PART ONE: SOPHIA
Taken from: The Road to Dune, by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson.
These things I tell you: the sequential nature of real history cannot be repeated precisely by prescience. We grasp incidents cut out of the chain. That is why I deny my own powers. Eternity moves. It inflicts itself upon me. Let my subjects doubt my majesty and my oracular visions. Let them never doubt eternity. -DUNESDAY PROVERBS.
Fifteen year old Sophia Roland stood, eyes closed, listening to the music that came through her earbuds as she waited for the bus, ignoring the old women behind her who complained loudly about the state of modern society and the disrespect of the modern youth for elders. They didn't like her much because of her father, who was in and out of jail, whose daughter looked nothing like him.
They pitied her late grandfather, a renowned composer and musician whose legacy had been discarded by a wayward daughter for a street ruffian but delighted in ruminating over the fact that his granddaughter, Sophia, promised to be just as great as he. Perhaps she would come to the same end as her mother.
While Sophia couldn't help what they thought of her or her family, she didn't have to listen to malicious gossip and had every intention of leaving the stop and calling a taxi instead when the young woman sitting next to the group of old hags began coughing, a horrible, thick wet sound that Sophia could hear over Beethoven's Sonata in C Major Op. 2, No. 3 - Adagio in her ears. She looked around in concern, forgetting her annoyance with her neighbors.
The young woman's husband rubbed her back soothingly, the only help he could offer. Their daughter, a cherub faced toddler, looked up curiously when her mother began to cough, accidentally dropping her blue ball. It rolled away from her and into the street. The little girl cried out and her father looked up with a frown. He saw the ball in the middle of the street and his daughter's face beginning to scrunch up. Sophia caught his eye and smiled warmly at him.
"I'll get it," she told him. He nodded gratefully to her and patted his daughter gently as Sophia trotted out of the bus stop. There was no traffic in the street, the only vehicle being a green Mazda with tinted windows parked a few houses down. Sophia trotted forward, leaned down and scooped up the ball.
An engine revving broke the quiet of the little street and she straightened up, looking toward the sound while automatically moving backwards out of the street. The muzzle of an automatic rifle pointed at her through the passenger window of the green Mazda spit flame and the bullets ripped through her, tearing through her lungs and heart. She pitched forward and the tires squealed immediately after she hit the ground, like the driver wanted to be sure he had gotten his target. She heard the screams from the old women and wondered what they would say of her now. The little girl was shrieking now and Sophia looked at her hand. The blue ball was clutched in her fist.
The child's father sounded like he was shouting on a cell phone. Sophia sighed, a bubbly sound. That wouldn't work. A psychic, although no one knew, not even her parents, she was dead certain - what a pun - that medical attention would not arrive in time to save her. Lungs and heart were too badly damaged to function much longer. She stopped trying to breathe and the light faded behind the blackness engulfing her vision. The earbuds miraculously, were still firmly in her ears and the sonata still playing. The music became her sole focus point in the approaching void. Eventually that too faded and she let go completely. As her consciousness faded there was a flicker around the edges of the void that had taken her and a massive presence reached out, plucking her from its depths.
Sophia's consciousness blinked back into existence when the presence that had brought her out of the void cradled her to itself, nestling her in its embrace. Dark and cold. Power radiating from it enough to make her nearly drunk with it.
What... she thought slowly.
—I can save you— It whispered through the power cradling her. —Swear to me. Accept—
Yes. Yes. Her thoughts were vague and desperate. She didn't want to die yet. But she was already dead. Wasn't she? The last thoughts she had before the presence cocooned her in itself and drew her somewhere else.
Darkness and warmth surrounded her on all sides. When she moved, her arm jerked awkwardly instead and hit something that made her jump at its feel, like muscle...? There was an odd sensation at her navel, she thought that something was connected to it. The warmth was liquid, she realized and it felt very much as if she were suspended in a tank of warm water, but tanks had cold hard walls didn't they? Tentatively, she reached out with her sixth sense. It seemed in better working order than her body. She stretched out her foot and cautiously touched the wall, then quickly snatched it back.
The wall was muscular. And there was another body in here with her. She could feel its tiny heartbeat, and her own through her sense. There was another louder, more powerful heart beating over them. The psychic girl had been returned to the womb.
The more she thought the more her memories began to come back. The bus stop, the bullets, the sound of the music as the void closed around her... being drawn from darkness by swearing to... what? What was it she had sworn to?
—You swore to me so that you wouldn't die, and your soul not be sent to hell—
Who are you? Sophia jerked, startled, and accidentally kicked the wall of the womb. Not having "turned off" her sixth sense, she felt the woman whose womb she was in press her hand to her stomach.
"Goodness, Fugaku, they sure are active today."
A warmth flowed over her mind as Sophia reached out to the woman. Love, she identified it. For her and the other person next to her in the woman's womb.
—I am the Shinigami, the God of Death of this world— The voice announced and Sophia turned her attention back to it.
Why did you bring me here?
—Because I need you, of course. There is an event slated to happen that will cast this world into chaos if it is not prevented. However, there are those who want war, which chaos will inevitably bring. There is someone of our own who can stop it, but he is already marked by our enemy and therefore undesirable for our purpose. Unfortunately, no other person in this world fulfills the requirements so we were forced to seek elsewhere. We found you, and would have arranged your death had you not already been destined to be murdered.
Do not interrupt me until I have finished explaining. One requirement on our part be that the individual is willing to shoulder the destiny we request be borne. For this we must provide facts. ...Thank you. Now, this event you are to stop is the catastrophe of a goddess released from her confinement. Millennia ago, because gods cannot kill another of their kind, we sealed her away in order to prevent her madness from infecting the mortal world
We also sealed away her... consort separately and destroyed most of her followers though some remained hidden from us. Those hidden ones have been sighted recently, and it has been reported that they have managed to discover the formulas that unseal both the consort and the goddess but are not strong enough to do both. Consequently, they must first unseal the consort and then have him unseal her. The seal holding the consort however, will take months to break due to the inexperience of the followers, and can only be done in a special type of light, as does the seal which binds the goddess—
What do I have to do? asked Sophia.
—Didn't I say not to interrupt? Humans. Always so impatient— The god sighed. —Very well, little remains to explain. Your task is twofold. First you must seek out and destroy the remaining followers of the fallen one. This will not be completed before the consort is unsealed but we hope it will strengthen you so that you will be able to face the second part of your task: to defeat the consort and his minions, thus preventing the goddess' return to this world— He paused.
—This next is somewhat optional. One of my commanders has requested that you be given to him for training. I believe the idea to be sound, though I must say I do not know his reasons for it, unless it be to pass on a legacy he was left. You may accept this offer and I recommend that you do. You are not mentally a warrior, and you will not last long unless you have been trained properly—
I'll take all the help I can get, she said. I believe you are speaking the truth about your situation despite admitting you would have killed me to further your own goals, and ensuring that no matter my decision there would still be an alien world waiting for me outside the womb. Having selected me you must know of my own ability and while what you have told me so far is generalizing the situation, ensuring my entrapment in this world you've convinced me that to some extent you are desperate. The details of which will no doubt be revealed when I am able to look for them myself. I will do what you ask, and I will take the commander's offer. When...?
—Your training will commence when Commander Minoru returns from his home. Until then, child—
Yes, she whispered.
The Shinigami may have... understated when he told Sophia that his commander would be "training her." To the standards of her old world the activity she underwent would have been referred to as mental abuse of the highest order in any organization, military or anything else one could put a name to. Being physically still in the womb she was unable to perform in actuality the tasks she was set to accomplish mentally.
Naturally, her mental functions became razor edged. The photographic memory she had been so blessed with sharpened until it was totally eidetic, and she was capable of making split-second decisions in rapid sequences. The commander trained her mind in all the battle scenarios he felt like and was gratified to watch his apprentice blow through them like a veteran, even though he twisted them however he felt like just to catch her off center. Though with a single disturbing characteristic. His new apprentice displayed an oftentimes disgusting reluctance to kill, causing him to put her through even more scenarios designed to figuratively flay the skin off her back.
The subjects her taught her when not putting her through her paces in simulations were ratcheted up from basic levels to advanced as her growth progressed. Mathematics, physics, science, right down to the arts he dabbled in were gone over and torn to shreds by them both. Even history both ancient and modern.
From the history lessons Sophia learned that her teacher's world was one of those the scientists in her own referred to as an alternate timeline. Though this one was of a post-apocalyptic nature. The series of events that led to the current state of affairs were fascinating and at several points, shell-shocking.
It turned out rather oddly that the manga world Naruto was an off-shoot timeline of World War Two in her old world, and that she had been reborn into the Head Family of the prestigious Uchiha Clan of Konoha, the Village Hidden in the Leaves. She wondered why her master had sounded so gleeful when he had informed her, and was told that for decades he had wanted to obtain a follower from the Clan to take up his legacy. It turned out that a century ago, he had had a rival from the Uchiha, had lost to him and had his previous apprentice appropriated. Furious, he had gone up against his rival once more and defeated him. He did not, however, kill his old apprentice. He had left the young man alive, but had taken back the power bequeathed before the boy left.
Then Sophia came along, and a golden opportunity had risen. Minoru jumped at it, or rather, at her. She warned him that she was not truly an Uchiha but her remark was laughed away by the commander and her training continued until her delivery date arrived. Minoru told her that after she was born she would be training on her own, physically, until she uncovered the mark of legacy he had imprinted on her. Then she would be trained by the same superior who had trained Minoru himself.
The birth was easy, as far as Sophia could tell, not much time passed after she felt the first muscle contractions squeeze the womb and rupture the amniotic sac she was floating in. The fluid rushed out and she was squeezed against the other person in the womb. Four hours later an intense contraction squeezed the body next to her out, and the second pushed her out. Hands grabbed her gently, cleaned the mucus from her nose and mouth, held her feet together and gave their bottoms a sound thump.
Her lungs spasmed and she gulped air, a thin reedy cry making its way from her throat. She made herself keep crying out to get her new lungs used to breath and air, worried irrationally for a second about the toxicity of oxygen then decided she was still too distracted with her lessons. She focused on the sensations surrounding her.
Her sight would not develop for several weeks and all she could smell was the strong coppery scent of blood mixed with the basic antiseptic scent of hospital. Her hearing and sense of touch were the only senses available, in addition to her sixth sense but she refrained from activating that one just then, the woman who had given birth to her would be severely emotional, and that would in turn affect Sophia herself to some degree.
So she just listened to the people around her, and to her sibling's wails, and wondered what her life would be like now.