Ghosts of Long Ago
by Michael Mendoza

PREVIOUSLY: Nyla met Solar Flare and agreed to visit Hong Kong for a guest appearance on his TV show. That's about all that happened, really. Yep, that's pretty much it.

December 17
   A taxi cab arrived at Nyla's home just after 7:00 in the evening. She loaded her bags and hugged Lexi goodbye for the weekend. The taxi left Nice and stopped on a road surrounded by forests. The driver was reluctant to leave her there as he was instructed. Nyla assured him that she could take care of herself. A generous tip convinced him that this pretty young foreigner knew what she was doing. Nyla wasn't surprised by the driver's instructions to drop her off. The man who hired him had quite a flair for dramatics.
   About a minute after the taxi left Nyla's field of sight, Mitsuko Hasegawa dropped from the trees. He was out of uniform but he wore his Gauntlet nonetheless. "Good evening madame. Are you ready for a weekend of fame, glamour and high adventure?"
   "Why not? Television's lousy now, anyway."
   "Not for long." Mitsuko lifted Nyla and her luggage into the air on a platform construct. "Do you have your Recharger with you?"
   "In the duffel bag."
   Within seconds, they were over the Mediterranean Sea. Mitsuko created a glowing yellow airfoil with seats for himself and Nyla. Once he secured Nyla's bags were secured, he drastically boosted their flight speed. The increasing pressure inside the airfoil unnerved Nyla, but after a few minutes it was gone. In fact, she felt rather light. "Mitsuko, what's going on? Are we-"
   "In a low orbit."
   "Oh my God! We're in space!? Let me out of this chair!" Mitsuko dissolved the straps which kept Nyla secure in her chair. She cried with delight and pushed off the chair toward her luggage. She unzipped the duffel bag which held her Recharger and put on her Gauntlet. She used it to keep herself rooted on the floor. "Could you make the floor transparent?"
   The Persian Gulf appeared under Nyla's feet. She fell to the floor and spread her arms out as if she were an angel. Nyla laughed and then gazed with wonder. "Oh God. Just a few weeks ago, everything was so dead to me, it was like all the color bled out of my life. I was... I was just another lemming stumbling towards the ledge. Now look at me."
   Mitsuko listened but did not reply. He concentrated on the airfoil and its flight. Nyla noticed his strained silence. "Oh, just look at me. Here, let me help."
   "I do not require-" Before Mitsuko could finish, Nyla directed her Gauntlet to aid her fellow Patroller. The slight throbbing in Mitsuko's head ceased. "Thank you," he said quietly as he caught his breath.
   Nyla flew back beside Mitsuko. "You know," she said holding up her Gauntlet, "this thing used to scare the hell out of me. Actually, it was the responsibility that came with it. 'Here's your Gauntlet, Nyla Shapire. Now go bring about peace on Earth.' Hey, no problem. Would you like fries with that?"
   "Bad joke. Anyway, I'm not afraid anymore. It's my one shot at being a real person. You know what I mean? Now, if anyone looks at me and asks 'Why?', I can tell them why. It excites me. It keeps me awake at night. I didn't sleep last night. That's why I'm babbling so much."
   "You make more sense than you know, Nyla."
   "So how about you?"
   "What do you mean?"
   "Well, what's your story?"
   "Once upon a time, we met for lunch. Now, we're flying to Hong Kong. The End."
   "Come on," Nyla laughed. "I'm being serious."
   Mitsuko cleared his throat. "Get ready for descent. We must be careful here. Just follow my lead."
   "Oh, right." That's it, thought Nyla. Go ahead and play hard to get. I'll figure you out sooner or later.
   The last few minutes of the trip passed by quietly. They descended through a thunderstorm toward Hong Kong. Mitsuko dissolved the airfoil but maintained cover to shield them from the rain. They hovered over Victoria Peak, the Mountain of Great Views, one of the most exclusive residential areas of Hong Kong Island.
   They touched ground in a backyard decorated with intricate flower beds and a small pond with fish. Mitsuko lived in a large colonial-style home which harkened back to the previous century. House servants quickly whisked away Nyla's luggage. None of them made eye contact with Mitsuko or Nyla.
   A large, dour faced man wearing an expensive business suit waited for them inside. The balding man's expression read "Greetings. Now leave."
   "Nyla, I would like you to meet my manager, Ichiro Shigemitsu. Shigemitsu-san, this is the Rosemaiden Nyla Shapire."
   Ichiro nodded and left without a single word.
   "You should get to sleep right away, Nyla. We have a busy tomorrow ahead of us."

   Nyla's upper SES upbringing didn't stop her from being impressed by Mitsuko's home. She slid across the marble floor of her bedroom to the corner where her Recharger rested. Her Gauntlet flowed off her hand through the pulsating side of the solid energy pyramid.

Your body is very fatigued, Nyla. You must replenish yourself with rest, as I replenish your Gauntlet.
   "Do you always have to communicate mentally like that? It's spooky having a voice echo inside my head without actually hearing it."

Very well. The Recharger pulsed once. Then, a red parakeet sprang forth from the Recharger and flew around the room before perching on Nyla's shoulder. "Is this any better, hon?"
   "It's interesting, anyway. Why a bird?"
   "I just plucked out a comforting image from your psyche--"
   "My what? You've been prying into my mind!?"
   "Well, yeah. We all examine the thoughts of our Patrollers to figure out how to best communicate with them. It's no biggie. Relax, no one else has access. Not even other Rechargers."
   "You know everything about me?"
   "Look, Nyla. Civilization hates nothing more than the violation of the sentient mind. We aren't gonna screw with you. I promise, okay?"
   "I believe you, I guess." Nyla petted the energy construct. "Mind if I call you Polly?"
   "That's not very creative." The bird flew off Nyla's shoulder. "I'm sure you'll figure out something better. Until then, goodnight everybody! You've been a lovely audience!" With that, the construct disappeared.
   Nyla felt homesick. As she looked over the city from the guest room's small balcony, she remembered that she never told her parents about her weekend trip. She wondered what Lexi would say if Mom called-
   Someone behind Nyla cleared his throat. She turned around and saw Ichiro right behind her, blocking the doorway.
   "You are very easy to shadow. Very unprofessional, Miss Shapire."
   Nyla backed up and crossed her arms. The breeze outside grew stronger. "What's that supposed to mean?"
   Ichiro noticed Nyla's weak attempt to sound calm. "You are out in the open, exposed for everyone to see without your Gauntlet. You could be dead now."
   "What are you talking about? Who even knows I'm here?" Nyla pleaded.
   "Do you not fully realize the gravity of your mission? You are a soldier on a crusade to transform the world. Do you know how many governments would want you dead? How many businessmen? How many religious leaders--"
   "Get the hell out of my room now!" Mitsuko didn't budge. "When Mitsuko finds out that you're harassing his guest-"
   "I will be honest and straightforward with you, Nyla Shapire. You people fail to impress me, with your costumes and colorful names and your 'mission against crime'. It is difficult enough insuring that Hasegawa-san lives up to his potential, and I will brook no interference from pretty gaijin distractions."
   By the time Nyla mustered the courage to shout "Jerk!", Ichiro was gone. "What does he know?" Nyla asked the breeze and the stars above her. "I'm a Patroller, and he..." Quietly she admitted that Ichiro was probably right. Reshaping Earth as her Recharger wants probably will be a war.

December 18
   A long night's rest did nothing to ease the weight on Nyla's spirit. Mitsuko went out of his way to make sure Nyla enjoyed her late breakfast. He even served the food himself, which left his butler perplexed. Nyla wondered if he knew about her encounter with Ichiro last night. Afterwards, Mitsuko wanted to gauge her ability to use her Gauntlet but he wasn't quite sure how.
   "How about a game of tag?" Nyla suggested.
   "What is tag?"
   After a brief explanation, they were flying over Victoria Harbor. Mitsuko avoided flying over land whenever possible. The last time he flew through the city during the day, he caused twelve traffic accidents as everyone on the ground watched him.
   Ichiro insisted on coming along to observe the exercises, so Mitsuko carried him on a platform construct. Nyla wasn't happy about his presence but she didn't see a point to objecting.
   They stopped just off the coast of Lamma Island, an agricultural island which remained untouched by the march of progress which shaped Hong Kong into a modern metropolis.
   "Shall we begin?" Mitsuko asked.
   "Tag, you're it!" Nyla acted playful and flighty just to annoy Ichiro. Mitsuko tried to catch Nyla, but she was faster and more maneuverable in the air. She wondered if he was holding back to avoid embarrassing her in front of his manager.
   Mitsuko stopped and generated two projectiles which resembled flames, although they generated no heat. One fireball headed straight for Nyla while the other shot downwards.
   Nyla had generated her Aventine uniform, complete with the three glowing orbs which circled her. "Go fetch boy!" she shouted. One orb enveloped the fireball in front of her. The other two orbs expanded into a half-shell which protected her from the second fireball which failed to penetrate it.
   "That was very good, Nyla."
   "Not really. I had an advantage since you had to support--"
   Ichiro pulled out a light submachine gun from under his coat and fired it at Nyla. She shrieked and covered her ears. Her three orbs merged and formed a protective shell around her.
   Shaking his head, Ichiro pointed at Nyla and barked at Mitsuko in Japanese. Mitsuko flew downward until Ichiro towered over him.
   Nyla didn't understand a word of their conversation, but she was far too familiar with the tone Ichiro took with Mitsuko. She landed on the platform on which Ichiro stood. "What the hell was that for!?"
   Ichiro turned slowly to Nyla. "I did not intend to startle you, but you can be certain that the men you will face tonight will not load their guns with blanks, as I did." Then he continued to berate Mitsuko.
   Nyla was upset about the gunfire but now even more upset that Ichiro was completely ignoring her. "Hey! Hey you! I should--"
   "You should what?" Ichiro asked. "What action would you take that your Patrol Code would allow?"
   Nyla clenched her fists, and then smiled.

   "You really shouldn't have shredded Shigemitsu's trousers."
   "He was asking for it," Nyla said as she tossed her shoes across her room. Polly barely dodged them. "He's baiting me, Polly. He was trying to embarrass me in front of Mitsuko."
   "Do you think Mitsuko was impressed by what you did?"
   The door opened slightly. "Nyla?" Mitsuko stuck his hand through the doorway and waved.
   Nyla waved off Polly, who dissipated. "Come in."
   Mitsuko had showered and put on a casual suit. "We'll be eating lunch at the Hong Kong Club. The gentlemen who helped put my show on the air will be there. They are looking forward to meeting you."
   Mitsuko began pacing over the edge of the red carpet that lie in the middle of the room. "I understand that Shigemitsu-san has not been completely courteous to you."
   Here it comes, Nyla thought. "Why doesn't he speak for himself?"
   "I'm afraid that he is not very fond of Westerners and your unprovoked attack did not improve his attitude."
   "That's an interesting definition of unprovoked you've got there." Nyla walked toward him and spoke quietly. "Did you know that he snuck into my room last night? He tried to scare me away."
   "Yes, I know. He will no longer interfere in your stay this weekend."
   Nyla placed her hands on her hips. "Is he really your manager?"
   "I don't know what--"
   "I mean, what does he have over you? Blackmail?"
   Mitsuko's face turned red, as if he had just been slapped. He stepped away and glared at her. In a soft, controlled voice which hid what boiled beneath his rigid expression, he said "We'll be leaving for lunch soon."
   Nyla followed Mitsuko into the hallway. "It was just a question! I didn't mean to insult--" she shouted, but he kept walking. "I'm sorry! It was a very stupid--a very American thing to say!" Nyla looked down to the foyer and saw the houseworkers looking away.
   Nyla ran back inside her room and kicked her bed in anger. "Stupid!" she berated herself. In her eyes, Mitsuko wasn't so much a person as some mysterious puzzle to figure out. She didn't even mean to pose any personal questions, but was simply thinking aloud. "Why don't you ever think?!" The sudden urge to bash her head against the mirror stopped her tantrum cold, about as cold as her spirits were at that moment.

   Hong Kong's social scene is dominated by its numerous clubs which ranged from the luxurious to the downright ugly. The Tai Tam Country Club was Hong Kong's American Club facility. Only Americans were accepted as members, but it would tolerate the presence of a wealthy and internationally famous outsider such as Mitsuko. Especially since he had important business with a club member.
   Neither Nyla nor Mitsuko were in uniform when they entered the American Club, although Mitsuko maintained his right arm. Nyla had misgivings about wearing her Gauntlet in public without hiding it, but Mitsuko wanted to make a big impression today. He assured her that no prying eyes would penetrate a place this exclusive. That was an odd attitude for someone whose life hung by a thread of anonymity. Nyla tried not to worry, but she kept an eye out for tourists who were taking pictures. She knew that if her identity ever became public, her entire life would be plastered all over Hard Copy and the National Enquirer. And if Ichiro Shigemitsu was correct, the lives of her and all her loved ones would be forfeit.
   The decor and the predominantly Caucasian clientele of the Country Club almost fooled Nyla into thinking that she was in California rather than in Asia. Late December was the tail end of Hong Kong's busiest tourist season. The familiar surroundings didn't put her heart at ease.
   Mitsuko found his business manager, Tanzan Hatoyama at a table in the dining pavilion. He was accompanied by his assistants and representatives from Time-Warner Entertainment. Hatoyama introduced Nyla and Mitsuko with their Patroller aliases.
   The executives seemed starstruck. Randall Cryer, the head representative from Time-Warner, giggled as he shook Nyla's Gauntlet hand. "It feels cold!" he exclaimed. After she sat down, Nyla shot Mitsuko a look that was both bewildered and annoyed. She had no idea that this would be a high-power business lunch. If Mitsuko noticed her expression, he gave no indication.
   The suits stopped acting like giddy children and got down to business before the salads were served. Nyla tried to follow the corp-speak as much as possible. Mitsuko laid on the charm with tales of his exploits whenever he wasn't flirting with the waitresses.
   As they ate lunch and consumed a neverending string of drinks, Hatoyama and the Time-Warners discussed their initial feelings about a deal for international distribution of "Solar Flare Crusader". They would develop a one-hour pilot episode from all the action footage Mitsuko had filmed to date. Then, staged dramatic scenes would be filmed to connect unrelated live footage with a coherent plot.
   "You must be excited about becoming a big TV star, Miss Aventine," remarked Mr. Cryer.
   "Actually, I have no intention of appearing on a television series."
   "You don't? But Mr. Hatoyama said--"
   "That Aventine was interested in some kind of appearance in a test episode," said Mitsuko. "After that..."
   "If you like," interjected Tanzan Hatoyama, an alternate version could be packaged for the American market which would give you equal billing."
   Nyla straightened her posture and took full advantage of their attention. "What I'll do is create a new alias, complete with a different outfit, for tonight's filming session. That way, you'll still have your all-American partner for Solar Flare. But only for the pilot."
   Everybody looked to Mr. Cryer. His stone cold expression broke with a loud guffaw. "Hah! Fine, it's a deal!"
   "Wonderful," Nyla said absently.

   Nyla had toured Hong Kong and bought souvenirs throughout the afternoon. After sundown, she and Mitsuko flew over mainland Hong Kong in uniform. Nyla wore a dark blue construct suit with a yellow visor. She considered letting her hair out but decided not to so that the TV execs would have an easier time finding someone to portray whatever character they made of her. She also didn't generate the energy orbs which usually accompanied her, so that no one would draw a connection between Solar Flare's partner and Aventine.
   Right now, she regretted any connections with Solar Flare. "I don't like being used, Mitsuko. Not one bit!" she shouted.
   "To refresh your memory," replied Mitsuko calmly, "you came to me for help. You will prove yourself capable on tonight's shoot, and in return I will have material for my show."
   "Great. Why didn't you at least tell me I was gonna be a bargaining chip in your big deal?"
   "Bargaining chip?"
   "You know what I mean. American television almost never carries shows about Asian-Americans, let alone foreign-born Asians. I was supposed to be your token white person."
   "Now you are assuming that I cannot carry a show by myself. I can assure you that you're wrong. I just did not deem it necessary to bore you with details."
   "Well, from now on bore me. Just do this uppity gaijin that one courtesy, okay? Oh jeez, has that camera been filming us this entire time?"
   "No." The camera in question was flying alongside them in one of Mitsuko's constructs. After he convinced his Recharger that he wanted to do a television show to build popular support for the Patrol, and not for personal glory, he carried a camera on his routine patrols. Mitsuko directed the construct to keep the camera aimed on him whenever he's in action. A TV studio would manage the camera's panning and focus via remote control. Mitsuko's Gauntlet would scan the immediate area so that it could maneuver the camera construct without bumping into anything. Mitsuko also maintained two light globes to make sure there was adequate light for filming. This way, Mitsuko could film his exploits as Solar Flare without endangering a camera crew. The camerawork was shaky and amateurish, but the show's many fans couldn't care less.
   "Just a moment, please," Mitsuko said. "There's a message coming in." He wore a miniature radio receiver over which the police would transmit information on crimes in progress. The police usually didn't share such details with outsiders. At least not freely.
   After a brief conversation in Chinese, Mitsuko said, "There is a heroin shipment loading onto a freighter at the Kwai Chung container port."
   "A heroin bust? They're letting us tackle that?"
   "They are shorthanded right now and only we can make it there in time. Just be confident and follow my lead, Nyla. This is routine for me." That was a lie. The police officer he bribed never relayed information on big crimes like this. Mitsuko was accustomed to barfights and small gang shootouts. Still, he maintained a brave face and hoped that reality would follow the act.

   The Kwai Chung container port was a massive terminal where cargo boxes were loaded onto export ships. Mitsuko dimmed his light orbs as he and Nyla hovered high above. None of the lights surrounding the port were on. Only one freighter ship was in dock.
   "I can't see anybody," said Nyla. "Not even guards." She breathed quickly as she dissolved her right glove and bit her fingernails.
   "Nyla. Nyla, look at me."
   "There is no reason for you to be scared. I've seen you in action. Even when Ichiro shot at you, your first instinct was to raise your shield, despite your fear. Whoever is here cannot hurt you. You know that."
   Nyla breathed in deeply. "I guess," she said weakly.
   "I will check the ship," said Mitsuko. "You search the rest of the port."

He's trying to ditch me, Nyla thought. "Fine." They parted ways.
   Nyla dropped closer to the ground. She skimmed over the cargo boxes haphazardly, hoping that the smugglers were on the boat. Or better yet, that the police tip was a crock.
   Nyla almost didn't notice the shadowy figures amidst the cargo. She stopped in midair just in time to catch a bullet in her midsection. Shrieking in pain, she fell back and bruised her shoulder against a forklift. Holding back painful tears, she realized that she had been too intent on getting out of there as soon as possible. She wasn't concentrating enough on her bodysuit, and it wasn't strong enough to stop the bullet's impact from cracking her ribs.
   Mitsuko flew straight at the gunman, who had climbed atop a cargo box. With an air of smug confidence and a wink at the camera above him, Solar Flare knocked out his target.
   Nyla decided to leave the fight to Mitsuko. She's felt like a bystander whose presence was merely tolerated this whole weekend. Why should things be any different now? Besides, she'd probably just aggravate her injuries by moving.
   Then, she looked around and saw armed men converging on Mitsuko from all directions. Solar Flare flew from thug to thug at a dazzling pace. He unleashed a barrage of kicks and punches which would put any action hero alive to shame. Mitsuko relied on his Gauntlet's anti-gravity generator as well as transparent energy constructs around his arms and legs to fight; his martial arts prowess was mediocre at best. At the same time, he covered his back with a transparent energy shield.
   Soon, the strain of battle became evident. Mitsuko's light orbs dimmed considerably as he tried to keep track of where all his assailants were. Then, he set down the camera and dissolved the construct which carried it. He'd also stopped the verbal taunts which accompanied his blows. Hasegawa could have ended this fight easily, but he opted for a longer and more cinematic brawl. That choice had clearly backfired. Still, he didn't change tactics, and he refrained from calling out for his erstwhile partner.
   "I should be home," Nyla whispered. "I should be telling Dr. Valenti what a wash-up I am." Even as she spoke, she focused on her fear, her alienation and her anger at being pushed around .
   Nyla formed a giant blue solid energy shield. "You want a target, I'll give you a target." She screamed as she threw herself into the firefight. The drug smugglers turned their firepower on her, but their attack was completely futile. The bullets ricocheted off her shield without even denting it. Disembodied hands appeared before the smugglers and crushed their guns. The hands turned into unbreakable bonds which tied up the criminals.
   Nyla sat on the ground and laughed until it hurt. "Hey Solar Flare, don't you think something's missing here? Like maybe a heartfelt 'thank-you'?"
   Mitsuko paid her no heed. One of the captive men was talking to him. Nyla heard a mocking tone in the man's voice, and she distinctly heard him address Mitsuko by his true name. Solar Flare angrily used his Gauntlet to rip the man's shirt. He exposed a large, beautiful tattoo of a dragon covering the criminal's entire chest. Mitsuko closed his eyes and flew away just as police sirens wailed in the background.
   Nyla grabbed the camera and followed Mitsuko into the skies. The tattooed man laughed wildly into the wind.
   "What's going on?" asked Nyla. "Who was that guy?"
   Mitsuko simply muttered angrily in Japanese.
   "Mitsuko, slow down! Tell me what that was all about! Did he know you?"
   "Yes!" he finally conceded. "Yes he did. I'll explain later. First, you need medical attention."

   Mitsuko brought Nyla to his personal physician. The doctor was accustomed to unannounced visits, and he was well paid for them as well. He found that the fractures in Nyla's ribs were minor and easily treated.
   From the hospital, they flew back home. They sat on the outdoor patio in the back yard. Mitsuko turned on the lights strung up amidst the trees like Christmas decorations without the festive colors. Their surroundings reminded Nyla of the backyard sleepovers she used to have during the spring weekends of her youth. She would invite whoever were her friends that week for a night of junk food, boy talk, and other acts of wild teenaged abandon.
   The secrets Mitsuko shared that night were not so trivial. His words wandered aimlessly throughout the night as he paced around the patio. At first, the frustrated Nyla tried to lead Mitsuko's narrative by asking pointed questions about what she thought he was trying to say. The questions only flustered Mitsuko and he'd either change the topic completely or mumble in Japanese. Finally, Nyla kept her curiosity in check and stopped interfering.
   Mitsuko was involved in a sokaiya group with his brother Sekino. The sokaiya were a specialized brand of criminal who dealt with stockholders rather than drugs or prostitution. Mitsuko targeted vulnerable corporations and purchased just enough shares in them so that one could make his presence known. His shrewd purchasing tactics insured that no one ever noticed his hand; he was a veritable shadow warrior on the financial battlefields of the Nikkei Exchange.
   His brother Sekino used the purchased clout to hamper a company's operations in a loud and public manner. Sometimes he found and exploited embarrassing information on a corporation's practices or personnel. In any case, he made business uncomfortable until he was bought out of a corporation at highly inflated prices. Once in a while, a business executive was foolish enough to deny Sekino's demands, or hire his own sokaiya to deal with Sekino. That's when Sekino's ruthlessness truly came to the forefront.
   Extortion dressed as capitalism gave Mitsuko the good life, but the danger which permeated his profession haunted him. Over the years, he watched his brother embrace his craft and earn the nickname "Winter's Blade" for the swift and bloody manner in which he dispatched obstacles. Finally, Mitsuko asked his brother to join him as he tried to establish a new career in real estate. Offended by his brother's attempt to break their blood partnership, Sekino simply blackmailed his associates to drive them away from his brother's fledgling business.
   Then, Sekino brutally beat Mitsuko in their luxury apartment. Mitsuko pleaded for forgiveness, but that only drove the Winter's Blade over the edge. Mitsuko was widely regarded as a coward and Sekino bore that stigma with no small amount of frustration. In a blinding flash of rage, Sekino grabbed an ancient katana from its display case and almost completely severed Mitsuko's right arm.
   As he went into shock, Mitsuko jumped out an open window. In what should have been his final seconds of life, he saw a bright star in the sky. The star fell out of the sky and caught him. It was a Recharger that had chosen Mitsuko for the Patrol and found him just in time to save his life.
   Mitsuko assumed that the Recharger flew down, touched his remaining hand and bestowed the Gauntlet on him just before he hit the pavement. His actual memory of those moments evaded him. One moment he was falling to his death, the next moment he was bleeding on the couch of a doctor employed by his former business associates. Dr. Kishi hid the Recharger in his office and sent Mitsuko into surgery, where he amputated what was left of his right arm. The doctor kept Mitsuko's presence secret long enough for him to recover from surgery and flee Japan.
   Mitsuko hid in the slums of Hong Kong and learned about the Patrol from his Recharger. He accepted his mission as a Patroller because he had no one else to whom he could claim allegiance. As the colorful Solar Flare, he fascinated all of Hong Kong. Tanzan Hatoyama proposed a television show, and he accepted because he missed the luxurious lifestyle he enjoyed in Tokyo. Mitsuko poured his energy into his new life, but his heart still mourned the loss of everyone he had once considered brethren. He knew that he had to return to Japan and drag his brother back from the powerful clan for which he worked.
   That's where Ichiro Shigemitsu came into the picture. Shigemitsu was a powerful player in the yakuza when Mitsuko and Sekino were still orphans fending for themselves on the streets. Because of a mysterious conflict of interests which has spawned countless rumors over the years, Ichiro left the yakuza for permanent exile in Hong Kong. Still, he maintained many contacts and now he offered his knowledge and wisdom to Mitsuko. Hasegawa accepted Shigemitsu as mentor, but to this day he cannot fathom what his true motives are.
   "When that yakuza recognized me tonight," said Mitsuko, " I panicked. I feared that he would inform his superiors of my true identity. Of course that is foolish. Certainly they know that Solar Flare is their fallen son Mitsuko Hasegawa. They are most likely too fearful of my abilities to strike against me. Or perhaps they leave me alone as a courtesy to Shigemitsu-san. It does not matter. Nyla, I have to go back for my brother."
   Mitsuko sat back and stared at the night sky from which Civilization fell unto Earth. Without missing a beat, Nyla spilled out her life story. She doubted that he cared about her past, which seemed trivial compared to what he had experienced. Regardless, she felt that he expected a reciprocal sharing of private knowledge, so she didn't hold back any detail. She talked about the childhood dreams and adolescent stumbling which steered her current direction. And all the walls had fallen by the time the sun rose.

December 19
   Later that day, the college dropout from America left the home of the Japanese television star who used to work for the yakuza. Nyla gave a warm hug to an embarrassed Mitsuko. Their association had a rocky start, but she was genuinely fond of her new friend. They parted with an unspoken pact to face down the ghosts which encumbered them and live to share their stories under the light of the ever-watching stars.

Next: Little Secrets

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Copyright 1995, 1997 by Michael Mendoza