By FAR the longest of the four parts of Next Gen, part 4 was written between January and December of 2001. When I finished this up, I was 18...and pretty darn impressed by my writing and how far it had evolved since part 1! I cringe now when I read part 1 and some of part 2...but that's how it goes, I guess. Part 4 is pretty long, but I've tried to divide it up into sizable yet manageable chunks. Just imagine if my friend Bert tried to post his fic here! You may have heard of it; it's called "Bubblegum Zone"...

Careening down the highway at high speed, me and my fellow Knight Sabers were rushing to get our teenage comrade to the hospital as soon as possible. While Linna pulled off Yume's broken helmet, Nene and Sylia worked to get off her hardsuit, and I was busy getting out of my own suit. My head swam as I tried to deal with what was happening. Yume, my only daughter…was she really in this dire of shape? Was this all just a bad dream? I'd hoped so all along, but as my heart pounded and I walked shakily over to her, the reality and the pain of my wounds reverberated throughout my body.

"Yumeko, c'mon, wake up!!" Nene cried, shaking her gently.

"Be careful with her, Nene!" Linna cautioned.

"I'm sorry, I'm just worried about her," she moaned, suddenly grabbing her side and wincing.

"Priss, give us a hand," Linna said, looking back to me.

"I'm tryin'," I barked, having disengaged the locks on my suit and was now attempting to step out of it, but my broken leg didn't want to do much of anything. Once I finally managed to get it out of the armor, I lost my balance and fell to the ground, groaning. "Son of a…"

Sylia bent down and pulled me to my feet. "We're not too far away from the hospital. Can you hang in there a while longer?"

"Gotta be there for Yume, of course I can," I said, gingerly stepping over to where Yume was laid down, Linna trying to disengage the locks on her suit.

When the chest and stomach armor swung open on her suit, Nene suddenly yelped and jumped back, trembling all over.

"She's…she's…" Nene said, pointing to the wound on Yume's stomach. I looked down, only to pale when I saw that the front of her innerwear was soaked in blood. I stepped back and put my hand to my throbbing chest.

"Yume…" I whispered. How could I have let this happen to her?!

"Get her out of the suit, now!!" Sylia ordered.

"Priss, we're not the only ones who can do this! We need your help!" Linna said.

I slowly nodded and gently shoved a sobbing Nene out of the way. While Linna lifted Yume's upper body out of the suit, I grabbed the suit's legs and dragged them off. Once she was out of the suit, Sylia immediately went and got a large pair of scissors and started cutting the left leg of the innerwear off of her. I watched her as she removed the bloody innerwear and tied it above Yume's leg wound, and just about threw up when I saw the wound itself: it was a hole full of red flesh above her left knee, blood running down her leg and onto the floor. I fell to my knees and was just about to cry when Linna bent down and hugged me.

"Priss, she'll…she'll be fine," Linna tried to assure me, about to cry herself. "We…have to stay positive though. We have to help her all we can. I promise you, we're not going to let her die…"

"We're almost there!!" Mackie suddenly called to us.

"Thank God," I said, letting out a tired sigh. Seemed like we'd been on the road forever.

"Oww," Nene suddenly moaned, putting her hand to her side again. Linna and I looked over at her, only to see she was completely white.

"Nene?!" Linna said.

"It hurts," Nene panted, sweat running down her face.

"We're losing her!" Sylia suddenly called out. I snapped my head over to where she was, feeling for Yume's pulse.

"What do you mean?!" I panicked.

"Her pulse is slowing down," she said, trying to keep her composure. "She'll bleed to death unless she gets to the ER quickly."

"Yume, no!!" I yelled, crawling over to her and taking her hand. "Yume, Yume, stay with us. You've held out for this long…" I kissed her hand and let the tears run down my face. "You've come this far, just hold on a few minutes more, ok? You can do it. Please…"

"How long has it been?" I asked, drumming my fingers on the arm of the wheelchair I'd been stuck in once my injuries got treated. The damn doctors had said I wouldn't be able to operate the crutches with a broken collarbone - that arm was in a sling now - so here I was, looking like a total ass.

"You just asked that two minutes ago," Linna responded, then looked at her watch. "I think it's been about an hour and a half that we've been sitting here."

"Damn it," I sighed. "How much longer can it take to patch up Yume?"

Linna looked at me, shocked. "Patch up? Yumeko got shot THROUGH her leg, and they also said she sustained a Grade IV laceration to her liver, not to mention five broken ribs and three cracked ones. That can't be just 'patched up'."

"What I meant was, how long are they gonna be in the operating room?" I grumbled.

"To be honest, I don't know." She swept her hand through her black hair to get it out of her eyes. "Sylia, you know more about this stuff than we do. How much longer will it be?"

"I'd say a few more hours," she said tiredly. "Nene should be out of the OR in a little while though."

"Why'd she have to go in there again?" I asked. She'd looked fine to me in the truck, although she'd been complaining more and more about the pain in her side. A couple broken ribs shouldn't have required surgery…

"They had to do a splenectomy. When she took that hit for you, apparently the force ruptured her spleen, so they have to take it out."

"That'd do it." I tried to get up out of the wheelchair, but Sylia stood up and held me down by my shoulders.

"You know full well you can't move around like that."

I frowned. "Yume could be dying in there for all I know!! They've already done a Code Blue TWICE!!" I snapped, holding up two fingers. "What if they won't be able to revive her if her heart stops again?!"

Sylia sighed, looking as tired as I felt. "Well, the doctor's heading this way. Perhaps he'll be able to answer that for you."

I swung around my wheelchair and sure enough, there was a doctor walking towards us. He looked like he had good news, but who knows…doctors were experienced at hiding their emotions.

"Miss Asagiri?" the doctor said, looking at me.

"Is Yume ok?!" I asked hurriedly.

He smiled. "Don't worry, we've got the bleeding under control now." I sighed in relief.

"Thank God."

"We had to use eighteen units of blood, and we've managed to sew up her abdomen and put in a plate to stabilize the zygoma fracture…" He flipped through the papers he held in his hands.


"But…the bullet that went through her left leg shattered her femur, and it also tore up a good deal of muscle. I need to ask you if you would consider having her leg cybernetically replaced."

I nearly jumped up out of my chair, Linna being the only thing holding me back. "Hell no!! Why would I do that to her?! She'd rather have no leg than a cybernetic one!!"

He sighed. "I asked you because there is a chance that Yumeko will never walk normally again. She's young, and will make a quick recovery from her other injuries, but her leg is the thing that concerns me right now."

"So how long is it gonna take for her to recover?"

"Well, to say a few months would be a bit optimistic."

"What?!" Linna and I both gasped.

"A few MONTHS?" I yelled.

"If there's a chance she can regain full strength in her leg -- 'if' being the operative word here -- it would probably take a few years before she'd be able to compete in those huge gymnastic competitions again."

"What about just to walk?"

"Without any sort of brace, I'd say about five months, but that's just an estimate."

I nearly fell out of the chair when he said that. Five damn months just to walk normally?! Yume'd be brokenhearted when I told her. And so much could happen within that time frame. What were we supposed to do until then?!

"Well…how long is she gonna be here?"

"My guess is a few weeks, barring any complications, and then we'll release her to a rehab center," he said matter-of-factly. Ooh, how I hated it when they acted so nonchalant about everything!

"So she's ok now?"

"The first forty-eight hours are the most critical period. Once that passes, then we can say she's out of the woods. But for now, we just have to wait."

"When can I see her?" I persisted.

"She's still in the OR as we speak. The surgeons are busy putting in bone and muscle grafts, and some plates to hold the femur together. It'll be a couple more hours before you can see her in ICU." And with that, he turned around and walked back down the hallway.

"Five months?" Linna finally asked, breaking the uneasy silence. "Well, that's just without ANY kind of brace. She could still wear one of those knee sleeves."

"Thanks for the comfort," I groaned, leaning back and closing my eyes.

"A lot of athletes wear those," she said, brightening. "It provides support to the knee and leg. People that're recovering from torn ACLs, they depend on those a lot."

"That's in the knee though, isn't it? Yume got shot through the leg, not the knee."

"Like I said, support to the knee AND leg. It'll make recovery a bit easier for her."

"How funny. Just two hours ago we were fighting for our lives, and already we're talking about healing up and getting back into shape," I said, smirking. Linna laughed.

"Never too soon to think about it," she said, standing up and leaning on her crutches. "Well, I'm gonna go ask the doctor if Nene's out of surgery yet."

"Sylia," I said once Linna left the waiting room, "is Yume gonna be able to fight again?"

Sylia sighed. "Not for a while, I'm afraid. The physical damage is one thing, but emotionally, I think it will take Yumeko some time before she will be able to get into a hardsuit again."

"I just…want to rip that Quincy bastard's head off for what he's done!" I grumbled, pounding on my leg with my fist. "Damn him for everything!! Yume might be crippled for life, the convention center got blown up, and he's gonna get off scot-free for it!!"

"We'll have to wait and see how the next few days play out before we know if he'll take responsibility for it."

"He's just gonna claim that they were rogue Boomers!" I snapped. "And about the center getting blown up, he'll probably say the satellite discharged by accident or somethin', just like they did when Aqua City went sky-high! They step on everybody, and nobody's doing a damn thing to stop 'em."

Sylia just stood there, slowly nodding after I was done venting. Her attention got directed elsewhere, however, when Linna came back into the room, a grin spread across her tired face.

"Good news! They said Nene's out of the operating room, so we can go see her now!" she exclaimed.

"And Yume?" I asked, hopeful.

Linna smiled. "I went ahead and asked again, since I knew you'd ask about her anyway. The surgeon said they're done with the bone graft, and right now, they're putting in a rod."

"A rod?"

"To have her leg heal straight instead of at an angle."

"How much longer until she's out?"

"They said it'd be a couple more hours at the least." She swung around on her crutches and started heading down the hallway. "This way! They said Nene is in room 389."

"How you doing, Nene?" Linna asked, sitting down in a chair and setting the crutches against the wall.

"Heh," she moaned, forcing a small smile. "I'm doing ok, I guess."

"The doctors said you'll be able to leave tomorrow afternoon," Sylia said.

"About time," she quipped. "I've only had some jello, and already I say the food here is terrible." She laughed, then looked over at me. "Hey, don't be so down, Priss. I'm sure Yumeko will be just dandy. She's tough."

I sighed. "I hope you're right…" I eyed the machine next to Nene's bed and followed the tube coming from it. It hung down halfway to the floor, then went up and under the sheets of the bed. "What's that for?"

"I think it's for--" Nene started coughing violently, which made us all jump. Once she ceased, she continued. "I think it's for…for draining fluid from my lung."

"How many tubes do you think Yume's got herself attached to?" I wondered aloud, shuddering at the thought. Oh, how I hoped she wouldn't end up a vegetable the rest of her life, God forbid. The docs said she'd probably pull through, but inside, I just wasn't sure how much one girl could take. In her shoes, I probably would've passed out after getting slashed and stomped on, let alone that plus getting shot, slapped, strangled, and nearly incinerated.

"Priss, she'll be fine," Sylia assured me, putting her hand on my shoulder. "I know you're worried about Yumeko. We're all worried about her. I assure you, we'll do everything we possibly can to help her and you out."

"You seem so…sure she'll…be fine," I said in a low voice, my body starting to tremble. "What if she won't be?! What then?!" I squeezed my eyes shut, hung my head, and started to cry softly.

Sylia bent over and looked me in the face. "Enough with the what ifs, ok? Let's just take this one step at a time."

"I don't…want her to be crippled the rest of her life," I said, opening my eyes slowly. "I don't want her to have to rely on crutches or a brace or…"

"Priss…" Nene sighed, leaning her head back on her pillow.

"We'll make sure she won't have to," Sylia repeated. "Right now, we should all probably get some rest, though. It's been a very long night." She tightened the strap on her sling and walked towards the door. "There's a lot I have to sort out with Fargo and such, so I'll be going back to my penthouse. Linna, Priss, you two can stay here if you want."

I looked up at her, tears still streaking my face. "Sylia…"


"I…hope you're right about Yume."

She smiled softly. "She's your daughter. I'm sure she will come through just fine." And with that, out the door she went, walking straight and tall, even with a sling on one arm and a slightly concerned look in her eyes, a look that said that this was probably just the beginning of things to come.

I opened my eyes slowly and unsurely. It felt like I was being sucked into a black hole, like I was floating in the middle of nowhere. When I took a look around though, that's exactly what it was: a black void, nothing around.

"Where…where am I?" I inquired to no one. The strange force continued to pull at me, and after a second, I began to see a light at the spot where I was being sucked to.

"Who's there?"

A figure appeared in front of the light. As I got closer, I saw it was the figure of an older woman. No one I recognized.

"It's ok now," she said gently.

"Where am I?"

"A place where nobody can hurt you."

I gasped. "Am…am I dead?!" I looked around rapidly, then snapped my head back at the mysterious lady. "Where's Mom?! And Sylia, and Linna, and…"

"They're all right," she assured me. "They're just fine, and they're quite worried about you."

"Are they ok?"

She smiled. "Yes, they are."

"You didn't answer my question. Am I dead?"

She shook her head. "It's not your time. You still have things to do. This is merely a place of limbo, a spot you could say is between life and death."

"So I'm still alive?"

"Yes. You're a very tough young lady. You have the same grit as your mother." The lady started to float away towards the light.

"W…wait!!" I yelled, reaching out to her, only to be sucked backwards, away from her.

"You have to go back," she called to me, then added softly with a wink, "Tell Priscilla I said hi, would you? Tell her I'm doing fine."

"Prisci… How do—" Before I could finish my question, I was swept away back into the strange black void.

The first thing I heard when I came to was the beeping of a nearby monitor. Slowly opening my eyes, the blurred beige ceiling greeted me. As my vision became clearer, I laid there, trying to remember what had happened. Nene trying to help me with my school paper…an explosion…Nene going to help the others…but what happened after that? Everything seemed so fuzzy. I raised up my hand and rubbed my face with it, then felt a tube going up my nose. I blinked and held the tube in my hand.

"What…?" I said aloud. A feeding tube?

I then noticed a dull pain on the right side of my face. I patted that side gently with my hand, and could practically feel each individual bruise, tender to the touch. I was also quick to notice that there was quite a gap in my mouth where a few teeth were supposed to have been. What on earth…?, I wondered. Had I been in a fight? I couldn't remember any such thing.

Placing both my hands palm down on the bed, I slowly pushed myself up to a sitting position, only to be struck with a sudden pain in my abdomen. I gasped and grabbed onto the bed rail with one hand to keep from falling back. I sat there gasping for a few seconds, trying to comprehend just what had happened that I couldn't seem to remember. Ok, I have some missing teeth, bruises all over, and prob'ly surgery on my stomach. What next?, I asked myself. I looked around at the other beds in the room. They were all occupied by people in much the same condition I was in, probably worse. The ICU. Great.

"Oh my God!!" I heard someone exclaim. I slowly looked to my right, and at the door to the ICU was a nurse, gaping at me.

"Huh?" was all I could muster.

"You're…you're awake!!" she gasped, blinking in disbelief.


"D…Doctor!!" she called out, running out the door to get him. I just sat there, dumbfounded. I couldn't have been out for too long, could I?

"What's the meaning of this?" the doctor said when he appeared in the room, being dragged in by the nurse. When he looked over to me, he stopped in his tracks, eyes wide open.

"Miss Asagiri!" he gasped.

"See? She IS awake," the nurse said.

"I…I see," he said, adjusting his glasses. "I didn't think you'd be awake so soon."

"Me? Think I was brain-dead or somethin'?"

"Well…no, but…you were in a coma."

"A coma?" My head started to pound suddenly, and I put my hand up to it and groaned. "How long was I…?"

"Five days."

"Five…days…?" No way it could've been five days!! Just seemed like a matter of minutes ago that Nene had gone to help the others at the summit. Five days? Couldn't be.

"Nurse, watch her," the doctor ordered, leaving the room.

"Uh, yes, sir," she said, bowing as he left.

Just a moment later, I heard yelling in the corridor. "Awake?! You're joking, right?! She's really awake?!" And then, I heard frantic running down the corridor and towards the room I was in.

"Mom…?" I said. A second later, there she was, standing there at the door, looking completely dumbfounded, and yet relieved at the same time.

"Y…Yume!" she said, her eyes quickly brightening.

"H-hi." Mom slowly and unsurely walked over beside me, and then gently leaned over and gave me a hug. I heard her starting to cry.

"Don't cry," I said, hugging her back. "Nothin' to cry about."

"If only you knew," she said, her body shaking. "I'm…so glad you're alive."

I peeked over Mom's shoulder and saw the whole gang standing at the door, watching the scene. Linna, leaning on some crutches; Nene, looking a bit pale and worn out, and with a cast on her arm and elbow, but otherwise ok; and Sylia, with her arms crossed, looking just as calm and cool as ever.

"What's wrong with everybody?" I asked when Mom finally released me and stepped back. "You all look like I died or somethin'."

Nene looked down meekly and scratched the back of her head while everyone suddenly got a weird serious look on their face.

"Um…am I right…?"

"Well…" Mom said. "You came pretty close…"

"What happened to me?"

Linna blinked. "You don't remember?"

"Nuh-uh. I remember Nene helping me with my essay, but everything after that's a blur." I slowly laid back down, having used up all my energy already. "Heh…talk about an excuse to get out of doing that essay." I chuckled in irony.

"Well, it's probably best you don't remember, anyhow," Mom said, looking away. "Nothing worth remembering."

"I think it would be best to let her rest now," the doctor suddenly said. The nurse nodded in agreement.

"I don't need to rest," I grumbled. "Been laying here for five days, from what I've heard. I'd say that's enough rest." I started to swing my legs over the side of the bed to try to get out, and Mom started to push me back, but then I realized my legs were strapped down. My blood ran cold.

"Why…why are my legs strapped down?" I asked weakly. "Did something happen to my legs…?" Pain started throbbing in my left thigh, and I was afraid to know what exactly happened.

"You don't need to know that now," the doctor said. "You need some rest. Once you're more rested, then we can tell you."

"I want to know what happened to my leg, dammit!!" I snapped, making the doctor jump. "Why's it strapped down?!" My head started pounding once more, and I started to sway when Mom wrapped her arms around me to support me.

"Yumeko, I don't think you want to know," Linna said, looking a bit nervous, which unnerved me all the more. She was never nervous. Now I was REALLY curious about what happened.

"I…have to know," I moaned, closing my eyes and leaning my head against Mom's chest. "Am I a cripple now or something? What happened?"

"You…you were shot," the doctor revealed.

"Been shot before. How bad is it?"

"You sure you want to know the details?" he asked, hesitant.

"Of course I do. I'll be finding out sooner or later anyway…"

He cleared his throat. "Well, the bullet went completely through your left thigh, and in the process, it shattered your femur. We performed surgery to do bone and muscle grafts, and we also put in a rod and plates to stabilize your leg."

I blinked my eyes, trying to comprehend what he said. Shattered my leg? Muscle grafts? What did this mean?

"So, am I gonna…be able to walk again?"

"We're…we're cautiously optimistic you will, but there's a chance you'll be permanently disabled." The doc cast his eyes to the floor and sucked in a breath.

Mom and the others turned their eyes towards me, looking for a reaction. What they got certainly was not what they expected, for I started laughing. Laughing like a maniac.

"Ha!!" I said. "You doctors…you're always saying that!! Me, disabled?! You watch, in two months, two months…" I held up two fingers. "In two months, I'll be walking on my own just fine!! You wait!!"

"Uh, Yume…" Mom said, confused.

"You people are always full of it," I said, laughing so hard that I was getting tears in my eyes, partly from temporary insanity, and partly from the fact that all the laughing was making my ribs and abdomen hurt like hell. "Always have been. I'll probably be out of this hospital in a few days, too!! You wait and see…!"

"Yumeko, I don't think you—" Linna started to say.

I shook my head, still grinning like an idiot. "Linna, you hafta agree with me. I mean, c'mon, they said my shoulder would take a few weeks to heal, when it took a month and a half to heal right!! They're always wrong about their predictions about how long it'll take me to recover. Always!! And they will be this time, too!"

Then, the shield of denial I'd put up came crashing down as everything the doc said sank in. I slowly stopped my laughing and smiling, and quickly sobered up, this time the tears in my eyes being that of sorrow, of fear. My body started trembling like I was having a seizure or something. Might never walk again? That couldn't be true, could it? I shook my head and started crying, burying my face in Mom's bosom like I'd done when I was little.

"I have to walk again…" I sobbed. "I can't stay like this, Mom…"

"Yumeko…" Nene said, getting a sorrowful look in her eyes.

"Alright, it's time to let her rest now," the doctor said, and gently ushered Linna, Nene, and Sylia out of the room while Mom stood there and rocked me, trying to comfort me.

"Miss Asagiri," he said, "we have to let her get some sleep now."

"Yume," Mom said, kissing me on the forehead, "I can't promise you everything, but I swear to you that I'll make sure you'll be able to walk again. Ok?"

I smiled through my tears. "Oh, before I forget… While I was out, I dreamed that I was floating towards heaven or somethin', and this lady came up and told me that I couldn't leave here. She said I still had things to do here."

She raised her eyebrows. "Really?"

"Yeah. And she wanted me to tell you hi."

"You're not kidding, are you?"

"No. I didn't know her, but I think you do… Lemme see, I think she…she had light brown hair, like yours, and dark blue eyes. She was a little taller than me, and she had some grey hairs. She referred to you as Priscilla. Does she sound familiar?"

Mom went pale when I described her. She cast her eyes down and shook her head. Yep, musta been somebody she knew.

"I always thought…that when people claimed they saw the afterlife, that they were crazy. But…I guess it's true from what you've told me…"

"You know her?"

"Of…of course… The woman you met was my mom."

My eyes went wide. "She was?"


"She also wanted me to tell you she was doing just fine."

Mom's eyes started welling up with tears again. "It's been so long since she died…I guess since I never even really got a chance to say bye to her…well, it's nice to know she's doing all right…"

"Miss Asagiri, time to let Yumeko rest now," the doctor said, gently leading Mom to the door.

My eyelids started feeling heavy about that time suddenly, so I didn't argue.

"Mom…you'll still be here when I wake up, right?"

She looked back as she walked out the door, and said, "Of course I will. Better rest up though…got a long road ahead of us."

As I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I was thinking the same thing.

When I opened my eyes, I'd been expecting to find the lights dimmed down and everything being completely quiet except for the beeping of numerous monitors, like it was in the ICU, but when I looked around, I realized I wasn't in there anymore. I'd been transferred out.

"Good morning, Yumeko," the nurse said cheerfully as she walked in the room. "How are you feeling today?"

"Feeling? I feel the same as last night, like I got hit by a semi."

"I'm just going to check your blood pressure, and remove the feeding tube. All right?"


While the nurse took my wrist in her hand to check my pulse, I looked to the left of my bed. There was a curtain drawn almost completely across the room.

"Who else is in here?" I asked.

"Matilda Klein," the nurse answered. "She was injured when the convention center exploded, just like you were."

"Nurse!" a woman I assumed was Matilda called out from the other side of the curtain. "I think the catheter's leaking again!"

"Oh no," she sighed. "That's the second time this week." She quickly ran over to the curtain, pushed part of it aside, and went to help my elderly neighbor. After a few seconds, she came running back out and out the door to get some help.

"Having some trouble over there?" I called over to her.

The old woman laughed. "Yes, just a little."

"So, what are you in for?"

"Oh, I lost my arm in that explosion at the summit about the Boomers. From what I've seen of you, you took some hits yourself."

"Hm? You saw them transfer me here?"

"Of course, dear. You came in here while I was having my breakfast, about two hours or so ago, I believe."

"Well, unfortunately, I'm not gonna stick around." I slowly eased myself up till I was sitting up in the bed. After a moment, once I got myself balanced, I threw off the blanket covering my legs.

"Oh. Right. That," I mumbled to myself, indicating my bandage-covered left leg, then smirked. "Well, may as well try to walk now, right?"

"You sure you want to try so soon?" Matilda asked.

"I could stand being shot," I responded, thinking at the same time, Just barely. "I can stand trying to walk." I swung my right leg off the side of the bed, then very slowly eased my left leg over. I grimaced in pain, biting my lip to keep from hollering.

"Easy, easy…" I repeated, bearing down on my right leg as I stood up, my hands on the bed to keep me steady. I then let my left foot touch the ground, and as I started to try to have it bear some weight, my leg suddenly screamed in pain and instantly buckled. I screamed in the resulting pain and went falling to the floor.

"What's going on here?!" the nurse said, just now returning with the equipment to change Matilda's catheter. "Yumeko, what…?!"

I chuckled nervously, grimacing in terrific pain at the same time. "Uh…the devil made me do it?"

"Let me get you back in bed," she sighed, shaking her head as she lifted me up with amazing ease and put me back in the bed. "Well, I suppose I won't have to ask you if you can wiggle your toes now, right?"

"Heh. Right," I said, embarrassed about the scene I just made.

"What happened?" Mom said, running into the room.

"Oh, uh, I just, uh, tried to get up," I stammered, still laughing nervously.

"You know better than that," the nurse chided. "Mrs. Klein, did you put her up to this?"

"I did nothing of the sort," Matilda responded, cracking up.

"I need to fix her catheter still," she said aloud, just remembering why she left in the first place, then ran to Matilda's side of the room to fix it.

"So, uh, how are you today?" I asked Mom, scratching the back of my head.

Mom blinked. "Uh, fine, I guess. What made you think you could just get up and leave like that, anyway?"

"I don't like hospitals. They're too…sterile," I said, wrinkling my nose at the smell of all the cleaning detergents and such that perfumed the air. She laughed.

"Yeah, they're real clean freaks, aren't they."

"When do I get to leave?"

"I don't know, but I'm hoping real soon. I'm more than fed up about being around here twenty-three hours a day as it is."

A thought popped into my head at that moment. "Um…how many people got killed when…when the convention center blew up?"

Mom looked at me, a bit surprised. "Well, if the newscasts are right, then about a hundred or so."

I shuddered. "That many?" She nodded grimly.

"The news also said that Quincy might be coming to the area hospitals to visit the surviving victims."

"Quincy?! The thought of seeing him apologize for 'the tragedy' makes me wanna puke!!"

"You're not alone there."

"He's just trying to cover his own tracks," I mumbled, folding my arms over my chest and slouching. "Trying to have people believe he had nothing to do with it…bah."

"Yeah, I know, I know. But of course, you don't hafta see him if you don't want to."

"I'd rather not."

As the next few days went by, and the doctors wouldn't let me out of bed, I decided to start talking a bit more with my hospital roommate. She insisted that I call her Tilda, so I did; the name Matilda sounded so old-fashioned and plain to me, anyway.

"I first came to Japan from Germany around 2016," she recalled, her eyes twinkling with the memory. "At first, me and my husband were just here to see the sights and such. We went around and visited Hiroshima and the Peace Monument there and such. We saw the Tokyo Tower and visited all the temples we could. Karl and I only meant to stay for two weeks or so, but the hospitality of the people here and the atmosphere was just so wonderful that we decided to stay.

"We settled here in Tokyo, in Shinjuku district. Karl got a job working as a fisherman while I stayed home and took care of our daughter, Emma. He worked late hours, and we hardly ever got to see him, but he wanted to make sure that we had everything we needed."

"Sounds like something out of a book," I commented.

Tilda smiled. "Doesn't it? Well anyway, as everyone knows, in 2025, the Second Great Kanto earthquake struck, and our apartment building was totally flattened. Karl and Emma, six at the time, both died. I was digging frantically in the rubble for them, even though I was badly hurt myself, and then I looked over and saw our neighbor's daughter laying there, her legs pinned beneath a slab of concrete, screaming and crying. I went over to her and dragged her out. She kept saying, 'Tilda, Tilda, my parents!! Mama and Daddy, they're gone, they're both dead!!' For the moment, I forgot all the pain I was in, and just held her there, offering my condolences. She and Emma got along together so well, you wouldn't believe it, even though they were six years apart…"

"That neighbor girl…" I wondered aloud.

Tilda nodded. "Yes, that girl was your mother, Priss."

I gasped. "She…she never mentioned anything about you saving her."

"Ever wondered why she always avoids my gaze when she's in here visiting with you? She remembers me all too well, I can tell. It's too painful for her to recall anything relating to the quake, I'm sure. For years after she was put in that dreadful orphanage, I thought about her, and her parents, and of course, I thought about Karl and Emma. I didn't have anything left to remind me of them. I couldn't even save any pictures." She sighed.

"Don't get yourself worked up," I cautioned, leaning over the bed rail towards her. "You're not in the best shape to worry yourself over bad memories. Heck, look at ME!!" I chuckled.

"I know, I know, child. Memories like that stay raw for a long time, you know.

"Well, after Tokyo was rebuilt, I moved to Shibuya to live quietly and pretty much wallow in my own misery. The years went by, but it only seemed like days to me. Anyway, in about 2036 -- yes, it was 2036 -- when Priss moved in right next door to me."

"You lived next door to us?!"

"For a while, yes. I moved out when you were about four though, so it's no wonder you don't recall me at all. Now where was I? Oh, yes. A little while after she came back from her tour in '37, she got pregnant with you. I remember when she first found out about it, too."

"You know what happened?" I asked.

"I don't know the gritty details, but she was blowing steam enough about it for me to hear. The walls in that building aren't very thick, after all.

"Ahem, well, I think it was about January of '38 when she found out she was pregnant. I remember hearing her scream and then bang the wall a few times. She yelled, 'I can't be pregnant!! No way in hell!! He actually got me pregnant with his kid!!'"

"Sounds like her to me," I mumbled, fidgeting.

"Apparently, a friend of hers was there with her. I think it was that black-haired girl with the headband."


"Yes, her. I heard her trying to comfort Priss and tell her it was all right. I went over to her apartment the day after, and asked her if she needed anything. I remember that when she answered the door, her eyes were puffy and red from all the crying she'd done. I said, 'Priscilla, is there anything I can do for you?' She said, 'No, I don't need nothin', just leave me alone.' Over the months, I kept asking and asking if she needed anything, but she kept saying no."

"Mom's not one to ask for help."

"I noticed. Even after she gave birth to you that summer, she didn't want any help. But I suppose that post-partum depression set in, 'cause when you were about a week old, she came over and asked if I wanted to watch you for a little while. I heartily agreed, and we started hanging out together a little more. Priss was a little uncomfortable, I think, being around an old lady and all, but she warmed up in time.

"You were the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen, then and now. You had a little tuft of brown hair, and you had the brightest little blue eyes like all babies have before they change color. You didn't cry much at all; you were very well-behaved, and you just adored being held. I watched you grow up from that little baby into a rambunctious little toddler. You always loved to explore, crawling into anything that you could fit in. And you certainly didn't mind getting dirty; when it rained, you'd always run outside and go splashing in the puddles, and Priss and I would just crack up when you came back in, completely brown and black from all the mud!!" She started cracking up. "It was the funniest sight, I must say, two big red eyes poking out from a blob of mud, ha!!"

I started to laugh, too, the first time I'd really laughed since before the Boomer attack. "Yeah, I was a bit mischievous, I admit!"

"That made it all the more heartbreaking when I had to move, though. It was late '42, I think, a little while before Priss and you went on tour. The landlord said I wasn't paying my rent on time, so he decided to evict me. You were crying and begging me not to go, in your unique little mixture of English, Japanese, and the bit of German you learned from me. It broke Priss' heart seeing you cry like that, even though she couldn't understand half of what you were saying. She practically had to pry you off of me, you were so upset over me leaving. She was upset about me leaving too, of course, but I promised her that I would come visit."

"Did you?"

"Well, a week or so after that, Priss took you with her on tour, and you didn't come back for a year and a half. When you did come back, though, I tried to visit, but I fell down the stairs trying to go up them, and I broke my hip. The health problems afterwards caused me to be put in a nursing home, since there were no living relatives to care for me."

I grimaced. "Well, that would explain why you've never come to see us all these years."

"Just a month or two ago, I'd been transferred to an assisted-living home, and a few of us were out on a walk when the convention center exploded, and well, here I am."

"What a way to meet up again…" I rubbed the side of my face with my hand; it was still badly bruised, even though it had been a week since the Boomer attack. "Do you have a mirror, by any chance?"

"A mirror? What for?"

"I want to see my face. How badly bruised it is, anyway."

"I have one on my breakfast tray. You sure you want to see yourself? The right side of your face is just one big bruise."

"I don't care, I still want to see. Couldn't possibly look as bad as my leg."

"Here." Tilda tossed the hand-held mirror over to me, and I snatched it out of mid-air and took a look into it. She was right, for the most part; everything from my eye down to near my jaw was black and blue. I then noticed a scab above my eyebrow, from a cut. I ran my finger over it, wondering why it seemed so familiar. Something about the cut and the bruises seemed related, but I couldn't place my finger on what it could be.

And then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The Boomer had done it…

"Your blood," I could hear it saying to me. "It and your eyes are the same shade of red." It leaned its face to mine and started licking the blood up from the cut above my eyebrow. I spit in its face in response, being the only thing I could do at the moment, and then, the motion of my head being jerked to the side and a pain on the side of my face.

I dropped the mirror into my lap.

"Yumeko?" Tilda asked. "Are you ok?"

"I…I…" My whole body started to tremble, my hands especially, shaking like a leaf.

"You what?"

"I feel like I hafta wash my face all of a sudden." I could still feel the Boomer's tongue on my face; a disgusting feeling, to say the least. I had to get rid of that feeling.

"Wash your face?" Tilda looked at me, confused. How could I tell her why I felt like I had to do that? She wouldn't believe it even if I told her.

"I just…feel dirty," I lied, throwing off the blanket.

"You can't try that again," she said sternly. "You know what happened the first time you tried that."

"I need to see Mom," I said, my voice shaking along with the rest of me. I placed my right foot down on the ice-cold tile, and this time, I remembered not to try to place any weight on my left leg.

"You can't be serious," Tilda said when I started hopping on my right leg towards the door.

"I'm dead serious," I said, grimacing with the pain of holding my bad leg off the ground. "I have to see Mom. I have to."

"Did you remember something about the explosion?" she inquired.

"Something like that." I was now at the door, my hand against the door frame for support. God, that flashback just made me feel sick!! I wondered how the rest would make me feel when and if I recalled it. This was one of those times where I learned that ignorance is truly bliss. Definitely bliss.

"Yumeko, what are you doing there?" I heard Linna say. I looked down the hallway to my right, and saw her standing there, looking quite surprised.

"I need to see Mom," I repeated for the third or fourth time. "Where'd she go?"

"She's in the restroom, why?"

"I remember something!"

"Well, get back to bed first."

"It can't wait!!" I started to sway, and clung even harder to the door frame, groaning when my leg started throbbing again.

"You don't want to make your leg any worse, do you? C'mon," she said, wrapping her arms around my torso and practically dragging me back through the door and back to bed.

"Ow! That hurts!!" I cried, indicating both my leg and my stomach. "Leggo!!"

After nearly throwing me back into bed, Linna said, "I'm sorry, but if you hadn't hopped out of bed, you wouldn't have caused yourself that pain."

"But I…but I…I remember…"

"What do you remember?"

I looked over to Tilda, then back to Linna. "I can't say it while she's here," I said in a low voice, still shaking.

"Well, whisper it to me, then."

I leaned over and whispered it in her ear. "I remember the Boomer holding me by the neck, and then it was licking up the blood on my face, and…and…then I spat in its face, and it slapped me…"

She nodded. "I remember that, too. I was barely conscious, but I remember that all too well."

"I haven't been able to remember anything else, though."

"You're not missing anything, trust me."

"What are you talking about over there?" Tilda asked.

"Girl stuff," Linna said quickly, grinning. "Just girl stuff."

I sighed and leaned back in bed. "I can't wait to go home…heck, even school sounds appealing at the moment!"

Both Tilda and Linna laughed.

The next day, I was finally allowed to roam the hallways after having been stuck in bed for a week. Sure, I was in a wheelchair, but I felt like I was getting sick from all that damn bedrest. Had to get up and exercise.

"Hey, wait for us, Yumeko!!" Nene called to me as I sped down the hallway.

"Yahoo!!" I yelled, spinning the wheels as hard as I could, then screeching to a halt when I reached the end.

"Being stuck in bed for a week'll do that to ya," Linna joked.

"No kidding," Mom said, snickering. "Yume, don't waste all your strength now."

"I'll be fine!" I called to her as I turned the corner, popped a wheelie, and went down another hallway.

"Geez, you sure learned how to use that thing quick," Nene pointed out.

"It's not too hard," I said, looking back to her, only to bump into someone. I looked up and saw the doctor standing there.

"There you are, Yumeko," he said, smiling. "It's time for some therapy now."


"We're going to test your knee to see how much it will bend. It's also to exercise those injured muscles, to get them built back up again."

I paled. "Ohhh no. I'm not gonna have anyone touching my leg while it still hurts THIS much, no way!!"

"The sooner, the better. You don't want it to stiffen up, do you?"

"No, but…"

"Well, let's go then. Back to your room," he said, grabbing the handles of my wheelchair and wheeling me back to my room.

"I can get myself back!!"

"This is to make sure you don't try running away," he joked.

"I can't even WALK, how can I RUN?"

"Well, we'll work on that," he assured me as we reached my room. He lifted me up and put me back on the bed, then removed the splint on my leg.

"I'm not gonna guarantee you'll leave here with your eardrums still intact," Mom said, completely serious.

The doctor looked to her, understanding completely. "Of course we're not going to bend it all the way. We're just going to see how far it can bend right now, and once we determine that, we'll give her some exercises to do to loosen the muscles up."

"Can't this wait?" I said, starting to shake. "My stomach still hurts, let alone my leg."

"I know it will hurt, but just try to bear it, ok?" the doctor asked, bending down and taking a hold of my leg, one hand above where I was shot, and one on my lower leg, near my ankle.

I took a breath and said, "Ok. But you heard what Mom said."

"If it hurts, it's ok to scream," Mom said. "Nobody's saying you have to hold it in."

"One, two, three," the doctor said, then pushed on my leg to get it to bend. I gasped and groaned as he moved it very slowly to a bending position.

"Ow, ow, oww…!" I cried, even though my leg was hardly bent at all.

"It's all right," he said. "It's only at a ten-degree angle right now. We're going to try to get it to a 45-degree angle, ok?"

"No!" I yelled, tears building up in my eyes from the intense pain. "Stop it! It hurts!!"

"A little more," he said, and pushed a little harder. I cried out and clutched onto the bed rails to keep from falling back. Mom darted her eyes from me to the doctor, and back to me again.

"How much more are you gonna do?" she asked, looking a little nervous herself.

"Not much more," he said, pushing more. I screamed and squeezed my eyes shut.

"Stop it!!" I snapped. "It's not ready yet!!"

"It's at a thirty-degree angle now. Almost there."

"I don't care!! Stop bending my damn leg!!"

"If she's in this much pain," Mom said, pissed off now, "then stop bending her leg!"

"She's doing quite all right," the doctor said, undeterred. "I'm impressed that with the injury she suffered, that the leg can bend this much."

"Only 'cause you're making it!!" I screamed at him, my head starting to spin. "Enough already!! Stop it…"

I heard Nene's voice in my head screaming the same thing. "Stop it!! Leave her alone!!" The Boomer had continued to stomp on me though, not heeding her pleas. I'd practically been stomped to death when Linna and Sylia showed up, taking over from there. Even they, though, had their trouble, and after I fired some of my discs through it, the Boomer turned on me again, saying, "Now it's the exterminator's turn…"

The pain in my leg flared up again. I couldn't take it anymore. I let go of the bed rails and fell back on the bed, screaming.

"No!! No!! Leave me alone! Stop it!!"

"Yume?!" I vaguely heard Mom say. I was thrashing around on the bed, in the middle of my hellish nightmare. I felt her pin me to the bed, but I still screamed.

"Get away!! Leave me alone," I cried. "Get the Boomer away from me!!"

"There's no Boomer here, Yume!" Mom tried to assure me. "Just us, just us."

"Get it away!! I don't want it near me!! Go…away…!"

"Nurse, sedate her," I barely heard the doctor order.

"Leave…me alone…!" I sobbed. "Get away from me…"

Mom released my shoulders, and my thrashing slowed down. I didn't even notice it, but when the nurse came towards me, ready to sedate me, I slapped the needle out of her hand.

I looked towards her, still half-insane, and panted, "Don't…you…even THINK about sticking me with that needle…"

"Y…Yume, you ok now?" Mom hesitantly asked me, wide-eyed.

"I…I don't know," I said, starting to cry again. "The Boomer…the Boomer nearly…"

"I know," she said, hugging me. "I know."

"Well…I wasn't expecting that," I heard the doctor say slowly. I looked at him through my tears, and saw that in my temporary insanity, I'd kicked him in the face and broken his glasses.

"You deserved it," Mom spat at him, still holding me. "She didn't need to relive what happened!!"

"I didn't expect a simple therapy session to make her remember nearly the whole episode at the convention center!!" he said, nearly yelling himself.

"What kind of doctor are you, anyway? You shoulda known this could've happened."

"Usually, the amnesia lasts longer than this. The memory usually doesn't return this quickly."

"Usually," Mom repeated.

"I can't…get it out of my head," I moaned, putting my hands on the sides of my head and shaking it. "The Boomer's still alive…"

"The Boomer's dead," Mom assured me. "It's dead."

"It's not gonna come and kill me?"

"No, it won't. I'm sure it died in the explosion. There's nothing to worry about."

"Don't stress her out any more," the doctor said, getting his composure back.

"Speak for yourself," Mom snapped.

"It nearly killed me," I repeated, fresh tears stinging my eyes. "How the hell did I survive something like that? The explosion…and everything…"

Mom smiled gently and pulled me closer. "A miracle saved you. That's all that matters, that you're still here."

A few minutes later, the doctor and nurse finally left, leaving Mom and me to ourselves. She just stood there and rocked me, saying that even she wasn't too sure how I survived everything, but that I must've had some divine intervention or something. As I fell asleep in her arms from the exhaustion that overwhelmed me, I was thinking of what the woman I saw in my dream had told me. Perhaps there was something for me to do here still, after all. But what it was, I couldn't be sure of just yet…

A few more days passed by, and the doctor was much more careful with how he handled my therapy sessions; after having his ears nearly burst, I'm sure he didn't want me to put him through another one of my fits. It still hurt like a bitch when he bent my leg, but I did start to notice some subtle differences; the muscles were starting to loosen up a bit, and the leg was able to be bent a little more before starting to really hurt.

"When am I gonna be able to try walking?" I asked him.

"Not until you're able to at least stand on your own. And what I mean by 'on your own' means without any crutches," he said, noting that I was wobbly on my feet even with crutches.

"Damn," I said, trying to keep my balance. "Well, when can I go home?"

"You've been making good progress with your injuries," he noted. "The femur is almost completely healed, and the laceration to your liver is doing nicely as well. Your ribs are healed too, so I can say with confidence that you'll be able to go home within a day or so, as soon as you can get around by yourself and go to the bathroom with minimal help."

"All RIGHT!!" I cheered, waving my crutches in the air, only to fall on my back on the floor. "Ouch."

"You all right?" he asked, leaning over me.

"Not as bad as when you were bending my leg the first time," I quipped, then slowly got up.

"That was my fault for going so quickly," he admitted, flushing a little.

"I've almost forgiven you for that. I probably woulda remembered a lot of that eventually anyway."

I sighed and leaned back against the brick wall, looking up at the darkening sky. Fifteen days since that disaster at the Boomer summit. Had it been that long already? Just seemed like a mere two days ago to me. I looked down to the pavement and saw a soda can laying there, and kicked it away.

"So…what do we do now?" I asked Sylia, who was standing nearby, taking a puff from her cigarette.

"There's nothing to do but sit and wait for Genom's next move," she said bluntly.

"I still can't believe what they said about the whole convention deal," I grumbled. Genom had discounted the fact that there were Boomers at the center, even though many of the surviving world leaders had said they were there. They'd said that the leaders were so hysterical that they probably couldn't remember things right. And when the leaders had said they'd seen the Sabers there, Genom decided to capitalize on that account and say that we'd attacked the center and hijacked one of the particle beam satellites, using it to blow up the center. Talk about a crock of shit.

"I'm sure everybody knows they're just trying to cover their own tracks," Nene piped up. "Won't do them any good."

"Knowing Genom, they'll probably use the Hitler Tactic; repeat the lie so often that people will come to believe it," Linna predicted.

"Wouldn't surprise me if they did," I concurred.

"I have reason to believe that Yumeko's in danger," Sylia suddenly said. I snapped my head in her direction.

"How so?"

"I examined the head of the Boomer that we recovered from the rubble, and discovered that the eye sockets have transmitters built into them."


"That whatever the Boomer saw was fed back to its headquarters."

Linna paled. "So…Genom…might know about Yumeko…?"

Sylia nodded. "Considering her faceplate was broken, and the contact she had with the Boomer afterwards, it's probable that the Boomer got a good look at her face."

"It's…it's not like they can determine who she is just by looking at her, though," I said, mostly trying to deny the fact that Genom might know about Yume. "There's millions of people in Tokyo."

"But…they probably have files on everyone living in Tokyo," Nene said in a low voice. "They could just do a search on all females with red eyes and dark brown hair, and boom, they could have it narrowed down to her in a heartbeat. And besides, she's a nationally known gymnast. It's not like she can blend into a crowd a hundred percent of the time."

I sighed. "Yeah, that's prob'ly true…"

"This is all just a possibility," Sylia reminded us. "But we still have to be on our guard."

"Yume shouldn't even have to be going through any of this," I mumbled to myself. "If it weren't for that Boomer trying to gut her in that alley…"

"With the Combat Boomers coming out again, it probably would have been inevitable that she would've found out about us, anyway. Yumeko's been a great help to us since they've started reappearing."

"Not to mention a great pain," Nene quipped.

"She saved our asses," I snapped. "I just mighta jumped in too if I heard everyone else was getting killed while I was just sitting there like a rock."

I heard the clacking of crutches on the tile floor just inside the hospital, and I turned around and sure enough, there was Yume, coming through the doors on her crutches.

"The doctor said I could come out here for a little while," she said with a mischievous smile.

"Getting released tomorrow, I heard," Linna said.

"Yup. Can't wait. I've put up with more of this place than I can stand."

"The bruises are fading," I pointed out, smiling.

"Yeah," Yume said, grinning. "'Bout time, too. People in the hallways were gawking at me while I was on my way down here. I guess they thought I was mugged or something."

"How's your…your..." Nene asked.

"This?" Yume asked, pointing to her stomach. "I'll show ya." She threw down one of her crutches and leaned on the other one, lifting up her shirt with her free hand. A long, reddish scar lined her stomach just below her ribs, starting on her right side and going until it was a little ways past her navel. Nene grimaced when she saw it.

"I…I still wish I could've helped you when the Boomer did that to you," Nene said weakly.

Yume pulled her shirt back down and shook her head. "It wasn't your fault it happened. I was in over my head, as usual…but I just didn't want that bastard hurting you or Mom anymore, that's all." She looked up at me, then looked at the others. "Speaking of which…I never…thanked any of you for saving me."

"No thanks is needed," Linna said. "We're supposed to help each other out, right?"

"I nearly got you all killed though…"

"Oh, come off it," I said, disgusted with how she was beating herself up over it.

"Priss's right," Sylia said. "It wouldn't have made a real difference whether you'd jumped in when we were fighting the first Boomer or the second. The outcome would've been much the same."

Yume scratched the back of her head and looked down meekly. "Maybe…but I still put everyone through a lot of shit."

"It can't be helped now. We just have to concentrate on how we're going to handle the present situation."

"I still want to get back into my suit, despite my leg." We all looked at her in shock.

"Even after what you've been through?" Linna said, wide-eyed. "We thought you wouldn't want to."

"Hey, I didn't say I'd be able to do it tomorrow. I just have to learn to walk again, and get my strength back, then I can do it."

"Easier said than done."

"Yumeko, you sure?" Nene asked, very skeptical, then turned to me. "Priss?"

I merely grinned. "She's my kid, what else would you expect?"

Nene sighed and shook her head. "You're BOTH crazy."

Even I had to admire Yume for her guts. Not everybody would want to jump back into the fray after coming so close to having their lives snuffed out. Who would expect a sixteen-year-old to do that? Of course, she was my daughter, but even I had had my doubts, especially after that therapy episode. But hearing her actually say she wanted to get back into her suit rekindled my hopes that perhaps, just perhaps, things might turn out ok, even though it was apparent to me that she was just covering up her real feelings. Yeah, it might take time for her to be able to walk and run and do those fancy flips again, but if she was willing to work extra hard to regain those skills, then maybe Yume would be able to recover emotionally from the trauma she'd had just two weeks before. She was never one to let anything stop her, and well, neither was I.

"I'm so happy for you, dear," Tilda said as I packed up my stuff and prepared to go home. "I thought you'd be in here longer than you were."

"Same here," I admitted, zipping the suitcase shut. "It was nice to see you, Tilda, after all this time, though I do agree that it could've been under better circumstances. When are you getting out, by the way?"

"Oh, I don't know, dear. My health was fragile even before the summit, and now, I just don't know…"

"I'm sure Mom wouldn't mind if you stayed with us."

"Oh, no, I couldn't do that to her or you. Would you want to change this catheter every day, check the stump of my arm every day to make sure there's no infection or gangrene?"

I grimaced at the thought; I could barely watch the doctors change the bandages on my leg, let alone on Tilda's arm.

"Yumeko, you almost ready?" Nene asked, peeking her head into the room.

"Just about," I called to her. "Can you get this suitcase for me?" I stood up and leaned on my crutches for support while she came in and grabbed it off the hospital bed.

"You'll come visit, won't you?" Tilda asked.

I smiled. "Of course. Every chance I get. Promise." I went over to her bed and gently gave her a hug.

"Just a week ago you weren't even allowed out of bed," she recalled, "and now here you are walking around on crutches."

"I won't be needing 'em for long, I hope. I'm gonna get fitted with a brace soon, and try to walk with that."

"What about your teeth?"

"Mom has me scheduled to go in in a few days to get some bridgework done."

"That's good. Better than having a big gap in your mouth," she joked.

"Yeah, kinda hard to chew," I laughed. "Nene, where IS Mom, anyway?"

"Downstairs in the lobby, trying to fend off the press," Nene groaned.

"I thought she told them to leave us alone."

"She did, but they're just so curious about what she's gonna do about her tour and everything now that her daughter's a 'cripple'."

"Cripple?!" I yelled, dropping my crutches. "I'm not a cripple!!" I started to walk towards the door, but Nene stopped me.

"There's a reason you have those crutches to begin with," she reminded me.

"I don't need 'em," I said, even though I was wobbling in the effort to stay standing without them. "I'll show them who's a cripple…!!" I took a step forward with my left leg, only to lose my balance, predictably. I yelped in pain and fell forward, Nene diving to catch me in her arms.

"Yep, you'll show them, all right," she said sarcastically.

"Hey, it's getting better," I said. "It bore SOME weight, even if for just a second."

"Can't walk out there by yourself though. Just grab your crutches and let's go."

Once I said goodbye to Tilda, Nene and I headed towards the elevator. Just before she pressed the 'down' button, the elevator door opened, and there was Mom and Linna.

"Room for two more," Linna joked, stepping back so we could enter.

On the way down, Mom took out some dark-tinted sunglasses and put them on, then slapped another pair into my hand.

"What's with the sunglasses?" Linna asked, looking at the two of us. "You two look like the MIB with those on."

"They're not for blocking the sun's glare, let's put it that way," I said, putting my pair on.

Once the elevator reached the first floor, the door opened, and the four of us stepped out. I looked around, expecting to see a horde of reporters.

"I told them to stay outside," Mom said, knowing why I was looking around.

"Are we ready now?" the doctor asked.

I took a breath and nodded. The sound of my crutches clacking against the tile floor echoed throughout the lobby as we headed towards the main entrance, preparing for the onslaught of paparazzi. Why couldn't they just leave us alone? Didn't they have anything better to do? Of course not.

As the doctor held open the door for me, Mom and I stepped outside, and almost instantly, reporters starting taking pictures like crazy and yelling questions at us. Even though I had sunglasses on, the flashing of all those camera flashbulbs made my head hurt. I groaned and winced at the pain.

"Enough with the pictures," I said, putting up a hand to block the light. "You wanna see a picture?" I started to give them the bird, but the doctor put his hand over that one.

"Not the best time," he joked, holding in a laugh.

"What do you plan to do now, Yumeko?" one reporter fired.

"What about your tour?" another asked Mom.

"I think it goes without saying," Mom said, quite annoyed, "that the Replicants tour is going to be indefinitely postponed."

"How long?!" a bunch of them started asking, shoving their microphones and camcorders into her face.

"Do you mind?" she snapped. "Yume needs to get home and get some rest now. So 'scuse us for a sec." She started shoving her way through the mass of cameras and such, clearing a path for the doctor, Nene, Linna, and me. We quickly followed, many of the reporters still following us, eager to have our say.

"What are you going to do now?" one lady asked me before I climbed into Linna's car.

I smiled. "Try to walk again first."

"And what about the '56 Summer Olympics?"

I winked and said in English, "Don't count me out just yet." And with that, I got into the car and closed the door, rolling up the window.

"Good luck, Yumeko," I heard the doctor say before we pulled away and drove down the street.

I waved back, hoping that as Tokyo Memorial Hospital got farther and farther away from our sight, I would never have to see its interior again, as least as a resident.