Jango climbed down into the cargo area. The merchandise was still out cold. He punched-in the code to enter the cage that held the servant girl. Her complexion was no longer a contrast to the white inner collar of her robe and her lips had acquired an unhealthy bluish hue. The jerk of the ship entering hyperspace had left her lying on her back. The voluminous sash and the bent-back position seemed to restrict her breath. While he preferred his merchandise silent, nobody escaped from his hold as easily as through brain damage or quick death.
Fett slipped his gloves off, pushed them under his utility belt and got to work again.
Hoisting her up against a knee he settled the lolling head against his shoulder and worked open the first two knots of the sash, tossing a folding-fan, a length of rope and a shawl aside. ‘Doesn’t all the stuff impair with that oldest profession of yours?’ he ranted inwardly, fighting just another narrow binder. When it came loose, a length of silk dropped in his lap, but still the wide sash wasn’t coming loose. He bent the limp body over, tugging several meters of silk through a knot and from underneath her. A small vial, rough white tissues and a briefcase dropped onto the metal floor. The view of two more belts folding the robe neatly to the body in a narrow, ankle-long skirt partially disproved the evidence he had recorded in the resort.
Jango lowered his captive to the cage’s metal floor to pick up his findings. ID, business cards in an unreadable script, some credits... he disabled the air filter of the helmet, sniffing at the oily contents of the vial. A pleasing scent of pine mingled into the hold’s antiseptic smell. He re-corked the massage fluid and picked up a hand to study the palm. Short well manicured nails, long digits but not gaunt, strong skin in places but not callous. That small fist had nearly driven a knife up into his skull, nevertheless it evoked no fear just some respect. He bent over to frisk the elaborate up-do for more sharp objects, removing a lacquered comb, ribbons and a two-piece pin assembling over a small blade. Long ebony hair spilled over his hands. It carried a faint scent of grass.
A scrambling and a groan in the cage on the other side of the corridor told him that Mr. Oniro’s sedation was wearing off. “Where am I ...and who are you?” Jango preferred to ignore the pitiful view on the 360°-display. “I demand an answer,” Oniro spotted a heap of colorful clothing sprawled over the floor of the other cage as he pulled himself upright against the bars “Tomoe-chan? ...Take your filthy hands off her, you mindless brute!”
The armored nightmare stood slowly and faced the bathrobe-clad man, then slammed an armored elbow against the cage just above the fingers clutching its bars. “Must be a good fuck if you grew that attached,” he taunted.
Oniro jerked back. “What?!” his eyes twitched away from the black visor to stare at his toes when he tried to recover some dignity and pulled his bathrobe close.
“Was she worth the money spent?”
“Yes... I mean, no... ahhh... what do you mean?” the captive cleared his throat, “This must be a misunderstanding. My name is O_n_i_r_o. I have no criminal record, I swear, I’m clean, you must have mistaken me for somebody else.”
Fett cut the babbling, “You can explain that to your wife’s clan after I deliver you, Mr. Oniro,”
“Oh dear!” The retort ended in a muttering, “...can’t a guy just have a vacation?”
“Not if it threatens the schedule of the whole project.” Jango turned his back on the prisoner in disgust who had switched to pleading, telling him everything he probably wanted to hear - instead of the truth. A different approach was due. He hoisted the lithe body of the female up over his shoulder, which earned him a “What are you doing?!” by Oniro.
“Just finding out for myself.” Jango turned to climb the narrow steps and ladder to cockpit, “Want another sedation?”
Boba had dozed off in the co-pilot’s chair and woke with a start as his father brushed past him to drop Tomoe on the narrow bunk behind the three seats. Jango wrapped her into a blanket and strapped her down with the security belts. “Watch her, call me when she wakes.” He went back to the freight room to retrieve her belongings, storing anything that resembled a weapon in a cockpit locker altogether with helmet, armor and blasters. He knew he was taking chances in pursuit of the truth, but without the armor plates, the grayish blue body glove of the mercenary could be mistaken for a standard flight suit. The headset completed the appearance of a mere pilot while keeping him linked to Slave I.
In the meantime, Boba had made up his mind. He would not fail his father again. He took a seat on the edge of the bunk, fully alert and watchful of any change. She was different from anybody he had seen in person so far. Pale, but not as pale as Taun We and much smaller. Otherwise her face was smooth and hairless like his, but her scalp hair was considerably longer and less curly. There seemed to be a little paint on her face that rubbed off on his fingertips easily. He had seen painted faces in a camouflage instruction manual, but this was different!
Boba shrugged and rubbed his hand clean on his pants. And she smelled different, too. Not of rain or antiseptic or musk, but of green plants and something indefinable. “I think she is breathing more often now, dad.”
Jango entered with the box, a medkit and a bottle of water. “Wake-up time,” he injected a mild stimulant then withdrew. Her eyes started fluttering, and then she coughed, straining against the belts to turn and lay on her side. Boba jumped off the edge of the cot “Tomoe? …you alright?”
Her eyes opened with a blank stare, and then she settled her head down and smiled at the kid “I think so, …Boba,” she croaked before having another coughing fit. “Good to see you well.” her lips formed, and then her eyes wandered over the dimly lit room, spotting the man leaning against the doorframe. She acknowledged him with a slight nod, and then her attention returned to the kid slowly. Still coming around, she realized that had a hell of a headache, her chest hurt from at least one blow, her hands and feet were numb and freezing cold. She was restrained and part of her clothing was missing. The cramped surroundings and the hum of machinery told her that she was in a vehicle of sorts.
“Please... water.” Boba picked up the bottle, looked at his father, then moved to lift her head and help her drink without touching the restraints that held her down. True to his disguise, Jango quickly stepped in, unbuckled the safety belt over her chest and propped her up helpfully. Tomoe took a swig to loosen the lump in her throat, then another one to wash it down. Inching backwards, she leaned against the wall. He stood. “Thank you,” she sounded a lot better. “I don’t think we have been introduced... I’m Tomoe Harada.” Bowing seated felt strange to her, but it was all politeness she could muster.
“Fett.” He watched the true compassion this woman had extended to his son a moment ago vanish under a mask of friendly profession… and hated it.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fett.” She showed no sign of recognition but smiled. “Forgive my curiosity, but I don’t know where I am.”
“You were laying in a walkway unconscious when I came looking for my son. It seemed that you were in need of medical attention. Are you alright now?”
“I’m coming around, thank you, I don’t think I’ll faint again. Are you a doctor?”
“No, I am a military advisor... with some first aid skills.” Jango didn’t lie but stuck to the truth – a part of it.
“How long have I been out?” Tomoe continued to beat around the bush. She had the profound feeling that she should have arrived in hospital in the meantime, but she couldn’t blame anybody without proof, especially no guest.
He faked concern and wrinkled his forehead “Several minutes,” it was time for his prisoner to answer questions instead of asking questions, “Are you overworked?”
“Sir...” She looked him over and shook her head slightly “Our resort’s culture would not allow that, you know.” - Silence stretched – No, she would not ask who invited this strange person. “The rhythm is important to the form.... I cannot hurry up and expect my guest to relax, can I?” this conversion was becoming painfully one-sided “Like the wind brushing the tree-tops, the fire takes it’s time to embrace the log, the water to hum it’s song before it settles into earthenware.” She chuckled and looked around at the grey wall panels “Of cause I am aware that there are quicker ways of brewing tea, high-tech ones... which makes the difference.”
“Is that all you do... brewing tea?” he huffed, fighting the soothing effect of Tomoe’s low voice. He wasn’t here for mental therapy.
“...yes, and I tend to the Nanakusa-Cottage and my guests’ wishes.”
“Food, beverage, entertainment, wellness - room service and arrangements...” his harsh interrogatory tone was getting to her, “You can ask your personal host whatever you want,” she tried to soften the bluntness.
“Sounds great,” he tried a thin smile “What did your guest want?”
“Confidential service is guaranteed to all guests.”
“C’mon, give me some inspiration;” his dark eyes continued to bore into her silence, “you were so brave some moments ago... My son told me.”
“Everybody protects children.”
He snorted “Your sort is known to be squeamish, maid. But you have nothing to fear. Now tell me the truth.”
Her sort? - “Why don’t you end this game, Mr. Fett? I can smell the blood on you. I was mistaken to protect your son from yourself and I can hardly trust in any ‘favor’ you offer me in return. You are no guest at all. If you were, you would know that hosts don’t talk about guests.” Tomoe stared at the massive frame of the mercenary approaching her.
“Silence is your most valued specialty, isn’t it? Which happens to be just the opposite of one of my talents.” The threat was clearly audible when he sat down on the edge of the bed, catching her tender wrist in his crushing grasp.
“Charming. So you answer questions about my guest and I answer questions about myself... deal?”
“What makes a pretty maid so damn stubborn about such a simple question?” he asked, surprised by her non-reaction at the pain.
“Loyalty to the fundamentals of my existence: my surroundings, my family, my arts-training. What did you do to my guest and where is he?”
“Mr. Oniro was stunned and put in a holding cell on the cargo-level. What art is that?”
“Dance and flute-play. Where are you taking Mr. Oniro?”
“To his family’s home world. You dance in this... isn’t it a bit heavy?” his fingertips ran lightly over the multitude of collars at her throat.
It was all a game to him - and she didn’t like it. “Traditional shape is essential for classic dance, for the movement of the hands, the feet and neck. It stopped being heavy once I got used to it... like your armor, I suppose.” She snatched the trailing hand by the base of the thumb before it could reach her throat and shoved it in front of his face “I believe this appendage belongs to you,” she never stopped talking but let go of his hand, “Why had Mr. Oniro’s family to use force? His return was scheduled in a couple of days.”
“His family doesn’t believe in that and his wife is touchy about competition. Which could be linked to your policy of silence.”
“I understand... and you do your best to complete their picture.” She tilted her head slightly, her lips pressed together firmly. “Please let me see Mr. Oniro. We need to figure out how to clear up this misunderstanding. I will explain our customs to Mrs. Oniro when we arrive.”
“Clear speech isn’t your talent. Stay with me and I will protect you.”
“I would rather spend the rest of the flight on the cargo level.”
“Your choice.” He backed away and thought ‘Bad idea but a lesson required.’
Tomoe stood, placed the box with her belongings on the bed and turned her back on Fett. She unfolded the sash from the box, wrapped and knotted it around her waist with swift, fluid motions that put his undressing attempts to shame. ‘like your armor’ he replayed in his mind. Missing all hairpins, she braided her waist-long hair loosely and put it up with the comb, placing the now empty box aside. “It’s well past your bedtime, Boba,” she swatted down to pull the boots off his feet and tucked the half asleep boy in. “Sleep well.” – “You too.” Boba mumbled. She turned on her heel and moved to the only door, closely followed by the bounty hunter.
Passing the cockpit locker Fett retrieved his helmet. Tomoe glanced over her shoulder before climbing down to the cargo level. ‘What’s wrong with his face?’ she wondered and bit back a rude comment about feature-improvement. His looks weren’t the problem but what he did to the lives of his son, her guest and herself, his violence seeping into the last corner of the cramped surroundings. Since she couldn’t fight it, she would do her best to ignore it and stay civil to prevent escalation.
Oniro stood at the sound of combined footfalls to catch a glimpse at Tomoe descending the ladder on her own but then locked his eyes to the metal floor in anguish. At least she didn’t appear more disheveled or bruised than before. This time, he kept his fingers well away from the bars when the unarmored bounty hunter passed him. She stepped into the cage the T-shaped visor was pointing out, sat on her heels and waited for him to leave, her calm demeanor gathering around her like an invisible wall. Fett slammed the cage shut and went back to the cockpit, monitoring the cargo-area from there.
Tomoe lifted her head “Mr. Oniro... I’m very sorry,” she bowed, her slender fingertips brushing the sterile metal floor of the cage, “How are you?”
“I’m going to be ok. I’ve got a headache – similar to yours, I suppose. Dear, you should worry about yourself.” He shrugged and pulled his robe tightly around him, pushing his cold hands up the sleeves. “I’ll be ok, without me they could kiss their mainframe goodbye... but what about you....?”
“Your wife... she wouldn’t do anything illicit, would she? Seriously, nothing happened. I will explain it; even invite her to make her understand.”
“She doesn’t need to do something illicit! Different planet, different customs.”
“But there must be some sense of pertinence? Don’t they have a hotel sector where you come from?”
“Not like that... there are strict rules for separation and veiling and so on. It’s so dull, I needed a holiday.” He curled up and scratched his head intensely “Seriously, try hard and keep that bounty hunter from handing you over.”
Tomoe looked at him, arching a brow “I just told him that I have my own mind and that I’m going to defend my honor if required. Besides, I can’t see a way to make myself indispensable to this man.”
“Aww... I’m sure you could charm birds out of the trees, Tomoe-chan.”
“Thank you, Oniro-sama.” she hid her giggle behind a sleeved palm “Yes... if he was one, I could still hardly imagine a supportive branch.” She feigned a crunching sound and Oniro bit back a laugh. “Tell me more about your home world’s culture and society...” she returned to quiet, enjoyable tone.