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 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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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.