Chapter 7 (or, "The Dealey Five Get Some New Fashions")
"Erika...Erika! Are you okay?"
Erika opened her eyes and noticed three things in rapid succession. The first was that she was not wearing her baseball cap at the moment. The second was that the sky was a weird shade of purple that it hadn't been this morning.
And the third was that Joliar, her rabbit navigator computer program, was standing over her, trying to wake her up
Yep. This had to be a dream.
"Joliar?" she asked, thinking back. What was going on? Wasn't she just in the conference room with Rhiannon, waiting for her tablet to boot up? Come to think of it, the last thing she remembered was her tablet kind of glitching out. It was saying some weird things in what had to be English. Erika knew minimal English, mostly what was taught at school, but she hadn't been able to understand any of what had been said. Too fast, and all of it had been in some strange accent.
She sat up. Sure enough, she wasn't in Tokyo anymore. The sky was still the same shade of purple, and without warning, it changed to orange. She found herself on a sandy beach, sand and sea as far as her eye could see. Next to her was Joliar, the cartoon rabbit with long ears and blue pants who normally helped her navigate the Internet.
Joliar blinked up at her. "Erika?"
"Request for link allotted. Message transmission from Noh Kee Moh Rhiannon to Tomoyaki Erika. Requesting status."
Joliar and Erika looked to the source of the voice. It was a girl they had never seen before, a tall Korean girl in a blue and black mimono. Her hands were clasped in front, and she spoke in a very polite voice.
"Status all good, but..." Joliar looked back and forth from the girl to Erika. "I still don't get what's going on."
"Komari, how many times do I have to tell you? You don't have to be this formal right now." And coming over the sand hill was Rhiannon herself, intact save for carrying her shoes. Rhiannon got to Erika's side. "Glad you're all right. Komari, this makes all accounted for."
"All accounted for? What are you talking about?"
Rhiannon motioned over to the girl named Komari. "She's my navigator, just as this rabbit is yours. I don't know if we're in a dream or what's going on, but this beach has all of our navigators come to life. Notice that you don't actually have your tablet anywhere on your person."
Erika looked around. "I don't. That's true. Does this mean that..."
"We haven't been able to determine what it means." Komari leaned down and presented Erika with her hat, which she had been holding. "You will need this, I am certain. The place we have ended up in is a mystery, but everybody that was in the Green Room when Rhiannon's tablet glitched is here. That is the most important factor to our survival at the moment -- making sure that everybody stays together as a team."
"Okay..." Erika looked back down at Joliar. "Joliar, is Kuchi here?" she asked, referring to Kyara's navigator.
Joliar nodded. "Of course!"
"Then our first order of business is to get everybody together and form a plan." Erika turned to Rhiannon. "Or, I mean, I guess that's the plan. That seems to be the most important thing for now, at least."
Rhiannon was silent for a second, then nodded. "That is true. Komari, let's go back to where the others are waiting --"
" -- gangwaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!"
Erika and Rhiannon turned to where the sound was coming from, behind them toward the ongoing sand. A boy was running toward them, dressed all in blue, moving at an insane speed. He looked to be running away from something, as Erika heard another voice coming from the sand. She couldn't make out what this one was saying, but it was higher in pitch than the other one.
The boy ran closer, and Erika got a better look. His clothing was spot on: a blue and white happi coat much like Canberra Longshore's in style, flaring out as he ran, plus a yellow shirt and blue pants. When Erika peered, though, she saw they were jeans with sneakers. What's more, the boy wasn't even Asian; his hair was dark like a Japanese, but his skin was an olive color and his eyes were a blue you couldn't get from contacts.
He stopped short when his eyes met Erika's, then stopped running. "Oh, what do you know, we're here," he said in perfect Japanese.
Erika turned back to Rhiannon. "He wasn't in the Green Room, was he?"
Rhiannon shook her head. "The only true foreigner was Nathan Tyler. Wasn't he lost?"
Now that Erika remembered it, it seemed as if Nathan had accidentally barged in on the beginning of their conference. Canberra had gotten up to confront him, Kyara had gone nuts, Erika had tried to calm her down...and that had been the last thing she remembered. Other than one thing: the feeling that she was missing something.
"I believe you're right," Erika said. She turned to the boy. "Who are you, and how did you end up here?"
"That's a long story," the boy said as he looked behind him. "Look. Right now, I bet I have at least as many questions as you do, but I do know one thing --"
"And that is that you are a very, very dead man."
Another person, this time a girl, had sneaked up behind the boy and had grabbed him by the happi collar. She was taller than anybody Erika had ever met before, even taller than the boy, with darker skin than him and long, flowing dark brown hair. She had on a purple mimono, tight, form-fitting, with a wrap instead of an obi. That was it. No pants, no extra sleeves. Was this all the rage now in Shibuya? Erika didn't pay attention to fashion -- she'd have to ask Kyara later.
"Why is he so dead?" she asked.
"Because he ran off without telling us," the girl answered. Her Japanese was accented, but her words were formal.
"I did not run off," the boy answered. "You threatened me."
"I did no such thing --" The girl dropped the boy when she finally looked at Erika. "Hey! You're that Teriyaki Erika girl from on TV! Jason, why didn't you tell us you found our girl?"
"You -- never gave me a chance," the boy with the strange name Jason said.
Erika, meanwhile, was still trying to understand this. Whoever these people were, they had been looking for her, and had found her. "Excuse me," she said as she picked up Joliar in her arms, holding him close, "but could either one of you explain what's going on here? And why are you looking for me?"
"Nice rabbit," was the only comment Jason made.
Then, two more figures appeared from across the sand. One of them was a Caucasian girl, tall and skinny, with long blonde hair tied in a single braid. She was dressed in what had to be a very expensive furisode-style mimono with long sleeves and crane details on the hem. She wore a traditional yellow obi and thin black slacks underneath.
Riding on her shoulders was the first properly Asian kid of the bunch -- Chinese, as Erika could tell by the eyes. He had on a green school uniform, with track pants, a sweatshirt, and a white polo with a green tie. He got off the girl's shoulders and approached Erika.
"Isabel and Tama are still dealing with business," he told the tall girl and Jason. As expected, this kid's Japanese was impeccable and didn't sound as forced as the rest of the kids. "I'm sorry to cause you so much confusion, Tomoyaki-san. I bet you are confused as to where you are and what's going on."
"That's the truth. Can you tell us?"
"Well, we don't know where we've ended up either, or how you're able to see us, but we're connected with it somehow. There are six of us in our group, and the other two are trying to get some answers about this entire situation as we speak. For now, we should make introductions, as I think we'll all have to work together to get out of this mess." He smiled and gave a quick dow. "I am Xiao Jian Liang, but you can call me Jen. I am from China, but I bet you knew that. You are Tomoyaki Erika, and the person behind you is Noh Kee Moh, am I correct?"
"That you are," Erika said with a nod. "Most everybody calls her Rhiannon. This is Joliar, and the other girl with Rhiannon is Komari. They are our navigators. They're not real...or, at least, they're not supposed to be. They're supposed to help us connect to the Internet."
There was a look of confusion on Jen's face, but then he seemed to understand. "Oh. Your version of link programming. I assume you have already met Jason and Rosa --" he pointed to the boy in blue and the girl in purple -- "and this is Rifka."
"It's very nice to meet you," Rifka said with a stilted bow.
Erika gave one back. "Very nice to meet you. But that still doesn't explain what we're all doing here, or why you guys know my name."
"I think we can take care of that."
The last two people of Jen's group had arrived. The voice had come from the girl on the left, who was dark skinned and haired like Rosa, with a traditional light green mimono, matching dark green gloves and belt, and over the knee socks with penguins on them under her boots. But Erika's eyes weren't on her. They were on the boy next to her, the clearly Japanese one in the red mimono with the yellow tie belt and the blue pants with goggles in his hair.
She couldn't get her eyes off him, because she had seen him before.
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