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Interlude #3 – Something Feels Off

One Month Before Impact Day

Ami sat on her bed, gently rubbing her temples. On the edge of her perception, something hovered, bothering her, frightening her, but whenever she tried to focus on it, it just disappeared.

Kaito sat beside her, rubbing her shoulder. She looked up at her twin brother, and smiled.

“You seem stressed,” he said. “Everything okay?”

“Something feels… off,” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t feel it?”

“I’ve been trying to limit my awareness,” he admitted. “The migraines are still… Oh. Oh, what is that?”

From the expression on his face, she knew he was sensing the same thing she was, and he was far more perceptive than she was.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But—”

“It’s in the city. We could- UGH!

He doubled over, pressing his hands into his head, his face contorted into a pained grimace. Ami wrapped her arms around him protectively.

“Kaito! Take it easy,” she whispered gently.

“Heh,” he said, blinking rapidly and sitting up straight again. “I know I’ve said this before, but you definitely got the better deal.”

She frowned.

“Neither of us got a good deal, Kaito,” she said sternly. “You know that.”

“I know, I know. The price…”

There was a surge, an almost overwhelming wave of something, as if the presence they were sensing suddenly got a lot more powerful. They looked at each other.

“Do you want to go after it?” she asked him.

“Yes, but we should get backup.”

“Haylie?” she suggested.

“Definitely,” he said, moments before Alice popped her head into the room.

“Hey!” she said cheerily.

“Alice?” Ami asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I was lonely,” she said. “You look serious. What’s happened?”

“The northern tower,” Kaito said, pinpointing the presence. He and Ami exchanged worried glances.

“That’s where Exxo is,” Alice said.

“Huh?”

“I was just there,” she added.

“Did Exxo say anything?” Ami questioned.

“Yeah, they said something was coming,” Alice said. “Asked me to leave.”

“We need to get there,” Kaito said.

“Are they in trouble?” Alice asked, worried. “They did seem stressed…”

Kaito shook his head.

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel malevolent, just… new.”

“Right,” Ami agreed. “And—”

Another surge, something different, something powerful.

“You feel that?” Kaito asked.

“Yeah,” Ami confirmed.

“What, what?” Alice asked, lacking the telepathic awareness of the twins.

“A second presence,” Ami explained. “I don’t…”

“It’s familiar, somehow?” Kaito said, uncertain.

“But very different,” Ami agreed.

“I don’t understand,” Alice complained.

“We need to get to Exxo,” Ami said. “Now.”

“Okay! Follow me,” Alice said cheerfully.”

The three of them moved quickly, trying not to look as alarmed as they felt. They passed plenty of civilians on their way, and the last thing they wanted was to raise a panic. The city was already unstable enough.

It didn’t take them long to get to the place Alice had left Exxo, but they the time they did, Exxo was already unconscious, lying in Gabriel’s arms. He looked up at them, his expression unreadable. One of Haylie’s bodies stood behind him, looking warmly down at Exxo.

“What happened?” Ami asked, looking around for a threat.

“I don’t know,” Gabriel said, sounding more stressed than she was used to hearing him.

“My surveillance data is corrupted,” Haylie said.

“How is that possible?” Kaito asked. Haylie’s systems were all wired into a sentient hive-mind. There wasn’t a technology in the world that could corrupt that data.

“I don’t know,” was all she said.

“We felt something,” Ami said. “A presence.”

“Describe it,” Gabriel ordered.

“There were two, actually,” Kaito said. “One was… uh…”

He looked at Ami, helpless. She just shrugged.

“I can’t remember,” she said.

“Me either,” he said.

“Neither of them?” Gabriel asked.

“Nothing,” Ami said. “Nostalgia, maybe.”

“Wow, yeah” Kaito agreed. “A very potent feeling of nostalgia.”

“I don’t understand,” Alice said, brushing Exxo’s hair out of their face.

Gabriel looked up at Haylie, transferring Exxo to Alice, who held them up effortlessly.

“Haylie. Is that a combat chassis?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Good. Come with me,” he said.

 

Next Week: The Deluded Fantasy Of A Lonely Teenage Girl

Bonus – The Price They Paid

103 Years Before Impact Day

The sound of an unfamiliar voice down the corridor proved too irresistible of a curiosity to Ami, and for the first time in months, she left her bed. Immediately, she was flooded with new information about the room, her new abilities filling the space. Her brother hadn’t moved.

“Kaito,” she said softly. “There’s someone new.”

“I know,” he replied, his voice thick with pain.

“What can you tell about them?”

Kaito grimaced. He was far more sensitive to the thoughts of those around him, and it left him nearly incapacitated most of the time. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, wishing she could ease his burden. If either of them had known what their new abilities would feel like, they never would have consented to the procedure.

“Nothing,” he said weakly. “Everything is too fast. Whoever they are, they’re different. And they think in English. It… it hurts.”

“Alright, don’t strain yourself,” she said. “I’ll go check it out.”

“I can’t shut them out,” Kaito whimpered. “They’re so loud.”

“I’ll take care of it,” she promised.

Leaving her brother in their room, she crept up the corridor, feeling ahead for any clues as to the identity of the newcomer. They seemed masculine, tall and athletic, and well-dressed. Their features seemed Caucasian. Ami stopped before entering the room, listening to the conversation.

“How many have you created?” the newcomer asked, with a strong pre-outbreak accent. Despite what Kaito had said, though, he was speaking Japanese.

“So far, only two,” one of the researchers said. “We’re working on-”

“Where did you learn the technique?” the newcomer demanded.

“We developed it ourselves.”

“Impossible,” the newcomer said. “Don’t worry, this won’t affect your payment. We’re just trying to identify possible leaks.”

“It wasn’t from you,” the researcher said. “The technique is a little different, allowing for more versatility in metaphysical capabilities.”

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“I’m afraid we can’t disclose the source,” the researcher insisted.

“Very well. Talk me through the metaphysical abilities, then. What do you believe is possible?”

“Well, we’ve already demonstrated telekinetic and telepathic abilities, as complementary evolutions. We also have promising schematics for ferrokinesis, hydrokinesis and, though unstable, polymorphism.”

She felt the newcomer tense up, though it would have been invisible to anyone in the room.

“Tell me about your two successful prototypes,” the newcomer said. “What’s their count? How much have they been told about the procedure? What side-effects have you observed?”

“The girl’s count is about one-hundred thousand,” the researcher said. “Her brother is about twice that. They were briefed on the entire process, and the expected results, except for that part, which I’m sure you can understand.”

“Of course.”

“As for side-effects, it’s hard to say. They’re still adjusting to their new abilities, both of which have led to intense sensitivities. Beyond that, there’s not much we’ve had the opportunity to observe.”

“I see,” the newcomer said, still very tense. “I’m assuming you have more extensive notes in their files?”

“Absolutely. Now, would you care to meet the prototypes? If they meet your expectations, we can begin discussions on providing the service to your soldiers, and the costs involved.”

“I’d love to meet them,” the newcomer said.

The researcher gestured in the direction of her room, and both he and the newcomer began to walk her way. She scampered back to her room, where Kaito was waiting. He was sitting up, his hands pressed against the sides of his head.

“They’re coming this way,” she said. “I think whoever it is, is here because of us.”

“Right you are,” the newcomer said, standing in their doorway. She hadn’t felt him approach. How had he done that?

“Hello,” she said timidly. Kaito only grunted.

“They’re teenagers,” the newcomer said. “You did this to children?”

“They were bred for it,” the researcher said. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time. Physiologically speaking, seventeen years of age was the ideal time for the procedure.”

“He’s angry,” Kaito said.

“That I am,” the newcomer said. Then, switching to English, he continued, “I’ve seen everything I need to see. Haylie, you in?”

An English voice with a different pre-outbreak accent to him spoke through the lab’s PA system.

“I’m in, Gabriel. I have all the files, and I’ve isolated everyone to their chambers.”

“Thank you, Haylie,” the one Ami now knew was Gabriel said. He turned to the researcher, and spoke to him in Japanese. “What you’ve done here is unforgiveable, all of you. What you’ve created is monstrous, and the price was not yours to pay.” He turned to Ami and Kaito, and nodded to them both. “I’m sorry for what’s about to happen.”

In a movement almost too fast for her to follow, Gabriel pulled out a pistol, shooting the researcher right between the eyes. Kaito flinched, Ami screamed.

“Stay here,” Gabriel said, turning and running down the corridor.

Ami stared at the researcher, a man whose name she never knew, but who was still, in some small way, a part of her family. Now dead, blood splattered across the walls. Murdered by a stranger who’d called her a monster. Called her brother a monster.

“What’s happening?” Kaito asked, his voice trembling.

“We have to stop him,” Ami said.

“How?”

She didn’t know how to answer him. They had power, but neither of them knew how to use it. This murderer, this demon, was something they didn’t understand. All Ami knew was that she had to try.

She closed her eyes, focusing on the room around her. All she needed was something she could use as a weapon, something to stop the demon, something to save her remaining family. In a cupboard, buried under old clothes and discarded toys, she found what she needed.

Throwing open the cupboard doors, she rummaged, digging until she pulled them out, turning to show them to Kaito. He shrank back, shaking his head.

“Ami, those are…”

She tossed the smaller sword to him, keeping the longer for herself. Kaito gripped his tightly as she unsheathed hers.

“An eye for an eye,” she said darkly. “I swear, Kaito, I will kill him.”

“You’ll die trying,” he said, staring deep into her eyes. “Please.”

“I can’t do nothing,” she said. He just shook his head, sitting back down on his bed.

Ami walked towards the door, but it slid shut, closing her in. Irritated, she pressed the button to open it, but nothing happened.

“What the-”

“Please remain safely in your room,” the feminine voice from the PA system said. Ami recognised the voice as the one who’d spoken to Gabriel before. She was with him.

“No,” she snarled. The voice didn’t say anything more.

The door was staying shut, then. Even after the procedure, Ami knew she didn’t have the strength to force it open. At least, not the physical strength.

“Stand back,” she ordered her brother.

Closing her eyes, she focussed on the door, letting her awareness slip through and around it. She could feel the mechanisms that held it closed, all the structurally weak points, the electronic systems that commanded it to open. She took a deep breath.

Without moving a muscle, Ami tore the entire door out of its frame, slamming it against the opposite wall. Kaito whimpered, and almost immediately, an alarm rang out.

“Wow,” Ami muttered. “Maybe I won’t need the sword after all…”

She raced out of the room, trying to figure out where Gabriel would have gone. Doors continually closed in her way, giving her plenty of practice removing them. Wherever she went, she saw evidence of Gabriel’s rampage, blood and corpses leaving her a grisly trail to follow.

“It had to be done,” he said, surprising her. He was behind her? How had he managed to sneak up on her?

“You killed everyone,” she said, turning and holding the blade towards him. He didn’t even flinch.

“Not everyone,” he said. “Just the guilty.”

“What did they ever do to you?” she demanded, fighting back tears.

“I’m not the victim here,” he said solemnly. “Just an avenger. I wish you could understand that I’m doing this for you.”

“They’re all dead. You killed my family, my friends… For me?”

“For what they did to you,” he said. “For the price they paid. One day, you’ll understand. I just hope that isn’t any time soon.”

“Well, now you have a price to pay.” Her grip on the sword tightened. “I won’t let you leave here.”

“Be careful, Gabriel,” the PA voice warned him. “She’s-”

Ami lunged forwards, thrusting the sword right through his chest. He didn’t even try to avoid it. He just stood there, looking down at her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his expression looking almost like affection. “You deserved better.”

In a movement too fast for her to follow, he broke her grip on the sword, pulled a gun out from somewhere, pressed it against her head, and pulled the trigger.

 

Next Week: Does Our Friendship Ever Seem Weird To You?