"The damage caused by the three unleashed voomers in the Akihabara district Mall in Tokyo was considerable and left one fatality…"
"Anya, come see this!" Nicolas Romanova turned up the TV's volume to better hear the shocking news.
"The intervention of a mysterious armored person that stopped the three machines generated…"
"What the hell!"
"It seems like the transmission was cut off," added Anya while she took the remote to check if the other channels still had a signal. When she saw that all the other stations were transmitting without a problem, she put the news on again to see what had happened.
A message saying "Technical Difficulties – Please Stand By" appeared on the screen and stayed that way for almost a full minute. When the transmission finally returned, there was another reporter and the news took a little unexpected twirl.
"The Santa Claus voomers that sadly lost their control yesterday in the Akihabara commercial district were stopped thanks to the intervention of the A.D. Police. There was only one fatality. The reason for this tragedy isn't clear yet. However, Genom is investigating the facts…"
"Well, at least the A.D. Police got the situation under control," Nicolas was assured while scratching his head, trying to understand the whole thing.
"But I don't get why they had the wrong facts to start with," added his wife.
"What makes you think that the first news was really the fake one? You can't trust in anything and anybody these days…"
"Whatever. Tokyo is even worse though. You can't even go to a mall without one of those things going mad. It's a shame that Nene hadn't seen the news so she could understand why we don't want her to go alone to Tokyo."
"Where is she?" asked Nicolas, suddenly feeling strange that his daughter wasn't hovering around the table since it was so close to lunchtime.
"In her bedroom. I'll go wake her up now."
Anya walked quietly to her daughter's room. The small amount of light that was filtering through the blinds allowed her to see without needing to turn on the lights. The computer was running and on the bed, Nene's curled body was sleeping deeply under the blankets. Her mother sat down at her side and started to talk in order to wake her up. But when she didn't get any immediate answer, she tapped her daughter's back. There she found something very strange. Nene's back seemed to be a little too fluffy. She instantly knew that something wasn't quite right. She threw off the blankets and found out a huge teddy bear in place of her daughter. Desperate, she looked towards the computer monitor and finally noticed the screensaver that was running. It was a little avatar with Nene's shape and a looping message. She nervously approached the screen in order to read it. "Don't worry about me, I'm in Tokyo right now."
Anya knew her daughter was stubborn and that it wouldn't be easy to change her mind, but she never thought that Nene would actually run away from home. She felt angry, not at Nene, but with herself. She felt as if she had somehow failed in her motherly role and had made her daughter flee… or maybe the worse mistake that they made was underestimating her.
She slowly walked down the stairs without paying any attention to her husband.
"Anya, what's wrong?" He turned off the TV when he saw his wife so quiet.
"What do you mean "gone"?"
"Nene… Nene's gone to Tokyo. She ran away while we were sleeping. She left a message on her computer." Anya slumped down in front of Nicolas.
"That brat is going to pay for this!"
"Do you think that we did something wrong? Maybe we didn't want to admit that Nene had grown up, that she needs her space…"
"Don't be silly!"
"Do you want to go to Tokyo to find her?"
"No, we'll wait for a day. We'll see how she does by herself." The man turned on the TV again and continued watching the news. But even if he wanted to ignore it, the concern was still present on his face.
Anya couldn't understand her husband's stance. She knew that Nene was a smart girl and under normal circumstances would know how to manage by herself. However, she was in danger from too many things in a strange city.
"Nicolas! She's only a child! I won't be able to rest knowing she's alone so far from home."
"Do whatever you want! But that young lady owes me one heck of an explanation when she comes back."
She wasn't afraid or nervous, on the contrary, she felt overflowed with a sense of calm and security that she had never felt before. It was the first time Nene had made a decision completely outside of anyone else's influence. She felt she was taking a giant step forward and couldn't possibly go back now. If she did, it would make her decision a failure. While Nene pondered those thoughts, the blond teenager absently watched the landscape through the shinkansen's window. Her first idea was to take the space shuttle to Tokyo. However, the money she saved up wasn't enough, so she had to conform her budget to the train fare instead. In any event, by the time her parents found out she was gone, she would already be in Megalocity far away from home and ready to start a new life.
Priss was watching the news, hoping to find some information about the mysterious apparition in the mall. She found it somewhat strange that all the news programs completely ignored the incident, minimizing the causes and consequences. However, she remembered that it was always the same in that the news never seemed to tell the real story. But this time she had been there, immersed in that hell… a hell that only the divine intervention of that metal angel had saved her from.
How was it possible for a human being to fight like that? Was it really a person or was it some kind of secret Genom experiment instead? The TV was only showing trivial news now and Priss was ready to turn it off when a knock on her trailer's door suddenly distracted her. She didn't expect any visitors and even less at high noon. Nigel was working and the band wasn't in the city.
"Who is it?" she asked while laying her ear on the door.
"Special delivery for Priscilla S. Asagiri."
She immediately recognized Maxon's badly disguised voice and Jaid's barely contained laughter. She opened the door with her characteristic bored face, a curse ready to fly out of her mouth.
"Just what the hell are you two doing here?"
"Geez, nice welcome…" protested Maxon.
"You're supposed to be away with your families anyway, and…" Priss wanted to continue her protest but had to stop when she saw what both of them were holding.
"When you didn't open your door right away we thought for a moment that that you were busy with your boyfriend," added Jaid with a nervous laugh.
"Hey, Priss. If you don't mind, can we come in and put this down?" Maxon was obviously growing tired. He carried an old style computer monitor in his arms. Priss knew the weight had to be very uncomfortable. Jaid carried the cpu under his arm, but it's lighter weight seemed to not be bothering him nearly as much.
Priss let them come in even though she had no idea why they were doing this.
"Here you go. This is our Christmas present!" Maxon said while he was looking for an empty spot to put the monitor down.
"And you owe us 100,000 yen!" added Jaid.
"Idiots! If I would have known that you were getting a computer for me I wouldn't have risked my butt in that damned mall…"
"Well if you don't want it we'll take it. Surely we can find somebody who'll want to buy it. And besides, since when do you frequent the malls?" Maxon inquired while he was looking through her rather large mess for an electrical outlet of some type.
"No, I'll keep it! But are you serious about the 100,000 yen?"
"Do I look like Santa Claus to you?"
"We can give you a discount if you want." Jaid looked at Maxon and winked at him.
Maxon thought for a moment, pretending to count in his mind.
"Fine, but only because it's for you Priss, you can have it for 60,000."
"Fucking son of bitch! You wanted to charge me almost double!"
"Heh heh, take it easy! But if you want an Internet connection, you'll have to pay extra."
Jaid looked at him annoyed and hit him with an elbow to make him reconsider the abuse he was giving Priss.
"Hey, what's wrong with you? …Alright then, Internet connection for free. You want it?"
Priss thought for a moment. It was free so she couldn't complain. And it would be a good tool. She was tired of depending on others to use the Internet, or even worse having to pay a cyber cafe to check her e-mail. Her face lightened even more when she realized that through the net she might be able to get at the information she wanted.
"Yeah, it's okay."
"Well, let's get to work then."
"By the way, you didn't tell me just why you're here instead of at your homes." Priss went to the kitchen to make some hot coffee. She figured the day would be a long one and the trailer was turning into a freezer.
"It's a funny story. We were on the way to our town when we stopped and met a guy who was selling some stuff," Jaid started to talk while he was watching Maxon making the whole arrangement into a workable stack.
"And among all the junk he had lying around, we found this computer. We fetched it for a good price too," added Maxon.
"So we decided to bring it to you now since it wasn't so comfortable traveling with this big thing."
Priss gave them the coffee after Maxon had finished with the connections. Next he had to start on the most painstakingly difficult part… installing the necessary software to make the whole thing work. There was much for her band mates to do with the computer. So instead of simply sitting by idly, Priss decided to use the time to write some ideas for a new song.
Within an oversized office in the Genom tower, Brian J. Mason sat in front of an equally oversized window while sifting through information on the Internet about the incident of the previous day. The fact that one news channel had mentioned the being in the hard suit made him slightly uncomfortable. Even though the situation was now under control and the needed measures had been taken with the mass media, the net was still an unruly world. He visited several news sites but had to make use of every little unorthodox method to find what he looking for.
"The Knight Sabers Return!" was at the top of one site… a site that had an update date of December 22, 2038.
"Very interesting…" he spoke to himself while navigating the other links and reading the entire article in painstaking detail. That site luckily wasn't public. It turned out to be a community that only members could gain access to the information contained inside. Mason knew quite a bit about hacking since it was a very useful tool in manipulating the various pieces of his real life chess game. He decided that it would be 'beneficial' to leave a little present for all the Knight Sabers' fans, especially since there were almost 800 of them on the site he was picking through at the moment. He carefully installed a virus on the server so that everyone who entered in that community would be infected with a little cybernetic chaos. Not only would it erase all the e-mail accounts and data of the users, but also the whole hard disk would be emptied in a few seconds. That was as much as Mason could do for the moment. He couldn't destroy the Knight Sabers, but he could certainly ruin their followers.
A call on the intercom distracted from his work, but he wouldn't postpone the malice in his mind for that. After all Rosenkrauzt could wait. He knew perfectly well what the old man would ask him and he already had the answers to his questions set in his mind. The most important thing was that his suspicions weren't wrong and after almost a year of silence the warriors had returned to stick their noses where they didn't belong.
Tokyo could be paradise or hell at the same time… just like any other big city. Those who visited such a metropolis for the first time couldn't help but feel overwhelmed from the technological display.
As soon as the girl left the station, she found herself in the middle of a street surrounded by people who seemed like nothing more than robots. Strangely the voomers appeared much more human-like than their organic originals. Nene Romanova couldn't prevent the brief wish to be home again with her parents. But it was too late now; the first step was taken. Now she had the bigger task to take on next.
She carried with her a little computer with all of Megalocity's maps and its different districts. She looked in her database for the precise location of the A.D. Police building. According to the information she had, she wasn't very far from there. In fact, she was close enough to walk...
The Silky Doll had been closed for an hour now. Sylia was in the midst of taking a restoring shower after a long day of work. However, the day's activities weren't over just yet. There was something more waiting for her to do. She still needed to continue the work on the hardsuits and analyze the recording from the incident at the mall. It was her lone opportunity to observe Priss in action and to once again see the stupefied expression on her face. Without even planning it, she had wound up becoming the center of attention of her prey for a few precious moments. Sylia couldn't help but ask herself what might be going on inside of Priss' head. She knew that the moment to catch her was near, but she also knew she still needed to wait a little longer. But Sylia needed to be ready. Experience taught her that the right time might come when she least expected it.
The vapor that was generated by the hot water fogged over the surface of the glass. That coupled with her momentary distraction made it practically impossible for Sylia to notice the outline vaguely revealed through the shower. She was ready to wash her hair when she realized that she had left the shampoo bottle outside. She slid the screen door to grab the bottle when she was suddenly invaded by a mix of fright and surprise, finding herself in front of a person who had been waiting there for a couple of minutes.
"Nigel! What are you doing here?"
"Can I come in?" The man finished taking off what little clothes he still had on to enter in the shower.
His sudden appearance coupled with his aggressive attitude completely disoriented Sylia. But she didn't really care why he acted this way. Her look of surprise immediately changed to a more playful one as she scooted to one side to let him in.
Sylia grabbed the forgotten shampoo from the floor and slowly closed the screen.
"So…did you get any information on Priss?" she asked in a casual way while opening the shampoo bottle to pour some into her hand.
"I told you I don't want to get involved with that."
"I'm not asking you to offer her a job as a Knight Saber. The only thing you have to do is guide her to me," she continued while massaging her head gently, lifting her arms up in a very deliberate manner.
"And why do you think she'll trust me?" Nigel didn't understand Sylia's obstinacy with involving him. Was it possible that she knew about the relationship he shared with Priss…after all she had a very special ability to get all kinds of information. However, if she was even the least bit aware of their relationship, Nigel knew her reaction would be very different.
"I don't know…maybe it's your charm…" Sylia felt a slight agitation from some shampoo entering her eyes. Nigel carefully removed the offending lock of hair, which was causing her discomfort. Sylia took advantage by turning his hand and kissing his palm, not so subtly trying to convince him to 'help' a little more.
"I'll see what I can do, but I won't guarantee anything."
Soon she stepped under the shower to rinse out her hair. While the water was falling down on her head, she felt Nigel's arms wrapping around her from behind.
"You don't need my help, you can do it all by yourself. Anyway, you've got much more charm than I do," Nigel whispered in her ear, while his hands started to softly flow across Sylia's figure.
It was late at night when Jaid and Maxon finally left after spending the whole day assembling the computer for Priss. After they configured the Internet connection, they used it to check their own e-mail. Priss really felt relieved when they left. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy being with her friends, but she more wanted to be alone with her brand new purchase in order to discretely access the Internet.
Before plopping herself in front of the computer, she looked for an udon soup and put it in the microwave. She was hungry and something hot would suit her wonderfully because of the cold conditions in the trailer. While she waited for the soup to heat up, she decided to check her e-mail and found several unread messages. Several were from some Takeshi person. The microwave ring warned her that the soup was ready. She took it out and opened it smelling the bouillon's aroma. She looked for the ohashi and returned to the monitor to continue. She didn't exactly know how her fans were able to get her e-mail address. It was bothersome to receive unsolicited e-mail from them. Once she finished the e-mail routine, she started the search for her real interest. However, it appeared that no one mentioned the incident at the mall, including completely ignoring the armored person's appearance.
Just when she was ready to give up, she stumbled upon a site's headline that read "The Knight Sabers Return!" and further talked about the incident from the day before and showed a lower quality picture of the hardsuit. When she clicked on the link, she discovered the access reserved only for registered members. She thoughtlessly filled out the form with all her data and once she was returned the authorization she tried to enter again. However, when she finally entered, she was surprised to find a nearly blank screen. The only visible message suggested a server problem… until the screen suddenly turned totally black with only a single flickering word: "deleting".
"What the fuck!" Priss was scared and she didn't know what to do. The only thing she could think of was to turn off the computer. She waited for a while and then turned it on again. However, nothing appeared on the screen. The monitor flickered for a couple of seconds, and a short but simple message appeared: "Hard disk successfully formatted, please install an operating system." Priss wasn't a genus with computers but she knew enough to understand what that meant.
"Shit!" She was ready to punch her fist through the monitor but stopped when she realized that it wasn't the machine's fault. She had made the mistake herself somehow. The only thing she did was connect to the Internet. If her deductions weren't wrong, entering that site had started the chaos. And the worse thing of all was that only Jaid and Maxon had the installation disks for the operating system and the other software as well. So now she had to wait for their return to use her computer again. But…what the hell could that site have had? Surely it was a virus, but why would someone put a virus in a community like that? It meant that many others were in the same situation as her… or even worse. And the most important question still remained unanswered… who were the Knight Sabers?
Priss turned off the computer. It was amazing how the work of a whole day could disappear in a few seconds. She lay down on the bed to think for a bit. What she had discovered made her curiosity even stronger. However, she was too tired to continue thinking and she soon handed over her mind to the exhaustion that was dominating her body.
That night, Sylia had to make some unexpected twists in her plans. The hardsuits could wait. Even Priss could wait for one more day. After all, being with Nigel was more pleasant than anything else. His unexpected visit in the shower and all that came after was something she never imagined as a possibility with him.
Dressed only in silence, they rested in each other's arms for a long time, sharing in each other's comfort. In an instant the quietness was disturbed when Sylia found the resolve to bring up a topic still simmering in her mind.
"And …have you decided what you'll do on Christmas?"
"I told you that I had other plans."
"More important than me?"
Nigel was silent, looking sideways at her and noticing a certain fear laced in her eyes. He could perfectly understand Sylia's fears and her terrific need of not being alone, mostly because deep down he shared those fears with her. But how could he explain to her that his other "plans" involved the woman that obsessed both of them, the prey she hunted and almost had in her claws. Nigel turned over to be above her and gave her a kiss, trying to distract her from the present concerns. He still had one card up his sleeve. If he used it, he would know what really was in Sylia's heart and maybe the answer wouldn't have to be of his own will.
"Sylia…if I drop my plans and spend Christmas with you…"
"Yes…" Sylia looked for his lips to continue their momentarily interrupted kiss. Nigel sat up slightly and gazed into her eyes.
"… please don't ask me to recruit Priss any more." He bent over again and continued their kiss.
"What!" Sylia exclaimed while pushing him away. "Are you blackmailing me?" Her question had no answer. "Well, after all, I guess I don't need your help to recruit anybody. I could do it by myself. But...spending Christmas without you…"
Nigel had won this round. Sylia had chosen him and that calmed his nerves somewhat. However, in his heart he wished for the exact opposite.
"But… would you tell me why you don't want to have any kind of dealings with that girl?" Sylia could tell something was hidden deep within Nigel's decisions.
"Simply that I don't want to be part of something crazy. I believe that what happened a year ago is enough to not make the same mistakes."
She lay next to him in silence. The mere mention of that not too distant past had effectively paralyzed her and she much preferred to continue enjoying the present… and to keep the demons that were trying to torture her bottled up.
Not agreeing to help Sylia was something that Nigel knew wouldn't cause her to forget her plans… he knew that all too well. Priss would still be her prey until Sylia finished with her task. But at least he was out of the game before it began and his conscience will be more relieved… but not entirely clear either. He knew it wouldn't be easy to invent a good excuse for Priss and tell her that he would not spend Christmas with her. But he had to find a way to console her and compensate her.
"Forgive me Priss," was the last thought that crossed Nigel's mind while he started to make love to Sylia once again.
The apartment was small but it felt cozy. It was her home… Nene's own home. Well, actually the A.D. Police had assigned it to her, but at least it was earned on her own merit anyway.
It wasn't too difficult to find the Totem pole since her mini computer guided her. Once there, she made her presence known and was taken in front of her superior. There she was given a uniform and the keys to her new home. She would start work the next day at the top of the morning. She couldn't help but feel eager and nervous at the same time.
The place had very basic furniture. She quickly decided that after she cashed her first paycheck, she would start to make some changes in the decor. She went to the room that from now on would be her bedroom. Nene parked her things in the closet and put her weasel on the bedside table. She plopped down on the bed and was immediately struck by the different feel. She longingly thought back to her soft mattress at home. Nene couldn't help but think of her parents. Surely they would be angry and worried. She felt the urge to call them, at least to tell them that everything was okay. However, she managed to restrain herself for now. She wouldn't call them this night since they must learn the lesson first. They needed to see reality and accept that their daughter was an adult now.
Only one day remained before Christmas Eve and the city seemed to be overblown with bedlam. Everybody was doing their last minute shopping and it was almost impossible to simply walk on the streets. Priss really hated that kind of congestion so she opted to work from home. She had called Nigel to tell him that she wouldn't be out, but that she would still spend Christmas with him the next day. She had to leave a message on the answering machine since Nigel wasn't at home for some unknown reason. That was another thing that she hated too, talking with a machine.
The cold was intense and the trailer seemed to be turning into a fridge. The heating system wasn't working very well so she was forced to wrap herself tightly in blankets. She also made some hot coffee while she continued to write down the ideas that were swirling around in her mind, perhaps some of them eventually growing into new songs. While a melody was playing itself in her head, she decided to capture it on the stave sheet before her memory decided to throw it away. She spent the whole day buried in her work. In her brief moments of distraction, her mind transported herself again to the mall at the exact moment where the metal angel descended through the skylight. A warning from her stomach signaling lunchtime finally interrupted her thoughts. Thus she left her songs and distractions behind to go try and scare up some food.
The cold morning of December 24th had dawned darkly because of the clouds that covered the sun. The snow had started to slowly fall since the first hours and everything suggested that without doubt this would be a white Christmas.
Nene had to go to work but she only had to stay until noon and luckily had the next day off. She felt proud wearing her police uniform and she thought that her parents would be very happy if they could see her dressed like that. She decided that she would call them tonight, as she didn't want to put off any longer the call that she knew she had to make since arriving in Tokyo. The least she could do was greet them for Christmas.
She sat bored in front of her monitor. Nothing interesting was happening and she hadn't struck up any conversations with any of her new co-workers yet. So she decided to make use of her "ability" to kill the weariness. Her idea was to access her computer back in Nagoya. However, it had nothing to do with being a hacker… it simply involved the common ability to have remote access from any machine to her own. She wanted to know if there had been any "unusual" activity in her things, but she found everything in order. When the worst was over, she would go back home for a visit and then she'd take her computer. Her excuse would be that that she missed it and for the moment she didn't have enough money to buy a new unit.
Once she finished checking everything, she continued poking around the network. She managed to casually enter the A.D. Police's server, which in theory she hadn't been granted access to yet. She was surprised to find all records for the voomer incidents from the last two months. The incident that most caught her attention was the one that happened only two days ago, the same day she arrived in Tokyo. The weirdest thing she found was that there were two versions of the same event. In the official record, the A.D. Police had gained control over the situation. In the other version however, things happened in a very different way. It mentioned the intervention of an unknown person using a very high tech hardsuit who managed to completely destroy the mad voomers before the A.D. Police could even get to the scene. In that same file, there were two communications from Genom labeled as "urgent". Those messages forbid the public disclosure of any kind of mention of the unknown person who interfered in the incident. Those who didn't follow that order would be punished 'appropriately'.
Nene knew that not only had she entered the main server that she wasn't supposed to be in, but she had infringed on high security protocols. That meant that the system either had a lot of bugs… or somebody had shutdown the firewall to enter, carelessly leaving the door open in the process. That further meant that she wasn't alone in the server and her presence could be discovered at any moment.
She quickly backtracked, deleting any record of her presence and returned back to her earlier activity. After all, it wasn't a good idea to be fired on her second day of work.
Before she knew it, time was flying and she was surprised to find her shift already over. She picked up her stuff and was ready to go.
She was trying to find enough strength to call her parents when she got home. Before that Nene remembered she needed do some shopping first. After all, she couldn't live forever eating fast food alone. That concern distracted the teenager just at the right moment when she was crossing the main hall to walk out of the Totem pole. Because of that, she didn't notice a tall and tough figure that was standing near the door chatting with someone else. Nene was walking with her head down, patterning her thoughts with the floor design that attracted her so much. Suddenly her head collided with something very hard.
"Hey, what the…!?!" The tall and tough figure exclaimed, turning his head around to see what had bumped into him.
Nene looked straight up and found a very good-looking guy with a dark complexion who gazed down at her confused.
"I'm sorry! It's just…" The young girl didn't know what to say.
"Are you blind?!" The man was ready to yell at her, but when he saw the very red face of the girl, he changed his attitude.
The man at his side adjusted his glasses with one finger while he tried to hide the laugh that was threatening to burst out.
"I'm so sorry! It wasn't my intention…" Nene felt very ashamed. She was new there and didn't want to be treated like a fool.
"It's okay, no problem. What's your name?" The man changed his facial expression to a kinder one.
"You're new here, right?"
"Yes, it's my second day."
"Detective Leon McNichol. Nice to meet you officer Romanova," he added while trying to express himself in a more friendly way by extending his hand towards her.
"Pleased to meet you…Detective McNichol."
"But you can call me Leon." The young man shook Nene's hand with vigor and winked at her.
"Leon!" The man at his side caught his attention.
Leon stepped aside to introduce his partner while still holding the girl's hand. "And this is my partner detective Daley Wong."
Nene felt uncomfortable and tried to let go of his hand, but she didn't want to be rude either. When Leon noticed that he still was holding Nene's hand, he released it quickly, trying to hide his embarrassment.
"Well, we are new too. We started here two weeks ago. If you want, maybe we could go out to lunch together."
"I'm sorry, but I'm short of time now. Maybe another day would be nice though," Nene was almost running to the door, trying to get away from the embarrassing situation.
"OK Nene, see you around. And…Merry Christmas!"
"Goodbye! Merry Christmas to you too!" The young girl picked up the pace and was out on the street in a flash.
"Leon, Leon…What'll I do with you?" Daley put his hand on his partner's shoulder while showing a resigned face for such behavior.
"Come on Daley! Even if she's just a girl, it's still worth a try." Leon scratched his head while he followed the blond haired girl with his eyes. However, she quickly became lost among the growing lunchtime crowd.
Nene wasn't accustomed to such agglomeration. In Nagoya there were many people too, but Tokyo was sheer pandemonium compared to her hometown. Everything could be found here. She was still bothered by her encounter with the detectives. It was the first contact she had had with someone besides her superiors. She had to admit that both of them were very handsome, but she wasn't used to that kind of treatment since she had been very shy with the boys back at her school.
She bought just enough provisions to last for a few days and went to her home ready to make the overdue call to her family. She entered the building carrying the shopping bags and traveled up the elevator. When she reached her floor she immediately recognized a very familiar woman standing in front of her apartment's door.
"Mom?!" Nene's exclamation was almost a sigh. At the same time, she let the bags in her arms fall to the ground.
When her mother saw her, she ran up to hug her. Nene stood motionless without even reacting to the woman's effusive demonstration.
"What's wrong honey?" Anya stepped aside surprised by the chilly reception from her daughter.
"Mom, what are you doing here?"
"I just wanted to be make sure you were fine. Look at you! This uniform suits you wonderfully!" The woman stepped aside to gaze at her daughter's one-piece attire.
"How did you get here?" Nene asked without showing any kind of emotion.
"I asked for your address at the A.D. Police."
Nene opened the apartment's door and invited her mother to come in. Anya entered while looking at everything around her. In absolute silence, Nene went to the kitchen and put away the things she had bought. Her mother couldn't stop watching her as she would not let herself believe that her daughter was living alone in this place.
"Are you happy Nene?"
The teenage girl watched her mother out of the corner of her eye. She was angry and she didn't exactly know why. But deep in her heart she knew that it was completely normal that her mother was worried about her, and she did feel somewhat relieved that she was there. But she would never admit that to her mother.
"Yes, I'm happy."
Anya hugged her, feeling more relieved by her daughter's assurances. For a very long time she tried to prepare herself for the moment in which she must let her daughter be free. At last the moment had come. Now the only thing that she wanted to know was if the little girl she still couldn't see as a woman was simply fine with that freedom. And if Nene was fine, Anya would be fine too.
"That's the only thing I want to know."
"How is dad?"
"A little bit angry, but he'll be fine soon. Y'know how he is."
Nene got ready to make lunch, but since she didn't want to show her mother that she knew nothing about cooking she took out some instant rice with curry from the fridge and put it on the microwave instead. Anya took a seat while her daughter was preparing the table.
"Are you staying here or going back to Nagoya?" Nene asked, sitting down in front of her mother, while waiting for the rice to finish cooking.
"I have to go back home or your father will never forgive me," she said with a hint of a joke to her voice. Her face turned serious as she looked back up into her daughter's eyes though. "Nene, do you want to come back with me?"
"You can take a flight tomorrow and you could come back to Tokyo quickly. And as far as the money is concerned, don't worry about that. Consider it a Christmas present."
"That sounds good," Nene smiled back towards her mother trying to cheer her up. However, Nene wasn't sure in her inside, she understood the concern that her parents feel for her…and it wasn't fair that they don't spend the Christmas together…but it was as they didn't get the message and one more time they want to control her life. She would access this time because was about a special occasion, but she must be ready for whatever would be waiting for her at home.
The microwave announced with a whistle that lunch was done. Nene served the rice and both of them started to eat. Through the window, the sky grew dark as the snow that had stopped for a couple of hours began to fall softly again.
It was almost five o'clock in the afternoon by the time Priss finally woke up. She had practically slept the whole day and she didn't have any idea what time it really was. She wrapped herself up with blankets so she could stay warm. For the moment, she let herself be ruled by the intense tiredness that had nearly overwhelmed her for the last several days.
When she finally found the motivation to get up and make some coffee, she found the light on her answering machine blinking. She realized she must have been sleeping very deeply to not hear the phone ringing in her small trailer. Before she played the message, Priss remembered she had forgotten her cell phone had been turned off from the night before. Reaching into her jacket pocket, she turned it on and found a message waiting there for her as well.
While she poured her coffee, Priss tried to listen to her message. However, her cell phone's battery was almost dead. She had forgotten to recharge it for several days, so she instead decided to hear the message on the regular phone first. When she pushed play on the machine, she instantly recognized Nigel's voice… and felt a little bit anxious as a result.
"Hi Priss, I don't know where you're at right now. I've been trying to call you on your cell phone and at home, but you're not answering. Well I hope you hear this in time… tonight I won't be at home, something came up very suddenly. I'm sorry. I know I promised you that we would spend Christmas together… Well, that's all. Take care. Bye."
Priss continued to drink her coffee as the message didn't disturb her from that activity at least. She put the cup down and started to charge her cell phone, hoping to find something different on the message there. In the meantime, she tried to not be worried. After all, that would make it just another night anyway and she didn't really care about any special meal in any event. The cell phone finished its rapid charge and Priss found the message there was from Nigel as well. When she heard it, she verified the contents to still be the same as the other message. She decided to call the garage but received no answer. It quickly became evident that Nigel had left as he had said. She now considered herself defeated but still didn't try to let it show. Besides another lonely Christmas wouldn't bother her. It could be worse. She was very ready to take a hot bath now. She became determined to find a way to have fun that night no matter what.
After the bath, she reviewed the available options to spend the night. But as she thought through her plans, she didn't want to admit it, but Priss felt hurt over Nigel's sudden decision. The only thing that could appease the growing angry feeling was to race off on her bike and a find a couple of good beers. So without thinking twice, she mounted her bike and took off through the snow towards Hot Legs.
In route, many images flew through her mind. The past joined with the present to once again torture her. All kind of questions started coming to light. Did Nigel really love her? Was she only someone he wanted a one-night stand with? And more she thought, the more hurt she felt. Hiroshi had really loved her, she could be sure of that. He saved her from the solitude in the worst moment of her life. He gave her everything she had now and had transformed her into a real woman. Most importantly, he protected her with his own life…he died for her. Priss felt a biting pain in her chest, as if someone had stabbed a knife in her heart. What she just remembered was something that she tried to keep buried in her memories for the last six months.
Rolling up to Hot Legs she noticed that her eyes were clouded with tears. It wasn't the right moment to cry, it wasn't a moment to be sad. But she couldn't be happy either… She parked the bike in the alley just as she always did. She took off the helmet and rubbed her eyes to erase the trace of her incipient tears. When she entered the club, it seemed strange to find so many people there. Obviously, it wasn't as full as a normal day, but even so she expected to find the place almost empty.
Priss went straight to the bar, ignoring the looks of recognition that immediately followed her.
"Priss, what kind of business brings you here on a night like this?" The bartender asked her, finding the presence of the young singer strange.
"Its better if don't ask and just give me a beer instead."
The cool and sparkling beer cooled down the strong passions conflicting inside at least for a moment. The mood was nice and quiet for Hot Legs. Even if there weren't live shows that night, the music was still pretty good. Priss finished her beer but realized that even if she wanted to, she wouldn't be able to take away the pain that was hitting her heart. Was it for Nigel? While she stared into the empty jug, she tried to find the real reason for her anguish. She finally decided that it was partially for Nigel, but also for Hiroshi too. She knew that Hiroshi never would hide something from her, and he'd always be by her side. But Nigel…it wasn't the first time he disappeared without any reason and he never gave her a real explanation for that. Now the door to the past was opened one more time and she needed to find a way to close it again…
"You have anything stronger?"
"That all depends on what you mean by "stronger"…
"Don't complicate my life any more than it already is. Just give me the strongest drink you have… I don't give a damn if it sets me on fire when I drink it. And in the meantime, pass me another beer." Priss extended the jug signaling her desire for more.
The last time she had called on the help of alcohol to forget her pain had been after Hiro's death. She drank so much that she had spent a whole week in bed recovering from the hangover. This time the reasons weren't as strong, but she didn't want to face the loneliness of Christmas Eve so she preferred to evade it. She drank her second beer while the bartender mixed a drink that looked like it might explode on the spot.
"Here you go Priss."
"Wow and what's that supposed to be? At least I want to know how I'll die…" Priss took the glass in her right hand and spied it through the dim light. The distinct red color… she loved it...
"It's the strongest drink I have. It's made of… well… maybe it's better if you don't ask…"
The determined girl drank it in one shot and immediately felt the fire burning her throat. It felt so good though that without thinking she asked for other one. She began to feel a buzz as if her thoughts were dissolving in some kind of nebula. When she asked for the third drink, she started to doubt her very sanity.
"Priss, are you OK?" The bartender was a little concerned when he saw that she couldn't stay seated, laughing in a strange way. As an answer to his question, Priss fainted on the bar, still holding the glass in her hand and stammering nonsensical words.
Priss was lost. She wanted to move but her body wouldn't respond. Everything was spinning around her and her only wish was be able to focus her sight on something concrete. With that, she realized her sight was clouding slowly. She had almost completely lost her sense and surrendered to the encroaching drowsiness. But before she could even manage to do that, she felt that she was moving without thinking. The last thing that crossed her mind before fainting was a question… Whose hands were grabbing onto her and taking her away???
To be continued…