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Strongstache
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Five (3 of 5)

Post by Strongstache » Fri May 08, 2015 6:16 am

Between the sheer amount of crap you've been steadily pulling on your fic's characters (including canon ones you've turned into junkies, potential yanderes and crazy assholes) and the fact that you've already spoiled that particular reveal earlier in the headcanon thread (and even earlier in some KS-related 8chan thread I stumbled upon), I can't say it had much of the effect you expected (intended?) it to have. I ain't even mad.

Though, I do disagree with that headcanon of yours. I simply don't think Akira and Lilly's parents spent much time in Scotland between Akira's birth and their moving there for good. Not enough for one of them to develop an affair with someone there, at least.

Curse you, you've made me comment again! Can't you people leave lurkers in peace?

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NekoDude
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Five (4 of 5)

Post by NekoDude » Sat May 09, 2015 4:46 am

(Chapter Five Continued...)

        “Ease up a bit, we’re not in that much of a hurry,” Akira slurs.
        Hanako glances down at the dashboard for just an instant. “I’m only going fifty.” A trailing car pulls around and passes them on the right, merging uncomfortably closely to avoid oncoming traffic and throwing a spray of water and gravel across the fender and windshield. She gently eases into the throttle, rather than off of it, allowing the impatient driver that just passed to act as their plow.
        Akira makes a rude gesture and an equally rude noise to the driver ahead but keeps it below the level of the dashboard (causing Hanako to crack a slight smile), then settles into her seat and snaps the shoulder belt with her thumb.
        By the time they reach Yamaku, Akira has started to nod off slightly, but isn’t hard to rouse. If not pressed to speak at great length, she might even be able to pass for not-drunk – but it’s unlikely Lilly would be fooled. Fortunately, they aren’t even going to try, intending to bring her to Akira’s level, rather than the other way around. Hanako kills the engine and feels the transmission bite in second before pulling the parking brake lever.
        “Are you ready for this?” asks Akira.
        No, not really, but waiting only makes it worse. “I g-guess so.”
        “Alright, you stay there, I’ll come around with the umbrella.” Akira cracks open her door and has it open before her exposed arm can get too drenched. At least the rain is respecting gravity at this point.
        Hanako uses the mirror to watch her pass around behind the car as she unbuckles the seat belt, but glances down to extract the keys from the ignition. When her gaze returns to the mirror, Akira isn’t there. Only a small segment of her umbrella is visible. Hanako races out of the car to check on her, to find her still sitting on the ground, left arm on the bumper, and offers her a hand. “A-are you hurt?”
        Instead of taking the hand, Akira gives her the umbrella. “Only my pride and my trousers.” She uses both hands on the bumper to pull herself off the pavement. “Be careful, there is a lot of oil that has washed out of the tarmac, making things quite slippery.” She goes to her pocket for the key to open the trunk, then remembers she doesn’t have it.
        It takes Hanako a moment to realize the problem. “Oh! S-sorry…” She unlocks the trunk while holding the umbrella high enough to not interfere with it opening, and Akira extracts the package they brought along.
        “Maybe you had better carry this,” Akira says, “and I’ll take the umbrella back. If I fall again and break this, it will hurt a lot more than the first slip did.”
        Once inside, Akira taps Lilly’s door with a fingernail.
        “It’s unlocked,” comes Lilly’s voice weakly through the door, so they quietly let themselves into her pitch-dark room.
        “Mind if we turn on a light?” Akira asks carefully.
        “It’s not like I would notice,” Lilly snaps back.
        Hanako knows the room even better than Akira does, and locates the light switch almost instantly. Lilly is seated on the floor at the side of her bed, all the blankets having been stripped and thrown around her. She looks like Kenji. Hanako could almost laugh, if it wasn’t so sad.
        “Mind if I borrow your key?” Akira whispers into Hanako’s ear. Hanako is curious but hands it to her, and Akira slips out of the room while Hanako joins Lilly on the floor.
        “How are you d-doing?” she says very gently to Lilly.
        “I’ll live, unlike some people.” Lilly’s voice has an exceptional amount of edge for her, but then it’s not every day you find out one of your parents actually isn’t, as Akira confirmed on the way over. “I could have handled the truth. There was no need to keep it from me for so long.”
        Akira reappears, wearing Hanako’s gym shorts. She places the key on the floor by Hanako’s foot before she takes her own seat on Lilly’s other side. “What did I miss?”
        “We were just getting caught up on things,” Lilly says with fake cheer as if this were just another relaxing afternoon chill-out session, before dropping the ruse. “How long have you known?” she demands.
        “About what? No, don’t answer that, because my response is the same either way: a little over an hour, just slightly longer than you.”
        “So they didn’t tell you either, huh. At least I don’t have to feel alone on that count.” Lilly’s venom is somewhat surprising, but she’s not aiming it at them, so Hanako and Akira make a tacit agreement by eye contact alone to let her just vent. “When were they intending to tell me? The day I turn twenty? When I get married? When I have my first child? It’s one thing to tell someone a lie to protect them. It’s another thing entirely to live a lie, years beyond its purpose.”
        “Apparently, they couldn’t agree about it,” Akira explains, “and you weren’t the one being protected. Papa didn’t want to re-open old wounds, and Mama still isn’t ready to deal with them. It only came up now because it suddenly matters.”
        “How long is she supposed to whip herself? How long does she have to wear her Scarlet Letter?” Lilly suddenly grabs the cross hanging around her neck, yanking it violently enough to snap the light gold chain it hangs from, then holds it in her open hand for the others to see. “I thought the point was forgiveness and salvation, not eternal guilt and damnation.” She tosses the cross in the general direction of her waste bin, missing it by half a meter.
        Akira gathers it in with her foot and drops it into her shoe. “Everyone has to face their demons in their own way, at their own time.”
        “Instead of drowning them?” Lilly shivers, as if she were the one who just changed out of wet trousers. “I’m why they left, you know.”
        Hanako finally makes her presence known, if gently. “N-no, it’s not your f-f–” She can’t even complete her sentence before being shouted down.
        Lilly’s head whips left as if on a swivel. “Yes, it is! Do you really think business interests were compelling enough to make them leave us behind the way they did?” She turns equally abruptly back to her right. “Or could it possibly be because Mama’s dry spells always seemed to come to an end within an hour or two of seeing me?”
        Akira gasps in shock, but Hanako literally bites her tongue.
        “Papa didn’t say it,” Lilly continues, “but he didn’t deny it either. She drank to dull the pain, and every time she saw me it was like the knife had been twisted. I bet she’s fucking pickled right now! I might as well be too.” Her stainless steel flask appears from under the blankets, and she removes the lid to take a drink only to find that it was down to its last few drops. She throws that in the general direction of the waste bin as well before collapsing in a heap, the faucet of tears having been opened full tilt.
        “I have gin,” offers Hanako, “and t-tonic.”
        “Do you really think –” Akira is cut off by Hanako drawing a thumb across her throat, then pointing it toward the door along with a tip of her head. “You know what, I could use one myself, and it’s not that I don’t trust you, but I want to see how strong you’re making them, miss bartender.” She gives Lilly a hug as best she can, given Lil’s awkward posture, and follows Hanako back toward her room.
        “What are you doing?” Akira stage-whispers once they’re outside the door, but Hanako waits until they are behind closed doors to reply.
        “Propanolol tastes like q-quinine,” is all she has to say on the topic.
        “Oh you mad genius, you. We probably shouldn’t give her a whole dose though. Remember?”
        Hanako does indeed remember. It knocked her for quite a loop when she first started on it. “Half?”
        Akira nods. “Save the rest for me.”

        “I know where you’re going with this,” Iwanako says somewhat combatively. “I’m drunk, not daft. I’m not offended by the suggestion, it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve kissed a girl, and that’s enough to know it’s not my style.” She apparently liked it, but it didn’t do much for me.
        “That’s a shame,” Neko observes, “because being the pivot is a tough job.” She glances at Hisao momentarily. “He could tell you a little bit about it, he watched me try. Whether or not he wants to accept it is not for me to decide. Just remember, transparency is key. Everyone needs to know what’s going on, or at least as much as each wishes to know. Without that, it’s just re-badged ‘free love’.”
        “So you actually want to know what he’s doing, if he does. Sounds voyeuristic to me,” Iwanako answers skeptically.
        “Not really, I wouldn’t ask for a play-by-play. I don’t think he could handle that without bursting into flame anyhow.” Neko gives Hisao a nudge and a wink, and as expected, he turns bright red. “Do be aware that I’m not just handing out hall passes here. You understand this works both ways, right?”
        “But I thought I made that pretty clear, I’m not –”
        Neko interrupts Iwanako with a surprisingly gentle hook-to-hand touch, but the mechanical coldness of it still gives her the chills. “I know. It would have been so much simpler if you were. That could have worked for both of us, but if it can’t be that way, I’ll just have to figure out something else.”
        “That kinda didn’t go so well the last time, remember?” Hisao asks with an eyebrow raised.
        “Yeah, but that’s because she’s mad as a cut snake – everyone knows that.” Neko tips a brief nod at Iwanako to include her in the previous statement. “Besides, don’t try to pretend you didn’t get at least a little bit out of the deal.”
        “I could have lived without it,” he says with a shrug. Mental note: follow up on this. Now is not a good time.
        Somebody’s stomach rumbles.
        “I should probably call down to put us on the list for dinner – or do you feel like walking in the rain?” Iwanako asks.
        “I can walk – slowly, it’s still more than a little damp out there – but let’s head toward the station,” Neko requests. “Then I can catch a train out to go home. I think the matter is settled, and there’s no sense in being underfoot any longer.”
        “You don’t have to do that, darling!” Hisao protests.
        “I know I don’t, but I’m going to. You can come with me if you like, or not, but I’m not staying here tonight.”
        I could pretend I’ll miss you, but why?

        “So do we just leave her down here, or get her up into the bed?” Akira asks.
        “I don’t th-think we can l-lift her,” Hanako points out.
        Right, the refrigerator was bad enough. Akira pulls the remaining pillows off the bed, tucking them wherever it seems they’ll do the most good before heading next door for some well-earned down time. “I think I’ve had enough tonic, but I could still use some more gin.”

        Despite the bland sameness of it all, the trio decides to stay in the building for dinner. The shuttles to the train station are running again, meaning they’d have to walk back to catch one, and none of them are in a mood to get soaked when the only places reasonably close are serving udon and other junk food. It also means not having to take baggage to a meal.
        Hisao accepts the proposal to stick around. Quality of food is about as far from his cares as it could be right now, as he knows that no matter what he does in the next hour or so, one door will likely be closing forever.
        When their table is ready, Iwanako gets a ring on the room phone and they head downstairs. Hisao tries to keep a smile on his face, but feels like he’s walking Spanish all the way there. If nothing else, this is almost certainly the last time he’s likely to share a meal in the company of both of them.
        He’s being nudged by a fiberglass forearm. “Darling, are you alright? She wants to know what you want to drink.”
        He blinks, and notices for the first time that the waitress is standing there waiting for him. “Uh, coffee. Thanks.” Once she nods and starts back toward the kitchen, he turns his attention back to the table. “Sorry, I just have a lot on my mind.”
        Iwanako’s unflinching gaze is firmly fixed on him, as if to emphasize the gravity of the upcoming decision. I’m all in here, she seems to be saying. Call or fold.
        The food is just there. It means very little. Hisao goes through the motions, not even thinking twice about helping Neko cut up her steak. It’s just automatic by now. The plates gradually empty, but the dilemma before him becomes no more manageable.
        Live for today, but plan for tomorrow, he reckons, and a tomorrow with one of these two is going to be a much bumpier ride than with the other. As agonizing as it is, he knows he has to do what is right, not what is expedient. When the shuttle pulls away from the hotel, he’s not in it.

        I’m still packed for a night away from the school. Fuck it.
        “I’m going to ask for a bit of an unconventional stop,” Neko says to the van driver. “It’ll be alongside Route 31.”
        “Are you sure?” He waves at the conditions outside, the wipers still going at full throttle to keep up with the rain that varies from modest to torrential. “It’s not my habit to drop girls off – or anyone else for that matter – by the side of the highway in a storm. I won’t be able to wait for you in case you change your mind, either.”
        “Would you feel better if I had someone there to pick me up?” she asks.
        “Yeah, I would, to be honest.”
        Neko nods. She calls the ranch landline, expecting Ben to answer, but gets the new guy instead. Jaji? No, that’s a Korean obscenity. Jōji. What the fuck, he still works for us, right?
        “Good evening, Jōji, and I hope things are peaceful. I have a bit of a strange request, but one that shouldn’t be too hard to carry out. I’m going to need a pickup in about ten minutes.”
        “Where are you?” he asks.
        “Currently on a van headed southbound, but I have arranged to get a drop-off at the bottom of the hill, if there is someone to collect me. Otherwise the driver insists on taking me all the way into town.”
        The mouthpiece of the phone is covered, reducing everything to a murmur and the scrape of rough skin on plastic. “Yeah, no problem,” he says when he removes the hand. “I’ll be there. Any particular preference on vehicle?”
        “The dirtiest one you have. No sense in taking a clean car in the rain and making more work for yourself.”
        “That works for me, boss.”
        Neko returns to the front and fills the driver in on the deal.
        “Stop if there’s a car there,” he repeats back, “keep driving if there isn’t. Okay, I can deal with that. What kind of car am I watching for?”
        “A dirty one.”

NEXT
Last edited by NekoDude on Mon May 11, 2015 7:06 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Five (3 of 5)

Post by NekoDude » Sat May 09, 2015 6:33 am

Strongstache wrote:Though, I do disagree with that headcanon of yours. I simply don't think Akira and Lilly's parents spent much time in Scotland between Akira's birth and their moving there for good. Not enough for one of them to develop an affair with someone there, at least.
That would be because it happened in Japan, with a gaijin. I have every intention of going into further detail about this later, it's not just a one-shot plot bombshell. It's actually quite relevant, both for the health reason detailed now, and a few years down the line when there is a child custody dispute. It's unlikely I'll get there before this volume gets too long, and I do have everything up to the current day outlined, so it would appear that in spite of my best attempts, there will most likely be yet another book to follow this one. I'm now moving along at a days-to-pages ratio about triple that of the previous tomes, and it will probably accelerate further still, but I don't even think I'll get through the end of the school year in this book.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Five (done)

Post by NekoDude » Sun May 10, 2015 7:50 am

(Chapter 5 conclusion...)

        “Why all the sudden hostility?” Hisao asks. “I never expected the two of you to be the closest of friends, but I thought you at least got along.”
        “It’s a lot of things.” Iwanako throws back the ice melt from her glass before pouring another drink. “Any one of them I could deal with, but taken together, they were really starting to rub me the wrong way.”
        “Like what?”
        “Like that ever-present smug smile, like she’s just so much smarter than the rest of us. I just want to wipe it right off her face.”
        “You obviously haven’t been around the past four weeks.” Hisao rolls his eyes at the memory. “I’ll gladly take that over moping around acting like the world is about to end. When she’s down, I have to prop her up, whether I’m feeling good myself or not. When she snaps out of it, I get a chance to relax but then I’m too tired to invest much in whatever has captured her interest. Even if I did, I’d probably end up finishing it alone since she loses motivation at the hard part.”
        “That sounds familiar,” Iwanako says while nodding knowingly. “Now that you mention it, I see the similarities. She’s a lot like my mother, except sharper. I imagine she can actually back up her boasts most of the time, but it’s still bragging. She may actually be a step or two ahead of the rest of us all the time, but she doesn’t have to wave it in my face. You’d think losing a fight with a kite might have given her a sense of proportion.”
        “Actually, given her social position, I think she’s done a reasonably good job of keeping things in proportion,” he offers as a defense. “That’s not to say she doesn’t occasionally wield it like a club – because she does, I’ve seen her do it – but for the most part she’s content to act as though we’re all at the same level, at least until someone does something to prove that they aren’t.”
        “Would you have gotten mixed up with her if you had known who she was?”
        “No, probably not,” he admits. “I would have thought she was way out of my league and been afraid to try.”
        And you also would have known she already had a girlfriend – which would likely have stopped you. “So what makes you think your assessment would have been wrong? She’s still coming from a very different world, one you probably don’t want to be part of. You pointed it out yourself.”
        “I will admit that they’re up to some shenanigans that I probably don’t want to be involved in, that is true. On the other hand, there has been no pressure at all to become involved. I’ve been paying close attention, and while I’ve done things that aren’t exactly legal – as have you – they haven’t asked me to do anything that was actually wrong. I’d draw the line if they did.”
        Let’s cut straight to the chase. “Then what are they paying you for?”
        “Balance,” he retorts almost instantly. “Her Mum thinks I’m a good stabilizing point for her, as well as providing her a convenient place to live that isn’t the ranch. I’m not clean, as you so rightly point out, but she wouldn’t respect someone who was. I’m just dirty enough to keep her interest.”
        Damn, I thought that was gonna be a killshot. “So are those the complications you mentioned last night? Despite all appearances, do you mean to tell me you’re actually the one with the upper hand in the relationship, that you’re actually in control?”
        “Trying to control her would be like… like herding cats.” He gives a wry half-grin. “All I hope to do is provide a support system so she doesn’t feel like she has to do reckless things to get a thrill. I can’t stop her from making her own decisions – good, bad, or indifferent. I wouldn’t even try. Generally, she’s pretty good about returning the courtesy.”
        “For how much longer, Hisao? Are you intending to follow her around for the next several years? For the rest of your life?”
        “I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about that, actually. It seems to me all that is being asked, and all that could be asked, is that I hold up my end of the deal until the end of the school year. After that, I don’t know where I’ll be, and I certainly won’t be living there, so they’d better have something else figured out by then, no matter what our relationship status.”
        So that’s what it comes down to. You’re on a contract. “I understand your difficulty, but I’m not going to play the role of mistress forever. I have patience, but it is finite. Now, are you going to let me be the mistress, or do I have to tie you to a chair?”
        She’s not the only one who can hit below the belt.

        “Hi Mum!” Neko tries to smile and sound cheery, but Sally isn’t fooled.
        “What brings you here – alone? I thought you had responsibilities down there.” From a position at the edge of Sally’s vision, but out of Neko’s, Jōji mimes a drinking motion, and Sally ever so briefly nods in response. He catches on fast. I already suspect I’ll be needing a drink very soon.
        Neko glances down at her bulky cast. “Not any longer. I’ve been put out to pasture, at least for now. I was told I’m more likely to need rescue than assist in one.” She slides the bag off her shoulder and deposits it on the couch before taking a seat herself. “Is anyone sleeping in my room these days?”
        Sally finds a place on the other leg of the L that is their white leather sectional. “Not at the moment, but it has become the de facto guest room since we’ve got the new hires stationed upstairs.” All except one, that is. “I’m afraid you’ll also find we had to move Abe’s stuff into your closet to make room for them – except for his Super Nintendo, which Suzu was more than willing to make room for. We also tossed out any old clothing that neither fits you nor anyone else likely to stay here.”
        The look on Neko’s face is one of skepticism, but more likely in a ‘how did you manage that?’ sense than a ‘you didn’t dare!’ sense. “I’m going to need help changing the sheets then.”
        “I’ll have to ask if that’s even necessary. I’m not sure the bed has been used since the last time you were up here. You still haven’t told me why you’re here alone.
        “Hisao and his other girlfriend got tired of having me around – particularly her. What else needs to be said?”
        Jōji reappears with a martini glass. Sally stands and sips from the rim while it is still in his hand, because the transfer is liable to cause it to overflow. My hands were that steady too, twenty years ago. “Quite a lot, if you ask me. What in the world have you done, Katelyn Rogers? Or is Loverboy the one we need to fire up the wood chipper for?” She watches him retreat back to the kitchen, though she has little doubt he will be listening to everything.
        “It’s not what I did, it’s what I failed to do. It seems my gaydar is broken. Would you have a spare to lend?” She gives a forced smile.
        “Don’t tell me you made a move on that purple-haired girl.” You know, the crispy one who can cook. I wonder if she needs a job.
        “Hanako? No, she has a girlfriend now, and it’s someone we need to stay on good terms with to boot. Remember the proposal I had to write for the restaurant? She’s the one that signed off on it, and she stepped in to cover the shortfall when the Hakamichis balked, so yeah, her prize is pretty much off limits. No, this is someone you didn’t get a chance to meet because you were skiing in the Andes or whatever, it’s his ex-girlfriend from down south. I tried to set something up, but she only wants him, not me.”
        “And you let her? Sometimes I think you’re the dumbest smart girl I’ve ever known.”
        “I painted myself into that corner with talk of polyamory and sharing. Of course I went in thinking I’d be one of the direct beneficiaries, but I couldn’t gracefully back out once it became obvious I wasn’t going to get in on the deal, so…” She grimaces at her thoughts. “They’re probably rooting already.”
        «You did it to yourself, like chewed up gum under my shelf.» “I don’t want to sound unsympathetic, but what happens now? I’m committed to him for the medium term, even if you aren’t.”
        “I don’t know yet. I guess we’ll find out when he comes home. Maybe this all works out and I get my bit on the side too. It will be somewhat simpler now that I don’t need to worry about finding someone we both click with.”
        “You really think it’s going to be that easy to move into the open phase of the relationship? It certainly wasn’t easy for me and Sam, even if we both knew it had to happen. We tried the same thing you did, sort of – gender-swapped, of course, since you inherit your preferences from him more than me – but ultimately had to agree to just make do for ourselves. If it hadn’t been for business, and you, I don’t think we would have survived that time.”
        She nods, though she seems to be a million kilometers away in her mind. Then, she shrugs. “It’s not like it has to last forever. I admit it, I knew that from the moment he told me what landed him at Yamaku. Even if I was convinced he was ‘the one’ – and I don’t even buy the concept – the health of any children I might have comes first. It would be incredibly selfish of me to burden them with something I could have avoided, no matter how much that avoidance might hurt me. So I knew we had a shelf life from the get go.”
        You’re more like me than I thought. “Did you ever discuss this with him?”
        “No, and I was hoping I would never have to. It’s not his fault, and there’s nothing he can do about it, so why wreck him over something that might not even be relevant? It’s starting to look like I made the right decision.”
        “I don’t always understand you,” Sally admits on the verge of tears, “but on this point, I do. I really do. I still have my own regrets…”
        “And I wish you wouldn’t.” Neko puts the hook on the back of Sally’s hand, where it remains cold for only a few seconds. “You didn’t do this to me, you were a victim too. I survived then. I’ll survive now. I wouldn’t mind another hand, but I wouldn’t take it if it meant having to give up who I am.” She glances down at the cast again. “I just need to get this one back, sooner rather than later.”
        “I see.” Her calm composure returns, though the red eyes are still somewhat apparent. “Take all the rehab and therapy you need. Kite Boy is paying for it – or at least his parents’ insurance policy is. This means we don’t have to go break his kneecaps after all. Maybe we can even spin this so they have to pony up for that ‘other hand’ you’ve been wanting.” Since you have probably stopped growing – vertically at least – it’s finally time to do this right. “What are your plans for the evening?”
        “Cookies and movies. I still haven’t gotten a chance to see The DaVinci Code.”
        “I have. You’re not missing that much.”
        “Good, then maybe you won’t mind if I do a running commentary on the plot holes as I see them.”
        Sally raises her voice. “Jōji dear, you can come out of hiding. Bring cookies and milk, and join us for a session of Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Last edited by NekoDude on Mon May 11, 2015 7:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Six (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Mon May 11, 2015 8:09 am

CHAPTER SIX

2007-09-10

        “Hey Molly,” Neko almost shouts down the hallway while waving the hook to get her attention. “Hold up a second.”
        Molly continues her not terribly brisk walking pace as Neko finds her way alongside. “I don’t have to. This is normal speed for me,” she points out, her mechanical knees clicking slightly with each step.
        “Oh, I didn’t mean to imply –”
        Molly cuts her off with a toss of the hand. “Imply, nothing. I walk slowly. It’s just a fact.”
        “That makes two of us, for the moment. Last thing I need is to fall down and break something else.” Great start, Rogers. Just draw even more attention to your infirmities. “I, um… really had something to say, but I just lost it.”
        “«Like tears in rain,»” Molly answers enigmatically. “You know, that moment could have been lost in time as well, if the cameras hadn’t been rolling when he thought to add that.”
        “«You what, mate?»” Bloody hell, you just went full bogan.
        “Oh come on, surely you know «Blade Runner».” Molly gives Neko a critical look-over, as if sizing her up. “You wouldn’t make a very good submission to the Cinema Club if you didn’t. That is why you tracked me down, right? I hope so, because that’s where I’m headed, and I change directions even more slowly than I walk.”
        It wasn’t, but I guess it is now. “Only if you can keep a secret. I couldn’t have Radio Club know I’m cheating on them, even if I have been stripped of meaningful duty.”
        Molly pulls up short and raises her hands as quickly as her momentum allows, and looks troubled. “I am not going to get in the middle of that. Miyagi explained to me what she did, but I have no influence there.”
        I wasn’t even expecting you to know about it, let alone have any control over it, but let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes. “I wasn’t asking you to do anything. Quite the opposite, I would only ask that you stay well out of it. I was a bit chuffed and didn’t react as professionally as the situation demanded. Far be it from me to ask anyone to repeat my mistake.”
        Molly re-starts the rhythmic motions necessary to maintain her slow stride, and Neko can see why she doesn’t take kindly to having to change direction. It’d almost be easier to kick someone out of the way than go around them, wouldn’t it.
        “As long as you understand my position on that is that I have no position on that. By the time I knew anything about it, it was already over.” Her demeanor would tend to indicate she disapproves of the specifics, however.
        “What, did she tell all of dispatch she’d given me my head? I guess she’d have to, wouldn’t she. I don’t want to put you in an awkward spot, so have no fear, I’m not going to campaign to get my job back. She made it pretty clear that I could have it when I’m competent to take it, and no sooner. I get it. I just thought it could have been broken to me a little bit earlier. I could have been somewhere else.” Getting in someone else’s way instead.
        Molly gives a noncommital shrug before opening a door off the hallway, leaving it open behind her as she feels around for lights. “Aha! I’m not used to having to make do with this little space, but as you know, the main room for most of the clubs was commandeered and is still a bit of a mess. I don’t see why they had to take down my projector and screen though, I even offered to help them use it.”
        So I’m not the only one Miyagi rubbed the wrong way in her disaster preparations. Good to know. “Maybe she was just worried about knocking things over. Three quarters of her crew are blind, after all.”
        “It was bolted to the bloody…” She pounds the wall with a fist, whether in frustration or demonstration is unclear. “Never mind, now I’m bringing you into my dispute. We’d never had a problem coexisting with blind users of that space before. Not even when the refrigerator mysteriously vanished and reappeared a couple weeks later, cleaner than when we had last seen it.”
        I might know a little something about that, but that would be betraying a confidence, and you probably guessed anyhow. “So that was your projector setup in the tea room. Yeah, I’d be a bit undone if they’d asked me to tear my equipment down as well. Fortunately, they came to commandeer mine, rather than rip it out.”
        “I was rather hoping they would do the same, and give me a chance to prove useful. I thought we had time to work something out, and I rather like Miyagi – at least, the one I know when she’s not under fire. I wasn’t expecting her to turn into a drill sergeant overnight. Speaking of which, due to the lack of real estate, we are back to stockpiling our explosions and loud noises. No Apocalypse Now. Maybe Apocalypse Tomorrow.” Molly chuckles at her own attempt to make light of the situation.
        “Funny you should mention that,” Neko says with a sly grin. I’m not taking my demotion personally, but El Jefe thinks it was his club and his decision to make and is itching for a showdown. “I think we can make space for your projector and screen in the Radio Room, for now at least.”
        “But there’s no lift to the roof,” Molly objects. “I’ll never be able to carry the gear up there. I can barely climb stairs as it is.”
        “You still haul your own gear? Hasn’t anyone told you we have boys for that?”
        Molly rolls her eyes. “Maybe you still do. I don’t have any left. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that if they haven’t caught my eye by now, they’re probably not going to do it by flexing muscles at me.”
        “You might want to re-think your strategy a little. You don’t think I personally put up our antenna, do you? I mean, yeah, I could have.” Neko accentuates with grand gestures. “But why, when there were two boys practically climbing over each other for the chance to do it?”
        “You trusted them to do it right?”
        “Of course not. I had to go up and inspect it myself, but it was nice that everything was bolted down more or less correctly, at least. Just because I can work a spanner doesn’t mean I’m any better qualified at it. Besides, I’m not saying you should blow kisses until they pop nosebleeds. A well-timed blush can keep them guessing for an eternity. They just need something to hang their hopes on, and will happily build it themselves. All you have to do is not actively shoot them down.”
        “You have better persuasive tactics than I do.” If that look means you think I have a better body than you, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.
        “Maybe so, but I’m not averse to sharing them.”
        “Thanks, but I think I know what they are, at least in concept. I just… can’t. Ugh.” Molly shudders.
        “You don’t have to. Just let them believe that you could.” Which you could, if you really had to. You might even convince yourself that you liked it. I watched it happen. “You know, I could just drop a little hint somewhere that you’ve been sniffing around my boyfriend, I mean he is in your class…”
        Molly looks genuinely offended at the notion. “I would never –”
        “I know that,” Neko interrupts with a wave, “but does everyone else really need to? It’s not like you have to actually do anything, and I can just tell him to ‘no comment’ anyone that asks. He’s still a bad liar, but he’s getting a bit better at keeping his silence.”
        Molly dodges the subject. “Maybe we should focus on another way to move the projector, unless you have a brilliant plan to summon muscle right here, right now.”
        “Yeah, no, sorry. I’m not much good there myself right now. I might be getting out of this cast in a few days, but even then I can’t just start hoisting projectors.” Assuming I had the strength to do so in the first place, that is. “It would probably be wise to ask permission before starting anyhow, so maybe we can catch a double break and El Jefe will tote it up there.”
        A moment later she has him on the internal phone network, although she can tell he is outside. Since the landline phones are not speaker-equipped, Neko and Molly have literally put their heads together to both be in on the conversation.
        “Yeah, of course we can share space for now. The screen can go up over the whiteboard. It’s only a temporary measure though,” he points out. “There will be far too many scheduling conflicts. The only reason I’m even considering it is because you’re already on board. As soon as Miyagi backs down – and she will, even if it means we have to set up a permanent dispatch center – things will go back to normal.”
        “Maybe that’s all she ever wanted,” Molly speculates.
        “Pretty sure you’re right,” he agrees. “That’s not my call, I don’t assign facilities. There is space available, it just will be in housing rather than the main building. Since it will be quiet ninety-nine percent of the time, I don’t think any of the neighbors would have much of an issue with it.”
        “What about the projector?” Molly asks. “We can’t carry it, even together.”
        Momomoto chuckles. “That’s what interns are for.”
Last edited by NekoDude on Tue May 12, 2015 10:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Seven (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Tue May 12, 2015 10:44 pm

CHAPTER SEVEN

2007-09-15

        Neko sits on an examining table in a room by herself, wondering why she can’t just sit on a chair if they have finished examining. Rather than continuing to wonder, she takes the initiative and hops down from the table and paces the room instead, reading charts about diseases she doesn’t have, and looking at prints of Impressionist paintings of places she’ll probably never go, and which would look little or nothing like that nowadays anyhow. She doesn’t even realize she has measured her steps perfectly so that she can execute the turn at both ends on her right heel.
        She is two steps into the trip away from the door when it opens. She takes one more step and whirls again, almost colliding with the nurse who has yet to look up from her clipboard.
        “Oh! Sorry to startle you, Miss Rogers.” I think you were more startled than I was. “If you’d care to follow, the doctor will speak with you now.”
        The doctor does not bother to stand up from behind his desk as she enters, merely gesturing toward a chair before returning to sorting X-ray film, so she takes a seat as the nurse closes the door behind her. After a few more seconds, he apparently makes up his mind, pulling out one image and laying the rest on his desk before standing to put it on the light box behind him. He switches on the lamp before returning to his seat.
        “Can you see that well enough, Miss Rogers, or do you need to come closer?” he asks.
        “I can see it, but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m looking for.” The bright, thick lines with things sticking out of either side must be the hardware used to pin everything back together, but otherwise she cannot tell if there is anything unusual.
        “Well, ah, your breaks are healing at an adequate rate,” he says while using a laser pointer to make fleeting red squiggles on the film, “but your bone density is not quite what we would like to see. Have you been keeping up with the dietary recommendations?”
        “As much as I can, yes. It’s a juggling act, between the painkillers making it hard to keep things down, and also having to avoid weight gain as much as possible so that these still fit.” She waves the hook and nods toward the leg. A zero-handed juggling act, at that.
        “Ah, yes, are you still having difficulties with the discomfort?”
        “Most of the time, no. But when it hurts, it really hurts. I will get a pain out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, running from my shoulder to the tips of my fingers. It feels… electrical.”
        “Yet you did not contact us about this?”
        “I was told that the nerve was pinched, and to expect things like that for a while.”
        “Yes, ah, but for a few days, or a week, maybe two. Not an entire month. That will have to be checked out to make sure it isn’t something more significant, as it should have faded by now. We will give it a look as soon as we get that cast off.”
        Oh thank heavens. At least I got that far. “I’m certainly ready if you are.” They return to the room she just came from, but this time it is not empty.
        Soon she wishes she had thought to bring ear plugs, as the volume level of the cutting tool on the cast is enough to make her wince. Her ears are ringing a bit by the end of it. There is also a none-too-pleasant smell, that of burning hair, cloth, and skin. It is enough to water her eyes. The moment they split the cast, she feels ten kilos lighter. She has an urge to straighten her arm, but they are anticipating that.
        “Slowly, Miss Rogers. We want you to straighten out your elbow, but slowly. Do not turn your wrist, not just yet,” says the tech. He holds her hand in his, with his other supporting her upper arm from below as she slowly extends her arm. About thirty degrees shy of straightening, there is resistance. “Does that hurt?” he asks.
        “No, but it feels like it might if I go any further, or that it might pop or something. It’s not painful, it just feels wrong.
        “Bend the elbow again, then come back to this position. You should be able to go a little bit further before you get that again. We’ll just keep doing that and see how far it gets us, okay?”
        “You’re the expert,” she says with resignation, but he is right. On the fifth try, she is able to fully extend the elbow without locking up. She almost wants to do it once more to make sure it’s not a fluke, but he is satisfied and wants to move on.
        “Now, don’t force anything, but follow along with me. We’re going to check your wrist.” He turns her hand palm down without incident, but when he tries to turn it palm up, she jumps and yelps as if hit with an electric cattle prod. “I see. That’s enough of that for now, but you’re not going to have much fun in therapy.” She notices the doctor has a bit of a grimace as well.
        Well, fuck. “So now what?”
        “Now we wash this off.” He runs two gloved fingers across her forearm, raising gray, quill-shaped rolls of dead skin. “Then we’ll fit you for the removable cast.”
        As soon as the warm water hits, so does the scent. She noticed it all along, but had learned to tune it out. Now it’s overwhelming in spite of that. Has everyone else had to put up with that every time I’m around? That’s bloody revolting. Despite soap and a scrub, she can see that there will still be work to do upon returning home.
        “You are only to remove this for bathing and for therapy sessions right now, until some strength returns,” the doctor informs her as she is fitted with the removable cast. Fortunately, while it immobilizes her wrist, it does not extend over the elbow as before. It also weighs next to nothing compared to what it replaces. “You also need to make sure it is secured well when you put it back on – possibly better than that will allow.” He nods toward the hook.
        “About that,” she interjects, “do you think this might justify upgrading?”
        “Considering you are facing months of therapy to regain your dexterity, and most likely longer than that to come back to full strength, I’d reckon that is not only justifiable, but highly recommended. It’s going to be quite some time before that hand can return to doing the work of two, better still if it never has to.” That wasn’t exactly the answer she wanted, but at least she has approval to follow the course suggested at the last visit to the prosthetist. It’s not vengeance, but at least it’s something. Kite Boy is going to pay.
        She makes it back to campus feeling much lighter in both body and spirit, and might even be able to catch the second half of the Cinema Club double bill celebrating their temporary digs. Getting the door unlocked is made much simpler now that she can at least use her hand to assist the hook, despite the immobility of the wrist.
        “Honey, I’m home, did you miss me?” she calls out, but there is nobody there to hear her. “Huh.” She hadn’t called ahead, wanting to surprise Hisao with her improvement. Disappointed, she checks her phone for messages, but there are none, so she calls him herself. It goes to voicemail.
        Oh well, I’ll take a shower and see if he has returned the call by the time I get out. She decides removing and replacing the leg in order to shower falls within the bounds of ‘bathing’ as defined by her instructions, as will all other forms of personal hygiene, and carefully tests her hand. She has enough dexterity to get the leg off easily enough, but that has always been the easy part. Putting it back on will be more telling, and she’s not sure she’ll be able to get the hook back on at all. She has completed this much when the phone rings, forcing her to hop after it. She carefully holds the phone with as little wrist flex as she can manage.
        “Where are you, darling?” she asks once they’ve exchanged pleasantries. “I can take a proper shower now, and I’m about to do so. I was rather hoping I could share it.”
        “I didn’t know when you were coming back, so I accepted an invitation to bowling and billiards with Abe and Suzu. You’re not restricted on how many showers you can take, right? I’ll be back in a few hours.”
        She keeps this shower fairly short, primarily working in another scrub out of fear that others will still notice the sickly scent of shed, rotting skin. After sparing a little time to inspect her battle scar, she dresses quickly, leaving the hook behind and pulling the straps on the soft cast taut with her teeth. She has just enough time to catch the second movie from the start, if she hurries.
        When she steps into the darkened Radio Room, the credits are still rolling from the first film, so she stands with her eyes closed to let them adjust that much faster. Not surprisingly, Molly does not get up to greet her. She is more surprised when Molly starts nudging the person on her left.
        “Make room,” she demands. “It’s her couch, you know.”
        “Oh, right.” The boy moves to the end, and Molly does likewise in the opposite direction, opening the center seat for Neko. It’s a bit tight, but this is neither the first nor likely the last time for it to happen. She deeply hopes that the ensuing ‘glad you could make it’ embrace from Molly won’t be the last of its kind either.

***

        Two hours after leaving the ranch, they’ve finally made it back to the small warehouse on the outskirts of Sydney where Sam repairs and keeps (and occasionally sells) his classic cars, along with other things not associated with his core business interests such as old computers and radios. Stepping into the office in the corner, they are greeted by a tan, athletic blond man in a tight T-shirt and running shorts.
        “Miki, this is Paul, my tennis coach and sometimes business partner,” Sam says by way of introduction. “Paul, this is Miki, the girl I was telling you about, and Mira, the sheila she sprung that led to all of this.”
        “Delighted,” he says, holding out a hand and taking whichever is offered first, which turns out to be Mira’s. “Shall we start the tour?”
        At each stop, Sam takes the time to explain why he wanted the car, and how he got it. Sometimes they were surrendered by previous owners as payment of a debt, but inevitably needed much restoration when that was the case. Some were picked up merely because they were pretty, relatively cheap, and available. A couple were Sam’s previous daily drivers, which he opted not to sell when it was time to replace them.
        They make a roundabout tour, Sam deliberately taking a longer than necessary path to help drag out the proceedings. It doesn’t take that long to show off nine cars, even if the girls want to sit in some of them and have pictures taken. Finally, he cannot put it off any longer and arrives at the last of the lot.
        “And this one is for you,” he says as they approach.
        Mira gives a quiet ‘ooh’, but Miki is less impressed. “At least the steering wheel is where it should be. How does it run?”
        He thumbs the remote to raise the rolling garage door. “Why don’t you find out?”
        She lets herself in and adjusts the bench seat. The key is already in the switch, so she gives it a twist. The engine catches instantly, with a throaty rumble. She reaches across her body to release the parking brake, switches on the headlights in a similar manner, and operates the column shifter without hesitation to put it into gear. Sam watches her make several passes around the parking lot, including two that are little short of drag race launches. She returns, and goes through all the motions of parking it again.
        “So what’s the verdict?” he asks as she steps out.
        “For being so old, it’s kinda boring,” Miki protests. “You have this hella cool collection and I get to drive that?
        “Believe me, it’s not so boring once you get used to it. It’s not just for you anyhow,” Sam points out while continuing to evaluate his assigned protegé. “Half the point is to get her a license too, right?” He tips his head toward Mira. “Do you really think I want any of the other ‘hella cool’ cars exposed to the sun and the dust out there? I also trust the ranch crew to be able to maintain this, unlike some of the others. Don’t crash it.
        “That was a bit mean,” says Paul, as soon as Miki starts the drive back to the ranch in a 6-cylinder, left-hand-drive 1968 Dodge Dart.
        “Oh quiet,” Sam says as he gives Paul a pat on the backside. “I could have given her the C230 and made you drive the Dart.”

***

        “Absolutely not,” Daisuke insists. “You know better than I what you did to deserve this. You should be glad it’s just a one-time thing. If I make a stink out of it, it could just become permanent. You’re lucky your school didn’t do much either. That could have threatened your semester, your transfer, and maybe your entire career.” You should be glad they’d just as soon have you move on. You draw attention to them. They don’t like that. It makes people ask questions.
        “So what do you want me to do while you’re gone?” Emi asks with a pout.
        “Whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t bother the neighbors. If you want to fire up the practice amp, turn it off by nine. Even I have to use headphones to go later than that.” And you only know three chords and can’t sing. “You have your own keys, so if you want to go for a run, you can do that as well. When I call after the last set, throw a frozen pie in the oven and hit Start. I’ve already programmed it. That way I won’t have to stop for something on the way home.”
        She nods with resignation. “Fine. I’ll figure out something to do.”
        “I’m sure you will.” You figure it out the rest of the week when you’re not here. He gives her a kiss and wheels out the door with the cart he has been unable to use the last few gigs because fitting it in the car requires folding the passenger seat forward.
        “Same to you,” he tells the angry swallows when they emerge from the nest and bitch at him for invading their space. “I don’t need your shit too.”
        Tonight they have just one guest, a a female keyboardist and guitarist with a voice like Tracey Thorn.
        “So what did you think?” Danny asks after the first set.
        “Her playing is just okay, but she sings rather well,” Daisuke acknowledges. “That would open up a lot of new territory for us.”
        “Do you care that she’s not a lawyer? She’s in real estate. I mean, we do have a bit of a tradition.”
        “Why should I care? That was your silly rule, not mine.”
        Danny beckons Izumi over to their huddle. “Looks like you’re in,” he tells her. “I told you that wouldn’t be much trouble.”
        “I never doubted you,” she tells him, before kissing him and returning her attention to some sort of stage business. Danny blushes.
        I sure hope you know what you’re doing.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Eight (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Thu May 14, 2015 9:18 am

CHAPTER EIGHT

2007-09-17

        He walks out, looking quite incensed. Neko was prepared for morose or joyful, but not angry. “It was a travesty, and totally unfair,” Hisao complains, which is not his style. “She let me go through the entire test without telling me I had already failed it.”
        “What did you do that would fail you from the start?” Neko inquires as they walk to retrieve the car from the post-testing area.
        “I didn’t look under the car before we got in, as if there was a race of fairy people accustomed to ducking under cars the moment they are vacated. Bloody hell, even cats know to scram when the engine starts. You’d think the examiners get paid by the hour, the way she had me go through the motions. Now I can’t even schedule another appointment for two weeks.”
        “Do you still want to drive?” Jōji asks.
        “I don’t see the point, it’s not like I need the hours. Besides, I’m probably not in a good frame of mind for it right now,” he points out. “You go right ahead.”
        Jōji shrugs and starts Ben’s car, slipping back into the early afternoon flow of traffic toward their next appointment in the city. “Plan B then? I’ll drive back and you’ll take transit from there?”
        “I don’t see that we have much of a choice,” Neko concedes. “We’ve taken too much of your time already.” Hisao could possibly make it back in time for the last class, but nobody really expects him to do so.
        “Not really, but your mother thinks so. To me, it’s all part and parcel of joining the family.”
        Soon he lets them out in front of the same mostly-glass office building they’ve seen many times before. Hisao rushes around to help Neko out and keep the drop-off brief. She has opted to leave the hook behind, since it is highly likely she’d need to remove it during the visit anyhow – and because she respects the prosthetics office’s wishes not to be associated with such an antique.
        “Do you want to come up or hang out down here?” she asks as they enter the lobby.
        “It wasn’t too bad last time, aside from my little PTSD attack on seeing the crash cart,” he responds, consciously or otherwise putting his hand over his chest. “Actually, it was kind of interesting.”
        “I don’t think they will have to use that again, but if they do, you know what’s coming.”
        Upstairs, Neko announces her arrival and they settle in to wait. As before, they are the only ones in the waiting room. Sayoko is back on duty, though she knows better than to hand them a clipboard full of paperwork this time, and actively seeks to avoid speaking to them at all. Neko would almost consider this rude, except that it’s a considerable improvement over her usual demeanor.
        Ichiro pops out of the door to the back with his own clipboard, and both Neko and Hisao turn to track the sound. Since he has been spotted, Ichiro bypasses calling out to them and beckons them through with a wave.
        “What’s all that about?” Neko asks, but gets only a smile in return. Ichiro waits until they are behind closed doors to reply.
        “I told her she couldn’t shut up. She said I couldn’t either. Now we’re both out to prove the other wrong.” He beams at them.
        “How long has this been going on?”
        “Oh,” he says to give him time to glance at a clock. “About four and a half hours of not speaking in sight of one another, aside from job-related duties. She can use the phone, and I can talk with you, but even that we’re trying to do out of earshot of the other. I shall return.” He makes his way out, presumably to retrieve the item to be test-fitted.
        “That seems a bit childish and petty,” Hisao observes once Ichiro is gone.
        “It is, but it’s still an improvement, right?”

        Ichiro had the leg set aside, but was unable to similarly corner the sensor test module ahead of time, so it takes him a couple minutes to locate it. He checks the case to find there are no pads left, so he grabs a new pack out of the drawer and drops it in before heading back.
        “Not if –” Whatever Hisao was saying, he stops dead on Ichiro’s arrival.
        “Whatcha got there?” Neko asks. She already has her left shoe off.
        “Another test kit. We’ll probably have time to get to it, but it’s not our highest priority night now.” Ichiro holds up the leg. “This first.”
        Hisao has the leg off in seconds, as if he’s done it a hundred times before – possibly because he has. Ichiro moves a stool to sit across from her, and helps with the fitting. It’s tight, too tight to be worn for an extended period of time, but at least it goes on, unlike before.
        Neko is on her feet as soon as he lets go, and does the last thing Ichiro was expecting – she jumps, landing on the extended left foot first but not otherwise favoring the right leg. From the look on his face, it doesn’t seem like Hisao was expecting this either.
        “That isn’t exactly what I would have proposed for a first test,” Ichiro says with a raised eyebrow. “How about learning to walk before you run?”
        “Oh, right. Just doing a wobble test. That leg always fails it. It wobbles going up, and wobbles twice as bad coming back down.” She takes a few steps toward the far corner, then makes a rather abrupt cut to her left. “It’s weird. Wonderful, but weird.”
        “What do you mean?” Ichiro asks.
        “It’s so light. I find myself hesitating to trust that the foot is planted, because it moves too far, too fast, with too little effort. That’s not a complaint, mind you, just not something I’m used to. Same with the spring action. I’m used to that foot sort of just hitting the ground with a thud. I’ll have to adjust my stride for that.”
        “I hear your school has quite an expert at such things. Koshi is one of the best around.”
        “Ko – oh, you mean Nurse,” she says with a chuckle. “Nobody calls him that. I’m not even sure half the students can remember his name. He’s overseeing my therapy for this too,” she says, holding up the casted arm. “Did you get the referral?”
        “We did. It was sitting in our fax in-basket when we came in this morning,” Ichiro says with a nod. “That’s why I brought that.” He points a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the case.
        Neko stops walking, apparently satisfied for the moment with her ability to accommodate the differences in the new hardware. She bounces several times on both feet, arms crossed over her chest. “You mentioned running. Do you really think I’ll be able to?”
        “If not, we didn’t do our job. Will you be fast? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. We should probably stop now though, that socket is awful tight. We’ll have to make a second one to handle a little bit of water weight.” Or any other kind of weight.
        It takes longer to release this leg than the one she walked in with, and once it is released, Neko sighs. “You’re right. I didn’t realize it was so tight. Now I’m throbbing. It’s still going to be disappointing walking out the same way I came in.”
        “You probably expected it though.” Ichiro pulls a plastic bucket and several powder bags of alginate from under the examining table. “You know the drill. You should be back to your normal shape by the time this sets up enough to take a casting.” He fills the bucket part-way with warm water, eyeballs the level, dumps out a bit, checks it again, then adds a short blast from the cold tap. Satisfied, he adds the powder and stirs it with a wooden paddle that wouldn’t be out of place in a kitchen, flipping pancakes. He talks as he works. “Since we got the referral, I’ve been thinking about controls. It may not be necessary to go invasive, though eventually you probably will want to for finer control. Right now we would be better served finding tiny muscles you have conscious control over, and that means moving electrodes around at will.” He continues to stir the mixture, periodically checking the temperature with a gloved finger. “I think we’re ready.”
        Neko sits stiffly upright and raises her right thigh to make room as the bucket is placed in front of her, then shoves the nub of her right leg in, clear to the kneecap, with a squish. She settles in to wait.
        “I always wondered how you did that,” Hisao muses. “Well, maybe not always, but as long as I have had any reason to wonder.”
        “Now you know. It’s feels rather slimy, but not particularly unpleasant otherwise, unless it’s still too hot. We had to practice on ourselves as interns, so I remember.” Ichiro wiggles his fingers stiffly as if they were encased in slowly-setting alginate. It takes about fifteen minutes for the mold to set up, so he starts to lay out the contents of the case. “Kindly remove the blouse, and we’ll try a couple different places. One of them is likely to work.”
        “What exactly are we doing?” Neko asks as Hisao helps her comply with the request.
        “We’re looking for pairs of muscles you have conscious control over,” he says while waving two fingers alternately, “preferably ones that are normally used together. That way, the computer will know to ignore when they both contract at once because you’re using them for their ordinary purpose.”
        Testing is interrupted briefly when a timer sounds. Pulling out of the mold sounds even sloppier than going in did. Ichiro peels a label off his clipboard and sticks it to the bucket, then puts a lid on it and sets it outside the door in the hallway to be collected, while Hisao towels off the bit of fluid stuck to her skin.
        “You seem pretty well used to this,” Ichiro remarks to Hisao.
        “Yeah, well, some girlfriends take their boyfriends shopping for shoes. Mine takes me shopping for legs.” He grins. “Seriously though, it’s not that much different from helping her pick something to wear. It’s half my fault anyhow. She probably wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t brought up bicycles with her Mum.”
        “I would have gotten around to it eventually,” Neko says with a shrug. “You just accelerated my realization of how inadequate the status quo really was.”
        “Hey,” Ichiro says excitedly, “do that again.”
        “What, this?” Neko shrugs again.
        “Yes, that. I think we might have a winner.” He drags his finger across a segment of the electrode patch. “Apparently you’re firing this muscle thirty milliseconds or so before the others. Try starting the motion, then canceling it like you changed your mind.” She does, and Ichiro hastily sets a second sensor on her right collarbone to match. “Now do it on alternate sides, and watch this screen.”
        “You mean this little line that’s rising and falling?” She gestures toward the screen, and as her arm comes up, the line rises and then centers out again.
        “Yeah. Let me dial in a bit of a delay.” He fidgets with the keypad. “Alright, try it now.” As she makes almost imperceptible motions of her shoulders, she is able to pull the graph in opposite directions. There is a bit of latency, but it’s obviously tracking her. “Now make full shrugs.”
        This time, instead of showing an extended signal, the trace jumps very briefly upward or downward, then oscillates rapidly around the center line. “It’s ringing,” she points out.
        “That’s exactly what it’s doing,” he says with a bit of admiration. “It is subtracting the signal from the second muscle from that of the first, but since each one starts with a spike, a little bit of overshoot is inevitable. This is something the software is quite prepared to deal with.” Looking very pleased, he begins to dismantle the test equipment. “We’ve found two more good controls, and there remain the two on the forearm that would likely control the hand.”
        “What would I do with these new ones?”
        “Rotate the wrist, probably,” he says with a nod toward her short arm. “I was a bit concerned that you might not have anything that comes naturally, since you have only the single bone in the forearm and therefore never had rotation.”
        “Would she have to put on electrodes and connect to a box every time she wanted to use it?” Hisao asks.
        “For now, yes. Once shown to be a satisfactory control, permanent sensors would be placed under the skin and the signals sent out wirelessly. The fact that they’re so near the collarbones makes it much easier. They would provide natural hollows for hiding the transmitters. If you don’t mind staying a bit longer,” Ichiro addresses to Neko, “I’ll make up another mold. We can probably have a prototype made from off-the-shelf parts for you by your next visit.”
        Neko has tried all along not to seem overly enthusiastic, but finally drops the posturing. “Let’s do this.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Nine (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Wed May 20, 2015 2:49 am

CHAPTER NINE

2007-09-22

        Neko taps at Molly’s door.
        “Flying solo again?” Molly asks upon spotting her.
        “He’s in the city. It’s not my weekend.”
        “You’re really that chill about the situation? I don’t think I would be.”
        “I have him twelve and a half out of every fourteen days,” Neko points out. “She’s the mistress. So long as she accepts this and doesn’t make an issue of it, the matter is settled for now.”
        Molly extends her ski-pole-like walking stick as they descend in the elevator, then they set off on the slow walk to the main building, to be followed by the slower climb up the last flight of stairs to the roof. They can and will use the other elevator to the greatest degree possible, but one level has to be traversed by muscle power.
        “Do you really think that’s sustainable?” Molly asks, turning her head only far enough to be polite so as not to twist her shoulders.
        “In some other places, I might say no, but this is Japan,” Neko points out, already back to her ‘invisible hand’ gesticulation pattern. “Everybody gets married, nobody gets divorced, and they all screw around off the record. At least we’re open about it.”
        “I heard Maeda bugged him quite a bit about that rumor you started. The sleaze doesn’t understand no. ‘Not now’ is about the best you can hope to pound through his skull. Any suggestions for dealing with him while not blowing up my newfound image?”
        “Sure,” Neko offers with a nod. “When you tell him to go play on the railroad tracks, make it personal. Let anyone listening know that it’s not boys you have a problem with, it’s him, his bad behavior in particular.”
        In the Radio Room, Molly prepares the room for its temporary second purpose, drawing the shades on the windows and rolling down the screen before starting the projector to warm up. The setup is less than elegant: a video cable has been tacked to the ceiling, where it then runs down the wall to the radio desk. Audio cables run along the base of the wall to a small sub-and-satellite system. Neko carefully lifts the small portable DVD player out of the desk drawer and begins to cable it up. One thing they both recognize is that they’re going to have to wait for some four-limbed assistance before attempting to move the couch.
        The plan is to run two movies once again, this time with a dinner break in between, but when it comes time to start the first movie, they still have yet to receive any further visitors.
        “If it’s just going to be us, I’m open to changing the selection,” suggests Neko.
        “They may yet show up,” Molly hopes.
        “We might as well watch something while we wait.”
        Molly nods. “That sounds like a plan, what did you have in mind?”
        It just so happens Neko has several burned discs of short films in the desk drawer, though they were intended to be played on her laptop while she waits for radio contacts. She pokes through them with little grace, finally having to shove cases out of the way to get to the one she wants. “Does this mean anything to you? «My spoon is too big.»” She scans Molly’s face in the semi-darkness for some flicker of recognition but gets none. “No? Then you have to see this.” They set up folding chairs in lieu of moving the couch.
        Ten minutes later, Molly’s mind is blown. “What in the world did I just watch? Was I supposed to be high or something?”
        “It wouldn’t have hurt,” Neko acknowledges, “but it’s not really required. We’re still waiting, shall we try another?”
        No understanding of English is necessary for the next film, nor of any other language. Balloons don’t talk, even when they’re conspiring to wreak revenge on the children of the world. This one ends with Molly holding her hand over her open mouth, and Neko snorting in her attempts to suppress laughter. She doesn’t want to spoil the effect.
        “That is just wrong,” Molly declares.
        “«But it’s a fookin’ riot, right?»” Neko going full bogan no longer fazes Molly, so she drops the routine. “We’ve stalled long enough. We should show some total mind-screw movie to guarantee everybody will be completely lost once they do finally show up. Do you have «Layer Cake»?”
        “No, but thanks for reminding me. I meant to put that on the buy list. This case doesn’t have everything anyhow, I try to pack light. «Eternal Sunshine» or «Being John Malkovich»? Pick.” Molly waggles two discs in the air, and Neko grabs one without bothering to distinguish between them. “I guess we’re going to Montauk.”
        A bit over fifteen minutes later, as Joel points out the hastily invented constellation of ‘Osidius the Emphatic’, Neko senses Molly’s hand on her knee. This is a perfect date movie, even if it is a mind screw. She wonders what might have happened if her approach to film selection had gone the other way as she intertwines her fingers as best she can with Molly’s.
        Almost half an hour in, someone else finally shows up. The viewings are not restricted to club members alone, but it is highly unusual for a non-member to turn up unaccompanied.
        “What did I miss?” Takashi asks as he strolls in like he owned the place.
        Molly pauses the disc. “Either you’ve seen this before, or you’re going to be hopelessly lost. We’re not explaining it to you now.” She squeezes Neko’s thigh to silently pass the word that intervention may be required.
        “Right, right.” He throws himself on the couch sideways and crosses his legs, feet propped on the arm.
        “Bloody hell, feet off the seat!” bellows Neko, not knowing if his English is sufficient to make ‘full bogan’ effective.
        “Strike two, Maeda,” mutters Molly.
        “Two? I just got here,” protests Takashi.
        “You get one for walking into the party like you were walking onto a yacht,” Neko points out, “and arguing with the umpire will get you tossed even faster.” She nods in the direction of the remote, and Molly resumes the playback.
        To his credit, Takashi manages to keep his mouth shut for the remainder of the film, though he does keep turning his head to see what the other two are doing. Since he doesn’t bother lifting his head off the arm of the love seat, this makes a bit of noise that is not completely masked by the movie, and on some of these occasions, Molly makes a point of ‘accidentally’ being seen cuddling up to, clinging onto, or otherwise being affectionate with Neko. The final reason he is so polite is revealed once Neko brings the lights back up.
        “Aww, he’s almost bearable when he’s sleeping,” Molly whispers. “Can we just lock him in and go to dinner?”
        “Somehow I don’t think that would go over too well,” Neko whispers back, “unless he slept through the whole thing, in which case there would be no point in locking the door anyhow.” She gives the bottom of the screen a tug to reveal the whiteboard behind it, then takes the cap off one of the markers in the tray, staining her fingertips brown in the process. ‘GONE FISHIN’. BACK AT 19:00’, she scrawls somewhat legibly, just as there is a commotion behind her.
        Molly has managed to kick one of the folding chairs, which might not be such a problem by itself, but when she leaned on it for balance, it sent the adjacent one flying. “«Tatti!»” she yelps, but she doesn’t come to any harm herself.
        “Huh? What?” That got Takashi’s attention, and he sits bolt upright, head swiveling like a gun turret.
        “The movie is over,” Molly says, with restored dignity. “We’re going to dinner.”
        “I thought you’d never ask,” he says with an immense grin. Maybe because we weren’t going to. As they depart, the afterglow of sunset is still just visible from the rooftop, and is gone by the time they reach the ground.
        The walk down the hill is slow, as would be expected even with the assistance of the walking stick. Takashi finally grasps the situation and offers his arm for support, which Molly gratefully accepts. Neko gives her a little scratch on the back. See, it’s not so hard.
        Once inside and seated, Neko excuses herself to wash up. Once out of sight, she quickly ducks into the kitchen and grabs one of the busboys. “Let the boss know I’m happy to cover her bill… but not his. He invited himself, so he can pay for himself, the little shit.”

        Neko busts out the snark on Takashi. “Last I heard, the only thing you were excelling at in class was taking up space.”
        Molly snickers, but catches the disapproving glance from Neko. Oh! We’re supposed to be playing good-cop-bad-cop. “Now that’s not fair,” she says in his defense. “He’s one of the more vocal participants when it comes time for group assignments.”
        “There’s a big difference between talking and doing,” Neko points out.
        “It’s not my fault one of the shy students always wants to write things down,” he protests. “I pull my weight.”
        “Indeed,” Molly agrees, “he knows more about Japanese poetry as an art form than anyone else in the class, and has shown how it connects to visual arts such as painting as well.”
        “You’re the one that related it to cinematic technique though,” he concedes. “I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
        “That’s no shame on you.” She nods at him. “We all have our specialties. That’s why we work in groups to start with. It also develops team building skills, particularly the ability to get oneself into a good team.” Sometimes this means picking useful people over nice ones.
        “You’re telling me,” he says with a grin. “Last time I had to team up with Taro, he couldn’t stop relating everything to food. Too bad we were supposed to be discussing Middle Eastern history. The world is not all about falafel and kebab.”
        “Says you,” Neko declares as she gestures in the direction of their newly arriving plates. Her custom flatware is also placed on the table, with odd extensions to the handles set at strange angles.
        Takashi looks baffled. “What the hell?”
        “I can’t use my wrist right now.” Neko holds up the braced arm to demonstrate. “With these, I don’t have to.”
        “Alright, I can see what they’re for, but they keep a set on hand just for you?”
        “Ownership has its privileges.” She pins an ordinary fork in the crook of her elbow and uses a strange sickle-shaped knife to cut up her veal.
        “I thought this place was owned by the school,” he says.
        “Yeah, me too,” Molly concurs. “You mean it’s not?”
        “Oh, it is, but they actually have a minority interest of 49 percent.” Neko waves her strange knife in the air as she talks. “It’s not likely they’d be overruled on anything though, because it’s improbable the other 51 percent could band together to stop them. I may be able to convince Mum, but I have no pull with the Satous. I wrote the proposal, but I think that may be the last time I have anything to say about the way this place is run. I only hold five percent.”
        “Lilly is an owner too? She has never said a word about it,” Molly says with a bit of wonder.
        “Nah, she missed out,” Neko says between bites, having switched to her bizarre fork. “Her sister and the Satous hold very large chunks.”
        Molly dives into her own plate, collecting pasta on her fork, and finds the white clam sauce to be appropriately spicy. I’ll have to come back more often. I thought they’d gone to that too-sweet Hawaiian food. The coffee is good as well – strong but not bitter. “I never would have suspected you were so involved in the restaurant business.”
        “I would,” mutters Takashi with his mouth full. He finishes the bite before clarifying. “I mean, I never see her in the cafeteria, and she’s seen here a lot. At least that’s what I’ve heard.”
        That’s a relief. I thought you were about to make a fat joke and I’d have to pick sides.
        When the bill comes, it is delivered directly to Neko, to nobody’s surprise. She lays the two slips on the table, then plucks one up between her fingers and passes it to Takashi.
        “Huh, it says I can pay for a third of it in cafeteria credits,” he remarks as he scans his check. “Nobody told me about that. That means I could cover the whole thing,” he adds, reaching for the remaining check.
        Neko slides it away from him. “Not a chance. Ownership has its privileges and responsibilities, and I have to spend my cafeteria credits as well.”
        It takes a moment for the significance of this gesture to worm its way into Takashi’s skull, but once it does, he looks deflated.
        Now he gets it. He wasn’t our guest, and we weren’t his.
        Upon their return, they find three more students waiting for the evening showing. They brought blankets, and have moved the coffee table to the end of the room, beneath the whiteboard, to make the floor into their seating area.
        “Could you help us move the couch?” Neko asks. Pulling it away from the wall is a much bigger problem than pushing it back later, but by ‘help’, she really means ‘could you move it for us?’
        “Aw man, where am I gonna sit?” gripes Takashi.
        “Hey, you had it for the entirety of the first showing,” Molly points out, “and that is pretty heady stuff for a club non-member.” At the same time, Neko lofts one of the folding chairs in his direction with her foot. He catches it by the edge, and quickly lowers it to the floor as it starts to collapse.
        “Uh, I think I’d rather join the group on the floor,” he says as he begins removing his shoes.
        “Too hard to sleep sitting up?” Neko jibes, which draws a ‘ha ha, very funny’ sarcastic face in response, but Kaze no Tani no Naushika proves too much for his attention span and he’s snoring twenty minutes in. The girls on the blanket just roll him out of the way and keep watching. It will be entertaining to find out how he spins this on Monday morning.
        “Thanks for the support,” Molly whispers to Neko as they settle into one corner of the couch together.
        “Never you mind, it was fun,” Neko whispers back. “We still have to get rid of him, too.”
        “He’s not as dumb as he acts. He’ll figure it out.” Molly grabs an unclaimed blanket and wraps it around both of them, snuggling closer. If you think that was fun, just you wait.
        A few minutes later, Molly has her arms wrapped firmly around Neko from behind, and there are three prosthetic legs on the floor at the base of the couch. Any indiscretions of her hands are concealed by the thick brown blanket covering them. When the Ohm horde charges, so does she. Neko gives her response by way of grinding backward, gaining purchase with the one good leg they share between them.
        About ten minutes before the end of the movie, the door opens to reveal Tadao – and Lilly. He carefully navigates around the perimeter by cane, while she follows behind. He gives her the antique desk chair and sits on the desk waiting for the movie to end while periodically checking the time on his phone.
        As credits roll, Neko hastily removes the wrist restraint to allow her the dexterity to put her leg back on. “I hate to cut this short, but we’re double-booked,” she points out to the ersatz picnic crowd, nudging Takashi awake and fetching a folding chair for Tadao. “Could I get some help putting the couch and table back where they belong?”
        Tadao already has the rig warmed up and dialed in before the crowd has fully departed, and he is calling CQ exactly as his allotted time slot starts.
        “What would you say to a little ‘private screening’?” Molly asks in a whisper.
        “Your place or mine?”

        “It has been fun,” the widow Endo says as she puts down her cards, “but it is getting late. I’d best be off to sleep.”
        “But it’s only nine,” Iwanako protests, but not too strongly. “It’s early yet.”
        “When you’re my age, you’ll understand. Don’t make too much noise, you know I’m a light sleeper.” Ms. Endo winks, and the sound of her feet lightly scuffing the floor can be heard even when she is out of sight.
        “Light sleeper, that’s a laugh.” Iwanako rolls her eyes. “Once the hearing aids come off, I could set off fireworks without waking her.”
        “That’s not so good for her,” Hisao concedes, “but it’s hardly a bad thing for us, right?”
        “Shouldn’t be, but we have to behave for now. She always gets up to use the privy before she really passes out.” She retrieves a bottle and a carton from the freezer. “We could start in on this though.”
        He waves off the offer. “Nah I’m fine. I rather like having my faculties about me when I’m having the most fun.” Now that I think about it, I can’t remember you offering me a good time when you’re sober.
        “You wound me.” She acts deeply offended and starts to swoon. “Have you ever had rum raisin ice cream – with actual rum on it? You have to at least try it. It’s not much, it’s mostly for taste.”
        I never thought about it before, but she’s right. Rum is an effective ice cream topping, in moderation. “This is pretty good,” he admits, “not at all what I was expecting.”
        “Glad you think so,” she says while smiling gleefully. “Maybe next time I’ll use the cinnamon schnapps or Jagermeister. That was always my uncle’s favorite. Auntie won’t touch the stuff – unless it’s poured over ice cream.”
        Right on schedule, Endo appears briefly in the hallway, rather immodestly dressed, and ducks into the restroom. If that’s how this family ages, I think we’re going to be alright.
        “Ten minutes, and she’ll be back to sleep.” Iwanako beckons Hisao into the kitchen. “Help me wash up, if you’re in any sort of a hurry.” The kiss he receives on arrival indicates that she certainly is.

        Bump. The sound of furniture contacting plaster transmits through the wall. Bump. Bump.
        Momomoto is much more amused than alarmed. As a matter of fact, it is a good sign that Neko is getting her mojo back. She hadn’t been herself while confined to that massive cast.
        A bump and a squeal. That sure doesn’t resemble any sound Hisao is likely to make, nor is it a match for her. Intrigued, he quickly flips through the recent recording from the wide-angle camera over his own door, hoping to catch a glimpse of who might have joined them next door. Whoever it is, she’s quite vocal about it, or perhaps ‘operatic’ might be a more accurate term.
        Since he is rolling backward through the footage, it is almost as if he catches the pair leaving, rather than arriving. He stops the backward progression and lets the video run forward at normal speed, then doubles it because the pair in the distance is moving so painfully slowly. He recognizes the slow gait before he can see their faces.
        Kapur! No wonder Neko has become a supporter of Cinema Club lately. He lets it roll just to be sure, but there is no mistaking the owner of the slender metal legs. Nakai is nowhere to be seen, and he has yet to hear a male voice of any sort coming from the next room.
        Bump. Squeak. Giggles. That’s definitely two girls, hardly an unusual occurrence at Yamaku, but a first for that room. Miyagi would have a cow, but there’s nothing to fear. It’s just another Pandora’s Box being opened.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Ten (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Thu May 21, 2015 1:43 pm

CHAPTER TEN

2007-09-23

        Hisao can smell the incense before he even opens the door. I guess I know what Neko has been up to. He is quite surprised when he finds it unlocked, and that Neko is sitting on the floor, as close to cross-legged as she can be in her natural state, eyes closed. As he locks the door behind him (including the chain) and slips off his shoes, he sees that her eyes are now open, but staring straight ahead. He takes a similar posture facing her but says nothing.
        After a couple moments, she speaks. “It happened last night.” Her words are quiet, yet they seem to fill the room in an odd way.
        He needs only one word. “Molly?” He gets a single blink and nod in response. A few more moments pass before he can put together the next question. “Do you love her?”
        Perhaps she doesn’t wish to seem hasty, or perhaps she is truly in the moment, but her response comes after a few seconds of delay, chilling in its bluntness. “No.”
        “Is that part of why you’re down here like this?” He moves the incense burner aside, as the direct smoke is starting to burn his throat and lungs.
        “I – I don’t know,” she answers, her voice still calm and centered. “I just thought I might find some answers.”
        “Who else knows?” He is already forming some sort of strategy for dealing with the possible backlash.
        “Some of Cinema Club. Tadao and Lilly, maybe, he has incredibly sharp ears. And…” She gathers herself and sighs before revealing the last on the list. “And Maeda.”
        “Bloody hell.” You might as well have announced it over the intercom. If he’s not at the top of the bro-gossip pyramid, Takashi is pretty damn close to it. He’s also a chauvinistic jackass. “Why did you have to tell him anything at all?”
        “We didn’t. He just showed up and followed us around most of the evening. He probably slept through all the interesting bits. He has the attention span of a goldfish.”
        “Slept through them?”
        “He showed up during the first film and promptly passed out on the couch. Then he followed us to dinner and tried to pay for us, which I refused to allow. Twenty minutes into the second film, after dinner, he was out cold again. I guess being the only guy in a room with five girls just wasn’t enough to keep his interest.”
        Aha, there’s something I can use against him if he runs his mouth. “So was this just a failed experiment, or…” He trails off, not really knowing how to ask the question.
        “No, it wasn’t a failure. We both got what we were looking for, and I think she knows where we stand.” She throws out a ‘who knows?’ facial expression. “It’s tidy, it’s safe, and it’s comfortable. I fully expect it to happen again. I just can’t predict when.”
        “What is it then? What’s your motivation?” Hisao gives an exaggerated, two-palms-up shrug. “Do you just have a compelling need for variety? Am I just lousy in the sack?”
        This draws a reflexive chuckle out of Neko. “No, not now anyhow. You’ve got a pretty good handle on it at this point. It’s not about variety, either. I didn’t go after her because I needed someone who wasn’t you. I went after her because there’s just something about the touch of another girl, something you inherently can’t deliver. I just need that once in a while.”
        “So this is something that you can foresee happening again, whether it’s her or someone else.”
        She nods solemnly. “I’m afraid so.”
        “Then it might as well be her,” he concedes. “At least she’s a decent person from everything I’ve seen, unlike some others.” We shall not name she-who-shall-not-be-named. “Is there anything else you think I should know?”
        “We already changed the sheets.”
        Bloody hell. I did not need to know that.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Eleven (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Fri May 22, 2015 10:47 pm

CHAPTER ELEVEN

2007-09-24

        The therapist gently and slowly rotates Neko’s hand until it faces palm up, causing her to wince noticeably, but it isn’t until he presses down on the open palm that she yelps and leaps out of the chair, knocking it out from under her in the process and landing her on the floor. She remains there, opening and closing her hand weakly, until another worker can assist in picking her up. It takes two, since she has no other hand to push off with, and cannot yet take someone else’s hand for assistance. Tears well in the corners of her eyes as they place the chair back into its place, but she notices that the two locking wheels are toggled before she is invited to sit back down.
        “I am quite sorry,” the therapist says, “you should have said something sooner.”
        “I didn’t know it was coming,” she answers with a shake of the head. “It was a little uncomfortable – okay, more than a little – but when you bent it back, it was like being hit by lightning or something. There was no warning.” She can still feel the nerve throbbing as if it were linked to her pulse, except that it is considerably slower.
        “Are you prepared to continue?”
        “Umm, hold on.” She clenches her hand a few more times. “It distinctly doesn’t feel right. It’s not pain, it’s – I don’t know, cold or something.”
        He presses her hand flat between his own. “Hmm, you must still be suffering from that pinched nerve you mentioned. You may have an adhesion of some sort.”
        Oh fucking great. What’s that going to take to fix?
        “Let’s move on to the grip tests, shall we?” he prompts. “Those shouldn’t hurt, but do report any excessive weakness you may be sensing.” He places a device in her hand with buttons and springs and a cable coming out the side, then points at a small display. “Have you ever played Guitar Hero?”
        “No, musical talent is something I completely lack.”
        “Ah. Well it’s much the same idea,” he continues, “except without the timing element. These five boxes represent fingers, starting with your thumb here. When a box fills in, press the appropriate button to make it go away and bring up the next one. The resistance will continually increase, until you are unable to respond reliably. Speak up if it starts to hurt.”
        He starts the test, and she follows along easily enough at first, but it starts to become rather tiresome after perhaps forty-five seconds. At this point, she feels discomfort on a little finger press.
        “Ow. It’s getting really tight.”
        “It does that,” he says while terminating the test. “but you did alright. Did you get a sense of the pattern? There was one.”
        “It seemed… not random, but like a shuffled playlist. Everything had to come up once before any of them would come up again.”
        “Yes, that’s a good way of putting it,” he says with a nod. “Now, I’m going to provide you with some sophisticated pieces of rehabilitation equipment, and I want you take good care of them. Definitely do not throw them at anyone or anything.”
        “Why would I –” she starts, until he turns around and opens a drawer filled with tennis balls. He pulls out a can of two and breaks the seal, causing an audible rush of escaping air. “Only two?” she jokes. “If you gave me three, maybe I could learn to juggle.”
        He glances over his shoulder at her, then reaches back into the drawer for a third one rolling around loose.
        “I was kidding,” she says, disappointed that he seems to have missed it.
        “Ah, yes, but this one is no good anyhow.” He uses a marker to draw an X on it. “They go flat after a week or two. When the other two feel or bounce like this one, trade them in.”
        “Trade them? What good will they do you then?”
        “Not much for us, but my dog sure likes them.”

        “Mum,” comes Neko’s voice from the other end of the line, “I have a little problem and hoped that you could help.”
        You have a lot of little problems, but you rarely ask for help. “I don’t know how helpful I might be, but let me hear it,” Sally responds. “I’ll see what I can do.”
        “Well, it’s the nerve thing. It keeps flaring up, and it really hurts. I have an appointment on Saturday, but I’ve…” Neko hesitates, possibly in embarrassment. “...I’ve gone through my pills a little too quickly.”
        “How much so?” I’m willing to help, but not if it leads to another Suzu problem.
        “I get another bottle on the first of the month, unless they won’t renew it Saturday.”
        “Mmm. How urgent is it?”
        “Let’s see.” There is a pause, and a sound that could be a bit of a struggle to open the bottle. “I have four left. That will get me through tomorrow morning.”
        Sally pulls the phone away from her mouth. “Jōji, is Ben still here?”
        His head pokes into the opposite end of the hallway. “Yeah boss, I’m pretty sure he is.”
        “Good, I’ll need him to carry a little parcel for me, a care package for my baby.” Sally pulls the phone back in. “I hope you were planning on going out for dinner.”

        Jōji has to follow Ben out to open and close the gate, since the motor mysteriously stopped working yesterday. ‘Cheap Chankoro crap’ was Sally’s explanation, but even a shoddy motor shouldn’t fail after a month of use. All he can figure is that water may have been blown into the housing during the storm, slowly doing enough corrosion damage to cause complete failure. He’s just about to chain it shut when he hears a Russian-accented voice.
        “Not so fast.” A man steps out of the shadows, holding a pistol. He waves it to support his demand. “Open the gate.”
        Jōji pokes the silent alarm button while complying, and the man steps through. He starts to close the gate but is stopped.
        “No, leave it where it is. I’m not going to let you trap me.” He waves the pistol to as if to say ‘move over there’.
        “Fine, fine.” Jōji steps away from the gate with his hands up. “What is it you want?”
        “What do you think I want? Take me to the girl.”
        Jōji leads his captor toward the house slowly, keeping his hands in plain sight. Once they get to the front, he reaches for the door handle.
        “I’ll do that,” says the Russian, keeping his pistol trained on his hostage. He thumbs the lever and pushes the door open, then indicates Jōji is to step inside first. Then time speeds up.
        Suddenly, Sally is standing behind the Russian, shotgun trained on his back, as Jōji hits the deck. “If you like your body, and would prefer to leave with it in one piece,” she says calmly, “you’ll set that little pop-gun down and do as I say.”
        The man lets the pistol fall to the white carpet, and Jōji cringes, half-expecting it to fire on impact. It doesn’t, so he reaches and picks it up himself.
        “Is it loaded?” Sally asks.
        Jōji pulls the slide back, and a round pops out. “Apparently.” He glances to make sure there is another waiting to load, and releases the slide.
        “Take it and go lock the gate,” Sally says with a tip of the head. “Whistle if you see anything strange. I’ll put a hole in Boris here, then come check on you.”
        When he gets back, they hogtie their captor-turned-captive before dragging him to the wine cellar and removing his clothing with scissors to check for concealed weapons. The two stable hands watch the security monitor, wielding the two firearms.
        “What part of ‘we shipped her out of the country’ did you idiots not understand from the last time?” Sally demands to know.
        “A girl of similar appearance has been spotted coming and going several times,” he says.
        “Like you owned the only goddamned blonde in the whole city? How stupid can you possibly be?”
        Stupid enough to admit you’ve been watching us, at least.
        Ben soon returns, with reinforcements, to help secure the property while Sally makes photocopies of documents indicating that Mira has been granted asylum – in the United States. They untie the Russian’s feet before subjecting him to one further indignity.
        Using the 750i rather than Pearl, they are soon leaving another duct-taped mook in a Natori back alley. They go easy on him, with nary a mark to be seen, unlike the probable broken ribs, possible broken jaw, and definite broken nose Miki left the others with. Instead they make their public statement by tying him to a post wearing nothing but Sally’s ugliest old pantsu, a blond wig, and a sign around his neck with Cyrillic text.

        When the phone chimes, Neko interrupts her improvised ‘therapy’ of bouncing the ball off the wall, catching it, squeezing it with each finger in a pseudo-random order, and tossing it again. “Hi Mum,” she says as she answers. The middle two fingers still feel somewhat numb from the pinch earlier.
        “Could you meet us out front, alone?” Sally asks. “Ben got diverted, so I’m bringing you something.”
        Outside the gate, Sally passes Neko a zipped canvas bag that is much heavier than expected. “Please keep this in your safe, and don’t talk about it – with anyone. I will explain why later, but right now we have to run.”
        “Uh, yeah. Keep me informed.” Neko waves at Jōji, who gives a weak, nervous smile in return.
        Back in the room, Neko takes the time to open the bag before Hisao can return from his time slot in the Radio Room. She reaches inside and pulls out the uppermost contents – a bottle of pills, several plastic-wrapped cookies, and a loaded ammunition magazine? Her heart sinks as she reaches in one last time to find just what she feared, a 9 mm Browning pistol with the slide locked open. She drops it back into the bag like it was red hot, tossing the magazine in with it before zipping it back up and hurriedly stashing it in the safe, then dialing the landline at the ranch.
        “The fuck is this?” she demands.
        “I love you too, honey,” her Mum retorts sarcastically. “I’ll let you know in due course.”
        “Seriously, you expect me to just sit on that and not know why?”
        “Need I remind you,” Sally chides, “that this is not a secure line?”
        “Right. Thanks for the goodies.” She hangs up. Let’s see what’s in the bottle. She does a cursory web search to make sure the label matches the contents before allowing herself a smile. Percocet 10/325.
        “«Mwah!»” she addresses to nobody in particular. “«Goodnight everybody!»”
        She logs into the ranch VPN and sets an alert to let her know when Mum does likewise, but nods off long before it sounds, to dream of wrestling red crocodiles under a purple sky.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Twelve (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Mon May 25, 2015 9:54 am

CHAPTER TWELVE

2007-09-29

        “You don’t have to do this, Mum,” Neko says. “I’ve gone to plenty of appointments in the city on my own, or with one of my friends along.”
        “I know I don’t have to, but I wanted to talk to you anyhow, about that little dropoff.” Sally has to crane her neck more than most drivers to make sure the road is clear before maneuvering the big black Bimmer onto Route 31. “I hope you wiped it down if you handled it.”
        “I will have to do that. Why am I holding it for you anyhow?”
        “Rosuke.” Sally lets this one word sit a while. “We had one decide he wanted to be «an hero». He shorted out the motor on our gate and waited until Ben left, knowing we would be forced to close it manually. Then he tried to – no, he did take Jōji hostage, but not before Jōji could trip the alarm. It could have been a lot worse.”
        “So who got him out of that jam?”
        “Me.” Sally makes a ‘ch-chk’ noise while pumping an invisible shotgun. “If you think make-up sex is good, you should try ‘I almost got killed’ sex.”
        “Hmm. I’m kinda hoping I won’t get the chance. What did you do to him?”
        “You know that song «Darling Nikki»?”
        “Mum!” Neko exhorts. “I didn’t mean Jōji, I meant the Russian!”
        “So did I.” Sally exercises good comedic timing before gesturing. “No, seriously, look in there.”
        Neko pulls a stack of Polaroid photos from the glove box and flips through them. The first she just passes without a reaction, and the same with the second, but stops on the third – the one taken before they loaded him into the car. She covers her mouth with the short arm in a hopeless attempt to conceal her mirth.
        “If you think that’s funny, keep going.”
        The fourth and final picture was taken somewhere in an industrial area, showing their would-be invader hogtied to a post in old lady pantsu and a wig. “What does the sign say?”
        “We intended it to say ‘we found your girl,’ but it could say ‘translate server error’ for all I know.” Sally shrugs. “I just copied it down verbatim.”
        “So that’s where the pistol came from?” Neko waits, and gets a nod. “I have to say that was not what I was expecting you to drop off, but once I got over my shock, I gave it a good look. That’s a serious piece of kit.”
        “Yeah, I know. I was glad I got him to drop it on carpet; it would have been such a shame to break it. You’ll only have to deal with it a couple weeks, until we can get the dogs settled in. Once we do that, Jōji wants it back for his personal piece. Meanwhile, we’re going to have trainers in and out of the place and don’t want it around.”
        Bloody hell. I don’t like dogs, especially not big, aggressive ones. Nor do I like dog shit.
        Sally doesn’t need to be told. “I know how you feel about dogs, but I’d rather have one or all of them get shot – or even just shot at – than one of us. They would have flushed out the lurking Rosuke before he could become a problem. High-tech proved fallible twice, so it’s time to back it up with low-tech.”
        Once they get near the medical complex, Sally asks, “Do you want me to come in with you, or just pick you up afterward?”
        “I have a feeling it’s going to hurt.” Neko grimaces, and not for dramatic effect. “It’s a little more tolerable if there’s a friendly face with me. I would say ‘to hold my hand’ but it’s unlikely they would let you do that.”
        Upstairs, they do not question the patient having her mother with her, and let Sally remain through the ultrasound, which reveals the source of the problem is likely to be along the median nerve, about ten centimeters up from the wrist.
        “We have to make a small incision,” the internist tells Neko, “but we can do it here or here.” He touches her arm at the inside of the wrist, and about ten centimeters down from the elbow. “It only needs to be long enough for something this big.” He holds up his little finger.
        “I think I would rather you do it up high,” Neko opts. “Having a scar on the inside of my wrist might get me some strange looks.”
        The internist nods. “Be aware that it will take a bit more anesthetic that way, and a bit longer for it to take hold.” He looks at Sally, since it is legally her decision to make.
        “You heard her,” Sally responds. “I can’t fault her logic.”
        He shrugs, and they set to prepping the area. A local anesthetic is injected at six different locations, and then there is nothing to do but wait. An agonizing thirty minutes pass before Neko can confirm that she feels nothing when they do their pinch tests, but once she gives the signal, they move quickly.
        While Neko watches intently, fascinated with the procedure, Sally sits to her left with her eyes closed, repeating ‘Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō’. “You can leave, Mum, if it disturbs you that badly. I think I’ll make it.”
        Sally stands, squeezes Neko’s shoulder, and finds her way out.
        “Sorry about that, I had no idea it would get to her that way,” Neko tells the medical staff. “She dissected a dog in the recent past, so I thought she’d be able to deal with this.”
        “It really wasn’t bothering me,” the doctor at the controls says, “but it’s usually the patient repeating that mantra.” He watches his work closely on the monitor, as tiny movements of his hand can lead to large swings in the visual field. “There we are.”
        Neko glances away from the monitor, and down to the raised line under her skin. It stops about a centimeter short of the location they marked with a small blue dot.
        “You might feel this,” the doctor warns. “If you do, try very hard not to move. It will slow me down quite a lot if you do.” He steps on a pedal, and a power supply audibly hums in a pulsating pattern.
        “No, I don’t… oh, wait, there it is.” Neko grimaces. “Yeah, that’s no fun.” The ache continues to build.
        “You may feel that for up to thirty minutes, I’m afraid. The good news is that I’m done.” He retracts the scope, and the internist does the cleanup work. It takes only three stitches to close the incision, and a rather modest bandage is placed over it.
        The doctor who performed the procedure is already on his way to work on someone else, leaving the internist to finish up. “We’re going to keep you here until the Xylocaine wears off, then check your movement, just to make sure we didn’t do more harm than good. This is going to hurt in its own right the next few days, but hopefully nothing like what you were dealing with before. Do you need your prescription rewritten?”
        “I believe I do,” she says with a nod. “Even without the nerve pinch, therapy hurts.”
        “I see. Is there anything else you think might help?”
        “Umm… if it’s not too much to ask, could I move from Vicodin to Vicoprofen? I’d rather tear up my stomach than my liver.” Especially if I’m going to overindulge, chase it with wine, or both.
        “Umm, yeah. I think we can manage that.” He jots it down on his pad. “Now sit back and relax, if you can. Should I send your mother back in?”
        “Sure, I think she can deal with me now.”
        The internist bows slightly and takes his leave, and Sally returns, looking a little worse for wear. “How are you doing, love?” she asks as she enters.
        “Pretty well, considering I just got shot in the arm with a laser six times.” Neko glances down at the area around the blue dot, which is starting to show signs of a bruise. “We’re going to be here a bit longer. They need to check me out once the injections wear off. What about you? I thought you were good at handling things like this.”
        “When it’s an animal, or when it’s me, I can deal with it. When it’s someone else, I imagine that I feel their pain, probably even worse than they actually do.”
        What about when you want them to hurt? Neko’s heart continues to race despite the ending of the ordeal, which she can only attribute to the epinephrine in the Xylocaine. Suddenly, and inexplicably, something inside her decides it has had enough, and she leaps off the examining table and dashes to the sink, almost but not quite making it in time to contain her chunderstorm. As she continues to suffer from waves of emesis, Sally comes over and turns on the tap, then grabs hand-drying towels and uses those to wipe the mess from the edge of the counter. She doesn’t bother with what hit the floor.
        “You’re weird, Mum. You can’t stand to watch me have a nearly painless minor operation, but you’re willing to wipe up vomit.”
        “Yeah, well, being able to do something makes all the difference.”
        The door opens a bit, and a nurse peeks in. “Is there anything wrong?”
        Neko spits out the water she is gargling. “We could use a mop.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Thirteen (complete

Post by NekoDude » Wed May 27, 2015 3:29 pm

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

2007-10-01

        Neko is waiting alone in the lobby of the prosthetics office. She has the brace on her arm, as she sees no reason to be exposed to bumps and twists as she travels. It also conceals the main battle scar, the newest bandage, and the rather target-like oval bruise – yellow at the center, with a ring of blue around that and a ring of brown further still. It is also an excuse not to do paperwork if Sayoko pulls another stunt.
        “Were things getting to be too much to bear for that boyfriend of yours?” Ichiro asks as he walks her back to the examination room.
        “No. He told me to tell you he is sorry to miss my transition into a Terminator,” Neko jokes, “but it’s finals week and he’s actually worried about them.”
        “I’d be much more worried for John Connor,” he replies as he opens the door to the examination room and waves her inside. “Even the liquid metal robot didn’t kill people that didn’t get in the way.”
        “How long before I can have an arm made out of that stuff?”
        “I don’t know, it’s probably patented already. Be right back.” He leaves her alone for perhaps three minutes, during which she removes her shoe – this place isn’t into wasting clients’ time, let alone their own – before returning with a wheeled cart full of equipment, and a box lying across the top.
        “We’re so confident we got it right this time,” he proclaims on re-entry, “that we’ve already prepared to send it home with you. Or them, if you consider two sockets to constitute two units.” The box is not taped shut, so he has the leg out in a flash. Neko takes a bit longer, having to first unstrap the arm brace with her teeth before she can remove the old leg, also revealing the new marks.
        “More trouble?” he asks with a bit of concern.
        “No, hopefully less. I just got an upgrade.”
        Ichiro starts to answer, stops himself, and lets out the breath as Neko points her arm at him and cocks the wrist back, middle fingers curled, similar to Spider-Man’s web-slinging posture aside from her palm remaining down.
        “«I’mma chargin’ mah lazer!»” she declares before pointing somewhere else.
        “You are very strange.” he says, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “Entertaining, but strange.”
        “Seriously though, they had to go in and cut an adhesion to the nerve that was preventing me from bending my hand back like that. Now it’s just stiff and not very strong.” She takes the leg from his outstretched hand and tracks down the valve, which is not in the same location as she is used to. This enables her to slip in rather easily. She stands, walks around a bit, then makes a series of lateral steps to each side. “It’s a bit wobbly, compared to last time. It’s nowhere near as bad as what I walked in with, though.”
        “That’s the one we just made, so it was intended to accommodate a bit of water weight,” he points out. “Perhaps we should try the other socket. I need to show you how to interchange them anyhow.” This involves an Allen key and three bolts. “As you can see, the stem has notches and the sockets have matching keys, so you never have to worry about alignment. If it goes together at all, then it’s right.” He holds out the parts and the tool.
        “Mmm. Gonna need both hands for this one.” She stops to take off her sock in addition to the shoe she already shed. She shoves the short arm into the socket and holds the remainder of the leg in place with her foot while she tightens the bolts in the normal manner.
        “I need not have worried, I see. You’ve got it under control. The same tool releases the lock to the ankle, if you want to wear heels or boots or something like that.” He points at the relevant hardware. “Let’s see how it fits now.”
        This one takes a bit longer to squirm into, with Neko having to pause once to shake some blood into her fingers because of the sustained pressure on the valve. “It’s not as tight as last time, that’s for sure.” She stands, folds her arms across her chest, and jumps in place three times. “It’s also not quite as rock-solid stable, but I guess that can’t be helped.”
        “That’s the inherent trade-off, security against comfort. The most solid platform in the world does no good if you can’t stand to wear it for any length of time.”
        “It’s still a tiny bit tight, but I suppose that’s my own fault,” she says with a half-shrug and a raised eyebrow. “I still don’t have my weight completely under control.”
        “It will also stretch ever so slightly over the first few weeks or months, and we had to account for that,” he points out. “If it’s a tiny bit tight now, that may not be a problem at all. You just need to break it in.” He drops the slightly larger socket into the box and moves the box to a chair to clear off the cart. “I’m sure you remember this.”
        “Sure do.” She releases the top two buttons of her blouse and tugs it down from her shoulders so Ichiro can wire up her collarbones. “Do you calibrate off full shrugs or the twitches?”
        “Both, but let’s worry about this first.” He looks at the cart from various angles, then retrieves the box he just set aside. “I’d misplace my head sometimes if it wasn’t attached,” he says as he pulls the arm socket from the box. He sticks pads to her forearm nub as well, although they have no wires, before sliding the socket over it, which does have wires. He hooks these up to the machine as well, before laying a disembodied but also cabled forearm on top of the control unit.
        Neko is already practicing the twitch motions, and can see the line jumping around on the display. She switches to full shrugs and watches the trace bounce around the center point, getting smaller each time. It is not long before it starts to vanish in the background noise.
        “I don’t know if I should feel good that you’ve got the hang of it, or bad that you don’t need me,” Ichiro jests. “We still have to dial in the hand. This is more a matter of the gear deciding which contact to use today than of level calibration. Try to open the hand.” She sends the signal as if to her invisible hand. “Now close it.” She imagines closing the invisible hand. “It’s not perfect but it’ll do for a test.” He hits a switch on the control unit, and the servos in the arm whir to life.
        She works at the hand alone for a few minutes. “Is the real thing going to look like Bender?” This hand is palmless and three-fingered, with the ‘thumb’ directly and permanently opposed to the other two rubber-tipped ‘fingers’.
        “No, this is just a demonstration unit. Some people with non-body-mounted arms do opt for this design though, like if it’s built into a power wheelchair or something. It’s simple and effective. Here, try taking this.” He holds up a paper cup, and sets it between the open mechanical fingers.
        Neko promptly crushes it. “Oh, I’m sorry!”
        “No, no… it’s not a big deal. I don’t think we’ve had anyone pass that test on the first try yet. Here, let me turn up the force feedback.” He twiddles a knob and prepares a new paper cup. “Take it slowly. It is still getting dialed in to your signal strength.”
        This time she lets the fingers close to within a centimeter or so of the small paper cup before stopping her efforts, then pulsing them to slow the advance. Just as the fingers make contact, she feels vibration in the socket, causing her to stop. “Whoa.”
        “Yeah. That’s what everyone says.”
        She gives a tiny bit more effort, and the shaking becomes quite noticeable as the cup buckles slightly under the pressure. She pulses the shoulder muscles, not knowing which one rotates which direction yet, but watches carefully. If there had been anything in the cup, she would currently be dumping it on the control unit.
        “You’re getting ahead of the program but that’s okay. In fact, you’re doing great. Let me get something else, you keep practicing.” He wanders off, presumably for more equipment.
        Rather than pulsing the muscles repeatedly, she finds that she can hold one for up to three or four seconds at a time, and the wrist rotates much faster. Lifting the shoulder stops the wrist, but lifting the opposite shoulder really steps on the brake.
        Ichiro soon returns with another arm, which happens to be a right. He catches the questioning look. “It’s for demonstration only. This one doesn’t even have any motors in it. It’s just to show the two options available. Since you are working with two degrees of freedom, the third and fourth will have to be handled manually.” He takes the thumb of the more or less naturally shaped hand and twists it into another position, accompanied by a clack akin to a torque limiter letting go. Then he bends it back where it was, with the same noise. “You’ll be doing this for sure.”
        “What’s the other?”
        He bends the hand inward at the wrist, causing the same clatter. This time he doesn’t bother moving it back. “That. We can either power the rotation or the flex, but not both. Not with this design at least, though there are more advanced models in the pipeline.”
        “What’s more useful?”
        “That differs from person to person, which is why we offer both choices, but most prefer to power the rotation. How are you doing with the practice there?”
        She signals to squeeze a little harder, and the vibration intensifies before dropping to almost nothing as the cup collapses. “I need a bigger challenge.”
        “As you wish.” He fills a larger cup half full of plastic beads, and places a bucket on the floor beneath. “First, take this.” She drops the crushed paper cup, and he places the plastic one into the hand, holding it by the rim so as not to get pinched himself. She closes the hand around it and stops when she feels the vibrations start. Ichiro slides the arm forward so that the hand and cup are hanging off of the cart. “Now, I want you to pour out exactly one bead.
        In her first attempt, she slows near the point where she expects the beads to start toppling over the edge, but they just hang there. She tips a bit further and three beads fall, causing her to unconsciously rotate backward. She even surprises herself with this unplanned reaction. “They seem to be sticky.”
        “It’s not so much that as the fact that they’re lighter than water. We used to do this with glass marbles, but the trouble with those is that they chip and break. Try shaking the cup when you think it’s at the balance point.”
        In her attempt to rapidly rock the wrist back and forth, Neko forgets to hold onto the cup. The whole thing slides out of the hand as a unit, clattering into the bucket. “Aah! Sorry!”
        Ichiro picks up the few beads that fell onto the floor, places them back into the cup as he fetches it out, and dumps the contents of the bucket back into the cup. “No problem. That’s why we have a bucket, and why everything is plastic.”
        “I think it would be easier to shake beads out using my elbow for motion,” she points out. “I wouldn’t be rocking the wrist in the real world.”
        “Most likely,” he acknowledges, “but you’ll want to rock the wrist for other reasons, ones you probably haven’t even thought of yet.”
        She has a visual flash of closing the Bender hand and rocking the wrist on Hisao’s – no, stop right there. I may well do that, but let’s try to stay practical here. “I imagine you’re right. The more I can do with it, the more I’ll come to expect.”
        “Let’s get to picking the mechanical attributes so we can start working on it.” Ichiro starts to break down the test gear. “The controls are clearly adequate, the force feedback seems to be working for you, and skin always comes last.”

        The petite girl bounds up the five flights of stairs, hardly breaking a sweat. It is not until she reaches the end that she feels the burn set in down the back of her legs and her derrière. Unfortunately, the door is locked. She is about to turn around and descend to the ground floor when someone steps out of the hall and into the stairwell. She grabs the door before it closes and darts through.
        It takes several twists and turns to navigate the halls from that direction, or perhaps she’s just a little bit lost. Finally she stumbles across the elevator doors, and knows where to go from there. Right from the doors, follow the hallway left, left again at the atrium, and…
        She pulls up suddenly, as she nearly runs over someone not moving at her speed, but not before she has to put a hand on the girl’s shoulder to retain her balance.
        “Fancy meeting you here,” Neko says as she spins around, immediately pulling Emi into an asymmetric embrace and rattling the contents of a long, narrow box behind her. “I cannot thank you enough. This is going to change everything.
        “What did they do?” Emi asks as they break contact.
        “So far just this,” Neko replies as she gestures downward to draw Emi’s eyes to the lightweight aluminum and silicone leg she now sports. “That’s great and all, but the best part is going to be this.” She taps two fingers to the end of her short arm. “They’re building it and I should have something to test in about six weeks.”
        “No way! That’s totally awesome.” My legs took longer than that, and they’re not electric. “Like, I hate to cut this short, you know, but I, like…”
        “Have an appointment. Yeah, I can’t imagine you’d be here otherwise.” Neko bows slightly and Emi takes her leave.

***

        It is past dark by the time Neko walks into the room she shares with Hisao, the box tucked under her arm. Setting it down, she rushes over to him just as he stands up from behind the tiny desk. Using the springiness of the new leg, she bounces into his hastily raised arms. “Oh babe,” she almost moans as the tears start to flow, “I’m gonna have two visible hands!”
babe,” she almost moans as the tears start to flow, “I’m gonna have two visible hands!”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Fourteen (complete

Post by NekoDude » Mon Jun 01, 2015 10:47 pm

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

2007-10-06

        “Hey, neat idea,” Daisuke states at the sight of the golf cart. “That was some pretty good thinking.”
        “It wasn’t my idea,” Emi admits humbly. “I saw Neko driving one when they had things to move into their new room.”
        “Alright then, good remembering,” he amends.
        There really isn’t all that much to move. Despite having spent two and a half years at this school, she had never really thought of it as ‘home’, a fact that undoubtedly makes it somewhat easier to leave early. Fitting all of the bulky items into the car is simple, once the rear seats are folded down. Even the bookcase can be maneuvered in without having to dismantle it.
        Next, they make the return trip for the items more easily squeezed into odd spaces – clothing, blankets, pillows – and those that are more delicate, such as her posters. Along the way they catch sight of some familiar faces as Akira sets down the luggage she carries and waves hello.
        “Slow down and let me out,” Daisuke requests. “I’ll do the social niceties. You can handle what’s left, I presume?”
        Emi almost looks relieved that she won’t have anyone looking over her shoulder as she packs her underwear drawer. “Don’t be too long.”
        “I would imagine you will find me right over there if I can’t extricate myself.” He nods his head toward Akira and Hanako. “If so, come rescue me.”
        He heads in their direction as Emi speeds away, and Akira picks up her luggage to meet him halfway. “Hey, haven’t seen you in a while. It looks like you made it back in good shape.”
        “Mostly,” Akira says. “There’s still drama back at the home office. I’m going back there soon, so we’re taking this opportunity to go to the house in Hakodate.”
        “Yeah? What kind of drama?”
        “They’re moving to Ireland, mostly for tax purposes.” Akira shrugs. “I’ve been working on a lot of the arrangements from here, but they want me there for the last couple months. They wanted me to stay, but I, uh…” She glances at Hanako with a grin. “...have reasons to come back. We should get together in the new year though.” She hands him a card, and a glance reveals that this is not her business card, but a personal one.
        “Since when do you own a restaurant?” he asks in surprise.
        “Since the Hakamichis balked at the upgrade plan. I bought out their share. They’re regretting it already. It’s only eleven percent, but that’s the largest chunk any one person owns, so I figure I can get away with calling myself a restaurateur. If not, nobody else can either.”
        “Are you really involved in the business though? Or are you more of a silent partner?”
        “I have been working on getting them a liquor license, but that’s actually part of my real job.” She glances at her phone. “Hey, you should look into applying with us. It would probably be more fun than representing shady clients.”
        “Umm, thanks for the offer, but I’m not really in a position to change jobs at the moment. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to do some rather positive things of late. I think the partners have noticed.”
        “Have they upgraded your wheels?”
        “No,” he admits sheepishly.
        “Then they haven’t noticed. I’m not twisting your arm here, just giving you a tip.”
        He spots Emi headed his way with a loaded cart. “I’m still representing her, for one thing. I should probably see that through.”
        Emi arrives with the cart. “We have work to do,” she announces.
        Hanako works her way into the conversation. “A-are you going to the car?”
        “Yeah. It’s moving day.” Emi seems pretty sure Hanako knows what she means.
        “Can we put our l-luggage on your cart?”
        Daisuke takes a look at the load in the back seat of the cart. It’s puffy, not heavy. “I think we can do better than that. You’ll have to share a seat, it looks like, but we should all fit.”
        “Fine with me,” Emi opines, “as long as we get moving.” They squeeze everyone and everything aboard, and head toward the gate.

        “Ah, you made it!” Neko waves from the water. “What kept you?”
        “I was hoping I could pin down my final grades for the semester,” Hisao answers. “My parents are certainly going to ask.” He heads for the dressing room. Just before he gets out of sight, he turns back and shouts, “Hey, do you want me to haul out a couple starting blocks?”
        “Get one if you want one, I can’t use it yet,” Neko shouts back.
        He nods and vanishes to change clothes, and Neko goes back to swimming warm-up laps. He returns without a starting block, instead opting to drop feet-first into the water and push off from the wall. He slows down as they cross in adjacent lanes, but continues onward when Neko doesn’t stop. She doesn’t stop the next time they cross, either. It is not until she passes him going the same direction that she stops at the wall and waits for him, greets him with a kiss before backing off, giggling giddily, and shouting to the otherwise empty pool room, “I’m back!” with her arms in the air.
        “You really missed this, didn’t you.”
        “More than I realized. I finally feel like… like I’m me again.” Her smile is radiant. “I’m still a little bit hobbled, because they don’t want me breaking the water with the one hand just yet, but at least I’m in the water.” She kisses him again. “Hey, let’s race to the other end!”
        “That wouldn’t be much of a competition,” he points out.
        “It might be if I do the butterfly and you do whatever you want. I’ll let you count off the start, too.”
        “Alright.” He grabs the handle on the wall as she does the same in her lane. “Three, two, one, go!”
        She pulls away almost instantly in the underwater stretch, her dolphin kick generating considerably more power than his scissor kick, but he starts making up the lost ground as soon as they are both forced to the surface. He can sense her dialing up the intensity as he passes her in the last ten meters, but it is too late. He reaches the wall perhaps a half second ahead of her.
        “Woo!” she hoots. “I never thought I’d be so happy to lose a race.” She kisses him again, and holds up her hand. “Look at that, I can’t stop shaking.”
        “That actually felt like a fair fight,” he points out, though he is breathing much harder than she is. “Another fifty and you’d crush me, but I can keep up this long.”
        “Enjoy it while it lasts,” she teases. “You’re going to improve, but I’m going to improve even faster.” She starts to climb out of the water. “Stay in a bit longer, since I have to be completely dry before I can put this new leg on, but then I hope you can join me in my next adventure, or at least cheer me on.”
        “Oh? What might that be?”
        She tips her head in the right general direction. “I’m gonna try the track!”

        Kenta blinks hard twice, then rubs his eyes just to make sure they are not deceiving him, but the faces steadfastly refuse to change. Not only that, but they’re appropriately dressed, more or less. Hisao has swim trunks, still visibly damp, in place of running shorts, but Neko seems ready to go. She does some sort of stretching routine, but it’s not one he’s ever seen before, causing him to suspect she has no clue what she is doing. Nonetheless, she’s not doing anything likely to cause herself harm, so he hangs back.
        The pair starts off walking the track, politely sticking to the outermost lane. They advance to power walking, and then to a slow trot, Hisao leading. He occasionally spins around and jogs backward momentarily to see how she’s doing. On the third of these, he beckons her forward, and drops in next to her. Kenta can hear him giving directions, but not specifically what they are.
        As they come out of the turn into the straightaway, she finally pours on the speed, if you could call it that. Hisao lets her go, presumably to be able to watch better. At the end of the straightaway, she resumes walking until he catches up. They trot through the remainder of the turn, then the process repeats a couple times before they walk their way to a cooldown.
        Kenta beckons them over. “I see lots of people pass through here,” he says, “but I wasn’t expecting either of you to be among them.”
        “Me neither,” Neko replies, “but I had to see what this new leg could do. I got it for cycling, but, ah…”
        “Yeah, I understand,” Kenta says with a nod. “Don’t worry, that feeling won’t last forever.”
        “No, it’s not that,” she says. “I’ve been using the exercise bike the whole time. It’s just that I don’t want to get back on until I can operate both brakes. One thing that incident did was make me realize just how fast things can spin out of control.”
        “From what you told me,” Hisao says, “I don’t think using both brakes would have changed much. You just needed to put your head down and blow right through it instead of trying to panic stop.”
        “She still might have been able to bleed off more speed before hitting it, though,” Kenta suggests. “You’re right that she didn’t have much time to react, but she’s also right that being able to brake properly probably would have reduced the damage done.”
        “Well then, I know who we need to visit if I pass this test,” Hisao answers. “I don’t know what it’s called, but I heard such a thing was being developed.”
        “Such a thing as what?” Neko looks a bit baffled.
        “A system that uses just one lever but brakes both wheels.”
        “Oh.” She tips her head in thought. “That would certainly work, but it’s not really what I meant. My idea was to just use two hands, like everyone else.”
        “Hmm. Latency might be a problem.” Hisao is in full what-if mode. “Also, do you really want to trust your safety to a battery-powered motor? How finely do you expect to control it in another panic stop? Mind you, two hands is a good idea for a lot of other reasons. You could afford to take your right hand off the grip to signal, maybe you could operate a front shifter, and you’d almost certainly be more secure with the extra grip. That being the case, I think we should still look at changing your braking system so it’s under your real hand.”
        “Or, I could get a coaster brake,” Neko suggests.
        “Those don’t work with derailleurs.”
        “So? I’d have to get a geared hub to go with it.”
        Hisao shrugs. “That’ll get a bit expensive, but yeah, it should work. In any case, we need to visit the same guys either way.”
        “It doesn’t bother me, it’s on Kite Boy’s dime.” Neko smiles deviously. “Mum’s legal team negotiated that I’m to receive whatever supportive equipment I require to restore me to normal. If this is what it takes to get me back in the saddle, they have to pay for it – just like this new arm.”
        “This doesn’t sound like the Muramoto I know,” Kenta states. “Are they getting in the habit of being disability advocates now?”
        “Nah,” Neko dismisses. “They’re still a pack of rabid dogs, and they’re getting paid handsomely in the settlement. Just the same, they’re our rabid dogs, and they chew on what we bring them.”
        Maybe Emi was right. Maybe there are some decent folks over there, and she’ll be able to cope. I’m still going to miss her.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Fifteen (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Thu Jun 04, 2015 11:35 pm

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

2007-10-08

        “So how was it?” Neko asks.
        “Better,” Hisao replies with a smile. “I wasn’t so nervous this time, and didn’t forget what they consider most important: going through a pointless checklist that will be dumped the instant I’m doing it for real.”
        “There’s a difference between theory and practice,” Neko points out, accentuating it with an elbow to his upper arm. “They were testing on theory.”
        “Yeah, that’s about right. It doesn’t make it any less stupid. The worst part, though,” he muses, “was waiting for them to print up the card so we could leave.”
        “They’ll mail it if you prefer,” Jōji says as they exit the building.
        “Not a chance. I wanted it today.” They pile into the little white car, loaded down with bags in the back, Hisao proudly not relinquishing the keys. “I might need a navigator though.”
        He really wants the security of being told which way to go, so that if they end up lost, he will not catch the blame. Soon enough they have made it to Sendai station. It wasn’t the nearest station, but it was close enough, and why bother with transfers?
        Hisao grabs the bigger bag and slings it on his back. Neko picks up the smaller, but no less important, bag and works her arms through the straps. After all, they do still have a bit of reading assigned on this trip, but rather than dragging books with them, Neko pointed out that they could just take photos of the relevant sections, and a subnotebook borrowed from the ranch.
        After buying tickets, they have twenty minutes before the next train departs. This is just enough time to gulp down noodle bowls to hold them over until they can get some real food at the other end. Most of the Tōhoku Shinkansen 25th Anniversary celebratory signage is gone, but not quite all of it. It had been fairly widespread during Tanabata.
        Once on board, Hisao looks in vain for the stairs to the top before realizing this isn’t a double-deck train. “It looks like we have to mingle,” he says with disappointment. He had been looking forward to getting seats in a relatively sparsely populated upper level. Due to the relatively tight quarters, neither one particularly feels like talking about personal matters. For the first hour, time passes relatively quickly. There is still enough light to get some view of the scenery outside, and both Hisao and Neko are comfortable enough with each others’ silence at this point. The second hour seems to Hisao to be longer than the first, as the sun dips below the horizon and details of the world beyond their train car become increasingly difficult to make out.
        A fair bit into the third hour of the trip, Neko has to shake him awake. “Ōmiya is next,” she reminds him. “Time to call your parents.”
        “Oh, yeah, thanks.” He thumbs through the directory, not sure whether to be happy or sad that his mother’s entry has only slipped to third-most-recent on the list, behind Neko and Jōji. “Good evening, Mama,” he says when she answers. “Papa told me to call when we reached Ōmiya, and we’re just rolling up now.”
        “We’ll get ready, then,” she says cheerfully. “Just the same, give us another call when you see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
        But we’re not in a tunnel… Suddenly the call drops. Oh, nevermind.

        “I don’t see them,” Mrs. Nakai says.
        “I think I do,” Mr. Nakai replies. “This way.” Or at least I see him.
        He was right, and the pair spots them about twenty meters out. Hisao is prepared for the warm homecoming, but the short girl at his side is not. She returns Mrs. Nakai’s bent-over embrace as best she can, the left sleeve of her coat flopping awkwardly.
        When they let go, he can feel Hisao’s eyes reading him, so he expresses his thoughts with his face and eyes as best he can. Damn, son. You had Iwanako, threw her back, and caught… this? Once he believes the message has gotten through, he starts to lead the group away from the platform. “So how were your tests?” he asks once it’s quiet enough to converse reasonably.”
        “Mostly good,” Hisao says. “English is still not my best subject.”
        “Just how much do we need to worry?” his mother asks.
        “Oh, I passed,” he says with a dismissive wave, “but even if I smashed the final, a B is all I could hope for – and I’m pretty sure I didn’t, so I probably will end up with a B-minus.”
        “Didn’t you tell me the last time you were here that you were barely scraping out a C-minus?” She waits for his nod, and continues. “Then really, you’ve done some good work since then. With a clean slate, maybe you can ace it next semester.”
        Mr. Nakai can’t help chiming in. “Still, if he wants to get into a top-tier school like –”
        “Like Tōhoku University?” Hisao interrupts, smiling. “English is not a core subject for chemists.”
        Tōhoku? That would be bad, in that he’s not coming back. But it would also solve one of our big problems, if he’s not coming back.
        “So you like it up north?” his mother asks with a lilt to her voice.
        “It seems to suit me. I mean, aside from the two of you, pretty much everyone I know is there now.”
        “Just wait until he sees a Miyagi prefecture winter,” Neko says with a chuckle. “He’ll probably be on the next train home when the snow is piled taller than him.” She sticks her tongue out at him, and he returns the gesture.
        “Speaking of people you know,” his mother nearly whispers, “have you um, had a chance to talk to, um…”
        “Iwanako?” he answers without hesitation. “Oh yeah, I meet up with her every couple weeks, which is why we’re heading back Friday. She says she needs my help to stay grounded, since she’s going to that English-speaking international school now, but I think she’s just tired of being approached by arrogant, pasty-faced white boys.”
        “Oh! And there’s no, um, conflict?” Mrs. Nakai glances briefly at Neko.
        “I won’t try to claim they’re close friends or anything, but no. We all have an understanding of the situation. I won’t fear for my life, or either of theirs, if I should find myself in a room with both of them at once, if that’s what you mean.”
        “Well son,” his father inserts, “you’ve managed to surprise me, and not in a bad way. Is there anything else we should know?”
        “Mmmaybe,” Hisao answers, before reaching into his pocket for his wallet. He plucks out a card and holds it up. “Do you think I might be able to borrow the car one of these nights?”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter Sixteen (complete)

Post by NekoDude » Sat Jun 06, 2015 2:26 am

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

2007-10-12

        “Akihabara? It seems to me to be a playground for otaku with more money than sense,” Hisao says. “I fear for an entire generation or three, if this is what we’re encouraging.”
        “Then I take it you weren’t impressed,” his father responds.
        “I wasn’t just not impressed, I found the entire place unsettling.” He pauses for a swig of coffee, but keeps his hands going to indicate that he’s not done with the subject just yet. “It just wasn’t my scene, you know? I know people for whom it would have been perfect. I generally try to avoid them.”
        “Luckily,” Neko points out, “they generally try to avoid you as well – except for one.”
        “Maeda? Yeah, he’s a c–” he starts before interrupting himself. “I’m sorry, I know better than to talk like that.”
        “I’m glad to know we raised you to watch what you say,” his mother reflects, “but sometimes you just have to call it like you see it.”
        “You mean he doesn’t swear just because of me?” Neko pouts. “I’ll have to let my Mum know I’m not a bad influence after all.” In fact, this city is a bad influence on me. If I decide to invest further in the restaurant business, it just might be a maid café – only with something actually worth serving.
        They depart the dining room, breakfast completed and dishes simply piled to the side to be dealt with later.
        “Are you sure you don’t want a couple pictures?” his mother asks.
        “We already got some,” he answers, “the ones you took before we drove off. I didn’t have to force a smile for those, either.”
        “I meant of the room, not of you. You may not get to see it again,” she points out.
        “Oh! I expect to be back in December, but if not, or if things happen faster than that, I trust your ability to take good photos as much as I trust my own.”
        “Hopefully you can stay longer, maybe over a weekend,” his father observes. “We’d have a lot more time to go do things that way.” There is much hugging, as this drive is going to be a simple drop-and-go on his father’s way to work, then they sling their bags for the trip to the car.

***

        “What did you think of them?” Hisao asks Neko as soon as they are dropped off.
        “They’re good people; very genuine. What you see is what you get. It’s quite refreshing. It would be untenable in the world I come from, so I rarely saw it.”
        “Yeah, it was a culture shock for me as well,” he admits. “I had to get used to being wary of everyone by default. I don’t just mean around your family, but around Yamaku in general. I had to adjust quite a lot.”
        “It’s odd, isn’t it?” Neko observes. “The stereotype usually runs the other way – that Tokyo is full of sharks and Sendai is a bunch of simple folk. Neither one is true, apparently.”
        “Oh there are plenty of people here that match the stereotype perfectly. That’s just not the social circle we as a family run with.”
        “Does their decision to downsize bother you?”
        “Yes and no.” Hisao makes a juggling motion with his hands. “It doesn’t bother me that they want to act like the empty-nesters they have become. It doesn’t bother me to lose my old room – I mean, it’s just a room like any other. I’m more attached to the one we share, at least it has its own restroom. But yeah, the reason behind it worries me a little.”
        “Do you think they know?” Neko asks, slightly cryptically.
        “Know what?”
        “That my family is paying for half your room?”
        “I suspect they do. I also suspect they’re grateful enough to never bring it up.”
        Frankly, the fewer ties of honor exist between your family and mine, the better for all concerned. “And about the other situation?”
        “I’m pretty sure my Papa has a strong suspicion, but he’s not going to ask. Mama may have a suspicion too, but what she doesn’t know, she can’t be compelled to share. My parents and her mother do still talk on a fairly regular basis, so I would be somewhat surprised if my poor Mama hasn’t already found herself in a bind.”
        “Hmm. I can only imagine what they must think of me. If I take them at face value,” Neko points out, “then the only charitable conclusion is that they think I’m a complete idiot and that you’re running around behind my back.”
        “I disagree. I think they like you just fine, but they adore her, and wish I’d make up my mind. I lack a way to express to them that I already have.”
        You could have just told them that when we get off the Tōhoku Shinkansen, I’m going back to Moniwadai – alone.

***

        “Hey, you made it!” Molly says with cheer in her voice as Neko walks into the Tea Room.
        “Of course! I wouldn’t miss the homecoming celebration.”
        The projector has been mounted to the ceiling in a manner much more pleasant to look at than the temporary rigging in the Radio Room had been, and the center and rear channel speakers hang from the ceiling, with the screen just below the center speaker. The front channel speakers have been flown to the sides of the screen as well, but not all the way to the top. A tall person could conceivably get clipped by them, so padding has been taped to any dangerous corners. The subwoofer has apparently been disguised as furniture, because Neko can’t see it.
        Molly finishes the wiring she had started, and whispers something to the two girls seated at the table before heading over to Neko. “Takashi showed up with some of his gang and offered to dismantle the Radio Room cinema setup, but we had already done that,” she says quietly. “Instead, they carried it all back down the stairs. Can you believe that?”
        “I told you it doesn’t take much.”
        “They even wanted to put it back up, but we’re not allowed to put new holes in interior walls and ceilings.” Molly shrugs. “It’s annoying, but considering the differing skill levels on display among the student body, probably a wise policy.”
        Neko points at the mounted projector. “Interns?”
        Molly shakes her head. “Not this time. They had actual maintenance people do it, including pulling cable through the ceiling and walls.” She waves at the receiver and DVD player, neatly tucked into a bookshelf.
        “It seems like they wanted a nice, permanent installation – one that can’t be ordered away on a whim.”
        “It would be nice if that policy extended to furniture. Since we don’t have this room entirely to ourselves, we aren’t allowed a couch.” Molly waves at a stack of large yellow bean bags in the corner. “Instead, we’ve got those, which will form a division between the blankets and yoga mats in front, and the folding chairs in back.”
        “«Do the necessary, right?»” Neko delivers in a recognizable but not entirely accurate Indian accent, except for the final word which comes out in her usual Strine.
        Molly shakes her head. “You’re going to drive Miyagi stark raving mad, talking like that.”
        “I certainly hope so.”
        “We’re running a double feature again today, with a late lunch intermission between. I trust you don’t mind a bit of cinematic violence?”
        “Not really, unless you plan on screening shock films or something. It needs to have a point.”
        “I agree,” Molly says with a nod. “First showing is «Perfume: The Story of a Murderer», and the second is 300. I expect the latter to be quite bloody, but intelligently so.”
        “I really don’t mind,” Neko says with a grin. “If the film is not to my liking, I’m sure we can come up with better things to do. Just reserve us two bean bags and a blanket.” I’ll provide the waterbed.
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
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