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    Fukuda Kosaku turned around to see his son stumbling up the hill towards him. He quickly dropped his bag on the ground and ran to meet the boy.

    "What are you doing, Takashi?" he demanded, scooping him up. Takashi wrapped his skinny arms around Kosaku's neck while he caught his breath. "You know you're not supposed to run! What if you collapse again? Where's your mother?"

    "She said you were going away," the boy finally managed to gasp out. "She says you're going far far away and not coming back!"

    Kosaku stared up at the pinky orange sky in silence for a moment. He felt yet another pang of guilt as he thought of Keiko at home so distraught she hadn't even noticed Takashi running out the door. They had talked about it for months. He had to go, and she had to take care of Takashi. She had said she would be able to manage, but he had known it couldn't be true. Now he would have to find some way to explain things to his five-year-old son. He set Takashi down on the grass with a sigh.

    "Listen, Takachin," he said. "I am going far far away for a long time, but I will come back."

    "When?" the boy demanded. His eyebrows came together and Kosaku found himself staring at a less lined version of his father-in-law. He suppressed a laugh and searched for an acceptable answer.

    "Come here," he said, struck with a sudden idea. He got down on one knee and set Takashi on the other. "The truth is, I'm an alien from another planet."

    "Aliens don't exist, Daddy. Uchida-san from B-ward told me," Takashi said.

    "Don't you think I know more than Uchida-san?" Kosaku demanded, feigning indignance. "It's true, Takashi. Your daddy traveled through the whole galaxy to find mommy and you. Would I lie to you?"

    Takashi studied his father's face carefully.

    "You're really an alien?"

    "Cross my glowing green heart."

    "But if you were an alien, then you would have a spaceship."

    "I do have a space ship!" Kosaku insisted. "It's right over here." He swung his son up onto his shoulders and strode across the field at the top of the hill to an old, rusted car sitting half-buried in tree branches. "See? This is my space ship."

    "That's not a space ship. It's just an old car."

    "Of course that's what it looks like," Kosaku said, setting Takashi down again. "If it actually looked like a space ship then the Americans would know I was an alien and they would come and take it away."

    "Why do they want your space ship?"

    "Because then they could travel to outer space and fight the aliens," Kosaku explained. He was getting more and more animated. "We don't want the Americans going to fight the aliens. They don't know which ones are the good aliens and which ones are the bad aliens. What if they accidentally killed all the good aliens and helped the bad ones?"

    Takashi considered this story. "So, if you're an alien, then why did you come here?"

    "Ah," Kosaku said. They had finally come to the main point. "Because there are some very bad aliens who wanted to eat all the people on Earth. So I came here to defeat them all and save Earth."

    "Did you?" Takashi wanted to know. Kosaku was relieved to see that he was beginning to believe this story.

    "Yup. I beat them all up and they ran away," he said.

    "So then why do you have to leave?"

    "Because the bad aliens went to another planet and they're going to eat everyone there. I have to go save the people on that planet now."

    "But I don't want you to go!" Takashi protested.

    "I know. It sucks," Kosaku conceded. "I don't want to go, either. But I have to."

    "Then take me with you!"

    "I want to take you and Mommy with me. I really do. What am I gonna do without my Takachin? But we have to go into outer space, and you can't come because your heart is too weak." And it's my fault, he added mentally, swallowing hard.

    "Oh," Takashi said, looking down.

    "Hey, now. Don't look so sad. It won't always be weak," Kosaku promised, tipping his son's face back up. "Someday you'll have a good strong heart just like Daddy's, and then I'll come back and get you and Mommy. So, you just keep doing what the doctors tell you so that your heart can get strong."

    "You promise?"

    "Of course I promise!"

    Takashi smiled. "Can I watch you take off in your space ship?" he said.

    Kosaku blinked several times and cleared his throat. "Umm... It's kind of dangerous..."

    "Please?" Takashi begged. Kosaku stared into his son's deep brown eyes, just like his mother's, and sighed.

    "Sure," he said. "Let me go get my bag."

    He walked over to where he had left his bag and heaved it back up. Takashi watched as his father heaved the bag into the back of the rusty old car and tugged the boot door back down.

    "Okay, then," he said finally, walking back. He really hadn't wanted to do this, but Keiko was right in the end. He couldn't leave without saying goodbye to his son. "Give me a hug and kiss goodbye?" he said, leaning down, his arms wide.

    Takashi leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Kosaku wrapped his arms around the boy and held him. He didn't want to let go. He wanted to just keep holding this beautiful miracle of a boy until the end of time. Forget about aliens and other planets. What really mattered was the 12 kilos of crossbred Earthling in his arms. But he couldn't.

    When Takashi started to squirm, Kosaku kissed the top of his head and finally let him go. He climbed into the car and forced himself not to cry as he put his key in the ignition. The engine roared into life and the car began to lift off the ground. Kosaku leaned out the window and waved at the shrinking image of his son's astonished face as he climbed towards the sunset.

    "I'll be back!!" he called, and then he zipped off into the universe.

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Chapter 1: First Encounter

"Fukuda? Fukuda!!"

    The voice became more urgent until finally it jerked Takashi out of his sleep. "Hm, wha?" he spluttered, sitting up quickly. There was a piece of paper stuck to his face. Yoruzaka-sensei was glaring down at him, textbook in hand.

    "Am I supposed to be reading something?" Takashi guessed as he peeled the paper off his cheek. A long string of drool followed it and several girls made noises of disgust.

    "Page 32 if you wouldn't mind," Yoruzaka said, and he headed back off on his round of the classroom.

    As Takashi got to his feet, book in hand, he glanced towards the front of the room where Iida Ayako was doodling something in her notebook and paying no attention to him whatsoever, her perfect face hidden behind her curtain of bleached orange hair. He sighed and cleared his throat. He didn't read out loud, though. Instead, he stared at the page for a moment, his eyebrows knitted together, and then looked up at his English teacher.

    "George shoots Lenny? That's one of the worst book endings ever," he declared.

    "Whatever! Just read the stupid book, man!" snapped a boy in a bright red skull cap. Because of his placement in the alphabet, Nakanishi Kenichi sat at the front of the room and thus had no patience for those back of the classroom folks who were able to drop off to sleep every now and then when they wanted. Several others agreed with him.

    "And please read from where I asked you to, not the end of the book," Yoruzaka-sensei put in.

    Takashi shot a glare at the boy in the skull cap and flipped back to page 32 where he began reading: "'Although there was evening brightness showing through the windows of the bunkhouse, inside it was dusk..."

    The other students settled back into their own recumbent poses as the abnormality passed. No more than one or two of them could understand what Takashi was reading anyway. Unlike his classmates, he read English with almost no accent. Under normal circumstances, this might have made him a target for bullying, but nobody could quite find the guts to bully Fukuda Takashi. It shouldn't have been difficult. After all, he had a chronic heart condition and couldn't even run away, but the problem was that he was simply no fun to bully. He didn't beg for mercy or fight back or even try to ignore it. He just gave this look that clearly said, "And what's your point?" And so it came to be that the skinny, sickly braniac was left to his own devices.

    Takashi came to the end of the page and sat back in his seat. Yoruzaka-sensei nodded and made his way to the front of the classroom.

    "For tomorrow, I want a summary of the pages we read today in Japanese and a 1-page personal response statement in English," he said. The class groaned. Yoruzaka-sensei was infamous for his heavy workload. They were first years and he had them reading the same books that Mizuda-sensei assigned his students in third-year.

    Takashi wrote the assignment in his notebook with one eye on Iida. She was coolly ignoring Yoruzaka. Of course she wouldn't do the assignment. She never did any assignments, but always managed to pass the midterms and finals. Takashi wanted to know what it was she drew during class. It seemed like she always managed to close her notebook before he could get close enough to see.

    The lunch bell rang and Yoruzaka-sensei headed off to the teacher's lounge ahead of the crowd of students rushing to the cafeteria before all the best food was taken. Takashi stood. Iida rose simultaneously, taking her bag with her, and disappeared out the classroom door. He sighed and made his way to the boy in the skull cap in the front corner.

    "What was it this time?" Kenichi said without looking up from his lunch box.

    "I was having this crazy dream about my dad," Takashi confessed, sitting on the desk behind him.

    "The one where he flies away in a flying saucer?"

    "No, it was a rocket ship this time."

    "Aren't you supposed to be talking to your therapist about that stuff?"

    Takashi shrugged and reached for one of his friend's onigiri. Kenichi smacked his hand away.

    "You've got your own lunch, don't you?" he demanded.

    "No," Takashi sighed. "My mom was too busy making Yanchan's lunch to make mine." 

    "Oof. That sounds like it's getting serious. Go ahead, then. You can have it." Kenichi offered up his lunchbox with a pitying look.

    "Yanchan" was short for Yasuda Jiiro, the man that Mrs. Fukuda had begun dating several months ago. When her husband had disappeared and been proclaimed dead, some people had been suspicious of how calmly Keiko dealt with the whole situation. "She's just a strong girl," the older citizens had reasoned, and that put an end to the matter. Still, nobody who had ever seen Keiko and Kosaku together could have imagined that the day would come when she would be able to date someone else, least of all Takashi. But then Yanchan had come waltzing into town as the new veterinarian with his poster good looks and his charitable nature and pockets full of cash.

    "It's disgusting," Takashi remarked to Kenichi through a mouthful of onigiri. "I mean, Dad isn't dead, and she knows it. The space ship may have been a dream, but I know for sure that she told me she knew where he was going that night. How can she just go cavorting off with another guy when she knows he's still out there somewhere?"

    "It would be a lot easier if only Yanchan were actually a bad guy," Kenichi put in. Having been Takashi's best friend for 12 years, he had learned not to argue with the notion that Fukuda Kosaku was still alive somewhere no matter how crazy it sounded. "Then we could play pranks on him and feel justified in hating his guts. But seriously, the guy saves puppies for a living."

    "And little kids love him," Takashi said in rather the same way one might say, "And my house just burnt down."

    "Yeah, well there's just no accounting for some people's taste," Kenichi muttered. Then, in an effort to change the subject: "Hey, did you see that news report this morning about the terrorists who are threatening to blow up Tokyo Tower?"

    Takashi was spared from admitting that he was possibly the only person in Japan who had not heard of this incident when Iida Ayako stuck her head in the door and hailed him.

    "They sent me from the staff room to get you," she said. "You'd better come quick. They looked pretty serious."

    For a moment, Takashi just gaped at her, but then Kenichi nudged him back to reality. "Y-yeah, yeah. Of course. I'll be right there," he spluttered, quickly checking to make sure that he didn't have any dried seaweed stuck in his teeth.

    "See ya, Taka!" Kenichi said with a mischievous grin. Takashi made a face back at him and hurried after Ayako.

    "So, uh. . . what were you doing at the staff room?" he asked as he fell into step beside her.

    "None of your business," she snapped.

    "Right, of course. Sorry." They walked in silence after that. Takashi glanced down at Ayako's skirt. Most of the other girls rolled theirs up at the waist to make them shorter and more fashionable while Ayako's went well past her knees. It wasn't the length of a girl who wanted to be modest. This was the custom made skirt of a girl who had been riding motorcycles up and down the streets of Tokyo just a year ago. Takashi had thought that punk girls like Ayako didn't exist anymore. He had thought he was imagining it the first time he had seen her browsing produce at the grocery mart four months ago. He would never have dared to hope at the time that she would even be in his class. The problem was that she was far too intimidating for him to ever approach her.

    When they arrived at the staff room, Takashi could sense that something was wrong. There was none of the usual buzz of activity that surrounded the staff room at lunch. Ayako slid the door open and gave Takashi a Look as he passed her. What was that expression? Warning? Pity?

    "Ah, Fukuda. Sorry to disturb your lunch." Yoruzaka-sensei got up and crossed the room towards him. Takashi realized that all the teachers were staring at him. And there weren't just teachers there, either.

    There was a middle-aged woman with very short hair sitting by Yoruzaka's desk whom Takashi had never seen before. She was accompanied by two men. One of them had "Private Security" written all over him, but the other one was not much bigger than Takashi himself and couldn't have been older than a university student. All three of them were wearing very serious-looking dark suits.

    "You have some visitors, Fukuda," Yoruzaka said, and the woman smiled.

    Ayako pushed past Takashi and headed over to Suzuki-sensei, the Japanese teacher. Aha, Takashi thought.  It was well-known that Ayako could barely read grade school kanji. Her visit to the staff room must have had to do with some kind of remedial work for Japanese. And sure enough, Suzuki-sensei handed her a workbook and gave her some hasty instructions before ushering her out the door.

    "I'm sorry, he does this sometimes. Fukuda? Fukuda!"

    Takashi snapped his attention back to Yoruzaka-sensei to find that his teacher had been trying to introduce the suited people to him.

    "Oh. Sorry," Takashi said quickly. "What was that?"

    "No worries," the short-haired lady said. "I remember your father was the same way when he was young. I'm Aragi Yuuko." She handed him a business card, which Takashi accepted and studied carefully. It had no information on it except her name and a telephone number.

    "You used to know my father?" he said, looking up from the card. This wasn't especially surprising. It seemed that ever since hitting puberty, he ran into strangers on a semi-regular basis who would say things like, "Oh my goodness. You must be related to Fukuda Kosaku."

    "I suppose you could say that we were colleagues," Yuuko said, her face crinkling into a smile. "These are some other colleagues of mine: Aoba Hikaru and Morinuki Rei." She indicated the large man and the smaller one in turn. Takashi's gaze lingered momentarily on Morinuki Rei. For no apparent reason, when Takashi looked at Morinuki, he suddenly got the impression that he was the real security here, not Aoba.

    "How can I help you?" Takashi wanted to know.

    "I'm afraid that we're going to have to take you into temporary custody, Fukuda," said Yuuko. She dug in her jacket and pulled out an ICPO badge. Takashi stared at it.

    "What for? I didn't do anything?" he said.

    "Protective custody," Aoba rumbled from behind Yuuko.

    "We can explain everything in the car," Yuuko said. "I know this seems strange to you--it's strange to me to be honest--but you're just going to have to trust us."

    "It's okay, Fukuda," said Yoruzaka-sensei, stepping up behind his student. "These people really are government representatives, and I have no reason to believe that they intend you any harm."

    Takashi glanced over at Morinuki who had said nothing and seemed to be more concerned with a stack of English dictionaries on Yoruzaka's desk than anything to do with Takashi. The other teachers in the staff room had stopped pretending that they were more interested in their own work though, and were now actively observing the scene at hand. Takashi wasn't sure what he should do. The proper reaction of course would be to go with the ICPO representatives, but it just didn't make any sense. Protective custody? Protection from what? It was entirely possible that these people were planning to kidnap him, although he couldn't imagine why.

    "What about my mom?" he said. "Does she know about this?"

    Yuuko hesitated, a slight frown creasing her brow. "No," she confessed. "We haven't had time to discuss the situation with Keiko, but she would definitely agree that we need to get you into protection as soon as possible."

    "I want to talk to her before I go anywhere with you," Takashi insisted, stepping back and running into Yoruzaka-sensei. "Besides, I have a lot of prescription medications and things. Don't we need to bring those?"    

    "Please, Takashi-kun, we don't have time for this," Yuuko sighed. "I didn't want to have to use force, but..."

    "Hey, you never said anything about forcing him," Yoruzaka-sensei cut in, a look of uncertainty crossing his face.

    "I can assure you that everything we are doing is for Takashi's own protection," Yuuko said.

    "Yes, but why? What are you protecting him from that's so essential you have to use force against a sixteen-year-old boy with a heart defect?" said one of the other teachers. Takashi was vaguely aware that she was a science teacher for one of the upper grades.

    "This is a highly classified matter of national security," Yuuko snapped, all traces of her cool professional manner now gone.

    "Classified from my own mother?" Takashi wanted to know.

    "I have a responsibility to protect my student, and I don't feel comfortable letting you guys take him," said Yoruzaka, putting himself in between Takashi and the ICPO officers.

    "That's right," said the science teacher, and most of the other teachers nodded along with her. "How do we know that those badges aren't fake?"

    "Oh my god, civilians are so frustrating these days."

    It took Takashi a moment to realize who had spoken. Morinuki had finally pulled himself away from the pile of dictionaries and decided to give some attention to what was going on around him.

    "Look, there is a terrorist faction threatening to blow up part of Tokyo if we don't hand Fukuda Kosaku's son over to them. Obviously we're not going to, but don't you think he would be a bit safer in custody of the ICPO than at this pokey little school building?" Morinuki finished speaking and the room ran with silence. Yuuko ran a hand through her choppy hair with a sigh.

    "Thank you for giving out that very classified information, Morinuki," she muttered.

    "What? We can just wipe all their memories later," Morinuki said with a shrug. The teachers just mouthed at them.

    "So, will you please now release Takashi into our custody, or do we need to get serious?" Yuuko said, turning towards Yoruzaka again. "Because I don't know how much time we have left before--"

    And that was when the world exploded.

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Chapter 2: Fracture

When the noise and dust stopped, Takashi found himself underneath Yoruzaka's desk. He had a vague impression that his teacher had pushed him there when everything started, but he had been too busy just trying to breathe to pay attention to much else. Now, in the silence, he poked his head tentatively out from beneath the desk.

    He couldn't quite bring himself to believe the sight that met him. One wall of the teachers' lounge had been almost entirely demolished. The desks and chairs on that side of the room were smashed and strewn about, semesters' worth of grading materials mingled about in the debris. There was blood splashed around the chaos as well, but Takashi didn't see a body. Some of the teachers were cowered in the far corner but most had fled the room. Yoruzaka was crouched beside Takashi, looking almsot as shaken as the boy felt. But the worst part of the scene was the thing lying in the center of the zone of destruction.

    Takashi had no idea what it was, but it was vast. If he had to describe it, he would have said it was something like a cross between a horse and a panther, but bigger than either. its skin was black and shiny like marine mammals, and its two front legs ended in foot-long claws. It didnt' seem to have a head. At first, Takashi thought this was because its head had been severed--the creature was clearly dead at any rate--but then he looked a bit closer and saw that this creature had never had a head to begin with. Its neck ended in something reminiscent of a leech's sucker, but with more teeth.

    Morinuki and Aoba were examining the creature's body, each now wielding a gun that looked like it had come straight out of a sci-fi action flick. Takashi was just wondering where they had been concealing the weapons before when Morinuki pushed a button on the side of his and the whole thing collapsed down into an ordinary hand gun, which he stashed in a gun holster beneath his suit jacket. Takashi blinked. He had to be dreaming.

    "This is Aragi. We've had a 412 breach of secrecy while on mission. Requesting back up."

    Takashi looked up to see Yuuko speaking urgently into her cell phone. She turned to him. "Are you all right, Fukuda?" she asked.

    He nodded. His heart was beating too hard to speak still. She looked at him doubtfully and then approached Morinuki and Aoba.

    "Fukuda, I think we should take you to the nurse," Yoruzaka said, helping the boy to his feet. "You look pale."

    "Well, what do you expect? A monster just burst through the wall of the teachers' lounge and got shot down by guys with sci-fi movie guns!" Takashi tried to say, but it came out more like, "Nnnghaa..."

    "Come on, let's get you out of here." Yoruzaka started to lead him away towards the door.

    "Please don't leave just yet," Yuuko said. She had a gun of her own now, trained on Yoruzaka and Takashi as she picked her way through the rubble towards them. "I think you can see now why we need to take Fukuda with us."

    Yoruzaka tightened his grip on Takashi's shoulders. "No, I don't. Would you care to explain?"

    "Okay. We'll have to wipe your memory later anyway, so I might as well." Yuuko lowered her gun. "Fukuda Takashi is the child of the extra-terrestrial life form who went by the name 'Fukuda Kosaku' while he was living on Earth. The creature dead over there is something known as an Uchuujitsu. Twenty years ago, they tried to invade our planet and Fukuda Kosaku was sent from another world to help us fight them off. Some of the Uchuujitsu survived and have returned for revenge. They remember the smell of Fukuda's blood, which his son carries, so we have been sent to collect Takashi and place him in protective custody until we can hunt down the remaining Uchuujitsu and the threat had been neutralized. Understand?"

    Yoruzaka blinked at her. Takashi realized his mouth was hanging open.

    "You're kidding, right?" he said, finally finding his voice.

    "Does this seem like a time for kidding around?" Yuuko said. "And anyways, based on your file, it seems your father told you that he was an extraterrestrial just before he had to leave our planet eleven years ago, though your counselors have been doing their best to convince you that you imagined it ever since then."

    "But... Why... Did my mother know?"

    "We can talk about this later, kid. We need to get going now," Aoba said as he and Morinuki came up level with Yuuko.

    "The rest of the flock won't be far behind that one," Morinuki added.

    "What was that about wiping my memory a minute ago?" said Yoruzaka, seeming to come out of a daze of some sort.

    "Don't worry about it," said Morinuki, flashing him a bright smile. "Let's get going."

    He grabbed one of Takashi's elbows while Aoba grabbed the other and Yuuko led the way out of the demolished teachers' lounge. There was a huge crowd of students pressing outside the door, which Yuuko dispersed almost instantly with the help of her hand gun. As they hauled him through the path the students had opened up, Takashi caught sight of Ayako staring at him from just beside the teachers' lounge door. Her face was chalk white as were the knuckles of the hands she was clutching her dictionary with. When their eyes met, Takashi knew instantly that she hadn't gone back to class after dropping him off. How much had she seen and heard?

    "What's going on?"

    "Isn't he that crazy first-year student? Fukuda or something?"

    "Is he being arrested?"

    "It sounded like a bomb went off or something!"

    "He's working for those terrorists?"

    Takashi closed his eyes and focused on breathing. His heart was pumping so hard it hurt, but he still felt the telltale swimming sensation in his head indicating that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. It would be just his luck to pass out now. The only thing that could possibly make this situation more embarrassing was if he ended up being carried out of the school slung over Aoba's shoulder.

    "Takashi! Hey, what's going on!?"

    Takashi's eyes snapped open and he turned to see Ken'ichi trying to force his way through the crowd towards them.

    "A friend of yours?" Yuuko wanted to know, her eyes flitting to Takashi's ashen face. "Let's go faster. I don't want any more trouble."

    They sped up so that Takashi was more or less gliding along between Aoba and Morinuki. Ken'ichi continued trying to push his way through the crowd to them. Takashi realized that they were headed for the gym.

    "Aragi here. We have Fukuda's kid with us. Is the transport ready?" Yuuko asked someone on the other end of her cell phone. Her expression soured when she heard the answer. "Then hurry up and get it ready. What part of, 'We have a 412 on our hands' did you not understand?"

    She hung up angrily and shoved open the gymnasium doors. It was empty, which was odd for that time of day. There should have been at least one class that had PE, but perhaps Aragi had arranged for it to be empty. Their little group made its way to the center of the gym and then stopped.

    "How long did they say we have to wait?" Aoba wanted to know.

    "Ten minutes at least," Yuuko replied. "I don't care how much of a genius Rea is, she's as incompetent as hell."

    "Well, she does always get things done in the end," Morinuki said with a shrug. Yuuko shot him a look that he either didn't notice or chose to ignore.

    "Man, I forgot how bad high school gyms stink," Aoba said, wrinkling his nose.

    "It's the only place large enough to complete a transport," said Yuuko.

    "Wh-what's a transport?" Takashi asked cautiously.

    Yuuko turned to him and was about to answer when the gym doors burst open. Ken'ichi came running in with Iida right behind him. Takashi gaped at this unlikely pairing.

    "Hey! You can't just take him!" Ken'ichi was shouting.

    "Oh, brother. Not again. Aoba, please take care of this," Yuuko sighed.

    Aoba let go of Takashi's arm and began to walk towards the two teenagers. Just then, something wet landed on Takashi's arm. He glanced down at the clear viscous substance in confusion, and then up. There was an Uchuujitsu clinging to the gym ceiling above them. Takashi opened his mouth to scream and the Uchuujitsu dropped.

    Morinuki reacted almost instantly. He grabbed hold of Takashi and dove away. Yuuko and Aoba were not so lucky. The Uchuujitsu landed almost directly on top of Yuuko. Before she could even aim her weapon at it, the creature had clamped its giant sucker of a face around her head and lifted her off the ground. She beat at its neck desperately with her hands as Aoba ran to help her.

    "Don't, you idiot!!" Morinuki yelled, but it was too late. The Uchuujitsu took a swipe at Aoba and its foot-long claws sliced straight through him. Takashi heard Ken'ichi swearing loudly and Iida screaming. Then it gave Yuuko a good shake. Takashi heard her neck crack before the creature spat her out, limp and disfigured. Takashi found that he couldn't look away. He didn't want to watch, but he couldn't look away. The creature looked up from Yuuko's body and turned its face towards him.

    "I said run, kid!!" Morinuki said, shoving Takashi hard towards the back door. He had morphed his gun back into the sci-fi weapon Takashi had seem him wielding before and he aimed it at the Uchuujitsu before turning to Ken'ichi and Iida. "You kids, too! Get out the back!! GO!!!"

    Not about to argue with a man holding a gun larger than his own arm, Ken'ichi and Iida joined Takashi in a race to the back exit. Morinuki followed them, firing at the Uchuujitsu as he ran. This Uchuujitsu seemed to be much better at dodging than the one in the teachers' lounge, though.

    "Get it open, get it open!" Ken'ichi screamed when they reached the back door.

    "I can't!" Takashi said, his heart dropping into his stomach. "It's locked!"

    "How can it be locked? This door is never locked!" Iida protested, and she began kicking at it. 

    "What are you idiots doing?" Morinuki demanded as he reached them.

    "The door is locked," Ken'ichi explained. The Uchuujitsu was still charging directly at them.

    "Get away from it!" Morinuki ordered, and he aimed his gun at the lock. The gun gave an odd whining noise, but no energy blasts came out of it as they had before. Morinuki stared at it in horror. "No amunition..." he explained blankly.

    "Watch out!" Iida shrieked.

    Morinuki just barely dodged the talons swiping at him. One of them caught him on the shoulder and his gun clattered to the ground as sent he staggered backwards into the other three.

    "Oh my god, we're going to die..." Ken'ichi muttered as the Uchuujitsu raised its claws again.

    But it never got the chance to strike. There was a burst of light, and the creature went sprawling away on its side. They all turned to see Yoruzaka-sensei holding Aoba's gun.

    "Hey, ugly! Those are my students!" he called to the Uchuujitsu, which was trying to pick itself up. He began firing a constant rally of shots at it while moving towards Morinuki and the kids.

    "How did he know how to use that?" Iida wondered out loud.

    "It won't be enough," Morinuki said. His shoulder was bleeding profusely and his face had gone the color of rice porridge. "The rest of the flock is here. Sorry, kids." Yoruzaka reached them just as the far wall of the gym exploded inwards and about twenty Uchuujitsu came pouring in.

    Time seemed to stand still for a moment as Takashi looked around at the people he was going to die with. There was his best friend trying to push him away to safety. There was the girl he liked who was now clinging to his arm as if her life depended on it. There was his homeroom teacher who had turned out to be far more awesome than any of them ever would have guessed, but he had his hands full with just the one Uchuujitsu. And then there was Morinuki Rei, a total stranger who had nearly sacrificed his life to protect all of them. Well, it wasn't such a bad group of people to die with, but... Did he really have to die cowering against a wall like this?

    Takashi looked over to Morinuki's gun lying on the floor several feet away. He knew Morinuki had said it was out of ammo or something, but maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe it was one of those things that would work again if you hit it hard enough.

    He pulled himself out of Iida's grasp and dove for the gun. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard the others yelling at him to not be stupid or something, but he ignored them. He grabbed hold of the gun, gave it a good whack and hoisted it up.

    As he aimed it at the charging Uchuujitsu, something inside his chest began tingling. It felt almost like a heart attack, but it wasn't painful. The feeling intensified into a burning that ran from his chest down into his arms and hands and finally seemed to explode out of the gun. It really was an explosion--an explosion of bright, white light and heat and sound that sent Takashi flying backwards. He felt his head connect with the gym wall, and then everything went black.

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