"No." My father said.
"What?" I asked, shocked.
"I will not be signing those forms." He said, putting his chopsticks down.
All of us were once again seated at the dining table, dinner having just gotten done. It was lightly snowing outside, a completely unseasonal one given that it was the beginning of April, a week after the new term had begun, and two after our visit to the psychiatrist.
I, after some intense research, had decided that I was going to enter the esper program. Academy City was the Mecca of Scientific Research in the current world.
While before, I just looked at it and thought "Eh, just gives us new gadgets", after reading up on it specifically, I was boggled at just how far ahead it was.
Academy City was now only about fifteen years old, and within those fifteen years, it had pushed the boundaries of scientific understanding exponentially.
The Crowning Jewel of all this was the Esper program, which had started a few years ago, and was already showing results.
It apparently gave normal humans the ability to ignore the basic laws of Physics with just the power of our minds.
Nothing about the actual mechanics behind it was open to the public, but goddamn did that sound awesome. I had read stories of so many basic sounding, but amazing powers that had already cropped up within the walls of the city.
The very concept ran counter-intuitive to the Physics I knew. The esper powers that Academy City developed should not have existed, but they did, and I was exceptionally curious as to how they came to be, alongside the actual mechanics behind it.
The only catch to it was that you had to enter the program as a child. Entrance into the esper program was only at the ages of six or nine, and I was right between those ages.
The number of seats in the program was limited too, so there was a huge number of tests involved to ensure that only those suitable for it would be able to get in. On top of that, getting into Academy City required a huge number of forms to be submitted, due to the classified nature of almost everything in the city.
It was almost like trying to get citizenship to a new country. Probably harder given the level of secrecy that surrounded it.
Bottom line, for an application to go through, it would take about a year of processing and it was vital to start all the preparation early. I got to know about it at just the right time for me to start.
But I now had an unexpected obstacle.
"But….Why?" I asked, completely perplexed.
"There are a multitude of reasons for that. However, the main reason is that we do not want you in the City alone" he said.
"What?" I asked, deadpan.
"Academy City doesn't have provisions for parents of students unless the parents are already working in Academy City, and even then, it is compulsory for the children to live at the student dorms provided by the school you are enrolled into. We most definitely do not want you living alone yet." He said.
I scowled heavily at that.
"I am not a kid!" I growled.
My dad had the temerity to roll his eyes at that.
"And that attitude is exactly why we don't want you in the City alone. You don't respect adult authority at all. You are a smart kid, I'll give you that, but you are nowhere close to being an adult, neither physically nor mentally. If we left you alone under the supervision of adults to whom you won't listen because you judge them to be stupid…well, that's a recipe for disaster."
"Why would I listen to idiots?" I said dismissively.
"And that right there is why I am not ready to unleash you upon the poor wardens of Academy City schools. The answer is no. Esper powers are cool, but not as important as your safety, especially from yourself"
"I am not a danger to myself!" I snapped.
My father rolled his eyes again.
"We had to drag you out of self-imposed isolation because you felt you couldn't talk to anyone. Don't you think that is just going to happen again? You still don't have any friends, and you don't look like you are going to make one anytime soon. I understand why that is so, but that just means I can see what would happen if we let you into Academy City without us to support you"
"I can make friends!" I said, glaring. "They just need to have a modicum of sense!"
"Riiiight. Sure, I believe you" he said.
"At least try to sound believable dammit!"
"Don't use crude language!" he admonished. "And the answer is still a resounding no."
The next morning found me walking to school with Mom, silently fuming. It was still uncharacteristically cold from last night's snow, though that gave me an excuse to bury further into my small coat and sweater while avoiding interaction with my mother.
Two hours of increasingly loud arguments (on my part) had lead father, very irritatingly, had held his ground and remained calm throughout, both during the initial rational discussion and the temper tantrum that followed later
While I got his logic, it galled me that he didn't believe me capable of making my own decisions. Rationally, I knew that it was because I was still physically seven, but it still rankled.
"You know what would convince Touya to let you go?" my mom suddenly said.
I glared at her, irritated that someone was trying to break me out of my fuming.
She ignored the glare, and continued "He is worried that you will slip back into your old habits with no one to talk to. Which, you have to admit is a possibility."
Dad had said as much the previous night. But at the time, I didn't want to admit it.
I still didn't.
"It's been three years now, and you still haven't made a friend. While I am quite sure that that will change when you grow older, and people are more comfortable speaking with you, as it stands, you most certainly need people around you whom you can talk with, and we are currently the only to people who you talk with on a regular basis." She continued
I grumbled incoherently a little, and then said "But Mom, it's the Esper Program. I could shoot fire from my hands! Or more likely, control local temperature which sounds even better! Ignoring Entropy? How Brilliant is that?"
"Brilliant as it may be, it's not worth it to us if you end up getting hurt because of it. You are gifted enough as it is, and there is no need for you to be a part of the program to be successful in your own right" she said, smiling at me as though to lessen the sting she knew that the words would bring.
"B-But" I tried to start, and then sighed.
"There are other ways to get into to Academy City you know?" She said.
I grumbled some more
"I know of the Research Programs, the competition is exceptionally stiff. It's so much easier to get into them through the Esper program. It will at least be more interesting than school" I said, my mouth curling in disdain.
"Worst comes to worst, we can have you homeschooled." She said with a shrug. "I still have some hope that you will make friends in school, if not with someone your age, maybe with someone older."
I rolled my eyes at that.
"EVERYONE RUN! IT'S TOUMA THE UNLUCKY!" the girl screamed, giggling like all the other kids in my class as I entered.
I grumbled a little, my mood from the morning exacerbated by my classmate's childish antics.
A few steps in, I slipped on a fallen pencil, causing the kids to giggle even more.
"You know what, Here is another reason to enter Academy City. They could probably diagnose my gods bedamned luck." I thought grumpily as I picked myself of off the ground.
"Touch him. I dare you!" One of the other children 'whispered'.
"No way" another replied with an exaggerated gasp, "What if his luck gets transferred to me!"
I ignored it all, and dug out a novel from my bag, immersing myself in it, and making plans for the library in the evening. While it had been aggravating in the beginning, I just got used to it. It was a part of my everyday life now. Along with my local fame as a prodigy, I was now also famously unlucky. So much so that some of the more superstitious adults actually had their children stay away from me, lest I infect them with my horrible luck. I was honestly stumped as to why my mother held out hope that I would make friends here.
I grumbled even more, my mind going back to the night's argument.
And thus, the entire day passed by, one thing or another befouled my mood till I was completely done with people in general, and just wanted to ensconce myself at the library.
A few torturous hours later found me sinking gratefully into a couch in one of the most isolated corners of the Sendaishi Izumi Library
This library was one of my favorites because it wasn't really set up like most libraries. Instead of only tables with straight back chairs, and nice, orderly racks, everything was a lot more haphazard.
The tables and chairs that were standard to all libraries were at the front, a bit away from the book stacks themselves. There were also a bank of sleek computers for general usage.
Behind this section was a huge, domed circular room, in which the stacks were arranged. The stacks started and ended at random intervals, creating a proper maze of book stacks. While everything was still exceptionally well organized, it took a while to be able to get around this section library.
There were also couches at random places within the stacks, where people could just sit down and read, creating a much more private environment, perfect for people like me.
Since I was in no mood to study, I had picked up a novel from the stacks, and quickly got engrossed in it, my bad mood from earlier dissipating like mist in the wind in the face of a new book.
However, barely fifty pages in, my concentration was broken.
"Ummm…. Could you help me?" came a plaintive voice from my side.
I turned around irritably, and glared at the interloper, causing her to squeak and back away.
The girl was another young one, probably the same age as that Misaka girl that I met at the psychiatrist's. She had golden blonde hair, a rarity in Japan. She also had the most striking eyes, gold as her hair, lending her an almost angelic appearance. She was wearing a simple white sundress with a polka dot design on it's lower half.
She also seemed to have a mildly thick book in her hands held up such that half her face was covered by the book, in the hopes that it would shield her from my glare.
Seeing that she was looking at me half ready to bolt away, I sighed, letting go of my glare at the same time.
"What do you want?" I asked, trying to sound polite.
I wasn't successful, I think, as she shrunk back even more.
"I-I got l-lost in the stacks…D-do you know the way out?" she stammered.
I sighed again, and gave the novel a regretful look.
"Yeah,I know the way out." Isaid, tucking my book under my arm and getting of my couch regretfully. "C'mon, I will show you."
Her expression immediately brightened. She brought the book down and gave me a shy, albeit bright smile. She looked so cute that I couldn't help but smile back, despite my irritation at being disturbed
"Thank you." She said. "And sorry for disturbing you, but I wasn't able to find anyone else…." She trailed off.
I waved off her apology. "That's alright, it's better that you ask how to get out instead of wandering around for hours. It's easy to get lost in here" I said. "follow me"
She nodded while she skipped closer to me, and we started to make our way out to the main section of the library.
"So. What book were you going to read?" I asked after a few minutes of silence, curious.
"Ah. Umm..I just picked one out at random seeing that it was in English…." She said.
I turned fully to face her.
"You read in English?" I asked, expression intense
She squeaked once more at my expression.
"I-I find English easier to r-read because it has fewer characters?" she stammered back.
"Japanese isn't your first language?" I asked, intrigued.
She nodded. "My parents used to live abroad, so I have been in Japan for only a year now…" she said.
"Now isn't that interesting" I murmured.
"How old are you?" I asked her.
"Umm…six?" she replied.
I gave her a broad smile.
"I like reading in English too" I said. "But my accent is horrible when I try to speak." I said.
"You can speak English?" she asked, excitedly, her voice going up a few decibels.
"Shhhhhhh" I admonished. "This is still a library!"
"But you know English?" she whispered, undeterred.
"Yes. But I refuse to speak it with my horrible accent." I said.
The girl gave me an adorably disapproving look.
"You will never learn if you don't speak!" she said.
I rolled my eyes. "I have no one to practice with" I said.
She glared at me.
"Say which school do you go to?" I asked, changing the topic away from my horrible spoken English skills.
She huffed, and said "I recently transferred into Taiwa Municipal Elementary School"
"Huh." I said. "That's my school" I said. You recently shifted into the neighborhood?"
She nodded. "We used to live in Tokyo before, but daddy changed jobs so we had to move" she said "I have only been here for a couple of weeks…."
We walked on a little in silence.
"It has just occurred to me" I said, rather abruptly, "That I haven't asked for your name"
She gave me a look, and then giggled.
"You speak weird" she said. "I am Shokuhou Misaki."
I turned out that her parents had been searching for her rather frantically at more open areas of the library.
Her mother was Beautiful with a capital B. she was tall, with long, silky blonde hair, a slim yet well rounded figure, Nordic features and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. She looked to be in her early thirties.
Her father on the other hand, looked far less impressive, being shorter than his wife, Bespectacled with short black hair and deep brown eyes and typically Japanese features. His age was far harder to judge.
Both were dressed in expensive, yet subdued clothes.
"Misaki! There you are! What happened?" her mother asked, seemingly barely stopping herself from shouting out. Her accent was, very surprisingly, very mild, and more importantly, not one I could recognize. It wasn't American for sure.
"Ah. I g-got lost in the stacks" she stuttered.
"I told you not to go in the back!" her mother hissed.
"I-I am sorry.."
Sighing, her mother deflated.
"So what is your name?" she asked, kneeling down to look at me, a smile on her face.
"I am Kamjou Touma. Pleased to meet you" I said.
"So polite too" she said, her smile widening. "Do I have you to thank for guiding our little Misaki back to us?" she asked.
I scowled at her patronizing tone.
"Yes" I bit out, doing my best to stifle my irritation at being addressed so condescendingly.
Her smile dimmed a little at my tone.
"Well thank you, Touma-chan." She said, standing up straight again.
"Susan, we are getting late." The father, who had been silent up to this point, said glancing at his wristwatch.
"Ahhh. We shall have to talk later little one. It was nice to meet you, and thank you for guiding Misaki to us" she said, with another parting smile. "Let's go Misaki."
They turned around to leave with Misaki giving me a parting wave and a half-smile before they left through the doors of the library.
Over the next couple of weeks, I found out a lot of stuff about the Shokuhous, more than I ever wanted to, and almost assuredly all false.
The beautiful Susan and her handsome husband Manabu were the center of the community gossip, so much so that even I, with my complete disconnect from the social circles of the neighborhood and school, knew that they had moved in about a month ago and where exactly they lived.
Little Misaki wasn't spared either with her doll like foreign features and foreign accent, she was soon at the center of several rumors in the school.
Some were benign speculation on just where she had transferred in from and how her father came to be in this far-flung corner of Japan after bagging such a beautiful wife. Others were patently ridiculous. For example, there was apparently a rumor going around that her oddly shaped eyes were caused by a demon cursing her with beauty and bad luck at the same time.
It was utterly moronic, and had absolutely no basis in fact. The only positive thing was that people were too busy speculating about the Shokuhous to bother me as much as they used to.
Given my extreme case of bad luck, I had made quite a lot of effort to find a private place to eat in the school. I had a set of spots I would check every day, looking for the spot with least number of people so that I could eat in peace, without random incidents interrupting my meal. The one time I tried to eat in class, somehow a pigeon got in through the window, shat on my head, clawed the face of the person who was trying to talk to me, and proceeded to dive bomb into my lunch box. This, sadly, was not the most bizarre incident that had plagued my young life.
Today was a lucky day for me, with my favourite spot, for once, being completely bereft of children. It was at the back of the school, near the small parking lot where the teachers parked their vehicles. It was not very popular because it was a bit away from the water fountains and vending machines, but I didn't mind a small walk to get my drink.
I sat down while setting down my opened lunch box (Simple boiled rice, vegetable curry and a rolled up omelet), brought out the book I was currently reading, and settled down to have a peaceful, normal meal.
"Uh….hi?" Came a voice from behind me "Is it okay if I sat here?"
I turned around to see Misaki standing nervously behind me.
I gave her a confused look.
"Why do you need my permission?" I asked, and turned back to my book. "Feel free to do what you want."
A few seconds later, she sat down next to me, and brought out her own box, along with a book and pocket dictionary of her own.
The rest of the hour passed in complete silence.
Over the next few weeks, we kept running into each other during lunch. Or more accurately, she seemed to find me every lunch hour and sit down next to me, reading in silence.
Because I was a dense moron, it took me about a week and a half to stop dismissing it as coincidence.
However, her presence never really bothered me, as she seemed to keep to herself and her books, much like I did, so I didn't ask why she was seeking me out. She didn't seem to want to initiate a conversation, and I knew for sure that I didn't want to initiate one.
So when one fine day, she decided to ask which book I was reading, I just raised an eyebrow at her.
"I-I was just curious!" she said defensively.
"Ninth year Japanese History" I replied. History was one of only two subjects that held interest for me (the other being Japanese) given that what was taught in Japan was something I had never learnt before.
"You're reading….. a textbook?" she asked, sounding somehow judgmental.
I scowled at her.
"History is interesting" I defended, to which she just shook her head disappointedly.
"What are you reading then?" I asked challengingly.
"Peter Pan." she replied, and glared at me, as though daring me to insult it.
"Unabridged?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"Unabridged. You know. The original story…." I said trailing off at the look of complete confusion on her face.
"Most old books have an abridged version. Or in smaller words, a book that is rewritten so children can read it." I explained.
I gave a look at the cover of the book.
"See, it an abridged version" I said, pointing to the 'abridged' label at the bottom of the cover.
"Wait you can read English?" she exclaimed.
"I told you as much when we met at the library….." I said.
"So you know the meanings of the words!" she asked, looking at me excitedly.
"Yes?" I said, the answer trailing off into a question.
"So I can ask you instead of searching in the dictionary?" she said, her voice going up a few pitches in intensity.
"Don't shout" I said crossly, "and yes I can."
"Okay so what's the meaning of this…."
And thus, it became a habit for us to meet up every day for lunch and read together, with her peppering me with questions, and me answering them absentmindedly while I tried to concentrate on my book for the day
"You know, I can't believe I haven't asked this, but what is your favourite book?" Misaki asked .
It had been a couple of months or so since our lunch meetups had become a regular thing, long enough that the trees had already started to turn red and brown in preparation for winter. Misaki hadn't taken too long to figure out the pattern of the places I would visit, and usually found me within ten minutes of the lunch hour starting.
Meanwhile, I continued to push my father about getting me into Academy City. He didn't budge an inch however as he was completely firm on his refusal.
He did, as a concession, started searching for jobs within Academy City.
While this placated me to an extent I was still miffed that he thought that I would not be able to take care of myself.
"I don't have a favorite book." I replied while absently turning over to the next page of the book I was reading.
Misaki gaped at me.
I grumbled a little, and then said "It's not that hard to comprehend, don't give me that look."
"But…don't you have a book that you like the most?" she asked.
"Isn't that the definition of favorite?" I asked grumpily.
Misaki just glared at me.
"I like so many books that trying to pick out one from the many is just not possible. I don't have a favorite, I have favorites." I replied.
Misaki opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a scream from above.
Both of us looked up to see shards of glass falling towards us from a window above.
My reaction was immediate. I dove away from the bench, abandoning my lunch, and successfully avoided all the shards.
Misaki, however, didn't have my experience with weird, inexplicable bouts of bad luck.
She screamed as she fell off the bench as the shards of glass fell on and around her, piercing her small body.
"Misaki!" I shouted, jumping up from my half-crouched position and rushed towards her.
I skidded into a kneeling position next to her, and frantically looked for the wounds amongst the rapidly spreading bloodstains on her dress.
It didn't take me too long, as there was a shard of glass sticking out of her bicep, and another on her chest. Somehow, the shards had missed her face.
I hesitated, not knowing what on earth I was supposed to do.
"Should I remove the glass…? No, she might bleed out…" I thought, trying to push on the wound on her chest to stem the bleeding.
That only caused her to scream in pain again, making me flinch away.
I stood back in worry and shock for a few seconds. In the meanwhile, Misaki continued to whimper and cry, her white shirt now almost completely dyed red.
"I can't do anything here" I decided with sudden clarity, tearing my eyes away from Misaki's bleeding form and stumbling to my feet. "I need to find a teacher before she bleeds out!" I thought, looking around wildly for someone
Before I could get anywhere though, one of the teachers came rushing out.
"Are you kids al- Oh shit!" she cursed, the crude language coming out of my usually soft spoken and polite Japanese language teacher seeming all the more harsh.
"There's glass in her chest!" I said, for some reason almost falling down again, just as the PE teacher, a largish man with broad shoulders and buzz cut hair walked around the corner.
"Mamia-Sensei!" my Japanese teacher said as she gently picked up the whimpering Misaki. "Get Kamijou-kun to the Infirmary and bandage his leg up." She then turned around and started walking as fast as she could without jostling Misaki. "and someone call an Ambulance!"
I attempted to get up and follow them, only to stumble and fall again. Disproportionate pain blossomed from my calf, causing me to shout out.
"Don't move boy, you will only make it worse! You have already lost a lot of blood!" Mamia-sensei admonished.
"The blood isn't mine" I said as I fought off a sudden bout of dizziness, causing me to sit back down hard.
"Sit down!" Mamia-sensei commanded, putting his arms on my shoulder just as I looked at my foot to see what was causing the problem.
There was a shard of glass the length of my arm sticking out of my calf.
Hello from the bottom.
The last bit of this chapter was bloody hard to get out. I always struggle with adding detail to my story. Have to thank my awesome beta for it coming out so well, as well as a tip or two from Maderfole. Meme, bully that you are, are the best. In terms of Misaki, well it ties in to many things I have planned given the SIs departure in personality from the Original Touma (OT heh)
In terms of Misaki, well it ties in to many things I have planned given the SIs departure in personality from the Original Touma (OT heh)
Thanks for reading!