Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

Chino’s Story

Woman Claims To Have Caused The Blue Ash Crisis

“This is an inspiring entry. We at Eerie Truths Monthly receive a fair number of letters from aspiring informants. Usually, they deal with a variety of subjects, from aliens to cryptids, and even sometimes government conspiracies. Last week, we received a letter from Chino Tokuma, who claims to have been involved in a secret project that led to the Blue Ash Crisis.”

Apricot skimmed the article and concluded that it was mostly opinion. There are a lot of sensitive topics in Chino Tokuma’s letter, but even Eerie Truths avoided going into them. Apricot gently brushed the magazine from her lap and headed to the hallway to get a directory. With a little searching, she found Tokuma’s address. “What were you on about, Shiori?” she said to herself as she penned the address on a legal pad.

A few children were playing in the alleyway next to Apricot. Yhanjo proved to be an enjoyable, quiet urban neighborhood. She had always considered the inner city to be devoid of nature, so the sight of plants spruced up in several houses was a welcome sight. There is so much concrete and so little green space in cities like this. However, this area was stunning. So much foliage surrounded brick apartments that it appears to grow naturally from the walls.

From the other side of the road, a stream echoes. Apricot smirked as she saw 1514 Dujho street’s black cast-iron fence. The address is a few years old. She hoped this remained as Chino’s current house. She hiked up the concrete stoop and knocked on Chino’s forest green door. The door opened a few moments later, revealing a mature Uchellan woman. Apricot couldn’t place her age despite graying hair and crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. In a blue button-up shirt and blond slacks, she looked cheerful. “Hello dear, is there anything I can help you with?”

Apricot bowed her head. “My name is Apricot Signa. Currently, I’m a student journalist. Your story about what happened during the crisis fascinated me.” Apricot tried her best to sound professional. “I was wondering if you would mind doing a follow-up with me.”

Chino smiled half-heartedly. “Come in.” When Apricot stepped onto Chino’s finely polished hardwood floors, her Uchellan heritage was on full display. The low black furniture with mats, the lighting is soft and the tray planters are attractive. All the marks of a traditional Uchellan. Apricot followed Chino through a narrow hallway to sit at a small table in a much larger living room. “I’ll make us some tea,” Chino said.

“Thank you, I would much appreciate that,” Apricot replied as Chino left down the narrow hall. The experience of drinking tea with an elderly Uchellan brought Apricot a fair amount of distress. While she tried to recall the proper etiquette for drinking tea, she couldn’t remember any of it. Uchella’s mannerisms were lost on her being a foreigner and all. She worried Tokuma would perceive her as a “galijoh,” a derogatory term in Uchellan for a careless overstayer.

Apricot put her knees together as Chino returned with a plate of hot tea. She is seated so her rear just touches her feet. While bowing, she tried to hide the fact that she has forgotten most of the conventions of tea drinking, which are very important to the local culture. Chino chuckled. “My dear, you are an immigrant. Are you not?” Apricot blushed sheepishly. She continued, “With a name like Signa, I could expect nothing less. My children don’t even seem to have learned the old way of doing things. I appreciate your effort, though. Now sit down as a modern lady.”

Apricot’s body initially felt tense, but she soon relaxed. At the back of her mind, she felt it disrespectful. “Your home is so beautifully decorated, Miss Tokuma.”

“Flattering an old lady like me will not get you anywhere. You develop a little intuition when you’ve been around for as long as I have. So it’s only natural you’d want to hear what I have to say. I won’t waste your time with pleasantries.” Drinking her tea, Chino said, “I understand you young people are so busy.” Apricot smiled, appreciating the thought. “Before we begin, I would like to know why you want to interview me,” Chino replied.

“Well,” Apricot said.

In response to Apricot’s words, Chino raised her hand. She lowered her gaze, revealing a perceptive expression. “I want the truth. Not a slippery way of saying things.”

Apricot chuckled, enjoying the old woman’s demeanor. “I don’t know why, myself,” she said. “Maybe it’s just that I’m curious. I might find an answer to a question I have if I understand the question, to begin with.”

“What question is troubling you?” Chino placed her teacup on the table and covered her hands with her chin.

Apricot stiffened. “No, my answer will sound crazy.”

Chino stroked her chin ever so delicately. “As a young girl like you, I would also have thought the same thing. I won’t force the matter. If it is the Crisis, I imagine it would be a difficult subject. It is unusual for a foreigner to be interested in such a serious issue. You could never write a credible article about it.”

“It’s something I already know. I’m not writing a report. I lied about my intentions. It was more of a personal interest.” Apricot wondered if Chino already knew. Considering her claimed experience, she imagines that this elderly woman has gained a lot of wisdom over the years. She had become an oracle or something like one. Apricot dismisses it as dreaming. “Did you hear about the Ichigari Grocery attack?”

“How could anyone have missed that?” Chino said. “The news covered it for days.”

“I was there. I saw it. Can you believe what they are telling you?” Apricot asked.

Chino leaned over to pick up her tea. “I suppose I shouldn’t.” She took a sip.

“If I told you there was a monster, would you believe me?” When she finished speaking, Apricot fell silent.

A slow, uneasy smile crept across Chino’s face as she answered the question. “If you mean, if I suspect you to be crazy, then no,” she said. “I’ve seen some strange things myself,” she added. “I am now an old woman, and I can no longer continue. That strange man who runs that rag of a magazine listened to my story. But he didn’t publish it.”

“What is your story?” Apricot asked.

“Well, I grew up as a farmer’s daughter in Yoshima. My parents, their parents, and so forth, until antiquity. As a child, my parents noticed I was proficient at studying. At ten, I became fascinated with electricity. Around twelve, I designed a water-powered electric generator. As a result, the state contacted me to work on the Blue Ash project. Blue Ash was a small mining and fishing community. Very rural. As soon as I arrived, my first task was to help set up power lines with city planners.”

“Within a few years, we turned Blue Ash from a sleepy little town into a bustling metropolis. Meanwhile, a drilling expedition was underway.” Chino finishes her last cup of tea and says, “It became a cover for what we were doing.” Lifting a silver pitcher from the table, Chino inquired. “Would you like me to top off your drink?”

The story completely enthralled Apricot, “No thanks, but keep going.”

Chino poured herself a cup of tea and set the pitcher back down on the table. “Below the city, we built an elaborate machine. It facilitated teleportation. We were rather proud of our work. Previous tests showed we could transport matter from a single end of the base to the other in a matter of seconds. Our first manned test, however, changed everything. It proved that our assumptions were incorrect. There was a black void, like the vacuum of outer space surrounding the gate. We called it the between plane.” Chino smirked. “This is where things get weird.”

“The Okabe family and an individual named Urias Hilderic led the group. Urias had an eccentric personality. I later learned why, but he seemed focused on his work.” In the main corridor, Uraias would mumble to himself while taking notes. The plans and schematics he created were far superior to anything anyone had ever seen before. His demands were met. The gate was quite unlike anything else. Rather, it looks into hyperspaces. Additionally, he had specific coordinates.”

“We had built a satellite that would serve as our observer. The process went smoothly. Using the transmissions of the satellite, we observed what hyperspace looked like. Despite what we expected, everything turned out to be different. There were orbs in the hyperspace. We had believed they were pockets of energy that had balled up similar to ball lightning and could not disperse as they were trapped in the void.”

“Urias built a second satellite to harness the energy. After it was inside the void, we sent a technician out with it in a suit. That day, I handled the electric output. It was a laborious task. It was important to keep the power on for those above the gate while maintaining it so our technician would not get trapped. Urias did not appear. This only compounded my initial feeling of unease. Then I noticed something large in the distance. It rushed through, destroying everything it touched. Its sound was so loud that the radio speakers were damaged. Several pieces fell on me. They burned.”

“We suddenly found ourselves in a panic. Everything went black. After we left the control room, we found Uraias surrounded by those orbs in the main corridor. He had torn apart a pair of workers before devouring them. He mumbled crazy things while saying he was in a new world. Balls of light kept flinging out of the gate. Whispering around the room as though they were alive. The Okabe clan emerged and destroyed the gate. They arrested and took all of us into custody. The charges against me were dropped, and I was told not to mention it.”

Apricot nodded in concern. “That sounds terrible.”

“I’m not done yet,” Chino said. “They built the city according to a particular plan, and sigils are magical symbols used to enhance the power of spells. Everything was part of a ritual. The residents of the city above were spirited away. I can only imagine what happened to them. The city, however, remained intact. No explosions occurred. The sun turned black for a few days, but it wasn’t due to smoke. I never found out what those blue orbs were or where they went. The only thing I did was stay. I did nothing. The fate of Urias remains a mystery. Nonetheless, he wasn’t alone.”

“In our minds, he was always talking to himself as if that was the way he thought. He seemed to take orders from somewhere. But it wasn’t just him. That device didn’t come from him. This is my story.”

“Who designed them?” Apricot inquired.

Chino frowned as she looked down. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Apparently, something grabbed his ear. Perhaps he was just crazy enough to listen.”

“Thank you, Miss Tokuma,” Apricot said. “I’m grateful for all the information you’ve given me. I understand better now.”

“I am delighted to hear that, dear. With my story living on beyond me, I can now rest easy.” Chino said. “The nights are getting longer lately, aren’t they?” she said. “Now, get on with your day. I did my good deed for the day.” Chino left Apricot at the front door. She couldn’t help but wonder if Chino didn’t tell her everything, and as she left, Apricot fears that those blue orbs could be phantoms that escaped the reaper.

After leaving Chino’s home, Apricot boarded a train. She traveled over several lines before reaching the public records library. If Chino was telling the truth, it should be easy to prove it with a few key pieces of information. The baroque wooden front desk was manned by a young Uchellan girl who is a couple of years older than Apricot. Standing in front of a flat-screen, she used a scanner to scan documents as she checked them in. Apricot cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”

As she glanced up from her pile of documents, the lady sighed. “Yes,” she replied.

“Hi, I’m looking for microfilm of the city’s original zoning plans. I’m hoping you have them. I know this was before the crisis, but I can’t seem to find anything else on it.” The woman tapped her fingers rapidly on the table with a blank stare. Upon closer inspection, Apricot noticed a faint light emanating from a holographic keyboard. “That’s an interesting keyboard,” she said.

“Given how much we use our keyboards, the department thought this would be better.” As she typed, the girl had no inflection in tone. She glanced over at Apricot and said, “I liked the old ones, but you know how it is with the government.”

Apricot gave a nod of agreement despite having no clue what she meant. “Well, computers, you know?”

Blowing a puff of air out of her mouth as if blowing bubblegum, she further replied, “I am afraid I cannot provide you with that information without the necessary clearance. It’s not a public record.” Apricot pulled her badge from her wallet and placed it on the counter. The lady nodded as she inspected it. “It appears you’re a state journalist. So dressed as you are, I wouldn’t have guessed you were one. It’s a stereotype that state journalists are all rich men, you know?” Apricot resisted rolling her eyes. “Let me see if you have access.” The young woman placed the badge on the counter, typing the numbers into it. “You’re in luck,” she said. “Your clearance has been granted. I will gather up the viewing room key for you and grab the film you are looking for.”

“Thank you,” Apricot said to the librarian as she returned the card. With a smile on her face, she rested her back on the counter and looked at the library’s entrance doors.

“What are you doing here?” A male voice asked to her left.

When Apricot saw Sato approaching, her eyes lit up. “I’m just getting some info for an article I’m writing. So, what are you up to?”

As Sato shook his head, he looked down. “I had to register again.”

“The review’s a pain! How did you earn that?” Apricot asked.

“My photo caught a state official breaking the law. Instead of chasing after him, they took it out on me instead.” Sato smirked. “I had to pay back my earnings and make restitution to the state. That’s how it works.”

“Yeah,” Apricot replied, unsure of what to say. As a foreigner, there are advantages and disadvantages. She was untrusted by the government, and as a result, what she did as an Uchellan citizen was never taken seriously. Misgivings by natives are harshly punished. In most cases, what she did at the bank would have prevented her from becoming a journalist or even caused her to serve a long jail term. In other words, a foreigner working for the Uchellan government was a sign of progress for the societal position of the Uchellan in the world.

“I’ve got something to show you, Apricot. Would you mind dropping by my house later?” Sato asked Apricot.

“What is it?” Apricot inquired.

“It’s your pics. Heh, but I can’t explain it right now.” Having to explain a picture she took intrigued her.

“Sure, Sato,” she replied.

“Great. I’ll see you later. I hate to leave, but I’ve got to go. Machi needs a ride home from work, and I’m running late.”

Apricots smirked. “Go get her. I know how sensitive she can be when waiting.” Sato chuckled and waved to Apricot.

The librarian returned at last. Then she handed Apricot a small rod and said, “Mam, follow me.”

Only the mechanical squeals and hums of the viewing machine can be heard inside the darkroom. Apricot pressed her face against the viewfinder as she turned the knob to browse through photos and zone information. Half an hour later, she finds what she was looking for. A map of the city’s oldest streets. She traced out the paths with approximate sizes on the paper. As in the image of Vs and Xs, the roads converged, and the last road looped around everything in a complete circle. “It’s true what Chino said. They built the city around some kind of massive sigil.” As she pulled away from the machine, she sat back down in her chair. Looking up, she took a deep breath.

Sato’s apartment is in a large office building. It is for rent as office space, but Sato has converted it into a dwelling. Apricot is certain that if the right people found out, they would make him move. There’s a gray door outside a hallway where people are dressed in their usual business fatigues. Suits, ties, dresses. As the door opened, Sato had strung photos around every corner of the room. The place is a collage of memories and events preserved in gelatin resin. “Welcome,” Sato said, ushering her in.

Apricot hesitantly stepped into the rather wild-looking apartment. “Sato, I’ve never seen your apartment before, but your decor reminds me of a serial killer.” She laughed, to which he joined in.

He closed the door behind her, smirking. “I started with a few, but I have so many good ones that it grew into what it is now. Can’t part with them.”

Apricot smirked. “How was Machi?”

Sato shook his head. “Machi was feeling like Machi.”

“A little upset about being late?” Apricot asked.

“Just a little bit.” Sato walked over to his desk and picked up a pair of photos. “I have to ask,” he said, turning the images toward Apricot. “Where were those things when you took them?”

At the center of the photos, someone is disappearing into smoke. The figure is blurred and pitch black. Her jaw dropped as she shook her head in disbelief. “Nope, but I dropped the camera, so the negatives must have got damaged.” Apricot tried to play it off as best she could.

Astonished, Sato turned back to the photos and remarked, “I have never seen anything like that before. I thought the same thing, but these are the only two I’ve seen. Other photos are fine before and after. What’s scary is that there are a couple of images between them.”

Apricot laughed. She told him, “They weren’t there when I took them.” Sato nods his head. “Maybe something has gone wrong with the roll since it arrived from the factory.” Apricot speculated.

He laughed, “Anyway, they freak me out.”

“Likewise,” Apricot thought to herself. “Likewise Sato.”

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