A woman with a sharp glare towered above the cell of prisoner #69, Futa Amanoma. Her crimson red mini-jacket stood out in the sea of orange, giving her an air of danger only heightened by her criminally short black dress. She placed a glove-concealed hand on the door to the cell, easing it open with a grin that would seem mischievous on anyone else; on her, however, it could mean anything from a new assignment to an elaborate joke. That was the first thing the inmate learned while working with her: never take her seriously, but never underestimate her seriousness.
“Well, Pewter, seems like we just can’t keep you in here. You’re needed.”
The prisoner smiled weakly but the silver handcuffs hanging in front of him quickly diminished it. Matching his now slightly grown out silver buzzcut, he offered his hands up solemnly; grey eyes, though concealed by a green visor, watching as the hoops grew ever closer. This was not a personal trip, they said; he’s useful, but he’s still not free. Despite the use of his old nickname, he would never truly be returning to his old life. As he left the cage, the chains pressed uncomfortably against his wrists. The woman nodded and turned, walking confidently out as her former subordinate trailed behind her.
“Heh, if you are being forced to release me on leave of absence this often anyway, you may as well make it official.”
The woman’s long brown ponytail halted its flow in the wind for a moment. A silent laugh shook the strands curling off her head before the ponytail began to bounce again,
“You know I can’t do that.”
As Pewter grimaced, his neon green, triangular spectacles dropped with him. Adjusting his glasses, his mouth curled into the first signs of rebuke, but a narrowed bronze stare stopped him. Shuffling in his uniform, he stayed quiet until he and the woman made it to their destination: a sleek, black vehicle with tinted windows. His departure, then, must be a secret, at least to the public; he wasn’t too surprised. After all, he was being blamed for knowingly assisting a cold-blooded serial killer; he knew that he could never have used body-swapping in his defense. Even if the jury did believe him, he would jeopardize everything- and everyone- he had worked with for the past several years.
His face must have betrayed his discontent because the woman clicked her teeth before responding,
“I may have been your Boss, but you know I respond to higher-ups, too.”
There were so many ways Pewter wanted to respond, but he bit his tongue as Boss gave him a worried gaze. He was sure the strings she pulled were as numerous as the threads of hair in her long, coffee-stained ponytail, but he couldn’t argue. She opened the back door- separation. His anger fading to sadness, he tried to joke,
“Your use of Pewter simply stirred some memories. Pay me no mind.”
He resigned himself to the back seat and slid inside, careful not to hit his head on the short car as he had so many times before. Boss, nodding to herself, closed the door and took the wheel.
“Would you rather we be Shizue Kuranushi and Futa Amanoma?”
The response chilled him more than Pewter thought it would- it would make his situation feel far more real than he was willing to accept. His codename had a certain familiarity to it, enough to trick him into believing that he was merely on leave from his position. He glanced at the rear-view mirror, but he found only his own eyes to meet.
“No, Pewter will work just fine.”
The orange-jumpsuited man swore he could see the corner of her lip rise ever-so-slightly. Taking the opportunity to break the ice, he pounced,
“I know you’ve always had an issue with my codename, but is it really so strange?”
“Pewter...” she started, but her mouth refused to back down from a grin as she continued, “you literally named yourself after a computer.”
“What is so strange about a scientist who specializes in programming choosing an appropriate moniker? Your codename is pretty straightforward, after all.”
“Boss has an air of allure and power, Pewter just reminds me that you’re a nerd,” Boss said in a biting tone, though Pewter would not be deterred,
“Please. I am clearly prison-hardened now; in a few years, you will not even be able to recognize me.”
Apparently, the thought of the tall, meek man being anything other than a slave to computers and herself was enough to tip Boss over the edge. For the first time in a while, she let a genuine laugh escape her peach lips. The warmth carried over to the mirror, where the two pairs of eyes met in camaraderie before shifting to the sides again. She quickly recovered her mask, however, and her face returned to the serious glare he was most accustomed to. Still, this outing was unusual- he had not seen his face-masked caretaker in a while. Usually, the man was practically joined with him at the hip, and he had started to get used to his garish orange undershirt.
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about your retainer... Um... Kaniza, was it? I had him reassigned.”,
“Reassigned? I thought I was being watched as a possible enemy of the state for my knowledge.”
“Enemy of the state? Who gave you that idea?” Her voice betrayed confusion, but as soon as the words left her mouth, she seemed to regret them.
“The man whose name you seem to have a grudge against, Kagami.”
“Right, of course. You might turn Wadjet against humanity.” He thought it odd that even he was noticing her signs of lying, but before he could consider the implications, she continued,
“...Is the line they probably fed you, right? Pewter, I know you’re bad at taking cues, but really, you thought they’d trust a rookie police officer with guarding a potential threat to humankind?”
Pewter felt his anger, directed mostly towards his own lack of understanding, rise a little. Every time one of these situations where someone acts like they’re stating the obvious arises, he can’t help but bristle at his own shortcomings. Perhaps a bit more defensively than he wanted to let on, he responded,
“Well, I can not imagine what else it might be-”
“Pewter, you have a caretaker because the love of your life used you to commit murder, destroy one of your most important projects, and give up your job before dying.”
It was all he could say. The rest of the ride continued in silence as Boss navigated the Tokyo streets. Pewter, unsure what to do with his eyes, allowed them to stray to the world he was now detached from. Of course, he had never exactly been in the world, at least, not the same one passing him by. He was generally contented to confine himself in his own corner of the world, his laboratory: whether that be his room growing up or ABIS while employed, he was happy to ignore the outside world and focus on own inventions. Boss once joked that she had hired him out of fear for what he would have done if not on her leash, but despite his sharp, generally angry-looking look, he was much less of an evil scientist type and much more of a... Lost scientist.
He was never one to go outside, but of course, he always wanted to create. The question, then, was what? He was taught that scientists were supposed to solve problems... But what problems do you encounter if you are cocooned in a world of your own making? The answer was simple: he focused on the two things in his little egg, himself and his computer. The problems with his computer were fairly straightforward: not enough memory, too small a screen, limited by two dimensions, etc. The problems with him, however, were far less obvious. Could he, perhaps, devise a better way to consume calories? What about a way to skip the process entirely? Could he fix his personality? Could he fix his-
“What are you trying to do, make me fall for you with the mysterious brooding angle? You’ve been staring out the window for five minutes. The skyline isn’t that interesting.”
Ripped from his thoughts, he took a few moments to collect himself. Sighing, he shot an exasperated look at the playful eyes in the mirror.
“You know I have no intentions of making a move on you, Boss.”
She let out a clearly over-acted sigh before responding in the coyest voice she could muster,
“Oh but Pewter, it would make our relationship so much more interesting.”
Her voice was oozing with what he was sure was attempted sensuality, but he would have none of it, responding in his usual tone-deaf way that sounded like someone trying to recite passionate poetry by keeping to the inflection notes,
“If you keep this up, you will be the one facing a sexual harassment complaint, Boss.”
She gave him a face that could only be described as a pout, then turned her eyes back to the road. The decision was likely purely for his benefit; he had been working on self-driving cars for years, and it seemed likely that any vehicle Boss drove would be expensive enough to have the feature. He tried to recall his earlier train of thought, but his mind was left blank, a train once-again derailed by the voice of another commanding his attention. Somewhat frustrated, he attempted to guess his destination based on the green signs overhead. Summoning up a mental map, he was given pause: if their destination was ABIS, they should have turned off long ago. He reopened the conversation in an inquisitive tone.
“Boss, where are we going?”
“Nowhere special. Say, I never did ask, why did they let you keep the visor?”
Need to know basis, then. There would be no point in pressing the matter, so he allowed the change in subject.
“Frankly, I am amazed you never asked in our years of working together. Do you really not know?” Pewter asked honestly.
“I’ll be honest, with all the other warnings I was given about you, your fashion sense was the least of my worries.”
The car slowly shifted to the side, taking an off-ramp. Pewter did not, however, recognize the stop. His mental map drawing a blank, a gnawing feeling of anxiety filled him- unfamiliar territory was not his strong suit. Despite constantly foraying into the bounds of science, such lack of restraint in mind was generally accompanied by strict ritual in other areas of his life. He generally tried to wear the same clothes, eat the same food, and stay in the same place.
“Does not knowing really bother you that much?”
Pewter had almost forgotten that Boss was warned about his idiosyncrasies when she hired him. He came with a laundry list of ‘quirks’ that, while entertaining for television, made him an undesirable lab partner. He still recalled rejection letter after rejection letter, all saying the same thing, ‘despite showing promise, he would be unwelcome in a group environment.’
“I will be fine. What was your question, anyway?”
Boss’s concerned face framed by sharp, spiked hair glanced back at him before answering,
“We’re almost there anyway, so I guess there’s no danger in telling you. You’re coming to my place for a little visit and surprise.”
Boss was well aware of Pewter’s tenuous relationship with surprises, so his uncomfortable shift of weight must have been predictable. An unfamiliar location combined with anticipation... The gnawing feeling had grown into a biting monster at the edge of his consciousness. He tapped the side of his visor, adjusting it fruitlessly despite knowing it was perfectly molded to his sharp, sunken face.
“Are you... Kidnapping me?” Pewter asked nervously, curiously.
She smiled in a way that could have passed for unhinged seriousness or joking playfulness, eyes as immutably brown as always,
“And so what if I am?”
They arrived at what Pewter thought was a surprisingly modest apartment building. Boss parked the car and opened Pewter’s door for him, not waiting for the man to slip out of the car. She led him up six flights of stairs before stopping on the top floor, apartment number 616. She turned the doorknob, and what greeted Pewter was a surprisingly barren living room. A few scattered black shelves with nothing on them, a few white chairs, white walls, and a fuzzy black rug were pretty much the limit of the room. Considering the barely-ordered chaos that was her office, Pewter was taken aback at the simplicity of it all.
“You know, a wise man once said that in order to keep a clear head, you need to keep your living quarters spotless.”
“But not your workplace?”
She chuckled before giving her response, “well, I wanted to match my job to my environment- chaotic and layered.”
Pewter thought for a moment. It was true that the room presented was immaculately organized, but considering all the things Boss seemed to own, that could not have been the full story. Dragging his hand across a shelf to reveal a thin layer of dust, he replied,
“You just use your office as a storage room, do you not?”
She looked mildly surprised at him actually making a comeback. Walking to one of the doors in the living room, she responded,
“Guilty. Doesn’t it give the office such a sense of mystery though?”
“When I first entered, the only sense I had was that of sensory overload.”
She faked a sad face at him before opening the door to a small bathroom. It was utterly unremarkable in every way except perhaps the size; the walls were black marble to match most of the furnishings. Despite that, the room had a clear depth, something quite unusual for Japanese apartments, even one as spacious as hers.
“Come over here- I brought you a treat.”
Pewter had never pictured Boss as the coworker who would one day lead him into a bathroom, but the pressure of his hands on his back reminded him that he was in no place to disagree.
Though confused, Pewter was used to taking unrealistic demands, and complied. Quickly, he felt a hand on his wrist, then he heard the cold metal cuffs clang on the ground. With a gentle shove, he found himself facing himself in the bathroom mirror.
“Check the wrack near the shower. I’ll be here if you need anything.”
He was awestruck, staring at his reflection for the first time in a while. His hair had grown out somewhat, and he had even begun to grow the first signs of a beard. Grimacing, he averted his eyes, but was surprised to see his trademark coat and bodysuit hanging on the wrack. His newly freed hands grabbed at them as if they were ghosts liable to disappear. He could feel a great wave of gratitude welling up in him, but reminded himself that Boss was and always would be a selfish woman, and bit his lip. Tearing off his orange jumpsuit, he decided to talk his feelings away.
“Would you like a real answer?”
“Huh?” Boss replied disinterestedly from the other side of the door.
“To why they let me keep the visor.”
Boss had never had the patience to listen to his long-winded explanations, but Pewter was certainly in the need to tell one. Kagami has been patient with him; he had listened to the overwhelmed scientist babble on about logic and programming and a host of different subjects. Pewter prided himself on that- any time he might be overwhelmed by emotion, he converted it to business. He would monologue his way out of the problems of reality and into the problems of the abstract. At this moment, peeling away his orange jumpsuit, he needed someone to monologue to.
“I can’t guarantee I’ll listen, but sure, go ahead.”
He began as he undressed. His first order of business was to peel off the awful, baggy jumpsuit he was confined in. Far too loose, far too short, far too plain.
“Do you know what chicks are like when they first hatch?”
“The only chicks I’m familiar with are known for their breasts and tails.”
He decided to ignore the comment. The familiar feel of his tight bodysuit had calmed him to a point where even Boss’s incessant sexual remarks could not phase him. Unrolling the sleeves and adjusting the semi-transparent patterning to remove the wrinkles, he continued,
“You see, there are two main categories of baby fowl: precocial and altricial. The precocial are avians that hatch ready to stand on their own two feet and challenge the world. The altricial, on the other hand, hatch dependant on their parents. They begin their lives featherless, with soft limbs and closed eyes.”
With a flourish he put his arms through the holes in his white and green lab coat. He rolled up the sleeves to show a hint of green, then polished his look by wrapping his green-yellow file belt around his waist.
“I was born like an altricial bird- completely dependent on my parents. However, unlike the amazona ochrocephala, my hair did not grow, my limbs did not harden, and my eyes did not open. I hatched in the cage of my own dysfunctional body. All I could do was type and listen, which is probably why I’m telling you any of this now.”
He carefully slipped his feet into his tall transparent boots, buckling them carefully. He then braved the mirror once more, this time with a kindly provided electronic razor and pair of scissors. He got to work, shearing off his excess hair and garish beard.
“So, listen I did. I immediately went to work trying to devise a cure, and before my sixteenth birthday, I thought I had. A machine that would cause the misfiring parts of my brain to act normally by sending special patterns of radiation. The prototype was done, and when I turned 16, I tested for the first time. I wheeled myself to the window of my house and turned it on. The first thing I saw was the green grass outside.”
Beard gone, he backed away, looking at himself. The only traces of the last six months were gone. He went to grab his arm-length gloves and pulled them on as he finished,
“The machine eventually stimulated by bones to grow, but it had a drawback- it would likely kill me in 16 years due to heavy radiation. So, until then I worked on nanomachines, until eventually I made Aiba. What I never told you was that I was saving my own life, and that the first successful surgery was performed on myself to rid my brain of the tumors that would soon threaten my higher functions. Of course, I lost substantial brain mass in the experiment, but not enough to hinder me. Well, at least, not enough that my visor could not make up for it. Still, should I take it off, my body would quickly regress, perhaps even become unstable. I estimate I would have 16 minutes before the damage was irreversible-”
He paused when he heard a knock at the door. Afraid, he turned off the lights and attempted to hide the hair he had just removed, dodging behind the shower curtain in a frenzy. Boss, however, sounded nonplussed,
“You’re always free to come inside.”
A low, gravelly voice reached his ears. It was somewhat familiar, but also distant as if something from his past.
“I don’t like the way you phrased that, Boss. You know I’m engaged now- I can’t just come over to your house alone anymore.”
He heard the door open, then a loud crash. He had placed the voice: Kaname Date, in his old body known as Hayato Yagyu, or more simply as Falco. Afraid, he leaped out of the bathtub and opened the door. Concerned, his voice rose above its normal pitch,
“Boss? Are you alright?”
What greeted him a smug Shizue clutching something that looked like his watch, and Date collapsed on the floor. His shaggy black hair blended in with the black shag carpet, his suit likewise disheveled and unbuttoned perhaps due to Date’s lack of care, or perhaps due to his risque nature. Before he could put the pieces together, Boss set them into place,
“You can have this back, I just needed to take out Date.”
She tossed his watch and he scrambled to catch it in the air as she continued.
“Pewter, I called you here because I need you to do something for me.”
Locking the watch on his wrist, the LED hud on his visor was restored. He quickly connected to his information database, and before he could even react to the bold text displaying the words ‘SHOCK FUNCTION ENGAGED, TARGET SUBDUED SUCCESSFULLY’ Boss was in-front of him, a pleading look in her eyes,
“I need you to Psync with him.”