Chapter 3:



“You told Chiyo!?”

Not exactly the tone that I wanted to be greeted with during the beginning of a new school day. Aria Kanbaru, the idol of the third years (robotic-chick in disguise) was waiting for me on the foyer of Echo High School’s main building. She stood with her back straight, leaning against the wall that was adjacent to the first flight of stairs- arms crossed, gaze cold. Once I entered, she beelined towards me with an intimidating expression. Next thing I know she was grilling me for something that eluded me. This was the way that I was treated after risking my life to help her?

I didn’t even get to put on my indoor shoes yet.

All the students around the foyer were staring in our direction, whispers starting to propagate here and there - a sure-tell sign of the masses of Echo speculating and beginning to generate rumors that would eventually be distorted, or perhaps that were distorted from the beginning.

I gave Aria an expression that was hinting at the fact that we were being gawked at. She quickly picked up on my expression and, after looking around to confirm it for herself, she cleared her throat and let out a tittering laugh.

Not wanting to draw more attention to herself, I’m sure, she just walked away nonchalantly. As I watched her walk away, her long streaking blue hair close to grazing the floor, I had a feeling that she would find me again today to give me more of an earful.

“Ishibashi park.”


“ 8:11 p.m”


“Citizen neural chip reading.”


The man, reading off the details of the single DIA violent deviation case that had been placed on his desk in easily a couple of months, sunk deeper into his large leather chair. Huffing on his cigar, he puffed the smoke that he had held in and spread it - as if having been generous with his sharing- among his acolytes.

“You know sir, Lata isn’t good for you.” came the voice of one of his acolytes, a spry looking young man with dark eyes and a voice with a youthful inflection.

“And furthermore, we have someone detained. This person is being accused of having started the violent outbreak.” the man continued

“... besides there have been plenty of studies that have shown that even with the most sophisticated of neuro-chips, the components in Lata can still negatively affect yo-”

The man banged his fist on the round table, cutting off the train of thought of his young trainee.

“Y-yes sir.” one of the other members of the meeting yelped.

The young spry trainee wasn’t amused, as he glared at his boss.

After a couple of more puffs, and a room that was filled with merely silence and smoke, the man finally spoke up.

“Shinya, you’re with me.” the man stated, standing up and walking with surprising speed towards the door that led outside of the board room. Despite his age, his speed made it seem as if he had wheels underneath him.

“On it sir!” the spry young man, Shinya, replied with excitement

“Someone pull up the profile of the person whose neuro chip was read by the siren system.” the man stated loudly as he was already walking on the hallway adjacent to the board room that he had just exited.

The man started musing over the case in front of him. It seemed that the siren system was only able to pick up on one person’s neural readings. All of the violent deviation cases that he had been a part of, which weren’t many telling of New Tokyo’s scarce crime rate, the siren system had picked up directly on the perpetrator’s first. It wasn’t uncommon for other readings from witnesses to also alert the system, but that always happened after. Why had the siren system not picked up on the perpetrator’s thought patterns? Did the siren system malfunction, or…

“Inspector Tanaka, you’re lost in thought again.” Shinya pointed out

Ignoring his young acolyte, Tanaka continued to think. Eventually they hit an elevator, got inside, and waited to get to the basement level of their facility - the level where they housed the scarce number of detainees that they had.

“Inspector, it’s one thing to not like me and another to ignore me entirely.”

“I don’t dislike you, Shinya. Stay focused.”

“That doesn’t mean you do like me though.”

The elevator’s doors open and the two men were immediately met with security. After telepathing their IDs they headed towards a hallway that contained various rooms with glass viewing windows. Heading towards the deeper portions of the hallway, they finally made it to their destination.

From the perspective of the glass viewing window of the room that they were about to enter, the menacing man that had attacked Aria could be seen sitting on a chair that had a large steel table adjacent to it. The man’s eye - seeing that his left eye had been blasted to smithereens, was closed and he was leaning back on his chair as if taking a casual nap.

“Oh wow, that’s not something you see every day. An A.I gone rogue?” Shinya asked excitedly.

“Stay alert, kid. This isn’t any old case.”

After knocking, the two investigators entered the interrogation room promptly. The injured unidentified man didn’t open his eye to the sound of the door opening.

After clearing his throat, Tanaka spoke up.

“We came to ask you some questions pertaining to the crime you have been accused of committing.” the inspector stated as he sat on the chair that was directly facing the man across the steel table. Shinya followed suit, sitting on the chair next to Inspector Tanaka.

The man didn’t respond, still having his eye closed as if he was taking a relaxing evening nap.

“Hey you freak, he’s tal-”

“I’m sure you have already noticed the cable that we have plugged into your head” Tanaka stated, pointing to the cable that stretched from the menacing man’s head all the way towards one of the outlets near one of the edges of the room.

The menacing man still didn’t open his eye, his breath light as a feather.

Tanaka sighed. “There are two reasons why we plugged that cable into your head. The first one being on the off chance that you would be able to get unrestrained from the handcuffs that are tied to the titanium chair you're sitting on, and then choosing to be “uncooperative”.”

Still not having gotten a response, Tanaka continued.

“Of course, “uncooperative” can be interpreted in different ways. Direct physical violence need not be the only way to be uncooperative.”

At that the man gritted his teeth, tensing his facial muscles. Due to his lacerations, the skin on his face seemed to be more like a mask that was hiding his robotic features. Trying not to appear as if he was backed into a corner, he soon loosened his expression, choosing to sport a smile that was anything but emblematic of friendliness.

“How can I be of service?” he asked sarcastically, having finally opened the only eye that he had left on his face.

He was able to get him to talk without directly threatening him? Holy crap… I should take notes! Shinya thought to himself. His eyes were beaming with admiration as he was watching his chief inspector engage in, what he thought of as, a smooth interrogation.

“I’ll spare you all of the details as to what the charges that are pressed against you are. I’m sure that you already have a good enough idea as to what those might be. What I really want to know…”

Tanaka pulled out a transparent bag from one of the pouches of his carry-on. The menacing man’s eyes went wide when he saw that inside the transparent bag were the green crystals that he had extracted from Aria’s robotic arm.

“It seems like that caught your interest huh, freak!?” Shinya stated loudly, as if having won one over the man his chief inspector was interrogating.

“First, and this should be really simple if you do not pretend as if you don’t know what I am talking about, why did the siren system not read your deviation thought patterns?”

“Deviation thought patterns?” the menacing man replied, genuinely confused.

“Don’t act dumb you little prick?!” Shinya stated, grabbing the menacing man by the collar.

“Stop, boy!” Tanaka ordered, grabbing Shinya by the shoulders and forcing him down into his chair.

“Yes sir…” Shinya managed, like a school boy who had been forced to stand in the corner after having acted like a troublemaker.

Tanaka sighed. “Do you seriously not know what I’m referring to?”

Suddenly, the menacing man thought back to something that he was told about the 2nd caste. He had written it off a while ago given that his body didn’t contain the sorts of computing systems that would alert a crime detection system in the 2nd caste. He hadn’t thought about the contingency of someone else’s neuro-chip, a citizen from the 2nd caste’s, potentially alerting the siren system of the crime that he was plotting. A small rage boiled inside him as in retrospect he realized that there had been a flaw in his plan that was so blatantly obvious. For a second, he thought to himself that perhaps he wasn’t cut out to carry on his own business independently of any organization. Just as quickly as that thought popped into his mind, another thought superseded that doubt.

To hell with that, he thought to himself.

The man decided to feign ignorance.

“No, I don’t.”

“Very well, now onto the next question. These crystals right here. We found them among your belongings after you were detained. What are they?”

The man chose not to respond, averting his gaze. Those crystals were way too important to risk any sort of 2nd caste governmental authority to understand them better. Plus, he wasn’t the type of person to be able to think shrewdly on the fly.

Tanaka sighed.

“I always hate when we have to do this but…”

Tanaka signaled to a camera that was on one of the ceiling corners.

Expecting an electric shock, the man flinched slightly. After a couple of seconds, however, it had become clear to him that what the inspector called “an electrical shock” hardly felt like that at all.

To Tanaka and Shinya’s great surprise, the robotic man in front of them was unfazed. Reading their facial expressions, the man felt a newfound confidence and wore an arrogant mein as he stared down the two inspectors.

Shinya leaned over to Inspector Tanaka.

“Inspector, isn’t that electric shock supposed to be, you know, intense?”

Even though Shinya was pointing out the obvious, to Tanaka there was something about his scatter-brained trainee pointing out the predicament that they found themselves in that made the intensity of the situation that much more salient. Whoever they were dealing with was clearly not a human - at least not the sorts of humans that Tanaka was used to dealing with.

Tanaka stood up slowly, which was followed by Shinya following suit quickly.

Tanaka started walking towards the door that led outside of the interrogation room.

“You might find that our tactics are rather feeble, but soon enough we’ll implant a neuro-chip inside your neo-cortex. We’ll be able to read your thoughts no matter how strong your constitution is. I would suggest that if you don’t want to delay your trial, that you speak up soon.”

Reading thoughts, huh? The menacing man was told that that was illegal in the 2nd caste, with the exception of the sorts of general thought patterns that could be read by the siren systems that were strictly for alerting officers to the scene of violent crime.

“Oh, you’re bluffing aren’t you. Reading thoughts in the way you described is illegal here.” the menacing man stated haughtily. Unbeknownst to Tanaka and Shinya, of course what the man meant by “here” was the 2nd caste.

“That is what a lot of people think, isn’t that right?” Tanaka asked rhetorically. His tone had been casual enough for his statement to seem at face value to not be important enough to warrant worry. However the implication of that rhetorical question made the menacing man’s confidence start to dip once again. He gritted his teeth. Wasn’t he dealing with just law enforcement?

Shinya and Tanaka stepped out of the interrogation room.

“Haha, inspector! That was pretty good! Way to scare him by lying to him, maybe that’ll make him fess up.”

“Right…” Tanaka stated.

There were plenty of things that a trainee of his rank was bound not to know, Tanaka thought to himself.

Once the two men reached the elevators, the elevator door opened without them having called it.

A tall, slender woman was inside of the elevator.

“Chief Inspector Tanaka. Inspector Shinya.” she stated with the same sort of professional tone that she imbued seemingly all of her statements with.

“M-makoto!” Shinya stated, his voice cracking and his face slightly reddish.

Tanaka smacked Shinya’s back prompting him to get inside the elevator. As both men got inside, Shinya positioned himself intentionally as far away from Makoto as possible, using Tanaka as a shield.

Makoto pretended not to notice, not wanting to break her professionalism.

“Here sir.” she stated, handing Tanaka a manilla folder.

“What is this?” Tanaka asked

“The file that you asked one of your trainee’s to pull up earlier. The one related to the latest violent deviation investigation.”

“Ah, the one about the citizen neural-chip reading? You could have just telepathed it.” Tanaka stated, as he leafed through the report.

“I wanted to deliver it to you personally, sir.” Makoto stated, ever the professional.

On the top right of the front page of the report was a squared picture of the girl whose neuro-chip had been read by the siren system on that fateful day.

“Chiyo Amagi, huh?”

As the day went on it became increasingly clear to me that I had no obligation to associate with Aria Kanabru. Sure, I ended up helping her whenever that cyborg tried to attack us, but anyone with any sense would have done that. Even if it was strange that she managed to break into my house, and that she had a robotic arm, and that she claimed that different “portions”of New Tokyo existed- all of that was moot to my life. Simply put, it was too much of a bother and I didn’t need that sort of burden in my life.

Just as I had decided to take the path of a true energy conservationist, I felt someone flick my ear with the tip of an eraser.

I turned around, and even though I was 100 percent certain that I knew who was being such a nuisance, I was still unbelievably annoyed when I caught sight of her smug face.

“Can you pass down the papers already, bozo?” came the high pitched voice of a girl that, as far as I was concerned, was nothing but trouble. She, or Hori to be exact, was reacting to me not having passed the printouts that our teacher had placed on my desk for me to pass down to the row behind me. It might have been my fault for daydreaming instead of passing the printouts, but that still didn’t warrant her flicking my ear.

She was the type of girl that wouldn’t listen to reason though, choosing instead to use her acid tongue to destroy any sense of self worth that you had if she happened to disagree with you. Not to mention her bad habit of not being able to keep her hands to herself. To paint an accurate picture, think of a toxic streamer’s chat, but condensed into a single pig-tailed high school girl.

She was the only girl in the class who wore her winter coat wrapped around her waist- breaking dress code- and who wore a skirt that was more than a couple of inches too short-also breaking dress code. That didn’t even include the various dress code violations that were associated with her excessive make up. As any high school student could guess, a girl of her characteristics was bound to be “popular”. Interestingly enough , she seemed to be the complete opposite of the type of ideal honor’s student popularity that Aria’s persona exuded.

What is probably most surprising out of all of this though, is that Hori was Yosuke’s girlfriend.

Don’t ask me to explain that one to you, because I myself still don’t understand it. You would think to yourself that your friend’s girlfriend would choose to be nice to you, but in Hori’s case it seemed at times as if she was pursuing the complete opposite.

“So are you just going to stare at me or what, creep?”

“Yeah, yeah!” I replied, passing the printouts to her, leading her to rip them off of my outstretched hand letting out a haughty “hmph!”.

Before I would have said that she was the type of girl that I was referring to when I was describing girls that were completely dichotomous from the idealization of Aria Kanbaru that I had just a day prior… but it turns out that girls with acid tongues were a dime a dozen. Maybe I should be glad that she was sitting behind me instead of Aria. A simple acid tongue I can handle, but if you match that with superhuman strength and a persecution complex- that’s when I call it quits.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Aria truly did just have a persecution complex or if there was more to the story than just that. I mean, she does have a robotic arm.

Who really is Aria Kanbaru?

Nah… I had decided to forgo taking such a bothersome path.

After the lunch bell rang I waited a couple of more minutes than usual in class as I was finishing a report that was due tomorrow. I figured that I would much rather do it right now than risk putting it off until it’s too late. Don’t take me to be some sort of self-help productivity master though, it’s just that I try to live by the maxim that it’s better to half-ass things now than to half-ass things later.

I quickly finished my report and put my pencil down, sighing with relief. I noticed that I was now inside an empty classroom. Deciding that there was no longer any reason to be here, I packed my stuff and stood up from my chair.

“You better not be thinking of going with Yosuke-kun.” came the voice of a menacing pig-tailed girl behind me.

I hadn’t noticed up ‘till then that I wasn’t in a completely empty room. As I looked in her direction, I noticed that her desk was completely cleared. She was sitting with her bare legs crossed, her gaze harsh and judgemental. Had she been waiting for me to get up since the lunch bell rang just to tell me that?

“And what if I am, what is it to you?”

“ I mean I am his girlfriend, so what I say goes. Duh, I mean c’mon Gise, even a virgin without a girlfriend like you should know that.”

“It’s Isei.”

“Whatever.” she barked, not looking at me and instead tapping away at her phone.

Typically I would decide not to say anything and just ignore her empty threats, but I was feeling a little more riled up today than usual probably because of Aria grilling me this morning.

“Well, just because you are his girlfriend doesn’t mean you get to control his life.”

“Ugh, really, I mean that is so like a loser like you. Look at you trying to pretend that you are friends with him, trying to stop him from being controlled. Get out of here with that bullshit. I’m only doing what’s best for him.”

“So you just admitted that you are trying to control him?”

She gritted her teeth, and soon changed her expression to one of contempt.

“Eww how gross, just because you transferred schools last year and you happen to ride on the same line as Yosuke-kun you think you are best friends with him or something -fu fu fu, that’s so hilarious.” she stated as she reached for her boston bag and got up from her chair.

Completely ignoring my presence after that, she walked away from the classroom. I don’t think that I could even begin to understand what is going on inside that girl’s head even if I tried.

Having nothing else to do, I decided to go buy some lunch. I stepped out of the classroom and was quickly met with something unexpected. As soon as I turned to my left I bumped into someone that was rooted right beside the door of my classroom.

Even though the impact was unexpected, it felt like I had just bumped into a pair of billowy pillows. Quickly coming back to my senses, I looked in front of me and noticed that I had bumped into none other than Aria’s friend, Chiyo.

“Ahaha, sorry about that. I shouldn’t have stayed right next to the door like that” she stated with a tittering laugh.

Even though she was apologizing, at that moment I wasn’t able to focus on anything that she was saying as my gaze was glued to the two soft pillows that had prevented me from getting hurt just now. My lower chest had just been graced by Aria’s friend's massive rack! That more than made up for Hori’s verbal abuse!

“So it sounds like things were getting pretty rough in there.” Chyio stated.

“Huh?” I asked, having come to my senses after defiling the girl in my mind.

“You know, with Hori-san”

“Oh, yeah, I guess they did. I didn’t know you two knew each other.” I replied.

“Well I don’t know her too well, but we’ve talked before. We both used to be in the soccer club before she quit.”

“Cool… so um I’m going to go now.”

“Wait..” she replied, holding on to my sleeve as I was trying to pass her by.

I looked back at her and noticed that her face was tinged red. A girl telling me to wait while she holds on to my sleeve, her face red as a strawberry, could only mean one thing!

“W-will you eat lunch with me?!” she stated nervously.

I had her repeat it at least three times before I believed it myself. Even though my instinctual reaction was to be skeptical about her intentions, before I could ask her why she wanted to eat lunch with me she stared at me with puppy dog eyes that practically forced me to agree.

We agreed to eat lunch inside of my class. I quickly went to go buy some lunch and hurried back to my class with a bounce in my step.

I went inside the classroom and was met with the sight of Chiyo sitting in front of my desk, her sealed boxed lunch on top of the table. I awkwardly made it to my seat, trying to act as normally as possible. Even though I hadn’t refused her both out of politeness and also out of sheer excitement to eat lunch with a pretty girl, I was now met with the daunting task of actually making conversation with her. Wait, now that I thought about it… why did she even want to have lunch with me?

“Well then, let’s eat!” she stated, clasping her hands together. As she joined her hands together, her large breasts jiggled giving me a million dollar’s worth of a view. I felt myself salivating not only for the food that I was about to eat.

“ I first wanted to start off by thanking you for keeping your promise.” she stated unexpectedly.

I had to think for a moment as to what she was referring to. I soon realized that she was probably referring to me having helped Aria out. Even though she didn’t know the details, I had told her that her dear friend was in trouble and that I was going to help bring her back in one piece. I could see why from her perspective she would think to herself that that was worthy of thanks.

“Sure, it was nothing.” I managed, trying to not bring too much attention to an otherwise really abnormal situation that happened in Ishibashi park.

“So with that, here!” she stated cheerfully as she emphatically placed a carton of juice on the table.

“... You got me some juice?”

“As a way of thanking you!” she replied, her smile beaming.

I found it a bit cringey for her to thank me by buying me some fruit juice, but I wasn’t going to state that out loud lest I get rid of her smile.

After taking a couple of bites of our lunch, there was a palpable awkwardness in our lack of conversation.

“So, um, yeah… haha.”

“Um, Chiyo, was it?”

“Yes, Chiyo!”

“Why exactly did you want to have lunch with me? Was it only to thank me?”

“No, not only because of that. It’s just a little hard for me to talk about this, that’s all.”

“What is it?”

“You see, Aria’s been acting strange today. I was hoping that you could tell me why that is.” she stated frankly.

I appreciated both her frankness and her attempts at better understanding her friend but she was definitely asking the wrong person.

“Um, I don’t think I’m the right person for the job, Chiyo. I don’t actually know Aria very well, I just happened to have been close to her when she needed help yesterday.”

“You see, that’s exactly it!” she stated, getting up from her chair like a pent up spring having been released. She grabbed my hands and clasped them together. Her hands were warm and soft. Her doe-eyed face was beckoning for me to help her. It proved too effective…

“I’m not sure I follow.” I responded, my throat in tangles.

“You see, after I saw her this morning I rushed towards her to give her a hug. I was so glad that she was okay, like you have no idea. After she asked me why I was acting so relieved, I told her about what you had told me.”

As soon as Chiyo stated that, what happened this morning was starting to be put into perspective. I didn’t say a word. I mean, I didn’t know what to say. Even though Aria never explicitly told me to not tell anyone about her secret, I wasn’t the sort of person that was dense to the point where I couldn’t see that she wanted to keep it that her secret private.

After my lack of saying anything, I felt Chiyo’s eyes begging me to tell her more. I didn’t have any obligation to not tell this girl the truth, but part of me felt that doing so would probably make Aria do more than merely break into my house and threaten me. A wise person would concoct some sort of lie at this point, right?

I thought about something that might sound convincing and as I was about to say it, I got a good look at Chiyo’s hopeful expression. Her whole demeanor was exuding hope. It was clear to me that she had complete trust in me as, in her eyes, I had become the savior of a dear friend. The idea of lying through my teeth left a taste in my mouth that I simply couldn’t handle.

“Um… why do you think that she doesn’t want to tell you?” I managed, the only way out that I could think of at the moment.

At that, Chyio’s expression turned from hopeful to surprised in a matter of seconds. Even I sounded surprised that I suddenly decided to play the role of the therapist. This didn’t suit me at all.

Chyio soon averted her gaze downward, her facial expression one of regretful longing.

“I wasn’t expecting you to ask that…”

“I mean, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to! It’s just… well, it seems kind of odd that you have to resort to me to tell you something about her life considering you and her are friends.”.

The more I heard myself speak, the more I realized that I was digging myself deeper into a hole. The saying might be if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging - but I clearly didn’t get the memo.

“ Hehe, even if I tried to tell you I wouldn’t be able to come up with a good answer…” she managed

I decided to keep my lips sealed.

“You see… I don’t think I’m particularly close to Aria.”

That’s a surprise. It had been my view that she and Aria were best friends based on the way that they interacted. Every time that I would notice Aria, she was either with a large crowd of people or only with Chiyo. Had I been wrong this whole time?

“I know right, pretty shocking since we are often together. I suppose that in that sense you could say that we are close… but when I am with her I often can’t help but feel that I am not as close to her as others might think. That I’m not as close as I’d want to be with her…”

“What makes you think that?”

Chiyo stopped to think for a couple of seconds.

“Intuition, I guess. I feel as if she’s hiding something from me. Never underestimate a girl’s intuition!” she stated with a smile.

A girl’s intuition, huh? I guess she was right considering that Aria did have a big secret that she was hiding from not just her, but from everyone.

“Aria is a star to me. She shines brighter than any girl I know. And I admire her so much, which is why… I want us to be true friends.

Aria Kanbaru is a star. Well, it certainly seemed that she wasn’t the only one that held this view. As I thought about this deeper, I’m not sure if I understood where Chiyo was coming from. What exactly was the standard that she was using to evaluate “true friendship”?

Our conversation was cut off by the school speaker system.

“Chiyo Amagi. Chiyo Amagi. Please report to the front office immediately.”

“Oh wow, look at that! What a coincidence!” Chiyo said.

A coincidence it might have been but it was also a miracle from God as far as I could tell.

Soon, panting and rumbling footsteps were heard outside of the classroom that we were in. I turned my gaze towards the front door and noticed that someone was there, grabbing their knees and panting heavily.

“Chiyo, ah, there, ah, you are.” Aria Kanbaru stated between pants.