by Rob Morris
Chapter One - The Folly Of Grown Men
The door of the flat burst open, letting in a flood of armed soldiers such as had not been seen since a small former restaurant and inn called Maple House had been forcibly entered less than six months ago. These soldiers sought not the supposed enemy of the Human race, but rather a possible traitor to that race.
"Do not move or reach for so much as your hair-brush!"
The target looked like he had seen neither a hair-brush nor a wash-cloth in quite some time. Around him, there were guards covering every exit possible, and chamber-scanning equipment used against drug dealers and kidnappers was also in evidence, in case the suspect had escape tunnels. Dogs trained to sniff for bomb-making materials sniffed the air for possible booby-traps.
"Why would I move? I can live or die, knowing I did all I could to protect the innocent and the true heirs of this planet."
Doctors and other medical personnel were on standby, in case the suspect had ingested poison prior to the raid. They were willing to kill him, and he was willing to die, but in fact they wanted him alive.
"So you're leading these jackbooted thugs? Doesn't surprise me much. It's been a long time, boss."
Doctor Kurama stepped in and took point on the questioning.
"Yes, it has been a long time, Oomori. Longer for you than even for me, and I hadn't thought that possible."
Oomori looked like an emptied shell of a man, more empty by far than when the news of his daughter's mandated euthanizing had struck him across the soul.
"Tell me, Kurama-san-however is Hiromi-Chan doing?"
Kurama's remaining hand balled into a fist and sent his captive sprawling. But Oomori shrugged.
"Too soon? Should I ask instead about Kisaragi-San, Shirakawa-San, or any of the others you've scraped off from your boots? Like my daughter?"
Kurama directed he be seated once more, and the soldiers did just that.
"So this started from revenge for your daughter?"
"No, Kurama-it started from yours. A guard who was dismissed from the institute told me of how you made a deal with Kakuzawa to keep your little girl alive. My sweet little baby and so many others were strangled by your hands-but somehow yours was allowed to live."
Kurama stood firm.
"I'm unimpressed by your blather. In fact I've watched my Mariko die three or four times, and that is no joke. My deal with Kakuzawa was a poorly made one, and I ended up short on all fronts. That I am a hypocrite for what I did is no news to me. But I, Oomori, have news for you."
Before his former assistant before Isobe could retort, Kurama kept on.
"The families whose Diclonius daughters you helped hide from us say you told them of a South Korean monastery where their children would be raised without fear of hate or summary execution."
Oomori still seemed smug and self-satisfied.
"You'll never find it, Kurama. Armies for centuries have battled around it, and never even known it was there. The girls are safe. There, in that place, the children may play."
Kurama surprised his prisoner by smiling.
"So you believe that your partners in all this were activist South Korean monks and nuns?"
Oomori thought he sensed where this was going. He was wrong.
"Is this the part where you tell me that my partners are Moonies or the like? Because I suspected as much-and I just don't care. The girls are safe from those who would harvest them, kill them, or use them as weapons."
Kurama produced a handgun and placed it on the table in front of a stunned Oomori.
"In fact, your partners were your handlers. They weren't religious folk of any stripe - they were North Korean agents. The girls you helped put in their hands have likely been brainwashed since birth to serve the Kims. You have provided a dynasty of madmen with the ultimate biological weapons."
Oomori's next words were in fact quite predictable.
"You're lying. You just want me to cough up their location so you can all feast on lamb meat. Well, screw you, Kurama. Because even I don't know their exact location."
Kurama repeated some of Oomori's own words.
"Armies for centuries have battled around it and never even known it was there. Something your partners told you?"
Oomori felt himself slip, though he couldn't say why.
"Yes. Which again means-you'll never find it."
Kurama shook his head.
"There once was an American TV show which depicted a group of medical officers at a frontline unit for the wounded of the Korean War. There came an episode when an unfortunate infant child came into their custody, a half-Korean, half-American child, who had no good prospects, till their company chaplain suggested a monastery. He said it was a safe place - armies for centuries had battled around it and never even known it was there."
Kurama tapped the gun he had placed on the table.
"You were bamboozled into giving those girls over to spies working for someone almost as bad as Kakuzawa, and tricked using lines from a TV show."
Kurama began to walk away.
"Do the right thing, Oomori, if you have that left in your wannabe crusader skull."
Oomori seized the gun, aimed at Kurama and pulled the trigger.
"I will do the right thing, you hypocritical snake! I will end your-"
Oomori's gun, having no bullets, fired nothing at all. Kurama's real gun did have bullets and ended the tortured life of his one-time assistant.
"Like I told Kisaragi, Shirakawa and Isobe, Oomori-San-I should have been a better boss. My apologies."
Kurama pointed to the room around them as he ordered the soldiers about.
"I don't care if it's the address of a taiyaki and lemonade stand-copy down any names or numbers you find in here. Unrelenting search, gentlemen. As for myself-I must join my daughter at her sister's grave."
As Kurama left, all were forced to wonder when the rogue state would make its move.
The first to find this out would be the ones who had always watched the North Korean regime closer than anybody.
There were days when the Senior Minister For Allied Relations wondered why he had bothered surviving the Cultural Revolution.
*I should have just yelled out 'Long Live The Kennedys!' and had done with it.*
This was turning into all of those days.
"They are demanding what?"
His best aide was a stereotype. He was the overly efficient, political officer wannabe who would gladly remind his superior of things like party and nation loyalty. He survived only because the Minister had nightmares about who would get sent as a replacement.
This was on most days, but not on this day.
"Minister-I-I-checked and rechecked the message-I even had our best translators check it for dialect and other issues."
Both men had advanced degrees in study of the Korean language. That his often-cocky aid bothered to have the work checked was not a good sign. That he was now the stereotype of the unconfident aide who was a shaking wreck was also not good.
"I'll assume you wired back for confirmation? This is the sort of stunt the Americans would pull, after we got their hyped-up spy plane."
"I did, Minister. The only confirmation offered was, and I quote : *You can read, can't you?*"
The North Korean government often worried a lot of people around the world. It would have surprised a lot of those people that the one who was most worried about it was that regime's own best sponsor.
"Hu-help your old Minister in this turbulent moment."
"In any way I can, sir."
The Minister sighed.
"They are demanding-not requesting-that oil, food, and water aid be immediately increased a hundred-fold. They are not even hinting of how this will be remunerated. They have also included broad hints about the health and well-being of Chinese citizens and diplomats living within their auspices. Is this correct?"
The aide was blank-faced, plainly trying to come up with some reason why what obviously was happening was not happening at all. Despite an apprenticeship in the departments in charge of press releases, Hu was not able to even attempt this.
"That is correct, Minister. All of our usual means of confirming this within the DPRK have gone silent, but the conclusion seems inescapable."
The Minister requested a key from his aide, who briefly became flustered again at its mention. The minister used this key to unlock a secret keyboard on his phone, one with speed-dials even a Senior Minister never used unless he was dead certain.
"Hu-I am about to be noticed by the gods above us. You may wish to update your resume."
Five officious secretaries attempted to turn the Minister back over the phone. To each one, he said a certain phrase, this until he reached his contact, a man whose sole job was to alert members of the Central Committee in Beijing that something truly urgent was in the air.
The message was a deadly simple one, one that had been feared since the Russo-Chinese clashes of the last century, when it was unknown which side their 'ally' would take.
"The small dog has become rabid and broken its leash."
When it was clear that the message had been delivered, the Minister ordered lunch for himself and Hu. Their own subordinates stood ready to show the Committee's subordinates the veracity of their concern, when it would be requested.
"What happens now, Minister?"
The Minister let his soup cool while answering.
"I once watched a marvelous work by the American Disney. It was forbidden - sort of - by the central government, but the local censor loved it well, so it got into our town. A frontier family took in a dog who proved to be a loyal and true friend, even saving his boy master from being attacked by rabid raccoons. The dog himself was bit, and was doomed as a result. The father was away, so the mother went to do what had to be done. But her boy seized the gun from her, stating that it must be he who did this, as it was his dog."
Hu was not a sentimental man, but inside him, he almost hoped this story had a sappy Disney ending.
"So what happened?"
The Minister shrugged.
"Old Yeller met the fate of a rabid dog."
Hu excused himself, found his private office, turned on some music, sealed the door, and began to cry. But his tears were not merely for the once-loyal 'dog'. His tears were also shed in the knowledge of the damage a rabid dog could do when cornered.
At the border between the PRC and DPRK, massive bribes to the guards saw a large group of young girls into China. The guards hardly noticed that the girls looked odd, somehow not Asian at all. If anything was noted, it was their large prominent hair ribbons, all tied in the exact same spot on their heads.
Japan - Maple House
Kouta tried and failed to at last draw a line to his house's extended guest list.
"No! This is the end of it. I can at least stop this much."
The Agent stood at the doorway of a house she had invaded months earlier.
"Anna-chan needs direct protection. North Korean agents could try and kidnap her. They've done so to other Japanese citizens."
Kouta was not budging.
"The North Koreans have their own Diclonius, you say? Then they don't need Anna-chan. She is safe here without you."
Anna Kakuzawa's family name was not known to her hosts, but she was a welcome tenant, and she was encouraged to make her feelings known. She did so now.
"Kouta-San, why are you being so mean? This woman is my friend. She helped save my life, and made me see-my responsibilities in the world."
The Agent smiled at her younger friend, but felt obliged to make things clear.
"Anna-Chan, when Lucy was housed here, I was part of the force that broke in and took her. We weren't gentle about it, and among other things, Kouta-San was shot-by me. I was-I was trying to keep Nousou alive long enough to be interrogated by Saseba."
Anna looked at her friend in surprise, and then again at Kouta.
"Why was Lucy here again?"
Kouta lost some of his look of rage.
"Lucy-Nyu-I thought she was my friend. I think she wanted to be. But I'm not sure she knew what friendship was."
Kouta realized anew that his vengeful, hurt feelings were partly the result of learning who Nyu really was and remembering that horrible night all at once. It was his fervent wish not to hate her, and he held an equal desire to see her legacy on the Earth done with.
"Anna-chan really needs this protection?"
The Agent saw a new side to the young man, to drop his posturing so quickly.
"Arguably, what you said about the enemy not needing her is true. But it would make our government breathe a lot easier if she had such protection."
"You can stay in Anna's room. I-"
"Sorry. Need my own. Anna's room is fortified and alarmed. My presence would set off too many false positives for our people to filter through."
Kouta bristled that Anna's room had been altered without his knowledge or consent. Nozomi, who had sat silently until then, made the breakthrough.
"Kouta-San? She can stay with me. My room is next to Anna-Chan's."
The Agent nodded, glad she didn't have to deal with the thought of being alone.
"I like it. A second set of ears to rouse me, in case something suspicious happens along."
Nozomi stood up, and got in her new roommate's face.
"But-when you hear me gargle at night-and you will-please remember that thugs with chokeholds shouting 'Shut Up!' at the top of their lungs while brandishing automatics is a good way to get people to panic and disobey."
"Hey! I didn't make any of the tactical calls on that strike!"
Nozomi had understood for quite some time that Kouta would never choose her over Yuka. But she resolved to become strong enough to make him at least sometimes wonder about his choice.
"Yet you were there, and Kouta-San was indeed shot."
The Agent removed her glasses and looked Nozomi straight in the eye.
"You and I are going to get along just fine."
The Agent then looked at Kouta.
"Okay if I have a house-guest? It'll relieve your aunt of utility bills as well."
Kouta was feeling like having a long talk with his Auntie about making arrangements behind their backs.
"Sure, why not?"
It was a surrender to reality, but it was a bitter surrender that was about to become a lot more bitter.
"Did-did he agree yet?"
As Arakawa entered, Kouta's blood pressure rose yet again.
"Her? She's the one who told your thugs where to find us."
Arakawa looked at the Agent.
"Did you squeal on me about that?"
Kouta pulled her attention back to him.
"No one squealed but you! You think I didn't see you following me back here that night? I thought you wanted to tell me something else about the Diclonius, but you turned and left. The rest of it I figured out later on."
Arakawa had felt guilty about that from the start, but her defenses were in play, and what remained of her pride at stake.
"Well-you should have never gone straight home-especially if you saw me! You should have tried to lose me-you know how I felt about Lucy and the danger she posed."
"Nyu-Lucy never had a home here."
"Say what you like! But you still lead me right to her!"
The Agent shook her head.
"If you had a secret, and you had suspicions, checking for tails is just common sense."
Anna felt bad for the way Kouta was being ambushed and cornered, but knew well why Arakawa must also have a safe house.
"Kouta-San-I ask you to let her stay here."
"Anna-chan-I acceded to your one friend since you are our guest and tenant. But this other one? She lectured me about the responsibility I bore for Lucy's freedom while working to aid a madman whose plans may yet undo the world."
Anna played a card. Some small part of her abilities had returned, though the literally monstrous part was gone forever. She was actually annoyed not to be a simple girl anymore, and doubly annoyed that it had to be used against a host whose family had made her feel so welcome. But this was needed.
"That madman was my own father. You are right. He was lost in what he believed to be true, and now many will likely die as his plans continue to take hold. Arakawa-San can help undo the harm she and my father caused, and her work is aided by a safe comfortable place to sleep. Also, I do not ask this as your guest and tenant - but as a family member."
Kouta was hesitant. Even before this, he knew Anna had been hurt and was alone in the world. But a line had to be drawn.
"Anna, you are the newest member of our family here. I have to think of the others."
"No-I don't mean the ties you have built here, with Mayu-chan and Nana-Chan and Nozomi-San. I mean that we are family by blood-yourself, me and Yuka-San. Your great-grandmother is also my aunt, a few generations removed. Like me, she was born without the horns my father mistook for a racial difference. Ask your aunt, Emiko-Dono. She knows."
Kouta's mind reeled at this. He suddenly saw a different meeting in a different past, where a young boy with horns showed a young girl she wasn't all that different. He wondered what else could have been different.
*NO-she had killed already by that point-even if those little wretches brought it on themselves. There was no saving her.*
"I will relent for family, Anna-chan. But I must know-was the man I knew as Professor Kakuzawa - the man whose job I now have - also our relative?"
"My brother-though I not only forgive Lucy for killing him-I applaud her for it. He was a pig, and it made me feel dirty to know him."
Kouta embraced his little cousin, and just for a moment, imagined she was Kanae.
"Hopefully this makeshift papa and onii-san does a bit better by you."
"He already has. The small happiness you all have here has made me feel better than I have since I realized my family's shame about my horns and my brains. Now leave getting these vagrants settled to me and Nozomi-chan, and go do the job my brother hated, but you obviously love."
He still wasn't happy with anything that morning, but getting to university would improve his mood.
"Just don't call in a nuclear strike, and we'll all get along fine."
On his way, he passed the family cemetery where his aunt had permitted Kurama to bury the ashes of his daughter Mariko, and he saw Mayu-minus Wanta-head down to the beach to do her ritual cleaning in memory of her coarse friend Bando.
*He died saving her, so maybe he wasn't all bad-aargh!-why do I have to forgive everyone who punches, betrays or shoots me?*
Once in class, he again marveled at his own mind, freed of the impasse the amnesia had created in his abilities to learn and teach. He had actually spoken to Yuka about the both of them applying to a school with some reputation, now that the acumen he had known as a young man had returned. Ever practical, Yuka had pointed out that her new job as History Instructor and his as Biology Instructor were likely as good employment prospects as they might get going through even a very good school, unless it were the top elite like Todai. Even then, they might have ended up right there in Kamakura anyway, as the best jobs only opened up to teachers with experience-like they were getting there already.
Tohru was the young man who told Kouta and Kurama the probable origin of Lucy and the role the hateful orphanage had played in it, including the loathsome murder of a puppy the girl saw as her only friend. Kouta had used his discretion to get him enrolled despite grades questionable for even a safety school.
"Can it wait, Tohru? I'm meeting Yuka-chan for lunch."
"This will be real quick. I have to get to my job at Ani-Chan's bread shop. Thank Mayu-chan again for recommending me there."
"What do you need to know?"
Tohru shook his head.
"Everybody here says you explain biology and like sciences much better and more thoroughly than the old instructor."
"I like to think instead that I simply don't show my students contempt."
"Yeah-well-even I get most of what you say in class-but is it really all necessary?"
Kouta seemed stunned by these words.
"Is what necessary?"
"Well, all the stuff you teach-don't we have scientists for that? I mean, I don't see any Einsteins bursting out of a safety school like this, so, while you're good at it-what's the point?"
Kouta knew Tohru just well enough to feel he wasn't being snarky or snide. But he had to challenge the attitude behind his words.
"You tell me, Tohru-San. Should we leave all politics to the politicians?"
"I'm not following you, Sensei."
"Tohru-San, just as there are people in politics who only care for the money and power, there are those in the sciences who transact solely on the prestige and accolades. Just as there are politicians who lose themselves in their crusades, there are scientists who forget that research must be accompanied by restraint. Just as some of our political leaders preach the greater good while losing sight of it, some in the scientific community think that the breakthrough and the knowledge are ends unto themselves, uncaring of how someone else might use it. In either case, shouldn't even the lay-people be armed with knowledge of their own?"
Tohru checked his watch, nodded and gave a thumbs-up as he left.
"That-is why you are the Sensei."
Kouta was happy to see the man (who was slightly his elder) take a renewed sense of confidence away from their talk. Kouta for his part wished he hadn't been thinking about Kurama and Arakawa as he made his little speech.
"Well, I like it. I think you really got Tohru-San back on track, Kouta."
Yuka's tough-love ways served her well in a class where the young men-and some of the young women-felt compelled to have their gaze meet not her eyes, but her chest.
"Kouta? With Nana, Anna, and Doctor Arakawa staying with us, doesn't that place three important assets in this war in one vulnerable location?"
Kouta bit an apple and shook his head.
"If they haven't taken that into account already, I'll be worried for our race's survival. I...I..."
He looked at her. She looked good. In dreams, Nyu had even told him to forge the life together with Yuka that they could never have.
"I Love You."
The slap that came across his face was more of a shock than a pain.
"What have I told you about that, when we're still in mourning? Don't you miss our friend?"
Kouta rubbed his cheek, fighting off the urge to throttle her only by inches.
"The next time you do that, I better be in the onsen doing weird things with every woman we know. Otherwise, I will take you and..."
He got up, memories of words he could never take back to his little sister being among his only restraints. After he walked away, Yuka teared up and picked up her cell-phone.
"Mama? I-I-I did it again."
On the way to his next class, Kouta met the man who would complete his less-than-stellar day.
"Kenjiro-San, I am not able to talk right now. I mean no disrespect."
Kenjiro was Mayu's real father, married to his widowed sister-in-law Arika, Nana's real mother. They had a daughter all their own, named Hana, who told Kouta that she regarded Maple House as the magic place her sisters came back to until they could find each other again.
"Disrespect? Kouta-San, do I even deserve respect? That is why I must talk with you."
The man had burdens of his own, and Kouta reasoned that hearing someone else's problems could only make him feel better.
The older man looked down.
"I have been nothing to either Mayu or Nana. I am determined to make this up to them, no matter what the circumstances that caused it. Also, my wife has qualms about staying in our house, now that we know the horrors Mayu-chan suffered in the place that is now Hana's room. I can get quite a bit for it, what with all the people entering Kamakura lately..."
"Ken-San? Just what are you saying to me?"
Like a rocket, little Hana ran up, jump-kissed her father and snuggled up into Kouta's arms. In less slap-happy times, Yuka had observed the child's crush on Kouta. Arika was seen rounding the corner trying to catch the miniature thunderbolt before spying the trio. Hana looked at Kouta.
"Kouta Oto-chan? Did you say yes?"
Kenjiro froze up.
Kouta shook his head as Arika arrived, but not in time to stop the child's mouth.
"Did Kouta-San say yes to our moving into the Kaede-Sou?"
Kouta felt his day scrape bottom once more again.
As members of the Central Committee watched, rail cars supposedly loaded with the goods demanded by North Korea left a secured train station as words were exchanged to secure the release of senior Chinese diplomats and businessmen.
The small dog thought it was to have a gourmet feast, after breaking its leash. This was not to prove the case.