Human Resources 2: Guardian Angel

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I was sort of proud of it, in a way, having an authentic costume to blend in. Getting into it every day, moving around in it, that sort of thing? Not so much. The sacrifices we make for our life's work, or something like that. On the bright side, it gets the effect down - makes the right sort of impression on anyone who sees it - and isn't that what this is all about in the end?

Pure white getup, bit of gold here and there. Goes the whole nine yards; glitter, ribbons, all of it. Even has a little pair of flappy, feathered wings. Goddamn ridiculous, like someone let a ten-year-old outfit all of heaven. I've heard them call me 'guardian angel of the Third'. Obviously, I love hearing it worked, the whole angel look and stuff. Still feel like a bit of a clown in it sometimes, though. At least I got to pick mine. Not having to walk around looking like some sort of Hell's Angels reject the way the Culexus girls do is a plus, too.

The Third Officio Assassinorum. The perfect Officio, or at least, that's the story we've been spinning. A wonderful world where magical girls didn't transform into witches - obviously we never tell them it can happen - where no one was a ticking time bomb, where the incubator looked after everyone's needs and his aide really, truly cared, wanted only what was best for everyone there. ...Rabbit had a sort of gentleman's agreement with the other incubators, that they wouldn't rat us out. Coobs looked up to him, so that was that - even got a Callidus of his to fix up a fake soul gem for me - and the Tenth... come on, who likes 'em enough to listen? If someone at home gets the wrong idea, it's as simple as calling a hit, technically. Me, I prefer a different approach, but that's a story for another time.

Peter and I, well, we go a while back. Let's just say the guy doesn't have a clue about how to deal with actual humans, so I offered to help him along. His helper. The one that keeps everything running smoothly, gives him ideas on how to run the show, that sort of thing. Make sure people know what they need to know and nothing else, clear things up before anyone goes off the deep end; well, more than they already have, with the head cases he hauls in sometimes. It's like herding cats, most days. They still think I'm one of them, Callidus by trade, just too important to join them on their missions. Perfect older sister to the lot of them, doing all of this for years now and telling them everything they need to know about being a magical girl.

Incubators can't lie, or they think they're above it, I was never quite sure. Either way, Peter was smart enough to put me in charge of information. I slip up, sometimes. Oversights happen. The Third keeps being the perfect Officio. It's an easier pitch, what can I say?

I make sure my pearly white soul gem's nice and visible on its choker, so everyone gets a good look at the pretty little rock. Walk in through the door with a smile and a wave, greeting everyone I meet; it sort of blurs together. First name, last name, nickname of choice, whatever it takes. Of course I knew all their names, even the ones that just joined yesterday. Especially the ones that just joined yesterday. It was my job, I couldn't very well slip up. The kids love it, first-hand attention from one of the local big-shots. Stop to chat with a couple of them, ask them what they're doing, how their day's been, that sort of stuff. Bring up something they wouldn't expect me to know or care about, that always gets them.

Whole Officio's best friend, after all. Why wouldn't I know what to say?

Might call it slacking, if you didn't know it was my real job. I swing by the rabbit's office eventually, pick up some files and dig into paperwork. Office supplies, weapon and medical shipments, towering stack of priceless Venenum toys, the works. Adding a couple new recruits to the database, and... ah, yeah, a funeral on Officio premises. Sometimes the kids don't have anywhere else to go for that. Managed to talk the boss into a couple things lately, too; stocks, grabbing hold of a couple import companies, stuff like that. Take a page from the Ninth and rake in some extra funding. Downside is, it just about doubled my workload at the desk for the moment.

...It's kind of a weird place, here. All too futuristic to look real, at least to me. Hovering chair, little disembodied-looking glowing screens that he opens up for his phonecalls, scrolling rosters everywhere, text flashing on all the walls just enough to give me a migraine if I look up from my big old desk next to his. ...Asked him once if he was just pulling my leg or doing those for show, like all that fancy scrolling Matrix stuff. Turns out they can read a whole lot more at once than we can, and he even sounded surprised that I can't. Incubators. None of them know the first thing about humans, far as I can tell; mine sure doesn't.

Quick briefing aside, we don't talk much, only so much to say to each other even when we're sharing a room. To be fair, he's always pretty distracted during the chats with his brother over at the Ninth. Do they even have brothers, or is it a figure of speech? Well, never mind, it's not important. Heard it was a pretty big deal, being allowed to just sit in for their talks, but I never paid much attention. Looks like he's pretty much given up about the new nickname, though. That'll be fun.


Let's see, all done here, and... right, she's been looking a little off lately. Time to take a quick trip underground. Place freaks me out a bit, honestly, but you get used to that around these people. The elevator clunks downward for a while, through a little metal shaft into what might as well be a bomb shelter. Who knows why they kept the place hidden, much less this well protected. What I do know is that no one gets in without- oh, no, scratch that. There's a moth right there, tackling the lone light bulb like some stupid, fluttery battering ram.

Well, most of us are supposed to be here. That's just going to have to do.

The prediction engine - really just a placeholder, I should come up with something for the rabbit before 'oracle cellar' sticks - is a pretty stark kind of place. Never liked it. Bare steel all around and bright white lights embedded in the ceiling, with more glare than anyone in their right mind could like. It's very... clean. Sterile, I guess. There really isn't much to look at anywhere, except for the big, obvious stream running down the middle of it.

People - and by that I mean the local sparkler brigade - called it the River of Tales. It'll do. A little stream running down the middle of the room, from nowhere and to nowhere as far as I can tell. Petey never said a whole lot about just what was going on with it or where it came from. Looks and acts like paper and water at the same time, never got how. Blank paper, according to any Culexus who's seen it; me, I see... all sorts of things in it, some of which might have happened. So do most. Call it a trance, I guess, or a flashback to some memories, some of them from outside your life, others from stuff that hasn't happened. Once in a while, it's something you'd rather forget.

The ones we have working with it - dipping their hands in and staring in around the clock - say that it tells stories. Sometimes yours, sometimes other people's. What happened before, what could have been, what hasn't happened yet. Whole thing creeps me out, and I'd rather the room had something else in it. Luckily, there's someone right here already. Knew that coming in, obviously, else I wouldn't bother dragging myself out here.

Hitomi Masame. Vanus and Prognosticatrix. Don't ask me how the Incubators come up with anything that fancy, I would've thought they'd come up with something unbelievably dry, and yet... what even is that? Latin? Maybe I should ask, some time. Prize catch, anyway; I told the rabbit to start hunting down cripples, sick kids, the ones that are about to die, that sort of thing. Bingo, flood of contractees right away, in case he had any doubt about why he keeps me around. Not like he didn't do it before - most of them do - but he didn't look nearly hard enough. Got him to own a couple of the local hospitals and orphanages too, while we're at it. Smooths things out.

Blind, originally. Stylish as it might be, a blind seer isn't all that much use, and she didn't like the idea of not being able to see, either. The wording was our saving grace, 'I want to know what's in front of me again'. Twist it around a bit, and voila, we've snagged ourselves a prognosticatrix with perfectly good eyes. Not enough of those, though it's starting to look like we might get another before too long. Got to keep an eye on that. ...No pun intended.

She turns around with a scatter of bright orange hair, and looks at me with this big, happy smile. Makes the kid's day whenever anyone comes down here. ...Stare still weirded me out a bit, though. Never got rid of that milky-eyed look, even though she can see just fine. I make sure to meet it with a wave and just as bright a smile. I hear the dripping sound from her hands when she takes her hands out of the river - it rustles a bit when she does - but I don't see any water. Stopped trying to make sense of the thing ages ago. She hurries over to me, and not for the first time, I'm surprised that she can move anywhere in that big white robe of hers. ...Well, mostly white. It didn't need those big eyes on it, surely, even if it's her transformed getup. Come on, that's just creepy.

"Miss Ryouno!"

"Shh, what did I tell you about being so formal? It's just Harumi. We're friends, aren't we?"

A quick little nod, enthusiastic, while while I ask her how she's been doing and cheer her up a bit. Ate it right up. She's getting the usual stream of nightmarish visions around the clock, apparently.

"And you, Harumi?" Still a bit hesitant, like she thinks she shouldn't be saying it. Like it's all some kind of test to see if she can keep formal under pressure.

"Suuuuper secret spy stuff," I answer, same way I often do, with a wag of my finger and a whole lot of exaggerated sneaking over to give her a quick hug.

"You can't tell me?"

"I can't tell you, sorry. ...But don't worry," I add after a bit, like some kind of consolation prize, "it's not that interesting."

"What's it like?"

"You keep standing around trying to blend in, trying to look like you fit in perfectly, waiting around on pins and needles for just the right moment to hear something, or drop the two words you need to. ...Like I said, it's not that exciting." Shouldn't have, really, but I got a kick out of hiding in plain sight, the little hints I gave away. Call it a perk of the job.

"That... that sounds tiring." Hah, she's the one looking all worried now, that's rich.

"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing, Hitomi. Don't look so down!" Flash a smile and give her a little poke on the cheek. It's nothing between us, right?

"Besides, it's nothing so important - a lot of people can sneak around, it's just what a Callidus does, but how many can see into the future? We're counting on you, Hitomi." Everyone likes hearing they're important, or at least, most do. She brightens up a little at that, but I can see the bags under her eyes. Told me before that the visions get worse when she sleeps.

"You look a bit worn out, why don't you take a break? I can get you a cup of cocoa or something if you like; I'm sure we can both spare a little while to relax."

"...That would be nice."


I get a pair of thermoses - thermi? Never could get it straight, but it beats a cup for an elevator ride - ready, and swing by to see if I can catch a certain someone on the way. Not that her and Hitomi were that close, but the little oracle was at her best around a Culexus. Someone who'd damp the visions for a bit. Everyone wins, if only because the average Culexus is thrilled to chat with a magical girl who isn't dropping her breakfast on the floor after a minute's conversation.

Megumi Minakata, Culexus. Unluckiest girl I've ever met. Some kind of... witch's dying curse or whatever. Drags her off to every bit of misery and grief it can get her into, usually gets someone or the other caught in the fallout. Damned pain. Ends up sleepwalking into barriers, too. Joke's on the curse, obviously; not like a Culexus can witch out. Real walking disaster area, but she's more or less latched onto me; good job, me. Again, anyone who doesn't get sick from standing around her, I guess. Or actually calls her by her name.

...Heh. 'Cordy', like that freaky little mushroom. Of all the nicknames the kid could get. Good one, really. If it isn't, whatever, I've laughed at worse. Handy to have her around, though. Who else are we supposed to call when we need something picked up from a tall shelf? Heard she can do other stuff, too, but I never saw much use for it. Counting myself lucky that the whole mind-reading thing takes more than a brush on the shoulder or whatever. I call her when I catch sight of her, give her a little wave.

"Harumi. How could you tell?" Really. She thought every trainwreck in a suit looks the same to me, huh? Shame on me if I can't tell them apart. Bit weird for me, though, dealing with her alongside the kindergarten squad of the rest of this Officio, or most of them, really. She's only- well, I don't like thinking about my age. Let's just say she's only a couple years younger than me. Grouchy one, too, around most people.

"Of course I can tell! You think I can't recognise you after all the time we've known each other?" Gave her a little nudge on the shoulder.

"...Sorry. Not used to people knowi-"

"Please, Megumi, try to relax, I was only joking. And don't worry about the others, they're just a little shy! In fact, I know someone who wanted to see you right now! Would you mind heading downstairs with me to the River? Hitomi would love to see you, I'm sure, and you sound like you could use a break yourself." She sounded like a lot of things over the vox, but she usually liked a bit of time off, so I hazarded a guess this time.

"Right. Moving now. ...Thanks. Coming?" Not one to mince words, her. Never use ten words when you can use one. Never use more than one when you need two, come to that, from some of what I've heard. She has her moments, but I can't drag her out of her shell all that often. She had this little skip in her step when she marched over to the elevator, though. She was a lot easier to read than she liked to think, sometimes, and that's saying something when you're behind a helmet all day.

Well, I could spare them half an hour or so before I leave them with each other. They're both the types that could use a little break.


Shimizu Yumishita. The name blinks at me from a brand new monitor, arrived just today. Let it never be said that the Third Officio doesn't have barrels of cash to throw at whatever it can think of. Not as much as the Ninth, mind you, but it's a given for most of the Officios to some extent. Unfortunately, throwing money at a crazy little Vindy who runs around shooting out soul gems in witch barriers doesn't accomplish a whole lot. I suppose it might make her richer, but that's not quite what we're going for.

...Going to need a team to take her out soon enough, huh. Nothing I haven't organised before, just need to watch out for the backlash from these things. No one likes it when a hunt's called, but against a target like this, it'll probably go over easily.

"Better kill this one fast, Petey."

"Whatever her tactics, she is only one Vindicare, and a relatively new one at that, in spite of her competence. You may be overestimating-"

"It's not about a gun, bow or whatever else she's got. She's picked up on a couple things we don't need her to know. ...Lucky for us, she's real sick, so I don't know how much she can do. Keeping her together should cost her soul gem a lot as it is." Funny that she'd go in sick with something like this and not wish for a cure. Gets me curious enough to look at that bit of her file. What could she-

Ah. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense.

Crazy little brat snoops around a while, stalls her wish for ages and then finally comes to the door to ask for it. Basic training and she's out, leaving us with her cross-country murdering spree. If only she'd stick to killing people, this might not be such a huge deal. A loud sigh, somewhere in the room. Thinking back, it must have been mine, the rabbit doesn't do that sort of thing much. I think I'm starting to piece it together, and it only makes me more sure that we're not talking her down. Kill team it is, and hopefully they don't get wiped out. Assuming we can get enough sense out of the River for once to even figure out where she is, anyway.

The next name flashing on the list is all it takes to convince me. Atsuko Yumishita.

"...Yeah, I'm pretty sure she's out for blood. Would explain why she put a bolt through you, too."

Joy. Sure didn't pull punches when it came to giving me messes to clear it up, but who did? ...Well, the clock, for one. Looks like my shift's over. I've got a night to think this over, minimum.

Guardian angel of the Third, out.