Prologue | Chapter 11 – Salvage and Maintenance

Image Source: Beastysakura

Mandrake’s scribblings: Argh! This is one of the toughest chapters to write. The main problem is that this mandrake finds it hard to present exposition and subtle plot development without making it boring. It is a fine line between boring exposition and subtly presenting the exposition so readers can learn while they read. Urgh! So hard. This chapter could be the longest chapter yet but this mandrake has to do some serious trimming and cut off nearly 2000 words. Next chapter. Gosh, new characters and plot breakthrough. Hope you look forward to it.

<Chapter 10.5 | Main | Chapter 12>

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The sky overlooking the Vietnamese land is dyed orange. In the Son La province, a giant stretch of land is barren unlike the green forests that surround it. Brown upturned soil. Greyish white rocks and ash. Black soot and charred ground. All of these bathed in a warm orange glow of the sunset. However, in the middle, a massive forest dyed red stands, twisting and churning its vegetation. Against the orange light, its red color now sports a darker crimson, akin to the color of congealed blood.

-Vroom Vrrrrrr-

Heading in the direction of the red forest, a truck convoy rumbles and rocks through the barren landscape. The trucks cautiously maneuver through the crumbling earth and rocks. Deep valleys in the earth. Large fractures on bedrock. The trucks leave a dusted trail behind them as they approach the forest. As the sun disappears from the horizon, the sky darkens and the headlights of the trucks now take over in lighting the way. Two agents sit in the first truck of the convoy, their eyes dead set on the monstrous forest ahead. The agent sitting in the passenger seat nudges backwards to speak with the other agent sitting in the back.

Indiana: “What a horrifying view. It is crazy to think that all of this is Alan. To think I sat next to the man on the flight to Vietnam.”

Johannes: “You have been part of this team for years already. You should have been used to it by now.”

Indiana: “I am. Just not on this… Scale…”

Indiana stops his words as he bends forward to shift his look upwards from the windscreen. The truck has pulled to a stop right in front of the red forest. Unseen from the trucks’ headlights, the red wall towers over them. Indiana pulls down the side window, pushes his torso out through it, and poses a megaphone in front of his mouth.

Indiana: “Alan! Clear a path for the trucks! We need to get to the salvage site!”

-Tsuu Krsssh Rsssh-

At Indiana’s words, the red wall flinches and twitch. The vines and vegetation twist and turn away from the trucks’ lights. The wall splits away and a big tunnel into the forest is formed in front of them.

-Vrrroom Vrrrrrr-

The trucks rev their engines and push into the tunnel. The big trucks barely fit through the tunnel, so the walls of the forest are merely a few feet away from the sides of the trucks.

-Grekekeke Kssssss Khhh-

The tunnel walls sprout reptilian heads that snarl and hiss at the trucks as they pass by. Indiana and Johannes ignore the snarls of the reptilian head but the troops in the trucks are cowering in fear. Shortly after, Indiana receives a distress call from the troops in the back.

Indiana: “This is Agent Strauss.”

Trooper: “Sir, these creatures are getting hostile. Do we retreat or-”

Indiana: “Calm down. Do not engage. This is just a salvage mission.”

Indiana shuts off the receiver and closely watches the hissing walls.

Indiana: “Alan is pretty big. Or rather, Rosetta’s defenses are…”

Johannes: “Well, when the spell went down, it’s much bigger than it is now. Now that the battle is over, Alan is consolidating all that power into a more manageable size.”

Indiana: “It’s not every day we engage Rosetta. Just winning this battle gives us this massive bounty.”

Johannes frowns at Indiana’s statement.

Johannes: “… We didn’t win the battle.”

Indiana: “… Right Rosetta got away. Our mission now is to salvage what he has dropped in his escape.”

The trucks come out of the tunnel into a clearing. In the complete darkness, nothing can be discerned save for the ground around the trucks. The trucks park to the side and the troops exit the trucks. Indiana and Johannes exit theirs and watch the troops unload the equipment from the trucks. Digging equipment, floodlights, diesel generators, and large military cases. Equipment well fitted for an excavation mission. The flashlights are taken out to illuminate the surroundings. All around the clearing, Alan’s red mass is twisting and twitching. Squinting into the distance Indiana spots a vague silhouette of a ruin.

Indiana: “Right there! Get those floodlights out!”

Trooper: “Yes, Sir!”

The men drag the floodlights and generators towards the ruin. Laying down the wiring, the floodlights are connected to the generators. The lights burst from the floodlights, bathing the ruins in light.

Johannes: “It looks much less cluttered now that Alan cleared the area.”

Johannes gestures at the ruins in the middle. There are various stone fragments of what was once a rune circle. Broken pieces of bark that bear rune markings also littered the ground. Indiana picks up one of the pieces and look at the runes closely.

Indiana: “This looks unsalvageable.”

Johannes: “It’s not our call to judge what is not salvageable.”

Indiana: “Men! Pick everything up! Nothing should be left behind!”

Trooper: “Ye-”

“GROOOOOAAAR!!”

Troopers: “UWAAAAH!”

A loud roar reverberates throughout the area. The men scramble for cover and whip out their guns, scanning the darkness above for the enemy.

Indiana: “STAND DOWN! STAND DOWN! DO NOT ATTACK! IT’S AN ALLY!”

Indiana jumps in front of the men and waves his arms at them angrily. Heeding the orders from their commander, the men slowly put away their weapons. Sensing that the momentary crisis is over. Indiana throws a dirty look above.

-Fwoom Thrsssh-

Four giant claws dig deep into the ground as the large creature sends its momentum into the ground. Its giant body made of twisting red vines. Wings that covers the entire clearing. The dragon twists its neck to face its terrifying head at the cowering men.

Indiana: “I’d rather you stop provoking my men!”

Alan: “Don’t blame me over the incompetence of your men.”

Johannes: “Alan, stop it. You were snarling and hissing at them on the way here. You are supposed to consolidate at this power. The pace that I am seeing is too slow for you. We need to hurry in securing these ruins for analysis.”

Alan: “Hahaha…”

-Nsss Ssss-

Hearing the rustling at their feet, Indiana and Johannes shoots a look at their feet. Slithering on the ground towards them is a red snake. It approaches it raises its head at both of them and speaks in a low voice.

Alan: *I don’t think these ruins aren’t that important at the moment. Rather, I’ve got something important to share with you. In private.*

Johannes and Indiana look at each other. They also feel the intense stares of the troops watching intently from their defense positions. Indiana leaves the conversation and faces the men.

Indiana: “Alright! Back to work! No more fooling around!”

Indiana barks his orders at the troops to begin transporting the ruin fragments into the containers. The men warily leave their defense positions and begin working in moving the rubble. Indiana gestures at the other men with cameras and recording equipment on standby and they immediately get to work making records. When Johannes is satisfied with everyone out of earshot, he faces Alan’s snake form.

Johannes: *So what is it that can only be shared between us agents? What have you found?*

-Kss Kss Kss-

Alan hisses in excitement.

Alan: *When that missile struck Rosetta, it struck him hard. Hard enough to knock some of him off.*

At those words, Johannes face light up in surprise. Struggling to keep his voice down, he confirms again.

Johannes: *W-wait… You don’t mean…*

Alan: *After the missile struck, this dragon did not try to take you down immediately. In fact, it wasn’t after a long while that it starts to join in the battle.*

The snake turns its head towards the dragon. The dragon turns and brings its head in front of Johannes.

Alan: *This fucker has been busy gathering them for safekeeping. I’ll bring some of them out.*

-Krosh Rsssh-

The dragon rattles its throat for a bit and the items in question roll out onto the dragon’s giant maw. Johannes eyes shine with glee and his face broke into a restrained smile as he beholds the items before him. This treasure. He must get it to Agent Gibson as soon as possible.

Johannes: *That’s right… Indiana needs to see this.*

Remembering his partner’s contribution to the mission, Johannes fumbles through his gear to find his radio. Feeling euphoric at the sudden revelation, he briefly forgets his gear setup. Grasping the radio with his trembling fingers, he contacts Indiana.

Johannes: “Indiana, are you done seeing over the operation?”

Indiana: “Not yet. But they should be fine without me after a bit.”

Johannes: “Well, hurry up. It’s urgent.”

As soon as Johannes hangs up, he quickly steps closer to the dragon’s maw.

Johannes: “There’s six here. How many are they in total?”

Alan: “I haven’t counted them myself, but I can feel up to 30 in the gut.”

Johannes is taken aback for a moment. He then touches and fumbles the items around. This feeling that the items give off is nostalgic to him.

Johannes: [It feels exactly as I remembered it. And also…] *Thirty…* “Hehehe… Hahahahaha!”

Alan: “Grrohohoho!”

Unable to contain his excitement, Johannes breaks into a laugh. The dragon follows suit and begins laughing on its own.

Indiana: “Hey, calm down! You are making a scene!”

The festive atmosphere cools down a little when Indiana jogs over to join the conversation. Johannes walks over to him, pats him on his back and wraps his arm around his shoulders.

Johannes: “We did it! Rosetta may be on the loose but this mission is still a resounding success! It’s all thanks to you that we got the strike on Rosetta!”

Johannes rocks Indiana back and forth.

Indiana: “Whoa, hey! Keep it down! What is going on?”

Johannes: *Here.*

Johannes walks over to the dragon’s mouth, grabs one of the items and tosses it into Indiana’s open hands. Indiana feels a pressure from his hands, as if the air is pushing against his palm. Indiana’s eyes light up from the item’s dim glow.

Indiana: *This is…*

Floating on the top on his hands is a ball pitch black in color. In fact, it is so black that its shape is indiscernible. Dancing on the ball’s surface are various runes colored grey and giving off a weak glow. In Indiana’s eyes, it looks like a pitch black screen with greyish runes moving over it.

Johannes: “This is the biggest bounty since the organization’s founding.”

Johannes puts on a wide grin.

Johannes: “Contact Agent Gibson. We’ve hit the jackpot.”

__________________________________

A woman stands before the gates to an impressive medical institute. Sporting various specialized buildings and hospitals, it is one of the top medical institutions in Tokyo. Carrying a big, heavy backpack, she easily stands out from the crowd. Catching the passing gazes of the people around her, she casts a disgruntled sigh, slips on black work gloves, and marches towards the hospital building.

Patient: *Uoh! What a strange person!*

Child: “Daddy, that person has dark skin”

Father: *Kouta, don’t point.*

Nurse (1): *Hey, who is that person?*

Nurse (2): *Shh. Don’t talk about her.*

The hospitals staff and civilians begin to watch and whisper among themselves. With her appearance of a dark skinned foreigner with a big backpack slung across her shoulders, she is an unusual sight to the everyday civilian. She has tried to go out of her way to avoid the crowd, but it has made her more conspicuous than before.

Nila: [I hate this. I hate this so much. How am I supposed to lay low like this?]

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

Hours after Nila’s arrival in Tokyo

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

Nila is at a transport terminal standing in front of an open locker in the storage locker area. Her head is tilted forwards into the open locker and passersby look curiously at the woman talking with her head in a locker. From Nila’s perspective, she is facing a lone machine with a speaker emitting Anne’s voice.

Anne: “I need you to infiltrate this place.”

Nila: “This is… A medical research facility? Didn’t you have one of those machines that gather all sorts of information?”

Anne: “I’ve encountered some rough technical pitfalls, so they are offline. Don’t worry about the data of the newborn babies, the machines will gather them again once they start back up. I just need you there to look for anything I’ve missed.”

Nila: “How long do I have to be in there?”

Anne: “A short in and out. You’ll be making a delivery for cover. Make sure to say that it’s for Hideo Mashima.”

Nila: “Parcel? Hideo Mashima… So he’s a real person?”

Anne: “Yeah. Be sure to get a signature. It’s for appearance’s sake so just toss it afterwards. I’ll make a call to the facility using voice fabrication.”

Nila looks around the locker and sees a parcel with a clipboard on the upper half of the locker. A closer look at the clipboard shows that there are many delivery receipts complete with delivery addresses clipped on to it.

Nila: [To create things with this amount of detail… Even the receipts are worn and folded in the corners.]

Nila picks up the parcel and feel about its weight.

Nila: [This is about 7 kilos…] “Center, what’s inside?”

Anne: “A BDSM starter kit. I had to create it according the online store’s catalog.”

Nila: “Gh!”

Hearing Anne’s response, Nila holds the parcel at arms’ length.

Nila: “Why did you choose such a person?!”

Anne: “Now, calm down. It’s clean. And he’s the only one who can get you in without fuss.”

Nila: “Kh…”

Nila thought of crushing the parcel with her hands but she decides against it.

Anne: “Hey, Nila…”

Anne: “I really appreciate your help. Thank you.”

Nila: “… It’s fine…”

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

Nila: [It’s definitely not fine!]

When she reached the corridor connecting the hospital wings to the medical research facility, a nurse immediately stops her. Nila glances at her name tag that reads ‘SAGARI’ before looking at the nurse nervously stepping in front of her.

Sagari: “He-… Hello… Miss… Me-ii… Aye…”

The nurse nervously pieces together English words before Nila raises her hand to stop her.

Nila: “I can speak Japanese.”

Those words brought some relief to the nurse and she continues her question in Japanese.

Sagari: “Excuse me. May I know your purpose of coming here?”

Nila: “… I’m here to deliver a parcel.”

Sagari: “The institution has a postal office on the first floor Building B. Please leave the parcel there.”

Nila: “I have to deliver the parcel directly.”

Sagari bows her head.

Sagari: “I’m very sorry. You are not allowed to go into this area. Please drop it off at the post office.”

Nila: “It’s for Hideo Mashi- Sorry. Mashima Hideo-san.”

Sagari’s face twitches for a moment. The nurses within earshot start to whisper among themselves.

Nurse (3): *Hey, Hey. She meant that admin staff Mashima-san, right?*

Nurse (4): *It’s very likely. It makes sense why he wants it delivered directly.*

Nurse (5): *Eh? What is in the parcel?*

Nurse (4): *It’s better you don’t ask…*

Hearing the nurses whisper, it is simple to understand Hideo Mashima’s reputation among the nurses. Sighing internally, Nila continues at takes the parcel out from her backpack and shows the parcel to the nurse. The nurse catches a glimpse of the parcel’s details and starts to panic.

Nila: [She knows it’s some perverted stuff.] “Mashima-san wishes to have this parcel delivered directly to his office. I request your permission to let me pass.”

Sagari: “Eh? Ah… Awawawawa… “

Nurse (6): “Sagari-chan.”

Sagari: “Y-Yes?!”

The nurse from the counter gestures her to come over.

Sagari: “Please excuse me for a moment.”

Sagari approaches the nurse and she hands her a visitor’s pass.

Nurse (6): *Pass this to the woman and let her through.*

Sagari: *B-But, Leader…*

Nurse (6): *I got a call from Mashima-san earlier. Just let her through. Nobody wants to sit through any of his rants.*

The nurse shoos Sagari towards Nila. Sagari nervously passes the visitor’s pass to Nila.

Sagari: “Mashima-san will not be here until evening. You can leave the parcel at his office on the 3rd floor, office number 4.”

Nila: “Okay. Thank you for your help. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

Sagari: “N-No. It’s fine…”

Nila waves at the bowing Sagari before walking quickly into the elevator. Once in the elevator, she quickly presses the 3rd floor button and fumbles in her pocket. When the doors close, she thinks of her next actions for her mission.

Nila: [Just in and out? So do I just look around the offices?]

The elevator opens to the third floor and Nila exits the elevator looking around for the room to drop the parcel in.

Man: “May I know why you are here?”

A man dressed in a professor’s coat standing near her suddenly asks. He is alarmed at the strange woman emerging from the elevator. Behind him is a middle-aged woman in office attire. Nila presents her visitor’s pass to the man.

Nila: “I’m sent here to deliver a parcel to Mashima Hideo-san. May I know where his office is?”

The man casts a doubtful gaze. Agitated, Nila shoves the parcel close to his face.

Nila: “Mashima-san expects this parcel.”

Man: “Paramilitary cospl- Okay! Okay! Mashima-san’s office is to the right, third office.”

The man uncomfortably pushes the parcel back. Nila then turns in a huff to the direction the man pointed. The man sighs and both him and the woman continue their way in the same direction Nila is walking.

Woman: “Umm… Dr. Kimura… About the test results.”

Kimura: “Ah yes! We should discuss this in private. Could we wait a bit until we reach the office?”

Woman: “Yes. I understand.”

Nila: [I’m being a bother, huh?]

The man opens the door to his office and invited the woman in. Nila continues walking and stops in front of Mashima’s office two rooms away. The office is empty and the door is electronically locked by keycard access.

Nila: [Do I just drop it here and look around the offices?]

As Nila drops the parcel next to the door and walks down the row of offices.

*Tick*

Nila: “Hm?”

Nila stops in her tracks and looks around the area. Her hand brushes the side of her neck, revealing a black choker.

Nila: [Did it tick? So, the other way?]

Confused, she brushes the red string off her neck and continues in her new direction. As she walks by Kimura’s office, she overhears him talking.

Kimura: “It seems the results are promising. Congratulations, you’re pregnant.”

Nila: [Pregnant?]

Hearing a word that pertains to her mission, Nila keeps walking past the office. She finds the nearest sofa bench to sit on and packs mana into her ears to enhance her hearing.

Woman: “Y-yes. Thank you… Very much…”

Kimura: “Jiang-san, you shouldn’t be so nervous. Even if this DNA treatment is still in its testing stages, we have thoroughly tested the hormone therapy. You being pregnant is proof that the DNA treatment is a success. All that is left is the hormone therapy. This is as you can say a victory lap.”

Jiang: “Haa… Okay…”

The woman’s voice is breaking. Nila can imagine the woman trembling in joy.

Kimura: “Here’s the tissue.”

Jiang: “Yes… Thank you.”

Kimura: “Now… I understand that you will be returning to your home in Aomori prefecture?”

Jiang: “Y-yes. In Hirosaki city.”

Kimura: “Jiang-san, I want to assure you that there is nothing to worry about. You are free to return to your home. We have alumnis working in the city who will be willing to carry out the hormone therapy for you. What we need is to follow your daily diet and stay away from strenuous exercises.”

Jiang: “Yes… Thank you very much.”

Kimura: “The pleasure is all mine. Thank you for participating in this program. In nine months, you will have your child. Now, let’s go to the pharmacy to get your dietary supplements for your trip.”

-Tick-

Nila: [Right. Got to get out of sight.]

Nila jumps on her feet and walks around the office floor. Circling the whole floor, she comes across Kimura’s office again.

Nila: [A treatment program assisting women to conceive a child? Is this what Anne means by something she missed?]

Nila puts her hand into her backpack and pulls out the phone and the encryption device. She taps a few commands into the phone and flashes it across the keycard access.

-Kachak-

The electronic lock disengages and Nila quietly enters Kimura’s office. She detaches the encryption device from her phone and connects it to Kimura’s office computer.

Nila: *Alright. Let’s see what these program is about. *

Nila searches through the computer files and servers. She brushes off a red string on the screen and clicks on the icon under it.

Nila: *DNA repair treatments on the women with extensive hormone therapies. Wow… The volunteer list is…*

She scrolls through lists. Hundreds of volunteers with links to their data all listed on these files. Glancing at each of the names, she ponders on her next action to take.

Nila: [Even if we come across the babies born from this program eventually, if we get the genetic data from the mothers, Anne can find out if any of them will give birth to the fated girl. It’s better to know now than months down the line.]

She takes out a storage disk, plugs it into the computer and made copies of the files. Copying a massive amount of data, the computer displays the time needed to complete the process.

Nila: [Half an hour… Optimize the computer for this one task.]

She tweaks the encryption device and the computer flickers off. The hum of the CPU turns louder as the machine’s processing power is focused on the task of copying the data. Nila slips her hand in the collar of her coat and caresses the choker on the side of her neck. Sewn on the choker and positioned on the side of her neck is a small ornate clock. Carefully running her fingers across the clock’s face, she breathes out a small prayer.

Nila: *Please don’t make it hard for me…*

After a few minutes, the computer screen flickers on. Nila pulls of the storage disk and the encryption device and stuffs them into her backpack. She checks the surroundings before exiting the office and breathing a sigh of relief.

Nila: [This is it then… I’ll upload the data to Anne later. For now, I need to get out of here.]

Not taking the elevator this time, she exits the floor through the fire escape. After coming to the corridor entrance where she entered from, she approaches the nurse Sagari standing next to the desk and returns her visitor’s pass.

Sagari: “Welcome back. You took quite a long time.”

Nila: “I got lost and then got questioned by the floor staff.”

Sagari: “W-Well, we usually do not allow exceptions like this.”

Nila: “Yes, thank you for letting me through. Now, there is the matter of the receiver’s signature. Can you sign it?” [Even though it’s just an act.]

Nila holds out a crumpled clipboard in front of the nurse. Sagari’s smile twitches for a moment.

Sagari: “E-Eh?”

__________________________________

Anne watches the security feed of the facility. Her face shows a somber mood. Nila is currently urging the nurse to sign the documents.

Anne: “Hey, is this enough, Akari?”

She pulls out the data feed from the malfunctioning equipment. Or rather, previously malfunctioning equipment. The feedback shows that the machines are running smoothly and whatever influence that has affected them has now disappeared. Seeing the well-tuned performance of the machine, Anne unconsciously places her hand in her pocket.

Anne: “Akari?”

Anne searches her pocket once more. She frantically checks her other pockets. Empty.

__________________________________

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<Chapter 10.5 | Main | Chapter 12>

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Author: Q-ichi

I'm a mandrake

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