Arc I: The Basket Case

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ARC I PART III: The Basket Case

Foumban, Cameroon

August 1919

Shoma stormed off towards the edge of the lush jungle, volleyball in hand. Light filtered through the dense canopy; under normal circumstances, Shoma might have found it calming. But right now, he was too frustrated to even notice it. As soon he was far enough away from the city that no one could see him, Shoma lobbed the ball at the nearest tree. It ricocheted off into the shrubbery. Sighing, he got down on his hands and knees and searched around for it.

He needed to go back and apologize to Lills. She had just been teasing him, he recognized that. But it wasn't so much what she said that bothered him as it was what she didn't say. It was the same thing everyone thought when they looked at him: why can't you be more like Aoto?

He found the volleyball, and after dusting it off, he began setting the ball to himself. Shoma tried to be more like Aoto- he really did! But his English wasn't as good as people seemed to think, and most of the time he was playing catch-up. Not that it really mattered what language he was speaking; Shoma was always two steps behind Aoto.

Still, it would be nice to get at least some of the respect he often saw people give his brother. Everyone seemed to notice Aoto's accomplishments more than his own. Why? He'd spent hours racking his brain, trying to understand what people saw in Aoto that they didn't see in him. Shoma got almost as good grades as Aoto once had, and while he hadn't been Class Representative in high school, his volleyball team did make it pretty far in the All Japan Intercollegiate Volleyball Championship last year. Was it just because Aoto was twenty-eight, and he was only twenty? Or because Aoto was so much more amiable? Was he just that much more handsome? Just once, Shoma would like to be good enough. He hoped that wasn't too unreasonable.

Why couldn't they compare him to the real Aoto, the one who used to suffer from panic attacks so severe that he once locked himself in a supply closet? Or the Aoto that, after his first (and last) fight with their father, disappeared for eight years, only to return with tattoos, a broken leg, and a prosthetic pinkie finger? The night Aoto left and the night he returned were two days that Shoma would never forget.

Yet his family had already neatly swept them under the rug, pretending like his older brother hadn't spent the entire night with tears streaming down his battered face as he ate his mother's homemade ramen for the first time in years. They happily ignored the guilt and sorrow that now clouded over his brother's face whenever he thought no one was watching, instead choosing to remember him as the "perfect" son he had been ten years ago. That wasn't fair to anyone, especially not to Aoto. A lump started to form in Shoma's throat, and he quickly pushed the memory out of his mind. "Shō go nai," he muttered to himself.

That was one thing Shoma appreciated about his father: he didn't compare Shoma to Aoto. But that was only because he no longer acknowledged that his brother existed.

He tossed the volleyball up as high as he could, but before he could catch it, a blinding light struck down in the jungle. An invisible force threw Shoma onto his back; the volleyball fell to the ground next to him. With a sharp groan, he forced himself up on his feet. There was only one thing that could cause that- a time machine. He glanced back at the city, then to the forest. He should go find Aoto. He could know what to do. But it could take a while to find him, and what if the time traveler was injured? Shoma let out a long sigh before running into the dense jungle.

***

The last thing Darcy Charlemagne could remember was jumping into that wicker basket with her overheating time machine. Why did she think that was a good idea? Oh right, because that psychotic cyborg had a insisted on chasing her through 1960s Morocco, and hiding in a basket seemed like a viable option when comparing to being shot.

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