Lost and Found, Part 2
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Last time on Nuri:
Lost and Found, Part 1

Nuri had been scared from her first encounter with the ghost man onwards. Not because of the ghosts, Nuri believed herself brave enough to defy them. It was the man himself that made her knees weak. She couldn't put her finger on it, but he seemed to be more than just his body. Something like a presence that smothered all other influences around him. When the ghost man was around, something unspeakably wrong overtook Nuri's senses. It was like the shiver one felt when looking at extreme human deformities, only permanent.

And now he held the only people captive who could bring Nuri home. Dean was already getting up, but he couldn't possibly fight something he couldn't see.

So he apparently decided to fight what he could see. He stomped toward Damm. The latter only pulled a knife from his pockets and levitated Elli toward him.

"Watch it, big guy," he warned, bored. "While I can't kill your girlfriend here on orders from the boss, he conveniently didn't say anything about not hurting her. If I were you, I'd-"

He was interrupted by Dean. He had continued to walk toward him despite the warning and abruptly delivered a hook to the agent's chin. The special agent saw the fist coming at the last moment and leaned back, but Dean used the position his right hand was now in and the momentum to leap into the air and throw himself elbow first at Damm. If Nuri had been versed in wrestling, she would have known that Dean was executing an Elbow Drop. In any case, the special agent was caught completely off guard by the maneuver and as a result was about to be buried under Dean. Nuri half expected the earth to tremble under the impact, but nothing of the sort happened. Dean began to float in the air before he could make contact with the ground, but gravity laid claim to Elli in return, not waiting for other physical influences to agree.

"Oumph!" she made as she came up.

Damm, meanwhile, gawked in disbelief at Dean before the latter was suddenly flung away by the invisible force. He scrambled to his feet.

"Okay, I tried to make this painless, but fine, I'll take the kid gloves off …"
Something flooded over Nuri. She couldn't tell what it was, only that it was related to the man's unpleasant aura. It seemed to be aimed at Elli, who blinked briefly in confusion as it hit her.

Then, to Nuri's surprise, Damm started screaming like a banshee and fell to the ground, wincing.

"What's wrong with him?" asked Dean, standing back up.

"That guy just tried to possess me," Elli explained. "It's just a good thing my thought matrix is way too complex for him… Oh, now I understand how his ability works. His soul is too big for his body, thus he can improvise it as a poltergeist."

Dean watched the spectacle, while Nuri backed away from the tortured special agent in confusion. She had no idea what had just happened, but apparently Elli had incapacitated the ghost man. The aura around him flickered as if it shared its owner's pain.

"Hmm," Dean meanwhile opined, "should I or do you want to kick him in the crown jewels?"

"Nah, leave it, we'll leave him for IMBW, we need to get out of here," Elli objected. "We're going the other way, someone will probably come this one in a minute because of the screaming."

"And what makes you so sure there's another exit here?" asked Dean.

"Fire protection regulations?" tried Elli.

Dean sighed and started moving, while Nuri ran ahead to walk beside Elli.

"How did you end up here, anyway?" asked Elli as they ran.

Nuri had been wondering that for a long time, because she didn't know the answer.

"I don't know," she answered truthfully. "I went to bed at some point and then I woke up with bad people. But I want to go back home! I'm sure my mommy is already worried!"

She looked pleadingly at Elli.

"Wait, does that mean you weren't in the IMBW back then?" asked Elli.

"No. I was sent here later. By a mean woman. She hit me…"

"I'll have to do some research on that later," Elli said. "What are your parents' first and last names?"

Nuri's expression brightened.

"Oh, mommy is Jihe Jeong and daddy is Minho Jeong," she said cheerfully.

"That makes you Nuri Jeong," Elli concluded, shrugging her shoulders. "I can work with that."

Nuri straightened her ears when she heard a distant sound. Footsteps!

"Someone's coming!" she whispered.

Elli put her hand to her ear with a furrowed brow.

"I don't hear anything. Your hearing is absolutely top-notch."

"They were probably attracted by the screaming," Dean speculated.

His gaze wandered over the doors on the walls.

"Maybe we should get out of their way. Are these doors open?"

Nuri knew she could enter at least one of them.

"Come with me!"

She went ahead and opened the door of a certain room a few meters away.

"What's that?" asked Elli as she entered the room. Her eyes had fallen on the large machine that stood inside, protected from access by a grate.

"This is the Marble Room," Nuri explained as Dean closed the door behind them.

"Marble Room?" repeated Dean quietly. "That doesn't really look like a marble run."

"I call it that," Nuri insisted defiantly.

"Wha-," Dean began, but broke off when it seemed like he too heard footsteps on the other side of the door.

It took a while, which the three of them spent in tense silence, for the stomping to recede far enough for them to speak freely again.

"What kind of marble, Nuri?" asked Elli in alarm.

Nuri choked up her marble and opened her mouth to show it off.

"Tis won," she said with her mouth open.

"You put it … Put it into this machine?" asked Elli cautiously.

"No?" replied Nuri, swallowing the sphere again. "There were two people in white coats who did that. I needed to go in here in here and give it to them."

"Uh, Nuri," Elli began, a little shocked. "This is your fox marble. You only have one, and that one contains most of your essence. Entrusting it to someone is roughly giving up four-fifths of your life force. Don't ever let anyone take it away from you again!"

Nuri swallowed fearfully at this revelation to make sure her marble stayed inside.

"What does this machine do, anyway?" asked Dean.

"I'm going to find out now," Elli announced. "Where's my army knife …"

Elli rummaged in her purse and finally pulled out what looked like a swiss army knife. Nuri didn't know the tool Elli pulled out, but anyone who worked in the industry knew immediately what she was up to.

She had put out the plasma cutter …

Wearing welding goggles, Elli cut through the lock until Dean finally ripped open the weakened grille. Immediately Elli was at the device, turning it on and tapping away at it. Along the way, she took a swig from a black flask she pulled from her pocket. And Nuri finally knew where the smell of gas station was coming from.

"Hmm, it's a charging station for abstract forms of energy. But where does it get its energy from? The technology to artificially generate essence shouldn't exist yet in this time …"

She tapped a little more on the device.

"Hmm, apparently there's a source in another part of the building, but that thing must be huge. If it was just Nuri being strapped to this machine, she's been infused with the essence of tens of thousands. Why would the IMBW do something like that?"

"Maybe they're getting paid to do it?" speculated Dean. "After all, Nuri was brought here by someone else, maybe they want her back someday?"

Nuri got scared when she heard that and held onto Elli's pants.

"I don't want to go back to that bad woman!

"I'm working on it," Elli countered before listening up. "Hmm. Do either of you still hear Damm screaming?"

Nuri and Dean listened for a moment, then shook their heads.

"Well, they'll know we want out. With just a little forethought, the exits upstairs will be locked because of that," Elli postulated as she pondered. "I can't shut down the reality anchors because there are too many and they have emergency generators. The security cameras probably haven't booted yet. So how do we get out of here?"

"Can we fool them into thinking we have Nuri as a hostage?" suggested Dean.

"I don't want to be a hostage!" objected Nuri, startled.

"Nobody wants that," Elli said. "And if Damm has just an ounce of intelligence, he'll see right through it; after all, we haven't constrained Nuri in any form. Urgh, this is almost like when we had to get Chloe-"

Suddenly, a wide grin crept onto her face.

"Dean? What do you think of the good old capture-the-god-tactic?"

"I'd like to remind you that in this particular case that gave you this idea, we almost died," Dean countered1.

"Eh," Elli waved it off. "I've learned this time."

Special Agent Damm rubbed his cheek with a suppressed growl.

"Professor, did you really have to hit that hard?"

"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Damm," Voss apologized again. "But minor shocks like shaking your shoulders and slapping your ears did nothing, and you were about to have a stroke because of this neural infinite loop. Either my punch or someone would have needed to kick you in the most sensible part."


The two were making their way through the corridors along with a posse of guards. Apparently, Squad D had missed the intruders as they had approached Damm. On their way back, they had found that someone had gained access to the essence converter. And they had the fox girl with them …

"Do we have to worry about suddenly being confronted with some japanese monster nonsense?" he asked.

"First of all, Mr. Damm, our lovely Nuri is of Korean descent," Voss insisted firmly. "And second, I don't think so. She has never displayed any other skills besides throwing up her fox marble during her entire stay here. I'm sure of it, after all, I have her studied for that."

Damm rolled his eyes at Voss's researcher enthusiasm.

"As for that, Mr. Damm," the IMBW director continued, "I'd like to ask you to use your gift to bring Nuri back-"

"Rejected, Professor," Damm cut him off firmly.

Voss blinked in surprise.

"Oh? I have no intention of forcing you to do anything, but how do you come to this abrupt answer?"

"Standards, professor," was the reply. "I get physically uncomfortable at the thought of assuming control over young children."

"Oh, that's understandable," Voss agreed, musing.

"Where do you think they are now, Professor?" the special agent changed the subject.

"Well, they didn't disappear, or they would have already done so when they picked up the android. They obviously didn't go upstairs, because then they would have run into the guards. That leaves only the escape downstairs."

The special agent listened up.

"Do you mean all the way downstairs?"

"A big steel gate," Dean described what they saw in front of them. "Why do you always have to take the horror trip, Elli? There's never anything good behind big steel gates."

They were at the end of a very wide corridor with a freight elevator at the far end. The walls were bare concrete. Nuri watched, fascinated, as Elli unscrewed the control box next to the gate and fiddled with the wires. Finally, the gate opened with a mechanical roar.

For a while neither of them said anything as they saw what lay beyond.

"What. Is. THAT!!!", Dean finally brought out.

In the large room beyond the gate was a depression, probably meters deep, widely enclosed by a futuristic-looking steel cage. And in this depression pulsated and turned … Well, what actually? Nuri had never seen anything like it. It appeared to be some kind of colossal lump of fused flesh and bone. Bones and atrophied limbs protruded in all directions from the abomination.

Elli approached the heaving mass cautiously. Nuri followed her and became aware of a normal-sized eye watching her through the grating. The gaze lacked any form of soul or intelligence.

"Elli, what is that?" she asked anxiously, prepared for the colossus to pounce on her any moment now.

"Something we can't help," Elli replied, pulling some sort of Game Boy out of her purse and reading something off its screen.

"Yes. Whoever it was, Voss put an astral being, a monster not of this world, into this poor girl, and apparently the newcomer has gone mad. Why am I getting cat DNA displayed here?"

"Girl?" repeated Nuri, confused. "That's not a girl."

"Right," Elli confirmed. "She was a girl. This is what Professor Voss is willing to do to satisfy his endless curiosity and ambition for human improvement," Elli explained. "I've seen many who ended up like this. Some of them don't even have the luxury of dying anymore."

Elli took a sip from her flask.

Nuri thought back to the moments she had spent with Voss. He had always been so kind …

"Are you sure he does that on purpose?"

Elli laughed humorlessly.

"I'm sure he doesn't mean to, but he does it anyway as part of his extreme experiments. He's a mad scientist, Nuri. Charming, kind, maybe, if you don't know him, but underneath is his insanity that drives him to keep researching without regard for what happens to his guinea pigs. He probably thinks he's doing them a favor…"

Nuri had difficulty imagining Voss as evil. However, he left her here in the care of people with whom she felt uncomfortable or even threatened. Unlike Elli, who had immediately accepted her call for help. She decided to believe her.

"Is he going to do that to me?" asked Nuri, looking down at the twitching mass of flesh and holding onto Elli's pants in fright.

"Not if you're on loan, but the odds aren't zero. After all, they fed you the sheer essence of that creature."

"I ate it?" wondered Nuri, mentally going over her recent meals for suspicious ingredients.

"No, Nuri," the blonde denied, "I mean your fox marble. It was enriched with the essence of this creature. And from the looks of it, it's powering the emergency generators in the building with its sheer energy. Hm. If I turn those off…"

Elli looked around the room and finally found a table with a laptop on it, next to it a veritable jungle of power cables ran from the cage and disappeared into a wall.

"Enough power to incinerate the county and they don't even have a specialized terminal…", she commented, taking out a USB stick covered with kitten stickers from her purse.

"What are you going to do?" asked Dean, who also approached.

"I was hoping to use this creature for my purposes, but we're dealing with a god-like being without any mind or soul. That's why I have to improvise again. I will do this by hacking into the computer and cutting the power to everything that keeps reality stable here. If a few inmates escape in the process, all the better."

She plugged in the thumb drive, but…

"I'm afraid that's something I can't allow to happen. Elli was the name, correct?"

Nuri knew the voice. Turning around, she recognized Voss, along with Damm and several other men who entered the room. She took cover behind Elli.

Elli, meanwhile, positioned herself with her body in front of the computer and hid her left hand behind her back. Dean moved into position next to her. She rummaged in her pocket with her right hand.

"Voss!" she greeted the professor with put-on friendliness and a smile to match. "It's really nice to meet you sometime, but meeting me is a privilege. I must say, I wasn't too thrilled when you kidnapped my buddy here. And ruined his overcoat. Do you know how much that costs?"

"I can only speculate," Voss admitted. "While I understand why you broke in, I have to point out that you're still damaging Institute property. We've done some makeshift patching of the damage for now, but we're going to have to replace a bunch of cables."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Elli said sarcastically. "But you tried to fuck with Elli, but Elli won't let you fuck with her. If anyone's fucking around here, it's me!"

"We're aware of that by now," Damm hooked in.

Nuri felt the strange aura flowing toward them. However, neither of them was grabbed. Instead, the computer suddenly shut down, which Elli had been operating with her left hand behind her back.

"Nice try," the man said. "Draw your weapons!"

His subordinates complied with the order and pointed them at Elli, who pressed her lips together in embarrassment.

"Uh, you know there's a little kid behind me, right?"

"It's barely reaching your thighs," Damm countered. "We know how to shoot people, and I still resent that near-stroke you gave me earlier. Men! Fi-"

"AGENT Damm," Professor Voss interrupted him while shaking his head. "Before you do something extremely stupid, I'd like to point out that I'm sensing a strange force field around the lady. What do you have in that handbag, Ms. Elli?

"Uhm, reflector shield2?" replied Elli in amazement, grimacing.

"It's going swimmingly today," Dean sighed.

"Gentlemen, please handcuff our valued guests as well as Nuri," Voss asked his team politely. "Without force, if possible, our start is bad enough as it is."

"If you say so," groaned Damm.

His aura moved and lifted Elli off her feet, who acknowledged this with a surprised sound as she shot up several meters in the air. Nuri hid behind Dean, who was attacked by the rest of the team and Voss. No one could get a grip on him, and the batons that were used were ineffective. Instead, he dealt feint blows of his own that sent those hit staggering back and K.O.-ed some outright. But then Voss came into range, unimpressed by Dean's attacks, to Nuri's horror. Dean landed a hit to Voss' temple, forcing him to momentarily seek balance, but nothing more. On the contrary, he smiled.

"You and your blonde friend never cease to fascinate me, you know that? Show me more!"

A silent fistfight broke out between Dean and Voss. The only sound heard was that of the blows, which sounded strangely muffled no matter who was hit. None of the guards dared to intervene as the pace increased and reached a level that was unattainable for normal humans. Nuri, for her part, had backed away from Dean as he was driven backward inch by inch. Voss was smaller than him, but he seemed to know more about martial arts, at least his movements seemed more coordinated and fluid than Dean's, Nuri had no knowledge about such things. She didn't know what to do. Guards were already trying to grab her and she dodged them by a hair's breadth. Then she was seized by the aura of the ghost man and lifted into the air, squealing in fright. Elli hung upside down beside her.

"Oh, Nuri, that I meet you here," she commented.

"Elli, what are we going to do," Nuri asked in a panic.

"We're waiting," Elli replied. "I actually thought it would go faster, but apparently the big one here has a pretty long fuse…"

Nuri gave Elli a confused look, but then suddenly there was movement in the mass of amorphous flesh behind the grating. The creature made a sound that should never be emitted by a living creature.

Damm below them watched in disbelief as the colossus began to writhe. Blue sparks began to leap across the cage. Voss paused mid-strike and turned to the behemoth.

"Oh. Astra? What's the matter with you? I haven't seen you this active in a long time."

His for some strange reason gleefully astonished gaze fell on Elli.

"You're responsible for that, aren't you?"

"Yep!" grinned Elli back.

"What, HOW!!!" it escaped Damm in disbelief. "I turned off the computer!"

"I just gave the software a single command: 'emergency shutdown','" Elli explained with satisfaction. "That won't take two minutes. The rest was just stalling until the power pile-up became noticable."

"Oh, you want to overload Astra's cage?" concluded Professor Voss, like a teacher looking at an interesting homework draft from a student. "Very imaginative, but as soon as we get the laptop back up, we can fix this problem right away."

"HA!" laughed Elli. "I'm operating on a completely different level, Voss. You've completely lost sight of Dean."

Nuri looked to where she had last seen Dean, but he was indeed gone.

"Wuh!" she made in confusion, looking around searchingly. Dean was nowhere to be discovered.

"I just wanted to turn off your annoying anchors," Elli giggled meanwhile, "Bye!"

The entire hall below Nuri was engulfed in blackness, from which Dean's arms reached out and pulled them in and through, while below them the Astra monster's cage gradually began to glow under the energetic strain. Nuri's sense of balance was thrown into disarray as gravity suddenly shifted ninety degrees against her body. She also found herself in a green meadow. Above them was a bright blue sky and in the distance Nuri saw the most impossible house she had ever seen. Strange paint job included. She knew little about architecture, but she was sure that towers, for example, did not include loopings.

"Do you know how damn hard it is to anticipate your plans when you're supposed to be part of them yourself?" Dean nagged.

"I don't know what's the problem, it all worked out," Elli replied happily.

"Where are we?" asked Nuri. "Is Voss gone?"

"This is the Nexus," Elli explained. "My own realm. No one but me can open a gate to this place, the professor can't reach us here, don't worry."

Nuri suddenly felt as if a great burden had been lifted from her. She could go home, to mommy and daddy. Her knees became wobbly and she suddenly felt very tired. Elli caught her before she could fall over.

"Oh, that's… good… Um, but, can we… do anything, call the police or anything?"

"The police versus the IMBW?"

Elli giggled mirthlessly.

"They don't even know they exist."

"If it's any consolation, I think they got quite a lesson from us," Dean added.

Nuri's consciousness was gradually fading, but in the increasing blackness before her eyes, she could still make out Dean grinning as he lifted the laptop…

Elli was sending the last crawler off to search the archives of all the servers in Germany for Nuri's parents when Dean entered the room. She had retreated to her cosmoscope room for her work and was hacking away on a hypercomputer. Next to it rested the large cosmoscope, covered in riveted plates, which was currently set to Nuri's reality.

Elli was absolutely certain that Nuri's parents had to show up in some databases of the Republic, probably even the Residents' Registration Office. After all, demon foxes were technically not a separate species, but the result of a mutated allele on the X chromosome that was inherited recessively. If you had only one such allele, you were a normal human, which is why demon foxes were exclusively female. Nuri's glamour, on top of that, had most likely affected her parents and surroundings since birth, as was common with her kind, which meant she had never been exposed as a kumiho.

"I put her in one of the guest rooms, Dean reported. "She sleeps like a rock, you'd think she is dead."

"Kumiho or not, she's four, Dean," Elli reminded her. "Even a lot of adults can't take that much stress at once.

Her computer emitted a soft "bing." And then another. And another. And a few more.

"Is your time bomb about to go off?" quipped Dean.

Elli shook her head.

"No, my web crawlers are just giving me the first results. Should only be a few dozen, the Jeong surname isn't exactly widely represented in Germany. Especially with the first names to it."

Then she frowned, because the computer seemed to be trying to be a triangle, more and more results were coming in, far more than just "a few dozen". The search engines made it to 1012 hits …

Elli and Dean exchanged a glance.

Most of the hits came from police files and news outlets that had been censored by various secret organizations like the Foundation and the GOC. Frowning, Elli opened a newspaper article. The headline read: BRUTAL MASSACRE. This was followed by the subhead: Korean couple found mangled in their own apartment. No trace of the only daughter.

Dean and Elli hastily went through the police files. Something terrible must have happened, what they saw on the crime scene photos, could only be recognized with much imagination as human.

The two exchanged another look.

"Should we… check?" asked Elli.

Dean did not answer. Elli made adjustments to the cosmoscope with trembling hands and aligned it with the time and place of the crime. She had made a slight mistake because of the trembling, since she ended up outside the apartment and blood splatters were already visible on the window. They stood out visibly because the lights were on in the house and it was deep night. She drove the optics through the wall and down the hallway into the apartment and stopped in the living room behind the back of Nuri, who was staring motionless at what was left of her parents.

"Oh…" was all Elli could utter, "Oh no…"

Nuri turned her head and the camera caught her eyes. They were not brown, but bright red and devoid of any human emotion. What Elli saw there through the cosmoscope was just a predatory animal in the shape of a human child …

With a scream, she turned off the cosmoscope … She needed a drink …

Next time on Nuri:
The Wonderland, Part 1

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