Seven years is a long time. For a human, that is.
In cosmic terms it's not even the blink of an eyelash, more like the imperceptible trembling of an eyelash that has just begun to consider blinking. But for a squishy mortal like Ryoji, it was more than enough time to begin hating his job.
When, exactly, had things started to go wrong? Ryoji's mind drifted back to when his employer - the esteemed Mr. Wanahasu, revered in dry-cleaning circles throughout Japan - had first instructed him to commission a new headquarters for a startup venture. "We're taking the business into new territory," Ryoji had been told, "and we need an appropriate base of operations."
Simple enough, he had thought. His years of toiling for a dry-cleaning magnate had taught Ryoji to be prepared for anything. "I'll start searching Tokyo for office space--"
"No no, Tokyo won't do at all," was the reply. "We need something more....I don't know, sinister. How about a swamp?"
That was red flag number one. Numbers two through infinity came when Ryoji was ordered to ensure that the building planners devise the structure in the shape of a human skull. And that the place be called "The Fortress of Despair."
Ryoji's mother had wanted him to become a librarian. Sigh.
"Erm...Just what kind of business is this?" he had inquired. "What industry needs a swamp-based skull with a dramatic name?"
"Oh...well, that...that makes sense then," Ryoji mumbled unconfidently, and got down to business.
But did it? Did anything make sense? Did it make sense to look away when Mr. Wanahasu began conducting illegal cloning experiments in the lab? Did it make sense to lie to police when nearby townsfolk began disappearing in the night?
Seven years later, Ryoji was convinced that nothing made sense anymore. At least, not like the Dewey Decimal System makes sense. It's so numeric and orderly. It keeps the biographies seperate from the--
Get it together, man! Ryoji thought. You have no time for this! He was, at present, engaged with a task. A very important task, apparently, since it required the attention of Mr. Wanahasu himself.
Ryoji moped through the cold gray corridors of Despair despairingly, curling his upper lip at the smell of the marsh gas which had infected every corner of the place. A quiet partition in a strip mall would have done. I found a nice place in a business plaza with apricot wallpaper, plenty of room for shelves of literature...Nope! Swampy skull it is. Never mind that the nearest parking structure is two miles away.
He passed through the final arch ("There have to be arches! That's important for some reason! Put arches everywhere," he had been told) and tapped at Mr. Wanahasu's door. "Sir? It...it's me, sir," he announced. "I have news, or something."
The door slid open. The Master rested elegantly on his throne, flanked by guards in shiny white armor.
Ryoji stared. "Is that..." He stared more. "Is that a stormtrooper?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Ryoji," replied the boss. "We're not evil. This is all about dry-cleaning. What do you have to tell me?"
"It really looks like a--"
"I don't care what you think! This is perfectly normal! Now, what do you want?"
"The uh...the clones have been dispatched, sir."
"Splendid! Soon the scientist will belong to us, and my great rival Tsunku will be, shall we say, out of time! Mwahahaha!"
Ryoji blinked. "Did you just do the evil laugh?"
"What? No! I mean, don't be a fool. It's a dry-cleaning laugh. Is there anything else?"
"I guess not."
"Good, then get out and let me think. And you stop thinking about libraries, you know I hate that."
"Yes, sir," Ryoji desponded nasally before slumping and slogging away.
I'm pretty sure those were stormtroopers.
Ueda trudged down the muddy hill in quiet frustration. Stupid waste of time, what a...
He paused, having run out of synonyms for "lunatic". Luckily he still had some for "asshole".
...shit-gargling asswhistle. I can't believe I got suckered into this. How the hell am I supposed to get home?
If the forest had shoulders it would have shrugged. Ueda soldiered on. "Every single person I've met tonight is a complete and utter asshole," he cried.
"You haven't met me," was the unexpected reply.
After briefly contemplating the notion that the very trees were speaking to him, Ueda wheeled towards the source of the voice. It was a beautiful voice, one he had heard before. He knew very well indeed who he was talking to.
"Fan-fucking-tastic. Any other dead people going to show up? Maybe you've got Napoleon lurking around somewhere?"
"What's a Napoleon? Look, we don't have much time. You need to come with me."
"No. No I do not. The one thing I've learned tonight is that I don't have to do a single thing that any of you fluffy-minded, law-breaking miscreants tell me to do."
"You really don't get it, do you? They're going to come and..."
"I. DON'T. CAAAAAAARE. Fuck you, fuck Tsunku, fuck this whole insane idea, I'm going ho--"
A single shot rang out, causing everyone to jump.
Oh, good, thought Ueda, ducking behind a tree. This is just what I need. Is the clone of Ghandi going to show up and piss on my shoes?
If that is what happened, Ueda would have had an easier night. Instead, a leather-clad figure descended from the trees, the still-smoking Rhino firmly in hand, leveled unerringly at the interloper.
The figure spoke. "Step away from him, bitch. Or this is gonna get ugly."
There may be a place, perhaps at the fringes of the cosmos, where up and down, day and night, heaven and hell are all the same. Such was Ueda's conundrum:
Standing to his left was Rika Ishikawa.
Standing to his right was also Rika Ishikawa.
Darkness pounced as Ueda's rationality disassembled. The universe silently tumbled into oblivion. The only sanity left was in unconciousness. As his face hit the mud, he heard Evil Rika speak:
"What a fucking pansy."