By Stephanie B
Wed. Aug 8th, 2064
Alice stormed out the door, wishing that she could slam it closed behind her. The gentle hiss of its machinery just made her angrier. As she approached the elevator its doors opened automatically as well. Her ride to street level was only a few seconds, but standing still made it feel much longer. Alice didn't even look up as the doors opened and she stepped out. Selena quickly stepped out of her way to avoid being run over.
When she saw that Alice wasn't even slowing down she yelled, “Alice, wait up.”
Hearing Selena's voice Alice stopped suddenly and looked around. The anger on her face was a rare sight, but not something Selena hadn't seen before. She wanted to know what could make Alice so angry, so early in the morning.
After running to catch up she asked, “What's wrong, you look really pissed off at someone. It's not me is it?” They had been best friends for over two years and Selena had no reason to think that Alice was angry at her. It was just a habit of hers. She always thought that she was in trouble for something, but rarely was. Selena was an average height for twelve, but still a few centimeters taller than Alice. While both girls had long, straight, black hair, Alice's pale skin was a sharp contrasted with Selena's Hispanic tone.
“No,” Alice answered. “It's my uncle. He completely forgot!”
“Forgot what?” Selena asked with a puzzled expression.
Alice pleaded, “Oh come on Selena, not you too?”
“You mean he forgot that today's your birthday?” she teased. The two girls giggled at Selena's poor attempt at a joke, but it was exactly what Alice needed. They had been talking about it for weeks. Today Alice Sakamoto turned thirteen and was officially a teenager. It was the final weeks of summer break. School would start again in less than a month and both girls would be in their final year of elementary school. Their last year before heading to high school and being able to get away from all the 'children' in their school.
They started to walk through the catacombs that made up most of Tenkei. The tunnels were relatively narrow at only about four meters wide. Some where so big it was possible to drive several vehicles through as well as multiple walkways. There were also open areas wide enough for entire shopping centres to be built, and that didn't even include the domed areas. Access was restricted to some domes to limit crowd size. They were always the most popular places for people visiting Tenkei. Alice was an exception to that rule. She had almost unlimited access to Tenkei. Even if she wasn't allowed into an area, she could still get in if she wanted. She just had to make sure that her uncle didn't find out about it.
Alice's uncle was the creator and owner of Tenkei, Tetsuo Sakamoto. He was a handsome, driven and focused man. Work seemed to be the most important thing to him. She never knew her father and came to live with her uncle after her mother had died suddenly. Alice had almost died as well after coming to Tenkei, but that's another story and was over three years ago.
“So?” Selena started to say as they walked. “Where are we heading today?”
“I heard that they built a new pagoda in Little Tokyo,” answered Alice. “I want to go see if it looks like the one I remember.” Many of the domes had a distinct theme to their architecture. Little Tokyo was one district of Tenkei, like many, that was modelled after a large city. Over the years several buildings had been created under one dome to give it the appearance of Tokyo. This pagoda was just the latest addition.
“Cool, I've never been to Little Tokyo,” said Selena.
“It's not that far away,” Alice said as she shook her head.
Tenkei had only been in orbit for about eight years, but Selena couldn't remember living anywhere else. Even though she'd lived there longer than Alice, she had hardly seen anything of the city. She'd never even been in a dome before Alice took her to one. Her mother worked in an office complex somewhere and her father was a maintenance worker for Tenkei. He was one of only a handful of people who could get close enough to the power stations to repair or maintain them. Tenkei got its power from a series of quantum singularities located deep in the lower levels. Alice had no idea how they produced electrical power for everything in Tenkei, but they also generated its gravity. Unfortunately gravity would get stronger and stronger as you got closer to them, until a normal person wouldn't be able to hold up their own body weight. Since Selena's dad was a gravity disruptor, he could work down there without ever having to worry about gravity. He was paid an incredible premium for that ability, just like almost every other elemental in Tenkei. Its one of the reasons Tenkei had the nickname of Elemental City.
After making their way to a subway terminal, Selena and Alice climbed into a waiting car. The cars at this station were able to hold four passengers and were completely automated. As the doors closed Alice said, “Little Tokyo, shopping district.”
A pleasant female voice said, “Please be seated, estimated travel time will be eight minutes.”
The window on Selena's side changed to display a city map and a timer. It started to count down while the map highlighted their current location on the city loop and their destination. As they left the station their car accelerated quickly, before merging with other cars all the remaining windows tinted, dark, completely blocking any view. A short time later they started to slow and the windows became transparent again. Selena and Alice could see their destination approach as their car continued to slow. After coming to a stop the doors opened and they stepped out into the station. Alice found an interactive map and looked up the pagoda's location, then downloaded directions for them to follow into her eCom.
“We have to go up,” Alice said as she pointed to a nearby flight of stairs. “The pagoda's on the surface, under the dome.”
“Do you think we'll be able to see Earth from this one?” asked Selena. Alice didn't notice the excitement in her voice as she asked. While Selena enjoyed their trip to another dome a few months ago, it was hard not letting Alice know she was a little disappointed. She expected to the Earth through the thick glass bubble overhead, but only saw a crescent-shaped moon instead.
“I don't know, maybe,” Alice answered. She kept forgetting that Selena didn't get to see the Earth much. Her family's apartment was in a lower level, not under a dome like hers. For Alice, seeing the Earth was a daily event.
After a short walk through several tunnels, Alice and Selena came to a security check point. Everyone needed to thumb a control panel before passing through a set of huge double doors. Selena noticed that they were air tight and would close if the dome lost pressure for any reason. Something that her dad had said has never happened in the entire history of Tenkei. Alice thumbed the control panel then added a code for one guest. Selena scanned her thumb as well before they both walked through into the domed area. Since it was mid-morning, the lights of the dome were at full brightness. Unfortunately they completely hid any view of the Earth, if it was visible at all from their location. Selena tried not to look too disappointed, but was amazed at the architecture. It was like a scene from a movie, with Japanese lettering on all the shop signs and crowds of people everywhere.
Alice checked her directions on her eCom before saying, “It should be just a couple of blocks that way.” She pointed to their left, into another narrow street with a crowd of people. Alice and Selena tried to stay close together so they didn't get separated in the sea of people. It opened up a little as they passed through the temple gates were they could finally see Little Tokyo's newest building.
“That's it?” Alice's disappointment was obvious in her voice.
Her disappointment wasn't shared by Selena. “It's gorgeous! It's the most beautiful building I've ever seen.”
“It doesn't look anything like the pagoda at Sensoji Temple,” explained Alice. “I don't even think it's made out of wood.”
“It's still beautiful,” Selena said, trying to cheer up her friend.
“I guess, but you really should see the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. That one is gorgeous.” Alice thought about the temple and its grounds. It had been over three years since she had seen it last. Sensoji Temple wasn't far from were she lived, but that was before her mother died and Alice had come and live in Tenkei. “I have an idea, let's go to Tokyo. I'll show you what a real Buddhist temple should look like.”
“Yeah right, `let's go to Tokyo`. Like it's that easy to go Earth-side.” Selena teased Alice. “Besides, my mom and dad would kill me if I left Tenkei without telling them.”
“Actually it is that easy to go Earth-side,” Alice said with a grin. “At least for me it is. And your parents will never know. We'll be back before they even know we're gone.”
“What are you talking about? What do you mean it's easy for you? You have your own personal shuttle or something?”
Alice looked at her best friend with a smug expression and said, “You've seen me make my portals before. We can go through one to get to Tokyo.”
“To Earth?” was Selena's shocked reply. “We've gone all over Tenkei with them, but I never knew you could go that far.” She thought about it for a second before adding, “Are you sure you can get there and back? I mean, that's over two hour in a shuttle. Each way.”
“Of course I can get there,” boasted Alice. She'd never gone that far before, but didn't want to tell Selena that. She had created portals that distance before, for people coming to Tenkei, but she had never gone through one herself. Her Uncle had told her about even longer portals she created when she first changed and she felt confident that she could do it. “We’ll need to go somewhere a little less crowded. I don't want people to see me making one.”
Alice had an idea where they could go and not have her portal be seen by anyone. They walked into one of the many restaurants outside the temple grounds and headed straight for the washroom. Once inside, they both checked to make sure no one else was in there. Alice closed her eyes and concentrated, pulling more energy from her singularity than she ever had since it was build for her. She let it build up in her chest until she thought it was going to explode. When she couldn't hold anymore, she thought of Sensoji Temple in as much detail as she could remember and then let go. All her stored up energy poured into the portal she was thinking of, burning a hole though space. Selena watched as a small, black oval appeared in mid air and grew until it reached from floor to ceiling. It stopped growing just before it touched either and then disappeared, replaced by a hole in the air and a small garden that could be seen lit by the fading light of a real sunset.
Alice smiled to her friend and stepped through. From the other side she said, “Come on Selena, it won't stay open forever.”
Selena hopped through, to her friend. Less than a second later, a bright flash could be seen behind her. She turned to look where the flash had come from, but there was nothing there. It suddenly dawned on Selena that the portal was gone and she started to panic.
“How do we get home now, it's gone,” she said while looking around for the portal.
Alice tried to calm her down, “I'll just make another one when we're ready to go home. Don't worry about it.”
“Are you sure you can get us home again? We're a long way from Tenkei, here,” asked Selena
She never thought of it before. Alice checked that she was still in contact with the singularity in Tenkei from this distance before answering. “Yeah, I can create another portal whenever I like.” She didn't tell her that she didn't want to at the moment, her chest still hurt too much to try right now.
Feeling a little more calm from Alice's reassurance, Selena started to take a better look around. They had come through Alice's portal in a small garden. Stone walkways and small wooden monuments could be seen between beautifully trimmed hedges and trees. As they started to walk toward a few buildings a short distance away, Selena's mouth hung open in awe. She had though the small, simple pagoda in Little Tokyo was beautiful; this took her breath away. Its sloped roof and carved details would have been better seen in daylight, but bright floodlights lit them up well enough to see from their short distance. Alice turned a corner at the edge of the garden and stopped to wait for Selena. She was still looking at the temple and almost walked into Alice back before stopping as well.
“Why did you stop,” she started to ask, then noticed the building in front of her. It was an impressive building at over sixty meters high, with five sloping sections and a tall metal tower on top. More floodlights and lanterns lit both the pagoda and its surrounding area. “Wow!” was all that Selena could finally say after seeing it all. It became a common response to each new sight they saw as they toured the entire temple. Each building, monument and statue was more impressive and more finely detailed than the one before.
After what seemed like hours, Alice turned to her friend and asked, “Are you hungry? I missed breakfast this morning and want something to eat.”
This seemed to remind Selena of something. She also noticed how dark it was and asked, “What time is it? We must have been here for hours for it to get so dark.”
Alice pulled her eCom out of her pocket and said, “Its nine-thirty local time. Why?”
“OH MY GOD! We've been here all day?” she said in a panic. “My mom and Dad will be home wondering where I am.”
“No, silly,” laughed Alice. “It's nine-thirty local time. It's only twelve-thirty in Tenkei. We haven't been here that long!”
Selena was confused. “What do you mean local time? Isn't it the same time everywhere, like in Tenkei?”
“Don't you know about time zones?” asked Alice. Selena just shook her head. So Alice explained how the earth was divided into twenty-four zones, how each had its own time that was offset from Universal Time and how almost everything in space used UTC as its standard time. Time zones didn't really make much sense to things that orbited Earth and usually passed through all of them in less than a day.
“So we've only been here for about three hours?” Selena asked.
“Yeah, about that.” answered Alice with a smiled. “That's why I'm hungry. It's lunch time.”
The two girls left the temple grounds, looking for somewhere to eat. Alice remembered a place near by that server the best sushi she had ever had and wondered if it was still there. They found it, exactly where she remembered and went in to find a seat.
Since Sensoji Temple was a very popular tourist destination and seeing Selena, the host decided to greet them in English instead of Japanese. “Good evening young ladies. How can I help you tonight?”
Alice was a little surprised to be asked in English, but was happy that she didn't need to leave Selena out of the conversation. “My friend and I would like to have something to eat. Do you have a table available?” she asked.
“Of course. Right this way, please.”
Their meal was incredible and both girls were so full they could barely move afterwards. The waiter brought their bill and Selena had her horrified look on her face again. “I didn't bring any money with me! How are we going to pay for all of this?”
“I'll get it.” replied Alice. “It'll be my treat.”
“But it's your birthday. I should be treating you,” complained Selena.
“You worry about things too much,” giggled Alice.
She stood up, took their bill to the casher and paid with her eCom. She then returned to their table to finish her drink and relax before heading out into the crowd again. They were talking and laughing with each other when Selena suddenly went quiet and pointed toward the door. Just as she turned to see what her friend was looking at, her uncle spotted them sitting at the table.
“Now we're in trouble,” Selena said quietly. Alice thought that this time, she was probably right.
Tetsuo Sakamoto walked slowly to the table and sat down before saying anything. He looked at the two girls sitting there with a serious expression on his face and asked, “What exactly do you two think you're doing?”
Both girls tried to answer at the same time, making sure that Tetsuo couldn't understand either of them. He held up his hand to stop them from continuing. “Please, one at a time,” he said when they stopped. Since Alice was the only one that would have been able to get them here, he looked to her to start.
“I'm sorry, Uncle Tetsuo. It's my fault,” she said. “Selena and I went to Little Tokyo to see the new pagoda and it reminded me of Sensoji Temple. I just wanted to show it to her and...” She didn't finish her sentence once she realized how silly it all sounded.
Suddenly Selena had a thought, “How did you know where to find us?”
Tetsuo looked at her with a slight scowl, deciding whether or not to answer her. Alice looked at the tablecloth and didn't say anything. She knew that is was better not to know how her uncle did things and even better not to get him angrier than he already was.
“When you paid for your meal I got a call from the bank,” he explained. “They wanted to know why a twelve year old girl's account was being accessed from Tokyo, Japan.”
“Thirteen,” Alice said quietly.
“What was that?” asked Tetsuo.
“Nothing, Uncle,” she replied even more quietly.
“Well we can talk about this more when we get home. Let’s go.” He stood up and walked out of the restaurant. He didn't need look to see of they were following him, they were right behind him. He turned down a small, narrow ally, walked a short distance and turned to look them. “Okay, you got yourself here, now it's time to go home,” he said to Alice. She didn't want to look at him so she closed her eyes and concentrated. She could feel the energy pour into her again as she gathered what she needed. Once she felt that she had enough energy, she visualized her home in Tenkei and released it.
As the portal opened Tetsuo turned her to face him. “I'm not angry,” he said. It surprised Alice and she looked into his green eyes to see if he meant it. “I worry about you. I almost lost you once. You can understand me not wanting to lose you again, can't you?”
Alice and Tetsuo stepped through her portal arm in arm. Alice wiped the tears out of her eyes, when suddenly...
“SURPRISE!!” shouted everyone from their living room.
“What?” Alice said as she looked around the room. About twenty or thirty people filled the room, most of them where friends from school, but there were a few others as well. Dr. Kaito Kobayashi and Danielle Tanaka were there, they were from the Medical Centre. They had been monitoring and testing her ever since she first came to Tenkei. Her friend Jessica was there with her parents, Gabe and Maren. They had brought her little sister and baby brother. They had even brought her uncle Feral, a large panther hybrid. Alice always liked it when he played with them. She hadn't seen her friend Jessica for several months. Her family only lived in Tenkei a few weeks at a time, but they kept in touch online. Even Todd and Sarah were there to see her.
Alice turned to look as her uncle, only to see a rare smile on his face. “Got ya,” he said before bending down to kiss her forehead.
“I thought you forgot,” she confessed as another tear streamed down her cheek.
Tetsuo looked sad as he said, “I know. I almost told you when I saw how upset you were this morning.”
Before he could say anything else, Alice threw her arms around him in a tight hug. He held her tightly and kissed her forehead again. After a moment, she looked up into his green eyes, smiled and wiped the last of her tears away.
“Go say hello to all your friends,” he told her. “They've all come to see you today.”
After a few hours of dancing to loud music by louder teenagers a large, three tiered cake was rolled out with thirteen lit candles. All of Alice's guests sang an off key version of Happy Birthday before blowing out the candles. Blowing them all out was a bit of a challenge due to its size, but with a little help from her friends they did it. Alice got to eat her piece first so that she could start opening gift while everyone else ate theirs.
Some of Alice's gifts of clothing from her friends were a little risqué for Tetsuo's taste. He reminded himself to discuss it with her afterwards, when the party was over. Alice received a large selection of tops, skirts and clothing accessories. There were a few other items, such as music files and videos from some of her closer friends. These were friends that knew Alice's taste in music and movies. Her last gifts were from Tetsuo. He hadn't put them in with the other gifts. He wanted to make sure Alice opened them after all the ones from her friends.
“I have two gifts for Alice,” announced Tetsuo to the room. “One is practical, while the other is personal. I hope you like them both.” His two gifts were wrapped in red and gold coloured paper with gold ribbons and bows. They were almost too beautiful to open.
“Their so beautiful,” said Alice as she took them from him. She immediately opened the larger of the two gifts, just as he had expected. Alice pulled out two gold and silver pieces of metal. They were about two inches wide and curved into “C” shapes. “Is this what I think it is?” asked Alice.
“Yes, it is,” answered Tetsuo with a grin. He took the two pieces from Alice to help her put it on. “It's the latest model eCom,” he said as he connected the two pieces together around her left wrist. The magnets on each piece held them firmly in place as its tiny screen lit up. “I've already activated it. You just need to transfer your data into it.”
“I love it,” she said and gave him another hug. Alice picked up the second present and said, “I guess this one is the personal gift.” After opening the gift, Alice had a confused look on her face. It was an old style picture frame, not a more common digital one. It contained a letter from Tokyo's department of Social Services, beside an adoption certificate.
“I don't understand,” she said. “You're adopting me?”
“Yes,” he explained. “I started the process shortly after you came here. The paperwork was finally completed last month.” Adoption processes didn't normally take three years to complete, but there were several issues that had caused delays.
Tears of joy streamed down Alice's face as she said, “This is the best present, ever!” She never told him, but since coming to Tenkei Alice never thought of Tetsuo as an uncle. She thought of him as the father she never knew. He made sure Alice was doing well in school and got any help she needed for her harder subjects. Alice knew it was his way of showing her how much he cared. He was always doing things like that. Like coming to get her today when she and Selena went to Tokyo.
Alice showed her friends the framed letter and adoption certificate. Each one congratulated her with a smile or a hug. After everyone had seen it, Alice returned to Tetsuo and gave him another tight hug and said, “Thanks, Dad”
Tetsuo smiled again and kissed her cheek. “I like the sound of that.”
There were so many question that she wanted to ask him, she didn't know where to start. It was all she could think about while she entertained her guests. Several of them even asked her the same questions that she wanted to ask Tetsuo. After their guest had left and some of the mess was cleaned up, Alice had a chance to talk to Tetsuo.
“Why haven't you ever told me that you were going to adopt me?” she finally asked.
“I didn't know if I would be able to,” he started to explain. “There were a lot of problems. That's why there was such a long delay.”
“What problems? What do you mean?”
Tetsuo sighed as he tried to decide where to start. “Do you remember ever meeting any aunts or uncles before me? Do you remember any relatives other than you grandparents?”
Alice thought for a moment before answering, “No, I don't remember meeting any of my relatives. Not even you.”
“That's because you don't have any. At least none that I have ever been able to find,” he informed her. “I'm actually glad that I never did now,” he added with a smile.
“You see, I didn't even know about you until the day that you mother's lawyer contacted me,” he continued. “I'm not your uncle. I never was. Your mother was an only child, just like me. There was also no need for me to adopt you. I'm already your father.”
Alice was speechless. She had always thought it was odd that she came to live in Tenkei after her mother’s death, but everyone had said that Tetsuo Sakamoto was her uncle. She couldn't understand why she didn't go to live with her grand parents. When she came to Tenkei and got sick, she never heard from them again. Even when she tried to contact them a few times, they never returned her calls.
“I knew your mother a long time ago, when we were in high school together. We fell in love and I wanted to marry her, but we were too young. Your grand parents were kind and pleasant to me. They saw how much in love we were and encouraged us to wait until after we finished school to get married and start a family.
“Everything was going well, until the day that I got sick. It was just the flu, but it triggered MORFS.” He said this with a far off look in his eye. As if remembering something that he'd rather not talk about. “I didn't know it at the time, but your grand parents were, are, members of The Church of the Genetically Pure. When they found out that I had MORFS; that I had become tainted; they refused to let me see your mother. I didn't know that she was pregnant. You mother loved her parents and would never do anything to hurt them. I think that might have been the reasons why she never tried to contact me. I don't think I'll ever know the answer to that question.
“But what she did do was name me as your guardian in her will. She also left me a letter that hinted at a lot of things, but stopped short of saying that I was your father. I think she still didn't want to hurt her parents with that information. When I came to get you in Tokyo I suspected that I was your father, but didn't have any way of proving it. I was planning on having a DNA and paternity test done as soon as you arrived in Tenkei as part of a medical exam. When you got sick I didn't care about that anymore. You were dying and I didn't want to know if you were my daughter, but I had to find out afterwards.
“Dr. Kobayashi did the test a few weeks after you had recovered and gave me the wonderful news. You are my daughter. But your grand parents didn't want to believe that and still wanted custody of you. I don't know if they changed their minds about MORFS or if they didn't believe me about that either, but I was not going to let them take you away from me. Not after I just found you.” He paused for a moment after letting it all out. That information had been Tetsuo burden for three years, but finally being able to tell Alice was worth it.
“I was finally able to convince them that I was your father,” he added. “They removed their request for custody and I was able to get the adoption process completed. I don't know, but I might be able to get them to come here for a visit, or you could go there if we can work it out somehow.”
“I'd like that,” Alice said. “I've missed them and could never understand why they wouldn't return my calls.”
“They weren't allowed to,” explained Tetsuo. “It was one of the conditions of your mother's will. Once I had custody, they weren't allowed to contact you, unless I allowed it. And I couldn't do that while they were fighting me for custody.”
After a short pause he added, “But that's all over now. If you want to see them, and if they want to see you, you can visit as much as you like.”
Alice hopped into Tetsuo's lap and said, “Thanks, Dad. I'd like that, but only if you come too, okay?”
“We'll see Nyoko. We'll see.”
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/