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We Are Watching
The morning rays of light peek over the dark cityscape. Apricot ran along a sidewalk, her backpack skipping with each step. The damp breeze fluttered her skirt as the early traffic passed her. She stopped in front of a large apartment building. Somewhat winded, she took a moment to breathe. Her shoes echoed as she walked up the concrete steps toward a pair of double glass doors. Leaning into the bars of the doors, she found no purchase. Glancing over to the side, she saw a large white box on the wall. It was overwhelming how many rooms were on the panel. After navigating to 15E, she pressed the white square with her digit. With a beep announcing her, she said “Bon Bon! Hey Bon Bon, it’s Apricot. Buzz me in.”
A few seconds passed before the intercom beeped again. “Api, what the heck are you doing here so early?” Bonni replied in a groggy voice.
“Bonni!” Apricot shouted. “Just let me in.” Another pause passed and continued. “Is she not going to let me in?” Apricot pondered.
“Fine,” Bonni sighed as the front door’s automatic latch clicked open. “Come on up.”
The apartment complex is uninspiring inside. The carpet is brown, and the walls were painted several years ago, apparently out of style. It reminded her more of a cheap motel than a place people would live. The immediate scent of cigarette smoke greeted her. “Bonni, what are you doing here?” The entire experience left Apricot contemplating that thought all the way into the elevator.
Upstairs, everything is much the same. Apricot made her way down the musky hall toward 15E. Once there, she knocks. Bonni replies from behind the several times painted door, “It’s open.” Apricot turned the brass doorknob to see a much more pleasant sight. Black coal ceilings with studio lamps, a polished faux stone floor, and clean white walls. It is definitely Bonni’s style. “Good morning!” Apricot said to Bonni, who was covered in a fluffy pink bathrobe.
Her eyes were half shut and her hair was uncombed. “You are awfully spry already. Going to school?” Bonni asked.
“Sure am. Hey, I had a question to ask you?” Apricot smiled as Bonni rolled her eyes.
Bonni walked over towards her noisy coffee maker. “Not yet, girl. Look, I was sleeping. Do you need a ride to school or something?”
“No, no!” Apricot shouted, waving both of her hands. “Nothing like that.”
Bonni took a sip from the black cup of coffee. After the swig, she swallowed and took a deep breath. A slow exhale followed. “Well, what is it then?”
“How many of those Paranormal Monthly’s do you still have?”
“You mean Eerie Truth’s Monthly?” Bonni chuckled. Her demeanor changed. She was awake as she walked up to Apricot, poking her in the chest. “I knew you would get hooked!” Bonni chirped. “You want to borrow some of my past editions?”
Apricot shook her head. “Yeah, if you could, as many of them as you have. I got the latest one, and I could not stop reading it. Did you read the one about the vampire club?” Apricot asked Bonni.
“Yeah, I did. What a weird group of people. You know, I think I met those people once! I was auditioning for a movie.” Bonni trailed off in her conversation as she walked out of the room. Apricot looks around the apartment. She imagined it would not take much effort to make this place look messy. A minimalist style is always so minimal that anything out of place would throw off the entire appeal. A few papers rest on her coffee table. Apricot could not help but take a glance. There is a script for a play or movie, a few bills, and a sci-fi book called Robicon. Glancing out the twin pan windows, Apricot could see a good part of the city. The view is beautiful. It made sense now why Bonni lived in such a place. The lobbies suck, but the apartments are not half bad.
“Here we are,” Bonni said, carrying out a stack of magazines. “I got more, but I figured this is plenty enough to keep you busy.” A wide grin filled Apricot’s face.
She took off her backpack placing it on the floor. Carefully, she slides each magazine inside and zips up the bag. “You are a lifesaver, Bonni,” Apricot hoisted the now heavy backpack onto her shoulders. She slumped backward before regaining her posture.
“Well, you know, I like to help,” Bonni commented. “So you heading off to school?”
“Yeah, sadly I got to,” Apricot told Bonni. Bonni nodded with a smirk. “Have a good day Bon Bon.”
Bonni gave Apricot a parting hug. “You too. We can talk later about the stories!” Apricot nodded before heading out the door.
Class didn’t seem necessary as Apricot listened to Miss Akagi’s lecture. Concentration evaded her as she speculated about that Kinjo noble. He seemed to know what he was doing. So these phenomena cannot be something new, she concluded. If he perceived the crisis was linked to these creatures, then maybe all the nobles recognized this. That might be why they are so desperate to cover it up. It would explain things, but that only left more questions to be answered. If what Chino Tokuma said was correct, then she had much more to consider. Like who was this Urias guy and why would he be eating people. Now that she thought about it, Solenne mentioned something about that the other day at the arcade.
If the nobles knew of this and planned a city as a sacrifice for that ritual, what else were they capable of and what would they have planned in the future. She concludes her best choice right now is to investigate the phantoms and carry on as if that is her only goal. To stay open-minded but not veer from her task. If the phantoms were causing all the disturbances, the fewer of them there were, the more stable her situation would become.
“Apricot,” Miss Akagi’s voice boomed. “What are the four tenants of journalism?”
“Seek truth and report it, to minimize harm, to act independently, and to be accountable.” Her response must have been beyond what Miss Akagi expected, as she gave a slow nod before continuing her lecture. A warm satisfaction filled her knowing she bested her teacher. In all honesty, though, it almost seems trivial considering the more significant issue at hand.
The reaper, how would she find and talk to the reaper. She had questions, and she wanted answers. What exactly is his role in all this? How did she fit in? Clearly, he had one, though that seemed even more mysterious than the role of the Okabe in all this. Her hope for a meeting is a strange encounter at the reaper’s convenience. For now, she just possessed small fragments to follow leads on. From this point forward, things will be different she resolved. Earie Truth’s Monthly would become her roadmap and the path to an ultimate end. To what end, she was not entirely sure, but whatever it was had to be better than this limbo.
After class, Apricot took a detour towards the gym. Once inside, some old acquaintances greeted her she couldn’t quite place the names of. A smile and wave satisfied her as a proper response. Routing towards the aerobic equipment, she began the usual stretches she had learned in primary school. It had been a long time since she was in competitive gymnastics and fencing, but if she would undergo such a dangerous journey; she considered it best to be as prepared as possible. She spent several hours at the gym before picking up her things and heading home.
Tsungdung is always busy. This stretch of road is lined with markets. The enticing aromas of the many different cuisines made anyone’s mouth water. Deep in thought, she glanced beside her to see a polished midnight cruiser driving beside her. The mirror glass side window rolled down. Behind black sunglasses, a man in a black suit peered through the door at her. The man said, “Mam, I need you to step into the car.”
Are these guys related to Ji Li or Shiori? Whatever their relationship, she wouldn’t be getting into that car today. Apricot replied, “I’m not.”
“This is not a request.” the man said, pulling a badge from his pocket that read “Okabi Special Investigative Force #2044”. Apricot felt her chest become heavy, and a cold sweat formed. Upon opening the rear passenger door, a man dressed exactly the same steps out of the car and leads her inside.
Apricot glided across the leather seat. After stepping back inside the vehicle, the other man closed the door as the vehicle continued to coast. Stuffed in the back of this car between two bulky men brought sardines to mind. “Apricot.” The front passenger replied, “I understand you were involved in the Ichigari Grocery incident.”
“Yes,” Apricot replied, knowing that keeping a low profile was best since she had no idea what was happening.
“How have those biologicals affected you? Have you had any strange visions since then? Has your behavior changed?” the man inquired.
“No, not at all.” She lied.
“That’s good to hear,” he replied, although the fakeness and raised tone of his voice indicated he was searching for something more. “So, ever see anything strange on Ikijoji street, perhaps at night, walking home from Ichigari Grocery?” The man leaned his body over the armrest to look back at Apricot. He lowered his glasses to reveal his dark brown eyes.
The words were like daggers into Apricot. “I fell there a few weeks ago,” Apricot replied while trying to maintain a cool demeanor. “Nothing other than that.”
The man raised his glasses back, chewing with his closed mouth. “Nothing out of the ordinary? You did not see any monsters, right?”
“Monsters? What do you mean by monsters? I heard about the murders if that is what you mean. “I saw nothing,” Apricot said, feeling her palms sweat.
Everyone in the car seems almost inanimate, except for the man. “Funny thing…I noticed you purchased a copy of the Erie Truth’s Monthly recently. It’s a bit strange that you bought it out of the blue. Isn’t it, Miss Signa?”
“I was recently shown an issue by a friend of mine. As a journalist, I find them entertaining.” These guys knew everything about her, Apricot realized. As her breath became shallow, she felt as if her throat was about to close on her.
“You wouldn’t have been trying to buy a gun at a store called Bullseye’s, would you?“ he asked, holding up a piece of paper. The page featured several screenshots taken from a security camera, captured in grainy, low-resolution photos. “I think you did. You really had that shop owner tangled up.”
Apricot nodded. “I was doing an investigation into illegal gun trades.”
“Well, it sounds like you’re a persistent journalist, aren’t you? Doing some investigative reporting on the ground. I like that kind of reporting. Recently, I read about something similar. Actually, I think it was by you.”
“By me?” Apricot asked.
“Yes, about being a hostage. You don’t have to be reminded of it. You must have had a traumatic experience.” he says. “Well, it seems you don’t remember much, so let me remind you. It’s time to stop your investigation. We considered Chino Tokuma’s visit to be the final straw. Furthermore, you broke into a restricted area, Eastway Park, which you probably learned about from that magazine you got. We wanted you to know, Miss Signa, that we are keeping an eye on you.”
Apricot didn’t even notice the events that followed. One moment she was in the back of an anonymous government car and the next she stood on the sidewalk of Tsungdung street staring off, surrounded by people who had no idea what she was going through. The smells and sounds faded as a phone rested against her ear.
“Hello,” said a gruff male voice over the line.
“Arjun, are you off duty?” Apricot heard the quiver in her own voice.
“Apricot?” Arjun replied, his voice trembling with concern.
“Come get me now, please.” She sniffled.
As Lady Kyo gazed from the private balcony of a crowded theater, she exclaimed, “Isn’t it beautiful?” She held the red Azoth in her hand as it gazed back at her. A red-eye, now bare, rolled from side to side. “My baby… a new world will be born for you,” she whispered. In expensive fatigues, an elderly gentleman sits upright opposite her. Several people in black suits surround the two with their arms folded.
Kyo’s own thoughts, as she stares at the thing, drown out the song of an opera singer. She shows the Azoth to the man next to her. “I believe you are now the master of the Okabe family. Given these circumstances, I doubt anyone would object to your ascendancy. Tell me what you have planned for your newly acquired position.”
The jewel was the only thing Kyo paid attention to while she ignored the man’s questions. “Tell me, Hegia, how long have our ancestors been seeking this. How do you interpret it? Take a look around you. We are the privileged few who can really appreciate it. A sense of calm. Take a look at her down there. “Young, brilliant, and beautiful,” Kyo said, turning her attention to the opera singer. “What does her talent mean to you?”
Hegia smirked. “I suppose you will tell me?”
“No. Not at all. Doesn’t matter. All things considered. It won’t save her.” She glanced at Hegia without moving her face. “To answer your question, does it matter if I tell you? It won’t make a difference to you anyway.”
Hegia stiffened, raising a hand to fix his collar. “Lady Kyo?”
“The new world needs none of us. It only needs a mother, and she too can die in labor.” Kyo mused. While he tried to maintain his composure, the look on his face showed his discomfort. Rocking in his seat, he swallowed hard. “All the people in this room are already dead. They just aren’t aware of it yet. The coming age will sacrifice all of us. Just like the previous worlds did. What power do I have then?”
“You envision a new world left to be decided by chance? Who will guide this new world if the nobility is absent?”
Lady Kyo chuckled “You disappoint me Hegia, there is always order out of chaos.”
“The hidden hand guides in that chaos.” Hegia lashed out.
“Foolish Hegia, the hidden hand, has never been the nobility. We simply serve at his pleasure.” With the singer’s song finished, the audience began to applaud. Hegia felt a burning sting across his neck and opened his eyes. An immediate feeling of coldness swept over him as he glanced up to see an agent with a bloody knife. “Goodbye Hegia.” Kyo stood up and an agent placed a black fur cloak around her shoulders.
As the crowd’s applause died down, Lady Kyo glanced at Hegia, whose final shakes had left him. “You are not a worthy sacrifice. We both know what you are after. Hagia, you are the last traitor. You planned to kill me tonight. It wouldn’t be right to throw me off the balcony to save the world. Regardless, the world would be doomed. You have benefited from our work for centuries. Hegia, how old are you? How many lives have prolonged yours? Sadly, the praetorian guard has been slain with you. As you spend your last moments, please appreciate this,” she told Hegia as he closed his eyes for the last time.
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