When Boba was bored watching his mom sleeping in, he helped himself to a breakfast in the main house’s kitchen and then went to check out the scene that followed last night’s secret events. Mats were delivered and it smelled from fresh paint and wet crushed grass. Uekiya-san was taking care of the flower beds and patches of grass around the veranda. Hammering resounded from Ukon’s cottage. Boba padded over, stood on the large stone that formed the foot of the stair to the veranda and regarded a carpenter working on one of the pillars. “Good morning,” Boba employed some newly learned words. “Is Tomoe-san’s Onesan at home... Ukon-san?”
The carpenter tilted his head with a sorry face “She’s not around. Ask Harada-san when she goes to see her.”
“Where is Ukon-san?” Boba pressed on.
“She’s in hospital,” the carpenter specified.
“When will she be back?”
“Go ask your mom, little one.”
Boba’s shoulders dropped. How could he wake her when she was so tired? After being nearly run-over twice by craftspeople, he decided to have a morning run up into their bamboo groove. Maybe Taichi was already there, training. The guy was wearing dresses and he was as clumsy as Norio was fat, but Boba liked him better... Taichi was funny, like a partner in crime while Norio was more the bossy type. Maybe Taichi would be delighted to learn some of Kal’s knife tricks since he hit himself with that bamboo-pole all the time.
Boba’s assumptions turned out to be correct, but not because Taichi was bound to train before eight in the morning. Tomoe-chan had neither called him nor picked up his comlink. He was anxious to see her, and if it was just a look at her from the distance. He found the old path up-hill disturbed by the tracks of a cart that he had not seen there before. And he had spent a lot of time in the fresh air yesterday? It made him feel more alive after all the sitting around in hospital-corridors, waiting for more bad news to add to his misery.
The actor stopped hitting a thick bamboo spire rhythmically and winked at Tomoe’s son jogging up hill. “Good morning,” he smiled.
“What happened here?” Boba wasn’t even out of breath, but the worry showed on his face as his gaze followed the tracks further up the hill where the bamboo-growth met the large cypresses. On the way, he had spotted one of Moronoko’s footprints, distinctive by their light mark of skin between the claws, and wiped it out once he finished his studies. “What did they cart around here last night?”
“Last night?” Taichi arched a brow at the precise statement of the child. “I don’t know. As nice as it is now, that was no picnic-weather some hours ago. I did not sleep well because of all the lightning and thunder.”
“Uh hu..” Boba went on scouting in the wood, returning to Taichi with a long black arrow clutched in his hand. “Look!” To his relief, he had found no footprints of armoured boots, just of sandals.
“Whoa.” Taichi paled looking at the sharp tip. “That’s NOT a new year’s lucky charm… here,” he swiped his foot over the ground, stripping the leaves away. “Hide it and only tell your mom about it.”
“Oh, I think Tomoe knows more than we do.” He elbowed Taichi gently with a ‘gotcha’ written all over his face. “She’s good at keeping secrets, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Boba-chan, she is.” Taichi had trouble to keep up with the boy’s cheerfulness. He didn’t feel safe at all, suddenly.
“Whatever you were doing with that stick... it sounded nice.” Boba grinned up at willowy man. “Want to see some really cool moves?”
Taichi arched his brow at the five-year-old planting himself in front of him. “What do you mean...?”
Boba waved the arrow in front of the adult man’s face, then dropped it aside “Oups..” and Taichi could feel the tip of a branch pressed up under his chin as Boba put his weight behind it “Like this.”
Taichi chuckled and slapped it away playfully.
“Hey, that’s a knife!” Boba proclaimed - “It’s a rotten branch.” - “Knife!” – “Branch!” Soon they were rolling down hill, wrestling like kids. Only the sight of a pair of narrow feet on high wooden sandals made Taichi stop. Boba used the chance to slap him over the head again.
“Whatever you were doing?” Tomoe looked down on them.
“Uh... Onesan...” Taichi made a face and blinked at the morning light filtering through the green canopy “We are training.”
“You certainly manage to look like spoilt brats, both of you.” She chided them lightly.
“Hai, the storm god is a spoilt brat,” Taichi grinned all over his face and took Tomoe’s hand to get to his feet, then suddenly hugged her close “Wait until you see him, you are going to forgive him everything,” he whispered into her ear, filling his burning lungs with her scent. He hadn’t calculated her reaction though...
“Nii-san... I’m afraid, I’m so afraid...” she clung to him, crying into his shoulder.
“My my, aren’t we in character today...” his voice was accompanied by a rich chuckle. “Just when I start to believe we can make it, my ice-princess start’s crying like our rice-princess,” his tender hand cupped her cheek and lifted her face to him, “Don’t be afraid,” his thumb brushed her cheek and kisses light as butterflies dried the tear streaks on her face as he held her. “Ore omae ga sukida… Hold this moment in your heart, my love, and I’ll keep you close like the comb in my hair.”
“I want nothing more than to stay in this moment…” Tomoe relaxed her hold slowly and took in the surroundings with all her senses. She would have loved to bask in this bubble of privacy Taichi had spun around them... for the moment to last forever.
When she finally backed away from him gently with new strength showing in her posture, Taichi held her at arm’s length and noted her slightly hiked travelling dress. “Where were you about to go?”
“I’m taking Boba to the provincial capital. We are going to visit Ukon-san in the hospital.” She turned to pick up the wide brimmed hat where she had dropped it and held her hand out to the boy who had been staring at the display.
“Oh... I’m sorry to hear that.” Taichi picked off leaves that clung to his hair and clothing “Of course you have to go right away. I’ll join you if you don’t mind. I had planned to visit my father in the afternoon.” He smiled “We could break him the good news together.”
“Good is relative,” Tomoe chuckled and turned to go, “but when you can stand up to him, I can stand up to your mom.”
The actor arched a brow “Oh, I’ll just tell her straight away that I’m with a monster. Once she agreed, you officially got the job of dancing the serpent and she has to stop bickering about our alliance.”
“Careful. She’s your mother... you can’t avoid her... and she manages your public relations.”
“Yes, that’s why her pension depends on our success. Trust me, she will manage things well.”
They took the train into the next bigger city. Boba was amazed how quickly and efficiently people could travel with the public transport systems once they left the country side in which the resort was embedded. The provincial capital wasn’t a three-dimensional chaos he had seen on Coruscant-holovid, but it was still felt like a transfer from Stone Age onto the next stage.
Since Boba had spent some days in the marshes making a living from the scrap he understood why people liked to slow down, turn back and hide away for a while. He had never thought that he would ever enjoy doing his homework.
“Mom?” His face stuck to the datapad that Oji had sent him as he studied the pictures and whatever lessons it offered in aurabesh. “I know why you don’t catch the fishes in the pond. It’s because they feed on mosquito larvae. It’s a cycle you are careful not to disturb, but strengthen the carps on human behalf to minimize the humming plague.”
Once they were moving in the direction that called to her, Tomoe had nodded off, her head resting against Taichi’s shoulder. Now she woke slowly “Yes, Boba-chan.”
“Sounds useful.” Taichi peeked over the screen “Maybe I should have paid attention in school,” he muttered.
“Under natural conditions, no more that 10% of the larvae’s mass are transformed into carp’s body masses. In a monoculture it can be up to 50% with the disadvantage of lower genetic diversity and higher sensitivity to influences like climatic changes and diseases... Mom, what’s a monoculture?”
“Remember callisthenics at your old home? That’s how a monoculture looks like. Now we are trying wild growth.”
“Uh hu.” So that wasn’t a topic to discuss in front of Taichi.
Once they arrived at the hospital, Boba was immediately reminded to Tipoca City. The walls were painted white as well and no amount of flowers could cover up the antiseptic scent. He didn’t mind, but he caught Tomoe wrinkling her small nose before she walked up to the reception and asked for her Onesan.
“Yes, we keep her here, but you can’t talk to her yet.” The receptionist had a short glimpse at her display and a longer look at Taichi while she checked the position of the crescent hairpin protruding from her fashionable updo. “She is still sedated.”
“You mean Ukon-san is sleeping off the remains?” Tomoe asked, concern in her voice, “We can wait for her to wake.”
“I mean sedated when I say sedated. We stabilized her and keep her in artificial coma to spare her from the pain until we can operate her.”
“You didn’t operate her yet...” Tomoe was startled “Why?” she inquired.
“It takes a specialist and we have only one who can do it. Our chief physician can’t be everywhere at once.”
“You are too generous.” Tomoe had a look at the chrono over the connective door. “It’s past lunchtime. I happen to know the patient transport ambulance arrived here no later than 3 am. I understand that your chief physician needs his sleep to operate, but I expected you to prepare operation and start on the emergencies first thing in the morning.”
“The chief physician’s time for people with compulsory health insurance is limited. But he will check on her during his evening round.”
“So that’s the core of the problem, isn’t it? Money. You didn’t do anything for her but pump a fragile, elderly lady full with sedatives and watch the swelling grow because you are waiting for more MONEY.”
“Negotiations with her employer are in progress...” The receptionist pointed at the screen with a helpful smile. “Don’t worry, usually occupational accidents are covered by the business insurance... we just need an official statement of the Sen-Ike-Resort that it was an accident.”
...And Okasan was trying hard to avoid attracting attention with this specific sort of ‘accident’. Go figure. Tomoe snapped “How much?” Her older sister had no time for this.
“Oh, it doesn’t work like this, Harada-san.”
“You operate NOW and I cover the bill DIRECTLY. I’ll sort out the insurance problem.”
The receptionist looked her up and down and chortled. “I’m not sure you can do that...”
“I am a well connected person.” Tomoe pulled a wad of cash from her collar and raised an eyebrow. “Tell me, what does an hour cost with that chief physician of yours?”
“We don’t take cash.” The receptionist complained, “You would have to contact your bank and arrange advanced payment while we pull up an all new contract...”
“I think we have reached the point when you have to decide if he’s an honourable medic or a common whore: medics take an oath to help to emergencies regardless of their financial background. Whores are paid beforehand and don’t make contracts with their customers. What is it going to be?”
“No need to get impolite...” the receptionist reminded her patiently. “Of course the chief physician will do his best to help... But what if the patient dies, would you still pay for his efforts then?”
“It’s not my problem if you recognize yourself in the facts presented, Shoki-san.” Tomoe retorted, “And of course I’ll pay the hospital in any case.” Tomoe nodded with an equally sweet smile for all to see. She nudged the cash over the counter. Once the receptionist moved to snatch the wad she bent forwards as well and whispered “Because occupational accidents happen, you know?” The receptionist sunk into the suffocating dark pools of her eyes like a rabbit in front of a snake. “I expect your update on the patient’s progress within the hour.” A moment later, Tomoe broke the transfixion with a short raise of her chin.
Boba watched the white lab coat flat as the receptionist shot off like devil on her heels. ‘A human aiwha-bait,’ He thought in wonder. His fine ears had picked up the last. If Kal only knew... he would be so proud of his mom.
Tomoe took Boba’s hand and turned to the waiting booth, pulling Boba up on her lap to keep a seat vacant for Taichi. Other people waiting had witnessed the scene from afar, but she didn’t care. The young actor followed, embarrassment written over his face. He sat on the bench and rubbed his unruly hairs. “I’m sure, a decade ago; you’d have cut her down on the spot.” He whispered an excuse, more to himself.
“A decade ago, I wouldn’t have been here and if I had, she wouldn’t have tried that game at all.”
“...and you wouldn’t have taken stage by my side...” Taichi continued the what-if-game before he noticed Tomoe’s concentration had been drawn over to a middle aged woman padding over to meet them. “Mom.” He jumped to his feet and bowed. “May I introduce Tomoe-chan?” Tomoe put Boba down and stood a little slower but her bow was as graceful as the actor’s.
“We have been introduced.” Taichi’s mother snapped. “I didn’t expect you to bring this woman again.”
“But it’s all different now...”
“Indeed. Have you forgotten your duties again?”
“Honored mother,” Taichi bowed again and put on his most formal tone, “I bring good news.”
“Then come. Your father needs good news very badly.” His mom’s turn efficiently excluded Tomoe from their circle.
Taichi craned his neck as he was dragged along, his face beet red with embarrassment. “Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.” Tomoe insured him and sat back down. She cared for Taichi, but not for this part of his family-ties.
“That was Taichi’s mother?” Boba’s eyes had followed the scenes with interest. This mom didn’t exactly meet the caring-cuddling-cooking-specification, either. He wondered what her second function was. Since she was small and fat - unlike her beautiful and willowy son – it obviously was not fighting like his mom. The more he saw the more he was convinced he had made a good choice.
“Yes.” Tomoe simply replied and gulped down the ‘biologically’... this wasn’t the time to unpack old dislikes. They had to get along. The show had to go on.
Taichi stepped into the small four-bed-room. The other beds were empty, probably because nobody wanted to share the room with somebody suffering from an unknown disease. His father was propped up with a couple of large cushions. “How are you?” Taichi sat down on the edge of the bed gently.
“The infection’s spreading rate has slowed.” His father lifted his head – it was about the only gesture Segawa still managed smoothly. His body was weak, but his mind was wide awake and troubled. “I’ll be around to see what you do about our tour.”
“I have found somebody to support us. A beautiful Rice-Paddy-Princess.” Taichi started his introduction a second time.
“But... you are my princess?!” Segawa frowned in surprise.
“I’ll be again the very day you come back. Until then, I’ll do my best to take your place and Harada Tomoe will help us out.”
“That monster...?” his mother covered her mouth in shock. Not enough that the woman was around her boy again, but striving for a public role by his side now? This was inacceptable. Ms. Segawa looked at her husband, hoping he would tell their son.
“You were sent to cast a Storm God.” Segawa reminded his son and shook his head quietly as, remembered the girl Taichi had brought home once, years ago. Then he laughed out loud until his voice broke into a rough cough. “She’s got the backbone to do it... but you?”
Taichi leaned in to ease his old man’s breathing and rub his back. He had never expected this to go down easy. “A man in a woman’s role beside a woman in a men’s role? Now that would be totally messed up,” he winked the scold away. “She would be a little on the short side, nevertheless we could try that once for a good laugh... surprise the audience one more time. But right now, we have to get things going.”
“Maybe it’s time to bring back women to the public stage again. So much has changed.” Segawa mused. “There is no law against it anymore.”
“Oh, I’m sure that wouldn’t be an issue. Tomoe-san is a very reserved woman and got a son already.” Taichi insured him. “She brought the kid as well. They are inseparable.”
“Ask them to come in, will you?” Segawa nodded, his curiosity peaked. He had liked the girl for the same reasons his wife despised her. His son stood and slunk out of the door.
“When do you graduate?” Segawa asked after Taichi made the introductions, his mom staying out of the picture for the moment.
“This winter, hopefully. I wasn’t allowed back into training at the academy yet.”
“So you spend your free time doing other things? Your Sensei isn’t going to like that lack of concentration.”
“There are a lot of things not to like. I can’t change them all, but I can start with this one.”
“I see.” Segawa suddenly turned his wide-eyed attention on Boba who didn’t shrink away but stared back with a similar charged impression of concentration. “Shishogan! The kid has it... I can give the imagination of a blooded warrior... Maybe you can teach my deviant son – despite the fact that everything I did helped little so far.” He stated when he finally dropped the pose.
“It will be a lesson of experience for the both of us - rushed but efficient. Taichi-san will get the hang of it. When you are back, his ability to play any role, male or female, old or young will prove invaluable for your troupe.”
“But will you accustom?” Segawa countered.
“I’m flexible.” Tomoe chuckled softly “If nothing helps, I can always start drinking.” The smirk on Tomoe’s face only aggravated Taichi’s mom further.
Segawa chuckled. This woman was too sharp to touch alcohol. “No doubt... but can you become a child again, an innocent awaiting rescue?”
“Once Taichi-san is groomed to be my hero, I can.” A reckless grin spread over Tomoe’s face.
“A famous actor with countless admirers... your reputation as an entertainer will be made.” Taichi’s mother dropped in with a disparaging wrinkle of her nose.
Tomoe shrugged it off “My stage name will be O-yuki. Use no other name when you think something up.”
“A snow spirit and her child... how fitting. And she’ll dance – death.” The older woman muttered and made a sign to ward off evil.
“Only in my spare time... We will keep you updated about our progress. Call Taichi-san if you need prom pictures.” She gave the impression to be totally in charge already, as if she had suddenly risen in status and dignity, and the thought filled her with elation. “I expect you to comment the video-update sent to you on a daily basis. We need your help, Segawa-sama.”
Segawa looked at his wife and groaned inwardly “Of course. I cannot run away, can I?” The young woman juggled more topics than it was good for her, but it was the best they would get on short notice. Her self-confidence wasn’t of this world, but maybe it would work because his son loved her. ‘Youths!’ he thought as Tomoe was called away by a nurse.
Boba didn’t understand the details, but the looks, and then the problem seemed to be resolved.
Out of the door, the receptionist held out a comlink to Tomoe like a poisonous snake. If she had thought Harada to have a sharp tongue, her boss was ten times worse. “Your boss wants to talk to you.” She announced.
Tomoe took up the comlink, and then held it away a hand width from her ear to dampen Okasan’s voice below pain level. Why this woman needed a comlink for telling her to get back to the resort at once was beyond her, since her voice level was sufficient to bridge the distance anyway. “I will, Okasan. So, was last night an accident?” Tomoe dropped in casually.
“What do you think?” Okasan scathed back, having filled her lungs freshly, “Of course it was. You don’t think I plan such things, do you?”
“Fine. The hospital awaits just this statement. I stay here until the matter is cleared.” Tomoe passed comlink back to Shoki-san and let the two women figure it out.
The chief physician was a small old man with hanging face that would put a Sullustian to shame but the news of the receptionist were probably part of his dour expression. Shoki-san had denied to leave him alone with that patient’s relative but she had the comlink at her ear again, disturbing his progress report with an “Your boss just sent the confirmation, she wants to speak to you.” Why couldn’t those women let an artist do his work in peace?!
Tomoe just held out her hand and stayed focused on the medic. As Shoki-san placed the comlink in her palm, she just put it on the desk and raised her open hand again wordlessly. The receptionist made a face and placed the wad of cash on it this time. //I need you here at once...// the comlink blared. “I already know.” Tomoe slapped it closed. “Please continue your report, chief.” Her voice stayed as even as the obsidian of her black eyes.
After being informed on Ukon’s favourable progress by the chief physician, Tomoe and Boba were told that it would take her several hours to wake, so Tomoe snatched Taichi and the three of them left the hospital to find the camera equipment that would keep Segawa in the loop. The large electronics store was in down town as well and overrun with customers checking out the newest entertainment and communication devices.
What they needed was more specific so the irritated clerk she called hit on Taichi for sales conversation while Tomoe and Boba quietly checked out what they needed. Tomoe was glad that her traditional hairdo had been destroyed and her simple updo didn’t allow conclusions on her profession. Monitoring guests was a sacrilege as much as to talk about them. The equipment she put on the counter would have raised even more eyebrows than it already did. Taichi grinned and shrugged his shoulders at the clerk while Boba listed the properties of the wire they needed and Tomoe translated fluently.
Afterwards, Taichi went back to his family for a late afternoon tea while Tomoe waited patiently for Ukon to wake. Boba had withdrawn in a corner and rummaged around their box of treasures happily. He linked the stuff to his datapad and programmed a remote. Finally he could do something useful!
Despite the cup of tea warming her hand, it was hard to stay awake once things had calmed down. Tomoe’s mind was screaming for rest, her chin sinking down on her chest several times just to be jerked up again by her iron will. ‘Living on adrenaline again, are you?’ she scolded herself lightly but it was especially important to be around at once because of the violent nature of the old lady’s injury.
Ukon began to wake up slowly as she felt someone petting and soothing her face and her head. Her eyes fought to open, to make sense of her surroundings as she heard her name called. “Did I sleep in? We have guests to...” She eyed Tomoe warily.
Boba’s head popped up beside her as the younger woman slowly withdrew the hand from her shoulder, seeing she was awake and coherent now. “You were hit, but the medic says that you will be ok. Right now you are in the capital hospital,” Tomoe pulled a stool over and sat down, watching Ukon smile at Boba’s exited face. “You just got out of surgery about three hours ago,” Tomoe continued to talk and draw on her conscious attention. “It’s been around 17 hours since you were shot.”
Random thoughts drifted in and out of Ukon’s head, and then the pain began to bite at her back. She fought harder to regain her senses and her memory… “What happened?” Ukon stammered as she remembered. “So much blood...” and then she had run... she needed to hide right now...
“Easy now, you’ll be alright.” Tomoe was up quickly as she saw the fear and pain creep into the old lady’s eyes, resting her hands on Ukon’s shoulders to stop her from making a move that could bring more pain. “A shard hit your mid-back but thankfully, it didn’t go into the spinal cord. It just caused a swelling in the area.” Tomoe answered her question, “The medic said that the paralysis you have is temporary, just from the swelling in your back, you should be able to get around and heal up fine in no time,” she assured Ukon.
The pain was biting cruelly at her back now and Ukon realized she had one of those IVs on her arm that automatically injected a pain killer into her when she would push the button. She fumbled for the button and pushed it. She knew it would take a few minutes for it to take effect and so for now she had to endure the red hot fire of the pain that wanted to pound along every nerve in her back and legs. “Who else was hit?” her head sunk back on the cushion.
“Three of the guest’s bodyguards and our driver were killed in a blast when he tried to bring the limo up front, everybody else is alive and unhurt. I made sure they won’t come back.” Tomoe smoothed Ukon’s silvery hair, her neck and shoulders appeared even more fragile against the harsh white of the sheet.
Ukon felt the tears hot and fresh on her cheeks from remembering the son of the secretary. So much loss! Her sister listed it like a news speaker, but at the same time, she stroked her face softly again, using some tissue to dab at her tears. Ukon’s heart was hurting and in some odd way it was almost as if she was able to grieve on behalf of the woman who had to remain stoic.
By the 3rd day in bed, back at the resort, Ukon could stand it no more, she had to get up and move around some.
Juzo Ichiyama known for his gruff voice and grim acting style
Tsuyujuro Kasaya proved invaluable for his ability to play any role, male or female, old or young.
Nii-san“Boba spent the night in Norio’s room. I will arrange for you to leave in one or two days to go back to the resort where you can heal. I bet you’ll feel more comfortable there.” Tomoe tried to cheer her up some.” You will recover better in surroundings with people you trust and who care about, you know?” She paused then, realizing she was just rambling, that Ukon was fighting consciousness while tired and hurting, besides she had things to do, “We’ll bring you home. I promise.”
Once Ukon was asleep again, Tomoe told Boba to gather their stuff and left her in the care of a nurse. Taichi and his mom were about to go as well as dinner was served. He slunk out at her knock and accompanied her down the main hall “If my mother weren’t so difficult, we could spend the night at our house here. But I suppose it’s not possible.”
“My boss keeps on calling me. I have to go back anyway. See you tomorrow?” Tomoe proposed.
“Usual time, usual place.” Taichi smirked, “We don’t want to be reckless and have Okasan find out.”
Tomoe bowed and went back to the train station. She helped Boba and herself to a light dinner from wooden containers as they rode home. Boba had become a specialist with his utensils by then, eating quickly and efficiently before he continued to tell his notepad how to manage the data coming from the camera.Chapter 13.1 – Money Making, the Hard Way (Day 18)
When Tomoe and Boba arrived at the resort on mid evening, they were cut off by a maid immediately. Tomoe recognized Kimiryu’s personal attendant and wondered what the ‘princess’ wanted for once. It had been Okasan on the phone after all, not the princess.
“Tomoe,” the maid called and then lowered her voice, “are you free tonight?” at her puzzled look, she drew closer “The governor is here and wants to see you...” She let the information sink in, but the wanna-be entertainer she had send away twice yesterday looked as if she couldn’t care less.
“Possibly. When? Does he bring guests?” Tomoe asked with an expression of absolute boredom while she patted Boba’s shoulder.
“...you were missing, so I made up an excuse.” The maid chattered on, “But the governor denied leaving and now, he has been sitting in a first floor room for hours.”
“Tell him to have a nice evening and enjoy himself. I’m going to receive him tomorrow evening when my cottage is restored to its pristine condition.”
“No, it’s tonight. He wants me to arrange things with you tonight. He’s a big number in the politics. Used to have his hands in antique deals as well and even Kimiryu would see him from time to time. I can tell we’ve met at different occasions, but he doesn’t seem to have a regular girl.”
“I’m not interested.” If something was praised so highly from that particular corner, it could only be trash.
“Mind Okasan’s orders... she took care of your cottage personally.”
“No more orders of Okasan tonight.” Tomoe looked down at the smaller attendant who was determined to push her down the hall to an empty room at the corner. She sighed audibly. Her ‘arrogance’ was bound to have the matter decided on the spot.
“How are we going to live when our license is withdrawn because of your stupidity?” The attendant whispered. “You can’t plan to make a living on tips anyway?” The back of her small mind was calculating again. If the governor was happy with the girl she secured him, she would be well off tonight. Twenty if he left fifty, fifty when he left one hundred. This was a tidy sum for a plain attendant such as her, especially for one who was so acquisitive, who never left the house without her saving book.
Tomoe stood frozen for a moment and considered. It was unthinkable that she should give in to such a request from a client she had never even met before. From her point of view, Okasan deserved her license to be withdrawn more than anything. If not for murder on her grounds, then for practices like this. Yet it was also impossible to tell this attendant how bad last night had turned out after her plea for advice about the last patron. It would attract even more attention from the wrong kind. What was Okasan playing at anyway? Tomoe decided to move along and find out.
“Go ahead, Boba. Would you please unpack our purchases?” – “Yes, mom.” Tomoe watched the boy shift the bag with his datapad on his hip and walk away. When she entered the room, the attendant got right to the point.
“Tomoe-chan, you’d have nothing to worry about with him, even if he found out about Taichi-san. He always says that he wouldn’t even bother keeping an entertainer who wasn’t interested in having an actor on the side. He loves to show off, and not even one of those petty cabinet ministers would ever be as generous... I know I may have spoken out of turn, but I was afraid someone else would get a hold of him – so I asked Kimiryu to tell him about your beauty and talent all afternoon and asked him to look after you.”
Tomoe wanted to let out a cry of anger but thankfully her bright red face was hidden by the shadows of the small room. Oh yes, word got around and the bribe had been figured already! The princess had managed to slink out somehow, most likely with Okasan’s support who wanted her princess free for a truly good deal when she wasn’t pressed to agree by the misuse of executive powers.
“You are too generous.” Tomoe noted coldly. Three could play this game. If the governor had wishes money could not buy, so had she. Boba needed new papers if they had to bang out quickly.
“Okasan expects you to be really nice with our good governor.” The attendant seemed to notice nothing in the dim light coming from the corridor. While she played the accommodating role very well for outsiders, she was also careless and tended to step on people.
“Then she can tell me that in person.” Maybe she could send that servant around some, secure her a quiet moment to explain things to Boba?
“Okasan is upstairs, waiting for you with the governor... Just one more thing: It’s getting hot. Keep the blinds open.” The attendant breathed into her ear. Tomoe knew the concept. Okasan would send somebody over in the right moment - or a moment too late, considering how much she hated her. But maybe all sides would get more than they bargained for.
Tomoe nodded “I have to repair my makeup and change, and then I’ll be with you shortly.”
“So we are counting on you then. Good luck.” Leaving her standing in the empty room, the attendant slipped out and hurried toward the stairs, not even waiting for her to demur.
Tomoe’s heart was pounding in her chest and she felt dazed, but she couldn’t rest now. She quickly followed Boba down the thatched walkway. Their cottage smelled of fresh paint, so she started her evening by lighting some incense in the alcove.
Sitting in front the scroll depicting a pair of carps which Okasan had picked for decadence if nothing else, Tomoe tried to centre herself while the last sunrays stroked her shoulders and reflected in the round mirror as she retouched her makeup. She needed to remember the form of behaviour the patron expected, what she wanted and what Boba needed. Safety. A place to turn to.
“Does the camera work with candle light?” Tomoe inquired and tried to push down her nervousness. Her problem was not what he could do to her or what she could do to prevent that, but to get the impertinent governor recorded in the way she needed for future interests.
“Yes, but the colours suffer.” Boba replied and finished the test wiring.
Directed by the boy checking the view on his datapad, Tomoe placed the cam high on a rafter in the second room. The pad vanished behind a screen and Tomoe tested the remote. “Boba, I need you to sleep over in Norio’s room for one more night.” She informed him while she dressed in a half formal layered robe and slipped the remote into her sleeve
Boba hesitated. “Will they come back? Do you have to kill again?” he inquired. He could grab the slug thrower and lay in wait on the hill this time.
“They won’t be back. This person is not violent, just very specific about his requests which are backed by Okasan personally. You wouldn’t like to meet this guest or Okasan tonight.”
Boba nodded. Avoiding Okasan sounded like a good idea. Tomoe brought the tall lamp downstairs, lit a candle for her lantern and then moved the flame all around the room as a maid came running from the main house. “Where are you?” she gasped.
“Lit a fire, heat water and put out the beddings here, will you?” Tomoe ordered the house servant and took Boba’s hand.
Norio’s round face was etched with new lines as she met him at the bar and asked if he could take care of Boba for another night, but he agreed anyway and promised to take the kid to the kitchen for dinner. Tomoe spared another moment to tell the barkeeper and her big friend that Ukon was on the way to complete recovery. Then she went upstairs and put the lantern down beside the slide door before she entered the party.
“...at any rate, I’m dying to see if she’ll come.” The client was an enormous, swarthy man in his fifties, fat and round as the sea monster Umibozu. He had taken off his jacket. His dark blue robe was decorated with splashes of white and tied up with a stiff sash. He wore a signet ring on his little finger.
Kimiryu was seated on one side of him with Okasan on the other, and both were pouring him beer. He seemed to have little to say but sat with a smirk on his face, listening with apparent interest as Ineka, Oboro and Hagiha – women in their sexual prime - boasted of their amorous adventures, or the apprentices offered their unschooled opinions of the current crop of child actors. “There she is...”
As they heard footsteps on the corridor, the governor emptied his glass and pulled himself up into a more proper posture. The door slid open. Yes, that was the woman Okasan had offered him. He could see her pride within her demure pose. It was like fine wine in a goblet. Her hair was done in a low-key style decorated with an openwork silver-covered comb and a jade hairpin. She had changed into a fine crepe robe in the shades of rippling water and a sash showing a grass pattern which sparkled with dew drops. The cord worn over the sash was a deep celadon green decorated in front with a large pearl.
“Good evening.” She bowed and floated inside.
He lost no time to switch from beer to the stronger stuff and offered her a cup. “Have you come from the theatre?”
There was no need to lose a word about the true reason of his visit, so Tomoe dropped in some truthful bits of a dance rehearsal to reinforce Okasan’s official lies. In time, the resort’s headmistress rose, leaving the girls with the sea monster.
The governor discreetly took stock of her costume, her accessories and her way of conducting herself in front of guests to make an accurate assessment of her worth as an entertainer. Those represented a wide range of quality, especially when it came to apprentices. It was unusual to allow a career-changer to take up dance for main profession, but this one moved with effortless grace and her poise certainly stimulated his appetite. Compared to the flashy and colourful doll-like appearance of the apprentice, Kimimaru, she looked feminine and mature in her subdued costume.
Tomoe carefully rinsed the cup, returned it to the governor and then gracefully refilled it. She didn’t know anything positive or helpful about him, so she limited herself to small talk.
“Tomoe-chan,” said the sea monster, his tone abrupt but quite familiar. “I know you have slipped my notice for quite a while. How old are you now?”
“My age... do we have to talk about that? But what about you, governor?”
“I’m already fifty-tree... that makes it twelve years in office since the reconstruction.”
“You can’t be serious,” she said “I was seventeen then... and it’s been how many years now?”
“I’m all ears...” the governor grinned. It was all a game with him: if she moved back a square, he would attack, cutting off her retreat and pressing his advantage. And when he did her in, she would be in no position to cry out in dismay. No matter what he did to her, she could only turn her head and whimper to herself.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that...” she began to laugh, revealing her pretty teeth. “You can’t be more than fourty-five or so.”
“Do you mind if we talk about more personal matters?”
“No, about you. How long did you work as an entertainer?”
“Let me see;” Tomoe said. She glanced up at the ceiling for a moment as she played with her fan. “It was two more years before I started service...”
“So you prefer being an entertainer over the life of an honest woman?” he said, not even trying to make the question sound casual.
“There wasn’t anything else for me to do.”
“Weren’t you ever someone’s mistress, or were you actually married?
Tomoe slowly emptied her cup and then set it on the table. She was silent for a moment, but then seemed to make up her mind. “There’s really no point in hiding anything,” she said, shifting slightly closer since Kimiryu left. “I was taken away for a while by a man who came here on a work visit... I have to admit that I was quite miserable just then, so far away from home... but about a week ago, I managed to come back.”
“How lucky for you.” The sea monster grunted.
“For a while, I was his mistress, but then he said he would marry me. I didn’t really like the idea.” She spun out the tale.
“...and where was his home?”
“Ever so far away.” Tomoe winked over her deliberate imprecision.
“Further up. It’s terribly cold there and it rains all the time. I’ll never forget it.”
“...and finally you couldn’t stand it anymore?” he concluded.
“Why do you say that? No, he died. And to his folk, I was a stranger. Under the circumstances, I really couldn’t stay out there all by myself.”
“No, I suppose you couldn’t... well, why don’t you relax now and have another drink?” he offered jovially.
“Thank you,” Tomoe said, taking the cup that he had filled. “Now you know what happened, and I hope I can count on your kindness.”
The sea monster fixed her gaze on her and smiled “I wonder what’s become of the other girls...”
Of course Tomoe had kept track that the princess, Kimiryu, already was gone with her apprentice, Kimimaru and then almost immediately, the others started to leave the party one by one: Ineka, Oboro, Kimiko and Hagiha. Finally, she was left alone with the governor who looked now even more like a sea monster, calmly drinking while one of the maids fanned his back. Tomoe was appalled at the speed with which everything had unfolded, but she said nothing, staring at the clutter of discarded cups and plates on the rosewood table.
“Alright” in one motion, the governor emptied the cup that was in front of him. Then, helping himself to a cigar from the tobacco box Okasan left behind, he struck a match and got to his feet.
Tomoe felt her heart skip a beat and her face grow flushed, but she got to her feet quietly, gathered up the hem of her robe and went down the stairs. As she was doing so, however, her mood suddenly changed. The depression she had been feeling melted away and she concluded that to get what she wanted; it would do no good to go about things half hearted.
It was dark outside and the rock studded pond in the centre of the beautiful garden reflected the light of the stone lanterns as Tomoe and her client, shoed in garden slippers at last made their way to the cottage. Passing along the veranda that encircled the building, she opened the cedar wood door at the end.
They found the room prepared from the oblong brazier and the mulberry dresser to the lacquer stand for the robes, everything was carefully arranged so the occupants could manage without calling a maid. Behind a high screen of wood and reed, the inner room seemed larger, visible in the light of small lamps shaded in cream-coloured silk. The mosquito net that hung in the room was made of fine seamless gauze dyed in a cool water green along the hem.
The linen coverlet of the bedding inside it was decorated with a scene filled with bush clover and fireflies. It had been turned back, revealing a mattress dyed in a water pattern of pale blue and a long pillow edged with crimson tassels. Next to the bed was a tobacco pouch in the shape of a crescent and a carafe of water with glasses. A wind chime whispered quietly, bringing a profound sense of peace.
The sea monster was silent, his eyes, dim with alcohol, passing back and forth between the enticing scene of the bed and the melancholy figure of the woman seated with her back to the lamp. Like a gourmet before an array of delicacies, he seemed unsure where to begin; but he was in no hurry, choosing instead to study the prospects carefully, determined, when the time came, to lick the carcass down to the marrow, according to some private design of his own. While he smoked, he gave the woman’s discomfort time to grow.
This distress, the image of a woman clenching her teeth in frustration-this was exactly what the governor found gratifying. He was well aware that he was unattractive, and from his youth, his success in love had always been based on his overbearing nature. There were plenty of houses that were indebted to him, so he did not lack for women. His appearance was no cause for rejoicing among the women of the chosen house, and so in time he came to enjoy embarrassing and torturing them more than anything else.
He liked nothing better than to force himself on an unwilling woman, and he was constantly pestering the owners to introduce him to an entertainer who was in need of money. He found it utterly fascinating and amusing to watch them from his position of power as they cried bitter tears yet nonetheless submitted to his disgraceful demands - all for the love of money. This was the vulgar sport of a man who had risen from vulgar origins.
In this sense, this Tomoe was ideal for him. No matter how much she despised him, as long as she continued to have that foreign child clutched to her trail there was no way she could shake him off. The pride and self-restraint this woman was known for made it just the more interesting. She had been an invincible bastion since he didn’t manage to buy her, so he had waited a long time until he could call in a favor. He pressed the stump of cigar out in the ashtray with some slow turns.
“Dear...” She finally said, leaning toward him invitingly.
In that hoarse tone peculiar to rich, fat old men, he tried to respond, but something seemed to get in the way and he let out an enormous couch instead. Then, as if the couch had been a signal, he grabbed her hips, still wrapped in the sash, pulled her quickly onto his lap, and embraced her with his enormous strength while his greedy hands fingered their way up through the multiple layers of summer sheer silk that hindered his digits and cock from stabbing deep inside his prey.
She let out a muffled cry and closed her eyes as his fetid breath burned her cheek and his hairy thighs scratched her skin raw as he yanked her half slip aside and up to her waist. How much longer would she have to play the hapless woman?
Sun suddenly burned on her skin as her body remembered. She needed to fight, protect her body from the invasion of those thick digits... No! She needed to stay in the here and now. This wasn’t Fett or a damn Wookie. Once Okasan had her evidence, she could certainly handle him.
Clenching her teeth, she managed to free her hands and cover her face, peering through her fingers, though. The girl passing through the garden looked like a maid out on an errand until she raised a high-end camera whose flash lighted the indecent scene.
The sea monster reached over casually and slammed the slide door closed. “What’s the meaning of this, dear?” Curiously, he didn’t fret or take his other hand off her.
“May I introduce you to Okasan’s newest service? It’s called one hand washes the other,” she tried to break the lock of his arms and stand, but his weight and position left her at the disadvantage. “You see governor; your fumbling attempt at blackmail has come to nothing.”
“Steady.” He ran his tongue over her cheek “Your boss just wasted her chance to make up for her mistake... in private. Whenever I’m going to lose in reputation or not, I shall still take my prize.” He pushed her off his lap casually but nailed the trail of her robe to the floor by planting his foot on it. “But before I seize this places’ license for housing criminals, I have an endless repertoire of indecent practices to apply on you...”
Before she could get to her feet or regain her balance, he smacked her to the ground again with a square punch into the face. Stars exploded in her vision and he took a hold on the back of her collar, dragging her towards the bed. “I suggest you show more respect than your boss, or I have that foreign kid arrested and deported as well.”
And then the robe slid off her shoulders, baring the angry red skull on her back.
The governor let go as if he burned himself on her marked skin. He had not expected the head of the resort to have a direct association to a crime syndicate. He had just come to knock that petty grouse down a peg and enjoy his spoils afterwards, but he never expected Okasan to use a fully tattooed stool pigeon. While the strings that held him in power didn’t care what he did to the occasional working girl or her brat, the underworld organizations did… once they were working for them. “You miserable...”
“As you can see, bad company is hard to detect sometimes.” Tomoe came to her feet and limped over to the slide door connecting the two rooms of the cottage, smoothing her collars up over her shoulders to cover her back and bare breasts. “I would like to avoid losing a word about the whole incident. Even the society who has forgotten about honor punishes rape of their ladies draconically.”
‘Who is she and what will it cost me?’ The governor contemplated. So many variables were unknown. He quickly rearranged his clothing, still staring at the woman towering in the doorway.”
She certainly wasn’t the average trollop of a low-life. No, those would have taken his first offer. A consort stowed away here for safety in an ongoing gang war? No, she had been around for years. Who ever had caused the trouble last night had a firepower that came with high rank. Had she been chosen for bride by a counselor, an enforcer or even a boss himself? A lot of details suddenly clicked together for him. But who was the kid then? A guest, ward or hostage? A bosses’ son maybe, hidden away for his safety?
“What do you want?” he couched.
“Silence. Respect. Continued business for the resort. Full papers for my son, Harada Kintaro and unlimited travelling permits for the two of us.”
“Nothing else?” The governor’s thick brows furrowed. He couldn’t believe that he would get away that cheaply. “Do you plan to leave town?”
“Would you want to buy my contract?” Tomoe inquired with an enticing smile.
“I dare not...” The sea monster swallowed hard. This woman was marked and owned by a bloody gangster!
“Take good care of this place and my cover, so I don’t need to move and you don’t need to pay for my contract and travelling expenses.”
“Agreed. But what if your stay here becomes known nevertheless?”
“Our society will remove the one origin of that knowledge permanently,” her response came cold and even.
“Who is the boy?”
“That is of no concern for you. My private recording of your brutal display will set any of the society’s soldiers on your Excellency without the need of going into such details.”
The governor looked around. He was not used to be indebted himself therefore he was weary because of his own use of such circumstances. If he removed that woman now, he could search the record and force Okasan to remain silent in return for her licence. His eyes narrowed as he stepped forwards, pushing the slim woman into the shadows of the adjoining room. They could blame her demise on last night’s attack...
Tomoe inched backwards to reach for her naginata hidden on the rafter over the doorframe and drive the sea monster from her home at blade point. She was about to reach up as a young voice cut through the darkness. “Stay where you are.”
The sea monster flinched and willed his eyes to adjust to the dim light, then jumped backwards as he spotted a movement in the alcove. The boy’s skin was as dark as his own and there was no gleam on the oversized slug thrower the kid kept trained on him. “You’ll just....” The retort stuck in his throat. No, that boy would not hurt anybody accidentally. His every move was a soldier’s who meant business.
“Do you need anything else from him, mom?” Boba asked politely in basic without facing away from his target.
“We have everything we need.” Tomoe stood next to the door ready to reach up and deal out death again if that monster dared to attack her son. She switched back from basic to make herself perfectly clear to the governor. “His Excellency will send us his part of the agreement via mail tomorrow. Papers and travelling permits.” She reminded him.
The governor strained his eyes to pierce the darkness. How could his most noble prey form a bond with such a kid of artless looks? His gaze bounced back to the woman. She could, openly and fondly, obviously. “You... he is...” He could not get that information into his thick head.
“Good. Leave now and stay useful.” Boba commanded.
The governor nearly stumbled over his feet. “The backdoor, your excellence, and don’t forget to tip the attendants.” Tomoe reminded him and looked after the thick shape that wobbled over the wooden veranda to get out of the boy’s scary gun’s long range.Chapter 13.2 – Check-ups (Day 18)
Boba lifted the heavy weapon no earlier than the closing of the main house’s slide door behind the governor. He secured it and looked up at Tomoe. “We might see him again.”
“Unlikely,” she knelt and opened her arms “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see that.”
Boba stood back and rested the butt on the mats carefully “I didn’t see anything,” he insured her and eyed her warily, “but I heard enough. Is that how you earn money?” he asked.
“No, you see... Okasan came up with a plan that...” Tomoe fished around for words.
“It’s disgusting and it stops here and now. We can leave if Okasan presses you. I can hunt for the two of us.”
“She won’t, Boba-chan.”
Heavy footfalls accompanied by lighter ones broke up their argument. Boba had the weapon trained and ready once again as the main door was opened by the maid who had secured the evidence and Okasan sailed in. Norio who had pounded down the veranda behind his tiny boss threw himself into the line of fire immediately. “Down with the gun, Boba-chan.” He bellowed over Okasan’s high pitched screech.
Tomoe moved beside Boba, and inquired “How can I help you, Okasan?” The butt of the naginata was visible under her sleeve while the razor-sharp blade hovered in the shadows behind her.
“The governor...” Okasan gasped “He left in a hurry without signing any contract. You need to call him back and make up for your insolence, or you are fired. Where did you get those weapons from anyway?”
“You didn’t really think I survived my last guests by chance, did you?” Okasan swallowed at Tomoe’s remark, “His Excellency left in his own good time after we had reached an agreement.”
“What sort of agreement?”
“He has promised to write me some love letters.” Tomoe gave her boss a court nod, “and give you no more trouble.”
“Do you have any written agreement? We need that contract signed.”
“Under the pressure of the connections he assumes I have, his word is a better guarantee than any monetary contract. As you have pointed out: he’s rich in money. But that doesn’t mean he is eager to gamble with the one life he has. In the end, he will always be a coward.”
Okasan listened up “Which connections?”
“He’s convinced we belong to yesterday’s folks somehow.” Tomoe shrugged her shoulders. “If you would excuse us for tonight, my son and I need to talk things over privately.”
“I asked you to stay in my room, Boba-chan.” Norio’s voice carried an accusation.
“Mom’s safety comes first.” Boba stood his ground. “Where were you when the guy struck my mom?”
“Stay out of those matters. You are still a kid!”
“I’m old enough to know and DO the right thing!”
Tomoe groaned “Please don’t get into that now. I think I deserve a break.”
She twirled the naginata to mark a line between Norio and her stubborn son, then shoved the no longer hesitant threesome out of the door. “I will be seriously upset with anybody who disturbs before the ninth hour tomorrow.” She added, slid the door close behind them with a sound thud. She then turned towards the kitchen to get some ice and nurse the swelling of her jaw. Blood from her split upper lip tainted the cloth of the ice bag. She reconsidered “I need to see a doctor.”
“Back to that hospital?” The idea didn’t make Boba any happier.
“No, just a medic in the village... one who is not on Okasan’s payroll. I have evidence on me.”
“Okay.” Boba got his sandals and sat on the veranda, fully expecting to accompany her.
She couldn’t deny him that, but “You’ll have to wait outside. Maybe it would be better for you to get some sleep.”
“I can sleep-in tomorrow.” While his mother made a call, put a change of clothing in a bag and got a long coat to cover up the mess the sea monster had made of her robes, he stored the sniper rifle in the hold beside the fireplace and shoved a smaller blaster into his tunic, then fell into step beside her as they went to the garage.
Tomoe shook the chauffeur out of his newspaper. “Into town.” She gave him the street name in her business voice and the transport moved out through the partially damaged gate and into the dark between the resort and the village.
They exited the transport at the corner to a narrow ally and asked the driver to wait for them. The doctor's surgery was the only lit by a lamp at the late hour and Tomoe asked the assistant to extinguish it once they had stepped through the door and thanked her for the instant attention.
The doctor’s elderly wife took Boba into their living room while Tomoe walked through to the surgery on her own and got the medical examination. “There is no physical damage that your body can’t overcome within a week.” the medic insured her “It is very important for you to relax so your soul can get over it as well. Please feel free to use our bathing facilities, Harada-san, while I mix an ointment to soothe those scratches on your face and write down the report.”
“Thank you.” The doctor’s wife showed her to the bathroom and handed her some towels before she snatched Boba again, scolding the boy lightly for following his mom around everywhere. He didn’t understand a word, but the meaning was clear enough.
Tomoe cleaned herself thoroughly and put on her change of clothing before returning to the surgery and taking a seat in front of the low desk. The doctor applied the herbal ointment to her lip, then handed her the report and asked her if she wanted a medicamentation to make absolutely sure the incident stayed without consequence.
She tasted the ointment on her lips and considered as the scent of the herbs filled her nose. “Out of question. I don’t think there is need, dokutoru-sama.” Tomoe shook her head “That’s why I decided to take the pain. I will heal and protect my children against any harm.”
“I see.” The doctor nodded slowly “I have to admit, I have never seen anything like this?”
Tomoe arched a brow “Please explain, sensei.”
“It’s called bacta, isn’t it?” The doctor studied her expression “I have read about it but never seen an application. It seems that the healing bacteria are long-lived, probably even propagable under the conditions they found. I think that means you will heal quickly and without fear of other infestations in that area. On the other hand, I’m not sure if human ovule can meet their natural demise - which could probably turn it into a serious disadvantage.”
“What does that mean? Will my body start to clone itself?”
“No, that is blocked by a membrane the bacta can’t transcend. But any semen-cells that enter your body will be kept alive by the bacta. That means any egg your body produces before your pregnancy hormones interrupt the cycle will survive and be fertilized. Your risk for multiplets is raised and genetically fragile combinations won’t meet their natural demise.” The doctor watched her carefully “I suggest you reduce the stress-hormone-level and tune your mind and body to your new condition. No unprotected intercourse until we have found a way to disable the bacta-infestation... and regular examinations of course.” The doctor watched storm clouds assemble on his patient’s face.
‘Damn you, Fett and damn your self-confidence.’ She would run him through on the spot if she hadn’t done that already. “I understand.” Tomoe finally spoke up. “Tonight did not add further risk as far as I can see. Let’s avoid surgical measures as long as we can, dokutoru-sama. I’ll call your assistant tomorrow to arrange the preventive check-ups.”
The doctor agreed on the spot. This brave woman would have her child and he would get the unique opportunity to watch such an all new experiment.Chapter 13.3 – Out of the Bacta Tank (Day 18)
Far away on Kamino, in another medbay, the technician droid moved the bacta tank out of position on repulsors and onto a recessed platform in the treatment area. Jango Fett, breather mask still in place, hung more heavily on the suspension straps as the pale green liquid was pumped away and the cylindrical tank descended below deck level. The droids moved a repulsor gurney in place and maneuvered Fett onto it, placed a temperature sensor then covered him in a padded blue wrapping. The mask was still breathing for him.
“He looks awful,” Rav said and clasped her arms in front of her red chest armor plates. Bacta didn’t leave one wrinkled and white like plain water did, but Fett looked dead. Even under his tan, the contrast between his pallor and his black hair was stark. “Is he still chilled?”
“Just warming him up with the heating pad.” Gilamar explained.
Skirata got a look from Vau that could only be described as disappointment. They waited. A droid kept hovering back to check the sensor readout, and eventually Fett didn’t look such a waxy yellow colour.
“Here we go.” Rav wasn’t keen on seeing a needle go into flesh – her own or anyone else’s – but she made herself watch as the senior med droid moved in with a cannula and slipped it into the vein on the back of Fett’s hand. Whatever he had done, she felt the urge to protect him.
The droid took a syringe and began injecting a pale yellow liquid in the cannula. “The stuff reverses the sedation.” Gilamar grunted. Soon, their Manda’lor would be up and about to lead the hunt on the traitor.
Fett took a long gasping breath and coughed. He was breathing on his own again, his chest was moving with the rise and fall of steady breaths. The med-droid unhooked the filaments from the breather mask and removed the tube from his throat. While it resumed scans, Fett woke with a start, his fists crashing into the metallic limbs of the droid.
His eyes focused and the attack stopped as soon as it had erupted. Once his gaze ran over the audience staring at him, he found the ones he had woken for were missing. “Boba... where?” his questions was stifled in a fit of coughs.
This particular patient wouldn’t be moved around on a gurney any longer, so much was clear. “Steady, Jango.” Rav tried her soothing voice again to calm him down like the days before. Vau stepped in; unfazed by the mess he was getting on himself as he supported him.
Bacta was congealing on Jango’s skin and in the beard he had grown in the past days. Brown grime was sticking between his teeth. Fett shook and wanted to vomit but his stomach was utterly empty. His voice was hoarse as he spoke up again. “I had some really weird dreams...” He swung his legs over the edge of the gurney and ignored his body screaming in pain. “I have to go.”
Rav made a face. “You might want to have a look into a mirror before you continue your advance.”
To everybody’s surprise, Fett nodded and let Vau wrap him into a blanket then help him to his quarter. He noted the others stayed behind cautiously. But his son wasn’t there, either. “Now. Where is Boba?”
“With Harada.” Vau filled him in privately. “She stabbed you then kidnapped Boba and took him back to where she came from. We made sure she stays there and prepared some intel and transport for you.”
“You let her leave?” Jango frowned up at the taller man who just dropped him into his easy chair. He fought to sit up on his own. Nobody laid hand on his family... Of course... he would have slapped his forehead, but his hand hung uselessly over the armrest. Hello? The deal was that nobody left their project and lived to tell the tale. Fierfek. This would take considerable efforts to clean up. He looked around for his armor. Somebody had placed his beskar’gam and body glove on the table, but his helmet and the second Westar-blaster were missing. “How so?”
“She threatened to kill both of your kids and herself if Skirata didn’t fly her home. Your ship let Boba board before we could get a secure hold of them, then it defended them. Skirata says Boba agreed to stay with her.”
Was everybody deserting him? “Skirata…” Jango’s face shut down into a stone cold mask. “Who knows what?” he inquired.
“Skirata brought back the Slave I. Together with the Nulls he has tracked her down to the address, connections and moves. They have gathered quite a file on her. They were not in the most sharing mood, but I have my own methods. They all know that she’s with your children, but nobody else has coordinates to start with. We still had a hard time to keep people on the job here. Especially Gilamar didn’t like to be outmaneuvered by Harada.”
“Call a meeting in two hours.”
Vau looked him up and down. This was madness. Even a Fett couldn’t fight in this state. “Do you need anything else?”
So she had moved out of his direct grasp, went home with his son, his legacy... But he would never give up searching for them... neither would Boba give in to an aruetyc life, a coward’s life. ‘Hold out, son, I’m coming...”
A nagging thought entered Jango’s mind. Yes, she had overstepped the border by ambushing him. Even though there had been nobody else in her room, he would have killed her on the spot... if she hadn’t been quicker. He had to admit there was no cowardice in her actions. She had a warrior heart. Her only fault was that she had not killed him... and he would not blame her for that - just draw the consequences.
But... what if Boba actually liked what Tomoe was offering?
Even though he found his own interest undiminished, of course he had to kill her for Boba’s safe return, for she had seen too much, for her stubbornness, for he had nothing to convince her to pack it in and come back with him. And afterwards, Boba would hate him for killing her.
Fett shook his head, and then he hoisted himself up with a groan to stagger into the bathroom.
‘You are making it up as you go along, Jango, stumbling around like a headless nuna, driven by your emotions. Aside that you are back from the dead, you act absolutely foreseeable. C’mon, this is a new game and you can be very convincing. Don’t give up. Use your contacts and prepare some options before you make your move.’
He cleaned up and studied the newest scar on his forehead while brushing his teeth. Afterwards, he felt like a human being again. He shaved the areas of the helmet’s environmental seals but left the beard for a slightly different look. Then he donned his armor and checked his gear. Dress to impress.
His suit was heavy, in fact his whole body felt heavy as he went to the OPs-room to answer to his subalterns. Apparently, hundreds of commandos were left with their kaminiise babysitters since the room was cramped to the ceiling with Cuy’val Dar. He would have preferred a more limited interpretation of his order than making another public scene of his mishap. Just thinking of the last one made his leg itch.
Patience. Every idiot could make an impression with the crushing force gathered in this room. Nevertheless he couldn’t afford to overlook a thing if he wanted to make a difference.
He took a stance opposite to Skirata who stood in the centre of armored attention despite being clad in civilian clothing. The smaller man’s palms rested on his silver-blue helmet. It was staring at its true owner over the expanse of the OPs-table. “How did you get your hands on that?” Jango inquired evenly. There was no need to reach for the Westar-blaster yet. It would be out faster than anybody else’s anyway if Skirata dared to make any ill-timed claims.
“Ms. Harada handed it over to me before they left with Boba’s consent.” Kal started and shoved the helmet over the table casually, unfazed by his leader’s hard stare. The skittering buy’ce came to halt with a dull thunk under its owner’s gloved fist. “She believed you dead, while Boba did not. In the meantime she has tried to adopt Boba officially, which made it easy enough to track her down.”
Jango talked tough – was tough – but his callous attitude did not extend to children, however brutal it looked from the outside. “Did Boba agree to be adopted?” He swallowed. Had his boy been forced... had he declared him dar’buir? Impossible. His eyes bore into Skirata. ‘Don’t do this to me. Not in public.’... “Under which conditions?”
Kal’s voice was very gentle when he detailed, “Apparently his testimony has convinced the officials to issue a missing person's report on his father...”
“Missing, my ass...” Jango hissed under his breath.
“...while he stubbornly indicated Tomoe Harada as his mother. There was no hint of abuse. He signed with Boba Fett-Harada.” Skirata winked Ordo to present the outlines of the gathered material to the point where they had lost her in the destroyed family homestead in the mountains. “We don’t know yet what happened there exactly. We have neither a police report nor financial transactions since this moment.” Skirata ice-blue eyes bore into his leader’s, daring Jango to put blame on him.
Isabet elbowed Dred into the plates lightly “The white fox is out of the cage...” she whispered, “but I doubt it will turn into a nursemaid for our wounded warrior,” Rav concluded. It didn’t look like the fact saddened any of them. “The question is... can she drop the child and vanish like a ghost, too?” Llats was apprehensive of that. “Probably not when the first on her tail is somebody like Gilamar... she’s the protective kind...”
‘How could Boba have left with her consensually? How could the officials overlook that his son had been kidnapped... the smoking ruins?’ Fett pondered while he took the information in with fully concentrated expression. The Nulls had sniffed all around and they were close, but amazingly, the resort where he had picked Tomoe up had slipped their notice completely.
Fett rested his gloved palms on his helmet and ran the information through his mind again, ‘White Mountain Range?’ It made him smile inwardly. Yes, she was worthy and brave... and very convinced of herself. The girl was in trouble and caught in her own trap, thanks to his son. Since their dirty compromise was off, they could start over... do things differently. “Don’t worry, I know where she is hiding. I’ll take care of the matter personally.”
Fett’s smug grin scared Skirata more than any emotional explosion or vengeful swearing could have. To add to his discomfort, Old Psycho eyed him with his ‘didn’t-I-say-it’-look. Kal harrumphed. “Fine. The rest is up to you.”
The other Cuy’val Dar cocked their heads like a pack of dogs ready to hunt down that evasive fox. But they were all to be disappointed… “Well done, Skirata. Get back to what you were doing while I clean this up.” Jango cut them off, and then closed the meeting.
Their leader would not surrender to fear or vengeance. This stone cold state of mind, this failsafe efficiency was what had made Fett the Manda’lor. With another grumble but no further argument, Gilamar and most others filed out, but Rav stayed at the OPs-table and tutted in annoyance, “Patching you up was no fun. I can see from here that your armor is wearing you. Do us all a favor and find a less stressful environment until you are fully recovered.”
“I know just where to go for rehab.” Jango turned his helmet in his gloved hands, faced the T-shaped visor briefly, and then hooked it to his belt.
“That is asking for it.” Rav moved out beside her leader who took the elevator to the hangar of their transport platoon. “There won’t be a bacta-tank next time.”
“I’m not looking for a fight. Boba’s been making emotional connections lately. I don’t want him to miss me and suffer from my mistakes anymore.” He spared the row of child-pilots and technicians a brief glance then inspected the camouflaged TIV that sat in a corner of the hangar. It looked a lot like a civilian shuttle.
“So what?” Rav felt unable to buy the display of paternal indulgence.
“This will do.” Jango ignored her, nodded at Vau appreciatively and then returned his attention to Kal. “Did you warn her?”
“You are dead to her, but expect to be expected,” Walon nodded back, and then offered politely “Can I take a message?”
Jango’s brows furrowed slightly. “No.”
“No need to get heavy handed right now...” Kal reminded his boss.
“I won’t... I want her to be around when I name my child.” Fett’s partial repetition made Skirata’s hackles rise. Had their leader heard everything he had said?
“Did you think that through, or are you just going to walk in on her again, ‘Hey, cyar'ika, I’m back’?!” Rav supported her baffled colleague.
“Something along that line, actually.”
“Don’t you think that will upset her?” Rav asked with expiration. Even a Fett could not be so blind?!
“Maybe, but that’s not of your concern. We have some details to discuss - of the kind that needs saying in person.” Standing in the hatch, Fett retracted the landing ramp, “Expect me back in four days. If I don’t show up again or call in to give different order, Gilamar gets a second chance.” The hatch sealed with a dull thud, leaving Kal, Rav and Walon standing in the hangar with less than happy faces.
“This didn’t go as expected.” Rav concluded.
“Should we have hit his head again?” Kal arched a brow.
“Too late.” Vau stated unmoved from behind them as the TIV tore out of the hangar.