Gun Girls Online
“We selected you from a vast pool of candidates. We chose a medium guaranteed to draw people in and we augmented it with physiological-targeting programing that scanned the internet footprints of Japanese females to pick out the type of women and girls that we wanted.” Neena explained, casually sipping her coffee.
“Wait…” Miko ordered, suddenly making the connection to a question that had been burning in her mind recently.
Gun Girls Online; a game that didn’t seem to exist anywhere besides her on her computer. How it had suddenly appeared when she was at her lowest point and contemplating suicide. The fact that she had transformed into her online character. She should have seen it before!
“The selection process…did you use a MMPORG? Gun Girls online?” She asked.
“Yes. People who are stressed, anxious, and suffering need an outlet. We made the visuals and game-play to draw girls like you in and make them feel comfortable. The online profile, along with real-life surveillance, gave us a good feel for your potential, your strengths, your weakness, and those sort of things.”
“People…who are suffering?” Mikari mussed in confusion, clutching her coffee cup tightly. “What…does that mean? What…type of people were you looking for?” She asked softly.
“People in despair. People who suffered through utter hell. Those with nothing to lose in this.” Neena stated bluntly. “I know that that sounds horrible and exploitative, and to an extent it is, but that was not my intention. The way I see it, those who suffered the most…they need this opportunity to give their life meaning. And we are a national organization at the top of all the sciences and other crucial areas. We can get them the help that they need. We can help them find a meaning for their life and deal with some of the negative circumstances in their lives. Not just that, but we will need people for other things besides this classified project. Surveillance, technology, science, espionage, data collection, and so many other things. We don't have any openings to fill right now but, in the future, we plan to pull candidates to fill any future ones. I think that many of these girls have unique things to bring to our agency. But most importantly…” Neena shifted her weight in her chair.
“Those who have had everything handed to them, they can lack empathy because they haven’t known pain. They aren’t evil by any means, but they just can’t understand suffering or injustice or truly empathize with those who are tormented. That can lead to them abusing their power or becoming selfish. But someone who has been abused and victimized themselves will be fettered by their own suffering. It will help keep them on the right path and give them greater empathy. Those who the world considers weak....are often the ones with the strongest hearts because they've trained themselves to bear their pain and torment.” Neena smiled, resting her chin on her hand. "At least, that's what I believe, anyway."
Mikari stared. This woman…she couldn’t put her finger on it, but the was something different about her. While emotions and morality may have played a large roll in this project, she was very logical and intelligent. She wasn’t ruled by her emotions or disconnected from reality and logic. In fact, she seemed rather cold and serious. And yet, there was something about her motives and methods that seemed highly noble. She wasn't a heartless or uncaring person running experiments on young girls for her own ends; she seemed to truly want to help as many people as possible.
“But why only girls?” Mikari asked, still concerned with why young girls were only ones targeted.
“Well, sadly, our world hasn’t exactly been kind to females.” Neena sighted, taking another sip from her coffee. “From the foundation of the world, women have been explicitly and implicitly discriminated against, dehumanized, and subjugated. They have been blamed for everything that isn’t their fault and their flaws have been seen as female defects, not simply human flaws. While our world has been getting so much better, females are still worst off. Human trafficking and selling of female bodies thrive in every known nation. Husbands are still overwhelmingly the progenitors of domestic abuse and the initiators of one-sided, selfish divorce. Women are still payed less and expected to be mothers and homemakers, as if that was all God made them for! Rape, violent crimes, and assault are overwhelmingly directed at them. There is still a sexual double standard that claims that women who sleep around are forever tainted while a man would been seen as strong and manly, despite the fact that they are both morally in the wrong and that there is equal forgiveness and ability to change. Men use woman for their own selfish pleasure and then throw them away with no consequences while the women are left broken. Honor killings, being used as pawns in drug cartels, denial of education, spiritual abuse, baby farming, ” Neena ticked off items on her mental list as she ranted. "I could go on and on. It's honestly quite confusing and utterly terrifying, the hate that woman are given in this world."
Mikkari flinched. This woman was incredibly blunt and brutal. But...she thought back to the innocent little girl about to be sent into sexual slavery and her mother nearly being killed for trying to protect her...Neena couldn't be entirely wrong. She'd witnessed something horribly cruel and utterly unnecessary.
“Obviously, since we were looking for broken and suffering people, it was only logical to focus on women and girls. And, in our trials of the Alpha shards, females overwhelming displayed greater strength, power, and compatibility with the devices. Boys are able to be selected, but it is far rarer. As far as I know, we’ve only had about twenty boys picked up by our system.
“Is everyone who plays the game able to do…whatever it was that I did?”
“No. All the gameplayers are in our candidate pool, but only people who we feel we have a place for will be called in and offered a place with us. We weed through and chose people we want to study further, depending on what sort of position opening we have. Then we pick our final people and observe them in real life before we make our decision as to who we approach. Gun Girls Online was specifically aimed at picking girls for our Symbalien soldier project. Not all the girls who play will be picked, either for the project or anything else.” Neena tucked a loose stand of her vivid hair behind her ear. “I was hoping that it would be therapeutic for all the girls. That it would give them an escape and an emotional support network. That’s why we created the chat-app. It wasn’t necessary but I hoped that it would help connect people, that girls would become friends and meet offline. So far, it seems to have worked rather well for many of the girls.”
Mikari thought about Usa-Chan and how she had repeatedly checked in on her after the terrorist attack. She had even sent her snack and merch boxes while she was in the hospital. She didn’t know her full name or adress, but she knew that her first name was Mikari and that she lived alone in downtown Hiken City. Usa-Chan herself was pretty tight-lipped about her own identity and personal life, but had recently confirmed Mikari's suspicions by admitting to being an elementary student, and she was even starting to become interested in meeting up in real life.
Mikari took a sip of her minty coffee. “I think…it’s worked really well. The social part, I mean." She rushed. "I met my first real friend… my best friend…through the game. She was there for me after the terrorist attack and listened to me when I was having a tough time with my mental health, even though she didn't know about what really going on with. It was a good idea. Especially if anyone else had an experience like mine.”
Neena blinked in a subdued state of shock at the sudden praise. “Truly? Well, I suppose that we must keep the app around. It was my own personal creation. I think that it’s a good way to change society for the better without radical intervention.” She mused as Mikari nodded in agreement.
Mikari still had no clue what Neena wanted out of her now that she had received these powers, but she was sure that she liked the other woman. She was pretty and intelligent and Mikari could tell that she was passionate about helping other people. She didn't pull any punches when it came to calling out evil and discrimination and was willing to use both discrete and radical arguments.
“So, Miss Miswa.” Neena said suddenly. “You appear to be at a crossroads. This device will stay implanted in you for a while either way to make sure that you are totally healed. However, you have a choice. You were picked for this combat force and you need to decided if you will join or not.”
“What…what would I be doing? What do you want from me” Mikari asked, her stomach doing flip-flops. The words Neena kept saying…fighting…warrior…soldier…combat…officer…operative…task force…was she expecting her to fight?
“I want you to become a soldier for us.” Neena said bluntly. “At this point, the specifics of the role are fuzzy and not super well-defined because the project is just getting off of the ground, but you’d be fighting. You’d work with the police to solve everyday cases, but you’d also be instrumental in fighting terrorism, human trafficking, and mass-threats, as well as fighting in actual wars and defending our nation. You’d be higher than the police, but whether or not you are higher than actual soldiers and special operatives depends on the situation at this point. But it will involve fighting, possibly killing, detective work, diplomacy, and more. You’d be trained in combat and utilizing your powers responsibly first, of course. We aren’t just going to fling you out into the field with no instruction without instruction. Even with your powers, that would be a virtual death sentence. You’ll also need training in police and government procedures and legality. You are basically a walking loophole at this point, but how you go about using that to fight and bring people to justice is key to not bringing the JDC under fire. There are two other young women, the test subject for this project and the first Gun Girl created with our recruitment project, who have been operating for us secretly this whole time. They would train you in and form a team with you and your police handler and the two other girls I've picked. I already have someone in mind to be your handler, a police officer who I think would be a good match for you. She's your age and she's already a distinguished officer with many acknowledgments and accolades.” She looked Mikari dead in the eyes.
“You’ll be in danger if you don’t learn how master these powers. This isn't magic; it's science. These powers are a manifestation of your personality and hidden desires. It's an inescapable part of you. you don’t accept them and start activating them on purpose, you will have dangerous power manifestations and spontaneous transformations. It will throw your whole body and mind out of order. And, honestly I need you. We don't have any time to waste in bringing the terrorists who almost crippled you to justice. They aren't making idle threats. The clock is counting down until they try something again. We have to find them and stop them before they have a chance to hurt anyone else. You have to decide right now what you want to do.”
Mikari’s heart thudded in her ears. What? How was she supposed to choose something so life changing this suddenly? Become a solider? Her? Fight? This was never where she saw her life going!
It made her sick, utterly sick! Being used as a weapon…she didn’t want to do it! While the intentions seemed pure, it still made her feel exploited and used. It was too scary and too dangerous. Yet at the same time…
Mikari thought through her past. She was a no one, worth nothing. She was unwanted. If she disappeared, Usa-Chan was the only people who’d notice or care, and she wouldn't even know her real name! She’d thought about ending her life so many times. Even if this fighting, this working for the government, was painful and horrific and filed with death and human depravity…what did she have to lose at this point?
If she became a weapon, then her life would have value and a purpose. Ironically, the only way that she could be useful was to throw away her humanity! 'But…it's worth it', Mikari thought. Her life couldn’t get much worse than it already was, and she was all alone. There was no one to worry about her, no one who would mourn her if something went wrong. She didn’t like this and had no desire to fight, but she had nothing to lose.
Mikari though back to the terrorist attack. ‘Back then…I wanted to live. I didn’t want to take this world's crap lying down anymore. I wanted to get back at the world that repeatedly kicked me down and mocked me…I wanted to have the last laugh by not giving up, by not giving in to my desire to die. I have no clue how to do that but... deciding to become strong and protect others seems like a good way to screw fate over. At the very least, it seems like the right and unselfish thing to do in this situation.” She took a deep breath, sat up strait, and looked Neena in the eye.
“I’ll do it. I’ll fight for you.”
* * *
“Come oooooon! I’m so hungry! I want food!” Asuka whined, laying her head down on the café table.
“Asuka, cut it out! You are going to draw attention to us!” Musica hissed through her clenched teeth. “Could you act normal for one hour?”
“But I want my sandwich!” Asuka whined even louder, laying her entire upper body in defeat over the table top.
“We’re here for a purpose, you know.” Musica flipped her long, dark purple hair over her shoulder.
The two were in their alpha-shard forms, but had manipulated their appearance so that they looked like normal civilians. Musica looked like a sober, dark and pale woman in black leggings, tall red heals, a black leather jacket, and white silk tank top. Asuka had giant blue eyes and curly, hot-pink hair in contrast to the rather dull appearance of her partner. She wore a white thermal shirt print with flowers, a distressed denim overall-style mini dress, gray knit tights, and pink flats. She was far livelier and cheerier than Musica, even just in her appearence.
The two were at the Sea Star maid café, waiting for a certain girl.
“I cannot believe that you are actually older than me and married with a family.” Musica deadpanned in flat disbelief.
“Well, yeah. So? That doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun or act younger. Maturity and wisdom don’t equal being boring and sitting in the corner quietly.” Asuka said, her chin resting on her hand as she calmed considerably. “Besides, my husband and child have no clue what I’m doing. They think I'm just busy with work.” She went quiet. “…my husband loves me, but he’s kind of distant. He wouldn’t understand why I decided to do this and he’d be too worried about me to let me keep working for the JDF. And my daughter…she’s too little to understand all this and why I do it. She doesn’t need the burden of worrying if mama is going to come home alive at night or not. She should just be allowed to be a happy little kid without having to carry the problems of her parents on her shoulders.”
Musica scrunched her eyebrows in surprise. She knew that Asuka was wiser than she let on, but it still surprised her when she was bluntly honest about her feelings and shared information about civilian life.
“Hey, there she is!” Asuka suddenly mouthed at the other woman. They swiveled in their chairs.
They stared at the mature and graceful looking young girl with the short, bright purple hair. She wore the Turquoise, baby-blue, and white maid-style waitress uniform smartly. She was tall and had a scar under her left eye from the bombing attack.
“Suzune Miyamma.” Musica whispered. “The girl what we’ve been surveilling. She’s the next person we need to gather for the frontline defense team.”
“Is…is she really a victim of abuse?” Asuka asked surprised. “She…looks…normal. Reading through her record, you would never expect the weight that she carries and the situation she lives in. She seems like the model student, like the kind of girl who would have the whole world at her feet.”
“Hello, Mistresses!” The two jumped in their chairs out of startled guilt as Suzune walked up to their table, balancing a serving tray on one arm. “Here’s your order. Extra-large rainbow delight frappé with two deluxe spicy garden subs, large strawberry and nut salad, bowl of miso soup, and large lemon cream muffin. She set the foot in front of Asuka.
“Oh, geez, As-San!” Musica’s eyes jumped out of their sockets. You don’t seriously plan on eating all that yourself?”
Asuka glared at her. “I. Am. Hungry. Shut up.” She gave her partner her signature, annoyed, blood-chilling demon face. Musica quickly shut her mouth as Asuka promptly tore into her food.
“ And you had the spicy beef tempura udon, medium lavender latté, and half an egg salad sandwich.” Suzune set down Musica’s food.
“Thank you, miss.” Musica replied, pulling apart her chop sticks.
“Of course!” Suzune smiled brightly, holding up her skirt in a curtsy. “Please, let me know if you need anything else, mistress! It is my honor and joy to serve you!” she bounced away.
After she left, Musica and Asuka quit smiling and starred at each other darkly.
“…we’re going to make her life worse.” Musica whispered seriously.
* * *
“I tied a wibbion in my hair, and twide my best to smile. I believe that I could change, who I was with a new style. But I fwogot it only takes a wittle confidence.” Kammi sang cheerfully, jumping from one crack in the sidewalk to the other, singing the Tokyo Meow-Meow Girls theme song and purposely distorting her voice.
Mama was out arranging more look-sees for Love Idol: Ai-Chan! and had let her go to the park by herself. There was a park five blocks down from her apartment and, since their part of the city was pretty safe, her mother had no problem letting her walk there and back by herself. Obviously, her mother was very nervous now ever since they had got back from the hospital, but she didn’t want to keep Kammi locked up in the house whenever she left, which was often. Additionally, even though she was little, her mother wanted to raise her to be strong, safe, and independent. Besides, forget about stranger danger! She was an idol; her mama literally told her to smile and then shoved her at strangers!
Kammi suddenly stopped. She had had a flash of memory of the bombing. She squeezed Mr.Usagi tighter. She had been trying to forget. Mama hid it and the nurses talked over her, but she was small and smart and good at hearing things that people didn't want her to know.
She’d nearly died. Her mama had been a mess for two strait weeks after she woke up from surgery. The nurses said that mama had had a mental break down because she woke up buried alive and found her almost dead. Her mama had dug her way out of the rubble with her bare hands to save her and the doctors had just barely stopped her from dying.
Kammi frowned, no longer hoping and singing as she walked. To be honest, she had been left terrified ever since the bombing. She had been throwing up before performances, overwhelmed and terrified at being in such a crowded place. Mama attributed it to stress, stage fright, lingering effects of undergoing extensive surgery, a bug, or a combination of all of them. But the truth was…Kammi closed her eyes.
Her past…this bombing brought it back in full-force and she was barely functioning. She didn’t want to sleep at night. Going out in public gave her panic attacks. Loud or unexpected noises terrified her and put her on edge. If mama noticed or suspected anything, she wasn’t showing it. Kammi didn’t want her to know. But…every time she closed her eyes…flames and explosions and blood danced across her eyelids. Her mind quickly flashed with images of a nude teenage girl coughing up blood and baby with a caved in skull.
She yelped, crushing Mr.Usagi to her chest. “No! Nononononononono!” She cried softly to herself. She didn’t want to remember! Why couldn’t she stop these flashbacks? She’d already lived five years with them and she didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to take this constant stress and fear! It made her ache and feel physically ill. She wanted to curl up in a hole and die from the mental and physical pain that these flashbacks caused her. She didn’t even know how she was still functioning, much less how mama never realized what was going on in her head.
“Hmmm?” Kammi turned around. A strong-looking old man with grey hair and a beard was looking down at her in concern.
“Are you alright?” He asked in a warm, gentle tone. “You looked like you were scared. Do you need help?”
“No, thank you, Mr.” Kammi awnsered politely, just like her mother had taught her.
“I was just remembering a bad dream from last night. That’s all. I’m okay.”
“Where’s your mother? Why are you wandering around out in the city by yourself?”
“Mama’s at work. I was at the park. I live three blocks down there.” Kammi pointed down the sidewalk.
“Would it be okay if I joined you? It doesn’t feel right to let a little girl walk the streets alone now that the city is on high alert." His eyes smiled at her. “And maybe we could get some ice cream at the café next to your apartment?”
Kammi cocked her head, looking at him in appraisal, before grabbing the old man’s hand. “Okay.”
The man looked startled. “You’re willing to trust a random stranger on the street? Aren’t you concerned at all that I might be dangerous?” Kami looked innocently up at the old man and shook her head.
“Nu-uh. I can read people really well. You’re a good person. You aren’t someone who would hurt kids. You aren’t threatening. You’re kind.” She stated simply.
The man smiled and squeezed her hand. “What’s your name, little one?”
“I’m Kammi? Who are you?”
“You can call me Mr. Akibarra.” The man responded as the two walked off hand-in-hand.
“Forgive me if this comes off wrong," The old man mussed, "but I have a feeling that we are going to get to know each other very well in the future."