Human Resources 10: Wishes and Madwomen

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I'd say they tell you a lot of things they do about the job. It'd be a good lead-in, but it would also be a lie. I mean, I've told a few of those before, but half the point of this job is that no one tells the sparklers what they're getting into, and as for me... well, Peter and I sort of had to find out along the way. Not exactly a slew of precedents.

So instead I'll say I expected a lot of things about the job. You've got horrific monstrosities beyond the veil that man was not meant to know - presumably, this is why we get young women to deal with them instead - though in my position I see a whole lot less of those than I expected going in. Close to zero, really. You've got the conspiracies, the magic, the madwomen and trained killers without a lick of sense, and what someone way too fancy for their own good - the sort that'd stick Latin names on every little thing - might call a masquerade, on my part. No, that's all there, alright.

What they don't tell y- what I didn't expect is the train rides. Or bus, I guess, part of the way. I never did get the hang of driving - not sure I've got the reflexes for it, and I've seen enough crashes in my time to scare me off it - so I take the option that's left to me. You see a lot of strangers along the way, or at least, I do. Maybe other people get to know the crowds that catch the same trains or something. I've just got no idea. Makes me think, though, seeing all these people going about their lives.

It's just something I don't really have. Just about literally dead to the world, and that has a way of limiting your options. So does the whole 'shadowy double life as a manager for a gaggle of magical assassins' thing. I don't talk to them or anything - doesn't seem right somehow, and I don't know what I'd say if someone... well, normal came up to me in the street. Different worlds. Something I turned away from and can't have. Feels a little strange, I guess, sitting beside all these people, seeing them going through the motions of something completely unfamiliar.

Most of them are probably... well, themselves. Don't get me wrong, I love a good act. Wouldn't have worked towards that kind of life otherwise. Thing is, though... well, that's the problem with a good mask, I guess. Once it gets good enough, you're not allowed to take it off any more. Funny how that one works, with your hand forced by... what, people who don't even know it exists? By me? I don't know. Too early in the morning to get existential.

Leave that to Petey, I guess. He's pretty good at it.

Most of them probably have some sort of company. Herding superpowered lunatics don't count. At the end of the day, I come back to an empty house and... what? Who's there to talk to? What is there to do? Can't even stand crashing on the couch and watching reruns like I'm probably supposed to. Got nothing to do and no one to see till it's time to hit the officio again; doesn't feel quite right calling it the 'daily grind' considering. About the only one I can really talk to is... no, no. I'm going to stop that right there, before I get as uncomfortable about the whole thing as he does.

I wonder, just for a moment, how all this ended up being so unfamiliar. It wasn't that far off from my own life, a few years ago.

All for your dream, Harumi. That's what I told myself. I'm still here, though, aren't I? Been years, at that. Because I don't have quite enough to retire and never have to worry again, maybe? Or I don't have the connections, I guess. That's not wrong, but it's not going to change with this whole shadow life thing. Maybe I'm worried that the whole place would fall apart without me? I mean, yeah, probably true, and I couldn't really do that to Peter; who knows when that started being something I care about, but for a heartless soul-draining alien, the guy has a way of looking out for me. Sometimes I wonder - and this is what keeps me from moving into the officio, when all's said and done - if it's because I'm one of them by now, more or less. Too far apart from the 'real' world to know anything about it.

...I didn't expect the train rides. At least this one's over. Goodbye, introspection. Hello, looming corporate monolith.


Aside bookkeeping and the closest I have to business meetings - sitting in a room with Petey and pitching ideas at him once in a while - I've got one major thing to take care of today. And that means preparation. As for what the preparation involves... if I had to pick an explanation, I'd say it's a big part of this job: Getting to know people. I don't mean conversation. That's good too, but it sort of misses the point if they see you figuring them out. No, it's a lot of looking through records and dossiers. Files, luckily. Used to be actual papers back when I first joined. I thought we stopped doing that right around when we quit putting heads on pikes and so on, but apparently not.

It's a record, this time. Megumi Minakata - or Cordy, as just about everyone calls her - that witch-cursed girl. The... magic-stopper ones. Culexus, that was it. Gah. Ranks in plain language or at least a living language would be too much to hope for, I guess. Paying her a visit later, which means one Kaede Morimoto will be there too. Thick as thieves, those two. Or Morimoto never leaves her babysitter, I'm not sure. At any rate, it's got me looking over the time they met and, idly, wondering why don't do psych profiles yet.

Probably because everyone's gone too far off the deep end for keeping track to mean much. Then again, hard to say; I'm not exactly an expert shrink.

First time they met was... was a disaster, really. I try not to bring it up around Sanbey, it's one of those times that he worked by himself and it didn't work out too well. Not that I'm going to pretend he can't do it right without me looking over his shoulder, mind. Gets plenty of good contracts alone, these days, or at least a decent amount. You know, credit where it's due and all that, it's not like the little guy needs me holding his hand all the time. Things just... happen, sometimes.

I've made mistakes too, obviously, but I get to not talk about those.

The kid - Kaede, I mean - ran away from home a couple times. Don't think she remembers much from there, and from the little I found out... well, good on her if she doesn't. Ran away to the nearby woods; she told me before that it's where she feels safest. Always has been. While everyone's looking for her, police included - gone missing, after all - along comes an incubator, offering her a wish. She wished that she would never need to leave the forest. Well, close enough; the forest never left her, or at least, that's how it was explained to me. All I know is that she wound up with all kinds of weird magic for... I don't know. Trees, bugs, plants, changing herself all over, animals popping out of thin air, weird stuff.

It was getting messy, so we sent in Cor- Megumi to clear that up. Funny, that. I do end up thinking of most of them by their first name, a lot of the time. Familiarity's not all a sham, I guess. Anyway, she was either going to kill herself, witch out or just cause a mess too big to cover up without anyone intervening, given everything she was doing to that forest. Heard Megumi going on about hungry mud that ate at her feet, 'flowers for eyes and a hive for breath', trees begging and gurgling through bits and pieces of an owl's face, stretched across the bark.

Wouldn't have believed a word of it, but... I don't know. She hates this kind of weird babbling about as much as I do, always been pretty down to earth, so... I'm going to just believe her on this one, and be glad I wasn't there. Didn't seem too fazed by it, came in with the kid passed out in her arms. Then again, not sure if anything bothers her any more. Curse sure doesn't seem to. Sort of wish more of them had her good sense, but maybe not so much on the whole disaster-magnet liability thing.

It's the fallout of a wish, in the end, all the troubles with the forest. But then, what isn't? ...Makes me wonder, sometimes.

"Hey, Peter." Don't know why I asked. Suddenly curious, I guess. "Let's say you could do it... let's say a rabbit or a genie or whatever came to you. What would you wish for?" He's quiet, at first. "Come on, don't tell me you never thought about it." Still quiet for a bit. Realised after a minute that he's just thinking about it. Far too much, same way he does about everything.

"The success of our mission, of course. Though I remind you that an incubator can make no wishes, lacking what humans do." Yeah, right, emotionless and all that. Not quite sure I buy it any more. ...Something funny about his voice when he says that. Wooden, somehow. More so than his usual monotone, almost like he's forcing it somehow. ...I remember when he didn't have to. For all the people I'm supposed to have figured out in this building, the one I actually get along with is the one I can't make any sense of. Maybe that helps, I don't know.

Don't know what to make of this. Better to hit the hospital wing and not think about this too hard.


"Miss Minakata?"

"You know no one calls me that." Raspy, crackling, the same way her voice always came through that funny helmet of hers.

"...Megumi, then?"

"No one calls me Megumi either."

"Someone should."

"Would be nice."

It's easy to think she's upset, or annoyed. It's the impression she tends to give, and I have a feeling she likes it that way. 'No one's an island. Work in progress.' That was how she put it to me, I think. Knowing her as long as I have, though - which isn't THAT long, but more than anyone else here who's still alive - this is a pretty good mood for her. Getting more than two or three words out of her at a time, too, which is something she keeps for Kaede and I, mostly. Apparently she likes the way I don't run away or get sick the moment a Culexus walks past. Strangest thing, huh? She seems to think I'm just that good, and I'm not about to correct her.

"Are you... alright, Megumi? I mean, you look-"

"Old carcass?"

"That's not-"

"Like to think I make it work. Missed anything important."

"Anything important? Megumi, you've got a big stab wound right through your-"

"Heart. Grows back." I swear she's grinning under that helmet. ...Usually like this, talking to her. Almost refreshing in a weird way. She's not wrong, either. Everything but the soul gem is replaceable, more or less. At least, if they get over the trauma from losing whatever bits in the first place, and... well, what I'm seeing here doesn't exactly scream 'trauma' to me.

"Megumi? If it's not too much for you - talking, I mean, or thinking about it - could you please tell me what happened the other day? And... where did Kaede go? I thought she would be here with you."

"Was. Sent her away. Easier grilling me this way. Doesn't need to hear." Well, I can't argue with that. Makes the job easier for me, too. On one hand it means she's lucid enough to think of this kind of thing. On the other hand... what is she even about to tell me?

"Woke up in a forest. Always a forest. Always. Pretty tired of it. ...Heh. I see dead people. Occupational hazard. Matter of time."

Sometimes I wonder how they can act like this. How they can deal with it all. I guess they don't; either they snap eventually, or they already have, just in a quieter way that doesn't involve a giant monster. Hard to tell sometimes. At least Cordy here is the quieter kind of crazy, the kind that doesn't bury a knife in anyone.

"Bodies. Lots of 'em. Few that should've been dead. All speared on trees, looked..." For a second, she just stares off into space.

"Calm. So calm. Even speared right through. Golden spearheads. Gold everywhere. Tacky, gory place. And then she started singing."

"...'She'? Who is that?" It's a hard voice to manage. Frightened, of course. Disturbed, because the angel of the Third is still an innocent at heart. Resolute, because I can't let it show, not when I need to stay strong. I like to think I did alright.

"No clue. Looked like a bird. Thought it was a witch. Dead wrong. Angry sparkler. Got a spear. Entire potato on her shoulder or something. ...Didn't kill me. Hah. Sorry, spoiled the twist. Said the spear stopped her. Told her I should live."

"...The spear." Flat. Well, alright, call that one unscripted, but we're reaching the upper levels of crazy talk, here.

"Mhm. Maybe it's- well, never mind."

So much for answers. "And this... this magical girl that attacked you, might she be one of ours? Could it be Yumishita attacking again? I know she's been hiding out in witch barriers, attacking anyone who-"

"I look like I got a hole in my head? Sniped clean through?" ...Well, she was talking with what you might poetically call a broken heart, you can't blame me for looking just to be sure. That got a... was that a laugh out of her? I'm going to assume that's what the horrible, distorted gurgling sound was.

"...Not that I can see."

"Then it's not a sniper. Didn't get a good look. Still, not her. Got two crazies. Lucky us. ...Mind bringing the diary? Gotta write this down. Real special, curse outdoing itself, maybe. ...Least once I can move my arms proper."

"Of course. ...Thank you, Megumi. Just rest now." All motherly - or sisterly, I never was quite sure, but it seems to work on everyone here - concern and care. And, of course, the recognition a hero deserves. "I'll send someone to- no, I'll get it myself once we're done here." Personally. It's the little things that matter.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" I ask her after a second. She nods, which is a bit of a surprise.

"...Hearing things. Ever since I got hurt. Voice. Don't recognise it."

...Well if this isn't getting loonier by the second. May as well spit it out. "What is it saying?"

"...Hell if I know. Let me just... quote." She stops for a moment, clearing her throat a few times. Not sure what I expected, but this sure wasn't it.

"Receive the golden blessing. Enter Her garden. Welcome the embrace of thorns, the rapturous trees. The offering, the sacrifice, the vessel, the blade, four become one, the four MUST be one. At last Her grace shall come. Take it from the apostle, rob her of it, her hands make it broken, her voice defiles prayers. Silence it break it quieten redeem mangle she is not worthy she is not worthy she is not worthy-"

...And then, just like that, nothing. I start wondering what's going on for just a moment until I see the trickle of blood leaking from under the helmet.

"Megumi? Megumi! Are you-"

"...Echoes. Really echoes in my helmet. 'M fine. Quieter, please. Enough of a headache already. Shouldn't... hah. Shouldn't have said that. Need a favour. Warmaste- no. Rank leade- no, still wrong. Hard to be formal with you. ...Miss Ryouno. Have a request."

I just nodded. At this point, I'm not really sure what to expect, for once.

"Solitary confinement. Silent Room, if you can. ...Losing it, I think."

Spent a while trying to console her before I left. Going through the motions, I guess; I don't know if she needs it. I wonder, sometimes, about what's happening lately; feels like the place is starting to come unglued. Still, I guess that's not my problem, is it?

Peter and I talked, later, about who should take the fall, who should be officially behind the order to get her looking into this. We decided on him, in the end. Moving in mysterious ways, and all that; easy to explain if it comes from someone none of them quite understand, and the best any of us can give is a shrug.

Seems like all the problems recently come from the Third. I miss the days with witches, somehow.