Forget About Me
The phone wasn't ringing.
Jack gave it an accusing glare before stuffing it back into his pocket. Behind him, he could hear his secretary, Grace, as she continued to chatter about how she'd been arranging his schedule, but he tuned her out. She knew what he was supposed to be doing, and as it didn't involve dueling he didn't let it concern him.
"...and there was quite a bit of mail while you were gone," she said, "so I sorted through it. Everything is in a pile in your trophy room - the smaller stack is business, and the larger one is mostly social correspondence."
"I'll see to it," said Jack. "Is there anything else? Because if there isn't..."
"Go get some rest," she told him, smiling fondly. Grace wasn't immune to whatever it was that made women throw themselves at him in droves, but she was also happily married with three children, and that tended to take the edge off of it. She mothered him instead, which suited Jack better than the alternative. He made a noise of acknowledgment and showed her to the door.
After Grace had bid him goodnight and gone on about whatever she did when she wasn't helping him, Jack shuffled off to his trophy room for a bit of well earned relaxation.
The phone still wasn't ringing, so he threw it onto the coffee table next to the stack of mail Grace had left there, and he sat down to start reading things. The business letters could wait until he'd had at least one more good meal, a good night's sleep, and gotten over his usual post- tournament letdown. Getting the phone call he was expecting would help with that, but since it wasn't happening right now, he started opening letters from his friends instead, catching up on what they had been doing since last he'd heard from them.
Some people had living rooms. Since Jack didn't consider himself to be truly living if he wasn't in the midst of dueling, he had a trophy room instead. It was his favorite place in the condominium he occupied when he wasn't on the road, the place where he could put his feet up and allow himself a moment of relaxation. If his living quarters weren't the most spacious, he'd at least seen to it that they were well furnished. The trophy room was decorated in his preferred colors of white, violet, and pale grey, and enlivened with a number of posters and handsomely framed photographs commemorating his various dueling conquests. One entire wall was made up of windows, giving him a view of the nearest city spread out below his feet, which in his opinion was where it belonged. The opposite wall held a small bar area where he could prepare a variety of drinks, as well as a microwave, mini-fridge, and some cabinets, which together could provide him with easy-to-prepare snacks when he wasn't in the mood for an elaborate meal. There was an entertainment area with a television that cost more than some people's cars, and a sound system that cost more than the televison. Against the far wall, given pride of place, was a set of shelves that held a number of trophies and a variety of ribbons. It didn't hold as much as he would have liked yet, but he was well on his way.
Flanking this monument to himself, looking more than a little out of place, was a set of cork boards. They were the only things in the room that looked as though they cost less than several hundred dollars; exact duplicates of them could have been purchased at any department store. They were covered in multicolored pushpins and assorted bits of paper. Some people might have been fooled into thinking that they weren't trophies, too.
On the left side of the trophy case, the cork boards held a great deal of what Grace had called "social correspondence," and what Jack simply considered to be letters from his friends. There was a postcard from Rua and Ruka in London, a long handwritten letter from Kiryu, a clipping from a scientific journal detailing the results of Yusei's latest experiment, some photos from Aki's last birthday party, a newspaper article about Ushio and Mikage foiling a ring of card thieves, a coffee coupon sent by his usual waitress at his old favorite cafe, a note from Martha written on colorful stationary, a peel-off paper top left over from the case of ramen noodles Jaeger had shipped him as a farewell gift, a photograph of Crow winning his first big tournament (with a notation on the back reading simply, "How do you like this, huh?"), and printouts of emails from just about everyone he knew. His friends couldn't be with him in the flesh, and he knew he couldn't go back to them just yet, but he'd learned from hard experience the dangers of cutting himself off from them entirely. Instead, he kept this collection, his own personal shrine to remind him of who and what he was fighting for. Jack took all the letters and notes he'd collected from the mail pile and began tacking them up. The boards were getting full, and he made a mental note to pick up some more soon.
On the other side of the trophy case was a different set of cork boards, whose contents would take more than a cursory glance to understand. They appeared to be mainly newspaper printouts and clippings, with the occasional magazine article to liven things up. They touched on nearly every subject imaginable, from pets to politics. A close observer, reading them all in order, would possibly observe several things. One was that over time, the quality of the articles increased, their questions becoming more subtly probing, their observations more insightful, their language more focused. Another was that the source switched several times. The first few were from one small-time paper, but the later ones were from a larger and more prestigious institution. The number of magazine articles sprinkled throughout the collection became greater towards the end of the set as well. The third thing was that over time, the articles became more and more frequently focused on dueling. Also, they were all written by the same woman.
Jack had a few additions to make to this collection, too, so once he finished dealing with the rest of his social circle, he moved on to those. He was never quite certain how he felt about this collection, other than that he had already made up his mind not to give up. He had a good idea what Carly was trying to do. She was, in her own roundabout way, chasing after him. In a way, leaving Neo Domino City had been the best thing he could have done for her. Without him to focus her attention on, she had instead thrown herself into her work, and the results had been positive. Within a year of him moving on, she'd gotten a job offer at a better publication than the one she'd been working for. She'd also taken up freelancing, submitting articles to dueling magazines, and was building a reputation for it.
It was the focus on dueling that had tipped him off to her plans. If he was going to become the world's greatest duelist, it seemed, then she was going to become the sort of reporter who got to write about the world's greatest duelist. She was trying to catch up to him, to reach the point where she'd be able to follow him wherever he went. When he had left her, he had hoped that she would finally get over him and move on, but it would seem she was too stubborn for that. Jack didn't approve, but he respected her choice and her methods. If that was the game she wanted to play, he'd do her the honor of keeping score.
The phone still wasn't ringing. He picked it up, checked to be certain that it was on, that its battery was charged, that it was getting good reception and that it hadn't been set to vibrate. Finding everything in working order, he cast it aside with a growl of frustration.
What's keeping her?
He went to the bar to make himself something to drink. This time of night, he didn't want coffee, and deciding what else he did want was enough to occupy him for a few more restless minutes. Maybe, he told himself, this lack of communication meant that Carly had finally found something else she wanted to do with her time. Ever since he had left Neo Domino, she had been meticulous about calling him after every tournament. It didn't matter what time of day or night it was, if she was sick or on a deadline, or even if she'd been up for three days straight working on a story. She had fallen asleep in the middle of the conversation the last time that had happened, but she had still called. Even the fact that he'd never tried to call her back didn't seem to dissuade her. Tonight, though, there was only silence.
Jack made hot chocolate. Fussing with milk and cocoa and sugar gave him something to do while he fidgeted. He'd just gotten it the way he wanted it and was just about to start drinking when the phone finally rang. He jumped, sloshed chocolate down his front, snarled his annoyance, and slammed down the mug so he could make a dash for the phone.
"It's about time!" he snapped. "Where have you been?"
"Jack, this is Yusei."
"Oh, it's you," Jack muttered. "Do you mind? I'm expecting a call."
"I'm sorry," said Yusei, "but there's been an emergency."
Jack felt something cold settle in his stomach, and tried to ignore it.
It's not her. It can't be her. She'd never let anything...
"It's Carly," Yusei continued. "She's in the hospital."
"Why? What happened? Tell me what happened."
"I don't know. No one does," said Yusei. "Someone found her lying unconscious on the sidewalk. No one has found anything wrong with her, but... she just hasn't woken up yet."
Jack was silent.
"Jack? Are you all right?" asked Yusei. "Are you still there?"
Jack snapped the phone shut and threw it across the room. He watched it slide across the carpet and disappear under a sofa. For a moment, he stood rigid, thoughts racing. Then he went to retrieve the phone and dial a number.
"Grace," he said, "get in touch with my manager. I want the two of you to put everything on hold. Cancel all my appointments."
"What? Why? For how long?" she asked.
"As long as it takes," he said. "And get me a plane ticket for the next flight to Japan. I need to go to Neo Domino."
She woke up.
She blinked a few times, trying to work out exactly where she was, but the room was unfamiliar to her, and after a while, she gave it up as an impossible task. Instead, she let her head turn to the side, towards the sunbeams she could sense were slanting in through a window somewhere nearby, and as she turned, her gaze fell upon a man.
He was sitting in a chair next to her, gazing off into space. He looked tired. The tightness around his eyes and the set of his mouth suggested that he'd spent a sleepless and worry-filled night. Even so, he was stunning. Tired as they were, his eyes were still a luminous violet, almost too vivid to be real, and the sunlight on his hair gave it the color of true gold. His face was fine- boned, almost delicate, but there was something about the set of his mouth that suggested that he was anything but. The clothing he wore was form-fitting, showing off a lean, athletic body. She drank in the sight for a while, but after he didn't move or speak for several minutes, the silence became unbearable.
"Um, hi?" she said.
As conversational gambits went, it wasn't the most brilliant, but it had the desired effect. The man jumped as though he'd been given an electric shock and jerked his head around to look at her. When he saw her blinking back at him, he gave a deep sigh of something like relief. She wondered suddenly if his worried expression had something to do with her.
What is this place? Some sort of hospital? Was I sick? And then: Why does it matter to him if I was?
"So, you're finally awake," he said. "It took you long enough."
"Sorry?" she offered.
"Never mind," he said. "What happened to you, anyway?"
She frowned, trying to think. "I... don't remember."
"Nothing?" he persisted. "The others said you were found lying unconscious on a sidewalk in the main business district. Do you at least remember what you were doing down there?"
What others? she wondered. She shook her head. He made a wordless noise of displeasure, but apparently decided not to pursue it.
"I suppose it won't help to tell you not to do it again," he said. "You're so reckless. Do you realize the trouble you've put me through?"
"Sorry," she said again, genuinely contrite.
"Never mind apologies," he said. More quietly, he said, "I'm just relieved you're all right."
She felt a disorienting sensation, a feeling that she was looking at the world the wrong way around. Something was missing here. This man clearly knew her. He'd been worried about her - gone through a lot of trouble for her, apparently. And yet...
"Um," she said, "sorry if this sounds weird, but... do I... know you?"
He went very still. Expressions flickered across his face, none of them happy.
"Don't joke like that. It's not funny," he snapped.
"I'm not," she insisted. "I really don't remember..."
"You don't remember," he repeated, his voice dull. "When you say you don't remember, you mean... you don't remember anything?"
She nodded reluctantly. The look he was giving her made her wish she could sink into her mattress and disappear.
He made one last try: "What's your name?"
She thought about it. A small chill went through her as she realized the truth. She had just looked for her identity, assuming it would be there because everyone had to have one, but there was nothing there. She was as much a stranger to herself as he was to her.
"I don't know," she said.
He didn't answer. For a few seconds he stayed perfectly still, processing. Then he rose to his feet and swept out of the room without giving her a second glance. A few moments later, she heard him shouting at someone outside. She sank into her pillows, feeling miserable. The only person in the world she was now even remotely acquainted with, and already she had made him angry.
She wasn't sure how long she had spent lying there, wallowing in her misery, when the door opened and someone came in. She looked up hopefully, wondering if the blond man was back, but this was someone new, someone smaller and darker, with intense blue eyes and a peculiar gold mark zigzagging down one cheek. Something in her brain suggested that this was a criminal mark, but she couldn't imagine this man breaking the law. He was well-dressed in slacks and a dark jacket over a button-down shirt, and there was something about the quiet but purposeful way he moved and the directness of his gaze that suggested honesty and dependability. He pulled up the chair that the other man had abandoned and seated himself in it.
"You've caused a stir," he said.
Listening to the shouting that was still going on outside the room, she was forced to agree that maybe she had.
"Is he angry at me?" she asked.
"He's angry," the newcomer replied. "I don't think he's angry at you." He regarded her with a look of concern. "Is it true what he's saying, that you don't remember who you are?"
"Not a thing," she said. "Who are you? Do I know you? Do I know him? What am I doing here?"
Her new companion took a deep breath, like a man about to shoulder a burden that really shouldn't have been his problem, but which he was determined to carry anyway.
"My name is Fudo Yusei. We're friends. Your name is Nagisa Carly. You're a reporter for the Neo Domino Daily News. The man you just spoke with was Jack Atlas. He's a duelist - a professional, one of the best in the world. The two of you were... very close, at one point." The shouting outside reached a crescendo, and Yusei added, "I think he might still be a little attached to you."
She felt her cheeks warm slightly. That man - Jack Atlas - he and she had been... what? Friends? Lovers? Had they ever...? She couldn't decide what she wanted the answer to be. Whatever they had been, Yusei was talking like they weren't anymore. How had that happened? She was reasonably certain that she wouldn't have let him go without a fight.
"As for what you're doing here," Yusei continued, "all I know for certain is that the last time I saw you, you were excited about something, saying you had a lead on a big story, and you were going out that night to follow up on it. You wouldn't tell me what it was, though - you said you didn't want to leak it too soon. I didn't think any more of it, but later one of my friends called and said you'd been found unconscious and were in the hospital. That's all I know."
"So, what's going to happen to me now?" Carly asked.
"I'm not sure. That's up to the doctors," Yusei replied. "They'll do what they can for you, I'm sure. Don't worry. We aren't going to leave a friend in need."
Who's we? she thought, but didn't ask. It would require another explanation, and she had the feeling that sort of thing could go on indefinitely. She didn't want to get sidetracked. There were more important things to figure out, like who she actually was and what she was supposed to do with this strange new life she had been thrust into.
"Thanks," she said instead.
The door reopened, and Jack stepped in. His eyes scanned the room, dodged quickly around looking at Carly and came to rest on Yusei instead.
"I want to talk to you outside," he announced, in a tone that said clearly, You had better or else!
"Excuse me, Carly," said Yusei, getting up. "I'll check on you again soon, all right?"
She nodded. She wanted a little time alone to think through everything she'd just learned. Yusei murmured his goodbyes and followed Jack out of the room. Carly sighed and let herself flop back onto the bed.
Well, it could be worse, she told herself. At least someone was interested in her welfare. Maybe two someones. That was a start. She closed her eyes and put her mind towards regathering her energies and preparing herself for what was going to come. She needed a strategy.
As soon as she got out of this hospital, she was going to start unraveling the mystery that was Nagisa Carly.
Jack and Yusei were talking to a doctor. Technically, the doctor was doing most of the talking. Yusei never did a lot of talking at the best of times, and Jack seemed to be in some sort of daze. It was hard for Yusei to be certain that he was really taking everything in.
The doctor was saying, "We've given her a thorough examination. Physically, there is nothing wrong with her."
"Then why can't she remember anything?" Jack demanded.
"That is a question a psychologist would be better equipped to answer," said the doctor. "We'll have a specialist give her a more thorough examination, but it sounds as though she may be suffering what is known as a dissociative fugue. In layman's terms, it means that she's lost access to most of her long-term memory."
"I could have told you that," said Jack. "What I want to know is, what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm afraid there's no simple answer, Mr. Atlas. This isn't like on television, where you knock someone over the head and their memories come rushing back," the doctor said patiently. "These kinds of issues are frequently caused by some sort of emotional trauma. It's a brain's defense mechanism against something it can't handle - it takes all its memories and blocks them off so that whatever caused the shock can't do any further harm. For example, if she witnessed a murder or someone attempted to assault her, that might have been enough to bring on this state. It may be that with time, therapy, and exposure to familiar, safe surroundings, she'll recover enough to start remembering again on her own. However, I think it's only fair to warn you that some cases of dissociative fugue never resolve themselves."
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"She will get better," said Jack, clenching his fists. "I won't allow anything else."
The doctor looked slightly taken aback. "Yes, well... I wish you the best of luck. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
He murmured something about needing to get back to his patients. No one tried to stop him. In fact, Jack appeared to be lost in some deep inner calculations. Yusei watched him for a moment, awaiting further developments.
"Jack?" he said at length. "Are you all right?"
"I'm going to find them."
Jack turned to Yusei, eyes blazing. "You heard the doctor. Someone did this to Carly. Someone is responsible for this. I'm going to find them, and when I do, I'm going to make them sorry they were ever born!"
"Jack, calm down," said Yusei. "We don't even know for sure if..."
"Don't make excuses!" Jack snapped. "Are you going to help me or not?"
Yusei gave Jack a worried look, not liking the frantic edge in his voice, but all he said was, "Of course I'll help. If there's anything I can do, let me know."
That seemed to satisfy Jack. Without another word, he stood up and swept out of the room. Yusei watched him go, knowing better than to follow him. There was no reasoning with him when he was in this state. It was better to let him burn off some energy and come back when he'd calmed down a little. In the meantime, Yusei decided he was going to stay where he was. He had a feeling that there was a lot that was going to need dealing with sometime very soon, and someone levelheaded was going to have to deal with it. He sighed. He was getting a little tired of it always being him.
They let Carly go home. There really wasn't much else they could do with her - aside from her memory issues, she was in perfect health. They gave her the name of a specialist to see, got a promise that her friends would check in on her to make sure she was all right, and they sent her out the door. Yusei gave her a ride home, for which she was grateful, because otherwise she wouldn't have known where "home" was. She was a little disappointed that Jack didn't turn up to provide an escort, but he seemed to have vanished and she was a bit nervous about asking why, in case she didn't like the answer. Yusei dropped her off, made sure she actually had her door keys and could let herself in, gave her his phone number and told her to call if she ran into any trouble. That was all right by her. She wanted a bit of time to explore her surroundings.
She started with her mirror. It had occurred to her at some point that she couldn't remember what she looked like, and it was unsettling her. She let herself into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror over the sink, scrutinizing herself in detail. She was a little disappointed with what she saw; she had been hoping rather self-consciously that she would be glamorously beautiful. On consideration, she decided that the individual components of her face weren't all that bad, but something had been lost in the execution. She wasn't ugly, she decided, but she wasn't going to stop anyone on the street, either. She wondered fleetingly why Jack had noticed her in the first place, and put the thought out of her mind.
Once she grew bored with staring at herself, she set about exploring her apartment. There wasn't much to see; it appeared that reporters apparently weren't rolling in money, and she'd been forced to make do with what she could get. She investigated a desk and discovered a deck of cards lying on it, and she picked them up.
Duel Monsters, a flicker of memory suggested. She flicked through the cards, and for the first time she felt a glimmer of recognition. She couldn't quite remember when or how, but she felt sure she had used these cards or something like them in the past to do... something. She stared at them a moment longer, but nothing further revealed itself, so she put them down again. All the same, she felt a little better for having remembered something. Maybe the rest would come back, in time.
Also on the desk was a laptop computer. That looked promising, so she turned it on and began snooping through it to see what it held. A quick check of the document files showed that it was stuffed with several years worth of articles and drafts. Under other circumstances, she might have been intrigued by them, but she was looking for information about herself, not other people, so she reluctantly closed that folder and looked to see what else there was. On a whim, she checked the photo folder, and there she hit the jackpot. It appeared that she had been obsessed with photography, because the computer was crammed with pictures of anything and everything, all of them neatly organized and labeled by date and content. She flipped through a few at random, until one in particular caught her attention. Then she got up, went to the kitchen to collect a drink and something to snack on, and then went back to her desk.
By the time they were both long gone, she was still looking at pictures.
The first images in the set showed a family, or what she guessed was a family, judging by their resemblance to each other, in a neat little home somewhere. Carly felt odd looking at them. They were labeled with things like "Mom" and "Dad" or "Grandma" and "Grandpa", but they were strangers to her. After those pictures came several snapshots of scenery, from which she assumed that she must have gone on a journey, from wherever that family was to wherever she was now. The photos backed her up. Soon she found a picture of a city skyline with the jubilant notation, "Neo Domino City!" and snapshots of the local scenery. Then there was a gap of a few days, which she guessed involved settling in and getting organized. These were followed by more exultantly titled pictures: "My new apartment!" and "My new office!" After that were what appeared to be a bunch of news photos that she had taken for the paper she worked for, and she almost gave up on finding anything else relevant to her personal life. Then she found the first picture of Jack. It had obviously been taken at a distance, but she couldn't mistake him for anyone else. She could only guess that he had been competing in a tournament, and she had been taking pictures from the stands. There were several more sprinkled through the collection - other days, other tournaments, more views from a distance. It made her wonder how she'd ever gotten close enough to him to get to know him.
She found the first picture of Yusei about midway through the collection. Then there was a picture of what looked like a spectacular D-Wheel wreck, and an image suggesting that Yusei had just won a tournament. Then there was an unexplained gap of a couple of days in which there were no pictures at all. And after that, everything changed. Before, she had always been the watcher in the distance, taking pictures of what other people were doing. She had apparently had no life outside of her job. Now, mixed in with her news photography, were pictures of the same little group of people doing things together. Jack featured prominently, but there were pictures of Yusei and several others as well. Picture after picture showed them drinking coffee or playing cards or working on motorcycles or just wandering around town together. She stared long and hard at their faces, willing herself to remember something, but nothing would come to her.
Towards the end of the set, something changed again. At some point, most of the people in the pictures disappeared. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen any sign of most of them in real life yet. She wondered where they had all gone.
But Jack is here now. Wherever he's been, he came back. For me.
She was still mulling over that thought when there came a knock on her door. She hesitated, wondering if she actually felt up to answering it. Dealing with all these friendly strangers was a difficult task and she wasn't enjoying coping with it. On the other hand, whoever was out there was pounding like someone who knew she was there and had no intention of going away.
"Coming!" she called, and went to answer the summons.
When she opened the door, she found herself looking at a set of shirt buttons. She tipped her head back; the man on her doorstep was an imposing figure, not only taller than her, but broad and muscular as well. He had shaggy eyebrows over narrow, cunning eyes, a square jaw, and a wide scar running jaggedly down one cheek. Carly made an involuntary squeak.
The man looked sheepish. "Uh, hi. Did I startle you?"
"A little?" she said.
"Sorry 'bout that," he replied. "Mind if I come in?"
"I guess not," said Carly, stepping aside. "Um... do I know you?"
The man rubbed the back of his head, looking awkward. "Well, sort of. I mean, we've seen each other around, but we're not what you'd call best pals or anything." He fished out a badge and showed it to her. "Chief Officer Ushio of Special Investigations."
"Oh!" she said. She supposed in retrospect that she should have realized that the police would want to ask questions. She was just relieved that he wasn't another forgotten friend. When she'd first seen him, she'd been afraid that he was an uncle or something - that really would have been awkward. "Come in! Sit down."
"Nah, I'm probably not going to stay long," he replied. "Don't look so nervous. You're not under arrest or anything."
"Did you want to ask me questions?" she said. "Because I really don't remember anything."
"Nothing at all?" he persisted.
"Absolutely nothing. They had to tell me my own name," she said.
Ushio shrugged. "It was worth a shot." He fished a business card out of his pocket and passed it to. "Anyway, this is the number to Special Investigations. If anything comes to you, you call us, any time of day, okay?"
She nodded. "I'll try my best."
"Best we can do, I guess," said Ushio. "Anyway, I brought you this back. We copied all the information on it in case anything is relevant, but I figured you'd want it back. I'm just not used to seeing you without a camera in your hands."
He passed the device back to her, and she accepted it awkwardly. She had hoped that being given something that was apparently one of her most treasured possessions might spark something, but no luck. It just sat there in her hands, being a camera.
"Sorry there isn't more I can do for you," said Ushio. "Like I said, we weren't close or anything, but I'd still like to see you back to your old self again."
"Thanks," she said. She wasn't sure what else to say.
Having completed his mission, Ushio said his goodbyes and left. Carly wasn't sorry to see him go. She was, however, glad to have her camera. As soon as her guest was gone, she hurried back to her computer and plugged the camera in to upload all the pictures. She was eager to see what her last night as herself had looked like. Ushio had hinted that she'd been an avid shutterbug, and the pictures on her hard drive backed him up. Yusei had said that she had been excited about something the night before her mishap. She was willing to bet that whatever it was, she'd been intent on photographing it. The evidence might still be here in the camera's memory. Even if the police couldn't find anything useful on it, it would at least tell her more than she knew now. Maybe if she went back to where she started and retraced her steps, she might jog a memory loose.
As she'd hoped, there were a number of pictures, most of which had been taken after dark. She scrutinized them closely, looking for clues. Most of them appeared to have been taken in and around an empty construction site after everyone had gone home for the day. Carly stared at them, trying to fix the details in her mind so she would recognize the place if she saw it again.
Towards the end of the set of pictures, she found the most intriguing clue. There were people in the background of one shot - three of them, wearing long cloaks that hid their features.
That must be them, she decided. Whatever the cause of her memory loss was, these people were responsible for it.
Now all she had to do was find them.
Jack was causing a stir. He walked through the office, attracting the attention of the men and women working the switchboards, but he ignored them all. He made it most of the way across the room before someone got up to block his progress.
"Hey, you can't just come barging in here!" the man said.
Jack gave him a look that could melt steel, and the man backed down and returned to his desk. Unfazed, Jack continued until he reached the far side of the room, where Mikage sat at her desk watching him. He rested both his hands on the desk and leaned over her.
"I want to talk to you," he said. "In private. Now."
To her credit, her expression remained smooth. Only a tightening around her eyes suggested that his behavior was troubling her.
"I'm on the job," she said. "If it's a personal matter, it will have to wait."
"It's not personal, it's business," Jack snapped.
Mikage hesitated a moment before saying, "In that case, perhaps I can accommodate you, but make it quick."
Jack was somewhat taken aback. He was used to Mikage taking orders without a fight; the fact that she was showing any resistance at all was unusual. She avoided his eyes as she rose from her seat and escorted him to an empty office and closed the door. Before Jack could say anything, she sat down behind the desk so that it was between him and her. It seemed she was determined not to allow this to become personal.
"So," she said, "what did you want to talk about?"
"I want to know what you're doing to find the people who hurt Carly."
Mikage pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. "I assure you we're doing everything we can."
"What are you doing?" he persisted.
"We're investigating," she said. "What else do you want us to do?"
"You're not investigating, you're sitting behind a desk taking phone calls!" Jack snapped.
"I have responsibilities," said Mikage.
"You have a responsibility to help people! Carly needs help! I need help!" he shouted. "Someone hurt her, and I want to find out who it was."
"Please, control yourself," she said. "First of all, we don't know for sure that her memory loss was actually caused by anyone hurting her."
"If it wasn't, then what-"
"Secondly, in case you haven't noticed," she continued, raising her voice slightly, "Neo Domino is a large city. There are more people in it who need help than just you. You have no right to demand that we devote all our resources to just one person."
"I'm not demanding, I'm just..."
"I promise you that we will try to find out more about what happened to Carly. Ushio's looking into it now. There's really nothing more we can do," said Mikage. "Look, you're tired and you're under a lot of strain. Why don't you go get some sleep and..."
"No!" said Jack. "You listen to me! Carly needs me and I'm not going to rest until I've done something to help her. I thought I could count on you."
"You can," she said.
"Apparently not," said Jack. "I should have expected as much from you. All this time you go on about how you'd do anything for me but when I actually need you for something..."
"Don't say that!" Mikage exclaimed. "Just don't say it! Do you even know what you're saying? I can..." Her voice caught, but she forced herself to go on. "I can accept that... that you love someone who isn't me, but to ask me to prove myself to you like this... What happens when her memory comes back? You'll go back to her. You're just using me, and I won't take it! I can only go so far, even for you."
Jack stared. He realized belatedly that he had probably just gone too far, and yet all he could think of was, Are you sure she's going to get her memory back? He had just enough good sense not to say it aloud.
Mikage took a breath, steadying herself. "I promise you, I will do what I can to help. I'm not going to forget."
"I understand, he said stiffly. "I'm sorry for wasting your time." He started for the door.
"Are you angry at me now?" Mikage asked quietly.
Jack paused in the doorway, glancing over his shoulder at her.
"I'm not angry," he said. "If you'd shown this much spirit back in the old days, I would have thought more highly of you."
She smiled mirthlessly. "It's too late now, though, isn't it? Goodbye, Jack. Good luck."
"Same to you," he said, and he left in a more subdued mood than he'd entered. There had been something very final in her goodbye. It was the first time he could remember that she'd called him by his given name.
Yusei found Jack sitting in a chair by the window. He wasn't surprised - he may not have invited Jack to return to the garage to stay, but Jack had never been one to mess about with asking permission, especially not when he knew he would get what he wanted in the end anyway. At the moment, he was staring out the window into space, so deeply lost in his thoughts that he did not react even when Yusei came quite close to him.
"Jack," said Yusei quietly.
It took a moment for Jack's eyes to come into focus. Then he fixed Yusei with a glare. "Go away."
Yusei sat down on the stairs, facing the opposite direction from Jack.
"Don't give up hope," he said. "She always was stubborn. She'll find her way back."
"Don't talk to me like that," Jack snapped. "This isn't like fighting monsters and winning duels. It's not something we can fight back against. It's just there, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"That's not how the Jack I know talks," said Yusei.
"Yeah, well, maybe you don't know everything," Jack muttered.
Yusei was quiet a moment. He had never been quite certain what there was between Jack and Carly. She had just appeared after the whole Dark Signer event, and Jack had acted like she belonged there. There had been so many other changes around that time that one rather ordinary girl joining their little team hadn't drawn much attention. Jack, of course, had been closemouthed about the whole thing. No one had ever been able to get him to own up to her being anything other than a friend - essentially no different from any of the other women who sprung up in his path gushing praise and demanding autographs except that he seemed to tolerate her company better than most.
After a moment, Yusei said, "You really do love her, don't you?"
"I never asked to love anybody," said Jack.
"We didn't ask for a lot of things," Yusei replied. "We didn't ask to lose our parents, we didn't ask for what happened to Satellite, we didn't ask to be chosen as Signers, we didn't ask for what happened to Bruno..."
He broke off. His gaze traveled over to the shelf where a few treasures were stored: the WRGP champion's trophy, a framed photo of the whole team celebrating, Bruno's shattered glasses. He had gotten his memories back, and look what had happened to him. Jack might have been right about that, at least - some things couldn't be changed just with a lot of hope and determination or even a duel. He had been fine with Bruno having no memories, as long as he was there, but in a case like this...
"Don't make this all about your problems!" Jack snapped.
"This is my fault," said Jack. "It happens every time. I should have known better..."
"It's not your fault," Yusei answered soothingly. "You weren't even here..."
"That's just it - I wasn't here," Jack retorted. He hung his head, clenching his fists. "She wanted to come with me. When I left Neo Domino City, she tried to come with her, and I said, no, I don't need some woman cluttering up my life. I wanted her to forget all about me, and I got my wish. If I had been here to keep an eye on her..."
"She still could have gotten hurt, even if you were here," said Yusei. "You can't control someone's life, Jack. Accidents happen."
Jack was quiet for a long time. At last, he said, "It was my fault she died."
"You never told me what happened," said Yusei.
"I'll tell you what happened," said Jack. "When I had nothing left and nowhere to turn, she helped me. She protected me from the Dark Signers, she tended my injuries, she gave me a place to stay, she cooked and cleaned for me, she slept on the kitchen table so I could rest in her bed, and she gave me the words I needed to hear to get myself turned around and moving in the right direction again. Without her, I would be nothing now. I owe everything I have to her. And after all that, all she asked was that she be allowed to stay with me when I went to fight the Dark Signers, and I said 'no, you stay here, you'll just get in my way', so she went off on her own trying to help me in her own way and Divine killed her for it. And now it's happening again. She's still chasing me, Yusei. She's trying to earn her way up through the ranks so she can be a great enough reporter that she'll be allowed to follow me wherever I go. Whatever she was investigating that night, she was doing it because she loves me and I left her."
Yusei stared. He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard his usually taciturn friend use so many words at once.
"She should have given up on me," said Jack quietly. "All I'll ever do is hurt her."
"That's not true," said Yusei. "As soon as you heard she needed help, you came running. That doesn't sound hurtful to me."
Jack just sighed. "I just don't know. I made up my mind I was going to be King and not let anything stop me until I was done, and then as soon as I hear something like this happening, I drop everything and come running back again. I can't stop myself from leaving and I can't stop myself from coming back. How am I going to find my way when I can't make up my mind which way to go?"
Yusei thought about it.
"Why do you want to be King so badly?" he asked. "Because it's what you've always wanted? Because you like the fame and fortune?"
"Sort of," said Jack, shifting uncomfortably. "You know how it used to be. People treated us Satelliters like we were nothing, like trash. I wanted to prove that I could do something better than anyone else, and then I could stand and say, 'I am from Satellite and I did this'. And I want to reclaim my honor. What I did before what wrong, and I want to do it right this time." Lowering his voice, he added, "Carly always believed I could do it. I wanted to show her she was right to believe in me - that I could become the kind of King I should have been the first time around."
"And would the right kind of King come to help his friends when they needed him?"
Jack thought. "Yes, I suppose he would."
"Then you're doing everything you should be," Yusei concluded. He stood up and began to walk towards his room. "I've called the others and let them know what happened. Some of them said they'd try to come and see what they can do to help, but don't sell yourself short. You know Carly better than anyone else does. If anyone can understand her well enough to figure out how to bring her memories back, it will be you. She's lucky you're here."
"I doubt it," said Jack, but he didn't sound as down as he had before.
Yusei stood and began walking towards his room. As he walked away, he heard Jack say, "Yusei?"
"You're really irritating when you're right about everything."
Yusei smiled. "You're welcome."
Carly was snooping. All things considered, she was surprised how well she could find her way around the city. Apparently whatever part of her brain was malfunctioning didn't include the part that she got directions from, so while she couldn't remember ever actually being in any of the places she went, she discovered that she could find her way from one point to another as long as she didn't stop to ask herself how she knew where she was supposed to be going. It was a slightly unsettling experience. She felt a little as though she were receiving instructions from an alien brain-control ray.
She had studied the pictures Ushio had given her and consulted maps of the city until she was sure she knew where she had taken them. Then she had gone into town to track them down. She had stopped along the way to buy lunch, and had been mildly surprised that the man at the counter had been so willing to take her credit card. He accepted so easily that she was who she said she was when she had a hard time believing it herself. Something in the back of her head made a mental note to do a feature on identity theft from her new perspective on life, and she was mildly pleased. Maybe the fact that she was thinking about going back to her old job meant her old self was starting to reassert itself.
After she'd eaten, she set out in search of the construction site. It wasn't hard to find; it occupied a block of prime real estate downtown, and was full of cranes and diggers and scaffolding. It was such prime real estate, in fact, that she had a hard time finding a place to park nearby, and ended up having to trek across several blocks to reach it. She was disappointed to find a fence around it, but she stood on the sidewalk and watched the men at work. They were swarming everywhere, hard at work moving dirt around and welding things together. Carly was disappointed. She had been hoping to find some clue to what had happened to her, but as far as she could tell, it was a perfectly ordinary construction site, full of ordinary workers doing ordinary work. She scrutinized their faces as they went by, but none of them sparked any memories and none of them paid much attention, beyond a foreman who shouted at her to stop leaning on the fence. She backed away hastily, but only a few yards, to have a closer look at the sign that had been hung on the fence. It explained that the heap of rubble and iron beams she was looking at was slated to eventually become a luxury high-rise apartment building with a pool, gym, spa, and indoor dueling facilities, and that interested parties could telephone or e-mail to inquire about pricing. Carly had seen enough of her current situation to suspect that she would never be able to afford to live there.
Looks like I struck out, she thought glumly. She had been so sure that if she just returned to the scene of the crime, everything would come flooding back to her. Now what am I going to do?
More out of some ingrained habit than anything else, she took out her cell phone and glanced at the time. It was only about one-thirty in the afternoon; she had the rest of the day to kill somehow...
A thought occurred to her. The rest of the day? From what she had been told, her attack had happened at night. All these construction workers wouldn't have been there; the site would have been dark and empty. Dark and empty enough that someone could slip over the fence without being seen, perhaps?
So I should come back at night, she decided. She felt encouraged; she may not have had a clear memory of that night, but her gut told her she was on the right track. If she came back tonight, she could learn something.
Feeling somewhat more cheerful, she began heading back to her car, thinking vaguely of finding something to entertain herself with until the sun went down. She didn't make it very far, though, before she saw someone approaching from the other direction. Her spirits rose even further as she realized who it was.
"Jack! Hey, Jack, over here!" she called.
She saw him twitch as he realized who was calling him. His face was a study in a man not getting his hopes up.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked.
"Looking at stuff," she said. She felt a bit guilty. She guessed that when he'd heard her call for him, he'd hoped for an instant that she had remembered him. She wondered if she'd always had a case of foot-in-mouth disease or if it was a recent development.
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Looking at stuff," he repeated, as though she'd spoken in a strange dialect and he wanted to be sure he had the pronunciation right. "That's enlightening."
"Well, this is where it happened, isn't it?" she said. "Whatever it was. I wanted to see it for myself. I thought maybe if I came back, I would see something that would remind me..."
"I'm guessing you didn't see anything," said Jack.
She shook her head. "I want to come back later, though. I think the time of day is wrong to see... whatever there is to see. Or something." She gave up that train of thought as a lost cause and said instead, "What are you doing out here?"
"Looking," he said. "At stuff."
He gave her a speculative look for a moment before saying, "Walk with me a while."
"Oh! Okay," said Carly.
She fell into step alongside him, and he shortened his long strides to make it easy to keep pace with him. He did it so automatically that she knew he must have done it many times before, and she felt a pang. She must have spent time with him. They were clearly important to each other. She wanted to remember so badly that it hurt, and yet nothing would come to her no matter how she wracked her brains.
I can't believe those doctors. It doesn't feel like I'm repressing anything; I'm trying to remember as hard as I can. It feels like there's nothing there to remember at all...
"How did we meet?" she asked.
Jack gave her a sharp look, but she refused to let herself be intimidated.
"Everyone knows more about me than I do, and it's driving me crazy," she said. "I want to know. Especially about you. Why are you even spending time around me? You're a celebrity - you could have anybody you wanted, probably - and I'm just..."
"Just what?" Jack challenged. "How do you know what you are? You can't even remember."
She flinched. That had stung, but she persisted. "I've seen myself in the mirror. I'm not especially pretty or talented or anything, I can't even see without these stupid glasses, and... and I looked through my pictures and you were gone. You left somewhere. If I was really that special, why would you leave?"
"I didn't leave because of you," said Jack. "I was going to come back, as soon as I could. I promised you I would."
"Oh," she said. "But then why...?"
He averted his eyes. "Why do we know each other at all? Because when I was at my lowest - when I had nothing going for me and nowhere to turn to - you were the one who saved me. If I had never met you, I really would be nobody. Every time I've needed you, you've always been there for me. I'd be dead two or three times over if it hadn't been for you. I've never been able to help you as much as you've helped me... and it looks like this time isn't any different."
He bowed his head, and Carly felt a stab of pity. All this time, she hadn't really been able to believe that he could actually be worried about her. Hesitantly, she rested a hand on his shoulder.
"Jack, it's okay. I don't expect you to fix this for me," she said.
"Then what good am I?" he snapped. "What is the point of anything when I can't protect the people who matter to me? I promised myself that someday I would become the greatest duelist on earth and prove that you were right to have faith in me, but what difference does it make if you don't even remember who I am?"
"I wish I did remember," she said. "Even if I can't remember anything else, I wish I remembered you. But... but I think even if my head doesn't know you anymore, I feel like my heart remembers. If you told me I had a different name or lived in another city or had a different job, I would believe you, but I can't imagine not being in love with you."
Jack turned to her, his expression shocked. Carly felt herself blushing.
"I said too much, didn't I?" she said. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. I shouldn't have..."
"Don't take it back," he said.
"Damn it, I said don't take it back!" Jack shouted, and then he pushed her against a wall and kissed her.
Carly's mind went blank. For a moment, she couldn't move or breathe or think of anything but the press of his body and the warmth of his lips against hers. It was as though all the passion of his fiery soul had been concentrated into that one superheated point. She moaned softly and closed her eyes.
I wouldn't care if I never remembered anything else, as long as I can have this. I wish I could just stay like this forever...
An image flickered through her mind. This had happened before, hadn't it? Only... it had been different, somehow. She had been the one holding him, and it had been dark... Or had it all been a dream? Hadn't she dreamed that she had...
Carly jerked away, flooded with a sudden panic. Images flooded her mind, tumbling through her head without rhyme or reason.
"Oh, no," she said. "Oh, please, no..."
"Carly, what's wrong?" Jack demanded. "What happened?"
"I - I - there was... I died," she blurted. "I don't understand - I died, but I woke up, there was a voice in my head, and I... I killed someone. I was so angry at him, and I killed him... I tried to kill you..."
Jack grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "Get a hold of yourself!"
She looked at him plaintively, feeling tears welling in her eyes.
"That's why you left, isn't it?" she asked. "Because I'm a murderer?"
"No!" said Jack. "That wasn't it at all! You're not a murderer, Carly. Don't even think about it."
"You aren't," he said firmly. "One, you weren't in control of yourself, so you weren't responsible for your actions. Two, you didn't kill anybody. Not me, no that Divine character, not anybody. Three, even if you had killed him, he would have deserved it. You're not a murderer, Carly. You're one of the kindest people I know."
"Then why can't I remember that?" she asked. "Why can I only remember bad things?"
"I don't know," said Jack. He frowned. "You didn't remember all that before. Why do you remember it now and nothing else but?"
"I don't know," Carly replied.
"I didn't expect you to answer that," said Jack. His expression was thoughtful.
Carly watched him hopefully. She was still reeling from the memories that had surfaced, and still confused by everything that was happening, but if anyone could make it all make sense, she was certain Jack would.
"Did you think of something?" she asked.
"You might have just reminded me of something I had almost forgotten," said Jack. "I haven't pinned it all down yet, but I think I might be on to something..."
He was quiet for a while, so long that Carly began to fidget and wonder if he had forgotten she was there. She wondered if she ought to clear her throat.
Then a phone started ringing, and Carly jumped. Jack gave her an irritated look and fished a cell phone out of his pocket.
"Now what is it?" he demanded.
A little holographic image of Yusei sprang up above the phone.
"I just wanted to let you know that Aki is on her way over," he said. "Her plane just touched down a few minutes ago."
"What's she doing here?" Jack asked.
"I called everyone when I heard that Carly was hurt," said Yusei. "Apparently Aki wants to lend her support. I suppose it is an interesting medical case."
"Carly isn't a medical case," Jack snapped. "But tell Aki I want to talk to her anyway. There's something I need to ask her."
"Meet us as the garage, then," said Yusei. "I'll tell her you're on your way."
"We'll be there," said Jack. He hung up the phone without waiting for a reply. "Come on, Carly. We're going to go get some answers."
He turned and began walking away, and Carly scrambled to catch up to him.
"What kind of answers? About what?" she asked.
"You never stop asking questions," said Jack. "I don't know what kind of answers, yet, but I'm hoping they're going to be good ones. Now, come on. I'm going to re-introduce you to an old friend."
"So she really can't remember anything?" asked Aki.
"Only a little," Carly replied.
She, Yusei, Jack, and the woman who had been introduced as Aki all sat around a battered old table in what was apparently the garage. It didn't look like any sort of garage that Carly would have imagined. There was a D-Wheel parked on the ground floor, and a long work table full of all sorts of tools and a couple of portable computers, but it still managed not to look like a garage. Someone had scattered some comfortable living-room style furniture on one end, and the walls were ornamented with pictures and posters of things relating to dueling. Given pride of place was a shelf with an impressive trophy, a framed photo, and for some unknown reason, a pair of broken sunglasses. Carly found that she was irrationally pleased to recognize the photo as one she'd seen saved on her computer.
"What do you remember, then?" Aki asked.
"I remember waking up in a dark place," said Carly slowly, "and there was a voice in my head..."
"She remembers being a Dark Signer," Jack said, coming to her rescue. "And apparently nothing but that. Is that even possible?"
"I'm not completely sure," Aki admitted. "Psychology isn't my major area of study. The human brain is an amazingly complex thing - we don't know everything about how it works."
"Don't worry," said Yusei. "Nobody expects you to work a miracle cure."
"No," said Jack, "but I do expect you to be able to give us some information. Not just medical things, either."
Aki looked interested. "What do you mean?"
Jack turned to Carly. "Do you have those pictures on you? The ones you took that night?"
Carly nodded. They were still saved to her camera, and she'd brought it with her on her expedition to the construction site. She handed it over to Jack and watched him fiddle with the buttons for a moment.
"Does this look familiar to you?" he asked, turning the viewing screen to Aki.
She frowned at it a moment. "I couldn't possibly forget it."
"Then I was right," said Jack, returning the camera to Carly. "I thought I recognized it."
"Recognized what?" asked Carly. "Somebody clue me in?"
"The Arcadia Movement's building," said Jack. "Or the place it was, before it fell down."
"Oh. That," said Carly. "Come to think of it, I do remember something about that..."
"I'm not worried about that right now," said Jack. "Next question. What happened to the other people who used to belong to the Movement?"
"I really don't know," Aki admitted. "I was never really close to any of them. I think they all got some sort of reparation money after Divine's assets were liquidated, and some of them went into therapy. After that, I don't know."
Yusei seemed to be catching on. "So theoretically some of them might still be hanging around?"
"It's a possibility," said Aki.
"So there's still a bunch of fanatics with psychic powers running loose in this city?" asked Jack.
"Most of them never did anything wrong," Aki answered, a bit defensively.
"Fine. Whatever," said Jack. "What I really want to know is, just how far does this psychic bit go? Is it only summoning monsters, or can they do all those other things, too?"
"You mean, like reading minds or seeing the future?" asked Aki. "It depends. I could never do it, but I think some of the others could. I'm sure Divine had ways of knowing things that were going on when he wasn't looking."
Jack nodded. "All right, next question. Was one of the tricks these people could do memory suppression?"
Yusei took on an expression of keen interest. "Do you think...?"
"It's possible," said Aki. "It's entirely possible. Divine never would have told me about it if he was doing something like that, but I know there were times when someone wouldn't be settling in well - questioning his commands, wanting to go home - and Divine would call them up for a private talk, and when they came back, they would be different. I always thought he was just talking them around, but..."
"All right, let's go over the facts," said Yusei. "Carly was found outside the old Arcadia building, or at least what's left of it. She has no sign of injury, but she can't remember anything about herself. We know there are still a few members of the Arcadia Movement left, and that they might not be happy to have their organization disbanded and their home turned into an apartment complex."
Jack nodded. "And they know how to blank memories."
"They might, at least," said Aki. She frowned a little. "Come to think of it, it might explain why she can remember being a Dark Signer and nothing else. Those memories were suppressed, so they could have been overlooked when everything else was being wiped out."
"Hey," Carly cut in, "there was a picture on my camera of some guys in hoods and cloaks or something. They wouldn't have anything to do with this Arcadia Movement, would they?"
"Let me see that," Aki replied, reaching for the camera. She flicked through the images until she found the picture of the shadowy figures and squinted at them. "Well, they don't look familiar, but it's really too far away to tell..."
Yusei leaned in for a better look. "It does give weight to the idea that there's an organization behind this."
"Good," said Jack forcefully. "The more, the better."
"Why?" asked Yusei, looking puzzled.
"Because," Jack replied, "the more of them there are, the more of them I get to teach a lesson to." He cracked his knuckles in a meaningful fashion. Carly realized that he was still genuinely distressed on her account and itching to be able to do something about it. She decided that she had probably had very good reasons for being in love with him even if she couldn't remember them.
"Do you think they'll be back?" she asked.
"It's possible," said Yusei. "They must have gone to that place for a purpose. If nothing has happened yet, it may be that they haven't accomplished it yet. If they are the ones who attacked Carly, they may not have wanted to hang around afterwards."
"So they might come back and try again tonight!" said Carly eagerly.
Aki frowned slightly. "I don't know. That's a lot of ifs."
"Well," said Jack, "I know one way to find out."
Carly shivered. She stood on top of a tall building - a hotel, she thought, though she hadn't looked too closely at it - and the wind bit through her thin clothing. She hugged herself and rubbed her arms, trying to keep her teeth from chattering. Nearby, Yusei was taking his turn with a pair of binoculars, keeping watch over the construction area. Aki stood nearby, staring intently down at the building site, though she would have been able to see very little from where she stood. She appeared to be deep in thought, and if the situation hadn't been so serious Carly would have been tempted to ask her what she was thinking. Instead, she huddled in a corner where a low wall blocked off some of the wind, and watched Jack pace restless circuits around the roof.
He paused a moment in his walking and glanced down at her.
"Are you cold?" he asked, as though cold were something unfamiliar, which he had only heard about.
"A little," she admitted.
Without saying anything, he shrugged out of his long jacket and tossed it to her, and continued walking as though nothing had happened. Carly tucked it around herself like a blanket. It was warm with his body heat and kept off the wind nicely. She snuggled into it, breathing his scent from the folds of its fabric, and thought about how unfathomable he was. He switched from cold to caring and back again in a heartbeat.
I need my memories back. It's going to take everything I can get to understand him. She wondered if she'd ever been able to make sense of him, and thought not. The person she had found during her brief foray into self-discovery had made her think that she was a naturally inquisitive person, and Jack was surely a mystery she would have been happy to devote her life to unraveling.
Her thoughts were still wandering in this vein when Yusei said, "Wake up. I see someone."
"Let me see," said Aki. She took the scope and peered through it, twitching the knobs. "Y-e-s, I see someone down there... It's hard to make out their faces from this angle. How do I make this thing zoom in?"
Yusei took the binoculars and turned more knobs, then handed them back to her. She peered through them again.
"I can almost see... wait, I know that one! That man with the brown streak in his beard. He's definitely from the movement. I think his name is Eiji. Be careful of him - he's powerful."
Something about the way she said it made Carly think she wasn't talking about just physical strength. Weren't these people supposed to be psychics? She felt a twinge of misgiving. Maybe she was getting in over her head here. She wondered if it was too late to change her mind and go home, and suspected it probably was. All the same, the air on the roof felt a little colder.
"He's nothing we can't handle," said Jack dismissively. "We've dealt with worse things than him. And Carly is tougher than she looks. She'll manage."
Carly decided that perhaps she could go through with this, after all.
"I had better get down there," she said. "Wish me luck."
She stood up, awkwardly bundling Jack's heavy coat into her arms, trying not to let it drag on the ground as she carried it. She offered it to him, and he pulled it back on with an elegant swirling motion. Carly watched in fascination. He reached out a hand and lightly touched her cheek, and for an instant she thought he was going to kiss her again. Instead, he only tucked a wayward strand of hair away from her face and said, "Good luck. Try to come back in one piece."
Carly nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Then she grabbed up her camera from where she'd left it sitting against a wall, and hung it around her neck. Then she scrambled over the side of the building and began to climb.
Climbing down was not easy; the rope ladder that Yusei had provided was not very sturdy, and it swung gently in the wind. Carly gritted her teeth and forced herself not to think about what would happen to her if she fell. She knew what would happen if she fell; the memories of her time as a Dark Signer still hovered uncomfortably in the back of her mind. It was hard to say whether the thought of dying or the thought of not dying frightened her more. She was glad when she reached the relative safety of the fire escape and was able to clatter down the stairs. Every step she took rang like a gong, until she wondered why no one was coming out to demand an explanation for what she was doing up there, but the building's inhabitants seemed not to notice. At last, she reached the bottom of the stairs. They were folded up to stop anyone from climbing them, but she managed to swing down and land without doing more than bruising her knees and scuffing her jeans a bit. She clambered to her feet and slipped through the shadows towards the construction site.
The cloaked figures were still there. They seemed to be busy on a patch of relatively smooth ground, sketching designs into it with a stick or digging little holes in the ground.
"How much longer are we going to keep doing this?" one of them asked. Carly couldn't see too well with the cloak in the way, but the voice sounded female.
"Patience, Asami," said the Eiji. "If they think they're going to take this site from us, they're in for a surprise. This is the Arcadia Movement's place, and we will drive away anyone who dares try to take it from us, if it takes every ounce of strength I have!"
Another robed figure, a youngish-sounding man, came to tug on the leader's robe.
"I've finished burying the amulets," he said.
"Good. Make sure they're covered up neatly," the bearded man replied. "We don't want anyone to find them and wonder what they're for."
"Do you really think this is going to work?" a woman asked.
"It has to," the leader replied. "Once we get our building back, we can reorganize the movement and start working to free our founder."
So that's their game, Carly thought. She glanced down at her camera. Hopefully it was recording everything properly, because she wasn't planning to wait around and hope they were going to say anything else. She stepped out of her hiding place and into the light of a street lamp. She waved cheerfully.
"Hey, guys!" she called. "Remember me?"
The hooded figures looked up from what they were doing, and one of them pointed an accusing finger at her.
"Hey, look, it's her!" he said. "The reporter lady! I thought you said she wouldn't be back!"
"She shouldn't have been!" Eiji sounded angry. "The block I put on her was perfect!"
"That's what you think!" Carly called back. "I remember everything, and I have pictures to prove it!"
"You're bluffing," the man retorted.
Asami scowled at him. "If she's bluffing, then what made her come here?"
The young man said, "Forget memory blanks. This time we're doing it the old-fashioned way!"
"You're going to have to catch me first!" she shouted back.
She brandished her camera tauntingly before darting back the way she had come. With any luck, her friends would have been watching and ready to save her. She had a suspicion she might need some saving soon.
Possibly from the large green ogre that had just manifested in front of her. She gave a shriek of surprise, but she already had a head of steam going and wasn't going to stop for anything. She made a dive and skidded between the beast's legs with a slide that would have made a baseball player proud. The ogre looked around stupidly, unable to work out where the person he'd been grabbing had gone. Carly scrambled to get to her feet, but that dive seemed to have used up her allotment of grace for one evening. By the time she had regained her footing, she was already surrounded by people in dark cloaks. The ogre turned around slowly and began slouching toward her, raising its club.
"Nice try," said Eiji. "You should have minded your own business."
"Should we mind our own business, too?"
The man's shoulders tensed. The voice that had spoken was a dangerous sounding one, and it was coming from very close by. A moment later, a hand closed on the psychic's shoulder.
"Call off your monster," said Jack, "or you'll be sorry you got out of bed this morning."
Carly smiled, anticipating an end to the trouble right there. Instead, Eiji jammed his elbow into Jack's stomach, making him grunt, and took that moment of distraction as an opportunity to squirm away. He barked an order to the ogre, and it turned on Jack with a bellow. Carly shrieked.
"Hey, we can't do this!" the young man shouted. "That guy's a celebrity! We'll get in trouble!"
"You be quiet, Toru!" the leader shouted back. "What do we care about celebrities? I don't want any witnesses, especially not some washed-up has-been duelist!"
"Oh, now it is on!" Jack snarled. He sized up the ogre as if contemplating whether he should disembowel it or just break its neck, ignoring the fact that it was at least a foot taller than he was and twice as broad.
"You shouldn't have done that," said a nearby voice. Yusei had chosen that moment to make his entrance. He had crept up behind Toru and was standing there with his arms folded over his chest in a posture that brought to mind a coiled snake. Aki had slipped into place behind Asami, who had noticed her and was trying in vain to find somewhere to sidle off to.
"You're surrounded," Aki said. "Give our friend's memories back and let her go, and maybe we won't drag you to the police."
"You? You should be helping us!" the leader said.
She shook her head. "No. I'm through with that part of my life, now. I don't have any more psychic powers, and I don't want anything more to do with the Arcadia movement."
A sly look came over the woman's face. "If you don't have any more powers, then..."
She made a move as though to draw a card, but Aki moved faster. She caught the woman's wrist and gripped it tightly.
"I'm going to be a doctor," she said, "and no one knows what will hurt better than a doctor."
She did something that Carly couldn't quite see, but it made the woman shriek and twist away from her, clutching at her wrist in pain. That seemed to be a signal. Toru rushed forward to defend his comrade, but was intercepted by Yusei, who flung himself at him and pinned him to the ground. The two of them struggled, Toru fighting to reach his deck and Yusei working furiously to prevent him. Carly took the opportunity to take to her feet and try for an escape. The leader sent his ogre lumbering after her, but Jack made a gesture and shouted something sounded for all the world like "Burning soul!", and was suddenly surrounded by a shimmering red aura. Carly stared, distracted. She wasn't sure what it was, but the ogre didn't seem to like it, and kept trying to edge away from him.
But Eiji had nothing stopping him. He took off after Carly at a run, and she sprinted away from him in a mad scramble.
What am I going to do now? she wondered. The plan had been that she would lure the group together and distract them while her friends moved in to deal with them, but all of them were busy right now. Somehow, she was going to have to deal with this man on her own.
She was still worrying over this when her foot found a shovel left behind by a careless worker, and she stumbled over it, tottered a few moments with arms windmilling wildly, and then landed hard enough to knock the wind out of her. She lay there for a moment, bruised and dazed, as Eiji walked up to her.
"You thought you'd get away, did you?" he asked. He leaned in close, his smile mocking. "Well, Toru's right about one thing - I'm can't let you slip away so easily a second time. This time, you're going off the bridge tied to a bag of cement."
"Before you do that," said Carly, "there's just one thing I want to hear you say."
The man looked puzzled. "What's that?"
She shoved her camera in his face and pushed the button, and the flash went off three inches from his eyes. He howled in pain, and backed away. With whispered apologies to her camera, Carly let it drop and instead reached for the shovel. She raised it high in the air and gonged the man over the head with it.
That was more than enough to break his concentration. The monster he had summoned vanished in a green flash. Relieved of the necessity of dealing with ogres, Jack rushed to help Aki deal with the woman she'd been distracting. The sound of his leader's bellow made Toru look up to see what was going on, and Yusei took the opportunity to flip him onto his stomach on the ground and tie his arms behind him with a twist of wire. Jack and Aki succeeded in capturing Asami and shoving her into a supply bin. Then they all began marching towards the leader.
"We did warn you," said Yusei. "You should have listened."
"All right, all right, I give up!" the man replied. He rubbed at his head. Carly hoped she'd given him a lump.
Jack reached out a hand to help her up.
"You did all right," he said.
Aki faced Eiji sternly.
"Now, give Carly back her memories," she demanded.
"I don't know if I know how to..."
"Learn," said Jack.
The man swallowed. "Right. Ah, just a minute..."
Carly fidgeted as the man closed his eyes and muttered to himself for a moment, seemingly gathering his thoughts. Her heart was still racing from all the excitement, and a part of her wished she could go find some safe and familiar place to curl up and hide from the rest of the world for a while. But there were no more familiar places for her, and wouldn't be unless this worked. She refused to think about what would happen if it didn't work. She tried to swallow, but her throat suddenly felt dry.
Then the man raised his eyes, and they were glowing, and she found her gaze drawn inexorably to them. They seemed to enlarge until they filled her field of vision. The light was forcing its way inside her head...
Images spilled though her mind in a dizzying cascade: birthday parties and missed buses, school plays and job hunting, family vacations and missed deadlines, homework, holidays, housepets, hopes and dreams, a lifetime's worth of memories tumbling through her brain and settling into their proper places. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and she felt dizzy and faint, but she could not look away until the light went out and she found herself looking at nothing more remarkable than a tired-looking bearded man.
"I think that worked," she said vaguely. Then her knees buckled, and Jack darted forwards to catch her before she could fall.
"Are you all right?" he asked, his eyes worried.
"The hospital," she said. "We met in the hospital - I was looking for a story, and you were trying to escape, so I smuggled you out..."
He relaxed visibly. "You're all right."
"I'm glad everything is back to normal," said Yusei, smiling. "Welcome back, Carly."
"I'm glad to be all together again," she said. Feeling suddenly shy, she said more quietly. "Thanks, everyone, for helping me out. You went through a lot of trouble for me..."
"Anything for a friend," Yusei assured her, and Aki nodded agreement. "Now, let's get the rest of these people dealt with."
"You deal with it," said Jack. "I'm going to see to it that Carly gets home safe before anything else can happen to her."
"You go on, then. I think we can manage this," said Aki. She was already fishing a cell phone out of her pocket. "I still have Mikage's number saved here somewhere..."
Jack herded Carly away. She consented to be herded. Now that all the commotion was over, she was ready to find that quiet, familiar place and hide in it. Tomorrow, she would be ready to write the whole thing up and turn it in triumphantly at the newspaper office, but for now...
"Wait," she said, "my apartment is the other way. Why are we going this way?"
"We're not going to your apartment."
Carly blinked. "But you told Yusei..."
"What he doesn't know won't hurt him," said Jack. He was resolutely looking anywhere but at Carly. In a low voice, he said, "I went through a lot of trouble to get you back. I'm not ready to give you up again just yet."
"It's the middle of the night, though," said Carly. "What are we going to do?"
"I'm sure if we put our heads together," Jack answered, "we can think of something."
Carly followed his gaze. The hotel whose roof they had been borrowing not long ago was across the street from them, its lights still shining softly in the darkness. She felt her cheeks reddening.
"Well," she said, "I'm open to suggestions..."
The next morning, Jack let Carly ride with him as far as Yusei's garage. They had shared a leisurely breakfast in the hotel dining room, and by unspoken agreement, they had kept the conversation to light, inconsequential things, as though they had all the mornings in the world to spend together. Now Carly stood on the cobblestones outside the garage, watching Jack secure his helmet.
"Are you sure you can't stay just one more day?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I've been gone too long already."
"I'll miss you," she said.
"This is how it has to be," said Jack. "I have to keep moving - I can't help myself. It's how I am. That's why I need you to keep chasing me."
"But will I ever catch you?" Carly asked.
"I don't know," Jack replied. "I don't even know for sure that I can be caught. But I do know that if there's anyone in the world who can do it, it's you. So don't give up on me, Carly. And don't get into any more trouble."
Before she could reply, he revved his engine and took off in a blur. Carly ran after him, waving. Her world was blurred with tears, but through them she could see him stop for just a moment, just short of being out of sight, and raise one hand in a gesture of salute or farewell. Then he accelerated again and was gone.
"I won't give up, Jack!" she shouted after him. "I'll catch up to you someday - you can count on it!"
The phone wasn't ringing.
Jack wandered into his apartment, stretching and working the kinks from his shoulders. His last duel had gone well, but now he was tired and ready for a few moments of relaxation. He tossed his jacket from a chair, pausing long enough to fish his phone from its pocket and drop it on the coffee table. Then he went to make himself a drink. With that task done, he sprawled on his sofa, closed his eyes, and let himself rest for a moment.
After a few moments, he turned his head slightly to gaze at the phone. It wasn't ringing yet. It would soon, though. It always did. All he had to do was wait.
He reached out to pick it up. He dialed a number.
"Carly... What do you mean, why am I calling? I'm keeping tabs on you. You get into too much trouble when I'm not looking out for you."
He took a sip of his drink and settled more deeply into the sofa cushions, preparing for a long stay.
"So," he said, "how are things?"