Prologue | Chapter 5 – Clock and Center

Mandrake’s scribblings:

Wooow!!! Look at that beauty. This is long exposure star trails. This picture will come in handy for helping you picture a bit of the chapter. This mandrake will start adding these pictures to the chapters and retrofitting the past chapters as well.

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<Chapter 4 | Main | Chapter 6>

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A forest of Japan is caught in view. Some of the trees displayed a bright orange crown. The color of autumn. However, the majestic view of the change of seasons is marred by a small column of smoke rising from between the trees. Following the trail of smoke reveals…

-Crack Crackle-

A small fire is slowly dying out atop a pile of ashes. The fire is met with a shower of soil, suffocating it and putting it out. The person that put it out, a dark skin woman.

Woman: “Finally. It is done.”

She stomps on the ashes one more time to put out the any hidden embers. She then picks up a nearby contraption. The same strange device with the canister now attached to a different smartphone. She checks the screen for fourth time.

[Transfer complete]

Satisfied, she stretches her arms and body. Her shoulders feel lighter now that her job is done. She lifted her heavy back pack over her shoulders once again and the momentary relief is lost. She drags her feet towards the direction she came from. From outside the forest, at its edge a good distance away, a bus station, a pit stop between the two cities. It’s a long trek, all for the sake of not rousing any suspicion.

__________________________________

The woman browses the food isle in the supermarket at the bus station. She tosses a few food items into her shopping basket and proceeds to pay at the counter. She turns over to look at the group of people lining up to get into a bus. It is the bus that she took when leaving the city.

Woman: [I’ve spent a long time in the forest. I’ll eat on the bus.]

She picks up her purchase and jogs over to the bus.

-Tick-

She suddenly stops her steps and quickly turns away from the bus.

Woman: [Are you kidding me? They reached this far?]

She walks further away from the bus and enters the supermarket once more. Keeping watch over the bus, she rearranges her thoughts.

Woman: [It doesn’t seem to be anyone hunting for me on that bus. So there is a trap set in the city I’m going… Other buses are out of the question. The bus station might be locked down. So the only way into the city is through a taxi-]

-Tick-

Woman: [The taxis are compromised? No… Roadblocks around the city. Okay. Use a taxi and go on foot when near the city. But for a taxi, I need a lot of money.]

Taking a taxi to the city will incur a huge taxi fare. She will have to request additional funds from Center. How shameful. She takes out the smartphone still attached to the canister device. Turning it on, she keys in the following words.

[The Clock needs its work papers.]

Sent. She turns the device off and walks off to the last location where she saw an ATM machine. It is near the supermarket’s checkout counter. She stands in front of the machine and glances at the camera overlooking it. She shifts her gaze to the security camera at the checkout counter.

Clerk: “Excuse me, ma’am. Do you need assistance?”

The clerk got suspicious of her actions and offered the woman her assistance. The woman is taken aback.

Woman: “Sorry. I am a bit wary about people stealing my card information. You know. Hidden cameras and card skimmers.”

Clerk: “Ma’am. I can assure you that security here is pretty safe and the ATM machine has not been tampered with. There is no need to worry.”

The woman nodded to the clerk. She stepped closer to the machine to not rouse more suspicion.

Woman: [Anne… What is taking so long?]

Center, or rather Anne, has always been fast in responding to her requests.

Woman: [Is it because of the location? This is- Oh…]

The ATM machine screen flickers and the machine whirs. A stack of Yen notes is deposited out of its note dispenser. The woman takes the stack and counts the notes.

Woman: [60… 70… Hmm?]

The ATM machine prints out a rather long receipt. On the receipt, written in full caps…

[PAPERS FOR THE MEATHEADED NILA MARIE | READ UNDERNEATH]

The woman named Nila snatches the receipt and glanced underneath. Then she crumples it in her fist. Annoyed at the prank, she mumbles her complaints

Nila: *I’ll fix it when I get there. But, don’t go printing my name, sheltered hermit.*

Nila stuffs the stack of money into her bag. She waves politely at the bowing clerk while glancing at the security camera. Exiting the supermarket, she turns to the parked taxis awaiting customers. When she approaches one of the taxis, its driver welcomes her.

Driver: “Welcome. Where do you like to go?”

Nila: “Tokyo City. Are you able to go there?”

Driver: “Yes. I am able to go there.”

Nila: “Okay. My actual destination is outside the city. So I want to be dropped off before entering the city.”

Driver: “Yes, I understand. Ma’am, I would like you to know that the taxi fare will be roughly 50 000 to 60 000 yen. Will you be taking this taxi?

Nila: “Yes, I’ll be in your care.”

Driver: “Thank you very much. Please put your luggage in the back.”

Nila puts in her luggage in the taxi’s trunk and gets on to the back passenger seat. The taxi driver gives a bow before entering the driver’s seat. The taxi starts up and leaves the pits stop. Nila took out the stolen smartphone and gave it a thorough wipe. She puts the smartphone into the back seat pocket.

-Tick-

Her hand retracts and pockets the smartphone.

Nila: [I still need it? Make sense. I won’t be getting another one until I reach Tokyo.]

She stretches a herself a bit and lies her back on the seat.

Nila: [There is that message from Anne. More stuff to do… Get off before the road block. Hike all the way into the city. Then…]

Nila’s thoughts drift into silence as she falls asleep.

__________________________________

The place is black. However, this place is sparkling at the same time. Countless lights flicker and sparkle. With its large numbers, they spread across the place looking like the stars captured by a telescope on a cloudless night. With such a magnificent sight, one will expect a loud booming sound droning in the background, but there is no sound that can be heard. Like true space itself, silent.

-Rustle-

Interrupting the silence, a woman is standing in the middle of the space where there was nothing before. The woman looks mature, age in the mid-forties. Her attire is a bit mismatched. She has dark brown hair that is long and straight but at the same time it gave a disheveled look. Her pale white skin looks unhealthy. It is as if she has lived for years without sunlight. In contrast, her body looks healthy while her face showed a lively expression of a normal person.

Woman: “Back to work.”

Responding to her words, the lights flicker brighter and start to move into their positions. The whole view changed dramatically. Like a beautiful two dimensional picture becoming a glorious three dimensional one. The woman floats up in the space leisurely. It is as if gravity in the space is an outright lie.

She closes her eyes and focused. Then something spectacular happened to the space. The lights start to move in a pattern, leaving a light trail that follows its path. Up and down, left to right, front to back, and vice versa.  In spite of the various directions the light nodes take, they all ultimately move in the flow of a round circle loop. With the woman as the center, the lights move around her, creating a spectacular view like a three dimensional long exposure star trail photo. She lifts a hand and a giant screen that wraps around in a circle appears around her. On the screen, computer text welcomes her.

[Welcome, —- Anne]

A notification window seems to be blocking her first name. The woman surnamed Anne looks closely at the notification window.

Anne: [It’s Nila. That idiot. She finally sent over the rest of it.]

Anne frowns at the rest of documents that Nila has transferred over. She still remembers the time Nila sent it incomplete transfers which resulted in severe fragmentation of the last few documents that squeezed through. How angry and upset Anne was at the time.

Anne: [Stop playing chicken with those things. I have to go through a lot of shit to patch up your security.]

‘Those things’. Anne thought of the enemy that way. She still harbors hatred towards them. After what they did. After what ‘he’ did. But now is not the time for brooding. Anne scans through the documents.

Anne: “Everything seems to be in order.” [The fragmented ones are all here along with a few redundant copies]

With this, Anne begins her work. Focusing on the task in her mind, the light trails respond accordingly. As the light trails pass by the virtual documents, the identity and genetic data are extracted from them. The genetic data is turned into a blueprint and the entire human body is reconstructed in a virtual body. Anne watches as each virtual body is lined up on the screen in front of her. She then proceeds with the next process.

The virtual bodies are placed into a simulation and exposed to various artificial environments. The parameters of the bodies is recorded as data which is processed further to generate the result that Anne has been looking for. The individual mana signature. Unique to each person, the mana signatures are compared to a single mana signature record. The mana signature of the fated girl. Anne looks on as the screen shows the results of the comparison.

Anne: “All negative!”

Anne throws her arms up in the air and twists her body sideways to do a twirl.

Anne: “Same as it has always been!”

This has been indeed true. In the space of trailing lights, the nodes are reporting the same result for all the genetic data of children and newborn babies. No match at all. The fated girl continues to evade her grasp. Anne folds her arms in thought.

Anne: [Does this girl even exist? Up until now I’ve yet to see any evidence for that. Rosetta has her mana signature and even that lock of hair. But he could have fabricated all of it with his powers anyway. Even if all of this is true, how does that even make sense? Where did that hair even come from?]

Anne flashed these same questions countless times before. She had the leisure of thoroughly analyzing the hair but was only able to glean the unique mana signature from it. And for the mana signature, the only thing it matched is the same mana signature that Rosetta provided in the first place. Yet at the time, she felt something was off about the hair. She figured it out shortly after.

Anne: “Why does the hair not have any DNA?”

The hair for one thing does not have any DNA on it. It would be much easier if the DNA is present as a lot of information could be derived from the DNA alone. The girl’s race, lineage, even lifestyle obtained from the DNA would have narrowed the search scope by a wide margin.

Anne: “What an unbelievable circumstance. It thanks to this that we’re stuck-“

Anne’s thoughts are interrupted by a recent development. A user has entered her space and has been fumbling around with the data centers. Anne looks at the user’s presence which is a small green glow bouncing between the light trails in her space.

Anne: [It must be the start of her evening shift.]

Anne recognizes the user and narrows her eyes at the greenish glow. It seems to be hovering round and round aimlessly.

Anne: “Helen… What are you doing getting lost in my network? Today’s results registry is here, where it’s always been.”

Anne redirected Helen’s presence to the node containing the registry database. Helen’s presence hovered over the node for a few moments before disappearing. In its place, data of a virtual note is left behind.

[Dear Anne. Thank you for your hard work! Today’s records will reach you soon! Much love, Helen.]

Anne: [You’re welcome, Helen. Be sure to back me up when the time comes.]

Anne puts the note away. Helen is with Anne in opposition to the circumstances of Rosetta’s mission. Of all the people who were sent over by Rosetta, all were willing adults. Their terms were negotiated and they were sent to the other world after much training and preparation. None of them. None of them were underage and ill-prepared. But this girl. Rosetta plans to send her over as soon as possible. Anne is having none of it. She will cooperate due to the ever present threat of the enemy finding the girl. But when the girl is found, she will be hidden. Helen will protect her. Then Anne herself will confront Rosetta.

It didn’t have to come to this. But this insane decision forced her hand. Another similar circumstance happened before. There was that one boy that Rosetta had granted power upon. To quell the opposition, Rosetta affirmed that the boy was fated to be sent over when he grew up. Then it happened. ‘His’ betrayal. Followed by the betrayal by the others. Everyone lost something that day, including Rosetta. The boy on the other hand ran away to safety and the traitors never came across him to realize his identity. The boy has grown up well over the years. Rosetta and Anne still keep tabs on him. Rosetta will come around to send him over soon. But only after the girl is found.

Anne: “There it is…”

One by one, the DNA records from Helen’s hospital is slowly loaded in front of Anne. Having to travel through a plant based network and then encoded into a data based one will take time, no matter how skilled Anne is. Anne flicks each of the records into the processing line when they finished loading. Moments later, ‘No Match’ results pop up one after the other.

Anne: [No surprise…]

Anne glances over to the surveillance of the world outside her space. The world moves on with its daily life. But Anne ignores all of that. What she is looking for are traces. Traces of the enemy. People who act under ‘his’ orders.

Anne: [As usual, Rosetta and Nila stirring up the waters that I can’t find anything else.]

The enemy has placed all their attention on Rosetta. Enemy agents have already been detected going into Vietnam many days ago. Despite having masked their identity with various means, including magic, they can’t fool Anne, whose potential has already surpassed the powerful Rosetta. Currently, these agents have seized control of the Vietnam’s police and military. They are mounting an offensive against Rosetta who has demonstrated quite a light show in search for the girl.

Anne: “Whoa… Light siphoning photosynthesis? You’re no longer holding back, Rosetta?”

Anne can do nothing but sigh at the picture taken by the enemy scouts. An incredible shot of a massive mass of darkness in the middle of the forest. To a layman’s view, it is as if a black hole has appeared on Earth.

Anne: [And then there’s the queen of idiots.]

Anne shifts her attention to the enemy chatter in Japan who has mobilized the country’s police force to capture Nila who couldn’t help but play chicken with the enemy’s intelligence sweeper. The police are establishing roadblocks on all roads leading to Tokyo, the next city Nila will moving to.

Anne: [Looks like I need to prepare some currency when she gets to an ATM. Hmm… She found out about her situation, huh?]

Anne watches Nila retreat from the bus into the supermarket through the security camera. She opens a ghost bank account and deposits a generous amount of money. She hijacks the ATM machine in the supermarket and waits for Nila to approach it. As she watches Nila from the security camera, a notification appears in her mind.

Anne: [Huh? What?]

She detects an error in one of the her nodes. One of the equipment collecting genetic information from medical research institutions has malfunctioned. She brings the error into view.

Anne: [This is… In Tokyo city?]

Anne troubleshoots the malfunctioning equipment to identify the problem. One by one, each equipment component reporting back as functioning properly.

Anne: [The equipment is working fine] “What is going on?”

She rebooted each component. The error is still there. She troubleshoots the problem again and rebooted every component at once. The same error. She rewrites all the software and algorithms in the machine and restarted the machine, overseeing its every process. Nothing changed. This annoys Anne. If going this far with her skills bears no fruit, then it is impossible to fix. Now the only thing left for Anne is by means that borders on the insane.

Anne: “Alright.”

At her words, a great number of the light nodes stop in their tracks, losing their light trails as it caught up to them. Anne puts her hands above the targeted, the node with the persistent error, and focus. In an instant, the motionless light nodes move towards the targeted node at an incredible speed that streaks of light could only be seen in a moment. The targeted node becomes blindingly bright. The whole space is illuminated in a bright white light.

After a few seconds, Anne releases her posture and the bright light dissipated. The target node returns to normal and the other nodes that raced towards it earlier scatter in all directions. Looking at the node, the same error could still be felt.

Anne: “Why?! What’s going on?!”

Her frustration is an all-time high. What she did earlier was her focusing her energy and mana from her reserves in the space and venting it at the ‘broken’ equipment through the target node. With all that energy and mana, she forged a virtual spell and through immense data processing and calculations, deconstructed the faulty equipment into basic elements and reconstructed the entire thing from scratch. Matter reconstruction remotely through a virtual space. Despite all that, the brand new equipment reports the same error in mockery of her efforts. In response, Anne is in a state of panic.

Anne: [Is the machine forced in this state by an outside force? The enemy? ‘Him’? But there is no way ‘he’ could have interfered without me finding out!]

All the light nodes stop in their tracks. Added with the silence from Anne, it looks like time has stopped. Anne becomes rigid, her eye seething with hatred and her hands gripped into fists.

Anne: “Where are you? Where are you, you son of a bitch?”

The light nodes shine brightly and begin their movement once more. This time in a more erratic path and at a high speed. She wants to find ‘him’. She wants revenge on that traitor. She will hijack the entire city and bring it down ‘him’. She uses all her power to figure out the cause of this problem. If it is ‘him’. Find ‘him’. Hunt him ‘down’.

However, with all her power centered on computation, what was concluded is not what she expected.

**********************************

Woman: “You’re too uptight, —anne. Come on. Smile. Smile.”

A woman wearing a red scarf waving her index fingers side to side to form a smile. Her own smile showed true happiness and warmth.

**********************************

A memory. This memory resurfaced during Anne’s mental turmoil. In an instant, her hatred is forgotten. All the light nodes calm their pace. Anne’s eyes opens wide in recollection of that memory.

Anne: [No way.]

Somewhere in her thoughts, she figured out what has been causing the error as well as who it belonged to. All the lights nodes begin to shine. Anne will attempt to troubleshoot the error once more. However, this time, she will be using her full power and her agenda is a lot more different than before.

Anne: [Please.]

She has that desperate thought before going full force on the target node. The entire space lights up as all the light nodes fly towards the target node. Everything. The whole space is covered is blinding white light.

Anne: “If… It is really you. I want you to know that I am not trying to stop you. All I want is… You- For you to show yourself.”

Anne starts to talk. Her voice is shaky from anxiety and desperation.

Anne: “I just want to see you. Please… Come out.”

No response. Anne desperately cries out.

Anne: “Please! Akari!”

A response. Sensing that, Anne forces her spell harder before finally…

Anne: -!!!-

Anne kills her spell. The white light dissipates once more and a view of scattering lights is shown around Anne. Anne brings her hands for a closer inspection. Placed in between her hands, a single red string hangs listlessly.

Anne: “Ukh… Gh…”

She starts to sob at the sight of the red string. Tears drip down from her eyes as she clutches the red thread and brings it close to her chest.

Anne: “Akari… It’s… It’s really you… You’re still here…”

Anne cries for a little while as she brings the red string to her view. The red string. Belonging to the woman Akari. Akari who was dear and precious to Anne.

Anne: “Gh… I’m sorry… I am alright now.”

Anne pulls herself together and wipes the tears from her face. She looks at the red string in determination.

Anne: “Alright. Whatever you wish for. I’ll do it for you.”

Anne glances at the node still reporting the error.

Anne: “You don’t want the machine fixed. No, you want someone to fix it personally.”

Anne sees Nila’s message. Nila who is waiting for Anne should be wondering what’s wrong by now.

Anne: “Right… Nila.”

She concludes that she can have Nila investigate the equipment there. She emptied the contents of the ghost bank account through the ATM machine for Nila. She then have the ATM print her orders on a receipt.

Anne: [I’ll add a little message for Nila to keep her hot-bloodedness under control.]

Anne leans back after the job is done. The light nodes all around her are returning to their initial pattern as Anne reorganizes and recover any lost work caused by the debacle from earlier.

Anne: [The equipment in question is in the HQ of a medical research company. It helps gather data from the HQ and its branches.]

Nila from the security feed gave a fleeting annoyed glance. However, Anne’s attention is not on it. She looks at the red string in her hands. Her finger gently rubs it across her hand.

Anne: “The fated girl? Akari… Are you saying that she will be found there?”

Anne looks around her. A significant number of the lights nodes are dedicated to finding the girl.

Anne: “Should I stop looking for her then?”

Anne looks at the red string once more. She is not sure whether the fated girl will be found there.

Anne: “You used to be so playful and whimsical… I might be wrong about this whole thing.”

Anne ties the string into a knot and puts it in her pocket. She gives herself a stretch and leans forward towards the screen.

Anne: [I can afford to keep going. I have the power and mana for it. For now, I have to play the role of support.]

Anne brings up multiple feeds that provide all the information on the incidents surrounding Rosetta. The opposing forces have begun their operations.

Anne: “Rosetta’s theater of war is about to begin.”

__________________________________

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<Chapter 4 | Main | Chapter 6>

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Author: Q-ichi

I'm a mandrake

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