Mikoto?/Echoes

I lie back on my pillow and stare at the screen of my phone for a long while. The tiny rectangle of light seems to hover over my face in the darkness of my room, bright enough to make me squint. After some time, I swipe back up to the top of the e-mail and read it over again, trying to make sure I haven't misunderstood.

"Dear Doctor Kiyama…" I read the words out loud, mumbling the less important bits. "Pleased with your contributions...new assignment...critical for success of the project...teacher for the fifth-grade class at the Institute."

(Doctor?)

There it is. Written out, plain as day. The powers that be are rewarding my work on this high-priority, extremely secret project by...making me the lead observer for some of the brats we're working on, requiring me to act as their homeroom teacher. I chuckle. It's...it's a joke, right? The Old Man knows what I think about working with children. Doesn't he? He has to, right? I've known the man since I was an undergrad, after all. I suppose I did well enough on the previous project, but they were hardly 'children' in any normal sense of the word.

I hesitate for a moment, then tap on the reply button. I spend the next few minutes composing an eloquently worded response that succinctly states my lack of qualifications and general suitability for this assignment, requests clarification as to its purpose, and gently suggests that I'd be better suited continuing with what I was already doing. I look it over once, twice, and then hit the Send button, then put the phone back on the charge pad on my nightstand. There. He'll listen to reason, right?

I've just closed my eyes again when I hear another telltale buzz from next to my ear. Of course the Old Man would reply immediately; I'm not sure he ever sleeps. The response turns out to be from his private e-mail, not the project address I'd just replied to. I open it, and sigh almost immediately.

Harumi-chan:

You're a neuro-sci in Academy City. You're gonna have to figure out how to work with kids eventually. This'll be good experience for you! ^_^

-Gramps

He's always unnecessarily familiar in private, especially when he wants a favor out of you. And when he starts using emoji? That's always a good sign that it's time to suck it up and do what he wants. And when the head of the Academy City Ministry of Science and Technology wants you to do something, you bloody well do it. Looks like there's no getting out of this one.

(Wait, "Harumi-chan?" No...no, that's not my name...are these Kiyama's memories?)


The Institute for Universal Education is an old, pre-Academy City apartment building that's since been converted into a combination orphanage and school. The four-story building is depressing to look at, almost Soviet in its sheer, brutal lack of attention to aesthetics, and the grey April morning does it few favors. A faded paint job does little to cover up the concrete underneath, and though the windows are at least not barred or boarded up, there are telltale signs that they've been reinforced rather heavily. There's a small playground in the building's front yard, at least, though the rusty monkey bars don't do much to make it feel more cheery.

(That's...that's where I ran into her. That bench was right there...but that building wasn't, just an empty lot.)

With no small amount of trepidation, I step off the Tesla Avenue bus and look around. The rest of the neighborhood isn't much better, to be honest. I already felt uncomfortable enough heading out to work without my lab coat, but now I feel like I'm standing out even more in the rather nice black pantsuit I picked out for today. I enter the building, show my ID to a bored-looking security guard hanging out in the lobby, take a brief look at a floor map, and make my way down the hall to a classroom.

When I step into the classroom, the noise is deafening. At least thirty or so children, fifth-graders, are in the room, barely half of them sitting down, all of them trying to talk over each other and practically yelling as a result. As I walk in, a paper airplane flies past my nose and impacts on the wall. I watch it bounce off and float gently to the ground before looking back up. Some of the children are looking at me, at least, and the noise level seems to be falling a bit as they do. Not enough, though. Not nearly enough.

I walk to the front of the room and wait a moment. The few students who seemed to have noticed me at first are dutifully waiting in their seats, but the rest show no signs of settling down. I clear my throat, gently. No response, except for the already-quiet kids starting to shift in their seats nervously.

"Settle down, class," I say out loud. Quietly. Much more quietly than I'd intended, and indeed, it fails to make any impact on the class. "Settle down!" I try again, and it again fails to make much of an impression. I've never been very good at sounding insistent. Or, well, being loud in general.

I glance behind me. The classroom's outfitted with an old-fashioned whiteboard instead of the digital boards most decent schools in Academy City were built with. Terrible things, whiteboards; I shudder to imagine what the marker fumes did to the generation of children raised with them. But they do have some useful applications. For example, that extendable pointer currently resting alongside the markers and erasers…

WHAP! The pointer makes a satisfying crack as I rap it against the whiteboard, and the classroom is silent almost instantly. I smile a little bit at this. "Settle down, please. Everyone to your seats." The standing students quickly follow the command, and I look over the faces in the classroom. It's an interesting mix; mostly Asian, as one would expect, but there's a few faces in there that look less local-one Caucasian girl, two children-one boy and one girl-who look...Indian, I suppose, or possibly Arabic. And it's difficult to tell for sure, but many of the Asian faces look more Korean than Japanese.

Well. I suppose that explains a bit about where so many orphans are coming from.

(That's right...the city took in a lot of orphans from Korea after the war...)

"Good morning, class," I say. My voice is still softer than it probably should be, but in the dead silence left after my use of the pointer it will do. I grab a marker and write down the kanji of my surname on the board. "I am Dr. Kiyama, and I will be your homeroom and science teacher for the year."


The first month or so of classes is exactly as frustrating as I expected it to be. The class is best described as "unruly" on a good day, and at first I'm lucky if I can keep them under control at all. And worse yet, few of them show the slightest interest in even the basic science topics I cover. Having no previous experience with education save a brief stint as a TA in graduate school, I reach out to the other teachers for advice.

The responses I receive vary. Some shrug and noncommittally tell me to "try whatever." Some offer vague, unhelpful suggestions about tone and attitude. The underlying tone is clear, however, even from those who don't say it explicitly:

"Why do you care so much?"

It's a slap in the face the first time someone does say it out loud; a reminder that the teachers here aren't. They're researchers, testing out an experimental power-development program in an environment where silly things like "parental consent" are no concern.

(Wait, what? That's crazy. And unethical. And impossible.)

And so am I.

And as I realize that, I start to notice other things. Such as the fact that the IUE project has one of the highest budgets in Academy City history, yet it's being run in a dilapidated junk-heap of a building in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Such as the fact that the school has no science-lab classrooms, something every school in the city is legally required to have. Such as the fact that there are no signs of regular accreditation inspections like those every other school receives.

One might almost get the impression that nobody actually cares about these children's futures.

Well, annoying as they may be, I can't bloody well stand for that. Orphans or not, possibly-unethical research subjects or not, Academy City needs all the bright young minds it can muster.

And so I walk into classroom 5-B one May morning with a pair of safety goggles in my hand, a lab coat folded over my arm, and something of a grin on my face. As the class more-or-less settles down, I slowly and deliberately write "Science" on the whiteboard in my normal, neat handwriting.

Then I scribble it out, don the goggles and labcoat with a flourish, and scrawl "SCIENCE!" in big, bold letters across the board.

The class goes dead silent. This is something new. Maybe, just maybe, this is going to work.

"Good morning, Class 5-B," I say, trying to inject as much drama and gravitas into my voice as possible. "Today I have one question for you, and one question only: Can metal burn?! Takeuchi-kun!" I flick the pointer in the direction of one of the boys seated near the middle of the class, one I know hasn't been paying much attention. "What say you?!"

"Uhh..." He stands up, wide-eyed and fidgeting. "I...dunno? I mean, metal doesn't burn, it melts, right?"

(Oh come on, of course some metals can burn. This is like first-grade science stuff.)

"An interesting hypothesis!" I respond. "Kincaid-kun!" I switch the pointer's target to a girl near the rear. "Do you agree with Takeuchi-kun?"

"Uhh...Yeah. Yeah, I think so," she says.

"And why, precisely, do you think so?"

She blinks. "Well... I guess because I've seen a whole bunch of pictures of melted metal and stuff, but I've never seen metal on fire?"

"Good! Good answer! Visual observation, using your own eyes to see what happens in the world around you, is one of the most basic parts of science! Now." I quiet down a bit. "Based on our observations, we have formed an educated guess, a hypothesis: metal does not burn! But merely forming a hypothesis is not science! The hypothesis must be tested! We must perform..." I pause for effect. "...an experiment!"

(This is probably the most ridiculous explanation of the scientific method I've ever seen.)

My kingdom for some dramatic music and an on-demand flash of lightning. Still, the class is most definitely paying attention now. They probably think I've completely lost my mind, of course, and I'm not entirely sure they're wrong, but they are paying attention.

I reach for my bag, dig through it for a moment, and withdraw a small plastic bag containing a thin strip of wire, as well as a pair of metal tongs, a small glass beaker, and a box of matches, setting all but the wire on my desk. I'd prefer doing this with a bit more safety equipment, but I have to work with what I've got here. "Now, class," I say, holding up the wire, "this wire here is metal! It's a very specific type of metal called magnesium. According to our hypothesis, if we heat it up, it may melt but it will not burn! Now. Haruue-kun, the blinds, if you please," I say, addressing a nervous-looking girl near the rear of the classroom. She nods, stands up, and quickly closes the blinds. "And Edasaki-kun, the lights." Another girl switches off the classroom lights, leaving only a little bit of daylight streaming through the gaps in the blinds. It's just enough light to see by, conveniently enough.

As they do so, I strike a match and hold it up, then use the tongs to grab the wire. "Commence the experiment!" I shout, and hold the match against the wire.

Nothing seems to happen for a moment, a moment that seems to stretch on for eternity. It's been a while since Chem 101 for me; and I start to wonder if maybe an ordinary match isn't hot enough; I wish I had a proper Bunsen burner-

And then a flash of pure white light, nearly as bright as the sun, illuminates the room. It's brighter than I remember it being, brighter than I expected, and the flare of heat that comes with it nearly makes me drop the tongs. I hold onto them, though, for the five seconds or so that it takes for the tiny strip of wire to finish burning. There's a bunch of oohs and ahs and whoas from the class, and I nod in satisfaction. "As you can see, the magnesium not only burned, but burned incredibly bright!" I turn the wire so the class can see the greyish residue left by the flame, then hold it over the beaker as it inevitably crumbles. "Our hypothesis has been disproven! But there is no shame in admitting we were wrong; no, an unexpected outcome is merely the gateway to further discovery! This is the true essence of SCIENCE!" I throw my arms out wide as I shout the last sentence.

There's an awkward silence for a moment. Then, one boy near the center of the class starts clapping softly. Within seconds, the whole classroom has burst into applause. I grin, and, without even thinking about it, take a bow.

(...I guess that would be a pretty impressive act, if you've never seen burning magnesium before.)


After that day, something strange beyond belief happens: I begin to look forward to class each day. Part of it is because the class is moderately easier to keep under control, having taken a liking to my mad-scientist acts, but it goes far deeper than that. In a sense, I have taken responsibility for these children's futures in a way that nobody else in the IUE project-and by extension, nobody else taking care of them at all-was willing to. I can't make sure their education is complete and up to Academy City standards in general, but I at least do what I can to make sure the classes I teach are up to par-I even manage to rent out a lab classroom from a nearby school twice a month, out of my own pocket, so I can continue my SCIENCE sessions.

It's not as if I'm not conscious of the change; I realize it quickly enough. And it worries me: I am supposed to be a detached observer in this situation, recording my observations of these children's behaviors and mental states. Personal feelings regarding children aside, my job requires me to treat them as test subjects, nothing more. I still take my notes regarding the children's progress, still watch them for any unusual signs of power development (in accordance with double-blind principles, I have no idea whether my class is part of the control group or whether they're receiving the altered treatments I've helped to develop).

Still, for months I stay the course, telling myself that the two goals don't conflict, that I can be a decent teacher for these kids and a useful observer for the project. I receive no reprimands for my behavior, and indeed most of my requests for field trips and such are approved.

The breaking point comes a week or so before summer vacation. I come in to the classroom early one day, and see that the art class yesterday has yielded results: several pencil sketches hang on the wall in the back corner of the classroom. I examine the first one that catches my eye: one that depicts a large number of people. On closer examination, despite the crude nature of the artwork, what it depicts is obvious: a large number of children seated next to each other, with a woman standing behind them, wearing a very familiar lab coat and safety goggles.

The sketch is signed "Lee Jun-seo", in hangul and katakana. The label below it reads "Class 5-B: My Family".

I...I can't remember the last time I cried.


It doesn't last long, of course. It's probably that very picture that sets things in motion, in fact; someone besides me has to have taken notice.

I don't know how or when the decision is made, but the end result is that on the second day of summer vacation, I get another e-mail from the Old Man, inviting me to dinner at one of the fancy restaurants in the tourist district. I say I'll be there, naturally; you don't turn down an invitation from him.

The restaurant is some sort of Euro-Asian-fusion-cuisine-type place run by some chef whose name I'm obviously supposed to recognize. Well, joke's on them; I survived grad school on instant ramen and Dr. Pepper, and dining out remains a rare and unique experience for me to this day. When I arrive at the restaurant, the Old Man is already there, and waves me over to the booth. I sit down across from him.

(Oh, hey, I've been there. Their steamed lobster is amazing.)

Kihara Gensei is called the Old Man for good reason; the man is bloody ancient, and looks the part. His skin is wrinkled beyond belief; his head is bald and liver-spotted. At first glance he looks like he should be on his deathbed. And yet this impression only lasts until you first see him move or hear him speak: neither his muscles nor his voice have the tremor of old age about them; his movements are as strong and quick as those of a man a third his age, and he speaks just as clearly and confidently now as he does in lectures recorded almost half a century ago. Nor has his mind shown any sign of deteriorating; he's still one of the most brilliant neuroscientists in the world.

(Oh my god she actually knows Kihara Gensei. Holy crap she's lucky.))

Whatever anti-aging treatments may or may not exist, it's pretty much a certainty that he's dipping into as many of them as he can.

"Harumi-chan!" he greets me as I sit down. He calls everyone chan; it's one of those things you get used to. "Haven't seen you in months; how's it going?"

"Well enough, I guess," I say. "You've been keeping up with the project, I assume?"

He grins at me. He's got a heck of a set of pearly whites for a man his age. "Talking work already? Thought we could at least take some time to catch up."

"Not much going on besides work these days."

He nods. "It's been busy, then. I've read your reports, of course. Can't say much about the results, naturally; double-blind and everything."

"Mm." A well-dressed waiter drops by to take our orders. I stare down at the menu. I thought my French was rather good, but I haven't the faintest idea of what half of these things are. I point at something that sounds like it's something more-or-less similar to pasta. Kihara orders...well, something. Hell if I know what.

"Actually," he says, after the waiter leaves, "that leads rather well into what I did want to talk to you about. I've been hearing some stories about...how well you've taken to the 'teacher' part of your role."

"Oh?" I'm...I'm not sure I like the sound of that. Nonetheless I feign feigned interest, as if I didn't care one way or the other about my role as a teacher.

"Yes, indeed. While I do recall putting you on this assignment in order to acclimate you to working with children, I think you've accomplished that goal. Indeed, I believe you've gone quite a bit further than merely getting used to them; you've become probably the best teacher those kids have ever had." He sighs, a resigned smile on his face. "And...therein lies the problem."

"What do you mean?" This is definitely going bad places.

"Well...okay, I'll stop being circumspect. You being close to those kids is not acceptable. It puts your objectivity in doubt. So I'm transferring you back into the project's R&D section, where you were originally. It's where you wanted to be, right?"

No. No. He is not saying this. "Dr. Kihara. I don't know what you think is going on in that school, but without me...those kids don't have a chance." No, come on, you know how he works, play to what he cares about… "Their whole curriculum is crap, they're never going to be able to integrate with their peers, to become part of Academy City, contribute to Academy City."

His smile is almost sad now. Crocodile tears. "But don't you see, Harumi-chan? That's not what we-what Academy City needs them for. And they're not what Academy City needs you for."

(What.)

"I…I see." What do you say to something like that? What the hell can you say to something like that? "There's no way I can convince you otherwise?"

He shakes his head. "Not at this point."

I nod, getting up to leave. "In that case, you can expect my letter of resignation tomorrow."

He sighs. "Not the way I'd hoped you'd respond, but I can't say it was entirely unexpected. I'd hoped you'd be a better fit for this project, Harumi-chan; your work on the last project was stellar."

"That was different. These are actual, normal children here, not those mass-produced-"

"Uh-uh-uh," he interrupts, putting a finger to his lips. "Let's all remember we're in public, eh?"

I'm halfway tempted to blurt it out anyway. Fuck it, let the whole world know. But I know better. I wouldn't be the first attempted whistleblower; there have been many. Not one has ever succeeded. The news stations in the city would never run the story, and there'll be enough surveillance on me after this that I have no hope of getting it to someone outside. Instead I just turn away and start walking towards the door.

(Wait, mass-produced what? Come on, do I seriously only get like half of the memories here?)

"Then farewell, Harumi-chan," I hear him say, "and best of luck with your future endeavors."

By the time he finishes his sentence, I'm already halfway out of the restaurant.


I come back home and sit down on my bed. I want to do something, anything. I want to smash something expensive. I want to scream into my pillow. I want to break down into sobs.

Instead, I sit. I stare at a wall. There's probably a bigger reason than mere objectivity that Gensei didn't want me teaching the kids any more, now that I think about it. The experimental esper treatments the project was meant to test...they were total unknowns, as far as safety went. And anything meant to enhance IPD production or manipulation isn't exactly something you can test out on animals. In fact, power development treatments in general only work on children. So, if you didn't just want to test the efficacy but the safety of an experimental treatment...

(No. No way. That is fucked. This whole thing is utterly fucked up and also completely impossible.)

...There's nothing there I didn't already know. I'm just finally admitting it to myself. Gensei wanted me out of the classroom because I might want to save those kids. And my reaction just confirmed his suspicions.

I lie back on my bed, shifting my stare from the wall to the ceiling. It's all so pointless, isn't it? The project will keep going, with or without me. There's no chance of me leaking it to the public, either; I could stand in the middle of Seventh Mist with a megaphone and shout out every last detail, and Gensei would still find a way of covering it up. It's pointless. Everything's pointless.

Eventually I must have fallen asleep, somehow. When I wake up, early the next morning, I head straight for the IUE, hoping against hope that my clearance hasn't been revoked yet. The security guard indeed waves me through, looking half-asleep and even more bored than usual. I march into the classroom, empty for the summer, and take a look around. Why am I here? What am I going to accomplish?

After a moment, I head over to the teacher's desk and grab a copy of the attendance sheet, stuffing it into my bag. What else, what else...I take another look at the pinned-up artwork; I don't take it down, but carefully snap photos of each of the little sketches and watercolors with my phone. It's something, at least. If only I had something to leave for them, something they could remember me by…

"Kiyama-sensei?" I hear a voice behind me, and turn to see Kyousuke, one of the boys from the class, in the doorway. That's right; this isn't just their school; they all live just upstairs from here.

"Oh, good morning, Takeuchi-kun," I say, attempting to sound nonchalant. "I was just...stopping in to check in on some things." I check my watch; it's not quite 6 AM. "You're up pretty early for a vacation day."

"Yeah. Didn't sleep too well. Had a dream you were gonna leave us. Are you?"

I sigh. Kyousuke has been showing signs of low-level precognition for a couple of months now, and he knows it. "...Yes. Yes, I am."

"Why?"

How could I answer that? How could I explain that I can't be his teacher anymore because I care too much? "...It's not my choice. My boss is making me leave."

"Oh. Your boss is stupid, then."

I grin. "Yes, he is. Listen, Takeuchi-kun…" I look around. There's no obvious sign of a camera in the classroom. Should I warn him? Tell him the other teachers and staff at the IUE don't have his best interests at heart? Tell him to try and refuse any treatments, or even to run away?

No. I can't. The treatments may not actually be dangerous at all; they may work perfectly fine. Compromising the security of the project, though, and making Kyousuke responsible for it...the Old Man could make him disappear in a heartbeat, and nobody outside the IUE would ever even notice. No, as sick as it may be, the safest option for now is to let them stay here. "...Be careful, okay?" I say instead. "Be safe."

"...Okay." He's confused by that, I can tell. "So is this the last time I'm gonna see you? Should I get everyone so we can all say bye?"

I...don't think I could handle that right now. "No...probably better if we keep this quiet. But say good-bye to everyone for me, okay?"

"Okay." He suddenly runs up and gives me a hug. "Bye, Kiyama-sensei."

"I…" I feel tears welling up in my eyes as I hug him back; all I can manage to choke out is a hesitant "G-goodbye."

"I'll see you again, okay? After I get outta here. We all will. And then we can do science again!"

I nod. "Okay. I'll...I'll see you then. For science!" It doesn't make much sense, that little addendum, but I say it anyway. It feels…right.


The next few months pass by in a daze. I'm left jobless for a long while; I have enough saved up that it doesn't really matter. Nothing seems to matter, in fact. I had few friends before this whole incident, and those few I had-many of them fellow neuroscientists, some of whom were also in the IUE project-seem oddly reluctant to speak with me afterwards. So I rarely leave my apartment except for groceries, and when I do I alternately wander around the city or walk by the IUE, trying to catch a glimpse of my class. My nights are spent at the computer often as not, forcing myself to keep up with various neuroscience journals when I'm not trying to find some scrap of information, anything about what's going on with the class. I send e-mails to every IUE teacher whose name I can remember, asking for updates; when I get a response at all, it's bland and supremely uninformative, and even those slow to a trickle before long.

Eventually I stop looking. It's clear that the Old Man's gone to great lengths to keep the IUE's mere existence a secret, let alone the details of what happens in there. I eventually find a new R&D job at one of the city's numerous pharmaceutical startups, trying to invent yet another focus- and memory-boosting drug designed for students with money to burn. It's not quite my old job but it's decent enough work.

I still walk by the IUE every so often, hoping for a glimpse. Until one day, almost exactly a year after I began working there, I find the old building gone and only an empty lot there to replace it. When I ask around, a couple of locals mention that it had been demolished a week or so before.

(Like it is now...completely gone…)

A few frantic Internet searches yield nothing about the building or its occupants either way, and none of my contacts at the IUE respond to my requests for information. The silence forces me to take an option of last resort: I contact the Old Man himself.

To my surprise, he responds, asking me to come and meet him at his office.

Desperate for information, I agree. Perhaps it would have been better not to know.


As I storm into his office-an opulent room in the Ministry of Science and Technology building next door to City Hall-Kihara looks up at me and grins. "Harumi-chan! It's been ages. How are things going?" He looks exactly the same as he did last time. Still cheerful, still energetic.

"I'm not in the mood to chitchat, Kihara. The IUE. The students. What happened to them?"

He nods, still smiling. "Fair enough. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?"

"Fuck you."

He raises an eyebrow. "Very well, then. I'll let you find out yourself." He opens a drawer in his desk and digs through it a bit, finally pulling out a thin tablet, which he taps a few times before handing to me. "Standard security protocols; three hours before it wipes itself, or sooner if you try to tamper with it or show it to someone else. I suggest you read quickly. Now, if there's nothing further…?"

I turn on my heel and leave.


Once I'm at home, I read through the document on the tablet. It's carefully and precisely written, as if it were an actual article in a journal. Judging by the few references it makes to the students' identities, my class was indeed one of the ones given the experimental treatment: a different course of drugs, and an altered audiovisual memetic programming routine I'd helped develop. During the first two of the three stages of the treatment, it showed a small but statistically significant improvement in the students' chances of acquiring Level 1 or higher powers compared to the control group.

But the third stage is what makes my eyes widen. After it began, virtually the entire class began to show at least Level 1 powers. A disproportionate number hit Level 2 or 3, and two former Level 1s spontaneously jumped to Level 4!

And as I read all of this, my heart sinks. No matter what kind of ethical gray area this was in, it would have been madness not to announce a breakthrough of this magnitude to the public, or at least some sanitized version of it. Unless…

I turn another page, and my worst fears are confirmed. Minor neurological symptoms were detected as early as a week after the first Stage 3 treatments. And yet the treatments continued. The first stroke was fifteen days afterward. And still the treatments continued. Within a month, every last student within the three test groups had suffered at least one massive cerebral hemorrhage.

(...Good God...)

Within six weeks, one student remained alive, though in critical condition and with major brain damage.

The rest were dead.

I fling the tablet at the wall; it crackles and sparks as it hits and falls to the floor, no doubt interpreting the sudden shock as "tampering". It leaves a dent where it hit.

I'm responsible for this.

I helped develop that treatment. I stormed off and left the project behind when I could have stayed on, fine-tuned it, made it a little safer. I didn't warn Kyousuke and the others to get out when I had the chance.

And now...they're dead because of me. And the only person who will remember them as they were, as children, as people with names and not just test subjects is the woman who killed them.

Well, no. I'm not the only one responsible. Perhaps I have the lion's share of the responsibility, but the others who stayed on, who kept right on injecting poison into those children's veins and quietly recording their observations, they're responsible too. And the one who masterminded this whole experiment, who tracked down the kind of people who would do this…

I have a digital whiteboard hanging on the wall in my bedroom; I grab the stylus, erase the notes I have on there, and write down one bullet point:

* KIHARA GENSEI MUST PAY

I look it over, and add one more point:

* THEIR NAMES MUST BE REMEMBERED

I remember the attendance sheet I grabbed out of the classroom, so many months ago. Where is it? I dig frantically through the drawers of my desk before finally turning it up, and snap a picture of it with my phone. After a moment I back that photo up on my computer, on my tablet, on every hard drive and thumb drive I can find laying around in my house. And then I stare at the sheet, for a long, long time. It's been a while, but I still recognize all of the names, and can put faces and voices to most of them.

I have a goal. I have a purpose. Now I just need a plan. I'll need power, somehow, power enough to force my way through the layers of censorship and bureaucracy and bullshit that this city is drowning in. And, sick as it may be, I have a few ideas about how to get that power. I pick up my tablet and open up a file, entering one password to open up a realistic-looking document about IPD dispersal patterns, then carefully swiping out a complex shape on the screen with my thumb, and finally entering another password when a new prompt appears.

The real document opens, greeting me with the title "NOTES ON PROJECT RADIO NOISE"-


Those last two words are highlighted somehow, hovering in my mind as the memory fades away…

...and I wake up. I open my eyes, seeing the night sky above me. I'm laying down on something hard and uncomfortable; I sit up to find myself...well, right where I was before. On a bench on Tesla Avenue, right across from an empty lot.

...From the empty lot where the Institute for Universal Education used to be. My God. Kiyama...she couldn't have just made all that up, could she? Things like that, like, like, experimenting-lethally-on orphans, that doesn't happen in Academy City, right?

But those memories were so real-I can remember Takeuchi Kyousuke, feel him hugging me tight as he wondered why I-no, why Kiyama had to leave. No, it was real. It had to be real.

I look around; Kiyama's nowhere to be seen, of course. Either way...I still need to ask her some questions. And-

* KIHARA GENSEI MUST PAY

-I know exactly where she's going.