I see that things are still the same, other than the beginning.
--Of course. What else did you expect?
I can’t say for sure. Things will be... interesting.
The diner was mostly empty; only a few truckers from Whoknowswhere, USA and the waitresses stuck on night shift populated it, the sound of espresso machines filled the air as if in symphony with the clack-clack-clack of the waitresses’ high-heels on the tiled floor.
Nihilium pushed the doors open and walked in without missing a beat. He saw the “seat yourself” sign and immediately saw an open booth and made his way to it. A few of the truckers gave him a short glance, but no one said anything – even if he did look worse for wear, it wasn’t anyone else’s business. And in that fashion so typical of truckers, they gave no mind to a stranger among them – they all were strangers to each other after all.
He sat at the booth and realized that Delirium truly hadn’t followed him inside, but perhaps it would be for the best. He could see where the being’s presence could unnerve some people.
“Hey hun, welcome to West Point Diner,” a waitress said, placing a laminated menu on the table in front of Nihilium. She smiled for a few seconds in silence, waiting for a response, before Nihilium finally nodded. “We’ve a special on anything fried today, just so you know. Can I get you something to drink to start?”
“Some water. And I hate fried food, so I doubt the special will be of any value to me.”
The waitress rose an eyebrow before nodding, and promptly left. Nihilium sighed softly, closing his eyes. It was weird, moving around with only one eye working, but he could manage. His long hair covered the blind eye moderately well, and people could just assume that he was trying to fit into the emo scene instead.
“You’re really just like you were before, Nihilium.”
He smiled. “Thanks, Delirium.”
He opened his eyes and looked across the room, and paused – he could have sworn the woman in the purple dress hadn’t been there before.
Across the diner on her own sat a woman with long, black hair, tied in a ponytail that disappeared behind her, and two eyes that were as brown as wood. Her dress ended around mid-calf and was perhaps the deepest purple Nihilium had ever seen, and two gloves of a lighter shade sat on the table next to her. She tapped her feet on the ground with her arms crossed and her expression that of someone completely spaced out.
There was a flash of light, and suddenly Nihilium found himself on a rooftop again.
He could hear the screams of that woman again, but this time the man wasn’t there – or was it that he had left? Nihilium turned to see a familiar face, and realized to his horror that it was the woman he had just seen in the diner – only this time she was on the floor with her hands covered by metal, screaming his name in her calls for help.
“You led her into this, Nihilium.”
He said nothing, but felt his heart pounding all the same.
“Or should I call you-”
There was a flash of light and the screaming stopped. Nihilium was breathing heavily, but sure enough the diner was all around him again – had that been another premonition? When did the events of his vision happen though, how far in the future was it until this mysterious woman would be on that rooftop?
He got up and walked towards her table silently, but to his knowledge she didn’t seem to notice him – there was no visible reaction, the woman was merely staring into space.
“Oh, hello, can I help you?” she asked when he put a hand on the back of the chair across from her, and he paused for a moment. What was he going to say? That he saw her in a vision? No, that’d look creepy.
“I just, well, thought you looked lonely. Mind if I join you, Miss...”
“Raelyn. Raelyn Kasumi. And you are?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, Miss Kasumi, I can’t remember,” Nihilium said with a short shrug. “I go by Nihilium though.”
“Well, Nihilium,” Raelyn said with a short smile. Her eyes fluttered shut for a moment before she continued, “I don’t mind if you join me. You said you don’t remember your name – do you remember anything besides Nihilium?”
“Well,” Nihilium said as he took a seat across from her. “Nothing in particular before I woke up last, a good deal down the road from here – I’ve been walking for about, oh, four hours now? I woke up by a tree near a car wreck, decided to try finding my way to the nearest city, ended up here as you can see.”
“Wait, a car wreck? You mean the one on Highway Seventy-Seven?”
“Er, well, I’m not sure – it was south of here, at any rate.”
“Yeah, that’d be the one on Seventy-Seven. You’re lucky you didn’t run into the guy that ran away from the crash though – I don’t recall the name. Anyway, it turns out he crashed on purpose to kill the men in the other car.”
“Well, at least he got caught.”
The waitress that had been serving him walked over to the table and put the glass down, and without a mention of his moving places asked, “So, what’ll you have?”
“I’ll take the least-greasy sandwich you’ve got, please.”
“I’ll take the burger and fries like usual,” Raelyn said when the waitress glanced over to her. “I haven’t been helped yet, so I’ll take a glass of Dr. Pepper too.”
“Alright, I’ll get those orders in for the two of you,” the waitress responded with a short nod. “How’s the clinic, by the way, Miss Kasumi?”
“Oh, you know, it’s fine – slow business, not that I’m complaining. It means not as many people are getting hurt at the moment.” Raelyn smiled as she said it, and the waitress nodded.
“Right, right. Well, I hope the two of you enjoy your meal.” The waitress turned and left, and there was a moment of silence.
“So you run a clinic?”
“Yeah, I do – it was my family’s for a while, since we moved here. My dad ran it until the aquifer collapsed, but then...”
Nihilium nodded softly, and Raelyn stopped talking for a few moments. “I see,” he said softly, before an eyebrow rose. “Wait, the aquifer? What aquifer collapsed? I don’t have any memory of that happening.”
“Are you kidding? You don’t know about the –“ Raelyn stopped with her mouth opened when she realized that she was talking to a man with amnesia of some sort. “You really don’t remember anything, do you?”
“Not a thing.”
“Well, about three years ago the Ogallala Aquifer collapsed – about three million people died in the collapse, and the food shortages after led to another few million deaths,” Raelyn explained to the man with an air of... was it indifference? Nihilium wasn’t sure, but she seemed to be just reading off information that she was distancing herself from.
“And your father died in it?”
“Yes. He was on a business trip out west, and caught in the collapse.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said with a short frown. He thought for a few moments, and figured that he could try to offer some condolences – it did seem like she’d appreciate it. “I’d imagine he’d be proud of you for running the clinic.”
“That’s what mom says,” Raelyn said with a short shrug. “I guess it doesn’t matter if he would be or not though, in the end. It does make me feel a little better to think that he would be, though...”
Raelyn was smiling for some reason when the man nodded. There were a few moments of silence again before she reached out across the table to put a hand on his arm. He tensed up slightly when she squeezed. “Thanks, Nihilium,” she said softly.
“I didn’t do that much, to be honest,” he said with a smile in return. Raelyn pulled her hand away and his body relaxed slightly, he wasn’t sure what her grabbing him had been about.
“So, have you thought about getting looked at for that amnesia?”
The waitress’ footsteps echoed as she approached, and without interrupting the conversation she left Raelyn’s glass.
“No, actually – I suppose I should have, but I forgot to.” He cracked a grin and Raelyn laughed slightly. The small joke hadn’t been intentional, but as soon as the words left his mouth he caught it.
“Well, as a medical professional, I recommend getting checked – you might have brain damage.”
“That’s true enough,” Nihilium said with a nod. “You’re a medical professional – why can’t you?”
“Well,” Raelyn said after a short pause, “I’d be able to better at the clinic – I can take you there after you eat.”
“Alright,” Nihilium smiled and glanced towards the sound of footsteps. The waitress was bringing out two platters, and he felt his stomach growl – he couldn’t blame it, though, given the circumstances.
“Here’s the club sandwich and fries,” the waitress said as she set a platter down in front of Nihilium, and then set the other in front of Raelyn as she said, “And your burger with fries.”
“Thank you very much,” Raelyn said with a short nod, and Nihilium nodded in thanks.
“Just shout if you two need anything.”
The waitress promptly left, and Nihilium took a hold of the club sandwich. He frowned slightly – for being their least greasy sandwich supposedly, it looked greasy still. But his stomach felt empty enough that he didn’t think much of it before taking a bite.
Raelyn was tearing into her burger, for such a seemingly-elegant woman until now it was quite a shocking turn of events. She ate as if she had been starving for a week, Nihilium slowly going through his sandwich – it was just a bit greasier than he thought a club sandwich had any right being, but he needed something.
“I hate greasy food,” he muttered to himself between two bites.
“It can’t be that greasy – it looks good enough to me,” Raelyn said with her mouth full, the man slightly taken aback by just how different she was acting with food in her hands. It didn’t matter much, he supposed, if she ate like that. It was just not what he expected out of a woman who ran her own clinic.
“Eh, I suppose,” Nihilium said with a shrug. Maybe if he just ate it without complaint it would taste better.
The two talked a bit throughout the meal, but Raelyn was not the type of person to put anything between her and the meal in front of her it seemed – in less than five minutes it was gone, and the Dr. Pepper followed soon. Nihilium couldn’t help but smirk as she watched him eat slowly. She waited silently, even if she was impatiently shaking her leg beneath the table.
“Awesome, so you’re good then?” she asked when he finished the sandwich and, after a short but futile attempt to pat the grease out of the fries, pushed the platter away.
“Well, I suppose I am,” he said with a short shrug. “I don’t know how much money I have on me, though, to be honest...”
“Don’t worry about it – I’ll cover you this time.”
Raelyn gave him a short smile before calling for the waitress to come over for her to pay, and Nihilium nodded. He glanced behind him and noticed that Delirium stood in the back of the diner, watching from the shadows near the jukebox. He smiled at the Angel for just a quick moment, and Delirium gave a nod. He hit the jukebox as Nihilium looked away, and it began to play something vaguely familiar, that he could swear he had heard before.
“Alright, we’ve gotten paid for – c’mon, Nihilium, let’s go.”
Nihilium nodded and followed her out to her car: a violet, two-door car, with what seemed to be brown leather seats to Nihilium’s untrained eye. It was sleek and stylish, and if its attributes were to be summed up into one word it would be “car”.
Nihilium got into the car quietly, Raelyn starting to talk about it in some level of detail that he couldn’t really keep up with – the man had no knowledge of what half the jargon she used meant, and doubted he knew before the amnesia in the first place.
“She’s a real beaut’, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, it’s a pretty nice car,” Nihilium said with a nod.
“I’m probably boring you with all this car talk, aren’t I?”
“A little, yes.”
Raelyn laughed as she turned the key in the ignition, the car silently coming to life. The radio turned on to the news, and she turned the volume down a slight bit.
The blanket of night covered the land, the pinpoints of stars the only light from the sky. A few street lamps lined the highway as Raelyn drove, and her headlights pierced through the darkness as if a hot knife in butter.
“Oh, look- a falling star,” Raelyn commented with a smile. “Better make a wish, eh?”
Nihilium smiled and shrugged slightly. “You can have this one.”
Raelyn just nodded and made her wish.
The man in the pristine, white business suit sat at his desk, his fingers crossing one another as he pressed thumbs together. He was an older gentleman, a bit of gray hair mixed in with the otherwise Dust Bowl-brown hair. He watched the door with a calm, tranquil smile on his face as it opened.
“Mr. Stoneheart, sir?”
The young woman that walked in wore a black suit and had her long, charcoal-colored hair was tied into a bun, a hair stick holding it together. She carried a clipboard in one hand as her heels clacked against the floor as she adjusted her reading glasses ever so slightly.
“Yes, Miss Ikari?”
“I have the report from the lab, sir. It’s... well it’s very odd. Not what we expected at all.”
“You better take a look, sir – it’s hard to believe.”
Alexander Stoneheart took the clipboard from her silently, and looked through the sheets of paper on it. His eyes scanned the lines furiously, it all looked like it should have-
“That’s... you’re sure there is nothing wrong with the sensors?”
“No, sir. The Magis have been calibrated perfectly. This was our third scan. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but... well, it happened.”
Ami Ikari paused for a few moments, shifting nervously. “The atomic field’s weakening on the holding cells as well. We knew that was a possibility, but we never expected it to happen that fast.”
“So what you’re saying, Miss Ikari, is that the ur-fravashi will be awakening soon.”
“Yes, it seems so, sir.”
“Three years... three long years, and it’s been proven futile.” Stoneheart gave a weary sigh, and set down the clipboard. “Well... how long will it take for them to awake?”
“At current rate, they’ll be fully active in one hundred and eighty days. Just under half a year,” Ami said. She glanced at the clipboard, and then at Stoneheart. “There’s a chance we can counter this though, if we alter the AA Field.”
“How much of a chance?” Stoneheart asked, looking up at her.
“It’s an even split; fifty percent chance to succeed. However... not acting leaves us with a ten percent chance of them not awakening. It is significantly higher. Worth the extra spending.”
“How much does the lab need?”
“At current estimates of what we need? At least another two million dollars – daily.”
Stoneheart sighed softly before nodding. He picked up the clipboard and extended it out to the assistant – she took it gently, and he leaned back into his chair with a long exhale.
“I’ll get the funding to the lab, Miss Ikari.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And thank you for telling me about this.”
“I’m just doing my job, sir, no need to thank me.”
“True enough. Very well; you may go. I will manage the economics as long as the ur-fravashi are kept asleep.”
Ami Ikari left and closed the door behind her. The sound of her footsteps were immediately drowned out by the door, and once again silence filled the room.
Stoneheart pulled from his pocket a small tin, and popped it open to reveal several pills. He took one out and closed the tin again. The pill tasted bitter as he put it in his mouth, and with just a little struggle he swallowed it dry. He put his fingers through one another again. He pressed his thumbs together as he closed his eyes.
“Of course it would happen now.” Stoneheart smirked slightly and opened his eyes. “Very well then, my bets have been made already. Alae iacta est.”
The die had been cast, and the only thing left was to see whose bet would win. And Alexander Stoneheart was a man who was more than willing to load the die.
In the shadows of the night the cool, early-June breeze blew through the small town. It was not the usual katydid that filled the night with song though – instead the diurnal cicada sang as the moonless sky slowly passed by overhead, their song piercing through the streets and lawns. It was in this small town of Emerson, where nothing unusual ever happened, that a young woman watched the sky with keen interest from her bedroom window. Her loose-fitting robe fluttered in the breeze. She ran a hand through her long, wet red hair – it always just felt natural to do so.
“Hey, Ariel, I’m coming in! You better not be doing anything bad!”
The girl turned around and pulled a blanket up, an air of faux-shyness surrounded her as the door opened. In came a girl about her age with short-cut blond hair that just barely reached her ears. Her two-sizes-too-big t-shirt hung around her waist as she pointed at Ariel with her right hand, the left on her hip – she wore nothing other than the shirt from what Ariel could tell.
“Who the hell do you think you are, sneaking up to your room and leaving me all alone to watch some lame horror movie?! And what is your blanket doing so far up your body – you weren’t- Ariel!”
Ariel just laughed as she dropped the blanket and put her hands in the air. “Guess again, Christina,” she said with a smirk, the blond girl dropping her hand.
“So you just decided to be a loser and be alone? Typical Ariel.”
“Nope. Still wrong.”
“It looks like you’re being a loser.”
“I was stargazing.”
“Wow, that’s not a stupid thing to do at all, Ariel.”
“Well, I mean, I enjoy it...” Ariel paused before glancing out the window again. “Why did you come up here anyway?”
“Because- well, I just wanted to see how much of a loser you were being, that’s all. I’m going back to finish the movie – It’s not like I wanted you to finish it with me or anything!”
The door slammed shut almost as soon as it had opened, and once again Ariel was alone. She laughed slightly – Christina always was one to just storm out on her, but she didn’t mind. It was nice to just have some company, after all, and she knew the girl didn’t mean half the insults she spat.
“Classic tsundere.” She rolled her eyes as she took a last look at the night sky, and sighed. “It was such a pretty sky, too. I was looking forward to the meteor shower.”
And then she saw the first of the meteors. She smirked – it was alone, she realized. “You’re a special one, aren’t you?” she asked, and stood up to close the window. She mused to herself about wishing to stand out the same way, but... oh well. Life was nice, it was quiet in the small town – even with the perpetual song of cicadas in the summer.
The window shut and the song of the cicadas was muffled by the glass. Ariel walked towards her door, and gave a final glance back at the star.
“I should probably do something to scare Christina.”
Unknowingly, she blended perfectly into the shadows of the hallway as she left her room. Behind her, a man watched from her bedroom, his face without emotion. He was tall, but not out of reason. His clothing was almost like that of a 1920s gangster, a pinstriped black suit and gray tie.
Soundlessly he closed the door to her room behind her, a smile on his face, as the shadows danced around the young woman.