A Child of Light and Fire

A Child of Light and Fire
A Tale from the world of Akira
By Ben Roberts

Life is a flickering, unsteady flame, without pattern or meaning.  Life is a random, often cruel series of trials, which generally makes little or no sense.

That is The Lesson, which I learned at an early age.  I am not sure of how old I actually was; the drugs blurred the years into an indistinguishable morass of images and feelings.

Because of the experiments, I was denied any sort of true childhood.  Indeed, I was denied my rightful human existence—it was traded for a shadow-mockery of immortality.  By the time I had reached my fifth year, it was a stretch to call me "human."

My name is Yusuke Hono'oguchi.  The first character of my written name means "courage," if you can believe that.  Was anything ever less fitting?

I can barely separate the drug-dreams from reality, but of this I am certain: I was born in 1981 in the southern district of Fujiyoshida, a small city at the base of majestic Fujiyama itself.  I suppose my family was poor; my earliest memories are of hunger and a ceiling of cracked plaster.  Of course, those aren't even proper memories—they're more a collection of disconnected image fragments.

But I digress.

When I was four years old, something happened to my family.  I don't remember the event, but the result was that more than one of them died, and I was sent to an orphanage.

It was at the orphanage that They found me.

I have vague recollections of a man with a dark suit and broad shoulders, who gently escorted me into a long, sleek car—dark like his suit jacket.  The cushions inside were red and very soft.  They looked so expensive that I was afraid to make myself too comfortable.  After a ride that seemed interminable to my four-year-old mind, I was let out of the car, and led into a large, square building.

Inside, I was greeted by Doctor, who would be in charge of me while I stayed.  This, he explained, was my new home.  I should just think of it as just a big house, he said.

I learned later that it was the Research Center for the Advancement of Human Evolution, but to me, it will always be the Terrible Place.  Before Doctor showed me to my new room, I had a number tattooed on my wrist: 11.

Even, then, I was a coward.  I cried when I saw the needle; it was sharp and frightening, and only the first of many to come.  After that, the adults only called me "number 11," instead of Yusuke.  

Most of my memories of that place are comprised of a seeming eternity of, swallowing pills, and taking tests.  When I wasn't doing either of those, I was either being given shots or hooked to machines.

One memory in particular is quite vivid; I had taken two blue pills and one pink one ("To sharpen your mind," Doctor said) and lay down on my bed to sleep.  When I awoke, I had been moved to a different room.  The ceiling was made of something reflective, and polished so well that it was a huge mirror.

In it, I saw myself, spread-eagle upon the operating table.  Hundreds—maybe thousands—of wires protruded from my body, twisted around numerous intravenous tubes like metallic, multicolored vines hugging a rubber tree trunk.  My head had been shaved, and a crown of pins and electrodes surrounded my cranium.

At first, I didn't realize that it was my reflection; I thought—hoped—that I had finally died, and now observed my body.  But when my reflection's eyes blinked, I knew that I was still horribly alive.

The next day—or it might have been the next week—I awoke in my own bed again.  My head throbbed, casting flashes of pale scarlet across my eyes and through my body.  I remember that when I tried to stand, I thought I felt something crawling inside my skull.

Doctor entered the room shortly after I awoke, and brought several strange men and women with him.  He held a string in front of me and told me some things that made me really mad—although I can no longer recall what they were.  The string started to burn, and all the strangers "oohed" and "aahed," while Doctor bowed like a magician.  Then they all left me with my throbbing head.

Of course, there are gaps in my memory.  I sometimes feel as if I have cobwebs for a mind; only frail threads of memory remain, connected haphazardly at random points with giant holes in between.  I can't remember much of my time at the Terrible Place.

I recall that there were many other children, each also tattooed with a number on his or her wrist.  We were all allowed to play with one another each day, though I usually sat by myself.  Sometimes, we took tests together, too.

I also remember Akira.

He was the only one who came to visit me—besides Doctor—when the shots made me sick, or the experiments made me too weak to move.  None of the newer children would play with me; I was somehow different from them.  Too dangerous, Doctor said.  But Akira didn't care.

I don't know how old he was; in that place it was impossible to tell.  We were given drugs that kept our bodies from growing larger, so he might have been ten or fifteen, or maybe even twenty years old, even though he looked six.

When all was said and done, I didn't care how old he was.  He came to visit me, and that was enough.  He made me laugh with funny stories, and once, he brought me ice cream.

Akira was the one who taught me to control the flame.

When I got mad, things would inexplicably catch on fire.  I learned later that the researchers at the Center "awoke" the power within me, but at the time, all I knew was that it was terrifying.

But Akira helped me to not be afraid, and kept me from crying.  He told me that I had to find peace with myself, or the power would be too strong.  Anger and jealousy gave power to the Fire demon in my head, so I had to be especially wary of those feelings, he said.  He said that if I didn't control the Fire, it would control me.

I tried not to be scared at that, but Akira said that it was okay to be scared, as long as I understood that I couldn't be weak.  He was always nice to me.

Akira soon became my only friend.  I don't understand why he liked me; I guess he just made friends easily.  All of the others admired him because he was one of the first children.  Even Doctor called him "Akira" instead of "Number 3."

On July 16, 1988, I completed my descent into the waking nightmare that has since become my life.  The memory of that day is still painfully lucid in my patchwork mind, etched into my heart with shards of anger and betrayal.

I'll probably never know the truth of what happened to Akira, but what I recall is this.  Doctor had told me that day that if I could light all seven candles on my bedside table, then I could go outside to play with Akira and the others.  For hours after breakfast, and possibly well into the afternoon, I tried to guide the beast of Fire that writhed in my head.

I concentrated on what Akira had taught me: guide the fire, don't try to force it.  Just as I had almost got the trick of it, one of Doctor's assistants burst into my room and grabbed me, face limned in shades of panic and fear.

He rushed me outside, babbling that Akira had done something—something terrible.  The ground trembled, and leaped once, like an angry beast.  The assistant's grip tightened painfully on my arm.

I was hurried into a helicopter with a few of the other children.  Kiyoko, Masaru and Takashi—numbers 26, 27 and 28 respectively—all sat across from me, looking terrified.  Number 19—I never learned her name—wrung her hands and glared out the window.  The rest were children I recognized, but I didn't even know their numbers.

"Where's Akira?" I asked.

Outside, a painfully bright light erupted from the center of the complex, spreading slowly outwards in a luminous, all-consuming dome of blazing power.  As our helicopter took off, I could see that the dome was accelerating in growth as it spread.  The clouds shrank back from it, as if some giant, invisible hand peeled them away.

"Where's Akira?" I demanded again.  Try as I might, I couldn't tear my sight away from the spectacle below.  As the destructive illumination grew closer to our fleeing aircraft, I was filled with a great, immersive feeling that still eludes description to this day.  My best explanation of it is that I suddenly felt a limitless sense of potential, as if I were breathing the cosmic power of creation.  I felt a swell of omnipotent Possibility build within me, coupled with a crushing sense of irreplaceable Loss.

At that moment, I knew.  Akira was gone; my only friend had abandoned me for that perfect, divine, terrible light, and I was alone with my own wretched, lonely existence and a helicopter full of other psionic children who hated and feared me as much as I hated and feared myself.

In that moment, the dam burst.

Jealously, rage and anger . . . the dark emotions that Akira had told me to bury, all flooded to the top.  I find it hard to choose a single word that does justice to the blaze of hatred, betrayal and bitterness that consumed my heart and soul like a ravenous beast of prey.

I remember screaming that it wasn't fair, that Akira had no right to leave us like this.  My hands clenched into fists, and before I knew what was happening, the Fire came, all at once.

The child to my left died almost instantly.  In my mind's eye, I can still see him vaporizing in a gout of fire that boiled from my hands and curled from my arms, infernal serpents of pain and vengeance.

All rational thought was purged from my brain by the flames.  The only thing I could feel was the need to strike out, for anything that flickered to the surface of my boiling consciousness.

I struck for the death of my family, and the pilot cried out as the dashboard exploded.  I struck for the pain of having my name replaced with a number, and Kiyoko flinched behind a shield of psionic energy, protected from my rage.  I struck for the terrible things done to me, and Takashi screamed as the smoke threatened to choke him.  I struck for the fear of the other children who ostracized me when I most needed companionship, and Masaru's jaw tightened grimly.

I struck and struck and struck, until the hell flowed through my body and blazed across the walls, melting steel to the texture of hot wax.

As the helicopter plummeted, I heard horrible, shrieking laughter, and realized that it was my own voice, possessed by the spirit of the Flame, glutting itself on destruction, devouring all in its path.

I had never been attacked before.  Perhaps that is why I was so easily defeated back then; it never occurred to me, even in my madness, that somebody would try to hurt me.  And so, when I felt spectral hands closing around my throat and choking me, I was too surprised to fend off Takashi's attack.  When Masaru's powerful blast of wind seemed to warp the very air around me and turn my fire back into myself, I did nothing but scream in helpless anger.

I fell then, through the blasted remains of what had been the helicopter's wall.  How the helicopter managed to limp the rest of the way to wherever it was headed, I'll never know.  Perhaps Masaru persuaded the wind to carry it there.  I do know for a certainty, however, that Takashi, Masaru and Kiyoko still live, even to this day.

For days I lay on the broken street below, both appalled and terrified of myself.  I had killed.  The guttering flame of life had been so easy to extinguish in the other children, and indeed, had almost gone out in me.

I lay still, letting the wind and rain have their way with me.  I wished to die, to un-become the monster that was now me.  In the chaos that reigned throughout Tokyo—or what was left of it after Akira's disappearance—nobody tried to help me as I lay, waiting to rot.  The very few who passed by never gave me a second glance; they likely counted me as among the many who had died in Akira's metamorphosis.

After the first day, I was assaulted by wracking pain.  I had never gone a day without controlling drugs since I had been changed at the Terrible Place, and now my young, frail body screamed for them.  Unable to control my power, I lay helplessly, weeping and wailing and blazing fire from my eyes and fingertips until I was nearly blind and I could feel my hands covered with sticky hot blood.

It may have been a week before I finally rose, driven by nothing more than bare animal instinct and a hunger that gnawed at my insides worse than the Flame demon in my head.

Primeval urges for survival were all that sustained me as I half-limped, half-crawled across the broken concrete and rubble left by rioters.  More animal than human, I was dimly aware of baring my teeth when a threatening noise made me jump.

I don't know what drugs I was given at the Terrible Place in order to keep the Fire under control.  However, I learned after experimentation that if I swallowed a certain combination of pills—looted from a ruined drugstore—every two days, that I could control the power, rather than the other way around.  I had no way of knowing, back then, that I was developing a dependency.

The Fire was as dangerous an addiction; I soon found that, even using the drugs as a crutch, I felt a terrible, insatiable drive to use my power nearly every day.  Coward that I was—am—I gave in to the urge.

I was attacked twice by drifting homeless souls almost as feral as I, attracted by the meager, pitiful scraps of food I had managed to procure for myself.

When the first leaped at me from the shadows, I am not sure what happened.  I screamed, and felt the Fire take hold of me, crawling along my spine and flowing lambent down my arms.

The spirit of the Fire seemed to take root in my scream, making it echo across the buildings, increasing in volume with each repetition instead of fading.  The glass bottle of liquor that the derelict held exploded, and he fled, whimpering and pressing hands to his bleeding ears.

The second came upon me four days later, while I was eating a feral dog I had killed.  I must have looked like easy prey: a ragged, filthy child with tear streaks tracking my grimy face.  In the seconds before my attacker died, I saw myself as he saw me, reflected in his eyes: a shaggy, diminutive demon, fire blazing across my body like a bright, infernal mane of light.

I wept for hours after I killed him.

For several months, I lived like that—roaming the ruins of Tokyo, behaving like an animal, swallowing my pills, using my talent, solidifying my slavery to all three habits.  At times, I would merely sit and stare as I wove fire into sundry shapes, hypnotized by my own cursed ability.

In the outside world, the third World War raged, changing the face of the planet and leaving a scar on the heart of society, but I was oblivious.  Though no longer possessed of the madness that had gripped me on the day of Akira's disappearance, I kept to myself, and rarely looked beyond my own immediate troubles.

Eventually, when the people partially regained their sanity and the crews came to Tokyo to begin the process of rebuilding, I left.  Nobody asked questions of a derelict child who kept to himself, so I was left alone by the influx of people, most of whom tried to forget that this city had been the epicenter of the world's greatest disaster.

I ran.  Of course, I ran, like a coward.  I was terrified that the people from the Terrible Place would come find me and put me back in their machines, give me shots with sharp, frightening needles, and keep my wits dull with drugs.  It was not until I was faced with society once again that I realized how terrified I was of being caught and returned to the Center.

I made my way out into the surrounding countryside, barren as it now was, and lived as I could.  Once in a while, I would find a town and steal from its pharmacy.  The rest of the time, I avoided all human contact, and stayed isolated with my fire demon, my addictions, and my guilt.

All the while, Life's flickering, random flame continued to burn.  As usually, it made no sense to me, and repeated its cruelties time and time again.

Little by little, I reclaimed bits of my humanity.  I made an effort to speak each day—human words, rather than the grunts and growls that I had become accustomed to.  I washed when I could.  Once, I even managed to cut my matted, tangled mane of filthy hair.

Mostly, I tried to understand my life.  It doesn't make much sense to me now, and it made much less sense when I was seven years old and uneducated.  I contemplated what Akira had told me about being at peace with oneself, and tried to reconcile that was his actions.

Why had Akira left us all, we who depended on him?  He had so many friends who looked up to him for inspiration or for support.  Why had he abandoned us—me?  Akira had told me to be strong, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that he himself had been weak, given in to the urge to use his power without restraint at the last.

Of course, when I caught myself thinking such things, I was ashamed.  Who was I, the greatest coward of all, and weakest amongst any that had been at the Center, to judge Akira, who had been my only friend?

For two further cycles of the seasons, I continued with my meditation in hopes of freeing my soul, and the contradictory enslavement to the drugs that kept me sane and the Fire that ruled my being.

During that time, I realized that I had begun to age again.  Slowly—much slower than I should have been—but I was aging nonetheless, which was a heartening sign to me that the Terrible Place had lost some of its grip on me.

In the middle of the third winter since I had fled Tokyo, I met Jiisan.  I had wrapped myself against the snow and cold in the furs of animals I had killed for food, and was sleeping in a grove of stunted trees a few kilometers outside of a village when I heard the sound.

Voices.

Two young men—no older than twenty—dragged an old man through the snow.  They said lots of things that I didn't understand, and used words that I had never heard before.  Warlock.  Mutant.  Freak.  

However, if the strange words confused me, I understood perfectly when they hit him.  The sight of it made me flinch, as two healthy, young men punched him in the stomach, and then kicked him when he fell to his knees.

Inside of me, something dangerous awoke, and danced with the Fire demon in my soul.  It was wrong to attack somebody who could not defend himself.  When the old man's assailants hit him, I felt in myself the helplessness of being strapped to a table and given countless shots.  When the old man begged them to stop, I heard my own weeping as I lay awake at night in the Terrible Place.  

A familiar dark feeling spread over me, and I knew that I was about to kill again.  A wordless howl of fury rose in my throat.  I forced words into the yell, though it felt like trying hammer round pegs into square holes; I had been feral too long.

"Leave him alone!" I screamed.  Again, I heard the eerie echo that told me the Fire spirit had embodied itself within the sound.  The two men staggered backwards, holding their ears.

Flame blazed out of my hands, my eyes, my mouth.  I wove it into shapes that I imagined to be avenging angels and flesh-rending oni.  I channeled all my pent-up frustration and rage against the two fleeing men.

In my head, a small voice cried that I had done enough; it was equally as cowardly to further pursue the men now that they ran as it had been for them to hurt the old man.

But I have ever been a coward.

When the two men were dead, I walked to the old man.  I was not sure what to do now—I had just spent years avoiding human contact, and now I had saved an old man from death, or so I believed.

He stirred and looked at me with sad eyes.  I expected him to run, to shout, to be terrified of me, demon that I was.  Instead, a tear coursed down his cheek, and he whispered.

"You poor boy."

It was then that I noticed he was looking at the tattoo on my wrist.  It seemed nearly an instinct to cover it, although it had been years since another human being had looked upon me, and much less one that would care whether my wrists were disfigured or not.

"Poor boy," he said again, and reached for me, as if to embrace me.  "What have they done to you?"  The question took me off guard.  My accumulated fatigue at having called so much fire to my command chose that moment to flood upon me, all in an instant.

When I awoke, I was in a small building; it was little more than a hut.  Still, it was warm, and it smelled of nature and herbs, which soothed my feral instincts.  In a corner, the old man sat on rough floorboards and read a book.

Later, I learned that it was an old house that the old man had stumbled upon by chance, out in the woods.  He supposed that it had been abandoned during the World War, and saw no reason not to take shelter in it for the time being.

He never told me his name, but he let me call him "Jiisan," even though he wasn't my real grandfather.  The years I spent with him were the best of my life.  He never reviled me for my cursed talent, never shrank away when nightmares seized me and made me shake with the urge to channel Fire.

It was Jiisan who taught me how to write.  For hours I would sit beside him in heavy, contemplative silence while I traced the curving, graceful shapes of the hiragana script, and the starker, blockier katakana.  Jiisan even taught me grade-school kanji—the symbols used by adults and the Chinese when they write.

I learned history, and such current events as Jiisan was aware of.  On clear nights, Jiisan would take me outside and show me the stars in the sky, naming each one, and pointing out the shapes that they made when linked together—"constellations," he called them.

He never asked where I had been kept, or what specifically had been done to me.  When I offered to explain, he would merely smile and say that it was enough for him to know that I was a troubled boy with a need to overcome an unpleasant past.  That was usually followed by a rice ball placed in my hand.

Though Jiisan didn't speak much, I discovered through shreds of conversation over the years that he had been held prisoner when he was a young man, and subjected to many tests, as I had been.  Although he had never developed any talent, the people of his village had long memories; after the disaster in Tokyo and the World War that resulted, anybody suspected of possessing special powers had been driven out of the area.

A few times, people came to visit Jiisan out in our remote house in the woods.  None of them were from the village from which he had been driven, but they remained wary, just the same.  Perhaps it was I who frightened them; I remember one young lady staring at me as if I were an oni from a story book, before turning away and whispering something to her hiking companion.

One couple spoke excitedly of the rebirth of Tokyo: Neo Tokyo, they called it.  I felt my stomach twist into knots as they described the city of my former captivity. When Jiisan noticed my discomfort, he smoothly turned the conversation to other topics.

It was small but meaningful kindnesses like that which had such an effect on me.  In my whole life, nobody had ever gone out of their way to treat me kindly, and yet this old man did it effortlessly.

Ultimately, Jiisan was responsible for restoring some semblance of humanity to my soul.  By treating me as both a foster son and as a comrade amongst the abused, he won my trust and love.  One moonlit night, I came to a revelation: Jiisan had, through gentle support and quiet encouragement, made me believe in some strength of character in myself.  Akira, though me only friend at the time, had told me to be strong, but never helped me to do so.  Though he made me smile and cheered me up, Akira had ever been my crutch.  By that comparison, Jiisan was merely a guide, who taught me to rely on my own strength—meager though it was—without being afraid to ask for help, should I need it.

Once, I spoke to Jiisan of Akira.

I told him of Akira's commands to be strong, and his advice to be at peace with myself.  At that, Jiisan remained quiet for quite some time, before calmly remarking that Akira had seemed a boy far ahead of his years in wisdom.  That was the end of the conversation.

I still miss him.

He died on a pleasant summer morning when I was 14 years of age.  I felt the unsteady, flickering flame of life wink out in him as he lay at my knees and smiled.  That whole morning, I sat and wept silently—not for Jiisan, but for myself.  The Lesson had been proved once again; if Life made sense, my Jiisan would have lived, and I, the tainted, cowardly one, would have died as deserved.

But Life is a flickering flame: chaotic, passionless.

I sent Jiisan to the heavens with fire.  I felt it only fitting that my cursed talent, which had brought so much pain and suffering to myself and others, should serve at least one noble purpose. I could think of none nobler than sending the closest thing I had to a father to his eternal rest with some semblance of dignity.

For a few months after Jiisan's cremation, I stayed in the house we had shared.  I continued to take my drugs and burn shapes in the air in my loneliness.

Eventually, the memories of what had been tormented me with the comparison of my now-lonely existence, and I left.  I dreamed often of burning down the house, but I honestly can't say for sure now whether I actually did so or not.

I began to slip back into my nomadic lifestyle again, but fought it.  I found myself drifting northeast in my travels.  After a few weeks of walking aimlessly through small, suspicious villages or blasted skeleton towns, I realized that Fate's strings drew me inexorably towards Neo Tokyo.

As I drew closer, the Fire demon in my head grew more persistent.  The drugs were no longer enough to quell the nightmares, or to satisfy my terrible craving for channeling the Fire.  By the time I could see the city skyline, I was compelled to indulge in my terrible gift within a handful of minutes since the previous time.

Every time I did so, the Fire demon grew stronger, and I felt the humanity I had labored to regain with Jiisan threaten to vanish—a psychological mirage, henceforth forever out of reach.  Despair welled within me, and I wondered why Fate hated me so.

Tokyo had changed more than just its name.

In the time during which I had been gone, it had not only re-christened itself "Neo Tokyo," but it had undergone a startling metamorphosis.  A veritable jungle of colossal towers and space-scrapers crowded together, each vying for supremacy amongst its steel and concrete brothers.  The lights at night had always been impressive, but now, the radiance that blazed from the random conglomeration of houses, cars, helicopters, and billboards was nearly a second, multihued sun.

 When I reached the outskirts, I made a resolution to myself: no matter what happened, I would not use the Fire.  I half feared that I had been drawn here somehow by the Center once again, and I refused to dance like a puppet on strings for their entertainment.

At that thought, I remembered Doctor on the day that I had first channeled the Flame, bowing like a ringmaster, proud that he had made his pet psion perform.  Well, if I was under another test, then I would refuse to use the Fire, even should it cost me my life!

In contrast to my departure form the city years ago, it now seemed that everybody I passed watched me, waiting for my newfound resolve to snap.  I gritted my teeth at their stares and continued forward.  It did not occur to me until the exertion of holding back the urges made me stop and sink to my knees that everybody was probably staring at what they thought was an unaccompanied 9-year-old boy.

Sweat popped out in clammy beads on my forehead as the Fire demon pressed against the back of my eyes and demanded release.  I shook my head and growled at it.

For several hours, I continued to move forward, towards the center of the city.  A sense of urgency lashed me on, though fatigue slowed my progress.  The very air pressed down on my shoulders with heavy, pregnant expectation.

Something important was about to happen, and if I didn't hurry, I would miss it.  I found myself leaping ahead towards—what?  The idea that I was being manipulated again, whether by the Fire demon, or by Doctor and his team of sycophants, drove me back in my steps to an immediate halt.

Release me! screamed the Fire demon in my head, and my temples pounded with a terrible aching.  Needles of pain lanced through my eye sockets, sending electric threads of agony spreading throughout the rest of my shaking body.  My hands twitched with the instinctive need to release Flame.

I doubled over, heedless of where I fell.  A part of me, disconnected, watched as I rolled and twitched on the ground, driven to animal whining and the vague mouthing of silent words.  I was disgusted with my weakness, and prayed, even as I longed to give in to the Fire, that I would at least die without succumbing this last time to my addictions.

That was when I heard the voice.

It does not surprise me that the sound of a child in distress cut through my pain and forced me to my feet.  Before I even knew the particulars of the child's plight, I already sympathized with him, if for no other reason than I had once sounded as this young wailing boy now did.

Something was burning.

It took me a moment to realize that I had somehow managed to wander into a residential block in the Old Quarter of the city.  Nevertheless, there I was, and before me, a house in flames.  I will probably never know whether the fire merely started through accidental causes within, or whether, in my fit, I had unconsciously loosed Fire upon the closest target.

Whatever the cause, the house in front of me was engulfed in flames, painted with the hues of hell.  It must have been going for some time, but nobody appeared to be helping.  Indeed, nobody seemed to be anywhere.

I discovered later that this was an abandoned area of the Old Quarter, which had not yet been renovated.  The child's family must have been living there in order to avoid something; perhaps they were drug dealers or gangsters.

That would forever remain a mystery, as I saw immediately that two adult-sized shapes had been crushed by falling, flaming roof beams.

Their child had been left upstairs to die.

Fueled by righteous anger, I strode into the house.  Fire was a familiar enemy, and so I did not cringe when the flames leaped out to tear at my face and clothing from every side.  It seemed almost as if the Fire demon had begged its brethren on the outside to punish me for not releasing it, because every step I took brought new agony and searing heat from the voracious flames.

The child's cries led me to the ruin of a staircase.  What time and mold had begun in destroying the steps to the second level, the fire had very nearly completed.  I had to close my eyes against the infernal conflagration as I gingerly picked my way up the stairs.

Summon me, the Fire demon urged, and we can push the flames away.  You can rescue the boy and be a hero!  I curled my lip and continued; what I accomplished here, I would do without the use of my damned "gift."

After what seemed an eternity, I reached the wailing, soot stained child.  He had begun to cough from the smoke now, and had very nearly passed out.

Trying to keep from brusqueness, I quickly hoisted him on my back and fled back the way I had come.  When I reached the middle of the stairs, they gave way with a roar of sparks and the painfully clear splinter of old, dry wood.

The extra weight of a two-year old child made me land wrong, and I felt something pop in my left ankle.  Biting back a gasp and the urge to sear flames across the sky with my pain, I staggered forward.

Call me! raged the Fire demon.  I will help you, but you must bow to me first!  I glared ahead and hobbled towards the too-far-away door.

Fire blazed in my vision, then, and I threw myself across the young child to protect him.  In my mind's eye, I could see the Fire demon hurling himself at me, willing me to break.  I could see the Doctor, pushing me to become a living weapon of Fire and Death.  I could see the other psionic children, hating me for my power and my failure to fit in.

"Be what we tell you to be," they seemed to say.  "You are weak, and flawed, and a cursed demon!  Do as we say, and you will be saved!"

At that moment, something I never knew existed awoke inside of me.  Perhaps it had always been there, and I just refused to acknowledge it.  Perhaps it was something that Akira and Jiisan had planted in my heart.  But at that moment, the Fire demon shrank back in fear.

Something—a vast sense of potential, of what might be accomplished—washed over me, filling me with golden light and strength.  I realized in that moment that I could be anything that I chose to be, and the only thing that would stop me was myself—not the Fire demon, not he Doctor, not Akira, not even the physical law of Nature.  I envisioned myself for the first time as a great, golden god of light and fire, filled with majesty.

"I'm not your slave!" I shouted.  I could feel the power flowing through my voice, as it had before when the spirit of the Fire took me.  This time, however, it was a grand, terrible sound that shook with might.  "I am not a vessel for Fire!  I am not Number 11!  I am my own!  I'm Yusuke Hono'oguchi!"

And in that moment, I was free.

*          *          *          *          *

I'm not entirely sure of what happened after that.

The young child and I lay side by side, gasping for breath as the rest of the house burned itself out.  We stared at the stars of the night sky, and I pondered my own existence—not for the first, or the last time.

Eventually, I took the boy to the only place I knew that would take care of him as I could not—the orphanage.  I left the boy on the front step—I was too much a coward to take responsibility for him—and I hid in the trees as the attendants found him and took him in.

They named him Kaneda, which means "Gold Fields."  I suppose that it is as appropriate a name as any.  I wished him well and continued on my way.

That was nearly three years ago.  I have not returned to see him since.  Nor have I even returned to Neo Tokyo.  I will wander until I am old enough to pass for adult, and perhaps find a true place to live.

I still consider myself a coward, and a weakling.  However, the memory of that night when I defeated the Fire demon will forever shine as a star of hope in my memory.  I understand many of the things that Akira and Jiisan taught me now; weakling and coward I may well be, but I have the power to change that.

There are still many things which I don't—and probably never will—understand.  However, the important thing is for me to keep striving to be the best that I can.  Life doesn't I have to be a chaotic, violent flame—it can be as peaceful as fields of gold.

With that in mind, I, too may eventually attain the peace that Akira did.

Yusuke Hono'oguchi
April 24th, 1999