Chiyo Chono’s concept of time and place had upended itself long before she woke up to discover herself roasting under the white desert sun — after weeks of living in Takayama, where her body had refused to adjust to either the time zone or the climate, yesterday’s flight from Japan to America had only left her more thinly tethered to the objective reality other people seemed to inhabit.
She knew she probably should have been talking to her classmates on the plane ride, or letting Cipriani know she was safe when they landed, or doing something other than stare vaguely at the woman who stamped her passport and sip at an overpriced airport coffee while they waited for the train, but her life had begun to feel like a movie she kept nodding off in the middle of. Whenever she woke up, it was a different place and time. Who could keep track? The most she could do was wave at her classmates and smile vaguely and promise herself she’d talk to them when she’d had a chance to really sleep.
Was she worried when she woke up to the feeling of sand in her shoes and a kink in her neck? Of course. But it was too weird — too dreamlike — and she was still too tired to be really upset by it. So she sat up, dumbly blinked sleep out of her eyes and pried off her left shoe to shake the sand out, which seemed like the most sensible thing to do right away.
The buzz of the little device in her skirt pocket told her that this must be a bizarre part of Hope’s Peak’s official welcome ritual for them, and why not? She wasn’t willing to consider many things too strange for a school that had, if she’d read that message board post correctly, once invited a super high school level time traveler.
(—she probably hadn’t read the post correctly, but still. The school had a definite reputation for strangeness.)
And…well, it wasn’t as though she could say anything was wrong, could she? They’d arrived where they were supposed to be. None of them were hurt. Her phone was still in her other pocket; when she checked it, she found no signal but a full battery.
Some of her classmates looked upset, but there was nothing to be upset about! They were being left on their own for a while before a teacher — the mayor, she guessed — told them what was happening.
With that in mind, Chiyo pushed herself to her feet and set out to explore the town.
(Was that her sweaty hand twisted in the fabric of her skirt? Yes it was. But not out of anxiety, she insisted to herself. There was nothing to be anxious about.)
Chiyo stepped inside one of the buildings and breathed a little sigh of relief as she felt cool dark air settle over her. This was better. Not that she could tell exactly what this was, except a collection of blinking lights, but it was more comfortable than the heat outside and it was part of the city she’d be stayin in. Given that, it was probably a good idea for her to become familiar with it.
This, she quickly learned, was some kind of game that involved a lot of neon, a lot of darkness and a number of plastic guns outfitted with colorful lights in a bin near the entrance.
She picked one up and gave a little laugh of surprise when it began to blink in response to her touch. How interesting! She had moved on to a collection of bulky light-up vests behind the gun bin when —
A step behind her. A little wedge of outside sunlight peeking into the darkness as the door opened and then closed.
Grinning, Chiyo whirled toward the intruder and pointed the toy gun at their chest.
“Reach for the sky, Classmate-san!”
It would have been a better threat if she hadn’t half-chirped, half-laughed it out. Also if her gun weren’t lit up like a Christmas tree.
“State your name and business, or prepare to suffer the rainbow wrath of —” she pulled the trigger a few times, and the gun blinked for emphasis “— this!”