Long Live Lucy

By Rob Morris

1

He found his mind to be drawing down to a blank as he stood over her. He had to do it. Even the one that was left, the pure monster of hate, wanted him to. Mercy for the ones he loved best of all, vengeance on the ones that had taken his childhood.

They were all around him; they would not leave him alone to face this. Girls didn't have to bother hiding tears, and they did not hide them now. The small one sniffed but neither moved forward nor pulled back. He waited for the gurgling mass in front of him to cycle again to its highest point. He felt the weight of the gun in his hands. The rescuer of the Human Race did not feel at all messianic or special. The thing before him managed a barely-audible 'Please' as the targeted area of her exposed brain again reached its highest point. That was when he fired, and when the bullet traveled through and hit the metal deck below, it traveled back up and destroyed almost all connective tissue for the nerves that remained.

Fulfilling a childhood promise, Kouta had killed the girl he had known as Nyu and lately Lucy as well, yet who he felt he really hadn't known at all. The atrocities committed by her and against her all ended forever at that point. The personal-sometimes very personal-murderer of thousands, the theorized matriarch of the next evolutionary leap, and a little girl who only wanted love and acceptance died at the hands of the one who had given her both of those things, yet found in the end he could not grant her forgiveness.

His mind still on automatic, Kouta snapped the safety on the gun, and dropped it on the deck, shattering the exposed jawbone of the fallen Diclonius Queen as it went. Weeping on their knees for her was : a girl who may have lost a golden voice being grabbed in an assault meant to capture the dead one; a girl who the dead one loved, but who she threatened to tear in two just so the dead one could stay with Kouta a while longer; a girl who had literally been torn limb from limb by the dead one, and who had only once in her true mind showed her anything beyond contempt; and finally, the girl who loved the same man as the dead one, who the dead one had plotted to kill many times, and who lost eight years with her true love because of the dead one. Kouta sat down and went to sleep, and in his dreams, he saw a newly-arrived Nyu kicked by Kanae, who also stuck her tongue out.

Then, it came. From the dead one's body, electrical current arcing in all the colors of the rainbow rose up and enveloped them.

Kouta felt pressure inside his head ease, ease as it had not since he was a boy.

Mayu had never told anyone that she often felt like her stepfather was standing right behind her, just ready to strike. Now, that same feeling diminished to ten paces, a large enough distance for her to glare back at his memory, and watch it wither under that gaze.

Nozomi felt her throat, tongue, esophagus, diaphragm and lungs all tingle at once, and then saw in her mind a small, well-wrapped gift box be exchanged for one exactly like it but much larger, with its sharp edges replaced by rounded ones.

Yuka saw Nyu walk over, hale and hearty (and as usual, nude) with the boy Kouta in her arms. As she handed him over, the boy became a man. Nyu leaned over, kissed him-and then she kissed Yuka full on the lips.

*Take care of him. Treat him right. Be seeing you when you least expect it.*

Nana saw herself being born, then left in a forest. Then small cruelties piled on each other until a great betrayal-followed by Kouta, and still more pain. It was only when Nana was tapped on the shoulder by Nana herself, insisting they must go 'home' together, that she realized she was not seeing through her own eyes. Before the worst could replay, Lucy stood before her, took something off the top of her own head, and gave it to Nana.

*It's you now. End this war. Don't let either of them destroy this world. I'm sorry, Nana. Regina.*

Nana saw that she was wearing some kind of tiara, and smiled for a minute. Then she realized what it meant, and began to scream.

*The Queen Is Dead!*

Hearing his Nana scream, a wounded but determined man picked up the pace.

2

Footsteps came up the railing. The attacking soldiers were gone, and those that were still about were aiding the residents of shattered Kamakura, blasted by a dying demigod's wrath. One of the girls called this man by title as he came upon them, a gasoline can held by his remaining arm.

"Papa! You should be in the hospital!"

Kurama saw the melted remains of his mortal enemy, and felt no joy, just closure.

"Ladies-step back and please keep him back as well."

Nana did as an obedient daughter should, and guided her family back. Kurama drenched the corpse of Lucy with the gasoline. Yuka shook her head.

"Is that necessary? Nyu is dead."

Kurama sighed.

"Three of the little girls who attacked your home were clones of my daughter Mariko. I wish no one to breed clones of Lucy-or Nyu, if you must. Our hate ran deeply, but I will not see her used that way. So yes, it is necessary."

With Yuka and Mayu boosting up Kouta, the others began the journey down the remaining steps. Kurama tossed a match, and watched as many of his loved ones were given peace. The remains, already badly compromised by Lucy's final power usage, burned to ash, even to the bones. Kurama collected everything he saw in a fire blanket, and moved to join the others.

"Papa! Don't fall!"

His angel was there to catch him, and her friend took the blanket. Before collapsing, Kurama looked at a scared Mayu.

"Bleach it all-every last scrape of ash. Bleach it all. Change out your clothes and burn it all again. She is dead. She must stay d-"

Kurama's lost arm and the makeshift methods he'd used to survive it took their toll as he fell unconscious as well. Mayu called an ambulance.

*Kouta dreamed. He dreamed that he sat on the beach with her. All was peace as the sun set. She moved to speak, and in a single motion, he began to strangle her. His soul cried out to stop, but so many others cried out for him to keep on. Her eyes showed that she would never try to stop him.*

3

By the end of that week, Kurama had recovered just enough to perform two very awkward tasks.

"You are sure of this, Kurama-San?"

"General, Lucy did not have a base of operations in that small house. She had a home, and it seems, absent a threat, she was content to remain in this mostly docile persona they called Nyu and live in what she saw as her home. If she did not have that place to go back to, and, however astonishingly, the people she cared for, then she would not have been so difficult to find following her escape. We would merely have had to follow the bodies and the renewed wave of Diclonius births. I mean of course, as opposed to what we face now. It was for the boy Kouta that she lived, and it was for his sake she was dying, and it was he she directed to kill her. Think of the forces we sent against her, and all the good they did."

The older military man seemed to appreciate all this.

"I will report that, in the end, it was our foolish reliance on the Kakuzawas that fatally compromised our efforts. If anything, those at this Kaede-Sou proved a better and cheaper containment unit for Lucy than anything we had on hand. I will do as you ask-the Kaede-Sou is now to be considered a safe house for the comfort of your daughter, so long as she cooperates in stopping others of her kind. By the way-we have encountered a section of the fallen research facility's island. We believe there may be survivors-Human survivors-holed up in an air pocket. We are attempting, in keeping with preserving all records from the facility, to extricate them."

Kurama closed his eyes. He was tired, and he also knew the war was far from over.

"The Chief's son, my former colleague Yu Kakuzawa, told me once that an advanced vacuum drill was used to access that same underground grotto when the facility was made. Likely it is proprietary to Kakuzawa Industries."

The General sniffed.

"That hardly matters. An order has been issued nationalizing every known Kakuzawa asset. Public and private employees all over Kanto are being scrutinized as to their loyalty to the Kakuzawa agenda. Many have already given notice at the police departments, university and various mayors' offices. Their reach extended far."

Kurama nodded.

"My friend, the Chief Of Police, was recruited by myself and Bando-San to Saseba's cause. As to any others? Be rid of them, General. Send them on their way, those you don't have direct evidence against. Check them for embezzlement of goods, equipment and funds-and especially genetic materials of any sort."

"I know my job, Kurama-San."

"Of that I have no doubt, General. But I feel as though so many obvious lessons were ignored during this debacle, most especially by myself, a recitation of the known and understood is called for."

The general looked at the door.

"There is someone very anxious to see you."

4

The figure seemed on the verge of pushing past the general, but she waited.

"Apologies, sir."

The general smiled and stepped aside. This was the face of the enemy, and yet this was also an obedient child who adored her Papa.

*If horns can also grant such sweetness and deference, having them on my grandchildren would be worth the risk of being torn to pieces.*

"Papa! Ohhhhhh-Papa! I wasn't sure you were still alive, after you fell down like that."

"I am tougher than all that, Nana-Chan. A strength I borrowed from my beloved daughter. Who is this with you?"

Looking shy, a young girl stepped forward. A girl Kurama almost knew.

"Papa-this is Mayu-Chan, my friend, who has become like my sister."

The girl seemed off her step.

"Ku-Kurama-San."

"I know you now. While I was in a deep mental fog, you were kind enough to bring me food."

Mayu closed her eyes, then flashed them open, this time in anger.

"Sir, why did you shoot Kouta-San? He is like my-very good friend, and I would miss him if he died."

"Mayu!"

Kurama stopped Nana from chastising her friend.

"I did not mean to shoot Kouta-San, Mayu-Chan. I was trying to kill Lucy. Do you understand why?"

Kurama saw in Mayu's eyes that she perhaps understood many horrid truths, whether she wanted to or not.

"Lucy killed Bando-San, when she was trying to kill me. So was Nyu-Chan all a lie?"

Nana responded firmly.

"Nyu-Chan existed. Just not all the time, and sometimes not enough. Lucy was who she felt she was forced to be-Nyu-Chan was who she wanted to be. The real person, whoever they were, was lost a long time ago. Papa-do you know what her real name was? I remember the nice clumsy lady told me that the name Lucy had something to do with cavemen like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble."

Kurama got a chill at that.

"When did she do this, Nana-Chan?"

"Well, it was Christmas Eve, but Nana didn't know what that was, then. She brought me hot chocolate, but she kept spilling it on herself, so we had milk instead. We shared her big cookie."

Kurama fought back tears and closed his eyes.

*Kisaragi-Chan-you knew how precious she was to me. How many orders and rules did you ignore to bring a little girl some Christmas cheer?*

As Kurama fell asleep once again, Mayu's accusatory tone, Nana's question about Lucy's name, and indeed the unspoken question of the insight Nana showed would have to wait for a day or so.

5

When that day (or so) was done, Kurama was given some happy news by the doctor in attendance.

"Your injuries are surprisingly slight, as to the lost arm itself, and any instance of infection has been arrested. But you, Kurama-San, are exhausted. Those IV's in you are not for blood or waste, but for water and nutrients. Where were you living for the last eight months?"

Kurama gave an honest answer.

"Really? I wasn't living at all. It took the one who loves me best of all to pull me back from a very bad place. Doctor, is my daughter here?"

"It's rare that she isn't here, visiting either you, or-well, I suppose that young man is a kind of Onii-chan to her. I see in her eyes with him the same mix of love and frustration my own must show when dealing with my sister."

Kurama prepared himself for worse news.

"And how is that young man doing?"

The Doctor knew Kurama's security clearance, though he still had qualms about the privacy breach inherent in that question.

"For someone who was shot twice during the last month, he is remarkable. But like yourself, a deep and profound exhaustion has set in. Our staff psychologist attributes this largely to the sudden recovery of repressed memories from his childhood. Young Kouta-San was one of the last victims of the serial killer from a decade back, called Kaze No Kaede by the press. He witnessed the killer butcher his father and younger sister, on a train back from Kamakura bound for Hokkaido. As you likely know, Kurama-San, the emergence of such repressed trauma, while beneficial and healthy in the long run, can leave a person enervated and lost for a time. Despite what some may think, the Human mind does not generate such a defense unless it is truly needed. The horrors that pour forth after that wall is breached are beyond measure."

Kurama made a request, which the doctor granted under strict time limits. Two hours later, Kurama entered the room where Kouta was kept. The hospital was quiet. While many had died during the last great rage of Lucy, there were actually few wounded. Like Lucy herself, the dividing line had been fairly stark.

"You-shot me."

"You got in the way. I think you know who I was aiming at."

"She took your arm."

"She took a lot more than that from me, including people I care about."

Kouta saw that Kurama spoke with conviction.

"Well, that's who she was, right? That was what she did. Take the ones we love, all while looking so righteously angry herself."

Kurama was a bit confused. Nana had spoken of this boy loving the Diclonius Queen. His execution of her had been a reluctant one. Then, the scientist in him took traumatic amnesia into account. It was not truly within his field of expertise, but in the deadly game his life had become, multi-tasking in knowledge had become as second nature as gunplay.

"I am Kurama, once the head researcher at the facility that held the girl known to us as Lucy, and you as Nyu."

Kouta still looked badly dazed. Kurama doubted that look would fade anytime soon.

"Tell the authorities I will take full responsibility for harboring her. I want none of the others touched, or I will fight this, loudly and publicly, and I doubt anyone wants that, despite their fondness for kicking in doors and holding people down while shouting 'Shut Up' at the top of their lungs!"

Kurama was annoyed. This young man and his makeshift family had in fact, harbored the most dangerous being imaginable, a murderer of thousands, even if one excluded the soldiers who may have known what they were facing-and he had to admit, were often sent in stupidly. But Kurama recalled his own argument about what a Lucy who had nowhere to turn might have done. He also recalled something else, part of the reason he had come to see Kouta in the first place.

"Your home has been designated a safe house for national security reasons. It will not be attacked again. If you yourself face anything, it may be a medal from the Prime Minister. You did what armies and navies could not. But for me, you did one thing more."

The smile on Kurama's face partially disarmed a young man who had walked with the weight of the world since he was only ten.

"Kouta-San, you have my eternal gratitude. For you gave my Nana a home, a place she loves, staying with people she loves-even, it seems, to Nyu."

Kouta looked at Kurama.

"I am-noticing things now. Things I somehow overlooked before. Things I almost feel foolish for having let pass unnoticed."

"A side effect of your restored memories, perhaps. The brain is an odd thing. If you choose to block out one portion of it, you may lose more than you intended."

Kouta nodded.

"I see. Kurama-San, I accept your thanks and give them back again. Nana-Chan is precious to me, and as strange as my life has been and has become, not having her as part of it is beyond my ability or desire to imagine."

A sob was heard from the nearby doorway. Kurama almost found himself bowled over as a loving figure pushed past him, to embrace Kouta.

"Kouta-San...is also precious to Nana, and Nana is very, very glad he did not die!"

The pain of their past awkward introduction faded once and for all. But when Nana embraced him twice again, the last time her chest went full into his face, causing a blush and bringing Kouta a realization about his junior housemate.

*She's an incredibly lovely young girl. Pretty on so many levels. So cute. Why did I never see this before? Yuka's right-I am dense.*

Another earlier realization kicked in once more.

"Nana-Chan? Your arms and legs. Why are they different?"

Kouta feared having shattered the tenderness of the moment as Nana pulled back.

"Lucy-San did this to me."

Her eyes closed, she briefly popped each one of her limbs off, showing Kouta all he needed to see.

"Nana-Chan tried to tell me-to tell all of us who Nyu really was, or could become. I am ashamed that we did not listen to her, but instead made accusations."

He touched the cheek he once slapped. Nana blushed.

"If my mind had been prepared for it, I would have heard your words and accepted them."

"No! Lucy hurt you as well. She took Kanae and your Papa, when you tried to be her friend."

Kurama noted immediately, as Kouta would later, that Nana seemed to possess an insight that she should not have had.

"Kouta-San? What was your relationship with Lucy, when you were children?"

Kouta thought back to a time when a kid could discover a new friend just over a mountain's rise, and it all seemed so right, so pure, so innocent, and he wondered if it ever was that way at all.

"I didn't even learn her name at that time. I know how odd that seems, but she was so touchy about so many things, I think I avoided asking without realizing it. I never learned where she came from-because I wasn't sure she was real. But the old Children's Welfare Center was nearby, so I guess maybe she came from the orphanage there. They closed that place since. Scandals I think."

Kouta looked out as though through a window back to those times, once boarded over and caked with dirt, now free to be viewed if he wished to. Kurama could see the concern in his Nana's eyes, but bid her be silent as Kouta kept on.

"It actually took a few days to earn her trust. I promised I'd come back to that spot the next day, but my father kept me inside for fear of a murderer operating in the area. Some families were found torn to pieces. I-"

Kouta openly started in bed, as though beset by an electric shock.

"Kouta-San!"

"I'm alright, Nana-Chan. I only just now realized-Kurama-San, that was her, wasn't it?"

Kurama nodded, sympathetic to what must have been a savage realization for Kouta to make, even with recalling his family's fate.

"Best evidence has it that all the murders associated by the press with the killer 'Kaze No Kaede' were likely the work of Lucy, as she moved from home to home, seeking shelter and food. She became much smarter later on, only breaking into homes used by seasonal visitors during the off-seasons."

Nana shook her head.

"Maple Wind? Like our home is Kaede-Sou? Or did she kill with Maple Syrup?"

Kurama tried to keep the conversation on track while not dismissing Nana's question.

"Some of the few survivors or near-witnesses to these rampages described a rustling of the Red Kaede Trees before the slaughter began. Now, please let Kouta-san tell his story."

Kouta again smiled at their joint charge.

"Nana-Chan can speak up, so long as I know where she is."

Kurama looked at her as well.

"Oh? Well, I can solve that. Nana, from now on, you are to obey Kouta-San's instructions just the same as mine, if I am not present. Understood?"

Kurama shifted his look to a reassuring one; Nana had done nothing wrong per se, but keeping her safe was always at the forefront of his mind.

"Yes, Papa."

Kouta thought back to where he had been in his story. Surprisingly, it was not hard to do. But his memory was terribly unreliable, wasn't it? Or was what Kurama said about his restored memories true? He once had been quite good at complex games of logic and angle-before.

"We met there for a couple of days. Things were so good. She was overjoyed by simple things, like flavored ice and the larger animals at the zoo. That last day-that was when she made me promise to kill her."

He saw that Kurama was thrown by this.

"She made me promise that, if she should ever be out of control and killing lots of people. It was so strange a thing-I think I pushed that out before anything else. She also asked me a question. It was about the festival. I-"

His body jerked yet again, more violently than before. Kouta's eyes flowed with uncontrollable tears.

"I-lied. I lied to her. Oh, God-is that it? Was it me? Kanae-Kun? Forgive-"

Kurama pulled Nana away as she tried to reach for Kouta, then guided her back to his room.

"Papa?"

"He needs his rest, Nana-chan."

"But-so what if he lied to her? Lies are wrong, but wasn't what she did to a lot of people worse?"

Kurama had dozens of inferred answers to that, but no direct ones.

"Some lies, Nana-chan, carry more of a penalty than others. Just like some truths. Now, I need some rest too. So you go back to Maple House."

Nana seemed to bite down.

"Papa-about Maple House?"

6

Nana slept on a chair (she had made due under far worse conditions) while Kurama gathered his strength. Four hours was far from enough, but he didn't want to lose the whole afternoon. First, he placed a call to the General, and then to Maple House, where a young woman named Yuka answered, agreeing to bring someone with her to the hospital on her next visit that evening. Catching two more hours, he directed Nana to take Mayu and another resident, a girl with a throat injury, to stay with Kouta and Yuka while he talked with the owner of Maple House. It was going to be an uphill battle.

In Kouta's room, Nana played lookout while Mayu patted a purse far too large for a girl of her size, smiling as she did.

"Kouta-San? There is someone here who wishes to see you."

It wasn't hard to guess who, and sure enough, that someone leaped out of the purse to assault someone it loved with a warm tongue and a cold nose.

"I missed you too, Wanta. I'm so happy you didn't get hurt."

It was the first time Kouta had seen the small dog since their home had been invaded, and their miniature defender had been batted back trying to bite a soldier. Even in those last moments before his memories returned, seeing the most helpless member of his family in danger broke something in Kouta, prompting him to grab a gun and hold the team leader at gunpoint, until he was shot himself.

"Thank you for bringing our friend, Mayu-chan. This little face is just what I needed to see."

The praise almost had Mayu blushing. She then surprised everyone by leaning over and kissing Kouta full on the cheek, then lightly on the lips. Yuka mock-glared.

"I thought you weren't good with guys."

"Oh, that isn't a guy-that's my-"

She wanted to say Papa. Despite the light age difference between them, that is how she saw the man. The man who had given her a home, and a safe place, and space when she needed space. But while that time was near, Mayu was not there just yet.

"-I mean, that's *our* Kouta-San. He's not a guy."

Yuka now reached over, hugging and kissing him as well.

"Trust me-he's very much a guy. In fact-"

She grinned wickedly.

"This monster wants all of us to go to bed with him!"

"Yuka!"

On him they clambered, pulling his cheeks and planting kisses while Wanta went wild. Finally, the nurse walked in, saw the spectacle, turned and walked out.

"Huh! First people's heads falling off, and now this? All young people are perverts!"

Mayu found her ironic efforts to dispel the nurse's belief fell on deaf ears.

7

Yuka's mother Emiko was not moved by Kurama's argument.

"I'll admit Nana-chan comes across as a sweet girl-a little angel even. But Nyu came across as a feeble-minded idiot-and we all know she wasn't that, right?"

Kurama knew he had to switch tactics. This woman had been at the periphery of the pain Lucy had brought her family, and would therefore be harder to convince than someone who knew both sides of the late Queen.

"I will not argue about the girl known as both Nyu and Lucy. Even with all I have learned recently, I will be a long time seeing her as anything but a complete monster. During her time at the facility, many guards were killed for no greater crime than wandering within the two-meter vector-her unseen 'arms'-zone inside her cage. While she escaped, many more died, including a young woman as sweet as Nana, in a brutal manner meant chiefly to punish me. Another woman much later, a good assistant, and then my own daughter Mariko, first doomed by Lucy in a casual taunt, then cut to pieces by her, her head tossed into the sea."

Emiko looked horrified.

"Your own child was killed by one of these girls, and you argue for me to keep one in my home?"

Kurama played his trick, regretting nothing if it was for Nana's sake.

"My daughter was one of those girls, more powerful and more dangerous than Lucy could ever hope to be. While working at the facility, I was infected by one of these girls. Mariko was the result. I had been a proud cold fool, executing these girls even as they entered the world. But when Mariko's time came, my wife's dying wish and my own love for her kept her alive. I latched onto Nana as a substitute for the daughter I could no longer hold, as per my arrangement with-well, the devil, but more on that later."

Emiko was looking out the window as she responded.

"You're not winning your argument, Kurama-San. You seem to be telling me that mere association with these girls has wrecked your life, and on more than one level."

Kurama in fact knew his position well.

"The girl who infected me sought me out because I was the one person who objected to what could be our barbaric treatment of them. Nana has never harmed anyone, even when I asked her to. Mariko, as lost as she had become, became a little girl once again after I told her how much I and her mother truly loved her, died defending me and even gave Nana her blessing to be my daughter when she was gone. Now, in talking with Kouta-San and my Nana, I find evidence-or should I say more evidence that even the most savage uncaring being I have ever known also wanted love and attachment. I still cannot forgive her. That may never come. But at last I feel I understand her, if only a little bit."

Emiko was capable of setting her own traps.

"So the girl who infected you was treated barbarically?"

"Yes. I accepted the justifications too readily, believing I was taking extreme measures on behalf of my fellow Humans. Even if that had been wholly true, the nightmarish and often short lives these girls lived was not in proportion to their threat."

"And that holds true for all of these girls, even Lucy?"

"I hold that Lucy was always a unique case. But even with all her hate, I am certain the necessary isolation we kept her in didn't help matters."

Feeling she had sprung her trap, Emiko moved in.

"Tell me, Kurama-San? This girl you love so dearly, and who even to my suspicious eyes seems so nice right now, who is well-loved by the ones I care for and protect as best I can. Is it impossible-truly impossible-for her darker instincts to take over?"

"No more than it is for any of us. Whether the Diclonius truly are our replacements on this planet, when it comes to the emotions we know-they are truly no better, or at least they are not immune to it all."

Emiko nodded.

"So with those grim instincts an admitted part of her as it is for us, can you tell me that a girl who has seen such savage mistreatment and with the powers these girls seem to have will not one day lash out in fury, starting with those who always suffer first and hardest, those closest to her?"

Kurama gave as honest an answer as he knew how to.

"Of course, I can offer no such guarantee. I stare in wonder at my Nana, thrown that she is not already the way you describe, with all she has seen and been through-with how much I have put her through. If there is anything left of my soul, she holds it, for she is the one that saved it."

Emiko pulled open the blinds on the window. She pointed to vast tracts of wreckage being sorted through by bulldozers and men with equipment.

"Open your eyes, scientist. Out there, amidst hundreds if not thousands of bodies is what happened when one of your 'Diclonius' gave up her life protecting my nephew. This isn't even one of her rampages. This was her trying to do good, to do right by the one person who showed her something besides the back of his hand. I did speak to Nana, you know. She told me girls like her get their powers around three years old. Three! Do you know what Yuka was like when she was three?"

She looked back out the window.

"I met her once, before all this. Almost ten years ago."

Kurama realized who she meant.

"Lucy?"

"The night Kouta's father and sister were taken from us, I was called in to identify the bodies. I didn't even know Kouta had survived when I arrived at that hospital. When I saw him, I almost wished he hadn't. Do you know what it is to see a little boy with your sister's eyes, only those eyes are now nearly blank? I'm half-surprised he didn't end up a killer. Well, while I sat and thought about how to handle Kouta's disposition, this girl walks up. Strange hair, and wearing a wool cap I knew all too well because I had given it to Kouta as a gift-unique because of a small emblem. She asked about him. Grew angry when I said he'd briefly been under suspicion-and then she was gone. I was never happier to see anyone vanish. So you see, I'm not new to this whole business of these horned girls and what they are capable of. I held my brother-in-law's head, and paid the undertaker extra to make damned sure little Kanae's midsection wasn't exposed. All this because my nephew showed kindness to a girl who had never known friends before, and couldn't handle it when that friendship proved a little rough and tumble."

Kurama shook his head.

"Kouta told you all this?"

"Kouta? No-I told you, I talked to Nana. So you see, I'm not proceeding on this in some blind ignorant fashion."

Kurama was for the moment less worried about Emiko's fairness than how Nana kept on having knowledge and insight into Lucy that neither she nor anyone else should have. But Emiko came back to the forefront of his mind with some very final words.

"I'll give you thirty days to find her somewhere else to live. Nana has no place in Maple House. She is gone."

8

"NO!"

In the doorway, looking staggered but determined as hell was Kouta. Despite being snapped at, Emiko's first concern was her sister's baby, held up on one side by her own baby, and on the other by the girl the two of them had taken as a daughter in all but name. Standing back was the girl in question, the one whose fate was to be decided on.

"Kouta! You should be in bed! Get back there now."

"Auntie, when I needed a place to stay, you very graciously lent me the use of the Kaede-Sou without rent, in exchange for maintenance. You said you did this to make sure that I did not have the worry of having a roof over my head while I pursued my education. Well, through no fault of yours, I now have more worries. I have lives under my care. Nana-chan is one of those."

Emiko pointed at Kurama.

"She has her Papa-the only Papa she has ever known. A man with connections who can get her a very nice place to stay."

"But not a home. Her home is at Maple House. Her home is with us. Does your offer still stand?"

"Well, is the place maintained? Currently, it's a ruin. I now have the choice of actually shelling out money to fix it up or sell my family's property. Because of someone else you gave a home."

Kouta looked near to collapse, despite being held up.

"Wherever I have a home, Nana-chan has a home. If all I have is a cardboard box, then she has part of that."

Emiko looked furious.

"Don't make me into the villain here!"

"Then stop acting like one!"

"BOTH OF YOU STOP!"

The girl who had been content to stay quiet now stepped forward between the feuding family members.

"Kouta-San, you mustn't speak to Emiko-Dono like that! She's your Auntie. She gave us that wonderful home. Why do you think that, if I have to leave it, I want everyone else to lose it too?"

"Nana-chan, I..."

"No, you listen to me. Nana can stay with Papa. I will miss all of you. But don't you see? Emiko-Dono is afraid of Nana, just like you were when you slapped me. All you saw was someone attacking Nyu. All she sees is someone who might end up like Lucy-San."

Emiko was very nearly disarmed by what she heard next.

"Nana worries about that too. Nana one time heard the voice that Lucy talked about-Lucy and that poor girl Barbara, who was made from Mariko. Nana got angry when our home got broken into, but the other girls were too quick for me to do anything. Nana got angry when Bando-San said that there is no place in the world for me, but he was wrong. There is a place-I can't stay there anymore, but it exists. Kind of like Heaven is before you're born or die."

Yuka guided the exhausted Kouta back to his bed, but not without a look at her mother that said Nana was not going anywhere. Mayu smiled as she guided the shaken Nana away as well.

"Kouta-San is right. We will be together no matter what-but I know better places than an old cardboard box. I know some beachfront-err-property."

"Good. Nana hates cardboard."

Kurama's cell-phone rang when he and Emiko were once again alone.

"Many thanks, General. Emiko-San, one of your worries is done with. As compensation for the assault on your property, the government has delivered the materials needed to reconstruct it-and then some. The work you'll have to take care of yourself, but those seem to be some determined ladies."

Emiko folded her arms.

"Just as determined as you seem to be to tie my hands."

"On her behalf? Yes, I do wish to tie your hands. I have done far worse for those I hold dear."

Emiko said nothing more as she left, but a sharp look told Kurama that she would find a way to get even, if she could. Again, for Nana, he would pay that price gladly.

9

As she left, Emiko offered Nozomi a ride to her father's home. On the drive there, fury overcame decorum and propriety.

"All of that so neatly tied up, all fingers pointing at me as the villain!"

Nozomi touched her throat-bandage and took a risk.

"No one thinks you're a villain, Emiko-San. But you are wrong about Nana."

"Nozomi-Chan, don't talk. The doctor said-"

"I'm healing-especially quickly since we lost Nyu. Emiko-San, do you know why I live at Maple House?"

"Yuka said it was because your father didn't approve of your desire to become an operatic singer. A desire you're putting at risk-"

Nozomi smiled.

"I know. But in fact, my father and I resolved those differences before I left home. His objection was based partly in wanting me to run the family company. But most of it came from my mother losing her voice."

"Her singing voice?"

"Her voice. All of it. The same gift that allowed her to sing the way that I do ultimately took it away. Unable to bear her fate, she took her own life. He feared the same for me, and so began all the years of punishments, which made me feel weaker than I was and led to my other problems."

Emiko now felt uncomfortable.

"Nozomi-Chan, these are private matters between you and your father."

"But you should know them too. You see, my father, while he supports me now, does not understand what his years of punishment did to me. To him, what was done, was done out of love, and he regrets only some of the blistering pain he caused me. Not only him-other members of the family were permitted to discipline me if they even thought I was breaking his rules about singing. Some I respect. Others are people I barely know, including a cousin I recently kicked out of my life. All were allowed to do almost anything, as long as it was in the name of those instructions. All of them were technically obeying my father. None of them were my father. So while I cannot say where the dividing line between his love-induced punishments and his crossing the line took place, I know for certain that empowering others to act as his unchecked surrogates is something even he must apologize for, and so far he refuses."

Emiko was torn. A parent's authority was very sacred, but it was also best not lent out blindly. Nozomi finished up.

"But for wherever he crossed the line, and even for his over-zealousness in allowing family members to hurt me, he is not a villain. I know firmly now that even the worst of it began in a love deeply felt but not deeply thought through. Yet while he is not a villain, Emiko-San, he is still wrong in what he did. You are not a villain. You are wrong, about Nana, and about why they oppose your wishes. The others are united not against you, but for Nana-Chan. And I stand with them."

After Nozomi was dropped off, Emiko had food for thought, yet she was still far from wholly convinced.

10

"Saseba 252".

At Kurama's password, the soldier opened the hospital's supposedly closed wing to the only visitor it would have that day. The steel frame of the doors and reinforced structure meant that this floor was sound-proofed, a fact Kurama was grateful for, especially given who he was visiting.

"I'll say it one more time-get me a ****in' CHEESEBURGER with ****in' BACON and make sure a ****in' American makes it-those assholes know their grease."

Kurama rolled his eyes.

"You want chili cheese fries with that?"

"Nah, Doc-that stuff goes right through me! HAH! So what's with the missing wing, man?"

Kurama said what the patient likely already suspected.

"Lucy."

"Yeah, that's her way. How is Bitchie-Poo doing these days?"

Kurama breathed in. This news could lead to cardiac arrest.

"Lucy is dead, Bando-San. The boy Kouta killed her to ease the pain of her body melting."

Hooked up to more wires and tubes than he would ever have felt comfortable with before, Bando laughed out loud, and then surprised Kurama by shrugging.

"Well, I didn't exactly expect to get her in this condition. Like the Beatle said-suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be. So how is it I'm still kicking, even if I got nothing to kick with?"

Kurama had been informed when Bando regained consciousness the day before, but waited for full stabilization before approaching him.

"The same technology that sunglasses-wearing monster used to keep poor Number 28 alive has been enhanced and improved upon. We're working on a mobile version."

Bando nodded.

"Yeah. That'll be fun. So that pussy-symp-wimp did Lucy? Goodie for him. How's the brat?"

"Mayu-Chan continues your clean-up of the beach I'm told. Should I tell her?"

Bando sneered.

"**** No! And miss the look on her face when I sneak up on her little butt? But there is something you can do for me Doc."

"Of course."

Bando grinned.

"Tell the Kakuzawas they STILL can't have my balls-except to suck on."

"They are likely all dead, Bando-San."

"Oh-sure. Tell that to the wounded vet, went down facing the genetic enemy of all mankind. Real cool, Doc!"

Bando became serious for a moment.

"Any word on our Hula Girl?"

The Agent who had recruited them both for Saseba's purposes had not been heard from, and was likely at the facility when it sank.

"It is known that she aided Doctor Arakawa in retrieving the vaccine we now believe will end the Diclonius threat once and for all-if we are lucky. She may be lost to us, Bando-San."

Bando laughed again.

"Our breed don't kick off that easy, Doc. If she could be gotten rid of, I'dve done it during her training. Now-get me some Hummingbird Soup!"

Amazing, thought Kurama. Highly bloodied, but never bowed.

As Bando however did bow out of consciousness, he imagined he saw Lucy in the corner.

"Stupid bitch. You let that wimp do you? You owed me."

*What can I say, Bando? He had the balls.*

Bando muttered some more curses as he went out.

11

The next day, Kurama found himself with a visitor before visiting hours.

"Kouta-San?"

Kouta looked on the verge of a question. After five minutes, he finally came out and said it.

"Kurama-San? Who-who was she?"

A question whose answer Kurama knew was not easily given or encapsulated.

"This could be-one of those long stories."

Kouta nodded.

"I have time. I already completed all the homework Yuka collected for me from my classes. I think it's like you said, Kurama-San. My mind is opening up. That work would have taken me forever, just a few months ago."

"You're used to operating with your mental emergency brake deployed. Kouta-San, what is your college major?"

"Biology."

This was information Kurama would act upon later. For then and there, he began a difficult story, tragic at most turns, but never dull.

"Her real name is lost to us, or at least, if the Chief Kakuzawa or his son Yu-"

"The Professor?"

"Yes. If they knew it somehow, they never told the rest of us. We know that she was kept at the orphanage that once operated in this area. When it was closed down, corrupt workers there burned and shredded precious records, and those we could find showed the girl we would call Lucy such contempt, her name was never an issue to them. Early in her captivity, she and I actually talked. It was never civil , and never for very long, and by the time it ended, all I knew was that she had been abandoned by her parents after birth, left in a forest for her condition of birth. A surviving class photo turned up much later."

Kouta currently felt numb on the subject of Lucy or Nyu, and did not have to either remind himself to be sympathetic or damp down that sympathy by remembering all she did.

"Was she killing people from an early age?"

"No. Silpelits-"

"Silpelits?"

Kurama's assessment of this story's length seemed more and more sage.

"My apologies. Of the Diclonius-the horned people, or girls, since I have never seen a male myself, there are two known varieties. Lucy was of the first type-perhaps the only one of this type-a Primary or Monarch Diclonius. Her power was slow to emerge, but the only limit to its growth seemed to be the integrity of her body, as we all saw. Silpelits are Secondary Diclonius, sterile, unlike the Primary, meant to spread the virus that enables their evolutionary takeover from normal Humans. Their power emerges early, usually by age three, but by which time of course they look to be age six or seven. Their power curve seems to be based on whether or not the person who infected their father-the host for the virus is the Human male-was Lucy herself or another Silpelit. My daughter Mariko-and her clones, the three girls who attacked your home-were of this latter type, and therefore vastly more powerful than others."

Kouta may have felt numb concerning Nyu, but other subjects stirred the biology student in him.

"Human cloning has been achieved?"

Kurama made a realization. Many things that emerged from the house of horrors Kakuzawa ran might seem mundane to him, but would certainly startle almost anyone else.

"The old warning, Kouta-San. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

"Yes-it's just-full-on viable cloning of a sentient lifeform. Also, did you say these Silpelits age twice as fast as anyone else? Does that include Nana-Chan?"

"Yes."

Kouta recalled the feel of Nana when she got a little too close for comfort, and with this new information, felt even less comfortable than before.

*She's not even the age Kanae was!*

"Keep...going, Kurama-san. So when did she first kill someone?"

"That we know of, her first four victims were other children at the orphanage. I once wondered why these four were chosen, when, given the place's relatively isolated location, she could have killed everyone there. Again, the lack of records precludes certainty, but given the testimony by surviving children when the place was shut down, a personal motive seems likely. Whatever we think of her, Lucy did not emerge from a nice place."

"And when did she kill these children, exactly? I remember something about it now."

Kurama recalled the date and probable time, and this struck Kouta like a cannonball.

"I must have met her only hours after that. It almost looked like she was tending a small grave, if I recall correctly."

"Doubtful. She did not bury any of those four that I described. Not that there was a lot to bury."

Kurama added in some of what Kouta had told him and skipped ahead.

"After she kil-after the last time you saw her, stories of Kaze No Kaede's murder spree dried up. However, within months, two things began to spike in the Kamakura area, and to a lesser extent all over Kanto. One was a savage uptick in heart failure, courtesy of a more subtle application of Lucy's vectors-her arms. The other was the steady rise in the births of horned girls, many of whom attacked and killed their own families at age three-while why they did this is debatable, sadly that they did this is not. I was recruited from graduate school teaching by my old acquaintance Yu Kakuzawa to be part of the National Institute On Human Evolution, a front and center for genetic research into the Diclonius. Its public purpose was to stop them from propagating. If I faulted my superiors, including Professor Kakuzawa's father, it was for being too coldly committed to eradicating their quarry. The real horror I did not learn until later."

Again, Kouta's mind seemed like a fighter from one of Mayu's shows, casting off weighted training materials and now moving like lightning.

"They wanted these girls to predominate over us?"

"Most of the girls could not have mattered less to them. Nana and Mariko were the means to control and direct my actions. Lucy was the means to achieve what they saw as their genetic destiny. But however morally compromised Yu was, and however misguided my goals were, we did make breakthroughs, including the supposition that if the girls we encountered were drones, or worker bees, then there must be a queen. Narrowing down the timeframe of when these sorts of murders began, we eventually discovered Lucy."

Kurama looked directly at Kouta.

"That is also when I first discovered you, Kouta-San. I had no idea how important you would become to all this, or how important you already were. But you were an anomaly. If all those killings by Kaze No Kaede were in fact Lucy, and if your family was also part of this spree, why not you as well? Catatonic or no, it was not like her to leave someone alive. Yu convinced me not to pursue an anomaly, and just treat it as the exception that proves the rule."

Kurama sat down, the natural lecturer in him drained out a bit by his wounds and general exhaustion.

"I think that I have always been a good scientist. But my willingness to listen to pseudo-logical arguments like his and his father's may have kept me from ever being a great one."

"Professor?"

"Yes?"

Kouta shrugged.

"You're talking to a man who kept his family's killer under his roof out of a vague sense of nostalgia that turned out to be post-traumatic amnesia. We believe what we wish to."

Kurama smiled.

"Was it only that nostalgia, Kouta-San?"

Kouta suddenly recalled the feel of her breasts, touched by him in every way but that most intimate-and for all he knew, Nyu had gotten him 'there' when he was asleep.

"She was beautiful. They all are so-"

Kurama nodded.

"I have wondered about that. Mariko's clones were aged faster than her, so seeing her mother's face in them was not a stretch. And Nana-Chan is beautiful as well-no point in even a father denying it. My best guess is, evolution is involved. If their task is to infect adult male Humans, how much easier does that task become if the carrier approaching them is pleasing to the eye?"

Kouta waited for Kurama to regain the track of his story, and he was not long in doing this.

"As Kakuzawa the younger and I searched, a police report came through. A man had been murdered by his young daughter and a girl who matched our quarry's description. We cornered them at an art exposition that later turned out to be for her own mother, a woman she had not seen in years. I later chastised Lucy for refusing to surrender. But the truth was, they were two kids, one abused and possibly innocent of the charges against her. I thought of Lucy as this cold master manipulator, and she could be that, but never as cold or as manipulative as the men I took orders from, and in the end a kid lashing out at an unfair world. Had the stakes not been apocalyptic on the extinction level, perhaps the perspective I have now would have been mine back then."

He breathed in.

"But as it stood, the Takada girl moved to protect the one she saw as a friend, just as you did, and just as with you, I shot her trying to shoot Lucy, who surrendered in exchange for her medical care. She didn't make it. Again, I look back, and I realize that Lucy the genocidal monster cared enough about the weakest most vulnerable Human in her midst to endure captivity on the off chance that girl could be saved. For the sake of my species and in the light of her horrific and towards me often personal actions, I will still call her a monster that needed to be stopped. But now, the end of her threat and the passage of years allows me to see that there was something else there."

Kurama tried to finish up his tale. He had not thought of Aiko Takada in years.

"A clash of wills and the enmity she felt towards me ended any early cooperation on her part. Guards learned to be outside her danger zone-and I continued my self-appointed task of euthanizing all new Diclonius births."

Kouta looked at him, but Kurama did not apologize.

"I will not brag of it. Perhaps in a life after this, I will have to answer for it. But by and large those girls would have grown up to kill their own families, and be killed at a time their brains would have registered the pain and grief-even those who hadn't wished to kill."

"Your own daughter is the gentlest creature ever to walk the Earth!"

"Nana is an exception on so many levels...Kouta-San, can we discuss this part of it another day?"

Kouta saw the older man with new eyes, not necessarily kind ones, but did not press the issue.

"Another day, Kurama-San. So...Lucy must have escaped your captivity?"

Kurama saw that Kouta would indeed get back to this one day, but appreciated a respite from the worst part of his life.

"She escaped. It now seems likely that Yu Kakuzawa arranged for this. He was your instructor in class?"

"Yes. And he took Nyu away from us. I suppose she changed into Lucy while he attempted to use her. His assistant and I found the Professor's head-and that brings up something else best covered another day, as you said. I take it her escape was not a quiet one."

Kurama closed his eyes.

"I'd like to say that many of the guards knew what they were in for, what they had signed up to do. Yet many died begging for their lives, no threat to her once they saw her power. Then, a young woman named Kisaragi, my own secretary, literally fell into Lucy's possession. The horror of her death and the pointlessness of it..."

He kept on.

"A sniper using a high-caliber shell struck her but failed to kill her, and she fell into the surf, where I suppose her latent abilities saved her from a deadly impact. That would be where you found her, Kouta-San. You told me before you lied about something you told her..."

Kouta finished the story he could not before, and then told Kurama the story of the last two years of their lives as he knew it. Kurama for his part told of his bolting from the Institute when the elder Kakuzawa made his corrupt plans crystal clear. He then also told of his recruitment by an arm of the Japanese government that aimed to take Kakuzawa, the monster they helped create, down, and how in turn he recruited the skilled but volatile former SAT Agent Bando.

"Our world is a small one, Kurama-San, to know so many of the same people."

"Our world is a strange one, Kouta-San. You have shown me a girl I thought I knew in a new light. It cannot change what happened, or what I would have done. I am thrown by how much deeper an individual Lucy was than what I knew. Yours may have been the only socialization she ever really had. I cannot say whether that was a good thing for certain, but if she was at all grounded in our world..."

Kurama turned to leave. They were both exhausted. But then he remembered something.

"Your aunt owns more than one property here in Kamakura?"

"Emi-Oba? She owns lots of small properties. Some of them are mine, an inheritance from my mother, but she's administered them and has rights to whatever they bring in. Their grandmother came from a wealthy clan who gave these small properties as dowry in exchange for renouncing links once the marriage was done. It was always a loathsome story to me. I actually knew Great-Grandma. She was a nice lady, but apparently her birth family considered her unmarriageable. But-as to why and all that-you'd have to ask Auntie."

That was the end of that conversation, and while it had been a contentious one, each found a sounding board of similar experience, and soon more than their common love of Nana would bind the two men together as the world around them fell apart.

12

Kouta awoke the next day to a slightly different world. Kurama had been released, since his superiors needed him to supervise a surprising find. He had requested that certain tests be conducted on those present when Lucy died, and no one at Maple House objected. After a brief visit, Nozomi, Mayu and Nana left to continue fixing and reinforcing Maple House with the 'ruggedized' materials the military had provided. At Kouta's request, Yuka stayed behind, though very likely she would have anyway.

"Yuka-Chan, I wish to apologize to you."

"Kouta-Chan, I should have been more careful when changing my panties. I accept that now."

He looked at her quizzically.

"It's not about that. No-I apologize for making you wonder about my affections. I like you, Yuka. More than anything. Because of an interloper who brought pain and confusion into all our lives, I have never rewarded your faith in me and your patience on my behalf with the simple words I now have to say before I explode. Yuka, I Lo-"

Her hand covered his mouth.

"No. Not now."

Her reaction was unexpected, to say the least.

"Why not now?"

Yuka looked tenderly at him.

"Has the smell of her blood left your nose yet? Can the sight of poor Nyu, melted and begging you to kill her, have left your eyes just yet? I want those words more than anything. But not when our dear friend's loss feels like it happened only a few seconds ago. I may have resented her presence at times, Kouta. But in her memory and to keep those beautiful words untainted by our tragedy-remember that you also loved someone else who loved you as well."

Kouta found himself fighting back erupting fury, an anger that he could not explain.

"Loved me? I don't even know that she was really my friend. She had an agenda, Yuka. A Post-Human agenda. Our house was a place to stay while plotting all that out. Did you know that she once casually threatened to kill you?"

Yuka slapped him.

"How dare you? How dare you doubt her love for you, Kouta? I was pained that you would choose her, because I could see the love in her eyes every moment she was near you."

To her shock, he seized the wrist of the slapping hand and began to squeeze.

"Kouta!"

"Does it hurt? Tell me, does it hurt when someone you love decides to express that love by causing you pain? No wonder you're defending her! Both of you have the same basic response to being treated nicely. You hit, she kills. You don't bother to understand that I blocked my memories to keep from going insane, so you resent me and call me pervert! She didn't understand that I lied to her to spare her feelings, and so she-"

He let her wrist go, and began to shake.

"Yuka-Chan-I should have found the strength to face those memories and recall you. There is no excuse. And if I hadn't lied to her-Father and Kanae would still be alive! It's always been my fault. I gave her hope and then dashed it. I may have doomed the world! I..."

She grabbed and held him as he dissolved into a sobbing mass.

"I don't understand all you're saying. But let's just forgive each other, alright? We both of us have plenty enough to answer for. Right now, you're torn between the sweet person Nyu could be and the horrors this Lucy caused."

She cupped his cheek as she prepared to leave.

"But I know she was our friend as well, Kouta-and that she loved all of us-especially you. Hate her for whatever wrongs she did, and anything you suddenly remember. But do not insult her by saying she didn't love you. In my friend's memory, I won't allow it."

Yuka asked for and got a sedative for Kouta, though her words were no salve at all for the wounds no one could see.

*Kouta dreamed. He dreamed that he sat on the beach with her. All was peace as the sun set. She moved to speak, and in a single motion, he began to kiss her. She slapped him back, and threw him against the rocks.

"Oh, Please. Do you honestly believe that, just because I crawled inside your primate house for shelter, I want to mate with a thing more ape than man? It's like you once said. I like looking at the strange animals, Kouta. None more strange than you, too weak and soft-hearted to know when he was being used. I asked you to kill me because even in Hell, I won't have to hear your whiny monkey screech anymore."

His soul cried out for her to stop, as with so many years ago. But her laughter never ceased.*

13

The younger scientist was not terribly cooperative.

"What do you want from my life?"

Kurama made his desire clear.

"Did you or did you not make Chief Kakuzawa aware of Maple House, leading to the violent invasion it suffered?"

Arakawa looked nervous.

"Give me a break, alright? That kid Kouta? He didn't even change his route going home. Never checked to see if he was being tailed. Besides, they were harboring Lucy, right? Racial Enemy Number One?"

"Your service to the species is noted-especially since it resulted in the Chief being in the position to enact his plans for Lucy."

Arakawa continued her efforts to max out the initial supplies of her precious vaccine while she talked.

"Well, he didn't, right? Both of them are dead. End of story. That it's a sad story, do not blame me. Are-are the kids okay?"

"Kouta was shot. A young girl, a gifted singer, was seized harshly by the throat. Two young women were terrified, and a puppy threatened."

"Oh-Ha-ha!"

Kurama produced a picture of Wanta with Nana and Mayu. Arakawa smiled.

"Awwww! Why'd you have to show me that?"

"Also-dear Nousou held my Nana up like a limbless trophy-"

"You're gonna blame me for Nousou, that candy-eating Lolicon pervert? Between him and that lunatic with the shades, I can honestly tell God I've been to Hell already."

Kurama briefly changed the subject.

"How goes your work?"

She took off her glasses and wiped her obviously weary eyes.

"Fine, so long as the vector virus doesn't have mutative and adaptive qualities like HIV."

Kurama inspected some of what she had recorded.

"I rather doubt that it does. It is spread solely by one mechanism, and that is not even direct transmission."

"Huh? Hold on. Just what is it if it's not direct transmission? I mean, the vectors carry it and send it on by touch."

Kurama corrected her.

"The vectors excite the host's existing DNA into the pattern of the virus. Arms made of psychokinetic energy cannot plant a virus in and of themselves."

Arakawa looked about to argue the point, but then started furiously typing on her laptop's keyboard.

"Wow-can't believe I missed that. Anything else?"

Kurama thought for a moment.

"My own infection was not from Lucy. It was from another Silpelit. My late daughter and her clones were therefore third-generation. With the Chief's-and your-efforts at infection potentially going worldwide before the virus can be vaccinated against, other third and beyond generations emerging are not out of the question. Do you think the vaccine is proofed against infections they may bring about?"

Arakawa breathed in, shook her finger in the air, and then nodded.

"I didn't think about that before, but yes. The clones they kept below ground were all the rejects of attempts to recreate your daughter. Some of them had insanely powerful vectors. They were all from unstable DNA stock. Genetic drift alone would almost certainly mean that some of them were well beyond third generation-and they all feared the vaccine-it was when I developed it that they started blowing up the island."

While hearing of these rejected clones of his little girl did nothing to ease Kurama's spirit, he found Arakawa's reasoning supportable. He hoped reality would think so as well.

"Arakawa-San, I am less concerned with how you may have revealed the existence of Maple House than with why they needed you to find it."

"Really not following you there, Kurama-San."

"Think. The Chief had a huge organization with facets to it we will likely never learn of. The ability to call out the SAT, something only the Prime Minister can usually do. Satellites. The cooperation if not the co-opting of the Kamakura Police Department. Employees both in and out of the island facility sprinkled all about Kanto. All people who knew the power the Kakuzawas wielded and the price and rewards of them getting what they wanted-or not."

Arakawa took on a look of realization, and then pulled out a hand-written journal.

"You'll need this. It contains my records on every lie the Chief told me while I was there."

Kurama was surprised at this.

"You kept such a thing in a place like that?"

"It was either that or go insane. I saw what the Chief was doing to Shirakawa. I may have lost my way in not realizing how many people my work on the weaponized virus would hurt, but I knew my boss was nuts. I noticed right away how his use of dates and times and accounts were wildly inconsistent. So if you're asking me, could he have known about Maple House before I blabbed? Of course. Hey-do they have any rooms to rent there? A quiet little place like that would do wonders for my nerves."

Imagining the reaction of his new young friends to their possible betrayer, Kurama lied.

"I believe it to be full up. I don't believe it would be a good idea for Kouta to see too much of you."

"Don't worry. That kid has literally seen it all."

Kurama knew nothing of an awkward encounter between the two.

"Eh-yes. But Kamakura itself should be secure soon."

"With all those Diclonius births?"

"Arrested for quite some time. Also, I believe the hive mind of the Diclonius may cause them to avoid this area, it being where their Queen was killed. Then again, that lack of activity may be a coincidence."

Arakawa rolled her eyes.

"You mean like the Queen meeting the same boy twice at random, or two Diclonius living in the same house?"

Arakawa meant what she said as a sarcastic joke, but it gave Kurama more food for thought.

"I have no doubt of your competence. But should you require my aid, I am at your disposal, Arakawa-San."

"Yeah-well-I'm glad the kids are okay. And-I'm reallly glad our friend is okay."

Kurama departed the part of the ship Arakawa was currently kept in, and waited till he was well out of earshot before he spoke.

"Girl needs to take a bath."

14

In the sick bay, two young women recovered from the fragment of Kakuzawa's underground grotto were being treated for exhaustion and malnutrition. One, the Agent who had recruited Kurama, was in good shape but had yet to fully regain consciousness. The other had, and Kurama now approached her.

"Do you know who I am?"

"Yes. You betrayed my father."

"That's not quite fair, Anna. Your father betrayed his oaths and the reasonable expectation that he would act against the Diclonius threat."

Anna Kakuzawa looked over at the sleeping Agent.

"She acted to help me, since I-emerged. Will she be all right?"

"I believe that she will. Now, I must ask some questions. We found your father's head, and next to it, the body and head of a young boy, a male Diclonius. I've never seen one before. Do you know who he was?"

Anna looked in her own way as broken as Kouta.

"My brother, my father's second son. Lucy killed them both."

"Where is the boy's mother?"

"Dead. She was also Lucy's mother, taken and held by my father. His account said this occurred after Lucy's captivity began."

Kurama noticed the use of 'his account said' but chose not to ask the girl if she thought her father had lied.

"Your father meant to mate the two?"

"Yes. My calculations said that Diclonius would not suffer from the side-effects that such a union would cause in Humans for up to twenty generations."

"Your calculations?"

She nodded.

"The large biological construct you must have encountered. It was my interface to become a living computer. At the time, I believed I was that construct. I think it means my father truly cared for me, but our friend thinks that he didn't change me entirely because it gave him control over me, in case I rebelled the way my older brother did."

Anna asked it flatly.

"She also said that I should accept that he was a villain. Was he?"

Kurama thought of the eyes of infant horned girls, looking into his as their air was choked off, a brutal but necessary act made forever meaningless by the Kakuzawas' subversion of their stated goals.

"Yes. While I have little to no moral standing in most cases, I must cite the Biblical ideas your father often spoke of. He wanted to be God. The last to attempt this was Lucifer."

The girl did not violently or forcefully defend her father. In fact, she almost seemed disinterested in doing so.

"I failed to tell him that our people were not true Diclonius. I could not bring myself to. Perhaps if I had, he might still be alive."

"Yes. But would he have listened, had you told him?"

She simply nodded in agreement.

"I no longer retain my futurist knowledge. But I have kept some mathematic skill beyond what I knew before the experiments. I have calculated that you will need my permission to truly round up all of my father's resources. I am prepared to sign what I have to in order to secure this."

"That would be helpful. Do you wish to have your own cabin?"

Anna looked at the Agent and shook her head.

"She was there for me in the cavern. I wish to repay that debt. Besides, I kind of like her. Kurama-San? Is Lucy-San still alive?"

"I am happy to report both her threat and her misery have ended. Anna, I wish to avoid the instance of your father or brother being cloned like my daughter was."

"Understood. Dispose of them as you have to. I want a new life in exchange for my cooperation, and they are part of the old life."

Once again taken aback by the practicality if not coldness of the family he once served, Kurama thought of one last question.

"Your head does not have horns?"

"Yes. Only my father ever forgave this lack on my part. I was the first Kakuzawa born in over thirty years to be missing that feature."

"What happened to the last one?"

"That I can recall, a dowry of several small properties in this area was given to encourage a man who likely loved her anyway."

Anna was soon asleep once more, this as her companion and new friend stirred.

15

Nana slept off a day of hard but productive work, the newly planted trees around the Maple House perimeter allowing her to use her powers with only minimal look-out for people seeing her. This sped up the work some but left her very drained.

*She saw Kouta-San. He had been a lovely little boy, and his smile for a friend was genuine and warm. Nana splashed with him in the pond, and rode home with him in the sunset. Then, she was on a train with him, staring harshly at a little girl-Kanae! This was Kouta's little sister.

"I won't kill you. Nana doesn't hurt people that are loved by the people she loves."

But now Kanae sported horns. So did Mayu, standing next to her. So did Yuka. Emiko, too. The older Kouta stood behind her, holding a baby with pink hair in his arms.

"Will you lead us?", cried all the women.

"Will you lead them?", asked Kouta, shadowed in indigo blue.

Even the baby spoke. "Over the moon-or over a cliffside. But you must lead them, and you must choose where to."

"Nana does not wish to kill!"

"Nana must kill someone. Who and how are the only things left to her. The rest is destiny."

"The Queen Is Dead!"*

Nana awoke, hearing the phone ring. She realized the others must have gone for take-out. Securing her limbs, she lifted the receiver with her vectors and spoke when she was close enough.

"Hello? Kouta-San! Ohhhh-everything's okay here-you just wanted to call and see? Nana doesn't mind. Maybe-could Kouta-San tell Nana about when Lucy was just a girl? She liked the flavored frozen ice just like Nana? Wow!"

Having settled feuds both private and public, the two people who would yet decide the fate of the Human race talked over silliness and a girl who loved large animals.

16

The Agent had awoken, and been happily informed of Bando's survival, the end of Lucy's threat, the recovery of the vaccine, and of Anna's cooperation.

"Kurama-San, why do you look like a man who needs a favor done?"

In a few short days, the surprisingly healthy Agent was helping Kurama to run a useful scam. Over audio link, he heard her meet with Emiko.

"Like I said on the phone, we share your concern about Nana. We need a threat assessment done from the inside, and if need be, a removal."

By the end of the charade, Emiko's fears about Nana had been turned in upon themselves, and the threat she herself posed for leaks to the press were contained.

Needless to say, she was not pleased.

"Are there any other secrets or surprises you have for me? Or am I just such an easy target for scams and schemes, you just can't stop?"

Kurama again came prepared with a counter. He touched his own scalp with his remaining hand.

"Surprises, Emiko-San? Tell me, if I touched your scalp right here, what would I find beneath your hair?"

The color drained from her face.

"I see. Well, you wouldn't find much. Me and my sister-Kouta's mother-were the last to be born with any vestige of them. Yuka, Kanae, Kouta-no signs."

Kurama spoke in a hushed tone, this after looking around first. The lunch crowd in the eatery had largely dispersed, anyway.

"Your grandmother's maiden family name was Kakuzawa."

She shrugged.

"Why do you think I was so leery of them? My grandma fled that madness, all that cultist crap, eugenics trash thinking. She actually told me she was glad to give up her name and any public associations with them. When I saw Nyu and later Nana, I knew my grandmother's nephew-the man you called Chief Kakuzawa-must have his mad plans in overdrive. Even before I knew the horrors Lucy brought upon this family-I knew of the insanity that had consumed my ancestors. Do you-perhaps think it was our heritage that drew Nyu to Kouta-twice?"

Kurama gave what reassurances he could.

"I am convinced that something wholly unrelated to your ancestors was behind that, if in fact it was not merely a large coincidence."

This seemed to reassure Emiko, and she moved to do likewise.

"Nana is now family-which makes us family. As such, I offer part of our family plot to lay the ashes of your Mariko to rest."

"I accept your gracious offer. It will be good to give her such final peace."

"So-where will you live, now that the island facility is gone?"

Kurama smiled.

"I-have a plan..."

17

*Kouta dreamed. He dreamed that he sat on the beach with her. All was peace as the sun set. She moved to speak, and in a single motion, they began to kiss each other. Certain of her willingness, he moved to remove her bikini. She stopped him.

"You know, I think Yuka may be in line for that one. She's been pretty patient, you know."

Kouta shrugged. "She's crazy."

"I know. That's why I like her. It's something we have in common. You drive us crazy."

He looked at her. "Forgiveness or whatever-I want you to be a part of my life. All of you, good and bad."

Again she held him before she got up.

"As Bogart said, where I'm going, you can't follow, and what I'm about to do, you can't be a part of. Heh. Unless you have flame-retardant underwear."

"Don't joke about that."

"Wish I were. But I have this gut feeling you don't just walk away from what I've done."

His soul cried out for her to stop as she walked away, but instead he pointed and said something simple he himself didn't understand.

"You and I aren't done-I will see you again, and I don't mean in Hell!"

She turned back and smiled lightly.

"If it were anyone else but you, I'd say you were crazy. Since it is you, then-well, just remember what I said before. Be there!"*

"I Will!"

He awoke to see that Yuka was out in the hallway signing what forms she had to before heading back home to await him. He was in his regular clothes, and a cane awaited his use. After signing out himself and saying goodbye to the hospital staff, he walked calmly through the town that was now his home. After his month of recuperation, the city of Kamakura no longer looked like an atomic bomb had gone off, but rather like a place shaking off a bad rainy season. The lighthouse tower where he had kept his promise and avenged his kin had been torn down, though a sign promised rebuilding. This would be done quickly. Tourism in Kamakura was soon to make a huge comeback, albeit for the very saddest of reasons. He avoided the temple stairwell steps and headed for his home. Inside it, there would be a variety of characters, but no hyperactive sexual innocent with a grim secret.

Outside of Maple House, he saw all the work that had been done, particularly how the odd angles in the area surrounding it no longer allowed for accidental views of the house or yard.

"Well? C'mon inside!"

Guiding-almost pushing him-in was a girl Kouta's daughter by blood would one day call the world's best Onee-Sama Ever.

"We're so happy to see you. Yuka-San was afraid you'd gotten your foolish ass shot again-was Nana not supposed to say that part?"

Next was a sweet silly girl who had, in a bolt of lightning gone from common worker drone to royalty, and Kouta would see her grow into a woman who as Queen would end and confirm the destiny of her species.

Following this was a girl whose secret and at times not-so-secret love for him rivaled that of his two great loves, and who would write not a few songs about that love about boys with names that always started with 'K'. Once an idol, she would be known by her given name alone, and Kouta's daughter teased that she couldn't actually have 'Her' as an Auntie.

"I have something very special for you, Kouta-Kun. We'll all get to enjoy it soon."

Standing with all of them was a man who would become a contentious mentor to Kouta. He would show Kouta that the world could never be the simple straightforward place of his young ideals. Kouta would in turn show him that the world could never be allowed to become the cold hard place his experiences said it was. At least once, the younger man would vow never to forgive the elder.

"Your home is secure, Kouta-San. But I can't promise things will ever be dull..."

"Papa is staying with us! Kouta-San? Isn't that wonderful?"

Finally, there was the sweet yet brittle mix that would soon become his wife, and the mother of his child. Reaching their common maturity together, they would be parents and grandparents together many times over, and their love would change a sorry world. She would always say
that part of that love came from a dear friend, the one they would name their child for.

"No more adventures, okay? Just us two-three-I mean f-how many people are living in this house, anyway?"

Mayu had obtained a cake from a familiar source, and so they ate hearty and gave well wishes. Finally, Nozomi showed them all a CD.

"Kouta-San, someone recorded this song for you. She loved it so much, she even sang it in phonetic English, just like the original singers from Sweden did. She even went one step further and sang it a capella. She meant it as a birthday gift, but now..."

Before she could tear up (or otherwise lose control) Nozomi set the player to begin.

With obvious joy in her voice, the woman known as Nyu among other names began to sing, and all knew who she was singing for as she crooned out the pop standard of stage and radio.

"I'm nothing special, in fact I'm a bit of a bore
If I tell a joke, you've probably heard it before
But I have a talent, a wonderful thing
'Cause everyone listens when I start to sing
I'm so grateful and proud
All I want is to sing it out loud

So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk
She says I began to sing long before I could talk
And I've often wondered, how did it all start
Who found out that nothing can capture a heart
Like a melody can
Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan

So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

I've been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair
I wanna sing it out to everybody
What a joy, what a life, what a chance!

Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

Thank you for the music
For giving it to me..."

And when the Abba classic was done, Kouta looked at Nozomi.

"You taught her how to sing. She could have meant that for you."

Nozomi shook her head.

"I know for a fact that she didn't. So do you."

The quiet but fun evening began to break up, and all helped with cleaning till it was time to turn in. For his part, Kurama withdrew outside to visit a small spirit marker.

"Whether you want me to or not, Lucy- I will now see to the well-being of those that dwell here. Let the trail of blood between us now end in this manner."

18

About Three AM, two sleepless figures rose to catch some news on TV.

"Couldn't sleep, Kouta-San?"

"Just have to re-adjust my internal clock. You, Mayu-Chan?"

Ummm... I used to hear things around this time of night in my old house."

A soft lie Kouta knew better than to press, especially since he knew the truth of her past.

"What's that on the news? Kouta-those look like-"

"Mayu-get Kurama. Now."

Both Kurama and Nana were in the same room for that joyous first night. It was a joy soon to be tempered. Kurama was quick to pick up what was shown on TV. His cell-phone rang.

"Yes, General. The secret is out, now and forever. No, I cannot believe this will be the last such incident. Yes, sir. Tell the driver I will be ready by five-thirty."

Nana gave a look that showed both disappointment and understanding. Of course they needed her Papa at a time like this, but having him leave when he had just moved in had to sting a little bit, though she knew he would be back.

"What's all the noise?"

Yuka and Nozomi emerged bleary-eyed into the living area. Kouta sat them down while Mayu made tea, and all watched or listened to the news all had hoped against.

*To Repeat our top story : In and around the arcades in eastern Tokyo, 150 people are reported dead, and hundreds more reported maimed or injured in attacks that surviving eyewitnesses swear came from a group of little girls with horns atop their heads, just like in the recent urban legends. These girls, whose existence has at last been confirmed in security camera footage shown here, appear to exhibit strange powers-which one victim called invisible hammers or claws. Tokyo is in a state of panic, and rumors have reached us that the Diet and the Prime Minister may have been evacuated for their safety. Wait-the death toll has just been revised upward by as many as-*

Kurama looked at his new housemates, people he would now not be able to stay with as often as he first thought.

"It's begun, and I have no idea when or where it will stop. After it is done, there may not be a Japan, or a recognizable world around us. Join me in a prayer for strength and safety."

They all prayed, and one prayed harder than any other, the girl who heard shouts inside her own mind.

*Queen Lucy is dead-Long Live Queen Nana-Long Live The Queen!*

A very good girl would face the hardest choices of all.

THE END

(Author's Note : Other stories in this cycle and containing plot elements shown here are :

Kouta's Birthday Gift; Horns; Anna And The Would-Be King; So Shines A Good Deed; Nana And The Lucky Girl; Sisters Are We

Two stories set before Lucy's passing are : Cold Shot; The New Papa; See also Holiday Songs and Mayu's Rental

JUST PAST LIFE AND THE LIVING

She awoke, and this was a surprise all by itself. She wasn't supposed to do that anymore. A gavel struck a desk, and a voice was heard.

"The case of Cosmos versus the young woman known as Lucy, Nyu and Kaede will come to order. Bailiff will read the charges."

Lucy looked over and saw the bailiff was Kouta, though he looked older. No-not Kouta at all. This was-his father.

"Your Honor, the defendant is charged with deliberately and with hate in her heat ending the lives of nearly ten thousand persons. There are arguably some mitigating factors, hence the need for this hearing."

The judge was in shadow, and spoke with a booming voice.

"Madame Prosecutor? Can you conduct yourself properly and do your job, despite evidence of bias on your part?"

The prosecutor sounded like a little girl-because she was.

"I can, your honor. I can set aside my feelings about the actions of the defendant Lucy."

Kanae. Well, at least she wasn't foreman of the jury. Her own defense attorney looked adult but unsure.

"I'll-I'll try and help you as best I can. I-I'll try."

Realizing her position, Lucy waited till a certain question was asked, the better to end this farce quickly.

"Does the defendant wish to enter a plea?"

"I Do, Your Honor."

She knew better than to fight the charges. If this was the afterlife, them she had no intention of hiding away what she had done with words, either hers or someone else's.

"I plead-

Then she saw the other one, sitting in the chair next to her own.

"Nyu! Nyu! Miss you. Kouta all right?"

Lucy then saw the chain that bound them together. What she thought would end easily now could not be allowed to do so.

"What is Nyu doing here?"

The judge's voice came back at her.

"She is your co-defendant, since she is a part of you."

"And whatever or wherever I get sent to, she goes as well?"

"Essentially correct."

Lucy reached over and hugged Nyu. Nyu, the one Kouta really loved.

"Missed you too kid. Your Honor-I Plead Not Guilty!"

She heard the gasps, the shouts of outrage. But Lucy didn't care. As long as Nyu was at risk, Lucy would fight this. But even in that, she was soon to find that the afterlife was no less complicated than life itself.

The trial began.

(This part of the story will be continued in : After, but I can't say when it will be up)