Halo Twenty-Three: Exposed:
Rumors about the tadpoles hit the internet. Message board after message board had something to say about them. Videos about tadpole conspiracy theories popped up on YouTube. Websites started popping up as people tried to find out more about them. Even the Dollars chatroom started to talk about the tadpoles.
“What are these tadpoles?”
“Did they come from another planet?”
“Are they like demons or something?”
“Where did they really come from?”
“Are they really human?”
“Maybe they are here to take over the world and enslave the human race.”
“They could be gods from another world.”
“What if they are secret agents from the government?”
“What are they doing here?”
“Where did they come from?”
“Why do they even exist?”
“Where the hell did these tadpoles come from?”
“What these tadpoles and where did they come from?”
Some theories focused on the more mundane possibilities - that they were the result of secret government experiments, mutants, or a military project. Other speculation was wilder - some people wondered if tadpoles were demons, aliens, or gods from another world. Many were unsure about what should be done about them, while others thought they knew all the answers. They should be worshipped. Killed. Caught and studied. Sent back to their home world. Used as living weapons to defeat their country’s enemies.
A few rare people - too few for tadpole activists’ tastes - just wanted to treat them like everyone else, and pushed for understanding and enshrining their civil rights in law.
It didn’t take long for the tadpoles themselves to see what was being written about them online.
Mikado stared at his computer screen with the color drained from his face.
“No…” he mumbled.
“You’re still up?” Masaomi asked as he sat up in the futon. He noticed the Dollars Chatroom on the screen.
Kanra: Do you think these tadpoles are going to take over humanity?
Sharo: Why do they even exist?
Lady Death: They could be demons from another world sent to kill us all.
Masaomi read the comments coming in like gunfire before turning to a panicked.
“What’s going to happen to me now?” Mikado asked in a hoarse voice. Masaomi grabbed his hand.
“They don’t know much yet,” he said.
“But long before that changes?” his best friend asked. “We don’t even know what they will do when they find out everything! What if they start hunting us down?” Masaomi pulled him into his arms.
“I told you, I won’t let anything happen to you,” he said. Mikado looked up at him like a hurt little puppy.
“How?” he asked. The tadpole boy broke down trembling in his friend’s arms. Masaomi saw a boy who was drowning. These past six months had been a storm for the founder of the Dollars. Some days were okay, but others…
The blonde shogun couldn’t remember the last time Mikado had slept comfortably.
“You really need to go to sleep,” Masaomi told him last night. The tadpole boy sat balled up in the corner, shaking his head.
“Are the dreams getting that worse?” the blonde teenager asked. Mikado nodded once. Some nights, the boys would stay up talking to take the tadpole boy’s mind off of the changes to his body.
“I wanted an extraordinary life, but not like this,” Mikado said this morning.
“I know,” Masaomi said. With each passing day, Mikado was turning into a former shelf of himself. The leader of the Yellow Scarves tightened his grip.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But stay by me. I will never leave you. You will always have me. I will not leave you!”
“I will not leave you!”
Mikado stared at him as if he had seen a god in person for the first time. “I don’t get it.”
“Get what?” Masaomi asked.
“When did you get so brave?” the tadpole boy asked. His best friend froze. He’s heard that question before. But from where? Saki? Mikado? Or maybe…
Masaomi shook his head.
“Never mind that,” he said. “I think you should take a break from the chat room for a while.” The blonde-haired boy turned to his computer and logged out of Mikado’s account.
“There,” Masaomi said as he closed out of the Dollars website. “I don’t think you should be on the internet for a while.” Mikado looked at him with big eyes. His friend held up his hand as the tadpole boy opened his mouth.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Masaomi said. “You’ve had too many break downs this month already. You need time to pull yourself together. The last thing you need is to be freaked out by conspiracy theories online. You hear me?” Mikado lowered his eyes.
“I understand,” he said in a soft voice.
“Good,” Masaomi said. His friend rested his head against his chest like a little boy who had just woken up from a nightmare seeking comfort from his father.
Izaya sat in the lobby of Rampo Biotech, messing with his phone.
“You!” he heard someone yelling at him. The information broker looked up to see Osamu storming up towards him.
“Hm?” Izaya asked. Osamu grabbed him by the shirt. He shoved his cell phone in his face.
“Did you do this?!” he shouted. “Did you do this?!” Izaya looked at the screen and saw a geeky YouTuber with glasses paused on the screen. The title of the video caught his eye.
“Are the tadpoles gods?”
The information broker smirked as he shoved the bigger man off.
“First of all, I do not like being yelled at,” Izaya said. “Second, no I did not.” Osamu’s nostrils flared as he glared at him.
“Liar!” he hissed. Izaya gave him an innocent shrug.
“Now, why would I lie?” he asked. “I wouldn’t try to jeopardize the project. I want to see the end result of this.”
“He’s telling the truth,” a voice said. The men turned to see Kitano and Etsuko walking into the lobby. The therapist held up another one of Izaya’s phone. Osamu snorted.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Our hackers are tracing the source right now,” Kitano said. “It doesn’t look like the leak came from Japan itself.” Izaya and Osamu looked up perplexed.
“We’re having a staff meeting right now,” Kitano said.
The inner circle sat in board room 107. Kitano woke up his laptop attached to a projector.
“Apparently, someone has leaked out information about Project Tadpole,” he said. He clicked through several screencapped images of people talking about the tadpoles and questioning their existence.
“They don’t seem to know much about it,” the therapist said. “They are just spinning off rumors for the time being.”
“Can they pinpoint when the leak occurred?” Junko asked.
“As of right now, no,” Kitano answered. “Our hacker team is working hard to look into it.” Osamu glared over at Izaya sitting across the table.
“I still say I have a guess as to who,” he growled.
“Aw, Osamu-chan!” Izaya said. “I’m really hurt you would accuse me of such a thing.”
“I wouldn’t put it past you,” the older man said. “Loki! Why are you even here anyway? You don’t really do anything around here. Maybe you were sent here to spy on us. Did the Awakusu send you or are you working on your own?”
“Osamu-chan! I can’t believe that you would accuse me of such things!” Izaya said.
“Don’t call me that!” Osamu barked.
“Enough!” Kitano cut in, raising to his feet. Izaya and Osamu looked up at him.
“We do not have time to point fingers!” the therapist said. “We have more pressing issues to worry with.” Kitano sat down.
“How are we going to contain the leak?” Aya asked.
“It’s futile to try and stop it now,” Kitano said while thinking. “Once it’s on the internet, you can’t get it off. Plus, we would be fueling the talk if we try to stop them.” The wheels in his brain started to turn as he looked at his inner circle and Izaya.
“Daichi,” Kitano said. “Which one of your sisters was talking about going viral the other day?”
“That would be Chiyomi,” Daichi answered.
“I see,” Kitano said. “We will have no choice.”
“May I ask what are you planning?” Etsuko asked.
“We will have to break the truth out to the public ourselves,” he said. The rest of his inner circle stared at him with big eyes.
“What?!” they asked.
“Hear me out,” Kitano said. “If we sit back and do nothing now, sooner or later someone is going to start digging around and finding out more. The last thing I want is to have this whole game come unraveled because of the needless work to contain damage that could’ve been dealt with earlier. It’s best that we reveal a watered-down version of the truth now.”
“And you want to do this over the internet?” Izaya asked.
“I believe that this is the best way to reach the masses,” he said.
“Heh,” the information broker said, sitting back in his chair. “This should be interesting.” Osamu shot him a cold glare.
Shoko, Kitano’s older daughter, helped with putting on make-up on her father for the camera.
“How’s my coat?” he asked. Shoko straightened up his coat.
“Very good,” she said.
“Excellent,” Kitano said. “Thank you for coming out and helping me today.”
“Sure, dad,” Shoko said. She cleaned off her make-up brush and packed up her kit. Kitano walked over to the desk in an empty conference room.
“Everything ready?” he asked.
“Yes, sensei,” Daichi said behind the camera. “Five, four, three, two, one!” He hit the record button as Kitano sat up.
“Good afternoon, people of Ikebukuro,” he said. “My name in Kitano Katsuhiro-sensei. It has come to my attention that there is a rumor about a species of superhuman called tadpoles. I am here to set the record straight. Yes, they do exist. How do I know this? Because I created them. It all started back from a little project I started back in 1989. Now, I know that all of you have several theories and questions about these tadpoles. I cannot tell you their true purpose or what my motives are for the time being. But, I can tell you one thing.
“There isn’t anything that sets them about from normal humans. They have no special markings or features on their bodies that makes them stand out. Tadpoles look just like you and me. They could be walking on the street among you as I speak. Hell, some of them can be part of the Dollars or the Yellow Scarves. You could even be a tadpole yourself, though I doubt that because you’ve already known. Trying to figure out who’s a tadpole or not will be futile. Again, this is all that I can tell you for the time being. That is all and thank you for your time.”
Kitano’s video reached over 10,000 hits within hours. It ended being shared several times. Izaya himself watched the video, smirking.
“Well done, sensei,” he said. “Now that the secret’s out. What are you going to do next?” The information broker’s phone started ringing.
“Hello?” he asked. “Yeah, it’s out now. No full details. I am still looking into the projects themselves. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I love it. Okay, goodbye.” Izaya hung up and watched Kitano’s video again.
Meanwhile, Kaori watched the video on her own phone.
“Perfect, things are getting interesting,” she said. The loli goth paused and turned around. “And how long are you going to be standing there, watching me? If you wanted to watch the video, you could’ve asked.” Azazeal stepped out from the darkened alley.
“Was this your way to speed this game up?” he asked.
“Maybe!” she said. “I know that you just didn’t come all this way to ask that. What else could possibly be on your mind?”
“Oh, just a fair warning,” he said.
Azazeal stood by her side. “There will be demons that won’t like these tadpoles. Some might even try and kill them.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Kaori turned to him with a smirk on her face. “I love Mama and the work that she is doing. But for the game to be really effective, I think they need to thin out some of the little pets in the pack. We’ve lost two of them, but that’s not enough.” She looked at Kitano’s video on her phone.
“By now, sensei’s voice has reached every human in this city,” she said. “It won’t be long before it spreads through all of Tokyo and then the rest of Japan. And then the game will advance to the next round.” She began giggling as she hit replay on the video.
-Anri, Mika, and Celty-
Chikako called in Anri to claim Akabayashi’s body. The mobster didn’t have any known living relatives. He had put the Sayaka’s daughter down as next of kin.
“I know this is hard for you,” Chikako said in a low voice. “You can take your time if you need to.”
“Thank you,” Anri whispered as she bowed her head. It didn’t take as long as she pictured it in her head. Saika’s mother confirmed that this was Akabayashi on the table.
“What happens now?” Anri asked.
“Well, there is paperwork to be filled out before I release the body for the funeral,” Chikako said. “After that, we release the body to you.” Anri nodded. Shiki came by her house to talk about funeral arrangements.
“He used to work for me,” was all that he would tell her. Anri didn’t question it; instinct told her it wasn’t the appropriate time to do so. Once Akabayashi’s body was claimed, the Awakusu would take over from there.
Outside of the police station, Anri found Mika and Celty waiting for her.
“Mika? Celty-san? What are you doing here?” she asked. Mika stepped forward.
“Anri, we need to talk,” her old friend said. “It’s about Mikado.” Saika’s mother raised her eyebrow.
“What about him?” she asked. “Is he in trouble?”
“[Not yet,]” Celty typed on her PDA. “[Have you looked in the Dollars chatroom lately?]”
“No,” Anri said. Mika pulled out her phone and showed her Kitano’s video. Anri looked up the icon to replay appeared on the screen.
“Are you saying that Mikado-kun is…?” she asked.
“[Yes,]” Celty typed.
“He’s going to need your help,” Mika added. “There will be people hunting him and the others down. Masaomi can’t protect him by himself. You have to go and stay by Mikado’s side.” Anri struggled to say something. She placed her hand over her mouth.
“W-Why would that man do that Mikado-kun?” Saika’s mother asked.
“[Kitano-sensei wants to make him a witness to the apocalypse,]” Celty typed. “[Shinra won’t tell me anymore than that, but I pretty much figured it out on my own. It would be best to talk to Mikado about it. I can take you to his apartment right now.]”
“Could you please?” Anri asked. She rushed over to Shooter as the side formed a sidecar. Celty rode with both Anri and Mika in tow.
Last night, both Midori and Madoka replied to a text sent only to their phones.
“My name is Aizawa Naomi. I think you are looking for me.”
The two female tadpoles didn’t know what to make of this at first.
“Do you think it’s a trap?” Madoka asked in a café the next day.
“I don’t know,” Midori said as she looked at her phone. “I replied back to her asking her a few questions.”
“The basic questions. Was she really in Chou Mori? What did she did she remember? Did that evil bastard contact to her too?”
“And her responses?”
Midori scrolled upwards on the screen. “She said ‘yes’, ‘the smell of bleach, the shots, the bright lights, and yes.’” Madoka read along with her.
“I see,” she said.
“I wrote her to meet up with us here,” Midori said. The other tadpole woman stared at her with big eyes.
“Why would you do that?!” she asked.
“Shhh!” the time tadpole whispered. Midori quickly looked around. The other customers and waitresses didn’t pay much attention to them. Madoka turned to back to Midori.
“Why would you do that?” she asked again.
“We have to reach out to as many other tadpoles as we can,” Midori said. “We don’t want anyone else end up like Azusa did.”
“But we don’t know what they would be like,” Madoka pointed out. “We don’t know what their state of mind is like.”
“That’s why I brought this,” the time tadpole said. She opened her bag and revealed a box cutter at the bottom.
“What the hell?!” the other tadpole hissed. “Why would you bring something like that?!”
“For protection,” Midori whispered back.
“How is that going to help us?!” her friend asked. The time tadpole opened her mouth, but froze when she felt a chill rush down her spine.
“She’s here,” Madoka whispered. She and Midori turned towards the doorway to see a woman standing and looking around eagerly. When she spotted the two women near the back of the café, she tried to walk towards them. A waitress approached the woman, but she managed to convinced that she would be fine. Midori and Madoka waited with bated breath as the third tadpole arrived at their table. Her black hair came down to her shoulders in an even cut. A little red jewel hung from the V of her light blue shirt. Her blue eyes shifted back and forth as she tugged at her jeans.
“Excuse me,” the woman said. “Are you two Madoka and Midori?”
“That would depend on who’s asking,” Midori said. “Who are you?” The woman lowered her eyes.
“My name is Naomi,” she said. “I was the one who sent you the texts. May I join you?” The other two tadpoles looked at each other.
“Please,” Naomi said. “I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to talk.” Midori quickly nodded.
“Sure,” she said.
“Thank you,” the third tadpole said. She bowed and took a seat. The three women waited for someone to say something.
“Um… I control time and she has super powerful eyesight,” Midori said at last. “What can you do?” Naomi pressed her lips together.
“Promise you won’t freak out?” she asked.
“I don’t think whatever you can do can freak up out any more than what we have seen,” Madoka said.
“Oh, right,” the new tadpole said. She picked up a paper napkin and drew in a deep breath. She held it out for about fifteen seconds. The napkin curled and turned into a sheet of plastic. Midori gasped as she covered her mouth.
“Whoa,” she said. Madoka reached up and touched it.
“It feels just like a plastic,” she said. Naomi reached up and wiped away the blood from her nose.
“I’ve been able to do this with other objects since back in January,” she explained. “I can’t do it for too long or I get dizzy.”
“So you can change anything into something else?” Midori asked.
“Yes,” Naomi said. “But not with people.” She rubbed at her wrist.
“Tell me,” Madoka said. “Have you been receiving calls or text encouraging you to use your powers more often? Maybe suggesting that it would help you to live?”
“Yes,” the new tadpole said. “Hang on.” She reached into her black shoulder bag and pulled out her mouth. Madoka and Midori looked at the screen of texts. The former pulled out her phone and looked at the call log.
“It’s the same number,” she said. Midori looked at the women back and forth.
“Could you tell me what’s going on?” she asked. Madoka frowned.
“There’s someone pushing us to use our powers more,” she explained. “They pushed me to stop wearing my glasses.”
“Why would they do that?” the time tadpole asked.
“That’s what I would like to know,” Madoka muttered as she looked out the window. She frowned as she tried to put the puzzle pieces together in her mind.
Meanwhile in underground Moscow, Russia…
A man in a thick black coat walked down a dimly underpass. He did a quick glance as he walked faster. The man shoved his hands into his pockets and didn’t look behind him. He turned left, rounded the corner, walked straight down the path, turned left again, and stopped when he came to a manhole. The man quickly looked around before bending down and opening the cover.
Once he climbed down the manhole, the man’s demeanor changed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. A hand reached out and lit it. The man looked up to see a figure wearing a white Phantom of the Opera mask.
“Are you here work or pleasure?” he asked. The man took a smoke and breathed out.
“Pleasure,” he said.
“Right this way,” the masked figure said. The man in the coat followed them down the tunnel.
“Did I miss anything?” he asked.
“No,” the masked figure asked. They came down an entry with thick red curtains. The masked guide stepped away.
“Enjoy your night,” he said.
“Thanks,” the man said. He walked through the curtains and took his seat in the back.
Up ahead, a man in a black mask and cloak walked across a blood red stage. He held out a black riding crop.
“Good evening, my guests!” he said. “Welcome to the Tadpole Auction!” The crowd clapped politely. Their host motioned for their silence with his hands.
“Thank you,” he said. “May the auction begin.” The red curtains behind him drew back and revealed a picture of a man with white hair and a woman with long black hair.
“First up tonight, are the twins, Adam and Eve,” he said. “Starting price is zero Euros.”
-Hecate and Mikado-
Back in Ikebukuro…
Mikado’s stomach turned with the feeling of someone watching him. He turned around and noticed a woman with long black hair sitting on his futon. The tadpole boy tried not to look down her tight dark brown corset. The woman broke into a cat-like smile.
“Hello, Chirin,” she said. Her English accent made Mikado’s ears twitch.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my room?” he asked. The woman shook her head.
“Oh come on, Chirin,” she said. “You know who I am. We’ve met many times before in the previous cycles. Now tell me, what is my name?” Mikado backed away.
“No, I do not know you,” he said.
“It will take you a little while to remember,” the woman said. “Keep trying to remember.” The tadpole boy narrowed his eyes. For some reason, only one name echoed in his brain.
“Hecate?” he asked. The woman’s eyes lit up.
“Thank you,” she said. Mikado blinked.
“Don’t I really know you?” he asked.
“I see your memories haven’t fully come back yet,” Hecate said. “That’s okay. They’ll come back all in due time.”
“What are you doing here?” the boy asked. The nightcomer’s face came within inches of his.
“I came to talk to you, of course,” she said. Hecate reached into her cloak and pulled out a worn red journal.
“I know everything about you,” she said. “Your powers, your wild nights, your loneliness, your anger, your frustration, your emptiness. I even know the brand of cigarette you smoke.”
“I don’t smoke,” Mikado said, shaking his head.
“Not yet, anyway,” the nightcomer said. “You write everything in this journal right here.” She opened the book and showed him the pages. Mikado quickly read over the contents.
“This does look like my handwriting,” he muttered. Mikado lifted his head. “Where did you get this?”
“You gave me it to me from a previous timeline,” Hecate said.
“I don’t understand. Why are you showing me this? What are you doing here?” Mikado’s voice started trembling as he spoke. The nightcomer rose to her feet.
“Because, the whole world needs to know that you exist,” she said. “You and your brothers and sisters will be the gods of the new world after all.”
“Gods of the new world?” the tadpole boy asked. “What are you talking?” But, Hecate was nowhere in sight. Mikado pinched himself in the cheek. The room remained empty with just him inside. Masaomi when out to go buy dinner for them both. Mikado grabbed at his right arm. Something about Hecate’s words gave him pause.
He looked up when he heard a knock on the door.
“Hey, Mikado,” Masaomi said outside. “I got us both some miso chicken tonight.” Something about his hyper friend’s voice was so soothing.
“Hang on, I’ll be there in a second!” Mikado said. He got up to open the door.
On Monday, Shinra and Shingen tracked down the next tadpole. According to the records, she lived in the richer part of Shinjuku. Father and son came up to the apartment. Shinra turned to Shingen.
“Here?” he asked.
“That’s correct,” Shingen said. The younger doctor turned back to the door.
“Okay,” he said. Shinra knocked on the door. A deep brown eye peeked out from the crack of the open door.
“Who is it?” a woman’s voice asked.
“My name is Kishitani Shinra,” Shinra said. “And this is my father, Shingen. We are looking for a Ishii Riku. Is she in right now?”
“Why?” the woman asked.
“We would like to speak with her?”
“Is there a reason why not?”
“Because I said so!” She tried to close the door, but Shinra grabbed on.
“Let go!” the woman growled.
“This is really important,” the doctor said. “It will only take about five minutes.”
“I said no!” the woman barked. “Now get out of here before I call the police!” Despite her efforts to keep him out, Shinra got the upper hand and pushed the door as far as the chain would allow it from the inside. He reached inside to unlock it.
“Get out! Get out! Just get out!” the woman yelled as the doctor struggled. Shinra successfully got the chain unlocked and pushed open the door. A petite woman with long black hair stood inches away from him. Her long white blouse became wrinkled from her struggle with the door. She reached down and pressed on her long gray skirt.
“Are you Riku?” the door asked.
“No!” the woman snapped. “I’m her sister, Risa.” The whole time, Shingen stood back, watching the scene. He made mental notes about the frustrated, red-faced woman.
“Is your sister in?” the older doctor finally asked.
“Yes, but you can’t see her,” Risa grumbled.
“May we ask why not?” Shingen asked. The woman threw back her head and groaned. These two didn’t look like they were leaving any time soon.
“Come inside and you’ll see why,” Risa said at last. She turned and walked further into her apartment. Shinra and Shingen followed her inside.