Darkness. Clouds billowing all around. A stream of stars swirling past in the eternal expanse of space and time. Voices among the stars. Hands. Whose hands are these? Where am I? What is happening?
I remember this…
A bright light in the distance among the darkness. Moving. Swimming toward the light. Light that doesn’t hurt?
The calming light; I had almost reached it, before.
A hand reaching to the light, closer, closer. Pulling. Something pulling me. Moving backward. But the light. I must find the light. What is happening? Lips upon mine. The kiss of life…
A small object slapped against her arm. Without opening her eyes, Kangee said, “If you do that again, I will hurt you.”
“Sumimasen,” Akio replied.
“Why are you throwing things at me?”
“Because you hit people when you’re sleep if they touch you.”
She faced him with her eyebrow raised. “Aren’t you supposed to be an advanced Goliath?”
“You still scare me.”
She turned over, smacked her lips, then settled herself. “What do you want?”
“I…” He sighed, then rubbed his face. “When we infiltrated the building to retrieve the files for my family, I was so happy to see they were still doing well.”
“I’m glad you thought this was worthy of hitting me with random objects in the middle of the night.”
“I want to see them.”
Kangee turned her head and stared.
“I’m serious. My heart is troubled, and I just wish to see their faces.”
His mouth hung open.
“If this is going to be another moment where you defy me, I will have you locked in a damper cage for fifty or one hundred years,” she growled.
“I wasn’t going to endanger any of us. I promise.”
She rolled over, turning her back to him.
“I need to see them!” he shouted.
“You can’t!” she shouted back, sitting up and facing him.
The other two jerked awake, then sat up and looked at them.
“What you are thinking will endanger them whether you want it to or not, and you do not want the stain of their blood on your hands. I know it’s hard, but this is life with the Rift Academy, Akio! I wish it was different, but it’s not. Don’t be selfish.”
“What’s going on?” Haruki asked through a yawn.
“Your brother wants to endanger his family by contacting them.”
Haruki and Yasuki aimed their gazes at Akio.
Tears streamed down Akio’s face as he ran his fingers through his blond hair. “It’s not fair… I miss them so much. I miss my wife, my daughters, my son – I just want… I would give anything to see them again.”
“I would give anything to talk to my mother one last time, but I can’t. I would love to say I’m sorry to everyone I affected by seeing them, but that’s never going to happen.”
“I just…want to see them.”
She sighed. “If you are linked back or caught, they will be murdered or abducted and modified. The only other option would be to send them to one of Underworld’s safehouses for unmodified humans, but would that be what you truly want? For them to live out their lives in hiding? And I know this hurts, but you will never die, so you would have to watch them age and die without you.”
He held his face in his hands, sobbing into them.
Why do I bother?
Kangee watched him for a while, then stood and put her hand on his shoulder. “If we go to see them, could you promise me you would only look, but not communicate?”
Akio looked up at her, his lips parted, then his eyes wandered around over the ground as he thought about her request. He nodded.
Kangee placed her hands on her hips. “The only problem is that Japan is on the other side of the world, and we don’t have passports.”
“Do they scan luggage?” Yasuki inquired.
She turned her head with widened eyes. “I never thought of that. They scan them in the airport, but they wouldn’t detect us if we boarded in the cargo hold in some sort of case after they park the baggage train under the plane. Night flights are the safest for low visibility. Our only problem would be getting out of there without being discovered.”
Haruki held his hand up. “I could make a distraction. They can’t see me when I run.”
She smiled. “It’s settled, then. Brothers, we’re going to Japan.”
The guys all brightened up, their hearts filled with joy at seeing their country again.
Kangee eyed Akio’s hair. “Was your hair normally like that back then?”
“We’re going to have to dye it, just in case we need you to go into public. Avoid meeting up with old friends at all costs. You’ll have to pretend you don’t know them.”
“Hai. What if they ask my name?”
She moved her jaw to the left, then tilted her head. “Come up with something.”
He laughed, then gave her a big hug.
When they got to the airport, security was tighter than she’d anticipated. It seemed as though something was amiss with the cargo, and police units were fanning out. Kangee lowered herself back behind the low wall they were hiding behind.
“I don’t see how we’re going to do this,” she said with an echo of worry.
“Do you think they have anything to stop a Darter?” Haruki asked.
She shook her head. “Not unless there’s a report out for one.”
He peeked over the wall, then sneaked over to a gap in the fence.
“Are you insane?” she whispered. “I can’t fit through there!”
“Then bend the bars! You can fix it when you’re on the other side!”
Her eyes became slits.
After sneaking through, they ducked from one place to the other, coming to a halt behind a concrete barricade. Haruki placed his finger to his lips, then looked over the barrier. He vanished. The others’ eyes widened as they could hear frantic shouting and shuffling of feet. All three peeked over the barrier. The police and other security were chasing several luggage cases around the lot. Kangee snorted. She could see as the Darter seemed to play street hockey using his feet and the cases. It looked hilarious, but she still worried about him getting caught. She signaled to the other two, and they all made their way into the back of the plane, hiding among the secured baggage that was already packed under a huge tarp to the far end. Haruki appeared near them, scooting under then squishing up with them as the officials made a slow mental recovery from the ‘poltergeist’ outside.
“Let’s hope none of them take a peek under this or we’re screwed.”
After a couple hours, the back closed.
“Kangee-sama, your heart is beating so fast,” Yasuki said.
She stared at him.
“Sumimasen, but are you okay?”
“I’ve never been out of my own country.”
“Not even once?”
She shook her head.
“Japan is a nice place.”
“Ten years ago, maybe, but you haven’t been there recently.”
He pursed his lips. “I don’t think much will have changed.”
“We’ll see when we get there, but you are not allowed near the humans.”
“What about us?” Haruki asked.
“Only if it’s required, and for us to get out, it really is. That’s why I got you civilian clothes,” she took a deep breath as the plane ascended, then released a long sigh with a shudder. “Just make a distraction and get out of there as soon as you can.”
“Clothes burn off when I run with them on.”
“They’re Darter fabric – they just look Japanese civilian.”
The plane rocked, then rumbled. Kangee fidgeted while her eyes shot around the underside of the tarp. Yasuki placed a hand on her forearm, then nodded to her when she looked at him. With one last glance, she settled back down onto the cargo.
Haruki stood at a small building fashioned like an ancient Japanese wares shop, shooting nervous glances all around. He aimed his eyes to the side as the others ducked through the mountains of cargo. Their hiding spot had been hauled into the building all at once, and they’d gotten stuck in the holding area for a few hours. Kangee managed to disable the camera feed. As Haruki watched them, he thought to himself that Akio could very well have mingled, but Kangee and Yasuki both stuck out. Just then, he realized that he couldn’t see Yasuki. Panic pinched at his mind. After a moment of fretting, he sighed with relief as he spotted a distortion of air move outside and into the darkness. A few people stopped, blinking with dumb expressions as though they’d lost their minds. Kangee and Akio made it out through a different exit. Security was still searching for the source of the disturbance – an entire wall of displays had ‘somehow’ fallen over, and a tiny short at the other end caused several people to get stuck behind the examination booths. The crowd of people were still gawking at the place Haruki had sabotaged. As he turned to follow his family, a woman bumped into him and spilled some papers.
[Excuse me!] she exclaimed in Japanese.
He bowed, kneeling to help her pick the papers up. [I’m sorry – I didn’t see you.]
[It’s all right. I should be looking where I’m going.]
[I should, as well. I’m meeting some friends in Nagoya and my mind was with them.]
She smiled and nodded. [I am going to Nagoya. I was escorting my grandmother to a flight to England.]
[You live in Nagoya?] he asked.
She bowed her head politely.
He held the papers out, and for a brief, heart-stopping moment, their hands touched. They stood, looking at one another as the world around them disappeared. The feeling was euphoric. Haruki’s breath shuddered; it was unlike anything he’d ever felt in his life. The young lady’s face revealed he was not alone in this moment. With a nervous chuckle, she averted her gaze, then looked back. He did, likewise, then pulled his hands away and fidgeted.
[What’s your name?] she asked.
He blushed with a boyish grin. [I’m Murakami Haruki.]
She smiled. [I’m Igarashi Sakurako. It was nice to meet you.]
With a slight bow, he replied, [You, as well.]
Sakurako turned to leave, then stopped. [Would you like to meet somewhere for a drink or something?]
His mouth gaped a few times, then he released a soft laugh and nodded. [That would be nice.]
She pulled a small notepad out, wrote something down, then handed him the paper. Haruki examined it, then bowed again and pocketed the item. As Sakurako turned to leave, she glanced behind one more time. He was gone. She looked around. It was as if he’d evaporated into thin air. She shrugged, taking quick strides toward the exit.
~ || ~
Akio placed his set of black samurai clothes into his duffel with his extra changes of clothing. He reached under his chiffonier and pulled out a box, retrieving the unused play katana from inside and setting it in with his other things. A sharp poke from behind made him yelp.
[Yasuki! That hurt!]
Yasuki grinned, sheathing his sword. [Are you excited?]
[Yes, I am also nervous. My heart is teeming with flutters.]
He nodded, stuffing the toy back into his own duffel. [Going to a new country is strange.]
[I promised to bring my children souvenirs from West United Union. I hope not to disappoint. I also hope my English is good enough for people to understand me.]
[Hmm.] Yasuki leaned against the wall as Akio continued packing. [You know that feeling you get before something bad is going to happen?]
[Yes, but I often ignore it.]
[It has gotten you into trouble,] he said on a chuckle.
Akio stopped and straightened up. [What troubles your heart?]
[I don’t know, but it’s probably nothing.]
Haruki entered, bouncing around with excitement.
Akio laughed. [You’re in high spirits.]
[I’ve wanted so much to go to the Americas for a convention! They might have holograms and robots! They are also doing a small play about the manga!]
[You’re excited to see someone dressed as your favorite character?]
[Of course!] he almost squealed. [Aren’t you?]
[I’m more mature than you are…]
[You’re a lousy liar.]
All three laughed, then Yasuki poked Haruki. A little girl entered the room and hugged Yasuki, then Haruki. She approached Akio.
Akio smiled down at her. [Yoshi, did you need something?]
[Is it time for you to be going?]
[Daddy, what if you get stuck over there?]
He knelt down and kissed her forehead. [I promise, little butterfly, that I will come home.]
~ || ~