"Futsuno Hito! Futsuno Hito! Wake up! Wake up!"
Hito groaned and tried to turn over in bed, but something hard and cold poked him in the stomach.
"Ow!" He sat up and rubbed his sore belly. "What'd you do that for," he began to whine, assuming the woman's voice belonged to his mother. "That hurt! What'd you use, a poker?" It had felt like metal.
When he didn't receive an answer he looked up into a pair of strange red eyes. "Who are you? And what are you doing in my room in the middle of the night?" His voice began to rise to a shriek but the woman in his room silently pointed the metal staff she'd been holding at his head and he snapped his mouth shut. He scrambled as far away from the strange woman as he could, stopping short with a dull thud as he hit the wall. The woman simply stretched out her arm to bring the staff close again, and Hito's eyes crossed in his attempt to get a look at the tip, mere inches from his nose. He opened his mouth to yell and the staff inched even closer, convincing him of the folly of such an action. He forced his eyes to look past the deep red gem in front of him to the dark ruby eyes that glinted at him.
She glared back at him silently for a minute, and time seemed to slow. Hito had a difficult time swallowing as his mouth dried with fear at the strange look in her eyes. Just as Hito felt he was going to go insane in the tense silence the woman nodded with satisfaction and brought the staff back, bracing it against the floor with a muted clang. "Good. Now that you're done with your antics we can go." She held out her hand, a command shining out from her eyes. Hito plastered himself back against the wall. There was no way he was going to go anywhere with her! After a few seconds of patient waiting her eyebrows pulled down in anger. "Well? What are you waiting for?" She reached toward him and he threw himself desperately sideways, away from her hands, to fall off his bed with a thump. He looked around desperately. Why hadn't anyone heard him and come to help? The woman took a step toward him and he cringed with fear. Her black boot came down on the wooden floor with a soft clack and he felt his fear rise to a fever pitch, then suddenly fade away to a roar in the back of his mind. All he had to do was get out of the room and find help. Surely his parents could protect him from this crazy woman if he could just get to them.
He narrowed his eyes with determination and dove under the bed, quickly sliding under it to the other side. It would take a few precious seconds for her to get around or over it. He pulled himself to his feet while he was still skidding across the smooth wood floor and ran for his door. "Help! Help! Tou-san! Kaa-san! Wake up! There's a burglar in the house!" He burst into his parents' room to find them still asleep. "Tou-san! Kaa-san! Wake up!" He ran to the side of the bed and tried to shake them, but they were immovable, stiff and still as statues. He heard ominously resounding footsteps behind him and ran for the door, his mind racing desperately. He couldn't be trapped in his parents' room with her! Hito hadn't quite reached the door when her metal staff appeared before him, held crosswise over the open door. Hito skidded to a halt. Now what?
The woman finished walking up to the door and stood framed in faint light from his room, turning her into a terrifying silhouette. He took a frightened step back. "Wha-what did you do to my parents? Why are you doing this to me?"
The woman cocked her head to one side and regarded him with shadowed eyes. "Your parents are fine. They're just not in the same time frame as us, right now." She held out her hand and he looked at it with wild eyes. He noticed she wore long gloves that covered half her arm. Why? Was it because she was afraid to touch him with her bare skin? Or was she protecting him from contact with her?
"What do you want?" He cursed silently at the tremble in his voice, but it was hard to be brave wearing nothing but boxers.
"I need your help." She wiggled her fingers impatiently. "Are you coming?"
"Am I coming?! You come into my room in the middle of the night, do something weird to my parents and try to kill me with that-that-" he pointed at the staff in her hand, "-that thing, and now you want me to just walk off with you?!" The woman snorted with annoyance and began to step into the room, toward him. Hito felt his voice rising with panic, and was too frightened to even try to stifle it this time. He looked up at her with wide eyes. "Are you insane?!" The woman stopped her slow advance, her long hair swinging as slowly as a heavy pendulum. Her face filled with worry and doubt for a second, then she shook her head.
"No. No. I'm not insane." She took a step and Hito backed away in fear. "Not." Step."Insane." Step. Hito was out of space, flattened against yet another wall. "NOT.!" She lunged at him suddenly, clutching one surprisingly strong hand around his throat. "Not insane.!" She lifted him up into the air. He fought to draw breath, tearing at her gloved hand with his fingernails. "Not!" She shook him and recovered a bit of her coherence. "Do you know what I have seen? What I know? I'm not insane! I have to do this. Don't you understand? Hito felt the death grip on his throat slowly loosen as his sight begin to fade around the edges. "Not." He heard her take a deep breath, like a tearing sob, as her rigid arm began to lower. The tips of his toes came back into contact with the floor. "Don't. Don't ever-" She set him down and let go of his neck, but he could tell it was too late-he was already almost unconscious. As he took one more desperate breath he sank into darkness, followed by her terrible voice. "Don't ever say that again. . ."
She felt it ripple through the air around her, and as she recognized the sensation she started in surprise, dropping the delicate equipment she was holding. She was too busy panicking to wince as the lab's finest and most expensive portable laser fell to the ground with a metallic clatter and the ominous tinkling of delicate parts breaking.
"Setsuna! What are you thinking?! Do you have any idea how much that costs?" Setsuna ignored her fellow lab tech as she scanned intently around the room with squinted eyes. The two undergrads that were still struggling with their freshman mechanics lab watched the older students with wide eyes. "Setsuna? Hello-oh!" Setsuna heard a tone of irritation enter Katsuno Yamako's voice and blinked as she pulled herself back to everyday reality.
"What? Oh, sorry." She quickly stooped over and scooped it up, examining it for damage. The outside casing looked intact, except a corner was slightly dented, but Setsuna scratched her head. Hadn't it been white before? It looked more like a silvery-gray now. As she stood Yamako snatched it from her hands.
"Now I'm going to plug it in, and if it doesn't work it's your neck!" She walked with stiff, angry steps toward the side of the lab farthest from the undergrads.
"If it doesn't work, there goes my lab deposit for the semester," Setsuna muttered as she followed her classmate. Couldn't she have dropped a lens or one of those block and tackle sets instead? She sighed and glanced down at her watch. The lab was supposed to have ended fifteen minutes ago. If those stupid freshmen would have finished earlier, she wouldn't have dropped such a delicate piece of equipment-but it wasn't their fault. Not really. Yamako plugged the laser in and affixed a screen in front of it. A bright red dot shone on the middle of the screen and Setsuna sighed in relief. That was one worry taken care of. "Look, Katsuno-san, I'm sorry about that, but. . ." She hesitated. "But I really need to be somewhere. Could you cover this alone until they're done?" She jerked her head faintly toward the other side of the room.
"Sure, I suppose. But I doubt they're ever going to finish." Yamako glared balefully at the oblivious freshmen and tossed her short black hair out of her eyes. "Physics is a waste of time on them. I don't know how you put up with them." She smiled. "I'll just do the stupid lab for them and move them out. My class is supposed to start in. . ." she consulted her watch, "ten minutes now, anyway."
Ten minutes! Wasn't it more like forty? Setsuna dismissed her confusion with a shake of her head. It was the beginning of the semester-she could easily have the wrong time in mind. She smiled back at Yamako but couldn't resist poking fun at her vain little comment. "What do you mean, 'how do I put up with them'? You teach undergrads too."
"Ah!" Yamako held up her index finger and assumed a superior expression, "but all my students are physics majors, so they all possess a modicum of intelligence." Setsuna laughed at the feeble joke in relief. At least Yamako had forgiven that little mishap with the laser.
"Thank you so much!" She eagerly began to pull off her lab coat. "I'll pay you back somehow, I promise!" She ran out the door. Now to find out what had caused that time anomaly!