Chapter 11:


Next to Me

"You ruined me! Ruined me, ruined me, ruined me!" she cried, her face warped in anger as Celesta kept her inhuman grip on the thin strip of metal known as the door handle. She reached for the professor as he swiftly stepped away from the door, causing her to collide with the carpeted floor of the condo.

The professor tore open another melon bread packet and bit into the green contents as Celesta rose unsteadily. Her human body trembled at the shoulders, while her blue-grey eyes were dull as they bore into first the professor, then his son.

"I improved you. Even you thought that initially, Catarina," he mumbled, somewhat scornfully, through mouthfuls of bread.

"Don't call me that, Koichiro! In case you haven't noticed, I hate how you and your wife decided to take advantage of me while I was drunk!" she screamed, running to the TV and tearing out the cables in a shower of white-hot sparks. Satoshi could only watch as the spot on her right arm raised itself, like a camera lens, to be a matching port for one intact cable...and she stabbed it in.

Just as Satoshi noticed Nova standing in the emergency hallway, the body of Catarina Morgansen was abandoned, her AI consciousness travelling through the cable and into the power system. A familiar concert tune - Vivaldi's Spring - began to play as the AI gained its bearings in the system.

Satoshi couldn't tell why the song was there, but he hypothesised in that moment that Catarina and Celesta had gone too far in their fusion, blurring digital and human memory...

"I don't want to be trapped by all those so-called 'enhancements' you gave me, and I figured this was the best way to escape!" declared a digital voice - barely discernible as Celesta's, since it was coupled with static - over the top of Spring.  

The professor ran to scattered panels hidden in the white walls, opening each one with a frenzied clatter which added to the cacophony. As if they were alive, the volume knob on the speakers behind each panel began to turn on their own...

Nova bundled Satoshi in her arms, taking flight out the window once again before the situation became too dire.

Surely enough, once they were safely out of the condominium and a short distance away, the blue-tinted windows trembled with the noise and suddenly, there was an earsplitting ka-boom! as the audio equipment exceeded its limit, causing the entire condo to explode.

The bicoloured glass flew everywhere, and since Nova still hadn't perfected her flight, she had to keep flying further outwards to avoid the stray shards. Satoshi kept his head close to Nova's body to dodge the glass, noticing despite all her robotic capabilities, she still had a heartbeat and hence body heat.

She's quite warm, he thought in the heat of the moment, not really aware of the fact he'd propped his head up against her breasts.

If this weren't a life-or-death situation, he would have almost certainly been chastised and maybe even hit for his troubles, but instead, he wanted to stay rescued by Nova for as long as possible.
When they touched down in Shinjuku Gyoen, the gravity of the situation hit Satoshi hard and he scrambled out of her arms, suddenly red-faced.

"W-What happened to my dad?" he spluttered to break the awkward silence, noticing people were staring and pointing at Nova. At her inhuman qualities.

"I don't know, but we'll have to go back and check," Nova reasoned, sliding her wings into a surreptitious position before anyone could take pictures. When she stood up, the midday sun shone on to her, making it obvious her all-black clothing had become covered in dirt stains and tiny glittering shards of leftover glass.

Once again, Nova shines, but nobody understands her...Satoshi thought, thinking back to a few years ago when he'd encountered some girls their age scribbling on her desk with black permanent marker.

'What are you doing?' he'd asked, only to be ignored. The squeaking of the pen had filled the air with anxiety...

However, Nova had come along and, even though she had been clearly shocked by what those girls were in the process of doing, she had gone to the responsible teacher and reported it.

That was some bravery no Japanese person could have ever done.

"-toshi. Satoshi," Nova uttered, shaking him so much he could feel his skeleton rattle. His legs ached slightly from where the glass had severed his clothing and cut him, but the strongest pain was the redness of his face and the residual adrenaline rushing through him. "Let's go."

As she turned her back to him, he was suddenly reminded of the endless trek up to Shinjuku and the moon.

The beautiful moon, and how it had made Nova's wings glimmer so enticingly.

"Aren't you coming with me? You're not hurt, are you?" she grumbled somewhat flatly, almost acting like her former self.

"The moon," he finally managed to mumble ineloquently. "The moon was beautiful that night."

"Isn't that a reference to one of your Japanese authors?" Nova wondered, hearing it despite how quiet he was, then finally she got the reference.

Her face reddened to match his.
---- Author's Note ----
For the uninitiated, this last part about the moon is an alteration to Tsuki ga kirei desune?, a Natsume Souseki quote which holds the implied meaning of "I love you." (I would've quoted the show Tsukigakirei here, but I didn't remember a quote from the show off the top of my head.)

James K.
You can resume reading from this paragraph.