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Chapter 14


Chapter 15

He decided he wouldn’t have to go far; Toshi would be sure to come to him, and he wouldn’t have to seek his cousin out. So he took himself to the gazebo for the last time, and sat waiting on the steps going up to the entrance. He hesitated for a moment as he approached the gazebo, remembering the phantom that had come out of it on his last visit. But the place was mercifully empty, so he had a few minutes to sit and watch the fountain, and listen to the music of the water.

He’d tweaked it enough, he thought. By now the play of the water was very realistic, and if you ran your hands through it, it would feel exactly like water being bounced around in a fountain. The occasional bird landing on the rim and singing was a nice touch, too, though he thought the loop was too short and needed more birds doing different things (like bathing in the fountain) before it started repeating. 

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Chapter 13


Chapter 14

“Did you get the message?” Chika asked abruptly, as Jin came to the breakfast table. Julie and Kenji were already there, and looked up curiously as their fellow student approached.

Jin nodded, sitting down. “If you mean Miaki’s message that he’ll be busy till after lunch, yes.”

“What do you make of it? That he wants us just to keep working without him till sometime in the afternoon?”

Jin had her own ideas, but wondered what Chika was thinking. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“There’s something up with him, don’t you think? I’ve been wondering, the last couple of days.”

“Me too,” Kenji said, and Julie nodded beside him.

Miaki's drastic plan )

Chapter 15 

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Chapter 12


Chapter 13

“You know,” said Mr. Woon patiently, “that the virus was what made your cousin say the things he did.”

“Do I?” Miaki retorted bitterly. “It didn’t sound like illness-induced babbling to me.”

“Perhaps not.” The man shifted on his chair, regarding the young man lying in bed in the dormitory room. “But in my opinion, the very plausibility of what Toshi said indicates a facet of the virus’s inner working. It is designed to reach into Toshi’s mind, find scenarios it can use, and twist them into forms that will most hurt you.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Miaki admitted reluctantly.

Toshi's worst attack )

Chapter 14
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Chapter 11


Chapter 12

Toshi was hovering around Security again; Miaki could see the yellow dot, faintly, out near the perimeter of the system. He wasn’t exactly sure what he meant to do, logging in right now, but it was simply a relief to escape his aunt’s accusations.

She was right, of course. This was his fault. He’d come to the school last year with only one thing on his mind: revenge for his father’s death. And because of that, Toshi and the others had gotten dragged into his personal tragedy. Never mind that everything had worked out all right, the conspiracy discovered and the world saved, and his father’s killer sent to jail. His five friends’ lives had been in danger, and Aunt Keiko was justifiably upset that her son had been in that kind of danger because of his cousin.

Some hard truths. Or  )

Chapter 13 

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Chapter 10


Chapter 11

They made him log out.

Miaki was already opening his security log, hoping against hope that some clue would appear to help him trace where Toshi might have gone, but Jin grabbed his arm and Julie leapt up from the restaurant table.

“No, Miaki, not now,” she said sternly. “We’re all going to log out. Come on.”

“No!” he cried. “I have to go after him!”

“Not right now,” she repeated. “We have to go outside and regroup.”

“Come on, Miaki,” Jin urged, her hand still on his arm. “She’s right. We have to think about this.” 

Strategy amidst high emotion )
 
Chapter 12
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Chapter 9


Chapter 10

Toshi was gone from the gazebo by the time Miaki got there. It had taken a few minutes to locate the terminal his cousin had entered the system through, because he’d either forgotten or deliberately neglected to take his indicator with him before he’d logged on. The indicators worked both inside the system and to some degree in real life, but it was obvious immediately that Toshi’s ear ring was still in his room. So Miaki had done no more than throw on a tee-shirt and an old pair of shorts and then peek into Toshi’s room to make sure, and then he ran, from VR room to VR room, searching.

He met Julie and Kenji in one of the rooms, and they came with him for the rest of the search. It was Kenji who suggested they look in the less-used rooms first, and this cut a lot of time from the hunt. It wasn’t long before they came upon Toshi, in full equipment, sitting silent and still at his terminal.

What Toshi is doing in there )

Chapter 11
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Chapter 8


Chapter 9

They remained for a long time in silence: Toshi huddled on his bed, knees up, head bent over them; and Miaki maintaining what distance he could manage, leaning against the door of the room. He remembered so well when their positions had been reversed last year, after he had attacked Kenji inside one of the simulations. Except then, Toshi had been able to sit beside him and even hold him while he wept, and promise that they’d work through everything together, and make it better. And he’d been right – they had found a solution, and Miaki had survived his ordeal, thanks to Toshi’s help, when he really hadn’t expected to.

Now, when his cousin needed him most, Miaki couldn’t do that, couldn’t return that comfort, that love. He had to stay as far away as he could, knowing that his just being in the room was probably making things worse. Toshi was ill and alone, and Miaki could do nothing about it. All he could do was stand across the room and watch as his cousin suffered.



Chapter 10
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Chapter 7


Chapter 8

“What am I doing here?” Toshi repeated. “I’m exploring our little problem, the same as everyone else.”

“But I thought,” Miaki said gingerly, “we had agreed that it was wiser for you to stay away from direct contact with...” He waved his hand toward the virus node.

“Am I touching it?” Toshi wondered rhetorically. “I don’t seem to be.” He smiled again. “Which is all I was doing – if you’d bothered to ask – when I got zapped. Well, okay, I’d noticed some of the differences between this node and the regular ones – Kenji agreed that it was a little odd – and I touched one of the cartridges and started pulling it out, and – zap.”

As consequences worsen... )

Chapter 9 
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Chapter 6


Chapter 7

The afternoon class on astronautics should have been fascinating, but Jin couldn’t wait for it to finish. Normally she’d have been avid to study the effects of weightlessness on bone density, but she could see Miaki fidgeting across the room, and she knew he’d bolt out of the room as soon as class was over, and she was eager to bolt right after him.

Technically, they were supposed to head to a VR room and go into one of the course simulations where they would practise the techniques designed to counteract the depletion of bone density in space. They’d probably have to do that, at least for a few minutes. But in fact they really planned to work some more on the problem of undoing the effects of the virus that had infected Toshi.

It had been a tense four days since Chika had discovered the virus, and since Toshi had been informed about it. The cousins had studiously avoided each other ever since they learned the news. There had been only one direct encounter, as Jin had gone to Miaki’s room just after the little conference in the gazebo. She’d thought Toshi would be a while longer, talking to Chika and answering her last questions about how he felt when the virus took hold. But as she’d stood at Miaki’s door, giving him a quick rundown of how things had gone, Toshi walked past, on his way to his room next door.

Trying to find a fix )

Chapter 8
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Chapter 5


Chapter 6

“I can’t believe,” Akio said, “that we’ve got an exam already in astrophysics. It hasn’t even been three weeks.”

He stood beside the table, having wandered over in the middle of breakfast. He stood between Julie’s and Kenji’s chairs, a hand on each of their shoulders as he expounded on the evils of setting a major exam so soon after school had started. The orange light of Jupiter, from the gigantic wall screen behind him, made his blue hair look a rather muddy brown.

Jin caught Julie’s eye, and they both smiled. They listened to Kenji and Akio compare notes for a while as they ate. Chika, across the table from them, cast an interested eye at the two gentlemen occasionally, but remained silent as she ate her pancakes. She seemed to have something on her mind, and had spent most of breakfast musing on it. She was also drinking an awful lot of coffee this morning; if Jin had counted right, she was on her third cup.

Chika's news and its implications )
Chapter 7 
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Chapter 4


Chapter 5

“...so what you’d want here,” Jason said, “would be what, exactly? A community centre? A dwelling?” He surveyed the rolling Mars landscape around their work group, his eyes narrowed as he thought about the alternatives.

Julie dug a toe into the reddish dirt at her feet, contemplating the possibilities. “It would depend,” she mused, “on what was under here. We’d need to do some seismic work first, to discover if there are any underground springs. If we didn’t have to bring water in to get the ecosystem started, we’d have a head start.”

Jason nodded, his normally white-blond hair turned a drab brownish blond in the orange-toned daylight. He blinked at the holoscreen hanging near his face, and the item “seismic survey” appeared on his list.



Chapter 6 

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Chapter 3


Chapter 4

“You know I’m not letting this drop,” Miaki said patiently, “so why don’t you just give in and talk about it?”

“There’s really nothing to talk about,” Toshi insisted, rolling his eyes. “I took a little jolt from poking too far into a coding bundle, and it kind of winded me. End of story.” He picked up another slice of pizza and took a large, satisfying bite, leaning back in his chair and contemplating the faint rings of Jupiter on the dining room wall looming hugely behind his cousin.

“Are you absolutely sure?” Miaki continued to probe. “That was all it was? That’s exactly the sort of thing we’re looking for, you know.”


Chapter 5 
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Chapter 2

Chapter 3


“Akio,” Julie said patiently, “I really do want just to get myself familiar with things again. Uninterrupted.” She sat at a terminal in one of the Virtual Reality rooms, all gloved and booted, waiting only for her friend to leave before clamping on the heavy goggles that would take her into the VR system. He leaned one elbow on the divider between her cubicle and the next, his blue hair wearing a shimmering halo with the ceiling light just above him as she looked up.

“Aw, come on, Julie” he wheedled. “You’re going to be spending half your time there anyway, once the term starts tomorrow. Don’t you want to goof off with the rest of us in the meantime?”

“This is my ‘goofing off’,” she told him.

The initial investigations )

Chapter 4
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Chapter 1

Chapter 2


After supper, they all met in Miaki’s room. It was the sort of conference they’d had so frequently before, and they fell easily into the same rhythms as last year. Toshi draped himself backwards on his cousin’s desk chair, Miaki sat cross-legged at one end of the bed, Chika sat on another corner of it, Kenji plopped himself on the floor, leaning back against the closet door, Jin occupied the visitor’s chair, and Julie stood leaning against the door of the room.

They had quickly decided, back in the dining hall, that perhaps they’d better temporarily drop the subject once Kenji had mentioned his worries about his father. For one thing, they didn’t want any of the other students to overhear them, and start hovering around the table, wide-eyed. (“They’re starting another adventure! Come on over and listen!”) But they also felt, somehow, perhaps irrationally, that issues stemming from last year’s doings were their private problem, for them to analyze and solve.

Analyzing the new problem )

Chapter 3 
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Prequel to this story, NaNo2005, can be found here

Chapter 1


Toshi and Miaki Nakamura stood in the doorway of the dining hall, and looked over the new term’s student body of the Institute for Space and Cyber Exploration (technically abbreviated “ISCE,” and sometimes “ICE,” and pronounced “ice” by those most intimately familiar with the school).

The cousins had arrived on one of the latest shuttles of the day, and had checked into their dormitory rooms before coming to the hall for the evening meal. This had been a deliberate strategy on their part, as they hoped to slip in relatively unobtrusively, if possible. They hoped that the start of a whole new school year would mean they could kind of get back to normal, after the madhouse (Toshi’s description) of the second half of last year’s term. Everyone had had a summer off, and hopefully all the returning students would have gotten everything out of their system now, and settled down.

There had been good reason for the madhouse; even Toshi admitted that. The two young men, and four of their friends, had in fact saved the world at the end of first-term last year.



Chapter 2

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