Well you know, Earth was never attacked, ever, during the Contact War. So we had all the amenities, right? Anything you wanted, you could get as long as you still had allocs for that month. And if you didn't have allocs left, well, you could always wait another month and you'd be set. So it was always very easy to go out and have a bit of fun if you wanted to get away from the day to day life of it all.
-Captain Madison Thatcher, C Company, 1st Regiment, 5th Magical Division, Third Army Group of the Nile
I remember once, as a kid, looking out from one of the greenspace towers and thinking: "Wow, this is really cool. It'd be great if I could fly around in here." I never figured I'd be able to do it for real just a few years later.
-First Lieutenant Abigail Fischer, A Company, 2nd Regiment, 8th Magical Division, Second Army Group of the Yangtze
"It's Ramirez with the ball," read the captioning. "Ramirez passes to Marquez to Romero who fires a high loop- and it's Mendez with the header to goal!"
"One, zero, to Spain," Emma Sinclair whispered to herself, fighting a grin as Spain's national football team scored the first, possibly only, goal of the game. A carryover from the twentieth century, not even the Unification Wars and implants could stamp out football. Speed, accuracy, and a keen mind were, as they always had, necessary to win. It was The One Thing in life for Emma, her passion and her obsession.
It was something she hadn't been able to do for two years.
Flicking the viewport to the side with a mental nudge, Emma returned her attention to Mandatory Session. She skimmed over what had been written on the board. As expected, she had no idea what was going on. With a well practiced flick, Emma opened her, rather old fashioned, notepad and pulled up the instant messenger.
"Ayumi, what's going on?" she wrote.
Her messenger blinked back momentarily: "Ugh, Emma, can't you stop watching football during Mandatory Session at least?" Ayumi's eye roll was clearly audible through the text.
She rapidly scribbled back: "Wasn't watching a game."
"Sure you weren't, just like you definitely haven't downloaded a mod that makes a facsimile of a movie pass," Ayumi sighed. "I'll forward my notes to you later, but the gist of what's going on is..."
Emma carefully summarized Ayumi's summary, pausing occasionally to watch the instructor as he continued droning on. Emma was well practiced in the art of faking attention.
The Sinclairs were relatively new to Mitkaihara City. Emma's family had been asked to transfer over by a member of the Shizuki Matriarchy, for reasons Emma wasn't entirely familiar with. All she knew was that she was being pulled away from friends she'd known for a decade to somewhere completely new. Emma had contracted a reputation of surliness as a result. Even now, she had few acquaintances, and only the one friend, Ayumi.
"Thanks for the help," Emma said later, after Mandatory Session ended. The students were now splitting up for their respective courses.
Ayumi sighed as they walked towards the Common Area. "Just... keep it to a minimum, will you? I mean, I get it, you'd rather be doing football, but seeing as you refuse to join any of the regional teams-"
"-because they all suck harder than-"
"-you're going to have to at least put up with this until your parents give up," finished Ayumi, blithely ignoring Emma's protests.
"Yeah, like that'll ever happen," said Emma sourly, folding her arms and glaring at the floor beneath them. "What is it with parents anyway?"
"Eh, can't live with them, can't live without them," shrugged Ayumi. "Maybe it'd help if you grew your hair out a bit?"
"But I like it this way!" protested Emma, putting her hands protectively on her lighter brown hair, cut to the nape of her neck. It had originally been cut to make it easier to play football, and had never been changed since.
"But it makes you look less, eh, stereotypically feminine," said Ayumi with a shrug. "I dunno, maybe it'll make them think you're transitioning into non-sporting life better."
"What next then, taking up the tea ceremony?" asked Emma flatly with a raised eyebrow. "Ayumi, I'm not going to waste my time appeasing my parents until I get emancipated. Besides, that's not even the problem!"
Ayumi rolled her eyes. "Whatever, have it your way then. Where's your sister?"
Emma looked around. "Hmmm... ah, there she is. Hey, Anna!"
Anna Sinclair looked up from the floor with a start. The Sinclairs were twins. The only really distinguishing features between the two were their hair and their clothing. Emma wore t-shirts and capris with her short hair, while Anna preferred skirts and long sleeved shirts. Occasionally, she'd with a jacket or vest thrown over the top, but Emma did that too, which rendered it moot.
Alerted, now, Anna weaved her way through the crowd of milling students and joined the two girls.
"What were you thinking about?" asked Ayumi.
"Well, we went over high risk factors in a supply chain during Mandatory today," began Anna, scratching her nose thoughtfully. "I was thinking about something I learned a week ago about migrating sub-networks."
"Mmhm. See, it turns out that if you have a closed sub-network that performs a service function but doesn't have any material outputs-"
Emma tuned out of the conversation to check the game again. The game between Spain and its opponent, Germany, had evened out and become very tense. Germany was making a hard push on Spain's defensive center. It was a classic maneuver. Breaking the enemy's line allowed you to drive directly to the heart of their formation. From there, the only thing preventing your strikers from scoring was the goal keeper, and a well organized set of passes could defeat that.
As Emma watched, Germany's offense forced the Spanish to retreat to maintain their line. The Spanish wing backs retreated towards the goal, preventing the German left and right attackers from slipping past and getting a clean shot. Suddenly, the German offensive was stalling, each defender moving into position to block the-
"What do you think, Emma?" asked Ayumi.
Emma blinked and hurriedly re-played the conversation. "Um... I'm pretty sure it'd work?" she hedged, drawing a hasty conclusion. "If you maintain enough AIs to handle the sub-routine, you can devote more personnel to ensuring that the risk is managed, right?"
"AIs, huh?" mused Anna, leaning back in her seat and considering it. "I guess I forgot about them. But wouldn't the time taken to program them be a big resource sink? And it's not like Governance would just let you make one."
"Well, you could ad hoc a function from various AIs that have similar functions," Ayumi pointed out. "Technically speaking, a starship AI can perform the calculations required to manufacture a part in three dimensions."
"Yeah, but that'd be a huge waste of a starship AI, wouldn't it?" asked Anna rhetorically, "After all, the one is designed to calculate FTL paths, while here you only need it to make sure a part is made in the shortest time possible."
Emma tuned out again, leaving the two to their ever expanding argument. Anna and Ayumi did this often, constantly pushing some silly idea towards the absolute extreme of its logical boundary. Both were on track to become engineers. Anna was still building the foundations for an Industrial Systems and Logistics certification. Ayumi, meanwhile, was working towards getting a Complex System Dynamics certification. Total nerds, the two of them, but it did explain why they were friends.
Presumably, Emma was going to go into the same field as her sister, but she found the material to be extremely dull. Emma scowled at the floor between the group's feet. They'd been happy in London. She had football, Anna had her studies, her parents had their work. As lives went these days, it had been pretty average, but she had been content. Now though...
Emma's chronometer dinged and reminded her that she needed to get to her next class soon. Maybe Interstellar Supply Chains would be more interesting?
Emma flopped bonelessly onto the couch in her family's living room. The one good thing about moving to Mitakihara City was that her family had landed a fairly spacious apartment on the 580th floor. Emma and Anna's bedrooms were a little small now, and their parents' bedroom was only a little bigger. However, the wide open living-room-slash-kitchen made up for it in spades. The combined space allowed for the maximum of stretching out and relaxing after a long day.
Painted a pale blue, the walls and ceiling of the living room were matched by a cream-colored carpet. The furniture had been modulated to recall 20th Century Swedish Minimalism, with the furniture blocks made out of springy synthwood and soft memory foam. The combined effect was not unlike a particularly a firm hug from one side. Consequently, the couch was, in Emma's opinion, a particularly excellent place to take a nice nap.
The kitchen was decorated similarly, switching the carpet out for tile but maintaining the color scheme. Several barstools faced the white colored kitchen island, within which was installed the food synthesizer. The surrounding counter space was dominated by storage for cutlery and plates, but also included an autosink, and a rack of alcoholic beverages. Chief among these was a decanter of hand-made whiskey, a favorite of their father's. It was relatively empty.
"Do you want anything to drink?" asked Anna. She was leaning against the island with a mug of synthesized tea in her hand.
"Eh, don't bother," groaned Emma, curling up with a small yawn and tucking her head under her arms. "I'm too tired to care."
"You haven't even done anything, how could you possibly be tired?" asked Anna with only mild incredulity. Emma was no longer the ball of energy she had been as a child. Neither their parents constant absence, nor their constant harping on Emma about her studies, helped matters.
Emma grunted noncommittally. They fell silent for several minutes, Anna's sipping the only sound breaking the silence.
"I guess those investments aren't going that well," Anna eventually said.
"You noticed it too?"
"Of course I noticed the whiskey. I'm the smarter twin, after all."
"Pfft, you wish," Emma returned, mouth curling into a grin. "I still kick your ass in chess."
Anna puffed her cheeks out unhappily but didn't argue the point. It was true that Emma's experience on the football pitch helped her dramatically in games like chess. Resolutely, neither of Sinclair had read the solutions manual. It was a fun intellectual challenge that way, and helped them bond when they first moved to Mitakihara.
"Don't forget that one time I flanked you with my knights," Anna countered. "I may not win all that often, but you have to admit that I destroyed you that time."
"Sure, sure," said Emma with a negligent waive of her hand. "You're also the one who understands and gets excited by logistics, so I guess we even out."
Anna wrinkled her nose. "Bad day of classes?" she asked. "You seem down."
"Oh you have no idea," groaned Emma. "Sometimes I wish I hadn't gone down the Interstellar Specialization. That way, I could just copy off you."
"Except that you find manufacturing floors nauseatingly dull," said Anna with a small grin. "And you'd be caught in a heartbeat."
"I can lie better than that!" argued Emma with as much indignation as she could muster. "Dad still doesn't know about the thing with the football!"
"Oh bloody hell, don't make me remember that," groaned Anna, covering her face with her hands. "Dammit Emma..."
"Oh shut up. No harm done, so it's water under the bridge, right?" dismissed Emma, curling into a napping ball. "Urgh. When did sensei want that assignment done for Mandatory? Oh good, it's not until tomorrow."
"Naptime, again?" asked Anna exasperatedly. "Emma, come on, let's go out and do something tonight!"
"Like what?" asked Emma with a raised eyebrow. "We have almost completely opposite interests!"
"Well, let's go to that cafe again," suggested Anna. "We both like it, and it's not that far away from the magical girl patrols. If we're lucky, we might get to see a demon fight!"
Emma considered. It was true that demon fights were pretty exciting to watch, despite the fact that you couldn't really see anything. It was really the whole "lookit the magical girls" aspect that was interesting. The occasional explosion that splashed against the edges of the miasma was neat too. It was a bit risky, but nobody had yelled at them yet.
"...I guess," she said, after a moment. "We haven't gone searching for one of those in a while, have we? I kinda miss it."
"Come on then," said Anna with a grin. She drained her cup and put it in the autosink, before hopping over and pulling her sister to her feet. "Let's eat early so we can get a good chance of seeing the action."
"Fine, fine," said Emma, brushing off Anna's hand and straightening her clothing. "I was just getting comfy too..."
"What've you been thinking about, for your plans?" asked Anna. The two of them had decided to walk to the cafe. It wasn't the longest walk, only about fifteen or twenty minutes, and they could always catch a ride back.
"You mean for, like, an internship or something?" asked Emma.
"Yeah," said Anna. "Ayumi and I are taking a look around for mentors."
"Mm, I haven't done any of that yet," said Emma.
"Eh? But if you don't do it soon-!"
"Yeah, yeah, all the good ones will be taken, whatever," said Emma, rolling her eyes. "It's not like I care, Anna."
Anna frowned. "But you'll be even more bored if you get a crap place to work, Emma."
Emma sighed. "I'll be bored either way, Anna," she said. "You don't actually think I'll ever be happy doing this?"
"No," sighed Anna. "I just wish Mum and Dad would just let you do your thing."
Emma snorted. "As if that'll ever happen."
"Well, maybe if you keep at it, they'll give up when you turn sixteen?"
"At that point, I may as well just finish my degree," said Emma. "I'd be too out of shape by then."
"Couldn't you do minor leagues, at least?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know…."
They walked silently for a few minutes.
"Say, seen anyone in class that you find interesting?" asked Anna.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Any boys or girls you find interesting?"
"Eh?! What's with this sudden change of topic? And for your information, I like boys!"
"Well we're about the right age…."
"Yeah, but it's not like we have the time!"
"Oh psh, that's just because you keep sleeping," said Anna, rolling her eyes. "I have plenty of free time for personal pursuits."
"I do not sleep that much!"
"Yes, you do."
"No I don't!"
"Yes you do~!"
The cafe in question was called "The Standard Affair". The owner was apparently a fan of irony, since restaurants were no longer "standard affairs" in an age of synthesized food. Still, synthfood could get boring after awhile, so restaurants were still popular. Human artistry leant something intangible to a meal, after all.
"But back on the subject of boys," asked Anna between bites of her sandwich. "What d'you think about Iti-san?"
"Isn't he the guy who sits in the third row of our System Processes class?" asked Emma. "Hmm… I mean, I guess he's kinda cute?"
"You actually know who I'm talking about?" asked Anna incredulously. "Holy crap, my sister the jock noticed a boy?"
"Hey, I notice boys just fine, thank you!"
"And you've had... how many boyfriends?"
"Just as many as you. Which is none."
"That's not relevant, the point is that you're completely oblivious."
Anna giggled. "So, you say Iti's kinda cute do you?"
Emma blushed and looked away. "Yeah, and?"
"And go on! What's it about him you like?"
"I dunno," said Emma, taking a drink. "I just- it's just a- a- gah!"
"I'm just teasing!" laughed Anna. "Don't get so flustered!"
"Well since you're so casual about it, what about you?" asked Emma, hiding behind her drink as the door of the cafe opened with a small chime. "You brought him up."
"M-me? Uh, well, I uh… hm." Emma and Anna both glanced over at the group of girls who had entered, overhearing their conversation and not quite believing their ears.
"Really?" one of the girls, who had blonde hair pulled into a series of curls, was saying. "Didn't she just get promoted though?"
"Yeah, apparently she got a little uppity with Colonel Silva," said another, brown hair cut straight with pink highlights. "Bam, immediately reassigned."
"But, she's the company CO!" said another girl, her hair pulled back into a simple ponytail. "Colonel Silva can't just reassign her to 3rd Battalion!"
Anna quickly turned back to Emma in her chair. "Magical girls," she mouthed to Emma in shock. Emma nodded back, catching sight of the fingernail markings and rings. Seeing one was rare. Seeing five, in the same place, was unprecedented
"Should we go talk to them?" asked Anna wordlessly, tilting her head in the direction of the group.
Emma shrugged. "Couldn't hurt," she gestured back. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"We be annoying and holyshitthey'recomingthisway." Emma blinked and turned in the direction of Anna's suddenly pale gaze.
"Hi there!" chirped one of the girls, her hair a shade of blue that shimmered as she approached with a skip and a wave. "So, we were wondering if we could sit with you? The cafe's kinda empty and we've started rehashing old topics, so..."
"Er, s-sure," stuttered Anna. "Um, here, let me-"
"No no, we've go this," said the magical girl, waving away Anna's attempt to help put together some tables. "Heyhey, Kanae-chan! Help me out will you?"
"Do it yerself, Mimori!" a girl with long, reddish brown hair tied up in a bun called back, before returning to her conversation with Blonde Curls.
"Eh, what can you do?" said Mimori with a shrug as she pulled two tables over from the middle of the room. "So, Anna and Emma Sinclair, as you probably know from your nomenclators, I'm Nakagawa Mimori." The girl bowed with a flourish, spreading her arms wide in a facsimile of a ringmaster welcoming someone to the show. She then popped back up with a skip and a hop. "So you're twins then? Which one of you is older?"
"Me," Emma said, raising a hand redundantly. "By, uh.. two minutes, I think?"
"That's what it says on our birth certificates," said Anna, pulling them up on her implants to confirm. "But it's alright, seeing as I'm the smarter twin."
"Meh," replied Emma, crossing her arms with a roll of her eyes. "You just plan more than I do, it's nothing that special."
"What's this about plans?" asked Blonde Curls. Her name was Sarah Johansen, and was coming over with a glass of something fizzy and alcoholic. "Mimori, you're not up to something again are you?"
"Hey, it wasn't me, it was Anna-san!" said Mimori with a pout.
"Ah, well in that case I'm confident it won't get anyone scarred for life," said Sarah, extending a hand towards Anna. "Good evening. I hope Mimori hasn't been too... eccentric yet."
"Oh, no, it's fine," said Anna with a blink, shaking Sarah's hand in bewilderment. "But I-"
"Oh, twins!" said Sarah, either ignoring or not hearing Anna's protests and turning to Emma. "You're not very common these days, are you?"
Emma nodded, a little embarrassed at the sudden attention. "Ah, well, I could say the same for you," she said, hiding behind her beverage. "There's not really that many magical girls around our part of town."
"Really? I'd have thought that the tourism alone would have made us more visible in Mitakihara. But then again, I'm a tourist myself."
"Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of magical girls around the starport or something," said Emma. "But, we're kinda closer to mid-town rather than the center of the city, so the only girls you'd meet are locals, you know?"
"Although, there was a girl in our class who got… contracted," said Anna, blinking strangely. "Oh. Imn- Ow!"
"What'd you do?" asked Emma concernedly as Anna suddenly winced and put a hand to her face.
"I got an eyelash in my eye, sorry," said Anna, rubbing at her eye.
"Are you okay, do you need any help?" asked Emma.
"No, no, I've got it," said Anna, biting her lip. "Uh, I'll be right back."
Anna hurried off, rubbing at her eyes as the girl with pink highlights came up. Her name was Mei, and with her were Heather and Kanae. All three of them were bearing trays of food. "Behold," said Mei. "I come bearing foodstuffs."
"What's with her?" asked Heather, nodding at the Anna's retreating form.
"Got an eyelash in her eye, apparently," said Emma, watching Anna push her way into the bathroom. Was that- was Anna crying?
"Well, she'll be alright," said Sarah, pulling Emma's attention back to the table. "We'll go check on her in a few minutes."
"So what are your plans for the evening?" said Emma, speaking over Mimori cheering and Kanae bopping her on the head.
"Well, there was Mimori's plan of getting drunk, then going off on a demon hunt," said Sarah pulling up a chair next to Emma and sitting down. "But we vetoed that," She wore a light yellow jacket over her green t-shirt. With a shrug and a sip of her drink, she continued: "But, you know, I'm sure we'll find something to do. And we found two new faces, so that helps."
Emma considered this as she bit into her sandwich again. "Why us?" she asked, after chewing and swallowing. "I mean, there's nothing special about me and my sister."
Sarah smiled around her drink as she took another sip. "You'd be surprised," she said. "You can find the most interesting people just talking to someone at random. Besides, as we've said, twins aren't all that common these days, are they?"
"That's true, I guess," said Emma. The conversation drifted banally, centering around Emma and Mitakihara. Emma answered as best she could, but Anna would know better than she did.
Anna eventually returned and was immediately snatched up by Mimori, who struck up a conversation with her about anti-grav motorbikes. Emma noticed Anna's eyes were red, as if she really had been crying. She had said something about eyelashes though….
"Well," Emma said, putting aside her concerns. "Me and Anna were going to go sightseeing after dinner. Do you all want to come with?"
"Oh? I thought you'd have seen all the views already," said Sarah as she considered her pickle. She looked up at Emma, raising a questioning eyebrow. "Unless there's something particularly interesting about this view?"
"Well, it happens to be right alongside a patrol route" said Emma. "We came upon it be accident, and no-one else knows, so don't tell anyone."
"That sounds like fun, actually!" said Mimori, tossing a chip into the air and catching it in her mouth with a crunch. "Whaddya think, Mei?"
"Eh, can't be that exciting if civvies can find it and not get caught in the miasma," Mei replied "Still, maybe a movie afterwards?"
"Says here the patrol is scheduled to go past at 1730, so there should be plenty of time for something like that," said Heather. Her eyes unfocused as she consulted the listings for the nearest theater. "Ooh, there's a new documentary out!"
"Heather, only you like documentaries," said Mei, rolling her eyes. "I guess we're all in agreement. Anna-san, Emma-san, I hope you two don't mind?"
"Hm? Oh, not at all," said Anna. "I'll, uh, I just need to pay the bill for myself and Emma."
"We'll meet you outside then?" asked Emma, standing up. "Flag down a transport and all that?"
Anna nodded. "Sure."