Category Archives: in-character

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episodes 23-24

I feel empty, empty as a high school student. I should be feeling all kinds of things right now.

Raz and Sam left for Utah, intent on doing detective work or some such to find Raz’ mother. I went out for a long ride around the city, to clear my head. I took long enough that they’d already left. It was somewhere along the Embarcadero that the numbness set in.

It turned out Raz’ actions forced the monks to move up their schedule. We were teleported to a safe house, which was the ultimate in spartan living. Raz and Sam were brought there too, though they weren’t really happy about it. They’d apparently gotten lots and lots of guns from somewhere and, unsurprisingly, they turned out to be worse than useless. Worse, because for some reason Sam decided to shoot the tire of the van. I remain of the opinion that superheroes shouldn’t need them, and experience has yet to prove otherwise.

Anyway, our mission went relatively smoothly, considering. Raz went off on his own, which proved every bit as pointless as the gun and grenades he brought with him. We wound up side-by-side on the same stairway anyway, after all. He calls that his “insurance policy,” whatever that means.

The guards were just normal humans, and bored, tired ones at that. The real problem was in the office. It was Razmus’ mother, sort of. The woman there was definitely the one in the photo, except the she didn’t smile once. She threw a punch that sent me flying, and had no qualms about sparring with Raz, easily deflecting each and every attack he brought to bear, while the rest of us freed the imprisoned metahumans.

Then, this woman gave us more pieces of the puzzle, but unpleasant ones. She’s part of Project Perseus, and one of the Beast Race aliens, a Devourer. She’s working to help protect Earth, but apparently purely for her own selfish reasons. She showed us the true face of the enemy: she is cold, inhuman, and vicious. And according to her, everything Raz has believed was a lie. He and the others like him were created by fusing the DNA of Rekemi herself and a human, a living weapon intended to protect Earth from the invasion. He is unique only in that he is the pure, general-purpose model, while the other, of which there are over 100 remaining, have been more extensively modified. She feels nothing more towards him than she would a laboratory specimen. His childhood, his adolescence, that town in Colorado, everything until about 10 months ago, was a fiction.

I can’t imagine what he’s going through. What would it be like if everything I thought I knew about myself was a lie? I don’t know. He used me up, and I can’t make myself care right now. We’re as close as he’s ever had to family, and like a family there was little choice involved. Even now I can’t abandon him, but I also can’t be what he needs right now. Sometimes not feeling is convenient, but sometimes the yawning cavern of silence presses down too hard.

No future, no name, no hope. No choices, just someone else’s script.

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episodes 21-22

I don’t even know where to begin. Things are moving way too fast for me right now, and I feel like I’m about ready to snap and either kill someone or just curl into a ball and hide. And as usual, Raz has placed himself at the center of it. Caring about him drains me, and I think I’m just about dry. Every time I think he’s growing up a little and acting like a decent human being (though now that I think about it, from his genetic structure I doubt he could produce live offspring with a human, one of the most important tests of whether two organisms are the same species), he manages to turn around and find some way to be infuriating. One step forward two steps back. If not for him, I think even with the bad business with Ryo, the dark future and everything, I could handle this superhero thing. Right now it’s hard to be strong, much less civil.

Anyway, I should talk about what actually happened yesterday, with BAIN and all that, and how it gave me something new to worry about, more dark dreams pressing me flat against the ground, making it hard to breathe.

The battle against the giant robot that BAIN put together out of tank parts and such came down relatively easily once Raz got inside of it. BAIN himself, who resided at the center of it, was a whole other problem. His near indestructibility made it almost impossible to do a damn thing to him. I couldn’t even knock him over, much less immobilize him. And then the nonsense with the rocket happened. The warhead-less rocket was programmed to launch, presumably somewhere calculated to cause World War III. Raz wanted to put him in the top of the rocket, ensuring that he’d land in some foreign country and roam free (he later explained how he had a plan — one that couldn’t possibly have been carried out in time), while Jack for some reason decided to put BAIN under the rocket, making sure we’d lose track of him. In the end Glenn and I wound up doing our combination move — his acceleration to launch my Rider Drill — through the rocket. My suit normally protects me from motion sickness and loud noises and such, but it was still unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The pressure wave of the exploding rocket knocked all of my teammates unconscious, leaving me with a choice between (a) doing nothing at all to BAIN, or (b) taking steps to keep my teammates from dying of sunstroke and such. I went with B.

When we regrouped, they recovered relatively quickly. The problem was that BAIN had disappeared, and the satellite that had been tracking him went down somehow. I really didn’t want to come crying for help, but I wound up calling my grandfather for help. It turned out that what I thought had merely been interference to my sword had been a hacking attempt, and probably responsible for the business with the satellite. We wound up using it to locate BAIN, and having Raz use his super-strength — with a few wrestling pointers from Sam — to break BAIN’s internal mechanisms without too much concern about the invulnerable armor. In the end he managed to completely disable BAIN, but it kept staring at me.

When we got back, my grandfather’s teleport didn’t work at first, and once it did, I was unable to contact him. He also had some odd news about future Ryo’s memories being scrambled, remembering things that never happened. So, something else to worry about, something that could change everything.

And then Jack’s churchy friend showed up with a mission, and it turns out that the facility they want to raid to free metahumans who are being used as guinea pigs apparently has Raz’ mother. Hence Raz is determined to go off half-cocked and run off to Utah, never mind that even Jack hasn’t been given the location and such, and that a coordinated raid with actual intelligence will probably do his mother more good than detective work and a smash-and-grab. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to know one’s mother is being held hostage and experimented on. I mean, I really can’t imagine it; at the moment I don’t have enough left in me to be capable of that kind of empathy. Am I turning into High School Hikaru again?

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 20

Okay. So. The Super Mentors hooked us up with a lawyer who’s very experienced in dealing with metahuman cases. And it doesn’t look good. One of the things I like about Japan is that people aren’t nearly as litigous. The brainy part of me wants to point out that tort reform is a very complex issue. Anyway, Razmus continued to react with his usual machismo BS, and apparently was serously thinking of trying to defend himself (fool for a client and all that) basically because the lawyer told him stuff he didn’t like.

And in the middle of it, Sam got all weird in the head and was drinking insane amounts of water even for him. We took him to the hospital, but… he just went back to whatever passes for normal for him a few hours later.

Which was just as well, since Glenn’s General friend asked us to go on a mission to find the guy. It turns out that there was this android called BAIN, created to end the threat of nuclear war. It’s
just that BAIN’s methodology involves obliterating humanity. It’s like a sci-fi B-movie plot, except that we have to deal with a virtually indestructible monster for real. All the military guys they sent in never came back. Then Glenn didn’t come back, until the general sent us out and we found him unconscious inside of a suit of power armor that was running on autopilot. Rescuing him was a step in the right direction, to be sure, but now we’re confronted with a massive humanoid weapon built from all the tanks and such that failed to come back from confronting BAIN. No sign of the soldiers yet.

We’re in for a hell of a fight… And there’s a possibility he could control my armor, like he can most machines. Hopefully its partly organic nature and alien origins will let me function normally. Otherwise I’m going back to the base. If Raz thinks I can be of any use to anyone with a gun (i.e., the exact opposite of a superhero’s weapon), he’s even more delusional than I thought.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Swan said she’d call off the lawsuit if Raz apologized on national TV? I find it completely hilarious that he doesn’t want to do it because it would mean she’d “win.” Words almost never mean anything to him — actions speak louder than words, but that doesn’t mean words are mute, and most of Raz’ words say that he’s a jerk — but when his idiotic pride is at stake, suddenly “I’m sorry” becomes worse than a bullet to the head. I have seriously never known anyone who has tried quite so hard to make me not want to care about them. I must have really seriously inherited my dad’s heroing streak to not have completely given up on him. Or something.

Anyway, giant robot to fight. Gotta go!

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episodes 19

I did the best I could, trying to talk to Ryo about things. At first he wouldn’t talk to me, and I just started crying and couldn’t help it. Mom came in and told us something that shocked me. When dad first came to earth, he was a timid young man, practically scared of his own shadow, and he grew into the hero that we’ve always heard about. His shoes don’t seem quite so big to fill anymore, and if anything I feel like I take after him that much more. There was a time when I was a crybaby too.

I also did Razmus’ little test, giving present-day Ryo something to memorize and sending someone else to the ship to ask future Ryo if he remembers it. I used a tanka poem by Ishikawa Takuboku:

(Firmly believing you can’t write characters
except on lined paper, Oh my child’s innocence.)

I sent Glenn up to deal with it, and future Ryo passed the test. I wonder if he understands the poem. And I wish I understood what it meant. That time travel is even possible is something that blows open our conceptions of physics, and it’s frustrating as hell that I have no basis for even guessing at how it all works, beyond science fiction movies. So, I’ve chosen to irrationally believe that time can be changed for the better.

On our last day in Japan I had lunch with Eri and Takeshi, and wound up telling them about the whole superhero thing, albeit not in much detail. It turned out Suzuka had caught some kind of really nasty cold or flu, and somehow because of it she’d decided she didn’t need to see Razmus. Which means something’s up and neither of them is willing to tell me; Suzuka doesn’t generally act that rational unless she’s using her brain to better accomplish something irrational. At her apartment most of her stuff was packed in boxes. So my best guess is she’s moving to America and doesn’t want to tell me. Part of me would like to see a familiar face from home now and then, but Suzuka is like Razmus in that she’s not exactly a source of stability in my life. Suzuka because of her insanity, and Razmus because he’s apparently incapable of letting anything be simple and straightforward, and for his ability to make sensible advice sound like he’s lecturing a child. (And I especially like how he called the Riders “racists.” Him of all people playing the victim card).

Oh, I did actually do a little training with Raz — and as New Hikaru it’s a very different experience by the way — but when he asked about what had gone down the night before I got too depressed to continue. The good news is I didn’t really get rusty, probably partly because I’ve been applying it as a Rider.

So. On our last day Sam decided to be an idiot and show off his powers to the whole neighborhood (man, I’m bitchy today), Jack went and bothered the monk at the Buddhist temple down the street, and Glenn didn’t seem to be able to figure out what he wanted to do. In the evening, we went to the neighborhood’s summer festival. I actually wore a yukata, and Ryo came too. It made me feel a lot better.

And then when we got back to the house, it turned out that Glenn had gotten an emergency call. Mom had dropped him off at the U.S. airforce base, and was to relay a message that we need to call the Super Mentors about Raz’ trial. I did that quietly, on my cell phone from my room — it would be very like Raz to pick up an extension of the house’s phone or creep up behind me. We need the information from his summons to get things moving properly, but at least I got the ball rolling.

I wasn’t in the mood for talking much on the flight back to America. I listened to music and read the rest of that genetics book I bought in Aegis, and tried to think things over some more. Victory Rider is getting slammed in the Japanese press, not that I trust or care about them. I was a bit concerned about PR before — and I think even Raz is starting to understand why it’s important — but with the invasion and war hanging over our heads it suddenly seems pretty trivial. All I could really figure out is that the next bad guy who gets in my way is going to regret it.

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 18

Things are really starting to get to me lately, and I feel like the old me would be better at handling all of this, but apart from an occasional moment of clarity, it’s just not an option. “Take one day at a time,” says grandpa, but each day feels like a month lately.

The Wild Rider I fought at the ceremony is (if we believe what he’s said) Ryo from about seven years in the future. The brace he wears appears to be the Mega-Brace from the future, but he says it was damaged, and repaired with components from the Wild Brace. I want it to not be true, for him to be some especially clever clone or something, because everything he says is scary and hurtful. Future Ryo hates me for “stealing his heritage,” and he’s a broken, ragged person, a survivor of two wars and (in his time) humanity’s last hope. And he wants to kill Raz, to keep him from going insane and calling down the shapeshifting aliens a second time. And the rest of the Gatekeepers, starting with me, get assassinated two years after the first war ends. It sounds stupid that I’m here thinking “I don’t want to die.” I mean, I knew there was danger when I signed up for this ride, and I never had a problem with jumping into the fray, but having it hanging over my head two years and six months from now scares the bejeezus out of me. And naturally, Future Ryo doesn’t know the details of how it happens.

And yet, the part that hurts the most is that he hates me. He’s known me longer than anyone, except for mom, and we always got along. And now it seems like it’s me — not even Victory Rider, but Hikaru — who’s going to totally fuck it up. I tried to talk to him about it, but I think it’ll have to wait for tomorrow. I hope I feel a little better tomorrow.

Oh, and we got to find out a bit more about Jack today. A monk — a Western monk in brown robes — just showed up at the door (and sunk into the ground when he left!). The Catholic Church had its own version of Project Perseus, and his family was part of a splinter group that broke off over believing that metahumans should be worked with, and science used. His parents were geneticists no less. So, there is a group withing the Church that wants to come after him, and now this splinter group wants him to do a mission when he gets back to America. I’m glad someone else’s past is going to be dumping stuff on us for a change.

And since coming clean about stuff was the order of the day, Razmus (who of late has been remarkably tractable and non-jerky, come to think of it) told the group something he mentioned to me the other day. Since he left that town in Colorado, he’s been hearing a girl’s voice in his head. She’d tell him what to do, and if he doesn’t do it he gets monstrous headaches. And joining us was one of the things she ordered him to do. Sam did hear her once, and I’m wondering if this third helix business has something to do with inheriting some of Razmus’ latent psychic potential.

There’s not too much time left before we’re going back to America. I really need to talk to Ryo. At this point time travel is all theory, but if he really is from the future, maybe we can change all this somehow. I sure got the kick in the pants I needed to actually sit down and talk to him. What else can we change? I don’t want to die, because I’d be letting too many people down. I don’t want Glenn and mom and Ryo to lose a second Rider, I don’t want to leave Razmus and Sam and Jack behind, and I don’t want to stop protecting the things that matter to me.

I’m not giving up without a fight.

That’s right. The old me and the new me agree 100% on this. We’ve come so far already. No surrender, no retreat.

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 17

I really don’t know what to make of Razmus anymore. Or myself, for that matter. Somehow, his errand to the base turned into an unannounced trip to Arizona. I tell myself I don’t care about him anymore, and that this is the last time, yet again. He doesn’t seem to give a shit about me or any of our other teammates (weird, considering it’s not like he has anyone else to turn to in the entire world). And as usual he’s medically incapable of admitting he’s done anything wrong. See, I had grandpa teleport me into his Greyhound bus, and I tried to find out what the fuck he was thinking, and why he felt the need to run away. And naturally, he brushed off the talk of running away, unable to face the situation even verbally. I get that trusting people isn’t always easy, especially when your adolescence was as screwed up as his, but I’m really not clear on why he would think it’s okay to just run off like that without a word. It’s not like we’d be able to force him to stay if he told us he was quitting. I want to smack him so damn hard sometimes, but he can kick my ass and if he did he’d probably convince himself that he was somehow right to do it.

And Swan is suing him, and he’s acting like its some kind of goddamn game. I really hope Glenn knows a good lawyer. One that won’t let Raz talk too much. He really is a teenager; he says otherwise, but he doesn’t understand mortality. He can’t fit into his tiny little mind that everything he has and does and says will eventually be completely gone from the universe. That’s the way things work.

But who am I to talk? I don’t even know what’s going on in my own head anymore. The Victory Brace sort of took away my limited, so I have a hard time not saying every damn thing that pops into my head. At first I was brimming over with confidence, but right now I feel like a class clown who got sent to the principal’s office. Gotta get it together. I explained to Ryo about how I’d become a Rider, and I think the old me would’ve done a better job. He was giving me some weird looks and saying “What about me?” Being a world-renowned soccer player isn’t enough, huh?

Pop quiz time! Which is worse:
(a) Not being able to express emotions.
(b) Not being able to stop yourself from expressing emotions.
(c) Not being able to express emotions unless it’s calculated and fake.

And then Razmus came back. He sent me an email asking for a teleport, and I laughed out loud. I really don’t know what the fuck to do with him, but unless my head gets even more messed up, I’m probably not going to be willing to waste my time trying to talk sense into him — being immune to that must be one of his other superpowers.

I was lucid enough to let my mom pick out my formal wear for dad’s memorial ceremony, so I wound up going in this expensive black kimono. It looked better on me than I expected. The same goes for Jack in a suit. We got through most of the ceremony before bad stuff happened. I started crying during the speeches — especially Glenn’s — and couldn’t stop. I’m starting to realize just how incredible dad really was, as a person and not just some guy in a mask. Those are some damn big shoes to fill.

And then a cargo plane buzzed the Tokyo Dome. Seriously. A bunch of black-suited military guys dropped down, along with Wild Rider. We split up jump into the fray. And I figured out my hero name. (drum roll) Victory Rider! And the sword, the Victory Blade. Wild Rider thought the name was stupid (but at least he was talking), but I kicked his ass in a big way. (Oh, shit, I’m thinking like Raz. Someone shoot me.) That Rider Delta Combination move I came up with was just plain cool, if I do say so myself.

By the time I finished, my teammates had dealt with all of the soldiers (who were actual guys this time and not clones, thank god). And then things got freaky, because I swear to god under the mask Wild Rider looks like an older version of Ryo. A lot. He was fighting a lot better than last time too, like a trained martial artist instead of Captain Punchy.

Raz jumped onto the plane and brought it down from inside, apparently, and the others did some pretty crazy stuff too. I gotta watch the news to see more of that.

And then the media came in. I told them that I’m MegaRider’s daughter, and that since Japan is so well-protected I’ll be in San Francisco, with Dynamo as my mentor. (I saw Glenn shake his head at that, as he usually does when I say something unpleasant yet true). I bowed, and resisted the urge to make a big V-sign with my hands, because it wasn’t that kind of day.

So, we’re a little closer to figuring out what the hell is going on with Wild Rider, which’ll hopefully also give us something to work with for when the time comes to deal with Wash and Pinnacle. My head is screwed up, and I need to go up or down, not this inbetween crap, and I’m thinking I should see someone about it — it could be some brain chemistry thing. And maybe, just maybe, Razmus has some inkling of how good he has it. I am so messed up right now.

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 16

Have you ever looked in the mirror and found you weren’t quite sure who was looking back? That was today in a nutshell. Let me start at the beginning.

I woke up, totally stressed out, and got ready to go see the Riders. Glenn gave me some crap about smoking — and I suppose he has a point — and Razmus was hanging out on the roof and probably got up at an ungodly hour to watch the sunrise. Never mind that the smog makes Tokyo the Land of the Rising Brightish Haze. And Suzuka came by to glom onto him. The usual stuff.

When gramps finally showed up, it was after lunch time. He took me up to the spaceship, showed me around some, and took me in to see the Rider Council. It was kind of anticlimactic. I was expecting to have to beat one of them in single combat or something else appropriately cliche. Instead he offered me a chance to walk away from the whole thing. Having a conscience is a bitch, not to mention the whole thing about the oncoming alien hordes. Did they actually think I was going to say no? They probably did; that’s how they think. They had me swap transformation braces, and when I tried the new one, I was me, in this new armor. It felt right. It felt perfect. In hindsight, I’d describe the feeling like this: Imagine in one instant suddenly knowing that you had arrived at the true purpose of your existence.

Gramps gave me another toy, which I’m supposed to keep a secret: a new sword, one that talks. I need to take some time to have a chat with it (him/her?) when I get a chance, and come up with a name. And I need a name for this new Rider version of me.

When I got back to the house, it turned out that where nearly three hours had gone by on the ship, about a minute had passed for my teammates. Then… I got a little bit crazy. At first, I was thinking that I was just in a really good mood for some reason — which, knowing how I’ve been for the past four years or so is kind of a dumb thing to think — and the guys were a little worried about me. Still, I went out shopping, and did kind of an image change thing. I got contacts, a new haircut, and a new outfit (grandpa complains that it’s too “revealing”). I can’t remember the last time I wore a skirt that wasn’t part of a uniform. Sam didn’t even recognize me at first, even with the molecular biology book I was reading.

It turned out Razmus had gone out trying to find Magical Land, that weird little amusement park, and Sam and I wound up going to join him. So not like me. I even helped distract the security guards while Sam crashed the little pro wrestling show they had going on, but then I got kinda bored and went for the roller coaster nearby. And when I got off, I felt sick. My stomach was a little churned by the ride, but I think it was something more than that. I wanted to lie down, but it was as much to cover my head with a pillow and be alone as it was to make my head stop spinning.

After that I was calmed down a bit, but I was and still am a little weird. Glenn told me he’d checked out the museum, and it’d turned out that dad’s bike they had there had been stolen. When Grandpa finally showed up, we had a big pow-wow about where things stood. I was acting kind of dumb there, making stupid jokes that no one except my deranged self found funny. The Riders are testing me, Earth could be the site of the final decisive battle between the Riders and the Beast Race, and our earthling villain guys could well know about the alien invasion themselves (save the world and then take it over kind of thing). Amalgam had been aiming to create some kind of power to manipulate nuclear forces, but it got divided, half and half, between him and Dynamo, and Wash may have gotten the complete version. And gramps had no clue why I’ve been funny in the head ever since I transformed.

Glenn is appropriately concerned, but Raz just doesn’t seem to give a shit. This new Hikaru is more to his liking, so I guess it doesn’t matter to him that I could be completely losing my mind, in more ways than one. Different bits of me feel different things right now, but every snap decision gets deferred to this new Hikaru. But another piece of me is scared shitless about this whole thing. I have to tell Ryo the truth, but to do that I have to figure out what the hell is true. This new brace feels different — a better fit — but there’s still that same feeling of being loathe to take it off. The fact that there was a new one in front of me was the only thing that let me take off the Mega-Brace. I’m acting more like my dad, only much more impulsive, so far.

There. Just now. I started seriously thinking about quitting smoking. I mean, I’ve been thinking about it for ages, but just now I was thinking that putting up with withdrawl symptoms would be worth it. The old me always said it was too much trouble and not worth the effort, like a lot of things in life. I am exhausted, and as usual everyone’s fucking with me. I really wonder if all this isn’t part of something one of the Riders did on purpose. I never did figure out what was going on with Void Rider. For a bunch of guys so intent on setting up a boys-only club, they let me off the hook relatively easy.

God damn it, I’m going around in circles again, just faster than before. I am Hikaru Hirose, and so is she. Now what?

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 15

It’s finally getting to me, all the scheming and paranoia and fear and frustration. We went to Ryo’s soccer match as planned, with Suzuka still clinging to Razmus even after their date was allegedly concluded. The ref at the game was Wash. I don’t know how it happened, but he was there, calling the game normally, as though he wasn’t a supervillain and didn’t have fifty cloaked robots on the field. When Raz went down there and tried to hit one with with his baseball bat (I don’t know why he bothers using those on non-squishy opponents when they always get bent without doing any damage) the robots started uncloaking. As the people fled, Glenn and I rushed over to Ryo, but he just vanished, another abuse of their cloaking technology.

While Razmus and Sam started tearing through the robots — which kept self-destructing every time they took any decent amount of damage — I transformed and went for the eye of the storm, where Wash stood, calm as usual, behind a force field. He was in his usual obnoxious bantering mood, and he gave us coordinates where he wanted us to come get Ryo, and I can’t remember the last time I got that angry. Part of me knew that hacking at his force field wouldn’t do any good, but I just didn’t care. He said that Ryo was involved in this now. I don’t know how, but Razmus teleported inside the force field and beheaded Wash. With an SDF jet circling overhead, I was having visions of another Swan incident, but worse, but Wash laughed off the beheading like everything else. He said he was immortal now. If only we could launch him into the sun. Nothing we did could even slow him down; he seemed to be able to change into an energy form, then restore his corporeal body, completely intact. He teleported away. By the time my grandfather came back from taking Suzuka and mom to the van it was all over.

We tried hard to think up a plan for entering the base. Wash and his associates seem to really like making us walk into traps. But absolutely everything we could think of was a dead end. Between the five of us we have a would-be biochemist (that’s me), two who specialize in stealth (Razmus and Jack), a veteran superhero (Glenn), and someone who until recently made a living by bluffing (Sam). And yet in the end we had to barge in there, because there was nothing we could do to gain any advantage of any sort. The power lines were buried (a rarity in Japan), there was only one entrance, and very little to explore. I want to fight a supervillain where it actually means something. I can live with getting injured even, so long as there’s a sense of accomplishment that goes beyond enduring yet another of Wash’s monologues. I want to fight a villain who actually feels pain; I can live with being hated, so long as it’s by someone who will see us as something more than ants in a terrarium.

By all accounts it was, as Wash had said, a rural Project Perseus facility. There were four fake buildings, no more than movie props, and the real base was carved directly into the rock. Glenn drove the van straight in, through the glass doors and offices, until we got as far as it would take us. In an office area we found folders with data on various people — including myself and Glenn. Each one had a detailed profile, some kind of complex formula, and at the end a “Suitability Rating.” For both myself and Glenn this was listed as “High.” Which makes it a distinct possibility that his inclusion in all this wasn’t accidental after all.

After the offices was a stone hallway lined with portraits. There was only one that any of us recognized, and of all people it was of Amalgam, Glenn’s nemesis. At the end was a T intersection. In the right-hand branch we found Wash again — and Wild Rider. At that point all of our frustration seemed to come to a head, because Glenn made it look like he was refusing to take the confrontation seriously. Before long we’d all joined in. He claimed we were boring him, but ironically enough words are apparently the one thing that can get to him. Wild Rider was just as reticent as last time, but I could see his clenched fist shaking with fury. And then they vanished again.

In the other branch of the corridor, we found a set of holding cells. In one, Ryo was sleeping peacefully, while in another there was a middle-aged man, very badly beaten. We took them both back with us. The man had an imprint on his right arm, as though he’d been wearing a brace, and Sam said he was dreaming of being Wild Rider. At grandfather’s insistence we brought the man to our house instead of a hospital, and the old man did something to stabilize him and teleported him up to the spaceship.

Once Ryo was in his bed — he didn’t wake up the entire time, and may have been drugged — I found myself explaining to my grandfather what had happened, and all the while wondering why he wasn’t helping. Instead, he had more bad news. The alien shapeshifters are coming to Earth, in about six months’ time. For the first time Jack managed to say something really offensive, which in turn got Raz even further into denial about the whole matter. In fact, grandfather recognized Raz’ mother from that photo he carries, as a rebel who defied her own race to protect innocent lives. That definitely sounds like someone who could’ve been one of Razmus’ parents.

The other thing is, the Rider Council is waiting to speak to me. According to grandfather, opinions are divided as to whether I represent heresy or evolution. At least I know it’s finally come. When I think about what I’ve seen and read about metahumans, the Riders’ boys-only club seems utterly ridiculous. The metahuman heroes of earth are men and women, and they come from every corner of the world, from every social class, every religion, every nation. There are Australian aborigines, wealthy businessmen, common street thugs, and starving, orphaned children who have realized they have power, and used it to make the world a better place.

Tomorrow. I need sleep, if I can manage it. I shouldn’t have had that tea. Tomorrow morning is the next hurdle put in front of me. I feel like I’m nearing my breaking point. I think I still want to do this thing, but I need to do it as myself, not as my father’s shadow, an agglomeration of childood memories. Everything before this was just going through the motions, trying to stall for time and combat the boredom that came down from the sky, pressing everything flat. I had all these things to say to the council, and right now they sound like childish excuses. I want to be the light in the darkness, but instead we’ve been trying to cope with the problems brought about by the circumstances of our origins, in spite of having so little to work with. We’re in the dark ourselves, with nothing to light the way, just hands to hold.

I’m not going to cry. Ryo is safe. I can deal with this, because I have to. I want someone to tell me what to do, but I don’t think I’d believe them.

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 14

I think I’m finally coming into my own.

So. The old Project Perseus building. The upper levels had since been leased out to other companies, but it was entirely too easy to get into the basement levels through the back. The research labs had been completely gutted, as though someone was trying very hard to make it appear as though there had never been a high-security government facility there. The equipment — including some really massive stuff — had all been removed, probably disassembled, and even the industrial electrical outlets were removed, the wires covered up by a new layer of drywall. The first four basement levels had a few desks, and nothing else. Apart from a keypad lock on the back entrance, there were no traces of the project’s extensive security systems, no cameras, magnetic locks, key card readers, retinal scanners, nothing.

The fifth level — which I’d never been to before — was an entirely different matter. The room was pitch-black, save for a single cone of white light coming from the ceiling. The man who stepped into the light was Sam’s missing tag-team partner, Wash. In spite of his tacky Hawaiian shirt, he began speaking of world-shaking events. And he had some friends with him: Pinnacle, and more clone soldiers. Pinnacle was unusually quiet, while Wash started gloating about how the experiment to create new metahumans was a resounding success. Raz was impulsive as usual, and found out that they had another force field set up. He did at least give us a few puzzle pieces. Glenn was not part of their plans, for example. And they still know far too much about us. He offered to answer one question, and while I was trying to formulate a question about the nature of the catalyst, Jack asked him how to take down the force field. Wash’s answer was, “Take out the power for 15 city blocks.” Which tells us a bit more than he probably intended. Their force field device doesn’t have an independent power source, and it uses a large amount of electricity. The big question is whether they need to set it up in advance or they can simply deploy it quickly had have it somehow drain the power automatically.

They tried to work their vanishing act, but when Glenn opened the elevator, there was Pinnacle with four soldiers, and more started pouring in through the doors. Pinnacle was a formiddable opponent to say the least, but this time he seemed virtually invincible. He went beyond his usual inhuman combat skill, and everything we brought against him he either anticipated or outright ingored. He batted Glenn away, took Razmus’ claw attack unfazed, my Rider Drill did nothing against his armor, he happily inhaled the burning steam vapors Sam brought to bear and ignored it when Sam froze them in his lungs, and he simply stepped out of the way every time Jack tried to use his shadow powers. Seeing that this was getting us nowhere, I used the Mega-Beam, firing it past him at the soldiers in the elevator and sweeping it upwards until I blasted the ceiling above Pinnacle. The falling rubble made a massive dust cloud, and when it cleared, there was no sign of him. The soldiers faded away and were gone. We beat a hasty retreat as the klaxons began to sound.

But there was still more in store for the evening. A massive motorcycle growl sounded in the streets, a 1000cc engine, and a sound I knew. A custom Fenrir bike streaked past us, and I swear I saw a long red scarf streaking behind it. The other Rider.

Razmus decided to spend the night at a hotel, to avoid my grandfather. The old man is proving to have a lot of information, though as Glenn pointed out, he’s undoubtedly not telling us everything he knows. What he did tell me was that we were probably dealing with Wild Rider, a maverick Rider who wanders the universe on his own, and unusual in that he fights hand-to-hand. But what he was doing on Earth, he had no idea. When I asked him if it was normal that I was having so many dreams about my father, he just said, “I miss him too.”

The next day Razmus showed up in time to go to Akiba with Suzuka, who had already made a little plushie of him to hang on her bag. She makes those of most of the boys she likes, though some wind up with pins stuck in them. I don’t know how it went, and I’m not sure I want to.

Glenn and I went to visit the auto shop where dad’s motorcycle was built. Mr. Shige Matsumoto was there, and he took us down to his hidden underground shop where he was working on his secret custom bikes. When we asked about Wild Rider, he was shocked too. He’d made three bikes for my father. One was destroyed in Paris (so it was the Eiffel tower), one was in the National Historical Museum (we need to check to see if it’s still there), and the third was there in the garage, an updated version that was intended to be a present for Ryo’s 18th birthday. Matsumoto was unfazed when he found out that there had been a change of plans, and he was happy to give me the key.

It turned out to be just in time, because Wild Rider himself pulled up in front of the garage just as we got back upstairs, pointed at me (and how the hell did he know that I’m a Rider?) and said, “RACE ME.” So, I raced him. We both had a couple of the most powerful bikes in the world, and we tore through city streets before we found our way onto a mostly empty highway loop. I never quite got ahead of him, but I never fell behind either. I always liked motorcycles — it’s one of the few things where I’m a lot like my father — but this was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Even now I’m itching to ride some more, just for the hell of it. But Wild Rider wasn’t content to just race; he screeched to a halt, hopped off his bike, and took up a fighting stance. With the helicopters circling overhead, we fought. His punches hit hard, sending me flying a couple of times even in my heavy armor, but the Rider Gemini Slash apparently did enough damage to convince him to turn tail and leave the scene.

I got back to the house as quickly as I could without being followed. We’d been on the news, which was now buzzing with that “Rider Lady” nonsense. I really need to come up with a name of my own, but then I have no idea what my adapted armor will even look like. From the picture I took with my cameraphone before the race, my grandfather was surprised to find that Wild Rider’s armor had changed somewhat, and from the description I gave, he said the voice had changed as well. If there is someone new who took up the mantle of being Wild Rider, then it had to have been someone with the Rider’s genetic factor that makes transforming possible. With the sighting the Watcher mentioned, plus the two times I saw him with my own eyes, it can’t be a normal human. Grandfather said the only other person on the planet who could do it would be Ryo, except he’s not old enough. It could explain his simplistic fightng style — nothing but big, powerful punches — but I’m not about to jump to conclusions. If the catalyst let me use the Mega-Brace in spite of being a woman, there’s no telling what might’ve happened to someone else. Even still, I took the opportunity to look through Ryo’s room (I used Sam the wrestler to distract him) just in case, but there was nothing apart from the usual boatloads of Mega-Rider merchandise, even more than I remember (I should’ve guessed they’d have “10th Anniversary Memorial” merchandise coming out). I really hope he was just playing soccer. Oh, and Razmus called me to congratulate me on a cool fight.

The thing that’s still bugging me is that Pinnacle and his friends have such good surveillance on us. They seem to know every move we make, though details of the conversation proved that they didn’t know what was said in my house, at least, even while my grandfather wasn’t there. I wonder if we could use their watchful eyes to our advantage somehow. And I can’t believe Razmus actually thought I’d look at him differently because of his ancestry. Just being Raz is more than enough. And I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and someone to come tell me I can’t be a Rider because I’m a girl. My mother has been quiet as ever (do I take after her?), my grandfather was a little surprised, but mostly just took it in stride, and Wild Rider said all of two words to me in the whole of his little test. I can’t stop now; heroism is just as addictive as nicotine (my grandfather smokes too, indoors), and probably worse for your health in the long run.

Next up is Ryo’s big soccer match, and we have four hours to kill until then, which isn’t enough time to go to the museum. At the rate things have been going, we’re probably due for another incident there. With more media coverage.

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 13

Today was about me, apparently. I came to Japan wanting answers, but I didn’t expect to be buried in them without trying.

On the plane, Razmus was relatively well-behaved, and he even apologized for the “sellout” comment. He also showed me a polaroid of him and his parents, obviously from a number of years ago, and said that he might’ve said such a thing out of jealousy.

Mom and Ryo met us at the airport, and neither has changed much. Ryo’s soccer team is on its way to the division finals, and mom is… well, mom. For some reason Razmus felt the need to tell my mother, in broken Japanese, that he is “Hikaru’s boyfriend that he met on the internet.” He seemed annoyed that I shut him down (“こいつ、彼氏なんかねぇよ。”). He either has a poor sense of humor or doesn’t understand that my mother wouldn’t have believed it for a second. He forgets that we’ve only known each other for about six weeks.

The house is just as I remember it though. It feels like I’ve been away a lifetime, but really it’s only been a matter of months. The next morning, Eri, Takeshi, and Suzuka arrived, and it surprised no one that Suzuka was all over Razmus. What surprised me was that she got him to agree to a date of sorts — a trip to Akiba.

When mom asked me to go buy some salmon at the market, and I wound up with Razmus and Sam tagging along, and that’s when business started trying to ambush me. There was a scruffy Westerner in the market, who was fitting in perfectly. He telepathically introduced himself as the Watcher, and told me to say hi to Glenn for him. He went on to say that he was born in the 1700s, that he had a premonition that something important was going to happen soon, that there was another Rider operating somewhere in Japan, and that we should check out Project Perseus’ abandoned Tokyo facility. Razmus and Sam neither saw nor suspected anything at the time.

But that wasn’t the half of it. I took Glenn and mom into the kitchen to talk about a few things. I’d been gearing up to confess about what I’ve been doing, but she’d already figured it out. No climax. “I wouldn’t be your mother if I didn’t know.” What other surprises does she have? Glenn was surprised to hear about the Watcher, to be sure. Then my erstwhile grandfather made his appearance. He looked like a typical wizened old Japanese man, but he had a Brace of his own, and I could see from the look in his eyes that he is a man of experience and power. Then, he let Glenn and I ask questions.

My father really was an alien then, and so is my grandfather. The Riders consider themselves guardians of justice in the universe, and they send Riders to distant planets in need of heroes. Earth already has many native heroes, so they sent only one, my father, some 19 years ago (which would mean I was concieved not too long after he arrived…). The Braces are techno-organic, and contain a memory of sorts, though only some of the first-generation ones are sentient (the Mega-Brace is not one of those… and yet it’s 9,000 years old). It draws from a dimensional pocket an organic inner suit that serves as insulation and interface, and an organic outer armor, that wraps around the wearer. My grandfather (his name is Yukimaru) was shocked that I could transform, and while inspecting my armor he noted that it was very close to finally adapting to me. I’ve been able to use the suit’s main powers — armor, jumping, the Mega-Sword, and the Mega-Beam — but there’s another level, which involves combining them in different ways.

Being a Rider is treated as a hereditary post, but passed down from father to son. Ryo would’ve been the one to recieve the Mega-Brace next, but (thank god) not until he turned 18. If dad’s attitude was typical of Riders, Ryo would make a better fit, but it’s a little late for that right now. What is puzzling is that in theory the Brace should’ve gone into hiding on its own, and then proceeded to appear to Ryo when he came of age. Instead it somehow wound up in the hands of Project Perseus, and then me. On the plus side, if I really do decide to retire, Ryo would be able to take up the fight, but not until he’s old enough. On the other hand, when all’s said and done he has the power to make the world a better place without becoming a superhero. He’ll probably be furious at me for, in effect, stealing “his” superpowers, but that’s ironic considering that far more than me he can appreciate a normal life.

The other thing is that my father’s people have been waging a war against another race, an implacable enemy that is a bane to civilized life in the universe. And if my grandfather is to believed, Razmus is one of that race. I could tell the old man wanted to rip him apart, but he held back because Razmus is one of my comrades. When my grandfather finally left–vanishing in a flash of light–I went and told the others the parts I felt were safe to tell.

Raz, predictably, immediately went into denial, as though his ancestry somehow invalidated the experiences of his family, the circumstances of his birth. Neither the archeological evidence that points to Japanese people having come to the islands from the mainland, nor the fact that I’ve been living in San Francisco, nor even the fact that my father was an alien, make me less Japanese, much less not human. Razmus is still Razmus, and the man and woman in the picture are his parents. The problem is, we could find ourselves facing other shapeshifters who aren’t so friendly as him or his family. And another thing. Although I know better than to be naive about it, there remains the distinct possibility that what my grandfather told me was only the truth as he knows it. There are two sides to every story.

In any case, with that done, I announced that we were going to investigate Project Perseus’ Tokyo facility. And everyone went along with it. I don’t think of myself as having leadership qualities, but Razmus is too independent for that, Glenn just doesn’t seem to want to tell people what to do if he can help it (and I don’t blame him), and Sam and Jack are too passive. Still, when I took the initiative like that, I didn’t expect it to work out so smoothly.

Of course, we haven’t yet entered the building, so we’ll soon find out whether I made a good decision. What we’re approaching–by train–is outwardly a fairly ordinary office building in the middle of the city. It’s since been leased out to another, more innocuous organization. I have to try to remember where the research labs and such were located. I think most of that stuff was in the second and third basement levels.

I’m glad no one saw me the morning after we arrived. I woke up, and something about the dream I had made me wake up crying. I still can’t remember what it was about, but I coudn’t stop crying anyway. That isn’t like me.