Chapter 1: AIguiller
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.”
Chapter 2: PSYNCIN' IN THE TRaiBE
Pewter is back in ABIS, from scientist to Psyncer. What is Kaname Date-Sagan dreaming about?
Chapter 1 was edited a little for clarity and flow- if you haven't read it already, please do so!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Psync with him?”
Pewter was so taken aback by the turn of events that all he could do was repeat her words like the parrot he was. Boss, however, responded as if the phrase was no more surprising than a duck in a pond,
“Oh, wasn’t it obvious? This was a jailbreak.”
“A- a jailbreak?”
Pewter had known something was off about the whole situation- being taken to Boss’s house and having his handcuffs removed without Kagami there was certainly suspicious- but a jailbreak? He had not counted on that, especially after Boss had so sternly warned him about her position.
“Yes, a jailbreak. You’re usually quicker to adapt to these things. All that mushy food getting to your brain?”
He adjusted his visor out of nervous habit before responding,
“No, I am merely surprised. After using me to reinstall Aiba and then going silent for three months, I figured the only time I would hear from you again is if you needed something for Date.”
She feigned a hurt face, as if to say ‘ why, I don’t always use people, only some of the time! ’ but the presence of Date on the floor was evidence enough. She put her trademark smirk back on and continued,
“Well, you’re almost right, but this time it’s not Date, but me who needs your help. I wouldn’t call you out like this if I didn’t think you stood to gain from it though.”
Pewter defaulted to his normal reaction to Boss’s antics: a long, exasperated sigh. Working under the Boss had been hectic, but it had a certain charm; he was sure never to be bored on the job, and he would certainly be pushed to his limits. Sometimes he wondered if Boss lived her life to surprise others, or if the life she lived was simply too surprising for others to comprehend. Regardless of whether the beat was calculated or not, it still had the same effect: pulling those around her into that absurd march. And, like a soldier returning from leave, that beat made him fall back into his usual patterns.
“I have a feeling you would have called me out regardless of whether or not I stood to gain. Still, I am intrigued; you must be quite desperate to not only break me out of jail, but taze the underling you care about so much.”
“Well, I didn’t want him to get any ideas if he saw you changing in the bathroom.”
Her replies were often like that; by being short, snappy, and sexual, she could distract from the main point. It was this habit that made talking to her always interesting, yet somehow unfulfilling; she could talk your ear off, but she’d never let you get close to the truth, taking hold of the conversation with her wit and charm. Unfortunately for Boss, however, her favorite scientist was mostly immune to her wiles, though he still managed to lose conversations due to his own lack of ability to keep up.
“Of course, I suppose seeing me out of my cell in any state would require explanation.”
Pewter looked down at Date’s sleeping body, the numbers flashing across his vision once again hold his attention. His visor lit up, a hundred different images fighting for his attention like the chaos of the Shibuya Crossing. Luckily, navigating was his specialty; whether it be dreams, code, or theories, he could take it all in and make decisions rapidly. Currently his information flow was updating him on Date’s recent cases: nothing notable, he must have been trying to stay safe. A short flick of the wrist changed it to analysis; a quick summary of the likely cause and length of sleep told him what he already knew about the shock function. Refocusing his eyes, he could see the traces of pancakes he ate for breakfast, or a breakdown of every wrinkle in his unkempt black coat that matched his equally unkempt black hair.
“Are you ready to go?” Boss asked impatiently.
He had been so absorbed with the inflow of information that he had forgotten the situation he was in. His mind had dulled- usually he could check the news, argue with people online, debug code, and cower before Boss simultaneously. A few months without access to his body of information had him soft. At first, he had been afraid- so used to knowing everything about people, he constantly forgot names and facts. Luckily, his caretaker Kagami was so simple a person that his facts could hardly be forgotten; it was that shallowness in both personality and depth that kept him from losing his mind at the inability to know everything about people he met. Pewter made a mental note to express gratitude to Kagami the next time he saw him.
The door shut in front of him, the sleeping body of Date gone. Confused, his visor provided the answer with a recording: Boss had tried to snap him back to reality a few times, and once exasperated, had said,
“I know you’ll see this later, so come to my car. We’re going to ABIS.”
Hurrying out the door, he saw Boss fiddling with keys, Date leaned against the front-right tire. A lack of dirt on his untucked red and yellow striped shirt told him that Boss had carried him to the car. A few numbers revealed the exact time it took, and where he might bruise later.
“Welcome back to reality. Glad to see the record function is still working.”
“Well, since it was deemed necessary for my daily functions, the resources necessary to do maintenance on my visor were one thing I was allowed in prison.”
The car clicked open and Boss opened the back door, showing no external signs of struggle as she lifted Date and draped him across the seat. Pewter eyed Date’s left AI-Ball warily before being informed that the shock had completely drained Aiba’s charge.
“Sorry, you’ll have to be in front this time.”
“I am comfortable with switching things up.”
The two opened their respective doors and got into the car, Pewter’s knee bumping into the dashboard as he crammed himself into the smaller space.
“Ow-Wait, ABIS? Psync with him?”
Boss started the engine, masking what might have a small chuckle. She reversed the car out of the parking lot before responding,
“Welcome back to the present. I did tell you that, didn’t I?”
“Well, yes but- you know I can not Psync myself.”
“Oh? I suppose I can give you this back then.”
Boss stopped the car to hold out his orange jumpsuit. A chill ran down his spine; he averted his eyes and mumbled,
“I... Am not able to Psync, Boss. Were you listening to me while changing?”
“I was a bit busy getting this piece of work to come to my house.”
Though Pewter could not see her, he could practically feel her gesture towards the back seat and smug grin. In times like this, her nonchalant attitude usually served to calm him down, but today it was only making his worries intensify.
“When I take off the visor, the synapses in my brain degenerate-”
“Ahem. I go blind, and die soon after. It’s why I was allowed to keep it even in jail. I really thought I was opening up to you...”
Like many other times, Boss’s tone was overwhelming; of course, she usually used it to diffuse situations, not aggravate them, just like now. Her permanently nonplussed demeanor invaded conversations, turning the insane into the mundane and the mundane into the inane. Right now, however, that coolness seemed to be tinged with a hint of awkwardness, Boss’s aura unable to completely squash the fact she had completely ignored him, but the soft purr of the engine restarting restored the flow. Her voice was similarly smooth and honeyed as she replied,
“Well, I’m flattered you trust me that much. Besides, you can handle it for just a little, right?”
“Ahh yes, I love flirting with multiple organ failure! Boss, you know there are many things I would do for you, but I did tell you I would never Psync.”
“Not even for Renju?”
Sharp. To the point. A knife pointed directly at his heart. He didn’t want to think about him.
Pewter stammered out all he could, “Renju... Is...”
The Boss was cruel in many ways, one of which was her ruthless application of emotional manipulation. She’d make you laugh, cry, and ultimately do what she wanted. In this moment, she provided a relief, if only to hang it over Pewter’s head,
“No longer with us? Yeah.”
“E-even for him... The Psynced is at risk as well; their consciousness could be partially erased merely by-”
Boss cut him off before he could make an argument, “Yeah, well, you said what, 16 minutes? That’s loads more time than we need.”
“So you were listening. Why lie?”
“Am I wrong?”
She gave him a smirk, her sleek car continuing to barrel towards the destination Pewter to which Pewter had not consented.
“You are not wrong, but I said 16 minutes was the absolute limit. Even a few seconds is dangerous.”
“You’ll have to actually try to be fast then.”
Pewter was growing irritated with Boss’s complete lack of regard for his life. Surely she had to realize how insuff-
“What if it... Was for Renju?” Boss questioned quietly.
Pewter had to pause- it was unlike Boss to stutter. He had a sneaking feeling it was merely for effect, but even then, he could not stifle his own reaction. A numbing feeling in his hand made him notice that his other had curled protectively around his watch some time ago.
“I... Suppose I would have to think about it. I’ll need more than that to risk my life, however. How do you intend on sneaking me into the Psync Room anyway?”
Boss grinned as she replied, “I called a staff holiday.”
“For a police station?”
“All it took was the price of catering pretzels to a lobby far, far away from the back entrance. Once we’re inside, no one comes down anyway, and if they do I’m sure you can squeeze into one of the lockers.”
Pewter shook his head. Just this once, he couldn’t allow himself to fall in line with Boss’s antics. His former coworker was lying unconscious behind him and his visor showed his location as dangerously close to the trip’s destination.
“I can not allow you to distract me this time. Please, Boss. Explain, even if just a little. This is a great risk for both Date and myself.”
She glanced at the overhead sign, as if calculating how long she had to entertain him until their arrival. Pewter refused to be ignored, steeling himself as he gazed directly at her eyes. He nearly faltered when their gaze shifted from the road to him, but he used whatever courage he had to keep the conversation from shifting once again.
“Date... Keeps talking about things that make no sense. Sometimes he’ll bring up things Mizuki had never told him, claiming he heard them during a hospital stay that never happened. Sometimes, when I ask him about his past Psyncs, he lists worlds I’ve never heard of. Of course, afterward he forgets the details and apologizes, but earlier this week he threatened me before an interrogation. We had both been sitting down, me across from him, as we waited for the suspect to be brought in.”
She almost seemed sad as she continued. A crack in her facade, maybe?
“He pulled his Evolver on me, yelling that ‘IT WAS YOU.’ The rage in his eyes was like I hadn’t seen in years, maybe even since his Rohan days.”
Pewter’s mind began to wander in the brief silence that followed. After the incident at the Sagan Residence, Date- though he went by Falco then- had fallen into a deep depression. Unable to visit the only people he cared about and burdened with the knowledge of having hurt the love of his life, he hardly left Hitomi’s hospital room or his bed for weeks. However, something changed soon after; perhaps Rohan’s brain injury finally got to him, or perhaps all the pent up emotions from shooting Hitomi had finally unearthed themselves. Whatever the reason, Pewter had used outdated equipment for administering sedatives in the Psync Machine as a makeshift mood boost, ensuring that where Date’s regular therapy failed, the drugs would hopefully substitute.
“That serious?” Pewter responded warily. He knew Boss was no stranger to manipulation, but of course, Boss knew he was no stranger to caving in.
“I’m... Worried about him. I’m sure you are, too, but that’s not why I called you out here; I wouldn’t rely on your goodwill that much.”
“You think there’s a problem with my code? That Psyncing caused this?”
She shook her head as she spoke, “Well, yes... And no. I think Psyncing caused this, but this isn’t normal. Pewter, I think he may have memories from... Other worlds.”
Other worlds. Worlds where events may not have occurred as they did in this world. Worlds where the dead could be alive like nothing had happened.
“I see why you called me, but parallel worlds are a mere trick of our current understanding of quantum mechanics. Certainly you are not suggesting they really exist, and that Date is somehow tapping into them?”
“Well, that’s what we’re going to find out.”
The pair finally arrived at the towering Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Building. The sunlight reflecting off the building threatened to blind Pewter, but his visor automatically adjusted to darken his vision, allowing him to see the myriad empty rooms. Sure enough, the parking lot was abandoned, allowing Pewter to leave the car in plain sight. A quick glance at the security cameras showed only dead recording lights and shifted cameras. Boss motioned for Pewter to come to the back, and the two grabbed a drooling Date, Boss keeping his head from dragging while Pewter supported his legs. Still worried, Pewter continued,
“Why do you need me? If you wanted to Psync with Date, you could have done it yourself.”
Boss cursed under her breath as they entered the glass doors.
“I can’t Psync, Pewter. The Head Office assigned me to this department as a sick joke.”
The words hung in the air as Boss used her security card to pass through the detectors and reach the elevator. A quick swipe unlocked floor B6. Apparently, the forced close quarters as well as inherent awkwardness of holding a coworker was enough to force Boss to continue,
“I was one of the volunteers for the original Psync experiments. Did it a ton of times with the original machine, before you were brought on the team to make a revised version. Long story short, it messed with my head, and if I do it one more time I’ll likely lose my sense of self entirely.”
“I-I... I apologize, I was not aware you-”
“Oh, save it. If I wanted pity, I’d have used it on you long ago. You might be tempted to say this excuses my being controlling or my hatred of HQ, but in the end, I won out- they thought that, even with record of coercion, if I wasn’t in full control, I couldn’t abuse the system. Well, they were wrong. Using others is just as effective and half as dangerous.”
The beep of the elevator signified that their destination had been reached. Walking down a short hallway, Boss and Pewter carried the unconscious man to a familiar door. As it opened, Pewter exhaled audibly; it was here that he felt most comfortable, and here that he had spent a large portion of his life. The scientific articles he had been reading on the way phased out of his visor, automatically connecting to the TVs all around the walls. The article, however, was frozen; his eyes were focused on the glowing blue circle beyond a layer of thick glass.
The Psync Machine’s many wires were limp, the chairs vacant, and the Psync Gears idly upturned. The very picture of stasis, save for the two moving blue lights chasing each other in an infinite circle. Two salty blue dots threatened to appear on Pewter’s face, but he kept his stony facade as he walked up to his desk. His chair had not been taken care of; it was beginning to show signs of creases. His visor told him the crease was temporary but would take 5 hours to restore the 2mm indent. Shaking his head to clear the data, he focused again on the manuals he had long since memorized and the keys he had hammered away at for so many long nights.
Tears were fighting valiantly to appear on Pewter’s cheek, the protests of his pride falling victim to the gravity of the moment. Pewter was home, and though it might be temporary, it was something to be celebrated all the same. A few salty droplets fell victim to gravity before Pewter hastily wiped the next batch away. He was at home, yes, but his home was his work, and no place for such sentimentality. Composing himself, he straightened his back and let his hands fall in his pockets before facing Boss with somewhat bloodshot eyes.
“I understand that you cannot Psync... But you must understand that I too carry a risk.”
Boss spoke genuinely, almost pleading, “I know, I know. But no one else knows the full story; I can’t very well ask a civilian to Psync, and none of the other Psyncers understand the situation. If we’re fast, you said there wouldn’t be any damage, right?”
“That was what I projected, but due to its dangerous nature I have never tested my theories-”
“Pewter. I’ve known you for how long now? Since when have you been wrong about your calculations? Have a little faith in yourself.”
A list of numbers in a screen above Boss did tell Pewter that his calculations should be, in theory, correct. The benefits of figuring out what was happening to Date were myriad; beyond its use in helping a friend, the possible scientific breakthroughs were irresistible. His instincts as a man of science finally kicked in as he came closer and closer to being able to unravel some secrets of the world. A pinch in his leg alerted him to his clenched fist: he was terribly excited.
“I ran the calculations a few more times. It should be safe for me to take off the visor for a few minutes.”
“Well, we’ll just have to be quick then. I’ll prepare everything, just go and take your seat.” Boss tried to offer kindly, but Pewter rejected,
“Please, allow me to run set-up... I... Want a chance to look over everything.”
“Knock yourself out.”
Boss left the side of Pewter’s favorite chair to lean against the railing above, watching as Pewter’s fingers glided across the keyboard. Despite being months out of practice, he fell into the starting routines instantly, some combination of muscle memory and the recitations he had used to fall asleep letting him act as if no time had gone by at all. Boss’s attention soon moved on; she decided to busy herself by carrying the unconscious Date down the steep stairs into the Psync room. Pewter, engrossed in his work, hardly noticed; some blip on the monitor told him that the doors had been opened, but at this very point in time, none of that mattered. He could once again lose himself in the myriad lines of code he had written, the entangled web of prompts, gauges, and statuses that allowed him to forget the outside world. Down here, on this computer, Pewter could access the worlds of everyone’s wildest dreams.
The Psync gear affixed, the door open notification played again as Boss’s boots clicked against the floor, returned to her normal perch looking over the scene. Restrained only by a railing, she gazed down on her two pawns before walking down the short staircase, meeting Pewter at eye-level.
“So you’re fine with Psyncing?”
A bitter laugh escaped his lips as he completed the last preparations and turned to face her. His face was cemented into a weary, defeated smile.
“I am not ‘fine’ with Psyncing. However, you have given me no choice but to accept it.”
He broke her gaze by standing up and facing the door. Boss was about to comment, but Pewter interrupted whatever thoughts she may have had,
“Please, as soon as I secure the Psync Gear, begin the initiation process. I do not want to risk more of myself than is necessary.”
Boss frowned as she quickly replied,
Pewter hesitated; perhaps his brain was giving him one last chance to rethink his actions. The door, however, opened, and he walked through, almost in a trance as he attempted not to think about his decision. Stepping into the room for the first time as a participant, he carefully laid his body on the nearly-too-short Psyncer’s Chair adjusted the Psync Gear. The chair was as comfortable as he knew he had specified when ordering it; if people were going to be sleeping in them regularly, the least he could do was make sure their muscles were not pained as they awoke. Despite his physical comfort, his mind was whirring, visor filled with warning messages. He lowered the Gear to his face, and when he felt the tip of the Gear touch his forehead, he steeled himself.
A moment of hesitation. The last chance to quit. He couldn’t go back if-
His other hand had found its way into his pocket. He felt something in the hidden compartment-
Fingers curled around the visor-
Hand curled around something cold. A watch-
He lifted from his face-
He didn’t need to look to see that it was golden-
And everything went dark.
His mind began to race. How foolish could he be to trust Boss on this? Especially being one of the few in the world to know about body-swapping, how could he have been so naive? What if someone was plotting to kill him-or what if Boss herself was getting rid of witnesses? He was in the most vulnerable position he had ever been, stuck without his visor for the first time since he had donned it at the age of 16. Every inch of his consciousness focusing on his eye, he thought he could feel the mild numbing effect that warned of the nanobots about to invade his skull. He, of course, has been complacent to be at Boss’s mercy many times before, but to trust her like this on such a vague promise? How could he have been such a foo-
“The machine is running. Try walking around a bit.”
The soft, yet commanding voice pierced through his worries. Back on track, he spun his head around, but the darkness was everywhere. Perhaps his brain had stopped being able to process visual information? Disoriented, he tried to stumble around, catching his foot on something soft.
He heard a chuckle as he lost his balance, back colliding on something hard.
He replied, exasperated, “Do you have nothing better to do?”
“I thought, maybe I could be like your partner? Advise and all? You know, Aiba does look an awful lot like me...”
“But I am not Date, and Aiba has far more sensibility than you.”
“Oh spare me, you’re the one lost in a dream.”
Pewter, having no real reply to that, tried to put his hand behind him to steady himself. As soon as his hand touched fabric, the first color blinded him. All he could see was long, blue, flowing hair that jutted out at the top in many directions before falling down into two curled-up ponytails, one nearly at the ground and one at hip level. Shocked, he tried to stand, but as he did the blue abruptly leaped out of his vision, tackling a shadowy figure at full speed. The shadow screamed shrilly, then pleasant laughter reached his ears.
“The blue must be Mizuki... Then that shadow is Date? Does he truly seem himself in such a dismal manner?”
A loud, high voice interrupted Boss, its glee slicing through the thoughts of both the disgruntled Psyncer and his self-proclaimed partner,
“I got you fair-and-square! Now you have to take me out for stew!”
A low grumble accompanied by grunts of effort as Date attempted to sit up replied,
“Again? We just went a few months ago... I only promised you once, you know. Now that I have so many people to support, I can’t afford going out all the time.”
The blue figure, now identified as Mizuki, had no definitions save her hair, but Pewter could still envision the annoyed pout face she had certainly gotten from...
A sassy voice saved Pewter from his train of thought, “Liar! I saw your history, you know! If you have enough money for an expensive ring, you can take me out!”
He could not afford to become too emotionally invested, lest the Psync be compromised. Refocusing, he tried to pay attention to the neon blue stands bobbing about in his vision as Mizuki went from happy cheers to accusatory glares.
“Damn it! I should have been more careful. Well, if you don’t tell Hitomi, maybe I could spare some time and take you this weekend. Deal?”
The blue shook to the side as if Mizuki cocked her head, then shook as she nodded. The gesture was... Familiar, to say the least, though usually Pewter noticed a small slip in the thin black frame when he laughed...
Mizuki and Date faded away, but in their place, a blue light shone strongly. Pewter quickly turned around, only to be blinded.
“Boss, you could have warned me!”
His arm reflexively moved to cover his eyes, and Pewter was mildly surprised to feel a visor on his face. Normally it would have used a filter to adjust the light levels, but he supposed such a feature could not carry over into Somnium. After all, his eyes were no more real than the sun beating down on them. Still, Boss- as the observer- should have had access to a 3rd-person view of the scene, which would have clearly shown the blazing blue sun shining directly behind him. Well, he couldn’t complain too much; the sun had illuminated part of the room he was in, and for that, he had to be somewhat grateful.
“Sorry, I was... I’m back now. Hey, look in the corner!”
“Which corner? Perhaps it is best we establish cardinal directions. The wall facing this window can be north, and-” Pewter’s excited labeling was cut short,
“Save it! Just look to your right!”
Pewter did as he was told, a gasp catching in his throat. Though the rest of the room was still an impenetrable black, there was a small scene playing out around his eye level. He took a step forward, but the ache in his back warned him not to travel into the unknown once again. Instead, he focused on trying to see the scene from a distance.
Squinting, he could make out the unmistakable face of Mizuki, slightly frightened. She appeared to be looking around at a monochrome version of Date’s apartment; though he was far away, he recognized the brickwork Date had complained about being poor insulation and the corkboard he had boasted about to no end. Mizuki moved around a bit before the shutters behind her opened slightly, restoring color to park of the board and the desk below. Mizuki, interested, picked up something small, then held it out- but the image went dark.
“What was that?” The man in green asked, confused.
“Hold on, I have on the recording... Looks like it was Date’s police badge from when he was in Saito’s body.”
“Strange. A memory?”
Pewter began to look around as he waited for Boss to reply. The blue light had not spread very far, but it did give him a clear picture of what was in front of him. He had likely tripped on a low table topped with two steaming cups of what he thought was green tea. To the right was more void, and to the left was a low sofa. Behind the sofa he could see a door framed by a rather impressive set of speakers and a shoebox.
Pewter relayed his considerations, “I... Don’t think that was a normal memory. You saw the color; that was no mere change in lighting. I think it may have been his memory of a Psync.”
Pewter must have been staring for too long, because Boss replied in a knowing, somewhat disappointed tone,
“I know those speakers are suggestive, but grabbing while I’m watching? Really?”
Pewter noticed he was clutching something shaped like a puzzle piece. On it was something that looked vaguely like Date in his proper body covered in something brown. He had what looked like a halo floating above him, though closer inspection revealed decidedly non-holy sauces dripping onto his face.
“This puzzle piece... Do you believe it is part of that drawing?”
Boss’s reply was laden with sarcasm, “Do I believe? Of course it is. You remember how Falco would talk our ears off about how cute Iris was, and how precious her drawings were.”
“My apologies; I was simply wondering if the okonomiyaki he described as violently assaulting his face was the same one crudely pictured above him.”
“You were listening?”
“I-I would not want to be rude to a coworker... Much less one I had such regular contact with.” Pewter murmurer timidly.
“Geez, I live for the guy and even I can’t take him that seriously.”
Pewter thought it unwise to comment, so he simply stashed the puzzle piece in his pocket and refocused on the part of the room illuminated in bright blue. He took one last glance at the speakers before making his way to the low sofa. He sat, feeling the soft ridges- it seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be like a normal sofa, though it had no back. The softness stirred a thought in him,
“You said the badge had Saito’s face, yet the voice from the shadows was clearly Falco’s deeper register. Perhaps all that time spent as Saito really did affect his self-perception. I wonder if I could test that...”
Pewter could hear Boss roll her eyes as she retorted, “alright geek, we’re wasting time. Clearly, the sofa is irrelevant, so go somewhere else.”
“Fine, fine. I thought time stopped when I was still though?”
“You’re still capable of wasting my time that way.”
There was a bit more edge to Boss’s joking than usual, so Pewter thought it best to obey for the time being. He wandered over to the door, attempting to open the curtains obscuring a small window. The curtains, however, refused to budge.
“You really aren’t Date, huh...” She trailed off wistfully.
“Hmm? What makes you say that?”
Pewter’s searching was momentarily halted as he replied to a wistful Boss,
“The Date I know wouldn’t be able to pass up investigating the shoe box.”
The tall man shook his head before trying the handle which, to his surprise, actually turned! He gingerly opened the door, only for it to narrowly miss him as it swung open violently. Leaping back only to fall on the sofa, he noticed the streak of blue had reappeared, this time as a door opener rather than a Date tackler. Outside was a red cap as well as a blue shirt emblazoned with the word “GEEK” and emblem that displayed both colors. Below the shirt was a small red cat-like pack with glowing blue eyes, with two blue stripes poking out where socks might have been. The blue swish thought to be Mizuki had a little color returned to her as well; her red backpack and shoes now shone proudly inside the room.
“You invited Ota here?”
The current Date’s voice inquired roughly from somewhere behind Pewter, likely a place in the void. Mizuki was quick to retort,
“Well, Iris said she’d want Ota at our housewarming party so of course I invited him...”
The red cap started to circle around as if dazed, and the voice finally tipped Pewter off: it was the boy who had called the original murder in so many months ago, Ota Matsushita.
“Really? Tesa said she wanted me?”
He sounded positively thrilled, but Mizuki’s response was far less excited, “well, you are her friend... And I don’t think you’re too awful to be around, either.”
“If Tesa wants me at her party, maybe that means she wants to be around me more! If I ask her out now...”
Pewter and Mizuki sighed nearly in unison, but only the young girl spoke up to stop the nonsense,
“Don’t let it get to your head! You’re just better than nothing! The more the merrier, right? Now get in here before I drag you in!”
Unfortunately for everyone involved, once the young boy got into a trance, it would take more than a few sharp words to snap him out. He began to talk to himself giddily, each word a higher pitch than the next,
“Where will I take her on our first date? Should I let her choose? We’ve known each other so long, maybe we can skip right to the third...”
Mizuki’s long hair jolted forward as she quickly jumped behind Ota and kicked him inside. He flew into the void, and though Pewter could not see what happened, he could guess; he heard a muffled grunt as well as a sharp squeal, then the sound of a thump as the clump smashed into the back wall. Out of that single thump, two voices cried out, nearly in unison,
“Hey, what was that for?”
Hair cocked to one side, her hidden smirk was audible in her voice,
“Ota just needed a little push to get his head out of the clouds, and it’s not my fault Date was standing there.”
The 42-year-old police officer growled back, “Well, it’s not my fault I didn’t expect you to assault Ota into our home.”
“Aren’t you the one that taught me to expect the unexpected? Maybe I should be the one teaching you, old man.”
“You guys... She’s going to be here soon! Hide!” Ota yelped, scattering.
The figures disappeared from view, but like last time, an image appeared, this time illuminated in a soft red light. Another sun seemed to have appeared, this mixing with the other to provide a small purple bridge between the east and west sides of the room. Scurrying to get a better look, Pewter dodged a large sofa and cushion to rush to the image of floating flowers. Though the background was orange, it was punctured with multi-colored flora floating around. As Pewter leaned in, he thought he could see a face in the corner, one with short blue hair and a large black visor- a hat with a bow and no top, not like his piece of technological prowess. The image began to move, showing more of the face and revealing brown eyes along with black glasses and a broken-down building. He was just starting to make out the tables when the image vanished, leaving him baffled in the red glow.
Luckily, Boss didn’t let him stand dumbfounded for long by explaining, “Oh, you never met her- that was Mayumi Matsushita, Ota’s mother. Date asked that we consider Psyncing as a way to improve her condition, but police doctors decided that any fix would be temporary; her dementia is far too progressed at this stage, and no amount of Psyncing will fix her physical decline.”
Pewter frowned and looked around. The red had illuminated a small winter iris on a stool, a desk full of drawers topped with a phone, a few cushions, and the edge of a large sofa. As he bent down to inspect the iris closer, he noticed his hand was once again clutching a puzzle piece, this time depicting a pink bird and grimy floor. Though the shape was unorthodox, it matched how Date described: a floor coated in flour and soy sauce. The bird left him curious, but he stuffed the piece in his pocket as he looked around.
“You know, I didn’t really think of it back them, but it strikes me as a little odd. Mayumi and Date barely interacted during the case, yet he seemed pretty desperate to cure her.” Boss mused.
“Perhaps what we saw was another Psync? He and Mayumi may have been closer in a different world, or he may have grown attached after seeing her dreams.”
“That’s the thing- even though Date proposed Psyncing as a cure, it was ruled too risky and unlikely to work. He never Psynced with her.”
Another unknown variable; Pewter was used to them but still frustrated not to have the full picture. Getting angry, however, would be unproductive, so he ultimately decided to look at the flower as he had earlier intended. Though it was tinted in red, he knew winter irises were generally a shade of purple or dark blue, and this one was likely no different. The large leaves cast small streaks of black void, but it was clear this iris was blooming quite out-of-season. Bending closer, he counted six petals and three stamens, but Boss interrupted as he tried to grab a few.
“Taking three at once? I thought you were more into exclusivity, Pewter.”
Pewter let go of the flower, his face plastered with annoyance. He rolled his eyes as clearly as he could as he responded in a chastising manner, “you know the assignment of human sexual characteristics to sporophytes is ridiculous.”
“I know I’m one of the few people you’re comfortable correcting, but you don’t have to, you know? I’m just messing with you.”
The scientist put his arms up in a shrug and decided to leave the flower for the time being. Instead, he made his way to the phone, and as he did, the red light seemed to grow stronger. He backed away briefly, and as he thought, the harsh beams clouding his vision receded.
“Is Date... Afraid of his phone?” Pewter remarked.
“Certainly seems that way. Maybe he had bad experiences with it in the past?”
“Why manifest it at all?”
“Don’t ask me, I’m not the subject.”
Unsatisfied, he approached again, fighting through the worry in the back of his head. As he approached, he felt a searing pain and heard two quiet thumps. Crouching down in pain, he held his head, skull burning. It was as if the red all around him invaded his very being, burning his mind for the sin of curiosity. The feeling was beyond a source; it permeated every inch in his being, cell in his body, and presence of mind. Normally, the human brain would cause him to faint to avoid the madness, but his already sleeping body was at the full mercy of its own defense mechanism. He could only manage a single word,
“I’m on it.”
What seemed like an eternity passed, his mind lost in a white and red void. He might have regretted his hubris, tempting his own body, were he capable of forming thoughts. Instead, he simply had to exist as he was brutally, unflinchingly aware of every passing moment. The time limit he had been so worried about seemed immaterial in the face of such all-consuming emotion.
Then, just as it began, the pain stopped. Pewter’s mind, however, refused to let go; the fire that had seized his body continued to haunt him as he picked himself up off the floor, eyes refocusing to ignore the lingering white and yellow phosphenes after being shut so violently. He tested one shaky leg before the other, and upon finding them sturdy, finally completed the task of standing back up. As soon as he heard a familiar voice check back in, his mouth involuntarily drooling out his tensions,
“Boss, end the Psync immediately. My body is clearly not capable of sustaining itself for this long without the support from the DNA rearrangement in my visor. I never should have tried to-
“Oh, calm down. You’re fine, your eyes just fell out of place. One of them was pinching a nerve or something in the back of your head, nothing a couple of shakes couldn’t fix.”
Boss’s statement was so ridiculous that Pewter could not even find the words to formulate an answer. His recently pouting lips were sealed tight, unable to make a sound in response to such a blatantly carefree attitude. Some more logical part of his brain could parse the statement; she had told him his eye had shrunk enough to rest directly on the optic nerve, shortcircuiting his vision and causing a piercing reaction from his cerebral cortex that would normally serve as a warning, but when sustained, could only be torture. He knew that was what the words she had said meant, but he was still unable to comprehend how she could possibly not be worried. The white void his mind had been subjected to seemed to come back, this time psychologically; the logical part of him chimed in one more time, only to mention that it was this sort of situation Psyncs were made for.
Boss barked a command from above, “I think you heard me. Now, look back at that phone- it’s our best guess for the path forward.”
And like a dog conditioned to drool at the sound of a bell, Pewter moved towards the phone mechanically, his body following orders even as his mind was reeling from the memory of pain and a mixture of betrayal and bafflement. The red nearly consumed his vision, but he was not truly observing anyway, merely seeing. As he picked up the phone, however, reality came shooting back as a gunshot pierced his ears. He ducked, but nothing had happened- he looked around and saw a green goo recede from the walls, eventually disappearing into part of the void in the middle of the room.
“That felt out of place... Another Somnium in the same location, maybe?”
“Perhaps... Boss, I really will have to ask you to think of my own well-being a little more though. Please, end the Psync now before more damage can be done...”
“Pewter, I may be ruthless but I’m not totally heartless. Your vital signs are reading fine. It was just bad luck with your eye placement.”
The scientist felt no reassurance, but the cold metal he thought he could still feel in his hand reassured him; Boss may have had her agenda and may have just been using him, but she was still looking out for him in a way. She did not need to raid the evidence locker, but she had, and for that, he was grateful.
“Fine. I will permit your behavior this time, but only for the present you left in my pocket.”
“I knew I could count on you. Now, maybe put the phone down? You’ll never get the call from that officer you’re always close to this way.”
A small smile finally brought his mind’s focus back to the present, letting Pewter attempt humor, “Close to by law only! He is my caretaker, after all.”
“Oh really? What’s his favorite color?”
Pewter relayed the facts proudly, “yellow, like his favorite flowers, the dande-”
“The right answer was ‘I don’t know,’ loverboy.”
He resisted the urge to make a comment about how he could never move on that quickly but stopped himself for Boss’s sake. She was truly just trying to make him feel more at ease, so though the quip was in poor taste, he let it go, along with the phone. When he heard the click of it being inserted into place, he was surprised to see the room erupt with color- another sun had appeared, this time pink. It seemed the light from the three of them had mixed to illuminate the full room, the only shade missing being white. The colors, however, lacked definition; with no boundaries to reel them in, they bled wildly, each mixing into the next like a watercolor masterpiece. Lush colors were not the only thing to appear, however; as he looked around, he saw Mizuki with her long, yellow jacket, black dress and tights, red sneakers, and overstuffed backpack pacing in a circle around a larger sofa, this one with proper back support. On the sofa was a short, worried Ota, his red brimmed cap over brown hair shaking a little bit as he looked in Pewter’s direction.
Pewter followed his gaze, only to finally notice Iris, a net idol and important person in Date’s life, hovering over the phone while tapping her feet nervously. Pewter automatically began to count the beats, and his mind automatically matched them to the song: Renju’s favorite track, Invincible Rainbow Arrow. He had always said the song was his attempt to spread joy to atone for all... He tried to banish the thought and look somewhere else. Her custom jacket looked off without the white trimmings, but the pink and embroidered A’s were still iconically her. With a small cat-like fanny pack around her waist and white cat-ear headband adorning her head, she was always ready to impress the world with her looks and dancing. As he looked down at her head, he saw that unmistakable pink hair. Renju had always said it reminded him of...
“It’s been hours! Doesn’t Date know he’s keeping Tesa waiting!?”
Pewter jumped a bit, his mouth open- he hadn’t realized, but he had been humming the tune to Iris’s beat. She was truly infectious, as Renju had always told him. Ota, one who had been thoroughly contaminated with her song, had lashed out at no-one in particular, unable to contain his frustration. His voice was tinged with real anger, despite the fact he seemed to be in no danger. The reply was soft, yet on-edge, like a few droplets falling from the top of a dam about to spill over.
“I’m sure he’s just taking his time, trying to enjoy the date... He would want it to be nice for Mom.” Iris asserted, mostly to herself.
Mizuki kicked a cushion, sending it crashing into the next room. She seemed unsure what to do with her hands as she paced around, settling on solving and scrambling a Rubik’s Cube every few seconds. Annoyed, she readied her arm to lob the cube out the window when a droning ring finally played out. Mizuki almost instantly snapped into place next to Iris, with Ota scrambling up off the floor after failing to leap over the back of the couch. Iris picked up the phone eagerly, and though she knew the caller, she used her practiced greeting to cover up the sound of the speakerphone being turned on.
“Sagan Residence, Iris speaking!”
“Heh, you might have to change your greeting.”
The voice on the other end of the line was unmistakably Date’s, but the warmth and happiness- Pewter could have even said giddiness, but somehow could not apply the word to a former coworker with such a generally serious demeanor. Iris, of course, punctured that,
“Awww, boo. I practiced it all night long...”
“Well, don’t get too disappointed, kid. You’re just going to have to add a word.”
Iris’s body jumped in such boundless excitement that the phone disconnected. Mizuki was briefly frozen as if she was trying to contain years of emotion from surfacing. Ota was doting on Iris, worriedly asking why she had dropped the phone as she assured him she was fine, it was just the moment. She bashfully put it back on the base, quickly receiving another call. She picked it again, her practice doing its best to hide the quiver in her voice matching the tears in her eyes,
“Date-Sagan Residence, Iris speaking!”
Everyone faded out of the scene with a loud cheer, leaving behind new images on the wall behind and another puzzle piece in Pewter’s hand. The images, this time, were familiar; they looked shockingly similar to Date’s Psync with Iris so long ago. This time, however, the word was even more distorted; two large enemies shot lasers at Aiba as she scurried around, eventually culminating in a large pentagram made of light.
“For such a bright star, that was not very illuminating.”
“You really couldn’t help yourself?” Boss responded, irritated.
Pewter chuckled, half at his own joke and half at himself, before inspecting the new puzzle piece. This one clearly depicted the bottom half of Date, as well as part of a young girl in a pink dress. As he looked closer, he noticed pink hair, and used his mouth to interrupt his thoughts,
“Probably Iris and Date. I suppose we got two Psyncs for the price of one lock?”
“I wish they had that deal on DomP...”
Boss’s favorite wine, as Pewter had noted long ago if he ever needed a day off of work without telling why. Of course, as wonderful as his humor was, he could not stop for it too long- the best comedians are masters of timing. In search of more props to work with, he walked to the center of the jungle-like room overrun with colors like invasive weeds. Though there was much around, he was generally displeased with it all, though he did note that the table that appeared was set for four. He thought of making some joke but quickly realized Boss would take any chance to turn something involving spoons against him. Looking around while careful not to move, he saw a small shelf on the west wall adorned with a calendar and an immediately suspicious object.
Pewter moved over to the purple mass and inspected it, feeling its many grooves and angles. After only a few seconds, he identified it: a stellated octahedron, the fusion of two tetrahedrons to create what many called an “eight-pointed star.” He pondered for a bit why he recalled the name so vividly, then started,
“Did Falco ever talk to you about stellated octahedrons?”
“You’re asking me?”
Boss’s reply shouldn’t have surprised him; she had just admitted to barely listening to her treasured subordinate. Luckily, running his mouth had stirred some memories,
“I believe he used to say it was associated with the Merkaba, a rotating light that encompasses all. I recall mentions of Abrahamic angels and dimensional travel as well...”
Boss’s voice perked up, “Dimensional travel? Maybe Hitomi was the secret after all...”
“Secret? Regardless, it is likely not important. The shape merely has eight points and symmetrical geometries. Speaking of which... How much time do I have left?”
“Don’t worry about it- I can’t have Date asking questions, so I can’t let you go over. Just keep investigating.”
Unsatisfied, he put down the star and waltzed to a nearby shelf- there was a suspicious basket he wanted to investigate. Leaning down, he grasped the edged and pulled it out slightly, gasping at what he saw: Aiba, in her real-world form, attempting to fit a papercraft dress over her body. The dress was rudimentary, but he was surprised to see its white sheen- something must have changed. Startled, he turned around to see Iris and Mizuki at the dining table, the circular lights above them shining a bright white, working on making decorations and Ota cheering them on from the balcony where he was hanging small cut-out winter irises. A familiar, somewhat artificial voice emanated from beside him,
“You do not need to go to such lengths for me... I was content to watch.”
Her tiny eye jittered slightly within the fluid coating as she spoke, her large body still refusing to slip the thing over her arms and legs. Her canter brought him back to when he was working on her personality, staying overtime nearly every day attempting to make her human enough. He had known Boss was getting worried about Date’s violent outbursts, but if she was going to order him to find a fix, he was going to do it his way. He didn’t need to make a fully functional AI in order to scan Date’s emotional state, but what he wanted to make was a partner, not a medical assistant. So, by slaving away with Wadjet’s tools and idiosyncrasies, he managed to forge what he called a person, then store her away in an eye to keep Date company. He had sometimes regretted not keeping her to himself, but he always told himself he would never be lonely again...
“Denied! You’re a part of the family, too, you know! Date told us how hard you tried to save Mizuki back then.”
The cheerful idol voice came from the direction of the dining table, her blue gloved hands ceasing their work for a few moments to flash a smile in the direction of the basket. The yellow gloves beside her ceased too, and a radiant smile beamed blue in the AI-Ball’s direction,
“Yeah! You’re always so nice to me... You’re like a third mom! Or maybe an aunt?”
The eyeball next to him rattled uncomfortably, seemingly trying to squint in frustration,
“I am not that old! I am technically younger than you... Besides, would an aunt look this good?”
Aiba popped out of the basket, landing on the nearby couch. Ota mumbled a so cute from across the glass almost reflectively while Iris chimed in with surprised excitement,
“Oh Mizuki, the dress looks perfect! You were right about all the frills! Now Aiba can celebrate officially becoming a part of this family!”
“Awww Iris, you think it looks good? I’m not a professional or anything...”
The child might have blushed a bit, looking down at her feet awkwardly as Iris gave her a hug and some words reassuringly, “you know what the dress has loads of?”
The reply nearly broke Pewter’s heart- Mizuki never gave herself enough credit- but Iris didn’t let herself be dissuaded; she continued on, and Pewter thought he could see all the colors shine even brighter in response,
“No, silly! Love! And that’s the most important part of our mock wedding!”
Pewter thought he could see a tear in Mizuki’s eye, but just as she appeared, she was gone. Looking around at the blank scene, Pewter could tell just how much work the children had put into decorating; all the flowers, banners, and clothes had been mere memories. The room back to its normal state, albeit with unwrangled colors, he focused attention on the single black spot still remaining on the wall. This time, the black was coated in static, many images flashing by at once. At first, he thought he could see Aiba sliding on a thin layer of ice, but as he looked closer he noticed she was in her Somnium form.
Her Somnium form was strange; she had long, spiked white hair with glowing red accents, similar to The Boss, and a dangerously short white dress with strange black markings. Perhaps the oddest things of all were her arms; her glowing ‘bones’ were always visible in her transparent hands, along with part of her forearms. Pewter had allowed Aiba to choose her design for herself, but not in his wildest dreams did he think she would choose something so... Inhuman. It had worried him at first; had Aiba not wanted to be humanlike, as he had hoped? Eventually, however, he came to respect her decision; she was neither fully human, nor fully inhuman, but some new being that was a mixture between the two.
The image changing caught his attention. The ice burst in a shower of green dots then gave way to something new: a mirror. The mirror showed only a faceless torso, but a curious Aiba stared at it from the outside, unreflected in a sea of water-like markings on dull blue walls. She tilted her head curiously, hand reaching out before the image was overtaken, this time by monochrome static. This time, what displayed was Aiba running towards a closing door, one that looked much like the abandoned factory Date had requested the police pick him up at after the Saito incident. The doors were a cold gray in stark contrast to the bright red around them, also seeming like the shimmer of light from beneath the water. Behind the door was an ominous red circle and two faces he couldn’t make out. Straining closer on caused him to hit his head on the wall, so he took a step back, the image fading as the doors shut.
Boss caught him off guard when she spoke, “No thanks to your head, I was able to enhance the image. I think that was... Me?”
“You were behind the door?”
“That was certainly my jacket- I paid a lot for it, I should hope it’s obviously mine. You did recognize it, right?”
Pewter started awkwardly, but luckily Boss cut him off before he was forced to lie, “the other person... I’m not sure.”
Pewter looked at his hand for leads and was surprised to find one: the final piece of the childhood drawing. This one depicted someone he did not immediately recognize; beneath the layers of condiments, he thought he could see a sleeveless blue dress, short, brown hair, and a white hairband. He was about to put it away when Boss commented once again.
“That’s her! Of course it’s her; the last time I saw her was at the wedding. How could ever forget Hitomi Date-Sagan...”
“Three people? That should complete the drawing, correct?”
Boss laughed a bit a murmured you tell me , so Pewter walked up to the blank space and began assembling the photo. Hitomi on the left, Date on the right, and the young Iris in the middle, all holding hands. It held a certain innocence that struck Pewter as beautiful, just as Falco had assured him all those times. He was about to put in the last piece when he stopped momentarily,
“Assuming you are really not allowing me to go over the time limit, this was a rather easy Somnium, no?”
“You said it already- Date is eager to share his story, maybe a little too eager. Of course, he put the pieces where we can easily find them.”
With that, he slotted the final piece, and the picture began to warp. Pewter spun behind him, watching as the single floor lamp began to shine, its light taming the colors around. By the time it was over, the room looked completely ordinary. Upon hearing a loud noise, Pewter looked back again, this time noticing that the picture had changed; it was no longer a drawing, but a photograph- Pewter tried to touch it on instinct and the world around him warped along with a ticking sound. He fell down in shock just as something flew at his head.
“Hey, you hit my drawing! Be more careful!”
The voice, despite its words, didn’t sound angry. In fact, it was almost ecstatic, like a child with their dreams fulfilled. Standing up, Pewter saw the source: the back of a giggling Iris using a yellow cushion as a shield. The room around him had changed; it was fully decorated with flowers, many of which here winter Irises, and banners that read ‘CONGRATULATIONS,’ ‘DATE,’ and ‘SAGAN.’ The item that landed behind him, on the other hand, stood out; he recognized it immediately as the brown-yellow okonomiyaki he had been staring out just moments before. Iris, however, was not the only one in the room. Behind Iris and hiding behind both Iris and her own green cushion was Hitomi, in full white wedding garb decked with patterns of roses and a veil. The figure on the other side of the couch poked up in response to Iris’s complaint,
“I thought you wanted-”
The blue hair became brown as a pancake hit Mizuki directly in the face. A growl of anger erupted as Mizuki called for assistance,
“Date! You’re supposed to be my partner!”
A deep chuckle came from behind the couch, but no face appeared: he had learned his lesson.
“What? I can’t hit Hitomi on her wedding day... And especially not in that dress!”
A boyish shout of annoyance came from the kitchen, and looking over Pewter saw Ota in a white cap and apron cooking the okonomiyaki that had been thrown at him moments prior. “Hey! I put a lot of effort into making those... Don’t just waste them!”
Pewter noticed his creation had snuck across the floor and reached the plate on the table set for six topped with tons of tasty treats. She grunted, then with a loud hi-yahh lobbed Ota’s creation squarely at Hitomi’s face, all while lecturing the group,
“By my calculations, this is the best way to honor your cooking and consecrate the occasion.” Aiba chirped.
A beautiful laugh came from the bride, her eyes a mixture of tears and oyster sauce. A bit of mayonnaise dripped into her mouth as she spoke, “oh Date, don’t you think this is a perfect way to commemorate going forward as one big family?”
A head poked from behind the couch, the usually sloppy hair combed and black suit properly buttoned and tucked. He averted his eyes bashfully,
“W-well, if you say so-”
Before he could finish, Hitomi had dropped the cushion to reveal a snack of her own and thrown squarely at his face. He tried to protest, but only wound up covered in more foods as the scene progressed faster, flour and food flying around at breakneck speed and making his vision a blur of blue, pink, red, black, white, and brown. Pewter almost thought he’d have to have to turn away when the action abruptly stopped-
He tried to take in what had happened. Every inch of the room was coated, including the three sleeping on the couches. Iris and Mizuki and fallen asleep on the large couch, likely after tiring themselves from what Pewter would call the final okonomiyaki war, their hair tangling together like the sauce dripping from the table. Their faces were exhausted, yet the corners of their mouths were still pulled into a permanent grin. On the backless couch rested Ota, his face far less graceful and mouth drooling a bit- he seemed to have been hit in the crossfire after trying to defend his cooking. The basket he had been looking at earlier was on the ground, with Aiba lying dormant in a tiny bed attached to a battery.
Movement outside caught his eye- on the balcony were the newlyweds, holding hands but avoiding each others’ eyes. Date was taller than Hitomi, but that did not stop them from smiling at each other. Pewter cracked open the sliding glass door to hear two soft voices, one high and one low.
The lower one started, “don’t worry about the dress- I’ll cover it. It’s the least I can do for leaving you for so long.”
Hitomi shook her head in understanding at the man’s worries and tried to meet Date’s eyes, the pair eventually losing themselves in each other, and though the next to speak was Hitomi, Pewter felt it was on both of their minds,
“Well, we may not have anyone to officiate our vows, but no mock wedding would be complete without them.”
“How about we just skip to the ‘I do?’” Date offered.
Date gripped Hitomi’s left hand tighter as he said it, and she gripped back just as strongly. The suns had collapsed into the single one Pewter was used to, but he could swear it grew warmer as they spoke.
“Okay... I do.”
The two of them stood together, basking in each other’s radiance. The warmth was getting to Pewter; he could feel their awkward love, the pure expression, the mutual wanting,
As soon as Date spoke the words and slipped a ring onto Hitomi’s hand, the two pulled in closer together, heads tilted- a kiss. They were readying for a kiss. Date brushed a stray piece of thyme from her head while Hitomi licked the sauce from her lips. Then, their lips met, and they fell into each other. Their weights shifted so each was protecting the other from the ground. Date and his okonomiyaki bride were one in a moment of quiet joy.
Pewter averted his eyes, his mind taken by the moment, memories refusing to be left alone. For a second, he saw those two black birthmarks, and he shook himself. However, every time his eyes opened they got closer, his pain coming back. He eventually started to groan, and was thankful when Boss’s voice cut through,
“I’m ending the Psync. Don’t lose yourself.”
The world gave way to the void once again.
I hope you enjoy;;; feel free to leave comments and critique, it means a lot to me ;~;. Sorry it took so long, but I did pour my heart and soul into this chapter, so I hope that came through! Thanks so much to my betas Lyrecho and @rainbowarrovv !
Next chapter is going to be 90% self-indulgent sciencey explanations, please look forward to it. It'll be the bridge to what I hope is a final arc that gives justice to two criminally underrepresented characters (Boss and Pewter).
I promise, the Jupewter is coming... I just got a little distracted by trying to justify... The entire game...