1 uses the storytelling conventions and stock elements of “magical girl” anime. Readers unfamiliar with this genre may find themselves startled by everyday events like humans transitioning through a catch phrase and a moment’s nudity into costumed angels or the spontaneous generation and disappearance of mysterious romantic interests while missing the true heart of the story: what would it mean to be human in a world where eating blowfish doesn’t carry with it the risk of death?
The room is cold.
There is a young girl’s body sprawled by the kitchen. Her name was Lisa. She was studying to be a doctor. There are the remnants of a meal on the table—hand-made sushi, mostly unagi and dynamite rolls, but also a few bits of tamago and a piece of what might be albacore. There is blood on the dynamite roll; on the table; on the clock hanging on the wall. Lisa has been stabbed to death by sushi knives.
Amelia is a crime scene investigator. She studies, but does not touch, the corpse. She carefully packs the sushi into evidence bags. She collects fingerprints from the walls and knives. She squats down, studying a strange little oddment in the carpet. It resembles a piece of fingernail, but the coloration and translucency are off.
Amelia hears the voice of her magical animal companion and straightens.
“Amelia, Amelia,” Gray Beauty says. “The knives of time are cutting fine.”
Amelia looks up.
The walls are full of the shadows of knives. They are serrated at their edge. They are moving, sweeping from the forward corner of the ceiling to the backward corner of the floor. They are moving faster and faster with each second that passes, until the blur no longer resembles shapes.
“Then I shall be Crime Angel,” Amelia says.
She reaches into her purse. She takes out two bracelets. She puts them on and crosses her wrists in front of her.
“To save the world from the agents of darkness,” she says. “To bring the new millennium of peace. To end the shadows of lost days, I am Ayurvedic Crime Angel!”
She assumes the costume of the Crime Angel. The brief interlude of nudity, here in a locked and shuttered room, is only a slight embarrassment.
There is a glow in the room, and she can see Gray Beauty now. The small flying unicorn hovers in a bubble of light.
“We stand outside time,” says Amelia. “Outside the normal forensic process. I ask you, Gray Beauty—unveil the light of truth!”
Gray Beauty’s horn glints, shimmers, and shines. Amelia surveys the room. There is a strange luminescence over an incision in Lisa’s chest.
The clock has stopped.
Amelia takes out the forceps of the Crime Angel. With infinite care, she pushes the two sides of the incision apart. The light of Gray Beauty pours into the wound.
“There is something missing,” Amelia says, “in her heart.”
“Yes,” Gray Beauty agrees.
“That is the cause of death,” Amelia says. “Someone has taken the purity from her heart—the pure heart that loved people and sushi!”
“It must be an agent of darkness,” Gray Beauty concludes. “Quickly, Crime Angel, investigate the murder scene!”
Amelia glances around. There’s a dark scurrying on the wall. Amelia darts forward and catches it with her hand. It is the shadow of a girl. Caught in her hand, it ceases its motion.
“A girl,” Amelia says.
“No,” Amelia says. “See, this shadow has long fingernails. Lisa kept hers bitten short. It also has strange and almost unrealistic hair.”
“Gel,” Gray Beauty says, in condemnation.
Amelia releases the shadow. It flows away. “But it’s not enough. A girl with long fingernails? That could be anyone.”
She lifts her head. “I smell him,” she says.
There is a swirling of a cloak in the doorway. There is a man standing there. He is shrouded in darkness and smells strongly of the rain.
“Never despair,” he says, “Crime Angel.”
She looks at him. “But—”
“If you trust in your heart,” he says, “and meticulously review the available evidence, you will always solve the crime.”
“Mystery Officer,” she says. “You have never told me why you—”
He holds up one finger. “‘I cannot see her tonight,'” he quotes. “‘I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.'”
Then he is gone.
“Argh!” Amelia says, in real frustration. “Gray Beauty, will I never know if Mystery Officer is an enemy or a friend?”
“I cannot say,” says her wonderful animal companion diplomatically.
“Still—” Amelia says. Then she brightens. “Fugu! Of course! Gray Beauty, look at this!”
Amelia sinks down on one knee. She points at the carpet. “That strange object. It’s not a fingernail. It’s a bit of blowfish spine!”
Gray Beauty swoops closer. The unicorn’s light brings out a hundred shimmering colors in the fishscale bit.
“But what good is that?” Gray Beauty says.
“Most blowfish comes from farms,” Amelia says. “The farms are small, isolated breeding populations, which leads to genetic abnormalities in the fish. Effectively, it’s a DNA fingerprint—which can lead us right to the farm that sold this fugu!”
“Do you want me to scan it?” Gray Beauty asks.
“There weren’t any signs of blowfish preparation in the kitchen,” Amelia says. “Or in the apartment. Is there any in her stomach?”
“No,” Gray Beauty says.
“Then yes,” Amelia says. “Because for whatever reason, the killer must have taken the fugu with him.”
Her voice becomes soft and ritual.
“We stand outside time,” says Amelia. “Outside the normal forensic process. I ask you, Gray Beauty—begin your marvelous DNA scan!”
Golden light blooms in the room. It shines all around her. Roses wreath through the air and then they are gone.
“Cross-checking data with the Crime Angel database,” Gray Beauty says. The unicorn’s teeth click together as it transmits its message.
There is a pause.
“Gray Beauty,” Amelia says, “you look sickened.”
“I am,” whispers the unicorn.
There’s a pause.
The unicorn tries to continue. “It’s . . . it’s a . . .”
Gray Beauty flutters weakly to the ground, contaminating a spot of blood with marvelous unicorn radiance.
“It is a farm,” whispers the unicorn, “that breeds naturally toxin-free blowfish.”
“That’s horrible,” Amelia says.
There’s a long silence.
“Let’s go,” Gray Beauty says. “It’s the Stemm-Branning fugu farm. I have the address.”
“Let the knives of time cut fine,” Amelia says. “Let the shadow folk draw nigh. Cut Crime Angel away!”
The brightness in the room is gone. There is only the harsh yellow light of a naked bulb, shining in the outlet above. There are no angels.
Amelia walks away.
It is only thirty seconds before her cell phone rings. She picks it up. She answers. She listens. “I understand,” she says. Her voice is bitter. “I understand.” Then she puts the cell phone away.
She gets in her car. She drives to the Stemm-Branning fugu farm. The sign out front depicts a happy half-dissected blowfish. Two fugu chefs look on in amazement. One says, in a speech balloon, “No poison!” The other says, “A miracle of fish!”
Amelia knocks on their door.
The man who answers the door is Lu Stemm. He’s a young idealist in a suit. He smells of fish. There’s some fish scent stuck behind his ears.
“Cri—” Amelia says. “Er, I mean, Amelia. I’m a forensics investigator.”
Mr. Stemm looks down at himself. He looks up. He has an expression of mild concern. “Am I dead?” he asks. It’s hard to tell if he’s worried or simply being facetious.
“No, Mr. Stemm. I’m investigating a murder elsewhere.”
“Oh, good,” Mr. Stemm says. He smiles at her. “I hope it wasn’t done with fugu. But if it was, it wasn’t our fugu! Our fugu is safe.”
“Perfectly safe,” he assures her. “It’s genetically inhibited against developing the poison glands. Instead, it bastes its organs in a natural soy sauce.”
It is, again, difficult to tell if he is kidding.
“I don’t have much time,” Amelia says. “I need to know if you’ve had any unusual clients of late.”
Mr. Stemm sounds mildly sad. “All of our clients are unusual. But if you mean new unusual clients, only three. A fraudulent magician wishing to add extreme fugu consumption to his act. A pretty girl with odd hair, nails, and sharp teeth. And a shadowy chocolate conglomerate based out of Switzerland.”
“The conglomerate!” Amelia exclaims.
Then she thinks.
“Wait, no,” Amelia corrects. “Tell me about the girl.”
“She was named Cornelia,” says Mr. Stemm. “She was very hot. She works for a local restaurant. I have her card, if you would like?”
“Please,” Amelia says. Mr. Stemm leads her into the building, and to his office, and he looks through the rolodex. When he looks up, Amelia has stepped out of the room.
“To save the world from the agents of darkness,” he hears. “To bring the new millennium of peace. To end the shadows of lost days, I am Ayurvedic Crime Angel!”
The card held in his hand vanishes.
Amelia is outside time, and outside the normal forensic process, but still she moves swiftly.
“Gray Beauty,” she says. “Does it have her fingerprints on it? Do they match the ones in the room?”
“Indeed, Crime Angel,” says Gray Beauty.
“Then bag that card and let’s go.”
“I hate bagging evidence,” Gray Beauty sulks. “I don’t have fingers.”
Amelia rushes to her car. She waits for her magical animal companion to finish bagging the evidence and join her. She drives to the restaurant. She hops out of the car. She locks the steering wheel. She closes the door and engages the security system. She rushes into the restaurant.
Cornelia is waiting. She is wearing a green dress and leaning against the bar. Her hair is long and spiky. Her teeth are sharp. Time has not stopped for her, and her long nails drum against the bar’s surface.
“You stole the pure heart of a girl who loved sushi,” says Amelia. “That bright purity of spirit that endorses unagi and salivates over spider roll. For that you face Crime Angel’s wrath!”
“I did these things,” says Cornelia. “But I will face no wrath. Fierce Fugu!”
Out of the kitchen a strange and terrible creature bounds. It is a giant blowfish that walks on two legs like a man. It also has arms and hands. In each hand it holds a long and lethal knife.
“When a blowfish has no poison,” Cornelia says, “it must use knives to defend itself. That is the curse of Stemm-Branning blowfish—the fugu fights fiercest when backed into a corner!”
“FIERCE FUGU!” declares the blowfish.
“This is my heart-extracting blowfish,” Cornelia says. “I corrupted it from an ordinary blowfish in order to achieve my ends.”
“It has already cut out one pure heart that loved unagi and felt indifferent to sashimi,” Cornelia declares. “Now it will take yours!”
The monologue has taken too long. Amelia has recovered from her surprise.
“We stand outside time,” declares Amelia. “Outside the normal forensic process. I ask you, Gray Beauty—commit the traceless murder!”
Fierce Fugu charges, inflating. The unicorn meets it halfway. There is a horrible pop.
“Well,” says Cornelia. “That did not work as anticipated.”
“Indeed,” Amelia says. “Now, Ms. Cornelia, you are under arrest.”
“I think not,” says Cornelia. “Lisa did not own her apartment, but borrowed it from a friend; and the warrant under which you searched it was invalid.”
“I am surprised,” Cornelia says, “that they did not call you, and tell you this. It has been some time since the law discovered this fact.”
Amelia grinds her teeth. “Fine,” she says. “So you know. But you won’t win!”
Cornelia steps forward. She pats Amelia on the cheek with a long-nailed hand. “So sad,” she says. “The poison was in the evidence, and not the fish.”
She walks out the door, and she is gone.
“I cannot catch her tonight,” Amelia says, almost to herself. “I have to give her up.”
She picks up a scrap of Fierce Fugu from the floor.
“So I will eat fugu,” she says, and bites down.
It is delicious but not satisfying, for it is the fugu of her failure.