Sitting by the poolside, watching the madness go on around me...
...that's where my part in this began.
Morning. Normally, I'm not a morning person...
...but I've found it helps to get down to the poolside early.
Especially with the writing.
I wasn't the _only_ one by the pool, however...
Belldandy had brought Keiichi down for some swimming lessons - the poor bastard was paddling furiously in the shallow end, while Bell supported him.
Fitz was lying back on a lounger - his accustomed position, these days.
Apart from them...
...the pool was deserted.
Damn. I had to go.
And I /mean/ go.
'Hey, sleepyhead. Wake up...'
'Oh... Oh, I'm sorry, Sam. Did I doze off again?'
Sam hunkered down next to me, grinning. 'You might say that...'
I looked around. We were on one of those really spectacular cliffs - dramatic and windswept and rocky, with the waves crashing on the rocks below.
...somewhere really romantic. Like Wuthering Heights...
...with Tenchi as Heathcliff...
Sam was shaking her head, still grinning. 'I'm never going to get used to that. No matter where we go, no matter where we are, you'll always find somewhere to drop off...'
'Oh... I'm sorry, Sam-san. It's just...' My face started going red.
'Don't apologise, Mihoshi...' Sam smiled again. 'I'm never gonna get /used/ to it, but it's nothing to be embarrassed about.'
My face started going red again. 'Sam-san... that's very kind of you, b-'
'Mihoshi...' Sam said.
'It's beautiful up here, isn't it...?' Sam said after a while.
I settled back next to her. 'Yeah... it's really incredible. Your planet can be so /romantic/ sometimes, I really like that...'
'Don't you get anything like this...' Sam gestured at the seascape in front of us. '...back home?'
I nodded. 'Oh yeah, we do... It's just that I rarely get a chance to go home, you know... and I really wanna show Tenchi and the gang what it's like, 'cause none of them have ever seen it, and I wanna have them meet my family sometime... so I'm saving up my vacation time till I get enough... and waiting for the reruns, too...'
'Mihoshi...' Sam shook her head again. 'You really amaze me sometimes...'
'That's a /good/ thing.'
I shook my head. 'Terran's so idiomatic sometimes... I'm never quite sure what you're talking about...'
'Don't worry about it...' Sam told me. 'It took me a while to get used to alien languages when I got out there...'
'Alien languages was a required course at the Academy...' I frowned. 'Our tutor had a nervous breakdown after the first semester I went there, though...'
'Oh no. It was very sad. We all really liked him. He used to say he couldn't wait to see what I'd come up with next...'
Sam shook her head again. 'Did you ever see him again?'
'Oh no. I think he got a transfer to Jurai...' I sighed. 'It's a shame... he was so nice.'
'Reminds me of some of _my_ teachers...' Sam said. 'Usually around the time I asked them for the Greenpeace donations.' She grinned again, wider than before. 'Never had any of them leave first, though...'
'It _was_ in a good cause...'
'Well, that, and I'd nail their shoes to the floor.'
'Joke. Joke. Just joking...' Sam said, her face going slightly red.
I breathed out again. 'Maybe I should've taken that refresher-'
Then we heard the music.
One thing you can say about Mihoshi; her perspective is refreshingly unbiased, sometimes.
She'd have made a wonderful travel correspondent.
And that /is/ a compliment.
Jack Ryder here, roving correspondent for Newedge magazine, reporting from...
...a fantasy island?
Jack Ryder, fearless investigative reporter. Now, apparently, turned travel correspondent.
Millenarianism didn't stop with 2000.
No, for /us/ the end of the world seems to come about every five weeks. What's another one, more or less?
We've grown bland. Complacent. Accepting.
The madness is still out there, though.
Waiting to seep back through the cracks. To explode in your face when you least expect it. To give you the equivalent of a cosmic wedgie and say 'Hi, honey! Miss me?!'
(Yeeuch. Revise later. JR.)
To return, stronger than before... something I know all too well.
Denial never works - I went into nervous breakdown, spent months in rehab, trying to shut it out, to reject it. It's not me. It never was. It's not me...
The shadow never is.
Now, we're having a collective anxiety attack trying to deal with it. We need someone to tell us it's safe, that they'll make it go away. They'll take care of it, so we don't have to look at it on the TV over the cornflakes in the morning.
But where you have people, you'll have madness.
And where you have people, you'll have civilisation.
That's where I come in. Dissecting the madness, looking for the deeper answers, seeing how we hold together through it all. Making sense of an insane world.
And none as insane as where I am now - Fantasy Island.
A holiday resort for aliens and time-travellers and mad scientists. Oh my...
(Hm. Cut the Wizard of Oz reference - too cutesy. JR.)
(Actually, I always wanted to go into antiques, like Mom. But she suggested I went into the Galaxy Police, like Gramps...)
Where was I...?
'Waow...' I could barely hear my voice above the music.
Above the _song_. Above the _singer_...
'Waow... that's beautiful...'
The voice... it _was_ wonderful. Pure and clear... and happy.
A woman's voice.
Happy to be singing. To be _here_, seeing _this_, having the chance...
'Sam... do you hear th-'
I turned round to Sam.
And I gasped.
Her face was glazed. _Haunted_.
As if she'd seen - _heard_ - a ghost.
'Sam... Sam, are you all right? Sam...'
She wasn't listening.
I looked around frantically. What was I going to do? What was I going to _do_?!
Pull yourself together, Miho. You're a Galaxy Police Officer, remember? You should be able to deal with this...
What should I do? Arrest the voice for singing with intent to harm?
No... no one singing like _that_ meant to harm.
Sam blinked, and refocused on me. 'Miho... Mihoshi?'
'Y-you heard it too...?'
'The music?' I nodded.
'Mihoshi... we've got to go. _Now_.'
'Mihoshi....' Sam's face was desperately earnest. 'We have to go _now_. I promise I'll explain later, but we _have_ to _go_!'
I hesitated. '... All right.'
I stood up...
...and that was when the laughter started.
Chittering, ape-like laughter. Like fingernails on a blackboard, only amplified.
Bone - no, _soul_ -chilling...
And slipping is _not_ a good thing when you're on a cliff edge.
(I do know _that_ much, Kiyone...)
Sam saw, but she wasn't going to able to react- to stop-
And someone grabbed me.
Grabbed me, just before I slipped over.
'Oh.... Thank you. Thanks...' I was huffing, and panting, and... 'You... you saved me...'
...And then I saw my rescuer.
Behind me, Sam gasped.
A dervish of madness. A shaman of insanity.
Hero, demon, trickster... and something else besides.
Capering, yellow-skinned, green-haired madness in motion.
Behind Mihoshi, Samantha gasped again.
'If I save thirty thousand of you, do I get a new car? With side-impact bars? I can call it the Creepermobile... naaah, leave that to the Bat, I'll take public transport anyday...'
He dropped Mihoshi on the ground.
She *whumphed*. 'Ow... oh no! Not my watch!'
'And now, mi amigas, I must bid you adieu. Somewhere out there, there are cities made of smoke, people made of song... somewhere else, the tea is getting cold... but they can make their _own_ damn tea, 'cause I'm late for 'Wendy the Werewolf Stalker'!'
'Hey!' Samantha said.
The Creeper tipped his head on one side. 'I'm sorry, are _you_ Wendy? No brown hair... and the figure's gonna need some work, girlfriend... but-'
And then _he_ heard the music.
His eyes widened.
'The _fiends_! How _could_ they?! It's so *happy* and *fluffy* and *mindless*...' His face twisted. 'This is worse than Brittney Spears! Come, mes amigas! We must put a stop to this depravity!'
And with that...
...he was gone.
Me, I laughed my head off.
If there's _one_ thing guaranteed to get the Creeper's back up - _apart_ from clowns (and tell me who _doesn't_ have that happen to them) - it's someone actually daring to be _happy_.
No-one to rescue or punish.
He can't _stand_ it.
Of course, in situations like _this_...
'Sam... ' I gasped for breath. '...Yowza. What was _that?!_'
Sam looked stunned. '...I don't know, Mihoshi....'
I shook my head. 'Well, he's around here somewhere...'
I turned back to Sam. 'What - who - ever he was, he saved my life. I can't let that pass... not without knowing who saved me.'
'Mihoshi...' Sam said quietly. 'Let him deal with whatever he's come here for, _then_ you can ask him who he is. He's obviously more interested in _it_ than _us_ at the moment...'
'Oh no...' I breathed. 'He's after the singer... he said so, he's going to stop it... I have to stop him... have to stop someone making a mistake...'
'Is he...?' Sam murmured.
I'm afraid I lost it, then.
'Samantha, just what _is_ your problem??! They're not hurting anyone, they're just singing. You can't be _that_ unhappy just 'cause someone is singing! It's not even like there're any _words_ to get angry 'bout! They're _happy_ doing it, and they're not harming anyone... so just _what_ have you got against them?!'
Looked at me. *Seriously*.
Slowly, carefully, she murmured, 'Because I'm scared. I think I know who - or _what_ - the singer is...' She looked down. '...And I'm afraid they might be here for me...'
'Come out, come out, wherever you are... Be vewy, vewy quiet... I'm hunting wabbits...'
The Creeper was continuing his search for the singer.
At this point, he was sniffing along the ground.
He stopped. 'Wait... wait, why am _I_ doing this? I'm the star of the show. And _that_ means I have a _partner_ to do the legwork for me - and I know just where he is...'
He grinned savagely. 'Time to come on out, Jackie boy...'
He pushed the implant in his right wrist...
...And _I_ came forward.
I hadn't been prepared for the transition. Or rather, I _was_... but I hadn't _expected_...
I should have known. The Creeper's madness works to its own schedule. Its own time.
My own personal madness. My shadow, given form and shape... reshaping my _own_ form to do so.
But I need him, as he needs me. Anchors to the world. I shut him away... and it almost cost me my life. He tried to free himself from me... and it almost cost him his existence.
We've... reached a kind of balance, an understanding.
We are... partners, I think... now.
Two of the most unlikely partners you'll ever see, but still...
And unfortunately, _I_ am _not_ the temperature-resistant one...
The wind cut through me; I hadn't been planning to go out today, so I'd dressed lightly.
I started to shiver.
First order of business: get out of there before those two blondes show up...
So much for that.
I turned to face my oncoming doom.
We're not _that_ bad, Jack-san...
Anyway, you have to remember that at _this_ point, neither me or Sam knew any of this.
Well, you wouldn't, would you?
I recognised him when we saw him; he'd been hanging around the hotel for the last couple of weeks, although we hadn't seen much of him. Not with... what had happened to Izzy...
A bit... I think the word Tenchi-kun uses is 'geeky'. Glasses, short black hair... tall, pretty thin... about mid-thirties in human terms, at a guess.
With a simply _gorgeous_ American accent.
(Well, of /course/ I know what one sounds like. We _do_ get cable in Japan...)
He'd said he was there to do a report on the foreign hotel industry. Well, the out-of-continuity hotel industry, anyway...
Umm... what was his name again?
As I dithered, Sam came to the rescue. 'Mr Ryder. Out for a walk?'
I *boggled*. Dressed like _that_?! Not unless he was as absent-minded as me...
...which, now I thought about it, _was_ possible...
...but he hadn't seemed like that in the hotel...
Sam nudged me in the ribs.
I waved gingerly. 'Hello, Ryder-kun...'
'Ah. Miss Kuramitsu. Miss Jones. Nice to see you...'
'Um...' Mihoshi stammered. Samantha nudged her in the ribs again. 'Um... Ryder-kun, I know this is going to sound like an odd question, but... you haven't seen a man with green hair, yellow skin and red shag on his shoulders, wearing a pair of striped green and black underpants go this way... have you?'
I pointed over the ridge behind me. Luckily, it was too high to see over. 'Perhaps he went over there...?'
'Oh... oh, _thank_ you, Ryder-kun. Enjoy your walk!'
And with that, they were gone.
I breathed out.
_That_ had been close.
Close for someone who lies.
I'm... not happy with active lying. ...Strange for journalists, these days... Omitting, editing myself, writing fiction... I have no problems.
But I am incapable of lying actively, face to face.
Call it a legacy of my childhood. I have a deep-seated need for order. In _everything_, including conversation. Verging on the obsessive...
...and so the Creeper, my shadow, embodies the chaotic. The transgressive.
I shouldn't have done that... I knew Mihoshi was an alien, (trust me, spend enough time around Superman, you'll pick up indicators too...), and Samantha was a time-traveller... surely I should tell them? Tell them the plain truth? Without agonising over this?
They're not even from my timeline...
...but if I tell them, that's one - no, two - more people who know. Who can be tracked down. Captured. The truth dragged out.
...and I am next.
But... no-one else knows I am here. No-one but Christine, my editor. No backup - dangerous for a reporter...
And if something pushes us out of equilibrium...
...I remember the bodies. I remember the blood.
I remember the emptiness.
And who's to say that someone will not try that? _Again_?
The Creeper has a secret. Not just mine - that I *am* him - but something bigger. Something people have killed to attain.
And believe me, it _is_ possible for someone to gain the Creeper's powers... if they can just get him...
Safety in numbers? Or in silence?
An ancient dilemma. Especially for a journalist.
The more who _know_, the safer you are.
But equally, the more who know, the more who _will_ know your secret. Who can reveal it... and endanger themselves. And the harder it becomes to lead a normal - an *orderly* - life...
I've been there.
As a Galaxy Police Officer, we're not supposed to make contact with the natives of a pre-contact planet, except in the pursuance of a crime.
Then I met Tenchi.
Luckily, I look close enough to human to pass myself off (well, apart from the eyes. And the teeth. And the ears.). Anyway...
...we're warned not to interact with the natives of a pre- *public* contact planet.
But Earth's been contacted so /often/, it's difficult working out who does and doesn't know...
Sam /does/. Actually, she recognised me the first time we met...
...where was I?
Oh yes. Jack-san had pointed us over the ridge, and Sam was telling me about...
'The Sidhe. They're an multi-dimensional race native to Earth. I... I owe them a major debt. A life-debt. _Literally_.'
'They offered me the choice... to stay with them, join them... or return to Earth, the Earth _I_ know... and a normal life.
'I chose to stay.'
'And you're afraid that it's one of _them_ singing... that they'll try to make you go with them... again.'
Sam nodded. 'They're... known... for their singing. It's...' She half-smiled. 'Unearthly...'
'Sam-san... they can't make you go against your will. That's kidnapping... and I'm a Galaxy Police Officer. I'm supposed to stop that. If it _is_ them... let's see if we can resolve this peacefully...'
'And Sam-san... you're my friend. I'm not going to let it happen...'
Sam half-smiled. 'Thanks, Mihoshi. But-'
'Wait. Waitwait...' I closed my eyes, turned, listened. I could hear it. So _clear_.... so joyful... sounding through the air...
Air. That was it.
Not a water-dwelling creature... sound doesn't carry that well... air breathing, at the very least... but we'd set out in the early morning... and it wasn't any of my friends - I've heard them... and it wasn't any of /Sam's/ friends... she'd have said... not Ryder-san or the creature...
Not birdsong.... no bird I'd heard on Earth, too multi-toned... could be an offworld one, maybe...
I spun round. 'Come on!'
Sam blinked. 'Mihoshi?'
'No time. Come on!'
Every reporter looks for the lucky break. The crook who finally cracks. The underworld informer. The hunch - the *inspiration* - that makes everything fall into place.
However, _this_ was one lucky break I'd have been happy to miss.
Because it wasn't mine. It was Mihoshi's.
Because most /detectives/ rely on a lucky break, too.
And, as has been said on many other occasions, Mihoshi is a genius... when it comes to luck, at least.
'Ryder-kun... it's _you_!'
Samantha blinked. And giggled. 'Are you _kidding_? No _way_ is it him, Mihoshi... for one thing, he's a _guy_...'
'No, Sam-san...' Mihoshi was bubbling over. 'It's him. The one who saved my life! The creature who saved me!'
Samantha blinked. 'Hnn... Maybe, if he could shift shapes... listen to me, I'm actually considering this...'
'It is him! Like in my manga! The tall, dark stranger who shows up as a champion of justice to save the day!' Mihoshi bubbled.
'Champion of _madness_...' Samantha murmured. 'but... it is a bit of a coincidence... and I wonder... '
'_Excuse me_...' I said. 'Just _what_ do you think you're doing?! And just _what_ is she babbling about?'
'Look, I'll show you!' Mihoshi fiddled with what looked like a holographic watch.
Mihoshi punched the air. 'YEEEEESSSSS!!!'
'Umm...' Samantha said carefully. '...that doesn't actually prove anything.'
Mihoshi shook her head. 'No, no... this is my _sensor_. When I fell on it, I must've set it to record the creature's life-pattern - and it's picking it up from _him_...'
'You're taking _her_ word for this...?' I protested.
Samantha slowly smiled. A dark, humourless smile.
'Not necessarily... but of course, we could check you out, make sure it wasn't just a malfunction... after all, it's not as if the Doctor would mind me using the TARDIS' life sensors...'
I filled in the rest for myself. If I _didn't_ agree to this... they would realise I was hiding something... and if I _did_... there was a very good chance they would find the Creeper...
The wind caught at my suit.
I shivered again. Not just from the cold.
Then I saw the open-mouthed expressions on their faces.
I turned around...
...and looked into the face of an angel.
Jack-san practically /raced/ back to the hotel, his face burning with... revelation?
Either that or exhaustion...
Anyway, Sam and I were struggling to keep up - and take in what was going on.
It... no, _she_... she had been beautiful.
A figure in white, white robes draped around her...
...and the wings, beautiful white wings, stretching away behind her...
And the look of shock... of surprise, of a naughty child caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and it had seemed so... so out of place on that beautiful face...
'An angel...' Sam was giggling a bit. 'An actual _angel_. Hey, we've got goddesses here, why not an angel?'
And something clicked into place.
And I _realised_...
The angel flew. Flew faster than I could run, faster than...
...But I knew someone who _could_, who might *just* be able to keep up with her...
Might? Don't go underestimating me, Jackie boy...
I pushed the implant-
...And the Creeper came forward.
The girls gasped, but he didn't have time, didn't have time, all he wanted to do was stop that damnable _singing_...
He swept them along in his arms, running faster...
Along the beach.
Through the palm trees.
Running to beat the angel...
We were panting, gasping to keep up, but Creeper-san kept running, trying to beat her, to make it back before...
We pounded through the lobby...
...towards the door that led out to the pool...
...onto the poolside...
Creeper-san dropped us...
And he leaped.
Further... further... further...
He reached out...
And grabbed her.
Grabbed her feather.
The feather came loose.
The angel... yelped!
...it was gone.
And _that_ was about when Creeper-san realised he was above the pool.
And about to fall.
'Another suit in for dry-cleaning...'
'I hear the service here's very good...' Sam teased me.
After the Creeper had fallen into the pool, the girls had pulled me out (the Creeper didn't see why only _he_ should get wet...).
Fortunately, no-one had seen /exactly/ what happened...
At the moment, we were in the lounge, drying off.
'So... That's the end of another exciting adventure.' Sam was grinning widely. 'So, children, what've we learned today?'
'To bring my swimming trunks...' I muttered.
Mihoshi blinked. 'Why? Creeper-san's already wearing them...'
I coughed. 'Well... I _think_ we can hazard a guess about our angel...'
'A guess, Jack-san? ' Mihoshi said.
I nodded. I was hiding again, hiding in linguistic circumloction.
But I'd _known_, the moment I'd seen the angel's face.
That beautiful, pale... almost _divine_ face.
The face of an angel.
'...it wasn't her.' Sam said. 'It _was_ her, but it _wasn't_... if you get what I mean...'
I nodded again. 'I think... the word you're looking for is /bonded/...'
Sam nodded. 'Bonded with her. Another being, living with her - living _in_ her...'
Mihoshi gasped. 'Oh! Oh...!'
'I thought I'd imagined it... I saw... I _thought_ I saw... her, the angel, not Bell-chan...I thought I saw her... disappear back /in/ Bell-chan...'
'Of course...' Sam breathed.
She grinned. 'I've just worked it out.'
'What?' Mihoshi asked.
'Remember back when we first saw her? The angel?'
'She was _surprised_. _Embarrassed_.'
'Go on...' I said.
'Embarrassed... that she'd been caught.' Sam paused. 'She wasn't supposed to be there, where we found her. Think about it... what was she doing when we found her?'
'Of course...' I murmured. 'She was _singing_.'
Sam nodded. 'Exactly. She must have gone out, on her own, out to the cliffs...' She hesitated '...because she wanted to sing.'
'It _is_ a beautiful day...' Mihoshi murmured.
'And when _we_ saw her... she was afraid we would tell Belldandy. Because she wasn't supposed to be there.'
'But what would she be scared Bell would do?' I mused.
Sam paused. Then she grinned. 'Tell her off.'
'*Tell her off?!*' My jaw dropped.
'Can you imagine Belldandy - _Bell_ - doing anything worse to her?' Sam asked rhetorically. ' 'Course not. She - the angel - she's afraid Bell's going to tell her off for going out without telling her, letting her know what she was doing...'
'...But all she was doing was /singing/...' Mihoshi said.
'...Without Belldandy's permission. And Belldandy's permission obviously means a lot to her...' I said. '...but singing is important to her too. So, today, while Belldandy was busy...'
'...She slipped out, and went to the cliffs.' Mihoshi completed.
Sam shook her head, grinning. 'Y'know... I feel like a teenager's parent around here, sometimes...'
'I know...' I found myself grinning.
'So...' Mihoshi said. '...should we tell Bell-chan?'
'I... don't think so,' Sam said, glancing at me. 'Not /every/ secret needs to come out...'
'...But,' Sam said, 'I think we'd better let her know that.'
'How...?' Mihoshi said.
'Mihoshi...' Sam elbowed me in the ribs again.
We were back on the clifftop again, where Sam and I had first heard the music.
But this time... we had Jack-san with us.
He closed his eyes, sighed, then reached into his pocket.
Then he held the angel's feather out to me.
'M-me...?' I gasped. My face went red.
Jack nodded. 'I was the one who took it... it's better if the request comes from somebody else.'
Sam nodded in agreement. 'Go on, Mihoshi. It'll be okay.'
'All... all right...' Gingerly, I took the feather - gingerly, because I have a habit of dropping important things.
I didn't drop this one, though.
I held it out carefully.
'Umm... if you can hear me... umm... we promise that... by your feather... we will never tell Belldandy that you were here... not unless you choose to tell her first...
'Ummm... /Can/ you hear me?
'Oh... and Jack apologises for Creeper-san taking your feather...
'And... and... well, I'd like to hear you sing again? I'll come up here and listen to you... you shouldn't be alone out here... not without someone to listen to you... Please?'
...then, the angel's feather...
...and was gone...
'She heard me...' I whispered. 'She heard me...'
'My God...' Jack whispered.
'Gordon _Christ_...' Sam said.
'Yowza...' I breathed.
Sam shook her head. 'Mihoshi...'
'...You _amaze_ me...' Jack completed.
'_Guys...!_' I'd started blushing again.
'Is she _always_ like this?' Jack asked.
Sam nodded. 'And you _never_ get used to it...'
Jack stopped. Paused. Thought about it.
Then he smiled. 'Who would want to?'
And as we started to walk back to the hotel ...
...behind us, a voice began to sing...
...a wordless song, drifting on the wind...
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat