– I –
I had to walk nine city district blocks to arrive at the sixty storey apartment complex that served as a dormitory for students of Telos Academy.
Equipped with apartments that ranged from single bedroom to three-bedroom layouts, the complex was large enough to house the entire academic student body that numbered around six thousand, but at present it was home to around half that quantity. Because of this, many students that should have been sharing an apartment with others found themselves effectively living alone in family sized dwellings. Others, like myself, found themselves in hotel sized rooms that were spacious but hardly awe inspiring. However, it wasn’t just the students that lived there, but teaching faculty, administrative staff, and maintenance workers as well, though they were on separate floors.
So why such a large building for just one school?
Well, the truth is that Telos Academy was only half full itself, with numerous classrooms waiting to be opened as and when the student body swelled. The school had been designed for a maximum attendance of around twelve thousand students. Eventually, as Ar Telica continued to add Rings and expand its footprint, there would be more demand for the school, and so the apartment complex was purchased by the Telos Corporation and converted into a dormitory for students, and lodgings for the faculty.
That’s the story behind the dorm building I was now observing from a shadowed entrance far across the street.
I was troubled but not by thoughts of breaking into the building early in the morning.
Rather, I was bothered by the thoughts of deceit swirling around in my head after my conversation with Ghost.
Just when I thought I understood what was going on around me, a new bombshell was dropped. Some questions were answered, but more surfaced.
To be frank, my suspicions behind Erina’s actions could be unfounded. There was probably a perfectly logical and understandable reason behind the way the situation had unfolded prior to my involvement. I was certain that if I kept digging, I’d unearth the big picture, and even if it wasn’t a pretty view, I still needed to see it. However, asking questions of Erina felt like the wrong choice. So could I ask? Could I pry more information out of Ghost and risk him suspecting Erina of deceit? What if there was no deceit? What if the answer was simple and standing before me?
My questions kept circling back to the beginning.
Eventually, I took a couple of deep breaths, and stopped the playback of thoughts looping in my head, and shelved them neatly aside.
Time to see what’s in front of me.
I looked up at the apartment complex, counting the floors until I reached the thirty-fifth floor where my old dorm apartment was located on the south-east face of the building.
The light to my room – I mean, Ronin Kassius’s room – was off and the balcony window wall was dark.
It wasn’t something that inspired certain relief within me.
The light being off didn’t guarantee the room was unoccupied. If my room was deserted, I would be entering it as a stranger though I was intimately familiar with it. But if it was occupied, then the fact it was assigned to someone a mere day after my disappearance was disconcerting, as was the question of who was now in my room. Then again, the latter was purely a flight of fancy on my part, but not knowing was beginning to both unsettle and frustrate me.
“Hey, Ghost? I’m kind of sticking out by standing out here.”
I was in a dark area beside a towering megascraper, but street level security systems viewed the world in a wide visual spectrum so I doubted Mirai was hidden from view.
“Rest assured, Princess. I have commandeered the security grid surrounding you. You are quite secure where you are.”
That chill ran through me again, the one that was stirred to life every time Ghost exerted his godly powers over technology for my benefit.
When I considered what Clarisol and Ghost had told me about his war time achievements, a distinct fear settled around my heart, and I struggled to keep myself from shivering.
He’s technological god. And a techno demon too.
However, every once in a while, a god encountered a wall they had trouble breaking down. In this case, it was a firewall that was hampering Ghost’s efforts to secure entry for me into the building, and this firewall had been keeping him busy for the past two minutes.
Swallowing hard, I cautiously asked, “How much longer?”
“Another forty-three seconds, Princess. I will have broken through by then.”
I started biting my lower lip and hastily forced myself to stop. “Why is there so much security around my building?”
“A very good question. It was most unexpected. But a Category Nine Ancile firewall is like any other firewall. Porous.”
“But you said it was military grade.”
“Correct. Your military uses it protect its autonomous vehicles from outside interference.”
“You mean hacking.”
“No, I mean cracking.”
Again, I started biting my lower lip, but this time I gave up trying to stop myself, briefly wondering if it was a subconscious habit of mine, or a habit of Mirai’s. “So why is there a firewall like that around my dorm building?”
“As I said before, a very good question.”
I pondered for a moment. “Ghost, when I was returned to my room as a Simulacrum, how did Erina get me inside without raising alarms?”
“I was not involved in that aspect of the operation. However, I presume they had access to the building’s security systems. Then again, they may not have required it. Your passcode or handprint would have been sufficient to grant them entry into your apartment. Ah, there we have it. Open sesame—oops.”
I stiffened sharply. “What do you mean, oops?”
“I mean that the breach is temporary. The firewall is rewriting itself. Hmm, how intriguing.”
“Princess, you will need to hurry into the building. You have fifteen seconds.”
“What?” I blurted out.
“Princess, fly if you will. Thirteen seconds.”
I growled as I hastily removed my sandals, in the process almost ripping them off my feet.
“Eight seconds, Princess.”
I wanted to yell at Ghost to shut up, but instead I bolted out of my hiding spot, clutching my sandals by their straps with one hand.
Thankfully, there was a gap in traffic that I exploited as I ran faster than an Olympic sprinter across the six-lane city street. But I was certain the people in the vehicles I raced past were shocked to see a blonde girl run barefoot and dangerously close to their cars as she dashed madly toward an apartment complex.
I covered the distance from the sidewalk and to the landing outside the building’s entrance in two bounding leaps, then stumbled through the open permaglass doors as my feet slipped. I landed on my knees inside the foyer, and slid to a stop while behind me the transparent doors closed with a soft swish.
Recovering my breath took a few seconds, after which I climbed up to my feet and patted my sore knees under the material of my Capri pants.
“That hurt,” I grumbled, but I wasn’t complaining about my stinging knees, the pain of which was fading quickly. Instead, it was Mirai’s giant boobs that hurt the most as I cradled them in my arms.
“Princess, congratulations on setting on a new record for the one-hundred meter sprint, though the distance was actually one hundred and twelve meters.”
“Oh yeah? So what was my time?”
“Across the one hundred and twelve meters to the entrance? A mere seven point three seconds.”
I stared at him nonplussed for a moment before asking, “You mean, I covered the hundred meters in…around six and a half seconds?”
Ghost nodded and then clapped enthusiastically. “Fabuleux, Princess. Magnifique.”
I felt his praise was coming off as clownish. “Aren’t all Simulacra above human spec?”
Ghost wagged a finger, and answered me in a gently chiding tone. “Princess, as strong as Simulacra are, none has demonstrated your fleetness of foot. Your sister should have named you, Atalanta rather than Mirai.” He clicked his fingers. “Yes, of course. Why not have you re-registered in the Gun Princess Royale as the Princess Atalanta, the huntress of mythology that left all her suitors eating her dust.”
I couldn’t help staring sullenly at Ghost’s image standing beside me. “Atalanta was never a princess.”
“I’m not changing my mind. I’m competing as Mirai. Case closed.” Quickly looking around me at the foyer’s interior, I hastily asked, “More importantly, should I be standing around here?”
Ghost looked startled before he too gazed about with concern. “Indeed, Princess. It is best if we continue this conversation elsewhere.”
I started to glare at him. “Are you telling me all that running was for nothing.”
“No, the foyer security is temporarily distracted. So you should make haste.”
I wanted to hit him, but since that wasn’t possible, I decided to make my way swiftly across the foyer to the wide corridor leading into the building’s ground floor where a bank of elevators awaited.
Standing before a pair of closed elevator doors, I reached out for a button affixed to a panel and labeled with an upward pointing arrow, but I was forestalled by Ghost abruptly advising in an apologetic tone, “Princess, I suggest taking the stairs.”
I fixed a disgruntled stare upon him. “What?”
“I am having difficulty disabling the elevator security system.”
“Are you telling me to climb thirty-five floors of stairs?”
“Princess, it should be a breeze for you.”
I really want to hit him.
I looked down at the sandals I was carrying by their straps in my left hand, and then sighed heavily as I strapped my feet into them. I then trudged over to the foot of the wide stairwell leading all the way to the top floor of the apartment complex, one of six such stairwells within the hexagonal building.
Looking upwards, I asked in a hushed voice, “What about the stairwell cameras?”
“I can disguise you from those, but the system watching over the elevator cars is another matter.”
The stairwell seemed to go on forever above me. “Ghost, you promised not to lie to me.”
“I assure you, Princess, I am not deceiving you.”
My shoulders rose and fell in surrender to what lay ahead, then I started climbing up the stairs. “Why would the two be different?”
“To prevent tampering, no less. However, I do find the architecture of the internal security networks somewhat baffling.”
“Ah huh. And why is that?”
“It is as though the upgrade has yet to be completed. Patchwork is how I would describe it.”
Arriving at the second floor, I turned at the landing and began climbing up the steps to the third floor. “Maybe this is your fault.”
“Have you broken into this building before?”
“You have such a low opinion of me,” he complained.
“Hey, I was just asking,” I hissed back.
“In answer to your question, no. This is my first offence on this establishment.”
At the landing on the third level, I stopped and peeked down the adjoining corridor. “Okay, okay. So why upgrade the security systems now?”
Ghost was quiet for a few moments before remarking, “I can only suspect there is someone or something of great value to be found here.”
I flinched inwardly as I understood what he implied. But what came out of my mouth was instead, “Well, maybe they wanted to keep you out of here.” When I glanced at him, I noticed he looked troubled but I failed to put on the brakes. “Maybe they don’t trust you anymore.”
His concerned expression deepened briefly before he shrugged it off. “I did not earn the name, Revenant, for nothing.” Clapping his hands together, he continued on a jovial note. “After all, I did succeed in securing your entry into the building.”
I retorted with a harsh whisper, “Yeah, but I’d prefer not to have to sprint through traffic again!”
“You cut such a dashing figure.”
“Was that supposed to be a pun?” Ghost smiled sardonically at me, while I ground my teeth together. “Ghost, I need your support. Don’t ruffle their feathers. If they take you away from me, I’ll be really troubled.”
He regarded me quizzically. “Princess, need I remind you that your actions have led to this situation.”
“Wh—what?” I almost tripped while climbing the stairs.
“Please, take responsibility for your behavior. If I am taken away, as you say, it will be because I have been supporting your erratic decisions.”
I arrived at the fifth-floor landing and stopped.
He’s right. I put myself in this mess by jumping off the building. I can blame Erina all I want, but it was still my decision to make that jump.
Still, did he have to be so blunt about it?
I resumed my upward journey. However, I sulked on the way so I bit my lower lip and climbed the remaining floors in silence. At the thirty fifth floor, I looked cautiously both ways down the corridor before sneaking into it from the confines of the stairwell landing.
Like a thief, I hugged the walls as I crept along.
“Ghost,” I whispered, “about the cameras—?”
“All secure, but you need to hurry. I can only distract the system in short stretches and a few seconds at a time.”
Clenching my jaw, I breathed in through my nose as I pussyfooted down the corridor, hesitating only for a heartbeat at the sixty-degree bend, before continuing down the next corridor until I eventually arrived at the door to my dormitory apartment.
“We’re here,” I whispered, and reached for the door panel, intent on entering the security passcode that would unlock the door.
“One moment, Princess,” Ghost asked of me, and true to his word, I only had to wait a second before the door unlocked.
I frowned at him. “What? Why did you—?”
“Please hurry inside, Princess.”
I was still frowning when I pushed the door open, and snuck into my old apartment.
Closing the door behind me, I rested my back against it for a short while as I my eyes adjusted quickly to the dim interior.
“Ghost, is it safe for me to move?”
“Oddly…yes. The security within the apartments is rudimentary. It has yet to be upgraded.”
“Why didn’t you let me enter the passcode?”
“Because that code had been disabled. We gained entry by applying the building administrator code instead.”
“Isn’t that going to raise alarms?”
“That depends on how long you plan to remain here. Although, I did succeed in preventing the security system from sending a notification message when the passcode was employed.”
Ghost walked down the corridor and into the living area, and after hesitating for a short while, I swallowed hard and then followed him.
“Couldn’t you have used the same passcode to get me into the building?”
“First I needed to obtain the passcode. To do that, I needed to breach the firewall.”
Stopping at the entrance to the living area, I gazed over the interior as I absently replied, “Oh…I hadn’t thought of that….”
Walking to the silhouette of the bedside table, I tapped the lamplight and a moment later soft amber light spread throughout the living area.
It felt like a lifetime ago that I was last here, yet it was only two days at best.
The bed sheets had been changed, and the bed remade by the automated cleaning service that employed the ubiquitous bowling pin shaped droids seen across the city. No doubt the carpet had been vacuumed as well. The air inside the apartment smelt clean, with a scent of lilac coming from an aerosol dispenser sitting on a shelf beside the flat holovid projection screen.
The contents on my shelves and book cases were unmoved from where I remembered them.
I walked up to a shelf, and ran my fingers over my collection of Mercy Haddaway photo albums. Although I had her assorted holovid and digital releases, I’d purchased her printed material as well. Pulling out an album, I leafed through it as I walked over and sat down on the edge of my bed. I continued paging through the big book, aware with every page turn of how closely Mirai resembled Mercy. When I reached the end of the album, I gently closed the book, and placed it beside me on the bed.
Again, I slowly gazed about the interior of the apartment.
Now that I was here, I began to wonder if there was a point to returning to the apartment at all. I had come here to establish a sense of closure with my past life, but as I sat on the bed, all I felt was a growing lethargy that mired my thoughts and weighed down my limbs.
Dropping back onto the bed, I stared up at the ceiling
I was tired, and a little hungry, but I also felt aimless.
However, what troubled me was the lack of emotion I was feeling.
The emotional impact I’d felt certain would strike me when I entered the apartment failed to manifest.
Instead, I was lying on my bed in my dorm apartment, and yet I felt nothing but a heavy set exhaustion.
I’d read how some people would describe a distinct lack of grief after losing a loved one.
Was this what I was experiencing?
Was I unable to grieve over losing my life as Ronin Kassius?
Were my feelings all bottled up, or had they bled away unnoticed?
Throwing an arm over my face, I closed my eyes, then called out to the apartment Monitor.
There was no confirmation, so I propped myself up on my elbows and repeated the command. “Lights off.”
The apartment’s Monitor continued to ignore me, and I felt a twinge of irritation toward it. With a soft growl, I crawled over the bed to the lamp on the bedside table that I had turned on a few minutes ago. After tapping its base, the lamp turned off, and I then rolled onto my back. Lying with my head on the pillows, and my hands over my midriff, I took a handful of deep slow breaths as I looked up at the darkened ceiling.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I thought coming here was the right thing to do. I thought I’d feel something. But I don’t feel anything. It’s like I’m dead inside. I should be grieving or mourning over what I’ve lost, but I’m not, and that’s just too weird. Too wrong.”
I breathed in deeply and released the spent air slowly.
“Maybe I’m broken.”
Sometime after entering the apartment’s living room, Ghost had reverted to being just a voice in my ears. In other words, he was no longer projecting himself into my vision, so I had no idea what kind of expression he was making in the ensuing silence. But as the silence dragged on, I began struggling to find words to express what I was feeling which wasn’t much at all.
“After everything that’s happened to me, maybe I’m burnt out,” I whispered. “Maybe I was done grieving about my past life without knowing it.”
If that was true, and I’d already come terms with the loss of my existence as Ronin Kassius, then perhaps coming here only served to make that clear to me.
However, it didn’t change the fact that everything about my return was anticlimactic, leading to a belated sense of frustration that grew gradually, eventually inducing a restlessness that spread through my body.
Trying to shake it off, I rolled onto my side but was quickly irked by the hefty weight of my Mirai’s boobs as they shifted beneath the tight sports bra.
Groaning in annoyance, I rolled once more onto my back and closed my eyes.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I was irritated by an unpleasant pressure in my nether regions. I’d noticed it before while I was waiting out on the street for Ghost to break through the building’s firewall, but it had receded during my sprint to the apartment complex, and the subsequent climb up the stairs to the thirty-fifth floor. However, in the still quiet of the room, while I was restlessly lying on my bed, it came back with a vengeance.
I clamped down on it with unfamiliar muscles, but that only served to delay the inevitable, so with a loud huff, I swung my legs and sandaled feet off the bed and then sat up.
“Lights,” I grumbled but was ignored by the room’s Monitor. “Damn it. Ghost, can’t you do something about it?”
“Unfortunately not, Princess. You see, at present the apartment’s Monitor is completely oblivious to your presence. And with good reason.”
I started to grumble but it died in my throat. “…oh…that's right....”
Right now, I'm an intruder.
Exhaling heavily, I pushed myself up and off the bed, swaying slightly for a beat before gaining my balance. “Damn it…,” I complained as I pressed a hand to my lower midriff.
“I need to pee.”
“Oh. I see. By all means.”
I scowled at him, though I couldn’t see him, then walked to the bathroom I was so intimately familiar with.
Turning on one of the lights, I blinked once before Mirai’s eyes adjusted, and then stepped up to the throne.
Reaching down to flip up the lowered seat, I grumbled under my breath.
“Ghost, if you—”
I froze with my fingertips hooked under the edge of the plastic seat.
“—peek on me….”
My voice faded away as I stared down at my long slender arm and feminine hand touching the toilet seat.
At that moment, I felt as though I’d stepped under a waterfall, drenched by the undeniable truth of my existence.
All those emotions I’d believed I’d burnt away, flooded through me, and from deep within my chest, a weird strangled laughter bubbled up, making my body shudder.
But the call of nature was too strong to ignore by now, and so I had no choice but to answer it by hastily dropping the necessary garments and then taking a seat on what was now a Queen’s throne.
Yet the laughter that gurgled in my chest and throat wouldn’t stop, even as Mirai went through the natural, human process of emptying her bladder.
It carried on after my tears began to fall, and it ended when sobs began to wrack my body.
Hunched over with my large breasts pressing into my thighs, my arms wrapped around my belly, and my long blonde hair curtaining my face, I cried softly, desperate to keep the volume down though I knew the soundproof walls would prevent my neighbors from hearing my distress.
I don’t know how long I cried, but it felt like an hour had gone by when I finally regained a semblance of calm.
It was a while longer before I ventured to clean myself up – nervously and hesitantly feeling around a delicate, unfamiliar place.
I had my eyes squeezed shut the whole time my trembling fingers felt their way around Mirai’s womanhood, opening them only when I needed to dispose of the biodegradable paper wad.
An equally long time went by before I found the strength to stand, pulling up my clothes with unsteady hands and shaking arms.
My sobs threatened to perform an encore, but I clamped down on them, and then shuffled to the wide washbasin.
Letting it fill with warm water, I washed my face carefully.
Because my skin felt raw, I patted it rather than scrubbed it dry with a hand towel I pulled from a rail.
When I found the courage to look at myself in the mirror, I saw a girl watching me, her beauty marred by the exhausted yet hollow expression she wore.
Anyone who saw her would have been convinced she had just lost everything and every loved one she’d ever known, and they wouldn’t have been far from wrong.
I had thought coming here to my old dorm apartment would be the catalyst that helped me come to terms with my new life. After all, I had come here with the intention of closing the door on Ronin Kassius while opening a new one that welcomed Mirai and Isabel.
But it wasn’t.
It was the sole gesture of answering a call of nature that closed the proverbial door on my old life.
In one fell swoop, Mirai’s body had forced me to accept that I was now a girl…and there was no going back.
Sincere apologies for the late posting.
I had some personal matters that intruded upon writing over the last several days.
Also, my editor needed to review and there were some critical amendments to be made.
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 this series for so long. I know the updates are slow, but I'm sincerely trying to produce the best writing that I can.
Best wishes to you all.
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