Aki was exhausted when she came through the door. It was only eight at night, but it felt much later. Natsumi had made dinner for her, and Aki almost felt guilty that they had waited for her to come home. She kept telling them that they didn't need to do that, but they did it just the same. When she sat at the table, she noticed the empty spaces. Kululu rarely ate at the table, so it was no surprise, but Kirara always came out to greet her when she got home, and she always ate dinner at the table. She got busy like her father did, but never too busy for her mama. A dark shadow passed over her heart. Her mother's intuition suddenly told her that something was very wrong.
"Mom? Are you okay? You look kinda pale." Natsumi asked. Aki tried to smile so she wouldn't worry, but her brain seemed to stop midway through the command.
"Oh, it's just...where's Kirara?" Fuyuki stood up fast. It hadn't noticed until now, either.
"Whoa, you're right! I knew someone was missing!" Her son adored his little Keronian sister. It had taken Natsumi awhile to process everything when Kirara came out of her egg (especially since Kululu was the father) but Fuyuki thought it was the coolest thing in the world that he had an alien sister.
"Calm down, Fuyuki," Natsumi said. "Maybe she's just super busy. I saw her go down to the base early this morning. She's probably in the lab with Kululu." Aki shook her head.
"No, that's not right. Kulu told me yesterday that he'd be working on something very important and top secret today. He didn't want to be disturbed. Kira would know that." She paused for a moment, trying to control the growing sense of unease that clouded her heart.
"Did anyone see her leave the house?"
Natsumi and Fuyuki tried to remember, but they hadn't been home all day either. They were both in college now, and it kept them busy.
"Maybe I should ask Gunso." Fuyuki said.
"Yeah, right. Like Stupid Frog would know. He's got his own kids to worry about. Why would he care where Kirara went?"
"That's not true. He cares about all of the platoon and their families. I'm gonna try, sis. And you should ask Giroro if he's seen her."
"That makes even less sense! He never hangs out with-"
"Natsumi! That's enough." Aki said. "We've all got to try our hardest to find her. She always shows up for dinner. Always..." She choked back a sob. Then she took a deep breath. She couldn't let her kids see her like this. She was the strong one. She was untouchable. Well, she thought she was. She had learned over the last couple of years that no one was untouchable. Some people were just good at appearing that way. Her thoughts went to Kululu. She needed to go to the lab. He needed to know that his daughter was missing.
"Mom, don't worry too much." Fuyuki's voice carried through the fog that was in her head.
"She's got that location chip, right?" Aki stood up.
"Yes, she does! I'm going to down to the lab. Kulu and I will find her."
"Okay. Natsumi and I will work on asking around the platoon. I'm sure she's fine, Mom. She knows how to take care of herself.
"Oh, I know that, honey." Aki walked away, pretending to be nonchalant now that Fuyuki mentioned the LC. (LC was Kululu's name for the location chip.) She knew that Kirara was capable of a lot of things that most eight-year-olds couldn't do, but she was still really young, and in human years she was only two years old.
Aki took a deep breath as she stood before the door to Kululu's lab. There were all sort of noises coming from the metal walls. Electric currents flowed up through cords that were connected to the dome, which was shaped like his head. It looked like the giant Kululu face was having a brainstorm. It also looked like he had no idea that his daughter was missing. Aki was in her Keronian form, because it was easier to fit into his quarters this way. She pressed the intercom button.
"Kululu? It's Aki. I need you for something." There was no answer for several minutes, and even though she was used to it, she still wanted to scream and shake him this time. Kirara was out somewhere all alone after dark! She tried again, letting her pleas come into her voice. She hoped he was just having a hard time making it through the obstacles to get to the intercom, and that he wasn't ignoring her.
"Kulu? Please... I really need..."
"Aki? What are you...? Didn't I mention that I would be very-" She heard another voice coming form a transmitter, and Kululu answered.
"Yes, Lieutenant, sir. It is almost complete."
"How complete?!" The voice sounded angry.
"Ninety-five percent, sir."
"Very good, Sergeant-Major. Please hurry."
"I'm on it, sir." Then there was mumbling as the transmission ended. Kululu's voice went from sugar-sweet to a deeper, irritated tone.
"'Please hurry,' he says. Well, I'm going as fast as I can under the circumstances, the ungrateful bastard..."
"Oh, Aki. I forgot you were out there. Listen, dear. I'm insanely busy, and-"
"It's about our daughter." There was a sigh, and a hissing sound. Was he welding in there? As she listened to more noises in the background, it began to sound like he had a whole army in there. Didn't anybody ever help him? She could hear machines, typing, beeping, steam hissing, electricity surging, and even video playing on the screens. She still wondered how her electric bill wasn't sky-high.
"What about her? *ouch*" He must've burnt himself with the blow torch, thought Aki.
"She's gone, Kululu!"
"Gone? You mean..." Here he paused and there was more mumbling and some typing. "Off the planet, gone?" Aki paled. She hadn't even considered that possibility!
"I...I don't know!" She felt tears spring to her eyes.
"Well, don't panic, lovey. She's probably just, *ow* sonofa..." There was a sound of metal crashing, and she thought she caught a "damnation" in there. She was distracting him, and when he got distracted, he made errors and hurt himself.
"Kululu, just let me in."
There was a beep, and the giant teeth pulled up like a garage door. When she stepped through, there was complete chaos. She side-stepped cords, wire, machinery, and even little robots doing maintenance. Kululu was standing in front of a giant mecha. He had burn marks on various parts of his body (even his lab coat was singed) and grease covered the rest. He never wore any kind of real protection when he was welding. Before she reached him, a robot shoved into her from behind, saying something about a "foreign contaminant." She fell into Kululu, and he let out a grunt, but caught firm hold of her.
"Ku! It's a good thing I wasn't using the blow torch anymore. That could have been nasty!" Aki started to laugh, but it turned into a violent rush of tears. She held him close, sobbing into his belly.
"Ku, ku, ku." His "ku's" weren't laughter, but a soft comforting sound. He couldn't stand it when she cried.
"Don't worry Aki, dear. She has the LC. Didn't I tell you it would come in handy? We'll find her." He guided her to his cluster of giant computer screens.
"Now, if I just push-" The transmitter came on again, and the angry voice boomed out.
"Sergeant-Major?! That mecha had better be done, or so help me..." Kululu replied in his high-pitched patronizing tone.
"It's done now, sir. I will jettison it to you immediately. Take care now!" He ended the transmission before the Lieutenant did, which was bound to get him into further trouble with the army. He wiped his brow.
"Ku! How troublesome... Now, to find Kira." He pulled up a screen.
"This blue triangle is her signal. It's coming from...Akihibara... What on Keron is she doing there? I thought I told her not to go...Ku, ku. Naughty girl." He smiled fondly at her disobedience. Aki wasn't amused.
"She went to Akihibara by herself? She knows how much I don't like that!"
"She may have gone with someone else. Though I don't know who. No one else but me knows the way to...Look, the signal is moving. Hmm... This is odd. She's very far underneath the city. I wonder if-" There was a sudden beeping sound coming from his laptop, which sat in a dark corner of the lab, not needed for the day's project. He made his way over to it, stepping over the lab debris. Aki wanted to shout at him. What could be more important than their daughter, lost in the Electric City? Usually she didn't feel this panicky, but there was something different when it involved Kirara. She seemed so small, and vulnerable. Aki knew that wasn't at all true, but she just felt so protective over her.
There was a glowing message on the screen, and Aki saw that it was written in Keronian. No doubt it was someone else from the army, demanding more time and effort from him. As Kululu read, he suddenly grew very still, and a small sound came from him. It sounded like a "ku" but he choked on it. He stood there for a second longer, re-reading the message for any detail he could have missed. Then he sprang into action. He hopped nimbly over the cords and metal scraps to his chair, throwing off the lab coat.
"Those bastards! Do they think they can get me so easily? There will be hell to pay for this!" He fell into the chair and pulled the lever. Aki was shocked. She had never seen him so angry. Before she could say anything, the chair spun into the secret level below the laboratory. She tried to run to the hole, but it closed up. She knelt down and pounded on it.
"Kululu! Where are you going? What about Kirara?" She lay there for a moment, realizing that this must be about her. Something was wrong, and Kululu wasn't telling her for her own protection. She wiped her eyes and stood up. Well, she'd find out anyway. She'd just have to use her own tactics.