Ran didn't know why he had the felt the urge to come back to this place. It held no good memories to him, as he was now. And it was different as well from the way it had been in the past.

The Zone. Or what had been the Zone. In truth, it was becoming something else over time.

Maybe like I am?

Was that why he'd come here, to reflect on changes in himself and his outlook? It was true that he'd gained a measure of control over himself over the last few years. He didn't consider himself completely right in the head, still. His moods still swung wildly sometimes. In his more grandiose moments, he considered that he might be partially transcendent in some way. In his more pessimistic moments, he wondered if it was all in his imbalanced brain chemistry, and that he might be irrevocably mad and dangerous to others.

But the fact that, manic, depressive, or in-between, he was actually able to even consider such things in any objective way... and stop himself from his previous excesses, well, that was a miracle in itself.

A lovely face framed with long black hair appeared in his memory, and Ran smiled to himself, slightly. No... she is my miracle.

But as to why he was here, he still couldn't say with certainty. He hovered a mile in the air, looking down at what had once been Brooklyn and Queens. Then looked to the southeast corner of the Zone...


... and looked around at what had once been familiar territory. Home, as it were. He really didn't need much in the way of sleep or food, just a place to retreat to when his personal demons became too strong.

It had been one of the greener parts of the Zone. Especially after he had broken up a lot of the buildings and pavement over time. Sometimes in frustrated or raging displays of power, sometimes out of a weird aesthetic. He'd once turned an entire four story building upside down and carefully set it down back down on its foundation, just to see what would happen. It was actually stronger than he'd thought. It did collapse slowly over time, but it had held together in recognizable form for weeks. Watching a scavenger team from afar come across it and immediately decide to turn around and scamper back to Zone central had made him laugh loud and long one day.

Now... well, not much left even of the old ruins were left. Corporate work crews (were they Jinsei, or some other company? He usually didn't care enough to wonder) had bulldozed and demolished much of the area. Strangely, they'd left many of the larger trees intact. But they'd cleared the streets of debris. And there was construction going on, mainly road building and repair. They were repaving streets and in some cases making new ones.

For a few minutes he watched a mixed crew of synthetics and construction boomers supervised by a couple of human foremen working on some new building. He couldn't tell what it was going to be yet. They didn't notice him standing there. They didn't see him when he walked up behind the two foremen to listen to their conversation for a bit. He toyed a bit with the idea of letting them see him and seeing how they'd react.

No, I don't really feel like it right now. Besides I've seen that reaction before anyway. Another time maybe. That's not what I'm here for.

He wished he could figure out what he WAS here for. It was really starting to nag at him. He'd thought maybe it was nostalgia, but he found he felt nothing really for this place. Self-reflection he could get other places. Nicer places.


And he was above the zone again, a few hundred feet up.

Time to just... listen... for a bit.

Like she taught me to do.

If someone had been able to see him in the sky, red cape fluttering in the breeze, "sitting" in the lotus position, hands resting on knees, palms upward, they would have been struck by the incongruity, even more so if they knew who he was. Ran didn't have that kind of reputation. He was known more as a destroyer. The real story was, like many, more complex than that.

Ran found an answer soon.

It's my own power... calling to me... Is it a memory? A dream? No... what was the past and future and is now here... someone...

His eyes opened, Death... Someone is dying... calling out...

... Another esper... weak... VERY weak... I almost mistook it for my own mind, so weak!

... and why do I feel a sense of deja-vu here? Feels familiar somehow...

There was also the faintest feeling of dread, which he realized had nothing to do with any impending death, his or the other esper.

She would help this person if she could, I know. So I will help.

He uncoiled from his lotus position and let his power draw him in the direction of the faint echo of the other esper...


Ran looked down. He was hovering right over the water of the east river. That confused him for a moment. Then he shrugged, and gestured, and the water swirled and bent down beneath him forming a hole down to the bottom. He lowered himself down.

The sense he had was that the dying one was right here. But there was nothing he recognized as human. Just debris.

Doesn't make sense! Where is she?

She? I guess... yes, I can sense that. But I don't see anything. She wasn't in the water. She's not under the riverbed. I would have known that.

He reached out a hand, closed his eyes, and let his power guide him again. His feet touched the silt and mud of the riverbed as he held the waters around him back. He knelt down, and his hand touched something round, and he had a split second to notice that it felt about the size of a skull, before the sensation hit him...

Ran's power was many things. Normally, he used only the psychokinetic part of his abilities. But over the years, he'd discovered that it was far more than that. The nature of those other abilities was part of what had driven him half mad.

One of those abilities was psychometry, the ability to sense images and impressions from an object's past. And it was this that had hit him now. He had shielded himself against telepathy. He hadn't shielded himself from this.

He screamed and leapt for the sky, the waters collapsing behind him. He kept going until he was at the edge of space before he could get a grip on the images and feelings assaulting him.

Then he felt something that he hadn't felt in a long long time. Remorse. Guilt. Because one of the most powerful images connected to this person was him... Hovering like a demon in front of her, ripping at her with his power in his insanity...

MY FAULT!! My fault she's like that! MY FAULT!! He screamed at himself.

He knew who this was, without wanting to. He knew her name, he knew her, at this moment, almost as well as he knew himself. He fell back through the sky as he tried to work it all out. An entire lifetime to sort through, and he had enough problems with his own mind! He could only shove it away, try and compartmentalize it as best he could.

Ran finally got himself under a semblance of control by the time he was a few hundred feet above the ground and stopped his fall.

Running the fingers of one hand through his shaggy hair, he thought furiously. Then he...


...stood above the water and parted it again, and floated down. Keeping tight control over his power, he cleared the mud off of what he was looking for and gently, carefully brought it up into the air.

It was the head and upper torso of a full body cyborg. She had been face down in the muck. Part of her face was still intact, and with his memory from the psychometry, he could fill in the rest. She had been lovely.

And she was dying. He didn't understand the technical aspect of it, but he knew, partly because of the psychometric sense, that she'd drawn oxygen from the water somehow. An emergency system not meant to last as long as it had. Years? The filters clogged? He narrowed his brow, trying to reason it through. He didn't understand cybernetics. He just knew her brain was starting to die from lack of air and nutrients. It was in hibernation, which was why it was happening so slowly.

Ran wondered how to save her, and then thought of a possible answer. He knew he didn't really need to breathe or eat. He'd never thought of it much. Now he did. Maybe... He turned his power inward on itself looking for the answer, and found it. It wasn't something he could have articulated coherently to anyone else, even another esper. But he knew, on an instinctive level, how it worked now.

And he knew he could extend that to her. Which he did. He sensed that slow suffocation of the other mind slow and stop. She was safe, for now. But only as long as he did this.

She had to have the type of help he couldn't give her.

But he thought he knew where to find it.

I nearly killed you once. Maybe now I can balance the scales a bit.

He concentrated, visualized, knew, and...


Five miles above MegaTokyo, an enormous explosion rent the air. But went unnoticed on the ground - just another sub-orbital transport going by - nothing to worry about.

* * * * *

Azumi Kiribayashi was in the middle of a sound sleep when something woke her. She sat up on her futon and moved strands of long hair away from her face. Wondering what had woken her. Then she got a brief glimpse of something. Not in the room with her, but as if she were momentarily seeing through someone else's eyes. Images were jumbled and indistinct—an impression of fire, and pain, and water, and then darkness.

She got the feeling that she'd soon have a visitor. And she'd learned long ago to trust her feelings. She got up to get dressed and prepare.

She was waiting, looking up at the night sky, when she felt the pulse.


Ah. She knew that "voice".

Yes, Ran? And what brings you here?

I need help

I will always be willing to help you, Ran... but why did you come in the middle of the night? She sent the impression of a smile, to let him know she wasn't serious. I thought I'd taught you some better manners than that?

Sorry... But it's not help for me...

That was a bit of a surprise to her.

...but I wanted to warn you before I came down, and... well, I'll have to show you...

Azumi felt Ran teleport twice before he appeared just inside the Torii gate in a slight swirl of leaves.

Ran held something cradled on one arm. For just the briefest of instants Azumi had the incongruous notion of Ran holding a baby, which almost made her smile, before she realized what it really was. It looked like the remains of a robot, but then she felt the faintest of signatures from it.

He spoke, "Her name is Lora Doubet. I'm keeping her alive right now, but she needs a cyber doctor, and I didn't know who else to come to. I'm sorry..."

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