"Love Me Tonight – Emi"
Several clicks, then a rush of cold air escaping my enclosure as the glass lid opened up. Those were the first things I was aware of as I awoke from my sleep. How long I'd been asleep this time, I knew not. It didn't matter. All that mattered was that I was being awakened again, and that meant my services were needed.
My eyelids were slow to part, and when they did, the first thing I did was turn my head to the side, where I saw an old man typing on a computer. A familiar face, one I saw every time that I was awakened. His silver hair was always slicked back, and I could hear him exhale through his pig-nose as he concentrated on the screen.
He turned to look at me, and smiled a smile that I suppose you could call grandfatherly. "Rise and shine, Emi," he said gently.
"Hello, Mr. Anderson," I said, stepping out of the pod, naked as the day I came off the assembly line. Whenever I got put into my cold sleep after a mission, it was always like this, naked. A human might feel shame, being like this, but to me it was normal, just a part of going to sleep and waking up again. "It's nice to see you again."
"Same here, same here."
"How long have I been asleep this time?"
"Longer than usual. Ninety-one days," he said. "Let me get you a robe so you can walk around a little bit. I want to check on your systems and make sure everything is running smoothly."
"I can do a self-diagnostic for that."
He fetched a robe from a closet nearby and draped it over my shoulders, saying, "You could do that. But let me just make sure, alright? My bosses will have more than just my head if I don't."
I slipped my arms through the sleeves and tied the sash around my waist, turning to look at the other pods next to mine. Four others, looking much like elongated eggs with a clear lid to see inside. Of the four, three were occupied by other 33Ds, with monitors above them keeping track of their systems and any signs of trouble. I always felt strange, looking at my brethren in their cold sleep. It was almost like they were dead. I saw no signs of breath, no rising or falling of the chest. "Where's Byron?" I asked, nodding at the empty pod.
"Doing a job," he said in a deadpan voice, saying the very thing I had expected, which made me smile. It was something I asked every time, along with asking how long I had been asleep. I liked to keep track of the others, see if any of them had been killed while I was under. I got some self-satisfaction in getting that piece of knowledge, for if any had, it was one more that I had outlasted. It meant that I was better, that I was smart enough to not get caught and eliminated.
"One-thousand-five-hundred of us have come off the assembly line from the first 33D down to me," I started. "Not including the ones that came after."
"…And three-hundred of them stayed in Japan while the rest were sent around the world," Mr. Anderson continued, playing along with me.
"The last time I awoke, you said two-hundred and seventy-one of them were remaining. So how many were lost between then and now?"
"Heh. Appropriate, that. Four, huh? So that's four more I've beaten."
"Isn't it enough that in your one-and-a-half year lifespan, you've already gone on four missions?" he pointed out. "That's quite a bit. You've accomplished a lot."
"A pity I can't remember any of it, though. Oh well. The fact I'm awake now means that I'm getting recruited for number five, then, right?"
"Right you are. Anyway, why do you ask every time you wake up how many are left? Do you really want to be the only one remaining? It's a good thing that so few have been discovered, you know. It means Genom has hit pay dirt in the Boomer-for-hire market. If too many got caught the higher-ups would likely scrap the remaining ones and start over. I'm sure you don't want that to happen."
"They wouldn't do that," I commented casually, so much that it took Mr. Anderson aback.
"What makes you think not?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Each 33D costs two-hundred-million yen to manufacture, and that's just for the base model. Expensive enough that they put us into that cold sleep between each mission because we're too pricey to just let run around with nothing to do. Now, after putting that much into each one, you really think the higher-ups would just go ahead and scrap us? Don't you call that pissing your money away?"
"Genom can more than afford to do that," he sighed. "They did it with the S line, after all. What a disaster those models turned out to be."
My systems detected a rise in his blood pressure. For whatever reason, he was getting stressed out. "You're working too hard, Mr. Anderson," I observed, sitting in his lap, draping an arm around his neck. "Why don't you take a break and get yourself some tea?"
"I think I'll do that," he said with a nod. "Earl grey's your usual, right?"
"Good memory," I said, smiling.
"You know you need to get out of my lap so I can get it, right?"
"I know." I got off, smirking as I could see I had flustered him. I seemed to have that effect on him. But I wasn't built with the body of a full-grown woman. Every time I looked down at myself, I saw only small lumps for breasts, and little in the way of shapely hips. No, I was built with the body of a fourteen-year-old, never to grow up, never to develop those breasts.
But that didn't matter. What I wanted right now was that cup of earl grey.
A few minutes later Mr. Anderson returned, handing me a cup as he sipped from his own. "You know," he said, sitting back down in his chair, "there is something special about the job you're getting recruited for this time."
"What's so special about it?" I inquired, sipping slowly.
"I don't know the specifics, not yet. You'll get those once I sit you down in the Chair. All I know is that Mr. Quincy himself picked you out for it."
"Mr. Quincy? All right, you definitely have my attention now. Why would he himself pick me for this specific job?"
"Maybe the fact you've survived four missions and lived to tell about it. Or not," he quipped, laughing at his own joke.
"Well, I doubt it's for my looks," I drawled, though depending on the mission, my looks were certainly an advantage. No one would ever think someone who looked like a teenage girl to be someone to be suspicious of.
"I'm only guessing. But he'll be down in a couple hours to say hello personally, so once you finish that tea I'll get you dressed and looking proper. No one ever has an appointment with Mr. Quincy dressed like that."
"Oh, I only dress like this for you," I teased.
Mr. Anderson chuckled, eyeing me leeringly as I finished my tea. "I am a lucky man, aren't I? It's too bad you're not an S-type. At least then I wouldn't be breaking any laws doing what I want to do."
"If you value your life, you won't even try to pretend I am."
He laughed. "I know, you're not one to mess around with. I know the stories. Well, shall we get you dressed then?"
It was a moot point for me to get dressed in a business-like outfit. With the body I was built with, it would've looked like I was playing dress-up, so I went with some more casual clothes. I put on a dark green T-shirt, denim jeans, and a pair of steel-toed boots that I liked to wear every time I was about to get put in the Chair. For whatever reason I felt like they helped prepare me for what was to come, even if at the end of it all it would be wiped from my memory anyway.
Mr. Anderson thought my clothes were a bit too casual, considering I was going to be meeting with Mr. Quincy shortly, but once I pointed out the bit about looking like I would be playing dress-up, he quieted down and decided to let me do what I liked.
"Are you ready?" he asked me as I adjusted my belt.
"Yeah. Let's get going," I said.
He led me out of the room and down the hallway before we came to an elevator. Stepping in, I realized it wasn't one of the regular indoor ones. It was a glass-encased one, on the outside of the Tower, so that going up you could see the great expanse of MegaTokyo. After putting in a security code ensuring he had authority to use this particular elevator, Mr. Anderson punched the button for the one-hundredth floor and in no time at all, we were heading up.
"Isn't it a lovely view?" he remarked, taking in the scenery. "It's even better at night, with all the buildings and streets lit up. Just beautiful. And the people, they look like ants below us. No, dots, just little dots. I'm sure there was a movie where that was discussed…"
"You didn't need to escort me," I said.
"Ah, but you don't know the code for this elevator. And besides, Mr. Quincy insisted I escort you. Said it was rude to let a lady wander around this place by herself."
"A lady…ha. He's too kind."
Too kind…but he hadn't gotten to his current position by being kind. Even I knew that. A true leader had to be charming and iron-fisted, and to borrow a turn of phrase, keep his friends close and his enemies closer. From what I could remember I had never met him in person, but I knew enough about him that he was to be treated with the highest respect. Enough that a person could be dead or disappeared within two hours of him giving the order. And to think, that of all the 33Ds currently in cold sleep and not engaged in other missions, that he chose me above the rest…I would say that I was almost flattered. He was smart enough that I was sure he hadn't just randomly chosen me from a list of names. He had to have done his homework, known that I had done good work.
I smirked to myself. This must've been a special mission he had, if he had chosen me.
Once the elevator reached its destination, we stepped off the elevator, where two very tall men in dark suits escorted us down the hall. My systems detected that they were both 55Cs in disguise. Mr. Anderson looked uncomfortable; he seemed to know this as well, and took in a large gulp of air as we approached a large pair of oak doors. Maybe he was nervous because he was surrounded by beings he knew could kill him in a heartbeat. I wouldn't put it past him, but truly, he had no reason to be afraid. After all, if he had the code to the private elevator for this particular floor, then Mr. Quincy must've trusted him a lot.
But obviously he knew better than to be at ease simply because of that.
"Come in, Mr. Anderson," a voice bellowed as the two disguised Boomers opened the doors, shutting them behind us as we entered the office. A tall, well-groomed man was sitting at a desk which sat in front of what was probably the largest window I had ever seen. His white hair was slicked back, much like Mr. Anderson's, and he had unusually dark skin. Whether it was from taking many vacations or a natural color, I couldn't guess. He was obviously a man who took pride in his work.
"I have brought you Emi, as requested, sir," Mr. Anderson said with a bow. I bowed as well.
Mr. Quincy stood up. He was much taller than he had looked on first appearance, just about as tall as the Boomers that stood guard at the doors. He walked over to us, lightly leaning on a cane for support, eyeing me up and down. "So this is Emi," he observed.
"Yes, sir," Mr. Anderson said again, looking as if he were about to break out into a cold sweat. If Mr. Quincy noticed this, he said nothing.
"Yes, sir. 148 centimeters to be exact, sir."
"I read the report, Anderson. I knew that." He smiled. "Four missions, did it say? Quite impressive. I trust that you ran a check on her after you woke her up?"
"Yes, sir. Everything checks out beautifully. She is ready to go."
"Good, good." He turned to Mr. Anderson. "You may step out for a moment, Anderson. I wish to speak with her in private."
"It's rude to have eavesdroppers. I just want to get to know the one I've chosen for this. We'll just be a few minutes."
Mr. Anderson nodded and left, the two bodyguard Boomers opening the doors to let him out before shutting them again, leaving just them, Mr. Quincy and me in the room. He looked at me again, and nodded, seemingly in approval. "Four missions," he repeated. "That indicates you know what you're doing. If you'd made any mistakes you'd be dead. Very few of the 33Ds I looked at had more experience than you do." He sneered. "Damn Anderson. You don't think he treats you with kid gloves?"
"How he treats me isn't important, sir," I stated, "as long as he makes sure my systems are running smoothly. I can't do the promised job if anything is malfunctioning. He has run his checks and I have run mine, and everything is perfect."
"That's good." He smiled again. "You may look like a child, but you're not as delicate as you look. Anderson seems to forget that."
"If I may ask, sir, what is this mission you have selected me for?"
Mr. Quincy stopped smiling at that moment, running his hand over his forehead before replying. "There was an incident a little over two years ago, before you were manufactured, that involved the use of a Boomer with a Black Box."
"A device that had its use originated in the obsolete Killer Doll line. It links the Boomer to our particle-beam satellites. Anyhow, there was a summit here in Tokyo that had many of the world leaders come together to try to figure out a way to deal with the so-called 'Boomer problem.' Heh! 'Boomer problem,' indeed," he spat. "There is no Boomer problem. If any get 'out of hand,' as it were, the Knight Sabers deal with it. They're convenient enough for that." He frowned again. "There comes a time, though, that people outlive their usefulness. I had the feeling they would appear again, after nineteen long years…and with a new member. There's a time when certain people just need to learn not to meddle in others' affairs anymore. I had the U.S. ambassador hire them to be lookouts for this summit, so I could lead them to their deaths, let those who worship them know what will happen to those who oppose me." He grinned. "I sent two new-model Boomers after them, one with a Black Box, to take care of them."
"Excellent plan, sir," I said with a grin. "It takes care of the Knight Sabers as well as the leaders who opposed you."
"They lived, Emi. All five of those damned Sabers lived. And a year later they invaded the Tower in San Francisco, exposed that little plan to the world, and assassinated my comrade Katherine Madigan. The United Nations has done their own investigating, and now, you see what they want me to do? They are demanding that I hand over the OverMind Control System, to see if there was any way that those Boomers were directed to do what they did, as opposed to just going rogue."
"This system…would I be right in guessing that it controls the movements of Boomers?"
"You would be right. All I need is the model number for a certain Boomer that I want to test out, give it its orders, and there you have it. Havoc in the streets, and when I offer to buy the property of those whose homes and businesses were damaged by that Boomer, they cave. I find out how well the Boomer does, and I acquire more property for the company. It's a win-win situation. But if I handed over the OMS…" He tapped his cane on the floor. "Well, I just can't allow that to happen. That would make the U.N. the rulers of the world."
"What do you plan to do, sir?" I asked.
"This is where you come in, my dear."
Mr. Quincy, as much as it seemed like he liked to talk, was not a man who liked to waste words. Rather than repeat something that was only going to be downloaded into my brain anyway, we both exited the office, with him insisting to Mr. Anderson that he wanted to see the process of the mission being implanted himself. Mr. Anderson protested at first, but after a terse look from Mr. Quincy, he quickly relented and was quiet on the elevator trip down back to the floor we had come from.
I eyed him carefully. His blood pressure was up again, and he was sweating profusely, dabbing at his temple with a handkerchief. He wasn't normally like this. I could tell this was going to be a problem if he continued to act belligerent. Being in the presence of Mr. Quincy wasn't a good enough excuse.
"This way," he said in a low voice, guiding us out of the elevator and down the hallway, past the room where the other 33Ds were kept, to a simple room that, like most of the others, required a code to enter, but unlike the others, it didn't end there. Upon putting in the code, Mr. Anderson submitted a hand print as well as undergoing a retinal scan before the door opened. He flicked on the light, and I recognized the room instantly. There was a computer system along the far left wall, and aside from a chair at the computer console, the only other piece of furniture in the room was a chair that sat against the back wall. It was a regular chair, except for the straps on the arms, and a jack sticking out from the top of the back.
"How long does this take?" Mr. Quincy inquired.
"From the time I log into the system, only a few minutes," he said. "Take a seat, Emi dear."
I nodded and did so, plugging the jack into the back of my neck, at the third cervical vertebra. Mr. Anderson strapped my arms down, then sat down at the console and entered the password to get into the system.
"I have to strap them all down when I give them their mission," Mr. Anderson explained, "because the influx of information can be a bit of a shock to their systems."
"And you yourself know nothing of these missions," he stated, assuming it to be true.
"Correct, sir. All I know is the codename for the mission to be downloaded. I get told which 33D to take out of cold sleep, and the codename of the mission, and the rest is none of my business."
I smirked to myself at Mr. Anderson's expression. He was tucking in his lower lip, a slight twitch in his eye evident. It told me that there was more that he wasn't saying, but he didn't need to. His face made it loud and clear. It told me that even if he wanted to, he wouldn't be able to access the mission details. That required a much higher level of access than he was capable of. Caregiver to 33Ds he may have been, but that didn't make him anyone special.
Indeed, this was going to be a problem.
"Here we are," Mr. Anderson said after a few minutes of typing in various codes and passwords. "Operation Oyakodon, sir?"
"That's the one," Mr. Quincy ascertained with a smirk. "Go ahead."
"Yes, sir. Comfortable, Emi?"
"Just do it," I said bluntly.
A few more taps of the keys and suddenly, I felt a surge of electricity shoot through me as images and information flashed in front of my eyes. Images of a metallic egg-shaped object. Details about an organization known as Adachi Synthetic Industries. In an instant, I knew everything that I needed to know about this mission.
"Relax your hands, Emi," I heard Mr. Anderson urge gently, and at the sound of his voice I became vaguely aware of my fingers being bent inward like claws, of the synthetic muscles in my arms tightening up. I slowly made them relax, still working through the surge of information that I had been granted with.
"Is that it?" Mr. Quincy inquired.
"That's it," Mr. Anderson said, unstrapping my arms, then having me lean forward to take the jack out of my neck.
"Stand up, Emi," he ordered. I did so. "Now, tell me what your mission is."
"My mission, Mr. Quincy, sir," I stated, clicking my boots together, "is to recover the OMS with the assistance of some men from ASI, to keep it out of the hands of the United Nations."
"And how is that going to be done?"
"The instructions, sir, are to intercept the van that will be delivering the device to the U.N. envoys, retrieve the OMS, and hold it for safekeeping until we receive further instructions from Genom proper."
"That is correct." He looked extremely pleased. "There's more than that, but you already know all that and I don't need to hear it again. Excellent, Emi." He turned to Mr. Anderson. "Ah, Anderson. It seems you were privy to all of that."
For a moment, Mr. Anderson looked panicked. "I-I wasn't listening to it, sir," he stammered. "I know you were just testing her to make sure everything was uploaded properly."
"That I was. But, there is still one more thing I need to do."
"What is that, sir?"
Mr. Quincy turned to me, and pointed the end of his cane at Mr. Anderson. "Emi. Kill this man."
Mr. Anderson looked at Mr. Quincy, bewildered, then looked at me, his face holding the expression of panic again. "W-wait. Kill me? Sir, you can't be serious."
I let a grin spread across my face. It was clear as day to me why he had given that order. "Right here, right now?" I asked.
"That's right," Mr. Quincy said.
I strode over to a very frightened Mr. Anderson, who had jumped up from his chair and was backing away from me. "Emi. Emi, l-l-listen to me, for Christ's sake," he stuttered. "I'm the only constant you've had. I'm the one who wakes you up every time, the one who…who gets you your cup of earl grey. I'm the only one who really cares about you! Please, think this through!"
"I've been thinking it through ever since you started sweating at the sight of Mr. Quincy," I said coldly. "He is the boss. You do what he says, when he says, without question, without protest. You were hesitating and protesting at every opportunity. Do you not trust him? Are you afraid of him? There's no reason to be as long as you keep your head down and do your job. Every lackey knows that. And as for what you just said, anyone can do that. Just because you're the one constant doesn't mean that I've developed some kind of feelings for you. Feelings are for the weak. And feelings can very easily get you killed."
"Emi, please! I love you! Don't do this!"
"You're wasting your feelings on an assassin Boomer. You've been extremely misguided, Mr. Anderson. You may feel that way for me, but I will waste no time in showing you what you mean to me."
I reached out and grabbed his throat, clenching my palm around his larynx, which at first bobbed up and down as he tried to swallow, but it quickly was trapped under my grip and stalled. Mr. Anderson let out a gasp, but as my grip tightened he could neither get in any air nor let any escape. I pushed him up against the wall and guided my grip up until his feet were barely touching the ground, with him banging on my arm and shoulders, trying to get me to let go. I grinned as my systems detected a steady decline in the amount of oxygen in his blood, but suffocation wasn't what I was after. It was merely part of the process.
I gave a hard squeeze, and immediately after came the sound of something being crunched. At the same time, I felt the bulge that was his larynx implode underneath my grip, and Mr. Anderson's eyes bulged open wide, followed by them glazing over as life left him. I relinquished my grip on him, and he dropped limply to the floor, his throat swelling up massively.
"As expected of a 33D," Mr. Quincy said, looking satisfied.
"You hadn't needed to give me the order, sir. I could tell he was going to be a problem before that."
"And that, my dear Emi, is why I chose you." He looked back at the dead man on the floor. "Let his colleagues come retrieve him. We have business to attend to. Isamu should be here in a short while. Let's not keep him waiting."
Several floors down from Mr. Quincy's office was a private dining room that he apparently used for business affairs. The room was almost as large as his office, with a long table trailing down the middle, with what I counted as a full three-dozen chairs situated around it, with a red gold-trimmed table runner as the sole decoration on the table. Three cooks, whom I quickly detected as A-Class Boomers, made several trips in and out of the room, setting the room with an extravagant feast. Chicken, ham, several different kinds of potatoes and salads and vegetables, a pitcher of water, several bottles of expensive-looking wine, and a pie set out for dessert. And this was just a late lunch.
"Do you wish me to stay outside while you talk with Isamu, sir?" I asked.
"No, you will sit with us," he said. "I want him to know whom I am entrusting this assignment to."
A few minutes after we had sat down, the doors opened, and in came in a middle-aged man, flanked by two 55Cs much like Mr. Quincy had had guarding his office. I narrowed my eyes, watching them closely, but they did nothing.
"Quincy!" he bellowed, laughing as the two men shook hands. "It's nice of you to invite me here!"
"Mr. Isamu. My pleasure to have you here. Sit down and let's have a talk."
Takeyuki Isamu, despite the fully Japanese name, didn't look Japanese in the slightest. He had a head of light blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, and a mustache that seemed to itch him constantly, as every few seconds his hand would reach up to scratch it. He wasn't obese, but still had a round face and something of a round stomach that stuck out underneath his suit. He was tall, but still only came to just above Mr. Quincy's shoulders.
Everyone sat down, and one of the cook Boomers took turns slicing up the meat and serving everyone what they wanted. Isamu wasted no time in filling up his plate to capacity, while Mr. Quincy started off with a Caesar salad with just the barest hint of oil.
"I take it that this is the 33D you're lending me?" Isamu asked, glancing at me as I took a sip of water.
"She is," Mr. Quincy affirmed. "This is Emi. Make sure your men refer to her like they would refer to a human being. It would be inconvenient if they were to treat her as some object. Aside from a full-out Combat Boomer, she is the most dangerous weapon at our disposal."
He chortled. "But she's so small."
"Are you questioning my choice, Isamu?"
"No sir." He eyed me up and down, taking a large gulp from his glass of wine. "It's just that this is the first time I have seen a 33D up close. She doesn't look like an assassin at all, but then again, that's the whole point. She's wonderfully constructed. My men may not like it though. They're expecting something that looks a little more…tough."
"She's plenty tough, and your men will take what I give them," Mr. Quincy stated firmly. "Time is running short, and I have no patience for those who are going to be trivial about looks."
"Absolutely not, sir." Isamu shoved a piece of ham into his mouth, chewing it over thoroughly before swallowing. Meanwhile, Mr. Quincy finished his salad and had one of the cook Boomers fill up his plate with slices of chicken, which had a little bit of gravy drizzled over them, some au gratin potatoes, and some sweet peas.
"They've been meddling for a long time, you know," Mr. Quincy said. "The United Nations. This thing that they're asking of me is just…preposterous."
"Why didn't you refuse to hand it over?" Isamu inquired, emptying his glass of wine, which one of the cook Boomers promptly refilled. I just sat and nibbled at my salad. "You're the most powerful man in the world. You must have at least some leverage over them."
"Things aren't as simple as you make them sound, Isamu," he explained. "Admit it. Even ASI's profits have suffered as a result of the order the U.N. gave out, banning manufacturing of any new models of Combat Boomers."
"They have. I'm down 20% this year because of it, but as a plus, orders for 55Cs are up the same amount. Alas, the new types we'd been developing would have brought in much more. Selling one of those would have brought in more than selling ten 55Cs."
"Except we would need to send some out on test runs first, of course."
"Of course. I was really looking forward to seeing how the Knight Sabers would handle them, if they could handle them." He chuckled. "Stupid women. They don't know their place."
"So what is this new model you were working on?"
Isamu handed Mr. Quincy a manila folder with blueprints and specs, which he opened and looked over. "The BU-79C, codename Quicksilver. Only three-fourths the weight of a 55C, largely because of the development of a new muscle fiber that is lighter and stronger than that used in the 55C, and one-and-a-half times faster in the air and on the ground. Preliminary testing against a 55C had the 79C decimate the 55C in forty-three seconds."
"Forty-three seconds? That's not as fast as I would like, Isamu."
"We're working on improving that time, sir. But ever since the U.N. restrictions came down…"
Mr. Quincy grinned. "It sounds very promising. I can promise you all the funding you need, if you get this job done for me. I'll lend you Emi here to help with the OMS job, and once you get it back to me, I can get you your funding, plus if I like what I see, I may even place a big enough order for them that your company won't have to worry about money for a long, long time."
"Your orders for 55Cs are already plenty generous, sir."
"You're making it sound like you can do without my offer." Mr. Quincy grinned.
"Oh, no, I greatly appreciate the offer. And I'm even more humbled that you are entrusting me with such an important job." He cleared his throat.
"This isn't me just sending you to find a kidnapped child, Isamu. The U.N. wants the OMS, and we're going to make it look like we'll be giving it to them. And naturally, this is where your men and Emi are going to come in."
"Yes, sir. We're going to make it disappear."
"It's not our fault if it disappears on its way to being delivered to them. We stood by our word," Mr. Quincy said with a facetious tone, grinning widely as he took a bite of chicken. "Genom always stands by its word."
"Indeed it does." Isamu shared the same grin. "Indeed it does."
I finished my salad, washing it down with another large sip of water. Isamu took that moment to look at me. "Do you really need food, or is it just for show?"
"My body requires sustenance as much as any human body does," I replied.
"In that case, why don't you go ahead and fill up? Lots of food here, and I don't want you getting lethargic on me during the mission."
"I prefer to eat light before the main part of my missions. I will have a little bit more, however." I snapped my fingers, and almost instantly one of the cook Boomers was at my side, offering me some chicken and potatoes, which I accepted.
"Well, that's fine, that's fine. I suppose you have a point there." He turned to Mr. Quincy. "Why lend me an assassin Boomer? This mission doesn't require killing of anyone specific."
"I trust your men, Isamu. But everyone knows that those who are most trustworthy are made, not born. I'm not going to spare anything in making sure that thing gets back to me. I'm sure you can understand that."
"No more objections, then?"
"None, sir. You've been clear as crystal, sir."
"Good, good." He stood up. "You're dismissed. Make sure your men are at the southeastern parking garage of the Tower by six on the dot. Minutes count, Isamu. If they're late…"
"They won't be, sir. I assure you."
"Emi will do her job and do her job well. Make sure she gets back to me in one piece." He looked at me. "Emi."
"Listen to Isamu. Make sure you do as he says."
He nodded and took his leave, looking back over his shoulder at me to give me one final look. He motioned his head in Isamu's direction before disappearing through the doors, which the two disguised 55Cs closed quickly.
I knew what he was saying. He was telling me to watch Isamu. I'd already decided that on my own.
"Well, he made sure all this nice food was ready for us. It would be rude to let it go to waste, eh?" Isamu laughed before having one of the Boomers refill his plate. "Quincy is a generous, generous man, I tell you. I've only met him in person a handful of times, and I swear, even at his age, that look he shoots at people is enough to scare the bejesus out of anybody if you're not prepared for it. Now nice of him to trust me with the OMS."
"He must trust you a lot," I said, eating my chicken slowly.
"He doesn't trust anybody as far as he can throw them," he spat, emptying his wine glass again. "He wouldn't have gotten to where he is if he didn't trust anybody. He shouldn't be trusting me this much, but it's a good thing he is. He's gotta have somebody do this, after all."
"You know the details of the mission, I take it?"
"Of course I do." He sneered. "Except I'm going to alter his plans a little bit. Pompous bastard needs to be taken down a few notches, and I'm just the one to do it. And he's putting me in the position to do it! What an arrogant ass."
I sipped my water, playing it cool. "What do you want me to do once your men and I have secured the OMS?"
"There's a warehouse in Timex City you all can lay low at for a few days. I'll come by and get it, and you're going to help me figure out how the bloody thing works."
"The one with the OMS is the one who gets control of all the Boomers. If I have control of the Boomers, then there's no way Quincy can refuse what I want. He'll be the mouse cornered by the giant starving cat. He won't have a choice!"
"What do you want, then?"
"Power. Isn't that what everyone wants? Sure, I'm president of ASI, but it's just a fucking subsidiary. Small fries to Genom, even if we do provide essential parts for the C-Class Boomers. I'm president but I still have to bow down to the likes of him. Well, I'll show him. Once I have the OMS, he'll be forced to listen to me! I'll show him! I can sic Boomers on him, AND wipe out the Knight Sabers, something he's failed to do time and time again! I'll do it! And then he'll admit what a genius I am!"
I had to keep from rolling my eyes, but I nodded. "Very well. He said six o'clock, right? That gives us about two hours or so to get ready."
"You don't need to get ready. My men will have everything in place already when they pull up. I'll make sure my guys here will give you some proper weapons, though," he said, nodding towards his bodyguard 55Cs. "It has to look real, after all."
After his third plate of food, Isamu finally decided he was finished, and after the table was cleared, we both left the dining room, with him patting his full stomach and laughing heartily, while I stayed by his side like Quincy had told me to do. This man was planning on overthrowing Genom. I was tempted to kill him now, to stop him in his tracks before he could even start, but first things first. I had to make sure the OMS was secured, and killing Isamu now would throw a wrench in everything Quincy had planned.
No. I would play the game for now. But once the OMS was in my hands it was over.
The next two hours were spent with Isamu making various phone calls on his cell, mostly to make final arrangements on various business deals. I pretended not to listen, but in truth I was paying attention to every word, and my hearing was excellent enough that I could even make out what the person on the other end of the line was saying. My first impressions told me that he wasn't merely talking in some elaborate code; he really was finalizing some deals, and none of them had anything to do with what was going on with the pending OMS mission. His tone was firm but reassuring at the same time, a complete one-eighty from the man who had gloated to me about his secret plans just a short time before. I had to digest this for a moment. Was his 'plan' from before really some sort of act, just to see how I would react? To see if I really would be willing to follow his every command? I couldn't be sure of anything, not yet. Something in the back of my mind told me it wasn't the first time I'd been tested out like this, but because my memory had been wiped of anything relating to previous missions, there was no way to confirm.
Whether it was an act or not, priority still lay with the OMS, with recovering it and making sure it would safely get back to Mr. Quincy's hands. If Isamu really was just playing with me, then I didn't need to worry. Assuming his henchmen did their part, this mission would go off without a hitch. If he wasn't, however, that just made one more person that I would have to get rid of. It didn't matter. Whatever it took to get the mission accomplished, that was what I would do. I'd succeeded four times before, and I was determined to make it five. No matter what.
At 5:55 PM, minus Isamu's bodyguards, we were both at the inside entrance of the southeastern parking garage of the Tower, just as the mission details specified. Five more minutes and a semi would be pulling up to take me away on my mission. A human might have been tingling with excitement and anticipation, and indeed, I was ready to get on the road and get the mission done. But there was no use in getting overexcited over it. Getting excited could only lead to carelessness, and I knew better than to let myself get excited. It was a mission, not a game. It was true that trying to outlast as many of my brethren as possible was something of a game to me, a contest, but in this instance, I realized that it was unlikely all of the ones who had fallen before me had truly screwed up. Some of them may have, but it was entirely possible that some of them had died for their mission, given their lives to ensure their missions were complete. If that were to be the instance here, then I would have no hesitation in giving my life, the game of 'last one standing' be damned.
It was a last resort, though. Only give my life if there was no other way to complete the mission. No use in throwing away my life for nothing. But it wouldn't come to that. Not if I could help it. No reason for the mission to fail if everyone did their part.
"There," Isamu said, nodding at a large semi in the distance that had just cleared the security gate. It was a fairly nondescript and generic semi, with no logos or anything on the sides or front, which was good. Easier to slip away in a vehicle no one could remember.
The semi pulled up in front of us, and a side door opened to reveal a large man with black hair and a beard. Upon spotting him, my internal files immediately ran a scan, and came up with a match instantly, bringing up his name and personal information. This man was the leader of the henchmen Isamu had chosen, going by the name of Bruce Waterly, aged 41, employed by ASI since 2042. Unmarried.
"Right on time," Isamu said. "This is Emi. She'll be helping you guys out tonight. Don't discount her on looks alone."
Bruce chuckled. "I was just about to say, she looks like a brat. Oh well. Get in."
I nodded and climbed into the carriage of the semi, getting just a glance at the interior before another man came up to me, short brown hair with a widow's peak adorning his head. He was larger than Bruce, with a muscular build not unlike those of Isamu's bodyguards. He, however, was human, and my scans told me this man was Bob Nakamura, aged 38, employed by ASI since 2050. Married with one son, currently separated. "Small for a supposed assassin," he murmured, "but I don't care. Long as we get 'er done, right?"
"Right," I concurred.
Outside the semi I could see Isamu's bodyguards coming up behind him, each holding two assault rifles and a case of ammo. My scans identified three of them as HK G11s, and one of them as a Rheinmetall MG3. Part of me questioned the need for a weapon as large as the MG3 – a six-foot-tall man could carry it around easily, to be true – but for the heist itself, it would be too cumbersome. The G11s were much better suited for that. Still, I didn't say anything. There was that saying, after all, about it being better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. Had to prepare for worst-case scenarios, after all. If it came down to it, all I'd have to do is fuse with it slightly and I would instantly know how to work it.
Bob and Bruce hauled in the weapons and set them down, followed by the ammo. "Anything else, boss?" Bruce asked while Bob looked over the weapons to make sure they were in good working order.
"No. You have your orders. Get going. Every second counts, as you know. Quincy's counting on us not to fuck it up."
"Good. Now go." Isamu slammed the door shut, and the driver of the semi instantly pulled away. In moments, we were exiting the parking garage and were on our way.
"Do I see a KID back there?!" the driver exclaimed, turning back for an instant to look at me in disbelief. He was not a sight to behold. His nose was thin and his chin pointy, like a rodent's. My scans identified him as Charlie Woods, aged 39, employed by ASI since 2052. Unmarried, and little wonder. Just on first sight I decided I didn't like him, but for the sake of the mission, I would have to bear it.
"Nezumi, she ain't a kid," Bob chided, Nezumi apparently being Charlie's nickname, and an appropriate nickname it was.
"I hear it all the time," I said. "Usually a fatal mistake." Bob laughed.
"See, Nez? She's gonna kill ya if you call 'er that again!"
"Ah, shaddap. I was told we were getting a killing machine!"
"And she's it," Bruce growled. "Shut the fuck up and drive. Save the ass-grabbing for when we get back to the warehouse. Right now we got a job to do." He picked up the G11s and started loading them one at a time, while Bob picked up a black outfit and mask and tossed it at me.
"We're dressing up today. That's the smallest one we've got, and if it's too big, we'll pin it back or somethin'."
"Fine." I stripped down to my underwear, and for a moment I felt the semi swerve, and Bruce took a moment to swear at Nezumi for trying to look at me. I frowned to myself and pulled on the outfit. I only had to bear with him for a little while, but I would make sure to keep an extra eye on him. As the driver, he was the most important person in this vehicle, and I had to make sure he did at least do that part to the best of his ability.
"Eyes front," I snapped, slipping my arms through the sleeves and pulling the fabric over my shoulders to finish. "I have nothing you want to look at anyway. Bob, Bruce. Your turn."
They both stripped down to their undershirts and boxers and got dressed in their own black outfits, and it was then I noticed that Nezumi was already dressed in his, which made sense. With the time crunch we were on, there would've been no time to switch drivers while he changed. At least somebody in this group had been thinking ahead.
"How long to the rendezvous point?" Bob yelled at Nezumi.
"Half an hour," the rat-faced man shouted back.
"Twenty-eight minutes if traffic holds up," I said, going by my scanners, examining one of the G11s. It was lighter than it looked, and every bit as lethal as it looked.
"Good," Bob said, nodding. He looked at me. "I'm eager to see what you can do."
"If everything goes as planned, you won't. Sorry."
He chuckled. "Touché. I think I like you."
The ride was smooth and uneventful. Nezumi attempted to turn on the radio, but Bruce snapped at him to leave it off in case Isamu were to contact us with last-minute instructions or a change in plan. He grumbled, but obeyed. I, in the meantime, continued to examine my G11, flicking the safety on and off several times with my thumb to make sure it worked properly. My left hand supported the barrel, fusing with it ever so slightly, the gun latched to my hand as the fusion completed itself. That done, I did a visual scan of the weapon, determining its specs. The gun had several different firing modes. In semi-automatic, one squeeze of the trigger would fire one bullet. There was also another setting in which it was capable of three-round bursts, but if switched to full-auto I could potentially fire off as many as 600 rounds per minute. Because of the way the gun chambered the bullets during the three-bound bursts, there would be no recoil – they were fed and fired as soon as the chamber was ready, as opposed to full-auto mode, when the housing moved back and forth between each shot – until after the last bullet was fired, so there was no worry about climbing. In addition, it was accurate up to 300 meters, and even loaded with one magazine and two extras stored on top, the gun still only weighed in at just under five kilograms. The bullets were light, but traveled fast, roughly 950 meters per second. Not to mention they were hollow-points. I smirked to myself again. This was the perfect weapon. Light, capable, and if someone were to get in the path of fire, it was ensured that they wouldn't have an open casket at their funeral.
Now wouldn't that be a pity?
I unfused from the gun and grabbed my mask, pulling it over my head, ensuring that my ponytail was tucked in. I looked over at Bob, who had already done the same thing and was now cocking the MG3 and flicking the safety on. "This ought to be interesting," I remarked.
"Yep," he agreed. "Man, if I could tell you the stories my dad told me about fighting in the Polar War. He had a G11, just like these ones we've got, and it was his baby. Kept sayin' over and over that it was more reliable than any of his comrades."
"Well, I'm relying on all of you," I said. "I'm planning on relying on you guys rather than on this gun, because it alone won't be getting this job done. Manpower and firepower don't equate."
"Spotted it," Nezumi called out. "It's three cars ahead of us."
Bruce walked up behind him and looked over Nezumi's shoulder. "That semi there?"
"Yep. The license plate number matches what we've got on file."
"Good. Track it. It should be pulling over in a couple blocks."
He stormed back to Bob and me and pulled on his mask. "Few more minutes, people. The moment they slow down to pull over I'm gonna blow the back tires. That'll be our chance. Don't worry about manhandling them, because they're expecting us, so they know what to do." I could see him grinning underneath his mask. "After all, it's gotta look real."
Several tense minutes passed, with no one saying a word. Nezumi rounded several corners, continuing to track the other semi, while everyone else checked their weapons one more time. I was sure by this point all the G11s had been checked out at least five times each, but it never hurt to make sure.
"We are go," Nezumi spat, and at that moment Bruce opened the side door and gave several squeezes of the trigger. Several loud popping noises followed as I heard the back tires of the semi in front of us blow out.
"Thirty seconds, GO!" Bruce yelled, jumping out into the street, and in an instant Bob and I had our guns in hand and were right behind him. A moment later, so was Nezumi, having slipped on his mask after he jumped out from behind the steering wheel. He was unarmed, however, as we had only been given three G11s, but that didn't matter, for he had the most important job of all.
Bob fired off shots at the lock sealing the back of the semi, and once that was done Bruce threw the doors open and all four of us stormed in, surprising the men who were sitting in the back. I looked around at all of them. They looked like run-of-the-mill security guards, except they were unarmed and unarmored. The one on the right was sitting on a bench next to a large metal case. I motioned towards the case, and Nezumi grabbed it and ran, while the remaining three of us stood there with our weapons pointed at them.
"Thank you for cooperating, gentlemen," Bruce said menacingly.
"Guys, please…put the guns down," one of them pleaded. "You got what you wanted." My systems detected his heart rate at 130. He was genuinely scared, even though everything, all of this, was preplanned. They also detected a security camera up in the corner of the carriage. I aimed my gun, turned off the safety, and fired, thousands of the resulting pieces of metal flying everywhere as the bullets made contact. The men all ducked at the sound.
"A camera. Heh. How annoying," Bob grumbled. "Good job."
"Everybody turn around," I ordered. "Don't look at us. We're going to be leaving now. Don't turn around until we're gone."
They got up and turned around as I requested. "Put your hands behind your head. All of you." Slowly, they obeyed, until all of them had their backs to us. "Good, good."
I raised my weapon, as did Bruce and Bob. I gave a small wave of my free hand as the signal, and once I did so, all of us aimed and fired, the volleys drowning out the sound of the men's heads popping as the bullets slammed into them. Blood and pieces of flesh and bone filled the air, making lovely designs on the wall as the men, or what was left of them below the shoulders, crumpled to the ground.
Without a word, Bob and I took off running at full speed back to the semi, with more shots ringing out behind us as Bruce apparently took care of the driver. In seconds, all of us were back in the semi, and Nezumi tore off his mask and shifted into gear. In less than a minute, we had rounded the corner and were now heading towards the next point, which was to be the warehouse in Timex City.
"You really are an assassin," Bob remarked, pulling off his mask, his face sparkling with perspiration. "That was awesome."
I pulled off my own mask. "Save your praise. This isn't over yet. We still have to get down to Timex City. We can celebrate then, and not a moment sooner."
"Make sure the thing's in there," Bruce said, nodding at the metal case that was on the floor. Bob opened it, looked inside, then closed it, nodding confirmation.
"Looks like a metal egg," he observed. "Whatever. Long as we get paid, I don't care what they ask us to do." He looked at me, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "Hey. I bet if we paid off that Old Man enough, we could keep you and use you for other missions like this. It'd be fun."
"I doubt it," I said. "Once this mission is over, so is this relationship. And besides, I doubt this is something you people do on a regular basis, and my kind is not meant for idle work. After this, you will move on, and so will I." I stopped and corrected him. "And by 'Old Man,' I'm assuming you're referring to Mr. Quincy. Don't call him by such a derogatory term. He commands much higher respect than that."
He chuckled. "Yes, ma'am."
"Fucking hell," Nezumi suddenly spat. "Bruce! We got cops behind us."
As if on cue, suddenly a voice came over a loudspeaker. "This is the police! Pull your vehicle over! Repeat! Pull your vehicle over, and come out with your hands behind your head!"
"What the hell?!" Bruce growled. "Somebody saw us, huh? Well, we can take care of that. Nez, get us on the highway. I'm gonna show 'em a thing or two about who they're messing with."
"Alright!" Nez cheered.
I felt the semi speed up, and soon enough we were on the highway. Looking in the rearview mirror above Nezumi, I could see at least four police cars chasing us, with sirens blaring. I frowned to myself. Surely I would have noticed if somebody else had spotted what was going on. I had been careless. But everyone else looked ready to take care of it. Bob got the MG3 positioned and ready to go, and on Bruce's signal, I stood against the wall by the case while he unlatched and threw open the back doors. Bob unlocked the safety and started spraying gunfire at the pursuing police cruisers.
Dakkadakkadakkadakka. That was the sound it made, and it was deafening, even more so than the air rushing into the carriage from the open back. The leading cruiser was quickly decimated by the gunfire, and it spun and collided with the guard rail, one of the others behind it crashing into it as it couldn't avoid it in time. The other two were still in hot pursuit, and in moments several others joined them, apparently having been called in for backup. Bruce turned his G11 to full-auto mode and squeezed the trigger, laying gunfire down at the tires of the cruisers while Bob aimed for the drivers themselves.
"What're you standing there for?!" Nezumi snapped. "You can absorb the thing, right?"
"Of course I can!" I snapped right back, the gunfire truly deafening, even to me.
"So DO it!!"
I examined the situation. In the unlikely scenario that we were to get caught, there would be a scandal, to say the least, if anyone had known what we had 'stolen'. Under these circumstances, my systems determined that there was a 97% estimated probability of mission failure if we were caught and I did not absorb the OMS into my body. I didn't like using my fusion abilities; they had a tendency to tax my systems if used for an extended period of time. If we were caught and I did absorb it, the failure rate went down to an estimated 50%, which was still an unacceptable rate. The only acceptable rate to me was zero. The only sure way to make zero happen was to not get caught and to absorb it. I could always unfuse with it once we got to the warehouse in Timex City. It was only temporary, and the only sure way to keep it safe.
I flipped open the case. As Bob had said, it was an egg-shaped metal object, and smaller than I imagined, given the size of the case; it was roughly forty centimeters long and six kilograms. An object of this size I could absorb in no time. I slipped the black outfit off my shoulders and slipped my arms out of the sleeves, pulling it down until my stomach was exposed. I grabbed the OMS and pressed it against my stomach, activating my body's Fusion Mode. Tendrils stretched out from my stomach, latching onto the OMS, pulling it slowly into the opening that my stomach was making.
The dakkadakkadakka noise was still reverberating in the background, along with Bob and Bruce's yelling. The police were still on their tails. I had to make this go faster.
I sped up the process, pushing the OMS further in with my hands as it was slowly sucked into my stomach cavity. I could feel my insides churning as they rearranged themselves to make room for this foreign body, and suddenly I was feeling very nauseous. This was not a normal feeling. My insides lurched again, grabbing onto the OMS hungrily, and I let out a scream in pain as they latched on and surrounded the OMS, pulling it all the way into my body. I crumbled to the ground, holding my stomach in agony as the hole began to close. It was like the OMS were absorbing me instead of the other way around. It felt like it was trying to take me over, like my body was going to lose itself to this…thing.
"GOT 'EM!!!" I heard Bob cheer, followed by a whoop of victory from Bruce.
"Yes!! We're safe!! Nez, get us off the highway now. We're okay."
"Roger that!" Nezumi hollered, sounding very satisfied with himself. "Guess that MG3 came in handy after all!"
"Well, no shit."
I got up on my knees, forcefully and very suddenly vomiting on the floor as the OMS finally took hold inside my body. I was sure I'd never felt pain like this before. It was overwhelming. I wasn't the cursing type but even I was about ready to let loose a stream of vulgar words and F-bombs that would've made the men around me blush with embarrassment.
"You ok?" Bob asked me.
"Fine," I rasped. "We gotta…get to the warehouse. How much longer?"
"It'll be a while. We gotta make sure nobody else is on our ass, so we're gonna drive through the city for a little bit."
"Do what you need to."
Bob cleaned up the vomit while I sat up and leaned against the wall, the hole in my stomach now closed, no outward signs showing of what I had just done. I let out a breath. The pain was ebbing, but my mind was still racing. Why did it hurt so much to absorb the OMS? That had never happened to me before; I was sure of it. Had I done something wrong? No…I couldn't have. I'd been around long enough to know the flaws of each of my abilities. My systems would have alerted me if something were going wrong. They would have suggested I abort the fusion. But they had done no such thing.
"Well, at least we can say we've had an eventful evening," Nezumi chuckled.
"This isn't the kind of eventful meeting I had in mind," Bruce mumbled. "Better let the boss know we're gonna be a little late."
"What do I tell him, that we almost got our heads blown the fuck off?"
"Pretty much, yeah. But the OMS is intact. Emi's got it in her gut now, so no worries about losing it."
"How're we gonna figure out how it works if it's in her stomach?" Bob inquired, which put me on alert. That was what Isamu had said several hours earlier, during lunch. He wanted me to help him figure out how the OMS worked… Was this part of the test? Or was it real?
"She'll just pop it out of her stomach when we get back to the warehouse. It'll be fine. They don't fuse with stuff forever. I saw her do it with the G11 just a little bit ago."
I gritted my teeth. Something still didn't feel right. I ran the fusion process in reverse, expecting the hole in my stomach to open up again so I could get rid of the OMS. Instead, a jolt of electricity shot through me, making me grunt in pain, along with a warning from my system.
"NOT POSSIBLE AT THIS TIME."
I felt a bead of sweat run down the side of my face. This was a problem. A major problem. I thought I had foreseen every possible scenario for this evening. I knew fusing with the OMS would be a possibility to keep it safe. But the possibility that I wouldn't be able to unfuse with it… Even I hadn't seen that coming. For now, at least, I couldn't do anything about it. It would just have to stay put. I swore to figure it out later, once we were at the warehouse.
"How big of a cut do ya think he'll give us once he's got the thing figured out?" Nezumi asked. "We DID almost get killed grabbin' this piece of shit for him."
"I'm not thinking that far ahead yet. I'm sure he'll compensate the hell out of us for our trouble. Don't worry about that. Isamu is a generous man."
I frowned to myself again. This wasn't a test. These men were in on it too. They knew exactly what Isamu was going for. They knew he wasn't just going to 'hold it' for Mr. Quincy. They really were planning to steal it from him. And thanks to me, they were halfway there.
It was settled. This mission as it stood would end right now. I would shoot these men, change back into my regular clothes, and make my way back to Genom Tower on my own. It was the only choice I had now, now that everything had been made clear to me.
These men, useful as they had been, had to die. Right now.
"Hey, someone's feeling better," Bob cracked as I wobbled to my feet, G11 in hand.
"Yes…thank you," I said, flicking the safety on and off with my thumb. "I'm just fine now. So I guess you did get to see what I can do, after all. There's still one more thing, though—"
I didn't get to finish. Bruce had snuck up behind me, and before I knew what was happening, I felt a large jolt against the back of my neck.
"Time to go…"
I let out a scream, and then everything went black.
Even as I came to, I could feel my head swimming. I moaned and forced my eyes open, putting a hand to my head, wincing as the vehicle I was apparently in hit a bump.
"Watch it, dammit!" a man snapped at the driver.
Another man, one with brown hair and a widow's peak, looked down at me, noticing I was awake. "Ah, Emi, you're awake. 'Bout time," he said.
Emi…the name didn't sound familiar. And this man didn't look familiar to me at all either. I gasped, trying to think. My mind was a total blank! I tried to recall, what was my name? Why was I with these men? Nothing came to me.
"Is that my name?" I asked, slowly sitting up, looking down and realizing I was clad in an undershirt and boxers that couldn't possibly be mine; they were far too big, and the shirt was big enough that I was practically exposing my breasts to the man in front of me.
The man who'd yelled at the driver, one with black hair and a black beard to match, grunted. "Damn. Guess I got rid of too much," he mumbled. "Hell with it."
What was he talking about? Had he done something to me?
I didn't have time to ask. He yelled at the driver of the semi to stop, and he nodded at the brown-haired man next to me, who got up and opened a side door. Dragging me to my feet, the two men guided me to the door. I tried to dig my heels in, but they were far too strong. My heels merely dragged along the metal floor.
"Wait, what're you doing?" I pleaded.
"Get out of here, brat. Go on."
I found myself shoved out of the semi, stumbling and landing on the asphalt of the street on my hands and knees, tires squealing behind me as the semi pulled away in a hurry, leaving me alone. I was too much in shock to move. What on earth was going on? Why were they in such a hurry to get rid of me? Had I done something wrong? I had barely woken up, and suddenly I was alone on the streets of an unknown city, with a group of teenagers passing by on a nearby sidewalk, paying me little heed.
I stood up, not even brushing away the dirt and gravel that I could feel digging into my knees and the palms of my hands. What was I supposed to do? Everything was confusing me all of a sudden. Those men…I had apparently been with them long enough for them to know what I had to assume was my name. Had they kidnapped me? Done unspeakable things to me? I could at least rule the latter out – the only thing that hurt was my stomach, and even that was only a dull ache, like I'd been punched, though of course I couldn't remember if I had been.
I was about ready to cry in frustration, when suddenly I heard a bolt of thunder crash down above me. I jumped and hugged myself as rain started to pour down. Looking around, I saw an alley I could duck into for cover, and I did so, sprinting over to it as fast as I could, ducking behind a beat-up trash can. Despite appearances, the overhang in the alley didn't provide much protection from the rain, and so in a matter of moments I found myself drenched. Despite the warm air just moments ago, the rain itself was freezing, which provided an unwelcome contrast and left me shivering, rubbing my arms up and down to keep warm.
People walking by me had opened up their umbrellas, chatting without a care in the world, none of them noticing this girl hiding in the alley from the rain, no one even taking a second glance even if they had. Surely this wasn't a common sight though, a girl on the street in what amounted to pajamas. I sniffled. I could ask one of them for help. Maybe someone would know who I was, recognize me somehow.
Whatever I did, whatever sin I committed. I'm sorry. Just, please…help me. I can't be stuck out here all alone.
I wiped away my tears, deciding to wait out the rain. Once it stopped raining, I would venture out and ask somebody to help me.
I heard more footsteps by me, then suddenly they stopped, and drew closer to me again. I looked up, blinking in confusion as I saw a brunette-haired girl looking down at me curiously with bright red eyes, her hair tied back in a tight braid. She was wearing a denim jacket with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, with a striped shirt underneath. On her left leg she wore a blue sleeve with an open patella.
"Maybe running away in your pajamas wasn't a good idea," she quipped, grinning. I just pulled my knees closer and shivered. It hadn't exactly been my idea.
She crouched down. "Do you understand me? Do you speak Japanese?" I nodded. "Good. So what're you doing out here? It's cold without a jacket or shoes?"
Would she believe me if I told her? I decided to take a chance. "They told me to get lost," I mumbled.
"Who did?" she asked.
"The men in the truck. They pushed me out and told me to get lost."
The girl frowned. "Were you kidnapped?"
"I don't know," I said, trying not to cry in frustration again. "I don't remember anything, only waking up in the truck and then the men pushing me out into the street."
"Do you remember your name?"
"One man called me Emi." I didn't know if that was my real name, but it was the only thing I had right now.
"Ok, Emi, I was just getting something to eat. Would you like anything?" I nodded. "Ok. I'll go get something, and then I'll take you to my place so you can get dried off. How long have you been out here?"
"Not long. I was pushed out just before it started raining."
"Good. I'll be back, ok? Just sit tight." She disappeared in an instant, running down the street. I sighed and held my knees again. I hoped she wasn't just playing with me. It certainly would've been nice to get something to eat. I hadn't even realized I was hungry until she'd said something.
True to her word, she reappeared a few minutes later, holding two plastic bags. "Here," she said, holding one out to me. I took it gingerly from her, like it was going to vanish into thin air if I took it too fast. "This is yours. I'm gonna take you to my place now, ok? Just follow me."
I hugged it to myself, relishing its warmth. "This is mine?"
"Yes, that's what I said. Now come on. I bet you're starving."
She handed me her jacket, and although I protested at first, she insisted, and so I slipped it on, still holding my food close as we both walked down the street towards her residence. I was quick to notice she had a slight limp, but it didn't seem to bug her.
Once we reached an apartment building, we went upstairs and entered her apartment. It was a small apartment, with a small kitchen to my left, the living room we were currently standing in now, and a door along the far wall that looked to lead into a bedroom. She led me to the kitchen and took my bowl of food out of my bag and gave me some chopsticks, then left for a moment, returning with a towel, which she handed to me. I rubbed at my head with it while wielding the chopsticks with my free hand, scooping up the noodles and slurping them up. They were delicious.
"Once you're done eating, go take a shower," she suggested. "At least that water is hot. And I'll give you some of my clothes for now. They might be too big, but we can go shopping tomorrow and I'll get you some that fit." Suddenly it looked like she hit upon an idea. "On second thought, Nene's about your size. We can go to her place and borrow some of her clothes."
"Who's Nene?" I asked.
"My aunt. Well, not really my aunt, she's a friend of my mom's. And maybe she can help me figure out what to do with you?"
"What to do with me?" I gulped.
"Yeah. Somebody must've reported you missing. And you obviously have amnesia, so you can't tell me where you came from. But right now I guess we should just get you cleaned up, warmed up, and get some sleep before we do any of that."
"What's your name?" I asked, realizing that I still didn't know what to call her. "You didn't tell me your name."
"Oh, I guess I didn't, did I? I'm Yumeko."
"You told me that already," she pointed out with a laugh.
"Are you going to tell me to get lost too?"
"No. I'm going to help you find your home. Don't worry."
I quickly finished my noodles, and Yumeko deposited the bowl in the trash can. Once she finished with her own food, she led me to the bathroom and showed me where the towels were kept, and told me to take my pick of pajamas from her dresser drawer once I was done.
"Why did you help me?" I asked, feeling guilty all of a sudden. I felt like I was somehow putting her out. "Everyone else just passed me by."
She gave me a reassuring smile. "I wanted to."
"That's it. Go ahead and get in. You'll feel a lot better afterwards."
She shut the door behind me, and after I figured out the knobs in the shower, I took off my oversized men's clothes and stepped in, squealing in delight as the hot water poured over me. So much better than the rain outside! This was heaven compared to that!
After I shampooed and conditioned my hair, I sat down in the stall, hugging my knees, deep in thought. This girl, who didn't look a whole lot older than I assumed I was, had taken me in for no other reason than to help me out. Maybe she felt sorry for this poor girl sitting in the rain in ill-fitting clothes, but I didn't care. I was just happy someone had taken notice of me. I didn't know what would have happened if she hadn't stopped. And she'd said she had a friend who could possibly help me out. I was elated.
Something still bothered me, however. The farthest back I could remember was waking up in the semi. Why was that? That man had mentioned doing something "too much," and it seemed to refer to me. What had he been talking about? Maybe Yumeko and her friend Nene could help me figure it out. It was frightening, not knowing who I was, or what I had done, or why I was with those men to begin with.
Yumeko had gone through the trouble to give me food and shelter when no one else did. I smiled and made a promise to myself. Since she said she would do everything she could for me, I swore that I would return the favor in kind. I would do what I could as well.
It was the least I could do for my new friend.
END "Love Me Tonight – Emi"