Chapter 23:

Second Chances


When Yukio gained consciousness, he was already surrounded by a bunch of people. Most of them were familiar faces, but some unfamiliar ones were peeking from the back as well.
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“Is he really awake?”Bookmark here

“He is!”Bookmark here

Suddenly most of the unfamiliar faces became prominent, as they pushed the others from behind to see him. He never had the experience of being mobbed, but this was likely as close as it could get.Bookmark here

“Hey! What are you doing? This is a hospital! Clear the room right now!” A familiar female voice shouted.Bookmark here

Slowly the people started disappearing. When there were just four people left in the room, one of them came near him and said, “Hello, Yukio. My name is Tamura Daisuke.”Bookmark here

The man was wearing a nice-looking dark suit, a stark departure from the other three; even Tetsuya Megumi was wearing a plain, white skirt today.Bookmark here

Tamura Daisuke.Bookmark here

He remembered that kid he met, also named Tamura. Sugi also told him that Amanda was adopted by the Tamuras.Bookmark here

“You can think of me as the financier of Minus Plus. Our family has been a part of the group ever since its beginning. Anyway, I wanted to meet you the night you first came to us, but couldn’t be there in time. Then the attack happened… I’m sure you understand. But I don’t think it’s too late to have a proper talk with you. Especially after what you did.”Bookmark here

What was he getting at? He wasn’t asking how Yukio saved them, or thanking him. Is this what’s called ‘diplomacy’?Bookmark here

Yukio was completely awake now, his senses alert. The four people who surrounded him were all from Minus Plus (which was sort of expected, considering what he did). But like he said to Tetsuya Kiyoshi, he didn’t do it for them.Bookmark here

Tetsuya Kiyoshi.Bookmark here

He realized what he needed to tell them.Bookmark here

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After he told them everything, Tetsuya Megumi started to cry. She was being supported by Kichiro-san.Bookmark here

“I knew it… I knew he was alive…”Bookmark here

“I know where he is as well. If you want, I can take you there. But I hope you understand why he can’t come back to Earth.”Bookmark here

She was going to say something else, when Yukio cut her short.Bookmark here

“Did you take care of the Xoris?”Bookmark here

They had. And it was mostly due to Amanda, who Jumped to a lot of places in a very short duration of time and warned everyone about the broadcast. And their TDs. By the time the broadcast started, every Tract on Earth knew about it.Bookmark here

It really is a convenient power, Yukio thought.Bookmark here

Expectedly, Kawata Minori had disappeared. As well as many other Tracts who were in key positions of power. And the weird thing was, none of them were reachable; when someone tried to Jump near them, they ended up at places where they met those people. It baffled everyone, until Sumeragi Sensei concluded the obvious.Bookmark here

They could change their shapes. They killed the people they needed to become, and then waited for the right moment to strike.Bookmark here

Yukio wasn’t surprised, as he expected something along the lines as well. Kawata Minori and the others were not new members (other than Yukio, there were no new members), and there was just one explanation of how they could infiltrate Minus Plus so well.Bookmark here

“So… there weren’t any casualties?” Yukio asked in a matter-of-fact way.Bookmark here

“None.” It was Amanda who answered. She had been sitting in a chair near his legs the whole time.Bookmark here

She didn’t look anything like the emotionless Amanda he encountered in her apartment. Or that suicidal Amanda in the factory. She just looked… normal. Albeit a bit sad.Bookmark here

“Good.”Bookmark here

Yukio directed his gaze towards the ceiling.Bookmark here

The truth was, he told them almost everything. He left out the part where he was taken in by the Barogs, or where Kiyoshi mentioned Sugi. He also had to exclude the part where Amanda took her life; he just told them he was so angry that he tore a hole in reality, which wasn’t far from the truth.Bookmark here

Because even though he saved the world, nothing has changed. Tetsuya Megumi hasn’t suddenly reformed, and he doubted whether it would happen even if she met with her husband. And she was still the person who tried to get rid of him until yesterday.Bookmark here

“Listen, Yukio,” Tamura Daisuke started talking like a ‘diplomat’ again, “We really are sorry for how we’ve treated you. It would’ve been better to be honest with you from the start, tell you about the dangers you can bring to Earth. But as I said, I don’t believe it’s too late. You have my personal assurance that from now on, no one will-”Bookmark here

“Please stop.” Yukio said, clearly irritated.Bookmark here

“Huh?” He was definitely not expecting that response.Bookmark here

“I feel tired. I want to sleep now. Can you please leave me alone for a bit?” Yukio tried to be as polite as possible.Bookmark here

“Of course,” Kichiro Sakue finally opened her mouth, “I think he has told us enough for now, and he should rest. After doing time travel for such a long time… if he wasn’t a Natural, it would’ve killed him.”Bookmark here

Tamura Daisuke bowed hesitantly and took his leave, promising to return again soon. Amanda also left with Kichiro-san, after giving him a smile. It was only the leader left in the room now.Bookmark here

“Yukio, I know you have no reason to trust us. We did try to kill you. But you know what? What I did, what I’ve always done, is to protect our group, and to protect Earth. We don’t know why the Xoris chose the Earth for conquest, but it’s not hard to understand, is it? After all, they did take only you and Midori as hostages.”Bookmark here

Yukio realized that as well.Bookmark here

“I can only promise you what Tamura-san already did. None of us will try to harm you again. If you don’t want to be a part of our group, we’ll leave you be. But we’ll still need to keep an eye on you, for both your good and ours. And obviously, if you want to join us, you’re more than welcome. We’ll treat you as a proper member this time.”Bookmark here

So basically, you’re grateful for what I did, but not sorry for what you did.Bookmark here

The more he looked at this woman, who he once thought to be a gentle, kind person, the more he hated her.Bookmark here

“When you get well, I will be back. If Kiyoshi really doesn’t approve of my actions, I need to hear that directly from him. Oh, and also, it would be much appreciated if you kept the ‘time travel’ thing to yourself. As Kiyoshi told you, it’s not common knowledge. We told the others that you encountered the Xoris, escaped, and then told Amanda about their plan. I’d like it if you stick to that story as well.”Bookmark here

The last sentences were nothing if not instructions. This woman still thought she had some sort of power over him, that he would listen to whatever she says.Bookmark here

Yukio believed Sugi now. The Xoris might’ve been a dangerous enemy, but in the long term, an enemy who was far more formidable was currently standing in front of him now.Bookmark here

With a smile, the leader said, “See you soon, Yukio.”Bookmark here

After she disappeared, he finally realized that she no longer called him ‘Takanashi’.Bookmark here

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Yukio was lying on his bed, his head full of different kinds of thoughts, when someone appeared beside him.Bookmark here

Without even looking at their direction, he knew who it was.Bookmark here

“Good evening, Sugi.”Bookmark here

Before Sugi could open his mouth, Yukio said, “I haven’t told them anything about our meeting. Just said that after killing the Tiztaanian, I took shelter in a house, learned about Kanuna, and then confronted Amanda. And I have no interest in telling them anything else.”Bookmark here

With a breath of relief, Sugi came near him. “So… what are you going to do now? Have you decided anything?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I have,” Yukio looked at him, “I am going to stay here. I’ll join them, continue my school, and I plan to visit my family soon. But do not think that I’m ever going to forgive them. The reason I’ll join them is because I do not want to be left in the dark when they plot something again.”Bookmark here

“But… I don’t think…” Sugi was unsure about what to say.Bookmark here

“When I’m better, I want you to take me to your leader. Meanwhile, keep the ring. Tell them I’m giving it to them as a token of goodwill. You have already helped me more than once. I promise you, I will help you in any way I can.”Bookmark here

If Sugi had any more doubts, he kept them to himself. After asking a few mundane questions about his health, he said he was going back to Kanuna.Bookmark here

“Say hello to Wei for me. Also, thank you.”Bookmark here

“Sure. Bye.”Bookmark here

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After some time, Yukio fell asleep. And this time, there were no more nightmares.Bookmark here

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The next day, after Yukio was done with lunch, Amanda came to visit him.Bookmark here

She was alone this time. She brought a flower bouquet, and after leaving it on a table, she took a chair and sat beside him, squeezing his hands.Bookmark here

She didn’t say anything yesterday. Likewise, she was completely silent today. Yukio knows that she is good at showing fake emotions. Then what was that constrained look at her face?Bookmark here

Is she… trying to show her real emotions this time?Bookmark here

He remembered the girl who blurted out everything that was on her mind, before taking out a gun and pointing it at her head. He also remembered the girl with the dead eyes, who didn’t even flinch when Yukio grabbed her.Bookmark here

Which one of them was the real her?Bookmark here

Yukio put his hand over hers.Bookmark here

The question was pointless.Bookmark here

Both of them were the same person. It was the same person who deceived him, tried to take him out. Even if deep down she had feelings for him, Yukio knew that it won’t stop her from fulfilling her objectives.Bookmark here

Just like it didn’t when she sent him to his death in Kanuna.Bookmark here

The girl sitting beside him was someone he could never trust, no matter how hard she tries to be honest with him.Bookmark here

And that is precisely why he needed to keep her at arm’s length.Bookmark here

Putting as much warmth in his voice as possible, Yukio whispered, “Hey.”Bookmark here

“Hey.” She responded, breaking her silence.Bookmark here

“Let’s make a club.”Bookmark here

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Earth 2.0Bookmark here

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The Xoris, formerly known as Kawata Minori, was pacing nervously. He and several others like him were at a building with holes on its roof, its windows and doors long gone. It was the same building that Yukio discovered while on Earth 2.0.Bookmark here

Suddenly, a device in his arm beeped. After a bit of frantic scrambling, he tapped a button and answered the call. After nodding a few times on the call, he turned around and addressed the others.Bookmark here

“The Supreme Leader has ordered you to leave. He says not to think that we have failed. Through our actions, we have gained valuable insights about Earth, and its inhabitants. The next time, we shall hit them harder than ever.”Bookmark here

The other ones, all of them wearing their robes but without their masks, started whispering among themselves. Before their sounds could reach an objectionable level, Kawata shouted, “Are there any problems?”Bookmark here

“No, Sir,” one of them mustered the courage to speak up, “We were just thinking how they knew about our plan. If they spied on us, surely we should make sure that it never happens again? Otherwise…”Bookmark here

“Your concern is valid,” their leader, also known as Kawata Minori, said in a deep voice, “But do not think that the Supreme Leader has not thought about it. After that threat is eliminated, we shall have another chance to prove ourselves.”Bookmark here

“Yes, Sir. As you say.”Bookmark here

Within a few seconds, everyone disappeared. Except the deformed creature once known as Kawata Minori.Bookmark here

“My Lord, I have some questions.” The call wasn’t disconnected.Bookmark here

“What is it?” said the person on the other end.Bookmark here

“I… I just do not understand some of your instructions. You instructed me to bring the kid here, at our meeting place. You also told me to leave the Silver Ring of the Meredies, something so powerful it can decide the outcome of wars. May I ask what was your intention?”Bookmark here

“You may not.” The voice sounded angry, “Say, did the plan fail because the kid defeated all of you with the power of the ring?”Bookmark here

“No, that is not-”Bookmark here

“Then it hardly matters, does it? Or are you saying you should disobey my orders?”Bookmark here

“Absolutely not, My Lord. I am… I beg your forgiveness.”Bookmark here

“You shall have it this time. Now leave me alone.”Bookmark here

After the call ended, Kawata Minori looked at the phone for a few seconds, his emotions unreadable. Then he clutched it tightly, and disappeared.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.