Chapter 10.0 – Introductions at the Resort (Day 15)
The next morning was all sunny beauty as if it had never rained before. The air was like freshly laundered and herds of little white clouds littered the sky. It had been too dark last night for Boba to see where they had gone, so he looked around curiously. The wind coming from the sea ruffled the reed and smelled stronger of salt than the days before.
Tomoe rose and luxuriated in a long stretch. “I’m not used so much excitement anymore!” she groaned. “Let’s take the long round and sail up-stream before the evening turn of wind. Nice and official.”
“Couldn’t we have done that before?”
Tomoe chuckled and moved their breakfast box aside. “You are right. Here we rented the boat... and we go ...here... today,” she drew up a map with a little water on the middle bench. “All too easy... we would have missed all the fun. Let me introduce you to a new tactic: hide in plain sight.” She retrieved the throwing stick “And you can practice with this. Just be careful that it drops in areas that can be reached by boat... otherwise you’ll have to swim to retrieve it.”
“Isn’t it coming back anyway?”
“It does - if you give it the right momentum.” Tomoe winked. “Try it. You can still carve your own and practice over a freshly harvested field... at least that’s what I did when I was a kid.” No more arguments. She needed time to think.
Boba weighted the stick in his hands as Tomoe pushed the boat out of the high reed and into a channel that lead into lower salt marshes. Didn’t she care if he was successful? “Don’t you want me to train?”
Tomoe shook her head lightly, her hat catching the wind. “Always on the move... you’ve got plenty of time to learn everything you want, Boba,” She held the wide rim down, “just go ahead.” She pointed “Direct your first throws along the channel, a little to the left to make up for the wind. We pick it up as we move along.”
A minute later, Boba had to shed his pants and to retrieve his hunting weapon from a patch of glasswort. “Eeek.” Smelly mud squished between his bare toes and sucked on his feet as he waded around. Yesterday’s bath was definitely nullified when his mom pulled him back into the boat, chewing on the inside of her cheek. “Stop laughing.” he accused and dangled his feet over board to wash them, “It’s perfectly normal for kids to get dirty all the time. Even with their full clothing on.” The boy had his best lecture voice on.
Tomoe cracked up. Boba teetering around like walking on raw eggs had been too funny. “Oh really?”
“Yes. Every holozine says so.”
“You mean that you are supposed to jump head-first in the mud and mommy keeps on smiling and laundering everything?”
“That’s what holozine-mom’s are there for.”
“Time for a reality check, son.” Tomoe laughed harder “Your mom is proficient in swords play and you have been born more reasonable than a holozine brat in his teens.”
“You don’t do laundry?”
“Of course I do, but I expect you to keep up your discipline as well. We have a hard time ahead of us and I have to work for our living.”
“Don’t worry, mom, I can help you.”
“I appreciate your help, Boba, but remember you are five years old. You deserve to play, and you have to go to school and prepare your own future. Just don’t get into too much mischief.” She sighed. It was time to stop fooling around. “We need a legend for my boss.”
“Similar to a bed time story?”
“Like a new identity that covers where we have been the last...” she counted on her fingers. “Two weeks?!” It felt like an eternity. But she had enough to cover as it was. “I can’t go in like ‘got hijacked by a heavily armed super soldier, spend some time off-world training a clone army and now ‘hurray’ I’m back ...with his child and pregnant by the way, so I’d like to work part time from now on.’”
“You could say ‘retrieve and deliver’...?” Boba wrinkled his forehead. “Or do you plan to lie?”
Tomoe was beyond the point of chocking at Boba’s brutal honesty. “I want to tell the truth in a way that helps me keep my life and my employment intact.”
“What’s the problem? They couldn’t honestly expect you to win a fight against dad?”
“Galactic warfare doesn’t sit well with holiday resort. If my boss thinks that trouble is following me, she’ll find a way to get a rid of me.”
“Dad was mainly after that other guy. Not your fault he took refuge in your place.”
“True. Security measures are my boss’ responsibility anyway, but that will be easily forgotten when the treat appears big enough. There is little loyalty in her. Given the choice, she’ll always remove the smaller problem.”
“Let’s be the bigger problem then.”
“Bigger than a few dozens of veteran instructors and their... how many millions of faithful pupils who are officially nonexistent? ...including all the up-to-date kit that goes bang...”
millions. But dispatching all of them on one theatre is tactical nonsense.
Search and recover is a task for an ARC, an RC squad up to a battalion at the
“I’m afraid that won’t ease Okasan’s mind.”
“So we basically swipe those details under the carpet?” Boba arched a brow, employing more of the understatement he had picked up on his excursions with the Nulls, “That bulge is going to show.”
“Given they pop up here. Which is either never or a day’s visit that relieves me of all worries or we have to move elsewhere anyway. I’m looking for a fictional problem big enough to keep me away for two weeks but small enough to let her keep me employed.”
“So we don’t talk about Cuy’val Dar. We are all peaceful. What if you had been on a family visit and asked me to accompany you upon return?”
“Well, we don’t look like we are closely related and the fight left traces in the cottage.”
“A distant relative in distress popped up, you fought your way out and returned as soon as you could...? It’s not a lie. We are related after all: you are my sister’s mom.”
“I see you understand the concept.” Tomoe smiled “I’m your mom, too, now. Your dad comes from a land far away in the north where people look and speak different.” She ruffled his hairs. “Kintaro, remember? ...there are no blaster-burns in the cottage, just spilled water and shards.” She shook her head in disbelief, “It looked like nobody had even bothered to investigate my disappearance.”
“Your boss really doesn’t want any trouble, isn’t it?”
“Yes... and that’s why she’s going to buy any excuse that releases her from her duties concerning security.” Tomoe tapped her chin “We just have to keep her sweet for half a year, until I graduate. Don’t tell anybody we expect another child. Once I’ve got my license, I can get employment anywhere.”
“But you are working already?”
“Yes, but the wage is meager and the working hours are no good for a child. As a licensed entertainer, I can work late while you are in bed and get my sleep while you are in school.”
“You have to take classes, too?”
“Yes. This takes us to the headmistress of the academy. She’s another case. I can’t leave her out of the loop like my boss. She knows me. She will notice sooner than later. She will care... unless she feels I’m not giving my best. Then she’ll kick me out and I can start over.”
“So you’ll tell her everything?”
“I wouldn’t dare to put her into such danger. But I will tell her that I’ve adopted you and that I’m with child. I’m going to ask for additional classes and try to undergo the trials earlier than planned.” Tomoe shrugged. “You have to develop your language- and writing skills to start school, and I have to attend dance- and other classes. Six months maximum, then we can move on.”
“This is going to be hard.”
“Yes, but we will be safer elsewhere under a new stage name.”
Nobody had come for him. Were they even trying? When they had not made it here so far, then when? Maybe Tomoe was right when she concentrated on living instead of defending them against something that wasn’t coming, probably would never come. Boba looked thoughtfully “You don’t want to do it...”
“What do you mean?”
“True. So let’s do it this way.”
Tomoe let Boba man the rudder and started working on the wooden staff she brought from the cottage. She cut a deep crevice and drilled holes for the bolts. Then she assembled the blade and mounting but slipped the distinctive pommel back into the bag. She kept the blade covered with the sheath and placed the pole weapon with their fishing equipment like another harpoon.
“Big fish harpoon.” Boba snickered. “You could spear an aiwha with that.”
“Yes... I could try to adjust the shade of the wooden sheath and pole, but with a nice wrapping, people will take it for a stage prop anyway at the resort. But be careful everywhere in between...” Tomoe cocked her head and changed topics. “Take that channel there.” She pointed “That area is the last good one to hunt dinner...” she whispered and took over the rudder “Oya.”
Boba was thrilled but moved calmly to retrieve the throwing stick, then ducked in the front, looking for a flock of birds big enough for his purpose. The one that rose at their approach scattered into two halves in the wrong moment, but nevertheless, he hurled the stick among the nearer one with all his might. The stick’s landing spot was obscured by a wall of reed. “Fierfek.”
“No cursing.” Tomoe just pushed the boat as far into the reed as it would go and gave him a patient nod. Boba shed his clothing a second time that day. This time, the water reached his knees, and his feet still sunk into the mud deeply. The reed closed behind him like a curtain. Some steps further, the water reached his waist, then his neck. Damn swamp.
“Knot handfuls from time to time to mark your path!” Tomoe advised from beyond.
“Yes, mom.” He acknowledged. ‘Great idea.’ He had no idea how to find such a small item in this terrain. He couldn’t see past a couple of meters at best? But he would not go back without trying. Suddenly, something rustled somewhere in front of him. Something big. A hovering speeder? The Cuy’val Dar? A vicious beast? Why he had left his saber in the boat when he needed it?!
A crack at his side, much closer. He whirled around to face it... or them. It was big and black and heavy from the sound of it... and gone again. How could it stand where he could not? Then a round black head popped up right in front of him, carrying a duck in its jaws.
“Moronoko!” Boba had to catch his breath. The Hi-inu dropped the prey into the water in front of him, chattered and vanished again with a splash and a playful wag of its tail. “Whoa...” Boba picked up the duck. The neck had a pair of deep holes, otherwise it was remarkable undamaged. He realized that Moronoko would make a perfect retriever in this swamp. “Moronoko?” he called questioningly. Was it gone? Could it help him to find the throwing stick? How to tell it what he needed?
But the Hi-inu returned with the throwing stick already. “Clever Moronoko.” Boba praised as he had seen Vau doing it with Lord Mirdalan. He reached out slowly. “Thank you.” He took the end sticking out of the jaw. The Hi-inu released and sputtered a little at feathers clinging between his teeth. “Let me help you.” Ready to jerk his hand back and out of danger, Boba ran his hand over the large round head. He got a smooch in return that tasted like fish and fresh blood. He laughed and picked out feathers from the panting faucets, then grabbed his prey and weapon.
“Let’s find Tomoe.” The way back was a lot quicker being dragged through the reed half draped on a smooth black back of an animal whose movement was a mixture of swimming and gliding pushes off the ground. Tomoe leaned on the rudder and smiled at them. “You’ve known he was there, Moronoko... did he follow us all along?!”
She shifted her weight to balance the boat as Boba pulled himself up and sat on the middle bench to wash his feet. “Didn’t you notice?” she teased.
“He could have brought the duck and the stick right to the boat.”
“You are the hunter, Boba. You have to ask Moronoko and reward him.”
“How do I reward him?”
“You gave him his share and said thanks.”
“The second duck and the blood of both birds.”
Boba gaped “He swallowed a bird whole?”
“Unlikely. He’s not that hungry and... you don’t like feathers tickling in your throat, isn’t it, Moronoko?” she bend down to scratch the Hi-inu’s chin lightly. “He’s going to snack on that later... Thank you.” She sent him off to push the boat out of the reed and into a stream that lead them out into open water.
“Take over the rudder, Boba.” Before they reached the surge of the open sea, she set up the punt pole in the fixing at the middle bench and had a second staff ready to open up the cover as a sail. “We follow the stream to go through the surge, one klick into the sea, then turn, set sail and let the wind carry us up the channel on the backboard side, marked by the red buoy.” She pointed. “We pass the harbor, and then go upstream.”
It was a makeshift construction, but together with the steady wind it took a lot of work from their hands. Once they were set, Boba took over the adjustment of the sail while Tomoe manned the rudder. Many other boats did similar maneuvers once they came out of the delta or sailed over from the islands out in the sea. The life followed wind and tide here and the armada of small boats outside was bent to reach their destinations before the evening doldrums. Boba learned that there were rules who had to give way to avoid collisions and share the wind.
Once they passed the harbor, traffic lessened a little, but the current slowed them down. Finally, they stopped at a footbridge to wrap up their sail. Tomoe chatted with a neighbor doing the same then punted the boat up the shallow section of the channel until they reached a large pier. A multitude of splendid barques and shiny sport boats were moored there, but Tomoe found a spot in between. She grabbed the fishing equipment with her hidden halberd sticking in the middle. Boba picked up his duck. They hadn’t quite made it over half of the pier as they were held up by a boy in his teens who tried to look like a harbor master.
Boba tilted his head in irritation. The guy said something that didn’t sound quite polite and shot him an annoyed look. Boba grinned back at him. Maybe he hadn’t got the news yet, but his mom was going to walk over his half-grown figure in a moment.
“Yes, I am authorized to disembark at this pier. We reside at the Sen-Ike when I don’t accompany my guest on boat trips.” She gave the juvenile a tiny nod from above.
“Harada-san... I wasn’t notified...” the harbor boy nearly fell over as he bowed. “Welcome to the Thousand-Lakes-Resort.” He gave the kid at her side another deep bow. The woman wasn’t the boss, but as a housekeeper, his elder in years and service, she was above him in hierarchy, even if she was disguised as peasant folk right now. And she had that damn court accent that he would never manage as naturally.
“Transfer our boat to uekiya-sama’s footbridge and give him my regards.” She flipped him a small credit chip and moved on. “I might need your service again. Expect my summons the day after tomorrow.” She didn’t wait to see the jumpy servant gulp. The gardener was known for both, his rugged appearance and contempt for class conceit.
They took the main road up hill and entered the resort through a garden entrance around the corner of the splendid main gate where guests arrived in luxurious transports. Tomoe took off her hat and walked up the bar longue in the back of the main house to address the keeper “Would you please tell Okasan that I’m back and looking for an appointment if she can arrange it past eight?” – “Of course, Tomoe-chan.” If the barkeeper was surprised he hid it well. – “Any mail or messages?” – “Plenty, but nothing that requires your immediate attention. Take your time to settle in.” – “Thank you.” It sounded like a sweet thriller.
They dropped by at Ukon’s cottage to notify her of their return. The old lady hadn’t picked up any unusual events, but they circled their home nevertheless before entering cautiously. Once inside, Tomoe dropped the fishing equipment and unsheathed her halberd with a flick of her wrist to check the rooms one by one. “Clear.” She called down to Boba. “Let’s freshen up, snack and get dressed. The guest’s bathroom was small, but Boba remembered the giant bathhouse on the compound. A shower wasn’t a main function here. He wandered around while Tomoe occupied the small room, then they switched places while she made dinner and got dressed.
Swishes of fabric and heavy thumps could be heard from the next room. “Mom?” Boba stopped stocking the fire and went to check on her, then froze in shock. That wasn’t his mom turning to him once he slid open the door panel! The tall woman was dressed in a black robe with a colorful floral pattern on the trailing hem that opened at her knees to show a pristine white lining. A wide sash wrapped around her midsection, hiding any female curves and forming a bulky knot in her back. Her neck rose from a multitude of collars and her face was a white mask with a tiny red spot where her lips should have been. Her hair was set in a low-key raven black up-do. He cleared his throat “You look... different.”
Tomoe chuckled and suddenly, there was his mom peeking through the make-up. He just had to concentrate to see it. “Let’s eat before we dress you.” She sighed “Formal attire is called for, but it’s too hot to hang around in it for longer than needed.” The trail rustled over the mats as she glided past him and settled on her heels.
Boba sat and started on his bowl filled with steaming noodles. “Can we tie that up like yesterday?” he pointed at the hem with his chopsticks before picking up another mouthful, “Because if we don’t, I’m going to step on it all the time.”
“Boys don’t get trails these days.” Tomoe chuckled “You’ll be quite comfortable.” They finished their snack and afterwards, in the adjoining room, she put him in an attire of gleaming black silk, striped skirt pants and a jacket that sported the same round symbols on chest, shoulders and back as her robe displayed. She sat back on her heels to look him over, and then reached out to touch the swirl “The mark of our family. Okasan will know at once that I am serious and you belong with me now.” Boba nodded and tugged on his sleeves. The black silk was heavy and shiny, so the double layer was a lot stiffer than his day clothing.
Tomoe continued to brief him “She can question, but she can’t change it... and she will question, don’t get that wrong. Walk in beside me, greet politely, and then let me do the talking. She’ll probably try to insult us, question my reason, your looks and heritage. You can ignore that. There is little she can do about the facts and she knows that. The rest will be all about finances.”
“Alright.” He could do that. They sat down waiting to be summoned as the minutes ticked by. Tomoe took out a box with writing utensils and started sketching up a letter. Boba tried to imagine what sort of monster Tomoe’s boss had to be, to deserve that amount of caution. Maybe a hybrid of Vau and Mird... overgrown, vicious, smelly, lots of pointed teeth... stuck in an elegant robe like Tomoe? He giggled and added Moronoko’s wiskers to the picture. This was a fun game!Chapter 10.1 – An Old Dragon (Day 15)
But once called back to reality, Boba found out that Okasan was a small middle aged woman sitting by an open slide window. She overlooked a stone garden while puffing clouds of smoke from a tiny pipe. She was wearing a plain grey robe and a black sash decorated with a white gourd shape. Having expected a fire breathing serpent Boba was clearly under impressed!
His mom slid into the room, knelt and bowed in an exchange of greetings. Boba copied her movement and listened, picking up introductions and ‘son’... then they switched to basic. He noted that Okasan wasn’t speaking it as well as Tomoe.
“I didn’t expect you to be back so soon, Harada-san. Due to your unscheduled absence we cancelled or rebooked all your appointments for two months and we have taken your profile off the promotion. Tell me what other extravagances do we have to expect in future?”
If Tomoe was riled, it didn’t show. “A distant relative in distraught made it past the resort-security unasked and my guest, Mr. Oniro decided to bestead him. Oniro-sama is a very spontaneous and emotional man who absolutely insisted on my company. I had to keep him happy in accordance to your current business plan. Catering to offworlders’ specific needs was denoted as a line of business with considerable growth rates.”
Okasan had expected to dress down her employee because of unruly appearance or bearing to start with, but those two looked like they came from an official adoption ceremony. “A little more distance is called for. Where does the kid come from?”
“Boba is my relative’s natural and my adopted son.”
“That’s about what I meant with extravagances. Come here.” Okasan winked Boba closer. “Hmm... curly hair, tan skin...” she turned his chin from side to side with stiff fingers and Boba snarled at her. “...rugged features.” She stopped looking the boy over and her eyes bore into Tomoe’s “Do you expect this barbarian to live in your business place?”
“I expect my son to live in my home, yes.”
“You cannot start a family unless your contract is paid in full.”
“I cannot marry until I paid the entire sum. Adoption is not excluded by the contract.”
“That’s a huge liability. Did you consider your future? He’s a boy. He can’t stay where you live past his tenth year.”
“He’s like a two and a half year old of his kind.” Boba cast Tomoe a short glimpse and calculated. She tried to carve out the missing three years from ten to his adulthood as a Mando’ad ...and it happened to be the truth! ...Creatively arranged.
“Looks more like an overgrown five year old to me.” Okasan snapped back. “All the same, he has to leave in five years... maybe sooner if he’s an early bloomer. How do you plan to pay off your contract until then at the current rate... with that brat clinging to your hem and without a patron?”
“I intend to speed business and do some extra promotion at the autumn dances.”
“How do you do that without extra lessons... and how do you pay for those?”
“I have my tips.”
Okasan gave her a leering grin. “Now you aren’t friendly enough for that.”
“I believe that is not your business”
“We’ll see. An offworld shipment arrived for you.” She moved a package around from behind her kneeling form. It had been opened. “The three thousand credits mentioned in the letter have been transferred your house account.”
Tomoe reached over, slid the parcel in front of her and parted the ripped wrapping gently, then studied the accompanying letter. Oniro-sama had retrieved her clothing and sent the substantial amount of credits with an excuse. He wrote the ‘fee’ was taken out of his wife’s dowry and he was returning her property, rounded up. She put the letter down without a flinch on her face. “Yet another happy customer,” she stated calmly. Their financial situation suddenly looked a lot better.
Okasan arched a brow. The parcel had travelled far and arrived a week ago. Family affairs... sure! Where would that lead? “You would receive Mr. Oniro again?” she probed.
“Of course.” Tomoe’s ardent smile announced that she would say no more.
“Well, there is another insistent guest we did not manage to rebook. Ukon-san will fill you in. Otherwise, I’ll see what I can do to fill your schedule. I expect you to go back to regular service... and keep your pet out of our guests’ sight.”
“Yes, Okasan. My son and I will continue ordering our affairs.” She bowed, picked up her package and excused them.
Once out of the room Tomoe passed Boba the package and gathered her trails. “Kuur...” Tomoe muttered under her breath and lead her son back to the cottage and out of the house servants’ earshot. Her boy was used a good soundproofing, but there was little privacy here and he looked ready to explode.
“She definitely needs to get laid.” Tomoe scathed once the door of their home closed behind them.
Boba raised his face to his mom. “Impolite sums her up well,” he stated dryly.
She nodded. “Her next move will target our adoption formalities. I have to write my lawyer and get things on the way officially. Let’s change back into comfortable clothing and do some cleansing. I’ll ask Ukon-san to drop by whenever she has a free moment.”
The boy shrugged out of his jacket. “Looks pretty clean as it is ...but a little empty.”
“Ukon couldn’t do much more than a brief wipe on the ground floor. Now we wash down everything from outside to inside with warm water, then we pick a nice scroll for decoration and call it a night. I usually do that in the mornings, but we have to go into town early and do some shopping, replace beddings and so on before our guests arrive.” Tomoe put her formal robe on a bar to air it out, removed the makeup and shrunk back into her working clothing. She got a large wooden tub with steaming water and cloths. “Let’s do the veranda while the guests are at dinner.”
Much later, Tomoe had set up a sleeping place in the second room, keeping her pole arm close. She pulled the cool, drab sheets up over them and rested her head on the pillow. Boba was as tired as she was, but his mind was restless.
“You do realize that a single E-web round could reduce this place to ashes from as far as the opposite hills, mom?”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“How many people do you need to set up an E-web?”
“It’s usually split among a squad.”
“And how do you fit the assignment of quadruplet offworld kids with a big fat gun on a secluded planet in the motive of maintaining the secrecy of their existence?”
“They can’t do just NOTHING?!”
“I’m sure they stay on their mission. It just doesn’t include people off their pay roll. Consider us as of no importance to them as long as we don’t interfere with their plans. This galaxy doesn’t turn around you and me, Boba.”
“How can you be so calm? We need to do something about the threat?!”
“Are you afraid?”
“That’s alright. It helps you to keep up constant vigilance. Just don’t let the fear take control of your life. Because once you let it rule you, you could save yourself the trouble of living altogether.”
“You are jare’la.”
“I’m alive.”Chapter 10.2 – So this is Hell – Hang On! (Day 15)
Jango didn’t know how long afterwards as his attention was peaked again. He had gotten visitors talking to... and about him.
“You messed up, you old chakaar.” Kal stood just outside the rim of glass that parted bacta and air, his arms crossed in front of his chest. The thick glass and greenish fluid hid his features, but his trademark jacket and small height was distinctive. “Get well soon, you’ve got yourself quite a handful to take care of. You want to be around to name your child, isn’t it?”
“Oh, he looks quite well-preserved in there, don’t you think?” Rav ambled over from the monitoring panel. “His body is inactive, but his brain activity is sky high.... as if he studies or fights. Maybe his brain is fixing damaged connections.”
“Updates, huh?” Kal muttered under his breath. “Steady, son, take one step after the other.”
Meanwhile Vau used his own secure com to take Tomoe’s writings to be analyzed by a specialist for calligraphy. He had located the origin of the language and provided the address of another expert on that world. It was amazing what you could find out without even reading or translating a single word.
Walon picked through his box of treasures, wondering which of the sheets he wanted to have translated first. He was fully aware that he had no clue what the small woman had written about. Was it a diary? Would he give away information about the live in Tipoca city if he sent one of the longer bits to the local address?
He could not risk that. The poem was safe to find out how much the information of the local specialist was worth. If he needed further information from that expert, he would need to be in standby in case the contents turned up details that had to be kept secret and dead for the rest of the galaxy. To do so, he had to travel. For unhindered travelling, he needed an invitation. Walon wondered if he could display sufficient interest by such a little transfer to get invited. Possibly once he acted it out...
He slipped a hand into the breast pocket of his matte black body glove and retrieved Tomoe’s note, tracing it lightly with his fingertip “What are you writing about, little one?”