“So…” Karatsu said, folding his 642nd letter of the day. “Have any of you actually looked at the stuff we’re mailing out?”
“Nope!” Makino said cheerfully, stuffing the letter into a hot pink envelope and passing it on to Yata. “I get the feeling it’s better this way.”
Yata wet the envelope on a sponge and tried to seal it shut. “It’s the usual stuff,” he said. “Biography, smiling picture, nasty stuff said about his opponent.”
The envelope wouldn’t stick, so Yata sighed and wet it with his tongue. His left hand popped up. “It’s the same everywhere,” Kere’ellis said. “Don’t vote for Zartron, he’s suspected of taking blogor from a reporter!”
Numata leaned over to Karatsu and whispered, “Is ‘blogor’ a bribe, drugs, or something dirty?”
Karatsu whispered back, “Never mind that. I just want to know how he can do that while licking something.”
Yata smacked his lips together and made a face, saying, “My tongue hurtth.” He passed the envelope to Numata.
Numata slammed a stamp onto it and put it neatly into a box. “Personally, I never bother with any of this stuff anymore,” he said proudly. “The candidates are all the same, so what does it matter? I say buck the system and don’t vote at all!”
“Spoken like a true deadbeat,” Sasaki said, entering with several boxes in her arms. “Got the next batch from the printers. You almost done with the first one?”
Karatsu looked at his box of letters, only barely past the half point. “You…might say that?”
Sasaki dumped one of the new boxes next to him, and dropped the other by Makino. “Get moving, then. We get paid per letter.”
“Right, right,” Karatsu grumbled, and went back to folding.
“Okay, someone explain to me,” Numata said, straightening his pile of finished envelopes. “I get the ‘delivery’ part, but how does this relate to the ‘corpse’ part of our job?”
Sasaki raised an eyebrow. “What, you’ve never heard of a ‘dead letter office?’”
Yata was the only one who laughed at her shitty pun.
Sasaki left to get more boxes.
“A deadbeat voter?” Makino offered instead.
“Dead horse candidate?” Karatsu suggested.
“Dead sense of taste?” Numata said, waving a hot pink envelope.
“I don’t know,” Makino said, pursing her lips in thought. “They’re pretty eye-catching and kinda cute. I wonder how they get the color so bright.”
Yata sat up straight in his chair, giving a big smile. “I know! They coat it with this chemical that takes in ultraviolet light, which our eyes can’t see, and turns it into pink light!”
"Huh. Neat." Makino turned an envelope over in her hands. "Wait, don't butterflies and stuff see ultraviolet light?"
Yata thought for a moment. "Yeah, I think they do."
"So, to a butterfly, they just made the envelope a lot darker," she said.
"Huh." Yata wet the envelope Makino had given her and pressed it shut. "I guess so."
"Poor butterflies." Makino stuffed another envelope. "Politicians just don't care about them."
"They'll be the first against the wall when the butterfly revolution comes," Yata agreed as Sakaki walked back in with another stack of boxes.
"...what the hell are you two talking about?" she asked. Yata and Makino just giggled and went back to work.
They were on the 691st envelope when Numata leaned back and yelled "Boring!"
At the 743rd envelope, Makino said, "I think I've got like a hundred papercuts."
Yata said, "I think my tongue went numb about fifty envelopes ago. Want to trade?"
"Nah, I'm not that desperate."
At the 757th envelope, Karatsu looked at the phone and began to mumble whatever sutras he felt were best suited to praying that something interesting would happen.
At the 809th envelope, Kere'ellis sat up straight on Yata's hand and said, "Uh oh."
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at the puppet.
"What's wrong?" Yata asked.
"Just heard the klaxon that means the ship's going to drop out of hyperspace in a minute." It rubbed its little felt hands together in distress. Yata went white.
"And that's...bad?" Karatsu guessed.
"It means I've gotta go and do my job terraforming the new planet."
"So you're going to be busy for awhile?" Makino asked.
"Sorry, toots, it means I'm going to be totally incommunicado until the operation is complete. Time to kiss my cloth patoot goodbye. The line starts on the left." It motioned with one of its felt arms.
"So...you mean...you're gone for good?" Numata asked.
Kere'ellis fixed Numata with a google-eyed stare. "Before I go, human, you must promise me one thing. It is very important."
"Don't breed. Your species couldn't take it."
Numata lunged for Yata's hand. "Fuck you, puppet!"
Kere'ellis swerved out of his reach. "Fuck you too! Fuck all of you! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
Kere'ellis's laughter faded away. The puppet lost the little shine in its eyes, and it drooped on Yata's hand.
Yata closed his right hand around the puppet's body and lifted it off his left hand, tucking it into a pocket. He rose from his chair slowly and put on his jacket, hands shaking. "Excuse me. I have to go," he said quietly, and rushed out of the room. The door slammed behind him, and everything was quiet.
"What the hell just happened?" Numata shouted.
"Keiko," Sasaki ordered, but Makino was already grabbing her coat and running after Yata.
"Got it," she said, and a moment later she was gone.
"I repeat: what the hell just happened?" Numata yelled.
"It appears that Kere'ellis has left," Sasaki said simply.
Karatsu rubbed at the stubble on his head. "Man, and here I was hoping that something interesting would happen. Now I feel really guilty." Numata and Sasaki both gave him an evaluative look. He held his hands up, palms forward, in self-defense. "I swear I didn't do anything."
The phone rang.
Karatsu gave a prayer of thanks and dove for the receiver before Sasaki could.
"Hello, Kurosagi Delivery Service!" he said cheerily. "We'll move anything that can't move itself!" He paused as the voice on the other end said something. "Oh hey Mr. Sasayama. You got a job for--no, I've been here all afternoon, I haven't--no, seriously, I--" He held the phone away from his ear, but he could still hear the yelling. "It's for you," he said thinly, offering Sasaki the phone.
"Thank you," Sasaki said neatly, plucking the phone out of his hand and deftly starting to smooth things over with the irate social worker.
Makino entered the room out of breath. "Sorry guys, I couldn't find him. I sent him some texts, though, with like a dozen hearts and hugging animations, so hopefully he knows we're here if he needs us." She looked at Sasaki, who was winding things down on the phone. "Any new disasters here?"
Sasaki clicked the phone shut. "It looks like there was a corpse who was walking around shouting things, so we've either got a new job, or Karatsu's going to jail."
Karatsu tried to not be offended when Makino cheered.
Sasayama pulled back the sheet from the corpse's face. All four kids winced.
"I don't claim to be an expert," Karatsu said, "but I think this corpse is one of the non-animated kinds."
Sasayama grumbled and looked like he'd rather be chomping on the end of a cigarette right about now. "Sure, now he is, but two hours ago he was wandering across the Nakano border, yelling nonsense. And now my department's got to foot the bill!" He shook his head. "I can just hear Nakano's head of social services laughing at me. Akira's never going to let me live this down."
Sasaki adjusted her glasses. "What was he yelling?"
"Let's see." Sasayama licked a finger and flipped through his notepad. "Looks like, 'I can't see, it's so dark, why can't I see?' etc etc."
Numata waved at the corpse's eyes--or rather, the two bleeding holes where its eyes used to be. "Like Karatsu, I'm not an expert, but I've got a good guess on that."
Sasaki adjusted her eyeglasses. "Do you have any idea on who did this?"
"Yeah," Sasayama said, pointing his thumb at the corpse. "Him."
Everyone winced again.
Sasayama paged back in his notebook. "He's one of the regular homeless in Nakano Park. They say he started acting unusual, grabbed a pair of scissors, and..." He gestured at the corpse's face. "Ten minutes later he got up again, started yelling and wandering around erratically, managed to fall down on the wrong side of the border, and died for good." He gave Karatsu another dirty look.
Makino leaned in closer, inspecting the wounds. "There might have been damage to the optic nerve before he killed himself. Sometimes those nerves can interact with the brain in really weird ways. You'd probably need a full autopsy with a specialist to find out."
Sasayama grit his teeth. "Yet another cost added on. You sure you weren't in the area when this happened?" Sasayama asked Karatsu.
Karatsu put his hands up in the classic 'don't shoot me' pose while Sasaki said cooly, "I'll vouch for him."
"Fine, I believe you. There's another dead end on my hands. I just hope this isn't the start of an epidemic." Sasayama turned back to Karatsu. "I don't suppose you'd mind..." He wiggled his fingers a little.
Karatsu placed his hand on the corpse's chest. There was a rush of wind in the room, fluttering Sasaki's hair and Makino's skirts. The corpse stiffened.
"OH NO. ARE YOU HERE TO CONTROL ME AGAIN?" it asked.
Sasayama's eyebrows raised.
"No, no, nothing like that," Makino assured him.
"OH." The corpse seemed relieved. "THAT'S OKAY THEN."
Karatsu frowned and tapped on the guy's chest a few times. "Sorry. Looks like he left."
"Well!" Numata said loudly. "That's not ominous as fuck!"
There was really only one thing to do in a time of double crisis, and that was to find your depressed buddy, lift him bodily out of his apartment and to the nearby cheap movie theater, and make him watch whatever crappy science fiction triple feature is playing until he cheers the fuck up.
Yata figured that had been Karatsu's and Numata's plan. He appreciated the thought, at the very least. It's just that, when it comes down to it, nobody actually liked watching The Phantom Menace, even if he was a fan of Star Wars in general.
Twenty minutes in, when Numata had a brief pause in his asking Yata what was going on and Karatsu had apparently fallen asleep in his seat, Yata excused himself and went out for a drink of water.
There was a girl ahead of him, so he had to wait. She had a ponytail and cat hair on her skirt and was taking entirely too long.
Yata sighed and stared at the wall, tapping the floor. tap.
They all meant well, he supposed.
It was just strange not having Kere'ellis in his head anymore.
And it was doubly strange having free use of his left hand again.
He really wished the girl at the water fountain would hurry up.
"Excuse me," the girl said. "But...is that the fibonacci sequence?"
Yata was thrown for a moment. "...yes?"
She turned around and beamed at him. "Sorry for taking so long. I was tempted to keep drinking to see if you'd go to twenty-three but I was starting to get full."
Yata laughed. It felt kind of weird, laughing. "Thanks."
She tilted her head to the side. "My name's Yamagata Fujiko."
Yata wondered if he should offer his hand. "Yata Yuji." He shuffled in place, looking to the side awkwardly. "So..." He coughed. "Um, do you think warping space-time is a plausible solution for achieving ftl travel?"
Her face lit up. "It seems possible, but I think the catch is to try to do it without destroying any planets in the process."
It was possibly the most wonderful thing Yata had ever heard.
Twenty minutes later, Karatsu was still asleep and Numata was busy trying to balance popcorn on Karatsu's face and wondering if Yata was ever going to get back. He stared at the screen and prayed for something interesting to occur.
A young woman entered the theater, swinging her flashlight around until she found the off-duty guard. She tapped him on the shoulder and whispered to him, "Hey, Shotaro, can you help us out? There's a guy causing a big fuss in theater three."
"Sure, sure," the guy said, getting up. "What's the problem?"
Numata poked Karatsu, who woke with a "Mruh?" and a shower of popcorn. Hey, this might be the most interesting thing to happen. He couldn't let Karatsu miss it.
"There's some old guy in theater three who just suddenly started acting crazy, shouting things like 'I'm lost' and 'I can't see.' I really don't know what's happening."
Karatsu and Numata took one look at each other and ran out of the theater.
Karatsu paused at the bathroom just long enough to see Yata chatting with some girl. They were sitting by the water fountain and...drawing diagrams? He had no idea.
"Hey Yata, we're heading to theater three. We think there's some KDS business going down--ow!" Karatsu yelped as Numata whapped him upside the head.
"Belay that order. Carry on, soldier," Numata said, giving Yata a brief salute before dragging Karatsu away.
"What was that for?" Karatsu yelped.
"You do not interrupt a man while he is getting his mack on," Numata said sagely. "Especially after he's been through some rough shit. It's the code of the bros." He made a fist and thumped his chest twice in solidarity.
They made it to theater three, pushing their way through the waves of people exiting the theater. "Sir, you really can't--" a theater attendant said when she saw them going the wrong way.
"It's okay! We know what we're doing!" Karatsu said, pushing into the main part of the theater.
"We do?" asked Numata quietly. Karatsu elbowed him. "Oh, right, right. We, like, met this guy's cousin yesterday," he told the attendant.
"Where am I?" the man wailed. He stumbled around the theater, shuffling his feet on the aisles and grabbing at the seats. "Someone tell me where I am!"
"Hey, dude, calm down," Karatsu said gently, holding his hands up. "Go call Sasayama," he hissed at Numata.
"Right!" Numata said, fiddling with his phone.
"I can hardly see! Where am I?" the man cried.
"You're in a movie theater," Karatsu said calmly, adding, "in Shinjuku," when that didn't seem to help. "That's part of Tokyo. In Japan," he continued, as the man shook his head in confusion. "Earth?"
"Why is it so dark?" he asked, abandoning one problem for the next. "I can't see anything! I need more light!"
"We're in a movie theater. There's more light outside," Karatsu said. "Don't worry."
The man's hands patted his own face, starting at the cheeks and working his way up to his streaming eyes. "Ah, I see. That's where they are." One hand stayed at eye level, while the other trailed its way back down his body to reach into a pocket. He pulled out a pair of keys on a small chain, testing the sharpness of their points against a finger.
"No, dude, don't!" Karatsu yelled, as the man fisted the keys so they pointed out of his knuckles.
With a quick thrust, he slammed the keys into his eyes.
The attendant shrieked and fainted. Numata wretched and made sure his sunglasses stayed securely on his nose.
The man fell over, blood and ichor streaming from his eyes.
Karatsu rushed to his side, grabbing someone's abandoned jacket and pressing it against the man's eyes, around the keys. Maybe there was a chance he could save this man if they could control the bleeding. It didn't look that bad, though the keys were pretty deep in there, and--
"Karatsu?" Numata said weakly.
"Call an ambulance," Karatsu ordered. The man lifted a hand towards his eyes; Karatsu batted it away and kept the pressure on.
"Um, I don't think..."
"What?" Karatsu snapped, turning around to look at Numata. Numata's pendant was swinging in his hand. "Oh."
The man's hand reached up again. This time, Karatsu let him pull the keys out of his eyes. Blood ran in ribbons down his face. He brushed it aside, rubbing the palms of his hands flat against the raw holes in his eyes.
"No, this is worse," the man said, sounding faintly sad. His hands glanced against Karatsu's chest. He patted his way up to Karatsu's face, frowning all the while. Karatsu grabbed onto his hands to stop them from moving, and with a sickening twist he felt his powers kicking.
"OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD" the corpse's spirit screamed.
"No," the body said, shaking its head. "Not better at all."
"OH GOD GET IT OUT PLEASE GET IT OUT OF ME I CAN'T--"
"Too bad," the body sighed, and collapsed on its side. Karatsu paused. Both voices remained silent.
"What the hell was that?" Numata yelled.
"Any chance we can get out of here without anyone IDing us?" Karatsu asked.
Numata shook his head. "Sorry. Paid with a credit card."
Karatsu shrugged and waited for the police to arrive. He absentmindedly flicked some of the blood off of his fingers. With a little luck, they might avoid getting arrested this time.
It took a few days to clear up their legal troubles. Luckily, the attendant had fainted after she saw the man kill himself, and with Sasayama on their side, they were treated as key witnesses instead of suspects.
"Like, do you think he was possessed?" Makino wondered, twirling her hair around a finger.
Karatsu scruffed at his bald head. "I don't think so. Numata didn't get a reaction until the body was dead." He turned to Numata. "Wait, do you detect dead bodies or the ghosts in the bodies?"
Numata shrugged. "Why are you asking me? I've got no idea how this works."
"Still, being forced by something to poke out your own eyes!" Makino shivered. "That's super creepy."
"It didn't feel evil," Karatsu said, looking at the ceiling. "He was acting pretty scared, actually."
"So would I if there were something possessing me!" Makino said.
"No, not the man," Karatsu said. "The thing inside him seemed lost and scared. I don't think it knew what it was doing."
"Oh," Makino said. "That's kinda sad. Still creepy and disturbing and all, but sad."
"Yeah, well, you didn't see it," Numata said. "I swear I--"
Makino's phone went off. "Ooh! A text from Yata's girlfriend!"
Karatsu and Numata looked at each other. "Yata's got a girlfriend?!" they shouted in unison.
"Like, yeah? They met at the movies that day. Didn't you see her?" Makino rolled her eyes and flipped open her phone, cell phone charms jingling.
Numata weighed the two options. He lifted one hand. "Lose your powers." He lifted the other. "Gain a hot girlfriend." He came to a decision, facing Karatsu with a serious look. "You've got to cut off my finger!"
Karatsu gripped Numata's shoulders in both his hands. "Dude, no! Seriously! She was not. That. Hot!"
Makino clucked her tongue at them and paged through her texts. "Whoa, there's a whole lot of them. I think I might have been roaming for a while. I..." Her eyes widened. "Oh no, we've got to go! Yata is--"
Sasaki walked briskly into the room, her cell phone still pressed between her ear and shoulder. "Put your coats on. Yata broke into an electronics store and is apparently acting very strange. Looks like this is the week for our group to get arrested."
Yata was seated on the floor of the store surrounded by a huge pile of broken circuits and mechanical devices and stellar maps. Karatsu recognized some of them as posters torn off of Yata's walls. Several black lights were plugged in, making his white shirt and Makino's neon blue earrings glow brightly. Yata was wearing a strange set of goggles and was merrily soldering several pieces together, holding the hot metal pieces in his hands.
Sasayama was there, arguing with the police officer and clerk about the POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS circle he had placed around Yata. For once, he seemed visibly relieved when the group showed up. "Great, you guys are here. Quick, see if you can convince your friend to go take his little electronics project elsewhere. I didn't want to disturb him in case he..." he pointed at his eyes a couple times, "but if you could get him home and exorcised, that would be great."
"We'll see what we can do," Sasaki said.
They walked towards Yata.
"Also, if you could try to salvage some of the more expensive things, I'm sure Yata and Shinjuku would thank you!" Sasayama called after them.
"Stingy old man," Numata grumbled.
"Yata?" Sasaki said gently, so gently they could hardly tell it was her. "Are you okay?"
Yata ignored her.
Karatsu gingerly placed a hand on Yata's shoulder. "Hey man, what's going on?" he asked.
Yata swiveled to look at him, the focus on his high-tech goggles going in and out. He frowned and put a hand out, patting Karatsu's face. Suddenly, Yata smiled. "Hello! I remember you!"
"That's good," Karatsu said.
"Yes, yes, no worries. I see much better! Much!" Yata said cheerfully. "And there are maps! So many maps! I know where I am now!"
"Good," Karatsu repeated. "Can you tell me who you are?"
Yata tilted his head in thought. "...no," he said, and nodded sharply, pleased with his answer. No, he could not tell Karatsu.
Karatsu sighed inwardly, but kept a good game face on. "Is Yata okay?"
"...Yata?" he asked, fiddling with the soldering iron. Karatsu grabbed the handle and put it aside before he could burn Yata's fingers more.
"This," Karatsu said, squeezing Yata's hand and tapping on Yata's chest.
"Ah!" He smiled again. "Yes. Yata." He said it like he was tasting the word in his mouth, curling over its edges and seeing how it felt. "Yes. Yata is good. Yata is. Helping me. To be gone."
"And then you'll go and Yata will be fine?"
The goggles whirred as they zoomed in and out. "Yes," it said finally.
"Okay." Karatsu stood up and looked at Sasaki. "Well?" he asked.
She was already talking with Sasayama. "We'll give you one hour," she said, holding up one finger for Yata to see. "Do you understand?"
Yata looked at her blankly.
"Can you work quickly?" Karatsu asked.
"Yes, yes," Yata said, and retrieved his soldering iron.
It took fifty minutes of intense working, smashing of various expensive electronics, and the faint smell of charred flesh whenever he slipped with the soldering iron and got his thumb instead.
"Ah! Done!" he announced. He stood, wobbly on his feet and a little bow-legged, like he was used to legs that bent the other way. "Thank you and Yata. Goodbye."
He pressed a button. The lights flashed brightly and the bulbs in the black lights cracked. When the air cleared, Yata was lying on the floor.
Makino rushed to his side. "You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, I just...ow." He pulled the goggles off and rubbed at the red marks circling his eyes, careful of the burns on his fingers. "Heh. I made it out alive." He looked at the piles of broken electronics. "...I'm going to have to pay for that, aren't I?" he said dully, and passed out.
"So what was it like?" Makino asked.
Yata fidgeted under their stares. "Not so bad, really. It was kind of like when Kere'ellis speaks, only, all the time, and my whole body. And bigger." He whistled through his teeth. "Much bigger."
"So how come you didn't..." Numata made stabbing motions at his eyes.
Yata brightened. "Oh, that was easy! When he complained that he couldn't see, I kind of," he made a swerving motion with his hands, "mentally aimed him at that pair of military goggles I picked up for cheap. I thought it'd increase the light input, but it turns out, he just wanted the ultraviolet setting. I guess the aliens he normally inhabits tend to see a higher spectrum than we do."
"So that's the butterfly revolution we were talking about?" Makino asked, and giggled.
Sasaki entered, tossing a folder full of computer printouts to Yata. "I still don't know what you two are talking about," she sighed. "But I'm glad you're okay."
"Yeah, I'm alive!" Yata agreed. "And I have massive eyestrain. And I'm pretty sure I'm single again." He flipped through the receipts Sasaki had given him. "And I'm even more massively in debt."
Karatsu clapped him on the shoulders. "Well, at least you'll always have us," he consoled him.
"Heck with you guys, what about me?" Yata's left hand shouted.
Everyone turned and stared.
"That's right, suckers! Guess who's back!"
Yata's hand dove into his coat pocket and pulled out the felt puppet shell, wriggling into it with a pleasant squirm.
"I thought you..." Yata began.
"Aw man, it's been forever, you guys! Jeez, did you rent out this place to someone else while I was gone? Rude!" Kere'ellis complained. "Hold on, let me get a look at all of you. Yep, yep." His googly eyes pointed in Numata's direction. "Yep, just as ugly as I remember."
"Fuck you, puppet!" Numata yelled, reaching out to strangle Kere'ellis. It laughed and hid behind Yata's back.
"Wait a minute," Makino said. "Weren't you all teary last week with the 'goodbye forever?' What gives?"
"Huh?" Kere'ellis scratched his little felt head. "It has been forever for me! Oh, wait. You. You thought I--" The puppet started to laugh. "I'm on a spaceship traveling at 99.99999% the speed of light, and you think my species works on the same time scale as you? Sorry, toots. We do things at a way, way faster speed than you do. Come on. I'm talking major time dilation here. Relativity. Do you speak it?"
"God, I hate that puppet," Numata said, but gave Yata's shoulder a friendly punch as the puppet laughed evilly into the night.