Bubblegum Crisis Post 2040 File 2: Achilles’s Heel
The Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 Continuation Fanfic Series
by P. Kristen Enos
Most of these stories take place AFTER the TV Series! So DON’T blame me if I ruin the ending for you because you read these stories first!
Lesbian/Yuri/Shoujo Ai Warning! (Non-explicit — at least in the “PG13″/”R” sort of way.) Just not written for children because they probably wouldn’t get half of it.
All rights belong to JVC/AIC, ADV Films and the other creative powers that be. I just want credit for writing the story.
2034, Shimizu Academy
With a resounding smack, Mei Asakawa found herself flat on her back and staring up at the high ceiling of the training hall. This was an unusual sight for her, being one who usually put others into this position. At least the person who did this to her had the grace to do it with minimal gloating, partly because it was a standard occurrence for their practice sessions.
A young woman’s hand suddenly came into view, one that looked delicate but was as strong as steel.
“With graduation so near, I’m half tempted to finally let you know where your weak spot is,” Yoshiko commented as she looked down, with her ever-present mild smirk on her classically beautiful features. “But then I might actually lose my edge, and I’m not certain I’m ready to risk that yet.”
“You’ve never given me pointers before, so don’t start now,” Mei remarked as she took the proffered hand in order to get back on her feet. “I still can’t believe you have no interest in taking part in the tournaments. You’d get top ranking for certain.”
Yoshiko gave an easy shrug as they walked over to the edge of the mat where their towels and water bottles were waiting for them. “That would mean you’d no longer be number one.”
“Other things have more importance than that,” Mei commented as she took a sip of water.
“I quite agree.”
The two teenage girls fell into a comfortable silence as they leaned out the open window to enjoy the early morning sun as well as the view of the Shimizu Academy’s central courtyard.
With her dark brown gaze intently focused on the occasional schoolmate four floors below, Mei was, as ever, the picture of seriousness and reserve. Though well respected, it was understood that Mei had no interest in casual friends. You were either in her social circle or you weren’t.
What surprised people was the fact that Yoshiko Watanabe was obviously a close friend of Mei, and had been since the girls had started school together in kindergarten. There was no question that the smooth style and powerful charisma of the senior class president could and did win almost anyone over. What perplexed the other students and staff members was that standoffish Mei could get special private time with the girl who was the open crush object of over half of the student body.
Yoshiko studied Mei’s profile openly, knowing that the other girl either honestly never noticed because of her intense concentration on something else, or that she was so used to it that the attention was ignored.
“So, have you finally decided what you’re going to do after graduation?” Yoshiko asked as she casually watched the signs of the campus slowly coming to life for the day. “I hope your papa has at least relented a bit about the marriage talk. It’s way too soon to give up enjoying life.”
Mei nodded. “I’ve been avoiding the phone calls but I know the day of reckoning will come sooner or later. What about your parents?”
Yoshiko shrugged. “I’ll deal with my engagement when I have to. In the meantime, I’m full steam ahead with my plans to relocate to my aunt’s place in Rome.”
“You’re going through with it after all?”
“Yes, I leave at the end of the month.” Yoshiko paused to take a sip of water and then said, “You can come with me if you want.”
Before Mei could reply, there was a sudden stiffening of her posture and a brief double-take as something clearly caught her eye. It was a subtle reaction that would’ve been easily overlooked by most other people; Yoshiko noticed it right away.
Emerging from the entrance of the main dorm were two figures who were also a prominent part of the campus life.
Each tall, slender and beautiful in her own way, Sylia Stingray and Reika Chang were considered to be even more inseparable and secretive than Yoshiko and Mei. Though the difference was that there were strong rumors that the girls were more than just best friends and roommates, created by the emotionally intimate aura they projected and the occasional sight of the two of them relaxing together by the river bordering the campus grounds.
Such rumors and actual relationship were not uncommon in the all-girls academy, but there was just something incredibly powerful about these two that set them apart from the rest of the student body. When dealt with seperately, both girls were pleasant but distant, Reika being more approachable than Sylia. Yet, when they interacted with each other, it was clear their bond was deep and distinctly theirs. The rest of the world didn’t matter whether they were involved in an intellectual discussion or a hearty private laugh.
A dark look passed over Yoshiko’s eyes since this was hardly the first time she had noticed how Mei reacted to the sight of them together, or to Sylia alone.
She took a breath and commented, “Ah, there rises Stingray and her girl toy. Have you ever commented to her that she should also be in tournaments?”
Mei was also well aware of Sylia’s exceptional martial arts skills, even though the latter girl also passed on actual tournament competitions and public demonstrations to gain formal belt ranking.
Mei didn’t turn her gaze from them. “I have… Speaking of which, Sylia actually approached me yesterday, asking me if I had any plans after graduation.”
Yoshiko blinked for a moment and then said, “And did she say why she wanted to know?”
“Not yet. We were in the hallway when she stopped me. She mentioned something about using my martial arts skills, which has me extremely interested. She and I are supposed to have lunch today so we can discuss it in private. Reika isn’t even going to join us.”
“It sounds like Stingray may actually have a real secret behind her cold facade,” Yoshiko remarked.
“Real secrets are what make some of us tick,” Mei commented, actually giving her friend a direct look.
Their gazes held for a moment before Yoshiko looked back at the couple down below and said, “That’s true.”
* * * * *
Part 1: Pieces
Three years later, Tokyo General Hospital
With purposeful strides, twenty-one year old Yoshiko Watanabe walked through the hospital corridors. Her two bodyguards were noticeably forced to quicken their pace just to make certain she didn’t leave them in the dust.
Even though trenchcoats were a common sight due to the rain season, there was an undeniable aura about the three of them that made people get out of their way as soon as they came into sight. None of them could have guessed that they had traveled directly from the airport after a non-stop flight from Rome.
As they approached the reception area, they were greeted with a deep bow from a gentleman in a doctor’s coat over a business suit. “Welcome back to Tokyo, Ms. Watanabe. I am Dr. Haruto, chief doctor on duty. I am honored to escort you personally to the Ms. Asakawa’s room.”
“Do you know the details of her condition?” she asked, her impatience barely keeping her reigned in for the formalities.
“I know of the patient’s current status. Not exactly how she got that way.”
“Good enough. Tell me the details as we go to her room.”
“Of course,” he answered, spinning on his heels and motioning her into the proper direction. Even though he walked alongside her, he was careful that his steps never exceeded hers. “She was brought in three days ago at approximately three a.m. by a Miss Sylia Stingray, saying that the patient was an innocent bystander when a boomer went rogue. Another woman was also checked in at the same time by Ms. Stingray and she’s – “
“I don’t care about her. Just tell me about Mei.”
“Oh. Well, her back was broken by some sort of forceful impact, which means there’s a good chance she’s paralyzed at least from the waist down. Both of her right limbs were shattered from the same collision; we’re not sure yet if they’re salvageable. The leg may be expendable if she is indeed paralyzed. Plastic shards were driven into her face, which resulted in the destruction of both eyes.”
As they walked, waited in an elevator, and walked some more, Yoshiko said nothing during the explanation, but it was clear that what color had been left in her cheeks was draining away as she gritted her teeth.
“Where is Stingray?” she growled.
“She had been here since the beginning, checking on both patients, but I was informed that she did abruptly leave half an hour ago.”
Yoshiko was secretly upset that she had missed seeing Stingray. At that moment, she wanted to put that woman in a grave in several unrecognizable pieces. While she had killed many people with her own hands, this would be the first time she would get some personal joy out of the act.
“Has Mei been awake at all?”
“No, she’s still unconscious,” Dr. Haruto explained. “We’ve already put her through four different operations. We almost lost her a couple of times, and we’re still hesitant to change her status from critical. We’ve reached a point where there’s nothing else we can do except wait and see if she pulls through on her own. We weren’t sure if we should contact her family even though you were the only person listed on her current emergency contact list.”
“No need,” Yoshiko answered briskly. “She disowned her family two years ago. They want nothing to do with each other.”
As they entered the hospital’s critical care ward, Yoshiko took a deep breath as she realized by the man’s pointing motion that they were approaching the room in question. When she reached the doorway and saw the sight within, she had to reach out and grab the doorframe to brace herself.
Surrounded by monitoring equipment and other medical paraphernalia, an unrecognizable figure was stretched out on the bed. The upper half of her head, from her nose upward, was wrapped in thick bandages. As Yoshiko had been forewarned, the right half of her body was covered in bandages and casts, or at least what was left of that side of her body.
Yoshiko turned to her bodyguards and said, “Wait outside.”
Just then Dr. Haruto’s pager vibrated and he looked at the tiny message that suddenly appeared on the screen. He frowned nervously and said, “Um, Ms. Watanabe, I just got a report that we have more casualties from a rogue boomer attack that’s happening right now and -“
“Go!” she said, her voice thick with emotion.
Seeing that his absence was not only allowed but desired, the doctor bowed and then disappeared to tend to the latest crisis.
After closing the door behind her, Yoshiko slowly approached the bed, her eyes trying to take in more details of the scene before her. Without even taking off her coat, she sat down in the chair by the bed. Then she noticed that Mei’s left hand seemed all right even though it was stretched out passively at the patient’s side.
With a hesitant stretch, Yoshiko reached out and touched the fingers that seemed so tiny and fragile at that particular moment. Even though she knew not to expect a response, she couldn’t stop the disappointment from coming when nothing happened.
Yoshiko gently held the hand and resigned herself to the game of waiting.
* * *
After a day of being there, Yoshiko heard the soft knocking on the door. Expecting to see hospital staff, she immediately answered with a “Come in.”
She froze in her chair at the sight of Sylia Stingray stepping into the room. The two women stared at each other.
Yoshiko immediately leaped from the chair and grabbed the front of Sylia’s coat. With a kick, she also slammed the door shut, allowing them immediate privacy. It didn’t dawn on her until much later that Sylia made no move to protect herself from what could have been a more violent attack.
“You have an incredible amount of gall showing up here and now!” Yoshiko growled, her rage barely contained.
Though clearly tired and worn, Sylia met her stare evenly and said, “I swear that I feel horrible about this, but it was an accident! Mei just… got caught off guard.”
Yoshiko narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying this is her fault?!”
“No, it’s my fault,” Sylia stated firmly. A passive look of despair appeared on her face. “This entire thing is my fault.”
“So then why are you here? Because you genuinely care about her? Or just because of your guilt? Given that Mei told me how you drove away Reika, I would have a hard time believing that your motives are anything less than selfish!”
With a sudden look of fortitude in her gaze, Sylia set her jaw and said, “Is my blood going to satisfy you, Watanabe? I do feel awful about this entire incident. But I also have a mission to do, one that Mei supported. And because of that, I’m not going down without a real fight.”
The two women knew what that meant. Even though Sylia was quite skilled in karate, Yoshiko was still officially better, always the victor in every single one of their matches. However, the victories always came at close calls after an extensive exchange of blocked blows. In the past, the matches were always done with an air of mutual respect for a worthy opponent in the training hall. If it were to come down to a fight over real issues and motivation, the victor was questionable.
In disgust, Yoshiko let her go and took a step back. “This isn’t the time or place for such a thing. But if I ever see you again, you can be guaranteed that I won’t care then. And I’ll be damned if I ever let you near Mei again! She’s paid the price for your inability to really care about people, especially those who sacrifice themselves for you. So get out while you still can!”
Sylia frowned as if she was going to make a retort, but was distracted by the beep of the heart monitor machine. The sound had always been there in the background, but in the tense pause, it seemed to command the center of attention.
With a relenting nod, Sylia straightened the front of her coat and stepped out of the room and their lives.
Or so Yoshiko wanted to believe.
* * * * *
At first Yoshiko thought it was a dream, feeling the fingers barely stroking her thick, short hair. Blinking from having her sleep disturbed, Yoshiko lifted her head from the cradle of her arms on the edge of the bed. After five days, she had become used to the position but the touch was something new.
Her heart leapt when she realized it was Mei, even though she was otherwise still in the same position she had been in since the beginning.
Feeling that her visitor had lifted her head at the contact, Mei asked weakly, “Sylia?”
Yoshiko was quiet for a long time before answering, “No, Mei. It’s Yoshiko. I’ve let Sylia know that I’m taking care of you from now on… I hope that’s all right with you.”
“… Of course it is.”
* * * * *
One year later, Watanabe Villa in Rome
Dr. Alicia Rosellini looked at her data pad and shook her head sadly. “It’s as we feared, her body is rejecting the transplants again. I can make the call for another donor if you wish.” She looked at the two women in Mei’s bedroom, waiting for a response from either one.
Standing by on alert, Yoshiko said nothing as she looked at the figure settled in the wheelchair.
With her head bowed, Mei seemed to be focused on the clumsy prosthetic hand that had replaced her lost limb. Even though they were indoors, she kept her sunglasses on, both to hide the scars which covered the upper half of her face as well as her failing eyes. She finally let out a sigh and said, “And there would not be any guarantee that this next transplant would be any more effective, would there?”
“It would be the same odds as before,” the doctor responded. She then opened her mouth to say something, but then stopped, knowing the answer would probably be the same as when she had asked her question before.
“Doctor, can I have a private word with Yoshiko before we continue with this discussion?”
Realizing that something might have changed, the doctor immediately bowed and said, “Yes, of course. I’ll be outside whenever you’re ready.”
Once they were alone, Yoshiko settled down in the chair next to the bed and said, “You’re considering it, aren’t you?”
Mei held up her compromised limb and said, “I can’t continue to live like this, Yoshiko. All of the servants in the world can never make up for the fact that I can’t even go for a walk. I have the heart and soul of an athlete, and that’s the part of me that’s hurting the worst and that will never be healed at this rate. If the risk of going rogue is the only thing keeping me from embracing the medical technology that could make me whole again, then I might as well kill myself right now.”
“Regular boomer prosthetics won’t be enough to replace your exceptional reflexes and skill,” Yoshiko pointed out painfully. “How much of the old you do you want to bring back?”
Taking off her glasses, Mei actually looked at Yoshiko, though it was clear she had to squint a bit to focus. “As much as I need to. But I won’t accept Sylia’s help to do it.”
“There are other boomer technology experts that my family still has ties to. I can make certain Dr. Rosellini works with them. Shall I tell her to begin work right away?”
Mei nodded and started to put her glasses back on, but then paused. “Yoshiko, thank you again for taking care of me,” she said sincerely.
Yoshiko gave her a sad smile and said, “That’s what friends are for.”
* * * * *
Three months later
Dr. Thadeus Raven tested the tips of the fingers with a gentle tap of his own finger.
Mei sat upright at the sensation of feeling that suddenly registered in her brain. A look of gratitude appeared on her face as she absorbed the experience.
Yoshiko, who had been watching in the background with Dr. Rosellini, smiled to herself.
Pleased, the dapper old English man sat back and adjusted his spectacles. “Now then, let’s try your vision. Just follow my fingers… Excellent! Your body has incorporated the prosthetics beautifully. Dr. Rosellini has assured me she’s going to begin you on the rehabilitation program as soon as tomorrow. We don’t want to waste anymore time in bringing you back to full autonomy.”
Mei then frowned as she test-flexed her new fingers and said, “If I’m not careful, is there a chance I could cause more damage than what I intended?”
“To an unfortunate cup or glass, yes. More extensive damage really just depends on where you are in your rehabilitation schedule as well as the task you’re actually attempting,” Dr. Raven admitted. “I realize you do have special requirements given your past athletic skills. We’ll monitor your progress and make all adjustments as we have to.”
“What about the rogue factor?”
The man frowned as he took off his glasses to wipe them. “Yes, that unfortunate piece of business. Of course, I cannot make any guarantees given that we still do not know the cause. But even with that, going rogue seems to be something that only affects full-bodied boomers. Boomer prosthetics don’t seem to be a problem.”
“Yet,” she prompted.
He nodded in admission and said, “That’s right: yet. Are you having second thoughts?”
Mei looked at her hand, then at the hand-held mirror that showed the reflection of her boomer eyes with red pupils. She shook her head and said, “I’m committed to this. This is the most alive I’ve felt since my accident. The risk is just something I’ll have to learn to live with. And Yoshiko has agreed to take all necessary steps to ensure that if I do go rogue, I will be terminated as quickly as possible.”
Yoshiko said nothing, but a brief wince passed over her face.
* * * * *
Part 2: Bonded in Blood
Dressed in a lavish purple kimono with flowers woven into her short hair, Yoshiko stood out on the balcony, staring up at the clear moon while the sounds of the extravagant party in the mansion could be heard below. She looked down at the shadowed silhouettes, knowing that figures of political, economic and social importance made up a good portion of the guest list. And she didn’t care to know a single one of them.
Then, without hearing a sound or seeing a thing, she could feel another presence out on the balcony with her.
Largo, her younger brother by eight hours, appeared beside her, still impeccably dressed in his black tuxedo with his long hair draped down his shoulders. Without a word, he held out an open cigarette case, to which she responded by taking one. After lighting one for each of them, they stood in silence, finding comfort in each other’s nearness.
“Now,” a male voice said from behind them, “what does it say about a party when the two guests of honor are hiding in the corner?”
As one, the twins looked at their younger brother, Ryoko, who looked so similar to them that they could have passed for a set of triplets except for the fact that one year separated their ages. Also dressed in a tuxedo, he joined them, for both the company and the shared cigarettes. He was a lean, solid figure with close-cropped hair and a mustache with goatee.
Ryoko then commented, “Of course, Densuke is partying more than enough for the two of you. That idiot is going to end the evening with his head in the toilet.”
“Personally, I lost interest in the birthday festivities when Father took the opportunity to reintroduce me to my fiancé and his family,” Yoshiko remarked. “There’s only so much talk about producing ‘fine sons’ a woman can take before nausea settles in.”
Largo smirked and said, “At least your betrothed doesn’t look at you with yen signs in his eyes like mine does, even though she’s been raised in furs and diamonds herself.”
“And my fiancée has the crime of not even being male,” Ryoko remarked wistfully. “It’s almost enough to envy Densuke in that Father’s clearly given up on marrying him off.”
“I would think you’d appreciate such a state yourself, Ryo,” Largo teased.
He frowned and said, “It’s one thing to not be married because you chose not to. It’s quite another to have everyone think you’re such a loser that your own fiancée calls off the engagement no matter how much her family needs an heir.”
Looking up at the moon, Yoshiko then sighed and commented, “Father just told me that I should be prepared to move back from Rome so the wedding can be held in March.”
Largo arched an eyebrow. “March, hm? That’s the month he’s projected for me as well. I’m wondering if he’s thinking double wedding just like this double birthday party.”
“Ah, the joys of being first-born twins!” Ryoko commented, which earned him a mild frown from his siblings. “So Yoshi, what about Mei? Did father say anything about her?”
“He said she can stay at the Villa, if she wants to. After all, it’s really the home of Aunt Kaori, and she adores Mei.”
“Does Mei even know why you’re visiting?” Largo asked curiously.
She shook her head. “All she knows is that I’m here for Ryo’s latest concert premier, as well as the birthday festivities. She’s preoccupied right now with her rehabilitation program anyway. She’s making incredible progress and I don’t want her to be distracted unnecessarily… But Father did tell me to say goodbye to her, which I naturally have no intention of doing so.”
The two brothers recognized the subtle rebellious tone in their sister’s voice. It was rare, but when it appeared, it was worth noting.
“It sounds like you have a plan,” Largo noted. “Care to share it?”
She looked at both of them, a sly smirk showing on her lips in the combination of the bright house lights as well as the glow of the moon. “If you remain ignorant, you can claim honest innocence. After all, I can carry it out alone. However, I do think there’s a certain poetic justice involved if the three of us were to work together.”
The brothers exchanged a look, and then a smile.
“Well, we three always knew that shared blood doesn’t truly mean family,” Largo remarked with a punctuated drag and puff of his cigarette. “Count me in.”
“Me, too,” Ryoko added.
Yoshiko smiled and turned her attention back to the moon, suddenly thinking what a truly beautiful night it was.
* * * * *
Under the bright moon and fluorescent building lights, Largo stood by his waiting limousine, watching the crowds filter out of the concert hall. Another limo with a driver was parked nearby, waiting for his parents to emerge from being delayed by the many complimentary VIP guests who had to put a good word into his father’s ear about Ryoko’s violin performance.
A few more minutes passed before the proud and elegant figure of his father and mother appeared, with their typical entourage of four bodyguards.
“Largo, are you going back to the mansion for the reception?” the elder Watanabe asked as he passed by him.
“Of course,” he answered. He then motioned to his own limo and said, “Yoshi and Ryo are already waiting. They’re still a little out of it being on European time and all. We were just waiting to let you know that they’re going to be with me.”
His father nodded approvingly and said, “Good. See you shortly, Son.”
Largo smiled at him, and at his mother, before slipping into the limo himself. Once inside the empty compartment, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed the appropriate number to deliver the signal.
* * * * *
“He said they just left,” Ryoko announced to the only other passenger in the sedan. Still dressed in his tuxedo, he turned on the car and pulled it out of the parking structure that was a block away from the concert hall. “That means we’ve got twenty more minutes, providing they take the regular route home.”
From the passenger seat, Yoshiko smiled humorlessly as she zipped up the front of her black jumpsuit, which was padded both for armor reinforcement as well as to hide her slender curves. It was a definite contrast to the form-fitting evening gown she had had on minutes before.
“I’ve never known Father to be an advocate for change, have you?” she commented coolly.
Flipping on the switches to dim the car windows to prevent outside onlookers even though it was late at night, Ryoko grinned and said, “True, he never did tolerate disruptions in his routines well, did he? — Hey, is that thing really going to work? We only have one shot at this after all.”
Yoshiko made the final checks on the sleek and extremely sophisticated looking mini-bazooka in her arms. “Don’t worry. One missile will easily shatter the reinforced glass of his limo. The kickback however could prove a little rough since it’s been a while since I’ve handled this with live ammo so be ready to compensate for that… And for the record, this won’t be our only chance. Future attempts just become harder with each failure, so the trick is to do it right the first time, when it’s the easiest.”
“Well, I have to admit I thought this plan was over the top but you’re the professional after all.”
“This is well outside my regular style,” his sister admitted as she slipped on the black motorcycle helmet. “I do prefer low key. However, we have to make certain it is both successful and looks as far as possible from an inside job.”
“True,” he commented as he flipped another switch to open the sunroof. “I’m just glad that I get to have a front seat to this particular show. Perhaps it’ll inspire an original composition.”
Yoshiko smirked and said, “Well, make certain that your average listener couldn’t figure out where you got the inspiration from.”
“That’s the nice thing about violin music: no lyrics,” Ryoko commented with a wink as he steered the car onto the freeway, gunning for speed as he did so.
* * * * *
“Your father was an extremely important man, and that is why I felt I had to deliver the news personally,” the white haired and plump Commissioner Suzuki said with a regretful bow as he faced the stunned siblings in the Watanabe Mansion.
What had started off as an evening of grandeur and elegance, had ended with the tragic news of the double murder of the Watanabe parents as well as of the top aides that were with them. Still dressed in their elegant wardrobe from earlier in the evening, the four grown Watanabe children were all clearly stricken as they struggled to contain their grief, as was expected of them. Sobbing from various staff members could be heard in the background.
A stricken looking Largo cleared his throat from the lump forming and said, “Is there any possibility someone saw it happen?”
“They were on a stretch of road just outside of the city,” the man reported sadly. “We are canvassing for any possible witnesses or leads, but it seems extremely unlikely. We surmise that with the force of the impact and the resulting double explosion, the weapon fired was clearly non-standard, perhaps even military issue, and we’re trying to see if any information comes from studying the debris.”
“As the direct successor to my father, I want to be kept informed of any possible leads you may uncover,” Largo instructed him firmly. He then looked at his three siblings and said, “And as tough as it may be to accept this, as well as the ongoing possibility of the threat to our own safety, there is a very good chance that this may go unsolved. After all, it’s the reality of who we are as Watanabe’s.”
His siblings said nothing, but it was clear by their downcast eyes that there was support for his statement.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner breathed an internal sigh of relief that his forces wouldn’t be put through the ringer if they were not able to close this case in the end.
With tear-filled eyes, Ryoko then stepped forward and bowed. “If you’ll excuse me, everyone. It’s been an overwhelming day. I apologize if I disturb anyone but I feel that I need to express my current emotions through my violin.”
Yoshiko had to press her hand over her mouth to hide a smirk as Largo responded with a straight face, “Of course, Ryo. Express your grief as you need to. This has been a truly unforgettable day for us all.”
* * * * *
Accompanied by her grieving aunt, Yoshiko walked into her home after being greeted by her staff, who also took the opportunity to extend personal condolences. Once she was left alone to her thoughts, she saw Mei standing on the staircase, however, with a firm grip on the railing.
Yoshiko stopped before her and smiled. “You’re walking by yourself already?”
Mei blushed and answered, “It wasn’t that smooth, I assure you… How was the funeral?”
Yoshiko shrugged. “It helped to bring closure.”
Instead of adding another comment, Mei just stared at her, as if reading her face in a way she wasn’t able to over the phone.
Yoshiko merely stared back, waiting for some sort of response. Then, to her immense surprise, Mei stepped forward and embraced her in a hug, the first time they had ever had such contact in the many years they had known each other.
“Welcome home,” Mei whispered into her ear.
Yoshiko said nothing as she hugged her back, closing her eyes at the contact.
* * * * *
Part 3: To The End
“You don’t look like you’ve slept too well,” Yoshiko noted at the appearance of Mei at the dining room door. Already half way through her breakfast and fully dressed for the day, Yoshiko had been reading the newspaper, which was her usual morning routine.
Mei blinked groggily and sat down in her chair as the servant immediately poured her a cup of coffee. “Just toast this morning, Maria, thanks.”
She squinted her eyes closed and then opened them, to find her friend watching her carefully. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days. My routine hasn’t been changed any. If anything, Dr. Raven had suggested upgrading my prosthetics capabilities since I’ve mastered the current versions and I’m still below par on my old skill level. But we haven’t done anything more than talk about it. I just can’t seem to relax enough to sleep. It’s like I’m constantly feeling restless for some reason.”
“Perhaps you just need to have a break and get away from anything. You haven’t gone for a real vacation since you got here.”
Mei frowned and said, “Who would I go with? I’d hate to ask you because I know you’re gone almost every week to some other part of the world.”
There was a long pause before Yoshiko finally responded, “I never realized you’d want to go with me. I don’t mind if you want to come along and we can spend some time doing touristy things if you want. True, I might go to all of these places, but I view them as business trips only. I look forward to coming home the most.” Yoshiko put away the paper and gave Mei her full attention. “If anything, I feel like I’m not home enough.”
“Well, then I certainly don’t want to keep you away even more.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” Yoshiko answered quickly. “I just miss – “
“Excuse me, Mistress Yoshiko,” Maria interrupted from the doorway. She cradled in her hand the mobile phone, indicating an important caller was on the other line. “It’s your brother Largo.”
“One second,” Yoshiko said to Mei, indicating that their conversation was on hold while she took the phone call. “Hello, Largo, how – What?! Ye – Yes, of course you can stay here. I’ll let the staff prepare some guest rooms. Okay, go pack. Just call me when you finally leave. Bye.”
“Is Largo coming for a visit?” Mei asked, made curious by the tense frown on the other woman’s face, as well as by the uncharacteristic surprise that had shown up during the call itself.
“Yes, he is, including several of the staff,” Yoshiko answered, her mind still racing over the information on the phone call that Mei hadn’t heard. “It seems the boomers are trying to take over Tokyo, so the city’s being evacuated.”
Mei said nothing to the news, but the blood clearly drained out of her face as she looked down at the hand that was hers and yet wasn’t.
* * * * *
Dressed in her gi, Mei sat cross-legged on the matted floor with her eyes closed in meditation. Sensing another presence, she opened her eyes to find Yoshiko standing on the other side of the glass wall. Her friend was dressed in an impeccable styled blazer and trousers. Next to her was a cart lavishly loaded with plates of food.
Mei smiled and stood, motioning for the other woman to enter her living quarters, which were in another building of Yoshiko’s compound, apart from the main house. The large lab had been cleared of test equipment and furniture had been moved in, organized in the fashion of a large bedroom complete with study furniture, dining table with chairs and entertainment equipment. A partition separated bathroom facilities, allowing for some privacy in an extremely exposed atmosphere.
Yoshiko pushed the security code on the wall, which then triggered the side door to swing open so she could push the cart in. The door automatically closed behind her, sealing them in.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you. I can come back later if you want,” Yoshiko apologized as she steered the cart towards the simple table and chairs in the corner.
“I appreciate the company more than another futile attempt to gain my peace of mind,” Mei explained as she helped to set up the spread for their breakfast. “You really don’t notice you’re alone until people aren’t allowed to come into contact with you anymore.”
“Hopefully it’s only temporary.”
Mei glanced up, opened her mouth to ask something, but stopped, focusing instead on helping with the spread of the lunch.
“I tried calling Sylia,” Yoshiko said without looking up from her own tasks. “There’s no connection at all. Largo’s sources have told us the entire city’s been abandoned and turned into a metallic graveyard. Even though our family mansion seems to be intact for the moment, there’s no electricity or any other utilities. But satellite pictures have shown that the Silky Doll building had also been taken over by boomers.
“The latest news that has all of the world governments on edge is this… missile that’s heading up towards Genom’s Showhamm project Umbrella. It’s believed to have come from Tokyo. They tried firing nuclear missiles at it but apparently it absorbed them. The oddest thing about it though, is that from what I’ve seen of the pictures, the upper half of it is shaped like Sylia.”
“… Oh… “ Mei said as she finally sat down and opened the bottle of wine.
Yoshiko looked at her and then asked, “Have you been feeling anything strange yet?”
She shook her head as she poured a glass for both of them. “Not yet.” She then froze and said, “Yoshiko, maybe you should leave. That’s why I’m in here after all.”
“I’m here to stay,” Yoshiko said firmly as she took off the lids from their meals, revealing a delicate fish dish, the best prepared by her chefs.
Yoshiko opened her blazer to reveal the shoulder pistol she wore.
“What are those round things?” Mei asked, referring to the hand-size metal balls attached to the pistol’s shoulder strap.
“Latest model grenades,” she answered. “One alone should decimate everything in this lab-space.”
Mei blinked and pointed out, “You’re in here, too!”
“As I said before, I’m here to support you to the very end,” she answered in a firm voice that said the subject was closed.
Mei scowled but then took a deep breath and a sip of wine.
They ate in silence for a moment before Mei said, “You always looked out for me, even when we were children. Thank you for everything.”
Yoshiko didn’t look up as she took a bite. “I’m your friend. It’s what I’m supposed to do.”
“I see…” Mei studied her, knowing that her stare was either being ignored or not noticed, most likely the former. “Do you feel like anything in your life is missing?”
Yoshiko frowned and looked up. “Meaning?”
“As far as I know, you’ve been alone for your entire life.” Mei actually blushed as she took a bite of food. “Unless your frequent trips are to rendezvous with a secret lover.”
Yoshiko arched her eyebrow. “There is no lover,” she answered simply.
But instead of returning to eating, she continued to stare at Mei. “What about you? I brought you here to Rome and, to my knowledge, you’ve not kept up any ties back in Tokyo. And the only people you interact with are your medical support group, my relatives and house staff. Plus, you’ve never had a romance for as long as I’ve known you either… Are you feeling lonely?”
She opened her mouth to respond but then caught herself. Then she tried again and said, “Well, I’ve been feeling like my life has been put on hold until I’m completely recovered. I’m afraid to make future plans until I know everything is going to be fine. But even before the… accident… I’ve felt…” She then stopped, took a strengthening breath. “Yes, I’ve felt lonely lately. I know nothing’s changed but I’m just noticing it more, I guess.”
Yoshiko returned her attention to her meal but also said softly, “If you want to leave when this rogue scare is over, and you’re fully recovered, I understand. I’ll help you relocate when you’re ready.”
“That’s not necessary,” the other woman added quickly. “I just meant… If you can make me part of your world, of what you do, I wouldn’t feel… as lonely.”
There was a long silence as a response was waited for. Thinking that one was probably not going to come, Mei let out a silent sigh and returned her attention to her food.
“I don’t kill boomers, Mei,” Yoshiko finally stated. “Not even rogue ones.”
“I know that. It’s the same to me. Only the methods differ.”
Yoshiko took a sip of wine as she mulled over Mei’s response. “I usually work alone, but I would like you as a partner. I think we would make a good team.”
Mei smiled and said, “I think we would, too. Then should we toast — ?”
Suddenly, a shower of tiny light beams came down through the ceiling. The two women sat in silent amazement as they watched the particles pass through them.
The wine glass dropped from Mei’s hand as her face suddenly went blank.
“Mei?!” Yoshiko cried as she leapt to her feet, catching the other woman as she collapsed from her chair. “Mei!”
Like a life-size ragdoll, Mei remained limp in her arms, her eyes and mouth open in a lifeless statement. The pupils of her boomer eyes were shrunk to the size of pinpricks.
“Mei! Say something!” Yoshiko said, barely keeping the panic from her tone.
With surprising strength for someone of her slender frame, she picked up her friend and carried her over to the bed. She ignored the continuing shower of light beams as she stretched the woman out on the padded surface. She was about to step back when she noticed her arm was snagged by Mei’s hand. She looked to see that Mei was looking at her with normal-sized pupils.
“Mei, can you hear me?”
A small smile suddenly curled the other woman’s mouth as she said softly, “I don’t know how or why, but I have the strongest feeling that everything will be all right. The voomer plague is over.”
Yoshiko frowned and started to ask a question, but then was distracted by the light shower that continued to envelop them. She started to step back again, when she noticed that Mei still hadn’t let go of her arm.
“Do we have an agreement to be partners?” Mei asked.
Yoshiko found herself distracted by the fact that this woman was just inches below her, stretched out in the most intimate of poses.
She swallowed carefully and said, “If you want to be.”
Mei actually grinned. “A partnership means you have to want it, too.”
It was Yoshiko’s turn to have her face go blank. Then she blinked and said, “I – I do want you, – as – as a partner, I mean.” Her face was now a deep shade of red even though she didn’t try to pull back or turn away.
A triumphant look showed on Mei’s face. “I want you, too. As a partner, of course… I don’t think I’ve ever seen you blush before. You look extremely cute.”
Of course, the comment made Yoshiko turn even redder. She was sure Mei could tell how hard her heart was beating.
“So, should we wait for this light display to finish?” she asked, fishing for something to say that would shift away some of the attention from the awkwardness.
“No,” Mei answered seriously as she pulled her down for a kiss.
* * * * *
Epilogue: Full Circle
2044, Hong Kong.
Enjoying her breakfast, Yoshiko sat on the balcony of the hotel, with the view of city in the early morning. Even though it had been a late night for the latest assignment, she still woke up at five a.m., as she did every day of her life. However, knowing that this day would be spent at a leisurely pace enjoying some of the finer attractions of the historic city, she allowed herself to remain in her bathrobe.
Yoshiko took a sip of coffee and opened the local newspaper. She was greeted with a front-page article and photos of Knight Sabers destroying construction boomers in downtown Tokyo.
She didn’t move at first as she just stared at the pictures. Then she finally sighed and folded the paper back up.
Even though Mei wasn’t a newspaper reader, she would notice if it suddenly wasn’t around since Yoshiko was quite thorough in going through whatever news the local press had to offer, being fluent in almost all of the major international languages. Yet Yoshiko didn’t want to go out of her way to call attention to the article.
When they had visited Tokyo to look at the new model combat boomers, Mei had been clearly troubled by the experience, especially by the discussion about the Knight Sabers. Even though Mei didn’t talk about the new boomers beyond the assessment conversations Largo had requested, she became unusually quiet whenever the subject came up otherwise. And it was at least a week before she was able to sleep through a whole night.
It wasn’t until they had become lovers that Yoshiko realized Mei suffered from occasional boomer nightmares. Apparently Mei had had them every night since right after the accident and they had become less frequent over time. They had resurfaced when Mei received Sylia’s letter explaining the Galatea crisis, and it took two weeks before she had been able to sleep one night through peacefully.
And it would take something like this news article to trigger them again.
Yoshiko sighed and suddenly realized that she didn’t feel hungry after all.
Done with her breakfast, she got up and walked back into the luxurious suite. She walked towards the bed, studying the lone occupant who was buried in silk sheets. Yoshiko gently sat down on the edge of the bed and watched the other woman continue to sleep.
Even though Mei refused the cosmetic surgery to get rid of her scars, she still hid the markings whenever she was out in public or dealing with people who were unfamiliar with her condition. She also wore brown contacts to hide the red pupils of her boomer eyes, as if the sunglasses she wore weren’t enough.
Yet scarred or not, Yoshiko still thought she was incredibly beautiful. So she sat and watched the other woman sleep, quietly relishing the sight.
Meanwhile, she resolved herself to tell her about the Knight Sabers whenever the best opportunity presented itself. And if Mei found out on her own, then Yoshiko would be there to support her in any way necessary.
After all, nothing was more important to Yoshiko, and nothing ever had been or will be.
— The End —