It was about eleven when I finished my class. I try and get that kind of thing done earlier rather than later, and AU’s flexible scheduling system gave me that freedom. I had another later tonight, which was unfortunate but unavoidable.
As I adjusted my sword (still sheathed and in its bag) over my shoulder, I wondered if I should call Ling again. She hadn’t come back last night, not since her heavy-handed attempt to seduce Derek failed. Honestly, judging from his reaction, I doubt it would have worked even if Laura and I weren’t there. I was a bit worried about her, but Adam had passed along her message, so I was pretty sure she wasn’t just sleeping on the street.
I hadn’t seen Flynn since Saturday. We only had class together on Friday, but we had each others’ phone numbers. He had called me yesterday, but I had ignored it. I needed to ignore it. He was just another distraction.
And speaking of distractions…I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t really have much choice. She was expecting me.
I headed out of the campus with a heavy heart, not even bothering to drop off my backpack at my room. I’d need it to carry the stuff I was getting. I found the light rail quickly enough, and used it to head a couple miles north, closer to the heart of the city.
There weren’t many homes this close the Necessarius Central, but there were a few nice apartment buildings here and there, nestled between Doctor Clarke’s labs and the various barracks. Of course, it hadn’t always been NHQ, but those who had lived here first now enjoyed better security than they could have dreamed of.
There were downsides, of course, like always. Higher security meant it was less convenient to come and go as you pleased, pretty much like any other military zone. Exiting the light rail station, I was stopped by a ‘sarian checkpoint, and another six just walking the three blocks to my destination. Luckily, Butler had thought to give us all Alpha-level security badges, so I was sped on my way without undue difficulty.
The apartment building I was looking for was much the same as when I had left it; well-maintained, but not terribly high-quality, without any of the hanging gardens the city was so famous for. Some idiot had built the place out of imperfect, porous materials. If gardens were allowed, they’d suck all the nutrients out of the walls, and in a few years the entire building would come crumbling down.
I passed through the front door quickly enough—they changed the locks with alarming frequency, but not that fast—and immediately crossed the lobby to the elevator, not looking at the concierge at the desk. He didn’t really like me. I had given his daughter a sprained ankle when we were younger. Of course, that was because she and six other girls were trying to beat me up at the time, but try and explain that to an overprotective parent.
Regardless, the elevator carried me to the thirteenth—sorry, floor 12B—floor soon enough, and I exited quickly. I could’ve sworn I could feel the concierge watching me through the camera, but it must have been my imagination. It didn’t matter; the only cameras were in the elevator, so I was safe now either way.
I knocked lightly on the door labeled 12B5. No one answered at first, and I began to hope that she was out, and I’d be able to avoid this for at least one more day. Normally I don’t procrastinate, but this was a special case.
Unfortunately, that proved to be an overeager assessment. The door opened soon enough, and I was greeted by the sight of Yasu Nakano.
She was a short Japanese woman, a little over forty years old—exactly how much over I could never remember. She was still beautiful, her minimal wrinkles accenting it rather than cutting into it, but her soft face was scrunched up in a frown, and her hair a bit disheveled. It seemed as though I had caught her in the middle of something.
“If this is a bad time, I can leave,” I said quickly, and headed to go.
She grabbed my arm angrily, and it took an effort of will not to shake her off. “Never mind that. Get in here.”
I stumbled into the apartment and nearly tripped over a cardboard box in the middle of the room. It was especially noticeable because the rest of the place was immaculate. The box couldn’t have been more obvious if it had been painted neon.
“There it is,” she said. “I’m sure you don’t want to stay any longer than you have to.” She retreated to the kitchen without another word.
I looked in the box with a bit more caution than was strictly necessary. However, it was as she had promised: My books and movies, what few ones I had, stacked neatly together and ready for me to take. I should be able to fit them all in my backpack and leave in moments.
I sighed. Like that was an option.
I stowed my possessions away quickly, just in case I needed to leave in a hurry, and made my way to the kitchen.
She glanced at me. “I thought you’d be gone by now.”
“I thought I could stay for some tea, Yasu.” She flinched as if I’d slapped her, and I corrected myself. “Mother, I mean.”
She sniffed. “That’s better. And of course. Sit down, I’d be happy to make you some. You still prefer milk tea?”
I blushed slightly as I sat. Milk tea was for kids. “Yes.”
My mother didn’t say anything as she fussed about the kitchen, setting the water to boil and preparing the tea bags. She was avoiding talking to me, and I couldn’t blame her.
I was, in many ways, my father’s child, not my mother’s. I had taken to the Akiyama legacy with a will, and accepted all the implications of that inheritance. If my father was still alive, or if a thousand other things had been slightly different, my mother and I might actually be civil to each other. But they weren’t, so we weren’t.
Eventually, there was nothing else for her to do except wait for the water to boil, so Yasu reluctantly sat down across from me.
She was quiet for a long time, and the silence stretched on. Before it could become unbearable, I broke it.
“I didn’t hear from you on Saturday,” I said, trying not to sound confrontational. It’s hard when dealing with her, though.
“I was at your father’s grave,” she replied without inflection. “I noticed you didn’t show up.”
Of course. My father had died on my seventh birthday. My mother never tired of reminding me.
“I was busy.”
“Doing what? You don’t have friends.”
I frowned. Don’t get angry. “I have friends. They threw me a surprise party. Gave me presents. You know, normal things that happen on normal birthdays.”
Yasu rolled her eyes. “Normal people don’t have fathers who liked threatening people with swords.”
“Mother, he saved three people that day. He considered it a worthy sacrifice, I’m sure.”
“He died in the process.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Besides, he killed five more people to do it. How does that make sense?”
“Sometimes you have to kill in order to save, mother.”
She glared hatred at me. “How would you know?”
“I…” don’t tell her. I couldn’t tell her. She wasn’t Domina-born, and had spent most of her time here nestled in the safe embrace of Necessarius. She didn’t understand how the dark parts of the world worked. If I told her that I did, from personal, bloody experience, she would disown me.
I had to keep calm.
She shook her head again. “It’s that Derek character.”
I had to remain strong.
“He’s a bad influence on you. It’s just like what happened with your sisters.”
All I had to do was keep my mouth shut. It wasn’t hard; I did it all the time.
“I hear he runs around playing cowboy, just like your father did.”
Treat her like a stranger. She practically was, so that was easy. I don’t talk around strangers, so the problem was solved.
“He’s going to get himself killed, and you with him.”
All I had to do was stay quiet until she got bored and shifted topics.
“At least the city will be better off without him.”
Suddenly, she jumped out of her chair and backed away from me as fast as she could, her eyes big as dinner plates. She was breathing hard, and the only reason she hadn’t fled the room was because I was between her and the only exit. It took me a moment to identify the cause of her concern.
I had half-drawn my sword without even noticing.
I almost did it. I almost unsheathed it entirely. I wouldn’t have killed her, of course. Just scared her. A couple scars, and not even deep ones. Just a reminder.
The tea kettle whistled.
I sheathed my sword.
“Your tea is done, Miss Nakano.” Then I turned on my heel and left.
Behind the Scenes (scene 42)
I’m not completely satisfied with this one, but it gets the point across.