]+By Chronic Guardian+[
Chapter 1: The House Blend
"Well, Mr. H., meet your new niece."
Sanae Hanekoma glanced over the counter at the first (and likely, only) customers for the day. The appearance of one of them making him on edge, given previous developments.
"Nice of you to stop by, Composer," he greeted his affiliate while deftly tucking away the document he had been browsing, "did I miss the memo?"
The Composer shook his head, "No, I'm here on a whim. This will be strictly off-record, which is permissible since the stakes aren't quite so high this time."
"This time..." Hanekoma echoed wryly, "so it's another experiment, huh?"
"That is correct. I would like as little interference as possible until the next games, which will be in five days. Until then, she has the basic capacity to interact and help you around the shop. I'm interested in 'untampered' results. Even if Neku did not like the world, that doesn't mean he wasn't affected by it."
Hanekoma looked over the subject in question. She was a girl likely between the range of fourteen and sixteen with long, blonde hair, a standard school uniform, a pair of headphones, and empty eyes.
"She looks a lot like you," he commented, noting that the girl had little to no reaction to anything except the Composer's movements further into the shop, which she seemed to detect subconsciously.
"Which is why she's going to be your niece and not your daughter," the Composer joked, a slight resurfacing of his time as Yoshiya Kiryuu, "I drew her concept from the key players of the last struggle, but decided to include only a shadow of each disposition rather than dominant traits. Given all this, I think that the codename 'Hybrid' is appropriate. As for a given name... well, you are the Producer. I leave you full poetic license."
"Suzume Hanekoma," Mr. H. pronounced, trying to see if the name felt right. He grimaced, no such luck.
"Third times the charm, so they say," the Composer gave that falsely innocent smile that most associated with his sense of humor. "At any rate, Shibuya hasn't been properly looked after for a whole month, I suppose my duty shan't be overlooked any longer."
"So she'll be in the next games." Hanekoma said, bringing back the original parameters, "does that mean you'll have to...?"
"No, she's a special case. At this point, her existence is anchored to the UG. If she walks outside only reapers will be able to see her. But since you'll be keeping a close eye on her here, testing that out will have to wait five days. Thank you again, Hanekoma."
The Composer phased out without further delay, modulating to whatever frequency needed his attention most, leaving Hanekoma with his newly adopted niece.
"How about Amber?" he mused out loud. It seemed a good enough pick, fairly lucid, short, and down to earth.
Hybrid looked at him for the first time, "who, me?"
"I could always call you phones," he laughed, remembering how Neku avidly hated that nickname.
"Amber's just fine, What's your name?"
"Sanae Hanekoma, and this is the Wildkat cafe." He gestured to the surroundings. When he was not acting in the role of the Producer, the warm atmosphere of the Wildkat lifted his spirits and gave him something fun to do. Usually he only opened during the games, but occasionally he would make an exception. "I guess I'll show you the ropes so you can make yourself useful."
"Do you get a lot of business?"
An unusually insightful question given her assumingly empty database. "Not that much," he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "But it'll be nice for you to know for when I'm out and about. I'm trusting you with some powerful mixes here, alright? Any customer of the Wildkat is either serious about coffee or seriously lost. Either case, we offer the best cuppa-joe in the city."
Amber nodded, her gaze remaining eerily vacant. Hanekoma now noted that her eyes were a light maple brown, a color nicely complimented by her sandy blonde hair. The girl turned out to be a quick learner, almost supernatural to the talent of getting just the right brew. He was just savoring the results when the door opened for the second time that day.
"Good morning," Hanekoma said, recognizing the orange-headed mess almost immediately out of his peripheries. "Here for the house blend?"
Koki Kariya smiled, twirling a lollipop with his thumb and index finger, "Nah, Uzuki's training for the day and I just wanted to have fun, seeing as we do have the week off. Thought I'd pop in and see what's new."
"Didn't feel like bothering Beat?"
Kariya actually did snicker at that one, "Beat's a nice kid but he'd probably go berserk if I showed up in the RG, double that if he found out it was just to kill time. 'You wastin' my time just 'cause Pinkie don't want to play, yo?' Probably something along those lines."
"Have things really cooled down that much since Sho went into rehab?"
"Rehab?" Kariya asked, raising an eyebrow. "I thought he got erased."
"If someone is erased, there's nothing left," Hanekoma reminded his Reaper acquaintance. "Sho just got a car and vending machine dumped on him. Sure it hurt, but when we found him lying under it we knew he had to have some sort of metaphorical pulse. He doesn't remember much so his days as an officer are assuredly over."
"You mean as if trying to overthrow the Composer wasn't enough?"
"He'll be good for support, the next big thing since The Reaper Review," Hanekoma said dryly.
Kariya rolled his eyes, "yeah, the real world application of consecutive integers will never have held so much weight. Speaking of which, have you heard about...who's this?"
The unexpected shift in conversation slipped Hanekoma back into reality where math wasn't funny and Amber was staring back at Kariya.
"My niece, Amber Hanekoma," he replied belatedly. "She's come to live here with me for a while until things settle down at home."
"A 'niece', huh?"
Too bad that Kariya was among the brighter aspects of the Reapers.
"That's some gap between you and your brother considering how long you've been in the UG."
"Yeah, I guess so," Hanekoma smiled benignly, letting Kariya know that if there was any digging to be done, here was not the place. "Say hello, Amber."
Hanekoma saw that he had his work cut out for him. Even if the Composer had remembered to give her great natural talent with the beans, it appeared he had left out common gestures such as handshakes. It didn't help that Kariya was not the type to offer them if he didn't have to.
"She's a bit shy, being new to the neighborhood and all. Just give her time." Time enough for the Composer to get his results at least. Informing Kariya of Amber's status would fall under the category of very risky decisions. Either he would lose interest and back off or continue to monitor it in his own way. Of course, Kariya had exhibited in the past that he knew how to look out for his own interests, and most sane people doing the same knew that meddling in the Composer's will simply was not a spectacular idea.
"Well, I'll see you around then," Kariya announced, turning around to go out the way he came. "Keep the little poppet safe, I've heard things are getting pretty crazy out there."
"Now that Phones is back on the streets of the RG? I wouldn't expect any less." Neku had the common sense to not go around talking about the Shibuya Underground but word among the Reapers was that he was up to something. Supposedly not something malicious but definitely something.
Kariya stopped and shook his head, "No...though Neku might be able to help. Too bad he can't participate in future games. He knows where to meet us though."
"Looking forward to it?"
"Please, if we had to do that it would entail that a whole load of work is not far behind. I'd rather we stay peaceful and separate."
"Good to know." Hanekoma at least had to be grateful that of all the trouble-making factors in the UG, Kariya never would be making more work if he could help it.
"For real this time, I'll catch you later," Kariya said over his shoulder, continuing out the door to whatever anti-climactic events awaited him while off-duty.
Hybrid stared after him the whole way. "Is he your friend?" she asked, still gazing at the door after it had slid closed.
"Friendship is somewhat rare in the UG," Hanekoma informed her ruefully. "Much like how real creativity is."
Hanekoma dealt with Kariya as best he could considering the restrictions in place. First of all, he could not reveal his position as Producer. Kariya already had a load of speculations on who he was due to past interference and that would have to be enough. Second off, as the Producer, Hanekoma was forbidden from forming relationships with Reapers other than the Composer so as to keep the playing field even. Kariya wasn't an "actual" relationship because Hanekoma offered nothing more to him than he would to anyone else. Given the circumstances, he just dealt with him like any other customer.
"So do we just wait for another customer?" Hybrid pressed, looking up at Hanekoma with the vague semblance of a quizzical stare.
"We aren't likely to have many more customers today," he told her, opening up the cabinets to hunt down the gear necessary for her further training. "Now let's get to showing you how to do pancakes and muffins, hmm?"
Hybrid nodded obediently, giving her full attention to Hanekoma's demonstration. Despite her appearance, the girl was awfully attentive. If she was truly a composite of all the previous key players, he suspected that she was retaining this trait from Rhyme. With any luck, she would not express the initiative of Beat...
Twelve Days Left
A/N: A new story! Hopefully it is not forgotten soon... This character Hybrid is (believe it or not) only half OC. She's meant to be the girl seen in the secret image at the end of The World Ends With You -Solo Mix-. Even so, this story will have its fair share of creative license and will hopefully explore life's ability to both surprise the Composer and connect to others. If you liked it, please post a comment about why. It might just help with future chapters...