"Babbit!" I leaned down till my right hand was almost to the ground and materialized a Babbit in my hand. Then I threw him skyward with all of my strength, "Fly!" I watched him climb above the buildings then turn and zoom out of sight, towards home. Not bad for a balloon animal. Then I remembered and shouted after him, "Warn her!" It didn't matter that he was out of earshot, as he was just a figment of my imagination after all.
Akito Hayama looked down from where he had followed Babbit's trajectory and nodded at the boy who had spoken, "Yo, Natsume."
They knew each other? Yes, I remembered how. I grabbed Natsume's sister by the shoulders and shoved her towards Akito, "Here she is. Your childhood sweetheart. She doesn't remember you anymore, but I won't interfere as she gets to know you again."
"Who?" Akito looked at the girl in the Babbit sunglasses.
"It's Aoi Hyuuga."
"Can't be. I ran away from her funeral."
"It seems the Academy tricked everybody," Natsume looked around, "Shouldn't we get under cover?"
"Yes, I know of a place," Ms. Readman turned to my twin, "As long as we're protected from scans?"
"Yah, no problem," Mikan Sakura pointed into the distance, "I just knocked on Mama's barrier and she's coming this way. If all you Alices keep together we'll all be fine."
Mama was heading here? Oh, it was Mikan's Mama, our birth mother. "Come along Akito, so you can chat with your girlfriend," I pointed at Aoi.
"No Sana, the only girlfriend I've ever had is you."
"Huh? Well how about Mami? I saw you holding hands with her."
"Did you have a Babbit following me everywhere? But no, that wasn't what it seemed like."
"Here she is! Mama, look it's Sana."
I looked at the woman Mikan waved at, but didn't recognize her. Then I turned back towards a scraping noise. Ms. Readman was trying to move a manhole cover.
"Let me give you a hand with that." That big American man, Mr. Anderson she had called him, easily picked up the cover and moved it to the side.
Ms. Readman looked down the shaft. "It's a bit dark, so can somebody spare a light?"
"Here." Natsume held up a torch sized flame in his hand.
"And I'll take up the rear." Mr. Anderson pulled out a mini flashlight.
"Can we trust him?" Anita asked.
"Well Drake is an old friend, but he does put mission first."
"I'm just here as a favor to a friend." He held up his hands.
"It's not like he's an Alice. Mikan walked over and looked between Anita and Ms. Readman. "Are you two related?"
"Ms. Readman is one of Anita's two mothers." Hotaru nudged them towards the shaft.
"Oh, so you know that part already?" Ms. Readman began to climb down, followed by the rest of the party.
I turned to Akito and kissed him on the cheek. "Goodbye, we're off to save the world, or something." I turned back to Hotaru. "Say, why aren't we dropping Mikan back at the academy before going to help my mom?"
"The British have moved up their schedule, so we don't have time. There's something about the way they're acting that doesn't add up. Do keep up."
Akito followed her down.
"What, why are you going?" I carefully stepped down the ladder after him.
"If your mom's in trouble then I owe her to help out."
"Oh, Akito. This is my birth mother, I think?"
"So you actually married Izumi?" Hotaru asked from further below.
"Is that common knowledge at the school, or are you an information Alice?"
"The latter." Hotaru waited below for the rest of us, as Mr. Anderson replaced the cover behind us. Then she turned to my birth mother. "Mrs. Yukihira, we know that your group has encountered the British. When did you travel to the UK?"
"We didn't. We ran in to them near the academy."
"So what did you find out?"
"They've got some sort of operation in Tokyo."
"Okay, let's ask the woman who burned down London." Hotaru turned to Ms. Readman.
"Yes, that's my fault, but the actual event was the result of a much stronger Alice than mine." Ms. Readman looked at Anita.
"Anita is a stronger Alice than her mother?" I asked.
"Yes." Mikan nodded as if it were obvious to her. Well, with her Alice vision I guess it was.
"It's to be expected as the daughter of two strong Alices." Ms. Readman lead the way in the storm sewers, with Natsume by her side to light the way.
"Professor King is an Alice? That's the missing piece that Sumire's hasty action kept me from seeing in the first place." Hotaru frowned.
"Yes, like you he's an information Alice." Ms. Readman nodded. "I suppose that's how he spotted me so easily at Oxford. I got swept up in his big project."
"And then you slept with him."
"No." Ms. Readman stopped and looked back at Hotaru. "I would never. Well, I would have, but he never asked, and Mrs. King was such a dear friend. I could never have betrayed her."
"How can you deny it, when Anita is standing right there?"
"I was young and naive. When Professor King said that they needed genetic samples for their research, I didn't think twice about agreeing to donate some of my eggs. If only I had known. Anita, I would have demanded to carry you myself!"
"Huh?" Anita looked up at her.
"Mrs. King was such a kind and lovely woman, inside and out, but her health was never that good. I was so happy for her, when she told me she was finally pregnant. With you, Anita. She really was at the end of her strength when you were born, but she made that extra effort for your sake. Those last four years were the happiest I'd ever seen her. Oh I should have seen the truth in James' eyes when he get me to babysit you during her frequent hospital visits."
"Where are we going?" Aoi asked.
"To a bookstore." Ms. Readman turned to study Anita's face and sadly shook her head. "So you're still frightened of books? It's entirely my fault I'm afraid."
"So, what happened?" Hotaru asked.
"When Anita was four, Professor King called me to his office and asked me to train her Alice. I was shocked at a non-Japanese Alice and asked him why he thought that I would be the right person to train her. He replied that Anita had the same Alice as I did, because I was her mother. In an instant it all became clear to me and I chased him around the library tossing books at him. If only I had known that he had brought Anita with him."
"Why, what happened to me?" Anita looked at the woman who claimed to be her mother.
"You walked in the way of one of the books I had thrown at your father."
"You hit me with a book?"
"Unfortunately, no. It never reached you. Part of the problem was in the way you had been raised. Never had a child been raised in such loving company. Your mother was with you every minute when she outside of the hospital. Your father doted on you. And I was delighted to find somebody else who loved books as much as I did. You were so well behaved that I doubt even one cross word had been used with you to that point.
"Anita does know some interesting curse words in Gaeilge." Hotaru volunteered, with a grin.
"Well I guess your father couldn't suppress all of his bad habits around you, but I swear that never had a hand been lifted against you. Your young mind just couldn't comprehend the concept of intentional violence. You went into Alice shock, Anita. You tore that library apart and spread a fire all over London."
"No, I couldn't. Dozens of people died that day."
"It wasn't your fault. You didn't know. You couldn't help it. I found out that day that even at the age of four you were a much stronger Alice than I was. It was all I could to escape myself. When I saw that I was labeled a terrorist on the news I fled back to Japan. I think it must have been the shock of losing you that killed Mrs. King. I sank down lower and lower into my own hiding hole until I read about Nenene's assassination. That is when I started to look for you, Anita. If there was the tinniest chance you were still alive, then it was the most important thing in the world to me. And you found me yourself. Well, here we are." Ms. Readman pulled a key out of her pocket and slid a stone to the side on a hinge.
"The bookstore?" Anita glanced at the concealed doorway.
"You can stay outside if you like, Dear."
"Lady, you don't know me at all." Anita walked through the opened door and stepped between a pair of bookshelves.
"What?" I stepped forwards, but was stopped by a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw Hotaru grinning at me. Did she want Anita to explode again?
I looked back at Anita who was walking into the bookstore on quivering knees. She put her hands on the counter, and rested her forehead against it for several seconds then pulled her head up to address the old man who sat behind the counter, who was reading a book. "My Daughter and I, by Misako Kurata, please." Anita almost shouted out her request.
"This is the only copy I have on hand, but you can borrow it, Miss." The old man handed Anita the book he had been reading then he looked up at the group of us in the doorway. "Ms. Readman, I see you've brought some guests today. Including two Sana's? I haven't read that far, so no spoilers please."
I stood aside as Anita ran out of the bookstore, clutching the book with eyes shut. "It's not in that book, but I'll make sure that Mama puts it in her next one. So please, can you help us save her sir?"
"Me? I'm just an old man, and from the looks of your uniforms, you kids attend Ms. Readman's old school."
Hotaru stepped forwards and asked him, "How do you order books?"
"With this old computer here. It's nothing fancy, but it gets the job done."
"That should do, but first," Hotaru turned to me, "Sana, your Babbit should have gotten home by now."
"Oh! Is that right?" I looked at Aoi's Babbit glasses, then thought better of it. "I'll summon another Babbit to tell us."
"Not this time, sit up here." Hotaru patted the counter and I hopped up on it. "Now close you eyes and see through the remote Babbit's eyes."
I did as I was told, but saw nothing. "That only works when I'm asleep."
"That's a limitation you put on yourself, only because Tazusa told you about it."
"Me?" Tazusa asked. "Just because I told Sana about the dream usage of the reaper Alice she redid her Alice? Surely that's not possible. And what's with pushing Sana to do things your way?"
"From the looks of things we have to have either Mikan or Sana at full strength today or we're all dead."
"No offense to Sana, but isn't Mikan closer to your goal then? I heard she took on her entire class almost single handily."
"Both of these idiots are equally far from the ultimate Alice, just in different directions."
"The ultimate Alice?" Ms. Yukihira, the woman who claimed to be my birth mother asked. "Hotaru, did you find Izumi's notes?"
"Yes, of course." Hotaru winced and put the fingers of both hands to her forehead.
"Hotaru!" Mikan hugged her. "You're in such a state. Didn't she do nothing for you?" My twin glared at me.
Hotaru elbowed Mikan away. "Back off. I'll sleep with you later, but I need to concentrate now."
I looked over at my boyfriend, who was giving the two girls exactly the sort of look I expected. "It's not like that, Akito. Sana's just sort of a nurse for Alices, or something."
"Sana!" Hotaru spun and pointed at me. "Enough chit-chat. Close your eyes and focus."
I did as I was bid. "Sorry, but I don't see anything."
"You're doing it wrong." Mikan said from right in front of my closed eyes.
"Well sorry that I'm not the Alice expert of the family. You do it 'sis'."
"Okay." She placed her hands on either side of my head.
It was like a bolt of lighting went through my head and I was falling. I landed on my face and opened my eyes to see concrete. I leveraged myself up on my wings and saw a sidewalk. Wings? I glanced to my sides and saw that I had bat wings instead of arms. I looked forwards and saw that the sidewalk looked a lot like the one in front of my house. I looked up and saw that our front door had been kicked in. "Mama!" I started to crawl forwards on my wings. Too slowly. "Babbit, how do you fly?"
I winced from another sudden attack to my brain like a sledgehammer to my forehead as years of memories of flying washed over me all at once. I blinked then gathered my determination and leapt into the air.
I flew past the broken door. "Gee Babbit, this looks as bad as the messes I used to make. Babbit?" I shrugged my wings at the unexpected silence in my head and then struggled to regain the half a meter of altitude that gesture had cost me. That's when I saw her lying there. "Mrs. Shimura!"
"What?" She began to stir. "Sana?" She turned to look at me. "Babbit?"
"No time to explain. Where's Mama?"
"They took her. The American soldiers took her. And she's not even an Okinawan schoolgirl."
"I think they were British. How long ago did they take her?"
"I don't know. They knocked me out."
"Thanks. We'll take it from here."
"I've got friends." I tried to contact my background Babbit, but he wasn't there. I closed my eyes and willed my Babbit-body away. When I reopened my eyes I was back in the bookstore. "They got Mama!"
"We heard." Hotaru didn't look up as she continued to type into the old man's computer. "You need to learn to speak from only one mouth at a time."
"Everybody's a critic today." I hopped off the counter. "Aoi, what happened to your glasses?"
"They just vanished." The blind girl turned to the sound of my voice.
"Here, I'll make you another pair." I folded my hands together then raised them to my head as I felt another sharp bolt of pain. I blinked away tears. "Sorry, Aoi, but it will have to wait. Mikan broke my Alice."
"No." Mikan shook her head. "It's healing itself, finally."
"Good to hear that." Hotaru stood from the computer then stooped under the counter to join us. "Keep up the good work, Sana."
"What good work? What if we need a Babbit swarm to take on the British?"
"And that would work better this time than last because?"
"Because I'm not going to stand in the line of fire this time."
"So you can learn." Hotaru grabbed Aoi's hand. "Come along. I found our perps."
"The elevator is over here."
Hotaru shook her head at Ms. Readman. "No, it's better to go back through the sewers. We can pop up right next to the building the British are in."
"What's the plan?" Ms. Yukihira asked.
"We Alice swarm them before they hit that switch."
"Switch? What switch?" Ms. Readman asked.
"I saw the list of parts they've acquired. At least I know now that Professor King isn't my equal. No machine could contain the force they're about to unleash." Hotaru glanced back at Mikan and myself, then turned and urged Aoi forwards. "They hit that switch and everybody dies."
Ten minutes later we got to the manhole that Hotaru identified and she got Mr. Anderson to lift the cover out of the way. Once we were all up in the alleyway she turned to us. "The building is right around the corner."
"Ow!" Ms. Yukihira jerked back.
"What?" Mikan looked through the wall in front of us.
"It's an Alice?" Natsume crept up to the corner, looked around it and collapsed.
"Natsume!" Mikan ran towards him.
"Mikan, don't!" Ms. Yukihira sat down in the alleyway. "I can't move my barrier. It's all I can do to hold it in place."
As Mikan stepped next to Natsume she flinched and was surrounded by a very bright flash of light that I had to look away from, but nobody else seemed to be bothered. Then she dragged him over near us, and was soon helped by Akito and Mr. Anderson. As they took the burden away from her she fell to her knees sobbing.
I knelt down next to my twin. "What's wrong Mikan?"
"He's dead! Natsume is dead." She turned and clung to me.
"No." Mr. Anderson looked up. "He's still breathing."
"Huh?" Mikan looked up at him. "But his Alice is gone. It's not like my power's blocked. I can still see all the other Alices here, and that thing." She nodded towards the wall.
Hotaru started swearing in a bunch of different languages then finally got back to Japanese, "The bloody fools, they've killed everybody."
I followed her glare out into the street and saw cars going out of control as people dropped to the sidewalk. "What? What's wrong with everybody?"
Mikan stared out at the street for several seconds. "Their Alices are getting torn from them. How come so many people got Alice?"
"Every modern human being is an Alice." Hotaru crossed her arms. "That's the spark of creativity that let us sweep all the other hominids off the globe. The Alice is sixty thousand years old and it dies today."
"What exactly did they do?" Ms. Yukihira asked.
"They used Ms. Kurata as the focus of a device to drain off the Alices in the academy, but they didn't understand that it would zap them also. Now there's nobody to turn it off."
"I can do it." Mikan stood up and faced the wall again. "It's just so complex. I just don't get it." She turned to me. "Sana, that thing you do. You copy Alices. How do you do it?" She placed her hands on my head and once again I was shocked, but this time I braced myself.
"Yeah, that's it." Mikan turned to Hotaru and stared at her for a bit then turned back towards the wall. "It's like a tornado. If I just go through the exact middle I can make it, but it's aimed over our heads. How can I get way up there?" She looked over all of us then turned back to me. "That's it." She spread her arms and her skin stretched out below them. He ears grew long and then she leaped up into the air.
I stood there stunned for a moment then shouted after her. "Hey! I've got a trademark on Babbit!"
"Ms. Yukihira." Tazusa addressed my birth mother. "Switch Sana and my Alices please."
"Why do you want Babbit?" I asked her.
"No, Sana. You need the reaper Alice. In case Mikan fails you can snatch her soul and give her a second chance. I know it's harsh but the choice is reap or die."
"Sorry." Ms. Yukihira shook her head. "I can't risk dropping the barrier to use my real Alice, and my power doesn't work on my daughters anyway. We must trust in Mikan." There was a loud explosion and Ms. Yukihira looked up. "The Alice draining effect has stopped."
"Mikan must have snatched away the focus." Hotaru started running towards the corner. "Let's go see if she's still alive."
"Akito. Stay here and watch Natsume." I chased after Hotaru.
"Wait, Sana. Isn't your Alice still broken?"
"No time to worry about that now." I turned the corner and saw a huge fireball rising from a burning skyscraper. And above that I could just make out one dot carrying another up above the flames. Somehow I could tell who they were. "Mama and Mikan!"
Ms. Yukihira turned to me then looked up at the two distant figures and frowned.
After a moment I noticed what the problem was. "They're falling. From this height they'll go splat."
"No!" Anita ran forwards, stopped, threw her arms out to her sides and howled in agony.
I looked at her and saw something strange, like strands of vapor that extended from her body. And then I noticed newspapers flying towards her and combining into something in front of her.
"Anita!" Ms. Readman ran up to her daughter. "Don't do this alone. I'll get the material. You focus on your construct."
Anita nodded and dropped to her knees with her hands clasped in front of her, as Ms. Readman threw her arms wide. Books joined the converging newspapers and were ripped apart before stacking together in some sort of structure. I glanced up and saw the two figures tumbling down then looked back down. "Anita! Your Alice is ripping you apart!"
"I don't care!" She howled.
I dropped down next to her and threw my arms around her. There had to be someway I could help.
Anita took a deep breath then looked in front of her. I followed her gaze and saw that the papers had assembled themselves into a paper spring, but 50 meters tall. And in just in time as it caught the falling figures and slowed their plunge.
The structure of the paper behemoth melted into a pile of loose papers as Anita fell back in my arms.
"Are you okay? I asked her."
"I'll be fine. Go check on them."
I handed Anita to her mother, then ran towards mine. I found her sprawled next to my sister, then gave a sigh of relief as I touched them and found them to be breathing. I turned back to the rest. "They're alive."
"But what of everybody else?" Tazusa turned to Hotaru.
Hotaru pointed out to the streets where the people had started to revive. "We seem to have stopped this in time."
"Then the only one we've lost is your father, Anita." Ms. Readman supported the daughter who leaned against her.
"No, he's back in England." Mr. Anderson carried Natsume. "He got kicked off the project after he went after Anita."
"Why haven't these three revived?" Ms. Yukihira picked up Mikan's comatose form.
"The best facility in the world for treating Alices is a few kilometers from here. Are you sure you want to face them?" Hotaru asked her.
"No, I'm still an outlaw. Please take care of my daughter and my future son-in-law."
"I too must be going." Ms. Readman knelt down to kiss Anita on the forehead. "Please be a good girl and study extra hard."
"Where are you going?" Anita asked her surviving mother.
"I'm going to have some stern words with your father. Burning down London is one thing, but this has gone entirely too far."
"You probably just want to browse his personal library."
"Well he does have some rare first editions."
"Take care, Sana." Anita bowed to me. "I'm tagging along to make sure my mother doesn't fall down any manholes while reading books."
"That's only happened twice, Dear."
"Yeah, I guess I really am needed."
"I'll tag along also." Ms. Yukihira turned to me. "Sana, please thank Ms. Kurata for looking after you all these years. Tell her I spied on her until you were three. Then I looked away, partly because I didn't want to risk drawing attention to you, partly out of jealousy, but mostly because I could see that you were in good hands."
"I'll tell Mama, Mother."
She nodded, then followed after the two papermasters and Mr. Anderson.