Sunday, April 5, 2009

Echoes 18 - "Sons" (Part One)

This is a small test to try out an idea I had of posting chapters (or parts of chapters, since my chapters are long) here to the blog. What I notice immediately, however, is that to make it work, I have to convert everything to html (not a surprise, I was planning this already) but also strip out all the actual (not html) newlines. Joy. Anyway, I leave this up to see how it looks.

Chapter Eighteen: Sons

As sunrise broke over Ameroupe, four figures walked across the bustling airport terminal. Actually, only three of them walked, for the fourth they pushed along in a wheelchair. They strode boldly through the squares of golden sun that streaked from the windows. They had only their mission, and nothing would stop them.

“We won’t be helpless again.”

They halted at the security checkpoint, and Yuuichirou retrieved the boarding passes from his coat. “Here you are, Meiru-chan, and this one is yours, Netto.”

“But oji-san,” said Meiru, “what about you? And Yaito-chan—”

“You two don’t need me there,” said Yaito. “I’m in enough trouble already; the Net Police are going to come down hard on me for this. It’s my fault Imi knows where Enzan and the others went.”

“And Papa?” asked Netto.

“I’m going back home, son,” said Yuuichirou. “I think I’ve made a breakthrough regarding you and Saito. I’m going back to Japan to try it out, and I hope, when this is done, you’ll be able to come back home, too. Both of you.”

Netto nodded. “I promise I’ll bring him back this time.” He pressed on the armrests, lifting himself, but his knees still wobbled under his weight. Meiru propped him up, however, and he offered his boarding pass and ID to the guard.

“Well,” said Meiru, looking between Yuuichirou and Yaito, “we’ll see each other again, right?”

“Actually…” Yuuichirou fished through his pockets. “There’s something I have for you, Meiru-chan.”

“What’s that?”

Yuuichrou glanced over her shoulder, at Netto. “Why don’t you go ahead to the retinal scanner?” he said. “Meiru-chan will be with you shortly.”

Netto obeyed without question, shuffling his feet slightly as they dragged.

“What’s the—”

A small, cold piece of metal touched her palm. Meiru examined the chip, and it bore a familiar green disc in the middle.

“A Synchro Chip?”

“Not exactly,” said Yuuichirou. “It’s a fake.”

“A fake?”

“I didn’t get the chance while he was awake,” said the scientist. “I didn’t have the idea until after Imi came and left, but…you heard what I said. I’d like both Saito and Netto to come home this time. I think I can separate them. We have the data; we just need the both of them there.”

“So why don’t you—”

“Do you think Rockman would come willingly?”

Meiru blinked for a moment. “I’m not sure.”

“Neither am I, nor is Netto, but I think, like with Imi before, Saito will come back to the PET if he needs Netto’s help, and he will. They can’t use Cross Fusion without it.”

She held the chip up to the light, and it glimmered in the sun.

“It’s a trick,” she said. “It’s a trap; it’ll keep him there!”

“That’s right.”

“And Netto…” She looked down the checkpoint, where a red diode shined in Netto’s eye. “He can’t know, can he? Then Rockman would, too.”

“I leave the decision in your hands, Meiru-chan,” said Yuuichirou. “If you think there’s a better way…”

She nodded, but her fingers wrapped around the chip and hid it in her purse without another word.

“Good luck!” said Yaito.

Meiru showed her ID and boarding pass to the guard, who let her through, and when they finished scanning her eye, she met up with Netto beyond the x-ray machines. He held his hand out, and though it trembled slightly, he bore a warm smile.

“Shall we go?”

Meiru took his hand, but she dared not respond, lest her voice give away any hint of betrayal.

Part One

Three hours.

For three hours, the Cross Fusion Members holed themselves up in the safe house, peeking only through blinds and over windowsills. For three hours, Imi sat beyond the dimensional area. Sometimes she walked, yawned, but more often than not, she stared straight ahead, as if her gaze pierced the walls, but all the same, she waited.

And so did the Members. They played cards to candlelight, for Enzan worried about their power situation. It was bad enough they were sinking watt after watt into the converters downstairs. Granted, a few hundred watts for lightbulbs would probably be trivial at that point, but still, he was cautious. Besides, the glow of the dimensional area provided a fair bit of light, though its shimmering turned his stomach sometimes.

The truth of the matter was…it all reduced to simple mathematics. They had generators to make power, a battery reserve to story it, and converters and everything else in the house using it. Subtract generation from consumption, divide it out of stored energy. Energy over power equals time, after all, and how much time did they have?

A day. Maybe a day and a half, depending on the estimate. Running dimensional converters for all 86,400 seconds in the day was ill-advised, to say the least. If they didn’t give out before then…well, it didn’t matter. That would just be fortune smiling on them.

Enzan hated relying on fortune. It was totally antithetical to his philosophy. His style of combat was all about control and calculation. There was no way he’d let this ordeal come down to the wire. Imi had to know this was no stalemate; for now, she had the advantage, and it was his job, his duty, to reverse that. He needed to be proactive. He needed to see Nakamura.

Instead, he saw Rockman, and it was all he could do to hold his tongue and keep from berating the navi for giving them away again, whether it was his fault or not. Oh, when they got back home, Enzan would have the Ayanokoujis’ corporate empire on a funeral pyre and spread the ashes along the black beaches of Jawaii. She was always meddling in his affairs, harassing—

“Something you want?” asked Hideki.

“What’s your progress?” asked Enzan.

“I’ve been writing a frame-destroying program. Once the program attaches itself to a host, it will break down motor functions and eventually the whole of the navi’s body.”

“And that has to do with Echo…how?”

“It will weaken Imi enough for you to take her,” said Hideki. “And if she keeps resisting, then she won’t get the cure, and…”

“What about delivery?”

“We attach it to another navi first.”


Hideki looked to Rockman.

“Oh,” said Enzan. “Because he’s—”


Enzan chewed over the possibility for a moment.

“What about fixing her?” he asked. “Properly?”

Hideki shuddered. “It…would take time.”

“How long?”

“A few days, I think. That’s my best guess; I haven’t really looked.”

“Why not?”

Hideki shrugged off the question, leaning into the screen. In truth, it made little difference. If he wanted to avoid the possibility, that was his prerogative. Enzan had little patience to play games with the man. If the first option involved making Rockman a human sacrifice and the second option Hideki kept avoiding, then Enzan would find a third one.

When Imi first appeared, Enzan had rounded up the Members and scrambled them into Cross Fusion as fast as possible. Even with the jammers, they were deathly afraid of a breach. It soon became clear, however, that Imi knew not how to penetrate the barrier, which led to the wary standoff. Since it made little sense to stay in Cross Fusion for hours on end, the other Members simply lay in wait. They knew well that Imi could summon Spike Towers and other weapons within the area even if she were outside it, but they hoped she would refrain, lest she harm her own father in the process.

So far, that assumption was safe. Whether Enzan, alone, would be exempt from her wrath was less clear. All the same, he left the others behind. If he was going to go out there and negotiate, he had to appear disarming, and what better way than unarmed?

And, for that matter, if she killed him, they would never appease her demands. Only if she expected that would she risk a bold move. Thus, Enzan chose to be bold himself.

“What do you want, Enzan-san?” asked Imi, tapping on wall of the area.

“I think that’s my question to you.”

Imi looked beyond him. They were alone, on bare, wet dirt, with the house about 50 meters from the perimeter.

“I want my papa,” she said. “I don’t want to be broken anymore.”

“That can be arranged,” said Enzan. “Surrender yourself.”

“I have a condition.”

“I will turn you over to him; as long as you’re cut off from the net, I don’t care—”

“I want to touch him.”

Enzan narrowed his eyes. “You want to what?”

“That’s what was supposed to happen, you know,” she said. “On the train…”

“I gathered,” said Enzan. “What I don’t know is why.”

“Do you think he would, Enzan-san? Fix me, I mean?”

“I don’t see why he shouldn’t.”

She laughed. “You don’t know Papa. He scares easily, and he’s scared of me. I frighten him. I repulse him. That’s what he and Codey-kun said. The last time I saw them, they condemned me.”

Enzan frowned. This conversation was not going in the right direction; Imi had steeled herself rather than tear down the wall and cooperate. “He may have said that, but I know he doesn’t mean it now.”

A lie. A fabulous lie. Hopefully it would work.

“Maybe,” she said, “but that’s why I need to touch him. That’s why I need to be sure.”

He shook his head. “That’s not on the table.”

“Then there’s nothing for us to talk about.”

“I can lower the area,” he offered. “I can let you inside. Walk right in; you can talk to him.”

“And if I lay a hand on him, you’ll try to delete me,” said Imi. “Isn’t that so?”

He turned away, trudging over the dirt back to the compound. “I don’t have time for your moronic stubbornness.”

“But Enzan-san—”

He shrugged and tapped his watch. “You might want to back up.”

Warily, Imi stepped back, and from high in the sky, a second dimensional area formed around the first, which then receded and vanished. Sixty seconds later, the inner area reformed, and the outer one disappeared, as if nothing had happened.

Imi sat back down, and Enzan shut the door to the safe house.

“That went well,” said Imi.

In truth, it hadn’t gone badly. Enzan made his offer, and Imi rejected it. What more he could plan to do from there…well, that was his business. Hers was getting inside, and the way things were going, she’d probably have to pay a high price for it.

I should’ve taken his offer and touched Papa anyway. There’d be nothing they can do at that point. Then I’d know, and this would be over.

‘Forgive us if we don’t empathize.’

Imi sighed. Oh, Roll-san…

‘I’m surprised, Imi-chan,’ said Roll. ‘You haven’t killed anyone yet.’

Roll-san, really! I’m not like that. I think you’re thinking of Rockman-san.

Roll fumed. ‘No, you’re worse! A thousand times worse! Rockman is Rockman, but you—’

So you regret what you said?

‘This isn’t about me!’

No, it’s about me, so let me think.

‘You’ve had plenty of time to think, Imi,’ said Masuyo. ‘What conclusions have you reached?’

Papa doesn’t trust me. He’s too afraid.

‘Trust is earned,’ said Roll. ‘What have you done to earn his trust?’

What had she done…to earn…?

‘The only thing you can do now is give yourself over to them,’ said Masuyo. ‘Without that, Papa will never trust you.’

Imi mulled over these words, for they rang very true. She’d been entirely sneaky with Yaito and Meiru, watching them from shadows, masquerading as nurses. She’d done the same with Enzan before that. Rockman, too, had stared her in the eye and seen not her but Roll instead. Up to now, Imi hadn’t shied away from deceiving to achieve her ends. Enzan had no reason to believe her motives true; a lesser navi might well resent her father for abandoning her and seek vengeance on his head. Imi wasn’t like that, of course—she loved her father—but how were they to know? There were far too many moments when even she disgusted herself, when the cries of the choir overwhelmed her, and all she could see were enemies—evil, spiteful people that wanted nothing more than to keep her from her father, deny her his love. That desperation, that rage had awakened Roll, crippled the Members’ navis. It was a powerful, dark place to be, yet it also scared her. All this time she’d been fighting against the souls she stole, and now they were fighting back, turning her own emotions against her.

Even now, they whispered to her, and though their voices were hushed and almost unintelligible, they rang with a clear overtone.

I can’t trust them, either.

Not them, not anyone. There was no reasoning out of this situation. There was only action, and she would act. She would get inside and make Papa see. Only then would he know her pain and understand.

Imi looked to the sky for the faint twinkle of light, the one where the phantom areas came from. She knew not where Enzan had hidden his new set of generators, but it didn’t matter. It was almost time.

She hugged the wall of the dimensional area and waited.

“What is she doing?” asked Dingo. “She has to know it’s almost time!”

“She does,” said Nenji. “She’s up to something.”

Laika and Enzan checked their watches. Sure enough, the end of the fifteen-minute window approached. This had been Enzan’s master tactic against Imi: with the cooperation of the Namastians, they launched a dimensional area generator into orbit, subject to international use and cooperation. They knew of the safe house, and as long as the night sky was clear, they watched for his signal or for the land-based area to fail.

And it did fail. Every fifteen minutes, the generators had to cool down and cycle for sixty seconds. Thus far, this rotation, along with a network of signal jammers in the house, kept Imi out.

“She’s out of her mind!”

But not anymore. Imi leaned against the inner barrier as the second overlaid it. The gap was large—about a meter or two—but it quickly shrunk to match the inner wall’s size. It shrunk, and it squeezed Imi to fit.

“Enzan,” said Laika, “is it possible—?”

“Slot-in your chips, everyone,” said Enzan. “She’s coming.”

Imi cried and screamed; she erected a tiny Dream Aura to hold the barrier back, but her agony made itself known even though the walls of the house.

“Can she even survive that?” asked Pride.

Enzan checked his watch, and the ticking hand told all that needed to be said.


The inner barrier collapsed, and Imi, scrunched but alive, stood tall and defiant within the dimensional area.

“Let’s go!” said Enzan. “Move, move!”

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