On Her Majesty's Shepherd Service
by Terry Knight
Johji Nakamura shivered with cold as rain continued to pelt down from the sky, the flickering neon signs flashing light through the early morning gloom. Having walked randomly for hours since he returned to the city of Tokyo, his rumbling stomach reminded him how long it had been since his last meal, but Johji daren't enter any of the welcoming convenience stores or noodle shops to satiate his hunger. Instead, the Siamese cat nervously sought shelter in the doorway of a closed liquor store and shook his head, water droplets flying from his jet-black hair. Not for the first time Johji wished that he hadn't left his umbrella back at home as he wiped his face with his hand, brushing excess water from the smoky grey and brown fur covering his feline muzzle. He looked down to see his black shoes covered in mud and moaned softly to himself, his five foot tall frame sagging into a corner of the doorway. To think that only a couple of days ago he had been like every other young Japanese male - studiously working his way up the corporate ladder, going out for late night drinking sessions, trying to date beautiful women, reading telephone directory sized comic books on the subway to and from work - and now, Johji was on the run. Not as a criminal as such, but certainly wanted in the worst possible way.
I have to leave Japan itself - but to where? Johji wandered aimlessly through the streets as the sun gradually rose and the rain eased, avoiding the koban police boxes and trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. Businessmen and women in suits began to filter onto the streets as the morning commuter rush-hour started, the almost regimental columns of office workers heading for the subway giving Johji ample cover as he racked his brains for his next move.
Stopping at a street corner waiting for the crossing light to change, Johji found himself outside a travel agency and quietly studied the list of advertised destinations and offers in the window. China, Korea... no, no good, not far enough away. What about the Philippines, in Manila? No, I'd stand out - and it would be pretty obvious what I was going there for. Russia? Too cold... and Indonesia is too hot. He was just about to give up when one last poster caught his attention.
Wait a minute... yes, that's it! Far enough away, similar to home, and enough of the right kind of tourists from my country to not arouse suspicion! Hastily tidying himself up, Johji entered the travel agency, forcing himself to remain calm at the sight of the pretty young female at the desk.
"Can I help you, sir?"
Johji smiled. "Yes. I want to book a flight to New Zealand please. One way."
"Another sunny breezy day begins in the city of...
Well, names aren't really important when it comes to this place. Built on the side of a majestic collection of hills overlooking a magnificent deep harbour reaching into the central business district, gentle sixty knot breezes blowing from the cooling south, and with a topography and street design that would have made M. C. Escher take up a career in classical music, the city is the sort of place that inspires a wide range of emotions from its populace. For the intelligentsia, it is a cultural paradise. For the makers and repairers of vehicle transmissions and brakes, it is a gold mine, an El Dorado. For the city's postal delivery workers, who have legs built up like Olympic weightlifters and the climbing ability of mountain goats honed into them, it is the place that will be furthest from their minds when the revolution comes; the only hills they would be forced to climb after that would be as a result of their life memberships in the Royal Dutch Mountain Rescue Club.
As we said, a typical city. Let's call the city Wellington. Plenty of people do.
And as you might expect from such a place that has so many twists and turns in its topography, there are many twists and turns in the population of this fair city compared to the rest of this country..."
Good old Felicity Ferrétt, Esmerelda thought wryly. Or as she calls herself, "Ferr-AYE"... She sipped carefully at her morning cup of tea, her hazel green eyes wandering over the carefully unfolded morning newspaper as sounds of chinking plates and cutlery could be heard from behind. Small rainbows of colour lit up the newspaper and the crisp white tablecloth underneath as the early morning sunlight shone through the kitchen window lace curtains, the light refracting through various glass knick-knacks on the window ledge. Esmerelda smiled as the voice on the radio continued unregarded. With a name like "Felicity Ferrétt", I bet her real name is Dorothy Snoad or something, 'Ferrétt' is SO contrived... "How is breakfast coming along John?" she asked, turning to look over her shoulder.
"Not long now love," John smiled, dropping two slices of bread into the toaster before reaching to embrace Esmerelda from behind, the fur of the cocker spaniel's unclad golden brown torso pressing against the back of the varnished pine chair. Only a red bath towel wrapped around his waist kept him from being completely naked. "How do you like it - medium or well-done?" She giggled playfully, nuzzling him as he rested his head on her shoulder.
"Silly puppy!" Esmerelda chuckled. "How do you cook cereal, I'd like to know!"
"For you love, I'd do anything," John sweetly replied, bussing her on the cheek and fondling her floppy canine ears, pausing to admire the young lady before him. A Sheltie Collie with medium thick yellow-gold fur over most of her body and creamy white fur on her lower muzzle and throat, Esmerelda's generous yet pleasantly rounded form could also be considered somewhat athletic as well. A long auburn mane flowed over her left shoulder and down to the middle of her back, covering the top of the fluffy pink bathrobe she wore, and her blue-green eyes sparkled in the sunlight from the open kitchen window. Not for the first time John considered himself lucky to have met her, even if she did seem to have a rather busy schedule that prevented them being together as much as he would have liked. Which made mornings like this all the more special -
"... And is it any wonder that such an eccentric city is the purported home of New Zealand's only super-heroine, Super Collie?" the voice of Felicity continued on the radio. "Yes, this country's answer to Wonder Whippet and Captain Helga is rumoured to live somewhere in the nation's capital, from where she carries out her stated mission of defending the weak and fighting for the cause of justice. But, is Super Collie really a force for good? Or is she simply appealing to the masses for the fame of it all with her vigilante battles and her oh-so-revealing costume? I mean, really, what kind of a fashion statement is a blue and gold bikini? Pandering to male lust if you want my opinion..."
"Hey, that's not fair!" John retorted, looking up and addressing the radio. "She's better than some muck-raking gossip columnist like you any day. What about the time with breaking up the Mulrooney gang? Do you do anything to clean up the city then? To help people like she does? I bet you don't -"
"She's only doing her job John," Esmerelda replied, reaching behind to gently scratch her boyfriend's neck. "Besides, you don't really know Super Collie, nobody does. She appears out of nowhere and vanishes just as quickly - who can say what she thinks, mmm?"
"I know, I know," John sighed. "But Essie, it's not fair that people like Felicity pick on Super Collie. What has she done to offend them?" His soft brown eyes met hers. "I know I wouldn't like it if people picked on you just because you had done some good around the place."
"Awww, that's sweet..."
"Mmm - oh heck, what's she saying now ?" John disentangled himself from Esmerelda and returned to the kitchen bench, reappearing with two bowls of cereal and milk. Placing one bowl before her, he hopped around the other side of the table, sat down and started eating, watching Esmerelda pull out a notebook and pen to place on the table. She nodded in acknowledgement and drew the sugar bowl towards her.
"... But one thing that distinguishes our resident super-heroine from all others that I know of is, what I would say is an overwhelming compulsive tendency for order. Did you know, for example, that every gang of criminals that she has rounded up for the police have all been tied up and sorted according to height? With notes left as to what sort of knots she used in the rope? Now I ask you - what kind of normal person does that?" The smugness of Felicity's voice hung in the air like stale cigarette smoke over the dining room. "I suppose we should be thankful that we do have someone like Super Collie about, but really dear - please lose some of that obsessiveness, 'kay?"
"Ha." Esmerelda snorted. "She must be making that up - no-one's that obsessive for detail." She paused to note down the number of spoonfuls of sugar she had sprinkled over her cereal, comparing it to a separate set of figures on the page before nodding with satisfaction and replacing the notebook into her bathrobe pocket. "Now, if you want disorder that really needs cleaning up, how about that picture that you're working on, eh John? If there's a piece of artwork that needs a ruler applied to it, it's that one!"
"Oh Essie!" John dropped his spoon and clutched at his heart, putting on a mock expression of anguish. "How can you wound me so? Would'st thou deny me the passions of my heart?" His eyes twinkled with amusement as he watched Esmerelda's jaw drop open in surprise, before she recovered and started giggling at his overacting.
"'Passions of your heart', my tail!" Esmerelda laughed, reaching across the table to tickle John under his jaw. "You know how that Impressionist style of yours gives me a headache! All those blurry outlines and colours, it's so.. so..."
"Disordered?" John chuckled. "Oh dear me, you're not saying I do it on purpose?"
"No, of course not - but I swear, if you didn't put a cover over it when I come over I might be tempted to 'fix it' up for you so I can get some peace."
"Some peace? Peace and quiet? My, my, that's not what we usually get up to when you visit -"
"Oh, you!" Esmerelda playfully swatted him, missing completely as John dodged out of the way. Breakfast forgotten, the two lovers pursued each other down the hall and around the living room, the occasional cushion flying as the regular radio announcer prattled on unheeded.
"That was our weekly guest columnist Felicity Ferrétt from Auckland, and she will be back again same time next week. I don't really know about her comments about Super Collie though, it wouldn't surprise me it's simply because she's not living north of the Bombay Hills, eh? And now today's weather - brought to you by The Fox And Hounds, Wellington's best English pub in downtown Porirua. Where you'll come for the food, and stay for the ambulance - I mean ambience..."
"I'd better get back to the studio and let you go to work I suppose," John observed sadly, rolling onto his side to gaze at the alarm clock on the bedside table. The morning's antics had brought them both to Esmerelda's bedroom, where they lay snuggled beside each other in her bed in a tangled heap of soft lace-edged pillows and fine cotton sheets. He smiled to himself as he looked around the rest of the room, noting the immaculately arranged books on the bookshelves and the carefully ordered array of personal care products on her dresser. In fact the room was so... Esmerelda in every way, right down to the accurately levelled and positioned landscape and still life pictures on the pink wallpapered walls. John rolled back to look at her imploringly. "I wish I could spend the rest of the day with you, Essie... do you have to go into the office?"
"Sorry love, I have to. It's nearly eight already." Esmerelda shook her head as she sat up in bed beside him, reluctantly swinging her legs over the side and planting her feet on the white sheepskin mat beside the bed. "But we did go out to the festival in Martinborough yesterday - and you can still come back tonight, you know." She picked up the pink bathrobe off the floor and trotted to the wardrobe in her bare feet, hanging the bathrobe on a specially labelled hook before turning to face John, her twinkling eyes meeting his. "When you come back, we can continue where we left off if you like..."
John chuckled. "That sounds like a plan to me, love. Six twenty-three, as usual?" he asked as he slid out of bed, stealing quietly up behind Esmerelda.
"It's Monday today, so -"
"Ah, that's right. So six thirty-seven it is. Mmmmm." John put his arms around Esmerelda and hugged her tightly, burying his face in her soft mane and gently stroking the back of her neck. "Can't wait already."
"Silly puppy," Esmerelda chuckled. "Nice as this is though, I really have to get dressed." She gently disentangled herself from her boyfriend's arms and gave him a playful swat on the backside. He yelped in surprise as she herded John out of the room, picking up his clothes and thrusting them into his hands before closing the door behind him. Giggling to herself, Esmerelda returned to the wardrobe, sorting through the plastic covered hangers until she found the labelled outfit she had previously decided on for today. It was the work of only a few minutes before Esmerelda was ready to face the world, wearing a smart navy-blue skirt and matching suit jacket, white frilled silk blouse and a light-blue patterned neck-scarf, her mane tied up in a bun on top of her head. Slipping on a pair of wire rimmed spectacles, she rejoined John in the living room.
"Do you want a lift into work?" John enquired. By now he had changed back into his usual scruffy blue jeans and T-shirt, oblivious to the contrast he made with his well-ordered surroundings. He picked up a denim jacket from where he had dropped it over the sofa, and fiddled around in one of the pockets before extracting a set of car keys.
Esmerelda shook her head. "It's a nice day, I think I'll walk," she replied.
John nodded. "No problem love... see you tonight then." Kissing her lightly on the lips, he winked saucily to her, and left through the front door. After a few moments the distinctive rattle of John's ancient Lada started, disappearing gradually as he backed the car out the drive and drove off down the street. Meanwhile Esmerelda returned to the bedroom and started rearranging and tidying the bed, determined not to leave the house until it was in a fit state for her return at the end of the day.
Twenty minutes later she surveyed her work. There. All finished. Esmerelda was just about to pick up her handbag and bright-yellow windbreaker to leave for work when suddenly an electronic rendition of "God Defend New Zealand" sounded throughout the room. Hastily Esmerelda spun around and raced towards the source of the sound - an electronic PDA device which doubled as a pager and e-mail terminal - and scooped it up from where it lay at the end of her dresser. The message on the screen of the device was direct and unambiguous, causing her to catch her breath in horror.
The scene on the Ngauranga Gorge section of the Northern motorway on a normal rush-hour morning was busy at the best of times, but the scene that Ken surveyed from the relative peace and safety of the morning traffic patrol helicopter was nothing short of chaotic. A fully laded petrol tanker has somehow jack-knifed halfway down the gorge south of the Newlands interchange and smashed through the central safety barrier, causing over twenty cars to collide with it and each other as well as leaking explosive fuel all over both sides of the carriageway.
"There's traffic banked up on the southbound side all the way back to Tawa, and the northbound side is affected as well," Ken reported for the benefit of his radio listeners, instructing his pilot to hold his position over the accident. "It's going to be a while before the police can get up to clear it away, traffic is banking up all over the place in both directions past the Ngauranga Interchange and back to Aotea Quay." Despite the scale of the accident Ken was pretty well unconcerned, most of the traffic problems of this nature he had seen in the past amounted to little more than an inconvenience to commuters, and such accidents in the slow moving rush-hour traffic seldom resulted in fatalities. "So if you're going to -"
The reporter's casual and unhurried spiel halted as a flash of light suddenly flared around the stricken tanker, followed immediately by large outpourings of smoke and flame as one of the crashed cars near the tanker suddenly caught fire. Horrified, Ken craned forward his seat, a chill running through his body as first one car then another ignited, the flames gradually spreading towards the tanker and its explosive load. Even from his vantage point several hundred feet up, through his binoculars Ken could make out panicking figures through the billowing plumes of black smoke and orange flames, the steep walls of the gorge and the ranks of collided vehicles preventing their escape to safety. Slowly but surely, the tongues of flame jumped from car to truck to car up and down the line of crashed vehicles, inching ever closer to the dark stain of spilled fuel on the road surface.
Hastily switching his microphone to mute, Ken urgently tapped his pilot's shoulder. "Get the police, the fire brigade, anyone on open channel!" he yelled above the noise of the helicopter's engines. "The tanker's going to blow any minute, and there's people trapped down there! We've got to do something!" Though God only knows what... it's going to need a miracle to save them!
"Damn damn damn..." Esmerelda whispered under her breath, still staring at the PDA's display. The thought of not responding to the message never entered her head, her first immediate reaction was of her carefully planned schedule going out the window. No matter; lives were at stake, and she had to act fast.
Quickly Esmerelda swept up her handbag and windbreaker and ran out of the house, heading for a small park not far down the street. Leaping over the low fence surrounding the park, she ducked into a small secluded grassy alcove behind a thick tall hedge near a children's playground. Looking around to confirm that no-one had spotted her, Esmerelda carefully withdrew a small pendant from hanging inside her blouse. Slipping the fine gold chain it was hanging from around her neck and clasping the small stylised golden hook pendant in her hand, Esmerelda paused for a long moment, breathing deeply in anticipation. She raised her hand clutching the pendant and chain above her head, focussing her entire being upon the innocuous item of jewellery.
"By the mystic power of the Shepherd, I am transformed," Esmerelda whispered. Immediately a bright light shone out through her fingers from the pendant, rapidly encompassing Esmerelda in a bright silvery glow that lit up the surrounding bushes. A shepherd's hook-headed staff rapidly appeared from Esmerelda's outstretched hand where the pendant used to be as the blazing light engulfed her completely from head to toe. She gasped in anticipation as the changes encompassed her entire being, her body filled with an electric thrill as her clothing shimmered and transformed...
The silvery light faded as quickly as it had appeared, and the early morning light in the secluded dell returned to normal. Where Esmerelda had stood mere moments before was a tall, voluptuous but firmly constructed Sheltie collie woman, very much like Esmerelda in general appearance but now wearing a blue bikini style top and bottom trimmed with gold, high heeled blue knee-high boots similarly trimmed, and a long blue cape held by a golden clasp. Yellow-gold fur covered most of her body apart from snowy white fur on her front and the insides of her arms and thighs, large golden bracelets circled her wrists, and a wide golden garter bracelet encircled her left thigh. She reached up to the retainer band holding her nut-brown mane in a tight bun and pulled it loose, shaking her head and allowing her silky tresses to spill down to the level of her shoulder blades. Removing her glasses and carefully folding them up with the retainer band, Super Collie slipped both items into her boots before ducking back around the end of the hedge into the park. Super Collie sprinted away, appearing only as a blue-gold blur of motion rushing down the streets of suburban Petone towards the Hutt motorway.
Turbulence from rising heat and smoke buffeted Ken inside the hovering helicopter, his pilot grimly battling for control as once again the growing fire thwarted their attempts at rescue. Already winds from the firestorm building below had narrowly missed forcing the 'copter into the walls of the gorge, and despite their best efforts Ken had been unable to lift even one of the trapped victims of the pile-up to safety. Terrified shrieks and cries for help sounded above the roar of the rotor blades as Ken watched helplessly, unable to do anything but report on the events below.
"The fire engines are stuck in traffic back at Kaiwharawhara and Johnsonville - where the hell is the Air Force?" Ken yelled over the din to his pilot, coughing repeatedly as acrid smoke entered the cockpit. "They should be able to drop a couple of monsoon buckets worth of water over the fire - why aren't they here?"
"They're on their way Ken!" his pilot shouted back. "But the choppers have to come in from Ohakea, it'll be at least fifteen more minutes till they get here -" Visibility was getting worse as more and more black smoke roiled up from below, and the heat in the cockpit was steadily increasing as flames leapt higher and higher. It could only be minutes before the flames reached the thousands of litres of flammable fuel in the overturned tanker.
"In fifteen more minutes there's not going to be any 'here' left!" Ken cried, tears of frustration and fear running down his cheeks. "Try to get down to those cars again, we've got to do something!" In his mind's eye he could see the images of Hell below, people caught in their vehicles, desperately attempting to break loose, searching in panic for a way out. The utter helplessness of the situation tore at Ken's heartstrings, he couldn't just stand by and do nothing...
"I can't! The firestorm's getting worse, and if the tanker goes up -" The pilot broke off in mid sentence, and pointed to a figure rapidly approaching up the side of the motorway, bounding around and over the stalled vehicles blocking the road. "What the hell is that?"
Ken hurriedly trained his binoculars in the direction his pilot pointed, and gasped. "It looks like... hold on, it can't be - it's her! It's Super Collie!"
Super Collie skidded to a halt below the scene of the crash, shielding her eyes from the inferno as she rapidly took in the situation. It was even worse than what she had feared: sounds of terror from trapped and panicking victims rising above the roar of the flames, and from even a few dozen metres away she could feel the heat of the flames against the front of her body. Smoke swirled about her, the wind from the fire blowing her mane and dark-blue cape behind her as she decided her next move, even as the anguished cries for help in the distance tore at every fibre of her soul.
"Super Collie! Thank God you're here!" a bystander shouted. "We've got -"
"No time for that now!" Super Collie snapped, breaking into a run towards the petrol tanker and leaping onto the back of a white panel van, coughing as waves of black smoke billowed around her. "Everyone who can hear me - get down and cover your ears!"
"I said COVER YOUR EARS DAMMIT!" Super Collie yelled out, struggling to make herself heard over the roar of the inferno. Covering her face with her cape to filter out the smoke and fumes, she took several deep gasps of air before dropping the cape and turning to face the tanker, bracing herself against gusts of wind with her shepherd's staff. Already, small flames were starting to lick around the driver's cab...
Taking a final deep breath, Super Collie braced herself on the top of the van and barked at the top of her lungs -
A massive shockwave of air suddenly erupted from where Super Collie stood, blasting away from her up the gorge and towards the flaming inferno surrounding the accident. Vast clouds of dust and small objects flew up from the ground, windscreens smashed and unprotected eardrums reeled with the sudden explosion of sound as the walls of the gorge reverberated to the echoing din of Super Collie's mighty voice. Smaller cars were almost lifted bodily from the road, slamming into larger neighbours, and on several buses trapped in the pile-up windows exploded in a shower of metal and glass. Flames that only an instant before started to feed on the spilled fuel from the tanker quickly became starved of oxygen from the near hurricane force winds, the life force of what had threatened to be a funeral pyre for hundreds suddenly snuffing out.
As suddenly as it had started the noise and the wind quickly abated, and as the dust began to settle and the massive volumes of smoke dissipated people started to wearily crawl out from around the tangled mess of cars and other vehicles, their ears still ringing from the unimaginable thunderclap of sound. Atop the van Super Collie slumped down on to the roof of the van, panting for breath, wearily propping herself up her knees with her staff as she hurriedly surveyed the scene. "Hope.. I don't... have to do... do that again soon!" Super Collie gasped, giving a heartfelt sigh of relief as she confirmed that her Super Bark had indeed extinguished every last flame from the inferno. But just as Super Collie thought her work was over she heard a scream of agony coming from the direction of the tanker. Jumping off the roof of the van, Super Collie made her way through the growing throng of cheering and congratulating onlookers towards the cab of the overturned vehicle, finding the cries coming from the driver of a sedan partially crushed under the tanker's trailer unit. The frightened face of a young corgi woman pleadingly looked up, her face contorted with pain and blood from several deep cuts and bruises staining the corgi's golden-brown fur.
"It's okay, help is on the way," Super Collie reassured her, carefully using her staff to lever some of the wreckage away, occasionally pausing to brush aside onlookers who were getting in her way. "I think I can see... oh!" Discovering the woman's legs were trapped under part of where the tanker had hit the woman's car, Super Collie's stomach churned as she saw large quantities of blood from the crushed limbs pouring out over twisted metal and plastic. "You, you, and... you!" Super Collie ordered, trying to ignore the sickness in her guts as she picked out three bystanders who had gotten too close. "We've got to get her out of here to an ambulance - on the count of three, you pull her clear. Okay?" The three unwilling volunteers nodded, and Super Collie directed them to their places before positioning herself where the tanker lay across the car.
Laying her staff to one side, Super Collie crouched down and reached under the crushed sedan to grab under the roof with both hands. Then, after bowing her head and whispering a silent prayer to herself she began to lift, ear-splitting shrieks and groans of tortured metal immediately echoing through the gorge as twisted sections of bodywork were slowly but relentlessly pulled apart. Super Collie gritted her teeth as she strained, planting her feet apart and giving the wreckage another tremendous shove upwards, powerful muscles in her legs and arms rippling with raw energy. "One!" Super Collie gasped, lines of concentration furrowing her brow, her breasts standing proudly away from her chest as mighty pectoral muscles flexed with each heave upwards. A momentary stagger brought a chorus of gasps from astonished onlookers, but just as quickly Super Collie regained her footing, muffled groans from her pursed lips intermingling with the squeals and bangs of strained and snapping metal and plastic. "Two! " Every passing second saw the gap between the trapped driver and the tanker trailer widening as the lone woman single-handedly raised the massive burden steadily upwards -
"THREE!" Super Collie called out as she lifted the lower edge of the tanker trailer over her head, straining to hold the immense weight of the tanker clear of the trapped occupant below. Quickly her three volunteers ducked underneath, clearing the remaining entanglements of wreckage before gently extracting the corgi woman and passing her out onto the tarmac. Once she saw that everyone was safely out of the way, Super Collie gave one last tremendous heave and literally threw the two vehicles apart, leaping away as the tanker trailer fell almost a metre back onto the motorway in a crash of tortured metal. Shards of broken metal and glass exploded across the road on impact, harmlessly rebounding off neighbouring cars as most of the onlookers immediately ducked for cover.
"How is she?" Super Collie called over her shoulder, dancing backwards as one particularly large piece of glass narrowly missed her. Apart from some scratches and bruising to her hands she seemed none the worse for wear from her ordeal.
"She's passed out - looks like she's lost a lot of blood!" one of the bystanders replied, his face pale as he finished wrapping an improvised bandage from his shirt around her injured leg. "I don't know if we, we can save her, the radio says the emergency services are blocked off -"
"Leave that to me, I'll take care of her," Super Collie gently interrupted, kneeling beside the unconscious woman and carefully lifting her up. Rising to her feet with her precious burden, she sprinted off down the highway towards the waiting ambulances, arriving at the bottom of the gorge in what seemed like seconds to safely deliver her charge to the waiting paramedics.
"Good work, Super Collie!" one of the ambulance officers called out as they loaded their patient into the ambulance. "We've got her in just the nick of time I reckon - if you hadn't been able to get her to us we'd have lost her for sure!"
"Thanks, it was no problem at all," Super Collie wearily smiled, leaning against one of the police patrol cars as the rear doors of the ambulance slammed shut. Within a few moments, the ambulance had turned around and was racing towards Wellington Hospital, the wail of the sirens gradually fading into the distance. One of the police officers present discreetly tapped on Super Collie's shoulder, producing a bucket of water and a cloth. "Ah ma'am... you might need this?" he hesitantly offered.
"Your... outfit - it's in ah, a bit of a mess."
Super Collie looked down, and noticed for the first time that both her outfit and her fur was covered in black soot and drying blood. What she must look like to everyone else at the moment was something she didn't bear thinking about, so gratefully accepting the young officer's offer she began to sponge herself off with the cloth, wistfully thinking that some soap would have been handy. Super Collie had managed to remove the worst of the stains when a motorbike pulled up alongside and a rather portly walrus male clambered off, pulling a large camera out from a saddlebag.
Oh god - not now! "Squid Vicious, scumbag reporter extraordinaire," Super Collie snorted, returning to her washing. "Should have known you'd turn up sooner or later." Her eyes narrowed. "Run out of politicians to harass, have you?"
"My dear, nothing could be further from the truth," Squid replied in a practised oily voice, momentarily checking that his "Press" badge was securely fastened to his cheap brown polyester suit before casually approaching Super Collie with his camera. "You mistake the calibre of the paper that I work for, my sole concern is with the public's right to know." His whiskered jowls twitched with anticipation. "And the public has a right to know... about you, Miss Collie. Everything. "
"If you don't put that camera down Squid, you'll wind up wearing the thing," Super Collie wearily replied, looking up and scowling meaningfully at the approaching reporter. "And I don't mean around your fat neck either. In case you haven't caught up on current events -"
"Current events? My dear, I'm quite well up on current events," Squid smoothly replied, cutting off Super Collie in mid sentence. "What I see in front of me is a scantily clad voluptuous woman looking for a sexy photo opportunity at a major news event - and doing quite well with it, I might add. The 'wet bikini' look is so compelling for the young male market." He raised his camera, framing the tantalizing dripping wet form of Super Collie in the viewfinder, mentally composing his headline for the evening's front page. "I'm only here to give the public what they want..."
"Squid, I'm warning you -" Super Collie growled.
"Did you hear that, gentlemen?" Squid interjected, raising his voice and addressing the police officers who were watching the proceedings with barely concealed interest. "Super Collie here is threatening a bona-fide member of the press with violence if I do not desist in my sacred duty to report her activities. The activities of a well known public figure, I might add. Are you upholders of the law and protectors of free speech going to let that happen?"
Super Collie swore under her breath. Much as she hated to admit it, Squid had a point - even if the fat bastard was stretching the envelope as to his credentials as 'bona-fide member of the press'. The Daily Truth represented journalistic integrity in much the same way as a sieve represented security - but the fact remained that forcibly shutting up even Squid could be worse than starring as the weekly Page Three model. She was about to resign herself to being an unwilling pawn in Squid's quest for newspaper ratings when an idea occurred to her.
"I'm sure there is no need to bring the police into our little disagreement Squid," Super Collie sweetly replied, her whole demeanour changing in a flash to one of polite co-operation. Picking up the bucket which was still over half full of water, she stretched herself to her full height and started to saunter towards Squid, her hips rolling suggestively. "And I think that your suggestion about the wet look might just be the one you are looking for." Now standing directly in front of him with her back arched and her breasts jutting proudly outwards, Super Collie poised the bucket of water just in front of her and let a few tantalizing streams of water pour over her bikini top and down her ample cleavage. She licked her lips enticingly, half closing her eyes in a look of pure seduction.
"Well - er, whatever you say Miss Collie," Squid stammered, momentarily caught off guard by Super Collie's sudden change of attitude. "I'm glad that we can come to an agreement..." He tried to ignore the inevitable swelling in his trousers as he hastily readjusted the camera settings. "Would you like to start with a distance shot, or close-ups?"
"Oh, a close-up of course," Super Collie answered, deliberately lowering her voice to a husky whisper, noticing that some of the police officers seemed to be having the same problem in the trouser department as Squid. "In this instance, definitely a close-up." She raised the half-tipped bucket as if to empty it over herself - then suddenly turned and dumped the contents straight over Squid's head, nearly drowning the tabloid reporter in the process. Squid spluttered and coughed, throwing his hands up in horror as the surrounding police officers roared with laughter.
"Oh Squid, I'm so sorry!" Super Collie exclaimed in tones of mock concern. "I hope your camera is waterproof - here, let me check for you!" Before Squid could do anything about it, she opened the back of his camera and exposed the film inside to light, ruining whatever pictures he'd taken. "It doesn't look like it is waterproof after all. Oopsie!" Making sure that she had pulled all of the film out of Squid's camera Super Collie strode off, winking at the police officers who by now were almost wetting themselves with laughter. Squid was now virtually incoherent with rage, his face and whiskers convulsing with emotion, shaking his fist at the departing super-heroine.
"You'll regret this Super Collie, by God you'll regret this!" Squid shouted. "No-one humiliates Squid Vicious and gets away with it!"
[BIG section of story to go here, folks...]
Arrival Hall "B" at Narita Airport Terminal Two could be quite busy at the best of times, but as Super Collie strode out through the doors from the baggage claim area she found the concourse was busier than even she anticipated for a densely populated country like Japan. As soon as Super Collie and her baggage trolley came into view of the concourse, a rousing cheer and a round of applause immediately erupted from a particularly large group of airport visitors and within a matter of moments a flurry of New Zealand flags and welcoming banners appeared out of nowhere. Instantly Super Collie was mobbed by an expectant throng of fans and admirers: young boys pressing close waving books and photographs, teenage girls excitedly showing off their home-made replicas of her outfit, and towards the rear middle-aged businessmen swooned and sighed as they dreamily admired the young super-heroine from afar. Even the airport security officers discreetly abandoned their posts for a better look at Super Collie as the strains of Waltzing Matilda could be heard from a marching band. Flashes from a myriad of cameras bounced around the cavernous arrival hall, bathing Super Collie and the crowd in strobes of light as an army of journalists and photographers rallied around her.
Oh no, not AGAIN! Super Collie swore under her breath, recalling her experiences only a few minutes before during immigration. Once Japanese customs officials had found out that Super Collie was arriving, nothing had been spared in the efforts to expedite her arrival in the Land of the Rising Sun, and even the formalities of filling out the usual arrival card had been dispensed with. Not that it had actually saved the jet-lagged and bewildered super-heroine any time at all, as the staff at the immigration desks had all insisted on getting her autograph before letting Super Collie collect her baggage. And now the celebrity treatment was starting all over again, and she hadn't even got out of the airport yet! I had no idea that I was this famous in Japan! How did that happen? Oh well -
Unable to move any further through the crowd, Super Collie took a deep breath and flashed her most charming smile. "Kiaora Japan!" she called out cheerily, "Thank you for coming to welcome me!" The enraptured response from the crowd almost knocked her off her feet, and amid a baggage of camera flashes and brandished papers Super Collie greeted each of her admirers in turn, signing autographs and murmuring a few words of thanks and appreciation. She found it disturbingly easy to forget the real business she was here for with the star treatment she was receiving -
"Supa Korii-san!" one of the reporters called out above the hubbub. "How long are you here for?"
"Are you working with -"
"What do you think of Japan so far -"
"Have you learnt any Japanese, Korii-san?"
"Yes I have, just a little!" Super Collie called out, "I have been practising my Japanese for my arrival. I do hope I have got it right..." She smiled hopefully, retrieving a small phrasebook from one of her bags and turning to a bookmarked page. Super Collie mouthed the words to herself one last time, then took a deep breath. "Koray-wha-Toho-Academy-oh-koodasaiy!" The crowd cheered appreciatively, hands waving even more frantically for her attention as she returned to shaking hands and posing for photographs. Every few minutes Super Collie looked up hopefully for an end to the queue of people wanting to see her, but if anything the crowd of admirers seemed to be getting longer...
After what seemed an eternity, and with a great sigh of relief, Super Collie finished signing for the last of her welcoming committee, and as she looked up to find the ticket desk for the bus service to Tokyo she noticed a uniformed police officer in the distance coming towards her. Wearing a light-blue Japanese police uniform with diagonal a white sash, an impeccably turned-out peaked cap and polished black shoes, the bespectacled ginger feline waved to Super Collie as he approached. "Supa Korii-san?" he enquired. "On behalf of my country, I wish to welcome you to Japan. Please allow me to introduce myself, I am Takanobu Hamacho, the official Super Hero Liaison officer for the Japanese Government." Bringing his heels smartly together, he bowed deeply to her in greeting.
"Thank you, Taka- ah, Hamacho-san," Super Collie smiled, hastily remembering the last minute briefing that she had received from Kremmin and bowing in reply. "I hope to enjoy my stay here, even if it will be mostly on business I look forward to seeing this country. Did you receive a briefing as to why I am here?"
"Hai, I have received such this morning from your Embassy," Hamacho replied, his clear blue eyes meeting Super Collie's gaze. "I have arranged a meeting with the local police here in Tokyo, and once we have attended the briefing -"
"Excuse me, Hamacho-san," Super Collie interrupted, covering her mouth as she yawned. "I am sorry - but the flight was very long from Wellington and I didn't manage to sleep very much on the way. Would it be possible to get some rest first?"
"Certainly, Supa Korii-san," Hamacho smiled, offering his hand to her. "The limousine to your hotel is right this way."
"A limousine?" Super Collie breathed. "You are so kind, I wasn't expecting this!" Even though it did seem a little over the top and conspicuous for a crime fighter such as she, after the last hour or so of her initial reception in Japan Super Collie was beginning to realize only too well the celebrity status of foreign super-heroes. Even if the official reception was unaware that they were playing an Australian tune in honour of a visiting New Zealand celebrity! she reflected. And although she was certain that she would be able to get to the Police Headquarters faster by running, even super-heroes need a break - and besides, from what Super Collie had seen so far of the language, navigation to wherever she was supposed to go would definitely be a problem.
After summoning a porter to deal with the baggage trolley Hamacho escorted Super Collie to the waiting limousine. Once inside and after Super Collie's baggage was stowed, he gave whispered directions to the driver. Smoothly, the sleek white vehicle pulled away from Terminal Two, quickly finding the slip road out of the airport complex and accelerating along the expressway towards Tokyo. Reclining back in her seat, Super Collie watched the Japanese scenery of rice paddies, forests and small towns slowly drift past her window. After over eight hours on the plane, it felt good to stretch out in a comfortable seat, and she was even more looking forward to the promised hotel room and a proper bed to rest in. Even though they were now on the open road, out of the general Narita area, Super Collie felt they weren't moving very fast and wondered why - until they passed a speed limit sign. She turned to Hamacho.
"We are on the expressway, right?" she asked, a note of disbelief in her voice.
Hamacho nodded. "Hai, Korii-san. We shall be in central Tokyo in an hour."
"But... only eighty kilometres per hour? At home that's twenty kay slower than our open road limit!"
The police officer grinned. "Actually, some days you may be lucky to go that fast, especially at rush hour."
"Hmmm." Super Collie sighed. If this is the fastest anyone can drive in this country, no wonder the Bullet Train is so popular...
"Sumimasen, Supa Korii-san - I forgot to give you this at Immigration," Hamacho said, retrieving a booklet from his coat pocket and handing it to her. "Please read and follow the guidelines inside during your stay in our country."
Super Collie studied the cover: 'Konichiwa Godzilla-san!' A Japanese Cultural Briefing for Visiting Superheroes (English Edition). "Seems fair enough," she agreed, opening the book and starting to read, curling up into a corner the plush leather seat, crossing her legs and generally making herself comfortable. Her companion nodded, and turned to watch the view of the countryside going past - until a sudden snort from Super Collie caught his attention.
"You have got to be joking!" she exclaimed. "I'm not doing that!"
"Is there a problem, Korii-san?" Hamacho asked, his face full of concern.
"I'll say there is!" she snorted. "Who put this in here?" She thrust the book at the startled police officer, pointing angrily at the page. "Read this!"
Hamacho cleared his throat. "I believe it is a requirement for all superheroes to display a transformation sequence to and from their normal identities -"
"Not that part - the clause for females!"
"I am afraid I do not see the problem -"
"That's because you're a male," Super Collie interrupted. "Obligatory 'skirt-peek or similar?' It's bad enough having to develop a showy transformation sequence just to fit in - and I'm having enough trouble with the press back home without that sort of thing!" Oh gods, if Squid Vicious ever picked that up off NHK or CNN and published it in his squalid little rag, my reputation is finished!
"Please, Korii-san, it's only temporary -" Hamacho began.
"And if you haven't already noticed, I'm not wearing a skirt anyway. It's not part of my outfit."
"You could just include something like, like, um..."
"No," Super Collie interrupted again. "I am a superhero crime fighter, not a single act on K' Road." Bloody perverts, she fumed quietly to herself.
"Kay Road? I don't understand."
Super Collie sighed. "Karangahape Road, Vivian Street, King's Cross, Soho, Reeperbahn, P. Burgos Street..." She looked up to see if he had understood, but he continued to look uncomprehendingly at her. She tried again. "Kabuki-cho... you know, in Shinjuku."
"Oh." Hamacho's face flushed, full of embarrassment. He turned away from Super Collie's accusing gaze, staring at the now increasing urban build-up outside as the car sped towards the centre of the city. Sound deflecting walls slowly rose up around the side of the expressway, cutting off his view of anything remotely interesting - but a blank wall was a better prospect to look at than the face of the person beside him.
"Korii-san," he said after a few moments, still facing away from the super-heroine, "Perhaps... we can use the Mosaic of Pointlessness to obscure something that isn't actually being revealed -"
"- Then, it will be as though you were um, exposing something, without actually doing so as you transform."
Super Collie pondered that for several minutes. "All right," she replied reluctantly. "I suppose that will have to do. But I'm not happy about the whole idea of this transformation business anyway. What about my secret identity being revealed?" She leaned towards Hamacho, uncrossing her legs, taking a deep breath before continuing. "It specifically states in The United Nations Charter on International Superhero Relations - to which your government is a signatory, by the way - that an accredited superhero or heroine cannot be forced to disclose his or her secret identity to any or all persons if he or she does not wish to." She paused. "Section five, sub-clause C, I think you will find."
"Please Korii-san, you are only here for a few days, is this really necessary?" Hamacho asked, turning to face the aggrieved Super Collie with an expression of anguish on his face. He could already see his career prospects dwindling if he had to face his superiors with all this - but the prospect of having to turn around and return Super Collie to Narita for what would be an effective deportation was even more unpleasant.
"Sorry, but it really is necessary." Super Collie shook her head, her auburn mane cascading over her shoulders. Brushing a few stray traces of hair from her eyes, she continued, absentmindedly adjusting her cape as she spoke. "I cannot afford to take risks with people finding out my secret identity, Hamacho-san - nothing, but nothing can ever compromise that. It would be very dangerous for me personally, not to mention my never getting any peace ever again."
"But what will I tell my superiors?"
"Tell them if they don't comply with what their government has signed, next time Mothra decides to come calling to do some downtown urban renewal they're on their own. And I bet Wonder Whippet didn't get this kind of treatment last year either."
Hamacho sighed. "All right, Korii-san, I understand. So if people see you transform from your secret identity, we will use Clueless Amnesia at that time to make them forget what they saw."
Oh, there's plenty of that around this city, Super Collie thought gloomily, remembering incidents when she - in her secret identity - worked briefly in Tokyo a few years before. Especially in the sort of people that chaired meetings that ran for hours on end reviewing the same material over and over again... "Okay, that should be acceptable," she replied after a minute's consideration, much to Hamacho's relief. "Just one more thing though."
Any comfort Hamacho was feeling at Super Collie's agreement left him immediately. "Yes, Korii-san?" he sighed.
"I don't have any loyal sidekicks as the book requires - I work alone. Where am I going to find one here, especially one that speaks English?"
The beleaguered police officer waved his hand sheepishly.
Realization slowly dawned on Super Collie's face. "Don't tell me - it's you, isn't it?" she groaned.
It was about that moment that Super Collie resolved to make her stay in the Land of the Rising Sun as short as possible. Shorter than that, even.
"Room 1237, Supa Korii-san," beamed the hotel receptionist as Super Collie completed signing in. "We have made all preparations for you on the instructions of Hamacho-san. Please enjoy your stay in Japan!"
"Thank y- I mean, arigato," she replied, stepping away from the reception counter and narrowly missing the porter, who had silently stolen up behind her and picked up her suitcase. With Hamacho in tow, they made their way through the vast luxurious foyer of the Royal Park Hotel, entered the lift, and soon the porter was unlocking Super Collie's room. First the porter - straining with the suitcase - then Hamacho entered, followed by Super Collie. Hamacho quietly spoke to the porter in Japanese, who nodded and discreetly left, closing the door behind him.
Super Collie walked slowly around the tastefully appointed but undeniably compact room, nodding occasionally to the silent police officer as she carried out her inspection. All the usual hotel facilities - television, mini-bar, and so forth - were present and in immaculate condition, and laid out on top of the bed was a pink silk kimono robe, decorated with a cherry blossom floral pattern. Super Collie glanced inquiringly up to Hamacho.
"A present for you, Korii-san," he beamed. "Please, a souvenir of your stay."
"Why thank you!" she replied, smiling in return. "It's beautiful!" Super Collie ran her hand over the soft material, luxuriating in the smooth feel of silk, before picking the kimono up and moving over to the wardrobe. "I'll just hang it up in here so it won't get creased." She opened the wardrobe door, and reached inside for a hangar - then froze, a look of disbelief washing over her face.
Super Collie carefully laid the kimono back onto the bed - mentally wincing as the robe failed to lie cleanly on the bedcovers - and retrieved another hangar from the wardrobe. "What, exactly, is this?"
Hamacho examined the offending garments on the hangar. They were clothes that the Japanese officer instantly recognized: a white loose-fitting blouse with a deep-blue V-shaped collar and a square of blue and white material hanging down the back, a pretty pink silk necktie, and a short pleated navy-blue skirt. Various kinds of ribbons hung from around the neck of the hangar, and as Hamacho held the garments up to one side Super Collie retrieved a pair of fashionable - but undeniably impractical - high-heeled black court shoes and a pair of short white socks with little pom-poms near the top. Incredulous, she stood before him, shaking her head from side to side in disbelief.
"It is your special Japanese outfit, Korii-san," Hamacho smoothly replied, though underneath his cool exterior he felt the fur on the back of his neck begin to prickle with tension. "It is our custom that female super-heroes in our country wear this, it is a long and honoured tradition. I believe we have your size correct, but if it is not fitting -"
"I'm not wearing that!" Super Collie exclaimed. "I'd look ridiculous! How can you possibly expect me to - "
"The United Nations Charter on International Superhero Relations, section seven, paragraph two." Hamacho quickly reeled off, catching Super Collie by surprise. "I am sorry, Korii-san, but this is non-negotiable." In fact, Hamacho looked anything but sorry. After all the business with the Mosaic of Pointlessness and the need to secure Super Collie's secret identity, the much aggrieved officer was in the mood for some subtle - and officially sanctioned - payback. Not that he was the vindictive sort, he hastened to reassure himself, but after being hounded by visiting super-heroes on one hand and by his superiors on the other, he believed he deserved to win at least on a few occasions. "Do I have your agreement?"
Super Collie sagged a little in defeat. "You win, Hamacho-san," she grudgingly conceded, sighing as the hangar with the rather incongruous sailor suit outfit was handed back to her. Even with the official approval now placed on it, the outfit still didn't look any more desirable. Super Collie replaced the hangar back in the wardrobe, looking over her shoulder to catch Hamacho's eye. "But I have to tell you - I'm wearing this... this... thing," she finally managed, "under protest."
Hamacho bowed politely. "As you wish, Korii-san."
Esmerelda cautiously peeked around the open hotel door, looking for any sign of activity. Checking that her room key was safely in her black leather clutch purse, and confirming that the coast was clear, she heaved a sigh of relief and stepped out into the hallway.
Thank goodness that's over for now, she thought, strolling down the hallway towards the lift. Finding that Super Collie was expected to wear a Japanese 'sailor-scout' costume instead of her usual attire had been bad enough, but Hamacho had insisted that it be tried on for size - something that really had got up her nose. And she was right - it did look extremely silly - and it hadn't helped that her erstwhile Liaison Officer and part-time sidekick had virtually started drooling with excitement. It had taken all of Super Collie's self-control to stop herself from slapping him across the muzzle. And that was just while getting Hamacho to leave the room while she changed!
She sighed again, entering the lift and pressing the button for the lobby, leaning back against the mirrored walls and watching the floor indicator march downwards. Esmerelda felt decidedly in need of some fresh air, especially after the last few hours. It had taken her at least an hour to unpack her suitcase after she had persuaded Hamacho to leave, and even now she wasn't quite sure she had got everything exactly in the right place, but it would do for now. As much as it had pained her, Esmerelda had placed the sailor suit hangar out of colour sequence right at the back of the wardrobe - but, as she told herself, desperate situations demanded desperate acts.
The lift chimed softly as it reached the ground floor, and Esmerelda stepped out, casually walking past the uniformed concierge into the main lobby, attracting only the usual attention for a normal hotel guest. No-one could have guessed that the bespectacled collie lady in the fashionable dark blue business suit and heels was the same super-heroine that had been so warmly welcomed by the entire hotel staff only hours before, and Esmerelda giggled to herself with the irony of it all. This was a part of being Super Collie that she liked - the knowledge that Esmerelda was the only person in the entire world who knew Super Collie's real identity thrilled her like a drug, heightening her perceptions - and as Esmerelda strolled out past the doorman of the hotel, and along the street underneath the flowering cherry trees towards the subway station, the strains of the previous few hours began to melt away. One last activity would help her relax completely, she grinned, and for a change it would be the thing that she and every other woman on the planet enjoyed no matter what the time or circumstances.
A short subway ride to the Ginza retail district later, Esmerelda gleefully made for the women's accessories section of the massive Mitsukoshimae department store, and soon picked out a uniquely tasteful - but strangely labelled - ladies' designer carry bag as her first of many purchases. The name wasn't that unusual, she observed as she watched the bag being carefully wrapped by the shop assistant. After all, her owning something from the "BITCH" range was certainly appropriate!
"She is WHAT?" Daitakerou shouted into the phone. "You must be joking!"
"I wish I was!" the voice on the other end fearfully replied. "From New Zealand - Super Collie must have followed you! I saw her at Narita!"
"Come on, you must be mistaken," Daitakerou snarled, gripping the phone tightly. "There's hundreds of Western people like her coming through airports all the time! They all look alike anyway!"
"I got her autograph, Sotohoji-san. It is Super Collie!"
Damnation! "Okay, I believe you. Keep under cover for now. I will deal with this myself." Daitakerou hung up the phone and stared out the window of his Tokyo safe-house. From the fourteenth floor, the urban sprawl of buildings stretched out to the horizon with only the distant peak of Fujiyama breaking the jagged line separating the untold number of buildings from the hazy grey-blue sky. What on earth is she doing here? With the urotosukedoji menace back in Wellington, why is she following me here?
No matter. Super Collie is here now - so how do I deal with her? She will almost certainly be accompanied by that fool Hamacho, and he'll be giving her all the stuff about how to fit into Japanese society. Customs, etiquette, super-hero dress standards...
"Perfect," Daitakerou repeated to himself as a plan began to form in his mind, "Perfect. With luck, I can get rid of Super Collie here in Japan. What an opportunity!"
He turned to the telephone to make some calls, but another thought suddenly struck him. What is a yakuza member doing wanting an autographed picture of a foreign super-heroine? I don't know about Japan today, I leave the country for five years and look what happens... He shrugged, and picked up the receiver, punching in a number from memory and waiting for a reply.
"Hamada-san. Good. Now listen carefully. I want you to organize a high speed motorbike to meet me at the Nagasaki central station first thing tomorrow morning. Yes, it is regarding Super Collie - how did you find out so fast anyway? Oh, not you too. Never mind... we're going to set up a little reception for her."
Daitakerou smiled nastily, eagerly squeezing the telephone handset. "What? No, not our usual hit squad. We're going to use people that are far more dangerous to gaijin like Super Collie!"
"So remind me, Hamacho-san, why exactly did we have to leave Tokyo at such an ungodly hour of the morning?" Super Collie wearily asked the police officer. She had just managed to get to sleep in her hotel room when suddenly she had been woken with great urgency, rushed into a police car with barely enough time to get dressed properly and whisked her off to Haneda airport for the redeye flight to Nagasaki. Now Super Collie found herself and Hamacho in the downtown section of the city, the crowds of morning commuters jostling the pair on the footpath.
"As I said on the plane, Korii-san, according to our sources Katakana Kat made his way here from Tokyo last evening," Hamacho replied. "His activities when in Japan appear to be concentrated in this area, so it is here that we will have the best chance of catching him." He yawned and stretched, shaking the cramp out of his arms and legs from the journey. Super Collie nodded, paying only cursory attention to her colleague's words, wishing she could stop for a shower and a chance to refresh herself. Once again, in accordance with regulation, she was wearing the hated "sailor scout" outfit. After having slept in it on the flight the offending ensemble now appeared somewhat crumpled and untidy, but even in its current condition Super Collie's eyes found the blatantly adolescent clothing no less humiliating. She was rapidly finding that in the crisp morning air even the smallest of breezes were lifting up the short pleated skirt and revealing far more than she really wanted, but it was no good complaining to Hamacho. He'd probably enjoy the view himself given half the chance, Super Collie grumbled to herself, even if the UN didn't have that stupid rule! She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of her resentment. The sooner they found Katakana Kat, the quicker she could wrap the whole urotosukedoji case up and return to New Zealand. And get out of the damned sailor suit as well.
Super Collie and Hamacho had searched through several blocks of shops and eating establishments without success, when one Siamese gentleman standing by a doorway of a yakitori bar caught Super Collie's attention. He appeared to be reading the menu of the establishment even though the darkened frontage showed that the bar was closed for business, but in addition to that there was a kind of cold feeling in Super Collie's bones regarding him that marked him out from the bustling crowds. Gesturing sharply to Hamacho, she carefully made her way through the throng of morning commuters and around the opening shop frontages, trying to make herself look inconspicuous (Small chance of that in this outfit! she muttered under her breath) and finally paused within five metres of the mysterious gentleman. Still appearing to be engrossed in his reading, the Siamese cat glanced briefly in Super Collie's direction, and in a flash she suddenly recognized him. "Hamacho-san!" she whispered, gesturing towards her quarry. "Katakana Kat... over there - see? It's him all right!"
"Hai, Korii-san!" Hamacho whispered in reply, quietly creeping up beside her. "You are sure?"
"Positively. Now, if we can -" But as she watched, Katakana Kat swung around completely to look directly at her, and his eyes widened in shock. Before Super Collie could do anything, Katakana Kat forced his way through the crowds, quickly leaped onto a large Yamaha motorbike parked nearby, kick-started the engine, and with an ear-shattering roar sped off down the street, weaving erratically through the lines of oncoming traffic. Pedestrians scattered as Hamacho and Super Collie rushed to the road's edge, the police officer's eyes widening in dismay as the speeding motorbike ran at least two red lights and disappeared into the distance.
"Let's go, Hamacho!" Super Collie yipped, grabbing the hapless feline police officer by one hand and tearing off at super-speed through the rain down the street, the honey-coloured streak of her passing zigzagging around, up, and over the traffic as Super Collie rushed onwards. Startled observers saw her pause briefly in front of a restaurant, before disappearing into the distant buildings. (Some time later, as patrons from the restaurant left, they were somewhat surprised to discover that the umbrellas in the stand outside had somehow been rearranged into perfectly ordered groups, sorted by colour and size. And all the umbrellas had been perfectly aligned with each other as well.)
Hamacho held onto Super Collie's hand for dear life, his body flying behind her like a flag, the wind from their rapid pace tearing at his uniform. He blinked furiously, trying to make out where she was taking him, but his eyes were watering too much from the blast of wind in his face as the pair whirled and darted down side-street after narrow side-street, Super Collie locked in hot pursuit. As bad as it felt now, Hamacho knew that letting go of her while she was still moving was almost certain suicide. Another street corner flew past, and the police officer was once again flung sideways as Super Collie made a turn -
Everything whirled sickeningly around, and suddenly both Super Collie and Hamacho hurtled uncontrollably through the air. Instantly becoming separated, the hapless police officer slammed into a row of parked bicycles as Super Collie fell forward, hitting the footpath and sliding out of control, scrabbling at the ground and frantically trying to slow herself down. Narrowly missing several unsuspecting pedestrians, Super Collie finally managed to bring herself to a halt, though not before her momentum had carried her for almost a block along the pavement. For a long moment she just lay on the ground, panting and gasping for breath, taking stock of any injuries she might have suffered before picking herself up off the footpath.
"Hamacho-san!" Super Collie called out, brushing herself down. "Hamacho-san! Where are you? Are you all right?" She struggled to her feet, but rapidly found that her footing felt all wrong. Super Collie looked down and saw the painful truth - the left heel on one of the shoes from her Japanese-supplied outfit had snapped off, undoubtedly the cause of the accident. She angrily kicked off her shoes, landing back on the pavement in her stocking feet, scanning the streets in search of her partner. "Hamacho-san!"
"How the hell do people drink this stuff?" Squid Vicious grumbled to himself, crumpling the half-full can of green tea in one hand and tossing it in the general direction of a pile of rubbish bags. At first the idea of getting a drink from one of the ubiquitous vending machines while he was on stake-out had seemed a good one, but his uncharacteristically good mood lasted only until the moment he had tasted the contents of his selection. What had put Squid off his drink wasn't the fact that green tea wasn't what he had ordered, it was that for some reason it had been cold... He shuffled about, staring down each street in turn, ignoring the babble of alien language behind him as one of the locals tried to remonstrate with him for littering. Three hours Squid had stood on this Nagasaki street corner, the overweight journalist acting like a lighthouse withstanding the buffeting waves of people, and having waited here all this time without so much as a luridly made-up gaggle of Japanese teenagers for a photo opportunity Squid was starting to get just a little annoyed. Little, that is, by Squid's standards.
Squid spat once again and reached into a pocket of his tatty brown coat, pulling out a crumpled sheet of paper and squinting at his own semi-legible handwriting. Half-past ten at night after a drinking session in Roppongi was really no fit time to obtain journalistic tip-offs he had decided, but in this case the information could be a literal gold mine for his paper: an exclusive opportunity to get photos of Super Collie in Japan. Squid grinned as he contemplated catching out the reclusive super-heroine on film, especially the praise he'd get from his editors for an exclusive - and who knows, a little icing on the cake at the same time? Enough to make up for over eight hours in Economy Class just getting to Japan, Squid reckoned. He had of course volunteered to follow Super Collie to Japan; as one of the Daily Truth's top reporters he had a little pull as to what assignments he received, besides Super Collie was his story. His!
Scanning the streets again, Squid wondered not for the first time whether the information he had received was accurate. For all he knew, it could have been a diversion from a potential story even more juicy than Super Collie, and if that happened he'd never forgive himself. But it had seemed genuine enough at the time -
The raucous sound of a high-performance engine approaching at high speed interrupted Squid's musings, and before he could figure out what was going on a large black motorbike screamed past, scattering people and traffic alike and leaving a trail of pungent blue smoke and swirling litter in its wake. Squid barely had enough time to jump out of the way before his eyes caught another multi-coloured blur of motion came into view - and judging by the way it bounced around and over obstacles in the road it could only be one thing: Super Collie, the subject of his hunt! With a swiftness surprising of a person of his size, the walrus grabbed his battered Pentax camera and quickly began shooting, the aged motor-drive whining in synchronization with each click of the shutter and strobe of light from the flash-gun. Come on, come on, don't fail me now! Squid prayed feverishly, breaking into a lumbering run while snapping shot after shot of his now receding quarry. He was just on the verge of giving up his apparently hopeless pursuit when the blue and gold streak he was tracking turned a corner then suddenly appeared to tumble and fall. One figure bounced and slammed into a nearby wall, while the other slid for at least a few dozen metres down the road. As the second figure came to a shuddering halt Squid managed to make out the distinctive blue, gold and tan figure of Super Collie slowly picking herself up off the road - and even with Squid's poor eyesight he could tell that something most interesting had happened to her...
Squid could scarcely believe his luck. Praise God! The scoop of a lifetime! Ejecting the used roll of film from his Pentax and slamming a new roll in, Squid forced himself into a run, giddy with excitement and rudely barging his way through the crowds towards where Super Collie lay. Thank you, God! Oh man, no-one's gonna believe THIS!
"Hamacho-san!" Super Collie called out. "Where are you? Hamacho-san!"
A clatter of metal sounded around a hundred metres back down the road from where Super Collie stood, and she whirled about to find the direction of the noise. From a pile of tangled and twisted bicycles Officer Hamacho slowly and painfully raised his head, carefully trying to untangle himself. "Korii-san..." he croaked, wincing as each movement revealed a fresh set of injuries. Immediately Super Collie spotted him, picked up her Shepherd's staff and raced back towards the twisted metal pile.
"Thank God you're all right!" she cried, frantically pulling each metal frame away from the wreckage, carefully extricating Hamacho from the tangled mess. Eventually Super Collie managed to free the injured officer form his metallic prison, and sat him up against a nearby building next to where she had placed her staff, kneeling beside Hamacho and carefully examining him. His uniform was cut and torn, and Hamacho himself was covered in bruises from head to toe. "You are lucky, Hamacho-san, it looks like you haven't broken anything," she sighed relievedly. "If that row of bicycles hadn't been there you would have hit that wall behind... Can you walk?"
"Hai, Korii-san... yes, I believe so," Hamacho coughed, still feeling dazed. His head was swimming from the concussion of the impact, and he could hear sounds of curious onlookers approaching. He looked up towards the concerned super-heroine - and his eyes suddenly opened wide. "Ah, I think that you had best cover yourself up first..."
"What do you mean?" Super Collie hastily replied. She too had noticed a crowd approaching, and stood up to brush and tidy herself up. As she ran a hand down the front of her blouse, she noticed that she was suddenly touching the fur on her breasts instead of the expected cotton material, and Super Collie frowned in puzzlement. She looked down -
- to discover that the entire front of her sailor suit blouse had been torn away by her high-speed slide across the ground during her fall, leaving her ample breasts fully exposed to the air for all the world to see. Super Collie stared down at herself in uncomprehending horror, watching the gentle afternoon breeze ruffling the soft creamy white fur and teasing her exposed black nipples, unable to believe what had happened even as the first onlookers arrived. It wasn't designed for me, their outfit wasn't designed to handle my powers, she suddenly realized. It's just ordinary cloth, not like my own outfit, it couldn't handle...
"Super Collie!" a voice rang out behind her. Automatically, Super Collie whirled around, and suddenly a camera flash exploded in her face. She blinked hastily, clearing the glare from her eyes, panting as she searched the crowd for the source of the voice. Another camera flashed - and another, and another - making Super Collie raise a hand to shield her eyes from the dazzling flashes. Too late she realized that she was giving the photographers a full view of her exposed chest, and she hurriedly tried to cover herself with what remained of her clothing.
"Super Collie makes a clean breast in Japan!", an all-too-recognisable voice heartily roared, and a large figure in the crowd made his way forward. Super Collie froze in astonishment and dread as the infamous tabloid reporter known as Squid Vicious pushed his way through and eventually breaking into the front row of the crowd, his walrus tusks gleaming in the sunlight and his whiskery face quivering with glee. "Or should it be 'Super Collie bares all', do you think?" He raised his camera and took another photo of the stunned semi-clad super-heroine, chuckling with glee. Oh, what a scoop I've got now!
"Wha - wha - what the hell are you doing here, Squid?" Super Collie snapped, finally able to speak. She tore at the remnants of the ill-fated blouse, managing to get some pieces in place to partially cover herself. "Haven't you got some ambulances to chase or something? Leave me alone!"
"Oh, there's no need of that, Miss Collie," Squid smoothly replied, his voice as oily as the expression on his face. "Especially as this is why you run around in that impressively skimpy outfit, eh? To be caught in the camera's eye? It's a publicity stunt, that's all this is - now tell us, what's it for, eh? More true confessions of a super hero?"
"That's utter rubbish!" Super Collie protested, pausing briefly to pick up her Shepherd's crook from against the building wall. "I was in hot pursuit of a criminal suspect with Officer Hamacho - "
"Yeah, riiiight," Squid interrupted. "And where is this suspect, mmmm?" A sneer broke out across his face. "I thought as much... he got away. As if there ever was a 'suspect' in the first place."
"Excuse me," a voice from behind Super Collie interrupted. Officer Hamacho limped forward to stand next to Super Collie, the policeman staring pointedly at Squid. "I do not know who you are sir, but I would kindly ask you to leave Korii-san alone. She is a guest of the Japanese government, working with us on a very important case!" His tail angrily lashed behind him.
Squid eyed up Super Collie's companion suspiciously. "Who's the toy-boy?" he sneered. "Can't you get enough or something?"
A look of pure fury flashed across Super Collie's face, and she stormed towards the self-important journalist with teeth bared, growling ominously. "How dare you say that!" she snarled. "How dare you!" That was it - first having to wear that ridiculous sailor scout outfit, then its spectacular failure, and now she had to endure cheap shots from a low-life gutter journalist who deliberately ignored the good she was doing in favour of sensationalist lies! This time she was going to teach Squid a few things about Super Collie that he'd never forget! She was almost within reach of Squid before Hamacho was able to grab hold of her, the Japanese officer struggling to restrain the angry super-heroine.
"Korii-san, please... he isn't worth it!" Hamacho pleaded, hanging on for dear life, trying to avoid yet another embarrassing confrontation. "Korii-san, please!"
Hamacho's words broke through Super Collie's fury, forcing her to reconsider. She so wanted to give Squid the treatment he deserved, and it wasn't as though she had done anything wrong to attract his loathing, but she had to admit that Hamacho was right, and all that she would accomplish by tearing into Squid was an even more slanderous newspaper article. "You're right, Hamacho-san," she eventually managed to say, her eyes still narrowed and filled with loathing. "This low-life scum doesn't deserve the satisfaction. Him and his tawdry rag are made for each other..." She sighed heavily. "Come on, let's get out of here - there's nothing more we can do now."
Hamacho slowly nodded, and offered his battered uniform jacket to her, draping it over her shoulders as they walked slowly away together towards the nearest koban police box. Behind them, Squid Vicious wrote furiously in his notebook.
"You're a Page Three girl now, Super Collie!" he crowed. "Remember that - Page Three!"
WHO IS ABREAST OF LOCAL CRIME? SUPER COLLIE!
VISITING SUPER-HEROINE REVEALS ALL IN NAGASAKI CHASE
Super Collie hung her head in dismay as she stared at the headlines in the morning newspapers spread out on her hotel bed. A censored - but still plainly obvious - photo accompanied the article in the Daily Yomuri, and the articles themselves were obviously directly from Squid Vicious's slimy sleazy pen. To make matters worse, each article had an Associated Press header - meaning it had gone out to almost every other major paper in the world.
My reputation is in tatters, Super Collie glumly thought. No matter what I do now, everyone will only see that damned topless photo. I'm a laughingstock - and all because of some damned stupid Japanese custom. The remnants of the offending outfit she had thrown against the wall and window of her hotel room the minute she had returned, and they still lay in tatters on the floor where they had landed. That... thing can stay where it is, she pondered. I can't bear the thought of touching it after what's happened, no matter how untidy it looks. She was once again wearing her usual blue and gold bikini outfit - it might not be culturally correct, but at least it fitted and was comfortable.
Her melancholy mood was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Who is it?" she wearily asked.
"It is Officer Hamacho, Korii-san. May I come in?"
Super Collie briefly considered telling him to go away, but then shrugged her shoulders in resignation. "Just a moment, Hamacho-san," she called out, rolling off the bed and putting the pink silk kimono over top of her outfit, making sure that her tail was through the proper place and the belt was tied correctly before tiredly opening the door. Hamacho stood in the doorway before her, his uniform cleaned and repaired, holding a bouquet of flowers in his hand.
"Korii-san," Hamacho began. "I wish to offer on behalf of the Japanese Government their deepest and most sincere apologies for what is being reported in the newspapers about you, and these," he continued, handing Super Collie the flowers, "are from me." All traces of annoyance at having to acquiesce to her previous requests has vanished from his voice, replaced with genuine concern for her public humiliation. "We have been unable to locate the suspect we were in pursuit of, and the Nagasaki police have not been able to provide any more information for us. It appears that we have reached a dead end."
"I thought as much," Super Collie sighed dejectedly, accepting the flowers from Hamacho's outstretched hand. "The flowers... they are very pretty. Thank you." She stood before him for a long moment until Hamacho politely coughed, regaining her attention. "Oh - sorry... please, come in."
Hamacho closed the door behind him as she led him inside. To an untrained eye, nothing appeared amiss in her room, but Hamacho had spent enough time with her to realize that slightly misaligned papers and the items of clothing draped over a chair betrayed a deeply hurt and distressed Super Collie. The police offer shrugged helplessly. "Korii-san... I am so sorry for what happened!" he sadly admitted. "If I hadn't insisted that you wear the..." He hung his head in shame. "It would not have happened."
Super Collie slowly nodded, turning to stare fixedly out of the hotel window. The endless view of apartment blocks and office buildings held her attention for several silent minutes before she wearily faced Hamacho again. "I don't expect you really had a choice in that," she admitted, "You were simply following your instructions... and I certainly didn't realize that my invulnerability wouldn't protect it." She breathed in deeply, shaking her head, her long auburn mane flowing over her shoulders. "Hamacho-san - can you do something for me please?"
"Take me back to Narita please. I want to go home."
Daitakerou settled himself back in an easy chair in his Nagasaki apartment, smirking as he read the morning paper. What a resounding result for so little effort! he silently crowed. After this, I bet Super Collie won't be able to show her face to enforce parking tickets, let alone bother the likes of us again! Katakana Kat, you are the best!
He lowered the paper to the floor and stretched out yawning in his chair, before getting up and pouring himself a shot of whisky. Now the hard part's over. I simply pick up the magic talisman from Fumihiro, and I'm off back to New Zealand. No sweat. "And sayonara to you Super Collie - may our paths never cross again."
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Wellington. Please make sure that your seatbelt is fastened until the aircraft has come to a complete stop outside the terminal. Be careful when opening the overhead lockers, as some items may have moved in flight. On behalf of the captain and crew, thank you for flying Air New Zealand."
Super Collie stared glumly out the window as the plane taxied to the waiting air bridge, relieved yet anxious about her arrival home. It had been an exhausting flight from Tokyo via Sydney, and she was looking forward to a much needed shower and sleep, but she was unsure as to the reception she would get once she got back to Wellington proper. Would she be hounded by reporters, eager to get the latest scoop on her Japanese faux pas? Would she have to run the gauntlet of public derision and sarcasm, of people pointing and laughing at her? Sure, Squid had written highly inflammatory and libellous articles about her in the past, but their publication had been mostly confined to the Daily Truth and other such low quality tabloids. But this - this was humiliation on an international scale. And worse than that, she felt as if she had let her whole country down.
All these things and more occupied Super Collie's mind as she went through Immigration, picked up her bags, and proceeded through Customs. The ever-present lure of the duty-free shops failed to entice her out of her funk, and it was with a heavy heart that Super Collie reluctantly proceeded towards the Arrivals area. She slowed as she approached the security doors, bracing herself for the inevitable celebrity arrival melee once she passed into the public reception area.
Oh god, here we go...
Super Collie turned - and breathed a sigh of relief, for instead of the journalist she was expecting stood a familiar heavy-set uniformed figure. Wearing a flat topped police cap, navy-blue trousers and overcoat with "New Zealand Police" stitched in gold lettering on the epaulettes, the squat powerful looking bulldog was an impressive sight - and he was one of the few people that Super Collie was hoping would meet her.
"Constable Kremmin!" she exclaimed. "What can I do for you?"
"It's more of a question of what I can do for you, Super Collie," Kremmin smiled, his jowly wrinkled face beaming at the astonished collie lady. "We received word from Japan about the... incident, and I thought you might like to get home in peace." He gestured towards a side door, doffing his flat police cap. "If you'll come with me?"
Super Collie nodded enthusiastically, and soon she was sitting in the back seat of Kremmin's patrol car as he loaded her bags into the boot. Kremmin had parked out near the freight handling area, well away from the passenger terminal, and they were able to leave the airport undetected, soon speeding their way along Cobham Drive towards Haitaitai. After the concrete barrenness of Tokyo and Nagasaki, Super Collie revelled in the view of the harbour surface sparkling in the sun as they headed into the city, the familiar sight of the native bush covering the slopes of Mt. Victoria lifting her spirits and dispelling her gloom.
"Drop off at the usual place?" Kremmin enquired.
Kremmin nodded. Super Collie's security precautions to protect her true identity included a neutral meeting point to obscure her movements, and it was used by Kremmin and Super Collie when they wished to meet in private. Not for the first time, Kremmin wished that he could escort Super Collie to her actual home, to find out where this mysterious and powerful lady really lived, but he respected his colleague in crimefighting too much to ever make the suggestion. Instead, he continued driving in virtual silence, navigating his way though the central city, driving up past Victoria University to Kelburn, coming to a stop in the car park of the top station of the Kelburn cable car. "Here we are, Super Collie," Kremmin announced. "Do you want a hand with your bags?"
Super Collie shook her head. "No thanks Constable, I'll be fine." Kremmin nodded, and helped her out of the car, unlocking the boot and lifting her suitcases out onto the tarmac. At this hour of the morning, the car park was full of vehicles yet deserted of people, with only the occasional tourist walking from the Botanical Gardens disturbing the peaceful atmosphere. From here, Super Collie had a clear view of the entire Wellington harbour and business district, the green hills sweeping up towards the Hutt Valley on one side, and the house-clad slopes of Mt. Victoria framing the central harbour on the other. A gentle breeze billowed Super Collie's cloak behind her as she gazed over her home, drinking in the vista of the city before her like a tonic.
"A bit different to Tokyo, eh?" Kremmin ventured, having drawn up to her side.
"You can say that again," she nodded. "No matter where I go - this place will always be home."
"I know." Kremmin coughed. "For what it's worth... I didn't think much of that article, and I'm sure that a lot of the lads at the station think the same way I do. The guy who wrote it -" he coughed again, "Well, he'll make up stuff about just about anyone. That's just what he does."
"Thank you, Constable. And thanks for picking me up," Super Collie replied.
"Please, call me George," Kremmin offered.
Super Collie smiled, but shook her head. "I prefer to keep things professional Constable, if that's okay. But thanks for the thought." She extended a hand to him, and he respectfully shook it - then gasped with surprise as Super Collie suddenly put her arms around him and held him in a warm embrace that seemed to go on forever. Eventually she released him, and gave the surprised constable a kiss on the side of his muzzle before picking up her bags and walking towards the cable car station. Super Collie got in to the upper cable car, and after a few minutes the car began to move down the side of the hill towards Lambton Quay far below.
Kremmin watched Super Collie leave, his eyes following her out of sight before he sighed and returned to his patrol car. He relived her embrace in his mind over and over as he got into the car and drove off, remembering the fresh heady scent of her in his nostrils and her soft and curvaceous body against his. Glancing down as he rounded the corner back towards the central city, Kremmin notices that quite a number of white and golden-yellow hairs had become attached to his uniform - an unconscious parting gift from Super Collie. Better brush that lot off, he grinned, don't want the lads at the station getting jealous!
Esmerelda emerged onto Lambton Quay from the bottom cable car station, towing her bags behind her, indistinguishable from any other travelling businesswoman as she made her way through the bustling mid-morning crowd to the nearest taxi stand. She had taken the opportunity of an empty cable car in the Terrace tunnel to transform back from Super Collie, and now she could safely travel the rest of the way home. At last, a comfortable bed and a relaxing bath were not far away! If anything could help lift her still pervasive depression from her, they would.
A short taxi ride later, Esmerelda unlocked the front door of her flat and heaved her bags inside, closing the door behind her and carefully positioning each case in a predetermined unloading position in her spare room. All her mail had been carefully sorted into discrete piles on her kitchen table by her neighbour during her absence, and after making herself a cup of tea Esmerelda sat down in her favourite chair and began sorting through each pile of mail in sequence. Despite being once again among familiar things, her mind still wandered back to Japan as she sipped her tea and opened each letter in turn, absentmindedly dropping each opened envelope to the floor instead of carefully placing it into the rubbish bin as she normally did. Esmerelda got through less than half of her mail before she suddenly found herself staring into space, her mind still filled with turmoil and humiliation.
Can I ever be Super Collie again? she wondered, not for the first time since Tokyo. Do I even want to anymore? Is it worth it?
Esmerelda shook her head, trying to clear her mind. Come now! That's not what Super Collie's all about! One little incident and you want to pack the whole thing in? What are you?
Well, what am I? a small part of Esmerelda's mind whispered back. How do you know you're not a costumed bimbo? Well, not the bimbo bit - you're certainly not that - but why are you Super Collie?
"Nononono!" Esmerelda groaned aloud. This was just getting too depressing. A bath would surely make her feel better (32 ºC, 65cm depth, Lavender Mist bubble bath), followed by -
The sound of a car pulling up interrupted Esmerelda's train of thought, and she went to the front window to see who it was. Her heart leapt as she recognized John's battered old Lada sedan parked outside, and before she could get to the door John was already knocking.
"John!" Esmerelda cried as she opened the door for him, pulling him inside and throwing her arms around him, pulling the startled spaniel close into a passionate hug. "I've missed you so much!"
"Welcome home Essie!" John exclaimed, putting his arms around her and holding her tight. They embraced each other lovingly, never wanting to let go, losing themselves in their feelings for each other for what seemed an eternity before John recovered enough to speak. "Welcome home! How was the flight?"
"It - it wasn't that good," Esmerelda sniffed sadly, hastily remembering her cover story of a business trip. "Things didn't go too well at the, the - Yokohama office, and, and... it was terrible. Nothing seemed to go right... I just wanted to come home."
"Oh Essie... I'm so sorry..." John whispered tenderly, fiercely holding her close, stroking her soft flowing mane, his muzzle brushing against hers. "It's okay... you're home now, and I'm here for you..."
"I was humiliated, right in front of the - customer," Esmerelda whimpered. "It was awful there, just awful..."
"It's okay love, it's okay... I'm here..." John kissed Esmerelda tenderly on the muzzle, fondling her soft floppy collie ears, caressing her mane. "Just relax... it's all going to be okay now, mmmm?"
Esmerelda tearfully nodded. "I love you John... truly, I do," she whispered, gazing up into his face with adoration. "What would I do without you?"
"It could have been worse, you know," John reassuringly continued. "You could have been Super Collie in Nagasaki, and had that happen to you -"
"Oh John!" Esmerelda wailed, clutching desperately to him. The wall of her pent-up frustration and humiliation finally burst as she started sobbing uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face and muzzle onto her lover's shoulder. John could only hold her in amazement and try to comfort her as best he could, never daring to let her go as she wept in his arms.
"Sotohoji-san, I am impressed!" Koichi Fumihiro exclaimed, the Siamese head of the Nagasaki yakuza clan heartily slapping Daitakerou on the back. "Not only did you lose the local police presence that was following you, you also managed to eliminate the threat of this Super Collie from this organization!" He beamed happily at Daitakerou, pride filling his face at his former protégé's accomplishment. "And I am sure that your Mr Ulysses will be grateful as well with your work today. Well done!"
Daitakerou's face flushed with pride. "Thank you, Fumihiro-san, I am most honoured!" Even though I didn't really do anything, but then I'm not going to turn down this kind of recognition! He paused for a moment, his eyes scanning the spartan central Nagasaki boardroom where he, Koichi and several of Koichi's closest advisors and retainers had met. From the outward appearance of the decor to everyone present wearing suits, the gathering looked like nothing more dangerous than a Mitsubishi board meeting, but in fact many of these men were the most dangerous gangsters outside of Japanese prisons.
Daitakerou leaned forward. "Fumihiro-san, if I may ask -"
"I know, yes, " Koichi interrupted, his blue eyes twinkling, the streaks of grey fur on his muzzle lending an almost comical air to his face. He gestured to one of his underlings, who quietly - and after respectfully bowing - left the room. From personal experience, Daitakerou knew that Koichi's seemingly pleasant face masked a ruthless streak that even surpassed that of his current employer, and he was careful to maintain the proper air of respect when dealing with this man at all times. Daitakerou had managed to come this far in his underworld career with all his fingers intact - unlike some of the others seated around the table, he noticed - and was more than happy to let that state of affairs continue.
Koichi's underling returned carrying a polished red lacquered box, which he placed on the table in front of Daitakerou. "There it is, Sotohoji-san," Koichi beamed expansively, "The Magic Shojo Wand, courtesy of the Temple of Sayoko. Guaranteed effective against all kinds of urotosukedoji, or your money back." He laughed heartily. "That is assuming we actually paid for it of course!"
"How - how does it work?" Daitakerou carefully opened the lid of the box and peered inside. There, resting on a bed of red silk, was a polished black wand, inscribed in gold with ancient Japanese characters. Wood grain could be seen underneath the rich black lacquer, and it seemed to glow slightly with a pale, ethereal light. It was one of the most beautiful things that he had ever seen. "How is it used?"
"Oh, it's pretty self-explanatory," Koichi dismissively waved. "Hamada-san, tell him."
The retainer who had brought the box nodded to Koichi. "As Fumihiro-san has said, it really does not require conscious action to use. When the wand is picked up, and the incantation on the wand is read aloud, the woman holding the wand is transformed into the Magical State. The powers fill her, and she is able to -"
"Wait!" Daitakerou interrupted. "She?"
"Yes, that is correct Sotohoji-san. This wand is only able to be used by women."
"Meaning..." Daitakerou struggled for words, an icy pit forming in his belly. "Meaning I, for example, could not use it?"
Daitakerou's face remained calm, even as his spirits sunk with this revelation. Oh crap... "Is there," he finally managed to ask, "Is there... anything I can use to defeat the urotosukedoji?"
"Is there something the matter, Sotohoji-san?" Koichi inquired. Despite his jolly demeanour, Koichi's voice hardened like samurai steel at Daitakerou's questioning. "We did go to a lot of trouble to get this item for you, and I would hate for there to be a problem with it - "
"Nonono, Fumihiro-san!" Daitakerou hastily interrupted. "Forgive me, but I was merely exploring all possibilities. This, what you have given me will be more than satisfactory. Thank you." He bowed respectfully in Koichi's direction, his mind racing as to his next move.
"That's settled then." Koichi leaned back in his chair. "I think that will be all for now. Sotohoji-san," he beckoned as everybody started to get up from the table, "Would you like to join me tonight for some drinks and... shall we say, other entertainments?"
"Why of course, Fumihiro-san," Daitakerou replied as he closed the wooden case and slipped it into his suit pocket. "I am honoured!"
"Good, good," Koichi smiled. "It is good to see that living in Nyujurando has not affected your Japanese spirit. I am particularly looking forward to visiting a new bar from Roppongi that has just opened. Up Tail seems to have quite a good reputation..."
"Office Party at the Judder Bar on Saturday, 7pm. All invited."
Esmerelda sullenly deleted the email from her work computer. She wasn't in a sociable mood this Friday morning, and even the regular visitors from the office pool had picked up that she didn't want to be disturbed. Which suited her. After her return from Japan and her reunion with John the previous night, this morning she felt like she had been through an emotional wringer, and she just wanted some space to herself. Normally she could lose herself in her work, but now only three items remained for the current batch of tests Esmerelda was to carry out, and it was hard to see how she could stretch them out to last the rest of the day.
Switching to her mainframe session, Esmerelda quickly finished the remaining tests, documented them, and sent the results back to the programmers, hitting the "Send" key with a final thump as she leaned back in her office chair, waiting for her next assignments. She tried to amuse herself by re-cataloging her application manuals again, but she had gotten so good at it during her time at ELB Industries that she could polish the task off in a matter of minutes. Inevitably, her thoughts strayed back to her other career as Super Collie, and once again she found herself pondering her future.
I don't know how I can keep doing this, I really don't, Esmerelda thought. What am I in this for? Why me? All I did was find that cairn with the skeleton and shepherd's crook - I touch the thing, and suddenly I'm a spandex-clad heroine out of a comic book. I never wanted to be a crime-fighter - although I have to admit it fills up my day rather well. A pencil in her grip snapped. I want answers, dammit! She sighed to herself as she compared the ends of the pencil, carefully breaking the rest of the pencil into regular lengths before laying them precisely into the wastepaper bin. Why me? And why now?
Feeling bored, Esmerelda absentmindedly flicked over the pages of her desk calendar, a pictorial issue containing photos of various country scenes. As she fiddled, one photo in particular caught her eye, and she hastily searched back through the calendar pages to find it.
There. It was a picture of an alpine lake in the South Island, certainly something out of a postcard. She found herself studying it intently - okay, she had seen this photo or ones like it hundreds of times before, but why was it so interesting now? A glacier fed freshwater lake, mountains, tussock, wide open spaces, a stone chapel on the water's edge with a panoramic view -
That was it! The Church of the Good Shepherd, of course! Esmerelda gasped in realization. Now she knew where she had to go for her questions to be answered.
Esmerelda arrived at the small township of Lake Tekapo late the next night, having flown from Wellington to Christchurch and driven many hours from Christchurch to get there. The whole town rested quiet and peacefully, the streetlights keeping a lonely vigil on the main road with only the occasional long haul truck roaring past. Beyond the extent of the streets lay the alpine lake itself, shimmering in the moonlight, the air crystal clear from the water's edge to the stars above. Most of the houses Esmerelda drove past were dark and quiet, their occupants having retired for the evening hours before. Only the sound of the cicadas in the tussock grass along the side of the road broke the stillness of the air in the town.
Turning off the main highway, Esmerelda soon located the famous church, the rough-hewn natural stone building maintaining its silent vigil over the quiet waters of the lake to the snow-capped mountains beyond. She brought the car to a halt, turning off the headlights and the engine before winding down the window and taking a breath of the fresh mountain air. The icy air was fresh and sweet with the slight scent of damp earth from the evening dew, encouraging Esmerelda to relax back in the driver's seat, happily drinking in the invigorating air surrounding her. I wonder what it's like to live here, she wondered as she gazed at the moonlight reflecting off the snowy blankets of the regal mountains far off in the distance. Maybe one day... but then, I think I'd probably get bored here if it was like this all the time.
She shook herself, bringing herself back to the present. This isn't the time to think about that, Esmerelda reminded herself. I came here for a reason. She carefully scanned the car park and surrounding area for onlookers, and after satisfying herself that the area was clear Esmerelda reached for her ever present silver necklace, gently and reverently holding the stylised shepherd's crook pendant in her hand. The only things she could hear was the ripples on the surface of the lake and the calling of cicadas and other insects. One final glance around, then Esmerelda held the pendant between both her hands and whispered to herself, focussing her mind on the seemingly ordinary ornament inside. Quickly, the familiar soft glow of light emanating from the pendant enveloped her body, transforming her...
Super Collie stepped out of the car, the gravel of the car park surface scrunching under her boots as she quietly closed the car door and proceeded towards the entrance of the church. Her flowing cloak billowed out behind her as she walked, the slight evening breeze from the lake ruffling her mane, her tail and nose twitching with anticipation as Super Collie strode purposefully onward, proudly carrying her shepherd's crook like a royal standard. The part of Super Collie that was still Esmerelda had no idea why she had decided to change into Super Collie here in this lonely spot, certainly it would have been better from a security perspective if it had just been her normal self wandering around. But somehow, it felt appropriate, it was right and proper that it was Super Collie instead of Esmerelda. She still had no idea where she was going, or what it was she was expecting, but her body seemed to be certain. As if in a dream, Super Collie approached the steps to the church -
- and walked right past them, her eyes now fixed on the bronze statue of the Sheepdog Monument just beyond the stone chapel. As if in confirmation, the moonlight around the famous statue overlooking the water's edge seemed to brighten, the silhouette of the monument standing proud before the mirrored surface of the lake reflecting the moon and mountains. It was the most breathtaking spectacle that Super Collie had seen, and deep inside she felt that it must be for her alone.
She reached the edge of the stone platform encircling the monument, and paused, her mouth open and her eyes filled with awe. Slowly, she dropped to a squatting position, then knelt down on one knee, holding herself upright by her crook, looking to all the world like a loyal warrior knight paying homage before her king. Moonlight bathed Super Collie's face as she gazed upwards, the statue above her reflecting the luminous radiance from the full moon above as the breeze teased and played over her fur and cloak. Her soft leather boots quietly creaked as she shifted slightly, putting more weight on her crook as she waited expectantly, joyously, for whatever might happen next.
Slowly, as if in a dream, the sheepdog sculpture above the awe-struck woman began to glow with its own light. Super Collie could only watch in amazement as the statue slowly turned a soft orange-brown colour, looking more like a real animal with every passing minute.
"Super Collie... You are the latest in a long line of Guardian Shepherds, from the time that the Mackenzie first came to this land - and each one has used the Power of the Shepherd to protect the flocks of the world..." a voice from the statue intoned. It was deep, soft and pleasant, filled with the warmth and concern of a hundred mothers, the desire and adoration of a thousand lovers all combined together. Super Collie's jaw dropped open in astonishment as the voice's words sank into her mind - could this really be happening to her?
As if reading her mind, the voice spoke again, this time sounding indulgent like a father speaking to his favourite daughter. "It is no accident that you were chosen, Esmerelda Braithwaite, for the ways of the Guardian Shepherd run long in your ancestry." The statue's head turned towards Super Collie, and she realized with a start that the transformed bronze figure was actually speaking to her as if it was alive. She started to tremble uncontrollably, gripping tightly onto the crook for support, unable to stand, to move, unable to even turn her eyes away. Fear raced through her mind like a lightning bolt searching for ground -
"Do not be afraid of what lies before you, for the Power of the Shepherd will protect and empower you," the voice continued. "All the spirits of past Guardian Shepherds, as well as the First Shepherd of us all are here. We know your doubts, your fears, for we have stood where you have and faced what you have..." Super Collie shivered, scarcely daring to breathe, scarcely daring to believe that this was real as the statue slowly raised a forepaw from its stone base and extended it towards her. "Take our hand, dear Sister Shepherd, we offer our strength and wisdom to you..."
Trembling in awe, Super Collie slowly rose from the ground, and carefully climbed onto the stone surround of the monument. She stood before the statue, gazing at the mystical animal before her. Her left arm trembled in indecision, afraid to reach out and touch the strange beast... yet afraid not to at the same time. The figure shifted its gaze to stare directly into her eyes, causing Super Collie to jerk her head back. Then, as she met the unearthly creature's gaze a strange peace washed over her, as if someone had wrapped a warm comforting blanket around her entire body and mind.
Breathing deeply, Super Collie slowly raised her arm, extending it towards the statue - she felt a crackle of energy cross over the narrowing gap - then suddenly she grabbed hold of the statue's paw and held on tight -
Immediately, Super Collie felt a rush of energy course down her arm and into her body, causing her to stagger in shock. She gasped as she felt her entire being flooded with warmth and love, her mind filling with images and thoughts from unremembered deeds and experiences. "Oh gods..." she whispered, her voice filled with amazement, closing her eyes and bowing her head as she fiercely gripped the creature's paw. It was mind-blowing, uncontrollable, washing over her in wave after wave, the experience threatening to overwhelm her. Her whole body shook with the sheer magnitude of it all, yet even as her mind rose and sank in the incredible sensations Super Collie felt safe, protected, secure that no harm would befall her.
The storm in her mind and body continued to rage, yet still she hung on, every cell in her body charged, Super Collie panting and whimpering softly as the energies of the past Shepherds continued to flow through her. Now her body began to move and sway sensually, her head tossing back and her back arching, moaning and sighing as if she felt the hands of a hundred lovers caressing and pleasuring her body. Super Collie shuddered deliciously, her body wracked with repeated orgasms, each climax a plateau for the next as her spirit and body seemed to merge with those of her spirit brothers and sisters. It was incredible, so fantastic, she never wanted it to end -
"Ohyesmoreohmore... ohpleasedon'tstop I want it forever -"
Esmerelda awoke with a start in the driver's seat of her car, blinking blearily as the first rays of dawn filtered through the windscreen. Hastily, she looked over herself, then relaxed as she saw her usual attire of suit jacket and skirt. Safe then, she reassured herself. No awkward questions as to what a super heroine is doing out in a place like this - to everyone here I'd look just like another late night traveller that needed a rest. Which is as it should be.
She glanced at the car's digital clock. Five am. Better get going I guess. Yawning and stretching, Esmerelda glanced around. The view across the car park to the stone church and the sheepdog monument looked the same as it always did, with nothing to indicate the events of the night before.
How did I get back here? Esmerelda wondered. Last I remember, the statue came to life, and I... I... oh gods, it was incredible! But now, in the cold light of day, her memories seemed so unreal. Did I just dream it all? She shifted in her seat, and suddenly realized that a rather familiar scent filled the interior of the car - one that normally was associated with certain recreational activities with her boyfriend. What the - !
Carefully and discreetly, Esmerelda slipped a hand under her skirt - and gasped as she found her panties were sopping wet with arousal. More than that, it seemed - in fact, saturated was a better description, and her wetness seemed to have run into the car seat covers as well. "Oh my..." she whispered to herself, her floppy ears pricking up in astonishment as she hastily withdrew her hand from between her legs. "I've never ever been like this before!" Esmerelda carefully wiped her sodden hand with a handkerchief, then started the car and pulled out of the car park, heading for the main road, keeping the windows wound up until she was well on the open road again.
And as she observed the lake and town recede in the distance behind her, Esmerelda smiled happily. She felt positively bubbly and buoyant, her sense of confidence was restored, and a new sense of purpose had found its way into her heart. And even though she had rather ample proof that the experiences of the previous night had actually occurred, deep down she knew that she was not intended to return for quite some time. Some things had to be done at the proper time, when they were needed and not just when they were wanted. But if ever I do need reminding of why I am Super Collie, I know where to go, Esmerelda reflected. And no matter where I go or what I do, there are powers that will watch over me and will be there for me.
Switching on the car radio a few kilometres further up the road, Esmerelda caught the end of a news broadcast, jolting her back to reality. With the announcement that yet more people in Wellington had been abducted by the alien monster, panic had hit the streets and the police force and SASVS had their hands full trying to deal with the situation. Esmerelda's hands tightly gripped the steering wheel, her mood of bubbly happiness changing to a implacable and wrathful determination. I'm going to get that thing for what it's doing to everyone, she swore, lips drawn back in a snarl as she imagined what those poor unfortunate captured souls might be experiencing, her newly boosted confidence coming to the fore. Esmerelda planted her foot on the accelerator, watching as the speedometer needle crept up past the speed limit. It's my job as Guardian, I'm the only one with even a hope of stopping this! I'll be damned if I'm going to let some refugee from a sushi counter screw around with my Flock!
"Welcome back to New Zealand, Mr Akiyama," the customs official at Wellington International Airport smiled. "Do you have anything to declare?"
Daitakerou shook his head, handing over his passport and immigration declaration form. "Not this time," he mumbled non-committally, purposefully not thinking about a certain item in his case. "Just the usual duty-free - didn't really have the time to go shopping."
"Ah, one of those trips eh?" the officer replied, glancing at Daitakerou's passport - forged, naturally - and noting everything was in order. "Oh, sir - your declaration form says you have an item made of wood with you. May I inspect it please?"
Daitakerou mentally kicked himself. You idiot! "Oh yes, I forgot about that," he smoothly replied, hoisting his case onto the inspection table, opening it up and picking out the polished box containing the wand. The officer carefully inspected it, although it became readily apparent that it was the wood and not the artefact itself that he was interested in. After a few moments he handed the box back.
"That's fine, sir - thank you, you may continue. Have a good day!"
Daitakerou nodded, slipping the box into his suit jacket and picking up his suitcase before heading out the exit. Within minutes he had left the airport and was on his way into town. As the taxi made its way through the business district and up into the green belt suburb of Khandallah, Daitakerou pulled out a mobile phone from his pocket and entered the short key code for Mr Ulysses's private line. "Sir, I have the package as discussed," he began as soon as Mr Ulysses answered. "No problem with immigration."
"Good." The relief in Mr Ulysses's voice was unmistakable, even over the phone. "Get it set up right away, there's been another couple of attacks in Vivian Street while you were in Nagasaki. Business is really going to the pack, and I want it back to normal as soon as possible. The less police on the streets, the better."
Daitakerou grimaced. This was the part he had been dreading ever since he had obtained the wand. "There's a little more setting up to do than we thought."
"What do you mean?" The tone of Mr Ulysses's voice had noticeably cooled - always a bad sign.
"The item -" Daitakerou whispered, conscious of being overheard by the taxi driver, "- it needs a particular type of person to use it, it's - it's not something I can use myself. But I have been told that this will eliminate the... problem."
"See to it then. I don't care how you do it, just get it done," Mr Ulysses snapped. "I'm counting on you, Daitakerou, don't let me down. Get Vyachaslav to help if you need it." The call clicked off.
Daitakerou leaned back in the back seat of the taxi as it approached his flat. The Shojo Wand specifically needs a young female to use it, he nervously recollected. A young woman who has the skill and control to use the power from the wand effectively without being overwhelmed... that wouldn't have been a problem in Japan, but here? And dragging someone from Japan over here would have been too suspicious, and take too long - Mr Ulysses wants this resolved as soon as possible, and there simply wasn't the time...
The taxi deposited Daitakerou in front of his home, and after paying the driver off he lugged his suitcase up the steps to his front door, unlocked it, and went inside. Laying his case upon his bed, Daitakerou opened it up and carefully removed the case containing the ancient Shojo Wand, reverently placing it on top of his dresser. Who am I going to find in the city, this country, that is capable of using you? he wondered, gazing upon the black polished wand. Someone who wants to see the back of this monster, someone who is strong and capable with mysterious forces, someone who -
Realization suddenly burst into Daitakerou's mind. "Oh no... not her!" he groaned aloud, his normal composure collapsing, thumping the end of the bed in frustration. "No, no, no, no, NO! After all I went through in Japan getting rid of her - there must be someone else! Anyone else!" Tears of anguish flowed down his face, matting Daitakerou's fur and staining his shirt, the sounds of his sobbing gradually being replaced with hysterical laughter at the irony of what he had to do. With luck, Mr Ulysses would never know what happened...
Super Collie crept cautiously through the passage, her torch flashing through the gloomy darkness as her boots splashed through the puddles on the floor. Her keen ears listened for the slightest sound, her head continually turning this way and that, searching for any suspicious movement. Acting on a tip-off made to the police regarding the monster's latest whereabouts, Super Collie had volunteered to investigate the network of tunnels under an old wartime fortress near the coast, and much to her relief she found herself able to concentrate on the task at hand. Whatever the old Guardian Shepherds had done, it certainly seemed to be working. Samson and Kremmin had actually expressed relief to Super Collie for offering her services, it seemed that Colonel Bathsfield's efforts with the SASVS had been less than successful - and even now several gangs of waterworks engineers were busy repairing holes in the city's drainage system where some of the SASVS suits had become stuck while searching for the monster...
So far, so good, Super Collie reflected, crossing off another section of tunnel on her map. Over half way already. Rounding the next corner, she flashed her torch around the bend - and suddenly stopped. Before her, clearly illuminated by the torch's brilliant beam, was a figure she recognized all too well: Katakana Kat, dressed as always in a black suit and tie, seemingly untroubled by the dripping water from the passage ceiling. "Good evening, Miss Collie," Daitakerou smoothly greeted her. "I see that you got my message."
Super Collie's fur bristled as rage flooded through her body, the humiliation from her last pursuit of Katakana Kat rushing back into her mind. "You!" she angrily snarled, raising her shepherd's crook before her and preparing to strike. "It was you in Nagasaki, wasn't it? It's you behind all these monster attacks! This time, you're not going to- " She stopped. "What message?" she snapped.
"Forgive me, Miss Collie, but this is the only way I could think of for us to meet," Daitakerou interjected, his voice calm and collected, though inwardly he was shaking like a leaf. If this didn't work... "After all, no one knows where you live, and as for myself... well, I have obvious reasons for not giving away my address either. To come to the point, it seems we have a common enemy, and I believe that we can help each other."
Super Collie's jaw dropped. Was she really hearing this? Katakana Kat, right-hand man of the Big Bad Wolf and one of the most infamous criminals in New Zealand, was proposing to co-operate with Super Collie, his arch enemy? She gripped her shepherd's crook tighter, brushing some stray strands of her mane from out of her eyes with her free hand. "I don't believe you," Super Collie replied flatly.
To Be Continued