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.
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.”
“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.”
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.