The resurrection of one world will mean the destruction of another. The homeworld of the alien Noigel has been annihilated. Their existence as a species is on a razor's edge. But they have found a replacement: Earth. But it must be changed to suit their needs. If they succeed, all of humanity will perish. When an alien secret agent is killed, his technology and mission are given to Hina Takamachi. The Japanese schoolgirl discovers the alien's battle suit gives her incredible powers, just like the anime heroines she admired as a kid. The battle suit's artificial intelligence, whom Hina names Voice, informs her that only she can save the world from the Noigel.With Voice training and guiding her, Hina must overcome her own self-doubts and find the courage to stop the Noigel's plan. For one world to win, the other must lose.
- 1 To Be Read list
Sitting at a table in a coffee shop, Hiroshi Ichihara reflected on the beings around him. His body was not unlike theirs; he had a head, torso, two arms, and two legs. He thought, he felt, he dreamed. The similarities ended there. If they were to ever know the true him, they would run away in fear or lock him up for the rest of his 700 year long lifespan.READ MORE
Volon Tru was his real name and underneath his black hair and tan skin, and behind his brown eyes, he wasn't human. He was a Noigel, from the planet of the same name. This Volon Tru lived within his flash skin, a device which shielded and disguised him. It generated a skintight energy field, protecting him from the world's dangerous atmosphere while also creating a holographic representation of his human self, a simulation so sophisticated the human eye couldn’t tell the difference between it and a real person. Microscopic forcefields and replicators duplicated the look and feel of the human body. Even his eyelids blinked without conscious control.
“Do you think they’re worth saving, Dolim?” he whispered to the air.
“I’m a battle suit, not philanthropist or philosopher,” came the reply originating deep within his ears.
Ichihara took out his cellphone and tapped the dark screen. He held it up to his ear and paused, as if listening for someone to pick up on the other end. “I know that,” he replied, “but I want your answer anyway. Do you think these humans are worth saving?”
The voice within him replied, “My programming is to fulfill the mission. If the mission is to save humans, then yes, these beings are worth saving.”
“Because I’m programmed to."
Ichihara sighed, he sometimes needed someone to talk to and his only companion was his suit, Dolim. The flash skin allowed him to assume a human form; once it assumed a certain shape it was unchangeable. A battle suit, on the other hand, was malleable. Made up of billions of catoms, the battle suit penetrated the cells of the wearer. The technology gave the Noigel abilities far beyond the norm of the local populace; this helped protect them in combat. The battle suit could also change clothes at will, a great asset in blending in. Ichihara wore a dark gray business suit, with a white shirt and dark red tie, the suit jacket draped over the back of the chair. Ichihara’s human form was a tall Japanese man, long limbed with a fit runner’s-like physique. He had close cropped black hair and brown eyes that crinkled at the corners when he smiled. He had a strong jaw, and people often said he should have been a model instead of working as an advisor for JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. “You give me the same answer,” he said.
“It’s because you ask the same question,” the battle suit replied. It’s right, thought Ichihara, it is a battle suit and not a philosopher. Dolim wasn’t even its real name; but covert missions could last years and Ichihara felt if the suit had a name, it would help him cope better with being on an alien world, cut off from all he knew and felt comfortable with. Thus, he had given the suit the name of one of his childhood friends. It had accepted the new designation without complaint.
He took another sip of his hot and sweet coffee. He had to admit Earth had one of the less appetizing planetary cuisines he had experienced, but it was somewhat compatible with his alien biochemistry. But Noigel had nothing as wonderful as coffee.
Compatible. The word echoed around in his head for a few moments. That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? he thought. Compatibility. Trying to find a world capable of supporting his race. But that’s not true, he told himself. It wasn’t about finding suitability, it was about annihilation. Because that is what would happen to this world if he and the Defiant failed. Earth would die so his world could be reborn in its place.
He stopped his dark musings. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he opened the photo app on his phone. He looked at several pictures of a large man dressed in sky blue coveralls. The pictures were covert ones, some taken when the subject made deliveries to factories, others were of him walking to the headquarters of Amano Heavy Industries. Another showed him walking out of a restaurant. All of the pictures had been taken in secret and from a distance.
Ichihara was about to find out if the man wasn’t human.
* * *
Hina Takamachi thought it was perfect timing: one of her favorite songs, Single Bed by SharanQ, had finished playing on her iPhone as Ami’s house came in sight down the street. She closed her music app and put the earbuds in her purse.
She was visiting her best friend, whose house was also a taiyaki restaurant. Hina smiled as the smell of taiyaki wafted to her. The snack was one of her favorites: sweet red bean paste stuffed in the middle of fried bread shaped like a fish. The restaurant was situated on a side street, nestled among other shops and residences; most of the stores were local businesses run by families. Some shops were only big enough to house ten customers at a time. Small tables, chairs, and benches were scattered down the street to give patrons a place to sit as they ate.
Ami’s house was one story, the taiyaki shop had been tacked on to the side, like an extra Lego block added to a finished toy. It wasn’t much more than a glorified kitchen; the grills and stoves took up one wall, and the rest of the space was dedicated to storing the cookware and ingredients. The front of the store had a serving and ordering window and one could see through the shop and into the house’s living room beyond. A door to the left side of the window led into the shop; sometimes friends came into the cooking area and sat on one of the three discarded plastic crates converted into service as chairs, to talk with Ami’s grandparents, Junko and Atsushi.
Hina stood at the window and saw Atsushi close the lid of the grill on a fresh batch of taiyaki. “Good afternoon, Mr. Isobe,” she said.
The older man turned toward her. “Hina, good afternoon,” he said in a cheerful voice. Gray hair stood out in tufts from under his cap and his white apron was splotched with grease and fillings. Besides red bean paste, Atsushi filled his taiyaki with other foodstuffs like cheese, chocolate, and assorted flavors. Atsushi pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “Ami’s in the house.”
Hina looked past him; the curtains and sliding glass door were open and she could see the living room. Ami sat on the tatami floor at the room’s single small round table, drawing a picture. She went through the small door, and stood on the narrow, sagging wooden ledge to remove her shoes.
Ami looked up from her drawing pad and smiled when she saw Hina. The other girl laughed out loud at her diminutive friend and Ami looked at her in confusion.
“That is a rice sack you’re wearing, right? It can’t be a real dress,” Hina said.
Ami put down her art pencil and looked at her attire. “My grandmother bought it.” After a moment she added, “For herself, then she gave it to me.” She stood up, grabbed the tan one-piece garment and spun around. “Tada.” She smiled at Hina and they both laughed.
Ami Isobe was her best friend but Hina couldn’t believe how physically different the two of them were. Where Hina was athletically built and muscular, Ami was short and thin. She had rectangular wire frame glasses that sat on a short nose and large ears. Hina was taller than Ami, but what her friend lacked in size, she made up for in brains. She was smart and often ranked at the top of the class. But to Hina, she failed on the subject of fashion.
Fashion, however, was Hina’s hobby. Today she wore jeans and a large pink Earth Magic t-shirt that fell off one shoulder. A bright pink ribbon with the Roni logo tied up her ponytail. She loved the teen fashion magazines like Nicola, Pichi Lemon, and Pop Teen. She told herself that one day her own fashion designs would be featured within their pages.
She sat on the floor and tucked her feet underneath her. “How's art club going?” Ami was sketching a fantasy figure with an ornate axe. She thought her friend was skilled enough to be a professional manga or light novel cover artist if she wanted to. Unlike most of her classmates, Hina wasn’t in a school club. Hiroshima City Junior High School didn’t have a weightlifting club, so she trained five days a week at a gym. Since her club wasn’t controlled by the school, she had the weekends free; most of her classmates had club activities everyday, weekends and holidays included.
Ami shrugged. “I heard there might not be many members next year. They're saying it will be combined with the science club.” Hina heard the disgust in Ami’s voice. She thought the rumor was true; the science club had five members and if the numbers dwindled any lower the school would have to do something about it. If the club was a combination of two subjects, she wondered if the club would have two teachers or one. “I hope we get Mrs. Hisano. Mr. Naoka can’t even draw a circle,” Ami said.
Hina thought about her science teacher and giggled. “I know, right? And when he draws a line, he uses that big protractor and it always falls down right at the end.” She mimed drawing a straight line in the air then having it fall sharply. Ami pointed at her friend and they laughed.
The door to the living room slid open and Ami’s grandmother Junko entered. She was an elderly woman, short and round wearing a pastel apron. She tossed her hands in the air and smiled. “Hina,” she said with the same cheerfulness as her husband. She drew out the “na” syllable of Hina’s name.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Isobe,” Hina said. They bowed to each other.
Junko muttered to herself as she bustled back through the living room door but Hina couldn’t make it out. She heard some sounds from the kitchen and soon Junko returned with two glasses of tea on a serving platter. She set one down in front of Hina, and as she set the other down, Ami jerked her drawing pad away from the cold perspiring glass.
Hina took a drink of the ice cold tea then wiped the condensation off her hand onto her jeans. “Do you want to go to Hondori? There's this new desert place called Angel Sweets.”
Ami looked at her grandma before answering. “I…can’t. Not this month. Maybe we can go there next time.”
“Why not?” Hina ate healthy but Ami had a sweet tooth. From what she had heard about Angel Sweets, it was perfect match for her. She thought Ami would be ecstatic.
Ami looked at her drawing pad. “The shop isn’t doing too well. I need to tighten my expenses.”
“Oh.” She tried to push her disappointment away. It seemed Ami was having more financial difficulties the past few months.
The loud greetings of two men startled her. At the shop's window, a pair of men were talking to Atsushi. "Here's your monthly shipment," one of them said. He crouched down out of sight and Hina heard the sound of cardboard scraping against the concrete.
“Put them inside and make it quick,” one said to his partner, looking at a clipboard. “We’re running late.”
“Just leave them there. I’ll get to it.”
The man protested but Atsushi waved him off. The pair bowed in thanks and bid farewell, pushing their delivery dolly in a hurry.
Atsushi wiped his hands on his apron and walked outside. He sighed. "Maybe I'll drag them into the house later."
Hina jumped to her feet. “I’ll get those,” she said, and slipped on her shoes. In front of the shop, three large boxes were stacked atop of one another.
“No, no. I’ll manage,” Atsushi said. He put the top box on the ground and slid it toward the door. He grunted and puffed out his cheeks.
Hina couldn’t bear to see him strain. “No, really. I can get them," she said.
“Hina’s really strong,” Ami yelled from the living room.
Hina shrugged the comment away. She held weightlifting records in the junior high division. She was officially recognized as the strongest junior high school student in Japan, even beating out the boys.
Atsushi looked her up and down. “Can you take them into the kitchen? You can set them anywhere, Junko will get to them later.”
“Sure.” Hina lifted the heavy box with little effort and carried it to the house. She didn't have to set down the box to slip off her shoes. She took it to the kitchen, then returned for the second one.
Junko sat beside Ami and was folding a pile of clothes. “Women shouldn’t be strong,” she said. She looked at Hina in admonishment as she passed by. “And Hina, you shouldn’t have such big muscles. Girls should be small, like Ami here.” She smiled at her granddaughter.
Before Hina could reply, Ami jumped in. “But Hina’s gotten awards for being strong.”
Junko clicked her tongue and warded away the comment, like it was an offending odor.
Hina picked up the second box and carried it to the kitchen. She held out her arms in front of her. They were large and smoothly muscled; the result of five years of weightlifting, and four years of gymnastics before that. Junko was always telling her to lose weight but Hina knew she wasn’t fat, it was muscle that made her larger than most fourteen year old girls.
Atsushi went back to his grill as Hina went for the third box. A foreign couple approached the counter window, and Hina froze. The man was tall and the woman had hair the color of fire. “She’s cool," she said, looking at the red-head.
They smiled at Hina. She panicked, her mind blanking. She pointed at her own black hair, then at the woman. "Hair," she said in English. "Red. Very cool." She gave her a thumbs-up.
The woman looked embarrassed. "Thank you," she said. She spoke further, but Hina wasn't able to understand it.
The man pointed to the menu, which was written in Japanese and had no pictures. "What is this?"
"Taiyaki," she said. They didn't seem to understand and Hina felt herself become frustrated. “Taiyaki is…fish...fish..." How could she explain what it was? What was the point of studying English in school if she couldn't use it? They were looking at her and repeating “fish.” Panicked, she turned to Ami, and gestured for her to help.
Ami joined her outside. "May I help you?"
Hina was jealous. The grammar point was one they had recently learned, but her friend was using it smoothly.
In broken English by Hina, Ami, and her grandfather, they were able to explain taiyaki to the couple. They ordered two chocolate filled ones and ate it at the shop. After finishing, they gave their thanks and left.
Back inside, the two girls dropped to the floor at the table. "I wish I was as good at English like you are," Hina told Ami. “You’re so smart.”
Junko said, "See, Hina? The brain is the most important muscle of all."
Ichihara knew he had to find the man in the surveillance photos: Shota Fujiya. He was posing as a worker for Amano Heavy Industries, a company that made large machines and machine parts for other companies. AHI had flourished in the last five years, going from near bankruptcy to a global leader in almost the blink of an eye.
Ichihara wasn’t interested in Amano's financial history; he was more interested in the company's recent advancements. Almost five years ago, not long after Ichihara had arrived (and, coincidently, Fujiya), Amano made startling advancements in metallurgy. They had invented metals that were lightweight, thin, and almost indestructible. After that, every company that used heavy machines or metals in high stress situations wanted a piece of Amano's technology.
Ichihara was suspicious.
Using sources within JAXA, who wanted Amano’s metals for their space equipment, Ichihara was able to see some of AHI’s data. The “radical” and “new” materials were old news to him: they were Noigel in origin. He had a theory that a Noigel was working at Amano Heavy Industries, using alien knowledge to augment human machines. The purpose would be to help subvert that same technology to terraform the planet. But Ichihara needed proof.
He began to investigate Amano Heavy Industries. His chief suspect had been the company’s founder and CEO Takeshi Amano. But he turned out to be human. Ichihara continued. He investigated every scientist, designer, and researcher the company employed. Everyone was human. Not sure what to do, he decided to check every worker, no matter what their position was. Several weeks bore fruitless results, until he came across Shota Fujiya.
His file had him listed as a delivery worker, but Ichihara noticed his security clearance within the company was much higher than it should be. Further investigations had found that his history stopped before five years ago. There was proof of birth and a family registry but school records, hospital admissions, even on-line purchase histories were nonexistent. There was no record of Shota Fujiya that went back further than five years. The Noigel were getting sloppy, which meant they were getting desperate.
Ichihara made his way down the crowded sidewalk. The headquarters of Amano Heavy Industries occupied the entire second floor of a modern glass and steel three-story building. As he passed by a convenience store, a man hunched down in the recess of the entrance way stuck out his arm, almost tripping Ichihara. “Please,” he said in a grated voice like sandpaper sliding across concrete. Ichihara looked down at the beggar; the man’s gray pants were wrinkled but free of holes while his shirt looked so stiff with sweat and grime it could stand up by itself. He wore black fingerless gloves (whether they were fingerless by design or moths, Ichihara couldn’t tell) and squinted at the daytime sun as he looked up at Ichihara. His shoes were off, sitting beside him on top of a plastic shopping bag, which sported the logo of the nearby convenience store. Stubble covered the lower half of his face, and dirt and oil obscured the rest.
Ichihara continued up the street towards Amano’s headquarters. Two blocks later he crossed to the opposite street and took up position not too far from the bus stop. Fujiya didn’t know Ichihara, but he thought that if Fujiya looked over and spotted him, he would look less like a loiterer and more like a businessman waiting for the bus.
He stared at the second-story windows. His suit gave him far better sight than a human’s; many would say it was superhuman. He gazed at the employees passing near the windows and read their reports in their hands as they conferred with colleagues. A man sat down at his desk, his back to the window, and opened up a newspaper. Ichihara read part of an article about Toyota’s stock prices before the article disappeared behind the man’s shoulder. Ichihara couldn’t get a view of the whole second floor, his angle was too low. He needed to find out if Fujiya was a Noigel; if he was, he would be their contact on Earth. He thought about walking in and waiting in the lobby but decided against it. If Fujiya did somehow suspect Ichihara of being a Noigel rebel, he might become violent, and that would be bad. The point of infiltration was not to let the native population know they were there. He needed to be close to Fujiya but wanted the meeting to be quick.
“I need to make sure Fujiya is a Noigel,” Ichihara whispered. “Any suggestions?”
“None that fall within mission parameters,” his suit replied.
Ichihara sighed. He glanced at the people on the sidewalks, moving through their lives. Two blocks down he saw the homeless man he had passed by earlier. The man was shuffling toward the convenience store, head down, hands gripping the front of his coat.
“I need a change of clothes,” he said.
* * *
Shota Fujiya liked simplicity. Intimidation made life simple. His Noigel frame was larger than most, and his flash skin had accentuated that. He stood over two meters in height and weighed over one hundred ten kilograms. When he walked down the street, people gave him extra room. He was taller, wider, stronger. When he told someone to get out of the way, they did.
He walked down the street towards the headquarters of Amano Heavy Industries; his boss, Yusuke Shimizu, had called him in. Yusuke Shimizu. Fujiya had a hard time thinking of his boss in that respect; he also had some difficulty of thinking of himself as Fujiya. It wasn’t simple. He was Tyren Dolok. He didn’t like covert operations; the duplicity, the secrecy, the subtleness. That was Xilay’s forte. Tyren wasn’t a subtle person and he didn’t like sneaking around. He preferred straightforward missions; go to a place, give their demands, respond with force if the locals didn’t comply. Clean and simple. But Xilay had asked him to come on this mission and Tyren had agreed. He played by Xilay’s rules; when Xilay told him to do something, Tyren did it. So, he tried to think of Xilay as Shimizu and himself as Fujiya.
Amano’s office building came into sight and Fujiya gave a tsk of disgust. A homeless man, hunched over in dirty clothes, shuffled toward him, favoring a limp. His face was covered in dirt and bits of dried food. Fujiya moved to the opposite side of the sidewalk but the homeless man had seen him.
He held out a greasy palm. “Money, sir. A bill, a coin, anything you can spare.”
“Get out of my way,” Fujiya said. He moved but the man followed, not giving up. He pawed at Fujiya’s blue coveralls.
“Please, anything you can give I’d appreciate. I’m sure you’re a hard working man, little to spare but if you could help me out.” The man prattled on, pressing against Fujiya’s arm, almost pushing him off balance.
“I said I don’t have anything,” Fujiya repeated and tried to shrug the man off, but he wouldn’t let go. He clutched at Fujiya’s clothes and pushed his greasy face forward.
“I’m desperate. You have to help me out. I need this, man. If you don’t…” A large wad of spittle landed on Fujiya’s chest. “If you don’t, I don’t know what I’ll do.” The homeless man’s eyes had taken on a predatory and crazy look. He struggled with Fujiya, one hand clutching the collar of his overalls while the other reached behind Fujiya’s waist, going for the wallet. Fujiya pushed back; the two men were locked onto one another, weaving and shuffling in circles as they struggled.
Angry, Fujiya grabbed the homeless man by the collar of his grimy shirt. He twisted and spun, then pushed outwards, flinging the man away. The man’s feet left the sidewalk and he sailed through the air, hitting the wall of the AHI building. His head made a sick cracking sound as it connected with the concrete. He slid to his butt, legs splayed out, head lolling to one side.
Fujiya, huffing in anger, looked at the nearby pedestrians who had witnessed the struggle. He stalked toward the entrance to Amano Heavy Industries and the crowd parted before him. Today, he thought, is not going to be a simple day.COLLAPSE