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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 4 (20161212)
Posted: Sun Dec 18, 2016 12:47 am
Found a broken sentence here
I should have seen that coming, and oh so I’m the backup now? run through Neko’s mind simultaneously
It breaks down better on a book-formatted page. The italics used to indicate inner monologue
don't stand out as much here. The "and" between the two clauses is un-italicized. Maybe I can come up with a better way to write that which isn't so dependent on text rendering, but it should read similarly to 'I should have seen that coming,' and 'oh so I’m the backup now?' run through Neko’s mind simultaneously. I've had other spots in italicized text where I have chosen to underline an emphasized word (reverting to normal text for a single word is a very subtle effect), but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense here. I don't want the word to pop out, I just want it to be apparent that the two are separate thoughts conjoined with the "and".
tl;dr: It's not an error, but if it looks like one, I should consider changing it anyhow.
ᴇᴅɪᴛ: Dec. 20 - changed to:
Two thoughts run through Neko’s mind simultaneously: I should have seen that coming,
and oh so I’m the backup now?
They collide catastrophically in the middle of her brain, and much to her surprise and everyone else’s, she hiccups quite violently.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 4 (20161212)
Posted: Mon Dec 19, 2016 6:48 pm
Ah that makes sense now. Maybe if it written something like "The thoughts blah blah, and blah blah? run through..." then my brain wouldn't have stumbled on it.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 5 (20161222)
Posted: Thu Dec 22, 2016 11:13 pm
“Hold still, Mama,” Emi tries to say while holding hat pins in her lips, “so we can get the stitches in before the pins totally work loose.”
“I said we shouldn’t have waited so long to do this,” Miyū the dressmaker moans, but she sets to work installing a zipper between the elastic panels that were hastily added to the white, flowing dress just yesterday.
“The way I was bloating up the past couple weeks,” Meiko points out, “I wasn’t about to take chances. It must be because this one’s a boy. I didn’t have nearly so much trouble with you. Why the panic?” She glances over at a clock. “We have five hours until the ceremony.”
Some of us have more to do than just pin your dress,
Emi thinks, but keeps it to herself, and I can’t even call in help because he has his own work to do.
When Miyū steps out for one of her frequent smoke breaks, Emi quietly asks, “Why her? She creates her own panic, and then expects the rest of us to play along. I thought you were looking for smooth and easy today.”
“I am,” Meiko concurs, “and this is it. I know she’ll do fine, even if she works herself into an imaginary frenzy in the process. Don’t let her catch you in her madness. She was this way the last time too, and everything went alright.”
Meiko snorts rather than laughing. “You’d be a bit too young to remember that one, I’m afraid. Like negative numbers. It almost seems like another lifetime to me, except for the few remaining people connecting the two.”
“Mmm.” Emi pouts and continues removing pins where the tacking stitches are in place. “Where do I fall?”
“You firmly land on both sides of the line. You’re the result of the old, and the reason for the new. Without you, I don’t know that I would have had a reason to keep things together. It would have been far too easy to give up. But you
didn’t give up, so I couldn’t either. I will always be grateful to you for that, because I think things have turned out well enough, even if they took a long time to develop.”
“That’s on your
head,” Emi quips, poking her mother in the back a bit harder than intended. “You could have gotten on with this years ago if you hadn’t felt it necessary to keep it a secret from me.
“We discussed it, many times, but the longer we waited, the more sense it made to continue waiting. Then you forced us to tell you, and he
forced us to tell everyone else.” Meiko rubs her distended belly. “But once again, things had a way of working out, and I wouldn’t change them now if I could. They could have gone a bit smoother, but they also could have gone a whole lot worse. At least we got this wedding together in time.” She suddenly cringes. “Ow! Not fun.”
“It’s nothing. I’ll be fine.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
” Meiko growls through a clenched jaw as the the pain intensifies, “I’ll be fine.” She shakes her head and takes a deep breath. “Could you track down your other half while I locate mine? We may need to make contingency plans.”
knows,” Mrs. Turner, the elementary teacher says while waving a thumb toward the door.
“Knows what, love?” asks the groom-to-be as he takes a look around the classroom hastily turned into a temporary wedding chapel. It is a low-budget but thoughtful conversion, as this is far from the first or last time it has been pressed into service this way. Most of it will be standing room only, as the ‘grownup chairs’ are already set up in the rec center and dining hall. “It looks good, Sofia, almost like you’ve done this before, right?”
“Won’t do much good if you’re the only one here when it starts,” Miki mumbles while holding thumbtacks in her lips, and waving her handless and conspicuously unbandaged arm in his direction as she can’t afford to drop what she is doing. “We’re looking for the runaway bride.”
“She’ll be back. She went with the other sheilas on a beer run.”
“I told you it wasn’t worth getting into a spin over,” Sofia offers before unfolding a stapler and tacking decorations to the wall.
“I thought we had plenty of beer, as of last night,” Miki protests.
“We did,” Paul says with an enormous grin, “but that was last night, and this is today. You did your share. I hope you don’t mind, she took your car. They wouldn’t all fit in mine.”
“How many went, and where are they going to put the beer?” Miki asks incredulously.
“Six, and one of them will drive a delivery van back from the warehouse. You have a three-body boot, but that would still only stock enough beer to last an hour, and it would get all warm.”
“What did you do with the bodies?” Sofia deadpans.
“They’re in the walk-in freezer, behind the roasts. We’d have to do that anyhow, right? It’s looking to be a scorcher, and it would be a bit uncivil to have all those flies about. Is the Love Shack prepared?”
Sofia gives a look of ‘how should I know’. “I just teach the kids. I don’t help make them, except for my own.”
“Speaking of family,” Miki interjects with a distinct air of discomfort about the previous topic, “how does yours take to her?”
“You could ask my sister when they get back from the city,” Paul answers with his not-at-all forged smile. He feels magnificent, even if he is helping to pull one over on the immigration service. Bending government regulations to suit their needs is something Sam does on a daily basis, and the attitude has rubbed off on him. “She may be among the last to return though, unless they drive as a team coming back. She’ll want to be in the van.” He departs the makeshift chapel humming the theme from Smokey and the Bandit.
Daisuke steps to the front of the dining hall that was to double as both the site of the wedding and the reception to follow, happy to have come up with a solution using nothing more than the equipment he was able to hastily borrow from the office. “I am afraid there has been a slight change in plan,” he addresses to the murmuring crowd, which has already heard that things will not be proceeding as originally anticipated. “The wedding will go on as planned – just not here – and the entertainment will follow as originally scheduled.” The photos will have to be entrusted to a cousin who
sounded competent, at least.
Behind him, Danny and Izumi set up a projection screen while he motions to the facility staff to lower the lights. The projector takes a few seconds to come up to usable brightness, but the sound starts working immediately.
Koshi’s voice emerges from the band’s PA system. “Is this thing on?”
“Yes!” comes from a half dozen or so voices in the crowd.
“Then let’s get on with it!” That would be the bursting bride. I was right to trust Emi with the remote end, it’s obviously working. Even I don’t always get it right on the first try, and it’s part of my job.
The exchange of vows is rushed through in under a minute, and the crowd cheers wildly as the heavily blushing bride’s hospital bed is wheeled away before Emi jumps in front of her camera, selfie-style, and waves to everyone. Daisuke thumbs the remote to cut the projector, Izumi tugs the bottom of the screen to allow it to retract, and one of the venue staff moves it to the side as the band settles into place. Hopefully, the audio part of the connection remains alive at the other end as the trio launches into Frankenstein.
The client should get her money’s worth.
Food is served to the wedding party first, as is standard practice, but Paul is amused by the pair bringing them the champagne toast glasses – Sam and Miki, in the same matching suits they wore for the wedding proper, arms linked. Good thing the bride sits on the left, or this could have been awkward,
he thinks as the glasses are set in front of them. Most other tables clued into what was about to happen, but a few did not, so he has to wait for these tables to get with the program and fill their glasses before rising and helping Mira to her feet.
“Well,” he begins, his voice gaining power over the first few seconds, “we all know why we are here. Enough speeches, it’s time to celebrate. To our newest Aussie!” He raises his glass, and everyone sips from theirs, or drains it, or anything in between. Mira, in particular, drains hers and promptly tosses it to the ground and watches it shatter as the room falls silent.
“Was I do something wrong?” she nervously asks. Funny, she doesn’t look Jewish.
“Is Russian tradition. More pieces, more years together.”
The whole crowd lets out a collective exhale as Paul responds, “Right then,” and drops his glass from as great a height as he can manage.
He imagines everyone notices but pretends not to when, a couple hours later, the newlyweds slip away from their own party with their two closest escorts in tow – bound for bungalows two and three, with the door between so the right people can find the right beds away from prying eyes.
Daisuke spares a glance at the phone clipped to his microphone stand, and confirms that it is the call they have been waiting for. After finishing their current selection, he unslings his guitar and gives a nod to Izumi to cue the agreed selection, Be My Baby.
After a few murmurs as the crowd wondered if they were about to go on break a mere fifteen minutes or so after returning to the stage, he signals again and the music fades out.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he croons, “I am pleased to announce the arrival of Tetsuya Naosuke into our lives, but I’m afraid if you want to see the little ankle-biter, you’ll have to visit the grandparents.” He gestures at the tables where said grandparents are attempting to applaud and stare at their phones simultaneously, before Danny retakes control of the band by launching himself and Izumi into the synth intro of Tom Sawyer.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 5 (20161222)
Posted: Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:31 am
Alright. I honestly cannot say whether or not I actually like the Neko-verse or not. I've read it all, and I come back to read new chapters whenever they're posted. And you're a good enough writer to negate any criticisms I could offer. It's just so so outside of anything else here, even Brythain's After the Dream which really stretched my incredulity. But it is absolutely well written, well developed, and well done. I can't help but feel everyone (minus OC) go way OOC almost immediately, but then I still read the whole damn thing, and I come back for updates. I guess what bugs me the most is that everybody drinks and does drugs, and while I suppose that's really not that crazy for a group of high school students that hang around eachother, somehow it feels just a bit extreme in the KS context. But you really do manage to characterize everyone you introduce well. It's like, I guess, I can't say I like the content, but I do quite like the writing, if that makes sense? All of your characterizations humanize our lovable cast like hasn't been done before, but seemingly with a focus on the dark and dirty. You portray everyone fairly well-ish, even though Hanako's bender still bothers me and I'm not a Hanabro. I'd say your most OOC vn character is probably Emi, I just can't see her doing what you've had her do throughout. But really, I'm just rambling more than anything. I wanted to comment here since it seems not many do. Your shit is wack yo. But I'm damn well gonna keep reading it. I'm pretty sure it's a compliment. You write really well. I can't say I like what you're doing with my precious KS girls, but I like the way you do it. Anyway, you're a good writer and deserve some comment love. Even though just about everything you write bothers me in some small way here and there, I really hope you keep it up. Like I said, you're a good writer, and change the names and this is a story I'd read. I'm still waiting for a plainly likeable character though. Someone whose flaws aren't highlighted. Maybe that's what is missing for me, just a character that isn't portrayed in a seemingly negative light. That might not jive with what you're doing, but it would be nice to just have a fundamentally good character in the story. Shades of grey are great in stories, but you need a little white and black to remind us that the grey is grey, if you get what I'm saying. Anyway, I like your writing, and I'm gonna keep reading this til I can decide if I like the story or not. Either way, you're good at writing.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 5 (20161222)
Posted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 7:39 am
Well it is noir, lol. Everyone has a place, and they all need to be dirty to explain why they keep going back into the scene. A couple characters are clearly bad news, even if they have charisma, but none can be all good because that doesn't fit with the premise and would look like a Mary Sue (which I desperately worked to avoid).
Life is complex. I combined the traits of a bunch of people into the relatively small cast rather than having a hundred bit characters, which also means each of them has a lot of baggage to carry.
Anyhow, more will come in the next couple days.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 6 (20170105)
Posted: Thu Jan 05, 2017 8:47 pm
When the bell rings, the students (save one, who doesn’t hear it) immediately bolt for the door at whatever speed their legs can carry them. Two have to turn back upon request.
“Suzumiya, Nakai, could you please remain for a brief moment?” After waiting for the rest of the room to clear, Mutou summons them over to the desk. “As one of you knows, my nephew is a graduate student and employee of Tohoku University, and is thus privy to some insider information.” He glances around as if double-checking that there is nobody hiding behind a potted plant – not that they have any of those – before clearing his throat and continuing. “In this case it’s word from the Admissions Committee. This isn’t official, so it is probably premature to call your parents, but it is exceptionally unlikely to be overturned. It appears both of you have been accepted to your program of choice on the first ballot.”
“Fucking sweet!” Suzumiya exclaims with an air punch before covering his own mouth and glancing around the room as well. “Err, I mean that’s great! When can we expect to be officially notified?”
Mutou pretends the momentary slip didn’t happen. “Possibly today, most likely by tomorrow, but within the week, surely. They will want to get commitments so they know how many openings they have to fill on the second ballot. Remember, you didn’t hear it from me. That is all.” He half-attempts to suppress his smile as the pair depart.
“So what’s your field?” Haruhiko asks just outside the door.
“Chemistry.” Hisao paints on a smile and hides behind it. “What about you?”
“Pre-med,” Haruhiko proclaims with pride. “We’re probably going to be seeing each other again, don’t you think?”
“Most likely,” Hisao agrees, “at least for the first year or two.”
“Organic or inorganic?”
“Organic, I think, though they didn’t ask for a firm commitment on that point yet. Neko was right when she said ‘there’s always a job to be had making booze,’ and it’s nice to have a fallback plan if I can’t get hired on to do more interesting work.” Hisao’s mask slips momentarily before he catches himself and pins it back on. Oh… I have to tell her.
Haruhiko nods a little too much and grins from ear to ear, apparently oblivious to Hisao’s masquerade. “Maybe I can come up with the cures, and you can figure out how to make them. And if all else fails, at least you’ll be popular with the rest of the unemployed!” He mimes a drinking motion, gives a thumbs-up, and sets off at excessive speed down the lightly populated corridor.
What do I want to say? How do I want to say it? Even though both of them were hoping to receive this news, now that it has arrived it feels like it will be a punch to the gut to deliver it. Waiting is not an option though, she’ll catch him brooding in a heartbeat. Sighing, Hisao pulls out his phone and fires off a message. ‘I need to talk to someone, so I’ll be a bit delayed. Let me know if you want to meet somewhere else.’ Then, to make absolutely sure he won’t do something stupid, he does exactly what he was advised not to do. He calls his mother.
The rapidity with which the Radio Room door opens, and the ensuing pressure change, causes Neko to swivel hard left. Only two people ever walk into this room like they own it – Takashi, and El Jefe, and the latter sort of does own it. It is neither, much to her surprise. She catches on that Hisao is headed straight for her at the desk by his second step, but still struggles to fully stand before he arrives.
Wrapping an arm around her, he pulls her the rest of the way upright and almost off the ground before surprising her with a long and soulful kiss. This is not an ‘I want you now’ kiss, this is an ‘end of the world as we know it’ kiss.
“I’m in,” he says softly once they finally separate a few centimeters.
“Then why don’t you look happy?” she asks as she watches his face micro-express its way through pride, anger, dread, and resignation in a matter of seconds.
“Because I’m not, but I have to do this. I mean, I –”
“I know,” she whispers while touching the short arm to his lips. “It’s only the future.”
He gently and playfully bites the end of her arm the same way he would bite her fingers if she had used her hand to do the same thing. “Yeah, that. I’m fine with that part. I’ll probably enjoy it, even. It’s the rest of the baggage that comes along with it that concerns me.”
She can tell she has let the guilty look slip, so she might as well say it now rather than waiting. “That’s what was worrying me too. I didn’t know if I could juggle it all. I mean I have to push through a year’s worth of material in four months, and take exams, and make sure someone else takes her exams – a few someone elses, actually – and I was almost afraid you’d follow along too. On the one hand, I could always use some help pulling the rickshaw, but on the other…” She holds up the short arm again. “…there is no other hand.”
“You don’t have to worry about watching out for me, and I won’t be distracting you those busy four months. My parents will crack the whip if it becomes necessary. But I’d really like to, uh… keep things together, right?”
Neko smiles noncommittally. “I can’t expect you to do that. I mean…” She tips her head toward the north wall, roughly in the direction of both the University and the house he has been known to frequent. “…won’t someone be expecting your undivided attention?”
“Yes, definitely, and that’s all the more reason I need good cause not to give it to her. I had a lot of time to talk with her mother on the train coming back, and I was dreading it – but she already knew. The way she thanked me for ‘keeping the house in order’ until she could take over herself told me so. I’m more afraid of the backlash from my own parents than I am from her.”
“If you need to use me as a shield even when I’m gone, I’ll play along. I can do that much for you, and it won’t be a difficult task at that distance, but surely you know I will want to be with someone I – someone I can actually be with, right?”
“Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder?”
“Sure it does – for about two weeks. If it doesn’t, you were with the wrong person to start with. After that, another feeling sets in. «If you can’t be with the one you love…»”
He interrupts her with another kiss, this time a short one. “I know the rest of that line – and now I’ll have it stuck in my head the rest of the day. «Love the one you’re with.»” He chases it with a sing-song ‘doo-doot doot doot doot doot doo-doot’.
“I’m sorry, on both counts. It’s not that great of a song, but you know that part is true. At least it is for me. You might want to hear this.” She gestures toward the radio. “No, actually you probably don’t. But you need to.” She unplugs the headphones and flips over to the 70cm band to reveal a moderately drunk Iwanako working her Magic Girl Powers on every male in calling range. “I’ll help you out of that mess, I owe you that much.”
Hisao snort-laughs, but it’s not mirthful. “You don’t owe me. I’ll accept the help gladly, but you don’t owe me anything. Every minute I’ve had with you has been reward enough in itself. Every minute that remains will be prized.”
“Are you sure that’s the right approach? We know for sure now. I’ve been preparing myself for this for over a week, knowing this was more likely than not, and I can say with certainty that trying to pretend it wasn’t hanging over our heads was not working out. It can only get worse now that the dice have stopped rolling.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying we have to start getting accustomed to being away from each other, and I need some time to think. I may as well get used to working out on land – there’s no pool back of beyond, at least not one for proper swimming – so I’ll ride for this ranch once the afternoon traffic subsides.”
Kenta is busy winding up his watch over the casuals when he sees a figure that is familiar enough – but not usually at the track. “Afternoon,” he says as Hisao climbs into the stands, being greeted in response with a squeeze on the shoulder.
“I figured I might find you here.”
There’s only one person behind me. Why would he come looking for Haruhiko?
“Yeah, it’s funny,” the only other remaining member of the ‘legendary’ squad says, “but sometimes after I finish running, I’m not in much of a mood to walk, and I end up here. You were looking for me?”
“I was. As the only person I am pretty certain to be in class with next year, I figured we could compare notes. I hope you don’t mind if I want to pick your brain a bit on what it’s going to be like. I’ll treat.” Hisao waves in the general direction of the Shanghai, down the hill, even bending his wave downward to clarify. “After you have a chance to freshen up, of course.”
That’s definitely one way to get on his good side – free food. Especially if it’s actually good free food.
“Yeah man, yeah. I’ll catch up with you. You better be serious, I know where you live,” he adds with mock-dramatic overtones.
“I’ll be headed down there myself,” Kenta states, “once I swing by for Mariko. I should probably go tell her she looks great, so she can stop changing clothes and fussing with her hair.” I hear she never worried about it before we met, or maybe it would be fair to say it just never crossed her mind. “Should we book a booth for four?”
Haruhiko tries to gauge his level of offensiveness discreetly, but fails his stealth check. “Thanks, but I may take a while.”
Hisao purses his lips and bobs his head side to side in a manner that Kenta can’t quite place until the lilting and slightly tight-lipped speech follows. “«Do the necessary.»”
Why would Molly be on his mind? He has a brief image flash of Neko and Molly walking (very slowly) hand in hand. Oh. Watch out, Suzumiya. Nakai is hardly a master of subterfuge, but he’s obviously plotting something.
“What does that even mean?” Haruhiko queries with a strange look.
“It means spare me the details, just do what you need to do. The necessary.”
While this is a true statement, it also is not entirely forthcoming, but Kenta resists the urge to comment, instead just giving Hisao the same strange look Haruhiko did seconds earlier, getting half of a half of a grin in response.
I don’t know exactly what your new game is, but it’s clearly afoot.
“So you’re telling me,” Haruhiko says as best he can between bites while selecting the next bit, “not only that your girlfriend is moving away – not that this is in any way unusual, you know – but that you have another lined up and you’ve changed your mind? And that somehow you think I, as a guy who has never had one girlfriend, let alone two at once, would have any useful advice whatsoever?”
“No,” Hisao grudgingly admits, “not as such. It’s not advice I need. It’s a wingman. I’ve seen her test scores, or at least I’ve seen what she wants me to think her test scores are, and I’m pretty sure our paths will have plenty of opportunities to cross this coming year. It’s just the way everything has happened, you know?”
Haruhiko just shakes his head slowly, because he doesn’t know. This stalls long enough to let him swallow. “Not really, but I suppose you’re about to fix that.”
“I won’t inflict that on you. Let’s just say I get along with her family better than I do with her, and my parents adore her and expect me to feel the way they do. They haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”
You haven’t seen what’s under Hachisame’s… Haruhiko’s body informs him this line of thought is unwelcome by making him attempt to inhale his tea, and he has to raise a hand to ask Hisao to stop clapping him on the back. “Dude, I bruise easily,” he forces out between coughs. Once he manages to properly swallow a few sips of liquid, he is able to continue. “What you’ve seen? It’s not like she secretly has four legs or anything like that, is it? Or maybe she’s got teeth where you don’t want them?” Nudge nudge, wink wink. The burning gaze he gets in response seems to indicate that Hisao is in a position to know the answer to that question, though no reply is forthcoming. “She a bad kisser or something?”
“No, it’s not anything like that. It’s more like… like we just aren’t going the same direction in life. I owed her a big favor, and while repaying it was more than a bit painful, it seemed to bring us closer together.” Hisao seems unaware that he’s fiddling with his nose. “But since then, I don’t know. I mean, she’s a great gal, she’s not overly concerned about keeping up an image, and she should do well with her abilities. We just don’t really have that much in common. We run out of things to talk about, she likes to do things I just can’t keep up with, and we end up in situations where one of us is scuffling to figure out how to keep the other engaged.”
“So you want to break things off while you’re still on good terms.”
“Pretty much, yeah. And to that end, it would help me a great deal if I wasn’t alone when we have the little party we all know is coming. She tends to be rather more reserved with her emotional response in the presence of strangers.”
“Are you calling me strange?”
Hisao chuckles. “No, not in the slightest. Considering where we are, you are alarmingly normal. Remember, I used to live across the hall from Setou.”
“Hmm. I suppose if I decline, you’ll invite him instead. I hear he will likely be joining us at Uni – mechanical engineering, first ballot like us, though I haven’t the faintest clue how – but don’t worry, I won’t make you endure that. Not as long as the food is as good the next time.”
Hisao smiles. “I hope you like pizza. Not the bastardization that our country makes of it, either, but the genuine thing. Real pizza, and real beer.”
Real beer, not wine? Maybe I should have gotten to know you sooner.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 7 (20170126)
Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:03 am
It hadn’t taken even a mention of beer to reduce Hideki to begging for a seat in the tiny, boxy kei car, once he overheard where the party was being held. Neko had just grinned as if to say ‘it’s your mess, not mine’, leaving it to Hisao to explain the purpose of the gathering.
“I only want a ride,” Hideki had argued, “and my brother will take me back after he gets off work. I won’t get in the way.” Hisao had relented, and his largesse had been rewarded by a second stowaway joining the crowd, but one which further supported the notion that Hideki will go his own way, as he has actually arranged a date. How he managed this remains a mystery to all observers except perhaps Fumiko, who may simply share his fascination with cheese. She certainly occupies an equal share of space in the back seat.
While Haruhiko seems amused and responds often enough to keep the torrent going, Hisao is having little difficulty ignoring Hideki’s babbling as he drives, at least until he hears two words that are unlikely to meet up by coincidence.
“Rule 34,” Hideki declares, “says it has to exist.”
“And Rule 35,” Haruhiko points out, “covers the cases where it doesn’t, so you’d better hope it does. Otherwise you’ll have to draw it yourself, or be banned from the Internet.”
“«Fliegende Kinderscheiße.»” Hideki lets out a loud sigh.
“W-what does she look like?” asks a timid voice presumably coming from Fumiko.
“You haven’t seen Elfen Lied? We will have to correct that, soonest.”
“Umm…” The seat squeaks slightly as Fumiko shifts. “I mean, does she look like Lucy, or like Nyu?”
“They’re the same cha-”
Fumiko doesn’t even allow Hideki to fully display his lack of familiarity with the material he wanted to ‘Rule 34’ moments earlier. “But they’re not the same personality, and it shows. They wear the same skin, but they do not look the same, and they sure don’t act the same.”
“She’s got a point,” Haruhiko says. “Lucy would probably scramble his innards without even breaking his shell. It would have to be Nyu.”
Hisao considers asking who the other half of the ship might be, but decides he may be better off not knowing. “I’m glad you’re all having fun,” he announces, “but this line of conversation may be best kept to ourselves and not taken inside with us – and we’re here.” He is about to settle for parking some distance from the door when Hideki points out the backup lights of someone pulling out. You can use the walk, he thinks, but waits for the closer spot just the same.
The instant they cross through the door, Gino gestures that he wants to see Hisao as soon as he can shake the rest of his party. He must have seen them coming. It was probably the car, he knows it by now. After bidding farewell to Hideki and Fumiko, and leading Haruhiko to the appropriate stretch of tables and performing the necessary introductions, Hisao excuses himself ‘to freshen up’. The hall to the restrooms passes conveniently to the left of the counter, and Gino snags his arm through a hastily opened door and pulls him inside.
“I’ve been tasked with the impossible,” Gino begins, “but I’ll do my best. I’m not to serve any alcohol to certain individuals – you know who I mean – and that means not serving it to anyone within arm’s reach of them either. That’s the easy part. I’ll need you to keep an eye out for any trouble. Here,” he says as he presses a small device the size of a pager into Hisao’s hand, “buzz me if you need me. Buzz multiple times if you need me right fucking now.”
“If she starts raising a ruckus over obviously being cut off, or if she dips too heavily into whatever she might have brought with her, and most critically, if she tries to leave with anyone but you or someone you know you can trust.” His look seems to indicate that should be a very tight circle.
Hisao inspects the device in his hand. “Are you sure this is really necessary?”
“No. I hope it isn’t. Better safe than sorry, though. You may find yourself unable to get away from the table without aggravating the situation, especially considering who all is invited. They might be suspicious.” Gino sees the raised eyebrow. “Shit, I’ve said too much. You’ll find out soon enough!”
Not long after returning to his place at the table and quietly explaining the situation to a disappointed Haruhiko, he feels a heavy hand clamp down on his left shoulder. There are only three people who would dare grab me like that: Neko doesn’t have a hand on that side, I’m pretty sure El Jefe isn’t here today, and… He turns and looks over his shoulder and nearly falls out of his chair before the same hand that was pressing down on him helps pull him up.
“Not funny, Father!” Hisao protests despite the grin on his face.
“That’s what your mother said too, so she let me sneak up on you alone.”
Sure enough, she waves from several meters away as she approaches before wrapping her arms around him for an embrace. “It looks like we’re early,” she adds.
“Or they’re late,” he offers in return. “It’s not like we sent out invitations.” Though presumably the latecomers are the ones who told you when to be here. “How was the trip up?”
“Quite pretty, actually. I’d forgotten how beautiful this country can be once you get outside the cities. Aren’t you going to introduce us to your friends?”
Aside from Haruhiko, Hisao is drawing a blank on the names of the other celebrants at the table since he scarcely knows them better than his parents do. He allows them to introduce themselves, except for one who seems reluctant because of his strong American accent. Haruhiko does the honors there, ending the impasse, and Hisao nods his appreciation.
“So you are all from the International School?” Mr. Nakai asks those on the other side of the table as they seat themselves.
“Indeed,” replies one who recently identified himself as Samson. “We’re constantly reminded that we’ll be here for another four years at a minimum, so we need to get out of our ‘white boy ghetto’ and mingle.”
“Easy for you to say,” the reluctant boy named Roger mutters. “You’re practically a native.” At least I think that’s what mush-mouth just said.
“«There’s more to life than just these islands,»” Hisao chimes in, watching with great amusement at the astonished reactions of many at the table – not the least of which belong to his parents. “«Focus on your strengths while you bolster your weaknesses.»”
“«Crikey!»” Samson exclaims, drawing quickly suppressed laughter from the other two International School boys. “You should probably be more concerned with the wildlife trying to kill you, on that island.”
Before he can determine whether this is good-natured ribbing or the sharp edge of the wedge of bullying, a waiter arrives with a tray bearing plates and cups, a large and thick Sicilian pizza, a basket of garlic bread, and two pitchers of Newcastle. “The rest of the party is unavoidably delayed,” the waiter explains, “but they insist that this not hold up the proceedings for the rest of you. They should be along in about twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes,” Hisao restates as he pours a cup for Haruhiko and hands it over, although he has not explained the significance of it, while his father eagerly dishes up plates for the four on his side of the table. The sliced meat and onions smell appealing, the anchovies not so much but he’ll take them, and while the strong cheeses are unfamiliar, they pair well with the brown ale. Ale from yet another island. Am I sensing a pattern here?
There is indeed a pattern, but it has nothing to do with island cuisine. Samson takes every opportunity to get in a dig on Hisao, clearly trying to get under his skin for some reason. And it’s working. By the time Iwanako and her mother arrive, with a couple of her friends in tow, things have just about reached a flash point.
“How’s my pretty?” Samson arrogantly asks as the new group finds seats at the table.
“I’m not your pretty,” Iwanako answers haughtily, refusing to acknowledge his gaze.
“«That’s what I get for being nice,»” he grumbles.
“«No, that’s what you get for being a cunt,»” Hisao snarls back at him.
Samson’s eyes open wide, and he looks to either side for a reaction. “«The fuck you just call me, you little slant?»” Oh, so there it is.
“«I called you a cunt… cunt.»” Cleverness is not my strong suit in English.
“«I don’t have to take that kind of shit from a wannabe bogan!»”
Maybe it’s the two glasses of beer, maybe it’s general principles, or some combination of both, but he’s in no mood to accept abuse at his own celebration. Both rise to their feet almost simultaneously, but only one is prepared to escalate the situation. The last thing he recalls as the left jab lands and the world goes dark is Iwanako’s scream.
When he opens his eyes again, or at least the one eye that will cooperate, he finds himself surrounded by just about everyone he would expect, save one. “Where’s Father?” he whispers. It’s bad enough that I got my ass handed to me yet again, but this time I did it in front of my parents!
The crowd jostles and opens wide enough to give him a line of sight to reveal his father and Gino working together to keep the assailant in a hammerlock until they can figure out what to do with him, but that decision is made for them.
“«This isn’t over, you yellow bastard!»” Samson shouts before yelping as someone subtly twists his arm.
“Yes, it is,” Mayuki says quietly. “Between the assault we just witnessed, and the rescission of my letter of commendation, I think it’s safe to say your time at Tohoku University is over before it could begin.”
Someone soon arrives with an ice pack, and it is passed through the crowd to be applied to Hisao’s badly swelling eye. The crowd begins to loosen as he leans against the wall holding the bag to his face and forehead. His mother, seeing that he is not in any further danger, ventures to assist with the other crisis.
When Samson has the poor sense to spit at her, he receives a sharp elbow to the ribcage. “Oops,” Gino deadpans, “I slipped.” The two men then roll the boy face down to make sure no more shenanigans ensue until authorities can arrive.
A sudden realization strikes. “Oh shit, the car!” Hisao exclaims.
“What about it?” Mayuki asks, a bit confused. “It’s still there.”
“I promised I’d have it back to the Shanghai before the dinner rush!” There’s no way I’m going to drive like this.
Iwanako and her mother exchange glances, before Yoshizumi answers. “I guess that settles how I’ll be getting to work, then.”
“And…” He wags a finger back and forth between himself and Haruhiko.
“We’ll take you back when this is all resolved,” his mother replies, “and you can give us that tour you’ve always promised.”
With a sigh, he slumps back against the wall, finally settling onto his left side so he can tip his head back and allow the ice pack to more or less hold itself in place, until he feels his shoulder being lifted.
“You mustn’t do that, darling,” his mother says sweetly. “Head above heart or it will swell up twice as bad.”
It takes only a few minutes more for authorities to arrive, and soon statements are being taken. The interrogation is, just as it was the previous time, fairly minimal as there is video of the incident. He gets a chuckle out of one particular question though.
“He claims you provoked him with a racial slur,” the officer says as he glances at his notes.
“No, that’s all backward. He called me a «slant». I called him a «cunt». Sexist, maybe, though it wasn’t intended as such. Racist, no.” I’m pretty sure that bit of anatomy is more or less the same regardless of race.
“Mmm.” The officer makes more notes. “That’s what everyone else said too, except for his friends,” he says before allowing Hisao to resume resting his head on a table.
His shoulder is being shaken again. “Don’t go to sleep on us,” his father tells him with an air of command. “You could have a concussion. I’ve seen them happen from less.”
“I kind of doubt it,” he answers, “it just hurts.” He points at his face as if it was actually necessary.
“Let me take a look.” His father pulls the ice pack away. “Oh yeah, he got you good. That’s going to bruise nicely. Didn’t I teach you that if you’re going to start something, you’d best be prepared to finish it?”
“I wasn’t looking to ‘start something,’” he protests, “and I was prepared to guard… my chest, that is.” I’m always prepared to swat away anything headed that direction. “He just managed to push all the right buttons.”
“And you pushed his.” His father glances around. “I guess they’ve already taken him outside. Do you know him from somewhere? I mean, is there a history here?”
Hisao has already opened his mouth to deny any familiarity before a random neuron somewhere fires and a memory meanders across his synapses. The Green Mark. “I’ve seen him before. I hadn’t actually spoken to him.” I’ve had to be Iwanako’s shield because of him though.
“That’s it, then,” Gino loudly announces from the door to the private dining room. “Party’s over. Official orders.” He claps his hands for emphasis, and has take-away containers prepared for everyone remaining – even those who didn’t know they had anything to take away.
[continued next post]
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 7 (20170126)
Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:07 am
[continued from previous post]
Neko registers the voices on the roof outside and tries to tune them out, but they crescendo relentlessly.
“It might be locked,” she hears Hisao saying, just as the door swings open. She finishes writing down what she can, and pivots in her chair.
“«Bloody hell!»” she exclaims, bashing herself in the upper lip with the socket of the carbon arm as she forgets it is there and reflexively covers her mouth with the short arm. The taste of blood registers simultaneously with the identification of the people he brought along, but it is the large bandage covering almost half his face – like the Phantom of the Opera – that alarms her. “What happened? She didn’t take it well?”
Mr. Nakai’s face seems to say, “What the hell is she talking about?”
“Uh, no…” Hisao murmurs as he stares at his shoes. “The party came to a rather crashing end shortly after her arrival.”
“Is he always this prone to understatement?” Mr. Nakai asks with a bit of a chuckle.
Neko and Mrs. Nakai answer simultaneously. “Yes.” All three of them head her way as she grabs a napkin and squeezes her split lip.
“I was prepared to show them how all of this works,” Hisao says with a wave of the hand, “but since you’re already here, perhaps you’d like to do the honors.” His monoptical glare says ‘please just do as I ask’, so she complies, moving the bloodied napkin to the carbon hand.
Switching bands from ten meters to two, she pulls up the first preset, which is the calling frequency. “«CQ, CQ,»” the speaker intones. “«Where is everybody?»”
A second voice cuts in. “«QSY plus ten. Fifteen if you want to squawk.»”
Both she and Hisao speak at the same time. “That means…” He nods at her to continue.
“That means to tune up ten kilohertz from where we are now.” She thumbs the dial, where an animated conversation is taking place. First come a couple of male voices trying to sound authoritative, then the Old Faithful of trouble. A drunk, sobbing Iwanako.
“I’m just… I don’t know what I’m expected to do anymore. He can’t protect me, although he tries, and I can’t protect him from himself. I never could.”
Hisao edges up to the desk between the chair and the wall, and thumbs the talk button. “You don’t have to. I wasn’t doing it to protect you. I was doing it because… because he was a… well, you know.” He releases the talk button before remembering to identify, and has to get back on it to do so.
“I just…” Iwanako sighs loudly, and nobody cuts in. “I just can’t do this anymore,” she says in rapid, clipped tones as if it was rehearsed. “I think we’d better just be friends, for your own safety. And if you are going to tell me you would have defended any friend that way, then maybe we shouldn’t even be that.”
“No, no… I admit, you do get preferential treatment when it comes to putting my body on the line.” He lets out a long sigh of his own, and if anyone interrupts, they can’t be heard while transmitting. “I understand. We can talk about this a bit less publicly, if you still wish to discuss it. I mean, the whole city knows now.”
“Better that they know than… I wasn’t prepared to face your folks. Tell them it’s my fault, if it helps any.”
As others try to rationalize Iwanako’s reactions in public chatter, Mrs. Nakai quietly asks, “Can I say something to her?”
Hisao glances at Neko, who shrugs back at him, before stepping out of the space. Neko realizes that while it was socially acceptable for her to hold her position when he crowded in, she should yield to the new situation. She vacates the chair and allows him to take it, and he slides to his left to make more room as his mother leans in. As soon as there is a break in the chatter, he thumbs the talk button to let her speak.
“We heard you,” she says in that same quiet voice. “We were there. We saw everything.” Hisao quickly identifies that this is coming from his station.
“Oh my God… why didn’t you tell me they were listening?” Iwanako moans as she begins to fall apart completely.
“It, ah, would have been awkward.”
“And this wasn’t?”
You don’t care if the whole city listens, but you’re mad at him because he didn’t tell you his parents were in the room? I can only imagine how much worse it would be if you knew I was here too. I’m glad you’re his problem and not mine.
“Maybe we can finish this tour tomorrow,” Mr. Nakai offers.
Hisao shakes his head. “If she wants to talk to me alone, she’ll call.” He pats the pocket that holds his phone.
“You don’t seem particularly upset about this – or even particularly shocked,” Mr. Nakai observes.
“I can be upset later, it wouldn’t accomplish anything right now. But shocked? No, I can’t say I’m shocked by any of this.” Hisao gives Neko a wink – or possibly a blink, she can’t tell – as they depart.
“We don’t have to go very far for dinner,” Neko cheerily intones. Either she misses Hisao shaking his head, or misinterprets it. “We could just go down the hill.”
“Um, that might not be such a great idea,” he counters. “It could get awkward.”
“Why?” Neko raises one eyebrow, and even Hisao’s parents are looking at him funny.
“Because of the new server they hired – you did know they hired Iwanako’s Mum, right?”
“I don’t foresee it being an issue,” Mr. Nakai declares. “I’m sure this is just a bump in the road and you’ll smooth it out later. You said it’s not the first time. Besides, we are on good terms with her, regardless of what may be going on between the two of you. The new place is wonderful, if a bit compact.”
“I don’t see how they managed it, to be honest,” Mrs. Nakai volunteers. “There’s really only room for one bed. It’s much better suited for a couple than for parent and child.”
“It’s not that,” Hisao protests. “It’s just that I’m still trying to process what happened, I guess, and I don’t want it to appear that I don’t care.” I also don’t want to be the one to tell her that her daughter was, and probably still is, drunk again.
His father squeezes him on the shoulder as he has so many times before. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Your face has pain written all over it, and it will for a couple weeks.”
“He has a point,” Neko adds, wincing as she visually inspects the nasty shiner he is sporting. “Also, you’re going to run into her sooner rather than later anyhow. Isn’t it better to do it with a posse?”
Hisao sighs and slumps back onto the bed, grabbing the ice pack along the way. It’s three on one. I give up. The Percocet Neko quietly slipped to him earlier is also sapping any will he might have had to fight, but that’s a fair trade for making the pain in his face somewhat tolerable. “Fine, we’ll go to the Shanghai. But if she hasn’t already heard the news, let’s not break it to her on the job, right?”
“It looks like you’re in luck,” Mr. Nakai says with a gesture vaguely aimed across the crowded restaurant. “She’s not working our side.”
“I’m sure she’ll come over anyhow once she spots us.”
Hisao is proven correct less than a minute later, but that’s not exactly how it works out. Instead, with some excuse about ‘management wanting an investor to have space’, Yoshizumi moves them conveniently to a freshly vacated booth on her side of the dining area. A mildly confused Yuuko soon attempts to seat new arrivals there, but Neko indicates the location they just vacated.
“Uh, right,” Yuuko mildly complains, most likely to deflect any questions from the new guests. “Nobody ever tells me anything.” She leads the party back to the other side.
“Not my fault,” Neko says in her own defense once Yuuko is out of earshot. “I didn’t invoke owner’s privilege. Someone else did.”
“You own this?” Mrs. Nakai asks incredulously.
“A little bit – a whopping five percent. The same holding group that owns the school owns the majority of it. They even employ some of the same people.” Neko nods toward Yuuko, but doesn’t expect the gesture to be understood, so she explains. “She’s our librarian, for example.”
“Convenient, I suppose,” Mr. Nakai muses. “If I could reassign staff from one location to another at will, and they were a five minute walk apart, that would simplify my job a great deal.”
“I’ve been in that warehouse, father,” Hisao points out, “and it takes five minutes just to walk from one end to the other. I don’t think a second facility that close is going to work. They might as well just expand the building they already have.”
“But that would require closing the existing building for the expansion, at least in part. Instead, they’re moving almost all of the administrative office – that is, us – to a new building, then they’ll convert our former space. At least that’s the plan. Moving the mainframe and its cooling system won’t be pretty. Hmm, this menu format is a bit confusing. Can we order anything in here, or just the Saturday specials?”
“Anything in the main menu is available at any time,” Neko answers, “but the daily specials are only available that day because they require advance preparation.” I didn’t think it was confusing, or I wouldn’t have designed it that way.
By the time Yoshizumi comes around again to bring them tea, they have made their decisions. Mr. Nakai orders for the both of them, and both Neko and Hisao order ‘the usual’.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what your ‘usual’ is yet,” Yoshizumi says apologetically, “but tell me once and it will be the last time.”
“Oh, right,” Neko acknowledges before giving the full details and time for them to be written down. “Don’t worry about remembering that though, we have a different ‘usual’ for every day of the week.”
“This is going to be fun,” Yoshizumi says with a subtle roll of the eyes, but she grins at the group before delivering the order to the kitchen.
“I don’t think she knows yet,” Hisao whispers.
Neko merely gives a small, nearly imperceptible nod of acknowledgement before steering the subject well away from the elephant in the room. “So,” she addresses to Mr. Nakai, “what is this mainframe that requires its own cooling system?”
“It’s not quite that bad,” he responds, “but the room is on its own overpressure system, isolated from the rest of the building. It’s more to keep the warehouse dust out than to keep the cold air in. In any case, it’s an NEC PX7800 – more than a decade old, but reliable, and we have enough spare parts to keep it going probably another decade. Given all the difficulty we had getting it to talk with the inventory control systems on the forklifts, it had better last a while longer.”
“That’s not that old,” Neko opines. “I understand the Census is still using equipment from the 1970s.”
“Most likely, but I would hope they’ve moved to terminal emulation rather than trying to keep the originals running. We only have three of the original terminals left ourselves, because nobody wants to keep one and a PC on the desk, when they could make do with just the modern computer. Also, they like their flat panels.”
It takes just two more carefully crafted questions to get Mr. Nakai talking shop long enough for the meals to arrive. He continues to add little bits as he eats, while his wife wears a ‘there he goes again’ look on her face.
“Dear, don’t you think that’s enough?” she finally interjects while he is chewing. “You surely must be boring the poor girl.”
“Not at all,” Neko reassures them. “I’m old enough to know how far computers have come in the last decade, but I have no hands-on experience with big iron, new or old.” She catches Mr. Nakai’s brief glance at her carbon arm after she says ‘hands-on’, and the equally brief look of guilt that crosses his face for whatever thought prompted it. “It’s a different, if parallel, universe. Besides, I’ll have to get used to using a shared supercomputer at University unless I want to build my own cluster. Verilog is not something that will run on a laptop. Walk with a limp, maybe, but not run.” Hisao must catch the subtext of this last bit of bait, because he kicks her aluminum shin. It seems to fly over the head of the intended target, however.
“Hmm, yes.” Mr. Nakai seems to be thinking hard. “You have designed your own circuits, then?”
“On occasion, though I generally find it simpler and faster to modify an existing one. Wrapping coils is another matter – we had to do a fair bit of that to match the 10 meter antenna to our rig, and I’m still only half-pleased with the SWR. I know we could do better, but there just hasn’t been time.” And it won’t be my problem much longer anyhow.
“There’s a world of difference between analog and digital, and the gap is growing all the time.”
“Too right. We analog folks can’t just rely on differential signaling and high-speed serial protocols to sidestep difficult physics.” Neko lets a grin slip, as she is enjoying this entirely too much. Surely the man must know she’s yanking his chain.
“Hmm, yes. The industry does seem to be converging on those as the answer to every problem, even those for which it is not particularly well suited. It all seems to work, though.”
“For now. Some hard problems will have to be solved in the next decade. Maybe I can even find some of those solutions myself. If it works in analog, it generally works even better in a massively quantized regime.” Her food is getting cold, but this is the first genuine conversation they have had. All prior meetings have been heavily shadowed by general disapproval, but now that she has formally dropped out of contention as claimant for their one and only son, there is much less unspoken hostility.
Sadly, Mrs. Nakai puts the kibosh on the party. “Surely you’re bending the poor girl’s ear with all this shop talk. It’s certainly bending mine.”
“Sorry about that, dear. I’m sure you’re right.” It doesn’t stop Mr. Nakai from flashing her a smile and something that could almost be construed as a wink before tucking into his food.
“You what?” Hisao asks incredulously, though quietly. “Don’t you think it’s a little bit late for that now?”
“Better late than never…” his father offers apologetically. “You really should try to hang on to this one. She’s a whip-smart little firecracker. Pretty girls are a curse anyhow, don’t you think?”
Are you saying Neko isn’t pretty? Alright, she’s short, somewhat round, and not as pretty as Iwanako, but… “Hey, what are you implying about Mother?” Either he means she’s not pretty, or a curse, and neither one sounds very nice.
He’ll have to wait for another time to get that answer though, as his mother comes out of the restroom. “So I suppose we should be on our way for the night. Your roommate will be back, won’t we be in the way?”
Unable to evade the question quickly enough, Hisao resorts to telling the truth. “No, he’s probably going to spend the night in his girlfriend’s room.”
“They let you get away with that here?” his father asks with amusement. “Had we known that, we might not have sent you to learn their liberal ways.”
“Yes and no. He’ll get nabbed if spotted, but they don’t do bed checks, so as long as he stays put after curfew, nobody will care.”
“That explains the rollaway bed,” his mother speculates.
No, not really… but you don’t need to know about that part. Maybe when I’m older, we can have that talk.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 8 (20170302)
Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 2:23 am
Hisao is not the least bit surprised his phone wakes him before his alarm, set for seven, has the chance to do so. Grabbing it and glancing at the display does confuse him a bit.
“Umm, hello?” He makes no attempt to disguise his grogginess.
“I’m so sorry, I was hoping you would already be awake and I waited all night to find out what happened but Iwanako wouldn’t talk to me and she barricaded herself in her room and I still haven’t seen her face since then and…” Yoshizumi gasps for breath and continues her rant unabated, with “…and now all she says is go away, that nothing matters anymore and she wants me to just let her sleep! I need help here!”
Yes, you do. Unfortunately I’m the wrong person to provide it. “I, uh… we talked on the radio, and came to an agreement that it might be better if we were just friends.”
“I thought that was the heart of the matter. She doesn’t seem to be handling it too well.”
“It was her idea. Believe me, I was blindsided by it just as much as you. She’s not wrong, though. Trouble does seem to follow me around when we’re together.” Hisao swings his legs over the side of the bed and carries what used to be an ice pack to the restroom to drain it, and himself.
“So was this before or after dinner?”
“Before,” he replies with a pang of guilt. “None of us felt you needed to know right that moment. It’s not like you could have done anything about it. What’s done is done.”
“Nothing is permanent except death,” Yoshizumi declares, “and even that’s an open question. I’ll have a little chat with her when she will allow it.”
“I, uh… frankly I think it would be better to just let it be for the moment. If she brings it up, that’s one thing, but otherwise it might be best not to pick at that wound for a few days, right? Or a few weeks, or even a couple months. I’m not asking you to give up, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to press the issue when we’ll hardly see each other under the best of circumstances. When we’re in the same place every day, this will be a discussion worth having.”
The loud sigh on the other end of the line seems to indicate reluctant acceptance. “I wish I had had your patience when I was your age, it would have saved me much difficulty. Then again, maybe I don’t. She might not have happened.” Yoshizumi seems to take a large swallow of beverage as she pauses, then coughs. “How are you feeling today?”
“I can’t say this is one of my better days,” he admits, “but it’s also not quite as bad as I expected. I was able to sleep, at least.”
“You may sleep even better tonight, knowing Punchy spent the night with actual delinquents, ones who won’t take too kindly to his racial remarks. His folks waited until morning to fetch him.”
Hisao enjoys a moment of schadenfreude, then immediately feels guilty about it. “No, that doesn’t really help. It only ups the odds he’ll want another piece of me, I think.”
“I really don’t think you have much to worry about,” she reassures him. “I don’t know his parents, but Mayuki does, and it would be a bit of an understatement to say they are Not Pleased that he has been expelled from the International School, most likely lost his admission to University, and has to be placed somewhere for the next month – dumb law though that may be – or not graduate at all. I think there will be a good deal of distance between the two of you for the foreseeable future.”
The alarm sounds, and he has to ask Yoshizumi to hold so that he can deal with it. When he returns his attention to the call, he apologizes.
“No, I’m sorry, I obviously woke you up,” she says. “I’ll let her know she hasn’t totally burned the bridge, if that’s alright with you. That may have to do for now.”
“Uh, yeah, that’s fine.” Of course she didn’t. I was busy setting the kindling myself.
“He said what?” Neko nearly squirts coffee out her nose in surprise. “I mean, if I’d known it would be that easy to win him over, I’d have done that months ago.”
“Who knew?” Hisao’s voice sounds stuffy-nosed on the other end of the call. “I sure didn’t.”
“Are you alright? I left the bottle of Percs in the desk drawer. Mum would confiscate them if I brought them back, so use as necessary but with caution. You aren’t planning to get in another fight, right?”
“I don’t think I’m going to need them as long as you did, but I should probably pass. Father wants to go up to see the shrine today, and I’d rather not be half asleep.” And I wasn’t planning on any of the fights I’ve been in.
“Mmm. Neat place, that. I can’t say I really understand the religion behind it, but it was obviously built with great passion. It’s not supposed to rain, so I may just show up.”
“Just show up?” he asks incredulously. “How do you intend to do that? I thought you wanted to keep your family and mine clear of each other if at all possible.”
“Same way I did last time, love. I know I can get there, and I know there’s always the bus back. Mum’s shouting something from the kitchen, and that’s never a good sign.” Neko pins the phone to her head and opens the door to peer down the hallway, then catches the scent of burning egg whites. “Ah, she’s busy wrecking brekky. I’d better go help.”
Once there, her mother makes way for her to take over at the stove. “I thought I could do it, but they stick too much,” Sally complains.
“Mmm. Electric ranges are like that.” Neko moves the pan to a cold burner and dials down the power to the hot one before grabbing the tools and separating the still-usable parts of the frying eggs from the pan, after which she sets the spatula aside and turns the entire mass over with an expert flick of the wrist, catching it with a gentle scoop so that the oil doesn’t splash. “Where’s Joji?”
“Accounts Receivable,” Sally declares as she tips her head toward the front door.
For wine, numbers, or both? “I guess that explains why you were trying to make breakfast. You summoned me in time, these are mostly still good.”
Sally fetches a dish to receive the cooked eggs. “After all these years, I still don’t know how you do it. You’ve got more skill in that one hand than both of mine put together. You must have gotten that from your father’s side as well. I can’t imagine how a butterfingers like me would manage with just five of them.”
Neko smirks and can’t help but take a swing at the softball being lobbed her way. “Frankly Mum, neither can I. How would you carry your martini?”
Hisao does his best to look surprised to see Neko at the shrine when he and his parents arrive, but the heavy track suit does catch him a bit by surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t, it’s still chillier than his liking even as the warmest part of the day approaches. The moment of hesitation allows his father to get in the first words, even if they do tumble out as a disorganized heap.
“What the – how did she – did you put her up to this?”
“No, not exactly.” He shrugs before continuing. “I told her where we were going, because she asked.” He waves to her, and waits until they get within a polite speaking distance before asking, “Did you wear that for the ride? I thought loose pants were dangerous.”
“They are,” she agrees, “but I didn’t put them on until I got here, about forty minutes ago. I figured I needed to arrive first so I could be your guide if you needed one.”
His mother shows that she actually pays attention to his stories during their phone calls. “But you’ve been here before, have you not?”
“It was almost dark that time, and I wasn’t feeling so swell. It was my first long climb. Not a problem today though, even with the extra two kilometers!” Her smile shows she had at least as much to prove to herself as to anyone else, as not so swell is a considerable understatement.
His father inspects the little white recumbent and its reflective orange and yellow pennant. “Do you need a safe place to store that? I believe we could fit it in the car.”
“I’m sure you could,” she admits as she disengages the clutch holding the central hinge, “but it’s designed to be reasonable to drag around – and not too bad to carry, as I will have to do inside.” In folded form, it handles much like a baby stroller.
“I see they have improved. Best I ever had was a well-worn Raleigh.” His father must catch his odd look. “Hey, I was a boy once too, you know.”
Is that how you see her now, as one of the guys? I can assure you she’s not. At least not with me. He terminates this line of thought when he realizes where it’s going, and it turns out to be misguided anyhow, as his father continues.
“Actually, I was fixing a loose cable on that rust heap the day we first met. Literally met. She almost ran me over. It would be a few months more before we could admit we were more than accidental friends.”
“Speak for yourself,” his mother says with a sly smile. “It just took that long for you to figure out what I knew all along.”
Neko raises an eyebrow, half expecting a public display of affection, but none is forthcoming. She shrugs. “So do you want me to guide, or do you want an official tour?”
“I’m in no hurry,” his mother says.
“Then you probably want me. I’m not likely to outpace you, especially lugging this.” She pushes the bicycle out front as they walk.
What’s the nature of your game, Katelyn Deirdre Rogers? he thinks, imagining Sally’s intonation and timing as he has never heard anyone else use her full name.
Even after spending more of his attention watching the other three people around him than on the actual tour, he still hasn’t divined her purpose. It isn’t until hours later, when his parents have already headed south and Neko is still by his side, that he realizes she has no intention of riding back to the ranch tonight.
“I’m not in a mood to throw her a pity party,” she explains. “It’s not like she’s going to die, or even that anything has really changed. She just has a name to explain her recent troubles: Parkinson’s. You’d think she’d feel better, not worse, knowing it’s something moderately manageable these days. Let her cry on Joji’s shoulder.”
It’s not until well after curfew, and a mutually relaxing shower-plus, that she really gets to her point. “I did my best to get them to open up, but I failed, so I’m going to just have to ask you straight out. Are they expecting grandchildren any time soon?”
Hisao coughs and sits up in the bed, making it slosh about. “Where in the world did that come from?”
“Mum’s sudden reality check with mortality, that’s what. She asked my plans over breakfast. I told her the same thing I’m going to tell you: it’s not even open for consideration until I finish my schooling, and I’ll probably be a Christmas cake by then, or very close to it.”
“I think Father would understand. Mother would admittedly be a bit jealous, not having had that option herself, but I think she could get over it. I don’t know for sure, they’ve never had that conversation with me, either. Remember, I hadn’t even had a date before this,” he says while tapping his chest twice with his palm, “and I guess it never has been a good time to bring up the subject since. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like my position, though.”
“What do you mean?”
He shakes his head. “If they want grandchildren to dote on, they’re going to have to set me up with someone who already has kids. I have my hands full worrying about one bad heart. It would be unconscionable to knowingly make more.”
Neko twitches in his grasp. “What about other options? Adoption could help offset a late start…”
“Not in this country,” Hisao emphasizes with a shake of the head. “It’s practically impossible unless both parents are dead, and sometimes isn’t possible even then, so demand always outstrips supply, while the orphanages stay full. Ask Hanako if you don’t believe me.”
“Right. I wasn’t really thinking of the situation here so much. I guess there are fertility clinics if it comes to that.”
“Is that really better? A complete stranger? Even if the genes are ‘cleaner’, you’ll never know how they panned out the generation before.”
“Are you actually suggesting I should choose someone else?” Neko’s voice is quavering in a manner not completely unlike Hanako’s.
“Look, even if it’s not technically my child, it’s still my family, you know? And I want my family members to have the best opportunity available to them. If I thought that was through me, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Neko squirms away far enough to turn around and face him. “And what will your parents think of that?”
Hisao nods. “It would probably be best they didn’t know, at least until it seems safe to spring such a shocker on them. Hey, I’d have told them if they had asked, but they didn’t. But in the end, they’re not the ones that will have to live with the consequences.”
A long moment of silence follows before Neko speaks. “So you really mean it about giving it a go across eight thousand kilometers then? You know I have… needs.”
“I do. It was pretty apparent coming in, and I let you go after Molly. Besides, who knows? Although it’s less likely, maybe I’ll be the one asking for a hunting license.” Upon sensing Neko holding her breath, he quickly adds, “Hey, I did say it was less likely. Just choose wisely, right? Not like, oh I don’t know, every previous time?”
“I picked you, didn’t I?”
“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” he deadpans.
“You suck,” she mockingly complains as she crawls out of the bed to hop to the restroom.
“Not as well as you do. And that’s why I’ll still be here when you get back.”
Even in the dark, he can see the invisible middle finger go up on the invisible hand.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 9 (20170319)
Posted: Sun Mar 19, 2017 3:06 am
Kenta is busy pretending to watch over the casuals running the track when he hears a loud snap! to his left. Turning slowly toward the source of the sound, he sees that the Student Council has caught up with him. Like most everyone, he addresses Misha.
“What brings you two all the way out here?”
Misha (presumably) translates this as he speaks, and waits for her answer.
“Special delivery!” Shizune ‘says’ through her mouthpiece before holding out a heart-shaped box.
“Why, thank you.” He accepts the package, and it rattles in a way he wasn’t expecting. Whatever is inside sounds small and hard, like chocolate-covered raisins. He stares at the box looking for a tag, but there is none. “You’re sure this is mine? It doesn’t have my name on it.”
Misha relays again, and Shizune looks momentarily concerned as she checks the bag hanging from her arm. She gives the tiniest of bows in apology as she hands him the tag. It bears his name but not the origin. Uh oh, do I have a problem? He thanks the two girls and lets them move on to their next delivery before opening the box and peeking inside.
Kenta lets out a sigh of relief as he finds the box filled with candy-coated chocolates the size and shape of go stones, of which half are black and half are white.
When she answers the knock at her door, Hanako finds a paper gift bag outside. The delivery agent did not wait around for her response, though she looks both ways and even holds her breath to listen. Nothing.
Once inside, with the door safely locked, she peers into the bag to find a heart-shaped box that sounds exactly like any other box of chocolates she has ever shaken. Attached is a small tag, reading ‘DO NOT OPEN UNTIL WE TALK. Love, Akira’. I’m dying to know why, she thinks, but I can’t call for another half hour at least, to make sure she is awake and settled in. Rather than find another distraction, she slips back into her heavy coat and beret and heads for the Radio Room with the box tucked away inside. It is not long before she catches up with Neko and Hisao going the same direction.
“Wh-whose shift is it next?” she asks, causing Neko to pivot a step and a half later.
“Sneaking up on us again, are you?” Neko pauses a moment to look her over, then continues. “You look as if you intend to stay a while. You got the gift bag, then?”
I guess that explains why you were walking the same direction. “Yes. I c-can’t call yet.”
Hisao pivoted one step later than Neko did, and now retraces that extra distance. “Call?”
“The card says n-not to open it yet.”
“Eh, it’s safe enough to open,” Neko says, “just don’t eat anything yet. And sure as shit don’t share. That’s magical chocolate.” Tipping her head, Neko indicates they should resume their travel rather than standing around in the cold.
“I’ve n-never gotten Valentine’s chocolate before,” Hanako admits.
“And that’s why its delivery was entrusted to someone who doesn’t have a problem delivering Valentine’s chocolate to girls,” Neko says with a wave of the carbon fiber hand, not wanting to remove the real one from her pocket. “Otherwise it would have been Katayama’s job.”
But she works for your Mum… oh. OH! Hanako cranes her neck to see Neko’s face, as she apparently picked the wrong end of the line to join. “So it’s not really from Akira?”
“Oh, it is, in every way that matters. Certainly she’ll know why you’re calling, when you do. But if you mean ‘was it sent all the way from Scotland’, the answer is no. That would be unwise.” After a pause to let this sink in, Neko adds, “It might have melted.”
“I didn’t know your Mum was in the c-confectionary business too.”
“She’s not. Goodness, she could set ice on fire. It’s professionally made to order, and we’re just logistics and delivery. As a result, it nearly tastes good. Still a little bit green.”
Hanako opens her coat and retrieves the box, and sees that it is still sealed.
Neko snickers. “I didn’t raid yours, I was one of the taste testers. It’s much more palatable than the cookies. I’m hoping Mum makes it a permanent offering rather than a holiday special.”
“So am I,” Hisao concurs.
Once at the Radio Room, the whiteboard shows it to be Hideki’s shift. Unsurprisingly, he’s not there.
“Rock, paper, scissors?” Neko inquires.
“N-no, you take it, I have that call to make soon.”
“She still has to settle up with me,” Hisao points out. “Ready?” He holds out a fist and waits for Neko to do the same before both pump twice and cast their choices, ending up with his ‘paper’ covering her ‘rock’. “Sorry dear, you taught me too well. You told me most people cast ‘rock’ first. I should expect you not to as a consequence, but I knew you’d remember telling me that, so ‘rock’ should have been the last thing I was expecting. That’s why I knew you’d throw it.” He settles into the chair.
Neko shrugs. “I have outwitted myself yet again.” She follows Hanako to the sofa and coffee table, and begins heating a pot of water. Presumably this is for tea or instant coffee, but even hot water would be pleasant.
“The rig is warm,” Hisao announces. “I wonder if he was here, got bored, and left.” After scanning through one band and then another, he gives an update. “Six and ten are pretty well closed right now, so I guess I’ll find something amusing and put it on speaker until you want to make your call.” His choice of ‘amusing’ turns out to be wiseguys ragchewing on two meters.
Something one of them says makes Neko snort, but it makes no sense to Hanako and doesn’t seem to have been meaningful to Hisao either. The voice seems familiar though.
“The bloody idiot,” Neko comments. “He’s probably freezing his bollocks off in his car when he could be inside and warm.”
“There’s no rig in the house,” Hisao points out.
“I don’t know who he’s talking to, but I’m sure they could just as easily do this by phone.”
“Who?” Hanako looks at the other two alternately.
Meanwhile, Neko pulls a metal tin from beneath the table which contains various drinks that can be made with hot water. “Joji. Maybe he got tired of bartending. It can be difficult telling my mother she’s had enough, especially when she’s old enough to be his mother too.”
“Maybe he’s out getting more supplies,” Hisao offers. “You know, for the ongoing pity party.”
“That’s probably what he said he was doing. I bet he’s just taking the time to regroup. I almost feel bad for throwing him to the dingoes like that. Almost.”
Hisao reaches across the table and squeezes Neko’s knee rather than interfering with her drink preparations. “I, for one, am glad you moved back here. I think you are too, even if the relative importance of the reasons varies somewhat.”
Hanako rises to her feet. “I need to make that c-call.”
“No, love, we’ll move to the desk and give you your space,” Neko declares. “It wouldn’t be right to make you stand in the cold for no good reason. Just let me finish making the hot chocolate.” She quickly pours a packet into each of three cups, covers it with hot water, and drops in stir sticks. The stirring itself can wait, as she pushes a cup to Hisao, then another to Hanako, and stands up herself. Hisao grabs a folding chair on his way back to the desk with her, where they set up with two pairs of headphones for a quiet room.
“«Good morning, darling.»” Akira’s voice rolls from the phone, followed by a long exhale. As usual, her words seem to be oblivious to time zones even though her actions indicate otherwise.
“«Aren’t you working today?»”
“«Sure, but I’ll be sober by lunch and I don’t have any meetings until then. You got my package, I take it.»”
“«Y-yes, and I caught up with the messenger.»”
“«Oh! Then I suppose you already know why I left that warning. I couldn’t come right out and say what was in there, for obvious reasons. Oh, Papa says hello.»”
His voice comes out of the background. “«I could have said it myself!»”
“«Won’t Aunt May be d-dishonored or something? By b-buying from her rival, that is.»”
“«If we’re lucky.»” Akira chuckles. “«Since I can’t make her fuck off and die any sooner, I reckon I can at least take the piss.»”
Whoa. I knew you felt this way, but to say so in front of your Papa…
“«In any event,»” Akira continues, “«we do have to get a little bit done before my noon meeting, so I can’t really talk now. Enjoy your chocolates in moderation, and you can get me something for White Day. We’ll be back by then.»”
It isn’t just Neko and Hisao who notice when Hanako squeals in delight – the whole building probably hears it – but they also get to watch as she gets up and does a little dance of joy before consuming the first of her magical chocolates.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 10a (20170417)
Posted: Mon Apr 17, 2017 6:43 am
The note tucked under the base of the microphone is a mere three words long, but the origin, targets, and meaning are all quite clear. ‘Bed checks tonight.’ Hisao leaves it in its place, reckoning Neko might want to see it in its original state when she arrives. Unlike his own classes, hers are still being strict on release times, meaning he often has a three to five minute head start on her, and anyone else in the Radio Club (except Hanako, who has yet to rush to the top).
Having the head start, he flips straight to two meters and scans for activity. We’re probably going to end up at the ranch, he surmises, so I might as well seek out information they’re willing to leak. However, there is no sign of Jōji, and he heads back to six meters to CQ.
“Holy balls it’s cold,” Neko complains when she arrives.
“And you’re homeless for the night,” he replies.
Hisao beckons her over, then points at the note which she plucks so quickly the corner stays behind.
“I’m willing to couch-surf with you,” he offers. “I gather the important point is that you not be caught in my room tonight, and it doesn’t really matter if they find me or not. Abe can be in his technically correct place if he so desires.”
“Not bloody likely on a Saturday,” she says with a shake of the head before wadding the note up and firing it accurately into the waste bin a couple meters away. “I’ve got to find out whose idea this was. This would be the first bed check in almost two years, at least. I don’t rightly know what they did before I got here, but I’d wager it didn’t happen much then either.” She picks up the handset to the landline on the desk and punches in a number before holding it to her ear. “What’s all this about?”
Hisao can hear tinny speech at the other end, but can’t make out exactly what is being said until he turns down the volume on the radio.
It’s El Jefe. “…a concerned parent, backed by Miyagi. Or maybe it’s just Miyagi inventing an ‘anonymous tip’. Either way, I couldn’t reasonably refuse a request to do my job, even if it amounts to locking the barn after the horses are long gone. More than that, I am not at liberty to discuss.”
“You won’t have to worry about us,” Neko states with more than a bit of an attitude.
“I will have to let myself in, of course. Otherwise everyone caught out would just hide.”
It’s Neko’s turn to mimic Molly and her iconic catchphrase. “«Do the necessary.»” After hanging up, she turns back to Hisao and gestures at the radio. “Anything worth sticking around for?”
“I don’t know, I had just settled in myself.”
“Mmm. I’ll let Mum know to expect us.”
This time he leaves the radio muted to better hear the other end of the conversation, but Neko paces impatiently, causing her own phone to be well out of his hearing range much of the time. It seems to go to the answering service. “We’re coming up for the weekend,” she says with a large sigh, “and I was hoping you’d be there, or someone would, to rein in the dogs before we… Oh, hi Jōji.” She pauses. “Someone called in the morality police, but we got advance warning and would rather be somewhere else when it all goes down.” She pauses again. “Oh! I guess that means it’s not personal. Should we get…” She pauses again. “Right then. We’ll just pack and head up.”
“What was all that about?”
“There’s going to be a bit of a crowd – enough that they’re having trays sent up, including your favorite. We aren’t the only ones who got that warning. Suits me, we might as well head up while it’s still above freezing. Barely. Do you want to caravan with Suzu and Abe?”
Hisao raises an eyebrow. “In which car?”
“None, we have to ride if we want to stay tomorrow night. Mum’s not running a taxi service any longer. That’s why we might as well move soonish.”
Unable to find a flaw in this logic, Hisao switches off the rig and they head toward the room to pack. Along the way, Neko calls Abe and confirms they would indeed like to travel in a single pack – all five of them.
“Five?” Hisao asks quizzically. “Who’s the fifth?”
“Hanako. Suzu invited her, and I’m sure as shit not going to tell her no. I didn’t figure you would mind either.”
It takes but a few minutes to prepare, as they’ve both done it enough times, but they elect to wait on the message rather than stand around in the cold. As they are waiting, Neko opts to empty the contents of the safe into her bag. “El Jefe did say he would let himself in.”
“Into your safe? Even I don’t know how to open that.” By choice.
“Why take chances? It’s Mum’s money, I might as well hand it over.”
And quite a lot of it, too! He quickly eyeballs the cash as it gets packed away. If that’s all 10,000 yen notes, there’s enough there to buy a new car. He says nothing, but she catches him watching.
“She asked me to store it. I didn’t ask why.”
“Because you don’t want to know, or because she wouldn’t tell you anyhow?”
“Both.” Neko zips the bag just as her phone chimes with an incoming message. “They’re ready.”
The pace is leisurely, so nobody in their little peloton feels put upon, but it quickly becomes apparent that Neko is worse than useless at the front of the line, at least into the headwind they face today. She sits far too low to block a meaningful amount of wind for the riders behind, and tends to be the straggler as it is. She’s only out there for twenty or thirty seconds before Suzu makes the pass and lets her drop to the back.
“Leech!” Abe playfully shouts as they pass.
The ride is mercifully short, and Jōji is waiting in the guard shack, watching them climb the driveway. He opens the gate a couple meters and closes it again behind them, but does not follow them up. What’s he waiting for? They’re still getting their packs unhitched when the familiar Daihatsu rolls up the driveway, requiring the gate to be opened yet again. Ah, that.
As the car rolls to a stop in front of the house, the driver requests help from his passengers. “Come on, you said you’d help carry this in.”
Rika steps out gingerly, as if she was expecting thin ice or something similar. “I have a better idea. Wait here just a moment.” As she passes Neko on the way into the house, she declares ‘dibs’.
“No way,” Neko replies. “I have plans for that bedroom.”
“So do I,” Rika retorts, hooking a thumb over her shoulder to where the boyfriend-of-the-month waits with the restaurant employee for her return.
As the riders enter the house themselves, they can hear Rika headed out the back. When she walks through the front door for the second time, she selects her help. “You, you, and you.” She points at Abe, Suzu, and Hisao. “Grab a tray.” She picks one from the cart parked just outside the door and heads for the kitchen, the driver and her lost puppy of a companion hot on her heels with another tray apiece.
At least she’s leading by example, and I suppose someone has to do it. Hisao drops his packs at the base of the sofa and does as instructed. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
Neko follows close behind and whispers in his ear. “Are you going to let her boss you around?” She does not wait for an answer, instead peeling off to the bedroom to place her packs first.
Once he has delivered the tray, he takes a moment to remove his gloves and pick up his packs and set them alongside Neko’s on the waterbed. She is still inside, rearranging the decor, so he closes the door behind him. “Not as such, but I’m hungry. It’s not like she was standing around giving orders. She was leading from the front.”
“You’d best back me up on the room claim, because if we don’t get one to ourselves, «no soup for you». In case you hadn’t noticed, we are three couples and a single.”
When the two of them make the trip back to the kitchen together, the trays are being uncovered, Jōji has decided to come in from the cold, and Sally stands in the doorway to her restroom, watching.
“I have already staked my claim,” Neko states confidently, “and I don’t think it’s in dispute. Look in the closet and see whose clothes fill it. You got it the last time because stairs, but you can deal with them now.”
“Tell you what,” Rika responds with the arrogance dialed up to eleven. “You pick a contest, winner gets the room.”
Neko thinks for a second or two before grinning in a most disturbing way. “You’re on.” She holds out her hand for a shake and waits until she gets it to lay out the rest. “Pick any bike you want except mine. First one to the gates of the school and back, wins.”
What little color Rika’s face held to start with now blanches out of it. “I, uh… doctor’s orders, can’t do that. You’ll have to pick something else.”
“You could swim for it,” Hisao chimes in, then immediately feels guilty because Rika looks like she might actually chunder at the notion. Still, he persists. “You’re allowed to do that, right? I’ll be there to fish you out, just like last time.”
“Ganging up on me now, are you? At least give me a third option.”
Neko’s grin achieves Cheshire Cat proportions as she holds out her carbon fiber arm and raps her knuckles on it. “Rugburn contest. You can even go first.”
Katayama’s eyes go to Sally, watching from the periphery.
“Don’t look at me that way,” Sally lectures. “It was your stupid proposal, and you have to live with it. You can have the entire guest room to yourselves though.” Turning to Hanako, she softens her tone. “You can have the office. You’ve slept on that sofa before, although it was in Kat’s room at the time.”
Hanako nods. “That will be g-good.”
Due to the sheer size of the group and the quantity of food on offer, the kitchen table has to be pressed into service holding plates, utensils, beverages, and condiments, leaving all concerned to either use the dining room or wander away from the pack. Sally takes up her spot at the head of the table as she usually does, with Jōji directly to her right, and Neko, Hisao, and Hanako to his right in turn. Rika takes a place directly opposite Sally, as if to make a power play once again. Sadaharu, her current squeeze, sits to her right, more than a little bit intimidated by the company he finds himself in, followed by Abe and ending up with Suzu at Sally’s left.
Sally speaks up, addressing her protégé at the opposite end of the table. “Katayama, who would you say is the smartest person at this table?”
She doesn’t flinch. “You, of course.”
Sally nearly falls out of her chair with laughter. “Now is not the time for brown-nosing. That comes later. I didn’t say wisest, or most experienced, or even the most competent. I said smartest.”
“Oh.” Rika gives it more thought this time, and nods as she catches where this might be going. “I suppose you want me to say it’s Neko.”
“I don’t care if you say it,” Sally accentuates with a point, “but I want you to believe it, because it’s true. It’s a pretty safe wager that she’s the smartest person in the room, no matter who else it has in it. And if she’s not, grab some popcorn, because you’re about to get a show. Challenging her to a battle of wits is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. The only way you can win is if you set the rules. That’s why you’re sleeping upstairs tonight. Consider it a cheap lesson. Even if you do have someone covered, why offer them any advantage at all? The first step in getting the best of anyone is to make them play your game, not the other way around. It is better still if they don’t realize they’re playing a game at all. Nobody wants to join your private game of Calvinball.”
She’s absolutely right on both points. The easiest way to outsmart Neko is to make her do it herself, and the easiest way to win a game is to not tell the other party they’re playing one. Even if they figure it out, it’s still your game. The fifteen-watt light bulb over his head starts to glow dimly. How long have I been playing your game, Sally? No, better question – what exactly is your game, as far as I’m concerned?
At least he knows who he’s dealing with.
«Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name,
But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.»
After a solid break-off shot which also sees the cue ball safely blocked by the green, Suzu attempts to nestle up to the pack off the cushion to her right but catches the pink instead.
“Foul,” Hanako declares, “and a m-miss.” She credits herself six points on the whiteboard, and leans over the table to put the pink back on its spot.
“A miss?” Suzu chirps. “Seriously? We’re playing with a miss rule?”
“Y-you have an easier shot that you r-refused.” Hanako pulls her hand away before touching the pink, and points out that the loose red to the left of the pack was visible. Attempting to play it likely would have pushed it over the corner for an easy starter, but it still qualifies as an easier shot.
“Damn, that’s harsh.” Nonetheless, Suzu takes the cue ball and positions it where it was before the shot as best she can remember.
Hanako eyeballs the line from behind the loose red and gestures that the cue ball needs to be moved a smidge to her right. “Y-you couldn’t see the p-potting angle before.”
“It doesn’t matter, I’m going to attempt the same shot again.” She moves the cue ball slightly anyhow. Although she sends it a centimeter further down the cushion, it somehow ends up exactly like the first attempt, only harder, cannoning a couple reds and driving the pink half a meter off its spot.
“Foul,” Hanako states as she inspects the position for a few seconds before starting to put the balls back. “And a miss.” She places the cue ball herself, and credits herself another six points once this is complete. “Another miss on the s-same shot loses the f-frame.”
“Well then,” Suzu says in mock surprise, “I guess I’ll play the other. I’m getting a strange bounce off the cushion.”
Hanako nods. This table has seen better days. The cloth is worn in places and slow everywhere else, and the cushions aren’t true. Easy pockets, though.
Suzu plays on the loose red with dead weight, hoping to catch it quite thin and push it safe rather than over the corner. Instead, the cue ball visibly drifts to the left and misses again.
“Foul, and a miss.” Hanako rolls the cue ball back slowly before crediting herself another four points. It seems to run true on the return trip.
“You’re enjoying this,” Suzu gripes.
“N-no, it’s not f-fun for either of us when the table is «pants».”
“I have to play a swerve, I can’t trust it to hold the line dead weight.” She gives it a good whack this time, likely expecting to drive the red off the top cushion and wanting it to run safe. Instead, it squirts straight into the pocket, and the left hand leaves her in position on the black. Suzu looks a bit bemused, but does not apologize. “One.”
I might have believed you meant to do that, if it had been your first choice. Still, flukes and slop count in this game. Hanako takes a seat at the rail of the balcony, but is soon back at the table as Suzu fails to gain position on any reds when she cannons into the pack off the black and is forced to play safe.
This is no time to panic, you’re ten points up without potting a ball, she thinks as the safety battle commences. Unfortunately, she simply hasn’t had the time at the table to work on this aspect of her game like Suzu has. It is readily evident that she stands to lose this sort of tactical battle – and she does, when she catches the blue on her third such shot and leaves the cue ball in the center of the table.
Suzu is off of her high stool fast enough to shake the floor when she lands, and has potted a red within ten seconds, screwing back to finish off the blue and get it back on its spot.
If I get in again, I have to push the boat out or I don’t stand a chance. Suzu realizes this as well, and refuses to take on a difficult black when she runs out of position. She’s not intimidated by me, but I can’t say the reverse is true.
“Green ball,” Suzu declares before driving it safe and snookering Hanako behind the brown.
After a lap around the table, the only escape that doesn’t look to yield a likely clearance is to play off four cushions and roll up on two reds to the left of the black spot. If she tries to roll up anywhere else, something will be left on. She is forced to place the rest on top of the spider to cue over the brown, and she holds her breath as she watches the ball run around the table. If the ball is skidding on one cushion shots, then expecting a four cushion shot to do even remotely what it should is a big ask, but there are no better options. Much to her surprise, it holds its line but carries far too much pace, catching both reds and driving one to the side cushion and the other toward the center pocket.
Suzu taps the table with her cue as she steps back up. “Good eye. I didn’t even see that escape.”
Fat lot of good it did me, I left you an easy starter. Indeed, Suzu pots it and has position on the green. She groans when she rams the green home with left-hand run-through taking her safely through baulk, yet still fails to get on any easy reds, until she spots a plant that leaves her on pink to the center and gets her off and running again. She comes up short of the half-century, but has the frame safely in hand just the same. “Again?” she asks when Hanako declines to come back to the table, but receives a moment’s hesitation and a shake of the head. “Suits me, might as well stop when we’re even. If we’re gonna trust to luck, we might as well play a game that’s designed with that in mind.” After pulling the remaining balls into pockets, she retrieves the poker chip case. “Let’s get this party started.”
Neko pulls numbered container after numbered container out of the cubbyholes, smelling each one until her eyes start to cross, but still can’t identify the one she wants. She uses the intercom, knowing Jōji is just beginning preparations for dinner, with a bit of guidance from Hanako – the catered leftovers will be saved for tomorrow, but tonight is his first major test.
“Customer service in the wine department,” she calls out.
If he’s doing something sensitive or has his hands full, he’ll ignore the call until he can break free, but he answers quickly. “What can I do you for?”
“I can’t find the sativa,” she complains. “Everything smells like indica, and it’s too early to zombify everyone.”
“Oh. Yeah. Give me a minute.”
While waiting, she takes note of the areas already searched so that she can point them out. The door atop the stairs slides open in its ominous yet amazingly subtle way, and she hears the footsteps.
“Is that where you were looking?” It’s Jōji.
“Yeah. Isn’t that where we keep the stock? It was a month ago.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry you weren’t told. Your Mum bought out a rival. It was her idea of an anti-depressant after she got the news.” He counts the boxes. “You didn’t actually take anything from those boxes, did you? If you did, I’ll have to weigh them all again. Those are outgoing orders.”
Neko recoils a bit before shaking her head to indicate the outgoing packages were unchanged. “The stakes have gone up. Those are distribution quantities.”
“Indeed. Your Mum figures she’ll have someone to assign this to in a bit more than a year, so she was willing to take the extra market share when it proved available. It’s not all gravy, though. Volume might triple, but revenues don’t. Anyhow, you were looking for…” His voice trails off awkwardly.
“Sativa. You know, we have sativa, indica, and hybrids?”
“Oh. Sorry, I’ve helped weigh and pack a bunch, but still hardly know anything about it. I know the kinds by name, and noticed they do smell different, but I couldn’t tell you which is which. Umm, here.” He walks to a cubby on the wall to the left and pulls out a laminated card containing numbers and names, both of the strain and of its origin. It also does not break out the categories.
She searches for Frosty Tree and finds it as entry #63. “Is there any logic to the numbers other than matching them to this card? And does this have anything to do with your ‘Accounts Receivable’ activity?”
“Not that I am aware of, and yes. We inherited the classification system along with the business. We needed old debts paid so we could pay the ransom.”
“So you’re going to need a test subject or two, to help classify them all, right?” She gives him a double nudge with her elbow.
“You’ll have to talk with your Mum about that. I don’t use it. I barely have time to drink as it is.” He nudges back with his elbow.
At least you’re happy with the benefits package.
Back from the cellar, Neko prepares the Bento style ‘party tray’, which contains two water pipes, several ordinary pipes, three small cubbies for holding materials, and a rolling mat. Either it is a custom job, or the pipes were chosen to fit it, because it’s a perfect match – nothing rattles and nothing falls out. It’s a weed ceremony. At first she chuckles, then she realizes that might be right. This may have been a ceremonial tray from the prior owner.
She gets a cheer from the group assembling at the kitchen table for poker. “Be gentle,” she admonishes. “This may be worth something.”
Sally’s hands may tremble, but her ears are still sharp as she enters from the hallway. “Damn right it is. If anything happens to that, I’ll have to commission another for ceremonies. Who knows how many that has done? Even old man Okita inherited it.”
Neko pulls out a water pipe and looks it over. “It doesn’t look that old.”
“Oh, no, not the hardware,” Sally says with a wave-off. “That’s replaceable. Just the tray itself.”
“Can I talk to you a moment, Mum?” Neko tips her head slightly toward the office.
“Sure you can, after I get a cup of coffee.” Sally pumps for herself, but Neko notices she is using a considerably larger cup than she used to, and taking the same amount as before. It only fills about two-thirds of the current container. “Let’s go.”
Behind closed doors, Sally mixes in milk and sugar but takes up her usual position behind the desk. Neko’s bedroom sofa is more comfortable than the old one, but also softer, so she has an even harder time seeing over the desk than usual. Instead she stands.
“I know I didn’t ask,” Neko starts, “but you told me to use my own head. El Jefe and crew have to actually enter rooms to check them, whether the tenants are there or not, so I brought the cash back with me. It’s in the upper right drawer of the waterbed.”
Sally nods. “Move it to the cellar when we get done here. I wish you had left some behind, but you did pretty well for guessing.”
“So there would be something to steal. Now we won’t know if someone tries.”
“Why did you have me holding it, anyhow? Something to do with this latest merger?”
Sally nods. “We wanted something more accessible than a bank if the price went up in negotiation, but we also didn’t want it here. In your safe, Okita’s boys couldn’t see it, didn’t know we had it.”
Neko nods, relieved that the reasons for a few million yen in cash were fairly innocuous. “The deal had to have cost you much more than that, though.”
“Sure. We just wanted a little cushion in case they wanted to add fees and surcharges and the like – and having you deliver it would have made the point that we could just make a call and more money would be on the way, if this were simply a down payment. I was planning on asking for it back in the next few days to pay the punters, and today is as good as any. Is that why you wanted to talk?”
“A lot of it, yeah. But I also wanted to ask if you need testers to sort through all these strains and tell them apart. Do you?”
“Yeah, maybe. We’re still dealing with merely catching up to existing orders, but it would be nice to have a bit more structure to build on. We pretty much just got their local dealer network, their inventory, and their market presence. Everything else is ours to figure out.”
“Let me know who to tap for assistance. I’m thinking mostly third-years, no tests to worry about right now.”
“Pick people who can tolerate Katayama. She’s really the one that needs to learn this shit, so she’ll be there to hear it all, and maybe to participate as well.”
“About Rika,” Neko remembers suddenly, “don’t you think her head is getting a little swollen?”
“Were you at lunch, or was I hallucinating? You think I’d call her out in public if she didn’t need it?”
Neko nods knowingly. “You might still want to talk to her. She’s fuming at Hisao right now, though she denies it.”
Sally chuckles. “What did he do?”
“All he said to me was ‘is it too late to throw her back?’ She didn’t take too kindly to that. She needs to learn the distinction between a joke and a threat.” It wouldn’t hurt to learn how not to be a cunt, but it may be too late for her.
“He does use that incident for leverage a whole lot.” Sally accompanies this with a sheepish shrug. “Then again, she probably deserved it.”
“She did. Look, she doesn’t have to like him, or me for that matter, just respect us. He has pulled her skinny arse out of the fire twice. She sure has gotten a sense of entitlement since then.”
“Hard shell, soft core. It’s still paper-thin, too. And you’re right, she assumes people will do what she says just because she’s carrying out what I say. Be ready to be her advocate when I ream her out later. I assume you can do that, be a Devil’s Advocate?” When Neko hesitates, Sally points out, “You’ve been doing it for me forever. I’m not asking you to lie, just cherry-pick the truth and find nice things to say. Practice your diplomacy.”
Neko decides to start immediately on the recruiting, though the diplomacy can wait a bit. She pockets several cheap pens and grabs a stack of sticky notes off the desk on the way out, then heads straight for the refrigerator message board and begins writing.
Smoothness (start): 1 to 5
Smoothness (end): 1 to 5
Head Effects: 1 to 5
Body Effects: 1 to 5
She addresses the group sitting around the kitchen table. “Congratulations, you’re all reviewers now.” She backhand tosses the sticky notes to a surprised Hanako, and the pens to whoever appears to be paying attention, then continues. “Please rate what you smoke. We don’t want your name, and we don’t need an essay, just four numbers. How pleasant – or not – is the smoke at the beginning and the end of the bowl, and what does it feel like. A head high is energetic and makes you think a lot, probably talk a lot too. A body high feels good but tends to produce couch potatoes. As you can see, this is strain 63. Include that somewhere or your review is meaningless.”
Hanako looks at the sticky notes in her hands. “There will be m-more?”
“Many,” Neko confirms. “I’ll be happy to tell you what everything was after the fact, but I don’t want it influencing your ratings now. Be honest. If you don’t like something, say so. Right now, let me through for a test. Where’s Katayama? She’s missing the party.”
Abe replies, “Upstairs,” as Hanako points a thumb at the ceiling. Suzu is less restrained, pointing her thumb at her own mouth while distending a cheek with her tongue.
At least she won’t get into trouble again that way. “If she and what’s-his-face come down for a smoke, make sure they leave reviews too.”
(To be continued next post)
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 10b (2017501)
Posted: Mon May 01, 2017 5:25 pm
(continued from previous post)
Hisao hears the door slide open and close again, but as he is in the habit of breathing with his head turned to the left, he can only guess who it is until he spots the familiar aluminum leg. He continues swimming, intending to wait until the timer alerts him to stop, but he seems to be having more difficulty than usual. Stealing a glance at the timer, he sees that it is under a minute and decides that’s close enough.
Neko cuts the flow back to a trickle once he floats out of the stream, and her goofy grin suggests she had been toying with him again – no doubt slowly increasing the speed of the water to see how long he’d persist. “Not bad, darling,” she tells him. “Almost enough to keep up with me!”
“That’ll be the day, me catching the mermaid.”
“It’s only fair. It’s not like you have any difficulty catching me on land.” She gestures back toward the kitchen. “You should try some of the goods inside, which I came to tell you about. The pool will still be here when you’re done.”
“I already had some chocolates, and they’re taking hold. I’d rather not be in a complete fog.”
“What they have right now won’t put you in a fog. I chose it for that specific reason.”
Hisao shrugs. “Set some aside for me, would you? I’ve missed two workouts this week, so I should probably get back to it.”
The shrug is returned. “As you wish.” She heads back through the sliding door.
“Is he coming?” That sounds like Abe.
“Nah, he’s too busy being good.” Neko closes the door behind her, and even if anything further were to be audible through the glass, the pump would obscure it as he dials the current back to where it was – plus a little bit.
He is into his second three-minute session when he hears the door slide open again. Whoever it is this time, they don’t walk around the pool to reveal themselves, so he continues until the timer runs out.
“My turn,” Sally declares, sitting on the edge before sliding in alongside him. “She won’t let me race her, so I’ll have to do the next best thing and race you.” Since the controls have not yet been touched, she faces exactly the same current he just did, but without the benefit of warming up. She manages just the same, and for a minute or so he pretends to be watching her form. Really, he’s staring at her heavily inked back, which she has chosen to reveal in a tie-up one piece bathing suit. Soon after, she tires and falls back. “You kids are crazy. If that’s your pace, I’m glad she never let me race her.”
“It’s only my pace for three minutes at a time,” he offers sheepishly. “I was stepping it up to finish sooner, since it seemed like I was missed.”
“No worries,” a bikini-clad Neko says as she sets a floating table in the middle of the hot tub before ducking under the water to tether it to the bottom. When she pops up again, she continues. “If you don’t feel like coming to the party, we’ll bring the party to you.”
As if on cue, Abe shows up with a portable sound system, and Suzu follows with a shallow box with the goods. Both are dressed for water and carrying towels.
“Where’s Hanako?” Hisao inquires. While he wouldn’t expect her to join them in the water, he also doesn’t want her left to deal with Katayama and company on her own.
“She’s helping with dinner preparations,” Neko answers before turning the jets on. “Wanna warm up between laps? It’s not fully up to snuff yet, but it’s passable.”
He looks over his shoulder to find Sally has turned the current down and is swimming along at a more leisurely pace. “Yeah, sure.” He climbs over the divider, inadvertently turning the jets up full blast as he bumps the controls.
Neko jumps at the change. “Woo! I’m glad you’re the one that did that.”
“I didn’t make you position yourself to enjoy it. I’m glad you did, though. Is it really necessary to make dinner, considering how much we have left over from lunch?”
Neko taps two fingers to the end of her short arm as if touching a watch. “It’s the right time of day. Jōji already scheduled for it, though he didn’t reckon on cooking for nine. That’s why he appreciates having some help. The leftovers will taste as good tomorrow as they would tonight. Maybe better, when we’re not tired of them.”
“Fair enough. What are they making?”
“I don’t know. They were still discussing options when we came out here.” Neko turns her attention to her Mum, who has stopped swimming. “You’re showing.”
“I know,” Sally acknowledges. “I only had one clean full-cover one-piece left, and if wearing this is the cost of lending that one out, then I’ll pay it. It’s not like anyone here is that surprised, right?”
I was! Not because of what it means – let’s face it, we all knew that – but because there’s just so much of it. Wait, who would need to borrow your other one piece?
“So you think she’ll actually go for it?” Neko asks.
Sally shrugs. “It’s worth a shot. The other two are playing games upstairs, and I’ll leave the hot tub to you. Once they get everything in the oven and there’s nothing left but to wait, maybe she’ll turn up.” She returns to her low-intensity swimming and is in the flow when the door slides open again perhaps twenty minutes later.
Hanako stands in a blue one piece swimsuit with two towels – one draped over her shoulders and arms, and the other held as usual. For a moment she stands at the threshold as if it were a point of no return, then takes a deep breath and steps into the pool room. As she makes her way around the bodies of water, she tosses one towel onto a nearby chair but brings the other with her all the way into the water.
Hisao feels bad for her, but knows there is probably nothing he can say that will alleviate her anxiety. The towel must be an improvised substitute for long sleeves. Maybe she’ll cast it aside once she gets in the water. He also notices she fills out the swimsuit considerably better than its owner would, but again is powerless to remark on it, so he steers conversation somewhere safe. “So what were you making in there?”
“A p-prosciutto and cheese log, and some other appetizers,” she answers, pulling the soaked towel even tighter around her as she tries to find a comfortable position. The hot tub is made to seat six, so there is a place for her, but the way she keeps an arm – the left, with no scars – out of the water leaves her in an awkward pose.
“Is the water too hot for you?” Neko asks with concern. “It’s still not fully up to the set point, so if I need to dial it back, let me know.”
“N-no, I should be f-fine with ev-ep-...” Hanako closes her eyes and holds up her index finger, tapping herself on the forehead five times, each one firmer than the last as if she were reciting a mantra in her mind. “Evaporative cooling.”
Neko snaps her fingers. “We can do better than that.” She squirms out of her seat and hip-bumps Hisao to move into the one Hanako currently occupies, at the edge furthest from the pool. “Take my spot and you can splash yourself or dunk your arm into cool water. Also, the barrier is a bit lower than the deck so it should be easier to lean on.”
“I don’t w-want to take your p-place.”
“Bollocks,” Neko says with a dismissive wave. “We all sit in the same water, and the seats are all equipped more or less the same. You’ll have to fight Abe for the controls though, they’ll be right at both your fingertips.” She takes on a conspiratorial tone as she lowers her voice and points. “There’s even an option to send some of the hot water to the pool side, if you ever want to make someone think they’ve lost bladder control.”
This gets an embarrassed giggle in response. “I w-wouldn’t do that!”
Suzu grins and points her thumb at Abe. “Why not? He did it to me.” Abe confirms this with an utterly futile attempt to look anywhere else but at the girls, or the controls. “There’s probably nobody here that doesn’t know about it though, now that we’ve told you.”
Neko has her own evil grin. “I don’t think we’ve told Katayama.”
Suzu snorts. “Good luck getting her in the cold water. I don’t think she has tried to swim since the… the last time.” Everyone nods because they know exactly what went down the last time. Even those who were not there personally have heard the accounts from several witnesses. “If she can’t exit the water by merely standing up, she starts to have a panic attack, so the pool is right out. This side is good though.”
“At least she goes in the water,” Hisao reflects. “Having a fear of getting stuck there is a rational one, when you think about it – and believe me, I do think about it – so I can’t exactly begrudge her that.”
“You swim alone all the time,” Neko points out, “and even Nurse doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.”
“Exactly. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, because he knows I won’t be within shouting distance of assistance my entire life. I never really had time to internalize it. She still has another year to figure out life without a safety net.”
“The only safety net she needs,” Suzu says with more than a bit of snark, “would be under the trees outside the boys’ dorm. How did she ever come to be a friend of yours anyhow?”
Neko looks around a bit before breaking into her own snark. “Oh, you’re asking me? I wouldn’t call her a friend, but more of a stray that followed me home. We hauled her out of the pool because it needed doing, without regard to whether we actually like her. Then we visited in the hospital because it seemed the right thing. Beyond that…” She hooks a finger toward her mother, who is between laps. “On her head be it.”
“And I’m glad I took her on,” Sally chimes in from the pool, “what with you passing the torch early and all. I know how to socialize a feral child. I’ve done it before. Oh, not you. You never had a problem socializing. If anything, we had a hard time getting you to shut up. Still, some of the other kids did, and we had to deal with it.”
“That’s doubtlessly true,” Neko points out, “but why would you choose to take on a problem?”
Sally’s smile says you just don’t get it. “What I can make, I can unmake.”
In that case, it seems you two deserve each other.
“Ah, this is the song I was telling you about, the one Jacob was so fond of,” Neko says with a half-hearted attempt to free her hand to wave. She smiles, wondering how well Hisao can understand Strine, but she’ll have to pick another song to test him with, as he seems to know this one.
“Yes, I found it on Youtube after the last time you mentioned it.” He has done his homework, as he joins in on the chorus:
«Do you fuck on first dates? Does your dad own a brewery?
Can I feel your tits, or would you show ‘em to me?»
He doesn’t finish the rest of the chorus, rather giving Neko two squeezes and asking, “So, did you?”
Neko bobs and weaves with her shoulders, causing the bed to roll in waves. “The first? No, I wanted to make him wait for that, and then Mum cockblocked him. We don’t own a brewery, but we move their product.”
“And the other question?”
“No comment.” This causes her to get squeezed again.
The next time around, he whistles the chorus rather than singing it, but still gets in a feel at the appropriate moment.
“You know, darling,” Neko says after a deep sigh, “you just might do alright Down Under after all – unless you fall prey to a drop bear or something.”
“Oh no, I’ll have to put Vegemite behind my ears!”
Cross that particular hazing ritual off the list then. Did Mum tell him about drop bears, or did I? Neko supposes she could have let it slip while stoned, and forgotten all about it.
Apparently the shuffler isn’t done with her Kevin Bloody Wilson folder, as it moves to another track of his. “This one sounds like a keen idea to me.” Neko rocks her head back momentarily rather than attempt to gesture with her arms pinned. “«Stack the fridge and stoke the bong, we’re staying home tonight!»”
“What in the world is going on here?” Miyagi demands to know as the bed check rolls on. “It’s like everybody knew we were coming!”
Momomoto shrugs. “Maybe you just haven’t noticed how many people bail out on weekends. I could have told you, if you had asked. So who are these ‘concerned parents’ requesting this intrusive check?”
“It shouldn’t take any, it’s your job.”
“It is my job to know who is seeing whom. It is my job to keep them safe when they’re here. My authority stops at the front gate. I do the best I can within those limits.”
“Yes, I can see that. You make sure trouble stays outside your bounds, by fair means or foul.”
This brings El Jefe to a halt. “By what criteria? Do you even have the slightest idea what the school actually wants by way of security? Peace and quiet. A low profile. Nobody coming to harm on their watch. I have delivered all of these, and I will continue to do so.”
“Tezuka,” Miyagi spits as if her very name was an accusation.
“Completely out of my hands. Are we going to deny students any activity that has them off campus after curfew? How about after dark, that should make them even safer! I mean, she was with Nomiya at the time. Maybe we should reconsider that whole ‘mentoring’ thing. Let’s surround them all in giant hamster balls so they don’t touch, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t break any rules! It’s not our problem if they have no idea what the world expects of them when they’re done!”
“You’re a dick, you know that?”
“Who knows, maybe I am. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Your pointless fishing expedition is over –”
“– and if you have a shred of self-preservation instinct, I strongly suggest you cease trying to invent problems that aren’t there. The Board is quite fond of shooting the messenger.”
Miyagi’s gaze turns to a squinty stare, as if she could focus deadly rays on him or something. “You think you can threaten me?”
Momomoto rolls his eyes. “I threaten nothing. I’m just telling it the way it is, not the way you wish it could be. If you insist on hunting for trouble, you will find it.”
“Very well, I will take that under advisement.” Miyagi sets off across the quad at a brisk pace.
“Drive safely!” he shouts after her as he lights a cigarette.
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 11 (20170614)
Posted: Thu Jun 15, 2017 2:34 am
The sign on the refrigerator reads ‘All-Hours See-Food Buffet!’ That is, if you can find food, you can eat it. Fortunately, there is plenty left over from the day before, and nobody is complaining or going hungry, though there is a bit of a bottleneck at the microwave.
“Did you know there is another microwave upstairs?” Neko offers as she groggily wanders in, wearing a bathrobe. “Above the mini-bar.”
“There’s a mini-bar upstairs?” Rika asks with interest.
“Don’t get excited, you don’t have the key.”
“Dibs on the oven anyhow!” Rika loads her two plates onto a serving tray and heads for the hallway.
Abe discreetly and lightly steps on Hanako’s toes in case she was considering following, and Neko waits until Rika is presumably out of range. “She’s not getting any more popular, is she?”
“Even if everything you said in her defense last night was true,” Suzu says between sips of coffee, “that doesn’t mean we have to like her.”
“I don’t either. Do lawyers have to like their clients to defend them?” Neko asks rhetorically while shrugging. “Besides, she has all the companionship she wants, if she hasn’t bled him dry. It keeps her out of our way, at least.”
“I don’t think it’s his neck she’s drinking from,” Abe mutters into his coffee mug. If you know what I mean.
Suzu elbows him. “Babe, if you’re gonna make a funny, own it. Don’t act ashamed.”
“Is it a funny if I’m not joking?” This gets more chuckles out of Hanako than the original quip did.
“Is it a funny if I didn’t tell her that the upstairs microwave only heats in one spot?” Neko says with a wink and a raised eyebrow. “We only use it for drinks, and they have to go on the tape mark.” She shrugs. “I must have just spaced on it.” After grabbing a carton of milk from the refrigerator and pinning a coffee mug under her short arm, she heads back down the hallway toward her room with a triumphant grin.
Good thing Miura is an ocean away. This house can barely handle the three heads of Ghidorah. Add Godzilla, and shit be real.
“You brought milk?” Hisao’s voice sounds strained.
“I did, darling.” Neko places the mug on the nightstand and fills it before opening the drawer. Inside are his morning pills, which she places on top. “How are you feeling?”
“Unpleasantly like I’ve been drunk.”
“What’s so unpleasant about that?”
“Ask a glass of water.”
His sense of humor still works. “I’ll heat up some laulau pork over rice for you,” Neko offers. “Maybe the scent of that will get you going.”
“I appreciate it. Just don’t make so much that you won’t eat it if I can’t.”
Believe me, I can finish off any bowl you could start. “I’ll just make one. There’s only one decent microwave anyhow, and it’s popular. But first I’ll set out your pills.” Before she can complete the task, there is a rap at the bedroom door. The second round is more insistent, so she pauses what she is doing to answer it.
It’s Jōji, standing in a posture that makes him look as if he is trying to assert dominance and apologize at the same time. “Are you both alright in there?”
“Relatively so,” Neko says with a shrug. “He feels a bit naff.” She sets out the last three pills and puts the empty bag into the drawer.
“Mmm.” Jōji steps into the room and closes the door behind him. “Fever, nausea, chills, and intestinal pain?”
Hisao groans. “Haven’t checked for fever, but the other three sound spot-on. How did you know?”
“Because her Mum’s got it too. She tasked me with checking on everyone else.”
“As far as I know, Abe, Suzu, Hanako, and Rika were all just fine.” Neko points upward in the direction of the guest bedroom. “Nobody has seen what’s-his-face since yesterday. She could be feeding on his corpse by now, but I hope she would have said something if he needed help.”
“Mmm.” Jōji nods three times. “I will relay this to your Mum, but it doesn’t sound like a foodborne problem. It also wouldn’t be the product sampling. On the other hand, it sounds like there’s some connection.”
“We were in the pool,” Hisao offers. At first he sounds unconvinced, but then he affirms it. “If she had something, I could have picked it up from her then.”
“If that were the case,” Jōji points out, “it would have affected her quite a bit sooner than it affected you. That does not seem to be the case, so it seems more likely you got it at the same time, from the same source.”
“And six of us were in the water but only two are sick,” Neko points out.
“You were sitting in it, yes,” Hisao concedes, “but we were actually submerged.”
“So was I,” Neko points out. “I dove to the bottom of the hot tub to tie down the table.”
“Did you get water in your nose or mouth?”
“No, why would I want to do that?”
“It’s not like I want to,” Hisao objects. “More like I’m not a good enough swimmer to avoid a little bit of it. Excuse me.” He climbs out of the bed rather quickly, apparently unconcerned with being seen in his boxers, before closing himself in the restroom.
“Yup,” Jōji confirms with three more nods. “They’ve got the same thing. Can’t say for certain that’s the link, but unless someone else turns up sick it’s the most plausible one. Keep an ear to the ground for me, would you?”
The sign says POOL’S CLOSED, but it is probably unnecessary. The sight and sound of the water being pumped out the window should make the point clear, and if someone wants to sit in a nearly empty pool or hot tub, there isn’t much point in trying to stop them.
“Couldn’t you have just dumped chlorine in it?” asks Abe as he passes through on his way to move his laundry from washer to dryer.
“Maybe, but the whole house would smell of it, and it would burn the eyes,” Jōji says as he tries to cover the pump with a box to mitigate the noise. “And if you had gotten sick, would you want to trust to chemicals alone or change the water first?”
“So what was in the water, and should you just be pumping it outside like that?”
Cheeky kid, but not a dick about it. That’s probably why Sally likes him. “We’re guessing someone tracked a bit of a horse pile back into this room, and then they or someone else transferred it to the water upon climbing in. We aren’t planning to investigate too deeply, though I did set aside some water samples in case Sally changes her mind. In any event, if that’s where the shit came from, that’s where the shit can go back to.”
“Won’t it just happen again?”
Jōji gives his characteristic triple nod. “It will be nearly impossible to keep such contamination out of the house entirely, so we’ll have to combine a regimen of cleaning both the area around the pool, and the feet of those who enter it, with some increase in the chemicals.” After a wry grin, he continues. “So do you miss your old job now?”
“Sometimes,” Abe admits, “but I don’t mind you getting the new, improved job.”
“You know what’s funny? Your dad originally hired me, not her, and if she hadn’t agreed with him, I’d be working the kitchen at the Shanghai. You gonna take the new offer?”
“What new offer?”
Shit. The kid doesn’t know yet. “You’d better talk to Sally. I think I already fucked this one up.”
That’s enough of a hint. “What would she be asking me to do?”
“Your girlfriend’s current job.”
Abe stops to contemplate a second or two. “Makes sense. Thanks for the heads up, man.”
Well, that could have gone badly, but it didn’t. I think. I need to assume less and ask more. Jōji leaves the pump unattended, and goes to check up on (and check in with) Sally.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, standing just inside the closed bedroom door while his eyes adjust.
Sally groans, “I’ve been worse.”
Well yeah, you caught cholera, then rubella, in the span of a few months and while pregnant. “That’s not very encouraging. Is it doctor time yet?”
“Not for me, but I don’t think I’ll be making that hiring pitch today. Shit, I really don’t want to have Katayama handling everything.”
“I have an idea. What if I talk to him about it and see where he might stand? Nothing concrete, y’know, just the concept.” Please say yes, because I already did.
“Sure, can’t hurt. Would you reload the fridge while you’re here?”
Jōji counts the empties. “Let’s see… three bottles of Calpico and a flask of vodka. I think I can manage that.”
“You’re a dear.”
“So are you.” Until the moment I become a liability rather than an asset. Before restocking, he checks up on Hisao only to find him sound asleep.
“Have you ever felt in danger at your job, like things might get physical?” Abe asks Suzu as they rack for a casual frame upstairs.
“Of course I have. I just leave, or maybe hold my ground until help can arrive. I mean, it’s not like you have to worry about security, and we’ve got bigger guns to send in.”
“And it’s all just moving cash around?”
Suzu nods. “Pick up ten thousand here, a hundred thousand there, maybe deliver similar amounts, but you never see it. It’s all in sealed envelopes.”
“A hundred thousand? High school kids are betting that much?”
“That much? You do know the room we live in costs nearly that a month, right?”
I suppose that puts it in perspective. It still sounds like a lot to me. “I suppose if I decline, I’ll be moved to a cheaper school.” Abe spots the blue and the baulk colors while Suzu delicately spots the pink.
“Maybe, maybe not. There are some tax advantages to sending you to Yamaku. I didn’t really understand them, but it sounds like they might reduce the true cost.”
“So you’ve talked to her about it already?”
“Who do you think recommended you for the job?” Suzu pauses for it to sink in. “I’m not saying you have to take it. I just wanted you to be her first ask.”
Jōji appears from the stairwell. “Ah yes, about that. I’m afraid the talk will have to wait, Sally is rather indisposed. That’s the bad news. The good news is, I’m officially allowed to discuss it with you now.”
“Truth be told,” Abe says with a glance at Jōji before returning his eyes to the table for his break-off shot, “I don’t really have any ties to that school.” After the shot, he waves his cue toward Suzu. “I mean, you won’t be there, Neko won’t be there, my old friends won’t be there. It may as well be a completely new school.”
“You’ll always have Katayama to fall back on,” Jōji offers. He manages to keep a straight face for about three seconds, then raises his eyebrows as he looks toward the guest room.
OK, we won’t laugh too hard at that. Yet. “I certainly don’t mind having the current courier around while we discuss this, so now is as good a time as any.”
“It’s pretty simple,” Jōji begins as he wanders around the table to stay out of the way. “You get an ordinary room there, and her current compensation, and you’re welcome to stay over in her new room here, which happens to look a lot like your old one. You move envelopes with paper in both directions. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s betting slips, and sometimes it’s both. You’ll get her safe, but only for payouts you can’t currently make. Collections are turned in at the restaurant.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It isn’t,” Suzu says with a shrug. “I’ll even leave up your silly Bleach poster.”
“Yeah, but do I have to answer…” Abe points his thumb over his shoulder at the guest bedroom.
Jōji shakes his head. “No. She is strictly involved in moving product. You’ll answer to her.” He nods at Suzu. “And to me, and of course to Sally.”
“And to Dad too, I suppose.”
“Actually, no.” Jōji grins a bit. “He gives our muscle guys cover jobs, but other than security, he’s not involved. You are saving him tuition somewhere, though.”
“But why all the secrecy? Why wouldn’t you want me to know? It’s fine with you,” he says to Suzu, “it’s apparently acceptable to Dad.” He turns to Jōji. “It sounds like you’re in favor. Why all the hush-hush?”
Suzu smiles. “It was best for you. After all, imagine how you would have felt if you had known and she said no.”
“Really? I’d have been alright with that too. She only needs a few people in that school, maybe she already had them, I would have figured. I know better than to take anything she does personally. Besides, she has never taken on a first-year before, has she?”
“Well, Neko,” Suzu points out, “but she’s a bit of an outlier. Apparently so are you.”
Jōji nods. “And she obviously trusts you. She let you cook for her without a tutor, unlike me.”
“Dad’s a pretty good tutor. You got a decent stand-in, but I’m sure he could teach both of you a thing or two.”
“Is that a challenge?” Jōji takes up a kung fu ready posture.
Abe holds his cue like a staff and poses similarly. “Come at me, bro. We’ll Iron Chef against you any day.”
An audible cheer comes from the living room below, but it is not apparent whether this is in reaction to the game Neko and Hanako are playing there.
Jōji stands down and bows. “I humbly accept. Even if I lose, I win. A lesson with him is pretty expensive now, isn’t it?”
Abe returns the bow. “Twenty-five thousand an hour, hardly out of your reach. But he’ll do this one on general principle.”
“I’ll let Sally know – when she feels like eating, that is. Now is probably a shitty time to bring up the idea.”
“That reminds me. If I take the job, I want a promise that I never have to shovel shit again.”
Suzu merely chuckles, but Jōji laughs before he heads down the stairs. “Fear not. That’ll be Junpei’s job.”
“Assuming no change in condition,” Neko asks Jōji the moment he appears, “what are we to do tomorrow morning?”
“Well, I guess I’ll have at least three people to drop off instead of two. Not much I can do about bicycles right now.”
“I might as well leave mine here then as well, so we can ride back together. If you do end up delivering, it’s quite compact.” Neko goes through the approximate motions of folding it.
“I’ll b-bike if they will,” Hanako says, waving her controller toward the loft space.
“They were already planning to, right?” Jōji takes the first of the stairs back up, cranes his neck around the divider, and says “I’ll find out for sure.” He reappears moments later. “Yeah, that was their plan all along.”
Neko needs her teeth to loosen the wristband of the controller. “I should check on sleepyhead.”
Jōji shrugs. “If you like, but I just did. He was snoring.”
“He minds being woken up slightly less when it’s me.” She sets off for her bedroom, by way of the restroom, only to find it locked. Instead, she knocks.
“I’ll be done in a minute,” Hisao shouts through the closed door.
“No hurry, dear. Just checking up.”
Jōji wanders off, as it is more like five minutes before Hisao appears, looking somewhat presentable. He stands and watches the current game activity, waiting for the end of the half-inning.
“Feeling better?” Neko asks. “You certainly look better.”
“Meh.” Hisao makes a juggling motion. “I think I’m dehydrated. Is the See-Food Buffet still in effect? I could use ramen.”
“Yeah. We couldn’t see a point in ordering or cooking.”
He nods. “I’ll take care of it. I need to stretch anyhow.” He walks in front of the large television before they resume the game and disappears down the hallway.
“Where were we?” Hanako asks.
“You were about to throw a fastball right down the middle,” Neko responds with a grin. The gambit works, as Hanako instead puts a curveball over the outside corner which Neko plants in the grandstands in left center field for a walk-off home run. “Woo!” She does a short trot around the room as if running the bases.
“So it w-works.”
“Batting from the left side? Yeah, it does. Took me a few games to sort out, but it was an excellent suggestion. I do get a quicker wrist snap this way. I should make sure he’s finding everything right.” Neko unstraps the controller again, and finds it glistening with dampness.
Hisao is slumped at the kitchen table, waiting on the microwave. He perks up when he senses footsteps coming, and goes back into his slouch once he realizes who it is. “Babe, I think I’m going to recuperate here tomorrow, if that would be alright. I really doubt I’ll be fit for class. I expect to be back in bed in a couple hours, I just couldn’t stay there the entire day.”
“You have enough pills?”
“I have one more set, for exactly this sort of situation. You trained me well.”
“Should I climb over you when it’s my turn to get in bed?”
“That would probably be best. I may still need to move quickly.”
“I’ll let Jōji know, and he can tell Mum.” Neko can see him tending to the pump in the pool room, so she heads there. “Change in plans again.”
Jōji looks up from his pool draining duty. “How so?”
“He wants to rest here tomorrow.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. Thanks for letting me know.”
On the way back to her room, she mimes a smoking gesture to Hisao. “We’ve got two minutes, let’s stimulate your appetite.”
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 12 (20170711)
Posted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 12:33 pm
“Aww,” Neko says, followed by a pout.
“Did you seriously think I’d say yes?” Sally shakes her head. “If this was happening at the school, they wouldn’t let you stay home to play nurse. It’s not happening here either.”
“I’ll be fine, dear,” Hisao reassures, “provided I don’t try to stay upright more than thirty minutes at a time.”
“Watch the coffee intake too,” Sally points out. “It has its own flushing effects.”
“Your bike is already loaded,” Jōji announces.
Neko starts toward the front door. “Don’t get up to too much trouble without me.”
Hisao raises his hand. “«I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.»”
Sally waits the thirty seconds necessary for things to quiet down. “I’m going to hold you to that.”
“«Up to no good.» I’d been hoping for a chance to talk to you, but we’ve both been feeling shitty. It worked out though.”
“Oh? What about?”
Sally can see Hisao go into lockup a bit, holding his breath for a few seconds before restoring his usual calm façade. “You mean Neko and me?”
“If you want to talk about that, but no, that’s not really what I mean at all. I mean, do you want to work for me?”
He takes a long drag from his cup to buy time to think. “In what capacity?”
“Product testing.” She watches his reaction. “No, not personally, although you’re welcome to participate in those when they’re safe for you. I mean in the sense of your chosen career. Chemical analysis. Is it what it says it is? How much is it ‘cut’? Is there anything left over that shouldn’t be?”
Hisao squirms visibly. “I’m not sure I’ll have time. It’s a fair distance from University to here –”
“– which is why you’d be provided a vehicle, whether you wanted to live here or not. And it’s not like you have to work every day. A couple times a week should do. I might ask you to be my Health and Safety department as well, inspecting their lab setups.”
“To make sure they don’t blow themselves up?”
“That would be nice,” Sally concedes, “but more so they don’t botch the goods. Cooking is not generally a job given to the best and brightest – food or product. Over time, I would want you to standardize their setups if you could. You’re not being asked to cook, only to write the cookbook.”
“I see.” He takes another stalling drink. “This is kind of a lot to get my head around right now, you know?”
“Yes, I know. But even if you don’t want the job, maybe you know someone who does, so I figured I had to ask.” And you didn’t recoil in horror.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be able to give you an answer. My plan for the day was to eat a fair amount of magic chocolate and sleep this thing off some more.”
“That’s funny,” Sally says as she rises and heads toward her bedroom. “That was my plan too.”
Neko’s phone vibrates, and she dares to sneak a peek at it with class still in session. ‘I’m back. Brought leftovers. No visitors please.’
No visitors? He has never asked that before, but I can understand. Neko skips the Radio Room and heads straight back after class to find Hisao sound asleep, and his bicycle on the rack. She checks the refrigerator for leftovers but finds nothing more than what she brought this morning. While she is running the tap to wash, Hisao comes out of his coma, or at least stops snoring.
“Hi babe,” she says as she dries off. “I brought no visitors, as requested. You promised leftovers, but I didn’t find any.”
“Hmm?” It seems to take a second or two for him to parse what she said. “There are some in the butter compartment.”
This time she finds what he was talking about. “Magic chocolates? I thought you meant food.”
“Sorry if I was unclear. I’m really high right now.”
“You’re forgiven.” Neko takes two and sits down at the desk to unwrap them. “Have you been feeling any better?”
Hisao laughs weakly. “I don’t know. I’ve been… what’s that phrase Miura used when she was too stoned to move?”
“«Mad faded.» There are worse ways to forget you feel like a dog’s breakfast.”
“I didn’t want to think too much until I could consult with you. Trying to interpret your Mum’s moves was giving me a headache.”
All jocularity in Neko’s voice dries out like a worm caught in the sun. “Oh fuck. What did she do now?”
“You didn’t know she was going to offer me a job?”
“No, I most certainly did not.” But it’s better than the kind of move I thought you were talking about. “What did she offer you?”
“Part-time product tester.”
“Sounds like fun. Why wouldn’t you want to get paid to get high?”
“Not that product, and not the wine either. The other product, and proper analysis, not the Suzuki Method.”
Neko lets out a long, arcing whistle, rising then falling again. “That’s a right sticky wicket.”
“Too right. She caught me with my feet in the shallow end of the vice pool, and now she wants me to swim with the sharks.”
“Yeah.” You know who you’re dealing with, almost as well as I do. “I can’t tell you whether to take it or not, though I probably would.” I also have a higher tolerance for risk than you do. “I guess the devil is in the details. What exactly is on the table?”
“A salary, a car, probably yours, and Ben’s room if I want it, all for the low, low price of two or three evenings a week analyzing samples and correcting procedural errors.”
“I’d recommend declining the room, or you’ll never be able to get out if you change your mind.”
“It would look really strange to my folks too, if they found out I was living with your Mum. Plus, there’s the drive. On the other hand, it keeps a certain someone out of my hair.”
“There has to be a better way to do that.” Neko tosses a water bottle onto an area of the bed that appears vacant. “Remember, I’ll vouch for you – in her presence if need be.”
“It may well come to that. So have you thought about my request?” Hisao’s hand hunts blindly for the water bottle, and he sits up to drink it once located.
“One girl at a time, and no boys? I suppose that’s two requests.”
“I have.” Neko dredges her mind for the right turn of phrase, and finally opts for funny. “I have a request in return.”
“Oh?” He sounds a bit concerned. “Like what?”
“Identical terms. One girl at a time, and no boys. I reckon we should include ‘no oopsies’, both ways.”
It takes a while for Hisao to stop coughing after nearly inhaling his drink. He waves his hand as if fanning himself and shakes the cobwebs out of his skull before breaking into a grin. “Deal.”
Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 13 (20170818)
Posted: Fri Aug 18, 2017 7:22 am
“You’re sure?” Miki asks incredulously, the movement of her arms causing the water in the tub to slosh about noisily. “I leave you two alone for thirty minutes, and this happens?”
Mira nods and snorts a bit as she stares in the mirror, fussing with her hair. “This happens. Is not the first time baby formed on wedding day.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know how that works,” Miki says with a bit of a grimace, “but I didn’t think you had the opportunity. You were with me that night.” As it should have been.
Mira holds up a finger. “Not happen that night. Happen that day. After beer run.”
“I thought Brenda was hanging on your shoulder all day.”
“She locked us in dressing room together and not let us out until we ‘make her a cake.’ Paul argued with closed door, that works as good as you expect. We still locked in, so we ‘make her a cake.’ Only this cake is cousin.”
“I think you mean nephew or niece,” Miki corrects. “Brenda’s kids and yours would be cousins – but no matter. Your story makes sense. I was warned you most likely would have to ‘prove your marriage.’ I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so fast.”
“Me too, would rather have waited. But, we are here.”
Miki shrugs, for lack of a better reaction. At least you’ll finish your schoolwork before the baby comes, and get a diploma out of it. It certainly beats me having the accident. “We are here. I hope you’re not expecting me to babysit.”
“Not much, just little. Brenda, Sam, then you. They already volunteer. Cousins are willing too.”
Sam is a busy man, Brenda and her daughters will be half an hour away, and I’ll be across the hall. No bonus points for guessing who gets stuck with the baby more often than not. I’m sure Sam would tell me it’s practice for my own turn. Externally, Miki merely nods slowly. “We’ll see how that works out. You’re certainly dolling yourself up today.”
“Want to look best for soon grandparents. We tell them today.”
“I think you may be a bit underwhelmed by the response, they’ve been grandparents for years. I could be wrong, but you’ll probably get hugs and dinner, not a big party.”
“Better than tell my own family. I don’t want to talk until I can stand and say ‘I do alright, fuck you very much.’”
“Seems to me you’re pretty close to it now. There’s absolutely nobody you want to tell?”
“Maybe my little brother, if I could. What about you, I am thinking?”
Miki gives a raised eyebrow, but now Mira is brushing her eyelashes and almost certainly misses it. “I certainly hope you’d tell me.”
Mira locks eyes a few seconds later when she is able. “No, that is not what I mean. I mean, if you have surprise baby, who in your family would you call?”
Dad’s dead, so is Maria. My other half-siblings don’t give a fuck. Mother would just berate me about it. Maybe I’d send her an announcement. Maybe. “First, that is not happening.” The ensuing silence becomes awkward, so after a long sigh, Miki continues. “I’d call Sam, because he would need to know, and I trust him not to make a problem worse. Then I guess I’d call Sally myself, before Sam could. They know me better than my own mother does. They care more, too.”
“Would you dress up for them?”
“Pfft! Hell to the no. But that’s me, and them. Have fun, and hit the fan on the way out, would you? I wanna light up.” And buff the muffin.
“I’m going to miss you,” Bartosz sobs, his embrace threatening to crush Akira, who coughs weakly.
“Can’t… breathe…” It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Once released, Akira straightens out her vest and tie. “I will miss you as well, you’re the best. As much as this trip has sucked, you’re the main reason it wasn’t a full-on disaster. And you hug like a bloody Russian bear,” she says with a quick smile.
“Was hoping you wouldn’t leave.”
Yet you knew I would. I personally couldn’t see this country again soon enough… from ten kilometers above.
“We can find a place for you in Japan,” Hiroyuki pleads. “Not instantly, but we could get it done.”
Bartosz shakes his head. They’ve had this discussion before. “I am like a bull in a china shop, and I don’t speak the language. And then, my English, their Engrish…”
“Your English isn’t bad,” Akira reassures him, “the lot of us’ve gone barmy.”
“I only understand half of what you say,” he replies with a shake of the head. Barmy indeed.
“This is excessive, as I’ve insisted all along,” Hisao protests while the workers outside perform their work, oblivious to the discussion taking place indoors.
“From your perspective, perhaps,” Sally argues. “This isn’t for you, after all – you still haven’t confirmed you’ll take the job. It’s for me and my peace of mind. While the idea is ultimately to prevent blowups, I know this may entail causing a few, and now I don’t have to worry about the house or stable being set ablaze.” She shoots a glance at her daughter, who glares back. “Besides, isn’t this much classier than parking an RV out back, Walter White style? We’re a little short on desert.”
“It is a bit posh, in an industrial sort of way,” Neko admits, “and you’ve needed a better place to store hazardous materials than a tool shed for quite some time.”
“It needs to be fit for habitation,” Sally continues. “Although I was slow to admit it, people get tired of watching and waiting for things to happen, and I’d rather have my tech within range to do something if it goes critical – even if he’s napping.”
“I think the loo will see more use than the rest of the building combined,” Neko opines.
Sally nods. “By design. It will hopefully prevent another ‘E. coli in the pool’ incident, not needing to walk into the house every time nature calls. Tying into the sewage system increases the cost of the build substantially, as do the fume hoods and fire suppression system, but if I’m going to do this at all, I’m going to do it right. Or they are, rather.” She lifts her head in the general direction of the workers.
Is that really why you need a concrete outbuilding the size of a three-car garage? Hisao wonders. Or are you applying the ‘company town’ philosophy in a roundabout way? Control the scene, control the image, control the workers. He has no better ideas to offer, however.
He is not alone in picking up this vibe. Neko corners him as he fetches a couple magic chocolates and a glass of milk. “Thanks, darling,” she says as she takes one out of his hand and bites into it, causing him to go back for two more – one for each of them.
“She’s taking this way more seriously than I expected,” he observes.
Neko shrugs. “It’s what she does when she feels out of control – pick something she can control, and micro-manage the piss out of it.”
“I would have thought the acquisition would have given her something to do.”
“It does – it gives her this. I mean, she barely trusts her old suppliers. Why should she automatically trust a network of new ones? She’s finally learning to delegate, now that things are getting too big for her to take care of alone.”
“And apparently, I’m being deputized.”
“If you take it,” Neko says with a wry smile. “The work doesn’t sound too hard, though keeping it a secret might be.”
“I wouldn’t even try. I already insisted on a cover story, some sort of position that I can talk about. I don’t want to tell my classmates I deliver wine, or I’ll never hear the end of it. Sure, I would be popular, but for all the wrong reasons, and it would invite scrutiny I’d rather not endure.”
“Nobody would believe it, if you’re driving that little box on wheels,” Neko says as she shakes her head. “You couldn’t stock a house party with a full load, let alone a convenience store.”
“Great. That takes me from one unappealing plan to none at all.”
“Ever thought about asking for a bigger ride? She’s looking to replace the Bimmer after all.”
“Oh yeah, that would be so much more discreet. A broke Uni student driving a left-hand-drive 750i wouldn’t raise any suspicions at all.” Hisao rolls his eyes.
“Mmm, valid point. I’m afraid I have little experience keeping a low economic profile.” Neko purses her lips in thought. “I have an idea – I wonder where Jōji ran off to.”
“What’s he got to do with this?”
“He’ll have a car for sale in the near future. Mum’s giving up driving, for the most part. She’s keeping Miss Cleo for track days, just so she doesn’t forget how, but he’ll have his pick of the stable otherwise. He won’t need his own. That car fits your preferred image, does it not?”
It’s Hisao’s turn to shrug. “I suppose a slightly aging Toyota Matrix is believable enough, and it will carry cargo or passengers, though not really both. It’s certainly not flashy.”
“See? The pieces are there. It’s on your head to see that they get moved properly.”
“Is everything alright, Papa?” Akira asks. “You haven’t even touched your drink.”
“I don’t want to get sleepy. I hate flying as it is, the last thing I want to do is get ‘stuck’ too.”
“Hmm. Feel like driving?”
“What? Driving, ten kilometers in the air?”
“Sure.” Akira fetches her phone from the carry-on under her seat. “I’ll set you up as a new player, otherwise it will try to crash you at every opportunity, thinking you’re me.” She loads The Fast and the Furious Fugitive and walks her father through the controls.
“What are you going to do?”
“Exactly what you’re not – try to sleep.” She knocks back his drink as well as the remainder of her own, and tilts the reasonably comfortable Business Class seat back as far as it will go.
Next thing she knows, she’s standing in an airport with a sign in her hands. She looks down at it, and reads ‘Prawo Jazdy’, which means she is holding it upside down, so she rotates it around. She’s still waiting when a sudden lurch brings her out of her slumber.
“Dammit! Stop cheating!”
Akira looks over to see her father heavily engrossed in the game, and the phone’s battery at 27%. “How long was I asleep?”
“Mmm, not sure, maybe an hour. They’ll be serving a meal in about ten minutes, so I told them you’d take the chicken fettucine alfredo.”
“What were the other options?”
“Salmon on rice, pork chop with applesauce, durian, haggis – you know, regular airline food.”
She has to put the seat upright before she can dig around underneath because her bag shifted out of reach, either on the bump that woke her, or one she slept through. “Here, put it on the charger after this race. 3D games eat power like Bartosz at a buffet.”
“You worry about him too?”
“Not worry, so much. He’s a grown man and good at his job. He’ll be right. But I’m sure he feels more than a little lonely going from one of eighty in the Inverness office, to one of three servicing the entirety of Scotland.”
When the flight attendant comes around to deliver the meals, she also places a set of headphones alongside them. Akira looks at the odd connector they insist on using on them, ostensibly so they’re not worth stealing. I’d really rather use my own, but I don’t have an adapter for this setup. Her father, meanwhile, glances at the food and takes a couple bites between races. I’m going to have to pry the phone out of his hands, aren’t I?
“Papa, you should eat. The phone could probably use a break too.” It has only reached 31% charge, indicating that it’s using almost all the power it receives just to run the game. “Maybe watch the movie with me, it’s a modern classic. Remember when you took a cruise and couldn’t believe they would screen The Poseidon Adventure? You’re about to have that feeling again.”
“Oh yeah? What are they showing?”
Akira lowers her voice, both in volume and in pitch. “Motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ plane.”