May 3rd, 7:50pm
Cosmos Space Center
Moving around the City by bus had always been rather convenient. Even if I preferred the freedom my bike gave me, right now I was pretty glad I had caught the right line on time. The twenty minutes I was on the bus down to the Space Center, I could see the light dimming outside. The sun was going down. By the time I arrived at my destination, the street lanterns were switched on and day had entirely changed to night.
(...I hope the area is well lit. Finding those two in the pitch-black dark isn't going to be easy.)
Well, first, I had to get inside the Space Center at all, right? I briefly wondered if they allowed sightseeing this time of the day, but if Apollo and his friend were let in, I doubted I'd be denied entry. Still, I had to hurry. Apollo was walking around injured with no one but a kid his age around, and Kay was all on her own. If whoever sabotaged Gumshoe's car was still out for more blood, these two were basically walking targets right now. Meanwhile, I had to find both of them all on my own. I convinced Maya to stay with Mr. Shields and call up Edgeworth. Right about now, she should have been calling together everyone possibly related to me or the case and prepare to get them all on the next train to Kurain Village. All that was left to me was finding those two kids...
Entering the Space Center's premises was easy. I flashed my passport at the entrance and, after a quick metal detector scan, was let in. This time, I made sure to put the Prosecutor's Badge aside beforehand. There were no problems.
Still, the hard part started now, with me stepping beyond the area's gates. Even on first glance I could see that this place was huge, and there were plenty of places I could go. Oh, boy...
(I won't find anything if I just wander about aimlessly,) was the conclusion I came to. (I should probably start by asking the staff around here if they've seen any teenagers around. That should help.)
But that still meant that I had to find a staff member first. So even that little plan of mine wasn't entirely flawless. ...I'd just have to improvise. That was what I always did anyway, wasn't it? Keeping my eyes open for anyone who might cross my path, I approached the doors of the main building. Just then, I felt something hit my right leg.
It was dark, so I didn't see the object in my path before I made contact with it. Now it was throwing me off balance. At this rate, I was going to fall flat on my nose.
...Saved. I managed to stay on my feet somehow. Good. Now I wouldn't have to add a bloody nose to my recent collection of personal injuries. Sighing in relief, I looked on the ground before me. Now I got a chance to identify the 'foreign object' that had stopped me in my tracks: It was a yellow and blue-patterned ball, rolling about before my feet.
I furrowed a brow, confused as to what something like this was doing here, in the Space Center. Just as I was wondering if some staff member's child could have forgotten it, two small hands trying to reach for the toy entered my field of vision. I raised my head a little and saw a young girl with red-brown hair before me, bending down to retrieve what apparently was hers.
My lips stayed stuck in an o-shape for a short moment. A grade- or middle-school age child was the last kind of person I'd expected to meet here, least of all this time of the day. Maybe her parents had brought her along to work?
In any case, as soon as I'd made a sound, the girl noticed me.
Carefully she raised her little head and looked up at me, mystified by my presence, as if she hadn't noticed that I was here until the moment she heard my voice. Her eyes locked of me with a sense of bewilderment, she stood up straight, with the ball now firmly resting between her hands. Now I could see her face and clothing in their entirety. She was older than Pearl, but younger than Maya. Maybe ten or eleven years old, and was wearing a cute, yellow blouse and a large ribbon, tying her hair to a ponytail on the side of her head. She carried a small, bunny-themed pouch on her, and there was a yellow gemstone pendant in the shape of a crescent, hung around her heck from a golden necklace. However, the most noticeable thing about her were the large, pink headphones she was wearing. With everything else about this girl looking about as casual as can be, these things stood out like a sore thumb. I was just wondering where you could even buy headphones like these and if a little girl like that really needed what must have been cutting-edge sound quality to listen to her music, when I realized that staring at a child like that probably wasn't a good idea; The girl was starting to act fidgety.
"...Uh... Oh... Um..."
Squeezing the ball to her chest, she turned away from me a little, but not entirely. She looked conflicted, as if she didn't know whether to greet me or run away. Again and again, she threw a brief glance at me, before looking away again. Her grip on her toy grew visibly tighter.
I felt sorry when I saw her acting that way. Of course, I didn't mean to make her so uncomfortable, but I realized that fixating on her headphones the way I did must have come off just a tad creepy. Maybe I should try talking to her...?
"Hey. Um... Hello, there."
I bent down, trying to get on eye-height with the girl. Maybe that'd make her feel a bit safer talking to me.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. It's just, your ball was suddenly there, and, em..." Mid-sentence, I could already tell that what I was saying didn't calm the girl down at all. Her big, blue eyes were firmly locked on the floor, evading my face. Did I do anything to upset her? "Ehm... Hey. Are you OK?"
"...I'm sorry that they're creepy..." I just barely heard the girl before me mumble under her breath.
The girl raised her head just a little. I could see her peeking at me from the corners of her eyes.
"...My headphones..." she whispered a little more intelligibly. "...You think that they're creepy. I'm sorry."
"What...? W-Wait, no, no!" Now, the way she worded that statement of hers confused me a bit, but I could at least tell now that I'd clearly made her flustered with the way I'd been looking at her... Which, in turn, was now making me flustered. Uhh... Why did life constantly have to remind me that I wasn't any good with children?
"It's nothing like that!" I tried to assure her. "They're a little, um... Big for you, but, ummm... It's a cute color! I think it suits you! Did you pick them out yourself?"
Unfortunately, this didn't seem to help the girl warm up to me either. Evading my eyes again, she continued mumbling. "...Auntie made them. My mom said I have to use them."
"Oh. Um..." (An unwanted present from a relative, huh...?) "...Well, don't worry. You'll be a grown up soon enough. Then you can pick out what you wanna wear yourself. Does that sound good?"
"..." At first the girl stayed silent at my proposal. But then, after a short while, she finally looked up, giving me a small smile. "...That's gonna be fun."
"...Yeah. I bet it will be." (Wheew. Seems she's cheered up.)
Well, if you could call that 'cheer' at least. Her expression was still rather subdued. But that was just normal. I was a total stranger to this girl. It was only normal that she'd be shy around me. Pearl had acted similarly when I first met her... Ah, Pearl. Right now, it made me a little sad to think of her. I decided to push that thought aside.
"Anyway. I hope your ball is OK. I'm sorry I tripped over it."
"...Mister?" The girl said with a questioning tone, which caught my attention. "...Why are you so sad?"
"Huh...?" I opened my eyes wide. How did she...?
As much as I knew that I could be very easy to read when I wasn't paying attention, I was entirely sure that right now, my eyes were dry and my face neutral. There should have been no reason for her to assume that I was in any way 'sad', right? So why was she saying something like that?
"You're really scared too... Did something happen?"
...OK, I had to admit, she was getting just a little creepy now.
I tried to not let it show on my face, but the fact that this little girl before me was spelling out my emotions to me as if she was reading them from cue-cards was honestly unsettling. Now that she was saying it, I realized how prevalent the anxiety caused by what I'd learned at Mr. Shields' office lingered in my mind. I'd been trying to tune it out and focus on what I had to do, but somehow, this girl was able to notice and remind me. That was some impressive empathy right there...
"...N-No, it's nothing. I'm alright."
"That's not true... You're too nervous to be alright."
I bit my lip. OK, obviously telling white lies to this girl was not going to help. I also really didn't need any more little girls to remind me even more strongly of the odd things that had happened back at the river in Kurain than thinking of Pearl already had. Maybe it was time to change my approach...
"...OK, you've got me. You're right. To be honest, I came here because I'm in a bit of a... situation right now."
"A situation?" The girl asked me.
"Um, yes. It's a long story, though..." Come to think, maybe this was my chance to ask. "Say, if you want to help me, could you tell me something, maybe? I'm searching for a boy in red with brown hair and a golden bracelet, and a girl with black hair, a pink shirt and a black skirt. Could it be that you saw one of them anywhere around here?"
"A boy and a girl...?" The little girl tilted her head before shaking it a little "No. I didn't see anyone like that. I think all the people went home already. That's why I came out to play."
"Ah... You think?" That was disheartening to hear. "I see... But I was sure they'd be here."
"Um... I can still try to help!" The girl's sweet, little smile was back. "If it's OK... I wanna help you search. I know my way around here."
"Uhm... That's nice of you, but..." (This might be a bad idea. I get a feeling I've already been talking to her for too long...)
Right. Everyone I got friendly with would become a potential target. I had to keep that in mind. The longer I spend time with this girl, the more I risk being seen with her. I didn't want anyone else to end up in the crossfire because of me. Least of all a sweet, little child like her.
I was just about to formulate a good way to tell her that I'd be searching on my own from this point on in my head, when I noticed that the little girl in front of me had turned to the side, her hands on the large headphones she was wearing. With closed eyes, she was moving her head as if she were trying to scan the area somehow.
"Hmmm... Can't... Hear..."
There was a slight frown on her face as she said that. Finally, she moved her hands up, their grip on the headphones still steady. The devices on her ears came off.
At once, the girl's eyes were wide open and her frown changed into a bright smile.
"Voices...!" she stated with a sense of pride.
(Voices?) I thought to myself, straining my own ears. (But... I can't hear anything...)
"They're this way, Mister!"
Before I could question the girl's claims to having heard people's voices just now, let alone say anything else, she had turned into the direction she'd been pointing into and run off, a lot faster than I'd have expected from someone who seemed as dainty as her.
And so, it came that again, for the second time in under a week, I was chasing after a little girl trying to lead me somewhere. I hadn't expected this. Not that she'd insist on helping me, not that she'd decide to track my 'targets' down, not that she'd just be running off like that while obviously expecting me to follow. I would have questioned how much this girl's guardians had taught her about the meaning of 'stranger danger,' but I knew that as the one who addressed her first, it really wasn't my place to complain. Instead, I decided to focus on the other big question mark in my mind: What exactly did she meant by 'voices?'
I couldn't hear anything. Not even now, as I was moving in the same direction the girl was trying to lead me to. Not even a single sound stood out to me. There was only the wind, adorned with a couple of owls starting their nightly song in the distance. And yet, she said she heard voices? Now, I knew that kids had more sensitive ears than adults, but could the difference really be that big?
The one thing I could be sure of was that the girl wasn't just winging it either. Every few meters, she would stop briefly, close her eyes, and listen, as if she were trying to make sure that her target hadn't moved since the last time she 'located' it. Then, she would correct her direction slightly and continue running. She kept on guiding me this way, finally leading us into a grove behind the Space Center's areal.
I flinched when I saw where she was guiding us. Now, THAT really wasn't a place for a little girl like her that late at night. I knew, if this girl's parents ever were to find out what was happening right now, I would probably be finding myself in a lot of, possibly legal, trouble. Hopefully Edgeworth was up to defending old friends accused of kidnapping little children... What was I even thinking, I had to get that girl back home, right now!
I sped up, trying to catch up with the girl before she could disappear any deeper into the grove, but that effort of mine soon turned out to be unnecessary: Just a few steps into the small woods, the girl suddenly let out a small shriek and stopped running. In front of me, I could see her falling on her knees, clutching her head... What was going on?
Now that she was cowering in midst of the fallen blossoms on the ground, I quickly caught up with her. The first thing I did when she was in my reach was to go down onto my knees herself and offer the girl a hand.
"Are you OK? ...Can you stand?"
The girl, however, didn't react to me, almost like she couldn't see I was there. Well, maybe she didn't. Her eyes seemed fixed on the ground. Her hands still on her ears, I could hear her sobbing a little.
"T-They're scared..." she whimpered in a shaky voice.
"...Scared?" I repeated what she was saying and wondered to myself if she was talking about something she'd "heard" again. "Who's scared?"
"T-The boys... And that girl..." The little girl kept going. "There's another girl. Her voice is weird... But she wants to make them hurt... They're scared, because she wants to break them, and then... Then..."
I had trouble making sense of what she was saying. All I could get was that if she was actually hearing things I didn't hear, they couldn't have been to pleasant. Finally, after a few seconds of stuttering and sobbing, the girl stopped talking again. To my knees, she burst into tears.
"Hey... What's wrong? ...Hang in there!"
I put my hands on the girl's shoulders, but it was no use. Not even acknowledging my touch, she just kept wailing and crying. She seemed to be in pain and her voice was so loud, it was almost as if she was trying to drown out whatever it was that she was "hearing" with her own voice. ...Realizing this, a frightening thought crossed my mind.
With her screaming like this, anyone in a radius of a few hundred meters was bound to realize we were here. Anyone could notice our presence. Meaning...
I hadn't gotten so far as to think through what that meant yet. I didn't need to. The answer was approaching with a breeze through the nightly groove carrying the sounds of teenage voices to my ears. Finally, I knew for sure that the girl had been right. Now I could hear them for myself, approaching fast.
"ARGH-! Don't move, Apollo!"
"You guys, get back!"
Familiar voices of a boy and a girl. The unfamiliar voice of a boy I didn't know. All three of them pierced through the screams of the girl with me, blending with them into an incredibly panic-inducing noise.
And then there was a flash of light.
For just a moment, the trees and bushes all around us were bathed in a bright, green light. The image that I saw that moment burned itself into my mind in so much detail, I could tell exactly what I saw, even though it only lasted for a split second:
Bursting out of the darkness of the woods, there was a boy with wild, black hair, wearing a Rising Sun High uniform, leaping through the air, carrying a stick like a bladed weapon in one hand. With the other hand, he held on to the arm of another person: He was carrying Apollo on his back, Apollo clinging tightly to a weaponized wooden stick himself. And then, in front of them, in midst of what seemed to be a leap backwards, there was Kay Faraday. She wore a device attached to her wrist, like an over-sized watch and was pointing it into the darkness of the trees' shadow. It was the source of the blinding light that was illuminating the night right now. She aimed it at a specific target. My eyes weren't fast enough to see what it was though.
That scene only lasted for a short moment. The green light disappeared, leaving my eyes unadjusted to the dark and unable to see anything around me for a couple of moments. As I frantically strained my eyes to start perceiving my surroundings again, I realized that this must have been what Kay was trying to do: blind someone who was following them... The kids were being chased.
I would have gotten up and ran to them right away, had it not been for the little girl clinging to my feet. She was screaming even louder than before right now. I couldn't possibly just leave her here like this... But, on the other hand, whoever was after Apollo, Kay, and the other boy was going to catch up with them. I had to do something.
I got up on my feet and took a breath
"APOLLO! KAAAAAY! COME HERE!"
I shouted to overpower the little girl's screams as well as the children's own panicked yell. I couldn't remember ever yelling this loudly on purpose before, not even in court. Still, this was my only chance. Right, the assassin was bound to know the sound of my voice. If they heard me yell for the kids and realized I was here, there was a chance they'd realize that if I were to discover their identity, the gig would be up, once and for all. That might keep them away from the kids...! At least, that was the theory my mind had hastily conjured up. I could only pray that it was right.
Just as I heard Apollo's voice reply to me, my vision became clear again and I could see the kids about thirty feet away from me, all three of them staring in my direction. I'd been right about them being chased: There was something moving clumsily in the bushes to their right. A dark shadow was trying to approach the kids, only held back by the uncoordinated way it was moving right now. Kay's flash of light had done its job it seemed. Still, they weren't quite in the clear yet and even with my yelling, it was still probable that the moment their pursuer would be able to tell where they were going again, they would continue to chase after them, even with me watching. Thankfully, the kids realized that for themselves. With panicked yelps and shrieks from all three of them - Apollo's screeching stood out - Kay and the second boy turned in my direction and ran, dragging Apollo along with them.
Just a few seconds later, there were five of us: Apollo, the boy carrying him, Kay, the crying little girl - who seemed to be in any even worse shape now, what with all the yelling going on around her - and me.
"Mr. Wright!" Apollo repeated. "How did you...?"
"...find us!?" Kay finished the sentence, steamrolling Apollo's own words in the process. The third boy joined the conversation as well. His eyes, however, were not on me, but rather on the girl sitting on the ground.
"Is that Ms. Cykes' daughter? What's she doing out here?"
I didn't reply to either of the questions turned against me just yet.
It was our little group here, up against the shadowed figure moving along through the bushes, pursuing the children. I could see something glimmer and shine on the figure... That had to be knife. It was probably what they had tried to attack the kids with. As far as I could tell, they were only one person, so we at least gravely outnumbered them. I hoped that that fact would cause the attacker to realize that reaching their goal was futile right now. I hoped that it would make them turn around and leave. If they didn't, I had no idea how I was going to protect these children, unarmed as I was...
I placed myself in front of the children. Whatever the attacker would decide to do, now I'd be the first thing they'd see. Me, not them.
The silhouette in the distance stumbled, then became more steady. It approached, step for step, as I grew tense and tenser. But then it slowed down and eventually came to a halt. The figure and I were standing in front of each other like that for a while, only some ten feet of distance separating us. Short of breath and with sweat pearls on my face, I stretched out my arms, trying to act as a barrier between the figure and the children.
A couple of very tense seconds that seemed to last far longer than they had any right to passed by me. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I could see the dark figure in my front finally turning on their heels. Disappearing into the woods, the kids' mysterious pursuer ran away, taking their knife and the lasting physical and mental scars they could have inflicted on the children with them.
A deep sigh left my mouth. When my muscles relaxed, it felt as if I'd just finished running a marathon. That's how big the relief I felt was.
"Thank goodness..." I breathed out as I turned around and looked behind myself. There the children were, right behind me, all of them seeming unharmed. Well, all except for Apollo, that was. The boy was still leaning on one of the other teenagers' back, seemingly finding it difficult to stand without support. A look at how he was angling off his foot gave me a good idea of what must have caused this. It made me guess that the boy's sprained ankle must have disagreed badly with their initial attempts to escape from the person attacking them. With him in this shape, I didn't want to try imagine what would have happened if I hadn't caught up with them when I did.
"...Is everyone alright?" I asked, trying to calm down enough to speak without having my voice break on me.
"Y-Yeah... I'm fine... We're f-fine..." Apollo stuttered out.
"B-But, this was a really close one, huh!?" Kay's face carried an expression of both excitement and horror. She looked like an adrenaline junky who'd just escaped alive from a horrible roller-coaster accident.
(Yeah, this was close... Way too close...) I found myself breathing in and out deeply. (Just a minute later, and there'd been even more even more casualties... God...)
But I'd managed. At least right now, nobody else had gotten seriously wounded, let alone hurt. Of course, that wasn't my doing along. My eyes wandered down to the little girl on the floor.
(It's all thanks to her.) I thought to myself. (I still don't know how she did it, but if it hadn't been for this girl... I don't even want to imagine...)
Too bad she herself didn't seem to realize her own heroic deed right now. The girl on the floor was still crying relentlessly, just like before and it didn't seem like she was stopping any time soon. As glad as I was that Apollo and the others were save, this just hurt to see and hear. I got down on the ground, putting a hand on the girl's head.
"Hey... It's OK. It's over, you see? The bad person's gone! So... You don't need to be scared anymore-" No dime. The girl didn't even acknowledge my presence. Her tears kept flowing, her sobs remained vividly voiced. "...Aww, come on. Please, stop crying... OK? I mean... Umm... Uhhh..." I was running out of ideas here. Again, my amazing aptitude with children and all the reasons I should never have any were showing. "Gah... It's like she can't even hear me. What's wrong?"
"She's having a panic attack," The boy Apollo was leaning on told me. He eyed the girl with worry in his eyes. "I heard people at the Center saying that she has these sometimes. I don't think there's much we can do to make her stop."
"The people in the center told you? So, you know who she is?" I asked and the boy would nod.
"Yes, she's the daughter of one of the scientists working at the Space Center. She doesn't come out much when there's people around, but I come here a lot more often than Apollo does, so... I've seen her around."
"So, she's gonna keep crying, Clay?" I heard Apollo ask his friend from behind. I could tell from the look in his eyes that he found it just as painful to see a little child as destroyed as that as I did. "Just like that?"
"Well..." The boy - Clay - dropped the stick he'd been carrying and put the hand that he had freed that way on his hip, taking a thoughtful pose. He spoke in a low, comparably quiet voice. "It'd probably help if there were fewer of us around. I heard she's really bad with loud crowds. ...But first, we should probably get her back to the Space Center. I mean, if anybody knows how to calm her down, it's probably her mother, right?"
A panic attack... In other words, she was overwhelmed by her emotions right now? I didn't really understand anything about psychology myself, but that was what it sounded like to me... Or rather, that's what looking at the girl made it feel like to me. I couldn't put my finger on it, but the sight of that little child crying and crying like that somehow seemed uncomfortably familiar to me.
Just as I was thinking that, I saw that Kay had gotten down to eye level with the girl as well. Kneeling on the floor next to me, she put her gloved hands on the girls' shoulders
"Hey, did you hear that? It's OK, we're getting you back home!" The tone Kay was speaking with was as sweet and calm as I hadn't heard her sound ever since she dropped her act back at Mr. Shield's office.
Still, the girl didn't exactly quiet down, but she did nod and was now attempting to wipe away her own tears with her hands. At least she'd apparently noticed that there were people trying to make her feel better. Kay helped the girl up on her back and carried her.
"Mr. Wright, let's get out of here!" The young thief urged me. I could see on her face that the idea of staying in the same place their pursuer from earlier might still be unsettled her deeply.
I nodded at her, "Let's get that girl back to her mother for now. All else comes later."
On our way back to the Space Station, I helped Clay carry Apollo while the boys told me what had happened for them to end up in the predicament I found them in. They explained how a very frustrated and nervous Apollo had insisted on hanging out with Clay for the evening to sort his thoughts about the trial tomorrow. The Space Center was their usual spot and there weren't many people around in the evening hours, they said, so they came here to relax a little together. Apparently, that was when Kay had suddenly showed up and announced to them that they were now under the 'official protection' of the Yatagarasu, whatever that means. She dragged the two of them towards the area's back exit to make a stealthy escape back to Mr. Shield's office, and that's how the three of them ended up running into their attacker. The rest was exactly as I had seen it. They ran from the knife-carrying figure, fighting them off with sticks and stones, while Kay tried to blind them with her device.
"They were wearing a mask and a black full-body suit, so we couldn't see what they looked like," Apollo told me. "They were pretty short though... It was probably a woman."
"'Probably'..." I repeated. That wouldn't help a whole lot with identifying the culprit.
"Yeah, we don't know, because they were using some kind of voice-changing device," Clay explained. "I mean, I'm no expert, but no normal human sounds like that, y'know?"
"A voice-changing device...? Wait, did they actually talk to you?" I asked the kids and got some nods in reply.
"Not a whole lot, but... Yes, they did." Apollo said. "It was weird though. They went on and on about wanting to hear my testimony for the trial tomorrow and wanted me to empty out my pockets and hand over my bracelet. I have no idea what that was all about."
Clay chimed in with an idea though, "Actually, I was thinking, maybe this was just a normal robbery? I mean, that bracelet you got there ought to be worth something, right, Apollo? Maybe they were just after our money?"
"I don't know about that..." Apollo bit his lip a little. "Sure, I have no idea how much my bracelet is actually worth, but what would a robber want with my testimony for tomorrow? No, I doubt money was they were after..."
"You're a pretty smart kid," I added. "It's true: If this was a normal robbery, a lot of things wouldn't add up. Them specifically asking for Apollo's bracelet, rather than any of Kay's accessories, for example. She wears a lot of jewelry that looks just as expensive as that bracelet. The attacker going after Apollo's belongings makes it more than likely that this attack is connected to tomorrow's trial... Though that would mean that they already know that I am going to call him up as a witness..."
That wasn't unexpected, of course. I'd already been assuming the network had figured out about my "connection" to Apollo - if you could call it that - by now. Still, having the suspicion confirmed to me like that was still rather unsettling. I still wished there was some way to keep that boy from becoming involved in my troubles, but it was clearly too late for that now. All I could do now was try and keep him save, along with everyone else at risk.
"Heh Heh..." A mischievous laugh from my side drew my attention. Clay was poking Apollo's shoulder for some reason. "You hear that, 'Polls? The 'awesome lawyer' called you a 'smart kid'."
Apollo's reaction to this minor form of harassment was to roll his eyes, avoid making eye-contact with his friend and let out a short, displeased grunt. Yet, at the same time I could see blood shooting into his face as he blushed violently. Frankly, I sort of understood the sentiment at the moment.
"A-Awesome lawyer, huh...?" I repeated, feeling just a tad flustered by that description, especially when I realized that this Clay-kid probably had never seen or heard of me before, meaning if there was anywhere he could have gotten these words from, it would have been Apollo.
A wide grin was plastered all over Clay's face as he went on, "You know, Apollo's been going on and on about you for the past couple days, Sir! No matter what we're talking about, it's always just 'trial' this and 'Mr. Wright' that... I've never seen him that aflame about anything before. And that's saying a lot with him, trust me. It's pretty cool, actually!"
"C-Clay..." I could see Apollo trying to nudge his friend, signaling him to stop. Clay eventually took notice of Apollo's elbow hitting his side, but that didn't do any damage to his radiant smile whatsoever.
"Hmm..." To my left I could see Kay pondering to herself as she readjusted the little girl's arm on her shoulder to keep her from slipping off. "Mr. Wright is probably right, though. If that person had been after valuable stuff, they'd have tried to take my Little Thief too!" She made a motion towards the device she had strapped to her arm. "I mean, it *is* pretty high tech, after all and I had it out in the open. No way any respectable thief would go for a tacky bracelet but not this! ...No offense."
Those last two words were clearly directed at Apollo.
"Lots of offense taken," Apollo returned with some spite in his voice. He clearly couldn't stand it when people made fun of his choice of accessories. "Anyway... I guess that means then that person was..."
Sucking in a deep breath, I nodded, "I... don't wanna say too much on the subject to be honest…" I gestured towards the girl on Kay's back. "...But yeah. Your first guess is probably right. That's... all I'll tell you."
I could hear Apollo gulping at my words and I saw Clay jerking a bit and turning his head to me. The boys both seemed more than just a little unsettled by what I was saying and who could blame them? Especially Clay, who had been entirely uninvolved in any of this up until now must have been horribly shocked to suddenly have a person with a knife coming after his friend.
(Alright, let's think...) I decided to take a moment and consider what happened so far. (If what these kids are saying is true, then the attacker only went for Apollo... That probably means he's their primary target for now. Still, Kay and Clay fought back, which means they might be in trouble for now as well. And then there's this girl...) I glanced at the girl with the moon-shaped pendant. By now, her sobbing had become considerably more quiet and infrequent, but it was hard to tell whether this was because she had calmed down or because she'd simply tired herself out. I hoped it was the former, rather than the later. (...This is a space center. The security should be tight in the more important tracts of the facility. If I tell her mother to keep her daughter guarded for now, that should keep her safe, just for the case. That Clay kid seems to be frequenting the place, so maybe I can ask them to let him stay over too. As for Apollo and Kay though...)
My eyes wandered to the boy with the bracelet first, and the girl with the wavy hair next.
(...They're tied into all of this way too closely by now. I'll have to take them to Kurain with me.)
"Um... Mr. Wright?"
Kay's voice called me back to reality. I turned and looked in her direction to see what she needed. There I found her making a face, frowning, maybe even pouting a little. She seemed pretty down about something.
"Hm? What is it, Kay?"
"Umm..." She was hesitating. It took her a couple of seconds to finally get it out. "I'm sorry."
Her eyes closed, she sighed a little, visibly feeling shame for what she'd done. I guessed the experience just now must have scared some sense into her.
"It's alright," I replied to her. "I'm just glad nothing worse happened. Still, next time you feel like running off on your own like that, you probably shouldn't-"
"I-It's not that!" She interrupted me all too suddenly. "And anyway, I had to go and try get that Apollo-guy for you! It was the least I could do!"
"The least you could do for... what?" I asked, tilting my head slightly.
Kay opened her mouth, as if she were trying to respond, but then glanced at the boys and breathed out.
"Never mind..." she mumbled, adding one new item to my ever-growing list of things to be confused about.
At the same time, I saw Apollo raise his eyebrows a little at the mention of his name. I looked like I'd have a lot of explaining to do on the ride to Kurain.
Thankfully, Clay knew his way around. When we arrived back at the main building, he immediately knew where to ring and who to talk to get into contact with the little girl's mother. She met us in the entrance lobby. A woman in a lemon-yellow kimono, wearing a lab-coat that would have made Ema jealous, came running through the automatic doors that had been sealed shut just a moment ago, lifting the girl with the moon-pendant off Kay's shoulders and immediately and wordlessly enclosing her in a tight hug.
I introduced myself to her and learned that her name was Metis Cykes. That was about as far as we got in the conversation, before my attempt to explain the situation was interrupted by Ms. Cykes giving me a cold, stern look.
"Why isn't Athena wearing her headphones?" She asked me and it was only now that I realized that the large, pink devices were still dangling off the little girl's ears by the straps that were meant to hold them in place.
I was a little baffled by the woman's question. She just came in to find her daughter as an emotional wreck, and her first priority was to ask about headphones? I was not entirely sure what to make of that, but decided to try and reply truthfully anyway.
"Well, she... took them off," I explained.
"Lies," The Ms. Cykes replied. "My Athena does not defy orders."
(O-Orders!?) I really hoped I had misheard something like that. (Sheesh, lady, lighten up! That's your daughter, not your subordinate!)
As I thought that, Ms. Cykes was already in the process of placing the large, pink headphones back on her daughter's ears once again. Once she had finished, she held the girl close, though she still wasn't saying a word to her.
(Well, I can at least tell that she cares for her. Even if her priorities seem rather skewed to me.)
"Mr. Wright. I thank you for bringing Athena home," Ms. Cykes spoke to me with a slight bow of her head. "However, I would appreciate it if you stayed away from her from now on. I do not want my daughter associating with people who would remove her headphones."
I sighed to myself.
"Well, Miss Cykes... In a way, I'll have to agree with you on that point. Somehow."
"Hm?" Metis Cykes gave me a suspicious look. "What are you trying to say, Mr. Wright?"
Good, now that I'd gotten the conversation back on track, it was time to try and explain.
"Miss Cykes, I'm sorry to tell you, but... I might have gotten your daughter involved in something that could be dangerous for her in the long run." I took a deep breath, wanting to be able to finish explaining before Mama Bear here could get a chance to try and sink her claws into me. "The reason Athena started crying was because she witnessed an attempted assault. This boy behind me happens to be an important witness to a murder trial that is scheduled for tomorrow." I gestured towards Apollo sitting on a chair in the back. "An unidentified person was trying to attack him. Your daughter had agreed to guide me around the Space Center's premises and that's how we happened across the incident. If it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have come across these three in time to stop the attacker. However, now that Athena has witnessed the attack, there's a chance the person responsible for it might think of her as a threat... She might be able to identify them, after all."
It wasn't the whole truth, but about as close as I could get without literally recounting my entire life story. This version got the point across and that was all that mattered right now. The strict look in Ms. Cykes' eyes after I told her that strangely reminded me of Mia. She seemed to be scanning my face with her eyes. Well, at least she wasn't throwing herself at me and strangling me for endangering Athena. That was something.
"I see..." Ms. Cykes finally replied. She gave me a very slight nod, almost only a twitch of her neck. "Will you be taking Athena into Witness Protection now?"
Ah yes, that question, "Well, I-"
"You won't. I do not allow it."
(...Was that supposed to be a rhetorical question then, or...?)
Ms. Cykes glared at me as if she were trying to pierce me with her eyes. So not only was she making me feel gravely confused, but also gravely intimidated. I honestly didn't know what to think of this woman...
"I understand what you are saying. Athena will be kept here, inside this building, until we hear word that the danger has passed. She will not leave the house."
"M-Mommy..." Athena, no longer crying by this point, was tugging at her mother's sleeve. "But... Junie and I... Tomorrow... The park..."
Even with the sentence just coming out as stuttered fragments, it was pretty clear what she was trying to say. Ms. Cykes' reply to it was to put a hand on her daughter's head.
"Don't worry. Your friend will still want to go to the park with you another day. Isn't that right Athena?"
Just like how I couldn't tell whether Ms. Cykes' tone was condescending or not, I also had trouble telling how much of what was happening here right now little Athena actually understood. I felt sorry for Athena desperately tugging away at her mother's clothing, while Ms. Cykes just stayed unresponsive to her daughter's pleas. With their personalities contrasting as they did, I could tell that there were bound to be a lot of communication issues between these two. This mother and daughter made a strange pair for sure. But with all the odd characters I had already met over the course of my life, I was beginning to think that maybe it was a mistake to expect anyone to be 'normal' in the first place. The truth was probably that a perfectly average, predictable Joe Shmoe simply didn't exist.
Ignoring Athena's pulling, Ms. Cykes continued to speak to me.
"In any case, someone from your offices happens to be working here as an intern of mine. A prosecutor. I will request that he guards Athena until then. That should suffice, should it not?"
(Another Prosecutor...?) I thought about that to myself. Now, there was already a lot to question about what she was saying, especially regarding why a Prosecutor would have an internship at a Space Center, but that wasn't what was at the forefront of my mind right now. (If he's a Prosecutor, there's a chance that the Network might manipulate the man into doing their bidding, like they've been doing with me. On the other hand, by that logic, she's gonna be in danger from someone now, no matter where she goes. Taking a frail child like that to Kurain without her parents is out of question, as well... Ugh, enough! I can't let this make me paranoid.)
I finally gave Ms. Cykes a nod. "Alright. Tell that Prosecutor that I'll make sure he'll be personally held responsible by Chief Prosecutor Lana Skye herself if anything happens to your daughter."
What I now saw on Ms. Cykes' face was the first smile she'd given me ever since we started this conversation. It was very slight and more confident than happy. "If you say so, I will do that. But I don't believe this will be necessary. You must know, I would trust Mr. Blackquill with my life."
(Blackquill...) I'd have to remember that name. That Prosecutor would be the one I'd have to call up when checking on Athena's well-being from this point on. And not only hers.
"Em, while we are at it... Miss Cykes, could I ask a favor from you?"
"A favor?" Ms. Cykes tilted her head a little. "Mr. Wright, you endanger my daughter, then go asking me for favors?"
I had to admit here, she was right. This was a bit inappropriate of me, but even so, I couldn't just back down right now. This was about someone else's safety, after all.
"It's about the other boy with us." I subtly gestured into Clay's direction. "He was present when my witness was attacked, just like your daughter was. Under usual circumstances, that would mean that I'd take him into witness protection, but with how things are right now... You can probably imagine but our, em, 'facilities' are getting a little, um, 'cramped'."
I couldn't take all of them to Kurain with me. I just couldn't. Not only wasn't there a single police car that I could use to transport so many children at once without raising significant suspicion, filling Kurain Village to the brim with visitors would have completely defeated the point of getting everyone to an easily oversee-able location in the first place. I had to keep our numbers as low as still possible. And that meant that Apollo's friend, Clay, couldn't and shouldn't join us, just like little Athena couldn't.
Ms. Cykes' eyes were cold and stern. She bore them into me like a pair of twin-drills, searching open ways for invasive surgery on my head. Like she was trying to look straight into my brain and take its control away from me. The calm, calculating aura of her gaze was frightening. I couldn't relent though. I glared back, trying to let her know just how serious I was about all of this. And so, even though the two of us never exchanged a single word for the next 20 seconds, Ms. Cykes eventually sighed heavily.
"I understand," she stated, no less cold or stern than before. "The boy will stay here. I'll make sure that he'll be under this facility's protection until further notice. Of course, that leaves the matter of finding a room for him to spend the night in..."
"He can stay in my room," Athena's thin voice whispered up from under her mother's arm. "Then... It could be like a sleep-over. Maybe that could be fun..."
An odd smile appeared on Metis Cykes' faces, as she started petting her daughter's hair, saying to her, "Oh, absolutely not. You know you need to be alone at night, Athena."
"But, Mommy..." Athena shrunk away. It was as if she wanted to shake her mother's hand off her head. "I'd... I mean, I... I want to have someone around tonight!" The girl had risen her voice a little. "I'm scared...!"
"I know, Athena. I know," Ms. Cykes replied, still petting her daughter's head in spite of her protest.
I watched the two of them like that and still didn't know what to make of them. Um, was this a healthy mother-daughter relationship? I'd seen a lot of relationships already in my career as a lawyer already, but only now I realized how few of them had actually been between parent and child... With both parties of the relationship still being alive and living together, I mean. There were Morgan Fey and Pearl, but I knew that I could cross those two right off the list when it came to 'healthy' relationships to compare this one to. So if that didn't count... Actually who else was there?
My own parents should have come to my mind sooner than they did. After all, I considered my relationship to them as perfectly stable and normal. But maybe that was just it. Our relationship was too normal. Too average, to downright boring to even begin to compare what I was seeing here. It now occurred to me that my parents were probably the most normal, plain thing I had in my entire life. So normal, I would have felt guilty had I ever involved them in the crazy twists and insane turns my career tended to take. That was decidedly why I usually tried to keep them out of these things. But if everyone and everything else in my life was so 'weird' that I'd only call my parent's 'normal,' then didn't that technically mean that from my perspective, they were the ones outside the norm? Maybe, in this world of crazy twists and insane turns, it was the stupidly boring and bland Wright family that was actually the weirdest out of them all.
...I was confusing myself. The whole bottom-line of this exercise in navel-gazing was that Ms. Cykes didn't compare to my own mother in any way, and that I didn't know anything about parenting at all. I didn't know what it meant to be a father, so I knew that had no right to judge this mother. Even if Athena's sad, little eyes made it hard for me to stay quiet and not speak up and try to bring about a more favorable outcome for her. It honestly broke my heart to imagine her spending the night on her own in a dark room after all that had happened today. Did her mother really know what's best for her?
"I do know best, Mr. Wright."
Shock. I froze in place at the sound of Ms. Cykes' voice. Dammit, what was it about my face that made it such an open book to read when I wasn't outright trying to bluff?
"I know that there is no way for you to understand, but Athena is... a special child. Her anxiety episodes are triggered by very specific sensory stimuli." Metis Cykes continued to pet her daughter's head. I could tell from the look in Athena's eyes that she wasn't following a word her mother was saying. "She may have calmed down considerably, but the panic attack is far from over. I would rather not have any unnecessary triggers in her vicinity tonight. Not until her mental state has normalized entirely."
"Far from over?" I asked. That statement surprised me just from little. "But it's called a panic 'attack,' right? Doesn't that imply... sudden and quick?"
Apparently, Ms. Cykes could only chuckle at this assessment of mine. It didn't take a genius to see that she thought of me as naive right now.
"Layman's terms don't always reflect reality, Mr. Wright. I'd have expected a law-school graduate such as yourself would know about this."
"Um, College, actually, but thank you very much." I felt so judged right now. Her eyes didn't help.
"It is true that panic attacks are characterized by their sudden, often very violent onset," Ms. Cykes said. "But that doesn't mean that they are also necessarily always short. Some individuals, such as my Athena, tend to have longer episodes with depersonalization and derealization. These episodes can last for hours."
"Depersonalization...?" I asked. Now here was a vocabulary I hadn't ever heard before in my life...
"Basically... to put it very, very simply..." Ms. Cykes closed her eyes and spoke slowly. "It means to feel like you're not in your own reality, or even your own body anymore."
And that was all I needed to understand what she was trying to tell me. It was a feeling I could relate to. Maybe not quite in the way Ms. Cykes would have expected me to, but I was sure it was similar enough. At very least, it was enough to explain to me the glassy look in Athena's eyes that had become her trademark to me by now. Maybe that was the same look I was giving to people these days whenever I was lost in thought like right now. Maybe that was the look Edgeworth saw me with whenever he was trying to figure out what was wrong with me lately.
I thought about that for a while, even as I went over to the three teenagers on the other side of the lounge, explaining to them what had been decided. That Kay and Apollo would come with me and that Clay would stay. When Apollo pulled Clay aside, 'whispering' with him in a much louder voice than I was sure he intended, about whether or not he thought it was a good idea to separate, if they shouldn't stick together... I should have been more invested in Apollo scheming like this right in front of me, but it all just sort of blurred for me.
I couldn't help but think back to what Maya and I had spoken about in Mr. Shield's office earlier today.
"The other Nick... We have to help him. Please..."
That other Nick was me. It was a fact I had had a hard time realizing for a long while, just like how little Athena right now had hard time realizing that she was here or what was happening around her right now. That was the sort of stupor I'd been in for these past few days.
But now it was different. I knew now that, at least for the time being, this place was just as real as everything else as the entire rest of my life had been. It wasn't some kind of bad dream or illusion I should be trying to escape from. This reality, this not-taken path was part of who I was, just like my own reality was. So if I wanted to help myself, I would have to help this place first. Put the Phoenix of this world back where he should be. That's why I was here, to set things right. The fact of how certain I felt about this one thought was more empowering than anything else I had felt this past week.
When Gumshoe came to pick me up in a brand-new police car I'd ordered him to borrow, and Kay and I helped Apollo into the car together, I could feel a tugging at my sleeve. I turned around to face a grinning Clay.
"Hey, Mr. Wright?" Clay's grin phased over into a determined smile. "I know 'Pollo can be rash. And he's impulsive and doesn't really know when to pull back, and he's been used by other kids before, but... He's really been talking highly of you. I mean it. I've never seen so much light in his eyes before. I mean it." There was something melancholic in Clay's gaze. He glanced at the floor. "Please take care of him. He's my best friend. I want him to stay the way he is right now. If anything happens to him, no matter what... I won't just forgive that."
That moment, I knew Clay wasn't just talking about physical harm. Apollo had already proven more than well enough that he could take much more than he could dish out. No, this was about something much more important than that.
I reached my hand out to shake Clay's.
"Promise," I said. "I promise that you can trust me. All of you. You, Miss Cykes, her daughter, Kay... and Apollo."
I wasn't running away anymore. Not from the trial, this world or myself. That part of me that had previously been shouting for me to just take Apollo's testimony and run with it to get the trial over with as quickly as possible was now entirely silent. I was still scared for those that had been dragged into this mess of a case, but despite that, I felt as serenely calm right now as I hadn't for what felt like ages. Maybe it was because I finally felt like I was being trusted again... Like I actually could be trusted.
That's why I finally knew that I wouldn't betray Apollo's expectations. Why I finally didn't feel like I had to lie to anybody anymore. Why I felt like I'd be able to set things right before anything else happened. I'd been right earlier; I couldn't let this current situation make me paranoid. I'd been afraid for long enough. Now with everyone who'd gotten involved in this case secured and safe, it was time to take the chance and breathe, focus on the challenges up ahead.
I could see little Athena wave me goodbye from the side of the street as her, Ms. Cykes and Clay watched us drive off. I kept my eyes on the little girl and her mother for a while. I owed them my thanks. As indirect as it was, they made me realize that finally, for the first time in so long, I wasn't panicking anymore.
I've had this chapter finished for a while already, but getting it proofread took a while for reasons. I'm sorry for constantly keeping you guys on the edge with all these waiting periods! That's what my writing should be doing, not my tardiness. *laughs*
Putting Athena into this story was something I'd wanted to do ever since she was first announced as a character, but it took me long to find a way of doing so that would only take one chapter (yes, this was her one appearance. Sorry, folks.) and would contribute to moving the story on, rather than stretching it out. When playing Ace Attorney 5, I was a little confused by how her and her mother's relationship could have worked the way the game described it, so I experimented around a little with my take on Metis in this chapter. I'm pretty happy with the results.
*Ahem* Talking about my writing, I've been trying for a year now to dabble more into original fiction, seeing how I've always wanted to be an author ever since I was a child. (Incoming shameless self-advertising.) My current, and sadly pretty slow-moving project is a "webnovel-intended-to-be-multimedia" thing called "UnEnding". (You should be able to find it by googling "UnEnding by Nenilein".) It's a story heavily inspired by 90s Anime, Light Novels and videogames with a modern-day Japan setting, so if that sounds like something up your alley, please check it out! If you like me as an author, there's no better way of supporting me than showing my original works some love. :-)
Separately, I am taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, writing a short Young Adult Novel called "Shadow Brother", and intent on finishing the initial manuscript no later than the middle of December. I'm currently at 12000 words, meaning I'm going at a pretty acceptable pace. If all goes well, I'll have my first real book (self-)published by February. Hopefully you guys will cheer me on!