Chapter 1: The pain in Kei's Heart.
"As the people of Earth search for extraterrestrial life, one of the many questions we should ask ourselves is: What would happen to us, if suddenly we were to find ourselves face to face with a more technologically advanced society? A quick study of the history of the conquest of the New World reveals that on Earth, the invading society quickly establishes a foothold within the other culture and then begins expanding their sphere of influence, upsetting long established rules and customs and imposing their own. Bottom line, when two societies with differing levels of technological development meet, the more advanced one will always supersede the less technically advanced civilization. You need look no further than the fate of the American Indian, or the Australian Aborigine for proof of this assertion. Why then do we think that the Galaxy Federation being the more advanced, but still a human dominated society, would treat us any differently?" (Classified excerpt from: Interview with Matagu Shido: 2nd Lake Kizaki UFO incident.)
Please Teacher Crossroads. Chapter 1
"Hate him? Of course I hate him! Like it or not he is the root cause of all our problems." Maho Kazami.
"At the foot of the northern end of the Japanese Alps sits Lake Kizaki my home. It is one of the Nishina Three Lakes, the other two being Lake Aoki and Lake Nakatsuna, for those of you who care. I first came to live here about five years ago. I had come here to reset my life, to start again. Seems funny that someone who was only fifteen at the time would need to start over, but that was why I was here.
"You see, I went to bed one night at the age of fifteen, still in a state of shock after witnessing my sister take her own life, and when I woke again three years had gone by. It might not sound very bad, sleeping away those turbulent years of being a teenager. The problem for me was that I did not age at all during that entire time and the horror of my sister's suicide remained fresh in my memory, locked away in my subconscious. My friends had all gone on with their lives and some were even married. Unfortunately for me, I still had the body and the emotional development of a fifteen-year-old kid. The people I once called friends would laugh and poke fun at me. My lack of maturity made it so I could not understand the hidden innuendos in their conversations, which made me too tempting a target for their jabs. I cannot say if they really meant to be cruel about it, but it was obvious that my presence made them uncomfortable. I guess they did not want me around as a reminder of what they were like three short years ago. So they did their best to drive me away.
"Even though I still looked fifteen I could not make new friends on my own emotional level because everybody who knew about me thought I was some kind of freak. The younger kids would shy away and their friends and parents would ostracize anybody who would want to be my friend. It was horrible, this emptiness that comes over you when you find your whole life turned upside down. When everything you knew changed, when all your friends and even your parents have become strangers.
"My parents decided it would be better if they sent me away, to a place where no one knew me, where I would be accepted as just another new kid and people wouldn't ask me embarrassing questions. That is why I came here to Lake Kizaki to live with my Aunt and Uncle, so I could restart my life. I looked fifteen and I had the physical and emotional maturity of a fifteen-year-old, so everybody just assumed that was how old I really was, which was just fine by me.
"I was happy for a while too. True my disease would come back every so often, but only for a few hours or a day at most. So I continued to age, to move forward, as my friend Ichigo likes to call it. Until the specter of my sister once again emerged and tried to seduce me into death. It was in those final moments, just as I was about to cross over, that she came. A beautiful woman with the promise of a real life, one we would share together. A life filled with hope and sadness, of success and failure. With that promise, the disease went away completely as if by magic, but who was this woman and where is she now? I feel as if I should know her name, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to remember. All I know is if I ponder it for too long the sadness comes and then I have to go hide my face so nobody can see my tears.
"That's why I decided to stay here at the school after I graduated and become a PE coach. To be honest my grades did not allow me to aspire to be more than that. I know I should leave this place and move on but I am afraid I will never find her if I do. So I stay here and teach sports, while waiting for somebody whose name I do not even know to return. Every so often, I think I remember something about her. Sometimes the remembering is so fresh, so real, that I just know it is not a dream that keeps me here, yet when I try to grasp the image with my mind, it slips away. When it does the feeling of loss returns, as fresh as it was that day two years ago, and as painful as the memory of my sister taking her life. When that happens you can find me here in this stand of trees by the lake shore, hiding my face in them as they grow greener each day as I water them with my tears."
It was at times like this that Kei felt as if his spirit had split in two with one part trapped in his body as it struggled with its inner turmoil while the other part soared over the landscape looking down on his other self from above.
"Isn't this pathetic," he thought to himself as he remembered how it all began, "a grown man hiding in the woods crying like a child?"
It all started two years ago, the day after Kei's graduation. His disease had been in remission since the end of his 10th grade year. He had awoken in his apartment alone, and it was this fact that he found troubling. But why was he troubled? According to the lease, he lived there all by himself, but then what was this emptiness he was feeling? Why did he wake each morning expecting to find something that was not there? Deep down he knew he had lost something, something precious, but what had he lost? A face he could not see, a soft voice speaking words too softly for him to understand, plus an overwhelming sense of emptiness tearing at his heart. What or whom he lost he could no longer remember. All he did know was that sometimes the feeling of loneliness got to be so bad he had to go down to the lake and cry, and he did not even know why.
Unbeknownst to Kei, from beyond the trees another was watching him, a young dark haired girl with a strangeness about her and very unsympathetic green eyes. "You haven't suffered enough," thought Maho, "not nearly enough for what you did to my sister! If it were up to me I'd just leave you here to wallow in your own misery."
With that parting thought she disappeared into a pool of twinkling light, only to reappear moments later in Kei's apartment where her mother, Hatsuho, was frantically searching for something.
In Kei's apartment:
"Why did I allow it you ask? Something wonderful was happening with my daughter, something similar to what I experienced with Shirou for the all too short a time we were together was happening with her. I don't think you Earth people know just how precious this emotion you call love really is! Try living in a world without it as I have, then ask me that question again!" Hatsuho.
"Where is Kei at now?" Hatsuho asked.
"Down by the lake crying his eyes out like a little baby," Maho sneered.
The contempt in Maho's voice was not lost on Hatsuho, but now was not the time or place to make an issue of it. Right now the two of them were dangerously exposed and if caught could face penalties even more severe than what had been imposed on her eldest daughter. Maho and Kei were familiar to each other, or at least they had been at one time. When Maho met Kei the first time she was about twelve years old EST (Earth standard time) in the intervening 5 years she had grown and matured. Gone were the mannerisms and dress of a bratty 12-year-old, replaced now by the suppleness and grace of a young woman coming into her own. At 17, she now stood almost as tall as her sister, her jet-black hair long and flowing stopping at the middle of her back, her bust worthy of Hatsuho's daughter. Unfortunately, she also suffered from the same malady that all teenagers suffer from, 'Know it all Syndrome.' Her adolescent mind had yet to grasp the reality that, sometimes, bad things happen to good people. There just had to be a bad guy responsible for their current situation and Kei Kusanagi, even though he was just as much a victim as her sister, had been tapped for that duty.
"Good then we have some extra time," Hatsuho said before returning to what she was doing.
"Did you find it yet Mother?"
"Not yet dear, now be a good girl and keep an eye out for Kei."
The 'it' Maho was referring to was a paradox. Hatsuho was looking for something left from Kei's former reality, the one where he was married to Mizuho and did not belong here in the present one. Something that if found would cause Kei to question the truth about his current existence.
Hatsuho knew her daughter would have left something behind, something seemingly innocuous with some emotional significance of their former life hidden away somewhere. Something that could be used as a means to restore their memories were the chance ever to present itself. Just as she had done when she left that box of Pochy in Kei's pocket when she was forced home the first time.
Hatsuho had actually found several boxes of the stuff lying around and for a brief second had hoped that the solution would be something that simple. However, closer observation had revealed that the investigators had deliberately planted them. Obscuration through multiplication was what the technique was called, obscure one true memory by placing false associations in the subject's mind using the same or similar triggers. Mizuho ate only chocolate and the boxes of Pochy she had found were every flavor under the sun. Most looked as if they had not been touched since they were planted there.
Hatsuho sighed to herself, as she stood motionless in the middle of the room trying to solve this riddle. Not so much looking, but sensing for something with the essence of her second child on it. She had been here several times before, back when Kei and Mizuho were happy newlyweds. Back then, the place looked as it really should. The home of a new couple, there had been happiness about the place, a feeling of warmth that permeated every wall. Coldness and emptiness had since replaced the warmth. Try as she might there was not a hint of anything that might have once belonged to her daughter. She knew she might have to accept the fact that nothing of her daughter's was left to be found.
Hatsuho did not believe it though, the debriefing of her daughter had not been gentle but neither had it been thorough. After the investigators had overplayed their hand and were forced to cease their interrogation of Mizuho, Hatsuho had noticed that the subtle hint of a smile remained upon her daughter's face. Hatsuho knew that smile well; she had seen it almost daily for the last two years, frozen in time on Mizuho's un-aging face, as she lay seemingly asleep in the life support chamber of the Miruru's medical bay. Still, she had to admit to the possibility that what the interrogators failed to squeeze out of her the sweepers might have found on their own.
Hatsuho knew the answer was hidden here somewhere, she just needed the time to find it. Time she did not have as Maho interrupted her reverie. "Looks like Kei is finally back. Did you have any luck mother?"
"No," her mother replied, "so it looks like we need to go to plan B."
"But if we do that we will expose ourselves and we don't know who the other observer is yet!" Maho protested.
"It can't be helped," Hatsuho replied flatly, "if we are clever though, we might pass unnoticed right under the other's nose. Besides, Kei is running out of time. If his memories return before we get to him then the other will surely know and we could lose him and any hope of saving Mizuho."
With an unspoken command to Miruru, the two disappeared into a pool of light, reappearing on the bridge of Hatsuho's observer ship, hidden safely away under the surface of the lake. In fact, it was parked just a few meters from Mizuho's ship, which for some inexplicable reason had been left behind on Earth after her daughter had been repatriated.
Continuing their conversation, Maho asked, "How can you be so sure that the seal on Kei's memories has become weakened anyway?"
"It's the timing of all the events and the way they add up," Hatsuho replied.
"You're going to have to explain that one to me Mother."
"Very well," began Hatsuho, "the difference between Kei and Mizuho's true ages is almost 5 years when you measure in linear Earth time. The time Kei lost to his disease was almost 3 years; the time Mizuho has lost is almost 2 years. Add that up you get five."
"That's a lot of almosts there Mother."
"That's right; it could just be a coincidence. So now add up the exact number of days she has been with Kei starting from the first time she came to Earth, subtract for the time she was forced home then take that result and subtract it from how long she was out and what do you get?"
Maho furrowed her brow as she did the math in her head then answered, "Almost zero."
"Exactly zero," her mother corrected.
"So what you're saying is she has refused to live without Kei, for the exact number of days she was with Kei?"
"Once might have been a coincidence but twice?"
"I see," said Maho, "but how could she be sure that her… would only last so long?"
"She couldn't," Hatsuho sighed, "but I'm sure she knew it would have been pointless to come out of it any sooner, I think subconsciously she is trying to leave herself clues."
"In other words Kei's time just ran out," Maho said flatly, "so I guess the die is cast."
"Time to get serious then, we must be careful."
"You're right about that," Maho assented.
The Pain Within:
"We couldn't use psychotropic drugs like you would for somebody who suffers from manic depression. If we did we risked triggering his Standstills again." Dr. Edajima.
Hatsuho and Maho needn't have abandoned their search so early, for instead of going straight up to his apartment, Kei decided to stop by his Uncle's clinic next door and help himself to a glass of Sake. Knowing this as a sign Kei had another episode of depression his Uncle asked, "So what set you off this time?"
"Two of my students." He replied.
"Well you see, she is a third year and he is only in his first. The social stigma of their classmates forces them to try to hide their relationship. Plus, I don't think their parents are doing much to help either."
"So, I see," Dr. Edajima said as he tugged at his beard, "It's kind of hard for them to be together then. They must have a pretty hard time of it trying to hide their feelings for one another when they go out in public."
"Yes they do, so they try to be alone together whenever they get the chance. I just happened to stumble upon them while she was trying to steal a kiss. It was funny in a way, both of them pretending like there was nothing going on when it was so obvious that there was."
"So what was it about that encounter that set you off?" His Uncle asked as he reached for a large picture chart.
"I don't really know," Kei sighed, "It was probably a combination of things I suppose, I empathize with the boy a lot, but I think it was the look on the poor girl's face that did it, a combination of half-embarrassment, half-defiance. It was as if I had seen this look on someone's face before, but when I tried to remember who, the sadness returned."
Uncle Minoru looked at the chart and jotted down a few notes before continuing. "This sounds important Kei, maybe it's a person we're looking for and not a thing. It's possible these bouts of depression are related to things associated with that person. Things you are seeing in others. Someone who must have been very important to you. Someone you can't remember anymore."
"Yes, but who!" Kei said in exasperation, "I know it's not big sister. I can think about her all day and not have this awful reaction!"
"It's obvious your mind is hiding something from you Kei, something you think is very important. Don't try to dwell on it any longer. We are getting closer to an answer; I swear to you we will find it."
Kei finished his drink and got up to leave, smiling at his Uncle; "Thank you for all the effort you put into this," He told him while pointing to the chart. "I know this isn't what you normally do and I want you to know that I really do appreciate it."
"Good night Kei."
"'Night Minoru." Kei bid his uncle.
Kei's Uncle shook his head sadly as he watched his nephew go back to his apartment, "If it wasn't one thing then it was another," he thought sadly to himself. Kei had finally fought off his mysterious Standstill disease, which Minoru was convinced was psychological in nature. Now Kei was being plagued by still yet another psychological disorder. Only this one had a more familiar face, Manic Depression, but why did it manifest now? All he knew for certain was the poor kid could not take much more and he was helpless to do anything about it. His reassurances were sounding more and more hollow to his own ears and he knew Kei was aware of it too. Minoru was beginning to fear that Kei might be considering emulating his sister.
"Dreams are the one place in your mind the Galaxy Federation can't get too. We all need to start paying closer attention to our dreams. It might be the only warning we get." Kei.
"We're walking alone together on the beach, the moon is full, she is laughing, and we're holding hands. We're jumping from rock to rock along the breakwater. We both know this is a little bit dangerous but we really don't care. Then this big wave comes along and we both are knocked off our feet. Oh no, where is she? Where did she go? Is she hurt? Mizuho! MIZUHO!"
The vividness of his dream caused Kei to wake in a cold sweat while the sound of his own voice was still ringing in his ears. "Mizuho?" Kei questioned himself, before once again succumbing to sleep.
"I never understood what my sister saw in him until that moment. When we get done here I intend to go shopping for one just like him." Maho.
"Don't you think this blouse is a little tight?" asked Maho of her mother.
"It's supposed to be," replied Hatsuho, "what we need to happen is for Kei to be looking at you. With any luck, his subconscious will remember you and his memories will return on their own.
"Besides," said her mother pointing to Maho's breasts, "It will give you a chance to try those out."
"And if his memories don't return?" asked Maho.
"Then I will need you to become, shall we say, more proactive."
"I see," Maho said, her expression turning grim.
"All right then, off to school you go."
"He's like, you know, the ultimate dreamboat, I bet you that bitch Ms Kazami sized him up and already had her hooks into him by the end of her first day here." Overheard in the girls' locker room.
"All right ladies," the authoritative voice of Assistant Coach Kusanagi boomed, "line up at the shallow end of the pool, advanced students into the water first, intermediates next and go hold the hand of your partner. Beginners sit down on the edge and I will assign you to a partner."
As Kei walked along the edge of the pool taking attendance, he noticed a new girl, probably a second or third year transfer student, with long dark hair and oddly colored green eyes, wearing a school swimsuit obviously a size too small, in the water alone.
"Who are you and what do you think you're doing in the pool by yourself!" shouted Kei to Maho.
"I'm a new student but I'm already an advanced swimmer, I just don't have a partner yet." she replied.
"Out of the water," Kei told her, "you might have been an advanced swimmer at your other school but until the coach says otherwise you will be considered a beginner. It's nothing personal, just a safety issue."
"Hey," shouted Maho, "it's not my fault I had to come here in the middle of the year. Let me talk to the coach right now so we can get this sorted out."
"The coach isn't here today, so you will have to take it up with the coach's assistant."
"Then let me talk to him!" demanded Maho.
"You are talking to him," smiled Kei evilly, "so get your butt up on the wall."
"Oh! You are so going to get yours buster!" Thought Maho to herself.
As Kei continued on making his partner assignments, he decided to assign Maho to one of the stronger swimmers since she had claimed already being advanced. With that done, Kei began his class, starting with the requisite warm up laps. As he studied the class from atop the lifeguard stand looking for signs of any students in distress, he noticed that the new student, probably in an effort to show off, had began sprinting instead of maintaining the slower pace set by her more experienced partner. He was tempted to stop the class and caution her against such stupidity, but decided to wait until after the students were done with their first set. As he turned his attention back to the rest of the class, suddenly there was a shout of distress from the middle of the pool. Kei looked over to where he knew the problem was and saw that, sure enough, the new student had suffered cramps in her legs. Blowing his whistle three times to order the class out of the pool he arose from his perch and in one seemingly fluid motion his shirt and shoes flew into the air as he dove into the water to rescue the little idiot.
The force of his body hitting the water pulled his loose fitting shorts from around his waist, leaving him wearing nothing but his tight Speedo bathing suit. Letting the momentum of the dive carry him to the thrashing Maho, he gracefully glided underneath her, rolling over as he came up behind her, before executing a text book lifeguard 'catch and hold' around her neck. With a few strong strokes, he pulled Maho over to the ledge and passed her off to the waiting seniors whose job it was to pull her from the water.
Not wanting to waste such an excellent opportunity Kei decided to press the lesson home to the entire class. As he was still drying himself off, he walked over to the ledge and, in a voice firmer than he intended, ordered the class to assemble so he could lecture them on water safety.
"What we have here," he began, "is just a plain lack of common sense! I do not care how good a physical shape you think you are in! You just cannot, I repeat cannot, go from a resting state to full-blown exertion without warming up first! Your muscles will cramp up! In fact, the better condition you are in the more likely this will happen. Now, if you go and make this kind of stupid error while playing some kind of field sport all you get is a charley horse that you have to walk off.
"However," he continued focusing his gaze on Maho, "you screw up like this in the water with nobody around to pull you out and you will drown! You will be dead, finished, kaput do you understand! Not only that, but the poor assistant coach gets stuck trying to explain to your parents that the reason their daughter is dead is because she was stupid!"
It was not until he was almost through, that Kei noticed that all the girls were staring at him with unabashed admiration. Not quite realizing the why of it, he had just been elevated in status from four-eyed geek to Adonis in the last few minutes by the female population of the class. His loose fitting clothes and unassuming nature had always given rise to the assumption that he was frail and week. Now exposed for the first time for all to see was the lithe and lean young man he had become. His small muscles, no longer being atrophied from his reoccurring Standstills, had become lean and hard. Without his large glasses to disguise them, his students could finally see a purpose and determination in his eyes. The pheromone level in the air quickly elevated, and quite unexpectedly, Assistant Coach Kusanagi just became the schools newest heartthrob.
The walk home:
"I'd have throttled her if I could have got my hands around her neck. As it was I could only stand there and scream in frustration." Kei.
Normally, it was during the walks home that the sadness came, if it came at all. Today though Kei was not worried about that, today had been a good day. The incident with the new student, however minor it was, had allowed him to reassert his sense of self. At least for today, Kei knew that his decision to stay at the school was the right one. The sadness might come again tomorrow, but today was a good day. He was feeling so good in fact, that he had failed to notice that as he was walking Maho had come up behind him and began keeping pace with him.
Kei was just going to ignore her as student teacher interaction outside the classroom was frowned upon. But then he relented and finally asked her, "Can I do something for you?"
"You don't remember who I am, do you?" asked Maho.
"Not unless you count the disturbance you caused in my class today, should I?"
Maho just smiled seductively at Kei as she took his right arm and pressed herself closely to him, "Now do you know who I am?"
"No!" Kei shouted back at her in surprise, "and please conduct yourself appropriately! If you are trying to say thank you to me for pulling you out of the water today then you're welcome, but I was just doing my job so it's no big deal."
For a brief second the very atmosphere turned bright white and the next thing Kei knew he was standing in a vaguely familiar, but still totally alien setting with what appeared to be pieces of a shattered planet floating by. As he studied his surroundings he noticed that he was standing on one of those pieces.
"Do you remember me NOW you four eyed freak!" The voice of Maho came from above as she hovered over him, now wearing her black skin-tight space uniform.
"Where the hell am I!"
"Oh, Hell will seem pleasant when I get done with you!" Maho answered him menacingly.
"I saved your life and this is what I get, can't we at least talk this over?" stammered Kei.
"Time for talk is done! Die you bastard!" screamed Maho. "Miruru blast this four eyed freak into space dust!"
For a second Kei didn't know who she was talking to, then he noticed the small little figure dressed in female type clothing with a yellow colored tear drop shaped head floating over her shoulder. Kei noticed that the eyes of the little creature were staring straight at him. As he met its gaze, Kei observed that the eyes were starting to glow red. Instinctively Kei knew he needed to get himself out of that baleful gaze so he took off running just as a lightning bolt struck the ground where he had been standing a moment earlier. As he ran for his life, Kei thought to himself that there was something oddly familiar about this situation.
As the blasting continued, Maho was becoming more and more frustrated by her inability to score a single hit. Finally, she dialed Miruru up to full power and directed a blast of energy to a point several feet in front of Kei's line of flight. The resulting hole was over six feet in diameter and just as deep. Kei, unable to dodge the hazard as the ground was blown out from under his feet, fell down the side, finally coming to a halt with his body lying motionless in the bottom of the crater.
"I hope I didn't over do it," thought Maho to herself as she drifted lower over his motionless body. Still hovering at a safe distance, she looked down upon him checking his body for any obvious sign of injury.
"You suckered me like this once before Kei," Maho said, "I'm not going to fall for the same trick twice."
Still Kei remained motionless; carefully Maho prodded his backside, levitating to a safe distance above him after each attempt. After the third time when Kei still refused to respond, Maho started to get worried, her mother had wanted her to be proactive but she did not think that putting her sister's husband into a coma could be considered a positive development.
Finally, Maho was satisfied that Kei really was unconscious so she landed beside him and rolled him over to check his breathing. When she did so Kei's eyes suddenly flew open. Maho had been wary of just such an occurrence and quickly levitated herself away. Faster still though, was Kei's reaction, he rolled to his feet and leapt into the air grabbing one of her ankles with both hands.
"Hey, that's no fair!" shouted Maho.
Kei ignored her protests and shouted back to her, "Where is she!"
"Where is who?" Maho screamed while kicking back at the hands that refused to loosen their grip.
"Where is she!" Kei said, tiring but still refusing to release his advantage.
"Let me go and we'll talk about it," she said.
"There is no way I'm going to let you go until you tell me where she is! Now tell me where the hell she's at!" Kei demanded.
"Damn he's stubborn," Maho thought to herself. She then adjusted her Parallel motion compensation device (the device that allows her to seemingly float in this dimension) until her relative velocity was faster than she thought Kei could run. Then she deliberately crashed herself into the ground sending the two of them rolling towards the edge of the floating island.
Even as they tumbled about Kei never loosened his grip; it was not until his head hit the ground with a sickening thud that she felt his grip slacken. Maho finally managed to kick herself free and proceeded to hover just out of reach of Kei's desperate leaps.
"Where is she damn it! Tell me where she's gone!" Kei screamed at her almost incoherently.
"Where is who? I don't know who you are talking about," Maho teased.
Kei, realizing he was defeated, collapsed to his knees and started to cry. "Please tell me," he pleaded, "Where is Mizuho? Where… where is my wife?"
"So I guess you do remember who I am after all?" Maho said, softening her tone somewhat. "Don't worry; Mizuho is safe enough for the moment. Go home and wait for us, but remember this, you breathe a single word of what just happened and you could very well never see your wife again!"
When Kei looked up again he was on the shore, by the lake, alone.
The next day:
"I always knew that there was some higher power at work here; I wrongfully assumed it was a benevolent one." Kei.
When dawn broke the next day, a sleepless Kei hurriedly ate his breakfast and went to school hoping to get answers from Maho. He had looked for her at school before classes started but could not find her. In addition, nobody in the school's administration office seemed to know anything about a new transfer student.
Kei had had all last night to ponder his situation. Kei remembered his wife was really an alien who had fled her home planet to be with him. He also knew that the people she worked for had the power to seal away his memories. He remembered that he and his wife had been married twice before in order to keep her otherworldly origins a secret.
Kei was also sure that Maho's actions yesterday had to have been driven by desperation and he hoped that she had not been compromised as a result.
Answers, he needed answers, and only Maho knew what he needed to know. So he looked around for her whenever he got the chance, but Maho was nowhere to be found. Kei started to worry that maybe the Galaxy Federation had gotten to Maho already and were now planning to take him as well. He decided that if that were to be the case, then he would not give them the opportunity to take him without there being witnesses.
For the remainder of the day Kei made sure to see and be seen. Once the school was adjourned, he waited around until all the club activities were over then started walking slowly back home. Kei was hoping that if the Galaxy Federation were to make a move to take him it would be out in the open where he could see them coming. On his way home, however, it was not the Galaxy Federation, but Maho, dressed in a school uniform, who walked up to him and started talking to him as if nothing had happened.
"Do you think you could you have stalled any longer?" Maho asked him crossly.
"You're pretty brave meeting me in the open like this," Kei threatened, grabbing Maho's arm tightly for emphasis, "Don't think that because we are in public that I won't do what it takes to find her!"
"I'm glad to hear it," replied Maho sweetly as she reached up and casually reversed his grip. "Don't think I won't do what it takes to help my sister either. Just so, you know, if it were up to me, I would never have helped you recover your memories of her. I would have just left you here to suffer. But my sister loves you, don't ask me why, and that love may be the key to her salvation."
"So, that's why you acted like you wanted to kill me yesterday?" Kei asked her quizzically.
"That was no act Kei," she smiled wickedly, "I really do hate you for what you did to her, but yes, we were hoping the sudden jolt of adrenaline would act as a catharsis causing your memories to return."
"We?" repeated Kei.
"Mother and Me," Maho answered him.
"Couldn't you have found an easier way rather than beaming the two of us into that creepy other dimension?"
"No, we would have had to use the system for that and that would've raised a flag that we were operating outside our assigned mandate. Part of which requires that we not have any contact with the locals, especially you!"
"So what are you doing out here in the open then, if it's so risky?"
"Well," Maho said, "right now I'm doing what you might call hiding in plain sight."
"I don't understand," said Kei.
"This part of the planet and you especially are under constant surveillance, furthermore there is another resident surveyor close by and we don't know who they are. I'm hoping that if we are being watched right now whoever it is won't suspect anything."
"I thought Mizuho was supposed to be the resident surveyor," Kei asked.
"That's what we thought too, but it was all a big lie! She was just another innocent pawn same as you, same as all of us. Damn it!" Maho screamed, "How could we have been so stupid!"
"Huh?" grunted Kei.
"How do you think we found out about your secret marriage to my sister? It is not as if she advertised the fact that she had been discovered. We should have known then that there was something amiss. You two had to have been under close observation from the start. Hell, they probably knew the instant she stole back to Earth to be with you! That's why I hate you, if she hadn't been so in love with you none of the rest of this would have ever happened."
"Okay then, what did happen?" asked Kei. "I'm still in the dark here."
"I'm sure you've figured some of this out already so just listen and I'll tell you what I can," Maho began to explain.
"Two years ago on your graduation night Mizuho was kidnapped by the Galaxy Federation. You were taken too and your memories of her were sealed. Additionally, because Mizuho had defied the Galaxy Federation's orders not to return to Earth she was punished by having her memories of you sealed as well. However, the Galaxy Federation doesn't really understand emotions, at least not as far as you Earth people are concerned and something went horribly wrong. She went into a Stagnation, or Standstill, as you like to call it, very similar to the ones you suffered from. She's been stuck for almost two years, not living, not aging, just stagnating like you did and the Galaxy Federation is powerless to cure it."
"How can she be having a Standstill?" asked a stunned Kei. "A Standstill is a self-induced weakness that I suffer from, it's a mental disorder. How can she have the same thing?"
"Well," Maho continued, "the best guess we have is that she became 'infected' by you when she used the system to enter your mental realm."
"That's ridiculous," scoffed Kei, "How can you catch a psychosis from somebody else, this problem is locked up inside my head, a threat to nobody but me! How could just looking inside my mind infect her? That would be akin to a lab technician being infected by something he was looking at under the microscope."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" asked Maho.
"Your mind never really stops learning, even when you are asleep; your subconscious is still processing the environment around you. Mizuho was never interested in studying your problem; she just wanted to help cure it. However, when she entered your mind the two of you were linked, not only cognitively but emotionally as well. So on a much deeper level, without her meaning to do so; her mind learned how to emulate your condition. When the Galaxy Federation took her and she was subjected to the same kind of stress, her mind must have reacted the same way yours did. Locking itself away from harm. She was like that for almost two years."
"Was?" Kei asked.
"Yes, about ten days ago she came out of it, but it's not the same as you, she has no memory of who she really is! Not of Mother, you, or myself. The only thing she remembers is the cover she assumed while she was here on Earth: That she was a teacher here at the local school. Mother and I have managed to convince her that we are who we say we are, but we've barely told her anything about you and haven't mentioned anything at all about the Galaxy Federation. Since she's been awake we've kept her sequestered in the medical bay of Mother's ship, so she hasn't seen any of the technology."
"So, what are you planning?"
"With a little sleight of hand we are going to release her in front of the apartment where you live and then we are going to unseal the memories of everyone around her."
"Won't the other observer be aware of what is going on?"
"Yes, they are expecting it, they want to watch their little lab rat negotiate the maze and see how she does. I expect that they are hoping the stress will cause her to go into another Standstill. That is why I'm talking to you right now, if you can be there for her and help soften the blow then maybe that might not happen."
"God that's gruesome," shuddered Kei, "trying to deliberately put somebody into that condition."
"What Galaxy Federation doesn't know and what we don't want them to know is that we have had this little talk and that some of your memories have already returned."
"Yes Kei, and now I'm going to ask you a big favor, I want you to place these in your ears." Maho asked Kei as she handed him two seemingly innocuous looking earplugs.
"Because we are fixing to send a master unlock code, if you hear the tone then all of your memories will return as well, and unfortunately you know a great deal more than anybody, including the Galaxy Federation, knows you do. If you remember too much, too soon, the Galaxy Federation might step in and shut down their little experiment before Mizuho is fully recovered. If they perceive you as too much of a threat they might even take direct action against you!"
"You know, you are asking a lot considering you tried to kill me yesterday."
"Awe, you know I never could really hurt you now? Big brother."
Kei looked at Maho and smiled his acceptance of her unspoken peace offering when another question sprang in his mind.
"So tell me, when you are done and Mizuho is all better, are you going to take her away with you and seal my memories back up as well?"
"If you thought we were, would you refuse to help us?"
"No, I wouldn't, as long as she is happy, nothing else matters," Kei sighed.
"Well then to answer your question. No, you will remain as you are, nothing will change, and you should continue to recover your memories naturally. If Mizuho wants to stay then that is up to her, we won't force her back into space if she doesn't want to go. One thing though, don't act too surprised. Your secret marriage to my sister wasn't all that big a secret." Maho laughed to herself as she disappeared into the twinkling glow of the teleporter.
Kei sighed as he looked at the earplugs before quickly putting them in his ears as he continued to walk home. Kei had wanted to run the rest of the distance but he knew that if he were to do so then the mysterious other observer would be aware that Maho had told him about his wife. With an almost Herculean effort, Kei deliberately measured his pace.
When Kei finally arrived at his apartment, he was met by his Uncle Minoru who was smiling from ear to ear.
"Now Kei don't be too hard on her," he began, "you don't know anything about what happened or where she's been, and even though she deserted you, you should still try to show some compassion. That's just a little advice is all."
"What are you talking about?" Kei asked back hoping that he sounded disinterested.
"You don't know? Its Mizuho, she's back! I just saw her with her mother going into your apartment a short while ago."
With that said Kei was able to stop pretending and he started running towards his apartment and hopefully into the arms of his wife.
"Now don't be too judgmental, but don't be a pushover either." Minoru shouted after him as he rushed headlong up the stairs.