Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Echoes 19 - "Resurrection and Life" - Part 3/5

I've been thinking some about structure. I realize the way I structure my writing is probably a bit jarring. Most authors' chapters are the size of a part or act that I write, and each chapter I have is, in some ways, independent of the others while still interconnected. This structure I derived from my early exposure to television and Babylon 5, where episodes string together to form a larger story. In that sense, the way I structure is very similar, with chapters corresponding to episodes and parts of chapters corresponding to a television act (what you get between commercial breaks). It's not exact; I'm not bound by the need to fit what I have in an hour or by having to have an exact number of breaks. Still, I can't help but be reminded that different media are different.

What I'm contemplating (largely for Identity) is whether the part or the act is the fundamental unit compared to the chapter. I still like my style of chapters serving as whole mini-stories in a larger narrative, but increasingly I feel like the size of the chapter makes it somewhat...inaccessible. Let's face it: when your chapters are on the order of 10k words (which they have been since "Spine of the Hedgehog," and even before that), it can be intimidating. The acts I post are more digestible, I imagine, though I can't say I've had any feedback on the matter. I'd already resolved to post Identity in acts (if you can't tell, I dislike the word parts, even though I will probably use it still--it lacks specificity that acts has, but the latter is kind of awkward as well, as it belongs in a different context) and upload to FFN in chapters (and write, I might add, in chapters--from time to time I still find the desire to move scenes around, change act breaks; I definitely feel acts are too small a subsegment to outline on their own). But, I'm tempted to post to FFN in acts, despite the clutter it would generate (the thought that Echoes would have over 100 "chapters" if I'd done that rather turns my stomach, honestly).

I think for now I'll stick to the chapters I have, but I get these whims from time to time. Anyway, part three of five here. I like how this act turned out, especially the scene at the beginning with Imi and Masuyo in the arcade. It was hard to balance just right for effect and length, but it flowed nicely. The pieces are coming together for the conflict that will take up act four as well.

Chapter Nineteen: Resurrection and Life

Part Three


Piercing winds enveloped the small navi’s opponent, who toppled over, encased in a block of ice.

“It’s over!” cried a spectator.  “Iceman wins again!”

The crowd roared with applause, and the young operator—Hikawa Tohru—shrugged and smiled.  “Anyone else want a go?”

Adulation gave way to anxious murmurs.  The arcade buzzed in anticipation, but though the platform and projector invited a new challenger, no one accepted the chance to battle with the winner of the day.  It was a curious sight, what with dozens of people surrounding the Hikawa boy but not a willing combatant in the house.

Nakamura Masuyo drummed her fingers on her wheelchair’s rims and sighed.  Her fingers ached to capture this moment:  the wild, singular consciousness of the crowd or Hikawa’s brave challenge to them.  Yet when she put pencil to paper, the slim cylinder slipped and rolled on the floor.  She locked the details in her mind instead, but the image lacked form.  Such memories were ultimately transitory and would ultimately fade away…

A lump formed in her throat.  She coughed and squeezed and patted her chest, and at last, she could breathe, but these attacks plagued her ever more, at all hours of the day and night.  Oh how she envied the healthy, happy people around her!  They could cheer and laugh and sing!

They could swallow…

“Come on,” Tohru asked of the spectators.  “It’s just one match; I’ll go easy!”

“Masuyo-chan!”  In her lap, Imi craned her neck to meet her gaze.  “Do you want to try?”

“But Imi,” she protested, “we don’t know how to battle.  I don’t even have any chips…”

“I guess that’s true.”

Masuyo smiled.  Sweet Imi, always trying to cheer her up.  It must be harder and harder these days—for her to do that—because as often as not they’d only remind each other of what they used to do together, before Masuyo’s illness took those things away from them.  They drew once.  They walked through the park and swung from the monkey bars, and granted, Imi could only watch these things or, at best, replicate them in her own environment, within the PET, but they played together—at least, after a fashion they did.

They played together, so why not try something new?


The daughter of Nakamura wheeled herself to the platform, and the crowd stirred with awe and wonder.  Hikawa, for his part, looked aghast at first, but any haughtiness he’d accumulated over his winning streak faded.  He crouched down to eye level with Masuyo.  “Hello there.  What’s your name?”


“Nice to meet you, Masuyo-chan,” he said kindly.  “I’m Tohru, and this is Iceman.”

“A pleasure to meet you!” said Iceman with a bow.

“We’ve been watching,” Masuyo explained.  “Imi and I that is.  I have to admit we’ve never battled before.  I don’t even own any battle chips.”

“Well, that’s all right,” said Tohru.  “You can borrow some of ours.  It’ll be fun, yeah?”

Masuyo nodded, and after Tohru tutored her in Net Battle 101, she and Imi prepared for their first match.

“I don’t know about this,” said Imi.  “Hikawa-san and Iceman-san have been battling for years, and we’re just starting, and—”

“I won’t let you get hurt,” said Masuyo.  “If it looks bad, I’ll plug you out, I promise.”

Across the way, their opponents lined up for battle as well.  “Are you ready, Masuyo-chan?”

“Yes, Tohru-san, I’m ready.”

He grinned.  “Then let’s go!  Plug-in, Iceman, transmission!”

“Plug-in, Imi, transmission!”

The two combatants faced one another on the infinite plane.

“Battle Start!”

The match began with simple maneuvers:  punches and kicks and basic dodges.  Though this elicited some displeasure from the crowd, Tohru’s glare silenced them.  Truth be told, Imi came along quickly:  she was agile, nimble.  Her little frame suppressed the power of her physical attacks, but in that sense she and Iceman were no different.  Imi was capable, and perhaps in someone else’s hands, she might become a passable battler.

But not in Masuyo’s.  Masuyo’s hands twitched and shook.  She dropped battle chips on the floor, slotted them in far too slowly.  Tohru and Iceman thought it’d be a good test to lob Ice Cubes at Imi, but the first block knocked her back.  The second stuck on a Flame Sword that Imi waved about, clumsy and uncoordinated.

That’s when they saw the third…


The PET tumbled, skipped off the girl’s knee and skidded on the floor, an unreachable sea for Masuyo.

“I’m sorry, Imi,” she mumbled.  “I can’t plug you out…”

The white navi braced herself, and—


The crowd hushed.  Beyond the projector, even Tohru stared in amazement.  Two solid blocks of ice smashed into each other, canceling both out, and a stream of frosty air flowed from Imi’s fingertips.

“How did she do that?  Was it a chip?”

“Couldn’t be; I saw the girl drop the PET.  Look at it:  it’s still on the ground!”

In the confusion, Iceman fired another Ice Cube, and just as before, Imi fired off her own—this time with confidence and understanding, not the confusion that marred her first attempt, a mere reflex.  The cubes collided again, and from the explosion, their data showered the field.

“Try this, Iceman!  Battle Chip:  Aqua Sword, slot-in!”

Iceman charged ahead, sword overhead!

CLANG!  Imi raised her hands instinctively, and a blue sword of her own parried the strike.  She buckled under his weight, however, dropping to a knee.

“Incredible!”  “Did you see that?”  “She mirrored the attack without any chips…”

And in an instant, Imi sized up the situation.  She pressed the advantage, matched Blizzard with Blizzard and squeezed Iceman between his own Ice Cube and hers.  She’d pinned Iceman, and though he squirmed and beat on the ice, his struggle was futile.

The spectators’ whispers simmered below earshot until one brave soul clapped in admiration.  Soon, the whole room cheered and erupted with newfound excitement.

“Masuyo-chan?” asked Imi.  “What are they doing?”

“I think they’re impressed.”

They sure showed it.  They hollered and swarmed the platform, bombarding Masuyo and Imi with their questions and exclamations.  For Imi, however, their faces blurred; their cries melted together.  She was but one navi in a harsh spotlight, and around her, in the dim surroundings of the arcade, a formless mass called to her, beckoned her.

“Come on!  What are you waiting for?  Finish it!”

Finish it?  Yes, that’s right.  She could press forward.  She could finish it.

“No, Imi, that’s enough!”

But that voice was faint and quiet, just one of many that spoke to her.  Attack, retreat, go, stay—o many conflicting commands—and while she recognized Masuyo, she also knew the battle wasn’t over.  She could win this for her, for all the people out there who rooted for her…


Imi hurled a third Ice Cube into the fray, but the blocks smashed against the plug-out notification.  Iceman had fled, and alone on a raised pedestal, Imi bathed in the sounds of the crowd, which sang the praises of a new victor at the arcade.

“Something is very wrong here.”

Masuyo and Roll camped out in her room once again, their small, imaginary refuge against the choir and Imi’s mind.  To Roll’s consternation, however, the observation was largely redundant.

‘How could they use Codey-kun like this without him knowing?’

Imi’s thoughts ran in circles; the distraction delayed her return to Codey, and on some level, she feared possibilities.  With Codey’s mind a closed book to her, she had to confront the all-too-likely truth:

‘Codey-kun knew.  He knew all along.  He was trying to use me, force me to go back to Papa…’

“But it’s more than that,” said Masuyo—or rather, said Imi’s afterimage of her.  “You think so too, don’t you, Roll?”

“To tell the truth, I’m not really interested.”

“You saw Netto-san and Rockman.  What more do you want?”

Roll extended her arms, turned over her palms.  “What can I do like this?  I can’t stop her by myself, not for long.”

“You know what will happen when Imi goes back to Codey or Papa,” said the ghost of Masuyo.  “There will be blood.”

“And Rockman may be the one to spill it,” Roll mused direly, for this, she vowed, could never occur.  Netto had maintained control over Rockman in their last battle with Imi, but they paid for that control with power.  Without the soul-sharing of the link, without the “Saito Style,” Imi survived attacks that would’ve been deathblows.  Netto proved he mistrusted Rockman even now.

“You made a promise.”

Roll winced.  That was a bitter, bitter phrase for her.  Rockman invoked it repeatedly after the incident at the Chandler, when she, in her foolish bid to kill Imi for good, had begged him to shoot her, delete Roll outright and Imi along with her.  Rockman took it as a solemn oath, one he wouldn’t cast aside until Roll herself absolved him of that responsibility and rejected his love, but in return, she’d made her own promise, hadn’t she?

“If there’s some way I can help you, some way I can make it right, I will!  After all the times you saved my life….  I’m just sorry this was all I could do today—save your body—because it’s not enough is it?”

It wasn’t, not by a long-shot, but she struggled to find the right course.  Up ’til now, the ever-needy Masuyo had yet to offer her a solution.

“The truth is,” said Masyuo, “you may never be able to help him directly.  The best we can do is keep Imi under control.”

“And how do you propose we do that?  I’ve tried it.  It doesn’t work.”

“By yourself, no.  You’re just one voice among many, but what if you had help?”

“Where am I going to get help?  Do you see anyone else here?”

Masuyo shook her head.  “See them?  Maybe not, but I do hear them.  Don’t you?”

Roll frowned.  She closed her eyes—even if they were a facsimile, they distracted her—and listened.  Below the obvious paranoia that filled Imi’s thoughts (‘He must’ve known; he wasn’t upset at all that Papa left him behind’), something else whispered to her.  The mumblings were soft and hardly audible, but Roll knew that soft hum.  It was but the first movement in a seven-part requiem.

The choir.

Roll ventured forth, into the void, but the shadows nipped at her body, and dozens of claws and hooks lay in wait, ready to shred her and scatter her data among the black mass, another voice for the collection.  For too long, she’d counted herself among them, sat by while Imi wrought chaos and death.  It was easy to be mindless there, to let the collective will overwrite your own.  Perhaps if she yelled loud enough, they would listen to her instead, follow her commands.

The choir whispered, abuzz with dark thoughts for Imi.

“He’s betrayed you,” they said.  “He deceived you…”

Poison Imi’s mind against Codey would they?  Well fine.  She could yell and scream and chant ominously, too!  If only her programmers had included Latin in her translation library…

The darkness seethed and frothed around her, like a corrosive foam.  One wrong step, and she’d disappear in the shadows once more.  She couldn’t let that happen.  She had to make her stand here.

But what could she say?  What did she have to say to faceless specters?  All this time, she’d been pushing against Imi for concrete reasons—to save Meiru’s life, to heal Rockman’s mind—but half the time she took orders from Masuyo, always under the guise, the excuse, that Masuyo could do little herself, being a part of Imi and all.

“Don’t get distracted.”  Masuyo’s disembodied voice rang out over the choir’s soft murmurs.  “They’ll rip you apart if you lose your center of focus.  You know that.”

Still, Roll chafed against this outside control, but rather than lose precious “focus,” she directed her anger toward the choir.

“Well?” she challenged.  “What do you have to say for yourselves?”

The mumbling intensified.  How irritating it was, for everyone to murmur around her but not talk to her.  She knew the hearts of these navis, the souls of the dead.  If they wouldn’t deign to speak with her, she could make them very uncomfortable.

“I know what you fear,” she said.  “I know you all have suffered.  I know because I was among you, and I suffered.  It hurt when Rockman…”  She choked.  Forget that thought.  “…when Imi-chan killed me, showed me everything.  You’re all in pain; you’re terrified of what will become of you because there’s no way out of here.”

The choir did not answer her.  The sickening silence unnerved her more than any bold rebuttal could’ve.  Perhaps Imi found a noisy room too loud to ignore, but Roll feared the dead quiet.  It reflected her own thoughts back at her.  It’s what made her amenable to joining them in the first place, after all.  Rockman had made his choice, and his future didn’t include her.  Meiru would grieve, but she’d also move on, and that was that.  For some perverse reason, Roll found comfort in the agony of others, of Imi’s new victims.  The new additions to the choir reminded her she wasn’t alone; she could run away from pain and fear and anguish and let those emotions bubble and stir on their own, disassociated from her.

That, ultimately, was the meaning of the choir, the mission of Imi’s councilors.  Their strong emotions ran free and coursed through Imi instead, and the hollow remnants of her victims wandered the shadows, ever restless yet going nowhere.  When they shared the spotlight with her as antagonists, they fed on her anxieties, for they could assert dominion over her that way.  When they disappeared into the choir, however, they scattered, beyond all reproach.  So long as they were too split to listen to Roll, she would get nowhere with them.

“So tell me,” she called out to them.  “What do you want?  Are you really happy with having Imi-chan run around making havoc?  Is that all you care about anymore?”

The murmurs peaked.  Cross-talk and chatter rumbled in the choir, but still no soul dared speak up.

“Answer me!” said Roll.  “Answer me, and we can do something about Imi-chan.  Together.  Masuyo-san brought me out because I could still make a mark on the world; there was still someone out there I cared about.  Maybe you don’t have those things—I don’t know; I can’t know—but I’m telling you right now:  we can stop her if you all choose to help me, if you stop hiding…”

But the souls around her clung to darkness, cowards all, none of them willing to face up to reality, to change the cycle of paranoia and violence they inflicted upon Imi.

Roll huffed.  “Fine by me.  I don’t know who’s worse:  Imi-chan for doing what she does or you all for pushing her toward it.  You think death will let you escape?  You might be wrong.  Maybe there’ll be a special place for all of us in the underworld, and we can be trapped with each other for eternity.  How does that sound?”

Apparently it sounded pretty good, for the choir didn’t stir, much to Roll’s consternation.  Honestly!  What else could she do?  She’d tried all she could think of; she needed help, but even in the misty void she was alone.  Not even Rockman—the old Rockman, the one who never quit despite the odds—could help her now…

“That’s not so, you know.”

She twitched.  A presence made itself felt, coalesced amongst formless shadows.

“Even after you told me you hated me, I’ve been waiting for you, for when you might need me, take me back.  I wouldn’t drive Imi-chan to madness.  I just needed the right time, don’t you think?”

Could it be…?

A solitary figure stepped from the darkness and shared her light, and in sharing it, the light grew and repelled oppressive shadows.

“I missed you, Roll-chan,” he said.  “I missed you, and I wanted to help you, but more than that, I want to help myself now, too.”

She smiled.  Maybe he wasn’t the Rockman she knew, but in that moment, set off from the raging agony of the choir, she could believe, true or not, that he was close.  Close enough, in every way it mattered.

He offered his hand.  “Shall we?”

She nodded and clasped his fingers, and together, they marched forward, determined to awaken the complacent souls around them.

Some souls, however, were painfully awake.  Imi arrived at her hideout to find it barren and desolate.  Her dear brother, the closest thing to her own flesh and blood, had abandoned her.

Why would he leave unless…?

Maybe he went looking for her.  After all, she’d blown a small chunk of the day tracking down those blasted Net Saviors; she could forgive some level of impatience.

Maybe, she thought darkly, he’s already…

She shook her head.  Impossible.  He couldn’t, he wouldn’t have.  Enzan-san said it would take hours!

Did Codey know that?

Imi’s stomach churned.  Sitting and mulling over the possibilities made her feel weak and helpless.  To think that Codey was dying and that she, directly or not, would be the only one who could change it….  Enzan left the choice to her, after all.  Once again he proved himself a sickening and ruthless adversary, willing to sacrifice and concede much—Codey’s blood, the blood of his colleagues—to help take Imi down.

Too much.  He had to have some backup plan.  How could he be sure Imi would turn herself in rather than let Codey die?  Of course she would…if she knew for a fact Codey had no part in devising this plot.  That was still an open question, but…say he didn’t, for the moment.  What would Enzan do?  What stopped her from going back to that hospital showing him and Laika the prick of her point, as it were?

She shivered.  Imi had a policy to take her own threats seriously, for her enemies would dismiss her if she backed down, but in truth, she relaxed when Enzan cut her off.  There was something fundamentally different about slicing open a person and watching their red fluid drip and seep and pulse away.  At least navis (Cross Fusion or no) could reasonably fight back, but here, in the real world, people were as unpredictable as they were squishy.  Egami had shown her that much—she begged and pleaded and grabbed Imi’s arm to stave off Grove’s execution.  How tragic for her; she was still here, in Imi’s mind, somewhere…

She shivered again.  What was taking Codey so long?  Was he really in league with Enzan and the others?  But what purpose would that serve?  If Codey knew how to get back to their father, why would Enzan try to use him against her?  Why would—

She lurched.  Oh dizzy, weak, don’t think.  Tired of waiting, tired of thinking.  Dizzy, weak, don’t—

Frozen.  She fell on her side; her head bonked on the floor.  She stared into the distance, for her eyes disobeyed her and neither moved nor blinked…

…nor cried.

So this was the plan.  This is what Codey-kun and Papa—

There was a woosh in the distance.  Scattered data assembled itself in a boy’s form.  He took one look at her and gasped.  “Onee-san!”

“You…you did this to me…”

He dashed to her side, but his own body failed him in the final steps.  He tripped and skidded along the floor, halting beside her.  The children of Nakamura lay prone, helpless, and weak.

“You’re sick too?” Imi murmured.  “Still?”

“I went looking for Papa,” he explained, “but nobody could tell me where he’d gone.”

“I know where.”

Their eyes met.  “Then come with me!  Come with me back to Papa!  He can fix you; he can fix both of us.  That was the plan.  That’s all I meant; I didn’t want to hurt you.  I just thought if you had to come back—”

She scoffed.  “After what you and Papa did, you think I want to go back with you?”

 He rose to his feet, but he leaned over her, pleading.  “Onee-san—”

“Go, Codey-kun.”  She opened a window, and a twelve-digit series of letters and numbers appeared.  “This is the address; go back to Papa if you want.  I won’t.”

“But, Onee-san—”


Her roar knocked him on his rear.  Sobbing and stricken, he backed away.  “I’ll hold the door open as long as I can,” he offered.  “As long as Papa and the others will let me.  Please, onee-san, you don’t deserve to die.”

“You should’ve thought of that before.”

He nodded twice.  “You’re right.  I’m sorry.”

Imi closed her eyes, and the sound of dematerialized data echoed in the empty space.

So that was the end of it.  Codey was willing to hurt her, kill her if necessary.  Not even her closest family offered any safe harbor or peace.  So much for the strength of blood; blood shed blood for every moment passed.

It all comes down to blood.  She sat up.  And only blood understands blood.

To rapturous cheers and chants for blood, for vengeance, for ‘Echo, Echo,’ Imi took to her feet and disappeared down a Rush Hole.  Codey and Papa’s betrayal severed a bond of blood, after all.  Imi would be remiss not to show them just how much would spill.

“What do you mean she wouldn’t go with you?”

“I mean exactly that, Papa,” said Codey.  “When she realized what was happening, she just…yelled at me to go.”

From their high-rise room, The Net Saviors—Netto and Enzan—overlooked the wide glass wall with Meiru, Hideki, and Yuuichirou.  The vast Choinan cityscape, a mixture of modern skyscrapers and ancient dynastic architecture, bathed in afternoon sun.

“Then that’s it,” said Enzan.  “She’s burned her last shot.  If she won’t come after you, she’ll be gone within hours.”

Netto shook his head, uncertain.  “This is wrong.  Nobody should have to die like that.”

“It’s better that she be gone,” said Rockman.  “She’s done enough harm.”

“She’s not gone yet,” said Codey.  “Papa, you have the cure, don’t you?  Let me go back to her with it; let me show her it works.”

“And if she touches you?” said Enzan.  “Will the cure be transmitted to her by contact?”

Hideki only tugged on his collar.

“You don’t know, do you?” said Yuuichirou.

“It…it’s not…”

“It’s not ready, is it?” said Enzan.

“Codey, I may need your help,” muttered Hideki.

“Have you even been trying?” said Meiru.  “How long—”

“I just need some help, all right?” he barked.  “The code just…doesn’t come as quickly to my fingers anymore.  It’s easy to destroy things with code.  It’s a lot harder to put them back together, a lot harder to—”

Bam.  The windows rattled.  A dull thud, a brief shake.

“Enzan-kun,” said Yuuichirou, “are there jammers here?”

“Scattered throughout the building.  Nakamura-hakase’s PET was hard-lined; there’s no way she could be here.”

“Maybe not in the building, but outside it?”

Enzan grimaced.

Outside, a tiny speck hovered amongst the clouds.  It hurled streaming feather rockets to the street, and the shopkeepers, the pedestrians—they huddled below awnings and scampered away.  The stray dot in the sky floated closer at a slow but deliberate pace.

“This is it then,” said Enzan.  “This is where we decide who dies before Echo does.  Let’s go!”

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