cover art by Opalsong
Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw
cross posted at amplificathon, my journal, and AO3
Girls were the last thing on Hiro's mind as he walked into his aunt’s cafe that afternoon. His work at the lab was going well, and his friends had plans to go for sushi at seven. Fred had refused to let any of them eat lunch so they would all be 'appropriately hungry' later, though he suspected GoGo was sneaking power bars to Wasabi in exchange for the use of his tools. His thoughts were interrupted by someone whisper-shouting his name.
Hiro turned and saw Aunt Cass waving him over from behind the register. It looked like she was trying to be subtle about it, but was clearly failing.
Hiro sighed, hitched up his backpack, and went over to his aunt. “What’s up?”
“You’re a gentleman, right, Hiro? You help people, and you’re good at it.”
Uh oh. Hiro thought. What’s she doing now.
If Aunt Cass noticed how lukewarm his response was, she ignored it.
“Well! You see that girl at that table over there? Brown hair, your age, doing homework, very pretty? You should talk to her.”
“Aunt Cass, you’re trying to set me up?”
“I just said you should talk to her.”
Hiro sighed. “It’s not that I don’t want to date, it’s just that I don’t want to date.”
“That makes no sense,” Aunt Cass pointed out. “Go on!”
Hiro tried again. “If she’s my age, then she’s still in middle school. What would we even have in common?”
“Nanako skipped a grade; she’s in grade 10 at San Fransokyo Collegiate. She’s from out of town, so she lives in dorms and doesn’t know anyone in the city yet.”
Hiro smirked. “Sounds like she knows someone.”
“We’ve talked a few times. She’s been coming in here to do her schoolwork, but she needs friends her own age...”
Here it comes, Hiro thought.
“... and so do you.”
There was no stopping Aunt Cass when she got like this, Hiro knew from experience. “Fine. If I go sit at her table and make excruciatingly painful small talk for five minutes, will you leave me alone?”
“That’s all I ask, sweetie. Have fun!”
Hiro hitched up his backpack one more time and slouched over to the table by the window. What had Aunt Cass said her name was again? Nooni? Nana?
“This seat free?” Hiro asked, waving at the seat across from the brown haired girl. It was currently occupied by her backpack.
The girl looked up. “Go ahead.”
Hiro moved the backpack to the floor. It was surprisingly heavy and hit the ground with a clunk. What was in there?
“So...” Hiro said awkwardly.
“I’m Nanako Dojima. You must be Hiro?”
Hiro wanted to face palm. Aunt Cass, whhyyyyy?
“That’s me.” Searching desperately for something to talk about, Hiro pointed to the textbook open in the middle of the table. “Math, huh? Is it hard?”
Nanako gave the book a quick spin until it was in front of Hiro. “See for yourself.”
Hiro scanned the page dully. I could probably write this textbook, he thought. Except, wait. These questions were hard. Like, really hard.
“I thought you were in grade 10?”
“Most of my classes are grade 10, but math is my specialty. I’m taking university level courses; that’s why I wanted to come to here, since the high school is attached to the university. They don’t have anything like that in Inaba, it’s just a small town.” Nanako took her textbook back and idly flipped through the pages. “What school do you go to? Your aunt didn’t say.”
Hiro braced himself. “San Fransokyo University.” This was always the part where people thought he was a snob or a freak. Not that he cared.
“Really? That’s so cool!”
Hiro was surprised by her reaction. Girls never thought it was cool, but Nanako’s eyes were sparkling. “Um.... yeah. It’s cool! I study robotics.”
“I don’t know yet if I want to apply for university in San Fransokyo or Osakapeg. They’ve both got great math programs.”
“SFU for sure! Nothing against Osakapeg, but they kind of suck.”
Nanako laughed. Hiro was starting to feel sorry that he skipped lunch. His stomach was starting to do some weird things. Was it normal to feel like you had butterflies in your belly when you missed a meal? Yes. Yes. Definitely.
“Uh...” Suddenly, Hiro couldn’t think of anything more to say.
Real smooth, Hiro.
Nanako’s phone rang at that moment. Was that the Junes theme song?
“Oh, I should go,” Nanako said, checking the caller. “It’s my dad.”
“Let me help you with your books,” Hiro offered.
“Thanks,” Nanako said, and answered the call.
While Nanako greeted her dad, Hiro picked up her backpack, opened the zipper and started slipping the textbooks inside. The backpack was filled before Hiro noticed the thing that was sitting at the bottom of the bag. He couldn’t get a good view because now there were a bunch of books on top. But it looked like a length of chain, with something arc shaped and shiny at one end. What the heck?
Just then, Nanako took the phone away from her ear and, looking straight at Hiro, asked, “Let’s meet here again?”
Hiro forgot instantly about the chain in the bag. “Yeah.”
He felt stomach felt hungrier than ever.
Despite inheriting Tadashi's private lab, Hiro liked to work in the common area, especially if, like today, he was just doing routine maintenance on Baymax. It was work he could do in his sleep, and he got to spend more time with his friends. It was a great combination. Usually.
Hiro knew there was going to be trouble as soon as Fred entered the lab, still wearing his mascot outfit, and sauntered extra casually to where Hiro was working.
“Sooooo...” Fred began, “I hear you’ve got your eye on a girl.”
“What!?” demanded Honey Lemon. “Hiro, you didn’t tell us you had a crush on someone.”
Everyone dropped the projects they were working on and started crowding Hiro, who already wanted the ground to open up and swallow him.
“No! It’s nothing!” Hiro insisted. “We just do homework together sometimes. At the cafe. I don’t even know her phone number.”
“What’s her name? How old is she?” Wasabi asked quickly. “Have you asked her on a date yet?”
“It’s nothing! I told you!”
GoGo popped her gum. “You’re lying,” she said dryly. “Spill.”
“Her name is Nanako, she’s fourteen, she’s in grade 10, and the most romantic thing Hiro has done so far is buy her a doughnut,” Fred said proudly.
“Fred,” Hiro warned, “You’re never allowed to talk to my aunt ever again.”
“A doughnut’s a good start,” Honey Lemon said optimistically.
“But not good enough.” GoGo added.
“Do you need help planning?” Wasabi offered. “The secret to a good first date is to plan everything.”
“I don’t need your help,” Hiro said. “We’re not dating.”
Fred waggled his eyebrows. “But you want to.”
Frantically, Hiro tried to change the subject to anything else.
“How about that weather,” he said desperately. “It was so foggy today I couldn’t see a thing.”
“You’re not getting off that easy,” GoGo said. “You like this girl? Ask her out.”
“And wear a clean shirt,” Wasabi advised.
“Oh, can I be there too?” Honey Lemon asked. “I want to watch our Hiro grow up.”
“Let’s all go!” Fred said enthusiastically. “Don’t worry Hiro, you won’t even see us. We’ll be incognito.”
Hiro could literally think of nothing worse. Unfortunately, despite his protestations, the others had already taken off with their planning. They were all talking over each other at light speed.
“It has to be afternoon, when she’s off classes.”
“I have a chemistry exam.”
“Friday? Friday works for me.”
“I thought you had a course then?”
“It’s been cancelled. The professor can’t get out of bed.”
“Friday it is.”
The group turned back to the mortified Hiro.
“Get ready Hiro,” GoGo said. “This is happening.”
Hiro fidgeted at the table near the window; the same table Nanako had been sitting in the first time they’d talked. She was supposed to be here any minute. Hiro didn’t know it was possible to sweat this much.
The situation was not improved by the fact that Hiro's friends were, if possible, even worse at being subtle than Aunt Cass. Fred was wearing a monocle, as if that was going to make him 'blend in'. Not to be outdone, Wasabi had cut eye holes in yesterday's newspaper, even though that had never fooled anyone ever. Last of all there was Honey Lemon and GoGo, who were sitting next to each other facing away from Hiro, using the mirror from Honey Lemon’s makeup compact to see behind them. This had probably seemed like a good idea, but the mirror kept reflecting light into Hiro’s eyes.
Best young minds in the country, he thought glumly. Yeah right.
“This seat free?”
Hiro looked up. Nanako was gesturing to the seat across from him. He smiled; this had become a recurring script between them.
Nanako dropped her backpack next to the chair, where it landed with the same ‘clunk’, and sat down.
“No studying today?” Nanako asked. “You don’t have your books out.”
The light from Honey Lemon’s mirror hit him in the eyes again. “I was, um, hoping we could talk?”
“Sure, about anything in particular?”
Now’s your chance...
“Well, no nothing. Just.”
And you blew it.
“How about we get coffee!” he said desperately. “My treat.”
“Sounds great. I take two creams, two sugars.”
Hiro jumped up and ran to the counter. Aunt Cass had two cups of coffee ready before he even got there, much to the annoyance of the middle aged man who was already waiting for his order. Aunt Cass thrust the hot cups into his hands, almost burning him, and gave him an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
So everyone’s watching me, he thought. Perfect.
“Thanks,” Nanako said, talking the offered cup of coffee. “Two creams, two sugars isn’t too much is it?”
“No! I need three of each just to make this stuff drinkable.”
Hiro winced mentally. Oh crap. It was my idea to get coffee and I just told her I don’t even like it.
But Nanako didn’t seem to notice. She blew on the hot liquid to cool it down and took a sip. “Even better than my dad makes it,” she announced.
“Your dad’s a coffee connoisseur?”
Nanako laughed. “Not quite. Let’s just say coffee is the only thing he can do in the kitchen. He always makes it for me and Big Bro when he visits.”
“You have an older brother?” Hiro asked.
“Well, not actually. He’s my cousin, but I’ve been calling Big Bro since I was six. Do you have any siblings?”
The light flashed in Hiro’s eyes again, making them water.
Hiro had trouble finding his voice. “Um. Yeah, a brother.”
“Crowded in here today, isn’t it?” Nanako said, thankfully changing the subject.
At their table on the other side of the room, Hiro’s friends busied themselves with looking aggressively casual. Fred’s costume also included a pipe, apparently.
The conversation hit a wall at this point.
Now or never, Hiro. You can do this.
“Have you...” Hiro could feel all the blood rushing to his face, but he powered through, “... been to the waterfront yet?”
“Not yet.” Nanako sounded excited at the idea.
Yes, Hiro thought. Excited is good. Good start.
“Do you. That is. Would you like to go with me?”
“I’d love to,” Nanako said, smiling. “What day?”
“How about... today?”
Nanako’s face fell. “I’d like to, I really would. But it looks like it’s going to get foggy again tonight.”
Fog? What? Is that just an excuse? Oh no. It’s just an excuse isn’t it.
Nanako was looking down at her coffee now. “It’s just. When we go, we should go on a clear night. Can’t see much of the waterfront when it’s foggy, can we?”
“Oh. I guess.” Hiro tried his best to hide his disappointment. “So... when it’s clear, we’ll go?”
“Yeah, we’ll go for sure. Trust me, Inaba gets lots of foggy days and it’s best to stay inside.”
“Call me. Here’s my phone number.” Nanako took a piece of paper from her pocket and gave it to Hiro.
A thought struck Hiro as he took the number. She had this ready.
“And Hiro,” Nanako added. “It’s cute, but don’t bring your friends next time.”
Big Hero 6 had been in tough fights before, but none of them had been as tough as this. Or, for that matter, as weird.
Reports of monsters coming out of the fog had started weeks ago, but nobody had paid them much attention, Hiro least of all. Then tonight, at the scene of a small fire, the team had finally seen them for themselves. The fire was in the kitchen of a small restaurant tucked away in a deserted side street near downtown. The fire had been quickly extinguished with a few choice chemicals, courtesy of Honey Lemon, and the fire department was alerted that they could skip the trip.
Wasabi was the first to spot the... whatever they were. They were almost impossible to see clearly in the dense fog. Hiro caught a few glimpses of carapace here, a lumbering shape with four arms there. The things seemed content to ignore the team. Until, that is, Fred got the brilliant idea to breathe some fire in order to see them better. This was evidently taken as an act of aggression and the monsters, still hidden in the fog, started their attack. They didn’t respond to any of the team’s attempts at communication. Still, not wanting to risk killing any sentient life, Big Hero 6 immediately went on the defensive.
The worst part of the fight, in Hiro’s opinion, wasn’t the fog that still prevented him from seeing what they were even up against, and it wasn’t the fact that half their attacks were completely ineffective while the other half were bizarrely too effective. No, the worst part was that throughout it all, his friends still wouldn’t shut up about his love life.
“You sure you’re not worried?” Wasabi asked for the millionth time.
“I’m not! Baymax, block!”
Baymax was having trouble tonight. Despite regular maintenance, hissensors weren’t working. Hiro had to provide instructions at all times.
“I’d be worried,” Wasabi said.
“Of course you would be,” GoGo said, zooming by, the fog swirling behind her.
“Nanako’s just picking up a friend from the train,” Hiro insisted.
“She sounded pretty excited that this ‘Kan-chan’ is visiting though,” Wasabi warned. “Could spell trouble.”
“But your dates have all gone so well!” Honey Lemon said, lobbing an ice blue sphere. Something in the fog screeched as it landed, frost spreading across the pavement. Honey Lemons winced. “Oops. The last one barely did any damage.”
The dates had gone well. Despite the situation, Hiro smiled a little at the memory, thankful that nobody could see with all the fog. They already had plans to go to the squid festival next week. Everything was going to be great.
The scuttling sound of multiple legs was all the warning Hiro had before something hard and jagged smashed into him from behind. Hiro slid for three feet on his face before he even realized it.
“Scanning for injuries,” Baymax said, approaching.
“No!” Hiro said impatiently, getting back to his feet. “Stop scanning me, scan out there. Can you find anything about what’s out there?”
“Should I boost the signal?” Baymax asked.
“Increase local intensity five hundred percent.”
“That will significantly decrease battery life,” Baymax warned.
After a few tense seconds, Baymax announced: “No results.”
What the heck is going on?
GoGo crashed down next to Hiro.
“I think we’re surrounded,” she grunted getting back up. “It doesn’t help that I keep attacking Fred by mistake.”
“Your costume is a bit of a disadvantage,” Honey Lemon agreed, coming up to them.
“My costume is awesome and you’re all just jealous,” Fred said.
“Um. Guys,” said Wasabi, joining them. “What do we do?”
The shapes in the fog were all closer now, and on all sides. Hiro was starting to see them slightly better, which didn’t make him feel any better. There was something there that looked like two corpses impaled together by a metal bar through their heads.
“Your stress levels are all increased,” said Baymax. “Should we do some yoga?”
At that moment, Hiro heard two pairs of feet running towards them and a voice shouted “Persona!”
Suddenly a new figure appeared in the mist. It was massive, two or three times the size of a regular person. Hiro caught a glimpse of what looked like armour, painted with a pattern like a skeleton.
The figure raised a... sword? Maybe? The shape was wrong. Then it swung the sword-thing back down, and when it hit the ground, the air cracked and filled with the smell of ozone. Lightning sprang from nowhere and everywhere. It didn’t touch any of the Big Hero 6, but all the monsters were fried. Most of them disappeared instantly, leaving only two or three.
The giant vanished as well, temporarily creating a hole in the fog. Before the fog swarmed back to fill in the empty space, Hiro caught sight of a person standing there. He was older than Hiro, early twenties probably, and despite the darkness and the chill in the air, he was wearing sunglasses and a sleeveless shirt with a skull on it. He didn’t look like someone Hiro wanted to meet in a dark alley.
“Two left,” the stranger said. “All yours.”
“On it!” shouted a second voice. A familiar voice.
From his left, a second figure dashed forward. This one was smaller, and from her hands swung a length of chain with something shiny and arc shaped at the end. The chain scythe cut cleanly through the final remaining monsters and they vanished.
Hiro stood dumbfounded.
Hiro had been too stunned to ask any of the millions of questions that were swirling around in his head. With a promise to meet up the next day and explain everything, Nanako and Kan-chan had vanished back into the fog.
The following day dawned bright and clear. Aunt Cass had a dentist appointment so Hiro and his friends promised to look after the cafe while she was out. But as soon as Aunt Cass was out of sight, he flipped the sign to closed and waited for Nanako.
Ten minutes later Nanako arrived, bringing along her friend from the night before.
“Kanji Tatsumi,” the tall man introduced himself, though he seemed more interested in Baymax. He kept walking around the healthcare robot, eyeing him up and down like he was measuring for a Baymax sized coffin.
Hiro was looking at Nanako like he was seeing her for the first time.
“What were those things?” GoGo asked. Nobody had to clarify which things she was talking about.
“Shadows,” Nanako explained. “They come from people’s minds, their darkest thoughts. They only appear in the fog.”
Honey Lemon looked horrified. “You mean,” she said, “we were hurting people? We didn’t kill anyone, did we?”
“No, no!” Nanako said strongly, “It doesn’t work like that. Those little ones from last night come from humanity’s collective unconscious, destroying them doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“There are bigger ones?” Wasabi asked, nervously.
“Just leave the shadows to us,” said Kanji. He moved away from Baymax and sat down next to Nanako. While he talked, he picked up a rucksack he’d brought in with him, opened it, and started rifling through its contents. “You’ve got a bigger problem.”
“What?” Hiro asked.
“The fog.” Kanji pulled an object from his bag. At first Hiro thought it was a pen, but it ended in a hook. Was it some kind of weapon, like Nanako’s chain-scythe? But Hiro’s hypothesis was thrown out the window when, with the other hand, Kanji pulled out... a ball of snow white yarn.
Hiro had never thought that crochet was badass before.
I stand corrected.
“Shadows only appear out of the fog,” Kanji explained, the hook in his right hand flying. “But it shouldn’t be happening here. Something’s wrong, and we’re gonna fix it.”
“San Fransokyo gets lots of fog,” Fred pointed out. “Maybe it’s been thicker than usual lately, but it’s not unnatural.”
“But it is unnatural,” Nanako insisted. “The shadows prove that.”
“And it’s spreading.”
Everyone turned to look at Kanji. He paused to break the white yarn with his teeth. “It’s not just San Fransokyo that’s getting unusually thick fog.”
“Inaba,” Hiro guessed. “This all started in your hometown?”
“Something like that. But it’s also in a few other cities now, too.”
“What’s important,” Nanako said, “is that shadows don’t normally attack people unless they’re attacked first.”
Nobody looked comforted.
“Normally?” GoGo asked.
“Like I said,” Kanji repeated, “you deal with the fog, we’ll deal with the shadows. Ask people to stay inside when it’s foggy.”
“Great, control the weather,” Wasabi muttered. “No problem.”
Kanji turned to Nanako and held up the mass of woven yarn he’d been working on.
“What do you think?” he asked. “Will it sell?”
“Yes! Kan-chan, it’s adorable!”
Hiro took a closer look at the... huh? It was a crocheted Baymax. That would go great in my lab, he thought. Not that Hiro wanted one.
“You made that?” Honey Lemon asked.
“Well yeah. You were there. Anyone can bust heads. Making things is what I’m actually good at.”
Nanako laughed. “And selling them. Kanji’s the manager of Tatsumi Textiles.”
“Four stores and counting,” Kanji bragged.
It seemed the meeting was winding down.
“Nanako,” Hiro said quietly, “can we talk privately?”
“Sure. Should we go upstairs?”
Hiro was just about to say yes when Nanako's phone sounded the arrival of a text message.
“Aaaaactually,” Nanako said, reading it. “I’m sorry. Can we wait? I should really go answer this.”
“Is it your dad?”
“No, it’s about the case. Sorry, I’ll be right back.”
Without another word, Nanako ran upstairs. Why was she going to the apartment? If Nanako just wanted privacy the kitchen would have worked better. Seeing the rest of the group was still fawning over Kanji’s miniature Baymax, Hiro made a quick decision. He turned and followed Nanako up the stairs.
“Hiro?” It seemed not everybody was distracted. Baymax was following him. “Relationship problems are not my area of expertise, but all literature says that trust is crucial.”
“SHHHHHH!” Hiro waved frantically for Baymax to shut up. “Follow if you want, but just stay quiet!”
The two of them sneaked up the stairs. Well, Hiro sneaked, Baymax was still working on that one.
As Hiro turned the corner to the living room, he saw the strangest thing of all. Nanako was standing in front of Aunt Cass’s giant television set, her hand on the screen. Then her hand was inside the screen. Soon, her head, shoulders and body followed. Just as Nanako’s foot was about to vanish out of sight, Hiro impulsively dashed forwards, one hand outstretched. It went right through the normally solid glass.
There is definitely more to this, he thought. And I’m going to find out what it is.
“Come on, Baymax, we’re following,” Hiro said. He stood there, one hand in the TV, like he was holding open an elevator door.
“I am not small enough to fit through that opening,”
“Then let some air out. And hurry!”
Hiro let Baymax go through the TV first, hoping the whole time that the television screen wasn’t going to turn solid while any part of his body was halfway through.
No amputations yet. So far so good.
Going through the television after Baymax and Nanako was an odd experience. To say the least.
Hiro wasn’t expecting dense, endless fog (again) but in hindsight it really wasn’t surprising. The downside was that Hiro had zero idea where to find Nanako now. She could have walked away in any direction. But this was a temporary problem.
“Baymax, scan for Nanako,” Hiro instructed.
It took about two seconds. “That way,” Baymax said, pointing.
“Then come on!” Hiro started to run. Baymax trotted behind getting farther and farther away as Hiro sprinted, Baymax’s running skills being only on par with his sneaking skills. Or lack thereof.
Something about his place was giving Hiro the serious creeps. It was like there were voices in his head, but he couldn’t quite hear what they were saying. Hiro distracted himself by debating the pros and cons of how to approach Nanako when he found her. Would she be mad? Should he just go up to her right away? Could he follow her without her noticing?
The decision was made for him when Hiro literally ran straight into Nanako, almost knocking them both over.
“Hiro!?” Nanako said.
Since when does she wear glasses? Hiro wondered.
“Um. Hi,” he said awkwardly.
“What are you doing here? This place is dangerous if you don’t have a Persona.”
Persona. There’s that word again. Kanji had shouted it before he summoned the robot with the skeleton paint job. (Still cool.) It was the one thing they hadn’t explained back in the cafe.
All this rushed through Hiro’s head, but he settled on saying. “I followed you. And can I just say... what the hell?”
“I’ll explain when we get out of here. We should go. Now.”
The unsettled feeling was getting worse.
“But...” Hiro asked nervously. “Why did you come here?”
“My friend Teddie asked to meet, he said he has important news about the case. But never mind that; I’ll call him back when we get out. He can tell me over the phone.”
Nanako grabbed Hiro’s hand and they turned back the way Hiro came. Hiro’s heart immediately started pounding even louder in his ears. Sheesh, this place was creepy. But the hand holding was... nice.
As they headed back, a figure appeared in the fog in front of them. Just a dark shape at first, the fog obscuring everything but the outline. At first Hiro thought it must be Baymax catching up to them finally, but it seemed too small.
“Oh no,” Nanako whispered.
If that wasn’t ominous enough, the shape in the fog spoke too, in a voice that was familiar, but Hiro couldn’t quite place it. The words turned his blood to ice.
“Why leave? This place is what I deserve."
"Who...?" Hiro asked.
Nanako spun around, grabbing Hiro's other hand. They were now standing face to face, with Nanako between him and whoever was approaching.
“Hiro, listen to me,” Nanako said seriously. “Whatever he says to you, you have to stay calm. Just stay calm.”
Hiro barely heard her. The person in the fog was close enough that Hiro could clearly see who it was.
It was him.
The other Hiro had yellow eyes, but otherwise looked they looked completely identical. Idly, Hiro couldn’t help but wonder, does my voice really sound like that?
Who are you?” Hiro asked.
The other Hiro smiled coldly. “I am a shadow, of your true self. I am you.”
Nanako gripped Hiro’s hands tighter. His hands felt cold and clammy in hers.
“I deserve this place,” the other Hiro repeated. “After all, it’s my fault.”
“Shut up!” Hiro shouted.
“Stay calm,” Nanako urged. “Don’t let him get to you.”
But Hiro couldn’t stay calm. He knew what the other Hiro was going to say. He knew it instinctively. It was the words that silently followed him everywhere. And somehow this other Hiro knew them too.
“It’s my fault that Tadashi died.”
“No! It was Callaghan! He started the fire!”
“He only started the fire because of me. Because he wanted what I built.”
“That’s... Tadashi chose to go back inside. He died a hero.”
“Now you’re blaming Tadashi? You just throw him under the bus like that? Just admit it. You killed your own brother.”
“No! Stop it!”
Another figure emerged from the fog; it was Baymax. Hiro breathed again for what felt like the first time in minutes.
“Baymax, initiate defensive program.”
“Hiro,” Baymax said as calmly as ever. “There is no threat.”
“He’s right,” Nanako urged. “Just stay calm, and it will be okay.”
Hiro looked at Nanako. A feeling of horror worse than anything else enveloped him.
“You believe him? You believe what he’s saying?”
“Of course!” the other Hiro said. “She knows I’m telling the truth. She knows who I am. That I am you.”
Nanako was gripping his shoulders now. Her voice was urgent. “Don’t say it!”
But Hiro wasn’t listening.
“YOU’RE NOT ME!”
“They always say it,” Nanako grumbled, letting go of Hiro. She turned to face the other him for the first time. "Get ready, Hiro. This is going to get rough."
The other Hiro laughed. The fog began to swirl around him, faster and faster, taking on an eerie glow. “I knew you would reject me! You reject the truth because you’re weak. And the weak don’t survive.”
The other Hiro started to grow, his form twisting, becoming like the sketches from Hiro’s journal. Dozens of rejected robot designs all rolled into one.
Hiro could barely stand, his head was pounding. He pressed his palms to his ears but he couldn’t shut out the voice.
“Tadashi was strong. And he’d still be alive if it wasn’t for me.”
“Stop it,” Hiro pleaded.
Comforting arms wrapped themselves around Hiro. It was Baymax. “You are in emotional distress. There, there.”
“Baymax,” Hiro said. “Engage the enemy.”
But Baymax didn’t move. “No threat detected.”
“How can you say that. There’s a monster standing right there.”
“No threat detected,” Baymax repeated.
“You’re both wrong.” It was Nanako. Her glasses flashed in the ominous light. “There is a threat. But not for much longer.”
Another light appeared, this one was white and pure, coming from something small and square-ish that floated right in front of Nanako.
There was a sound like breaking glass, and a new figure appeared. She was as tall as the robot creature the other Hiro had become; a woman wearing a dress made of shifting earth. Her face was calm, and her eyes were closed like she was sleeping.
“What is that?” Hiro asked.
“My Persona, Gaia.” Nanako answered. Then she pointed at the other Hiro. “Shattered Earth!”
Gaia raised her arms. The ground underneath the other Hiro exploded. Boulders the size of small cars bombarded the monster. Before it could recover, Nanako attacked again. “Infinite Dragging Sand!”
Now the ground became a massive pit of quicksand. Hands made of dirt crawled out, clutching their enemy’s legs, pulling it down. Soon the other Hiro was completely submerged.
The sand became solid stone. The monster was encased. For now anyway. Gaia faded and vanished.
Nanako turned and came back to Hiro. She grasped his hands again, as Baymax stepped away.
“I know this is hard, Hiro,” she said. “But that thing... he is you. Your shadow. You have to acknowledge him.”
“But...” Hiro was crying now. All his anger had burned away and he felt exhausted. “What he said. You... you think it’s true.”
“I don’t. But what I think doesn’t matter. What matters is that you think it’s true.”
“I...” Hiro wanted to say that he didn’t believe it. But he couldn’t. Because that would be a lie. “I killed Tadashi.”
Nanako didn’t say anything. She just wrapped her arms around him.
“Group hug?” asked Baymax. When nobody answered him, he wrapped his arms around both of them.
That thing, Hiro thought He really is me.
The stone coffin began to glow. Cracks appeared and quickly spread. In seconds the stone shook itself apart. As the broken pieces fell, they disappeared.
The other Hiro appeared again. The shadow looked like him again, not the robot creature it had become. Then it changed shape again - it became big once again, and looked like a robot or maybe a suit of armour. The design was sleek, red and gold with a glowing blue circle in its chest. It faced them for a moment, then faded.
“Congratulations,” said Nanako, smiling. “You’ve got your own Persona now.”
Hiro could feel it. He felt... different. Stronger, but weak. Like he’d had poison in his veins without even knowing it, and it had all just been sucked out, leaving him empty yet restored. He could feel the Persona too, like a small light in his mind.
“What’s his name?” Nanako asked.
Hiro was still a bit in awe, still a bit in shock about everything that had just happened. But he knew the answer to her question without having to think about it.
Hiro had always assumed there was some kind of weirdness maximum that could be experienced in a single period of time. Today was a perfect example. He’d been working under the hypothesis that there was no way today could throw any more surprises at him. He was wrong.
“Nanako!” a new voice yelled from somewhere behind them. Or was it in front now? Hiro was all turned around. “You came! It’s been a beary long time!”
Oh right! Hiro remembered. Nanako came here to meet her friend. Timmy? Todd?
“Hiro, meet Teddie,” Nanako said politely. Then she whispered in his ear, “He likes bear puns.” Then louder again she said, “Teddie, this is my friend Hiro.”
As Teddie got closer in the fog, Hiro got a better look. He was... and this was where Hiro’s weird-o-meter broke completely... a bear? Sort of? Like a giant living teddy bear as designed by someone who had never seen a real bear before. Or a teddy bear either.
“OOOH!!” said Teddie excited. He grabbed Hiro’s hand and shook it enthusiastically. “Any friend of Nanako’s is beary welcome.”
Hiro, already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, managed to say something polite, but he wasn’t sure what.
“Hiro just got his Persona,” Nanako explained. “So we can’t stay long. He needs rest.”
Teddie looked sad for a moment. Then he spotted Baymax.
“And who are you?” Teddie asked. “Are you Hiro’s Persona?”
“I’m Baymax, a personal healthcare companion.”
“A healing Persona! This is will be beary useful!”
“No, Teddie.” Nanako explained. “Baymax isn’t a Persona, he’s a robot.”
“A robot?” Teddie seemed confused. Like he’d never heard the word before. To Hiro, the idea of someone not knowing what a robot was, was a whole other level of weird again.
“It means Baymax isn’t a person. Not like we are,” Nanako said.
This time, Teddie bristled. He rushed over to Baymax and threw his tiny felted arms around him as far as they could go - which wasn’t very.
“Don’t listen to her!” Teddie yelled. “I used to be hollow, but I grew a human body inside myself! I know you can too!”
“I cannot.” Baymax said, matter-of-factly. “Nanako is right; I’m a robot.”
“You have to bear-lieve! Do push ups! I did lots of push ups, but it worked!”
“Teddie,” Nanako said, dragging him off Baymax. “Focus. What was the big news you had?”
“The fog!” Teddie said, “It’s spreading. It’s in four cities now! And on foggy nights, shadows come out!”
“Teddie,” Nanako said impatiently. “We knew this already.”
“You just wanted to play didn’t you?”
“You never come to play anymore, Nanako!” Teddie wailed.
“I’m sorry. But you know I’m busy with school now.”
“I’m such a lonely bear!”
“I’ll come play in the summer,” Nanako promised. “Assuming the world hasn’t ended.”
Teddie slumped again. “Everyone is working so hard. Yukiko and Chie are taking care of the fog in Inaba, Sensei and Yosuke are in Osakapeg, Rise and Naoto went all the way to Kyottawa. Even Kanji is helping you. I’m the only one alone.”
“That’s why you’re the most important of all,” Nanako said. “You have to keep working hard!”
Teddie was shouting again. Something about grizzlies? Hiro, if he had to admit it, was kind of zoning out. His head felt funny, and he was starting to see wiggly lines around the edges of his vision. He didn’t realize that his knees had given out until after Baymax had already picked him up. Cradling him like a baby. It was actually really comfortable.
Hiro woke up a little when Nanako touched his forehead.
“Come on, Baymax,” Nanako said. “Let’s go back.”
Teddie called something about push ups, but Hiro's brain was working on the problem. Well, what part of his brain was still working at all right now.
Four cities. San Fransokyo, Osakapeg, Kyottawa, Inaba. What did they have in common?
Then a new thought occurred to Hiro. It was suddenly the most important question in the world.
“Did he really grow a body? Hiro asked weakly.
“He did,” Nanako confirmed, as Hiro felt himself falling asleep. “He’s actually really hot.”
Hiro had strange dreams.
It took Hiro about one day of solid rest to get back to full form. But he took a full week off school anyway. Not that he liked how Aunt Cass would fuss over him and bring him soup. (Baymax was harder to fool. He made terrible soup anyway.)
Hiro spent the week wandering between poking at his school work, poking at the internet, poking in his tiny home lab. Hiro knew his friends were worried about him. But he was fine, really. Like, actually, really.
Somehow admitting the guilt he felt about Tadashi’s death made it less. Not less in quantity, maybe, but less in potency. It didn’t really make much sense and Hiro didn’t feel like talking about it, so he stayed home.
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the only reason.
The night of the squid festival was perfectly clear. You could almost see the stars through all the light pollution. Hiro was fully prepared for a great evening. He’d built an impressive blanket fort, and was armed with a complete array of movies and snacks. And maybe, maybe, when Aunt Cass was gone, he’d dig out Mr. Huggy, the giant six foot long knitted snake some relative had given him when he was a baby. Mr. Huggy made a great back rest.
Hiro had just changed into his most comfy pyjama pants and arranged himself perfectly in the blanket fort when the doorbell rang. Figuring it was a delivery man with a load of napkins or something, Hiro just ignored it. But the bell rang again. Then again. Hiro sighed and untangled himself from Mr. Huggy.
When he opened the door it was Nanako, wearing a yukata.
“I like your duck pants,” she said. “Are you wearing them to the squid festival?”
In that moment, Hiro wished for death.
“You’ve been avoiding me. You’ve been avoiding everyone.” Nanako said.
“Not everyone,” said Hiro, thinking wistfully of Mr. Huggy.
“We had a date for the festival, and we’re going. Change your pants if you want, but if we’re not there in fifteen minutes I’ve instructed Kan-chan to come and drag you there. He’ll have to leave his booth for that, so he won’t be happy.”
Hiro suddenly found that his feet were extremely fascinating.
“Are you sure you want to -”
“Go!” said Nanako.
Hiro ran upstairs as fast as he could and fished his best jeans out of the laundry. They were still clean enough. He even had a few seconds to spare to splash cold water on his face before it burned off from embarrassment.
They rode the trolley to the festival in awkward silence. Nanako, it seemed, despite dragging him along, refused to initiate conversation. Unfortunately, the only thing Hiro could think of to say was some variation of:
So, how much do you hate me now?
She had to hate him, after what had happened. After what she’d learned about him.
The trolley arrived at the festival and they joined the crowds. Nanako looked at Hiro questioningly. She wasn’t even going to suggest which booth they should go to first.
“Should we...” Hiro said, unable to make eye contact, “Get food?”
“Sounds good,” Nanako said, slipping her arm through the crook in Hiro’s elbow. Hiro felt a jolt at the contact, like electricity. But only because it had surprised him.
They walked again in silence.
How much do you hate me these days? Just wondering.
“Um. How was your week?” Hiro asked instead.
“Yeah, mine too.” Hiro’s face felt hot again. Why? It wasn’t that warm out.
“Don’t look now,” Nanako whispered, “but I think we’re being followed.”
Hiro caught the flash of a monocle in the crowd.
“Yep. No doubt about it,” Hiro said. “Grilled squid okay?”
They both ordered some grilled squid and wandered on through the festival.
What should I say now? Hiro thought. How about ‘on a scale of one to ten, ten being ‘hate a lot’...’
“Can we go to the shooting gallery?” Nanako asked suddenly.
With ten shots, Nanako hit nine mini squid targets. With the same, Hiro only hit one and a half.
“Yay! I win! Now you have to tell me what’s wrong.”
“We were competing, silly. And I won.”
“I didn’t know we were competing!”
“Would you have shot any better if you had?”
“I... Maybe! How are you so good at shooting things anyway?”
“My dad always took me to the gallery at festivals. Now answer the question.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Hiro could see four ‘random’ festival goers mosey slightly closer.
“You said Kanji has a booth!” said Hiro loudly. “Let’s go there!”
Nanako paused, then nodded conspiratorially and grabbed Hiro’s hand. The two of them took off through the crowds, dodging strangers and taking corners at random.
Eventually they ended up crouched next to a booth, but Hiro could never have told you which one, he was too busy keeping his head low. It didn’t smell like food anyway.
“This looks good,” said Nanako. “Now spill.”
“Well.” Hiro said. “Um. It’s just.” His hands were starting to sweat very badly. He pulled them out of Nanako’s. “I mean, it’s only natural after what happened. Over there, I mean. Inside the TV. It’s only natural that, now, you. You know.”
“That you hate me.”
“Oh, Hiro. You’re kind of an idiot. Would I have sent you twenty-five texts in a week if I hated you?”
“I don’t know. Probably!”
“Have you ever hated someone? Or even disliked someone a lot? Did you want to send them dozens of messages saying ‘Are you okay?' Really?”
“Well, I wouldn’t. But you might.”
“Then you don’t know me at all.”
Oh. Hiro thought miserably. So this is it.
“I get it. That’s okay. I’ll just... go. I guess.”
“What? Do you think I’m breaking up with you?”
“I just said you don’t know me well. We’ve had, like, four dates. Of course you don’t know me well yet. That would be creepy!”
There was a rustling from the booth next to them. Or maybe it was more like a hissing from a deep fryer. Maybe it was a food booth?
Nanako put her hands on Hiro’s shoulders and leaned in. “You’re just embarrassed that I saw your shadow. That’s okay. It’s a really private thing, but I don’t hate you. And I won’t tell anyone.”
Hiro’s heart was beating really loud. “You promise?”
“I promise. At least you had it better than Kan-chan or Naoto, or any of the others. When Kanji met his shadow in the TV world, it was literally broadcasted. Anyone in Inaba watching TV at the right time saw...”
“OKAY! THAT’S ENOUGH!”
Hiro looked up and saw Kanji looming down at them from the booth. From inside the booth. They had ended up at Kanji’s stall after all. And not only that, but Fred, Wasabi, GoGo and Honey Lemon were there too. Fred was wearing his monocle and trying to eat two fried squid legs at the same time.
“Hi!” said Honey Lemon. “We didn’t even know you were here.”
“At all!” added Wasabi.
GoGo just popped her gum.
Nanako was trying her best not to laugh.
In all the confusion, it took Hiro a moment to realize what Kanji’s booth was selling. It was a whole booth of crocheted Baymaxes in several sizes. The smallest size was already sold out.
In the commotion, Hiro almost missed his phone vibrating in his pocket. Once he saw what it was, he looked closer, excitedly.
“Something important?” GoGo asked.
“I set up a search a few days ago -”
“Oh, while you were avoiding everybody.”
“Yes, then. I set up a search to see what the four cities with fog all have in common. It took a while, but I just got the message that it’s done.”
The others were now listening excitedly. “And?” Kanji asked. “What is it?”
“I don’t know yet, they have lots of things in common; I have a list not an answer. But it’s a start.”
“Back to work then,” Wasabi sighed.
“Not yet,” said Fred. “Work’s for tomorrow. For tonight... SQUID!”
"Hard to argue with that logic," Hiro said, putting his phone back in his pocket. While the others were discussing which game booth to visit next, Nanako slipped her hand into Hiro’s.
The group had meant to meet up the day after the festival, but they had to postpone another day to let Fred recover from eating too much squid and squid-themed foods.
"Worth it!" Fred announced as he joined the rest of Big Hero 6, plus Kanji and Nanako in Hiro's garage-turned-science-lab.
“Sit down,” said Kanji impatiently. “We’ve waited for you long enough. Let’s stop this damn fog already.”
“He just misses Naoto,” Nanako whispered to Hiro.
“Naoto?” The name was familiar. Hiro was pretty sure he’d heard Teddie mention it, but he’d been, understandably, kind of distracted at the time.
“They’ve been dating since high school,” Nanako explained.
“Stop whispering, you two,” said GoGo to Nanako and Hiro. “What did you find in your search?”
“Well,” Hiro said, talking to everyone, “that’s why I wanted us all to meet. I need your help with this. Because as far as I can tell, we’ve got nothing.”
“There can’t be nothing!” Honey Lemon said.
“Okay, there’s lots, but all of it’s useless,” Hiro said. “All four cities have schools, they all have gas stations, department stores. Nothing remotely suspicious.”
“Don’t underestimate gas stations,” Kanji muttered.
“It’s probably because Inaba is so small,” Nanako said. “There’s not much there to begin with.”
“So it was a dead end,” Wasabi said.
“Science is full of dead ends,” Honey Lemon pointed out. “We just keep looking.”
“She's right. Actually it’s not necessarily a dead end at all,” Kanji said. “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. It might look like nothing, but there’s a clue right in front of us.”
Everyone looked very impressed with this speech. Hiro looked to Nanako, and the expression on his face must have said something along the lines of ‘since when did Kanji become so intellectual?’, because Nanako whispered to him again.
“Naoto’s also a world class detective.”
This time GoGo didn’t call them out. Instead, she asked Kanji, “So what would you suggest we’ve learned from this?”
“I dunno,” Kanji shrugged. “Take Inaba out of the equation.”
Wasabi nodded. “Inaba is clearly the outlier.”
“It has a history of this kind of phenomena,” Honey Lemon added. “The reaction could be sympathetic.”
“I love when they talk science,” Fred said, opening a bag of squid fritters he’d obviously been saving since the festival.
“Hiro, filter the data,” GoGo said. “Take out Inaba.”
Hiro was already on it. The list was much longer now, and all seven of them were now crowded around Hiro, trying to get a good look at his computer screen. Again, most of the similarities were unhelpful.
“There!” Hiro pointed. “I’d call that suspicious. All three cities host Krei Tech servers.”
“Could be nothing,” GoGo said. “But worth checking out.”
“Can you tell if they’ve got any shady projects hosted on those servers?” Nanako asked.
Though hacking wasn’t Hiro specialty, it wasn’t exactly much of challenge for him either. It took about five minutes and Hiro was perusing their top secret files. It was kind of sad that a fourteen year old could break into the secure information of one of the top tech companies in the country. Good thing he hadn’t taken that job offer.
“And?” Wasabi asked, as Hiro skimmed the files he’d found. “Any red flags?”
“Oh yeah,” Hiro answered. “Big time.”
The plan had been to confront Krei Tech right away, but things went wrong almost immediately.
First, Hiro wanted to upgrade Baymax’s tech to be able to detect shadows. The theory was that shadows and Personas were formed by thought waves, somehow. If this was the case, Baymax would only need to scan on the right frequency, and problem solved. It took longer than Hiro expected, almost a week, to get the upgrade up and running.
Hiro had to explain to Fred about eight separate times that this did not mean Baymax would be psychic. He was basically giving Baymax a rudimentary radar - one that found thoughts.
Nanako and Kanji both told Hiro he didn’t have to upgrade Baymax; now that he had a Persona, he could fight shadows better than ever. But that wasn’t right to Hiro; besides, Nanako never went after shadows without her chain scythe.
No. That comparison wasn’t right. Nanako’s chain scythe was a tool. Baymax was Hiro’s partner, and Hiro wasn’t going to leave him behind, or lead him into another battle blind.
All that wasn’t the problem though. The real problem was that while Hiro was working, the fog came back, thicker than ever. Not only that, but the shadows were getting more aggressive. They were starting to attack anyone who got too close to them - and with visibility close to zero, avoiding them was no easy task. Shadow victims always survived, but with some kind of psychic trauma that was beyond Hiro’s, or anyone’s, expertise. Doctors were calling it Apathy Syndrome, and more people were falling sick every night. Almost all classes at San Fransokyo University were cancelled.
They had to act as soon as possible.
But first, Hiro needed practice using his Persona. Nanako basically had to drag Hiro from the lab.
“Come on!” she said. “You need to get out there.”
“You sound like my Aunt,” Hiro complained. “At least let me get Baymax so I can test the new software.”
Soon, the three of them were outside, the fog was so thick that Hiro could barely see Nanako’s outline, even though she was walking right in front of him.
“I’ve been wondering,” Hiro said. “Where do Personas get their shapes from anyway?”
“They’re from different cultures, but always figures from mythology,” Nanako answered. “Nobody knows why.”
“What mythology is Iron Man? I’ve never heard of him.”
“Me neither, but it must be something significant,” Nanako said. “Anyway, stop stalling. You haven’t summoned Iron Man since you got him. Some shadows can only be defeated using a Persona’s abilities. Also, you’ll need these.” She handed Hiro a pair of glasses.
“What are they for?” Hiro asked.
“Put them on and you’ll see.”
Hiro slipped on the glasses and what the heck? The fog was gone. He took the glasses off and it was back. He put them back on again.
“That’s why you were wearing glasses when we were inside the TV. But how do they work?”
“Teddie makes them, that’s all I know. I got him to make a pair for everybody. Hopefully nothing will go wrong at Krei Tech, but you never know.”
Hiro was impressed. “Good idea. I just wish Teddie would stop texting me to ask if Baymax is doing push ups. How did he get my number anyway?”
Nanako laughed. “Guilty!”
Movement at the end of the street caught Hiro’s eye. Nanako saw it too.
“Shadows,” she said.
Time to test some experimental software. “Baymax, scan for shadows.”
Baymax’s eyes glowed briefly. “Detected. One shadow, eighty yards away. Stationary.”
“Well,” Nanako said, “after you.”
Thanks to the glasses, this was the first shadow that Hiro was able to actually get a good look at. And, no surprise, it was weird. It was just one shadow, but it looked like two people. Each was wearing fancy clothes and they were dancing, something like a waltz. Also they had no heads. Instead, there was a single, large floating heart above their necks. When Hiro, Baymax and Nanako got close, something changed. They didn’t stop dancing, but Hiro could somehow feel their attention had focused. Nanako readied her chain scythe. The battle had begun.
“Do it now!” Nanako called.
Hiro was used to feeling in control. He was always the smartest, or one of the smartest people around. This Persona stuff was different. There were no instructions, no formulas, but he somehow knew exactly what to do.
Something glowed in front of Hiro, a small square, and there was a sound like shattered glass. The glow expanded until it was the size of a giant person. It was Iron Man.
“Detected,” Baymax said. “Additional shadow, two yards away. Stationary.”
“We’re gonna need to work on that,” Hiro muttered. Not that he had any clue how to program Baymax to detect the difference.
“Use your Persona to attack. You already know how.”
Again with the hand wavy trust your feelings stuff. But there it was. Hiro did know how.
“Repulsar Ray!” he shouted. Iron Man lifted one hand and a beam shot out of the palm. The dancers staggered. They recovered immediately, but they were dancing much slower, and moved with difficulty, like they were having trouble standing up.
But they weren’t too injured to fight back. One of them lifted a hand and a blast of wind hit Hiro like a wall. He almost went flying but Baymax caught him.
“Unibeam!” Iron Man shot another beam, this one from the glowing circle in his chest. It was even brighter than the last. Hiro could feel the energy from the blast making his arm hairs go all prickly. The shadow, taking the full force of the attack, vanished. Now that he was no longer needed, Iron Man vanished too.
“Shadows no longer detected,” Baymax reported.
“Great job, Hiro!” Nanako said, smiling.
“Thanks. One question though. Does this count as a date?”
“We’re fighting monsters. What’s more romantic than that?”
The fog blanketed the entire city. Starting right after the squid festival, the sun had made an appearance only a few hours a day at most. For the last 48 hours it hadn’t appeared at all. It was time to act.
Hiro was glad he'd gotten a chance to use his Persona. After all, once Krei Tech closed their project and got the data off their servers, the fog would lift and the shadows would disappear. At least, that was the theory.
The plan was simple. Go to Krei Tech head office and talk Alastair Krei into shelving the responsible project. After all, he owed Big Hero 6 for saving his life. Easy peasy. No violence, no fuss. Everyone wore their costumes anyway: they were too cool to leave at home. Nanako and Kanji came too, since they were the real shadow experts and no doubt Krei would have questions.
All eight of them walked right in the front doors of Krei Tech and asked the receptionist where to find the boss. He just pointed them to the private elevator without saying a word. In fact, Hiro was pretty sure the receptionist was so surprised he stopped breathing. Hopefully that was just temporary.
I guess we’re getting pretty famous, Hiro thought to himself.
“What are you smiling about?” Nanako asked.
“Nothing,” Hiro answered, and flipped down the visor on his helmet to hide his face.
Krei’s private office, they were told, was on the top floor of the twenty-six story building. This information turned out to be misleading, if technically accurate. Krei’s office wasn’t on the top floor, it was the top floor.
The first thing they saw upon exiting the elevator was floor to ceiling windows on all four walls. The next thing they saw was the desk right next to the elevator door. The secretary sitting there looked professional, if a little sleepy. She waved them on.
“He’s expecting you.”
Krei’s much larger, fancier desk was in the exact middle of the gigantic room, a little under fifty yards away from where they stood now. TypicalAlastair Krei.
The fog seemed to press against the windows as they walked forward. Hiro could actually see it swirling. It was creepy, to be honest. A little piece of him was glad there were thick windows between them and the fog outside. Just a little piece.
Krei waved as they approached. “Hiro and the Heroes! And I see you brought friends. Does this make you the ‘Big Hero 8’ now? What can I do for you?”
Hiro resisted the strong urge to hurl. Krei was always kind of sleazeball, but Hiro didn’t like the way Krei was treating him like a kid... in front of Nanako. But they had to do this right, so Hiro just gritted his teeth.
“Look Krei, you need to shut down one of your projects.”
“Do I?” Krei said cheerfully. “Which one?”
“The Beta Wave Project.”
Krei’s smile vanished. “That’s a top secret project, very experimental. How do you know about it?”
“Your ship isn’t water tight,” Hiro said. Let Krei think there was a mole feeding him information.
Krei waved a hand dismissively. “Fine, fine. I wouldn’t tell me either. But I simply can’t shut down the project, it’s at too sensitive a stage right now. Besides, why should I shut it down at all? The potential of the project is huge.”
The Beta Wave Project. Krei Tech was trying to find the frequency of subliminal thoughts for the purpose of extraction and interpretation. They claimed the practical applications would be therapeutic, but they were shopping the project to the military. And not the veteran services branch.
“Look,” said Hiro, “you can’t see the connection, but your project is hurting people. I mean, it’s already hurting people. You have to stop it before it hurts even more.”
“It’s still purely theoretical,” Krei laughed. “Number crunching, a few computer simulations.”
“And all the numbers and simulations are being stored on your servers?” Honey Lemon asked.
“The servers in Osakapeg and Kyottawa, and here?” GoGo finished.
“Two cities, which in addition to San Fransokyo have been experiencing prolonged heavy fog and an outbreak of Apathy Syndrome.”
The swirling and weak sunlight was making the light in the massive office move strangely, casting bizarre moving shapes on Krei’s face as he laughed out loud.
“Are you actually saying that one little science project is affecting the weather? And just a few people are too lazy to get out of bed, that's hardly my problem.”
“They’re not lazy!” Kanji shouted. “You dumb suit. Say something like that again, and I’ll sew you a new one.”
Sew him a new suit? Hiro thought, I think he means that literally. Krei, on the other hand, just dismissed Kanji with another wave.
“Fine, ‘depressed’. Okay, I can see that you’re all set on this, and you did save my life. I'll make the call to permanently end the Beta Wave Project, but then we're even. Deal? ”
"Deal," Hiro agreed.
“Detected,” Baymax said suddenly, just as Krei reached for his phone. “Multiple shadows, fifty yards away and closing.”
“Which direction?” Hiro asked.
At that moment, every single window shattered and the fog rolled in.
They had to act right now. First objective: always protect civilians.
“Get out of here,” Hiro shouted to Krei’s secretary. She nodded and quickly ran to the elevator. Hiro just saw the door closing before the visibility shrunk to zero.
“Hey!” Krei shouted. “Now we have to wait for it to come back up. What’s going on? You’ll protect me won’t you?”
Hiro flipped his helmet’s visor up and fumbled for the glasses Nanako had given him. He’d put them in a pocket somewhere. When Hiro finally put the glasses on, he could see that Nanako and Kanji were already wearing theirs.
Shadows were climbing in through the broken windows, moving slowly but with purpose.
“Make the call,” Hiro told Krei seriously. “Right now.”
Krei, though obviously blinded by the fog, nodded silently and reached for his phone again.
“Don’t bother,” said a new voice. “I’ll just tweak the project and keep going. It needed a few modifications anyway. The charade of ‘cancelling’ is unnecessary.”
“Well, this is just perfect,” Nanako muttered.
Hiro had to agree; the last they needed was Krei’s shadow showing up, but here it was.
“I don’t care about people,” Krei’s shadow continued. “Never have. The only thing that matters is the science!”
“Who’s there?” Krei shouted, standing up so fast his chair fell over. “Who’s saying that?!”
“Nobody!” Hiro ran forward. The rest of Big Hero 6 was standing frozen. He’d told them about his experience. Not about all of it, but the relevant details. Even so, he had to diffuse this situation before it exploded. “Team! Form a perimeter around Krei, use the glasses Nanako gave you.”
All the members of Big Hero 6 listened to Hiro right away, but Krei’s shadow, on the other hand, acted like none of them were there.
“Who do you think I am, Alastair Krei? I’m you.”
Krei had forgotten about his phone again. “That’s impossible, you -”
Hiro tried to stop him. “Don’t - !”
“You’re not me.”
They do always say it, Hiro thought.
Nanako looked at him like she was reading his mind. “Told you.”
“What the hell!?” Wasabi exclaimed as Krei’s shadow began to transform.
It sort of looked like a person. It looked more like a person who had been badly cloned, so all its limbs were the wrong sizes. It floated in a massive jar of formaldehyde with impossibly long arms that reached right through the glass. It was so tall it broke a hole in the ceiling. This distracted it, and for a few seconds it forgot about them, even forgot about Krei, and started tearing the entire roof off. Hiro grabbed this opportunity to strategise a bit more. After all, there was a swarm of smaller shadows surrounding them on top of Krei’s shadow.
“Big Hero 6, take out Shadow Krei. Nanako, Kanji, can you handle all the little ones?”
“Just leave it to us!” Kanji said, picking up Krei’s office chair, from where it had fallen. He hefted it like a club. I think I’m dating the wrong one, Hiro mused.
Nanako reached into her purse and after pulling out her chain scythe, discarded the now empty bag onto the ground. Nevermind, Hiro decided.
The real Krei had crawled under his desk and was huddling there in a ball, which suited Hiro just fine.
“Baymax,” he instructed, “stay with Krei. Stop any shadows that approach.”
The battle officially began.
And it didn’t go well. Nanako and Kanji were taking out shadow after shadow, but there were always more of them coming. And nothing was working at all on Shadow Krei.
It shrugged off Fred’s fire breath, and none of Honey Lemon’s chemical mixtures even slowed it down. Wasabi almost sliced his own head off when his plasma blade bounced right off - which was physically impossible, but there you were. GoGo’s magnetic disks were equally ineffective. Hiro had one more idea to try.
Iron Man appeared in a flash.
“Detected,” Baymax said.
“Ignore that one,” Hiro interrupted. “He’s on our side. Repulsar Ray!”
Shadow Krei stumbled back, smoking.
“That actually worked!” Fred shouted. “Hiro, you are officially the coolest person I know. Even more than you already were.”
But Hiro was already working on the problem. Nanako told me about these, Hiro thought. Some shadows are immune to physical attacks. Only a Persona can hurt them.
He was about to call Nanako to come help, that his team should fight the small shadows instead. But he didn’t have the chance - Shadow Krei made his move first.
It pointed at Hiro and sickly green light shone from its hand. Iron Man vanished. Hiro felt like invisible chains were tying themselves around his brain. He tried to call his new plan - he needed Nanako and Gaia more than ever now, but Hiro couldn’t make his voice work. He tried to summon Iron Man again, but he couldn’t find him. It was like Iron Man had disappeared from his mind.
“Hiro,” Honey Lemon said, looking concerned, “what’s wrong?”
“Oh, who cares.”
Oh no. Hiro thought. This is bad. This is really, really bad.
Honey Lemon’s shadow self was standing right behind her. “I can’t believe people actually buy my ‘friends forever’ act.”
It wasn’t only Honey Lemon either, shadows of all his friends had appeared.
“Won’t someone help me?” Shadow GoGo asked. “I pretend I’m independent, but what can I really do alone?”
“What’s going on?” Wasabi said.
His shadow just laughed. “But it’s interesting isn’t it? The best thing about science is plain chaos. Throw something in the pot and see what explodes.”
“What am I even doing here?” Fred’s shadow said. “This science stuff. Man, sometimes it’s just boring.”
Don’t reject them, Hiro wanted to say. But he still couldn’t say anything. Nanako and Kanji were fighting off waves of smaller shadows. They were holding their own, but only barely. There was no way they could come help.
They’re going to say it, aren’t they? Everyone says it, Hiro thought sadly.
But then something happened. Wasabi faced his shadow without even a flinch. “Science comes from chaos, sure. But the fun part is figuring it out later.”
GoGo faced her shadow, too. She put a hand on her shadow’s shoulder.
“I can’t do everything,” her shadow said. “I can’t do anything. But if someone will do it for me...”
“Everyone thinks that way sometimes,” GoGo said. “But I’ll only get stronger by acting like I’m strong.”
Meanwhile, Fred was laughing, and not even Shadow Fred. Actual Fred. “Yeah, sometimes Hiro’s lectures on robotics make my eyes glaze over.”
“I am having a bit of a bad day,” Honey Lemon admitted.
I guess not everybody rejects their shadows after all, Hiro thought proudly. I’ve got some great friends.
Each of the four shadows began to glow. And four new Personas took their place.
Shadow Krei never stood a chance.
Honey Lemon’s persona was a woman with flaming red hair and black clothes. “Widow’s Bite!” she called, and electric bolts shot out of thick bracers around the Persona’s wrists.
“Pretty cool,” GoGo admitted. “But wait until you see what mine can do. Captain Marvel, use Energy Burst!”
Shadow Krei stumbled again, looking distinctly charred now.
“My turn,” Wasabi said. His Persona was a giant silver man, holding a surfboard for some reason. “Cosmic Punch!”
His Persona punched Shadow Krei so hard it literally exploded. Hiro immediately felt his voice come back. He could summon Iron Man again. Not that he needed to now.
“AW!” Fred said. “I didn’t get to use Namor! He’s the coolest!”
“Good job, everyone!” Nanako shouted. “But a little help here??” She was using Gaia now, but the endless hoard of shadows were still coming in the windows, and down from where Shadow Krei had destroyed the roof.
All the members of Big Hero 6 rushed to join the fray, using their Personas and their weapons.
Hiro left the fight to them. He made his way back to the desk in the middle of the room, where Baymax was still protecting Krei.
Hiro knelt down so he and the businessman were face-to-face.
“I believe you have a call to make.”
Krei ordered the project not only cancelled but all the data to be purged immediately. It worked: the fog started thinning right away. More shadows kept filling Krei's office for a while, but they were getting smaller and weaker. And soon enough it was over. Really over. They left the cleanup to Krei.
Two days later they held Kanji’s goodbye party at the cafe. It wasn’t exactly a private party, because the cafe was open to the public, and business was booming. The sun was shining, the people with Apathy Syndrome were starting to recover, and it felt like everyone wanted to get out of the house.
But that was okay. They pushed two smaller tables together and were having enough fun to fill at least three.
“Visit again soon, Kanji?” Nanako said. “And next time, bring Big Bro with you.”
“You can’t get rid of me that easily. We’re planning to open a Tatsumi Textiles store here next year.”
“I’m sad I won’t get to summon my Persona anymore. We all get this awesome power just in time to not need it,” GoGo said.
“Think of it like, we’ll be ready if Krei ever gets greedy and reopens the Beta Wave Project,” Hiro said.
In reality, he was going to miss summoning Iron Man. His Persona wasn’t gone, Hiro could still feel it in his mind. But without the fog, there was no way to bring that piece of himself out physically into the world.
“At least we can agree on what’s important,” Fred said. “That my Persona was the coolest of all.”
“Namor?” Wasabi said, “He wasn’t even wearing pants.”
“And what’s with those little wings on his feet?” GoGo asked. “No way, Captain Marvel is the best, hands down.”
“And you’re not really one to talk about not wearing pants,” Honey Lemon pointed out to Wasabi. “As far as I could tell, Silver Surfer wasn’t wearing any clothes at all. At least Namor had a speedo.”
“Well, yours...” Wasabi started. “Actually, Black Widow was pretty awesome.”
“And don’t forget it,” Honey Lemon said, sipping her tea.
“I have an announcement,” Nanako said. “I’m officially on track to graduate a year early. And the university in Osakapeg has already offered me a full scholarship if I keep my grades up.”
Kanji gave Nanako a high five. “For a genius like you, that’ll be no problem! Congratulations! Your dad will be so proud.”
Hiro’s good mood faltered. “So you’re leaving in a year?”
“A year and half, but yeah.”
“Osakapeg has a great math program,” Hiro said, putting on a smile. “This is great.”
“You don’t have to pretend to be happy,” Nanako said. “But a year and a half is a long time. Look at how much we’ve done already.” Then she leaned in and gave Hiro a kiss.
Hiro felt himself blushing scarlet, but his smile was back. He thought to himself. Yeah, a year and a half isn’t so bad.