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[ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
[ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#1
Star 
That's a placeholder title for the forum. This is going into the main story thread on the wiki, so it doesn't need a "real" title.




Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 4, 2017
11:27 AM


"I'm not talking to Mii right now."

Rob raised an eyebrow. "Why not?" he asked over his coffee cup.

"Her teams won yesterday."

"Playing what?"

"Basketball. The Hoops Classic games."

"Oh, right - the university matches. I didn't know you followed the varsity games."

Ami smiled. "I don't, but it seems like everybody else in my classes does." She took a sip of her own coffee. "Oh, this is good."

"Better than what comes out of the coffeemaker at home, right?" Rob took a quick sip of his coffee while Ami nodded. "Bridgehead is a local chain, and they do good coffee. I don't know what I'd do if they ever got bought out by one of the big chains." He put his coffee cup down. "But you wanted to talk where everybody else couldn't overhear us."

"I did, yes."

Ami took a long, slow drink from her cup.

People walked past the coffee shop, neither knowing nor caring what was happening on the other side of the shop's front window.

He didn't rush her.

"I finally got to talk with Hyoga about that link we all share."

He knew exactly which link she was talking about; under whatever spectrum it was that Skuld's glasses let them see, it manifested as a red string tied between their pinkie fingers. It was there when they first had the ability to look - which was after they had confessed their love for each other - and was strengthened when Hyoga learned how to stop her feelings for Rob from bleeding across their link. They thought that it would have dissolved once they discovered that their emotions were being controlled... but the connection was still there after they had used a divine wish to become free of outside influences.

"I'm almost afraid to ask what she said."

Ami knew that his love for her was real. She also knew he was three times as old as her, and respected that, so far, he had manifested his love for her only with words, not with deeds. She took another drink of her coffee to have an excuse to not answer for a moment - that let her choose her words carefully. "Hyoga's our protector now, just like Mamoru protects Usagi. And she cares for you deeply. She doesn't want to see you hurt."

"So, she ... did something?"

Ami nodded. "She strengthened and armoured the bond between us. The imposed bond isn't there any more - it's as if your wish untied the knots that somebody had tied to connect the red string of fate between us. But we excluded Hyoga from the wish's effect."

"Not by the wording of the wish, we didn't."

She shook her head once. "Not the wording, no, but Skuld knew the intent. It's Hyoga's red string between our fingers now, not Urd's or Peorth's or anybody else's."

Rob didn't know how he felt about that. "Can she untie it?" In a whisper, he continued, "And do I want her to?"

Ami sighed deeply, then pretended that she hadn't heard the whisper. "She can, but she doesn't want to. She says it's all or nothing, and she's afraid you won't like her any more if she changes things between us. Including between us and Mii."

"Oh, dear. Ami, you know what I think of you, and you know what I think of Mii - you were there when I answered you, and even if our emotions were being manipulated, in my case they were emotions that were already present." She smiled at his words; she still wasn't used to hearing a confession of love from somebody who she was sure that she loved in return. Then her smile dissolved - did she still love him? Not knowing Ami's thoughts, Rob continued, "But Hyoga doesn't know that. She knows what I think of her ..."

"So do I, every Friday night."

Rob looked startled. "Are we distracting you? I thought that she wasn't leaking her emotions across our link any more."

"It isn't that - Hyoga needs to consciously push an emotion across the link now, or purposefully listen for our emotions. But my apartment is directly above yours."

He winced. "Oh. I'm so sorry about that, Ami."

"Don't be." She smiled an honest, pure smile. "She deserves all the happiness you can give her, and if that's what makes her happy and it doesn't hurt you, who am I to complain? Especially considering what my birth certificate says. And I'll admit that some of the things the two of you say give me a different perspective on what my Gross Anatomy textbook says about the matter."

He was very happy that she was wearing her uOttawa coat and hat, and thus looked like a petite 18-year-old woman instead of her actual age - just in case somebody overheard their conversation. "I'll pretend I didn't hear you say that. Ask Mii why." They both knew that Mii knew the laws about such behaviour better than any of the others in their ... Group? Circle? Family? None of them knew what to call their relationship any more. "And I'll see about putting some soundproofing in my ceiling."

"Thank you, Rob."

"But getting back to what you said about the red string..." He sipped at his own coffee. "What do you want? This affects you, just as much as it does Hyoga and Mii and me."

She finished off her own coffee, carefully put the cup down in its saucer, looked straight at his face, and gave him an honest answer. "I don't know."

"If you want Hyoga to untie the red string between us, I'll respect that decision. But think about it. Don't rush to any decision. Talk with Mii about it, too."

She smiled at his trust in her. "Thank you, Rob. But I'm not talking to Mii right now, remember?" They both laughed at that.

As Rob's laughter trailed off, he replied, "I hope you'll take more than just a weekend to think about it."

"I've already taken a month."

He nodded. "It can be overwhelming, can't it?"

"The circumstances behind me being in Canada don't help, either..." She stopped talking as somebody outside the coffee shop caught her eye.

He looked at her, saw where she was looking, and looked outside to see an Asian girl with long hair who appeared to be a bit younger than Ami. She was carrying a large box or container of some sort, which she had wrapped her coat around... which showed that she was wearing a Tokiwadai school uniform.

"She'll probably talk to somebody her own age before she'd talk to me," Rob said. "Would you...?" But Ami was already out the front door. By the time he had his phone out, Ami was talking with the girl. He took a photo of the two of them through the window, and texted it to Mikoto and Kuroko with the question "Cosplayer or displacee?" and his GPS coordinates.

He just managed to put his phone back in his pocket when Ami lead the girl into the coffee shop. "How did you find your way here?"

"I honestly don't know. We were walking home from the veterinarian's clinic when I noticed that the temperature had dropped and I didn't recognize any of the buildings in the area. After I wrapped my coat around Ecaterina's carry-cage, I stepped out from the alleyway I had found myself in to discover that I had no idea where I was. Then you stepped out of this shop and spoke to me, and you know the rest."

Ecaterina's carry-cage. Not a cosplayer, he realized. He smiled at both girls, then said, "Thank you, Ami; it would be a shame to let this young lady freeze to death in our climate." Then he turned to the other girl "I suspect you're only carrying Japanese money. May I buy you a coffee or a hot chocolate, to help you warm up? You can pay me back once you've exchanged your cash for Canadian currency."

She looked at him with suspicion in her eyes. "Would you attempt to make a clumsy pass at me, knowing that I am ..." Rob and Ami joined in. "... Mitsuko Kongo of Tokiwadai?"

Mitsuko looked shocked for a moment, then regained her composure and continued, "I see that my fame has spread to wherever this place is."

"Ottawa, Canada, Miss Kongo. And my name is Rob Donaldson; I'm pleased to meet you." He noticed an odd shimmering in the air behind her - one that he knew he wouldn't have seen if he wasn't wearing the glasses that Skuld had given him.

"May I ask how you heard of me, Mr. Donaldson?"

"We told him what a pain you can be sometimes," said the girl who hadn't been there a moment before.

Mitsuko turned on her heel and confronted the girl who had just spoken. "That had better have been a poor attempt at humour, Shirai-san."

Kuroko looked Mitsuko straight in the eye. "You know that I don't like how you try to take advantage of oneesama being friends with you." Then she smiled. "But it's good to see you again, Kongo-san."

"You are behaving oddly, Shirai-san."

Rob cleared his throat. "We'll explain later. Ms. Kongo, do you have a place to stay in Ottawa?"

"I didn't even know that I was in Ottawa, Mr. Donaldson."

"Well, then ..."

Kuroko interrupted Rob. "Oh, no. Don't you dare say ..."

He ignored her. "I run a residence for displaced people, including Ms. Shirai, Ms. Misaka, Ms. Uiharu, and Ms. Saten. We have an available apartment."

"Aargh! You said it!"

"If you can tolerate the drama, you're welcome to use it while you're here." He turned from Mitsuko to Kuroko. "Oh, and Shirai-san, she's your school-mate. You get to explain the Metacontinuity to her."

The glare that Kuroko gave Rob in reply was, in his opinion, priceless.





Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 4, 2017
12:05 PM


"Welcome to Ottawa, Kongo-san!"

She blushed at having the attention of everyone in the room (save for Maika) focused on her. Using her folding fan to conceal her unease, she replied, "Why, thank you! There was no need to welcome me with a banquet, though."

Maika looked at her with lidded eyes. "This isn't a banquet, it's just lunch. All we did was set an extra place for you."

"Thank you, Maika," Rob said to the building's maid before she could continue. Turning to Mitsuko, he continued, "We normally have more people here for weekend luncheons, but some of your new apartment-mates are out shopping today." He looked around and failed to see any of the Misaka Sisters, then remembered that the firing range was open. "Or out practicing their hobbies, or whatever else it is they're doing right now. Feel free to choose whichever seat you want."

Mitsuko looked pensive at that invitation, then announced, "Oh, I wouldn't dream of encroaching on your hospitality by taking someone else's accustomed seat."

"Oh, that isn't an issue," Ami answered before Rob could. "We usually change seats every meal, just so we can talk with everyone else at least once a week."

"In that case, I accept your kind offer. But I should see to Ecaterina's well-being before I dine."

Rob nodded. "I suppose you should," he replied, dreading the response that he was sure was forthcoming from almost everyone else in the room.

Sure enough, when Mitsuko unwrapped Ecaterina's carry-cage, Maika, Mamoru, and all of the Sailor Senshi recoiled in fear... except for Ami. "Oh, she's lovely!"

"How can you say that, Ami-chan? That's a snake! Probably poisonous!"

"She isn't venomous, Usagi. She's a python." Ami moved toward the carry-cage, close enough to get a better look but not so close that she'd frighten the snake.

Seeing this, Rob cleared his throat and said, "Perhaps she could stay in your apartment for the moment, Ami-san. We'll figure out which apartment Kongo-san can use after lunch."

Mitsuko looked at Rob for a moment. "You appear to be uncomfortable in Ecaterina's presence, Donaldson-san."

"Not uncomfortable, just respectfully wary of an animal who could crush me if I'm not careful around her."

"She would never do that! I keep Ecaterina fed properly; she has no reason to hunt for food."

Rob smiled. "I'm happy to hear that, Ms. Kongo." Then he looked at the other people in the room, all huddled against the wall farthest from Ecaterina. "But it would probably be best for the harmony of the house if she was to refrain from joining us at meals, at least for a few days until everyone becomes comfortable in her presence."

Mitsuko nodded. "I understand the situation perfectly, Mr. Donaldson. Even in my dormitory in Academy City, there are some people who believe the stereotypes instead of the facts about pythons. But this reminds me; you mentioned Ms. Uiharu is one of your tenants, but I don't see here here."

"Kazari's out getting her laptop upgraded," Ruiko said before Rob could reply. "She said she's probably going to be at Piffle all day, and she'll get lunch at Chiroru."

"Ah. Then I am sure that her seeing Ecaterina again will be a pleasant ending to her day." Mitsuko turned to Ami. "Would you be so kind as to show me where Ecaterina will be staying for the moment?"

As Mitsuko, Ami, and Ecaterina left the room. Rob leaned over to Ruiko. "You've texted her?"

"I texted everybody about Kongo-san as soon as you all got back."

"Thanks."

A few minutes later, everyone had relaxed and Mitsuko and Ami had returned. "Your lodging here is more spacious than my dormitory room at Tokiwadai, but less spacious than I am accustomed to at home. Are all of the apartments the same size as yours?"

"The ones that I've been invited to enter, yes," replied Ami. "Except for a few two-bedroom apartments, but those are all occupied by families."

Mitsuko did her best to hide her disappointment. "I see. Well, one must accept what is available."

"Shall we sit here?" Ami gestured to a four-person table, rather than one of the larger tables that had been set for lunch.

"I would be delighted to join you for luncheon," replied Mitsuko as Mamoru held her chair out for her. Ami sat to Mitsuko's left, and Kuroko quickly took the seat opposite Mitsuko when she saw that Usagi was joining them to Mitsuko's right. "Even if one of the company might leave something to be desired." Mitsuko turned to Usagi. "And who might you be, miss?"

Before either of the Senshi could answer, Kuroko said with some satisfaction, "You are in the presence of Her Royal Highness, Serenity II, heir-apparent to the throne of the Crystal Millennium."

"Oh! Oh, my."

"But you can call me Usagi," added said princess while taking both of Mitsuko's hands in her own. "Pleased to meet you!"

"Please, call me Mitsuko, then," she replied while wondering just who this girl was. The references were obvious, yet impossible.

Maika and Makoto served lunch - nikujaga, rice, and corn potage - and the girls did the usual pre-meal small ceremonies. "You're lucky," Kuroko commented. "Usually we eat western food on Saturdays."

"Would that be French cuisine, by any chance?"

Ami shook her head. "No, it isn't anything that fancy. This -" she tapped the rim of her soup bowl with her spoon. "- is more likely to be a heavier soup made with peas instead of corn, and the main dish is more likely to be a heavy stew than nikujaga."

"And some of the other dishes are unusual," added Kuroko. "What was it that Rob-san called last week's main course? Tory air?"

"Tourtière," Usagi answered. "I thought it was good. More meat and less bread than a steamed bun."

Mitsuko looked puzzled. "Isn't that French?"

"French-Canadian," answered Kuroko. "I remember that much. The one thing it has in common with nikujaga is that they're both home cooking."

"I see," replied Mitsuko, obviously not understanding at all. A moment later, she turned to Usagi. "May I ask whether that is your natural hair colour? Judging by the way you wear it, and considering the title that Kuroko told me was yours when I asked, one might think that you identify with the old Sailor Moon stories."

Everybody else at the table sighed in unison. Kuroko was the first to speak. "Kongo-san, Rob-san told me to tell you about the Metacontinuity. We may as well do that now, since you've brought it up. She is Sailor Moon, and Ami-san is Sailor Mercury."

"Your attempts at humour grow less believable every day, Shirai-san."

Ami whispered, "Shabon Spray," covering her own meal - and only her meal - in a dense fog.

"That is an unusual esper ability," Mitsuko commented.

Rob looked at the girls from the next table over. "I doubt she'll believe you without more evidence. How about we watch a beach episode of an anime after lunch?" Glancing at Mikoto, he added, "I'll stop it early."





Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 4, 2017
1:34 PM


"That was me."

Rob nodded as he put the disc back into its case. "Yes, Ms. Kongo, that was you."

"That ... was me."

"We did try to warn you," answered Ami.

"That was ... me."

"I thought the animators did a pretty good job telling the story of that day," Mii mused. "At the time, I didn't realize just how good we all look in swimsuits," she added while silently resolving to buy a swimsuit that actually fit her once springtime came around - she didn't want just anybody seeing that much of her cleavage.

"That -"

"Get over it, will you?" Kuroko almost shouted as she teleported into Mitsuko's personal space. "If you can't handle that, there's no way you can handle the other shocks that are coming your way."

Mitsuko went pale. "You mean to tell me that I need to be ready for additional surprises?"

Just then, the common room's door opened. "We're home, Misaka Niiko announces while removing her coat."

"We used up all of our allotment of ammunition at the firing range, continues Misaka Rei."

"So you'll need to pay for more, Donaldson-san, Misaka Nana adds, hoping that her request will be fulfilled soon."

"Oh, but I see we have a guest, observes Misaka Kokono. Hello." The barest ghost of what might be the precursor to friendly smiles appeared on the clones' faces.

Mitsuko blinked. Twice.

Completely deadpan, Kuroko said, "Surprise."





Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 4, 2017
2:57 PM


Rob poured tea for Mikoto. "I'm impressed by how well Kongo-san took everything. She didn't lose her composure even when she met Accelerator."

"I think she was numb by then," Mikoto answered as she poured tea for Rob.

"Meeting Mimi - Last Order Mimi - and Chibi-Usa seemed to cheer her up, though. Where is she right now?"

"Usagi, Rei, Mimi - the older Mimi - and Ami took her to the sparring room, so they could show off their powers. Mitsuko-san asked to see what real magic looks like."

Rob nodded in approval. "We're going to have to start calling them Mimi M and Mimi H, or something else to keep them sorted out." Then he sighed. "Why do people from Academy City keep showing up here, though? I thought that this whole Metacontinuity was an emergency thing that would be over and done with in a month or two, then we'd all go home. That's why I said we should all attend the Halloween party in San Antonio - I thought it might be the only chance we'd all have to get together. But it looks like nobody's going home yet."

"It's not just people from Academy City, Rob. Think about it: First we showed up, then the Sailor Team showed up, then Accelerator and my clones showed up, then Mamoru-san, Chibi-Usa, and the Mau showed up, then Maika arrived, then we rescued Touma and Index, then the Osakas arrived, then we rescued Mimi, and now Kongo-san is here."

Rob sipped at his tea while he thought for a moment. "There was almost a regular alternation going there."

Mikoto looked worried at that comment. "Maybe there was a regular alternation, but we missed seeing some people."

He thought about her comment for a moment. "If that's true, who did we miss?"

She shrugged. "If we're lucky, some of Kuroko's classmates. If we're unlucky," she held up a copy of volume 12 of Touma's light novel series, "someone from the Roman Church, one or more of the Kihara family, or one of the other Level 5s. Or maybe the other Witches 5."

"If it happened at all," Rob pointed out. Then he frowned, remembering something that Ben had joked about during the Halloween party. "I think I'll ask the goddesses why we keep getting people from your worlds showing up, and see if they'll give us a list of people to look for."

"Will they answer?"

"Maybe. But I'm sure of one thing: They definitely won't answer if I don't ask."


Elsewhere
Same Time

"What are you reading?"

He looked up at his girlfriend. "Books about us."

"Is there anything in them that wasn't in the anime about us that you found?"

"Plenty. And you need to read the parts I bookmarked in volumes 15 and 19." He handed his tablet to her.

Five minutes later, she said, "We have to leave while we still can."

"All three of us, yeah. But where can we run to?"

She handed the tablet back to him, took a few of her pills, let them take effect, then concentrated. Shaking from the drug's side-effects (and her terror at what she'd read), she finally pointed. "That way. A long way away."

He already had a map running on the tablet. Drawing a line, and extending it again and again as he re-scaled the map, he finally said, "Looks like we're headed to ... Ottawa."




To be continued ...
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#2
Merry Christmas! Here's something to read.




Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 6, 2017
3:29 PM


"Are you sure this is the right place? It basically looks like a dump - why would Railgun be living here?"

The only male in the car shook his head. "It's hardly a dump, unless you compare it to either of the Tokiwadai dorms. And remember what we have and haven't seen since we found ourselves in North America."

The only dark-haired person in the car nodded. "They're hiding, just like we are," she said weakly.

"They?"

"There's at least six espers in the building right now. Five of them feel like Railgun, but not as strong."

"Some of her clones, maybe?" the car's driver asked, loading a book on his tablet and showing it to the others.

"Clones? Oh, that's basically creepy!" The blonde girl looked at the tablet that the brunette girl had taken from the driver. "Hey... this says we knew about those clones. Nobody told me!"

"You have been something of a security risk lately."

She pouted. "I guess that's why I was going to be the first to die. I don't like your books, basically."

Inside the building that they were watching, three people were returning the favour.

"They've been sitting there for nearly five minutes," Maika pointed out while making sure the sheer curtain on the window remained in place, hiding their own identities as much as possible.

"They aren't hurting anyone," Rob replied.

"Yet. I recognize one of them. Maybe all three of them."

Rob turned to Accelerator - it was unusual for him to offer a comment without being asked. "Are they people we need to be worried about?"

"The one I know I recognize tried to murder Railgun's mother. The other two - well, does the name 'ITEM' mean anything to you?" Rob and Maika both grimaced. "Looks like it does. Think I'll go say hi to them."

"Hang on," Rob said before Accelerator could reach the door. "They probably know who you are - if you go out there, they could either run or fight."

"Whatever. You going, then?"

Maika grabbed Rob's sleeve. "They could kill you!"

Rob smiled kindly as he extracted himself from Maika's grasp. "Only if they can attack me. I can control water, remember? And there's a lot of snow - frozen water - out there for me to defend myself with."

"Your funeral, if you're wrong," Accelerator pointed out.

Rob nodded as he headed for the front door. "I know. I'm under a geas, remember? Sometimes I just gotta be a hero." After putting on his coat and boots, he grabbed an empty shopping bag, put a book in it, and headed out.

His leaving the building did not go unnoticed inside the car.

"Is that one of the espers?"

The brunette stared at him for a moment. "No."

"So, basically a civilian. Looks like he's going shopping."

"No, he's not," the car's driver said after a moment. "He's heading our way."

The brunette put her hand on his arm before he could do anything, and quietly said, "We have to trust somebody. That's why we came here."

He hesitated for a moment... which was long enough for Rob to reach the car and knock on the driver's window. "Hi there! Got a minute?"

The driver opened the window. "We're not doing anything wrong."

Rob shook his head in bemusement. "Why does everybody who's doing something they know is wrong start their conversations by saying that? No, don't answer that; I don't care. I've got something for you to look at." He offered the bag to the driver... who eventually took it.

He looked inside the bag, then handed it back, saying, "I've got a copy of that book on my tablet, thanks."

"So you already know the important part of what I'm hoping I can talk with you about," Rob answered. "Want to come in? You can park your car in the lot behind the first building."

"We'd better not," the blonde girl replied. "Basically, it's stolen."

Rob raised an eyebrow. "Well, there's a decent-size shopping mall ten minutes' walk away. Ditch it in the lot there and come back. I can wait; I've got all day. See you in a bit?"

"We came here looking for somebody like you," the brunette answered, causing the other two to sigh. "We'll be here."

Rob nodded as he walked back to the building. Once inside, he explained things to the others... and set the Good Neighbour System to Defcon 4.



Elsewhere
Same time


Text alerts popped up on nearly a dozen telephones in Ottawa alone.

Kuroko looked at hers and decided she wouldn't take the bus home that day - it would take too long. But she did text Mikoto to let her know she'd be teleporting as soon as classes let out.

In another classroom, Usagi decided that it was a perfect day to suggest to Ruiko and Kazari that they get to know Naru better - at Naru's home. Then she remembered how busy OSA-P was this close to Valentine's Day, and resolved to protect her noncombatant friends as best she could.



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 6, 2017
3:47 PM


Rob set a tray down on the table that everyone was gathered around. "Coffee, anyone? I know I want some." As he poured himself a cup, he continued, "And does everybody know everybody else? I'm Rob Donaldson, and I run this apartment building - sorry, this apartment complex. To my left... well, does anyone here not know who Accelerator is?" That question got a brief chuckle from Accelerator and nervous shaking of heads from the newcomers. "The young lady in the maid uniform is Maika Tsuchimikado."

The male in the visiting group raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Tsuchimikado?"

Maika sighed and nodded. "He's my brother." Then she quickly added, "But not by blood."

Accelerator snorted. "I don't know what she sees in him."

"Be that as it may," Rob commented, "it's neither here nor there right now. Who do we have the pleasure of inviting into our home for a chat?"

Accelerator rolled his eyes at Rob's use of the word "pleasure"... which did not go unnoticed by the newcomers.

"My name's Shiage Hamazura," answered the young man as he poured a cup of coffee for himself.

"Rikou Takitsubo," said the brunette, in almost as deadpan tones as the Misaka clones routinely used.

The blonde grinned. "Call me Frenda!"

Maika raised an eyebrow. "Is that your name?"

Shiage nodded. "Amazingly enough, it is."

"Oh, fine. I'm Frenda Seivelun." She pouted, cutely.

Rob nodded. "Thank you." Maika and Accelerator noticed that he didn't smile. "Accelerator tells me you're with a team called ITEM."

"Yeah, I'm driving for them. Or maybe I should say I was driving for them, until we read ahead in the stories you have here and discovered what Meltdowner - she's the leader of ITEM - was going to do to Frenda."

"Yeah. So basically we cut and run," Frenda added.

Accelerator looked straight at Shiage. "You do that a lot. Skill Out to ITEM, and now to here."

"Think what you will of me, but I'm not going to let Academy City's Board of Directors or Meltdowner come down hard on people I like. If that means I have to run, then I run."

Rob nodded. "So you're doing that for other people, not for yourself. I can understand that. So... Skill Out. Does that mean you're not an esper?"

"Nobody in Skill Out is an esper," answered Shiage. "Except for that one Judgment bitch who was in Skill Out when Kurozuma was in charge."

Rob glared at him. "I asked because that ... 'one Judgment bitch', as you call her, happens to live here."

"Way to put your foot in it," Frenda said to Shiage.

"Yeah, you're just winnin' friends everywhere, Hamazura," commented Accelerator with a sneer.

As Shiage suddenly developed an interest in the coffee cup in front of him so he didn't have to look at anyone else, Rikou all-but-whispered, "I'm an esper."

Rob nodded. "Thank you, Ms. ... Takitsubo?" She nodded in return.

"We're all in those books, right? So basically you already know who we are. Why the questions?" Frenda asked.

"Because I'm not in those books," replied Rob. "And neither are a few of the other residents of this complex. It's just polite to let you volunteer the information that you want us to know."

"And I never read those books," Accelerator added. "Thought it was a waste of time, since we're not in Academy City now."

"Do you still think that?" Maika asked flatly.

He thought for a moment. "Nah, not if losers like Hamazura are gonna show up."

"I'll show you who's a loser!" Shiage shouted as he jumped to his feet.

"Enough!" Everybody stopped and looked at Rob. "If you absolutely must fight, do it outside." Nobody moved for a long moment. "Good. Accelerator does raise a good point - we haven't read all of the books yet. We don't necessarily know who you are."

"I know who she is!" came a cry from somebody who hadn't been in the room a moment ago. "That bitch tried to blow me up! Literally! What are you doing here?"

Everybody looked toward the door, to see Kuroko and Mikoto - the latter holding a coin in an outstretched hand pointed straight at Frenda.

Rob sighed. "Girls, I just said to take it outside if you're going to fight."

After a tense moment, Railgun lowered her arm... but she kept the coin in her hand.

Not for the first time, Rob silently thanked Rin and Usagi for blessing the building, what seemed so long ago. That there prevail here a spirit of camaraderie, goodness, compassion, friendship, and love, indeed. "I didn't expect you home for a little while, yet."

Kuroko smiled tightly. "I teleported Oneesama here. You did send an alert."

"Did I?" Rob looked puzzled, then nodded, "Yeah, I did, didn't I? I'll have to thank Kazari for adding text alerts to the Good Neighbour System."

"What's that?" Shiage asked suspiciously.

Rob smiled - finally. "Now's as good a time as any to explain the Metacontinuity to you. Mikoto, would you go ask your sisters if they want to take part in the discussion, please?"



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 6, 2017
4:18 PM


The newcomers looked around at all of the people who had finally arrived back home after school. "So, basically, we're surrounded by fictional characters."

"And there's groups of them - us - pretty much everywhere," added Shiage.

Usagi smiled. "Yeah! Isn't it cool?"

Shiage sighed. "I don't know if 'cool' is the word I'd use to describe it, Tsukino-san. Got any more of that coffee? I could use the stimulant."

"If you're going into shock, maybe we should get Ami here. Or Washuu-chan."

Rob shook his head. "I think our guests have enough strength of will that they won't go into medical shock that quickly just from hearing what we have to say, Usagi."

"I'm not sure of that, Misaka Niiko opines while pouring herself the last cup of coffee from this carafe. One of our guests looks to be so thin that she might be a drug addict, Misaka points out with some lack of tact, and that would impair her resiliency, Misaka adds."

"I'm not addicted to Body Crystal," Rikou answered quietly. "I just use it to boost my esper ability."

Something about that statement didn't sound right to Rob. Taking the empty carafe from Niiko, he said, "I'll go make some more coffee. Kazari, could you give me a hand, please?"

Both Kazari and Ruiko stood up and headed to the common room's kitchen with Rob.

Almost as soon as the kitchen door was closed behind them, Ruiko sighed deeply. "That blonde girl... she's pretty," she said with a bit of jealousy showing in her voice.

Rob grimaced as he remembered how Frenda acted in the anime. "She ain't pretty, she just looks that way." Then he sighed. "I don't trust her - but I know what Usagi would say if I suggested turning her away."

"She's already making friends with them, isn't she?" Kazari smiled. "But that's what we all love about her."

Ruiko smiled at Kazari's comment, then turned to Rob. "It doesn't take two people to make a pot of coffee. What's up?"

Rob continued to measure the coffee grounds into the coffeemaker's filter. "Something about that drug that Takitsubo-san is taking - Body Crystal. I think I remember hearing about it somewhere. Not in one of the books about all of you, but maybe on a website discussing those books."

Kazari pulled her palmtop out of her pocket. "And you need somebody to do a web search while you're being the perfect host." She flopped it open and began to type. "This might take a while."

"I'll help," offered Ruiko.

"Thanks."

"Thank you both," added Rob as he rinsed the carafe with hot water. "Now, if they're staying, where are we going to put them?"

"We have plenty of spare bedrooms now, Rob-oji."

"True enough, Rui-chan, but most of them are in that dimensional pocket that Washuu-chan created for us. Are they going to think we're keeping them locked up?"

"Nah," Ruiko grinned as she typed a search string into her cellphone's browser. "We're keeping them out of Meltdowner's sight."

Rob thought for a moment, then nodded. Then he realized that he was doing a lot of nodding that afternoon, and stopped. "Right. That's probably the safest place for them to hide."

By the time the coffee was ready, Usagi had been to her apartment and back, bringing back a photo album to show their guests. Rob brought the coffee in to discover everybody looking at photos from the Halloween party.

"Nice dress - and nice duplication of the scene from the movie." Frenda commented on seeing one of the shots from the entry parade.

"Why, thank you!" Minako replied. "I did my best to make the scene just right."

"I'd say you succeeded." Shiage turned the page in the photo album... and stopped dead, staring at one photo while his nose began to bleed. "Who is that gorgeous woman in the Bunny outfit?" he finally managed to ask.

Maika grinned. "Oh, that's the girl who you called, and I quote, 'that one Judgment bitch'."

Kuroko looked shocked. "He called Mii-sempai a... How dare you!" Sure, Mii wasn't Oneesama, but she was a co-worker - Kuroko felt she had a right to be insulted in Mii's place.

Shiage's expression went from bliss to despair in record time. "I guess I'm not going to be allowed to ask for a copy of that photo, then."

Takitsubo grabbed him by the arm, tightly enough to cause discomfort. "No. You won't."




Once more, To be continued...
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#3
somewhere in Chicago, IL, USA
February 7, 2017
11:22 AM


"I don't care who's shooting at us! Get in the car!"

"I don't know how to drive. It'd be a super mistake for me to try."

The big guy behind the wheel poked his head out the window. "Nobody drives the Roadbuster but me, kid. You might be bulletproof, but I doubt your boss is. Get in before some asshole shoots her."

She did.

"Where to?"

Said boss replied, "Ottawa. Canada."

"I don't leave the States. I'll take you as far as Detroit."

"Good enough, as long as you can lose these idiots who are shooting at us."

The driver laughed. "Just who do you think you're talking to?"

Unable to pursue their targets for more than a few blocks, the attackers had no choice but to watch them go. They dreaded the report that they'd have to make - Leonard wasn't going to be happy.




Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 7, 2017
4:07 PM


Minako frowned. "I thought we were going to take Kongo-san, Takitsubo-san and Ms. Seivelun shopping! But Mii-san's got evening courses so she's getting supper on campus, Mako-chan's looking for a part-time job at the bakeries around here, Ami's patching up Kamijo-san -"

"Again?" Mikoto rolled her eyes in disbelief. "How many fights do he and Hamazura-san get into?"

"Too many. But we're talking about shopping. Kazari-san and Rui-san are busy with some internet project that they won't talk about, Kuroko-san refuses to go shopping with Kongo-san, Usagi said she's spending all evening with Mamoru, our resident ex-Witch has the evening shift at OSA-P today, and Rei's promised to answer your clone sisters' questions about Shinto. So it's just you and me."

Mikoto almost changed her mind and agreed, but she couldn't forget the look she'd noticed on Rob's face when she got home from school. "Sorry. Maybe Maika'd be willing to go with you."

Minako thought for a moment. "It's worth a try, I guess."

The girls separated and made their ways to the people that they wanted to speak with. Mikoto found Rob in the common room's kitchen, making a pot of Earl Grey tea. Quietly, she asked him, "What's wrong?"

He looked around, noticing that there were still a few people in the common room proper. "I'm going to make a call to San Antonio. In my office. You can sit in, if you want."

Even Mikoto could tell that Rob wanted her to take part in the call. "Do you want me to find anybody else and ask them to take part, too?"

He shook his head. "Not yet." He thought for a brief moment, then continued. "Shall we retire to my office? I'll leave the door open."

"No, you won't," replied Mikoto. "Not if you don't want Ruiko-san hearing everything."

"Right," he replied, remembering that the biggest gossip in the building lived next door to his office. "And it's a good thing I got that soundproofing in."

A few minutes later, Rob and Mikoto were sitting behind his desk (putting two chairs behind one desk was a tight fit) and connecting a video call to San Antonio.

"Hi! Oh, hi, uncle Rob, aunt Mikoto!"

Mikoto twitched at being called "aunt", even by a five-year-old.

Rob took the greeting in stride, and smiled. "Hi, Alicia! Are you keeping yourself busy?"

"Uh-huh! But Ben and Fate are keeping me busier! They keep saying I have to do my homework."

Mikoto looked surprised. "I didn't know you were already in school."

"Well... It's more like tutoring. Aunt Washuu-chan and uncle Sousuke are giving me lessons whenever they have time. Do you have homework, too?"

"Every single weekday," Mikoto answered with a theatrical sigh.

Rob nodded in agreement. "And Lord Phantomhive keeps me busy with work that I have to do at home, too."

"Like he does with Ben? I know about that! Sometimes he doesn't have time to play with me." She frowned for a moment, then smiled again. "But it's important work."

"Yes, it is," Rob agreed. "Speaking of Ben, could you let him know we're calling, please? We need to talk with him."

"Okay!" Alicia turned away from the camera and shouted, "BENNN! PHONE CAAALL! FROM UNCLE ROOOB!"

Rob chuckled; he'd forgotten how people that young reacted to that sort of request.

But it worked - after a moment, Alicia was standing up so that Ben could sit at his own desk. "Bye, uncle Rob, aunt Mikoto! Come visit some time, okay?"

Mikoto forced a smile. "Maybe in March, when we have a week off school."

"Yay!" She raced off, full of energy.

Ben looked at her for a moment, then turned to the computer. "Any day that Alicia's that happy is a good day. Fortunately, that's most days around here. But I doubt you called just to talk with her."

"Yeah," replied Rob. "Are you alone?"

"Give me a second." Ben stood up and walked over to Alicia. "Rob and Mikoto want to have an important talk with me right now, and I think they don't want anybody else listening in. Could you go play with your sister and Nanoha for a while, please?"

"Is this a grown-up thing?"

Ben shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know yet."

She thought for a moment, then answered, "Okay."

"Thank you. Oh, and Alicia? Girls like Mikoto don't always like being called an Aunt - it's a Japanism about being sensitive about their age. Call her Onee-san instead, okay?"

"I guess... but I thought only Aunt Kuroko - big sister Kuroko called her Onee-san."

Ben and Mikoto sighed as Rob grinned while wondering why people thought children didn't notice things. Ben followed his sigh with, "Can we talk about that later, Alicia? Rob and Mikoto are still waiting for me to get back to them."

"Sure! I'll come back in a little while!" And she took off through the doorway.

Ben closed the door behind her, almost locked it, changed his mind, then walked back to his desk and sat down at his computer again. "I am now. What's wrong?"

Before Rob could answer, Mikoto pointed out, "You didn't lock the door."

Ben nodded in confirmation. "Rule Number One of Hiding Shit: Don't look like you're hiding shit."

Rob added, "Mikoto, Ben doesn't make any secret of the fact that he has ADHD. He thinks differently than we do - not better, not worse, just differently. And that's one of the reasons why I ask for his opinion - because he brings new viewpoints to the issues at hand that I wouldn't imagine, let alone consider."

"It's more my upbringing than my ADHD that shaped my thinking. When you have a step-father who's made it his mission in life to ensure you have no way of hiding anything from him, you learn or... well, that's a conversation for another time."

While Ben's comment piqued Mikoto's curiosity, she didn't follow up on it just then. Instead, she asked Rob, "What are the other reasons?"

"I trust him, and I like him. He's a friend of ours." Turning back to Ben (who was smiling at the compliment), Rob continued, "I'm not sure what's wrong. A couple of days ago, Mikoto and I had a conversation that turned into us wondering why people from Academy City and Azabu-Juban were still showing up here. After we talked, I sent an email to Belldandy, asking her why."

"So that's what this is about," Mikoto said.

"And?"

"I got a reply today. It read, and I quote: 'I'm sorry, but I am not at liberty to answer that question right now'."

Ben leaned back in his seat. "That... is troubling. Considering she can't lie about anything, and that under normal circumstances she would otherwise divulge information that might make life easier on us... Of course, these aren't what most people would call 'normal circumstances' but even so..."

After a moment, Mikoto replied, "Even so, it isn't like the Goddesses to keep us out of the loop. Is it?"

"It's very unusual behaviour for them," Rob confirmed.

"I have no idea for certain what's going on," Ben added. "It could be any number of things. But if life has taught me anything at all? It's that Murphy and his wife, Fate, are cold-blooded bastards who'll seek to fuck you over any way possible, either by hook or by crook. That said, all signs are pointing towards this getting worse before it gets better. The only question as far as I'm concerned is 'How bad?' My intuition is bringing up that scene from White Christmas. 'How much is wow?' 'Somewhere between ouch and poing-oing-oing-oing.' Except I'm worried it's gonna go beyond 'poing-oing-oing-oing'. I've already been planning ahead just in case. You've seen it, but you may not have really realized it because it's so normal for a group like mine. All the combat drills, the cross-training, developing tactics for outside context problems... you name it, we've been doing it, to the point where I've even been scheduling mandatory recreation days, and purchased season passes for everyone at all four of the theme parks here to support that. Six if you include the water park and bath house Jodie and David are running, but fortunately those were permanent VIP passes they've granted us."

"They've opened the park? We'll have to go say hi. Maybe take Alicia there when we visit." Rob noticed Mikoto's expression his comment. "You all but promised that we would."

"I know, but should we really be planning to do something fun when we don't know what's going on?" she asked in reply.

"Of course we should," answered Rob. "Worrying about everything all the time isn't very good for our mental health."

Ben nodded in agreement. "Mikoto, I'm sorry if any of this worries you. But you know by now that I'm not the kind of person that likes to make someone suffer unduly. If there was some way for me to shield everyone from this, I'd do it in a heartbeat, but even with the power I've gained recently... unfortunately, not everything can be solved by a 180 gigawatt gamma-ray laser to the face. At the very least, though, I know that you've seen enough in your life so far to understand the gravity of the situation." He took a breath, to give Mikoto time to let his words sink in. "That said... I'd keep this on the down-low. Over here, the only people that know about my true worries are Gil Graham, Noike, Tenchi, Homura, and Teletha. I'd tell Teams RWBY and JNPR, but I don't know for sure if they're ready for that kind of pressure just yet. But if any of the others were to come out and ask me, I'd tell them as well because if they're smart enough to notice what I'm doing, then they're smart enough to handle the truth."

"Over here," Rob replied, "the only people who know I'm starting to have concerns about all of this are Mikoto," - he inclined his head toward her - "Mii, Ami, Hyoga, Mamoru, and Usagi. And sometimes I regret telling Mii and Ami, what with their course loads at university, but I'm not going to keep secrets from them."

"I'm glad to hear that," remarked Ben.

"And I'm starting to see what Mii-sempai sees in you, Rob-oji," Mikoto added.

"Hey, you two - don't give me a swelled head!" But Rob said that with a grin.




Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 8, 2017
5:54 PM


"Do you think Kazari-san and Ruiko-san will be joining us for dinner this evening?"

Makoto raised an eyebrow at Maika's question - not the question itself, but the way that she said it. "That's up to them. And we all know that being a maid is just your cover for your job for Necessarius -"

"Except for the newcomers, Kamijo, and Index."

"Fine, we almost all know, but would it hurt you to pretend to act like a real maid?"

"What's wrong with how I act?" Maika asked defensively, just before Kazari burst into the room.

"Is Rob-oji here? He's not in his office."

Makoto shook her head. Maika answered, "He, Hamazura-san, Mamoru-san, and Mii-san are out looking at used vans."

"Oh. I'll send him a text, then. Thanks!"

As Kazari turned to leave, Makoto asked, "Are you and Ruiko eating with us today?"

"No time! Sorry!" And Kazari was gone.



Elsewhere
Same time


"The last place we visited, the salesman tried to sell us a minivan that had only one owner, who only used it to take the kids to school and back. We could see from the amount of wear on the upholstery that it had been used as a private school bus." Rob sighed. "That's why we're here instead of there." He didn't mention that this was the third used-car lot they had visited.

"We don't act like that here," replied the salesman, who knew that acting like that would send these customers elsewhere. "Exactly what are you looking for?"

"Something that can hold at least eight people, plus luggage," Rob said.

"Preferably with a standard transmission," added Shiage.

The salesman frowned at that comment. "There isn't much call for standards in Ottawa. I think all of our minivans are automatics."

"Maybe we should get a cargo van and convert it," Shiage mused.

"You could, but the conversion and the inspection would cost so much that it would probably be cheaper to buy new."

Mii frowned. "Our budget won't allow that."

"And it isn't as if we're going to be treating this like a high-performance sports car," added Mamoru.

"Okay, okay," grumbled Shiage. "I can live with an automatic. What have you got?"

"Give me a moment to get some keys." The salesman walked into the lot's office, and came back out a few minutes later. "I thought we had more than that - must have sold the other ones. If you'll walk this way, I'll show you what we have." The salesman took them to one corner of the lot, walking straight past the first few minivans without stopping.

"What's wrong with those?" asked Mii.

"They're only six-seaters. This one," he gestured toward a longer minivan, painted jet black, "is the only one on the lot that can meet your needs. It's a nine-seater, including the driver's seat. Would you like to take a look inside?"

"Please," replied Rob as the salesman unlocked the minivan's doors.

A quick inspection followed - the interior was slightly worn but clean, the odometer reading about what Shiage expected to see on a minivan that old, and Mamoru approved of what he could see in the engine compartment. Miracle of miracles, all of the receipts for oil changes and other consumables were present in the glove compartment. Rob and Mamoru spent a few minutes going through those. "I'd like to get a mechanic's opinion, but I like what I see here," commented Mamoru.

The salesman smiled at that. "Who wants to take it for a test drive?"

Mii frowned. "I only have a learner's permit - I'd better not."

"I'd be happy to take her for a spin," Shiage answered.

Rob frowned. "How about Mamoru gives it a try first." The tone of his voice made it clear to Shiage that this wasn't a question.

"Fine..."

Just then, Rob's phone buzzed. "Excuse me for a moment." He read the text message - from Kazari - and re-read it. Then he swore under his breath. Turning to Mii, he said, "Try to stay within our budget, if you can - Sebastian won't like it if we go over. Shiage and I have to go back to the apartment building."

"We do? Why?"

"Not here, but it's about Takitsubo-san. And I'm driving."

Shiage nodded nervously. "If you're going to drop a line like that on me, you're damned right you're driving."

As they headed back to Rob's car, they heard Mii ask the salesman, "Does that price on the window include your prep work and the transfer of ownership?"

Once the two were in Rob's car, he passed his cellphone to Shiage, who stared at the message for five minutes. "Fuck."

"Yeah."

"You're sure there isn't some mistake?"

"Kazari's one of the best researchers that Judgment has."

"She's that Kazari Uiharu?" Seeing Rob's nod in reply, Shiage continued, "There's no mistake, then."

They continued in silence for a few moments. "So, what do we do now?"

"I drop you off at the apartment, and you talk with Kazari and Takitsubo-san. She needs to know. I go get Mamoru and Mii."

"That's a given. What happens after that?"

Rob smiled thinly. "After that, we call our doctor and ask her to make a house call."



West Fort St., Detroit, MI, USA
February 8, 2017
6:55 PM


"It should be dark enough to risk it now."

They looked out the window of the roadside restaurant to see yet another truck slow down for the turn-off to the Ambassador Bridge. The younger of the two stood up to leave.

"Hey! I like this place! I want to come back here some day. We aren't skipping out on the bill."

After they'd settled the bill, the two girls headed a couple of blocks west, to the fenced-off area for trucks waiting to take the international crossing - that they had spent the entire day observing. They were almost out of cash - their ride in the Roadbuster had nearly cleaned out their wallets, but it was worth every penny - and they didn't have any contacts in the local underworld who could provide them with fake passports even if they had the money to pay for them, so they had to cross the border in a less-comfortable fashion than they would have preferred. Using the esper powers that the older of the two possessed, it was child's play to get into the customs zone, then into the trailer of one of the trucks. They hoped that getting out of the truck on the other side would be just as easy.




Club Lofts, Windsor, ON, Canada
February 8, 2017
7:33 PM

Slash was uncomfortable - he thought he sensed somebody with more power than his mistress Mahoro, or Ryu, or even himself. And the power had the same feel to it that the power of that girl who had visited a month ago - Konori, that was her name - felt like, but much, much stronger.

By the time he'd padded over to Mahoro's apartment, the sensation had tapered off to the point where he wondered whether he'd imagined it. But it was best to report his concerns anyway.

Not coincidentally, a Greyhound bus had just left Windsor, headed for Toronto. Aboard were two Asian girls who had to get out of town right away before the customs agents noticed them, but had decided they were going to exchange their cash for Canadian money in the big city, rather than get ripped off by paying the bus company's exchange rate any more than was necessary.




You guessed it: To be continued...
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#4
So far so good.... just one correction.
Quote:My intuition is bringing up that scene from Singing in the Rain.
That scene is in White Christmas, not Singin' In the Rain.
-- Bob

I have been Roland, Beowulf, Achilles, Gilgamesh, Clark Kent, Mary Sue, DJ Croft, Skysaber.  I have been 
called a hundred names and will be called a thousand more before the sun grows dim and cold....

Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#5
(02-05-2021, 10:26 PM)Bob Schroeck Wrote: So far so good.... just one correction.
Quote:My intuition is bringing up that scene from Singing in the Rain.
That scene is in White Christmas, not Singin' In the Rain.

Fixing now...
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#6
Argh. My bad. Dunno why I keep thinking it's the other.

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#7
(02-05-2021, 10:08 PM)robkelk Wrote: A quick inspection followed - the interior was slightly worn but clean, the odometer reading what what Shiage expected to see on a minivan that old, and Mamoru approved of what he could see in the engine compartment.

I think that first "what" should be "about."
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#8
(02-07-2021, 12:28 PM)Inquisitive Raven Wrote:
(02-05-2021, 10:08 PM)robkelk Wrote: A quick inspection followed - the interior was slightly worn but clean, the odometer reading what what Shiage expected to see on a minivan that old, and Mamoru approved of what he could see in the engine compartment.

I think that first "what" should be "about."

I think you're right. Fixed.
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Reply
RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#9
And now to drop a few things onto the mantelpiece - including at least one of Chekhov's guns.



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 9, 2017
8:03 AM


"I have to say, that was a most unusual medical examination that I received yesterday. Would you know the purpose of the device that was placed on my head while I made those odd expressions that the doctor requested?"

"Beats me," Ruiko replied to Mitsuko. "I've never asked Washuu-chan what that thing does. 'Doctor-patient confidentiality', and all that - I don't need to know, not even when it didn't match the expressions that Takitsubo-san was making. But wasn't it funny watching it copy people's moods like that, when it did work?"

Rob looked up from his coffee. "Maybe, maybe not. Are you sure you have time to talk about that now, Rui-chan?"

She looked at her landlord/foster parent. "I'm skipping school today."

He raised one eyebrow, Spock-style, and asked, "Oh, are you?"

"I am," she replied in all seriousness. "I think Kongo-san and I need to talk about what we learned last night. About ITEM."

Rob had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to talk about - neither girl, despite their connections to Mikoto Misaka in Academy City, had previously even heard about the city's darker side. "I'll send an email to your homeroom teacher, then," he replied as he stood up to head to his office. "But I want you back in school tomorrow, Ruiko."

She noticed the lack of honorific. "Yes, sir."

As he left the room, Mitsuko asked Ruiko, "Do you normally address each other by your given names?"

Ruiko grinned. "This is Canada, after all - the entire country is a lot less formal than Japan is. We even walked onto the grounds of Parliament Hill without having to go through a checkpoint, back when we first arrived here! But we usually call each other 'Rob-oji' and 'Rui-chan' - him calling me by just my full given name is very rare."

"I see. Perhaps I should ask that you all call me Mitsuko-san, instead of Kongo-san."

"If you call me Ruiko-san, you've got a deal." She paused for a moment, and added, "But do you really want to be on a first-name basis with Accelerator?"

"It is hardly my place to tell a level 5 esper what to do."

Ruiko nodded in understanding. "But we need to know what they think of us, don't we? Compared to Accelerator, Hedgerow Emperor, Railgun, -"

"Misaka-san."

"I'm using their code names for a reason. Accelerator, Hedgerow Emperor, Railgun, Meltdowner, The Queen, Etsu Aihana, and The Attack Crash, we're all ... well, less than insects if we upset them. Any of them could kill us without even thinking about it. Or they could kill us accidentally - collateral damage in one of their fights. And from what Hamazura-san told us yesterday, Academy City would be just fine with that."

"Misaka-san would never put our lives at risk."

"Not if she could help it. But sometimes she can't help it. Remember when you were kept for observation at that MAR facility?"

Mitsuko grimaced. "The Multi Active Rescue unit that had been usurped by Therestina Kihara Lifeline in her mad experiment."

"Right, that one. Except that she didn't usurp control of it. Academy City put her there so that she could cover up her experiments. Or conduct them. I'm still not sure which."

"But she was imprisoned for her actions."

Re-entering the common room, Rob answered, "As far as I can tell from what I saw in the anime about you two and your friends, from Academy City's point of view, her only crime was getting caught."

Neither of the girls said anything for a moment.

Finally, Ruiko said, "But that comes back to what I wanted to say. While you were keeping the MAR troops off of Mikoto's back, we were fighting Therestina." From the way she said the name, it was obvious that Ruiko was being over-familiar with her as an insult. "She was going on about how everyone in Academy City were her guinea pigs."

Rob muttered, "I wonder what Aleister would have thought of that, even though it was a Kihara saying it." The girls ignored him.

"But she was not sane. She would be expected to think and say things like that."

"Yeah, I know. But then there's ITEM. Meltdowner's team, the way that Kuroko and Kazari and Mii and even you and I are Mikoto's team. Have you read any of the books about us, or watched any of the anime?"

Mitsuko shook her head. "Apart from that partial episode that Mr. Donaldson -" She glanced in his direction, saw his raised eyebrow, and quickly corrected herself. "Rob-san - showed me the day I arrived, I have not."

"They're essentially an organized crime family."

Mitsuko looked shocked. "I cannot believe such a thing exists in Academy City."

"Believe it," Rob stated with all seriousness. "Do you remember when Kuroko was in a wheelchair for a while?"

"I do, yes. She never revealed what had happened to her."

"The short version is that she went up against another teleporter - one with more power and fewer scruples than Kuroko has. Kuroko tried to arrest her, and was almost killed for her efforts."

"Oh, dear."

"She's never told me anything about that," Ruiko replied. "How did she survive?"

Rob smiled. "With a lot of help from her friends - Mikoto and Touma."

Before he could continue, One of the Misaka clones walked into the common room. Mitsuko turned to her, smiled, and said, "Good morning, Niiko-san."

"Good morning, Kongo-san and Ruiko-san, Niiko replies."

"How did you know that Niiko-san is Niiko-san?" Rob asked. "You've been here for less than a week."

"Isn't it obvious?" All three of the others shook their heads in reply. "You don't walk the same way that Mikoto-san does. Only Nana-san copies Mikoto-san's walk exactly. You aren't wearing eyeliner, so you aren't Rei-san. But the most obvious sign was that you paused briefly before walking into the room, as if you were looking for traps or ambushes."

"My clone-sisters never had to fight, Niiko points out. They aren't as paranoid as I am by learned reflex."

Ruiko smiled at that. "I've never thought of you as paranoid, Niiko-san."

"Thank you, Niiko replies. It means a lot to me that I'm able to conceal that from people, Niiko continues in explanation." She headed toward the common room's kitchen, and asked, "Does anyone else want anything while I'm getting some juice?"

Nobody else did, so she nodded and headed for the fridge.

While Niiko was in the kitchen, Mitsuko said to Ruiko, "The experiments that Lifeline-san were running have to have been the worst that Academy City has to offer. How could anything worse than what she did remain hidden from the public?"

While the question wasn't addressed to him, Rob answered it anyway. "All a government needs to do is classify something as being secret, and it's a very brave person who's willing to blow the metaphorical whistle and draw attention to the secret. Most people would rather see a government that occasionally overreaches itself than live in an anarchy."

Both of the girls thought about that for a short moment. Finally, Ruiko asked, "But what about doing what's right?"

Niiko walked back into the common room as Rob answered. "Is it right to tell somebody else's secrets?"

"When they affect other people like that? Yes!"

"You mentioned doctor-patient confidentiality earlier. That affects other people."

"That isn't the same."

Rob nodded. "You're right. The only way you can tell whether somebody needs to know a dark secret is to know it yourself - and a lot of people like keeping secrets. That's why things like Therestina's experiments could remain hidden for so long."

Mikoto frowned. "Surely there weren't any other experiments as bad as hers in Academy City."

Niiko stood up from the corner table she had sat at, walked over, and sat down at the same table as Ruiko and Mitsuko. "Let me tell you about the Level 6 Shift Project, Misaka 10032 states using her serial number for subtle emphasis. It is the biggest secret that I am aware of from Academy City. The project treated my clone sisters and me as things, not people. They told us that so many times that we believed it, Misaka 10032 admits. I have memories of meeting Accelerator for the first time in the project's headquarters. We were set against each other. I shot him using a pistol provided to me by the project. His ability reflected the bullet back to me, and I died. Or, rather, Misaka 2 died, Misaka 10032 explains quickly."

"You have memories of dying?"

"You have memories of being killed?"

"That is correct, Misaka 10032 replies to both questions simultaneously. I also have memories of cleaning up my dead bodies before going out to be killed myself, Misaka 10032 adds in order to make her earlier situation more clear."

"How long did this go on?" Ruiko asked, unable to hide the horror in her voice.

"The time blurred into a perpetual 'now' for the first 9980 deaths, Misaka 10032 replies. Perhaps it took a few years, Misaka 10032 guesses."

"Is death painful?" asked Mitsuko.

"That depends on the method of dying, Misaka 10032 answers. Misaka 9982 was crushed to death, after having her leg torn off by Accelerator. Misaka 10032 thinks that that was one of the less physically painful deaths, but we will always remember it because Misaka 9982 was the first clone to meet our Original." She continued speaking a litany of ways to die - having her neck snapped, being hit with an anti-tank rifle round, having her arms pinned to her torso with a steel bar and being thrown into the harbour, being hit by a car that was dropped on her from twenty feet up, and many, many more. After ten minutes, Rob realized that the only way one of her clone sisters hadn't been killed was by electrocution. Finally, she finished with "The worst death that Misaka 10032 remembers is that of Misaka 10031, whose blood flow was instantly reversed by Accelerator's power, causing my heart to explode. No, causing Misaka 10031's heart to explode, Misaka 10032 corrects herself."

Mitsuko had long since passed being horrified and had reached being numb. "From what you've been saying, surely that was one of the less painful deaths of one of your clones."

"Less painful, perhaps, Misaka 10032 answers Mitsuko. But Misaka 10031 was the Misaka clone who first met Touma Kamijo, Misaka 10032 explains. Her death hurt his soul, Misaka 10032 adds for clarification."

Nobody said anything for a long moment. Finally, Misaka turned to Rob. "The energy accumulator devices that Washuu-chan installed last night are functioning correctly, Niiko Misaka reports. We were able to discharge our accumulated electricity into the receptor grids without any issues, Niiko continues."

Ruiko finally snapped. "How can you be so calm about remembering having died so many times!?"

Niiko turned back to Ruiko. "Our emotional growth was deliberately stunted, Niiko replies. Last Order - Mimi Misaka - is the only clone with a full set of emotions, Niiko adds."

"Rob-oji..."

"Yes, Rui-chan?"

"Can I live with you even after the megami send everyone else home, please? I never want to go back to Academy City again. Ever."

Before Rob could answer, Mitsuko said, "I would prefer to return to Academy City, but only to rescue my friends from it."

Ruiko looked at her lap, ashamed to have thought otherwise.

Rob stood up, walked over, and gently placed his hand on Ruiko's shoulder, causing her to look up at him. "Rui-chan, there's nothing wrong in feeling how you feel. It's fine to worry about yourself. It's natural. But..."

"But?"

"Well, Mii, Ami, and I have already had this conversation. When it's time to go home, we're all planning on going to Ami's world; Mii and I can live anywhere, but Ami's needed there. I think you'd be welcome to join us, though."



Yggdrasil
Same time


"I hope we can accommodate you there, Mr. Donaldson," Urd muttered.

"Ma'am?"

She looked over at her assistant for the day. "Oh, nothing, Ere. Just thinking out loud. Let's get back to work, stabilizing these glitches."



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Same time


To take her mind off the subject of over ten thousand deaths, Ruiko asked, "Rob-oji... That teleporter who almost killed Kuroko-san. Who was she?" As soon as ske asked, she realized that this topic wouldn't take her mind off death.

Rob sighed. "A girl about Mii's age, if I recall correctly. Her name is Awaki Musujime."



Toronto, ON, Canada
February 9, 2017
9:41 AM


"It's done." Musujime dropped a few pieces of metal into Leonard's outstretched hand - without the gears that she had teleported out of the mechanism, a large freight door wasn't going to open any time soon. "I don't see how this is going to help things, though."

He smiled at her comment. "The owners will make a fuss, just when this 'Meltdowner' person should be walking past. Assuming she helps them, they're the type to reward her for her services, which will give her enough money for both her and her companion to reach Ottawa."

She studied his face for a moment, then gave up - as usual, he was unreadable. "Why do you want them getting together with Railgun and her friends?"

"Because her friends are friends with the people near Detroit who are enemies of MANAGEMENT."

"Ah," Musujime said in understanding. "The enemy of our enemy, and all that. And that explains why we emailed those photos of her teammates to her so she could track them down. So why did you send goons to try to capture them in Chicago?"

"To spur them into action, my dear."

She hated when he called her that.



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 9, 2017
2:21 PM

The building's residents who weren't in school had congregated in the common room, listening to - and in some cases, telling - stories about the dark underbelly of Academy City. Needless to say, there wasn't very much work being done that day.

"My first mission in GROUP," Accelerator told the assembled residents after a lot of coaxing, "was a simple little bit of killing - a guy named Komaba Ritoku."

"Komaba-san was a friend of mine," Frenda said quietly. "He took care of my little sister whenever I was working."

Shiage ignored his teammate. "So you're the bastard that killed him," he snarled at Accelerator.

"Shut up and let me talk. He fought me, and came damned close to putting me in the hospital again. The only reason he died was because he shot me. And it wasn't an accident - he knew damn well that my Reflection was on." Accelerator turned to look at Shiage. "So, no, I didn't kill him. He killed himself."

"Would you have let him go if he hadn't shot you?"

Accelerator shrugged. "Maybe. But GROUP had me on a tight leash - they only slacked off after I showed them I was willing to do dirty work for them."

"A convenient excuse."

"Hey, looking at what kind of fuck-up took over for him and got himself arrested on the very first job he took from somebody he didn't even bother checking the credentials of, maybe I should have let him live."

Rob cleared his throat meaningfully. Everybody in the room (save for Ruiko and Mitsuko) knew full well - if only from watching the anime in Rob's collection - that Shiage was the "fuck-up" that Accelerator had referred to. "Perhaps we should change the subject. Now."

After a pause that went on for far too long, Rikou asked, "Does anybody know anything about the 'Dark May Project'?"

Accelerator turned to look directly into her eyes. "Where the hell did you hear that name!?" he all-but-shouted.

Cowering under his anger, she quietly answered, "My teammate Saiai mentioned it once."

"Nothing good came out of that project. It ruined other espers. Made them think crazy things."

"How crazy?" Ruiko asked quietly, dreading the answer.

"Little girl, it made them think like me." Before Ruiko could respond, he added, "Literally. They took my dreams, my beliefs, my hopes, my thoughts, and forced them into other espers."

"Why?"

He snorted. "You of all people here ask me that? To make them higher level espers." Then he smiled his slasher-villain smile. "Want to give it a try?"

Ruiko shook her head, quickly and fearfully.

"Smart girl."

"Where did they find volunteers to take part in such a project?" Mitsuko asked.

Accelerator laughed. "Volunteers? Nobody would volunteer to become me! Look at me! Look at my life! No, they found their test subjects the same place everybody else in Academy City finds their test subjects. In the Child Error facilities."

Ruiko went pale. She had volunteered to help out in one of those facilities, once. All those orphans, being used as guinea pigs?

Accelerator didn't seem to notice. "Hey, maybe it wasn't a complete waste of time. I hear the project got shut down because one of the subjects went wild the way I usually do, and killed all the researchers. Serves 'em right."

At this point, Mitsuko turned to Ruiko and said, "I must apologize to you for something I said earlier today, Ruiko-san."

"What did you say, Mitsuko-san?" asked Rikou.

"I said that I would prefer to return to Academy City in order to rescue my friends from it. I see now that simply setting foot in that place again, at my current level of ability, would be foolhardy in the extreme."

"You're, what Level 3? 4?"

"I am a level 4 esper, Frenda-san."

"Then you're a lot more powerful than me," the blonde girl replied. "But I can see why you'd want to run away from the darkness. Not everybody's cut out for it, basically."

As most of the others in the room nodded in agreement, Rob, Ruiko, and Mitsuko couldn't help but think that they lived in a completely different world than their next-door neighbours.



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 9, 2017
6:02 PM


Dinner was a strangely subdued affair that night, with so many of the residents eating alone in their apartments.

When Usagi and Kazari expressed a desire to go find out what was wrong, Rob flat-out forbade them from bothering the others, without giving any explanation... before retiring to his own apartment.



Toronto, ON, Canada
February 9, 2017
9:41 PM


The first thing they'd picked up with their reward money for getting that door open was lunch.

The second thing they'd picked up was some silicon cards, a straightedge ruled in millimeters, a protractor, and a sharp knife at a hobbyist's store.

Now, Meltdowner had decided to stay in Toronto for a couple of days - the hostel they were staying at wasn't particularly comfortable, but at least they had a room to themselves, with two beds and a private bath. They could afford to stay another day as long as they were careful about where they ate - but this country's "Tim Horton's" chain could keep them fed cheaply for that amount of time. And she needed to prepare these cards for use. It wasn't as if she could buy them ready-made anywhere outside of Academy City, after all.

Her traveling companion sat on the smaller bed, watching as Meltdowner scored the cards in a very precise pattern.

Elsewhere, Leonard seethed inwardly. Those two were supposed to be halfway to Ottawa by now...



Blossom Apartments, Ottawa, ON, Canada
February 9, 2017
9:53 pm


Mimi Hanyu reached the top of the stairs and was about to head toward her own apartment and some much-needed rest, when she heard somebody crying. It took her a moment to figure out where the sounds were coming from, but as soon as she was sure, she turned away from her apartment and knocked on Mitsuko Kongo's front door. "Kongo-san? Are you all right?"

The crying slowed, then stopped. After a moment, the door opened to show Mitsuko's tear-stained face. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Hanyu-san."

"Whatever it is, do you want to talk about it?"

Mitsuko started crying again, just from knowing that, despite her best efforts to avoid troubling anyone else with her sorrow over what she'd learned that day, somebody still wanted to help her. "Oh, yes, please. Please come in."




To be continued concluded ...
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
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RE: [ic][STORY] February 2017 in Ottawa
#10
OOC: This will be going on what I hope will be a short hiatus - with one chapter left! - while I work on this story. A scene in the final chapter here won't make any sense unless the other story is posted first. My apologies...
--
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
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