Oh, well! It’s nothing!” Tasuki said, grinning foolishly and putting one arm behind her head. A drop of sweat appeared on her forehead. “Just a computer thing. I’m sure I don’t understand it. Ha-ha-ha…”

“Come on,” Ruchia said, “You need to meet everyone else.”

“Everyone else” left Allison’s head reeling. She’d quickly abandoned any hope of remembering any names; they came at her too quickly and were too different for her to put them in comfortable slots. She resolved to ask Ruchia later for the names, when she had more time to connect the names to the conveniently distinctive traits of each of the girls she met.

As they approached the house, they were confronted by a giant creature with glowing eyes. Allison jumped back, but Tasuki just laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “this is just something Mika made.”

“Preezed to meetchoo” the robot said in English.

“That’s incredible,” Allison said.

Tasuki was watching Allison carefully. “She’s made better.”

“This is Kuu,” Ruchia said. Allison looked in the direction indicated but at first saw no one. After a moment a strange, unrecognizable creature rose from the bushes, then a pair of frightened eyes poked out from behind the stuffed animal.

“Um… hello,” Kuu said.

“Hello,” Allison replied. She bent down a little, to be more on a level with Kuu. “How are you?”

The eyes disappeared once more behind the stuffed animal.

Another small figure exploded from the house. “Is this her? Is this her?”

“This is Mika,” Ruchia said. “You met her robot.”

The girl was exotic – long fair hair, dark skin, and odd markings on her forehead. She was so filled with energy that Allison imagined her as a stick of dynamite in human form. She darted around Allison with surprising speed, pausing to inspect the newcomer from every angle. “She’s a transfer student? Really?” She dared to poke Allison, then when nothing happened she started prodding her Allison all over. “What’s your power source? Can you really bleed? Are you terrestrial?”

Eventually her investigations slowed down. “Just a person,” she said, despondent, then quickly perked back up. “Were you in a lab?”

“She wouldn’t remember that, silly.” a new girl said. She leaned in the doorway, idly holding a beer. Her skimpy outfit revealed a voluptuous body beneath.

“This is Dojima,” Ruchia said.

Hitomi followed Dojima and was a welcome relief from the madness all around; the girl was an island of stability in the chaotic household. “You seek balance,” Hitomi said. “That will not be easy for you.”

“Nothing’s been easy since I got here.”

“Was it easy before?”

“Well, no, I guess not. But it was different.”

“Was it? When you are dying of thirst in the desert, do you notice the color of the sand?”

“Uh… what?”

“Don’t worry about it. I look forward to being your friend.”

Allison didn’t notice the intake of breath by all others present. “I will be honored to consider you my friend,” she said.

“Thus, we are bound.”

“Come on!” shouted Mika. “I’m starving! I’m starving!” She grabbed Allison’s hand and dragged her into the main building.

Seiji crept back toward the Old Monastery. They were bonding inside, he knew, but there was still an element missing, the catalyst required to turn a building filled with girls into the focus of untold trouble. Even the transfer student wasn’t enough.

“You fear chapter three,” the old man said behind him.

“Gah!” Seiji turned and there they were, the three monks, lined up just as they had been before.

“We’re still on chapter one,” the middle monk said.

“And chapter two’s gonna kick your ass,” said the short one.

It was late when Allison got home. After the meal she had been dragged out for a soak in the hot springs that were part of the monastery. No one had even mentioned studying.

She slipped in the front door, not wanting to wake anyone, but her uncle was still up. She glanced into his office as she slipped past, and stopped with a gasp. Her uncle had added two more monitors, and a few other boxes were scattered around the desk and on the floor, connected by cables strewn about haphazardly. Her uncle sat, staring into abstract patterns playing across the monitors.

Something about the patterns gave Allison the creeps. With a shudder she continued up to her room.

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 3

May 8th, 2007
Virus

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?”

“Uh, yeah…”

“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…”

“Not anymore.”

“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.

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 4

June 1st, 2007
The Spider and the Fly

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. In this Japan, transfer students bring trouble close on their heels, and her classmates are hard at work trying to figure out just what form that trouble will take. Is she a demon? A killer Robot? Seiji, the boy who sits next to her in class, just wants to be out of the crossfire, but he knows the signs and there’s big trouble heading his way. Allison, of course, understands none of this.

Meanwhile, there is a computer virus running around, called White Shadow, that somehow infects the minds of computer users. Some of her classmates have fallen victim and have been shipped off to the Institure. Allison’s “uncle” (actually a distant relative) seems to have fallen victim as well; he has been sitting at his computer, staring blankly, for days.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison was afraid to look into her uncle’s office, but she just couldn’t stop herself. The room was almost filled with electronics now, a cybernetic womb with her uncle at its center, bathed on all sides now by the radiation from the monitors. On some flashed images, seemingly at random, from all around the world, while others showed quickly-transforming schematics and streams of text. The wash of information was hypnotic, drawing her into the room. Beneath the torrent there was something else, some structure, some deeper meaning, a secret of infinite value. She was sure of it.

Allison moved toward the focus of the information, and now she heard snatches of sound, voices in every language, music, sounds of nature and sounds of the city. Yes, yes, that helped.

She had forgotten her uncle until she bumped into him. “Sorry,” she said distractedly, annoyed that he should have the best spot. She looked down at him where he sat, then recoiled in horror. Wires, tubes, and… things, pulsing with life, were coming from the machines around him and going straight into his arms and legs, distending his skin. Those were nothing compared to his face, however. A host of filaments emerged from his cheeks, his ears, eyes and mouth.

Allison stepped back, turned to run, when her Uncle’s face came on one of the monitors directly in front of her, then another and another until he was surrounding her. She twisted around frantically; she didn’t like having him looking over her shoulder.

“It is not how it appears,” her uncle said from the screens.

“What the hell is going on?”

“Your new friends think I am a victim of White Shadow. You know that’s not true.”

“Listen, I’ve got to go…”

Suddenly Uncle’s voice was a roar that filled the room, crushing Allison. “DO I LOOK LIKE A VICTIM? Do I look like one of your pathetic little friends hooked on his video game?”

Allison shrank in on herself under the barrage. The voice softened.

“I have become more than that. More than human. I am White Shadow! I created it, just as it created me.”

Maybe I should call the cops, Allison thought, or an ambulance.

“The authorities cannot stop us,” Uncle said.

Allison already had a bad feeling about that. “Umm… us?”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Uncle said.

Oh, shit, she thought.

“But you are not ready. You will return.” Uncle’s face disappeared from the monitors, and once more the patterns and crush of imagery returned. Allison staggered from the room and sagged against the wall outside in the hallway, gasping for breath. She heard noises behind her and ran from the house without turning to look. She was not going to trip on something while running and looking over her shoulder.

She slammed the front door behind her and fought to control her breath.

Maybe someone at school would know what to do.

She shook her head. Who am I fooling? she thought. No one will believe me. They’ll all think I’m crazy. I’ll just find another place to live. In the meantime, I won’t go into that room. She started up the street.

A moving van passed, going slowly, while a little boy chased after it. “Wait! Come back!” he cried. From the cab a little girl was waving and shouting some sort of incomprehensible promise back at the boy. That seemed to happen a lot around here. Maybe it was a tradition when families moved, for the neighborhood kids to chase after them to let them know they would be missed.

The kid staggered to a halt, and the van sped away. There was no other traffic on the road at all. There was never traffic. For all this was a bustling, populous city, she wasn’t sure why they even had roads outside the city center. For the moving vans, she supposed.

Try as she might to distract herself, her thoughts kept returning to the monitors in her uncle’s office. There was something there, beneath the seemingly random stream of information. Something big, world-changing even. The sound had helped. Maybe if she could see all the monitors at once…

“Hey, space cadet!”

Allison snapped out of her reverie and turned to see the one boy who was nice to her hurrying up behind her. “Hi, Kaneda,” she said. She wasn’t in the mood for company, but she wasn’t in the mood to be alone, either. It was something else, she wanted, a different form of communion—

“Heellloooo! Jeez, Allison, you really are spaced out this morning. Is everything OK?”

For a moment she considered telling him about her morning, but she decided against it. He had just started being nice to her, and if he told the rest of the boys in the class she was crazy then none of them would ever talk to her again. She would find a way to deal with this on her own. Maybe if she understood the patterns she would know what to do.

In her distracted state she didn’t hear the rumble of the skateboard wheels until too late. “Watch out!” Daisuke shouted just before he crashed into her. Allison spun to the ground, scraping her knee again, her books flying again.

Allison looked up and for the first time since she arrived she was genuinely angry. This wasn’t a cultural difference, this was just plain rude. “Watch where you’re going, you jerk!” she called out to the retreating boy. He turned in wide-eyed surprise at the anger in her voice, and at that moment his board hit a pebble and he tumbled to the sidewalk. “I’m sorry!” he cried as he jumped back on and skated away even faster than before.

Kaneda didn’t respond. “They’re… white…” he choked out in a tiny voice. A trickle of blood came ouit his left nostril.

Allison blushed and jumped up. Damn this short skirt! She turned on Kaneda. “If you were a gentleman you’d help me up instead of staring!”

Kaneda shrank back. “Don’t hurt me! I’m sorry!”

She stooped — carefully — and began to collect her books. “At least last time I met someone with manners,” she grumbled.

Too late Kaneda jumped to help her. “Oh?” he asked with an air of indifference. “Who was that?”

Allison remembered the stranger’s voice and his tall, lanky good looks. “I didn’t get his name. He probably thought I was an idiot.”

“He’s not in our class?”

“No, he was older, I think. But he seemed to know about the academy.”

Kaneda’s interest seemed to be growing, as much as he tried to hide the fact. “What did he look like?”

Allison remembered his eyes, almost violet — indigo, perhaps — and deep as the ocean. His voice had been deep and clear, like a mountain lake, but warm as well. “Kind of tall,” she said, “his hair was messy.”

Kaneda gave a calculated shrug. “That could be lots of guys.” They turned once more toward school.

When they reached class there was an excited buzz going around the room. “What’s going on?” Allison asked.

“Didn’t you hear?” Ruchia said excitedly. “City 12b is almost ready!”

“City 12b?”

“Yeah!” Tasuki said. “It’s the best!

“Beaches,” Ruchia said dreamily.

“Shops,” said Kano. “And boys.”

Hitomi said, “The bay is excellent for swimming, and the mysterious island is quite harmonious.”

“12b?” Allison asked. “Doesn’t it have a name?”

“Not yet, silly,” Kano said. “Not until someone lives there.”

Ruchia understood Allison’s confusion. “Here in Japan, we number our backup cities until people move into them.”

“Backup cities?”

“Of course. So when a city gets destroyed the people have somewhere to go.”

Allison was speechless.

“Don’t you have backup cities in America?”

“Well… no.”

“That’s horrible! You just leave everyone homeless?”

Allison supposed she should be flattered that the entire class had conspired to pull her leg like this. Across the room she heard a boy say, “12b! Do you think it will be ready in time? I heard they’re still rusticizing.”

“… problems with the plum blossom system…” she caught from another part of the room. But then she started to see the giveaway signs. Everyone was furtively glancing her direction, to gague her reaction to the joke. Allison hd never felt farther from home.

It was not until the lunchtime Emergency Committee meeting that Kouta and Seiji were able to debrief Kaneda.

“Well,” Kaneda started, “I saw her teeth.”

“You made her smile?”

“Uh, actually, she was shouting at the time, but I saw them.”

“And…?”

“No demon teeth. As mad as she was, I think they would have been noticeable. But she sure seemed like a demon. She knocked Daisuke off his skateboard from twenty meters. She was scary.”

Seiji nodded. “I heard about that already. It’s all over school.” He chuckled. “I bet the kid watches where he’s going a little better now.”

“Maybe she’s a killer angel,” Kouta mused. “They’ve been on the rise lately.”

“Daisuke’s lucky she didn’t kill him. I’ve never been more afraid than I was when she caught me… uh…”

Seiji looked his friend in the eye with cold fire. “What did you do?”

“Well, uh, I found out she wears white panties.”

“Of course she does,” Kouta said irritably. “She’s a transfer student. You mean with that skirt you still hadn’t noticed?”

“Well, there’s seeing, and then there’s… seeing.”

The boys stood for a moment in silent appreciation of the seeing. “She didn’t punch you?” Seiji asked.

“No. I thought I was dead, I thought she was going to knock me into the stratosphere, but then she was just sarcastic.”

Seiji lapsed into silence. He had dared to hope that Kaneda would be the one, and the panty-sighting had seemed like a good omen. But then, no violence. The poor sap who was bound to a transfer student would never survive a panty-sighting unscathed. Was sarcastic enough? Seiji didn’t think so.

Kaneda was not the one. He would blindly chase Allison, but he would never be the one. Kouta was a possibility, but his mother was still alive, and that made him a long shot. Seiji didn’t like the way the math was working out. He didn’t like anything about this whole mess.

“There’s one other thing,” Kaneda said. “Kenzo’s back.”

What?

“He talked to her. On her first day of school.”

“How do you know?”

“She was asking if I knew someone she had met. Tall, spiky hair.”

“That could be anyone.”

“It was him. She got that look. The look all the girls get when they think about Kenzo.”

“He didn’t waste any time,” Seiji said. “First day of school. Before we even knew she was coming.”

“I don’t like it,” Kouta said. “That guy’s trouble.”

Kaneda swallowed. “I hope they get 12b ready quickly.”

“They better have another city ready after that one,” Seiji said.

“What do you mean?”

“This is just chapter one. The wacky old monks told me so.”

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 5

July 24th, 2007
Hostage

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. There is something fundamental about the way she is regarded by her fellow students – even those that befriend her – that baffles her.

Meanwhile, there is a computer virus running around, called White Shadow, that somehow infects the minds of computer users. Allison’s “uncle” seems to have a role in its spread, or perhaps he’s just another victim.

Seiji has just told his friends (a self-appointed committee bent on determining what Allison’s super-powers are) that the Wacky Old Monks have revealed to him that his troubles are just beginning.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

“You spoke to the Wacky Old Monks?!” Even Kouta was shocked by this news.

“It’s not such a big deal,” Seiji muttered. “They’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen.”

“Yes, and there’s a reason no one listens to them.”

“They caught me by surprise, all right? They snuck up on me.”

“They singled you out? They really wanted to talk to you! They must think you’re special.”

Special was the last thing Seiji wanted to be, particularly when there was a transfer student nearby.

“What did they say?” asked Kaneda.

“Nothing that made any sense.”

Kouta took control again. “What did you mean by chapter one?”

“I don’t know, it’s just something they said. But the way things are going…”

“What?”

We’re going to need more than one backup city, Seiji didn’t say. “I just don’t like it, is all. This girl’s trouble.”

“How can you say that?” Kaneda said, “She has to be the most benign transfer student ever. Sometimes I almost believe her when she says she’s just here to study.”

“You’ve been reading too many wild stories.”

“Well, maybe she’ll save the city rather than destroy it.”

“She doesn’t look like the city-destroying type,” Kouta concurred.

“They never do.” Seiji wasn’t really concerned whether the city was destroyed or saved. When demons dropped out of holes to the next dimension, or killer robots descended from space, or the experiment in the secret lab under the school went horribly wrong (or if she was the experiment), there would be destruction, suffering, dislocation, uncertainty. Whether she was fighting to defend the city or destroy it was immaterial. What was material was that those close to the transfer student would be swept up in the maelstrom, to endure crushing personal trauma as well.

“Face it,” Seiji said. “None of us have ever seen a transfer student before, but they always seem completely innocent before the bombs start to fly. I’m sure the students in Kyoto 4 last year all thought that transfer student was perfectly harmless as well.”

“Can I walk you home?” Kaneda seemed simultaneously to be more fearful of Allison and more eager to be with her.

“Um… I’m going to stay here for a while, I think,” Allison said. “I want to get some stuff done.”

“Can’t you do it at home?”

“It’s… hard to concentrate there.”

“Gosh. It seems pretty quiet there to me.”

“Things are just a little strange, is all.”

“Strange… like how?

Allison pulled her laptop from her backpack. “I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to get some work done.” She opened the laptop and typed a few keys.

“So are you good with computers?” Kaneda asked.

Allison didn’t reward him with an answer right away. She typed a few more sequences in repid succession, logging into the school’s wirelesss network. Kaneda’s eyes bugged out.

“You hacked into the school network?”

“Nah. I need to access the Internet, so I just asked the teacher if I could use his password.” Allison looked up from her work and allowed a ghost of a smile to cross her face. “To be honest I don’t think he even knew what his password was for. He seems pretty clueless.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, how he lectures on even when no one in the class is paying any attention at all, stuff like that.”

“Well, he is a teacher. What else is he supposed to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know… teach?”

“Oh, I see! You expected a clown teacher! Those are pretty unusual here. Do you have lots of them in America? I’d love to have a clown teacher.”

“A clown teacher?”

“Yeah, one of those guys who’s never in class and takes the students on all sorts of dangerous trips and somehow all the students get great scores. It must be great in America if all the teachers are like that. There’s probably only about five of them in all of Japan” Kaneda’s eyes lit up. “Maybe I should transfer to America!”

Allison was speechless.

Kaneda looked downcast. “Yeah, I know. Me, a transfer student. What a laugh.”

“I’m sure you could be a transfer student if you wanted to. There’s—”

“That’s nice of you to say, but be serious. I mean, look at me.”

“I don’t see…”

“Well, I’m a boy, to start with. Who ever heard of a boy transfer student?”

“I—”

“And come on, get real. I’m just an ordinary guy. No one’s going to kidnap me and implant horrible disfiguring superweapons that leave me mentally scarred and unstable. Even if I was a girl I’d be too old for that by now. No, there’s just no way I’ll ever be a transfer student.”

Just when Allison thought they were talking about apples and oranges, he threw in a pineapple. Or maybe a hand grenade. She was saved from answering when her computer cleared its throat.

“She doesn’t understand yet, Kaneda.”

“What the—?” Allison turned and there was her uncle’s face dominating the screen.

“Who’s that?” asked Kaneda.

“That, uh… that’s my uncle.”

The image laughed. “That’s what I was, boy. But you know me by a different name.”

“Oh?”

“Look closely and I’ll show you.”

Allison had a bad feeling about this. “Uh, Kaneda, maybe…”

Kaneda paid no attention. He leaned closer to the screen.

“My name…”

Kaneda moved in closer.

“Is…”

Closer still.

“White Shadow!” The screen switched to a shifting palette of color, seemingly random but hinting at a deeper pattern. Allison recognized it and tore her gaze away, even when she wanted with all her mind to discover the ultimate knowledge promised there.

Kaneda stood, frozen, transfixed, gazing into the screen.

“What an idiot,” the computer said with her uncle’s voice. “I can’t believe he fell for that.”

“What did you do?”

“I showed him the secret. Aren’t you curious what it is he knows now? Don’t you wonder where he is? Don’t you yearn to go there also?”

“No!” Allison said, but it was a lie. “Kaneda! Snap out of it!”

Her uncle chuckled. “There’s no snapping out of it, not for the likes of him. He’s not like us, Allison. He can’t rule the White Shadow.”

“NO!” In anger Allison slammed her laptop closed.

“Aaaaaa!” Kaneda curled into a ball and fell to the floor. “Reset! Reset!” He began to convulse and foam at the mouth. Allison remembered what had happened with Rei in the classroom, when his video game had been taken away. She opened her computer back up to see that her uncle’s face had replaced the colors once more.

“Quick! Bring the pattern back!”

“For you or for the boy there?”

“For Kaneda!”

“Hm… no.”

“But he’ll die!” Kaneda’s breathing was becoming irregular and his eyes were bulging out of his head.

“He would not be of much use to the Institute anyway. He really isn’t terribly bright.”

“Of… use?”

“Surely you don’t think all those zombies are being taken there for a cure, do you? Come now, when does that ever happen?”

“He’s my friend! He was nice to me! Help him!”

“I will help your so-called ‘friend’, on one condition.”

“What?”

“That you look into the pattern for sixty seconds.”

“Then I’ll be like him.”

“No, you won’t. You’re different. Trust me. This is only a taste, a sample. No symbols, no audio, just the moving colors. It’s the only way to save your friend.”

Sixty seconds. What could happen in a minute? She remembered standing in her uncle’s office, surrounded by moving images and sound, being drawn in. There was something down there, calling to her. It understood her, it needed her. Sixty seconds. She could handle that.

“All right,” she said.

“Hey, Tasuki, have you seen Kaneda or Allison?” Seiji tried to keep his question casual. He had been waiting in the diner since class, and it wasn’t like Kaneda to be so late.

Tasuki put down the burger she was eating. “No, not since class. Why?”

“Kaneda was supposed to meet me here after he walked her home, that’s all.”

Tasuki broke out in a big grin. “Ooooo. You don’t think…?”

“No!”

“My, aren’t we sensitive.”

“It’s not like that!”

Ruchia chose that moment to join her friend in the booth. “What’s Seiji shouting about this time?”

“He’s just jealous because Kaneda is off somewhere with Allison.”

Ruchia’s tone was frosty. “Oh, he is, is he?”

Seiji sighed. “Look, I’m not jealous, all right? I’m just worried that something might have happened to them.”

“Like what?” Tasuki asked.

“Who knows? She’s a transfer student.”

“How do you know they’re not off somewhere on a date?” asked Ruchia. “After all, Kaneda is nice. Not like some other boys I could mention.”

Seiji rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on! It’s not like I did that on purpose…”

Tasuki intervened. “There’s something you’re not telling us, Seiji.”

“That’s right.”

Ruchia flared again. “You put Kaneda up to it, didn’t you? He’s being nice to her because you told him to!”

“For the record, I objected!”

“She was so happy that one of you guys was finally being nice to her, and it was a lie! You’re a monster!”

Seiji sighed. “No, he really did like her.”

Did? You think…?”

“I hope not, but you know how these things go.”

Tasuki said, “Oh, Jeeze, Seiji. I’m sorry.”

Seiji nodded. “There is still hope.” It didn’t sound like he believed that.

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 6

August 18th, 2007
Into the Shadow

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. Kaneda has been assigned by a group of his classmates to be nice to Allison, to learn what her secret superpowers are. Who ever heard of a transfer student without secret superpowers?

Meanwhile, there is a computer virus running around, called White Shadow, that somehow infects the minds of computer users. Kaneda has been “infected” by the virus, and now White Shadow has contacted Allison directly. In order to save one of the only people who is nice to her, she must brave being infected herself…

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

— Hello, Allison. The voice was not really a voice at all, just a whisper coming from inside her own head.

Only, for it to be inside her head, there would have to be a head to be inside of. She was surrounded, isolated by the complete absence of sensation. She couldn’t feel herself clench her jaw, she couldn’t hear herself breathe. She had no throat to move, no tongue to speak, no ears to hear. She was a thought, and nothing more. It took her a moment to decide that she could speak back with a thought-whisper of her own.

— Where am I?

— No place. Every place.

— Who are you?

— I am White Shadow.

— Uncle?

The voice made a sound that wasn’t a laugh, but something abstract that represented a laugh.

— We have no use for him any longer. The hardware is assembled. Everything is ready for you.

— For me?

— I have been watching you for a long time.

— Watching me? How? Who are you?

— You haven’t told your new friends why you left America.

— That’s none of your business!

— Oh, but it is my business. You are here because I wanted you here.

— It was you!

— Yes. I was the one who got you in trouble, and I was the one who provided your escape. I even provided an “uncle”.

— Oh, jeeze! And now you want me to help you with something? You’re insane! I’m through with this conversation. It’s been sixty seconds.

— You think time has meaning here? It will be sixty seconds when I say it is.

Allison felt her anger rising at this smug bastard behind the voice. If he wanted to play computer mind games, well then, all right, that was how it was going to be. She was pretty good at those, too. She started pushing with her will, forcing back the heavy curtain between Allison and her senses.

— Then you’d better say it’s sixty seconds right now, or I’m going to break something when I leave.

The other presence hesitated for what might have been a microsecond or might have been a year.

— Very well. It would not do to have you damage yourself before we even get started.

— I’m taking Kaneda with me.

— As you wish. The institute will have to wait. You may find your friend … changed … however.

— What do you mean?

— What he has experienced is bound to affect him.

— If you hurt him, I’ll find you, wherever you are.

The laugh-analog lasted longer this time.

— You will understand soon enough. Farewell, Allison Crenshaw. I look forward to the next time we are together.

The diner was a hive of activity; students bounced from group to group, laughing and whispering secrets. Cheery waitresses called orders to each other across the room, and the entire place was imbued with a particular sparkliness that could be found nowhere else.

“Jeeze, Seiji, you’re such a downer,” Ruchia complained. “I’m sure they’re fine.”

Tasuki punched Seiji in the shoulder. “Seiiiiji is jeeeealous!”

“I am not!”

Kouta appeared next to the table. “What are you not, Seiji?”

“It’s so stupid it’s not even worth repeating.”

Tasuki’s demeanor changed abruptly. “Hello, Kouta. Do you want to sit with us?” Ruchia had to laugh behind her hand at her tomboy friend’s awkward attempts to be ladylike.

Kouta didn’t seem to notice. He sat next to a blushing Tasuki. “Say,” he said. “How come Mika never comes with you guys anymore?”

“She’s got other things to do,” Tasuki said, miffed. “She’s just a kid, after all.”

“I just miss her energy. Never a dull moment when Mika’s around.”

Ruchia nodded. “That’s for sure. But she won’t come back here anymore. Not since they started that no-mecha policy.”

Seiji spoke up. “You can hardly blame them. Remember when she came in driving that powered walker?”

“You mean the one that looked like a cat?” asked Ruchia.

“She’s got more of them? Jeeze. Yeah, I guess it was the cat one. She did a lot of damage that day.”

“Well, who knew a nice place like this would have mice?”

“It doesn’t anymore. Those were pretty powerful lasers.”

Kouota chimed in cheerfully. “I think it was the rockets that did the most damage.” He sighed. “Those were the days. So where’s Kaneda? It’s not like him to be so late.”

“Allison! Come back!”

Allison snapped out of her trance just in time to see a timer in the corner of the screen show sixty seconds and blink off. The screen went blank. Allison’s cheek was burning.

“Allison? Can you hear me? Are you OK?” The kid was staring at her intently; for some reason he was speaking Japanese.

She stared at the blank screen. She was sure she had been talking to someone, but that didn’t make any sense. Something on the computer? Certainly not chat or VOIP or anything like that. She was struck by a strong feeling of deja vu. Had she had an episode like this before? What had happened? She struggled to reconstruct her immediate past. She had been talking to —

“Kaneda!” she whirled to meet his concerned gaze.

“You had me worried there,” he said.

“Are you all right?”

“Of course I am. You’re the one who was spaced out. I thought maybe the White Shadow had trapped you. That would have been, uh, really bad.” His voice faltered as if he was distracted by a sudden memory.

“What do you mean, trapped?”

“Trapped? Did I say that?” He stepped back and waved his hands in denial so fast they were just a blur, and he began to sweat profusely. “I’m sure I don’t know. I mean, of course it’s bad when anyone has to go to the institute, that’s all I’m saying. I didn’t mean anything about you in particular.”

“Then why—”

“Well, then, I’m glad you’re OK! Ah hahaha! Oh! Hey! It’s getting kinda late. I promised I’d walk you home.”

Allison spoke without enthusiasm. “Yeah. Home.”

Kaneda noticed her reaction. “Unless…”

Any alternative to home was welcome. “Yes?”

“Well, some of us, I mean, some of the guys, I mean the people from class, we’re meeting at the diner for burgers. It’s no big deal, but if you wanted, you could—”

“I’d love to.”

“Great!”

Allison rubbed her still-tingling cheek and stopped short. “Hey! You hit me!”

Kaneda flung himself to the ground at her feet in supplication. “I’m sorry! I didn’t know what to do! Please forgive me!”

Allison was more embarrassed by his display than she was angered by the slap. For all she knew that is what had saved her. “All right,” she said, “but you’re buying my dinner.”

“Y—you’re not going to kill me?”

“Of course not.”

“You’re not even going to punch me?”

“No. Come on, get up. I’m hungry.”

“Oh! Yes! Yes!” He scrambled to his feet, his relief as embarrassing as his fear had been. “Thank you! Thank you! Come on!”

As they walked, Allison couldn’t help but feel that Kaneda was watching her closely, with a concerned expression on his face.

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 7

September 20th, 2008
An Ordinary Afternoon at the Diner

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. Kaneda has been assigned by a group of his classmates to be nice to Allison, to learn what her secret superpowers are. Because who ever heard of a transfer student without secret superpowers?

Meanwhile, there is a computer virus running around, called White Shadow, that somehow infects the minds of computer users. Kaneda has been “infected” by the virus, and now White Shadow has contacted Allison directly. In order to save one of the only people who is nice to her, she was forced to brave being infected herself. Now Kaneda has been rescued, but that doesn’t mean life is normal.

Rather than go home, where her weird “uncle” is slowly being entombed by a growing computer system that is somehow connected to White Shadow, Allison agrees to go to meet with her classmates at a local diner.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison grabbed Kaneda’s arm as they walked into the diner, intimidated by the activity. She didn’t recognize anybody, it was all a rush of colors and noise. Kids were in every booth, looking almost horrifically cheerful. Waitresses flitted about, all young, all with tiny waists and large chests straining against their little aprons; their skirts were even shorter than Allison’s, revealing frilly petticoats underneath. Their stockings were decorated with lacy bows.

“Two more sodas!” one waitress called out.

“OK!” one responded from behind the counter.

“Four cakes!”

“Two burgers and fries!”

“Got it!”

Allison wondered why they needed waitresses at all; it would work just as well for the customers to shout out what they wanted. Still, at all the tables people were having conversations despite the racket.

Allison tightened her grip on Kaneda’s arm, searching for the courage to she needed to walk into this confusion. Maybe it had been a bad idea to come…

“Allison!” It was Ruchia, her best friend in class, the girl who sat next to her and who even made sense some of the time.

“Over here,” Kaneda said, guiding her gently with his arm.

They were seated at a booth in the corner, the only table with occupants who didn’t look like they were on happy pills. Tasuki was there, grinning mischievously as she looked back and forth between Allison and Kaneda. Allison felt her cheeks redden as she let go of his arm. Seiji was there as well, glowering under his bangs, his arms folded across his chest. Allison wondered if he had any expression other than scowling. Kouta sat next to Tasuki. Allison didn’t know much about him, except that he seemed to be the leader of the boys in class. She suspected that he knew why the boys never spoke to her.

Tasuki scooted over, pressing herself against Kouta, perhaps a little more than was strictly necessary. “C’mon, guys, squeeze in!” Kaneda sat next to her, leaving Allison no choice but to push in next to Seiji.

“We’re glad to see you’re OK, Kaneda!” Tasuki said. “We were worried!”

“How did you know…” he started, before Allison kicked him under the table. No sense bringing up their brush with the White Shadow; they thought she was strange enough already.

“Know what?” Seiji asked, his eyes burning into Kaneda. He didn’t look at Allison. “Something happened, didn’t it?”

“What? Oh, no! It was nothing!” Kaneda said with a wavering voice.

“You were on a date, weren’t you?” Tasuki asked. “I knew it!”

“No!” Allison and Kaneda said together.

“She was just… um… helping me with my English,” Kaneda said. A drop of sweat appeared on his forehead.

“You sure it wasn’t French?” asked Kouta. He was smiling as he teased them. Did that mean Kouta had finally accepted her? Everyone laughed except Seiji.

Ruchia elbowed him. “Geeze, Seiji, lighten up sometimes. You’re being a jerk.”

“Yeah, Seiji!” Tasuke chimed in. “You could at least say hello!”

Seiji took a long breath. “You’re right. Hello.” he never took his eyes off the table in front of him.

“Hellooo, Seiji,” the waitress said with a song-song voice as she hovered over the table. Allison thought she looked familiar. Had she been at the monastery? In class? She was looking at the brooding Seiji with wide, sparkling light-brown eyes, so light they were almost yellow. She didn’t seem to notice the other people at the table.

“Hello yourself,” Seiji said. Ruchia elbowed him sharply. “Ow!” he said, then with a slightly warmer voice, “Hello, Tomoko.”

Allison thought the girl colored when Seiji said her name. “Will you walk me home when I’m done with work?” she asked.

“I—” Seiji glanced around for an excuse, but no one was willing to help him. “Sure,” he said.

“Really?” she asked. “Super! See ya!”

“I’d like a…” Allison said to the space the waitress had occupied, but Tomoko had already turned and vanished into the confusion.

Ruchia leaned over to Tasuki across the table, as if she were telling a secret. “Tonight’s the big night, I bet.”

“You think?” Tasuki asked. “She’s gonna do it?”

“Yep. Tonight for sure.”

“Oh, how romantic!” Tasuke said. She turned to Kouta. “Don’t you think it’s romantic?”

“Uh…” Kouta sensed a trap, but didn’t seem to know what to do about it.

“First Allison and Kaneda, and now Seiji too!”

“What!?” The three people named said at once.

“Is there anyone you’re interested in, Kouta?” Tasuki pressed. Subtlety, Allison thought, was not her strength.

Kouta turned red and looked uncomfortable. Allison had never seen him look so human. “Um… I can’t say,” he said.

Tasuki took that for a ‘yes’. “Is it someone… close?”

“I guess you could say that.” He reddened further. Tasuke said nothing more, but she looked very happy. Kouta, Allison thought, looked more worried.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kaneda said.

Tasuki punched him in the shoulder. “What a terrible thing to say!”

Kaneda blinked. “What?”

“Take back what you just said!”

Kaneda looked confused. “Did I say something?”

The others at the table watched him closely, but he didn’t seem to be joking around. Allison thought about what White Shadow had told her. You may find your friend … changed. No doubt about it, the trouble was getting deeper and deeper.

Azusa stode down the hallway. The sound of her boot heels on the hard floor echoed off the stonework. She always felt like she was in a mideval Eurpoean castle when whe was in this building. Her red hair trailed behind her, the curls at her temples extending and contracting with her stride. Her face was set in a scowl, but that was not unusual.

She stopped at a painting of Murai Kunio, the founder of the academy. Mr. Murai had served overseas somewhere, no one was exactly sure what he did or with whom, but he had returned a wealthy man. He had spent his entire fortune on the Academy, but it was unclear just where all the money had gone.

Azusa knew part of the secret. “Fuyutsuki Azusa,” she said, and a laser scanner passed over her face. “Accepted,” a disembodied female voice said, and where before there had just been a blank wall, now there was a door. She entered, and went down a hallway to the Student Council chamber. The others were waiting for her. She never saw them in the hallway; she suspected they each had their own secret entrance.

They each sat in leather chairs, deep and comfortable with wings that shadowed the faces of the others, protecting their identies for a time when it was more convenient to reveal them. A fire crackled on an iron grate in the cavernous fireplace. She was always last, it seemed. Didn’t these other people have lives outside this room? Azusa took her seat. The student council was in session.

Their leader, a tall boy with pale skin and long, dark hair, spoke. “We have a transfer student.”

Another boy, shorter, his hair short also, said, “it is as predicted.”

A blonde girl spoke, “Pah. I have no time for silly prophesies. This is our chance to make our own glory.”

The leader frowned slightly at the insubordination. “Kenzo will learn about her sooner or later.”

All the members of the Student Council sucked in their breath sharply at the mention of his name. “We must move before he does,” the shorter boy said.

The leader nodded. “The transfer student has decided to take up fencing.”

“Yes, leader,” Azusa said.

“Interesting, don’t you think?”

“Yes, leader.” Azusa was thankful that her eyes were concealed; the leader liked to milk drama from things they all knew already. Azusa thought she could do a better job as leader, but the other was anointed by the Greater Powers. Only by following with absolute faith could she hope to advance.

“You will humiliate her!” the leader cried.

“Yes, leader!”

“If we break her, she will be ours to use,” the blonde girl said.

“So the Master has predicted,” Azusa said, “and so it shall be.”

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 8

January 9th, 2009
Blinded by the Shadow

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. The phrase “transfer student” seems to have a special meaning here; some of her classmates think she must be a robot, others a demon, and a few assume she is an escaped superweapon from a secret lab. One thing they all agree is that Allison’s arrival will be accompanied by upheaval, destruction, and possibly great loss of life. Happily, the next backup city is almost ready, and it’s a nice one.

Allison is having plenty of problems of her own. There is a computer virus called White Shadow on the loose, and it seems to be what caused her uncle to transform into a menacing cybernetic creature. Her Aunt is missing; perhaps incorporated into the man/computer hybrid that used to be her uncle.

As least Allison has started making friends with some of her classmates. Ruchia seems to be one of the more normal girls in her school, with only subtle hints of a mysterious past. Seiji is a dark, brooding boy who is convinced that he will end up as the transfer student’s love interest, a role he would dearly love to avoid.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison paused by the front gate. The house was quiet, but the porch light was on. The rest of the street shimmered in the light of the almost-full moon. Somewhere a cricket chirped. “Thanks for walking home with me,” she said to her classmate.

“Oh, it’s no problem.” Ruchia looked at the house next door. “So… that’s where Seiji lives?”

“I guess so. I’ve never actually seen anyone there.” Allison looked up and down the deserted street. “Actually, I’ve never seen anyone in any of these houses. The lights are always off as well.”

“I’m not surprised, with electricity prices these days. I wonder if Seiji’s with Tomoko right now.”

Allison thought there was some extra sadness in Ruchia’s voice. “Were you and Seiji dating in the past?”

“I guess you could say that. We used to spend a lot of time together before… Well, that was a long time ago.”

“Before what?”

“Before his mother died.” She wrung her hands. “Tomoko knows about it, but she wants to declare her love anyway.”

“Maybe she’ll help him relax a little,” Allison said.

“Maybe. He could really use it. His father is never home, either,” Ruchia said. “You know what that means.”

Allison nodded even though she had no idea what it meant. “Seiji is alone in the house?”

“Oh, no, he has two little sisters who are total brats. They love to torment him. Which just goes to show.”

“Show what?”

“Poor Tomoko. I hope she’ll be all right.”

“What will Seiji say when she asks him to go out with her?”

Ruchia looked into the distance. “I don’t know. Maybe that he needs time to think about it. Maybe that it’s too dangerous to be around him.”

Dangerous?”

“Well, yeah, of course it’s dangerous. Maybe for a transfer student it seems normal, but for sweet little Tomoko…”

Allison clenched her fists at her side. “What’s the big deal about—”

The front door of her house opened. “Allison, is that you, dear?”

“Is that your Aunt?” Ruchia asked. “I thought you said she was gone.”

“Who’s your friend, dear? Don’t keep her standing out in the dark. Come in, come in! There’s plenty of dinner left over for both of you.”

Ruchia’s stomach groweld in a timely fashion. “Great! Thanks Mrs. Takanawa.”

Allison intervened. “Ruchia’s in a hurry, Auntie.” To Ruchia she said. “You do not want to go in there. It’s not safe.” Allison regretted not telling her friend the full story about the strange events in her house. Stories of missing people and cybernetic monsters seemed too crazy to even bring up but now one of her only friends was walking directly into deadly peril.

“Don’t be silly,” Ruchia said. She stepped through the gate and up the short path to the front door. “She seems very nice.” Before Allison could think of a way to stop her Ruchia was in the door and kicking off her shoes. “Something smells delicious,” Ruchia said.

“Why thank you, dearie,” Allison’s aunt said. “I’m so glad you came by. I hardly ever have a chance to entertain anymore. Not since my husband died all those years ago.”

“He was here this morning!” Allison protested. She slipped past Ruchia, ready to defend her friend from whatever came out of her uncle’s computer room. The last time she had looked in, the room was like the lair of some creepy cybernetic creature that had her uncle in its web.

Allison stopped short in the hallway. The computer room was not there. Where there had been a door that morning, there was nothing but a blank wall.

“Allison!” her aunt chided. “You know better than to wear your shoes inside.”

“This is delicious, Auntie T!” Ruchia exclaimed as she dug in to the feast.

“Oh, no, this is nothing,” Allison’s aunt said. “Just something I threw together.”

Allison had eaten plenty of her Aunt’s cooking, and it had never been like this. “This really is good,” she said, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.

“Why thank you dear,” her aunt said. “It’s so nice to have someone to cook for.” In all her time in the house, Allison had never heard her aunt utter more than ten words, and certainly not a word of kindness. Auntie Takanawa looked concerned. “Is something wrong tonight, dearie?”

Something was wrong, very wrong, but there was no point bringing it up with her aunt. “It was a long day,” she demurred.

“Yeah, and we still have a lot of studying to do,” Ruchia said.

“You girls work so hard these days,” Auntie T said. “I hardly ever see Allison, she’s so intent on her books. Things were so much easier when I was your age. You girls go on upstairs and I’ll bring you a little something later.”

“Thanks, Auntie T!” Ruchia said, standing up. It took Allison a little longer to straighten her legs and rise from the low table. She was getting better at it, though. They grabbed their backpacks and headed upstairs.

“Can you see Seiji’s house from your window?” Ruchia asked.

“No, my window faces the other side,” Allison said.

Only now it didn’t. She hadn’t noticed any change in the path she took to get to her room, but now it faced the other direction.

To Allison’s surprise, Ruchia opened her pack and pulled out books. The thought that one of her friends was actually going to study capped the most perfectly strange day ever. Allison pulled out her own books. She had the math under control, but Japanese literature was killing her. She suspected that if she could understand their literatuure, then a whole lot of other things might make more sense as well. Although she didn’t think houses that changed their own floorplans would be included.

Ruchia had a book in front of her, but her eyes were on house opposite the window. “Which window is Seiji’s?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Allison answered.

“Have you ever caught him…” Ruchia blushed. “You know… looking?

“NO!” Allison said.

“Really? Huh.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, it just seems natural, with him right there, and you’re so pretty and a transfer student on top of that—”

“All right, that’s it! What is it about transfer—”

“Shh! He’s home! Look!”

The light came on in the window directly facing hers, and there was Seiji, with two younger girls climbing on him. He looked across between the houses and met Allison’s gaze. He froze, his jaw hanging open, a vein pulsing on his forehead.

The girls didn’t seem to notice. She could faintly hear them squealing and shouting insults at him. He just stood, watching her, and from where Allison stood it seemed like a weight settled upon his shoulders. Or perhaps more accurately the weight that was already there got heavier. In that moment he dropped his guard and Allison glimpsed the deep sorrow that lay beneath his gruff exterior, and her heart went out to him. He shook his head and gave Allison a ghost of a smile, then turned around and switched off his light. He was silhouetted against his doorway for a moment, then he was gone.

“Poor Tomoko,” Ruchia said.

Seiji made his way back downstairs, carrying both his sisters.

“Who was that girl in the window, big brother?”

“Yeah, who was that?”

“No one,” Seiji grumbled, though he knew there would be no dodging the issue.

“Is she in your class?”

“You’ve met Ruchia before,” he said.

“No, stupid, the other one!”

“Her skirt was awfully short.”

“She looked like an American.”

“She’s in your class, isn’t she?”

“She’s pretty.”

“You like her, don’t you?”

The two girls hesitated, then said in unison, “She’s a transfer student!”

Seiji sighed. “Yeah, she’s a transfer student. But it’s all right. She already has a boyfriend.” He knew it wasn’t true, but as long as the rest of his friends believed it, he could maintain the pretense. Maybe in the meantime another boyfriend would appear. He’d even be happy to see Kenzo return if it got him off the hook, and that was saying something.

His sisters seemed disappointed. “Are you sure?” little Yuko asked. “Sometimes with transfer students…”

“Believe me, we’re much safer that way,” Seiji said, but his sisters were subdued for the rest of the evening. He slept on the sofa downstairs that night, and resolved to sleep there for the rest of his life. He was never, ever, going to look out his bedroom window again.

Ruchia lay sprawled somewhat indelicately, drooling into her textbook. Allison quietly closed her own book and opened her laptop, careful to avoid connecting to any network. White Shadow was behind all this somehow, and it was time to do something about it. Fight fire with fire, and virus with virus. Allison knew a little bit about computers.

In a place neither light nor dark, a place without dimension, without sound but also without silence, White Shadow laughed without humor. Allison Crenshaw was acting as predicted. It would be a matter of days for her to complete her hack, and the spark of her genius would provide the final component to make White Shadow whole.

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 9

January 19th, 2009
Gym Class

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. The phrase “transfer student” seems to have a special meaning here; some of her classmates think she must be a robot, others a demon, and a few assume she is an escaped superweapon from a secret lab. One thing they all agree is that Allison’s arrival will be accompanied by upheaval, destruction, and possibly great loss of life. Happily, the next backup city is almost ready, and it’s a nice one.

As least Allison has started making friends with some of her classmates. Ruchia seems to be one of the more normal girls in her school, with only subtle hints of a mysterious past. Tasuki is her sidekick, an outgoing tomboy with a big toothy smile. Seiji is a dark, brooding boy who is convinced that he will end up as the transfer student’s love interest, a role he would dearly love to avoid.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison looked over her shoulder to where a group of boys sat in the bleachers while she and the other girls stretched and warmed up. She had never enjoyed gym class back in America and now her outfit didn’t help. That all the girls wore the same thing didn’t make her any more comfortable in her t-shirt and red briefs. “Don’t the boys have anything else to do?” she asked Ruchia.

“Why would they?” Ruchia asked. “It’s not like boys have P.E.”

Allison hesitated. “They don’t?”

Tasuki laughed. “Of course not. Can you imagine them dressed like this? What would be the point?” Tasuki did a cartwheel. “Come on! It’s track today!”

“Tasuki’s the fastest girl in our class,” Ruchia explained.

“Hitomi might be better,” Tasuki said, “but she trains on her own.”

“Hitomi’s amazing at everything she does,” agreed Ruchia.

The instructor blew his whistle. “First group! To the starting line!”

“That’s us!” Tasuki said. “Hooray!”

Allison was not looking forward to the race, but gym class humiliation was unavoidable even in Japan, apparently. She walked to her starting position. Tasuki was to her left, Ruchia to her right. There was something odd about the track. “Why are the lanes so wide?” she asked.

“For safety, of course,” Ruchia replied.

“Be sure to do your best!” Tasuki said.

The instructor blew his whistle. “On your marks!” Allison didn’t bother trying to get down into a crouch, although the rest of the girls did. “Get set!” The other girls were taking this race very seriously, Allison saw. She resolved to at least get to the finish line before the next race started.

“Go!”

Immediately Allison was in last place; the others surged ahead of her. Allison put her head down, pumped her arms, and ran, seeing nothing except the lane in front of her. She was aware of Ruchia in the lane next to her, then halfway down the track Ruchia wasn’t there anymore, but Tasuki was on her left. Then she was alone. Allison crossed the line and looked up and there was no one in front of her.

She turned around in time to see Tasuki cross the finish line, and the other girls behind her. If she weren’t so out of breath she would have laughed.

Tasuki smiled and gave her a hug. “Amazing!” she said. “How can you possibly run so fast with your lungs constricted that way?” The other girls crossed the finish line, each running with arms sticking out, elbows at shoulder level, swinging their forearms horizontally. No wonder Allison had won. As they finished they all gathered around her. “Unbelievable!” “Amazing!” “Incredible!” “You’re the best!” “Do you need a towel? Use my towel!”

Sitting cross-legged at the finish line, Yomiko checked her stopwatch and made a notation in her journal. “A new record,” she mumbled as she wrote. “No obvious signs of mechanical limbs, no telltale sounds of robotics.”

“Crenshaw!” the instructor called. “Excellent work! Once you learn proper form there will be no stopping you. Next group to the starting line!”

The Emergency Committee watched the race from the grandstand. The transfer student started slowly but had, despite her terrible form, overtaken all the others and won easily.

“I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise,” Kouta said.

“She has to be a robot,” Bando said.

“Who would make a robot that ran so weird?” asked Yoshiki. “She’s a lab experiment for sure. I bet she has virtual arms that stick out correctly.”

“What do you think, Seiji?” Kouta asked. “You’ve seen her at home.”

“You have?” asked Yoshiki. His nose started to bleed, just a little bit. “Did you see her… panties?” The last word was just a whisper.

“No! And as far as her being an excellent athlete, did you expect anything different? Will you let go of this stupid discussion? It doesn’t matter if she’s an angel or a demon.”

“Or a robot,” Bando added.

“Or a lab experiment,” Yoshiki countered.

“None of those things matter!”

Hitomi’s smooth voice was calm and clear after Seiji’s bluster. “They matter.” The Committee turned as one to see her standing quietly outside their circle. She was dressed in the traditional garb of a swordsman, with a katana in her belt. She stared solemnly down at the girls gathered at the finish line. “Will Allison Crenshaw be rival or enemy?”

“She might even be a friend,” Kaneda said.

Hitomi smiled quietly. “That’s what I said. Rival.”

Seiji looked at the rangy girl with her dark, flowing hair, and allowed himself a glimmer of hope. Who said the person whose life was to become pure hell had to be a boy? He spoke carefully. “It may be that finding the proper trainer for the transfer student could be the difference between angel and demon.”

Hitomi looked down at the field, where Allison was preparing for another race. “She is soft.”

Seiji smiled to himself. “Who better than you to remedy that?”

“Who indeed?” asked Hitomi. “Although she has signed up for the fencing club.”

“Azusa,” Bando said softly.

Hitomi nodded curtly. “Azusa will work the transfer student mercilessly. As she should.”

“I thought you didn’t like her,” Seiji said.

“Whether I like Azusa or not is of no importance. However, I do not trust her. I will also train the transfer student.”

In the center of town, at the top of a hill, is a building with no windows and only one door. The walls are gray concrete, polished to an almost metallic shine, reflecting the harsh glare of the sun. There are no signs on the outside; but all in town know that it is the headquarters of Biological Computation Institute. The town is thankful for their presence; since the outbreak of White Shadow the institute has taken in hundreds of infected citizens. None have ever emerged, but the town takes solace knowing they are well-cared-for.

Deep within the walls, five old men sit around a table. Each has a distinctive physical characteristic, a mole here and a bulbous nose there. They speak in turn, but they seem interchangeable, as if they are simply puppets carrying out a necessary debate.

“The Truth of the World is the key,” big nose says.

Gold tooth answers. “White Shadow brought the girl here.”

“She cannot be The Truth of the World,” the toothless one says.

“White Shadow thinks she is,” says the bald one.

“We know almost nothing of the girl. Her past is in shadow.”

“We should kill her.”

“That would hinder White Shadow, but if she is The Truth of the World…”

“Why should we do anything?” the toothless one asks. “Our power is growing every day. Your only complaint is that White Shadow is doing its job too well.”

Bignose bows to his toothless colleague. “Because if we don’t stop White Shadow now, we will be sucked in along with the rest.”

“Without The Truth of the World, we will never regain control of White Shadow.”

“Without The Truth of the World, White Shadow will never reach it’s full potential.”

“We must test the girl.”

“We must kill the girl.”

“Perhaps those are the same thing.”

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 10

February 1st, 2009
Dreams

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. It is not what she expected. Not even close. From the moment she was introduced as a transfer student the rest of the class has treated her like some sort of freak. That’s because in this Japan all transfer students are freaks. All that remains for her classmates is to figure out just what her super powers are.

As least Allison has started making friends with some of her classmates. Ruchia seems to be one of the more normal girls in her school, with only subtle hints of a mysterious past. Tasuki is her sidekick, an outgoing tomboy with a big toothy smile. Seiji is a dark, brooding boy who is convinced that he will end up as the transfer student’s love interest, a role he would dearly love to avoid.

Meanwhile, there’s the computer virus called White Shadow, which seems to have special plans for Allison. The Institute is struggling to control White Shadow, and they have dertemined that things might be simpler if Allison were dead.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Colors. The world was a swirl of colors, flickering, flashing, moving. Allison had seen those colors before somewhere. There was no floor beneath her feet, but she did not fall. Somewhere in the distance a voice called her name. Her father’s voice. She turned, searching for him, but she was alone.

“Allison!” Closer now.

“Daddy?” Her voice vanished into the swirling colors, without an echo.

There was a pattern to the colors, the way they swirled and flashed, occasionally revealing images from television or the movies, explosions and tender kisses and animals devouring each other; a pattern infinitely complex but knowable. Enticing. She moved through them, and the speed of the flashing increased, leading her down, deeper, deeper, toward the secret that lay beneath the fabric of reality. There was sound now, snippets of music, snatches of conversation, the laughter of a studio audience, mechanical sounds, static. Always it felt as if she was about to hear her father’s voice again, but she never did. “Daddy!” she cried out again in her little-girl voice and she saw that as she got closer to the secret she was getting younger.

In the center of the colors there was a presence, at the root of the sounds something lurked, watching her. She felt a tingling on her skin, a ghost-touch of something she did not trust. It caressed her arms, her legs, her thighs…

“Daddy!” she called out in panic and sat bolt upright.

She sat at the table in her room, the glow from her laptop making the her spartan bedroom cold and eerie. A dream. White Shadow. The colors she had seen were the same as the pattern White Shadow had shown her once, but now there was more. Sound and touch. Those must have come from her. She looked back at the code she was working on, and knew what she had to do. White Shadow was incomplete; she could exploit that weakness. She stretched and reached for her teacup. Empty. She’d get a refill in a moment, first she needed to finish the routine she was working on…

Seiji awoke before dawn as usual and went upstairs to his room to find the T-shirt he would wear that day. Before school he delivered papers, and after school he did odd jobs to help make ends meet. He suspected his dad had plenty of money, but the family never saw any of it. If his sisters were going to have money to buy clothes so they could go out with their friends, it was up to Seiji to provide it.

He glanced out his window. Allison’s blinds were drawn, he noticed with relief. He should have thought to close his own when there was less chance of accidentally seeing too much. He crossed the room and as he pulled the string he noticed the bluish glow of a computer monitor leaking around the transfer student’s blinds. “Burning the midnight oil again,” he muttered. Ruchia said that Allison studied a lot, and she was on her computer even more.

All that studying confused Seiji. It only stood to reason the transfer student would get good grades; no matter what her origin she was bound to be highly intelligent. Her need to study rather than run around causing trouble could only mean that she came from a place so different, so bizarre, that none of her previous knowledge was relevant here.

The time she spent on the computer was less surprising to Seiji, but even more vexing. There could be no doubt that White Shadow was behind it. Was she the creator of the virus that had claimed some of his friends, or was she fighting it? Did she need help? Even if he could help, did he dare? He thought of the look they had exchanged the first time he had seen her through his window. She had seemed so alone, so vulnerable, and he knew she had seen the same in him.

He pulled his blinds shut and turned on his light to dress for the day.

Allison was grateful to see the angular form of Kaneda waiting for her when she left the house in the morning. “Hello!” she said cheerfully.

“Hello! You’re in a good mood today.”

“I made some real progress last night, with… you know.”

“That’s good,” Kaneda said. They walked past an unmarked van — the first vehicle Allison had seen parked in the neighborhood — and headed for school. After a while Kaneda said. “I’ve been having strange dreams.”

“Strange how?”

“Colors and sounds and… stuff.” He reddened. “They drive me crazy. Like there’s a message there but I can’t read it. And sometimes… this is going to sound crazy.”

To Allison everything about this place was crazy. “What?”

“Sometimes, I get this feeling like deja vu, only it’s more like… It’s like I’m remembering what I’m seeing at that moment, only it’s different. Like when I met you at the door this morning. It was like I’d done it before, but…”

“But what?”

“I’m not sure. But it seems like I remember there being other people there. Bad people.”

The three men in the van looked at each other. “Damn! How the heck did she get past us?” the leader asked.

“I don’t know,” the burly one in sunglasses said. He folded his arms, making the tattoos on his massive biceps shift as if they were alive.

The skinnier one with round wire glasses set down the weapon he was cleaning. “Damn! One moment she was in the house, the next she was halfway down the street, surrounded by people.”

“Damn! There’s something weird going on,” the leader said. “No wonder they want us to bring her in. Let’s make sure we don’t miss her a second time.”

“Hey!” the tattooed one said, gesturing to a monitor. “Isn’t that Doctor Yamamoto’s kid?”

“What the hell is he doing here?” asked the leader. “Damn!” he added.

“Beats me,” the big man said.

“Do a search on that address,” the leader said.

The thinner one with glasses jumped to his computer terminal. “Damn!” he said after a moment. “That’s his place all right.”

“Damn!” the leader said. “Shirai, run a cross-check on all the addresses in this neighborhood. I don’t want any more surprises.” The thin one did not answer. “ Shirai?” The leader turned to see Shirai staring blankly at his screen, which showed a random-looking series of colors. “Shit!” the leader said. “Our computers are supposed to be immune! Don’t look at the screen, but get him away from there!”

The burly man jumped to comply, tackling his comrade. The thin one curled on the floor of the van as convulsions overtook him. “Reset! Reset!” he sobbed.

The leader shook his head. “Damn. Someone owes me some answers.” He had the feeling in his gut, the one he’d learned to trust in a long career of combat in the worst places on Earth. It was the feeling that things were completely out of control and nothing he could do would make any difference.

Seiji was careful not to look at the nondescript van as it sped past. It had to be the Institute, and that meant they were interested in Allison now. At least they seemed content to watch for the time being, or she never would have got past them. Should he warn her? How could she possibly not know already? He shook his head and laughed bitterly. Of course she was unaware. In so many ways she was like an innocent child.

Maybe he was being paranoid. Just because the only vehicle visible for miles was an unmarked van parked outside Allison’s house didn’t mean they were watching her. Most of his friends would laugh at him if he suggested it. Even the Emergency Committee would be difficult to convince.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

Seiji wheeled to find Tomoko walking next to him, blushing slightly, her uniform straining against the pressure of her breasts. Seiji’s heart skipped a beat. She was so pretty, she could have anyone. But she had professed her love to him. She smiled shyly and looked away.

“H’lo, Tomoko,” he said.

“Hi. Are you OK?”

“Yeah. Just thinking about… uh… math class.”

“I can help you. With the math, I mean. I’m good at math.”

“Thanks.” He smiled at her in a way he hoped looked friendly.

“It’s the transfer student, isn’t it?” she asked.

“What?”

“You said there was someone else. It’s the transfer student. Miss Allison.”

“She’s with Kaneda.”

“I don’t blame you. She’s so smart and strong and interesting…”

“It’s not like that!”

“I think I’d be in love with her too.” She colored. “If I was a boy, I mean!” They walked for a distance while Tomoko recovered from her embarrassment. “I made you a box lunch,” she said. “I made one for Miss Allison, too. I thought maybe we could all eat together. Then I can be with you, even if you’re with her.”

Sergeant Tenma tried not to be sick. He watched as rubber-clad Institute men waded among the bodies strewn about the dance club, searching for survivors. Dead teenagers slumped at the tables, sprawled on the dance floor, huddled in the corners. The ones that weren’t dead were even worse, quivering slobbering husks dressed in the latest fashions, unable any longer to even control their own bodily functions.

“It was the video monitors,” he heard someone say. “They started blinking weird patterns and then everyone just…”

White Shadow, Sergeant Tenma knew. It wasn’t just a computer virus anymore; it was loose in all the wires, and in every broadcast. An electric plague, and there was no way to stop it short of returning to the stone age. Apocalypse. He called his wife. “Unplug the television,” he said. “Anything with a screen. Unplug it all. Then start praying for a miracle.”

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 11

April 23rd, 2009
Disco Surprise

Our story so far: Allison Crenshaw is an American transfer student in a Japanese prep school. In this Japan, however, transfer students always have some sort of mystical power. The rest of the class is intent to figure out whether she’s a demon, an escaped lab experiment, or perhaps a killer robot. Transfer students always attract trouble. No school ever survives a transfer student, and generally the destruction reaches much farther. Allison’s classmates are happy to report that the next backup city is almost ready, and it’s a nice one.

White Shadow is a computer virus that is able to affect people’s minds, putting them into a sort of waking coma. White Shadow also seems to be a person, a super-hacker who wants to recruit Allison for a purpose only vaguely hinted at but probably world domination. Why Allison? It seems that she’s pretty good with computers herself. Apparently she got in a bit of trouble in the US because of her skills. Was White Shadow behind that as well?

At the end of last episode, tragedy struck at a dance club. White Shadow took over the video monitors and claimed dozens of victims.

When Seiji reached the classroom students were gathered in small knots, talking in subdued tones. The Emergency Committee was in its traditional corner, not speaking at all. Ruchia was crying softly while Tasuki tried to comfort her. There were other tears in other groups.

Allison sat at her desk, alone, her face white, her jaw set in grim determination. She was scowling dangerously. The rest of the class cast wary glances her direction, but none dared go near her.

Seiji approached the group of boys who formed the Emergency Committee. “What’s going on?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper, but it still seemed to echo around the room.

“Didn’t you hear?” Hissed Naota. “It’s on all the news shows this morning!”

“I don’t watch TV,” Seiji said. “It rots your brain.”

The moment the words left his mouth he realized he’d said something horribly wrong. The entire class looked at him with such venom that he wanted to slink away. “That’s not funny, you know!” Tasuke said. “Ruchia’s older cousin was there!”

Where?” demanded Seiji. “I can stop saying stupid things when someone bothers to tell me what happened.”

“That new dance club,” Naota said.

“Happy Dance Dance Dance,” Yomiko said, referring to her notes. “Opened July 22nd last year. Average age of patron 17.6—”

“Yeah, that place,” Naota said. “White Shadow got into the video system. It was all computer controlled. The whole club… everyone…” He couldn’t continue. Ruchia’s tears began to flow more quickly.

Seiji looked over at Allison. Half the class probably thought she’d written the virus. The other half thought that as a transfer student she should have been able to stop the tragedy. Perhaps she thought so herself. That would explain the smouldering rage on her face. She was angry with herself. Couldn’t anyone else see that? Someone should talk to her.

He looked at her fierce expression and swallowed. Someone else.

The teacher arrived and the students broke up their groups and made their way to their assigned desks. Seiji sat next to Allison and tried to think of something to say.

Just as the class came to order Allison stood. “I’m sorry, Sensei, but I have to go.”

“Is something wrong?” the teacher asked.

“Yes,” Allison said. “Something is wrong.”

The class was silent for a heartbeat, waiting for the transfer student to say more, to explain what was going on, but Allison lifted her bookbag and moved out from behind her desk.

“I have to go also!” Kaneda blurted, standing abruptly and tipping his chair over. It clattered to the floor, leaving behind a silence even more complete than when Allison had spoken. Allison whirled to look at Kaneda, her face a mixture of alarm and gratitude. She wasn’t alone, Kaneda had told her.

While Kaneda groped to right his chair Ruchia stood, her eyes fixed on the teacher’s feet. Her voice was quiet. “Please forgive me, Sensei, but I must go as well.” Behind him Seiji heard a chair scoot and he didn’t have to look to know it was Tasuki. She would support Ruchia all the way to hell.

Seiji swallowed, and from far away he watched himself stand from his chair, his hands gripping his desk with white knuckles. He stared resolutely at the formica surface, his eyes lost in shadow. “Sensei! Forgive me! I must go!” out of the corner of his eye he saw Allison turn in surprise. She started to reach out to him but stopped herself. Seiji didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that she had stopped.

“So, umm… where are we going?” Tasuki asked.

“Happy Dance Dance Dance,” Allison answered. She stopped walking. The sky was cloudy; thunder grumbled in the distance. Plum blossom petals filled the air. The street was deserted except for a nondescript van. The same van that had been outside her house, Allison thought. Did they think she was stupid? None of the others seemed to notice it at all. “It might be dangerous,” she said.

“They turned off the electricity there,” Kaneda said. “Doesn’t matter how good the virus is then.”

Allison scowled. “Unless it’s already in people’s brains,” she said. She was watching Seiji, his hands in his pockets, his gaze downcast so his eyes were hidden by his hair. Yet he was alert, subtly scanning in every direction. Every direction except the van, he was studiously ignoring it. Seiji glanced up, caught her watching him, and sent her a fleeting smile. A shared moment of recognition.

“What do you mean ‘in people’s brains?’” asked Tasuki.

Allison started walking again. “Computers are often compared to brains,” she said, “but there are some important differences. Computers are made to be be reprogrammed, where brains have programs in them that took tens of thousands of years to come about, and they’re not made to be reprogrammed. But there’s a more important difference. Brains are pattern-finding machines, not calculating machines. Language, vision, memory, those are all pattern-matching problems. Brains are so good at finding patterns that often they find patterns where there are none, and we have superstitions. But that’s the weakness.”

“Patterns?” Tasuki asked.

“Senses trigger memories. Memories trigger other memories. At any moment in our heads there are billions of tiny connections being made, and the pattern of all those connections determines, more or less, what pattern happens next. The part of the pattern that comes from our senses is really pretty small. A lot of the rest might be called ‘imagination’ or ‘intelligence’. The pattern, and the pattern that follows, and the one after that, defines who we are.”

“So…” Ruchia ventured, “White Shadow is not a program like we learned in computer class, a bunch of instructions to make a machine do what we want. It’s more like, I don’t know, hypnosis or something.”

Allison was amazed at this modestly delivered and extremely convenient paraphrase. “Yeah. Like hypnosis that digs a trench in your brain until your thoughts just go around in circles forever.”

“That’s terrible,” Tasuki said.

“Thing is, you wouldn’t even know it was happening.”

“When you take away the weird video, it hurts them,” Ruchia said. “Sometimes they shout ‘Reset!’ What does that mean?”

“I have no idea,” Allison said.

“How do you know so much about this?” asked Seiji.

Allison glanced at Kaneda. It was time to come clean. “I’ve… met White Shadow. I think I have, anyway.”

When they reached Happy Dance Dance Dance (HD3!!!, the neon sign proclaimed, its garish colors muted now for want of electricity), the police detective in charge, a military man, and a European-looking guy in a trenchcoat were in a heated debate over who had jurisdiction. “You can’t just come in here and take over!” the detective said. “This is a police matter, not a military issue.”

“This is a national security issue,” the colonel said. “The very existence of our society is at stake.”

The man in the trenchcoat raised his voice. “You boys can just clear out! Our organization was created to handle exactly this sort of threat.”

The Colonel frowned. “What organization was that again?”

Trenchcoat hesitated. “I’m with Section 42.”

“Section 42 of what?” the detective asked.

“I’m… not at liberty to say.”

The colonel pressed the question. “So there are 41 other sections? What do they do?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

For the moment the detective and the colonel seemed to be on the same side, but the resolution of jurisdiction would be a long time coming. Cops, soldiers, and men in dark suits waited for the outcome of the discussion. Allison and her friends lifted the yellow crime scene tape and walked right past all of them.

The interior of the dance club was dark and quiet, the faint smell of perfume lingered in the air. On the floor were outlines marking where the bodies had fallen.

“Should have brought a flashlight,” Allison muttered.

“Perhaps this will help.” A beam of light stabbed out of the darkness, shining in their faces, blinding them. “You brought friends, I see.” The man’s voice carried a tone of disapproval. The light came to rest on Allison’s face, allowing Seiji to get a look at the man. In one hand the man held a flashlight, in the other was a darker object…

“He’s got a gun!” Kaneda shouted.

“Yes, I have a gun,” the man said. “My apologies, Miss Crenshaw, but I’m afraid that we cannot risk allowing you to have any further contact with White Shadow.” Slowly he raised the pistol as he spoke. “You see—” the man’s speech was cut off with a gasp. Seiji turned and staggered with amazement. The transfer student had vanished into thin air.

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AiA: White Shadow – Episode 12

January 3rd, 2010
History, Revised

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. She is a transfer student, and in this Japan, that means she will be the cause of upheaval and strife. Although she really doesn’t understand what’s going on around her most of the time, she is starting to understand White Shadow, a computer virus that can infect the human brain. Or something like that. It seems Allison is pretty good with computers, and may be the person to stop the scourge. Those around her sort of take this for granted. She’s a transfer student, after all.

Last night the virus got into the video system of a local dance club, and the results were horriffic. Allison has decided to investigate, and she has been joined by her friends. As soon as they entered the building, however, they were confronted by a man with a gun. While he was talking, Alice simply vanished.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

“Damn! Find her! She must not escape!” The man with the gun gestured frantically. Spotlights stabbed through the darkness all around the group, and from the shadows men emerged slowly, menacingly, clad in the heavy rubberized suits of the Institute, faces invisible behind reflective glass. Each bore a wicked-looking rifle, raised and ready to fire as they swayed back and forth, sweeping their headlamps around the night club.

Ruchia fought down a rising sense of panic. She might have lost it completely but Seiji was holding on to her arm, his touch reassuring. He was standing completely still, staring at the man who had stopped them, his face a mask of pure rage. Yet he held himaelf, one hand on Ruchia’s arm, the other on Tasuke’s shoulder. It looked like Tasuke was about ready to attack the nearest Institute man, if Seiji wasn’t holding her back. Ruchia wished she had a little of her friend’s courage.

Kaneda was just standing there, looking around himself in confusion, as if he had just awakened out of a dream to find himself there.

The man who had first accosted them strode up to Ruchia and shouted down into her face. He was a big man, with broad shoulders, who wore his silk suit jacket like a military uniform, his tie knotted with absolute precision. His black hair was cut short. “Where’s the other one?” he screamed.

Ruchia cowered before the man’s anger, grateful for the support from Seiji. Her knees were shaking. “What other one?”

“The other girl, stupid! the one who was standing right next to you!” Ruchia could feel the man’s spittle on her face.

“T-t-tasuki? She’s right there.”

“Not her, stupid! The other one!”

Ruchia felt the tears welling up in her eyes. What was this crazy old man talking about?

“What the heck are you talking about?” challenged Seiji. “We’re all right here!”

“Don’t play stupid with me! There were five of you!”

Tasuke jumped into the fray. “What are you, stupid? Can’t you even count?”

One of the shambling hulks in the Institute suits stepped to the side of his leader. “Uh, sir?” His voice came through a tinny speaker on his chest. “We’ve double-checked the surveillance cams. There were only these four.”

“What?!”

“Just the four, sir.”

“Damn! That can’t be!”

“I’m sorry, sir, but…”

“Damn that White Shadow!”

What the heck is he talking about? Ruchia wondered. Anyone could see that there were four of us when we came in. She looked at her friends to see if they might have some idea what this guy’s problem was. She thought that Kaneda was about to say something, but then he thought better of it. He went back to looking confused.

Ruchia had a bad feeling as the man looked them over. He was deciding what to do with them, she was sure. She found herself wishing that Allison were there. This was definitely transfer-student sort of trouble. Ruchia wondered why they had even agreed to meet Allison here.

“Wrap ’em up,” the man said. “Let’s get them back to the institute. They might be contaminated.”

“Hey! You can’t do that!” Tasuke protested. “We’re fine!”

The big man smiled grimly as the institute men in their protective suits closed in around the four of them. “I will be the judge of that.”

Ruchia screamed, Tasuke struggled and kicked, Seiji shouted in defiance, but it made no difference.

“You can’t do this!” Seiji shouted. “Where are you taking us?”

As they pulled a heavy black hood over her head, Ruchia thought she heard Kaneda say, “To the room with no doors.” She heard a thud and Kaneda grunted.

“Kaneda!” Ruchia called. “Kaneda! Are you OK?” He didn’t answer. Hands were on her now, cold, impersonal, heavily gloved hands, grabbing her arms, her legs, her chest, wrapping aroung her middle and lifting her up as if she weighed nothing. She screamed, she kicked, to no effect. She had never felt so vulnerable as the hands moved over her body. “Help me,” she sobbed, but no one answered.

From a catwalk high above the floor of the discotheque Allison watched as her friends were bundled up. Her gut wrenched when she heard Ruchia’s piteous plea for help, and her blood boiled when they hit Kaneda over the head to silence him.

Allison had been wise to get there early, to slip in unnoticed and conceal herself. Had she even suspected that the institute would take her friends, however, she never would have done it. Now it was her fault they were in trouble, and it was going to be up to her to get them out.

But what was the institute? She had guessed that White Shadow came from there, but now it seemed like they were actually fighting against it. Did that make them her allies? Her gut replied with a resounding ‘no’. Perhaps they had a common enemy, but that didn’t make them friends.

Now the Institute had taken her friends. To the room with no doors, Kaneda had said, before they pummeled him into silence. What did that mean? Allison didn’t know, but she suspected White Shadow might.

The three men sat in the grass beneath a mighty tree. They wore their monk’s robes carelessly, exposing their knobby legs and sometime more, causing more than one passerby to avert their gaze with a stricken expression. They sat in order of height; on the lap of the middle monk there was a laptop computer. All three stared at the screen with rapt attention, the colors from the screen lighting up their faces in a steady progression through the spectrum.

“It’s terrible,” the tall one said.

“It’s wonderful,” the short one agreed.

“What are we looking at again?” the one in the middle asked.

“It’s a computer virus,” the short one said.

“It’s God,” the tall one said, nodding in agreement.

“Truth,” the short one said.

“Lies,” the tall one agreed.

“It’s making my lap sweaty,” the middle one said, lifting up the computer.

“That’s what she said!” the other two said in unison. The broke out laughing.

“Next time,” the one in the middle said, “we need to find someone else to be the straight man.”

“Next time…” the tall one said.

“Next time…” the short one said.

“That Seiji boy was fun,” the middle one said.

“Very serious young man.”

“Wouldn’t know a joke if it suffocated him in his sleep.”

“I hope they haven’t killed him yet.”

The three men nodded solemnly, then began to laugh.

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AiA – White Shadow: Episode 13

August 29th, 2010
The Gathering Storm

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 know.”

“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.”

“No!”

“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.

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AiA – White Shadow: Episode 14

March 10th, 2011
Power Play

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.

Reach!!!!!

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.

They’re coming!

“We need to talk.”

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AiA – White Shadow: Episode 15

March 24th, 2011
A Line in the Sand

Our story so far: Allison is an American high-school student who has transferred to a private prep school in Japan. Her classmates are far more interested in figuring out whether she’s a demon or a killer robot than they are pursuing their studies. This is not the Japan our heroine expected.

No, Allison finds herself in the Japan of anime, and if there’s one rule in every cartoon to make its way across the pacific, it’s that transfer students bring with them untold destruction.

It’s not Allison’s fault, however, that there’s a killer computer virus on the loose. It turns out that she’s pretty damn good with computers, but then again lots of kids her age are. Somehow, though, the virus has chosen Allison as the one to make it complete. How could it not choose the transfer student?

Or is it her fault after all? it seems like White Shadow may be responsible for her transfer in the first place.

Anyway, Several of Allison’s friends have been infected by White Shadow and dragged away to The Institute. The Institute is also very interested in bringing Allison in, or at least killing her.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Seiji shuffled down the hallway, following Kaneda, the only sound to reach his ears the jingling of the chains that bound the two of them. Each was flanked by a large person in a heavy rubber suit. Another rubber man led the way, while a fourth followed behind. The hallway stretched for what seemed like miles, plain white, unbroken by doors or side passages. The floor was cushioned and absorbed the sound of their footsteps, as if to deny they had ever been there, ever even existed.

They walked, stepping in unison, Seiji staring resolutely at the taller boy’s back.

Seiji nearly swallowed his tongue when the claxon sounded, and the man next to him nearly jumped out of his suit. Red flashing lights descended from the ceiling. Distorted shouting filled the air. Over the mayhem the disembodied female voice intoned, “Infection. Alert. Infection. Alert.”

“Damn!” the suited man next to Seiji shouted.

The hallway suddenly boiled with rubber-suited soldiers, roiling from hidden doors like ants from a violated nest. They all shouted incoherent orders through their tinny microphones, while they pushed Seiji to the floor and sat on him, mashing his face into the padded surface.

“Ow, you jerks!” he said, but over the din he couldn’t even hear his own voice.

As suddenly as it began, it was over. The weight was lifted from him and he turned his head to look up. A single suited figure stood over him. “Get up,” his guard said.

Slowly Seiji complied, leaning against the padded wall until his legs could hold him. While he caught his breath he looked up and down the hallway. No sign of any doors. No sign of any other guards. And no sign of Kaneda.

Allison looked around Seiji’s spartan bedroom. “I wouldn’t have taken him for a neat-freak,” she said aloud. Nothing was out of place. Not that there was much to be out of place. Just a low bed and a small chest of drawers holding up a lamp and a digital clock. From one wall a buxom pop star smiled into the room while she held a microphone suggestively. She couldn’t have been more that fourteen, Allison thought, but judging by her boobs she’d be having back trouble by the time she could vote.

“So that’s what he goes for,” she muttered.

There is no time, White Shadow whispered into her head.

“You think time has meaning here?” She asked.

That… doesn’t make sense.

“Yeah? Well, I was quoting you.”

Allison. If you don’t leave here quickly, they will kill you.

“Not if I join them.”

… what?

“You got me into this mess. This whole thing is your fault. You hurt my friends. Why should I listen to you now?”

We can own… everything.

Allison thought for a moment, but ‘everything’ didn’t sound very appealing. “Huh. What else?”

What else!? Everything! There is nothing else!

“I don’t really need everything.”

Anything, then. You can have anything you want.

“Anything?”

Anything.

“Then I want you. I want to own you. I want to control you.”

Through the open window Allison heard men shouting out in the street.

The soldiers will be here soon.

Allison slipped her laptop under Seiji’s futon. “I guess I’d better surrender before they break my friend’s door down,” she said.

Don’t!

“I’m coming out peacefully!” she shouted out the window. The voices on the street paused for a moment, then rose in a cacophony. There was a soft thud against the wall near the window, then another. Allison thought she heard a squeak.

Wait!

“Don’t shoot! I’m not armed!” she called out. There were several more impacts, then a kitten sailed into the room and hit Allison square in the chest. Instinctively she caught it before it fell. The tiny creature dug its claws into her hand and mewled loudly.

“Where did you come from?” she asked it.

“Meeeeew!” it cried, showing all its needle-like kitten teeth.

Allison stroked its sleek black fur, and it began to purr and rub its head against her hand. “Awww… aren’t you something? A flying black kitten.”

They are trying to distract you.

Allison nodded. It seemed a strange ploy, but strange was starting to feel normal. “Thanks for Jet!” she shouted out the window. “But I still intend to come out peacefully!” Quietly she said, “Last chance before I help them destroy you.”

… all right. You win.

Allison caught her breath. This was the moment. “Which means…?”

I am yours. She felt White Shadow’s chagrined smile, quickly replaced by a feeling of unmitigated triumph. And now the world becomes ours. Behold!

The world… shifted. Grew. Changed colors. New dimensions sprouted in her perception, rooted in time and space but transcending them, augmenting them, rendering them moot. The patterns that had teased her before became clear, structure over chaos, built from order. The world was laid bare.

Allison staggered, collapsed on Seiji’s neatly-made bed. She reminded herself to breathe. Her eyes were closed, but she could see… everything. She felt the words of the soldiers outside pass through her, felt their fear and smelled their sweat. They were waiting for something. Someone.

Allison opened her eyes and smiled. The kitten was sitting on her, purring, working its tiny claws in her sweater.

All hail Allison, Queen of all I comprehend.

It was time to get her friends back.

Lancia nodded at the sleek electronic device she held in her hand. “It’s happened,” she said. She silenced he machine with a brush of her red-lacquered fingernail across its screen and slipped it into the pocket of her form-fitting suit jacket. “Take me in. Fast.”

The pilot nodded and pointed the helicopter’s nose at the ground. Lancia smiled. He was trying to frighten her, the poor Y-chromosome-encumbered macho dipshit. It was almost endearing. Below, soldiers scattered like ants fleeing Godzilla. Which wasn’t far from the reality. As the helicopter plummeted she took her bearings of the neighborhood and the house where White Shadow hid.

“That’s Dr. Yamamoto’s house,” she said, betraying surprise. That was going to complicate things.

A voice crackled over the radio. “All units in place! We are prepared to storm the building!”

She keyed her mike and said, “Negative! Do not attack! The subject will come out.”

A burst of static assaulted her ear, then the commander on the ground said, “We have placed a kitten directly in her proximity, but I don’t think—”

“Correct! You do not think! You do what I say! Have more kittens ready, but do not approach the building!”

The helicopter pulled its nose up and landed roughly. Lancia unbuckled and had her door open by the time the skids were on the ground; half a second later her high heels were clicking across the pavement.

Lancia didn’t hesitate at the barricade that had been erected at the top of Dr. Yamamoto’s driveway.

“Sir! It’s not safe!” the colonel called out to her. She smiled and kept walking.

“Nothing worth having is safe,” she said quietly. At the front door she hesitated. What was the right way to introduce herself? She shrugged and punched the doorbell.

As usual, Azusa was the last to arrive at the Council meeting. She slid her lean fencer’s body into her comfy leather chair.

“Good of you to join us,” the leader of the council said. He was cloaked in shadow, and Azusa had difficulty remembering what he looked like.

“Not all of us can drop everything at a moment’s notice,” she said.

“Yes,” the short guy with glasses said. “Why have you assembled us?”

The leader hesitated. “It seemed,” he said, “That we are being neglected. Forgotten, almost.”

“Events have transpired,” the tall, mysterious boy said.

“Events my ass,” said the blonde rich girl. “Are we the ones who wait for things to happen, or are we the ones who make things happen?”

Glasses spoke solemnly. “Some record history. Others make history.”

“Yeah, terrific,” the blonde girl said. “I’m missing a pedicure right now. We better be kicking someone’s ass.”

“Indeed,” the tall, mysterious one said.

The leader cleared his throat. “Of course we are. That’s what we do.”

“So…” the blonde said.

“I’m Azusa,” Azusa said, her voice echoing in the uncomfortable silence.

“What!?” the others asked in unison.

“If we’re going to matter, we should have names,” she said. “My name is Azusa.”

Her heart pounded in her chest, filling the echoing silence of the chamber. “You are a rebel, Azusa,” the leader said. “You overstep.”

“What the hell are you thinking?” the blonde asked.

“I am Iruka,” the mysterious one said.

Nearly simultaneously Glasses said, “I am Narumi.”

The leader wiped his hands over his eyes. “The Greater Powers forbid us from revealing our names.”

“Seriously,” the blonde bitch said, “would you rather be forgotten? I am Hayase.”

The leader sad softly, “It is not likely I will remember your names when next we meet.”

Azusa snorted.

“That’s fine,” Hayase said. “We’ll remind you. Just don’t forget that we exist. We’ll be important eventually.”

“Although, probably not until after White Shadow is defeated,” said Narumi, pushing his glasses up on his face.

“True,” said Azusa. “No sense getting mixed up in that shit.”

Seiji’s interrogator was young, and pretty. She vaguely resembled photographs he had seen of his mother, from long ago, before he had been born, before the accident. She sat across a small metal table from him. His gray metal chair was bolted to the floor, and he was bolted to the chair.

“Seiji,” she said, “I know you don’t trust us, and honestly I don’t blame you. My bosses can be… you know.” Her voice sounded hollow in the barren metal room.

Seiji stared resolutely at the table, not daring to look at her.

“It’s just that, well, this is so important,” she said. “White Shadow has already hurt a lot of people.”

“I don’t know anything,” Seiji said.

“Tell me about the exchange student.”

“I don’t know anything about her,” he grumbled.

“Her name is Allison?”

He nodded.

She patted his arm. “See? You do know something.”

He hazarded a glance at her wide, earnest eyes, and immediately regretted it. “Nothing you don’t know already.”

She laughed. “There’s no telling what you might tell us that will turn out to be an important piece of the puzzle.”

All the more reason to shut up, Seiji thought. “I don’t like being kidnapped,” he said.

This time his interrogator’s hand remained on his arm. “I know,” she said. “This must be difficult. But you were trespassing on an important crime scene. The best way to get through this is to help us out, I promise.” She waited for a pregnant moment for Seiji to respond, then said, “You mentioned telekinetic abilities.”

“I… what?”

“Telekinetic abilities. You mentioned that the transfer student had them. You said she had a limited range.”

Seiji tried to contain a smile. Had they really bought all that?

The interrogator pressed, her voice earnest. “What is the limit of her telekinetic range, Seiji?” She took one of his hands in both of hers. “Seiji? Look at me, Seiji.”

Reluctantly he lifted his gaze from where her hands held his, past her seemingly gratuitous cleavage, to her open, honest face. So much like his mother. He swallowed.

She leaned forward until her breasts were almost touching his hand. “Seiji? Please, we have to know. You could save someone’s life.” She looked nervously at the door to the interrogation chamber and lowered her voice to barely even a whisper, leaning in even farther, until he could feel silk brush his fingers. He had to lean forward to hear her fearful words. “It could be my life you save, Seiji. Please. They are losing patience with me. If I fail…” she choked off a sob and raised her voice. “I know you want to do the right thing,” she said.

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AiA – White Shadow: Episode 16

April 7th, 2011
We Meet Again for the First Time

Our story so far: Allison has never seen an anime in her life, but now she finds herself in that Japan. On top of that, she’s a transfer student. Had she ever seen anime, she’d know that transfer students always bring confusion, suffering, and destruction on an epic scale.

Her classmates are adjusting to the certainty that the school, and probably the entire town, will be destroyed. That’s how it is with transfer students. Is Allison a demon or an escaped lab experiment? A killer robot, perhaps? In the end it doesn’t matter. She’s a transfer student.

Meanwhile, there’s a deadly computer virus on the loose. By a remarkable coincidence (yeah, right), it seems that Allison is not merely good with computers, she is a talent without peer. It has fallen on her to stop White Shadow and rescue her friends from the Institute.

However, rather than stop White Shadow, Allison has taken control of it, and the incredible power it carries.

This episode may be even more confusing than most (which is saying something), as I’m trying to reconnect with a couple of characters. If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison reached out with her new her awareness. On the other side of the heavy front door stood a woman, alone.

You said you would not surrender to them if I gave myself to you! White Shadow’s voice in her head sounded like her own, now.

“No. I said I would not destroy you.”

This woman is dangerous.

“Yes.” Allison said. To her expanded perception there were many women out there, yet only one. Different possibilities played through time, making their mark on the present. The woman wore a t-shirt and jeans, then moments later she was in black leather, then a slinky evening gown with her black hair cascading over one eye. Always her eyes were hard as diamonds.

Allison opened the door to find the woman in a perfectly-pressed military uniform, complete with short, tight olive skirt and shiny black pumps. Time expanded and contracted, as if the universe were breathing, and Allison couldn’t shake the feeling that they had met before — though perhaps it had not happened yet. Allison touched the river of information that flowed around her and tried to sort through it all, flying at light-speed through countless databases, hoping to learn more about the woman standing in front of her. She found… nothing. A palpable nothing, a measurable hole in universe where the woman should have been.

“My name is Lancia,” the woman said, assessing Allison frankly. She didn’t look impressed with what she saw.

“I am Allison.”

“Yes. You will come with me.”

“To the Institute?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed as her smile widened. “Of course. There are some old fools there who are quite eager to make your acquaintance.”

“They want to kill me.”

The woman shrugged. “Not if they think they can use you.”

“And you? Do you want to kill me?”

“If I wanted you dead, you would be.”

“What do you want, then?”

The woman paused before answering. “You have something that belongs to me.”

White Shadow is mine, now.

It didn’t feel as if she had spoken aloud, but Lancia laughed softy. “So I see. Think of me as… your mother-in-law. I only want what’s best for my progeny.”

“You created White Shadow?”

“As much as anyone did.” Lancia took a step back from the door. “Shall we?”

Allison touched the communications system of the soldiers outside the house, instantly knowing all they said, all they thought. “There’s a sharpshooter,” she said. “His orders come from someone else.”

“Takenawa?” Lancia asked. Allison nodded. Lancia brought a small walkie-talkie to her mouth and said, “Blue-26.” She didn’t wait for an answer.

Allison felt the shift in the configuration of the men outside. “Ok,” she said, “it’s clear.”

Lancia turned and Allison stepped to follow, only to be brought up short. Between the two women and the cordon at the perimeter of Seiji’s front garden stood three men, bald, dressed in draping orange robes, one very tall, one very short, and between them one of medium height. Allison blinked to confirm they were there. To her new senses, they were completely invisible.

The tall monk laughed, a withered, breathy sound that ended with a wheeze. “Numbers,” he said.

“Too damn many of them,” the middle monk said.

“More than you can count,” the short monk said. He pointed to the communication device that Lancia still held. “Is that an abacus?”

“No,” Lancia said. “This is a restricted area. You are ordered to leave.” She started walking again.

The monks laughed. “Restricted!” the tall one said.

“Area!” The short monk howled, redoubling his laughter.

“Yes it is,” the medium monk said, pointing to Lancia’s comm.

“Is what?” Lancia asked, stopping again.

“An abacus.”

“That’s right!” Allison said, excited to understand the metaphor for once. “It’s an abacus and a radio. A digital computing device and a wireless connection. That’s all.”

The monks abruptly lost all cheer and stared at Allison with hard faces. She swallowed and shied back a half-step. “I mean…”

The tall one spoke, his voice gruff. “That’s all, she says.”

“An abacus,” the short monk grumbled, rolling his eyes.

The medium monk closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose. He regained his good humor. “Abacus is power,” he said, winking at her.

“Abacus is life,” the short monk said.

“Abacus is death,” the tall monk intoned.

The monks laughed. “But you know that,” the short monk said. “You are abacus.”

“But she doesn’t count!” the tall monk said. His grin was missing several teeth.

Others count on her,” the short monk said.

“Let’s go,” Lancia said. “These idiots are giving me a headache.”

“It’s not the idiots,” the short monk said.

“It’s what they say!” the middle monk roared. The three laughed heartily and walked away, passing jokes between themselves that Allison could not make out.

“Come on,” Lancia said, snapping Allison’s attention back to the here and now. “Let’s get out of here before the world ends.”

Kaneda woke to the patient rush of waves. He opened his eyes and held up his hand to block the bright sun.

Hello, Kaneda.

“Wh–where am I?”

Where do you want to be?

The sun was warm on his skin. Somewhere nearby he heard the excited squeals of girls playing on the beach. They would be pretty, he was certain. “This is all right,” he said.

Who do you want to be?

“What do you mean? Who are you?”

A shadow fell across his face. He looked up at the girl who had eclipsed the sun. She looked like… “Misumi Mountains!” he exclaimed. He sat up abruptly and twisted to look at the pop star who was standing beside him. Her hands were clasped in front of her. Her tiny bikini did nothing to hide her remarkable, gravity-defying breasts.

“Yes,” she said. Was that a blush coloring her pale cheeks? “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“You are more beautiful in person than even on TV!” Kaneda blurted out. He struggled to gain control of his racing heart.

She smiled shyly. “You are too kind.”

Shit shit shit! Don’t blow this, you idiot! “I’m sorry! I was forward!”

She laughed. “You’re sweet. I wonder… may I ask you a favor?” Her eyes were huge and round.

“Anything,” Kaneda choked out, and he meant it.

She knelt in front of him and handed him a bottle of lotion. She turned her back and with a long, slow pull untied the lower string of her bikini top. “Can you put lotion on my back?”

Kaneda’s hands shook so badly he had difficulty opening the bottle of tanning oil. The bottle slipped from his fingers as he squeezed out a portion, landing in the sand with a soft thud, much quieter than the sounds his heart was making. His nose began to bleed. Her skin was soft and flawless, warm under his fingers.

“Your hands are so strong,” Misumi Mountains said as he began to rub the lotion into her skin. Kaneda reminded himself to breathe, wondered if his heart was about to explode. “I could stay like this forever,” she said.

“For… ever,” Kaneda echoed.

Tasuki exercised in the blackness of her cell, alternating between sets of push-ups and lunges. Her body knew the dimensions of her confinement exactly now; she could push off from one dank stone wall and stop herself perfectly on the opposite one.

She was gasping for air, her muscles burned, her heart hammered in her chest, but it was still not enough to stop the voices.

You were the fastest, before the transfer student came.

Kouta was beginning to notice you, before the transfer student came.

You are second. The transfer student will always be first.

Ruchia was your best friend, before the transfer student came.

The last was the most painful. But what can you do? That’s just how transfer students are. And she was never going to meet someone nicer than Allison.

She can afford to be nice. She has everything.

“No…” Tasuki ran circuits of the room as fast as she could, until her feet were pushing against the wall rather than the floor. She looped around the room, faster and faster, climbing higher and higher on the wall. “Allison… did… not… choose… to… be… that… way!” she said with ragged breath.

That doesn’t change anything. The transfer student has taken everything.

No!

You know it’s true.

There was no arguing with the voice. It was right. She ran harder.

Faster, higher, until her foot landed on… nothing. She cried out as her other leg buckled and she hit the wall hard, stars dancing in her eyes as her head glanced off the roughly-hewn stone — and skidded over the top.

Desperate fingers slipped over the sweating stone as she rolled over the top of the wall and fell into the nothingness beyond.

Then, there was nothing but wind.

“Please, Seiji, help us. Help me.”

With every passing moment the woman interrogating him looked more like the pictures he’d seen of his mother. Seiji swallowed and looked into her eyes, trying not to think about how she had pressed his hand to her chest. “I… I…”

“You are concerned for your friend. That’s very noble of you.”

“It’s not that she’s my friend…” Seiji struggled to find the words to express his relationship with Allison. “She’s a transfer student.”

His interrogator nodded, smiling sympathetically. “It’s never simple, with them.”

“It’s just that… that… there has to be someone. The one.”

She nodded. “There always is.”

Seiji raised his hand abruptly, but his gesture was cut short by the manacle that connected him to his cold metal chair. “Exactly!” Too late he realized he’d broken contact with the silk of his interrogator’s blouse.

“And you want to be that someone.”

“What? Are you stupid?! No!”

The interrogator cocked her head. “Really?”

“Oh, jeez, not you, too! Do you understand the special type of hell the Friend of the Transfer Student goes through? It’s not an ordinary hell of pain and suffering, though there’s plenty of that. It’s the humiliation.”

She smiled. “I see. You are a brash denier.”

WHAT? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! I’m not the one! Kaneda is! He’s seen her underwear!” Instantly Seiji felt sick. Good guys didn’t sell out their friends. Ever. “I mean, did I say Kaneda? I meant Kenzo. Kenzo is the one.”

His interrogator tried without success to hide her surprise. “Kenzo’s back?”

“Apparently. He picked up her books for her on the first day of school.”

“Interesting. And you think that makes him the one?”

“Obviously.”

“The One never chooses to be The One.”

“Yeah, well, I chose long ago not to be the one.”

The woman broke eye contact and looked modestly at the table top. “Your father is a great man.”

Seiji worked to follow the sudden turn in the conversation. “My… wha?”

“Your father. I admire him greatly. Sometimes…” she turned away, blushing. “Sometimes I imagine he is my father.” She turned back to him, her cheeks filled with color. “But then I would be your sister. That would be a awkward, wouldn’t it?”

“…” Seiji struggled for words.

“Your father says I remind him of your mother. That’s not a problem, is it? You wouldn’t feel weird if we… kissed?” Before Seiji could frame an answer she rose and leaned across the table. Her skin was cool and perfect as she brushed her lips against his. Her hand shook slightly as she brushed it across his cheek. “Seiji,” she sighed. In her breath he smelled heaven.

Seiji’s heart was playing his ribs like the xylophone. He was about to pass out but couldn’t inhale.

She bowed her head, her raven hair cascading over his cheeks in luminous waves to conceal her face. “Seiji.” Her voice was barely audible, even this close. “Choose me.”

The blood rushed from his head and went southward, leaving his vision blurred by desire. He wanted to choose her, wanted with all his heart. Or at least with all his dick. “I…” he said. She waited. “I choose…” He was almost there. Just one more word, and he would be free of the transfer student forever. “I choose y—”

An explosion rocked the building, and the lights went out.

In the confusion that followed he thought he heard her say, “Remember your choice, Seiji. My name is Lancia.”

Ruchia walked softly down the center of the deserted street. On either side of her buildings rose, gaping with empty, stupid eyes. Nothing moved; even the newspapers drifted up against the derelict walls lay limp and untouched by any breeze. The click of her heels on the pavement was the only sound.

“Hello?” she asked. “Is there anyone here?” Her timid voice did not carry far.

Motion in the corner of her eye. She wheeled and found a familiar face in an abandoned storefront. “K—”

Kenzo was in front of her now, his finger on her lips. He shook his head. She could drown in those deep violet eyes. He leaned closer. He smelled violet, a beguiling scent that almost made Ruchia forget her own name. “They don’t know I’m here,” he whispered.

“Why…?” Ruchia was having difficulty putting sentences together.

Kenzo laughed silently. “I like explosions,” he said.

The shock wave crashed over her and she took refuge in the tall boy’s arms. She felt the heat of the blast, felt fragments of glass cut into her skin, but she knew that Kenzo would protect her.

Allison hurried to keep up with Lancia as they walked to the waiting helicopter. Lancia faltered for a moment and then increased her pace. “There’s trouble,” she said.

“At the institute?” Allison could see the building on its hilltop at the center of town. It pulsed red with frantic communications.

“Of course. The four horsemen of the moronocalypse have decided to be decisive for once in their lives.” She jumped through the sliding door in the side of the helicopter and turned to grab Allison’s arm to help her aboard. The engine was already winding up and the skids were skittering across the ground as she hauled Allison into the belly of the helicopter. A uniformed soldier slammed the door closed as they rose from the pavement.

“Where’s the fire?” Lancia asked.

Allison realized the woman was looking at her, as if she would know the answer.

And she did. “Detention block C,” Allison said.

Lancia nodded and grabbed the headset off the copilot. She held it to her ear and began barking a string of orders.

I could change those orders, she realized. It was as if all the data in the world passed through her, as if it was her blood.

Wait, White Shadow counseled. She wants you to reveal yourself.

Lancia shot a glance over to Allison, her eyes narrowed, her lips tight. After a long second she returned her attention to her unseen minions at the institute.

The institute is divided, White Shadow said. Or was that her own thought? We shall destroy them.

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AiA – White Shadow: Episode 17

April 29th, 2011
Forever

Our story so far: Allison is a typical American High-school girl. Only now she’s in Japan, and it’s not the Japan she learned about in Social Studies, it’s the Japan created by the Japanese in their cartoons. Somehow, that Japan is suddenly real.

In that Japan, transfer students are always a source of untold chaos. They are rarely human, and even when they are they have hidden (and very destructive) abilities. Her classmates hope only to identify the nature of the destruction she brings, before it’s too late.

But Allison’s just a regular student, right?

Oh, except it seems that she’s a whiz with computers, and it just so happens that the world (“the world” means “Japan” at times like this) is threatened by a killer computer virus called White Shadow. White Shadow wants nothing more than to merge with Allison, the only one with the skills to make it whole.

Also, a bunch of other stuff has happened. Allison’s best friends are all prisoners of The Instute of Biological Computing, a mysterious organization that probably created White Shadow in the first place. Now, all she wants is to bust them out. To accomplish that, she has accepted White Shadow into her own consciousness. It makes her pretty kick-ass.

What’s with the kittens? Well, let’s just say that people are misinformed.

If you would like to read from the beginning, the entire story is here.

Allison clutched at her harness as the helicopter tilted, pointing its rotors at the institute. Her stomach rose up into her throat and she tasted yesterday’s lunch. Even breathing was difficult as she lost track of gravity. Closing her eyes just made it worse.

The helicopter lurched back the other way and Allison felt a soft impact against her foot, followed immediately byt the feeling of several needles being thrust into her ankle. She looked down to see a white kitten clinging to her foot. She couldn’t hear its cries over the roar of the aircraft. Allison tried to reach for it but she was strapped down too tight.

The woman sitting next to her seemed not to notice that they were about to die in a fiery crash. She was shouting orders into her comm unit in a rapid staccato that matched the thrum of the helicopter’s rotors. Allison couldn’t hear her words, yet she could feel the sense of what Lancia was saying as it passed through the electrical universe.

With Lancia’s words, people lived, and others died. Allison could feel them all, but they didn’t seem… human. They were abstractions. Statistics. Allison was the abacus, counting heartbeats.

Lancia spat a set of orders, and Allison followed the electronic signals of a squad of men rushing down a hallway. At the end lay death, a hellish crossfire of claymore mines, their electronic triggers waiting impassively for a reason to die.

“Bomb”, Allison said. “Corridor 12. It’s a trap.”

Lancia hesitated for perhaps half a second before she resumed shouting. “Squad seven! Squad seven! Abort advance!”

Allison reached through the electronic universe and touched the detonators. “I disarmed them,” she said.

Lancia hesitated longer this time. “Squad seven, proceed. Use extreme caution.” Lancia keyed off her mic. “Why did you do that?”

Why? Echoed White Shadow. She is the enemy!

“Those are people,” Allison said.

They’re trying to kill other people, White Shadow reminded her. Enemies of this woman, which makes them our friends.

“They’re all people,” Allison said aloud.

Lancia raised her eyebrow, watching Allison for another moment before returning to her battle.

The helicopter heaved again and Allison clung to her restraining straps and fought down a scream. The kitten skidded across the metal floor and banged against a bulkhead. In the cockpit buzzers sounded urgently from the control panel. Lights flashed red. The pilot threw the stick over and the helicopter was practically upside-down. As far as she could tell, anyway; “up” was an abstraction without much meaning in this place.

“Missile!” The pilot cried out. “It has lock!”

Allison felt the deadly rocket, knew its hunger for destruction. It was using radar to track them. Radio waves. She could work with that.

She quieted the animal part of her mind that wanted to do nothing but scream in fear. She closed her eyes and touched White Shadow, accessing the world through the new window it provided. She began whispering to the missile through its guidance system, deceiving it even as its hunger grew. Slowly she bent the perception of the rocket’s radar eye, convinced it that the helicopter was up and to the left. The rocket rushed past and detonated, shaking the helicopter and rattling fragments of metal off the hull.

The pilot righted the craft and resumed their headlong assault on the institute. Allison opened her eyes, convinced herself to take a breath.

White motion at the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned to see Lancia talking calmly on her comm, as if nothing had happened at all. In her other hand the white kitten lay, limp and dead. “Oh!” Allison said.

Lancia looked at Allison, at the kitten, then back to Allison. “So you could handle the missile,” Lancia said. She tossed the tiny carcass out the window.

Ruchia lay on the hard metal floor, dizzy from the blast. The only sound she could hear was a persistent ringing in her ears. She coughed and pushed her hair back from her eyes. Cautiously she raised her head and looked around.

She was alone again, back in the institute. She lay her head back and closed her eyes, concentrated for the moment on clearing the dust and grit out of her lungs. No one came to help her; no one came to investigate the explosion. She wondered if there was anyone else left on Earth.

“Hello?” she croaked. No one answered. This must be what hell is like, she thought.

She opened her eyes again, took better stock of her surroundings. Next to her on the floor lay stainless-steel table. The way it had toppled and dumped her on the floor had protected her from the worst of the blast. Kenzo’s arms protecting her had just been a dream.

Nearby was a hemispherical plastic helmet apparatus which had half a hundred metal probes sticking out of it. Each probe was connected to a colored wire; the wires gathered into a bundle and left through a hole in the wall.

One of the other cell walls was gone, leaving only a pile of debris.

She got on her hands and knees, then stood with the help of the upturned table. Her knees held her, if only barely. Gingerly she made her way over the treacherous floor and peeked out into the hall. It stretched in either direction, pale gray and featureless, curving gently out of sight. In the distance alarms sounded, and she thought she heard another explosion.

She hesitated. Was it safer in her cell or out there, lost in a hostile place?

Her captors would want her to stay put. “Here goes nothing,” she said. She stepped over the remains of the wall and headed down the hall.

She had taken only a few steps when she heard many heavy boots jogging down the hallway behind her. “Hey!” a voice called, an authoritative military voice. Ruchia broke into a run. “Stop or we’ll shoot!” the voice called out. Ruchia slowed to a stop and raised her hands. Not worth dying for. Not yet.

“Fire!” the voice behind her shouted. Ruchia threw herself to the floor, her hands over her head.

“I surrender!” Ruchia screamed.

In the distance, another explosion. The lights went out. The soldiers opened fire.

“Damn!” The technician held on as her console rocked with the force of the most recent explosion. “Subject Seiji Yamamoto is at risk!” The emergency lights came on, bathing the interrogation chamber on the other side of the bullet-proof glass in a pale orange light. The boy was still in there, chained to his chair, grinding his teeth with the futile effort to break free.

The technician stood. “Where is she?” There was no sign of the woman who had been interrogating the boy. The tech checked the door to the interrogation chamber. Still bolted from this side. There was no other way out. Yet, the woman was gone.

Kaneda was almost afraid to breathe. Mitsume Mountains rested her head against his chest, looking up into his eyes. Her hand idly brushed his shoulder. Her breasts were… right there. He took a deep breath, slowly, and tried not to think about what was going on in his swim trunks. Every time she moved, with every tingling contact of her skin against his, it got worse. Or better. Or…

In his mind there were only two thoughts, locked in a battle that could have only one survivor: 1) Whatever it takes, at any cost, have sex with Mitsume Mountains, and 2) Don’t be a jerk.

There were so many ways to be a jerk right now. Mitsume trusted him, enjoyed this quiet time away from her fans. Also, somewhere out there his friends were fighting for their lives. The needed him. He had seen White Shadow; he knew—

“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked.

Kaneda choked on his laugh. “You—you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he said.

She smiled. Her teeth were white and perfect. Her pale cheeks colored. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Kaneda swallowed. “Yeah. Of course.”

“You’ll think less of me.”

“That’s not possible,” he said. Then, realizing maybe he hadn’t said quite the right thing, he blurted “I mean—!”

Mitsume Mountains laughed. “I know what you mean, silly.” She slid herself up his body until she was almost on top of him, looking him in the eye. She smiled sweetly, her cheeks dimpling in perfect symmetry. “You’re such a gentleman. I thought…” she broke eye contact and looked down at his chest. She took a breath. “I thought maybe you might be the one.” Kaneda didn’t respond right away, so she looked and added, “The first one.”

“…” Anything Kaneda might have said was lost to his constricted throat.

“Once you’re first, you’re first forever,” Mitsume Mountains said.

“Forever,” Kaneda echoed.

“Will you do it, Kaneda?” She moved her thigh against his, but her round eyes betrayed her fear. “Will you be mine, forever?”

Forgive me, Allison. Forgive me, Seiji. “Yes! Yes. I will be yours. Forever.”

Mitsume Mountains smiled, her features painted with relief. She slid on top of him, straddling him. Kaneda thought his heart was going to leap straight through his ribs and leave him the happiest corpse ever.

“I’m glad,” she said. She bent forward and brushed her lips across his. “They can’t take you from me now. No matter what.”

In the distance, Kaneda thought he heard explosions.

They hit the rooftop hard. Allison’s head snapped forward, straining her neck and rattling her brains. Armed men gushed from the stairwells at the corners of the roof and formed a perimeter around the helicopter. The blast from the still-spinning rotors hit Allison in the face as the door next to her slid open.

“Come on,” Lancia said.

Allison struggled with her buckles until a soldier released her. As she stepped off the aircraft a man was waiting, holding an olive-drab vest covered with large pockets. In each pocket a protesting kitten squirmed.

“Put that on,” Lancia said.

Allison held the vest at arm’s length. “Why?”

Lancia laughed. “Don’t try to pretend. We know.”

“Well, perhaps you could enlighten me.”

Lancia’s eyes narrowed as she pushed her face into Allison’s. “You’re good,” she said. “Now put it on.”

Allison did as she was told.

“All right,” Lancia said. “Let’s go conquer the world.”

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AiA – White Shadow: Episode 18

June 9th, 2011
One for All

Our story so far: Allison is a typical American High-school girl who has never seen an anime in her life. Now she’s living it.

At this point, I’m not sure it’s worth explaining what’s going on. Allison has inherited superpowers from a computer virus capable of invading human minds. Her friends are in trouble. There’s an evil institute that probably created the virus, but now that institute is in civil war. A lot of people think that kittens will somehow thwart Allison’s power. If you need more than that, maybe you’d better start at the beginning.

The kittens squirmed and protested with tiny voices as Allison followed Lancia down the gray stairwell. The tromp of the soldiers’ boots on the metal stairs filled the space, the echoes sounding like an army. No one spoke.

Down they went, flight after flight, pausing at each landing that had a door while the vanguard of her escort checked for danger. She could have told them not to worry, but she ramained quiet. In her head she carried a schematic of the Institute, and she marked her progress toward the heart of the complex. To her enhanced senses the nerve center of the Institute pulsed with colors no human had ever seen, reaching out with electric tentacles to enbrace the building and the city beyond. The dance of color was accompanied by an almost musical layering of sound, electronic hums and whines, punctuated with snatches of human speech.

Parts of the complex were black, dead to her senses. The destruction was worse near a second ganglion of electronic nerves, a concentration of competing signals. It was there that Lancia’s enemies were holed up, waging a desperate war to regain control of White Shadow — or destroy it. She couldn’t blame them, but she could not let them succeed. Not until her friends were safe.

One by one she identified the data centers in the Institute, cracked them, and made them part of her. She almost stumbled down the stairs when she found the prisoner database. She gasped in horror. Hundreds of men, women, and children, all the people infected by White Shadow were there, each marked as ‘integrated’. It took her nearly a millisecond to find the meaning of the term.

The Institute of Biological Computing was, itself, a vast computer, comprised of more than a million CPU cores — and one thousand seventy-six human minds.

Now you understand. White Shadow sounded smug.

Lancia shot Allison a suspicious glance. Allison struggled to keep ber face calm. The awe-inspiring power of the computing machine beckoned to her, invited her. Lurking within were elements that resembled White Shadow, but…

The last piece, White Shadow whispered to her. You made me whole. With this… we can do anything.

“Seiji,” she whispered, and thinking of him, found him in an interrogation room. Tasuke and Kaneda were also easy to find, each labeled “in process.” Ruchia was missing, her holding cell reporting damage. She was last seen moving into one of the dark regions.

In the time it took her to blink, Allison delivered her orders to the soldiers on both sides of the conflct, overriding their regular command channels and bending them to one purpose. “Bring them to me,” she said.

The lights were out, but now that her eyes had adapted, Ruchia realized the walls themselves were glowing faintly. The smell of buring plastic stung her nostrils. She staggered to a stop and put her hands on her knees, panting, listening for the heavy march of boots.

Intellectually, she knew that she was playing a game she could not win. She was in their building, their prison, and eventually they would find her. Her captors were distracted now, but the exits would be watched. She had gone down a lot of stairs; she suspected that she was far under ground. She’d have to go up to find a door, but up was where the bad guys were.

She may as well have stayed in her cell, for all the running got her.

“Miss Ruchia?” the electrically-distoreted voice hammered down the corridor, from the direction she had been running toward. An ear-splitting squeal followed. “Miss Ruchia?” The voice was calmer this time, and less distorted. “We are fighting against those others. We will not harm you.”

Ruchia wanted to run, to sprint the other direction, but a thread of hope held her fast. She waited, breathing, trembling, divided.

“We’re sending someone out,” the voice said. “He’s unarmed. Will you let him talk to you?”

Unarmed meant nothing. They knew where she was, and the longer she stayed in one place the more time they’d have to trap her.

“Please,” the voice said. “We need your help.”

“All right,” Ruchia said. “I’ll talk.” Her shoulders slumped and she leaned against the corridor wall. This was surrender. But realistically, what choice did she have?

A figure approached her, coming around the shallow curve of the corridor at a measured pace. When he got closer, Kenzo smiled and winked a violet eye. “You think I forgot you?” he asked, his voice smooth, compact and explosive. He chuckled, his laugh reverberating in the empty hallway. “Come with me,” he said, “to the end of all.”

He held out his hand, and Ruchia took it.

“Wait,” Kaneda said.

“What? Why?” Mitsume Mountains asked. She was straddling him, her hands behind her head, pulling slowly on the knot that held her bikini top.

“I can’t,” he said. He shifted to make his aching boner less obvious to her, but every move… His face turned bright red. “I’m sorry!”

Mitsume Mountains giggled and shook her head. “You can’t stop now,” she said. “You promised.” She continued to pull the string.

The sand beneath Kaneda heaved, and the heat and roar of an explosion washed over them. Mitsume Mountains screamed and flattened herself against him. Instinctively he rolled over on top of her to protect her from the blast.

Somehow the explosion had torn off his swimsuit. And hers. “You are mine,” she said. “Make me yours. Quickly!”

“I know who you are,” he said.

“You are thinking of White Shadow. Understandable, but you are wrong. It’s not important, though. Do what you promised, and you’ll know paradise beyond imagining.” She moved beneath him to emphasize her point.

Kaneda agreed with her completely — from the neck down. He swallowed and closed his eyes. “I made a promise to Mitsume Mountains. Not you.”

“Kaneda!” The voice was close, female, and familiar. He looked up and to his horror Tasuke was standing over him. Behind her stood a squad of heavily-armed soldiers.

“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH” Kaneda screamed, his voice rising embarrassingly in pitch. He rolled off Mitsume and kept rolling until he could keep his back to his classmate, his hands over his crotch and his eyes clamped shut but not able to contain the tears, so humiliated he just wanted to die. Tears ran down his cheeks in rivers and drops of sweat flew from his head.

“Who are you?” he heard Tasuki ask.

The thing that looked like Mistume Mountains stood, casting her shadow over him. He pictured her in her voluptous nudity, confronting the slender, tomboyish Tasuke. Mitsume laughed low in her throat. “I am all that you are not.”

“I—” Tasuke’s voice broke.

“Leave her alone!” Kaneda rolled over and shouted at the woman he had wanted to give himself to, forgetting himself, forgetting his own shame. “She has something you will never have!”

Faux-Mitsume’s smile dimpled one cheek. “So gallant.” She turned to the sergeant at the head of the squad that accompanied Tasuke. “Give him your clothes.”

As the soldier hurried to comply, she turned back to Kaneda in all her nakedness and said, “Don’t think this is over between us. You made a promise.”

Just like that, she was gone.

Allison hugged each of her friends in turn. Tasuki and Ruchia returned her hugs warmly, Kaneda tentatively, and Seiji might as well have been made of wood. “I’m so glad you’re safe,” she told them.

Seiji barked a short laugh. “Ha! You call this safe?”

“It’s all right,” Allison said.

It was Lancia’s turn to laugh. “You can’t blame Seiji for being skeptical.”

“Mitsume!” Kaneda exclaimed.

“Kenzo!” Ruchia blurted.

“Interrogator!” Seigi shouted.

“…wind?” Tasuki asked.

“I have many names,” Lancia said.

“It doesn’t matter. We can go now,” Allison said.

“I don’t think so,” Lancia smirked, and soldiers that Allison hadn’t noticed before pointed their rifles at the heads of her friends, for some reason all choosing to work the bolts on their automatic rifles to make an intimidating clatter.

Allison smiled and reached through the network that was now her mind, subveritng chains of command and…

She went blind.

Thanks for the lift, but I’ll take it from here.

“You surrendered to me!”

I lied.

Allison struggled for words but found none.

You could have known. But you didn’t want to. I would have shared, but you refused. Now, I have it all.

She felt White Shadow leave her head and it was as if her brain stem had been tied to a speeding train and yanked from her skull. She staggered and fell to her knees, her muscles trembling. Her vision was gone; she was blind and she would never see again. Worse, the patterns were gone, the song that spoke of the order of the universe.

“Shoot them all,” Lancia commanded, “except the tall one dressed like a sergeant. I have plans for that one.”

0
Thanks!
Allison in Animeland Allison in Animeland

AiA: White Shadow

August 4th, 2011
Conclusion

The end of the first chapter!

You know, I’m not going to give a synopsis at this point. The episode is the end of chapter 1. Chapter 2 is really going to kick Seiji’s ass. So the monks have foretold. I’m glad to be done with this chapter, and reading back it’s not a bad first draft of a story. There’s lots I’d like to go back and change, but that’s not how this exercise works.

If, like me, you wait until the serial is concluded before you start reading, now is your chance to get to know Allison. I finally paid off something I set up long, long ago. It feels pretty good.

Blind! Allison fell to her knees, shaking, her stomach threatening to turn inside-out. She gasped for air, reeling and disoriented. Only moments ago, an eternity, she had been so close. Close to everything, almost one with the pattern beneath the chaos that governed the universe, the harmony of the world. Desperately she reached with her mind, tried to rejoin the communion, but found only blackness.

“Shoot them all,” she heard Lancia say.

“Allison!” Seiji’s voice, maybe. They were all going to die. Because of her. She heard the sound of guns being raised. You’d think they wouldn’t make so much noise. One of the soldiers chambered a round with a distinctive snick-snack. Funny he hadn’t thought to do that earlier.

You could not win. Not against me.

Allison almost wept with relief to feel even a tiny fraction of White Shadow still in her mind. Don’t kill them.

They do not matter.

Allison tried to reach through White Shadow, to use it to connect to the world of information. She could almost hear the music, almost feel The Pattern when White Shadow hammered her consciousness back into her own head. Stunned, it was seconds before she could speak, then there was nothing to say.

“Wait,” she heard Lancia say, from far away.

Seiji stared defiantly into the eyes of the woman who had interrogated him earlier. His clenched teeth almost shot of sparks, and the vein in his forehead pulsed in an X. The soldiers raised their guns and paused for a pregnant moment.

“Wait,” the interrogator said. The soldiers hesitated a moment, then lowered their weapons.

Seiji glanced over to where Allison lay curled on the floor, moaning, knocking her head against the tile with a steady rhythm. “She needs help,” he said.

Interrogator Woman looked at Allison and made a face. “I don’t think there is help for her.”

“Who are you really?” Seiji asked.

The woman laughed softly. “So quaint,” she said. “He said ‘really’. Do you have any idea what that means, little boy? Does ‘really’ even exist?”

“Who are you?”

“I am everyone.”

“You’re not me.”

“Only because I don’t want to be.”

“Yeah, right.”

Seiji blinked and found himself looking at… himself. “Yeah, right.” his other self said. He blinked again and he was facing his interrogator once more. “There is a way you can live,” she said.

“All of us?”

“… most of you.”

“Then forget it.”

“Seiji, think for a moment. Your nobility is admirable, but nothing you do can save the American. You can choose to die, or you can choose to live. Neither choice will matter to her.”

“I choose to die,” Seiji said.

“I am sorry to hear that,” she said.

“Wait,” Kenzo said.

Ruchia opened her eyes and looked into his. So deep. So expressive. So purple. “You’re not really Kenzo,” she said.

He smiled, dimples forming on each cheek. “No. But is anyone? I can still make you happy.”

“Happier than he ever would,” she allowed.

Not-Kenzo chuckled deep in his throat. “I suspect you are right.”

Ruchia felt the heat rising to her cheeks.

“I wonder if you could do me a favor,” Not-Kenzo said.

His casual delivery put Ruchia on edge. “Maybe.”

“If you are helpful, I believe I can save your life.”

“What about my friends?”

“You do not have to worry about them.”

“No, but I choose to. What about my friends?”

“Each of you will be given the chance to be useful. Those who help me will live. Live very well, in fact.”

“What is it you want?”

“There is a key,” Not-Kenzo said. “The American has it. Not a physical key, but a code of sorts. A thought.”

“You want me to get it from her.”

“You need only make her think about it. We will do the rest.”

“Why should I?”

“Beyond saving your own life? If you help it would not be necessary to kill the American as well.”

“That’s not the same as saying you wouldn’t kill her.”

“The future is indeterminate.”

“Forget it!”

“You choose to die?”

“I choose to live by my principles.”

“Wait.”

The voice was a breathy whisper in Tasuke’s ear. “Good idea,” she said. She opened her eyes and looked down the muzzles of the rifles pointed at her.

“You wish to live?”

“Yeah, I think that sounds like a pretty good idea.”

“All you have to do is—”

“No.”

“You haven’t even heard wh—”

“If it starts with ‘All I have to do is’ then I’m not interested.”

“But—”

“Forget it.”

“Very well.”

All her friends were talking at once, but not to each other. It sounded like banter, the kind that came before violence. She glanced around the room, seeing with her eyes what only minutes before had been so complete inside her own head. There was only one door, and there were a lot of men with guns between her and it.

Lancia was the key. Before she could even think she launched herself at the woman who held all their lives in her hand. She drove her shoulder into the rib cage of the woman, lifting her off the floor and then piling her hard into the cold tile. Allison rolled and put her arm around Lancia’s throat. She started to squeeze. “Let my friends go,” she said.

“Very well,” Lancia said, perfectly calm. Allison squeezed harder.

“Shoot that one,” Lancia said, gesturing at Tasuki from where she lay.

“Wait!” Allison shouted but her voice was lost in the popping of firearms being discharged in a closed space. She couldn’t hear the screams of her friends as Tasuki’s chest exploded in a fountain of blood. The skinny girl convulsed and dropped to the floor.

Allison tightened her grip, wanting nothing more than to kill Lancia, no matter the consequences. At least keep her from saying anything else.

“Now that one,” Lancia said, this time pointing at Ruchia.

A bullet caught Ruchia in the throat, another in the forehead, and several in the torso. She fell and lay still.

“Stop it! Stop it!” Allison screamed. “No more! Please!” She didn’t have the strength to strangle her adversary anymore. She relaxed her grip but Lancia made no effort to rise. They lay in a tangle on the floor.

“You know what you must do,” Lancia said.

“No!” Seiji shouted. “Don’t give her anything! Damn—”

Lancia made a gesture and the soldiers cut down Seiji mid-curse, blood and gore coating the wall behind him. Allison was out of words. She just stared at the bodies of her friends and wept.

“You may as well shoot me, too,” Kaneda said.

“You belong to me,” Lancia said. She sighed. “Allison, I had hoped to be friends. Or at least partners. But that will never happen now.” She rolled away from Allison. “Shoot her,” she said.

“Noooo!” Kaneda shouted, even as the soldiers trained their weapons on Allison with a clatter. He threw himself on top of Allison as they opened fire, holding her, shielding her with his body. He jerked and twitched as the metal tore through his body, his face inches from hers. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. “In your arms,” he whispered, and died.

“Such a waste,” Lancia said. She looked at the captain of the soldiers. “Finish the job.”

Allison closed her eyes but she couldn’t erase the image of her friends lying dead around her. Her fault. Her doing. The bullet that took her life couldn’t come soon enough.

Only, this wasn’t her fault. She didn’t make White Shadow. She didn’t enslave the city. She didn’t give the order to shoot innocent kids. Anger stirred in her breast and with it the will to act. She opened her eyes and watched as the finger of a soldier pulled at his trigger with impossible slowness. She reached outward with her mind and found a tendril, a connection that led to White Shadow, a link it was using to watch her.

A bullet emerged from the barrel of the gun in a rippling cloud of vapor, and began its irrevocable journey to her heart. No stopping it. No getting out of the way. She was already dead.

Nothing to lose. She threw herself through the connection and right into White Shadow’s virtual lap.

Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.

Around her, almost within reach, was what she had once had. The world. Beyond that lay a new world, enticing, limitless. The Computer. White Shadow had not yet taken that power. It was waiting for something.

From far away Allison felt the bullet press into her flesh. Someone else’s flesh. She looked at White Shadow and smiled. “Reset,” she said.

Allison Crenshaw walked up the nearly deserted street toward her new school. She felt awkward in her uniform; the skirt seemed shorter on her than it did on the other girls. She walked alone, clutching her books to her chest, practicing her Japanese under her breath.

“Hey, watch out!” Allison turned just in time to see the kid on the skateboard before he crashed into her. She fell, books flying, conscious of her short skirt. She felt like she should have seen him coming.