This is the second version of Chapter 2, Part II.
It's a little closer to what I had in mind but still not perfect. However, I decided to remove some of the uncharacteristic behavior exhibited by Mirai in verison 1.
Also, I felt I was wasting an opportunity for Mirai to continue puzzling through her circumstances.
Anyway, I'll wait to see how this version is received.
– II –
As I followed Ghost, or at the very least his superimposed image, the bustling sidewalks grew busier the farther we walked and the closer we drew to Ring Zero’s entertainment districts that resided due west of the horseshoe shaped harbor.
Ghost wouldn’t tell me our destination within the district, so I decided pressing him for an answer would be a waste of time, but I had another reason for keeping silent.
No longer wet and uncomfortable, I wasn’t trying to hide from the sidewalk traffic anymore.
I had become one of the many in the crowd, and thus, I was able to soak in my surroundings.
Standing at an intersection, surrounded by people waiting for the light to change, I brushed aside locks of blonde hair, and looked up at the city buildings.
Even when she wasn’t powered up, Mirai’s eyes and senses were crystal clear, allowing me to perceive the environment with greater clarity than at any time during my existence as Ronin Kassius. Because of this, I was able observe and experience the city like never before.
My olfactory organs were nearly inundated by the rich variety of smells they were capturing and cataloging. The smell of people, the smells from the shops, the smell of vehicles on the road, even the subtle smell of metal from the mag-levs racing overhead on elevated rail lines – I could sense all of it, including the veiled scent of the ocean carried on the back of the breeze drafting in from the harbor a few hundred meters away to the east.
On my bare skin, I could feel the cold air, and the warmth of the people around me. When their bodies brushed by me, unable or unwilling to avoid contact on the wide, populated sidewalk, I could feel the texture of their clothes and their skin.
Conversations, shouts, laughter, footsteps, music, the hiss of electro-fusion drives from cars and mag-levs, the whirring of drones overhead, the high frequency hum of photronics lights, the rustling of clothes, all blended into a collage of sounds absorbed by my ears.
There was a great deal for my eyes to feast upon as well.
When no looking at the people around me, I gazed upwards at the giant pyramidal megascrapers of Ar Telica, rising a thousand feet high, lit by countless exterior lights rather than by light coming from their windows since the majority of the city’s population was asleep, a fact belied by the number of people crowding the sidewalks, shops, and malls at this hour. Because of their slanted exteriors, the buildings avoided the canyon effect, leaning back to offer as much of the sky as they could. Thus while they loomed over me, I didn’t feel oppressed by them. I doubted there were any engineering benefits, but perhaps this was one reason why the general architecture of the city-states was reminiscent of the Aztec pyramids.
All of this combined to immerse me in the mélange of sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the city and its people.
Yet this was only the proverbial cake.
The icing was the emotional impact it had upon me.
For me, this was a new experience that went beyond the physical.
I had never walked these streets during the dark side of the morning.
I had never lived in the city as I was living in it now.
My life was a sheltered routine existence that was safe and secure, and adhered to a mandatory curfew for young people.
From my dormitory balcony I had looked down at the city, but never looked up at it the way I could now.
I could never have indulged in my surroundings to this extent.
All of this was possible because Mirai was an entity that perceived her surroundings at a preternatural level. She was an existence that was naked and raw.
I remembered reading how autistic people experienced the world to such a degree of clarity that the sensory overload overwhelmed them.
Yet while it was true that I now lived in a world where the proverbial curtains had been drawn aside, the windows opened, and the scales removed from my eyes, Mirai’s mind was coping.
I wasn’t hampered by the rich, vibrancy of Ar Telica’s nightlife.
I was absorbing and relishing it, and seeing the world like no other human could.
And as I realized this…my euphoria evaporated and reality crushed me to the sidewalk.
Mirai was an existence like no other…and because of this she was alone.
I couldn’t share what I was feeling with anyone else because they wouldn’t understand it.
Describing it with words would never suffice.
They had to be like me to appreciate what I was experiencing.
But that meant no longer being human, and knowing that I wasn’t human added to the isolation that now fettered my state of heart and mind.
The sights and sounds of the city grew muted, vague, and indistinct.
What was once so clear was now dull, and I turned my attention away from the city above me, unable to bear the weight of the vista.
The light turned green for pedestrians, and I was swept along across the street by the impatient crowd.
Trailing quietly behind Ghost, I began to feel incorporeal, an existence that now lived in a separate reality from the rest of humanity, seeing things they couldn’t see, feeling in ways they couldn’t feel, able to do things they couldn’t do, and like a vicious spiral it served to reinforce my uniqueness and isolation.
I suddenly thought of another existence that was like mine.
A fictional character in a novel written hundreds of years ago – Frankenstein’s monster.
The lonely monster that had initially beseeched its creator for a mate to dispel its solitude; for a companion that could understand it.
Would I become like the monster?
I knew that I wasn’t a loner, but the deeper question was would I crave companionship like the monster had?
That made me wonder what kind of companionship I was after – male or female – and my feeling soured as a result. I liked girls but there were times after awakening as Mirai where I’d caught myself thinking of Mat in embarrassing ways.
So while I was drawn in one direction, I was also being tugged in the other.
Wrapped in my thoughts, I didn’t notice Ghost had stopped walking until I passed through him.
A shiver ran through me and I turned around to look at him now standing behind me.
Okay—that was creepy!
“Why did you stop?” I hissed at him while wrapping my arms tightly about me.
“Because, Princess, we have arrived.”
Looking around at my surroundings, it took me a short while to gain my bearings as I found myself standing before a short squat, circular building with an immensely tall tower stretching far above me into the night sky. Because I had visited this place before with Mat, I recognized it as a civic center that served as the foundation for Ar Telica Tower. That was another reason for me to recognize this locale – the Tower was the tallest structure in the city-state, rising some three and a half thousand feet above sea level. Serving as a tourist spot, it was unusually open at all hours. Entry into the building was free, though I would have to pay an admission to ride the fast mag-lev elevators up the Tower’s various observation decks and restaurant levels.
“It will be fine, Princess. Follow me.”
“No, I mean, why are we here?” I sincerely was baffled by his decision to guide me to the Tower.
“Princess, you need a change in perspective.”
I frowned inwardly, wondering how looking at the city from above was going to help me.
That said, did Ghost know what was troubling me?
I followed him up the long, wide steps to the building. Once inside, I saw a short queue of people waiting at the top of a stepped dais surrounding a white column more than twenty meters in diameter occupying the middle of the floor space. Running through the ceiling, the column served as part of the Tower’s internal support structure, and contained the elevator shafts for the lift cars that travelled up and down the Tower’s length. To access the elevator bank at the top of the dais, I would need to pass through the security scanning gates, and so I hesitated as I was unsure of how they would react to Mirai’s body. There was also the matter of how I would pay for the trip up the tower.
In a whisper, I asked, “Ghost, am I going to set off alarms?”
“Princess, you may walk through. I have taken care of the security gates.”
I shivered again, as Ghost calmly reminded me of the extent of his abilities.
If he ever turned against us…we wouldn’t stand a chance.
I swallowed nervously before bringing up the matter of money. “How am I going to pay?”
“You place your right hand on the scanning plate. The cost of admission will be deducted from your account.”
“My account? Ronin Kassius’s bank account?”
Ghost shook his head and looked amused. “No, Princess. Isabel val Sanreal’s account.”
I blinked quickly. “She has money? I mean—I have money?”
“Most assuredly. Considerable funds.”
I noticed I sounded reluctant when I asked, “Just how much is considerable?”
Ghost hesitated. “Enough to ensure you will not be short on change.”
“Ha ha. Funny. So how much money does she have?”
“Approximately four million dorans.”
“Four million…?” I swayed on my feet for several heartbeats before catching my balance. Pressing a palm to my forehead, I whispered uneasily, “Did you say…four million?”
In the corner of my left eye, I saw Ghost look at me with concern. “Princess, why are you surprised? As a member of the Sanreal Family, you should expect your net value to be substantial.”
With my palm still pressed to my forehead, I looked crookedly up at Ghost. “Four million dorans, Ghost.”
He started looking puzzled. “Yes?”
I lowered my voice even more. “Don’t you get it? Four million dorans! I could buy a mansion with that much money.”
Ghost made an ‘ah’ expression and clicked his fingers. “Yes, indeed. A very wise investment.”
Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Why do I have so much money?”
“A welcoming gift from the Sanreal Family to their long absent daughter.”
“I can use all that money now?”
“The terms and conditions stipulate that a stipend is available to you each month out of the four million in your account. Also, a portfolio has been established under your name. At present your investments total an impressive amount.”
I wasn’t just reluctant but scared to ask, “How…how impressive?”
“Three hundred and sixty million dorans…give or take a few million.”
It took a long while for the amount to register within my brain.
“…I…I need to sit down….”
Turning drunkenly, I looked for somewhere to sit until Ghost pointed to a row of vacant sofa seats near a display stand running a holovid projection tour of Ar Telica’s Tower.
Trudging over to it, I sat down on an empty seat and hunched over my lap with my head in my hands, distinctly aware of my heavy breasts pushing at the sports bra’s material. However, even Mirai’s boobs weren’t enough to distract me from Ghost’s devastating revelation.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why what, Princess?”
Exhaling heavily, I looked up at him. “Why would they do that? Do they really have my long term interests in mind? Or is it all just a front?”
“Both. To support the veracity of Isabel val Sanreal’s identity, the Sanreal Family has created her existence from the ground up. Financial security will add to her realism.”
I shook my head slowly. “Why? Why go that far? This body was meant for Clarisol, but why go that far for her?”
Ghost fell silent with a faintly troubled frown.
I continued looking up at him, until a thought crossed my mind. “Ghost, where is Clarisol’s Virtual Prison? Is it here in my reality or in hers?”
“Not long ago the construct maintaining her virtual space was brought over to this reality. Think of it as a concession on the Empress’s part.” He frowned slightly before amending his reply. “Perhaps it is more fitting to say, Clarisol’s imprisonment was downgraded to a house arrest.”
“You mean it was worse than it is now?”
If the bleak environment her mind was in now was equivalent to a home imprisonment, I didn’t want to think of what her previous virtual prison was like.
However, Ghost shook his head. “No. She has been contained in that representation for ten years. But it is only recently that she was given access to material from the outside world. In other words, the conditions of her isolation were relaxed.”
“That’s still cruel,” I muttered under my breath.
Naturally, Ghost heard me. “I agree.”
“Then why was the Empress so gracious?”
Ghost folded his arms and assumed a pensive pose. “I do not know. It puzzled House Novis as well. However, they were not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“Ghost, what did her family have planned for her?”
Ghost stiffened slightly.
I found it strange that his projected image would do so, and for a heartbeat I wondered if it was an act on his part, rather than a reflex reaction that slipped past his control. “Ghost?”
“I cannot say.”
“I doubt they’d be able to keep it a secret from you.” Cocking my head slightly, I stared at him reproachfully. “So that means you won’t tell me.” After straightening my posture on the seat, I added, “You told me you wouldn’t lie to me, but that doesn’t mean you will tell me everything.”
“It is a question of trust, Princess.”
“Trust is a two-way street.”
Again he fell silent, and stood stiffly before me.
I chose to sit back and softly murmured, “I don’t understand why she would be given the existence of Isabel val Sanreal if she already lives as Clarisol val Sanreal.”
Ghost bowed his head for a moment, before sitting down on the sofa seat vacant to my right.
To me it felt like a movie moment, where spies sit on the same bench in a park, acting all discreet while sharing state secrets as children play in the background and the unsuspecting populace walks by. Ghost certainly was projecting the air of a troubled spy as his image sat beside me.
“There is no guarantee the Empress would ever release Clarisol. Isabel is an existence that could offer her a way out, albeit for only a copy of her.”
“What about the Simulacra versions of her?”
Ghost shook his head. “They have finite lifespan.”
Again, he shook his head. “It is by design. One year. Twelve months.”
I turned to look at him, cautious of how that action would be seen by others but quickly noticed the place was deserted, and the visitors waiting at the elevator bank had boarded the high-speed mag-lev lifts that would carry them up the Tower.
I swallowed quietly and then softly asked, “Because her Simulacra is a Master Grade body?”
“No. Because the Empress decreed it.”
Ghost raised his head a little, and looked at the foyer’s opposite end. “Kateopia decreed that Clarisol’s Simulacra that live in the physical world would expire after one year. Before then, they would need to dump their memories into the Clarisol living in the virtual space.” He looked down and sighed. “Of course, the Simulacra did not know of this…until one of them discovered the truth. Unfortunately, she dumped her knowledge into Clarisol before she could be stopped. Because of this all the Simulacra made from Clarisol are imprinted with that knowledge. And some of them do not take it well.” He released an unexpected chuckle. “That last version of her was by far the most unrestrained. I would go so far as to describe her as unreconcilable with the real version.”
I turned away. Resting back, I looked up at the ceiling many meters above me.
Was that why Clarisol acted the way she did? Was she unhinged by knowing that she would only live for a year? Did she choose to live her life literally to the fullest because it was so short?
Even so, I won’t forgive her for what she did to Angela and Felicia.
Then I remembered the difference between the two Clarisols, and wondered if holding a grudge against her was worth it.
The real version? Is it even possible to call her that?
“Ghost…I just don’t get it.”
In the corner of my eye, I watched him glance at me.
Clearing my throat, I asked, “If Kateopia loved Clarisol’s mother that much, why treat her daughter like a mass murderer?”
“She is not punishing Clarisol. She is punishing House Novis.”
“Ghost, that’s a contradiction.”
“I am aware of that.” Abruptly, he stood up and began pacing before me. “It is a contradiction not lost on anyone.”
“So House Novis concocted the plan to use a fake existence to give at least a copy of Clarisol a chance at a new life.” I shook my head, demonstrating my confusion. “Why not create an identity for her that was far and away from House Novis and the Sanreals?”
“They did create an existence that was far removed from them. They spent considerable time and resources creating the identity of Isabel Allegrando. She was to live safe and comfortable on a colony world. Far away from Teloria and from the bridge between our respective universes. But in the end it was all for naught.”
“Because the Empress found out about her?”
“Correct. She found out about Mirai. She learnt about Isabel and the plan to copy Clarisol into her.”
I cocked my head at him. “Where did the Angel Fibers fit into all this?”
“The Angel Fibers were to give her abilities she would need to survive. To live beyond the lifespan of a Simulacra. That is what your sister promised the Sanreals, and House Novis.”
It seemed that the Angel Fibers were always involved in the question of mortality and immortality. Yet I found it extraordinary that Clarisol’s family harbored such guilt over her imprisonment that they would go to such lengths to atone for the punishment she endured. In a way, wasn’t their plan treason against the Empress?
“Ghost, who chose the name, Isabel, for Clarisol’s new identity?"
He gave the impression of taking a deep breath. “Your sister chose the name Isabel.”
Was it true then? Did my mother truly wish to name me Isabel if I was born a girl?
I had distinctly troubling thought follow on the heels of that question.
Everything Erina had told me indicated she had no intention of throwing Mirai into the Gun Princess Royale. Everything I’d been told by Ghost and Clarisol confirmed that premise. Mirai was a vessel – a host for the Angel Fibers – and thus too valuable to risk being killed or injured in the championship. Erina had made it quite clear that my predicament was of the Empress’s making. So why create Mirai for the intention of giving Clarisol a chance at life? Why would Erina be willing to give up Mirai – something and not someone that she considered so precious that she would face down an Empress?
The thought of Erina relinquishing Mirai made no sense to me, not when Mirai could affect the lives of thousands of diseased people.
But what if she wasn’t playing the game the Sanreals thought she was? What if Erina never intended Mirai to be a vessel for Clarisol?
I swallowed and couldn’t help averting my gaze away from Ghost.
What if Erina had always intended Mirai as a vessel for me? But why would she do that? Did that mean that Erina feared she could not save Ronin Kassius? Was she preparing for the possibility of failure? Or was it something else?
With the plans laid down by Erina and the Sanreals exposed to the Empress, an instance of Clarisol could not take ownership of Mirai and flee to the outermost realms of human control space. Thus Mirai was stuck here on Teloria and now a participant in the Gun Princess Royale.
However, that left her under Erina’s watchful eye.
I held back from biting my lower lip as I pondered the dangerous thought.
Was that it? Was that the reason why everything fell apart?
If Erina was plotting betrayal behind the backs of the Sanreal Family, she would need a dangerous degree of motivation, and if she wasn’t preparing Mirai for either Clarisol or myself, then perhaps she intended to use Mirai as a vessel for Akane Straus.
Either way, Erina was playing with fire.
Bowing my head, I cast my gaze down at the carpet below my sandaled feet and suppressed a cold shiver.
If Erina was playing with fire, this wasn’t going to end well for her…or for me.
Sensing Ghost watching me closely from a near distance, I realized I’d been thinking for too long. My silence could betray my thoughts.
“If I had money all this time, why did you make me raid the charity bins?”
“Walking into a shop in your disreputable state would have raised questions. It might have led to unforeseen consequences later.”
I see. If Isabel val Sanreal was recognized later by the shopkeeper, they might have written about the encounter on social media. Rumors and gossip would have been born out of it.
That was what I thought, but I decided to play another card with Ghost. “I could have talked my way out of it.”
“Perhaps, but accessing your account would have alerted your sister to your location.”
I nodded inwardly, but outwardly I expressed surprise as I looked up at Ghost. “They have tabs on my account?”
“Then paying for admission here would have alerted them as well.”
Ghost was silent for a long, telling moment. “My bad.”
“Do you want me to be caught?” I asked him with a voice laced with suspicion.
He folded his hands behind his back and assumed a sheepish expression. “I had presumed that the view from above would have calmed you down. Perhaps, you would have been more agreeable to an open discussion with your sister.”
“Ghost, don’t call that woman my sister.”
He looked troubled for a heartbeat before bowing politely to me. “As you wish, Princess.”
I exhaled loudly as I raised my gaze at the foyer’s high ceiling.
“Ghost, there’s someplace I’d like to go.”
He waited expectantly for me, and after a few heartbeats, I exhaled softly this time and it could have been mistaken for a sigh.
“I’d like to go home....”
My voice failed me unexpectedly, embarrassing me, so I pressed my lips tightly together as I continued looking up at the ceiling.
Yet I wasn’t just embarrassed.
I was also struggling with the weight of my decision, knowing there would be pain while believing it was something that I needed to do. I didn’t think of it as a rite of passage. It was just the necessary turning of a page in order to begin a new chapter. After all, back aboard the Sanreal Crest I had pretty much declared that I would live as Isabel val Sanreal, and fight in the Gun Princess Royale as Mirai.
However, saying it and accepting it were not one and the same.
I was holding back or rather being held down by my ties to Ronin Kassius.
It was painful to acknowledge that truth, but I had already taken a step away from my previous existence – I no longer considered Erina Kassius as my sister.
However, ties remained waiting to be cut.
I couldn’t be certain if Ghost misunderstood what I meant, or was simply acting that way when he tipped his head ever so slightly to ask, “You wish to return to the apartment?”
I swallowed as discreetly as I could, and not trusting my voice, I replied with a succinct, “No.”
“In that case, Princess, where do you wish to go?”
It should have been easy to say, yet the words wound themselves around my chest, making it hard to breathe.
This is something I need to do. If I don’t do this…I won’t be able to move forward.
My heart beat heavily as I stood up from the comfortable sofa seat, and looked into Ghost’s eyes.
“I’d like to go home, Ghost…back to my dormitory….”
I swallowed after my voice failed me again, unable to say the rest.
…to pay my respects to my life as Ronin Kassius.
Ghost’s eyes studied me in silence for a long while, before he broke into a weak smile. “I understand, Princess.”
This time I sighed for real, and was surprised by the degree of relief I felt. “You do?”
He gave me a warm nod, and yet I caught the hint of sadness in his smile as he stepped aside with a polite bow.
“Well then, Princess. Shall we be off?”
For those of you interested in reading or purchasing Book One and Book Two, they can be found on Amazon KDP here:
They are also available on the Kindle Library.
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Thank you for sticking with it despite its troubles. I'm interested in what people have to say about this version.
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