01. Wild West
"It just doesn't make any sense," said Yomiko, book in hand.
"Sensei?" said Nenene.
"Why does the author keep returning to this setting? It's the middle of an invasion and attempted cultural genocide; there are only so many stories you can tell without confronting that."
"Granted, there's a literary tradition of stories set in a fantasized version of the era, but the author doesn't seem conversant with those tropes at all..."
"...and even when reduced to their essential archetypes, the characters she's working with don't seem like a natural fit for the—"
At that moment, Yomiko's spur-heeled boots carried her directly into the front post of the saloon.
"I keep telling you, sensei, not to get preoccupied with a book and careless about where you're walking," said Nenene, picking up Yomiko's ten-gallon hat from where it had fallen and brushing off the dust of the road. "And as for the story, beats me. Maybe the author just got locked into a contract."
There is no such person as Yomiko Readman.
That's what every search engine and every database tells her. Even the bugs sent out to crawl the Deep 'Net, or the government servers under eight layers of security crafted by the world's best programmers to the tune of several billion yen each. Nobody should be able to wipe the records so completely; there ought to be a digital fingerprint left somewhere, at the passport office or on the voter rolls or in the goddamn library. She's been through it all, and there's zip.
But Nenene's not giving up.
Because she remembers the way the code would sing when Yomiko's neural implants touched down. It wasn't just data where she was concerned; it wasn't even poetry or art. It was a living, breathing thing, and it loved her. A human being couldn't delete their existence from every global record, but if that human simply asked, and the records themselves decided to do her a favor...anything is possible.
If ever Nenene gets discouraged by the long and fruitless search, all she has to do is open her locket. Not a LocKet app, a script at the whim of corruptible codecs. A physical locket, containing a scrap of analog film.
There was such a person as Yomiko Readman for long enough to be photographed. That's all Nenene needs to know.
Relying on paper parachutes is a great idea until it rains.
Yomiko drops through the clouds, hands still clinging to her bag out of a lifetime of habit, though it flops empty in the rushing wind and its contents are falling in sodden clumps all around her...
...until a brown-speckled bird the size of a helicopter soars out of the fog and arcs under her, sticking its neck right through the bag's handle.
"Geez, sensei," squawks the bird, as Yomiko slips and slides over its dappled back feathers. "You made me save you again."
"Let me get this straight."
The trio of scurvy swabbers cringed away from their Captain's stony glare.
"I sent you out for gold, wine, armor, meat and cheese, fine silks and rich spices...you know, loot and plunder?"
Off to the side of the deck, the cabin girl rolled her eyes at her shipmates. The cabin boy, who wasn't nearly so blasé about conflict among friends, sank through the floor.
"And not only did you get none of it...not even something we can roast for dinner tonight...what you did get was SO MANY BOOKS that MY SHIP IS SINKING UNDER THE WEIGHT?"
"Technically," said Michelle, "it's not the weight that affects an object's buoyancy, it's the mass—"
"I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT!" shouted Cap'n Sumiregawa. "At least half of them need to be off my ship in the next hour. You can get them safely back onshore where they belong, or I can start throwing them off! Is that understood?"
05. ...In SPACE!!
The aliens have hijacked the cruiser. Security are presumably up on deck fighting, but Nenene can't be sure. Like the rest of the civilian passengers, she's stuck in the cargo bay, where all the various noises of massed human panic and despair are underlaid by an ominous whistling sound from the cracked airlock.
Nenene finds a free crate to sit on, whips out her pocket notebook, and starts jotting things down.
If she doesn't die within the next couple of hours, this is going to become an amazing disaster novel.
06. Born Another Gender
Sumiregawa Natsuo is no fool. He knows there's money to be made in this yaoi stuff, if you can just get the fujoshi market to take notice. He also knows full well that you don't actually have to know anything about real-life boys' love or gay sex to pull it off; all that matters is that you play to the fangirl mind.
Still, even as a young writer, Natsuo knows better than to slack off at his craft just because he can.
So when Yoshio Readman, that new teacher and a huge otaku fanboy in his own right, shows up in the library with a stack of books that he presumably wants signed (seriously, huge fanboy), Natsuo grabs him by the lapels and locks their lips together.
He's a perfectionist that way.
Every year, some teacher or another tries to get her to change. And every year, when they approach her carefully sequestered corner of the playground, Nenene pulls her knees up closer to her chest and focuses more intently on the notebook propped there.
She doesn't need another grown-up telling her she should go play on the slide, or run around with her little friends. All she needs to do is write.
Nenene's used to getting tokens of thanks. Flowers after she saves someone's home. Free samples after quelling a blaze in an office building. Tearful embraces and promises to repay her with any service she desires when there's a friend or family member involved, or even, sometimes, a beloved pet.
She's not used to saying "don't worry, ma'am, the bookshelf wasn't damaged" and having the ma'am in question pounce on her and kiss her within an inch of her life.
(Although she could definitely get used to it.)
09. Urban Fantasy
"Gomenasai!" exclaimed the vampire [wearing glasses for some reason, but definitely a vampire], clapping her hands together and bowing. "And itidakimasu!"
Nenene tried to use the opportunity to bolt down the alley. In a single step the vampire whisked across the distance she'd put between them and grabbed her, pulling back the collar of her school uniform to sink needle-sharp fangs into her veins.
"Ahsuh," said the vampire, letting blood trickle down Nenene's neck as it tried to speak and drink simultaneously, "uh juhst wahn yuh tuh know that uh weawy wuhv yuhr buhks."
The package deal was tempting. And Nenene did need to bulk up the size of her harem, even if Yomiko and Nancy were the most brilliant, most skillful, and, yes, sexiest concubines a woman could ask for.
Still..."I'm not into kids," she said flatly, looking down at the shortest member of the gauzily clad trio. "Why do I have to pay extra for the shrimp?"
"Oh, you don't have to have sex with her!" exclaimed the blonde, causing both her tall and miniature sisters to flush bright red. "Anita has lots of other skills! Do you need a mascot? She would be an excellent mascot. Here, let us show you what she looks like in her froggy hat...."
"I'm not wearing the stupid froggy hat!"
While the other two sisters wrestled over something green and horrendous, the tall dark-haired woman took Nenene's hand. She had to practically get down on one knee to be on an eye level with the would-be buyer, but once she got there, her expression was so soft it made the rest of the world around her go slightly out of focus.
"Please," she said softly, "don't separate our precious sisterhood."
What could Nenene say? She had always been a softie at heart.