Chapter 1:

The Stranger

A Song to the Future (Mirai e no Uta)

The Stranger opened his eyes, probably for the first time. He didn’t feel much; didn’t know what was going on either. There was movement, that he understood. After a couple seconds he realized he was being transported on what seemed to be a portable bed. There were lights and a long hallway, some voices too. Those were probably people. The Stranger felt very dizzy you see; poor man could barely distinguish shapes or colors. Hell, he didn’t even know his own name. “I don’t care that much anyways” he thought.
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Often there’s some stretches of time one just doesn’t belong to. This was most likely one of those, and so he went back to sleep. Bookmark here

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Dr. Rosmärin’s EntryBookmark here

Readings seem to indicate that the subject is indeed human. However, these amounts of radiation are completely unheard of and way beyond what we deemed ‘possible’ till now (not bringing into account that one exception).Bookmark here

Quarantine has been established and we are ‘closely’ monitoring the subject. There’s way more people than needed here but I guess there’s not much else to do today. It is news, I must admit.Bookmark here

Subject has been unconscious for about 3.5 hours at this point and oh, speak of the devil.Bookmark here

Cargo HoldBookmark here

“Good morning sleepyhead! You had us worried there.”Bookmark here

There was a middle-aged woman talking loudly in the middle of the room. She wore a lab coat and looked devilishly happy. I still felt a bit dizzy, but this was finally my moment, I knew that much.Bookmark here

“Hello Mr. Subject? Do you understand me? The glass is pretty thick, but you should be able to hear me.”Bookmark here

Now that she mentioned it, where was this place? I was indeed being held inside some sort of glass cell. The walls did look sturdy. Outside of this tiny prison there was a proper room, but it had no windows. It did have a monitor on the wall opposite to mine.Bookmark here

There were two other people besides the woman: right next to her, a timid-looking girl around twenty years of age was sitting on a small bench; she had somewhat of a wavy hair. At the bottom of the room a boy with glasses rested his back on the wall, wearing a serious expression. He didn’t seem to me much older than the girl.Bookmark here

The woman took a small notebook from her lab coat and began writing while thinking aloud. Bookmark here

“Subject’s mind looks completely blank. This will probably be more difficult than expected.” She put the notebook away. “Ara my dear, would you mind taking care of him while I...” Bookmark here

“My mind is not blank” I finally managed to say. “I do understand you. I’m sorry, where is this...?”Bookmark here

“Guess having a Babel Tower can come in handy sometimes” said Glasses at the bottom of the room, arms crossed.Bookmark here

“Good, good!” Seems this was enough to reignite the woman’s enthusiasm. She opened the notebook again, ready to do some science. Bookmark here

“I’m sorry Mr. Subject but for now I am not authorized to answer any question you may have. That might change if you are cooperative enough, though.” Bookmark here

She smirked.Bookmark here

“Let’s start with the basics: do you have a name.”Bookmark here

“Do I?” I genuinely didn’t have any idea of who I was. It’s not like I forgot about it either, it just felt like there was nothing before this room. “But that can’t be true.” I wondered if this eccentric doctor might be able to help. I didn’t have a reason to be hostile towards these people either.Bookmark here

“I... can’t remember. Sorry.”Bookmark here

“Nice.” The woman took a few notes. “Then let’s move on to the very fundamental basics. Are you human, Mr. Subject? Do you know what human is?”Bookmark here

“It’s... of course I know what a human is! What else could I be!”Bookmark here

“I can think of a number of alternatives.” Bookmark here

What. Bookmark here

“But you do look human, Mr. Subject. Unfortunately, we have to keep you there until we’re completely su–”Bookmark here

In that moment a tempest rose inside the room. Time seemed to freeze for everybody but the new guest, who steadily approached my cell. He wore a calm expression but for the trained eye it might have been possible to appreciate the very essence of hatred on his look. As he drew closer, he firmly clenched his fists and readied his right arm. Only half a second before the punch would connect the clock began ticking again, for a voice of pure steel and absolute authority had joined the fray.Bookmark here

“Youngster.”Bookmark here

An old bearded man entered the room. He wore a deep blue, formal uniform and a military hat. He sounded composed and firm. “Think twice before doing anything that could put us all in danger.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, Captain.”Bookmark here

“Edgy,” muttered the middle-aged woman, looking at the floor.Bookmark here

Only at this moment could I focus on the guy who just planned to punch my face through several centimeters of crystal. He wore a long dark grayish coat, pretty tattered and worn out. The boy didn’t seem older than Glasses; I imagined his age would lie somewhere between his and the young girl’s. I thought he was pretty.Bookmark here

“Whether you feel sorry or not is irrelevant” the old man spoke. “If this were to happen a second time, I’d have to take action. You know I don’t wish to reprehend you, Zio. Don’t force me to.”Bookmark here

“You are right, Captain. I wasn’t thinking. Allow me to apologize again.” Zio’s words seemed sincere enough, but you could still perceive a certain frustration on his eyes. Bookmark here

“Oh I know you weren’t thinking.”Bookmark here

“Captain.” The young girl intervened for the first time. She stood up, looking very concerned. She was blushing and couldn’t manage to establish eye contact with the Captain, but she spoke nonetheless.Bookmark here

“Zio couldn’t get any sleep last night, that might have influenced his actions. I am partly responsible for this and thus I want to apologize too.”Bookmark here

“Hah”, the Captain chuckled. “I wasn’t aware of he needing sleep.”Bookmark here

“He doesn’t need to, but it helps–” she was cut off by the boy in gray almost immediately.Bookmark here

“Arabia, you needn’t apologize for me. The Captain is right. It won’t happen again Sir, you have my word.”Bookmark here

The Captain laughed genuinely this time, and all the tension in the room seemed to cool off.Bookmark here

“Whatever,” he said. “He who breaks it, pays it, remember. Anti-radiation glass isn’t exactly cheap. How are the test results? Did you start with the interrogation?”Bookmark here

“We were on it, Captain” miss Doctor said.Bookmark here

“Good, good.” The old man approached the glass cell then. “Welcome to my ship, young one. Don’t try anything funny if you don’t want to spend some time alone with that guy.” He pointed at Zio. “Now everybody, there’s nothing else to see or say here. Get back to work you rapscallions!” Bookmark here

And just like that, I became a member of the Albatross.Bookmark here

----Bookmark here

After the Captain spoke, only miss Doctor and Arabia stood in the cell room. The former kept asking Mr. Subject stuff he couldn’t really answer and taking several notes, while the later just went in and out bringing several papers with her. After the ‘questioning’ was done, the three of them just sit there in silence for several minutes.Bookmark here

“What do we do now” Arabia whispered to the Doctor.Bookmark here

“Wait and observe. Got anything better to do?”Bookmark here

“No, I don’t mean that. This man has obviously no idea of what’s going on, correct?”Bookmark here

“Why yes, he seems to have amnesia. That’s why we are waiting.”Bookmark here

“I know that! I mean... can’t we at least tell him something.”Bookmark here

The two of them kept mumbling and, even though the crystal was several centimeters wide and apparently unbreakable (didn’t really have a reason to escape anyway so I never tried), the conversation could be heard perfectly across the room. I found it amusing, but unfortunately Ms. Doctor didn’t look quite convinced.Bookmark here

“We’ve got orders” she stated. “But, maybe if it’s you, the Captain might let it slide.”Bookmark here

“Yes!” Bookmark here

The young woman looked at me with a big smile on her face, then immediately went back to the Doctor.Bookmark here

“I don’t know what to say” she muttered.Bookmark here

“Huh.”Bookmark here

Miss Doctor stood up and pushed the bench around, Arabia still sitting on it, until the two of them were directly facing me.Bookmark here

“Guinea Man” she spoke loudly, arms crossed. “We’ve taken the following decision. We will allow you to make three questions. Depending on the content of said questions, we might or might not answer. If we do not, you’ll get another chance until you have gotten three answers. Clear?”Bookmark here

“Guinea Man?” I just realized I had made a horrible mistake.Bookmark here

“That’s a beautiful name!” stated Arabia cheerfully.Bookmark here

“Answer number one: yes, Guinea Man, or Guinea for shorts. You cannot recall your name (if you ever had one to begin with) and we might get more test subjects in the future. You need a name. And I name you Guinea.”Bookmark here

“That’s a horrible name.”Bookmark here

“I think it’s a cute name! Guineas are those little mammals, right? I hope we get to see one in town.”Bookmark here

“Yes, huhu! Those are guinea pigs. Cute little boys like Mr. Subject here. But Ara, I forbid you to look for scientific texts regarding guinea pigs on your own. If I find a good one, I’ll give it to you. Some have beautiful pictures.”Bookmark here

“Yes Miss!” She looked at the just now reborn me and introduced herself. “By the way Mr. Guinea, my name is Arabia. Pleased to meet you.”Bookmark here

“Same, miss Arabia. Thank you for your kindness.” I bowed to the girl. She was the only one who treated me normally, and those kinds of people you have to respect.Bookmark here

Ms. Doctor quickly took note of that.Bookmark here

“Haha! And whose shall mine name be! You only have two questions left, Guinea Man!” She chuckled, seemingly enjoying herself.Bookmark here

“Her name is Sonia. She’s a physicist but knows quite a bit about medicine too. She and Heysel do most of the healing in case of need.”Bookmark here

“Arabia you traitor!” She poked the girl. “My full name is indeed Sonia Rosmärin. Now this Heysel, who might that be... choose carefully your next question, Guinea Pig!”Bookmark here

I was certainly not interested in more names for the time being. I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.Bookmark here

“Where are we?”Bookmark here

Sonia answered rapidly.Bookmark here

“This is the Albatross, mankind’s biggest hope & greatest technological achievement.” You couldn’t tell if she was being ironic or not.Bookmark here

“It’s a big military airship, but we use it mostly for transporting cargo. We here now are inside the cargo hold, and your cell is normally used to contain high-radiation items.”Bookmark here

“Like yourself.”Bookmark here

What the heck.Bookmark here

Mr. Guinea already knew what his third question was going to be, but it was still a very unpleasant thing to think about.Bookmark here

“Miss Sonia. You mentioned before I might or might not be human. Does this have anything to do with this radiation you are mentioning now?” I asked, dead serious.Bookmark here

“Clever boy.” The doctor smirked again.Bookmark here

----Bookmark here

“That one question we may want to avoid; the reason being you will get more than one answer.”Bookmark here

“Well, for somebody who has orders you’ve been awfully talkative.” This one thing I really wanted clear and out of my mind as soon as possible.Bookmark here

“It’s all on Ara.” Bookmark here

“If it’s on me, I’d rather answer. He must be very confused.”Bookmark here

“Very well.” The doctor took a deep breath. She looked serious now, which both gave me some relief and scared me to death. “See here Mr. Subject, so far we’ve determined you are human. Nothing you have said or done up to this point tells us otherwise. You look human. Your answers have been a bit odd sometimes (for example, it is quite rare how you said the Captain looked like a marine. Most people in your state wouldn’t know what a marine is), but nothing off the charts.”Bookmark here

“Picking up stray humans in your condition used to be normal, but it’s gotten more and more rare over the years. Still, none of this worries us. Now the radiation... at this point it is the only reason we cannot let you out of that cell.”Bookmark here

“Is it that high? What does it mean to have high radiation?”Bookmark here

“Often things with high radiation are very dangerous to us, or outright try to kill us.” This time it was Ara who spoke.Bookmark here

“Indeed. Now I want you to understand something: your radiation isn’t just high. It is a miracle you can even exist here with us. No human body would be able to cope with that and keep its regular form. But yours does somehow.”Bookmark here

“If you are indeed human (and I believe you are Mr. Guinea), you might’ve established some sort of record!” stated Arabia.Bookmark here

“Indeed. See, everything has a positive side.”Bookmark here

“What would happen if you let me out of this cell?” I asked. I still didn’t quite get what they meant by radiation.Bookmark here

“Who knows. Some of us have already been exposed to your body while bringing you here, and we are doing fine. But you were unconscious then. Next time, you could just explode like a big bomb or turn into a poisonous cloud and murder us all.” Sonia seemed to be joking, but the fact that I was still imprisoned seemed to indicate that those might in fact be actual possibilities.Bookmark here

“Murder? You mean like consciously?”Bookmark here

“Exactly.”Bookmark here

“Why would I ever do that? I don’t even know if I have a life outside of this cell.”Bookmark here

“Please Mr. Guinea” the young girl spoke timidly. “Understand our position. We want to believe in you but it’s the first time we’ve encountered something like this. It’s uncomfortable for us too; we just don’t want any more accidents.”Bookmark here

“I understand.” I needed to organize my thoughts. “But then what is this radiation thing? Does it turn people into monsters? Psychopaths?”Bookmark here

“Not quite.” Sonia didn’t seem to particularly regret having tackled this topic, but she was still hesitant on giving a straight answer.Bookmark here

“I told you it was a bit too complex. If everything goes right, we’ll fill you in when we get to town.”Bookmark here

“Please be patient” Ara asked.Bookmark here

At that moment, an alarm started ringing and the monitor on the wall turned on.Bookmark here

“That might do it too,” the doctor said.Bookmark here

----Bookmark here

“Everybody, we’ve got a pack coming towards us. Please get ready. It isn’t big, but as always prepare for the worst.”Bookmark here

In the monitor you could see the Captain’s face, from what seemed to be the command room. He was dead serious, but the type of seriousness that inspires one to act. And that is exactly what the crew did. Bookmark here

We heard the rusty voice of a man coming from outside the room. Bookmark here

“Shields and engine are working fine. Cannons ready.”Bookmark here

“That’s old man Castle,” Dr. Sonia told me. “He’s below us.”Bookmark here

“Arabia, you better go with Heysel and the Captain. I’ll stay here with Mr. Subject.”Bookmark here

“But...!”Bookmark here

“I have Castle here. I’m sure you don’t want to see what I’m about to show our guest either.”Bookmark here

“...”Bookmark here

Arabia left the room in a hurry.Bookmark here

“Blink and you’ll miss it” the doctor told me.Bookmark here

“They’re on top of us. Everybody stay calm. They won’t be able to penetrate the deck.”Bookmark here

“Captain are the outside cameras working” asked Sonia to the monitor.Bookmark here

“Only number 4 is damaged so far. Don’t say anymore, you need it for science.”Bookmark here

The doctor smirked.Bookmark here

“Heysel, give our Frankenstein here some eyes.”Bookmark here

“Blink and you’ll miss it,” she muttered.Bookmark here

----Bookmark here

The StormBookmark here

What could be seen from the cameras was obviously not of this world. Some of those small creatures moved like insects, others like fish. The bigger ones were approximately the size of a mastiff, but they seemed to distort the light around them, so they were still somewhat hard to spot. Their bodies were constantly changing too; one would assume they were made out of liquid or even flat out gas, but the things were definitely alive. They were scratching and biting the surface of the ship, as if trying to carve a hole. Some of them attacked the cameras, giving the crew less and less angles to look from. There was no sound; Guinea assumed it was because of the wind.Bookmark here

“What are we going to do?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Just watch.”Bookmark here

Guinea just realized cameras 5 and 8 showed a dark spot on the distance. It looked humanoid and was holding two thin blades.Bookmark here

On that moment an old man with working clothes and a big gray moustache hurried into the room.Bookmark here

“Did I make it in time?”Bookmark here

“Hi Castle, just barely” Sonia said.Bookmark here

“Damn, one never gets tired of this.”Bookmark here

“Don’t go saying stuff like that around, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. You should be scared even.”Bookmark here

“That boy is the only entertainment I get to have on this goddammed ship. Can only take a break whenever he’s out.”Bookmark here

“Let’s see then.”Bookmark here

----Bookmark here

The Albatross had submerged into a sea of dark clouds. It was incredibly windy and there was occasional lightning. It was far too high for this to be a natural phenomenon.Bookmark here

There’s about thirty of them, Zio thought.Bookmark here

The small ones moved fast and could even teleport short distances sometimes; they would be an easy miss for a regular human. But a regular human wouldn’t be able to stand on their own two feet on top of a moving airship around twenty kilometers above the ground.Bookmark here

The creatures jumped at him as soon as they sensed him. A regular human would already be in danger just by being so close to them. Contact could be fatal.Bookmark here

But Zio was no regular human. He didn’t even need to rush; the more scratches he got on him the weaker the creatures would get – his blood was poison to them. His body was immune to any kind of distortion too.Bookmark here

Once the creatures started slowing down, it was his time to strike. He slightly cut his own palm until he got the edge of both twin blades painted red. Now slashing through them like this would be enough to really hurt and make them retreat, but if one wanted them gone for good, they’d have to destroy the nucleus. All of them had at least one – that was probably the “alive” part, and it was very tiny. A cut so stupidly accurate would be almost impossible to hit for anybody who couldn’t naturally sense the essence of these things.Bookmark here

“Now where’s the big one,” he muttered to himself while methodically disposing of the creatures. The destruction of the core made them vanish instantly, so after Zio’s quick flurry attack he was alone on the deck. It all had taken about half a minute.Bookmark here

“Now comes the good part” Castle said, watching from the cell room.Bookmark here

A second wave of these creatures appeared between the clouds. They flew like a big bank of salmon. The pack ran directly into Zio and impacted against the surface of the ship, spreading several small beings around. While the boy in the gray coat tried to fend off the ones jumping at him, some of them on the deck started to collide and hop on top of each other, creating a far more complex organism. This one had two big protuberances that kind of looked like arms.Bookmark here

“So that’s the big one.” Zio quickly tried to make some space around him as the creature approached. With a swift motion, the boy crossed the two thin blades and a ‘click’ sound was made. He had now in his hands a bigger sword about the size of a claymore – a unique trick weapon gifted to him long ago. He took an offensive stance and ran towards the mighty behemoth. The two collided. Zio seemed to vanish into the being’s embrace.Bookmark here

For a moment the boy felt lost, but he quickly snapped out of it. Bigger enemy meant bigger nucleus. After a few seconds, the tip of the claymore could be seen piercing the monster’s body and, after that, the weapon cleanly cut the creature in half. Its remains vanished in an instant. The sky returned to a normal, peaceful blue.Bookmark here

“Hell yes!” Castle roared. Sonia looked satisfied. Guinea had a lot of questions to make.Bookmark here

Zio took a small radio device from his pocket and heard a voice. It was the Captain.Bookmark here

“Good job, youngling. Are you hurt?”Bookmark here

“Thanks Captain. Nothing major; I don’t think I’ll need treatment. Anything left to do here?”Bookmark here

“Radar shows no more lectures, we can rest for now. A couple of cameras snapped but we’ll take care of that. Now come back in kid, let’s celebrate.”Bookmark here

Zio hung up and sheathed his sword.Bookmark here

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As a curiosity, while he was being embraced the boy could barely make out the words “I love you,” but he didn’t like reading into his fights too much.Bookmark here

Chad N Davis
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