"The chain of command in non-military defense is from the federal government to the state government to the local government; however, the key to the success of the entire structure is the individual. … Total dependence on the various levels of government to solve all of the problems of disaster is impossible due to financial limitations and the ever-present 'unknown factor'. In essence, the California Disaster Office can only do so much to assist the private citizen in a disaster situation.

"In the final analysis, he must be prepared to help himself."

-Civil Defense in California, from The California Information Almanac

"Please, you have to believe me," implored the raven-haired, stone-faced girl. "If the Incubator race isn't detained within the next month, Earth will be destroyed." Her flat, violet eyes bore into Agent Ten's very soul, as if she were the intimidating authority figure in a spotless tux instead of him. (That said, her emotionless face, her long, black hime-styled hair, and her somber purple-and-black dress did make one want to keep a distance upon contact with this strange girl. If you dared to pick a fight with her, things would probably end badly for you.)

And yet, as she continued to stare him down, he could just make out a fine quivering on the girl's lower lip. Was there perhaps something to her mad story?

"And as I've been telling you, ma'am," answered Agent Nine, drawing the steel rod out of his left shirt pocket. "The Incubators are known allies of Earth and all other planets, and always manage to update their working visas. They are simply resident on our planet for business purposes, and extremely important business purposes at that. Frankly, I wish some human immigrants to Japan could be so cooperative."

"C-cooperative?" The girl's face stiffened. "Didn't you hear anything of what I just said? They track down girls around the world, offer to grant them a wish for anything they want…s-steal their souls from their bodies, tell them they're magical girls out to save the world from evil…and then…eventually…"

Psshhh! The bright light flashed out into the girl's face from the Neuralyzer. "Yes, I know," said Agent Nine. "You've already told us three times since you first came up to the guards. They eventually turn into bloodthirsty monsters called Witches that are responsible for everything from murders to 2chan, and the Incubators sign up more zombie magical girls to fight them, and eventually these 'Witches' will build up to critical mass and destroy the world. What is this, Plan 9 from Outer Space? But I digress." He cleared his throat. "You went to your school dance, and some joker thought it'd be real 'boss' to spike the punch. My partner decided to be a gentleman and take you to the police station, and they can help you get back home."

Homura's last thought before her short-term memory went blank was, "Boss"? Does this old fart still think us kids talk like that?

It was just another evening at the Japanese branch of the Earth Immigration Enforcement Agency.

-O-O-O-

"Jeez, sir," said Agent Ten as he and his senior made his way through the processing hall. "Are you sure we shouldn't look into that matter at all? She sounded so desperate…"

"Kid, I know you're just a rookie," said Agent Nine, dodging a sofa thrown by an irate Omicronian whose asylum application had been denied yet again. "But you have to remember that for all the real threats this planet faces just about every day, there's still a shitload of false alarms, cranks, and good old-fashioned conspiracy theories. Some people think the Jews secretly control the world, some say the Vatican, some say the oil industry, some say all of them at the same time. And as for our clients out there…well, you know about Scientology, right?" He rolled his eyes. "The Zeta Reticulans outlawed it on their planet as a racist religion."

"Yeah, I know, but what about that 'Soul Gem' she showed us?"

"Probably spending a bit too much time in Akiba, and that's probably where she got that costume and that 'Soul Gem' prop. You remember our bust at Comiket, don't you? Those costumes were so realistic, it took the whole day to find that bastard!" The right corner of his mouth curled upward. "Hell, she might've been…part of a viral promotion campaign for some new dark magical girl anime series. They're getting pretty elaborate these days. But really, the Incubators have a perfectly clean slate, and let's face it, gathering energy to stave off the heat death of the universe does seem like a worthy endeavor. All we have to go on for this 'Incubators-are-trying-to-destroy-the-world' theory is the testimony of…some stoned-looking cosplay girl who came wandering in off the street."

"Well yeah," said Agent Ten. "But you've heard about what happened before 9/11. Those terrorists were living right among the American general public for over a year, they never raised any suspicions…"

"And if the American government had been doing its job, they might've thought, 'Gee, ain't it kinda funny how these guys from countries we have less-than-friendly relations with, here on student visas, enrolled in flight school and don't seem to be showing any interest in actually landing planes?' We may not be officially affiliated with the feds, but we still follow the rule of law. The Incubators applied for Japanese work visas the second that world governments started registering aliens on Earth, and they've always complied with the terms." He wiped his brow. "I mean, what else should we do? It seems like Omicron Persei 8 tries to invade Earth every month or so just to test their weaponry; should we bust all the Omicronians on the planet, including all the defectors and asylum-seekers? The Libinasidians are still miffed about how some of them were treated while stranded in South Africa, and they've also threatened war; should we just lock them up in a shantytown like they did in Johannesburg? And you don't even need to look to the stars; you know what the Americans did to their Japanese immigrants—full citizens, even!-after Pearl Harbor."

"I didn't say that!" said Agent Ten. "But still, it's our job to investigate any possible…situations, isn't it? Has anyone ever actually asked just where the Incubators get their 'energy' from?"

Agent Nine sighed and folded his arms. "Well kid, if it makes you feel any better, I'll talk to Number One and see if I can get a request for an investigation into the exact nature of the Incubators' business. I probably won't be able to get on it for a while though; you know I have a lot on my plate at the moment."

A vision of the dark-haired girl's pallid face floated in front of Agent Ten's eyes. Her flinty violet eyes still pierced right through him, even in his memory. What things had those shards of jade beheld before her meeting with the "Men in Black"? Now that he thought about it, that face was the face of the twitching, traumatized war veterans safe back at Yokota and Yokosuka…and of some of the senior Men in Black. Yet she only seemed to be about half his age, if that.

"But she said there was only a month…"

"That's what they always say, whether they want an unobstructed view of Venus or if they're just bored kids who think every day is April Fools' Day. But we'll get around to this, trust me." He put a hand on his junior's shoulder, and stared at the faces flickering on the holographic monitor in the center of the processing hall. "But you know what? I don't like to admit it, but there's only so much we can do. There's only so much anyone can do. We're not gods or even angels, just glorified apes floating around on a little blue ball in the darkness. We gotta roll with the punches when they come our way, and of course we gotta do our best to help those who need help…or want it. And sometimes we succeed in our mission, but other times we don't. Sometimes some things are just out of reach, and just slip through the cracks." A flat smile appeared on his face. "That doesn't mean you should lose sight of right and wrong or all your ideals, but…if you wanna be in law enforcement, you gotta keep that other stuff in mind too."

Agent Ten followed his senior's gaze up to the monitor, almost expecting to see the black-haired girl appear. She didn't. "Yeah, I guess you're right," he replied. The girl's apocalyptic story still echoed inside his head like the last faint reverberations of a bell, but watching all the countless human and alien faces flickering across the screen, and the myriad captions popping up on the digital world map, she and her harrowing tale started to fade into the static. Each one of those faces and those captions represented another life story, another case history…and possibly another threat to this island Earth.

That didn't take away any of their value as individual beings, as more than just files and computer entries, but the sheer numbers of them all brought it home…unfortunately, there was only so much a person could do. One at a time was the only way to handle (or attempt to handle) any kind of task on such a grand scale. Just contemplating it all made him feel tired. Fortunately it was almost the end of his shift.

"Welp, I'm about to clock out," Agent Ten told his senior. "You wanna join me for yakitori?"

"Sorry, but I have to stay late tonight," Agent Nine said. "Gotta finish up Yuu Kobayashi's visa renewal notice letter."

"Nine" in Japanese is "kyuu". Think about that and see me after class.

Yuu Kobayashi is a voice actress and singer (she played Mariya in Maria Holic and Kaere/Kaede in Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei, among others) who, as 4chan describes her, "just does not give a fuck". I apologize if anyone was offended by that last joke, but Men in Black 3 made similar jokes about Lady Gaga and Newt Gingrich.