Name: Uchida, Yuko
Likes: science, old movies
Dislikes: Cooking, horoscopes
Class: 2-A
Club: Science Club
Fun Fact: Wants to be a great scientist for mankind

Exams, Round 2

The grounds outside Karasawa High were desolate and quiet. There was a stale wind just strong enough to shift leaves blowing through the trees and grass. Beyond the school the noises of the streets created a static background. Sometimes people would talk, other times cars would crunch the pebbles beneath their tires, tossing sounds into the air. The noises were recycled, coming in constant intervals. From the school, a low ring toppled the silence. The ring was obscured by the talking of students.

"No more exams!" Pipi shouted.

"Summer!" Mayumi said.

"I want to go to the beach!" Nina added happily.

"All of you be mindful, show some respect!" Shia yelled, chasing some students down the hall. "I mean it!"

"Forget classes, forget the school!" Ito howled. He held up his camera and stared into the blue sky. "Summer is about the beaches and babes!"

"It should be about studying and cram schools," Yuko said. She gently took off her coat and then lifted her goggles. "But even scientists need some R&R every now and then."

The students dispersed, talking happily about the end of the exams and the beginning of their summer vacation. Most had cram school to attend, but for the purposes of plot and story, many others were drawing plans on how to spend their summer together.

"There's a manga convention I'd like to visit next week," Hikari said to Ruri. "Want to come?"

"I've never been to a manga convention," Ruri admitted.

"Oh, it'll be great, just dress up like you normally do, I'll bring my newest cosplay costume," Hikari smiled.

"Dress like I normally do?" Ruri asked. She touched the brim of her witch's hat and turned it slightly. The bent conical body lifted and then depressed back into a lumpy heap. She also hitched her large ancient tome under her arm. Ruri looked at Hikari with a confused stare.

"Oh well, it'll still be fun," Hikari giggled.

Coming out the front door was Taka and Kouji. Taka waved to Kouji who walked off in a different direction. Then Taka looked into the blue sky with his hands on his hips and breathed in the stale wind. He let out a long sigh and nodded his head appreciatively. He saw Nina looking at the large tree near the entrance and approached her.

"How do you think you did?" Taka asked.

Nina turned with a bright smile. "Great! I studied at Tomoya's place with Yuko and Shia. What about you?"

"I was with Ito and Kouji; they came over and we crammed," Taka explained.

"It's too bad we didn't study together," Nina said. Taka laughed along with her and then both became quiet. As Nina looked at her feet, Taka found a new interest in the large clock in front of the school's high façade. He rubbed his head and Nina scratched her shoe.

"Summer!" Mayumi shouted again. She stopped near Nina and Taka and clapped her hands.

"Who wants to go to the beach!" she asked.

"I do!" Nina laughed. She was thankful for the outside interruption. "But not for a few days, I have things to do and take care of."

"I'll hold you to that!" Mayumi shouted. She danced off, hugging Tomoya and Shia on the way, and then bowed respectfully to her favorite perch just above the entrance wall.

In the teacher's lounge Hinata struggled to hold a stack of papers dwaring her small frame. Akiko moved out of her way and flipped through a dictionary.

"What the hell is vicissitudes," she asked.

Ken finished tapping his stack of papers and then set it aside. Hinata dropped hers beside him and took a seat. She took off the top and quickly scanned the paper. After a light grimace graced her otherwise happy face, she dropped the paper, stretched, and sighed.

"Well this will be epically boring," she concluded. "What plans do you have for the summer?"

"Grades, school work, and the beach." Akiko hummed. She flipped to the ta's of the dictionary and underlined a word on her student's paper.

"I think I have a similar schedule," Ken said, "though I'm not sure if going to the beach will be such a good idea."

"Why is that?" Akiko asked.

"The women," he mused. "It gets harder and harder each year…"

"To resist them?" Hinata smiled. She fluttered her eyes and leaned close.

"To outrun them," Ken nervously finished.

Hinata shrank back in confusion while Akiko laughed loudly. She paused to underline another word and laughed harder.

Roi watched the members of the Starburst Sakura Fan Club disappear into the hall. He cleaned the board and sat down in a chair, resting his arm on the table. The room was small but still had plenty of room for his handful of members. The small boombox in the corner of the room had been left behind by a first year girl. Two large posters, one of Starburst Sakura dressed in a gown and another of her wearing a beret, jacket, and miniskirt, both posters in black and white, hung on the walls. Both pictures were even signed. There was a rack with albums, mostly singles, all written, sung, and produced by Starburst Sakura.

"Hey, it's one thing to be a fan, but another to be obsessed," someone said.

Roi looked over to the door and saw Aki. "Come to join?"

"Not a chance," he replied.

Roi watched him walk over to the rack and then run a finger across the titles. "Looking for something?" he asked.

Aki shrugged and walked back to the door. Roi stood and followed. There weren't many students left in the building. Some lagged behind to clean up clubrooms and classrooms and others talked to their teachers. Roi and Aki left the building together, Roi telling jokes and Aki pretending not to listen.

Taka walked home with his eyes pointed skyward. It was a beautiful summer day and the clouds had stayed away. Taka thought about his choices for entertainment during the summer, but couldn't decide which to prioritize. He wanted to do them all, from going to the beach to sitting in his room and sleeping until noon. The possibilities were limitless.

"Transfer student!" Yuko shouted.

Taka squinted for a moment and repeated the words. He the turned and saw the distinct goggles, green eyes, and short pink hair of his tormentor the first day of school. Only, that was ages ago. "Transfer student? I've been here for months now!"

"I suppose that's true," Yuko mumbled. She held her chin and nodded. "Very well, I think another name is in order. How about Kusanagi-san?"

"Taka is fine."

Yuko considered it for a moment before agreeing. "It might take some time getting used to, but I'm open-minded."

"What is it Yuko?" Taka mumbled.

"Experimentation!" Yuko excitedly called. "I need a strong young man to help me move equipment around in my laboratory. Don't you want to help me, Taka?"

Taka was already running away.

"Heehee," Yuko grinned. She pulled out a small remote with a large red button and pressed it. A stainless steel cage dropped out of the sky right onto Taka. He cried in terror and then fainted.

"Whaddaya know, it actually worked this time," Yuko said as she walked toward him. "That's one less mess I don't have to clean up."

When Taka opened his eyes, he was lying on the grass, looking up at Yuko's legs. They were surprisingly curvy. In fact, if it weren't for the labcoat, he could have mistaken for a really cute girl. He remembered the cage incident and felt cruelly unfortunate all of a sudden. Raising his eyes a bit more, he saw Yuko's terribly happy grin. She dropped a hazmat suit on his face.

"Put those on," she instructed.

"What is this thing?" Taka asked.

"Priority clean suit for the purpose of protecting my equipment from any static, germs, and airborne chemicals you may posses."

Taka slipped his feet into the mammoth leg pockets. "Protecting your equipment?" He tugged on his arm flaps, "This better protect me."

"Yeah, sure, don't lose any sleep over it Taka-kun," Yuko dismissed. She beckoned him toward the side of her house, a white two-story ranch style with a wide driveway and manicured blue-green lawns. Taka couldn't remember seeing ranch style homes anywhere. Just where did she live anyway? As Taka pondered the question, all hopes of finding a plausible answer were dashed when he peered into Yuko's backyard. There was a military style bunker plopped in the middle of the grass. Large spruce trees outlined the backyard fence, their tops hanging over the edges of the bunker.

"A bunker, Yuko?" Taka shouted. "A bunker of all things!"

"Bunkers are very fashionable," Yuko replied, with a little disheartenment.

"Swing sets, slides, trampolines, pools," Taka listened off. His voice echoed from inside his suit. "Those are fashionable!"

"Whatever!" Yuko fumed. She hit the side of the bunker and the two-ton blast doors slid sideways. Like trains rumbling to a stop, they left a dull silence in their wake. Taka took a careful step forward to peer into the black haze lifting from its depths. It was too dark to see anything. Then a kick flattened the back of his suit and made him gasp. He tumbled through the darkness at a funny angle and shouted wildly.

"Keh," Yuko huffed. She had her arms folded but slowly lowered her foot. When she heard the distinct flop of hazmat on concrete, she flicked on the lights. Hanging lamps bolted to the stairway ceiling buzzed on. Long black cables connected the lights together, pumping small amounts of electricity to keep them on. In case of emergencies, the cables also ran into a generator to insure backup power.

Yuko stepped on top of Taka's body—he let out a sound as if punched in the gut—and then continued down the boarded wood halls. Taka pushed himself off the ground and then bent his back.

"Hey, what was that for?" he called out. Yuko stopped and waved him over.

"Hurry up!" she shouted.

The main walkway, leading into a brightly lit hall, was shielded with long rows of glass. The display windows protected an assorment of odds and ends, decorating shelves, hanging off hooks, and even taking up large amounts of space. The floor was a concrete gray and the ceiling buzzed with little pops coming from the hot yellow lamps. A long churning sound came from deep behind the walls, or perhaps the floor.

"You've got a lot of stuff here," Taka said.

Yuko allowed herself a smile. "I built all of these things by hand—" she passed by a phonograph "—of course, they were already invented. I just wanted to see if I could do what all the great inventors of the world did before me."

"Inventions huh?" Taka asked. The little contraptions that started off the size of pencil sharpens grew in length and girth. Taka examined a large capsule that looked like something NASA would have taken into space. In fact, the bottom even had scorch marks.

"Why don't you have robots or something to help you move?" Taka asked.

Yuko passed by a gigantic booster named Vostok 3. Only a pane of glass separated her from the rocket. "I'm a scientist, chemist, and inventor," she answered. "Not a computer and robotics programmer."

"I thought a scientist did all that, you know, knew all the same sorta stuff," Taka answered, not really paying attention. His eyes were drawn to a giant submarine shaped like a squid, called the Nautilus.

"There are hundreds of different types of scientist," Yuko said with a huff. "A scientist is a term as vague as a construction worker or a mechanic. A bricklayer can't rivet steel beams and a guy at AutoZone can't fix a B-52."

"I knew that," Taka muttered. He passed under a pair of huge armored legs, which under a brighter light would have looked like the Colossus of Rhodes.

The next room was a wide dome of emptiness, and stuff. Yuko stepped beside a metal table and snapped her fingers. She pointed. Taka picked up the cardboard box, most of the innards looking like attic junk, and then followed behind. An array of little metal tables, not unlike the ones at school or outside voting booths, littered the spherical dome in a spiral of semi circles. Taka glanced at some of the tables. One had a dark rainbow of bottles and flasks all filled with shiny bubbly liquids. Another table had a huge metallic bucket with cold steam pouring skyward. Yuko seemed unimpressed by her equipment and continually kept her eyes on a distant table. She stopped beside it to skim a checklist.

"Set it down here," she ordered from the corner of her mouth. Taka set down the box and then bent his back to stretch. He was told to pick up another box.

"Aww, how cute, beanie baby things," he gasped. He picked up a tiny kitten and tossed it up.

"Those are low grade chemical explosives just strong enough to blow up the person and people in the immediate area to that device." Yuko caught the tiny kitten as Taka stared out with a horrified face. "Don't drop those, I'd rather not die with you being the last person I see."

"Why do they look like beanie babies?" Taka asked. "Oh god! Don't tell me you're going to target the children of some evil businessman or Heaven forbid, descent businessman!"

"Not a bad idea," Yuko thought aloud.

"Yuko!" Taka repeated.

"How stupid do I look?" Yuko snapped. Her face suddenly colored. "I only got the stupid beanie babies because they were the only things small and malleable enough to mask the low-grade explosives."

"You got beanie babies because of circumstance," Taka repeated. He made a face showing restraint to keep from laughing. He also completely forgot about the explosives. "That doesn't sound like you Yuko, aren't you always on top of things like this? What happened to the ever-persistent smart girl that makes no mistakes?"

"Keh, I never make mistakes," Yuko stiffened. "Put the down box over there and moved that table next to the white one."

Taka followed her hands and did as instructed. After he pushed the table against the other, he wiped his gloved hand against his hazmat suit. But sweat trickled down his forehead.

"Can I take this—"

"No, move those microscopes there," Yuko said. She was chewing on a pen cap while writing down notes.

Taka growled and grabbed the two microscopes. After he set them down, he turned and saw a large black object. It was very large in fact, and looked kind of like a trailer pod of some sort. Two smaller wings stubs carried bent poles and bulky, crunched cylinders. Taka stepped closer and tried to peer into the back. It was closed, but he could definitely tell there was a ramp mechanism of some sort.

"Interested I see?" Yuko said.

"What is that thing?"

"I believe it's an alien ship. I can't seem to figure out what its skin and shields are made of, but the propulsion system analyses are almost complete. I can't believe I cam across something like this."

"Come on Yuko, aliens?" Taka sighed. "Looks like something from Men in Black."

"This isn't a cheesy Hollywood prop," Yuko bit back. She folded her arms and snapped the goggles off her eyes. "Go make yourself useful and carry that pipe."

"Forget it," Taka shouted. "I'm done here. I'll admit the stuff you have here is interesting, but you're something else. First you tried to kill me, then you're making me move this crap around, and worst off, I have to wear this stupid suit to do it…" he pulled it off.

"Ahh, my pristine equipment!" Yuko cried.

"So, move the stuff yourself, I'm outa here," Taka said. "Why do you care so much about inventing things anyway? There are people who do this for a living; you don't need it as a hobby. It's just a waste of time. Think of all the things you could have done instead."

Yuko was dumbfounded. She frowned uneasily but gritted her teeth in anger. "Some assistant you turned out to be! Get out of my lab! It's that kind of attitude that's detrimental to my inventor's spirit. Have you no shame?"

"I would argue with you more, but it just so happens I have an outing with Ito to see to," Taka replied. He waved and pointed himself out.

Yuko wasn't ready to be brushed off so easily. She grabbed the nearest thing beside her and chased after him.

"Jerk!" she shouted. He turned around at the top of the stairs as Yuko whipped a beanie baby at him. He only saw a flash of color before the explosion blew him up. He wasn't dead, or severely injured, but he did have to stare at the sky for a good half hour before he remembered where he was.

Downstairs, behind two-tons of locked blast doors, Yuko trudged through her tables of equipment. She picked up a small metallic scanner and a chart of equations. She then twisted her arms and shattered the scanner across the ground. She ripped up the checklist and let the pieces dance toward the floor, like small white petals.

"Waste of time my ass," Yuko growled. She was still mad. Madder than when her parents told her the inventions were a waste of time. They were old, last generation; of course they wouldn't understand the significance of creating a new, brighter tomorrow. Inventors were always placing other people ahead of themselves. Inventions were meant to benefit and make things easier. Yuko sat in a small foldable chair and leaned backward. One arm dangled down while the other lifted up to rest on the back. She looked up at the ceiling. Even if Taka said it was a waste of time, it's not like his opinion mattered. Sure he was a little cute, and a little popular, and a little bit nice, but he was still a jerk. She wished Pipi had come over instead.

Yuko pulled the goggles off her head and wiped her eyes. She had dealt with frustration before, but not like this. She threw the goggles onto the table and rested her face in her hands. She then calmed down and leaned on her arms, resting both and her head on the table. After tapping a small metronome she waited and watched, her eyes lingering without care.

Nina sat in front of her refrigerator with the door wide open. Her legs were crossed and she had an elbow on one knee. She stared long and hard at her two choices. A large low-fat granola bar, or a slice of angel food cake. She could feel the saliva churning behind her lips and the low stabs of pain in her stomach. The smell of strawberries wafted toward her.

"Cake!" she whined, grabbing the plate from the fridge. She poured herself a glass of milk and shut the door with a foot. Waltzing to the couch, where the television waited, she hummed gently and then sat with a puff. It was raining outside; a good sign that summer really had come. The echo of raindrops against the roof wasn't so bad either. She set the plate and cup down and lifted the remote. Finding a gameshow, she stopped and reached for her fork. Then the doorbell rang.

"Aww," she whispered, staring at the white cake dripping red lines. She stood and jogged to the door. "I'm coming!" Not entirely sure who would visit her at this hour, she looked around but found nothing to protect herself with. She suddenly became nervous. The doorbell rang again. Nina hopped forward and unlocked the door. She took a breath and back off as it opened.

Rain continued to fall heavily. Someone stood in front of her, covered with a heavy black raincoat. A hood covered their eyes. Nina could barely see the flashes of yellow rain boots. The figure leaned forward and took a heavy step. Something bulged from under the coat.

"Can, I help you?" Nina stuttered. She moved back as the figure pushed forward with a sigh.

"I wanted to surprise you, but I really should have asked you to come pick me up," a girl answered. "Finding out where you lived was an adventure."

Nina furrowed but kept her hands close to her chest. "I don't understand."

The girl slowly pulled open her long black coat. She stretched out her arms, revealing two small suitcases previously protected by the coat. She wore short pants and a small shirt. A dirty scarf was tied around her neck. She lowered the suitcases and took off the brown leather fingerless gloves. Then she faced Nina and slowly took off her hood.

Nina gasped with such shock she could think of nothing to say. Staring back at her was someone of near exact likeness. She had the same long orange-amber hair and the same soft green eyes. Only, her eyes carried a devilish excitement that was underlined by her grin.

"Is that how you're going to treat me after not seeing me for eight years?" she asked.