WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization
Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.
Time: 10 years post-revolution
“So, the Acting Chairman made his move on Nee-san that early on, huh?” pondered Chida Mamiya, idly picking pieces of torn poppy petals off the tousled blue locks of the exquisite young girl in his arms – whose bare skin was hot against his, whose unbuttoned full-length dress now cloaked their nakedness in fine, luxuriant ripples.
“That was when he offered her the means to change your fate and give you eternity,” murmured Ohtori Hoshimi, preserved in childhood here in this sanctuary. “With you being her only weakness, Childa Nee-san never stood a chance against him.” Stretching catlike, the “girl” then turned away from him in one sinuous, womanly movement. “Neither did I, when my turn came.”
Glancing out of the glass window of the greenhouse, over the pale stretches of piled snow, Mamiya’s vision went hazy from clouded memories of that first person he ever respected, except for his sister; that self-proclaimed computer-like man who came alive for he and his sister to disastrous results. Before he knew it, a chuckle – raspy as the rustling of dried leaves – had since escaped his dried throat.
“What's so funny?” asked Hoshimi, in a tone suggesting that she already knew the answer.
“Hey, look,” Uncaring of whether Hoshimi was looking or not, Mamiya dabbed a fingertip at a corner of his eye, then lifted a glistering drop under the pallid light. “It's a tear.”
Time: 20 + years pre-revolution
Place: Former Chida Residence
“Shouldn't you be asleep right now?”
“It's okay, I'm feeling a bit better today.”
“I see.” Adjusting his coat – the one he’d taken off inside the warmth of the greenhouse – somewhat unnecessarily over the garden table it now draped over, Professor Nemuro sat back and watched him with a focused-ness to his eyes that made his gaze almost analytical-seeming. While such a nakedly direct gaze would put off most people, Chida Mamiya was not one of them – being terminally ill, the boy much preferred direct honesty to affected sympathy while on borrowed time.
Having been cut off from school life by his unfortunate condition, the boy’s craving for companionship naturally exceeded those of other “normal” children of his age. He figured the distinguished Professor to be the most interesting adult a kid like him could ever meet, and wanted to make the most of their every meeting before his limited time was to run out.
“The snow in this garden doesn't disappear so easily, does it?” commented Mamiya, hoping to incite a telling comment or two from the very genius behind the research on eternity; seeing none, the boy then switched over to another topic he knew would be of interest to them both. “My sister was called out by the Board of Directors, so she probably won't be back until evening.”
“No, that's fine, I only came here today to see your face,” said the Professor, with a tenderness atop his frankness that somehow made the boy blush with feelings he could not yet explain, no matter how precocious he thought himself to be.”
“So, do you like it?” the boy hurried onto the next round of stuff to say. “It's a rose sugar-jam. My sister makes them . . .” As he went over the preserved dessert, the lacquered flowers, the things his sister do to keep what was hers preserved against time . . . including himself, the weary exasperation that had been a constant presence since his illness worsened started spewing forth before he could stop it. “ . . . being forced to last so long. Eternity doesn't exist in this world, does it? It's just an impossibility held up for people to romanticize.”
“You don't think that what your sister and I are doing is going to succeed?” asked the Professor, his gently crestfallen expression reminding him of how his sister had looked back when she combed through an entire shopping district to buy a limited edition robot for his past birthday, only to find out that he had already outgrown toys; Mamiya gulped audibly.
“I respect the two of you, and I'm grateful as well-”
“Ohtori-chan,” Standing up at the sweetly girlish voice, Mamiya saw a frantic Hoshimi hurrying into the greenhouse in flutters of lacy frills – some of which brushing against the cluttered flora to petal scattering effects.
“It changed again!” Carrying the specimen case that once hanged upon the living room wall, the girl thrust it at him urgently. “And this time . . .”
Taking the case from Hoshimi’s hands, Mamiya did a double take at what he saw. “What the . . . ? Even if a preserved butterfly can somehow regress back into an egg, just where does that leaf come from?”
“Ah, Professor Nemuro!” The girl, who probably only now noticed the presence of the quiet man, quickly perfected her posture as she then gave a formal bow. “Good Afternoon.”
Professor Nemuro nodded at the young Ohtori heiress like he would an ordinary little girl. “Good afternoon, Hoshimi-chan.”
“This just proves it, Professor, time is moving strangely on various objects all around this area.” Porcelain-fair complexion flushed with eagerness, she took a step up towards the Professor. “Allow me to be frank – is this phenomenon a sign of the Research gaining progress?”
“Sa . . .” noncommittal, Professor Nemuro grabbed his coat off the table. “I still got unfinished work that I must tend to.” He turned to address Mamiya while donning his coat. “Thank you for having me. I'll be back again sometime.” Finally, he gave the baffled Hoshimi a light nod while already walking away. “Good day, Hoshimi-chan.”
Mamiya called after him. “Professor Nemuro. . .”
“I'll be sure to tell my sister that you're worried about me.
The boy thought he saw a somewhat fragile smile curling on the man’s lips, prior to his exiting the greenhouse and away.
“Am I the only one who thinks the Professor is obviously hiding something?” muttered Hoshimi.
Mamiya let out a heavy sigh. “Sa . . .”
“On the topic of the Research . . . ” grabbing him by the hands, Hoshimi looked him in the eye solemnly. “ I come today to tell you something that you should notify Chida Nee-san about . . .”
That evening, his sister returned much earlier than usual, in a state that he had not seen her in for some time: hair unruly, skin pallid, and bloodshot eyes glassy, she reminded him of the day she returned home bearing news of the meaningless accident that took their parents’ lives. Even the feline-sharp alert that she always armored herself with was down, as she was actually stumbling past him by unseeingly.
“ . . . Nee-san?” he called out to her, warily. The woman jolted as if getting snapped out of a trance.
“Ah, Mamiya!” She fumbled for something to say to him. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
Mamiya blinked. “I’m just about to have dinner: I can’t take the medication on empty stomach, remember?”
“Oh . . . is it still so early?” His sister checked her watch (while the clock was right on the wall beside her). “Leave the dinner box in the fridge, I’ll be cooking tonight.”
“Are you sure?” asked the boy, his worry going unnoticed by his clearly preoccupied sister.
“Mamiya, I’m thinking . . . maybe you can try stopping the medications starting tonight and through tomorrow.” Seeing her ailing brother’s stunned expression, she hurried to explain her peculiar (not to mention risky) suggestion. “It’s just . . . medications are toxins too, and I’m thinking maybe you need to take a break from those once in a while.”
“Okay,” Mamiya supposed that made sense. “To be honest I don’t feel like I need it as of now . . . I’ve been feeling very good today for some reason.”
“That’s . . . good.” There’s obvious relief to his sister’s expression, but also something else . . . something strangely resigned, and blue . . . the boy then remembered something he needed to tell her.
“Nee-san, do you know? Hoshimi-chan and the Professor both dropped by today. The specimen case in the living room changed again! Whereas it was simply the butterfly regressing through its various stages, it now becomes a leaf with butterfly eggs . . .” his words trailed off at his sister listless retreat into her own room. “Nee-san?”
“Go wash your hands while I change, Mamiya; I’ll fix you something good for dinner.”
Thankfully, his sister was not so out of it that it hampered her cooking. The steak was evenly medium rare, the fried salmon skin crispy and flavored, the greens and fruit slices beautifully arranged . . . appetite roused, Mamiya let go of his earlier trepidations and dug heartily into the spectacular dinner under his sister’s strangely wistful gaze.
“Your appetite is back, Mamiya. You haven’t been able to eat this much for a very long time.” Again, there was that gloomy something in her expression. Feeling self-conscious now, the boy rolled a thin shoulder.
“Perhaps I really am getting better all on my own. Maybe there’s no need for you to pursue that eternity nonsense for me anymore, Nee-san.”
“You’ve been against Ohtori’s Research on Eternity since the very beginning,” murmured his sister, whom the boy now noticed to have been eating very little thus far. “Yet, you get along so well with Nemuro-san.”
“Professor Nemuro is a good, reliable man,” said the boy between his full mouthfuls, stressing the word “reliable” in a not-so-subtle manner, “unlike those he has to collaborate with on the Research. I so want you to start seeing him outside of work; you’re not getting any younger, Nee-san.”
Instead of being miffed, his beautiful sister let out a worryingly sad chuckle. “So you like the Professor this much, huh.” Seemingly eating only for appearance’s sake, Nee-san nibbled on a slice of tomato that stained her lips red. “And still you hold a grudge against the student research assistants.”
“They’re a shameless lot.” Said the boy, even more talkative than usual now that he feels more energized. “Oh top of their courting Ohtori-chan insincerely, it’s been found that these ‘brilliant’ guys are really relying on someone outside of the research team for-”
“You know about Himemiya Akio?” asked his now wild-eyed sister in an unrecognizably shrill voice, as she reached across the table to clamp frantic hands upon his shoulders to painful effects.
“ . . . I was just about to tell you that the student assistants had the gall to trick a fourth grader into doing their work for them,” said Mamiya, and his sister released her grip immediately, prior to slumping back down onto her seat, ash-faced. “Himemiya Akio . . . Ohtori’s Acting Chairman; what about him?”
“Nothing,” muttered his sister prior to taking a deep, calming sip of her tea.
“You know . . . you’re not even surprised when I tell you about the vipers stealing work off a fourth grader to use on the Research.”
“I am; just that . . .”
“Nee-san, are you keeping things from me?” The boy’s frown deepened as he watched the shakiness of his sister’s hand on her teacup. “It’s okay of you do . . . cause I’m still a brat and may not be much help with you troubles. But . . . if this is really troubling you, can’t you talk it over with the Professor? He is a good man who cares about us, and he-”
“Mamiya.” Putting down her teacup a little too loudly, his sister made a visible effort to compose her expression, prior to looking him in the eye. “In the days to come, you might see me acting in ways that you will think is . . . strange.” She reached across the table to grab onto his hands in a firm, insistent grip. “Promise me that whatever you see me do, you’ll know I’m doing it for you. Okay?”
That was when Mamiya abruptly noticed the reddened mark around her ring finger.
Prompted by his sister’s pleading voice, the boy glanced back up into her cloudy eyes, and nodded.
Things were relatively peaceful around the house for the next couple of days, with his sister returning late as usual, and he having to again contend with pre-made dinner boxes every evening. The almost daily injections, however, had ceased, that with his health condition having miraculously stabilized despite his staying completely off medication.
“Aside from some very mild dizzy spells and some joint aches, I don’t really have much problems at all,” said Mamiya to the visiting Hoshimi, as they have tea together in the greenhouse.
Hoshimi’s gaze upon him – usually warm with cherishment - now bordered on being scrutinizing. “Then . . . it’s kind of like how it was for you six months ago, back then you wrote me about how you were in the beginning stages of this illness, isn’t it?”
A smart boy, Mamiya made the connection immediately. “You don’t mean . . .”
Hoshimi tapped her slim fingertips pensively against the teacup. “I’m happy that you’re getting better, but . . . for this to happen right when the butterfly reverted back into an egg really seem like too much of a coincidence. Chida-kun . . . you’re a little bit smaller than when we first met . . .”
Mamiya’s gaze turned inwards at the implication. “Then my time has also reversed . . . just like the butterfly specimen.”
“More like the ‘time’ of your body has reversed, but not that of your mind,” murmured the girl. “I want to think that this is a controlled result of the Research, but according to my sources, there are other forces at work beside Professor Nemuro-”
“There is no way Inuoe and his gang can rival the Professor in terms of ability,” Mamiya cut her off, feeling the need to defend Nemuro somehow. “I’ve read the man’s thesis, I know what he’s capable of.”
Hoshimi was visibly taken aback by the boy’s fierce defense of the Professor’s ability; nonetheless, she spoke on. “We mustn’t forget that the student assistants have child prodigy Watase Sanetoshi-kun as their wildcard. Genius is a godly thing – it isn’t proportional to things like age or background.” Pause. “So, how did Chida Nee-san react to the news?”
Mamiya clucked his tongue. “She barely heard what I said, so out of it as she seemed. She’s been keeping things from me; having me off medication, and acting all strange and secretive even around the house. She spends her nights in the basement now, you know, and she locks it when she’s inside . . . but whenever I went down there to check while she’s away, I can’t find anything out of the ordinary.” He trailed off at the look he got from Hoshimi. “Yes, I sneaked out of bed to check, Ohtor-chan . . . you don’t think I’d just sleep through something strange happening right underneath this roof, do you?”
“Hn,” eyes hooded, Hoshimi refilled Mamiya’s cup for him. “Sources tell me that Inoue had lost the key to an important lab earlier on, which could’ve led to the recent theft in the assistants’ division.”
“An item crucial to the Fate Train Theorem has been stolen . . . a ‘Fate Diary’ said to have the power to change fate.”
“ . . . I suppose such a thing would be more ‘user friendly’ than the Castle and the Arena combined,” muttered the boy after a sip of his tea.
“I’m not so sure about that,” said his sharp-minded little girl friend. “All these surreal things brought on by the Research are cosmic forces but partially harnessed by human means . . . just because something looks like a book doesn’t mean it would be just as easy to handle. I heard that the first attempt by Inoue to experiment on it almost ended up burning down the lab – the Diary is apparently prone to spontaneous combustion.” She paused briefly to finish her own cup. “I don’t suppose you got a working smoke detector in your basement, Chida-kun?”
Mamiya’s eyes widened at Hoshimi’s question.
That night, his sister again returned late in the night, way past his sleep time.
And, as with the past couple of days, her light footsteps gave away the fact that she was again going into the basement, locking the door behind her.
Sneaking out of bed after a few minutes, Mamiya donned his sleeping robe and slippers, slipped out into the unlit hallway, and proceeded to soundlessly make his way to the basement door. Producing the lock pick that Hoshimi had left him, Mamiya carefully opened the door with it, as he then tiptoed down the flight of stairs.
Even as he was nearing the last step, he already could see the fluttery red shades rippling across the wall in front like bloodied waves, and knew to his apprehension that a sizable fire had to be brewing down below.
But even then, the boy still was completely unprepared for what he saw at the turn of the stairs.
There was his sister, standing with her arms outstretched, her feet crossed, completely engulfed in flames so strong, the entire space was basked under their saffron lights.
Mamiya would have screamed, if not for the fact that he immediately saw the pink, glowing book hovering in midair in front of his sister, its pages rapidly turning as if tossed by phantom winds. His sister, while aflame, did not wither under the fiery blaze; rather, she appeared resplendently unharmed, as she chanted in a voice largely defused by the fire’s hiss, with none of her words audible to his ear.
“ . . . what’s that on your finger?”
Even covered in fire, the familiar-looking rose motif ring was clearly visible upon his sister’s left hand, glowing like the heated metal it was against her luminous, unharmed skin.
“Nee-san . . . ?”
The boy suddenly realized that his sister could neither see nor hear him, so engrossed was she was in whatever magic she was currently working with her now witch-like -
Flump . . .
Somewhat impossibly, the boy heard the sound of fluttering fabrics coming from behind him in spite of the flames’ sound. Turning around, he saw a slim, shadow-cloaked figure in a lab coat, watching him behind coldly glinting glasses, prior to slipping up and beyond the turn of the basement stairs.
Mamiya did not – nor did he had time to – think twice about going after the eerie intruder.
By the time he got up to the living room, the intruder was already slipping out of the front door; Mamiya quickly followed as he gave chase into the night.
The sky was cloudlessly clear – the way it had been since that snowfall from weeks ago, with that same accumulated built up from then still covering the roads in spite of the approaching spring – and the stars were vivid to the point of resembling those from a planetarium’s projections. The winds were the chilliest on nights like this, and he had the foolishness to come running out without winter coat, let alone snow boots . . .
Surprisingly, the frail boy did not so much as shiver in this winter night - he felt the night wind against his flimsy robe and exposed skin, but none of its chilliness; and there was no slush to hamper his running, as his indoor slippers were tapping smoothly, easily upon the dry wooden ties of an extremely narrow gauge railroad – one that he did not recall having ever seen around the area. The houses were gone, as were the road pavements . . . as was the entire residential neighborhood; all around, there was nothing but the starry, galactic space, with the railroad existing impossibly upon nothing. Up ahead, the figure in the lab coat appeared to be pushing some kind of loaded flatback trolley along the tracks; though it (as Mamiya had since realized that whatever it is not have been human) moved in seemingly languid steps, Mamiya found that he could not catch up to it no matter how fast he thought he was running.
“Who are you?” cried the boy as he ran after the thing, brittle heart speeding hazardously within his thin chest. “What were you doing at our house? What’s happening to my sister? What-”
The entity in the lab coat tossed something backwards over a shoulder in an arc of glittery light . . . and it found its way into his opened throat, giving him no choice but to swallow. It was sweet, crisp, and cool . . . tasting just like a slice of . . .
. . . apple?
And, along with that realization, Mamiya found his surroundings changing with such abruptness, that the boy almost tripped over his own feet.
It still was night, and the stars still were glittering brightly above; but he now found himself in the courtyard outside Ohtori Academy’s research building – a spot he had since familiarize himself with from the times he sneaked out of the house to meet with Hoshimi at school. There was a white-draped long table illuminated by a singular candelabra, upon which a feast of apples, grapes, and pears had been laid out, accompanied by champagne glasses and stacks of empty plates; upon closer look, all the apples had penguin motif stickers upon their crimson surfaces.
The setting was that of an elegant evening party – one with no attendee in sight. Nasally male voices, eerily diffused yet still very much audible, hovered adrift over the cool night air:
“The road to the Dueling arena is now open.”
“At last, that is about to begin.”
“And now, Professor Nemuro's duty is finished.”
“From now on, carrying on without him is probably what you-know-who plans on.”
“Surely even he'll lose to someone.”
“We can just leave him by the wayside.”
“Well then, let's open the champagne.”
“Ah, Chida-kun,” his nemesis’ voice, sounding very real from behind him, startled the boy into jolting. Turning around, what he saw made him did a double take.
Inoue Tsukiichi, looking drunk on liquor, was wobbling past with his arm around the slim shoulder of Kaoru Yuki – a shameless goat perversely supportive of his mate going after Hoshimi. A trio of dresses – not girls, the feminine attires hovering in midair as if worn by invisible females – could be seen flanking the boys in dramatically coquettish poses.
“Shouldn’t terminally ill little boys be in bed by now?” asked Inoue, snide and completely oblivious to the strangeness surrounding them.
“Are high school students allowed to drink now?” Mamiya asked him back, the dream-like surreal-ness of the moment having lessened his inhibition against petty verbal sparring. The older boy’s derisive laughter came accompanied by peals of girlish giggles – ones the younger boy recognized to belong to the drama club trio who used to hang around Hoshimi all the time.
What did this mean? Were the girls invisible now?
“A correspondence student like you probably don’t know,” Kaoru piped up then, “but we who wear this ring can do anything in this Academy.” The pale-skinned youth flashed his rose motif ring at the boy in a gesture not unlike that of a society debutante flaunting her jewelry.
The reminder that the same ring now was on his witchcraft-working sister’s finger hit Mamiya like a blow to the chest.
Even in his frantic state, the boy noticed the dog collar visible around Kaoru’s neck, one with a red leash so long, it trailed out of view into the surrounding darkness . . . who or what was holding the other end?
“So tell us more, Inoue-kun,” spoke the suspended red dress in Ayako’s voice. “How was your dinner at the Ohtori Mansion?”
“See? We told you the way to courting Hoshimi-chan is through Mr. Ohtori!” squealed Byako, invisible but for her green dress and shoes; the remaining one’s dancing about sent the folds of her blue dress fluttering out like insect wings.
“The girl might act spirited, but she is really little more than a flower in her father’s palm. Soon enough, Inoue-kun, you’d become the next Mr. Ohtori, with Kaoru-kun as the Acting Chairman acting under ya!”
“Don’t forget the ones who made this happen for you, okay?” chorused the invisible trio, as the whole eerie lot of them disappeared off into the ominously unlit distance.
What in the world was going on here?
Looking around, Mamiya saw that the bowls of fruit and the tableware have all vanished off the draped-covered long table; the winds picked up, blowing the drapery up and off, thus revealing the “table” to be a series of boxes . . .
. . . no, not boxes, COFFINS loaded upon flatback trolleys parked together, their wheels set upon the tracks of the very gauge railroad that his feet had remained upon even now.
With baited breath, Mamiya clasped his hands upon a coffin’s heavy lid, and started pulling it to the side-
“It won’t open any further, you know.”
The quiet voice, coupled with the cool hand now reaching out from the coffin to clasp onto his, startled a scream from out of Mamiya . . . one that quickly died down, as the boy got a better look at the young child curled up on one side inside the coffin.
“ . . . Watase?” asked Mamiya, recognizing the child genius whom Hoshimi had pointed out to him on his prior visit to the academy. “Watase Sanetoshi-kun? What are you doing in there?”
“I’ve always been in here,” replied Watase Sanetoshi, his longish pink locks obscuring his eyes and much of his expression. “This is the box the world has crammed me into, a device to make me forget.”
“Make you . . . forget?”
“Forget how I’m a chosen one. There are only two types of people in this world, you know? The ones who are chosen and the ones who aren't chosen. To not be chosen is to become nothing."
“Watase-kun . . . if this is about Inoue and his goons-”
Sanetoshi’s startlingly worldly chuckle – one completely devoid of the lightness of childhood – cut Mamiya off like whip’s lash. “They’re nothing that I need to concern myself with. They think they’re stealing my designs, but truth is I’m the one using them to construct my designs; they think they’re the chosen ones, but they’re nothing. The Ends of the World have since chosen me as the one to get out of the box and break the world’s shell, leaving everyone else in the Fate Research to be nothing but living fuel to power the Project’s mechanism.” Releasing his hold on Mamiya’s hand, the child genius swept aside his lengthy fringe to meet the older boy’s wide eyes with his own smile-narrowed ones. “Isn’t it electrifying?”
“The Ends of the World?”
“The one behind the Research, behind the Academy, behind the country, behind the World. You saw it too, didn’t you? The un-chosen ones are all becoming increasingly transparent; soon, they’d get erased completely off the scenery of the world. People can be chosen, and they can make choices . . . it looks like the genius Professor from the other division too, had since made his choice.”
“What about Professor Nemuro?” asked Mamiya, voice cold with dread.
“There is a race between the two research divisions,” explained Sanetoshi, appearing deeply amused, “and only the winning side gets to become something. By choosing not to duel upon the Arena for the sake of reaching Eternity, the Professor is hindering his own research progress. Already, the Project Inspector has lost faith in the Professor’s ability to give her ailing brother timely access to Eternity, and has chosen the power of the Ends of the World over the man to have her wish fulfilled.”
“The power . . . of the Ends of the World . . . ?”
“The power to surpass human limitations and harness cosmic entities – the Castle, the Arena, the Hole in the Sky, the Fate Diary, all these fall under the control of human hands because of this power.”
Sanetoshi paused then, as if solely to study Mamiya’s expression, and the older boy knew whatever his face betrayed would be a sight to behold – his sister, a rational woman with a rational job, now is practicing witchcraft in their basement all because of the Academy’s Research, all of because of this Ends of the World . . .
. . . was she now to abandon the Professor, who had been laboring towards them siblings’ salvation against all odds; all along . . . all alone?
. . . all so her ailing brother could be kept unnaturally alive?
“It’s a power to grasp Eternity, to control Fate . . . a power to Revolutionize the World.” The pink haired child’s pre-adolescent voice turned heavy with darkness that no child should possess. “Left un-chosen after having already surrendered his heart, even a brilliant man like Nemuro too shall become nothing-”
A hand, dark and slender from where it stuck out of a white lab coat sleeve, pushed the coffin lid shut, cutting off whatever Sanetoshi was about to say.
Even without glancing up, Mamiya knew that this was the entity to have led him onto the eerie railroad and all the way here; there was a red length tied around its dark small finger, and the boy realized with a start that it was the other end of the dog leash he saw on Kaoru just moments ago.
Lifting his gaze, he saw that the entity bore the form of a petite girl looking maybe a few years older than he was. With her long dark tresses pulled up in a chunky updo, and her face masked under spectacles, she would have looked like just any nondescript girl nerd around the academy, if not for her dark, exotic complexion. Her smile benignly serene, she reached inside her lab coat (which appeared to be the only thing she was wearing, in addition to her glasses and red shoes), produced an apple from which a slice had since been carved out, and showed to him the word since carved onto the fruit’s crimson skin:
The urgent, familiar voice shattered the trance the boy had been in for all this time, and he found himself freezing in the windy, slush-covered courtyard where neither rail tracks nor coffins nor any lab-coat-wearing girl were in sight. A soft heaviness slammed onto his chilled bones, quickly enveloping him in much needed warmth – it took him a moment to realize it was Professor Nemuro’s coat.
“Why are you out here alone at this hour? You don’t even have winter clothes on . . . ” Already, the man had lifted the boy up into his surprisingly strong arms. “I’ll get you inside at once!”
Mamiya was shivering so badly by now voice his voice sounded inaudible to even his own cold-numbed ears. “Inoue . . . the race . . . research . . .”
“Did the student assistants do this to you?” asked the outraged Professor, jumping into conclusions as he hurriedly moved the boy back indoor. “I can’t believe them . . . the bastards!”
“ . . . selfish . . .” murmured the hypothermia-wrecked boy, feeling completely disoriented as the startlingly athletic Professor raced past the unlit corridors carrying him, “ . . . owe it to you that the castle . . . the arena . . . opened . . .”
“Shhh,” the red-faced Professor now looked to be almost in tears as he practically kicked open his office door (all those people who thought the man “computer-like” should have seen him now). Putting the coat-bundled boy down upon the chair, the Professor quickly turned up the heat as he then fumbled with the phone. “Don’t worry, I’ll call your sister-”
“Eternity means . . . forever,” gasped Mamiya in his brittle voice, his small, cold hand clasping onto the Professor’s, stopping him from dialing, “right? For years, decades, centuries, millennia, eons . . . on and on . . .” Watching the Professor’s face in this frantic moment, Mamiya looked into the man’s wide, unguarded eyes, taking in that pure, unmarred something shining within – that which the man often kept hidden beneath his stoic, stone-cold mannerism. “My life may be just a moment, but...” This shining, brilliant something, which his foolish sister had since left to dim in her desperation to defy fate . . . he will keep it burning if that was the last and only thing his failing flesh could possibly do. “ . . . eternity means that this moment lasts billions of billions of years . . . without end . . .”
“Mamiya-kun . . . ” The Professor looked like he was seeing the boy for the very first time; the boy, for his part, squared his jaws as he made a choice that he hoped would keep this special, brilliant man chosen and unfading; a choice that he knew, even then, could cost him his everything.
“I . . . I want eternity!”
End Part Nine