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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.