The second installment in the story of Marie-Antoinette Akiyama is now online.
Millennium Body 2 – When I’m Sixty-Four
It was the first day of 2006, and the Sekihara shrine was completely desolate. That’s because no one was here to provide any services. But I’m sure someone still lives here. The shrine wasn’t overrun with weeds, and it always looked relatively clean.
For the past 5 years, I’ve returned to this shrine to leave an offering of Shiro’s favorite sake. None of his charms seemed to work, but I admired him. Even at his age, he had a strong will to live. I warned him many times that he could develop liver problems if he drank too much, but he never had to worry about that. I never expected the old man to die from being struck by lightning of all things. Just goes to show you that you should live life to the fullest while you’re still capable. You never know what could happen.
January 1st is also my birthday. Sasai-sempai was the only person I knew that gave me anything for the occasion. This year it was a bikini. I knew what she was implying I do with them, but I haven’t been to a beach in a long time. I barely did anything on my vacations though. I guess this summer would be fine. And if there’s one thing I know about Sasai, it’s that she knows exactly what size I wear. She seems pretty proud of that fact. “Every year that I’ve known you, you never change. At least it makes it easier to buy clothes for you!”
I didn’t expect to receive any other gifts, but I found a two-stage shocker waiting at my doorstep. It was a package addressed from my (very dead) father. The package came with a letter explaining why I was receiving it.
“Marie, if you are receiving this package, it is because you are now 40 years old, and I am not alive.”
The anger at being reminded of my age subsided shortly. The fact that he made it so I wouldn’t receive this until I was this age means it was something important… and probably something he meant to keep hidden for a long while.
“This also means you still have a 20-year-old body.”
I tripped backward over the package. How did he know? I was beginning to think I had some kind of disease or something… So this was something he knew about 20 years ago?
“Enclosed is a clue to get you started on the path to unraveling the truth. After you’ve looked through it all, use the key at the final page.”
Akiyama: Key? Wait…
That’s right. When he died, the only thing he left me as inheritance was a cast iron key. Nothing at all about what it opens or if it was an heirloom or whatever. Just a key. Ironically, it’s spent the last 17 years locked away.
Inside the box was a photo album. The first few pages where photos of him and Mom. Then of Mom holding a baby. I assume that’s me. I never did see any of my baby pictures. At least he finally decided to cough them up. More pictures of me growing up. The last photo is of me at my fourth birthday. Then something completely different: a Russian newspaper clipping. It was from when Mom died. Translated, the headline read “Nuclear Physicist Lost in Fatal Accident.” The actual article didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. The next page was interesting. It was a police report. On the opposite side was another report. The first one matched the article.
“Tatyana Semionova Kalinina. Died of multiple traumatic injuries caused by crash. Investigation shows the car was in working condition. Cause of crash deemed to be driver error. Both driver and passenger found dead on arrival.”
The second one was different.
“Tatyana Semionova Kalinina. Exact cause of death still pending autopsy. Multiple wounds found throughout body which appear to be consistent with bullet wounds. Driver and both passengers found in critical condition. First aid was applied to the four-year-old child, who was later declared dead at the hospital.”
Akiyama: . . . .
Certainly, this was some sick joke. Or some other four-year-old was in that car. Because there’s no way that was me. After all, I’m alive.
The next page was another newspaper clipping. The headline read “Bodies Missing From Morgue.”
Now it was starting to sound like something from a horror movie. Something like Frankenstein.
The next few pages were pictures of me growing up. Four photos for every year of my life up to my 20th birthday. I noticed something strange, though. Except for my hair, I looked exactly the same over five-year intervals. Ages 5-9 I looked the same, then suddenly had a bit of a growth spurt at age 10. Same pattern up to my last growth spurt at age 20. That’s when it hit me that my father died when I was 24 years old.
Akiyama: What does that mean…?
The last page. It was a photo of the both of us in front of Crossroads Academy.
Father worked at that site for a number of years. However, I remember that he had another connection related to that site. It was some time after I graduated high school… I worked part time for the same organization he was a part of. I believe it was called the Shidow Group. They dabbled in all sorts of stuff. I helped work on a project that involved the effect of new forms of radiation on living organisms. Or something like that. It’s been a long time. For some reason they also had their own construction and landscaping division, which worked on a campus expansion project for Crossroads. It’s possible that Father had a hand in designing that new expansion. If that key is to be used somewhere there, then I had a general idea of where to start looking.
I withdrew the old key from the bank and immediately headed to the school. The expansion project added a northern extension to the west wing of the main building, constructed brand new sports supply rooms, and renovated the boiler room. By process of elimination, I decided the boiler room was my best bet. It was the most suspicious addition after all, and less people are around there. If it were in those other places, I would’ve heard rumors about a mysterious keyhole.
The boiler room was larger than I expected. It looked to be about 35 meters across on all four sides. Large pipes were everywhere, but there was plenty of space in between to walk around comfortably. All the machines were off, and they should be considering no one was using the campus for another few weeks. However, there was something in the background I could just barely make out. Something was still running. I walked to where I thought the source of the noise was, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
Akiyama: I know I heard it coming from around here… and… maybe… below? Ah!
At my feet was what appeared to be a metal maintenance hatch. To the side was a keyhole. My key fit in it perfectly. I forcefully turned the key until it stopped. The hatch doors loosened. I pulled the doors up and found a ladder leading down.
Akiyama: . . . I’m going to need a flashlight.
Luckily, I knew there was an emergency flashlight hidden in the teacher’s lounge. I headed back to the boiler room with the flashlight. I took out the key and closed the hatch doors behind me, just in case.
The ladder didn’t go down very far. I landed on a platform that leaded to a staircase. Looking down, I didn’t see any sign of the bottom.
Akiyama: This is gonna suck. At least I’ll be getting some exercise in.
Against all logic, I walked down the long flight of stairs. Something as creepy as this couldn’t be any good, but I demanded to see whatever answers were waiting for me.
It felt like half an hour before I reached the bottom. The distinct humming noise I heard before was loud now. I approached the sound until it seemed to be coming from right next to me. I shone the flash light at the source.
Akiyama: Ahhh… That can’t be… Urk…
I instinctively knelt down and clutched my stomach to prevent myself from rejecting its contents to the floor. What I saw was something you usually only see in science fiction. A large tube filled with some sort of liquid. And inside was a human body. A blonde woman with pale skin. My mother.
Akiyama: How could he? Who does he think he is?!
I just sat there staring up at the sight. There were no words to describe how I felt. It was just a single instinct: “this was wrong.”
It took me several minutes to calm down and get myself back upright. I walked to the tube and touched the glass. It was very cold. It seems that some machinery was being used to maintain the temperature. I had heard that extreme cold temperatures could counteract decay, but for what purpose? She was clearly long dead.
There were computer terminals in the room. I turned one of them on and looked around while waiting for the machines to boot up. There were more tubes here. Some of what looked like spare body parts. Four were full-sized but empty. The last was even more terrifying than all of them put together. Struggling was useless; I threw up immediately. It was a girl. Older than an infant, but not by much. And it was missing her head.
Akiyama: This is too much… What am I… even looking at? Why is this here?!
The computer booted up. Looks like it was even older than the computers upstairs. It ran on Windows 2.1x. Thankfully. After going down all this way, I wasn’t interested in navigating my way through DOS folders.
There was one folder labeled DEATH and another labeled REVIVE. I looked into the DEATH folder first. In it were several text files that served as diary entries.
Father seemed to be under the impression that Mother was assassinated. A mob hit was placed on her because she was a bit of an activist, and if she had her way, the mob would have lost some very important allies that were counting on funding for nuclear projects. It also didn’t help that my father, Mikhail Akiyama, was loosely connected to a rival mob. The fact that she was murdered was covered up by one group; the other group covered up the fact that she wasn’t alone. Father had the two bodies recovered from the hospital for his experiments.
Father took on a huge loan to fund his research, but he was lacking something. According to his notes, he was able to develop a lot of groundbreaking bio-enhancements. A body reinforced by strong synthetic materials. Vital organs that couldn’t be reproduced using artificial materials were cultivated using stem cells. And every function worked flawlessly in the whole system of the human body. The only problem was LIFE. No power source he tried could power the artificial body. That was when he got a fateful visit from a man from the Shidow Group.
The man gave Father a small rock that he said had mystical properties and could provide life. Father being a man of science balked at the idea, but likewise his scientific curiosity meant he had to at least try it.
With the rock as a core, he was able to power his first artificial body. To his astonishment, the rock also had the effect of completely revitalizing brain tissue he thought unrepairable. The man from Shidow explained that this rock was only a tiny sample of what the source of it could do. He wanted Father to analyze the stone and create a device that could detect others of its kind. The Shidow man called it the “Fallen Jewel.” The stone given to Father was only a byproduct, a sort of freak accident that shouldn’t exist. The true jewel had far greater powers. Of course, he accepted the offer, and Shidow moved all of his equipment to a facility in Japan, where their headquarters were located.
The first artificial body was “Marie Antoinette, Age 5.” Although the core could provide life, it couldn’t initiate growth. Thus, a new body had to be manually created to give the appearance of aging.
And so I arrive at the truth. I exist in an unaging artificial body.
In the course of reading the notes, I became numb to the revelation. Part of me still thinks it’s all absurd ramblings, but it’s most likely true.
One thing I didn’t understand was why I couldn’t find any notes on the device meant to detect the Fallen Jewel. The only reason Mother was here was because he intended to revive her as well, wasn’t it? If anything, if I were him, I would try to find the Fallen Jewel first. So why did he not even start?
I tried analyzing possibilities, but there were no ways to test the hypotheses. The secret is buried with him.
Speaking of buried…
Akiyama: Do I have to go up all those stairs?
I looked around hoping to find something like a cargo elevator. There had to be an alternate way to move all this equipment.
I eventually did find one, but it was filled with equipment.
Akiyama: Hm, did he try to get this stuff topside, or did he send it down and never bring it in?
I think I would need a forklift to move the largest box out, but there was no need. I was able to move everything else out so I could fit inside and feel safe operating the lift.
During the long rise to the top, I examined the box out of curiosity. It looked to be about the same size as the tube my mother was in. Then I saw the label.
“Marie Antoinette, Age 25.”
Age 25. It seems so far away now. I left it behind a long time ago… I was tempted to see what I might have looked like, but chose to let it be. Ironically, I was stuck with the appearance of a 20-year-old me, and now this body really is 20 years old. Maybe in five years I should make the switch. Then again, who would do the surgery? It sure as hell won’t be me.
The cargo elevator stopped inside a large, empty warehouse. When I walked outside, I could see the school not too far away. This was the abandoned building near the school.
Akiyama: Hmm… Hard to believe no one discovered this…
I went back inside. It seems the cargo elevator is programmed to go back to the underground lab after a short amount of time topside. There was a keyhole in the control panel that probably locked it in place. Good security measure. I don’t have the key for it, so there’s no way I can use the cargo elevator for its intended purpose. That also meant that I didn’t have a shortcut going back down there. Which reminded me that I needed to lock the way down.
* * *
I spent the next few months going back and forth, trying to find anything new, trying to find the key to the cargo elevator. Nothing. I stopped my search after the first three weeks and focused everything on trying to backup all of Father’s notes and data. It was frustrating having to deal with the old tech. It was hard enough trying to find some blank 5 ¼ inch floppies.
Akiyama: That rock… if it’s what’s powering me, that means I’m done if I lose it…
Sure, I was curious about the kind of work he did, and it was undeniably ingenious of him to accomplish all of this, but the main thing I wanted to know was where exactly in my body was my core. My heart? In the skull? Still no answers. Did he deliberately avoid mentioning the core’s location?
If I can’t find anything here, then maybe…
I might have to rejoin the Shidow Group.
* * *
Then one night I got a call on my mobile.
Akiyama: What is it? It’s l… Eh? Are you serious?
Crossroads Academy caught on fire and burned to the ground.
I immediately got myself dressed and ran out. I had to know what happened to the lab.
I turned around and saw a young man.
???: Oh, sorry, I thought you were… No, you came out of the right room. Are you Akiyama-sensei’s sister?
Akiyama: *sigh* No, I’m her. Sorry, I don’t recognize you… are you a student?
???: I was.
Was? Did he know about the school? Well, it’s not something that could have happened quietly.
???: I have some questions to ask you.
Akiyama: Later. I have to check something out at the school.
???: Check what out? It’s nothing but charred ruins by now.
Akiyama: Well, it’s really important. Excuse me, but who are you?
Katsumi: My name is Sekihara Katsumi.