Chapter 1:

THE GIRL

UZUME | Whispering: Files


     It was exactly 8pm on a Friday evening. The routine was as usual. Coffee in hand and feet up on my desk as I peered into the ceiling above. The shimmer across its surface was hardly eloquent and reminded me of the uninviting atmosphere of the characterless concoction of walls that surrounded me. I swiveled my chair ever so slightly as the air began to sing. The bitter taste of caffeine always gave the right tint of punch to my system. It was the only thing keeping me alive beneath the unrelenting splurge of boredom this place brought me. Why didn’t anything interesting ever happen around here?

     Inhale… Exhale…

     It was exactly 7:59pm on a Friday evening… and I was still staring up at my office ceiling.

     Footsteps began marching their way towards my desk, but I hadn’t the slightest urge to acknowledge who it was.

     I simply didn’t care.

     Then, a single thought crossed my mind... Didn’t I close the door?

     I peeked over across my desk; curious to see who managed to find themselves with actual work to do. To my surprise, I had no idea who this person was.

     Medium-brown hair cut just below the chin. Wide eyes that arched like an old garden bridge, curving slightly upwards at the tips. Nose was pointed, and overall face contour elegantly angled. Lips were expressionless; but a misdirected sense of determination emanating from the eyebrows spoke louder than words itself. An all-dark uniform with the division insignia promptly emblazoned around the right bicep. Someone from my division, but not anyone I had met before. A recruit?

     She lowered her head and affirmatively introduced herself. “Yanome Yamanaka to moushimasu.” A newly promoted Situation Analyst. As per formalities I should have stood from my seat and properly greeted her likewise, but something else had been on my mind at the moment. “Was that door open when you arrived?” I asked her with my finger pointed directly at my office entrance. She stuttered for a bit before turning her gaze over her shoulder towards the doorway. “No, I opened it when I arrived here,” she responded, visibly confused. “I thought so,” I then followed. Finally placing my languid mindset to rest I rested my coffee on the table, stood to my feet, and acknowledged the new analyst appropriately. It’s a pleasure to meet you, I gestured with a polite smile. She returned an equally pleasant one as a staunch silence lathered the room. As my grin began to falter, I rushed to move the conversation along. So, what do I owe the honor? I asked in a similarly scripted tone. "Oh, umm…,” she fumbled a bit before continuing, “We’ve been assigned to a case.”

     As she uttered the words; for some reason, her voice began to sound foreign to me. As if she was speaking through water. I thoughtlessly asked her to repeat herself as I couldn’t imagine that an actual case had found its way to my desk. “We’ve been placed on a case,” she reiterated clearly. “There’s a young girl in for questioning right now.”

     I could only imagine what the look on my face must have been as I stared vacantly at her. Letting the words sink in, I thought about how I’d gone nearly a year without a single case since stepping foot in this HQ. A guarded city with strict citizen profiling and tracking. There wasn’t a single piece of information that the government didn’t already have underneath its thumb. What could they possible need a situation analyst for?

     As I made my way over to the holding room with Agent Yamanaka following behind, I took the time to glance over the initial situation report.

· Gender: Female.

· Hair: Lightly colored, Bangs stopping just above the eyebrows.

· Eyes: Middle toned.

· Angular facial contour.

· Name: Uzume.

· Surname: Unknown.

     The first thing that stuck out to me was the situation regarding her last name. In this city, that should be virtually impossible. Even if the girl couldn’t remember it herself, facial recognition should have pulled up a profile.

     Just as I approached the doors of the holding room I skimmed down to the final detail on the page.

· Appeared suddenly at the HQ entrance.

     As I stepped into the observation deck, I was met by the Director of our intelligence bureau. He was standing firmly with his feet planted so stern that he was practically bolted to the floor. In typical fashion, he held his hands crossed as he looked on through a two-way mirror at the girl seated on the opposite side. “Sir?” I called out to him. Without shifting his stance, he filled me in on everything he knew, which was practically nothing.

     Intriguing…

     Before sending me in, he handed me a folded piece of paper. “She was carrying it in her pocket when we found her. None of us are quite sure what it means. Good luck in figuring it out, the whole agency is probably gonna be paying attention to this.”

     I glanced over at Agent Yamanaka as she patiently stood to the side. I pondered as to why they would team me with a new member on possibly the only case that this place had ever gotten since its inception.

     As I took the letter from him and began to proceed to the door, I felt the urge to ask the director…Why me?

     Just as I posed the question, the director paused and looked at me directly. “Because… she asked for you.”

     Again, the words were so unusual that it was almost as though my hearing had failed me and I’d suddenly gone deaf. Looking at the girl seated at the table in the holding room, I was certain that I’d never met this girl before. At least not to my knowledge. Without time to waste I pushed open the door and stepped into what would be the start of a very strange evening. Oddly, I was enthused.

Friday, March 20th

     “Good evening. I am the head Situation Analyst covering your case. Beside me is Junior Analyst Agent Yamanaka. I would introduce myself, but it seems you’re already well aware of who I am.”

     I stepped in front of the table, standing directly across from the young girl. She peered at the both of us, before resting her eyes on myself.

     “You’re a bit late.” The girl stated. Although her words were candid, her voice was rather tranquil.

     “Excuse me?”

     “You’re late,” she repeated once more. “Well… later than you’re supposed to be… and she’s not supposed to be here.

     Nodding her head slightly towards Agent Yamanaka, I was taken aback by her odd response. For a moment, I was stuck without a reaction. This girl really did come off as peculiar to me. I glanced at Agent Yamanaka, who then greeted me with the squint of her eyes before asking the girl, “Would you prefer a different analyst to be in my place?” but the girl simply shook her head and responded, “From what I know it’s just supposed to be one person.”

     I questioned myself if the girl was running off at the mouth, but ultimately just got on with the interrogation. “It’s standard procedure for two situation analysts to be present per case. So, Agent Yamanaka stays,” I stated firmly. Somehow, in the context of a real interrogation the authoritative tone fleeting from my mouth felt more artificial than ever. I’d had a few cases prior to moving to this HQ but, for some reason, this time around I had the overwhelming feeling that I was a phony.

     “Ok” the girl calmly replied.

     I took a seat directly in front of her with Agent Yamanaka to my right.

     “Your name is Uzume. Is that a surname or your given?”

“It’s just my name.”

     “Okay, and is there a family name to go with it or…?”

     “I can’t remember what it would be.”

     “…right.”

     I was having trouble comprehending her. Grasping her character. The structure of her personality. It was like looking at a photograph cloaked in a mosaic. I know what’s in front of me, but I don’t understand what it is. Was she confused? Amnesia stricken? Or just dancing with us? I couldn’t grasp much from her at all.

     One of the key skills they teach you as an analyst is to stay ahead of the person you’re interrogating. But when you don’t know the direction of the game that’s being played; it makes it awfully difficult to discern what ‘ahead’ is.”

     “Okay… Do you mind telling me how you got here?” I asked casually.

     “I thought I explained that already?”

     “…Not to me you didn’t. I like to hear it from the source… if that’s alright with you?”

     With a slight pointedness to her expression, she recited her story straight and blunt.

     “I didn’t set out to come here specifically, I don’t have a set of directions as to how I made my way here. But I’m here. If you’re looking for specific details, I don’t have it. I can only tell you what I know, so you’re gonna have to make use of it.”

     I paused for a moment as we both glared into each other’s eyes. Time was irrelevant in the space of my mind filing through its thoughts. Deciphering her. Who she was, what she looked like? The fact her expression seemed… stagnant.

     With my hands crossed over my chest I took in a deep breath. I could feel Agent Yamanaka’s presence beside me. Perhaps my questions were too ‘matter-of-fact’ I thought to myself; and began wondering how Agent Yamanaka would question her instead. Nonetheless, I figured I’d keep on the same path until I was certain it was failing me.

     “This place is really strange by the way.” The girl then unexpectedly informed.

     “That’s one way to put it,” I replied before continuing my questioning. “What were you doing before you arrived?”

     “I was somewhere else.”

     “And where is somewhere else?”

     “Mmm…” she murmured while faintly glancing around, “Not here.”

     I found myself pausing once again. Evaluating my own reluctance to speak. Tussling with the growing impression that this girl was wasting my time.

     “How old are you?”

     “I’m 16.”

     “Any idea on how to get in contact with your parents?”

     “I guess it would help if I actually knew who they were.”

     “So, that’s a no?”

     She stared at me with the most vacant of eyes. Pupils spiraling inwards like a tunnel void of an underside. The longer we looked at each other the stronger I felt its vacuum-like pull on my mind, as if trying to suck me into its depths. My conclusion? Questioning her parents struck a chord.

     I unfolded my arms and placed my hands onto the table. Hands clasped and fingers interlaced. Slightly leaning forward towards her I asked another obvious question.

     “Where are you from?”

     Likewise, she placed her hands on the table as well. But she refrained from leaning inwards. All the while keeping her hands closed and palms pointed downwards. It was the first time that she’d adjusted her posture at all since I’d walked in.

     “Well…?” I nudged.

     “You’re not asking me any questions that are relevant,” she then responded.

     At that moment she opened her right hand and tapped her fingers against the table one time. Her aura felt… impatient. She was expecting something from me, and I wasn’t giving it to her. From her perspective things weren’t going as planned.

     “…Do you enjoy talking in circles, young lady?” I argued; eager to push her to unveil her hand. But when I was met with a string of silence yet again, I too began to grow impatient.

     “I don’t have tim-” before I could finish my statement Agent Yamanaka interjected.

     “Why are you here, Uzume?”

     An obvious question of course, but one that I’d tiptoed around. Agent Yamanaka, however, was clearly fonder of getting to the point. I waited as her question made its way to the girl on the opposite end of the table.

     Is this what she meant by relevant questions?

     The young girl then reached her hand out and pointed towards the letter I had placed in front of me. The one I was told she had carried along with her. I placed my hand on the paper in question, a sort of silent confirmation if you may, and flipped it over to reveal the contents of the page.

     I silently read through the letter. As did Agent Yamanaka looking over my shoulder. It was a list of seemingly mundane things. Time stamps, dates, names that I didn’t personally recognize; and by Agent Yamanaka’s expression, she didn’t either. Amongst other things. It was twelve entries in total, but it was the one all the way down at the bottom that baffled me the most.

     Once again, I peered over at Agent Yamanaka and, as she shook her head, I concluded that this word simply didn’t make any sense to neither of us. Peeking up at the young girl I decided to take a tip from Agent Yamanaka’s playbook. Instead of an umbrella style question, such as what is the letter for, or why is any of it important? I got straight to the one question that was at the forefront of my mind.

     “R… E… D… I’m not even going to try to read it as one word. I’m confused enough just looking at it.” As I shifted my weight to one side I continued, “What is it?”

     “Red,” the girl uttered, “It’s pronounced red.”

     Both Agent Yamanaka and I caught our eyes linking with one another once more. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking but I understood what she was feeling.

     “What does it mean?” Agent Yamanaka asked her.

     “It’s a color,” she replied, “The same color as my eyes.”

     I felt the thud of my body as I fell back into my chair. In one statement my mind went from mildly puzzled to highly displaced from the entire context of the situation before me. Agent Yamanaka was like a single frame frozen in time, with her mouth held slightly ajar and confusion hardened onto her face.

     “The color of your eyes?” I probed…

     “What the hell is a color?”

     Leaning forward towards the two of us, she stated, “Like I said… this place is really strange…”