Chapter 1


There is a world out there beyond this narrow chamber I exist in, of that I am well aware.

In the corners of my mind I vaguely remember bright blue skies, fragrant breezes against my skin, conversations with colleagues over hearty meals. Those all remain irrevocably out of my reach. Now my whole universe is a locked box only six by eleven feet, not that I knew the measurements of my sparse cell for certain … it was an estimate by rough measurements compared to my known height against each confining wall. The world outside remains unaware of my continued existence, moves on without me. I get rare glimpses of it now and again, when the guards open the solid metal door and cuff me, taking me in a slow controlled head-down shuffle to the visitors room. Only one person ever comes … and it's been awhile since I've had a reprieve from this endless solitude. So long that I've lost track of the interval. Not that it's any real surprise that happened. Time doesn't matter in this windowless cell where every day is the same monotony. Besides, why would he continue to care about me?

This isolated hell is the rest of my life now. I have accepted that.

My eyes stare at the same four walls I have seen for what must be close to two years, now if my count was anywhere near accurate. They had been bare, painted a mockingly cheery yellow, when I was transferred to this cell after the commotion I'd caused earning me permanent isolation. My fist tightened resting on my knee, at just the thought of it my jaw clenched.

I didn't need a cell to hold me captive … I am a prisoner of my own madness.

Killers! I hated them with a passion, so deep I swore my nails were cutting into the palm of my hand. Yet, here I was locked up in prison—one of them. An abhorrence so volatile that even against the rules and subjected to punishment by the guards for the action each time I carried it out, I had set the word into the walls of my cell over two dozen times: Murderer.

That inescapable word scalded me. Reminded me. Punished me for what I had become.

It was against protocol for a prisoner to undo even a single button on their prison issued brown jumpsuit. No rolling up the sleeves or pant legs regardless of how hot it blazed in the summer months—and we'd just mercifully passed a grueling heat spell—a momentary respite before the biting chill of winter. We weren't given anything additional for warmth then either. There were no comforts in this prison, no air conditioning, no heat, no dignity. Forced to sleep on the floor like a mongrel. In a way the jumpsuit's coverage was good. I didn't want to show anyone what I had done. Even now I was vaguely aware of my hand traveling inside my jumpsuit, my nails digging deep into my chest. A response to the periodic echoes plaguing me. I had felt them stirring the moment the lights went on this morning, all through the ghastly diet I had been subsisting on since being unceremoniously flung in here. Certainly it was on purpose, meant to make us yearn for normalcy again, this insult to a traditional diet—tofu mixed with pork into some semblance of a main course. Instead of rice they had the audacity to only offer barley. If I'd had enough sensibilities left I might have tried a hunger strike. But something about me always relented, complying as much as I could.

I had no cause to make willful problems. Tendencies I had no control over made enough trouble. Shuddering, I dug my nails in deeper trying in vain to stop the welling storm building in my head. Inflicted pain somehow had an effect … I had no idea why though.

Where was this coming from? Why couldn't I keep a grip on myself? I knew what was coming, and I dreaded the moment my tenuous grip slipped.

A tear trembled in the corner of my eye. It was humanly impossible for anyone to detest more what I had become! My eyes focused on my writing on the wall. Murderer.

Voices penetrated the door. Though thick, the doors weren't soundproof, mainly so the guards could hear what we were doing. Not much of an issue in the communal blocks where I had started out. Their days were so regimented they had little time to themselves. But where I was now … yeah, well, those of us designated to this ward didn't get to leave to go to a workshop for the distraction of a job for hours on end. No. We were deemed too unstable. Not that I blamed the prison for their decision … I had assaulted several inmates, all convicted murderers. One of them was now permanently confined to this same ward because of his injuries.

Probably what lead to me being declared criminally insane. I really couldn't argue that one.

For now, unless I had a visitor, my only connection was the guards on the other side of my door. They rarely had reason to interact with me, sticking stuff through the food tray slot without a word was the typical extent. In the rare stimulation, I craned my head to listen to the distraction of their muffled voices. Maybe it would help to deflect the inner storm.

"Are you kidding me? Already? I thought she'd been born just last year."

"Haha, nope. Isn't this a great photo of her? Took it yesterday. Her first dance with a boy. Not sure who was more embarrassed. Look at them, they're both blushing for the camera."

"You have the perfect little sweetheart."

A first dance. My eyes clenched tight, the echoes pounding harder even as I clawed ineffectively at my side. The distraction wasn't helping. The waves crashing against me gaining strength. Muku—she hadn't been much for dresses. But I remembered that school dance, a rare exception. She'd been so excited, gone with a number of her girl friends in a group. She'd spent hours on her hair, though I swear it looked the same as always. I should have known better not to say that when she'd asked me. I'd deserved her tirade. Moments later I was saved by the doorbell. Her eyes brimmed with joy as her friends arrived at the apartment … my little girl was growing up.

She should have been able to grow up!

It flashed before me—her battered body laid out on the table in the morgue, barely recognizable. The vision seared behind my eyes, a sharp pain as though a blade slicing through my temple stole my breath. I fell over on my side, hands gripping the strands of my overgrown hair. I pulled hard!

The tactic failed. The agony battered me again and again, as if the Challenger's own fists assaulted my brain. I had killed him! Incarceration for him never would have been enough! He had to experience what he had done! I had filled his body so full of lead there was no chance he could come back. An entire mag and I had fully intended to use a second! My knuckles nearly cracked from the tension as I gripped my head and growled, baring my teeth.


It echoed off the walls, a sound of someone in excruciating pain. A scream I distantly realized—rent from my own throat.

I had to stop this before it tore me apart. End the pain, end the suffering. I didn't deserve to exist anymore, not even imprisoned. I was a murderer!

Drawing my head back I drove it into the wall—hard. The pain of the jarring impact couldn't compete with what was already inside my skull. Blood spattered the wall as I drew my head back again for a second strike.

I had to stop the pain, only way out—beating myself senseless.

The second strike built upon the first penetrating the agony, morphing the pain, making it my own.

The door squealed on its hinges. I turned, the horizon pitched forcing me to brace my hand against the wall for balance. Hot blood dripped down my forehead tracing a path along the side of my nose as I gasped each harsh breath through clenched teeth. I could only imagine the savage I looked like, bleeding and snarling like a deranged dog. A couple guards rushed in, one brandished a gun.

With a howl of rage I flung myself at him, my knee rammed into his gut doubling him over as I wrenched the gun from his limp hand. The moment I had the weapon I staggered backward.

What the hell was I even doing? I wouldn't make it out of this cell. They had the door blocked. I realized grimly that wasn't even my goal. A degenerate like me didn't belong in the outside world, a threat to everyone—even myself. I may have been crazy, but I wasn't a fool.

I didn't deserve life.

My eyes flicked to the gun. My finger rode outside the trigger guard, a safety lesson drilled into my head from by-gone days. It wouldn't budge, refused to touch the trigger itself.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't take my own life. Suicide—the mere thought of it—no! I can't! If I did I would stand no chance of seeing them ever again. Was that even possible now? My hands shook violently even as I aimed the gun at the second guard who now held his firearm trained on me, shock in his eyes. He froze.

I couldn't hold the gun up. The muzzle kept falling in my trembling grip as I panted. This man was innocent. He was just doing his job. This wasn't right. This wasn't me. I didn't want to do this, but this existence … it hurt too much to bear. I couldn't protect them … I failed to protect my family. I was a despicable failure. Blood coursed near my eyes threatening to blind me. I had to release one clammy hand to wipe it away.

Do it, I willed him. Pull the damn trigger. Put me out of this damned misery!

I wanted to say it, to shout those words … but through the fight to get enough air against the slicing in my skull I couldn't muster enough to speak a single coherent word. All I could manage was a savage growling.

Inside my head it flared again, a searing agony blinding me with a flash of white light. If I had been struck by a bolt of lightening I'm convinced it would have hurt less. The gun clattered on the floor as I staggered back against the wall, wailing out. The next thing I knew, the guards collided with me, throwing me onto my right side and grappling my forearms into an awkward hold around my waist.

"I got him!" The guard holding me grunted. "Shit, he's really worked up! Would you hurry and jab him? I'm not sure how long I can keep my grip."

I strained, throwing my head back as I thrashed to break the hold as much as I could, which wasn't effective at all. He had both weight and physics on his side. He'd also been wise enough to keep his head low behind me, the bridge of his nose well out of smashing range. Sense wasn't with me as I continued to raise holy hell. The pain welled. Not from my intended concussion, this was something worse, something far stranger and more persistent.

I had to stop it, I had to stop it or it would rend its claws into me!

The second guard leaned over my left shoulder and in a hard thrust slammed something against the muscle. A snap and a sharp sting betrayed my fate even before he declared it. A fucking auto-injector! And I knew damn well what little joyride had been loaded inside it. "Got him. You want me to cuff him?"

"You crazy? Fuck, I'm not letting go now! Listen to him fitting! I'll hold him til that kicks in."

Shit, I was still thrashing and screaming my fool head off. I wanted to stop, to lie still and behave like the human being I should have been, but that level of sense couldn't be reached right now no matter how much I desired it.

"Hey psycho, knock it off. Thank heavens you're going to be taking a nice long nap soon."

My panicked efforts redoubled. No! I didn't want to go to sleep. Things got worse. The sensation was still building. The visions—bodies twisted and mutilated, victims stretched out as far as the eyes could see—I wanted it to stop, to end. Sedation would only make it worse! Under that I couldn't deflect the tsunami of horrors.

"He doesn't seem to notice he's seriously bleeding. You're right, he really is worked up. What the heck is with this guy?"

The guard carefully adjusted his grip, his voice a bit strained as I bucked unsuccessfully. "Used to be a detective."

"No shit! He was in law enforcement?"

"Yeah, a real sharp one too. I dunno exactly what happened, it was a couple years ago. Something about his kid becoming a victim. Anyway, instead of letting the arrest happen and the accused go to trial, guess he showed up at the guy's house and turned him into excessive target practice."

"Whoa. How many shots?"

"A friend of mine was on the SWAT team who was supposed to arrest the perp. Instead they had to scrape that dude off the floor. This bastard unloaded a full mag into the guy right inside his front door and he'd tried to load a second one when his partner threw him to the ground and pinned him. SWAT rushed onto the scene to hear him shouting that he wanted to plant the second one into the dude. Not exactly protocol for you."

Everything was turning fuzzy, the inescapable pull of the drug coursing through my veins, dragging me down like a pit of quicksand. The more I tried to resist, the swifter the effects kicked in. My efforts to struggle steadily lost their force. My cries were little more than sobs, blood mingled with tears. The effects of the sedative kicked my ass, as they invariably did. But still the guard clamped my arms to my waist. The flailing of my trapped hands did nothing to assist me. I was utterly powerless.

"Hey, you got your flashlight?"

"Yeah." He took it out and held it up.

"Tell me when his eyes stop responding to the light."

The beam hurt as I tried to turn my head away, wincing.

"Seriously," he spoke into my ear, "I'd appreciate knowing what you're trying to accomplish when you do this. That's got to hurt!"

Not half as much as the internal pain. Besides, it wasn't like I wanted to lose my shit! I'd give anything not to be like this! To extinguish this raging fire burning inside me. I stared hopelessly at the gun lying discarded on the floor. Maybe I should have just turned it on myself. Too late now.

I could no longer hold my head up. The muscle tension abandoning me as I gasped each breath. My chance at an out from this perpetual hell … faded.

The light flared in my eyes, the lids would barely close to shield me from the assault. The signal hardly reached.

"Heh, can't fake that—hardly any pupil reaction. He's thoroughly doped. Think you can let him go now." The guard leaned down and clamped a bar cuff around my left wrist before tugging it behind my back. The one grappling me levered up enough and pulled my right wrist behind, latching me securely. The precaution was pointless, firmly dragged down by the sedation I now leaned against the wall with my head lolling against my chest as one of them held the solid cuff turning it against my wrist in a warning just in case I decided to become hostile again. As if I could. Blood streamed down, dripping onto my slumped chest.

A medic entered at their command. Not the first time I had seen him pay a visit to my cell as he lifted my head and eyed me with pity. "Again? This split is right next to the last one that just healed." It took several minutes as he wiped the gash clean, the solution stung but I couldn't react any longer. That's all this sedation did—stole my ability to react. Taping a large bandage over my forehead he glimpsed my fingernails. Carefully he unbuttoned part of my jumpsuit, looking at my chest he shook his head. "Well, these are fresh too. Better at least wipe the blood away, clean 'em up." As gentle as he tried to be, it stung like crazy.

I'd been thorough this time.

"Leave those alone now so they can heal." Rebuttoning my jumpsuit he waved a hand. "Much as I can do, boys. At least he'll be quiet for a while, should break up the insomnia. Til next time." He took his kit and left the room.

The guards hoisted me up and dragged me further from the door. Dumping me on my chest before they released the cuffs and walked out. The door slammed shut behind them leaving me in silence, one cheek against the rough tatami mat. Right within my barely focusing gaze the tormenting word Murderer.

Now as the blade continued to saw away inside my head I could no longer cry out. What was the point? I couldn't escape this madness any route I tried. I was trapped in my insanity as horrific visions of mutilated corpses blinded me.

I had to face facts—no one could save me.


There is something I find fascinating about the subconscious mind. Well, many things I find fascinating about it. But nothing is so vibrant as the darkness within, often hidden behind a smile, a jovial gesture … or even a pacifist's gentle gaze.

Never had I imagined in a million years what I would find when I re-entered his psyche. The numbered tiles stretched out to the storm torn horizon. Clouds shrouded the sky, heavy with a payload they would never unleash. Bolts of lightning lashed down their tirade upon the landscape. Thunder rumbled disrupting the silence. At my feet lay the body of a man in a business suit, scorched from the bolt's savage strike. His eyes stared toward the ceaselessly turbulent heavens in the long ago shock he had not seen coming.

Akihito Narihisago.

So this was how my meddling had played out.

I smiled, folding my hands over the ball tip of my cane. It was my great fortune that my once tool had not fallen to his ultimate demise. To my delight I had discovered he still lived, serving a life sentence in Fuchu prison. True, I had only intended to use him once, nothing more than a perfectly placed sacrificial lamb in a time of need. After all, where would my program be now if I had let the Challenger have his way with Kiki Asukai? That great destructive fool. I never should have let him in.

Yet that misstep exposed the dangers of my program. I had let them in. Several of them. And where one had tried to seize my precious asset, others might also try to take her for their own sick pleasures. It had taken years, but I now had the means to permanently protect my investment. The time had come to proceed to the next phase, and to do so required a little planned cleanup.

I stared down at the prone detective. Deceased. So, this was how he saw himself. Fascinating. And yet it made sense from his profile. Because I had never met the man in person, I had not gotten to know this Narihisago very well, he had been working under another chief. And yet that had made the deception all the easier. Our disconnection.

What I had known of him came from word around the station, his remarkable reputation. He was incredibly perceptive, with an superb deductive reasoning that solved the most obscure of cases. He was widely known for his persistence to the point of obsession—that detail in his file was the spark that ultimately caught my attention.

Obsession. The mark of a mind with a weak point. He was focused, and such a focus could mean control of him if one could direct his gaze.

The other thing that caught my attention was the perfect built-in trigger—he was a family man.

There had been one unfortunate hurdle I hadn't anticipated when I first chose him—the man was a pacifist. His record showed it. Time and again when the field situation turned to conflict he scrambled to avoid it.

Still, that was easily fixable.

The knife weighed in my hand, a perfect balance. It gleamed in the flash of lightning. It hadn't been easy to alter him those years ago when I'd covertly entered his subconscious to find a content, rather well adjusted psyche. I had learned my lesson—the others I had influence had interacted with me inside their psyches, knew I was there. But they were gullible, believing me to be nothing more than a figment of their dreams. With Narihisago I couldn't let that happen. This man was too perceptive and bent on the principle of duty. He would reveal me the moment he realized the truth. So I hid myself, shrouded in shadows, blinding him with his own blood. He probably thought it was headache, or perhaps his first migraine as the mind control set in. In his case, to be safe, I had been thorough.

As I would be again.

Removing his neck tie I bound it tightly around his dead eyes. Now I thumbed the edge of my knife.

"Sorry that I have to do this to you again. I had intended to let you retire in peace. You served me well before, but it seems … I am not finished with you."

The blade pierced his skull.

Narihisago's mouth opened in a scream, he thrashed beneath me as I pressed down on his chest. Oh that scream, that cry of blind terror, how I relished it. I hadn't been certain I could reach him when I recognized his prone body in the middle of the fractured square—but it worked. My blade found his subconsciousness hiding deep inside!

His hands gripped my arm, trying to fend me off. It was useless, even in his own mind his strength had atrophied. I had to fix that. Had to pry part of him loose, isolate that useful part.

Relax, this goes quicker if you don't fight me. I worked the blade back and forth, working my fine touch against the neural pathways as he howled, his frantic grip failing to dislodge me.

"What are you doing to me?" he shouted as the blood flowed out.

I'm reinventing you, bringing back the detective. I have need of you. I cannot let you go free, but I can harness you for a divine purpose. Mustn't fix too much, though. Can't have you back to normal again or you'll reveal the truth.

Lightning split the sky, winking off the metal and reflecting the blaze straight into his head. Beneath my hands Narihisago bucked and howled as my blade carried out its work in deft strokes. His own blood painted him red. "Stop! You're hurting me!" He screamed. "Why is this happening? Someone help me! Someone please!"

No one no one could reach him, no would help him. Nearly done. Though I didn't wish to stop. The sensation of the blade working against his flesh—power! His psyche was putty in my hands once more. I had never done this more than once to the same killer. I had no way of knowing if this man was even close to sane any longer. Two years in prison after my swift savage alteration might have broken him completely. I'd had to be thorough before to make certain a man of his once gentle nature would follow through to task. And he most certainly had! The classified internal affairs report proved I had pushed him close enough to the edge. Of course the motive had been in place—I had distracted the Challenger's blood lust with Narihisago's daughter. That savage imbecile had taken the dangling bait. I had not anticipated the wife committing suicide, but no matter—that act proved an effective catalyst.

No, I could not remove the rage. That now drove him, and that would keep him safely imprisoned. Narihisago's screams were like music as I drove the blade further, working into his impulses. In fact it would work to my benefit to intensify that connection. Obsession … forge his urge to take out murderers into an all out addiction. With this newly fashioned tool I would certainly leave no evidence behind.

He would dispose of them all for me. The Cornerer.

Something had come over him. Beneath me he lay panting, prone. I withdrew the knife and all he did was groan. His psyche was wide open, the battered gates protecting his inner self hanging off the proverbial hinges.

If I could guess they had drugged him in reality … leaving him vulnerable to the undercurrent. Oh Kiki, what horrors are you exposing him to now? I could only imagine. Still, thanks to Kiki providing these corridors I was able to do this. Quite literally achieving my dream.

I caressed his slack jaw. When I first broke into his subconscious I had found him content, a family man with a promising career. I'd almost abandoned my plan to use him. He'd seemed too pure. But then I saw it—I glimpsed the dark hidden corner of his obsession. It is possible for good intentions to become evil. Hyper-focused, persistent … and protective. It was too easy.

Now Narihisago, you will diligently chase the prey I put before you. The perfect tool at my subtle disposal.

Finished here, a force pulled me upward into the leaden skies leaving behind his battered subconscious hemorrhaging on the square tiles.

I opened my eyes to the cockpit screen with his name on it. Akihito Narihisago. I only hoped I had done enough. After all, this was all experimental.

Straightening my tie I left the cockpit and closed the hidden door behind me. My body felt suddenly older than the moments before. Inside the id well the strange phenomenon of being a different version of myself still boggled me. Each time I tasted the youthful vigor I craved more of it. This difference would be a blessing. The intentional programmed amnesia state of the new test subjects would prove critical. I knew my influence would be visible to him, I could never erase my imprint … but like Kaeru, perhaps I could convince the new staff that it was merely a quirk of the system.

Sitting down at my office desk I shuffled Narihisago's file in with a stack of obviously lesser candidates.

"Now to be certain that he will be the selected pilot." From a second stack I pulled out a file and opened it, my finger tapping in the case history, as well as the access. So, he still occasionally visits his ex-partner at Fuchu. "Perfect." I folded my hands over the file. "I clearly need to schedule an interview with Detective Funetaro Momoki. It seems that the man is long overdue for a promotion."