Operation Ex6: Mercury

Megumi Hisakawa frowned at the long printout brought home from her doctor. Mainly because after an incredibly stressful conversation, "パーキンソン症候群" sat, polite and menacing, at the top of the page. After an uncomfortably terse explanation and history, the paper listed a series of bullet points, each with an uncomfortably strange and untranslated English term: Levodopa, Carbidopa, Benserazide, and Amantadine, with the last indented with an additional notation. Megumi sighed. A small portion of her mind gestured a consolation. "At least I know why I always seem tired, or why my sense of smell is messed up." "Borg, what do you think about…?" It promptly struck her that she didn't have a borg to talk to anymore. The woman put her head down on the table next to her computer, and stared at her cell phone. Perhaps it was worth calling in sick tomorrow. After all, according to the friendly reminder on the doctor's printout, she was and would be.

• • •

"Jun?" Yoshiko Ito waved her wand in front of the redhead's face. "Wha? Huh?" Jun opened her eyes and found herself standing, arms crossed in the lobby of a karaoke box. Saki Rin pushed her black bangs out of her eyes. "Our room's ready, are you coming?" Jun blinked a few times. "Yeah, sure." Tadako Kondo grinned. "I can't believe you fell asleep standing up. It's kind of silly." Jun shrugged. "I was tired. I've been really busy lately." Saki nodded. "That's fair. Kyoko said she had some errands to run today, or otherwise she'd be with us, too." Saki chuckled. "And I still can't believe you're wearing a skirt, Jun." Jun shrugged her jacketed shoulders. "I've been known to do things like it. At least this one," she pointed at the long, dark blue skirt, "is long enough to cover over my knee." The quartet shuffled off around the corridors to the rented room, of which the four would later agree was as far across the building as possible.

Junko coughed and rubbed her throat. "Thanks, but I'll sit the rest out." Tadako sighed. "But we're only through three songs! We've got a good twenty-five minutes left." Yoshiko ran her hands through her shoulder-length black hair. "Something wrong, Jun?" "Well, my throat's giving me trouble. Talking's okay, but the singing is a bit hard on me." Tadako frowned. "Would a cough drop help?" "Not really. It's these." Jun's gloved right hand pointed at the deep scars below her chin and on the right side of her neck. "A few years back, I couldn't even talk for a few months. So I'm kinda glad I was able to get a few songs all the way through." Saki nodded. "Well, that's fine. Just be sure to note that if we're bad, it's Yoshiko's fault." "Hey!" Jun laughed and nodded.

A few stops and shops later, Jun once again found herself on the receiving and transporting end of her friends' purchases. She set the bags down and wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Aren't you hot in that jacket?" Jun shook her head at Saki. "Not really. It's fine." "No, it's not. You're sweating, and it's hot outside." "I can hold on to it for you if you like." "No thanks. I don't really want to…" It was then Tadako, who had snuck up beyond the Shinosaki girl, grabbed the cuffs of Jun's jacket and yanked down, pulling the jacket off entirely. Jun spoke a sound something akin to "Eep". Saki blinked. Yoshiko's eyes widened and she let out a rather small gasp. Shinosaki's left arm, from the elbow down, and her entire right arm consisted of a prosthetic with a carbon fiber-like shell in an odd metallic color, a mix of dulled off-black and a dull silver. Jun's face turned scarlet before going pale, because most of the blood in her face decided to promptly leave as she fell backwards.

• • •

"Hey sis, want to know what you're getting for your birthday today?" The newly ten-year old looked up at her now fourteen big brother. Hisoka smiled his friendly smile under his head of short, dark brown hair. "Ah, don't spoil it, brother." "Well, actually, I don't know. I do know that mom and dad have been working on something really cool for you for a while now, and they wanted it done by today." Junko blinked. "What were they making?" "A better arm." Junko looked down at her left arm, which from the elbow on was in a faux flesh-colored rubber, and despite her efforts, could barely pivot at the elbow and could do no more than open and close when she tried to move it like she had her real arm.

"There you are, kids. Your father was looking for you." Misaki Shinosaki stood in the doorway to the lab and office on the far side of the Shinosakis' new family house in Ueda, Nagano. Jun and Hisoka's mother was a stern-faced yet kind woman who currently had calm brown eyes and a white lab coat. "Come in, please." Jun followed her mother into her parents' work area. Half of the enormous room was filled what looked like a tinkerer's workshop, littered with small motors, batteries, armatures, and the occasional power tool; a computer in the middle of the chaos displayed a CAD program patiently. That would be her father, Takumi's side of the room. In retrospect, the other half of the family was painted a neutral, almost glaring white. Next to Misaki's computer was a large centrifuge (with the lid open), while a large, temperature and humidity-controlled glass-fronted cabinet lined the corner of the room. "Hey there, birthday girl!" Takumi's head appeared between two piles of mechanical refuse on the room's island.

Takumi smiled at his bright-eyed, short-haired daughter. She had of course, gone against her mother's wishes for a hairstyle in order to emulate her only sibling. Hisoka had inherited much of his manner from his father: a quick wit, an intuitive mind, and a warm grin, though thankfully he had thus far had his mother's eyes, and hadn't needed a pair of pair of thick glasses like his father.

"Now, you'll be getting your real presents later, but I wanted to at least show you this." Takumi cleared a shelf, and removed an arm…or half of one anyway. It was a left forearm and hand, the components half-exposed, but covered in a hard, dimpled carbon fiber shell instead of fake skin. "Look at this." He handed it over to his daughter, who grasped it in her natural right hand. Junko turned over the arm. The components were more complicated than the ones she had in current prosthetic left forearm, and she could overlapping pieces of carbon fiber shell on the hand, each joint tightly fitting against the next like a modern day suit of plate armor. "What's this for, dad?" "Oh, those. That's because once we get this put on you, you'll be able to move it in any direction, just like your real arm." "Wow." "What's even better is I'm almost done writing the computer software for it. I'm making a program that learns how you use the arm, so it will continue to be better and better." "That's nice."

"Don't forget the alloy, dear." Misaki looked up from her computer and stared at her husband. "Oh, right, here…" Takumi dug through several drawers and pulled out a small, thick bar of a funny looking metal. It was like the metal couldn't decide if it was near-black or some sort of silver. "Neat, isn't it? Here, hold it." Jun held the metal, which was much, much lighter than she had anticipated. It was like holding a feather…a very, very hard and slightly flexible feather. She handed it to her older brother. "Cool. This stuff's like…titanium." Misaki dragged her chair over from her workstation. "Better than titanium, actually." She closed her eyes and grinned. Junko turned her head. "What is it, then?" "Well, Junko, you know those aliens called borgs?" "Uh huh. The ones that look like frogs with wings." "Yep. Well, they naturally produce this stuff in long, spiral strands to defend themselves. Except, this natural alloy they make stays almost a liquid despite the high temperature. This ingot is the same alloy, just permanently solidified. Which makes it even harder." "Huh. That's cool. What's it for?" Takumi rolled his eyes. "Well, your mother thinks carbon fiber is too dangerous for you, since pieces of it are sharp and it's prone to cracking and cracking under high strain. Well, we thought about titanium, which is a bit heavier, but strong and light. The problem with titanium is that it's brittle and very hard to work with. This stuff, however, is a bit stronger than titanium, but it's more flexible and very easy to forge. So, your mother thinks that together, we could make more of it and use it to make the outer casing of your new arm." A low ding sounded from Takumi's computer. He turned to it, and switched programs. "Well, the compiler's done. We should be good. Say, Jun, I know you don't like hospitals, but would you like a new arm for your birthday?" "Sure!" Jun beamed.

The xenobiologist made her way up to the kitchen and found the sticky note with the number for the head of prosthetics surgery at Ueda's hospital. Between her own knowledge, and that of her husband, a prosthetics engineer, her daughter would be getting a better arm before the day was over. The cake though, would have to wait until tomorrow.

• • •

"Jun? Jun?" The girl awoke on a bench, feeling more than a bit woozy. The sight of her bare arms shocked her into full consciousness. Saki was standing in front of her. "Ah!" Jun curled up her legs and tried to cross her arms to little avail, and put her head on her room-temperature forearms. Tadako gave a meek smile and held up the jacket. "Sorry about that. I didn't think that…" Jun sniffled. "It's okay." Yoshiko grinned. "But, if you think about it, those arms are kinda cool!" Jun's grey eyes popped out from behind the off-black and silver arms. "How so?" "Well, you kinda look like Edward Elric from that old anime series. You could cosplay as him, or maybe make something up…you know, like his cousin or something." "Umm…okay. I'm not sure what that means."

"So, do they do anything special?" Jun blinked back at Tadako. "Define special." "Well, I don't know. Are you super strong or something?" Jun unhinged her arms and stared at her right palm, flexing the fingers, which curled at a noticeable, yet silent rate. "No. I mean, the case is a lot harder than skin, but the arms are about the same, except they run on batteries and I can't feel anything. And I think my right hand's out of alignment again." Yoshiko frowned. "Wait, you mean you have to plug your hand into the wall?" "No, it's like a cell phone cable." "Huh, I figured if you had automail, it wouldn't need batteries." "Well, mine do. They aren't 'automail', they're called myoelectric prosthetics. Listen, I'm not really comfortable talking about this. Can I have my jacket back?" Tadako held out the jacket. Jun accepted it and quickly donned it. She sighed as most of the red left her face. Saki reached into a pocket and pulled out a pair of white gloves. "I believe these are yours." "Thanks."

Saki put a grin on her face and sat down on the bench besides the now-timid middle schooler. "So, I heard you weren't always in Hinode. What do you think of this distant little slice of Tokyo?" Jun tried a half-grin. "Well, I was from Nagano, out almost in the countryside. At first I figured that Tokyo would be this one huge block of city, but it's not. It's like a lot of little towns and cities stitched together; where one stops, another one begins. It's fine, I guess." Yoshiko put her hands on the back of the bench and began leaning towards it. "So, where in Nagano?" "Well, I was born in Koumi. Little town in the Minamisaku District. After the school…closed down, my family moved to Ueda, which I thought was a big city. Stayed there in a brand new house until…until my mom and dad…and brother…" Jun let out a cough, inhaled slightly, and began weeping. "My parents and…" Her head quivered and fell left onto Saki's shoulder. Saki just smiled slowly and hugged the girl back. "I'm sorry…I'm sorry…some days…some days I'm more broken than others." "It's okay."

• • •

The phone rang in its cradle on Megumi Hisakawa's low desk in her apartment in Hinode proper. "Moshi moshi." "Good evening." It was the voice of her former employer. "Good evening, Chisa." "Listen, I had some free time and I was surfing on the Earth Defense Strategic network. Some interesting rumors floating around the network, and thought you might want to know." The phone jiggled in Megumi's hands. "You know, I'm not that cut off from the world." "I know. Listen to this. You're aware that the Sunflowers have been here for just over a year right?" "Yes, because our girls from last year dealt with a spaceship of them, right?" "Well, every since then, they've been losing numbers. Not enough to upset their control of the country, but according to the Defense Committee…in the Tokyo area…they've been losing entire ships. Something like that happened a couple of months ago, just before you started working at Hinode." "I remember the short section on the news, if that's what you mean." "Yes, well, that's not the half of it. Most of the clans we Drills consider neutral have been attacked…little skirmishes here and there…the Medusa, the Lancers, and…a lot of the clanless unintelligent aliens…basically everyone but us and the Yellow Knife. The message boards have flying lately." "I'll bet."

"Here's the thing, Megumi. All the attacks happened in one of three ways: gunshot wounds, lacerations, and a strange form of apoptosis. Survivors, well…usually it's more along the lines of surveillance systems…report a human female with a pistol." Megumi sighed, and clutched the phone with both hands in an effort to keep it steady. "Sounds like a vigilante." "I'm almost tempted to agree, Megumi. Remember the Forest of Spaceships bordering my school?" "How could I not? Not the sort of place I like going into." "It's clean." Megumi frowned. "Run that by me again?" "It's clean. As of last month, it consisted solely of forest and decomposing corpses. Even the rockbills and giant worms were dead." "Damn…"

"That's where this gets interesting. It would take a full GSDF platoon or most of the fused borgs in west Tokyo to pull off something like that." "I see." Megumi acknowledged the statement while she reached for her headset and a pill container. "And some jockeys over at the Committee managed to hack into some Sunflower communications and somebody leaked it to the discussion…apparently the Sunflower blames this vigilante for the Forest of Spaceships as well." The counselor frowned. "Okay…okay…now that's just plain ridiculous! What kind of person could pull something like that off? No one I know, that's for sure!"

Okada nodded on her end of the phone. "I would agree. Between the forest of spaceships and all the other incidents, if you assume them to be the work of the same person or group, there's at least six hundred and twenty confirmed deaths. The Sunflowers and a few other clans have nicknamed this person 'The Destroyer'. Quite poetic for beings with limited culture." "Sounds apt." "And with all the hearsay, everyone's making their own theories." Megumi could hear the sound of a mouse furiously clicking in the background. "So maybe this woman is some sort of government testbed, or maybe a fullspec from one of the clans with real intelligence…a rogue Mercury or something like that." Megumi pondered it over a glass of milk tea. "What if she's just an ordinary human? Not fused or anything?" Okada's end of the phone stayed quiet. "What? Did I hit a button?" "No…that's strange enough…it might just be true. Truth being stranger than fiction and all that." "So, why do you suppose this 'Destroyer' hasn't touched either the Drills or the Yellow Knife?" "Who knows? Maybe some sort of personal truce…probably something along the lines of 'she doesn't like us, she merely hates everyone else more'."

"One other thing to be wary of Megumi." "What's that?" "One of your students…do you know a Junko Shinosaki? I'm guessing she's a first year." "Not offhand…let me check." Megumi's flat-panel monitor hummed as it loaded up Hinode Middle School's faculty/student database. Hisakawa entered the name in hiragana. "There is a Jun Shinosaki at Hinode. According to this…high marks…no behavior problems or conduct problems…never seen her in my office. She's been out sick once…and wait…" "What did you find?" "This lists her as being disabled…limited mobility…my word. If this silly thing is right, this Shinosaki girl is missing both her arms, has something wrong with a knee, and is blind in one eye. I've seen her in the halls, though. She looked normal—two eyes, all four limbs when I saw her. Maybe she had a cell gel procedure and the records weren't changed." "Or maybe they're old injuries." "Pardon, Chisa?" "Cell gel doesn't work on tissue that's entirely healed over, and it adversely affects some people. Come to think of it…there was a prosthetics boom a while back. The stuff tanked when cell gel hit the market."

"So, why all the probing on a normal student, Chisa?" "Well, this worries me. There's a rather low-key notes on the Defense Committee main site…the Mercury clan has put a bounty on that poor girl's life. They want a first-year middle school student murdered. I seriously doubt any Drills will take it, but if word gets out to other clans, Junko might be in some serious trouble." "Those bastards. Why the hell do the Drill higher-ups get along with them?" "Because they're spin doctors like none other. Politics makes unusual bedfellows, Megumi. Ones neither of us…or for that matter…most of the clan condone."

• • •

"Big brother, I'm…home…" Junko stopped and blinked at the front door of her house. The door had been ripped off of its hinges and it was currently lying in the entryway. Hisoka would have normally been doing homework on the kitchen table, his usual after-school vigil, while mom and dad should have been in the back, working in the workshop, the sound of Takumi's rummaging and clanking echoing down the halls. But today, none of the familiar sounds were there. The house was oddly quiet, and it even smelled a bit off. "Should I call the police? Have we been robbed?" Junko frowned and looked around, that with the bus stop half a mile distant, the closest neighbors were a good two miles away.

So, the only option in the ten and a half year-old's mind was to get to the phone inside the house. She set her bag down by the front door and quietly crept towards the kitchen. There was still an absence of sound as walked into the room, and as the air conditioning system kicked in, she nearly leapt into the air. Which is precisely when she noticed the blood on the floor. Looking down, there were straight lines—streaks of red, mostly dried blood mixed with the printed outlines of someone's shoes. They led past the counter and into the open door to the workshop. Junko tried to calm her breathing and moved into the next room. At the other end of the room and the trail of blood was a pair of feet…all that was sticking out from behind the island at the center of the room. The girl swallowed and walked up to the island…where she promptly gasp and screamed.

There, prone and face down, was the body of Takumi Shinosaki. A large hole had been punctured through the center of his chest. His corpse was on top of a still woman in a crimson lab coat…who had nearly been sliced in half…Misaki. "Dad…dad…dad…died…protecting mom. Or…or was he just holding her as he died?" She let out a whimper. Why would someone want to kill her parents and her brother? There was a chink of glass fracturing from behind her.

Junko slowed turned around. At the corner adjacent to the kitchen door, was her older brother. His eyes were glazed over and empty and his head moved in jerky, abrupt movements to look at her. Hisoka's right hand fingertips were stained silver. Junko opened her mouth and said nothing.

Hisoka took a step forward…then a full stride…and broke into a sprint, yelling something incomprehensible. Junko ran to the side, and her brother kept going, ramming into their mother's specimen cabinet, shattering some of the glass. Hisoka stopped; he turned to the face the cabinet, grimaced, and punched one of the intact sections with his fist, before smashing his hand against the jagged edges. As he removed himself from the glass debris, his movements were more fluid and regular. The middle schooler's face and hand dripped blood, a combination of red and opaque silver as he began breathing heavily. "Junko…"

The girl stepped backwards, fumbling over her father's chair. "Stay…stay away from me!" Hisoka gasp, grimaced and then spoke in a tired tone. "It's not… I… Junko… there were these aliens here…and this one that looked like a silver ball touched me and…it. It got it into my head and took over. I can still…remember killing mom and dad…and I couldn't do anything to stop my body. The thing just pushed me to the back, and all I could do was watch. It's been learning my memories…my thoughts. It's getting smarter. I have a little bit of resistance to it…because I was an Alien Fighter…and the pain helps." Junko slunk backwards but said nothing.

Hisoka gasp and strained himself. "Please you need to get…away. It's trying to take over again…this mercury thing…it's working away around the ways I have to stop it." Junko shook her head. "I can't…I can't leave you, brother."

"Then kill me…please." "What?" "Kill me. I don't want to hurt you, but this thing wants to. I know it does. There's no way to stop it except if I die, it dies too. There's a pistol in the cabinet above dad's workstation. He never got the chance to use it. This alien doesn't know how to use it yet, but even now…it won't let me kill myself…I've been trying to do so off and on for a few hours." Junko sniffled and glanced towards her father's desk, still covered with the stripped-down and miscellaneous parts that he liked to tinker with for fun. "I don't think I…" Hisoka spoke up. "Do it. Please…just do that…promise me you'll do it."

"Take care of yourself, sis." Junko solemnly nodded. "Now please, hurry, it—." Hisoka twitched violently. His eyes went distant as a silver mercury-like substance flowed out of his fingernails. It quickly fused his right fingers together and formed a simple, long, sharp blade at the end. Junko reached for the cabinet and opened the door to it as the hybrid that was once Hisoka Shinosaki launched himself forward.

The blade came flashing downward and hit Junko in the right arm. She screamed and tried to move backwards. The mercury blade hit her again, and found her right shoulder blade and stopped as the edge bit into the skin. The girl reached for the grey silhouette of the gun just inside the cabinet door. A half-second later, as she grabbed the old, boxy pistol, the silver blade moved downward as it sliced through the bone. Junko Shinosaki's entire right arm fell freely to the ground as an all-too familiar intense burning spread throughout her body.

Junko gasped shallowly as she leveled the pistol. Hisoka's left arm shoved it aside as the other arm swiped at her again. Junko dodged backwards with her left leg. Her right leg was caught behind the caster of her father's swivel chair. The diagonal slash caught her in the trapped leg, shearing off her kneecap. Junko screamed, winced, and blinked. She leaned forward while Hisoka's arm followed the slash through. Her silver-black left forearm struck him in the chest at the bottom of the ribcage. The blow was enough to set the hybrid off balance, and it fell backwards over the debris on the floor.

Junko leveled the old Nambu at her adversary's forehead. The being looked up, slightly confused. The girl yanked the trigger, and her brother's body fell limp backwards. The pistol dropped to the floor as Junko grabbed the stump of her right shoulder with her metallic forefingers. She turned around slightly, and tried to walk towards the kitchen, through her right leg gave out almost immediately with a large cracking sound. She screamed and forced open her eyes. She had to reach the phone in the kitchen. Hisoka had told her to take care of herself, but…thoughts were turning over in her mind. She had a feeling she wouldn't be following that request.