Re: Akira Pseudo-Route [Updated as of 1/16]
Posted: Thu Jan 24, 2013 7:25 pm
Beginning of act 4, start of the second half of the story, here we go. Gonna try and keep it easy-going, nothing over-dramatic or overplayed or anything. Of course, the story is still going to advance, and the conflicts still have to resolve. Thanks everyone who has supported me thus far, and I hope I can keep everyone entertained until the very end.
Act 4 - Part 1: It's Never Just Rain
A jingling sound rings through my head each time I take a step, its timbre giving off a strange and yet empowering feeling. My fingers grip the silver metal handle of a long cart, its top and bottom layer stacked with glassware and other lab tools.
Twenty-six keys hang from a keyring on my belt, each bit of dull brass glowing against the light. One master key for all of the supply closets, one master key for the bathrooms on the first, third, and fourth floor, four keys to get into all of the testing areas, and at least another dozen more whose labels are unintelligible.
Even with all of that, however, I don't have unlimited access to the building. I have a key to the front and back door, yes, but private offices are off limits. As such, the contents of said offices are not my responsibility, so I don't have to stomp on anyone’s privacy in the name of cleanliness.
There's another two keys for the vending machines in the break room, but those are also not my responsibility. Apparently they're owned not by us, but by the company that provides them, so it’s their duty to send someone in to re-stock and repair them. The only reason I have a key is in case something of value gets stuck inside.
Apparently incidents like that have not only happened, but happen quite often if Mr. Setou is to be believed.
I glance at a digital clock hanging on the wall and note a time of 8:34 P.M, a short while before my duty here is finished. I wish I could say something like 'I don't want it to end so soon,' but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t already exhausted.
Sweeping floors. Mopping them. Having to mop them again because I used the wrong cleaning agent. Taking inventory of all the supply closets. Turning in a report to Mr. Setou. Getting chastised for doing it wrong. Doing it again and only receiving an approving nod before I'm told to go clean out the incubators. Having a researcher tell me not to worry about it. Running into the boss on the way out and being told that I, in fact, should worry about it. Trying to focus on my work and tune out the resulting argument...
And let's not forget sterilization.
At first I tried to keep a careful count of the number of pairs of latex gloves I’d gone through, but even on my first day I’ve already used and trashed at least ten sets. Grab some out of the maintenance closet, wear them for a single task, discard, wash hands, and repeat until the day is done. Maybe once I’ve gone through an entire box I’ll know how close the day is to ending.
My arms hurt from wiping down the same tables a dozen times, my legs hurt from having to climb up and down the stairs over and over again, and my chest feels as though it could explode at any second. It's my job to pace myself, but pacing myself seems to interfere with getting my other job done, which is to make sure every single square millimeter of the building is properly kept.
I unclip the keyring from my belt and slide it into the bolt lock on the door to the fifth floor testing area. This is the major lab where most of the 'big name' experiments go on, although nothing ‘exciting’ has happened here today. I’m almost thankful for such a thing, as an explosion or the outbreak of a deadly virus would only create a bigger workload.
That's not to say I wouldn't enjoy a little excitement, but I'd be happy if it waited for a day where I wasn't already exhausted.
Is this how every career starts out; working your way up from the bottom rung? Was Akira always one of the head-honchos at her company, or did she have to start out as a basic paperwork drone and climb the corporate ladder?
Hired directly into a management position, or promoting through the ranks to get there in only a few years. Either way, she has to have some kind of inborn talent.
On the other hand, I don't see how talent can be related to a job like this. For some reason, part of me is a little underwhelmed – certainly I'm happy to be here, there's no way I can express how pleased I am to be working in this kind of a setting with these kinds of people; but I can't help but feel like there should be more to it than this.
More to having a job, of course. I understand that being a janitor only entails things like cleaning duties, but I expected there to be a bigger sense of... pride with what I was doing. I was always taught to live by the sweat of my brow, but so far I'm living more by the intensity of my overall soreness. I don't feel like I'm a part of a bigger picture yet, just the guy who makes the frame for the thing people actually want to see or be a part of.
At any rate, it's only my first day. I'm sure there will be more tasks piled onto me as time goes on. It might be for the better that I only have a few things to worry about, since this cart may very well fall apart if I try to fit any more on top of it. I'm already tempted to leave some of these pieces of equipment behind thanks to the threatening clattering and clanging of glass against metal as I roll across the tile floor.
Heading back into the hallway and to the other side of the building positions me in front of the elevator, which, according to Mr. Setou, is designed for the transportation of equipment rather than of people.
I press the small white button and wait for the two metal doors to open, pushing the cart inside before stepping in beside it. A panel next to the doorway houses a series of inputs reading 1' through '5.'
A click of the white circle and a short wait carries me down to the third floor, where I push the cart into the 'cleaning room' which is, for all intents and purposes, a gutted kitchen. Sterile white walls, a brown tile floor, and a single overhead light. As far as appliances go, there's a long sink and numerous racks for drying glassware.
Beside all of that on the back wall is a couple of stainless-steel doors, all empty and waiting for work to do. Part of me wants to try washing all of this by hand just to see how long it would take, but I’m not going to let such a luxury go to waste.
An ‘autoclave’ is what Mr. Setou called it. Something ‘most schools are too cheap to be able to afford.’ It’s safe to assume the science teachers take care of everything in the background, so training day was the first time I’d learned such a magnificent thing even existed.
It takes a total of about twenty minutes to run the machine after loading it up with everything I can fit inside, the duration of which I have nothing to do aside from making sure the break room is in good condition.
And even after that, I still have about three or four more loads that need to be washed.
The TV's drone simmers in my ear, the weather report causing me to stop in place.
“We'll be experiencing a 60% chance of heavy rain all the way into the week, so you don't want to be without your umbrella! Expect flooding in...”
Granted, anyone can see that the weather has taken a turn for the worse. The clitter-clatter of raindrops beating against the wall is already very much audible, and seems to be growing in intensity over time.
Fortunately, the end of my shift is already here. Everyone else in the building save for Mr. Setou is already gone, and the only things I have left to do are put the cart away, clock out, and lock up behind me.
With the sound of the worsening weather putting a bit of haste in my step, it only takes a few minutes to put the metal trolley back where in the closet where I found it and lock up every door I've been through. A trip up to Mr. Setou's office yields a short chuckle, a “good job today, man. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday,” and a gesture to leave the room, one which does not receive a second thought before I'm taking careful steps down the stairwell.
All things considered, it's not difficult work by any means -- nothing physically taxing or mentally strenuous, so I don't have to worry about being overburdened. I was able to catch a few glimpses of how 'real' scientists work, so that's a nice bonus payoff on the side of the actual paycheck I receive every week.
I can be as enthusiastic as I want, but there's no doubt that it'll get boring rather quickly. It's the experience I'm getting that matters, even if I'm still not totally decided on where I'm going with all of this.
Having something is better than having nothing, right?
True to the weather report and all of the context clues; the sight outside isn't a welcome one. Rain pours from the sky, already beginning to gather in small puddles on the sidewalk and road. It doesn't help that there's no way to avoid the rain thanks to the design of the buildings around here.
All I’m wearing today is a plain t-shirt and some blue jeans, neither of which happens to be resistant to the water. With no means of staying dry, I brace myself and step out the door, rushing to the bus stop a few blocks down the road with as much haste as my heart will allow. The rain and wind swell against my exposed arms and face, drenching every inch of my body within a few minutes.
My watch indicates that the bus back to town will stop running in about an hour. There's not a single car in sight save for the ones parked along the curb, so there's no reason for my ride home to be held up.
That gets me thinking, however. What should I do if for some reason I can't get home? Not just for tonight, but for any night I'm working? I’d like to think I’m working hard for my paycheck, and I feel like it would be going to waste if I had to spend most of it to stay at a hotel every time I had a transportation mishap.
It took enough effort just to convince my parents to let me go after this job in the first place, what would they say if I were calling home to inform them that I was stuck in the city every night?
Then again, who else do I have to depend on?
Naturally, one person comes to mind. Her penthouse isn't too far from here either – not exactly close, but I wouldn't be in for a tough time if I did have to walk there.
I don't object to the idea either, not so much because her couch is more comfortable than the dorm beds but because, well... is it wrong for a guy to want to be with the girl he's pretty much head-over-heels for?
It's such a corny thing to say.
As mushy as it is, however, it's true. We're six years apart, and yet I can't evade the dreams. Nights spent playing billiards, tossing humorous comments back and forth, that bright smile forever imprinted upon my memory.
She's taken, though. And as long as she's taken; dreams are all I'll ever have. I hate to refer to him as an obstacle, but it's exactly what he is.
It's all I could think about yesterday, after that night at the restaurant. Her hand isn't mine to hold as long as he's in the picture, and her mind can't ever be at rest as long as he's relevant.
These are such terrible things to be thinking about. Just the prospect of splitting up a couple is cruel in its own right, but...
Am I wrong for thinking so?
They can't seem to agree on anything. It's such a simple and easy-to-grasp concept; but it's the foundation for everything in a relationship; even someone as inexperienced as me knows that. The only things they seem to have in common are their professions and their interest in comedy, but even then the similarities run thin.
I'm not in a position to be deciding anything, but even as I am I think I could make a better match than him.
Do I even count as a contender at this point? I’m just a janitor, whereas Tetsuo a member of the corporate board of the company that employs me. There’s so many different factors that make him more desirable by default.
Lilly's issues with their relationship follow the strain that they argue too much, and that Tetsuo isn't there for her enough. While it doesn't take a lot of thought to realize I could satisfy both of those conditions – what about Akira's wants? What does she think about all of it? She acknowledges that they do nothing but argue, but does she think wrong of it? Does she enjoy the debates just as he does?
Is that why she's tried to make it work out for so long? She seems like the sort who could stick it out through something regardless of how negative it may be, even if the good times never come.
But that's the issue here -- what if it never gets better? They've got their little vacation, but is that enough? Call me cynical, but I don't think it's enough to repair a relationship that fractured. It takes both parties, and as Lilly said; Akira is the only one who seems to be making an effort.
At any rate; there's no point thinking about it right now. I'll focus more on trying to get to the bus stop so I have a chance of getting h- WHAT DO YOU MEAN TRAFFIC?!
My walk has taken me all the way to the stop, where my soul is crushed by the glowing, scrolling marquee above the bus schedule.
'TRANSPORTATION DELAYED DUE TO TRAFFIC CONGESTION IN...'
Okay, at least it's only delayed rather than halted altogether. I'll just stick it out at the stop and wait for things to get back to normal. At least I'm protected from the rain here, right?
Wind pushes the rain under the awning, leaving no spot untouched by the wet precipitation. Looking around for another place to find shelter is hopeless as well, since everything around this stop is either a private business or a public building that has long since closed for the day.
Well, it helps that I'm already soaked to the bone. Can't get worse than it already is, unless-
Oh, huh. The weatherman didn't mention anything about a thunderstorm, but the sound of what may very well be a cloud slamming its car door does well to inform me of such a thing.
That's just where my day is bound to head, it seems. May as well go and bite the bullet, otherwise I'll be stuck here all night.
I fish around in my pocket for the small plastic slab, hoping with every fiber of my being that it hasn't suffered water damage just from being rained on. The screen lights up and answers my prayers as I bring up the contacts menu. There’s only four choices to choose from, and my parents and the emergency hotline aren’t of particular importance at this moment in time.
It takes a few moments for the call to go through, followed by what feels like an eternity of waiting for her to pick up.
“Hey. What’s up?” A familiar voice from the other end says.
Thunder cracks overhead, the scent of wet concrete fills my nose, and my teeth clatter together thanks to the freezing temperature a set of soaked clothes has brought about.
“Oh, I’m doing great, actually. How about you?” I respond.
The sound of her voice is too welcoming to be harsh with, though. I could be making this call in the middle of a scorched battlefield and I’m sure I’d be no less pleased to be talking to her.
“Pretty good, believe it or not. Managed to get off a few hours early before the rain got too heavy.” She replies with an upbeat tone.
I can feel the droplets of water tapping against my lifeline even as I cradle it against my ear, but thankfully they do nothing to damage its inner workings.
“Oh, lucky you. I'm stuck here at the bus stop getting drenched.” I reply, forcing out a chuckle.
I hate to sound so cynical, but it's a matter of fact. Can you blame a guy who's trapped in a thunderstorm for being a little irritated? I just had to work in a city that doesn't have designated bus lanes.
“That sounds awful. Why don't you head inside until the bus gets there?” She returns.
A small 'heh' escapes my mouth before I reply with “nowhere to camp out in. The bus is held up too because of traffic, so I'm just sitting around at the stop.”
It's a nice feeling, just having someone to talk to in times like this. Months of having no one really start to wear on you, so much so that even the idea of having someone to talk with when it's raining cats and dogs outside is genuinely appealing.
“Because of traffic, huh? Hah, I called it.” She remarks with a light snicker.
“Glad to hear one of us is having a great day.” I respond, unable to keep an amused grin from emerging on my mug.
She gives an awkward chuckle followed by “anyway, you must be having a pretty crappy time. Why don't you come over here if it isn't too far away? At least keep yourself from catching a cold.”
And there it is. The summit at the tip of the mountain. The bright light at the end of the tunnel. The...
I run out of metaphors to continue stating my gratitude and all I'm able to come back with is “really? I'm practically carrying a bucket of water in my clothes. I don't want to go ruining your nice floors or anything.”
My heart nearly skips a beat with delight as her reply glides past my ear. “Nothing a couple of towels can't fix. Besides, I'd feel terrible if I found out you got pneumonia from refusing my generous offer.”
That’s as good of an invitation as someone like me could ever hope for. I step out of the 'shelter' as my legs begin to move on their own, carrying me down the sidewalk.
“I couldn’t refuse if you're offering. I'll try and get there before I get struck by lightning.” I state.
“Alright, see you when you get here. Don’t be a stranger.” She returns, gracing my ear with an easy-going laugh as we both hang up.
The route isn't too convoluted if I remember correctly. It was a straight walk all the way there from the jazz club, and the bus stop is only a few blocks away from there. Should only be a twenty minute walk, although the motivation I'm getting from the rumbling overhead may reduce that to a clean fifteen.
Nook Condominium. This is it, right?
My chest beats with a painful vigor as I step up to the tower of tan bricks, bending over and gripping my knees in an attempt to cool down.
The mirrored glass on each story of the building shines against the artificial light around it. A revolving door sits in the center of the ground floor, watched by a bald, dark-skinned man wearing a black suit and a pair of sunglasses despite the fact that it's nighttime.
I reach into my pocket and flip my cell phone open one more time to find a missed call and a text message reading [Kaneda and Nicol shouldn't give you too much trouble. I told them to expect you.]
Is it safe to assume that 'Kaneda and Nicol' are the guards for the building? She mentioned their names last time I was here, so it might be the case. There isn't a soul alive that can't be cautious around someone who looks like that, though. The width of his shoulders alone proves he could snap me in half without difficulty.
Face down the bodyguard or go find a bench to sleep on. Those are my choices.
I gulp and take a deep breath before putting one foot forward, calling upon every ounce of willpower in my body to push the other one ahead of it. Each step carries me closer to the revolving front door, across the road and up to the entrance.
His eyes are tracing every single movement of my body -- I can feel it even through those thick shades he's wearing. I'd be a smoldering pile of ashes at this point if he had heat-vision.
The second my foot touches down beside him, a deep and gruff voice asks “Hisao Nakai?”
“Yes?” I respond, trying not to stutter.
He doesn't reply to my answer. The only proof that he even continues to acknowledge my existence is a small nod, his form and expression not moving an inch beyond that.
I backpedal through the revolving door before finding myself in the lobby, a large expanse of empty space standing between myself and the elevator. I didn't get a chance to have a good look at it last time, but it's nothing less than what I'd expect from such a lavish place.
Smooth granite spans floor, blending into a marble-colored wall with a contrast that pleases the eye. A single chandelier hangs over a circular counter in the center, which happens to be manned by another person in a black suit.
Despite the uniform, his professional image is ruined by the fact that he has his legs propped up on the desk, a magazine drooped over his face as he leans back in the chair.
Rather than observe the scene more, though, I try to make my way over to the elevator without dripping too much rainwater on the floor. Without the rattle of the weather, however, it's quite easy to hear the unnerving 'squelch' my shoes make with each step, and there’s no doubt in my mind that anyone could walk in and follow a trail of puddles all the way to my current position.
I’m already tapping the message [Any chance you could open the elevator for me?] into my phone as I approach the silver doors; what would normally be a call button replaced by a keypad.
A larger puddle begins to gather at my feet as I’m left waiting, its increasing size making me wonder just how long it would take for someone to show up and kick me out. My apologies would go to the janitor first and foremost, and then maybe to the next person who happens to walk in at eleven at night, and then maybe-
A muted ‘ding’ catches me off guard as the metallic doors slide open, revealing a disheveled Akira. A pair of pinstriped trousers hangs from her waist as usual, but her torso consists of an untucked work shirt, its upper buttons undone and her black tie loosened.
She doesn’t look the least bit tired in spite of such a thing, though.
“Oh geez, you weren’t kidding. I should’ve brought a towel down with me, huh?” Akira states, her lips curved up into an amused and lively smile.
“Might need more than one.” I reply, almost tempted to wring my clothes out for emphasis. Almost.
She lets out a short ‘hah’ before she jabs back with “can’t think of a way to argue with that. Better get up here before the janitor finds you.”
It takes no further invitation to coax me into the elevator as I step in beside her. She taps a few digits into a number pad beside the entrance, causing the door to shut and the cubicle to begin its ascent.
“So, you got off work a few hours early?” I ask, trying to make conversation.
“Hm? Oh, yeah. There wasn’t much work to be done today anyway.” She answers. A bubbly grin emerges on her face as she adds on “they had a welcoming-back party for me. Nicest thing the company has done since I got there.”
“Sounds like you’re well-liked no matter where you go.” I comment.
“I’m just good at getting along with people, even if they annoy me.” She returns as if it were a joke. “I wouldn’t have complained about a tiny extension on my vacation, though.”
“I think everyone feels that way after some time off.” I retort, chuckling. “Feeling like you were only gone for a day yet?”
“A day? Hah. Already feels like I never left.” She replies with a laugh.
Another ‘ding’ rings out as we reach Akira’s penthouse, prompting the door to open once more. Some time has passed since I was last here, but the view is already familiar in my mind. Rather than welcoming me in, though, Akira pulls me one step into the spacious room and gestures for me to hold still.
One quick glance at the standing water in the elevator sends a wave of embarrassment through me, which is only amplified as Akira comes back with five towels all folded and stacked in her arms.
“This might not even be enough, honestly." She remarks as I take the towels from her hands.
With my arms occupied, she takes the chance to grab one towel off the stack and wrap it around my head, ruffling my hair underneath it.
"Ah- hey- what are you doing?"
I spot a mischievous grin on her lips between flashes of cloth, the sight alone enough to warm some of the chill in me. There's a strange pleasure to be derived from having your head scratched after a rough day, and I don't have it in me to deny a good thing.
She only persists for a few short moments before letting the towel lay flat around my head, obscuring my vision. "Heh. You must be freezing, I'll go ahead and get the bath running for you."
Before I can object; she’s already disappeared to another section of the apartment.
I wouldn't have minded if she had decided to keep going...
She has a bit of a point, though; a bath doesn't sound like a bad idea right now and I'm beyond the point of turning down an offer like that. What am I going to do for clothes, though? It would be pointless to put the same soggy, dripping outfit back on, but it's not like I can walk around her house naked.
I decide to drop one of the towels on the ground and stand on it before my thoughts can distract me any further, taking off my shoes and mopping up the puddle of precipitate that has once more begun to gather at my feet.
I unfold another and drape it around my torso before grabbing one more off the pile and using it to try and sponge some of the water out of my jeans. The end result is a mound of towels gathered around my feet, all just as soaked as I am.
Akira reappears from around the corner, unable to restrain herself as a few snickers turn into hearty laughter.
“That's one way to do it, yeah.” She remarks, her eyes glancing around the scene before her.
Must be a pitiful sight.
“What's the alternative? I'll flood your house at this rate.” I reply.
She shrugs her shoulders before answering with “well, the bath is running right now if that sounds like a better idea. We can go ahead and throw those clothes through the dryer too.”
It's a strange choice. On one hand, I can walk home in clothes that don't slish and slosh with each movement. On the other hand, however, I can walk home in soaked clothes, but I don't have to risk being seen naked.
The choice isn’t left to me, however, since I’m most likely going to be sleeping on her couch again, and I doubt she’d like it if she were to find water damage in her sofa.
Without even waiting for an answer, Akira gestures for me to follow. Even if I wanted to, it’s an action I couldn’t hope to resist.
She leads me around the corner past what appears to be a hybrid kitchen and dining room into a small hallway, at the end of which lies three doors. The door on the left is wide open, its interior revealing a floor of navy blue carpet.
What should interest me is the center option, which leads to a bathroom. A gentle steam has already begun to gather near the ceiling, rising from a tub that could fit two people with ease.
“Well, there you go. You can just hand me your stuff from around the door or something.” She comments as I step into the spacious washroom.
“Ah, are you sure about that?” I reply, unsure of what else to say on the matter.
It's pretty clear that my clothes have to be washed. I can't walk around in a towel either, so Akira is my only option here.
“What? Why are you being so shy? C’mon, I’m not gonna laugh at your polka-dotted boxers or anything.” She says with an amused chuckle.
HOW DID SHE KNOW THAT TODAY WAS POLKA DOTS?!
I turn around and close the door behind me as blood rushes to my head, unable to argue or even respond. Before any second thoughts can enter my mind, I strip out of my clothes and bundle everything up.
Just for good measure, I grab the towel that was draped around my shoulders and tie it off around my waist. I think of grabbing something else to try and hide the scar on my chest, but it shouldn’t be necessary if I can get this over with. She knows about my condition, but this isn’t something that she has to see.
Content that there won't be any accidental peep shows, I crack the door open a tiny bit and try to force my clothes through there, feeling my chest beat in anxiety as she accepts the mound of soaked laundry.
“Wait, whoa, you were actually wearing polka-dotted boxers?!” Akira exclaims, a shocked expression on her face for the five seconds that elapse before I shut the door again.
“Yes, as a matter of fact!” I yell from the other side. “Are you psychic or something? I'm pretty sure jeans don't become see-through when they're wet!”
“It was a total guess!” She replies.
We both go silent for a few moments before the tension breaks altogether and both ends of the door erupt with laughter.
“Can't say I didn't have you pinned as the polka-dots kind of guy.” Akira huffs between fits of chuckling.
“Oh really now? How can you tell?” I counter.
She lets out one last giggle before responding with “women's intuition.”
Was that wit, or was she being serious? Women's intuition allows you to see through clothes? I'll bet she flashed a cheesy wink or something with a statement like that.
“So what else does being a woman let you magically perceive?” I wonder aloud, unable to wipe the smirk from my face.
“All sorts of things.” She replies with a sly giggle before skipping to a different topic. “Anyway, it should take thirty minutes or so for this stuff to dry out. Go ahead and take your time; you're not bothering me one way or the other.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” I return with a snicker. “And, uh... thanks for helping me out.”
“Don't you worry about it. Not like I had anything planned tonight anyway.” She calls back.
The sound of her light steps tapping across the ground grows more and more quiet as she walks to what must be the laundry room. Meanwhile, I choose to let the towel encompassing my waist drop to the ground, stepping over and lowering myself into the bathtub.
I slide in bit by bit until I'm submerged up to my neck, letting my entire body go lax in the warm water.
Half an hour might be a bit of an underestimation, as the laundry could take hours and I wouldn't have the nerve to complain. It's been months since I've been able to take a bath in water warm enough for my preferences.
This is luxury, I suppose. Or maybe dorm life has reduced my standards so much that the high life equates to taking a bath in a tub that fits my entire body. At any rate, it's a good way to end the day.
Usual schoolwork, pushing a cart around and cleaning everything in sight for four hours, then forcing myself to trudge through a thunderstorm because the bus was stuck somewhere else. Not the most stressful day I've ever had, but the outcome is still quiet rewarding.
The bus has no doubt gotten back on track by now, but I can say with a bit of honesty that the walk here was worth it just to see her, and in some frame of mind that was my motive for coming here in the first place. Now I just need to make it through the night without embarrassing myself.
She’s already seen my underwear, so it’ll be a hard fight beating that.