Kawasaki Kyoko Is Afraid Of Drowning
rating: +29+x

Kawasaki Kyoko sits cross-legged on the floor in a sterile grey chamber under diffuse LED light panels. The walls are thick and warded, the only entrance a heavy steel door leading to a airlock chamber. People with lab coats and clipboards watch through the thick bullet-proof glass of the singular window.

She opens her eyes. An indistinct fleshy mass about the size of a basketball sits in front of her, partially enclosed in a special container of bronze and steel. Tubes and wires protrude from the pulsating sac in dozens of places and clear fluid is continually pumped in and out of its slimy form. Kyoko smiles at it gently. It makes a strange squelching sound, as if in response.

"Diagnosis?" a voice asks, over the room's speakers. One of the lab-coats.

"It's sick. Fivefold Dissonance, stage 2."

"Anything you can do?"

"Unlikely, but I'll try." Kyoko relaxes her grip on local ontology, letting the 2nd Generation Scranton Reality Anchor assert control over its own little patch of existence. To the baseline senses, nothing changes, but Kyoko can sense the flickering potential of smoke-spirals and five-pointed stars in that space. She slowly tightens her control once again, feeling out the contours of the anchor's pseudo-mind from how it pushes back. Please behave, she tries to tell it, nudging it back toward the true baseline. She's supposed to be able to tune these things, but there are limits. One weird idea about pentagrams and it's off to Decommissioning to have their beryllium-bronze reclaimed.

If she'd been born ten years earlier, before Hypnos, would they have scooped out her insides to make one of these? The Foundation has never admitted to intentionally terminating contained ontokineticists, but the survival rate in containment back then was dire. And while 3rd Generation SRA cores are grown in a lab from stem cultures using misappropriated flesh-crafting techniques, the sources for 1st and 2nd Gen cores are suspiciously highly classified.

"Incurable, unsafe for use," Kyoko reports. "Decommission immediately. Sorry, little guy. You did your best."

She makes vague patting motion in the general direction of the anchor as its housing closes. A conveyor belt turns, the brass and steel box is replaced by another, which opens in turn. Kyoko repeats the process, relaxing and then tightening her hold on reality.

"Stage-1 Dissonance. Safe for low-priority use for no more than three… let's say two weeks."

The process repeats. The next anchor needs to be decommissioned, the next should last at least a month. The next might make it, but will require monthly check-ups from a trained Hypnos Operative (i.e. probably Kyoko.) All twenty-four of the SRAs that formed the Ontostatic Fence in Kyoko's last mission have been exposed to a corrupting influence and need to be checked for stability.

Kyoko gets into the rhythm of it after the sixth or seventh. Decommission. Decommission. Five weeks. Two years. Check monthly. Decommission. She is the arbiter of life and death for these strange, thoughtless little minds. Better than having them all burned.

The doctors warn her about the fourteenth SRA, which has a hole in its casting and still hums faintly. It isn't any worse off than the others, though, after a gentle chiding about the humming. It'll live another five years or more. Kyoko wishes it the best.

When the sixteenth SRA's casing cracks open, it releases a cloud of smoke and colourless green light. Kyoko is exhausted and off-guard, reality slips out of her grasp. The walls melt. The stars burn into her bared flesh.

"No. Bad." Kyoko scolds, carefully returning her own teeth and skin to their proper places. The anchor core, twisted into a dripping, tumorous mass, sings to her softly. She tries not to listen, to unravel the twisted logic of the fifth world. She is dissolving in it, but it won't be for long. Just need to keep it contained long enough for—

The core pops like a ruptured pimple under sustained fire from the chamber's ceiling-mounted auto-turret, spewing blood, puss and nutrient fluid across the room. The light returns to a comprehensible colour as Kyoko carefully reassembles baseline ontology into its rightful forms, or as close as she can remember. The stars remain. She collapses back on a clean section of floor and stares at the constellations through the ceiling.

She mouths the words of her mantra, but the meanings are lost—replaced by faint spirals of greyish smoke. The stars shine right through her eyelids as her consciousness fades.

The girl sits on a rock by the riverside. Her body is made of hard plastic, with ball-joints for articulation. Her features are static, carefully painted onto the contours of her head. She gazes into the water, untroubled by any of this. She does feel, however, as if she has somehow forgotten something very important.

She stands. Not far from here, the river flows out into a vast ocean. A smoke signal rises from somewhere over the water. She walks toward it. The shore glides toward her much faster than her legs move, but this also does not concern her. She continues, walking across the surface of the ocean for an amount of time somewhere between an instant and an eternity.

Somewhere, a young boy is standing while a circle of adults around him kneel. They are in a building that was once a rec center but is now a church. Everyone is wearing white. This is related to the ocean and the smoke in a way that cannot be easily described.

The adults are chanting in a language which the girl does not understand. They are naming the stars. The boy wants to cry, but he does not cry. He looks out of the smoke at the girl, and stars shine within his eyes. The light gets inside her somehow and her insides start to melt. She wants to say something but her mouth is not real, nor is the boy. Then, the stars reach up from the depths of the ocean and drag her down beneath the waves.

As she plunges into the depths, the girl realizes she is suffocating. Not because of the water, but because her body is solid plastic and her mouth is painted on. She does not know how long she has been suffocating for. A man's voice that tastes like vomit calls to her from somewhere very far away. She does not want to listen. She tries to swim for the surface, but the stars keep pulling her down. The voice grows louder.

A girl is sitting on a folding chair while a man in a beige sweater-vest stands over her. She sinks into the depths of the ocean, suffocating, while she sits in a folding chair in a room that stinks of acrylic paint. These two things are one and the same. The man places one hand on top of the girl's head and says something. She nods, because she is afraid of drowning. The hard plastic of her skull gives way with a snap. The man smiles. He reaches inside her head and plucks the stars out, one by one, till the doll at last floats to the surface of the water once more.

Kawasaki Kyoko wakes up in an infirmary bed with a splitting headache. The last thing she remembers is a rush of smoke emerging from a beryllium-bronze case. Blearily, she examines her surroundings. She's in an intensive care unit with an oxygen tube feeding through her nose. Small patches of her head have been shaved to allow clusters of electrodes direct contact with her scalp. Her personal handler, Grace Barlow, is sitting next to the bed. Kyoko smiles at her weakly.

"Sorry," she says, voice cracking a little. "How long have I been out?"

"About five hours. Thought we were going to lose you for a minute there." Grace gives her a stern look, but also squeezes her hand reassuringly. "Twenty-four compromised SRAs in one sitting is overextending yourself, Operative Kawasaki." (That's what Grace calls her when she's in trouble.) "We'll talk about this when you're better, alright? Getting your brain fried because you didn't stand up to some twit in a labcoat who thinks he can squeeze another hour of work out of you would be a lousy way to go. Got it?"

Kyoko nods weakly. Today's labcoat twit had threatened to have all the SRAs she didn't get to today decommissioned on the spot. It occurs to her in retrospect that he probably didn't have the authority to follow through on that

Grace pulls something from her pocket and puts it in Kyoko's hand. It's her comm tablet.

"Your friends are gonna want to know that you're ok," Grace says. "Be quick about it though, I'm going to tell the MD you're awake and he'll want to spend a while checking your brain for any stray starfish bits."

Kyoko nods and mumbles her thanks to Grace's back as she leaves the room. She checks her messages. A bunch of people asking about what happened and worrying about her health, and then,


Hey when you're feeling better will you play Mario Kart with me Moon and Liam are too good at it
‌They keep lapping me and it's mean
‌Really hope you don't die btw!!

‌haha yeah, that sounds like fun!
Still alive btw. ;)
I'll ask if i can get a switch in my infirmary room or something

Kyoko puts down the tablet for a moment and smiles, glad to still be alive.

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