A sort of semi-AU/crossover with Chobits and X/1999. Written for the lj comm myriadmyriad. Challenge: cyberpunk!xxxHOLiC. Minoru searches for his sister and finds the Witch of Dimensions instead.

Very minor parts of this are in binary. It's not very important as to what the binary says, but for the curious, the translations are below. It's cyberpunk, so it's supposed to be weird. No actual spoilers for any of the series.

The Tragedy of Humans: To Beast or Not to Beast

When he had been very young, Minoru thinks that he was happy. Laughter, childish echoes drifting and lingering through the hallowed halls of his memory. He sees empty rooms and smells the back of old curtains and tries not to sneeze when dust drifts into his nostrils.

"Ready or not, here I come!" he hears.

He is twelve years old and if you were impolite enough to ask him about his parents, he would tell you that he is an orphan. This is not right; he lives with his mother. She is thirty-two years old and and looks at least seven years younger; she has blonde hair, blue eyes and a slim figure that you usually see in dieting ads. In her spare time, she lies in her bed with her visor, her mouth slightly open. Drool migrates to the side of her mouth, and sometimes, Minoru will wipe her face when he remembers to, and forcefeed her meal supplements. He has been doing this since he was seven.

The only time his mother ever comes from the bed is to bathe. She luxuriates in bubbles and uses anti-ageing masques at the same time, her long hair wrapped with conditioner and a white towel. She sometimes asks Minoru about his day, how school is and he lies.

"It's fine, Mother," he sometimes says, sitting on a low stool, dizzy from the wafting scents in the bathroom. "I got straight A's this term."

"How wonderful!" she replies before reaching out with a long finger to press a button. Thin metal arms glide silently through the air, remove her towel and begin to massage her scalp. "You should tell your father."

"Maybe," he replies, eyeing the mechanical hands with disfavour.

"How is your sister? I can't seem to find her. She hasn't been picking up my calls."

He hesitates visibly, and then forces himself to smile. "She's fine."

"I'm glad," his mother murmurs, leaning back into the tub. "I'm glad. I wish you wouldn't wear so much black, you would look darling in that little blue outfit that I bought the other day."

He does not exactly know what things his mother sees in her visor, but he has his suspicions. As far as he's concerned, his mother is probably better off in a virtual world where her husband didn't think to tell her how much more nubile fifteen year olds were in the bedroom.

He gets up, and brushes his lips against her damp forehead. "I'm going to bed," he tells her, and leaves her to enjoy the rest of her bath in peace.

His room is very dark; black metal shades drawn across his windows, black bedspreads and walls. The light switch stopped working two years ago, and he never bothered to get it fixed. His monitor glows phosphorescent as he steps over, between and on sparking wires, careful to never let bare skin near the red or yellow ones.

"Welcome back," his computer says. "You have zero messages."

He sighs, pulling on a pair of soft gloves. They are heavy against his skin, small chips gleaming as he flexes his fingers and reaches for his visor.

"What would you like to do today?" his computer asks.

"Find my sister," he replies, softly, and closes his eyes.

As always, the dive into cyberspace is disorienting, a swirling matrix of numbers and code. He lands lightly on his platform, and circles around, looking for ports he had missed or the tail end wisp of an imperfectly hidden IP address and pauses.

"Computer, what is that?" he asks, pointing.

There was a pause. "I am unable to identify."

"Well then," he murmurs, and leaps.

It twists and turns, diving into ports and gates, shifting into public chatrooms and then personal computers, brushing against firewalls so that his skin feels uncomfortably warm sometimes just before it hits the strange, twisty feel that he recognizes as an updated Trojan. The unidentified thing is strange, like an ancient email message that had gotten lost so long ago in cyberspace that it had managed to become semi-sentient.

He pauses in a government file, thinks, and with a savage jerk of his wrist, brings himself back to where he started. It reappears after a moment, and he stares at it for a long time. It drifts midair in between gates before lowering itself so that he could reach it.

"What do we have here?" he murmurs and raises a hand to touch it.

It blinks for a moment at him, and then shifts. A hologram appears. It is a woman's face, her eyes set slightly too far apart and eyes as red as some of the wires on his bedroom floor. She has dark hair, and is smiling slightly. "Welcome to my shop."

"What are you?" he demands. He tries to catch a glimpse of the code that made her. She tilts her head and looks at him and he finds it disconcerting that a hologram could seem so real.

"I am the Witch of Dimensions," she tells him. "What is your wish?"

His eyes narrow in thought and he reaches out a hand to touch her finger. It brushes cool skin and he jerks back even as she gives him an amused look. "What are you?" he asks, this time, in a whisper.

"What would you pay to know?"

He hesitates. "I've never seen you before."

There is a long pause, and he can hear a faint, constant tapping sound. Then, "What is your name?"

It spills from his lips before he can stop it.

"Minoru-kun," says the Witch of Dimensions, "find me when you have your wish."

His computer screen goes blank, and it is a long moment before Minoru can remove his gloves and the visor from his head. He is shaking, shaking so hard that he thinks that he's never known what it was like to shake until now. He finally crawls across his room, tripping over wires and yelping when his legs brush against a red wire, and to his large bed with his black bedspread and lays across it, closing his eyes and trying not to sneeze as dust crawls up his nostrils.

His room is very dark as he drifts into a dreamless sleep.

-----

It is a small establishment, hidden behind a convenience store. The owner of the store has no idea how large his storage room really is, and never really cared enough to find out.

Minoru looks at the address scrawled illegibly on his hand with red ink. His computer had jarred him from his unprecedented nap by announcing that he had a new email. It had no IP address and was encoded entirely in binary that when deciphered, said BEAST.

He tests the door behind the unpacked boxes of frozen foods, frowning when he realizes it has been encrypted before punching a few numbers and turning a few screws on his wristwatch. One, two breaths, and it clicks. He pushes it open.

Wires everywhere, by the thousands. On the floor, strewn across the bar and the high wooden stools. Hanging from the ceiling are tens of monitors, all of varying sizes, hissing angry static as he leaps over sparks and tries his best not to look too hard at the thick blue cables that snake on top of the other wires.

Pushing a few wires off the nearest chair, he sits on it, his legs dangling and waits. Wires converge on him, surrounding him, and sparking as they hit an invisible barrier. He frowns when one comes devastatingly close to his nose and hits a few more buttons on his watch and they pull back a few inches.

"Welcome to Beast," a quiet voice says from behind the bar. "What can I get you?"

"I want my sister back," Minoru replies, raising his face.

"I'm sorry, we do not serve that," the bartender answers, looking bored as she presses invisible buttons, her dark gloves embedded with so many crystals that her hands look lethally sharp. "I recommend the Firewall 3.0 if you like something with a little more kick."

"01001101010000010100101101000101001000000100100001001001010011010010000001000111010011110010000001000001010101110100000101011001." (1)

"I'm sorry," she says after a moment. "There seems to be a problem processing your order."

"Sister!" cries Minoru, reaching out so that he can take her hands in his, ignoring the way the crystals and chips press painfully deep into his palms. "Don't you recognize me? I'm Minoru!"

She pushes her glasses up on her nose, examines him for a moment and pulls her hands from his. "Do you still want a drink?"

"Where have you been?" he asks, blinking so quickly that he is dizzy for a moment. "I've been looking for you for so long! Why didn't you come live with Mother and I?"

"It would have been boring," she replies, flexing her fingers. Moments later, a drink appears. "Here."

He touches the glass, shudders at its unnatural coldness and dips an experimental finger in the red liquid. It burns his skin. His tongue snakes from between his lips to taste it, but a cool, familiar voice says, "I wouldn't if I were you."

His hand jerks, a motion so sudden that liquid flicks from his finger and falls onto the bar. The wood hisses and melts on contact. He looks at it for a long moment before wiping his hands on his black trousers.

"Who are you?" His sister's voice is now sharp, not bored and dull. "How did you get here?"

"I was looking for the local bar," the woman answered, her tone pleasant. "I got directed here. Interesting place. What kind of drinks do you have?"

Minoru twists his torso to look at the newcomer. Her face is familiar, too much so. She is wearing a dress of what looks like black lace, but at the fringes, he can see small little beads that look suspiciously like computer chips. When she moves closer, ignoring the wires that are frantically scrambling out of her way, he can see a mainframe of information spreading across her breasts, stomach and pooling down towards her legs. "Hello, Minoru-kun," she says, smiling faintly.

"How are you?" he returns, politely.

"0101001101001000010001010010000001001001010100110101010101010000001000000101010001001111001000000100111001001111001000000100011101001111010011110100010000101100001000000100110101000001010010110100010100100000010010000100010101010010001000000100110001000101010000010101011001000101." (2)

"I'm not up to no good!" the woman wails, looking at one of the monitors behind the bar. "It's that stupid Clow's fault. He gets into trouble and who cleans up after him? ME! Now no one trusts me." She pauses and looks at the screen again. "What kinds of drinks do you have?"

"011010000110000101100011011010110110010101110010000011010000101001101101011011110111010001101000011001010111001001100010011011110110000101110010011001000000110100001010011001110110100101100111011000010110100001100101011100100111010001111010001000000110000101101110011001000010000001110010011000010110110100001101000010100110101101101001011011000110111101100010011110010111010001100101000011010000101001100110011010010111001001100101011101110110000101101100011011000000110100001010011011010110100101100011011100100110111101100011011010000110100101110000." (3)

"I'll have a Microchip on the rocks. I also really like those little umbrellas if you have them."

Minoru places his elbows on the bar and leans forward, his chin cupped in his hands as he watches his sister move, her fingers gliding gracefully across air, sometimes pausing and sometimes making a sort of clipped statement to the monitors.

"Here you go, a Microchip on the rocks with a little umbrella," she says, pushing an electric blue drink towards her customer.

"Interesting colour," the Witch of Dimensions replies, stirring it. She does not drink.

"Sister," says Minoru. She does not answer, and he tries his best not to cry. "Sister," he tries again and it is not until he calls her "Satsuki" that she looks away from whatever she has been doing.

"How did you know my name?"

"Sister, don't you remember me?" he asks, lifting his wrist in the air so she can see his watch. "You gave this to me when I was six. It was yours, just before you left with Father. We used to play hide and seek in the old house. You caught me behind the old curtains in the second dining room. We had so much fun together."

"Ah, yes. Minoru." Satsuki actually looks mildly interested now. "Then Father told Mother that he had impregnated a fifteen year old and wanted to marry her."

"Leave him. Come live with me."

She looks at him. "Why would I want to? It's so boring."

"It won't be!"

"He's dead anyway. Much better alone."

"Did you kill him?" he asks, eager.

"Yes. He was annoying me. So was that little idiot."

"Good." He looks at her again, sees that her attention is slipping and makes a desperate gamble. "I love you, Sister."

"What is love?" Satsuki fingers have stopped their cybernetic dance, taut and sparkling. "Love has no meaning, no purpose. It does not make the cyberspace run. It does not mix drinks, and it does not power Beast. Love is boring."

"Sister," he whispers and reaches a hand out to her, half-rising in his stool. His fingers brush the sides of her glasses and she cringes.

"Don't. I've tolerated it once, but no more." She glances at the woman next to the boy she had once called her brother and asks, "Are you enjoying your drink?"

"Yes," she replies, swirling her glass. Blue sloshes over the rim and onto the table.

"I'm glad." Pushing her glasses up on the bridge of her nose, Satsuki suddenly looks very young. "If you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to."

She disappears through a door that Minoru did not know was there. He watches her and wipes his face with the black handkerchief the Witch hands him. Wires converge on him, hissing as they hit his invisible firewall before pulling back.

"I want her back," he whispers and glares at the monitors. "Give me back my sister."

"01010011010010000100010100100111010100110010000001001101010010010100111001000101." (4)

"I DON'T CARE! SHE WAS MINE FIRST!" he screams, picking up his glass and flinging it at the main monitor. Red liquid splashes, wires melt. "Satsuki is my sister! I LOVE HER! You're just a COMPUTER! A MACHINE! YOU COULD NEVER UNDERSTAND OR KNOW HER THE WAY I DO!"

"01001000010000010100100001000001." (5)

He screams. It's a wordless scream, and suddenly he stops, his shoulders slack and eyes now so dry that they hurt. "I know my wish now."

"What is it, Minoru-kun?"

"I want my sister back. Make her the way she was before."

"Before?"

"Before my parents divorced. Before Father cheated on Mother. Before she was taken away from me." He snarls the last part, and then collapses, his shoulders heaving and chest feeling so tight that he thinks that he's having what ancient doctors would call a 'heart attack.'

Perfume and smoke surround him, a little like the kind in his mother's bathroom, but different; heavier almost, pressing against his shoulders and heart. "What will you pay?"

"Anything. Everything."

Static hisses and Minoru suddenly finds himself surrounded by angry wires and open cables, slithering and creeping around him like a mass of tentacles. For the first time in a long time, he actually feels afraid. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply.

"Very well. Come find me and we can discuss your payment."

There is a sudden pop and then silence. The tightness in his chest loosens. When he opens his eyes, he sees that the screens are blank and wires limp. The woman is gone.

He slides off his seat, hops over the wires and slips the handkerchief in his pocket.

-----

Three weeks.

He slips his visor off with a frustrated sigh and looks at the crumpled handkerchief in his hand.

He can not find her. The copy of the hologram had disappeared along with the email she had sent. He had no proof that she even existed, beyond a wrinkled bit of silk.

He had gone back to see his sister several times. She gave him the same drink, pretended not to know him, and on his third visit, the door at the back of the convenience store stopped opening.

For the last three nights, he had been waiting, cyberspace now not just his second home, but his only home. Had he the objectivity of age, he would have realized how much he was beginning to resemble his mother; but he is a twelve year old boy living inside a cyberworld, waiting for an email from an address that did not exist.

He waits and thinks of Satsuki. He thinks of hide and seek, and of the books they read as children. He remembers sunlight in their old house, their mother's cooking, and discovering the old computer in the basement covered by dust so thick that it was like a soft, dusty quilt. He chooses not to recall the way the lightbulbs would smell when they burnt themselves out, excited by the close proximity of his sister, and just as carefully, he chooses not to think of how their reactions used to mirror his own. He loved Satsuki, still did, and wanted her back.

"Father," he says aloud, "you have much to answer for."

He sits and waits. Sometimes, he becomes bored, and lets himself drift into a half-doze, the kind that only the very secure and very talented can achieve in cyberspace. There is a hum in the air, and suddenly he jolts himself awake as he watches lights, millions of them, coming from gates all over to form into a giant ball of light.

"Hello, Son. It's been a while."

"Father."

"Your sister did this to me."

"You deserve it."

Laughter, bitter and familiar. "Still following your sister's lead after all these years. She trapped me here when she was fourteen. Just two years older than you are now."

"You were wrong to treat Mother the way you did. Give me back our family. Give me back my sister."

The ball of light swirls around for a moment. "Very well. Follow me."

They turn in a direction that Minoru isn't quite sure he knows, and down a port into another gate, twisting past petabytes of data until they reach a small, silent place where static IPs could only wish to exist. He sees an unidentified thing that looks very familiar and reaches.

"What took you so long?"

"Sorry," he apologizes. "What do you need?"

Her lips tighten and then she goes, "Oh, it'll be much easier this way."

He falls, cyberspace melting away in rainbow coloured bits of data. A ball of light follows him, spins around his head and then disappears just as he falls onto a hard ground.

"Ow."

"Sorry about that," a cheerful voice says. "Didn't get the cushions there on time."

He removes his visor and looks around him. It is a strange room, full of pillows and wood. Strange scents and smoke dance in lazy curlicues around the Witch. "Where am I?"

"Where do you think?" she asks, amused. She is reclining on tens of pillows, looking very comfortable as she smokes from her long, ornate pipe.

"I--" he pauses. "I don't know. I don't even know your name."

She inclines her head. "You may call me Yuuko."

"How did I get here?"

She shrugs. "The usual way. It's not difficult." She flips her pipe, taps something into a dish and then rights it again. "I'm thirsty." As if on cue, a pair of girls appear, each holding a tray. One of them gives Minoru a cup of steaming tea, whereas the other twists the lid of the beer bottle and hands it to her mistress.

"Now," Yuuko looks at Minoru once she's finished a good portion of her drink, "what are you willing to pay me with?"

"Will you really bring my sister back? Make her the way she was?"

Yuuko hesitates. "You wouldn't have enough to do that. Not enough to turn back time." She speaks the way a mother would to a child.

"Then what use are you?"

"Gently, gently," she taps her pipe into the dish once again. "People cannot be forced into change. Only nudged into it. I can give her that nudge. The rest..." she shrugs.

"But she won't be the same."

Her eyes are amused. "What makes you think people are static? You are not the same person you were the minute, or even the second before. If you do not change, you will stagnate; people can grow stale. You," she flicks a finger at him, and he flinches, "are like an apple that has been left on the tree too long. Soon, you'll fall. You might even break."

"I want her back."

She sighs. "Very well." Reaching into her sleeve, she takes out an old, grey floppy diskette. "Be a dear and help me reformat my computer, would you? It's been awfully laggy and slow."

"And you'll bring Sister back to me?"

"I'll nudge her," Yuuko replies calmly.

He thinks about this for a moment. "Good enough," he says and takes the diskette.

The computer is an old model, so old that he thinks that it was made before he was born. It still uses the old peripherals; a mouse, keyboard, a bulky monitor. It hurts his eyes when he stares at it for too long, but he eventually gets used to it.

He types and watches the screen, makes minute adjustments, and soon he is so caught up in his work that he does not realize he has been leaning closer to the monitor, so close that his nose brushes the cold screen and he falls into it.

Slim fingers brush the monitor's glass before pulling away.

-----

He is holding onto something, he realizes as he flies through firewalls and viruses, avoids spyware and skips on top of the adware. It feels warm and squishy against his skin, sort of like one of those really old hot water bottles that he remembers his grandmother using. He thinks that it might have been inside the floppy Yuuko gave him.

His body hurtles towards some unknown destination, and he wills himself to go faster.

"Bring me to sister," he says, and everything blurs around him.

Finally he slows and stops. There is a massive door in front of him, so large that he seems no more than a kilobyte to it. Across the top, it says, "0100001001000101010000010101001101010100" (6) and he smiles before lifting the object in his hands.

It shifts and molds and becomes very bright before settling onto something that looks like the shape of a key. He slides it into a hole in the door that wasn't there before, twists it and goes in.

The world inside the door begins to shake and rumble. He ignores it, grasping the key with firm fingers. Codes and viruses fly towards him, and he flies above, under or even through them sometimes. He moves and moves until there is a black wall and he waves a hand at it. It comes to life.

He sees the bar now, and the back of his sister's head and he smiles. "Sister," he whispers before taking the key from his pocket and releasing it.

It stops being a key very quickly and soon begins to expand. The world is now not shaking, but screaming, moving this way and that. Minoru closes his eyes and clings to nothing.

The screaming and tilting finally stops, and when Minoru opens his eyes, he finds that the world is not very dark, but bright, full of strange codes and prompts and that there is an omnipresent sound of static. "Sister?" he calls, and she looks at him.

"Where is Beast?" she asks, and her voice is high. "Where is it? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

"Sister," he whispers, and wires snakes from the ground to wrap around her leg, "we can be together now."

She screams. "I CAN'T FEEL BEAST! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

"It's gone. I got rid of him. I'm here. I'll be your Beast now."

"I DON'T WANT YOU, I WANT BEAST!"

"Sister!" Minoru says, reproachful. Wires begin to rise and spark like tentacles. "Calm down. I'm better than Beast. I'm Minoru. Everything will be better now. We're together."

Satsuki breathes in very deeply, and then her fingers begin moving in the air, so quickly that they are like a blur. The chips on her gloves glint as she says, "Backup Beast, activate."

The thing that had been the key begins to glow even brighter now, so bright that it looks like it is getting bigger. It is not until it begins to push at Minoru that he realizes that it is growing bigger. He trembles.

"Sister," he says. "What are you doing?"

"Reformat," she says, moving one hand and sliding it across an invisible motherboard. "Activate data transfer. Last backup, at zero six hundred."

He's beginning to deteriorate and erode into little small bytes of useless data. He can feel it, the little chips of his body being peeled away by the light. "Sister!" he screams. "Don't do this to me! You can't!"

Satsuki's hand comes up and she presses a spot just under her glasses on her temple. "Delete.".

"01000100010001010100110001000101010101000100100101001111010011100010000001001001010011100010000001010000010100100100111101000011010001010101001101010011," (7) he replies.

His sister's neck feels soft and pliable, and he directs the wires to press harder. She chokes and says something that he cannot hear.

"I will miss you, Sister," he says. "01001001001000000110110001101111011101100110010100100000011110010110111101110101." (8)

Her nails grapple for her glasses; her face is turning as blue as a Microchip and Minoru lets out a sound that could have been a sob or a laugh before sending the last of his consciousness through the wires.

Satsuki screams.

It is silent and very dark in the bar now. The monitors are blank, the lights have gone out, and the omnipresent buzz has disappeared.

A door opens. Black lace and silk pool on the ground, brushing against steaming lines of blue, red, yellow, black, white. A rustle of fabric and a pale hand brushing past wires to touch Satsuki's cheek.

"Do you know what else can happen to an apple that stays on the tree too long?"

Yuuko plucks the glasses from Satsuki's calm face. A wire rises, lifting inches off the ground and deflates just as suddenly. She ignores it and peels a small, green thing from Satsuki's temple.

"It rots. And like everything else, it dies," she says to the chip. It makes a sound so small that only she can hear it. "0100111001110101011001000110011101100101001000000110001101101111011011010111000001101100011001010111010001100101" (9)

She smiles. "Yes, I know. Hush, Minoru-kun," she says, and pockets it.

end
January 2006

-----

Binary encoder can be found at Translations below.

(1) Make him go away
(2) She is up to no good, make her leave
(3) hacker
motherboard
gigahertz and ram
kilobyte
firewall
microchip
(4) SHE'S MINE!
(5) HAHA
(6) BEAST
(7) deletion in progress
(8) I love you
(9) Nudge complete

-----

The idea for this spawned primarily off the idea that Minoru (Chobits/Angelic Layer) was most likely related to Satsuki (X/1999) in a Tsubasa/xxxHOLiC 'verse. They're also the two prime candidates for a cyberpunk AU, so voila

The idea for "antique tech" came primarily from dijeron.

Comments and criticism, please?