Chapter 41

“Nightwatch”

The evening found Nagataka and Nereida Nostrum at the abandoned testing grounds deep underneath the city. Nagataka was sweeping bits of one of his machines from the floor, while her companion sat on a chair, watching the work with a frustrated scowl on her face and absently rubbing her left leg.

“You’re on fire today. I suppose you don’t want to talk about it?” he said, dropping the last bits in the rubbish bin.

“Nothing,” Ran replied.

“Doesn’t look like nothing, but-”

“I said it’s nothing! Really now, are you going to start too?”

Nagataka looked at Ran and smirked knowingly, making the girl blush. After only a moment she looked away from him, muttering to herself.

“Empty arguments are the worst, you know, though I suppose I shouldn’t talk.”

“Really?” she said, less angry and more curious than a moment before.

“Yes, when… Well, when Sumire-san disappeared, I had a really stupid argument with my dad.” He let the broom rest against the bin and turned around, putting his hands in his pockets. “You see, he’s the big and scary military man, and we all have to follow orders!” Nagataka said, standing to attention and bringing his right hand up to make a salute. “But I suppose that’s how things work around here. Still, what made me realize it was empty was that he asked me to trust him.”

“So?” Ran said.

“Trust him? He’s my father! Of course I trust him!” Nagataka replied, shaking his head. “Seriously, if you stop arguing about facts and start thinking the other person is just being stubborn and whatnot, that’s pretty much the end of it.”

“She is being stubborn!”

Even though she hadn’t said anything, Nagataka guessed the “eeek!” in Ran’s mind when she put a hand to her mouth.

“She?”

“Nereida Aegea,” Ran said, sighing. “Really now, she’s been holding something back and she won’t tell me what’s going on. It’s so frustrating!”

“I suppose it’d be, did she said why?”

“No! Nothing! All she says is that she won’t let anything bad happen to us, and that’s it. But I don’t want that! I really want to help her!”

“Well, you know what they say,” Nagataka said as he turned to grab another tool, “before you criticize someone, walk five miles in his shoes.”

“What, you think she’s right?” Ran said, furrowing her brow in a frustrated scowl.

“No, that way you’ll be five miles away from that person, and you’ll have his shoes too!”

Ran almost fell off her chair when she looked at Nagataka, who was smirking with the knowledge of a well placed bad pun coming out of nowhere. She started laughing as soon as she found her feet again.

“Really, I guess I’ll try that!” she said, still laughing.

“I suppose you can exchange shoes and run five miles away from each other.”

“Really now,” she giggled, and only continued after sobering up a few seconds later. “So what else do you have to try? I keep breaking all this stuff, do you have anything a bit more sturdy?”

“Yes, but we’ve got to take it easy for now, I don’t-”

“No way! Really, let’s try something else, this isn’t going anywhere!”

Nagataka looked at Ran with some curiosity. She appeared to have forgotten all her woes, but the air about her still felt like it was charged with power, and she was still as fired-up as before.

“Nostrum, the problem is that if something works, so to speak, right now all I have is things that would hurt you.”

“So?”

Nagataka sighed.

“Look, one test then,” he replied, and went off to a workbench, coming back with a strange-looking object; it looked like a flattened hollow metallic pipe, with two attachments on opposite ends of its end third, and two very thick cables running from the opposite end.

“What’s that?”

“This is a, uh, what did they call it… resonance induction something. Basically, one of the things that sort of worked before was to create a resonant convection of the thing that you use-”

Thing?” Ran asked, confused.

“We haven’t given it a clever name yet, have we? Your power, I mean. I suppose we should.”

“Oh! Really, what could we call it?”

“Dunno, Nereida power?” he offered, shrugging.

“What about Gaia power?”

“I suppose that works,” he said, nodding. “Anyway, the idea is to suck up Gaia power with this, and then send it back with an extra jolt.”

“Sounds promising! Let’s try it!”

“Okay, let’s see. I have tweaked it a fair bit, and I think it should be safer. But still, I have no idea how dangerous this thing will be.”

“I trust you!” Ran said enthusiastically.

Nagataka sighed, and flicked on a switch at the bottom. The tube started to hum ominously, producing an increasingly high pitched whine.

“Ready?”

“Yup!” Ran replied, raising her left arm in front of her face.

With some trepidation, Nagataka moved the pipe closer and closer to Ran’s arm. When they were almost touching there was a sudden surge coming from the pipe, and in an instant several things happened at once. There was a flash and an arc that looked like an electric arc jumping between the widgets and across Ran’s arm; a loud bang; and a cry of pain from Ran. An instant later, Nagataka found himself laying on his back, with Ran kneeling next to him and looking very worried.

“Nagataka-kun! Can you hear me?”

Maybe it wasn’t just an instant.

“Ugh, what happened?” he asked in a daze, there was a faint smell of burnt electronics and ozone in the air which he found particularly revolting.

“I don’t know! Really! That thing zapped me in the arm, and then you went flying back, and I was really worried!”

Nagataka sat up on the floor slowly, gently helped by Ran. After a few seconds, he smiled.

“And I was so worried about you,” he finally said, making Ran smile.

“Really now, maybe you should wear more protective gear.”

“Helmet and elbow pads? Ow.” He winced as he stood up. “I suppose some failures are more painful than others.”

“It wasn’t a failure!” Ran replied, and showed Nagataka her arm. “See?”

There was a mark on top of her bracer, and her own arm had a small burn mark on the opposite side.

“Oh crap, sorry! Does it hurt?”

“It does!” she replied in a surprisingly upbeat tone. “It’s great!”

Nagataka decided to call it a day and gave Ran some quick first aid, with a cool ointment and a patch over her burn. When he examined the remains of the device, he sighed unhappily at the prospect of having to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.

Ran was, however, very upbeat during the whole trip back to Nagataka’s apartment.

“You know, it wasn’t all my invention, they had this design already, I just tweaked it with the information we’ve collected in the last few days.”

“But still! Nagataka-kun is really amazing, doing all that in less than a week!” Ran complimented him.

“It probably has more to do with the fact that I had you to help,” he replied, smiling at Ran. “We’re here.”

“Oh, right,” Ran looked around and hesitated, but Nagataka jumped ahead of her thoughts.

“I think we can take a break for now, I’ll see what I can come up with what we have tested,” he said, putting a finger on Ran’s lips. “I’ll see you soon, Nereida Nostrum.”

“Ah, o-okay then, goodbye Nagataka-kun!”

Ran looked him rush up the stairs and, with a sigh, turned around and made for the rooftops as fast as she could, too fast for anyone to see. That burn on her forearm was starting to really hurt, but she consoled herself with the fact that it meant Nagataka was making progress.

And maybe I’ll have a better idea of how all this works.

She stopped at the top of one of the larger buildings to look around. The only obvious signs of the fights they had had were the holes on the dome. The one at the very top was at the later stages of repair, while the others were merely concealed with large camouflage canvasses. But because she knew where to look, she could see the signs of battle amidst the general decay of the city. She didn’t like it, not one bit.

So intent was she on watching the city she started to catch glimpses of movement here and there. People moving about, mostly. A few bicycles. She was too caught up to realize her awareness just kept climbing and climbing, becoming sharper and so fast that the world seemed to slow down around her.

After several minutes, she saw something else move. It wasn’t a person, or a bicycle, or anything else she could identify, something barely bigger than her hand. She followed it as it crawled along the top of the far building, and as she did, she started to see a strange aura surrounding it, swirling around in a tingle of red and leaving a trail behind itself. She gave a quick glance around, and realized everyone she could see was starting to acquire a similar aura too.

She blinked twice and the whole thing went away. Her curiosity got the best of her and she rushed over the rooftops towards that unknown thing. The aura had been very different than that of the people in the city, even the feel of it had been different. She landed with a thump atop the apartments building, but couldn’t see anything moving.

“Okay then,” she muttered, “let’s try that again.”

A deep breath and a moment with closed eyes to concentrate, and the world morphed in Ran’s perception to that strange aural overlay she had just discovered. There was a faint trace of something like what she thought she had seen from afar, which trailed off and apparently jumped across the street to the next building. And so on. Soon, she was chasing after something that was running very fast away from her.

What in Gaia’s name is that?!

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