"Dr. Tanaka Satoshi." Inspector Mori placed the file on the conference room table. We sat around the table, accompanied by the governor's representative, and the DIH spook who had interviewed me in my cell.
"Baccalaureates in physics and computer science at Cornell. PhD with work on complex constrained optimization at Stanford. Two years of postdoc, also at Stanford. Then he accepted a job with Diluvian Technologies, a private company.
At this point our records start petering out. We don't know what he did, though he continued being paid. This was eleven years ago. A little less than five months ago he was reported dead in a fire."
The spook raised his hand "Please remember that this information is need to know. Do not discuss it with anyone not explicitly cleared by me personally." He looked around until everyone had muttered their assent. He continued. "We have slightly more comprehensive files. Specifically, we have his psychiatric records."
Lina laughed. "So he really is crazy."
The spook shook his head sedately. "Not very. These sessions were mandatory for Diluvian employees. Diluvian was a defense contractor. It operated with significant autonomy, though it was completely owned by the state through several shell corporations. I say 'was' because nearly every Diluvian employee was killed or presumed dead during the same event Dr. Tanaka was reported dead in."
"So it wasn't really a office fire?" The inspector seemed annoyed at the perversion of justice.
"There was a fire. What happened first is unclear though. At least, a fire does not explain the nearly simultaneous deaths of twenty Diluvian employees and accountability officers not present at the fire."
"What do Tanaka's psychiatric reports say?" Eva was leaning towards the file with barely restrained curiosity.
"He had some issues, an obsession with superhero fantasy and magical girl manga being among them. I'm afraid I'm not trained to give you a meaningful professional breakdown.
Suffice it to say he was slightly disturbed, but had it well under control. Definitely not the type we'd predict would start a terror spree when off his meds. We only have the records up to three years ago. However, he would have continued seeing psychologists and psychiatrists regularly, so it should be unlikely that he would spiral out of control. It is worth pointing out that they trusted him sufficiently to have no issue with him being a team leader."
"Team leader of what? What did he do?"
"We haven't been able to reconstruct much. Diluvian sustained significant loss of information in the 'fire.'"
Everyone perked up in their own fashion. Eva looked intent, her prostheses twitching for something to write with. Lina leaned back and put her feet on the table. Amaterasu just bounced in her chair.
The spook sighed. "It isn't much. They were working on a device that reportedly had very interesting potential. They described it as 'revolutionary, but frustratingly useless.' As soon as the details of that potential was uncovered they heavily classified any details, and worked to remove them from previous reports.
One of the most important things you can extract from Mechaner is any information regarding the location of backups, off-site storage locations, or anyone who might know something about the details of his work. Coaxing Mechaner to reveal his own knowledge would also be useful, but less likely to succeed."
We relaxed. Damn, I thought we'd learn more than that. "Okay, let's see Satoshi Tanaka."
We opened the door to his cell and filed in. The walls were unfinished concrete, several feet thick. Mechaner was bound to a sturdy steel chair, itself bolted to the concrete floor. His hands were bound with thick steel manacles bolted to the chair arms.
His feet were similarly restrained. He still wore the thick booby-trapped collar, and a large claymore was screwed into the floor facing him. Two armored soldiers with oversized guns stood in the corner.
Fortunately, the room was decently large, or we wouldn't have fit - at least with everyone crowding the back of the room to stay away from both the landmine and Mechaner. Despite the restraints and the humiliation the chair's built-in chemical toilet implied, Mechaner dominated the room.
The inspector walked forward and placed the psychiatrists overview on the table, barely within reach. Mechaner glanced down at it, but did not touch it. "Dr. Tanaka: You promised to talk if we brought the magical girls."
"Indeed I did. On what subject do you wish me to talk?"
"How about a quick description of how you became Mechaner or Warlock or whatever."
"As I have said, I prefer Warlock for now."
"Warlock then. How have you come by these powers, and why have you used them as you have?"
"How do we become anyone? We become ourselves because we couldn't have become anyone else. Our flaws define us." He flipped the files open. "You seem to think my mental disorder is important. In a way, that is absolutely true. Our flaws define us, and this flaw has defined me."
"So you are doing this because of your mental disorder? You feel like you must create this magical girl story? You don't seem delusional. Why make these strange attacks? Surely there are better uses for your power. You could have easily become rich, famous, and important. Hell, you could have afforded to role-play your little obsession."
"I am doing this because I gained the power. I gained the power because I am doing this."
"But why? Why would you gain the power because you are doing this? Are you saying someone gave you this power contingent on carrying out these attacks?"
"Why? Humans are so eager to assign agency to anything and everything. I am. Why am I? Because if I wasn't I wouldn't be. Why do I exist instead of something else? You are looking at it the wrong way. Reverse your causes. I am defined by my existence. Why is this pattern the one that must exist and not another?"
Lina's patience was thinning. "If you are actually trying to tell us something it's not working."
Mechaner smiled thinly, then continued in a singsong voice:
"Once upon a time there was a man in a world much like this one. Or possibly there wasn't, it doesn't matter. The man was a little insane, or at least he wasn't quite normal. But it was under control.
He was a scientist working on big secret project. One day after a long time working on this project he realized something. Something none of his coworkers had realized. Something none of his coworkers could realize, because it was a hidden message for his eyes only. He wouldn't have had this realization if he wasn't a little insane. The realization opened his eyes, or maybe it drove him insane, because if it hadn't the realization wouldn't have been possible."
He smirked. "Yes, I am aware this is unclear. You see, the villain always speaks obliquely. The heroes have to wonder, waiting for the right moment for the truth to be revealed. For the true depths of their predicament to become clear."
This was still the most useful he had been. Perhaps I could approach from a slightly different angle. "You admit you are insane. I didn't think insane people would realize they are insane. How do you know what you think happened did?"
"Oh I've been to professionals. In many ways I'm sure I have a better grasp of my mind than you do."
"But you say you are insane. How do you know that?"
"Insanity in this case is defined relative to everyone else. Insanity is embracing this difference. I admit I feared and doubted the transition at first. Worse, I couldn't even discuss it with my supposed councilors. Despite their pretensions of privacy they cared only about the company and the project in the end."
"So you relied only on your already troubled mind."
"I got the assistance I needed at the time. Of course, considering my decision, I'm not sure if that is a claim others would agree with."
Eva asked softly, "So the source of your power is?"
Mechaner switched to a grave tone. "The same as yours, of course. Mine is merely closer to the source."
The spook asked, "Why do photographs or video of you or magical girls get deleted?"
Mechaner laughed, suddenly whimsical. "Ah, did you like that? I expect you wouldn't. That was me! Took quite a while to set up, you know, but I am proud of my work. A virus and a spell to ensure its efficacy. It was truly my hard work you know, don't let anyone say I cheated.
Even I have been surprised by its effectiveness. Have to keep some mystery, you know. In this day and age all our fights would be streamed in HD from five different angles. Besides it keeps you folk on your toes and out of our war."
"You say a spell, how do you create a spell?" I asked.
"You don't. I do. It takes some time and care. Mainly a matter of being very specific about what you want. That's rather my speciality. It was much harder without my team, I must admit."
"Your team? What happened at Diluvian Technologies, Warlock?"
"I'm afraid I will have to be obliquely reserved on that subject."
The Inspector had a different angle. "You have a sister, yes? Two nephews. We've had to talk to them. Are you interested in how they are doing? How they reacted to your ... villainhood?"
Mechaner wagged his finger at the Inspector. "I was wondering when you would go there. You know, revealing my secret identity is not very kosher. We'll return to that later. At the moment I have some questions and comments for my good nemeses. I'll have to ask the rest of you to leave. Odysseus, you may stay. You might want to ensure they aren't listening in. This might get a bit personal."
I frowned, but requested the others leave. With the door sealed, and the Faraday shielding of this room, it would be hard to get any signals out. I arranged a dead-man switch communicator on the wired audio feed. If I dropped the switch they would come inside. Without a quick code word they would come in guns blazing.
He turned to face Eva, at least as much as the chair allowed. "So, Rin. Have you realized it yet?"
She inhaled a little too sharply, but otherwise responded with indifference. "What are you talking about?"
"Yes, I know your names. Rin Endo, Dinah Fisher, Naomi Inoue, Sebastian Lerche. The police sold you out for a few scraps. How do you think they learned my name? I wasn't supposed to tell you, of course."
Eva continued coldly, but there was a new tension someone less familiar might not have noticed. "I shall consider that accusation. Now, what realization are you referring to?"
"So proper, so careful, so cold. No one to warm your heart or your body. There may never be. I am recovered from the injuries sustained in our last fight. You are not. Will you ever be able to touch anyone again? Run your fingers through the hair of a child, or over a lovers body? Cold artificial hands to go with a cold artificial heart."
Eva stood fluidly. For a moment I feared she would attack him, but she just stood motionlessly. He smiled slightly and continued. "I have healed myself, and I could heal you. Will you ask my price?"
Eva didn't respond. Eyes fathomless and face a mask, she gave no sign of hearing.
Mechaner waited for a long moment before turning to me. "Sebastian. Is there anything you do that isn't a ploy? Any unconsidered laughter, any unplanned affectionate gesture? Any un-calculated romance or genuine philosophy? You've wormed your way into this little group with ease, despite trying to kidnap or kill them.
Speaking as someone with plenty of experience in the mental health arena: there are people who act like you. They are called psychopaths. Little empathy, little remorse, little restraint. They don't really care, so they are experts at getting others to believe they do. Of course I don't expect you to mind me. Perhaps your 'friends' will be warned."
I tried to look insulted. He was right, I didn't mind. I wasn't sure what to say to ensure the girls didn't take him seriously. Any denial on my part might make it worse. Amaterasu, at least, looked upset at the accusation.
A sad, fatherly tone came to Mechaner's voice as he spoke to Amaterasu. "Dinah, the sweet, generous girl. I wonder if your friends believe that is just your nature. So afraid everyone will leave you yet again. You can't make them love you.
No matter how much you shower them with kindness. No matter how perfect you make yourself seem, eventually the world will move on. You will be an inconvenience. Then you'll learn whether they really care. Your desperation makes me think you have an idea about what will happen then."
Without waiting for her reaction he turned to Lina. "Naomi. So much passion. So much anger. Is it at the world ..." Lina overrode him, repeating in a baby voice: "So much passion. So much anger ..."
Mechaner looked annoyed. "What?"
"I said, fuck you, Hannibal Lecter. I don't give a crap about any of that psycho-analyst bullshit and neither do they."
"Anger, indeed. Fear too, perhaps, about what I'm going to say."
"Nuh uh, you don't get to manipulate me like that. NYAH NYAH NYAH ..."
Mechaner tried to continue, but she just drowned him out. Eventually he gave up with the first glimpse of real anger I had seen from him. She kept going for way too long. I desperately wanted to silence her, but it actually seemed to cheer Eva and Amaterasu up. When Lina finally shut up he raised his hand mockingly. Lina waved him on magnanimously. "Yes?"
"Very well, I will return to a previous point. I believe I mentioned how superheroes and villains didn't reveal each other's secret identities? There's a reason. You see, once your secret identity is revealed, once your civilian identity has been exploited, the reader has to ask why the villains or heroes don't exploit it whenever it is convenient. Threaten loved ones and so forth. Sad that your police inspector violated that rule, it usually means the story is taking a darker turn."