Chapter One: Observe
A newspaper lay open across her lap, a light breeze ruffling her hair and the sun's first rays warming her as she waited for the bus to arrive that morning. Her eyes scanned the page in its entirety, taking in every detail before she flipped over to the next section. A rustling sound disrupted her and she looked up, focusing on a grocery bag as it rolled past her feet. She stamped it into place with a scoff.
Humans. She sniffed with disdain before bending over and pulling the bag from under her foot and crumpling it into a ball. The bag was shoved into her pocket without a second thought as she returned to her paper, her fingers running over the obituary section.
The smell of motor oil alerted her to the arrival of the bus just before its noise did. The large blue vehicle rolled to a stop before her and the doors opened with a screech that made her ears ring. Without taking her eyes off the bus, she folded the newspaper up, then in half, and tucked it under her arm as she got to her feet and onto the bus. From her jacket, she produced three coins and the plastic bag from earlier, the later of which she disposed of after handing the coins to the driver.
"Thank you," the driver said, his voice gruff. She didn't respond. She took a seat towards the front, smoothing out her skirt as she did so, then unfolded her newspaper and resumed reading. Once again, her fingers traced the obituaries.
Status is everything.
His voice echoed in her ears. She could almost feel his fingers on her cheek and his lips on the spot below her earlobes as he whispered to her.
Nothing matters more to humans than where they stand in life, Miyako... take advantage of this. Observe the dead first. Who did they affect? Then focus on the living.
Miyako folded her newspaper back up with a sigh, resting it on one knee before looking out the window. City turned to fields before morphing back into skyscrapers and neon lights. One hand went to her throat as she ran his words in her head, over and over again.
Gather newspapers each day if it helps. Study. Observe.
But study what? Miyako's hand closed around her choker, her thumb running over the ridges in the metal as she thought. How they act? Or maybe... how they INTERact... Yes, that sounds about right.
With nothing to occupy her thoughts, she waited as the bus came screeching to a halt. The door swung open and three teenagers walked on, three girls. They giggled to each other as they payed their fare and swung into the seats behind Miyako, who let out a small hiss of agitation.
"Did you see how Kaoru looked at me?"
Miyako considered ignoring them for only a second, then thought better of it. She released her necklace and placed two fingers on the side of her neck. A warm, tingling sensation filled her and her eyes rolled to the back of her head for just a moment. As the euphoric sensation faded, her eyes opened. She leaned back in her seat.
"Get out! He was totally looking at me!"
"Oh chill out, you're both wrong."
The girl closest to the aisle, a girl with black pigtails and bright pink lips, was smirking as she waved a hand. Miyako studied her face closely. There was something... exotic about her.
She's not from here, Miyako realized before long. She watched the girl's blue eyes light up as the three teens continued talking.
"Well who else could he have been looking at?" Asked the first teen, who had short brown hair.
"Me, obviously." The third teen flipped one of her pigtails over her shoulder with a snort. "It's the only explanation. I mean, I'm foreign to you guys."
"Not to us..." said the second teen. Her voice was barely audible.
"Oh no, of course not. I mean to the rest of the academy. I mean, when's the last time you guys had an American student?"
Miyako's ears perked and she leaned further back.
"Oh not this again," said the brunette. "Just because you're not Japanese doesn't mean you're all that, Rose."
The third, Rose, scowled. "You're just jealous!" She insisted.
Miyako sighed. Is that all you care about? Come on... give me something interesting!
"Of what?" The first teen pointed to the second. "Ayame here is class rep." She jerked a thumb into her own chest. "I've got one of the highest scores in class. Yeah, you get a lot of the guys, but the more sensible ones like Ayame and I... And I'm telling you, Kaoru is sensible!"
"Sensible, sure. But excitement is my specialty, and you two are..."
Ayame, the girl with honey-brown hair around her face, frowned. "It doesn't really matter, anyway."
They became quiet not too long after that, giving Miyako time to mull over the conversation she'd heard. She looked to Rose from the bus mirror, meeting her eyes.
"What do you want?" The American asked with narrowed eyes.
Analysis: teenage girls pore over guys and... schoolwork? Seems some have a superiority complex of a sort... More research is needed.
"I asked you a question."
She could sense the hostility in the other girl. From the way her too-pink lips were curled to the hints of a fighting spirit in her eyes, Miyako knew that she needed to appease the obnoxious girl behind her.
Rose snorted. "Observing what? How much it'd take to piss me off? I know you were eavesdropping, weirdo."
"Again, I'm observing. People-watching, if you will."
She managed to quell the inkling of anger that was forming before it could spark. Emotions would not help her here, she knew.
"What kind of freak people-watches? What are you studying, how many girls you can freak out by acting lesbian?"
This time, she couldn't stop her agitation from forming. "No," Miyako replied, her voice level as she stared straight into Rose's eyes. "I'm observing human behavior and social status. You seem to think you're very high up, don't you?"
This made Rose's cheeks turn red. She pointed a trembling finger at Miyako.
"You don't know what you're talking about," she sneered.
"Analysis: Teenage girls seem to focus on boys and... schoolwork? Also tend to bear a superiority complex. They love power." Miyako paused before continuing. "All just from observing you and your friends."
The bus ground to a stop and Miyako rose to her feet, slipping her newspaper under her arm.
"Well, this is my stop. It was a... er, a pleasure to meet you and your friends. Good day."
As she marched off the bus, her head held high, she heard Rose say, "What kind of person talks like that?" She smirked.
It was barely after eight in the morning when she stopped at the coffee shop. The sidewalks were starting to fill with people as another day began, cars roaming the streets. The air smelled of exhaust and sea water, a combination that made Miyako's nose wrinkle in distaste.
The coffee shop was small and discreet, on the corner of two streets but rarely entered. Miyako's eyes roamed over the tables that lined one side as she entered, her newspaper still under her arm. The barista at the counter was slouched over the cash register, her eyes half open.
Business is slow here, Miyako noted with a frown. She nodded to the barista and walked to the back of the store, taking a seat at the table wedged against the far wall. With a yawn, she pulled the newspaper back out from under her arm and set it on the table.
Time dragged itself on as she waited, her nails drumming on the table, until the front door opened and a sharply-dressed man walked in. He went to the barista first, then, after getting his drink, came to the table Miyako sat at. She dipped her head.
"Good morning, Akane-san," he greeted, his voice emotionless. His salt-and-pepper hair was slicked back and his stature was dignified. "You're on time. Good." He pushed the cup across the table.
"For me?" Miyako asked, pointing to the cup. The smell of coffee wafted from the opening on the lid.
He didn't answer her question, choosing instead to say "the doctor... he wants to know what you've learned so far."
Miyako never took her eyes off the man. "I have only been here since this morning, sir. He really expects me to give him inconclusive information?"
"Do you have that information?"
She dipped her head, her cheeks growing warm. "Yes, sir."
A small metal rod was placed on the table and the man pressed the top.
"Subject Zero-Zero-One, Miyako Akane. Tell me what you know."
Miyako closed her eyes for only a moment before she spoke.
"Analysis: This part of the city is not so populated, based on the amount of traffic at this time. Teenagers, specifically girls, focus on power and status. Many hold it above all else, it seems." She opened up the newspaper to the obituaries. "It seems the older people get, the less others have to say for them... which suggests they've fallen from the ranks, or there's not many who care. But then..." She closed it and pointed to the front page, which featured a smiling man. "There's him. A CEO of some sort of business. He was older than some of the others, but he got the most coverage of anyone."
"And why do you think this is?"
Miyako considered this for a moment. "Because... because he had a higher social rank. He did more."
"The others... they had normal lives. They never did anything for the world." Miyako's eyes widened as she processed this.
He nodded. "Very good, Akane-san. You have learned much from your observations..." he picked the metal tube up off the table and slid it into his pocket before leaning closer. "Do you know why we're having you do this, Akane-san?"
Again, Miyako considered her answer before she replied.
"It's because of my mission, isn't it?" She said. The words felt odd on her tongue. "Study humans. Find their strengths. Find their weaknesses. See what makes the species tick. If I can do that..."
"And also to prepare you for this task. How can you accomplish it if you don't understand them? Their imperfections, their faults..."
Miyako nodded. "Of course, sir. I understand this clearly." She met his eyes, her gaze cold and calculating. "And I believe that with further investigation and preparation, I will be suitable for the mission Master has assigned me."
This seemed to please the man, for he gave a small grin as he reached into his jacket. "Now for the other half of our meeting."
A manilla folder was flopped down onto the table, bouncing off the newspaper. The files inside slid into view.
"Of a sort."
The cardstock felt smooth in her hands as Miyako picked up the folder and thumbed through the pages.
"You could say that."
She looked up. "What for?"
She flicked the folder shut. "I beg your pardon?" At the last second, and with crimson cheeks, she added, "sir..."
"You heard me. The Doctor has decided to enroll you in schooling. He thinks you will yield better results amongst your peer group."
"I'm smarter than all of them combined!"
"Then show them this. If you progress, you can understand humans better. You know how to move around and function. Now is the chance to learn what you can. Besides, you can learn from them. Leadership skills, time management... Not something you came with." He poked her forehead then leaned back with a smile. "Besides, this will be good for you."
She narrowed her eyes, her nostrils flared, as she leafed through the folder. "Fine." She took in her information, all of it invented by her superiors. "When do I start?"
"Tomorrow." He replied, taking the folder from her. He closed it and slid it into his coat. "I've been instructed to give you a tour today, then take you to your apartment. The Doctor has chosen a complex not too far from the Academy. It took a pretty penny, but-"
Miyako thought back to the bus ride she'd had earlier that morning. Would those girls be at the school? Would she be in class with them?
"Akane-san. Are you listening to me?"
She jumped, startled, then nodded. "Yes."
"Good." He slid his chair back and got to his feet, then motioned for Miyako to do the same. "You going to drink that?"
"No, thank you." Miyako offered the cup to him. He shrugged, watching as she slid the newspaper back under her arm.
"Let's go, then."
She focused on the sound her shoes made as together, they walked across the linoleum flooring and out the front door. Outside, the world was awake. The scent of car exhaust was strong, making her throat constrict.
As she stepped into the car, the engine rumbled to life.
"Sir, I never got your name."
She caught his smirk from the rear-view mirror. "Just call me N." He unfolded the sunglasses that had sat inside the cup holder and pushed them up the bridge of his nose.
"N." She rolled the letter around in her mouth, storing both it and his information in her mind for later use. She made a mental note to keep the info somewhere for future reference.
"Yes, that's it."
"Indeed." N pulled out from the side of the street and they drove.
"Apartment first, or the school?" He asked.
Tensai Academy was located on the outskirts of the city of Osaka, an ocean city on the coast of Japan. From where Miyako had woken up, it was around a three hour drive. She'd spent the entirety of the car ride slouched in the passenger seat of the car, one leg rested over the other as she stared straight ahead. In one morning, she had been thrust into the waking world, granted, with all systems operational, and expected to act normal. So far, she'd pulled it off. But how long before she let something slip?
Osaka was a bustling city, much busier than where she'd been. As N drove them into city limits, he had to slow as a long line of cars appeared before them.
"Great," he muttered with grit teeth. Miyako turned her head to him.
"Something the matter?"
She looked to the long line of cars before them, sat up in her seat, then shrugged. "And that's an issue... why? We have all the time in the world, N." She smoothed out the front of her skirt, fighting hard to suppress her grin when N scowled.
Pretty soon, Miyako was eating her words. As the line of cars grew, her anger blossomed, its thorns digging into her heart.
"Sir, can we not do something to... be rid of them?" She asked, one fist clenched in her lap.
N chuckled. "Unfortunately, no. What happened to your 'all the time in the world' speech?"
"It wasn't a speech, sir. It was a misinformed assumption."
Her anger spiked higher. "Yes, sir." She spat the words out like they were venom. "For I find staring at the same God-forsaken spot for minutes on end to be tedious." She rolled down her window and thrust her hand out, feeling the breeze move around her hands. "I could take care of this issue rather quick," she insisted.
"Yes, I know, Akane-san. But you are fresh from the lab and there are some lives the Doctor wants spared."
"It's highly doubtful they're here, sir."
"As if you'd know."
She looked out the window, her temper flaring. She drew her arm back and sighed.
"How much farther to Tensai Academy?"
N looked to the GPS that sat in the space between them. "About fifteen minutes, in this traffic."
"Wonderful." Miyako slid in her seat, her knees resting against the dashboard, and closed her eyes. She focused on the ever-present scent of exhaust and leather that wreathed around her, of how her thighs were sticking to the seat beneath her, as the sun shone down on her face.
Indeed, She thought bitterly, this isn't such a pleasant car ride, after all. The thought repeated itself as the sound of the engine slowly lulled her to sleep.
When she next awoke, the car was stopped in front of the gates leading to a large building. There was a concrete pathway that wound across the ground, flanked on either side by trees that provided shade on the walkway.
Miyako sat up, allowing her eyes to wander for only a few moments before asking, "is this Tensai Academy?"
"It is." N opened his car door and stepped out, motioning for Miyako to do the same. The wind stirred her hair as she emerged from the vehicle and stepped onto the sidewalk. She walked to the gate, followed closely behind by N.
Tensai Academy, Osaka's school for the Elite
Miyako regarded the sign with a mix of amusement and curiosity. "How highly is this school ranked?"
N stuffed his hands in his pants pockets. "High enough."
She grit her teeth, unhappy with his vague answer. "Think they can keep up?"
He snorted. "They can try."
She rolled her head from side to side, sighing at the satisfactory popping sound that produced. Her hand rested on the gate. "Let's get this over with."
Tensai Academy was impressive enough, Miyako decided as she and N roamed the campus. It only had two buildings, but they had been fashioned so intricately that, while serving as Osaka's staple for education, the buildings of the Academy also managed to be architectural masterpieces in their own right. Right away, Miyako knew that N and the Doctor had chosen a good place for her to study and observe.
Her shoes made dull flopping sounds as she walked. N had his hand at the small of her back, signalling to anyone who happened to see them that he was her guardian.
"You must be feeling pleased, Sir," she said, her voice laced with mild contempt. "After all, this will be one of the only days you get to act as my bodyguard."
"Even still." His tone was even. "You are an important asset to the Doctor... And the Doctor controls a lot here in Japan. You could say, essentially, that you are an important asset to Japan in that right."
She dipped her head. "Perhaps."
They continued to walk on, surveying both buildings with heavy interest. She couldn't stop the excitement in her nerves, the kind that made her hands tremble.
"Do you like the campus, Akane-san?"
"I do, Sir."
There was something in how he spoke to her that made her hands shake even more, though it wasn't from excitement.
Of course. He regards me as some fragile trinket. She looked up to him, staring into the eyes behind his sunglasses. Rest assured, N. I am NOT something delicate. You'll see.
"Should we head inside the school building?"
She shook her head. "No, I think not."
She could smell the scent of adolescents in the air, of sweat and perfume, as well as the soft undertones of cherry blossoms. She took a heavy inhale, saving the odor in back of her mind.
Home. This is what I shall classify as "Home"... which reminds me, I need to see my apartment...
She turned on her heel, coming face to face with N.
"Sir, I want to see my apartment now."
She nodded. "I'll get to explore tomorrow, when I'm a student. I want to see my apartment now and settle in." She held her head up high, unfazed by the fact that he was her superior. Her hands were pressed flat against her sides, her chest pushed out slightly. As an afterthought, she added, "please."
She could feel his eyes rest on her for several moments before he nodded. "Alright."
They headed back to the car, she with her fists clenched in her skirts and him with his hand at the small of her back, guiding her like a lost child. All the while, her anger flared inside her chest like a small flame.
Agitation and rage were not pretty colors on her, Miyako decided as N drove them both to her apartment. The car moved along the road at a brisk pace, the vehicle one with every bump, dip, and rise in the road. Miyako found an odd sense of comfort in how the car moved beneath her, and this made it easy for calm to wash over her. Every time she looked to N, however, her anger returned inside her gut, even though it was only in small inklings.
Her fingers tapped against her thighs as she let out slow, steady breaths. Her chest felt heavy and full, as if there were rocks in her chest cavity.
Anxiety, her mind told her. You're feeling caged in. It's normal.
No. It was because she was sitting still. She was programmed to be active. In her sixteen years in the lab, the only real "down time" she had was when she'd slept or ate. But, if her bed sheets were anything to go by, she'd never been a still sleeper, either.
You're incorrect, she told her mental synapse. It's not anxiety. Record this for future reference.
She leaned back in her seat and let out a shaky breath.
He looked straight ahead and then so did she, and she kept her eyes ahead even as he stopped them at a large building with many doors, the apartment complex.
The complex was two stories high, with an indiscernable amount of doors and twice as many windows. Most of the windows were covered with thick creme curtains, most likely courtesy of the complex owner, but in a few the windows were open to allow the air in here and there.
"This is it?"
He walked on ahead, his arms at his sides as he headed for one of the rooms on the first floor. She followed and as he unlocked the door, he said "it's inconspicuous enough."
"But who would look for me?"
He stiffened for just a moment, then went back to unlocking the door. Once open, he turned to her.
"While not many know you exist, we can never take too many precautions." He turned back and headed into the apartment, leaving Miyako to follow him inside.
The interior was small and barely furnished. The walls were devoid of colors or pictures, instead covered in places by spots of dust. There was a small tv in the middle of the room and a couch pushed back against the far wall. There was a sliding door to the left of the couch and another on the left wall.
N pointed to the door on the left wall. "Bedroom," he said. He pointed to the door by the couch. "Kitchen... And the back yard, I think. Or maybe you don't have access to it. I'm not sure. You've been stocked with food and necessary items... am I forgetting something..."
Miyako nodded, looking around the room with mild disinterest. She headed for the kitchen first.
The sink, counters, and stove were against the left wall, with a fridge wedged in the corner between a countertop and the back wall. Everything about the space screamed ordinary, just like N and the Doctor had wanted it to.
Miyako spun around, her heart skipping a beat when she heard his voice, and found him leaning against the door frame.
"Two things," he said, ignoring the look of shock on Miyako's face. "Actually, three. One." He slipped a card into her hand. "This is your student ID for Tensai Academy. Keep it on you at all times."
He walked past her and set something down on the table pushed against the right wall. "Two. This here is your key to this place. Again, keep it on your person at all times."
N waited for her to pick up the key before he took her by the hand and guided her into the living room. He opened the sliding door into her room.
"Three." He pulled something from his pocket, which upon further inspection looked like a laptop with the top half missing. Miyako regarded it with caution, her eyes narrowed at it.
"Three?" She pressed.
"This is a gift from the Doctor. It's... Well, it doesn't have a name yet. But it's basically a computer. It's programmed to work for you and only you... we've run this by the school. You can have it in class. You should know how to make it work. And it comes with your software. It syncs with your collar and you can program commands that way." He handed it to her and she held it in both her hands, staring at it with one eyebrow raised.
"And... I think that's everything... that can be used for everyday purposes as well. Just don't download useless crap. Anyway." N took a step back and nodded his head. "My work here is done, Akane-san, so I think I'll be going. I'll be back next week to check in on you, alright?"
She nodded, bowing low to him. "Goodbye, N. Thank you." Her tone was tense, her words holding a threat beneath them. N didn't notice, having already left the room. The front door slammed shut.
Well... time to get to work.