Laura and the Fan Club (Part 1)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure
Laura and the Fan Club
Friday, September 9, 2016 - evening
Otsuka home, Shizuoka, Japan
Fatigued by a long day of travel, even with attempts at sleeping onboard the JAL flight, Natsuo and Kei Otsuka staggered into their small home, dragging their roll-on luggage. Behind them, their twin girls Emiko and Fuchiko, both fifteen, seemed to have absorbed energy from their parents, as they were bubbly and excited.
"Girls, put away your luggage!" their mother, Kei, commanded them needlessly; the twins knew what was expected of them, and despite being teenagers, they complied with their parents' wishes, all the while chattering about their trip.
Oh, their friends were going to be so jealous! A trip to New York, especially as an unexpected break from the fall school term, was such a treat, and it had been so exciting - enough to make up for the extra work it would take to catch up to missed school work.
"Finish putting away your clothes, then go to bed, girls," their mother Kei strongly suggested from the doorway.
"But mother, we're not tired!" Fuchiko objected mildly. "We slept on the plane."
"We didn't," Kei Otsuko rebutted. "Okay, if you are quiet, you may stay up for a while to work on your school work so you can catch up. Your father and I are very tired."
"Yes, mother," Emiko and Fumiko replied in unison. As soon as the door closed behind their mother, the girls quickly finished putting away their clean clothing and placing their dirty clothes in a laundry basket. Immediately after the suitcases were put aside, the two girls sat down at the shared desk in their room and booted their shared computer. Their parents had been very persistent in reminding the girls to study every evening, so that based on the assignment outline they had been given before the trip, there was nothing more they could do until they returned to school the next day.
"I'm going to set up a new page on the 'Gadget Girl Heroes' and post the hero and villain fight!" Fumiko suggested to her sister. That they'd follow a group like 'Gadget Girl Heroes' wasn't surprising; both girls were very tech-savvy and were likely destined for careers in the tech fields.
"Okay," Emiko replied. "That boy - he was kind of cute!" she added.
"But he has a girlfriend!" Fumiko shot back.
"She was kind of cute."
"For an Americajin!" Fumiko added with a laugh. "A boy like that could probably get any girlfriend he wanted."
"But she's a gadgeteer!"
"He's so lucky!"
"I wish I was a gadgeteer!"
"So does father!" Fumiko laughed. They referred, of course, not to simply girls who had an interest in tech, but to those girls who were gadgeteer and devisor mutants. "And if you were, I would be too!"
"I'd make some shoes that would turn into a mini-scooter!" Emiko added wistfully.
"I'd make an automated bed-maker!" Fumiko said. "That'd save a little time every morning."
"Yeah, mother really wants our rooms clean. Why not an automated clothes-folder and hanger?"
"You mean, dump a load of laundry into the machine, and everything comes out folded or hung up on hangars?" Fumiko grinned. "That'd be cool."
"Or a wallet that unfolds into a full-sized laptop," Emiko imagined.
"Father would enjoy a car that would fold adjust its size," Fumiko grinned. "It could get narrow to get through traffic jams, grow big for long trips, and really fold itself small for parking!"
"Why not a flying car?"
Fumiko shook her head. "Can you imagine how many wrecks there would be over Tokyo every day?"
"Then there'd be a market for force fields to protect the buildings," Emiko countered. "And if it could keep out rain and snow ...."
Every Japanese child knew that gadgeteers were highly respected in Japan, and companies paid handsomely to hire them, sometimes even paying tuition at a unviersity. Fumiko and Emiko were far from the only Japanese school children to wish they were gadgeteers.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - evening
Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Have you seen the latest viral pictures?" Kiyoko Onishi asked her friend, Sumika Miura, another Japanese student. The two were in Sumika's room in Dickinson Cottage, and were speaking in their native tongue, ignoring Sumika's roommate Vera Sato, who was studying with her earbuds in her ears anyway. There was a little detente between the two roommates - Sumika listened to her favorite - Wagakki Band - only when Vera wasn't present or when she had her earbuds, and Vera reciprocated so as to not offend Sumika with what the Japanese girl considered to be obnoxious country music.
"It's crazy!" Sumika replied, shaking her head. "Some heroes are a new sensation in Japan! One is a Japanese boy, and the other I think is an American gadgeteer girl. They were part of a team that fought and defeated a big-time villain."
"Really? What's an American gadgeteer doing in Japan?"
"No, not in Japan," Sumika shot back, shaking her head as she snickered. "The fight happened in New York City."
"A Japanese boy ... New York ...." Kiyoko's eyes widened. "You don't suppose ...."
"Suppose what?" Sumika frowned at her friend's puzzling comment.
In response, Kiyoko focused her attention on her tablet, her fingers flitting with determination across the keyboard, squinting at the display. After a moment, she sat back. "Look at this."
Sumika leaned closer, and as she looked at a couple of side-by-side pictures. "That's ... that's the boy!" She turned to her friend. "Where did you get the picture on the right?"
"That's from here - from Whateley! It's the class roster photo gallery."
"Taka Ono?" Sumika thought. "I've heard that name ...."
"From that silly Mutant Mayhem Machine team. The ones who ...." Kiyoko's eyes widened. "The ones who fought a villain on the way here - just a few days ago!"
"And the girl?" Sumika gawked. "I think I've seen her! Her face looks familiar, but ... is she the one who's blue? But on red-flag days looks normal, so ... maybe she puts on body makeup?" A dawning look of realization came to Sumika's countenance. "If she was in New York City, she would have been wearing body makeup there!"
Kiyoko started at Sumika's conjecture, then began to work on her laptop, opening an image-editing program before fiddling with a picture from the school's website, deftly applying changes to the color pallate. "That's ... her!"
"Laura Samuels - gadgeteer and devisor," Sumika read from the website. "She must have been wearing her makeup in New York City."
Kiyoko tapped the keyboard a few more times. "Let me try to correct the angles," the image from New York twisted a little bit until the girl's face was at the same angle the class photo. "Look at that."
"It looks like the same person," Sumika said hesitantly. "Does the facial recognition match?"
Kiyoko shook her head. "No. It can't analyze the New York picture." She sighed. "But ...." She started fiddling with the pictures again. Some contrast enhancement might bring out the highlights of both faces enough for the algorithm to match, and ... "Yatta!"
"Sixty-three percent chance of match?" Sumika sounded a little uncertain with such a low result.
"The pictures look the same girl. Laura was in New York, and she and her friends were in a fight - and the dates match. More than fifty percent match on facial recognition." She looked at the other girl. "It has to be her."
Sumika stared some more, then she smiled. "My sister is going to be SO jealous that I'm going to school with the gadgeteer girl and the Japanese hero!" She turned to her laptop and began to type furiously.
Friday, September 16, 2016 - afternoon
Otsuka home, Shizuoka, Japan
"How was school?" Kei Otsuka asked as the girls came through the door, their giggling and laughter annunciating that they were in a good mood.
"Everyone was talking about our trip!" Fumiko enthused.
"Mostly about the heroes we saw," Emiko corrected her twin. "Many of the girls were talking about the boy!"
"Mitsuo did a facial recognition search," Fumiko interjected insistently, "and found out his name is Taka Ono! He was sent to America to school!"
"A Japanese girl who's going to the same American school posted more information and a couple of pictures of the girl," Emiko added with a grin. "She's a real gadgeteer, and her name is Laura!"
"Aya said she's ugly, but I think Aya's just jealous because she has a cute boyfriend and she's a gadgeteer!"
"Most of the boys think she's cute, though," Emiko set her book bag down and stepped to the kitchen to get something to drink.
"I think a lot of the kids are jealous that she's a gadgeteer!"
Kei closed the door behind the enthusiastic girls and followed them to the kitchen. "The only thing my friends at work were talking about was the heroes on the trip!"
"Our post on the Gadget Girl Heroes site has almost four thousand likes already!" Fumiko bubbled.
"That's good, but right now you need to get cleaned up. The TV station is sending a news crew to interview us about the heroes," Kei said with motherly authority. "It's gone viral and is a big fad now, but you still have your studies. Just tonight, you can start studying late - after dinner and the interview."
"If they want to interview us about the Gadget Girl Hero, it must be a slow news day," Emiko said with a roll of her eyes.
"You should take a few moments to review the fan pages," Kei suggested, "There are probably some incorrect facts, and you should correct any wrong information that the reporter suggests." She knew the girls would relish the opportunity to politely correct a reporter; they were both very bright. They were also both very determined and a bit outspoken and not in the slightest deferential - just like their mother.
Saturday, September 17, 2016 - late evening
Taniguchi Family Home, Osaka, Japan
Hideo Taniguchi took another sip of shochu, then set the cup back on the table. "They beat us to the market again, Takeo," he said somberly, his mood enhanced a slight bit by the amount of shochu he and his friend had consumed. Hideo was the majority shareholder of Taniguchi Industries, a small conglomerate company which had been started by his great-great grandfather many years ago making bicycles and simple motorcycles. Now, the company made a wide range of goods, but it seemed to be cursed to be out-innovated by the bigger top-tier companies which had the budget for a good research and development department, a luxury that Taniguchi Industries lacked.
Takeo Morita, Hideo's chief engineer and long-time friend, nodded. "The design staff could use some inspiration," he said before taking a sip of his drink. "They know that they are being out-done, and it wears on their morale."
"It would be good if we could recruit some gadgeteers," Hideo mused between sips of shochu. "Abe-sama has been generous to companies who bring in new talent."
Takeo nodded. "The big companies seem to have some inside information, since they seem to find the gadgeteers first."
"And they pay them better," Hideo added, only about half-bitterly. Unlike the stereotype of American workers who thought only of salary, many younger Japanese workers still considered the reputation and status of the company as a key factor in employment decisions. That, though, was changing, no doubt due to the influence of Western culture - and Hideo-san considered that a shame.
"If we could talk to them first ...." Takeo started to say, then he broke off, his eyes narrowed as if to focus on the vague outline of an idea which had started to form. "My grand-daughter Hanako-chan ...."
"What of your grand-daughter?" Hideo sat up a little straighter, his eyes brimming with curiosity.
"Two nights ago, she was prattling on about some website and some new viral sensation." Tadeo shook his head to clear the cobwebs and try to recall what he'd overheard, but in all honesty, he'd considered it to be some young persons' sensation and had discounted it - except for the word 'gadget' which somehow stuck in his mind. "It was some Internet viral fad - something about gadgets and heroes."
A sweet young face poked into the room unbidden. "Forgive the interruption, father," Sakura, Hideo's twelve-year-old daughter interjected softly.
"Yes, Sakura-chan?" The elder Taniguchi didn't seem upset by his daughter's interruption.
"I think Tadeo-san is speaking of Gadget Girl Heroes website and fan group," the young girl said meekly. "There is much discussion about teen-age heroes fighting a villain in New York. One was a Japanese boy, and the other was an Americajin gadgeteer girl. It is a big Internet sensation right now."
Hideo's ears perked up. "Come and sit, Sakura-chan." He refilled Tadeo's shochu cup and then his own. "Please tell us more about this Gadget Girl Heroes fad."
Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - After Dinner
Near Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"Are you going back to the lab?" Morgana asked Laura as they exited the cafeteria. "'Cause I can walk with you."
Laura shook her head. "Nah. I've got to try to get ahead studying tonight because I'm helping Vanessa ... er, Mrs. Barton ... tomorrow night."
"Oh." Morgana definitely sounded disappointed.
"Hmmmph! I bet you only offered so you can get more devisor coffee!" Laura laughed. Seeing the reaction on Morgana's face, Laura grinned. "I knew it! The only reason you come down there is for that vile black tar!"
Morgana flinched at her friend's accusation, her expression trying to show denial, but she quickly gave up the effort at feigning innocence and simply shrugged. "Okay, so I like devisor coffee. So what?"
"And you just waltz in the lab, bat your eyes and smile, and let the guys trip over themselves bringing you coffee, too!" Laura added gleefully.
"It works, doesn't it?" Morgana shot back, grinning. "As if you don't use a bit of feminine wiles to get a little help in the labs, too!"
"I do not, and you know it!" Laura huffed. "You don't need me there, anyway. Just go down there, wiggle your butt a few times while winking and smiling coyly, and you'll have the guys getting you all the sludge you can drink."
"I think I might just do that," Morgana countered.
"I'm going to warn Bianca that you're dosing up on caffeine. I'm sure she'll want to take appropriate precautions so you don't keep her up all night. Again!"
Morgana shrugged again while still smiling. "I'm not that bad! I'll see you back in the cottage in a bit." The British girl turned back into Crystal Hall, so she could take the elevators down from the adjoining Schuster Hall.
"I thought she'd never leave," a sultry voice sang out behind Laura.
Startled, Laura spun and almost automatically reached to her belt area, grabbing a small object that resembled nothing so much as a Star Trek hand phaser. She recognized the source of the interruption even as she fingered the activating buttons.
"Hey, it's just me!" Valentina - Eurydice - blurted, surprised by Laura's defensive reaction. "I didn't realize I warranted a hostile response!"
The blue girl winced. "Um, you don't," she said meekly. "Sorry. It's just ...." She lowered her gadget. "Some ..., people ... haven't exactly been friendly to my team," she offered an explanation.
"You know," Val purred as she sidled up beside Laura, slipping her hand onto Laura's left arm, "there are groups that help protect people against ... undesirables." She shot a warm smile toward the blue girl. "Heading back to Poe?"
"Yeah," Laura said, somewhat apprehensive about Val's presence but allowing the upperclassman girl to steer her toward the walkway to Poe. "Your ... girlfriend ... Brita really doesn't like some of my friends," she added. "And I get the feeling she doesn't like me much, either."
Val stiffened noticeably at Laura's words. "She's ... a girlfriend," she noted, pausing to take a couple of deep breaths to calm herself; for some reason, the blue girl's words had riled her somewhat. "But I don't belong to her and she doesn't belong to me."
"Oh? That's not how it looks to ... to some people," Laura replied hesitantly. Gossip around the halls of Poe, which Laura and the other freshmen had heard and which made Laura very nervous, was that Brita was extremely possessive and fixated on Val, and Val was a tease to her which kept Brita angry and on edge. Some said that Val always sought a new challenge, and she was very successfully persuading girls to the sisterhood, the boy-hating lesbian club. According to stories, she'd converted several girls, some of whom even dumped long-term boyfriends. No-one knew how Val did it, but it was rumored that she used some form of psychic persuasion, which had gotten the attention of the psychic arts faculty, but there was never any conclusive evidence. Everyone who wasn't part of the Amazons considered Brita and Val to be trouble. And getting on Brita's bad side could be very unhealthy, as Laura's friends already knew.
Val stopped, using her arm on Laura's to turn the girl toward her. "If you mean, do I like girls?" She smiled coyly. "I think we both know the answer to that one. Yes, I do. And I think we also know the answer to whether you prefer girls, don't we?"
Laura goggled, her jaw hanging open at the blatant way Val seemed to be flirting, even bluntly stating that she was a lesbian. "I don't ... don't know what ... what you're suggesting," she stammered, flabbergasted at Val's very forward comments. Of course, Val was right - Laura did prefer girls, as witnessed by her own girlfriend Antonia, but that wasn't common knowledge. In fact, everyone in Poe strove to keep it a secret, because the world was still very prejudiced against gay and lesbian people. And changelings like her? It was far, far too dangerous for anyone to know the truth. And yet Valentina seemed to know more than a non-Poesie should, far more than Laura had told anyone outside of the safe haven of Poe.
"I've seen how you react when boys are interested in you. And I've seen how you look at some of the prettier girls. I can tell that you're curious," Val crooned. "Let me give you one more thing to think about. I know that Brita was behind the assault on your teammate - the red-headed girl. She won't stop on her own; she'll keep on until she hurts your friend pretty badly. Unless I stop her." She smiled knowingly, then turned and walked back toward Schuster, her hips swaying seductively in a blatant sexual display.
Behind Val, Laura goggled at the seductress' words, feeling like she'd been gut-punched. It was a not-so-veiled threat and bribe all in one. The thought of going along with Eurydice to spare Morgana felt cheap, dirty. And yet, there was something nagging in her mind, some sense of safety and security, that made her wonder.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - After Dinner
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Brita Baumann felt like screaming as she pushed noisily through the exit doors, her eyes already scanning for Valentina who was supposed to be waiting for her on the fixers' patio. Brita was late, and the reason was part of the source of her anger. She'd been sparring in the Amazon's clubhouse, and after a quick shower, she discovered to her annoyance that the closest elevator to the clubhouse, which served the lower levels of the tunnels, was out of service. That meant a longer, more circuitous route to the surface, and to make matters worse, she seemed to have hit 'rush hour' for the devisors and gadgeteers rushing to the cafeteria for dinner.
To add to her frustration, Valentina wasn't waiting for her. Among other things, the two girls were going to work on homework, with some relaxation. While Brita could have 'relaxed' with one of the other girls, like Muliebris, she really wanted Val to be her steady. A quick glance at her watch confirmed that she was almost ten minutes late, which meant that Val had probably given up and gone to her own room in Dickinson Cottage.
With a snarl of frustration, Brita turned toward Poe - if she couldn't 'relax' with Val, she could at least get some work done on her weekly status report for Mrs. Horton. Doing the weekly RA report for Mrs. Horton's was a pain, but she understood the job of the RAs. Poe had a history of problems, indeed more than most cottages; self-destructive behavior and substance abuse weren't unheard of in Poe, and in the past, there had been suicides. Though she hated the time it took to do the reporting properly, Brita was diligent in her duties. The lives of her charges depended on it. As long as she didn't have to deal with any of the 'false girls'.
As she stomped down the walkway, glaring and snarling at the few males who crossed her path, she suddenly pulled up short. Ahead of her, illuminated under one of the 'street lamp' type lights were two girls facing each other, and from the motion, Brita could see they were having some animated conversation. Normally, she wouldn't have cared, but in the small circle of light, she could see that one was a fellow Poesie - the blue girl Laura Samuels, one of the troublemaking false girls in Krystal Barret's wing. That was mildly annoying and she could have easily overlooked the nuisance faker, except that the girl talking to her was Valentina Sanchez de Hernandez, her girlfriend - at least in Brita's eyes.
If not for the omnipresent security cameras, Brita's first instinct would have been to give in to her rage, to charge in and demonstrate why her codename was StahlFaust - the Steel Fist - especially since Val was so brazenly coming on to a falsches Mädchen. But that would lead to a huge scene with Val later and another visit to security - and she'd probably lose er privileged RA position.
Glaring at the girls and fuming with anger, Brita sidled off the walkway, blending her shadowy shape into the dark outline of one of the larger tree trunks. Based on past experiences, arguing the point with Val would do no good; she'd have to think of some way to deal with the nettlesome Poe freshman to make sure she was highly discouraged from taking an interest in Brita's girlfriend.
Tuesday, September 21, 2016 - Late Evening
Taniguchi home, Osaka, Japan
"You called for me, father?" Koichi Taniguchi asked from the doorway into his father Hideo's home office, a place where he spent much time when he wasn't actually at his corporate office.
The elder Taniguchi gestured to a chair. "Sit, please."
As the boy sat, his father studied him, elbows on his desk and his index fingers steepled in front of his mouth. He was always amazed to see how much of his mother's features he could see in his son, which in a way was a little disappointing to him, since he'd been often told how much Hideo resembled photos of his grandfather and even his great-grandfather.
Koichi was a little taller than average for his age, but slender and non-athletic. He didn't look ruggedly handsome, but more gentle and soft, again like his mother. Koichi got a second strike in his father's eyes because he had little talent in science and math; his grades were marginally acceptable, but he excelled in and was very interested in art, specifically painting, though he seemed to also have some developing talent at sculpture.
The third strike came because of a trait Koichi had inherited. He had only recently shown himself to have an active meta-gene complex, a mutant. This wouldn't have been a bad thing if his talent hadn't been one of those psychic powers, the intrusive mental gifts that were feared by Japanese people as being unnaturally intrusive into their private little shells. Of all the mutant traits to have, psychic and esper powers practically made the person an outcast. And his son had that type of power.
Koichi was a projective esper, able to send out his thoughts and feelings, especially when he was working on a painting or sculpture. More peculiar, and of great confusion to the Japanese authorities on mutants, was that his projected feelings seemed to bind onto whatever art object the boy was making. His art was more than seen and touched; it was felt emotionally with the same intensity and feelings the boy had had when he created it.
All in all, the boy's interests and powers were of no use to Hideo and his worries about his company, unlike those of his sister Sakura, who seemed naturally gifted and highly interested in things technical. It was therefore no wonder that daughter related more to father, and son related more to mother.
Although, as Hideo mulled things over in his mind, maybe there was some potential in his son. Artists were valued in Japan, and if his power made people feel his art more intensely, then .... He put the thought aside. He had his company to run first and foremost.
Koichi was a Japanese boy raised in a traditional Japanese family. He knew his place.
"I have a special role for you in our family's business," Hideo announced bluntly.
"I am afraid that my lack of talent in business and engineering would disappoint you, father," Koichi replied as his mother had prompted him only too often.
Hideo waved off his son's protestations. "I know you prefer art instead of business and technology. Your mother has reminded me of this often."
"I will do my best to learn what I ...."
Hideo shook his head firmly, moving his hand in a motion that signaled the boy to stop speaking. "The role I have found does not require you to be interested in business or technology," he pronounced. "There is a way you can help secure the future of the family business and still pursue your interests."
The boy's eyes widened and he perked up. "There is a way that I can help the business ... and still do my art?"
"Yes." The elder Taniguchi reached out and turned his computer monitor toward the boy. "Are you familiar with Gadget Girl Heroes?"
Koichi frowned a tiny bit. "No. It is a silly fad for mostly girls. But I know Sakura is interested." The title of the site - associated with gadgeteers, and thus technology, had him feeling defensive again.
Hideo clicked on a menu, and selected an option, then another page came up. "This girl is an Americajin gadgeteer girl. According to the site, she is a hero in a battle against a supervillain."
"Interesting," Koichi said carefully. He wasn't sure where his father was going with the conversation.
"She is cute, no? For an Americajin, I mean." Hideo had a smile that Koichi associated with his father closing a good business deal.
The boy shrugged warily. "I suppose so."
"The boy with her - he is also a hero, and the people who took these pictures said she's his girlfriend." He smiled. "Although she claimed that he is not her boyfriend."
"What does this have to do with me?"
"She is a mutant - like you. That gives you an advantage."
Hideo frowned, not liking the turn the discussion had taken. "Advantage for what?"
"According to the website, her name is Laura Samuels. She and the Japanese boy go to school together. I had a friend in the government do a little investigating, and they told me that the boy - Taka Ono - goes to a school in New Hampshire." Hideo was back to being all business, talking to his son as if he was one of his employees. "It is a special school for students with ... special talents."
"Is it a school for mutants?" Koichi speculated.
"I don't know. I don't think so. I do know that it is considered a premier school, and that the girl goes there."
"How does this concern me?" Koichi's curiosity had been piqued.
"Such a cute girl would make a good wife for some lucky boy, wouldn't she?"
The boy's eyes threatened to bulge from their sockets. "A ... wife? Are you suggesting ... that I ...?"
Hideo nodded, smiling. "You will go to this school. You will become her boyfriend, and convince her to come to Japan, to join Taniguchi industries and become part of the Taniguchi family."
The boy's jaw dropped. "But father ...," he stammered.
"You will do as you are instructed." Hideo's visage was stern and demanding, letting the boy knew that he had no options. "You will convince her how honored mutants are in Japan, especially gadgeteers. She will be very welcomed and well paid. You must make sure she knows this. She will be treated far better in Japan than she would in America. You will convince her of that. And you will romance her."
"Hai," the boy answered sullenly. He knew his duty, and would do it, but he was very unhappy at the sudden turn of events.
"As an artist, you may have heard of a mutant called the Imp?" Hideo seemingly changed the subject abruptly.
The boy perked up again. "The Imp? She is a very well-known art instructor, at least in the art schools. It is said that she was once an art thief, but no-one has proven that."
"She teaches where Taka and Laura go to school. You will be able to learn from her." Hideo smiled again. "Pack for a trip. I have arranged for us to travel to America, to the school, so that you can interview to be admitted. We will leave on Saturday."
"Hai." The boy nodded his understanding.
"Do you have any questions?"
Koichi shook his head. "No." He understood tacitly that he was being dismissed, so he stood and walked to the doorway, pausing to face his father and bow slightly. "Good evening, father," he said very formally, before turning and walking to his room.
Moments later, his mother, Masumi, came into the boy's room. "I heard what your father said. You didn't say anything to him."
Koichi shrugged. "It wouldn't have done any good. He has decided, and I must do what is expected of me."
"The girl is Americajin. They do not have the same customs. Arranged marriages and strict obedience of parents is not their standard."
Koichi's eyes furrowed. "What are you suggesting, mother?"
"What if the Americajin girl doesn't like you? What if she doesn't want to be your girlfriend - or wife?" She smiled at her son. "Your father cannot make Laura-chan like you or marry you. You cannot do that, either."
"But ... if I fail, father will be disappointed," Koichi protested, wincing as he spoke. He didn't want to disappoint his father or bring shame on the family.
"You do what you can, but even your father cannot make miracles," his mother reminded him with a smile. "And if you go to this school, you will be able to study with the art teacher you spoke of, even if you can't succeed in your father's task."
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - Dinnertime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
With a look of total exasperation, Laura dropped her fork onto her cafeteria tray and pulled out her cell phone, which was periodically making an obnoxious noise indicating it wanted her attention. She fished the phone out of a pocket, and with a heavy sigh of frustration, she unlocked it and swiped through to the offending app.
"Aaarghh!" she practically screamed. "Why am I getting all this junk?"
"What junk?" Morgana, Tia, and Bianca asked simultaneously.
"All of a sudden I started getting a ton of spam!" Laura complained. She fiddled with her phone, swiping and deleting messages. "And there are so damned many of them!"
"Requests for help getting money out of some poor African nation?" Bianca mused with a chuckle.
"Offers for resort vacations if you listen to their sales pitch for time-shares?" Bailey added.
"Breast enhancement products?" Tia tossed in.
"Very funny! Not!" Laura snarled. "I think it's mostly from China."
"Oh?" Hikaru's ears perked up. "Why do you say that?"
"Not great English, and lots of Chinese characters," Laura said. She fiddled with the phone a bit. "See? Lots of Chinese characters, and this says something about Gadget Girls." She held it out for Hikaru to see.
Hikaru took the phone and started to read.
"I'm going to have to complain to the IT department," Laura said with a sigh.
"Why? For your personal phone?" Tanya asked.
"It's my Whateley e-mail account," Laura replied.
"Laura, a lot of this isn't spam," Hikaru reported, handing the phone back to the blue girl.
"What? How do you know?"
"It's not from China, it's from Japan. Notice the doman? Dot jp is Japan.."
"Have you read past the first paragraph on any of them?"
"No. Why?" Laura was changing from annoyed to curious.
"Look at this one." Hikaru reached out and turned the phone halfway toward her, thumbing and swiping through the page. "This is from a girl who admires the 'gadget girl hero of New York' and hopes she can someday be like you."
"What?" Laura's jaw dropped.
Hikaru wasn't done. She swiped to another e-mail. "This is from a boy who says you're cute, and claims that he's going to be an engineer, and he'd like to meet you someday." She smirked. "He attached his picture."
"What?" Laura's jaw nearly hit the table. "What's going on?"
"Oh, here's a good one," Hikaru chuckled. "This is from a woman who says that if you ever break up with your Japanese boyfriend," she looked at Taka with a smirk, then back at Laura, "she has a son your age who is already an accomplished computer programmer."
"He's NOT my boyfriend!" Laura almost screamed, loud enough that she attracted a lot of attention from nearby tables. "What is going on here?"
"Here are two ... no three more from mothers with pictures of their sons," Hikaru reported as she continued to look through Laura's phone. "Oh, here's ... wait, is that picture you?" She showed the phone to Laura, displaying a picture of a group of kids, with only Taka and Laura identifiable, in some large city at night.
"Let me look at that," Tanya tried and failed to take the phone from Hikaru, but she did manage to turn the screen enough to see the picture. "That's in New York City," she said.
"After we fought Squidley?" Bianca leaned over and craned her neck to look. "I bet it's from those Japanese tourists who wanted your picture."
"That makes sense," Hikaru said with a nod. "The messages are from Japan, the tourists were from Japan, they probably posted their pictures on a Japanese website." She shifted her wrist slightly. "Kurenai."
A hologram of a Japanese woman in a kimono appeared above her wrist. "Yes, mistress?"
"Find this picture on Japanese websites." She turned the phone toward the hologram which had appeared when she spoke the AI's name.
"I anticipated your request and I've already transfered the image from the phone," Kurenai said semi-smugly. "So far, I have located nineteen sites from the JP domain which feature this picture. Shall I list them?"
Hikaru shook her head. "No. Which one is the most probable original source?"
"The oldest and least lossy image, and thus most likely the original, is posted to a social media site of the Otsuka family. They reside in Shizuoka. Airline records indicate that the entire family was in New York City at the time you were. Based on a trace of social media hits, one or both of their daughters posted the picture and a description of your altercation with The Mighty Squid to a site that roughly translates as Gadget Girl Heroes."
Laura gaped at the news. "Gadget Girl Heroes?"
"I told you no good would come of that picture," Tanya said, barely managing to avoid an I-told-you-so espression.
"Anything else?" Hikaru asked as Laura paled at what she was hearing.
"The Gadget Girl Heroes site, and particularly your story, were featured on a short news segment that included the Otsuka girls Emiko and Fumiko," Kurenai reported. "Would you like me to play the video?"
"Just transfer it to her phone," Hikaru said. "Add an audio track and closed captions with a translation of the Japanese."
"That will take a bit," the AI reported.
"You may not want to hear this," Hikaru said with a sympathetic look, "but it seems that you have a fan club."
"Done and transferred." Kurenai smiled smugly, if it was possible for an AI to be smug. "Transferring the data took the majority of the time."
Laura sat, stunned and shaking her head. "This is the worst thing that's happened to me since we got here!" she said.
"No," Hikaru said as she handed Laura's phone back, the display set to a particular part of the Gadget Girl Heroes website. "It gets worse. There are several dozen boys who are posting fan notes - mostly wanting you to go to Japan for a date or marriage."
As her teammates tried and failed to suppress mirth ranging from giggles to outright laughter, Laura face-palmed. "Go ahead, say it," she muttered to Tanya.
By some herculean feat, Tanya managed to keep a straight face. "I told you so."
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - Late Evening
Woods between Campus and The Village, Whateley Academy
Clothed in dark jeans and a dark long-sleeve shirt, Brita Baumann cautiously and silently slunk from the shadows of one tree-trunk toward another, her eyes always returning with a laser-beam focus on another figure who was moving through the woods. It was bright enough under about two-thirds of a moon shining through clear skies, enough that it was easy to track the other girl.
Abruptly, Brita froze; the other person had stopped on the trail. Wondering if she'd been spotted, her imagination made her feel her pulse pounding in her ears and her breathing roaring like a strong wind. In reality, she was quiet as a church-mouse, but she didn't want the other person to see her. Her task had to be executed perfectly, or she'd be in trouble again.
The other girl walked a few steps off the path in the opposite direction, her focus directed away from Brita, who decided to use the break to move to the shadows of a tree much closer to the path and further along, setting up an ambush. Brita kept watching her target, though, wary of being spotted and now getting curious about what the girl was up to.
The other girl stopped off in the trees, studying one of them it seemed, and after a moment or two, she reached up tip-toes and after a brief tug-of-war with the plant, pulled some kind of oval fruit or pod from the tree. She looked at it more closely, and after a few seconds, she reached up and plucked another. Tucking her prizes in her jacket, she began to happily amble back toward the path to complete her journey.
Brita stood beneath a tree, only feet from the wide walkway, waiting with eager anticipation. She'd teach Laura Samuels to not get involved with one of her girlfriends! And it would be a total mystery - this close to The Village, the teacher's residence area, there were no security cameras, since this was a restricted area, off-limits to students. Closer to The Village, magic warding provided an alarm if anyone unauthorized tried to disturb the peace of The Village, and closer to campus, security cameras covered the main walkway. But here? Here was a perfect spot.
As the blue girl ambled cluelessly toward her, Brita tensed; in another few seconds, she'd have the drop on the offending little false girl.
And then something seemed to grip her, some kind of force that immobilized her better than if she'd have been encased in concrete. She tried to scream in anger as the blue girl strolled casually down the path, a few feet away, but since Brita was able only to take shallow breaths, she was unable to even make a sound.
For what seemed an eternity, the big bully Amazon girl was held firm and silent, until Laura disappeared around a curve in the path some thirty or thirty-five meters along. Then whatever force had held Brita vanished, and she collapsed with a thud to the hard ground.
It took her a few seconds to shake off the effect of whatever had captured her so she could clumsily pull herself back to her feet. When she did, she goggled at two figures, also dressed in black, faces hidden by black masks, who stood before her, having approached completely silently.
Rage boiled up in Brita. "Who do you ....?" she started to hiss angrily.
"Leave her alone," one of the figures said in a deep, tomb-like voice that, though low in volume, rang with authority. "She's off limits to you."
Instinct took over in Brita - these intruders were messing with the wrong person. Her hands clenched into fists as she started to step forward, intending fully to deliver a mighty blow to the taller of the two.
She never made that first step. As before, she found herself frozen in place, immobilized by a force she slowly realized was either a finely-tuned PK force, or a focused TK field.
"She is off limits to you," the deep voice echoed again.
"What's it to you?" Brita snarled. "Why are you interfering in ....?"
"We're keeping you from interfering," the second voice, obviously a girl's voice, stated. "The girl is off limits to you or anyone else who wants to bring her to harm."
"Why are you stalking her?" the male voice demanded.
"Why are you protecting her?" Brita counter-demanded.
"Okay. You deserve to know what you're up against," the girl said, sounding very confident in herself. "The girl is very, very important to some ... interests ... off-campus."
The tall boy nodded. "Very rich and very powerful interests."
"The people who are interested in her have a very long reach. Anyone who tries to bring harm to her will be stopped - at any cost."
Brita gawked at the choice of words. She didn't quite believe what she'd heard. "Outside forces can't touch me here," she shot back. "Neutrality."
The boy snorted derisively. "If you think a little thing like Neutrality would stop the people interested in the girl, you are sadly mistaken."
"Most of the different factions who would enforce a violation of Neutrality share our common interest. They'll overlook a little think like a violation of Neutrality if it furthers all our interests." Brita could practically hear the smug smile. "We're here. We are among you. You have no idea who or how many of us there are. We will protect the girl, and if you get in the way, you are disposable."
"Accidents happen at Whateley. So do disappearances," the boy sneered. "You could be one of those far easier than you think."
"Get back to your cottage," the girl ordered. "And don't even think of trying anything funny on the way. We are always watching."
"If you hurt her," the boy said very somberly, "you will suffer, and you will die." The boy stepped toward the immobile Amazon leader, drawing a wicked-looking serrated-blade knife which he held up to her throat. "Another accident won't draw much attention." He flicked his wrist, and then held up the blade in front of Brita; in the moonlight, she could see a tiny dark trace of something wet - and she knew it was her blood. She felt something warm and wet trickling on her neck.
Brita gulped as the force lifted her off the ground and held her immobile. She didn't know which of the two was a TK or PK, but her years of instruction in classes and sparring in the Amazons told her to never underestimate those powers. As suddenly, she was tossed away from the two shadowy figures, landing four or five meters away. She hesitantly reached up to her neck, then looked at her fingers. There was only a small bit of blood - the wound had been very shallow, intended as a demonstration. By the time she regained her feet, they had disappeared, vanishing like specters into the night-time shadows. Something told her it would be useless to try to pursue them.
As she began to walk hesitantly back toward campus, Brita realized to her horror that she was trembling. It had been years since she'd been unable to intimidate others and bully her way to getting what she wanted, years since anyone had made her cow before them. But these two unknown people had done just that, and so easily and with not a hint of hesitancy. Though none had ever targeted her, she had seen psychopaths, she recognized killers, and she'd just met two of them. They'd strike her down without a second thought if they wanted to, and they'd proven that they could strike from anywhere at any time.
Brita came to the conclusion that she had to find out who that 'interest' was, who had threatened her, and why that damned blue fake girl was so damned important.
Thursday, September 22, 2016 - Morning
Several Miles West-Northwest of Downtown Kansas City, Kansas
A hulking, bald man nodded with approval as he stood in a clean, sterile, business-like corridor and looked through a large pair of double doors that led to an assembly area that looked like a theater, complete with large red curtains with gold trim. "Isn't this a little overboard?" he asked skeptically. With his deep, booming voice, goatee and mustache, and some small scars on his forehead and right cheek, he could have easily intimated most people.
Ronald Lincoln was not one of those people. Only a couple in inches shorter than his boss, Collin Reineke, he was even more intimidating in appearance. A mutant with a significant case of GSD, Ronald looked like he was a living gargoyle sans wings, with deep steel-blue skin covering his muscular body from head to toe, four demonic fangs protruding from both upper and lower jaws, and pure white eyes. Ronald avoided appearing in public because of the fear and hatred his appearance provoked. Embittered by bad experiences with the MCO, Humanity First, and the general public, he was easily recruited to Evolution Rocks by Collin. When Collin learned that Ronald had as much antipathy toward baselines as he had, Collin recruited him to The Directorate, an ultra-secret group within Evolution Rocks.
Collin Reineke, former Navy SEAL who'd been discharged for mental health reasons after his mutant wife was 'accidentally killed' by the MCO and H1, headed the group that was preparing for what he and others feared would be a new 'final solution' against mutants, carried out by the MCO and their stooges in Humanity First. Reineke knew that it had been no accident, and he couldn't cope with being unable to even the score to avenge his wife. Evolution Rocks, though a public and vocal advocate for mutant rights, was too pacifist for Reineke, but it was the only game in town. He figured that their approach, preferring talks and diplomacy even in the face of murderous riots stirred up by H1 and the MCO against mutants, was a waste of time and a path to extermination. If the goal was diplomacy, Arnold Rogers, head of Evolution Rocks, was well-suited for the job. Reineke, though, wanted vengeance, so when The Directorate inquired, he threw himself into the more radical hidden group within Ev Rocks.
"At least Butler's finances are doing some good," Lincoln said disparagingly. He referred to Hugo Butler and his aide, the Financier, who were using their knowledge and talents to keep The Directorate funded.
"The best use of his money," Reineke shot back. "Better than pouring it down the drain trying to buy politicians!"
"And better than whatever crap the Major is wasting his money on," Lincoln added, turning to walk down the corridor. "I don't know what it is ...."
Reineke shrugged. "Some kind of biochemical approach to force the meta-gene complex to activate. She says only about one in a hundred with the MGC actually manifest. She's trying to make the numbers better."
"All that genetic voodoo gives me the heebie-jeebies. She could just as easily fuck things up and make some kind of germ that kills us all." He paused to point to his left, to another pair of doors. "One of three full-service cafeterias. When we get it done, it'll be able to serve about four thousand meals a day."
"The base will shelter four thousand people?"
"For a long-term siege, it'll handle three and a half to four thousand. Short-term, we could probably handle six thousand, but it'd be cozy."
Down the corridor, they examined two of the numerous bunk rooms, each fitted out with three-deep bunks and lockers for personal belongings, and a small group toilet and shower. In other parts of the cavernous, two-story underground space were machinery rooms, store-rooms, laundry facilities, and social areas.
"This doesn't look bad, but it's not quite what I expected from you," Collin said, sounding a little disgusted.
"This is set up for an 'inspection' by The Financier next week," Lincoln practically spat with disgust. "It looks like a group shelter, and nothing more." The Financier and Butler were very demanding that they account for all expenditures, and that nothing 'off the books' be done.
"Don't underestimate her," Reineke shot back. "She may be very young, but she's no dummy. Since she joined the team, the Finance Commission has tripled its gains. I think she could do Butler's job better than he could. No doubt when she comes to visit, she'll be inspecting and estimating your expenditures to see that they're in line with what she's provided."
Lincoln continued giving his boss a tour. The overhead emergency lights, upon closer inspection, seemed bulkier than they needed to be, and the conduits connecting them larger. Each, LIncoln explained, was a mount for a remote-controlled or automated energy weapon or machine gun, with power, cooling, and control lines. All weapons were stashed in very well-hidden armories throughout the complex. The complex was built on the principles of a capital ship - many sections that could be isolated with armored doors, each section with air, water, power, and food, plus a small hidden arsenal. If someone managed to find and then get into the base, they'll have to fight compartment by compartment, and any sections they bypassed could come out to hit them from behind."
Reineke approved of what he'd seen to that point. "Good. What about offensive power?"
"I was just about to get to that." Lincoln strode to a rock wall and pushed against it. "You try." Curious and puzzled, Reineke did the same, with no result. Lincoln then put his fingers onto some features in the rock face, features that seemed to be insignificant artifacts of drilling and blasting. No sooner had he touched the right controls than the rock face suddenly became an inset blast door about eight feet tall by eight feet wide. On one side was a control panel, the same as appeared all over the facility. "Hard light hologram. Courtesy of Whateley." He pressed a sequence of buttons on the control panel, and the blast door split and opened.
Lincoln led his boss through the main powerplant, the water and air recycling rooms, and then the largely-unstocked armories, with racks enough to hold thousands of rifles and pistols. Blast-proof lockers were arranged around the room for other weapons, like grenades and tear-gas dispensers. Around the room were also special racks with heavy-duty power feeds and connectors, obviously for energy weapons. There were two target ranges in the facility for practice with the weapons.
The pair went into another section. Reineke would have gasped at the array before him, but he knew Ronald Lincoln too well for that. "How many powered armor suits?"
"We're going to try to allocate at least ten per site. LA, New York, and such will get more - up to thirty if we can afford them. According to the designer, they're better than anything H1 or the MCO has."
The tour went on - rooms with racks for various types of combat drones, tanks large and small, racks of personal field generators, and a large cavern where the equipment operators could practice without being seen. Finally, at various points above the caverns, connected by lifts that could be sealed in an instant, were armored turrets with weapons and shield generators that could be pushed up from their hiding places two meters beneath the surface. Attackers from any direction would face a withering crossfire from the suddenly-appearing bunkers.
"Our piece de resistance is our access control," Ronald explained as they exited the armory, pausing to reactivate the hard-light hologram. "There are two tunnels into the facility, both in heavily-trafficked commercial buildings, both of which are rigged with explosions and two-hundred-ton deadfalls like in the pyramids. If they aren't invited, no-one is getting in easily."
"But if someone finds ...."
"Remember your ID card?" Ronald asked with a sly smile. "It's coded to you. Only you can use it to activate the entrances. No card, or wrong person using the card, no entrance." He smiled proudly. "And in case you're wondering, if we have to collapse the tunnels, we can still come and go. We have a warp gate here tied to about a hundred coordinates around the city."
"So you could send out a guerrilla force, make a strike, and then ...?"
"Every card has a teleportation spell built in. Activate it, and you're brought into the facility. And like the other entrances, only the card owner can activate it."
"It gets better. If the wrong person tries to use it, or if someone tries to magically scry on the spell, it triggers a self-destruction spell."
"You've thought of everything, it seems." Collin nodded his approval.
The pair walked through the bunker, toward one of the tunnel entrances. "I try. The only holdup is our ... friends ... getting arms and ammo smuggled in. As you noted, I don't want to leave accounting footprints."
"Do I want to know how we're paying for it?" Collin cocked an eyebrow.
The gargoyle-man shook his head. "No. No, you don't." He paused to close a very thick armored door before they resumed trudging toward the surface. "Three of the large facilities are complete, except for power and weapons. Eight more are on schedule, but we've hit difficulty in the other four large complexes. We're doing the tunneling and lining on eight of the twenty-seven medium facilities. We'll start on the smaller shelters next year, hopefully in October."
"Is Wheal working out?" Collin asked about a Cornish mutant they'd hired. "He was kind of expensive, and the Directorate asked a lot of questions about the cost."
Ronald smiled. "The man is a gift. He can drive a five-meter diameter tunnel forty or forty-five meters in a day. The big challenge is getting enough TKs to clean the rubble behind him." The Wheal was a mutant who could project energy balls - up to twenty at a time - one and a half to two meters into solid rock. When he let go of his control, the energy balls expanded - silently - shattering the rock as if it had been blasted with dynamite. "We're way ahead of schedule with the tunneling."
"Good." Reineke smiled. "Very good. Keep me informed of your status, especially on the special packages."
Thursday, September 22, 2016 - Afternoon
Tech Tunnel Beneath Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
"All hail the Gadget Girl Hero!" Steve Gevorgian snarked to Laura as she came into the lab and crossed his path. He made a mock bow with outstretched arms, causing Laura to blush furiously. He spoke loudly enough that most of the people in the lab heard him, which was a deliberate act on his part.
"Stop it, please!" she protested to the freshman gadgeteer, who like most other freshmen, shared a large common lab.
Still bowed to her, Steven backed out of the lab door, only straightening once he was through the portal. His laughter echoed down the tunnel as he walked away.
Looking down to avoid the gazes of all the other gadgeteers and devisors in the lab, Laura went to her bench, stopping and gawking at a picture stuck on the wall behind her workbench, a picture of her and Kenshin taken by the tourists and posted on the Japanese website. Behind her, she heard snickering and giggles from the girls. She spun, anger writ large on her face, to stare down the girls who were laughing.
"Since you didn't have a picture of your boyfriend," Marlene Fisher, a sophomore gadgeteer from Whitman, said with a syrupy-sweet voice and smile, "we figured we'd help you out."
"He's not my boyfriend!" Laura protested, which only cause more giggling.
"Right," one of the other girls said sarcastically. "That's why he's part of your team, and is always at your table in the cafeteria!"
"It's all of the team!" Laura shot back. She knew she wasn't going to stop the teasing, so she turned back to her bench, determined to ignore the continuing barbs and jokes as best as she could. Her instincts on that were correct; before long, all the other lab denizens had bored of trying to tease Laura and had turned back to their projects.
Something seemed a little 'off' to Laura, although she couldn't put her finger on what had triggered her unease. She looked around the lab, but everyone was attending to their work. Thinking she was just being paranoid, she shrugged off the feeling and began to set up her equipment and parts.
Like usual, Laura waited to figure out which of her projects to work until she was setting up; inspiration seemed to wait to the last moment to hit her. She could force herself to work on something different if necessary, such as when she worked under a deadline.
As she applied power to the controller for a personal field generator, which she'd come to the conclusion she and her teammates needed, she noted that none of the indicator LEDs lit up. Frowning, she cycled the power, but again, there was no sign of power.
After a sigh, she got out some test equipment and began to probe the small circuit. It had worked flawlessly the day before, but now it didn't, and that bothered her. She'd never had reliability issues on her gadgets. A quick glance over her shoulder saw Photech and Weaponeer, who had adjoining benches, both jerking their heads. What little she could see of the boys' expressions looked like smug smiles, hinting that maybe they knew something about the inexplicable failure of her project.
A magnifier showed her something even more sinister - one of the leads of a very small power regulator looked to have been cut. She began to wonder who, of all those who'd been teasing and mocking her in the tunnels about being Gadget Girl Hero, might have been envious or offended enough to sabotage her projects. Or it might have been the two blatant misogynists, Photech and Weaponeer. They seemed to despise or resent having girls in the labs.
Being the victim of sabotage made Laura think about the other ways someone could interfere with her projects. The immediate idea that came to mind was theft - someone might decide that parts of her projects would be useful in their projects, or would slow down or disrupt Laura's projects. Dismayingly, but not unexpectedly, a component for her enhanced neural neutralizer was gone, as was a field modulator for the PFG she was working on. Inwardly she fumed; outwardly, she gave no sign of just how angry she was.
Whoever it was, Laura had no direct evidence. She decided to work late, until the lab supervisor chased them all out for dinner, and by lagging to be the last one to leave, she could show him the damaged circuit and tell him about the missing components. Perhaps there was video of the lab that could identify the culprits.
Friday, September 23, 2016 - Mid-Afternoon
Office of Taniguchi Industries, Osaka Japan
Sitting at a modest desk in his modest office, Hideo was interrupted from his work by a buzz on his phone. "Yes?" he asked simply after pressing a button. By all rights, he was entitled to a more lavish office, but to honor his ancestors, he used the same office his forebear, the founder of the company, had used.
"Mori Yumiko is here to see you," his secretary announced.
Hideo frowned. "I don't have her on my appointment list," he replied.
A moment later, the secretary came on the phone again. "She says she is here to answer your inquiries of the Department Of Paranormal Studies."
Hideo bolted upright, his eyes wide at what was a totally unexpected development. "I will see her." He stood and walked quickly to his office door, pulling it open.
"Tamiguchi-san," a professionally-attired woman said in greeting, bowing formally.
"Mori-san," Hideo replied, likewise bowing. "I was not expecting a visit. I did not think my small inquiry worthy of distracting your office from other, more pressing matters." He stood to one side, sweeping his arm into his open door and inviting the woman to enter. "Would you care for tea or other refreshment?"
"Thank you, no," the woman replied, following his gesture to a chair before his desk.
Hideo closed the door and walked behind his desk. The woman waited until Hideo was lowering himself into his chair to take her seat.
"You inquired about education opportunities for special students," the woman got right to business.
"Yes. My son is in need of education which can train him to make the most of his ... gifts."
Yumiko Mori nodded. "That would be Koichi?" She paused for the businessman to nod. "He is registered as an Empath-3, yes?"
Hideo nodded. "I know his ability with ... emotions ... worries people," he admitted, his eyes lowered. "I do not wish him to worry others unnecessarily, as he tries to master what the kami gave him..."
"He is able to ... attach ... his emotions to his art projects, such that viewers experience what he felt when he created them, correct?"
"That is the power we have noticed."
"Have you noticed him reading or projecting emotions or thoughts in any other way since he was tested?"
"No. It is only through his art that his power seems to manifest itself."
"Which is the goal of artists, is it not, to have others experience their work as they feel it?" Mori-san asked with a small smile.
Hideo started at her response. He wasn't so wrapped up in business that he didn't appreciate art, but even though he'd briefly considered how his son's power might make him a very good artist, he hadn't given it serious consideration.
The woman continued. "You are inquiring about the American school as a possible place for him to complete his education free of suspicion by classmates and teachers?"
"Yes," Hideo admitted. Mori-san understood exactly why he was inquiring. "I was also told that there is a very noted art teacher at the school that could help with his interest."
"First, the name of the school is Whateley Academy. It is a special school," she said, "the intent of which is not generally known outside certain departments in the government and selected families."
"A school for ... mutants?" Hideo speculated.
"Yes. But this fact is not generally known. As you probably know, the American attitude toward mutants is not generally favorable. Even their superheroes are viewed with suspicion."
"I am aware of that," Hideo agreed.
"If Japan had experienced the Fools Fight, or the rager incidents that America has dealt with, our attitudes might be different as well."
"It sounds like attending this school could be dangerous for my son." Despite his goal of recruiting the noted gadgeteer girl, Hideo would have been a lousy father to not worry about his son's safety.
"Many children from Japan have safely attended the school. Several are in attendance there now, including Myoujin-sama. I assure you that the Imperial Family considered those issues... " The woman smiled slightly, a very strange departure for a professional in the government or high in business. "With your position in business, we would strongly prefer to have your son attend the American school instead of our own school."
"Japan has a school for mutants?" It was Hideo's turn to show some emotion - in his case, surprise.
"Yes, several in fact with strong programs to teach those blessed. However, none of the ones that accept those gifted are suited for those who come from... a certain standing," Yumiko replied.
"I see," Hideo replied cautiously. He was aware of the social hierarchy, but didn't know it extended to children who were mutants. "I have scheduled an interview at the school next Monday. Koichi and I will travel this weekend."
"Then I will be certain to call the school to let them know that our office approves of your son's attendance." She smiled again. "In anticipation of your request, my assistants have already begun paperwork to apply for a government stipend to attend the school." She pulled a folder from her small briefcase. "I will leave them here for you to review. You can send them to my office at your earliest convenience."
"You are assuming that the interview goes well and that he will be accepted," Hideo cautioned.
"He will be accepted." The woman slid the folder onto Hideo's desk. "Perhaps while you are there you will have an opportunity to meet some of the American gadgeteer students. Abe-san has made it a priority to recruit and welcome any gadgeteer mutants that would come to Japan, and in your line of business, you could provide challenging and rewarding employment opportunities to some gadgeteers."
It took a supreme effort, but Hideo managed to keep his expression neutral. Either the woman was accurately speculating based on history of what the bureau did or she was reading his mind.
That could be ignored. He had the blessing of the Japanese government for the trip and schooling for Koichi. And for recruiting any gadgeteers he could. They didn't know that he'd set his sights on a particular Gadget Girl Hero.
(to be continued)