Chapter 16:

Rage Against the Machine Pt. II

Half-Paid Heroes

The youth was twenty-one - no longer a boy's age at all - when he was once again subjected to things he didn't want. At this time, he was aware he was part of some fake company the gang - his superiors, whose associates were yakuza - had created, but it wasn't as glamorous as the media made it seem.

As for what he was doing with this "company", there was a heavily technological procedure he didn't quite understand called "skill grafting", in which selective memories of one person would be forcibly transferred into the body of another. It was going to happen in some faraway city, but he never really got to enjoy himself in the stuffy passenger plane or the sardine-can-like bus that got him to the dusty desert site. It was just too darn hot.

The copper machine malfunctioned with an ear-shattering BOOM! almost immediately after he had a visor placed on his face and nodes positioned on his temples. A shard of metal lodged itself within the youth's torso, blurring his vision and reducing his capability to dodge the falling charred debris around him. He started to splutter in the rapidly-burning wreck of the quickly-emptied experimental building. The air smelt heavily of oil as the flames engulfed the charred machine and when he licked his pallid lips, he discovered a steaming-hot liquid on his face - more oil.

It was almost as if his superiors had planned this to happen.

When the local police finally came on to the scene a few days later, the youth was already gone. He knew that they wouldn't believe him. Or rather, they didn't want to believe him, since his superiors had the power to silence even them.

No matter how much he'd tried to be useful, in the end he was nothing but useless.
As if fortune wished to laugh in his face once more, he managed to live after that. It was a excruciatingly painful existence, powered by adrenaline and sheer force of will.

The youth had made his escape to a grassy spot near a dried-up husk of a lake - he swore he lost consciousness at least twice before he got there - and tended to his wounds as best he could without any proper medical items. However, he was no longer able to eat due to the lodged shard and the sudden shock had robbed him of his will to communicate.

Suddenly, crunches of rocks under people's feet - the separate sounds were sometimes significantly different to each other, meaning there was definitely more than one person - made the youth clamber to his feet as quickly as he could.

It was his love interest, holding the tiny hand of an infant who could have only been a few months old, and a bespectacled male he'd never met before, seemingly her fraternal twin. In the male's hands was an assortment of items - rings, bracelets, necklaces and a copper wire, which the youth recognised as being part of the machine he was still stuck to.

He struggled to his feet and reached out to toss the wire away. An invisible force simultaneously slugged this "twin", sending him backwards with a shout and causing the objects he was holding to fly everywhere.

"Akihisa!" the lady cried towards her relative, sweeping her silken skirt into her grip as she set her child down and ran to Akihisa's aid.

"Nadeshiko, I'm not quite sure what happened to him, but I think I'll be able to find out somehow," Akihisa told her in a language the youth couldn't understand, but he recognised it. It was the language of his parents.

The youth squinted at Akihisa, only to find the bespectacled man - who could not have been much older than himself - was gripping his arm. The bone that made up Akihisa's forearm was exposed to the elements, almost cleanly removed from inside the flesh.

The youth tried reaching for the copper wire again, with similar results.

"Chojabaru-san, stop it!" Nadeshiko begged him after seeing Akihisa beaten up, his glasses askew.

Chojabaru - the lost boy, the battered youth - heaved in a wheezing breath before realising this strange turn of events had brought back his will to speak. "I-I don't know how I'm doing it. I've never once come into physical contact with Akihisa!" he spluttered, trying to reason with Nadeshiko as he sat himself back down, the shard of metal still giving him trouble.

"Wait, Nadeshiko," Akihisa interjected. "Do you still have those calcium tablets?"

Chojabaru - Yuki - looked on, puzzled, as Nadeshiko disappeared into the distance for a moment. She returned with a leather handbag in one hand, an opaque blue bottle of pills in the other, and at Akihisa's request, she put the bottle a distance away from herself.

"I have a suspicion your power is not to control people. The force you applied to me was acting upon my bones, not my entire body," Akihisa explained succinctly, adjusting the bridge of his tortoiseshell glasses with one finger.

Chojabaru reached out once again and certainly enough, the bottle of pills moved around at his command.

"Chojabaru, was it?" Akihisa swept into an impromptu bow that showed his geographic origins were similar to those of Yuki's own, then stepped a bit closer and extended his hand (the one attached to his uninjured arm). "If you like, I'll be able to disregard your criminal background and start anew."

Chojabaru scowled at him, crossing his arms as best he could without disturbing the piece of metal stuck in him, before reasoning, "There's got to be a catch."

"I've been permitted by this country's government to study the superpowers that started appearing five years ago, and I can use any front that I want. My choice of front is 'a business'." With this, the bespectacled man drew in close, allowing Yuki to get a whiff of some scent that was like freshly-cut wood, and gave one of those enigmatic smiles that seemed to disguise inner pain.

Yuki Chojabaru tipped his half-shaven head toward the sky, where the stars were only just making their presence known in the rapidly cooling night, and then shook his head.

"I don't think that position's for me. Even if I did accept it, I wouldn't act like a proper businessman-"

"We can help you with that. All that and more," Nadeshiko told him, her long dark hair almost disguised against the inky black sky as it whipped around in the wind. Despite the fact it was very windy, her child was still almost asleep in his position on the ground so she picked him up and disappeared once more into the night.

Gerry Hines