Saga of Soul
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and according to the doctors, I've just spent the last three months in a coma.
One of the first things I thought when I heard that was "Oh. Then I missed the inter-school go tournament".
I choose to interpret that as a good sign.
Apparently, there's no permanent harm, save for a tiny bald spot on the back of my head that's not really visible. I've recovered physically (though I'm not in a very good shape. Spending three months in bed will do that to you), and mentally... Er, longest NDE ever recorded aside, I think there's nothing more unusual than before.
The doctor said they had called my family, and they were coming immediately. Wait, is that them in the hallway? Yes, that's… Mom, dad, and Junko?
"<Hi, dad.>" You and mom have some extra gray hair. I guess I put you through a lot. "<I'm sorry for... Worrying you.>"
Tears streamed down Mrs Watanabe's cheeks. Her husband's eyes shimmered as his face gave a sad smile. Junko seemed... uncertain.
"<I will leave you to your reunion,>" said the doctor. The moment he left, Mrs Watanabe hugged her daughter forcefully, finally allowing herself to cry. "<My baby! My baby!>"
I hug her back. I figure she needs it, especially after three months. You'd think I'd be more emotional about this myself, but I'm not. Huh.
"<Eriko.>" It was now her father hugging her. "<How do you feel?>"
"<All right, I think. I still remember who's prime minister, and I still know what it means that E equals mc squared, so I suppose I'm fine.
What about Junko?>" I look at my friend. She seems... sheepish. That's something I've never seen in her before. "<What about... Mister Takahashi?>"
My parents seem embarrassed. I realize it's probably a faux pas to talk about it in front of Junko.
"<Mister Takahashi... is in the hands of the law.>" I hope that's dad's tactful way of saying he's in jail. "<As for Junko...>" he motioned to the girl to come closer, "<We have… taken her in.>"
In real life, my name is Watanabe Eriko. On the Internet, I go by the name "Neutron".
Rock2005: Long time no see, Neutron!
Neutron: Yeah. Wasn't really able to log online.
Rock2005: No connection?
Neutron: No me. I was in a coma for the past three months.
Rock2005: Holy F. What happened?
Neutron: Long story short: This girl I know was getting abused by her father. I confronted the bastard about it, he lost it, punched me, and I fell down some stairs and hit my head.
Rock2005: Holy F again.
Neutron: Woke up two days ago, got home earlier today.
Rock2005: What about the son of a bitch who did this?
Neutron: Well, there were witnesses, so apparently they sent him off to prison while I was out.
Neutron: And, apparently, my parents adopted his daughter during that time, so I now have a new sister.
Rock2005: ...That good or bad?
Neutron: Still trying to decide. Probably good for her in the long run, but...
Rock2005: I mean, what about you? You OK with this?
Neutron: I'm fine I guess. She's my best friend. But... she seems a lot shyer and more withdrawn than before.
Neutron: Need to figure out why. Maybe because of the adoption thing. It's not too popular here in Japan.
Rock2005: What do you mean?
Neutron: Well, it gives someone a family's name without having that family's blood. Mess with the heritage and all that.
Rock2005: ...People care about that?
Neutron: Less and less. I know I don't. But maybe she does.
Rock2005: Well, just happy you're OK. Try not to get into fights with violent psychos next time!
Neutron: Funny. You know, my parents asked me why I confronted the guy instead of talking to them about it. I didn't really know how to answer, but I think I've figured it out.
Neutron: Well, it's like this:
Neutron: I love my parents. I respect them a lot. I think they've been really good to me. Deep down... I was afraid they'd disappoint me. I was afraid that if I told them about the abuse thing, they'd disregard it and do nothing.
Rock2005: Well, maybe you didn't do the smart thing, but I guess at least you did the brave thing?
Neutron: I should have done the brave AND smart thing. And if I was brave enough to confront a violent psycho, but not enough to talk to my parent about it, then I think still need to get the hang of that "brave" thing too.
Today I went to school again. I'm not sure what the rumor mill has been whispering, but I think my classmates were showing me some extra respect. People seemed friendlier than usual, though that might have been pity... or maybe just that I registered on their radar.
I wonder if I shouldn't have been happier for the attention. As is, I didn't really care one way or the other.
What I did care about was schoolwork. Those three lost months... It's less of a problem for me than it'd be for most of my classmates, but it'll still take some serious catching-up. I told the computer club I wouldn't have time for them for a few weeks; they were understanding about the whole thing.
I still feel a little awkward around Junko. We haven't had a real talk since I woke up (which hasn't been that long, actually), but we now sleep in the same room. Mom and dad asked if we wanted to find a different arrangement; I said it was OK, but without really giving it much thought (except that, given our small apartment, a different arrangement would have been complicated for my parents to set up).
And then there's... the other thing. It dizzies me just to think about it - in my mind, there's a big divide between everything that happened in my coma and what happens in the waking world. If I actually started investigating here what happened there, it'd feel like I was connecting the two and merging them into one, which is scary.
Of course, that's irrational loser talk, so I can't let that stop me. I'm going to start experimenting tomorrow. No excuses.
"<Good night, Eriko.>"
"<Good night, Junko.>"
As the two girls went to bed, Eriko's mind drifted to her project. So. Tomorrow. I'll need space. Probably best to go to the park. I'll tell mom and dad I want to hang out on my own a little...
"<Thank you. For standing up for me.>"
"<...You're welcome... But I didn't really do much.>"
"<Yes you did. You tried to protect me when I wasn't brave enough to. I owe you one, and I swear I'll repay my debt to you.>"
Oh boy. When did Junko become so serious?
My name is Takahashi Junko...I mean, Watanabe Junko… Well, Junko. I'm thirteen years old, and I have a debt I may never be able to repay.
My name means "child of obedience". I guess you could say mom was old-fashioned, and dad... a bit, too.
Mom could be a bit strict at times. She tried to teach me how to be an honorable daughter; she would explain the four pillars of morality, the importance of repaying what you owe, of balancing duty...
...none of which I can say I took too seriously. I was just a little girl who liked playing with her dolls and her friends, and I paid a lot more attention when mom was giving hugs than when she was giving lectures.
Then came the accident. I was almost seven. Mom was driving me to the cinema to see a movie I'd been begging to watch all week, and suddenly...
I don't remember the details, but mom died and I lived. It wasn't fair. Mom was gone because I wanted her to drive me somewhere. Dad blamed me, and I didn't disagree.
I felt not only sad, but ashamed. So I tried not to let any of it show. I did my best to look happy around my friends, my schoolmates, everyone. That might have upset dad even more, because that's when the beatings started.
Years passed. I kept getting more miserable, but I didn't dare let any of it show. I acted happy in public, making jokes and smiling, because I didn't want anyone to think anything was wrong. Even the people I called friends.
Eriko was just one friend among many. A bit weird... incredibly smart... pretty serious, and very honest about everything. But she was able to see through my charade (or maybe others could too, and she was the only one willing to do anything about it). She stood up to my dad for me.
So he hit her and put her in a coma. She was practically dead because she'd tried to help me.
And then, with their daughter gone because of me, Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe actually decided to take me in and give me her place. I didn't dare protest, but... it felt like no matter how much was already my fault, I kept owing Eriko more and more.
Now she's back, thank goodness. I can't return the favor she did by saving me from my dad. I can't give her back the time she's lost. I can't make it up to her for taking her place for three months.
But I'll do my very best for her.
It's the least I can do.
School had been uneventful that day, and as Junko and Eriko left the building, Eriko's mind turned to her plan:
"<You take the subway, Junko. I'll be taking the long way home today.>" So that I can do my little experiment.
"<I'm in no hurry either! I can come with you!>" Junko tried her most cheerful smile. Maybe you'll need my help with something. Or at least I can keep you company.
"<Thanks, Junko, but... I need some time alone, all right? I'll see you later this evening.>" Not that I wouldn't appreciate the company, but I don't want prying eyes for this.
"<Sure! See ya later!>" God, she must hate my guts.
The park was far from deserted, but Eriko was nevertheless able to find an isolated spot.
All right. Let's review:
I, Watanabe Eriko, have spent three months in a coma. I have memories of that period, during which I explored some form of space distinct from our own, and was able to manipulate physical reality by mentally tapping into some form of light and then willing changes to happen.
These memories are too complex for me to have come up with them in the short time since my coma. Their consistency suggests that they were not just my imagination, though that isn't yet certain.
I do not think it is possible that the whole thing was created by my mind while I was in a coma. More probably, the whole thing was quite real... thus indicating that there may be quite a lot to the universe for us to discover and that I just stumbled into.
I'm not going to put myself back in a coma to experiment further. But I must check if it is possible for me to use the same reality-warping abilities I had in that other space.
I also need to cut down on my internal monologues.
All right... Um, high-energy plasma, appear!
I repeat: Energy blast, appear!
Yet again, nothing happened.
Is that it? Just an anticlimactic "it was all a dream", then back to... Wait. The light. I completely forgot about it. OK, the light... Think about it. Connect to it. Be part of it. Energy blast, appear!
There was a sudden flash that set fire to a nearby bush.
"<Whoa! Ohcrapohcrapohcrap... Fifty liters of water, appear!>"
There was a big splash as the fire was put out.
The teenage girl looked at the smoldering remains of the bush in front of her. She looked at the puddle of water. She looked at her hand. She grinned from ear to ear.
My name is Watanabe Eriko. I'm an upcoming Nobel Prize laureate, and reality is my bitch.
Given the three years that I've spent in America, I've been able to notice a whole slew of differences between it and Japan. One such difference is real estate.
Japan is an island nation. Smaller than California, but with the tenth largest population in the world. The USA... could be a continent all by themselves. So America sprawls over large spaces, while Japan has insanely expensive real-estate... which, in turn, results in rather small houses (coming back to that was a bit of a shocker... I didn't remember our apartment being so tiny).
If a manga or anime wants to show you that a character is filthy rich, they'll usually do it by showing that he lives in a big, fancy house. Space is a luxury here.
I suppose that's the reason that one of the first things I did with my powers was build my own castle.
It's been three weeks since I confirmed that my abilities work in the real world. So, so many questions. Why does thinking "through" the light allow me to affect space, matter and energy? Does it mean that there exists a "soul" beyond the physical products of our brain? Why hasn't the world been flooded with people with my abilities, if all it takes is having an NDE?
Most of these questions, I can't really answer - at least not yet. So I've focused on studying my abilities instead.
I can generate matter and energy, in limited amount. There's a distance limit - the further from myself I try to create it, the harder it gets. With energy, I can't go more than half-a-meter. With matter, about twenty. Mind you, generating matter right next to me along with the kinetic energy to project it far away is not too complicated.
I can twist space, to an extent. Mostly, that means I can open gates between one area and another. I think those portals can extend thousands of kilometers, but experimentation is tricky - one portal I accidentally opened into space almost sucked me in due to the difference in pressure. Regardless, those portals are unstable - once I stop paying attention to them, space almost instantly reverts to its regular shape. I can't seem to maintain more than one gate at a time, too.
I did eventually succeed in making a permanent twist in the fabric of space, but it wasn't a portal... It was more like blowing a bubble into the space-time continuum. The resulting bubble is sort of a pocket universe - a space a few hundreds of meters across, not really part of our euclidean space (you can't really walk from one to the other), yet not entirely separate from it: There's still some connection between the bubble and our own space, though I fear I lack the knowledge to fully understand it. Anyway, using "abstract manipulation", I was able to "anchor" that connection, and make it follow the Earth as it revolves around the sun: Since gravity itself is a distortion of space-time, this allows Earth's gravity to affect the pocket universe, too.
So, naturally, I went and built a castle inside the pocket universe.
I'm a teenage girl from Japan who just got her hands on unlimited real estate. Sue me. Using my abilities to build a castle was fun, even if I have a long way to go as an architect.
I'm spending hours almost every day in the castle, experimenting. My next experiment will involve some plants I got - I want to see what effects I can have on living things.
It was a quiet dinner. Mr. Watanabe had taken Junko somewhere, but not exactly for the reasons given. He and his wife had agreed that a talk with their biological daughter was needed, without their adoptive daughter around.
Not that Eriko was aware of this. She had come back home after a busy day at school, a brief passage at the go club, and two hours of avid experimentation in her extra-dimensional castle. Her thoughts were already on the next day's experiments as she ate the meal her mother had cooked.
"<So, how is school?>" her mother asked tentatively.
"<Doing fine>" Eriko answered, not exactly focused on it. "<I'm almost done catching up with the material.>"
"<That's great. What about your clubs...?>"
"<The go club is all right. The president's gotten better, and one of the girls has caught up to my level, but that's fine. Don't really have time for the computer club.>" Because if I have to choose between coding a new ADA compiler and researching a completely unexplored branch of physics, I'd have to be nuts to choose the computer club.
"<I see.>" Her mother sighed. "<Eriko... You've been spending a lot of time outside lately.>"
This was enough to raise the green alert in Eriko's mind. "<Yyyyes...?>"
"<What is it, exactly, that you are doing?>"
"<Just...working...on a pet project.>" A revolutionary pet project that might overthrow thermodynamics.
"<What kind of project are we talking about here?>"
"<It's...Er...It's a bit of a secret.>" Which I never used to keep from my parents before the deal with Junko. "<A science project.>"
Her mother did not look satisfied. "<Eriko... I've always said you were an extraordinary daughter, and I meant it. You practically never misbehave, you actually go to school and study because you like learning, you're always polite and helpful, and you never made me worry or got in trouble.
Then, without telling us anything, you confronted a child-abuser on your own and nearly got yourself killed.>"
Eriko said nothing, looking down guiltily.
"<Eriko, you're my daughter. I love you, I support you, and don't think for a moment I'm not proud of you for trying to help Junko.
But I don't want to ever have to worry again about something like this. I want you to never put yourself in such a dangerous situation again - that's what adults are for. And I... understand... if you want to have time for your own things... but not if it's putting you at risk.>"
"<Mom, I... It's not like that.>"
"<Is it?>" she leaned down toward her. "<Can you look into my eyes and tell me you're not doing anything dangerous?>"
"<Mom, I swear it's just a harmless project. It doesn't even involve other people.>"
Her mother sighed and leaned back. "<All right.>" She paused. "<But don't get me wrong. I'm not asking you to stay away from other people - just from dangerous ones.>" Another pause. "<You're still going to need friends through life, Eriko... which brings us to the other thing I wanted to discuss. Your new sister.>"
Eriko nodded. What about Junko? I wouldn't even know where to begin.
"<I understand if you're a bit... upset... at how all of this was dumped in your lap when you woke up. I'm sorry you had no say in this. Most of all, I hope you don't feel like Junko was some kind of replacement while you were gone.>"
"<What? No!>" Seriously, what? I never thought of it like that... I just figured you wanted to help her.
"<Good. When...When Mr. Takahashi was arrested, and it didn't look like there was anyone willing to take Junko in, your father and I gave it a lot of thought. We knew she was a nice kid and a friend of yours, and you'd taken a huge risk for her. In a way, helping her seemed like the only thing we could do for you.>"
Her mother's voice was shaking a bit. Eriko's own eyes were misting up, her throat clenching.
Her mom went on: "<I...hope... that you're fine with this.>"
"<I...I am>", she managed to say, with some effort. "<I'm fine with it.>"
"<All right. All right.>" Mrs Watanabe took a moment to compose herself. "<It's just that... Ever since you woke up, Junko's been desperate to please you, and you barely even talk to her. She's hurting from it, and I was worried you might be resenting her.>"
Wait, what? I'm...hurting Junko's feelings? Just by not talking enough to her? "<I don't... I don't resent her... I was... just busy... I... Back then, our conversations usually started when she'd ask for my help with schoolwork, then we'd eventually go from there to other stuff, but she's never asked for my help ever since I came back.>" And I was too busy with my experiments to pay attention. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed anyway - my people skills suck.
"<Well, honey, please make an effort. I know you're in a difficult situation yourself, but so is Junko, and she needs to feel welcomed into this family, messed-up as it may be. You two will need to support each other.>"
Eriko nodded. I deal with advanced physics, but I still find people complicated.
The next morning, as the family was eating breakfast, Eriko hesitatingly spoke to her adoptive sister:
"<Er, Junko? Will you have a few free hours after school?>"
Junko was a little surprised, but answered quickly: "<Sure, what for?>"
"<There's... something I want to show you. Mom, dad, will it be OK if Junko and I hang out a bit after school?>"
There was some negotiation concerning hours, but her parents were glad that they'd be bonding.
Later that day, she was dragging Junko into a small alley.
"<Is what you wanted to show me here?>"
Eriko chuckled. "<No, it's not here. Its location can't even be described in conventional coordinates. But I needed to show you in a place where no-one could see us.>"
"<Well... It's still a secret for now, and I'd rather keep it so until I'm ready. But for now... Watch and see.>"
As Eriko focused, Junko's jaw dropped as the space in front of her distorted. It was as if a hole had appeared in the air, showing her some kind of castle behind it.
"<What... Eriko? What... What is that?!>"
"<Follow me and I'll show you.>" Eriko grabbed her arm and led her through the portal. It closed behind them, cutting off the noise from the city. She looked up - around them was what looked like a starless, moonless night sky, but in front of them was the castle, illuminated by electrical lights.
"<Welcome to my lab. Come in, I'll serve you some tea.>"
"<I hope you like the tea. I don't have a lot of experience making it.>"
"<It's great.>" said Junko. Not that she was really paying attention to the tea.
"<Well...I suppose you have questions. Feel free to ask.>"
"<All...All right. What is this place?>"
"<It's a pocket universe. It's almost completely separate from our own world; you need a special kind of portal to get here.>"
"<Pocket universe. Portal.>"
"<Yeah, you're allowed to be shell-shocked for a few minutes. Better warn you, it's going to get a lot weirder before it gets any less.>"
"<Maybe you're a bit too confused to ask any more questions. Think I should just go ahead and explain everything?>"
"<Yes...I think so.>"
"<All right then. It's a bit of a long story, but the short version is that, while I was in a coma, I was floating in some kind of space between life and death, and I learned there how to make some things happen just by thinking about them. After I woke from my coma, I discovered that I was still able to do these things, so I created this place, used my abilities to build this castle, and have been using it as my laboratory ever since.
...Junko? Are you all right?>"
"<I...Wow. Just, wow.>"
"<...That's a positive reaction, right?>"
"<It's...I...I need a moment to... to...>"
"<...to take this all in?>"
"<All right, take your time.>"
So shhe took her time. After a few minutes spent looking around, she turned to Eriko, and gave a smile that could swallow a whale. "<This. Is. So. Freaking. Cool!>"
"<I'm...glad you approve.>"
"<My sister, Eriko, has magical powers. It's... It's incredible! It's straight out of anime!>"
"<Well, I don't know if I'd call it magic...>"
"<What can you do? Can you fly? Can you make stuff appear? Can you turn into something else? Can you...>"
"<Slow down, machine-gun-mouth.>"
"<Sorry sorry! But, what can you do?>"
"<Well...>" she began hovering two feet above the floor, "<flying is not that complicated. I just need to generate the kinetic energy within my own body. Takes some practice to really maneuver, though.>"
Since she didn't really have an answer to Junko's squeal of delight, she went on: "<Making stuff appear isn't too hard, as long as it's small and simple stuff>" she demonstrated it by making an aluminum bar appear in her hand. "<I can create energy, I can open portals... You get the idea.>" She landed back on the ground.
Junko was smiling from ear to ear, and her eyes were open wider than one would have thought possible for someone with Asian features.
"<Yes yes. This is incredible. It is.>"
"<...Do you want a few minutes to get coherent again?>"
"<I'm fine I'm fine.>"
"<All right. Anyway, I wanted to apologize...>"
"<Apologize? For what?>"
"<Well, I've been so busy experimenting here, I didn't leave much time for you and my parents, when you guys probably needed it. I'm sorry for that.>"
There was no more trace of a smile on Junko's face. "<No no no, it's all right! You don't have to apologize for anything!>"
"<I kinda do. But, mostly, I wanted to show you this.>" She looked around. "<You're my best friend, Junko, and the first person I told about this.>"
"<Well, yes. I don't intend to keep this a secret forever - this is important knowledge that needs to be published, obviously. But I want to really study it, get a good idea of it, before I tell the scientific world.>"
"<I don't know if it's really science, Eriko. It looks more like magic to me.>"
"<Don't be silly. If it exists, then, pretty much by definition... Ah, never mind, we can save the semantics for another time. Point is, I want to study it, then tell the world about what I've discovered. Until I feel I'm ready, this place remains a secret - only you and I know.>"
"<Gotcha.>" Junko zipped her mouth shout. "<Say, what do you call this place?>"
"<Well... I never really needed a name for it until now. I wasn't really talking about it with anyone.>"
"<Well it needs... I mean, it might be good to give it a name, no?>"
"<I suppose. Not really good at coming up with names, though.>"
"<Then how about... You said this place was outside our universe, right?>"
"<Kinda sorta. We still have some form of connection to the space-time continuum, and time seems to progress at the same rate as back in our regular space, but yeah, it's mostly out of it.>"
"<Then how about... Castle Nexus?>"
"<Hm... Sure, why not.>"
"<Yes! Er, I mean, glad you like it. Is there anything else I can help out with?>"
"<You want to? You never were much into science.>"
"<This is too cool to count.>"
"<Er, thanks, I think.>" She didn't notice the short-lived frown of concern on her friend's face. "<So, I brought some plants I wanted to experiment on...>"
Their conversation was interrupted as suddenly, the entire area was bathed in a soft, pink light.
Looking at its source, they saw a gate had opened, and an adult-sized form had come through.
The form was definitely feminine. Her elaborate dress was as pink as the aura of light surrounding her. Her butterfly wings, as large as her, were filled with patterns of bright colors that were slowly moving. Her flowing hair was metallic silver. Her expression was one of immense dignity.
"<Greetings, children. I am Mother Aurora, the Fairy Queen.>"
My name is Junko, and I feel like I've just stepped into a TV show.
My life wasn't exactly simple yesterday, with my family complications, my adoption, and my friend-turned-sister who would barely talk to me. At least, now I know it wasn't because she hated me... She was just a bit busy because apparently, her death and rebirth have turned her into a real-life, true-blue magical girl with awesome powers and her own castle in its own world that she created herself.
And she chose me to share that secret with. Me. All she's done for me, all that's happened to her because of me, and I'm still the first person she told. I don't deserve it.
And now, suddenly we're both talking to the queen of the fairies, who looks like... Well, like a queen of the fairies I suppose.
A freaking TV show.
"<Eriko? Who is that?>" she whispered into her ear.
"<I don't really know more than you do.>" she whispered back. Looking at the hovering person in front of them, she cleared her throat and spoke up: "<Hello. I am Eriko, and this is my f... my sister, Junko. Welcome to... to Castle Nexus.>"
Mother Aurora nodded. "<I know who you are. You are a human who has explored the Tunnel of Light, thus learning how to use your connection to He Who Is to practice magic. You are quite new at this, but appear to be a talented beginner.>"
"<He Who Is? Magic? Sounds like you know a lot more about this than I do.>"
"<Indeed, child. To you, magic is a wondrous discovery but a season old; to me, it is the reality of a life longer than countless human generations.>"
"<...OK, I see. But what exactly are you?>"
"<Your curiosity is understandable, but there is a time and place for everything. That which you need to know, will be revealed to you in due time. That which you need to know now, is that existence itself is in jeopardy, and your assistance in safeguarding it will be needed.>"
My name is Junko, and I feel like my life just turned into a magical girl anime.
"It seems to me that your first meeting with Mother Aurora left you rather impressed."
"Give me a break. I was a little girl with little to no experience who suddenly got to talk with an overpowered cosmic entity that's been around for God-knows-how-long and actually has a clue what's going on. Of course I was impressed."
"To be fair, Aurora does have a lot of presence. I suppose it comes with the territory. One does not lead an entire race of natural magic-users without some measure of charisma."
"Well... The thing with Mother Aurora is, you look at her and go: "this is someone who knows what she's doing". So, if you don't really know what to do, you're likely to follow. Mind you, that's before I started calling her The Pink Bitch in the Sky."
"On this we're agreed."
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