Human Resources 7: Make A Wish

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Someone, somewhere would think I'm being paranoid for this. I know I did.

First visit of the day is to a magical girl most of the Third has met, and very few even recognise. Oh, they see her often enough, and they've heard the name, but they never put it together. No surprises there; she's one of those that wished to disappear. Not all that unusual when they start out broken enough, but she handled it better than most. Been with us a good few years, now.

Up the stairs, left turn, and... there she is. Wouldn't even notice her if I wasn't listening for the squeak of the mop and her usual humming. Turns out I already passed her by, and she's a little way behind me. Never could get the hang of that, even with as long as she's been around. I've heard that unofficially, recognising her for who she is makes up one of the first tests for Callidus promotion. Wouldn't surprise me.

Aoi Katsuragi, Callidus rank leader, or the janitor to most. Costume doesn't help any with the second part of that. Mind you, I only know she's the rank leader because I manage the right things around here. She leaves all the paperwork to an aide or something - Suzume, I think her name was - and just hovers around the building when she's not on some mission, either training a Callidus she picked out or polishing her act.

Most of the ones that recognise her still aren't quite sure what to call her, and apparently Suzume's been called rank leader a couple times at this point. Aoi told me before that no one knowing quite where to place her suited her fine. I can see that; my spot in the officio is a bit vague too, and I like it that way. Everyone feels like I'm not too high up, so they can still talk to me, but I've got a few steps over them in their head - even with rank leaders - when it matters. Works for me. Aoi, at least, seems to get a laugh out of all the times when no one notices her, come to that.

"Ah! I didn't see you there, at first. Good morning, Miss Katsuragi." It's an odd mix, with her. Bit of formality never hurt any, as long as she doesn't have to be part of it. At the same time, telling her I never noticed her is somehow a compliment.

"Need something?" Manages to talk out one end of her mouth while humming, not quite sure how she does it. Hard to make out over whatever jazz tune she's got leaking out of her earbuds. She's got an oddly deep voice, and sort of rich, like a banker dropped into a lake. The sort of voice you might like to have narrating a film, or... even reading a phonebook, I guess. She could probably get away with a lot. Came as a bit of a shock the first time, if only because she's about the most nondescript person you can imagine otherwise. Never figured out how much of that was a Callidus disguise.

"Just a little. I need you to check on Hitomi by the River. Keep an eye on her over the next few days, maybe the next week or two." She means well, sure, but if she gets to snooping around in my timeline like she did before... well, she might notice I'm a little more normal than I'm supposed to be. Could be a problem.

"She would tell you anything she finds as it is." Well, sure, but this sort of thing would throw the whole deal out the window, and I can't very well tell Aoi that, either.

"Not if she thinks it would upset anyone without helping them. ...Sanbey thinks there might be a witch tainting the river, hurting anyone who looks into it. We're not sure yet, but if you could watch for her reactions, make sure you're there if something happens, that would help a lot."

Short pause. More for effect than thinking it over, I think. Leaning on her mop and wiping the floor absent-mindedly while she changes tracks. ...It's sort of nice, knowing that someone here looks a bit more normal, like I do. Kind of tallish, with olive eyes and faintly greying - not that I know why - brown hair. Nothing crazy, like she had some sort of accident in a paint factory growing up. She works her usual magic without even meaning to, and by the time she speaks up, I've already forgotten she was there and started wondering what I'm doing in this corridor.

Wonder if I can figure out where she keeps her soul gem, one of these days. Sure doesn't show.

"Loitering there can't hurt. Anything else?" Well, since she mentions it... might be useful to know if a Callidus can mask their future or past. Would make a good excuse if everything looks ordinary, not that I tell her that. She knows more about being a Callidus than I do, so it can't hurt to ask her. She thinks about it for a bit, then shakes her head.

"Never heard of any magical girl that can affect time. Probably can't be done. Why?" Oh, you know. Just curiosity, really. I once learned most of the witch language over a weekend because I had nothing better to do, it's not that strange if I wonder about these things sometimes. She buys it right away, and excuses herself, heading downstairs.

Rest of the day's plain enough, until night. I'd look into staying here less late, if I had anything else to do.


Sometimes I feel like I'm running some kind of confessional here. All I'm missing is the little screen I sit behind while everyone tells me what they've done wrong, and I tell them it's going to be alright. That's fine, not really what I do best, but it's part of my job here. I did a pretty good job, I think, of keeping all the magical girls here in one piece for as long as they need to be. Taking the weight off people's shoulders when they come to me, until...

He thought I didn't see him staring out the window. Hard to notice when he zones out and stops doing much of anything for ten, fifteen minutes. More so when the typing from his side of the office is the only other sound here, at this hour. It's getting worse. I mean, I know it is, he knows it too. Pretty much told me that. Or... better? At least, if you're not an incubator. I don't know. Can't even tell if I should say something.

...This really isn't what I'm here for. I didn't sign up for alien psychology.

"Something on your mind, Peter?"

Worst part is, it really isn't what I'm here for. This isn't my job, this isn't even anything close to my job. Just looking out for a friend. Scares us both, I think, when we think of it that way.

"You homesick or something? Missing... I don't know. Whatever space rock you came from?"

I asked him what it was called, once. Told me it wasn't in any language I could understand, and it's more of a designation anyway. He said the others might have different names for it by now, but he just called it home. For all of them. Guess I shouldn't have expected any imagination from him of all people. Thought so until he told me a story the other day, anyway.

"If I could, would it still be my home?"

...I'm not cut out for all this philosophy stuff, I'm really not.

"What is it, then?" I asked him, just about giving up.

"I catch myself hoping, at times. Wishing that I had what they did."

"World-class officio? Good report to send home?" Seems pretty reasonable to me. Let's face it, the Third wasn't the best of the pack or anything.

"Peace. They've lost their minds, of course. I can see that much, but it seems to give them a sort of... calm. A weight off their backs. I suppose that must sound strange to you." No, not really. One of the more normal things I've heard from him. He's worrying over nothing; didn't think he was the type for that.

"Basic envy. It's not... well, maybe it's a bit strange, but it happens anyway. Normal part of being human, or something like that."

Realised what I said after he already heard it. He looked like I might as well have stabbed him. ...Well, no, I've seen him get shot. He took it better than this. Should have thought about this. Shouldn't have- no, no, no. He's not like me, not like anyone else. He's a damn near emotionless alien, I'm not about to get worked up over hurting whatever feelings he doesn't even have, that's ridiculous. Makes me think, though. All those stories where a machine learns to be human or whatever - modern-day Pinocchio, I guess - and it either can't start partying soon enough, or wants us all dead. Feels a bit silly, looking at the real deal here.

"What makes you so sure you're losing your touch, anyway?" Yeah, maybe I can tell. Maybe it's just empty reassurance. Thought it might work, all the same.

"I am sure of it. That is all the proof I need." ...Huh. Expected a little more sense from him than that.

"Alright, fine, but why are you-"

"You misunderstand. There should be no 'I', yet I am certain of it."

...Ah. Whole can of worms there, again. I mean, if he's not really supposed to exist, if there isn't supposed to even be a Sanbey as much as some sort of piece you can't tell apart from the rest... where do you even go from there? No 'I'? How can anyone fix that? They pick up our ideas, try to learn so they can work with us better, realise that they're changing, and they...

They go mad.

That explains a thing or two. Guess you have to make the best of it, eventually.

"Is it really that serious? Not being able to go back, I mean. It's not that bad here for you, is it? You've got a pretty good thing going." Have to try. If it was that bad on Earth, would we have lasted this long?

"Miss Ryouno, I came here, once upon a time, to save the universe from its inevitable end. In exchange, I granted the wishes of any who would ask, because even for a cause such as this, we thought some compensation would be needed. Do you know what happened next?"

"You got yourself a nice little empire, far as I can see." There's no denying it, is there? They got a lot out of this.

"This world and its people taught me the concept of a family, then tore it away from me. It stole my home from me. It broke the hearts and minds of my brothers, and some day I will follow them. We granted your every wish, and in return you destroyed us. Equal and opposite reactions: Your hope, at length, cost us our own once we were capable of it. Do you understand what this planet means to me?"

...I don't even know what to say to that.

We broke them. It doesn't seem fair to say it that way, with everything they've done, but he's not wrong. Welcome to Earth; we break our demons until there's nothing left of them.

"...So you're angry, then. After all this."

"No. As far as I have come - as far as I have fallen - I'm afraid I don't have it in myself to do that."

Would be nice if he did. For both of us.

"Instead," he says after a minute, "I find myself frightened for the first time."

"Scared?" I didn't think he was the type. Angry, maybe, but... not this. Didn't help any that he looked and sounded the same as ever.

"'If you're ever ready to sacrifice yourself for the universe', was it? We thought we were ready, each and every one of us. Of course we did. How can there be any notion of sacrifice when there is no sense of self? We came here to save the universe. Is it so strange to feel fear when the entire world's fate rests on one's collective shoulders? It was our duty, our responsibility; is fear not the natural reaction when I find my brothers losing sight of their goal, busying themselves with the prizes of Earth, forgetting their home as they go mad? How can I not be frightened when I can feel myself losing my mind?"

...Think I actually heard him raising his voice a bit, by the end. Can't tell if I should be worried, scared or proud. End up not saying anything. Just doesn't seem like the place for it.

"Do you realise what the strangest part of this whole process - the cycles it has made - is, in the end? We chose this. All of us, incubator and human alike." Quiet again, for a minute. "...Miss Ryouno, I believe it's time for you to retire for the night."

Don't know what came over me. Scooped him up and carried him up. Didn't quite catch what he said along the way; didn't really plan on listening while I carried him off, either. "May as well come with me, then," I told him. "Try sulking again when you've got a couple more years of practice to put behind it, I'm not putting up with it before then."

Sometimes I wonder just what I'm doing with my life.